Much of the science and education worlds turned eyes toward Texas late last month for a pivotal decision on science standards from the state's board of education. But when the ruling came down, voices from both sides of the debate over how to teach evolution claimed victories.
On one hand, some Darwinists cheered that the board dropped language calling for students to examine the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution. On the other, some critics of evolution claim that the board's newly adopted language accommodates their concerns more directly.
The language the board approved by a vote of 13-2 charges science classrooms to "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."
"This is definitely a net win," said Casey Luskin of the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute. "The Texas science standards now have the strongest standards in the country for requiring critical thinking on evolution."
But many media reports told a different story. The Dallas Morning News declared, "Conservatives lose another battle over evolution." And Scientific American reported that the "Texas vote moves evolution to the top of the class."
Which side then truly prevailed? The answer lies in the reaction of Darwinists most familiar with the debate in Texas.
Exhibit A, Kathy Miller of the pro-Darwinism Texas Freedom Network: "Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks."
Exhibit B, Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education: "I think we've seen some classic examples of politics interfering with science education."
That consternation flows from an understanding that Texas standards typically determine the language in textbooks distributed nationally. Publishers often cater to Texas as one of the largest purchasers in the nation. With new biology textbooks up for adoption in 2011, the Texas standards could trigger critical analysis of evolution in classrooms around the country.