Textbook evolution argument hasn't changed much
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News - 07/10/2003 - original
AUSTIN – Resurrecting a debate that has dogged textbook selection for two decades, supporters and critics of the theory of evolution pressed their arguments Wednesday to influence the next generation of high school biology books in Texas.
Scientists and educators from across Texas urged the State Board of Education to not tamper with 11 proposed biology books and their treatment of how life evolved.
Critics of the books, including some board members, charged that publishers have ignored state requirements by not including weaknesses in the theory of evolution in their biology texts, which would be used beginning in the fall of 2004.
Texas has long been a focal point of textbook selection in the United States because, as one of the largest buyers, its choices dramatically influence books marketed across the nation.
Board member Terri Leo of Spring, insisting that she supports the teaching of evolution in public schools, said her beef is that the biology books are supposed to contain the strengths and weaknesses of the theory, not just the strengths.
"These books do not include the scientific weaknesses of evolution," said Ms. Leo, echoing the complaints of other board members aligned with social conservative groups. "Charles Darwin himself would not have supported such censorship."
She and other members said they will be expecting publishers to make revisions as the books move toward adoption by the board in November.
But several science teachers and college professors warned that it would be a mistake for the board to "water down" a fundamental scientific theory that is accepted by scientists around the world. Central to the theory is that man evolved from lower forms of life.
"It is your responsibility to judge scientific textbooks fairly and competently by relying on the advice of scientists and science educators, and not on the claims of anti-evolutionists and pseudoscientists," said Steven Schafersman, a geology professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and president of Texas Citizens for Science.
Dr. Schafersman lashed out at social conservatives and a Seattle-based think tank – the Discovery Institute – for attempting to weaken the presentation of evolution in biology books. Their goal, he argued, is to require that students also be taught "creation science" or the concept of "intelligent design" in science classes.
Proponents of intelligent design attribute the development of life to the workings of a superior being or creator rather than the result of a "natural selection" of species that is at the heart of evolutionist theory.
Saundra Coffey, a biology teacher and chairman of the science department of Cypress Springs High School, reminded the board that state curriculum standards require that Texas students be taught evolution in school.
"Quality biology textbooks must adequately cover the topic of evolution and be based on scientific evidence," she said. "Creation science and intelligent design are not based on scientific evidence."
Raymond Bohlin of Garland, representing the Discovery Institute and the Christian think tank Probe Ministries, rejected the notion that the institute is seeking to impose its beliefs in Texas textbooks.
"We are not here to try and include anything in the textbooks. Our purpose is to talk about what the problems are regarding evolution in the texts," he said. He acknowledged that he met with Ms. Leo on Wednesday to discuss the group's concerns about the biology books.
"There is identifiable, scientific dissent to Darwinism," he said, noting that over a hundred scientists signed a letter that questioned Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and random mutation.
However, the National Center for Science Education said the number of those signing the letter represents a small fraction of the scientists in the United States and includes some who support many of the tenets of evolution.
State board members will hold another textbook hearing in September and then approve new biology books in November. Current biology books have been in classrooms for six years.