Religious-Based Alternatives to Evolution Promoted by Texas Education Official

Is it too much to ask that those who are attempting to destroy public science education in Texas and beyond at least be consistent? I gave up looking for rational discourse and honesty years ago, but I've been hoping for a modicum of consistency. At least with consistency, a discussion might be possible or, more likely, a rebuttal could be offered.

Unfortunately, the latest turn of events in Texas means that even consistency has become a victim.

The most recent embarrassment out of Texas comes from testimony given by Barbara Cargill, the chair of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), before the Texas Senate Education Committee and the Senate Nominations Committee. Because the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) has regularly done such a fabulous job promoting high quality science education in Texas, I'm going to quote directly from some of their reporting.

When Cargill was testifying before the Education Committee she made it clear that she was very concerned about the way evolution was being presented in Texas. As TFN noted, when she was discussing CSCOPE, a curriculum management tool developed by Education Service Centers around the state and used by many school districts, Cargill said she thinks CSCOPE doesn't conform to the science standards because it doesn't teach "all sides" about evolution:

Our intent, as far as theories with the [curriculum standards], was to teach all sides of scientific explanations. ... But when I went on [to the CSCOPE website] last night, I couldn't see anything that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution. Every link, every lesson, everything, you know, was taught as 'this is how the origin of life happened, this is what the fossil record proves,' and all that's fine, but that's only one side."

Check out her full comments on this topic in the following short clip just to be certain that TFN didn't misquote her or take her comments out of context.

OK, good enough, the chair of the Texas SBOE wants "another side to the theory of evolution" taught. No real surprise there. It obviously doesn't bother Cargill that scientists have been adamant that there isn't "another side to the theory of evolution."

Back to TFN reporting for a moment: "Cargill went on to say she wants CSCOPE and publishers to 'soften' their language on evolution in new science textbooks the state board will consider for adoption this year. Those textbooks will go into Texas classrooms in 2014."

Did Cargill really say what TFN says she said -- and what she can be clearly heard saying on tape? Well, apparently it depends on who you ask. If, for example, you happen to be Texas State Senator Kirk Watson, asking that question of Barbara Cargill, you'll get a surprising answer. Here's how the Dallas Morning News reported the exchange:

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, questioned Cargill extensively, particularly about her concerns that "all sides" of the debate over human evolution be covered in textbooks and other learning materials.

"You said you wanted science books to teach another side to evolution," he said, referring to recent Cargill comments. "Evolution is, in fact, established science. Are you now advocating another side to evolution?"

Cargill said her comments were distorted and insisted she is not trying to force alternative theories to evolution into science textbooks, which the board is scheduled to adopt later this year.

So when Cargill complained that CSCOPE didn't present "another side to the theory of evolution," her words were "distorted." Go back to the video above and listen to three seconds of the tape, from the 57th to the 60th second, and decide for yourself if her words were distorted. To my ears, they sound pretty clear.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Cargill did go on to say, "In biology and science classes, I want to stick to the science. The other [religious-based theories] need to be taught at church or in the home."

If Cargill really believes what she's quoted as saying in that last paragraph, why would she want publishers to "soften" their language on evolution? Is she saying that "religious-based theories" should influence how science is presented in public school science classrooms and laboratories? Can she really be that ignorant of the meaning of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America and so completely unaware of the voluminous legal precedent on exactly this point from federal district courts and the U.S. Supreme Court?

Let's go one step further. In her official on-line biography, Cargill proudly mentions that "She works with the youth at The Woodlands United Methodist Church." Nothing wrong with that! But what is terribly ironic is that The United Methodist Church, apparently her church, has taken a stance on exactly the issue she's promoting -- and it isn't consistent with her position. In 2008, the General Conference adopted a simple but powerful motion: "be it resolved that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church go on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools."

(As an aside, I'm incredibly proud to be able to say that the same General Conference also voted to endorse The Clergy Letter Project, the organization I founded. That motion stated that The United Methodist Church "endorses The Clergy Letter Project and its reconciliatory programs between religion and science, and urges United Methodist clergy participation.")

Let me be absolutely clear about this point: Scientists around the world and leaders of Cargill's church agree that there isn't a scientific alternative to evolution. Nonetheless, Cargill wants alternatives presented and textbooks changed -- but she can't be bothered to consistently take ownership of her own position.

As many of you well know, the stakes for this debate go well beyond the school children in Texas since publishers are loathe to print different materials for different states. If Cargill gets her way later this year when the SBOE adopts new science texts, distorted science materials may well soon be coming to a school near you, regardless of where you live.

Oh, of course, Cargill was reappointed as Chair of the SBOE by the Texas Senate. At least the Senate was consistent!