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Questions about the 21st-Century Science Coalition and media requests can be referred to members of the Advisory Committee, whose contact information and September 30, 2008, press conference statements follow: 

Dan Bolnick
Assistant Professor, Section of Integrative Biology, and UTeach Program
University of Texas at Austin
(512) 471-2824
R. E. Duhrkopf
Associate Professor of Biology
Baylor University
(254) 710-2082
David Hillis
Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor, Section of Integrative Biology
University of Texas at Austin
(512) 471-5792
Ben Pierce
Professor of Biology and Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair
Southwestern University
(512) 863-1974
Sahotra Sarkar
Professor, Section of Integrative Biology and Department of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin
sarkar@mail.utexas.edu
(512) 232-7122
Press Conference Statements
September 30, 2008

Statement by Dr. David Hillis

Good afternoon. I am David Hillis, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas. I am here with the Advisory Committee for the 21st Century Science Coalition. This coalition is a group of over 800 Texas scientists from many different Texas colleges and universities — large and small, public and private, religious and secular — as well as from private industry. And that number is growing daily as more and more scientists sign on to our petition at http://www.TexasScientists.org. We are here to support and promote strong, clear, modern science education in Texas schools. Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education. Last week, teacher working groups introduced drafts of new curriculum standards for science in Texas schools, and they did an excellent job in drafting those standards. The changes the teachers recommended are exactly what we need to prepare Texas schoolchildren for college science classes and the jobs of the future.

If Texas teachers have drafted strong science standards, and Texas university scientists support those standards, then what are the obstacles to strong science education in Texas? Unfortunately, the State Board of Education stands between the proposed standards and their adoption. The Chair of the SBOE, Don McLeroy, is on record stating that there are two kinds of science: one that uses natural explanations, and one that relies on supernatural explanations. He is dead wrong about this: supernatural explanations have no place in science classrooms. Science is about testable explanations, and supernatural explanations are by their very nature untestable. It is clear that Chairman McLeroy wants to promote a particular religious, rather than a scientific, agenda in our science classrooms, and that has stimulated our group of over 800 Texas scientists to object.

Let me introduce the excellent group of scientists on our advisory committee, who will each make short statements before we answer questions. Dr. Rick Duhrkopf is professor of biology at Baylor University; Dr. Ben Pierce is professor of biology at Southwestern University; and Drs. Dan Bolnick and Sahotra Sarkar are professors with me at the University of Texas.

Statement by Dr. Richard Duhrkopf

I have taught introductory biology for biology majors at Baylor University for 25 years. Being a faculty member at the largest Southern Baptist University and second largest Christian University in the country presents some unique challenges. Being evangelical Christians, it is assumed that we teach creationism. Many parents, when considering sending their children to Baylor, assume we do not teach evolution. If ever there was a place that ought to embrace so called “Christian alternatives” to evolution, it should be Baylor. As Biologists, we have examined those supernatural alternatives and found them to be unacceptable. Quite simply put, they are not science, and to teach them as science would be to lie to our students.

In Science we accumulate knowledge through the testing of naturalistic explanations of observable phenomena. For such tests to be scientific, the explanation must be capable of being disproven. Those explanations are tested through observation and experimentation. As we test those explanations, they gain empirical support. Some want to include the supernatural in the science curriculum. By its very definition, the supernatural lies outside of the realm of science. Supernatural explanations cannot be tested. Nor do they have the capacity of being disproven. Those explanations cannot be tested through observation and experimentation. As such, there is no empirical support for them.

Just as we do not include auto mechanics in the curriculum for teaching English, and we do not include discussions of baking principles in the curriculum for foreign languages, discussions of the supernatural have no place in the curriculum for science. Teaching about faith and religion belongs in Sunday Schools, not in public schools.

Statement by Dr. Dan Bolnick

My name is Dan Bolnick, and I’m an Assistant Professor at UT Austin.

I would like to draw your attention to the stack of journals here. These are 10 years of copies of the journal Evolution, which has been publishing original biology research since 1947. Each of the 8,500 reports in this journal summarizes years of collecting and analyzing real data. Adding together the dozens of similar research journals, there are over 100,000 research articles supporting evolution. Not a single one provides evidence that evolution has not occurred. Not a single one shows that natural selection does not work. So where are these “weaknesses” that the Texas State Board of Education wants taught? Simple: they are bogus. They are not based on scientific research or data, and have been refuted countless times.

Where does the State Board get their information? From creationist organizations like the Discovery Institute. In 2002, the Discovery Institute gave the Ohio Board of Education a Bibliography of 44 research papers they claimed presented weaknesses of evolution. But the authors of those 44 papers unanimously said the creationists misrepresented their research. To quote one author, Kenneth Weiss, “Evolution is beyond dispute based on all the evidence I am aware of.” Do we really want people who misunderstand, or worse misrepresent, scientific research to be setting our science curriculum?

So why has the Texas State Board of Education swallowed these phony weaknesses? Because teaching “weaknesses” is a wedge allowing teachers to insert their personal religious views into public science classrooms. This will take up time better spent teaching our students real biology, leaving them under-prepared for college and for the job market. Let’s focus on teaching the best science available — and there is plenty of it — and leave religious education up to parents.

Statement by Dr. Ben Pierce

My name is Ben Pierce. I am Professor of Biology at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. I’ve been teaching biology for 28 years.

A few moments ago, David Hillis reported that over 800 Texas scientists have signed our statement, calling for strong science standards and the inclusion of evolutionary principles in Texas public education. Over 800 Texas scientists have spoken with a single voice. That’s a pretty remarkable fact. Clearly, this is an issue about which Texas scientists feel strongly.

What Texas scientists are saying is simple: We need the best possible science education for Texas kids. Our state’s greatest resource is not its oil, gas, wind, or even water. Our greatest resource is the children of Texas. In a few years, they will be competing in the global economy. They will be confronted with a number of complex technical issues presented by the 21st century, issues like global warming, our aging population, a shortage of energy. We can’t expect the future citizens of Texas to be successful with a 19th-century science education. They will not be successful with a science education diluted and hobbled by false arguments about strengths and weaknesses. They need a 21st-century science education, one that includes the latest findings of scientific research.

Statement by Dr. Sahotra Sarkar

My name is Sahotra Sarkar and I am a Professor of Integrative Biology and of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Let me begin by noting that, in the draft standards the language about teaching “strengths and weaknesses” of well-established scientific theories has been deleted because that language is used in Texas K-12 classrooms as an excuse to bring in supernatural and fringe explanations of phenomena instead of sticking to well-established scientific principles. We should teach students 21st-century science, not some watered-down version with phony arguments that nonscientists disingenuously call “weaknesses.” Calling “intelligent design” arguments a “weakness” of evolution is like calling alchemy a “weakness” of chemistry, or astrology a “weakness” of astronomy.

Scientists make their living searching for any real weaknesses in scientific theories. The material presented in high school science classes has already passed through extensive and critical scientific review; it represents the well-supported consensus view of scientists. The job of the high school teacher is to present this consensus view of science, which is determined by professional science researchers. The claims being promoted as “weaknesses” of evolution by some members of the SBOE have not passed scientific review and scrutiny; rather, they have been soundly and repeatedly rejected.

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