The Freedom to Dumb Down Science Education

At the Texas State Board of Education‘s science curriculum hearing on November 19, creationist board members repeatedly claimed that forcing phony arguments against evolution into public school science classrooms is simply a matter of “academic freedom.” They were really falling back on another version of the tired (and very disingenuous) “teach the controversy” and “it’s only fair to teach both sides” arguments — as if it’s fair to handicap our kids with a 19th-century education in their 21st-century science classrooms.

Now the Institute for Creation Research is jumping into the game. Remember the ICR? That’s the Dallas-based outfit that tried to get the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve its application to offer master’s of science education degrees. Of course, the ICR’s program is designed to promote biblical creationism, not science, and the coordinating board wisely said no. Anyway, now the ICR is attacking the TFN Education Fund’s report that shows biology faculty at Texas colleges and universities overwhelmingly reject arguments that “intelligent design”/creationism is based on science, that creationist-fabricated attacks (“weaknesses”) against evolution are based on science and that “intelligent design”/creationism has any place in a science classroom. The ICR whines that the report is simply another attempt to “oppose academic freedom in public schools”:

Unfortunately, the cold, hard facts of science do not support the evolutionary account. Forensic evidence from nature easily aligns with a creation model. TFN and the evolutionary establishment’s efforts show that in the absence of real scientific evidence, molecules-to-man evolution must be propped up by monopolistic bullying.

You can read the whole screed here, but it’s not pretty. So here’s a real “cold, hard fact”: ICR wants the “academic freedom” to dumb down science education in public schools by teaching ideological arguments instead of sound science. But more and more parents, teachers, scientists and clergy are standing up to say: not anymore, not with our kids, not in our schools.

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14 Comments

  1. africangenesis
    Posted December 3, 2008 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Didn’t the creationists also favor retention of strengths and weaknesses language in physics and chemistry?

  2. nunyer
    Posted December 3, 2008 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Yes, it’s embarrassing to have evolution singled out . . . gravitational theory is much shakier but you don’t see the creationists getting their panties in a twist about it, do you? That’s because gravity doesn’t threaten their precious literal interpretation of Genesis 1.

    Notice how LA’s new (anti)Science Education Act singles out evolution, stem cell research and global warming as requiring discussions of strengths/weaknesses: just the hot-button winger issues. And by “weaknesses” of evolution they’re not referring to the relative importance of allopatric v. sympatric speciation or any legitimate research area in evolution. Nope, they just use those same ol’ same ol’ creationist canards.

    Astronomers and physicists know that creationists have them next on the list. Big Bang theory, radioactive decay and speed of light measurements have all been disputed by creationists in their quest to make a 6000-year-old earth seem legit.

  3. africangenesis
    Posted December 3, 2008 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Teaching biochemistry, cladistics, organ systems, the citric acid cycle and photosynthesis instead of evolution doesn’t undermine the integrity of a child’s education either. There is no evidence that the strength and weaknesses language has prevented the teaching of evolution. There should have been a wall separating school and state, but the founding fathers did not anticipate state run schools. Hopefully, liberal fear of strength and weaknesses language can be used to wedge open true school choice. Keep up the divisive work TFN!

    Is it true that biology is now a required course for graduation from high school? Perhaps returning it to elective status, would be a partial step towards a form of school choice and some freedom from the tyranny of central planning. I suspect the dumbing down of the course for the masses has done more damage than any of the standards language variants could.

  4. S. Lowry
    Posted December 2, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Astronomy and Physics are not being used to pound down the door separating church and state. Teaching a weakness in the theory as to how black holes were formed does not undermine the integrity of a child’s education, does not serve the hidden agenda of some vaguely hidden constituency and does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

  5. africangenesis
    Posted December 2, 2008 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    Astronomers and physicists are not afraid of “strength and weaknesses” language, it is embarrassing to have evolution singled out.

  6. Dick N
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Scientists have spent millions of man-hours creating and substantiating the theory of evolution, which is based on genetic mutation and natural selection of the fittest mutants. It is unbelievable how a few religiously driven zealots can create such havoc in the teaching of this science by lobbing bombs into the political arena.

    I equate this with the millions of man-hours that were required to construct the Twin Towers compared to the miniscule effort required by a handful of zealots.to bring them down There exist builders and destroyers — and the irrational fanatics from Discovery Institute and Institute for Creation Research are simply destroyers. Just think of the countless man-hours that are spent througout the nation trying to overcome their destructive tactics. UNBELIEVABLE!

  7. Cytocop
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Like other TFN supporters, I question why is there such a burning need to present the unknowns of evolution as “weaknesses.” Just because unknowns exist in the theory of evolution, how does that lead to the debunking of it? And how do unknowns in evolution prove creationism? Where is the connection? The theory of evolution has been hashed and rehashed for 150 years. Until it is proved false – which has yet to happen by the scientific method – it remains reliable. I am an artist, and until blue + yellow does not = green, color theory remains valid. Unless creationists want to challenge that, of course. But they wouldn’t bother only because color theory does not challenge their assumptions.

    So why the need to single out evolution? Why not also pick on cell theory? Or any theory? How about scrutinizing their own theory – which isn’t a theory at all but faith. Why waste student’s time comparing apples and oranges?

    I’d like the creationists to explain their weaknesses (except that such a discussion has no place in public school). And what do they use as supporting evidence besides the Bible – which, by the way, contains a multitude of unknowns and errors.

    And who do they want to hire to teach creationism? What would the vetting process be? We can assume that the teacher would have to be a Christian. But to be fair and balanced in the public school environment, you’d have to have a representative of every recognized and unrecognized religion in every class discussion of creationism. How would that work, and how many taxpayers would be willing to pay the salaries of all these additional educators?

  8. JJ
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Like the SBOE, ICR wants students to question and challenge the claims of science, which are the result of an exhaustive confirmation process, and to not question or challenge the Christian religion, which has received no confirmation whatsoever.

    What is needed is a groundswell of demand that, in the name of “religious freedom”, the weaknesses of the Christian religion be taught alongside its strengths wherever Christianity is taught, as a precondition for “teaching the controversy” in science. In the former case the discussion could go on for months; in the latter case it wouldn’t last for more than a single class session.

  9. Robangel
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I just don’t get it! How can people still question evolution? This question is nothing more then a distraction to the real issue, that we no longer live in a country where the voice of the people is heard an executed. We need to stop these people, and that means having TFN sponsored candidates to the school board. We need to remove McLeroy and his like minded creationists from the school board. We need to put up pro-education candidates who value the separation of ideaology and science. This will alleviate us of this problem. But for now we all need to be in Austin in Jan letting our voice be heard loud and clear! See you all in Austin!

  10. TXatheist
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Well it appears some of the detractors use the similar wording in their comments like the ICR does with it’s ideas concerning evolution. So what if the TFN is a darwinist outfit? Actually they aren’t but they do realize evolution is a fact like most other sciences and they support science. There are no weaknesses in evolution. None. There are unknowns as in any science but the only weakness is our knowledge and unfortunately that lack of knowledge of this science is what the ICR folks wish to put in science curriculums. Political correctness? As the one most elected officials must possess in states like Texas when it comes to politically correct religion answers. ” Oh yes, jesus really lived 2000 years ago.” Bull. A simple study of http://www.jesuspuzzle.com would reveal that jc is a fabricated man and god. Imagine a politician saying that jesus is a fabricated fairy tale creature and see how damaging one’s career becomes in Texas. The criticism of evolution is nothing more than Philip Johnson’s Wedge Strategy and we all know it. It’s the idea that evolution could be wrong and therefore creation ID “could” be right. yeah, well if creation ID could be right so could the Flying Spagetti Monster so teach that as a possibility in your sunday schools. And school choice? In other words vouchers so we can give money to private religious schools because some parents think that would be ok. See, that’s why oversight is needed because some parents are too irrational to realize religious schools are not any better. TFN is moderate, atheists like me are liberal and ID is only for fundies who don’t understand science.

  11. Posted November 30, 2008 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see the relevance of comparing “strengths and weakness” of evolutionary theories to ICR. First of all, there is no evidence of teaching creationism in the public schools in Texas since the language was adopted. Second of all, there is no evidence of “strengths and weakness” of teaching evolution resulted in teaching less evolution. The only difference is, evolution wasn’t taught as dogma which allowed students to think outside the box.

    The true motive of this misconception, is the fact that, TFN is trying to rally it’s base. making appear that ICR is trying to take over the public schools or something because they agree with the “strengths and weakness” language. TFN lacks substance in it’s misleading argument which has it’s own scare tactics.

  12. Posted November 29, 2008 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    I have the following criticisms of the survey:

    (1) The timing of the release of the full survey report and the press releases and news reports was very unfair, only 1-2 days before the state board of education’s Nov. 19 hearing and just a few days before the committees’ last opportunity to revise the proposed science standards on Dec. 4-6 (according to Steven Schafersman on the Houston Chronicle’s Evo.Sphere blog), not leaving enough time to challenge the results of the survey.

    (2) Only about 45% of the survey’s addressees responded and there are good reasons to believe that the respondents were not a representative group.

    (3) The reported questions were loaded, ambiguous, and/or unnecessarily restrictive.

    (4) The survey results are not consistent with the “strengths and weaknesses” language of the first drafts of the chemistry and astronomy standards and the “strengths and limitations” language of the second drafts of the biology, chemistry, and physics standards (BTW, I recommended that the word “criticisms” be used in place of “weaknesses” or “limitations”). I presume that most members of the committees are scientists and science teachers and are not hand-picked fundies.

    (5) The full report of the survey reported the responses for only a small fraction of the survey’s 59 questions. Furthermore, survey responses reported in the full report were cherry-picked by press releases and news reports to give the false impression that the respondents almost universally oppose the “weaknesses” language.

    (6) The survey is obsessed with creationism and intelligent design while ignoring other criticisms of evolution theory.

    (7) The names of some scientists who did not respond were revealed by the full report’s identification of the one institution that sent in no responses. In today’s climate of political correctness, merely being known to have not responded to the survey could damage one’s career.

    (8) The responses to the question about the compatibility of religion and evolution should have no influence on the state science standards — people should not be told what their religious beliefs are supposed to be.

    (9) The survey’s sponsor, the Texas Freedom Network, is a Darwinist outfit that strongly opposes the “strengths and weaknesses” language and the “strengths and limitations” language. Though this fact alone is not sufficient to disqualify the survey, it is a negative factor when viewed in combination with other factors.

  13. africangenesis
    Posted November 29, 2008 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    TFN, Better job this time of characterizing the survey.

    This phrase though is a bit of hyperbole:

    ” as if it’s fair to handicap our kids with a 19th-century education in their 21st-century science classrooms.”

    How handicapped are the kids, if the evolution (or lack of evolution) can be more than remedied with 2 nights snuggled up with “The Selfish Gene”, and their class time can be spent on something like biochemistry, which is also central to biology, or organ systems or phylogeny, or metabolism or photosynthesis or ecology. Not only could you not match that in the 19th century, mastery of these subjects is more practical preparation for the 21st century than evolution is.

    The SBOE shouldn’t be wasting its time considering meaningless changes in the science standards, and should be working on school choice and returning control to the local parents and teachers. They were elected for their judgement and values, and should not be swayed by “experts” in education. Education is a social science, and “social science” is an oxymoron.

  14. James F
    Posted November 28, 2008 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, the cold, hard facts of science do not support the evolutionary account.

    OK, this is just plain false. There isn’t a single piece of data in peer-reviewed scientific research papers that refutes evolution. The evolutionary “account” is entirely based on evidence, unlike the “creation model.” I don’t know how they persist with the delusional point of view that the scientific theory of evolution is unscientific.

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