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Ohio Scientists Join To Support School Board Candidate

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The New York Times reported today on an unusual development in an Ohio election in which 75 professors from Case Western Reserve University entered the political arena by endorsing Tom Sawyer, a candidate for the Ohio Board of Education. Mr. Sawyer is a former mayor of Akron and Congressman.

The scientists were moved to action in the hope of defeating Deborah Owens Fink, "a leading advocate of curriculum standards that encourage students to challenge the theory of evolution." Ohio professors are acting thoughout the state to fight for candidates who support the teaching of science without religious censorship. Physics professor Lawrence M. Krauss was the organizer of the letter and reported nearly 90% of the Case Western science faculty had joined in the signing. They included physicists, chemists, biologists, geologists, and, it was said, psychologists.

When interviewed by the Times, Dr. Krauss said, “This is not some group of fringe scientists or however they are being portrayed by the creationist community. This is the entire scientific community, and I don’t know of any other precedent for almost the entire faculty at an institution” joining in this kind of concerted political effort. Dr. Owens Fink, the other candidate, is a Professor of Marketing at the University of Akron and a registered Republican.

Even back in July, the Ohio School Board debated guidelines to control the teaching, not just of evolutionary science, but other "controversial" subjects such as cloning and global warming. The Americans United For The Separation Of Church And State sent a plea from their Executive Director, Reverend Barry W. Lynn. "Public school students in Ohio deserve sound science education, not religious dogma masquerading as science. It’s time for Religious Right allies on the board to drop their unwise agenda and focus on policies that will benefit all of Ohio’s students."

This type of local and state school board debate is current news, but the freedom of the academic community to teach the natural sciences without interference from some religious groups is a continuing, deep division somewhat unique to the United States. In the rest of the industrialized world it is, as The New Scientist published as reported the August 20 online edition, "Why Doesn't America Believe In Evolution?" just not an issue.

They recounted a study showing the U.S. is above only Turkey (in the 32 countries polled — U.S., Japan, and 32 EU countries) in its unwillingness to accept evolution as scientific fact. The reasons they give for the national blindness are poor science education, a fiery political debate, and religious fundamentalism. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue," according to Jon Miller of Michigan State, who conducted the survey.

The Michigan State professor's report is not heartening for supporters of evolutionary science. The average American may now have more years of education than 20 or more years ago when Dr. Miller began his study, but the percentage of Americans who adhere to the idea of evolutionary change has gone down to 40 in the year 2005 from 45 in 1985. Dr. Miller said, "We don't seem to be going in the right direction." He pointed out those 20-plus years included great strides in genetics and even in "genetic sequencing." Genetic sequencing shows "… a strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice."

Religious fundamentalists lead the fight against science. Fundamentalist Christians in numerous sects and cults fight against biology education because of a belief the Bible (the English, King James version, I assume) is literal. They have a belief the world and humans were created 6000 years ago and no amount of physical evidence moves them from this idea. They maintain something called "intelligent design," where a practical-joking God sprinkles fossilized remains, geological strata, and all the other millions of bits of evidence around just to test the faith of the faithful.

Miller thinks more genetics should be on the syllabus to reinforce the idea of evolution. American adults may be harder to reach: nearly two-thirds don't agree that more than half of human genes are common to chimpanzees. How would these people respond when told humans and chimps share 99 per cent of their genes?

However, the Internet has added a new armory of scholarly support to anyone willing to study the issue. An Internet site, Darwin Online, has digitalized the largest existing collection of written materials, manuscripts, ancillary sources, and images on the great naturalist.

The homepage lists the important collection and its offerings, which include "The first ever complete collection of all Darwin's publications. Many have never been reproduced and almost all appear online for the first time." Texts are said to be complete and "as close to holding the book in one's hand" as possible. Electronic and image forms of documents can even be viewed side-by-side.

There are, we saw above, some in America who would liken this collection of fascinating historical study or a glimpse of the works of the "great English naturalist and author of The Origin Of The Species, Charles Darwin (1809-1882)" to pornography and sacrilege. It is, however, a repository of knowledge in a field where emotion reigns often above any knowledge.

One site dedicated to explaining the science of evolutionary change quotes the eminent biologist, Douglas J. Futuyma in his book, Evolutionary Biology:

    In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution … is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions.

Obviously, the religious fundamentalists may not believe in planet-forming, star-birth, amoeba, dinosaurs, chimpanzees, or the possibility of man evolving into a more reasonable creature, but, if they thought more about "bees, giraffes, and dandelions," the educational system might be less under attack in our country. As a scientist is reported to have said, the discussion of "evolution" is fruitless and merely being looked at from the wrong perspective. "When someone claims that they don't believe in evolution they cannot be referring to an acceptable scientific definition of evolution because that would be denying something which is easy to demonstrate. It would be like saying that they don't believe in gravity!"

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About hfdratch

  • RedTard

    People are idiots for a variety of reasons, fundementalism only one of them. I don’t doubt the results of the study in regards to belief in evolution but I would be interested in how exactly he determined fundemental christianity is the main problem. I could not access the study details anywhere online. (the importants stuff like the actual questions used)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    excellent write up here, glad to see this one on BC, it only hit the news late last night/early morning

    /golfclap

    anybody else catch the Name of the guy doingthe fighting here?

    “a modern day warrior, mean mean stride,
    today’s Tom Saywer, mean mean…Pride.”

    Rush

    heh

    Excelsior?

  • Dr. Kurt

    I believe that they prefer to call gravity “intelligent falling.”
    All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

  • http://jetfireone.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    Very Good writing. This is the result of the last 5 years of religious rule.

  • Baronius

    Interesting article. A bit opiniony; and the author fails to distinguish different schools of thought of the opponents, but the school board story is interesting.

  • http://www.sitekreator.com/crucible/index.html Howard Dratch

    Those with comments that agreed with me – thanks. It is hard to believe this battle is still going on and how isolated the US is in its’ desire to limit educational opportunities. We will pay for it in educational achievement down the road.

    RedTard and I seldom agree but he is right today. I did not find the exact questions and they would be interesting since there is (although I doubt it here) always the danger of the “Do you still beat your wife” survey.

    I normally try so hard to be fair but Baronius is right – on this the only fairness is to give students access to the best science education possible.

    The political battle and the bravery of these scientists to enter into what is, for them, an unfamiliar world of politics in order to protect free access to the best available education to prepare students for a future where science will be part of their lives and where information will, we hope, be served up on pixel platters is the real crux of the campaign. They deserve recognition for standing publicly against a tide of would-be censors.

  • Bliffle

    If Evolution is wrong then science will discover that it is wrong, just as science has found theories wrong or inadequate in the past. But as we move along the continuum of scientific exploration we must adopt certain Working Hypotheses, notwithstanding that scientists continue to attempt to refute old theories. As soon as a scientific theory is proposed then scientists start trying to refute it. That’s the way science works, unlike religion where everyone tries to support revealed theory.

  • Bliffle

    If Evolution is wrong then science will discover that it is wrong, just as science has found theories wrong or inadequate in the past. But as we move along the continuum of scientific exploration we must adopt certain Working Hypotheses, notwithstanding that scientists continue to attempt to refute old theories. As soon as a scientific theory is proposed then scientists start trying to refute it. That’s the way science works, unlike religion where everyone tries to support revealed theory.

  • Steve

    Well, Bliffle, it’s my experience that most scientists will support any theory in science that supports their worldview, no matter what the evidence. Not because they are bad people, but simply because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. Evolution is true, they are told, and everything must be looked at through that prism.

    Far better that scientists admit their pre-existing biases when they examine the evidence, rather than pretend they don’t have any.

    After all, most people who have gone through the educational system will pick up the biases in the study courses sooner or later. Especially when one bias is taught to the exclusion of all others.

    If the theory of evolution is true, why all the tension over discussing other viewpoints?? If it’s true, all those viewpoints would be discarded by the students quite easily…the fact that evolutionists don’t want any competition from other theories in the classroom is simply proof that their arguments simply aren’t as water tight as they’d like to believe.

    And please don’t say that it’s because other views aren’t science, and shouldn’t be taught in the science class!! It would be very easy to show the students that those other views could not be tested by science if that were the case, just by teaching students the scientific method and letting them apply it to all the views. The sheer fear of those scientists in your article doing the protesting shows the matter is not as simple as your article implies. The fact is, not all of the assertions made by the theory of evolution are necessarily as testable or provable as some would have you believe. Otherwise, the scientists wouldn’t be worried at all.

    Of course, apathetic agnostics (who seem to make up the majority these days in Europe) have less reason to oppose the theory, given they don’t believe in much of anything, so of course the European countries would be more likely to accept evolution at face value, without digging below the surface.

    Who are really the blind ones…the Europeans who are becoming more ignorant of worldviews and their consequences with every generation that passes, or the Americans, who seem to be becoming more educated about the importance of worldviews in one’s thinking??

    As far as #6 goes, the evolutionists I’ve talked to admit that the theory of evolution has nothing to do with the innovations that are required in industry to compete internationally. 90% of science has nothing to do with evolution, they tell me. What ‘educational achievement’ are you worried about losing Howard??

  • JR

    Steve: Well, Bliffle, it’s my experience that most scientists will support any theory in science that supports their worldview, no matter what the evidence.

    Oh really? And what is this experience that qualifies you to speak for “most scientists”?

    If the theory of evolution is true, why all the tension over discussing other viewpoints?? If it’s true, all those viewpoints would be discarded by the students quite easily…the fact that evolutionists don’t want any competition from other theories in the classroom is simply proof that their arguments simply aren’t as water tight as they’d like to believe.

    I notice teachers in general don’t want any competition from talkative students, boomboxes and fistfights in the classroom. Is that proof that what they’re trying to teach isn’t as important as they’d like to believe?

    And please don’t say that it’s because other views aren’t science, and shouldn’t be taught in the science class!! It would be very easy to show the students that those other views could not be tested by science if that were the case, just by teaching students the scientific method and letting them apply it to all the views.

    Wait, are teachers preventing students from applying the scientific method on their own time? I haven’t heard about that.

  • duane

    Steve: …it’s my experience that most scientists will support any theory in science that supports their worldview, no matter what the evidence.

    No matter what the evidence? Ummm… yeah.

    JR already asked about this, and I’m looking forward to your response.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Evolution is not wrong. Darwin had the right idea in the general sense. But he was wrong in the idea of the slow evolution of species. Species evolve rapidly and make their appearance suddenly. This is what the geological record (as demonstrated by carbon dating and other methods) shows and many scientists have been unwilling to admit this as it goes against the “orthodox” theories proposed by Charles Darwin.

    I’m not talking here about the “Intelligent Design” types who push a “six day creation” concept upon us all with all sorts of hokum and baloney. Evolution does not rule out a Creator, nor does it rule out a Creation as very briefly described in the Torah. There is no reason that the “days” described in the Torah have to be 24 hours long. They can also be billions of years long.

    Pushing the Protestant misinterpretations of the Bible in schools in America is just as unwise as allowing the Hareidi Jews who deny the possibility of a multi-billion year creation here by banning rabbis and their books (as has happened here) any power or credibility. Both forms of religious extremists pretending to understand something beyond their ken does us all a disservice.

  • JR

    Ruvy in Jerusalem: Species evolve rapidly and make their appearance suddenly. This is what the geological record (as demonstrated by carbon dating and other methods) shows…

    Define “sudden”.

    By most standards, the geological record simply doesn’t measure “rapid”. Can you cite examples of carbon dating being used to measure evolutionary rates?

  • Bill B

    re#9
    This, among other points, just reeked as a load of hooey so I had to look it up.

    Of course, apathetic agnostics (who seem to make up the majority these days in Europe) have less reason to oppose the theory, given they don’t believe in much of anything, so of course the European countries would be more likely to accept evolution at face value, without digging below the surface.

    These numbers are 11 or so years old so they may have changed a smidge but according to this about 18% of Europeans consider themselves atheist or non-religious (which includes Agnostic). So while it may seem to Steve that those pesky apathetic agnostics are ruling the roost across the pond, what’s entirely more likely is that many more who consider themselves religious do in fact believe in evolution. Or maybe there are just a whole boatload of apathetic religionists.

    Just a thought.

    This was the first reliable looking listing I could find for these figures. Ironically it tracks back to an unofficial Pope John Paul II website. Kinda funny.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    RJ,

    “Sudden” is kind of tricky. It doesn’t mean “by last Wednesday.” It means that a radical change shoes up without any slow change behind it (damn it, the Hebrew is chasing out the English – that wasn’t supposed to happen…). It is this slow (I can’t remember the appropriate word! grrrr!!) change that Darwin posits from his studies of finches and other animals. Hence the constant (and unsuccessful) search for a “missing link” between men and apes à la archaeopteryx between reptiles and birds.

    Inasmuch as I’m not a trained paleobiologist, I feel nervous putting as number on “sudden” but within hundreds of years or less for a total change in a species seem about right.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    RJ,

    The word I was wracking my brain for in my last comment was “incremental.” The geologic record does not show (not shoe) incremental changes in species, but radical changes. Inasmuch as we weren’t there in our “biosphere time capsule” we can’t know exactly how long these changes took to develop. But given the amount of old bones hanging around, if the changes were incremental in any sense, we would see them as incremental in the geologic record. This is especially true with Man, but holds true with other creatures as well.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Boy, am I tired! That is directed to JR, not RJ….

  • Baronius

    Ruvy (and others), intelligent design and 6-day creationism are nothing alike. It’s like saying that Darwin and Scientology teach the same thing. Intelligent design may be junk science, but it claims to be science. Six day creationists stake their claim on a literal reading of the Bible. They may enjoy it when ID people attack Darwinians, because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But every word of intelligent design could be proven wrong and it wouldn’t change the thinking of 6-day creationists in the slightest.

    The article fails to make this distinction. From where its author stands, all kooks may look the same. Nevertheless, ignorance of one’s opponents is no virtue.

  • Les Slater

    I don’t think the stats on belief in evolution are that useful. While claiming to oppose evolution, ID acknowledges the paleontological evidence of evolution, but claims it was designed by an intelligent creator.

    I think this is similar to Newton’s belief that the heavenly bodies followed universal laws but nonetheless, a creation of God.

    If you believe the ID theory you may say that you don’t believe in evolution, but ID smells very much like evolution, without denying God.

  • http://www.sitekreator.com/crucible/index.html Howard Dratch

    I planned to answer Baronius’ last comment which seemed to call me both ignorant and lacking in virtue. However, he has a point in my treating advocates of “intelligent design” as anything approaching intelligent and definitely throwing the lot of designers and fundamentalists together.

    I still think that way but I should learn more about what they do believe, these intelligent designers. I admit to ignoring them and throwing the whole lot together.

    My emphasis in the reading of the study as well as the political news from Ohio remained where it started — neither on a political race nor the increasing power of the evangelical movements.

    Freedom to educate, freedom to learn and the duty of teachers to offer the best science teaching possible was my subject. Losing the American lead in higher education and a dynamic work force is another side of the story.

  • Syd Fraise

    The present debate between evelolutionists and creationists may be summed up like this:

    It boils down to evidence,

    Do you take as eveidence the existence of a book written 2,000 years ago which is little better than a series of fairy tales? Or do you take a mountain of evidence compiled by an eminent scientist through a lifetime of discovery, which has stood the tests of more than a century of hard tests by the world’s finest brains? greasome of the