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The Club, the Stiletto, and Evolution in Texas

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Rodney Ellis is fed up, and he's fighting back the way state legislators usually do.

The Texas state senator, having witnessed the latest hubbub over the teaching of evolution on his state's board of education, has filed a bill to strip the board of the bulk of its authority over textbooks and curriculum.

According to this story in his hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, Ellis' move would leave the board with more narrow duties under the state constitution. The measure is unlikely to pass, even Ellis, a Democrat, acknowledges, because of conservatives' influence in the legislature.

So Ellis has filed what the newspaper calls "Plan B," a second bill that would establish a regular sunset review of the board by the legislature. Presumably, that would create more oversight of the board.

Ellis told the paper he was frustrated to see the topic of evolution once again emerge as a source of controversy over the past few weeks on the board, a discussion that he believes is weakening the teaching of science. On Jan. 23, the Texas board on the one hand approved science standards that removed language calling for students to be exposed to the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. That move pleased scientists, who saw the "weaknesses" language as a misleading jab at evolution. Yet the board also approved language that called for students to analyze the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry, a core piece of evolutionary theory. A final vote on the standards is expected in March.

"While on the national level in America there is more emphasis on a healthy respect for science, our board is engaged in a debate on how to teach evolution,” Ellis said in the Chronicle story. A House lawmaker has filed a similar sunset bill in the other chamber.

Ellis, in an interview with the paper, described his first bill as a "club," and his second as a "stiletto." They play rough in Texas.

4 Comments

It is always disheartening to see scientists take on the role of the "book-burners" and try to outlaw dissent and alternative theories. Intelligent Design is certainly a plausible alternative theory of the beginnings of life on earth.

As a religous agnostic, I am pleased about the current debate in Texas as to whether students should be taught there are shortcomings within Darwin's theory of evolution. I would ask, however, that students also should be taught about the defects within religous doctrines. Why are both sides of this issue afraid to inform students about it? That position seems to me to be a prime form of anti-intellectualism.

Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University.

As a religous agnostic, I am pleased about the current debate in Texas as to whether students should be taught there are shortcomings within Darwin's theory of evolution. I would ask, however, that students also should be taught about the defects within religous doctrines. Why are both sides of this issue afraid to inform students about it? That position seems to me to be a prime form of anti-intellectualism.

Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University.

The level of ignorance displayed by the last two commentators is infuriating. Why post an opinion on a subject in which you are clearly ignorant?

1) Evolution is fact. Natural selection is the theory (mechanism) explaining that fact.

2) It is not "Darwin's theory." It was Darwin's theory 200 years ago. It has since been deepened and widened by mountains of scientific observations and experimentation. Not to mention other scientific advances(ex: molecular genetics). It is now a synthesis that ties together all of biology.

3) Intelligent design/creationism is not a theory, so it has no place in a science classroom (other than using it to show the methodological distinction between science and faith).

4) A scientific debate about natural selection is certainly going on in scientific circles. It is not a debate about whether natural selection is "true". It's about deepening our understanding of the process and its implications. That is where dissent lies. Students can debate that. Debating whether natural selection is true is like debating whether gravity is true. Give it up already.

Save ID/creationism for social studies class. Or just let it die. It's an intellectually bereft ideology.

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