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Testimony on Texas Textbooks

A standing-room-only crowd attended the hearing on biology textbooks before the Texas Board of Education in Austin on September 10. More than 160 people signed up to speak before the board, and the testimony continued into the wee hours.

Supporters of quality science education, including members of NCSE, Texas Citizens for Science, and the Texas Freedom Network, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin and around the state, educators, including many members of the Texas Association of Biology Teachers, and concerned parents, clergy, and citizens in general were out in force -- many wearing their "Don’t mess with textbooks" T-shirts.

Samantha Smoot, the executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, told the board, "The weaknesses of evolution alleged here today are founded on ideology, not science ... There’s really no debate about any of this in the scientific community."

Smoot's view was confirmed by the testimony of research biologists such as Andrew Ellington of the University of Texas at Austin, whose testimony was a devastating critique of the Discovery Institute’s assessment of the biology textbooks' treatment of scientific research into the origin of life.

Steven Weinberg, Professor of Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, addressed the common criticism that evolution is "just a theory" by remarking that his theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles won him the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics. He added that the existence of phenomena unexplained by a given theory is not, in his view, a "weakness."

Texas political icon Liz Carpenter, who served as press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson and went on to hold posts in four presidential administrations, eloquently urged the board not to "water down the strength of the science curriculum."

The Reverend Roger Paynter of Austin's First Baptist Church testified, "It is my deep conviction that creation flows from the hand of a creator God. But that is a statement of faith and not something that I or anyone else can prove in a scientific experiment. To lead children to believe otherwise is a disservice to them."

Creationists, for their part, were vocal, too. Mark Ramsey, of Texans for Better Science Education -- who is also the secretary and a board member of the Greater Houston Creation Association -- said, "I was indoctrinated, some would say brainwashed, to believe that evolution was as proven as gravity. ... Today, over two decades later, many of us now know better."

Eight out-of-state witnesses, including five associated with "intelligent design," were not allowed to testify during the hearing; they were, however, permitted to make presentations to the board members after the hearing adjourned and to submit written testimony. NCSE's Alan Gishlick and Eugenie C. Scott and NCSE member Robert T. Pennock stressed the importance of a sound presentation of evolution in textbooks.

The board is scheduled to announce which textbooks will be approved on November 7.