Monday, November 17, 2008

I Support Strong Evolution Education!

An adorable little girl in a car in eastern Nepal.
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

I've been working on my testimony which I am giving Wednesday in Austin at the State Board of Education hearings over the revised TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills), specifically about the science TEKs, and even more specifically about TEKS C3A which is the one that could be used by creationists to weaken evolution education. I attended the 2003 hearings about the adoption of textbooks, which will be covered in my book (on making peace between evolution and Christianity), and so I figured I really must attend the 2008 hearings as well. On TEKS C3A controversy exists over the phrase teaching the "strengths and limitations" of scientific theories. While this sounds harmless or even beneficial, the reality is this phrase is used by religiously motivated individuals who oppose evolution - despite the Constitutional demand for the separation of church and state. This kind of tinkering led to the 2005 Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board court case which cost Dover over $1 million for a lawsuit which sided very strongly on the side of opposing the teaching of intelligent design in science classrooms - because it is not science, but religion. I'll include my draft testimony below.

Also of interest, the Texas Freedom Network just released a survey of Texas university scientists that finds overwhelming opposition to watering down evolution in schools.

The report highlights five key findings from the survey:

1. Texas scientists (97.7 percent) overwhelmingly reject “intelligent design” as valid science.

2. Texas science faculty (95 percent) want only evolution taught in science classrooms.

3. Scientists reject teaching the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution, with 94 percent saying that those arguments are not valid scientific objections to evolution.

4. Science faculty believe that emphasizing “weaknesses” of evolution would substantially harm students’ college readiness (79.6 percent) and ability to compete for 21st-century jobs (72 percent).

5. Scientists (91 percent) strongly believe that support for evolution is compatible with religious faith.

Here is my testimony (draft form):

I’m here to testify as a Christian who is educated as a biologist, and a mom of 2 middle school aged kids – one of whom goes to public school and one who goes to a private Episcopal school, which by the way teaches evolution alongside the Christian faith. I have taught biology at the college level, and I currently work as a freelance science writer. In fact, I am working on a book on making peace between evolution and Christianity which will be published in 2010 and will include some details from this very hearing.

I have 2 quick points I want to make, followed by some more general comments. 1st, I think it’s highly unethical that you did not even put the final version of the revised TEKs online until Monday afternoon – knowing that most people would not even have a chance to look at them, 2 days before the hearing. 2nd, on TEKS C3A. I support the Sep 15th version of TEKS C. 3. (A) which says, “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;”

The Nov revision introduces the phrase “strengths and limitations” which is no different from the flawed “strengths and weaknesses” argument that has been roundly rejected by scientists. Although I understand the TEKS do not anywhere explicitly discuss Intelligent Design, this “strengths & limitations” language is pushed exclusively by religiously-motivated opposition to evolution, and is used as a wedge to allow teachers to cast aspersions on evolution in classrooms.

My first question to you - members of the State Board of Education – Are you willing to play dice with our taxpayer money on the possibility of costly court battle by introducing religiously motivated language in Texas science standards? The 2005 Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board case cost Dover over $1million.

My 2nd question to you – are you willing to play dice with our children’s education as our nation’s science lead deteriorates? In 2005 the National Academy of Sciences report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” decried our nation’s deteriorating science education and critical thinking skills. It stated, “Having reviewed trends in the United States and abroad, the committee is deeply concerned that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.”

Evolution does not threaten religious belief – including Christianity - except if you read Genesis absolutely literally, which most Christian denominations do not. The Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic Churches - among others - formally accept an evolving Creation. Nearly 70% of our nation’s founding fathers were either Presbyterian, Episcopal or Congregationalist – (a denomination which later became part of the Presbyterian Church and was associated with founding Harvard Yale and Dartmouth). Our Founding Fathers very much appreciated both logical, scientific reason and religious faith as compatible but also demanded – as Thomas Jefferson said – a wall of separation between church and state. The majority of our nation’s 43 Presidents also have hailed from Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations (over 62%), all of which believe that Genesis is not a divinely dictated textbook. America’s Founding Fathers deeply respected religion and its values, but they equally valued science and reason.

So to summarize, I urge you as elected members of this Board who are accountable to the public: Do not harm the bedrock of science and reason upon which our nation was founded by weakening Texas science standards with the “limitations” language. It’s inclusion will only weaken science education, our state, our children’s future and the ability to create brilliant and critically thinking minds in our state and our nation.

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