Correction: Texas still holds up one textbook

November 23, 2013 • 10:52 am

My report yesterday that the Texas School Board had approved every submitted biology textbooks (a report I got from the Texas Freedom Network) was inaccurate, as noted by biologist and textbook author Ken Miller in a comment on yesterday’s post. As he noted:

Jerry, unfortunately your column is not quite true. One textbook was held up by the Board, and has still not been approved. Guess which one?

I knew the answer from his note, of course, but he supplied the link from the New York Times: “Texas education board flags biology textbook over evolution concerns.

The book is, of course, one of which Miller is an author. It’s a very good book, and one of the most popular in the U.S. And it’s been held up because it contains supposedly questionable stuff about—evolution.

On Friday, the state board, which includes several members who hold creationist views, voted to recommend 14 textbooks in biology and environmental science. But its approval of “Biology,” a highly regarded textbook by Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, and Joseph S. Levine, a science journalist, and published by Pearson Education, was contingent upon an expert panel determining whether any corrections are warranted. Until the panel rules on the alleged errors, Pearson will not be able to market its book as approved by the board to school districts in Texas.

What were the “errors”? As expected, they were picked out by a creationist who has no formal training in biology:

The alleged errors that will be reviewed by the new expert panel were cited by Ide P. Trotter, a chemical engineer and financial adviser who is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the website of the Creation Science Hall of Fame and was on a textbook review panel that evaluated Dr. Miller and Mr. Levine’s “Biology” last summer. Mr. Trotter raised numerous questions about the book’s sections on evolution.

“I think I did a pretty good review, modestly speaking,” said Mr. Trotter, speaking from his home in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas. He said Dr. Miller and Mr. Levine’s textbook “gives a misleading impression that we have a fairly close understanding of how random processes could lead to us.” He added, “If it were honest, it would say this is how we are looking at it, and these are the complexities that we don’t understand.”

Here’s the info on Trotter that I published in a previous post:

  • 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.

The Times continues:

Ronald Wetherington, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Southern Methodist University who has already looked over Mr. Trotter’s complaints, described them as “non sequiturs and irrelevant.”

“It was simply a morass of pseudoscientific objections,” Dr. Wetherington said.

It’s a sad day when a yahoo like Trotter can hold up the dissemination of a superb textbook in biology. Knowing Miller and Levine, I am sure the stuff on evolution is solid, and the school board, lacking expertise in biology, simply couldn’t adjudicate Trotter’s complaints and fobbed them off on a committee.

It is an embarrassment to both the U.S. and, especially, Texas, that out of eleven people chosen to vet biology textbooks for the state, six of them—more than half!—were creationists like trotter. No other First World country would do anything like this. I hope Pearson refuses to yield and make corrections, and that the “panel of experts”—I don’t know who they are—will find the creationist objections unfounded.

Miller and I have had our differences over accommodationism, but I’m with him 100% on this issue, and on keeping the material in his text.  I’m sure he has to keep quiet about his own feelings until this issue is resolved, but we know from his other books that he has no truck with creationism.


23 thoughts on “Correction: Texas still holds up one textbook

  1. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Ken Miller about the treatment of the Urey-Miller experiment in this latest edition of his excellent book.

    Assuming all goes well in the end, there will be some comfort in the thought that it got approved even after the obstructionists had done their worst. But, as a sometime temporary Texan, I’m deeply embarrassed that it had to come to this.

  2. To argue against a text by saying that it needs to address the “complexities that we don’t understand”, etc., is just another example of the creationist strategy of attempting to discredit the science supporting evolution, and thus bolster their own indefensible position. The logic seems to be “evolution-scientists don’t know everything, therefore they are just guessing about how it might have happened.” [Reagan: “Well, evolution is just a theory, after all”]

    The creationists don’t just misunderstand science–in fact I’m not certain that they really do misunderstand it. I see them more as clinging to a belief system that makes them feel good about themselves. They are in their own little bubble where everything justifies everything else and they like being there because their lives make sense. They see evolution as the big threat to that, and that’s why they are against it. But they have learned that creationism isn’t going to fly in the public schools, so they are always trying new ways to sneak it in somehow. To cast doubt on evolution seems to be their last-ditch attempt.

    1. “saying that it needs to address the “complexities that we don’t understand”

      That’s somewhat like saying that because the long-term predictions of weather are imperfect due to “the complexities we don’t understand” that we need to attribute them to Intelligent Designers.

  3. I’m a big fan of Texas music, and I like Texas barbecue. Austin is kind of a cool place. As for the politics and religion, forget it.

  4. Yet another engineer who does not accept evolution. Is there something about people who design things that makes them see design everywhere they look?

    1. I think that creationist choose engineering, rather than engineering minting creationist.

      One can choose to go through an engineering curriculum with minimal challenge to one’s religious or philosophical beliefs.

      I think that’s true of other fields like medicine that attract smart people who want to apply their intelligence only in ways that philosophically comfortable.

      One of the justifications for breadth requirements in undergraduate courses of study is so that students focusing in an applied field don’t cheat themselves of exposure to the big, challenging ideas our culture has produced.

      I think that the number of blinkered creationist doctors and engineers show that these requirements are not sufficient. (I know, horse, water, drinking still avoidable, but still, we could do more).

      Many engineering programs have particularly weak breadth requirements, I don’t know about pre-med programs. I’ve often thought that the standing of engineering and the culture of the engineering profession would be improved by scrapping the undergraduate engineering degree for an equivalent to pre-med or pre-law. If anything, we are moving in the opposite direction as career majors like hotel management, sports medicine, and other specialities proliferate.

    2. I’ve been an engineer for almost 40 years and the vast majority of colleagues I’ve worked with have been normal, sensible people.

      I remain skeptical of the “yet another creationist engineer” meme. Seems to me there’s an excess of anecdote and a shortage of actual data supporting this idea. Surely as scientists we would want a clear demonstration that a phenomenon exists before we attempt to explain it.

  5. Ceiling Cat has ordained that the Ken Miller link at the top of this post goes to Hili’s tumblr rather than HERE

    It’s a miracle.

  6. The Creation Science Hall of Fame — home of the annual flat-earth all-star game.

    A hall of fame for Creation Science is like a hall of fame for the 1962 NY Mets, complete with bronze busts of Ed Kranepool and Marv Throneberry. Maybe Jimmy Breslin should write a book about it, Can’t Anybody Here Do This Science?

  7. The arrogance of these people always astounds me. He actually proclaims how proud he is of his review and he doesn’t even understand basic biology! The Dunning-Kruger effect is strong in this one.

    1. The Dunning-Kruger effect is often caused or preceded by the Playpen Theory of Reality.

      The universe is like a playpen and human beings are like babies. God is like the parent. Therefore, everything in the playpen is for our edification, set up in order for us to learn the important lesson.

      What important lesson?

      That human beings are like babies and God is like the parent.

      So you wouldn’t have to understand basic biology in order to know that the Theory of Evolution is wrong. God would make sure that the important truths were easy enough for an actual baby to understand — using only the Bible, Nature, and natural intuition.

      The so-called “experts” who think they know better are arrogantly setting themselves up as being like a parent instead of a humble little baby. Their work is just a smoke screen hiding this.

      1. Ha! I read, “play pen” but my mind gave the image of “pig pen”. I think it turned out nicely. 🙂

  8. I’m sure he has to keep quiet about his own feelings until this issue is resolved, but we know from his other books that he has no truck with creationism.

    Except that as an avowed Roman Catholic Miller _is_ a creationist albeit of another species, and by putting forward quantum fluctuation woo he is supporting creationism in ignoble Deepak Chopra style.

    Other than that, agreed.

    1. Agreed. I wish that Christian scientists could bring themselves to eschew mention of fine tuning and QM and everything else regarding the province of science and state simply that their Christian faith is precisely that. Not based on empirical evidence but based on divine revelation through the bible and the Holy Spirit. The problem is that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the existence of a God (not the God revealed in the New Testament) can be recognised by reasoning from observations of the world. If this were true then somewhere in science text books the appropriate reasoning from the appropriate evidence would need to be taught.

      1. “If this were true then somewhere in science text books the appropriate reasoning from the appropriate evidence would need to be taught.”

        Not necessarily. I imagine part of it is the cosmological fine-tuning argument. The case for that should be made by someone who knows the science, but surely not in a science text book. We would be complaining if it were!

        1. If one could properly reason from an observation of the world to the necessary existence of a creator of the world why should that not be in a science textbook? It surely should. The Roman Church does not teach that the possibility of a Creator can be discerned; they teach that a Creator is discernible. Observation plus reason proves the existence of a Creator. That isn’t in any science text book because it isn’t true. If it were true it would be in science text books.

        2. “Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.” Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God’s revelation.

          R.C. Catechism, part one, section one, chapter one, III-36.

          Notice that revelation cannot take hold without empirical evidence and reason first providing certain knowledge of God’s existence.

          Since this certain knowledge is very far from being certain, revelation fails. If it appeared close to certain it would surely be taught in science text books. Applying reason to empirical evidence is what science does best.

  9. Maybe Miller and Levine could sue the State of Texas. After all, there could be considerable financial damage to them resulting from their book being dissed in this way…

  10. “No other First World country would do anything like this”

    The US is a first world country?

    … let me get my coat.

Leave a Reply