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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/08/26

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

A preview of The Evolutionary World, a ruling from the Ninth Circuit
in C. F. v. Capistrano, and a new issue of Reports of the NCSE.


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Geerat Vermeij's The
Evolutionary World (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010). The preview consists of
chapter 9, "Dispatches from a Warming World," in which Vermeij
discusses the evolutionary consequences of a warming world. He
concludes, "Whether warming is a curse or a blessing thus depends
entirely on whether living systems subjected to it can adapt or move.
If they can, warming presents an opportunity, especially if the
surroundings are healthy and productive. If they cannot, warming
becomes a hardship, an insuperable challenge. Humanity should do what
it can to limit the rate at which the world is heating up, but above
all we must adapt to a warming world. If we want to maintain some
semblance of wild nature in the fact of warming and habitation
fragmentation, we must preserve -- or, better yet, enhance --
opportunities for species to adapt. We must give them wiggle room, not
box them in. We must allow evolution and adaptation to do their work."

Neil Shubin, the author of Your Inner Fish, describes The Evolutionary
World as "[a] bold, brash, and magisterial account of the fundamental
mechanisms that built our bodies, our genes, and our society. A
culmination of decades of thinking by one of our leading scientists,
this is a book that is sure to stir the pot." Nick Lane, the author of
Life Ascending, adds, "Combining an exhilarating zest for life with
unusual and acute powers of observation, Geerat Vermeij is also a
refreshingly original thinker. His insights into the processes of
evolution and their relevance to science and society are striking and
thought-provoking." And Michael Ruse, the author of Defining Darwin
(and a Supporter of NCSE), writes that Vermeij's book "will be read
with delight by all who love science and should be read for
instruction by those who think that an evolutionary world picture in
any way detracts from our true understanding of ourselves and the
planet on which we all live."

For the excerpt, visit: 

For information about The Evolutionary World from its publisher, visit: 


Was it unconstitutional for a teacher to describe creationism as
"superstitious nonsense"? In 2009, a federal district court ruled that
it was, in C. F. et al. v. Capistrano Unified School District et al.
But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a
decision issued on August 19, 2011, overturned the district court's
decision "to the extent it decided the constitutionality of any of
Corbett's statements" while upholding its grant of qualified immunity
to James Corbett, the teacher in question.

As NCSE previously reported, the case originated when Corbett, a
twenty-year history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in
Mission Viejo, California, was accused by a student, Chad Farnan, of
"repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and
advocating 'irreligion over religion' in violation of the First
Amendment's establishment clause," according to the Orange County
Register (May 1, 2009). Farnan cited more than twenty offending
statements of Corbett's in his complaint.

In the district court's decision, however, only one of the statements
was identified as constitutionally impermissible. In 2007, while
describing to his class his involvement in the 1994 case Peloza v.
Capistrano Unified School District -- in which a teacher
unsuccessfully contended that it was unconstitutional for the school
district to require him to teach evolution -- Corbett characterized
creationism as "superstitious nonsense."

The district court wrote, "The Court cannot discern a legitimate
secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context.
The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion
in violation of the Establishment Clause." But the district court also
ruled that because there was no clear precedent establishing that
Corbett's comment would have been unconstitutional, Corbett was
entitled to qualified immunity, shielding him from liability.

Both Farnan and Corbett appealed the decision. As the Orange County
Register (February 11, 2011) summarized in its story on a February 11,
2011, oral hearing before a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit,
"Corbett is seeking to be vindicated; Farnan is seeking a stronger
ruling against Corbett, and for Corbett's qualified immunity to be
tossed out." The panel was reportedly "skeptical and critical of
arguments from both sides."

In its decision, however, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district
court's grant of qualified immunity to Corbett, writing:


In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be
sensitive to students' personal beliefs and take care not to abuse
their positions of authority. ... But teachers must also be given
leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and
develop their analytical abilities. This balance is hard to achieve,
and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing
dogmatic restrictions that chill teachers from adopting the
pedagogical methods they believe are most effective. ... At some point
a teacher's comments on religion might cross the line and rise to the
level of unconstitutional hostility. But without any cases
illuminating the "'dimly perceive[d] . . . line[ ] of demarcation'"
between permissible and impermissible discussion of religion in a
college level history class [Corbett was teaching Advanced Placement
European history], we cannot conclude that a reasonable teacher
standing in Corbett's shoes would have been on notice that his actions
might be unconstitutional.


The decision added, "Because we do not reach the constitutionality of
any of Corbett's statements, we vacate the district court?s judgment
in that respect."

The Orange County Register (August 19, 2011) reported, "Robert Tyler,
a lawyer with the Faith and Freedom legal organization who represented
the student, said he would ask the appeals court to reconsider its
decision [presumably en banc, i.e., with eleven judges from the
circuit hearing the appeal]. Tyler also said he would ask the U.S.
Supreme Court to review the case if the appeals court doesn't change
its ruling."

For the Ninth Circuit's decision (PDF), visit: 

For the Orange County Register's 5/1/2009 story, visit: 

For information on the Peloza case, visit: 

For the district court's rulings about Corbett's statement and his
qualified immunity (PDF), visit: 

For the Orange County Register's 2/11/2011 story, visit: 

For the Orange County Register's 8/19/2011 story, visit: 

And for NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit: 


NCSE is pleased to announce the fourth issue of Reports of the
National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format. The
issue -- volume 31, number 4 -- features a pair of articles on surveys
of attitudes to evolution among preservice teachers: Hasan Deniz,
Faruk Cetin, and Irfan Yilmaz's "Examining the Relationships among
Acceptance of Evolution, Religiosity, and Teaching Preference for
Evolution in Turkish Preservice Biology Teachers" and Hasan Deniz and
Lisa A. Donnelly's "Preservice Secondary Science Teachers? Acceptance
of Evolutionary Theory and Factors related to Acceptance." For his
regular People and Places column, Randy Moore discusses Cerro
Tijeretas, Isla San Cristóbal -- where Darwin first set foot on the

Plus a host of reviews of books on Darwin and evolution aimed at
children, as well as a novel: Scott Hatfield reviews Jay Hosler's
Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth; David C Kopaska-Merkel reviews
Sandra Dutton's Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth; Stephanie LaMassa
reviews Dean Koontz's Breathless; Louise S. Mead reviews two books on
evolution (John Long's The Big Picture Book and Robert Winston's
Evolution Revolution) and, separately, two books on Darwin (Mick
Manning and Brita Granström's What Darwin Saw and Alice B. McGinty's
Darwin: With Glimpses into his Private Journal & Letters, and Ben
Roberts reviews Sandra Markle's Animals Charles Darwin Saw.

All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in
PDF form from Members of NCSE will shortly be 
receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 31:4, which, in
addition to summaries of the on-line material, contains news from the
membership, a regular column in which NCSE staffers offer personal
reports on what they've been doing to defend the teaching of
evolution, a new regular column interviewing NCSE's favorite people --
members of NCSE's board of directors, NCSE's Supporters, recipients of
NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, and so on -- and more besides. (Not a
member? Join today!)

For the table of contents for RNCSE 31:4, visit: 

For information about joining NCSE, visit: 

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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

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