Dispatches from the Creation Wars

ACLU Threatens Suit in Toledo

The press release says:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today sent a letter to the Toledo Public Schools demanding that they cease allowing staff to teach intelligent design in science classrooms throughout the district.

“Intelligent design has been proven to be nothing more than a thin cover for those who wish to teach creationism, a faith-based idea of human origins endorsed by certain Christian denominations, in science classes,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso. “While people have a right to teach their religious beliefs to others in churches, mosques, synagogues and private schools, public schools should not be used by people to teach their personal religious beliefs to other people’s children.”…

Recently, a news article in the Toledo Blade featured teachers in the Toledo Public School system who admitted teaching intelligent design in science classrooms. In the article, teachers acknowledged they taught lessons on various pieces of evidence that seemed to refute evolutionary theory, despite the fact that all were proven to be hoaxes by the scientific community.


The Toledo Blade article referred to can be found here. Some of what the teachers in that article admitted teaching is quite absurd:

Michael Maveal wants his eighth-grade students at Jones Junior High to know the truth – as he sees it.

So, the Toledo Public Schools science teacher tells them that evolution is an unproven theory, as is creation.

He teaches them about Nebraska man, a creature rejected by science long ago, to demonstrate the fallibility of evolution. He teaches them that Pluto has never been seen. [It has.] He teaches them that humans are not animals. [We are.] He teaches them about the famous scientific hoax, Piltdown man, once purported to be an early human ancestor.

“I’m not afraid of dealing with all the fakery that’s going on in all the science community,”‘ Mr. Maveal said. “We have to present information to the kids so they can make an intelligent decision for themselves.

“I tell them what the scientists won’t admit.”

No, Mr. Maveal, you peddle red herrings to unsuspecting teenagers. I love how he speaks of this “fakery” in the present tense, yet the one example of fakery he can come up with was first found in 1912, viewed as a bizarre anamoly for decades and finally proven to be a hoax when the technology allowed such a test – over 50 years ago. This is presenting information so kids can make an intelligent decision? I don’t think so.

Anyone who pretends that Nebraska Man is an argument against evolution simply has no business teaching science to anyone. The logic is staggeringly absurd. For those who don’t know, Nebraska Man was a popular name given to a discovery in 1922. It was a tooth found on a farm in Nebraska and given to HF Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History. The tooth was weathered and resembled a primate tooth. Osborn suggested that this might belong to a species of anthropoid ape, which he named Hersperopithecus haroldcookii, and published a very tentative article on the subject, while also noting, “Until we secure more of the dentition, or parts of the skull or of the skeleton, we cannot be certain whether Hesperopithecus is a member of the Simiidae or of the Hominidae.”

Other scientists were reluctant to accept this identification of a new species on such scant evidence, even if tentatively offered, and work began to try and confirm or disconfirm this identification. William King Gregory, a colleague of Osborn’s, was given the task of continuing the work on this identification and in 1925, field work began at the same site where the tooth was found. More complete specimens at the site showed that the tooth was not from a primate but from an extinct mammal called a peccary. In 1927, Gregory published a retraction of Osborn’s earlier speculation and that was the end of it.

The end of it, that is, until creationists resurrected it as an utterly illogical argument against evolution. There is not the slightest reason why Nebraska Man should be viewed as even a mild embarrassment to science. In fact, the situation demonstrates perfectly how science is intended to work – you discover something (data collection), you speculate on how it might fit with other evidence (hypothesis), you publish your speculations for your fellow scientists (peer review), make the evidence available to them to examine (sharing data), devise a way to confirm or disconfirm that speculation (hypothesis testing), and if the results don’t go the way you like, you publish the results anyway and move on to the next find.

Scientist do make mistakes, of course, as they are human beings. But this process of testing hypotheses and sharing the results with colleagues in a position to second guess your work is how science manages to keep such mistakes to a minimum. The fact that this teacher, and creationists in general, have to go all the way back to the 1920s to find such an example speaks volumes about how successful that process is in weeding out mistakes. Any teacher who teaches this as anything but an example of how science operates is a fool or a fraud and has no business teaching science in our schools.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of teachers out there like this guy, which is exactly why legislation like Ohio’s “critical analysis” lesson plan will be viewed by them as an invitation to put such terrible arguments into science classes as a way of undermining the validity of a theory they reject on religious grounds. That’s why we are trying to stop the bill in Michigan as well.

Comments

  1. #1 KeithB
    February 15, 2006

    Minor, minor nit:
    While that particular species of peccary might be extinct, others are alive and well and running around the Southwest.

    However, they all look like pigs to me. 8^)

  2. #2 t.f.
    February 15, 2006

    Typical quasi-martyr/quasi-paranoid style that has become the hallmark of modern creationism: “i’m brave (and smart) enough to be honest with you about what the scientists won’t (and are too stupid to even recognize), but I’ll be castigated for my honesty by the ‘darwinian orthodoxy’ (versus outed for saying idiotic things by smart people),”

    nevermind that the particulars of what the scientists won’t admit are ever-absent…sure, the general trend is that they won’t admit RM/NS are sufficient for the observed complexity (which is not a scientific sentiment, but a philosophical one), but what details are the scientists “glossing over”? Define “complexity”. Define “sufficient”. Define “observed”.

    That causes blanching, cursing, and spinning galore.

  3. #3 ColoRambler
    February 15, 2006

    He teaches them that Pluto has never been seen…

    Makes you wonder just how he thinks it was discovered.

    In any event, I’ve seen it. You do need a fairly large telescope to see it, but not as large as you may think — from a dark site you can see it with a telescope with a 10″ diameter mirror, which you can buy for around $600 these days. You also need a good set of charts to distinguish it from the background stars, and some practice navigating through a bunch of dim stars. That’s about it. I’ve tackled significantly more challenging targets from my own yard.

  4. #4 CanuckRob
    February 15, 2006

    “So, the Toledo Public Schools science teacher tells them that evolution is an unproven theory, as is creation.”

    How can someone teaching science be so ignorant of what theory means? Perhaps the standards for being a science teacher are too low.

  5. #5 tacitus
    February 15, 2006

    Makes you wonder just how he thinks it was discovered.

    I suspect the “teacher” is so incompetent that he can’t even get the young-earth creationist propaganda right. The usual line is that the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud are figments of the imagination made up to explain why we still have comets around. (Now that the Kuiper Belt’s existence has been confirmed, many have switched to claiming the belt is just not dense enough to explain all short-term comets.)

    He probably heard that Pluto is a Kuiper Belt object and read some out-dated creationist screed claiming the Kuiper Belt doesn’t exist, and then put two and two together and got ninty-seven.

  6. #6 Chance
    February 15, 2006

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of teachers out there like this guy, which is exactly why legislation like Ohio’s “critical analysis” lesson plan will be viewed by them as an invitation to put such terrible arguments into science classes as a way of undermining the validity of a theory they reject on religious grounds.

    I teach down the hall from a creationist. In a biology department. In my view, although she is likeable and I enjoy her personally I would net let my child be ‘educated’ by her.

    As an example a student approached me just yesterday wanting to discuss evolution. He said she was wizzing through it and didn’t offer any option for discussion. She just wanted it done. I told him to come by my office and we’ll talk as long as he would like. The shame of it all is here is a supposedly educated biology educator who essentially shut down a students learning. How wrong is that?

    Perhaps the standards for being a science teacher are too low.

    In some states they need science teachers so badly they lower the bar quite alot.

  7. #7 Leni
    February 15, 2006

    Makes you wonder just how he thinks it was discovered.
    ….
    I’ve tackled significantly more challenging targets from my own yard.

    So have I, and I was wondering the same thing.

    Who knows though, this guy probably thinks air doesn’t exist either.

  8. #8 deb
    February 15, 2006

    Wasn’t the presence of Pluto postulated before it was seen? That’s how I remember it anyways. If that’s true, it’s even cooler astronomy than the fact it can be seen.

    Chance’s co-teacher is no educator. The fact is, teachers have a good bit of autonomy in their classrooms where subject content is involved. There are a million tiny ways to ‘work’ a prescribed lesson plan.

  9. #9 Dave S.
    February 15, 2006

    deb said:

    Wasn’t the presence of Pluto postulated before it was seen? That’s how I remember it anyways. If that’s true, it’s even cooler astronomy than the fact it can be seen.

    Yes.

    After Uranus was discovered, eccentricities in its orbit led John Couch Adams and Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier to calculate that another planet existed futher out, and Neptune was discovered just where they predicted it should be.

    Still unexplained purturbations of the orbits of these planets was ascribed to yet another planet called Planet X even further away. Percival Lowell is credited with that prediction, and Clyde Tombaugh with the confimationary discovery which he subsequently names Pluto.

  10. #10 ColoRambler
    February 15, 2006

    Wasn’t the presence of Pluto postulated before it was seen? That’s how I remember it anyways. If that’s true, it’s even cooler astronomy than the fact it can be seen.

    Sort of. Neptune was definitely discovered this way. Pluto’s story is a little different.

    In the 19th century astronomers noticed the orbits of recently-discovered Uranus wasn’t quite what you would expect from just the gravity of known objects. This is how Neptune was discovered. Astronomers were able to estimate the position and mass of a mystery object from changes in Uranus’s orbit, and look for it.

    Initially, after Neptune’s discovery, astronomers believed that its orbit was being perturbed as well. It turns out that conclusion was mistaken, though it wouldn’t be until the space age that we figured out why: astronomers had some small error in Neptune’s mass. When a newer value was obtained from spacecraft passing nearby, the discrepancies vanished. In any event, this led to another big search, except that no one had good calculations in advance, unlike with Neptune, since another big planet really didn’t exist. So no one found anything for a while. In contrast to the astronomers who found Neptune, the discoverer of Pluto took a huge number of photographic plates and found all sorts of other things, including comets and asteroids, before discovering Pluto.

  11. #11 deb
    February 15, 2006

    Thanks for the info on planet discovery. I had not heard that spacecraft data was used to update the mass of Neptune (surprise surprise).

    BTW Chance, I do not mean to put teachers in a negative light. Like other professions, the chance to do evil exists, and there will always be those who exploit the possibilities.

  12. #12 Chance
    February 15, 2006

    No problem deb, What’s frustrating to me is that others simply don’t share my viewpoint. I know that sounds terrible and maybe it is but this woman has been teaching for 15 years, has on average 140 students, thats 2100 kids who pass through our system minus the most basic understanding of one of sciences great underpinnings. Imagine that number repeated many times over nationwide and you’ll come to understand the problem we are facing.

  13. #13 deb
    February 15, 2006

    Chance – I agree it is a huge problem. I think the complacency shown by many is a typical insular trait of the US. It would be hard to imagine what people in Western Europe must think about our creationism problem. I have good friends in Germany who take Bush as a real looney. Beyond that, their primary emotion is dis-belief. I am embarrassed to ask them what they think about creationism.

    There are a lot of things going on at many levels, but one example is the recent attack on any Judge who would admit to forming an opinion influenced by cases in foreign courts. Granted, we have our own laws, but we didn’t invent western civilization; there is more to the world than what happens here.

    We could all go on and on with examples. What many have in common is an inward looking, self-absorbed society that is intent upon studying its own navel. Exposure to other societies and cultures would go a long way to opening up poeple’s minds. But as long as ‘celebrity news’ prevails – well. My personal favorite cure is: Ten question multiple choice test to be taken orally or in the language of your choice; score at least 7 correct and you may vote.

    I was a high school teacher many, many years ago. Then, it seemed the prevailing attitude was ‘go along to get along.’ But, I can see some validity to PZMyers take no prisoners approach. However, unless one is a department head with solid backing from a principal, you will end up fulfilling the adage about pioneers being the ones with arrows in their backs. Not many can afford to put themselves in that position if they have a family depending on them. Very cowardly, I know, but sort of realistic too.

  14. #14 386sx
    February 16, 2006

    He teaches them that Pluto has never been seen.

    It’s possible that somebody got something confused somewhere along the line (a la the telephone game.) Maybe that’s supposed to be the entire orbit of Pluto has never been seen.

  15. #15 bourgeois_rage
    February 16, 2006

    Gah, not my hometown! Fortunately, I went to private schools and didn’t have to suffer through the incompetance of TPS. To me this isn’t really all that surprising. The city primarily votes democrat, but they aren’t science loving liberals. They are more of the blue collar type.

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