April 04, 2005

E pur, si muove

by peterb
You know it's going to be a bad day when the first thing you read when you wake up is that the PA Legislature is considering a bill that reads, in part:

   Section 1.  The act of act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14),
    known as the Public School Code of 1949, is amended by adding a
    section to read:
       Section 1516.2.  Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and
    Earth.--(a)  In any public school instruction concerning the
    theories of the origin of man and the earth which includes the
    theory commonly known as evolution, a board of school directors
    may include, as a portion of such instruction, the theory of
    intelligent design. Upon approval of the board of school
    directors, any teacher may use supporting evidence deemed
    necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design.

The Scopes "Monkey Trial" was over 80 years ago, but we are still having to deal with fallout from people who feel it is a cultural imperative that we raise our children to be ignorant.

So, what can you do about it? Well, if you're a Pennsylvania resident, I think you should write your State Representative and tell them that you think this legislation is a terribly bad idea. You can find out your representative's name and address by going to this page and typing your zip code in the box in the upper-right corner.

Here's the letter I'm writing.

Dear [Name of Representative here]:

I'm writing to you to urge you to oppose House Bill No. 1007, which I believe will seriously compromise the quality of science education in Pennsylvania public schools.

Science is not simply the collection and categorization of facts, but is the practice of continually making observations, developing hypotheses, and then testing those hypotheses. Because Intelligent Design does not offer any empirically testable hypotheses, it is not science. Universities very actively rate school districts based on the quality of the education they provide. If Pennsylvania develops a reputation as a Commonwealth that provides a poor science education in its public schools, it will be that much harder for our children to gain admission to top Universities. This, in turn, will further degrade Pennsylvania's job market and tax base. Pennsylvania is already having difficulty attracting and retaining young families and skilled workers. If House Bill No. 1007 passes, families that care about the quality of their childrens' scientific education will have another reason to leave Pennsylvania.

Please help our schools stay competitive by keeping our science classes focused on science, not politics.

Very Truly Yours,


Any readers who want to write to their Representatives should feel free to borrow from my letter, if you like. Of special interest to Western PA residents is that the sponsors of the bill include Representatives Bastian (Somerset County), Ellis (Butler County), and Petrarca (Westmoreland County). The bill has been referred to the Education committee (see below for details). I plan on sending my letter to all of the members of the committee. Perhaps you should, too. Pittsburgh readers should especially note that Representative Michael Diven and Thomas Stevenson, both members of the Education committee, are from Allegheny County.

Please contact your representatives before this gets out of the Education committee. Write them, email them, call them. Let's stop this before it exposes Pennsylvania to national ridicule, not after.

Update: it occurs to me that there's one other thing you can do. If you live in Pennsylvania, and you have a weblog, either link to this article or write your own article on the subject. I was shocked that this bill has gotten all the way to committee without a word in our local papers. We've got to shine a light into the dark corners of this legislation, and getting the word out about it will be a good first step. Thanks.

Additional Resources

Posted by peterb at April 4, 2005 12:49 AM | Bookmark This
Our tax dollars hard at work
Excerpt: other amendments currently being considered are:
Weblog: She Flies With Her Own Wings
Tracked: April 4, 2005 06:23 PM
intelligent design
Excerpt: It stands to reason that it's not appropriate to teach a non-scientific idea like ID in science classrooms, because it is not science. It is no more science than popstrology is science, and you wouldn't want them to teach that to your kids in science...
Weblog: Goose the Blog
Tracked: April 6, 2005 04:19 PM

The best solution to this problem and the constant battling over what should be taught in schools is the separation of school and state.


Posted by Jeff Hunter at April 3, 2005 10:40 PM

I implore concerned readers to write their own letters, rather than borrowing yours. If I were a legislator, I would be more concerned with fistfuls of unique letters regarding the same subject than I would be with carbon copies of the same letter. Even if your local Representative does not read his or her own mail, the letters undoubtedly get read by a human at some point. Dozens or hundreds of individually written letters are more likely to be brought to said legislator's attention than what amounts to a reverse form letter.

Posted by rlink at April 4, 2005 02:30 PM

I agree with rlink that a hand-written letter is better than a form letter. But a form letter is better than nothing. If there's one skill legislators are pretty good at, it is counting heads. Rather than writing a philosophical treatise, I think all you have to say is "I live in your district, this is the bill I'm talking about, and I'm opposed to it."

(Although if writing said treatise is something you'd like to do, don't let me stop you!)

Posted by peterb at April 4, 2005 05:43 PM

Thanks for posting this. I'm sending my letter today.

Posted by Steve Esser at April 5, 2005 02:36 PM

We've always joked that everything outside of Philadelphia is really Pennsyltucky---it frightens me when everyone proves us right.
My wife is a teacher; my letter is written and ready to go (I agree writing an individual letter is the best option). I'll urge her and her colleagues to do the same.

Posted by banana slug at April 5, 2005 03:16 PM

C'mon, there's also Pittsburgh.

It's kinda like the state has bookends, really.

I should write and mail letters as well.

Posted by Nat at April 5, 2005 04:44 PM

If it wasn't a few weeks old and therefore a pay-to-read article, I'd send you a link to an opinion piece in the Washington Post that breaks down the semantic argument behind the scientific and common definitions of "theory," especially concerning this ridiculous debate.

Then again, according to my neighbors here in Virginia, I'm some hippie-assed liberal who can't seem to understand how much more important this is than, say, reading.

Good luck.

Posted by Tom at April 6, 2005 09:23 AM

I looked at the PA Legislature web site, and discovered the following possibly interesting or useful information.

Section (b) of the bill further states that "no teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational, sectarian or religious
belief", which makes the bill, well, incoherent.

This bill is being sponsored by 12 people. Of the 12 sponsors, 4 of them are on the Education committee (Creighton, Bastian, Clymer, and Rohrer), and Samuel Rohrer is the Republican chair of the Subcommittee on Basic Education. I doubt that writing the committee members who are sponsoring the bill will have any effect other than getting your views on record, but I agree that writing the entire committee is a good idea.

Of the 12 sponsors, all are Republicans, with one exception: Democrat Joseph Petrarca (District 55, Armstrong and Westmoreland Counties). I really wasn't surprised that this was a Republican effort, but I was disappointed to find that a Democrat had lent his support. I think he deserves a letter as well.

Just for completeness, the other sponsors are: Creighton (District 37), Armstrong (100), Bastian (69), Benninghoff (171), Boyd (43), Clymer (145), Ellis (11), Hershey (13), Leh (130), Rohrer (128), and Stern (80).

Since I hadn't seen anything about this in the newspaper, I did a search for "intelligent design" on the Post-Gazette's web site. All hits were editorial-page content, mostly about the Dover incident. I found nothing about HB1007. I also think they deserve to hear from us.

I also checked the National Center for Science Education (http://www.ncseweb.org), and they had posted some information about this on 1 April 2005.

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) also maintains "Creation Watch site (http://www.csicop.org/creationwatch). I didn't find anything there except information about Dover, so I've contacted them about HB1007 as well. I've also contacted the related Center For Inquiry's Pittsburgh chapter.

Posted by Mary T. at April 6, 2005 01:05 PM

My sister sent me information about this bill and about the comments on this blog and asked that I mention a few things about the legislative process, so here I am.

I used to work in the PA legislature on the House Democratic Education Committee so I'd like to share a few insights into the process and some of the people behind this bill.

The first thing to know is that many of the sponsors of this legislation are on the extreme in the PA House of Reps. That probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, but their positions make them, in many ways, outcasts within the House. Legislation they sponsor rarely gets a hearing in the Education Committee let alone a vote in that Committee.

I think it's a very good idea to write letters to members of the House Education Committee (copy your own House member on this letter) so they are aware that there is opposition out there.

That being said, there are over 3,000 bills that get introduced in the PA House and Senate each year and the vast majority of them sit without any action taken on them at all.

House Bill 1007 was referred to the House Education Committee when it was introduced, but that's a step that happens with every bill introduced (no matter how loony it might be). Each bill is referred to the committee that deals with the issues in the bill. But just because a bill is referred to a committee doesn't mean anything will happen to it in that committee. In other words, referral to the Education Committee is a formality, not an indication that any action will happen with this bill.

The Chairman of the House Education Committee is Rep. Jess Stairs (R) and he controls what bills the Committee will consider (vote on) and what they won't ever touch. Rep. James Roebuck (D) is the Democratic Chair and while he doesn't have the power that Rep. Stairs has because he's in the minority party, he still has some influence over what the Committee will work on.

So in addition to letters to all of the Education Committee members, I would encourage you all to make phone calls to Rep. Stairs' office in Harrisburg to ask about House Bill 1007 and whether Rep. Stairs intends for the Committee to take any action on this bill. Rep. Stairs' Harrisburg office phone number is (717) 783-9311.

I would encourage anyone who is going to call Representative Stairs' office to be straightforward and polite about the reasons for calling and to just ask whether or not the Committee is planning on taking any action on House Bill 1007.

When you call, ask for the staff person on the Education Committee who deals with Basic Education issues and tell them the bill number that you have questions about. If that staffer isn't available, leave your name and number so they can get back to you. Or just call back again. Legislators and their staff do take notice when they start receiving a lot of phone calls on a particular bill or issue.

Being polite may seem like a no-brainer, but I've been on the receiving end of well-meaning, but very impolite (and sometimes very belligerent) phone calls from people who want information about a particular bill and it's counterproductive to go off on the person answering your questions. Committee staff have
no control over the legislation that is introduced, but members of the public routinely blast staff over the phone for some of the idiotic legislation that members introduce. In short, be civil. :)

I'll check back in here again so if there are any questions about any of what I wrote I'll try to answer them.

Also, feel free to report what I wrote on other blogs that may be commenting on this proposed legislation.

Posted by PSH at April 7, 2005 09:56 AM

Tony Norman has a column in today's (Friday's) P-G, "In Legislature we mistrust", noting that Reps. Bastian and Creighton (co-sponsors of the ID bill) are also co-sponsors of HB 1012, the "National Motto Display Act", which would permit hanging "In God We Trust" signs all over public schools.

I haven't had a chance to search out the bill, so all the info is from Mr. Norman's columns. I'm going to send him e-mail about HB 1007, since it would make a great follow-on column.

Posted by Mary T. at April 8, 2005 04:56 PM

Perhaps the most coincidentally amusing thing of all this is that the day I posted this article was also the day I started doing google ads on the sidebar. Google decided that the appropriate advertisements to use are for wacko Christian "intelligent design" web sites.

I mean, I guess I should be glad they'll be paying me money every time someone clicks on them, but it's still sort of odd.

Posted by peterb at April 8, 2005 08:11 PM

I looked up HB1012 ("In God We Trust") at the PA Legislature web site, and the overlap between the sponsors of it and HB1007 is remarkable. Both bills were referred to the Education Committee on 16 March 2005.

The heart of HB1012 is the following:
"The board of directors of every public elementary and secondary school in this Commonwealth may permit administrators and teachers in each public school to prominently display the motto "In God We Trust," which is declared in 36 U.S.C. 302 (relating to national motto) to be the national motto of the United States, in each classroom, school cafeteria and school auditorium."

HB1012 is being sponsored by 16 people, of which the following are also sponsors of HB1007: Creighton (R, District 37), Armstrong (R, 100), Bastian (R, 69), Benninghoff (R, 171), Ellis (R, 11), Hershey (R, 13), Leh (R, 130), Petrarca (D, 55), Rohrer (R, 128), and Stern (R, 80).

The others sponsoring HB1012 are Daley (D, 49), Forcier (R, 6), Geist (R, 79), Philips (R, 108), Readshaw (D, 36) and R. Stevenson (R, 8).

Of the 16 sponsors, there are 3 Democrats (Petrarca, Daley, and Readshaw), and 13 Republicans.

I've heard back from Tony Norman at the P-G, and he is definitely interested in following up today's column on HB1012 with one on HB1007.

Posted by Mary T. at April 8, 2005 11:45 PM

you ppl are rather nuts if u ask me...im an atheist yet its obvious to me that there is just as much merit to intelligent design as there is the "THEORY" of evolution, in fact, evolution has been disproven in parts, they say man evolved from an ape right? wrong! Its been scientificly disproven, men have 46 chromosones, while a monkey has 54, genetisists through many series of experiments have found that removing more than 3 chromosones at maximum completely destroy a species let alone trying to take out 8, they also showed that taking out any amount of chromosones leaves the creatures born from such genetic experiments incredibly inferior to the original and unable to procreate...so yeah i may be an atheist but i dont believe in evolution because its been scientificly disproven over and over again...if you would like to read an incredibly interesting article on the subject go to...

anyways in closing, if they are teaching a theory that has been disproven over and over again in every study done on it except a few which where inconclusive i think they should teach other theories as well that have just as much credibility...so yeah get your heads out of the sand and look at the scientific facts staring you i the face, evolution is fundementaly wrong...hope u enjoy my little note, as i know those of you with real scientific minds will, thankyou for taking your time to read it, ttyl:)

Posted by Annoyed Atheist at April 12, 2005 05:26 AM

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. I feel dumber for just having read your little treatsie.

Posted by j at April 12, 2005 10:28 AM

To quote Wolfgang Pauli: Annoyed Atheiest, what you said is not even wrong. I don't know if you're a troll or just ignorant (in the literal, nonpejorative sense), but you completely misunderstand evolution, biology, science and perhaps even the Enlgish language.

Far from being "disproven over and over again", evolution is perhaps the BEST VERIFIED SCIENTIFIC THEORY EVER, right up there with quantum mechanics and general relativity. I could spend pages dissecting your preposterous claims in detail, but I don't think you'd read it. If you're even slightly curious (and even slightly intellectually honest) go read the FAQ at talkorigins.org: http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-qa.html

Posted by scientifical at April 12, 2005 11:53 AM

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