... Not that the Texas school board creationists were coherent before, but what else do they have left? After the defeat of language in the state standards to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution in Texas public schools, the creationist school board members have rallied under the motto "Somebody's got to stand up to experts!" Thus, in defiance of the logical thinking and coherent grammar embraced so fondly by those nefarious experts, the Texas school board on Friday passed a number of incoherent amendments to their state science standards.

Ars Technica's Nobel Intent has the goods:

So, instead of "strengths and weaknesses," the new standards call for students to "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations" based in part on "examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific experiments." Not only is the grammar fractured, but scientific experiments are usually notable for not supporting "all sides" of an argument.

Teachers now have to ensure that students can "analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life." Nothing after "simple organic molecules" in that sentence makes much sense.

What will be the effect of these amendments? Their main purpose is to open the classroom door to creationism. The National Center for Science Education is worried:

After three all-day meetings and a blizzard of amendments and counter-amendments, the Texas Board of Education cast its final vote Friday on state science standards. The results weren't pretty. The board majority amended the Earth and Space Sciences standards as well as the Biology standards (TEKS) with loopholes and language that make it even easier for creationists to attack science textbooks.

The new standard directs students to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records."

While the standards contain classic creationist code, I'm not sure what the ultimate effect of a set of badly written, ill-defined, pedagogically unsound, incoherent standards are going to be. At some point, this stuff just gets so bad that it gets ignored by teachers and textbook writers. As Ars Technica points out, a standard like "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell" can't really be taught, in part because there is no coherent scientific definition for 'complexity of the cell.' What kind of high school-level standardized test question would you ask to address that standard?

Of course, creationists have their approach to the question of complexity - personal incredulity. Intelligent design promoter Michael Behe has long argued that the immune system is simply too complex to have evolved, but he was notoriously stumped in the Pennsylvania Intelligent Design Trial when confronted with dozens of research papers about the evolution of the immune system. Behe's only response was that he personally didn't find this extensive research convincing. Not surprisingly, it was Behe whom the judge found unconvincing.

The point is this: creationist school board members have inserted into the standards language that is impossible to teach in any scientifically coherent way. The only other option is for teachers to present intelligent design creationism in its most blatantly unscientific form, using creationist claims that have been struck down repeatedly in federal court. There is no sneaking creationism in the back door with these standards, because these poorly articulated standards have made it impossible to apply even a minimum of scientific veneer to any teaching plan that includes them - which in turn means that school districts that implement the offending standards have little hope of evading a disastrous lawsuit.

Christopher Hitchens suggests that the now-rejected "strengths and weaknesses" language might actually be good policy when applied on a broad scale:

We can surely demand that the principle of "strengths and weaknesses" will be applied evenly. If any church in Texas receives a tax exemption, or if any religious institution is the beneficiary of any subvention from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we must be assured that it will devote a portion of its time to laying bare the "strengths and weaknesses" of the religious world view, and also to teaching the works of Voltaire, David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. This is America. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a thousand schools of thought contend.