Religion and Evolution

Creationsists on the Texas State Board of Education have been tying themselves in knots trying to persuade folks that their attacks on evolution in the public school science curriculum have nothing to do with their religious beliefs. So we thought it would be good to review some of board chairman Don McLeroy’s own words.

In September, for example, McLeroy argued for redefining science to include the study of supernatural explanations for phenomena.

If science is limited to only natural explanations but some natural phenomena are actually the result of supernatural causes then science would never be able to discover that truth — not a very good position for science. Defining science to allow for this possibility is just common sense.

In June McLeroy told the New York Times that he sees the debate over evolution as one between “two systems of science.”

You’ve got a creationist system and a naturalist system.

But the connection between McLeroy’s Christian faith and his attacks on evolution were most explicit in a lecture he gave to his congregation at Grace Bible Church in Bryan in July 2005. McLeroy walked his audience through the arguments for “intelligent design”/creationism and discussed the state board’s adoption of new biology textbooks in 2003. McLeroy noted that he was one of four board members who voted against the proposed books because they didn’t include discussions of so-called “weaknesses” of evolution.

But I want to tell you all the arguments made by all the intelligent design group, all the creationist intelligent design people, I can guarantee the other side heard exactly nothing. They did not hear one single fact, they were not swayed by one argument. It was just amazing. I mean all the, my fellow board members who were really not even the scientists in the group, they were not impressed by any of this. They said, “Oh well, it’s just two opinions.” And there were only the four really conservative, orthodox Christians on the board were the only ones who were willing to stand up to the textbooks and say that they don’t present the weaknesses of evolution. Amazing.

Yes, it’s amazing — amazing that McLeroy continues to argue that he and other creationists on the board really aren’t trying to promote their own personal religious views in public school science classrooms.

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23 Comments

  1. Russ Ammons
    Posted December 19, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Thank God for the SBOE!!! We can’t hope for them to improve the education system with members like Dunbar and McLeroy. But at least they can pray for it. We need divine intervention to save it from the nuts.

  2. Ben
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    AG, I think your confusion will easily be resolved if you manage to state your opinions concisely, without contradicting yourself from day to day.

  3. africangenesis
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Moderator,

    Whoops, I accidently posted this on the wrong page, so I am repeating it here where it was intended. It is OK to “censor” that other one.

    Ben,

    I can add some examples from several months ago at the Houston Chronical Evo.sphere blog, where I use the same weaknesses to discourage some fundamentalists:

    “Of course, it may be unfair to allege that the designer was not very intelligent, it may have just been hostile, malicious, uncaring, or simply missing for a long long time.”

    “the unfathomable omniscience or unknowable mystery arguments are OK in other contexts, but not when Intelligent Design is being put forward as a scientific theory. The Intelligent Design argument does not get the religious where they think it will let them go. It just puts the designer on the table to be discussed like a slab of meat. He may not come out looking pretty. The faithful had best stick to the argument from religious experience. To quote ecclesiastes “There is nothing new under the sun.” Christian apologists have tried these arguments before. “All is vanity.” Christians should put their best foot forward and lead with Jesus and Paul. They have a certain appeal…you know.”

  4. africangenesis
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Ben,

    I think your confusion will easily be resolved if you recognize that “weaknesses” can be applied to evolution in more than one way. In the first quote, weaknesses is being used in a way that we don’t have to run in fear from. In the other quotes, I was using applying weaknesses in the usual way it is intended at this site. Of course, the SBOE doesn’t have to use the weaknesses interpretation that we usually use here.

    Perhaps you missed my followon to that first usage you quoted:

    “I think these are weaknesses of evolution that should be taught. Obviously Intelligent Design would be better, that’s the point. These weaknesses are strong evidence for evolution and a challenge to Intelligent Design. You won’t find many Christians or others for teaching Dumb Design, but that is what we have, and evolution fits this data well. This is why it is embarrassing to have self stylized “darwinists” running in fear from the “strengths and weaknesses” language. I warn the Christian fundies away from the evolutuon debate all the time, there is nothing there for them.”

    One of the scientists in the video you referenced, made a similar argument about how evolution has produced many poor designs that would be an embarassment to any “God” worth his salt.

  5. Ben
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Watch all the videos.

    AG, here are some things you’ve said in the past several weeks:

    Evolution leaves too much to chance. Evolution tends to find local instead of global optima. Evolution made a mistake by using the same genetic code for different species making transpecific disease transmission too easy. Evolution shouldn’t have abandoned the capability to synthesize vitamin C in the primate line, nor the capability to regrow limbs. Evolution allows too much junk to be retained in the genomes. Evolution definitely has its weaknesses.

    I currently don’t see anything in evolution that I would characterize as a weakness, but it has had weaknesses in the past, and it is embarrassing to single it out as needing protection.

    I am a staunch Darwinist of the Dawkins, Dennett and Pinker ilk, and I don’t favor creationism.

    I see just about every aspect of life from an evolutionary perspective, but that doesn’t mean I agree with evolution, it has made some poor choices.

    I’m not afraid to evaluate anyone’s idea of a weakness of evolution or to have evolution called a theory, even in front of impressionable college bound high school sophmores.

    Calling evolution a fact is dumbing down the curriculum. Evolution has changed too much over the years to be called a fact, unless of course, it is a fact now and wasn’t then. And if it changes again tomorrow, then do we revise what is or was today?

    Evolution is a fact, only if “fact” means “theory”, or if you are flexibly spinning away inconsistencies in a way that would do a biblical ierrantist proud.

    Evolutionary theory hangs together beautifully. We have yet to find anything living which isn’t evidence for it, shared and related genes all speak to common anscestry, the fossil record is rife with transitional, related and extinct forms. Such a small percentage of life is ever fossilized that it is no suprise that there are gaps in the fossil record. But that is not problematic, it is expected under the laws of thermodyamics, the past is not completely recoverable, information has been lost.

    AG, you are all over the map. Do you have a split personality?

  6. africangenesis
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Ben,

    The video accepts the use of theory with respect to evolution, but is more about the evolution/creationism/ID controversy than about the word “theory” as it relates to weaknesses. One of the scientists clearly distinguishes a theory from facts which are much less interesting. At no point do the scientists attempt to use the tautological argument that since evolution is a “theory” that means it has no weaknesses. They stuck to the evidence.

    One of the scientists compared not knowing evolutionary theory to amnesia about where one has come from. Evolution is my “Roots”, but many peoples and ethnicities find more recent Roots adequate to their sense of place and purpose. I think this kind of over emphasis on the importance of evolution is politically motivated. It is very important that evolution happened. For most of modern human existance it has not been important at all, that we didn’t know that it happened. Other than for those working in a related field, the only reason the scientists gave that it is important for others to know that it happened is to prevent a theocracy. That is a political motivation. But for education in education to achieve that goal, it may not be enough for to just cover evolution, the students produced will have to believe it. Perhaps it will shed some light on the issue, if those who took a biology course that included evolution are surveyed to see how successful the courses are in producing belief in evolution. Should producing belief in evolution, not just knowledge of it be the goal of Texas biology classes?

    Note to JJ: “qualitative” is mispelled in the text at the end of the video, brace yourself.

  7. Ben
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    For those of you who have any questions at all about the word “theory” and whether the theory of evolution has any weaknesses, please watch that series of videos I mentioned above. Here’s the first one:

  8. Ben
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Did you know he’s also a Holocaust denier? Of course, he uses the word “revisionist.”

    Read his blog entries about it here:

    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/search/label/Holocaust%20revisionism%20%281%20of%202%29

  9. africangenesis
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    jdg, “germ theory”, “copernican theory”, and “newtonian theory”. Do you understand the definition of “weakness”, or “theory”? Your knowledge about yourself should be more direct than your inferences about others. Evidently you would extend prescriptive linguistics to include acceptable vocabulary usage. Descriptive dictionaries are unlikely to miss how “theory” is actually used, both inside and outside the scientific community. Perhaps they will also acknowledge some overlap between “theory” and “hypothesis”.

  10. jdg
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Larry Fafarman is a creationist. He thinks evolution has “weaknesses”, but doesn’t understand the definition of the word “weakness”. Theories don’t have weaknesses. If they did, they would be called at best a hypothesis.

  11. Ben
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Add this link to the earlier one, folks. I promise it will explain a lot of things about our friend, Larry Fafarman.

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/05/wont_the_real_dave_fafarman_pl.php

  12. Ben
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    If any of you other visitors want to hear some good stuff about our pal Larry Fafarman, click on this link:

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/05/good_ol_larry_fafarman_part_2.php

    No, Larry, it’s no ad hominem, because I’m only posting this for the entertainment value. You have to admit, it’s a real hoot.

  13. Ben
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    This part…

    “The defense counsel should have objected to those inquiries — the defendants did nothing more than lie about or evade questions that should never have been asked in the first place.”

    is your opinion. The liars were lucky they weren’t charged with perjury. What a bunch of hypocrites.

  14. Ben
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for admitting they lied.

  15. Posted December 17, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Ben said (December 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm) —
    –The Dover School Board members were good citizens? That is a steaming pile of nonsense.

    The judge said that their testimony was “marked by selective memories and outright lies under oath.”–

    In a concurring opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), Justice O’Connor described what was later to become known as the “endorsement test” for judging establishment clause cases:

    “The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person’s standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition in two principal ways. One is excessive [p688] entanglement with religious institutions, which may interfere with the independence of the institutions . . . . . The second and more direct infringement is government endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community. Disapproval sends the opposite message.”
    — from
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0465_0668_ZC.html

    Inquiries concerning (1) the religious motivations of the Dover defendants and (2) the sources of the funds to purchase the “Of Pandas and People” books, where the purpose and effect of such inquiries were to promote “government . . . disapproval of religion,” were contrary to the above statement that “[t]he Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person’s standing in the political community.” The defense counsel should have objected to those inquiries — the defendants did nothing more than lie about or evade questions that should never have been asked in the first place.

  16. Ben
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    The Dover School Board members were good citizens? That is a steaming pile of nonsense.

    The judge said that their testimony was “marked by selective memories and outright lies under oath.”

    He also said: “It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.”

    You can read about the ruling at this link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District

  17. Posted December 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    TFN said (December 17, 2008 at 11:18 am) —
    –Gosh, Larry, now you’re contradicting yourself. You said in your first post: “Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar in particular have been very open about the connection between their religious beliefs and their policies on evolution education.” But now you say “they are not trying to push their religious beliefs in public schools.”–

    Gosh, no, I am not contradicting myself. There is a big difference between (1) the existence of such a connection and (2) pushing religions beliefs in public schools. For example, the courts have ruled that atheism is a religion so far as the establishment clause is concerned. So, should evolution not be taught because some supporters of teaching evolution — e.g., PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins — say that there is a connection between their atheism and their support for teaching evolution?

    The situation was best summed up by Albert Alschuler, a law professor emeritus at Northwestern University Law School, in his following statement about the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision:

    –“The court offers convincing evidence that some members the Dover school board would have been delighted to promote their old time religion in the classroom. These board members apparently accepted intelligent design as a compromise, the nearest they could come to their objective within the law. Does that make any mention of intelligent design unconstitutional? It seems odd to characterize the desire to go far as the law allows as an unlawful motive. People who try to stay within the law although they would prefer something else are good citizens. The Dover opinion appears to say that the forbidden preference taints whatever the board may do, and if the public can discern the board’s improper desire, any action it takes also has an unconstitutional effect. If board members would like to teach Genesis as the literal truth, the board may not direct teachers even to mention the anamolies (sic) in the theory of natural selection that the court itself recognizes. The court seems to declare, ‘Because we find that you would like something you can’t have, we hold that you can’t have anything.’ “–
    — from
    http://uchicagolaw.typepad.com/faculty/2005/12/the_dover_intel.html

  18. Ben
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    If you are on the fence about this issue, I urge you to do some research of your own. Here’s a good place to start.

    It’s the first video in a series that will leave you completely informed on the topic. Please listen closely and with an open mind. Yes, it will take you a long time to watch them all, but doesn’t this topic deserve the time? The education of our kids is at stake. Don’t be fooled by misinformation that is abundant in the comments above and elsewhere on the Net. Heck, you don’t even have to believe anything I say. That’s why I’m encouraging you to watch the videos, which feature interviews with internationally respected scientists.

  19. Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Gosh, Larry, now you’re contradicting yourself. You said in your first post: “Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar in particular have been very open about the connection between their religious beliefs and their policies on evolution education.” But now you say “they are not trying to push their religious beliefs in public schools.” Please make up your mind. Meanwhile, we will continue to focus on the facts.

  20. Posted December 17, 2008 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    TFN said (December 16, 2008 at 7:43 pm) —
    –You’re wrong, Larry. McLeroy and the rest of that crew have repeatedly said — at board meetings and in the press — that they are not trying to push their religious beliefs here. —

    It is true that they are not trying to push their religious beliefs in public schools — there is nothing about religion in the “strengths and weaknesses” language. And the Constitution’s establishment clause prevents them from pushing religion in the public schools. You are fighting windmills.

    jdg said (December 16, 2008 at 10:19 pm) —
    –Evolution is not dogmatic.–

    Teaching evolution without teaching the weaknesses or criticisms is dogmatic.

  21. jdg
    Posted December 16, 2008 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    TFN,
    Larry F is a creationist. Evolution is not dogmatic. Do you think Geometry, Genetics, Chemistry…etc is dogmatic?
    Religion is dogmatic.

  22. Posted December 16, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    You’re wrong, Larry. McLeroy and the rest of that crew have repeatedly said — at board meetings and in the press — that they are not trying to push their religious beliefs here. In fact, they have sounded downright angry at times in their denials. Here, for example, is what McLeroy said to the Associated Press in October: “I’m getting sick and tired of people saying we’re interjecting religion. We’re certainly not interjecting religion. Not at all.” What we posted is a demonstrably true statement. But, as we also show, they can’t wish away all the other statements they’ve made that contradict what they now want people to believe. (The link to the AP story is here: http://www.theeagle.com/texas/Scientists-say-they-re-fighting-religious-teaching-in-schools.)

  23. Posted December 16, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    The original post says,
    –Creationsists on the Texas State Board of Education have been tying themselves in knots trying to persuade folks that their attacks on evolution in the public school science curriculum have nothing to do with their religious beliefs. —

    Wrong. Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar in particular have been very open about the connection between their religious beliefs and their policies on evolution education — too open, IMO. Their openness about that connection has hurt the campaign against dogmatic teaching of evolution.

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