Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Evolution – Is It More Speculative Philosophy than It Is Science?

Darwinian evolution pushes the boundaries of science—maybe to the breaking point. It falls into the category of “origin science” and attempts, like intelligent design (ID), to answer the philosophical question of “Where did we come from?”

Those that advocate teaching evolution in the public school system, at the exclusion of other views, do so claiming that it is scientifically testable. The irony is that those same people often do not want the tenets of evolution to be challenged in the classroom.

Back in 2003, Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater submitted a proposal to the school titled “Objective Origins Science Policy.” If the school had adopted the proposal, it would have expanded the teaching of evolution to include information on any “assumptions which may have provided a basis for the explanation being presented.”

John Freshwater’s 2003 Proposal

The focus of the proposal was on keeping bias out of science and encouraging the students to use critical thinking when learning about evolution. The proposal, in part, read:

“It is the intent of this board that to enhance the effectiveness of science education and to promote academic freedom and the neutrality of state government with respect to teachings that touch religious and nonreligious beliefs, it is necessary and desirable that science which seeks to explain the origins of life and its diversity (origins science), be conducted and taught objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumptions… .”

The language of the proposal did come from the website of an ID organization— (IDN). The proposal, which makes no mention of creationism or ID, was voted down by the school board. (See copy of the proposal and the Science Curriculum Committee response.)

IDN says that while the language of the proposal “would permit appropriate discussions about design theory, it does not require that schools teach design theory.”

Science Curriculum Committee

The letter written by the Science Curriculum Committee—on why they did not recommend the board adopting Freshwater’s proposal—addressed the proposal as if the proposal had been to teach ID. (A copy of the letter was provided to by John Freshwater.)

The only thing in Freshwater’s proposal that comes close to inclusion of ID is this statement: “understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life and its diversity, and understand why origins science may generate controversy.”

The language of the proposal contained no statement that ID was part of “the full range of scientific views.” For the Science Curriculum Committee to come to the conclusion that the proposal was to teach ID, they first had to accept ID as science. However, in their own words they said it was not science:

“Intelligent Design is not science: not repeatable, measurable, etc. (belongs perhaps in social studies).”


“Intelligent Design is basically a religious issue—how do we account for all other religions not represented [...]?”

The committee acknowledged that some portions of the proposal was appropriate and in fact was already a part of school policy:

“Proposed mentioned critical thinking skills—redundant, we’re already doing this.”


“The board of education policy addresses controversial issues—Freshwater proposal is already addressed.”

Is Evolution Controversial?

While the proposal was under consideration, Rev. Donald Matolyak wrote a letter to the superintendant and the board about the issue. One of the reasons that Matolyak gave for why the board should support the proposal was its consistency with school policy on controversial issues:

“The policy states that ‘consideration of controversial issues has a legitimate place in the instructional program of the schools. Properly introduced and conducted, the consideration of such issues can help students learn to identify important issues, explore fully and fairly all sides of an issue, weigh carefully the values and factors involved, and develop techniques for formulating positions.’”

The committee stated in their letter that eighth grade science did not have anything controversial in it, even though the standards for that grade did include evolution.

According to a list supplied by Freshwater, one of the members on the committee was Bonnie Schutte. During Schutte’s testimony at Freshwater’s employment hearing, she acknowledged that evolution was a controversial topic in society but said that it should not be. “If evolution was taught in a scientific manner, they would no longer think evolution was controversial,” Shutte said.

Andrew Petto, in an article for The National Center for Science Education—an organization dedicated to promoting evolution—agrees with Schutte’s assessment. “Biological evolution is a scientifically settled theory,” Petto states. “Among scientists, this means that its fundamental principle —the shared ancestry of living organisms —has overcome all scientific challenges.”

Not everyone agrees with Petto. Ken Ham, in an article for Answers in Genesis—a creationist organization—argues that evolutionists have failed to prove that mutations can produce the diversity of life that now exists:

“Most students in evolutionary-biased education come to believe that mutations and natural selection result in one kind of creature changing into a totally different kind over long periods of time. The fact that mutations do not add new information to the gene pool is rarely mentioned. All we have ever observed is variation within a kind. Science has never observed a change from one kind to another kind.”

Legal Issues

One of the eight reasons the committee gave for not approving the proposal was ominous—it simply said “Illegal.”

The IDN website gives some information on legal issues raised by the evolution controversy. It cites the Supreme Court in the case of Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968):

“Government in our democracy, state and nation, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion; and it may not aid, or foster or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

IDN argues that origin science is a religiously charged issue:

“Although the State should avoid involvement in religious issues, when it decides to provide information to children about where they come from, the State has chosen to encounter a religiously charged question. Once in this arena, it must remain constitutionally neutral. The best way to maintain this neutrality is to see that the subject is taught objectively.”

On An Editorial Note

Writing as a journalist about the debate between evolution and ID is difficult. Both sides have strong opinions—and journalists are not immune from seeing the claims being made by one side or the other as being more credible.

I could almost swear that the most avid supporters of Darwinian evolution are lying about their views not being speculative philosophy. It presents a challenge for me to take the evolutionists seriously, when every time I have heard them speak or read their literature they were unable to scientifically support their view.

Those that believe in creationism or ID admit that although they claim some scientific support for their view, the interpretation of data related to origins science is often influenced by a scientist’s assumptions.

To what extent should the agenda of avid evolutionists be patronized? Should the government continue to back down in face of their demands that they be given exclusive control of the science classroom?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ian Watson Responds to Doing It Right

President of the Mount Vernon City School Board, Ian Watson, acknowledged Monday that the book Doing It Right had been in the school’s library, but said that it was removed at the start of last school year. During public participation at the board’s previous regular meeting, Jeff Cline read a portion of the book aloud.

The book Doing It Right is intended as a sex education book for the ninth grade level. (See for description of the book.)

Watson stated—at the July 6, 2009 board meeting—that individuals need to first use the system in place for making complaints about objectionable books before taking those complaints to the school board. “[The system] won’t work if nobody uses it,” Watson said. (See copy of the procedure for making complaints.)

Cline said he would try to set up a meeting with the principal of the high school to discuss the books that he finds objectionable. He said that a woman from his church has tried going through the school’s procedure for making complaints but that each time it did not work.

The book that Cline spoke to the board about at this month’s meeting is Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty. This time, Cline said he checked just before the start of the meeting to make sure it was still in the school library. He gave the board a list of words that he said were in the book.

Cline has spoken about the content of books in the school system on several prior occasions (YouTube videos):

(Jeff Cline reads Doing It Right-- June 15, 2009)

(Jeff Cline Speaks About Books in School-- April 06, 2009)

(Community disagreement with the school board's decision. 9/8/08 Part 2 of 2)

(John Freshwater August 4th 2008 (part 6)) (Cline is at 2:30 in video.)

UPDATE 7-9-09:

Pam Schehl reported—in an article for the Mount Vernon News, “Volleyball team feted by MV school board,” on July 7, 2009—that Ian Watson stated the book Doing It Right is not in the school library. (The article makes clear which book is being referred to, for those that have been at the school board meetings, but does not include the name of the book in the article. The title of the book Jeff Cline spoke about on July 6, 2009 is included.)

The article by Schehl does not include the fact that Watson did acknowledge that the book had been in the library.

UPDATE 7-16-09:

For a response from Megan McCafferty, author of Second Helpings, see the article: “Author of Second Helpings Responds to Book Controversy.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Re-teaching John Freshwater’s Ace Students

The following testimonies took place on 10/30/08—this article relies on the official hearing transcript for details of the testimonies.

At least one high school teacher claimed that she had to “re-teach” students that came to her from the eighth grade science class of John Freshwater. During the 2007-2008 school year, Freshwater’s students passed the Ohio Achievement Test at the highest rate for the school—meeting and exceeding state standards.

An investigative report commissioned by the school stated that multiple high school teachers complained of having to “re-teach” Freshwater’s students—but the report did not give the names of the teachers allegedly making that claim.

Freshwater is on unpaid administrative leave pending an ongoing hearing into his performance as a teacher. (Following his refusal to remove a Bible off his desk, allegations emerged that a student was burned during a science demonstration and that he taught creationism in class.)

High School Principal Kathy Kasler

The report by H.R. On Call (HROC) included the statement that the high school principal, Kathy Kasler, received complaints about Freshwater from the teachers. “The High School Principal said that Mr. Freshwater has caused issues for her high school teachers in having to reeducate students from his teachings,” the report stated.

Kasler never sat in on any of Freshwater’s classes. She acknowledged that she has no firsthand knowledge about the allegations against Freshwater.

Freshwater’s students performed well on the OAT, Kasler said.

The complaints Kasler said she received were from four teachers including ninth grade teacher Bonnie Schutte. Kasler said that Schutte was the only person to bring “surveys” from the students.

The surveys were conducted at the beginning of the year and covered the topics of what the students “dislike about science”, “like about science” and “what they want to be in future.” Kasler said that Schutte had been bringing those surveys to her for all of the eight years they had known each other.

The HROC report quoted from some of the surveys. The comments included: “Evolution, and why that isn’t probable and how it is.” “The Big bang theory was the most important concept I learned in science.” “Studying evolution out of the book because it is all opinion. Not proven facts.”

Freshwater taught about 100 students per year—Schutte would bring surveys from about 20 students, Kasler said. Of the three or four times that Freshwater’s name would be mentioned in one year’s batch of surveys, the comments students would put down were “I liked when he taught, he showed us how to view (sic), that we should not believe everything,” Kasler said.

Some of the surveys did not have a student name on them, but of the ones that did, Kasler said she checked and found out who their teacher from the eighth grade had been. She said the names checked out as being former students of Freshwater.

Attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, asked Kasler if she knew what Schutte may have said about Freshwater in her classroom. Kasler was not aware of Schutte saying anything about Freshwater, but she had not asked Schutte about that.

Kasler said she had passed the complaints on to the principal of the middle school.

When Kasler had a child in the eighth grade, she said she requested to not have her child in Freshwater’s class:

“[Because of the subject of creationism] my husband had told us if anything like that gets pulled and my child has him, I will in a heartbeat call the ACLU, and I don't care where you work. So in order to keep peace in my family and life simpler, I made a request.”

Schutte said that she probably would have made the same request even without her husband’s prompting.

Ninth Grade Science Teacher Bonnie Schutte

Student Surveys

Bonnie Schutte said that the surveys she had the students fill out were not intended to be scientific surveys. She acknowledged that the surveys did not isolate variables such as where the student learned the information that they wrote down.

Attorney Hamilton stated for the record that he objects to the surveys as evidence—describing them as hearsay. (It is very likely that the referee, R. Lee Shepherd, will agree. He has even declined to allow sworn affidavits from people unless they appear in person.)

Schutte said that she has never been in Freshwater’s classroom and does not know firsthand what he teaches.

During her testimony, Schutte gave conflicting information as to how long she had been conducting the surveys and turning in information about Freshwater’s students.

The first time she was asked, she said it had been for the last 19 years—she even gave names of some of the principals she made the complaints to: Ms. Kasler, John Kuntz, Blain Young and that there was another principal that she could not remember the name of.

The second time, Hamilton worded the question as “You've been focused on John Freshwater for 19 years in this regard, correct?”

“No, sir. I go about my daily teaching,” Schutte replied.

Schutte said that it would have actually been around the year 2002 that she started making her complaints to administration.


The term “re-teaching” had at least two different meanings for Schutte: First, that the students already knew the material so they were re-learning it. Second, that they were disagreeing with her in class and needed to learn to accept what she was telling them.

Schutte described students that came to her from Freshwater’s class as “bored”:

“[S]ince Mr. Freshwater had one third of the students I teach, then those students think they already know about chemistry, so I have to have them, you know, kind of cool their heels a little bit while I explain to the other students what an atom is and that type of thing. They're bored. They think they know everything already. They don't know why we use the periodic table or that you don't memorize it and you don't know why we learn it. They've memorized it so they're done.”

The other problem Schutte ran into was students speaking up in class—she said that they would say things like: “that's not what Mr. Freshwater said or that's not true” , “carbon dating isn't true or isn't accurate” , “There's no evidence for Big Bang” and “The reason there are dragons in so many cultures is that people and dinosaurs lived at the same time.”

Schutte said that students can have their own opinions but that they need to learn the material.

Controversy Among Scientists

Attorney for the school board, David Millstone, asked Schutte about controversies in the scientific community over theories, to which she replied:

“I don't know that there would -- I can't think of a situation where there would be a controversy in the scientific community about a theory.”


“They literally gather data, write to each other, now they can email each other and discuss everything. They get together and talk about it and they agree, okay, this is a body of evidence that's supporting all this, yeah, we're on the right track.”

Schutte acknowledged that there are some disagreements among scientists—such as disputes over the age of things. “There’s arguments as to 4.3 or 4.5, the universe 13 or 20 billion years,” Schutte said.

On the subject of evolution, Schutte said that there is “discussion” among scientists over punctuated equilibrium vs. gradualism.

Scientific Definitions

Attorney Hamilton shared with Schutte an excerpt from an “observation form” about Freshwater’s class that was filled out by former principal Jeff Kuntz:

“The lesson began with Mr. Freshwater giving three statements to his pupils. A hypothesis is an educated guess. A theory is an established fact that scientists believe to be true. To infer is to get an idea from your observation. These statements were shared one at a time from student to student around the room. Mr. Freshwater timed each activity.”

Hamilton then asked if Schutte agreed with the definitions.

On “hypothesis”: “I think by telling students a hypothesis is an educated guess, it gives them the wrong interpretation. It's not guesswork. You have to have background information before you can make a hypothesis, so you're not really guessing. But that's what most people tell -- how most people teach it.”

On “theory”: “But the thing -- theory is an established fact that scientists believe to be true. The word believe. […] The term believe I don't think should have been used, but I can see why somebody would say it that way.”

On “infer”: “[T]hat's fine.”

Schutte agreed that, based on the form, former principal Kuntz found Freshwater’s teaching on the matter to be acceptable.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Watching the movie Expelled, and then writing about it, was one option on an extra credit assignment given by Freshwater. Attorney Millstone asked Schutte if she was familiar with the movie and if she would consider it something that related to the science standards.

Schutte said that she had not seen the movie but had watched an interview of the movie’s producer, Ben Stein, and had read descriptions of the film. She said that it did not relate to the science standards.

The movie includes the claim that people in the education profession have lost their jobs because they expressed belief in Intelligent Design. Schutte said that claim was false. “So it wasn't because they were intelligent design people,” Schutte said. “They weren't researching. So the implication that they were fired because they're creationists isn't true. I know that's part of the movie and that's from the National Science Teachers Association.”

A search of the NSTA website (using the search term “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”) turned up two entries—an article and a podcast. Both items relied on the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) for their information on the movie.

The mission statement on the website of the NCSE says that the organization is “dedicated to keeping evolution in the science classroom and creationism out.”