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Barbara Cargill’s recent comments on evolution and “strengths and weaknesses”

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Barbara Cargill

Barbara Cargill

Barbara Cargill, the district 8 representative of the Texas State Board of Education, recently wrote an article addressing the controversy over Texas’ science education standards and the “strengths and weaknesses” language.  You may find her article in its entirety here.  Below I have commented on some of Ms. Cargill’s points.

“The State Board of Education began discussing our state’s science curriculum standards in November.  We listened to over 90 testifiers, and the vast majority supported teaching all of evolutionary theory as fact with no reference to its scientific weaknesses.”

As I have stated on this blog before, if evolutionary theory is going to  be judged by such standards, then much of science should be suffering under the same scrutiny.  No scientific theory is ever going to be proven to be 100% true.  No theory is safe from criticism and peer review.  That does not mean that well-tested theories should not be treated as fact.  That’s the beauty of the scientific method–which, many scientists will agree, HAS shown evolution to be true beyond “reasonable doubt”.

The current requirement states that students are expected to “analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.”  This is a good standard that has served our teachers and students well for many years.

I would personally like to know how this is a good standard that has served the state well.  This clause is certainly put into the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) specifically for ideas that some people find troubling or controversial.  I have never heard of anyone spending time in class having their students evaluate the weaknesses of cell theory, the germ theory of disease, thermodynamics, and so on.  A good science teacher will of course discuss how parts of any of these theories have changed over time and might touch on any controversies related to the topic.  Yet this is something that is covered by the TEKS already–both the current TEKS and the newly proposed TEKS. 

For example, both the proposed TEKS  and the current TEKS state:

Science is a way of learning about the natural world. Students should know how science has built a vast body of changing and increasing knowledge described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models, and also should know that science may not answer all questions.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Cargill goes on to state:

Proponents of Darwinian evolution say that the theory has no weaknesses.  However 700+ reputable scientists who have signed “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” question major tenets of evolution.  They state, “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”  In The Origin of Species, Darwin himself wrote, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

To say that proponents of “Darwinian evolution” claim the theory has no weaknesses is misleading.  Scientists realize that theories are subject to change.  This tenet of science is included in the state’s science standards, as mentioned above.  Furthermore, 700+ scientists signing a petition does not mean a whole lot, unfortunately, unless one questions each scientist as to where their dissent lies.  This is, in fact, one of the common criticisms of this petition. Further criticisms include the fact that the professional expertise of those listed is not always apparent, some people may have been misled when signing the petition, and that the wording of the original document was in itself misleading.

For example, when evidence for universal common ancestry in the fossil record is taught (i.e. scientific strength), then the contradictory evidence showing the huge gaps of missing transitional fossils in the record must also be presented (i.e. scientific weakness).  We must educate our students — not indoctrinate them by letting them hear only one side of an issue. 

If this is how Ms. Cargill expects teachers to teach the strengths and weaknesses, then I would also like to see how she proposes handling the strengths and weaknesses of other biological theories, like the germ theory of disease.  I am very serious.  As a teacher who wants to make sure I am covering the TEKS properly, I would like to see some examples of how to teach strengths and weaknesses of the other theories I am required to teach my students.  I would love to see Ms. Cargill’s ideas. 

Also, should a teacher mention the strength (the fossil record), and then a potential weakness (gaps in the fossil record), but then go back to another strength (teaching about all the transitional fossils that have been found)?  Or is that unbalanced and still too one-sided and “indoctrinating”?

How does one decide exactly what is a strength and what is a weakness of a theory?  In some cases it may be obvious, but in others it may simply be in the eye of the beholder.  So where does a teacher turn to make sure they are adequately covering strengths and weaknesses?  Should there be some sort of scientific consensus on which ideas are strengths and which are weaknesses?  But wait…if we turn to scientific consensus, then wouldn’t evolution simply be taught largely as fact anyway?

I would like to note that there is one thing I can certainly agree with Ms. Cargill on:

Presently, Texas’ science standards contain key process skills like analyzing, comparing, gathering information, and drawing conclusions.  Students should practice these skills at each grade level, but too often the tendency is to teach rote memorization of accepted facts.

However, she then continues:

By applying the scientific process, students will be challenged to think “outside the box” and form their own conclusions about topics like common ancestry.  Evolution proponents should not mind if students ask questions; after all, if evolution is the best explanation, then the data should only point to its validity. 

Ms. Cargill is being misleading again here by implying that evolution proponents are scared of their students asking questions about evolution.  Unfortunately, some teachers may certainly be scared or a little intimidated, but this is not due to trying to “cover up” any inaccuracies in evolutionary theory.  It is due to the backlash that might occur from the students, their parents, other teachers, local religious groups, and so on.

Also, note to Ms. Cargill–the data does point to the validity of evolution.

Science is full of mystery and constant discovery.  Headlines such as cloning, DNA testing, and gene mapping are prolific.  Science classrooms are the perfect place to brainstorm about current science events!  With that in mind, how can teachers pick and choose which scientific evidence to teach or ignore?  Teaching students to believe that evolution indisputably holds the answers to life’s big questions undermines the very essence of scientific inquiry.

Good question, Ms. Cargill.  How can teachers pick and choose which evidence to teach or ignore?  Unfortunately, Ms. Cargill did not really address the question herself.

Tony Whitson has also commented on this article at Curricublog.

*Update

I’ve commented on the Texas Insider site where Ms. Cargill’s article is published asking her to please address my post and also sent Ms. Cargill the following email:

Ms. Cargill,
 
I recently read your article from the Texas Insider regarding the latest on the evolution/creationism/intelligent design debates.  I have posted some comments on my blog in reference to this article and welcome you to look at it and respond. 
 
The address is located here:
 
https://airtightnoodle.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/barbara-cargills-recent-comments-on-evolution-and-strengths-and-weaknesses/
 
I hope you are able to address some of my questions.
 
Merry Christmas!
 
Airtightnoodle

Hopefully she will be able to address some of the above.

*And yet another update!

Jeremy from An Evolving Creation linked to this post (thanks, Jeremy!) and added some extra food for thought:

What Cargill failed to mention is that the signatories of that statement are expressing their skepticism about “the ability of random mutations and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” The statement does not address common ancestry. In fact, several of the signatories have publicly stated that they have no problem with the fact of common ancestry.

Controversy over at TFN and a brief conversation with Don McLeroy

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2008 by airtightnoodle

As mentioned previously, the Texas Freedom Network and Tony Whitson of Curricublog have pointed out the seemingly contradictory statements of certain board members regarding their views on teaching evolution.  Anyone following the conversation at the Texas Freedom Network over the Texas board of education’s views on teaching creationism and intelligent design has surely noted the controversy in the comments.  One of the more pertinent questions raised by Larry Farfarman was basically thus:

How did the voter’s guide phrase the questions to candidates?

For instance, as Larry Farfarman stated over at TFN:

How do you know that the term “CREATIONISM” was included in the questionnaire that was sent to the candidates? How do you know that “CREATIONISM” was not just a title that was added afterwards to the question when the responses were published in the voter guide? You don’t know.

So…after much back and forth, I decided to ask the Free Market Foundation, who publishes the voter’s guides in question, myself.  I sent them the following email on December 7, 2008:

Hello.  I browsed through your voter’s guide for 2008 before the election this year and had a question about how the voter’s guide is created.  At the top of the voter’s guide there are summaries of the questions that were asked to candidates.  For example, for Sexual Orientation it said: Add a law protecting students from sexual orientation discrimination.
 
Is this exactly how the question was phrased to the candidates, or did the questions they received look or sound different in any way?  This would be helpful to know in the future.  Thank you!

Tonya Peterson from the Free Market Foundation responded quickly and concisely stating:

Hi,
 
These are the exact wording the candidates received. They answered on the scale from strongly for to strongly against.
 
I hope this answered your question.

Many thanks to Tonya for a speedy reply.

Now, I could have stopped there, but since I was already online at the time (which is rare at home these days), I decided to investigate just a wee bit further.  I emailed Don McLeroy, the head of our state board of education.

Here is the text of my email to Mr. McLeroy (also sent on December 7, 2008):

Mr. Mcleroy,
 
As a Texas citizen, I am concerned about the future of science education in our great state.  Recently you made the statement that you are unaware of any board member (referring to the state board of education) that advocates or has ever advocated teaching creationism, intelligent design, or supernatural explanations in the science classroom. 
 
Yet when perusing old news articles and more, it seems that you do support, or have supported creationism and intelligent design.
 
The 2006 Voter’s Guide from the Free Market Foundation stated that you support teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.  You were not the only board member to respond in such a manner.
The 2002 Voter’s Guide also showed that you supported teaching intelligent design and not just evolution.  Again, you were not the only board member to respond this way.
 
Can you please clarify?  Do you, or do you not, support teaching intelligent design and/or creationism alongside evolution in Texas science classrooms?
 
Thank you very much for your time.

Mr. McLeroy also replied promptly stating the following:

Airtight: Good question. I had forgotten about those voter guides when I made my statement. My mistake. It is true, however, that I have never stated that I want to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design nor do I want to. Voter guides leave little wiggle room sometimes; they will put you in a box and you have to choose which box in which best represents your views.

While I am unsure how Mr. Mcleroy can claim that he has never wanted to teach creationism or intelligent design despite what he acknowledges answering in the voter’s guides, I do thank him for a speedy reply.  I am not sure what position Mr. McLeroy does have that prompted him to answer in such a manner, even if he does not really feel that way.  Plus, as one can tell by viewing old voter’s guides from the Free Market Foundation, candidates do have the opportunity to expand on their views or to decline answering certain questions.  They can also explain why they are declining to answer certain questions. 

Related links you may be interested in:

Don McLeroy Jenkins

Creationist Evolution in Texas from The Panda’s Thumb

Texas SBOE–no one wants to teach creationism/intelligent design

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Don McLeroy is on the record as saying recently during testimony at the state board of education that he knows of no one on the board that has ever wanted to teach these ideas as part of science curriculum.  Yet McLeroy HIMSELF has advocated teaching creationism in the past! 

Sigh.

I recommend reading the following two blog posts from Tony Whitson and the Texas Freedom Network for more information.

Texas science education update

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , on November 16, 2008 by airtightnoodle

The National Center for Science Education has given us an update on what is going on in Texas here.  On November 19, the board of education will hear testimony on the state’s science standards.  The article also gives details on how you can register to testify.

Barbara Forrest at SMU

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Barbara Forrest recently spoke at Southern Methodist University in Dallas about creationism and intelligent design.  Ed Darrell from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub was in attendance and has given us a rundown of the highlights from her talk.

Go here to read what Forrest had to say.

Creationism (a.k.a. zombie science)

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education recently wrote an article entitled “Zombie Jamboree in Texas” in which he compares the creationist movement to such zombie flicks as “Dawn of the Dead”.

As humorous as this might seem, Branch’s article clearly points out why this issue is so important–and why the outcome in Texas is important for the nation as a whole.

Three creationists were just appointed to a six-member committee to review a draft set of Texas state biology standards, which determine what is taught in Texas’s public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state. And since Texas is one of the largest textbook markets in the country, what happens to textbooks there is relevant to the content of textbooks everywhere.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

CISD candidates’ views on teaching evolution

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by airtightnoodle

CISD (Conroe Independent School District, one of the school districts north of Houston and one of the larger districts in the state) has a vacancy on the school board.  The following article addresses the views on teaching evolution of the candidates running for this open position.  Click here to read the article.

When voting on Tuesday, don’t forget about voting for the State Board of Education!

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Here is an article about the candidates running in my area, district 8, for Texas State Board of Education. 

Note that the incumbent, Barbara Cargill, advocates “teaching the controversy”.

Share your comments on the Texas science standards

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2008 by airtightnoodle

As mentioned on my blog already, the first draft of science TEKS has been posted online.  Now you can share your comments on the TEKS. 

The comment forms for the first draft of the proposed Science TEKS have been posted at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/scienceTEKS.html.

The Science TEKS Review Committees will meet at the end of October and begin reviewing comments.

The end of October is here.  So go read the TEKS and post your comments NOW!

Don McLeroy defends Texas creationists

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , on October 19, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Today’s issue of the Waco Tribune-Herald features a guest column from Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education.  McLeroy, as mentioned previously on this blog, is a creationist.

Texas is adopting new science standards. Scientists representing evolutionists and calling themselves the 21st Century Science Coalition say that creationists on the State Board of Education will inject religion into the science classroom. Should they be concerned? No. This will not happen.

They also say that the board will require supernatural explanations to be placed in the curriculum. This will not happen.

First of all, this is the first I’ve ever heard of the 21st Century Science Coalition.  Googling reveals their website, located here.  In any case, I find it interesting that McLeroy singles this one organization out.  This seems to give the appearance that this is one of the only groups out there concerned about this issue, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.  But let’s be fair.  Perhaps they had an editorial in the same paper recently that I missed and McLeroy is simply responding to it.  In any case, let’s be clear: these are not the only people making a fuss.

Regardless, how can McLeroy repeat that “this will not happen”?  What other reasons would creationists have for wanting to have a say in the science TEKS?  And how can he definitively dictate what may or may not happen? 

McLeroy then makes a statement to stun all Biology teachers and evolution supporters across the world:

First, is understanding of evolution “vital” to the understanding of biology? No.

I guess McLeroy isn’t familiar with the famous Dobzhansky article that really sums it all up: “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”.

Next, has evolution been demonstrated to be true beyond any reasonable doubt? No.

Is evolution’s support from the peer-reviewed literature unassailable? No.

If these are the criteria by which evolution has come under assault, then much of science should be suffering under the same scrutiny.  No scientific theory is ever going to be proven to be 100% true.  No theory is safe from criticism and peer review.  That’s the beauty of the scientific method–which, many scientists will agree, HAS shown evolution to be true beyond “reasonable doubt”.

Does evolution have scientific “weaknesses”?

The 21st Century Coalition not only says no but insists that we must strike the weaknesses language from our standards because leaving it in threatens our children’s scientific reasoning.

If we’re not going to apply the same “weaknesses” technique to all other scientific theories, then yes, it certainly does threaten our children’s scientific reasoning.  Our students deserve a 21st century science education, not watered-down science, whether it is biology, astronomy, chemistry, etc.