Bright lights in the Texas legislature

The Texas legislature is generally the butt of jokes, and it’s not hard to see why: it’s an awesome body of distilled stupidity. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good ones among the chaff, and State Senator Rodney Ellis and State Representative Patrick Rose should be counted among them. They’ve written an excellent op-ed for the Houston Chronicle in which they point out the contradiction of a state that wants to build a leading-edge set of scientific research institutions with a State Board of Education led by a mob of incompetent creationist cretins. They’ve put together some legislation to hold the SBOE accountable for their performance — a marvelous turnabout of the No Child Left Behind philosophy of policing schools on their performance. Let’s see the rascals who want to put together bogus curricula scrutinized on the basis of long-term performance in science by the kids!

Here’s something you can do right now. Thank these two smart politicians by signing a letter. It’s the least you can do. And if you’re a Texan in their districts, vote for them!


  1. Newfie says

    us baymen don’t have much sway in cowboy country, but I’m gonna tell 4 Texas friends, and they’ll tell 4 friends… and so on, then shampoo commercial….

  2. Jim Battle says

    That is great news to hear this coming from Patrick Rose. I have voted for him in the past, and will be certain to do so in the future. He is a young guy, so maybe he gets that technology is part of the solution, and proof that we are in end times.

    BTW, I’m marginally at the edge of Austin, nearly in Dripping Springs (yes, that is really the name of the city). Here in the boonies, many people that Patrick Rose represents are the stereotypical redneck Texans of your nightmares. Kudos to him for being brave enough to take this stand.

  3. Aquaria says

    Rodney Ellis is all kinds of awesome, a real friend to science and education. He’s been behind massive programs that put hundreds of millions, if not billions, into science and education. I know over a billion has gone into Texas Grants, a program he really fought for that helps lower income kids with tuition and fees at colleges and universities.

  4. Matthew says


    I’ve always liked Rodney Ellis. He’s a genuine friend to Texan scientists and freethinkers.

  5. says

    I hope that there are enough bright lights to get this bill through. Somehow, I doubt it will change much even if it does, since the people overseeing it will probably be the same type of nuts who run the SBOE.

  6. Cameron says

    If I were American I would sign that in a heartbeat. The religious right in the US is something that astounds me. I live in Toronto, Canada and we have nothing close to that in our corner of Canada. Out west in British Columbia there are pockets of Christian Extremists but nothing like you see south of the border.

    Keep fighting the good fight and know that your friends to the north support you.

  7. Jeanette Garcia says

    Trite? Some times the good work/word bares repeating, over and over and over. . . . Adios, ghl.

  8. Leigh Williams says

    Jim, it’s great to see someone from Drippin’ here — you can actually vote for Patrick! He has shown himself to be a very brave and principled young man numerous times during his short career. Rodney Ellis is also a treasure.

    I’m just up the road a piece from you, in southwest South Austin.

    If you haven’t already joined, let me recommend Texas Citizens for Science to you. Our president, Steve Schafersman, has been fighting the good fight in Texas for many years now. The Texas Freedom Network is also a great organization; their Stand Up for Science campaign is in full swing. Their daily news digest is priceless.

    We also have a new resource, jointly sponsored by the Austin Center for Inquiry and the Clergy Letter Project, called TeachThemScience. (A friend of mine, Joe Lapp, designed the site, and it’s beautiful. Yay, Joe!) This is a website just chock-full of good information; it’s designed to be a jumping-off point for people who don’t know a lot about the evolution/creationism debate, or who have been subjected to anti-science scare tactics in their churches and now want to know the truth. It’s a good place to recommend to our Baptist relations; they’re not out to scare the horses, but to set the record straight. Seeker-friendly, so to speak.

  9. Jim Norman says

    Greetings, Leigh from Austin, Jim from Dripping Springs, and Pharyngulites everywhere. I am from Round Rock, just north of Austin. I have submitted my proud support to Ellis and Rose.

  10. shonny says

    Used to love this blog, but lately it seems so trite. See ya!

    You’ll be missed like most would’ve missed their hemmorhoids, ghl!

  11. says

    Thanks for spreading the news about the petition. I was going to ask you to do so, then just discovered you already had. Cool beans.

    FYI, your readers might want to know that I made the petition cc their own state and federal representatives asking them to show the same type of courage in their states.

    Let’s hope a goodly number of Louisianans signed ;-)

  12. says

    Let’s call an ace an ace and a spade a spade. Atheists are simply smarter than theists. Why hasn’t this fact been studied in more greater detail?

    I don’t think that’s categorically true. Though I can only offer anecdotal evidence, I will say that I have known many highly intelligent theists in RL, and have even met a few unintelligent atheists (though they’re rarer). In any case, it has no bearing either way on who’s right or wrong; bright people, including some with a science education, tend to be very good at compartmentalising their minds, and so are capable of believing whatever religious ideas they want to believe, without subjecting them to the same level of intellectual scrutiny that they would apply in tehir professional lives.

    I think a real measure of one’s intelligence, in this context, is not the substantive view that one holds, but rather how far one is willing to challenge the beliefs ingrained in one’s family and culture. A stupid person who happens to grow up in a fundamentalist religious family, or in a society and culture where religious beliefs are near-universal (such as the rural United States), is likely to accept the prevailing belief system and will, therefore, be a religious fundamentalist him- or herself. Conversely, a stupid person who grows up in a non-religious household, in a largely secular country, is likely to be an atheist. Bright people, by contrast, are much more likely to challenge the prevailing belief system and formulate their own ideas. So, for this reason, I would expect (though I’m not aware of any studies on the topic) that the average IQ of atheists in the United States is very high, probably higher than it is in a majority-secular country like Sweden or the UK. Just my $0.02.

  13. Julian says

    Walton: A reasoned assessment. My personal view is that an atheism not arrived at on one’s own after a dispassionate consideration of the available facts is built on shaky ground. As to the religious, anyone, no matter their intellect, will sound silly trying to defend archaic, supernatural, and contradictory ideas.

  14. RickK says

    While I’m sympathetic to #16’s sentiment, when declaring one’s self to be intellectually superior, one should avoid using “more greater” to make their point.

  15. Ben says

    #5 Jim Battle
    #12 Leigh Williams
    #13 Jim Norman

    Another central Texan here, six miles north of Dripping. Nice to see Patrick Rose doing good work.

  16. blueelm says

    Shout out to the Austin/DS folks! I lived there most of my youth (half south and half north), but now I’m in Dallas. Maybe writing to Carona would be worth it for us. I’m not sure…

    I wrote in my support anyway.

  17. Joe Bob says

    Grew up in Austin, something of an oasis in the cultural desert that is Texas, but moved out of state and country long ago. Always warms the heart to hear that someone in TX is fighting back against the batshit insane loonies exemplified by the current governor and SBOE.

  18. says

    The great thing about internet news is that we’re not locked away in the media pool of our own city or county anymore, and consequently when a legislature somewhere tries to get away with nonsense, we’re all onto it. The Discovery Institute seems not to have realized this. Thanks to PZ for publicizing this, and thanks to the people who put up the petition – I frequently argue that the discussion with religion should be thought of as a political problem more than a philosophical one, so I’m glad to see more inroads into the political sphere. I check out from time to time to find out about the most recent creationism-in-schools nonsense.

  19. Chuck Litzell says

    I applaud Ellis and Rose. The BOE is under siege and it is important to fight back to protect education in Texas.

    I signed the letter and sent an invitation to others to sign. To my surprise, by signing the letter I became a member of I did not expect that. There are too many organizations that do good things; I don’t want to belong to every one of them and I don’t want to be tricked into signing up before I’ve investigated the organization. Surely when you type your email address into a web form you are taking a chance it will end up on a list you didn’t expect, but it is still an abusive practice. So everyone, just be warned there are side-effects.

  20. says

    Ouch! My response to #19 (and I knew this was coming). You wrote: … when declaring one’s self to be intellectually superior Let’s be clear – I am as dumb as a post. It took me over 40 years to fully appreciate just what a load of crap organized religion is. David Hume completed his A Treatise on Human Nature when he was 26. In fact, I consider the second biggest tragedy of my life (the first being how quickly my children are growing up) to be the fact that my intellectual capacity is insufficient to understand what I consider to be some of the most fascinating puzzles being investigated by science. Just imagine: who wouldn’t love to sit down and discuss evolutionary biology, peer to peer, with PZ? Or how about sitting down with Ed Witten and discussing superstring theory? In Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works, he puts forward the proposition that the only difference between Einstein’s brain and an average brain is practice but I don’t buy it. I wish I was smarter more than I wish I could golf like Tiger Woods. However, my point remains that the smarter you are, the more likely you are to disbelieve in the existence of God. This is a simple equation and you don’t need to be a logician or mathematician to understand it: theism = “not likely to be that bright”.

  21. gail says

    I think it’s misstating things more than a little to claim any universal level of intelligence on either side. It would be grand to think atheists are more intelligent across the board, but reading just a handful of the comments on the Bellingham Herald’s Kim Struiksma story nips that kind of thinking in the bud right quick. We’ve got more than our share of misguided, ill-informed numbskulls on the “smart” side, too, and they’re doing us no favors.

  22. bootsy says

    @29: Atheist Missionary, the very fact that you changed from theist to atheist suggests to me there is no difference in intelligence between the two.

    To me, it’s much more clear from your story that the difference comes down to someone fully examining their beliefs. Thus, it’s really work, and not intelligence that makes the difference.

    Cognitive dissonance, like a theist scientist displays, is like driving a car but not knowing how it works. If you just sat down and researched a little, you could know as much as a mechanic. However, you can still drive the car (though probably not as optimally) without doing the work of understanding it.

  23. says

    Great to see so many folks from TX contributing here!

    I currently live in Phoenix, AZ but am from Round Rock, TX and hope to be returning there within the next 2 years. I wrote a personal note to Sen. Ellis and Rep. Rose and hope all of you will do the same.

    UT-Austin has always been one of the best public universities in the U.S. in Science and Engineering. Faculty has included Nobel Prize winners, such as Steven Weinberg, as well as many men and women who have contributed profoundly to advancing the understanding of science.

    It’s an embarassment to our state and country to now have such deluded individuals leading our board of education and trying to undermine the teaching of factual science. We need everyone’s help to make sure that science and overall education standards in Texas are kept as high as possible. Thank you for everyone who has contributed to the cause…keep up the good work!

  24. Randallphobia says

    I live about 5 miles outside of Ellis’ district, but I teach at a school inside his district. We’re proud Ellis around here. I just wish that I cold vote for the man.
    We need more people to support those like Ellis & Rose here in Texas.

    More need to oppose fools like the creationists on the SBOE. The fact that the crazies on the board have the support of Governor Goodhair (many, even Republicans, call Governor Rick Perry that because it’s his only good quality) only shows how far gone they are. The crazies are giving the rest of us a bad reputation.

  25. Nate McVaugh says

    Proud to say that Rose is my rep. Hopefully we’ll be getting a few more like him in the swing the legislature back towards the reality based community.

  26. John Phillips, FCD says

    @ghl, if you think it trite for a science blog to celebrate two state senators openly prepared to support good science education against the IDiots in state agencies, then you truly are a sad piece of work and really are wasting your time here. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, you won’t be missed.

    BTW. The comments after the article were quite refreshing as well, as the majority were for them. Though there was one IDiot spouting the old canard about them being in the side of those promoting gay sex, baby killing etc. Though he took a metaphorical beating from the others.

  27. Kim says

    Hello from Houston! I signed the thank-u letter. If it means more junk mail, oh well. Maybe it will drown out my bills too. I hope their gesture will ultimately bear real fruit. God knows we need more science and less religion down here! (sarcasm intended) If for no other reason than to show that we aren’t all bible-thumping creationists, riding hard against science. Some of us actually realize that reality is something other than what the writers of the Bible claim it to be.

  28. ghl says

    By trite I mean the gratuitous nature of the comments posted. Let us all pat each other on the back while we agree; pass out Oscars (sorry, I meant Mollies) and revel in our self-imposed importance.

    Thousands of comments posted everyday — few thought out and offering additional insight, most ill formed — for what purpose? Is it for the non-conformity you seek while slogging for Live your words, shake things up. The grass IS greener on the other side of the fence — that’s why the fence is there.

    A cult of personality is also something one should be wary of. It leaves one comfortable in their acceptance and hopes of better things to come — but this should not be mistaken for awareness of facts and personal actions one can take.

    @Jeanette Garcia – #11
    Adios. I agree that words and ideas need repeating. Thank you for this perception, and thank you for your civilized response.

    @shonny – #14
    What can I say except Prep-H.

    @John Phillips, FCD – #35
    Have you written the “two state senators” letting them know of your support in their actions? If not, why not? Because they are from a state you don’t reside in? You should let them know anyway if this is the case. BTY, one was a senator, the other was a representative.

    Your appraisal of my character — “sad piece of work” — is exactly why I will let the door hit me on the way out, and gladly at that. Much heavier doors have made their claim, I assure you.

    Have you participated in local political venues or do you just vent in comment sections of blogs, and, as expressed above, pat yourself on the back after posting ad hominem comments because someone is ruffling the cult of personality you feel so comfortable in?