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Teaching Evolution In Kentucky …And Other Ways To Court The Christian Right

July 25, 2016
Gillicus Inside Xiphactinus. Sometime around 70 million years ago

Gillicus Inside Xiphactinus. Sometime around 70 million years ago. Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Hays Kansas

Reports: Newsletter of the National Center For Science Education

My copy of “Reports” – the quarterly newsletter of the National Center For Science Education (NCSE) came in the mail today. This is the Summer 2016, Volume 36, No. 3. I read it cover-to-cover. Always. It also is available at the Center’s website. In the past I have written about NCSE here on my blog, hoping to familiarize a few more people with its content – its commitment to the idea that American students should learn Darwin’s theory of natural selection (Evolution) and climate change. It has, in a determined yet controlled manner, countered all the (mostly) Christian fundamentalist drivel, garbage that argues against both scientifically valid ideas. Furthermore it has been both a watchdog and activist in trying to preserve the quality of scientific education (ie – evolution and climate change) in the school systems nationwide

Not to learn, be familiar with Darwin’s theory of Evolution through natural selection is to be scientifically illiterate. It is nothing short of the basis for all modern biology. Likewise, to deny the reality of climate change and the threat it represents to life on earth, is nothing short of denying future generations the possibility of a future. Science has – through long and complex observations and shared insights – concluded the reality of both. Through courses in Physical Anthropology, I taught human evolution over the course of thirty years. By the time I stopped teaching it (as I had moved on to the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies) some of the main themes of Climate Change (and global warming) had already entered into my lectures – specifically the period of mass extinctions which was already underway.

James J. Krupa Teaching Evolution in Kentucky: The World Needs More James J. Krupas!

This current issue of the “Reports”contained a number of pieces worth commenting on. I was particularly interested the main story, “Defending Darwin In Kentucky” by James J. Krupa, as for years I was in a similar position. How does he handle the hostility, the stupidity of those pickled in some variation of intellectual formaldehyde? No doubt, it is probably more of a challenge to teach evolution in Kentucky than in Denver, Colorado where the Christian Fundamentalist influence is far more modest. (Although down the road a bit in Colorado Springs, it is much more pronounced). No doubt, Krupa is in much more hostile territory. He pointed out the challenge he faced quite clearly:

“We live in a nation where public acceptance of Evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution – believing that Earth is less than 10,000 years old, or that humans coexisted with (non-avian) dinosaurs. Where I live, evolution is often regarded as synonymous with atheism, leading many to claim that I am teaching heresy to thousands of students, or even as one local pastor suggested, that I was teaching evolution as a non-Christian, alternative religion.”

Krupa went on to divide his students roughly into three groups: one that has already been exposed to Evolution and accept its validity; a second group who had no opinion one way or the other but are open-minded; and finally a third group “whose minds are already sealed shut to the possibility that evolution exists (but need to take the class to fulfill a college requirement). Krupa admits that he tries to reach that second group (with no opinion one way or another) “by presenting them with convincing and overwhelming evidence – without – and this is key – offending or alienating them.” I suppose he means by that, by not being too strident. He goes on to give some examples.

In my teaching, I was frequently presented with similar questions like “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” – and other such brilliant statements. I also had to answer many questions about “intelligent design” – the creationist second line of defense after their biblical arguments are essentially discredited for the rubbish they are.

Let me say how much I appreciate how Krupa goes about teaching Evolution, the respect he tries to show to all of his students and the way, I glean from this article, how he tries to address the questions students ask him, regardless of how silly, how ignorant. It is important to respect the dignity of students one is teaching and to let them, without fear of reprisal (meaning grades), voice their questions, concerns, opposition. It is not easy to do either, believe me. (As I have written elsewhere) I tried to do likewise although I had my “red lines” which were:

Rule 1. No, students couldn’t bring their unregistered (as students) Protestant ministers to class to sit there, smirk and hand out bibles after the lecture. (Happened once)
Rule 2. No, there would be no debates with their pastors over Evolution and Creationism in the classroom. (requested a dozen times, including calls from the ministers themselves)
Rule 3. No, I had no interest, none at all, in debating such types in Christian fundamentalist church outside of class on the question of Human Evolution although I had no qualms about doing so on abortion rights.
Rule 4. (the most important one)…and No, I didn’t give a damn (said of course much more politely) whether they, the students, believed in evolution, however, they had better know the material for the exams . If not, they would flunk. Period.

Mosasaur - Late Cretaceous marine reptile; Dominated the seas 85-66 million years ago.

Mosasaur – Late Cretaceous marine reptile; Dominated the seas 85-66 million years ago. Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Hays, Kansas

Meanwhile, Back at a number of State Legislatures…

The rest of the newsletter was pretty newsy.

Efforts to undercut the teaching of Evolution are alive and well in many states although they have lost some of their punch. Overwhelmingly, those introducing anti-evolutionary, anti-Climate Change legislation emanate from the same political circles that oppose women’s rights to abortion, labor rights, immigrant rights and have big bulges in their pants whenever they hear the word “War.” Here’s a brief, abbreviated rundown

• There was a touching story on Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum in Crosbyton, Texas, opened in 1998 with the motto “Digging Up The Facts of God’s Creation: One fossil at a time.” The musem claims, the article goes on to detail, that “Earth is young, was covered by a worldwide flood a few thousand years ago and has been inhabited by giant humans. Museum owner Joe Taylor claims that the bones of these giant humans are common, but that evolution-based museums refuse to display them because the extinction of giant humans disproves evolution. How’s that for impeccable logic?
• Not to be outdone in its anti-evolutionary fervor by Kentucky or Tennessee, Louisiana continues to defeat any attempt to repeal the state’s “Balanced Treatment of Creation-Science and Evolution” law which is still on the books, this despite a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard which declares the attempts to teach Creationism as a “science” are unconstitutional.
• In Mississippi, still worried that teaching Evolution will destroy moral values (rather than the opposite),  House Bill 50 was introduced by Mark Formby (R-District 108). It would have allowed science teachers “with idiosyncratic opinions” to teach anything they pleased and prohibited authorities from intervening. Formby acknowledged that it was an effort to counter Evolution and Global Warming being taught in Biology classes and that his intention was to enable teachers to teach Creationism in their stead. It died in committee
• An attempt in the Arizona Senate to acknowledge February 12, 2016 as International Darwin Day passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources but was killed in the Senate Health and Human Services and Rules Committees. That was pretty scary, almost recognizing Darwin’s contribution to science!
• Then there is the great state of Idaho where Senate Bill 1321 was introduced. The bill passed through the legislature but was vetoed by Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter (Republican). If implemented Senate Bill 1321 would have permitted the use of the Bible in the state’s public schools “for reference to further the study of a variety of topics, including astronomy, biology [and] geology. The reference to the scientific topis was removed in committee and the bill renumbered Senate Bill 1322 and passed by both houses. In vetoing the bill, Governor Otter said that it violated the state constitution.

And you can read about that and more in this and coming issues of Reports. Click on the NCSE link above for details.


Tennessee Follows Louisiana Into The Evolutionary Depths

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