Friday, February 24, 2006

Publisher Waters Down Biology Textbook

From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel comes this annoying, but typical, example of a textbook publisher caving in to creationist pressure:

High school biology students in Broward County will use a textbook next year that watered-down passages about Charles Darwin and evolution theory.

Science teachers picked Florida Holt Biology this month in a countywide vote, favoring it over another book that discussed the controversial idea of intelligent design.

The Holt textbook stays away from intelligent design, the idea that a god or other guiding force caused the development of life on Earth. Mainstream scientists have discredited the theory as a repackaged form of old-school creationism.

But publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston did edit several sections at the request of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that has peddled intelligent design around the country for years.

The changes were “kind of a merging of philosophies to get something that everyone was satisfied with,” said Broward science curriculum supervisor J.P. Keener.

“What came out in the book was scientifically correct,” Keener said. “That's the bottom line.”

Does anyone honestly think that scientific correctness represents the bottom line for Mr. Keener? Or do you think maybe he's perfectly willing to water down the science to sell a few more books?

The article goes on to describe a few of the changes:

A review by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that on one edited page, Holt agreed to give Darwin less credit for shaping modern biology. In another section it inserted descriptions that conservative Christians believe challenge evolution theory.

Previous editions of the textbook said Darwin's theory “is the essence of biology.”

In the Broward edition, students will read instead that Darwin's theory “provides a consistent explanation for life's diversity.”

And later:

But Holt also added one section that introduced students to the “Cambrian Explosion,” a period in early earth's history that suggests species aren't the result of gradual change over time, as Darwin thought.

“That was a key change,” Discovery Institute spokesman John West said. “We want to keep the textbooks honest.”

Let's take these in reverse order. The idea that the Cambrian Explosion suggests that species aren't the result of gradual change over time is pure nonsense. If the article accurately describes what is in the book, then Keener was mistaken when he claimed the book was scientifically correct.

Describing Darwin's theory as the essence of modern biology sounds a little odd, but describing it as a consistent explanation for life's diversity isn't much of an improvement. (We'll leave aside the infelicity of referring to modern evolutionary biology as Darwin's theory.) The trouble is that “consistent” is a rather flabby word, and putting the emphasis on explaining “life's diversity,” doesn't really capture the most important aspects of evolution. Why not describe it the way it is: A theory supported by copious evidence that asserts that all modern species descended from common ancestors via numerous well-understood genetic mechanisms?

And considering that evolution now underlies virtually every branch of modern biology, it seems a little rich to downplay Darwin's significance.

In his State of the Union address President Bush talked about the need for quality science education. Now his brother's state is allowing a group of religiously motivated ignoramuses to dictate the content of their science books. Lovely.


At 8:10 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Perhaps we should write President Bush and suggest that the USA send those Third World countries some science textbooks.

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

What is it about the DI that allows them to tell a publisher what to put in their books?

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Salvador T. Cordova said...


Just to be a little cautious, I'm reluctant to accept a newspaper reporter's second hand account about the Cambrian in the textbook. I'm not saying the reporter is wrong, but well, it's my experience, it's wise to visit the source documents when feasible. I learned that principle from you.


At 4:31 PM, Blogger Aethlos said...

nice post... yes, it's so scary.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Jason said...


Well, I'm glad you've learned something from me.

Note that in my post I included the proviso “If the article accurately describes what is in the book...”

At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Maccer said...

From the other side of the Atlantic, I have been reading your blog for some time now with a mixture of interest and alarm. But not too alarmed because the ID/creationist nonsence seemed to be confined to evangelists in the US, whereas people in Europe maintained a more rational viewpoint. Not any more!! Check out these articles from the UK's Guardian newpaper:,,1714171,00.html
It looks like the lunatics are at the gates. On this side of the pond, it seems to be the muslims who are the motor force. Please help us!

At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Maccer said...

That url did not copy correctly. I'll try again:

At 1:12 PM, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Was reading your blog... Noticed you tend to typecast Christians. I have given some thought to evolution and faith on my blog. The first,, are my responses to the questions after a panel discussion I participated in.
The second is my pre-panel thoughts on the topic,

Would be interested in hearing your feedback to help me refine my thoughts on it. Please give it some thought and avoid the stereotype responses.

Not all Christians are anti-evolution. Not all proponents of evolution need be Atheists. In fact, I find evolution and Christianity actually may reinforce one another. Darwinism is not science it is a worldview. The study of how material phenomena change or transform is evolution. So, yes, science incorporates evolutionary processes within its proper sphere. Please don't go beyond that, to pretend that it accounts for all that we can know to be true as human beings. Our range of knowledge extends far beyond empiricisim, which is the inherent limitation of what science actually can tell us.

Science (including social sciences) is empirical and looks at distinct, verifiable phenomena. Of course transformation occurs. This doesn't necessarily mean you then need to reduce knowledge to only that which can be known empirically.

-DJ McKeon

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...well, to follow DJ McKeon's suggestion and go beyond empiricism...

The thing with understanding evolution is that it gives you such a clear insight into so many aspects of our world. It opens up so many doors. No lab work or scientific method required (these things are just fool-proofs anyway).

Religion for instance.

All religions were created by man to explain the things he didn't understand. ...and man 'started off' not knowing much of anything (we still don't know all that much). Religions evolved as Mans understanding of the world evolved. Most of Mans knowledge of the world and the universe was/is skewed by his own limited perception... religions tend to reflect this (of course, since we wrote them). Nobody knew that the Earth orbited the Sun when the Bible was written, and so it doesn't reflect that knowledge - and so on.

Evolution can not *and should not* work with Christianity (or any other religion) because there's simply nothing there for it to work with. All religions are just myths created by ourselves that try to fill in all the gaps in our understanding. These myths are reinforced and given importance through the power of culture (and manipulation), but this means nothing when you consider the big picture.

Man is a great creator... it's what we do, right? So, doesn't it seem natural that we'd think that someone else created the things that we didn't create? ...That we made God in our own image? We write and enforce laws so we create a God who writes and enforces laws - and so on. It's all a big reflective deal.

As the saying goes... "write what you know".

But anyway... these things are all pretty obvious.

What isn't so obvious is how in the hell people are able to swallow all the shit that they're fed. All this McMana bullshit.

...I want this stupid war on rationality to be over...

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