21st Century Science Coalition is Launched in Texas
to Oppose Anti-Evolutionists

by Steven Schafersman
Texas Citizens for Science
2008 October 1

News Articles about the 21st Century Science Coalition

Scientists from Texas universities on 2008 September 30 held a press conference in Austin to launch the newly-formed 21st Century Science Coalition to defend the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas public schools.

Dr. Daniel Bolnick speaks at the press conference in Austin
on behalf of the 21st Century Science Coalition.

Two news reports in the Houston Chronicle (here and here) reported yesterday that scientists from Texas universities held a press conference in Austin on September 30 to launch the newly-formed 21st Century Science Coalition to defend the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas public schools.

Dr. David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, said "Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education." Hillis specifically criticized the Texas State Board of Education, several of whose members have publicly stated their intention to try to keep the anti-science language "strengths and weaknesses" in the science standards, even though most of the science standards-writing panels removed the language.

The 21st Century Science Coalition published the following statement and asked Texas scientists to sign it.

Scientists for a Responsible Curriculum in Texas Public Schools

A strong science curriculum is an essential part of a 21st-century education and should be based on established peer-reviewed empirical research. In 2008-09 the State Board of Education is revising the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards for the sciences.

Scientifically sound curriculum standards must:

  • acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences;

  • make clear that evolution is an easily observable phenomenon that has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt;

  • be based on the latest, peer-reviewed scholarship;

  • encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to “strengths and weaknesses,” which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses; and

  • recognize that all students are best served when matters of faith are left to families and houses of worship.

We, therefore, call on the Texas State Board of Education to approve science curriculum standards that prepare Texas students to succeed in the 21st century.

Almost 900 Texas scientists have signed this statement so far and hundreds, perhaps thousands, more are expected to do so now that the site has been launched and publicized.

To illustrate to a news media how much evidence exists for evolution, the new coalition organizers piled up ten years of the journal Evolution. "There are some 100,000 peer-reviewed articles supporting evolution published in this journal and others" said Dr. Daniel Bolnick, an assistant professor at UT-Austin. "Not a single one shows that evolution has not occurred."

The reporter interviewed the Chairman of the State Board of Education Don McLeroy, who is a Young-Earth Creationist and a leader of the 7-person anti-science faction on the 15-member State Board. McLeroy said he supports restoring the "strengths and weaknesses" language and stated, "I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses." At least McLeroy now understands that hypotheses may have weaknesses, but he is still confused about the fact that scientific theories, such as biological evolution, don't.

Modern scientific theories have only strengths, although their incompleteness suggests to the uninformed that they have weaknesses. In fact, the controversial parts of any discipline are investigated as hypotheses, not incorporated into accurate, reliable, and truthful scientific theories which have achieved true scientific consensus. Only the fully-accepted parts of scientific theories should be taught in K-12 schools to young learners. Controversial hypotheses with true weaknesses should be saved for higher education and graduate school after students achieve the ability to understand and investigate remaining gaps and problems.

McLeroy, a dentist, disputed the scientists, saying there are a number of weaknesses in the theory of evolution. He cited the fossil record: "It's strong evidence for [evolution], but I also think it's some of the strongest evidence against it." Your faithful blogger is an evolutionary paleontologist, so I can tell you that McLeroy's contention is bunk. He should be ashamed of himself for claiming things about which he obviously has no understanding.

McLeroy also disingenuously repeated the contention of the Discovery Institute which helps him formulate policy, "I'm getting sick and tired or people saying we're interjecting religion. We're certainly not interjecting religion. Not at all." Strictly speaking that's true, but the effect of corrupting the biology standards will have the same intended effect as interjecting religious Creationism. The Creationist goal is to damage the science standards so that students will be confused about the accuracy and reliability of science and teachers will weaken, obfuscate, or omit evolution entirely because of the manufactured controversy, further undermining their educations. About half of Texas biology teachers do that now.

It is illegal to teach any form of Creationism in the public schools, including Intelligent Design Creationism, since they are religious, so organized and aggressive Creationists today use the tactic of subverting science--especially biology--standards. That elected public officials in Texas are doing this is unethical, since they have been entrusted by voters to protect and preserve education in our state, and that includes science education.

Subverting science standards is the specific intention of the 7-member radical religious right faction on the current State Board. Sahotra Sarkar, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, said, "We need to teach our students sound science not some watered down version of it. And whose version gets in the textbooks is up to the State Board of Education to decide." Sarkar went on to say that Intelligent Design has the same relationship to evolution as alchemy to chemistry and astrology to astronomy.

Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 October 1