The Danny Phillips Story

Steven M. Smith (
Wed, 22 Apr 1998 02:12:48 -0400

At 08:13 AM 4/21/1998 -0500, Ron Chitwood wrote
(under the "Yet more denigrating of Apologists" thread):

<<Now let me state the story of Danny Phillips - Danny Phillips was a
15 year-old high-school junior in the Denver area who thought for
himself. His class was assigned to watch a NOVA programs, produced
with government funds for National Public Television, which stated the
usual evolutionary story as fact. Its story went something like this:
"the first organized form of primitive life was a tiny protozoan ....
from these one-celled organisms evolved all life on earth."......Danny
knew that this claim of moleculel-to-man evolution goes far beyond the
scientific evidence. So he wrote a lengthy paper criticizing the NOVA
program as propaganda. School administrators at first agreed that
Danny had a point, and they tentatively decided to withdraw the NOVA
program from the curriculum. That set off a media firestorm......The
fact that administrators seriously considered any dissent from
evolutionary naturalism infuriated the Darwinists, who flooded the
DENVER POST newspaper with their letters. Some of the letters were so
venomous that the editorial page editor of the paper admitted that her
liberal faith had been shaken. She wrote that "these defenders of
intellectual freedom behaved, in fact, just like a bunch of
conservative Christians. Their's was a different kind of
fundamentalism, but no less dogmatic and no less intolerant." I had
editorialized the story in the interests of space, found in DEFEATING
DARWINISM BY OPENING MINDS by Phillip Johnson, pp 34.>>

I've just read P. Johnson's book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening
Minds, and was fascinated by his version of the Danny Phillips story.
With equal fascination, I've also read the Institute for Creation
Research version in their Acts & Facts (Sorry I don't have the
reference here today); read the National Center for Science Education
version in their newsletter (again - apologies for lack of a
reference); read most of the Denver Post articles, letters, and
editorials; watched the local TV newscasts; and attended the
definitive Jefferson County School Board meeting. Most of these
sources get the main facts of the story straight, although I might
quibble with a few details. This may be a function of different
witnesses seeing different things. The fascinating part is how each
group interprets what happened!

My interest in this case stems from several factors: (1) Danny
Phillips is a member of the same church denomination as I am although
we attend different congregations. So although I don't know Danny
personally, I do know several people from his church and am concerned
with how our denomination treats evolution and creation issues.
(2) When I was Danny's age, I also was a YEC and wrote high school
term papers defending Christianity from evolutionary influence. I've
since become a geologist and adopted OEC-TE views as necessary to
reconcile my faith and my career. (3) I have 3 children enrolled in
the Jeffco Public Schools and any school board decision on Danny's
case would affect my children as well.

Shortly after I attended (and testified at) the Jeffco School Board
meeting, I wrote a brief description of what happened and sent it to
my pastor. Since Danny's story is becoming a part of the fodder in
the evolution-creation discussions, I thought that I would add my
slant on what happened by contributing parts of that letter (slightly
As I mentioned Sunday, I went to the Jeffco School Board Meeting last
Thursday night (Sept 5). The most controversial item on the agenda
was the NOVA tape called "The Miracle of Life". Danny Phillips, a
Wheatridge sophomore and member of the Lakewood Nazarene church (and
PK) had challenged the use of that video (as well as his biology
textbook) as contrary to his "fundamentalist Christian" beliefs (His
words, not mine). As is the case with all challenged materials, a
panel reviewed the tape and textbook and sent recommendations to the
school board - Keep the book, can the tape. Until the school board
could meet, the Superintendent implemented the panel's

The issue was simply that the first few-minute introduction of that
video presented the idea that life began as simple organisms in the
primordial seas, developed into single celled animals, and eventually
evolved into all other life forms on earth. The remainder of the tape
was about human and animal reproduction showing how cells divide and
fetuses develop.

During the August Board Meeting, a large number of parents and
teachers came forward defending the tape as one of the best available
on Human Reproduction. I was unable to attend since I was in the
field. The Board appointed a group of teachers to again review the
tape and bring back some alternative recommendations. The teachers
recommended keeping the video and produced a 2 page study guide with 3
suggested ways of showing the tape while maintaining a sensitivity
toward other viewpoints. 1) Fast forward the tape beyond the
offending intro; 2) Include the intro but stop the tape just
afterwards for a discussion on various origin viewpoints; 3) Use the
intro as a jumping off place for getting the students to write,
discuss, and defend different scientific and philosophic views of
origin. In addition, the teachers recommended attaching a "warning
label" to the tape stating something like "This tape contains material
on the origin of life which may be offensive to some viewers".

Last Thursday's Meeting was jam packed. Over 300 people showed up
(although a fair number were JCEA members that were there primarily to
support their Union's position in upcoming salary negotiations with
the Board. After their speaker spoke, many of them left or went to
the overflow room to watch the proceedings on close circuit TV. Their
seats were taken by the large number of people who had been standing
against the walls or in the overflow room). After about an hour of
miscellaneous business, the floor was opened to members of the Jeffco
public to address the board on the issues of Evolution/ Creation/
Miracle of Life Video. Since the Board normally limits public input
to 1 hour and since over 60 people had signed up to speak, time was
limited to 1 min. per speaker (It still took 2 hours).

The speakers were about evenly divided between pro-evolution and
pro-creation and ranged the continuum between extremes. People
usually identified themselves as one or more of the following:
scientists, teachers, church members, tax payers, and parents. In
addition, there was local representation from American Atheists,
Taxpayers Union, and Advocates for 1st Amendment Rights. Because of
the short time frame, almost all speakers were assertive and probably
dogmatic. There wasn't time to do anything else.

Danny Phillips spoke and asked the Board to remove the Video and
replace it with other similar tapes that did not contain evolution
concepts. He recommended one currently used by schools in Alabama.
Danny was very articulate and handled himself well. He said that the
issue wasn't one of Creation v. Evolution but that the school had the
obligation to allow alternative views of origin and not dogmatically
assert evolution as fact.

I went to the meeting prepared with a 2-minute speech that stated:
1) I am concerned with local science education because I'm a parent
with 3 children in Jeffco Schools and I'm a geologist with the
USGS that volunteers time to aid in science education in the public
2) I am a Christian that once held Scientific Creationist views and
through education have come to realize that those views are not
scientifically defensible and that Evolution is not contrary to
my faith.
3) Those who take a strict literal interpretation of Genesis and
find statements of evolution offensive, will object not only to
this tape but to many statements and materials dealing with
Biology, Genetics and Medical Research. Because of a commitment
to a 8,000-10,000 year earth, literalists often object to
statements and materials dealing with Geology, Paleontology,
Geochronology, Nuclear Physics, and Astronomy. Because of a
commitment to Old Testament history and culture, they may also
find materials dealing with Anthropology, Social Studies,
Linguistic Origins, and Archeology objectionable. Additionally,
a few Creationists have even objected to Einstein's theory of
Relativity, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and the Speed of
Light Constant.
4) Therefore, removing or modifying the use of a video dealing
primarily with Human Reproduction because of a few objectionable
statements on evolution sets a Board precedence that will not
stop with just evolution.
5) Finally, a plea to the board not to water down all science
education in the County because of the objections of a few based
on their religious beliefs.

Unfortunately with the 1-minute time constraints, I feel that I did a
poor job of condensing my speech. I primarily got to points 1, 2, and
5 and missed the main points (3 & 4) that I wanted to make.

Although my main points were not brought out by any other speakers,
following the time of public comment, one of the Board Members
expressed similar concerns about continuing objections and precedence.
His other concerns included 1) Did the administration want to
guarantee that all teachers would follow the study guide? 2) Would
any teachers face reprimands or termination if they failed to use one
of the 3 methods listed in the study guide? and 3) Did the Board and
Administration really want to set a precedence here that might force
them to apply warning labels to thousands of books and resource
materials as well as create study guides for all materials that might
be objectionable to someone's beliefs? His arguments carried the day
and the Board voted 3 to 1 to retain the tape for classroom use
without adopting the proposed study guide. They also voted
(unanimously) to review the procedure by which challenged curriculum
materials are handled.

--- Steve
[The opinions expressed here are my own and are not to be attributed
to my employer]

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