Barbara Cargill’s Anti-Science Agenda

by Dan Quinn

New Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, made clear at her speech last week to Texas Eagle Forum activists that she is determined to politicize the board’s adoption of science instructional materials on July 20-22. She’ll be walking in the footsteps of former board chairman Don McLeroy and chairwoman Gail Lowe, both of whom failed to win Senate confirmation because they put their political agendas ahead of educating Texas kids.

We’ve already told you about about Cargill questioning the faith of state board colleagues who don’t agree with her. And we reported other troubling comments from Cargill’s Texas Eagle Forum talk. But Cargill also made extended comments about the coming science adoption — and those comments aren’t encouraging for parents who want their children to get an education based on sound science instead of ideology.

Calling the 2009 debate over new science curriculum standards a “spiritual battle,” Cargill essentially revealed why she and her board allies insisted on inserting into those standards arguments about the “complexity of the cell” and “gaps in the fossil record.” Both topics are in the anti-evolution Discovery Institute’s arsenal of junk science arguments promoting “intelligent design”/creationism. Cargill told her listeners :

“If you have students analyzing and evaluating the fossil record, then that gets them really thinking: ‘OK, there are gaps in the fossil record.’ Matter of fact, there are more gaps in the fossil record than there is a continuum in the fossil record. So it gets our high school students really thinking.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZmVKoZzIj8&w=400&h=330]

The National Center for Science Education debunks the “gaps in the fossil record” argument against evolution in examining the classic “intelligent design”/creationism textbook Of Pandas and People. In any case, Cargill’s statement reveals a classic and deeply dishonest tactic employed by anti-evolution fanatics. The goal, as made clear in The Wedge strategy crafted by the Discovery Institute, is to raise doubts about well-established, settled science — thus opening the door to junk science arguments. (More about The Wedge strategy here.)

Cargill wants the board to walk right through that door. Later in her talk she noted that she was troubled by passages in the proposed instructional materials that explore the real scientific evidence for evolution:

“I am not quite sure if we are going to have the votes to overturn that. We will work diligently to rectify and correct some of that.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLhsWMaNQ-0&w=400&h=330]

Of course, this is precisely what TFN and other supporters of science education have been warning about for two years. For Cargill and other creationists on the state board, the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution needs to be “rectified” and “corrected.” For them, science is a question of politics and votes: if Cargill’s faction has a majority, then more than a century of scientific research and the pleas of Nobel laureates and other scientists will make no difference.

Interestingly, Cargill also told her audience about approaching her pastor years ago regarding science and faith. She asked if she could borrow some of the church’s classrooms to offer science classes that “teach children that science and God go together and that God is our creator that we are made in His image.”

We are gratified that Cargill and her church (and all other people of faith) have the freedom to do precisely that. Indeed, religious instruction is absolutely the right and responsibility of parents and congregations. It is wrong, however, to put public schools in the position of choosing whose religious beliefs — including Cargill’s — to teach in science classrooms. The job of public schools is simply to teach mainstream science based on sound scholarship.

Unfortunately, Cargill doesn’t appear to agree. And now Gov. Rick Perry has recklessly given her the authority to preside over the state board’s consideration of science instructional materials for public schools.