Carson-Newman College: Foisting Evolution and Common Descent on High School Teachers and Students

In three of our five earlier Already Compromised blog posts we have described the open embrace of evolutionary doctrine by biology faculty members of Carson-Newman College, based on their own words as documented in official publications of the college.  We have also observed the dedication of this biology faculty to the theory of evolution as an undisputed fact, promoting evolution not only to students in their own classrooms, but also to other unsuspecting students at the high school level.  A previous blog post cited an incident in which Carson-Newman biology faculty member Mary V. Ball actually used her position as a member of an accreditation review committee to provide a veiled threat to a high school science teacher at a Christian academy that the teaching of Biblical creation in his science class could result in accreditation problems.  Mary Ball's statement on this potential accreditation problem was supported by her biology faculty head, Stephen Karr.

 

As noted in one of these earlier blog posts, in response to the growing influence of creation scientist Glenn Charles Jackson as a faculty colleague in another department of the college, these two biology professors wrote and published an article that provided their opposition to the teaching of creation along with evolution in high school science classes.  This is the article in which they claimed that creation and evolution can happily coexist, but just not in the public school classroom.  The editors of Carson-Newman Studies approved this non-scholarly article for publication in the Fall 2001 volume of this annual journal of the scholarly works of the college.  (Links to this and other recent journal volumes are available at the college library's special collections internet site  http://library.cn.edu/speccoll/cn_studies/.)

 

Why would these two members of the biology faculty at Carson-Newman College have such a strong desire to see that high school students were indoctrinated with the atheistic theory of evolution, but not creation, even before they arrived on a college campus?  One can only imagine the frustration of these biology faculty members at the beginning of every semester when they are confronted by members of the freshman class who believe the account of creation as provided in the book of Genesis, or those other freshmen who, at the very least, comprehend that many features of the world in which they live can only be explained when these features are accepted as the work of an intelligent designer.  It must be a time of conflict every year for both Carson-Newman students and biology faculty members when these faculty members would inform their students that they were being arrogant and divisive if they dared to disagree with the Carson-Newman party line that evolution was "God's way" of accomplishing the creation.

 

At about the same time their article in the Fall 2001 volume of Carson-Newman Studies was being published, these two biology faculty members evidently felt the additional need to publish a more scholarly work through which they might attempt to convince a wider population of high school students from all over the country, as well as the teachers of these students, that the evidence for Darwinian evolution and common ancestry was overwhelming.  They turned to a program that was an outgrowth of a 1998 proposal to the National Science Foundation titled "Evolution & the Nature of Science Institutes for High School Biology Teachers."  This program, designed to recruit and train high school teachers for the objective of improving the teaching of evolution at the high school level, eventually became known by the acronym "ENSI."  As this program was developed, its concept involved training of a number of high school biology teachers to become experienced ENSI evolution teachers.  These experienced ENSI teachers would then teach the ENSI evolution program to other high school teachers, thereby refining the ability of high school biology teachers all over the country to teach the various aspects of evolution and common ancestry to their students in a more convincing manner.

 

The second aspect of the ENSI program was an appeal for interactive lesson plans or activities that would empower biology teachers with insights, understanding, and materials "to effectively and accurately teach evolution" to high school students, using "suitable examples and evidence" to present the concepts of macroevolution that ENSI desired to place before these students.  To answer this ENSI appeal, all that these Carson-Newman faculty members had to do was prepare a series of lesson plans that promoted an aspect of evolution and submit these plans to ENSI.  The ENSI program would add these new evolution lessons to its ENSIweb internet site, a working repository for making lesson plans on evolution available to high school teachers and students across the country.  This is exactly what happened.  These two Carson-Newman biology professors submitted three evolution lesson plans to ENSI in time for them to be edited and added to the ENSIweb site in February 2002.

 

An easy way to locate this suite of three Carson-Newman evolution lesson plans on the ENSIweb internet site is to perform a simple "Google" search using just the following three words:  carson evolution lesson.  When this is done, the Carson-Newman Lesson B: "What Can Pseudogenes Tell Us About Common Ancestry" will appear at the top of the Google results page.  It is likely that Lesson C: "Exploring Primate Pseudogenes With Biology Workshop" will be the second entry on the same page.  Lesson A will probably appear near the bottom of the 2nd Google results page, but Lesson A can also be easily found using a link from either of these two lesson plans, Lesson B or Lesson C.  The attribution of these evolution lesson plans to Mary Ball, Steve Karr, and Carson-Newman College, that Already Compromised Baptist college in Jefferson City, Tennessee, appears at the top of the first page of each of these three lesson plans.

 

These two Carson-Newman biology professors chose to base the first two lessons of their set of three evolution lesson plans submitted to ENSI on an article published in 1994 by a group of Japanese scientists (Nishikimi et al).  This 1994 article identified a certain DNA sequence in the human genome that had many similarities to a gene found in rats.  This particular rat gene plays an important functional role in the production of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) for the rat, and the same gene is also found in many other mammals that produce their own vitamin C.  The human gene that is similar to this rat gene does not play this same role for humans, who do not produce their own vitamin C, but must acquire their vitamin C by eating fruits and vegetables.  Thus, this human gene was immediately claimed by evolutionary biologists to be only a nonfunctional, useless remnant of a presently functional gene found in many animals.  Such apparently nonfunctional remnants of genes are called pseudogenes, a word that appears in the title of all three of these Carson-Newman evolution lesson plans submitted to ENSI.

 

Another discovery confirmed that this same pleudogene, this apparently nonfunctional DNA sequence that was found in the genome of humans, is also present as a pseudogene in primates (chimpanzees, orangutans, apes, monkeys) and in several other animals, including fruit bats and several species of fish.  Here is where the story gets interesting for those evolutionary biologists who take as an axiom the evolutionary relatedness of all life, including human life, and are predisposed to interpret all genetic similarities among organisms as evidence for common ancestry.  Evolutionary biologists quickly concluded that this apparently nonfunctional pseudogene that is found to be present in primates as well as humans must be an evolutionary leftover from an earlier ancestor, and a genetic similarity that provides evidence of common ancestry between humans and chimpanzees.  The evolutionary biologists that teach at Carson-Newman jumped on this common ancestry bandwagon when they submitted their evolution lessons to ENSI.

 

The title of the first evolution lesson, Lesson A of the Carson-Newman evolution series, asks the question "Why do we need vitamin C in our diet?"  This lesson title also carries the subtitle "or...Why do we carry old inactive genes in our genome?"  The main concept of evolution introduced by this first lesson is "Mutation may create an inactive version of a gene, and, over generations, the active gene may be lost from the species, leaving only the inactive gene."  This first evolution lesson "lays ground work for exploring pseudogenes and the significance of these DNA sequences in recognizing shared common ancestry vs the notion of 'intelligent design' (Lesson B)."  These quotes lifted from the first three sentences of the introduction to the first evolution lesson show us that these two biology faculty members of this Baptist college are intent on convincing high school teachers and their students that biological evolution is the only possible explanation for the existence of these "junk DNA" sequences known as pseudogenes that are found in humans and modern apes.  Further, these quotes confirm that the ultimate intent of these lessons was not only to demonstrate that all of us must have evolved from a common ancestor, but also that the origin of life on earth did not involve supernatural processes or an intelligent designer.

 

The worksheets that accompany this first Carson-Newman evolution lesson, Lesson A, include instances of the scheme used by these evolutionists to ask questions in such a way that the high school teachers and their students are prompted to answer the questions from the evolutionist mindset.  For example, teachers and students are asked to "propose a general scenario whereby a mutation could create a nonfunctional version of a gene."  The answer sheet states that "We can hypothesize that a change such as this occurred in our ancestors...and that over generations, perhaps solely by chance....."  Questions and answers such as this were clearly written to encourage evolutionary thinking on the part of young students.  The questions associated with the second evolution lesson, Lesson B, such as "How would an evolutionary biologist explain....?" are even more blatant and specific in their attempt to guide high school students to think only from the evolutionist viewpoint when they answer the question.

 

The title of the second Carson-Newman evolution lesson, Lesson B, asks the question "What can pseudogenes tell us about common ancestry?"  No subtitle is needed; the intent of this lesson is obvious.  These evolutionists in the Carson-Newman biology department have pounced on this similarity between DNA sequences in animals that are able to synthesize their own vitamin C and those DNA sequences in humans, chimps, and monkeys that are unable to synthesize vitamin C.  Surely, they say, an intelligent designer or a creator would not have deliberately included these pseudogenes, this "nonfunctional junk" DNA, in the human genome.  They would claim that all life today must be related to our common ancestor from millions of years ago, and at some time in the "more recent" past, in "more recently developed" animals such as humans and chimps, the DNA sequence that originally provided the ability to synthesize vitamin C became a pseudogene, only a remnant of the original gene found in those other animals.  They would regard the degree of genetic similarity between humans and chimps as further evidence that we evolved from a common ancestor, making chimps our closest living "relative" in the animal kingdom.

 

The Carson-Newman evolution lesson B comes complete with a teacher information package, a set of student worksheets, and a set of answers to the thirteen questions found on the student worksheets.  Of course, all of these pages can be printed directly from Lesson B as found on ENSIweb.  Normally, the teacher would print the student worksheets and answer sheets and hand them out to the students, but the students would probably not see the teacher information package.  As one would expect, the teacher information package is a resource that contains additional information calculated to assist the teacher in presenting the lesson as outlined on the student worksheets.  In this instance, the teacher information package for evolution lesson B also contains statements obviously intended to prompt the teacher to go beyond the student worksheets in pushing the agenda of atheistic evolutionists who reject and oppose the concept of intelligent design.  While intelligent design is never mentioned on the student worksheets and answer sheets, the teacher information package contains these two statements:  "The existence of pseudogenes in genomes weighs heavily against the intelligent design idea" and "...strong evidence for shared common ancestry (descent with modification), a natural process of macroevolution versus the more mysterious, vague, untestable 'intelligent design' scenario."  It is obvious that these two Carson-Newman biology professors who wrote this teacher information package hold nothing but contempt for the concept of intelligent design, and would like for those teachers who use these evolution lesson plans to convey this same contempt for intelligent design to their high school students.

 

The student worksheets for Carson-Newman evolution lesson B provide certain alignment details for the portion of the rat gene examined in lesson A that was associated with production of vitamin C.  Alignment details are also presented for the corresponding pseudogenes ("non-functional junk" DNA) from the human genome and from the genomes of three primate species:  chimpanzee, orangutan, and crab-eating macaque (a monkey native to south-east Asia).  These alignment details are provided to permit students to observe certain similarities between these four pseudogenes and the rat gene.  Next, students are instructed to examine the pattern of similarities and differences just among these four pseudogenes.  This evolution lesson plan is designed to call attention to the pattern of similarities and differences among these four pseudogenes to suggest to these high school students that humans are more closely related to chimpanzees and orangutans than they are to monkeys, and also to suggest that apes and humans continued to evolve independently from monkeys after their split from a common ancestor.

 

After students have completed these comparisons involving the rat gene introduced from lesson A for vitamin C and these observations of similarities and differences among the pseudogenes for humans and primates, the worksheets for Carson-Newman evolution lesson B then redirect the lesson to another portion of the genome of humans and primates, a portion associated with hemoglobin, which was not covered in lesson A.  This redirection causes students to divert their thought processes away from the discussion of rats and vitamin C, so that they focus more directly on concepts of evolution that these Carson-Newman faculty members had in mind when they submitted this series of evolution lessons.  That is, they desire to refocus the lesson on certain genetic similarities that they believe will be even more persuasive to high school students as evidence for the common ancestry of humans and primates.

 

Let us examine several of the specific questions from the student worksheets that are clearly worded to prompt young students to begin to think about the answers from the viewpoint of an evolutionist.  "How would an evolutionary biologist explain the similarities between the pseudogenes and the rat gene?"  "How would an evolutionary biologist explain the pattern of similarities among the pseudogenes?"  "How would an evolutionary biologist explain the differences among the pseudogenes?"  "How would an evolutionary biologist explain the similarities between the human pseudogene and the functional human gene?"  "Why is the shared deletion an especially strong indication of common ancestry?"  We might wish to ask our own question here:  Is there any possibility that these two professors who wrote these questions might consider themselves to be evolutionary biologists who teach common ancestry?

 

An examination of the answers to these same worksheet questions as included on the student answer sheets also provides clear evidence that the intent of evolution lesson B was to inculcate the minds of young high school students with the ides of common ancestry for humans and primates.  Here are some of the exact answers provided for specific questions:  "Apes and humans are more closely related to each other (by a more recent common ancestry) than to macaques."  "Apes and humans continued to evolve independently from macaques after their split from a common ancestor."  "All differences from the human beta are the same differences!  This strongly suggests a fairly recent common ancestry of humans and apes."  "There are NO differences in this sequence, therefore further confirming a recent common ancestry of apes and humans.  Any differences would be interpreted as possibly being due to mutations that occurred since the species split."  "A specific deletion, at a specific site, is extremely unlikely to happen, and then persist, by pure chance.  This is especially strong evidence for commn ancestry."

 

As we read in sequence these questions and answers provided to high school teachers and students as an integral part of Carson-Newman evolution lesson B, we are impressed by the leading nature of the questions and the progressive certainty of the verbs used in the answers.  There can be no doubt that the intent of these two biology professors who submitted this evolution lesson to ENSI was to promote atheistic evolutionary thinking and the concept of common ancestry for humans and apes in the minds of every teacher and student who would be exposed to this lesson.

 

For later reference in a future blog post, we will simply note here that it is totally irresponsible for any Carson-Newman administration official to even suggest that those questions and answers found on the worksheets for Carson-Newman evolution lesson B were not formulated in a manner intended to advance the viewpoint of atheistic evolution and common ancestry for humans and apes in the minds of high school teachers and students who would probably never set foot on the campus of this college that happens to be supported by the tithes and offerings of Tennessee Baptists.

 

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Comment by Benjamin Emanuel Schlechter on November 20, 2015 at 10:44am

I am a 2004 alumnus and a 2012 Master's graduate of CN.  I have witnessed at least one professor, Dr. William Blevins, the now retired professor of religion and counseling make a statement saying that the story of Adam and Eve was just a parable.  In addition, I have witness some of the faculty embrace theistic evolution and a member of the local church on campus support theistic evolution. My concern is how the Tennessee Baptist Convention has continued to fund CN in light of the controversy.  I know of a couple of students that tried to bring the matter before the Convention meetings, but did not get any further investigation of the convention. In addition, it is worth noting that the faculty are more supportive of the moderate to liberal Baptist groups that left the Southern Baptist Convention (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Alliance of Baptists), who disregard scriptural authority and endorse liberal and secular beliefs, such as homosexual marriage and abortion.

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