• See Barbara Forrest, “Why Texans Shouldn’t Let Creationists Mess with Texas Science Education,” Southern Methodist University, November 11, 2008  — Video —  MP3

By Barbara Forrest

November 27, 2008

Texas science education is currently in the crosshairs of the Discovery Institute (DI), the conservative Seattle think tank that serves as the headquarters of the intelligent design (ID) creationist movement. DI’s supporters in the Lone Star state are using the same code-language strategy that its Louisiana supporters used earlier this year, in spring 2008, when DI targeted the science education of Louisiana children. Working through the Louisiana Family Forum, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, DI helped to promote the “academic freedom” bill that the legislature passed and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law on June 25 as the “Louisiana Science Education Act” (LSEA). Long-time DI fellow David K. DeWolf admitted helping to shape the legislation, which is designed to permit the use of creationist supplementary materials such as DI’s intelligent design textbook, the deceptively titled Explore Evolution, in public school science classes. When Gov. Jindal signed the LSEA into law on June 25, the Discovery Institute declared victory. Now, in fall 2008, DI has targeted Texas.

DI operatives are working through Texas Board of Education chair Don McLeroy, a self-described creationist, and other supporters on the board. ID-friendly board members nominated Stephen C. Meyer, director of DI’s creationist Center for Science and Culture, and two other ID supporters to serve on the six-member expert review panel that recently reviewed the draft of the Texas state science standards. The ID proponents’ goal is to have the “strengths and limitations” of evolution — code for ID creationist criticisms of evolution — included in the science standards. They are serving along with three nationally recognized Texas professors — David Hillis, Gerald Skoog, and Ronald Wetherington — who are legitimate experts in science and science education.

“Strengths and limitations” is the most recent evolution of  ID creationist code language. Until a few weeks ago, the code phrase used in the standards was “strengths and weaknesses,” which had been inserted by creationists two decades ago. Thanks to well-organized efforts by pro-science groups such as the Texas Freedom Network, “strengths and weaknesses” was exposed as merely a shopworn creationist code term, as can be seen, for example, in a 1983 Institute for Creation Research article:

Scientific creationists . . . think that evolution should be taught, but only when the strengths and weaknesses are discussed in comparison with the scientific merits of creation.  — Richard Bliss, 1983

As a result of the exposure of “strengths and weaknesses,” the code language has evolved yet again, this time to “strengths and limitations.” (See the letter to McLeroy and Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.)

In 2003, during the textbook selection process in Texas, DI operatives attempted to pressure the Texas Board of Education to include the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in state-approved biology textbooks. They failed when the board resisted pressure from DI to alter the textbooks. In the best interests of the schoolchildren of Texas, the slim majority of moderates on the Texas Board of Education should see to it that the Discovery Institute fails in its current effort as well.

  • At Southern Methodist University on November 11, 2008, Barbara Forrest explained DI’s evolving strategy in a public lecture, “Why Texans Shouldn’t Let Creationists Mess with Texas Science Education.” The video of Forrest’s lecture is available here. The mp3 audio file is available here.