History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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NCSE newsletter: evolution and climate education update: January 30, 2015

January 30th, 2015 · No Comments

Dear friends of NCSE,

NCSE is seeking to hire a Director of Community Organizing and
Research. Plus a busy week in statehouses across the country: the
fourth antiscience bill of 2015 appeared in South Dakota, the bill to
unblock the NGSS advanced in Wyoming, the fifth antiscience bill of
2015 is imminent in Montana, and the third antiscience bill of 2015
appeared in Oklahoma. Plus a new issue of RNCSE, kudos to David
Morrison, and a reminder about Darwin Day.


NCSE is seeking to hire a Director of Community Organizing and
Research. The full-time position involves implementing a new NCSE
program aimed at facilitating the development of local community
groups focused on support of high-quality science education. The
director will design, implement, and analyze pilot projects in the
program, and then use the results of the research to develop and
implement a program to facilitate the organization of such groups
nationwide. Further information about duties, qualifications, salary
and benefits, and the application process is available from NCSE’s job

For NCSE’s job page, visit:


South Dakota’s Senate Bill 114 is the fourth antiscience bill of 2015,
following on the heels of Missouri’s House Bill 486, Indiana’s Senate
Bill 562, and Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 665. All four bills are broadly
similar to Tennessee’s “monkey law,” enacted over the protests of the
state’s scientific and educational communities and without the
governor’s signature in 2012.

SB 114 would require state and local educational authorities to
“assist teachers in finding effective ways to present the science
curriculum” where it addresses “scientific subjects that may cause
debate and disputation”; it would prevent such authorities from
“prohibit[ing] any teacher in a public school from helping students to
understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective manner the
scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific
theories covered in the courses being taught.” A further section of SB
114 attempts to immunize it against constitutional scrutiny, insisting
that the bill “may not be construed to promote any religious or
nonreligious doctrine.”

The bill identifies “biological evolution, the chemical origins of
life, global warming, [and]human cloning” as scientifically
controversial. (Missouri’s bill identifies only “the theory of
biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution” as controversial,
Indiana’s bill identifies only human cloning as controversial, and
Oklahoma’s bill offers no specific examples.)

The sponsors of SB 114 are Jeff Monroe (R-District 24), Bob Ewing
(R-District 31), Brock L. Greenfield (R-District 2), Jenna Haggar
(R-District 10), Ried Holien (R-District 5), Dan Lederman (R-District
16), Betty Olson (R-District 28), David M. Omdahl (R-District 11),
Bill Van Gerpen (R-District 19), and Mike Vehle (R-District 20).
Twelve members of the House of Representatives are also listed as
sponsors, although there is no House equivalent of the bill. Monroe,
Lederman, and Van Gerpen were Senate sponsors, and Greenfield and
Haggar were House sponsors, of 2014’s Senate Bill 112, which would
have forbidden administrators from preventing teachers from presenting
“intelligent design.”

For South Dakota’s Senate Bill 114, visit:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in South Dakota, visit:


Wyoming’s House Bill 23 was passed by the House of Representatives on
a 39-21 vote on January 26, 2015,according to the Casper Star-Tribune
(January 27, 2015), and now proceeds to the Senate. The bill would
allow the state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards by
repealing a footnote in the state budget for 2014-2016 that precluded
the use of state funds for “any review or adoption” of the NGSS.

The treatment of climate change was cited as the reason for the
footnote in the budget, as NCSE previously reported. The Wyoming state
board of education subsequently declined to develop a new set of
science standards independent of the NGSS. Despite the legislature’s
decision, local school districts are free to adopt the NGSS, and about
fifteen (of forty-eight) have reportedly done so.

The National Journal (January 26, 2015) reported that critics of the
bill complained that teaching climate science disparages fossil fuel
production, a staple of Wyoming’s economy. But John Patton (R-District
29), the sponsor of the bill, replied, “It’s not against the economy,”
adding, “Working for knowledge … that is progressive, that is what
we are in the state of Wyoming. This state is very, very proud of its
educational system. It’s not broken.”

For the text of Wyoming’s House Bill 23 (PDF), visit:

For the stories in the Casper Star-Tribune and the National Journal, visit:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Wyoming, visit:


A Montana legislator, Clayton Fiscus (R-District 46), is preparing to
introduce a bill purporting to “emphasize critical thinking in
instruction related to controversial scientific theories on the origin
of life” such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life,
random mutation, natural selection, DNA, and fossil discoveries.”

When introduced, the bill is expected to be the fifth antiscience bill
of 2015, following on the heels of Missouri’s House Bill 486,
Indiana’s Senate Bill 562, Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 665, and South
Dakota’s Senate Bill 114. All four bills are broadly similar to
Tennessee’s “monkey law,” enacted over the protests of the state’s
scientific and educational communities in 2012.

Bill draft LC1324 contains a preamble, which invokes “academic
freedom,” the lack of scientific agreement, and “critical thinking” in
support of the draft bill’s provisions, and five sections, of which
the first is the most substantive. Claiming that “some teachers may be
unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present
information on these subjects,” the draft bill in its first section
encourages state and local education administrators “to assist
teachers in finding effective ways to present the science curriculum
as it addresses scientific controversies” and forbids them to prohibit
teachers from presenting “the scientific strengths and weaknesses of
existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” The
remaining sections of the draft bill integrate it with existing state
code and provide that it will take effect on passage and approval.

The draft bill is almost identical to Montana’s House Bill 183 in
2013. As NCSE previously reported, in 2012, Fiscus, then a new member
of the Montana House of Representatives, asked for a bill to be
drafted that would “[r]equire public schools to teach intelligent
design along with evolution”; HB 183 was the result.

HB 183 was tabled after receiving a hearing in the House Education
Committee in January 2013. Over twenty people attending the hearing,
including scientists, teachers, theologians, school board members, and
concerned parents, testified against the bill; none testified for it.
Highlights from the hearing are available on NCSE’s YouTube channel.

For the text of bill draft LC1324, visit:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Montana, visit:


Senate Bill 665, styled the Oklahoma Science Education Act, is the
third antiscience bill of the year. SB 665 would, if enacted, in
effect encourage science teachers with idiosyncratic opinions to teach
anything they pleased — proponents of creationism and climate change
denial are the usual intended beneficiaries of such bills — and
discourage responsible educational authorities from intervening. No
scientific topics are specifically identified as controversial, but
the fact that the sole sponsor of SB 665 is Josh Brecheen (R-District
6), who introduced similar legislation that directly targeted
evolution in previous legislative sessions, is suggestive.

SB 665 would require state and local educational authorities to
“assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science
curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies” and permit
teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique and review in
an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses
of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught”;
it would prevent such authorities from “prohibit[ing] any teacher in a
public school district in this state from helping students understand,
analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific
strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in
the course being taught.”

In late 2010, Brecheen announced his intention to file antievolution
legislation in the Durant Daily Democrat (December 19, 2010):
“Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors
are being ignored. … Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown,
without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and
unacceptable.” In a later column in the newspaper (December 24, 2010),
he indicated that his intention was to have creationism presented as
scientifically credible, writing, “I have introduced legislation
requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate
of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which
conflicts with Darwin’s religion.”

What Brecheen in fact introduced in 2011, Senate Bill 554, combined a
version of the now familiar “academic freedom” language — referring
to “the scientific strengths [and] scientific weaknesses of
controversial topics … [which] include but are not limited to
biological origins of life and biological evolution” — with a
directive for the state board of education to adopt “standards and
curricula” that echo the flawed portions of the state science
standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of
science and evolution. SB 554 died in committee. In 2012, Brecheen
took a new tack with Senate Bill 1742, modeled in part on the
so-called Louisiana Science Education Act; SB 1742 likewise died in

In 2013, Brecheen modified his approach again. Senate Bill 758
followed the lead of Tennessee’s “monkey law” (as it was nicknamed by
House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh), enacted (as Tenn. Code Ann.
49-6-1030) over the protests of the state’s scientific and educational
communities in 2012. The major difference is that SB 758 omitted the
monkey law’s statement of legislative findings, which cites
“biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming,
and human cloning” as among the topics that “can cause controversy”
when taught in the science classroom of the public schools. The bill
died in the Senate Education Committee.

In 2014, Brecheen introduced the virtually identical SB 1765. Like SB
758, it died in the Senate Education Committee, but not before
eliciting opposition from the American Institute of Biological
Sciences, which described the bill as “bad for science and bad for
science education,” and the National Association of Biology Teachers,
which warned that it “could easily permit non-science based
discussions of ‘strengths and weaknesses’ to take place in science
classrooms, confusing students about the nature of science.” Since
Brecheen’s latest effort, SB 665, is virtually identical to SB 758 in
2013 and SB 1765 in 2014, it is sure to provoke a similar reaction.

For the text of Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 665 as introduced (document), visit:

For the statements from AIBS and NABT, visit:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit:


NCSE is pleased to announce that the latest issue of Reports of the
National Center for Science Education is now available on-line. The
issue — volume 35, number 1 — contains Andrew Hughes and Randy
Moore’s “Measuring William Bell Riley’s Anti-Evolution Crusade in
Minnesota”; Elise K. Burton’s “Darwinian Ideas in the Middle East:
Marwa Elshakry’s Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950”; and Kyrillus
Samaan Shohdy and Meena Beshir’s “Scorn, Not Just Rejection: Attitudes
toward Evolution in Egypt.” And for his regular People and Places
column, Randy Moore discusses the philosopher David Hume.

Plus a host of reviews of books on topics in biology: Andrew A. Farke
reviews Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus, Daniel Loxton reviews
Robert T. Bakker’s The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs, David R.
Schwimmer reviews Paul D. Taylor and Aaron O’Dea’s A History of Life
in 100 Fossils, Wenda Trevathan reviews Robert L. Perlman’s Evolution
and Medicine, Marvalee H. Wake reviews The Princeton Guide to
Evolution edited by Jonathan B. Losos, and Marlene Zuk reviews Ullica
Segerstrale’s Nature’s Oracle.

All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in
PDF form from http://reports.ncse.com. Members of NCSE will shortly be
receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 35:1, which, in
addition to summaries of the on-line material, contains news from the
membership, a regular column in which NCSE staffers offer personal
reports on what they’ve been doing to defend the teaching of
evolution, a regular column interviewing NCSE’s favorite people, and
more besides. (Not a member? Join today!)

For the table of contents for RNCSE 35:1, visit:

For information about joining NCSE, visit:


NCSE is pleased to congratulate David Morrison, who received the 2015
Education Prize from the American Astronomical Society.

According to a January 16, 2015, press release, the honor recognized
“a lifetime of outstanding contributions to the understanding of
astronomy by college students and the public and to the debunking of
astronomical pseudoscience through his textbooks, popular books, slide
sets, websites, articles, public talks, and work with the media. As
the primary spokesperson for the scientific response to public fears
of a doomsday on 21 December 2012, Morrison exemplified the dedication
of scientists who devote themselves to sharing their knowledge and
enthusiasm with the public while maintaining the highest standards of
technical accuracy.”

A member of NCSE’s Advisory Council, Morrison is director of the Carl
Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute.

For the press release from the American Astronomical Society, visit:

And for NCSE’s Advisory Council, visit:


It’s time to dust off your Darwin costume again: less than two weeks
remain before Darwin Day 2015! Colleges and universities, schools,
libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks
across the country — and the world — are preparing to celebrate
Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of
Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only
to celebrate Darwin’s birthday but also to engage in public outreach
about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education —
which is especially needed with assaults on evolution education
already under way in state legislatures. NCSE encourages its members
and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day
events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the
websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin
Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (And
don’t forget to register your own event with the Darwin Day
Celebration website!)

And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of
congregations all over the country and around the world are taking
part in Evolution Weekend, February 13-15, 2015, by presenting sermons
and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science.
Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, “Evolution
Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the
relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to
elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic — to
move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that
religious people from many faiths and locations understand that
evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.
Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it
clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and
science are creating a false dichotomy.” At last count, 403
congregations in forty-five states (and twelve foreign countries) were
scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.

For the Darwin Day registry, visit:

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:


Have you been visiting NCSE’s blog, The Science League of America,
recently? If not, then you’ve missed:

* A series of guest posts from five eminent scientists — Rudolf Raff,
David P. Mindell, David W. Deamer, Randolph M. Nesse, and Douglas J.
Futuyma — discussing ideas they wish they had had or discoveries they
wish they had made:

* Steve Newton contemplating the possibility of extraterrestrial climate crises:

* Glenn Branch identifying the pseudonymous Professor von Flussen of
Headquarters Nights:

* Stephanie Keep berating the Daily Mail for a misconception-laden
report on evolutionary biology:

And much more besides!

For The Science League of America, visit:

Thanks for reading. And don’t forget to visit NCSE’s website —
http://ncse.com — where you can always find the latest news on
evolution and climate education and threats to them.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x303
fax: 510-601-7204

Check out NCSE’s new blog, Science League of America:

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

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