NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2010/12/24
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The latest about the plans to construct a creationist theme park in northern Kentucky. Plus the Philadelphia Inquirer and the York Dispatch both commemorate the fifth anniversary of the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover, while Gallup releases the results of a new poll on public attitudes toward evolution, and videos of the Evolution Symposium at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference for 2010 are now available on-line. And a reminder about the special issue of Synthese on the creationism/evolution controversy, which is freely available until December 31, 2010.
UPDATE ON THE ARK PARK The controversy continues over the prospect of state tourism development incentives for Ark Encounter, the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 1, 2010), "Ark Encounter, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah's Ark containing live animals such as juvenile giraffes, is projected to cost $150 million and create 900 jobs ... The park, to be located on 800 acres in Grant County off Interstate 75, also will include a Walled City, live animal shows, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a 500-seat special-effects theater, an aviary and a first-century Middle Eastern village." Collaborating on the project are Ark Encounter LLC and the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which already operates a Creation "Museum" in northern Kentucky. In a December 20, 2010, op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader (December 20, 2010), the Reverend Cynthia Cain, Rabbi Marc Kline, and the Reverend Mark D. Johnson, representing the board of directors of the Interfaith Alliance of the Bluegrass, protested the incentives, writing, "we do not believe our commonwealth should be giving tax incentives to an avowedly sectarian group, at least part of the purpose of which is to promote one particular brand of religion -- namely fostering only one way to read, apply and understand scriptural revelation," and adding, "when Kentucky presents even the appearance of advancing or promoting one particular version of faith over other faiths, or over none, it does enormous damage to the future of interfaith understanding, respect and hope for peace that so many have worked so hard to ensure." Nevertheless, on December 20, 2010, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously to give preliminary approval for the park to apply for the incentives, which would allow Ark Encounter to recoup 25 percent of its development costs by retaining the sales tax generated by the project. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader (December 20, 2010), "a third-party consultant [will] do an independent analysis of financial projections for the park and to see if the park would qualify for a full 25 percent rebate of its costs. If the consultant finds that the project won't generate enough economic activity, the board could decide against granting the full 25 percent return on the $150 million investment over 10 years. It could also decide not to grant the incentive at all." The analysis is expected to take about four months to complete. When Governor Steve Beshear (D) announced the project, he cited a feasibility study predicting that the park would attract 1.6 million visitors in its first year. But as the Lexington Herald-Leader (December 18, 2010) observed, "neither Beshear nor other state officials had seen or read the study, which was commissioned by Ark Encounter, LLC, the group building the theme park." The state lacks a copy of the study, and Ark Encounter declined to provide it to the Herald-Leader. The study, conducted by America's Research Group (whose founder Britt Beemer coauthored a book with Answers in Genesis's Ken Ham), is reportedly 10,000 pages in length, with a 200-page executive summary. "When someone asks me to do one of these studies, I'm thorough," Beemer told the newspaper, explaining that his firm conducted extensive telephone interviews with one thousand people across the country. A further controversy over Ark Encounters centers on whether the park would be able to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring if it receives the state incentives. Answers in Genesis already requires its employees to endorse its statement of faith. Governor Beshear told the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 9, 2010), "We’re going to require that anybody that we deal with is going to obey all of the laws on hiring and not discriminate on hiring." But a consultant for the project told the conservative Christian on-line news source OneNewsNow (December 15, 2010), "There will be positions that will require Bible knowledge because ... we have certain things in there that are requiring biblical knowledge," raising the question -- broached in Cain, Kline, and Johnson's op-ed -- of who is to decide what constitutes genuine understanding of the Bible. For the 12/1/2010 story in the Louisville Courier-Journal, visit: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20101201/NEWS01/312010087/Beshear+announces+creationism+theme+park+to+open+in+2014++with+$250+million+impact For the op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2010/12/20/1573475/tax-incentives-for-ark-park-hurt.html For the 12/20/2010 story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2010/12/20/1574230/ark-park-gets-preliminary-ok-for.html For the 12/18/2010 story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2010/12/18/1570761/state-never-saw-feasibility-study.html For the 12/9/2010 story in the Louisville Courier-Journal, visit: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20101209/NEWS01/312090053/Beshear+says+Ark+park+contract+will+prohibit+religious+discrimination For the story at OneNewsNow, visit: http://www.onenewsnow.com/Culture/Default.aspx?id=1254354 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kentucky, visit: http://ncse.com/news/kentucky KITZMAS CHEER IN THE PHILLY INQUIRER The Philadelphia Inquirer (December 20, 2010) commemorated the fifth anniversary of the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools, with a review of the trial and its consequences. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott told the paper, "We're not fighting Dovers in every fifth school district in the country ... Dover seriously put the brakes on the intelligent-design movement." But as Michael Berkman, coauthor with Eric Plutzer of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), explained, "the movement always adapts to the court cases and calls it something else." As a case in point, Scott cited Louisiana, where creationist attacks on the treatment of evolution in biology -- in the guise of calls for "critical analysis" — were recently rebuffed by the state board of elementary and secondary education. Kenneth R. Miller, a Supporter of NCSE who testified in the Kitzmiller trial, told the Inquirer that "the forms of 'critical analysis' promoted by the Louisiana Family Forum are actually a series of baseless arguments against evolution that have been repeatedly discredited by the scientific community." (Barbara Forrest reflects on the importance of the Kitzmiller case to the ongoing situation in Louisiana in a December 20, 2010, post on the Louisiana Coalition for Science's blog.) "Evolution also suffers in the classroom, according to Berkman's survey, because many teachers are timid, may undermine the science, or may not present evolution thoroughly," the story explained, quoting Scott as observing, "Too many biology teachers skip evolution, give one lecture, or leave it till the end." Eric Rothschild, a Pepper Hamilton attorney who represented the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller, commented, "I often think about what would have happened if we hadn't won," adding, "We would have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of schools adopt intelligent design." Instead, the decision served to encourage teachers -- like Dover's Jennifer Miller, according to the York Dispatch (December 17, 2010) -- to present evolution without fear. For the story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, visit: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/front_page/20101220_Five_years_ago___quot_intelligent_design_quot__ruling_in_Dover_case_set_a_legal_landmark.html For Barbara Forrest's blog post, visit: http://lasciencecoalition.org/2010/12/20/merry-kitzmas-from-louisiana-coalition-for-science/ For NCSE's coverage of events in Louisiana, visit: http://ncse.com/news/louisiana For the story in the York Dispatch, visit: http://www.yorkdispatch.com/ci_16883908 For NCSE's collection of material relevant to Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trial-kitzmiller-v-dover A NEW GALLUP POLL ON EVOLUTION A new Gallup poll on public opinion about evolution hints at a slightly higher rate of acceptance of evolution in the United States over the years. Asked in December 2010 "[w]hich of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings," 38% of the respondents accepted "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process," 16% accepted "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process," and 40% accepted "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Gallup observed, "A small minority of Americans hold the 'secular evolution' view that humans evolved with no influence from God -- but the number has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% today. At the same time, the 40% of Americans who hold the 'creationist' view that God created humans as is 10,000 years ago is the lowest in Gallup's history of asking this question, and down from a high point of 47% in 1993 and 1999," but added, "But these shifts have not been large, and the basic structure of beliefs about human beings' origins is generally the same as it was in the early 1980s." Acceptance of the creationist option was associated with a lower degree of education, a higher rate of church attendance, and affiliation with the Republican party. According to Gallup, "The poll was based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 10-12, 2010, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling"; the samples were weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. The maximum range of sampling error for the total sample was +/- 4%. Conveniently, Gallup provides a graph showing the results from its polls using the same question since 1982. Additionally, a collection of material -- including NCSE's coverage, articles from RNCSE, and links -- relevant to polls and surveys concerning the creationism/evolution controversy is available on the NCSE website. For Gallup's report, visit: http://www.gallup.com/poll/145286/Four-Americans-Believe-Strict-Creationism.aspx For NCSE's collection of material on polls and surveys, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/polls-surveys BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE KITZMAS Five years after the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools, the York Dispatch (December 17, 2010) marked the anniversary with a review of the trial and its significance, including brief interviews with a number of the figures in the trial. The verdict was issued on December 20, 2005, prompting the Kitzmiller family to refer jokingly to the date as "Kitzmas" -- a term apparently coined by P. Z. Myers in a December 20, 2005, post on The Panda's Thumb blog celebrating the Kitzmiller verdict. Commenting were the lead plaintiff Tammy Kitzmiller (who remarked, "I still get my hate mail"), Witold "Vic" Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Judge John E. Jones III, William Buckingham (a former member of the Dover Area School Board who supported the challenged policy), and Dover Area Senior High School biology teacher Jennifer Miller. While Miller used to relegate evolution to the end of the semester in her classes, she explained, "Now I teach it first and make sure I emphasize it. And I keep referring to it, to show them how important evolution is to biology." Expert witnesses commenting included "intelligent design" proponent Michael Behe as well as Barbara Forrest (a member of NCSE's board of directors) and Kenneth Miller (a Supporter of NCSE). Forrest told the newspaper, "We need to remind people that we have now a federal court precedent that applies explicitly to ID. The next time there is a court case, the first thing that judge is going to do is look at that case," and Miller similarly said, "When evolution comes under attack, people are able to point to the Kitzmiller trial. There was a complete absence of scientific evidence for intelligent design." For the article in the York Dispatch, visit: http://www.yorkdispatch.com/ci_16883908 For P. Z. Myers's post at The Panda's Thumb, visit: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/12/unconstitutiona.html For NCSE's collection of material relevant to Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trial-kitzmiller-v-dover "MOLECULAR INSIGHTS" VIDEOS ON-LINE Videos from "Molecular Insights into Classic Examples of Evolution" -- the Evolution Symposium at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference for 2010 -- are now available on-line! Featured are four exciting speakers whose research in molecular evolution is revolutionizing our understanding of familiar and compelling examples of evolution. Edmund "Butch" D. Brodie III of the University of Virginia speaks on "Time to change the channel: Predator-prey arms races and the evolution of toxin resistance in snakes"; Allen G. Rodrigo of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and Duke University speaks on "Rapidly evolving viruses: Studying molecular evolution in real time"; Hopi E. Hoekstra of Harvard University speaks on "From mice to molecules: the genetics of color adaptation"; and NCSE Supporter Sean Carroll of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Howard Hughes Medical Institutes speaks on "How bugs get their spots: Genetic switches and the evolution of form." In addition, research and teaching resources are provided for each topic. The Evolution Symposium, presented annually since 2004 at the annual NABT conference, is cosponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Videos of previous symposia, and collections of relevant educational resources, are available in CD form from NESCent and on-line from NESCent's website. For the videos and related materials, visit: https://www.nescent.org/media/NABTSymposium2010.php REMINDER: "EVOLUTION AND ITS RIVALS" "Evolution and its rivals" -- a special issue of the philosophy journal Synthese focused on the creationism/evolution controversy -- was just published. Coedited by Glenn Branch, NCSE's deputy director, and James H. Fetzer, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, the issue (volume 178, number 2) contains Glenn Branch's introduction; Robert T. Pennock's "Can't philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?: Demarcation revisited"; John S. Wilkins's "Are creationists rational?"; Kelly C. Smith's "Foiling the Black Knight"; Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit's "Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski's 'complex specified information'"; Bruce H. Weber's "Design and its discontents"; Sahotra Sarkar's "The science question in intelligent design"; Niall Shanks and Keith Green's "Intelligent design in theological perspective"; Barbara Forrest's "The non-epistemology of intelligent design: Its implications for public policy"; and James H. Fetzer's "Evolution and atheism: Has Griffin reconciled science and religion?" Fortuitously, as part of a special promotion on the part of the journal's publisher, access to Synthese is free until December 31, 2010. For the table of contents, visit: http://www.springerlink.com/content/0039-7857/178/2/ 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. -- With best wishes for the holiday season, 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