An interesting legal development with possible implications for how I might teach my class has been brought to my attention over at PZ Mwahaha's.

I am concerned about this decision, and have discussed it at some length on this blog in other places: here and here. See, the Discovery Institute and their fellow travelers have argued that where evolution is concerned, they feel public school teachers should be constrained from pointing out that some religions don't have a problem with evolution as it is taught.

Here the discussion has focused on homosexuality, but I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that the Discovery Institute and their minions have argued that where evolution is concerned, they feel public school teachers should be constrained from pointing out that some religions don't have a problem with evolution as it is taught.

Me, I take a dim view of this claim. I think the DI and others are talking through their hat, and that I'm on good constitutional grounds in offering the fact of the diversity of religious views where evolution is concerned as long as I don't advocate any particular view. I'm particular happy to use the PBS series, as it shows one of the author's of my state-approved biology text (Ken Miller) as a believer without making any explicit theological claims.

So, to any legal eagles out there or other interested commenters: am I still on solid constitutional ground, or should I abandon an effective pedagogical strategy until the impact of this particular ruling is understood?

I look forward to comments.


I did something on Thursday that was modest, but affirming. I joined the Interfaith Alliance of Central California (IACC) in participating in the 'National Day of Prayer' downtown, in front of Fresno's City Hall. As we gathered, we were mindful of the fact that we were there to participate and as a witness to the diversity of faiths in Fresno County. We were not there to be disruptive or critical. We were there to pray.

Still, despite these reminders, many of us in the back of our minds harbored apprehension, because none of us were evangelical Christians, and virtually everyone else at this celebration would be such, since the 'National Day of Prayer' has been an almost exclusively evangelical Christian love-fest locally and in much of the rest of the country. This has happened due to the activity of an evangelical organization called the National Day of Prayer Task Force, and it has drawn the ire of groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

And, deservedly so, since the National Day of Prayer was originally established by President Truman's 1952 proclamation as a day of prayer for all Americans, of all faiths. But that's not what has happened in Fresno County since the days that Jim Patterson (owner of a Christian radio station) became mayor back in 1993. Evangelical Christians have pretty much controlled the political apparatus of the city, and during that time the National Day of Prayer has become, increasingly, an opportunity for the politicians to demonstrate their faith in that particular brand of Christianity.

And, despite the fact that there were numerous denominations involved, the event we attended was really about that brand. The largest Christian denomination in Fresno County by far is the Roman Catholic Church, which in the year 2000 had more than twice as many adherents as all evangelical denominations combined, as seen here. And yet, there was not a single Catholic priest, nun or lay person who spoke and none in evidence at the event. The Catholics, it seems, were not invited, either.

Well, the viewpoint of IACC is not to deny either the Catholics or the evangelicals pride of place in the local hegemony, merely that the event should be open to participation by all Americans, of all faiths. And so we held signs saying, 'One Nation, Many Faiths' and as a group trucked over from where we gathered (a garden gazebo on the grounds of Fresno Community Hospital) towards Fresno's City Hall. The weather was lovely and we walked on a sidewalk lined with 'living fossils' (gingko trees), holding our signs and chatting. One lady with a cane murmured, "Well, this isn't as far of a walk as I thought," to which I cheerfully replied, "Yes, but some of us have been walking for years toward this moment."

So, led by various clergy within our group (among them Rev. Natalie Chamberlain of the United Christian Church and Rev. Bryan Jessup, a Unitarian minister), we spread ourselves around the fountain area in front of the main entrance to City Hall, whose graceful and futuristic look has led it to appearances in science-fiction films. And then something very gracious happened, which is that Mayor Alan Autry acknowledged our presence and encouraged our leaders to come forward and speak. For what happened next, you can read this Fresno Bee article by Ron Orozco, which I think is a fair and accurate description of events.

Shorter version: we were not invited, but once we arrived, we were welcomed, and we participated. It was a very good thing.



The world's biggest eyes, courtesy of the giant squid caught last year in Antarctic waters which is only now being slowly defrosted and dissected. No pun intended, but this is very cool. There is a mystique associated with these large cephalopods, in that so little is known about them. But they represent a very successful, ancient branch of life, some of whose members show surprising intelligence. Check out this video of an octopus in action. Don't let the colorful Scandihoovian narration put you off!



I haven't posted for several days. I put a lot of energy into attending creationist presentations last week, and by Friday I was mentally and emotionally spent, alternating between genuine sorrow and disgust. One particular anecdote at the expense of a great scientist's reputation provoked me in particular, and so I found myself in the unpopular position of angrily denouncing the speaker in the final Q and A.

I am still sufficiently angry about that bit of business that I'm not going to post about it yet. If there is any upside to such a thing, it is that some people stuck around for an hour after the presentation was over to ask me questions about my motives and my beliefs---holding my feet to the fire, as it were. More than one of these people admitted that they did not want to defend the smear tactics of the speaker, expressing puzzlement as to why such an argument should be used at all. If I had to speculate, I would imagine it was to impeach the possible motives of any and all passionate advocates for evolution---including yours truly.

But enough about other people's failings. People make mistakes, and they sometimes use rotten arguments, for rotten reasons, but at the end of the day everyone, including me, has to remember that we're dealing with fallible human beings and not indulge ourselves in hatred. If there is to be any positive outcome where science education is concerned, it will come when people like me do a better job of communicating with others. I didn't meet my own expectations where this event is concerned, and I am grateful for the correspondence I've had privately with some who attended, because it's given me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. Those of you who've sent me emails know who you are. We may not agree on the particulars where evolution is concerned, but I count our mutual willingness to engage each other as people as a greater victory---and I give you folk the credit for it.

There will be more on this and related matters as I have time to sift through my notes, process the various video that was taken and respond to questions. Thanks to everyone on each side who took the time to not only attend, but to critically engage the material.