FCS in the New York Times

Florida Citizens for Science board member David Campbell has been working with New York Times reporter Amy Harmon on a story of hers for quite some time now. Finally, the fruit of the labor is out there for all to see: A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

But at the inaugural meeting of the Florida Citizens for Science, which he co-founded in 2005, he vented his frustration. “The kids are getting hurt,” Mr. Campbell told teachers and parents. “We need to do something.”

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.

“I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.”

It wasn’t just Bryce. Many of the students, Mr. Campbell sensed, were not grasping the basic principles of biological evolution. If he forced them to look at themselves in the evolutionary mirror, he risked alienating them entirely.

The discovery that a copy of “Evolution Exposed,” published by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, was circulating among the class did not raise his flagging spirits. The book lists each reference to evolution in the biology textbook Mr. Campbell uses and offers an explanation for why it is wrong.

When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce’s paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.

Those snippets don’t do the five-internet-pages story justice. Go and read it yourself. It’s a revealing look at the individual and personal aspect of the science/anti-science battle. Our sincere appreciation goes out to David for putting the time and effort into working with Amy on this story. He really put himself out there for this. Good job!

For those of you stopping by here via Internet searches because you are looking for a way to contact Dave, feel free to leave a comment here, or send me an e-mail (bhaught(at)flascience(dot)org) and I’ll make sure he gets your message. If you are interested in learning more about the fight over Florida’s science standards, visit our Projects page. As the NYT article states, Dave did play a big role in writing those standards and fighting on their behalf. Our main website has all sorts of other useful and interesting resources, too. Check it all out.

[edited to add] The comments on the story at the NYT are so far very, very positive. It’s refreshing to see so many supportive folks! This comment is great:

I second comment #3. Bless Mr. Campbell. He was my high school biology teacher, and this article only begins to illustrate all the ways in which he is an amazing teacher. He constantly challenges his students to think for themselves, to analyze, and to test hypotheses rather than simply accept things at face value. He was the first teacher who ever taught me how, not what, to think, and Mr. Campbell is the reason I am now a biologist, studying evolutionary biology. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, and all biology teachers like you, who, in teaching evolution well, nurture the natural curiosity in young minds.

— Natalie Wright, Gainesville, FL

And this one:

If every classroom had a teacher like David Campbell, our schools would be much better places.


And this one:

Mr. Campbell is a true hero. We need more like him.

— Matthew H, Iowa

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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36 Responses to FCS in the New York Times

  1. Noodlicious says:

    “Faith is not based on science,” Mr. Campbell said. “And science is not based on faith. I don’t expect you to ‘believe’ the scientific explanation of evolution that we’re going to talk about over the next few weeks.”

    “But I do,” he added, “expect you to understand it.”

    Great story!
    RAmen Mr. Cambell

  2. PatrickHenry says:

    We’re probably going to get a lot of traffic here as a result of this. Brace yourselves.

    How hospitable are we expected to be if a Hovind type appears and starts posting? We’ve been remarkably tolerant of our one or two pet creationists, but I don’t know what dozens would be like.

  3. Brandon Haught says:

    “How hospitable are we expected to be if a Hovind type appears and starts posting?”

    Simple … challenge them by saying “If you care enough about science education to post here, then perhaps you care enough about science to donate to the FCS fundraising challenge. Put your money where your mouth is, buddy. Then maybe we’ll talk.”

  4. S.Scott says:

    Yay Mr. Campbell! Applause! … !

  5. Eric Perlman says:

    Excellent article!

    Now let’s see more of these in the smaller-town newpapers, here in Florida and other places. The more, the better.

  6. Guest says:

    What a great example of a true scientist!! Instead of trying to shove facts and evidence down young throats and completly shut them down, he chose to help them realize the truth through there own inquisitive nature. BRAVO!!

  7. Clay Burell says:

    From an American way over here in the evangelically-infested Republic of Korea – and doing his own bit to fight the creationist virus in international schools here – let me add my hand to the round of applause. Well done.

  8. Spirula says:

    Regarding the comment by Ms. Yancey:

    “We see lizards with different-shaped tails, we don’t see blizzards — the lizard bird.”


    Can you get fired for epic fail?

    As an aside, the fact that the closest living reptile relatives of birds are, you know, Archosaurs (such as ‘GATORS’…sublime irony here)


    this statement stands testament to the damaging effect of creationist biology teachers operating in our public schools. Willfully ignorant of current (and old) discoveries that completely contradict her assertions, and vacating science in the name of mythology, she fails to inform her students as to what the evidence actually tells us:

    Ms. Yancey tells her students, but evolution alone can hardly account for the appearance of wholly different life forms. She leaves it up to them to draw their own conclusions. But when pressed, she tells them, “I think God did it.”

    Can hardly account? By what measure? Actual evidence? She’s demonstrated she knows jack about the evidence. Any further conclusions on her part are invalidated.

    Anyway, carry on Mr. Campbell. It’s a tough row to hoe. I salute you as a fellow (though part-time) biology teacher.

  9. cope says:

    It was my good fortune to work with David Campbell writing the new Sunshine State Standards for science for Florida. He is the kind of teacher I look at and listen too and think, “I need to do a better job.” He is truly inspirational.

    As for the Ms. Yanceys of our profession (and I know of at least one at my school), what can we do? As department chair, I don’t feel comfortable coming down on them with the million pound s**t hammer but it really is a problem. Mandating what teachers teach goes so against my personal grain and, yet, if they are not teaching what they need to be teaching, how do we deal with that?

  10. firemancarl says:

    “I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.”

    Sorry, Bryce. You get an F. You failed to answer the question correctly and didn’t learn anything in class. This test is based on fact and not on your “beliefs”.

  11. firemancarl says:

    Oh. PZ has a blog enrty about this

    Here’s wot PZ says about Bryce

    Tough, kid. Then you flunk science. It really is that simple — if you can’t even regurgitate an answer given in class, then you don’t get to pass…and your bogus faith is not a legitimate excuse.

  12. firemancarl says:

    Here’s my other issue

    “Can anybody think of a question science can’t answer?”

    “Is there a God?” shot back a boy near the window.

    “Good,” said Mr. Campbell, an Anglican who attends church most Sundays. “Can’t test it. Can’t prove it, can’t disprove it. It’s not a question for science.”

    This is a bad answer. What god? How do you know it’s “your” god and not Thor or Allah? Perhaps kids should just be told that they can bring religion up in a philosophy or comparative relgion class and their religions don’t belong in a SCIENCE class.

  13. Spirula says:

    As department chair, I don’t feel comfortable coming down on them with the million pound s**t hammer but it really is a problem.

    Well, you don’t mandate what they should teach, the standards do (please don’t take that as meaning I don’t think you know that…but that’s the whole point of standards and I think that gets lost). Don’t meet the standards? Unqualified for the job. How you solve that, I don’t know. More stringent qualification standards?

    But let’s look, for example, how tolerant the educational system would be for a phsyics teacher be who dismisses the theory of gravity as “wishful thinking”, or an astronomy teacher that ridicules heliocentrism because the sun “obviously rises in the east and sets in the west, just like the Bible says”?

    But for certain biology teachers, castigating the theory of evolution is somehow considered beyond reproach, no matter how distorted, misrepresented, vaccuous, or contrived the arguments are. Evidence doesn’t matter, just the teachers pet mythology.

    Imagine a world where clinical diagnostic laboratories institute whatever standards they wish.

    “Grade IV tumor? No way! I believe only leprachauns cause grade IV tumors, and I didn’t see no leprachauns.”

  14. Spirula says:


  15. firemancarl says:

    Either that Spirula or we can just get rid of teaching about that whole “gravity” thingy.

  16. Spirula says:


    Either that Spirula or we can just get rid of teaching about that whole “gravity” thingy.

    Affirmative. One of my biggest complaints about “Principia Mathematica” was that it failed to explain why anything you drop ends up under a counter or a table.

    Gravity is for low-lifes.

  17. firemancarl says:

    Affirmative. One of my biggest complaints about “Principia Mathematica” was that it failed to explain why anything you drop ends up under a counter or a table.

    Yeah. At first I thought it was from trolls, but I learned that whatevah my kids drop defies gravity and manages to go places to be discovered up rearranging my living room.

  18. S.Scott says:

    @ fc – LoL! 🙂

  19. Skepticism says:

    Cmpbll’s n hr; h’s trckstr. nstd f tchng rgns scnc (whch sn’t scnc) h shld b tchng bsrvtnl scnc. Bt t’s bvs h hs n gnd – h mst tll th stdnts bt hs gd b n nd ll mns. Hs clm tht scnc s nt bsd n fth s ttll bgs – fr hw cn h ccnt fr hs BLF n th nfrmt f ntr nd th lw f cs nd ffct? n fct, scnc s bsd n knd f blnd fth – n tht ssms th lws f cstn nd nfrmt bt wtht n grnds. n th thr hnd, Chrstnt s bsd n rtnl rgmnttn nd bjctv hstrcl vnts. Qt dffrnc. Cmpbll s lgcl pstvst wh wrshps scnc (scntsm) nd cn’t vn ccnt fr knwldg wth hs mtrlstc pstmlg, nd h’s tchr? H s sppsd t dct nd cn’t vn ccnt fr knwldg? Nw tht s n pc flr. thnk h mght bttr srv s th schl jntr thn fclt mmbr.

  20. realist says:

    in voice of Carol Anne….. “they’re here” !

  21. Kathy S says:

    Geeeeesh, I sure hope you don’t have childen!
    Kathy S

  22. Brandon Haught says:

    I ask that everyone refrain from feeding troll-Skepticism until he contributes to the FCS fundraising campaign. Consider it a toll for posting ignorance here. In the meantime … a disemvowelling for you.

  23. PatrickHenry says:

    Thanks, Brandon. A most welcome development.

  24. Skepticism says:


  25. Skepticism says:

    Chrstn Lw ssctn’s Rghts n Pblc Schls D Chrstn stdnts hv n rghts n pblc schls? Th shrt nswr t ths qstn s YS! Lts f thm!

  26. S.Scott says:

    Hey McD – considerate people would have just provided the link.
    That way we can choose to ignore it in the same fashion that links posted for your benefit are ignored by you.

  27. James F says:

    You have the right to accept evidence or reject it (and thus live in ignorance). You have the right to believe the Sun orbits the Earth, but to teach that as a scientific view is completely dishonest. The same holds for creationism.

  28. Skepticism says:

    S. Sctt – Cnsdrt ppl wld nt “dsmvwl” smn’s cmmnt n pblc blg. JmsF – dn’t sps tchng crtnsm n pblc schls; jst thnk tht rgns scnc, ncldng th vltnr hstr f th rth, shld nt b tght.

  29. deadman_932 says:

    Considerate people wouldn’t troll on a blog, “Skepticism.”

    This is particularly true when I have invited you, John McDonald, to debate your claims in a neutral or even pro-creationism site.

    All you’ve done, however, is run from that personal challenge.

    As far as what you “think” (if it can be called that) about teaching science…well, you’ve shown far too many times that you have no personal knowledge of the matter. The amusing part for me is in watching you being completely unaware of the lies and fakery contained in the “Answers in Genesis” nonsense that you paste up here — because you , personally, are utterly ignorant of the actual topics in science.

    Teaching evolution is not contrary to Christian faith — unless you’re a fanatic literalist fundamentalist. It’s not my fault that you are a fanatic, but
    it’s okay with me that you are.

    The constitution and the legal precedents are all against you and your desire for an Iran-like theocracy.

  30. Skepticism says:

    Ddmn, y ssm t mch- blv gvrnmnts shld prt bsd pn ntrl rvltn, nt spcl rvltn. nd y nd t std p n yr thlg. Th trm y r lkng fr s th grmmtc-hstrcl mthd f Bblcl ntrprttn. nd ctll, th Bll f Rghts prtcts th frdm f rlgs xprssn, nd th Fndng Fthrs st hstrcl prcdnts tht wld mk ll th FCS mmbrs crng whn t cm t pblc dctn. vr hrd f th Nw nglnd Prmr? ls, rd p n yr Bnjmn Rsh.

  31. deadman_932 says:

    From what I can decipher of your post, you STILL seem to be avoiding my challenge to debate your literalist-fundamentalist claims on a more suitable site.

    Why is that?

    Perhaps it’s because as I said…that actual science and CURRENT legal precedents — including those stemming from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — are against you. As well as your laughable ignorance of those issues.

    I think you wore out your welcome here, trolly, particularly when each thread you post in you’re forced into avoidance, fallacy and demonstrated lies because of your sheer unadulterated ignorance (remember, I kept those posts where I caught you in all of those things, and they’re also available here for anyone that wants to look on their own).

    Want to debate without disemvowelling? Stop trolling here and get yourself on over to Panda’s Thumb After the Bar Closes, where I’ll be glad to spank you again and again. Gather up the courage of your convictions and let’s see how it stands up to deliberate scrutiny.

  32. Noodlicious says:

    Skeppy has been disemvowellled? Really? Bit hard to tell the difference really.

  33. Mike says:

    I have not taught as long as David has, so I can’t doubt his grasp of pedagogy. I’m amazed at the individual attention he gives his students. He obviously is working very closely with his district officials, so I’m sure that everything he’s doing is at the very least arguably legal. But – I’m uncomfortable with the thought of talking about God in a public school science class, even if only to quiet fears that religion is being attacked. That should be left to student’s parents, ministers, or rabbis. But I have done it, if only in a very brief presentation of NOMA. I know I don’t have the definitive approach to how to handle tension about evolution in the classroom, but I’ve always put more stock in trying to dispell popular misconceptions about “truth” in science, and leaving it to the students to realize that this is different from divine revelation. Any opinions, thoughts, criticisms?

  34. Karl says:

    Unfortunately, given that this latest “controversy” of evolution has everything to do with God, it is nigh unavoidable to address the issues without talking about god. However, the main focus of Campbell’s efforts is to outline the distinction between what is and is not science, and showing how the fabricated claims of AiG, DI, etc other religious interest groups are inherently unscientific without attacking the religion itself. I understand that there is this fear of bringing up any religious issues in a classroom, but if the education system were to shut out all mention or discussion of these anti-evolution fantasies specifically on the grounds that they are religious in nature, the religious fundamentalists would no doubt capitalize on the accusations of dogmatic conduct and feed the growing persecution complex.

    I think part of Skepy’s rabid reaction to Campbell is due to the fact that he is logically addressing the creationist arguments and showing the students where they fail in trying to present themselves as scientific instead of feeding the persecution complex arguing against the religion itself. It forces the creationists behind the controversy to make up even more outlandish explanations to explain the obvious flaws, each of which crazier than the next (kind of like telling a lie to cover up another lie and so on). You probably know this already, but it’s probably in your best interest NOT to present your ideas in the manner in which we mess with ole’ Skepy. Racist trolls like him deserve “special” treatment.

  35. Dave C. says:

    Both old and new Florida State Standards require the student to be able to differentiate between science and non science. Most of my tenth graders (the group profiled in the NYT article) have trouble with this because they lack the critical thinking skills to analyze the differences. They come into my classroom with serious misconceptions about science, what it is, what it does, and how it does it. On a pretest in August more than half of them will define hypothesis as an educated guess, for example. They don’t understand the scientific definition of theory (like most of their parents as well as school boards and legislatures), they don’t see science as a process and they don’t grasp the importance of testing and developing data. A number of them have sat through classes at church where they are taught that scientists, especially evolutionists, are atheistic heathen in league with the devil. I usually toss out the question about questions/issues that science cannot resolve and then discuss the answers that come in from the class. I don’t specifically introduce religion to the discussion but I assume (expect) it will come up. Religion is the 800 pound gorilla in the classroom when we start the evolution unit. It can’t be ignored. I address it, I hope, with tact in a non threatening manner. I share Mike’s concerns about addressing religion at all but with the hostility toward the scientific subject matter as intense as it is I feel I have no choice. That lesson and the one introducing human evolution are nonstop high wire walks, as Amy hinted in the article. The lesson plan has a start, middle, and end but how we get to each one is largely dictated by student responses to questions so I need to very fluid and very focused. By that point in the year I have considerable credibility with my students as a science teacher and subject matter expert so most of them are willing to trust me. I also tell them that if they have a problem with the science I am teaching they should talk to a parent and if the parent is concerned he or she can call me or schedule a conference. So far (14 years of teaching) I have heard from three parents. Two of them (one was a local preacher) complimented me on my sensitivity in teaching the subject. The third raked me over the coals for doing the devil’s work in a letter to my principal. That one was interesting because the child was not and had never been in my classroom and I saw the mother every Sunday morning in church.
    My ultimate goal is to at least get my students thinking (and, I hope, understanding) some of the science involved here. Not just evolution but science in general. I want them to be able to think and analyze. If I took the approach advocated by some of the more militant atheists (see PZ’s blog on the Times article over at Pharyngula at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/08/will_we_ever_stop_running_away.php ) I would cause most of my more fundamentalist students to pull all arms, legs, and gray matter into a protective cocoon and I could never reach them to teach them the science in the standards. There is a link to a video posted at the Times web page (http://video.on.nytimes.com/?fr_story=a461de77e828a63f652acbedb74c96e0928cbd04 ) that shows how another teacher, Kathy Bylsma, approaches the same issues with a class of 8th grade gifted students. Her approach is different from mine but it works for her and for her students. Neither one of us has the definitive approach but we do have one that works for us. I’m not sure that there IS a definitive approach. Each student is different, each class is different, and each teacher is different.
    Karl’s second paragraph is right on the money. Some of the nastiest comments against the recent books on religion and science by Ken Miller and Francis Collins have come from ID creationists who become apoplectic at the demonstration that a person can understand, accept, and even endorse the scientific theories on evolutionary change and have strong religious faith, thereby disproving creationist arguments that biologists who accept evolution must be atheists. Documented fact trumps misrepresentation and poorly supported assertions. They hate it when that happens.
    I will not feed the troll but thanks to the rest for the feedback.

  36. PatrickHenry says:

    Thank you for the comment, Dave, and thanks for all your efforts.

    I don’t teach, and I probably don’t have the temperment for it, but sometimes I like to imagine how I’d approach the mine field. The way I think I’d introduce the scientific method is by taking an historical approach. I’d deal with a few pioneering people, and how they wrestled with the evidence they saw, in contrast to what “everyone knew” to be true.

    Example: James Hutton, the “father of geology.” His work, and the work of those who came after, established that the world is far older than theretofore imagined. The students probably never heard of him, so they have no pre-conceived ideas when his name is mentioned. Also, he’s a generation or two before Darwin, so it “sets the stage.”

    I donno. Just daydreaming. You’ve been in the arena, so you know what works. Just stay with it.

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