Texas: Creationist camels still trying to stick their noses into the school tent

The Texas Tribune, as well as my pro-evolution correspondents on the ground in Texas, report that the State Board of Education, which has historically tried to insert creationist language into Texas public-school biology standards, will have a public hearing today about the 2009 standards that are up for revision. Those standards were hard-fought by both creationists and pro-evolution scientists, and resulted in four parts of the Texas Science Standards (“TEKS”) that were problematic for science educators.

I’ve put the problematic standards below; they’re taken from a long, point-by-point analysis by the pro-science Texas Freedom Network:

Have a look at each of these existing parts of the TEKS standards and try to see why a committee of educators and scientists is trying to get them changed.

A bit of historical analysis may help: in view of their failure to have creationism (and its intelligent-design subspecies) taught in schools either as the sole “theory” of life or as an alternative deserving equal mention with evolution, Texas creatopmosts (as well as some in South Dakota) have been pushing a “teach the controversy” approach. The hope is that antievolution teachers (or anti-global warming teachers) can bring up bogus “controversies” that, in the eyes of the kids, will discredit evolution. Thus we have this bit of the existing standards, which, though it sounds innocuous, is carefully crafted to allow teachers to introduce creationist literature into the classroom:


Note, in the bit below, the “sudden appearance”, “stasis”, and “sequential nature of groups in the fossil record”. That does not have anything to do with Steve Gould’s views on fossil patterns connected with punctuated equilibrium.


And here we have evaluations of “scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.” Have you heard that before?


Finally, we have evaluation of the evidence for a naturalistic origin of life, including (and this is the giveaway) molecules “having information”.


If you think these statements are innocuous, and are wondering why there’s such a fight about them (creationists want them in, rationalists out), have a look at the TFN document.

The Texas Tribune reports on the squabble:

At the request of the board last July, a 10-member committee of educators and experts took on the challenge of narrowing down the biology curriculum standards known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. The committee removed four passages that some board members and activists say allow teachers to challenge evolution in the classroom, thus advancing creationism.

Educators on the committee said they did not intend to make a political statement when they made their recommendations. Teaching 14- and 15-year-olds to question evolution is a tall order for students and teachers, Karyn Ard, a biology teacher at Troup Independent School District, told the board in November.

“These changes were purely based on the fact that our kids cannot master those,” she said.

In 2009, board members added the passages in question [JAC: above] to the science standards, to persuade students to pursue creationist explanations as alternatives to evolutionary science. One of the passages requires biology teachers to examine “all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

The committee removed that line from the standards, arguing that “evidence does not have sides, only different perspectives on the interpretation of the evidence.”

As far as I know, biology textbook publishers did not change their text to conform to the Texas standards, but stood their ground for science. What these hearings will affect is not the textbooks, but teachers’ ability to sneak creationism into the classroom under the rubric of “alternative explanations” for complexity, “sudden appearance,” and so on.

Extra reading: A Senate committee will vote today on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education. She has never explicitly endorsed creationism (though I believe her husband has), but an article in ProPublica notes that DeVos and her husband (they’re billionaires) have given tons of money to groups that champion intelligent design. It is not beyond belief that a new Supreme Court could tacitly overturn precedent and allow some form of creationism/intelligent design back into the public schools.

h/t: David Hillis


  1. jaxkayaker
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink


  2. Greg Geisler
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    We are used to this lunacy here in Texas. You have to hand it to them—they are relentless! Not surprising since the Texas GOP platform states:
    “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    Yes, they actually said that.

    Rest of the platform can be read at the bottom of this page: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-gop-rejects-critical-thinking-skills-really/2012/07/08/gJQAHNpFXW_blog.html?utm_term=.b43fe0ee4808

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Unbelievable. SMH.

    • ploubere
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      They always eventually embarrass themselves by saying what they actually think.

    • Posted January 31, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      I believe the quoted sentence, with its obscure hierarchy of meanings, deserves a D by an English teacher.

      I also believe that organized education appeared when, due to the advance of knowledge, parental authority alone or supplemented by the local preacher could no longer provide enough of it to the children.

  3. Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    It looks like we’ll keep having to fight this battle ad nauseum. Maybe they hope we’ll evolve into creationists or IDers. Maybe they just want us to erode. This does get awful tiresome.
    Maybe we can create (oops!) ghettos of creationists only vs. ghettos of evolutionists.
    We almost have that in certain parts of the country now.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    It was a tough slog out of the dark ages into the Enlightenment. It is a tough slog still.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Just a few hundred years more. Patience. They will look back in a thousand years and say this was the century we started to wake up.

      “I think the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief; and anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization.” My Hero (S.Weinberg)

  5. busterggi
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    If only these believers could realize how their religious dogma has evolved.

  6. Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    So, the interesting thing to me here (“veeerrry interesting — but stoopid!”) is that they want high school kids to analyze scientific findings (that they are unlikely to understand at any depth at all).

    In high school, in general, the scientific consensus is what needs to be taught to kids. And that, of course is entirely clear with regard to evolution. There is no controversy amongst informed biologists.

    Why aren’t they saying kids should be analyzing whether historical methods and conclusions on are valid, for instance, US history relative to say: Native Americans, US Slavery, Vietnam, Chile, Iran?

    The question answers itself: They are attacking science, plain and simple. It conflicts with their religious beliefs and they are attacking.

    • HBB
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Yes, I agree completely with jbilie. We teach settled (consensus) science in grade schools and high schools. Students can analyze strengths and weakness around the edges of the settled topics as upper-level undergraduates or grad students. At least they will have the best picture of how our world works this way if they do not go to college, etc.

  7. Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    What I don’t understand is why education as a whole is under attack in the USA. I keep seeing the US congress attack education. I see educated people attacked as elite. I see the ideas proposed by educated people mocked and demeaned. Lastly I talk to young people today who have been taught things that are not true especially in history classes. Education is important for the advancement of our young , and our young are the future of our country. When the youth of today get to be the leaders of tomorrow I would prefer they know what they are talking about. Hugs

  8. Sshort
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    “What we need, above all, is a new center to our politics—one that defends secularism, science, and free speech against their enemies on both the Left and the Right. And now we each must choose between supporting that civilizing project and joining in the chaos to come.”

    – Sam Harris (blog: A Few Thoughts on the Muslim Ban)

  9. Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    DeVos, according to her Wikipedia entry (which her minions must be scrutinising) is an elder of Mars Hil Bible Church, which embraces a “narrative” theology that does not distinguish between religious and secular. the Church’s own web site brings up a warning on my McAfee, so I haven’t investigated its theology further

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      I visited the site and checked out their “theology,” “mission,” and “values.” To me, their “narrative theology,” beyond the usual Christian doctrinal line, is just a bunch of vague, jargon-filled blather, suitable for any kind of narrative interpretation in re their “mission” and “values.” So someone such as Betsy DeVos could easily defend her “values” as being consistent with the vague theological blather articulated on the church’s website.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Mars Hil Bible Church,

      Srsly? MARS Hill? Not Tyr Hill, or Ares Hill, Ku, Indra or Tūmatauenga?
      Do these people ever stop to look at themselves for a second?

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Most of those standards are soo…innocent looking! Whisper soft, quiet as a cat (sorry), creationism can slip in past the censors through those guidelines.
    Except for #9D. That one wasn’t so sneaky.

  11. TJR
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Do they also want students to “analyze, evaluate and critique” religious explanations using “empirical evidence, logical reasoning (etc)” in any classes?

  12. Roger
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Religion dragging the 21st century back to the caveman days.

  13. merilee
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink


  14. rickflick
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    DeVos is clearly unqualified to serve as Education secretary. What is upsetting to me is that there has to be at least a few GOP members who understand this clear as a bell but are unlikely to vote nay. They know in their hearts DeVos will damage American education, but are willing to see that happen for the sake of their party and their Senate seat.
    Let’s hope they come through and nix her.

    • rickflick
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Checking my news feed, it looks like she was passed by the committee and will face a floor vote. Doesn’t look good.

      • sponge bob
        Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Is she from Amway?

        • rickflick
          Posted January 31, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          I think that’s where her family gets it’s billions. A legal Ponzi Scheme.

  15. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Kitzmiller V Dover 2005, should have put all of this junk to rest but these people never quit. So lets have the kids decide, maybe they would like to drive cars at age 6?

  16. BJ
    Posted January 31, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    As Randall said above, these people will never quit, nor will others who stand against empirical, scientific inquiry for certain issues. Those who believe in empiricism and objective truths need to start working on the local levels, as creationists and other have been doing for years. Start getting the proper people on school boards and in local government and education.

  17. SeniorSkeptik
    Posted February 1, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    In the for what it’s worth department, Feb ’17 issue of Acts and Facts, the creationists monthly rag, quotes Jerry’s 2000 views on evolutionary psychology. Needless to say A&F uses his former views on the subject which coincides with their current bs.
    Sad to say they continue to misrepresent science as they almost always do.

  18. RossR
    Posted February 2, 2017 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the creationist material could be used as a test of scientific thinking. Starting from the premise that you cannot “critique” a theory until you fully understand it. So at the very end of the course, maybe the last half hour, only the people who have passed the course and shown they understand it would be permitted to offer criticisms that could be discussed. It might backfire, but it might just work.

  19. Mike
    Posted February 2, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    The rise of the American Taliban.

  20. Posted February 3, 2017 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    The consistent and disappointing pattern in these state antievolution efforts is how much of it consists of generalized talking points rather than specifics geared to source methods issues. Antievolutionists talk vaguely of “objective analysis” while evolution defenders grump about the use of such buzzwords. What seems not to get brought up, nor asked by reporters, is what they mean by “objective analysis” in actual examples.

    If a teacher were to present one of Robert Gentry’s old 1960s papers in Science on polonium halos (and why not, since it was in a regular technical venue), and suggest that disproved an old earth, would that pass muster as “objective” analysis? If so, you’ve got flat out creationism on the field. If the antievolutionist tries to wriggle from that tarpit by invoking standard geology, then by what standards can they “objectively” salvage antievolution tropes, since all antievolutionists have to be equally not “objective” on that turf, ignoring as antievolutionists do the vast majority of the relevant data.

    A standard only has meaning by how it is applied, and too often the legislative and school board debates operate in mutual safe zones that serve neither the truth nor education. Given the odds that antievolutionists are likely to be emboldened in the Trump years, our game needs to be upped if we’re not to outplayed in the stretch.

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