AUSTIN (KXAN) – The drama over the potential inclusion of creationism or intelligent design in Texas biology curriculum is over for now as a coalition of six Democrats and two Republicans defeated an amendment that would have maintained discussion of evolution’s “weaknesses.”
The Texas vote on evolution was in the crosshairs of both state and national media this week because textbook publishers cater to Texas because of its high-volume purchases. If Texas chose to make significant changes to the science standards, other states would likely be forced to follow suit. The standards, once approved on final reading in March, will stand for 10 years.
Member Cynthia Dunbar (R-Richmond) made the motion for the controversial amendment, which was to re-incorporate the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” into the discussion of evolution in state biology curriculum. That’s the way the standard has been for at least 10 years now — with no real problems — but liberal lobbying groups such as the Texas Freedom Network fought against the inclusion of the language, saying it had become a code phrase used by groups such as the Discovery Institute to open the door to a discussion of intelligent design or creationism in the classroom.
Dunbar vehemently denied the issue of “strengths and weaknesses” had anything to do with religion. Instead, Dunbar said stripping the language would stifle academic freedom and force teachers to tell their students they could not discuss all sides to evolution in the classroom. She also said current standards had never faced a significant court challenge and were, therefore, safer.
Conservative groups have lobbied heavily against the change. During testimony yesterday, parent Angela Weissgarber accused those who wanted to strip the language of stifling free speech.
“Censoring our students ability to ask questions or participate in critical analysis in the theory of evolution smacks of ideologies that are not American,” Weissgarber said.
Bob Craig, who voted down Dunbar’s motion, said he was perfectly comfortable deleting the language, since other language supported evaluating all theories with scientific evidence. Craig said he didn’t want the science curriculum to be a repeat of last year’s English-language arts vote, in which SBOE members chose to overrule the wishes of the state’s English teachers on grammar.
Dunbar’s amendment failed initially, 7-7, as Rene Nunez (D-El Paso) was absent from the meeting at the time of the vote. Later, Nunez returned and cast a “no” vote, 7-8.
Those who joined Dunbar included Terri Leo (R-Spring), science teacher Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas), Don McLeroy (R-Bryan), David Bradley (R-Beaumont) and Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio).
While his colleagues carefully refrained from the use of the “R” word – religion — Mercer made passionate statements about the ability of Christians to understand evolution but support other theories. He noted persecution against Christians who failed to toe the evolution line.
That group of seven conservatives was enough for Dunbar to win her vote, as long as she picked up an additional Republican or Democrat. However, two moderate Republicans — Pat Hardy (R-Weatherford) and Geraldine “Tincy” Miller (R-Dallas) — sided with the Democrats on the vote against the strengths and weaknesses language. Rick Agosto, a Democrat out of San Antonio who is frequently the swing vote in favor of conservative motions, said he would have to represent the interests of his constituents and chose to vote with the anti-strengths and weaknesses bloc.
This is only the first of a number of votes on the science curriculum. Thursday’s meeting was the committee of the whole. Friday, the full board will pass language on first reading for the state’s science curriculum. In March, the full board will pass language on second, and final, reading.
By Roger Ebert
Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:
Q. When was the earth created?
A. Archbishop James Usher, working out a chronology from the Bible, calculated in 1654 that the earth was created on the night of October 23, 4004 B.C. Other timetables reach back as far as 10,000 years.
Q. What about oil and coal, which seem to have been generated from ancient forests millions of years ago?
A. They are evidence of a Great Flood about 4,400 years ago, which laid down all the layers of sediment at once. They are nowhere near as old as evolutionists and archeologists say. A fossil claimed to be 200 million years old, found in Nevada in 1917, shows a shoe print. [See photograph]
Q. What about bones representing such species as Cro-Magnon Man and Neanderthal Man?
A. Created at the same time as man. They did not survive. In fact, all surviving species and many others were created fully formed at the same time. At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.
Q. Were there ice ages lasting millions of years?
A. No, but a recent and catastrophic Ice Epoch.
Q. Did the Colorado River carve out the mile-deep Grand Canyon over eons?
A. It was the result of Ice Epochs, the Great Flood and other catastrophes within the last 64 to 100 centuries.
Q. Was there a Noah, and did he have an Ark?
A. Certainly. There are many unverified reports of a massive wooden vessel on Mount Ararat. The Arc contained eight people, from whom we are all descended. It also contained two of each kind of animal. Since living species were obviously not created through an evolutionary process, every surviving land-based mammal species (about 5,400) had both ancestors on the Arc.
Q: What about dinosaurs?
A. They walked the earth at the same time as man, but were wiped out by the Flood, whose turbulence buried their bones in non-sequential sediments.
Q. What did the creatures on the Ark eat?
A. Food on board, fish, and possibly trapped sea birds.
Q. How long did the Great Flood last?
A. We know that Noah was 600 years, two months and 17 days old when he sailed. Using that as a starting point and counting forward, Genesis tells us it lasted for 40, 150, 253, 314 or 370 days.
Q. Since the earth was completely covered, even to the highest mountains, where did the waters go?
A. This is explained in Psalm 104, verses 6 and 7: “Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.”
Q. What about such cosmic phenomena as the rings of Saturn?
A. Evidence of a catastrophic collision between Saturn and another object within the same 10,000-year span.
Q. Why would God create such an absurd creature as a moose?
A. In charity, we must observe that the moose probably does not seem absurd to itself.
The great Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin once wrote — or, rather, sighed — that “creationism is an American institution.”
As an institution, creationism has crossed social strata as easily as it crosses decades. Despite all that science and secularism can do to explain it away, the crusade against evolution — the foundation of modern biology — is as intransigent, and strangely modern in its anti-modernism, as ever. The actor-author-documentarian-presidential speechwriter Ben Stein, with his movie Expelled, has become only the latest in the long line of its media-savvy critics. Today, around half of all Americans prefer creationism, in some form, to the scientific consensus.
Few know this better than Lauri Lebo, author of The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America. When the trial over intelligent design theory in Dover, Pennsylvania, caught the attention of the world, Lebo was the lead local reporter covering the case. For her, the controversy was personal as well as professional; as the trial unfolded, she struggled to come to terms with the impending death of her Pentacostal father, desperate for assurance that he would see her in the creationist-only hereafter. In The Devil in Dover, Lebo combines the dramas of family and courtroom into an engrossing story, trading illusions of journalistic objectivity for hard-won personal truths.
As we noted last month, a number of states have been considering laws that, under the guise of “academic freedom,” single out evolution for special criticism. Most of themÂ haven’t made it out of the state legislatures, and one that did was promptly vetoed. But the last of these bills under consideration, the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), was enacted by the signature of Governor Bobby Jindal yesterday. The bill would allow local school boards to approve supplemental classroom materials specifically for the critique of scientific theories, allowing poorly-informed board members to stick their communities with Dover-sized legal fees.
The text of the LSEA suggests that it’s intended to foster critical thinking, calling on the state Board of Education to “assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories.” Unfortunately, it’s remarkably selective in its suggestion of topics that need critical thinking, as it cites scientific subjects “including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
Oddly, the last item on the list is not the subject of any scientific theory; the remainder are notable for being topics that are the focus of frequent political controversies rather than scientific ones.
The bill has been opposed by every scientific society that has voiced a position on it, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS CEO Alan Leshner warned that the bill would “unleash an assault against scientific integrity, leaving students confused about science and unprepared to excel in a modern workforce.”
Jindal, who was a biology major during his time at Brown University, even received a veto plea from his former genetics professor. “Without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, wouldn’t make sense,” Professor Arthur Landy wrote. “I hope he [Jindal] doesn’t do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana’s doctors.”
Despite a court-ordered ban on the teaching of creationism in US schools, about one in eight high-school biology teachers still teach it as valid science, a survey reveals. And, although almost all teachers also taught evolution, those with less training in science â€“ and especially evolutionary biology â€“ tend to devote less class time to Darwinian principles.
US courts have repeatedly decreed that creationism and intelligent design are religion, not science, and have no place in school science classrooms. But no matter what courts and school boards decree, it is up to teachers to put the curriculum into practice.
“Ultimately, they are the ones who carry it out,” says Michael Berkman, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.
But what teachers actually teach about evolution and creationism in their classrooms is a bit of a grey area, so Berkman and his colleagues decided to conduct the first-ever national survey on the subject.
The researchers polled a random sample of nearly 2000 high-school science teachers across the US in 2007. Of the 939 who responded, 2% said they did not cover evolution at all, with the majority spending between 3 and 10 classroom hours on the subject.
However, a quarter of the teachers also reported spending at least some time teaching about creationism or intelligent design. Of these, 48% â€“ about 12.5% of the total survey â€“ said they taught it as a “valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species”.
Science teaching experts say they are not surprised to find such a large number of science teachers advocating creationism.
“It seems a bit high, but I am not shocked by it,” says Linda Froschauer, past president of the National Science Teachers Association based in Arlington, Virginia. “We do know there’s a problem out there, and this gives more credibility to the issue.”
Droning funnyman Ben Stein monkeys around with evolution with the new documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they’re losing the “intelligent design” debate because of academic “prejudice.”
“Expelled” is a full-on, amply budgeted Michael Moore-styled mockery of evolution, a film that dresses creationist crackpottery in an “intelligent design” leisure suit and tries to make the fact that it’s not given credence in schools a matter of “academic freedom.”
Using loaded language and loaded imagery, Stein and Co. (Nathan Frankowski is the credited director) equate evolution with atheism, lay responsibility for the Holocaust at the feet of Charles Darwin, interview and creatively edit biologists and others (scientists “cast” for their eccentric appearance) to make them look foolish for insisting that science, not religion, can explain creation.
Stein and friends use animation (shades of “Bowling for Columbine”), amusing chunks of B-movies and even “The Wizard of Oz” and classic propaganda techniques to undercut 150 years of peer-tested research. Their goal? Create just a sliver of doubt about evolution. It’s a classic Big Tobacco/”Inconvenient Truth” denial tactic.
Aww, what a shame, it would be terrible if they’d go under, wouldn’t it?
DALLAS (AP) â€” A Texas museum that teaches creationism is counting on the auction of a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off extinction. The founder and curator of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, which rejects evolution and claims that man and dinosaurs coexisted, said it will close unless the Volkswagen-sized skull finds a generous bidder.
“If it sells, well, then we can come another day,” Joe Taylor said. “This is very important to our continuing.”
Heritage Auction Galleries says the skull is estimated to be 40,000 years old, and projects it will fetch upward of $160,000. The artifact discovered in La Grange in 2004 is believed to be the largest of its kind, Heritage spokesman David Herskowitz said.
The auction will be held Sunday in Dallas, with bids accepted on the Internet until Saturday night.
“We’re trying to reach out to someone who would buy it, then reach out to a museum in Texas,” Herskowitz said.
Taylor said he would love to keep the skull of the elephant-like mammal as the centerpiece of his tiny museum just outside Lubbock, which includes creationist exhibits.
Claims on the museum’s Web site include that Noah took dinosaurs aboard his ark. The prevailing scientific wisdom is that humans and dinosaurs missed each other by tens of millions of years.
Taylor said he’s been financially crippled by about $136,000 he’s been ordered to pay in a legal dispute over finder’s rights to an Allosaurus skeleton unearthed in Colorado. About $141,000 has also been put into the mastodon skull’s restoration, he said.
If the mastodon auction doesn’t cover the judgment, Taylor said local authorities will seize his 10-year-old museum and sell off its contents in February.
“We’ve struggled so long here just to keep this thing going,” Taylor said. “We’re kind of losing interest. You can just tread water for so long.”
This is sort of funny, since it’s truth coming from the Vatican, but at the same time ignoring it’s own stupidity. My favorite quote has to be:
“Knowledge is dangerous, but so is ignorance. That’s why science and religion need to talk to each other”
Science needs no help from religion, but religion needs a lot of help from science.
BELIEVING that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday.
Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a “destructive myth” had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.
He described creationism, whose supporters want it taught in schools alongside evolution, as a “kind of paganism” because it harked back to the days of “nature gods” who were responsible for natural events.
Brother Consolmagno argued that the Christian God was a supernatural one, a belief that had led the clergy in the past to become involved in science to seek natural reasons for phenomena such as thunder and lightning, which had been previously attributed to vengeful gods. “Knowledge is dangerous, but so is ignorance. That’s why science and religion need to talk to each other,” he said.
“Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism – it’s turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do.”