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News concerning the Texas textbook controversy

Group promotes evolution in textbooks

Campaign unveiled as state board prepares to pick biology textbooks

07:47 AM CDT on Thursday, August 21, 2003

Associated Press

AUSTIN A group of teachers, scientists, parents and religious leaders on Wednesday launched a campaign they say is an effort to protect the accurate teaching of evolution in high school biology textbooks.

"Evolution is the most crucial concept we teach in biology. It is the cornerstone for understanding the living world," said Austin biology teacher Amanda Walker.

The Stand Up For Science campaign was unveiled as the state Board of Education prepares to adopt biology texts in November.

The evolution proponents criticized what they say are attempts to teach creationist theories and said creationism isn't used as a basis in science or medical literature.

Other groups, including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute think tank, say they just want to ensure that scientific weaknesses of evolution, or Darwinism, are presented to Texas students.

Critics say "intelligent design" is a dressed-up version of creationism, which the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited from public schools as a violation of the separation of church and state.

"The choice of the state Board of Education is not between religion and science, but a decision about which will be taught in our science classrooms," said Larry Bethune, chairman of the Texas Freedom Network, a group which says it is a watchdog of the religious right. Mr. Bethune is also a Baptist minister.

Battle over evolution heating up

Updated: 8/20/2003 4:58:02 PM
By: Antonio Castelan and Wire reports

The debate continues over what information Texas biology books should present.

The Texas Board of Education is looking to pick the best science book for students.

Members of a campaign called "Stand Up For Science'' said it's meant to protect the accurate teaching of evolution in Texas high school biology textbooks.

The push was unveiled on Wednesday by some religious leaders, scientists and parents. It comes as the state Board of Education prepares to adopt new biology textbooks this fall.

Terry Maxwell, a professor of biology at Angelo State University, doesn't believe creationism should be in biology textbooks.

"Science uses evidentiary reasoning and it uses no other approach," he said.

Creationists generally believe earth was formed supernaturally by God.

Reverend Tom Hegar said while he believes in God's powers, those ideas need to stay at home or in the church.

"Faith and science are complimentary. Don't use faith to build your science. Don't use science to try to destroy or shrink my faith," he said.

Seattle-based Discovery Institute believes the theory of intelligent design should be in Texas biology books. According to the Institute, intelligent design is the hypothesis that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Science backers say that's the same thing as creationism.

"Textbooks should fix embarrassing factual errors and tell students about the scientific weakness of neo-Darwinism as well as its strengths," Discovery Institute officials stated in a faxed memo.

Maxwell said two different ideologies make it harder for students to learn science.

"If you interject ways of knowing other than the way science is practiced by mainstream science you confuse children," he said.

Austin biology teacher Amanda Walker said evolution is the cornerstone for understanding the living world, and influences medicine such as prostate cancer, heart disease and AIDS.

The evolution proponents also criticized what they said are attempts to teach creationist theories.

The Board of Education can reject bookng up the factual problems and what we see as a biased lack of balance in many biology textbooks," said Trotter.

The State Board of Education is allowed to reject textbooks only for factual errors. The board is scheduled to vote in November on the biology books.

After the first hearing in July, one publisher changed a passage to encourage students to use the library or Internet to "study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives" to those discussed in the textbook.

In 2001, the board rejected an environmental science textbook after critics complained it was extreme and anti-American. Last year, history book references to the Ice Age and other events occurring "millions of years ago" were changed to read "in the distant past."

Publishers last year also responded to criticism that there wasn't enough information about minorities in the textbooks by adding passages about Mexicans who helped defend the Alamo and the later struggles of Mexican-Americans for civil rights.

Panel backs off evolution debate

Posted on Thu, Aug. 21, 2003

Union school board asked to urge revision of science curriculum
Staff Writer

MONROE - The Union County school board on Tuesday flirted with, then backed away from, a more-than-century-long debate questioning evolution's place in science education.

Under discussion in the board's meeting was a proposal to ask the state to revise its science curriculum guidelines to include "both the strengths and weaknesses of the Theory of Evolution without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption."

N.C. education officials are currently reviewing the state science curriculum as they do every five years. Although they are still gathering public comment, an official said discussion from Union County residents has been the first public questioning of evolution's role in the curriculum.

But the Union County measure, effectively defeated when the board passed an alternative resolution to stay quiet on the curriculum, is yet another battle in an enduring nationwide movement to challenge evolutionary theory. The movement itself, however, has also evolved.

"It's the latest variation on a theme," said Tom Hutton, staff attorney with the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va.

Back in 1925 in Dayton, Tenn., the question was whether evolution should be taught at all when John Scopes, a substitute biology teacher, was tried in court for teaching Charles Darwin's 1859 theory that humans were not created in the Garden of Eden but through the evolution of other animal species.

Now, due to court interpretations of the First Amendment's separation of church and state, Hutton said, evolutionary theory opponents have modified how they make their point.

Instead of creationism, the belief in the Biblical story of creation, some are arguing "intelligent design," he said, which is "carefully designed to be not a religious but a scientific approach." Intelligent design argues that the universe was created, then governed by a higher intelligence.

In Union County, school board members Dean Arp and Phil Martin want students to discuss evolution's flaws.

"The way it is now, we are teaching an evolutionary-only, naturalist-biased approach," said Arp, via speakerphone from Ohio because of a funeral. Instead, he said he wanted "a balanced curriculum that's unbiased."

Arp and Martin said the resolution came from their constituents' concerns expressed at a public meeting last week in Charlotte.

Both had attended the meeting in which state education officials heard comments on the science curriculum revisions. It was one of six statewide sessions to gather public comments before education officials submit a revised science curriculum to the state school board in November.

Once approved, the curriculum will be taught in 2005, said Bill Tucci, who heads the state's math and science division.

Of the six meetings, Tucci said Charlotte's was the only one in which participants questioned how evolutionary theory should be taught. The N.C. School Boards Association also said it hadn't heard debate on how evolution should be handled in the new curriculum.

Want to Learn More?

To view N.C. current and proposed science curricula, visit:

Louis Jacobs: Don't let state hurt evolution

05:34 PM CDT on Sunday, August 24, 2003

It is school time again. And as certain as the changing seasons are the disputes over curriculum and textbook content.

The State Board of Education will be taking up the issue of evolution yet again on Sept. 10.

I recently was asked to give a keynote address to science teachers in a certain Texas school district as part of its back-to-school activities because (I presume) I wrote the book Lone Star Dinosaurs. Teachers and students like dinosaurs and use them in science education.

There are, arguably, three great unifying concepts in the natural sciences.

The first removed Earth from the center of the solar system and replaced it with the sun. The second is plate tectonics, which explains the functioning of Earth, the distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes, and the placement of economic deposits. And the third is evolution, which recognizes that all life on Earth is related, each species to the other, and that life changes through geologic time.

Those concepts don't profess all knowledge of all things, but they haven't been contradicted by subsequent observations.

If the argument about evolution in textbooks were simply about science, it no longer would come up, just as the celestial position of the sun doesn't, because the scientific community accepts evolution as well tested.

But since Texas is the second-largest market for textbooks, an anti-evolution campaign is waged here, complete with so-called experts from out of state coming to push their agenda. It takes the form of "intelligent design."

Even so, what a strong scientific community we have in Texas!

Look at the research power of our universities and industry.

Look at our hospitals.

Look at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Indeed, look at our energy companies.

The wealth of Texas was built in large measure on oil, the distilled guts of past life, and Texas boasts one of the most highly qualified groups of earth scientists anywhere.

Still, for some, there really is no immediate practical concern about where Earth is in the solar system. It doesn't affect their lives on a daily basis to know that continents drift atop sliding tectonic plates. Nor is the reality of evolution a factor in day-to-day decision making.

So, they are free not to worry about unifying concepts, even though everyone benefits from and utilizes the results of that knowledge.

In fact, the major objective of knowledge is to understand the big picture, how observations fit together, to satisfy curiosity and to use broader knowledge for the good of humanity.

In that sense, there seems to be no limit as to how excellent a textbook or a curriculum can be. But there is a limit as to how bad a textbook can be and still be chosen for use in public classrooms.

Texas, because of its large market share of textbook sales, is positioned to lead the country in educational quality. If we don't do that, if we opt for an agenda-driven curriculum, the question becomes: How many extra hurdles do we wish to place in a student's path?

A top-notch science curriculum would leave out the misrepresentations and misunderstandings of intelligent design, emphasize chemistry, physics and biology, and include earth sciences equally.

An understanding of those subjects makes for a scientifically literate public in a rapidly advancing technical age and prepares our students for their role in it.

Louis L. Jacobs is a professor of geological sciences at Southern Methodist University, president of the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at SMU and author of Lone Star Dinosaurs. His e-mail address is

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