Texas Reviews Evolution Rule
Austin, Tex--The long-simmering controversy over how the origins of the human race should be presented in the classroom boiled over again last week as the Texas State Board of Education began considering guidelines s adoption of the biology textbooks that will be used in Texas schools for the next eight years.
At a conference on "Evolution, Science Teaching, and Textbook Selection" here this month, those who favor the teaching of evolution were represented by Steven Weinberg, Josey Regental Professor of Science at the University of Texas at Austin and 1979 Nobel Laureate in Physics. Leaving evolution out of biology textbooks or treating it in a cursory manner is like leaving gravity out of astronomy textbooks, Mr. Weinberg said.
The next day, the creationists presented Charles Duke Jr., the former astronaut who walked on the moon in 1972. Now an investor who lives in Texas, Mr. Duke testified at a meeting of the state board of education that "Darwinian evolution ... is not fact, but theory."
The conference was sponsored by People for the American Way, an organization formed by civil-liberties advocates to counter what they consider to be attacks on constitutionally protected rights. The group has been working to influence the state board of education to change its administrative code, which decrees: "Textbooks that treat the theory of evolution shall identify it as only one of several explanations of the origins of humankind and avoid limiting young people in their search for meanings of human existence. ... [Textbooks] explaining the historical origins of humankind shall be edited, if necessary, to clarify that the treatment is theoretical rather than factually verifiable."
The vote in the state board of education remains steady--25 for the code as it stands and two against.
"The people who wrote this [administrative rule] know nothing about what theory of science and fact of science mean," said Mr. Weinberg. "The consequence is that evolution is being driven out of our classrooms."
"I can imagine a party of astrologers getting on their broomsticks and saying we should teach the Co-pernican theory [of astronomy] as just one of many theories," he said.
Fundamentalist religious leaders who believe in a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation are pushing for giving creationism equal time with evolution in the curriculum.
Norman Geisler, professor of philosophy and religion at Dallas Theological Seminary, who urged the state board to include scientific creationism in public-school curricula, said: "If it was bigotry in 1925 to exclude evolution from the schools, then it is bigotry in 1983 to exclude creation. Bigotry has not changed since 1925, only the bigots have."
The Rev. Roland Lesseps, professor of biology at Loyola University in New Orleans, took an opposing view. He told science teachers and others attending the conference that Roman Catholics see no conflict between their theology and the concept of evolution. "God created a universe which is evolving. ... Creation is ongoing," he said. He was joined in that view by other religious leaders who spoke at the meeting.
The debate in Texas takes on national significance because the state is the largest single purchaser of textbooks in the United States, buying some $60 million worth in 1982 alone and $36.3 million for the current adoption of language, history, and mathematics books. The biology selection comes up next year.
The problem has been further intensified by the economics of publishing. Publishers contend that they cannot print an edition for Texas schools only, People for the American Way officials note, so they tend to include in the books offered to every school system in the nation the changes they must make to be eligible for the Texas market.
One of the conference participants asked Mr. Weinberg whether he thought the religious beliefs of students should be protected in science classes. "It is not the business of the schools," the Nobel Laureate responded, "to protect religious beliefs. The Constitution does not allow public schools to protect any religious belief. [Religious beliefs] must stand or fall on their own merits."
If parents disagree with that, said Mr. Weinberg, they "can send their children to private, religious schools."