Creationism once again threatens Texas schools

July 31, 2013 • 6:25 am

In May a Texas state bill that fostered creationism—by mandating that neither teachers nor students could be penalized for teaching or doing research on intelligent design or “alternate theories” (which could presumably include young-earth creationism)—died in committee.

Here’s the relevant section of Texas HB00285:

Sec.A51.979.A A PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RESEARCH RELATED TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN.

An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member ’s or student ’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.

Thank Ceiling Cat for that.  But, as usual in these situations, and invariably in Texas, the brushfire is set to ignite again. According to yesterday’s TFN [Texas Freedom Network] Insider, six creationists have been invited to review the biology textbooks that will be vetted for adoption in Texas schools. (As you may know, Texas is one of the nation’s largest markets for schoolbooks, and publishers are loath to produce different editions for different states. Ergo a push towards eliminating evolution in Texas schoolbooks could have national repercussions.)

Since there are only eleven reviewers (the sentiments of the other five haven’t yet been identified), this is already a majority. Take a look at who Texas considers qualified to vet its schoolbooks (descriptions taken from TFN site):

  • Walter Bradley is a retired Baylor University professor of engineering who coauthored a book, The Mystery of Life’s Origins in 1984, that essentially launched the “intelligent design” movement. “Intelligent design” suggests a scientific basis for creationism (creationism dressed up in a lab coat). Bradley, founding fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, is also listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website. He is participating in the biology review panel meetings this week.
  • Daniel Romo is a chemistry professor at Texas A&M University and is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website.
  • Ide Trotter is a longtime standard-bearer for the creationist movement in Texas, both as a source of funding and as a spokesperson for the absurdly named creationist group Texans for Better Science Education. Trotter, listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website, is a veteran of the evolution wars at the SBOE and is participating the biology review panel meetings this week. He testified before the board during the 2003 biology textbook adoption and again in 2009 during the science curriculum adoption. In both instances, Trotter advocated including scientifically discredited “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science classrooms.

Notice who’s missing from this list: anybody with a degree in straight biology (Zeigler does have a Ph.D. in biochemistry).  Could they not find professors of biology at, say, the University of Texas at Austin, Rice, Texas A&M, or any of the schools in Texas that have good biology programs? Of course they could, and I am absolutely certain those people would be willing to be on this committee. It almost seems as if Texas wants to get evolution out of the schools, doesn’t it?  Is this the best that the populous state of Texas can do?

As TFN notes:

In fact, publishers are making changes to their textbooks based on objections they hear from the review panelists. And that’s happening essentially behind closed doors because the public isn’t able to monitor discussions among the review panelists themselves or between panelists and publishers. The public won’t know about publishers’ changes (or the names of all the review panelists who are in Austin this week) until probably September. Alarm bells are ringing.

This is unconscionable! The public doesn’t get to hear about these discussions, but the textbook publishers do? And why are the panelists even talking to publishers?

The state school board has a hearing in late September, and in November the final list of textbooks will be chosen. In the meantime, there’s a petition you can sign here which simply says this:

Join us in sending this message to the Texas State Board of Education:

Texas students need classroom materials that are based on modern, mainstream science and prepare them to succeed in college and the jobs of the future. That means politicians must stop trying to undermine instruction on evolution and climate change. The State Board of Education must approve science textbooks that are based on sound, peer-reviewed scholarship.

I’ve signed it, but I live in Illinois and am a “carpetbagger.” It’s especially important that you sign it if you live in Texas.

From the TFN Facebook page:

Tex and T Rex

71 thoughts on “Creationism once again threatens Texas schools

  1. Yech, how nauseating! The school board seems to be the institution that is stacking the deck too, which is the worst part! You’d think they’d require specific credentials for reviewers of course materials if they truly had the interest of the students at heart (but I guess they more are worried about their souls).

    I signed the petition even though I’m not in the US as I figured it was allowed since the box said zip/postal code. 🙂

    1. Signed it as well. They cherry-pick the data, and they’re cherry-picking the reviewers. Why not just round up all qualified scientists in Texas and pull names out of a hat – no more stacking the deck. It is so frustrating to have to fight these silly battles over and over again. This is why we need to use the legal system since people MUST take it seriously.

  2. An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member ’s or student ’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.

    FFS. They keep using the word “theory” a lot even though they don’t seem to have the slightest idea about what constitutes a theory scientifically speaking.

    Asking ID’ers to review a biology textbook is like asking a hungry pack of wolves to guard your sheep.

    1. You remark carries the inference that if someone tries to use this act of the legislature to cover their ass for spewing ID nonsense, all that’s required at the trial is a string of expert witnesses to attest that ID IS NOT A THEORY.

      It is, at best, a bronze age religious myth with a thin coating of contemporary bullshit applied ion a (failed) attempt to conceal its true nature.

    1. I was dumbfounded that Texas was able to find someone who is, apparently, even dumber, shallower, and slimier than Bush to be governor of their great state. He is even worse than any of the recent governors of my current state of residence, and that is saying a lot.

            1. Gerrymandering can help them in the Congressional races, but only in the drawing of district boundaries to keep some districts safe and maybe put some others in play. I don’t know of any state that doesn’t award all its presidential electoral votes based on the statewide popular vote. Republicans in a couple have toyed with the idea in the last year or so, but the efforts don’t seem to have met with much success that I know of.

              1. “I don’t know of any state that doesn’t award all its presidential electoral votes based on the statewide popular vote.”

                Nebraska and Maine – now you do.

      1. I was dumbfounded that Texas was able to find someone who is, apparently, even dumber, shallower, and slimier than Bush to be governor of their great state.

        Actually, Anthony Weiner was never governor of Texas.

        1. Can somebody on this Forum please explain to me how it is the “Weiner” can be pronounced as “Weener” and not “Whiner”?
          The same goes for “Boehner” – surely that’s “Boner” and not “Bayner”….?

          1. I ad a snide remark elsewhere that I’d Anthony Weiner knew his dipthongs at least his name wouldn’t seem quite as a propos.

            It is anglicized German and lack of German dipthongs.

              1. Thanks Diana, so is it Professor Steven “Weensteen”….if he’s of German descent?

              2. Dipthongs are like this: ei (pronounced eye), ie (pronounced ee). However people tend to just pronounce their names however they want so you have to forever be confused when they say their name and when you know it’s said differently. 🙂

              3. …and of course Boehner’s “oe” combo is an umlaut (e standing in for the umlaut): ö

  3. This is a charade. The fundies want to teach creationism and ban the teaching of evolution. The panel has told textbook publishers what they want and now several will produce pseudoscientific volumes. Presumably, the most extreme will be chosen by the panel. As a result, the choices of decent biology texts will be more limited for the entire country.

    This overt attempt to institutionalize religious teaching must be vigorously opposed.

    1. Your second sentence hits a nail on the head that the hammer often misses: the creationists want to ban the teaching of evolution. None of this “teach the controversy” b.s. for them – in private, of course.

    1. The Discovey Intitute is one of those places where research fellow is an oxymoron. I will not make the obvious moron joke….

  4. Perhaps we could start a movement equivalent but opposite to the Disco Tute and lobby church organizations to preach evolution, aka, The Controversy, in churches all over the US.

    It occurs to me that creationists’ use of the term controversy implies that their belief in biblical creation is not absolute, otherwise there’d be no controversy?

  5. I live in Texas and I just signed it. Lately I have been mostly disgusted to call myself a Texan. People like Sarah Slamen give me at least a glimmer of hope for our state.
    Professor Steven Weinberg at UT Austin has testified numerous times in previous years in the battles over textbooks which teach real science as opposed to BS. Hopefully he will once again take up the fight.

    1. I also posted the link to sign the petition on Facebook. Hopefully others who frequent Jerry’s site will also do this.

    2. Thanks Stan. I’ve posted the link on my Facebook page too. Have several likes already. Hope they equal signatures. It continues to be an uphill battle in Texas.

  6. Someone should put together a set of teaching guidelines for addressing creationism/ID in schools as part of the ‘teach the controversy’. Clearly, this would involve reviewing the validity of creationism as a theory of origins, and could include topics like:

    –How Genesis appears to be merely a retelling of older creation stories
    –Why should the Genesis be privileged above other creation stories?
    –What external evidence is there for the validity of the Genesis narrative? What evidence contradicts it?

    I don’t think the advocates of introducing creationism into the Science classroom want the scutiny to go both ways. Let’s see how they react to that.

    Other topics?

  7. Attacking from multiple directions. Whether good tactics on their part or mere serendipity (for them) it sure does suck for us.

    Just when you think you’ve made progress preventing a school board somewhere from slipping religion into their science curriculum some other godbotherer’s are busy seeing to it that the science text books are contaminated with their lies.

    Unfortunately the Texas BOE has been working for years at destroying the integrity of science texts, and other subjects too, in order to lie to the children. For the good of the children of course.

  8. What creationists don’t understand is that science is not merely a body of knowledge accumulated over the centuries, it is also the process through which this knowledge is attained. And so simply declaring that something is true because it says so in the Bible (or any other literary source) cannot be construed as science if that “fact” or “idea” was not the result of a valid, structured, self-critical scientific process.

    Evolution is a verifiable fact. It is the mechanism through which it occurs — natural selection — that comprises the theory.

    Scientifically-illiterate people seem to think that a “theory” is somehow lacking in power and validity.  Scientific theories are our best explanation for an event or phenomenon based on the available evidence, i.e., a theory tells us HOW it happens.  Theories have generally been subjected to rigorous empirical and/or mathematical testing and represent the consensus of the scientific community, whereas a hypothesis is a possible explanation for a specific observation and has not necessarily been tested yet.

    Calling something a theory does not cheapen or weaken it.  On the contrary, the term “theory” gives it legitimacy as something that is scientifically testable and that has been rigorously examined either mathematically or empirically to the point that the available evidence overwhelming supports it.

    Quantum mechanics, special and general relativity, molecular kinetics — all THEORIES!

    Theories are based on the best empirical EVIDENCE available, not PROOF. There is an incredible wealth of evidence — both geological and biochemical — to support evolution by natural selection.

    Creationism and ID are faith-based concepts. Their “evidence” consists of the allegories provided in the Bible, nothing more.

    1. But if we look at usage there are no fast and easy categories here.

      Theories are mostly larger bodies of knowledge (so can comprise many observations and connect with other theories), whether tested or not.

      An example of a theory that is little tested is string theory. (Admittedly, as it so far only predicts black hole entropy and QCD flux tubes correctly, it can be seen more like a mathematical theory. Which is yet another beast of category. But that makes the point as well, I think.)

      There are no rigid procedure for testing theories. A specific theory, or even a generic class of theories that makes unconstrained predictions, may be accepted before they have been exhaustively tested. (E.g. general relativity is still undergoing tests of some generic predictions. So is our current standard cosmology.)

      Hypotheses are mostly smaller bodies of knowledge (so can predicting single and isolated observations), whether tested or not.

      There are rigid procedures for some hypothesis testing. (E.g. of single observations.)

      The problem, if it is a problem, is that science isn’t standardized.

      Biologist prefers inclusive theories, they add and replace mechanisms eagerly. (E.g. evolution.)

      Physicists prefer exclusive theories, they prefer to reject failures (e.g. chemically burning stars) or separate simplifications (e.g. newtonian gravity), and institute new theories. Which is more akin to hypothesis testing, but not quite. (Still inclusive under change of parameters or other slight modifications.)

      IMO a better and easier to understand characterization is to note that theories are like images, “a good image is worth a thousand words” and “a good theory is worth [predicts] a thousand observations”.

      Under that characterization creationism is a cheap fake Photoshop.

  9. texas is just another word for face palm.

    petition signed. i’m a resident of the state. continually disappointed by this place.

  10. We should not lose sight of one thing in the creationism/ID debate: It is not just about science vs. pseudoscience. It’s also about favoring one religion over all others. The YECs (Young Earth Creationists) are a minority even among Christians. To demand that Young Earth Creationism be taught instead of evolution is also to deny the religious rights of Christians, Buddhists, pagans, Jews and others who believe in evolution. I hope members of other religions point that out

    1. It would be nice if members of other Christian denominations pointed that out, but they tend to remain silent on this. Some even side with the creationists because they don’t understand what’s being debated.

  11. Done and did. But why don’t we simply bring them some coffee and doughnuts and patiently explain to them the error of their ways? Surely reason and logic will prevail, if only we engage them respectfully and show them the scientific evidence? /snark

    1. Or, if that fails, we could invite Larry Moran to the hearings and he can contemptuously fart in their general direction. That’s sure to do the trick.

      b&

  12. “Texas is one of the nation’s largest markets for schoolbooks”

    What does that market represent as a percentage of total sales? (Potentially lost sales.)

    Perhaps academic publishers should have more academic integrity…

    /@

    1. My guess would be around 10%. Texas has a bit less than 10% of the population, but probably a significantly higher than average percentage of families with school-age children, due to its strong economy, low cost of living, and large immigrant population.

      1. I’m a bit surprised that publishers feel the need to have one set of texts for all their markets. I don’t know much about textbook publishing, but I would have thought that the printing is all electronic now so that there is very little cost to printing separate editions for each of the fifty states if needed. There were large setup costs in the past, but I assume those are approaching zero now. No?

    2. In fact, publishers are making changes to their textbooks based on objections they hear from the review panelists.

      Don’t the authors of textbooks have a say in this. Or is it being suggested that publishers will be commissioning new textbooks from ID authors. I can’t imagine any reputable biology textbook author (such as Prof. Coyne) agreeing to changes instigated by such a panel.

      1. Here’s an excellent article which explains the power Texas has over the textbook industry. The books are chosen by the Texas School board whose members are elected by popular vote and often are members of the religious right. The publishers have a choice: Either accept revisions demanded by the Texas School Board committee or their book is not accepted by the state of Texas. Naturally, with so much money at stake from the sale of textbooks in Texas and other states, most publishers will put pressure on the authors
        http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/21/how-texas-inflicts-bad-textbooks-on-us/?pagination=false

  13. When I took high school biology in Texas in the 1980’s we were not taught any ID or creationism, nor was there any ID or creationism in our textbooks. Good times, eh? Not really. We weren’t taught evolution either. IIRC, evolution was in the textbook near the end and without much detail and we just didn’t get around to that chapter.

    I have no idea what the state of things is now, but it’d be a huge advance if we could just get them to teach evolution in schools, regardless of what other nonsense is there. If students had to read and show comprehension of WEIT, it wouldn’t matter so much if they had to read Ken Ham’s “The Lie” as well.

    Not, of course, that we should acquiesce on sneaking “controversy” in where there is none, but that resisting that is only half of the issue and, I personally feel, the smaller half. Creationism can only persist in the face of ignorance so we should devote as much energy to ensuring that the texts teach evolution well as we do to resisting the inclusion of “doubt”.

    As an aside, I wonder how many high school libraries in Texas have a copy of WEIT? Perhaps there should be a campaign to buy a copy for them?

    1. Is there anything that non-Texans can do to support your efforts to keep Texas from weakening the rest of the country by mistreating its youngest and most vulnerable American citizens?

      b&

      1. The public comment period will happen in late September. If any unnecessary revisions happen, that will be our opportunity to raise objections.

  14. Texas has among the laxest gun laws, highest murder rates, and highest execution rates (spiked by a preference for, umm, inoculating persons of color) of any state in the country. I say “among the [superlative]” instead of just “THE [superlative]” in case another state is worse in one of these categories, but I’d bet on Texas for at least 2 out of 3. And now Texas is stacking the deck against a scientific point that had been ratified by serious scientists before I was born — and I’m 70. This kind of consistency is jarring. It’s like madness.

  15. As I understand it, there are two different versions of the Biblical Creation Story in Genesis. Perhaps it’s time to Teach the Controversy.

    1. You’re correct. The fact that there are two creation myths in Geneis is obscured by the chapter divisions in English translations. (The common divisions were developed by Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1227; the first English language bible to use them was the Wycliffe bible in 1382; division of Hebrew manuscripts into verses was done in 1448; Robert Estienne was the first to divide Greek manuscripts into verses, in 1555. Most Christians don’t know this and are easily fooled by apologists who claim the versions are complementary.)

      The first creation myth in Genesis 1:1-2:3 has plant life created on the 3rd day, sea creatures created on the 5th day, then land animals and bird, then humans created together with no priority of man before woman. The second creation myth is in Genesis 2:4-25 has, first, man created, then plant life, then the man put in the garden God has created, then land animals and birds are created and brought before the man who names them (which had to take a lot of time and could not have been done in the same 24 hour day of Genesis 1) but he has no mate so God puts him to sleep and creates a woman from a rib and brings her to the man. To anyone who has not previously made up their mind to believe there is only one creation story in Genesis, it should be obvious that we are dealing with two contradictory creation myths. The Young Earth Creationists would never agree for that to be taught

        1. I heard and read all the excuses when I was a “born again” Christian and countless times afterward. Now I realize they would only convince someone who is determined to refuse to admit there are any errors in the bible. One has to ignore the texts in order to save the texts, to invent “might have beens” and “plausibles” and then turn them into (alleged) certainties by theological legerdemain

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