Intelligent Design Making Headway into Texas Public Schools

As early as this year, public schools in Texas may be able to teach students about intelligent design in their science classes, reigniting the much-heated debate over the teaching of evolutionary theory.

Because of a decision made by the State Board of Education back in 2009 – requiring teachers to encourage students to scrutinize “all sides” of current scientific theories, including evolution – a number of proposed supplemental materials are quickly making way to the board for review in July.

The Texas Education Agency has released all of the projected Web-based materials from publishers on their website, with one of the submissions already culling controversy for its purported slant towards creationism and intelligent design.

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Belonging to a previously unknown company based in New Mexico, International Databases LLC, the International Business Times reported that it was operated and run by one man, President Stephen O. Sample.

Little is known about the owner, besides that he is said to have a degree in evolutionary biology and has taught at the high school and junior college levels for 15 years, according to IBT.

His proposed submission consists of eight modules covering the current issues in biology and ecology, most of the material reported to be “well within the mainstream scientific consensus.”

But two of the modules which deal with the origin of life, is drawing criticism from groups like the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education, for its “null hypothesis” which places intelligent design as the default position.

The “Origin of Life” chapter details lab experiments that have failed to create life from inorganic materials and states “after some sixty years of chemical experiments, showing how difficult it is to produce polypeptides, ribose/deoxyribose, and nucleotide components, the extraordinary claim is upon those advocating a materialistic cause for the origin of life.”

Accompanying the chapter are notes to teachers, reading “at the end of instructional unit on the Origins of Life, students should go home with the understanding that a new paradigm of explaining life’s origins is emerging from the failed attempts of naturalistic scenarios. This new way of thinking is predicated upon the hypothesis that intelligent input is necessary for life’s origins.”

Resuming fears of religion entering into the public school system, the supposed creationist theories have drawn opposition.

The NCSE and TFN have argued that teaching intelligent design in public schools is unconstitutional, as decided by a federal judge in Pennsylvania in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. The ruling concluded that intelligent design was not science, but a religious doctrine.

Sample, however, told IBT that this wasn’t “stealth creationism.” The intelligent agency might just as well be aliens, he asserted. All he wanted was for students to learn to think critically, and that unlike the physical sciences, there wasn’t any experiments that could demonstrate evolutionary theory.

Joshua Rosenau, the NCSE programs and policy director, had no problems with students thinking critically, IBT recorded. But his disapproval stemmed from the fact that because of the current laws, teachers could bring in materials that might reflect religious biases without being disciplined by a school district.

Regardless, Rosenau believes that Sample’s materials will not be accepted by the board based on technical grounds.

“Not even getting to the issue that is creationist, it doesn’t cover all the new standards as it is supposed to, it has typos, it has basic errors of fact,” shared the director, according to Atheists At Large. “It is hard to imagine it going anywhere.”

If Sample’s material were to pass through examination by the board, then public schools could purchase the materials for the 2011-12 school year, with local or state funds, if the Texas Legislature did not already appropriate specific funds.

And with Texas being one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the nation, the approval from the board could pave the way for the supplemental material to find its way not only into a number of classrooms, but also into hardcopy textbooks, Rosenau told AAL.

TFN and NCSE both warned in a statement released that if that were to be the case, then “using those creationism-based materials could face expensive legal challenges” while schools continued to struggle with massive budget cuts at state and local levels.

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