Recently in Evolution Education Category

Avida-ED is educational software that provides an accessible presentation layer on the Avida artificial life platform. The first version was released nine years ago, and today marks Prof. Rob Pennock’s release of version 3, with a formal presentation at Evolution 2016. Avida-ED is geared toward the needs of undergraduate and advanced high school curriculum use.

The new version, Avida-ED Web 3.0, is a web application: it runs in your browser (Firefox or Chrome currently; Safari, Internet Explorer, and Edge have some compatibility issues). To get it, visit the canonical Avida-ED site, or the mirror site. As a web application, Avida-ED Web 3.0 lowers the barriers to use, restoring the ability for those running Linux to use Avida-ED, and giving Windows users access to the latest feature set. While installation is not required, there are installers for MacOS and Windows that set up a local HTTP server and launch a local copy of Avida-ED Web in the default browser. This latter option may be useful for people who expect to be without internet access when they want to use the program. More discussion below the fold.


Media Matters reports that talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said on his May 31st, 2016 show

By the way, you know there’s another factor in this, Snerdley? A lot of people think that all of us used to be apes. Don’t doubt me on this. A lot of people think that all of us used to be gorillas. And they’re looking for the missing link out there. The evolution crowd. They think we were originally apes. I’ve always – if we were the original apes, then how come Harambe is still an ape, and how come he didn’t become one of us?

This was also a topic on Huffington Post.

Well, this was covered in detail years ago right here on The Thumb - Why are there still Monkeys? February 25th, 2005.

Folks, this is just another example: if creationists evolve at all, it’s very, very slowly.


A commenter on an earlier thread directed our attention to an article by Zack Kopplin in the Daily Beast, “School teaching creationism with video from Islamic sex cult.” The headline may be a bit over the top, but the gist of the article is that the school district is employing materials developed by Harun Yahya. To give due credit, here is what the commenter, “Charley Horse,” wrote on the earlier thread:

A bit off topic … but of interest.

School Teaching Creationism With Video From Islamic Sex Cult. An Ohio school district is using a video made by a Holocaust-denying Muslim to undermine evolution in science class.


A curriculum map recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.”

…The district’s curriculum map calls for teaching “an alternative theory called Intelligent Design,” which is another name for creationism. Youngstown suggests teachers show a creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, produced by the right wing Christian advocacy group, Focus on the Family and by the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank.…

“Students are reminded how the irreducibly complex system like the flagellum of a bacterial cell could not have evolved slowly, piece by piece and serves as a counter-example to evolution,” says the curriculum, citing another disproven creationist talking point. It also recommends the video Darwin’s Dilemma, also produced by the Discovery Institute. Other materials call evolution a “theory in crisis,” and were created by the All About GOD ministries.

The Daily Beast article directs us to a “curriculum map” and notes,

A curriculum map (PDF) recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.” The Cambrian Explosion was a time period, nearly 550 million years ago, where, over the next tens of millions of years, the number of species on Earth experienced a (relatively) rapid expansion by evolutionary standards. Christian creationists regularly point to this explosion of life as evidence for creation by God and against evolution.

Blink and you’d miss the Islamic connection in the video. A black screen flashes for less than one second that says “this film is based on the works of Harun Yahya.” In the right corner, there’s a gold bubble that says, “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” in Arabic.

I followed the link to the curriculum map. I am not a biologist, and I did not read all 24 pages in detail, but, sure enough, on page 3/24, I found,

NCSE informs us that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has rendered a decision in the appeal of Cope vs. Kansas, which we reported on here. Specifically, the Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s earlier dismissal of the case, largely on the basis of standing. Additionally, NCSE notes, “Interestingly, though, the decision observes in a footnote that COPE’s suggestion for ‘teleological’ explanations to be added to the standards would be unconstitutional.” NCSE’s report on the decision follows, printed with permission:


The creationist lawsuit seeking to reverse Kansas’s 2013 decision to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards on the grounds that the state thereby “establish[ed] and endorse[d] a non-theistic religious worldview” failed again on April 19, 2016, when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of the case, COPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.

The court’s decision mainly addressed the question of standing, agreeing with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any of their claims. Interestingly, though, the decision observes in a footnote that COPE’s suggestion for “teleological” explanations to be added to the standards would be unconstitutional.

As NCSE previously reported, the lead plaintiff, COPE, Citizens for Objective Public Education, is a relatively new creationist organization, founded in 2012 but its leaders and attorneys include people familiar from previous attacks on evolution education across the country, such as John H. Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network.

The NGSS have been adopted in eighteen states – Arkansas (so far only for middle school), California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia – plus the District of Columbia. The treatment of evolution and climate science in the standards occasionally provokes controversy, but COPE v. Kansas is the only lawsuit to have resulted.

You may find the court’s decision (PDF) here, courtesy of NCSE.

And you may find NCSE’s collection of documents from COPE v. Kansas here


Thanks to Glenn Branch of NCSE for allowing us to reproduce their essay.

Zack Kopplin, who has been opposing the antievolution nonsense in Louisiana since 2008, has an interesting new article in The Daily Beast:

Kopplin, Zack (2015). Creationism Whistleblower: ‘Academic Freedom’ Is Sneak Attack on Evolution. The Daily Beast. December 28, 2015.[…]olution.html

Kopplin has really gotten the goods on what these “stealth creationism” bills mean on the ground – of course, what they mean is straight-up creationism taught in the public schools. Kopplin quotes from documents he has obtained from Louisiana school districts.

Also – it looks like Kopplin somehow got an interview with a former employee of the Discovery Institute – evidently someone who eventually saw that what was really going on there was apologetics for a very specific sectarian view, rather than actual science.

Here’s one of the good quotes from Kopplin’s article:


Model of the HMS Beagle constructed by Luis Peña out of more than 2000 Lego pieces.

I received an e-mail from Luis Peña, a self-described Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL), regarding his goal to develop an official Lego set, Darwin & HMS Beagle. To further his goal, Dr. Peña built the model of the Beagle shown in the photograph, using standard Lego parts and custom decals.

Lego will consider “Darwin & HMS Beagle,” provided that the project obtains 10,000 votes within the next 537 days; it currently has 7754 votes, counting mine yesterday. Voting is a bit of a pain, in that you have to register and answer a handful of questions, but it seemed to me to be well worth the effort.

Asked for more detail, Dr. Peña writes,

The Washington Post reported the other day that Justice Antonin Scalia, in a commencement address, said,

Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.

I suppose that “at least 5000 years” gives you some wiggle room, but I would hardly call, say, 200,000 years “at least 5000 years.” That is a bit like saying, “The trip from Boulder to New York is at least 20 kilometers.”

Jerry Coyne, who is much nicer than I am, thinks that it might have been “just an offhand remark that’s been blown out of proportion.” Well, maybe, but I watched most of the speech on Professor Coyne’s website, and I could not help but notice that Justice Scalia was reading that text: he did not misspeak.

Justice Scalia dissented in Edwards vs. Aguillar, but he seemed more concerned with whether the legislature intended creation “science” as a religious doctrine than with its scientific merit. He also supported the “balanced treatment” argument to the effect that students who learn evolution are entitled to the opposing view as well. His argument was well reasoned but depended on the assumption that creation science is not a religious doctrine if its supporters think it is not.

Contrary to some reports, Justice Scalia did not say, “The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution”; rather, he was paraphrasing the testimony of witnesses and states explicitly “that I by no means intend to endorse its accuracy” but that “what is crucial is not [the legislature’s] wisdom in believing that [a certain secular] purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be” [italics in original].

Still, Justice Scalia generally comes across as an authoritarian, uncomfortable with ambiguity and guided by literalist interpretations. If he takes the Bible as literally as he takes the Constitution, then it is easy to see that he might well believe in a young Earth. I hope I am wrong and Professor Coyne is right.

Teachers first, scientists second


That is one of the disquieting results of a new survey, Enablers of doubt, by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer. The two Penn State professors interviewed a total of 35 students on 4 Pennsylvania campuses in 2013. All the students were training to be biology teachers; many were not comfortable with the theory of evolution, and many were “concerned about their ability to navigate controversy initiated by a student, parent, administrator, or other members of the community.” Indeed, instead of relying on their knowledge of biology, they intended to fall back on classroom-management techniques to deal with creationist students. Notably, these were not education students, but rather biology students who “take a set of required courses in educational psychology, classroom management, and methods of instruction.” Their lack of expertise in science seems not to concern them; to the contrary, they thought they would use their skills at avoiding controversy to avoid any controversies.

PT readers may remember Professors Berkman and Plutzer for their book, Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, which we reviewed here a few years ago. The disquieting conclusion of that book was that only about 28 % of biology teachers actually teach evolution according to recognized standards. The present study may help explain why.

The students, who attended a large research university, an institution that granted degrees at the master’s level, a Catholic college, or a historically Black university (all unnamed), were interviewed in focus groups. The interviews lasted 50-65 min and were conducted by the authors. The focus groups do not provide a statistical sample, but the authors attempted to include several different kinds of educational institution, and they consider the findings “suggestive.” Below the fold, some representative comments.

This cartoon


Ken Ham, The Lie: Evolution, illustrations by Steve Cardno (Master Books, 1987). See also here.

was shown as part of an otherwise innocuous PowerPoint presentation to a freshman biology class at Grady High School in Atlanta and caused a bit of a flap, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The teacher and the district science coordinator apparently refused interviews, but the student newspaper reports, based on interviews with students, that the teacher did not teach evolution and seemed to favor creationism.

si-JulAug2014.jpg I’ve a brief new article in the new Skeptical Inquirer (July/August 2014) regarding Casey Luskin’s botched attack on the second episode of Cosmos. Here it follows - your comments are welcomed.

Fox TV’s Seth McFarlane has joined with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow and collaborator, to continue Sagan’s marvelous Cosmos series of decades ago. The new series is a splendid blend of homage to Sagan’s original one with dazzling new graphics–and new discoveries.

The second episode of the series, first broadcast March 16, 2014, covered evolution and natural selection. (Link) As expected, creationists were furious. The main promoter of “intelligent design,” Seattle’s Discovery Institute, has run several anti-Cosmos blogs on its Evolution News and Views (ENV) website.

In their zeal to attack Tyson and the Cosmos series, however, the Discovery Institute has created a stunning example of the straw man logical fallacy. This fallacy is so named because it involves attacking one’s opponent not by an honest dissection of his or her actual views but by attacking a caricature, a distorted misrepresentation of those views. The Discovery Institute’s attack on the evolution episode of Cosmos was a particularly egregious example of this fallacy–a straw man for the ages, as it were.

I occasionally get books for review unsolicited, and many of them are not worth noticing. However, Kostas Kampourakis' Understanding Evolution is a wonderful resource for students of all kinds, including biology students.


That is the title of a Slate article by Zack Kopplin. But actually it is much worse (see also NCSE’s take here). Here are the first 3 paragraphs of Kopplin’s article.

Evolution Weekend


The Clergy Letter Project has announced the ninth annual Evolution Weekend, February 7-9, 2014. Their theme this year is Different Ways of Knowing/Asking Different Questions, and they say,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

They go on to note that many religious people recognize evolution as “sound science” and furthermore that “mischaracteriz[ing] evolution for partisan gain” has real (and I would add, uniformly negative) “consequences for society.” Read their statement for yourself, and by all means bug your clergyperson to address evolution from the pulpit or to develop some special program for that weekend – even if you have to prepare that program yourself! I certainly intend to bug my rabbi, who last year very graciously helped me put together a program on the trolley problem, and see what we can do this year.

I am a little bit late reporting this, but Josh Rosenau reported on November 26,

It’s a joy to be able to report on a sweeping victory for science education in Texas, and to be able to give an eyewitness report of the fight over the textbooks that will be used in that massive textbook market for years to come. The 2009 battle over Texas science standards made it quite possible that the textbooks adopted last week would be riddled with creationist claims, or would give creationist board members a toehold to demand that publishers rewrite their books or be left off of the state’s approved list. In the end, the books available to students will be solid, accurate, and honest about evolution and climate change.

Genie Scott has announced her retirement, and Ann Reid will take over as new Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. Congratulations to both Dr. Scott and Dr. Reid! Dr. Reid is a research scientist whose team sequenced the 1918 influenza virus at the Air Force Institute of Technology. One colleague credited her with the additional ability to herd cats. See the NCSE press release here.

Speaking of NCSE …


Anthropologist Eric Meikle, NCSE staffer, has started a series of posts on human evolution at Science League of America, NCSE’s new blog. The first two posts in Eric’s series are here (#1) and here (#2).

Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, would have been 269 today (August 1), were it not for his untimely death at 85. But he did accomplish a few things – he was one of the greatest pioneers of invertebrate biology (and he coined the words “invertebrate” and “biology”). And he put forward one of the very earliest theories of evolution, one that had proposed mechanisms. A major mechanism he proposed, to explain adaptation in place of natural selection, was that effects of use and disuse of organs would be passed on to the next generation by inheritance of acquired characters. Although that inheritance has come to be called “Lamarckian inheritance”, he did not invent it – it was commonly known to be true in those days.


He was wrong about inheritance, but he got another important fact right …

Science reports today that Turkey’s main science-funding agency denied a grant to a workshop on the grounds that “evolution is a controversial subject.” The purpose of the workshop was “to expose Turkish biology students to population genetics, game theory, and evolutionary modeling.” The organizers of the workshop had asked for approximately $18,000 (US) to cover the cost of students’ lodging and speakers’ travel. The workshop will go on, with private donors contributing the $18,000.

Under the heading Creationism Follies, Heather L. Weaver, an ACLU staffer, recalls the infamous fourth-grade science quiz that we described here on May 1. Being an ACLU staffer, Weaver notes that “religious schools are well within their First Amendment rights to indoctrinate students in this manner.” Not being an ACLU staffer, I note that they may have a legal right to teach students any kind of garbage that they like, but they have no intellectual right to do so, and schools that teach creationism as if it were truly science should lose their accreditation. Indeed, recent court decisions have upheld the University of California’s right to require remedial courses for students who have been miseducated at religious high schools.

But what about the public schools? Weaver outlines what she calls “just a few examples of creationism advocates working their influence in the public schools during the 2012-2013 school year”:

Padian on getting evolution right in textbooks


Open access in Evolution: Outreach and Education. The abstract:

Topics related to evolution tend to generate a disproportionate amount of misunderstanding in traditional textbooks, other educational materials, and the media. This is not necessarily the fault of textbook and popular writers: many of these concepts are confusingly discussed in the scientific literature. However, faults can be corrected, and doing so makes it easier to explain related concepts. Three general areas are treated here: ideas and language about evolution, historical and philosophical aspects of evolution, and natural selection and related concepts. The aim of this paper is to produce a template for a more logical, historically and scientifically correct treatment of evolutionary terms and concepts.

It’s a valuable resource not only for textbooks but for science writers and journalists.

Hat tip to NCSE on Facebook

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