Wednesday, August 13, 2008

University of California's Rejection of Creationist Textbooks Ruled Constitutional by a California Federal Court

The National Center for Science Education reported yesterday the defendants in Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al. have prevailed. The lawsuit, originally filed on August 25, 2005, was focused around the Association of Christian Schools International's disapproval of the University of California system's policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The Association, along with Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school, sued the defendants, claiming the UC system unconstitutionally denied the applications of students from Christian schools. UC deemed the Christian high school course work inadequate preparation for college. The UC system claimed Christian school biology courses which used textbooks entitled Biology: God's Living Creation from A Beka Books and Biology for Christian Schools from Bob Jones University Press were, "inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community."

On March 26, 2008, Judge S. James Otero ruled in favor of the defendants' motion establishing the constitutionality of the university system's policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. However, the plantiffs' claim that UC policies and statements relevant to the specific cases cited in the lawsuit were unconstitutional was still unresolved. The defendants' motion for a judgment on the plantiffs' specific cases was granted in the ruling Judge Otero set down on August 8, 2008. The ruling ended: "Because Plaintiffs fail to raise any genuine issue of material fact to support their as-applied claims, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED" (emphasis in original).

The August 8 ruling addressed UC's rejection of a biology course submitted by Calvary Baptist school which used Biology: God's Living Creation as its textbook. The book was evaluated by Barbara Sawrey, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education, and faculty member in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at UC San Diego. Sawrey described the book as taking an "overall un-scientific approach to the subject matter." Expert witnesses for the defense Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, and Francisco J. Ayala, University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at UC Irvine's School of Biological Sciences, had similar reactions to both Creation and Biology for Christian Schools. From the NCSE article:

"Kennedy wrote, 'the problem is not ... that the creationist view is taught as an alternative to scientific explanations, but that the nature of science, the theory of evolution, and critical thinking are not taught adequately.'"

A little more research on the books themselves turned up some interesting excerpts from each of them. On A Beka Book's website were Creation can be ordered, a snapshot of two pages describing the human skeletal system can be found. Here are two of eight questions offered to students as a section review:

" 7. In a paragraph, describe how the structure of the skull is an example of God's design and provision for man."

"8. Men and woman both have exactly twelve pairs of ribs. Why is this not a contradiction of Genesis 2: 21-22?"

Also, excerpts of Biology for Christian Schools found through a Wikipedia explanation of the case (I didn't rely solely on Wikipedia's description, the quoted text can be found on page 40 of the PDF of the ruling) prove Kennedy's description of the book is accurate. From the Wikipedia article:

" Plaintiff's evidence also supports Defendants' conclusion that these biology texts are inappropriate for use as the primary or sole text. Plaintiffs' own biology expert, Professor Michael Behe, testified that 'it is personally abusive and pedagogically damaging to de facto require students to subscribe to an idea. . . . Requiring a student to, effectively, consent to an idea violates his personal integrity. Such a wrenching violation [may cause] a terrible educational outcome.' (Behe Decl. Para. 59.)

Yet, the two Christian biology texts at issue commit this 'wrenching violation.' For example, Biology for Christian Schools declares on the very first page that:

  1. 'Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so, is the only [position] a Christian can take. . . .'
  2. 'If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.'
  3. 'Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.' (Phillips Decl. Ex. B, at xi.)"
Intelligent design proponent Dr. Micheal Behe's testimony on behalf of the defendants did not prove convincing to the judge, even though he was the plantiffs' expert witness. Judge Otero wrote in his ruling:

"'Plaintiffs offer little admissible evidence to the contrary. Plaintiffs' Biology expert, Dr. Michael Behe, submitted a declaration concluding that the BJU text mentions standard scientific content. ... However, Professor Behe "did not consider how much detail or depth" the texts gave to this standard content. ... Therefore, Professor Behe fails to refute one of Professor Kennedy's primary concerns that the nature of science, the theory of evolution, and critical thinking are not taught adequately. Accordingly, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to this issue. Defendants had a rational basis for rejecting Calvary Baptist's proposed Biology course.'"

I'm sure it's obvious by now, and by my previous posts, that I whole-heartedly agree with Judge Otero's ruling. It's hilarious to me that the textbooks in question did not even pretend to be non-religious. No ambiguous "designer" mentioned there; the books unabashedly gave the Christian god credit for creation of the universe. A case like this shows how incredibly free private schools in this country are to teach pretty much anything they want. They really have no fear of any angry "evolutionists" coming in and trying to squelch their beliefs. However, if these private schools want their students to be accepted in the real world, like the UC system, they clearly have to do better. It's ironic that scientists never try to sue anyone to get evolution taught in these private schools, while the reverse is all too prevalent. If the theory of evolution is really this huge conspiracy to get "god" out of the classroom, as some fundamentalist Christians claim, wouldn't evolutionary scientists be trying their hardest to get their theory into the schools where it is least accepted?

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