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Originally published January 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 23, 2009 at 9:00 AM

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Texas board ends teaching of evolution's "weaknesses"

In a major defeat for evolution critics, the State Board of Education voted Thursday to follow the advice of a panel of science educators and drop a longtime requirement that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in high-school science classes.

The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN, Texas — In a major defeat for evolution critics, the State Board of Education voted Thursday to follow the advice of a panel of science educators and drop a longtime requirement that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in high-school science classes.

Under the science curriculum standards tentatively adopted by the board, biology teachers and textbooks would no longer have to cover the "strengths and weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory on how humans evolved.

Opponents of the strengths-and-weaknesses requirement had warned it would open the door to teaching creationism — a biblical explanation of the origin of humans — in science classes, while board members backing the rule insisted that was not their intention.

The seven Republican board members supporting the rule have been aligned with social-conservative groups that have tried to publicize supposed flaws in Darwin's theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

The key vote Thursday was on an amendment to the proposed curriculum standards that would have restored the "weaknesses" rule. It was defeated on a 7-7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat was absent.

"We're not talking about faith. We're not talking about religion," said board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat who opposed the amendment. "We're talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do."

Barbara Cargill, a Republican who supported the weaknesses requirement, said there have been "significant challenges" to the theory of evolution and cited a recent article in which a European scientist disputed Darwin's "tree of life" showing common ancestors for all living things.

In deleting the strengths-and-weaknesses rule, which dates back nearly two decades, the panel said the requirement suggested that the scientific community was divided on the theory of evolution when in fact there is little disagreement.

A second vote on the science standards is scheduled today.

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