Evolution and Texas
Evolution and TexasEditorial - New York Times - 12/4/2007Is Texas about to become the next state to undermine the teaching of evolution? That is the scary implication of the abrupt ousting of Christine Comer, the state’s top expert on science education. Her transgression: forwarding an e-mail message about a talk by a distinguished professor who debunks “intelligent design” and creationism as legitimate alternatives to evolution in the science curriculum.
In most states, we hope, the state department of education would take the lead in ensuring that students receive a sound scientific education. But it was the Texas Education Agency that pushed out Ms. Comer after 27 years as a science teacher and 9 years as the agency’s director of science.
As Ralph Blumenthal reported in The Times yesterday, Ms. Comer forwarded to a local online community an e-mail message from a pro-evolution group announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. Professor Forrest testified as an expert witness in a 2005 Dover, Pa., case that found intelligent design supernatural and theological and definitely not part of a scientific education.
An hour later, Ms. Comer was called in by superiors, pressured to send out a retraction and ultimately forced to resign. Her departure was instigated by a new deputy commissioner who had served as an adviser to George Bush when he was governor of Texas and more recently worked in the federal Department of Education.
It was especially disturbing that the agency accused Ms. Comer — by forwarding the e-mail message — of taking a position on “a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.” Surely the agency should not remain neutral on the central struggle between science and religion in the public schools. It should take a stand in favor of evolution as a central theory in modern biology. Texas’s own education standards require the teaching of evolution.
Those standards are scheduled to be reviewed next year. Ms. Comer’s dismissal and comments in favor of intelligent design by the chairman of the state board of education do not augur well for that review. We can only hope that adherents of a sound science education can save Texas from a retreat into the darker ages.