Evolution Debate in Georgia (2-7-05)
Bill 179, introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives on
January 27, 2005, would require "Whenever any theory of the origin
of human beings or other living things is included in a course of
study offered by a local unit of administration, factual scientific
evidence supporting or consistent with evolution theory and factual
scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting the theory
shall be included in the course of study." NCSE's executive director
Eugenie C. Scott told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there
is no "factual scientific evidence" inconsistent with evolution:
"[t]hese are code words for creationism." The bill also
contains a subsection claiming that it is "intended to strengthen
the analytical skills of students" and "not intended to
authorize or promote the presentation of religious beliefs,"
apparently attempting to render it constitutional under the purpose
prong of the Lemon test.
The sponsor of the bill, Ben D. Bridges Jr., introduced a similar
bill (HB 1133) in 1998, although it lacked any clause describing its
intention. The language of HB 179 and 1133, as well as similar bills
appearing in Ohio and Arizona, is patterned after a model bill drafted
by John Hansen, a Wisconsin schoolteacher who founded Operation TEACHES
(the acronym is for Teach Evolution, Accurately, Comprehensively,
Honestly, Equitably, Scientifically) and who crisscrossed the country
in the late 1990s to urge state legislators to sponsor it. If enacted,
HB 179 would become effective on July 1, 2005. The story in the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution indicated that the House Republican leadership
was unenthusiastic about the bill, however, stating that the bill
is not a legislative priority, noting that
Bridges is the sole sponsor, and quoting the speaker pro tem of the
House as saying that "[e]ach member of our caucus is elected
by their district and they have every right to introduce bills they
feel their constituents want." (2/7/05)
A trio of op-ed columns greeted the January 13, 2005, ruling in Selman
et al. v. Cobb County School District et al., in which U.S. District
Judge Clarence Cooper deemed that the evolution disclaimer required
in the Cobb County School District violated the Establishment Clause
of the First Amendment. Although the board decided (on January 17)
to appeal the decision to the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals,
the discussions in these columns are still worthwhile and timely.
And a humor column in Scientific American looks on the lighter side.
NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, Glenn Branch, and Nicholas Matzke teamed
up to write "Creation
sticker shock" for United Press International. In their column
(which appeared on January 18), they reviewed the use of disclaimers
to undermine evolution education. In science, they observe, "theories
incorporate facts, laws and hypotheses. They are the central unifying
backbones of disciplines. Just as relativity and quantum mechanics
are the backbone of physics, and plate tectonics is the backbone of
geology, evolution is the backbone of biology." The description
of evolution as "a theory, not a fact," in the Cobb County
disclaimer, however, exploits the colloquial sense of "theory"
as something speculative or conjectural, and -- as Judge Cooper recognized
-- thus "appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative
theory, creationism or variations thereof." Neither disclaimers
in particular nor attempts to dilute evolution education in general
is going to disappear in the wake of the Selman decision, but neither
is the need to teach students about evolution "uncompromised
by disclaimers or phony evidence against evolution." Scott (whose
first name was unfortunately misspelled in the byline) is the executive
director of NCSE, where Branch and Matzke also work.
stickers, open minds," published in the Boston Globe on January
22, Kenneth R. Miller applauds the Selman decision from a unique standpoint:
he is the coauthor (with Joseph Levine) of the high school biology
textbook used in the Cobb County School District. Miller comments,
"So what's wrong with telling students that evolution is a theory?
Nothing. But the textbook they were using already described evolution
as a theory, and I ought to know." Challenging the misuse of
"theory" in the disclaimer, he writes, "Theories in
science don't become facts -- rather, theories explain facts,"
explaining, "Evolutionary theory is a comprehensive explanation
of change supported by the facts of natural history, genetics, and
molecular biology." Isolating evolution for special attention,
as in the disclaimer, is unwarranted: as Miller ironically comments,
"The sticker told students that there was just one subject in
their textbooks that had to be approached with an open mind and critically
considered. Apparently, we are certain of everything in biology except
evolution. That is nonsense." Removing the disclaimer is what
truly promotes critical thinking, Miller writes, by letting "students
see a science of biology in which all theories, not just one, are
the result of constant, vigorous, critical analysis." Miller,
who teaches biology at Brown University, is a Supporter of NCSE.
Published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 21, Edward
J. Larson's "Sticker
shock" is accompanied by a wry disclaimer of its own: "This
article contains material on evolution. It warns that the Cobb County
school board's fight to keep its evolution stickers on textbooks is
neither isolated nor over." Larson, whose book on the Scopes
trial Summer for the Gods won the Pulitzer Prize, notes that the antievolutionist
tactic of describing evolution as "just a theory" goes back
to William Jennings Bryan and continues to flourish today within the
conservative Christian community. For Henry Morris and Ken Ham, for
Phillip Johnson and Charles Colson, evolution is "just a theory
... and not a very good one." But "Judge Cooper belled this
particular cat. Of course evolution is a theory, but it's not just
a hunch or guess. ... In science, evolution is the dominant theory
of origins accepted by virtually all biologists." Larson also
notes that it is only a subgroup of American Christians who object
to evolution: "In Atlanta and across America, many deeply religious
people are profoundly troubled by the assault on evolution teaching
by a subgroup of conservative Christians." The column concludes
by warning, plausibly, of continued controversy across the country.
Larson teaches history and law at the University of Georgia.
Finally, on the lighter side, Steve Mirsky's Antigravity humor column
in the February 2005 issue of Scientific American rejoices in the
now familiar title "Sticker
shock." Evidently writing before the order in Selman was
issued, Mirsky begins by noting that "[b]rushfires are raging
all across America over the teaching of evolution, as various antievolution
interests attempt to give religiously based views equal footing in
science classes," fomented by creation scientists and their "co-conspirators,
the 'intelligent design' crowd." The latter, Mirsky quips, "don't
mention you-know-who by name as the designer, but you know who you-know-who
is, and it isn't Brahma." Turning to the Cobb County disclaimer,
he proposes a revised version that reads in part, "Evidence for
evolution itself is so overwhelming that those who deny its reality
can do so only through nonscientific arguments. They have every right
to hold such views. They just can't teach them as science in this
science class," and then goes on to propose similar stickers
for cosmology, geography, earth science, chemistry, and other science
textbooks. Mirsky is a regular columnist for Scientific American.
On January 13, 2005, US district judge Clarence Cooper ruled in
favor of the plaintiffs in Selman et al. vs. Cobb County School
District et al., ordering the Cobb County public schools to remove
evolution disclaimers from science textbooks, ruling that the stickers
violated the establishment clause of the first amendment. Although
he was satisfied with the school board's claim that the stickers were
intended to encourage critical thinking about the origins of life,
the judge maintained the understanding that "an informed, reasonable
observer" would interpret the sticker as an endorsement of religion.
In his ruling, he stated, that the disclaimer "sends a message
to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are
favored members of the political community, while [it] sends a message
to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders."
The ruling rested on the connotations of the word 'theory' as a 'hunch'
or 'something easily disregarded,' as well as the history of anti-evolutionism
in the County and the common practice of using such stickers in other
states as a vehicle to promote creationism in schools.
On January 17th, the Cobb County School Board voted 5-2 to appeal
the court's ruling and additionally asked for a stay of Judge Cooper's
charge to remove the stickers. A review in the school district's homepage
reports that School Board members believe the court to have, in effect,
"condemned the Board for taking a reasonable approach to address
the concerns of its citizens on a controversial issue." Board
members felt the Judge's decision was not based on the School Board's
intent but rather on "the judicial interpretation of social facts,"
and thus deem the ruling "an intrusion into local control of
school policy and administration."
Download Judge Cooper's ruling from the ACLU
website and the School Board's appeal (press
On November 8th, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit
in Federal Court on behalf of six parents challenging a two year old
Cobb County School Board rule, which mandated the use of disclaimers
about evolution on a biology textbook. The disclaimer reads, "This
textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not
a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should
be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically
considered." The plaintiffs in the case argue that singling
out evolution as a theory suggests that creationism or intelligent
design are also equally as valid, a clear violation of the 1st amendment
establishment clause. The textbook's author said in a Los Angeles
Times article, "the disclaimer used the word "theory"
in a colloquial way that suggested it was "a guess, or a little
hunch." In science, theories are overarching explanations - in
evolution's case, "widely supported by millions of facts,"
he said. Moreover, it is misleading to single out evolution for scrutiny
when all science should be approached with a spirit of inquiry,"
U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper will make a ruling after
what is expected to be a four day trial. Cobb County, a highly conservative region
outside of Atlanta, has a history of bucking the Darwin requirement in science
education. Prior to 2002, evolution was prohibited from the curriculum and teachers
were instructed to rip out pages of Biology textbooks that discussed evolution.
In a November 10th letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
microbiologist David L. Cox wrote, "Some Georgians still don't
know that a theory is a set of facts, propositions or principles analyzed
in their relation to one another and used, especially in science,
to explain phenomena. Too many people get "theory" confused
with "hypothesis," which is unproven and has little data
to back it up. Evolution has reams of data to support it. All one
has to do is look at the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
in the past 50 years to see mini-"evolution" in action and
in our lifetimes. And where is it written that evolution couldn't
be God's work? The Bible says God created the Earth in six days, but
I think Old Testament stories were simple explanations for simple-minded
people. Thousands of years ago, who could have comprehended genes,
DNA or the atom? Even today, many people still don't understand them;
some parents in Cobb County are living proof." (11/10/04)
mid-May, Georgia education officials released this year's revised education
standards. The Standards for Excellence in Education by the Council for Basic
Education (CBE) was used as a model for standards and benchmarks. The CBE are
a distilled version of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences
publication, Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy. Georgia's goal is for students
to Do Science, not View Science.
Like the other curriculum
areas, the most noticeable difference in the new Science Quality Core Curriculum
(QCC) is the presence of new performance standards. The curriculum is trimmed
down with the expectation that students will be given the opportunity to achieve
scientific literacy, while also giving students the necessary tools to be successful
at the next level of their educational career.
With regard to content,
the most radical change is moving Earth Science to sixth grade and Physical Science
to eighth grade. Georgians felt that Physical Science is very abstract and includes
rigorous mathematics. Therefore, eighth graders who have experienced more mathematics
courses and have two more years of cognitive development, have a better chance
for success and mastery in Physical Science than sixth graders do.
to the teaching of evolution, the Earth Science education standards state, "During
middle school, several lines of evidence are further developed. The fossil evidence
can be expanded beyond extinctions and survivals to the notion of evolutionary
history. Sedimentation of rock can be brought in to show relative age. However,
actual age, which requires an understanding of isotopic dating techniques, should
wait until high school, when students learn about the structure of atoms. Breeding
experiments can illustrate the heritability of traits and the effects of selection.
It was familiarity with selective breeding that stimulated Darwin's thinking that
differences between successive generations can naturally accumulate." There
is no mention of Intelligent Design or "alternative theories" in the
revised standards. (5/24/04)
In 2002, the Cobb County School District
in Georgia issued a requirement that all textbooks containing material that discuss
evolution have a disclaimer in the front of the book that warns that "Evolution
is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material
should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
Five parents sued the school system to get the stickers removed in August 2002,
and in early April 2004, a federal judge ruled that the case had merit and could
go to trial. In 1971 the Supreme Court issued a three-pronged test of the constitutionality
of issues related to the separation of church and state. According to the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, in order to get the lawsuit dismissed the Cobb County School
Board had to prove "that the sticker was adopted with a secular purpose;
that its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion; and that it does
not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion." The
judge found that school board only met the first criteria. The case is expected
to go to trial later this year. (4/16/04)
The Georgia State Board
of Education reversed its earlier decision and on February 19th released a new
version of the science curriculum that includes both biologic evolution and the
big bang theory. However, the section on biologic evolution is not fully complete
and the section on student activities concerning evolution is labeled "more
tasks to come". According to the National Center for Science Education, other
states have used these tactics to insert material in similar locations to undermine
the classroom presentation of evolution. Supporters of science education will
continue to review the proposed standards.
curriculum is up for public
comment and the school board will take a final vote in June. (2/25/04)
The Georgia State Board of Education released a statement on February 12th
that said the national science standards would be adopted in the new curriculum
including use of the word evolution. Both scientists and educators were happy
with the statement, but will continue to watch the process. The team of teachers
who wrote the curriculum will propose changes to the evolution portion, which
will then be voted on at a special meeting of the state board.
Ashe (D-Atlanta) has sponsored a bill (HB-1406)
in the Georgia House of Representatives that requires future changes to the curriculum
follow national standards. The bill would also clarify the role of the legislature
in curriculum changes. Ashe told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "My real
objective is to make sure the legislative process isn't left out as major curriculum
revisions are made and Georgia maintains a curriculum that is worthy as our place
as an economic engine in the Southeast." The bill has been assigned to the
House Education Committee where it has the support of committee chairman Rep.
Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta). (2/20/04)
As a result of the feedback
and controversy over the removal of the word evolution from the science curriculum,
State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox announced on February 5th that she would
leave the word evolution in the curriculum. However, it is unclear as to whether
she will also incorporate the deleted sections of the curriculum dealing with
evolution and the age of the Earth. The issue of including that material will
go before the curriculum advisory panel before the end of February. (2/6/04)
Georgia Department of Education released its new
curriculum on January 12th to a thunder of controversy. The new middle and
high school science standards proposed by Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy
Cox strike references to the word evolution and replace them with the term "biological
changes over time." The curriculum revisions began over a year ago in an
attempt to strengthen the performance of students by requiring greater depth of
essential topics. Although it's not explicitly mentioned in the curriculum, Cox
said that the new standards could include the teaching of "intelligent design"
as another legitimate theory.
Not only are many scientists and educators
outraged by this plan, but according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, former
President Jimmy Carter issued a statement saying "As a Christian, a trained
engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed
by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's
students". Governor Sonny Perdue says that there should be a "balanced"
approach to teaching evolution in the classroom and that impressionable students
should not be taught that evolution is a proven fact. However, Perdue thinks that
the word evolution should stay in the curriculum and not be replaced.
The Georgia Department of Education will collect feedback for three
months. If you wish to comment on the proposed standards, click
here. Additionally, thousands of people have signed an online
petition to encourage the Georgia Department of Education to adapt
the Project 2061 benchmarks for science education that were developed
by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. To view
(or sign) the petition, click
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science,
American Insitute of Biological Sciences Public Policy Report, Associated
Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN, National Center for Science
Education, National Science Teachers Association, Georgia Department
of Education Performance Standards Curriculum Revision website, Los
Angeles Times, Cobb County School District Homepage.
Contributed by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program; 2004
AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern Gayle Levy; Bridget Martin, AGI/AIPG
Summer 2004 Intern; David Millar, AGI/AAPG Fall 2004 Semester Intern;
Katie Ackerly, AGI/AAPG Spring 2005 Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information
to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on February 7, 2005