Long-Settled Evolution “Debate” Rages in Texas, Louisiana
January 22, 2009
Despite the federal courts’ banning the unconstitutional teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools, the Boards of Education of at least two states are still attempting to inject discussions of so-called "weaknesses" of evolution into the curriculum.
The New York Times reported today that the Texas State Board of Education is hearing testimony from scientists and social conservatives on whether to force textbook publishers to include "weaknesses" in Darwin’s theory, in a transparent effort to support Biblical creationism and cast doubt on well-established science. The consequences of this debate could be far reaching because Texas has enormous power over the national textbook market. Texas is one of the largest textbook buyers, and publishers tend not to produce different versions of the same material. This year’s State Board of Education is likely to be close. Social conservatives have recently gained 7 of 15 seats, including board chairman Don McLeroy, a dentist who thinks the earth is a mere few thousands of years old. They also have the support of conservative governor Rick Perry.
The Times article quotes Kevin Fisher, a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, as arguing correctly that "[t]hese weaknesses that they bring forward are decades old, and they have been refuted many, many times over. It’s an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution."
Kudos to Clare Wullner, the Executive Director of CFI’s Austin, Texas office, who is pictured in the Times article wearing 19th century garb. (The sign on her seat reads: "Evolution was a controversy . . . 150 years ago. It’s not anymore. Teach 21st Century Science.") She has worked tirelessly to call attention to the Board’s vote, and reached out to religious defenders of science to co-found the website www.teachthemscience.org .
Last week the Louisiana State Board of Education voted 10-0 to adopt new science guidelines that may leave the door open to teaching intelligent design creationism. (One of the 11 board members was absent during the vote.) The Board took action under pressure from the Louisiana Family Forum, an affiliate of the Religious Right group Focus on the Family. Most ominously, the Board rejected language that would have banned teaching "creationism or intelligent design" and the use of materials that "advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind." In addition, the Board approved the use of "supplemental materials" in the classroom that could be used to introduce creationist pseudo-science into classrooms. The Board mandated that any supplemental material cannot be used to promote religious doctrine and must be "scientifically sound and supported by empirical evidence." But it remains to be seen who will determine whether materials are "sound" and "supported by evidence."
I predicted in an earlier posting that we can expect more anti-evolution bills as state legislatures reconvene. CFI will act swiftly and decisively if unconstitutional creationist nonsense finds its way into public school classrooms.