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Texas Textbook Adoption Process Heats Up

On July 9, the Texas Board of Education held its first public hearing allowing the public to comment on biology textbooks proposed for adoption. Local papers reported attendance at over 200. Nearly all of the three dozen speakers defended the teaching of evolution against a report that disputed the accuracy of the treatment of evolution in the 11 biology texts being considered for adoption in Texas, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Included among the many teachers, scientists, parents, and citizens who testified on behalf of the textbooks were ten NCSE members.

The report was submitted by the Discovery Institute (DI), and based largely on Jonathan Wells's book Icons of Evolution. The document examined the textbooks' treatment of four of the "icons": the Miller-Urey experiment, the Cambrian explosion, vertebrate embryos and Haeckel's drawings, and Peppered moths. The books were given letter grades, with only one receiving a passing grade of C-.

NCSE has posted on its web site a collection of reviews of Icons of Evolution.

The DI was represented at the meeting by Francis Beckwith, Raymond Bohlin, and John West. West felt compelled to defend the DI after the Austin American-Statesman noted that one of its major donors is Howard F. Ahmanson, a wealthy Californian who served on the board of directors for the Chalcedon Foundation, a think tank for Christian Reconstruction, a movement that seeks to replace democracy in the United States with a Christian theocracy. "Everyone has motives for everything," West told the American-Statesman, "Science is about the evidence." Updated July 22, 2003: Corrections. West was not present at the meeting and the American-Statesman did not discuss Ahmanson's funding of DI with West, whose comment about motives was general and not specifically in reference to Ahmanson. Also, Francis Beckwith has notified NCSE that he was not representing the Discovery Institute at the meeting. NCSE thanks Dr. West and Dr. Beckwith for their clarifications.

Bohlin, who also serves as the Executive Director of Probe Ministries, told CNN , "Every theory has its weaknesses, has its problems, and evolution seems to be the one theory in the textbooks that just isn't treated that way." Probe Ministries describes as part of its mission statement to "[train] people to love God by renewing their minds and equipping the Church to engage the world for Christ."

Many scientists spoke in defense of the textbooks. "I'm here to keep outside forces from removing science from science books," David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas and a leading figure in the field of systematics, told the San Antonio Express-News. "The goal [of the Discovery Institute] is to insert a religious and political agenda into the science classroom."

Samantha Smoot, executive director of the public watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, told the Houston Chronicle, "There is a clear, well-coordinated effort to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas classrooms." She said that religion should be taught in the home and places of worship, rather than in public schools. "Intelligent design is just creationism dressed up in a laboratory coat," she said.

Texas Citizens for Science, a recently formed pro-science education grassroots organization, held a press conference before the hearing. TCS President Steven Schafersman told Matt Frazier of Knight Ridder Newspapers, "It [intelligent design] sounds plausible to people who are not scientifically informed. But they are fraudulently trying to deceive board members. They might succeed, but it will be over the public protests of scientists."

Schafersman was joined at the press conference by NCSE Executive Director Eugenie C. Scott, who told Channel 8 News, "This year the approach of religious conservatives is to dumb down the coverage of evolution in the books by claiming they are full of misinformation, errors and even fraudulent coverage of science."

Because Texas represents the second largest textbook market in the country, trailing only California, people in many other regions of the country are watching the process there closely. Compromises made by publishers to appease special interest groups in Texas are likely to show up in other states.

Another public hearing is scheduled for September; the final vote on the textbooks will be in November.