Skip to comments.Biology textbook hearings prompt science disputes [Texas]
Posted on 07/09/2003 12:08:32 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
FORT WORTH, Texas - (KRT) -
The long-running debate over the origins of mankind continues Wednesday before the Texas State Board of Education, and the result could change the way science is taught here and across the nation.
Local and out-of-state lobbying groups will try to convince the board that the next generation of biology books should contain new scientific evidence that reportedly pokes holes in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Many of those groups say that they are not pushing to place a divine creator back into science books, but to show that Darwin's theory is far from a perfect explanation of the origin of mankind.
"It has become a battle ground," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of theNational Center of Science Education, which is dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in the classroom.
Almost 45 scientists, educators and special interest groups from across the state will testify at the state's first public hearing this year on the next generation of textbooks for the courses of biology, family and career studies and English as a Second Language.
Approved textbooks will be available for classrooms for the 2004-05 school year. And because Texas is the second largest textbook buyer in the nation, the outcome could affect education nationwide.
The Texas Freedom Network and a handful of educators held a conference call last week to warn that conservative Christians and special interest organizations will try to twist textbook content to further their own views.
"We are seeing the wave of the future of religious right's attack on basic scientific principles," said Samantha Smoot, executive director of the network, an anti-censorship group and opponent of the radical right.
Those named by the network disagree with the claim, including the Discovery Institute and its Science and Culture Center of Seattle.
"Instead of wasting time looking at motivations, we wish people would look at the facts," said John West, associate director of the center.
"Our goal nationally is to encourage schools and educators to include more about evolution, including controversies about various parts of Darwinian theory that exists between even evolutionary scientists," West said. "We are a secular think tank."
The institute also is perhaps the nation's leading proponent of intelligent design - the idea that life is too complex to have occurred without the help of an unknown, intelligent being.
It pushed this view through grants to teachers and scientists, including Michael J. Behe, professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. The Institute receives millions of dollars from philanthropists and foundations dedicated to discrediting Darwin's theory.
The center sent the state board a 55-page report that graded 11 high school biology textbooks submitted for adoption. None earned a grade above a C minus. The report also includes four arguments it says show that evolutionary theory is not as solid as presented in biology textbooks.
Discovery Institute Fellow Raymond Bohlin, who also is executive director of Probe Ministries, based in Richardson, Texas, will deliver that message in person Wednesday before the State Board of Education. Bohlin has a doctorate degree in molecular cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas.
"If we can simply allow students to see that evolution is not an established fact, that leaves freedom for students to pursue other ideas," Bohlin said. "All I can do is continue to point these things out and hopefully get a group that hears and sees relevant data and insist on some changes."
The executive director of Texas Citizens for Science, Steven Schafersman, calls the institute's information "pseudoscience nonsense." Schafersman is an evolutionary scientist who, for more than two decades, taught biology, geology, paleontology and environmental science at a number of universities, including the University of Houston and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.
"It sounds plausible to people who are not scientifically informed," Schafersman said. "But they are fraudulently trying to deceive board members. They might succeed, but it will be over the public protests of scientists."
The last time Texas looked at biology books, in 1997, the State Board of Education considered replacing them all with new ones that did not mention evolution. The board voted down the proposal by a slim margin.
The state requires that evolution be in textbooks. But arguments against evolution have been successful over the last decade in other states. Alabama, New Mexico and Nebraska made changes that, to varying degrees, challenge the pre-eminence of evolution in the scientific curriculum.
In 1999, the Kansas Board of Education voted to wash the concepts of evolution from the state's science curricula. A new state board has since put evolution back in. Last year, the Cobb County school board in Georgia voted to include creationism in science classes.
Texas education requirements demand that textbooks include arguments for and against evolution, said Neal Frey, an analyst working with perhaps Texas' most famous textbook reviewers, Mel and Norma Gabler.
The Gablers, of Longview, have been reviewing Texas textbooks for almost four decades. They describe themselves as conservative Christians. Some of their priorities include making sure textbooks include scientific flaws in arguments for evolution.
"None of the texts truly conform to the state's requirements that the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories be presented to students," Frey said.
The Texas textbook proclamation of 2001, which is part of the standard for the state's curriculum, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, requires that biology textbooks instruct students so they may "analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weakness using scientific evidence and information."
The state board is empowered to reject books only for factual errors or for not meeting the state's curriculum requirements. If speakers convince the state board that their evidence is scientifically sound, members may see little choice but to demand its presence in schoolbooks.
Proposed books already have been reviewed and approved by Texas Tech University. After a public hearing Wednesday and another Sept. 10, the state board is scheduled to adopt the new textbooks in November.
Satisfying the state board is only half the battle for textbook publishers. Individual school districts choose which books to use and are reimbursed by the state unless they buy texts rejected by the state board.
Districts can opt not to use books with passages they find objectionable. So when speakers at the public hearings criticize what they perceived as flaws in various books - such as failing to portray the United States or Christianity in a positive light - many publishers listen.
New books will be distributed next summer.
State Board member Terri Leo said the Discovery Institute works with esteemed scientists and that their evidence should be heard.
"You cannot teach students how to think if you don't present both sides of a scientific issue," Leo said. "Wouldn't you think that the body that has the responsibility of what's in the classroom would look at all scientific arguments?"
State board member Bob Craig said he had heard of the Intelligent Design theory.
"I'm going in with an open mind about everybody's presentation," Craig said. "I need to hear their presentation before I make any decisions or comments.
State board member Mary Helen Berlanga said she wanted to hear from local scientists.
"If we are going to discuss scientific information in the textbooks, the discussion will have to remain scientific," Berlanga said. "I'd like to hear from some of our scientists in the field on the subject."
Interesting. I would assume that folks collecting data are working within a framework and guided by a hypothesis. I suspect that most researchers are guided by a rather narrow hypothesis and could certainly perform their duties without having an opinion about something as overarching as evolution.
But not having an opinion about the controlling paradigm of their profession would preclude them from noticing something new and exciting.
That's one kind of empiricist. The other works without hypothesis and is deservedly shunned by the first.
Again, I urge everyone to ignore the trolls. Let's have a thread that Jim Robinson will be proud of.
My very point. "Parts" are questioned. The whole is not. There is a "thought police" in academia that will not allow serious questioning of the whole due to fear of the only other suspected option.
Men have gone hundreds (or thousands) of years knowing things to be true only to find that they weren't when allowed to actually question them.
The Catholic Church of the Middle Ages exacted a significant price from people who dared to question their currently accepted beliefs. The liberal academic world is today's equivalent of the Middle Ages Catholic Church.
You, my friend, are a bishop!
I don't think the way (of creation) can be explained. I would say that a universe was created that has consistent natural laws, which we can study and approximate to varying degrees of precision.
Until then, a few kooks will continue to cause various amounts of public education funding to be flushed down the toilet rather than used for education.
In a secular (government run) school system, the Ten Commandments can have a very real place as part of a course teaching our cultural history. ID, however, belongs only in a catalog of misguided fringe movements.
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