Commentary on PRI's Docent Guide
Training Volunteers to Combat Creationism
20, 2005: Dover, PA Verdict Released
22, 2005: AAAS:
Dover Decision is Good for Long-Term Economic and Scientific Strength
26, 2005: Museums
Answer Critics of Evolution
Challenged By Creationists, Museums Answer Back by Cornelia Dean
The New York Times, September 20, 2005
ITHACA, N.Y. - Lenore
Durkee, a retired biology professor, was volunteering as a docent at the
Museum of the Earth here when she was confronted by a group of seven or
eight people, creationists eager to challenge the museum exhibitions on
Eugenie C. Scott,
who directs the National Center for Science Education and is conducting
training sessions for Dr. Diamond's program, said that within the last
year or so efforts to train museum personnel and volunteers on evolution
and related topics had substantially increased. "This seems to be
a cottage industry now," Dr. Scott said. Robert M. West, a paleontologist
and former science museum director who is now a consultant to museums,
said several institutions were intensifying the docents' training "so
they are comfortable with the concepts, not just the material but the
intellectual, philosophical background - and they know their administrations
are going to support them if someone criticizes them."
At the Denver science
museum, the staff and docents often encounter groups from B.C. Tours,
which for 15 years has offered tours of the museum based on literal readings
of the Bible. The group embraces young-earth creationism, the view that
the earth and its plants, animals and people were created in a matter
of days a few thousand years ago. "We present both sides from an
objective perspective and let the students decide for themselves,"
said Rusty Carter, an operator of the group. Mr. Carter praised the museum,
saying it had been "very professional and accommodating, even though
they do not support us." A typical group might have 30 or 40 people,
he added. Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist who is the chief curator at the
museum, was philosophical about the group. "It's interesting to walk
along with them," he said. Participants pay the admission fee and
have as much right as anyone else to be in the museum, Dr. Johnson said,
but sometimes "we have to restrain our docents from interacting with
Evolution? Is It 'Just a Theory'?
Once it was the left who wanted to redefine science.
In the early 1990's, writers like the Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel and the French philosopher Bruno Latour proclaimed "the end of objectivity." The laws of science were constructed rather than discovered, some academics said; science was just another way of looking at the world, a servant of corporate and military interests. Everybody had a claim on truth.
The right defended the traditional notion of science back then. Now it is the right that is trying to change it.
On Tuesday, fueled by the popular opposition to the Darwinian theory of evolution, the Kansas State Board of Education stepped into this fraught philosophical territory. In the course of revising the state's science standards to include criticism of evolution, the board promulgated a new definition of science itself.
The changes in the official state definition are subtle and lawyerly, and involve mainly the removal of two words: "natural explanations." But they are a red flag to scientists, who say the changes obliterate the distinction between the natural and the supernatural that goes back to Galileo and the foundations of science.
The old definition reads in part, "Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us." The new one calls science "a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena."
Adrian Melott, a physics professor at the University of Kansas who has long been fighting Darwin's opponents, said, "The only reason to take out 'natural explanations' is if you want to open the door to supernatural explanations."
Gerald Holton, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, said removing those two words and the framework they set means "anything goes."
The authors of these changes say that presuming the laws of science can explain all natural phenomena promotes materialism, secular humanism, atheism and leads to the idea that life is accidental. Indeed, they say in material online at kansasscience2005.com, it may even be unconstitutional to promulgate that attitude in a classroom because it is not ideologically "neutral."
But many scientists say that characterization is an overstatement of the claims of science. The scientist's job description, said Steven Weinberg, a physicist and Nobel laureate at the University of Texas, is to search for natural explanations, just as a mechanic looks for mechanical reasons why a car won't run.
"This doesn't mean that they commit themselves to the view that this is all there is," Dr. Weinberg wrote in an e-mail message. "Many scientists (including me) think that this is the case, but other scientists are religious, and believe that what is observed in nature is at least in part a result of God's will."
The opposition to evolution, of course, is as old as the theory itself. "This is a very long story," said Dr. Holton, who attributed its recent prominence to politics and the drive by many religious conservatives to tar science with the brush of materialism.
How long the Kansas changes will last is anyone's guess. The state board tried to abolish the teaching of evolution and the Big Bang in schools six years ago, only to reverse course in 2001.
As it happened, the Kansas vote last week came on the same day that voters in Dover, Pa., ousted the local school board that had been sued for introducing the teaching of intelligent design.
As Dr. Weinberg noted, scientists and philosophers have been trying to define science, mostly unsuccessfully, for centuries.
When pressed for a definition of what they do, many scientists eventually fall back on the notion of falsifiability propounded by the philosopher Karl Popper. A scientific statement, he said, is one that can be proved wrong, like "the sun always rises in the east" or "light in a vacuum travels 186,000 miles a second." By Popper's rules, a law of science can never be proved; it can only be used to make a prediction that can be tested, with the possibility of being proved wrong.
But the rules get fuzzy in practice. For example, what is the role of intuition in analyzing a foggy set of data points? James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Toronto, said in an e-mail message: "It's the widespread belief that so-called scientific method is a clear, well-understood thing. Not so." It is learned by doing, he added, and for that good examples and teachers are needed.
One thing scientists agree on, though, is that the requirement of testability excludes supernatural explanations. The supernatural, by definition, does not have to follow any rules or regularities, so it cannot be tested. "The only claim regularly made by the pro-science side is that supernatural explanations are empty," Dr. Brown said.
The redefinition by the Kansas board will have nothing to do with how science is performed, in Kansas or anywhere else. But Dr. Holton said that if more states changed their standards, it could complicate the lives of science teachers and students around the nation.
He added that Galileo - who started it all, and paid the price - had "a wonderful way" of separating the supernatural from the natural. There are two equally worthy ways to understand the divine, Galileo said. "One was reverent contemplation of the Bible, God's word," Dr. Holton said. "The other was through scientific contemplation of the world, which is his creation.
"That is the
view that I hope the Kansas school board would have adopted."
and It's Discontents, by Kenneth Chang
ADDITIONS TO KANSAS
RESPONSE OF MAINSTREAM
RESPONSE OF MAINSTREAM
ADDITIONS TO KANSAS
RESPONSE OF MAINSTREAM
The term "irreducibly complex" is used by Michael Behe, a professor of biology at Lehigh University who is one of the main proponents of intelligent design, but is not used by other biologists.
ADDITIONS TO KANSAS
RESPONSE OF MAINSTREAM
Pope on Creation, by the Associated Press
Benedict's comments, made during his general audience on Wednesday, were published Thursday.
The pope focused on
scriptural readings that said God's love was seen in the "marvels
of creation." He quoted St. Basil the Great as saying that some people,
"fooled by the atheism that they carry inside of them, imagine a
universe free of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance."
Decisive Election in a Town Roiled by Intelligent Design, by Laurie
On Tuesday, the residents of Dover ousted all eight school board members running for re-election who had put their town in a global spotlight and their school district on trial for being the first in the nation to introduce intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in science class. In swept the full Dover Cares slate of eight candidates, which had coalesced to oppose the change in the science curriculum.
"I think the people of Dover are tired of the attention over such a minuscule thing and they want a change," said Lonny Langione, who had served on the board in years past and supported the challengers. "A lot of the people I talked to were upset because the school board came to using taxpayer money to advance their own agenda."
Before it took up intelligent design, Dover was a typical American town experiencing typical growing pains: family farmers selling out to developers, fields sprouting McMansions, crowded classrooms, S.U.V.'s speeding down roads built for tractors.
By wading into the great reawakening of a national debate over the teaching of evolution, the town of Dover was diverted from bread-and-butter issues, and found itself divided in surprising ways.
The lines were not neatly drawn. Christians who belonged to the same church found themselves on opposite sides. Fathers quarreled with sons. Next-door neighbors posted dueling lawn signs. Registered Republicans cast their party affiliations aside to run with the victorious Dover Cares slate when election rules forced all eight of its candidates to run on the Democratic line.
Voters themselves crossed party lines to vote for the candidates they favored. If they had not, the school board incumbents, all of whom ran on the Republican line, would probably have prevailed in a district where 70 percent of voters are registered Republicans.
In the end, the election was close. Only 26 votes separated the winner of one seat from his rival.
"I'm surprised that we won all eight seats," said the Rev. Warren Eshbach, the spokesman for Dover Cares, whose son, Robert, was among the winners. "It shows what good bipartisanship can do."
The incumbents did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The election came only four days after closing arguments in a six-week trial of the Dover school board and administrators in Federal District Court in Harrisburg, about 25 miles to the northeast. Eleven parents had sued the Dover board on constitutional grounds, saying that intelligent design was an outgrowth of religious creationism. The case will be decided by Judge John E. Jones III, who said he expected to rule by early January.
The majority of voters rejected the board's argument that it was only trying to expose students to a variety of theories about the development of organisms. The policy did not tell teachers to teach intelligent design, just to mention it in a statement to be read to students.
The statement said that evolution is "not a fact" and that students can explore intelligent design by reading "Of Pandas and People" in the school library.
The debate over Darwin versus intelligent design has played out in places like Myers Barbershop, where the owner, Barry Myers, has been trimming the hair of Dover residents for 37 years.
"I just don't think we got here by some Big Bang," said Mr. Myers, who said he voted for the incumbents. "I think if they have the right people to teach it, it should be taught."
Teaching intelligent design, he said, would help bring a "moral compass" to the classroom.
His son, Matt Myers, 34, expressed a decidedly different view, saying: "I'm glad the board's been voted out. I don't think science teachers are qualified to teach intelligent design."
Matt Myers said intelligent design should be offered as an elective, a position advocated by several Dover Cares candidates.
The campaign was hard fought and at times nasty. Board members sent out a mass mailing accusing the Dover Cares slate of allying with the American Civil Liberties Union, a group, it said in the mailing, that had also defended terrorists and the North American Man/Boy Love Association. The A.C.L.U. is representing the plaintiffs against the board.
Bryan Rehm, a member of the Dover Cares slate and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, "That's the level they were willing to sink to."
The suit will not
be affected by the election in the short term, lawyers involved in it
said. The judge must still issue a ruling on the intelligent design policy
as it stands. But the new school board, which takes office in early December,
could decide to revoke the current policy.
Board Approves Challenges to Evolution, by Jodie Wilgoren
The standards move beyond the broad mandate for critical analysis of evolution that four other states have established in recent years, by recommending that schools teach specific points that doubters of evolution use to undermine its primacy in science education.
Among the most controversial changes was a redefinition of science itself, so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations.
The vote was a watershed victory for the emerging movement of intelligent design, which posits that nature alone cannot explain life's complexity. John G. West of the Discovery Institute, a conservative research organization that promotes intelligent design, said Kansas now had "the best science standards in the nation."
A leading defender of evolution, Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science Education, said she feared that the standards would become a "playbook for creationism."
The vote came six years after Kansas shocked the scientific and political world by stripping its curriculum standards of virtually any mention of evolution, a move reversed in 2001 after voters ousted several conservative members of the education board.
A new conservative majority took hold in 2004 and promptly revived arguments over the teaching of evolution. The ugly and highly personal nature of the debate was on display at the Tuesday meeting, where board members accused one other of dishonesty and disingenuousness.
"This is a sad day, not just for Kansas kids, but for Kansas," Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan., one of four dissenting board members, said before the vote. "We're becoming a laughingstock not only of the nation but of the world."
Ms. Waugh and her allies contended that the board's majority was improperly injecting religion into biology classrooms. But supporters of the new standards said they were simply trying to open the curriculum, and students' minds, to alternative viewpoints.
There is little debate among mainstream scientists over evolution's status as the bedrock of biology, but a small group of academics who support intelligent design have fervently pushed new critiques of Darwin's theory in recent years.
Kenneth Willard, a board member from Hutchinson, said, "I'm very pleased to be maybe on the front edge of trying to bring some intellectual honesty and integrity to the science classroom rather than asking students to check their questions at the door because it is a challenge to the sanctity of evolution."
Steve E. Abrams of Arkansas City, the board chairman and chief sponsor of the new standards, said that requiring consideration of evolution's critics "absolutely teaches more about science."
The board approved the standards pending editing to comply with a demand from two national science groups that their copyrighted material be removed from the standards document because of its approach to evolution.
When Sue Gamble, a board member opposed to the standards, questioned the wisdom of voting on an unfinished document, calling it "a pig in a poke," Mr. Abrams dismissed the concern, saying, "It's immaterial because you're not going to vote for it anyway."
Indeed, when it was time to raise hands, the four self-described moderate board members cast nay ballots in unison.
Their protest was echoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who called the vote "the latest in a series of troubling decisions" by the board.
"If we're going to continue to bring high-tech jobs to Kansas and move our state forward," Ms. Sebelius said in a statement, "we need to strengthen science standards, not weaken them. Stronger public schools ought to be the mission of the Board of Education, and it's time they got down to the real business of strengthening Kansas schools."
Kansas' move comes a week after the conclusion of a trial in which parents sued the school board in Dover, Pa., over the district's inclusion of intelligent design in the ninth-grade biology curriculum. The two debates have led a swell of evolution skirmishes in 20 states this year.
Local school districts in Kansas, as in most states, choose textbooks and set the curriculum, but the standards provide a blueprint by outlining what will be covered on state science tests, given every other year in grades 4, 7 and 10. The new standards emerged as part of a routine review and would take effect in 2007, presuming next year's elections do not shift the balance on the board and result in another reversal.
Though the standards do not specifically require or prohibit discussion of intelligent design, they adopt much of the movement's language, mentioning gaps in the fossil record and a lack of evidence for the "primordial soup" as ideas that students should consider.
The other states that call for critical analysis of evolution - Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania - do so only in broad strokes, in some cases as part of a standard scientific process.
"They've given a green light to any creationist throughout the state to bring these issues into the classroom," said Jack Krebs, a Kansas science teacher and dissenting member of the standards-writing committee. "Science teachers are not prepared for that discussion and don't want it, because they've got plenty of science to teach."
John Calvert, a lawyer who runs the Intelligent Design Network, based in Kansas, praised the board as "taking a very courageous step" that would "make science education interesting to students rather than boring."
In the standing-room-only crowd in the small board room for Tuesday's session were two dozen high school students fulfilling an assignment for government class by attending the public meeting. They shook their heads at the decision.
"We're glad we're
seniors," said Hannah Teeter, 17, from Shawnee Mission West, a high
school in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City. "I feel bad for
all the kids that are younger than us that they have to be taught things
that aren't science in science class."
Slate Outpolls Rivals,
by Laurie Goodstein
The election results were a repudiation of the first school district in the nation to order the introduction of intelligent design in a science class curriculum. The policy was the subject of a trial in Federal District Court that ended last Friday. A verdict by Judge John E. Jones III is expected by early January.
"I think voters were tired of the trial, they were tired of intelligent design, they were tired of everything that this school board brought about," said Bernadette Reinking, who was among the winners.
The election will not alter the facts on which the judge must decide the case. But if the intelligent design policy is defeated in court, the new school board could refuse to pursue an appeal. It could also withdraw the policy, a step that many challengers said they intended to take.
"We are all for it being discussed, but we do not want to see it in biology class," said Judy McIlvaine, a member of the winning slate. "It is not a science."
The vote counts were close, but of the 16 candidates the one with the fewest votes was Mr. Bonsell, the driving force behind the intelligent design policy. Testimony at the trial revealed that Mr. Bonsell had initially insisted that creationism get equal time in the classroom with evolution.
One incumbent, James Cashman, said he would contest the vote because a voting machine in one precinct recorded no votes for him, while others recorded hundreds.
He said that school spending and a new teacher contract, not intelligent design, were the determining issues. "We ran a very conservative school board, and obviously there are people who want to see more money spent," he said.
One board member, Heather Geesey, was not up for re-election.
The school board voted in October 2004 to require ninth grade biology students to hear a brief statement at the start of the semester saying that there were "gaps" in the theory of evolution, that intelligent design was an alternative and that students could learn more about it by reading a textbook "Of Pandas and People," available in the high school library.
The board was sued
by 11 Dover parents who contended that intelligent design was religious
creationism in new packaging, and that the board was trying to impose
its religion on students. The parents were represented by lawyers from
the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, and a private law firm, Pepper Hamilton LLP.
LAWRENCE, Kansas (Reuters) - At the new "Explore Evolution" museum exhibit in Kansas, visitors pass a banner showing the face of a girl next to the face of a chimpanzee for a lesson on how the two are "cousins in life's family tree."
They can also study DNA under a 4-foot-tall double helix model, peruse fossil record research, and examine how advancements in treating modern-day diseases require an understanding of the evolution of cell structures.
Curators of the exhibit, which opened Tuesday at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, hope their work provides a counterweight to the anti-evolution sentiment sweeping their state and the country. Sister exhibits, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, are opening in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan.
"People just don't understand how science works. We need to better inform them about what science is," said Teresa MacDonald, director of education for the university's Natural History Museum, which opened the exhibit Tuesday.
But on November 8, state education officials in Kansas are poised to do what many scientists see as just the opposite.
Led by a conservative Christian chairman who says evolutionary theory is incompatible with the biblical account of God's creation of life on earth, the Kansas Board of Education plans to insert questions about the veracity of evolution theory into statewide teaching standards.
The action has outraged scientists across the nation and both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have refused Kansas' request to use their copyrighted material.
The Kansas board made a similar, but more aggressive effort to weaken evolution instruction in 1999. But a public backlash ultimately led to the reversal of those actions.
EVOLUTION UNDER ATTACK
Now, the new Kansas standards, which outline what teachers should teach and test on, leave evolutionary principles in the curriculum but insert phrasing that encourages students to question their validity. The standards also delete certain text about how science is defined.
"The stakes are high," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. "If Kansas gets away with it ... I anticipate that in every state where science standards are up for revision, we are going to be fighting another battle."
Efforts to undermine evolution instruction have also been seen in Michigan, Kentucky, Georgia and elsewhere.
And one key case was being tested in court this week in Pennsylvania, where a group of parents sued the Dover Area School Board because teachers had been ordered to tell biology students that the theory of evolution is not established fact.
The Pennsylvania school officials introduced students to an alternative theory known as "intelligent design," which holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, such as God, rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.
Intelligent design, or ID, proponents have also been active in pressing for the changes in Kansas, but school board members there stopped short of including intelligent design ideas in the state standards.
"ID is making enormous progress," said John Calvert, a Kansas City lawyer and ID proponent. "Is it going to happen overnight? No. Is it going to happen? Yes."
Calvert said museum exhibits such as the one in Lawrence are flawed because they ask visitors to believe humans evolved randomly, with no specific purpose or design by a higher power - a theory polls show a majority of Americans do not believe.
But evolution supporters say religion has no valid role in a science class.
"This is all
based on establishing a theocracy within our system," said Sue Gamble,
a member of the Kansas School Board who opposes changing the science standards.
"We said we didn't want to do that when we established our country.
This should not be happening."
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Educated as a geologist in her native Hungary, Eniko Farkas knows, understands and firmly believes in the science behind evolution.
Still, she was caught off guard last year when a visitor to the Museum of the Earth where she volunteers angrily confronted her, denouncing evolution and insisting the museum teach creationism instead.
"I had a difficult time getting out of the situation," said Farkas, a retired Cornell University librarian and volunteer at the museum for the past seven years. "It got personal and very negative, and I got so flustered and frustrated that I know I didn't make much sense trying to explain myself."
With challenges to the theory of evolution becoming more widespread - and sometimes hostile - museum director Warren Allmon developed a special workshop and a 13-page guide book to help volunteers and staff answer questions about evolution, creationism and intelligent design.
"This is not a defensive reaction, or an attempt to change anyone's mind," said Allmon. "It's just that we find most people are uninformed about evolution, or have been given misinformation."
Since running the first workshop in July, Allmon said the museum has received more than 70 calls from other small museums and organizations around the country. Nearly 100 people attended the first two workshops, including members of the public.
The guide provides information on the scientific method (using observations about the natural world and the rules of logic to test hypotheses), the theory of evolution, creationism and intelligent design.
It also offers a script for how to answer frequently raised challenges, such as, "Is it true that there is lots of evidence against evolution?" Answer: "No. Essentially all available data and observations from the natural world support the hypothesis of evolution. No serious biologist or geologist today doubts whether evolution occurred."
The Wildlife Conservation Society wants to adapt the guide to better suit the needs of zoo docents, said Karen Tingley, curator of education at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn. She attended a session Dec. 15.
"Zoos and aquariums have the unique opportunity to educate people about the science behind the theory of evolution and how that theory plays out right before their eyes in the variety of species in our parks," Tingley said.
Evolutionary theory holds that all organisms are connected by genealogy and have changed through time driven by several processes, including natural selection.
Creationists believe the Earth and all life were created by God. Intelligent design advocates argue that that life is so well-ordered and "irreducibly complex" that it must have been created by a higher power _ an argument evolution supporters say is merely repackaged creationism.
The issue erupted in the courts Tuesday when a judge rejected a Pennsylvania school board's plan to teach intelligent design in high school biology classes. In a sharp rebuke of the school board, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled that intelligent design is not science but religion in disguise.
As the rift has deepened, efforts to train museum staff on evolution and related topics have increased, said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, a group that defends teaching evolution in public schools.
Judy Diamond, curator of public programs at the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln, used a National Science Foundation grant to develop an evolution exhibition for display at six museums in the Midwest. The program includes training for docents and staff.
"We not only go over the kinds of questions, concerns and issues that they might face, but also some insights into how people think about these issues," Diamond said.
In Kansas _ where the debate is loudest _ museum officials said growing opposition to Charles Darwin's theory has required more staff training. At the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, museum workers find brochures in restrooms at least once a month promoting creationism over evolution.
John Calvert, a managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, said any improved dialogue is welcome because "the problem with museum exhibits is what they don't say ... only one side of the science is presented. No other possibilities are allowed to compete."
The nation's leading natural history museums, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and The Field Museum in Chicago, have not found it necessary to offer special training to staff and volunteers yet, officials said.
"People are entitled
to think what they want to think. We tell our explainers they are not
there to debate visitors," said Stephen Reichl, a spokesman for the
American Natural History Museum in New York City, which is currently running
a major exhibit on Darwin through May 2006.
When talking to visitors about evolution, the guide book advises, "don't avoid using the word," and rehearse answers because "you'll be more comfortable when you sound like you know what you're talking about."
If challenged, Allmon instructs guides to listen respectfully, be firm and clear in their answers but don't get defensive.
If all else fails and a confrontation erupts, the book gives docents several ways to end the conversation, including telling the visitor: "This is a place to talk about science, not philosophy, religion or politics."
As a final note, the book tells guides that they cannot "win" against a convinced creationist.
"The most you
can hope for is a respectful exchange of views," it says.
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