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Discovery Institute’s Jonathan Witt Enters the Controversy over Texas Science Standards

Sarah Chaffee

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As I’ve noted here before, Texas is in the process of streamlining its science standards, which means that Darwinists are ringing alarm bells and warning of terrible consequences if public schools fail to teach evolutionary theory as sacred, unquestionable doctrine. Jonathan Witt, a Center for Science & Culture Senior Fellow, addresses the issue in a letter to the members of the Texas State Board of Education.

“As a native Texan living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” writes Dr. Witt, who represents Discovery Institute’s Dallas office, “I am confident that (1) most Texas parents get that our students ought to understand the theory of evolution, and (2) most Texas parents would be appalled to learn that there is a plan afoot to teach their kids neo-Darwinism as airbrushed dogma.” Find the full letter here.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) science streamlining process began in January. Committees, organized by grade level and subject, were to start revising the standards during the summer.

In July, the biology committee voted to remove four standards promoting objective evolution education. For more on the four standards, see here. Biology committee member Dr. Ray Bohlin, a Center for Science & Culture Fellow, spoke to the State Board of Education on September 14, noting that there “was a quick and concerted effort by the majority of the committee to remove TEKS 7(B).” He highlighted the effort to remove several other standards allowing critical analysis of scientific evidence regarding evolution.

The Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a longtime opponent of critical analysis in evolution, and Ronald Wetherington, an evolutionary anthropologist whose expert reviewer suggestions to the Board in a previous year were filled with errors, immediately wrote letters to the Board. TFN president Kathy Miller, whose letter was also published in the Houston Chronicle, complained that Bohlin had voiced concerns to the Board before the Board had been presented with a draft of the revisions. She falsely described Bohlin and his fellow biology committee member Charles Garner as “evolution denier[s],” and labeled standards allowing critical analysis of evolution “unnecessary, misleading and based on junk science.” Wetherington similarly questioned Bohlin’s decision to testify in front of the Board as “ill-advised” and “counter-productive.”

In his letter, Jonathan Witt defends Bohlin and Garner against TFN’s attacks on their credibility. Garner and Bohlin are both highly qualified. Garner is a professor of chemistry at Baylor and one of six expert reviewers appointed to comment on the science TEKS in 2008-09, while Bohlin holds a PhD in molecular and cell biology.

Witt points out the effort to keep the review process secretive:

It is ridiculous to claim that the work of this government-appointed committee should be done in secret, and that a duly appointed committee member is obligated to hide what the committee is doing from the Board of Education. The claim is especially rich since TFN was allowed to have an observer at the biology committee meeting. So TFN is allowed to know what is happening on the committee, but the State Board isn’t? And not even science committee members should be able to inform the Board?

Furthermore, he gave examples of scientific debate over evolutionary theory in paleontology, genetics, taxonomy, and chemistry printed in mainstream science publications.

We hope that the board will realize the importance of transparency and refuse to purge quality science from the TEKS. When the current TEKS were passed in 2009, John G. West, Associate Director of the Center for Science & Culture, noted, “Texas now has the most progressive science standards on evolution in the entire nation.” That should not change.

Photo credit: JonRidinger (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.