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Friday, February 27, 2009
It's Here!!!

My Darwin T-Shirt arrived today.


posted by Jeremy Mohn

Thursday, February 26, 2009
Walk Through Deep Time

The Grand Canyon has always been one of my favorite places. Twenty (much younger and fitter) years ago, I hiked down and back in one day not knowing at the time I was pregnant. Although I've slowed down considerably a lot since then, my husband and I are thrilled that our kids have had the chance to explore the Canyon with us.

Soon there will be another reason to visit: The Trail of Time.

(More after the jump.)

Aptly named, the trail was designed to help visitors shift their perspective on time from a personal time scale (years) to historic time scales (tens and hundreds of years), then to archaeological time scales (thousands of years), and finally the geologic time scale of millions of years. It uses the 2-km stretch of existing paved walking trail that edges the South Rim between Yavapai Observation Station, which houses a recently remodeled geology museum, and Grand Canyon Village. Upon completion in 2010 it will be the world's largest interpretive geosciences exhibit.

The trail will be marked with bronze plaques every meter, each meter representing 1 million miles of Earth's history.

Imagine that one long stride represents a million years, and you have to take 2,000 of those strides just to get to the age of the oldest rock in the Grand Canyon, which is less than half the age of the Earth. By walking this timeline trail, visitors get a physical as well as intellectual sense of how long geologic time is. A grasp of the magnitude of geologic time is the foundational knowledge needed to construct an understanding of many aspects of our planet from earth science and evolutionary biology to astronomy.

It is tough to get students to think of the world in terms of millions and billions of years instead of thousands. Shifting their perspective by such orders of magnitude is aided by having the students build their own geologic timeline, one where 1.0 mm of distance on a roll of paper represents 1.0 million years. At this scale, the entire history of the earth is represented by about 15 feet on the roll of paper. With only 1.0 mm to represent the most recent 1 million years, students quickly realize that the last 10,000 years of human civilization doesn't even leave a scratch.

"Our hope is that Trail of Time visitors will walk away with a better understanding of how human time scales relate to geologic time scales." - Steve Semken, assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and a long-time member of the Trail of Time team

But the Grand scale of the Trail of Time at the Canyon shows in its ambitious plans:

"Though we don't have the funding yet, we would someday like to extend it all the way out to Maricopa point which will be 4.5 km," says Semken. "That would bring people out to the very beginning of the earth, 4.5 billion years."

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, so of course there are oodles of documents available with more details.

. . . and the child I was expecting on that hike twenty years ago has always had the uncanny ability to send me climbing the walls. Just sayin' . . .

(If you can stand enjoy the macabre, check out "Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon" with chapters devoted to the various ways folks have died in the Canyon: falls, dehydration, floods, the Colorado River, air crashes, freak accidents, suicides, and murder. Commonalities among the fatalities include ignoring warning signs and high testosterone levels. If you like this one, you'll probably enjoy "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" when it debuts in April.)

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Ken Miller: This, I Believe

A bit of today's "This, I Believe:"

"But the evidence isn't really what bothers most Americans about evolution. What bugs them is that evolution says something they just don't want to hear: namely, that we not only live in the natural world, but we are part of it. We emerged from it, or more accurately, we emerged with it. To them, that means we are just animals, our lives are an accident and our existence is without meaning, purpose or value. My concern for those who hold that view isn't just that they are wrong on science, wrong about the nature of the evidence, and mistaken on a fundamental point of biology. It's that they are missing something grand and beautiful and personally enriching."

As Miller points out, this is reminiscent of something from 1859 . . .

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
An Interesting Spot in the 'Tubes . . .

Really, if you haven't yet checked out John Pieret's "Thoughts in a Haystack", you're missing out.

The first article which grabbed my attention (which is stretched in a lot of directions just now) was this bit:

Poor Casey Luskin. Here he expends all the time and effort to try to paint the opposition to Iowa's version of the Discovery Institute's "academic freedom" legislation as unfairly characterizing the bill as attempting to inject religion into public classrooms and along comes one of his "allies" and blows his cover:

Norman Pawlewski, representing the Christian Alliance and one of two state lobbyists registered in favor of HF 183, said, "Why shouldn't teachers and students be able to decide among all the science-related information? God created science, after all."

Can't you just hear Luskin screaming - again - "IX-NAY ON THE OD-GAY!!!!111!!" Nothing like having the rank and file - you know, the folks who'll really work to implement those destructive, deceptively-named "academic freedom" bills in their local science classrooms - give away the game.

The next piquant offering was a great summary of a lengthy interview of the Kansas-born-and-raised philanthropist David H. Koch. Yes, that Koch, the NOVA supporter. Although I don't agree with all of Koch's politics, he did an admirable job of frustrating a second-rate reporter who seemed to be more determined to get Koch to dish out some dirt on evolution than in giving us a complete or coherent picture of a strong science supporter:

Pieret: As far as her interviewing "skills," she can't seem to ask a question without appending to it a long personal (and pointless) anecdote or an extended diatribe about her Secretariat-like hobbyhorse. Many of her questions are longer than any of the answers that Koch gave and you can practically hear the wheels turning in his head going "how did I wind up in a room with this woman?" Koch sidestepped most of her claims of the impending end-of-evolution-as-we-know-it by saying that he was unaware of her "examples" or unqualified to assess the science or by making reassuring but noncommittal noises about how the public is served by knowing more about the subject. Asked if "we are now witnessing a sea change in evolutionary thinking?" he rather sensibly answered:

Koch: No. I don't think it's a sea change. The sea change occurred back when Darwin published his evolutionary theories, backed up by massive, overwhelming evidence. What's happened since is that there's been a rather steady progressive acceptance of the concepts of evolution in the general public. It's amazing to me that in America a large faction of the population still doesn't believe in it.

Even better . . . as Jeremy noted to me earlier,

Mazur: Do you have any interest in supporting an evolution conference in America along the lines of what the Vatican or the Austrians have done? Also, do you have any interest in creating a foundation specifically for the investigation of these other mechanisms of evolution?

Koch: . . . I think my talents and fortune could be enormously better spent on developing cures for diseases like cancer. For me to worry about these highly theoretical arguments rather than try to cure these horrible diseases? Cancer kills half a million people a year. That's a far better use for my money than this kind of academic theoretical debate.

Or as my kids *say - PWND! (*used with the understanding that as soon as I use the term, it becomes passé and not fit for teenage consumption.)

Go visit "Thoughts in a Haystack" when you get a chance.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Sunday, February 22, 2009
I Couldn't Have Said It Better

A Fort Collins Coloradoan columnist named Jan Waterman just wrote down exactly what I have been thinking about those Gallup poll results reported last week.

She just put it much better than I could have.

When asked the question, "Do you personally believe in the theory of evolution?" 39 percent of 1,018 American adults answered yes, 25 percent answered no and 36 percent had no opinion.

Gallup's question is flawed because evolution is a scientific theory, and scientific theories are not something in which to believe. A scientific theory is a statement about a pattern that exists in the natural world and a process that explains that pattern.

The theory of evolution attempts to explain the diversity and history of life by reference to natural observed laws of the physical universe. It is not so much concerned with how life began as it is with what has happened since life began. It has nothing to do with religion, nor is it something to believe in. As with any scientific theory, evolution is a substantiated explanation incorporating fact and hypothesis.

Waterman's opinion piece is entitled "Belief doesn't enter into evolution equation."

With all of the "oh no you didn't!" posts I've been writing around here lately, Waterman's conclusion has given me quite a bit to think about.

Like Darwin, we can be curious about the diversity of life. We can question and investigate the amaz-ing world around us. God is not limited by our ideas. Truth is true no matter what our beliefs about it. As we open to consider new ideas and possibilities, we enrich our lives.

I agree with Reverend Thurmond Tillman of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., that "the faithful should focus on uniting mankind - not dividing his origins."

Tillman goes on to say, "And the test of how we relate with (God) is how we relate with one another."

Isn't that what really matters?

Edited for grammar, 10:07, 2/22/09

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Gotta get that on a T-shirt...

The image to the left was created by Mike Rosulek, a graduate student in computer science at the University of Illinois. You can order a T-shirt with this image on it (and others like it) here.

All of the profits go to the National Center for Science Education!

Since Zazzle lets you customize the design, I went ahead and added my favorite Darwin saying to the shirt that I ordered:

"There is grandeur in this view of life..."

You can see my customized design here.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Track the Bills

I've just added a new page to the website called "Track the Bills" that will help our visitors to keep track of the various anti-evolution "academic freedom" bills that are popping up around the country.

Just click on the name of a state and read the NCSE's latest information about the status of the bill.

You can even copy and paste html code that will place the widget on your page!

I'll be updating the feed whenever new information becomes available.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Saturday, February 21, 2009
Inconsistent Consistency

Via John Pieret's excellent blog Thoughts in a Haystack, here is an article from The Texas Observer that gives us a rare glimpse into the black-and-white world of Texas State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy.

His mind works in an orderly, black-and-white fashion, moving from point A to B to C. He has little respect for scientists like Ken Miller, an orthodox Catholic and popular writer on evolutionary biology who argues that there's no controversy between evolution and religion. They, McLeroy believes, are inconsistent, and he values consistency above all else.

"I would never say that Miller's not a real Christian," he says. "I don't think you have to be one to be the other. But I don't think he's very consistent.

"That's why I like Dawkins so much. He at least takes evolution to where it has to lead - atheism."

McLeroy clearly believes that teaching evolution leads to atheism, and that belief explains his motivation for criticizing evolution. There is something to be said for McLeroy's straight-forward confession of his religious motives. Unfortunately, he is unable to see that, by allowing his personal beliefs to trump the established findings of the scientific community, he is intruding on the religious freedom afforded to Texas students by the U.S. Constitution.

Throughout the interview, McLeroy exudes an air of supreme confidence. Given that he has no formal training in the fields of science or education, the interviewer went ahead asked him the obvious question:

How can he be so confident, given his lack of training in science, theology, or education?

For the first time in our interview, McLeroy sounds taken aback.

"That's a good question," he says.

He's quiet for a long time.

"Because the truth is on our side," he finally says. "We may not be trained, but I have faith that we're right."

Apparently, one man's faith in his convictions is enough to the justify sacrificing the quality of science education for a generation of Texas schoolchildren.

Michael Zimmermann, the founder of The Clergy Letter Project, countered McLeroy's claim that evolution necessarily leads to atheism. Although Zimmermann himself is an atheist, he recognizes that this struggle is really a sectarian conflict, centered around how different religious groups interpret Scripture.

"It's not about science and religion," Zimmermann says. "That's a popular misconception. Instead, it's about one strand of Christianity versus another. It's the liberal wing, who believes there's nothing wrong with theistic evolution, versus the fundamentalists, who can't accept it.

"This is a case of one fringe group of Christians trying to paint themselves as the voice of all Christians," he says of creationists. "And in that, they've been enormously successful."

Here is my straight-forward confession:

McLeroy and his fellow anti-evolution activists in Texas do not speak for Christians like Cheryl and me. And, frankly, we find many of their tactics to be contrary to the principles of our Christian faith.

For instance, if McLeroy truly believes that the truth is on his side, then why did he need to resort to quote-mining and plagiarism in order to ensure that his nonsensical amendment passed?

That's not very consistent.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

"I can find out no such case."

Texas State Board of Education member Terri Leo is totally against censorship.


In a recent editorial entitled ""Darwin Would Not Have Supported Censorship," Leo chastised those who would "thwart critical thinking" by removing the "strength and weaknesses" language from the science standards in Texas:

Darwin himself would not have supported censorship of the scientific weaknesses of his own theory. Indeed he wrote a whole chapter in his book, On the Origin of Species, about the difficulties with his theory. Darwin said, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

I wholeheartedly agree with that Darwin would not have supported censorship. So what did Darwin say next, Ms. Leo? Don't you want your readers to know?

"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case."

Darwin was clearly unable to find any complex organs that could not have evolved. And, much to the dismay of anti-evolutionists like Leo, there is absolutely no valid reason to think otherwise today. I wonder why Leo chose to leave that sentence out?

Not content with just one out-of-context quote, Leo concluded her editorial with this well-worn gem:

As Charles Darwin so aptly stated in On the Origin of Species, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Aw man, here we go again.

The actual sentence should read like this:

"A fair result can only be obtained by stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; but that cannot possibly be here done."

If you read this sentence in its original context, you will recognize that Darwin was addressing his scientific peers, acknowledging that they would have objections with some of his ideas. Darwin knew that these challenges could not possibly be addressed in the limited space of a 500-page book. He was assuring them that their objections would be readily meet in the scientific arena. That's how REAL science works.

And those objections have been countered with scientific evidence over and over again in the 150 years since The Origin was originally published. Ms. Leo apparently wants us all to ignore that inconvenient fact.

Isn't it interesting how someone who claims to be against "censorship" in the science classroom is willing to "censor" Darwin's own words when they do not support her agenda?

I keep looking for an honest argument from the anti-evolutionists on the Texas State Board of Education. You know, one that doesn't involve extensive quote-mining, or hypocrisy, or contradictory rhetoric, or outright lying.

Sadly, I can find out no such case.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Friday, February 20, 2009
Yet Another Stellar Op-Ed

Here's another opinion piece from the recent "Room for Debate" series in U.S. News & World Report, this time from Richard B. Katskee of Kitzmiller fame.

I thought Katskee's conclusion, in particular, was just stellar:

Able to claim no original research, no peer-reviewed scholarship, and no successes (or even efforts) in the laboratory, the intelligent-design movement is not a revolution in science. It is a crusade in the classroom. Our children need sound science education if they are to be successful in the modern world. But more than that, they deserve the same respect for their religious beliefs that Luskin and his fellow creationists enjoy.

By choosing to implement their crusade in the public school science classroom, ID promoters are not only showing an utter disregard for the well-established mechanisms for developing scientific ideas. They are also intruding on the rights of those who do not share their particular religious beliefs.

And they're doing it all in the name of "academic freedom."

Yeah, I know.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

A Cycle of Ignorance

The teaching of Creationism in American public schools has been soundly defeated in court case after court case. However, if there is one thing that Creationists are good at, it is evolving new strategies to promote their religious beliefs as "science" in publicly-funded venues.

Having consistenly failed to demonstrate the educational value of their religiously-inspired pseudoscience, Creationists are now turning to the fallback strategy of attacking evolution without explicitly mentioning any specific Creationist alternatives. So far, this strategy has been moderately successful. The Louisiana Science Education Act is an example of this strategy, as are the recent struggles over the treatment of evolution in state science standards in Kansas and Texas.

According to Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, the ultimate fate of this fallback strategy is unclear, as it is yet to be tested in the legal arena.

Writing in U.S. News and World Report, Branch identified the most serious damage done by American Creationism: it creates a cycle of ignorance.

In the meantime, creationism contributes to a climate of hostility toward, skepticism about, and ignorance of evolution - and, indeed, science - in America. Teachers often don't teach evolution or don't teach it properly because they are creationists themselves, because of pressure from creationists, or because they lack training. The sad consequence is students cheated of a chance to attain a proper understanding of the central principle of the biological sciences. In a global marketplace increasingly driven by medical, biotechnological, and environmental challenges, scientific literacy is not a luxury. Yet among developed countries, the United States is next to last - ahead of only Turkey - in its public acceptance of evolution.

I think Branch has made an important point. The cycle of ignorance created by the anti-evolution movement will be difficult to break. What's worse, it doesn't really matter whether their latest fallback strategy is ultimately successful. The ruckus raised by the implementation of the strategy is enough to ensure that many students will be cheated out of their only real chance to learn about evolution.

This is why it is so crucial that supporters of REAL science continue to educate the public about the importance and value of understanding evolution. Ultimately, education is the most effective tool we have to break the cycle of scientific ignorance in this country.

I sincerely hope we can do it before China and India do it for us.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Evolution and Economic Engines

From Physics Today:

Evolution critics threaten US economy says Tyson

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in a lecture at the University of Arlington-Texas Tuesday night and took some time to wade into the evolution debate too.

Neil deGrasse Tyson talked up the need for more science funding For more than three hours Tyson addressed a packed auditorium as part of UTA's Maverick Speaker Series.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked Tyson about conservative members of the state Board of Education who want to teach the "weaknesses" of the theory of evolution in Texas high school classrooms.

Calling intelligent design theory a "philosophy of ignorance," he argued that a lack of appreciation for basic scienctific principles will hurt America's scientific output, which has been the largest economic engine in the country's history.

"If nonscience works its way into the science classroom, it marks...the beginning of the end of the economic strength this country has known," Tyson said.

None of us can afford to let ignorance and idiocy be preached as science in our public schools. The specter of international competition from China and India will make the SCIB boycott of New Orleans seem like just the first few drops of a Noachian flood.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Thursday, February 19, 2009
Onward, Christian Soldiers

Now there's a hymn I've refused to sing for years. The Methodist Church tried to remove the song from its hymnal in 1986 but failed due to protests from parishioners. The 1990 edition of the Presbyterian hymnal doesn't contain the militaristic song. One might argue that the image of Christian soldiers marching to war with the cross of Jesus going at the fore is just a metaphor for fighting evil, not our fellow man. Still, that song puts me in mind of heavy-handed bullies using the shield of Christianity to run swords through any who dare believe differently.

Dr. Robert T. Pennock, a staunch evolution supporter from Michigan State University, is in rare agreement with the Discovery Institute: ideas have consequences. In a column for the U.S. News & World Report, Pennock bares the violent imagery and actions offered up by the anti-evolution movement.

Philip Johnson, the godfather of the ID movement, described evolutionary biologists as being like Napoleon's army in Moscow, "They have occupied a lot of territory, and they think they've won the war. And yet they are very exposed in a hostile climate with a population that's very much unfriendly," ("The Dick Staub Interview: Philip Johnson," Christianity Today 2002.) Following their loss in the Dover case, ID leader William Dembski wrote that the decision would "galvanize the Christian community"; school boards and state legislators "may tread more cautiously" he said, "but tread on evolution they will-the culture war demands it!" (Dembski, "Preface" to Darwin ' s Nemesis: Philip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement.) ID propagandists then put up a new website "Overwhelming Evidence [OE]" aimed at recruiting high school students to the ID movement; it characterizes Judge Jones as an "activist" and "a rogue" and encourages students to "Join the OE Army!" Elsewhere Dembski has written a call to unapologetic apologetics and martyrdom: "[T]his is our calling as Christian apologists, to bear witness to the truth, even to the point of death (be it the death of our bodies or the death of our careers)." To be worthy apologists and to never give in to the ground rules set by the secular academy, Dembski and fellow ID-advocate Jay Wesley Richards wrote, is "perhaps not a martyrdom where we spill our blood (although this too may be required)." (Quoted in Pennock 2006).

The warrior mentality helps the anti-science activists in a number of ways. In rallying the faithful, dehumanizing the opponent, and justifying extreme actions, the possibility for calm, reasoned discourse is jettisoned. Not surprisingly, this rejection of any middle ground is reflected in claims that no Real ChristianTM supports evolution, paralleling the "you're either with us or against us" state of mind.

As Pennock notes, these polemics are pointless:

Darwin shares his birthday with Abraham Lincoln, and the famous conclusion of Lincoln's first Inaugural Address is relevant to the culture war that creationists and other extremists would inject into our children's science classes. Let us forthrightly reject those false and polarizing views and hope that the better angels of our nature will eventually prevail and bring this war to an end.

Jump over to Pennock's column for a chilling dose of an unfortunate reality.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Jeffrey Dahmer's Ghost

He's baaaack . . .

Not Jeffrey Dahmer, thank goodness, but the Texan who squealed


Kelly Coghlan has an opinion letter in this morning's Lubbock Online in which he flaunts several familiar anti-science themes which are examined for your entertainment after the jump.

Coghlan: The "strengths and weaknesses" language rejected this time by the Texas State Board of Education was in place "for decades."
FACT: That language was added in 1998 to the Texas Essential Skills and Knowledge (TEKS), the Texas state science standards. Coghlan's math skills are just as weak as his science comprehension.

Coghlan: Darwin's "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts on both sides."
FACT: As Jeremy's shown in detail, this quotemine is Texas Alaska-sized.

Coghlan: Oh no, without this language teachers can't discuss the weaknesses of evolution.
FACT: The language is now stronger: teachers will now be having students "analyze and evaluate" the evidence supporting scientific theories. "Analyzing and evaluating" evidence requires much more critical thinking than just memorizing "strengths and weaknesses." Why does Coghlan hate critical thinking?

Coghlan: Lubbock's representative on the Texas State Board of Education, Republican Bob Craig, voted to change the directive and replace it with "analyze and evaluate" evolution."
FACT: Here's what Coghlan had to say about Craig in the "Jeffrey Dahmer believed in evolution" email, with bolding by me:

Who voted to do this? All the Democrats plus 3 Republicans. The 3 Republicans are (1) Mr. Bob Craig of Lubbock (phone: XXX.XXX.XXXX; fax: XXX.XXX.XXXX), (2) Ms. Tincy Miller of Dallas (phone: XXX.XXX.XXXX; fax: XXX.XXX.XXXX), and (3) Ms. Patricia Hardy of Weatherford (phone: XXX.XXX.XXXX; fax: XXX.XXX.XXXX). All claim to be conservative Republicans. Bob Craig says he is a "strong Christian."

Strangely enough, Jeffrey Dahmer is credited with becoming a "strong Christian" sometime during his sentencing. So by Coghlan's logic, one can unrepentantly kill/eat other humans and still be considered a Real ChristianTM, but someone who votes for strong science education is just faking their faith. Got it.

Coghlan closed his email with

ACTION TO TAKE TODAY: (1) Make this a matter of prayer; (2) Read the below email for information; (3) Sign the Petition below; (4) Call, fax, and email the 3 Republicans named above; (5) Call, fax, and email your own Representative to the Board from your area; (6) Contact the other Democratic members of the Board and ask them to change their vote for the March meeting; (7) forward this email to everyone you know. This issue is worth fighting for. Thank you.

To help you translate:

(1) . . . but this isn't about religion, nope, no sirree.
(2) The email contains precious little information.
(3) The Petition is the standard anti-evolution petition.
(4) Overwhelm them with numbers because everyone knows that if an idea is popular it must be scientifically valid.
(5) same
(6) same
(7) Because a lie will travel half-way around the world before truth can get its boots on.

That last helps explain the effectiveness of the anti-evolution movement, by the way.

Blaming evolution for the actions of Jeffrey Dahmer, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and that plumber who overcharged you is a common tactic of anti-evolution activists. (Alright, maybe not that last.) Those activists would like us to forget about the actions of figures such as Torquemada, Caligula, Nero, Vlad the Impaler, the Borgias, Ivan the Terrible, Genghis Khan . . . all who operated well before the 1859 debut of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."

But I guess we have as much chance of Coghlan owning up to his mistakes as we do of Dahmer's ghost appearing.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Not Even Wrong

How many errors can you spot in the following passage?

Just as Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, stated that "A patriot without religion is as great a paradox as an honest man without the fear of God ...," I assert that any so-called Christian and most emphatically any member of Christian clergy who embraces the deception of Darwinian evolution is no more a Christian than the chimpanzees from which he or she claims to have evolved.

(Yes, that's right: the writer of this passage just asserted that the Pope isn't a Christian.)

To be sure, the source of the quote is the same outfit who offers up Chuck Norris as an expert in science and history.

The writer also seems ignorant of the fact that evolution doesn't claim that humans evolved from chimpanzees, but that humans and chimps and the [other] great apes have a long-ago common ancestor. In other words, the writer doesn't know or can't tell the difference between his distant cousins and his great^n-grandparents. There's a great difference between those two sets of relations - at least in most families, anyway.

But this passage provides just more evidence of what we knew all along: the troubles afflicting Kansas in 1999 and 2005 aren't the result of any conflict between science and religion. It's sectarian conflict, pure and simple, centered on how particular religious groups interpret Scripture differently.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, February 16, 2009
Nope, Still A Quote Mine

As I discussed in a recent post, there's a quote by Charles Darwin that is currently being abused by anti-evolutionists. The quote goes a little something like this:

"A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Please note that I said it goes a little something like the part quoted above. In fact, the quote has been completely divorced from it's original context. Once again, here is the entire paragraph from the Introduction of On the Origin of Species:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

It turns out that the punctuation has been modified in a way that obscures the original meaning of the quote. This modified version of the quote is now being used by anti-evolutionists to argue that Darwin would have favored opening up public school science classrooms to debating the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory. While that may have been true 150 years ago, it certainly wouldn't be the case if Darwin were still alive today. We've come a long way since Darwin.

Still others have interpreted the quote to mean that Darwin's phrase "both sides of each question" actually referred to evolution and special creation. One particularly adamant anti-evolutionist named Floyd Lee put the argument this way:

The fact is that even though Darwin's statement appears in the larger context of an apology Darwin was making for his book for the apparent paucity of facts therein, it doesn't change the actual meaning of Mr. Darwin's quoted sentence itself. Imagine that.

Darwin still meant exactly what he said in that one sentence. All the more so, in fact, since Darwin directly refers to the distinct possibility that "conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived" could be arrived at by the reader via the "facts", which immediately sets up Darwin's "fair result-both sides" comment.

Unlike Floyd Lee, I did not base my interpretation of the Darwin quote on a cursory reading. You see, I happen to be reading The Origin right now. In fact, it's currently sitting on my night stand (next to my Bible!). My interpretation is therefore based on reading the full context of the quote.

For your edification, some of that context is provided below the fold.

In my earlier post on this topic, I asserted that Charles Darwin was referring to his own ideas when he used the phrase "both sides of each question." My assertion was that the actual questions under consideration by Darwin concerned his conclusions that species shared common ancestry by descent with modification and that these modifications occur primarily through the means of natural selection.

Like most naturalists of his day, Darwin did not consider special creation to be a viable alternative to evolution. For instance, a little later in the Introduction, Darwin wrote the following:

In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which justly excites our admiration. Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, &c., as the only possible cause of variation. In one limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the mistletoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its relation to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself.

It is, therefore, of the highest importance to gain a clear insight into the means of modification and coadaptation. At the commencement of my observations it seemed to me probable that a careful study of domesticated animals and of cultivated plants would offer the best chance of making out this obscure problem. Nor have I been disappointed; in this and in all other perplexing cases I have invariably found that our knowledge, imperfect though it be, of variation under domestication, afforded the best and safest clue. I may venture to express my conviction of the high value of such studies, although they have been very commonly neglected by naturalists.

Note the parts that I emphasized. Notice also how Darwin contrasts his views with the idea that "external conditions" were "the only possible cause of variation." Clearly, the question under consideration by Darwin was not whether species had been independently created. Based on the evidence already available at the time, that particular question had been answered in the negative. For Darwin, the real question was: "By what means does the modification of species occur?" Indeed, Darwin's entire book was essentially one long argument in favor of his own explanation - descent with modification by means of natural selection.

This interpretation of the "both sides of each question" phrase is also supported by the concluding paragraph of the Introduction. After giving an outline of the chapters of his book, Darwin wrote:

No one ought to feel surprise at much remaining as yet unexplained in regard to the origin of species and varieties, if he makes due allowance for our profound ignorance in regard to the mutual relations of the many beings which live around us. Who can explain why one species ranges widely and is very numerous, and why another allied species has a narrow range and is rare? Yet these relations are of the highest importance, for they determine the present welfare and, as I believe, the future success and modification of every inhabitant of this world. Still less do we know of the mutual relations of the innumerable inhabitants of the world during the many past geological epochs in its history. Although much remains obscure, and will long remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgment of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists until recently entertained, and which I formerly entertained - namely, that each species has been independently created - is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the most important, but not the exclusive, means of modification.

Note that Darwin stated that "most naturalists until recently entertained" the view that species were independently created. In other words, this particular view was no longer considered viable among most of the naturalists known to Darwin.

Therefore, I think it is correct to interpret the phrase "both sides of each question" to be in reference to Darwin's proposed explanations for evolution, not the issue of evolution vs. special creation. One might argue that he was referencing other possible explanations (i.e, "external conditions"), but he certainly did not consider special creation to be a viable alternative.

In conclusion, those who portray this quote from Darwin as supportive of a public debate between evolution and intelligent design are guilty of perpetuating a quote mine. I personally wouldn't go so far as to accuse anyone of intentionally lying. It's also quite possible that the perpetrators are merely ignorant of the original context of the quote.

Even so, I don't think we can expect them to stop using it. After all, as an important historical figure once said: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge..."

I just wish I could remember who said that.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Another One Bites the (Red, Oklahoma) Dust

Even as we read of a lone complaint in the Tulsa Beacon ("Tulsa's Family Newspaper") that a few tax dollars might "trickle down" to help support science celebrations at the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma legislature has issued its verdict on its so-called "Academic Freedom" legislation.

Bill to promote classroom discussion of alternative theories to evolution fails

By Associated Press

10:59 AM CST, February 16, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A bill to promote discussion of alternative theories to evolution and other contentious issues in science classrooms has been narrowly defeated in a state Senate committee.

The vote was 7-6 on Monday in the Senate Education Committee against Sen. Randy Brogdon's Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act.

The Owasso Republican says teachers in his district fear retribution for bringing up alternative theories on a wide range of subjects, such as evolution and stem cell research.

But McAlester Democrat Sen. Richard Lerblance calls the bill a subterfuge that would lead to teaching of theories based on religious viewpoints and not science.

The theory that there is an intelligent design to the universe and life has been advanced to counter court rulings prohibiting the teaching of creationism as science.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Saturday, February 14, 2009
Science Cafe: February

What is academic freedom? What does it mean for science? Why should we care?

Dr. Darrell Hamlin is an assisant professor in the Justice Studies department at FHSU. Hamlin received a bachelor of arts in American studies from Baylor University in 1985, a master of arts in political science from Rutgers University in 1994 and a Ph.D. in political science from Rutgers in 2004.

This Tuesday, February 17, 7:00pm - 9:00pm, at CAFE SEMOLINO (110 W 11th Street, Hays)

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

The 1000th "Steve:" Darwin!

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Eugenie Scott is executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an organization dedicated to keeping evolution in the public schools. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, six years ago, she launched Project Steve - a tongue-in-cheek response to a list [here's a link - csa] of Darwin-doubting scientists that another group had collected to challenge the authenticity of evolution. Scott's parody project encouraged scientists named Steve (or any related name, such as Stephanie, Stephen, Stefan, Etienne or Esteban) to formally endorse evolution.

The first year there were 220 signatory scientists. A little over an hour ago, Scott - again at a AAAS annual meeting - announced to reporters that the 1000th Steve had just been added to her list. Later this evening (when his delayed flight from New Orleans finally arrives), Steven P. Darwin - yes, Darwin - of Tulane University's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (and director of its Herbarium), takes the top spot. He will receive a thumbless-panda statue (a cute if tacky stuffed animal affixed to a block of wood) from another member of the far-from-elite Stevie pack: writer Steve Mirsky of Scientific American.

Approximately one percent of Americans are named Steve or some variation of that, Scott says. So the current signatories to Project Steve represent an estimated 100,000 scientists who accept evolution, she contends. And yes, this fete comes the day after Charles Darwin's 200th birthday.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Friday, February 13, 2009
The DI Didn't Get the Memo

The headline over at Evolution News and Views reads

Happy Atheist Day

in what tries to be a slam of the worldwide celebrations of Charles Darwin's birthday yesterday.

Does anyone else find it strange that the DI is ignoring the fact that the Vatican itself has buried the hatchet with Darwin? And that the Vatican has denounced ID as neither science nor theology, but as a cultural phenomenon?

To quote Darwin from the top of the page,

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Yay! I lost a bet!

I lost! I lost! And I love it!

You see, I'd figured that if an "academic freedom" bill attacking the teaching of evolution would be filed during this Kansas legislative session, it would happen yesterday, on Charles Darwin's birthday.

It didn't happen. So far, so good, anyway.

The Kansas Legislature has a handy feature which allows you to search the text of all bills filed in the House and Senate. Unless an "academic freedom" bill has been filed without using the words evolution, academic, freedom, controversy, controversies, or science, it just hasn't happened.


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Thursday, February 12, 2009
Let's Get This Party Started!

Today is Charles Darwin's 200th birthday!

It's time to put on your party hat and bust a move in honor of the guy who laid the foundation for our modern understanding of how we got here.

Today, we celebrate the mad skills of a 19th century Victorian who laid down a revolutionary scientific beat that is still tearing it up. How many old British dudes do you know who did that?

This party is gonna be straight crack-a-lackin!

I know, I're probably thinking, "Is this dude trippin'? What's he so stoked about?"

I totally get that the latest Gallup Poll shows that only 4 out of 10 Americans think the organizing principle of modern Biology is mad chill. Those digits look like an epic fail.

Before you get all up in my grill, just know that, as a high school Biology teacher, I ain't sweatin' it. The 39% of Americans who are chill with evolution are a much larger (and apparently smarter) group than the 25% who still think evolution is whack. Fo shizzle.

And, among 18-34 year olds (that includes me, yo), the evolution acceptance level is up to 49%! That's aight with me.

We're slowly reaching the younger generation. Heck, it's only been 150 years since Darwin published On the Origin of Species. In geologic time, that's just a blink of an eye!

You feel me?

So, as you go about your day today, don't forget to give a shout out to the venerable Chuck D.

His daughter thought he was pretty fly:

"He always made us feel that we were each of us creatures whose opinions and thoughts were valuable to him, so that whatever there was best in us came out in the sunshine of his presence."

Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters. Darwin, Francis (Editor).


posted by Jeremy Mohn

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
"Missing Links in Darwin Day Poll"

No stranger to quote-mining, the Discovery Institute now seems bent on living up the statement, "lies, damned lies, and statistics." In their latest Zogby poll, the DI has treated survey design and analysis with all of the care and caution we've come to expect from those who regularly distort the words of scientists to further their political and cultural goals.

The Washington Post's "On Faith" section notes that

A new poll just in time for Darwin's 200th birthday (Feb. 12) claims that even liberals support the idea that students need to hear "both sides" of Darwin's Theory of Evolution -- the "strengths and weakness" -- and therefore would support so called "academic freedom" legislation that requires science classrooms be open to all views of creation.

Except . . . that the survey questions were written along the lines of "Do you support our current, government-endorsed practice of teaching kids to smoke cigarettes at the age of three?"

Yes, the poll is that dishonest. More after the jump.

The Zogby poll used the following script in gathering their data:

QUESTION: I am going to read you two statements about Biology teachers teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view -- Statement A or Statement B?

Statement A: Biology teachers should teach only Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it.

Statement B: Biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.

As noted at the Post, Statement B assumes that scientific evidence against evolution exists, and Richard Dawkins does an admirable job of eviscerating the phrasing:

"It is indeed a stupid poll," Dr. Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist (and On Faith panelist) told me in an email. "Actually I think I'd say a dishonest poll -- because the QUESTION PRESUMES that there is scientific evidence against evolution. Of course, if we have a theory where there is evidence for and against, it would be ridiculous to teach only the evidence in favour.

"Now, if there really is evidence against evolution, the Discovery Institute should go into the laboratory, or the field, and find it, and publish it in the scientific journals. Instead, they mislead the public, by phrasing a question which presumes that there is evidence against."

Unfortunately, the Zogby group has a history of push-polling using this same exact question, as noted by Chris Mooney back in 2003:

Which of the following comes closest to your own opinion? A: Biology teachers should teach only Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it. B: Biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.

Why would the Discovery Institute entrust their data-gathering to a group already well-known for these questionable practices? To echo Dawkins, why does the Discovery Institute base their policies on data from the dubious Zogby polls instead of real, actual data from research laboratories?

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Florida: Oops . . .

Last year, an "academic freedom" bill barely died in the Florida legislature. That bill would have provided

public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution. Prohibits a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information. Prohibits students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution, etc.

This year, Florida's upped the ante. Although no bill has been filed yet, a state senator wants to legislate the "balanced treatment" approach struck down in 1982's McLean v Arkansas case.

State Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, said he plans to introduce a bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also discuss the idea of intelligent design.

. . .

Wise, the chief sponsor of the bill, expects the Senate to take it up when it meets in March. He said its intent is simple: "If you're going to teach evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical thinking."

Why don't the anti-evolution activists at least bother to learn the history of their movement before they propose these nonsensical and unconstitutional flights of fancy?

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Be Careful What You Wish For . . .

The Vatican will be sponsoring a conference March 3-7 on Creation and Evolution. The Discovery Institute had its knickers in a twist because intelligent design was explicitly excluded from the conversation.

It's been announced that intelligent design will be discussed at the conference . . . but chances are that the DI still won't be happy. The Associated Press now reports that

"The committee agreed to consider ID as a phenomenon of an ideological and cultural nature, thus worthy of a historic examination, but certainly not to be discussed on scientific, philosophical or theological grounds," said Saverio Forestiero, a conference organizer and professor of zoology at the University of Rome.

This is bound to chafe the hide of the ID folks, who have so carefully tried to mask their goal of changing our culture. They changed their name - what was the "Center for the Renewal for Science and Culture" became the "Center for Science and Culture" - and revised their logo several times to distance themselves from their true goals as stated in the Wedge Document:

* "To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies"
* "To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God"

Phase III: Cultural Confrontation & Renewal was to follow Phase I (Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity) and Phase II (Publicity & Opinion-making.) The DI has concentrated their efforts on Phases II and III, and the Vatican is graciously acknowledging their efforts by relegating the upcoming discussion of intelligent design to the outskirts of the conference.

And to add alcohol to the cut, the Vatican acknowledged yesterday that evolution is indeed compatible with Christianity:

The Vatican has admitted that Charles Darwin was on the right track when he claimed that Man descended from apes.

A leading official declared yesterday that Darwin's theory of evolution was compatible with Christian faith, and could even be traced to St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas.

Anti-evolutionists have long held that Real ChristiansTM can't support evolution. I suppose their next step is to declare that His Holiness isn't a Real ChristianTM.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Sunday, February 8, 2009
"Academic Freedom Day" - Built On A Quote Mine

February 12th is Darwin Day, an international celebration of the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin - the man who first put forth biological evolution via natural selection. This Thursday will mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and over 500 events have been planned in honor of the English naturalist's contribution to the advance of science and reason.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI) has co-opted this date to throw a little party of their own:

Discovery Institute today announced the launch of Academic Freedom Day in honor of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday on February 12, 2009.

"We're celebrating Charles Darwin's birthday by supporting what he supported: academic freedom," said Robert Crowther, Director of Communications at Discovery Institute. "Like Darwin, we recognize the importance of having an open and honest debate between evolution and intelligent design."

In his revolutionary On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question." This quote is the cornerstone of the Institute's Academic Freedom Day efforts.

The Institute's Center for Science and Culture is sponsoring Academic Freedom Day, assisting student groups, clubs, and individual students to organize Academic Freedom Day Events centered on Darwin's birthday and his fair-minded approach to freedom of inquiry.

That quote from Charles Darwin is indeed the cornerstone of their effort. It is prominently displayed on each and every page of their website. It was offered as the inspiration for their video and essay contest. It's even found on the T-shirts and calendars that they're trying to sell.

Unfortunately, the quote is glaringly out of context. Here are Darwin's actual words from the introduction of On the Origin of Species:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species

By replacing a semi-colon with a period, the first part of Darwin's original sentence has been deceptively changed into what appears to be a complete thought. Contrary to what the DI would have us believe, Darwin was not referring to a debate between evolution and some purported alternative explanation. He was referring to his own ideas concerning evolution and lamenting the fact that he knew of so many supportive observations that he could not possibly present them all - even in his 500+ page "abstract."

Personally, I think that it is quite fitting that the folks at the Discovery Institue would "honor" Charles Darwin's birthday by actively misrepresenting something that he wrote and then using it to further their own anti-evolution agenda. It is precisely this kind of hypocritical and unreflective behavior that exemplifies their twisted sense of "honor."

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Saturday, February 7, 2009
McLeroy Re-Appointed Chair of Texas BOE

The Dallas Morning News reports that

State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy was reappointed to a new, two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on Friday. McLeroy, a Republican from College Station, has been on the board for nearly a decade and is one of seven members closely aligned with social conservatives.

Why would any sensible, ethical governor choose an ethically-challenged young-earth creationist to lead a state board of education?

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Friday, February 6, 2009
Accept Evolution, Become a Serial Killer

It's funny sometimes to see how creationism's corpse twists in the wind. Especially when that wind is generated by the screeching of the anti-evolution activists in Texas.

The latest screech comes to us by way of the Texas Freedom Network. They're featuring an email from Texas State Board of Education member former language arts teacher Donna Garner which features the subject line


Of course that subject line is calculated to get your attention, like the big bold headlines of the National Enquirer ("I HAD ELVIS' ALIEN BABY!") at the supermarket checkout stand. But there's plenty more wrong with the email, and TFN addressed some of the more egregious errors.

We also need to recognize that although Garner isn't the original author of the screech - that dubious honor belongs to a Kelly Coghlan - she proudly endorses its content in a comment at the TFN blog:

It was with much pleasure that I sent out Kelly Coghlan's commentary because I totally support what he has said. Since his signature was clearly seen at the end of the commentary, it is obvious to any educated person that he wrote the article, not I.

What's also obvious to any educated person is that Garner is desperate to pull the wool over her constituents' fellow Texans' eyes. In stark contrast to the studied assertions that this whole mess isn't about religion, the email begins:

This year, 2009, is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (born in 1809), author of Origin of the Species. Atheist groups across America are using this anniversary to move aggressively to force all 50 million public school students to be taught that macro-evolution . . . [edited out bad science] . . . is a fact - without allowing the teaching or discussion of the scientific "weaknesses" increasingly being discovered concerning the theory of evolution. Texas, with its 4.7 million students, was selected as the first state to conquer. And, so far, the atheists are winning in Texas.

The email uses the standard technique of questioning the faith of a couple of opposing board members:

All [3 Republicans who voted against "weaknesses"] claim to be conservative Republicans. Bob Craig says he is a "strong Christian." . . . Democrat Mr. Larry Allen . . . is a Muslim, and, if following his faith, should have voted to keep "weaknesses."

As usual, the anti-evolutionists can't grasp the fact that there are devout Christians who accept evolutionary theory as the best scientific explanation for how life has changed on earth. According to the anti-evolutionists, they're not Real ChristiansTM.

The only connection between evolution and serial killing is that REAL science supporters are constantly called upon to conquer creationism creation science scientific creationism intelligent design strength and weaknesses the evolving brain-seeking zombiedom known as anti-science.

Note: thanks to txjak for pointing out my (now fixed) error.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Thursday, February 5, 2009
Iowa "Evolution Academic Freedom Act" filed

The National Center for Science Education reports that another so-called 'academic freedom' bill has been filed - this time, in Iowa. According to the NCSE, no other anti-evolution legislation has been filed [ed: in Iowa]during the last ten years.

Here's how the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported it:

Evolutionary freedom

Teachers in public schools and postsecondary institutions who objectively present ideas on evolution, creationism, intelligent design or other information "relevant to the full range of scientific views" would be protected from discipline, denial of tenure, termination or other discrimination under HF 183 introduced by Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll. The bill also requires students be evaluated based on their understanding of course materials and not penalized for subscribing to a particular position of view regarding chemical or biological evolution.

In other words, teachers could teach creationism as science and not lose their job due to incompetence or insubordination. Got it.

The NCSE also notes that

As of February 5, 2009, only two lobbyists were listed on the Iowa General Assembly's website as having declared their interest in the bill: the Iowa Christian Alliance favoring it, and the Iowa State Education Association - the state affiliate of the National Education Association, representing over 34,000 education employees in Iowa - opposing it.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

. . . meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .

Colby, Kansas, is a typical small town in western Kansas. Much of its social life revolves around the high school football and basketball games, churches are abundant and well-attended, and the local community college brought in a strong supporter of evolution to speak on Tuesday evening.

No, that wasn't a typo. Colby Community College was host to Dr. Jeffrey Kieft on Tuesday evening for the new year's first installment of the Dr. Max Pickerill Lecture Series.

From college's website:

Dr. Jeffrey Kieft will be the first speaker of the new year hosted by the Dr. Max Pickerill Lecture Series at Colby Community College. His lecture, "Teaching Evolutionary Theory: Why it Matters," will be Tuesday, Feb. 3, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Northwest Kansas Cultural Arts Center.

Raised in a conservative Christian household but curious and drawn to science from a very early age, Dr. Kieft has never found a conflict between his faith and evolutionary theory. In recent years he has become increasingly active in promoting the rigorous and undiluted teaching of evolutionary theory, to include lecturing in various Christian churches in the Denver area.

In his lecture, Dr. Kieft will tackle the subject head-on, addressing questions such as: What is evolutionary theory and why is it important? Is evolution really anti-God? How can we redefine the discussion to embrace a society that desperately needs science, but respects religion? How does evolutionary theory fit into science in general, and what should we be teaching our kids?

"In the last few years, we have witnessed a growing anti-science movement that is undercutting the ability of educators and scientists to prepare our children to compete," said Dr. Kieft. "Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the anti-evolution/creation movement that has gained footholds in many communities. The debate surrounding this subject is both rancorous and angry, but is fundamentally misguided and self-destructive."

It's encouraging to know that the Colby Community College folks are reaching out to the public. Colby, like Hays, is in the part of Kansas which elected Connie "evolution is a fairy tale" Morris to the state school board in 2002. We need to help inform voters about the facts of evolution instead of relying on others to trumpet the talk-radio version of evolution.

The bad news is that this event wasn't well publicized in this part of the state, and I only happened to learn about it after the fact. So I'll rely on the Colby Free Press to summarize the event and update after that info is available.

The good news is that is that signs for the event were abundant at Colby High School, so here's hoping there was a good turnout.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Today's announcement of the transitional whale Maiacetus is an event that calls for a celebration of the elegance of modern evolutionary theory.

What better way to celebrate than with some beautiful music?

I give you finger-style guitarists Andy McKee and Don Ross, playing a song called "Dolphins":

Does it get any better than that?

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Enough Already!

All right, that's it. I give up!

You see, I have this PowerPoint presentation about the fossil evidence of evolution that I give in my Biology classes every Spring. When I first created the presentation six years ago, it was about 35 slides long, just enough to be given in a regular class period.

That presentation was just the right length. It had enough examples to show the immense documentation of evolutionary transistions in the fossil record without putting my students to sleep with all of the excruciating details.

But paleontologists just keep on digging. They don't bother to consult with Biology teachers like me.

Over the last several years, I have been bombarded with more and more transitional species to add to the presentation.

First, there was Tiktaalik, the "fish-a-pod" with features of lobe-finned fish and tetrapods.

In early 2007, the early mammal Yanoconodon wowed us all with its intermediate inner ear anatomy.

Next, there was Indohyus, a representative of the sister group to whales.

Then we learned about Onychonycteris, the primitive bat which lacked the ability to echolocate.

Just last November, we were hit with Odontochelys, the turtle with half a shell.

Not to mention all of the feathered dinosaurs.

My PowerPoint is now approaching 50 slides!

Well, those dang paleontologists revealed yet another transitional whale fossil today known as Maiacetus.

Here's a photo of the prepared fossil specimen on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum:

You can read more about Maiacetus at The Loom. The actual paper is also freely accessible online at PLoS ONE.

Meanwhile, I've got some updating to do.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Tuesday, February 3, 2009
DI's John West: Quotemining = "Tour-de-Force," "Science Lesson"

fail owned pwned pictures

Naturally, the Discovery Institute is giddy over the latest version of the Texas state science standards.

Over at IDtheFuture, you can listen to the podcast of their version of events. The blurb for the podcast reads

Texas Board Chair Gives a Science Lesson
January 27, 2009 10:17 AM PST
Last week, the Texas State Board of Education met to consider a draft of their new science standards. At the meeting, the Board's Chair, Dr. Don McLeroy did a remarkable thing - he gave the rest of the Board a science lesson, which began when McLeroy proposed a new standard regarding evolution. Listen in to this episode of ID the Future as Dr. McLeroy lays out a compelling case for the existence of scientific controversies over evolution.

In fact, West glowingly describes McLeroy's presentation as

"It was a tour-de-force, especially because Dr. McLeroy's sources were the writings of prominent evolutionists themselves." (at about 1:15)

Of course, the tour-de-force to which West refers is the list of distorted, misquoted, taken-out-of-context, and plagiarized statements read by McLeroy in support of the latest version of the Texas state science standards. Those "scientific controversies" exist only in the minds of the quoteminers.

(continued after the jump)

Either West, and by extension the Discovery Institute, didn't recognize the quotemines because he himself isn't familiar with the sources, or West knows McLeroy's trumped-up reasoning was bogus and is supporting it anyway.

We wouldn't expect most of the members of the Texas state board of education members to recognize the distortions. After all, they're not experts, which is why they appointed experts to the standards writing committees in the first place. But it's curious that West didn't recognize the misquoted statements. Nor, apparently, did anyone else at the Discovery Institute.

According to John West,

" . . . Darwinian fundamentalists are already crying foul, claiming that these changes all promote creationism which is of course flatly untrue."

As much as the Discovery Institute seeks to uncouple itself from its creationist antecedents, you'd think they'd be denouncing McLeroy's cut/paste from a creationist website. On the contrary. The Uncommon Descent blog - which allows little dissent itself - is trumpeting the results of these quotemines as "one small step for honest teaching of evolutionary theory and one giant leap for intelligent design."

It's flatly true that McLeroy justified his changes in part by plagiarizing a creationist website, Genesis Park.

It's flatly true that McLeroy favors teaching creationism as science in Texas public schools.

And it's flatly true that the Discovery Institute has a history of choosing creationist allies.

But, hey, decide for yourself whether McLeroy's motives are purely science. Then think about how the Discovery Institute has championed his changes, and follow that evidence where it leads.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Sunday, February 1, 2009
Collapsing the Texas Quote Mine

Many of us were dismayed when the Texas State Board of Education adopted anti-evolution changes to their state science standards at the last minute during their January meeting.

The board members appear to have done so based on quotes presented by chairman Don McLeroy. Unfortunately, McLeroy used a common anti-science tactic of quote-mining.

Jeremy has worked diligently to track down the quotes presented by McLeroy. Jeremy's also put together a site showing how McLeroy grossly distorted the authors' intents, how McLeroy probably didn't read the sources he'd claimed to, and how McLeroy apparently used a creationist website as the source for some of his erroneous information.

Check out Collapse of a Texas Quote Mine. Hopefully the rest of the Texas State Board of Education will note the lack of integrity displayed by McLeroy before they take the final vote on these standards in March.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

December 2007  
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