ASA News Releases

Dennis Feucht (
Thu, 4 Sep 1997 11:30:40 -0400


I have recently talked with a lady who has spoken to our local school board
about alleged errors in the high-school biology textbook. She presented a
document to the Board, with numerous citations, many from ICR/young-earth
creationist sources. She has not heard of either ASA, Phillip Johnson or
outspoken ASAers dealing with creation-evolution. I sent her copious
amounts of relevant material.
She seems open to dealing with evolutionism in schools from other than only
a young-earth approach. I recommended to her that she focus on Darwinism as
materialist philosophy and not try to push young earth. She seemed to see
the value of keeping to a single issue.

I have prepared a news release prompted by this event. (Our unresponsive
school board needs to be awakened by media attention over much more than
this.) ASA leadership has raised the question of doing news releases, and I
might be taking that on as part of the Newsletter editing task.

I ask of you:

1. Have you any comments on the release? Refinements are welcomed before I
release this to local media.

2. Have you any opinions about the general idea of ASA news releases?


Dennis Feucht

{ASA Newsletter logo here}
14554 Maplewood Road Townville, Pennsylvania 16360 (814) 789-2100


American Scientific Affiliation Newsletter
Dennis L. Feucht, Editor
14554 Maplewood Road
Townville, Pennsylvania 16360

Dr. Donald Munro, Executive Director
American Scientific Affiliation
P.O. Box 668
Ipswich, Massachusetts 01938

September 3, 1997

Evolutionism Is Now Local Issue

The battle over evolutionism in schools has become local, moving from
federal courts and state legislatures to school districts. And it has
arrived in the Penncrest School District of northwest Pennsylvania in the
form of a complaint to the Penncrest Board that the tenth-grade biology
textbook contains factual errors. Kellie Culbertson of Saegertown presented
references to other material that refutes statements quoted from the
biology book. She also offered suggestions on how to address the problem,
such as putting in the books a message taken from the Alabama State Board
of Education.

Alabama has required that a one-page disclaimer be placed inside the
front-cover of high-school biology textbooks, alerting the student that
"This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists
present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such
as plants, animals and humans." The message points out the different
meanings of the word evolution, raises some unanswered questions about the
origin of life and encourages the student to 'Study hard and keep an open

What has fueled the controversy are broad claims by established science
organizations, such as the official Statement of the National Association
of Biology Teachers on teaching evolution. Two years ago, the NABT endorsed
the view that evolution is "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and
natural process," a claim that clashes with the view that a purposive and
intelligent Creator did the creating instead. The NABT recognized that the
issue involves more than science. The opening statement declares that
"Evolutionary theory, indeed all of science, is necessarily silent on
religion and neither refutes nor supports the existence of a diety or

The Statement, however, neither addresses what bothers its opponents, nor
why religion is even relevant to the NABT's defense of Darwinian evolution.
Biblical theists disturbed by Darwinism ordinarily pay far less attention
to other areas of science. Their underlying concern is that Darwinism is
materialistic religion masquerading as science. The Statement concedes that
students can believe whatever they want about religion as long as they
learn the "scientific foundations of evolution." But if evolution "has no
purpose in mind" for us, as British biologist Richard Dawkins proclaims,
then a religion of purposelessness is being legally forced upon school
students. As long as the Darwinian view stands in opposition to notions of
a Creator, it offers an alternative in the same category as the religion it
attempts to replace. Dawkin's Blind Watchmaker functions as a different

Yet both sides have confused critical issues that only now are being sorted
out. A failure to define key words confuses the debate. What "evolution" is
depends on whom you ask. Definitions in the scientific literature range
from "change over time," which is uncontroversial, to the idea that "Man is
the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in
mind." (G. Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution) This year, a bill that failed
in North Carolina's legislature to teach evolution "as a scientific theory,
not as a proven fact" also failed to define "evolution." John Wiester,
chairman of the Science Education Commission of the American Scientific
Affiliation of Ipswich, Massachusetts, an organization of scientists who
discuss the relationship of science and religion, was in North Carolina to
lay the groundwork for a better bill.

Wiester, a geologist, has pointed out that the meaning of "evolution" among
leading science popularizers and educators is that of a materialist
worldview. For example, science educator E. Peter Volpe, at the first
Science As a Way of Knowing symposium, part of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science's goal to make all Americans scientifically
literate by the year 2061, complains that even after a year of introductory
college biology, "our college students have not appreciated the potentially
profound implications of Darwinism for developing a comprehensive view of
human nature." Or perhaps they have. Volpe further insists that science
educators replace their naive religious mind-set with the "scientific" view
that humans are "simply an animal ... an incidental and fortuitous episode
in the age-long history of life." And with Harvard paleontologist Stephen
J. Gould pronouncing "the cancellation of our 'particular privilege of
having been specially created' (in God's image, no less) ..." (Natural
History, June 1994) it is not surprising that biblical believers regard
such "science" as promoting a religion, one that shows up approved in
science classrooms.

Concerns over science-as-religion has found a new champion in U. C.
Berkeley law professor Phillip E. Johnson, whose just-released book,
Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, gives local community members tools
for ridding science education of what Johnson considers authoritarian
dogma. Johnson's message to scientists and educators is: "History has
taught us that an established religion tends to fall into bad habits, and
that the same thing may be true when a scientific establishment starts to
act like a governmental body with an official ideology to uphold. ... When
you preach baloney detecting as the essential tool of science but make
students turn their baloney detectors off when they get to the really
important questions of origins, you convict yourselves every day of
hypocrisy. You also lose the ability to think critically about your own
beliefs ..."

Johnson is likely to have in mind the advice of his PBS sparring partner,
Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, a
"pro-evolution" school watchdog group, also in Berkeley, California. While
Johnson argues in favor of discussion of the problems with Darwinian theory
in the classroom, so that students can become excited about the challenges
of origins science, Scott considers such an open intellectual climate
counterproductive. She believes that "using creation and evolution as
topics for critical thinking exercises in primary and secondary schools is
virtually guaranteed to confuse students and may lead them to reject one of
the major themes of science." Johnson describes this censorship as
extending into his field of law: "Educators aren't allowed to address the
issues about which their students, and the general public, are most
concerned. When teachers challenge students to think about how their
worldviews affect their understanding of the creation-evolution
controversy, so-called civil liberties lawyers censor the teaching by
threatening to bring a lawsuit that the school district can't afford to

Not all scientists hold a materialistic worldview and equate it with
science. A recent survey of scientists shows that over the last several
decades the same percentage - about 40 % - continue to believe in God. The
American Scientific Affiliation has about 2,500 members who are mainly
evangelical Christians with degrees in science, about half of whom hold
doctorates. ASA released a resolution a few years ago to teach evolution as
science and not as either creationist or materialist ideology. The
resolution was attached to the inside cover of a booklet distributed to all
California high-school biology teachers, called Teaching Science in a
Climate of Controversy. Its purpose is to advise teachers on how to handle
the creation-evolution controversy in the classroom.

Dr. Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania has written a recent best-seller, Darwin's Black Box. Behe
argues for "irreducible complexity," the idea that some complex features of
living organisms, like mouse traps, cannot be made in tiny steps. All of
the pieces of a trap, for example, must be present and in the right
configuration for the trap to work at all. Behe, a biochemist, studies the
molecular-size machinery of life, such as the motors that power flagella,
the hairlike appendages that work mucous upwards in our windpipes. Few
evolutionary biologists remain strict neo-Darwinians (Dawkins is an
exception) because of insurmountable problems with the theory, but will
still defend the "Darwinian mechanism" of random genetic variation acted
upon by natural selection. Johnson argues that this might explain
variations in finch beaks on Hawaii but doesn't tell us how finches came
about in the first place.

The edifice of Darwinism has stood firm for over a century, but cracks
appear to be developing in its base. Serious scientists have proposed
everything from a "hopeful monster mechanism" to alien origins to explain
the existence of life on Earth. Behe has searched for papers in the
scientific literature proposing mechanisms for how life might have started,
and came up empty. These cracks have propagated to the popular educational
level. Perhaps Kellie Culbertson is onto something that will improve
Penncrest science education if the ACLU doesn't think otherwise.