Barbara Cargill v. Science

Two weeks from today the Texas State Board of Education will meet to consider and take a pivotal vote on science instructional materials that could be in school classrooms as early as this fall. It will also be the first meeting with Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, serving as board chair.

Cargill, part of the SBOE’s hyper-partisan far-right bloc that has put politics ahead of education, is no friend of science. At least not a friend of sound science that is settled and based in fact. Cargill has repeatedly cast votes that would result in genuine harm to science education in Texas. So as the board prepares to take a critical vote on science education, and as Cargill begins her term at the SBOE helm, let’s review the new chairwoman’s stance on science education in and outside the SBOE.

What follows is a summary of Cargill’s attacks on established science and her willingness to use the SBOE as a vehicle to impose her personal ideology on Texas children, to the detriment of sound science education.

Opening the Door to Creationism
A few weeks back TFN Insider broke the news about a troubling new participant in the state’s science materials adoption — International Databases Inc., a New Mexico company apparently run by one person. International Databases is one of several publishers and vendors that have submitted science materials for consideration by the SBOE in a few weeks.

There are major problems with materials submitted by International Databases. A review by TFN and the National Center for Science Education found that the International Databases submission is laced with bunk science based on creationist arguments against evolution.

As it happens Cargill and her fellow far-right SBOE members opened the door to precisely this sort of junk-science. In 2009, Cargill was a key player in the last-minute changes to proposed science curriculum standards intended to call into question the established, mainstream science supporting evolution. At the time, TFN warned that creationists would attempt to use the new curriculum to get their propaganda into Texas classrooms. And unfortunately, we were right.

The Age of the Universe
Like her predecessor Don “Somebody’s Gotta Stand Up to Experts” McLeroy, Cargill has an anti-science legacy that lives on via YouTube . During the 2009 debate on science curriculum standards, she called into question the scientific consensus for the age of the universe by proposing a standard be amended as follows:

“(A) evaluate the evidence concerning the Big Bang model, such as red shift and cosmic microwave background radiation, and the concept of an expanding universe that originated about 14 billion years ago, current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe;”

The amendment passed, striking the estimate of the age of the universe from the standards. Or as Cargill said:

“… leaves it open a little bit for (students and teachers) to discuss how many billions.”

The moment was captured on video and placed on YouTube by our friends at the National Center for Science Education. (You can also hear Cargill brush aside suggestions that the amended standard could allow a religious perspective for the age of the universe to be injected into science teachings.) Watch:


It was during that same debate that Cargill attacked science as not having “all of the answers,” saying she wanted to “add humility” to science. Video of Cargill questioning scientific evidence for the origin of life is also available from NCSE here:


Cargill Science ‘Expert’ — Ralph Seelke
During the science curriculum debate in 2009, Cargill nominated a prominent “intelligent design” proponent to review and make recommendations on the Texas science curriculum:  Ralph Seelke of the evolution-denying, Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Seelke is a signatory of the infamous (Discovery Institute-sponsored) “Dissent from Darwinism” statement. He is also coauthor of Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House, 2008), which is a supplementary textbook that is intended to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution.

WOW! Science Camp
Cargill is one of the founders — and continues to be involved in — Wonders of the Woodlands (WOW!) Science Camp, a summer program held each year in conjunction with The Woodlands United Methodist Church. While it has since been scrubbed, as recently as 2009 the website for the camp linked to websites that promoted creationism in science instruction.

8 thoughts on “Barbara Cargill v. Science

  1. Science doesn’t have all of the answers. Neither does the straw in my iced tea. So what? Lot’s of things don’t have all the answers.

    Oh, she thinks the Bible has all of the answers. Riddle me this Batman. I had surgery yesterday and have to change the bandage. Trouble is—it is stuck to all my tummy hair. How do i pull it off without excruciating pain? Go find me the Bible verse that explains how to do it?

  2. Specifically, it looks (from like from about 2006-2009 there was one link on their “for kids” page to here for a video toting the watchmaker argument.

    I certainly don’t consider it a good thing, but (even considering how wretched the Kids4Truth site is) I can’t consider it a smoking gun, given that it is a church-run science camp, given that the page linked didn’t have actual links to the rest of the Kids4Truth site, and given that it’s not clear which of the camp staff had the brilliant idea to link to it. Ms. Cargill clearly is associated with Very Silly Party people, but has not distinguished herself yet as anything but Silly Party. Her appointment of Ralph Seelke is more telling, but doesn’t stand out from the rest of the Silly Party appointments.

    (A preview button would still be a nice thing.)

  3. “Wonders of the Woodlands (WOW!) Science Camp, a summer program held each year in conjunction with The Woodlands United Methodist Church.”

    Wait, I thought the United Methodists were supposed to be OK with evolution?

  4. They are.

    Unfortunately, the United Methodist leadership is not very concerned about what gets taught by lay people (and even some Sunday school teachers) in their churches. In a Christian fundamentalist church, the church leadership would most likely want to approve any books, lesson plans, or ideas used in Bible classes, Vacation Bible School, or a science camp like the one in question. This is to make sure that their content adheres to church doctrine and to prevent the introduction of any radical ideas such as “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

    The United Methodists are really pretty loose about it, which would allow a determined person to sneak something odd into such a camp. I would suspect that “sneak” might be the key word here. Just to mention a little thing in this vein about my own church, I went through a number of the Sunday school classrooms one day searching for a standard, old-time, prefabricated Sunday school lesson book OFFICIALLY written, approved, and published by the United Methodist Church. I did not find a single one—not a single one. Usually, our Sunday school lessons are taught from interesting books that people bring into the church from outside, or they consist of courses taught by a member of the church staff. They would have titles along the lines of “A Closer Look at the Book of Mark.”

  5. UM’s are kind of middle-of-the-road, it seems.

    United Methodists do not have an official church statement on evolution; their (I poked Google) position on science in a more general sense looks to my eyes to have some tone of Non-Overlapping Magisteria and a caution that though it is a useful tool (particularly on moral ground) science shouldn’t be perfectly trusted.

    Official stances aside, GSS data (EVOLVED versus DENOM) indicates the UM membership is about 45-45-10 Yes-no-dunno as to whether humans developed from other animals or not. For comparison, Catholics run about 55-30-15, Jews and NothingInParticular about 70-20-10, Southern Baptists 25-65-10, Episcopailians 75-10-15. UM’s also seem a bit more likely to reject evolution (of humans) in the south, but with that many constraints the samples become too small for decent confidence intervals.

    My impression is “Similar to the Catholic attitude, except without Jesuits to whack them with a ruler each time they say something blatantly stupid.”

  6. I like the Jesuit quote above. You are right, Catholics have mostly been on the side of teaching evolution, and as I teach in a Catholic high school, I have a great deal of freedom in that area. In fact, the Big Bang explanation was proposed by a Catholic priest. However, I have many students coming from Catholic elementary schools who are given conflicting information and I still run into lifelong Catholic parents and other adults who don’t understand the church’s teaching on the subject. I’m sure, like the Methodists, they leave it up to individuals to teach as they like. They don’t want to lean too much on such a controversial religious subject. I’ve written several published articles on the Catholic teaching of evolution. If anyone is interested, I’d be glad to email them to you: [email protected]

  7. I would also like to point out—and I know this for certain—that the Southern Baptists held approximately the same official position as the Catholics and Methodists up until about the middle 1980s. I know because we had an official SBC Sunday school lesson that took a similar position. It was published by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tennessee. That was about 1986. When the Presslerites and Pattersonites achieved an absolute strangle hold on the SBC, that came to an end. Now, the Southern Baptists line up in lockstep with the forces of IGNORANCE.

    “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”

    —Charles Dickens

  8. Interesting. Via ( I found a summary of the Pressler/Patterson political shift (from the opposition, so perhaps biased), and some more info at Wikipedia’s entry on “Southern Baptist Convention conservative resurgence”. Do you have any better references on the topic you would suggest?