Evolution fight threatens Texas

Evolution fight threatens Texas
By The Editorial Board - Austin American-Statesman - Dec 23, 2007 - original
Is Texas destined to become the next Kansas, where bitter evolution politics produced three changes in the science curriculum standards in six years? At one point, religious conservatives forced the study of evolution out of Kansas public schools. Outrage, ridicule and state school board elections got evolution back into the curriculum, but the fight continues.

Texas can ill afford that kind of high-profile battle over established science. But there is a good chance it will happen here because Texas is now ground zero in the battle over teaching evolution in public school science classes.

Now is the time for Gov. Rick Perry to step up and halt the bloodletting before it does serious harm to the state’s reputation, economy and future.

Last month, the science curriculum director for the Texas Education Agency, Chris Comer, was ousted after she passed along an e-mail about a lecture criticizing intelligent design, the latest assault on evolution. It was an unmistakable signal of the clash looming for Education Commissioner Robert Scott, a Perry appointee.

This month, an institute that teaches — we should rightly say preaches — the biblical account of the creation is seeking state approval to offer master’s degrees in science education. The Bible-based Institute for Creation Research moved to Dallas last year from California and is seeking approval from the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Raymund Paredes, Texas’ higher education commissioner, said he is evaluating the report from the team that recommended approving the science course. He’s not happy with it and is actively gathering more information ahead of next month’s board meeting.

Paredes wants the head of the institute’s science program to reconcile the appropriate teaching of science with the institute’s mission to teach the creation account revealed in Genesis.

The solution, Paredes said, is to have the institute call the course what it is — creation studies — not science. There would be little objection to that, he said. All this is happening as teams from Scott’s Texas Education Agency prepare to update the science curriculum for public schools. That review begins next month, though a final decision on curriculum won’t be made by the State Board of Education until the summer or later.

That leaves a lot of time to fight over how to present evolution in science classes. Unfortunately for Texas, the chairman of the state board, Bryan dentist Don McLeroy, is a creationist who wants evolution challenged in science classes. Perry named him chairman of the board earlier this year.

Challenges to teaching evolution themselves have evolved. Intelligent design, not the biblical account, is now the accepted alternative.

But intelligent design is based in religion, too.

Ever since Kansas reaped such a whirlwind when it banned the teaching of evolution, the new tactic is to push for criticism of evolution to be taught alongside the accepted theory.

That’s a clever move to get intelligent design into science classes. Anti-Darwinists label evolution as “dogma” and argue that there should be alternative viewpoints. The problem is that intelligent design is a religious belief, not science.

As the debate unfolds, there is a lot at stake for Texas. Texas is investing billions of dollars in high-tech and biotech ventures, and state voters last month agreed to spend $3 billion on a cancer research program designed to make Texas a leader in that field.

If Texas becomes the new Kansas and is viewed as retreating from teaching evolution as science, top scientists will not want to live and work here. Major companies will not want to invest in a state where religious doctrine is inculcated into public school science classes.

A curriculum that uses religious doctrine to criticize evolution would ruin this state’s efforts to provide quality education. And it could wreck the drive to make Texas a leader in scientific and medical research.

Perry should not sit idly by while this potentially devastating issue unfolds in national headlines. He appointed Scott and McLeroy, and he should derail any efforts to downgrade evolution in Texas schools.

Americans who recoiled at Kansas’ decision to go backward in education will be watching how Perry and Texas manage the crisis here.