As you may remember from earlier coverage here, Herman Bouma is the attorney whose presentation on Darwin was canceled by the 2019 National Science Teaching Association’s National Conference. The point of Bouma’s planned discussion was that Charles Darwin practiced open debate with his critics, an example from which teachers today could take a lesson. This was too much, though, for the influential group to tolerate so they sent conference officials and security guards to escort him out.
Well, the story continues now as the American Association for the Advancement of Science has joined the NSTA in giving Bouma the runaround.
This February, the AAAS held its annual meeting here in Seattle. In addition to lectures and keynotes, the meeting is where different branches hold business meetings. Bouma recently emailed us about what happened when he tried to submit a resolution to the Biological Sciences section for its consideration.
Bouma explained the situation this way:
The resolution simply states that a teacher should feel free to teach how Darwin responded to his critics. I was informed by the chair, Dr. Vicki Chandler, that the main office of the AAAS would be handling the resolution because it dealt with the subject of evolution. Last week I was informed by the current chair of the section, Dr. David Burgess, that the main office did not support the resolution. When I asked why, he refused to give any reason. It seems clear that the AAAS opposes the resolution because it does not want any discussion of scientific arguments against neo-Darwinian evolution, but is too embarrassed to state this publicly.
What Exactly Did the Resolution Say?
Was Bouma proposing some distasteful policy, or simply encouraging educators to treat Darwinian evolution like a science? Read the resolution for yourself:
Resolution on Freedom to Teach Darwin’s Response to His Critics
Whereas in his book The Origin of Species Darwin responded to eminent scientists of his day who had scientific arguments against his theory of natural selection, including Louis Agassiz, a world-renowned professor of geology and biology at Harvard University known as “the father of the American scientific tradition”; Adam Sedgwick, a professor of geology and paleontology at Cambridge University and one of Britain’s most distinguished geologists; and Karl Nageli, a Swiss professor of botany at the University of Munich who was famous for his work on plant cells;
Whereas Darwin took great care to reply thoughtfully to the scientific arguments against his theory and, by the time of the sixth edition of The Origin of Species in 1872, approximately one-third of his book consisted of his response to his critics;
Whereas Darwin stated, “I look with confidence to the future,—to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality” (The Origin of Species, p. 444); and
Whereas the Statement on the Teaching of Evolution issued by the AAAS on February 16, 2006, might erroneously lead teachers and professors to think they should not teach Darwin’s response to his critics,
RESOLVED: When teaching Darwin’s theory of natural selection, a teacher or professor should feel free to teach Darwin’s response to his critics, as set forth in his book The Origin of Species.
Are You Shocked?
Or dismayed? Disturbed? Actually, it’s a totally reasonable proposal — treat Darwin’s theory as Darwin himself treated it! But it wasn’t received that way. Bouma sent multiple courteous emails to the AAAS leadership, asking them to consider the resolution, but was stonewalled. Here’s an example of one email Bouma sent on January 8, 2020:
Dear Dr. Chandler,
Happy New Year! I hope you had an enjoyable time over the holidays.
My name is Herman Bouma and I have been attending the business meetings of the Biological Sciences Section over the last several years. I have a resolution I would like to present to the Section for its approval at the business meeting next month in Seattle. Would you be so kind as to tell me what procedure I should follow for doing this?
Thank you very much for your assistance.
“The Good Fight”
Chandler promised to “review” and “respond” to Bouma’s resolution. Dr. Chandler later replied, declining even to consider it at the AAAS meeting. Chandler gave Bouma no official feedback on his resolution but emphasized instead how much the AAAS “fight[s] the good fight” to support teaching evolution:
We of course support the teaching of evolution. AAAS takes an active approach to informing the public about, and taking a stand for teaching evolution. Efforts to “fight the good fight” about teaching evolution are public on aaas.org, and have been ongoing for years. We believe working with the main office folks that handles the evolution effort and policies associated with teaching evolution is the best way forward, as teaching evolution is relevant to a large number of sections and AAAS membership. As such I have forwarded your request to AAAS main office.
Bouma wrote back. He asked, “At some point will I be receiving a response from the AAAS main office?” He also wondered, “Will the Biological Sciences Section and other sections be providing input to the AAAS main office about my resolution?” He pointed out that his resolution is fully consistent with Chandler’s stated position that the AAAS supports “the teaching of evolution”:
I wish to emphasize that the resolution is not in any way against the teaching of evolution. It takes the teaching of evolution as a given. The resolution simply seeks to make clear to teachers that they should feel free to teach Darwin’s response to critics of his theory of natural selection.
Having heard nothing from the AAAS main office, a few weeks later, Bouma asked Chandler if they’d ever get back to him about the resolution. Chandler replied, “That is my expectation.” This correspondence all took place before the AAAS annual meeting, which was February 13-16. An Evolution News correspondent reported on the Education business meeting at that same conference here. It became clear that the AAAS main office was going to stonewall Bouma as well.
Nothing if Not Persistent
On February 18, Bouma contacted the new chair of the Biological Sciences section of the AAAS, David Burgess, noting that he’d not heard back from the AAAS main office about the resolution:
As of this time I have not received any communication from the main office. If you hear anything about the status of the proposal and who is working on it, I would much appreciate your letting me know. I would also greatly appreciate your support of the proposal.
Burgess wrote back three days later:
Herman, thank you for your email. I know this has been moved up to the main offices of AAAS. There is no support among the officers of the Biological Sciences section to take this up at the section level. In viewing of your organization’s website, it is clear that you represent one whose views are in contrast to that of mainstream science on the issue of evolution and its teaching. I suggest you take it up with the main offices of AAAS.
It’s good that Burgess gave Bouma something like a straight answer. The disturbing news is that the answer indicated that the Biological Sciences section of the AAAS is so intolerant that they don’t support efforts to teach Darwin’s theory the way Darwin himself treated it — to acknowledge that criticisms exist and “to teach Darwin’s response to his critics.”
Bouma had a ready reply:
My organization is simply trying to promote an objective discussion of the scientific merits of the theory of natural selection. Even Darwin wanted that. It would be peculiar if mainstream science was at odds with the expressed wishes of Darwin.
It would indeed be “peculiar” if mainstream science did not support Darwin’s approach to dealing with criticisms of his theory. Instead, Darwin’s ideas are to be treated as sacred dogmas, beyond questioning.
Months Without a Reply
But that was only the position of the AAAS Biological Sciences section. Perhaps the AAAS central office would have a different perspective. Months went by and Bouma received no reply from the AAAS central office. So on July 6 Bouma sent an inquiry to Dr. Burgess, wondering why he’d heard nothing about his resolution:
I am following up with respect to my proposed resolution for AAAS. As a reminder, the proposed resolution simply states that a teacher or professor should feel free to teach how Darwin responded to his critics. After I submitted the proposed resolution to the Biological Sciences section, I was informed by Dr. Chandler that it would be handled by the AAAS main office, and in an email on February 21 you suggested I “take it up with the main offices of AAAS.” So far I have sent three emails about the resolution (on February 24, April 24, and May 18) to Dr. Parikh, the CEO of AAAS, but have received no response. Do you have any information about the present status of my proposal?
Dr. Burgess then explained what was really going on:
Herman, it is apparent that the lack of response is a direct message to you that there is no support.
This is most disconcerting. Bouma’s modest proposal to teach evolution the way Darwin treated his own theory has “no support” from one of the world’s largest and most powerful scientific organizations, the AAAS.
Bouma then replied asking “Why is there no support, David?” but again no reply has been forthcoming.
Bouma explained to us what is really going on here: “This is another instance of the scientific community’s zeal to prevent students from hearing any scientific arguments against neo-Darwinian evolution. In furtherance of this objective, the AAAS, like the NSTA, is even willing to censor Darwin.”