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Evolution remains legal in Texas

Whew! That was a close one.

In a major defeat for evolution critics, a sharply divided State Board of Education voted Thursday to follow the advice of a panel of science educators and drop a long-time requirement that “weaknesses” in the theory of evolution be taught in high school science classes.

Under the science curriculum standards tentatively adopted by the board, biology teachers and biology textbooks would no longer have to cover the “strengths and weaknesses” of Charles Darwin’s theory on how humans evolved.

Opponents of the strengths and weaknesses requirement had warned that it would eventually open the door to teaching of creationism – the biblical explanation of the origin of humans – in science classes, while board members backing the rule insisted that was not their intention.

The seven Republican board members supporting the rule have been aligned with social conservative groups that in the past have tried to publicize alleged flaws in Darwin’s theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

The key vote Thursday was on an amendment to the proposed curriculum standards that would have restored the “weaknesses” rule. It was defeated on a 7-7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat was absent.

“We’re not talking about faith. We’re not talking about religion,” said board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, who opposed the amendment. “We’re talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do.”

If you’ll pardon the expression, amen to that. Just so we’re clear, since it’s painfully obvious that the twits on the SBOE are not, this is what we’re technically arguing over. It’s very easy to get bogged down in nonsense in these debates, since the anti-evolution side is extremely prone to pushing things that have nothing to do with evolution as biologists understand it.

As seemingly silly as much of this is, this little squabble on the Board had potentially far-reaching consequences, as Julie Pippert noted. It would have been both ironic and deeply tragic if a handful of zealots in Austin had managed to dumb down science education across the country at a time when the country has new leadership that embraces science. Thankfully, we managed to dodge that bullet, for now.

On a related note, Evan Smith contends that the SBOE and its ridiculous antics are the biggest contributor to Texas’ negative image in other parts of the world. I left a comment there saying that I think our fascination with the death penalty does us more harm than these clowns do, but they’re certainly a factor. What do you think?

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