I hope he doesn’t mean it.
Maybe he had a staffer draft it for him, and he is really not familiar with the issue (though he’s been on the Texas State Board of Education for several years, through at least two rounds of biology textbook selections) — but it’s difficult for me not to see a declaration of war on evolution in science classes in the letter to the editor Texas State Board of Education Chair Don McLeroy sent to the Dallas Morning News:
Science education has to have an open mind
Re: “Teaching of evolution to go under microscope – With science director out, sides set to fight over state’s curriculum,” Thursday news story.
What do you teach in science class? You teach science. What do you teach in Sunday school class? You teach your faith.
Thus, in your story it is important to remember that some of my quoted comments were made in a 2005 Sunday school class. The story does accurately represent that I am a Christian and that my faith in God is something that I take very seriously. My Christian convictions are shared by many people.
Given these religious convictions, I would like to clarify any impression one may make from the article about my motivation for questioning evolution. My focus is on the empirical evidence and the scientific interpretations of that evidence. In science class, there is no place for dogma and “sacred cows;” no subject should be “untouchable” as to its scientific merits or shortcomings. My motivation is good science and a well-trained, scientifically literate student.
What can stop science is an irrefutable preconception. Anytime you attempt to limit possible explanations in science, it is then that you get your science stopper. In science class, it is important to remember that the consensus of a conviction does not determine whether it is true or false. In science class, you teach science.
Don McLeroy, chair, State Board of Education, College Station
(Letter printed in the Dallas Morning News, December 21, 2007, page 24A; photo, Associated Press file photo, 2004)
My concerns, below.
These are the encouraging parts of Chairman McLeroy’s letter: “What do you teach in science class? You teach science.” And this closing sentence: “In science class, you teach science.”
Most of the three paragraphs in between those sentences is laced with the code language of creationism and intelligent design partisans who aim to strike evolution from schools by watering down the curriculum and preventing students from learning the power and majesty of the science theory derived from observing creation, by limiting time to teach evolution as state standards require so that it cannot be taught adequately, and by raising false claims against evolution such as alleged weaknesses in the theory.
No, we don’t teach dogma in science classes. Dogma, of course, is a reference to religious material. “Dogma” is what the Discovery Institute calls evolution theory.
Evolution is one of the great ideas of western civilization. It unites disparate parts of science related to biology, such as botany, zoology, mycology, nuclear physics, chemistry, geology, paleontology and archeology, into a larger framework that helps scientists understand nature. This knowledge in this framework can then be applied to serious matters such as increasing crop yields and the “green revolution” of Norman Borlaug, in order to feed humanity (a task we still have yet to achieve), or to figuring out the causes and treatments, and perhaps cures for diabetes.
In Texas, we use evolution to fight the cotton boll weevil and imported fire ants, to make the Rio Grande Valley productive with citrus fruit, and to treat and cure cancer and other diseases. We use corroborating sciences, such as geology, to find and extract coal, petroleum and natural gas.
Am I being dogmatic when I say Texas kids need to know that? None of that science rests solely on a proclamation by any religious sect. All of that science is based on observations of nature and experiments in laboratories. Evolution theory is based on extensive observations in nature and millions of experimental procedures, not one of which has succeeded in finding any of the alleged weaknesses in the theory.
If Chairman McLeroy would stipulate that he is not referring to evolution when he says public school science classes are “no place for dogma,” this letter is good news.
But I’ve listened to the chairman too many times, in too many forums, to think he has changed his position.
So his letter should be taken, I believe, as a declaration of war against science in Texas school science classrooms.
I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, Chairman McLeroy, but you’ll need to catch up on the science and modify those views expressed in the paper today to start persuading.
An olive branch: Dr. McLeroy, I will be pleased to sit down with you and other commissioners to explain how and why evolution is important to know especially for people who do not “believe” in it. I would be happy to explain why I and other educators, like former Education Sec. Bill Bennett, believe we have a duty to teach evolution and teach it well, and why that is consistent with a faith-respecting view of education. Even better, I would be pleased to arrange visits for you with some of Texas’s leading “evolutionists” so you can become familiar with their work, and why evolution is important to the economy and future of Texas.
Update: Welcome readers from Thoughts in a Haystack, and from Pharyngula. Please feel free to leave a comment, and nose around to see what else is here on evolution and Texas education.