Turning the Science Standards into a Positive?

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Just how much did creationists gain in the battle over new public school science standards adopted in Texas this spring? Houston Chronicle writer Lisa Falkenberg points to an article from the journal Science that suggests an encouraging answer: not as much as evolution deniers hoped.

As you will recall, creationists on the Texas State Board of Education lost a high-profile battle to require that science students learn phony “weaknesses” of evolution. A majority of board members, backed by countless scientists(including Nobel laureates), successfully opposed that broad requirement. But creationists succeeded in passing other requirements for students to learn pseudoscientific arguments against evolution based on distortions of the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.

The June 12 article in Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, discusses how publishers and textbook authors may be able to use those requirements actually to strengthen instruction on evolution. (The article is locked except for subscribers.) The weight of scientific evidence shows that the creationists’ arguments are nonsense, suggests Kenneth Miller, author of one of the nation’s leading high school biology textbooks. Says Miller:

“The advocates of these (Texas) standards underestimate the strength of the scientific evidence for structures and phenomena that they mistakenly believe evolution cannot account for. The new wording is an opportunity to make biology texts even stronger.”

So, for example, textbooks may simply spend more time discussing how the complexity of the cell supports evolutionary theory. Textbooks can also use discussions of the fossil record to explore the concept of “punctuated equilibrium,” among other topics that are based in sound science.

In short, Miller believes the new Texas science standards can’t force publishers and textbook authors to lie to students, no matter how much creationists might want that to happen.

Read Falkenberg’s piece, with more article excerpts, here.

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12 Responses to “Turning the Science Standards into a Positive?”

  1. C. Beth Says:

    That’s fantastic news, since Miller is one of the authors of the most commonly-used Bio textbook. I heard an interview with him recently, and I think he said they’re currently doing a rewrite of it.

    Love, love, love Kenneth Miller–he does so much to promote science–and he’s a Christian who is outspoken about the fact that one can believe in God and accept evolution.

  2. Charles Says:

    Yes. This is the thing the Christian-NeoFundamentalist evolution deniers hate most of all. They hate Christians who understand evolution and follow Jesus too. They can always take the humanist, atheist, and agnostic accusation and get claps from the audience. Ken and I water their ridiculous orange juice down so thin that it’s barely recognizable.

  3. PHarvey Says:

    As much as the Creationists on the SBOE thought they were punching holes in evolution with McLeroy’s nonsensical amendments, I always thought that they would simply force textbooks to explain the evidence for evolution in greater detail.

    Once the wingnuts on the SBOE read the real sciencific explanations required by their amendments and see how compelling they are they will see how foolish they have been. They don’t know the evidence as shown by the nature of the bogus standards they passed. Nor do they understand how they will now force publishers to completely refute specific claims in creationism with hard scientific explanations.

    Personally, I think the creationist wingnuts have shot themselves in the foot. They just don’t know it yet.

  4. Charles Says:

    My apologies Paul, but that is not true. There is no explanation of evolution that will ever change a fundie’s mind—no matter how good it is. As Jesus himself said in another context, even if a person were raised from the dead, people like these will not understand. Jesus was speaking of the religious leaders of his time, and I am speaking of the roughly equivalent religious leaders of the Christian-NeoFundamentalists of our time.

  5. Rocket Mike Says:

    I agree with Charles. If the BLZ’s on the SBOE still cling to their creation cult mythologies after hearing from the science supporters at the science TEKS hearings, then they are not teachable. I am not even sure you can call them religious in the usual sense. They just seem to worship authoritarianism and use their professed Christianity as a “holier than thou” club to beat others into submission.

  6. PHarvey Says:

    Charles,

    True.

    But I think they will be disappointed that the scientific explanation will not be weak like they expect, but rather it will be comprehensive and compelling.

    They snickered under their breath thinking those were difficult topics to explain, not knowing the answers have existed for years.

    But you are right. They have made up their minds and nothing will change them.

  7. Charles Says:

    Ah. I see. Ok.

  8. EOAustin Says:

    I have been saying for some time that bringing a debate about Creationism and Evolution into a classroom could very well be exactly what is needed to end this argument. If kids are given both arguments side by side in a classroom where open debate takes place, then I am sure that the vast majority will see the overwhelming evidence that evolution is supported by sound science. Those that possess a strong religious faith can then begin “rethinking” their belief system and perhaps reconcile their belief in God with the fact that Evolution is true and see that they are not in fact mutually exclusive. Right now the only place Creationism is being discussed is in the church and many kids are being indoctrinated to this belief. Bring that discussion into a mixed environment and I think that logic and facts will prevail in most cases.

  9. PHarvey Says:

    EOAustin,

    I think you are right. From an academic point of view, that would be the way to do it. It becomes obvious that one is science and the other is religion that way.

    But we have a first amendment problem as it could be argued that the state is attempting to discredit a religious belief. Also, once we invite religion in any form into the science classroom (where it doesn’t belong) I fear it will never leave. This is exactly what the wingnuts want to happen. It’s the wedge strategy.

    They want to introduce and discuss their religion inch by inch into the science classroom. Any intoduction will do. Any introduction is better than no introduction.

    I don’t think we want to open that Pandora’s box.

  10. Cytocop Says:

    EOAustin, I agree with PHarvey. Your strategy looks “fair and balanced” – in theory. But, like PHarvey says, religion doesn’t belong in a public school science classroom in the first place.

    Secondly, such a debate smacks of the old forced debates of medieval Europe between a Christian priest and a Jewish rabbi. These debates were ALWAYS unfair and pre-scripted; the rabbi was always disadvantaged, forced to abide by restrictions never enforced on the Christian opponent. Even so, if the rabbi won, he suffered severe penalties.

    Likewise, I predict that if such a debate were allowed, the science side would be forced to debate similarly, with hands tied. You can bet your life savings the far-right would have it no other way.

  11. LRA Says:

    The Christian right should be careful what they wish for… if the pseudoscience known as “intelligent design” ever did get taught in public schools, it would open the way for these religions to be taught as well (not just Christianity)…

    Muslims:

    http://www.islamonline.net/english/Contemporary/2004/09/Article02.shtml

    Raelians:

    http://www.rael.org/rael_content/rael_summary.php

    Hare Krishnas:

    http://krishna.org/life-comes-from-life/

    and the Moonies, to which Johnathan Wells of the Discovery Institute belongs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Wells_%28intelligent_design_advocate%29

    Now, what do you think the Christian right would think of that???

  12. Lorenzo Sadun Says:

    It’s all in how you read the new standards, which are written in ambiguous language. Most of them can be read to support an honest treatment of science, but they can also be read to mandate equal time for pseudoscience. The SBOE will be reviewing science texts in 2011, and whoever has a majority on the board will get to interpret the standards.

    In other words, the recent SBOE vote wasn’t decisive. The 2010 elections will be.

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