Thursday, March 26, 2009

Texas School Board Set to Vote on Challenge to Evolution

Updated Thursday March 26 at 1:00PM - Texas State Board of Education votes to not critically challenge evolution in Texas schools and textbooks. See update below.
Young earth creationist Don McLeroy, recently reappointed as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) by Republican Governor Rick Perry, believes the earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old and that modern man and dinosaurs walk the earth together. McLeroy, a Bryon dentist who has no background in science or education, is convinced that evolution taught uncritically undermines the tenet of Christianity that people were created in the image of God.

The video explains the young earth creationist "intelligent design" principles that McLeroy is asking teachers to present to students in Texas schools.

McLeroy believes that the science disciplines of physics, geology, biology and the archaeological study of the fossil record, which all provide evidence the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that biological processes first appeared at least 3.9 billion years ago, must be critically argued by Texas teachers and the text books they use as unreliable.

McLeroy is asking teachers to engage Texas students in a "critical discussion" that the archaeological evidence of the fossil record does not support the idea of natural selection as an explanation of how organisms evolved on earth over millions of years. McLeroy wants teachers to lead students to the believe that cells and the DNA code controlling their function is so complex that intelligent design by a creator and not evolution is the only answer that can be accepted.

Update - CapitolAnnex is reporting:
A motion for the SBOE to reinstate language, advocated by McLeroy, into the education standard requiring Texas educators to have a "critical discussion" on the “strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories" with public school students failed on a 7-7 tied vote of the State Board of Education in Austin on Thursday March 26th.

In spite of the victory, rumors are already running rampant that social conservatives and young-earth creationist groups are looking to challenge the vote. According to a source within the Texas Education Agency, social conservative groups have already raised the idea of challenging today’s vote as violating the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Constitution because Mavis Knight (D-Dallas) cast her vote via teleconference from an Education Service Center in Richardson. Knight is recovering from heart surgery and could not travel to Austin.

While other state agencies and boards–including the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles–conduct their meetings using similar methods, right-wing anti-science advocates are expected to use Knight’s vote as a mechanism to challenge today’s vote.

The vote upholds a tentative vote taken by the board in January to discard the “strengths and weaknesses” language from the education standard. The near-party line vote saw seven ultraconservative Republicans voting for the motion and three more moderate Republicans and four Democrats against.

The SBOE's decision has a large impact across the U.S. given Texas' ability, because of its size, to influence what is printed in textbooks. If the Texas SBOE had voted to require Texas teachers to "critically discuss" evolution, then that “strengths and weaknesses of scientific theory discussion" would have been printed in textbooks used nationwide.

McLeroy's critics, who include many Texas scientists, accuse him of trying to undermine a multitude of scientific evidence that supports evolution and replace it with a discussion of one particular fundamentalist interpretation of religious doctrine in public schools.

The Christian Right has already moved the battle over teaching intelligent design to the floor of the Texas House and Senate with HB 4224. House Bill 4224 would override the SBOE vote just taken by requiring Texas educators to have a "critical discussion" on the “strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories" with public school students. If passed into law the bill would would allow schools to teach whatever they wish, not just on evolution vs. intelligent design, but on any scientific topic from geology to physics to how diseases are transmitted.

WSJ: Texas School Board Set to Vote on Challenge to Evolution
CNN: Education board leader set to challenge evolution
RawStory: Texas House Bill 2800 would allow creationists to grant Masters of Science degrees

Texas Freedom Network Stand Up For Science Initiative:
  • Send a letter to your State Board of Education member by clicking here.
  • Sign the Stand Up for Science petition here, if you have already signed forward the petition to your friends!
  • Read more about young earth creationists on the SBOE.
  • Read a TFN report on what Texas scientists think about the battle over evolution and creationism.
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