Just last month, the Texas state Board of Education was exposed for approving racist textbooks that whitewash history while shaming Latinos as “lazy drunks.” Now some BOE members are kicking their right-wing policies up a notch by renewing efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution.
Last year, the BOE agreed that they would “streamline” the science standards and this July educators and scholars met to discuss their recommendations for what those standards should be, Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network wrote in the El Paso Times. Anti-science creationists are already complaining about it, even though the panel hasn’t come to any final decisions.
The panel did decide, however, to cut any anti-evolution references that biologists and other scientists have called inaccurate and unscientific. That’s where the anti-science activists are launching their protests.
One such activist is Ray Bohlin, an associate of two national anti-evolution organizations Probe Ministries and the Discovery Institute. He takes issue with the “quick and concerted” effort to remove any challenge to evolution from science textbooks. He wants biology textbooks to include some form of information about the religious oppositions creationists hold with evolution.
Bohlin managed to recruit state board members to join in his quest, even going so far as to claim that removing any mention of creationist opinions in science would somehow prevent students from being able to ask questions in classes. (A false claim). He further claimed the majority of the committee was engaged in “a quick and concerted effort by the majority of the committee to remove the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).”
“I don’t advocate for any kind of creationism to be taught in the school. That does not belong in the TEKS. I’m simply concerned about the fair representation of the evidence for evolution,” said Bohlin.
However, Bohlin’s affiliated group Probe Ministries outlines a philosophical theory often touted by religious groups that “something doesn’t come from nothing” to refute the Big Bang Theory. It outlines many theological perspectives on how the universe formed, however. This includes the Gap Theory which their site explains that the Earth “became formless and void, suggesting that God’s original creation was marred (perhaps by the fall of Satan) and then God recreated it in six literal days.”
Bohlin’s other affiliated group, Discovery Institute, touts the Intelligent Design theory which says the Earth and the universe was designed by an intelligent creator.
“It was disturbing to hear such attacks on the professionalism of the educators and scholars who volunteered to serve as panelists,” Miller said. “Even more appalling is that one of the panel’s critics, state board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, had earlier tried to stack the deck against evolution on that same panel.”
The Texas Freedom Network obtained emails through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed Cargill was not only an anti-science evolution denier but she wanted to stack the panel with as many of her people as possible.
The anti-science panelists failed to persuade the rest of the panel and as a result, Miller says they’ve now turned to attacking science teachers and other experts who sit on the panel.
One expert on the panel, Ron Wetherington, is an evolutionary anthropologist at Southern Methodist University. In a letter of concern sent to the board members following their meeting, he implored them to stand firm from political pressures and simply look at the science.
Texas has been fighting this battle since the 1990s when activists went after health textbooks that talked about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and gender roles. A few years later they tried to censor social studies textbooks that discussed slavery and showed photos of minorities. Another fight erupted when activists fought to have the Earth’s age listed by Biblical estimations, not scientific ones determined by geologists. When their efforts failed, the Texas Legislature passed a law restricting the BOE’s power to oppose textbooks based on ideological concerns. They even tried to go after evolution in 2013.
Texas currently ranks 43rd in rankings for education, according to Quality Counts 2016 report.
Similar fights have happened in both Kansas and Louisiana. In the Kansas case, a federal court denied Christian groups that attempted to label evolution a “religion” and thus should not be taught in schools.