Since the table of chemical elements is not featured in the Bible, it’s only fair that Moses and Abraham are kept out of science textbooks. That is the argument science teachers are wielding against efforts to introduce intelligent design curriculum in public schools ”and what better place to argue about it than in Texas.
More than 800 members of the 21st Century Science Coalition, including some 400 science professors from Texas universities, signed a petition in early October “to encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to ‘strengths and weaknesses'” of evolution from the Texas Board of Education’s teaching standards.
Because Texas is a major buyer of school textbooks, observers say the outcome of the debate could influence public school science curriculums nationwide.
Currently, the Texas Board of Education’s standards hold 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.” While scientists say such language encourages creationists to push for the introduction of intelligent design ideas into public school science material, their opponents say the scientists are in error.
One key opponent is Texas Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who said he is “getting sick and tired of people saying we’re interjecting religion.” According to McLeroy, Texas students need to understand “what science is and what its limitations are. I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses.”
But, according to Dan Quinn of the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network which monitors the religious right, teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution has become “code” for pushing religion-based ideas into schools.
And plenty of science professors are on board with Quinn. In a recent Associated Press article, University of Texas Professor of Integrative Biology David Hillis said that “Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education.” Hillis is one of some 400 Texas professors who signed the petition to change the state board language ”something the board is expected to vote on next spring.
In the meantime, several board members remain in favor of keeping the language intact. “Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven,” David Bradley, vice chairman of the board, was quoted in The Houston Chronicle this summer. “Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions.”
Supporting the creationists’ argument is the Discovery Institute, which has said that the “strengths and weaknesses” language is not a new effort to push intelligent designs into schools. The think tank points out that the language was adopted by the Texas Board of Education more than a decade ago, long before the 2005 Dover case that barred intelligent design from being taught in Pennsylvania’s Middle District public schools.
But the scientists aren’t buying that argument. In the petition, they wrote that “evolution is an easily observable phenomenon that has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt…” and that “all students are best served when matters of faith are left to families and houses of worship.”
Still, some professors who support the petition don’t see a conflict between their religious and scientific views. “When I read the Bible, I do not hear a how, I hear a why,” Joel Brant, assistant professor of biology at McMurry University who signed the initiative told Abilene Online. “And when I look at my science textbooks, I don’t see a why, I see a how.”