The Texas Board of Education has tentatively adopted new teaching standards that would make it more difficult to teach creationism in Lone Star state schools.
Board members voted eight-to-seven last night to drop controversial language in the state's curriculum that requires science teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories.
The move was hailed by Eugenie Scott, executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education. "There are no weaknesses of evolution," she told us, echoing a comment she made to the Dallas Morning News, which reported yesterday that that panel was mulling the move.
"I don’t know any mainstream scientists who are questioning whether evolution took place," Scott tells ScientificAmerican.com. "That's not to say we understand everything that happened in evolution or the mechanisms that caused evolutionary change. But … arguments about the details aren’t arguments about whether evolution took place. The creationists make that category error."
The vote came in the wake of concern that the board could loosely interpret the phrase to mean that teachers should teach creationism alongside evolution in science classes as a theory on the origin of life. The board, which in the past few years has attracted creationist members, is in charge of purchasing textbooks for the state's schools. And opponents of teaching the religious theory of life in public schools worried that the panel would insist that books and curriculum include common creationist arguments against Charles Darwin's theories.
Among them: that evolution can't explain the Cambrian explosion (a period 540 million years ago when life on Earth rapidly diversified) and that a classic example of natural selection, the peppered moth experiment that showed that the color of moths changed to adapt to pollution, was a fraud.
But the board last night nixed the 20-year-old language and replaced it with the requirement that kids "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The vote was a preliminary one; the final one is expected when the board meets again in late March. A public comment period is scheduled for between now and then.
"It’s outrageous that our highest elected education officials voted to silence teachers and students in science class," said Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs for the Plano nonprofit Free Market Foundation, whose objective is to "protect freedoms and strengthen families."
"This decision shows that science has evolved into a political popularity contest," Saenz said in the statement. "The truth has been expelled from the science classroom."
You can read more about Scott’s perspective in her December 2008 piece for Scientific American. Check out our interactive map of evolution vs. creationism curriculum debates.
Image © iStockphoto/Bulent Ince