Nazis, Evolution and Freedom! Oh, My!

Is it possible for the radicals who control the Texas State Board of Education at least to try making an honest argument for dumbing down the state’s public school science curriculum? It sure looks doubtful.

Yesterday, board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, trotted out once again the all-too-familiar, tired and insulting talking points creationists are using to attack those who support teaching schoolchildren sound science on evolution. In an opinion piece published online by the far-right Web site Texas Insider, Mercer argues that teaching so-called “weaknesses” of evolution is simply a matter of “academic freedom.” He viciously compares opponents of that argument to slave traders and Nazis who refused to tolerate other points of view.

Did the scientists under Adolph [sic] Hitler allow questions or peer reviews of their belief that a superior race had evolved?   Did professors who found weaknesses in the Nazi theories receive research grants, funding, and foundation awards?

History is not kind to Darwinian evolutionists who push their theory as truth; no weaknesses and no questions allowed.  In this 21st Century, scientific research that opposes academic freedom will never pass any “smell test.”

Yet evolution deniers like Mercer have failed every test of credibility. Mainstream scientists long ago debunked the “weaknesses” (such as “gaps in the fossil record”) commonly promoted by evolution deniers.  Teaching students pseudoscience, no matter how much it’s believed by creationists like Mercer, isn’t academic freedom. It’s academic fraud.

Mercer takes specific aim at the Texas Freedom Network’s support for teaching 21st-century science in public schools.

TFN’s real agenda may be illustrated in this consistent, three-fold testimony to the SBOE: (1) Evolution is a fact; (2) there are no weaknesses to that theory; and (3) students are “unqualified” to ask questions.

He then goes on to make a distinction between “microevolution” (“small changes that are clearly visible,” such as new strains of flu) and “macroevolution,” which he describes as the contention that species “jump” from one to the other.

(H)ave you ever seen a dog-cat, or a cat-rat?  The most famous example of macroevolution is the Darwinian “man from an ancestral primate.”

Well, let’s take these one at a time.

Yes, evolution is fact. It is supported by overwhelming mainstream, peer-reviewed scientific research and evidence. Evolution deniers cannot point to a single shred of scientific evidence — certainly not in a peer-reviewed journal — debunking evolution.

Yes, there are no scientific “weaknesses” to the theory, certainly none promoted by creationists like Mercer. Mainstream scientists have repeatedly shown those fabricated attacks to be either outright nonsense or scientifically trivial points that do nothing to undermine the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution. In short, those so-called “weaknesses” are little more than ideological arguments purposely designed to mislead people (especially students) who are not trained scientists.

No, TFN has not argued that students are unqualified to ask questions. Questions are an important part of learning. On the other hand, high school students with only a basic understanding of science are unqualified to challenge established, mainstream scientific concepts supported by more than a century of research from respected, trained and knowledgeable scientists. It would be like a high school mathematics freshman challenging the Pythagorean theorem or a high school science student challenging the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

Trained scientists certainly should — and do — have the academic freedom to conduct research or challenge any concept they choose (if they can find evidence supporting their positions). Public schools, however, should be tasked with ensuring that their students learn basic, established, mainstream science, not pseudoscience.

Finally, evolution doesn’t suggest that species “jump” from one to the other as if by magic. It explains how small changes over enormous periods of time account for the diversity of life we see in the world around us. Many people of faith, including Roman Catholics and many mainline Protestants, see no conflict between accepting this science and their belief in God.

Mercer and other creationists on the state board, however, do see such a conflict. That’s why they are so determined to dumb down the public school science curriculum.

55 thoughts on “Nazis, Evolution and Freedom! Oh, My!

  1. Calling evolution a fact is dumbing down the curriculum. Evolution has changed too much over the years to be called a fact, unless of course, it is a fact now and wasn’t then. And if it changes again tomorrow, then do we revise what is or was today? From a theory of common descent of inherited characteristics to one also incorporating substantial horizontal transmission of genes and occasional transmission of acquired characteristics. You may claim that some simplified core isn’t changing, but then you have something that can be taught in minute and answered correctly by creationists who want a good grade, or who could be excused for that minute.

    Is the whole phylogeny part of evolution? That body of knowledge is a living evolving thing itself. Perhaps with the help of genomics many controveries and questions are coming into focus, but it is still being resolved as we speak. Evolution is a fact, only if “fact” means “theory”, or if you are flexibly spinning away inconsistencies in a way that would do a biblical ierrantist proud.

  2. The original post says,
    — “High school students with only a basic understanding of science are, however, unqualified to challenge established, mainstream scientific concepts supported by more than a century of research from respected, trained and knowledgeable scientists.”–

    That is a very good argument in favor of presenting students with challenges that other people have thought up instead of expecting the students to think up the challenges themselves. And as I have pointed out many times, some criticisms of evolution theory are so technically sophisticated that they should be taught only by qualified science teachers. A teacher must be able to do more than just lecture from a book — a teacher must be able to answer students’ questions as well.

    IMO teaching some pseudoscience is a good idea. For example, IMO the Second Law of Thermodynamics is not a valid criticism of evolution theory, but teaching the SLoT as a criticism of evolution theory is a worthwhile educational exercise for students. Students should not just be spoonfed flawless scientific ideas.

    I have suggested that the new Texas science standards use the word “criticisms” instead of “weaknesses” or “limitations.”

    –“It would be like a high school mathematics freshman challenging the Pythagorean theorem”–

    There are different proofs of the Pythagorean theorem, but one proof is very simple — just inscribe one square inside another and subtract the difference in the areas. Here it is, where C is the side length of the small square and the four triangles have sides of A and B —

    Area of large square – area of small square = area of triangles

    (A + B)² – C² = 4 [ (½)AB ]

    A² + 2AB + B² – C² = 2AB

    A² + B² = C²


  3. Gould was using “theory” in scientific parlance when he stated that evolution was a theory. But when he stated evolution was a “fact” he was using it in a minor vernacular sense as “something which does not go away. Then he weakens “fact” by stating that it is not absolute certainty. I agree that “facts” often have error bounds, for instance, when they stem from measurements. He was not using “fact” in the sense of “fact not theory”, he was comfortable with fact and theory.

    He doesn’t really progress the issue, he effectively dismisses it, by leaving it behind to address the specific issues repeated by creationists. Gould was more a part of the problem than the solution with his post-modern denial of objectivity, that actually gives creationists more ground to stand on. After all aren’t they are entitled to their own facts? Gould would often let his politics cloud his scientific judgement, as he did in the case of his deamonization of sociobiology.

  4. Some of the regular posters around here appear to be saying, “Hey, you know that overwhelming majority of qualified scientists around the globe who believe in the theory of evolution? They’re all wrong! And the fact that no evidence of ID has ever been published in a reputable scientific journal is a conspiracy! And the fact that the scientists who support ID also happen to be Christian is simply a coincidence!”

    From what I understand, being Christian requires faith. God CAN’T give us evidence of his existence, right? Isn’t that one of the retorts Christians give on a regular basis? In that case, there can never be evidence of his “creation.” That’s one of the many reasons why it’s not science and it never will be.

    I happen to believe that religious faith is the greatest hurdle to progress that mankind has ever faced. It infects everything from civil rights to medicine. The battle over ID is a pretty good indicator, too. How many resources have been wasted on this battle in the past few decades? How much money? How many legal resources? Why aren’t Christians out doing things that will truly benefit mankind? Go volunteer in a soup kitchen. Spend some time teaching somebody how to read. Give blood. There are enough Christians out there that the blood banks should never have to market themselves or ask for donations. But they have to BEG for donations on a regular basis. That is appalling.

    The fact is this: People who support the teaching of evolution in schools are doing more to give Christian children a good education than their parents are. That is also appalling. It disgusts me. Your grandchildren will look back on your legacy with a mixture of astonishment and pity.

  5. Ben, Science is not about majorities, overwelming or otherwise. Religious faith is the ubiquitous norm, and even when traditional religions are abandoned, it is a human characteristic to glom on to some other creed like environmentalism or marxism or nationalism.

    “This coalitional psychology is involved in the dynamics of public religious commitment. When people proclaim their adherence to a particular faith, they subscribe to claims for which there is no evidence, and that would be taken as obviously wrong or ridiculous in other religious groups. This signals a willingness to embrace the group’s particular norm for no other reason than that it is, precisely, the group’s norm.”

    State employees are leading children in pledging their allegiance to a flag and republic, the Texas A&M atmospheric science department has pledged allegiance to the IPCC climate report:

    Note that it is undated, and everyone of them signed on.

    Evolution has a lot of explaining to do, irrational beliefs, music, altruitic sacrifice:

    An an enthusiast with a thirst for knowledge, I am full of anticipation. Some parts of our evolution may never be fully explained, they may be dismissed as spandrels, somehow I suspect that this tendency to religious belief and coalitions will be in our genes, and have been a significant contributer to human fitness over most of our tribal and familial evolution, however destructive it is when exploited by mass society. In this time of gene sequencing, game theory and artificial life simulations, evolutionary theory is proving more productive than ever. Enjoy!

  6. “Science is not about majorities, overwelming or otherwise.”

    Of course not. But science is about evidence, and when the overwhelming majority of evidence (in this case, unanimity of evidence) is on one side of the debate, that should tell us something. And when deciding which research and evidence is credible, you don’t ask someone without the skills and knowledge to judge. You ask peers in the field who should know. Otherwise, every opinion and conclusion is equal, regardless of the quality or validity of research and evidence behind that opinion or conclusion. That’s not science, but it’s how the Discovery Institute and its creationist supporters want science to work.

  7. TFN, When I ask peers in the field, I don’t ask just for their opinions, but for the basis of the opinions. If they can’t explain anything short of string theory, so that I can understand it, then they probably don’t understand it themselves. I don’t enjoy the science for the opinions, but for the science, for the framework of knowledge and theory that hangs together and makes sense. The outliers that don’t fit demand further attention and must be pursued until they do fit, or the theorectical framework must be changed to accomodate them. That said, evolutionary theory hangs together beautifully. We have yet to find anything living which isn’t evidence for it, shared and related genes all speak to common anscestry, the fossil record is rife with transitional, related and extinct forms. Such a small percentage of life is ever fossilized that it is no suprise that there are gaps in the fossil record. But that is not problematic, it is expected under the laws of thermodyamics, the past is not completely recoverable, information has been lost.

    What inquiring mind would not want to learn about evolution? That said, it isn’t very useful except to a small percentage of researchers, programmers and minds who want to understand the world around them. Biochemistry is more valuable to everyday decision making, from nutrition, drugs, medicine to industrial and materials engineering. Those who want to include evolution within or exclude it from the science curriculum are fighting a religious battle on both sides. But excluding evolution from the biology curriculum doesn’t eliminate it. One can hardly learn the phylogeny, without noticing that foxes and coyotes are more closely related to dogs and wolves than they are to porpoises or crickets. Isn’t it curious that the term “related” is so natural, it was probably used even before the time of Darwin. Since genes are shared, it should come as no suprise the biochemistry is also shared, much of want we learn about human metabolism comes from the study of animals. It is pretty clear that what differentiates humans from other animals is not novel metabolism.

    The issue is really about school choice and vouchers. Those who want the weaknesses language eliminated, believe in a mass society collective state that has a right to run the lives of individuals. Their coalition is the state. Those who want to retain the weaknesses language, value the individual who under the priesthool of the believer has a personal relationship with his God, they have a coalition too, the “body” of Christ. They band together to preserve their shared beliefs in that personal relationship. Since the state has imposed requirements which question their beliefs by requiring evolution in biology and biology in the curriculum, and since the state has made escape more difficult by restricting school choice and vouchers and reducing local control, they have reacted by taking control of the considerable resources at the disposal of the public school system that was being used to oppress them with their own tax money.

    Seldom has something so central to our understanding of the world, yet so unimportant to our everyday lives within it become the focus of two such powerful forces. This is the culture war. Curiously, right is on the side of those who are wrong about evolution, they want freedom, the evolutionists (not all of us) want to oppress. I guess you can’t be right all the time.

    Why are professional evolutionists so wedded to opposing school choice and vouchers? The issues seem unrelated. It is because they have formed a coalition with the teachers unions based upon a shared dependency on the state for their livelyhoods. Progressive idealogues recognize statists allies when they see them so they weigh in as well. There is obviously a strong strain of fanaticism in the nature of modern humans, I wonder if we will ever know if homo neaderthalis and home erectus shared these qualities or if fanatacism is a distinctive innovation of home sapiens (man the wise?). Hopefully we will find out if we find a well enough preserved DNA to sequence, combined with better understanding of those genes.

  8. TFN

    As a science teacher, I have been watching this SBOE trying to destroy science. Now let’s suppose it passes (hopefully not), what would be next? Lawsuit by the ACLU??? I hope so.

  9. africangenesis…

    A fact is an observable event. Evolution is a fact. Organisms do change over time. The theory is natural selection.

  10. The fight over science standards is preliminary to the adoption of new science textbooks for Texas in 2011. Creationists on the state board want the cover of “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards when they attack any new textbook in 2011 that doesn’t raise challenges to evolution.

  11. jdg said (December 13, 2008 at 10:03 pm ) —
    –Now let’s suppose it passes (hopefully not), what would be next? Lawsuit by the ACLU??? I hope so.–

    The ACLU’s victory in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case was largely due to factors which are not likely to be repeated, e.g.: (1) the school board’s selection of a book in which “intelligent design” and “intelligent design proponent” were substituted for “creationism” and “creationist” respectively and (2) a biased judge who showed extreme prejudice against ID and the defendants — regardless of whether or not ID is a religious concept — by saying in a Dickinson College commencement speech that his Dover decision was based on his cockamamie notion that the Founders based the establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not “true” religions — he said,

    “. . . .this much is very clear. The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry. At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state.”
    — from

    Incredibly, I have often been accused of misinterpreting Judge Jones’ above plain, simple, unambiguous statement.

    jdg said (December 13, 2008 at 10:05 pm) —

    A fact is an observable event. Evolution is a fact. Organisms do change over time. The theory is natural selection.–

    But macroevolution has never been observed in action. And even if organisms change over time, there is no known explanation for big changes over time. And natural selection does not completely explain co-evolution. In the co-evolution of obligate mutualism (i.e., total co-dependence between two different kinds of organisms, e.g., bees and flowering plants), unlike adaptation to widespread fixed physical features of environment, i.e., air, land in its different forms, and water in its different forms, there may be nothing to adapt to because the corresponding co-dependent trait in the other organism is likely to be locally absent. Other problems of co-evolution are discussed on my blog in the post-label group of articles titled “Non-ID criticisms of evolution” —

    TFN said (December 14, 2008 at 12:40 am) —
    –Creationists on the state board want the cover of “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards when they attack any new textbook in 2011 that doesn’t raise challenges to evolution.–

    Merely omitting the “weaknesses” language — or related terms like “limitations” or “criticisms” — would not prevent the adoption of textbooks that raise challenges to evolution. Only a state standard prohibiting those things would positively prevent the adoption of textbooks that raise challenges to evolution, and the state board of education almost certainly will not adopt such a standard.

  12. I could say: “Virtually every scientist in the world agrees on the speed of light.”

    And you could say: “Ben, science is not about majorities.”

    You have not made a point.

  13. africangenesis: Evolution is both a fact and a theory. If one understands the definition of evolution (which is the change in the frequency of gene types within a population over time), then this fact is beyond dispute, just at the earth going around the sun is beyond dispute. The theory of evolution is the network of ideas which explains how this occurs.

  14. Paul,

    The earth goes around the barycentre of the solar system, so does the sun. By your definition of evolution, it didn’t exist until genes were understood, and the frequency changes in populations had been tallied. Actually, I’m sure you have particular populations in mind where the changes in gene frequencies have been observed, can you share them? Once we have those, an inference is probably required to generalize that to all life.

    Ben, My point was that when you wrote of “overwelming majority”, you had not made a valid point, which I think is very similar to having “not made a point”. I assume you meant the speed of light in a vacuum. Even that is hypothesized to change over time in some theories.

  15. TFN,

    If this anti-science law/rule passes, isn’t against the state law that a teacher must not misinform students about the factuality of concepts? If you tell a student that there are not enough fossils/ no intermediate fossils when we know there are more than enough isn’t that misinforming students? Which is against the law?? Can’t a teacher be fired for misinforming if the scientific community has overwhelmingly stated that evolution is a fact??

  16. I’m not saying that the majority of scientists believing in evolution is evidence that it is true. I’m saying that if we want to know what to teach in science classrooms, we should go with the overwhelming consensus among scientists. You say that isn’t a valid point. You are wrong.

    Me: The overwhelming majority of dentists say you should brush your teeth.
    You: Dental health is not about majorities.

    Me: The overwhelming majority of mathematicians say 1 + 1 = 2.
    You: Mathematics is not about majorities.

    Me: The overwhelming majority of doctors say you shouldn’t pour acid into your eyes.
    You: Health care is not about majorities.

    It is very plain that you are a creationist trying to appear to be a “reasonable” evolutionist. Have some respect for your religion and quit being deceptive.

  17. jdg, There isn’t some new anti-science rule. The “strength and weaknesses” language has been there for years. There are never enough fossils, except perhaps certain species which are oversampled at places like the La Brea tar pits and very little information about the soft tissue is preserved in the fossil record. The gaps in the fossil record don’t really matter. The ID folks don’t really want ID taught in the schools, unlike evolution, there is too much evidence against ID, there is a lot of really dumb design out there which calls the IQ of any hypothesized designer into question. It is just like the idea of teaching the Bible in public school, they wouldn’t want it subjected to textual analysis, speculation about authorship, etc. It is a shame really, how can one really be considered literate in western culture without some familiarity with the Bible. Can you believe that “Catcher in the Rye” is required reading, and Ecclesiates isn’t allowed? The children of atheists are being forced to learn about the bible in bathrooms or on the streets.

    The state shouldn’t be involved in education, instead of state employees leading children in the as self serving pledge of allegiance, an independently educated electorate should be serving as another check on state power. The Soviet Union got the state involved in setting science standards, and the errors sometimes were really big, like Lysenkoism. State controlled education gets abused to shove ideologies down peoples throats, like political correctness and environmentalism and Anthropgenic Global Warming.

  18. Ben, I think there is an extreme of fundamentalism that descends to the level of the ends justifying the means. You would think that during the course of manufacturing puffed up affiliations, that one would question whether one is really doing something consistent one’s religion. The arguing we do here over the words “fact” and “theory” have fundamentalist characteristics. If you have to compromise the usual or scientifically appropriate definitions to make your case, you are also compromising your intellectual honesty. I can honestly say, that I have always thought of evolution as a theory, and have thought of facts as more akin to observations and measurements, often with error ranges on them. The extremists here who insist that evolution is an “undeniable fact”, risk conceding the unfalsifiability point to the creationists.

  19. africangenesis is a “concern troll.” The definition, from Wikipedia: A concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the user’s sockpuppet claims to hold. The concern troll posts in web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group’s actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed “concerns”. The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group.

  20. Ben, Consider how sinking to personal attacks impact your credibility, especially since you can’t cite any evidence to back up your name calling. I think I’ve made it clear I don’t share TFN’s goals. And if their values can accomodate descent to promulgating and mischaracterizing biased surveys and spinning meanings of words when they are inconvenient, then I don’t share their values. If showing there is a different more rational perspective sows fear, uncertainty and doubt, then shouldn’t that fear uncertainty and doubt exist?

    If you have thought I shared TFN’s goals, perhaps you thought TFN shared my enthusiasm for science and evolution in particular and my commitment to rational, intellectually honest, civil discourse. I don’t assume TFN is a monolith, I commend their lack of censorship in this forum, but I suspect like any organization, they want to survive, and that probably depends on pleasing their constituencies, and that may mean they can’t concede certain points because it will offend one of their constituencies. For instance, I suspect they cannot take the lead in abandoning their commitment to central control, because that would offend the teachers unions. But perhaps their constituency will read this blog, and come to realize that the compromise all sides should consider is freedom, school choice and vouchers.

  21. Anyone else reading this, you can see that africangenesis meets the very definition of a concern troll. Calling him a concern troll is no more of a personal attack than if someone called me an evolutionist. I AM an evolutionist. I guarantee you that africangenesis has no belief in evolution at all. He is a creationist to the core. He should be honest about that, rather than being deceptive. If you follow those video links I posted above, you’ll see the typical creationist MO.

  22. Ben, You obviously haven’t read much of this forum. You should accumulate some facts and apply the definition of “concern troll” carefully and honestly to them. There is no contradiction is having evolution central to my world view, and my lack of fear of or concern about “weaknesses” language, and my lack of support for centralized control of education. Perhaps you think that anyone who accepts evolution must share your politics and must want to use the state to push evolution upon others. You have sunk to namecalling and inuendo.

  23. I do have to agree with africangenesis on the Concern Troll thing. I think he’s just a good old fashioned troll who deliberately misinterprets everything he reads that contradicts his own opinion, ignores any and all evidence, and repeats his same tired arguments over and over with increasingly puffed-up language to try to make them sound important.

  24. The SBOE needs some serious rework as to its membership, as the joke goes.. you just can’t fix stupid!

    africangenesis the troll, your statement ” The children of atheists are being forced to learn about the bible in bathrooms or on the streets.” Hahaha, actually my family (as atheists) have several bibles in the our house – King James, Mormon, a copy of The X-rated Bible and open discussions are encouraged. We use butterfly nets to catch invisible things for further examination. More to the point, your overall view is announced loudly within this simple depiction. When is the last time you saw children huddled over a bible in the bathroom? hahaha, that was rather funny and at least you gave me chuckle! Remember your motto contained in the Wedge Document!

    Thanks TFN! I for one truely appreciate all that you do.

  25. Would each of you please consider devoting a day or two at and to Texas SBOE hearings. It will be instructive and be conducive to fasting. Bernie Kaye, Frisco, Texas

  26. – – Please, heed the request of BernieAttorney. Far too many intelligent, educated, articulate Freethinkers / Atheists / Humanists spend time and effort expressing thoughts, opinions and elucubrations. Among ourselves, that is, in writing and verbally.
    – – Far too few of us put our faces and our bodies where our mouths (and pens) are. We must make ourselves seen and heard by American society at large if we hope to really make our points. We are a far-too-silent minority. This can be fatal in a country that has come to believe that democracy means “majority rules, minority be damned”; these SBOE members are proof of that mindset. Efforts were made in 1787 to give us “a republic, if (we) can keep it” — a republic is a “thing of the people”, ALL the people, including minorities. We must reclaim, then preserve, our place in the marketplace of ideas.
    – – I hope to see many of you in Austin on 21 January.

  27. The problem with Meyer and Seelke is that they are proponents of Intelligent Design (cdesign proponentsists) movement. When the Dover Trial went against them, then they changed their tune to “strenghts and weakenesses”. Their reputation proceeds them. They are and will be creationists.

  28. Reed,

    Misinterpret? Yes, I nitpick and present alternative interpretations, usually in response to expressions of absolute certitude or simplicity, or pontificating judgements, or populist appeals. Phrases like “every”, “overwelming”, “obvious”, “miseducation”, etc. Such inerrant feeling can result in the hubris to presume to run the lives of others. Hopefully, seeing that even your exemplars of simplicity and certitude are not, will be instructive, and foster humility. If someone else can see exactly the same fact pattern and defensibly reach different conclusions, you should question your assumptions, or values, … or theirs. This certitude, this hubris should perhaps give you some pause and empathy for the fundamentalist creationists, they feel the same way. You are both fighting for the apparatus of controlling the lives of others and are certain that you are right. Use your conceptual ability to see the other side, and to see the dangers of inerrancy, not just in others but upon reflection, in yourself.

  29. africangenesis said (December 13, 2008 at 8:28 pm) —
    –Why are professional evolutionists so wedded to opposing school choice and vouchers? The issues seem unrelated. It is because they have formed a coalition with the teachers unions based upon a shared dependency on the state for their livelyhoods. —

    Of course the public-school teachers are going to oppose vouchers because vouchers promote private schools where teachers often get lower pay and fringe benefits than they get in the public schools. As I said before, IMO vouchers are not needed but what is needed is the elimination of state standards for education, except perhaps for required numbers of courses in different subjects (there are some things that I don’t like about vouchers but I need not go into that here). Decentralizing public education would help prevent ideological factions from taking control of it. For example, the proposed Texas science standards are full of philosophies of science, which don’t belong in state science standards. The recently adopted Florida science standards have the absurd statement that “evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology” and create confusion by redefining “scientific theories” as being “well-supported” and “widely accepted” by definition. State science standards for evolution education in Kansas and Ohio have see-sawed because of politics — in fact, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius tried to take over the powers of the elected state board of education because she didn’t like the board’s policies on evolution education — see

    Textbook authors are — or should be — experts in their fields and should not need to be told how to write textbooks. Unfortunately, I think that there is not much interest in abolishing state standards for education — all 50 states except Iowa have their own science standards.

    Norvegicus said,
    — The SBOE needs some serious rework as to its membership, as the joke goes. —

    Well, the board’s two known supporters of the “weaknesses” language who were seriously challenged in the last election managed to keep their seats — see said,
    –Far too few of us put our faces where are mouths (and pens) are. We must make ourselves seen and heard by American society at large to make our points. . . . . I hope to see many of you in Austin on 21 January. —

    The oral hearings were not intended to be public demonstrations — the oral hearings were intended to present the school board with thoughts and ideas that would be helpful in deciding the final form of the state science standards. In the November oral hearing, the school board members probably just got tired of hearing the same arguments over and over again, which is probably why board chairman Don McLeroy decided to limit the January oral hearing to four hours.

    As I said, my main suggestion for the Texas science standards is that the word “criticisms” be used in place of “weaknesses” or “limitations.”

  30. Perhaps if a parallel course, teaching the weaknesses of the concept (call it a theory) that there is an omnipitent being guiding the formation of the Universe and peoples’ lives, were proposed the School Board might desist from trying to ram through their ideas of questioning a theory of another sort.

  31. Where did this notion come from that allowing vouchers would suddenly eliminate the need creationists have for including Creationism, ID or “strengths and weaknesses” in the biology curriculum? Perhaps I’m naive because I see these as two different issues, if they are indeed connected then it’s the duty of the proponents of this concept to clarify their position so it can be addressed on its merits and not hidden by a Trojan horse. This voucher non-sense is about Republican notions that competition is good and business is better in every facet of government.

    There are plenty of private and religiously affiliated schools in Texas where they teach biblical lessons and creationists are free to send their children to them if that’s what they want. I however don’t have any desire to pay for them to receive religious indoctrination. My child attends a public school and gets her religious training at home and at catechism classes run by the church. Parents should teach their children religion on their own time and send them to appropriate religious education programs and not attempt to inject one particular religious interpretation into everyone else’s classrooms.

    As to the idea that competition will improve public schools, I went to Catholic primary and secondary schools and my parents paid the bill as much because the public schools were felt to be inferior as anything else. In Louisiana where I group up there are plenty of parochial and private schools and to this day I have seen no improvement in the quality of education provided by the public schools. Since many people including my parents sacrificed mightily to send their kids to “better” parochial schools you’d think that would have been plenty of incentive for public schools to improve but it didn’t matter one bit. I don’t see how vouchers would change the equation in a positive way. In fact I think it would make things worse as there would be no incentive for the parents to complain and organize or participate in the political process since those that were dissatisfied would simply take the vouchers and move their children, thereby eliminating dissent.

    On the topic of teaching religiously acceptable science classes, in my Catholic school biology classes the instructors felt no need to trump up charges that evolution was wrong in order to support the priest teaching my religion class. We were not taught that evolution was inconsistent with belief in God. In fact I came away with the view that evolution, tectonics and the possibility of intelligent beings on other worlds were all consistent with God’s creation, of course Catholics don’t teach that the bible is literally true word for word and certainly not the old testament.

    As to the proposal of eliminating state standards of education, that seems to me throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If anything we actually need national standards to make sure our children can compete in the world of today and tomorrow. Without state wide standards if I move across town I will likely find that my child won’t be learning the same kind of material at her new school as some classes may be teaching in fifth grade what she learned in fourth or vice versa. Folks we have to see education as an investment in our national competitiveness not a political weapon for any agenda other than giving our children the opportunity to be successful in an increasingly global and technologically complex world.

  32. Let’s analyze just one paragraph of Mr. Mercer’s diatribe shall we:

    “The controversial ‘macro’ evolution was commonly understood as those major changes that could occur if one species jumped to another. For example, have you ever seen a dog-cat, or a cat-rat? The most famous example of macroevolution is the Darwinian ‘man from an ancestral primate’.”

    Mr. Mercer calls “macro” evolution controversial, to whom is it controversial, why bible literalists of course. In the same breath he shows his ignorance claiming it is “commonly understood as those major changes that could occur if one species jumped to another” because if that’s what it meant it would be controversial. Now if he had said that a gene jumps from one species to another, via a virus, causing a mutation that if it improves the receiving organisms chances of survival it will be passed on to its offspring, he’d have described one of the possible mechanisms for “macro” evolution. But of course Mr. Mercer can’t get his facts straight probably because his high school science classes didn’t properly prepare him for life in the 21st century.

    In his next sentence Mr. Mercer goes on to suggest that evolution as Darwin described it would naturally lead to such things as a “dog-cat, or a cat-rat”, when in fact nothing of the sort is said in Darwin’s work nor in any biology textbook I’ve ever studied. I think Mr. Mercer has been reading H. G. Wells The Island of Doctor Moreau as though it were a candidate for a high school biology class rather than the English literature class.

    Finally, Mr. Mercer conflates human evolution with cross-breeding which may indeed have taken place but not as he suggests across lines as varied as cats and dogs but more like between dogs and wolves or coyotes.

    Perhaps if Mr. Mercer had gotten the quality of education he seems to think he did he would understand the concepts more clearly and not feel the need to drag our children’s quality of education back to what it was when he went to school.

  33. JC Dufrense, The notion of vouchers is not just about school competition, but it is about diversity and choice. And yes it does benefit your children because it does eliminate the need for creationists to have creatiion in the biology course in YOUR school. You presumably would choose a different school. Schools won’t be as much of the battleground as they become when they must be all things to all subcultures. They are political compromises. You don’t need to worry about every child going to the “best” school, because it is clear that the parents won’t agree on which schools are the “best”. You don’t want to pay for the children of others to receive religious indoctrination. It is only natural for mammalian parents to prefer to invest in their own children and to resent investing in unrelated children. Most voucher proposals only cover a fraction of the tuition at the private or parochial schools, so perhaps it can ease your mind to think of the vouchers only covering the non-religious training portion. Vouchers will improve the public schools for your children because they will provide a relief valve for those disatisfied with and pressuring public education to something they want that you don’t. The public schools will be able to become more secular and less of a watered down compromise, and while fewer public school teachers will be needed, the funds available per pupil remaining in the public schools will increase, as the vouchers cost less than the usual per pupil allocation.

    The fundamentalist christians are more assimulated into mainstream culture than the Amish or the Native American subcultures. Since their tax dollars are being taken, they naturally feel some entitlement to the resources being applied to public education. Perhaps familarity breeds contempt, because for some reason their subculture is not viewed as quaint like the Amish, or honored as noble like that of the Native Americans. But like these others, the fundamentalists are all descended from a long line of survivors who successfully passed their genes on to the next generation, and are demonstrating superior fitness even today with higher numbers of children per couple surviving to reproductive age. I think our society can accomodate a partially assimilated subculture much easier with school choice and vouchers.

  34. africangenesis reveals his motivations with “The children of atheists are being forced to learn about the bible in bathrooms or on the streets.”

    There you have it. africangenesis wants to make sure everyone elses’ kids are indoctrinated into his flavor of faith using the public schools to carry the message.

    If africangenesis is so concerned about other people’s kids learning about the saving power of Christ, then he would work through his own church’s outreach program instead of trying to get public school teachers to do his dirty work. Keep in mind that some folks like africangenesis define “atheist” as “anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the same way I do,” and that the Discovery Institute labels theistic evolutionists as worse than atheists.

  35. JC Dufresne said (December 16, 2008 at 2:54 pm ) —
    — Parents should teach their children religion on their own time and send them to appropriate religious education programs and not attempt to inject one particular religious interpretation into everyone else’s classrooms. —

    But there are criticisms of evolution that are not “religious interpretations.” And some criticisms of evolution are so technically sophisticated that they should be taught only by qualified science teachers.

    — If anything we actually need national standards to make sure our children can compete in the world of today and tomorrow. Without state wide standards if I move across town I will likely find that my child won’t be learning the same kind of material at her new school as some classes may be teaching in fifth grade what she learned in fourth or vice versa.–

    That is what we have now if you move to another state, because there are 49 different sets of state science standards. I too was once in favor of national standards for education, but after seeing all of the dogma and propaganda in state science standards, I decided that we would be better off with neither national nor state science standards.

  36. Cheryl S,

    Your logic and inferences are flawed. I think the Bible is as central to western culture and the origins of humantarianism as evolution or biochemistry is to biology. Even the parts which are not great literature are frequently referred to in art, media and literature. I admit I am a fan of eclessiastes and the Pauline letters. Perhaps the reason those guys seem so ahead of their time, is they were so influential on our time. The reason I can’t long stomach the atheist/ ‘free thinker”/ “humanitarian” groups I have tried is their frothing hostility to Christianity and their penetration by marxists/progressives, and their distinctly unhumanitarian attitudes. What could be more human than religious belief? Belief is the norm, we are the exceptions. I left the hostility to religion behind with adolescence, although I admit it bubbled up a bit with 9/11 and the indescriminate Iraqi insurgency. I don’t self identify as an atheist in order to distinguish myself from such ahteist group types, besides, depending on someone else’s definition of “god”, I might be an agnostic or believer. I believe in the Sun for instance, although I think my belief is evidence based. If someone’s god is physically possible, I might be agnostic. For instance if yours is a finite, limited creator who initiated the big bang and is rushing in our direction from some “edge” of the universe at sub-light speeds and wants a personal relationship with me, I am agnostic, although just a bit skeptical. I don’t see any point in beginning to worship just yet, but if he will be arriving in a couple billion years, I do hope I am there to greet him/her/it. I just don’t have a definition of God I feel strongly enough about to self identify as an “atheist”. If you have some need to pidgeonhole me, please share your definition of “god”, and I will be a believer, agnostic or atheist in it just for you, but I warn you, even if I find myself a believer in your god, I am not the kneeling type.

  37. africangenesis, you stated “I think the Bible is as central to western culture and the origins of humantarianism as evolution or biochemistry is to biology.”

    So you want to make sure all kids are exposed to the Bible for cultural purposes, not for religious ones.

    How is that accomplished by teaching fake weaknesses of one particular scientific theory?

  38. Cheryl S,

    Hopefully I have not presumed to advocate making sure “all kids” are exposed to anything. That would be presumptuous of even the government and the SBOE. I’ll offer my opinion that I think such an important part of western culture as the bible shouldn’t be off limits, and that biblical literacy should be offered as an english literature option. Hopefully, students taking biology courses should be able to recognize fake weaknesses and address them, but I don’t think biology should be a required course. School choice and vouchers are a way to respect parental values and subcultures, so that we never again repeat such travesties as the Indian schools or their local neighborhood equivilent.

  39. AG, you’ve made it abundantly clear in the past few months that you favor vouchers. While I’m sure many visitors here don’t agree with you, it appears that none of them want to debate the topic with you. Can we just say that your opinion is duly noted and move on?

  40. africangenesis, you are the one who stated that ““The children of atheists are being forced to learn about the bible in bathrooms or on the streets.” Your statement implies that these children should learn about the Bible in public school whether their parents want them to or not. It’s reminiscent of Kansas anti-evolution activist Celtie Johnson from the summer of 2006 – “However, if we don’t win . . . . This effectively ABANDONS all students–world-wide–who have godless parents.” – in the push to re-elect/elect more anti-evolution candidates to the state school board.

    You also noted, just before that, “Can you believe that “Catcher in the Rye” is required reading, and Ecclesiates isn’t allowed?” In the first place, what public school won’t allow a student to read Ecclesiastes quietly at his seat after his other work is finished? Keep in mind that “not required” isn’t the same as “not allowed.” You know that Ecclesiastes emphasizes the importance of timing – to everything there is a season. The season for religious instruction is not from 8 am – 3 pm in the public schools. The Bible is not “off limits” to kids at school.

  41. Ben, Perhaps the reason others don’t want to debate vouchers with me, is because this organization is called they texas FREEDOM network! What do you think “FREEDOM” means if not vouchers and school choice? Now if they are quiet, it may be that taking an official position would alienate teachers union supporters. Why should they want to go out of existance, over an issue unrelated to their actual mission?

    Cherly S, My bathroom statement was tongue in cheek (I can’t believe I am having to say that). I don’t want the bible or biology taught in public schools except as an elective. I hated any required reading when I was in school, reading is too personal an effort to be forced upon anyone.

  42. Ben, I often wish I had proofread my posts better, right after I post them. We are informal and tolerant of typos and vernacular here. You might want to focus on the substance rather than personal attacks.

  43. No, it was just a helpful tip. If you’re going to be giving opinions on the educational system, you’ll come off better if you avoid typos, grammatical errors, etc. I try to avoid them myself, but there are always slip-ups. Good luck.