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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2010/12/10

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Victory in the biology textbook adoption process in Louisiana. NCSE's
Grand Canyon trip in 2011. A proposed creationist theme park in
northern Kentucky. Approval of the proposed settlement in the
Freshwater case. And voices for evolution from seven science
departments at colleges and universities across the country.

BIOLOGY TEXTBOOKS APPROVED IN LOUISIANA

At its December 9, 2010, meeting, the Louisiana Board of Elementary
and Secondary Education voted 8-2 to approve high school biology
textbooks, despite the ongoing complaints of creationists objecting to
their treatment of evolution. As NCSE previously reported, a decision
on the textbooks, expected initially in October 2010, was deferred by
the board, which sought a recommendation from its
Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council. On November 12, 2010, the
council voted 8-4 to recommend the textbooks. Then, on December 7,
2010, a committee of the board voted 6-1 to move forward with the
purchase, "over the objection of a crowd of people who wanted books
that at least mention creationism or intelligent design or say that
evolution is not a fact," according to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser
(December 7, 2010).

Since there are eleven members of the board, the six members of the
committee who voted to move forward with the purchase constituted a
majority, and so the committee's vote was widely regarded as all but
decisive. In a December 7, 2010, statement, the Louisiana Coalition
for Science hailed the committee's decision: "We are pleased and proud
that the board has done the right thing. As a result, students in
Louisiana public schools will have the most current, up-to-date
information about biology, including the theory of evolution, which is
the strongest explanation of the history and development of life on
Earth ever constructed." The statement continued, "Students in our
public schools deserve the best science education we can give them.
Thanks to today’s decision, they won’t have to wait any longer for
decent textbooks."

Taking nothing for granted, however, Zach Kopplin -- a high school
student in Baton Rouge -- contributed a guest column to the Shreveport
Times (December 8, 2010), urging the full board to approve the
textbooks. "I feel strongly that BESE should immediately adopt proper
science textbooks that teach evolution without any disclaimers,
revisions or supplementary materials," he wrote. "Louisiana public
school students desperately need new books that teach proper science
and will prepare us for success in the global economy." He emphasized,
"There is no controversy among scientists about evolution! This point
repeatedly has been made by prominent science organizations like the
American Association for the Advancement of Scientists, which contains
10 million members and has made strong statements in support of
teaching evolution. Any attempts to act like there is a controversy
are disingenuous."

The Shreveport Times (December 9, 2010) was also pleased with the
committee's decision, editorially remarking, "Only in these strange
times is it news that Louisiana's education board has approved a
science textbook based on, well, science," and explaining, "the
majority of the panel accepted the arguments of people such as retired
biology teacher Patsye Peebles, who said: 'The opponents to these
biology books have an unfortunate misunderstanding of what is and
isn't in the realm of science. By opening the door for their "both
sides" of any issue, you allow non-science and pseudo-science into the
science classroom.'" The editorial concluded by quoting a Presbyterian
pastor who told the committee, "Let the science teachers of Louisiana
teach science and let churches and families teach religion," and
seconding the sentiment with "Amen."

NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told Wired's Wired Science blog (December 8,
2010), “Accurate textbooks are going to be in the classrooms. A six to
one vote is a repudiation of the attempt by the Louis[i]ana Family
Forum to politicize science in Louisiana." The blogger, Brandon Keim,
commented, "Texas, which last year passed legislation instructing
teachers to convey 'all sides' of theories like evolution, is the
nation’s largest purchaser of textbooks, and traditionally pulls the
textbook industry in its market wake. But state budget deficits have
delayed new purchases, making textbook choices by other states more
important." Rosenau explained, "If Louisiana’s board had said, 'You
have to teach the controversy, to put in both sides,' then publishers
would have said, 'Maybe this is a trend,'" said Rosenau. "With strong
support given to textbooks as written by experts, it's another reason
for publishers to stand strong."

At the committee meeting, the New Orleans Times-Picayune (December 8,
2010) reported, "Opponents of the texts, led by the Louisiana Family
Forum, said the theory of evolution is full of holes and that biology
texts should encourage students to think critically about the origins
of man," and quoted the president of the LFF as saying that the
textbooks "are biased and inaccurate when covering controversial
scientific topics." But Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana
Coalition for Science and a member of NCSE's board of directors,
replied, "Every claim you hear today from the Louisiana Family Forum
and its allies -- without a single exception -- has been refuted over
and over again, in state after state, and in federal court, over
almost 50 years," adding, "Not a single creationist claim has ever
held up under either scientific scrutiny or legal analysis."

The sole vote not to recommend the textbooks at the committee meeting
was from the president of the board, Dale Bayard, who also voted
against them at the board meeting. In a cover story, the Independent
Weekly (December 8, 2010) quoted Bayard as saying, "I am an
open-minded person, and I challenge anybody to come and tell me -- and
I’ve asked a couple of educators that are friends of mine -- can you
do me a favor and tell me, can you swear on a stack of Bibles there’s
no other refutable data that provides an objective other approach to
Darwin’s theory?" Taking the answer to be no, he continued, "Well then
why do we print a textbook that says that? Why can’t we provide the
children with textbooks that provide objective educational methods to
look at what’s out there? ... We’re going to spend $72 million with a
textbook company, and they’re not going to swear this is accurate?"

Forrest responded, "[Evolution] has exactly the same status as
electromagnetic theory, germ theory of disease, cell theory and
gravitational theory, and it is about as strong an explanation as
science can come up with." And Joe Neigel, a professor of biology at
the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, whose teaching and research
focuses on evolution, told the Independent Weekly, "To suggest we need
to teach both sides is like saying we should be teaching the opinion
that the earth is flat because there are some people who believe the
earth is flat and they claim they have evidence the earth is flat, so
we should give equal time to these people. Or we should give equal
time to people who say there was no Holocaust. ... It’s an attempt to
make it seem like there are two sides that have similar weight when in
fact that isn’t the case at all.”

"The board's decision is a ray of sunlight," commented NCSE's
executive director Eugenie C. Scott, "especially because the
creationist opponents of these textbooks were claiming -- wrongly --
that the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act requires that biology
textbooks misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. It's
refreshing to see that the board withstood the pressure to compromise
the quality of biology textbooks in the state. But when will the state
legislature revisit this confusing, unnecessary, and pernicious law,
which is already opening the door to the teaching of creationism in
the public school classroom?" She added, "Thanks to all in Louisiana,
including especially Barbara Forrest and her comrades at the Louisiana
Coalition for Science, who helped to convince the board to do the
right thing for Louisiana's students."

For the Lafayette Daily Advertiser's story, visit:
http://www.theadvertiser.com/article/20101207/NEWS01/101207037/BESE+panel+approves+science+textbooks++ 

For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's statement, visit:
http://lasciencecoalition.org/2010/12/08/students-won-in-louisiana-today/ 

For Zach Kopplin's column in the Shreveport Times, visit:
http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/20101207/OPINION04/12070326/Zack-Kopplin-La-students-need-proper-scientific-textbooks-without-creationism 

For the editorial in the Shreveport Times, visit:
http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/20101209/OPINION03/12090342/BESE-makes-the-right-call 

For the Wired Science blog post, visit:
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/12/louisiana-biology-textbooks/ 

For the New Orleans Times-Picayune's story, visit:
http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2010/12/biology-textbook_debate_addres.html 

For the Independent Weekly's story, visit:
http://www.theind.com/cover-story/7427-devolve 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/louisiana 

NCSE AND THE GRAND CANYON 2011

Explore the Grand Canyon with Scott, Newton, and Gish! Seats are now
available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon --as featured
in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From June 30 to July 8, 2011,
NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a
Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott, NCSE's Steven
Newton, and paleontologist Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an
NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the
Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history,
brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good
company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we
provide both the creationist view of the Grand Canyon and the
evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. To get a
glimpse of the fun, watch the short videos filmed during the 2009
trip, posted on NCSE's YouTube site. The cost of the excursion is
$2545; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Seats are limited: call,
write, or e-mail now.

For information about NCSE's Grand Canyon trip, visit:
http://ncse.com/about/excursions/gcfaq 

For information about the coverage in The New York Times, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/2005/10/seeing-creation-evolution-grand-canyon-00771 

CONTROVERSY OVER PROPOSED CREATIONIST THEME PARK

The announcement of a proposed creationist theme park in northern
Kentucky is sparking controversy. According to the Louisville
Courier-Journal (December 1, 2010), "Ark Encounter, which will feature
a 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah’s Ark containing live animals
such as juvenile giraffes, is projected to cost $150 million and
create 900 jobs ... The park, to be located on 800 acres in Grant
County off Interstate 75, also will include a Walled City, live animal
shows, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a 500-seat special-effects
theater, an aviary and a first-century Middle Eastern village."
Collaborating on the project are Ark Encounters LLC and the
young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which already
operates a Creation "Museum" in northern Kentucky.

Kentucky's governor, Steve Beshear (D), participated in the
announcement, touting the benefit of the park to the state's economy.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader (December 2, 2010), "The
project is expected to create more than 900 full- and part-time jobs
after its completion and attract 1.6 million visitors in the first
year, with the number increasing after five years. Beshear said the
park could have a $214 million economic impact in the first year and
bring $250 million into the state by the fifth year." Asked whether he
believes in creationism, Beshear replied, "The people of Kentucky
didn't elect me governor to debate religion ... They elected me
governor to create jobs and that's what we are doing here."

Daniel Phelps, a geologist who serves as president of the Kentucky
Paleontological Society, is worried about the effect on the state's
reputation among scientists, however, telling AAAS's Science Insider
blog (December 2, 2010), "I don't envision people, especially those
with science backgrounds, wanting to move to a state where the 'ark
park' has government support." Similarly, describing the Ark Encounter
project as "rooted in outright opposition to science," the Lexington
Herald-Leader (December 3, 2010) editorially observed, "Hostility to
science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of
employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future."

The Louisville Courier-Journal (December 2, 2010) was especially
dismayed by Beshear's involvement in the announcement, editorially
writing, "Gov. Steve Beshear needs a vacation. Indeed, he should have
taken it this week. ... [H]ow else can one explain his embrace of a
project to build a creationism theme park ... ?" The editorial added,
"in a state that already suffers from low educational attainment in
science, one of the last things Kentucky officials should encourage,
even if only implicitly, is for students and young people to regard
creationism as scientifically valid," and asked, "why stop with
creationism? How about a Flat-Earth Museum? Or one devoted to the
notion that the sun revolves around the Earth?"

Part of the controversy over the park involves the prospect of its
receiving state tourism development incentives, which would allow Ark
Encounter to recoup 25 percent of its development costs by retaining
the sales tax generated by the project. The estimated budget of the
park is 150 million dollars, so the incentives would amount to 37.5
million dollars over ten years. Beshear said that there was "nothing
remotely unconstitutional" about it, but Barry Lynn of Americans
United for Separation of Church and State was not so sure, telling the
Courier-Journal, "Evangelism is not just another business, and if the
business is evangelism then constitutional rules are quite different
than if you are subsidizing the opening of a new beauty salon."

Whether the project will be able to benefit from the state tourism
development incentives for which its organizers have applied is still
disputed. Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine,
School of Law told The New York Times (December 5, 2010), "If this is
about bringing the Bible to life, and it’s the Bible’s account of
history that they’re presenting, then the government is paying for the
advancement of religion." Bill Sharp of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Kentucky, however, was not so dismissive, telling USA Today
(December 5, 2010), "Courts have found that giving such tax exemptions
on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment
clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose."

A different potential constitutional barrier was identified by Joseph
Gerth, who argued in his column for the Louisville Courier-Journal
(December 6, 2010), "If there is a constitutional problem with the
incentives, the problem may be more with the Kentucky Constitution,
which says no one should be 'compelled to attend any place of worship,
to contribute to the erection or maintenance of any such place, or to
the salary or support of any minister of religion.'" As the
Courier-Journal (December 1, 2010) previously noted, there are also
legal concerns about whether Ark Encounter could discriminate on the
basis of religion in hiring; Answers in Genesis already requires its
employees to endorse its statement of faith.

Broader concerns about the state's entanglement with the project
persist, too. Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 5,
2010), Pam Platt regretted "the inevitable jokes." But after reviewing
various challenges and obstacles to the integrity of education in the
United States, she concluded, "So let us not consider Kentucky, and
its real and perceived backwardness, apart and separate from our 49
fellow states and from the whole of the country. Yes, the proposed
creationism park reinforces unfortunate stereotypes about Kentucky and
Kentuckians, some of them true, but the points I assembled about the
United States ought to be provoking a lot of questions about who
Americans are and where, exactly, we're heading."

For the Louisville Courier-Journal's story, visit:
http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20101201/NEWS01/312010087/Beshear+announces+creationism+theme+park+to+open+in+2014++with+$250+million+impact 

For the Lexington Herald-Leader's story, visit:
http://www.kentucky.com/2010/12/02/1548034/creation-museum-to-get-wooden.html 

For the story on the AAAS's Science Insider blog, visit:
http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/12/plan-for-creationist-ark-park-dr.html 

For the Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial, visit:
http://www.kentucky.com/2010/12/03/1550758/ark-incentives-cheap-jobs-poor.html 

For the Louisville Courier-Journal's editorial, visit:
http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20101202/OPINION01/312020019 

For the story in The New York Times, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/us/06ark.html 

For the story in USA Today, visit:
http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2010-12-05-noahs-ark-kentucky-creation-museum_N.htm 

For Gerth's and Platt's columns in the Louisville Courier-Journal, visit:
http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20101205/COLUMNISTS21/312050092/Joseph+Gerth+|+Beshear+sails+risky+waters+for+ark+park 
http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2010312050045 

SETTLEMENT IN FRESHWATER CASE FINAL

The judge presiding over Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al.
approved a proposed settlement on December 3, 2010, bringing the case
to its end. The case centered on John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon,
Ohio, middle school science teacher, who was accused of inappropriate
religious activity in the classroom -- including displaying posters
with the Ten Commandments and Bible verses, branding crosses on the
arms of his students with a high-voltage electrical device, and
teaching creationism.

In his order, Judge Gregory L. Frost wrote, "Plaintiffs Stephen and
Jenifer Dennis, individually and as natural parents and next friends
of their minor child, ZD, and Defendant John Freshwater have reached
an agreement to settle and resolve their differences and have
stipulated to the entry of this Agreed Dismissal Order. The parties
are to proceed in accordance with the terms of their settlement
agreement. Pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, this action is hereby dismissed with prejudice."

As the Mount Vernon News reported, "The settlement of $475,000 to the
Dennis family [who originally filed suit under the pseudonym "Doe"]
includes $25,000 for attorney fees, $150,000 each to Stephen and
Jennifer, and $150,000 to be used for an annuity for Zachary." A
previous report from the News (October 27, 2010) indicated that the
school district's insurer, Ohio Casualty, will be liable for the
payment, since Freshwater was employed by the district when the suit
was filed.

The district was originally named in the lawsuit, but a settlement was
reached in August 2009, leaving Freshwater as the sole defendant.
Freshwater filed his own lawsuit against the Mount Vernon City School
District Board of Education in June 2009, but then filed a notice to
dismiss it in October 2010, claiming that it would have interfered
with the administrative hearing on the termination of his employment
with the district, which was conducted intermittently from October
2008 to June 2010. The referee presiding over the hearing has yet to
release his decision.

For the stories in the Mount Vernon News, visit:
http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/10/11/30/judge-approves-settlement-in-civil-lawsuit 
http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/10/10/27/settlement-signed-by-both-parties-in-civil-lawsuit 

For NCSE's collection of documents from the cases, visit:
http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/doe-v-freshwater-mv 
http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-v-mount-vernon 
http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-termination-hearing 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/ohio 

SEVEN DEPARTMENTAL VOICES FOR EVOLUTION

The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with
statements from seven science departments at colleges and universities
throughout the country.

The Department of Biology at Baylor University's statement reads,
"Evolution, a foundational principle of modern biology, is supported
by overwhelming scientific evidence and is accepted by the vast
majority of scientists. Because it is fundamental to the understanding
of modern biology, the faculty in the Biology Department at Baylor
University, Waco, TX, teach evolution throughout the biology
curriculum. ... We are a science department, so we do not teach
alternative hypotheses or philosophically deduced theories that cannot
be tested rigorously."

In its statement, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at
Baylor University agrees, "Evolution, a foundational principle of
modern biological sciences, is supported by overwhelming scientific
evidence," and adds, "It is fundamental to the understanding of modern
biochemistry, and our faculty incorporate the principle of evolution
throughout the biochemistry curriculum. We are a science department,
and we do not teach alternative hypotheses or philosophically deduced
theories that cannot be tested rigorously."

The Biology Department at Central Connecticut State University's
statement reads, "Evolution, a foundational principle of modern
biological sciences, is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence.
It is fundamental to the understanding of modern biology, and our
faculty incorporate the principle of evolution throughout the
curriculum. As we are a science department, we do not teach
alternative hypotheses or philosophically deduced theories that cannot
be tested rigorously. ... Without an understanding of evolutionary
biology, our perception of the natural world would be greatly
diminished."

In its statement, the Department of Biology at the College of New
Jersey describes the faculty there as "unequivocal in its support of
the contemporary theory of biological evolution. Evolutionary theory
has been supported by data collection and analysis conducted over the
past 150 years. No credible evidence has been presented to date in
support of any alternative scientific theory to explain the origin of
organic diversity. The faculty of the Department of Biology fully
endorses the resolution ... by the American Association for the
Advancement of Science on this issue."

Lehigh University's Department of Biological Sciences's statement
describes the faculty there as "unequivocal in their support of
evolutionary theory, which ... has been supported by findings
accumulated over 140 years," adding, "The sole dissenter from this
position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of
'intelligent design.' While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express
his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the
department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has
no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should
not be regarded as scientific."

In its statement, the Biology Faculty of Oklahoma City Community
College describes evolutionary theory as "strengthened by over a
century of observation and experimentation" and as "a crucial
component of life science education," and adds, "While the College
respects the right of individuals to hold personal or opposing views,
the biology program will teach Evolutionary Theory as the central
concept of modern biological science. It is our intent that the
explanatory power of this subject will contribute greatly to our
students' understanding of biology."

And the Saint Louis University Department of Biology's statement
reads, "Since first proposed, the theory of evolution has transformed
the study of life by providing a framework for understanding natural
processes. ... Empirical studies over the past 150 years have provided
tightly interwoven evidence for evolution and effectively serve as a
guiding light for current and future biological inquiry. To confront
students with untestable alternatives would not only misrepresent the
significance of evolutionary theory and the legitimacy of the
scientific method, but would also jeopardize future achievements."

All seven of these statements are now reproduced, by permission, on
NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of
NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the statements, visit:
http://www.baylor.edu/biology/index.php?id=77368 
http://www.baylor.edu/chemistry/index.php?id=68470 
http://www.biology.ccsu.edu/Evolution.htm 
http://www.tcnj.edu/~biology/evolution.htm 
http://www.lehigh.edu/~inbios/news/evolution.htm 
http://www.occc.edu/SM/Evolution.html 
http://www.slu.edu/x31096.xml 

And for Voices for Evolution, visit:
http://ncse.com/voices 

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website --
http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on 
evolution education and threats to it.

-- 
Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com 
http://ncse.com 

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