Evolution fared well in 2009. The world celebrated the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th of the publication of his On the Origin of Species. Thousands of events, conferences, speeches, parties, magazine stories, blog postings, and other commemorations were held in his honor. Darwin even got the Hollywood treatment, with the premiere of “Creation,” a moving (yet accurate) film portrayal of Darwin’s married life, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly.
On the legislative front, antievolution “academic freedom” bills were proposed and shot down in half a dozen states.
But it wasn’t all good news. The Louisiana Science Education Act, which opens the door to creationism in the science classroom, was signed into law in late 2008–and in 2009, the state board of education adopted policies implementing the law that propped the door open. In March, the Texas Board of Education riddled the Biology and Earth and Space state science standards with loopholes that make it even easier for creationists to attack science textbooks. And the public’s understanding and acceptance of evolution continues to be discouraging. Local, national, and even international polls show that many people–often the majority of people surveyed–believe in creationism or believe that evolution is not well supported by evidence.
The top ten evolution/creationism stories for 2009:
1. 200th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth
It was the Year of Darwin, the biggest evolution birthday bash since 1909. There were dozens of Darwin/evolution conferences around the globe, festivals, museum exhibitions, special magazine issues devoted to Darwin and evolution (such as Scientific American’s “The Evolution of Evolution”), studies and special reports (such as Pew’s “The Conflict Between Religion and Evolution”), a clutch of documentaries (including PBS’s “Becoming Man” series, “What Darwin Didn’t Know”), movies (notably, “Creation” and “Darwin’s Darkest Hour”), revivals of “Inherit the Wind”, scores of books about Darwin, and more. A good time was had by all.
“Evolution in Scientific American”
“The Conflict Between Religion and Evolution”
“The Darwin bicentennial in the news”
2. 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species
After a year of celebrating Darwin, his seminal work was almost overlooked. But fans rallied, holding parties, public readings, and conferences (thank you, Reading Odyssey). Publishers responded with brand-new editions of the book (notably Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation, The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of On the Origin of Species, and On the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition), while one creationist (see below) published his own version of the Origin, with comic results.
“The Origin sesquicentennial approaches”
“NCSE members celebrating Origin Day”
3. Ray Comfort is Bananas!
Evangelist and banana fan Ray Comfort decided to celebrate Darwin’s birthday in his own unique way: by handing out free copies of a “special” edition of On the Origin of Species. Comfort’s 54-page introduction abounded in bizarre claims, linking Hitler to Darwin (!) and contending that there are no transitional fossils.
Don’t Diss Darwin
4. Texas Board Caves to Creationists
After months of debate, the Texas Board of Education voted in March on state science standards–and the results weren’t pretty. The board amended the Biology and Earth and Space Sciences standards with loopholes and language that make it easy for creationists to attack science textbooks. “The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science,” said Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, NCSE executive director. The only upside: two months later, Board chair Don McLeroy was not reconfirmed by the Texas state senate.
“Science setback for Texas schools”
“Creationist board chair out in Texas”
5. Louisiana Faces “Academic Freedom”
In 2008, the Louisiana Science Education Act was signed into law, which opened the door to teaching creationism in public school science classes. Since then, the state board of education has ignored the recommendations of its own science education professionals, turning instead to the Louisiana Family Forum for guidance. Under the board’s guidelines, supplementary classroom materials can’t be rejected just because they include creationism. And challenging the materials triggers a convoluted hearing process that the Louisiana Coalition for Science calls “seriously flawed.”
“A mixed result in Louisiana”
“More bad news from Louisiana”
6. Antievolution bills go down in flames
Although Louisiana passed an antievolution “academic freedom” act in 2008, antievolution bills introduced elsewhere in 2009 quickly died in committee. One Florida bill would have required a “thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution.” A Mississippi bill would have mandated warning stickers on biology textbooks. A Texas bill would have exempted creationist institutions, such as the Institute for Creation Research’s graduate school, from meeting Texas’s regulations governing degree-granting institutions. All told, bills were introduced in eight states. None survived.
Chronology of “Academic Freedom” Bills
“Academic Freedom” Bills by State & Year
7. How is evolution treated in your state’s science standards?
TheNational Center for Science Education decided to find out. Education Project Director Dr. Louise Mead and Project Director Anton Mates pored over standards in all 50 states to evaluate their treatment of evolution and related scientific topics. There was a lot of good news and some not-so-good news (5 states flunked).
8. The Evolution of Evolution (and Creationism)
Just weeks before Darwin’s birthday, Scientific American published its January 2009 issue dedicated to Darwin and evolution. One of the key articles: “The Latest Face of Creationism”, by the NCSE’s Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch. Say the authors: “Telling students that evolution is a theory in crisis is–to be blunt–a lie.” The online version of the piece attracted hundreds of heated comments on both sides of the issue.
At the same time, Dr. Scott’s revised Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, Second Edition was released. The definitive guide to the relevant scientific, religious, educational, and legal issues, the revamped book adds 70 pages, including new chapters on testing intelligent design in the courts and evolution and creationism in the media and public opinion.
“Evolution in Scientific American”
Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
9. A KiloSteve and Beyond!
Is evolution in crisis? Do reputable scientists disown it? No way, Chuck. Proof positive? The continued growth of Project Steve, the booming list of scientists named Steve (or Stephen, Steven, Stephanie, Stefan, Etienne, Esteban…) who support evolution and reject creationism. The initial list of 220 signatories included two Nobel prize winners and eight members of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2009, the NCSE Steveometer hit the kiloSteve mark with Steve #1000. (Who just happened to be Dr. Steve Darwin of Tulane University in Louisiana.)
The Project Steve list continues to grow. For the latest count and more, see our FAQ page.
“Project Steve: n > 1000″
Project Steve FAQ
10. The envelope, please
Among all the ups and downs in the creationism/evolution controversy during the year, one bright spot was the recognition received by Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, National Center for Science Education’s executive director for the last 25 years. Some of the more notable 2009 awards include: the Fellows Medal (California Academy of Sciences), the Stephen Jay Gould Prize (Society for the Study of Evolution), Scientific American 10 Honor Roll (which she shares with Barack Obama and Bill Gates), and a seat on Scientific American’s revamped and expanded Board of Advisers.