More on Texas: Good guys winning, but it’s dicey

According to the Dallas News and the NCSE report (and noted by Genie Scott yesterday), the Texas Board of Education voted down (by voting a tie) for the “strengths and weaknesses” clause discussed here yesterday:

Against the proposal were three other Republicans and four Democrats.” A final vote is expected on March 27, 2009, but the outcome is not likely to change. It remains to be seen whether the board will vote to rescind the flawed amendments undermining the teaching of evolution proposed at the board’s January 2009 meeting.

But the fight isn’t over yet: Board member Barbara Cargill is trying to slip in an amendment requiring children to learn that “there are different estimates for the age of the universe”!!! We all know what that means: she doesn’t mean 13.7 plus or minus .2 billion years, she means 6,000 to 13.7 billion years. In other words, this gives wiggle-room for the ridiculous Biblically based estimate of 6000 to 10000 years. Here’s the report from the live blog on the meeting by Steve Schafersman:

I can’t get a copy of these amendments right now. However, the first one she wants is to strike the current standard for the Big Bang and remove the 14 billion year old age from it. She says she wants teachers to tell students that there are different estimates for the age of the universe. What would these be? 13.7 billion years and 10,000 years? She is promoting a Young Earth Creationist view, of course. Many times in the past the SBOE has changed standards and textbook content that mention millions and billions of years to simply “a long time ago.”

Cargill wants to substitute a standard from Astronomy that simply adds, “and current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe” to the Big Bang standard 4A. This Astronomy standard is poor in several ways: it is vague, it is non-specific, there is only one current theory for the origin of the universe, and there is currently a well-established consensus that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, so there are not multiple “estimates.” It is sad that the astronomy teachers came up with such an incompetent standard, and now it is being inflicted on ESS. Cargill’s amendment that strips a very ancient number of years and replaces it with vague “estimates” that are equivocal about the age of the universe.

While speaking for her amendment, Cargill says she “has no intention of opening the door to teaching Creationist ideas about the age of the universe.” Yeah, right. Next, she made a Freudian slip and her secret intentions were revealed. She said “universal common design” when she meant to say “universal common descent.” Her unfortunate amendment passes by a vote of 11-3, with only Knight, Miller, and Nunez voting no. So the SBOE holds true to its wonderful tradition of stripping any date older than 10,000 years from science standards!

Stay tuned. In the meantime, some video clips from the controversy. First, the good guys (gals): Genie Scott testifying about the S&W clause the day before yesterday:

Second, the benighted dentist and chairman of the Texas Board of Education (it makes me cringe to write that), Don McLeroy, reading from Stephen Jay Gould in an attempt to prove that “stasis is God”.  I only wish Steve were still alive to respond to this — he would crush McLeroy like a bug.


  1. Posted March 27, 2009 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    This all makes me wonder if a better strategy than opposing the inclusion of “uncertainties” in the curriculum would be to specify them explicitly. For example: “estimates vary for the age of the universe, all of which are greater than five billion years.” Or, “scientist differ on the details of how evolution arises from natural selection.” How could creationists object to that without exposing their true goal?

  2. Posted March 27, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I think I’m beginning to understand your ‘no compromise’ position on religion. These people are crazy.

    The 6000 year estimate comes from the much maligned Archbishop Ussher who, in the 17th century, proposed the night preceding 27 October 4004 BC as the date for the creation of the universe, and interestingly, the beginning of time itself. Usher was a not very distinguished member of a whole science called chronology. This was a discipline of textual scholarship, which wasn’t even primarily biblical. Mainly this was a historical science, a branch of human history, into which the bible naturally fitted because it was one of the oldest historical narratives.

    The goal of chronology was to construct a world history which would be cross cultural. Usher’s book covers the period from 4004 BC, up till around the time of the fall of Jerusalem, and it primarily is focused on the last few centuries which was where the vast majority of evidence lay. Its actually a triumph of scholarship. In addition to the bible, Ussher had to use a range of historical and astronomical data, he also had to research in Hebrew, Samaritan, Chaldean, Syriac, Persian, Arabic and Ethiopic. It’s also completely wrong by about 13-14 billion years. Oh well.

  3. MelM
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Crazy? Yes, but I think it’s a religion induced madness. The “presuppositional apologetics” (aka “starting points”) seems quite effective in locking believers behind an impenetrable shield against facts. I think an excellent example of how it can turn a PhD into a YEC crackpot is in the YouTube video of Michael Shermer and Georgia Purdom talking at the AIG Creation Museum. This is chilling:

    Presuppositional apologetics:

  4. MelM
    Posted March 27, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Lord Kitchener,
    Thanks for the book reference.

    Oh my! Ussher’s book is back!A “treasure trove of material” we’re told.

    My day is complete. It turns out that the recent MacKay translation of “Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) will be released May 31 (according to Tower Books). I’ve wanted to read what’s been thought of as one of the most evil books ever written but the $300.00 bilingual 2006 edition is way way more than I need. I hope Pat Robertson doesn’t find out about this book!

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