Fast-Evolving Debate in Texas

By Sean Cavanagh — March 27, 2009 2 min read
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The theory of evolution’s treatment in the Texas science standards is in a state of flux. The board of education took a preliminary vote yesterday. They’re meeting again right now. You can listen to a live audio of their discussion onthis site. Look under “Agency News,” and “listen live.” You can follow it on Twitter here.

Here’s where things stand, as of this morning:

The Texas board of education has tentatively dropped language from the state science standards that says students should learn about the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, in a move that pleased scientists.

Yet the board, at its meeting on Thursday, was also considering amendments to the document that call into question core aspects of the theory, including the common ancestry of living things.

Curricular decisions in Texas, because of its share of the education market, hold significant sway over textbook publishers and curriculum developers across the country. At an earlier vote in January, the 15-member board narrowly decided to remove the strengths-and-weaknesses language. Last week, in another, preliminary vote, the board rejected an effort to reinsert that language, a move applauded by scientific experts.

At that same Thursday meeting, however, the board had approved an amendment calling for students to analyze the “sufficiency or insufficiency,” of evidence for common ancestry. The board also called for students to “analyze the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”

Scientists consider such language misleading, since it implies that common ancestry, and natural selection are riddled with doubt, when it fact they are backed up by voluminous scientific evidence. Common ancestry is rejected by some critics, including those who believe that God created humans and all living things as described in the Bible. Scientists also objected to other amendments they say undermine the teaching of science generally, such as language calling for critical analysis of molecular biology and the Big Bang.

That language was all tentative, pending a final board vote on Friday. I was just forwarded a copy of the minutes from yesterday’s meeting, and it’s possible that several amendments could be reversed on final vote. Many of the votes were 7-7 or 6-8, and one of the board members was absent yesterday.

Many scientific organizations have argued for a comprehensive teaching of evolution. ““We urge you to vote for removing anti-science changes to the draft standards and protect the future of science education and technology-based industry in Texas,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote in a March 23 letter to the board.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.