Religious conservatives on the Texas state textbook review panel have targeted for elimination high school biology textbooks that don’t include robust refutations of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
The panel, which includes several creationists, is urging the State Board of Education to reject any textbook that does not issue what it calls “disclaimers” on key concepts in evolutionary theory.
“I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution,” said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.”
The president of Texas Freedom Network, Kathy Miller, worries that the decisions of reviewers like Beathard will turn Texas into a “laughingstock”:
What our kids learn in their public schools should be based on mainstream, established science, not the personal views of ideologues, especially those who are grossly unqualified to evaluate a biology textbook in the first place. What we see in these documents makes it imperative that the board finally establish genuine qualifications for those entrusted with reviewing textbooks or curriculum standards for our kids.
In 1984, Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox shot down a the rule that any textbook that mentions “the theory of evolution shall identify it as only one of several explanations of the origins of humankind and avoid limiting young people in their search for meanings of their human existence.” The State Board’s rule had dictated that any textbook which even makes “reference to evolution indirectly or by implication, must be modified, if necessary, to ensure that the reference is clearly to a theory and not to a verified fact.”
Despite Mattox’s ruling that the treatment of scientific theories must remain “strictly the province of science,” the Board — more than a third of which was nominated by the former State Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe, a creationist — remains steadfast in its commitment to undermine a scientific presentation of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Scientific criticism of the theory exists, but it is not the kind of criticism that two of the board members, Walter Bradley and Ray Bohlin of the institutional home of “intelligent design,” the Discovery Institute, have in mind.
In his review notes on one of the texts, Bohlin writes that there is “no discussion of the origin of information bearing molecules which is absolutely essential in any origin of life scenario Meyer’s Signature in the Cell easily dismisses any RNA first scenario.” The book he cites — the full title of which is Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligence Design — was written by the vice president of the Discovery Institute. As one reviewer of the book noted:
If the object of the book is to show that the Intelligent Design movement is a scientific movement, it has not succeeded. In fact, what it has succeeded in showing is that it is a popular movement grounded primarily in the hopes and dreams of those in philosophy, in religion, and especially those in the general public.
The significance of changes to Texas textbooks cannot be understated. It is the largest textbook market, and publishers tailor the content of their textbooks to appease its State Board. Any alteration to the content of a Texas textbook will be felt across the country. As Michael Hudson, the Texas director of the People for the American Way noted, Texas conservatives have “been able to use our special situation in Texas to impose their narrow views on the nation as a whole.”
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