First up from the God Machine this week is a textbook controversy in Texas, where a new fight over creationism and far-right efforts to gut biology lessons is stirring all kinds of trouble.
In recent years, education officials in Texas pushed for sweeping changes to the state’s social studies curriculum, replacing accurate versions of American history with one conservatives found more ideologically appealing. As Sarah Jones noted this week, a similar effort is now underway in which far-right activists hope to replace biology lessons with their own version of science.
The controversy began when Texas’ State Board of Education appointed a number of creationists to review panels meant to ensure the quality of new biology textbooks. Despite valid concerns raised by watchdogs like the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), creationists remained on the panels.
Now it’s possible to see just how far they’ve advanced their agenda. The results of an open records request filed by TFN reveal that creationist reviewers have made audacious – and legally problematic – demands that the state teach religious dogma as scientific fact.
“I understand the National Academy of Science’s [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution,” one reviewer wrote. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.”
Right Wing Watch highlighted concerns raised by Jimmy Gollihar of the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, who noted that the panel responsible for reviewing the textbooks featured anti-science activists. Gollihar wrote to the State Board of Education, detailing “how the creationists who are serving on the panel not only lack any credentials but seem not to understand basic science, such as the one panelist, a dietician, who demanded that biology textbooks incorporate ‘creation science based on biblical principles.’”
For the record, this is the 21st century. I just thought I’d mention that.
If Texas continues on this path, lawsuits are inevitable, and the right is unlikely to prevail. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that creationist pseudo-science is legally impermissible in public school science classes because it violates the separation of church and state.
Still, far-right activists in the Lone Star State appear ready to take their chances. The next public hearing on the science curriculum is this week, with a meeting scheduled for Sept. 17.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* An unexpected perspective from Rome: “The Vatican’s new secretary of state has said that priestly celibacy is not church dogma and therefore open to discussion, marking a significant change in approach towards one of the thorniest issues facing the Roman Catholic Church.”
* Remember this clown? “Controversial Gainesville Pastor Terry Jones, known for his plans to publicly burn copies of the Muslim holy book, was arrested Wednesday with thousands of kerosene-soaked Qurans, authorities said. Jones, 61, was arrested on felony charges after a traffic stop near a pharmacy in Mulberry, a small town in Polk County, just before 5 p.m. He faces charges of unlawfully transporting fuel and openly carrying a firearm” (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* And finally, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network launched an effort two weeks ago to cover up Robertson’s on-air claims. Specifically, the televangelist said gay men in San Francisco sometimes wear special rings to draw blood from others in the hopes of spreading HIV/AIDS. This week, the Christian Broadcasting Network lost the fight, and to honor the occasion, here’s the video Robertson and his lawyers didn’t want you to see.