The Texas Board of Education will vote this week on a new science curriculum designed to challenge the guiding principle of evolution, a step that could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation.
The proposed curriculum change would prompt teachers to raise doubts that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry. Texas is such a huge textbook market that many publishers write to the state's standards, then market those books nationwide.
"This is the most specific assault I've seen against evolution and modern science," said Steven Newton, a project director at the National Center for Science Education, which promotes teaching of evolution.
Texas school board chairman Don McLeroy also sees the curriculum as a landmark -- but a positive one.
Dr. McLeroy believes that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. If the new curriculum passes, he says he will insist that high-school biology textbooks point out specific aspects of the fossil record that, in his view, undermine the theory that all life on Earth is descended from primitive scraps of genetic material that first emerged in the primordial muck about 3.9 billion years ago.
He also wants the texts to make the case that individual cells are far too complex to have evolved by chance mutation and natural selection, an argument popular with those who believe an intelligent designer created the universe.
The textbooks will "have to say that there's a problem with evolution -- because there is," said Dr. McLeroy, a dentist. "We need to be honest with the kids."
The vast majority of scientists accept evolution as the best explanation for the diversity of life on earth.
Yes, they say, there are unanswered questions -- transitional fossils yet to be unearthed, biological processes still to be discovered. There is lively scientific debate about some aspects of evolution's winding, four-billion-year path. But when critics talk about exposing students to the "weaknesses" or "insufficiencies" in evolutionary theory, many mainstream scientists cringe.
The fossil record clearly supports evolution, they say, and students shouldn't be exposed to creationist critiques in the name of "critical thinking."
"We will be teaching nonsense in the science classroom," said David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Polls show many Americans are skeptical of or confused by evolution; in a recent survey by Gallup, 39% said they believe the theory, 25% said they didn't, and 36% had no opinion.
The Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that challenges evolution, cites a recent Zogby poll that found a strong majority of Americans supports letting teachers explore both "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. Otherwise, students see only "cherry-picked evidence that really amounts to propaganda," said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.
The Texas school board will vote after taking public testimony in a three-day meeting that starts Wednesday. Dr. McLeroy leads a group of seven social conservatives on the 15-member board. They are opposed by a bipartisan group of seven, often joined by an eighth board member considered a swing vote, that support teaching evolution without caveats.
Neither side is confident of victory. All members of the board have come under enormous pressure in recent months, especially three Republicans who support teaching evolution without references to "weaknesses." The state Republican Party passed a resolution urging the three to back Dr. McLeroy's preferred curriculum. A conservative activist group put out a news release suggesting all three were in the pocket of "militant Darwinists."
One of the three, former social-studies teacher Pat Hardy, said she has received thousands of impassioned calls and emails.
Ms. Hardy says she intends to stand firm for evolution, but she has learned not to predict what her colleagues might do. Curriculum standards critical of evolution won preliminary approval in January, but several board members said later that they hadn't understood the issues.
"Anything can happen," Ms. Hardy said.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Texas School Board Set to Vote on Challenge to Evolution
The creationists are at it again and of course it is happening in the South.