Confused response to Texan science education guidelines

Responses to the new guidelines for science education in Texas seem divided. The Freethinker blog takes the optimistic view (Evolution trumps creationism in Texas), saying:

The State Board of Education stripped two provisions from proposed science standards that would have raised questions about key principles of the theory of evolution.

The sections, according to this report, were written by board Chairman and creationist Don McLeroy. They would have required students in high school biology classes to study the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of common ancestry and natural selection of species. Both are key principles of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In identical 8-7 votes, board members – Five Democrats and three Republicans – joined to outvote the seven Republicans on the board aligned with fundie groups.

The vote means that students will now have to:

Analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning and experimental and observational testing.

For many onlookers, however, the new wording still leaves a lot to desire.  The Discovery Institute (who are of course pro-creationism/ID) seem quite pleased in their blog (Darwinists Trick Themselves in Texas).  Unfortunately they don’t appear to welcome critical thought or comment, so commenting is not possible there (I suppose that’s appropriate with that kind of blinkered religious world-view).

Science now weighs in with its view (New Texas Standards Question Evolution, Fossil Record – may require subscription):

New science standards for Texas schools strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution, say scientists and educators who last week tried unsuccessfully to block the adoption of last-minute amendments aimed at providing an opening for the teaching of creationism. The standards incorporate talking points from the intelligent design literature, including doubt that the fossil record provides convincing evidence of evolution. Supporters of the new standards, who prevailed on 27 March by a vote of 13 to 2, say the next step will be to press publishers to modify biology textbooks.

Science quotes Don McLeroy (the dim creationist dentist, who for some bizarre political reason chairs the relevant education board) as saying

“I think the new standards are wonderful,” says Don McLeroy, chair of the Texas Board of Education and a dentist who claims that “dogmatism about evolution” has sapped “America’s scientific soul.” McLeroy believes that biology texts, to meet the new standards, should include “an evaluation of the sudden appearance of fossils” and “an explanation of stasis or how certain organisms stay the same over time.” He also wants the textbooks to declare there is no “scientific explanation for the origin of life” and that “unguided natural processes cannot account for the complexity of the cell.”

The dim dentist is looking forward to the adoption of new textbooks in the next two years.  Recent amendments that students must learn the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolutionary theory were struck off, leading to (probably premature) jubilation in the science camp.  However the second day of the meeting saw the creationist lobby prevail with the addition of phrases such that teachers must “analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations in all fields of science by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”  Further requirements to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell”;  “analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life”;  “analyze and evaluate a variety of fossil types such as transitional fossils, proposed transitional fossils, significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and alignments with scientific explanations in light of this fossil data” leave considerable room for mischief, particularly from those of the Intelligent Design side of the creationist spectrum, who frequently try to make claims that their views are scientific (which they plainly are not).

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