Thursday, January 22, 2009

Onward, Christian Soldiers!

Today's New York Times ("In Texas, a Line in the Curriculum Revives Evolution Debate") reports on attempts to discredit evolution iin the Lone Star State.

No longer do religious conservatives employ an in-your-face strategy, but take a craftier approach to undermining science. In Texas, it involves taking advantage of a passage in the state curriculum that requires students to critique the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. From there, they attempt to bring religious teachings into public school science classrooms.

In the past, the conservatives on the education board have lacked the votes to change textbooks. This year, both sides say, the final vote, in March, is likely to be close.

Even as federal courts have banned the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in biology courses, social conservatives have gained 7 of 15 seats on the Texas board in recent years, and they enjoy the strong support of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.

The chairman of the board, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist, pushed in 2003 for a more skeptical version of evolution to be presented in the state’s textbooks, but could not get a majority to vote with him. Dr. McLeroy has said he does not believe in Darwin’s theory and thinks that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event, thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion as scientists contend.

On the surface, the debate centers on a passage in the state’s curriculum that requires students to critique all scientific theories, exploring “the strengths and weaknesses” of each. Texas has stuck to that same standard for 20 years, having originally passed it to please religious conservatives. In practice, teachers rarely pay attention to it.

This year, however, a panel of teachers assigned to revise the curriculum proposed dropping those words, urging students instead to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence.”

Scientists and advocates for religious freedom say the battle over the curriculum is the tip of a spear. Social conservatives, the critics argue, have tried to use the “strengths and weaknesses” standard to justify exposing students to religious objections in the guise of scientific discourse.

“The phrase ‘strengths and weaknesses’ has been spread nationally as a slogan to bring creationism in through the back door,” said Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science in Education, a California group that opposes watering down evolution in biology classes.

In my last post, I gave kudos to Alabama Governor Bob Riley, a Republican, for his leadership on teacher quality. In this post, let me aim barbs at Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry for appointing the likes of Dr. McLeroy to public office. As Bugs Bunny might say, "What a maroon!" That goes for both of them.

Image courtesy of


7/21/2008: Praise Jesus (In Public Schools)

6/3/2008: "NY Times: "Opponents of Evolution Are Adopting New Strategy"

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