Passing The Science Test: Texas School Board Derails Most Of Creationist Plot

Today seems to be a pretty good end to a very historical week -- at least on the church-state separation front.

This morning, the Texas State Board of Education voted 8-7 to approve science standards that leave out well-known creationist code language that could weaken science education.

A final vote is scheduled for March, but according to a report from the Dallas News, the board will likely ratify today's vote.

Religious Right forces wanted the standards to require that students be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. They hoped that phrasing would open the door to instruction that reflects fundamentalist Christian doctrines about the origins of man.

Fortunately, the creationist crusade fell short by one vote.

Unfortunately, creationists on the board were not completely routed. They still succeeded in pushing through an amendment that allowed students to discuss the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common descent, a core concept of evolutionary biology.

Despite this setback, Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), declared this first round of approval for new science standards as a win.

"The Board listened to its scientific advisors and rejected an attempt to insert 'weaknesses' back into the standards," said Scott. "They didn't, however, have time to talk to scientists about the creationist-inspired amendments made at the last minute. Once they do, I believe these inaccurate amendments will be removed."

For months, NCSE, the Texas Freedom Network, the 21st Century Science Coalition, Americans United and allied groups have been battling the Discovery Institute and other Religious Right forces that want to teach creationist concepts in the science classroom.

Earlier this month, we celebrated a mini-victory when the final curriculum proposal drafted by a teacher working group removed the "strengths and weaknesses" language.

Yet at the meeting yesterday, Board Member Cynthia Dunbar moved to put "strengths and weaknesses" back into the standards. She argued that the "strengths and weaknesses" language hadn't been challenged in two decades, according TFN's live blog from the meeting.

Dunbar, a law graduate of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent University (and author of One Nation Under God), urged the board not to follow recommendations from teachers and scientists.

These experts, she said, "are just some of the people" board members need to be listening to and her constituents wanted the language to remain. She accused opponents of "strengths and weaknesses" to be stifling the debate in the classroom.

"[Supporters of evolution] are afraid of what the weaknesses will show," she said.

But Board Member Lawrence Allen noted that every one of the constituents he has talked to on this issue wanted him to vote against the "strengths and weaknesses" language. And Board Member Bob Craig, in opposing Dunbar's statements, said, "Some (here) think they know better how to teach than the teachers."

It seems some board members even think they know more than the scientists. In October, Board Chairman Don McLeroy's commented that he does not believe in evolution, a statement that prompted more than 800 Texas scientists to form the 21st Century Science Coalition and prove him wrong.

"Not a single one [of the articles in these journals] gives us reason to believe evolution did not occur," Dan Bolnick, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas told The Statesman in October. "So where are the weaknesses? Simple: They don't exist. They are not based on scientific research or data and have been refuted countless times."

Today's vote makes it clear that majority of the board does not want to use the Texas public school system as a vehicle for fundamentalist Christian ideas. Come March, let's hope Dunbar, McLeroy and the other creationist board members can give it up and realize Texas kids deserve better.