Retired judge ired by BESE biology textbook choice

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Dear Editor,

BESE officials will soon consider whether to burden Louisiana students for the next seven years (“Criticisms target evolution in texts,” The Advocate) with a subpar group of biology textbooks that fail to satisfy our state’s published science benchmark standards such as “recognizing and analyzing alternative models.”

Ironically, Darwin himself acknowledged the need for balance and critical thinking in the introduction to his book, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”

Darwin wrote, “a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” And three of the 15 chapters of Darwin’s book address criticisms of his own macroevolutionary ideas.

As a lawyer and retired trial judge, I find that evidence of scientific criticisms of Darwin’s views would clearly be admissible in a court of law. “Relevant evidence” under Louisiana Code of Evidence, Article 401 “… means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”

In fact, a licensed attorney who failed to disclose to a judge evidence directly contrary to legal authority he cited could be guilty of unethical conduct. (Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct 3.03 n “Candor Toward the Tribunal”) How can important science textbooks justify withholding such facts from students!!!?

Ben Franklin observed, “when men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public; when truth and error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.” Franklin’s contemporary, Thomas Holcroft put it more bluntly, writing “to prevent inquiry is among the worst of evils.”

In Louisiana Family Forum’s 2003 Statewide Voter’s Guide, the following question was asked of gubernatorial candidates:

“Do you support or oppose the teaching in public schools of the scientific weaknesses of evolution, including the full range of evidence regarding biological evolutionary data?”

Candidates Bobby Jindal, Kathleen Blanco and others responded “support,” which is the position polling data shows is held by over half of Americans for many years now.

Bobby Jindal has already been criticized by some “Darwin-only” media outlets for signing the 2008 Science Education Act.

Will Gov. Jindal speak out on the biology textbook issue due to be considered by BESE at its December 2010 meetings? Only time will tell. But to remain mute during this educational crisis would seem to invoke the admonishment my mother, poet Jerry White, wrote about in her award-winning verse entitled, DIMINISHED: “A truth endorsed but not embraced is whittled to a platitude.”

Judge Darrell White (retired),

Baton Rouge, La.