And Now Terri Leo Chimes in on Science

Texas State Board of Education member Terri Leo, R-Spring, isn’t happy about an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle charging that board creationists (like Ms. Leo) are promoting a “narrow theological debate about the validity of evolution.” State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and state Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, authored the op-ed, in which they warned that the state board must be held accountable for politicizing the education of Texas schoolchildren.

In a counter opinion piece, Ms. Leo claims that no board member is trying to remove evolution from the public school science curriculum. “There is also no Board member who is seeking to implement religious beliefs into public school science curricula,” she writes.

For the past twenty years, students in Texas have been required “to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to the strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.” This standard has been applied to all scientific theories. Pro-Evolution Advocates, however, want evolution to be singled out and taught differently from the other theories. They want evolution to be taught without including the weaknesses of this theory. 

The evolutionists want the time-tested standard to be removed from our Texas standards and, hence, from our textbooks and teaching materials.  The twenty-year old standard does not state nor imply the teaching of religion, just “scientific explanations and scientific evidence.” If a teacher in our state had used this twenty-year-old standard as a “backdoor vehicle” through which to teach students religion, the ACLU most certainly would have sued by now.

There’s plenty more in the rest of her screed, but we’ll focus right now on the dishonesty in just those two paragraphs above.

Ms. Leo falsely claims that the “strengths and weaknesses” standard has been applied to all scientific theories. In fact, Ms. Leo was one of four creationist board members in 2003 who voted to reject proposed new biology textbooks because they didn’t include phony “weaknesses” of evolution promoted by creationists organizations like the Discovery Institute (and any number of evangelical Christian churches). They didn’t vote to reject any textbooks because they didn’t include “weaknesses” of other scientific theories. Not one. They singled out evolution.

Then when a majority of board members voted last month to keep the “strengths and weaknesses” language out of a new standards draft, creationists on the board offered a series of amendments targeting one theory — evolution. In fact, they succeeded in getting two of those amendments adopted, both challenging a core concept of evolution, common descent.

The only people singling out evolution and wanting it taught differently than other scientific theories are those in the creationist bloc. They claim that the “strengths and weaknesses” language has caused no problems in the past, but their own actions prove that’s a lie. They didn’t have the votes on the board to prevail in their war against evolution in 2003. They hope to have enough votes in 2011, when publishers submit new biology textbooks for adoption. In fact, members of the creationist bloc have already said they will insist that those new textbooks include phony “weaknesses” of evolution. If the textbooks don’t include that nonsence, the creationist bloc will move to reject them regardless of what they hear from real scientists.

Ms. Leo goes on, arguing that creationists are just trying to “broaden horizons and enhance thinking” about “varying scientific viewpoints.”

No. They are trying to twist the public school science curriculum into a vehicle for promoting their own narrow religious beliefs over everyone else’s. That’s what Sen. Ellis and Rep. Rose were rightly criticizing in their op-ed.

The truth is that creationists can’t provide a shred of scientific evidence against evolution. Every argument they have made about alleged “weaknesses” of evolution has been debunked by scientific research. Until that changes, their attacks against evolution have no place in a 21st-century science classroom.

Help us stand up for science in public school classrooms.

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  • Jeff says:

    Good post Andy!

  • Andy says:

    I’m not in total agreement with this woman, but in this case I would have to say your viewpoints thread the needle to the point of unreasonableness. There is nothing beneficial to be gained by opposing the publication of any textbook that is to be used in the classroom of any Texas public school. Biology is biology and it does not change. It has nothing whatsover to do with one’s on personal beliefs or that of a child. The role and reason for schools existence is to educate period. Nothing more and nothing less. The classroom should not be the pulpit for any religion, special interest group, conservationist, evolutionist or what have you. The core values that children should know and learn is a parents responsibility and should not be taught or expected to be taught in the domain of a classroom or by a teacher. Quit with all the finger pointing and condemnation and focus on teaching children what they need to know in or to succeed in todays world!

  • Ben says:

    Charles, thanks for the thoughtful posts. Interesting theory. You’re right, many such stories are no doubt possible. Another example is the Satan-wrote-the-bible theory I formulated in a previous thread. There is, of course, no way to prove I’m wrong. That’s why it’s especially irritating when creationists say, “You can’t prove god doesn’t exist.” Most of them, however, don’t bring up religion, but instead simply attack evolution, as we saw above.

    Another theory I like to throw at creationists happens to be the converse of your theory. Here it is: God (specifically Yahweh, not some other god) does in fact exist. The thing he values more than anything else is the ability to use reason and think logically. So he specifically wrote Genesis to weed out the people who don’t think logically. Anyone who interprets Genesis literally is doomed. Atheists, on the other hand—well, God thinks we’re supercool. For some reason, creationists don’t like this theory.

  • Charles says:

    However, despite the two above possibilities, Charles is still inclined to think that faith is important anyway, evolution is true, and Genesis 1 is a parable from the GREATEST TELLER OF PARABLES. If the fundies and scientists were to ever quit shredding each other with straight razors over who is correct, and just immerse themselves in the parable story-line, symbols, and implications, we might see a way towards some peace and real truth.

  • Charles says:

    Then there is also this conversation possible future:

    God: “Glad to see you Fred. You made it to the streets of gold.

    Fred: Wow!!! I did—but I need to ask you about something.

    God: What is that?

    Fred: “Well, was Genesis 1 actual history and science like we all believed?

    God: “No. Not at all.”

    Fred: “Well, then why did you tell it to us without indicating that it was fiction. We all thought it was real. You wanted us to believe everything in the Bible. Right?”

    God: “Yes, that was the point. It was a test of faith alone and the capacity to hold on to it no matter what.”

    Fred: “Well, I almost hate having to ask. All that evolution stuff? Was that real?

    God: “Yes, most of it was—although the scientists missed a few details because humans are fallible—but most of the evolution story was true and correct as they figured it out.”

    Fred: “Then why…”

    God: “I wanted you to believe in Genesis 1 solely because I told you to do it. Faith is the most important thing to me. Even though Genesis 1 was fiction and evolution was true, the most important thing is the fact that you did what I told you to do even in the face of clear factual information to the contrary. You obeyed me. That and the faith are all that is important to me. Whether the stories were factually true or not is irrelevant.”

  • Charles says:

    Thanks Ben.

    Actually, I have a few quietly held crackpot ideas of my own about how the world and eberything in it could be just 5000 years old. They require that God be defined as a supernatural trickster. In addition, they resort to propositions that involve: 1) actuality of the Holideck in Star Trek and 2) invoking the movie “The Matrix” concept.

    Basically, this world of “mental consciousness” that each of us perceives around us (and our seeming part in it) are Holideck or Matrix illusions. For example, that computer screen in front of your face right now is an illusion. It is not real. It is not there. Instead, its seeming presence is part of an elaborate and highly technological movie, computer program, or matrix-type illusion that exists far beyond our technological capabilities—so far that we could scarcely understand it. The program (which has the ability to mutate and self-create to a certain extent within itself—evolution) began running about 5000 Earth years ago, and the movie or computer program began with the Genesis 1 SCENES—sort of an overture to a grand opera. The geological record, the scientific relationships in the natural world, and so forth are just fictional stage dressing like the rest of the story. Their consistency was designed to fool and mislead certain large numbers of human characters in the grand play.

    Although the world around us is just an illusion, as I have described, we humans are actually real and stored away in some place that is beyond our perception—perhaps a factory of some sort. In fact, our physical form may be very different from how we perceive of ourselves. Each of us may be in reality a basketball-sized sphere of pure energy on a conveyor belt going into some strange QA/QC testing area at a factory. The owner of the mysterious factory (called God by us) has a testing criterion for each sphere. For whatever reason, no value judgements here, the most important thing to this God guy is whether any given energy sphere can perceive his existence in spite of the 3-dimensional movie or computer program illusion that he has created around each person. In a Biblical sense, he wants to identify those energy spheres that can perceive his hidden existence and be able to accept without question a really weird and illusory creation story that he has told them in the movie or program—and accept both on pure faith alone rather than a resort to apparent facts that at least seem like firm, scientific, factual knowledge—but really are not. The test will be failed by those energy spheres who believe that they have observed factual knowledge indicating 15 billion years of geological time and the law of superposition. These spheres are operating by sight rather than the required faith—and the sight is fooling them into believing that this God guy cannot exist because of the internal consistency in the natural surroundings illusion. These knowledge spheres will fail the test and be taken to the trash heap out in back of the factory. The faith-based energy spheres will be saved and carried on to some higher purpose in the factory because they have perceived this God guy’s presence in spite of the 3-dimensional illusions and have held to his weird sounding Genesis 1 story on faith alone. Of course, even the Genesis 1 portion of the movie or computer program was an illusion too—as were the scientific relationships in the imaginary natural world. However, the salvation goes to those energy spheres who can perceive the existence of God by faith alone in spite of the “facts” and hold on to the Genesis 1 illusion as fact no matter what. Why this God guy would do something like this is utter mystery, and the true nature of the usefulness of the saved spheres is also a mystery. However, the movie or computer program that is our world—that is our universe—has really only been running for 5000 Earth years. It is literally 5000 years old.

    Now. That is just one way of looking at it. Many such stories are no doubt possible.

  • Ben says:

    A great excerpt from a current post at Pharyngula:

    A lesson plan that includes creationism should plainly show that experiment and observation have irrefutably demonstrated that it is now a splintered pile of cack-minded gobshite, wrecked by a century and a half of discovery, and that its supporters now are reduced to pathetically feeble rationalizations that rely almost entirely on people’s emotional dependence on the legitimacy of their religious beliefs. A science class isn’t the place to rip into airy-fairy religiosity — we have other venues for that — but it should uncompromisingly demolish every attempt to link natural, material events to pious metaphysics. If a student comes out of such a class believing that maybe there is still something to the Genesis explanation of the origins of life, then the instructor has not done her job. Her job was to explain with science how the world works, and if anyone wants to smuggle in the seven days and the magic fruit tree and the talking snake, it should be so the teacher can show the students that that is not how it works.

    I’m willing to grant creationism an hour or two in the classroom, as long as its role is to be an easy victim, to demonstrate how science can be used to eviscerate bad ideas (I also know from experience that most students find that extremely entertaining, as well as informative). From what I’ve seen of most of the creationist curricula advanced by these quacks, that isn’t what they want. To which we have to say, then it isn’t science.

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  • By Stand Up For REAL Science on February 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    “I can find out no such case.”…

    Texas State Board of Education member Terri Leo is totally against censorship. Totally….

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