Orwellian Legislative Duplicity on HB 1485

When my wife and I testified against HB 1485 before the House Education Committee at the State Capital, there were a number of other witnesses who’s comments need to be noted, addressed, and corrected.

YouTube Preview Image

When the bill’s author, Representative Valoree Swanson says she wants to provide “academic freedom” for teachers, what she really means is that she does NOT want teachers held to academic accountability. People of integrity should know better than to assert as fact that which is not evidently true. We certainly shouldn’t expect them to assert facts that are not facts and are not true. If that person is misrepresenting the facts in a deceptive manner, then that person has no integrity. If they still won’t repent even after correction, then they have no accountability either.

The “strengths and weaknesses” language she alludes to having been inserted into our science standards a couple decades ago was always an under-handed attempted to avoid teaching the strengths entirely and to instead only teach contrived “weaknesses” that in most cases don’t really exist or aren’t the issue that science denialists want to pretend they are.

For example:

•    No explanation for the origin of useful complex information contained in the DNA double helix
•    No explanation for the origin of life itself from dead chemicals
•    No explanation for the Cambrian Explosion of life
•    No explanation for the massive, persistent, and systematic gaps in the fossil record that are nearly devoid of transitional forms
•    No explanation for the irreducibly complex nature of cells and other biologic systems, to name a few

These are the “weaknesses” of evolution that creationists want to teach. Never mind that the first two aren’t included in evolution. They’re also the only ones that haven’t been completely explained already. However we actually know a substantial amount about even those first two, as I explained in my classroom supplement video on abiogenesis for high school biology students. There are still some things we haven’t quite worked out, but we know enough to be sure we’re on the right track.

However apparently, our teachers are supposed to tell students that whenever we haven’t figured something out yet, we should stop our research and assume God did it—as if magic counts as an explanation. If we don’t yet know exactly how the first living cells formed, that somehow negates everything we do know to be true about evolution after that. But worse, creationists want to mislead our kids into thinking that every kind of life appeared all at once, ignoring all the evident stages of progression stretched across time, and all the apparent predecessors found in earlier strata. They want to teach as fact outright falsehoods easily disproved, as well as pseudoscience already publicly exposed in a court of law.

When she says teachers could “help students understand”, she really means that teachers should confuse students so that they do NOT understand the objectively accurate facts of the matter. And when she says, “in an objective manner”, she means SUB-jective, as in limited to anecdotal selective incredulity; not what can be and has been verified by world-wide scientific consensus. And when she mentions “controversy”, she means to pretend there is a controversy. There isn’t at all. Evolution for example is an easily verifiable matter of demonstrable fact, but Representative Swanson doesn’t want kids to know that. She wants teachers to mislead them with their own uneducated opinions, hoping that no one figures out they’re being lied to by folks who don’t know what they’re talking about.

She says that teachers use conflict to get students interested in science, and that she wants to support science, but in both instances, what she really means is the exact opposite. She doesn’t want any teacher telling kids that the entire scientific community and all the greatest minds of the modern age have evidence showing that evolution is undeniably real. That’s the truth, but she doesn’t want anyone to know that. Instead she wants willfully-ignorant teachers with no competence in this subject to stand up to experts and tell the students what some anti-science apologetics ministry says about evolution instead. She doesn’t want to support science, she wants to undermine it and let teachers be preachers of religious beliefs and defeat their own purpose.

Committee member Alma Allen (Democrat) saw through all that right away. At three minutes in, Rep Allen’s first question already has Rep Swanson squirming to describe the bill without admitting that it’s designed to allow students denigrate certain theories rather than teaching their students the truth. The truth is what the facts are, and that’s what we should teach. In that same minute, Swanson admits that this bill is to provide litigious protection against teachers who want to teach certain unmentionable subjects that are “NOT in the book”. It’s not in the book because the fraudulent claims of science denialists that she’s obviously talking about are only pseudoscience: in other words, it’s bullshit.

Tom Maynard (4:22-17:38) is a member of Texas’ infamous State Board of Education. Before the hearing, I heard him tell one of the other witnesses that this bill wasn’t about teaching creationism. I knew he knew better than that. I had just been to a meeting of the SBoE a couple weeks earlier. Maynard was present when some members spoke very openly, shamelessly negotiating how they could phrase the guidelines such that it would allow creationism implicitly but not explicitly. Creationists within the government usually try to keep their true agenda hidden. That’s why Rep Swanson said that her bill could not be used to teach creationism. So I was glad to hear Mr Maynard contradict both her and himself, admitting that this bill is about teaching creationism and can be used for that purpose, and “why can’t we talk about that?” Committee Vice chairman, Diego Bernal (Democrat) responded to that very well, I think.

The lawyer, Jonathan Saenz, President of the “Faith, Family, Freedom” group “Texas Values” (37:11-48:48) was also at the last meeting of the SBoE that I attended. Now here before the Education Committee, he tried to defend HB 1485 on the excuse that Edwards v Aguillard (1987) and Kitzsmiller v Dover (2005) both addressed attempts to “require” teaching creationism in public schools, and that this bill doesn’t require that; it merely allows it. The way he spoke was if I had described either of these cases incorrectly, but I had not. At (21:20-21:30) a previous witness, Von Byer with the Texas Education Agency had already testified that the US Supreme Court had indeed ruled it unconstitutional to teach creationism in public schools, just like I said. Once again, Committee Vice Chair Diego Bernal dealt with Mr Saenz’s testimony astutely.

However another Committee Member, Dwayne Bohac (Republican) was embarrassingly obtuse. At 46:45, Mr Bohac repeated the 15th Foundational Falsehood of Creationism, that science is “just theories; not facts”. Mr Bohac and I had never met before, but we did have a previous conflict, which left me with low expectations of him. But then he uttered the most ignorant comment of the evening when he said, “We had earlier testimony that these were facts, indisputable facts: when in fact they’re not necessarily indisputable facts; they’re theories, And there are multiple theories about the origins of man, and about the origins of the universe and other things of that nature that could be brought up in a classroom setting.”

Saenz clearly has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to science, and thus can’t form an intelligible reply to Bohac’s misunderstanding. Bohac apparently thinks (as many creationists do) that a theory is just blind and baseless speculation someone just made up, and that any alternate idea could be considered a theory on equal terms. Once again, Rep Bohac is absolutely wrong. According to the National Academy of Science, a theory is “a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence”. Note that according to this or any other academic definition of a scientific theory, biological evolution is the ONLY theory of biodiversity there is or ever was, while Intelligent Design Creationism meets exactly none of the criteria required to qualify as a theory. Creationism offers no explanation whatever for anything while evolution offers a very comprehensive and demonstrably accurate explanation for an awful lot. And evolution is universally supported by an overwhelming preponderance of objectively testable evidence from every relevant field of study, while creationism is supported by nothing whatsoever outside of frauds, falsehoods and fallacies. There is literally no truth to it.

So there are NOT “multiple theories of the origins of man”; there is only one: and that one really is a matter of indisputable fact. Because that’s what all scientific theories are, a body of knowledge which includes and explains a specific collection of facts, hypotheses, and natural laws particular to that study. As Live Science explains it, a hypothesis is an idea that hasn’t been proven yet, while a theory is an idea that has been proved. This is only in a colloquial sense, using the legal definition of proof as “an overwhelming body of evidence”, (rather than the mathematics definition) and it’s not the way scientists would typically describe it, but it is effectively true, at least for Relativity and any older theories surviving to the present day.

If you pay close attention, at 27:24, the moment that I stand up from my testimony, Rep Bohac mutters that he’s gonna keep his mouth shut. It’s too bad that he did, because that would have been an engaging exchange, and he would have gotten more of an education in those few minutes than he could possibly absorb. It certainly would have been entertaining for my audience!

Matt Long (49:04-53:30) described himself as a middle school science teacher. Yet he doesn’t know what a theory is either. Laws never become theories! The theory of gravity includes a number of Newtonian laws. There is not one law of gravity; there are several laws included within the theory. The same goes for Relativity and even for evolution for that matter.

Galileo was NOT imprisoned for “speaking against the consensus”. He was imprisoned for heresy against the church.  He was imprisoned for life by the Holy Inquisition, who forced him to recant his truth. Three hundred and fifty years later, in 1992, the Catholic Church finally formally dismissed the charges against him, admitting Galileo’s views were correct after all.

Mr Long needs to understand that science works exactly opposite of religion, such that the greatest rewards come to those who can challenge the status quo. However, Mr Long doesn’t know what a scientific consensus is either. It’s not a doctrinal agreement. It is when the overwhelming body of research all indicates the same conclusion with no significant contradiction which can withstand critical analysis [verification] in peer review. If the only contention against what all the data shows are unreliable unverifiable claims that can’t even be substantiated enough to be evaluated, then we damned sure should not be including those materials in the lesson plans of higher learning.

I want theories to be taught as theories, but Mr Long wants them taught as “something you dreamt up after being drunk all night”. I’ve seen anthropogenic climate change fairly described as a scientific fact, but never as a theory. Just because there is a 97% consensus among the experts doesn’t mean that it’s a theory. But it does mean that those who know more than you probably know something you don’t. So you had better have something more substantial to wield against it than a handful of indefensible paranoid conspiracies from the lunatic fringe.

In short, if Mr Long was your science teacher, then you got a piss poor education.

Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (Republican) might need a bit of help with that too. He said that cattle were the most prolific producers of greenhouse gases. However the Environmental Protection Agency says that the entirety of agricultural practices combined accounts for only the smallest percentage of greenhouse gas, while the biggest polluter is energy production, which burns fossil fuels. That’s why we can’t have the EPA in Trumpistan either.

Finally we heard once again from Representative Valoree Swanson, the author of the bill, (53:42 to end). She was obviously not very happy. Because:

  1. (as you already saw) I did NOT misrepresent this bill; she did.
  2. Atheists aren’t the ones wanting to censor anyone. She’s the one who supposed to be bound to that 9th commandment prohibiting false witness. So she should be censoring herself. I shouldn’t have to play Jimminy Cricket to get her nose back to normal.
  3. I never said, nor in any way implied that if we stuck to teaching the facts that we’d still believe in a flat earth. No, that’s her projecting. I’ve talked to a few creationists who believe in a flat earth and several who believe that the entire universe revolves around the earth; not just the sun. She’s got that completely backwards because religion reverses everything. Only after you teach the students to understand what a theory really is will they have any means of questioning it, and that will move us forward where religion goes backward, which is why she speaks backward, putting a deceptive “spin” on everything she says.
  4. There is no such thing as a religious theory, just like science doesn’t promote “non-religious doctrines” either. A doctrine is a set of taught beliefs. Science is an investigation; not a matter of belief.
  5. This is NOT about teaching “legitimate strengths and weaknesses”. She wouldn’t want any of the actual strengths taught, and the weaknesses she wants taught aren’t legitimate.
  6. It is against the law to teach religion in Texas’ public schools, and not just because of Edwards v Aguillard and Kitzmiller v Dover, but also because of the 1st amendment of the US Constitution. But then from the news I just heard today, it seems we can’t have that in Trumpistan either.
  7. Certain scientists have faked their results on temperature readings?! Really? Can we get a confirmation of that?
  8. Many of the strongest proponents of climate change are now coming out and saying “it’s simply not true?” Citations please? Who were the “top” [ten?] proponents of anthropogenic climate change over the last decade or more? Has even one of them come out and said that it’s just not true? Because I gotta be honest here. (Someone has to be). I smell bullshit.

HB 1485 died in committee — without a vote.

Stay in touch with Reason Advocates on Facebook:
About Aron Ra