How an Evolution Denier Shaped Texas Board of Ed's Science-Book Decisions Yesterday

The State Board of Education met yesterday to debate which supplemental materials the state should use to update its outdated science textbooks. To make things easier, before the meeting, the board's choices were narrowed down by allegedly reliable panels of stakeholders.

But when it came to a biology panel making its recommendations, an evolutionary skeptic named Dr. David Shormann -- who happens to run a Christian math and science education software company and authored the book "The Exchange of Truth: Liberating the World From the Lie of Evolution" -- appears to have had a lot of input.

Proof, you say? Well, how about a series of challenges the biology panel made Thursday to a biology supplement submitted by publisher Holt McDougal, a division of publishing giant Houghton Mifflin? The alleged errors in the textbook submitted by the panel happen to be pointed out by Shormann in a separate review. Verbatim.

Take, for example, an online lab activity where students compare hominid skulls. In identical language, the panel and Shormann note that, genetically, there's a 30-percent difference between humans and chimpanzees. The activity, they recommended, should thus be dropped. Between the lines, you'll find some of the classic bristling about "common ancestry" and insecurity about our place as God's special creatures.

Here's the problem: They're flat-out wrong.

Shormann misinterpreted a study in the journal Nature that found a 30 percent difference in "the makeup of the male-specific region of the Y chromosome." Overall, the genetic difference is less than one percent.

Next, Shormann and the panel take aim at the evolving morphology of whales from land mammals to sea-going cetaceans. First, he points out that there is no complete skeleton of the long-extinct creature known as "the walking whale." Because, as all paleontologist know, if a complete skeleton doesn't exist, it's impossible to render an approximation using our knowledge of contemporary whale morphology and the existing fossil record. Shormann contends that there's no evidence establishing an evolutionary bond between it and a swamp-dwelling land mammal with (layman alert!) whale ears. You can see where we're going with this: Nothing changes. God spoke, and it was.

These are just a couple of the more entertaining challenges. Check out the panel recommendations, the publisher responses and Shorrman's own review, courtesy of the Texas Freedom Network. It raised the question: Why is an admitted evolution skeptic dictating the terms of biology textbook content? Holt McDougal must now work through these "issues" with the state education commissioner.

The Shormann Class in Misinterpreting Peer-Reviewed Research aside, it wasn't a total wash down at the B of Ed. Remember that wacky New Mexico outfit with the fourth-grade approximation of PowerPoint slides as teaching tools? In an uncharacteristically sane moment, their offering was not added to the board-approved list.

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Brantley Hargrove