25 August 2007

Hell freezes over in Texas

Terrence Stutz of The Dallas Morning News reports this week that the Texas State Board of Education, which will set the science curriculum for Texas public schools next year, is against the teaching of “intelligent design”, despite the fact that several board members say they are creationists.

[here’s a pause so you can read that again]

[here’s another pause for you to indulge in a dance of joy*]

Stutz interviewed 11 board members (including 7 Republicans) and asked them about their views on whether intelligent design should be taught in science class. Only one respondent said she was in favor of including intelligent design in the curriculum. The chairman of the board, Don McLeroy, a self-described creationist, said,
"Creationism and intelligent design don't belong in our science classes. Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community – and intelligent design does not. When it comes to evolution, I am totally content with the current standard."
Hip hip hurrah for Mr McLeroy!* But then—and this felt like having an ice cube dropped down the back of my dance-of-joy-warmed tee-shirt—he said that he was unhappy with current biology textbooks as they don't cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution. His grievances include “large time gaps” in the fossil record. Can we please be done with this particular creationist claim already? Every aspect of it has been thoroughly trounced.

No stranger to the ice cube effect herself, Kathy Miller, a Texas-based champion of separation of church and state, was skeptical that board members had really given up on teaching intelligent design.
"Don McLeroy and the other ideologues who now control the state board have said repeatedly in the past that they want public school science classes to teach creationism and other religion-based concepts," she said. "So we have no doubt that they'll find a way to try, either by playing politics with the curriculum standards or censoring new science textbooks later on."
Kathy Miller's skepticism is borne out by polls that show that two-thirds of Texans (including Texas governor Rick Perry and former Texas governor George W. Bush) want creationism taught in public schools along with evolution.
Board Vice Chairman David Bradley, who also voted against the biology books in 2003, acknowledged that he doesn't believe in one of the main tenets of Darwin's theory – that humans evolved from lower life forms. "If some of my associates want to believe their ancestors were monkeys, that is their right. I believe God is responsible for our creation," said Mr. Bradley, R-Beaumont. "Given that none of today's scientists were around when the first frog crawled out of the pond, there is no one who can say exactly what happened."
Well, actually, Mr Bradley, it wasn’t a frog; it didn’t even resemble a frog. The first primitive amphibian traits are seen in the fossils of Ichthyostega and Acanthostega of the late Devonian period (~400 million years ago). Icthyostega was succeeded by the six-foot long Eryops, an amphibian that had the ability to walk on land.

to anyone except Mr Bradley who can guess where Eryops fossils are found. Here's a clue:

"Don't mess with Texas."

But I digress.

The strange thing is that Mr No-way-did-I-come-from-a-monkey Bradley also said he is not interested in challenging the teaching of evolution.
"There's always room for improvement, but I haven't heard a loud drumbeat for massive change ... I do want to make sure the next group of textbooks includes the strengths and weaknesses of evolution."
Well, if he really means what he says* (and, as Kathy Miller warns, the jury's still out on that), that sounds fine by this biologist. The theory of evolution by natural selection doesn’t need to be protected from the battering of honest scientific inquiry – after all, that's what makes it a theory (noun, science) in the first place.

*In comments, coturnix quite rightly links us to the Panda's Thumb's response and warns us to think carefully before launching into dances of joy and hip hip hurrahs. So, in addition to the healthy dose of Kathy Miller's skepticism that is already in my article here, I've added the red asterisks to get readers down here and clicking over to the Panda's Thumb post for a reality check.


Richard Carter, FCD said...

According to Wikipedia, Eryops are mainly found in Archer County, Texas.

I wonder if Archer County is twinned with Borsetshire.

nunatak said...

I loathe the archers. I can't even capitalise it. If I hear more than 2 seconds of the theme music I start frothing at the mouth.

Richard Carter, FCD said...

I know how you feel. I was addicted to it when I was at university in the 80s, but a man can only take so many Linda Snell Christmas pantos.

Richard Carter, FCD said...

Hey, I've just realised that your last three posts all begin with 'Hell'.

Kind of makes you think.

coturnix said...

Gotta see through them a little more carefully...

Peter Mc said...

Nunatak, you're only envious that we have a radio series older than your country.

You're right though, it's bobbins.