Texas education board opposes intelligent design

Front page headline in the Dallas Morning News this morning: “Intelligent design? Ed board opposed.

And the subhead: “Even creationists say theory doesn’t belong in class with evolution.”

Remember, this is the state school board that is dominated by creationists, and whose chair, appointed just about a month ago, is the famous creationist dentist Dr. Don McLeroy. Just what is going on? According to the article by Terrence Stutz:

Interviews with 11 of the 15 members of the board – including seven Republicans and four Democrats – found little support for requiring that intelligent design be taught in biology and other science classes. Only one board member said she was open to the idea of placing the theory into the curriculum standards.

“Creationism and intelligent design don’t belong in our science classes,” said Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who described himself as a creationist. “Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community – and intelligent design does not.”

Mr. McLeroy, R-College Station, noted that the current curriculum requires that evolution be taught in high school biology classes, and he has no desire to change that standard.

“When it comes to evolution, I am totally content with the current standard,” he said, adding that his dissatisfaction with current biology textbooks is that they don’t cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

Really noteworthy:

First, McLeroy chooses to act as a more of a statesman than he has in the past — this is good. Chairing a board like this is an important job. Such leadership positions require people to rise above their own partisan views on some issues. McLeroy has demonstrated such a willingness.

But, second, and important: McLeroy uses the campaign line of the Discovery Institute and all political activists against evolution and science: “Cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.” That’s a line invented by Jonathan Wells, the great prevaricator ID advocate, and what it means to him is fuzz up the facts, fog the books and the debate to the point that learning actual science and what the actual theories of evolution are will be impossible.

“Teach the weaknesses of evolution” should be heard as “keep the kids ignorant of the real science.”

Today’s article holds a spark for the fire of hope, and a gallon of cold water on the idea that the board will strongly support science.

Biology is very important in Texas, and that forms the root of a paradox. Enormous gaps in biology sophistication mark debates: Most citizens are quite religious and have been convinced by preachers that science is antithetical to their faith. At the same time, Texas has important medical research centers in the Southwest Medical Center of the University of Texas, located in Dallas, with four Nobel-winning scientists on the faculty, and in M. D. Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston; in both places, evolution theory is applied daily in research to fight heart disease, endocrine disorders, cancer and other medical problems. Applied evolution is also important to agriculture in the state, where cotton is still a huge crop, and where grapefruit and other crops developed with state-of-the-art research facilities are the backbone of industries.

Texas is also home to a rich store of fossils which are key evidence to evolution, and it is a state where oil and gas exploration are princes if not still king, based on geology which corroborates evolution.

And while the board apparently won’t take up intelligent design, several members expect a battle over how evolution is treated in science textbooks, although that won’t be up for debate until 2011. Mr. McLeroy and others say they’ll push for books to include a more thorough examination of weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

For example, they noted, there are large time gaps in fossil records of species that are believed by scientists to be part of the same evolutionary chain.

Mr. McLeroy is part of a bloc of seven socially conservative board members, whose views are generally aligned with key social conservative groups active in campaigns and policy disputes, such as the Eagle Forum. He was one of four members who voted against the current biology texts in 2003 over the evolution issue.

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates strict separation of church and state, said she doubted board members had given up their advocacy of intelligent design.

“Don McLeroy and the other ideologues who now control the state board have said repeatedly in the past that they want public school science classes to teach creationism and other religion-based concepts,” Ms. Miller said. “So we have no doubt that they’ll find a way to try, either by playing politics with the curriculum standards or censoring new science textbooks later on.”

Board Vice Chairman David Bradley, who also voted against the biology books in 2003, acknowledged that he doesn’t believe in one of the main tenets of Darwin’s theory – that humans evolved from lower life forms.

“If some of my associates want to believe their ancestors were monkeys, that is their right. I believe God is responsible for our creation,” said Mr. Bradley, R-Beaumont. “Given that none of today’s scientists were around when the first frog crawled out of the pond, there is no one who can say exactly what happened.”

But just like the board chairman, Mr. Bradley said he is not interested in changing the current requirement for the teaching of evolution – nor would he support a move to include the theory of intelligent design in science classes.

Stutz’s article makes clear where pockets of ignorance among the board members themselves affect policy. The fight to keep evolution in the textbooks and in the curriculum is as much a fight to educate the board members as it is to educate students. The difference is that the students generally do not have strong feelings about such education, while the board members will fight such learning publicly and loudly.

“God bless Texas,” please. As Millard Fillmore might have said, it’s clear the Texas State Board of Education will not.

Dangers of creationism, update: Why should we fear that our children will study intelligent design? Zeno shows the sad results of such a life of dissipated study at Halfway There. Tip of the old scrub brush to P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula — his comments are worthwhile, too. A $100,000 prize? Ouch.

Read more: Is Texas doomed or not? (August 28, 2007), and, You had to be there (August 25, 2007)

4 Responses to Texas education board opposes intelligent design

  1. jre says:

    Please do. As you’ve noted elsewhere, it’s been dormant for a while. However, your example, among other influences has persuaded me that I need to dust it off and get it going again (any moment now — honest!).


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    I think that may have been the first time I found your blog — mind if I relink?


  3. jre says:

    Bravo to David Bradley for his gutsy insight that scientists can’t know anything about events they have not personally witnessed! Applied uniformly, this principle can reduce science textbooks to a tiny fraction of their current, unwieldy volume. Science class will only take a half-day per semester, and then it’s recess!

    Hoping you’ll forgive the shameless plug, let me note that I have urged that Jonathan Wells’ scientific approach be applied to the history classroom as well.


  4. […] School Board Bucks the Trend on ID… or does it? Via Ed Darrell at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub comes a somewhat surprising news story: the Texas State Board of Education, despite being stocked […]


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