Creationism in a Nebraska School Board

In the Grand Island Independent of Grand Island, Nebraska we learn that the heretofore low-profile Northwest School Board was treated to a powerful proposal for teaching creationism in science class.

Their headline is Northwest school board begins budget work. Most of the story is about budget stuff but don’t worry — we’ll only give you the creationism part, with bold font added by us for emphasis. They say:

In other business at the school board meeting Monday night, Northwest High School science teacher Dave Olson made a presentation asking that Northwest High School students “learn about both the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.

Way to go, Dave! That’s right out of the Discoveroids’ playbook. After that teaser there are several more paragraphs about budget matters, and then it gets back to Olson:

Near the end of his presentation on evolution, Olson told board members that he is not proposing that Northwest High School students learn about any religious viewpoints such as creationism and he is not proposing that students learn about intelligent design. He also said he is not proposing that students stop learning the evidence for evolution. Instead, he said he wants students to learn the evidence both for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.

Yeah — teach both sides! None of that religious stuff — heaven forbid! — just the evidence against evolution (whatever that is). Are we imagining things, or does Olson sound like he’s been brainwashed — perhaps even coached — by the Discoveroids? Let’s read on:

Olson gave a PowerPoint presentation with slides that raised questions about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, with several of the slides quoting Jonathan Wells, a Ph.D. who questions the theory of evolution. One of the slides was titled “Survival of the Fakest.” It quoted Wells as saying, “Science now knows that many of the pillars of Darwinian theory are either false or misleading. Yet biology texts continue to present them as factual evidence of evolution. What does this imply about their scientific standards?”

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! See Discovery Institute: The Genius of Jonathan Wells. Olson has drunk deeply of the Discoveroid Kool-Aid. We’ll skip a paragraph about Haeckel’s drawings. Ah, now we come to this:

The science teacher also took issue with neo-Darwinism that says new species arise from the accumulation of mutations in DNA to create new variations, with natural selection helping to eliminate harmful mutations. However, his slide said, “Today, genetics show that most mutations are harmful, thus new traits are not likely to occur. Traits are naturally selected, no new traits are formed.”

He didn’t miss too many clichés. Well, he didn’t mention Hitler — or maybe he did, but the newspaper didn’t report that. Then, like a good creationist, he slips in some quote-mining:

One of Olson’s slides cited Darwin himself to support teaching evidence against the theory of evolution. That slide quoted Darwin as saying, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

That’s from the Introduction of Origin of Species. The Discoveroids use that one too — see Discovery Institute’s “Academic Freedom Day”. What the quote-miners fail to point out is that Darwin did present the objections to his theory. See, for example, Chapter 6 – Difficulties on Theory, in which he described, and rebutted, many of the arguments that are still commonly used by creationists today.

Here’s our last excerpt from the news story:

Olson asked the board’s curriculum committee to consider his request for a change so that both the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinism be taught.

There’s no mention of what the Board decided to do, if anything. Perhaps we’ll learn about it one of these days. Until then, all we can do is wish Mr. Olson’s students good luck. They’re going to need it.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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19 responses to “Creationism in a Nebraska School Board

  1. The story is from August 2012. As far as I know, the board didn’t take any action on the proposal.

  2. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if just once individuals like this cast a critical eye over creationism instead of Darwin, but I suppose critical thinking and creationism have never gone hand in hand.

  3. Glenn Branch says: “The story is from August 2012.”

    Aaaargh!! Why is Google doing this to me? Sorry folks. Nothing to see here. Move along now.

  4. Olson is a science teacher? After clicking around for a while, it looks like Mr. Olson is also an active member of the Third City Christian Church. It’s Statement of Beliefs doesn’t actually come out against evolution. However, they are having a guest speaker, Beth Moore, at a live simulcast event. I don’t know if Olson will attend, but her ministry website includes the statement:

    “Regarding the scientific assault on the mind, Moore said evolution is being packaged as a fact, not a theory. “What’s being sold to us is an agenda, not a science,” she said. The agenda of evolutionists has made its way to the university classroom, one of the most critical battlegrounds of the mind for how it affects future American leaders.”

    So, I really do suspect that this science teacher has been poking around and looking for his own ‘wedge’. Something is beginning to smell awful here.

  5. I’m sorry: it looks like it is a current story after all — it’s (now) dated August 12, 2013. But Olson has been in the news with similar proposals previously, as this letter to the editor published on November 16, 2012, suggests: http://www.theindependent.com/opinion/letters/olson-claims-are-disturbing/article_aac3a2fe-2f7d-11e2-8f33-0019bb2963f4.html

  6. Thanks for the update, Glenn. I removed my disclaimer from the head of the post. I know how these things are. All these people say similar things, and when you’ve been doing this long enough, everything starts to look like you’ve seen it before.

  7. I am as contemptuous of creationism as anyone, and this guy Olson sounds like a typical creationist minion. But in theory, I’m all in favor of what he modestly proposes–sure, bring up the “evidence for and against” and discuss. Any science teachers worth their salt will easily refute the evidence against, won’t they? That would be an invaluable contribution to the advance of science in the classroom.
    …I know, I know–that’s why I said “in theory”.

  8. Wells’s “Icons of Evolution” is an icon of misdirection, with new derivatives being intelligently designed all the time: see the end of my piece here: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/08/creationism-as-conspiracy-theory-the-case-of-the-peppered-moth.html for the most recent examples.

    Never forget that Wells tells his spiritual family that he took his PhD in order to “destroy” what he calls Darwinism, but then tells the public both in Icons and in Fakest that he accepted the truth of his textbooks until late in his PhD. And he is the star witness for the accusation that evolutionists are all liars.

  9. John Freshwater also used Wells’ “Survival of the Fakest” in his 2003 (unsuccessful) attempt to get the Mt. Vernon district to adopt the Intelligent Design Network’s Objective Origins Science Policy. It’s a ubiquitous piece of propaganda.

  10. Near the end of his presentation on evolution, Olson told board members that he is not proposing that Northwest High School students learn about any religious viewpoints such as creationism and he is not proposing that students learn about intelligent design. He also said he is not proposing that students stop learning the evidence for evolution. Instead, he said he wants students to learn the evidence both for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.

    Stop! Before the ~99.99% of you take the bait and go on the usual tangent, for once please call these scam artists on their double standard. Why “evidence against evolution” but not “evidence against creationism or ID”? Because these scam artists know that “evidence against” creationism/ID, such as the fatal evidence against the mutually-contradictory “what happened when” claims of “creationism” and fatal evidence against ID being anything but a bait-and-swich scam is real, while the long-refuted misrepresentations of evolution peddled as “weaknesses” is phony.

    Now take another step back, and assume issue for the sake of argument that the “evidence against” evolution was as legitimate as the “evidence against” creationism/ID. It’s not, but these scam artists imply that it is. To teach “evidence against” creationism/ID one has to teach its “positive claims” first. Biblical anti-evolution teachers might risk that, but scam artists who bought into the ID scam explicitly advise against that. Because they don’t want students to figure out what they know – that creationism/ID is pure nonsense. But being radical authoritarians, they can handle the truth, but are deathly afraid that students cannot.

  11. PS: Before anyone tries to drag me onto that “tangent,” I know that science class, public or private, is not the right class to teach ether line of “evidence against.” But that’s not the point. What is is that these scam artists demand the phony line, while discouraging the real line. There’s no end to the irony.

  12. It seems that Paul Callier is the only one with an open mind regarding good science. Come on you guys, you are quick to criticize but slow to refute the claims against evolution. Please address the charges against; Haeckel’s falsification, Miller’s experiment proven incorrect, etc. It seems that most of what is present in today’s biology texts what is incorrect or proven wrong. Why do these lies or false information persist in the texts today? Why not put current evidence to prove evolution? See, if you can, present solid arguments against the charges without name-calling, put-downs, and sarcasm. Some of you say there is no controversy, but there are qualified scientists criticizing evolution with some good points. You should be respectful of people who disagree with your point of view. There are some serious problems with Neo-Darwinism and should be examined.
    Some of you mentioned why not present evidence against ID or creationism? Well these items are not being jammed down the students gullets as the only explanation for speciation. There are other options for them to consider. Let them search it out as there is no lack of information. The other options do not even need to be presented in the classroom as the students can figure this out. All I am saying is that when evolution is presented in a class, ALL of the evidence for and against should be available for their scrutiny and evaluation. It is their skills in problem solving, critical thinking and evaluation we are trying to promote in science, not a one-way theory of how life began and evolved. As a student I would resent any science program that would knowingly withhold conflicting information regarding a theory’s viability and correctness. We all should be seekers of truth, even if it goes against our feelings what we think is right.

  13. Dave Olson claims:

    “[T]here are qualified scientists criticizing evolution with some good points. You should be respectful of people who disagree with your point of view.”

    You make that sound like it’s a bad thing. Science thrives on such challenges because they afford an opportunity to extend knowledge. To be sure, the vast majority of relevant scientists and specialists don’t debate the truth/falsity of evolution; they debate its mechanisms, so cretinists and IDeologues are trying to stir up a controversy where there is close to none, and when it becomes clear that they’re on a fool’s errand, they bellyache about “Conspiracy!” and “Narrow-mindedness!” and “Censorship!” and other self-serving inanities. All the while, they simply side-line the fact that their own alternative (and wildly variable) explanations must stand or fall on their own merits (and so far, these have failed even to make it out of the crib). Scientific theories are never brought down by such juvenile tactics or by verdicts of the court of lay opinion. They are brought down by being superseded by a better scientific theory. In short, cretinists and IDeologues refuse to play by science’s rules, opting for populist schemes instead. So much for being respectful.

    Dave Olson whines:

    “It is [students’] skills in problem solving, critical thinking and evaluation we are trying to promote in science, not a one-way theory of how life began and evolved.”

    How gallantly noble. Maybe we should also include alchemy in chemistry lessons, astrology in astronomy, unbalanced humours in healthcare, Zeus in meteorology and thumb-sucking in statistics so that students can “search it out as there is no lack of information.” That should really put their problem solving, critical thinking and evaluation skills into overdrive.

    If cretinists and IDeologues actually had something to offer besides mud-slinging, the scientific community might start viewing them with a little less amused disdain.

  14. Dave Olson wrote

    Please address the charges against; Haeckel’s falsification, Miller’s experiment proven incorrect, etc.

    Haeckel’s been addressed:

    However, the claim that Haeckel “distorted the evidence at every turn” is untrue. As Michael Richardson and colleagues also point out, there is, in fact, compelling similarity of early embryos which provides strong support for common descent.

    Note this, too:

    A recent survey of 36 biology textbooks, dating from 1980 to the present and covering high school biology, college introductory biology, advanced college biology, and developmental biology books, found that only 8 of these textbooks mentioned Haeckel or the biogenetic law. Two of these 8 were creationist/ID books (Of Pandas and People, and Biology for Christian Schools from Bob Jones University Press). Of the 6 mainstream textbooks that mentioned Haeckel or the biogenetic law, two are advanced college-level books. In all cases where Haeckel is mentioned (except for the creationist/ID books), the text discussion does not reproduce Haeckel’s mistakes.

    Notice that it’s the creationist “textbooks” that reproduce Haeckel’s mis-drawings.

    Assuming that “Miller” refers to Stanley Miller, it was not shown that Miller was “incorrect.” He used the best available hypotheses about the early atmosphere in his work. It still stands as a demonstration of how easily the basic building blocks of life–amino acids–form. We now know a variety of conditions under which organic compounds occur in outer space–see here for an example.

    Dave Olson went on

    All I am saying is that when evolution is presented in a class, ALL of the evidence for and against should be available for their scrutiny and evaluation.

    “All of the evidence”? Sure thing. Let’s devote three or four years to teaching high school kids (that’s who the OP is about) the relevant parts of paleontology, geology, embryology, molecular biology, comparative genetics, and population genetics, so they know enough to scrutinize and evaluate the evidence that those disciplines bring in support of evolution. ‘Course, that leaves no time for math, English, social studies, or art during those three or four years.

    And if Haeckel’s 145 year-old drawings and Miller’s now 60-year old experiment represent Dave Olson’s notion of evidence against evolution, he’s in sadder intellectual shape than most creationists.

  15. Argh! Formatting fail. HELP!

  16. RBH says: “Argh! Formatting fail. HELP!”

    The clouds part and a Curmudgeonly Hand descends. All fixed.

  17. I’ve discussed the present-day teaching of Stanley Miller’s expt with Ken Miller, and blogged on how the creationists overplay its improtance as part of their conspiracy theory mongering: Creationism as conspiracy theory, and the teaching of the Urey-Miller experiment http://wp.me/p21T1L-2l

  18. Well then, using my words then yours…..
    “[T]here are qualified scientists criticizing evolution with some good points. You should be respectful of people who disagree with your point of view.”

    [You make that sound like it’s a bad thing. Science thrives on such challenges because they afford an opportunity to extend knowledge. ]

    The only thing that is bad is the lack of respect for people with differing opinions/statement. Yes, science thrives on controversy when there is disagreement, but the idea is to debate with facts rather than pound the opponent with biased opinions. Let’s extend knowledge by talking about the differences with the facts.

    [However, the claim that Haeckel “distorted the evidence at every turn” is untrue. As Michael Richardson and colleagues also point out, there is, in fact, compelling similarity of early embryos which provides strong support for common descent.]
    You can find other embryologists stating that the embryos of the 5 vertebrate classes have no similarity in the early stages. That they are dissimilar in the early stages, become more similar in the middle stages, then dissimilar in the later stages. The battle continues! An just because certain embryos may look similar, does not prove common descent. It also could be evidence of common design, or are you open for that concept?
    It is the same story for homologous structures. Similar structure does not prove common descent. Then you could mention what about the genetic code…..all life on earth has similarity in the bases of DNA. Could that and common limb structure also be a common design thing if organisms will be living in the same biosphere, how will they assimilate them unless they have common molecular structure?
    All of this dialogue points out there is disagreement among scientists regarding macroevolution and neo-Darwinism. What makes evolution theory look bad to me is the continual use of the “evidence” of Haeckel, Stanley Miller’s experiment, Archaeopteryx as the missing link between reptiles and birds which there is clear opposing views, and on and on. There are several biology texts beyond the surveyed 36 that continue to use Haeckel and other false information…..why? If there is so much evidence supporting macroevolution, why is it not appearing in current text books? There is more evidence out there that makes one question the validity of evolutionary theory. If I can find it, so can you….if you have an open mind. One of the requirements of good science is information without bias. Just saying.

  19. Dave Olson hypocriticises:

    “Yes, science thrives on controversy when there is disagreement, but the idea is to debate with facts rather than pound the opponent with biased opinions.”

    That’s a jolly fine sentiment. But I see you simply ignored the sizeable remainder of my comment where some facts were aired, for example what evolutionary scientists actually debate, and that evolution’s detractors typically offer only ill-informed carping instead of plausible and substantiated alternatives, and where and how exactly the “biased opinions” and disrespect really originate. Denial and evasion don’t make for fruitful debate, and, even less so, duplicitous whining about “debate with facts” in place of verifiable facts.