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

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.

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

  1. Great column, Dan. I was in the hearing room when McLeroy gave his bizarre presentation. Many people present were astounded that Don wanted the biology materials to be adopted as written. I reviewed them as well and they are excellent, so I’m happy Don agrees with me.

    I covered Don McLeroy in my live blog, too, on Texas Theocracy Watch (yes, I know, it’s name is not as prestigious as TFN Insider, but that’s the blog I was given, and the name is certainly appropriate; in fact, almost every column on TFN Insider would fit nicely under it; that, unfortunately, tells us a lot about the political problems in Texas). Since evolutionary paleontology is my area of scientific expertise, I intend to look more closely into Don’s claims that are described above by TFN. If I can write my own blog columns on TTW, I won’t have to write long comments here anymore.

  2. Perhaps McLeroy is demonstrating a variant on “sour grapes” — he’s had to swallow some of the grapes, so they must be sweet?

    Serious discussion of the actual mathematics of complexity theory (as opposed to the nonsense of Dembski) requires material that is not part of any state’s core K-12 math curriculum. The only exposure would be in the non-core Computer Science curricula; however, even there the national AP CS no longer requires coverage of theory of computation topics, and the TEKS coverage of computers appears to omit even the concept of a Turing Machine. Of those states which do have additional standards (EG: Georgia standard BCS-IP-12), they touch only on the topics in the most basic manner. Coverage of the material involved to a depth sufficient to discuss “biological complexity” being “acquired” is typically a one-semester second or third year college course in CS or math, seldom taken by anyone other than CS majors/minors. While I’d be ecstatic if the math curriculum could be modified to include enough of this so that 9th grade biology students would be able to at least recognize it, I think this would require a radical restructuring of the mathematics program, even more profound than the “New Math” program of the 1960s and 1970s. As that is largely regarded as a failure (aside from that fraction of children subjected to it who found no difficulty with it — we still wonder what the fuss is) and loathed by conservatives, there seems no prospect for it.

    Punctuated equilibrium, on the other hand, merely requires calculus to derive, and the logistic curve formula describing it seems merely Algebra II material. However, TEKS does not seem to introduce it until “Advanced Quantitative Reasoning”, if I’ve found the right standards. Introducing material to address this topic in Biology might be practical and even desirable… but would probably need to wait for the next revision of the science standards, and possibly a tweak of the math standards as well.

    But this topic is a bit of a bee in my bonnet. Sane people probably won’t consider the topic important enough for even the latter changes.

  3. @abb3W, Steven & Charles. Soldier on, gang. After reading this post several times I could only conclude that Don M. has twisted himself into a pretzel of contradictions. My sincere hope is that the publishers are not fooled. On another note, it is becoming more apparent that schools won’t need to buy hard-copy text books of any kind — in the near future — students will use tablets, pads laptops, whatever, instead of packing heavy books in their backpacks. School districts will most likely be paying license fees. The trick will be getting E-tools in the hands of all students who need them.

    1. Hi Rubin. I think you are right. The way to approach this would be for science guys like us to develop excellent evolution teaching lessons (grade-level targeted)in cheap CD and DVD format and distribute them like candy to K-12 kids for free like the Gideons do their Bibles—only our materal would not be illegal in the school systems. Both of my kids are computer freaks, and they eat this sort of stuff up like candy in their spare time. If the tobacco industry can make grape-flavored cigars targeted at kids, we could easily do the same with evolution education CDs and DVDs for computers, tablets, whatever. Go to a convenience store, buy the kid a Coca-Cola, a candy bar, and hey—that candy bar comes with a free evolution education CD. This is your lucky day!!!

      “Them things theyz ones is a thinkin’, and a doin’, and a sayin’, why hits jist awful.”

      1. Suggesting distributing it via CD and DVD shows your age. To reach the correct target audience, I suspect free eBook downloads and free iOS/Android Apps would be better.

        1. Checking the iOS store, there’s at least one free “Evolutionary Biology” App. Of course, there’s also a free App from Answers in Genesis….

  4. Indeed McLeroy’s argument is disingenuous and dishonest. Since he cannot attack the theory directly and cannot stop it from being taught he is taking a new approach: Teach it. The student will find out how weak it is.

    Ok. That’s good. But science textbooks do not always present all the evidence there is to support a particular point. What is important for the student is the jist of the idea, the principle, the law.

    For example, (if indeed that is being taught) when we say the planets around the sun formed from the remnants of the blowing up of other stars and the remnants of the debris from the big bang, the evidence isn’t actually provided in the textbooks — at any level or grade. In fact, scientists are just beginning to test these complex models, and it would several years or decades before systematic evidence for this will be available to anyone. Even then it would be too complex for all the evidence to be provided in the textbook.

    There are umteen number of subjects and topics of science that are taught in schools that fall into such category. But when it comes to evolution, we know why suddenly these guys pick up the arms.

    So, McLeroy is basically conceding. Let him go back to his folks and tell them that conceding on this is the best valid way forward for them.

    1. Well, actually, I think the most important things to teach them are that:

      1) The Earth is way-y-y-y-y-y-y-y older than 5,000 years.

      2) Teach them about uniformitarianism in geology and the law of superposition.

      3) Teach them some historical geology.

      4) Teach them about how evolution really works over time.

      5) Teach them that biological death has been on Earth for at least 600,000,000 years and probably a lot longer at the single-cell level of developement.

      6) Teach them that the Garden of Eden could not have been near the Tigris and Euphrates because man originated in Africa.

      7) Teach them that a worldwide flood like Noah’s would have left unmistakable remains in the geological record.

      8) Teach them that clams who attach themselves to things near the ocean bottoms and feed by siphoning do not suddenly swim up to the tops of mountains in worldwide floods anymore than humans would have a barb-b-q party on the ocean floor without scuba gear.

      9) Teach them about human evolution and use the fossil casts to do it—great transitional stuff there.

  5. Yeah, it pretty much has to be face-saving bravado with Mac.
    I mean, it would be another thing if he were a brilliant and data-driven researcher wading up mainstream science, but of course, he’s not. He’s weak in those attributes. The irony is that he’s also apparently very weak in his faith, threatened by evolution enough to defend his god’s inability to master it to achieve observed diversity.

  6. Yeah, it pretty much has to be face-saving bravado with Mac.
    I mean, it would be another thing if he were a brilliant and data-driven researcher wading up mainstream science, but of course, he’s not. He’s weak in those attributes. The irony is that he’s also apparently very weak in his faith, threatened by evolution enough to defend his god’s inability to master it to achieve observed diversity.

    Gotta go feed my cat-dog.

  7. Don McElroy said: “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.”

    It appears that he is talking about endosymbiosis. That is a strange example to choose, because the endosymbiotic origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts is one of the best understood cases of organelle formation that we have.

    The empirical evidence is particularly clear and straightforward, although the vocabulary that is used may seem forbidding at first. However, it is a topic that would be routinely covered in a typical high school Advanced Placement course in biology.

    Let’s quickly run through the evidence (observed data):

    1) mitochondria and chloroplasts are not found in prokaryotic (bacterial) cells, although bacterial cells carry out all the metabolic activities that occur in mitochondria and chloroplasts.

    2) mitochondria and chloroplasts occur only in eukaryotic cells – that is, cells that also possess nuclei. Such cells include animal cells, fungal cells, and plant cells. Mitochondria are found in all these eukaryotic cell types; chloroplasts are found only in photosynthetic eukaryotic cells, that is in plant cells and other more primitive groups such as algae, some dinoflagellates, etc.

    3) mitochondria and chloroplasts are not observed to arise de novo in each cell, but instead are passed on from parent cell to offspring cell. In other words, before any eukaryotic cell divides, the mitochondria (and c’plasts, if the cell has them) undergo division on their own. The number of mitoc’s and c’plasts double in a host cell just before division and are then distributed to the offspring cells. Interestingly, in c’plasts, this organelle division is driven by a peculiar family of proteins known as the FtsZ proteins that are not otherwise found in eukaryotic cells, but are commonly found in bacterial cells, where they control cell division. In other words, c’plasts use a bacterial molecular mechanism to divide and reproduce.

    4) both mitoc’s & c’plasts possess their own chromosomes (carriers of genetic information) and ribosomes (where protein molecules are assembled, following instructions from the genetic material). But the structures of these organellar chromosomes and ribosomes are like those in bacterial cells, and very UNlike the structures of c’somes and r’somes found in the remainder of the eukaryotic cell.

    5) compared to other eukaryotic organelles, mitoc’s and c’plasts are somewhat unusual in possessing TWO surrounding membranes. If these membranes are carefully isolated and their molecular composition analyzed, it is seen that that the outer membrane (the one in contact with the host cell cytoplasm) resembles other eukaryotic membranes. But the inner membrane has molecular features similar to bacterial membranes.

    6) in some primitive algae (the Glaucophytes) the c’plasts are unusual in containing an additional layer of material between the inner and outer membranes of the organelle. If this additional layer is isolated and analyzed, it turns it to be made of peptidoglycan (PG). PG is not ordinarily found in eukaryotic cells, but it is almost universally present in bacterial cells, where it forms the outermost layer of the cell, termed the cell wall.

    There are thus a number of lines of evidence pointing to the conclusion that in ancient geological time, certain bacterial cells were engulfed (“swallowed” in McElroy’s phrase) by a larger cell, probably as food, and originally enclosed within a food vacuole. But rather than being digested, the bacterial cells survived inside the host cell, and took up more or less independent existence as cooperating partners in a mutually beneficial association, thus being termed endosymbionts.

    7) this interpretation is strengthened by the fact that we can observe this engulfment-and-survival-inside-a-host process going on today. In several species of corals, and in some species of mollusks, photosynthetic cells are taken up by a eukaryotic host cell, as a food particle would be taken up. But rather than being digested, the engulfed algal cell persists inside the host cell, protected from the harsh outside environment, and leaking photosynthetically-produced sugars into the host cell’s cytoplasm — thus demonstrating by direct current observation that such events can occur.

    In other words, a number of observations, independent of each other, can all be understood within a single explanatory model. This sort of explanatory model that makes sense of a wide variety of disparate data, is regarded as especially useful and elegant in science.

    Of course, it can always be argued that all these observed features are unrelated to each other, that they arose independently, or were produced by a Supernatural Molecular Engineer (SME or “It”) who merely wanted them to be that way, or who wanted to deliberately mislead human observers, or just didn’t have time to tidy up loose ends. And there is very little one can say to refute that interpretation — after all, “It” can do whatever it wishes – It is supernatural after all. But to reject a consistent, logical explanatory model that allows humans to make sense of the world, in favor of a whimsical SME, amounts to a rejection of the whole idea of science. Why McElroy chose this example is not clear to me.

    1. phrynosomatx: Thanks very much for the explanation. We were wondering just what in the world he was talking about. It appears that he didn’t know either.

    2. Thank you Dan & phrynosomatx: Biological science is fascinating and also hard work. Don Mac tried to BS all of us w/ obfuscation and we’re not falling for it. I’d never want him to work on my teeth!

  8. Little Lord McLeroy rides again! I don’t know what he expects for proof in high school books. I guess he would demand a derivation of orbital mechanics to demonstrate that the Earth rotates around the sun, but he may still think the Bible trumps the heliocentric model of the solar system.

  9. Don McLeroy is Napoleon…….
    I think he should write all this creationism stuff down, submit it to a peer reviewed journal, get it published and collect his Nobel prize…….
    Really.. Don…. Are you listening?
    Its your big chance !!

  10. Blame Rick Perry for this stupid lying ignorant ### having anything to do with the minds of children.