Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Rio Rancho, New Mexico, school board science policy 401

Here are news items on what seems to be the next front in the `evolution wars', the Rio Rancho, New Mexico, school board science policy 401 controversy. My comments in square brackets.

First, the policy itself:

"The Rio Rancho Board of Education recognizes that scientific theories, such as theories regarding biological and cosmological origins, may be used to support or to challenge individual religious and philosophical beliefs. Consequently, the teaching of science in public school science classrooms may be of great interest and concern to students and their parents. The Board also acknowledges the conditional trust parents place in public education, as well as the requirements of the Constitution and New Mexico education law, that the classroom not be used to indoctrinate students into any religious or philosophical belief system. Because of these concerns, this policy recognizes that the Rio Rancho Public Schools should teach an objective science education, without religious or philosophical bias, that upholds the highest standards of empirical science. Therefore, science teachers in Rio Rancho Public Schools will align their instruction with the District’s approved curricula and fully comply with the requirements of the New Mexico 2003 revised Science Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Standards. Age-appropriate emphasis will be given to Strand I, Science Thinking and Practice; Strand II, The Content of Science; and Strand III, Science and Society. When appropriate and consistent with the New Mexico Science Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Standards, discussions about issues that are of interest to both science and individual religious and philosophical beliefs will acknowledge that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data. Adopted: 8-22-05." (Science Education Policy 401, Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education Policies, August 24, 2005).
[This policy does not even mention "intelligent design" or "evolution", but merely points out the truth (which Darwinists don't like to admit - perhaps even to themselves) that: 1) "scientific theories ...regarding biological and cosmological origins, may be used to support or to challenge individual religious and philosophical beliefs"; and 2) "discussions about issues that are of interest to both science and individual religious and philosophical beliefs will acknowledge that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data."]

RRPS board approves science policy, Rio Rancho Observer, August 8, 2005, Gary Herron. ... In a marathon meeting Monday, the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education narrowly approved its controversial Policy 401 on science education. The measure passed despite 19 of the 24 speakers opposing the policy during the public comment portion of the meeting. More than half of the two-hour long meeting was devoted to the embattled science education policy discussion and vote. Board president Lisa Cour said she wanted to postpone the passage of the policy for at least another four weeks, noting she had only a month to study it. The board, however, voted 3-2 against postponement. Kathy Jackson, Marty Scharfglass and Don Schlichte voted against it. Moments later, that trio also voted in favor of the policy, with Cour and Margaret Terry voting against the policy. Most of the people speaking out against the policy were science teachers at Rio Rancho High School. They contended that evolution and Darwinian theory are contained within the state standards for the teaching of science, that Creationism, now with the pseudonym, "Intelligent Design," is not. The policy states that "the classroom is not be used to indoctrinate students into any religious or philosophical belief system." "We need to promote tolerance for learning about alternative theories," said pro-policy advocate Hope Garcia, referring to evolution proponents as a "herd mentality dressed in a lab coat." Cour and Terry agreed with several teachers who said that Intelligent Design would be better suited for a philosophy class, in the Humanities Academy, or as an elective-type of course, not science. Some worried, with Cour and Terry concerned about the same thing, that a class could be hearing about dinosaurs, for example, and a student could raise a hand and say that, "In the Bible, I read that ... " The teacher would then need to stop the lesson to be sure the theory or ideas the student was asking about were covered. ... to stray from the curriculum to discuss non-curriculum ideas would not be a productive use of class time. Dan Barbour, SciMatics Academy head, said he wanted to "teach science, not challenge beliefs." Many of those who agreed with Barbour professed to be Christians but wanted to keep their religious beliefs out of their science classrooms, and one teacher said that "Darwinian theory is a cornerstone." Brian Wade, a science teacher for seven years at RRHS, said theology should be "taught where it belongs, Catechism." There is no dispute over whether evolution occurred, he continued, "This is a non-issue in science." Harry Van Buren, a professor at the University of New Mexico, urged the board not to pass the policy, saying, "Science is not democratic nor is it concerned with fairness" and that teachers should spend less time teaching bad science and more time on good science. Another speaker, agreeing the policy was not necessary, said, "This is politics, this is religion, this is not science." But Schlichte and Scharfglass contended there have been recent "gaps and inconsistencies" cited in the theory of evolution Schlichte credited the high school's "good job of recruiting the staff out tonight" to speak out against the policy and noted passage of the policy "is not going to bring down science in Rio Rancho but rather develop critical thinkers." "I agree with Don," Scharfglass said. "There are new methods of gathering data not around when (the evolution) theory developed. I've been a teacher for 34 years. (The classroom) is the place where you discuss data. You discuss other ideas." Despite Dr. Sue Cleveland's comment, "We do follow the standards and benchmarks in science," the policy narrowly passed. ... [Again, there is nothing in the policy about "Creationism" or "Intelligent Design". What the Darwinists are objecting to is admitting (perhaps even to themselves) that the theory of evolution is based on its own "religious or philosophical belief system", namely materialism/naturalism (matter is all there is = there is no God and/or nature is all there is = there is no supernatural). As for "a productive use of class time", wouldn't it be a better use of "class time" in high school (where most students are not going to go on to university and become biologists) to set aside time discuss these issues of: 1) the philosophical assumptions (e.g. materialism and naturalism) underpinning the scientific theory of evolution; 2) the problems and controversies of evolution (e.g. the origin of life, where even one of the world's leading atheists, Antony Flew, felt compelled by the new molecular evidence for design to renounce atheism and accept that God created the first living organism); and 3) the main alternatives to evolution (e.g. creation and intelligent design), that most students have already encountered and will continue to encounter in the future as citizens. Those "who ... professed to be Christians but wanted to keep their religious beliefs out of their science classrooms", if they really are Christians, must believe (for starters) that the twin philosophical pillars underpinning evolution, materialism and naturalism are false and that God has supernaturally intervened repeatedly in human history, up to and including Him walking the Earth for ~30 years only ~2,000 years ago. They may not realize it, but if they are advocating that "Christians" should "keep their religious beliefs" private, "out of" the public square (including "science classrooms"), then as Hunter points out, such a "privatization of God" is a form of Gnosticism, not Christianity:

"The Privatization of God. ... This leaves science free to go about its investigations without having to consider the God hypothesis, and it has the effect of separating God from the world. ... This separation of God and the world is one aspect of Gnosticism. It is not surprising that these ideas are encouraged by evolution. As I discussed in Darwin's God, Gnostic ideas predated and influenced the development of evolution, and the wide acceptance of evolution, in turn, strengthened modern Gnosticism. Today, these ideas have had the effect of privatizing God. Evolution has helped to advance the notion that matters of faith should be kept private and out of public life. The reason is that if God is separate from the world and cannot be objectively verified, then what we believe about God is strictly subjective-a matter of opinion. Those who promote this view claim it is neutral and fair to all, for those who wish to believe are free to do so. Likewise, those who wish not to believe are free from unsolicited exposure to religious ideas. God need not be acknowledged in public, for faith is a private affair. Indeed, God should not be acknowledged in public, for this inevitably would force one person's religion on another person. In America these ideas have resonated with the secularization of the government. There is now firmly entrenched a doctrine of separation of church and state. It is commonly interpreted as the idea that the government may not support or allow any type of religious activity. And the government includes everything from the White House to the local elementary school. God has now been privatized in America. The problem with this view is that it is not religiously neutral as claimed. It is in fact, wedded to its gnostic roots as firmly as ever. What is more, its advocates are not generally able to understand the religious bias that is woven into their view. They are apparently so deeply Gnostic that they cannot perceive their own religious position. To them their position seems to be religiously neutral. Why is the privatization of God not religiously neutral? The simple answer is that it presupposes that God can be privatized. While its advocates think they are being neutral because they are allowing for the existence of God, they are allowing only for a God who isn't involved in the daily matters of our lives. This is the god of Gnosticism, a god who is disjointed from the world. ... Far from embracing a separation of church and state, America has embraced a nonbiblical religion. And this is why the criticism of ID is so harsh. For the premise behind ID is that design is detectable in creation. Even though ID is careful not to describe a creator, it nonetheless violates Gnostic assumptions about God and the world. By claiming that design is detectable, ID violates the Gnostic premise that God must be separate from the world and not detectable, an object of pure faith. " (Hunter C.G., "Darwin's Proof: The Triumph of Religion Over Science," Brazos Press: Grand Rapids MI, 2003, p.119. Emphasis original)]
Teachers debating intelligent design, The Albuquerque Tribune, Susie Gran, September 1, 2005 ... Los Lunas High School teacher Rick Cole taught evolution and intelligent design side-by-side for 11 years until his science department chairman ordered him to stop. A single phone call from an atheist family last school year triggered the order, Cole said. "They objected to it as religion." What he'll do this year depends on what his 11-member science department decides. He does not have a biology class until spring. "We want to be in agreement as a department," said the former science department chairman. "We're working on that." Across the state, science teachers are debating the introduction of theories other than evolution into their classrooms. Their debate echoes the national one over intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are too complex to have developed through evolution, suggesting that a higher power had a hand in creation. The local debate was sparked when the Rio Rancho Board of Education on a recent 3-2 vote passed Science Policy 401, which opponents claim opens the door to religion in the science classroom. Opponents are threatening lawsuits to overturn the policy. And, they are on the lookout for teachers like Cole, who they claim violate state policy that requires the teaching of evolution and bans creationism and intelligent design from the science curriculum. Rio Rancho High science teachers most likely won't follow in Cole's footsteps, based on their collective groan over their board's new policy. Dan Barbour, head of Rio Rancho High School's SciMatics Academy, said 15 of the 20 science teachers have voiced opposition. "I have teachers who are very nervous and need guidance," he said. "I'm nervous about bringing this into the classroom." He said he would be consulting with his colleagues this week on ideas for implementation of the new policy. Their ideas will be forwarded to Rio Rancho schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland, who is developing guidelines. Meanwhile, teachers are dealing with repercussions of the policy, he said. A student debate over evolution and intelligent design recently dominated an anatomy and physiology class, Barbour said. In a chemistry class, a student brought in a Bible and wanted to talk about it. In another class, a student brought in the Book of Mormon. "I can't tell you what their motivation is," he said of the students. "Kids are reading about this in the papers." Before Rio Rancho's new policy was passed, students were not making an issue of their beliefs, although they did ask questions "that our teachers handled very respectfully." Barbour said the teachers typically explain to students that they are required to teach the scientific view, not alternate theories. Typically, the evolution lesson is taught in sophomore biology classes and spans seven to 10 days, Barbour said. Families who don't want their children to study evolution may opt out of the lesson. "Occasionally, I'll get a call," Barbour said. In a school of 2,500 students, three have opted out that Barbour knew about. But he fears many more teachers will opt out of intelligent design if they have to teach it - by job hunting. "I will probably lose a majority of my staff," he said. The teachers have backing from scientific groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are urging the Rio Rancho board to rescind its policy. The policy is "a subtle loophole for the introduction of nonscientific ideas" and could be detrimental to Rio Rancho's business community based in science and technology, said Jayne Aubele of the New Mexico Academy of Science in a two-page statement. The ACLU threatened to sue, characterizing intelligent design as a Trojan horse for introducing creationism. Proponents defend the policy as a way to allow classroom discussion on alternative theories to evolution and ensure students are following principals of critical thinking. Leading the debate in favor of the policy is Rio Rancho school board member and Rio West Community Church pastor Don Schlichte. He wrote the policy with his fellow board member - and fellow church member - Marty Scharfglass, a retired teacher. They say the policy does not force teachers to teach intelligent design and that it is not a vehicle to bring religion into the science classroom. But the president of the Rio Rancho school board fears the policy deviates from state policy. Lisa Cour voted against the policy, saying discussion of alternative theories to evolution belongs in philosophy classes, social studies or churches. The state policy requires teachers to teach evolution and does not allow creationism or intelligent design in the science curriculum, according to the state Public Education Department authors and consultants. But state department officials say they will not challenge Rio Rancho's policy. They said local boards can supplement required standards as long as they teach state standards, in this case, evolution. The Rio Rancho policy does not say teachers must teach specific alternative ideas to evolution, only that discussions "acknowledge that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data." Forty miles away in Los Lunas, teacher Cole said he is watching the Rio Rancho developments closely. So is a science teacher network, he said. Through the network he's learned "a lot of teachers ignore the topic (of evolution) entirely," to avoid the very controversy he weathered. Cole said in his 11 years his classes "studied the origins of life critically. We looked at it thoroughly - what's proven and not proven. My students learned to be very analytical and critical. "There is growing research in intelligent design and it's an issue we need to deal with. Since there's so much speculation, that's all the more reason for a healthy debate. Let's not leave out anything." Cole was the New Mexico Science Teacher of the Year in 2001 after teaching intelligent design for seven years. He was lauded for building the Los Lunas High science fair program from nonexistent to an award-winning level in seven years. This year, he predicts the school will set a record for the number of projects in its fall fair. "I want to teach the origins of life from both sides and several on the staff want to, too. Others don't," he said. "We'll need to come to a consensus." ... [Note that "A single phone call from an atheist family" can stop a science teacher, "Rick Cole", "New Mexico Science Teacher of the Year in 2001" who had "taught evolution and intelligent design side-by-side for 11 years until his science department chairman ordered him to stop"! This is tyranny by the Darwinist minority, as polls (e.g. CBS, Harris, and Pew) consistently show that the majority of the American public want both evolution and its main alternatives taught. As Barbour points out, "Kids are reading about this in the papers" so why not follow President Bush's commonsense recommendation that: "Both sides ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is about ... Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." It is ridiculous the claim that students being exposed to the philosophical assumptions of evolution, its problems, and its alternatives to it, which they are already, in a haphazard way, being exposed to in the news media anyway, will somehow "be detrimental to Rio Rancho's business community based in science and technology". If anything the "analytical and critical" thinking that Cole's teaching engendered is more likely to have the opposite effect! It is significant that "the state Public Education Department ... will not challenge Rio Rancho's policy" so presumably they regard it as not inconsistent with their State policies. ]

Scientists, public must protest board's policy, The Albuquerque Tribune, September 13, 2005. Shame on the Rio Rancho Board of Education, specifically board members Don Schlichte, Kathy Jackson and Marty Scharfglass. And not just because that board majority last month imposed its cloaked religious views on students in the Rio Rancho district - in possible violation of state education policy, the New Mexico Constitution and the revered First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But also because in so doing, they compromised fundamental science instruction that is vital to schoolchildren and their future, as well as to the economic vitality and prosperity of Rio Rancho, New Mexico and the United States. In a day and age in which science and technology are driving a highly competitive global economy, the Rio Rancho board has sent a message to public school teachers and students that pseudoscience is good enough. It's not. Not anywhere but particularly not in New Mexico, a state rich in science and technological heritage and institutions, a state that is highly dependent economically on the federal presence of three national laboratories and several military bases that are science- and technology-driven. These board members approved a new policy "allowing" science teachers to discuss explanations for the origin of life other than the only scientifically accepted one, evolution. Why? So that science instruction that was clear and certain - because it is based on evolution and a century of investigation, observation, modification and testing - should be compromised and clouded with ideas that cannot be tested and proven because they are, after all is said and done, based on beliefs and faith. In so doing, these board members have directly diluted formal science instruction for Rio Rancho students and at a time when the United States is being challenged on all fronts in a global economy dominated by advances being wrought in laboratories around the world. Good, then, for the science departments at the University of New Mexico, which have slammed the board for its assault on the district's science curriculum. Good for the New Mexico Academy of Sciences, which also has taken the board to task. All New Mexico scientists and engineers should rally to do the same. If instruction based on beliefs or faith is permitted in science classes, these board members will have placed Rio Rancho students at a significant disadvantage in a competitive world, in which hard science and technology are the basic capital of economic progress and success and for good reason. Decisions based on science work, because science seeks to explain the natural world and is accurate, precise, repeatable and dependable. During the Cold War's nuclear arms showdown and the race to be the first nation to put astronauts on the moon, such notions would never have been tolerated. Americans understood what was at stake - their national security and perhaps ultimately the survival of their democracy. So they supported a strong national and local emphasis on science, math and engineering education. Other nations have caught up and now are competing for the best scientists and engineers in the world, challenging this nation's half-century of scientific, engineering and economic dominance. We cannot afford scientists and teachers whose judgments are based on beliefs rather than hard evidence. Which is why, in the interests not only of their students but also their country, Rio Rancho science teachers should ignore their Board of Education. Under the protective wings of the U.S. Supreme Court and the New Mexico Board of Education, they should continue to instruct their students in the tried, tested and true central law of biology, that life and its multitude of species evolved over hundreds of millions of years on Earth. There are no scientific ideas that compete with evolution for biological primacy. It has stood the test of time in the laboratories, peer reviews, field research, journals and world's halls of science. And it will survive the meddling of Schlichte, Jackson and Scharfglass. If they or anyone else believe otherwise, that certainly is their constitutional right. But it is not science. It cannot be sustained as science. It does not belong in science classrooms. And, in so imposing it, they violate their duty to students and country. They violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is recognized by the New Mexico Constitution as "the supreme law of the land." That same amendment, incidentally, protects their right to believe in a religious origin of life. But it also protects Rio Rancho public students from being proselytized with the religious beliefs of governmental officials masquerading as science. The Rio Rancho Board of Education should be about the business of educating, not preaching to, its students. It is obligated to revisit the issue immediately and right this wrong. If it does not, the American Civil Liberties Union should challenge the board's policy in court as a direct violation of state science standards and the Constitution. If it comes to that, every scientist and engineer in the state should be standing right beside the ACLU. ... [The real "shame" is on this editor for his absurd rant! In fact, behind this claim that `if students learn the philosophical underpinnings of evolution, its problems and alternatives the USA will lose its technological lead], is the idea that the USA should churn out mere conformist technicians rather than independent-minded engineers. It is funny how the Darwinists are quick to accuse their opponents of violation of "the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution" in respect of the first clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (and by what twisted logic is criticizing evolution or even proposing that there is evidence of design in nature, the "establishment of religion"?) but they conveniently forget the next clause: "... or abridging the freedom of speech" (what about Rick Cole's freedom of speech?). It is the Darwinists, aided and abetted by their legal enforcement arm, the so-called American Civil Liberties Union, and by a compliant media (like this editor), by their 1984-like inversion of what the First Amendment originally meant, who are the real deniers of free speech!]

Board has no plans to revisit Science Policy, Rio Rancho Observer September 22, 2005, Gary Herron ... Although Science Policy 401 recently passed by the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education wasn't on the agenda Monday, it didn't stop five residents from using their allotted three minutes in the public comment session to address it. Board president Lisa Cour cautioned those who had signed up to speak before the board started on its agenda items by saying, there are "no current plans to revisit that decision." The board voted 3-2 to approve the controversial policy at its Aug. 22 meeting. About 25 people had spoken to the board then, most speaking out against the policy, which most people construe as a policy pushing the district to teach Creationism, or Intelligent Design. "Intelligent Design is not being taught," clarified Superintendent Dr. Sue Cleveland, although "students may bring those issues up." Three of the five people speaking Monday evening opposed the policy while two people, including one man who termed the board "brave and courageous in undertaking this policy" referred to several Biblical passages during his three minutes. Dave Thomas, the president-elect of the New Mexico Academy of Sciences, told the board, "The science establishment of New Mexico and reacted to and responded to (Policy 401)." Science classrooms are no place to debate the finer points of religion," said Thomas, who said he has a grand-niece attending school in Rio Rancho, "Please rescind this policy." ... [As Superintendent Cleveland points out, there in nothing in the policy (see above) about "Intelligent Design ... being taught," but it does enable "students [to] bring those issues up." By "the finer points of religion" this "Dave Thomas" falsely lumps ID into the category of "religion", even though ID is not based on the Bible, but solely on the evidence of nature. And again, "If the proposition that there is no design in nature (as Darwinism maintains) is scientific, then the counter-proposition that there is design in nature, must also be scientific. It is special pleading by Darwinists to claim that the `no' answer to the question, `Is there empirical evidence for design in nature?' is `science', but the `yes' answer to the same question is `religion'"!]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

1 comment:

Geek Girl said...

Who designed the designer? If no one designed the designer, why does anything else need to be designed?