NTS LogoSkeptical News for 11 April 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Evolution education update: April 10, 2009

Eugenie C. Scott will be on Science Friday today to discuss the fight over evolution in Texas's state science standards. Plus two chances to celebrate the Darwin anniversaries with video, and a cartoon contest to promote science education.

SCOTT TO APPEAR ON SCIENCE FRIDAY

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is scheduled to be a guest on the first hour of NPR's Science Friday show for April 10, 2009. Science Friday's description of the segment: "In late March, the Texas State Board of Education held several days of debate over new curriculum requirements scheduled to take effect in 2010. The school board eventually decided to accept evolution as accepted, mainstream science -- but the standards were modified to instruct that students examine 'all sides of scientific evidence' on a range of topics. Critics of the school board say that phrases such as 'all sides' and 'examine the strengths and weaknesses' (a phrase rejected by the board after debate) are code words that would allow the teaching of creationism in the science classroom. The large state of Texas is considered a crucial battleground in the fight over teaching evolution, as its purchasing power gives the state's curriculum standards a good deal of influence over the content of textbooks sold around the country. We'll find out how the topic of evolution will be taught under the new standards." The segment airs and streams between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. (Eastern) on many NPR stations across the country; a list of stations is available on the show's website.

For Science Friday's description of the segment, visit:
http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/200904101

For a list of stations airing and streaming Science Friday, visit:
http://www.sciencefriday.com/about/stations/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/texas

CELEBRATE THE DARWIN ANNIVERSARIES WITH VIDEO

Two projects to celebrate the Darwin anniversaries -- the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species -- are soliciting video contributions. For its Darwin Aloud project, the Center for Inquiry West is asking people to videotape themselves by a site of natural beauty or scientific importance reading from the last chapter of the Origin. Entries are due by June 1, 2009. Evolution: Education and Outreach is inviting libraries that are celebrating the Darwin anniversaries to videotape or photograph their Darwin Year displays; a lucky winner will be featured in a forthcoming issue of the journal. Entries are due by September 1, 2009.

The Society for the Study of Evolution already produced its own video celebration in time for the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, featuring members of the SSE's council, Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Peter H. Raven, Francisco Ayala, Richard Lenski, Susan Epperson, Neil Shubin and Tiktaalik, high school teachers from Dover, Pennsylvania, George Coyne, Sean Carroll, faculty and graduate students at the University of St. Andrews, staff of the NCSE, Darwin Day celebrants at Cedar Crest College, and students at Michigan State University.

For information about the Darwin Aloud project, visit:
http://www.cfiwest.org/darwinaloud/

For information about the Evolution: Education and Outreach contest, visit:
http://www.springer.com/life+sci/darwin+year+2009?SGWID=0-167002-0-0-0

For the Society for the Study of Evolution's video, visit:
http://www.happybirthdaydarwin.org/

STICK SCIENCE CARTOON CONTEST

Florida Citizens for Science, a grassroots organization defending and promoting the integrity of science education in Florida, is sponsoring a cartoon contest! At the FCFS blog (April 1, 2009), Brandon Haught explains, "The basic concept here is to draw a cartoon that educates the public about misconceptions the average person has about science (or for the 12-year-old and under folks, a cartoon about 'why understanding science is important')." And lack of artistic ability isn't a problem: "all entries must be drawn using stick figures. This is about creative ideas, not artistic ability."

Entries are due (by e-mail or post) by May 31, 2009. Prizes include various books, movies, and toys. Judges are NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, Phil Plait, the author of Bad Astronomy and Death from the Skies!; Carl Zimmer, the author of Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea and Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life; and Kate Miller, the founder of the evolution toystore Charlie's Playhouse. Full details of the contest are available on FCFS's website.

For Florida Citizens for Science's blog, visit:
http://www.flascience.org/wp/

For details about the contest, visit:
http://www.flascience.org/sshome.html

NOTICE AND REMINDER

In the near future, the Evolution Education Update is going to be transferred to Google Groups. You'll continue to receive news from NCSE every week, but it will be originating from ncse-news@googlegroups.com. You'll also have the option of reading messages and managing your subscription on the web, rather than by e-mail.

The process of transferring the list is proving to be a little slower than we hoped. You can help by directly subscribing, rather than waiting for us to add you to the new list. To do so, either send e-mail to ncse-news-subscribe@googlegroups.com or visit http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news.

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://ncseweb.org 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@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
http://ncseweb.org/evc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Brown University professor breaks down evolution debate

http://www.kstatecollegian.com/brown-university-professor-breaks-down-evolution-debate-1.1652262

Mark Wampler

Published: Friday, April 10, 2009
Updated: Friday, April 10, 2009

Evolution shows how science is compatible with faith, Kenneth R. Miller, biology professor at Brown University, said in a lecture titled "Is Evolution Only a Theory? America's Continuing Struggle with Darwin, God and Design," Thursday in the K-State Student Union Ballroom.

Miller's talk was the third and final lecture in the Darwin Celebrations series, sponsored by the Center for the Understanding of Origins. 2009 is the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his monumental publication "On the Origin of Species."

"Miller is probably best known for promoting public understanding of science, especially evolution," said Srini Kambhampati, professor of insect genetics and evolution. "He has written extensively on the compatibility of evolution and faith."

Miller, a cellular biologist, said he was initially surprised at the large sales of his book "Finding Darwin's God," but it showed him that the public wants to hear the issues of evolution and faith discussed, even though it can be a polarizing issue.

"I don't have to tell anyone in Kansas that evolution is an issue that divides Americans," Miller said to a crowd that filled the West Ballroom in the K-State Student Union, referring to the publicity that Kansas has gotten about its varying positions on the issue in recent years.

While Miller said he had no doubt that proponents of intelligent design are sincere, he said there is no scientific justification for the proposed theory.

"There is no coherent set of scientific principles, or any principles at all, that underlies intelligent design," he said, adding that evolution is "science and not conjecture."

Miller said anti-evolution resources in the United States are everywhere and the proponents of intelligent design have two "weapons" they use to drive students away from evolution.

The first, he said, is an intentional distortion of the facts. Miller cited evidence against what he said was on oft-used argument against evolution: missing fossil records of transitional species.

"The notion that there are no transitional forms between us and our common ancestors is not scientifically tenable," he said.

Miller also touched on genetics and stated that "the evidence for human evolution is everywhere in the human genome."

The "fear of evolution itself," or the argument that evolution takes away all significance for humans because they become just a product of chance, is the second weapon, he said.

"I don't think we are a mistake of nature," Miller said. "There is a design to life and the design is the evolutionary process."

Miller said the way he regards evolution does not devalue humans' significance but that "the view of life we get from evolution is grand and magnificent."

Miller said that those who believe in a creator and those who don't can ultimately come to the same terms with evolution because evolution can either be seen as nature or God's method of creation, which is "ultimately why science is compatible with faith."

"A material science devoted to the study of nature need not be hostile to religious faith, nor must such faith be hostile to science," Miller said.

The audience showed appreciation for Miller's ability to break down the complicated debate between religion and science.

"I was very encouraged by what he had to say," said Ben Davis, senior in political science. "It's very helpful to people when they are exploring these issues trying to bring some type of reconciliation between faith and scientific fact, to see someone who is so credible about these things add weight to the discussion."

NPR Interview on Texas Evolution Decision Reveals Media Bias

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/npr_interview_on_texas_evoluti.html

Last week I did an interview with an NPR reporter, Bob Garfield, for his NPR show "On the Media" about the recent Texas decision. I am used to hostile and skeptical questions from the media--and in fact I generally welcome good, hard discussions from reporters. But this reporter was particularly hostile and seemed to have an agenda to paint Darwin-skeptics like crazy religious fanatics. The final story lived up to its expectations.

The Interview: A string of False Accusations and "How Dare You?" Type Questions

The interview started with benign questions about the recent decision of the Texas State Board of Education to welcome scientific critique of evolution into the curriculum. This quickly descended into various "how dare you" type questions, about whether this was all a plot by the "Religious Right" to insert religion into public schools, and why I rejected all the fossil and cosmological evidence that shows the universe isn't 10,000 years old. "Huh?," I replied. I quickly informed Mr. Garfield that not only do we oppose advocating religion in science classrooms, but that I'm not a young earth creationist, and that the debate in Texas has never been about young earth creationism. The new Texas Science Standards only require scientific critical analysis of evolution, and in no way shape or form invited biblical creationism or religion into the classroom.

Mr. Garfield was also reminded that many of the 13 members of the Texas State Board of Education who voted for the new science standards both professed to accept evolution and stridently opposed the teaching of creationism, and thus it would seem highly unlikely that the new Texas standards were a "Trojan horse" for teaching religion. Nonetheless, the final story favorably quoted members of the evolution lobby saying this is all a ruse for creationism.

But during our interview, having lost his argument that the new Texas Science Standards were a conspiracy to bring religion into the curriculum, Garfield shifted our conversation to the science. Again, he asked various "How dare you?" type questions, making assertions like virtually "100%" of scientists accept evolution, or that evolution comprised the unchallengeable "consensus," or that there is no fossil evidence that challenges evolution. I reminded him that a critical mass of well-credentialed scientists in fact don't support neo-Darwinian evolution, and that a number of Ph.D. biologists testified in Texas about scientific weaknesses in evolution. He then accused me of cherry-picking data because, outside of the Texas hearings, he asserted that essentially the "universe" of scientists support evolution. Not true, I told him. I replied that while surely majority of scientists do support evolution, there are credible scientists who dissent from it--hundreds of Ph.D.s in fact--and that there are plenty of discussions of doubts about core claims of neo-Darwinism in the scientific literature. I also discussed some of the reasons for these doubts-ranging from the inability of empirical evidence of natural selection to be extrapolated to bolster the grand claims of neo-Darwinism to the lack of confirming fossil evidence.

Mr. Garfield's reply to my discussion of the science was that we were getting outside of his field, and he cut all of my discussions of the scientific weaknesses in neo-Darwinism from the final story. There's no shame in him not knowing much about science, but it's troubling that despite his self-professed ignorance on the science, he acted like he knew for a fact that skeptics of Darwinian evolution had no scientific basis should be treated like crazy religious fanatics.

As a last ditch attempt to discredit Darwin-doubters, Garfield compared teaching critique of evolution to teaching Holocaust denial. I replied that not only is there a world of difference between the two (hundreds of serious Ph.D. scientists doubt neo-Darwinism, and one cannot find such credibility supporting something as pernicious as Holocaust denial!), but I also told him that given that I (as well as many other Darwin-skeptics) am Jewish and had close friends impacted by the Holocaust, his comparison was not just fallacious, but out-of-line. I mentioned that even more scientists would come out of the closet to express their doubts about evolution were it not for the intolerance in the scientific community towards dissent from Darwinism. His reply was was to twist my position into allegedly arguing that scientists don't really believe in evolution, they're just forced to pledge allegiance to it due to pressure. I replied that this was not at all what I was saying, because of course a great many scientists harbor purely bona fide scientific support for evolution. My point was that were it not for the climate of intolerance, we'd see far more doubters and skeptics breaking their silence. However, final story, Garfield apparently sliced and diced my response so that it sounded like I affirmed his assertion that any "consensus" over evolution is the result of intimidation, when that is not at all how I responded to his question and false characterization of my views.

NPR Reporter Lets Ken Miller Play Spokesman For Discovery Institute

Rather than letting me accurately state my own views, the final story interviewed Ken Miller and quoted HIM as the expert on Discovery Institute's positions. Wow. Most amusingly, Miller couldn't even get the name of our ID program correct, as he misstated the name of the Center for Science and Culture as the "committee on science and culture." Would-be spokesman Miller also apparently speaks for Discovery Institute's finances, as he called us a "very well-funded think tank," even though his own biology department's budget dwarfs our ID-budget.

Garfield also allowed Miller to speak for Discovery Institute regarding its involvement in the Dover case, stating that "It's clear that their [Discovery Institute's] arguments and their publications and their ideas were very much behind what the school board wanted to do, and were part of the reason for the trial happening in the first place." Somehow Miller, in his new NPR-given role as spokesman for Discovery Institute, failed to mention that Discovery Institute opposed Dover's policy to mandate ID from the very beginning. In fact, I explained all of this to an "On the media" staffer who interviewed me, but none of my discussion of our actual involvement with Dover made it into the final story. Instead, Ken Miller was granted the privilege of speaking for Discovery Institute and Dover.

NPR's Garfield Touts Chris Comer as a "Victim" But Neglects to Mention One Supremely Important Fact

The final NPR story showed one additional evidence of gross media bias. Garfield closed by interviewing Chris Comer about the purported discrimination she faced at the hands of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Garfield stated that Comer "could be labeled a victim of the culture of intolerance, but not for being a creationist." Garfield then let Comer tell her story of alleged discrimination, claiming that the TEA was "firing me over evolution. ... it was as if I had committed murder," when in fact she wasn't even "fired"! There's nothing wrong with Garfield letting Comer tell her side of the story, even if it's not entirely accurate. But the offense came when Garfield somehow forgot to report one minor detail that listeners would probably want to know, namely the fact that a few days before his story aired, a federal judge threw Comer's discrimination lawsuit out of court on its merits.

Mr. Garfield apparently didn't want to let a little fact like that get in the way of his touting Comer as a "victim of the culture of intolerance." (Garfield also neglected to mention Comer's history of insubordination and misconduct at the TEA.)

Fin

Throughout his interview with me, the mindset of Mr. Garfield was basically 'If you doubt Darwinian evolution, you're a crazy religious fanatic who is equivalent to a Holocaust denier.' Based on my experience in the interview, it was unsurprising when I heard the final story and saw how it sliced and diced my quotes to misrepresent my position, let Ken Miller speak for (and misrepresent) Discovery Institute, and forgot to mention that Garfield's centerpiece evidence of "intolerance" against evolutionists was just thrown out of court.

I guess when you're trying to paint Darwin-skeptics as intolerant religious fanatics to the public, stereotypes and caricatures are far more important than the facts.

Posted by Casey Luskin on April 10, 2009 9:48 AM | Permalink

MP stays mum on evolution remarks

http://www2.canada.com/nanaimodailynews/news/story.html?id=8655fee4-a238-44b4-bac9-0654033c781f

Constituents weigh in on touchy topic
Darrell Bellaart, Daily News; with a file from Canwest News Service Published: Saturday, April 11, 2009

Whatever his reasons for bringing creationist theory into the Canadian Parliament, Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney is keeping silent.

He won't say why he gave a speech in the House of Commons Charles saying Darwin would likely rethink his theory of evolution today, based on new knowledge creationists say disprove evolution. He failed to return numerous calls, and last week he rebuffed questions at a Nanaimo press conference.

His comments, made April 2 in Ottawa, sparked controversy in his home riding. His speech drew an outpouring of letters in the Daily News' print edition and hundreds of comments on the newspaper's website. While some spoke in support of Lunney's comments, many were critical of his decision to mix religion with politics.

But Lunney's constituents may never learn his reasons for doing so.

"I won't comment," he said, pushing away a reporter's recording device during a funding announcement at the Vancouver Island University library on Wednesday.

"If you want to talk about the announcement being made here today, I'll talk to you about that, not that other issue."

Asked whether he stands behind his remarks made in the House, Lunney said: "100%," then stepped away, refusing further comment.

Bob Lane, a retired Malaspina University instructor who came to Canada from the U.S. in 1969, said while he recognizes Lunney right to an opinion, he should keep it private in the legislative assembly.

"The important point is the venue. Parliament is not the place," Lane said.

"If Lunney's got evidence to say that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong he should publish that in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and not talk about it in Parliament."

The debate comes at a time when a national poll finds nearly a third of Canadians believe the biblical story of creationism. A survey conducted for Canwest News Service and Global National for Easter found 30% of Canadians who believe in God also believe in evolution. Another 23% say they agree with ideas put forth by both creationists and evolutionists.

"As you get older, you become more accepting of possibilities," says John Wright, senior vice-president of Toronto-based pollster Ipsos Reid. "There are now people who are prepared to accept both sides and don't see them as necessarily being mutually exclusive."

Overall, 31% of Canadians believe humans were created by "a spiritual force" and not as part of an evolution from other species over time; 41% believe that humans evolved "from lower species such as apes;" 21% are on the fence, agreeing and disagreeing with certain aspects of each theory; 7% aren't sure.

Rev. Eleanor Barrington, minister of Trinity United Church in Ottawa, says pitting evolution and creation against each other serves only to "divide and judge." He said that "good theology embraces whatever knowledge is out there.

"The creation versus evolution debate is essentially a litmus test . . . to find out if you believe in the Bible literally," says Barrington, who was raised Roman Catholic. "But with a little bit of education, I think most people would be in the category of in-between."

To Barrington's view, God works through the natural world, including evolution. Some Canadians, however, aren't sold on contemporary Christianity's increasing willingness to invite Darwin into the pews.

"I believe God created us," says Dave Gatehouse, an Ottawa-based retiree. "That they can't find the missing link between man and ape isn't the point. There is no such thing as a fish springing legs and walking out of the sea; there have to be millions of transitions. So they're missing millions of links, not just one or two."

Gatehouse, who interprets the Biblical creation story literally, describes evolution as "bad information that just seeped out and people swallowed it."

Holden Southward, of Nanaimo sees no conflict between the Book of Genesis or Darwin's theory. As to taking the debate inside the seat of government, his only concern is that it doesn't interfere with government doing its job.

"For me, once is no big deal," Southward said. "I don't see a problem with it as long as it's not a continuing thing. If somebody wants to continue to push the issue, it would be more of a problem."

The poll of 1,000 people, conducted by phone from March 31 to April 2, 2009, is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

DBellaart@nanaimodailynews.com

250-729-4235

© The Daily News (Nanaimo) 2009


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Texas rejects effort to require teaching of evolution 'weaknesses'

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/DN-evolution_27tex.ART0.State.Edition1.4a7acaf.html

12:00 AM CDT on Friday, March 27, 2009
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com

AUSTIN – In a decision watched by science educators across the nation, the State Board of Education on Thursday narrowly turned aside a last-ditch effort by social conservatives to require that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in science classes in Texas.

Board members deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to restore a longtime curriculum rule that "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories – notably Charles Darwin's theory of evolution – be covered in science classes and textbooks for those subjects.

The tie vote upheld a preliminary decision by the board in January to delete the strengths-and-weaknesses rule in the new curriculum standards for science classes that will be in force for the next decade. That decision, if finalized in a last vote today, changes 20 years of Texas education policy.

Because the standards spell out what must be covered in textbooks, science educators and publishers have been monitoring the Texas debate closely. As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas influences what is sold in other states.

The science standards adopted by the board also will figure into questions used on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Voting for the requirement were the seven Republican board members aligned with social conservative groups. Against the proposal were three other Republicans and four Democrats. Critics of evolution managed to add a few small caveats to the curriculum, but none as sweeping as the strengths-and-weaknesses rule.

Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, proposed that the rule be put back into the standards, arguing that evolution advocates were trying to stifle classroom discussion of Darwin's theory that humans gradually developed from lower life forms.

"I don't see how we can say there is no disagreement about evolution. There is disagreement," said Mercer, taking issue with science teachers and academics who told the board that the theory of evolution is universally accepted in the scientific community. He cited a document by hundreds of scientists questioning some of Darwin's tenets.

He also charged that evolution advocates have a history of falsifying evidence and drawing erroneous conclusions to support their position.

Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, who opposed the weaknesses rule, argued that its supporters had "perverted" the debate by suggesting that the science standards would be "nothing" if they did not include the strengths-and-weaknesses requirement for evolution and other theories.

Miller also said many of those criticizing the board for dropping the rule had not even read the curriculum document. "They are acting on hearsay," she said of the hundreds of e-mails she has received from evolution critics.

Board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, took issue with complaints by social conservatives that removal of the requirement would keep students from thoroughly examining evolution.

"Reasonable people understand we are not trying to cut off debate and stifle academic freedom. The problem is that [evolution] critics want religious perspective put into the classroom, which we know is unconstitutional," she said.

Knight, who had heart surgery in February, cast her vote by videoconference from the state education service center in Richardson.

Joining Knight and Miller in opposing the weaknesses requirement was Republican Pat Hardy of Fort Worth.

One board member who was absent, Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, will participate in today's meeting by videoconference from Houston. She has already stated her opposition to the rule.

Opponents of the strengths and weaknesses rule have argued that it would eventually open the door to teaching of creationism – the biblical explanation of the origin of humans – in science classes.

The seven board members and social conservative groups supporting the rule have denied those assertions and pointed out that the strengths-and-weaknesses rule has been in the curriculum standards for two decades.

Evolution critics scored some victories before the standards for all elementary and high school science classes were tentatively adopted Thursday.

The most significant was a change brought by board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, who proposed that students be required to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection – two key Darwin tenets – in examining fossil records and cell structure, respectively.

Both provisions were affirmed in close votes, with some board members saying they would be challenged again Friday.

At one point in the meeting, evolution critics held up signs proclaiming, "Don't censor science." After objections from some board members, the posters were removed from the boardroom.

The language adopted by board members on evolution and other scientific theories states that students shall "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning and experimental and observational testing."

Action on the science standards caps several months of debate. The issue last flared up when the board adopted new biology textbooks in 2003, when social conservatives tried to reject books that were deemed too pro-evolution but failed.

MIOS MEETING

Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear

DAVID R. McQUEEN

Present

THE FLOOD GEOLOGY OF TEXAS

McQueen will look at the overall geology of Texas from the eastern border with Louisiana westward to El Paso. He will emphasize the rocks 50 miles west of Shreveport, LA, the Glen Rose section, and the rocks near Lubbock, TX. His question: Flood geology or evolutionary geology--Which model explains it better?

Mr. McQueen has earned an Associates Degree in Science from Southeastern Christian College (KY) in 1972, a B.A. in Geology from the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) in 1974, a M.S. in Geology from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in 1979, and an Ed.S. in Secondary Science Curriculum and Instruction form the University of Louisiana (Monroe) in 1989. In the early 1990s, Professor McQueen cross-trained as an environmental toxicologist by taking 40 graduate hours through the College of Pharmacy (ULM).

Dr. Pepper Starcenter
12700 N. Stemmons Fwy
Farmers Branch, TX

Tuesday, April 7th---7:30 PM

Curriculum teaches evolution as theory not fact

By Rhiannon Meyers
The Daily News
Published April 5, 2009

Changes in the state's science curriculum allow teachers more freedom to teach controversial topics such as evolution and global warming as debatable theories, rather than hard facts, instructors say.

The State Board of Education recently changed the high school curriculum on global warming and evolution. Students are now asked to analyze and evaluate the existence of global warming and "all sides" of evolution theories. In the old curriculum, global warming was barely mentioned, and any lessons on evolution had to include discussions on the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory.

The revision of global warming lessons angered environmentalists who said the new curriculum opens the door to questions about the existence of global warming.

But area teachers said the board's decision reaffirms what many of them have been doing all along: teaching evolution and global warming as scientific theories.

"The (state curriculum) has us treat all of these things as theories, which is what they are," Theresa Lawrence, a Friendswood High School chemistry teacher, said. "So that leaves it to the individual student to decide if it is a 'good' theory or not. In my opinion, that is how it should be."

The changes to the state curriculum, called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, will remain in place for 10 years. Texas high school students will be tested on the new curriculum, and textbooks will be required to address the changes.

Texas students, many of whom come from conservative backgrounds, often struggle with lessons on evolution and global warming, said Laura Clark, secondary science specialist for the Texas City public school district.

On a recent archaeological field trip to the Texas Hill Country, Clark fielded questions from high school students about dinosaurs, she said.

Some of them, who had been raised in conservative Christian households, were battling with the lessons on dinosaur fossils and statements that the Earth is more than 4 billion years old, Clark said.

The former science teacher explained to them those are "scientific explanations" of the Earth's creation and biological evolution, she said.

Without mentioning creationism or intelligent design, Clark advised her dubious students to talk to their spiritual advisers or parents regarding other theories about biological evolution, she said.

U.S. judges have consistently ruled that instructors cannot teach creationism or intelligent design in public schools.

That sort of delicate balancing act between faith and science — teaching students about science without encroaching on their religious beliefs — is something that teachers have been doing long before the state board changed the curriculum, Clark said.

Global warming is more debated in Texas City classrooms than evolution, she said.

"It's amazing how hotly it can get debated in class," Clark said. "There are some students who believe the media and the government are trying to make it a bigger deal than it is and that they are trying to cause panic. Then there are other students who truly believe an increase in carbon dioxide in the air is breaking down the ozone layer ... We teach both sides, anyway — especially if it's something controversial like that."

Though the state curriculum has never specifically addressed climate change, Lawrence has been teaching her Friendswood students about global warming and carbon footprints.

"Whether I or my students believe in the theory is really irrelevant," she said. "We all need to know the science to understand what proponents and opponents are talking about. Then students can make their own informed decisions. So, I don't think this (new curriculum) wording changes anything that I do."

Texas science standards recall Dover intelligent design battle

http://www.google.com/url?sa=X&q=http://ydr.inyork.com/ci_12066278&ct=ga&cd=y-VRGxhLL-g&usg=AFQjCNHHd49-6rdSTgxVR1Lewe4zcGYyiQ

By JEFF FRANTZ
Daily Record/Sunday News

Posted: 04/05/2009 05:00:00 AM EDT

Eric Rothschild, one of the lawyers for the group of parents that sued Dover school district over intelligent design in 2004, is surrounded by media during the trial the following year. Rothschild says if a Texas school district tries to teach creationism in a science curriculum, it can be successfully challenged in court. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- File) Steve Stough was silent.

He had just heard a passage from Texas' new public school science standards, and was processing.

Then:

"Oh ----," he said. "That's intelligent design without using the nomenclature. It really, truly is."

Stough was one of 11 parents who sued the Dover Area School District in 2004 after the district became the first in the country to require the mention of intelligent design in high school biology class.

After a six-week trial in 2005, a federal judge ruled intelligent design was a form of creationism that had a primary objective of promoting religion, and that including it as part of the science curriculum violated the separation of church and state.

Science teachers in Texas and around the

Critics charge that the Texas board has codified many of intelligent design's arguments, but without using the politically-charged term that has been associated with creationism, particularly since the Dover case.

Backers -- many of whom have supported teaching intelligent design or creationism --maintain the language is only an effort toward teaching science better.

The new Texas standards removed a requirement that students analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory of evolution.

In its place, students must now "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations in all fields of science." Additionally, several amendments require students to analyze and critique specific ideas, such as "explanations concerning the complexity of the cell."

Board president Don McElroy, a creationist, told The Associated Press the later amendment was added "to account for that amazing complexity. I think it's a standard that makes it honest with our children."

Two other amendments McElroy proposed -- that would have required students to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection of species, both key principals of Darwin -- were voted down by the board.

Those involved on the plaintiffs' side of the Dover lawsuit said it all sounds too familiar.

"It just seems to be the next way to bring creationism back in, but they're not so blunt about it," said Tammy Kitzmiller, the plaintiff whose name was listed first on the lawsuit.

"It's definitely a backdoor approach. It's understated. It's re-worded. It's going to fly under the radar for a lot of people."

***

Michael Baldwin first became concerned about the new standards as ideas for them were unveiled two years ago.

A biology teacher in Brownsville, Texas, Baldwin is the president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas. He was shown a demonstration of an exercise where seventh-grade earth science students were supposed to analyze plate tectonic theory.

The exercise, he said, included two differing explanations for how the plates that cover the earth move. The explanations were presented in such a way as to suggest that plate tectonic theory itself might be wrong because there is disagreement about how it works.

But in mainstream science, tectonic theory is an accepted building block of geology, Baldwin said, just like evolution is considered the foundation of biology.

The new standards, Baldwin said, are filled with such ideological traps that could create the appearance of scientific doubt in areas of certainty.

Ken Miller is the co-author of the most widely used biology textbook in Texas, and was one of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses in the Dover trial.

"(The standard's authors) say 'All we really want to do is propose critical analysis of evolution,'" said Miller, a professor at Brown University. "But then you look at their critical set of arguments, it's the same thing they were saying about intelligent design."

The standard requiring students to critique "explanations concerning complexity of the cell," Miller said, parrots the concept of "irreducible complexity," one of intelligent design's main tenets.

Another standard says students must analyze scientific explanations concerning any data of "sudden appearance," which Miller called an element of intelligent design. In the Dover trial, the plaintiffs showed manuscripts for an unreleased textbook in which the phrase replaced "intelligent design."

Even setting aside ideology, Baldwin said it is not feasible for third- through 12th-grade teachers to cover every argument someone wants to present about a subject. Still, he said, he's optimistic science teachers will be able to do their jobs.

"It's only going to be an issue if some parent says you're talking about natural selection and here's some information from my church that you need to present because it's the law," Baldwin said. "We don't know if that's going to happen or how often, but it's what we're all fearful of."

***

Those who back the new standards say that there is a stark difference between intelligent design and what the Texas board adopted.

The new standards require teachers to give their students the full range of information on evolution, said Casey Luskin, the program officer for public policy and legal affairs for the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design.

The Discovery Institute does not support teaching intelligent design in public schools because it politicizes the issue and makes it harder for researchers, Luskin said, which is why the institute did not back the Dover school district during the trial.

He said experts like Miller are being disingenuous when they describe sudden appearance as if it's solely associated with intelligent design.

"This is bullcrap," Luskin said. "Terms like abrupt appearance, sudden appearance, you can find them in the mainstream literature.

"We have to get past these bluffs from the evolution lobby or scientific research will just be shut down."

Michael Behe, the Lehigh University biology professor who is a proponent of intelligent design, said the Texas standards simply ask students not to treat evolution as an "icon that cannot be questioned."

"You need at least another view -- if not intelligent design, it's got to be something -- so students get a balanced view," Behe said.

Both rejected critics' suggestions that the new standards are an attempt to confuse students about evolution so they might be more susceptible to creationism arguments made outside the classroom.

"As long as you're teaching science accurately -- which is all I'm asking for here -- why shouldn't children be able to think for themselves," Luskin said, "and reach their own conclusions?"

***

Right now, all sides are waiting to see how the teachers put the new standards into practice, next fall, and how communities will react.

If Dover was a fight about biology class, the Texas standards -- which require students to analyze "views on the existence of global warming," the age of the universe and the Big Bang theory -- could set the stage for battles across scientific disciplines.

"One of my first concerns when this happened in Dover was what class will be next," Kitzmiller said. "That's what the people in Texas really need to be aware of."

Eric Rothschild, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the Dover trial, said if teachers adhere to the language and teach only science, they won't be drawn into arguments about irreducible complexity or gaps in the fossil record.

Should teachers begin teaching creationism, both Kitzmiller and Stough said they hoped some group of parents would make the hard decision to stand up to the state board.

The groundwork for a legal challenge would likely look different, said Rothschild, who could only speak in general since the full text of the Texas standards have not been published.

In Dover, he said, teachers were ordered to read a statement about a concept, and the plaintiffs challenged that concept. In Texas, he said, the board appears to open the door for creationist ideas, but leaves it up to individual teachers to insert religion into the classroom.

The plaintiffs in Dover also had something else on their side.

"There was actually a tangible concept as opposed to more generic ways of diluting how science is taught," Rothschild said. "Having a name helped, because names have meanings."

Still, he said, if schools in Texas attempt to teach some form of creationism, there will be a way to challenge it successfully.

***

Angie Yingling was a school board member in Dover who voted in favor of intelligent design before changing her mind, voting against it and then resigning.

When told of the new Texas standards, she had words of caution for the state board based on what happened in Dover.

"Look at the outcome," Yingling said. "Look at what happened. A whole bunch of taxpayer money spent and (they) lost."

THE STANDARDS

For the last decade, Texas science standards have required students to analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. On March 27, the state's Board of Education approved new standards that will govern science education.

The board replaced the "strengths and weaknesses" rule with an amendment stating: students must "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations in all fields of science by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

Other added standards included:

--- "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil record."

--- "Analyze and evaluate the evidence concerning the complexity of the cell."

--- "Analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life."

--- Study "how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal differing theories about the structure, scale, composition, origin and history of the universe."

--- "Analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming."

INTELLIGENT DESIGN

Intelligent design asserts that living things exhibit such complex systems that they must have been engineered by an intelligent agent.

SUDDEN APPEARANCE

The new Texas science standards call for students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil record."

Plaintiffs in the Dover intelligent design trial, their expert witnesses and teachers in Texas noted that "sudden appearance" is an argument frequently made by intelligent design proponents.

During the trial, the plaintiffs showed manuscripts of two editions of the book, "Of People and Pandas," and a manuscript of a then unpublished book, "The Design of Life."

The first edition included the phrase: "Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator, with their distinctive features already intact -- fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc."

The second, published after a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that forbade the teaching of creationism in public schools, included: "Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact -- fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, etc."

The third, from "The Design of Life" included: "Sudden appearance means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact -- fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, and mammals with fur and mammary glands, etc."

After unveiling the evidence, Eric Rothschild, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers asked, "Will we be back in a couple of years for the 'sudden appearance' trial?"

The presiding judge, John E. Jones III, replied, "Not on my docket."


Friday, April 03, 2009

Evolution education update: April 3, 2009

Plenty of news in Texas again: the Texas state board of education voted to adopt a flawed set of state science standards, and Chris Comer's suit against the Texas Education Agency was dismissed. In Florida, the Florida Academy of Sciences denounced the antievolution bill still in the state senate. A few seats remain aboard NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon. And the Evolution Education Update is going to be transferred to Google Groups in the near future.

A SETBACK FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION IN TEXAS

At its March 25-27, 2009, meeting, the Texas state board of education voted to adopt a flawed set of state science standards, which will dictate what is taught in science classes in elementary and secondary schools, as well as provide the material for state tests and textbooks, for the next decade. Although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language from the old set of standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms -- such as "sufficiency or insufficiency" and "supportive and not supportive" -- and eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific evidence." Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe.

The proceedings were confusing and contentious, and it is understandable that journalists differed in their initial assessments of the significance of the vote: for example, the Dallas Morning News (March 28, 2009) headlined its article as "Conservatives lose another battle over evolution," while the Wall Street Journal (March 27, 2009) headlined its article as "Texas Opens Classroom Door for Evolution Doubts," and the Austin-American-Statesman (March 28, 2009) played it safe with "State education board approves science standards." As the dust settled, though, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott -- who was invited to testify before the board at its meeting -- commented, in a March 30, 2009, press release, "The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science."

"The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across the country," Scott added. Among the organizations calling upon the board to adopt the standards as originally drafted by a panel of Texas scientists and educators were the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Paleontological Society, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Texas Association of Biology Teachers, as well as fifty-four scientific and education societies that endorsed a statement circulated by NCSE. The board's chair, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, responded by crying (video is available on NCSE's YouTube channel), during the meeting, "Somebody's got to stand up to experts!"

Writing in Salon (March 29, 2009), Gordy Slack -- the author of The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and a School Board in Dover, PA (Jossey-Bass 2007) -- explained that after Kitzmiller v. Dover, "advocates of teaching neo-creationism have been forced to seek other ways into public science classrooms. Enter the 'strengths and weaknesses' strategy." After the creationist faction on the board failed to reinsert the "strengths and weaknesses" language, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "they had a fallback position, which was to continue amending the standards to achieve through the back door what they couldn't achieve upfront." Slack added, "Each of the amendments singles out an old creationist argument, strips it of its overtly ideological language, and requires teachers and textbook publishers to adopt it."

Rachel Courtland, a blogger for New Scientist (March 31, 2009), examined a case in point: the deletion of a reference in the standards to the age of the universe ("about 14 billion years ago"). As revised, the standards require students to learn "current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe," with the actual age absent. "Is the new standard an invitation for young-Earth proponents to teach students that the Earth and the universe beyond it is just a few thousand years old?" asked Courtland, adding, "Some teachers could conceivably see it as an opening. According to a 2008 study ["Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait" from PLoS Biology 2008; 6 (5)], 16% of US science teachers believe humans were created by God in the last 10,000 years."

Texas groups defending the integrity of science education were dismayed at the result. Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, Kathy Miller, said in a March 27, 2009, statement, "The word 'weaknesses' no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms. Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks." There is a historical precedent in the textbook adoption process from 2003, when creationists selectively applied the "strengths and weaknesses" language to try to dilute the treatment of evolution in the textbooks under consideration.

On his blog for the Houston Chronicle (March 27, 2009), Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science optimistically commented, "I think we can work around the few flawed standards," but lamented, "But the point is that there shouldn't be ANY flawed standards. The science standards as submitted by the science writing teams were excellent and flaw-free. All the flaws were added by politically unscrupulous SBOE members with an extreme right-wing religious agenda to support Creationism." Having attended (and blogged from) all three days of the meeting and observed the confusion and contention among the members of the board, he ruefully added, "this is not the way to develop educational policy in one of the most wealthy and powerful states in the most wealthy and powerful country in the world in the 21st century."

Even The New York Times (March 30, 2009) took notice of the plight of science education in Texas, editorially commenting, "This was not a straightforward battle over whether to include creationism or its close cousin, intelligent design, in the science curriculum. Rather, this was a struggle to insert into the state science standards various phrases and code words that may seem innocuous or meaningless at first glance but could open the door to doubts about evolution. ... At the end of a tense, confusing three-day meeting, Darwin's critics claimed that this and other compromise language amounted to a huge victory that would still allow their critiques into textbooks and classrooms. One can only hope that teachers in Texas will use common sense and teach evolution as scientists understand it."

The Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) editorially complained, "Chairman Don McLeroy, Dunbar and others have turned the education board into a national joke. But when it comes to teaching Texas children, what they have done is not funny. Last week's discussion about shaping the teaching of science to allow doubts about evolution was surreal. Biology texts now must include 'all sides' of scientific theories ... The underlying point is that a board majority wants creationism to be part of the scientific discussion. And they got enough of a foot in the door with their language about teaching 'all sides' of scientific theories that publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell science textbooks to Texas schools."

Detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings is available on a number of blogs: Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman was blogging and posting photographs on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog, the Texas Freedom Network was blogging on its TFN Insider blog, and NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs). For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website as well as on Tony Whitson's Curricublog. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line, and of course NCSE will continue to monitor the situation as well as to assist those defending the teaching of evolution in the Lone Star State.

For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/DN-evolution_28tex.ART.State.Edition1.4a87415.html

For the story in the Wall Street Journal, visit:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123819751472561761.html

For the story in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/03/28/0328sboe.html

For NCSE's press release, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/03/science-setback-texas-schools-004708

For NCSE's story about the societies supporting the standards, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/03/texas-needs-to-get-it-right-004695

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd

For Gordy Slack's column in Salon, visit:
http://www.salon.com/env/feature/2009/03/28/texas_evolution_case/

For the New Scientist blog post, visit: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/03/universes-age-erased-from-texa.html

For "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait," visit:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124

For TFN's statement, visit:
http://www.tfn.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5745

For Steven Schafersman's comments, visit:
http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html

For the editorial in The New York Times, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/opinion/31tue3.html

For the editorial in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/04/01/0401sboe_edit.html

For the blog coverage of the hearings, visit:
http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html
http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/
http://www.scienceblogs.com/tfk/

For the minutes and records from the TEA, visit:
http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/minutes_archived.html
http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/audio_archived.html
http://curricublog.wordpress.com/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/texas

COMER CASE DISMISSED

In a March 31, 2009, decision, Chris Comer's lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency, challenging the agency's policy of requiring neutrality about evolution and creationism, was dismissed. The Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) reported, "The state's attorneys argued in court filings that the agency is allowed to bar its employees from giving the appearance that the agency is taking positions on issues that the State Board of Education must decide, such as the content of the science curriculum." The newspaper quoted Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott as saying, "We are sorry that this situation resulted in a lawsuit but we were confident we would prevail," and John Oberdorfer, one of Comer's lawyers, as saying of the dismissal, "We'll look at it and decide what we'll do next."

Comer, the former director of science at the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign in November 2007 after she forwarded a note announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest in Austin. As NCSE's Glenn Branch -- who sent the offending e-mail -- explained in a post at the Beacon Broadside blog (December 19, 2007), "Less than two hours after sending the e-mail, she was called on the carpet and instructed to send a disclaimer. And then she was forced to resign. Although a memorandum recommending her dismissal referred to various instances of alleged 'misconduct and insubordination' on her part, it was clear what her real offense was: 'the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism.'" The TEA was widely criticized in editorials and by scientific and educational societies.

In June 2008, Comer filed suit in federal court in the Western District of Texas, arguing, "the Agency's firing of its Director of Science for not remaining 'neutral' on the subject violates the Establishment Clause, because it employs the symbolic and financial support of the State of Texas to achieve a religious purpose, and so has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion. By professing 'neutrality,' the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory. Finally, the Agency fired Director Comer without according her due process as required by the 14th Amendment -- a protection especially important here because Director Comer was fired for contravening an unconstitutional policy." The judge ruled, however, that the TEA's neutrality policy is not a violation of the Establishment Clause. (Additional legal documentation for this case is archived on NCSE's website.)

Although Comer's lawsuit was dismissed, her plight (discussed in a brief video commissioned by NCSE) is still a disquieting indication of the condition of science education in Texas. Shortly after her forced resignation was in the headlines, the Houston Chronicle (December 4, 2007) editorially commented, "With a State Board of Education review of the science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills scheduled early next year, Comer's ouster could portend a renewed effort to establish creationism and intelligent design as science class fare." In light of the recent adoption of a set of state science standards that encourages the presentation of creationist arguments, the TEA's "neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism" is likely to be under scrutiny again.

For the story in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/04/01/0401comer.html

For Glenn Branch's post on Beacon Broadside, visit:
http://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2007/12/muzzling-dissen.html

For a sampling of the criticism leveled at the TEA, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/2007/12/latest-comer-controversy-001154

For Comer's lawsuit (PDF), visit:
http://ncseweb.org/webfm_send/750

For the dismissal of the case (PDF), visit:
http://ncseweb.org/webfm_send/798

For NCSE's archives of documents in Comer v. Scott, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/chris-comer-docs

For the video about Comer's plight, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/multimedia/chris-comer-expelled-real

For the Houston Chronicle's editorial, visit:
http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=2007_4472569

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/texas

CRITICISM FOR FLORIDA'S ANTIEVOLUTION BILL

Florida's Senate Bill 2396, which would, if enacted, amend a section of Florida law to require "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution," was in the headlines after the Florida Academy of Sciences denounced it. In its March 20, 2009, statement, the academy described SB 2396 as "a deliberate attempt to undermine the adopted science standards," adding, "SB 2396, in effect, leaves the door open for the introduction in the public school curriculum of nonscientific and covertly religious doctrines. The proposed bill would be damaging to the quality of science education of Florida's children and the scientific literacy of our citizens. It would further undermine the reputation of our state and adversely affect our economic future as we try to attract new high-tech and biomedical jobs to Florida."

David Karlen, a Tampa biologist and a member of the Florida Academy of Sciences, told the Tampa Tribune (March 28, 2009), "'Critical analysis' is the latest buzzword in the creationist movement to sneak intelligent design or creationism into the curriculum," and noted that it is typically only evolution for which "critical analysis" is applied. Observing that the bill has yet to receive a hearing in committee -- the bill was referred to the Education Pre-K-12 and the Education Pre-K-12 Appropriations committees in the Senate -- or a counterpart in the Florida House of Representatives, the Tribune reported that the bill "apparently is going nowhere this year," especially because the legislature is presently busy with budgetary issues. May 1, 2009, is the last day of the current legislative session.

For the academy's statement (PDF), visit:
http://www.flascience.org/fas_statement.pdf

For the story in the Tampa Tribune, visit:
http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/mar/28/na-anti-evolution-bill-still-a-fruitless-exercise/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Florida, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/florida

VISIT THE GRAND CANYON WITH SCOTT AND GISH!

A few seats remain aboard NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From July 3 to 10, 2009, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Call or write now: seats are limited. 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. The cost is $2480; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot.

For information on the excursion, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/about/excursions/gcfaq

For NCSE's story about the article in The New York Times, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/2005/10/seeing-creation-evolution-grand-canyon-00771

NOTICE AND REMINDER

In the near future, the Evolution Education Update is going to be transferred to Google Groups. You'll continue to receive news from NCSE every week, but it will be originating from ncse-news@googlegroups.com. You'll also have the option of reading messages and managing your subscription on the web, rather than by e-mail.

With any luck, you won't have to do anything for the transfer to take place; you will receive a notification by e-mail when you have been added to the new list. We think that the transfer will be helpful in a number of ways, and we're working to make it as seamless as possible!

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://ncseweb.org 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@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
http://ncseweb.org/evc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Nebraska faces limited choices

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/04/nebraska_faces_limited_choices.php

Posted on: April 2, 2009 10:01 AM, by PZ Myers

Candidates are busy running for election to the Lincoln school board in Nebraska right now, and guess what's been found? Creationists! Running for election! A newspaper story neatly summarizes the positions of many of the candidates, and here is a set you Nebraskans should not vote for.

Keller is a particularly interesting case: he was endorsed by the Lincoln Education Association's PAC. They're trying to rationalize it away now, but I think they should send a clearer message and remove their endorsement. I'm sorry, but people as ignorant as the ones listed above have no place in managing a school system.

All is not lost — there are a few candidates with sensible positions. These are the ones you should vote for, Nebraska.

Three people gave good answers, and four seats are open. It sounds like at least one useless dingleberry is going to get a voice in Nebraska education.

Hey, in addition to voting for pro-science candidates, maybe a few more of you scientifically minded Nebraskans need to start running for these positions. The kooks always seem anxious to rise up and poison education, but the sensible people always assume it's going to be fine and that they don't need to exert themselves.

Visit the Grand Canyon with Scott and Gish!

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/04/visit-grand-canyon-with-scott-gish-004715

April 2nd, 2009 NCSE 2009

A few seats remain aboard NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon — as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From July 3 to 10, 2009, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Call or write now: seats are limited. 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. The cost is $2480; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot.

A setback for science education in Texas

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/04/setback-science-education-texas-004710

April 1st, 2009 Texas anti-evolution

At its March 25-27, 2009, meeting, the Texas state board of education voted to adopt a flawed set of state science standards, which will dictate what is taught in science classes in elementary and secondary schools, as well as provide the material for state tests and textbooks, for the next decade. Although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language from the old set of standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms — such as "sufficiency or insufficiency" and "supportive and not supportive" — and eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific evidence." Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe.

The proceedings were confusing and contentious, and it is understandable that journalists differed in their initial assessments of the significance of the vote: for example, the Dallas Morning News (March 28, 2009) headlined its article as "Conservatives lose another battle over evolution," while the Wall Street Journal (March 27, 2009) headlined its article as "Texas Opens Classroom Door for Evolution Doubts," and the Austin-American-Statesman (March 28, 2009) played it safe with "State education board approves science standards." As the dust settled, though, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott — who was invited to testify before the board at its meeting — commented, in a March 30, 2009, press release, "The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science."

"The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across the country," Scott added. Among the organizations calling upon the board to adopt the standards as originally drafted by a panel of Texas scientists and educators were the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Paleontological Society, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Texas Association of Biology Teachers, as well as fifty-four scientific and education societies that endorsed a statement circulated by NCSE. The board's chair, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, responded by crying (video is available on NCSE's YouTube channel), during the meeting, "Somebody's got to stand up to experts!"

Writing in Salon (March 29, 2009), Gordy Slack — the author of The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and a School Board in Dover, PA (Jossey-Bass 2007) — explained that after Kitzmiller v. Dover, "advocates of teaching neo-creationism have been forced to seek other ways into public science classrooms. Enter the 'strengths and weaknesses' strategy." After the creationist faction on the board failed to reinsert the "strengths and weaknesses" language, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "they had a fallback position, which was to continue amending the standards to achieve through the back door what they couldn't achieve upfront." Slack added, "Each of the amendments singles out an old creationist argument, strips it of its overtly ideological language, and requires teachers and textbook publishers to adopt it."

Rachel Courtland, a blogger for New Scientist (March 31, 2009), examined a case in point: the deletion of a reference in the standards to the age of the universe ("about 14 billion years ago"). As revised, the standards require students to learn "current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe," with the actual age absent. "Is the new standard an invitation for young-Earth proponents to teach students that the Earth and the universe beyond it is just a few thousand years old?" asked Courtland, adding, "Some teachers could conceivably see it as an opening. According to a 2008 study ["Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait" from PLoS Biology 2008; 6 (5)], 16% of US science teachers believe humans were created by God in the last 10,000 years."

Texas groups defending the integrity of science education were dismayed at the result. Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, Kathy Miller, said in a March 27, 2009, statement, "The word 'weaknesses' no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms. Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks." There is a historical precedent in the textbook adoption process from 2003, when creationists selectively applied the "strengths and weaknesses" language to try to dilute the treatment of evolution in the textbooks under consideration.

On his blog for the Houston Chronicle (March 27, 2009), Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science optimistically commented, "I think we can work around the few flawed standards," but lamented, "But the point is that there shouldn't be ANY flawed standards. The science standards as submitted by the science writing teams were excellent and flaw-free. All the flaws were added by politically unscrupulous SBOE members with an extreme right-wing religious agenda to support Creationism." Having attended (and blogged from) all three days of the meeting and observed the confusion and contention among the members of the board, he ruefully added, "this is not the way to develop educational policy in one of the most wealthy and powerful states in the most wealthy and powerful country in the world in the 21st century."

Even The New York Times (March 30, 2009) took notice of the plight of science education in Texas, editorially commenting, "This was not a straightforward battle over whether to include creationism or its close cousin, intelligent design, in the science curriculum. Rather, this was a struggle to insert into the state science standards various phrases and code words that may seem innocuous or meaningless at first glance but could open the door to doubts about evolution. ... At the end of a tense, confusing three-day meeting, Darwin's critics claimed that this and other compromise language amounted to a huge victory that would still allow their critiques into textbooks and classrooms. One can only hope that teachers in Texas will use common sense and teach evolution as scientists understand it."

The Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) editorially complained, "Chairman Don McLeroy, Dunbar and others have turned the education board into a national joke. But when it comes to teaching Texas children, what they have done is not funny. Last week's discussion about shaping the teaching of science to allow doubts about evolution was surreal. Biology texts now must include 'all sides' of scientific theories ... The underlying point is that a board majority wants creationism to be part of the scientific discussion. And they got enough of a foot in the door with their language about teaching 'all sides' of scientific theories that publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell science textbooks to Texas schools."

Detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings is available on a number of blogs: Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman was blogging and posting photographs on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog, the Texas Freedom Network was blogging on its TFN Insider blog, and NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs). For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website as well as on Tony Whitson's Curricublog. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line, and of course NCSE will continue to monitor the situation as well as to assist those defending the teaching of evolution in the Lone Star State.

Should God be kept out of Science?

http://www.nouse.co.uk/2009/04/01/should-god-be-kept-out-of-science/

April 1, 2009

Even if we're unsure about whether there is a God most of us would not doubt that religious belief has had a profound influence on intellectual progress throughout our history. As science has developed it has had many things, both good and bad, to say about religion. I spoke to Prof Steve Fuller, a controversial apologist for intelligent design theory, about the place that religious ideas now have in our largely secular society.

Fuller has gone against the grain by attacking a view held by the vast majority in western society: the view that theories about divine creation should be kept out of science lessons. Fuller is a respected academic at Warwick University but despite the possibility of career damage he defended his view in the controversial 'Dover trial' of 2005. This trial gained worldwide publicity as the first in which the idea of teaching intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinian evolution was challenged through the US federal courts.

Fuller has become a somewhat unlikely hero of the intelligent design movement since he does not profess to believe in a God or anything supernatural. During his time at Cambridge he was even head of the Humanist's Society. Fuller is not motivated by any personal religious beliefs; he is motivated by a desire to improve the teaching of science which he thinks is impossible without a consideration of intelligent design theory.

Intelligent design or ID, then, is the view that the complexity of the universe is such that an intentional designer (something like God) is required to explain it. As Fuller sees it, ID theorists seek to embark on an evidence-based inquiry. Like evolutionists, ID theorists look at evidence (DNA, fossils, skeletal structures etc) in order to come up with an explanation of how that evidence came about. The difference between the two theories is that ID theorists interpret some findings as revealing a level of complexity within organisms that can only be explained by positing the existence of a designer.

When I spoke to Fuller he made sure to make a distinction between ID and creationism, the latter of which, he thinks, is an attempt to justify a similar view but on purely religious grounds. He told me: "Creationists are basically teaching the bible as science. They have abandoned the scientific method." For Fuller, ID and evolution ought to be taught alongside as they both, unlike purely religious theories, approach evidence in a scientific manner.

Fuller's defence of ID goes beyond its credibility as a modern scientific theory. Even if we reject the ID's scientific legitimacy Fuller wants to say that its teaching is still important as a means to understanding evolutionary theory. "My argument is that intelligent design has a strong historical track record and, in fact, it is the actual theory that Darwin opposed [...] At the very least you can make an argument for teaching intelligent design to understand what it was that Darwin was rejecting."

He is pointing out that in the 19th century, when Darwin was writing, divine creation was the accepted explanation of the way our world had come to be. It was this position that Darwin was specifically trying to refute.

Evolution by natural selection is a theory that originated with Darwin. What Fuller points out is that without an understanding of ID we cannot have a full understanding of Darwin. As a result our understanding of modern evolutionary theory, at least in the public sphere, is doomed to be half baked unless our system of education on this topic is revised.

Fuller thinks that just as Darwin had a position to refute modern evolutionary biologists need one. Just as evolutionary theory has itself evolved so have arguments in opposition to it. Fuller worries that evolution, which is often seen as one of the defining theories of modern science, is actually being taught in a way that is quite unscientific. For Fuller consideration of a theory with respect to opposition is essential for scientific development. Evolution is no longer being taught scientifically, in Fuller's eyes, because opposing arguments are no longer being taught, or at least given proper emphasis, in the way that they should be.

Fuller worries that evolution is starting to become taught as dogma without reference to what he calls "the critical foil of intelligent design." Since it is essential to constantly antagonise scientific theories it is not helpful for us to decide that evolutionary theory is 'true'. In fact he thinks that the very idea of teaching 'true' theories in science and rejecting 'false' ones is a fundamental misunderstanding of the scientific process.

"The issue here is not whether intelligent design theory is 'good' or 'better' than neo-Darwinism. The issue, when we're talking about scientific inquiry (where in the future we may not believe what we currently believe), is whether a theory ought to be taught. It's a fool's game to say "this is 'true' so we should be teaching it" or "this is 'false' so we shouldn't." We need different criteria other than just straight 'true' or 'false' judgements because what is considered 'true' or 'false' can change over time."

The Dover trials were designed to rule on the publication of a textbook which was said to aid the teaching of ID theory. Fuller was consulted to defend the scientific legitimacy of ID theory as a whole. It should be said that his views were not intended to support the specific teaching methods employed by the Dover Area School District or the specific textbook on trial. As a result the eventual loss of the case was viewed with mixed emotions by Fuller. He told me that the textbook that the DASD advocated was, "basically a warmed-over creationist textbook" with "just a couple of words changed." He was glad to see that particular textbook rejected but disagreed with the way that the judge delivered his verdict.

"What I was not happy about was the way in which the judge did not separate the disposition of the School Board from the disposition of the theory. In other words he took the textbook as indicative of the theory itself. A court case is always about a lot of things at the same time so in one sense it's about the big ideas, it's about whether intelligent design is science (that's certainly what made the headlines), but of course it's also about the particular litigators and the details of the School Board. What's going down there, in Dover Pennsylvania, ends up colouring how the big issues look."

Fuller still has a lot of convincing to do in his defence of the scientific legitimacy of intelligent design as the majority of the scientific community would still like to see the theory discredited. But regardless of the current scientific consensus on the theory it seems that the pedagogical point that Fuller is making is a fundamentally valuable one: providing a historical backdrop for our scientific theories is essential to fully understanding them. As far as evolution is concerned understanding ID is crucial to understanding Darwin. Ironically, on Fuller's view, 'God' now has to play the role of Devil's advocate if we are to breed a new generation of biologists who view evolutionary theory from a critical scientific standpoint.

Sees more holes in evolution than in creationism

http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200990331089

Charles Williams, Candler • published April 1, 2009 12:15 am

The author of the letter, "Theory of creationism has its share of holes" (AC-T, March 25), might want to check his and Darwin's own holes. Darwin's theory of evolution has more holes than Swiss cheese.

The author makes reference to the genealogy of Adam and how it begins with his son Seth and does not mention Cain and Abel. He needs to read Genesis 4:25 to see when Seth was born.

The author speaks about the flood and how it dried up in the 601st year, and with Adam living 930 years, he would have died in the flood. The author needs to read through Genesis Chapter 5 and do the math on the genealogy from Adam to Noah.

Noah came along after Adam's death. The flood did not take place until the 600th year of Noah's life (Gen. 7:11), and lasted 371 days. The waters dried up in the 601st year of Noah's life, Gen. 8:13, not the 601st year after man's creation.

If people are going write this paper and quote Scripture, then they should make an effort to know what they are talking about.

I'm tired of people using a Bible verse not to promote faith in God, but to push their agenda.

Charles Williams, Candler

Lone Star Disgrace: Texas Science Educator Loses Lawsuit Over Ouster

April 1, 2009

The Texas State Board of Education has been wrangling over evolution for months now. Recently, board members spent two full days squabbling over new science standards and fighting over concepts such as common descent and natural selection.

The results were decidedly mixed. Some of the most obnoxious proposals failed to pass, but critics fear there is some overly vague language in the new standards that could open the door to creationist concepts in public schools.

How did one of our most populous states come to this pass?

Part of the problem is that the board includes a big contingent of Religious Right operatives. Board Chairman Don McLeroy, for example, is a creationist who frequently spouts ill-informed Religious Right nonsense about evolution, a concept he clearly does not understand.

Things are so bad in Texas that Christina Castillo Comer, the Texas Education Agency's director of science for the curriculum division, was forced out of her job in October of 2007. What was Comer's heinous crime? She forwarded an e-mail to science teachers in the state advising them about an upcoming speech by Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and prominent critic of "intelligent design" creationism. (Full disclosure: Forrest serves on Americans United's Board of Trustees.)

Comer believed science teachers might appreciate the opportunity to hear a nationally recognized expert speak on an issue that is relevant to their jobs. Agency officials believed differently. They said Comer had violated a policy requiring neutrality on the teaching of creationism. Comer was ordered to send an e-mail stating that the previous message did not reflect agency policy, which she did. She was still forced to resign.

Comer filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the agency's demand for neutrality between evolution and creationism has the effect of promoting religion. The Supreme Court and lower federal courts, after all, have ruled that creationism is a religious concept that is not suited for public schools.

Unfortunately, a federal judge yesterday dismissed Comer's case. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled that the demand for neutrality is reasonable, given that the members of the Board of Education are often divided on these issues as well.

Huh? I suppose under this logic, if some members of the Texas education board believe the Earth is flat, or that it is the center of the universe, Comer would be required to be neutral on these matters as well and could not tell teachers about lectures countering those claims.

Anyone wondering why science education in Texas is in such a sorry state need not look much beyond this incident. In other states, educators have the freedom to speak out against bad science in the classroom; some even consider it part of their job. In Texas, evolution has become the scientific concept that dare not speak its name.

I feel sorry for the public school students of Texas. Idiotic policies like this rarely spawn good education standards.

By Rob Boston

Creationism has no place in classrooms

http://media.www.thenorthwindonline.com/media/storage/paper1202/news/2009/04/02/Opinion/Creationism.Has.No.Place.In.Classrooms-3694185.shtml

For What It's Worth
Claire Abent
Issue date: 4/2/09 Section: Opinion

Last Wednesday, the Texas Board of Education began hearing testimony on a new proposal that would allow science curriculum to challenge the theory of evolution. On Friday of last week, a split decision was handed down, which allows for students in public schools to study "all sides" of creation arguments, but put an end to a 20-year statute which required the "strengths and weaknesses" of all creation theories to be taught.

I find the concept of students learning any aspects of creationism in a science class irresponsible and foolish. Bottom line, religion has no place in science textbooks or classrooms.

During my junior year of high school, when my A.P. Biology class began the unit on evolution, my teacher informed my class of a disclaimer. She acknowledged that there were three commonly accepted theories about the origin of life on Earth: the first involved extra-terrestrial beings planting life on this planet; the second was that life was created by some higher power, also known as creationism; and the third was the theory of evolution. She then said that for the purposes of that science class we would only discuss the last of those three, because that was the only theory with scientific proof.

That's how it should be when it comes to evolution in the public schools.

The debate over whether or not to teach evolution in public schools is 80 years old, dating back to the infamous Scopes trial in 1925. But obviously, many places are still fighting for evolution to be challenged in our educational system.

This is what makes the decision in Texas so important. While Texas is far away from Michigan, it has one of the largest textbook markets in the country. This means that textbook manufactures are likely to cater to standards set by the state. And some of those textbooks would inevitably reach Michigan, as well as the other 48 states. I find the prospect chilling at best.

Since 2006, the Michigan Board of Education has required public school teachers to ensure that evolution was taught to students but not intelligent design or any other creation-related theories. Although changes in textbooks won't change the standards set by the state of Michigan, it will change the way evolution is taught in our classrooms. Putting intelligent design and creationism in science textbooks gives those theories a scientific legitimacy that they shouldn't have. But moreover, I find myself questioning why we need to teach religious theories within the walls of public school classrooms anyway.

Many argue that creationism and intelligent design, just like evolution, are theories. But evolution is a tested scientific theory (like the theory of gravity), based on extensive study, experimentation and observation. Most modern scientists readily accept the theory of evolution as fact.

Creationism, without a doubt, is religious and not scientific. And it's counterpart, intelligent design, is merely creationism doctored to look like science.

While the argument against evolution is often to be made by more conservative religious groups and individuals, there are plenty of religions that don't take issue with evolution at all. The Catholic Church, one of the most conservative Christian denominations, does not believe the theory of evolution goes against any of its teachings. However, it does believe that natural selection is a process driven by God. Judaism, including the more traditional branches, does not find conflict between their teachings and evolution. Neither do Buddhism or Hinduism, two of the oldest and most prolific religions on the planet.

More conservatives should take heed from these religions and leave the debate over evolution outside of the classroom. Let parents take their children to church to learn religion, and let them learn about science in school. It's time to stop mixing the two.

Texas Evolution Lobby Dealt Another Blow With Dismissal of Chris Comer Lawsuit

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/texas_evolutionlobby_dealt_ano.html

Last fall, John West blogged about a press release from Texans for Better Science Education (TBSE) about Chris Comer's lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency (TEA), a lawsuit which has been highly touted by the NCSE and other evolution lobbyists as purported evidence of discrimination against evolutionists. They claimed that Comer was "expelled for real," and the national newsmedia uncritically bought the story hook, line and sinker. As TBSE's timeline of Chris Comer's disciplinary problems observed, "News reports of Comer's departure have parroted the claim that Comer was 'fired' because she opposed teaching 'creationism' and 'intelligent design' and supported evolution." The reality is that Comer was not "fired" and her resignation came because (as West put it), "TEA documents ... show that Comer had a long history of disciplinary problems at her agency that had nothing to do with evolution." TBSE rightly observed that "[i]f Darwinists want to create a scandal and invent a martyr for their cause, they appear to have picked the wrong case." This week Comer's lawsuit was dismissed, further showing the baselessness of her claims of discrimination.

When I first read the complaint in the Comer case, I was struck by how Comer equivocated over the meaning of the word "neutral." Comer claimed that the TEA illegally required her to remain "neutral" on creationism, when in reality the TEA's policy simply required its staff to remain "neutral" on unsettled curricular matters (regardless of the subject matter in question). The former type of "neutrality" is legal neutrality and is violated only when there is a lack of religious neutrality, whereas the latter type of neutrality simply means avoiding taking a position on an unsettled curricular policy. The latter type should be considered distinct, as far as the law is concerned, from questions about religious "neutrality." Thus Comer's entire lawsuit was based upon equivocating over the legal meaning of "neutrality," conflating the TEA's benign (and statutorily mandated) policy requiring staff "neutrality" on unsettled curricular questions, with the constitutional requirement of religious "neutrality."

Thankfully, the judge in this lawsuit saw through Comer's fallacious arguments. Here are some excerpts from the ruling dismissing Comer's case:

The Agency's neutrality policy has different origins and effects from the balanced-treatment approach struck down in Aguillard. Agency staff must remain neutral on contested curriculum issues, not only creationism and evolution. The policy is reasonable, given the elected body the Agency supports. The Agency supports 15 elected Board members who often disagree among themselves regarding curriculum issues and who make final decisions regarding such disputed issues. Agency staff, by virtue of their job description, must avoid acting in ways that favor any particular Board member's position. (p. 15)

[...]

Comer repeatedly asserts that the neutrality policy treats creationism like science, but it only treats creationism as science to the extent that Agency staff may not take a public position on it. Given the reasons for the Agency's neutrality policy, Agency staff must remain neutral on disputed curriculum issues regardless of a particular position's merit or constitutionality. The State "readily agree[s] that if the Board chooses to consider including some kind of recognition of alternatives to evolutionary theory in the biology curriculum, it will be entering perilous waters", but that is the Board's voyage to weather. (p. 16)

[...]

In sum, Comer provides no summary-judgment proof raising an issue of material fact regarding whether the Agency's neutrality policy has a primary effect of advancing or endorsing religion. As a matter of law, the Agency's neutrality policy, if it advances religion at all, only does so incidentally. Further, a reasonable observer of the neutrality policy would not believe the Agency endorses religion through the policy. Because the neutrality policy does not violate the Establishment Clause, all of Comer's claims fail, and the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of the Agency. (p. 18)

And since the TSBOE did not choose to include any alternatives to evolution (like creationism) into the new Texas Science Standards, it's clear that it did not enter those "perilous waters" that the court spoke of.

The truth of the matter is that the Texas Education Agency had very good reasons for being upset at Comer's violation of its neutrality policy on unsettled curriculum questions: TBSE's timeline shows that Comer had violated this policy multiple times during her tenure at the TEA, and some of those instances had nothing to do with evolution. According to TBSE, some of Comer's troubles at the TEA included:

(TBSE Press Release on Chris Comer case)

The final incident regarding Comer's TEA-sent e-mail endorsing a lecture by Barbara Forrest on evolution appears to have merely been the straw that broke the camel's back.

What do we call a lawsuit from an ousted employee with a history of disciplinary problems, which is then touted to the national media as evidence of discrimination, when the entire lawsuit is based upon equivocation, misrepresentation, and a stifling of the employee's less-than-exemplary history of disciplinary problems? We call it a publicity stunt. And thankfully, a clear-thinking judge has now tossed this publicity stunt from court.

Posted by Casey Luskin on April 2, 2009 8:04 AM | Permalink

Horse History: The Evolution of the Horse

http://www.examiner.com/x-4343-Seattle-Horses-Examiner~y2009m4d2-Horse-History-The-Evolution-of-the-Horse

April 2, 10:58 AM

Fossil remains have made it possible to trace the evolution of the horse. The known history of the horse begins with the Eohippus. The Eohippus, an animal no larger than a dog, lived in North America over 38 million years ago. This animal had four toes on its front feet and three on the back.

During the next ten million years or so several distinct changes took place. The animals legs grew longer, the back changed from arched to more straight, the extra front toe was lost and the horse's teeth began to change. The next big change came several million years later when forests began to give way to plains.

The change to plains living necessitated evolution in the horse's ancestors to a grazing lifestyle. These very early equines had to evolve teeth better suited to grazing, a longer neck to better reach the ground and feet that were better designed for harder terrain. These changes led to the development of the modern day hoof. The next development was the development of several sub-families.

Eventually those sub-families died out and only the Pliohippus was left. The evolution of the Pliohippus eventually led to the Equus, the genus of the modern horse. Horses during this time crossed land bridges that led to other continents. These land bridges eventually receded. For some reason horses that were in North America when the land bridges receded died out. Horses were not found in North American again until European colonists reintroduced them.

Modern horses are said to trace their lineage back to three distinct variations based on their natural environment. Northern Europe produced a slower moving heavy horse. Eastern Europe produced the Tarpan and the third type, still living in the wild as late as 1881, was the Przewalski horse.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Unlikely Disciple

http://features.csmonitor.com/books/2009/03/31/the-unlikely-disciple/

An Ivy Leaguer spends a semester undercover at a fundamentalist Christian university – and is surprised by what he discovers.

An Ivy Leaguer spends a semester undercover at a fundamentalist Christian university – and is surprised by what he discovers.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University Grand Central Publishing 324 pp., $24.99

Monitor intern and book reviewer Sarah McCann talks with author Kevin Roose.

It took blinding light and God's voice to convert the Apostle Paul. But it required only 16 weeks at a fundamentalist Christian university to change an Ivy Leaguer from Brown.

Not that Kevin Roose, a self-described agnostic, ever lost that fish-out-of-water feeling at Liberty University in Lynchburg Va., where the living is clean – cussing and kissing results in swift and severe fines – and students spend spring break in Daytona saving souls.

The focus there is always on God, who is, after all, the most-often-listed interest on the school's Facebook page.

Fundamentalist Christians in America have always set themselves apart, and in so doing have piqued the nation's interest. So in the winter of 2007 Roose, then a sophomore at Brown University, opted out of the more traditional semester-abroad options. Instead, he enrolled as a transfer student at Liberty in an undercover effort to discern what makes these deeply religious students tick.

His mission was to dissect – not depart a forever-changed man.

Thankfully, what results in The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University, is a little bit of both.

Telling a story only an outsider on the inside could report, Roose shines in his ability to present fundamentalist Christian life with crystal-clear detail. His fresh eye and knack for levity highlight minutiae a theologian might deem trivial, but also serve to effectively illuminate life at Liberty, a school established in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority known for his early support of segregation, belief in creation science, and dogmatic focus on purity.

But it's the story of Roose's transition from straight-up agnostic to half-convinced believer who prays that gives the book purpose. While Christian fundamentalists in America are often mocked – think "Saved" or "Religulous" – a burgeoning evangelical movement makes understanding students from schools like Liberty crucial. If a kid from Brown can begin to bridge the divide in just one semester, then there's hope for the rest of us struggling to better understand people we know only by the labels like "fundamentalist" or "Religious Right."

You couldn't ask for a more unlikely disciple than Roose, who grew up in a pseudo-Quaker family, his religious studies consisting of exactly one high school class that briefly convinced him that, "God was a left-wing superhero who led the global struggle against imperialism and corporate greed. Sort of a celestial Michael Moore."

He's woefully unprepared for what he encounters at Liberty, where everyone asks, "Do you know Christ?"

Or acts in other perplexing ways. A dormmate announces after a first date, for example, "I'm goin' to the chapel, boys!!! Who wants to be the best man?!?! Who wants it?!?!"

Initially confounded by first dates that definitely won't end in a kiss, creation science, and trying to discern if Jerry Falwell bobblehead dolls are subversive or idolatrous, Roose's unique position also lets him see how students struggle to remain virtuous in a secular society, leaning on each other for support. He grows to view the coeds as "seemingly normal … this is not a group of angry zealots."

The bonds he forms even inspire him to begin praying with a pal, which leads to a daily prayer habit.

He's not completely convinced, but prayer helps "my problems snap into perspective…. I'm focusing more on people with real hardships … [and] the compassion I dig up during those thirty minutes sometimes carries over to the rest of my day."

Suddenly Liberty students seem a whole lot easier to relate to.

Walking the fine line between humanizing this group and highlighting how they set themselves apart sometimes trips Roose up, however. In part, he's hindered by his undercover status. He struggles, for example, to confront the seeming hypocrisy with which many of his friends address issues of gender, race, and sexual orientation, failing to question them in a way that could reveal how religion can rationalize hateful attitudes. It's a missed opportunity to address the exact concerns many outsiders have about Christian fundamentalists.

Maintaining his cover is one reason for his silence. But Roose also lacks the theological training needed to really unpack the beliefs he encounters. He uses terms like "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" interchangeably, for instance, without adequately explaining how Liberty kids are really a subset of a much larger group of evangelicals.

He also neglects to explore the power of alternative theological beliefs, especially outside Liberty. Roose scoffs at one professor who argues the fossil record supports the Biblical creation story: "Isn't the appeal of young-earth creationism supposed to be its simplicity? If I say I don't believe in evolution, can I get an A and skip the rest of the semester?"

For Roose, the idea is ludicrous. Yet the "science" behind creationism is helping to drive campaigns to teach creationism and intelligent design in school districts nationwide. It's also a major reason more than a half-million people have trekked to Petersburg, Ky., since the 2007 opening of a multimillion-dollar creation museum.

While Roose didn't ponder theology ad nauseam, he did pack a tremendous amount into his 16 weeks.

He joined the choir at Liberty's megachurch, received spiritual direction, interviewed Falwell shortly before his death, and took the spring-break mission trip to Daytona – all of which bring the Liberty experience to life.

The Daytona trip is particularly memorable for inspiring Roose to ponder how Liberty prepares students for life in a secular world (anesthetizes them to rejection), and for showcasing one of the book's funniest moments. While attempting to save souls, Roose is dressed down by a trio of pretty Jewish sunbathers who take offense when he asks, "Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"

In the end, Roose ministers more to himself than anyone else, and now, back at Brown, he continues to nurture a nascent prayer life.

More will surely come from this protιgι of A.J. Jacobs (the author of "The Year of Living Biblically"), and here's hoping Roose dips another toe into religion coverage.

"The Unlikely Disciple" deserves a big "Amen."

Sarah More McCann is an intern at the Monitor.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Texas State Board of Education Adopts Flawed Science Standards

A letter from Kathy Miller and the Texas Freedom Network

Just a short while ago, the Texas State Board of Education voted on new public school science standards that publishers will soon use to craft new science textbooks. This long-awaited decision is the culmination of TFN's two-year Stand Up for Science campaign.

The good news is that the word "weaknesses" no longer appears in the science standards -- this is a huge victory for those of us who support teaching 21st-century science that is free of creationist ideology.

The bad news is the final document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms. Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will almost certainly use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks. As TFN Communications Director Dan Quinn told the New York Times: "The State Board of Education pretty much slammed the door on 'strengths and weaknesses,' but then went around and opened all the windows in the house."

What's truly unfortunate is that we will have to revisit this entire debate in two years when new science textbooks are adopted in Texas.

While we did not succeed in ending this debate once and for all, I am extremely proud of the work we did together on this Stand Up for Science campaign. Your testimony, calls and e-mails over these past months really made a difference in the outcome of this science debate -- and the students of Texas are better off for it.

I sincerely hope you will consider participating in the last day of our Stand Up for Science matching gift challenge. Double your gift's impact to TFN Education Fund by contributing today!

As you know, hostility toward science persists in our state. From stem cell research to responsible sex education, crucial public policies hang in the balance. As always, TFN will carry your support for mainstream values and sound science to our elected leaders.

Sincerely,

Kathy Miller
Texas Freedom Network
P.O. Box 1624
Austin, TX 78767
512.322.0545 (office)
512.322.0550 (fax)
http://www.tfn.org/