When it comes to school textbooks, where Texas goes, other states follow — which is why the state’s decision to employ science textbook evaluators who have made a career out of bringing creationism to science classrooms in Texas and beyond has larger implications.
John Timmer of Ars Technica reports that the current battle over Texas science textbooks goes back to 2009, when after a fierce debate a new set of standards were created that included criticisms of such commonly accepted science ideas as bioevolution and the origin of the universe. The school board also hired two outside consultants to assess the quality of the textbooks members were considering for use in class, and rather than hiring experts in education or science, they selected two individuals closely affiliated with the Discovery Institute, an organization dedicated to bringing the teaching of intelligent design – a less theistic approach to creationism – in the guise of science.
After the reviews of the textbooks were submitted to the board, the Texas Freedom Network, a non-profit which lobbies for separation of church and state in Texas schools, requested the final report via the Public Information Act and published the whole thing on their website.
In the evaluation of one textbook, a reviewer openly advocated for introducing religion into the science classroom. “I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is considered for adoption. Students should have the opportunity to use their critical thinking skills to weigh the evidence between evolution and ‘creation science.’”
A push for creationism was also made in subtler terms. For instance, one reviewer suggests, “The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification. Text should ask students to analyze and compare alternative theories.” The “alternative theories” were left unstated.
Timmer points out that the reviewers made a number of biology mistakes such as discounting the standard definition of evolution as change over time as well as dismissing genetic drift as one of the mechanisms for such change.
Either way, as Timmer points out, even if Texas board members are unlikely to attempt to insert the teaching of intelligent design into the curriculum — after being slapped down by federal courts after their last attempt to do so — they could still use the review process as a tool to cast doubt on scientific concepts that the science community considers proven and mainstream.