Creationist Politics in Texas:
A Sad New Chapter in the Continuing Story of Intelligent Design
Barbara Forrest was educated in Louisiana public schools and is professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. She was one the six experts witnesses for the plaintiffs in the first lawsuit filed over intelligent design creationism, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Her book, Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, which she co-authored wih Paul R. Gross, is a carefully documented expose of the intelligent design movement. In the article below she reflects on her role since the publication of the book.
When Paul Gross and I wrote Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, we fully expected that someone with a child in a public school somewhere in the United States would eventually file a legal complaint to stop the teaching of intelligent design (ID) creationism. We had no idea, however, in January 2004, when our book first came out, that a legal case was already brewing in tiny Dover, Pennsylvania. In December 2004, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District was filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania by eleven parents who objected to the Dover school board’s attempt to inject ID into the local high school’s science curriculum.
As a result of my co-authorship of the book, I was called as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, and the book was among the central resources for our legal team. On December 20, 2005, Judge John E. Jones III ruled in favor of the plaintiffs: “A declaratory judgment is hereby issued in favor of Plaintiffs . . . such that Defendants’ ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and . . . the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
However, just as earlier defeats in federal courts did not put an end to creationism, so Kitzmiller has not put an end to the ID movement. State and local conflicts over the teaching of evolution continue to erupt, especially concerning the revision of state science standards as school systems in all fifty states work to meet the No Child Left Behind Act’s 2008 deadline for mandatory science testing. Resistance is rising in Florida to the adoption of new science standards in which evolution will be an explicit part of biology instruction in public schools. Pro-science activists in Texas have also been preparing for a near-certain showdown over state science standards. But the situation there has taken a particularly distressing turn with the forced resignation on November 7, 2007, of Christine Comer, the Director of Science at the Texas Education Agency (TEA). (See the TEA’s letter recommending termination here. See Comer’s letter of resignation here.)
What offense did Comer commit that was so egregious as to require her termination? She forwarded, merely as an “FYI,” an e-mail from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) announcing a talk that I was scheduled to give in Austin, Texas, on November 2, 2007. I serve on the NCSE Board of Directors, and such announcements are routinely sent to NCSE members and other interested parties when members of our Speakers Bureau are in their local areas. I have released a statement concerning the TEA’s termination of Ms. Comer; it is available on the National Center for Science Education website. (See the NCSE e-mail Comer forwarded here. See my hosts’ event notice here. See reviews of the event here.)
According to the TEA, “Ms. Comer’s [FYI] e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.” My first reaction to this statement is that forwarding an e-mail with an “FYI” is not equivalent to an endorsement of either my appearance or my presentation topic, “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse: A Closer Look at Intelligent Design.” My next reaction is this question: even if Ms. Comer’s forwarding the announcement were tantamount to endorsement, why should one of the largest departments of education in the country, whose responsibility is to ensure that children receive a twenty-first-century —not a nineteenth-century— education, decline to publicly support evolutionary theory, one of the soundest scientific theories ever constructed, plainly out of fear of irritating creationists and their political supporters?
I find it difficult to avoid concluding that Ms. Comer has become a casualty of the pro-ID political agenda. Judging from comments in a memo written by Ms. Comer’s superior, Lizzette Reynolds, (and whom Ms. Comer said in a December 7, 2007, Science Friday interview that she has never even met), I may not be far off the mark:
Reynolds, the TEA’s senior adviser on statewide initiatives for less than a year, fired off a memo calling for Comer’s termination less than two hours after the e-mail had been sent. “This is something that the State Board, the governor’s office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject the agency supports,” Reynolds wrote.
(Houston Chronicle, December 4, 2007) [emphasis added]
(Hear Comer’s Science Friday interview here.) For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that Ms. Comer’s FYI had plainly and specifically endorsed my position (which, again, it did not). What would she have been endorsing?
Here is my position, and it is very simple: I am in favor of teaching good science, which necessarily includes evolutionary theory as the foundation of all life science. I am against teaching creationism, one form of which (as was made clear in the Dover trial and in Judge Jones’s decision) is intelligent design. Finally, I am in favor of telling the truth about the intelligent design movement. The TEA, the state board, the governor’s office, and members of the legislature should be telling the good citizens of Texas the same thing.