Web Extra Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Evolution to stay in Texas texts

On Nov. 7, the months-long debate over how evolution would be presented in high-school biology textbooks in Texas came to a head: Evolution is here to stay, in its entirety. The Texas State Board of Education voted 11 to 4 to approve all 11 books that were up for possible inclusion in the 2004-2005 school year.

Since the first public hearing in July about the presentation of evolution in the texts, scientists and educators have argued that the theory of evolution is "not a belief, a hunch, or an untested hypothesis; it has been extensively tested and repeatedly verified," as written by 550 scientists and teachers from across Texas in a letter to the board. On the other side, alternative science organizations, such as the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, had been arguing for the inclusion of "weaknesses of evolution" in the textbooks.

Although the state board approves or disapproves textbooks for the entire state, ultimately individual school districts have the option of adopting whatever textbooks they want for use. However, the state only fully reimburses districts for texts on the "approved" list, so most school districts choose from that list.

According to Texas law, the board can only reject a textbook for factual errors. Books also must conform to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test that each Texas student must pass in order to graduate. The test requires that students learn strengths and weaknesses of hypotheses and theories, and several board members suggested that the biology texts in question did not adequately present the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. At the two public hearings in July and September, hundreds of renowned scientists and educators debunked such arguments and said that these textbooks are scientifically acceptable.

Responding to changes suggested by the board, publishers have edited the texts slightly. However, the National Center for Science Education says those few changes have been cosmetic and have not weakened the coverage of evolution.

In a final blow to the anti-evolutionists, several churches and ministers across Texas wrote a letter to the board in opposition of "attempts to dilute, distort or censor the teaching of evolution in biology textbooks," further concluding that "efforts to insert religious beliefs into science textbooks misunderstand and demean both faith and science," according to an Associated Press report.

Many scientists have long believed that presenting weaknesses of evolution is a thinly veiled attempt to introduce creationism in schools (Geotimes, September 2003).

Despite the current victory for evolution in Texas, the outcome of the larger evolution in education battle remains to be seen. Louis Jacobs, a paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told Geotimes after the last public meeting in September, "if the science of evolution overcomes anti-evolution forces in this textbook struggle, the same conflict will arise the next time textbooks are evaluated."

Megan Sever


"Evolution debate continues in Texas," Web Extra, Geotimes, September 2003
"Textbook battle over education," Geotimes, September 2003
"Opposition to Evolution Takes Many Forms," Geotimes, September 2003
American Geological Institute coverage of the political debate over evolution

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