Anti-Science Forces Try to Spin Loss

We wondered how the evolution-deniers would spin this disastrous end to their two-year campaign to insert bogus criticisms of evolution into Texas science instructional materials. Predictably, we didn’t have to wait long. They are absurdly claiming they somehow won.

The primary mouthpiece for the state’s anti-evolution lobby — the Texas-affiliate of Focus on the Family that calls itself Liberty Institute — tweeted this knee-slapper:

“Victory! SBOE unanimously votes to require changes to errors in science materials, related to evolution, before adoption.”

Since these folks don’t have a good grasp of what just happened, let’s review some facts here.

First, nine science supplements were just approved for use in Texas classrooms. All of those currently contain a complete, accurate treatment of evolution, free from any ideological propaganda questioning evolutionary science. The anti-evolution lobby threw in the towel on most of these, deciding to target only one — the submission from Holt McDougal — for criticism, relying on a list of bogus “errors” submitted by one creationist on the review panel. The others were approved without any changes that water down their coverage of evolution.

For the record, the Liberty Institute lobbyist yesterday testified that many of the science submissions contained multiple “errors” and failed to adequately cover the curriculum standards. From the Dallas Morning News:

Other testimony was offered by evolution critics, who contended that some of the high school biology materials did not comply with science curriculum standards adopted by the education board two years ago that called for high school students to study evidence challenging key principles of evolution.

“These materials need to match up with those standards [from 2009],” said Jonathan Saenz of the Liberty Institute, citing the requirement that students examine “all sides” of evolution and other scientific theories.

Moreover, the same lobbyist also tweeted that there were 16 binders worth of “errors” in these submissions:

I guess those other submissions somehow magically corrected themselves overnight and those scores of “errors” Liberty Institute identified were fixed. Because otherwise, LI just declared complete “victory” after the adoption of products that are supposedly full of “errors.” And if they really achieved complete victory, perhaps Liberty Institute can show us where the newly adopted materials require students to “study evidence challenging key principles of evolution.”

As to the compromise struck on the Holt McDougal product, here’s the bottom line: that matter has been taken out of the hands of the State Board of Education and given to the Texas education commissioner and the professional staff of the Texas Education Agency. If the creationists on the board had held the votes necessary to insert anti-evolution propaganda into the materials, they would have done so. As soon as it became clear they did not have the eight votes necessary to accomplish this, they gave up. And the compromise of punting the issues with the Holt McDougal product to the commissioner afforded them a face-saving way to avoid a humiliating public vote.

In other words, the anti-evolution lobby failed in its primary objective and all of the materials approved by the board teach sound evolutionary science.

So what happens now? The education commissioner and TEA staff will work with Holt McDougal to make some revisions to a handful of brief passages in their submission. We’ll obviously have to remain vigilant to ensure any changes reflect mainstream science, but we see no reason why this process should result in the introduction of creationist propaganda into this submission. After all, the publisher has already refused to acquiesce to the demands of the creationist panel member, and unlike the anti-evolution politicians on the board, the commissioner and staff recognize the need for accurate, 21st-century science materials in Texas classrooms.

In short, creationist claims of “victory” today are absurd. This was a good day for public education in Texas.

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61 Comments

  1. Posted August 18, 2011 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    gracieallan,

    I think the idea that you can’t have science without god is like saying you can’t have airplanes without roads.
    Sure, airplanes need a kind of road to take off, but the very essence of airplanes is that they DON’T use roads, not to mention plenty of airborne vehicles take off and land vertically and so have nothing whatsoever to do with roads at all, or even land for that matter.

    I.e. whenever someone is talking about planes, “roads” and “roadiness” and other road-related ideas and concepts are usually the very thing they’re NOT discussing, and in any event completely beside the point. In other words, roads have no place within the subjects of planes.

  2. Posted August 18, 2011 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    As der Brat already touched upon, I think the main reason scientists don’t consider god as a scientific route of inquiry is because religion doesn’t make many falsifyable claims about god (and on those occasions when they do, evidence to prove them wrong is often easy to find).
    And if you were going to try the scientific route to try and prove god, which religion or which of the many interpretations and concepts of god are you going to investigate?

    In the end, religious scientists seem to practice a kind of “god of the gaps” philosophy. The more you know and learn about the universe, the more you realise that the literal biblical daddy-god up on his cloud in heaven throwing lightning bolts is utter childish nonsense. But the fluffier, less firmly defined ideas of god sometimes posited start to lose their place in reality too as our understanding of reality increases. So you end up pushing god further back into the recesses of knowledge until he gets pushed completely outside of our observable universe altogether; at which point the existence of god becomes moot, because he has litterally and figuratively become immaterial to science.

    In other words, scientists try to explain how the universe works, and eliminating the religious people’s go to response of “god-did-it” when finding answers becomes tough is the best thing there is. The most honest and useful response is “I don’t know”.

  3. der Brat
    Posted August 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    reboho: Sure, science does not deal with proof; however, at some point we establish things as “fact” that have no reasonable chance of being incorrect. The sphere-like nature of the Earth replaced the flat Earth as a fact that seems pretty incontrovertible. Evolution as something that has happened (and continues to) is approximately as much of a fact. However, there are quite a few details about it that have not reached the same level of certainty. These pertain to the various evolutionary pathways taken during the past as well as the precise mechanisms in specific instances. Rather than quibble over words like “proof” and “fact” it is much more productive to continue trying to elucidate the hypothetical aspects of evolution – both in terms of the past and what the future may hold.

  4. Posted August 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Beverly said “Evolution has been proven; it is no longer a “theory.””. I’m sorry, but that is not really correct. Science is not in the business of “proving” things. Science posits reasonable explanations for the evidence. Science can always adjust its views based on what’s observed. A theory is a logically consistent framework that has been tested and shown to fit the evidence as currently known. There is always the possibility that new evidence will come along that invalidates or changes the theory. I agree that evolution is essentially fact as currently described but it’s still theory in scientific parlance. Proven implies that we have reached an end, that no further evidence is forthcoming and that further inquiry is not necessary, that we have reached first principles. Proving things falls more into the realm of mathematics, that statements being logically consistent. Sorry to nitpick but we have to try be precise so that when we use the word “theory”, it means what we intend it to mean.

  5. Ben
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I’m sure I can find some PhDs who think the earth is flat, or that the earth is at the center of our universe, or that the Holocaust never happened, or that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or that global warming is a scam, or that vaccines don’t work, or…..

  6. Charles
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    I knew she was wasting my time, and she proved it by even bringing up that stall full of fruitcakes over at “Answers in Genesis.”

    The thing that bothers me most is that she is wasting her own time as well while she persists in fighting against the truth—and by so doing—Jesus himself. Some people are just not open to a Biblical understanding of spiritual truths that exist beyond the black walls that they build around themselves—or perhaps better put—the walls they allow some redneck preacher to build around them.

  7. Ben
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    “I’m off to other things …seems that I’m wasting certain people’s time around here”

    This is what is known as a flounce, but at least it wasn’t the stereotypical “you atheists will all burn in hell!” flounce.

    gracie, I’m sure you appreciate science sometimes, except for those times when it clashes with your literal interpretation of the bible. That’s what makes you a denialist. You’re not ignorant because you disagree with me (nor would I ever say that), you’re ignorant because you deny the fact of evolution.

  8. der Brat
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    gracie,

    It is almost impossible for us (Homo sapiens) to see how our emotions affect our reason; for this reason I reject your claim not to be so guided. I also reject the notion that I approach anything from a basis of faith, inasmuch as faith implies no evidence, and I reject accepting anything without evidence — even the notion that we can find answers to all questions through science. For all I know there will always be some questions that we cannot answer. I am content to say, “I don’t know,” until there is some evidence.

  9. gracieallan
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Ben,

    Actually, I love science. Took a lot of it in college (no philosophy classes though). Quite honestly, I don’t see any conflict between the beliefs I’ve shared and science.

    But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at a list of scientists in various fields who feel the same way (http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/bios/). Even with the depth of knowledge required for a Ph.D., these scientists apparently don’t see any conflict either. I think you’re wrong to assume that only the ignorant could possibly disagree with you.

    Hartmut,

    Thanks. That was interesting.

    der Brat,

    I agree with so much of what you say, and appreciate your courtesy in how you word it. I nodded my head all the way through most of your last post (up to the last two sentences – I don’t think I’ve turned to God to meet my need for security – and, as I’ve said before, I think you start at the point of faith, too – faith that anything you’ll ever need to know, you will discover in the material world).

    Again, I have enjoyed the discussion, but I’m off to other things …seems that I’m wasting certain people’s time around here. ;)

    gracie

  10. Hartmut
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    The Enlightenment was not the first brush of Christianity with rationalism. The medieval scholastic philosophy was an attempt to ‘prove’ theology by means of the (basically) rationalist Aristotelian philosophy. Philosophy, prior to that considered pagan evil*, was to become the handmaiden of theology. St.Thomas Aquinas (whom I personally loath and hate) was not unopposed in this. The fundamentalists of that age feared and hated Aristotle escpecially because his approach was rational and inimical to the belief that the heart leads to God and the brain to Satan.

    *reading some Christian ‘thinkers’ of late antiquity, they seem to have a lot in common with the communist principle of Parteilichkeit (partisanship), i.e. evidence has to be judged not on merit but on who profits of it. I guess the pagan philosophers pulled out their remaining hair when confronted with that point of view on open display. Well, if the pagans could not be persuaded, having them murdered was the next best option (cf. Hypathia).

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