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:



#1 Henry Huber on Tuesday January 27, 2009 at 3:25pm

Aside from the obvious scientific problems Texas schoolchildren face with untestable hypotheses (or more accurately, “making things up to fit a desired outcome”), there is a larger issue at stake here that many people don’t realize: the final decisions of the Texas State School Board will largely influence what books are available—and practically forced upon—much of the remainder of American schools.

Unfortunately, the bottom line of book manufacturers dictates that the books (in any subject) with the most purchase orders are the books that get printed and sold. And since Texas is one of the largest markets in the country, the books its schools order—whether pro- or anti-science—would then be only financially sensible choice for school districts in much of the rest of the nation.

Sure, other, better versions of textbooks will always be available, but their limited sales mean higher prices. It would be a hard sell for a local school board to justify spending more taxpayer money just because the better version didn’t mention “strengths and limitations.”

We would do well to remember that most of the public supports the subversive creationist strategy of “teaching the controversy” because it sounds fair.

The cry would go out in local communities, “The school board wants to overpay for books that don’t allow both sides of a controversial issue!” Fighting this at the local level may not be worth it, as a “win” could mean that local school taxes would go up to pay for a book that the public sees as unnecessary and biased.

#2 Jeff P (Guest) on Wednesday January 28, 2009 at 10:29am

Henry, excellent points, all.

And for that reason, there is a website (a brainchild of the Austin CFI) where people can be involved with this situation, whether or not they actually live in the state of Texas.  Here’s a hyperlink: click on the “get involved” tab

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