Debate in Texas centers on evolution's 'weaknesses'

AUSTIN, Texas (BP)--Should students in public schools be taught science by examining the strengths and weaknesses in evolution, or should they be taught only the materialistic/naturalistic strengths of evolution?

That question is creating a firestorm of controversy at the Texas State Board of Education and drawing attention as the nation watches to see what Texas does.

The board held a hearing on the issue Nov. 19; a second SBOE hearing and an initial vote are slated for January.

The SBOE has been moving to retain the teaching of pros and cons of scientific theories such as evolution as part of its 10-year review of the state's science standards, which have been in place since 1998.

SBOE chairman Don McLeroy, prior to the hearing, had noted that contrary to allegations, the state board is not seeking to introduce religion into the science classrooms, nor is it requiring supernatural explanations in the textbooks.

"We are responsible for adopting TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which are the minimum expectations that students need to know," McLeroy said. "We are not asking for Intelligent Design or creationism to be taught in public schools. We are saying, Let's keep the 'strengths and weaknesses' clause in the TEKS."

The current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements state that students are expected to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

McLeroy said Darwinists and other opponents of the TEKS requirements are aiming to deny any criticism of evolution.

Those groups argue that there are no weaknesses in evolution and that students should learn evolutionary theories without question in order for them to be prepared for the 21st century. One recently formed group, the 21st Century Science Coalition, held a news conference Sept. 30 in Austin to state categorically that the weaknesses in evolution simply "do not exist."

Dan Quinn, communications director of another evolution-only group, the Texas Freedom Network, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal that the "weaknesses of evolution" have been debunked.

"One scientist after another has shown repeatedly that [arguments showing weaknesses in evolution] are bogus," Quinn said. "These phony weaknesses being promoted are not sound weaknesses."

Nearly 90 people signed up to testify at the Nov. 19 hearing, which stretched into the evening. Most opposed the continuation of the strengths-and-weaknesses requirement. The turnout was "ginned up by the evolution side," McLeroy commented to a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during a break. McLeroy took issue with media reports and critics' claims that the SBOE is trying to undercut the teaching of evolution. "I'm a creationist," he said, "but I'm not going to put creationism in the schools."

Paul Kramer, a Dallas-area engineer, among the few favoring the strengths-and-weaknesses rule at the hearing, said free speech is at issue.

"One can only wonder if we crush free speech and debate in our public classrooms now, where will it end?" he asked, citing a parallel with Nazi Germany, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Kramer presented the board with a document signed by 700 scientists titled, "A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism," from the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

The head of the 60,000-member National Science Teachers Association, Francis Eberle, told the board, "Only one model -- the theory of evolution -- is widely accepted, and any other model should not be used in the science classroom." Eberle said students "are easily impressed and are not often able to comprehend the complexity of adult arguments."

Part of the controversy includes the pro-evolution tactic of likening Intelligent Design to creationism. ID acknowledges evidence that the universe bears the marks of design. Creationism is a religious viewpoint that teaches that God created the heavens and earth, often meaning a belief in a six-day biblical creation. The two ideas are different by definition, with some ID proponents not holding to biblical creationism or even monotheism. Texas Citizens for Science, however, has attempted to label ID proponents as "Intelligent Design Creationists." An Associated Press story this fall also used ID and creationism interchangeably.

The Darwinist groups are convinced that teaching about alleged weaknesses in evolution is a "back door" entrance for supernatural explanations in science and that teaching supernaturalism is contrary to science.

"Scientists will be the first to tell you that science does not have the answer to everything," said Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network. "But it is a leap to say that finding new areas of research represents weaknesses to the theory of evolution, because evolution is one of the most strongly supported scientific concepts. If they want to show Intelligent Design is truly science, they should do what thousands of scientists have been doing for hundreds of years, by showing the proof."

McLeroy has said such statements only add to his desire to put both the pros and cons of evolution into the textbooks for students, allowing high school students to think critically about generally held theories of science and question whether those theories are valid.

Darwin himself, proponents of the current science requirements note, once said, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

McLeroy has served on the state board since 1998 and was appointed chairman in July 2007. Over the years, he has led the charge against the errors in Texas textbooks that have repeatedly appeared in support of evolution, even though those errors have been debunked in at least one case for more than 100 years.

A case in point is the Haeckel's embryos diagram that purportedly showed that all embryos show the same evolutionary history. The problem is that Ernst Haeckel was exposed in the late 1800s as a fraud.

Fellow SBOE member Terri Leo, quoted in the Houston Chronicle in 2003, said that the "SBOE received volumes of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that documents textbook problems relating to origin of life research, embryology, the Cambrian Explosion, the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution and peppered moth research." Leo, who has served on the board since 2003, is a teacher who earned her master's degree with honors in educational administration from Texas A&M-Commerce.


Adapted from reporting by Tim McKeown, a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.

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