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 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/membership