Victory in Texas? For Now.

January 27, 2009

Congratulations are in order for the tireless science advocates of   CFI-Austin , whose efforts to stem the influx of creationist language in Texas science classes were rewarded last week with a narrow and possibly transitory victory by the State School Board to remove language from the state science standards referencing the purported weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

You may remember this past Nov. 19, when CFI-   Austin Executive Director Clare Wuellner attracted the attention of Austin news teams by attending a board meeting dressed as a   mid-19     th     Century schoolmarm .

“I’m wearing garb that would be appropriate for a woman in 1860, which is the time when the theory of evolution was actually controversial,” Wuellner told   KUT-FM News , the local NPR affiliate.

Dozens of concerned attendees used the high visibility of the SBOE meeting to demonstrate with signs, buttons, and costumes.

This past Friday, the Texas State School Board’s 15 members voted 8-7 to adopt a revision of the state science standards stripped of the injected 2003 clause requiring students to consider the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolutionary theory. However, the teetering board managed to tilt backward enough to insert requirements that students must contemplate the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of the fossil record to explain human origins, and examine arguments “for and against” a common ancestor of our species. Friday’s vote is not binding, however—the Board is expected to cast its 10-year, standard-sealing vote during the March 26-27, 2009 meetings.

The explanation for the narrow margin of adoption is apparent when one examines the makeup of the Board. As   New Scientist ’s Andy Coghlan put it:

“The meetings last week were tense, as the elected board was finely split between creationists and scientists. (Butler University, Indiana’s science advocate Michael) Zimmerman says that six, including the chairman Don McLeroy, are creationists, and seven are definitely pro-science, leaving two “floaters” holding the balance of each vote.”

A Sunday   New York Times editorial (apparently observant of the increasingly pejorative perception of the term “creationist”) was more politically sensitive. The    Times take:

“Seven of the board’s 15 members are deemed social conservatives.”

From “Creationism” to “Scientific Creationism” to “Creation Science” to “Intelligent Design,” adaptively named resistances to the actual science of evolutionary theory have always met the same end in the United States: expulsion from the science classroom. But just as   Dr. Barbara Forrest warned after the Dover trials that sunk ID, the keywords have changed again. Creationists, ahem,   Social Conservatives , bruised and weary from repeatedly charging head-first into the same wall, have apparently accepted that evolution is here to stay (Smithers, come here, look! The creatures are   learning! ), and as such, changed their tactic into calls to teach “the strengths and limitations” of the accepted scientific theory. Now, the battle cry is for children (not scientists, biologists or higher academics, mind you, but   grade-school students ) to reach independent conclusions about the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of the theory to satisfy major questions about our beginnings and biological development. Defanged of the ability to “teach” creationism in science classes, the new aim, under the thinly veiled guise of academic free inquiry, is to create the false dichotomy of a controversy concerning human origins, and bombard our youngest and most impressionable citizens with fallacious, absurd and untestable claims that throw the manufactured shadow of doubt on what is clearly sound science.

If academic free inquiry is the goal, an unseasoned reader should wonder, then, why only one theory is under the gun, when many other theories are “not yet law,” as Insufficiency Proponents delight to point out (hint for the unseasoned: addressing atomic or gravitational theory may not result in uncomfortable religious doubt. That, and there’s not a lot of support behind   “Intelligent Falling” ).

Perhaps the New York Times summed the issue up fittingly in the last sentence of Sunday’s editorial:

“The lesson we draw from these shenanigans is that scientifically illiterate boards of education should leave the curriculum to educators and scientists who know what constitutes a sound education.”

Read more current news about the Texas issue at the following links: