Jul 15 2009

Texas Update

We have been following the saga is Texas for a few years now – Texas is one of the major battlegrounds between science and ideology in education. The Texas board of education has been roughly evenly split between those dedicated to science and those dedicated to promoting their religious views through public education, specifically by attacking the teaching of evolution and cosmology and trying to sneak in creationist arguments.

Recently we heard the good news that the Chairman of the Texas BOE, Don (“someone has to stand up to those experts”) McLeroy, was removed as Chairman.  This was nice, but I did not get too excited – governor Rick Perry, who appointed McLeroy in the first place, is still in office.

For a brief time he seemed to be considering Cynthia Dunbar, perhaps the most anti-evolution member of the Texas BOE, for the post. The Teach them Science website reports about Dunbar:

In her book, One Nation Under God (Onward, 2008), Dunbar (on p. 100) calls public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” She charges that the establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and even “tyrannical” because it threatens the authority of families, granted by God through Scripture, to direct the instruction of their children.

There was a collective sigh of relief when we heard that Dunbar would not be appointed. But keep in mind, she is still on the BOE – someone who thinks public education is a “tool of perversion.”  But again the relief was short lived -Rick Perry has picked instead Gail Lowe.

Lowe is also a creationist, and though not as rabid as Dunbar, favors the “strengths and weaknesses” approach to sneaking in creationist arguments and watering down the teaching of evolution.

Others have pointed out that she seems to be impressed by the “polystrate fossils” creationist argument. The blog Half Empty does a good job of exposing this bit of creationist idiocy.  Essentially, it is based on a view of geology and paleontology that is oversimplified to the point of being wrong. She assumes that uniformitarianism (not the religion), the notion that changes over geological time result from present day forces extrapolated over millions of years, is always true and explains all of geology. The modern view, based upon the evidence, is that there are uniform processes in nature that shape geology, but these are punctuated by regular catastrophies – meteor impact, volcanic eruptions, mud slides, etc. Therefore, animals and plants are sometimes buried before they fossilize, sometimes in feet of mud or ash.

The “polystrate” fossil argument of creationists is that uniformitarianism cannot explain how millions of years of sediments could form around a large fossil, a tree trunk for example,which spans many layers of sediment. This is true but irrelevant, since modern geology allows for catastrophic events also. Once again, in attempting to argue against evolution creationists only expose their own ignorance of evolution and related sciences, like geology.

This woman, Lowe, is now the Chairperson of the Texas BOE. I don’t expect every BOE member to be an expert in every field taught by the public school system, but I do expect them not to substitute their own opinions for the knowledge of actual experts. I wonder if Lowe shares McLeroy’s disdain for experts. Of course, dismissing expert opinion is convenient when your own opinions run contrary to logic and evidence.

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