Quality science education is all about inquiry, according to top journals like Nature and Science. Attorney Herman Bouma, head of the National Association for Objectivity in Science, certainly believes this — and most people would think that the world’s largest science education organization, the National Science Teaching Association, does too.
They don’t. What’s with that?
A year previous to the NSTA’s 2019 national conference this past April, Bouma submitted a proposal to give a talk. The NSTA accepted his proposal. As the event drew near, his talk was listed in both the conference program and on the conference app. That is, evidently, before someone took a closer look and became alarmed.
What was his talk about? I’ll give you one guess.
Darwin and Evolution
Bouma was to speak on “Darwin’s Response to His Objectors and Its Relevance for Today” [the title of the talk has been corrected]. Along with the title, he had provided to the NSTA a straightforward summary stating that his talk would address five of the critiques that Darwin received related to his theory of origins, and the responses that Darwin made to those critiques.
Bouma’s emphasis was on the civil dialogue that Darwin fostered in his writings, and the hope that educators today would strive for the same.
His presentation was scheduled for April 14 at 8:00 am. But the night before, something was wrong. Bouma could no longer find the talk on the conference app.
Something Was Wrong
The morning of his talk, Bouma arrived at the room at 7:15 am to start setting up. One family was present early. They were excited about his talk and had even stayed at their hotel an extra night just to attend his session. I spoke to a member of the family and this witness confirmed Bouma’s account. “I stayed purposefully and paid for another day at my hotel just to see him speak,” said the attendee. “So I was really disappointed and did voice my opinion. I spent an extra 100 dollars to stay and listen to this.”
Shortly after Bouma arrived, three conference officials approached him. The officials gave Bouma their names. Taking the lead for the group was Delores Howard, the NSTA’s Conferences Director. Also present were Mike Sydlowski, the Conference Chairperson, and Eric Hadley, the Program Coordinator.
They let him know that it had “come to their attention” the night before that this talk was to be of a faith-based nature and that they had decided to cancel the talk. When he asked who brought this to their attention, they said they were “not at liberty to say.”
They told him to pack up. Meanwhile security guards joined the conference officials in turning people away at the door. The witness I spoke to confirmed this: “People were trying to come in and there were people outside the door — then a security guard said basically you need to leave. Herman said, ‘I don’t understand.’ He was told, ‘You have to leave this room.’ They literally were blocking the entrance to get into the room.” Imagine, the major U.S. science teachers group used security guards to stop a scheduled speaker from speaking and to hustle him out of the premises.
The family that was present was upset that they had stayed an extra night and could not hear the talk. So Bouma asked the officials if he could share a little about his talk with just that family. They emphatically refused and repeated that he needed to pack up and leave.
Why This Talk Was Different
The witness told me this was the first time her son had come along with her to an NSTA event. “He said, Wow, I can’t believe that people can be like this,” she said. “It’s not just like anyone can speak at the conference — you have to get approval from a committee. What I don’t understand is that there were other evolution talks — I don’t understand why his was so different from other speakers. I really felt bad for him. They wanted him out. This guy [Bouma] was older — was it really necessary to have all these people to get him out of the room? Was it that bad?” She continued: “I felt bad for my son to have to experience that.” The matter “should have been taken care of before [Bouma] took the plane out there” in the first place.
She told me that Bouma gave her a copy of his PowerPoint slides. “I still don’t get it,” she said. “There’s nothing there that’s a problem. He’s not saying, Oh, Martians evolved people. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the material he gave me.”
The witness said, “He wasn’t being disrespectful or belligerent to anyone there. That I can attest to. He just said, Why? If anything they should have been apologetic to him from the get-go.”
An Attempt to Follow Up
After the event, Bouma appealed via email to the NSTA’s executive director, David Evans. Bouma expressed his concern about what had happened and, since he lives close to the NSTA headquarters, requested a meeting. Evans responded that a meeting would not be productive, for Bouma or for himself. He said he agreed with the other officials in St. Louis that the NSTA did not support Bouma’s approach to studying the critiques of Darwin’s theory.
Seeking a comment, I contacted the NSTA myself. However both Delores Howard and David Evans refused to speak with me. Eric Hadley, who served as Program Coordinator for the conference, also refused to comment. I left a voicemail for Mike Sydlowski, the Conference Chairperson, but never heard back. This is what is commonly called stonewalling.
A small incident, you say? Just one man who had his presentation abruptly canceled? Yes, Bouma is just one man but he had run into something that should not exist in the halls of science. And don’t miss the irony. As Bouma wanted to convey to his listeners, Darwin himself sought out dialogue with critics. His modern followers seek to shut it down.
Instead of open inquiry, which should be the rule, dogmatism on evolution prevailed. It usually does. Herman Bouma’s story illustrates what, in countless classrooms and labs, the search for truth about biological origins is up against.