Pharyngula

The recent unpleasant affair at the Texas Education Agency, in which the director of the science curriculum, Chris Comer, was pressured to resign, was triggered by Comer forwarding an email announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest. Forrest is a philosopher of science, and one of our leading advocates in the ongoing fight for better science education in the face of the nonsense the creationists are promoting. She’s also one of their critics the creationists most fear, so it’s not surprising that her name would elicit knee-jerk panic.

Forrest has now issued a formal statement on the termination of Chris Comer. You can download the pdf from NCSE, or read it below the fold. She doesn’t pull any punches. Here’s a taste, but you really should read the whole thing.

The incident now involving Ms. Comer exemplifies perfectly the reason my co-author Paul R. Gross and I felt that our book, Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, had to be written. (http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com) By forcing Ms. Comer to resign, the TEA seems to have confirmed our contention that the ID creationist movement — a religious movement with absolutely no standing in the scientific world — is being advanced by means of power politics.

Statement Regarding Texas Education Agency’s Termination of Chris Comer, Texas Director of Science

Barbara Forrest, Ph.D.

Co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design
& Expert witness for plaintiffs in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District

December 5, 2007

In forcing Chris Comer to resign as Texas Director of Science, the Texas Education Agency has confirmed in a most public, unfortunate way the central point of my Austin presentation, “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” the mere announcement of which TEA used as an excuse to terminate her: the intelligent design (ID) creationist movement is about politics, religion, and power. If anyone had any doubts about how mean-spirited ID politics is, this episode should erase them. Texas school children depend on the adults at the TEA to protect the quality of their education. For the last nine years at the TEA, after twenty-seven years as a science teacher, Ms. Comer was doing her part, and she got fired for doing it. The children are ultimately the losers.

The fact that this current episode has happened in Texas is not at all surprising given Texas Board of Education chair and ID supporter Dr. Don McLeroy’s statements in a 2005 pro-ID lecture at Grace Bible Church:

Creationists have been making these design arguments, but the birth of the intelligent design movement probably did start at SMU [Southern Methodist University, site of the ID movement's first conference], [in] 1992. It was here that [Phillip Johnson] and Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and William Dembski, debated with . . . influential Darwinists the proposition that neo-Darwinism [depends] on a prior commitment to naturalism. Johnson . . . states, ‘Once it becomes clear that Darwinism rests on a dogmatic philosophy rather than on the weight of the evidence, the way will be opened for dissenting opinions [i.e., intelligent design creationism] to get a fair hearing.’ They hadn’t got there yet. We don’t have a fair hearing yet. But, we gotta keep working on it. This is not something that happens overnight. (The transcript and the audio recording of McLeroy’s speech are available here: http://www.tfn.org/publiceducation/textbooks/mcleroy/index.php.)

With Ms. Comer’s termination, the process of gaining that hearing appears to have advanced quite a bit.

The rationale given by TEA employee Monica Martinez, who wrote the memo recommending Ms. Comer’s termination, is not credible. Ms. Martinez contends that “Ms. Comer’s email implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.” First, Ms. Comer’s merely passing along an “FYI” about a public lecture implies nothing of the sort. (For the text of the announcement from the National Center for Science Education that she sent, see http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2007/TX/950_texas_education_official_force_11_29_2007.asp.) But that point notwithstanding, since my Austin talk was about the intelligent design creationist movement, one wonders why TEA would even want to remain “neutral” concerning the ID movement’s goal of undermining the integrity of science education in the very public schools that TEA should be protecting from that movement’s efforts.

Ms. Martinez continued, “Thus, sending this e-mail compromises the agency’s role in the TEKS revision process by creating the perception that TEA has a biased position on a subject directly related to the science education TEKS.” But why would the TEA be concerned about being biased in favor of teaching children the truth about science? The TEA’s proper role is to ensure the quality and integrity of what is taught in Texas science classes. My Austin presentation was most certainly not a threat to that role, but in fact highly supportive of it. I presented the truth about ID as established by years of scholarly research. Has the process of administering the public education system in Texas become so politicized that even the truth is a threat to people’s jobs? One can only conclude that it has.

Ultimately, the TEA’s firing of Chris Comer is a by-product of the relentless promotion of ID for more than a decade by creationists at the Discovery Institute. In the wake of court decisions ruling that it is unconstitutional to teach creationism in the public schools, ID creationists, a significant number of whose central figures live in Texas, launched the effort that they formalized in their 1998 “Wedge Strategy” document, which outlines their twenty-year plan to “wedge” ID into the cultural and educational mainstream. (See http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html.) First Kansas, then Ohio, and most recently Dover, Pennsylvania, have experienced firsthand the attacks on their school systems that were produced, either directly or indirectly, by the Discovery Institute’s campaign, as stated in that document, “to see [intelligent] design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”

In 2003, Discovery Institute creationists tried, unsuccessfully, to influence the adoption of Texas biology textbooks. Texans should now prepare themselves for an attempt by the same people (and/or newly recruited supporters) to influence the upcoming review of state science standards. In order to be ready, the good citizens of Texas who value their public schools and the U. S. Constitution must familiarize themselves with the ID code terms they are likely to hear, all of which signal the ID movement’s attack on the teaching of evolution. ID supporters will declare that they certainly do not favor eliminating evolution or teaching intelligent design, but rather that they simply want children to hear “both sides” of the “controversy” and to learn to “critically analyze” evolutionary theory, so that they can understand the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, and all of this will be for the sake of “fairness” and “academic freedom.” (For an explanation of these ID code terms, see my article, “Understanding the Intelligent Design Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals,” pp. 19-22, at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/intelligent-design.pdf.)

In fact, some members of the Texas Board of Education seem to have already mastered the Discovery Institute’s code language. Dr. McLeroy recently stated that “Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community — and intelligent design does not.” (Dallas Morning News, August 23, 2007, http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/082407dntexevolution.36418e1.html) He added, however, that he was dissatisfied with the fact that current biology textbooks don’t cover the “weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. His reference to the “weaknesses” of evolution is creationist code talk. Board vice chairman David Bradley also avowed that he would not support the teaching of ID in science classes. However, Mr. Bradley also appears to know the terminology: “I do want to make sure the next group of textbooks includes the strengths and weaknesses of evolution.” (Dallas Morning News, August 23, 2007)

Dr. McLeroy and Mr. Bradley are overlooking the fact that evolutionary theory has survived one hundred fifty years of scientific scrutiny for its “strengths and weaknesses,” whereas ID could not survive even six weeks of legal and scientific scrutiny in a Pennsylvania courtroom. Stephen Meyer and William Dembski, who, according to Dr. McLeroy’s lecture, are seeking a “fair hearing” for ID, were given a chance to present their best pro-ID arguments in that very courtroom. They just didn’t show up. (See Barbara Forrest, “The ‘Vise Strategy’ Undone: Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District,” at http://www.csicop.org/intelligentdesignwatch/kitzmiller.html.)

Dr. McLeroy’s 2005 ID church lecture is much more instructive than his more recent comments to the Dallas Morning News. In this lecture, he declared himself to be in the “big tent” of intelligent design: “Whether you’re a progressive creationist, recent creationist, young earth, old earth, it’s all in the tent of intelligent design. . . . And that’s one thing that I really enjoyed about our group is that we’ve put that all in the big tent, we’re all working together.” (This “big tent” is the political alliance that ID leader Phillip Johnson has tried to forge among the creationists with whom Dr. McLeroy has enjoyed working.)

McLeroy then professed his wonderment that during the 2003 textbook adoption process, “all the arguments” by “all the creationist intelligent design people” speaking before the Board of Education (among whom he specifically named “our good friend Walter Bradley,” a Texas resident and long-time Discovery Institute fellow) were not taken seriously by “my fellow board members who . . . were not impressed by any of this. . . . Amazing.” McLeroy was further amazed that “all the arguments are dismissed like this here is a subversive, secret attempt to force religion into science.” Now, why on earth would anyone draw that conclusion? Amazing.

The incident now involving Ms. Comer exemplifies perfectly the reason my co-author Paul R. Gross and I felt that our book, Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, had to be written. (http://www.creationismstrojanhorse.com) By forcing Ms. Comer to resign, the TEA seems to have confirmed our contention that the ID creationist movement — a religious movement with absolutely no standing in the scientific world — is being advanced by means of power politics. In December 2005, Judge John E. Jones III validated our contention that ID is creationism, thus a religious belief, when he ruled in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf) that the teaching of ID in public school science classes is unconstitutional. Judge Jones recognized that ID has nothing whatsoever to do with science; its proponents are merely using public education — the public education of other people’s children — as the vehicle for their plan to undermine the teaching of evolution.

The one thing that should not be forgotten in this episode is that Ms. Comer herself has been injured, and Texas children have lost a valuable advocate for quality science education. I regret deeply that the TEA chose to use my work as an excuse to hurt Ms. Comer. Even more, I am incensed by it. However, what happened to her may be just the tip of the iceberg. This country has reached a sorry state of affairs when one of the largest, most prominent departments of education in the country fires a public servant for doing her job. But while I regret that the information I related in my presentation in Austin and in my book has been confirmed in such a sad way, my co-author and I have every intention of continuing our efforts as scholars and citizens to inform the American people about the threat that the intelligent design creationist movement continues to pose to public education and to the constitutional separation of church and state.

Barbara Forrest
December 5, 2007

Comments

  1. #1 Moses
    December 5, 2007

    The irony is that what should be a huge embarrassment won’t actually phase them in the slightest. If it makes them stop what they’re doing and crawl under a rock, it’ll just fuel their martyrdom. If it doesn’t, they’ll end up in court where they’ll loose and, once again, fuel their martyrdom.

    In no case will they be embarrassed. Even though they should be embarrassed. And held legally liable.

  2. #2 Martin
    December 5, 2007

    I attended Forrest’s talk, and this response is as brilliant as I would have expected from her. No one should let up for a moment on embarrassing the TEA over and over and over again for this brazen political chicanery.

  3. #3 Glen Davidson
    December 5, 2007

    Don McLeroy -will no one rid us of this meddlesome Dentist?

    Nope. Michael Korn operates on the other side.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  4. #4 Kseniya
    December 5, 2007

    Great stuff.

  5. #5 Kseniya
    December 5, 2007

    Well, if that’s a firing offense, then Martinez should be summarily dismissed.

    Yes, Eamon! And so should McLeroy, given the many public statements attributed to him that demonstrate his undeniable and profound bias.

  6. #6 Mellors
    December 5, 2007

    What are the chances Ms Comer can win an unlawful termination suit? Any movement afoot to take up collection for a legal attack fund? Feel discouraged there is not larger scale of outrage and determination to defend this woman with two children also supporting sick parent or relative. Not a lst Amendment issue here? Freedom of speech to send around FYI mail?! And for this we are supposedly killing thousands in Mid East?

  7. #7 The Stone
    December 5, 2007

    Yeesh, that McLeroy goon looks like the BTK serial killer guy. And hes a dentist in charge of science curricula? gross. IDiots give me the creeps.

    http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html

  8. #8 bybelknap, FCD
    December 5, 2007

    Hey tyaddow, that’s my angle. If anyone has a crush on Dr Forrest it’s me. So get in line, Bub.

  9. #9 Boko999
    December 5, 2007

    Thanks for all your good work Doctor.

  10. #10 Steve LaBonne
    December 5, 2007

    Prof. Forrest is proving what we already knew from the Dover trial- she’s a national treasure.

  11. #11 Marcus Ranum
    December 5, 2007

    I have a crush on Barbara Forrest.

    Is this the end of the line? OK… Let me add myself to the list.

    Besides, she’s really geeky-hot: http://www.csicop.org/intelligentdesignwatch/images/bf.gif

  12. #12 Parse
    December 5, 2007

    I have a crush for Barbara Forrest. It’s orange and delicious.

  13. #13 Bubba Sixpack
    December 5, 2007

    Isn’t it nice to know that dentists like McLeroy have such awesome powers to correct scientists about what science is?

    /sarcasm

    Seriously, there is something seriously wrong with our boards of education in this country, and how any yahoo can win election.

  14. #14 Ed Darrell
    December 5, 2007

    It comes to my attention that the “don’t put fluoride in the water it’ll make our kids communists!” crazies are back, with thicker tinfoil hats.

    Where does Dr. McLeroy stand on fluoridated water?

    [No, that's not intended to be the straight line it no doubt is.]

  15. #15 melior
    December 6, 2007

    So far I’ve seen Houston Chronicle and Waco Times editorials against Comer’s expulsion, which is a good start.

    I liked this list of historical church-state atrocities compiled by Rick Casey in the Chronicle too:

    ?In the early 17th century, Sam Maverick, an English immigrant to Boston and an ancestor of the famous Texas Mavericks, was jailed for repeatedly missing church.

    ?About the same time, Baptist preacher Roger Williams came to Massachusetts to escape religious persecution in England. After being quoted as saying local Puritan authorities “cannot without a spiritual rape force the consciences of all to one worship,” he was secretly warned by Gov. John Winthrop that he was in peril.

    He fled to live with a group of Native Americans, then purchased what is now Rhode Island from them, setting it up as a colony that honored religious freedom.

    ?In 1844, a Jesuit priest in Maine advised Catholic families to go to court to block a school board order that required their children to read the Protestant King James version of the Bible in school. The priest was grabbed by a mob while hearing confessions on a Saturday evening, stripped of his clothes, tarred and feathered.

    ?In 1859, 11-year-old Tom Wall refused to recite the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments in his Boston public school. After consulting with his principal, Tom’s teacher hit the boy across the knuckles with a 3-foot rattan stick.

    The boy again refused. The punishment was repeated. The boy still refused. After half an hour of the painful punishment, he relented despite fearing that he was betraying his God. His father filed assault charges and went to court to challenge the reading requirement. He lost.

    ?In 1869, the Cincinnati school board voted 22-15 to honor the request of Catholic parents to end the reading of the Bible in school. Protestant parents filed suit.

    A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 for the Protestants, saying the reading of the Bible was necessary for good government.

    The doctrine of separation of church and state is not found in the Constitution. It evolved through the courts and through public consensus based on painful experience.

    It was not a sop to Jews or Muslims or ACLU atheists. It was developed to keep some Christians from ruling the consciences of other Christians, just as for centuries they had attempted to do in Europe.

  16. #16 DiscoveredJoys
    December 6, 2007

    Presumably some concerned citizen could ask for copies of correspondence and emails under the FOI?

    Of course this should only be done if Ms Comer is agreeable – I would not like to see her situation complicated by unwelcome interference.

  17. #17 Bill Dauphin
    December 6, 2007

    Besides, she’s really geeky-hot: http://www.csicop.org/intelligentdesignwatch/images/bf.gif

    Is it just me, or wouldn’t Ana Gasteyer (pretty geeky-hot herself) be perfect for the title role in a Barbara Forrest bio-pic?

  18. #18 Hypatia
    December 6, 2007

    Compliments are nice, but why don’t we each buy a copy or two of Forrest’s new paperback edition? Cause a run on the book. Send a copy to a science teacher in Texas, preferably an elementary school science teacher. Here’s a chance to react twice positively. The Amazon.com link is posted above; I’m making a trip to B&N this afternoon.