Most Recent Action
On December 10th, the Ohio State Board of Education voted 18-0, with one absent, to approve new state science standards that for the first time include evolution. According to an AP report, "evolution will be the only origin-of-life theory covered on exams that students must pass to graduate, meaning schools that avoid teaching Charles Darwin's theory that life evolved through natural processes would risk putting their students at a disadvantage." Opponents of the teaching of evolution had sought to downplay evolution and include intelligent design creationism in the standards. But the final version approved by the board contains the specific statement: "The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of Intelligent Design." More on developments in Ohio at http://www.ncseweb.org/pressroom.asp?state=OH and below. (12/11/02)
Even as Ohio's state board was voting for evolution, the Louisiana Department of Education's Student and School Standards/Instruction Committee voted for a disclaimer in biology textbooks emphasizing that evolution is a theory, not a fact. Similar disclaimers have been adopted in several states. However, as reported by the National Center for Science Education, the president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education opposed the move, asserting: "I am not prepared to go back to the dark ages." And two days later, the full board voted 7-3 against the disclaimer. (12/11/02; updated 1/7/03)
In the name of "providing a balanced education," the Cobb County Board of Education voted unanimously on September 26th for a new policy that would encourage the teaching of alternative "theories of origin." An earlier decision by the board to place anti-evolution disclaimers in the district's biology textbooks had already produced a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The new decision also is likely to produce legal action. The situation is best summed up by a quote from Barry Lynn, the executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "It would be as if Cobb County were putting up a giant 'sue me' sign." AGI and many other organizations sought to mobilize scientists and science educators in the county, which represents the second-largest school district in the state. In addition to letters from over 100 local university professors, the president of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association sent letters to the board. But the board also faced considerable lobbying by local chapters of the Christian Coalition and American Family Association. An action alert from the latter asserted (incorrectly, one hopes) that the new policy "would allow for scientific classroom discussion on creation as described in the Biblical account of the book of Genesis." A Geotimes Web Extra on the school board vote is available at www.geotimes.org/sept02/WebExtra092702.html. More on Cobb County below. (10/4/02)
Around the Nation
Special Focus: 2002 Developments in Ohio
As posted in January 2002: The Ohio State Board of Education is currently considering a reevaluation of grade 10 and 12 life/earth science curriculum as a response to the Ohio General Assembly Senate Bill 1. An alternative curriculum draft is being proposed by the Science Excellence of All Ohioans (SEAO) group, which advocates the approach of intelligent design (ID) creationism. The SEAO is a project initiated by the American Family Association of Ohio and offers a list of modifications to the current curriculum. The SEAO curriculum modification would add a new discipline, "origin science," defined as "the study of the origin and development/diversity of life on earth." The SEAO believes the new standard should distinguish between micro- and macroevolution and between naturalism, historical science, and intelligent design. In SEAO's draft, statements in the existing curriculum that deal with evolution are modified to emphasize doubts about the validity of evolutionary theory, adding words such as "may" and "might." The Ohio State Board of Education will meet in March, 2002 for further discussion. SEAO has invoked the U.S. Senate-passed Santorum resolution to justify its current actions. As reported by AGU, two SEAO-inspired bills are pending in the state legislature: "On January 23 House Bill 481 was introduced into the Ohio General Assembly that would require the teaching of "origins science" and encourage teaching of alternatives to evolutionary theory. Another bill (House Bill 484) introduced the following day would require that state science education standards be approved by both houses of the Ohio legislature, a requirement that does not apply to any other state education standards." (01/18/02 modified 4/2/02)
On March 11th, a subcommittee of the Ohio State Board of Education held a hearing as part of the board's reevaluation of the state's high-school science curriculum. The board faces considerable pressure from anti-evolution groups to downplay concepts of evolution and the age of the Earth while adding intelligent design theory. Over 1,500 people attended the hearing, which featured speakers supporting and opposing the teaching of intelligent design creationism in Ohio schools. According to the paper, letters to the board are about evenly split between those supporting and opposing the inclusion of intelligent design. Should the board adopt standards that include the teaching of intelligent design, it would make Ohio the first state to do so. The controversy has generated considerable coverage in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, all of which can be found at http://www.cleveland.com/debate/. Their coverage includes a breakdown of how board members are likely to vote on this issue with at least one-third favoring the inclusion of intelligent design. On March 16th, the Plain Dealer reported that the team writing the state standards would release a revised version containing no mention of intelligent design, potentially setting up a confrontation with the school board. The National Center for Science Education reports that the draft standards would receive an A grade from Dr. Lawrence Lerner, who graded state science education standards and their treatment of evolution in two reports put out by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. In the earlier report, Ohio had received an F. A discussion of Lerner's 2000 report can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/geotimes/dec00/evolution_grades.html.
The Santorum resolution, appended to education legislation in the U.S. Senate last summer, has played a prominent role in this fray. Despite the fact that the resolution was stripped from the final bill, relegated to explanatory report language, proponents of intelligent design claim that the Santorum language is now law, an assertion that has been hotly disputed. The resolution's sponsor, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), wrote a March 14 editorial in the Washington Times in which he claimed that his resolution -- relegated to explanatory report language accompanying the final bill -- was the law of the land. In the editorial, he quoted Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and interpreted Kennedy's words as support for the teaching of intelligent design. In a letter to the editor, Kennedy responded: "I believe that public school science classes should focus on teaching students how to understand and critically analyze genuine scientific theories. Unlike biological evolution, 'intelligent design' is not a genuine scientific theory and, therefore, has no place in the curriculum of our nation's public school science classes." Two prominent U.S. congressmen from Ohio, Reps. John Boehner (R) and Steve Chabot (R), wrote a March 15 letter to the board claiming that the Santorum language "is now part of the law." Such an assertion from the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, respectively, is at best misleading. A similar assertion was made by one of the speakers at the board subcommittee hearing. As reported by the National Center for Science Education, "Brown University biologist Kenneth R. Miller responded by using his computer to search the text of the law for the word "evolution" - unsuccessfully."
A draft of the standards is at http://webapp1.ode.state.oh.us/science_comment/. The Ohio Academy of Science's position on this issue is at http://www.ohiosci.org/EVOLRESOLUTIONFinalApprovedFeb282000.htm. A group has formed to defend evolution in Ohio: the Ohio Citizens for Science. Their web site is http://ecology.cwru.edu/ohioscience/. An alert from AGU to its Ohio members can be found at http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2002-07.msg. AGI contacted geoscience department chairs in the state. (4/3/02)
On May 17th, American Geological Institute President Steven M. Stanley sent a letter to Ohio State Board of Education President Jennifer Sheets expressing support for the state's draft science education standards and encouraging the board not to amend them to promote intelligent design creationism. The letter included statements on this topic by AGI, the American Geophysical Union, and the Geological Society of America, as well as the booklet Evolution and the Fossil Record published by AGI. The full text of the letter can be found below. (5/17/02)
In a letter to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Rep. George Miller (D-CA) clarified the meaning and significance of evolution-related language that appeared in the conference report accompanying H.R.1. Miller is the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and was one of four principals involved in negotiating the final bill. The language, a revision of the Santorum amendment to the Senate bill, has been used in several states as a justification for teaching alternative theories to evolution. In particular, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) sent a letter -- co-authored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) -- to the Ohio Board of Education (see below) claiming that the language supported the teaching of intelligent design creationism. Miller's letter makes clear that such was not the intent of the non-binding language. In his letter to Scott, he states that "the report language should not be construed to promote specific topics within subject areas." The full letter can be found at http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2002/US/miller-letter.asp. In addition, NCSE "has compiled a document from various sources providing accurate information on the legal and pedagogical issues surrounding item 78 (the so-called Santorum language) in the conference committee report of the No Child Left Behind Act." The document can be downloaded in PDF format at http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/ID-activists-guide-v1.pdf. (6/17/02)
The Political Scene column in the September 2002 issue of Geotimes, "Federal Law Misused in Ohio Evolution Debate," addresses the mischaracterizations by Members of Congress and anti-evolution advocates of language in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. (9/1/02)
Special Focus: 2002 Developments in Cobb County, Georgia
In Georgia's Cobb County, the school board agreed to add a disclaimer to new science textbooks that evolution is a theory, not a fact. According to an article in the March 31st Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the move was a compromise after 30 parents opposed purchasing the new textbooks because they did not include alternative theories. One parent claimed to have collected 2,300 signatures from people opposed to teaching "Darwinism, unchallenged." Another parent -- seemingly unaware of the underpinnings of modern medicine -- argued against teaching evolution by stating: "Leave this garbage out of the textbooks. I don't want anybody taking care of me in a nursing home some day to think I came from a monkey." The newspaper article noted that no one spoke in favor of the updated textbooks, which were selected "by committees of teachers, working in consultation with the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences." Superintendent Joe Redden is quoted as saying that the new books will not change how life science is taught in the county, and that it was illegal to teach creationism in public school classrooms. More at http://www.ncseweb.org(4/3/02)
Responding to pressure from parents opposed to the teaching of evolution, the Cobb County school board voted on August 22nd to consider a revised science education policy that would adopt a "teach the controversy" approach to this subject. The new policy states that "discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species. This subject remains an area of intense interest, research, and discussion among scholars." The policy would replace an earlier one adopted in 1995, which acknowledged that "some scientific accounts of the origin of human species as taught in public schools are inconsistent with the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens" and pledged respect for those family teachings. Located just to the northwest of Atlanta, Cobb County represents the second-largest school district in the state. The day before the school board vote, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the county to discontinue another related policy adopted earlier this year that requires disclaimers be placed in biology textbooks. Modeled after ones adopted several years ago in Alabama, the disclaimers read: "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 board's final vote on its revised policy will take place September 26th. In the interim, the board is accepting public comments. More at http://www.ncseweb.org. (9/1/02)
Elsewhere Around the Nation
As reported in the Rocky Mountain News, in the course of one month the Liberty District J4 school board in rural Joes, Colorado twice voted unanimously on the subject of teaching creationism in science class. The first vote, on March 12th, was unanimously in favor of a new policy that called for "balanced treatment in the classroom" for creationism and evolutionary theory. After parents complained to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, that group threatened a lawsuit in a letter faxed to the board on April 5th. Other organizations also contacted the board, including the Colorado Education Association and the American Civil Liberties Union. On April 9th, the board voted unanimously against the new policy, citing a lack of money to fight lawsuits. (4/10/02)
As reported by the American Institute of Biological Sciences: "The Supreme Court declined on January 7 in the case of LeVake v. Independent School District to be drawn into a debate over the teaching of evolution in America's public schools. The refusal is a victory for schools that require teachers to instruct on the subject even if the teacher disagrees with the scientific theory. It's a loss for a Christian biology teacher in Minnesota who was reassigned amid questions about his views on evolution. Justices declined without comment to review Rodney LeVake's case. LeVake briefly instructed his Minnesota high school students on the subject, but told a colleague that he had scientific doubts about Charles Darwin's view of species' gradual change. When confronted by school leaders in 1998, he proposed offering students 'an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory without turning my class into a religious one.' LeVake, who is a Christian, believes that God created the world in six days, known as creationism. His case presented the Supreme Court an opportunity to revisit the debate over public school instruction on the origin of man. In 1987, justices struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited the teaching of evolution without equal time for creationism. LeVake, who has a master's degree in biology education, contends that the school board violated his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion by reassigning him to a teaching post." (1/18/02)
The Washington State Legislature reintroduced Senate Bill 6058 on January 14, 2002, which proposes that all state-purchased textbooks contain the disclaimer: "A message from the Washington State Legislature: This textbook discusses evolution a controversial theory ... no one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origin should be considered as theory, not fact. Study hard and keep and open mind. Someday you may contribute to the theories of how living things appeared on earth." This message is very similar to the disclaimer added by the Alabama State Legislature to all that state's science textbooks in 1995. On January 18, the Senate Bill 6500 was introduced to the Education Committee of the Washington State Senate. SB 6500 states, "the legislature finds that the teaching of the theory of evolution in the common schools of the state of Washington is repugnant to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and thereby unconstitutional and unlawful. All textbooks and curriculum that teach the theory of evolution shall be removed from the public schools forthwith and replaced with textbooks and curriculum that teach the self-evident truth of creation." (1/24/02)
In Alabama, the state Board of Education voted to insert a revised disclaimer in state science textbooks. The Nov. 8th vote was supported by State Superintendent Ed Richardson. According to a news report in the Birmingham News, early indications were that the board would drop the disclaimer altogether, but pressure brought to bear by the Eagle Forum of Alabama and other conservative groups forced them to reconsider. The text of both the new and old inserts is available on the National Center for Science Education website. (11-12-01)
In Pennsylvania, new science and technology education standards
that include evolution are one step away from final passage. The House
and Senate Education Committees have passed regulations to implement the
standards, and the final hurdle will be a vote by the state's Independent
Regulatory Review Commission. The new standards do not include language
previously inserted by the state board of education, which would have required
students to "analyze... studies that support or do not support the theory
of evolution" and required teachers to present theories that "do and do
not support the theory of evolution." These requirements were included
in draft standards submitted for public comment in April 2001. Many scientific
and educational organizations as well as individual concerned Pennsylvanians
responded to the call. For example, AGU sent an alert
to its Pennsylvania members on the comment period, and AGI contacted geoscience
department chairs at Pennsylvania colleges and universities. As a result
of public input, the Pennsylvania Department of Education removed the anti-evolution
requirements from the final standards. (10-19-01)
The ongoing controversy over the teaching of evolution reached Hawaii when a committee of the state board of education voted on July 26th to approve science performance standards that call on students to identify "multiple theories of origin" and eliminate the term "biological evolution" in favor of "the basic idea of the multiple theories of origin." The revised language was put forward by a board member who favors teaching creationism. Hawaii currently has some of the best science education standards in the nation, and geoscientists there have been actively engaged in turning back the revisions. The effort paid off on August 2nd when the full board rejected the proposed changes. More at http://www.ncseweb.org. (8-6-01)
Louisiana legislators have put forward two separate bills attacking evolution, one quite stealthy and the other a frontal attack but from a very disturbing angle. Rep. Sharon Weston Broome (D-Baton Rouge) introduced House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 74, which states that "the writings of Charles Darwin...promoted the justification of racism" and urges public schools in Louisiana to address "the weaknesses of Darwinian racism." Elsewhere, the resolution asserts "Adolf Hitler and others have exploited the racist views of Darwin and those he influenced." According to newspaper accounts, Broome has linked Darwinism to the Ku Klux Klan and the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Broome is a graduate of Regent University, founded by Rev. Pat Robertson. After passing the House Education Committee on May 1st by a 9-5 vote, the measure was amended on the House floor by a 65-28 vote, removing all mention of Darwinism and converting the resolution into simply a condemnation of racism. The resulting measure passed both the Louisiana House and Senate. The bill's original sponsor, Rep. Sharon Weston Broome (D-Baton Rouge), vowed to revisit the issue. Lousiana House Bill 1286, introduced by Rep. Tony Perkins (R-Baker), prohibits any state or local government entity from "knowingly printing or distributing material that contains information that is false or fraudulent." The bill is nearly identical to an Arkansas bill that was defeated in March by a handful of votes. The difference is that the Arkansas bill specifically mentioned the theory of the age of the earth, the theory of the origin of life, the geologic column, and radiometric dating as examples of such falsehoods. The Perkins bill does not provide any examples at all. Evolution opponents could use the bill's provisions to challenge textbooks, forcing school districts into endless cycles of litigation. Perkins is a graduate of Liberty University, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, and has made a name for himself with his support for covenant marriage and other "family values" issues. Contact information for all Louisiana House members can be found at http://house.legis.state.la.us/WebRepresentatives/memberaddress.asp. (6-17-01)
Also in May, legislation (House Bill 4705) was introduced in Michigan to revise science curriculum standards to include the teaching of intelligent design theory. The bill is itself a revision of an earlier bill (HB 4382), which had emphasized that evolution and natural selection were "unproven theories." Both bills were introduced by the chair of the House Education Committee and three committee members. In Pennsylvania, the House Education Committee is expected to vote shortly on new science and technology education standards that encourage the teaching of creationist views in science classes. AGI alerted geoscience department heads in Pennsylvania about the situation, encouraging them to work with the state department of education and state legislators to support strong science standards. For more information, see the National Center for Science Education website http://www.ncseweb.org. (6-6-01)
On March 23rd, the Arkansas legislature considered a bill (HB2548) to outlaw state agencies from purchasing materials that contain "information that has been proven false or fraudulent." Under the bill if teachers come across such information they are required to instruct students to make marginal notes that the information is fraudulent, or is a theory that could later be proven false. Section (c) of HB2548 lists examples of information that would be affected by this legislation, which include the theory of the age of the earth, the theory of the origin of life, the geologic column, and radiometric dating. The bill failed in the House, falling six votes shy of the number needed for passage. The bill's sponsor has vowed to revise and reintroduce the bill, but the House Speaker has indicated that he does not expect any of the votes to change. (3/28/01)
A bill to alter the Michigan state science standards was referred to the State Legislature Education Committee on February 28, 2001. Section 10 of HB 4382 would change the science curriculum standards to require that students are exposed to the "competing theories of evolution and natural selection based on random mutation and the theory that life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a creator." The bill states that references to "evolution" and "natural selection" in science standards at all grade levels will be changed to show that these are unproved theories by adding the phrase: "Describe how life may be the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a creator." See the Michigan State Legislature website for more information. (3/9/01)
On February 19, 2001, the Montana House Committee on State Administration in a 14-4 vote defeated a bill that would have required Montana's science teachers to present additional theories of origin along with evolution. House Bill (HB) 588 would have changed Montana's present administrative rules in which evolution is taught exclusively. Supporters of the bill want to "ensure that children are exposed to all theories of human existence." Many in the state were surprised that the debate was even occurring. The spokesman for the State Office of Instruction, Joe Lamson, said in amazement: "We don't put nonscientific things in a science class." (2/20/01)
In a February 14th valentine to good science, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 7-3 to reinstate the teaching of biological evolution and the origin of the earth into the state's science education standards. With this vote, the board adopts science education standards that nullify the controversial 1999 standards, which had de-emphasized evolution and removed the Big Bang Theory from teaching requirements. The Kansas Science Education Standards include teaching guidelines for all grades. The introductory statement, the eighth grade standards, and the twelfth grade standards include specific reference to students understanding biological evolution, the significance of fossils, the geologic time scale, and theories regarding the origins of the Earth. The board's favorable vote has been applauded by many organizations. The Kansas Science Education Standards can be viewed on the Kansas Board of Education website. Also see the AGU alert "Kansas School Board Lets Evolution Back Into the Classroom". (2/16/01)
On February 13, 2001, a bill that seeks to amend the official code of Georgia to reform the teaching of "scientific theories of the origins about life and living things" was sent to the House Education Committee of the Georgia General Assembly. The bill, HB 391, states that evolutionary theory as presented in current science textbooks does not convey enough clear and precise language for children to discern theory from fact. Without exposure to this specific information children are at risk of becoming indoctrinated. Under this bill, teachers have the right to "present and critique any and all scientific theories about origins and all facts thereof." Teachers would also be "encouraged to make distinctions between philosophical materialism and authentic science." (2/14/01; technical changes 3/5/01)
On February 8, 2001, the Alabama School Board approved new science standards. The standards are an improvement over the 1996 standards that received national attention for requiring a disclaimer to be attached inside biology textbooks that identified evolution as a "controversial theory" presented by "some scientists" as a "scientific explanation for the origin of living things." The new standards still label evolution as a controversial theory but no longer require the disclaimer. Also see the AGU update on this topic. (1/15/01; technical changes 3/19/01)
The teaching of evolution in schools has long been a contentious topic, particularly among evangelical Christians who make up the so-called "religious right." They believe that it is narrow minded to exclude "alternative theories of human existence" by not exposing children to creationism in science classes. Periodically, the issue is raised to the state legislative level, but through the efforts of concerned citizens and scientific organizations, the efforts of creationists to remove the topic of evolution or to include creationist dogma in science standards and textbooks have been contained. The most well publicized effort took place in Kansas in 1999, when the State Board of Education approved science standards that contained no mention of biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the universe. The reaction of the scientific community was forceful and broad-based. More detailed information on the Kansas debate is found in an earlier version of this update at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/evolution.html.
Other states continue to have events similar to those in Kansas. In July 2000, the Pennsylvania Board of Education changed their science standards to require students to "analyze... studies that support or do not support the theory of evolution" and to require teachers to present theories that "do and do not support the theory of evolution." In April 2000, the Oklahoma legislature approved a bill with amendments that required science textbooks to include "acknowledgment that human life was created by one God of the universe" and gave the textbook committee the power to insert one-page summaries or opinions in any textbook. The Oklahoma attorney general overturned the law, ruling that the textbook committee lacked the constitutional power to require a disclaimer that evolution is a "controversial theory" in new textbooks. A 1994 bill in Louisiana required the reading of a disclaimer whenever evolution was to be presented that said, "the scientific concept [of evolution is] not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept." The federal district court and the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of parents who challenged the disclaimer. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case on June 19, 2000. In October 1999, the Kentucky Department of Education replaced the word "evolution" with "change over time" in state school standards. New Mexico faced a Kansas-like experience in 1997 but emphatically endorsed the teaching of evolution in its 1999 science standards. In 1996, Alabama's science curriculum attracted national attention when the Board adopted a disclaimer on the theory of evolution that was pasted in all biology textbooks. Part of disclaimer stated that evolution was a "controversial theory" presented by "some scientists" as a "scientific explanation for the origin of living things." New standards were adopted in February 2001 that removed the disclaimer requirement, but the standards are still not satisfactory in the eyes of many scientists who support the teaching of evolution. The scientific community must continue to be informed of these trends and promote the teaching of science and the scientific method in classrooms.
A poll commissioned by the People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) in the spring of 1999 reported that 83% of Americans think that evolution should be taught in public school science classes. About 13% feel that creationism should be taught alongside evolution is science classes. About 30% of those are of the opinion that creationism should be discussed as a belief, not as science. About 70% of Americans feel that the Bible and evolution go hand in hand -- contrasted with creationists who argue that the two are in conflict. According to the poll, 60% of Americans reject the Kansas Board's 1999 decision to take evolution off of its list of state science standards. This poll differed from previously conducted polls because it focused solely on the evolution/creationist issue instead of including it in a broader list of topics. A pdf version of the poll is available on the PFAWF website.
The National Center for Science Education provides up-to-date listings of anti-evolution activity around the nation.
Position statements by AGI and its member societies are available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/position_statements.html.
The booklet Evolution and the Fossil Record, produced by AGI and the Paleontological Society, is now available on-line at http://www.agiweb.org/news/evolution/. Written by paleontologists John Pojeta Jr. and Dale Springer, this non-technical introduction to evolution aims to help the general public gain a better understanding of one of the fundamental underlying concepts of modern science.
The October 1999 issue of Geotimes features a series of perspectives on the Kansas situation from geoscience community leaders along with columns addressing the ramifications from both public policy and curriculum development standpoints. The December 2000 issues of Geotimes is devoted to the evolution debate. Articles include "The Politics of Education in Kansas" by M. Lee Allison, "Studying Evolution and Keeping the Faith" by Patricia H. Kelley, "Evolution Grades for the States" (a review of the Fordham report), and "Hot Spots across the U.S." (an overview of recent flare-ups). Other articles and columns are listed at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#evolution.
The National Academies have produced several publications for teachers and the general public. They are available, along with an extensive array of links to other resources, at http://www4.nationalacademies.org/opus/evolve.nsf
Voices for Evolution is a compilation of statements by scientific, educational, religious, and civil rights organizations published by the National Center for Science Education. It is available online at the American Association for the Advancement of Science website: http://www.aaas.org/spp/dser/evolution/perspectives/voices/voicetoc.htm. A position paper by the National Science Teachers Association is available at http://www.nsta.org/handbook/evolve.asp.
Letter from AGI President Steven Stanley to Ohio State Board of Education President Jennifer Sheets
May 17, 2002
Jennifer L. Sheets, President
Ohio State Board of Education
Ohio Department of Education Building
Mail Stop 509
25 S. Front St., 7th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215-4183
Dear Board President Sheets:
On behalf of the Executive Committee of the American Geological Institute (AGI), I wish to encourage the Ohio State Board of Education to support the draft science education standards put together by a writing team of scientists and educators. Ohio has the opportunity to adopt some of the best science standards in the nation, but that opportunity will be lost if the board adopts standards that introduce intelligent design creationism in the state's schools.
Studies show that science and technology have been the driving force behind more than half of the economic growth in this country over the past fifty years. In order to continue that growth, we must provide the next generation of Americans with the best science education possible. A strong science curriculum cannot be one that omits or downplays the core of our understanding of the development of life and Earth itself over geologic time.
AGI is a nonprofit federation of 40 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.
In 1981, amidst an earlier controversy over the teaching of evolution in public schools, AGI approved the following statement, which was reaffirmed in 2000 and is very relevant to today's situation:
"Scientific evidence indicates beyond any doubt that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. This life has evolved through time producing vast numbers of species of plants and animals, most of which are extinct. Although scientists debate the mechanism that produced this change, the evidence for the change is undeniable. Therefore, in the teaching of science we oppose any position that ignores this scientific reality, or that gives equal time to interpretations based on religious beliefs only."
I have enclosed copies of statements on the teaching of evolution from the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America, both member societies of AGI. I have also enclosed a copy of Evolution and the Fossil Record, a booklet published by AGI and the Paleontological Society last year. It provides a geoscience perspective on the significance of evolution to understanding the history of our planet. Let me also add that those who oppose the teaching of evolution seek to foster a popular perception that evolutionary theory and religion are contradictory, a view rejected by the many mainstream Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish denominations that have publicly stated that evolution is compatible with their faith. Those statements have been collected in the book Voices for Evolution, published by the National Center for Science Education.
There is a reason why intelligent design is not included in any of the state science curricula, and it has nothing to do with scientific orthodoxy as its proponents claim. Simply put: it's not science. While scientific theories can never be proven, they can be disproven. The existence of a supernatural "designer" is inherently untestable and thus cannot be disproven. Teaching such a hypothesis as science misrepresents the way science works.
Far from being a hide-bound orthodoxy, scientists are continually seeking new ways of understanding the Earth and many reputations have been made by turning over old paradigms in the face of ones that provide stronger explanations. If intelligent design is a valid theory, then its proponents need to do the hard work of publishing scientific papers and arguing their case at scientific meetings. That is how true scientific revolutions, such as the development of plate tectonic theory in the 1960's, take place. Evolutionary theory, like plate tectonic theory or the theory of gravitation, is the product of scientists' continual commitment to search for a better understanding of how natural systems operate. The process is arduous, and the new theories only appear in the classroom when they have passed through the gauntlet of peer review and debate within the community of science. But the proponents of intelligent design don't want to go to all that trouble and have attempted to do an end run through political pressure. If fairness is an issue, that is decidedly not fair.
I am particularly concerned to learn that Members of Congress have been misrepresenting congressional action on this subject in correspondence with the Board. The non-binding Senate resolution sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum was slipped into that chamber's version of a major education bill at the last minute and approved with the assurance that it was innocuous. That assurance quickly proved empty as opponents of evolution touted it as a significant victory. It was stripped from the final bill and only included in a non-statutory explanatory statement that accompanied the bill. Yet in their March 15, 2002 letter to you, Representatives John Boehner and Steve Chabot assert that "the Santorum language is now part of the law." The explanatory statement is not part of the statute and is decidedly not the law of the land. Even those who voted in favor of the Santorum resolution in the Senate have made clear that their support does not translate into support for teaching intelligent design. The Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, wrote to the Washington Times: "I believe that public school classes should focus on teaching students how to understand and critically analyze genuine scientific theories. Unlike biological evolution, 'intelligent design' is not a genuine scientific theory and, therefore, has no place in the curriculum of our nation's public school science classes."
If AGI can assist your office in any way, please do not hesitate to call on me or AGI Government Affairs Director David Applegate (703-379-2480 ext. 228; email@example.com).
cc: Ohio State Board on Education
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, Associated Press, Association for Women Geoscientists, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Kansas Geological Survey, Library of Congress, National Academies, National Center for Science Education, Rocky Mountain News.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program; and AGI/AAPG Geoscience Interns Mary Patterson and Heather Golding.
Last updated: January 7, 2003
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