NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2013/02/08
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Good news from Montana and Colorado. The New York Times discusses the proposed Congressional resolution about Darwin Day while the Guardian discusses the current spate of antievolution legislation. And a reminder about Darwin Day.
MONTANA'S ANTIEVOLUTION BILL TABLED Montana's House Bill 183, which purports to "encourage critical thinking regarding controversial scientific theories" such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, random mutation, natural selection, DNA, and fossil discoveries," was tabled in the House Education Committee on February 5, 2013. As NCSE previously reported, the bill was originally intended to "[r]equire public schools to teach intelligent design along with evolution," which would presumably conflict with the decision in the 2005 case Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which requiring the public schools to teach "intelligent design" was held to be unconstitutional. The House Education Committee discussed HB 183 in its January 25, 2013, meeting. According to the Associated Press (January 25, 2013), the bill's sponsor, Clayton Fiscus (R-District 46), explained, "This is just a bill to instruct what we have presently in the science on the origins of life. ... We should teach what we do know. We should also teach what we don't know." Over twenty people attending the hearing, including scientists, teachers, theologians, school board members, and concerned parents, testified against the bill; none testified for it. Highlights from the hearing are available on NCSE's YouTube channel. For the text of Montana's House Bill 183, visit: http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2013/billhtml/HB0183.htm For the Associated Press story (via the Great Falls Tribune), visit: http://www.greatfallstribune.com/viewart/20130125/NEWS01/301250044/Critics-says-bill-allows-creationism-schools For the highlights from the hearing, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX9QYMWsFzY And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Montana, visit: http://ncse.com/news/montana ANTISCIENCE BILL IN COLORADO FAILS House Bill 13-1089, which would have encouraged teachers in Colorado to misrepresent the scientific status of evolution and climate change, was rejected by a 7-6 vote in the House Committee on Education on February 4, 2013. The committee also voted 7-6 to postpone further consideration of the bill indefinitely. Otherwise a typical instance of the "academic freedom" strategy for undermining the integrity of science education, HB 13-1089 was unusual in targeting higher education as well as K-12 education. The primary sponsors of HB 13-1089 were Stephen Humphrey (R-District 48) in the House and Scott Renfroe (R-District 13) in the Senate -- in Colorado, bills in either house of the legislature will have a sponsor in the other house. Among those testifying for the bill was a representative of the Discovery Institute, who claimed that his organization helped to draft the bill. Among those testifying against the bill were representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, and the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education. "One down, seven to go," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, alluding to the seven bills still active -- Arizona's Senate Bill 1213, Indiana's House Bill 1283, Missouri's House Bill 179 and House Bill 291, Montana's House Bill 183, and Oklahoma's Senate Bill 758 and House Bill 1674 -- that would undermine the teaching of evolution and climate change in the public schools. (A further bill, Texas's House Bill 285, which would protect faculty and students in higher education from persecution over their acceptance of "intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms," is also still active.) "But this victory in Colorado was too close," Scott added. "People in Colorado and elsewhere need to understand that these bills would be nothing but trouble: scientifically misleading, pedagogically unnecessary, and likely to produce administrative, legal, and economic headaches." She expressed NCSE's appreciation to all those who testified at the committee hearing and contacted their representatives to express their opposition to HB 13-1089. For the text of Colorado's House Bill 13-1089 (PDF), visit: http://www.leg.state.co.us/clics/clics2013a/csl.nsf/fsbillcont3/35B3E6449F0D1CB987257AEE00581D2A?open&file=1089_01.pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Colorado, visit: http://ncse.com/news/colorado DARWIN DAY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES "Two congressmen, two Christians and two very different views of the man who in 1859 published 'On the Origin of Species,'" writes Mark Oppenheimer in The New York Times (February 1, 2013). The two opposing figures of his article are Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), who introduced a resolution to designate February 12, 2013, as Darwin Day, and hopes to hold hearings "where people can hear about Darwin and science and the jobs it creates, the lives it saves, everything," and Paul Broun (R-New Jersey), who was in the news in 2012 for describing evolution as "lies, straight from the pit of hell ... lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior." Attitudes such as Broun's are not new, of course, and they are primarily motivated by moral, rather than scientific, concerns. The historian Ronald L. Numbers told Oppenheimer that the 1925 Tennessee law banning evolution was passed because "people were concerned about its ethical teaching," and the science journalist Chris Mooney suggested that evolution reemerged as a target for evangelical Christians in the 1970s due to a perceived connection with abortion. Thus while many Christians "believe that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is compatible with a Christian worldview," Darwin "still gets a whupping from politicians trying to scare up the votes of conservative Christians." For Oppenheimer's column in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/us/seeing-darwin-through-christians-eyes.html For NCSE's previous coverage of Holt's resolution, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2013/01/darwin-day-resolution-congress-0014688 THE YEAR'S ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION SO FAR "Four US states are considering new legislation about teaching science in schools, allowing pupils to be taught religious versions of how life on earth developed in what critics say would establish a backdoor way of questioning the theory of evolution," the Guardian (January 13, 2013) summarizes. The states in question are Colorado (House Bill 13-1089), Missouri (House Bill 179 and House Bill 291), Montana (House Bill 183), and Oklahoma (Senate Bill 758 and House Bill 1674) -- to which should be added Arizona (Senate Bill 1213) and Indiana (House Bill 1283), for a grand total of eight bills in six states. Missouri's HB 179 and HB 291 target evolution only, with HB 291 requiring, "If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a course of study, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught. Other scientific theory or theories of origin may be taught." Arizona's SB 1213, Colorado's HB 13-1089, Oklahoma's HB 1674, and Montana's HB 183 target, in varying wording, "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." Oklahoma's SB 758 and Indiana's HB 1283 mention no specific topics, although evolution is clearly the implicit target. Except for Missouri's HB 291, all of the bills share three features, expressed in more or less the same language. First, they are permissive, allowing rather than requiring teachers to help pupils understand the supposed "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of scientific theories. Second, they are protective, forbidding state and local educational authorities from prohibiting teachers to do so. (Oklahoma's HB 1674 also protects students from being penalized for subscribing "to a particular position on scientific theories.") Third, they disavow any intention to promote any religious or antireligious view. Discussing the bills, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau commented, "Taken at face value, they sound innocuous and lovely: critical thinking, debate and analysis. It seems so innocent, so pure. But they chose to question only areas that religious conservatives are uncomfortable with. There is a religious agenda here." Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State concurred, telling the Guardian, "This is just another attempt to bring creationism in through the back door. The only academic freedom they really want to encourage is the freedom to be ignorant." Although over forty such bills have been introduced over the last decade, only two have been enacted: in Louisiana in 2008 and in Tennessee in 2012. Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University (and a member of NCSE's board of directors) attributed the popularity of such bills to the outcome of the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, in which teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools was found to be unconstitutional. "Creationists never give up. They never do. The language of these bills may be highly sanitized but it is creationist code," she said. "The laws can have a direct impact on a state," the Guardian reported, citing the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology's boycott of Louisiana (recently rescinded for the city of New Orleans, after the New Orleans City Council and the Orleans Parish School Board both took firm stands against teaching creationism). Zack Kopplin, the young Lousiana activist, argued that similar bills risk the economy and the reputation of states considering them. "It really hurts students. It can be embarrassing to be from a state which has become a laughing stock in this area," Kopplin remarked. For the story in the Guardian, visit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/31/states-laws-challenge-teaching-evolution For NCSE's previous coverage of events in the six states with antievolution legislation, visit: http://ncse.com/news/arizona http://ncse.com/news/colorado http://ncse.com/news/indiana http://ncse.com/news/missouri http://ncse.com/news/montana http://ncse.com/news/oklahoma DARWIN DAY APPROACHES It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: less than a week remains before Darwin Day 2013! 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 underway in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, 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 8-10, 2013, 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, 591 congregations across the country (and in thirteen 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/ -- 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