Creationists Target Texas Science Classes

by Dan Quinn

Politics and personal agendas dominated the Texas State Board of Education’s process for adopting new science curriculum standards for public schools two years ago. Now our first look at the developing process for approving science instructional materials based on those standards has increased our concerns that politics will continue to trump education.

The State Board of Education‘s faction of anti-science fanatics is clearly hoping to stack teams reviewing the science materials that publishers will submit at the end of February. A Texas Freedom Network review of current candidates for those review teams has identified more than a dozen who have been outspoken critics of evolutionary science, self-identified creationists or educators at evangelical Christian schools. Those candidates include nominees from state board members as well as individuals who have applied on their own to serve on the teams. Under a new schedule made available this week by the Texas Education Agency, those teams will meet in June to review the proposed science materials.

TEA released a list of more than 170 candidates for the science review teams at the January state board meeting. (The agency is still adding to the list.) At the same meeting, TEA staff said each review team — one for each of four high school courses, including biology — would likely have three to five members. Because most of the names on the long list of candidates are legitimate science educators and scholars, you might assume the odds are good that review teams will have very few (if any) anti-science activists. You shouldn’t.

The state board’s creationists have already indicated that they will insist that TEA put their nominees on the review teams. That demand would create a dilemma for TEA: focus on putting qualified people on the teams or submit to the political wishes of board members to stack the teams with anti-evolution activists promoting personal agendas. We won’t know until later in the spring who will actually serve on those teams.

A number of the creationism activists on the list of review team candidates have testified in the past before the State Board of Education in favor of teaching so-called “weaknesses” of evolution in science classrooms.  Some are more prominent anti-evolution activists. Here is a sample of some of the anti-evolution candidates on the TEA list:

Ide Trotter (applied on his own to be on a review team)
During the debate over proposed new biology textbooks for Texas public schools in 2003, Trotter was a spokesperson for the absurdly misnamed Texans for Better Science Education, a militant creationist group. Trotter runs his own investment management company and served as dean of business and professor of finance at Dallas Baptist University. He claims that major scientific discoveries over last century have actually made evolutionary science harder to defend: “The ball is rolling and it’s going downhill. There are not enough forces on the side of Darwinism to keep pushing it back uphill forever.”

David Shormann (nominated by board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands)
Shormann, who has a doctorate in limnology (the study of inland waters),  is an outspoken evolution denier who has homeschooled his children. Here is how he describes his blog, Studying His Word and His Works:

“You’ll also find more serious topics, such as how to teach math and science from a Christian foundation, topics discussing why creationism, not evolutionism, is the best way to interpret life’s origins, how Christians should interpret God’s command to ‘take dominion’ (Genesis 1:28), plus much more.”

Shormann is a young Earth creationist:

“Treating Earth history as just that, history, I can find physical and written testimony that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. And just as most of us have no problem believing Jesus Christ was a real person who lived 2,000 years ago, we should have no problem believing there were about 4,000 years from the Beginning to Christ’s birth. Studying natural history can be an interesting, fun, and adventure-filled pursuit, but it is not real science, and shouldn’t be treated like it is. Be wary of the opinions of those who insist otherwise.”

Walter L. Bradley (nominated by Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, board chair)
Bradley has a Ph. D. in Materials science and is a professor of engineering at Baylor University. He believes that there is scientific evidence for the existence of God and a “designed universe.” A 1993 article he co-wrote for The American Biology Teacher journal, “Origins of Life & Evolution in Biology Textbooks — A Critique,” suggests that students in science classrooms should learn about supernatural explanations:

“Evidence for the origin and evolution of life should be presented fairly and without distortion; but evidence that is not in accord with natural processes as an explanation should be clearly presented as well.”

Thomas Henderson (nominated by board member David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna)
Henderson has a master’s of science degree from the Institute for Creation Research and bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a retired NASA engineer who promotes “young Earth creationism” in churches, Sunday school classrooms, on creationism websites and in other forums. From one of his online essays:

“As a creationist, I believe naturalism in the sciences to be science-fiction. It is distorting and mis-directing education in many fields of both the natural sciences and the social sciences or humanities.”

Wendy Billock (applied on her own to be on a review team)
Billock has a master’s of science degree from the Institute for Creation Research and a Ph. D. in biology from Loma Linda University, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian institution in Southern California. Loma Linda’s biology Ph. D. program has a heavy emphasis on religion, with religious coursework making up nearly a fifth of the science program’s academic requirements. She currently teaches at Biola University, a Christian school provides a “biblically centered education” for its students.

Daniel Romo (nominated by Gail Lowe)
Romo is a professor of chemistry at Texas A&M and is listed among “Darwin Doubters of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century.”

If any of these names — or the names of other evolution deniers we have identified — appear on TEA’s final list of review team members, then it will be clear that science education is once again taking a backseat to politics in Texas.