Tennessee Biology Book Ban (03 May ’10)

I’m No Kin To The Monkey

Background: In Tennessee, the Knox County school board has been struggling over whether to ban a biology textbook. One parent, Kurt Zimmermann, had complained that the book was disrespectful to creationists. We recently posted about this here: Biology Book Banning in Tennessee? Our last post on the subject was here: Decision on Tennessee Biology Book Ban Demand.

This affair is interesting in its own right, but it also has historical resonance. Knoxville is only 67 miles from Dayton, the site of the infamous Scopes Trial. Dayton is also the home of Bryan College, proudly named after William Jennings Bryan, The Great Populist Blowhard was born 19 March 1860, so the creationist world recently celebrated his 150th birthday.

Now, in Metro Pulse, located at 602 S. Gay Street in Knoxville, we read Textbook Authors Write to School Board. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

With the Knox County school board meeting in a workshop session this evening to revisit a parent’s request to ban a biology textbook, the authors of the contested text have sent board members a letter presenting their own take on the issue.

Hey, the board is meeting right now, even as we speak. Let’s read on:

Authors Jennie Dusheck and Allan J. Tobin say that their use of the word “myth” to describe biblical creationism was in no way intended as a religious slight, but is just a reflection of a series of U.S. court decisions: “From the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that creation science cannot be taught in public schools because it is religion to a similar 2005 Dover decision, U.S. courts have repeatedly affirmed that creationism is religious doctrine, not science, and that schools cannot require teachers to present religion as an alternative to science.”

Sounds good, but what effect will that have on the board? We continue:

They add that they would consider rewording the section for their next edition, but ask that the board reject the request to ban.

Somehow, we doubt that the creationists will find that satisfactory. Here’s more:

The workshop meeting begins at 5 p.m. on the first floor of the Andrew Johnson Building, 912 S. Gay St.

The board meeting is on Gay Street, the newspaper is on Gay Street — Knoxville must be a wild town.

The rest of the article gives the complete text of the letter that the authors sent. We’ll give you just one paragraph, and then you can click over there to read it all:

Asking About Life is an award-winning college-level biology textbook. It has been reviewed by more than two hundred biologists from nearly every state in the union. It is considered an exemplary science textbook. Like many other schools and school districts, Knox County selected it for use by Knox County students.

If the news of the board’s decision gets reported — and we’re confident that it will be — your Curmudgeon will let you know. Stay tuned to this blog.

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8 responses to “Tennessee Biology Book Ban (03 May ’10)

  1. Nokintoamonkey? Why does that sound familiar?

    You know, if they put all those banned books in a pile they could have a bonfire.

  2. Tundra Boy says: “Nokintoamonkey? Why does that sound familiar?”

    Yup! You recognized it.

  3. From the article: “Authors Jennie Dusheck and Allan J. Tobin say that their use of the word “myth” to describe biblical creationism was in no way intended as a religious slight…”

    Nor intended to shoot oneself in the foot either, but that’s exactly what such language does. What they ought to make clear (in the next edition?) is that it’s the creationists themselves who assure the “myth” status by refusing to test their own hypotheses and develop their own theories.

    If a biology book even needs to address creationism in the first place, why not use the religiously neutral “pseudoscientific alternatives to evolution”? Whatever one calls it, it’s not a myth, but several mutually contradictory ones, all of which fail to hold up to the evidence. And all of which are steadily degenerating into strategies to misrepresent evolution in every way possible, while saying as little as possible about their own easily falsified claims.

  4. I would’ve like to see the authors take a bit more of a proactive/aggressive stance. Quote/use some Joseph Campbell, and fire back that “myth” is actually a very positive label, with a lot of rich connotations. Saying ‘we used the word myth because the courts say that’s what it is’ doesn’t send a strong message (IMO)

  5. eric says:

    I would’ve like to see the authors take a bit more of a proactive/aggressive stance.

    That’s probably the wrong approach when dealing with creationists. They’re always ready to go on Red Alert at the slightest provocation. Conciliation is better, I think — as long as it’s not caving in. The authors’ suggestion that they’ll consider revising that word in the next edition strikes the right tone.

    The word “myth” was a mistake. Sure, it has some meanings that make it appropriate, but it has other meanings that might give offense. It was a sloppy choice. Far better to refer to the Genesis “account” of creation or something like that.

    Hey, some new items I saw this morning say the board’s decision will be made on Wednesday. That’s tomorrow. We’ll see.

  6. Curmudgeon: “Far better to refer to the Genesis ‘account’ of creation or something like that.”

    “Account” is a word I like to use when referring to creationism. It refers to the “what happened when” and how they come in mutually contradictory versions , none of which hold up to the evidence. That’s the first thing I would explain to those who might otherwise be fooled by anti-evolution sound bites, but are not so far gone that they’d never concede evolution. Once they fully understand that, they’ll truly appreciate why creationism never dared to determine the “hows”, and how it has even been retreating from the “whats and the “whens.”

  7. I completely agree that ‘account’ is probably less contentious and more likely to stop the natterers in their tracks. But it is, IMO, less accurate – for exactly the reason Frank cites. Account implies that the facts of the story are what matters. That ‘what happened when’ is what matters. In contrast, with myth what matters is the underlying themes and lessons of the story. In that respect referring to religious creation stories (all of them, not just Genesis) as myths more accurately reflects why there were invented and what they are supposed to do.

    I recognize that a lot of people might disagrree with me on that and say that the who/what/where/when/how of the story is what matters to them. And yeah, it’ll aggravate the literalists to call it myth, but just purely my opinion its the correct term to use.

  8. Eric: “I recognize that a lot of people might disagrree with me on that and say that the who/what/where/when/how of the story is what matters to them. ”

    It depends on what you mean by “what matters.” If an anti-evolutionist promotes, however indirectly, that an alternate account is factual and testable, then the what/where/when/how (not even the “who” as in “designer’s identity”) is all that matters. And that’s what they need to support on it’s own merits, not on phony “weaknesses” of evolution. If their account contradicts another anti-evolution one they can’t downplay or cover-up the differnces and pretend to be scientific at the same time.

    OTOH to most theists on the street what matters most is th “who(dunit)” and the lessons to be taken from it, whether they take it literally or allegorically. Since they are the majority I think it’s more important to show them how anti-evolution activists are trying to mislead them, than to speculate on what those activists personally believe. Even those who don’t buy what the activists peddle (indirectly in the case of IDers) often say “what’s the harm, let them believe what they want.” Criticizing the activists’ religion, however indirectly or unintentionally, is counterproductive and unnecessary.