January 22, 2009
Evolution remains legal in Texas

Whew! That was a close one.

In a major defeat for evolution critics, a sharply divided State Board of Education voted Thursday to follow the advice of a panel of science educators and drop a long-time requirement that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in high school science classes.

Under the science curriculum standards tentatively adopted by the board, biology teachers and biology textbooks would no longer have to cover the "strengths and weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory on how humans evolved.

Opponents of the strengths and weaknesses requirement had warned that it would eventually open the door to teaching of creationism - the biblical explanation of the origin of humans - in science classes, while board members backing the rule insisted that was not their intention.

The seven Republican board members supporting the rule have been aligned with social conservative groups that in the past have tried to publicize alleged flaws in Darwin's theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

The key vote Thursday was on an amendment to the proposed curriculum standards that would have restored the "weaknesses" rule. It was defeated on a 7-7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat was absent.

"We're not talking about faith. We're not talking about religion," said board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, who opposed the amendment. "We're talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do."

If you'll pardon the expression, amen to that. Just so we're clear, since it's painfully obvious that the twits on the SBOE are not, this is what we're technically arguing over. It's very easy to get bogged down in nonsense in these debates, since the anti-evolution side is extremely prone to pushing things that have nothing to do with evolution as biologists understand it.

As seemingly silly as much of this is, this little squabble on the Board had potentially far-reaching consequences, as Julie Pippert noted. It would have been both ironic and deeply tragic if a handful of zealots in Austin had managed to dumb down science education across the country at a time when the country has new leadership that embraces science. Thankfully, we managed to dodge that bullet, for now.

On a related note, Evan Smith contends that the SBOE and its ridiculous antics are the biggest contributor to Texas' negative image in other parts of the world. I left a comment there saying that I think our fascination with the death penalty does us more harm than these clowns do, but they're certainly a factor. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 22, 2009 to Show Business for Ugly People

Bad news. It's not over yet. The final vote is not until the March SBOE meeting. And, at the end of the meeting today, in a surprise move, Barbara Cargill was able to pass a number of amendments to the Earth Science TEKS - all are creationist nonsense, and are completely contradictory to real science. No one knew these amendments were coming up, so there was no public or expert testimony against them. She was able to totally pull the wool over the eyes of some of the more sensible SBOE members.

Posted by: martha griffin on January 22, 2009 9:21 PM

Does this mean that Pluto is not a planet?

Posted by: Charles Hixon on January 22, 2009 9:29 PM

As a scientist living and studying in Texas (I'm working on my PhD), I'm really glad to hear that the vote went in favor of science! Now I won't be afraid to send my kids to school here some day if I end up staying in Texas.

Posted by: JM on January 22, 2009 9:55 PM

I think this would even make it more obvious to you that the good Lord did the creating here (hard to say intelligent design under the circumstances). If evolution were a fact, one would think that this SBOE would not be as embarrassing as it is to our state since man would have evolved beyond some/most of the SBOE antics.

So, since it was God who gave man free will, this explains the SBOE (and obviously voters in McLeroy's district).

Or something like that. It really is hard to explain what the heck McLeroy thinks he is doing as a "leader."

Posted by: WOScholar on January 22, 2009 10:55 PM

if this thing rises from the dead and passes, will kids get to learn about the weaknesses of the theory of gravity?

Posted by: John on January 23, 2009 5:28 AM

I went ape when I read about this in the Chronicle this morning.

Posted by: cb on January 23, 2009 12:15 PM

OK, as a science teacher in a Waco-area public HS I can tell you folks exactly what this is about. It is about cracking open the door for teachers who are so inclined, to introduce a whole load of creationist claptrap into the schools in the guise of "weaknesses in the theory of evolution"

Most legitimate science teachers around the state simply ignore this nonsense and teach biology properly. However there are still plenty of science teachers, especially in the more conservative rural areas of the state who are fundamentalist leaning, or at least hard-core Baptist (if there is a difference). And many of them are quite happy to introduce creationist propaganda if given the opening.

Remember, science teacher does not equal scientist.

The reason this whole thing is such a charade is that no science curriculum anywhere actually teaches the "strengths and weaknesses" of other theories. No one is discussing or arguing about the strengths and weaknesses of theories such as germ theory or plate tectonics.

What that clause did was prevent principals from firing fundamentalist whack jobs from teaching creationist nonsense in the classroom in the guise of "weaknesses of of the theory of evolution"

Posted by: Kent from Waco on January 23, 2009 9:34 PM
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