Creationism in Texas: A Bit of Good News Followed by a Ton of Bad

It's a virtual certainty that anything associated with the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is bound to be interesting. Just in case you've been completely out of touch for an extended period of time, let me remind you that the SBOE is the group that in 2009 rewrote the science standards for the state of Texas to make them creationist-friendly and in 2010 reworked the social studies standards to make them ... what? Frankly, I have no idea how to simply characterize the wholesale revisionist history the changes embraced.

Thus, as always, the latest news coming from the SBOE is worthy of our attention. Just last month, I wrote that the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) had indicated that it planned to submit materials for the Board's consideration as it considers what materials to approve to implement the new (pseudo)science standards. Given that FTE is the publisher responsible for the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People that was at the center of the Dover, PA intelligent design trial, this was big news.

The federal judge in the Dover case, John E. Jones, a Republican appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, was crystal clear in his decision when he found that intelligent design (ID) did not fall within the scientific firmament:

We find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science.

Nonetheless, FTE made it clear in a November letter to the SBOE that it planned to submit material for review that was a "presentation of intelligent design alternative." (sic)

Well, it turns out that the concerns I expressed about FTE wanting its non-scientific materials used in science classes by Texas schoolchildren are no longer valid! Just four days after my article appeared, FTE informed the SBOE that it decided to withdraw from the process. Given that FTE's primary focus has been on intelligent design, its withdrawal comes as quite a surprise.

When the Texas Freedom Network, a group created "to defend religious freedom and civil liberties" in Texas spread the good news that FTE was withdrawing, it tried to understand FTE's reasoning.

After the Texas state board approved the creationist-friendly science standards in 2009, perhaps the folks at FTE thought they had another chance to promote their junk science in public schools. Now, however, they apparently have realized that another major defeat -- before the Texas board or in the courts -- would simply compound their Dover disaster.

Was it possible that FTE was walking away from intelligent design because of a fear of another legal defeat? I contacted FTE in an attempt to learn their perspective. Despite repeated e-mails to FTE, all I was able to get in return was a simple note signed, not by a person, but by "FTE" saying "The reason FTE withdrew is because of budgetary considerations." If you can make any sense out of that response, please let me know.

Whatever the real reason, FTE's decision is a wonderful one for Texas schoolchildren. But, unfortunately, as the Texas Freedom Network points out, we don't have the luxury of celebrating because of further shenanigans undertaken by the SBOE.

Creationists on the SBOE, it seems, have decided to pervert the review process for submitted materials. Review of materials is supposed to take place by teams of science professionals put together by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The problem is that some SBOE members have decided to insert themselves into the process and nominate creationists to serve on the review panels. But the problem doesn't stop there. The Texas Freedom Network describes the situation starkly:

The state board's creationists have already indicated that they will insist that TEA put their nominees on the review teams. That demand would create a dilemma for TEA: focus on putting qualified people on the teams or submit to the political wishes of board members to stack the teams with anti-evolution activists promoting personal agendas.

The SBOE candidates represent the far fringe -- creationists who want science redefined to include the supernatural and who are systematically opposed to the position that science is a field that offers naturalistic explanations for phenomena we observe.

Consider this statement in a paper co-authored by Walter Bradley, a creationist nominated by SBOE member Gail Lowe, "Evidence for the origin and evolution of life should be presented fairly and without distortion; but evidence that is not in accord with natural processes as an explanation should be clearly presented as well."

Or consider this statement written by Thomas Henderson, "As a creationist, I believe naturalism in the sciences to be science-fiction. It is distorting and mis-directing education in many fields of both the natural sciences and the social sciences or humanities." Henderson, with a masters degree issued by the Institute for Creation Research, was nominated by SBOE member David Bradley.

Or you might want to think about this statement by David Shormann, "Treating Earth history as just that, history, I can find physical and written testimony that the Earth is only 6,000 years old ... Studying natural history can be an interesting, fun, and adventure-filled pursuit, but it is not real science, and shouldn't be treated like it is." He was nominated by SBOE member Barbara Cargill.

It's frightening to think that these are the "experts" SBOE members want to review science materials. Their positions are not at one end of the science spectrum. No, they've fallen off that spectrum, passed well beyond the category we can call non-science and have fully entered the realm of nonsense.

Collectively we need to draw attention to this nonsense if we want it to stop.