Creationists on the State Board of Education must stop trying to undermine the teaching of evolution
Creationists on the State Board of Education must stop trying
to undermine the teaching of evolutionEditorial - Houston Chronicle - 7/7/2008 - originalIt's shaping up to be a long, hot summer, even by Texas standards, as the State Board of Education gears up to determine the curriculum standards for the state's new science textbooks. Science includes evolution — the phenomenon whereby the species on Earth today evolved from species now extinct. That fact is what creationists on the board don't believe in.
The focus of attention in this, the first overhaul of the science curriculum in over a decade, is not on the teaching of creationism, which has been rebuffed by several courts. It is on whether the curriculum will continue to include teaching on the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution.
It sounds reasonable. Who's against fair and balanced? But critics are alarmed that this is the latest chapter in what has become a national strategy of evolution's foes — a "teach the controversy" approach, whereby religion is propounded under the guise of scientific inquiry.
Given the recent comments of both the chairman and the vice chairman of the board, there is ample reason for alarm. As reported by The New York Times, the chairman, Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, described the debate as being between two systems of science.
"You've got a creationist system and a naturalist system," he said. He rejects evolution and believes the Earth is just a few thousand years old, but he insisted his rejection was not based on religious grounds. "My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science," McLeroy said.
Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont, told the Chronicle, "Evolution is not a fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proved. Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."
What students really need is to be able to study science from materials that have not been hijacked by creationists whose personal agenda includes muddying the science curriculum. Creationism is not a "system of science." It is a religious belief and as such has no place in a science curriculum.
Furthermore, evolution is not a theory that "cannot be proved." A scientific theory is not a guess, but a tested explanation of how and why a natural phenomenon occurs. There is no doubt among mainstream scientists that evolution is a well-documented and easily observed phenomenon.
McLeroy and Bradley are not alone in their beliefs. Seven of the 15 members, one short of a majority, believe in intelligent design, as does Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who unilaterally appointed McLeroy to chair the board last summer a few weeks after the Legislature disbanded. (Much simpler than having to defend his controversial choice during Senate confirmation hearings.) These members are aligned with social conservative groups known for their strong stands on evolution, sexual abstinence and other hot-button issues covered in textbooks, the Dallas Morning News reported last year.
In one welcome sign that people conversant with science will have some input, a state-appointed committee of science educators is reviewing the curriculum requirements. One of them, Kevin Fisher, a school science coordinator, told the Times that committee members will recommend that the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase be removed. "When you consider evolution, there are certain questions that have yet to be answered," he said. "But a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness."
One can only hope the State Board of Education will heed their recommendation. All people are entitled to their private religious beliefs, but nobody is entitled to use the state's public education system to promote them. What chance do Texas students have of competing in the 21st century if their learning of science is warped and stunted by such benighted leadership?