With the Knox County school board meeting in a workshop session this evening to revisit a parent's request to ban a biology textbook, the authors of the contested text have sent board members a letter presenting their own take on the issue. Authors Jennie Dusheck and Allan J. Tobin say that their use of the word "myth" to describe biblical creationism was in no way intended as a religious slight, but is just a reflection of a series of U.S. court decisions: "From the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that creation science cannot be taught in public schools because it is religion to a similar 2005 Dover decision, U.S. courts have repeatedly affirmed that creationism is religious doctrine, not science, and that schools cannot require teachers to present religion as an alternative to science." They add that they would consider rewording the section for their next edition, but ask that the board reject the request to ban. The workshop meeting begins at 5 p.m. on the first floor of the Andrew Johnson Building, 912 S. Gay St.
The full letter:
To the Members of the Knox County School Board,
We are the authors of the college-level biology textbook Asking About Life, which Mr. Kurt Zimmermann has asked you to remove from Knox County schools. We understand that budget considerations may be a more pressing issue right now, but we wanted to address Mr. Zimmerman's request.
Our textbook, Asking About Life, was designed for college students and is mainly used in colleges and universities. The word "myth" appears in a brief definition of the word "creationism" in the chapter opening. We introduce our first chapter on evolution with a legal history outlining the efforts of creationists to interfere with the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools. The story starts, appropriately, with a description of the Scopes trial, in Dayton. We believe that students benefit from learning that this area of science has an exciting aspect to it that has historical, political, philosophical, and personal relevance.
In our two-page discussion, we show that, historically, one way of interfering with the teaching of evolutionary biology has been "equal time" laws that require science teachers to present creationism in science classrooms. But equal time laws have been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional. From the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that creation science cannot be taught in public schools because it is religion to a similar 2005 Dover decision, U.S. courts have repeatedly affirmed that creationism is religious doctrine, not science, and that schools cannot require teachers to present religion as an alternative to science.
If Mr. Zimmermann had written to us requesting a rewording in a future edition, we would certainly have responded civilly and sought to accommodate him. We don't feel the word "myth" is in any way an error**, but it is not our intention to offend religious feeling.
At the same time, we will not try to conceal from students the reality that scientific fact often conflicts with religious doctrine. The Earth is billions of years old, not 6000 years, as argued by some Christians; American astronauts did land on the moon in 1969, contrary to some Krishna dogma; and the Earth is not supported by four elephants standing on the back of a tortoise (Hindu mythology).
The fact that organisms change over time and, specifically, that new species arise through the process of evolution is universally accepted by practicing biologists as both a fact and a powerful explanation for everything that happens in biology. In contrast, the Bible's two creation stories (Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 and Genesis 2:4 -2:25) may be viewed as metaphors, allegories, or the literal truth, depending on one's religious views. But neither is a scientific explanation of how new species form.
Asking About Life is an award-winning college-level biology textbook. It has been reviewed by more than two hundred biologists from nearly every state in the union. It is considered an exemplary science textbook. Like many other schools and school districts, Knox County selected it for use by Knox County students.
After Mr. Zimmermann's complaint, a six-member review committee at Farragut High School affirmed that the book was an appropriate text for advanced high school biology students. We hope you'll respect the review committee's hard work and direct Mr. Zimmermann to us for a revision of the sentence that is bothering him and allow students to continue to benefit from reading Asking About Life. Thanks very much for your time.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Allan J. Tobin
Los Angeles, CA 90036
**Webster's 3rd, first definition