According to a recent editorial in The Austin Chronicle, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has begun hearings to decide whether or not Texas public school curricula should include material balancing the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory of evolution. SBOE chairman Dr. Don McLeroy D.D.S. (that means he's a dentist) believes that there is not enough evidence to support evolution. The self-proclaimed creationist is quoted in the editorial:
"this year's 'battle is to bring in some of the weaknesses of evolution,"'to ninth- and 10th-grade biology classrooms, retaining language requiring that teachers instruct students in the 'strengths and weaknesses' of scientific theories."
While McLeroy speaks of "scientific theories" in the plural, Dan Quinn, communication director for the Texas Freedom Network, a statewide organization that works to mitigate the influence of fundamentalism on state policy, claims the only theory of which McLeroy and the six other conservative members of the Texas SBOE remain unconvinced is evolution.
McLeroy claims there are three major weaknesses of evolutionary theory about which Texas students should be taught: "gaps" in the fossil record, there not being enough time for evolution to happen and the complexity of life. The author of the editorial Andrea Grimes asked University of Texas integrative biology professor David Hillis, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, about McLeroy's list of "weaknesses." His response was as follows:
As for McLeroy's second assertion regarding length of time required for evolution to have taken place, Hillis wrote that the position 'demonstrates an extraordinary ignorance of biology,' since rates of evolution observed in laboratory tests have been 'more than sufficient' to prove natural rates of genetic change that coincide with the fossil record."
Finally, McLeroy's cell-complexity argument does not even belong in a scientific discussion, wrote Hillis: 'The argument that 'It is too complicated, so God must have done it' is not a scientific argument.'"
These three perceived "weaknesses" should sound familiar to anyone even remotely interested in the evolution/intelligent design creationism debate. I.D. proponents have been bringing up these same issues for decades.
Grimes cites the case of Chris Comer I wrote about here as evidence that anti-science conservatives have more than enough power to affect Texas SBOE policy. Grimes comments on the effect the anti-evolution school board could have on education in Texas:
In addition to the detrimental effect weak-evolution curricula will have on students in Texas, there is another aspect of this issue the editorial did not mention. Since Texas is the second largest U.S. state, it is also one of the country's biggest buyer of textbooks. If the Texas SBOE purchases textbooks teaching the "weaknesses" of evolution as McLeroy understands them, the textbook manufacturer will most likely opt out of producing books for the rest of the nation different from those sold to its largest customer.
Quoting the New York Times article cited above, "The ideas that work their way into education [in Texas] will surface in classrooms throughout the country."
I really don't have any snarky, sarcastic comments about this story. Issues dealing with the education of this country's young people are too serious to joke around about. This sort of thing makes me truly ashamed to be a native-born Texan.