Skip navigation.
The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/01/28

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

A column in Science deplores "a pervasive reluctance of teachers to
forthrightly explain evolutionary biology." Meanwhile, teachers in
Illinois add their voice for evolution, Darwin Day and Evolution
Weekend are approaching, and the publisher of creationist textbooks
indicates its plans to submit supplementary materials for state
approval in Texas.


Despite the latest victories over creationism, "considerable research
suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason
itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," according to
Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer. Writing in the January 28, 2011,
issue of Science, Berkman and Plutzer review the results of their
National Survey of High School Biology Teachers. "The data reveal a
pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary
biology," with only 28% of teachers deemed effective educators with
respect to evolution -- and with as many as 13% of teachers explicitly
advocating creationism. As for the remaining 60%, Berkman and Plutzer
suggest that they "may play a far more important role in hindering
scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of
explicit creationists ... even if unintentionally."

What is the solution? While recommending continued participation in
legal battles and outreach efforts, Berkman and Plutzer importantly
suggest that "increased focus be placed on preservice teachers ...
Requiring an evolution course for all preservice biology teachers, as
well as provision of resources to provide such a course, would likely
lead to meaningful improvement in secondary school science
instruction." Quoting Glenn Branch, Eugenie C. Scott, and Joshua
Rosenau's recent "Dispatches from the Evolution Wars" in Annual Review
of Genomics and Human Genetics, they conclude, "focusing on the
preservice stage may be 'the most effective way for scientists to help
to improve the understanding of evolution' ... Combined with continued
successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this
approach offers our best chance of increasing the science literacy of
future generations."

Berkman and Plutzer are both professors of political science at
Pennsylvania State University. They are the authors, with Julianna
Sandell Pacheco, of "Evolution and Creationism in America's
Classrooms: A National Portrait" (published in PLoS Biology in 2008)
and of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's
Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 2010), which NCSE's Glenn
Branch described as "[a] tour de force," adding, "Berkman and
Plutzer's analysis of who really decides what is taught about
evolution in America's public schools is incisive and insightful,
thorough and thoughtful. Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to
Control America's Classrooms is required reading for anyone who wants
to understand the evolution wars." Additionally, they chat about their
Science column and their research with Yun Xie in a January 27, 2011,
blog post on Ars Technica.

For Berkman and Plutzer's column in Science (subscription required), visit: 

For "Dispatches from the Evolution Wars," visit: 

For the article in PLoS Biology, visit: 

For information about Berkman and Plutzer's book, visit 

For the Ars Technica interview, visit: 


The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a
statement from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, representing over
80,000 educational professionals in the state. Observing that
evolution "is the foundation of biological science, is supported by a
coherent body of integrated evidence from other disciplines in science
and is consistent with theories from other scientific disciplines
including anthropology, geology, physics, astronomy and chemistry,"
the statement affirms "the validity and foundational importance of
organic evolution to science as a whole and biology, specifically,"
and calls on its members to "assist those engaged in overseeing
science education policy to understand the nature of science, the
content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness
of including non-science subjects (e.g., intelligent design and
creationism) in our science curriculum." The statement is now
reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be
contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the statement (#11 on the list), visit: 

And for Voices for Evolution, visit: 


It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: less than a month
remains before Darwin Day 2011! Colleges and universities, schools,
libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks
across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate
Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of
Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only
to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach
about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education --
which is especially needed with assaults on evolution education
currently ongoing in Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and
Texas. NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend, participate
in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own communities. To
find a local event, check the websites of local universities and
museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained by the Darwin
Day Celebration website. (And don't forget to register your own event
with the Darwin Day Celebration website!)

And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of
congregations all over the country and around the world are taking
part in Evolution Weekend, February 11-13, 2011, by presenting sermons
and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science.
Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution
Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the
relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to
elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic -- to
move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that
religious people from many faiths and locations understand that
evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.
Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it
clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and
science are creating a false dichotomy." At last count, 575
congregations in all fifty states (and thirteen foreign countries)
were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.

For the Darwin Day registry, visit: 

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: 


The Texas Freedom Network warns, in a January 20, 2011, press release,
that "the war on science is officially back on in Texas." The opening
salvo was the appearance of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics --
perhaps best known as the publisher of Of Pandas and People -- on a
list of publishers intending to submit supplementary science
curriculum material for approval by the Texas state board of

Of Pandas and People is the "intelligent design" textbook that was at
the center of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case in which the teaching
of "intelligent design" in the public schools was ruled to be
unconstitutional. During the trial, Barbara Forrest's argument that
"intelligent design" was a relabeling of creationism was bolstered by
the fact that in drafts of Of Pandas and People, the word "creation"
was systematically replaced with the word "design" just after the 1987
Supreme Court ruling that teaching creationism in the public schools
violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Before the trial, FTE unsuccessfully sought to intervene in the case
by becoming a co-defendant along with the Dover Area School Board. In
a July 2005 hearing, FTE's president Jon Buell told the court that FTE
was not a religious organization -- only to be confronted on
cross-examination with a copy of FTE's tax return, on which its
primary purpose was described as "promoting and publishing textbooks
presenting a Christian perspective," and a copy of its articles of
incorporation, according to which its purposes include "making known
the Christian gospel and understanding of the Bible."

Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller commented, "In 2009 the State
Board of Education approved new science curriculum standards that
opened the door to creationist materials in Texas classrooms. Today we
saw that one prominent creationist group intends to walk through that
door." Miller added, "Getting their materials in public schools has
long been a top priority for creationists, and it's clear that they
intend to make Texas their flagship. Teaching inaccurate information
rejected by the scientific community would be a huge disservice to
Texas kids and a major setback for science education everywhere."

Materials submitted for approval will be available for public review
in March 2011 and will also undergo review by panels of citizens,
educators, and scientists to ensure their conformity to the state's
science standards and their factual accuracy. The state board of
education is expected to vote on the materials in April 2011;
materials approved by the board will be available for purchase by
local school districts.

For TFN's press release, visit: 

For information on FTE and Pandas in the Kitzmiller case, 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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: 

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: 

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!