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Can Texas remain neutral on origin theories?

* Can or should the State of Texas remain neutral on origin theories?
* Can politicians enforce such a principle?
* Would remaining neutral violate the First Amendment?

Consider the following recent events that offer a remarkable contrast to the case of denying tenure to astronomer Gonzalez:
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State science curriculum director resigns

Move comes months before comprehensive curriculum review.Listen to this article or download audio file.Click-2-Listen

By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Thursday, November 29, 2007

“The state’s director of science curriculum has resigned after being accused of creating the appearance of bias against teaching intelligent design.
Chris Comer, who has been the Texas Education Agency’s director of science curriculum for more than nine years, offered her resignation this month.

Chris Comer is accused of misconduct, insubordination.

  • TEA director of science curriculum resignation letter
  • TEA memo regarding director of science curriculum
  • What do you think about the resignation?
  • In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation.” See Full Article
    ———————–

    Official Leaves Post as Texas Prepares to Debate Science Education Standards

    Published: December 3, 2007, New York Times

    HOUSTON, Dec. 2 — After 27 years as a science teacher and 9 years as the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, Christine Castillo Comer said she did not think she had to remain “neutral” about teaching the theory of evolution.

    “It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law,” said Ms. Comer, citing the state’s science curriculum.But now Ms. Comer, 56, of Austin, is out of a job, after forwarding an e-mail message on a talk about evolution and creationism — “a subject on which the agency must remain neutral,” according to a dismissal letter last month that accused her of various instances of “misconduct and insubordination” and of siding against creationism and the doctrine that life is the product of “intelligent design.” . . . See full article.

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    20 Responses to Can Texas remain neutral on origin theories?

    1. Nature weighs in with:
      Don’t mess with Texas education - November 30, 2007

      “Attitudes to education differ round the world, but things are looking pretty odd in Texas right now. The director of the state’s science curriculum is claiming she was forced out for forwarding an email. Its content was not a risqué joke or a sleazy photo: it was a note about a forthcoming lecture by a philosopher who has been heavily involved in debates over creationism.

      The Statesman reports that the Texas Education Agency had recommended firing Chris Comer for repeated misconduct and insubordination (the details of which are unclear) before she resigned. But Comer and others are saying she was forced out for seeming to endorse criticism of intelligent design. An agency memo, according to the Statesman, said: “Ms Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

      In other news, a new international ranking of the science ability of 15 year olds has been conducted by the OECD. The US is below average, a little under Latvia. Finland tops the chart. Those with spare time might find it interesting to compare this chart of the new OECD ranking, with this chart of belief in evolution. . . .” See Full Article

    2. I find this whole thing strange. If ID is the “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” and “pseudoscience” that people claim it is, surely teaching it in a science class should not threaten anybody.

      Are kids so stupid that if it is as flakey as ID-critics claim that this will not be obvious to the kids ?

      Surely teaching it via a principle of compare and contrast could only be of benifit to students as they would learn to critically examine the issues for themselves.

      This can only be of a benifit to Darwinists if their case is as strong as they claim and ID is the fluff they claim it is.

    3. I personally do not think ID should be taught in science classes but neither do I think neo Darwinism should be taught in the evolution section of biology other than as an explanation for trivial situations.

      Neo Darwinism must be taught because it explains a lot of things affecting modern medicine but that should not take place in the evolution part of the biology course. In other words evolution and genetic changes should be separated in biology courses. Half of modern medicine depends on genetic problems and neo Darwinism has a very definite role there.

      I believe evolution should state that change did take place, it took billions of years to reach where we are today and that there is no confirmed mechanism to account for why the change took place or how new species arose.

      As far as Christine Connor is concerned, we should probably wait till this plays out some more. It will be interesting to see what legal actions are taken and how it is unfolds. Do we have Dover in reverse in the sense we have a pro active educator being censored because she is anti ID as opposed to being for it.

    4. If ID is already banned in science class at present, why does US do so badly in the science scores? Why is ID even mentioned in the context of bad science scores?

    5. IDNet

      You have put your finger right on the key issue, as usual.

      Now, in another thread I was challenged yesterday about my position on this issue (before I even heard about it!), and I said in effect that if there is injustice, there is injustice, but if there is a half truth lurking out there there is an improper attempt at rhetorical turnabout.

      BTW, on this, while further evidence is still needed to give us a beyond reasonable doubt objective view, this case smells of a “last straw” issue that led to resignation rather than outright firing. Observe, for instance, the following Nature blog article excerpt from a TEA memo [with my added link and emphases]:

      “Ms Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

      It also seems to be highly significant that the Board earlier had to instruct Ms Comer to cite the relevant exact language of the standard, instead of her usual statement.

      Does anyone else find that something does not add up in her favour, when she is enthusiastically FYI-ing about a talk by a notoriously dishonest atheistical advocate against Design Theory [who "belongs to the New Orleans Secular Humanist Society and has been a member of the ACLU since 1971"] hiding in academic robes, but who cannot even/ refuses to get the basic history on the origin of the design movement straight, much less its difference from Biblical Creationism or even the definition of ID [cf. here for starters . . .], while she has to be instructed to cite the following language? Namely:

      “The student knows the theory of biological evolution,” the standards read, and is expected to “identify evidence of change in species using fossils, DNA sequences, anatomical similarities, physiological similarities and embryology,” as well as to “illustrate the results of natural selection in speciation, diversity, phylogeny, adaptation, behavior and extinction.”

      This language sounds rather like the standard pro-evolution, NDT-only [without "teach the controversy"!] that evo mat advocates say they want in education standards.

      So why is an obvious evo mat enthusiast being instructed to in effect tone DOWN to this?

      Now, on the state of American education.

      For decades, there has been a challenge that the US public schools system is in a mess, and much of that criticism has [IMHCO for good reason] targetted the monopolistic dominance of the system by the teacher’s unions, which are a major part of the Democratic Party’s core institutional ideologically liberal — i.e evolutionary materialism driven, progressivist statist ["big government"] — support base, as can be seen from, say, their disproportionate representation at presidential Democratic nominating assemblies. [Even out here in the Caribbean, we sometimes get US National Education Association materials and the one-sided partisanship is obvious.]

      From what I can see, nearly every attempt at serious reform over the past 30 years has been fought tooth and nail by these partisan unions — one frankly suspects, largely in defence of their gravy train. Worse yet, performance measures in the US have consistently shown that there is no sound correlation between how much money is spent per pupil by the systems and how well systems perform on actual education outcomes.

      So, we see that evolution is in fact predominantly taught in the system without even any serious attempt to teach the controversies surrounding it — backed up by the NCSE and ACLU bad dogs and judges of the “ACLU copycat” Jones ilk. And, the system is broke and resistant to reform. [Hence, the rise of alternative education systems and of all things, home-based schooling! And if parents at home, notoriously, often out-perform teachers in the most lavishly equipped and lavishly funded school system in the world, something is definitely wrong with that system.]

      In that notorious context, the attempt to pretend through guilt by association that it is failure to teach evolution that is responsible for the problems, is utterly irresponsible and/or outright dishonest on the part of Nature. For, it is a longstanding fact of life for statisticians and other researchers that “correlation is not causation.”

      But then, by now, sadly, such malpractice by Nature is no big surprise.

      GEM of TKI

    6. For, it is a longstanding fact of life for statisticians and other researchers that “correlation is not causation.”

      But then, by now, sadly, such malpractice by Nature is no big surprise.

      I agree completely.

      I’m looking for the stats on when the U.S. was in the top 5 in science education, so far no dice.

      It’d be hilarious if the last time this happened was before the Engel v. Vitale decision. All of a sudden, these same people would rediscover that elusive correlation/causation disconnection.

      BTW, this “posting comments too quickly” thing is getting tedious.

    7. ANGRY,
      there is a study that answers you question.

      To Pray or Not To Pray by Dave Barton

      http://forerunner.com/forerunn.....opped.html

      What Happened When the voluntary Praying Stopped in our schools in 1962?

      1. Actual knowledge of high school students began to drop at an accelerating rate after 1962.

      2.Increase in ual activity in unmarried teen-age s. In the post- prayer years the numbers immediately began to soar.

      3. Unwed women 15-19 years of age showed a phenomenal increase in the rate of pregnancies.

      4. For the 15-19 and 20-24 age group, the rates of youth remained relatively unchanged during the years from 1946 to the School Prayer decision in 1962. But in the years since, s among the same group have increased 253 percent, or an average of 10.5 percent per year.

      5. Stability in the family has also been affected, Divorce, single parent families, began rising dramatically since 1962.

      6. The rate of violent crime has risen over 330 percent again it began rising dramatically after 1962.

      Angry, it seems fairly obvious It is obvious that such a quantity of students praying for their nation had a very positive effect on the course that this nation had taken prior to 1962.

    8. It’s pretty cut and dried, isn’t it? The TEA powers-that-be showed the cojones that other groups haven’t: get rid of bozos that use public money to promote private views!

    9. No one should be allowed to remain neutral with respect to origins. That is because if living organsisms didn’t arise from non-living matter via purely stochastic processes, then there wouldn’t be any reason to infer the subsequent diverty also arose via purely stochastic processes.

    10. I just heard her interviewed on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” In my view, she was clearly sandbagged.

      KF, Barbara Forrest is “notoriously dishonest”? She may be dishonest, I don’t know — but she’s not famous enough to be notorious. And so what if she’s a member of the ACLU? What does that have to do with anything?

      The email implied such endorsement. It was forwarded simply with the words “FYI.” Even so, she was asked to send out a disclaimer, which she did. She then took a few days off to visit her newborn grandchild and was fired the day of her return.

      BA77, assuming the stats in the “study” you cite are correct, it still does nothing but mistake correlation for cause.

    11. getawitness @10,

      BA77, assuming the stats in the “study” you cite are correct, it still does nothing but mistake correlation for cause.

      There is a difference between mistaking correlation for cause, and inferring cause from correlation. Given a correlation, you can use an explanatory filter to infer the best explanation for it: e.g. chance, or causation (in either direction). Criteria such as CSI and chronological sequence help eliminate some explanations in favor of others. But we’re getting off-topic.

    12. Folks:

      I see this thread is real fun . . .

      1] GAW, 10: Barbara Forrest is “notoriously dishonest”? She may be dishonest, I don’t know — but she’s not famous enough to be notorious.

      Wa’all, now, pardnuh [fake Texas "haccident" . . . Caribbean style . . .], over in the PZM on BF thread in the OP, Wm A D quotes good old uncle PZM on BF: “one of their critics the creationists most fear, so it’s not surprising that her name would elicit knee-jerk panic.”

      –> First, if one is widely “feared” one is well known in the relevant circles.

      –> Second, if you are a research level philosopher who puts oneself out as sufficiently expert on ID to testify in a key case as an expert then goes on to tour on one’s “triumph” in the case, one would expect that one would: [a] get the basic definition of ID straight, [b] get the basic history of ID’s origins straight [e.g. the implications of TBO's TMLO, originally published in 1984], [c] know that the YECs and OECs themselves draw a very strong [sometimes even hostile] line between their movements and the ID movement, [d]thus understand the basic point that the design theory is not now and has never been the same as or a trojan horse — a deliberately deceptive stratagem, if you know your Homer — for the Biblical Creationist movement in either the YEC or OEC forms.

      I therefore conclude that she is both notorious and notoriously dishonest. For details on the dishonesty, onlookers, kindly compare my link in no 5 above.

      2] And so what if she’s a member of the ACLU? What does that have to do with anything?

      Actually, everything.

      For, Copycat Jones’ ruling in the parts that addressed ID was over 90% verbatim taken from an ACLU post-trial submission, complete with gross and easily correctable inaccuracies, inconceivably distorted misrepresentations and blatantly counter-factual statements that ran in the teeth of both the trial record and open testimony in court. [The linked executive summary gives an onward link to the smoking gun analysis.]

      Can you reasonably believe that the ACLU post-trial submission has nothing to do with the claims of, testimony by and book(s?) and papers written by their star witness — who happens to have been a member since was it 1971, and who also just happens to be a member of a leading atheists association in the state where she resides? [What does that tell us about the actual observational incidence of the famously decent moral atheist?]

      If your answer is: “no, then nothing,” I got some Caribbean sea beach-front property in Kansas to sell you.

      3] Lars, 11: There is a difference between mistaking correlation for cause, and inferring cause from correlation.

      Go to the head of the class, pardnuh!

      For, we use statistical inference testing to discriminate the predictions of alternative causal models of a situation, especially the “chance” model that generates the null hypothesis, and the agent action model that generates the alternative hypothesis, or in some cases of course, the underlying but noise-clouded regularity. [In statistically relevant contexts, contingency is usually the key issue]

      Doesn’t that sound . . . er, ah, ahem . . . just a little familiar? [Hint: does the name Wm A D ring a bell?]

      4] Given a correlation, you can use an explanatory filter to infer the best explanation for it: e.g. chance, or causation (in either direction). Criteria such as CSI and chronological sequence help eliminate some explanations in favor of others.

      Prezactly!

      And, since chance, mechanical necessity showing itself through natural regularities and agency are all potential candidates for such causal explanation, one should not beg the question by eliminating one ahead of time by assuming questionable philosophical impositions such as that notorious stalking horse for philosophical materialism, methodological naturalism.

      5] But we’re getting off-topic.

      Nope, this is the technical heart of the issue of willful imposition of a biased, agenda-serving agenda by secularist power brokers in key institutions that has corrupted both science and science education.

      What i find interesting on this case, is that while there was a quick resort to claims of immoral equivalence — how handy to drown out the Gonzalez case — no-one of our ever so handy evo mat advocates has stood up to address the points of concern raised in 5 above. What does that suggest on the merits of this case as a claimed case of discrimination against a zealous advocate of evo mat in education who on the report had to be asked to tone DOWN to the following wording in science-teaching curriculum guidance materials?

      “The student knows the theory of biological evolution,” the standards read, and is expected to “identify evidence of change in species using fossils, DNA sequences, anatomical similarities, physiological similarities and embryology,” as well as to “illustrate the results of natural selection in speciation, diversity, phylogeny, adaptation, behavior and extinction.”

      It looks more and more, that there is no material parallel here to the GG case.

      GEM of TKI

    13. Memo to Chris: politics is rough business. You sided with those who claim that Darwinism is the only true science. You sent around an email indicating your support for an ardent Darwinist and opponent of allowing the teaching of ID. This isn’t science, my dear; it’s politics. The real reason your plight was featured in the Times was the gratuitous swipe at 43. There’s a political war going on, and you took sides; eagerly, as the article indicates. Those who want to play rough shouldn’t be surprised when things get bruising.

    14. Footnote:

      Worse yet, a glance over at the Abraham redux thread, will show that there is a very illuminating convergence here with the other cases.

      Look at Larry Fafarman’s great catch at no 60. I excerpt:

      Paul R. Gross, a former head of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, is a co-author — with Barbara Forrest — of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design and is also the lead author of the fanatically pro-Darwinist Fordham Institute Report on State Science Standards . . . Creationism’s Trojan Horse promotes the preposterous theory that Intelligent Design is part of a fundy conspiracy to take over the USA . . . . The fact that Gross is a co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse and the lead author of the Fordham Institute report is one of the worst conflicts of interest that I have ever seen.[BTW, it is worth looking here on the real story behind the Wedge document.]

      So, let’s ask: what was a presumably well-informed officer of the TEA doing enthusiastically promoting this sort of blatantly dishonest conspiracy theory put up by Gross and Forrest, on the Texas taxpayer’s time and dime?

      GEM of TKI

    15. WHY WAIT FOR SCIENCE

      Sarcastic Science, she would like to know,
      In her complacent ministry of fear,
      How we propose to get away from here
      When she has made things so we have to go
      Or be wiped out. Will she be asked to show
      Us how by rocket we may hope to steer
      To some star off there, say, a half light-year
      Through temperature of absolute zero?
      Why wait for Science to supply the how
      When any amateur can tell it now?
      The way to go would be the same
      As fifty million years ago we came –
      If anyone remembers how that was.
      I have a theory, but it hardly does.

      – Robert Frost

    16. “Democratic Party’s core institutional ideologically liberal — i.e evolutionary materialism driven, progressivist statist [”big government”] — support base,”

      Careful there Karios, not to be nit picking but “Liberal” is the completely wrong term to apply to “Leftwing” ideology. I am a political Science junky and major so hear me out. Liberal means Liberty. This word was high-jacked by the 1960’s Left as a way marketing their effort to forward social justice on issues of race, gender and equality. But left wing ideology is never about freedom and liberty as we know it. I don’t call them liberals’. I am the liberal. “I” am the one who wants people to pick for themselves what they think is the right or true answers in life. As you pointed out the public institutions work to keep people dependent on them or entrapped if you like. It is the left here in America that fights the right of people to have vouchers for education and demands that they stay in their local government school. One of the reasons for this is that if the government subsidized the student instead of the school you would anger the atheistic materialist left when they see a person choose to spend that money on a private “religious” education. Certainly this is a perverse frame of mind. But allowing people access to the money they are getting spent on them already in the government school by our good nanny state, you would simply be leaving it up to each person on a case to case basis to pick rather or not they thought religious private education was better than public. But you see the left knows what would happen because it knows the truth. The government schools would disappear over night and we would be back to a very free minded country. One that isn’t socially organized they way they dream. (sad but true) This is the enemy of methodological materialism and the radical left politic – a free mind will choose what it thinks is the best answer. There is no room in school for freedom of the mind because obviously Darwin could not reign in a culture like that.

    17. Hi Frost

      I hear your point. I used the language as it is used today. I know the relevant history — and BTW the change trend in the usage of the term predates the 60′s.

      GEM of TKI

    18. allanius said (comment #14) –

      Memo to Chris: politics is rough business. You sided with those who claim that Darwinism is the only true science. You sent around an email indicating your support for an ardent Darwinist and opponent of allowing the teaching of ID. This isn’t science, my dear; it’s politics.

      What is worse is that in this case she didn’t just side with the Darwinists on scientific issues — she sided with them on political and social issues. It was like sending out an “FYI” email announcing a “Darwin-to-Hitler” lecture by Ann Coulter.

      One who plays with fire should expect to get burned.

    19. Jerry wrote:
      I believe evolution should state that change did take place, it took billions of years to reach where we are today and that there is no confirmed mechanism to account for why the change took place or how new species arose.

      The problem is that many people think that chance + “billions of years” is a satisfactory mechanism for anything they see. And if billions of years is not enough, well we’ll just say we have trillions of other universes.

    20. No it is not trillions or gadzillions of other universes, it is infinite other universes of which we all appear on this blog an infinite number of times.

      Actually the time is much less that supposed since nothing much happened with multi-celled animals till 520 mya and then it happened quickly, too quickly for major novelty to appear. Also the major changes also happened relatively quickly so the deep time argument does not apply that much.

      Wolves have been around for 40 million years and not much has happened since then.

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