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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/01/16

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

A mixed result as Louisiana adopts guidelines to implement the
antievolution law enacted there in 2008.  A bill requiring evolution
textbook disclaimers is introduced in the Mississippi legislature.  And
Kenneth R. Miller debunks a recent attack by the Discovery Institute on his
testimony in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.


On January 15, 2009, Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary
Education adopted a set of guidelines about what types of supplementary
classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the Louisiana
Science Education Act.  While the guidelines echo the LSEA's requirement
that such materials "not promote any religious doctrine, promote
discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or
promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," a provision
that "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that
advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind
shall be prohibited for use in science class" was deleted, according to a
report from the Associated Press (January 15, 2008).

Enacted in June 2008 over the protests of scientists and educators across
the state and around the country, the LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised
Statutes 17:285.1) provides, "A teacher shall teach the material presented
in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may
use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help
students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in
an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local
public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of
Elementary and Secondary Education."  The guidelines just adopted govern
the way in which BESE will consider such supplementary material.

It was clear from the outset that evolution was in the LSEA's sights.  As
originally drafted, the law specifically identified "biological evolution,
the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as
controversial subjects, and called on state and local education
administrators to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways
to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific
controversies."  In its final version, these topics are no longer described
as controversial, but they are still specifically mentioned.  And the Baton
Rouge Advocate (April 19, 2008) editorially recognized, "it seems clear
that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get
creationism ... into science classrooms."

The guidelines to implement the LSEA began to be drafted in December 2008
with the guidance of a committee of veteran educators and scientists
assembled by the state department of education.  The Associated Press
(January 8, 2009) reported, "Proposed for discussion at the December
meeting [of the BESE's Student/School Performance and Support committee]
were requirements that any information in the supplemental material be
'supported by empirical evidence.'  The proposed language also said
religious beliefs 'shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging
critical thinking' and that materials 'that teach creationism or
intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural
being created humankind shall be prohibited in science classes.'"

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana
University, coauthor with Paul R. Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse
(revised edition, Oxford University Press, 2007), and a member of NCSE's
board of directors, praised the proposed language for ensuring that
religion would not be taught in the public schools.  But Gene Mills of the
Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right organization that vociferously
supported the LSEA, was unhappy with the proposed language for the
guidelines, telling the Associated Press, "I would think that it left
religious neutrality and took a tone of religious hostility.  Or at least
it could be interpreted by some to have done that."

Subsequently, on January 8, 2009, a revised draft was posted in advance of
the BESE committee's January 13, 2009, meeting.  The provision that
"religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging
critical thinking" was removed, and a provision forbidding consideration of
the "religious or non-religious beliefs and affiliations" of the authors of
supplementary material was added.  Also, the procedure for challenging
supplementary material became more complicated, now requiring that
complaints must cite the problems with the material, that school districts
must be notified of the challenge, and that a hearing must be held at which
the district, the complainant, and "any interested parties" would have
"adequate time to present their arguments and information and to offer

Forrest decried these revisions in a January 12, 2009, letter to the BESE,
objecting that the guidelines "have been altered in ways that are
detrimental to the education of Louisiana students."  She called for the
provision regarding religious beliefs under the guise of critical thinking
to be restored, explained that "[t]o determine quality, acceptability, and
bias, scientists and teachers customarily and quite appropriately examine
the source of instructional material," and described the new procedures for
challenging supplementary material as "unclear, ill-conceived, and
onerous," adding, "The instructions are vague and confusing, and they
unnecessarily complicate what should be a straightforward decision based on
the professional expertise of [Louisiana Department of Education] staff."

At the committee's meeting on January 13, 2009, the LSEA's chief sponsor,
Ben Nevers (D-District 12), and Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum
were in attendance, successfully lobbying for the removal of the section of
the guidelines that provided, "Materials that teach creationism or
intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural
being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science
classes."  The provision forbidding consideration of the beliefs and
affiliations of the authors of supplementary material was also removed,
according to a report from the Associated Press (January 13, 2009).

With the adoption of the guidelines by the BESE on January 15, 2009, it is
still unclear what will happen.  Steve Monaghan, the president of the
Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told WAFB television (January 13, 2009)
in Baton Rouge, "The time spent on this issue may be in total excess of
what the problem was because we don't believe there was a problem in the
science classroom anyway":  teachers in his organization have not
complained about the science education materials at their disposals and
presumably would not seek to add supplementary materials.  Civil liberties
organizations have already expressed their readiness to challenge attempts
to teach religion in the guise of science in Louisiana's public schools.

In the meantime, the Lafayette Independent Weekly (January 12, 2009)
worried about the effect of the LSEA and the guidelines on Louisiana's
reputation.  "For many of us interested and active in economic development
and hopeful in a newly resurgent Louisiana ... this is not good news,"
Steve May wrote.  "This attempt to pollute the teaching of science in our
public schools with religious dogma does more long-term damage to ourselves
than all the painful headlines about Edwin Edwards, David Duke or 'Dollar'
Bill Jefferson combined, because the damage is far more lasting. Is this
the message of educational ignorance that we want to send prospective
employers considering locating or relocating to Louisiana?"

For the January 15, 2009, article from the AP, visit:

For the text of the LSEA as adopted, visit:

For the Baton Rouge Advocate's editorial, visit:

For the January 9, 2009, article from the AP, visit:

For information about Creationism's Trojan Horse, visit:

For Forrest's letter to the BESE (PDF), visit:

For the January 13, 2009, article from the AP, visit:

For the WAFB story, visit:

For May's column in the Lafayette Independent Weekly, visit:

For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's website, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit:


House Bill 25, introduced in the Mississippi House of Representatives by
Representative Gary Chism (R-District 37) on January 6, 2009, and referred
to two committees, Education and Judiciary A, would, if enacted, mandate
the state board of education to require every textbook that discusses
evolution to include a disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial
theory."  In full, the proposed disclaimer reads:


The word "theory" has many meanings, including: systematically organized
knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic
statement of principles.  Scientific theories are based on both
observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural
world.  They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists
present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.  No
one was present when life first appeared on earth.  Therefore, any
statement about life's origins should be considered a theory.

Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces
produced living things.  There are many topics with unanswered questions
about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook,
including:  the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the
fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major
groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of
transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil
record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a
living body possessed by all living things.

Study hard and keep an open mind.


At present, the only state to require a textbook disclaimer about evolution
is Alabama, which is currently using a disclaimer adopted in 2005.  The
proposed Mississippi disclaimer is evidently a hybrid of two previous
versions of the Alabama disclaimer:  its first paragraph is modeled on the
first paragraph of the second version (adopted in 2001), while much of the
remainder is modeled on the first version (adopted in 1995).

In a 1996 lecture at Auburn University, later published in the Journal of
the Alabama Academy of Science, Richard Dawkins offered a
paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the first version of the Alabama
disclaimer, criticizing it as "a study in ignorance and dishonesty."  In
2000, when the state of Oklahoma was considering adopting the first version
of the Alabama disclaimer, Kenneth R. Miller agreed, concluding, "By any
standard, this disclaimer fails even an undemanding test of scientific

A textbook disclaimer was at the center of the Selman v. Cobb County
case.  Less prolix and less committal than the Alabama disclaimers, the
Cobb County disclaimer still insisted that evolution is "a theory, not a
fact."  In 2005, the disclaimer was ruled to be unconstitutional and the
disclaimers were removed from the textbooks; on appeal, the verdict was
vacated and the case was remanded to the trial court.  A settlement was
reached, in which the Cobb County School District agreed not to make any
disclaimers about evolution either orally or in writing.

For the text of Mississippi's HB 25, visit:

For information about Alabama's disclaimers, visit:

For Dawkins's critique of the Alabama disclaimer, visit:

For Miller's critique of the Alabama disclaimer, visit:

For information about Selman v. Cobb County, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Mississippi, visit:


In a three-part guest essay posted at Carl Zimmer's blog The Loom, Kenneth
R. Miller responded to a recent attack by the Discovery Institute on his
testimony in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.  At issue in the first part is
the claim, found in both Of Pandas and People and Michael Behe's Darwin's
Black Box, that the blood clotting system in vertebrates is irreducibly
complex and therefore unevolvable.  After rebutting the claim that he
misrepresented Behe's claims in his testimony, Miller proceeds to explain
the latest scientific research that undermines Behe's claims:  "The
lamprey, as luck would have it, has a perfectly functional clotting system,
and it lacks not only the three factors missing in jawed fish, but also
Factors IX and V."

Miller turns his attention in the second part of his essay to the Discovery
Institute's attempt to rehabilitate the concept of irreducible complexity.
Explaining Behe's argument, he comments, "That would be a powerful argument
against evolution -- if it were true.  Unfortunately, it's not, and the
Dover trial demonstrated that for at least three of ID's favorite systems,
blood-clotting, the bacterial flagellum, and the immune system."  The
Discovery Institute's attack fails, he contends, even to represent Behe's
argument correctly, and "once you've demonstrated that the parts of the
system do indeed work just fine in other contexts, you're answered the ID
challenge fully and completely.  Case closed.  Three years ago, in
fact.  Case closed, and ID lost."

In the third part of his essay, Miller wonders why the Discovery Institute
is bothering to assail the Kitzmiller decision three years after the
fact.  "The only conclusion I can draw," he writes, "is that they must be
maneuvering for the next round of state board hearings or legislative
sessions -- and I'm concerned.  These folks are a whole lot better at
politics and public relations than they are at science, and that means that
everyone who cares about science education should be on guard."  Miller was
prescient:  the first two antievolution bills of the 2009 legislative
session -- Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 and Mississippi's House Bill 25 --
have already appeared.

Over at the Panda's Thumb blog, Nick Matzke adds a host of details to
Miller's rebuttal, noting that Behe in fact wrote the portion of Of Pandas
and People that discusses the blood clotting system.  Further, in
Kitzmiller he testified that the treatment of blood clotting in Darwin's
Black Box is "essentially the same," vitiating the Discovery Institute's
attempt to insulate Behe from the failures of Of Pandas and People's
treatment.  In fact, the treatments differ somewhat, which, as Matzke
notes, was a problem for Behe on cross-examination:  "Behe could have just
said 'I was wrong in Pandas, my newer definition is right.'  But of course,
the whole point of Behe being there was to defend the ID book on trial,
which was Pandas, so he couldn't do that."

Miller is Professor of Biology and Royce Family Professor for Teaching
Excellence at Brown University and the author of Only a Theory:  Evolution
and the Battle for America's Soul (Viking, 2008); he was the lead expert
witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover.  A Supporter of NCSE, he
received its Friend of Darwin award in 2003.  Matzke, who is now a graduate
student in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of
California, Berkeley, worked for NCSE from 2004 to 2007.  He was the lead
NCSE staffer working on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, providing a wealth of
scientific expertise and practical advice to the legal team representing
the ultimately victorious plaintiffs.

For the three parts of Miller's essay, visit:

For information about Of Pandas and People, visit:

For Miller's review of Darwin's Black Box, visit:

For Nick Matzke's blog post on The Panda's Thumb, visit:

For a transcript of Behe's cross-examination about blood clotting in the
Kitzmiller case, visit:

And for NCSE's collection of information about the Kitzmiller case, visit:


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where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and
threats to it.


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

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