Reading the Week’s News in Antievolution

I read Glenn Branch’s weekly NCSE news update and a Panda’s Thumb post by Steve Reuland on who got threatened in South Carolina (n.b., not the antievolutionists) in this podcast.

I’ll append Branch’s new update. Steve’s post is here.

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Good news from South Carolina, where a “critical analysis of evolution” proposal was rejected by the state board of education, but bad news from Nevada, where a petition to amend the state constitution to require teaching of the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution was filed, and sad news from California, where the ICR’s founder Henry Morris died on February 25, 2006. Meanwhile, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on renewed efforts to rally the scientific community to defend evolution education, and NSTA offers a new publication to help teachers to present evolution accurately and effectively in their classrooms.

ANTIEVOLUTION PROPOSAL REJECTED IN SOUTH CAROLINA

On March 8, 2006, the South Carolina Board of Education voted 11-6 to reject a proposal from the state’s Education Oversight Committee that would have significantly expanded the “critical analysis” language already present in the section of the new state science standards that deals with evolution. Despite authoritative criticism from science educators surveyed by The State (February 8, 2005), the EOC voted 10-2 on February 12, 2006, to recommend the expansion, just days before the Ohio Board of Education voted to remove similar language from Ohio’s state science standards. The State (February 13, 2006) quoted State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum as saying, “‘Critically analyze’ is not just wordsmithing … It carries with it a whole campaign against evolution.”

As if to corroborate Tenenbaum’s diagnosis, The State noted that the vote “handed a victory to state Sen. Mike Fair and his allies who have pushed education policymakers to include alternatives to evolution.” In 2003, Fair proposed a textbook disclaimer about the origin of life. Subsequently, he repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to pass legislation to establish a committee to “determine whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools” and to require “teaching the controversy” over evolution. Thus The State (June 17, 2005) described him as “the dominant voice advocating for S.C. schools to teach more than Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution.”

Between the EOC’s vote in February and the Board of Education’s vote in March, Mary Lang Edwards, a professor of biology at Erskine College, wrote in a powerful opinion column (The State, February 25, 2006), “What certain members of the EOC want citizens of South Carolina to believe is that by adding the words ‘critically analyze’ to the biology standard for teaching evolution, they are merely asking students to study evolution objectively. But what they are actually introducing into the standard is the opportunity to discredit evolution.” Edwards also noted that the EOC’s vote not to approve the standards was despite the “overwhelming support of the standard by the state Department of Education and S.C. biologists.”

In a letter dated February 25, 2006, the authors of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s comprehensive review of state science standards encouraged the Board to reject the EOC’s proposal, writing, “We hope South Carolina public education will not be pushed into defacing science standards to simply satisfy political pressure,” and warning, “The claim that evolutionary theory … needs critical analysis by schoolchildren is the last-ditch effort of a renewed creationist attack on public education.” Ursula Goodenough, a professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, told The State (March 1, 2006), “If this were to happen, it would transform the document into something [the people of South Carolina] would be ashamed of.”

Although the EOC reportedly lacks any power to revise the standards, it still retains the power to approve or reject the standards as a whole. Superintendent Tenenbaum told The State (March 8, 2006) that if the Board and the EOC deadlock over the new standards, the state will continue to use its old standards until the deadlock is resolved. But state representative Bob Walker (R-District 31) presented the Board with a letter, signed by 67 representatives, saying in part that the legislature may intervene if the EOC’s recommendation is not accepted. So the story in South Carolina is anything but over. Concerned South Carolinians are urged to get in touch with the grassroots group South Carolinians for Science Education.

For coverage from The State, visit:
http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/13817519.htm
http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/13865980.htm
http://www.thestate.com/mld/state/news/opinion/13958660.htm
http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/13986706.htm
http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/14048833.htm

For NCSE’s previous coverage of events in South Carolina, visit:
http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=SC

For South Carolinians for Science Education, visit:
http://www.sc-scied.org/EE/index.php

ANTIEVOLUTION INITIATIVE PETITION IN NEVADA

A petition to amend the Nevada constitution to require the teaching of the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution was filed with the secretary of state’s office on February 24, 2006. The “Truth in Science” initiative calls for students to be informed that “although most scientists agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution is well supported, a small minority of scientists do not agree,” listing five specific “areas of disagreement” to be discussed.

The initiative petition was introduced by Steve Brown, whom the Las Vegas Review-Journal (March 1, 2006) described as “a masonry contractor who has lived in Las Vegas for more than 30 years.” Brown told the newspaper, “I’ve looked at a middle school textbook that says that all elements of evolutionary theory are proven science. That’s not so. … Evolution has occurred, there’s no way to argue that,” he said. “Some parts have been proven, but some is just theory.”

In order for the initiative to reach the November 2006 ballot, Brown must collect 83,184 signatures by June 20, 2006. Brown acknowledged that he lacks financial and organizational support for a signature drive, but expressed a willingness to make common cause with Christian conservatives. The chairman of Nevada Concerned Citizens told the Review-Journal, however, “I am curious to see what he has to say … But there are other issues we’re working on.”

Even if the initiative wins a spot on the ballot, it would have to be approved not only in November 2006 but also in 2008 in order to take effect. But it may have already had its effect: state senator Maurice Washington (R-District 2) told the Associated Press (March 5, 2006), that while he disagrees with Brown’s strategy, he is now thinking about introducing legislation allowing “intelligent design” to be taught as an elective in Nevada’s public schools.

In its editorial about the initiative (March 1, 2006), the Review-Journal was critical, arguing, “we must teach science as best we know it, in order to train succeeding generations of chemists, doctors and engineers. And despite the word games that allow a fundamentalist minority to insist that ‘evolution is just a theory,’ it is a scientific ‘theory’ that has been vetted and refined over more than a century.”

For the text of the initiative petition (PDF), visit:
http://sos.state.nv.us/nvelection/int_ref/TruthInScience.pdf

For the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s story, visit:
http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2006/Mar-01-Wed-2006/news/6129541.html

For the Associated Press’s story, visit:
http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/nevada/2006/mar/05/030510762.html

For the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial, visit:
http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2006/Mar-01-Wed-2006/news/6128872.html

HENRY MORRIS DIES

Henry Morris, the founder of the “creation science” movement, died on February 25, 2006, in Santee, California, at the age of 87. Speaking to The New York Times (March 4, 2006), NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott described him as “the most important creationist of the 20th century, much more so than William Jennings Bryan.” And the historian Edward J. Larson, whose Trial and Error is the definitive treatment of the legal history of the creationism/evolution controversy, told the Washington Post (March 1, 2006), “He had an enormous influence … He literally set the terms of the debate for the second half of the 20th century.”

Born in Dallas, Texas, in 1918, Morris graduated from Rice University in 1939 and earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering from the University of Minnesota. He taught engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Southern Illinois University, and, beginning in 1957, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where he served as department chair. As early as 1946, with the publication of That You Might Believe (which he described as the first book “published since the Scopes trial in which a scientist from a secular university advocated recent special creation and a worldwide flood”), he was also attempting to establish creationism on a scientific basis.

With the theologian John C. Whitcomb, Morris wrote The Genesis Flood (1961), the catalyst for the modern creation science movement. Although the basic idea of flood geology was already presented by George McCready Price a generation earlier, The Genesis Flood succeeded in popularizing it among fundamentalist Christians, especially those with scientific and technical training. Subsequently, Morris was among the founders of the Creation Research Society, established in 1963, which sought to promote and publish research supporting scientific creationism.

In 1970, Morris retired from mainstream academia, even declining Auburn University’s offer of a chair in civil engineering. Instead, he moved to California in order to establish the Creation Science Research Center, a creationist auxiliary to Tim LaHaye’s new Christian Heritage College. After a split over tactics, the center was severed from the college; Morris reorganized what remained as the Institute for Creation Research. Morris served as the president of the ICR from 1970 to 1995, when his son John Morris succeeded him; he remained president emeritus of the ICR until his death.

At the ICR, Morris was a prolific writer, with such books as The Genesis Record, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, History of Modern Creationism, What is Creation Science? (coauthored with Gary E. Parker), and The Modern Creation Trilogy (coauthored with John Morris) to his credit. Perhaps most influential was Scientific Creationism, intended for use as a textbook; two versions were issued, a general edition and a public school edition, from which a chapter that “places the scientific evidence in its proper Biblical and theological context” was omitted.

In his ethnography God’s Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World, the anthropologist Christopher P. Toumey wrote, “For most of the creationist activists in North Carolina, Henry Morris and his organization, the Institute for Creation Research, are the only important sources of creationist knowledge and belief. For information, they refer to Morris to lead them through Genesis and geochronology; for inspiration, they turn to Morris himself to steer them past doubt and difficulty. No other authority or influence matters nearly as much.”

Although Toumey was writing in 1994, before the rise of the prominent young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis and the visibility of “intelligent design” creationism, Morris’s influence is still widely felt. AiG’s Ken Ham told The New York Times, “All of us in the modern creationism movement today would say we stand on his shoulders.” And Paul Nelson, a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times (March 3, 2006) as saying, “Ideas can die because there is just no one to think about them … I love the fact that Dr. Morris kept alive dissent from Darwinian evolution.”

While opposing the scientific bankruptcy of his views, Morris’s opponents credited him with sincerity and cordiality. Brown University’s Kenneth R. Miller told the Los Angeles Times, “I found Morris to be unfailingly polite, a real gentleman and a person who was a sincere and committed Christian.” And NCSE’s Scott also described him as gentlemanly to The New York Times, adding, “I feel that he was absolutely sincere about his convictions that the Bible was literally true and that science would support it and creation science was good science.”

For the cited obituaries of Morris, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/04/national/04morris.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/28/AR2006022801716.html
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-me-morris3mar03,1,4692551.story

ON THE FRONT LINES

In “On the Front Lines in the War Over Evolution,” in the March 10, 2006, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Monastersky reports on recent efforts to rally the scientific community to support evolution education — “to recruit new troops,” as he puts it, “for the escalating war against creationism and its spinoff doctrine, intelligent design.”

The article begins with a description of a speech given by the president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association, Linda K. Froschauer, at the AAAS’s annual meeting in St. Louis in February 2006. “Go home,” Froschauer, a middle school science teacher, told the scientists assembled in the audience. “Identify science teachers in your own neighborhood. Offer to help them … Go to the board of education and speak up.”

The speakers at the AAAS’s “Evolution on the Front Lines” event — most of which is available in RealPlayer video form on-line at the AAAS’s website — also included Alan I. Leshner, Gilbert S. Omenn, Russ Carnahan, Peter Raven, the Reverend George V. Coyne, Jeff Corwin and, in a panel discussion, Robert M. Hazen, Kenneth R. Miller, Scott Sampson, and NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott.

Monastersky noted that NCSE’s Scott was in increased demand: “She has spoken at the AAAS meeting several times and is a regular at gatherings of evolutionary scientists. But for the first time, she has been invited in the past year to speak at meetings on astronomy, biochemistry, human genetics, and microbiology. She has also started receiving requests from medical schools.” Scott was quoted as saying, “it’s finally trickling down … These scientists are saying, I’ve got to do something.”

Also featured in the article were two praiseworthy initiatives to defend the teaching of evolution: the Alliance for Science, which seeks to “heighten public understanding and support for science and to preserve the distinctions between science and religion in the public sphere,” and the Clergy Letter Project (and its spin-off, Evolution Sunday), which lists more than 10,000 clergy who attest to the compatibility of faith with science.

For the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, visit:
http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i27/27a01401.htm

For “Evolution on the Front Lines” at AAAS, visit:
http://www.aaas.org/programs/centers/pe/evoline/index.shtml

For the Alliance for Science, visit:
http://www.allianceforscience.org/

And for the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday, visit:
http://www.uwosh.edu/colleges/cols/clergy_project.htm
http://www.evolutionsunday.org/

VIRUS AND THE WHALE

A new publication from the National Science Teachers Association is designed to help teachers to explore evolutionary concepts with students by taking them on a journey with real scientists. Virus and the Whale: Exploring Evolution in Creatures Small and Large introduces students to some of today’s most exciting and up-to-date evolutionary research through the stories of scientists who study evolution — from the arms race between viruses and their human hosts to the long-term evolutionary changes leading to the emergence of whales.

The lead author of Virus and the Whale is Judy Diamond — professor and curator at the University of Nebraska State Museum — who directed Explore Evolution, an NSF-funded project that includes exhibit galleries for six museums on evolution research. Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, provides an insightful introduction. Sample pages (PDF), including Scott’s introduction, and ordering information are available on NSTA’s Science Store website. The 204-page book is priced at $28.95, discounted for NSTA members to $23.16.

For sample pages from Virus and the Whale (PDF), visit:
http://www.nsta.org/main/pdfs/store/pb196xweb.pdf

For ordering information, visit:
http://store.nsta.org/showItem.asp?product=PB196X

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Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE’s web site:
http://www.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 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://www.ncseweb.org

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.