AOH :: CREATION.TXT|
Creationist Textbook gets blasted
The following is an edited transcript from one of the monthly skeptics
conferences held here in the Science/Math Forum. This conference deals
with a new creationist textbook, _Of Pandas and People_. The text is
of particular interest because it is on the cutting edge of a new
creationist strategy. Emory Kimbrough closely followed the attempts to
have the book approved in Alabama. This conference was held on January
30, 1990. Skeptics conferences are held on the last Tuesday of every
month at 9:30 Eastern time.
(Emory Kimbrough) _Of Pandas and People_ was written by a Texas group
called The Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and the text is published
by Haughton Company, an obscure agricultural publisher. This represents
the newest creationist strategy, and it has two new tricks: The first
trick is to approve the text as a SUPPLEMENTAL text rather than as a
primary text. As you know, Texas and California are the biggest textbook
markets, so usually what they select is what the nation winds up using.
BUT Texas and California DON'T HAVE SUPPLEMENTAL TEXTS. Thus, the fight
moved to Alabama. Here is what you need to watch out for in your state.
Many of the states that DO have supplemental texts have almost no
approval process for these texts. While they are strict about primary
text approval, supplementary text approval is almost a rubber stamp.
This allows the creationists to sneak through the back door. Check
whether your state has a weak supplemental-text policy and lean on them
to change it. Any questions so far, or should I keep going?
(Roger Cooke) What's the second new trick.
(Emory Kimbrough) The second new trick is to re-name creationism.
According to the creationist lawyer that spoke at the Alabama hearing,
The Supreme Court said that creationism is characterized by the
following three things:
(1) Short age of the Earth
(2) Catastrophism (i.e. "flood geology" and similar ideas)
(3) Compels belief in God
Remember, that is the creationist lawyer's interpretation, not mine.
Anyway, the new _Pandering and Feeble_ text is written to avoid those
three criteria. Thus, the publishers say "This isn't scientific
creationism at all. It's something very different. It's the Theory of
(Mark E. Meyer) Out of curiosity, what states are represented here
(Jay Holovacs) New Jersey
(2-6,Roger Cooke) Vermont
(Tom Monticue) California
(Emory Kimbrough) Alabama, obviously
(Mark E. Meyer) Texas.
(Jim Visintainer) Ohio
(Tom Monticue) The obvious question, then, is just what IS _Pandas and
(Emory Kimbrough) It is intended as a 10th Grade biology text. It covers
a lot of biology, but with emphasis on origins and development. Let me
swing back to their supplemental-text strategy for a moment. State
approval of a text really means just one thing: A school can spend
state money to buy the text. _Of Pandas and People_ was not approved
in Alabama, but already various conservative religious groups are
trying to raise money to buy the text for teachers. Thus, you can beat
them at the state level, but you still have to be very vigilant at the
individual classroom level . Any questions or comments, or should I
(Roger Cooke) Any details on the contents?
(Emory Kimbrough) Roger, your question is a bit broad. I can't type in
the whole book. Can you narrow that down?
(Roger Cooke) Does it resemble any of Gish's books?
(Emory Kimbrough) It isn't just a re-write of earlier creationism books,
so I'd have to say No, it isn't straight Gish-ism. On the other hand,
there are lots of standard creationist favorites in the book. This is,
however, sophisticated creationism and "moderate" creationism. So, it's
tough to fight.
(Roger Cooke) It seems to me that the issue whether it's creationism or
not is a red herring. The real issue is whether it's SCIENCE!
(Emory Kimbrough) Exactly, Roger. Jim, you had a question?
(Jim Visintainer) Do they mention evolution? In what way?
(Emory Kimbrough) Yes, they mention evolution VERY frequently. Much of
the book is of the following form "Evolutionists interpret (fill in the
blank) in this way but it can also be interpreted within the theory of
intelligent design...." This is definitely a compare-and-contrast book.
On the surface, it tries to be a "let students decide for themselves"
text, but you can see which way it is slanted.
(Tom Monticue) Of the three criteria, it seems to me that "intelligent
design" implies "Compelling belief in G-d" and "Short age of the Earth."
Do they say that this is not "creationism" because it only fulfills two
out of three?
(Emory Kimbrough) No, they say that this book fulfills NONE of the
criteria. They reason as follows. First, as I said, this is "moderate"
creationism. They have backed off on the young-earth stuff. Second,
they have a surface appearance of presenting both evolution and
creation and encouraging the students to make up their own minds, so
in this sense, they don't compel belief. Finally, there is no flood
geology or similar catastrophism in the book. I'm glad you brought
this up, Tom, because John Buchanan, Chairman of People for the
American Way, came to Alabama to testify against the book. One of his
main points was that the book asks students to make a false choice. In
effect, it says "choose evolution or choose God." Buchanan, who is an
ordained Baptist minister, said that he believes both in God and in
evolution, so he would be very offended if his granddaughter were told
that she had to choose betw een the two. An offensive false choice, he
calle d it.
(Tom Monticue) Amen
(Roger Cooke) Norman Geisler argued that one could posit a creator
purely on scientific grounds without worshipping it. Geisler says that
Aristotle was an example of a believer in a creator who didn't worship
his First Cause or Unmoved Mover.
(Tom Monticue) What agenda did you follow in Alabama to fight the book?
(Emory Kimbrough) Actually, Tom, that's what I was about to talk about.
It's a wild story. First, Alabama subjects supplemental texts to the
same approval process as main texts. This is smart on Alabama's part,
and it allowed us to fight. First, a text submitted for approval has to
be placed in various key libraries around the state so that anyone can
read and comment on them. Guess which textbook didn't appear in the
libraries? We didn't even know about _Pandas_ until very late in the
approval process. At a late hearing, some Institute for Creation
Research folks, Eagle-Forum types, etc., started giving glowing reviews
to this textbook. It wasn't even on the earlier lists of texts to be
approved. Some of us complained about the violation of the library rule.
Thanks in part to this complaint, the Board of Education sent the book
back to committee. This delay allowed the publisher to get the book into
the libraries. The delay also forced the textbook committee to hold an
extra hearing just for this one text. That hearing was earlier this
month. We lined up a number of speakers to talk at the hearing, and we
wrote letters to the textbook committee members. In addition to John
Buchanan of P. A.W., we m ainly had geology professors from Auburn
University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
(Tom Monticue) No biologists?
(Emory Kimbrough) (Tom, the geologists were paleontologists and
(Emory Kimbrough) When the hearing started, the creationist lawyer stood
up and demanded to make an opening statement. The rule is that people
speak in the order that they contacted the committee and asked for time.
The lawyer was told that he would have to wait his turn. When his turn
came, HE WITHDREW THE TEXTBOOK !!!!
(Mark E. Meyer) I love it.
(Emory Kimbrough) We just about wet ourselves. He complained that he was
not allowed an opening and closing statement, that he was not allowed to
cross-examine those speaking against the text, and that various other
procedural rules were not followed. (They sure were ones to complain
about procedure after the library business.) He said that his client,
the publisher, had thus decided that they were not getting a fair
hearing, and thus they had to, with much regret, withdraw the text. With
that, the lawyer a nd all his expert witnesses walked out. Then, a
textbook committee member who was in favor of the book made a motion to
accept the withdrawal and end the hearing. (I was damned confused at
this point.) I was sitting with the geology profs, who, clutching their
boxes dinosaur fossils, were whispering about their great desire to
continue the hearing so that they could attack the book. The chairman of
the committee said that their mandate was to review the book, so they
had no right to end the hearing. Thus, the motion was voted down and the
hearing continued. Since the creationist side walked out, most of the
hearing was testimony against the book. At the lunch break, I had lunch
with Buchanan and a couple geologists, and we figured out why they
walked out. They had realized that they were going to lose. They
realized that they didn't have the votes on the committee. But Alabama
was the first test of this book. And they hoped to carry an approval in
Alabama to other states INCLUDING TEXAS AND CALIFORNIA....
(Mark E. Meyer) Yipe!
(Emory Kimbrough) ....and snowball it across the country from the
original Alabama victory. But when they saw they were going to lose,
they worried about the snowball rolling down the evolutionist side of
the hill (heh, heh, heh) and causing a chain-reaction of REJECTIONS
instead of approvals. Thus, they had to withdraw and claim unfair
treatment rather than expose themselves to a vote to reject.
(Mark E. Meyer) I found it amusing that the creationist lawyer
complained about not being able to cross-examine those criticizing the
book. Where did he think he was? Anyway, is it common practice for a
publisher to have a lawyer present at these hearings?
(Emory Kimbrough) The lawyer thought (or claimed to think) that a
textbook hearing should be conducted according to the same rules as a
trial, or at least very similar rules. But I can't find any Board of
Education policy that supports the lawyer. Having experts flown in to
testify and having lawyers to argue for a book is certainly not common
for a textbook approval hearing. These folks were really pushing MUCH
harder than a normal science text gets pushed.
(Tom Monticue) Are you personally policing the books to review, or do
you have some committee to watch for them, or what?
(Emory Kimbrough) There is a loose network in Alabama that reacts to
crises as necessary. Mainly, the NCSE liaison in Alabama keeps a number
of us informed about books that we should pay special attention to. We
don't have all that much manpower, so we can't, unfortunately, assign
every last text to a reviewer. We try to do a little triage, therefore.
On the other hand, our Eagle Forum opponents are MUCH larger than we
are, so they can pick over every last textbook in all science courses
(not just biology) line-by-line looking for things they don't like.
Groups like the Eagle Forum came up with 12,000 signatures on a petition
to have _Pandas_ approved in Alabama. Suffice it to say that the Alabama
NCSE and the Alabama Skeptics have rather less than 12,000 members.
(Tom Monticue) Do you know if there is any way to be placed on some kind
of mailing list for the Department of Education to send titles and
notices of hearings? Also, NCSE?
(Emory Kimbrough) I don't think that you can get on a mailing list, but
the titles under consideration and the schedule of hearings are public
record. What you CAN do (and what we DID do) was write the BOE
requesting the textbook list and the hearing schedule. Our NCSE liaison
did this, and then he sent copies to everyone on his list. The NCSE is
the National Center for Science Education. They do a great job of
combatting creationists. Write to them at the following address:
Dr. Eugenie C. Scott 2107 Dwight Way #105 Berkeley, CA 94704
Eugenie Scott is also a CSICOP fellow, and in some states the Committee
of Correspondence, as NCSE chapters are called, has become combined with
the area CSICOP group. Looks like Alabama is headed this way.
(Roger Cooke) In arguing against creationist books in a public forum,
would you say the best line to take is that these books present only
about 1 per cent of the evidence in favor of evolution, then try to
balance it with an equal amount of the much slimmer evidence against
(Emory Kimbrough) This is a good point to make. But there are some
peculiarities about arguing at a textbook hearing as opposed to, say, a
radio interview program. The big difference is that textbook committee
members are supposed to just concentrate on the quality of a particular
text and not get involved in big global debates. Thus, at a textbook
hearing, you need to pick apart bad arguments and distorted facts AS
THEY APPEAR IN JUST THAT ONE TEXTBOOK. They don't care how well you can
argue against creati onism in general if you don't have anything to say
about the particular book, and the speakers are instructed to limit
their comments just to the book under consideration. (But neither side
does this, of course.)
(Jay Holovacs) Perhaps taking a devil's advocate view I am often
concerned by the attempts of some groups to interfere with educational
material, such as avant garde literature or politically controversial
materials, in a classroom setting. Recently, loud complaints about
misuse of taxpayers money were levelled at a college presentation of a
serious play about AIDS. How can we maintain scientific validity and yet
avoid being censors?
(Emory Kimbrough) The opposing lawyer screamed CENSORSHIP! at the top of
his lungs. We were blasted repeatedly and vigorously with this charge.
And I'm afraid that we only did a mediocre job of responding. In our
eagerness to attack the bad science, we concentrated too much on
offense and too little on defense. The best response is that if the
state just refuses to buy something, that is not censorship. And that
is all that a textbook hearing is: It is a purchaser deciding if a
particular product is of good quality and worth buying. Thus, our best
arguments were arguments against the quality of the book. Also, we did
point out that we had no objection at all to this book being placed in
a school library or sold in a bookstore. Finally, we argued that the
weak censorship argument is overwhelmed by a strong
(Tom Monticue) Of course we are advocating censorship! In our love we
hold for our 1st Amendment rights, we tend to give censorship too many
bad connotations, but we are advocating the same kind of censorship that
the BOE textbook committee practiced in instructing the speakers to
stick to the subject at hand and not go off on tangents or make global
statements. We are advocating that science text books stick to science.
(Jay Holovacs) That last line is key, Tom! we can't forget that in our
(Emory Kimbrough) I see your point, and I agree, but I don't think that
censorship is quite the correct word here. Let me finish the story of
what happened at the textbook hearing. When the committee finally, after
a seven-hour hearing, decided to vote on approving or disapproving the
textbook, the creationist lawyer showed up again (He walked out, but he
didn't walk far.) He said that since the publisher had withdrawn the
book, then if the committee voted against the book they would be
defaming the publi sher. They had no right to say bad things about the
book in the name of the State of Alabama when the publisher had removed
the book. Thus, said the lawyer, the publisher just might sue the
committee AND INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE for defamation if they
voted to reject the book. The BOE lawyer told the committee to take the
threat seriously. He advised the committee to vote to accept the
withdrawal. The committee indeed took this cautious approach, so in
effect the hearing was for naught. The book was withdrawn. This is a
partial victory: On one hand, the book is NOT approved in Alabama now.
On the other hand, the book hasn't officially been rejected by anybody
(Jay Holovacs) It seems that a recent Supreme Court decision on the city
of Yonkers, NY, might reflect that individual members operating in a
government body cannot be held responsible for the action of the body as
long as they acted in proper context of their position, but I'm not a
(Tom Monticue) It's interesting that resolving that a publisher
published an unacceptable science text book could be considered
(Emory Kimbrough) Jay, I agree with you that the individual members
probably couldn't be SUCCESSFULLY sued, but in the real world winning a
lawsuit is often more trouble than winning should be worth. The opposing
lawyer clearly thinks that voting on a withdrawn text is not in the
"proper context of their authority."
(Mark E. Meyer) John Thomas, who recently resigned as president of our
North Texas Skeptics, has been looking into the Foundation for Thought
and Ethics. Lemme see if I've got something from a recent NTS
(Emory Kimbrough) That Foundation is located in Texas, everybody, so the
Texas skeptics know more about the group than I do. I just see their
tactics. Any questions or comments? If not, I have one sleazy anecdote.
The NCSE liaison in Alabama wrote to the textbook committee to complain
that _Pandas_ was not in the libraries. Thus, he asked that they not
approve a text that people couldn't first read. He had not been able to
find the text in Huntsville. A member of the textbook committee then
wrote a guest ed itorial for several big Alabama newspapers, including
the Birmingham News. (Is is proper for a committee member to
editorialize like this?) In his pro-Pandas editorial, this committee
member said that the evolutionists were so zealous and dogmatic that
they were asking for a rejection without even having read the book! To
support this, he quoted the NCSE liaison's letter out of context, making
it look like he didn't even bother to read a text he should have!
(Tom Monticue) Seems typical.
(Emory Kimbrough) Fortunately, the Birmingham paper later printed a
letter to the editor in which the NCSE liaison said that he COULDN'T
read the book because it wasn't in the *&^%&* library.
(David S. Rose) Hi Emory! Sorry I'm late. Did People For the American
Way play a role in the Texas fight?
(Mark E. Meyer) I couldn't find anything in our newsletters on the
Foundation for Thought and Ethics. I could ask John Thomas about it and
get back to you.
(Emory Kimbrough) Thanks for trying. Yes, we'd love an update from you
or John next month. Go Ahead and take David's question.
(Mark E. Meyer) One of those who were at the Feb. 10, 1989, meeting of
the State Board of Education here in Texas was Mike Hudson, director of
the Texas People for the American Way.
(David S. Rose) Thanks. They are a good group (I'm on the Board...) and
I just wanted to be sure that PFAW was being as helpful as possible.
(Emory Kimbrough) Here in Alabama, John Buchanan spoke against _Pandas_.
As I said earlier in this conference, he was very effective. Since he is
a Baptist minister and since he was for 16 years a Republican
Congressman from Alabama, his comments against creationism carried
weight at an Alabama hearing. It is easy for the opposition to dismiss
university professors as a bunch of communist atheists but they don't
have this luxury when they hear it from an Alabama Baptist Republican.
If anybody wants a copy of John Buchanan's remarks I have a transcript
and would be happy to mail you one. E-plex me your U.S. Mail address,
and I'll get it right to you. Buchanan was part of a one-two punch. He
addressed the legal, political, and religious side of our argument,
then the geology professors addressed the scientific side. This is the
right way to do it.
(David S. Rose) Great! That is why John is so marvelously effective as
Chairman of People for the American Way.
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