Texas: Your “Weaknesses” Are Weak — And Old, Too

Yesterday, the Texas State Board of Education had a hearing on the science curriculum. As expected, the big issue was over evolutionary science and how it would be taught in Texas K-12 classrooms. Kathy Miller Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network and Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science did liveblogging from the hearing (TFN, TCS).

The thing that interests me about the content of the hearing is how plainly the antievolutionist board members espoused the standard religious antievolution ensemble of talking points as their “weaknesses”, and not anything approaching any sort of technical content worthy of being considered a “weakness”. As Texas Freedom Network people noted, “Your Weaknesses Are Weak”. Not only that, as part of the standard religious antievolution ensemble of arguments, they go back a long, long ways. These are not just old, but moldy. They represent stuff that was at home in the mouths of the Rev. William Paley in 1802, William Jennings Bryan in 1925, and various explicit creationists, “scientific creationists”, “creation scientists”, and “intelligent design” creationists since then.

Here’s a list gleaned from the liveblog records and listening to the audio:

Piltdown man (Ken Mercer) [CC001]

Mercer said that Piltdown Man was held to be “the missing link”.

Haeckel’s embryos (Ken Mercer) [CB701]

Mercer: “He drew the human embryo every time.” Mercer is absolutely incorrect; should we talk about Mercer in terms of “fraud” as he tosses it around concerning others?

Macroevolution not observed (Ken Mercer) [CB901]

Argument from authority (Paul Kramer, Terri Leo) [CA118]

Leo asked Kramer if the scientists signing onto the DI Dissent from Darwin list were doing so for religious reasons; Kramer said no. Mercer said he hoped they could keep their jobs after signing, reiterated assertion that no religion was involved.

Terri Leo asserted that “skeptics” with multiple degrees are their experts and are more qualified than people criticizing their stances.

Fairness argument (Paul Kramer) [CA040]

Nazis, party lines (Paul Kramer) [CA006.1]

What are they afraid of? (Paul Kramer) [Example: Pat Buchanan]

Evolution is only a theory (various) [CA201]

“Academic freedom” (Ken Mercer) [“AF” in Florida]

Mercer makes it clear that he is completely on board with the mis-named “academic freedom” approach. Ken Mercer questioned Joanne Richards, completely ignoring the comparative religion argument she made. He was all over misunderstanding “academic freedom”.

“But in the last twenty years we’ve just had the ability of academic freedom for children to be able to ask questions, and that’s just been a critical academic endeavor where they could raise their hands, and that’s just been there.”

Academic freedom is not the ability of children to ask questions. The Texas State Board of Education has some very confused people on it.

Evolution is not a fact (witness) [CA202]

Eminent scientists are rejecting evolution (Cynthia Dunbar) [CA110, CA111]

When does a theory become a law? (Don McLeroy)

This isn’t specifically in the index to creationist claims, mostly because it is too stupid even for most antievolutionists to take it out for a spin. It is another example of the breathtaking inanity of antievolution argumentation. There is no notion of a formal progression in science from theory to law. Implying that there is one shows remarkable ignorance of the content of science at a very basic level. Laws are observations of relationships that always (or almost always) hold, often expressed in mathematical terms. Laws do not deliver mechanisms, and often indicate places that are ripe for hypotheses and theories to be formed that would explain the regularity that a particular law reveals. Newton’s law of universal gravitation expressed a relationship in physics that has several current theories that are attempts to provide a mechanism that would explain that relationship, none of which has achieved general acceptance in the scientific community.

Evolution critics are censored (Ken Mercer) [CA320]

*Polystrate fossils/Lompoc whale (Gail Lowe) [CC331, CC335]

Science changes (Steve Smith) [CA250]

Paradigm shifts (Steve Smith)

This one doesn’t have an entry in the Index. I’ll bug Mark Isaak about this.

Intermediate fossils between species are missing (Steve Smith) [CC200, CC202]

Monkey DNA code only leads to monkeys (Steve Smith) [CA640]

Censorship! Expelled! (Steve Smith) [CA320]

Board member Cargill complimented Smith on ‘sticking to the science’ and specifically endorsed his Gish Gallop as being the sort of “weaknesses” that the board is promoting. This will make an excellent “smoking gun” at any trial that arises in Texas.

Darwin’s ideas are a sacred idea for scientists (Tom Lancaster) [CA610, CA611, CA612]

Phillip Skell skepticism (Tom Lancaster) [CA215]

Sagan said life evolving is improbable! (Board member Lowe(sp?)) [Search on ‘Sagan’]

Cambrian explosion (Hannah Weissgerber [“D” 0:30]) [CC300, CC301]

Miller-Urey experiment (Hannah Weissgerber [“D” 0:30]) [CB035

Evolution has no effect on medicine (Hannah Weissgerber) [CA215, Relevance of evolution: medicine]

Ms. Weissgerber expresses absolutely standard religious antievolution arguments and demonstrates her ignorance of her chosen field of study all at once.

“Origins science” has no effect on science study (Hannah Weissgerber) [CA221, CA230]

Theory is not a total and complete fact (Hannah Weissgerber) [CA042]

(D 1:57) Have you ever discussed or studied Borel’s law of probability? (Board member Lowell questioning Sam Scorpino) [Borel’s law FAQ]

[In a book about probability for the lay audience, Emile Borel proposed a rule of thumb that events less likely than 1e-50 never happens. This has been seized upon by the antievolution movement as “Borel’s law”. Outside of the antievolution movement, Borel’s conjecture is essentially a footnote in the history of the study of probability. Thus, Scorpino was probably somewhat taken aback by Lowell asking him about “Borel’s law”, since unless you have a thing for history of probability or the antievolution literature, you are very unlikely to even have heard of it. It certainly makes Board Member Lowell look like a poseur for trying to appear erudite with her pompous question. I seriously doubt that Lowell herself could do more than parrot the usual antievolution drivel about improbability if questioned about the topic.]

Pure censorship in the classroom, denying free speech and academic freedom (Jonathan Saenz, Director of Legal Affairs, Free Market Foundation)

No lawsuit in twenty years. Quotes Edwards decision, can teach scientific criticisms. Lawsuit talk is intimidation. TFN study “A bio prof at Texas A&M said, ‘”Strengths and weaknesses” exist in any scientific theory or paradigm. Scientific skepticism and challenging is central to how science gets done.’. That’s their own report.”

[Fails to fully quote the passage: “Strengths and weaknesses” exist in any scientific theory or paradigm. Scientific skepticism and challenging is central to how science gets done. But this component of scientific methodology is being exploited by the creationists/ID types to attempt to insert their ideas into the curriculum. These attempts are not being done in the professional scientific realm, where they are supposed to be done, but in the political realm, so their approach is a distortion of how science reaches a consensus of understanding. I donít hear calls for discussion of the “strengths and weaknesses” of quantum theory, or gravitational cosmology.]

Dunbar: If a valid constitutional attack was available, there would be no financial impediment.

Saenz: Right.

Saenz: Policy could not be challenged on its face.

Saenz: About out of state experts: Darwin was from England and Einstein was from Germany.

Saenz: How many of these professors did not respond? Implies non-respondents did not respond due to fear of reprisal. Board member explicitly says that.

Saenz: Elitism and fanaticism in opponents.

Ken Mercer: Points out Saenz’ quote mine of the TFN report. But reiterates that policy has been there 20 years.

Saenz: This is all about science, not religion. They want to ban students from hearing half of what goes on.

Board member notes TFN is there, could they speak to this? McLeroy: No.

Strengths and weaknesses doesn’t originate with the Discovery Institute (McLeroy responding to Terri Burke)

[Terri Burke missed a trick here, since “strengths and weaknesses” is used by the Discovery Institute, and the DI’s use certainly may inspire people to take up antievolution. The origin of the term is a digression, as Burke’s original statement wasn’t about its origin, but its use.]

Terri Leo says the Kitzmiller case had nothing to do with the teaching “intelligent design”.

Dunbar: Information pertaining to evolutionary theory better determined by courts or by scientists working in labs?

I’ll expand on these later as I get time.

I get the feeling that there were a lot more of these moldy oldies spouted during the proceedings. Does someone have a recording they can point me to? [I’ve gotten the recordings and, yes, there’s a whole pile of reeking moldy oldies that weren’t liveblogged.]

* Hat tip to Nick Matzke. Missed that on the skim.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

17 thoughts on “Texas: Your “Weaknesses” Are Weak — And Old, Too

  • 2008/11/20 at 10:22 pm

    And polystrate fossils! Don’t forget polystrate fossils! A female board member lectured a nice old man who was a geologist and Christian to tell him to look up polystrate fossils after he talked about what geology says about earth history etc.

    She probably barely knew what they were, except that they were proof of a young earth & Noah’s Flood in her mind.

    For the non-wonks:

  • 2008/11/21 at 1:11 am

    I listened to the audio live here, I don’t know if they archive it:

    One other claim I remember was that not including the weaknesses language is equivalent to Nazi book burning etc. Obviously unaware of Godwin’s Law. This may have been from a member of the public and not the board, can’t remember for sure.

  • 2008/11/21 at 6:16 am

    In my unkinder moments I begin to wish that such people would have their own doctors and hospitals and medicines, their own airlines running airplanes they designed themselves, and of course somewhere away from the not-crazy people for the airplanes to crash.

    Then this idiocy would eventually solve itself.

  • 2008/11/21 at 7:33 am

    Neither the audio archive nor the live meeting audio pages seem to be working for me. I’ve tried on both a PC and a Mac, and the files from the archive are not recognized as MP3 format by Audacity. If anybody has gotten actual audio files, please let me know.

  • 2008/11/21 at 8:50 am

    There is no notion of a formal progression in science from theory to law.

    So I ask myself, what would Conservapedia say? Their description is not too bad actually:

    A Scientific Law is a description of a observation as opposed to a Scientific Theory which is an explanation of those observations. A good example of this is Gravity. Where in you have the law of Gravitation which states: any particle in the universe attracts any other particle with a force that is proportional to the product of the masses of the two particles and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Then you also have the Theory of Relativity which explains the law of Gravitation.

    Contrary to popular belief, a law is not superior to a theory. A theory will never be a law. Just as a description can never explain anything. If all we had were laws of science we would have a very well described universe but nothing would be explained.

    My bold.

    But then they go and ruin it by stating as the definition:

    A scientific law is a theory that has been confirmed by many years of experiments.

    Contradiction anyone?

  • 2008/11/21 at 8:58 am

    Paul Kramer, a Carrollton engineer, who said that more than 700 eminent scientists welcome the teaching of pros and cons about evolution. Not allowing debate over untested and unproven theories “seems out of place in a free societyĒ and is reminiscent of book-burning in Nazi Germany, he said.

    From “Evolution proponents descend on state education panel” By DAVE MONTGOMERY


  • 2008/11/21 at 9:10 am

    Re audio archive files: It doesn’t seem to be possible to download the actual audio files, only media player links, and I could only listen to them with media player. Even opening the mp3 url with winamp didn’t work (and it should)…

  • 2008/11/21 at 12:41 pm

    Dave, that first part was probably vandalism, because it’s accurate and thus doesn’t comply with Conservapedia’s standards.

  • 2008/11/21 at 7:55 pm

    There are some more indications of what weakness they mean from an article in the Baptist Press:

    SBOE member Terri Leo, quoted in the Houston Chronicle in 2003, said that the “SBOE received volumes of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that documents textbook problems relating to origin of life research, embryology, the Cambrian Explosion, the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution and peppered moth research.


    In other words, Wells’ Icons … though what that has to do with peer review, I (and, more importantly, Terri Leo) haven’t a clue.

  • 2008/11/22 at 12:34 pm

    What an incredible pain…

    I’ve found a means to get the audio. It’s not via my Windows Vista laptop, nor the Mac laptop, but rather my FreeBSD server. I downloaded the link with wget, then extracted the second reference, the one with the explicit dotted-quad form for the server. I fed that into the VLC media player, and that has a stream capture and transcode feature that I’m giving a try right now. If this works, I will get the set of files from the 19th. This works in real time, so it is going to take a while.

  • 2008/11/25 at 11:05 am

    The direct transcoding in VLC was a flop. However, VLC was able to get the ASF stream and store it properly. FFMPEG could then transcode that to MP3 format.

    The state of Texas should use an audio file format that isn’t tied so tightly to a single provider.

  • 2008/11/25 at 12:50 pm

    I just talked with the audio/visual media technician for the TEA. He wants to provide the MP3 files for direct downloading, and is communicating with some other IT people there to make that happen. He hopes to have that ability set up sometime shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.

  • 2008/11/30 at 11:26 pm

    Good, Wes. I have the same list you do of the Religious Right SBOE members’ “weaknesses” or problems of evolution. As you recognize, all are either very old YEC Creationist objections or DI’s Icons of Evolution. These people have no imagination, and it is obvious what they have been reading. You would think that their mentors the DI would prepare them better with more sophisticated objections. But no, it’s goind to be Piltdown Man, Haeckel’s embryos, and polystrate fossils all the way. Nice touch to correlate them with the Index to Creationist Claims by Mark Isaak on TalkOrigins, a valuable resource for those unfamiliar with every Creationist specious argument.

    I am writing to correct an error. David Quinn of TFN, not Kathy Miller, did the live blogging for TFN. We sat very close to each other for seven hours. Kathy and Ryan Valentine of TFN were there, too.

    Keep up the good work.

  • 2008/12/02 at 10:57 am

    I apologize, but I made my own error since I was writing too quickly. The correct name is Dan Quinn of TFN, not David. Wes, please correct this in your blog column.

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