Skip to comments.Creationism Makes Its Mark
Posted on 01/07/2009 6:00:18 PM PST by Inappropriate Laughter
When their son Zachary came home from science class with a cross burned on his forearm It was not the religion that bothered his parents, but the injury to their child. They sued, and brought science v. creationism back into the courts for another round.
It was a little over three years ago, on December 20, 2005, that Judge John E. Jones III issued his ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover that intelligent design was not science, but merely repackaged creationismand that it had no business in biology class.
The hoopla was immediate and enduring. Jones decision launched headlines across the globe, not to mention celebrations by the trials plaintiffs, their legal team and science experts (who send Merry Kitzmas greetings to each other on the anniversary).
For many, the Dover case became a cautionary tale of what can happen when a public school board believes its attempts to insert religion into the classroom can stand up to national attention and legal scrutiny.
But it would be a mistake to think that public school educators of fundamentalist faiths have made peace with science. Attacks on evolutionary education continue to take place out of the national spotlight, in small towns where people are reluctant to challenge the behavior of those clinging to power, and where teachers use their classrooms to proselytize to students away from the disapproving eyes of church-and-state watchdogs. They continue to preach intelligent design, the concept that lifes complexity demands a divine hand, and out-and-out Young Earth Creationism.
X Marks the Spot
Nowhere right now is this more apparent than in the small town of Gambier, Ohio, a place that bears a striking resemblance to the fictional town of Frank Capras Bedford Falls.
Here, in late September, just off a wide-spaced street that leads to the green campus of the liberal arts school of Kenyon College, a small-framed woman in dark sunglasses takes a seat at the local restaurant.
She is trying to pass unnoticed. Nervously, she nods to the owner of the establishment. Because she doesnt know who is on her side and whos not, Jenifer Dennis keeps her head down.
Only weeks later, Dennis would be forced to out herself publicly. But for now, she is trying to remain anonymous in order to protect her son Zachary from the inevitable recriminations from some who reside in the Mount Vernon School District in conservative south-central Ohio.
Last December she and her husband Steve accused a popular 8th-grade science teacher, John Freshwater, of using an electrostatic device known as a Tesla coil to brand a cross into Zacharys arm [see image above]. They say the burn, which in photos show an 8-by-4-inch mark on his forearm, raised blisters, kept their son awake that night, and lasted for several weeks.
At first glance, they saw the mark as a religious emblem. But their first concern was less about religion and more about what they considered to be a case of a teacher injuring their son.
Their accusations and their resulting lawsuit against the district have brought them criticism. A sign posted in a yard near their house read, The student goes. We Support Mr. Freshwater. The Bible stays!
For all the unusual elements to this story, this part is the strangest. At first, Jenifer and Steve were timid about pursuing legal action against the school district, fearing that they would be perceived as anti-Christian.
We are religious people, they said in a statement after they filed suit in June. But we were offended when Mr. Freshwater burned a cross onto the arm of our child. This was done in science class in December 2007, where an electric shock machine was used to burn our child.
Changing Stories: An X or a Cross?
The day after the incident, Jenifer and Steve met with the district Superintendent Stephen Short and showed him a photo of her sons burn. Jenifer recalls that she was told that Freshwaters use of the device was unacceptable and the district would investigate.
What took place over the next several months is not exactly clear. As is typical in these types of stories, there is much disagreement over who is on the side of truth. But some details have emerged.
The district hired an independent investigator. After a lengthy investigation in which Freshwater, other teachers, students, and administrators were all interviewed, the consultant concluded in a report that Freshwater had been teaching students that evolution is a lie for at least 11 years.
The report also said that Freshwater had witnessed to students, at one point telling them that there couldnt possibly be a genetic link to homosexuality because the Bible says it is a sin. The report also said that he handed out Bibles to members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and led them in prayers during school hours. Also, Freshwater said he had given a voluntary extra-credit assignment to students who watched Expelled, a documentary that argues teachers who believe in intelligent design are facing discrimination.
According to the report, Freshwater at first denied the incident. Later he admitted to the experiment, admitting he marked Zachary with an X. However, students interviewed for the investigation all described it as a cross.
The link to the full report is here.
In response to the investigation, Freshwater was told to remove all religious items from his room, including a poster of the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall, stickers with scripture on them, extra Bibles he kept in the back of the classroom, and the Bible that he kept on his desk.
In April, Freshwater, fearing disciplinary action, took his side of the story public. He never mentioned the branding incident. Rather he said it was because of the Bible on his desk.
Because he had refused to remove it, citing religious freedom under the First Amendment, he said he was being persecuted. Students organized a rally for him, bringing their Bibles to school in support. A Web site devoted to Freshwaters cause is called www.bibleonthedesk.com.
But Dennis said the issue was never about the Bible on the desk. And nowhere in the lawsuits initial complaint is it even mentioned.
Rather, she says, its because her son was branded.
After Freshwater took his side public, Jenifer said she and her husband were worried Freshwater wouldnt face disciplinary action. In June, they filed a lawsuit against Freshwater and the district for violating the First Amendments Establishment Clause by permitting religion to be taught in class, and for failing to protect their son. Federal law allows such civil liberties cases to be filed anonymously. Freshwater has filed a countersuit, citing defamation of character.
In July, the school board suspended Freshwater without pay based on the investigatory report, saying he had misused the electrical device, taught religion in his science class, and failed to follow district curriculum and rules.
Both sides are now awaiting the outcome of administrative hearing to determine whether he should be permanently fired. The hearings took place this fall and have been continued until January 6.
For now, while he waits for the outcome of the hearings, Freshwater is selling Christmas trees. Last week, he said he believes the district is retaliating against him because he advocated for critical analysis of evolution in 2003.
Theyve marked me as a religiousI dont know if I want to use this phrase about myselfbut as a religious fanatic, Freshwater said.
Freshwater is careful to say he doesnt object to all elements of evolutionary theory, but would simply like to raise some questions about it. He said that in the 21 years he has been a teacher, he has been using the Tesla coil on students, even though manufacturer instructions warn that it is not to be used on human skin. He said he has never had one complaint until now.
Freshwater said that there is no way to tell whether the photo presented by the Dennis family that shows the mark of a cross on a forearm was doctored, or whether it was even Zacharys arm.
When asked if he was accusing the family of lying, Freshwater said, Dont put words in my mouth.
While he admits using the device on Zachary, he said he didnt know if it left a mark.
Not Always a Rural Issue
Despite the gruesome elements, the story is less unusual than at first appears.
According to a poll published this spring in the Public Library of Science Biology, one in eight US high school teachers presents creationism as a valid alternative to evolution.
The poll, conducted by Michael Berkman, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and his colleagues, also learned that 16 percent of teachers believe in creationism.
While Berkmans research did not address why so many teachers are creationists, he speculated in an e-mail that biology appeals to even fundamentalist Christians:
In Darwins day, most biologists felt that they had a calling to describe Gods works. So people of all faith traditions may be drawn to biology, including those whose faith includes a literal interpretation of Genesis. Clearly, a substantial percentage of them are unwilling to accept the geological, chemical, and genetic evidence for an old earth.
Jason Wiles, a Syracuse University biology professor whose research focuses on teaching issues related to biological evolution, said he frequently runs into creationists training to be educators.
Its not only in the South, or in rural areas, Wiles said.
Wiles recently held a workshop for 30 science teachers in the Syracuse city school system. Three of the teachers were actively interested in promoting intelligent design.
He suspects that the reason that so few cases make it to the public stage is that many parents arent always aware of whats going on in the classroom. Also, children are often unaware that the teacher has crossed a Constitutional line.
A lot of times students just dont know what their rights are, Wiles said.
Resolution Far Off
On that day in September, Jenifer Dennis had come to Gambier to meet one of the plaintiffs in the Dover case. I was giving a speech at Kenyon College that night about Dovers battle. Cyndi Sneath, one of the parents from Dover, had ridden out with me from Harrisburg.
As they sat down at the table, Sneath and Dennis began to compare notes, sharing common experiences. Dennis plopped a large file on the table that details the case and starts flipping through pages. She asked Sneath if she had initially realized how demanding and time-consuming being a plaintiff in a First Amendment case would be. Sneath told her she honestly had no idea what to expect.
At first, Jenifer Dennis said she couldnt tell if she was overreacting to her sons arm. I was thinking maybe Im crazy, she said. I was thinking maybe its something they do? And its OK?
Dennis and her husband are both Catholic. They are NASCAR fans who camp in an RV at races. Yet, they are being labeled as elitist and intolerant of religion. At one school board meeting in July, numerous parents and teachers spoke in defense of Freshwater and criticized the parents. One parent told the board, As a Christian, I dont accept the separation of church and state.
During the districts administrative hearing process, Freshwater successfully argued that Zacharys name be released publicly. So the anonymous status in the familys lawsuit has now become a moot point, and the recriminations that the family feared have begun with calls and letters.
But Dennis said she has also had friends and strangers come up to her and say that theyre glad they came forward. She said Zachary, who turned fifteen on Dec. 17, is handling the pressure.
But unlike in the Kitzmiller case, in which Sneath and 10 other parents sued the Dover school district, Jenifer Dennis still feels alone in her fight.
She is looking forward to a resolution in the case. When she started this battle a year ago, she never envisioned it would still be going on through another Christmas. I just need some closure, she said. But her lawsuit will no doubt drag on for much longer. The trial date is not until May 2010.
You two definitely have a gift for writing, not to mention good manners. We could all learn a lot from you.
Considering the miscarriage rate is estimated to be about 35%, more of us would end up that way because most miscarriages are a result of defects that prevent viability.
The problem is not being able to distinguish between design and deterioration.
The most perfectly designed system will not continue to work perfectly forever once corruption enters the picture.
It's no reflection on the design.
Could you perhaps, provide an example of how you would create a system that would not deteriorate in light of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics?
Must be. They’re big on posting pictures of horrendously deformed babies to charge God with evil or something.
I find it reprehensible that someone would exploit a poor baby to further their agenda of mocking God.
I wonder if they have permission from the parents to do so and how those parents would feel about their child being exploited for that purpose?
For me, I see that sort of thing as a a good justification for the use of the abuse button.
There’s been a lot of the lately. Look at sign up dates on this thread alone.
So many people are in a tailspin because it was a cross burned into the kids arm.
Like it would have been a less serious offense if it had been some other symbol burned into his arm?
They worship Big Government about anything. Check out the mandatory vaccine threads and see where they stand.
I’ve had college level biology courses when I was a Bio major before I switched to meteorology and they never touched evolution.
They’re putting the cart before the horse. Much of evolution hinges on biology, not the other way around. Biology is needed to support the ToE but the ToE is not needed to support biology.
There’s tons of biology that can be done without bringing evolution in it. If it wasn’t included in high school biology, I doubt many kids would even notice.
All that claim is is justification to impose their worldview.
“Perhpas this tesla coil was a bit stronger than yours. “
Tesla coils operate on extremely high voltage with hardly any amperage. If amperage is too high you can get burns, ie car batteries. If the tesla coil was designed properly the likelyhood of a burn would be very low. The teacher probably didn’t intend to brand anyone, he just didn’t know what he was doing.
Don’t let them snow you. They know what is meant by *macro-evolution.
I’d like them to explain how changing the number of chromosomes in a creature can ever result in a positive beneficial mutation. Any time there’s a change in the number of mutations in humans it results in serious birth defects, often rendering the individual sterile.
The other thing is is that DNA appears to be resistant to major changes.
Twin Strands Of DNA Seek Each Other Out
Reality? What reality? The *reality* that someone decides they see in the lab?
In case you haven't heard, "truth" is a word best avoided in science.
What about the thought that if science and Scripture conflict that it's the human interpretation of the SCIENCE that needs to be re-examined?
Or has it never occurred to you that science could be wrong about something?
Because God is not applicable directly to science. It informs the opinions and philosophies of scientists such as myself who are Christian most certainly, but nobody wants to hear what a scientists feels about the data in his science publications.
How can the author not be applicable to that which He is responsible for being in the first place?... that’s wholly and utterly non-sensical!
It sounds very sovietesque to keep your opinions thqat formulate your science philosphies silenced, as if they’re somnehow taboo! Not to mention puts up a wall between communications and scientific exploration!
The chemist didn’t talk about his feelings other than that he didn’t see any progress to be made with evolution, he could just as easily used the word I don’t “predict”, instead of “I feel” and you know it and everyone knows it.
The rest of your strawman isn’t worth arguing anymore, you’re just never going to understand it is strawman with your obvious bias in the way.
That's certainly true in the hard, physical sciences.
There’s a BIG difference between multiplying pennies (essentially functionally and physically identical, each unit-wise) vs. biological multiplication via sexual reproduction. If the same genetic stock is multiplied over and over again, it results in increasing incidents of genetic defects. Look at the Pakistani kissing-cousin communities in Britain, to witness how bad it can get with just a few generations.
You must have flunked biology, Samson.
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is based on the assumption that all constituents’ behaviors are more or less predictable (mass changes, temperature changes, energy changes, etc.).
To stretch that to living systems where each constituent unit will have unpredictable behavior to a large extent, is silly.
==Reality? What reality? The *reality* that someone decides they see in the lab?...In case you haven’t heard, “truth” is a word best avoided in science.
Excellent point Metmom.
Then perhaps you could explain this bottleneck?
FWIW, at least the creationists postulate that the original DNA would have been perfect, 100% functional (no junk DNA) DNA. Evos can’t claim that, argue against a bottleneck because of genetic defects and then have something like this to deal with.
Explain it please. How did the initial group of people avoid becoming so inbred as to die out before they multiplied enough to become millions of the American Indians that populated this continent? And Central and South America?
Indian DNA Links To 6 ‘Founding Mothers’
I would answer you again if you want, but what is the point when next week you will still pretend there is no answer to your question?
If humans are all about flesh you could be correct.. but if humans are all about the spirit you could be quite wrong.. Some believe that the flesh is just a "space suit" for the human spirit.. Even if the flesh don't work too good.. the spirit may be fully operable and intact..
Could be that being human in the flesh is a test for the human spirit..
Better not to flunk reality..