The Showdown over Science in Texas

After more than a year of work and often bitter debate, the State Board of Education is set this week to decide what the next generation of Texas students will learn in their public school science classrooms. Media outlets across the country (including the New York Times here and here, the Wall Street Journal today and even FOX News) have focused attention on the important battle over what the state’s new science curriculum standards should require schools to teach about evolution.

Beginning with the public hearing at noon on Wednesday, we will be live-blogging the debate for three days. So you will be able to keep up with the action here. A preliminary vote is scheduled for Thursday, with a final vote coming Friday. (We also encourage you to subscribe to TFN News Clips, a daily e-mail digest of news articles about the religious right and TFN issues.)

What students should learn about evolution isn’t really debated in much of the rest of the developed world. In Texas — and, in fact, much of the United States — it still is. And because the huge Texas market is so important to publishers, what this state requires students to learn is likely to be taught in textbooks used by students across the country.

The Texas Freedom Network has been working to stop censorship and defeat religious extremism on the State Board of Education since its founding in 1995. You can learn more about TFN and our work here. Defending science has been a big part of that work, and we expect that to continue regardless of the result of this week’s vote. After all, creationists on the state board have already made it clear that they will try to block the adoption of any new science textbook in 2011 that doesn’t dumb down instruction evolution. We will be ready. (You can still join our Stand Up for Science campaign here.)

Creationist pressure groups have had their foot soldiers writing and calling board members now for months. They have launched ugly verbal assaults on board members, even attacking their faith because they want Texas schoolchildren to get a 21st-century science education. Those pro-science board members deserve the thanks of all Texas parents who want public schools to prepare their kids to succeed in college and the jobs of the future, not turn their science classrooms into battlegrounds in the nation’s divisive culture wars.

Whatever the result of the votes this week, know that the Texas Freedom Network will continue to defend public education, religious freedom and civil liberties for all families. Those are neither liberal nor conservative values. They’re mainstream values shared by millions of Texans.

17 thoughts on “The Showdown over Science in Texas

  1. TFN,

    You state that “The Texas Freedom Network will continue to defend public education, religious freedom and civil liberties for all families. Those are neither liberal nor conservative values. They’re mainstream values shared by millions of Texans.”

    I’ve only been posting at TFN for a week or so. Here is what I have found out about TFN:

    1) TFN DOES NOT support teaching both recognized strengths and weaknesses of theories presented in our public classrooms.

    2) TFN believes there are no weaknesses with the theory of evolution.

    3) TFN believes that Texas school children should only be taught that there are no weaknesses with the theory of evolution.

    4) TFN has no opinions on any other scientific theory other than evolution.

    5) TFN is stuck on evolution, blindingly so.

    *********** TFN OPPOSES PUBLIC EDUCATION OF GOOD SCIENCE ***************

    6) TFN would rather attack anyone who believes in God than promote science.

    7) TFN believes that anyone who believes in God, especially creationists, can’t be good scientists.


    8) TFN’s arrogant and ignorant stance on strengths and weaknesses is damaging their credibility.

    9) TFN’s values are not any where close to mainstream, no matter what they think.

    10) TFN believes Terri Leo wins election after election with nearly 80% of the vote because it’s just a popularity contest. I guess Terri Leo is significantly more popular than TFN! Or, maybe they think that mainstream Texans don’t support the democratic process by exercising their right to vote.






    IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Well.

    I guess TFN and its supporters have been properly edified by “science”minded.

    No matter how much ScienceMinded’s weaknesses of argument have been refuted and corrected on other threads, SM continues the creationist tactic of “just keep repeating the nonsense, tirelessly, repeatedly and loudly.”

    *** “Strengths and weaknesses” has nothing to do with evolution, just good science. (Yeah, right…)
    *** The SBoE is not trying to inject religion into the science classroom. (Except for attempting to inject disingenous doubt in science — based on religious beliefs and pseudoscience.)
    *** TFN’s goal is anti-religious. (More accurate: TFN’s goals include blocking the imposition on all others of fundamentalist christian, right-wing religion.)
    *** TFN is not mainstream. (Apparently, SM thinks christian fundamentalists are.)

    We realize you aren’t going to become less religiously motivated or more science minded just because we point out the weaknesses in your thought processes, SM. But it’s OK to give it a rest. Science will progress outside of Texas even if your ilk should happen to win this round in Texas.

    Support actual science in Texas public schools. It’s the right thing to do — just not the right-wing thing.

  3. For you folks who have been here for weeks and those of you who just arrived, the above whinings are the last of some desperate person who has failed utterly in their public relations campaign on TFN. Hardly anyone who visited here bought into their argument about teaching the weaknesses of evolution—including Christians like me. Evolution is settled biological science. In the Clergy Letter Project, 11,000 American clergymen from well known protestant denominations such as the United Methodist Church have signed a statement saying that there is no fundamental conflict between evolution and faith—particularly the Christian faith. Many devout Christian scientists around the world undetstand that evolution is settled science. My physical anthropology professor, who taught me the principles of human evolution and the fossil record, was a a member of a Southern Baptist Convention church in a small Tennessee town. My geology professor, who taught me invertebrate paleontology and the great depths of geological time (billions of years), was a Sunday school teacher at his Christian church. The idea that evolution is some sort of belief system that is the sole estate of atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists is pure hogwash. Ask yourself a basic question folks. Do you seriously think that the many millions of scientists in the United States (your friends, neighbors, etc.) are all atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists? Does that make any sense? Are all carpenters drunks? It makes about as much sense.

    As has been said here on TFN at various times and in many ways, “weaknesses” in evolution are not the issue here. The ROOT issue is that religiously motivated members of the SBOE want to turn Texas science classrooms into kangaroo courts where religiously-motivated local school adminstrators and science teachers can stage a premeditated sham trial of a legitimate line of scientific inquiry (evolution) and have it burned at the stake before the 5th period bell rings. That is the fundamental fact at issue here. Basically, we are taking about turning the science classrooms of Texas into Salem Witch Trials. The people of Texas need to decide whether they want the science classrooms of Texas to be classes where real science is taught or whether they want those science classes to be default Sunday school lessons, which may very well be taught by a science teacher that has a very different understanding of the Bible and theology than the one you have at your church. If you allow this, you may very well wake up one morning and find that your children have been persuaded into a faith other than your own—right under your nose—as a captive audience in a science classroom—where you are unable to observe what is really happening because you are at work or running household errands. Please do not let this happen Texans. Please Please do not.

  4. There are no weaknesses of evolution. When will you get that into your thick, antiscience skull???

    We should make fun of the indoctrination of religion parents instill onto their kids. It dumbs them and handicapps them.

    You sir, are delusional.

    Try to learn some science before you speak

  5. Consider the source. ScienceMinded, self-identified engineer, has:

    1) Disparaged evolution as the “Holy Theory of Evolution,” along the lines of the old creationist claim that evolution is a religion
    2) Incorrectly defined what a scientific theory is
    3) Claimed that 90% of peer-reviewed scientific papers are “garbage,” without offering a single example
    4) Subscribed to the classic creationist canard that “micro evolution” is supportable but “macro evolution” is not
    5) Invoked philosophical relativism (how do we really know anything?) but only to support a creationist viewpoint*; of course science and engineering make no claims about God or anything outside the natural world, and would collapse if they were practiced under philosophical relativism instead of methodological naturalism

    *Now ask yourself, how can we know that life appeared on earth more than 2-billion years ago? If a God could create the universe, life, light, energy, and all the elements of the universe, don’t you suppose he could also establish the initial state of the universe? If this is true, then life could have appeared on earth like 100,000 years ago, or 10,000 years ago. That is, God could make the initial state of the system appear any way he pleased. We will just never know, unless someday we develop the ability to travel back through time.

  6. Thanks all for validating my points! I rest my case!!

    And just remember, all scientists in their right mind will support teaching both recognized strengths and weaknesses of all theories presented in public classrooms. Of course, that doesn’t include TFN and it’s supporters!

  7. Great post today by PZ Myers on his blog.

    Here’s a taste:

    The Texas Board of Education is led by Don McLeroy, a creationist dentist and plagiarist who believes that the earth is only 6000 years old.

    Just stop there and savor it. The man who wants to dictate what all of the children in one of the largest educational systems in the country should learn about science believes his pathetic and patently false superstition supersedes the evidence and the informed evaluation of virtually all the scientists in the world. There is no other way to put it than to point out that McLeroy is a blithering idiot who willingly puts his incompetence on display. His job is not at risk, and he’s even advancing his freakish agenda with some success.

  8. ScienceMinded, the problem with your “strengths and weaknesses” argument is that it’s disingenuous (or, to put in the vernacular, lying). A “weakness” in a scientific theory is an internal inconsistency or a basic tenet that is contradicted by reliable evidence. Creationism has those by the bucketful, especially “intelligent design” creationism. What evolution has are questions it can’t answer yet because we don’t have enough data or haven’t developed the ideas well enough.

    The principle difference between the two, however, is in the basic scientific attitude of “being willing to be wrong”. Science (including evolution) is willing to put itself out front and expose itself to contradiction and disproof. So far, creationism *can’t* expose itself to disproof because it isn’t really science – it’s just a way of trying to force nonbelievers to support religious education as an ‘in your face’ kind of payback for ensuring the secular nature of the public schools, plus putting evolution in a box so believers of weak faith don’t have anything stoking up their doubts.

  9. ScienceMinded’s hysterical ranting is evidence enough of what we’re up against. The people promoting creationism aren’t rationally evaluating evidence and seeking out the most scientifically supported answers. They’re promoting an ideological worldview, trying to foist their personal religious value-system onto other people’s children in the public schools.

    In other words, they aren’t science-minded at all. And this “strengths and weaknesses” canard is just a sham. What they’re really interested in is politics and religious values, not science. ScienceMinded says as much in his/her ignorant rant, where he/she attacks TFN because their values are supposedly “not anywhere close to mainstream”, or brags about Terry Leo winning 80% of the vote, as if that had anything at all to do with science.

    I hope that more sensible people will realize that it’s possible to believe in God while still accepting evolution, and that teaching evolution in school is about teaching good science, and not about religion.

  10. I hope no one minds if I repeat myself.

    The last time the courts, in the territory we now call the US, allowed spectral evidence at trial was in the 1690’s for the witch trials conducted in colonial Massachusetts. We now commonly call them the Salem Witch Trials. This was around the time that scientists were banishing all similar supernatural appeals from scientific work. The Enlightenment continued and the brilliant founders of our constitutional government also banned the supernatural from consideration in laws and governance by making the United States of America a constitutionally secular republic. Now, there are religious extremists that want to reverse all that by forcing their sectarian supernatural beliefs on America. Their “Wedge” of undermining evolution, which they believe is the soft under-belly of science, is just the starting point to subvert all of science with the allowance of spectral evidence once again. They want to subvert the Constitution to put themselves in power to have DOMINION over all of us, they want to RECONSTRUCT America in their perverted image. And they are getting plenty of help from people who don’t have a clue.

    I doubt that SM or La Fafa will admit to being complicit in this duplicitous drive to subvert public school education. However, their posts give me the strong suspicion they are part and parcel of the whole wretched enterprise. Otherwise, I don’t think anyone that can operate a computer can be dense enough not to realize what they are doing here.

  11. No. If he were some sort of celebrity, my best guess would be Bill Dembski because he tends to “run home to mom” (mathematics) when he gets stuck in a corner on some of his forays into science.

  12. Rocket Mike and All Here.

    I’ll repeat this post again just to follow up to Rocket Mike’s repreated post above. Think of the two posts as fraternal twins with some good information that could change your life for the better.

    I know what you mean. I have spent much of the past 20 years of my life studying good academic literature on the religious right and what I would now call Christian Neo-Fundamentalism in this country. I say that because the old 19th century Christian fundamentalism that was espoused by famous academic figures such as J. Gresham Machen at Princeton University was in many ways the Orthodox American Christianity of that time. It was supported and defended at that time by real academics with a good education. Many people across this country still think that that form of Christian fundamentalism is exactly the same type of fundamentalism that we have today and that it developed solely from old seeds planted ages ago in the American South. That is just plain not true. While the religion of the south has always leaned in a conservative direction, it really has a separate church history from that of the rest of the nation. The old, traditional, 19th century Christian fundamentalism, as a movement body, actually developed among fairly well educated people up north and settled in its early yaers in areas surrounding the Great Lakes states—and spread out from there.

    This Christian Neo-Fundamentalism that we have today has developed here in the United States just over the past 40 years or so. While it might have taken some ideological cues such as Biblical inerrantism from the traditional 19th century Christian fundamentalists, this new and highly mutated form is a very different animal. The many factors that have influenced its development are bizarre and frightening. You mentioned the new Dominion Theology and Christian Reconstructionism. I would bet my last dime that no more than one person in every 100 people that sit in the pews at a Christian fundamentalist church know what these terms mean, and chances are high that this one person is in a leadership position in the church—which leaves the members of the congregation in total darkness about the evil and frankly quite nonChristian forces that are subliminally shaping their beliefs and values. Because of what I know after 20 years of study, I am firmly convinced that Satan has taken control of these people and their churches without them having a single clue about it—which is the way the force of evil in this world has always operated. They just sit there in the pews like “dumb bunnies,” taking in all of the clap-trap and making it part of their lives—never knowing what it is and where it came from originally. And it has just enough half scripture thrown in with it to make the lying and evil other half look good. Their attitude is like this: “Well, Pastor Farkus did go to seminary for a lot of years. He seems to be such a good and kind man of the Lord. Surely, anything that he urges us to believe or do must be the right thing. Right?” My mother was like that, God rest her kind and departed soul. If a stranger just used the name “Jesus” a couple of times in the process, she could have been persuaded that a page torn from an astrology book was gospel truth.

    Frankly, while I still fight it whenever possible (like here), I do not hold out much hope for the reign of good sense and real Christian faith in this country (the real, kind, and loving red-letter faith in Jesus). The people in these churches have been sucked into the lies and distortions so deeply over the past 40 years that I am beginning to believe that there is little chance of them waking up and little chance for the future of our country. Out before us, I see our own version of 1861 headed our way—just like Skynet in the “Terminator” movies. I believe that this viral Christian-Neo-Fundamentalism may very well be leading us into a second American Civil War. I am talking about a shooting war with real bloodshed where deceived and fanatical Christian Neo-Fundamentalists on one side are pitted against opposing factions of mainline Christians and nonbelievers. It would be easy to think that such a conflagration could never occur here. The problem is that it already did 144 years ago, and what happened once can happen again. This little “evolution weaknesses” war in Texas is just a mild symptom of a much larger and more dangerous problem that is developing here in the United States. It has been said, and I think well so, “If fascism ever takes over in the United States, it will come draped in an American flag and carrying a cross.” We should all pray to Jesus that we will have enough good sense to step back from the abyss and never allow this happen. I hope religious conservatives at places like the Dallas Theological Seminary are listening and considering what might happen if these so-called Culture War fights continue? Is reaching for, attaining, and holding on to personal position, power, and glory within a church hierarchy really that important in the face of such potential tragedies. Where are the red-letter Christians these days and the simple, loving pastors of old who could spend a lifetime doing nothing else but caring for a small flock of parisioners and helping their fellowman—all at low pay? Where have all these pastors gone? Were they lured away by the wealth, power, and flashy lights of the Broadway religious show down at the megachurch. Who knows?

    Just for those who do not know about it and think that I might be nuts, here are three articles on Dominion Theology and Christian Reconstructionism, which is already influencing churches, pastors, and parachurch organizations around our country—-without church members knowing it.