NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2010/04/16
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A philosopher whose conversion from atheism delighted creationists is dead; a seminary professor resigns over his acceptance of evolution; and a discussion of survey results involving evolution is removed from a National Science Board report.
ANTONY FLEW DIES The philosopher Antony Flew died on April 8, 2010, at the age of 87, according to the obituary in the Telegraph (April 13, 2010). Born in London on February 11, 1923, Flew served in Royal Air Force Intelligence during World War II before graduating from Oxford University in 1947. He spent twenty years as professor of philosophy at the University of Keele and then almost a decade at the University of Reading; in his retirement, he was a part-time faculty member at York University. A prolific author with over twenty books to his credit, he was especially known for his work on the eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume, his conservative views on politics and education, and his writings on the philosophy of religion, in which he vigorously argued for what he called the presumption of atheism. During his career, Flew took a degree of interest in evolutionary theory and its implications, publishing monographs on Evolutionary Ethics (1968) as well as Darwinian Evolution (1984; second edition, 1997) -- although his exposition was arguably marred by a fondness for claims of genetic linkage between intelligence and race. Toward the end of his life, Flew announced that he was renouncing his atheism in favor of a form of deism. The reasons for his conversion seemed to shift from interview to interview, although arguments associated with various forms of creationism were frequently mentioned. Flew's There is a God (2007) failed to clarify the matter, since, as The New York Times (November 24, 2007) revealed, Flew acknowledged that "he had not written his book." For the obituary in the Telegraph, visit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/7586929/Professor-Antony-Flew.html For Flew's announcement of his conversion, visit: http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/ For the story in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/magazine/04Flew-t.html EVANGELICAL SCHOLAR EXPELLED OVER EVOLUTION A noted evangelical Old Testament scholar resigned from his faculty position at a seminary in the wake of a controversy over his public acceptance of evolution. On March 24, 2010, a video featuring Bruce Waltke, Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, was posted on the website of the BioLogos Foundation. (Founded by Francis Collins, the BioLogos Foundation "explores, promotes, and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith.") Entitled "Why Must the Church Come to Accept Evolution?" the video discussed "the danger that the Church will face if it does not engage with the world around it, in particular by acknowledging the overwhelming amount of data in support of biological evolution, which many evangelicals still reject." On March 29, 2010, however, Waltke told BioLogos that the administration of Reformed Theological Seminary asked him to request that the video be removed. According to a blog post at BioLogos (April 2, 2010), "Dr. Waltke himself indicated that he still agreed with the content of the video. Indeed, Dr. Waltke has written previously on his support for theistic evolution ... However, given the brevity of the video, Dr. Waltke is concerned that his views might not be correctly understood. ... But despite repeated attempts to find an alternative solution, it has become clear that Dr. Waltke feels that the only remedy to his predicament is to remove the video." BioLogos complied with Waltke's request, while lamenting the necessity. But that was apparently not enough for the seminary. Inside Higher Education (April 9, 2010) reported, "Michael Milton, president of the seminary's Charlotte campus and interim president of its Orlando campus, where Waltke taught, confirmed that the scholar had lost his job over the video." (Technically, Waltke offered his resignation, which officials at the seminary decided to accept.) Milton explained that Reformed Theological Seminary's faculty members are allowed to have different views on creation, but "Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn't arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this." Waltke's views were already on record. In a post on BioLogos's blog (April 8, 2010), BioLogos's president Darrell Falk quoted Waltke's endorsement of theistic evolution from his book An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007), and commented, "Bruce made some equally strong statements with the BioLogos camera running and gave us the written permission to post the now-controversial video. What Bruce said on the video was simply an elaboration of things he had written already." Falk added, "Decades from now, when the Evangelical Church has come to terms with the reality of evolution, we hope she will look back at those who were the pioneers on its journey toward a fuller understanding of the manner by which God has created." In a widely circulated letter to his colleagues at the Orlando campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, Waltke later commented, "I knew the issue of Genesis 1-3 and evolution was emotionally charged, but not this charged." The real issue, he explained, was that the video posted at BioLogos identified him as a professor at the seminary: "I was speaking as an individual, not as a representative of RTS. It may well be that I am the only one on the faculty holding the view of creation by the process of evolution as understood by mainline science, apart from its normal atheistic philosophy. As it stands, I dragged the whole community in the misunderstandings." Expressing regret for the turmoil, he added, "I find no fault with the RTS administration; in fact, I think they did the right thing." For Inside Higher Ed's report, visit: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/04/09/video For the two posts at BioLogos's blog, visit: http://biologos.org/blog/why-must-the-church-come-to-accept-evolution-an-update/ http://biologos.org/blog/on-the-courage-of-bruce-waltke/ For Waltke's letter, visit: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/04/12/updates-from-waltke-and-from-rts/ WHAT HAPPENED TO EVOLUTION AT THE NSB? A section describing survey results about the American public's beliefs about evolution and the Big Bang was removed from the 2010 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators. According to a post on the AAAS's Science Insider blog (April 8, 2010) and a subsequent report in Science (April 9, 2010; subscription required), although survey results about evolution and the Big Bang have regularly appeared in the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators, its biennial compilation of global data about science, engineering, and technology, they were absent from the 2010 edition. NCSE's Joshua Rosenau decried the decision, saying, "Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice ... It downplays the controversy." Also reportedly dismayed by the decision was the White House. "The Administration counts on the National Science Board to provide the fairest and most complete reporting of the facts they track," Rick Weiss, a spokesperson and analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told Science. Previous editions of the Indicators reported the data about the public's beliefs about evolution and the Big Bang, and moreover highlighted the discrepancy between the overwhelming acceptance of evolution by the scientific community and the prevalence of doubt among the general public. The 2008 edition of the Indicators featured a sidebar on "Evolution and the Schools," for example, and the 2006 edition similarly featured a sidebar entitled "More Than a Century After Darwin, Evolution Still Under Attack in Science Classrooms." The lead reviewer of the chapter, John Bruer, told Science that he recommended deleting the section because the questions seemed like "blunt instruments" for assessing public understanding. When asked whether people who reject evolution and the Big Bang could be considered to be scientifically literate, he replied, "There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution," but conceded that they would not be likely to regard the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species as false. Officials at the National Science Board defended the decision. Louis Lanzerrotti, chair of the board's Science and Engineering Indicators committee, told Science that the questions were "flawed indicators of science knowledge because the responses conflated knowledge and beliefs." George Bishop, a political scientist at the University of Cincinnati who is familiar with the difficulties of polling about evolution, regarded that position as defensible, explaining, "Because of biblical traditions in American culture, that question is really a measure of belief, not knowledge." Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University who originally devised the question about evolution, disagreed, however, asking, "If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate?" According to Science, "Miller believes that removing the entire section was a clumsy attempt to hide a national embarrassment. 'Nobody likes our infant death rate,' he says by way of comparison, 'but it doesn't go away if you quit talking about it.'" The text deleted from the report is available on Science's website. It observes that 45% of Americans in 2008 regarded the statement "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" as true, whereas 78% of Japanese, 70% of Europeans, 69% of Chinese, and 64% of South Koreans regarded it as true. It also includes a sidebar entitled "How Schools Teach Evolution," summarizing the results of Berkman, Pacheco, and Plutzer's important paper "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait." For Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, visit: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/ For the reports from Science, visit: http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2010/04/evolution-big-bang-polls-omitted.html http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/328/5975/150 For the sidebars on evolution, visit: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/c7/c7s.htm#c7sb6 http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/c7/c7s2.htm#sb1 For the deleted material (PDF), visit: http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/assets/2010/04/08/chapter7_insider_excerpt.pdf For Berkman, Pacheco, and Plutzer's paper, visit: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124 Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/membership