Debate over evolution instruction in public schools centers on Texas

Should students in public schools be taught science by examining arguments showing the strengths and weaknesses in evolution, or should they be taught only the materialistic or naturalistic strengths of evolution?

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

The SBOE’s proposal of retaining the current standards for teaching the pros and cons of theories, including evolution, is up for review.

Ironically, this places those who doubt Darwin wanting more content taught on evolution, while the Darwinist camp wants to censor all talk of weaknesses in evolutionary theory.

SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy said 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, adopted in 1998, state that the student is 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 that he and others are proposing to keep the current standard in all science textbooks, especially biology, as it is in other sciences such as chemistry and astronomy. However, others including Darwinists and many members of the mainstream media are fighting to change the standards to deny any criticism of evolution, he said.

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. Although this proposed change is not new, one recently formed group, the 21st Century Science Coalition, held a press conference on 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 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.”

Saying that teaching creationism in the public school would actually interfere with the religious education of parents to their children, Quinn stated that instead, “our public schools are preparing kids to succeed in college and jobs in the future, giving a 21st-century science education.”

McLeroy, a dentist and an admitted creationist, has said he is not pushing for the teaching of intelligent design or 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. Nevertheless, some evolution-only groups, such as the Texas Citizens for Science, have 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 of supernaturalism is contrary to science.

“Scientists will be the first to tell you that science does not have the answer to everything. 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,” Quinn said. “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,” Quinn challenged.

McLeroy 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 if those theories are valid. Such critical thinking would be stymied if only one side of the argument was presented.

He also cited an Oct. 22 column in the Houston Chronicle by Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science. In the column, which argued against “anti-evolution teaching,” Leshner said: “They (intelligent design advocates) say that students need to hear about the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, which of course is true.”

McLeroy said that even in Leshner’s argument in favor of teaching evolution only, he admits that there are weaknesses in evolutionary theory and that they should be taught.

As one group put it, “Teach more evolution, not less strengths and weaknesses–and let the fittest theories survive,” (Texans for Better Science Education, online at strengthsandweaknesses.org).

That website also quotes Charles Darwin, who wrote, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” (from “The Origin of Species”).

McLeroy has served on the state board since 1998 and was appointed as chairman in July 2007. Over the years, he has led the charge against the errors in Texas textbooks which 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 and earned her master’s degree with honors in educational administration from Texas A&M-Commerce, and graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Dakota. In her letter to the Chronicle, she ridiculed the argument by Darwinists that “students are smart enough to study the strengths of evolutionary theory, but not smart enough to understand the weaknesses.”

McLeroy said another potential battle coming up in the SBOE meetings is the definition of science itself.

“The National Academy of Sciences in its recent booklet ‘Science, Evolution and Creationism, 2008,’ defines science as ‘the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process,'” McLeroy said.

Even though he disagrees with conclusions from the Academy, such as that “creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science,” he agrees with its definition of science.

“This definition should be acceptable to both sides of this (evolution’s weaknesses) argument.”

McLeroy reiterated: “That’s what the battle is over. We are not asking for intelligent design or creationism to be taught. We want the state standards to be kept at the present standard. And currently, the TEKS do not define what science is and I would like to use the definition of the National Academy of Sciences definition.”

So far, the mainstream media has mostly characterized this battle as a struggle to force creationism or intelligent design into the public schools, but in reality it is a matter of selecting textbooks that would educate the students of strengths and weaknesses of all types of theories so that they can come up with an informed answer, McLeroy insisted.

Another battle is expected this month when the selection of science textbooks begins. Evolution proponents like Texas Citizens for Science have lambasted half of the six-member science standard review panel not on their credentials, but because three of the six have supported intelligent design.

The SBOE is scheduled to meet Nov. 20-21 in Austin (for more information visit tea.state.tx.us).

Supporting the evolutionary-strength only camp are Gerald Skoog, professor and dean emeritus of the College of Education at Texas Tech and co-director of the Center for Integration of Science Education and Research; Ronald K. Wetherington, professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University and director of the Center for Teaching excellence; and David Hillis, professor of integrative biology and director of the Center of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at the University of Texas at Austin.

Supporting the view that evolution has weaknesses are Stephen Meyer, who has a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science, and is vice president and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture; Ralph Seelke, a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, with a Ph.D. in microbiology, and a professor at University of Wisconsin-Superior; and Charles Garner, a graduate of the University of Colorado with a Ph.D. in chemistry who served as a staff scientist for Procter & Gamble Miami Valley Laboratories and who is currently at Baylor University.

Associate Director of News and Information
Tim McKeown
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
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