The Star-Telegram September 10, 2003

Groups debate how origin of life should be taught in Texas

by April Castro

AUSTIN - Scientists, teachers and religious leaders clashed Wednesday over how the origin of humanity should be taught to Texas school children in biology textbooks.

On one side, the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, is leading a campaign to change the language of biology books to include weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

"There is considerable debate in scientific circles about the mechanism of evolution, namely how it happened," said William Dembski, a Baylor research professor who agrees with the Discovery Institute.

"All the textbooks under consideration grossly exaggerate the evidence for neo-Darwinian evolution, pretending that its mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic change is a slam dunk. Not so."

Dembski was one of some 160 activists signed up to testify before the state Board of Education in the last public hearing before the November adoption of Texas biology textbooks.

Scientists and public watchdog groups testified that the theory of evolution remains widely accepted in scientific communities and is a cornerstone of modern scientific research and technology. Many maintain that attempts to discredit Darwinian theory in textbooks is a scheme to later persuade publishers to include religious-based explanations for the origins of life.

The theory of evolution has been required in Texas textbooks since 1991.

Liz Carpenter, who served as press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson and was appointed to posts by four presidents, urged the board not to "water down the strength of the science curriculum."

"Texans with our wide spaces and blue skies believe in freedom, I think and resent more than anyone being throttled," Carpenter said. "And I don't want to be defined by extremists who want to curtail knowledge of any kind."

The Discovery Institute has been linked to a theory known as "intelligent design" - a belief that species did not evolve by natural selection but instead progressed according to a plan or design. Institute officials, however, say they have no intentions of lobbying the state to include intelligent design.

Several officials from the Discovery Institute were on hand to testify, but the board voted 10-3 not to let the out-of-state witnesses testify during the hearing.

Critics say "intelligent design" is a dressed-up version of creationism, which the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited from public schools as a violation of the separation of church and state.

The Board of Education has no say over textbook content, but the board can reject books because of errors or failure to follow the state curriculum.

The board will make its final decision on the biology textbooks in November. Publishers must submit final changes by Oct. 3.

Because Texas is the second largest textbook market in the country, changes made by publishers here often influence textbooks nationally. Only California buys more textbooks than Texas.

File Date: 09.15.03