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Refusing To Be Blinded With Pseudoscience

Refusing To Be Blinded With Pseudoscience |

Texas scientists have finally stopped agonizing over creationism and gotten busy organizing.

Today, a group of university professors announced in a press conference the 21st Century Science Coalition, a vehicle to promote science education in Texas and push back against the retrograde agenda at the State Board of Education. It’s about time. The obscure but powerful board is a known hotbed of pseudo-scientific activity. At least six of its 15 members, including Chairman Don McLeroy, are creationists who have done little to hide their contempt for evolutionary biology. With an overhaul of the state’s science curriculum underway, this religious right faction has an opportunity to leave its fingerprints all over biology textbooks.

That’s where the scientists, mostly biologists, come in. Dr. David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin, came out firing at the press conference:

[McLeroy] is on record stating that there are two kinds of science: one that uses natural explanations, and one that relies on supernatural explanations. He is dead wrong about this: supernatural explanations have no place in science classrooms. Science is about testable explanations, and supernatural explanations are by their very nature untestable. It is clear that Chairman McLeroy wants to promote a particular religious, rather than a scientific, agenda in our science classrooms, and that has stimulated our group of over 800 Texas scientists to object.

The speakers made the usual — but necessary — statements that evolution is undisputed among the vast majority of scientists. To illustrate the point to a media that sometimes sacrifices accuracy for balance (”on one hand… but on the other”), the organizers piled up 10 years’ worth of the journal Evolution. Altogether, there are some 100,000 peer-reviewed articles supporting evolution published in this journal and others, said Dr. Dan Bolnick, an assistant professor at UT-Austin. “Not a single one shows that evolution has not occurred,” Bolnick said.

Dr. Richard Duhrkopf, who teaches — God bless him — biology at Baylor, had the best zinger of the day: “It’s time to keep religion and faith in the Sunday schools and not in the public schools.”

The coalition’s first goal is to strip language from the state’s standards that calls for the teaching of “strengths and weaknesses” in scientific theories. A committee of teachers has already recommended removing the language, but the board will make the final decision. McLeroytold the Austin American-Statesman that he wanted to maintain the status quo.

“Evolution shouldn’t have anything to worry about — if there’s no weaknesses, there’s no weaknesses. But if there’s scientifically testable explanations out there to refute it, shouldn’t those be included too?”

That argument is the new hobbyhorse of the creationist crowd. Having failed to get Intelligent Design into the classroom, the intellects of the creationist movement are pushing the “strengths and weaknesses” line. It’s a wedge to introduce creationist thinking into the classroom, says Dr. Sahotra Sarkar, a UT professor and founding member of the coalition. “What they’re trying to do is put in some completely phony doubts about what constitutes evolution,” said Sarkar.

This semester Sarkar is teaching a class to freshmen that touches on creationism. Of his 18 students, three of them claim to never have been taught a thing in high school about evolution, Sarkar says, even though it’s required by the state.

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