TEXANS FOR BETTER SCIENCE EDUCATION: THE TRUE STORY!

by Steven D. Schafersman, President
Texas Citizens for Science Education

August 15, 2003
Revision 1: September 11, 2003
Revision 2: September 29, 2003 (Sept. 24 Evolution Symposium)
Revision 3: October 9, 2005 (updated)

A New Anti-Evolution Website

A new website was started in Texas on July 25, 2003, that promotes changing biology textbooks by adding alleged "weaknesses" about evolution to the content. The mechanism to accomplish this is to lobby Texas State Board of Education members--whose names, phone numbers, and email addresses are prominently displayed on every page of the website--to mandate the changes in standard high school biology textbooks now up for adoption. The new website is the product of the newly formed Texans for Better Science Education <www.strengthsandweaknesses.org>.

The TBSE website is devoted to "Project Strengths and Weaknesses." TBSE claims it is "a group of concerned Texas citizens who support the right of all students to learn about both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory free from censorship and intimidation." In addition, it claims that "Texas law specifies that both 'strengths and weaknesses' of biology theories and hypotheses be taught," but "virtually no 'weaknesses' of evolution are in the new editions of High School Biology textbooks."  The site states that, "contrary to outrageous claims in some recent news stories, we are not advocating inserting the Bible, religion, or creation science into the curriculum."

TBSE is quite forthright about whom they think is responsible for preventing "weaknesses" from being included in biology textbooks: "We oppose efforts by some groups to censor the teaching of evolution by preventing students from learning about scientific criticisms of the theory. We are appalled by the bullying tactics adopted by such misnamed groups as the 'Texas Freedom Network' and 'Texas Citizens for Science' who try to smear anyone who disagrees with them as extremists or uneducated religious radicals. In reality, these groups are the real extremists as evidenced by their use of intimidation, censorship, character attacks, name-calling, and McCarthyism to stamp out legitimate debate."

TBSE claims they have quotes from "peer-reviewed journals and other evolutionist writings" that are "pointing out weaknesses with the theory" of evolution. These passages are quoted right on the TBSE website <www.strengthsandweaknesses.org/evol_quotes.htm> for all to read.

These Are Bold Claims, But Are They True?

Let's examine the TBSE's most basic claims:

Claim 1. TBSE claims it is "a group of concerned Texas citizens who support the right of all students to learn about both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory free from censorship and intimidation."

Truth: TBSE consists of one person, Mark Ramsey, who is a religious fundamentalist and young-earth creationist, who certainly doesn't want students to learn anything about evolutionary theory, and who himself engages in censorship and intimidation.

The TBSE website omits mentioning any person's name or address, so responsibility for the new organization is deliberately kept hidden. However, it is relatively easy to do a WHOIS query to determine who is responsible for the website and organization. TCS has determined that the site is administered by Mark Ramsey of Spring, TX. Spring is a city just northwest of Houston close to Montgomery County and the Woodlands, a hotbed of radical religious right-wing Republicanism and fundamentalist creationism. A number of such activists in Montgomery County are currently trying to get the local school districts to change their science curricula in precisely the same way as advocated by the TBSE and the Discovery Institute.

But there's more: Mr. Ramsey is also the secretary, board member, and website administrator of the Greater Houston Creation Association <www.ghcaonline.com> (email: mark@ghcaonline.com; this address is precisely the same as that of the TBSE, as revealed by WHOIS). This creationist organization is described by Creationism.org <www.creationism.org/topbar/linksUS_L2Z.htm#CreationUS_TX> as follows:

Houston's creation organization - active in coordinating speakers and seminars. GHCA takes Genesis, and the rest of the Bible, literally. So that there is no ambiguity, this means that our Savior and Creator was responsible for creating our world in six 'literal' days, around 6000-10000 years ago. Approximately 2000 years after Creation, the cataclysmic Flood of Noah occurred. It was world-wide in extent and lasted about one year from start to finish. Most sedimentary rocks of the so-called "geologic column" we see today are mainly a testimonial to and evidence of the cataclysm.

Creationism.org now has a listing for TSBE right below that of GHCA. Both have listed the email address of Mark Ramsey, mark@ghcaonline.com, so there is no longer an attempt to keep the relationship between the two sites a secret.

The Greater Houston Creation Association describes itself <www.ghcaonline.com/belief_statement.htm> (Note: this page no longer exists--SDS; see below) as follows:

Greater Houston Creation Association Belief Statement
(as Adopted September 24, 1996)

1. The Bible is the divinely inspired written Word of God. Because it is inspired throughout, it is completely free from error--scientifically, historically, theologically, and morally. Thus it is the absolute authority in all matters of truth, faith, and conduct. The final guide to the interpretation of the Bible is the Bible itself.

2. God's world must always agree with God's Word, because the Creator of the one is the Author of the other. Thus, where physical evidences from the creation may be used to confirm the Bible, these evidences must never be used to correct or interpret the Bible. The written Word must take priority in the event of any apparent conflict.

3. All things were supernaturally created by the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - during the Creation Week (six literal days) described in Genesis. Each basic type of plant and animal was specifically created "after its kind" by God. None came from non-living substances, nor did any develop from some other plant or animal. At the end of Creation Week, God pronounced everything "very good."

4. The first human beings, Adam and Eve, were specially created by God; all other men and women are their descendants. The entrance of sin into the world, through Adam, brought God's curse on all creation, resulting in death and separation from God. There was no suffering, or death in the world prior to Adam's sin.

5. The Biblical record is fully historical, including the recent creation of all things, the fall, the curse, the great flood (worldwide in extent and effect), and the dispersion at Babel. This written revelation provides the only reliable framework for scientific research into the origin of all things.

6. We are an organization which exists for the purpose of acquisition and distribution of knowledge regarding God's Creation. However, as important as this is, it is secondary to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (although the Doctrines of Creator and Creation cannot be removed from the Gospel). The separation of man from God can only be remedied by our reconciliation to God through faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ the Creator, as Lord and Savior. This reconciliation is only possible because His substitutionary death and bodily resurrection paid the price for our sins.

This information reveals quite clearly that Mark Ramsey--rather than being moderate in his wishes to improve science education in Texas--is actually a representative of the most credulous, extreme, and blatantly unscientific form of creationism, and that his claims of "not advocating inserting the Bible, religion, or creation science into the curriculum" are really just a deceptive smokescreen for his true fantastic and supernaturalistic beliefs. Mr. Ramsey himself attempts to censor both the truth of his own beliefs and of TBSE's true goals: the debilitation of biology instruction and evolutionary understanding in public schools by teacher intimidation and student confusion, thus restricting, not "supporting," the right of all students to learn about evolutionary theory free from censorship and intimidation.

Claim 2. TBSE claims that "Texas law specifies that both 'strengths and weaknesses' of biology theories and hypotheses be taught," but "virtually no 'weaknesses' of evolution are in the new editions of High School Biology textbooks."

Truth: Texas law actually requires that both "strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" of scientific theories and hypotheses of "High School Physics, Chemistry, Environmental Systems, Integrated Physics and Chemistry, Aquatic Science, Astronomy, and Geology, Meteorology, and Oceanography," as well as Biology (emphasis added).

Both young-earth creationists (such as Mark Ramsey) and intelligent design creationists (such as Jonathan Wells, William Dembski, and Michael Behe) have no evidence or information about weaknesses concerning either the occurrence of evolution or the modern theory of evolution. Despite their voluminous writings and statements to the contrary, legitimate, mainstream evolutionary scientists have decisively refuted all of their claims (this literature is available in many books and websites listed below). Intelligent design creationism and other forms of creationism are not topics of modern scientific research because there is no evidence for their occurrence or usefulness, because they almost always invoke supernatural processes that cannot be investigated and tested empirically, and because the current scientific theories that science has created explain the natural phenomena under investigation so well. Individuals who promote or write scholarly articles about intelligent design are not scientists, no matter how much scientific training they have. Creationists need to actually generate some testable, logical hypotheses using scientific methods that actually explain natural phenomena better than modern evolutionary theory before their ideas will be taken seriously, but they have consistently refused to do this.

There are no "weaknesses," controversies, problems, and mysteries with the factual occurrence of evolution by common descent through time, so it is quite understandable why there are no "weaknesses" dealing with this topic in high school biology textbooks. There certainly are such controversies, problems, etc. dealing with the details of the modern theory of evolution--how the evolutionary mechanism actually results in significant genetic change to produce new species--as there are with any modern scientific theory. This is not unusual, but these "weaknesses" normally and properly do not find their way into high school science textbooks because (1) they involve complex, high-level issues dealt with at the frontiers of scientific research by graduate students and professors at universities and research institutions, not high schools, and (2) introductory science textbooks are written to be used by introductory science students who do not have the technical and conceptual background to understand the complex issues (nor do most of them probably want to). The high school textbooks are intentionally simplified by design: students who become interested in science can learn about the complexities, problems, and controversies in college, and can also begin dealing with them.

At the K-12 level, there is little or no educational value for a requirement to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence." This requirement was deliberately added to the TEKS to placate creationists on an earlier State Board of Education, so that future creationists could use it to attack evolution. That future is now. It is quite true that learning critical thinking skills--an essential educational goal--requires a student to be able to analyze, review, and critique evidence and reasoning used to support simple experimental hypotheses and other elementary knowledge claims; this is something they definitely should be doing by the time they are in high school. But scientific theories are something else: they are too massive and established to expect any high school student to critique. The vast majority of high school students would not be able to perform such critiques in a scientific way. Of course, it possible to critique scientific theories in a non-scientific way--in precisely the way that creationists and other pseudoscientists wish to do with the theory of evolution by inserting imagined "weaknesses" about it into textbooks--but this would be worse than non-science: It is anti-science designed to confuse and frustrate students, not educate them. Such confusion and frustration in science class serves to dissuade students from learning critical thinking, the true goal of creationists. Scientific theories should be accepted as reliable knowledge in K-12 classes, and not made the object of questioning until they have the educational training necessary to do so.

The inordinate concentration by critics on the topic of evolution in biology textbooks, rather than all the many topical theoretical underpinnings of all modern science, reveals that their true intention is to dumb-down and weaken all biology textbooks' proper coverage of the topic, thus perverting evolution's important place in modern biological understanding. There is no legitimate reason to focus on only one scientific topic to insert "weaknesses." That this is being done by creationist critics and SBOE members reveals only clearly the true motivation of the critics: not to improve science education, but to pervert it.

Claim 3: TBSE claims that, "contrary to outrageous claims in some recent news stories, we are not advocating inserting the Bible, religion, or creation science into the curriculum."

Truth: Of course TBSE, the Discovery Institute, intelligent design creationists, and creationist SBOE members are not advocating inserting the Bible, religion, or creation science into the curriculum. Doing this would be illegal. Instead, their goal is to misrepresent evolutionary science in biology textbooks to create doubt in students' minds and to focus on and distort the topic so teachers will be intimidated and avoid teaching it.

Students must learn about evolution in biology class, since this is probably the only time in their lives when they will be introduced to the scientific explanation of how all species on Earth, including humans, came into being. Creationists find this prospect abhorrent, and will resort to any means and deception to prevent this instruction. The Texas educational curriculum standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, asks that students know a small amount about evolution. However, knowing nothing about it will not automatically fail any student, since a perfect score on the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) science exam is not required. Thus, creationists at every level in the educational system--students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school district board members, and State Board of Education members--don't really care that the "Bible, religion, or creation science" is not taught in public schools, because they know these things are taught in homes, churches, and Sunday schools. Instead, they just want to be sure that evolution is omitted or downplayed in public schools, so students will not be corrupted. And a few missed or skipped questions about evolution on TAKS will not matter much. Needless to say, this attitude is a perversion of quality secondary science education, but this is the attitude throughout much of Texas.

An understanding of evolution is essential because the process underlies all life on the planet. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. So no person can be truly called "educated" without understanding the process. Yet, only about half of Texas high school students are introduced to the idea, even though it is required by TEKS. Some, but not most, Texas biology teachers truly do avoid or shortchange the topic. Creationist parents complain to principals and school district superintendents when their creationist children tell them that evolution is being taught, and school administrators often do not back up their teachers, but tell them to avoid or downplay the topic. Unbelievably, this also sometimes occurs in some colleges and universities in Texas, because about half of freshman college students in Texas are creationists, don't want to learn anything about evolution, and object when it is taught. Remarkably, some of these students want to major in biology and actually resent having to take an evolution course to get their B.S. degree. Fortunately, most such biology majors plan to become chiropractors, veterinarians, or medical technicians, so avoiding evolution training will cost them little except a scientific understanding of nature. No research biologist can perform biological research without a full understanding of evolution.

The bottom line is that, in Texas, just debilitating the topic of evolution in biology textbooks is enough to confuse students and intimidate teachers, so the topic is neglected or passed over quickly and inadequately. This is all that TBSE wants. And if they can do this for textbooks in states other than Texas, then so much the better.

Claim 4. TBSE states that they "oppose efforts by some groups to censor the teaching of evolution by preventing students from learning about scientific criticisms of the theory. We are appalled by the bullying tactics adopted by such misnamed groups as the 'Texas Freedom Network' and 'Texas Citizens for Science' who try to smear anyone who disagrees with them as extremists or uneducated religious radicals. In reality, these groups are the real extremists as evidenced by their use of intimidation, censorship, character attacks, name-calling, and McCarthyism to stamp out legitimate debate."

Truth: Needless to say, the opposite is true. Mark Ramsey's TBSE, the Discovery Institute pseudoscientists, and some Texas SBOE members want to censor the teaching of evolution by unwisely and irresponsibly using the political process to insert scientifically untrue and unwarranted "criticisms" and "weaknesses" about evolution into biology textbooks. They are the ones using the bullying tactics of teacher intimidation, sophistical persuasion of public officials, and raw political power to accomplish their aims, rather than patiently conducting the scientific research necessary to convince legitimate scientists of the truth of their claims. Texas Citizens for Science <www.texscience.org> does not use these tactics, but rather presents mainstream scientific views backed up by reason, empirical evidence, and responsible public argument and education.

Read the above two paragraphs again. Who is really engaging in character attacks and name-calling? Who is really trying to censor science textbook content? Who is really using intimidation and McCarthyist techniques to achieve their ends? What group is really misnamed? I claim it is the creationist organizations and individuals, not the scientists, science educators, and citizens who support good science education. At the last SBOE hearing on July 9, all the scientists asked the State Board to not modify the biology textbooks in the ways demanded by the creationists. Less known to the public, the SBOE's own science education staff and state science textbook review committee found nothing wrong with the biology textbooks in the ways suggested by the creationist critics. In short, every professional scientific reviewer, specialist, and scientist did not want the biology textbooks modified by adding "weaknesses" or "criticisms," because they knew such changes were wrong. At the next hearing on September 10, all of the legitimate scientists, science educators, and knowledgeable citizens will say the same thing: do not modify biology textbooks by inserting misleading and fallacious "weaknesses" or "criticisms" of evolution. They will ask the SBOE to use its political power to adopt textbooks responsibly and wisely by leaving the scientific details to scientists and science writers who understand the topics and who have no reason to deceive students, but rather wish to properly inform and educate them about the wonders of science.

The creationist critics, including the intelligent design promoters, refuse to do any real scientific research using empirical evidence to reasonably demonstrate the truth of their claims. Instead, they engage in pseudoscholarship to try to convince readers by using specious arguments, half-truths and untruths, misrepresentations, and sophistry. These methods work well on individuals who do not have a good understanding of evolutionary theory and the scientific method; thus, many otherwise intelligent individuals are persuaded and fooled. Fortunately, these creationist methods have been revealed and refuted in many books, articles, reviews, and websites.

Public secondary schools are not the proper forum for "legitimate debate" about the truth, occurrence, or process of evolution. The proper place for this is in the scientific literature, and the "debaters" must be the qualified and legitimate scientists who understand the scientific issues and will deal with them responsibly and ethically. Creationists have never demonstrated their willingness to do this, but they are invited to start giving it a try. There is, of course, another debate about evolution--a popular cultural debate that occurs in the public square--the debate between creationists and scientists fought with popular books, articles, and websites. This "legitimate debate" has never been "censored" or "stamped out" by scientists, and it also does not belong in public school science classrooms (although it could responsibly be discussed in a journalism or cultural affairs class, if such exist in high schools).

Most scientists do not want to engage in this cultural debate, because they cannot spare the time from their scientific research and teaching, but some do. Any many science educators and parents want to engage in this debate, because they are concerned about the education of their students and children. They want them to receive a high-quality science education--one that examines all the important scientific topics without censorship or equivocation--and thus they oppose creationist efforts to force false and misleading passages into biology textbooks that present evolution in a mendacious manner, thus sacrificing students' understanding of their natural world on an altar of fear and ignorance.

Claim 5. TBSE claims they have quotes from "peer-reviewed journals and other evolutionist writings [that are] pointing out weaknesses with the theory [of evolution]."

Truth. The quoted passages are irrelevant to misguided: some are from anti-evolutionists, some are grossly taken out of context, most are from science writers and science books (not peer-reviewed science journals), and none cast doubt on the coverage of evolution at the level in biology textbooks.

Texans for Better Science Education is the organization that is really misnamed, because it is devoted to propagating a pseudoscience that is the antithesis of better science education. If one examines their site, it contains quotes out of context from scientists and science writers, misleading quotes from science writers, and quotes from anti-evolutionists that TBSE claims are all from "peer-reviewed journals and other evolutionist writings" that point out "weaknesses" with the theory of evolution. If one actually knows something about evolution and what the authors are really saying, one would understand how bogus this claim is. It is true that there are problems and controversies about evolutionary theory among scientists, just not about the fact of evolution by natural selection and common descent, as TBSE implies, and certainly not about topics found in introductory biology textbooks, as explained above. The Discovery Institute <www.discovery.org> also used this technique when it attempted to persuade Ohio SBOE to adopt intelligent design in the Ohio science curriculum (fortunately, the DI failed, although one model curriculum--written by anti-evolutionists and which unscientifically critically evaluates evolution and evolutionary theory--was adopted by a snowed Ohio SBOE). The National Center for Science Education <www.ncseweb.org> produced a response that revealed the mendacity behind the Discovery Institute's ploy.

Mark Ramsey starts with quotes from the late anti-evolutionist Fred Hoyle, whose many discredited cosmological and astronomical theories destroyed his high reputation earned when he and his colleagues correctly discovered how stellar processes produced elements more massive than lithium. Hoyle has written many books attacking evolutionary theory, natural selection, speciation, transitional fossils, and the origin of life on Earth. Hoyle believed in panspermia, the "seeding" of life throughout the universe by an intelligent force using viruses and bacteria in intragalactic clouds--he obsessively devoted eight books to this topic alone (as a student of pseudoscience, I have them all)!. Hoyle was never able to publish any of his crazy ideas in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, because he ignored the many cogent objections of other scientists who actually knew something about the topics Hoyle dealt with and criticized.

Next, he quotes the late Stephen Jay Gould out-of-context about the lack of transitional fossils. Gould actually wrote a number of essays about transitional fossils, explaining what they told us about evolution. The passage in question is about the rarity of transitional fossils between fossil species, something very true today, but excellent examples of even these transitional fossils exist, as do thousands of transitional fossils between higher taxa.

There are many out-of-context quotes from both scientists and science writers who are critical of our current inadequate state of knowledge about how life began on Earth. Yes, these writers question historical hypotheses and understandings which have now been discarded, but Ramsey fails to include the modern hypotheses and data we have that have solved some of these historical problems and given science even greater insight into how life began from non-living organic chemicals.

Anti-evolutionist Michael Denton is quoted, but Ramsey fails to note that his books are considered to be pseudoscientific because Denton misrepresents well-known evolutionary principles and ignores evidence and arguments that refute his claims.

I could explain why each quote Ramsey uses in his TBSE website is misguided, irrelevant, and out-of-context, but I don't want to take the time. Let me just state that this tactic of quote-mongering is typical of creationist efforts to cast doubt on the fact of evolution, no matter how much they disingenuously claim to only want "both sides of the controversy taught" or only some "weaknesses" of evolution included in biology textbooks to "provide balance and fairness" to the scientific presentation.

Conclusion

The new Texans for Better Science Education is a misnamed and thinly-veiled creationist organization that is attempting to damage science education in Texas by promoting the inclusion of invalid and unwarranted "weaknesses" and "criticisms" of evolution in biology textbooks. It engages in duplicity, hypocrisy, name-calling, and promotion of political interference in what should be a non-political scientific and educational process. TBSE is a front organization of the Greater Houston Creation Association, which reveals TBSE's true goals. It's true desire is to damage science education in Texas by preventing the inclusion of accurate scientific content about evolution and evolutionary theory in biology textbooks, thus allowing students to be confused and teachers to be intimidated so they will not teach the topic accurately. These aims are reprehensible by any objective moral standard, and TBSE and its supporters should be repudiated and their goals rejected by every individual who truly cares about preserving accurate and responsible science education in Texas public schools.


The Greater Houston Creation Association no longer posts its Young Earth Creationist 1996 Belief Statement on its website. Instead, a new page exists titled "What is the GHCA?" <http://www.ghcaonline.com/What is GHCA.htm>. The first two paragraphs continue to reveal the organization's belief in young-earth creationism and the manifestation of supernatural causes in nature, in agreement with the former Belief Statement [Note added 2009 February 10:  I have just discovered that the content of this page was also deleted sometime after I accessed it in 2003; so the censorship of the true hidden beliefs of GHCA continues, but fortunately TCS has preserved both the original 1996 and later 2003 GHCA statements of belief--SDS]:

The Greater Houston Creation Association (GHCA) is an organization of Christians who take the Bible in its original manuscripts  to be the actual inspired Word of God preserved by Him over time for our use as an unchanging source of truth. We find that the internal scriptural evidence overwhelmingly presents a young supernatural creation followed later by several world changing events of supernatural judgment including expulsion from the original paradise and "curse" of the ground, a cataclysmic global flood that radically altered much of Earth's geology, and a "confusion" of language that forced the dispersion of people groups around the world. These events are as much a key to the past as observation of the present and they preclude the uniformitarian approach to understanding the distant past. We highly value the scientific method and the body of scientific knowledge based on observation and experimental testing of hypotheses (which is necessarily done in the present) but we reject the uniformitarian assumption in making inferences about the past.

The GHCA supports and encourages careful efforts to understand Earth history consistent with the events in Scripture and we are pleased to share this growing body of knowledge with all who are interested.  Over recent decades some important components of a possible creation science theory have been developed and this body of knowledge is growing substantially. But there is much work yet to be done before a relatively complete young earth scientific theory of world history encompassing astronomy, geology, and biology can be developed. It is clear that God commonly uses the physical processes He has ordained to govern the physical world to accomplish His purpose. But we also recognize that some events in history may have a purely supernatural cause. It is our desire to encourage and enable further research as time goes on and we are happy to inform all who are interested of the present state of progress.

Needless to say, the beliefs expressed above are anti-scientific and pseudoscientific and do not "value the scientific method" as claimed. As explained in the main text, the individuals involved in GHCA who possess such beliefs (including Mark Ramsey and Frank Mayo) are the same individuals who created and operate Texans for Better Science Education, an organization whose ostensible purpose is to "improve" science education and evolution instruction in Texas. TBSE is a stealth organization whose true purpose is to destroy science education and evolution instruction by perverting the meaning and methods of science and confusing students, teachers, and public education officials.


Last updated: 2005/20/09