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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/10/09

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

A bill in the Massachusetts legislature would encourage discussion of
creationism in public school science classes, according to a
cosponsor. A useful collection of articles on teaching evolution in
the college classroom is now available on-line. And the Pontifical
Academy of Sciences upholds the scientific and educational importance
of evolution.


Will a Massachusetts bill entitled "An Act Relative to Protecting the
Religious Freedom of Students" encourage the discussion of creationism
in public school science classes? That's what a cosponsor of the bill,
Representative Elizabeth Poirier (R-14th Bristol), told the Cape Cod
Times (October 7, 2009). The bill, House No. 376, received a hearing
on October 6, 2009, at which, according to the Times, "No one
testified against the bill, which has bipartisan support and is
expected to pass favorably through the Joint Committee on Education."

Evolution is in fact not mentioned in the bill, which would require
school districts in the state to "adopt and implement a local policy
that allows for a limited public forum and voluntary student
expression of religious views at school events, graduation ceremonies,
and in class assignments, and non-curricular school groups and
activities. ... Districts shall treat such expression ... in the same
manner as the expression of a secular view. Districts are prohibited
from discriminating against any student on the basis of a student's
expressed religious views."

In commenting on a similar bill in Virginia (HB 1135 in 2008),
Americans United's Dena Sher urged legislators to amend the bill to
ensure that classwork is still "graded according to academic standards
of substance and relevance," observing that otherwise "this statute
could be understood to force biology teachers to give equal credit to
students who, when asked questions about evolution, answer with
religious views about creation." The version of the bill that was
eventually passed and enacted in Virginia was amended along the lines
that Sher suggested.

For the story in the Cape Cod Times, visit: 

For the text of the bill, visit: 

For Sher's comments on the Virginia bill, visit: 


A special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, a peer-reviewed
electronic journal devoted to the discussion of teaching excellence in
colleges and universities, is devoted to the topic of teaching
evolution in the college classroom. Featured are Randy Moore, Sehoya
Cotner, and Alex Bates's "The Influence of Religion and High School
Biology Courses on Students' Knowledge of Evolution When They Enter
College"; Katherine E. Bruce, Jennifer E. Horan, Patricia H. Kelley,
and Mark Galizio's "Teaching Evolution in the Galapagos"; Patricia H.
Kelley's "A College Honors Seminar on Evolution and Intelligent
Design: Successes and Challenges"; Alexander J. Werth's "Clearing the
Highest Hurdle: Human-based Case Studies Broaden Students' Knowledge
of Core Evolutionary Concepts"; Aditi Pai's "Evolution in Action, a
Case Study Based Advanced Biology Class at Spelman College"; and
Caitlin M. Schrein, John M. Lynch, Sarah K. Brem, Gary E. Marchant,
Karen K. Schedler, Mark A. Spencer, Charles J. Kazilek, and Margaret
G. Coulombe's "Preparing Teachers to Prepare Students for
Post-Secondary Science: Thoughts From of a Workshop About Evolution in
the Classroom." All are freely available in HTML and PDF format.

For the special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, visit: 


A recently published statement on current scientific knowledge on
cosmic evolution and biological evolution from the Pontifical Academy
of Sciences concludes: "The extraordinary progress in our
understanding of evolution and the place of man in nature should be
shared with everyone. ... Furthermore, scientists have a clear
responsibility to contribute to the quality of education, especially
as regards the subject of evolution." The statement appears in the
proceedings of "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe
and of Life," a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
held from October 31 to November 4, 2008.

Nobel laureate Christian de Duve summarized the plenary session: "The
participants unanimously accepted as indisputable the affirmation that
the Universe, as well as life within it, are the products of long
evolutionary histories," noting that there was also wide agreement
among the participants on the common ancestry of life on earth.
"Evolution," he added, "has acquired the status of established fact.
In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, it is 'more than a
hypothesis'." The centrality of natural selection to evolution was
also recognized, although de Duve acknowledged "the need to refine
some of the conceptual bases" of natural selection "in the light of
recent findings."

"On the other hand," De Duve added, "no one, at least among the
scientists, defended the recently advocated theory of 'intelligent
design' ... Several of the arguments cited in support of this theory
were shown to ignore recent findings. In particular, the theory was
rejected as intrinsically non-disprovable, resting, as it does, on the
a priori contention, neither provable nor disprovable, that certain
events cannot be naturally explained. These views did not satisfy some
theologians who stressed the role of design in creation, an
affirmation which, in turn, raised the questions of where and how
design is manifested. The issue was not settled during the meeting."

"Intelligent design" was also the topic of Maxine Singer's
contribution to the plenary session. Singer traced the history of the
antievolution movement in the United States, from Scopes-era attempts
to ban the teaching of evolution, through the McLean, Edwards, and
Kitzmiller cases, to the present spate of "academic freedom" bills
such as Louisiana's, which "permits teachers to speak of evolution as
'controversial' and is an invitation to teachers to present
alternative, nonscientific explanations." She added, "The young
governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the bill, making it law
although he had been a biology major at Brown University."

"Intelligent design is one of the more recent subterfuges used to try
to get creationist idea into school science curricula," Singer
explained. Its proponents "say their methods are scientific. But they
do not describe experiments or systematic observations and do not
publish in recognized, peer-reviewed journals." In the face of
resistance to evolution exemplified by "creation science" and
"intelligent design," Singer concluded, "we are unlikely to convince
those who view their religious faith as in fundamental conflict with
scientific evolution. ... The most important task for scientists and
the only one that has a chance to succeed is assuring that science and
evolution are taught properly in school science classes."

For the proceedings, visit: 

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


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

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