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Steven Newton

Steven Newton

Posted: April 30, 2010 06:44 PM

In America, a state science director can be forced out of her job for forwarding an e-mail about an upcoming lecture about the creationism/evolution controversy. A veteran public school teacher can be ordered by his principal not to teach evolution, even though it is mandated by state standards. And a creationist who proselytizes at work by repeatedly offering colleagues intelligent design DVDs can sue if he feels slighted by his supervisors.

Chris Comer was the Director of Science for the Texas Education Agency until 2007, when she forwarded an email about an upcoming lecture by Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. In her lecture, Forrest was going to discuss her experience serving as a pro-science expert witness in the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover case, which established the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools.

To anti-evolution forces in Texas--where the state board of education habitually brings ridicule upon the state with its attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution--forwarding an e-mail about the lecture constituted taking a position on evolution. In the words of one of the people responsible, "Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral."

That's right: in Texas, the director of science must "remain neutral" on the subject of evolution.

In Connecticut, veteran teacher Mark Tangarone proposed a course for gifted and talented students using Darwin's voyage on the Beagle as a way of integrating scientific discoveries with the cultures and history of the South Pacific. This is the kind of creative, exciting project that can inspire children to study science. The presentation of evolution in this outline corresponded with the Connecticut state science standards, which mandate that evolution be taught.

Unfortunately, Tangarone's principal thought otherwise, asserting in an e-mail that if evolution were taught, some "parents might object." Moreover, the principal added, evolution was a "philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life." Tangarone found this so galling, he took early retirement. Shocked at the news, the chair of the local school board said,

"Evolution is already part of our curriculum in the school system, and as this also involves personnel issues, I cannot comment any further. On a personal note, both of my children were fortunate to have Mark, and this is a real loss for our system."

Evolution is the foundation of the biological sciences, and a critical component of many other scientific disciplines. Far from being a "philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life," evolution is the only scientific explanation for life's diversity. Evolution is as well-established and accepted as plate tectonics, or the idea that germs cause disease. That's why state and local educational administrators should not be impeding or penalizing educators like Comer and Tangarone.

The case of David Coppedge, a computer specialist at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, provides a contrast. On April 14, Coppedge filed suit against JPL, claiming "religious discrimination and retaliation," harassment, and "wrongful demotion." The genesis of these claims involved Coppedge's alleged use of the workplace to promote creationism.

According to the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Coppedge was informed by his supervisors that his promotion of the DVDs Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet was "unwelcome" and "disruptive" to his colleagues. Although Coppedge's attorney believes JPL "ought to have an openness" to the ideas expressed in these DVDs, the truth is that these films are thinly-disguised religious tracts.

Both Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet were produced by Illustra Media, an outfit associated with Discovery Media, whose mission statement reads:

"We believe that God reveals Himself, today, through His creation and the Biblical record. Our mission is to utilize every form of available media to present the reality of His existence through compelling scientific evidence and academic research."

This quote clearly demonstrates that Discovery Media's goal is to promote a religious agenda. Illustra Media acknowledges they are "a division of Discovery Media," and confirms "we have produced films with biblical themes," but claims Unlocking the Mystery of Life was somehow different, as it was "based entirely on science." The creationist content of the film, however, flatly contradicts this claim.

Americans should be free to do their jobs without having to fend off colleagues evangelizing their religion. Supervisors rightly chastise employees who fail to respect their co-workers. Coppedge, who serves on the board of Illustra Media, enjoys the freedom to advocate for creationism on his own time--as, indeed, he frequently does on the sites Creation Safaris and Creation Evolution Headlines.

These three cases are disturbing examples of how evolution and creationism conflict in the modern workplace. A science director is forced from her job after being accused of taking a position on one of the most well-established theories in all of science. A veteran teacher is forbidden to take a creative approach to his job by teaching students about evolution. And a creationist indignantly sues for the right to promote creationism in his workplace, which happens to be one of the nation's premiere science facilities.

In each case, there is one clear loser: science.