Strengths and Weaknesses in Texas

The New York Times provides an update on the latest shenanigans of the ID folks:

Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are “creationism” or “intelligent design” or even “creator.”

The words are “strengths and weaknesses.”

Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.

Somehow I don't think a failure to fully incorporate the findings of evo-devo into traditional Neo-Darwinism is the sort of weakness they have in mind.

Since Intelligent Design (ID) is nothing more than a litany of alledged failures of evolution with the statement, “Therefore, God did it,” tacked on at the end, this is plainly an attempt to teach ID. “Strengths and weaknesses” is just the new euphemism they have devised for covering up their sectarian religious motives.

The article goes on to quote one of the main supporters of the change:

Dr. McLeroy, the board chairman, sees the debate as being between “two systems of science.”

“You've got a creationist system and a naturalist system,” he said.

Dr. McLeroy believes that Earth's appearance is a recent geologic event -- thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” he said, “The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”

But Dr. McLeroy says his rejection of evolution -- “I just don't think it's true or it's ever happened” -- is not based on religious grounds. Courts have clearly ruled that teachings of faith are not allowed in a science classroom, but when he considers the case for evolution, Dr. McLeroy said, “it's just not there.”

“My personal religious beliefs are going to make no difference in how well our students are going to learn science,” he said.

If Texas high school students are taught a lot of creationist talking points because McLeroy gets his way, then I'd say his personal religious views will be making a big difference in how well they learn science.

The article closes with this:

“When you consider evolution, there are certainly questions that have yet to be answered,” said Mr. Fisher, science coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District in North Texas.

But, he added, “a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness.”

Mr. Fisher points to the flaws in Darwinian theory that are listed on an anti-evolution Web site,, which is run by Texans for Better Science Education.

“Many of them are decades old,” Mr. Fisher said of the flaws listed. &lldquo;They've all been thoroughly refuted.”

The distinction between an open question (calling it a problem makes it sound like it's something you're worried about) and a weakness is an important one. An open question is one that you might reasonably hope to answer with more research of the same basic kind you have been doing. A weakness is some bit of data that seems to conflict with the expectations of the theory. Evolution has plenty of open questions, but no weaknesses. The problem for biologists is never, “How could this possible have evolved?” It is always, “Of the many ways this might have evolved, which is the correct one.”

Incidentally, if you follow the link mentioned in the article, you realize that Dr. Fisher is not kidding. Their list of weaknesses in evolution is the usual litany of creationist quote-mines. Worth a skim, if just for the part where Stephen Jay Gould is described as an “Atheist-Marxist-Evolutionist.”

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Both religion and science are faced with things they don't, or can't know. Faced with the Big Bang and asked what preceded it science says it doesn't, can't, know. Religion claims that in the absence of anything else: God did it. To which science asks: Who made God? The only answer left is that they don't know.

The only real difference is that when faced with the unknown and unknowable science openly asserts that it doesn't know but allows that we will continue to work on it. Whereas religion stuffs everything not known into a bottle and labels that bottle: God; and proclaims all issues solved and understood. No need for any further questions or research.

Not only are all of the points on the list easily (and often!) refuted, with the exception of a couple of citations to 2003, every reference is over ten years old, most significantly older. I'd ask if they simply didn't understand the changing (dare I say, evolving?) nature of science over time, but I think we all already know the answer to that.

You have to love "MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS" repeated six times at the bottom of the page. Actually, I agree with them on this point. Here are some of my questions for the makers of the site:

- Do you see the problem with claiming to be supporting science literacy when you, yourself, are scientifically illiterate?
- Anyone who puts those claims forward as legitimate challenges for evolution is either completely ignorant or a lying sack of vaginal washings. Which are you?
- The move from "special creation" to "intelligent design" had some rhetorical strength for at least a couple of minutes. Going from "intelligent design" to "strengths and weaknesses" doesn't even have that going for it. How stupid do you think we are?
- Are you projecting?
- Or did you just stop trying?
- Will you please stop trying?

Ho hum. Americans, eh?

You know, last time the nation was this religiously nutty was the 50's or so. You know what put an end to it? Sputnik. Suddenly, the nation woke up out of it's religious daze, recognising that science - honestly facing physical reality - is a good thing. It took something *external*.

Maybe petrol prices and rising sea levels will do the job agin this time.

Edmund D Cohen (the mind of the bible beliver) concluded, in the end, that religiousity was a form of *decadence*. "We are so rich and secure that we can live in a fantasy world of our own making." He has a point - and it's only external pressures that can pop the bubble.

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