Young Earth Creationist Attack on the New Texas Earth and Space Science Course

A Scientific Response
by Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Professional Geoscientist and Former University Geology Professor
Member, Texas Earth and Space Science Standards Panel
President, Texas Citizens for Science
2009 January 15

Update, 2009 January 19:
The Earth and Space Science Committee has written a
Majority Report that has
been sent to the State Board of Education and Texas Education Agency

The new Earth and Space Science (ESS) course standards (and all other science course standards) will be up for approval before the State Board of Education (SBOE) during January 21-23. Some SBOE members--the seven who are Young Earth Creationists (YECs)--will attempt to make changes to the ESS standards in ways that will damage the scientific integrity and accuracy of the course. In particular, these SBOE members will try to negatively modify or delete the standards that require students to understand the following topics that deal with scientific topics they consider controversial: age of the Earth and universe, radiometric dating, evolution of fossil life, and the origin of life by abiotic chemical processes. These topics are the ones that YECs consider to be controversial; indeed, they are obsessed with them to the exclusion of everything else.

Texas citizens should write letters to the individual SBOE members and ask them to adopt the new ESS standards without change. That's the simple message of your letter: to accept the proposed ESS standards without editing or modification, because I strongly suspect an effort will be made to do exactly that by members of the SBOE. A group of ten individual Earth scientists worked together for a year during several intense meetings to create these standards. These individuals worked to make the new ESS standards the finest possible. They sometimes had disagreements that were resolved by patient discussion and often compromise. Their very careful effort and hard work should not be derailed by the actions of nonscientists who have ideological and political agendas. Under the Texas Constitution, the SBOE members are politically-elected officials who actually have the power to write whatever science standards they wish, and several have expressed their intention to modify certain standards to align with their religious and ideological agendas. These standards would include the ones identified above.

In addition to writing letters to each of the 15 SBOE members asking that the ESS standards--indeed, all the science standards--not be modified in unscientific ways against the intentions of the scientists and science teachers who wrote them, I also request that you write to your colleagues and ask them to do the same. We need a tremendous outpouring of support from Earth scientists in both academia and industry to counter the probable equal outpouring of support from critics of science among the citizens of Texas.

Description of the New Earth and Space Science Course

A PDF copy of the new ESS standards is available online at http://www.texscience.org/pdf/Earth_and_Space_Science_Proposed_TEKS_2009Jan5.pdf. It is part of a larger document containing all of the proposed and recommended high school science standards that can be found on the Texas Education Agency website at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/teks/Sci_TEKS_9-12_Clean_010509.pdf. The addresses of the individual SBOE members can be found at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html. You can also email them individually using a group email address, sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us. The focus of each letter should be this: "please adopt the ESS standards as written without modification, and oppose any attempt from other State Board members to make unscientific changes that weaken the standards." You can add the other reasons as you wish: our state's economy depends on a scientific understanding of the Earth, citizens need to understand Earth science as well as physical and life science, the Earth sciences affect our lives in so many ways, etc. We need our ESS course to have an accurate and reliable scientific content, not damaged by eliminating or weakening important topics that some people object to for non-scientific reasons.

The ESS standards-writing panel had at its disposal the National Science Education Standards, the AAAS Project 2061 Science Standards, the Texas College Readiness ESS standards, and all state Earth Science and ESS standards. Thus, we were able to craft our standards to be among the best ever written. We did not possess the new Earth Science Literacy Initiative standards (available for the last three weeks at http://www.earthscienceliteracy.org/ and http://www.earthscienceliteracy.org/document.html). We agreed on a vision of what an ESS course should contain (and not contain), and then wrote and painstakingly edited our standards to match this vision. Our panel had several experienced high school Earth Science (ES) teachers, several ES curriculum experts, several ES teacher trainers (those who teach the future ES teachers), several university ES professors, and two industry geoscientists. (The author of this report belongs in three of these categories: professor, ES curriculum expert, and industry geoscientist.) So the group's expertise was extraordinarily high. This was necessary because we were tasked with writing complete standards for a brand new course, not just revising existing ones.

Our new Texas ESS course is innovative and pathbreaking, and I seriously believe it will serve as a national model for ES and ESS courses in the future. The standards we wrote compare favorably to the new ES Literacy Initiative standards; we anticipated many important topics and concerns. The course standards are composed of three traditional themes and three very non-traditional strands. The three themes (or topical sections) are Earth in Space and Time, Solid Earth, and Fluid Earth. The first contains the most important information about cosmology and planetary astronomy in addition to traditional historical geological topics. It emphasizes geological time, stellar system and planet formation, the origin of the Earth's atmosphere and ocean, and fossil life. The second deals with plate tectonics, internal heat transfer, Earth structure, continent formation, geophysics, mountain building, volcanism, erosion and mass wasting, mineral resources, fossil fuels, etc. The third section discusses the movement of heat and fluids in Earth's atmosphere and hydrosphere, sea-level changes, the origin of life as a result of chemical processes and geochemical cycles, solar radiation, various chemical cycles, groundwater, and climate.

The innovative part of the course are the three strands: systems, energy, and relevance. We tried to incorporate these strands in every student expectation and at least in every knowledge and skill requirement. The course uses a system concept which shows the interactions among Earth's subsystems and can be modeled. Energy formation, movement, transfer, and effect as Earth process driving forces are emphasized throughout. Finally, every topic required was judged for its relevance to student lives. If a topic was not very relevant, it was omitted. Believe it or not, we actually left out about a third of traditional physical and historical geological topics, almost all of meteorology, much of non-planetary astronomy, and much of physical and biological oceanography. Some critics said the course was too long, but actually it could have been twice as long if we left in all the traditional topics. Also, our standards are longer than other high school courses because we were more specific in listing topics rather than lumping many of them under simple headings.

We decided to create a course that looked at fewer topics in depth rather than many topics superficially. Left out are rocks and minerals, desert processes, most erosion and weathering processes, different types of volcanic and plutonic bodies, a detailed survey of the geologic periods, almost everything dealing with weather, all discussion about galaxies and types of stars, and large parts of oceanography. Instead, we included a great deal about climate and climate change, Earth's geologic hazards, energy resources, geophysics, geologic time, origin of planets, the Moon, smaller planetary bodies, the history and chemistry of Earth's water and elements in the oceans and atmosphere, stratigraphy, sedimentary basins, fossil fuels, and the origin and evolution of ancient life. We wanted to keep as many relevant, exciting, and thought-provoking topics as possible to attract and interest students, and we left out much about topics that some students find to be uninteresting. We also emphasized the use of space imagery and modern instruments such as GPS, personal computers, and the Internet.

I think this course will be something special: a course that many students will want to take as an elective (since the former Texas Earth Science Task Force couldn't get an ES course accepted as required credit). Many students will want to take this course in their senior year, and even students going on in science who are taking an AP course their senior year may want to take ESS as a fifth science course in high school, simply because it will be exciting and relevant. This is a course I think Texas Earth scientists can be proud of, especially geologists (meteorologists probably won't like it, but climatologists will love it!).

The First Minority Report

There will certainly be an effort made by some members of the SBOE to rewrite and injure the ESS standards in ways that will weaken them and make them unscientific. Whether they have a majority or not is uncertain. I know this will happen because two individuals appointed to the ESS panel by two radical religious-right SBOE members are attempting to sabotage the new ESS standards before they are even approved. The following is a copy of a "minority report" that was sent to all the members of the SBOE on 2008 November 6. You can obtain a copy of the original email and fax at http://www.texscience.org/pdf/Sigler-Henderson-ESS-Minority-Report-2008Nov6.pdf. It was written by two members appointed to the ESS standards-writing panel or workgroup, Roger Sigler and Tom Henderson. Both Sigler and Henderson are Young Earth Creationists (YECs) and Flood Geology believers (that is, Noah's Flood). Sigler was appointed by Terri Leo and Henderson was appointed by David Bradley, also both YECs and members of the SBOE. It is my opinion that Sigler and Henderson were deliberately planted into the ESS workgroup by two of the most extreme YEC radicals on the SBOE to disrupt the work of the panel and ultimately write a minority report (if they couldn't get their unscientific changes to the standards accepted by the other panel members, and there was almost no chance of that happening). During the initial panel meetings, both Sigler and Henderson suggested wording and revisions that would have weakened the scientific accuracy and reliability of ESS topics that YECs find to be controversial, such as radiometric dating, ancient ages of Earth and universe, evolution of fossils, the abiotic origin of life, and similar subjects.


From: Roger Sigler [and Tom Henderson]
To: Martinez, Monica G.; SBOESUPPORT [the common SBOE member email address, sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us]
Subject: TEKS - ESS Minority Report

November 6, 2008

Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE)
Attn: Monica Martinez (TEA) and SBOE support

Minority Report of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills - Earth and Space Science (TEKS - ESS) panel

We disagree with some aspects of the current draft of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills - Earth and Space Science (TEKS – ESS) document. We feel the thrust of 'expert opinions' was inadequately incorporated. Critical thinking is a key learning skill all students are expected to learn in both public schools and higher educational institutions. Elimination of all "strengths and weaknesses" phrases substantially weakens this important requirement. In most cases no equivalent wording was substituted, and where substituted, was vague and inadequate to guide textbook publishers.

Another issue the experts had was that the tone of the TEKS - ESS was too dogmatic. Little was done to correct this problem.

Therefore, we ask the State Board of Education (SBOE) to modify or substitute language where appropriate to better reflect the need for critical thinking and other excellent advice the appointed experts provided.

Please forward this minority report to all SBOE members and other TEA personnel as may be appropriate.

Sincerely yours,

Roger Sigler

Tom Henderson


The minority report was sent in secret to the SBOE without the knowledge of the other ESS panel members. Secret minority reports are especially reprehensible, since the scientist panel members, the "majority," did not have a chance to respond to or forestall the minority report by more discussion and possible compromise. Also, minority reports are supposed to be written after all the work of the panel is completed and the two sides are at an impasse, which was not the case here. This minority report was written on November 6, soon after the Oct 30-Nov 1 penultimate meeting of the ESS panel. The last meeting was scheduled for Dec 4-6, so there was plenty of time to deal with issues contained in the minority report and make changes that might be agreeable to all. Sigler and Henderson sent the minority report was sent to all the SBOE members--the ultimate decision-makers--without any context or forewarning to their colleagues on the ESS panel. The majority on the ESS panel never had an opportunity to respond to or even read the minority report, and have never had the opportunity to write a rebuttal to the SBOE. For almost two months, the minority report was the only ESS report that the SBOE had--the de facto ESS report--which is extremely destructive and unfortunate.

Needless to say, the November 2008 minority report is nonsense and contains numerous untruths. The ESS panel members examined and took into account all the expert feedback and made several changes in light of that feedback. Sigler and Henderson say "the thrust of the 'expert opinions' was inadequately incorporated," but what they mean by this is the "opinions" of the three Creationist "expert" reviewers--Stephen Meyer, Charles Garner, and Ralph Seelke--was not given preference. Indeed they were not, since almost all the suggestions of those three in their feedback documents were grossly anti-scientific, such as promoting retaining the unscientific phrase "strengths and weaknesses." Contrary to the claim, not a single standard in the ESS document was "dogmatic," but firmly based on mainstream science. The claim of scientific "dogmatism" is common among Scientific Creationists, who are angry that legitimate scientists won't accept their pseudoscientific beliefs.

With one exception, the majority members of the panel, i.e. the non-YEC and legitimate Earth scientists and teachers, were concerned and upset when they learned about the existence of a minority report, because it undermined the unity and legitimacy of the ESS panel. SBOE members antagonistic to science--and there are almost a majority of these--could use the minority report to question the credibility of the ESS panel and its proposed ESS standard recommendations. In fact, this was almost certainly the intended goal of the minority report. Unable to produce scientific reasons to convince the other panel members to write specific standards in ways that suggested scientific uncertainty or weakness, the YECs on the panel and the SBOE cooked up this plan to discredit the work of the panel, thus giving the SBOE YECs an opportunity to attack the ESS standards as too controversial, incomplete, or dogmatic to accept without extensive revision. SBOE religious-right member Terri Leo has used the minority report ploy in the past, in 2003 for the biology textbook review panel, and I believe she and Roger Sigler planned to use this tactic from the beginning. Tom Henderson went along with this plan. He told me that Roger originally wrote and sent him an even stronger minority report that he wouldn't sign, but they agreed on this one which Tom thought was reasonable.

I was the one exception on the ESS workgroup who thought a minority report might happen. Because of my long familiarity with American pseudoscience (I consider myself the national expert on geological pseudoscience, and of course I know biological pseudoscience intimately), I was the only one on the panel who recognized at the first meeting that the two members appointed by Terri Leo and David Bradley were YECs and Flood Geologists, a circumstance I expected. Just their appointment is the basis for my claim that Leo and Bradley conspired to sabotage the ESS standards-writing process from the state. It is my belief (but of course I have no direct evidence, not being privy to their conversations) that Leo and Bradley consulted with Sigler and Henderson and told them that, if they could not make suitable changes to the ESS standards that compromised biological origins, radiometric dating, and scientific reliability during the writing process (a very unlikely possibility), they could write a minority report for Leo and Bradley to use to justify revisions that would undermine the accuracy of the document when the State Board got control of it.

Tom Henderson is a retired NASA engineer whose main occupation now is giving YEC PowerPoint presentations to churches and Sunday Schools about Young Earth Creationism (see http://users.hal-pc.org/~tom/bkg.html and http://users.hal-pc.org/~tom/topics.html). These presentations include such things as the factual creation of the universe by God in six 24-hour days, how Mount St. Helens supports the doctrines of Young Earth Catastrophism and Noah's Flood, and how UFOs are evil manifestations sent to Earth by Satan to deceive Christians (UFOology is very popular and great competition to Velikovskyism, Flood Geology, and Young Earth Creationism, so it must be wrong!). Henderson claims dinosaurs died by a giant extraterrestrial impact during Noah's Flood.


From: Answers in Genesis

A second presentation about "out of place artifacts and fossils" claims that the Acámbaro Figures (miniature ceramic figures of dinosaurs!) found by Waldemar Julsrud in 1944 in Mexico--a notorious hoax--are authentic artifacts that provide evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived together in historical times.


Figures from: The Interactive Bible

A third presentation is devoted to proving that all radiometric dating methods are wrong and the Earth is no older than 10,000 years.


Several Young Earth Creationist books that claim that radiometric dating is unreliable and the Earth
is no more than 10,000 years old. The two RATE books are from the Institute for Creation Research

Henderson is not an Earth scientist but, as he told us, knows something about planetary astronomy because he frequently attends talks at the Lunar and Planetary Institute of NASA! During his retirement from engineering, he returned to school to better himself and pursue his dream of becoming a professional Creationist lecturer. He earned an M.S. degree in science education from the Institute of Creation Research in 2007 and is now living his dream.

Roger Sigler is a community college geology instructor who also has an M.S. degree from the Institute for Creation Research, so while accredited in California and thus legal in Texas, it has no scientific legitimacy. He has worked for years with the Institute for Creation Research students in a study about Noah's Flood deposits in California's Mojave Desert, "Submarine Flow and Slide Deposits in the Kingston Peak Formation, Kingston Range, Mojave Desert, California: Evidence for Catastrophic Initiation of Noah's Flood" at http://www.icr.org/research/index/researchp_rs/ (also see http://www.icr.org/article/4310/ and http://www.rae.org/ICCreport.html).  His paper correlating the record of Noah's Flood in the Hebrew Bible with the geologic record, "Hebrew and Geologic Analyses of the Chronology and Parallelism of the Flood: Implications for Interpretation of the Geologic Record," can be found at http://www.drbarrick.org/Website%20Files/ICC2003PaperRev030130.pdf. Finally, I have just learned that Sigler is the speaker at two presentations for the Greater Houston Creation Association, a Young Earth Creationist organization. The title of his presentation is " Rocks of Our Lord, Our Lord Rocks!", and covers such relevant topics as "What do the Scriptures teach about Creation and the Flood?...What happened during the flood year and following? What rock layer would one expect to be laid down by such a flood? How would the flood change the rock layers laid down before the flood?...Can the creation and flood geology explain anything that conventional long age geology has a hard time with?"

Both Tom and Roger believe in Flood Geology and, and I believe, Impact Catastrophism as primary mechanisms for forming Earth's surficial features during the last 10,000 years, the maximum age of the Earth in their view. If you are not aware of the extent of Flood Geology (or Creation Geology) in our country, you should visit http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/magazine/25wwln-geologists-t.html for a report about this community and http://www.cedarville.edu/event/geology/ for access to their pseudoscientific publications. This is the kind of geological pseudoscience that I deal with all the time, and I am probably the only person opposing this nonsense in the country in an organized way, because almost the entire national effort is quite correctly focused on opposing Creationism (the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis) and Intelligent Design Creationism (the Discovery Institute). It is not just biology that is being attacked by organized Creationism--geology is at risk, too.

Since the other members of the ESS panel turned out to be--unlike Henderson and Sigler--competent and highly qualified Earth scientists and Earth science professors and teachers, I decided I didn't need to continue to worry about the integrity and quality of the final ESS proposed standards, and I was correct in this respect, since these other members always supported accurate scientific knowledge and supported me when I pointed out attempts to denigrate the science. But I was concerned that Roger and Tom would try to harm the ESS standards in some other way. Roger and Tom tried to weaken some standards by making them more hypothetical and less certain, and they asked that the written feedback of three of the expert reviewers--that of Stephen Meyer, Charles Garner, and Ralph Seelke, all Creationists--be used to make changes. But they achieved very little from group consensus after we discussed their requested modifications at some length. We had already examined the feedback of all six of the expert reviewers, and made some changes from that source, but we were not prepared to include many of the anti-scientific suggestions of the three expert Creationists. Some items that Roger and Tom wanted were ultimately misleading and unscientific, and would have confused and misled students, not educate them. On the other hand, some of their requests were scientifically acceptable, such as Roger's desire to mention the history of giant meteorite impacts on Earth (this was my request, too, but not for the same reason!), and Tom's request to require student knowledge of the different parts of the extended Solar System (again, I wanted this too, since it is essential to understand planetary astronomy), and these items were fully accepted by the group. I did have to fight to keep the abiotic, geochemical origin of life in the ESS standards, but it made it in.

But there's more. Two members of the ESS panel (I was one) learned of the existence of the Creationist secret ESS minority report just days before the December 4-6 meeting. At that meeting, the two YEC panel members were confronted, Henderson in person and Sigler by phone since he did not attend the December meeting. I had copies of the minority report which I gave to the other panel members, who were very upset when they read it. Henderson and Sigler admitted the existence of the minority report, and eventually Henderson apologized for not informing the other panel members of its existence. At the group's request, both Sigler and Henderson agreed that if we revisited and addressed their concerns, they would withdraw the minority report; all of us, including me, agreed to do the revisiting, and we did. I was specifically asked by our facilitator if I would agree to changes in wording that might satisfy Sigler and Henderson, since he knew I was the one on the panel who was most concerned about the accuracy and reliability of our standards, and I said I was prepared to do this, since there are several ways to state recommendations for students in a scientific way that I could live with.

Both Tom and Roger then came up with several suggested changes for the items they were interested it. The group carefully read and discussed each one (Roger sent his in by email and text message), and as a group we did make a few changes which I felt were okay and did not scientifically damage our standards, although they had the effect of making them slightly less certain (the YECs used the word "dogmatic"). For instance, the Big Bang standard was changed from "evaluate the evidence for the Big Bang model, such as red shift and cosmic microwave background radiation, which reveals an expanding universe that originated about 14 billion years ago" to "evaluate the evidence concerning the Big Bang model, such as red shift and cosmic microwave background radiation, and the concept of an expanding universe that originated about 14 billion years ago." Sigler kept wanting the radiometric dating standard to declare that all radiometric isotopes are open systems, so that isotope contamination creates problems that invariably make all radiometric dates unreliable. Although there are no totally closed systems, this is nonsense for several reasons, and all the other panel members refused to make this concession. Finally, Roger agreed to revise the radiometric dating standard from "apply radiometric dating methods to calculate the ages of igneous rocks" to "apply radiometric dating methods that can be used to calculate the ages of igneous rocks from Earth and Moon, and meteorites." The origin of life standard was changed from "analyze multiple, prominent scientific hypotheses for the origin of life by abiotic chemical processes" to "discuss scientific hypotheses for the origin of life by abiotic chemical processes in an aqueous environment through complex geochemical cycles."

These are obviously small changes, and I can assure you that science textbooks in the past have suffered far greater changes from the SBOE controlled by religious-right Creationist members. Roger and Tom agreed to these changes, as did I and the other ESS panel members. At the end of discussions on the last day, Roger and Tom were asked if there was anything else, and the answer was no. The implication was that we had revisited all their concerns and made changes in a mutually-acceptable way, just as we had done for every other standard (and every sentence was more or less contentious for some reason). So we all assumed that they would withdraw their minority report as promised and our panel could report the new ESS standards as a unified group.

The Second Minority Report

We really bent over backwards to be completely fair to the two YECs without ultimately compromising scientific integrity, and we left on the final day thinking that the intensely disliked minority report was a thing of the past. Much to our dismay, however, we discovered a week ago that Sigler and Henderson intended to write a second minority report that will be sent to the SBOE members before their January 22 meeting. This time, however, they promised that the other panel members will receive a copy first so we can write a response. In the words of Tom Henderson, "Y'all did give Roger and I a good hearing at the last meeting – we appreciate that! As I left the meeting I felt pretty good about it! I examined the final report to see if it solved the three problems we reported in the "minority report". We decided we would update the minority report. I’ve taken a good look and now Roger is doing the same. When we finish be assured all of you will be on first distribution – we apologize we did not do that last time."

Needless to say, this is appalling. They had promised to withdraw the minority report if we carefully addressed their concerns, which we did, and then they broke their word. We did accept some of their suggestions that were not scientifically debilitating, and modified a few sentences that had the effect of making some statements less certain or exact, and all these changes are documented in the comments. We never promised to make all the changes they wanted, and we couldn't have done this, since many of the changes were unscientific and would have had the effect of confusing students rather than educating them about science.  The behavior of Sigler and Henderson makes me certain that the purpose of the minority report is what I suspected from the first: a device to sabotage the scientific quality and integrity of the ESS standards by giving some unscrupulous SB members a hook to attack them. This is, of course, ideological gutter politics at its worst, but typical of the radical-right members of the SBOE, as you will know if you follow their antics in the newspapers. The same thing happened to the math textbook rejection, the English Language Arts standards, and the Bible curriculum standards. I have reports about all of these on the Texas Citizens for Science website if you want to refresh your memories about these episodes.

The worst part of this experience is that Henderson and Sigler duplicitously misled the ESS workgroup's members into believing that their cooperation would remove the minority report. I believe they intended to sabotage our group's efforts from the beginning with a minority report, and never planned to withdraw it after we made the changes in their favor. Also, I don't believe that Sigler and Henderson acted alone, but in my opinion conspired with Terri Leo and David Bradley to create a provocative report that could be used by the two SBOE members to convince the others to vote to censor the ESS standards in favor of removing offending requirements (fossil evolution, ancient age of Earth, origin of life) and inserting other language that would weaken the document (uncertainties with radiometric dating, global warming, and of course "strengths and weaknesses"). Further investigation by news reporters will be necessary to confirm this suspicion, since neither Leo nor Bradley will talk to me about their secret dealings with their YEC appointees to the ESS panel.

It is exceedingly common for pseudoscientists to write reports that create the illusion of scientific controversy to justify adding language or inhibiting actions that would mitigate efforts to learn the truth or solve problems. For example, this strategy was used by the tobacco industry to hold off tobacco regulation when scientists learned that smoking is addictive and causes cancer and by the coal industry when scientists learned that burning fossil fuels accelerated global warming. Think tanks and research centers were funded and research grants were given to individual scientists to find results that would cast doubt on the conclusions of other scientists, thus creating an artificial and very misleading controversy that delayed effective regulation of dangerous substances for years (and in some cases, regulation is still being delayed).

I have just received a copy of the second minority report which I reprint below. An original copy can be accessed at http://www.texscience.org/pdf/Henderson-Sigler-ESS-Minority-Report-2009Jan15.pdf. This will be the one that Terri Leo and David Bradley use to attack the ESS standards. I believe they will rely heavily on the three Creationist experts (who all wrote negative things about specific ESS standards in addition to general comments) and use their feedback to try to make changes, so I am writing a full refutation of those three documents that will be published soon. These three "experts" (actually, they are Creationist polemicists with absolutely no reasons or evidence to support their outrageous and anti-scientific suggestions to modify the Texas science standards). For now, I have written a brief refutation of Henderson and Sigler's second minority report, which has no more scientific legitimacy and veracity as the first one.


Minority Report Update by Tom Henderson & Roger Sigler

Following the November Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) TEKS meetings Roger Sigler and Tom Henderson submitted a minority report. This note will re-examine the reasons for doing so and consider relevant actions taken in the December ESS committee meetings.

This is an update to our minority report. Specific examples are noted. It is recognized that the meetings were a committee effort and cannot reflect all views, the expert reviewers’ reports, public feedback, or SBOE inputs, but are a consensus of the entire ESS committee.

Since our overall panel was divided into groups, we will split this update.

Tom Henderson Update:

Three problem areas were identified in the initial minority report:

1. The thrust of expert opinions was inadequately incorporated.

2. Elimination of all "strengths and weaknesses" (S&W) phrases substantially weakens an important requirement for critical thinking skills. In most cases no equivalent wording was substituted, and where substituted, was vague and inadequate to guide textbook publishers.

3. Another issue the experts had was that the tone of the TEKS - ESS was too dogmatic.

Update following the December Meetings

1. Expert opinion inclusion - The committee’s primary task in our December meetings was to streamline the document per SBOE direction. This conflicted with my desire to incorporate more rewording suggested by the experts - the experts were typically wordier; thus their suggestions met resistance (a few examples: c6B, c6D, c8B, c13D).

2. Strengths and Weaknesses - ESS dealt with origins, along with some other disciplines. It is our impression that most evolutionists are committed to promoting their belief that every aspect of evolution is a proven fact. Therefore they are unable to consider known scientific weaknesses of the theory. I believe this was responsible for the massive effort to have "strengths and weaknesses" terminology removed from all disciplines.

We think this strong belief in evolution and naturalism is behind statements that claim "scientific weaknesses of evolution" are "not scientific". In other words "there are no scientific weaknesses of evolution."

What will the textbook writers do with this requirement? ESS (c)(13)(F) (formerly c8A):

"discuss scientific hypotheses for the origin of life by abiotic chemical processes in an aqueous environment through complex geochemical cycles."

Will the "weaknesses" of current origin of life ideas even be "discussed"? With the current wording I doubt it. This TEK provides insufficient guidance for the TEA and book publishers in this regard.

The committee had considerable discussion regarding expert reviewer Dr. Garner’s rewording on p.32 but rejected it: "Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of prominent scientific hypotheses for the origin of life by abiotic chemical processes in light of the complexity of living systems, distinguishing what is known and what is assumption or speculation;". What does the SBOE think about this issue?

3. Dogmatic tone - according to invited reviewer Garner p.27 "I found an almost continual aggressive, dogmatic tone to much of the ESS standards. This will not instill students with the scientific values of skepticism, openness, or tentativeness. In several places, concepts are presented to students as if they were established fact ... rather than scientific hypotheses. In my opinion, those who wrote the proposed ESS standards have an agenda that, in places, borders on indoctrination. This casts some doubt on the real purpose of the course, and I encourage the Texas Education Agency to monitor its implementation or change its tone drastically."

Rewording has helped remove some of Garner’s concerns except those relating to the origin of life. Others may still be too dogmatic: examples from expert reviewer Meyer include p8 (c6B, c6D, c8B, c13D). What does the SBOE think?

Roger Sigler Update:

The committee reviewed suggestions by Roger Sigler, who emailed in his changes, and was available during conference calls with the rest of the committee members.

Concerning c7B Roger suggested including some of the assumptions, which are critical to accurately evaluate radiometric "ages". He especially emphasized the importance of the rock forming in and remaining in a ‘closed-system’, free from contamination or leakage. Hence, he suggested either of the following two for c7B:

evaluate and understand the assumptions of radiometric dating, or
evaluate the closed system criteria for radiometric dating methods of igneous rocks as used to calculate the ages of Earth, the Moon and meteorites.

Rationale: 'Closed system' is a vital concept that students would have already learned in physics; thus as a capstone course they will gain an understanding of how applicable this is during the formation of igneous rocks.

For additional backup Roger sent these quotes from Gunter Faure's "Principles of Isotope Geology 2nd Ed." New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1986:

"When these four basic assumptions [one of these is the 'closed system'] are satisfied, the solution ... yields a date which may represent the age of the rock or mineral" (p. 41).

"In many instances the dates calculated for minerals containing U and Th are not concordant. The reason seems to be that most minerals are not closed systems, but may lose or gain Pb, U, Th, or intermediate daughters after crystallization" (p. 288).

The consensus from most of the other committee members was that this would "confuse the students." We think students at the senior level are perfectly capable of understanding these limitations on the use of radiometric techniques.

The committee did agree to add "that can be used," which suggests not all rocks are usable. However, is this language sufficient to guide the TEA and textbook publishers? What does the SBOE think?

It now reads:

apply radiometric dating methods that can be used to calculate the ages of igneous rocks from Earth and Moon, and meteorites

Although this language is better, it still does not allow students to learn any of the foundational assumptions, which are critical for an accurate use of radiometric dates. ESS is a "capstone class;" therefore, Roger thinks that at the very least, students be permitted to understand the "closed-system" criteria during rock formation.

Concerning c8 Roger suggested replacing the word "evolution" with "change" in this heading only, and leaving the word "evolution" as is in c8(A).

Nearly all scientists agree that geological and biological change has taken place on Earth. The problem is that the very word "evolution" is subjective, for there are at least three broad definitions of "evolution":

Evolution #1: First, evolution can mean that the life forms we see today are different than the life forms that existed in the distant past. Evolution as "change over time" can also refer to minor changes in features of individual species --changes which take place over a short amount of time. We can observe this type of evolution going on in the present and even skeptics of Darwin’s theory agree that this type of "change over time" takes place. Evolution in this sense is "fact." However, it is invariably the case that when Darwinists cite some present-day observations of change within a species, they will be small-scale changes that are not easily extrapolated to explain how complex biological features arose.

Evolution #2: Some scientists associate the word "evolution" with the idea that all the organisms we see today are descended from a single common ancestor somewhere in the distant past. This claim became known as the Theory of Universal Common Descent. This theory paints a picture of the history of life on earth as one great branching tree. Many scientists are skeptical of Universal Common Descent.

Evolution #3: Finally, some people use the term "evolution" to refer to a cause or mechanism of change, the biological process Darwin thought was responsible for the branching pattern. Darwin argued that unguided natural selection had the power to produce fundamentally new forms of life. Together, the ideas of Universal Common Descent and natural selection form the core of Darwinian evolutionary theory. "Neo-Darwinian" evolution combines our knowledge of DNA and genetics to claim that random mutations in DNA provide the variation upon which natural selection acts in a completely unguided fashion. It is this form of evolution that is the most controversial meaning of evolution.

Only the first definition is objective. The other two have never been demonstrated and are ideological, and as such, provide insufficient guidance for textbook publishers. The word "change" will help publishers be more objective. What does the SBOE think?

In conclusion, while much candid discussion took place during the last panel meeting, we remain divided on these key issues as described herein. The proposed ESS standard has been significantly improved, but we call on the elected State Board of Education to continue improving it.

Best regards,

Tom Henderson & Roger Sigler


This is the second minority report of Tom Henderson and Roger Sigler. They call it an update to the first one, which they promised to withdraw if the ESS panel members reconsidered their suggestions to the ESS standards, which we did. It contains more detail about what really irks them about the new ESS course. Tom Henderson wanted, first, to add make more changes suggested by "expert reviewers" Meyer, Garner, and Seelke. These changes were considered by the other ESS members and rejected for several reasons: first, because they added too much length to the standards, which had to be shortened, and second, because they were bad and sometimes unscientific suggestions. Henderson wanted the unscientific phrase "strength and weaknesses" added to the new ESS standards, and wanted to have "known scientific weaknesses of the theory" of evolution included, which was not something that anyone else on the panel was prepared to do, because evolutionary theory has no weaknesses, just incompleteness, and because the phrase is used to attack science by anti-scientists during textbook adoptions.

Henderson next mentions standard (c)(13)(F) about the origin of life (a universal Creationist concern), which asks that students "discuss scientific hypotheses for the origin of life," not theory, because this topic has little established theory but many hypotheses. He asks, "Will the 'weaknesses' of current origin of life ideas even be 'discussed'?" This reveals his misunderstanding of science, a common trait of non-scientists such as him, because scientific hypotheses do have weaknesses that will be discussed; the weaknesses are what scientists test when they do experiments and make observations. Once a hypothesis is confirmed or corroborated, it becomes part of a theory and is no longer weak. Garner's suggested change to the origin of life standard was rejected because it included the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase and suggested that origin of life investigators indulge in "assumption and speculation" rather than evidence and scientific theory, which is just a gratuitous insult.

Finally, Henderson objected to the "dogmatic tone" of the ESS standards, but failed to identify those particular standards that were dogmatic. Are we to assume that all the ESS standards are dogmatic? That's apparently what he believes, since he quotes "expert" Charles Garner's absurd and insulting description of the ESS standards:

I found an almost continual aggressive, dogmatic tone to much of the ESS standards. This will not instill students with the scientific values of skepticism, openness, or tentativeness. In several places, concepts are presented to students as if they were established fact ... rather than scientific hypotheses. In my opinion, those who wrote the proposed ESS standards have an agenda that, in places, borders on indoctrination. This casts some doubt on the real purpose of the course, and I encourage the Texas Education Agency to monitor its implementation or change its tone drastically.

This passage is so over-the-top that one might think it's a joke, since Garner is indulging in an old and stupid anti-scientific slur: insulting the life or Earth sciences from his vantage point as a "hard" scientist, a physicist or chemist. Why didn't he just call the Earth and Space Science "stamp collecting" as did the famous physicist who first disparaged other sciences. Of course, Garner in his blindness and arrogance really meant his insult, which shows how ignorant and scientifically-incompetent he is. Modern Biology, Earth Science, and Space Sciences all fully depend on physics and chemistry and are just as "hard" and substantive as chemistry and physics. In fact, the ESS panel members emphasized the chemical and physical aspects of the phenomena that students will study in ESS when they crafted the standards. We removed much of the details that require memorization, but included aspects that will require critical thinking and analysis. The course is as rigorous as high school physics and chemistry and cannot be taken successfully without secure knowledge of those two courses (if taught correctly and rigorously, as intended; the old Texas Earth Science course--Geology, Meteorology, and Oceanography--was usually taught as a very easy and insubstantial survey course). The tone of the ESS standards is "dogmatic" only to Garner, Henderson, and Sigler's Young Earth Creationist ears. Real scientists, without a crabbed religious agenda, would not find a single standard in the document to be "dogmatic" but completely mainstream. Garner's comments are insulting and stupid, and he should be ashamed to have written them.

Roger Sigler was obsessively interested in establishing that igneous rocks do not form in a completely closed system, so suffer from isotopic contamination and leakage that affects radiometric dates. His suggestions for additions to the ESS standards, while not scientifically incorrect, were indeed judged to be "confusing" to students by others in the group and thus not incorporated. He quotes from a textbook that "most minerals are not closed systems." This is true, but this does not disqualify radiometric dating from being extremely reliable, because there are numerous safeguards, alternate ways to calculate and verify results, and in fact many mineral systems which have very little contamination and thus result in accurate results. Sigler's hidden purpose, which I and I think some others recognized, was to cast doubt on radiometric dating by making the method seem unreliable and weak, when in fact the opposite is true. Sigler even wrote, "students at the senior level are perfectly capable of understanding these limitations on the use of radiometric techniques." While true, emphasizing "limitations" at the expense of other features of radiometric dating that are more important is poor pedagogy. Radiometric dating is extremely accurate, reliable, and robust, and this should be emphasized in any discussion of the techniques and results.

A brief and understandable refutation of the very common Creationist claim that, "Radiometric dating falsely assumes that the rocks being dated are closed systems. It inappropriately assumes that no parent or daughter isotopes were added or removed via other processes through the history of the sample" can be found on the TalkOrigins Creationist Claims Index. The response is this:

  1. Absolutely closed systems do not exist even under ideal laboratory conditions. Nevertheless, many rocks approximate closed systems so closely that multiple radiometric dating methods produce consistent results, within 1 percent of each other.
     
  2. Some rocks may be open to outside contamination, but not all of them are. Most ages are determined from multiple mineral and rock samples, which give a consistent date within 1 and 3 percent. It is extremely unlikely that contamination would affect all samples by the same amount.
     
  3. Isochron methods can detect contamination and, to some extent, correct for it. Isochrons are determined from multiple samples, and contamination would have to affect all of the samples the same way in order to create an isochron that appeared okay but was wrong.

    With uranium-lead dating, closure of the system may be tested with a concordia diagram. This takes advantage of the fact that there are two isotopes of uranium (238U and 235U) that decay to different isotopes of lead (206Pb and 207Pb, respectively). If the system has remained closed, then a plot of 206Pb / 238U versus 207Pb / 235U will fall on a known line called the concordia. Even if samples are discordant, reliable dates can often be derived (Faure 1998, 287-290).
     
  4. Geochronologists are well aware of the dangers of contamination, and they take pains to minimize it. For example, they do not use weathered samples.

Radiometric dates are extremely reliable because they correspond extraordinarily well with two other chronological dating systems, the local stratigraphic columns constructed empirically by superposition of strata and the global geologic column constructed by biostratigraphic dating. Furthermore, all dating anomalies that result from failures of the closed system working hypothesis are analyzed and explained to avoid the problem in future cases. In addition, no geologic conclusions are finalized with only one result, but many samples are statistically analyzed to avoid inaccuracies. Today, radiometric dating is one of the most accurate and reliable tools at a geologist's disposal. To even suggest that this technique is weak or unreliable by crafting standards to suggest doubt in students' minds is educationally repugnant.

Sigler's second objection is somewhat unusual. The biological evolution of fossil life is not a major aspect of the ESS course (as it would be, for example, in a traditional historical geology course or in high school biology), so why object to the use of the word "evolution" in Knowledge Statement (c)(8)? He doesn't object to using the word in c8A, the only Student Expectation that requires knowledge of biological evolution. The heading states, "fossils provide evidence for geological and biological evolution." Here, "evolution" is being used in the sense of "change through time," which is what both the Earth and life actually do through geologic history. He wants the word changed to "change." I agree that the word "change" could be used, but there is nothing wrong with the word "evolution," either. So what's the problem.

The problem is that, again, Creationists have a few common hang-ups and the definition of evolution is one of them. This simplistic view of life leads to highly quirky complaints, like this one. Sigler lists "three broad definitions of 'evolution'" that are highly selective and subjective. He doesn't even list the definition that biologists actually use--the best and correct definition: "Evolution is the change in allele frequencies in species populations over time." This evolution is the factual and observable evolutionary process, so of course he omits it. The first definition he lists, change over time, is a very general one appropriate for any system, group, or object that changes over time: the evolution of continents/Earth/the universe/species/life/etc. It is just a description and has no explanatory value. The second definition he lists, universal common descent, is not a true definition of evolution, but a consequence of it. Creationists don't believe in common descent, only in microevolution, so they are always suspicious when real scientists use the word "evolution" to include common descent and macroevolution, which is perfectly appropriate. In reality, there is no genetic disconnect between microevolution, macroevolution, and common descent--such a disconnection is a common Creationist fantasy. The third definition he lists is the scientific theory of evolution, the evolutionary process, which is often described by the term "evolution."

Sigler writes that only his first definition is "objective," when in fact it is nothing more than a description and has no explanatory power. The other two, he writes, "have never been demonstrated and are ideological." In fact, definition two is a logical consequence of the unlisted true definition, and both have been demonstrated repeatedly by scientific investigations over more than a century. The third definition, the scientific theory, has also been demonstrated and is only as ideological as any other scientific statements. In short, Sigler's wacky "definition of evolution" analysis is absurd, and gives no reason to justify any terminology change. He just doesn't like the word "evolution" in a knowledge and skill statement, so he disparages. The other panel members were correct in refusing to make his suggested change.

In conclusion, the mendacity and subterfuge of the Roger Sigler-Tom Henderson scheme--which in my opinion includes Terri Leo-David Bradley, although their participation is suggested by events and circumstances (after all, they appointed these two scientifically-unqualified individuals for a reason)--to damage the excellent standards of this new Texas Earth and Space Science course is disgraceful. Every person involved should be ashamed. I have demonstrated that the reasons stated in the second minority report are not good or scientific reasons to make the changes. Instead, the entire report is just a crude exercise to damage the work of good geoscientists and subvert the quality and accuracy of the new course. This kind of political manipulation for ideological reasons of what should be a clean, professional, scientific, and educational project is unfortunately just business as usual at the Texas State Board of Education.

History of the New Earth and Space Science Course

I was a member of the original Texas Earth Science Task Force--led by Ed Roy, David Dunn, and Stan Pittman--that organized to get Earth Science back into Texas high schools in a competent, rigorous, and modern form. I joined late in 2003, a year after the project started, when I found out about it during one of my many trips to Austin to speak to SBOE members. I quickly realized that the members of this task force were politically naive or, to be more precise, did not understand the dynamics of the Texas SBOE. I tried to help them, but there was little I could do since much of the plan was already set into motion. After an immense amount of work, including obtaining letters and public testimony from dozens of the top geoscientists in Texas and the nation, the ESTF failed in its original goals (by six successive 8-7 votes against them), and the three leaders gradually left the project primarily due to illness but also, I think, disappointment or disillusionment.

I kept the project going behind the scenes after 2004 by talking to SBOE members privately and developing a new plan, one that was already partly in the original plan. This was to get four credits of high school science (and math) approved for graduation and create a new elective ESS course for the fourth course in the 12th grade, called a capstone course (the original four-year plan called for a required ESS course, which was just never going to happen). I was able to achieve agreement among the Board members that if the Texas Legislature ever funded the fourth year of science and math, they would approve the ESS course. Other more significant and powerful individuals and organizations, including many SBOE members, wanted Texas to move to four hours of math and science, so this finally happened in 2007 when funding was approved and four-year requirement was adopted. I immediately wrote a justification for the new course, wrote a prospective ESS curriculum with standards to use an example, and talked to all the Board members on its behalf.

Everyone I spoke to on the Board approved the new course, and this included the entire range of political philosophies. Two conservatives on the State Board, Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Cargill strongly supported the course, as did all the other conservatives and moderates, Republicans and Democrats. The new course and four years of science and math were heavily supported by the Texas business community, especially the large Texas petroleum industry, a strong force for approval. I also got some former members of the old ESTF involved again, UT Austin Professor Sharon Moser and science supervisor Kenn Heydrick, who at the time was not TEA Director of Science and could advocate for the course. We all used my course justification to write to and speak to SBOE members. We also were able to ask several prominent geoscientists to speak for approval. Fortunately, the Board members were all in favor of the new elective ESS course, unlike their rejection of a required one two years before, so there was no worry this time about its ultimate approval.

When it came time to form a panel to write the new ESS standards, I was nominated and worked to ensure that the accuracy and reliability of its standards were not compromised by the YEC appointees I expected. Since the two YECs advocated mildly for their unscientific beliefs and all the other appointees were legitimate Earth scientists who wouldn't go along with YEC beliefs, my concern for the quality of the final standards became less troubling. Roger Sigler and Tom Henderson did make some suggestions to weaken the standards as documented above, but these were either slightly changed in scientifically-undamaging ways or ignored because, frankly, they were obviously unscientific and the other panel members were not pseudoscientists. The suggestions Tom and Roger made that were scientific were evaluated and accepted, so those two really have no legitimate beef with the actions and consideration of the majority of members of the ESS panel.

From the very beginning to the end of the process, we all treated Tom and Roger properly as valued members of the panel. In fact, I am sure the others didn't even realize that Tom and Roger were pseudoscientists until very late in the process. I knew this from the beginning but didn't say anything so as not to prejudice anyone's opinion of them. I wanted to see how things would work out, and I am happy to state that the process worked well (until the conclusion, unfortunately). Every sentence in the final ESS standards document was completely examined and fully vetted by every member of the workgroup many times. I am an arch-foe of pseudoscience and certainly the most knowledgeable person in Texas about its rhetoric, goals, and tactics, so nothing anti-scientific by suggestion or language would escape my attention. I would not have agreed to anything in the ESS standards that I thought compromised the accuracy and integrity of science.

I don't want to see the hard work of getting the ESS course accepted, approved, and creating its TEKS be damaged by censored, compromised, and misleading standards and become yet another failed project for Texas geoscientists. Texas just cannot continue like this, undereducating and miseducating our kids because of our overly-politicized state education system, in which ideological extremists make decisions on the basis of their political and religious agendas rather than on the intellectual welfare of students. Many teachers are intimidated by the constant controversy of extreme State Board members attacking good science, and this affects their willingness to teach some scientific subjects, such as evolution, fossils, origin of life, and ancient ages of fossils and Earth. This is a deplorable situation.

I really need the help of Texas scientists to organize the science troops in our state and defend the new ESS course. I am certain Terri Leo and David Bradley will use the minority report to attack some of the standards of the new course to damage them by weakening and misrepresenting their scientific content. We can't let that happen. Please defend good science by writing and voting to adopt the new ESS standards without change or modification.


Last updated: 2009 February 6