Live Blogging the TX Science Hearing III

by TFN

Note: Audio from the state board hearing is available here.

4:53 – Lots of conversations among board members between and during the testimony. We haven’t said much yet about the vote coming tomorrow and Friday. Essentially, we’re where we were in January — it will be very close. Chairman McLeroy and other board creationists have been circulating a list of amendments to the standards, nearly all targeting evolution. And they are certain to try again to force “strengths and weaknesses” back into the standards. We also expect efforts by pro-science board members to try to strip out anti-evolution amendments (particularly those challenging the concept of common descent) added in January.

5:18 – Board members are now being allowed to invite specific individuals to testify. It will be interesting to see who board members bring up.

5:25 – Board member Rick Agosto has invited Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education to speak. That’s encouraging. Genie makes it clear what’s at stake. Putting “strengths and weaknesses” back in the standards will give evolution opponents ammunition to demand pseudoscience in the 2011 biology textbooks. Other states will likely rebel against such nonsense. Says Genie: You will have a Texas edition with junk science in it, and the rest of the country will have a different textbook with real science.

5:31 – Dave Welch of the Texas Pastor Council is now speaking. It’s unclear which board member invited him. Welch wants students to be taught challenges to evolution: “Sound science and academic demand full disclosure of this in order to make a sound decision.” Welch accuses opponents of “strengths and weaknesses” of censorship and claims there are scientifically valid “weaknesses” of evolution.

FYI: In February, WorldNetDaily published a piece from Welch headlined “Making a monkey out of Christians.” Money quote:

I assert that any so-called Christian and most emphatically any member of Christian clergy who embraces the deception of Darwinian evolution is no more a Christian than the chimpanzees from which he or she claims to have evolved.

5:38 – Another testifier (we missed the name) suggests that “fervent dogmatists” who support the science of evolution are “religious fundamentalists” themselves. (Update: We think this is a gentleman named Don Patton.)

5:45 – Patton says the fossil record is really just a bunch of clams: “Clams, clams and more clams.” His point, apparently, is that evolution is supported mostly by the fossil record and that the fossil record is insufficient.

5:50 – Prof. Gerald Skoog of Texas Tech is up. Prof. Skoog, who served as an “expert reviewer” of the curriculum standards, presents a letter supporting sound science (and opposing “strengths and weaknesses”) from the National Academy of Sciences.

5:54 – Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Free Market Foundation Focus on the Family Texas is up. He points to a letter from legislators supporting “strengths and weaknesses” and to polling showing that most American are skeptical of evolution

Well, yes. Most Americans are skeptical of a lot of things, but science isn’t decided by popular vote. Moreover, a lot of money has been poured into anti-evolution propaganda. Are we surprised by its effects on public opinion?

5:58 – Sasser suggests that taking “strengths and weaknesses” out of the standards is tantamount to totalitarianism and would put schools at legal risk for barring teachers and students from questioning evolution. This is rubbish.

6:07 – The Dallas Morning News has posted an editorial in tomorrow’s newspaper. Money quote:

The fact is, evolution is not subject to scientific questioning, as McLeroy suggests. If there are ways to present alternative views in a religion class – or, better yet, church – fine. But science class in a public school isn’t that place.

Even many people of faith accept the theory of evolution. Daniel Foster, a professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and an elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, exemplified this on yesterday’s Viewpoints page, urging the board to reject amendments that question evolution.

“No” votes to the anti-evolution parts of the standards are doubly important because what happens in Texas doesn’t stay here. Because the state has so many students, textbook publishers write to Texas standards and then sell their books to districts around the nation.

Doubting evolution shouldn’t be Texas’ legacy. More importantly, our students should not be subject to an erroneous line of teaching.

6:10 – The National Center for Science Education has posted a letter signed by 54 scientific and educational societies opposed to dumbing down instruction on evolution.

6:17 – Good heavens. Some evolution opponents have no problem at all distorting what others have written. The dishonesty is appalling. We just heard someone point to a New Scientist article about Darwin’s tree of life as evidence that evolution has weaknesses. Yet this is what New Scientist has to say in an editorial:

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that “New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong”. Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not.

Nor will the new work do anything to diminish the standing of Darwin himself. When it came to gravitation and the laws of motion, Isaac Newton didn’t see the whole picture either, but he remains one of science’s giants. In the same way, Darwin’s ideas will prove influential for decades to come.

6:47 – We told you earlier that dueling press conferences (for and against dumbing down instruction in evolution) were interrupted by observers, as happened with this woman:

“My grandfather was not a monkey!” one woman shouted at a crowd before the meeting began.

You can read more about today’s science debate in an Associated Press story that just hit the wire.

6:48 – Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science is up. He is taking the board to the woodshed for refusing to hear from science experts when considering amendments to the standards in January.

6:51 – Testimony has just ended. The board will begin debate on the standards tomorrow, likely around mid-morning. TFN Insider will be live-blogging the debate and keeping you updated on events here.