This week the Texas Board of Education will consider which biology texts to “recommend” for Texas public-school students. I say “recommend” rather than “adopt” because the rules have changed. The list of approved books, from which all school districts were once required to choose, is now gone, and the Board can only recommend books. Texas school districts can now choose whichever books they want to use, including material from the Internet. That’s a huge bonus to publishers, who used to have to rewrite many of their biology and history books so they’d be acceptable to Texas, largely purging them of evolution and giving a more conservative point of view on American history. Now they won’t have to do that, and publishers are beginning to resist such changes anyway. If all the publishers resisted, Texas wouldn’t have any books to buy!
That’s a big improvement, though of course much of Texas is conservative and anti-evolution, so many school districts will certainly choose from the books the board recommends. The decision will take place this week—on the 22nd, which is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. (That’s somewhat ironic given that his assassin shot him from a window in the Texas School Book Depository.) In the meantime, the textbooks have been reviewed by a panel that includes both pro- and anti-evolution people, with the evolutionists being largely graduate students and the anti-evolutionists being rather rabid creationists. Unfortunately, the comments of the reviewers, and their suggestions for how to improve “deficient” texts, have been kept secret.
So the kerfuffle goes on. I wrote about the textbook “examiners” in late July, giving their views and credentials. Six of the eleven were creationists or Darwin doubters, including Ray Bohlin:
Raymond Bohlin is vice president of vision outreach for Probe Ministries in Plano and a research fellow for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute promotes the pseudoscientific concept “intelligent design” over evolution. Founded in 1973 [sic], Probe works “to present the Gospel to communities, nationally and internationally, by providing life-long opportunities to integrate faith and learning through balanced, biblically based scholarship.” Bohlin has a doctorate in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, making him a star performer for anti-evolution groups. He is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website.
You can (and should) read about the whole Texas textbook mess in a long but informative piece that ran in Thursday’s Dallas Observer, “Creationists’ last stand at the state board of education.” The article begins with a profile of Bohlin. His story is a curious one: like Jon Wells,he earned a Ph.D in biology just to get credibility to attack evolution. With degree in hand, he was prepared to push Jesus (he was already connected with Probe Ministries). As the Observer reports:
Bohlin invested years of his life in the graduate program at North Texas and the molecular biology doctoral program at the University of Texas at Dallas, absorbing everything he must refute. While his fellow students accepted a theory that had stood unchallenged by science for more than a century, Bohlin believed he alone was capable of assessing evolution with a critical eye. He admits, though, that his conclusions may already have been deeply entrenched. To alter his view of creation, he says, “would have required a major shift in personal and professional connections with people.”
Outside the halls of academia, meanwhile, secularism was spreading before his eyes. “The Catholic and Protestant churches in Europe are museums,” he says. “They gave in to that culture war for whatever reason. We can see the seeds of that same process here. These seeds are already germinating in some parts of the country.”
To beat back creeping secularism, Bohlin now ministers to Christian high school students, putting on seminars to “arm” them for the godless worldview that will pervade their college education. . . His great investment in a field he entered to debunk had led him to the Texas State Board of Education, where he was appointed to be an expert reviewer of high-school biology textbooks.
This, he believes, is where the war against secularism will be won or lost.
That is a man chosen to vet biology textbooks. His agenda is not to ensure that science is depicted accurately, but to sneak as much religion as he can into those books by inserting caveats about “evolution is full of problems.” The people of Texas should be ashamed of themselves, and I’m sure my colleagues in Houston, Austin, and College Station are gnashing their teeth.
Bohlin does say something heartening, though:
“If we were to interview 100 individuals who were raised in the church, believed everything and have since fallen away, I bet a majority would say at least that the things they learned in science class were a part of that pulling away,” he says.
This is a man with extensive evangelical experience, and he clearly sees that science is helping dispel people’s faith. So much for the accommodationists’ claim that science and religion are distinct magisteria, or for the assertions of BioLogos, the National Center for Science Education, and the National Academy of Science that there’s no conflict here: one can have Jesus and Darwin, too. But we all know that the implications of evolution do have a corrosive effect on faith.
The Observer article goes back through the history of the Texas Textbook Revolt, including the efforts of the odious Mel and Norma Gabler over two decades beginning in the sixties. Mel was a retired Exxon clerk, but the couple managed to build up a power base that gutted Texas textbooks in both history and biology. This had a strong influence on biology education throughout the U.S., since publishers didn’t want to put out special “Texas editions” that would have been expensive to produce. And sales in Texas could amount to up to 40% of total sales of a textbook in the U.S.:
Adoption by the state board at the time was vital to the success of a textbook, and publishers were willing to make almost any changes to earn a spot on Texas’ restrictive list of five approved textbooks per subject. With Texas, publishers could recoup the cost of production in a single state. Everything else after that was profit. It also meant that the peccadilloes of special interests like Mel and Norma Gabler reverberated not just through the Lone Star State but through much of the country.
The Gabler’s activities were taken over by a dentist named Bob Offutt (why are these Texas creationists so often dentists?), who was elected to the Texas school board in 1992. The horrors really began then, as Offutt was an extreme right winger in both his politics and his preference for textbooks:
. . . [Offutt] chose uncompromising, hyper-conservative candidates [for the school board]. In one race, they used Leininger’s [James Leininger, Offutt’s benefactor and head of conservative think tank] direct-mail company to distribute leaflets depicting a black man and a white woman, both half-naked and kissing, to mailboxes in East Texas. It accused the Democratic incumbent, a churchgoing grandmother, of attempting to teach oral and anal sex to school children. When the polls closed, the state board had won its first Republican majority.
The board demanded abstinence-only health textbooks and succeeded in excising a line drawing of a woman performing a breast self-exam. In another book, they objected to a photo of a woman carrying a briefcase in favor of one with another woman removing a cake from the oven.
Can you imagine?
I won’t go through the rest of the history, but it’s fascinating—and depressing. There’s the election of another dentist, Don McLeroy, as head of the school board (he once pleaded with his colleages that “Somebody’s gotta stand up to these experts!”), his subsequent removal as chairman as well as the removal of the board’s abilities to vet books for the whole state. (The Texas state legislature was getting embarrassed at having to deal with a bunch of yahoos on the school board.) Do read the history. I’ll leave you with the Observer‘s account of some textbook reviews that have been leaked:
Ray Bohlin isn’t allowed to discuss his review of a Pearson high-school biology text, but the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit that has long opposed the “Christian Right’s” incursion into public schools, secured a leaked copy this summer. In it, he questioned the link between carbon dioxide and a warming planet. He claimed the text repeatedly fails to “grapple with the accumulating and contrary and refuting evidence” against climate change and human evolution.
In a section about molecules and the origins of life, he chided the textbook authors, Dr. Kenneth Miller of Brown University and Dr. Joseph Levine, course director for the Organization for Tropical Studies, for what he characterized as an outdated presentation of the science, urging them to “catch up.” He suggested they read Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell but neglected to mention that Meyer is a colleague of his at the Discovery Institute, and that the book’s full title is actually Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. In a review written by the journal Perspectives of Science and Christian Faith, which has long promoted theistic evolution, Meyer’s book was panned as “a layman’s attempt to overturn an entire field of research based on a surface-level understanding (and, at times, significant misunderstanding or ignorance) of the relevant science, published in a form that bypasses review by qualified peers, and that is marketed directly to a non-specialist audience. This is not good science, nor science in any meaningful sense.”
Another reviewer of a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt text, a dietician at Texas A&M, felt “very firmly that ‘Creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated in every Biology textbook up for adoption.”
Teaching creationism in public schools has been unconstitutional for more than 25 years.
In a separate review of the same Pearson text — one of the most widely used textbooks in the country — the panel recommended rejection. Among the panelists was Ide Trotter, an ardent believer in intelligent design and a chemical engineer by training. Dr. Ron Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University anthropology professor, called the review a “rant” laced with “non-sequiturs.”
It’s the only strategy proponents of creationism and intelligent design have left, he says. “There are no intelligent people on the side of creationism who are still urging the teaching of creationism in form or function,” Wetherington tells the Observer. “It’s not worth it for them to do that, so they’re putting all their eggs in the basket of undermining evolution.”
I guess these people haven’t heard the Good News from BioLogos that there’s no conflict between evolution and evangelical Christianity! But I predict that, come Friday, the forces of reason will win, but just barely. For the vetters only make recommendations, and the entire school board—which doesn’t include the people who reviewed the books—must decide what to do. They are very aware how they’ll make Texas look if they come down against evolution or anthropogenic global warming. No state wants to be seen as anti-science.
Professor Ceiling Cat tends to be right in these predictions (see my post later today). I have spoken, and