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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2008/12/26

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

"Strengths and weaknesses" is absent from the third, and final, draft of
Texas's science standards, and the two antievolution bills in Michigan have
finally died.


The third draft of Texas's science standards is available -- and the
creationist catchphrase "strengths and weaknesses" is absent.  The current
standards for high school biology include a requirement that reads, "The
student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific
explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and
weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."  In 2003, the
"strengths and weaknesses" language was selectively applied by members of
the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology
textbooks then under consideration, and so it was clear that the "strengths
and weaknesses" language would be a matter of contention when the standards
were next revised.

The first draft of the revised standards replaced the "strengths and
weaknesses" language with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate
scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and
experimental and observational testing."  The change was hailed by the
Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, and the 21st Century
Science Coalition, as well as by the editorial boards of the Austin
American-Statesman (October 6, 2008), and the Corpus Christi Call-Times
(November 20, 2008).  Additionally, a survey conducted by Raymond Eve and
the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast
majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of
teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution.

Nevertheless, when the Texas board of education began to hear testimony
about the new standards on November 19, 2008, it was presented not with the
first draft but with a second draft, in which the "strengths and
weaknesses" language was replaced with a variant:  "The student is expected
to analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations of scientific
explanations including those based on accepted scientific data, and
evidence from students' observations, experiments, models, and logical
statements."  At the meeting, defenders of the integrity of science
education argued that "strengths and limitations" was no improvement over
"strengths and weaknesses."  The third draft reverts to the first draft's
"analyze and evaluate" language.

In its discussion of the nature of science, the third draft is similar but
not identical to the first draft.  According to the first draft, "Science
uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to
construct testable explanations.  If ideas are based upon purported forces
outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods."  The
third draft reads, "Science, as defined by the National Academy of
Sciences, is the 'use of evidence to construct testable explanations and
predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated
through this process.' ... Students should know that some questions are
outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not
scientifically testable."

According to the Texas Education Agency's website, the third draft will be
considered by the state board of education at its January 21-23, 2009,
meeting, with a public hearing regarding the proposed revisions scheduled
for January 21, 2009.  The January meeting will presumably constitute the
first reading of the new standards, with a period for further public
comment following; the second reading and final vote are expected, but not
guaranteed, to occur at the board's March 26-27, 2009, meeting.  The stakes
are high:  the standards will determine what is taught in Texas's public
school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved
for use in the state for the next ten years.

In the meantime, evidence continues to accumulate that calling for teaching
the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution in Texas is, in practice,
simply a form of stealth creationism.  For example, in a post on the
website of the San Antonio Express-News (December 12, 2008), a
representative of the San Antonio Bible Based Sciences Association offered
to provide "scientific evidence of weaknesses in evolution and for
creation," including "the fact that evolution violates the 1st and 2nd Laws
of Thermodynamics, as well as the Law of Biogenesis," as well as "creation
evidence in the fields of microbiology, genetics, probability,
biochemistry, biology, geology and physics which support creation and
undermine evolution."

And in a December 1, 2008, post on its blog, the Texas Freedom Network
examined how members of the antievolution faction on the state board of
education have responded to a Texas religious right organization's
questionnaire over the past few election cycles.  According to TFN, in
2008, they strongly favored" forcing publishers to include strengths and
weaknesses of the theory of evolution" in biology textbooks, while in 2006,
they "strongly favored" the teaching of intelligent design" as a viable"
theory in public school science classrooms, and in 2002, they "strongly
favored" the same -- even though the question was prominently, and not
inaccurately, labeled "Creationism" then.  "Who," TFN asked, "do they think
they're fooling?"

For the current Texas state science standards (PDF), visit:

For the first, second, and third drafts of the revised standards (PDF), visit:

For the websites of the pro-science organizations in Texas, visit:

For the editorials in the American-Statesman and the Call-Times, visit:

For a report on the survey conducted by Eve and the TFN Education Fund
(PDF), visit:

For the TEA's information on the standards revision procedure, visit:

For the post on the San Antonio Express-News's website, visit:

For the post on TFN's blog, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:


When the Michigan legislature ended its last voting session for 2007-2008
on December 19, 2008, two antievolution bills -- House Bill 6027 and Senate
Bill 1361 -- died in committee.  The identical bills were instances of the
"academic freedom" strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution; as
NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott recently wrote in their article
"The Latest Face of Creationism," published in the January 2009 issue of
Scientific American, "'Academic freedom' was the creationist catchphrase of
choice in 2008:  the Louisiana Science Education Act was in fact born as
the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, and bills invoking the idea were
introduced in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina,
although, as of November, all were dead or stalled. ... The appeal of
academic freedom as a slogan for the creationist fallback strategy is
obvious:  everybody approves of freedom, and plenty of people have a sense
that academic freedom is desirable, even if they do not necessarily have a
good understanding of what it is."

The Michigan bills contended that "the teaching of some scientific
subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, human
impact of climate change, and human cloning, can cause controversy and that
some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should
present information on such subjects."  If enacted, the bills would have
required state and local administrators "to create an environment within
public elementary and secondary schools that encourages pupils to explore
scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical
thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences
of opinion about controversial issues" and "to assist teachers to find more
effective ways to present the science curriculum in instances where that
curriculum addresses scientific controversies" by allowing them "to help
pupils understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the
scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific
theories pertinent to the course being taught."

In a press release dated May 20, 2008, Michigan Citizens for Science
blasted HB 6027, writing that "it does a disservice to teachers, school
administrators and local school boards by urging them to incorporate
material into science classes that is at odds with well-established science
... HB 6027 ushers schools down a path that will inevitably lead to
expensive and divisive court battles."  Similarly, in July 2008, the
Michigan Science Teachers Association decried both bills, arguing
(document) that the stated goals of the bills are already addressed by the
state's educational system.  The MSTA added, "Whereas evolution, climate
change and cloning are the only 'controversial topics' cited in these bills
while 'controversial topics' in non-scientific fields are noticeably
omitted and whereas the Curriculum Expectations already address the
pedagogical & educational goals of these bills, the legislative intent of
these bills is called into question. ... . This type of legislation may
enable the introduction of non-scientific ideologies, such as 'intelligent
design (ID) creationism', into the public science classroom."

For information on both bills from the Michigan legislature, visit:

For Branch and Scott's article in Scientific American, visit:

For Michigan Citizens for Science's press release, visit:

For the Michigan Science Teachers Association's statement (document), visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Michigan, visit:


Evolution Education Update's vacation plans changed, enabling this final
update for 2008.


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Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site:

where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and
threats to it.

With best wishes for the new year,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Not in Our Classrooms:  Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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