Live Blogging: The Texas SBOE vs. Science II

4:04: Ralph Seelke is up, introducing himself as the grandson of a Texas cotton farmer and holding a doctorate in microbial genetics. Seelke has been a common face for the Discovery Institute in testifying against evolution in various locales. Seelke says he wants students to challenge what they learn, to ask: “How do they know that?” We agree. That’s how they learn. But we could ask the same of creationists: How do you know that evolution is a fraud? How do you know God created the universe in six days? They can’t know because they have no scientific evidence, but they can certainly believe. Faith, however, is not science. There is nothing inherently wrong with that faith — unless you want to determine what students learn based on your faith.

4:12 – Seelke asks: Why include “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards? His answers: “It’s good common sense.” “It makes for good stories, and students remember stories.” Good heavens. Is that really the standard he wants for deciding what to teach in science classes? There are lots of good stories about space monsters, ghosts, psychics and the like, but do we want to teach those stories in science class, too?

4:18 – OK, we’re not scientists, but Seelke seems to have just argued that in experiments he has conducted with e. coli bacteria, he has shown that evolution has weaknesses. I’m sure this sounds convincing to other folks who (like us) aren’t scientists. But why haven’t scientists themselves accepted his argument? In fact, if Seelke has disproven evolution, why hasn’t he won a Nobel?

4:22 – Board member Barbara Cargill asks whether Seelke has faced opposition from other scientists in presenting his research. Seelke suggests he didn’t get a job because, he thinks, other scientists at the institution opposed his research. He refers board members to Ben Stein’s anti-evolution movie “Expelled” and to the Discovery Institute’s “Dissent from Darwin” petition. Board member Terri Leo suggests that such opposition is the reason anti-evolution folks haven’t succeeded in getting their anti-evolution “research” published in peer-reviewed science journals. Sure. That must be the reason. It wouldn’t be because they couldn’t come up with scientifically valid evidence to back up their research. Right?

4:34 – A PowerPoint slide from Seelke: “Do you want your students Educated Or Indoctrinated?” Good question. Very good question. Perhaps the board’s reationists who think evolution is a fraud (despite all the scientific evidence) could answer this.

4:39 – Seelke on “lying” to students about evolution: “I never told my children about Santa Claus. Why? Because for them I’m the sole holder of truth.” His point is that lying to kids destroys their trust. Well, yes. (Have we just ruined Christmas for kids?)

5:05 – Ron Wetherington of SMU is up. Wetherington is schooling the board on the difference between preliminary explanations, hypotheses and theories in science and, thus, why the whole argument about “weaknesses” of theories is nonsense. The old standards, with the “strengths and weaknesses” requirement, he argues, are designed to generate doubt about evolution.

5:14 – Wetherington goes down the list of alleged “weaknesses” of evolution and eviscerates each one, including “irreducible complexity.” That’s one of the major arguments made by supporters of “intelligent design”/creation, but testimony from scientists in the Dover vs. Kitzmiller trial in Pennsylvania totally discredited it. Wetherington also attacks the argument that “gaps in the fossil record” are a weakness in evolution. “Absolutely not true,” he says, noting that research into the fossil record is vast and sound. Next he tears apart arguments about the “Cambrian explosion.” “Incomplete information,” he notes, is not the same thing as a “weakness.” This is among the most useful testimony we’ve heard today.

5:23 – Wetherington makes a key point: these standards will influence what goes into new biology textbooks in two years. Bad standards will result in bad textbooks. Publishers would be forced to produce those bad textbooks or risk not winning approval from the board. He warns that creationists on the board may have the votes in 2011 to reject textbooks without alleged “weaknesses” of evolution.

5:27 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar is challenging Wetherington on science: what about the “missing links” in the fossil record? Wetherington: The media uses that term. Science doesn’t. (We wonder, by the way, whether we should ask Ms. Dunbar if she thinks we have time for dinner before President Obama declares martial law.)

5:33 – Wetherington: Keeping “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards would allow board members who oppose evolution to force publishers to include phony “weaknesses” in the next biology textbooks. Dunbar: “You can’t make a law based on how it’s going to be applied.” What?

5:41 – Wethington: Science is willing to debate an issue, but both sides must have scientific merit. “Intelligent design” doesn’t meet that requirement.

5:43 – Jiminy Cricket. Now creationists on the board are arguing about the bacterial flagellum and complex eyes. (“The eye of the trilobite!”) This is evolving, so to speak, into a debate about “intelligent design.” Fortunately, Wetherington is easily countering this nonsense.

7 thoughts on “Live Blogging: The Texas SBOE vs. Science II

  1. 4:18 – OK, we’re not scientists, but Seelke seems to have just argued that in experiments he has conducted with e. coli bacteria, he has shown that evolution has weaknesses. I’m sure this sounds convincing to other folks who (like us) aren’t scientists. But why haven’t scientists themselves accepted his argument?

    I’m a post-doctoral chemist currently working at UT Austin, and the reason scientists haven’t accepted his argument is that it doesn’t exist. This guy hasn’t published a paper in a science journal in 20 years. Nobody knows what he’s doing and nobody has the ability to judge the quality of his work, let alone if it’s even valid or if his conclusions are justified. What are his conclusions? Who knows…

  2. Earlier today Dr. Dan Bolnick, and Asst. Prof. of Integrative Biology made a point that is being continuously ignored – there are no published weaknesses of evolution! Besides inserting this language (strengths and weaknesses) into textbooks, the creationist board members hope to give students the opportunity to ask Biology teachers questions based on misinformation. Unfortunately, some creationist teachers would also like to use the language to insert their own religious beliefs.

  3. Board member Cynthia Dunbar is challenging Wetherington on science…

    If children’s educations weren’t at stake, this would be comical.

  4. As a biology major involved in undergraduate research at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, I was extremely irritated when I heard that Dr. Ralph Seelke had addressed the Texas Board of Education on the subject of teaching alternatives to evolution without the knowledge of the University or the Biology and Earth Sciences Department. I have taken two courses taught by Dr. Seelke during which I was constantly frustrated by his inability to separate his personal religious and moral views from the classroom.

    I have also attended several of Dr. Seelke’s presentations, and am baffled by his insistence that his research confirms that there is a fundamental flaw in evolutionary theory. One can read and form one’s own opinion about Dr. Seelke’s research on his website, The site also gives a fairly clear picture of his religious views. This is a personal website which is not affiliated with the university; however, students in Dr. Seelke’s classes, two of which are required for all biology majors, must routinely visit the site to obtain study guides, lecture notes, and other course materials.

    I feel that Dr. Seelke’s continual presence on the intelligent design scene and the perceived association of his views with the University of Wisconsin-Superior are harming the reputation of our university and undermining the credibility of other scientific research programs in the department. Dr. Seelke was not officially representing the university during this venture, and his evolution research and personal religious views are not characteristically representative of an otherwise outstanding and valuable undergraduate research department.