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.
Pope John Paul II believed in Evolution.
As does Pope Benedict
Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christian fundamentalists.
The Bill of Rights does contain the Establishment clause and, even though the words “separation of CHurch and State” are not specifically there, the meaning is clear that the government cannot favor any religion. It’s part of the freedoms this great nation embraces and why many people first settled here.
Burning a cross onto a student’s arm is both child abuse and a blatant invocation of religion. We don’t need teachers branding kids with their religious symbols. THe guy needs to be fired and thrown in jail. The parents should get a good chunk of his assets. And just because some petty school board member wants government endorsement of religion does not make it right, not is it going to happen. She’ needs to leave office.
True Christians are smart enough to know a literal reading of the Bible is superficial and decidedly non-Christian. It belittles the greatness of God. The Catholic Church has learned that when physical reality and the Bible do not agree, it is the human interpretation of Scripture that needs to be re-examined.
(See my Tagline)
“I know in most states the first schools were founded by ministers”
That was before compulsory education.
And Dewey was just on the forefront. He had lots of support from government, academia, and big business. They all thought it would be great to have a school system based on the Prussian model of indoctrination.
The schools were intended to produce good citizens who would be willing to go to work in the factories. The result would be prosperity and a utopian society for all to enjoy. Yes, they really did believe this.
“Macro evolution is of importance to only **one** group of people: Scientist studying Macro evolution. The rest of the scientific world never has any reason to apply it to their work, and pays little attention to it.”
This is a fascinating comment. We have been told by many evos that evolution (not adaptation, I mean the TOE) is the foundation for all biological sciences and no one could do any research without understanding and accepting the TOE.
I am no scientist but it always seemed to me that as long as there was an understanding of adaptation then that was all that was necessary to do research. Adaptation is easily verified in real-time in the lab, as opposed to the TOE.
My youngest child took college level biology for science majors when she was only 14. Her professor didn't think she could pass the course, since she had been homeschooled and had never studied high school biology.
Every night, my daughter and I read her college biology text aloud. ( **every** assigned page and more). In a book that was possibly 3 inches thick only 4 or 5 pages was devoted to macro-evolution.
So...You see even in **biology** macro-evolution is barely discussed. This was the book and course that biology and pre-med majors taking.
My daughter and I read the text together so that I could define the terminology and explain the concepts. Her father reviewed all her class notes, corrected the spelling, and explained the chemistry.
On the micro-level there is plenty of evolution and this really is important. Examples would be a disease germ developing a resistance to an anti-biotic. Breeding fatter cattle.
So what mechanism calls a halt to “micro-evolution” and prevents it from becoming “macro-evolution”?
Funny when I was in junior high school my friend and I built a tesla coil. We spent hours in contact with it causing our hair to stand straight up, holding fluorscent bulbs near the thing and watching them light up. I don’t remember a single burn from that experience.
It would be the organism's inability to survive. If genetic change push is too far the organism can not survive. Most genetic mutations are fatal.
For example: An iguana can evolve to be able swim in salt water ( that would be micro evolution) but it would be unlikely to evolve to be a bird. At some point it would neither be well adapted for igunahood or for birdhood. :-)
But...Hey!...You are really pushing the envelop of what I learned in the 20 minutes we spent studying the topic on the undergrad level. :-)
When my daughter was 14 she took a biology major's course and ( because of her young age and inadequate background) she and I read every assigned page of her college text together. In a college text that was easily 2 to 3 inches thick, the author devoted 4 or 5 pages to macro-evolution.
Even in biology macro-evolution is really a tiny part of the study of biology.
For example: An iguana can evolve to be able swim in salt water ( that would be micro evolution) but it would be unlikely to evolve to be a bird. At some point it would neither be well adapted for igunahood or for birdhood. :-)
You are assuming that the end point of the iguana´s evolution is ´known´, and is evidence that you don´t really understand the topic.
At any stage of a given species evolution, whether or not it is well adapted for it´s environment is entirely dependent on how it is vis a vis it´s environment at that point and not at any predicted future point.
Logic and mathemathics tell us that no mater how large a given system is or how small any changes we make to it are, if we make enough changes then, eventually, the system will change beyond all recognition to it´s starting point.
You have already agreed that small changes can occur to any animal. So, the question still stands - what machanism limits the ´micro-evolutionary´ changes and prevents them radically altering it in the longer term?
Both a human and a chimp are perfectly viable, despite the 2% difference in their genes and the 6% difference in their genome.
So where does this inability to survive come in? What is nonviable or nonfunctional about changing a working protein by 2% into a nearly identical working protein?
How does a 6% change in mostly noncoding DNA lead to non-viability?
If both organisms bridging this divide are viable, what gives you the impression that an organism that “split the difference” would be nonviable?
I did not say that organism would die to do its genetic makeup. I hope you understood that the animal be very vulnerable to attack from other animals if his body were a poorly designed iguana or half-assed bird.
We see micro-evolution every day and is indeed very important. Macro-evolution is nothing more than “ho-hum”, “Gee! That's interesting” ( yawn) to the vast majority of working scientists and health professionals.
Even my daughter's college text book for biology majors had only 4 or 5 pages on macro-evolution. The book was likely 3 inches thick! Evidently, marcro-evolution isn't even that important for **biologists**
She took college biology for science majors when she was only 14. She had had no high school biology. She and I read every page of her assignments aloud, together. This was only in the past 5 years, so I feel I have a fair idea of what is being taught in college these days.
Do you consider the australopithocine a “half assed chimp” or a “poorly designed human”; or do you view it as a upright ape that lived for over a million years over a large part of Africa as a perfectly complete unto itself biological species? The latter is certainly the biological view.
You claimed that “micro” changes could not become “macro” changes due to viability, but obviously there is nothing unviable about either end of the spectrum or any variation in between.
My own daughter's college text for biology and science majors had 4 or 5 pages in a book that was 3 inches thick. Having read every word with her, I **testify** that macro-evolution plays even a minor role in **biology** itself!!!
Actually, all I know about macro-evolution is contained on those FOUR or FIVE **pages** of my daughter's college text! Apparently the esteemed researcher who wrote the text for biology majors felt that was quiet enough space for the topic. FOUR or FIVE **pages**. ( with plenty of room for colorful illustrations, of course)
So???.....If it is of such little importance to working scientists and health professionals and to **biologists** even, why is this being pushed so hard in the high schools? I conclude that is for non-neutral political, cultural, and religious reasons.
We must end the cat fights!
Solution: Begin the privatization of universal K-12 education.
Some parents want a godless and materialist worldview taught in their children's schools and that's OK with me.
I would like traditional science taught to my children but within the framework of a God-centered worldview. I believe many would join me in feeling this way.
Some parents want creationism. I don't agree with them,,,but,,that's OK! Few need to know about or use macro-evolution in their daily lives and work. If their kids really want to go on to take serious science major's biology they can take a course at the community college to fill in the few gaps.
The problem here is government force. Government has the police power to **force** citizens to pay for schools that offend their cultural, political, and ( atheistic or God-centered ) religious worldview. Naturally there are bullying, shoving, and pushing as each tries to be King of the Mountain of government money and power.
Get government out of education and most of these evolution squabbles will melt like snow on a balmy spring day!
Your comments throughout this thread are very interesting. Okay, you and your accomplished husband and college aged daughter took lots of biology courses, and amazingly, what you define as “macroevolution” was barely touched upon.
What’s interesting is that a) you seem blithely unaware of how you certainly must have moved the goal posts wrt your arbitrary distinction between micro and macro.
Of COURSE the courses/texts spent the most time on what you call “micro.” That’s how evolution works! Teeny tiny changes in the alleles over (usually) vast amounts of time that would pretty much never look “evolutionary” or even revolutionary at the time of the chages!
It’s the creationist in you that still expects to see that iguana turn into a bird in one generation. Go back to your texts and class notes that surely have more than 20 minutes worth of the reptilia to avian evolution. you picked a great example with plenty of fossil and DNA evidence to support the facts.
To me, this is sort of a major issue. You admit to tiny changes (ie, salt-water swimming iguanas) but refuse to accept it can go beyond that. Using your example, One iguana population adapts to salt water. Many generations pass. Salt water requires less bouyancy and certain adaptations result in speedier swimmers but less bouyant ones. Many generations pass. Blood proteins change and diets change. Many generations pass. Teeth change in response to the diet change, jaws change as a result and their ears change with the jaws. On and on.
Now the two populations are too genetically distinct to mate successfully. Voila, 2 species. Oh I know... they’re still iguanas. True. Just wait a million years as that salt water lagoon dries up more and more each dry season.
but tha’ts where your brain stops working, unfortunately. That’s when God steps in and either kills off yoru salty population or... I don’t know. He makes them evolve over several million years to adapt?
My daily life as a Scientists deals with the impact of “macro”evolutionary theory in the applicability of research species.
Just because you or members of your family did not receive a sufficient education in the subject does not mean that it is not an essential subject.
And, seeings as your original claim lays in shambles, now you just wish to speak about how little you and yours ever needed to learn about it or use it. Well good for you and yours. Me and mine need to know it and use it every day.
“Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christian fundamentalists.”
No, not the silly Deist bit again.
“The Bill of Rights...blah...blah...the meaning is clear that the government cannot favor any religion.”
Basically true, but The Bill or Rights applied only to the General (federal) government. Even so, most Founders were not shy about official (though non-denominational) references to God and His wisdom and blessings.
The federal courts theft of power was nearly complete by the time Chief Justice Rehnquist, in a disgusted dissenting opinion (Jaffree), reminisced about our fist President George. Washington, on THE VERY DAY the First Amendment passed Congress and at THEIR behest, proclaimed a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.
Wrote Rehnquist regarding that event: History must judge whether it was the Father of our country in 1789, or...the Court...which has strayed from the meaning of the Establishment Clause.
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