NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/01/27
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Bills, bills, bills. Indiana's creation science bill passes through committee; Leslie Brunetta argues that antievolution bills are bad for your health; opposition to Indiana's creationist bill comes from a variety of perspectives; the St. Louis Beacon sheds further light on Missouri's "intelligent design" bill; and a new bill in Oklahoma attacks both evolution and climate science. And a reminder that Darwin Day is on its way.
INDIANA CREATIONIST BILL PASSES COMMITTEE Indiana's Senate Bill 89, which if enacted would allow local school districts to "require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science," was passed by the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development on January 25, 2012. The vote was 8-2, with the bill's sponsor and committee chair Dennis Kruse (R-District 14), Carlin Yoder (R-District 12), Jim Banks (R-District 17), Jim Buck (R-District 17), Luke Kenley (R-District 20), Jean Leising (R-District 42), Scott Schneider (R-District 30), and Frank Mrvan Jr. (D-District 1) voting for and Earline S. Rogers (D-District 3) and Tim Skinner (D-District 38) voting against the bill. Testimony against the bill stressed the unconstitutionality of teaching creation science, established by the Supreme Court in 1987. Among those testifying against the bill were John Staver, professor of chemistry and science education at Purdue University; Chuck Little, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association; David Sklar, the Director of Government Relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council; the Reverend Charles Allen, a chaplain for Grace Unlimited, a campus ministry in the Indianapolis area; and Reba Boyd Wooden, executive director of the Indiana Center for Inquiry. For the text of Indiana's Senate Bill 89, visit: http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2012/IN/IN0089.1.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Indiana, visit: http://ncse.com/news/indiana ANTIEVOLUTION BILLS: BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH? In a column for the Concord Monitor (January 22, 2012), Leslie Brunetta criticized the latest spate of proposed antievolution measures, writing, "these bills are bad for my health and the health of each of the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year." She explains, "Although most such bills die in committee, they legitimize the idea that the theory of evolution is just an opinion. It is actually a robust explanation for the diversity of life on earth, supported by thousands of observations and experiments, used to make testable predictions about nature -- which includes our bodies." After reviewing how evolutionary theory helps to guide cancer research, Brunetta observed, "Meanwhile, creationists, 'intelligent design' advocates, and other 'challengers' of evolution theory propose no research program," and concluded, "If you're looking for a cure for your cancer, don't look to evolution-deniers for hope. As for me, I give thanks to Darwin and the researchers who have stood on his shoulders." Brunetta is the author, with Catherine L. Craig, of Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating (Yale University Press, 2010). For Brunetta's column, visit: http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/306514/the-darwinconnection For information on Spider Silk (and a sample from it), visit: http://ncse.com/news/2012/01/news/2011/10/spider-silk-web-006917 MOUNTING OPPOSITION TO INDIANA'S CREATIONIST BILL Opposition to Indiana's Senate Bill 89, which if enacted would allow local school districts to "require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science," is mounting -- and coming, moreover, from a variety of perspectives. In a letter dated January 18, 2012, the Center for Inquiry -- which seeks to "foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values" -- wrote to the sponsor of SB 89, Dennis Kruse (R-District 14) to request that he withdraw the bill. The CFI's letter explained, "SB 89 would allow school boards and other authorized educational administrators in Indiana to require that religious belief be taught in public school classrooms as valid and true. This would violate both the spirit and letter of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution," adding, "SB 89 would also blatantly contradict the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism as science in public schools is unconstitutional." In addition to Ron Lindsay and Michael DeDora of the CFI national office, the letter was signed by Reba Boyd Wooden, the executive director of CFI Indiana. In a column for the Indianapolis Star (January 20, 2012), James McGrath offered to leave it to scientists to explain that "creation science" is anything but scientific and to legal experts to explain that the provisions of SB 89 are unconstitutional. "But as a professor who teaches biblical studies," he wrote, "I want to get the word out that 'creation science' or young-earth creationism is problematic for another reason: It involves poor, and at times deceitful, biblical interpretation." He recommended, "Instead of listening to charlatans propounding pseudoscience of their own invention that is neither biblical nor scientific, I would like to encourage people of faith in Indiana to listen to people who share their faith and who also have expertise in biology." McGrath is Associate Professor of Religion and Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University. And Jacob Homan, in a column for the Munster, Indiana, Times (January 23, 2012), wrote, "Ratification of this bill would be both an embarrassment to Indiana and do a tremendous disservice to students across the state," explaining, "It would be an embarrassment because the theory of evolution maintains a very high degree of confidence among the scientific community and because creationism is not a science." Noting that various religious leaders and organizations have denounced the teaching of creationism, Homan called on the religious community to speak out against the bill: "Religious leaders also share the responsibility to look out for the best interest of public school students, and SB89 is a clear deviation from that responsibility that merits response." Homan, who hails from Whiting, Indiana, and earned his undergraduate degree at Purdue University, is a graduate student in political science at the University of Chicago. SB 89 is scheduled for a committee hearing on January 25, 2012. Its sponsor Dennis Kruse told the Indianapolis Star (January 22, 2012), "I believe in creationism ... Just because there are constitutional concerns doesn't mean you don't try to get something done you believe in." For the text of Indiana's Senate Bill 89, visit: http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2012/IN/IN0089.1.html For CFI's letter (PDF), visit: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/docs/opp/indiana-letter.pdf For McGrath's column, visit: http://blogs.indystar.com/letters/2012/01/20/my-view-inform-yourself-about-creation-theories/ For Homan's column, visit: http://www.nwitimes.com/news/opinion/guest-commentary/young-voices-creationism-doesn-t-belong-in-a-science-textbook/article_bfc67051-93e6-5b62-8051-7e11fa6c8e3c.html For the Star's column, visit: http://www.indystar.com/article/20120122/NEWS05/201220350/Indiana-lawmakers-consider-some-laws-just-plain-puzzling THE BEACON SHEDS LIGHT ON HB 1227 The St. Louis Beacon (January 19, 2012) shed light on Missouri's House Bill 1227, which if enacted would require "intelligent design" to be taught alongside evolution in the state's public schools. The sponsor of the bill, Rick Brattin (R-District 124), told the Beacon, "We're trying to say intelligent design is a very viable theory, much like evolution." Both he and his fellow sponsor Sue Allen (R-District 92) stressed that in their view evolution was just a theory. But Charles Granger, a professor of biology of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, replied, "I don't know of any practicing biologist who has actually studied evolution who believes that evolution is not the best explanation ... I don't think anybody argues against the general idea. What they do argue about is mechanisms, about how it can happen faster or slower. But as far as the general principles, I don't know of anybody who has published anything negative in a peer-reviewed journal." As for Brattin and Allen's contention that evolution is just a theory and therefore ought to be open to challenge in the classroom, NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch explained that as scientists use the word, "a theory is not a hunch or conjecture. It is a systematic explanation." He added, "In many ways, theories are more important than facts. Facts are isolated. If you want to make sense of the natural world, you need to have systematic explanations." HB 911 and HB 1722, ancestors of HB 1227, died in 2004, and Allen acknowledged that HB 1227 is not likely to be passed. Asked why such bills are introduced, Granger speculated, "They can pull out this bill and show it to their constituents and say see, my name is on this. I tried." Unmentioned in the Beacon's article was Missouri's House Bill 1276, a version of the "academic freedom" antievolution bill, of which Brattin and Allen are also sponsors. For the article in the St. Louis Beacon, visit: http://www.stlbeacon.org/issues-politics/95-Education/115442-darwin-vs-design-if-one-is-taught-should-the-other-be-required For the text of Missouri's House Bill 1227, visit: http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills121/biltxt/intro/HB1227I.htm And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit: http://ncse.com/news/missouri OKLAHOMA BILL ATTACKS EVOLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE Senate Bill 1742, prefiled in the Oklahoma Senate, is apparently the sixth antievolution bill of 2012, following on the heels of two bills in New Hampshire, two bills in Missouri, and one bill in Indiana. The bill would, if enacted, require the state board of education to assist teachers and administrators in promoting "critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning" upon request of the local school district. The bill also provides that teachers "may use supplemental textbooks and instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." SB 1742 is evidently modeled in part on the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008 as Louisiana Revised Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1; indeed, the bill itself declares, "This act is modeled on a Louisiana law which has not been invalidated by the highest court of the State of Louisiana or a federal district court," adding, "Legal challenges to academic freedom bills have historically alleged that such bills are intended to allow the teaching of creationism or intelligent design. This bill does not propose that schools teach creationism or intelligent design, rather, it is the intent to foster an environment of critical thinking in schools including a scientific critique of the theory of evolution." The sole sponsor of SB 1742 is Josh Brecheen (R-District 6). In 2011, Brecheen introduced Senate Bill 554, which combined a different version of the "academic freedom language" -- referring to "the scientific strengths [and] scientific weaknesses of controversial topics ... [which] include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution" -- with a directive for the state board of education to adopt "standards and curricula" that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and evolution. SB 554 apparently died in committee on February 28, 2011, when a deadline for senate bills to be reported from committee passed. Before Brecheen filed SB 554, he announced his intention to file antievolution legislation in a column in the Durant Daily Democrat (December 19, 2010): "Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. ... Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable." In a subsequent column in the newspaper (December 24, 2010), he indicated that his intention was to have creationism presented as scientifically credible, writing, "I have introduced legislation requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin's religion." Oklahomans concerned about SB 1742 are urged to get in touch with Eric Meikle at NCSE and the grassroots organization Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. For the text of Oklahoma's Senate Bill 1742 (document), visit: http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf/2011-12%20int/sb/SB1742%20int.doc For Brecheen's columns in the Durant Daily Democrat, visit: http://www.durantdemocrat.com/view/full_story/10717736/article-Brecheen-discusses-evolution-and-Darwinian-Theory http://www.durantdemocrat.com/view/full_story/10776295/article-Brecheen-says-the-religion-of-evolution-is-plagued-with-falsehoods For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education's website, visit: http://www.oklascience.org/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit: http://ncse.com/news/oklahoma DARWIN DAY APPROACHES It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: less than a month remains before Darwin Day 2012! 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 Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. 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 10-12, 2012, 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, 491 congregations in all fifty states (and ten foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events. For the Darwin Day registry, visit: http://darwinday.org/events/ http://darwinday.org/wp-login.php?action=register For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: http://www.evolutionweekend.org/ 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 and climate education and threats to them. -- Sincerely, 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 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.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/join