Tag Archives: intelligent design

A sad example of science class in the Bible belt

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When I saw the video I link to in this post, I had a mixture of sadness and anger. I was sad because the students on camera say some stupid things about evolution for their age and I was angry because the so-called science teacher refused to tell them they were wrong.

“How can I say to a student, your ideas are trash, keep them out of this room…” – Joe Wilkey “science” teacher.

Rare Look Inside Bible Belt Classroom (1996)

The video is from a BBC program in 1996.

(Tip-o-hat to Atheist Revolution for the link to the video)

Teacher who pushed religion still having job hearing

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The case of John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon Ohio teacher who tried to teach his religious beliefs in his 8th grade class room is still going on more than a year since the news broke. They are currently finishing up direct witness testimony for an employment hearing that has lasted 14 months and cost has cost the school district more than $500,000 in legal fees.

For a refresher check out my posts on this issue here.

And here is a news video report of the case:

Ohio Teacher to be fired for pushing religion on students

In the latest news, Mr. Freshwater claims not to remember discussing Lego experiment he talked about at length on a Christian radio show just this past April and his lawyer is also claiming some of the notes and handouts being used against his client may be forged.

See Freshwater says he can’t remember Lego experiment in the Columbus Disptach.

Hopefully this will be over soon.

Ohio teacher pushing religion in class to be fired

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On Friday, June 20th, the Mount Vernon Ohio school board voted 5 to 0 to terminate John Freshwater, an 8th grade science teacher, from his job. He is at the center of a dispute over his pushing of his religious beliefs on his students during school hours. See my previous post on the issue: Ohio Teacher violates 1st Amendment – Doesn’t have a clue he did

The action comes after the board considered a report from an independent investigation of Freshwater after it came to light that he had used a science experiment to burn crosses in the arm of at least two students, a dispute over having a Bible in his room, and charges he taught the religious creationism concept of Intelligent Design in his classes.

Eighth-graders who were taught by John Freshwater frequently had to be re-taught in high school what they were supposed to have learned in Freshwater’s class, according to outside investigators hired by the district.

For 11 years, other teachers in the school district and people in the community complained about Freshwater preaching his Christian beliefs in class and slamming scientific theories, a school administrator told investigators.

“There is a significant amount of evidence that Mr. Freshwater’s teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the Mount Vernon City Schools and state standards,” the consultants reported.

Freshwater was told to stop teaching intelligent design and creationism, but he continued, the report found.

The report confirmed that Freshwater burned crosses onto students’ arms, using an electrostatic device, in December.

Freshwater told investigators the marks were X’s, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses. The investigation report includes a photo of one student’s arm with a long vertical line and a short horizontal line running through it.

Science teacher dissed evolution

Here is a video report from a Columbus TV station about the story:

Freshwater commented in a later news report that the issue was only about having his Bible in the classroom. I think what finally caused the school board to act, after all these years, was the lawsuit and liability from his science experiment that burned crosses into student’s arms. The rest of the charges were just frosting on the cake.

The investigation showed:

There is a significant amount of evidence that Mr. Freshwaters’ teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the Mount Vernon City Schools and State standards. Contrary to Mr. Freshwater’s statement, the evidence indicates he has been teaching creationism and intelligent design and has been teaching the unreliability of carbon dating in support of opposition to evolution. He has passed out materials to students for the past several years challenging evolution and then collecting the materials back from the students. He has done so in spite of specific directives not to teach creationism or intelligent design. He has taught students to use the code word “Here” to challenge scientific process that is considered settled by the high school science teachers.

In addition, there is evidence that Mr. Freshwater inappropriately said to his class that science is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and therefore is a sinner.

Mr. Freshwater did improperly use an electrostatic device on the student who filed the complaint and other students in his science class in a manner that was not in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions. While there did not appear to be any intent by Mr. Freshwater to cause injury to any student, he was not using the device for its intended purpose. Contrary to Mr. Freshwater’s statement he simply made an “X” not a “cross,” all of the students described the marking as a “cross” and the pictures provided depict a “cross”.

Mount Vernon City Schools Independent Investigation Of A Complaint Regarding John Freshwater

If Freshwater wants to delude himself into thinking the action was only the result of him asserting his so-called First Amendment rights then he needs some serious help.

Ohio Teacher violates 1st Amendment – Doesn’t have a clue he did

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There was a news story on TV the other day about a public school teacher complaining about having to remove his personal Bible from his classroom. The video, included here, showed a protest in the town of Mount Vernon, Ohio. The group there included about dozen people and some students from the school. The teacher, John Freshwater, had been asked to remove some religious theme items from his classroom and to take his personal Bible off his desk when students were in the room.

Freshwater, in his statement, says:

My question today is if Congress can make no law prohibiting the “free exercise” of my faith, from where does the Mt. Vernon City Schools obtain the power to restrict it?

Until the Mount Vernon City Schools can demonstrate to me how I can remove the Bible from my desk without sacrificing my own God-given right to free exercise of my faith, I cannot in good-conscience comply with their directive.

I do not forfeit my right to free expression of my faith when I walk into the school and because I strongly object to the “Christian censorship” being promoted in our schools I respectfully reject the request to remove the Bible.

John Freshwater 04/16/2008

The thing that Freshwater and those who share his point of view forget is that when you are at work, you don’t get to enjoy 100% of the Bill of Rights. The employer can set reasonable limits of what you can do at work. The 2nd point is that Freshwater is a teacher in a public school which brings in the notion of agent of the state. Courts have said that school teachers and administrators are restricted in religious matters during school hours.

The teacher was also disciplined in 2006 for trying to add Intelligent Design concepts into his science class against the established curriculum. That generated a letter from the school. Read it here.

Freshwater said that putting the Bible out of sight is censorship.

As the letter to Freshwater from the school district says:

While you certainly may read your bible on your own, duty free time [i.e. during lunch], it cannot be sitting out on your desk when students are in the classroom and when you are supposed to be engaged in your responsibilities as a teacher.

Letter to John Freshwater from William D. White Principal, Mount Vernon Middle School 04/07/2008

It states he is free to read it on his non-teaching time. That isn’t censorship.

If you view the video, note who is standing next to Freshwater during his protest. It is none other than Coach Dave Daubenmire who also lost his own battle to subvert the 1st amendment while he was a high school football coach. If Freshwater is taking pointers from Daubenmire then he is asking for driving lessons from a sightless person.

Well on April 22, the Freshwater story got better. Not only is he being investigated for not complying to the request to remove his Bible from sight, he is also being investigated for using a science experiment that burned a cross in a student’s arm and teaching the meaning of Good Friday and Easter during a recent class.

Here is the video:

What bothers me about Freshwater and his actions is they border on obsession, an unhealthy obsession. They HAVE to proselytize 24/7 and if they aren’t they feel like losers or they want to blame others and become the victims.

Most people who have unhealthy obsessions usually require mental help or worse they get put in jail for hurting others – but it seems no one really considers religious obsession wrong.

NOVA looks at Dover Intelligent Design trial

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NOVA is the premiere science program on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) here in the US. There is rarely a bad program or one that lacks any interest for the average viewer. This coming Tuesday, NOVA will have a timely and important show for those of us who support separation of church and state and Evolution.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial will highlight the court case from 2005 against the school board in Dover Pennsylvania, who had decided to require district science teachers to read a statement to biology students suggesting that there is an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution called intelligent design. Parents opposed to the policy filed the lawsuit in federal court.

After six weeks of testimony, Judge John E. Jones III, appointed to the Federal courts by George W. Bush, concluded in his ruling, “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID [intelligent design] is a religious view, a mere relabeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

The ruling caused two states, Kansas and Ohio, to change their plans to allow ID into their schools and ended hopes of religious right people of getting their religious beliefs on science forced into the schools.

Paula S. Apsell, Senior Executive Producer of NOVA, explained why the Dover trial was so important to science and why NOVA is devoting a 2 hour special to it:

This is not just any case; it’s an historic case as well as a critical science lesson. Through six weeks of expert testimony, the case provided a crash course in modern evolutionary science, and it really hit home just how firmly established evolutionary theory is. The case also explored the very nature of science—how science is defined. Perhaps most importantly, the trial had great potential for altering science education and the public understanding of science.

Dover’s lawyers tried to argue that ID is science and, therefore, that teaching it does not violate the principle of the separation of church and state in the Establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. At the end of the trial, Judge John Jones issued a 139-page verdict supporting the teaching of evolution and characterizing intelligent design as a religious idea with no place in the science classroom. It was a landmark decision, all the more so because Judge Jones was appointed by President Bush and nominated by Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

If the decision had gone the other way, it could have had dire consequences for science education in this country. We know that state boards of education in Kansas and Ohio were considering changing science standards and curriculums to accommodate intelligent design, and they since have decided against it in the wake of this verdict.

Paula S. Apsell, Senior Executive Producer of NOVA

The program is scheduled for broadcast on Tuesday November 13th at 8 PM (it may vary in your area so check your local listings)

For further info see the program’s website:

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Related postings here on Secular Left:

Evolution on trial – again

Intelligent Design is covert creationism

Judge throws book at Dover Board in ruling

For all related posts click on the Tag Dover

Inherit the Wind still relevant

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I caught the 1960 version of “Inherit the Wind” which starred Fredric March and Spencer Tracy on TCM this weekend.

I always liked the film because it was based on the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” where a school teacher was put on trial for teaching Evolution. At the time state law forbade the teaching of anything that was against the Bible story of creation.

Although the film uses the Monkey trial as the starting point it was never meant to be a documentary of that trial. The film was based on the stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee as a statement against McCarthyism – not religion vs. science. However it offers a good look at the still constant struggle of science against religious fundamentalism.

Basically the real trial ended in the conviction of Scopes and a $100 fine. It wasn’t until 1968, in the case Epperson v. Arkansas, that laws requiring creationism to be taught in the public schools were unconstitutional. However, the law John Scopes was convicted under only prohibited the teaching of evolution. It didn’t require creationism in its place.

One view of the trial, even around the freethought community, is that the trial and its publicity actually caused the religious fundamentalists to fight back against the teaching of evolution. It is said that because Clarence Darrow made William Jennings Bryan look like a fool, it ticked off the fundamentalists causing many of the issues we see today between science and religion. Some believe that because of that, we freethinkers prolong the battle.

Even that really isn’t true.

Gregg Easterbrook writes on Beliefnet.com:

When “The Fundamentals,” a popular series of tracts that sparked the modern American fundamentalist movement, began publication in 1909, most of these works spoke kindly of Darwin, suggesting that evolution helped people understand God’s process of creation.

Only in the 1920s did Darwin and religion come into regular conflict in the United States. There were several reasons. One was that paleontologists were beginning to accumulate evidence that human beings descended from earlier primates… While many churchgoers might have been content to believe that the horse evolved from the ancient proto-equus called eohippus, they were less than enthusiastic about evidence that Homo sapiens did not come about in a single divine act of creation. This put opposition to selection theory into play as an American public issue.

The Scopes Monkey Trial

Easterbrook also mentioned that other causes of the conflict included the arrival of universal publicly funded high-school education and the then fashionable idea of “Social Darwinism” also known as Eugenics. Some people were afraid of the implications of Eugenics – the poor, the disabled, and the troubled should be removed for genetic reasons.

While the play and film made fundamentalists look like buffoons, viewing the film again made me realize that life has come to imitate art. While the scenes of the mob and jeers didn’t happen in the real trial, it seems that the anger and divisiveness of the religion vs science battle has become more heated.

I think the main reason is because some believers can’t accept that humans aren’t special. Like Easterbrook, I think that people can accept that other animals evolved but can’t stand the thought that humans are just another animal and there is no special purpose for us. To accept it would call into question their entire belief system – even though it doesn’t have to.

The trial didn’t win the battle for evolution. Andrew Bradbury writes on his site The Scopes “Monkey” Trial that it wasn’t until the 1960’s that evolution began to take on a larger role in the teaching of biology.

By 1930, according to one pro-evolution commentator, Maynard Shipley, an estimated 70% of all public high schools omitted all reference to the theory of evolution in their science classes. This situation prevailed for over three decades after the Scopes Trial, so that as late as 1959 Harvard Professor of palaeontology George G. Simpson, in a lecture entitled “One Hundred Years Without Darwin are Enough”, observed that “Most [US high school science textbooks] relegate evolution to a single section, preferably in the back of the book, which need not be assigned.” According to researchers Judith Grabiner and Peter Miller, “Not until 1960 was the treatment of evolution in the most widely used high school texts substantially improved over that found before the Scopes trial”.

Education After the Scopes Trial

I should note that during the 1960’s there was a greater emphasis on science for national policy reasons as we battled the USSR in the Cold War.

Public opinions on evolution haven’t changed much since 1925. A majority still believe that the Bible story of creation is just as valid as the science of evolution and should both be taught in the schools.

I think that is why the film “Inherit the Wind” is just as relevant today as it was in 1960, even if for different reasons.