Texas: Don McLeroy and the Sadly Neglected Ninth Commandment

In Texas, Don McLeroy now heads up the state board of education. He recently sent a letter to the Dallas Morning News.

Re: “Teaching of evolution to go under microscope – With science director out, sides set to fight over state’s curriculum,” Thursday news story.

What do you teach in science class? You teach science. What do you teach in Sunday school class? You teach your faith.

Thus, in your story it is important to remember that some of my quoted comments were made in a 2005 Sunday school class. The story does accurately represent that I am a Christian and that my faith in God is something that I take very seriously. My Christian convictions are shared by many people.

Given these religious convictions, I would like to clarify any impression one may make from the article about my motivation for questioning evolution. My focus is on the empirical evidence and the scientific interpretations of that evidence. In science class, there is no place for dogma and “sacred cows;” no subject should be “untouchable” as to its scientific merits or shortcomings. My motivation is good science and a well-trained, scientifically literate student.

What can stop science is an irrefutable preconception. Anytime you attempt to limit possible explanations in science, it is then that you get your science stopper. In science class, it is important to remember that the consensus of a conviction does not determine whether it is true or false. In science class, you teach science.

Don McLeroy, chair, State Board of Education, College Station

The problem at basis is that McLeroy’s talk given in his Sunday school class was aimed directly at affecting the content of the public high school curriculum that McLeroy has a secular responsibility for now. He was not simply “teaching his faith”, as he falsely represents in the above letter. We know this because we can read the transcript of his Sunday school talk. Here is McLeroy doing more than “teaching his faith”:

Neo-Darwinism is another description term for just evolution, common descent that talks about genetic variability so it gets it more precise. And is that the target? It’s not supported by evidence, it’s not Biblical, so that must be the target of intelligent design, but really it’s not the main target either.

McLeroy demonstrates vividly that ignorance is the thing that he is a champion of. The fact that a person who knows so little of what is in the scientific literature has any power at all to influence the science curriculum should give anyone pause, but this ignoramus is right at the pinnacle of the education bureaucracy in Texas.

And the policy fight in the secular side of things is exactly what McLeroy is discussing with his Sunday school class.

OK, thank you. Everybody has made some really good comments. I’d like to make one final observation just from my experience and the Texas State Board of Education. Is, we weren’t about to convince any scientists, but we couldn’t convince fellow board members that these books should have evidence. And the more I look back on it, I believe if we would have challenged the naturalistic assumptions that nature is all there is with our fellow board members and challenged these people that were talking about it, a little bit – that brought up testimony – possibly we would have gotten a few more votes because a lot of these dear friends of mine on the State Board of Education are good, strong Christians that are active in Young Life and other activities – but they were able to totally not even worry about the fact that evolution’s assumption that nature is all there is is in total conflict with the way they live there life. So in that respect, it might also be effective. But one reason I brought this up is because in all the contemporary skirmishes today it is not even mentioned. It’s just not brought up. And I think you will bring religion and I like the statement that it brings in their religion. You know, so I said, well let’s bring it in there. They bring it in. They bring in all these pastors. It’s amazing. All these people who get up here and talk about it.

My summary is, uh, here are my points. We are not opposing un-intelligent people. They’re very smart, highly intellectual and very fine people. But they’ve been blinded from the truth. They’re living in this Matrix world. They do not claim Yahweh is God. They basically think they have made themselves. So we need to be prepared. We need to be smart. We need to train our minds.

Dr. McLeroy, I suggest that training your mind begin with Futuyma’s “Evolutionary Biology” to shed some of the ignorance that you apparently cherish. Then follow up with “Why Intelligent Design Fails” and “Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism”. Follow up by reading the US constitution. Finish with a thorough read of the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Right now, I’d say that you are looking to play Bill Buckingham, a witness the judge directly says wasn’t telling the truth, in a reprise of that lawsuit. You might as well get a head-start on seeing what awaits you.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

3 thoughts on “Texas: Don McLeroy and the Sadly Neglected Ninth Commandment

  • 2007/12/22 at 8:38 am
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    McLeroy says:

    “…no subject should be “untouchable” as to its scientific merits or shortcomings.”

    I’m sure we all agree to that. And indeed, in chemistry class we explored the obsolete models of the atom, and how they were replaced by better ones. Since the testable (& mutually contradictory) claims of classic creationism can easily be phrased in “secular” (designer-free) terms, then McLeroy should be amenable to a neat dismantling of them. And to a neat dismantling of the sought and/or fabricated “weaknesses” of evolution that ID ripped off from classic creationism. Especially since all of that can be accomplished without the cherry picking, baiting-and-switching of definitions and concepts, and quote-mining that is required to “critically analyze” evolution.

    Yet, strangely, I have never heard an anti-evolution activist demand that.

  • 2007/12/22 at 11:03 am
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    The unfortunate fact is that about 30% of science teachers in the public schools would be happy to take any opportunity at all to teach “intelligent design” or other forms of creationism in a credulous rather than critical fashion. I don’t know how many percent would overstep in the other direction, injecting pronouncements on religion being bad, but I’m sure that’s non-zero, too.

    I think that civics courses are an appropriate place to bring up populist movements like “intelligent design” creationism, and how that seeks to privilege particular sectarian views that have failed to demonstrate accountability in the field of interest, as IDC has consistently failed to produce anything of scientific worth.

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