Don McLeroy's Strange Testimony on Texas Science Textbooks: 'Support the Bible, and Adopt These Books'

by Dan Quinn

In something of a tour de farce, on Tuesday arch-creationist and former State Board of Education chairman Don McLeroy returned to the same state board meeting room in which he led efforts to rewrite science curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2008-09. Those controversial standards, he hoped, would “strike a blow” against evolution in science education and, in particular, in new science textbooks that publishers would subsequently write. (Please excuse the periodic but short video blackouts in the clip above.)

Speaking at the SBOE’s public hearing on the proposed new science textbooks publishers submitted for approval in April, McLeroy — who lost a re-election bid in 2010 — launched into one of the most bizarre arguments we heard throughout the day. Before and after he spoke, creationists sharply criticized the textbooks for failing to include their discredited arguments attacking evolution. But not McLeroy. The College Station dentist insisted that the SBOE should actually adopt the textbooks because, he said repeatedly and emphatically, the evidence supporting evolution in those books is “weak”:

“Ironically, evolutionists argue that creationists want to force their religious views on the texts. But just the teaching of biology does that, and teaching evolution demonstrates that’s not how God did it. Since true, testable science trumps dogmatism, strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution. Support the Bible, and adopt these books.”

McLeroy spent much of his time claiming that the textbooks fail to show how evolution accounts for the complexity of the cell and “sudden appearance and stasis” in the fossil record:

“They’re weak! In the fossil record, they discuss sudden appearance and stasis where they try to explain it. One publisher didn’t even deal with it. They ignore it…. The ones that do talk about punctuated equilibrium. Well, that was an idea to try to get around the idea that the fossil record does not support evolution. And then if you look at the complexity of the cell, they talk about one cell swallows another cell and somehow acquires the, that cell that gets swallowed up then becomes a chloroplast, becomes a nucleus, becomes a mitochondria. That’s weak! They have no evidence how it did it.”

Back in 2009, McLeroy had succeeded in inserting into the standards specific requirements about students evaluating the fossil record and the complexity of the cell, both of which are the basis of some of the biggest (and discredited) arguments creationists make in attacking evolution. On Tuesday he called those requirements “jewels” that would help “destroy” evolution:

“The evolutionists predicted, ‘oh, this has a chance for us to show the robustness of evolutionary theory.’ I predicted I can’t wait for these books to come out. I’ve been waiting for four-and-a-half years. It’s four-and-a-half years later, the books are out. Let the students, the inquisitive students, the ones that are not blind, look at the evidence in these books. They don’t even give a hint to explain the complexity. They have to explain the origin of everything else in the book. This is awesome. Let’s get these books to the kids. Let ‘em see it. Let that little young student in the classroom say, ‘Is this all the evidence that they can give?’ That’s why I think it will strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution, and this could be the final blow. I’m really, I’m excited. Put those books in there. I don’t like the dogmatism about the books. But I like the fact that we’ve exposed, we’ve painted them into a corner, and they have no evidence in those books that support evolution. Adopt them. I’m serious.”

Actually, according to science scholars at the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the proposed biology textbooks do a fine job in explaining and supporting the science of evolution. Perhaps McLeroy simply recognizes his failure to force publishers to include creationist arguments attacking evolution in their textbooks and is looking for a way to claim “victory” anyway.

But McLeroy’s testimony was valuable in the sense that it exposed, once and for all, just how disingenuous he and other anti-evolution activists were during the debate over the science curriculum standards in 2009. At the time, McLeroy and his allies on the state board insisted they weren’t trying to insert their religious beliefs into the standards and the new textbooks that would follow. On Tuesday, McLeroy said this about his (inaccurate) contention that the new textbooks fail to show how the fossil record and the complexity of the cell support evolution:

“I’m just hoping that a young creationist … will sit there and say, ‘Look, is this all the evidence they have? Well, maybe God didn’t use evolution to do it.'”

No, they weren’t trying to insert religion into science classrooms back in 2009. They know the courts wouldn’t permit it. So McLeroy grabbed for what they saw as their best alternative: try to force teachers and textbooks to lie to students and confuse them about what the science really shows about evolution. We said so at the time, and it’s clear now that we were right.

But publishers refused to lie in the textbooks they submitted in April. The question is whether they will bow to pressure from anti-evolution fanatics on the review teams and the SBOE to revise their textbooks before the board votes on adoption in November.