My Testimony Before BESE’s Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council

Members of the Committee,

My name is Zachary Kopplin, and I am a senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School. I am testifying today to urge the State of Louisiana to retain textbooks that teach sound science, and also to urge you to reject any and all efforts that might undermine the teaching of proper science in Louisiana’s public school science classes.

You will likely hear arguments today in support of placing disclaimers in science textbooks that are intended to raise doubts about the scientific validity of the theory of evolution. Creationists will also try and convince you to require science textbooks be revised, or to request the inclusion of supplementary materials promoting concepts like “intelligent design,” which was proven to be an offshoot of creationism and was declared unconstitutional by the federal courts in Dover vs. Kitzmiller et al.

Louisiana students deserve to be taught proper science that will prepare us for success in the global economy.

I will lay out why none of the creationist’s suggestions should be taken.

First, no disclaimer for evolution is necessary. According to Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science,

“The science of evolution underpins all of modern biology and is supported by tens of thousands of scientific studies in fields that include cosmology, geology, paleontology, genetics, and other biological specialties.   It informs scientific research in a broad range of fields such as agriculture and medicine.”

No apology or disclaimer for evolution is needed nor advised.

A disclaimer would likely imitate the one the Dover School District implemented which was struck down by the federal courts. It warned that evolution was “only” a theory while promoting an intelligent design/creationism textbook, “Of Panda’s and People,” which was thoroughly discredited as lacking scientific merit.

In everyday use, the word theory is sometimes used to describe an unproven conjecture–like the “theory that Carl Weiss wasn’t Huey Long’s murderer.” That is open to debate.

But in science, a theory is very different. Major theories like the theory of gravity or the theory of evolution undergird entire branches of science and have been thoroughly tested and retested and shown to have predictive ability to explain natural phenomena. They are hardly unproven conjectures–they are the basic building blocks of modern physics and biology respectively–and they helped send men to the moon and develop medicines to effectively fight thousands of diseases.

Second, revising the textbook or adding supplementary materials undermines proper science. According to the National Association of Biology Teachers,

“Scientists have firmly established evolution as an important natural process. The nature of science, experimentation, logical analysis, and evidence-based revision based on detectable and measurable data are procedures that clearly differentiate and separate science from other ways of knowing. Explanations or ways of knowing that invoke metaphysical, non-naturalistic or supernatural mechanisms, whether called “creation science,” “scientific creationism,” “intelligent design theory,” “young earth theory,” or similar designations, are outside the scope of science and therefore are not part of a valid science curriculum.”

Finally, I have heard that the Louisiana Science Education Act requires this committee to endorse changes in science textbooks to discredit evolution. It does not mandate this committee or the BESE board do anything to change textbooks.

Quite frankly, all the Louisiana Science Education Act does is create an unconstitutional loophole to sneak the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes. When a school district does try to use this law for its intended purpose, it will quickly be shot down by the courts.

So there is no need for this committee to try to jump ahead with such a costly and unproductive effort, one that will only embarrass our state and harm our students who need to be properly educated and well prepared for success in the global economy.

Please stand tall and endorse life science textbooks that teach real science rather than undermine it.

Thank you very much for considering my comments. I’ve also included a number of supplementary materials in support of my position.

Letter from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to Governor Jindal.

Position Statement on Evolution from the National Association of Biology Teachers.

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23 Responses to My Testimony Before BESE’s Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council

  1. Pingback: Louisiana school science – your support needed please

  2. Ken Forest says:

    Unfortunately, not being an American citizen, my comments may be worth little. But, as a former scientist and science teacher who applies evidence based decision-making and critical thinking, and being an observer from “outside” (the country), perhaps the following comments are more objective. Zachary Kopplin has it right. The teaching of critical thinking and evidence based decision-making is crucial to good science. Interjecting supernatural, untestable ideas into science classes is not only misleading, but it will discredit future scientists and their work it they attempt to apply it. Politicians tend to be one of the most scientifically illiterate groups in democratic countries. I hope they can figure this one out.

  3. Zack Kopplin says:

    Thanks for being interested in this. My goal is to bring as many intelligent people as possible to the Dec. 7th and 9th meeting, and enough so they can’t just ignore us. Often during the meeting Friday, the testimony from scientists was ignored by the politicians. Luckily, most of the educators on the board listened and voted for proper science.

  4. Rhonda says:

    I am a Louisiana life-long resident and I’m so very proud of you! I’m 58 and was educated in the EBRP public school system. I can tell you that my HS biology class was a joke back in 1969. I fortunately gained an interest in science and educated myself as an adult. I shouldn’t have had to do that but now I cannot read enough. I wrote to the entire state legislative education committee and the governor when the bill was being considered. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was that it passed. I certainly hope that there are many more of your generation with the will stand up for a proper education in this state. Thank you so much for your testimony. Every voice counts. I would like to attend the meetings in December but I don’t know when or where they are being held.

  5. Zack Kopplin says:

    The meetings will take place on Dec. 7th and 9th. I am assuming that they will be at the Claiborne building. I will hopefully have more specifics on the place and time tomorrow and send them to you.

  6. Joseph Siket says:

    You recently posted this on RD.net and I was wondering, at the suggestion of one of the commenter there, if you have set up a petition of any kind? I recall somebody noting the appeal of large numbers, and for something like this I’m sure you could get massive numbers.

    I myself would sign such a petition, but I don’t know if the signature of a Michigander would do much good for your cause in Louisiana.

  7. Anvil Springstien says:

    Again, like the initial commentator above, I am not a citizen of your country, but may I offer, if only in these words, my full support for your campaign to retain a science syllabus based on critical thinking and sound science in the state of Louisiana. I’m sure I speak on behalf of many who have read your intelligent and articulate testimony when I say well done, and thank you for “standing tall and endors(ing) life science textbooks that teach real science rather than undermine it.” Keep it up, Zack, you’re not alone – the world is watching Louisiana.

    Anvil. – United Kingdom

  8. Sandman says:

    Well done Zach. For a high school student you write with clarity and conviction. Your mum and dad should be proud of you, as should your teachers. A further point of praise is that you have learned to make a stand and get active when its needed most.

    When you next make a submission you may wish to mention the precedent case EDWARDS v AGUILLARD – a little case in your own state that struck down one form of creationist teaching, then link that to the defeat of KITZMILLER v DOVER which linked creationism/creation science to ID. Lawyers would call that a chain of precedent.

    There have also been in the past 30 years a whole slew of legal cases in US courts striking down the use of textbook disclaimer stickers. You can find the details of the relevant cases on the website of the National Centre for Science Education (http://ncse.com/).

    The easiest way of persuading school boards that any form of creationist creep is a bad idea is to point out that for the last 30 years the US courts have consistently ruled against any form of creationist teaching or bias and the resultant court cases, as in KITZMILLER, cost the districts millions of dollars in lost funds. KITZMILLER cost the Dover District $4 million. Promoting creationism is thus a direct and deliberate waste of taxpayer money, as well as being wrong for all the reasons you set out in your submission.

    Well done my friend. And as Militades, the war archon of Athens, said to his Greek forces at the Battle of Marathon when they were faced with a massively more numerous and powerful enemy:

    “GET AT THEM!!!!”

  9. Zack Kopplin says:

    I think rather than the legal costs of the court case (because we aren’t in front of a school board, we’re testifying in front of the LA BESE Board, who won’t be sued), I am going to bring in the SICB’s letter boycotting Louisiana.

  10. Zack Kopplin says:

    Thank you anvil, I hope the BESE Board has the same amount of common sense the council it appointed did.

  11. Not from the South says:

    Zack, your efforts on this issue are commendable. Keep on working to amend our educational system. It is imperative that we allow the children of the next generation to be taught the truth. Progress will someday be in their hands and ensuring that they have the chance to lead us in the right direction begins now. Thank you.

  12. Andrew says:

    Hi Zack,

    Keep up the good work. It’s a shame there even needs to be a fight against such ridiculousness but one day, thanks to people such as yourself speaking up, science will be completely safe from the drivel that is ID.

    Andrew, United Kingdom

  13. Davod says:

    I just wanted to say that it is very comforting to know that a young high school student living in a southern state can become a rational thinker and use that ability.

  14. Mischa van Dinter says:

    Hi Zack,

    I enjoyed reading your testimony, it is well thought-trough and for a very worthy cause. I’m across the atlantic so I can not offer any real help but please be aware that the fight you are fighting is capturing attention from all over the world. These developments in the US school system is of interest to all of us, this kind of foolishness in the schools (and the political leaders!) of the last real superpower is extremely worrying. We need more students like you so that later we will have leaders like you.

    Good luck!

    Mischa, The Netherlands

  15. Michael says:

    Mr. Kopplin,

    First I would like to say that I am glad you have taken the time to stand up and defend the position you take on the issue. And while I am about as uninformed as those that have posted before me about what the state law says and what textbooks are being considered, I must retort.

    Having grown up a Christian I do not know what in the world Creation Science is. Can anyone tell me? I digress.

    To say that creation is a science is to ignore the metaphysical questions that the concept brings to the table, but we all would be ignorant to concede that the universe did not have a beginning.

    Do we we ignore Stephen Hawking? “The conclusion of this lecture is that the universe has not existed forever. Rather, the universe, and time itself, had a beginning in the Big Bang, about 15 billion years ago.” [The Beginning of Time].

    I don’t know who you and others consider ignorant for positing:

    1) A beginning of the universe – thanks to the proposition of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the debunking of his cosmological constant, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and the significance of Penzias’ and Wilson’s discovery that shoot Steady State Theory to pieces (theories can be decimated, that is the glory of science).
    http://www.bell-labs.com/project/feature/archives/cosmology/

    2) That life had a beginning outside of a natural cause. Can anyone explain away the Irreducible Complexity of cells or how the information was written into DNA?

    The philosophy of science may be a complicated issue to discuss with children in elementary and even middle school, but you cannot concede to the fact that no evolutionist has an answer for the “beginning of the universe.” And while hotly contested it can never be determined. Teaching someone of the implication of such a beginning weather fully natural or metaphysical doesn’t brainwash someone but opens up other doors for study.

    I am not aware of a single instance in which atheist Richard Dawkin’s has ever concluded that the universe had no beginning. In fact he concedes to the possibility of the theory of Intelligent Design. Straight from his mouth!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoncJBrrdQ8

    Dawkin’s also concedes that no one knows how the universe or life started, but he does in fact believe that both had a beginning. To ignore all possibilities it to ignore what science has taught us to pursue.

    Again, I don’t know what the Louisiana Science Education Act condones or prohibits nor do I know the content of the subjects addressed in the textbooks being considered, but to borrow a line from Carl Sagan and say that “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be” is to draw the line between science and philosophy despite the fact that they are incredibly intertwined.

    I find neither evolution nor the sciences a threat to my faith in Christ, but in fact would contend that science has indeed bolstered my faith because the Big Bang Theory concedes to the very sequence of events Moses recorded as the creation account.

    Adieu

    • Zack Kopplin says:

      Thank you for visiting my site.

      The Louisiana Science Education Act provides an unconstitutional loophole that allows the use of supplementary materials to teach unconstitutional creationism or its offshoot intelligent design into the public school biology class.

      Creationism is a taking a literal translation of the Bible’s Book of Genesis and attempting to apply it to modern science. It is not proper science and many different faith groups reject this view of science. This includes Catholics, Episcopalians, Mainline Protestants.

      Science is the study of the natural world, and it is what should be taught in science class.

      I’m not completely sure who you think I consider ignorant.

      Irreducible complexity has been addressed over and over. The NCSE, among other sites has the refutations on their website, and it was thoroughly debunked during the Dover vs. Kitzmiller Trial. In any case science does not attempt to address the supernatural, and the supernatural should not be inserted in science.

      Evolution does not claim to explain the beginning of the universe.

      While we are on the philosophy of science, science is a naturalistic, testable, repeatable, observable, and falsifiable. Evolution meets all these requirements, intelligent design or creationism meet none of these and are not science. They should not be taught in a public school science class. Their place is in church or a private religious school.

      I’m not sure what some sort of “gotcha” moment with Dawkins which is likely taken out of context is meant to prove.

      You are making a fundamental mistake in understanding what intelligent design is. You made the assumption that all intelligent design implies is that a creator made the Earth. The name often leads people to think that. Intelligent design actually states everything on Earth was created in its present form, and has not evolved. It is an offshoot of creationism, and the only reason it is called intelligent design is because teaching creationism in public school classes was declared unconstitutional during Edwards vs. Aguillard.

      You said that we should not ignore all possibilities. I assume you are suggesting that we teach alchemy in chemistry, astrology in astronomy, flat-earth theory in geography, and every single belief system about creation in the world? I doubt you actually mean that.

      My point is, those are all supernatural explanations that we don’t teach for a reason. Creationism and intelligent design are just as unscientific as the rest.

      Lastly, as I have pointed out before, in science class we teach science, and I have laid out the criteria above. Creationism and intelligent design are supernatural, and they should not be taught as science since they are not and don’t apply to each other.

      I’m not exactly sure how the Big Bang relates to Moses, but in any case, it is not related to this topic and it is a waste of both of our time to debate it.

      I get the impression that you are in favor of teaching evolution in science class, and I am glad you support proper science. I am glad you can accept both your faith and evolution, most mainstream religions do just that, and have been very supportive of my effort.

  16. Blaine Parker- California says:

    The comment that Michael posted on Dec. 2nd is exactly the type of non-sense I hate. Intelligent design believers will take would and twist it to make it fit their agenda. Bottom line there is no god, no proof of anything religious and in fact the Bible alone has many inaccurate information that has never happened in history. Just because Dawkins does not claim to know everything doesn’t mean that your belief is valid it means Richard Dawkins is humble. Unlike Dawkins, I am a 7 on his scale of atheism. We have so much history still alive in the forms of buildings and artifacts and still no sign of Noah’s ark huh? Don’t you feel like a ship to harbor all living land dwelling animals would have to be almost the size of an ocean itself especially to seperate animals from killing each other and yet we find all these other items and still no ship. It is absolutely bonkers to believe in that non-sense. Since you love your Jesus Christ so much maybe you should start looking into history and realize the story of Jesus has been borrowed by the Christian faith from older beliefs and is not unique.

    Zach keep it up and if I were in that state I would be there to support. Zach is a lesson to us all to stand up and be vocal. Lets stop worrying about the creationists feelings they don’t worry about ours when we are told we are going to hell. Non-believers are one of the top minority group bigger than blacks, hispanics, gays and lesbians we need to be vocal!

  17. fastfeat says:

    Zack–

    Best of luck with your efforts. It’s great to see young people fighting for better education. I’m college-educated, but at 48 and without kids, I don’t have as much of a dog in this hunt as others. But I’ve watched the USA’s downward slide in education relevance from what and how my parents learned, through my college years (decent enough to get into my field, but probably insufficient today) to our current political climate of Palinites and other neo-Fascists who are determined to dumb-down future generations of American kids to make their own seem intelligent.

    I did my part to help this country by not adding more kids to its population. Thank you for what you are doing to for the kids in what will soon be your generation’s future. Creationism, like the dinosaurs its supporters think were man’s first mode of transportation, needs to become extinct. Best of luck!

  18. Hope says:

    Zach,

    It’s refreshing to be from the South, and still have hope that there are some intelligent people still here. I live in BTR, and my husband went to BRMHS (you are doing that school proud — unlike it’s other alum Bobby Jindal). I wish I would have known about the meeting; I surely would have been in attendance. It’s ridiculous that creationism is even on the table in La. How can we make more people aware of this?

  19. Zack Kopplin says:

    Thank you! The best thing we can do is to increase awareness. You can show people my site and the Facebook associated with it. You also could show them the Louisiana Science Coalition’s website (http://lasciencecoalition.org/).

    It’s really a matter of telling people, and hoping that they will tell more people.

  20. Dave says:

    On a daily basis discoveries are being made in the biological sciences re the very beginnings of life. We are seeing how certain membranes may have been formed and evolved to become more complex. To say that all of this should just be stopped and we resort to old tales with no scientific backing is just insane.
    I know that creationism is a comfort for some people who just cannot understand that chance may have created them, that a higher power must have selected that sperm to combine with an egg to create just ‘Them’ and not another person. That the universe is so overwealmingly complex that rather than striving to understand it it is preferable to hide and hope it all goes away.
    If we had listened to these people where would all of the human achievements be? Rather than discovering the WHY of the universe we would have just assigned any event as ‘divine intervention’ and never asked questions.
    What a sad world it would be.
    Fortunately there are people like yourself Zack who are our future Newtons, Einstiens, and Gallilao’s. The one’s who ponder, ask, question, observer and Discover new fact about the way things work. I wish you luck in your current fight and the very best in the future. I hope to see a Noble Prize with you name on it in the not to distant future.
    Take Care
    Marc

  21. Blair Donaldson says:

    Congratulations Zack, it’s fabulous to see someone such as yourself stand up for reason and good science. I hope your principled and dignified efforts shame those who would deceive for their faith.

    Like other posters here, I am not a resident of the US but I think your efforts are commendable and I wish you a great deal of success.

    I wonder if you have considered contacting the National Centre for Science Education and/or Eugenie Scott? As you are probably aware, the NCSE has been foremost in battling the underhand efforts of creationists to insert faith into the science classroom. They may be able to offer some valuable assistance.

    All the best,
    Blair Donaldson

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