The State of Evolution

This is taken from my opening speech at the Darwin Day event.  Some has been updated.

I’ll start with education in the US.
Since the Scopes trial, there have been ongoing battles regarding origins of humans and the rest of life on earth. The Supreme Court eventually said that creationism isn’t science and can’t be taught in schools, so the same people who pushed creation, changed the tune a little and called it ‘Intelligent Design’. The word ‘God’ is not expressly stated, instead, it was a ‘Higher Power’. Interesting subterfuge, isn’t it?
So, in the early 21st century, we are still seeing fights in local school boards and state school boards trying to either stop teaching evolution, put it out as “only a theory” (you know, kind of like gravity is only a theory), or start teaching ID (in some cases, without the veneer of ID, but directly as ‘creationism’) along side of evolutionary biology as a ‘co-equal’ science.
A few cases of recent note:
Grantsburg, Wisconsin school officials revised their science curriculum to allow creationism teaching. This directly flouts the Supreme Court’s finding that this cannot be done. They are doing it with an eye towards fighting it all the way back to the SC thinking that the current makeup of the Court may overturn the existing law.
In Cobb County, Georgia, stickers were put in the biology textbooks reading “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.” I’d bet the people who put that in wouldn’t like a similar sticker placed in bibles saying that you should be open minded and critical. A federal judge found these to be unconstitutional, and they had to be removed. How much money was spent to put them in and then take them out? Do local taxpayers even pay attention?
Texas has been busy lately, with the ‘resignation’ of the science curriculum director on grounds that she forwarded an email announcing that a presentation was being given by Barbara Forrest, a key witness in the Dover, PA case, and author of ‘Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse’ about the effort to get ID taught in public schools. All she did was forward it as an FYI.
Also in Texas, some current good news (mostly). The State Board of Education members said the theory of ID should be left out of the science curriculum in public schools. 10 of 15 board members felt that ID shouldn’t be taught. Next year, this battle will continue when the board rewrites the science curriculum. Keep an eye on the news.
The Dover case. As was presented in the PBS movie “Judgment Day”, the School District science curriculum was changed to require ID as an alternative. The Pennsylvania judge (appointed by GWB) found in no uncertain terms that ID is not science, is religion, and can not be taught in science class.
Florida (oh, Florida)… The State Education Department is proposing to set a standard with evolution only being taught in public schools, so far, so good. However, those who disagree have been very busy.
An official has been “counseled” for sending an unofficial email message (but invoking her position as an official in the Office of Instructional Materials) to urge fellow Christians to fight the proposal.
Clay County School Board members voted unanimously that evolution be presented as a theory, not a fact in the classroom.
A majority of Pinellas County School Board members support inclusion of ID in the science curriculum.
In Dixie County, the superintendent says evolution is “going to be taught as fact, and everybody knows it’s not a fact. There’s holes you can drive a truck through.”
At least 7 of Florida’s 67 school boards – all north of Ocala – have passed opposition resolutions.
The State board of education voted 4 to 3 on February 19 to add evolution to course work that the public schools must teach. However, it passed only after a last minute change that clearly labels every scientific law and theory as ‘merely a theory’. Looks like an almost win turned on its head.

I find it interesting that Texas and Florida should be having these issues and be home to major NASA headquarters and launch sites. Do they want only out of state people to be working in local science programs? This boggles the mind.
Not much of a shock, though when you look at the National Geographic study of “Western” countries that asked to respond to the statement: “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” Possible answers were, true, false, and not sure.
The US was more accepting of evolution than Turkey! However, we were less accepting than all other countries polled. 40% Found the statement to be true, 40% false, and 20% are up in the air over it (let’s hope they land soon).
A CBS poll found that just 13% say God was not involved in the process of creating humans. 55% said God created humans in their present form, and two thirds want creationism taught alongside evolution. It just gets scarier.
Interestingly, in Brittan, Charles Darwin is just a dead, white Victorian male. But in the US, he’s the rebel with a theory. When the Darwin Fish started showing up as a parody of the Jesus fish, car rear-ends became a bit of a battleground. Now there are; Jesus fish eating a Darwin fish, Darwin fish eating a Jesus fish, a plump Buddha fish, Freudian fish in the shape of… never mind, a Science fish as a rocket, and even some rude ones involving copulation with a Jesus fish.

Another odd happening regarding evolution is about a creationist attempting to work as an evolutionary biologist. It’s been done more than once now. People of the creationist bent actually attending and getting degrees in the field and then announcing their belief that the world is 6000 years old. They usually get shown the door once it is discovered that they aren’t working towards increasing knowledge, but to prevent it. What a weird way to waste your time.
Now to finish on an up note; how about some current research?
Everyone with blue eyes, raise your hands! Look around at each other. You are seeing your somewhat close relatives. A team from the University of Copenhagen has tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6,000-10,000 years ago and is the cause of all blue-eyed humans alive today. The mutation in question is of the OCA2 gene which is involved in production of melanin, the pigment that gives us skin, hair, and eye color. A major mutation to this gene gives us albinism (no color), but this change just affected eye color. This variation does not affect survivability. It is just a side note on the path of evolution.
It looks like the field of evo-devo (evolution and development {from egg to adult}) is gaining ground in that they are finding that not many genes are required to make major changes to life. It is just requiring little tweaks of existing genes instead of whole new genes or lots of genes for each mutation. No, I don’t understand it exactly either.

So, even though there is constant anti-evolution activity in this country, the science is still being expanded. If they manage to get ID in, or evolution out of our public schools, what will be the state of evolution in 20 years? We have to keep our eyes open for the next ‘wedge’ they try.

About Randy