Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mixed outcome in TX Edu Board vote

"I am on fire because I have mountains of ice before me to melt."
- Wendell Phillips

I missed Wednesday's State Board of Education hearing due to a hospital stay (details at my personal blog, Bohemian Adventures - I'm ok!) but here are a few links of interest.

The New York Times did a good balanced article on what happened, Split Outcome in Texas Battle on Teaching of Evolution.

There's a fantastic new website called Science Education Matters that has a wealth of great information on the issues, specifically related to Texas science education. It is a joint project of The Clergy Letter Project and The Center for Inquiry. The Clergy Letter Project is described on their website as:

For too long, the misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict has created unnecessary division and confusion, especially concerning the teaching of evolution. I wanted to let the public know that numerous clergy from most denominations have tremendous respect for evolutionary theory and have embraced it as a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith.

In the fall of 2004, I worked with clergy throughout Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution. We were called to action by a series of anti-evolution policies passed by the school board in Grantsburg, WI. The response was overwhelming. In a few weeks, nearly 200 clergy signed the statement, which we sent to the Grantsburg school board on December 16, 2004. Additionally, groups of educators and scientists sent letters to the Grantsburg School Board and to the Superintendent of Schools protesting these policies. In response to all of this attention, as well as the efforts of others, the Grantsburg School Board retracted their policies.

The outpouring of support from clergy around the country encouraged me to make this a nationwide project. If you want to read more about it or join us in sharing this important perspective, click here. Encourage your clergy to consider signing the statement and please feel free to link to these webpages. And, while the current focus is on Christian clergy, please let me know if you are willing to write and/or host a statement from other religions.

It is formally endorsed by the United Methodist Church, and I hope that many more denominations embrace it. I was asked to be a scientific consultant of the Project, and my name is now listed in their directory of scientific consultants on call to help clergy (or others).

Friday, January 16, 2009

progress on my book

I've been working hard on my book (which as I've mentioned before is about making peace between evolution and Christianity and will be published by Beacon Press). I've been writing new content, and rearranging my first few chapters into a cohesive story. I can write a feature article like it's nothing, since I've been doing it for nearly a decade and a half, but this is my first book and wrapping my head around the overall structure is challenging - but I'm actually having a lot of fun with it.

I've cleared my plate of other tasks and made it my only focus for the time being. The first chapter in the book, The Making of a Christian Evolutionist, talks about how I came to be a Christian who accepts evolution. It takes the reader from me as a naive but faithful young child, through some challenging life situations and to the point where I became an atheist in high school and college, then ultimately back to the Christian faith. But of course during college, I became educated as an evolutionary biologist/ecologist. The chapter tells the story of my life, in a nutshell.

The next chapter is titled - as it stands now - The Fish Wars. This introduces the whole debate over evolution and creationism from the perspective of me teaching biology at the community college where I worked for several years, and the interactions with my students. This chapter gives a good, simple overview of what evolution actually is - and what it isn't. The next chapter is In Search of the Holy Grail of Truth (Or, I Don’t Quite Understand Your Question) - and it's in progress, but covers my experience testifying at the Texas State Board of Education in 2003 and this year (well late 2008 - and there's another hearing next week!), conflicting views on "truth" and how and why people come to believe what we believe.

The next chapter, There is a Striking Resemblance Between You and a Monkey, is about my travels to Colorado to spend Easter with the Epperson family, who were involved in the landmark 1968 Supreme Court case Epperson v. Arkansas that essentially overturned the infamous 1929 Scopes Monkey Trial which confirmed that it was ok to make teaching (human) evolution illegal. I love the title of this chapter! It's actually what someone said in a letter to Susan Epperson during the time of the Supreme Court battle back in the 1960s. The things people say! Yes, as a matter of fact there is a striking resemblance between you (and me) and a monkey!

So that's where I'm at now, completing and organizing and writing these first few chapters - the first half of the book. I've already done the excursions and such for the rest of the chapters too (which include narrative chapters on young earth creationism, and one on intelligfent design, among others). I'm having a lot of fun with it all, and am very excited about my progress! Prayers are much appreciated!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Texas SBOE science standards hearing

A few items of note. There's a new hearing of the Texas State Board of Education on the science textbook issue. By law they're required to have 2 hearings, and I blogged about my experience at the previous one. This one they're limiting to 4 hours max of testimony. So I may or may not get time to testify, depending on when I sign up on Friday - the only day they have open for signing up! But I'm going to Austin to meet up with and talk with folks from the National Center for SCience Education (NCSE) and others supportive of evolution.

Here's a press release about registration, which is tomorrow, Friday Jan 16, 2009, only.

Dear Texas Friends,

The Texas State Board of Education has an upcoming meeting on 21 January 2009 at which there will be an opportunity for the public to testify about the third TEKS draft.

The third and final TEKS draft has been released, and we feel that speakers should encourage the SBOE to adopt this draft. The third draft does not use the “strengths & limitations” language present in the second draft and is stronger scientifically than the previous drafts. However, the SBOE may decide to ignore these recommendations and cobble together their own Science TEKS at the last minute, which this board previously did for the English Language Arts TEKS.

To testify, you must register this Friday, 16 December, between 8 am and 5 pm (Central). Registration usually occurs on the Friday and Monday before the meeting; however, this time Monday is a holiday. Because there will be a 4-hour time limit on the testimony, we encourage potential speakers to sign up early on Friday. Each speaker is limited to 3 minutes, and should bring 35 handouts of the main points of his or her testimony.

According to the TEA website, you may register, by phone, fax, or in person by:
1. phone: 512-463-9007
2. fax: 512-936-4319 (on this form, chose “Full Board”:
3. in person: at the William B. Travis (WBT) State Office Building, 1701 N. Congress, Austin, Texas 78701

TEA webpage for testifying before Full Board:

TEA webpage for meeting (the details of the 21 January meeting are not yet
posted, but will be posted to this address):

The third TEKS draft:

On another note, I came across this interesting Pharyngula blog post, Texas has a problem, by PZ Myers about the state of Texas education...