After years of struggles over the inclusion of creationism in Texas public school textbooks, it’s possible that this fight may soon be extinct.
As reported by sound science education activist Zack Kopplin, who recently received Americans United’s David Norr Youth Activist Award, the future of creationism in Texas textbooks is now in the hands of politicians.
Since it’s Texas, that isn’t normally a good thing. After all, Religious Right favorites like former Gov. Rick Perry (R) and current U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) have been elected to high office there. But there is reason for hope. In September, educators working for the Texas Education Agency removed several problematic passages promoting creationism from the state science standards. The final decision on those changes now rests in the hands of the Texas State Board of Education, an elected body.
This is a pretty big deal. As Kopplin noted: “If the decision stands, it would be a major blow to political creationism and the first time in a decade for any state’s creationism policy to be overturned.”
The creationist curriculum, which was crafted in 2009, includes some of the standard tactics far-right fundamentalists like to use in order to undermine evolution. Texas public school students are forced to learn “all sides” of theories that attempt to explain the origins of life on Earth, and must “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.” They also require students to examine “sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.”
All of that is an attempt to force religious dogma on students. As Kopplin explained:
“Complexity of the cell is a stand in for irreducible complexity, the creationist belief that the structure and function of cell components (and pieces of other larger body parts) are too interdependent to have formed through evolution, piece by piece over many generations. Instead, creationists posit that cells were created fully formed and all at once, by God.”
Zack Kopplin accepting AU's Youth Activist Award on Monday.
He continued: “Sudden appearance is a reference to the Cambrian Explosion, a period beginning around 550 million years ago. Over the next 20 million years, a large number of animal phyla appeared in the fossil record. This is unusually rapid evolution, and because the term explosion mirrors creation, it has become go-to evidence for creationists claiming that God made animals.”
Unfortunately, Kopplin said, creationist advocates haven’t given up just yet. Multiple state board of education members are open advocates for creationism, including Donna Bahorich, a former campaign manager for Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). She has expressed concern over depictions of “horseshoe crab sex” in textbooks and is expected to vote in favor of keeping creationism in the science standards.
Another board member, Ken Mercer, said those who criticize evolution are often treated the way the Nazis treated their critics.
“Did professors who found weaknesses in the Nazi theories receive research grants, funding, and foundation awards?” Mercer asked some years ago. “History is not kind to Darwinian evolutionists.”
The final vote on the standards will be held next spring. Kopplin said the 15-member board is now split 6-6 between advocates of creationism and sound science; the remaining three members could vote either way. But that might change. One conservative member who opposed teaching creationism in textbooks is stepping down this year. The candidate who is expected to replace him is also conservative, but he has not yet made his position on creationism known.
It’s important to keep in mind that what happens in Texas on the textbook front has ramifications for the rest of the county. Since the Lone Star state has the second largest school system in the United States, textbook publishers will often make books tailored to fit Texas’ standards – then market those books in other places too.
At this point, it’s very difficult to say how this will play out. But for the first time in a long time, there is hope that a massive public school system will give a cowboy boot religious dogma in favor of sound science.