Live Blogging: The Texas SBOE vs. Science III

by TFN

5:49 p.m. – We’re entering the home stretch (maybe). Charles Garner, a creationist chemist from Baylor, is up. “There is an effort to redefine theories and how they distinguish from hypotheses” that’s not accepted by everyone in science. We certainly agree that there has been an effort to redefine scientific theories, but that effort has been primarily from the creationist side.

5:51 – Garner is offering a PowerPoint presentation showing some of his research. This involves “stereoelectivity in peptide bond formation.” Now, do we know anything about this topic? Of course not. Do any of these board members? We’ll say (safely) no. This is a common tactic by evolution opponents: dazzle nonscientists with scientific jargon as if they can really understand it. Then use that to justify their arguments against evolution. Seelke tried this tactic earlier (and was shot down later by Wetherington).

6:10 – Garner: “I’m not in favor of bringing creationism or ‘intelligent design’ into public schools.” Oh, no. Perish the thought. He just wants to bring into the classroom the arguments that creationists and ID supporters use to attack evolution.

6:13 – Garner: “Anything you don’t allow to be questioned is … religion. You don’t want to enshrine any scientific theory.” This is one of the creationists’ key arguments: evolution has become a religion for science. For Pete’s sake. No one has suggested that questions about evolution are not allowed. Scientists ask questions all the time. But we shouldn’t be teaching students conjecture. We should teach them evidence that answers the questions scientists ask. Opponents of evolution have yet to show such scientific evidence in their efforts to discredit evolution.

6:17 – Garner: “Strengths and weaknesses” should be fine for the standards if the only weaknesses discussed in classrooms are truly scientific weaknesses. Well, yes. But if the weaknesses evolution deniers have promoted were truly based on science, there would be no debate here. In fact, scientists themselves would be demanding that such weaknesses be taught.

6:21 – Garner: “The problem is, the conclusive evidence is really hard to get on evolution.”

6:27 – Garner says with a straight face: “I don’t endorse any pseudoscience at all. It must be scientific strengths and weaknesses.”

6:29 – David Hillis is up to bat. (McLeroy just reminded the board that Meyer will be brought back for questions because his presentation earlier was shortened to take Prof. Skoog’s testimony before he had to leave to catch his flight home. So the Discovery Institute will get the last word.)

6:31 – Hillis echoes comments from Skoog and Wetherington — respect your writing teams and approve the standards draft they have proposed after nearly a year of work.

6:32 – Hillis lays out the overwhelming volume of scientific research supporting evolution and points out that this mass of research has vastly expanded in recent decades. Much of this most recent research, he notes, has important applications for today, such as medicine and health care. Evolution explains, for example, why we need new flu vaccines each year.

6:39 – Another reminder, this time from Hillis, that creationists on the state board tried in 2003 to force publishers to include phony “weaknesses” in new biology textbooks. They didn’t have the votes to prevail at the time. They may well have enough votes in 2011, when the next generation of science textbooks are up for adoption in Texas.

6:40 – Hillis: “Evolution of the Species” was not the last argument in evolution. Why are we still debating 19th-century arguments about evolution? Research on evolution has vastly expanded just in recent decades, making those arguments outdated and a waste of classroom time.

6:43 – Hillis joins Wetherington’s attack on the argument that the “Cambrian explosion” supposedly offers a “weakness” of evolution.

6:45 – Too bad we can’t type faster. Hillis is kicking butt and taking names. One anti-evolution argument after another bites the dust in his presentation.

6:48 – Hillis: “Science doesn’t show that supernatural explanations are false. They are simply out of the realm of science.”

6:49 – Hillis: Phony “weaknesses” of evolution have no more place in science classrooms than alchemy or astrology.

6:51 – Questions for Hillis. It’s clear right away that Hillis isn’t going to suffer fools. Good for him.

6:53 – Hillis invites board members to talk to other scientists across the street at the University of Texas, one of the world’s great research institutions. Think they’ll take him up on it?

7:09 – Yes, we’re getting tired. Long day. But Meyer is waiting in the wings.

7:11 – Uh oh. Board member Gail Lowe is challenging Hillis on science. Here is Hillis’ bio. And here is Lowe’s.

7:14 – Now Dunbar is challenging him. Here’s her bio.

7:19 – Board member Barbara Cargill accuses Hillis of not speaking to the board with respect and humility. Pot, meet the kettle.

7:23 – The end to Hillis’ testimony brought some sparks. McLeroy demanded that Hillis stop speaking when he (Hillis) questioned the qualifications of the Discovery Institute’s co-founder and the other two creationists on the review panel.

7:26 – Meyer is back at the podium. Now we get a long creationist monologue from him and from board member Terri Leo. Meyer expresses indignation that Hillis and Wetherington had the audacity to point out the lack of qualifications of Meyer and other creationists on the panel. Meyer accuses them of relying on the “argument of authority.” This is gonna get deep — and there’s no opportunity for rebuttal.

7:28 – Meyer: We may be outnumbered, but there are lots of qualified scientists who agree with us. Oh, please.

7:29 – Wow. Meyer — who acknowledged earlier that he is not a biologist — is calling one of Hillis’ points a “half-baked idea.” Hillis is one of the world’s most respected biologists in his field. This is truly appalling.

7:31 – Meyer is demonstrating how nonscientists can master pseudoscientific propaganda. It’s fascinating to watch. This is what he wanted: the chance to appear as a science “expert” before an elected body.

7:34 – Board member Pat Hardy asks: How old do you think the earth is? Meyer: I think it’s 4.6 billion years old. He’s learned. When asked at the Kansas evolution “show trial,” he refused to be specific. In fact, he was so vague that his answer would have pleased either young earth creationists or supporters of evolution.

7:38: Meyer: We can’t allow someone on an issue like this to decide what’s credible and what isn’t. Really??? Isn’t that how peer-reviewed science journals work? Or should we just allow any crackpot idea from the Discovery Institute to be taught (even if they can’t provide a shred of credible scientific evidence to back it up)?

7:41 – Chairman Don McLeroy and other creationists on the board are falling all over themselves to ask Meyer’s opinion on biological questions that Meyer essentially admitted earlier today that he’s not really qualified to answer.

7:44 – McLeroy is now rambling on about the brain and other complex parts of the anatomy that are “designed.” This is classic “intelligent design” pseudoscientific nonsense.

7:47 – McLeroy (a dentist) wants to know about the evolution of teeth. He asks: isn’t the fact that they fit together so perfectly a weakness of evolution? We assume he means that they must have been intelligently designed.

7:51 – McLeroy, in his previous comment, referred to some recent research he read on teeth and evolution. Our friends at the National Center for Science Education just passed on to us a Web site that appears to be the source of that “research” – a creationist Web site. You can see it here.

7:56 – Looks like a reader beat us to the punch on McLeroy’s research source!

The hearing has just concluded. Thanks for reading!