Activists who want evolution’s strengths and weaknesses addressed in science textbooks lost a battle yesterday in Texas, which has influence on curriculum nationwide as the country’s second-largest buyer of school materials.

The State Board of Education in Austin gave preliminary approval by an 11-4 vote to a slate of books opposed by groups that contend the texts contain factual errors about evolution and fail to present known scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

Scientists and educators in favor of the books argued the theory of evolution is the bedrock of modern scientific research.

Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, commended the board’s decision.

“The voices of the science community have been loud and unified,” she said. “This is not a theory. There’s no question about whether evolution exists at all.”

The Texas decision is important because textbook publishers base decisions on their biggest markets. More than 30 percent of the $4 billion public school book market is in Texas, California and Florida.

A Texas grass-roots group opposing the proposed books is circulating a petition that urges the Board of Education to take a stand “against efforts to censor scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory.”

More than 3,500 people have signed the petition, organized by Texans for Better Science Education.

The group says it has documented dozens of factual errors about evolutionary theory in textbooks.

More than 500 educators and students are among the signers, along with hundreds of scientists, businessmen, lawyers, medical doctors and engineers.

The group also points to a poll showing 82 percent of Texans want the State Board of Education “to fulfill its lawful duty to see that publishers include both strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory and remove scientific errors, as required by existing state of Texas law.”

The petition’s full statement reads: “I agree that both scientific strengths and weaknesses in the theories and hypotheses relating to chemical and biological evolution should be taught and that known errors should be either fully exposed and examined or else be removed from the textbooks completely.”

‘Icons of evolution’

Backed by a federally funded project, evolutionary theory began gaining prominence in high-school textbooks in 1959, leading to frequent court challenges. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states cannot require public schools to teach creationism whenever evolution is taught.

While the debate generally has been framed as a battle between biblical “young earth creationists” and mainstream scientists, a new movement called intelligent design is gaining influence.

These scientists and philosophers contend empirical research indicates the presence of design in the natural world and believe an “intelligent designer” is the source. They differ from creation scientists because they are unwilling, in a scientific context, to identify that intelligence.

One of the movement’s most prominent promoters is molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, whose book “Icons of Evolution” takes biology textbook publishers to task for the alleged “mythology, falsehoods and hoaxes” within today’s scientific circles that “pass for evidence of Darwinian evolution.”

Wells, who earned a doctorate at the University of California Berkeley, is a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a leading promoter of intelligent design.

His book takes on 10 of the most prominent arguments neo-Darwinists use as examples of evidence for evolution and claims to show how each is misrepresented and misused to support Darwin’s theory of naturalism.

“Dogmatic Darwinists claim that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” Wells says. “Then they misrepresent the evidence to promote their view. The truth is, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evidence.”

He contends over the past decade known scientific frauds have been presented as evidence for evolution, including the embryo drawings of the German scientist Haeckel – known to be fraudulent for a century, he says – and the peppered moth experiment in which researchers glued moths to trees.

Wells says other fraudulent images include:

  • A laboratory flask containing a simulation of the earth’s primitive atmosphere, in which electric sparks produce the chemical building-blocks of living cells;

  • The evolutionary tree of life, reconstructed from fossil and molecular evidence;

  • Similar bone structures in a bat’s wing, a porpoise’s flipper, a horse’s leg, and a human hand that point to their origin in a common ancestor;

  • Fruit flies with an extra pair of wings, showing that genetic mutations can provide the raw materials for evolution.

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