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.

In Texas:

  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 .

In Louisiana:

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.



#1 Lucretius on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 8:02am

This issue is never going to go away as long as anti-evolution “memes” persist.

#2 Kyle (Guest) on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 10:03am

We must fight these attempts on evolution exactly the same way the creationist have fought the scientific community. Education. Education. Education. We will never convince someone who has been brainwashed and scared into believing a certain ideology there entire life no matter how much empirical evidence we present. Those scared people grow up to be chairmen of boards and heads of state and other people with enormous influence.

We need to stress the importance of science on all aspects of life to children as soon as we can. The more they get involved and excited the more open minded they become. Science needs to be a priority in education!

#3 Jeff P (Guest) on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 10:07am

If I was independently wealthy, and had all the time in the world,

1) I’d attend my kid’s classroom experience and, if the “weaknesses” argument surfaced, I’d ask specifically, for my child’s sake, to have those explained and outlined for me. I’d be curious to know because I’ve heard it’s a pretty strong theory, and if things are wrong I’d want them corrected.

2) If the answer wasn’t satisfactory within the context of the class being taught (ie Science,) I’d ask the administrator to further elaborate, taking it to whatever/however much publicity it needed to resolve the “weakness.”

3)If “supplementary materials” were used in the classroom, I’d ask for documentation and evidence based on the larger scientific community, those who’ve spent their careers studying the questions, and if those weren’t available I’d challenge the materials as being “misleading or false.” They’re teaching my kid the wrong, misleading things.

Sorry for the rant.

Finally, I know Clare Wuellner, she’s a great lady and I’m proud to call her my friend.  She’s a tireless advocate for rational thought.

#4 Lucretius on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 10:18am

Jeff P.- you’re an austinite?

#5 Jeff P (Guest) on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 5:05pm

Lucretius, YES!  (Actually, a Georgetown resident who spends significant amounts of time in Austin.)

Are you?

#6 Lucretius on Thursday January 22, 2009 at 10:25pm

Jeff P.- Cool! Yes, I am. I’m in the Northeast-ish area.

#7 Jeff P (Guest) on Friday January 23, 2009 at 6:31am

Lucretius, consider this an open invitation to join the CFI Austin group, if you aren’t already a member.

If you are already a member, let me know someday at a gathering. It’s really a great group of diverse people.

Sorry to turn this blog comment section into a personal dialogue—thanks for everyone’s patience.


#8 Lucretius on Friday January 23, 2009 at 7:50am

Thanks, Jeff P. No, I am not a member. Are you member on the CFI forums? If so, please send me a PM. Thanks.

I heard on KUT this morning that the Texas Board of Education voted NOT to adopt the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the new science textbooks. Congratulations, cowtown. You done good this time.

#9 r strle (Guest) on Friday January 23, 2009 at 2:19pm

“We will never convince someone who has been brainwashed and scared into believing a certain ideology there entire life no matter how much empirical evidence we present.”

You pretty much nailed it here Kyle.  It is “belief” (any and all) in ideologies that is the core problem.

And I agree the only answer is education. 

One education idea:
In almost every entry level science course in grade school, high school and college, somewhere in the first two chapters is a section usually called something like “What is Science.”  It is here that the opportunity to introduce students to the concept that belief in anything (ideologies included) is unnecessary.  It could and should be included as a starting point for developing the critical skills that allow students to analyze and understand data when developing understandings of the scientific method and the theories of science that are the product of that method.

#10 Kyle (Guest) on Saturday January 24, 2009 at 6:25am

r strle,

I couldn’t agree more! I have found that when introducing children to science/ scientific theory it helps to have them identify experiences in their life that have been enhanced by science. This helps them to get excited about future possibilities of science and that the subject isn’t just bugs and beakers.

#11 r strle (Guest) on Saturday January 24, 2009 at 11:18am

Kyle, thank you for your response

“science … isn’t just bugs and beakers.”

You nailed it again Kyle.  I would go further and say that bugs and beakers are merely the products of science.  Science is primarily a way of thinking, and a way of finding out what is true about the universe.  I think evidence shows that it is not only the best way to find out what is true (about the universe or anything) but that it is the only reliable way of finding out what is true about the universe or anything else.  All other ways like, religion or metaphysics (sorry philosophers), have basically been shown to be significantly prone to failure due to superstition, self-deception, ideological bias and ignorance. Your response seems to indicate some experience in education, perhaps as a teacher.  I have similar experience and it was always a puzzle to me why once you were past chapter two the subject of what science was and how science worked was never explicitly addressed again.  My conclusion after pondering this dilemma was that the authors of textbooks took the attitude (if they even considered it at all) that students would develop an understanding of what science was and how it worked while learning about the bugs and beakers.  In my experience this rarely happened.  Even a casual read of any textbook of any science subject seems to naturally lead to the conclusion that science is just about bugs and beakers.  The message students get is that if you learn what science has found out about the bugs and beakers and reproduce it with fidelity on a test you are learning science.  A way to counter this flawed idea is of course the teacher’s presentation of bugs and beakers in a context of the scientific method.  But teachers are ill equipped to do this because they are themselves products of the “science is all about “bugs and beakers” approach and the research shows clearly that the way teachers teach is the way they were taught.  To this can be added the curriculum and course materials that program the instructional trajectory toward teaching science as if it were just all about “bugs and beakers.”  If a teacher tries to buck the instructional trajectory (science is just about “bugs and beakers”) they will soon have students (usually the highest test scoring ones) asking “is this going to be on the test?’  Or, “What does this have to do with the chapter?” or, “What does this have to do the problems for homework?’  In the U.S. today most students that attend public schools will have at least 3 science classes in Junior High and 3 in high school.  If a student goes on to college they will have several more.  Yet there is a constant lament from U.S. political and economic leaders that U.S. students are low performers in science and math when compared internationally.  To this we can add the absurd fact that 53% of the American public (which includes the above mentioned political and economic leaders and even some scientists and science teachers) do not accept evolution as a fact of life on the planet.  It has become fashionable to blame the science teachers in U.S. schools for these problems but I think this blame is misplaced.  The fact is that the entire way science is taught to teachers and students needs to be changed.  The science curriculum in grade schools and junior highs needs to stress the process of science and the scientific method over the facts (I suggest 8 to 1) discovered by science.  This should continue into high school courses where over half of each text should stress science as a “method” (or way of thinking) for finding out what is true about the universe. 
In your first post you said,  “We must fight these attempts on evolution exactly the same way the creationist have fought the scientific community. Education. Education. Education.”  But unless we fight with the right “kind” of education (science and otherwise) we will never win the battle.  This is why the creationism battle has raged on for 100 years and could continue to rage on for another 100 years.  The emphasis in science education must shift (especially in the early grades) from science facts to science methods.  Students will need to be taught not only the nuts and bolts of the scientific method but they must also be taught that in the search for what is true about the universe the scientific method has made believing (faith in) anything obsolete and counterproductive.  It will be difficult because to do this given the religiosity of parents, administrators, school boards, politicians and even teachers themselves.
I am sorry to report that in my 35+ years of promoting what I consider “real” science education I have had little or no success convincing anyone, believers or nonbelievers, that I am anything but deluded.

### I did it again.
I apologize to anyone who thinks I say too much!

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