TFN Video: Don McLeroy’s Attack on Evolution

“I disagree with these experts. Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts that are… I don’t know why they’re doing it. They’re wonderful people.”

During today’s Texas State Board of Education debate over new public school science standards, board chairman Don McLeroy defended a measure challenging evolution and the concept of common descent specifically. Here’s the video clip:

Board members voted to strip from the standards a McLeroy measure that would have required science teachers to challenge specifically the concept of common descent. They then turned around and passed what they called a compromise amendment that does the same thing but with different language: “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data on sudden appearance and stasis and the sequential groups in the fossil record.” McLeroy had argued that such data disproves the concept of common descent and will demand that publishers say as much in new textbooks are adopted in 2011. He was later heard gushing to reporters: “Science has regained its luster.”

26 thoughts on “TFN Video: Don McLeroy’s Attack on Evolution

  1. Well. I actually feel pretty good about the outcome. The “weaknesses” language did not make it into the curriculum. Some other weird stuff did, and I am actually kind of glad it did for one good reason. If you can give an extremist of any kind enough “freeboard” to operate unchecked, they can pretty much be depended upon to hang themselves with their own extremeness. What does that mean? It means that theybecome increasingly more uncontrolled, bizarre, and rediculous in both their words and actions to the point where they lose all credibility with sensible people, and that usually kills them deader than Marley’s doornail inthe court of public opinion and in legal court. Without too much near term damage to its opposition, I think the Texas SBOE did just enough to tee-up their ball up for doing this. So, kick back, relax, and enjoy the show. I plan to sleep well tonight.

    As for actions against the Texas SBOE, that must occur in the civic realm for now. If you thought the actions this week were a travesty run by assorted clowns, be sure and contact your state representative and senator to express your displeasure.

    I would make one last statement here. Personally, and this is just my opinion, a great deal of what happened this week can be and must be laid at the feet of the Christian Neo-Fundamentalists who have run the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)since 1979 and the Christian Neo-Fundamentalists in the Baptist Convention of Texas. I refuse to believe that anything quite this nutty and malignant could have happened in Texas prior to 1979. If you are a Christian who is a sensible scientist or you are an ordinary intelligent Christian who thought this whole week’s escapade was a ridiculous circus that reflects badly on Texas and the Christian faith (WHICH IT DOES), please be sure and send a complaint to the leaders of these fine religious organizations—or better still—tell them that you and your family plan to start attending another church. I would recommend the United Methodist Church—where Jesus is still very much alive, real, and strong in the hearts of the people—but without all the really weirdo stuff that you saw this week on the Texas SBOE and that you see everyday at the fundie churches. My family and I left our local Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church nearly 20 years ago, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. And hey, SBC membership is down, baptisms are going down, and sensible Christians are fleeing it and other Christian Neo-Fundamentalist churches. You would only be part of a trend that is already well underway. But hey, if you are as smart as I think you are, you will do very well at finding that new church all on your own—without any input from me. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!!! Say hurrah for REAL SCIENCE!!!!

  2. “Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts.”

    Amen. We need more non-experts to stand up to experts, and speak belief to power.

    Seriously, Brisket Brain McLeroy, the Cambrian “explosion” (we would also accept “radiation” here) took around 80 million years.




  3. Maybe this is a golden opportunity to use their arguments against them. They claim to want to teach “more not less evolution.” Now bio textbooks can teach “creeps vs jerks” in h.s. biology! (ie gradualism vs punctuated equilibrium). It’s actually a very strong pro-evolution (common descent) argument because it shows that even WITH stasis that there are 2 explanations that make sense within an evolutionary context. One is that we don’t have the fossil evidence yet, and the other says that evoluution occurred so quickly that explains even more why the fossil evidence is more scarce. Frankly I think presenting these 2 theories would weaken the arguments for any ridiculous idea that evolution is a theory in crisis!

  4. My earlier prediction came true: there is still not a scrap of data refuting the evidence for evolution in peer-reviewed scientific research papers, there is no evidence to support “alternative” (read: creationist) explanations, and creationists continued to misunderstand and/or misrepresent science. No school board, legislature, executive body, or court can change it – that’s science!

    I need to review the final changes, but from what I’ve seen the worst of it got the axe, with the ironic exception of the amendment questioning the age of the Earth/universe. Even the Discovery Institute and old earth creationists (Reasons to Believe et al.) don’t push a 6,000-year-old universe – that is pure, Flintstones-as-documentary, Ken Ham, Liberty University style young earth creationism. Good luck finding a high school science textbook that takes that seriously. Yabba dabba doo! 😉

  5. Thanks, McLeroy Fails The Cambrian, you said what I wanted to stay.

    Understanding how long 80 million years is — “complicated mathematics” in McLeroyLand.

  6. Cambrian…. head explodes. So much wrong in such a short space. Darwin didn’t get the idea of evolution from the fossil sequence, but from geographical relationships both in allied species and from the fossil mammals he found to the current inhabitants of the same area. Stasis isn’t a novelty, and Darwin showed a great example in ”On the Origin of Species” from the first edition onwards:

    “Species of different genera and classes have not changed at the same rate, or in the same degree. In the oldest tertiary beds a few living shells may still be found in the midst of a multitude of extinct forms…. The Silurian Lingula differs but little from the living species of this genus; whereas most of the other Silurian Molluscs and all the Crustaceans have changed greatly…. Whether.. variability be taken advantage of by natural selection… depends on many complex contingencies… Hence it is by no means surprising that one species should retain the same identical form much longer than others”.

    Lingula is among the few brachiopods surviving today but also known from fossils over 500 million years old.

  7. Don McLeroy’s scientific illiteracy / ignorance must not be forced upon a generation of Texas school children.

    What I find amusing and appalling about this is that the Dishonesty Institute’s pseudoscience of intelligent design creationism actually comes out looking like a moderate compromise! McLeroy and his fellow loons are good old-fashioned tent revival meeting Young Earth Creationists – not “pretend-we’re- doing-science-here” intelligent design creationists.

    And the “Intelligent Geology” of a 6,000-year-old earth and universe is just frosting on the cake. These people are nuts.

  8. <>

    I find it scary. IMHO, I think this is one of their goals….. throw the ‘wingiest’ of the wingnuts out there, let him get shot down, then slide the ‘kinder, gentler’ wording into the books, which is exactly how they’re trying to chip away at the Texas standards.

    Ironic how creationism is evolving.

  9. McLeroy says he believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. He rejects scientific explanations for global warming. He doesn’t believe in the Big Bang. He doesn’t even accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for the common ancestry of life. Why? There is zero scientific evidence to support his beliefs, and abundant scientific evidence to refute them. But he re-wrote the SCIENCE standards because his personal religious views were threatened. The changes he made were against the advice of every major science organization in the country. I was hired by the State Board of Education to advise on the science standards, but McLeroy would not even let me speak at the Board meeting at which he and other creationists re-wrote these standards and introduced all these anti-science amendments, despite the lack of expertise by members of the State Board of Education in science. It is no wonder that Texas educational standards in science are now the laughing stock of the country.

    Only two SBOE members, Mary Helen Berlanga and Rene Nuñez, consistently supported the standards as written by the science writing teams and reviewed by science experts. They should be strongly congratulated and thanked for supporting good science standards for the state of Texas. Five other members (Miller, Hardy. Knight, Craig, and Agosto) supported efforts to remove the worst of the proposed amendments by the anti-science members of the state board, but also supported substitute language that is not supported by any scientific evidence or organization. The standards were weakened as a result. And, of course, the rest of the SBOE (McLeroy, Cargill, Dubar, Leo, Lowe, Mercer, and Bradley) consistently supported all efforts and amendments to weaken the science standards. This latter group seems to be committed to introducing nonsense into Texas science classrooms.

  10. OK, folks — here are the needed responses to the new Texas science standards —

    (1) High-tech businesses should not come to Texas and those already in Texas should pull out.

    (2) High-tech businesses should not hire graduates of Texas public high schools.

    (3) Universities — including universities in Texas — should not admit graduates of Texas public high schools.

    (4) Scientific societies should boycott Texas by not holding conventions there.

    (5) Declare Texas to be the laughingstock of the world.

    Let’s make all those dire predictions of harm to the economy and students self-fulfilling.

  11. Sorry. You may have received a garbled message from me earlier. Just want to say how proud I am of the TFN (even though I am from Massachusetts!) for its vigilance in keeping us up to date the Christian Right’s ongoing campaign against Darwin. I’m spending a sabbatical semester learning about the Creationist/ID movement in America. It is alarming to think that McLeroy is so woefully ignorant of the state of scientific knowledge on the matter. Having just finished reading Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker (written in 1996!) I find it mind-boggling to think that McLeroy could still be under the impression that Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of punctuated evolution contradicts or refutes Darwin! Dawkins and others have written volumes on this and other alleged “flaws” in Darwinian theory.

    Don’t these guys evince ANY curiosity to read what the “experts” have to day before condemning them?
    It’s interesting that evolution seems to be the one topic on which school board members feel qualified to comment as if they WERE experts while simultaneously attacking expertise. Let’s face it. They profess concern that science teachers are not exposing students to
    adequate information on the subject of evolution while remaining willfully and negligently ignorant on the subject themselves.


  12. I left out Allen from my list of SBOE members….he was part of the group that resisted the worst of the anti-science amendments, but who supported substitute amendments that weakened the science standards.

  13. It is often said that watching legislation being made is like watching sausage being made: not a pretty sight. In the case of the Texas science standards being re-written by the State Board of Education, it was like watching sausage being made by a committee made up mostly of people who (1) had never seen a sausage, (2) thought eating sausage was immoral, and (3) doubted the existence of sausage. And they refused to consult with any sausage experts, because they didn’t want to make good sausage in the first place.

  14. I agree with Wendee Holtcamp. I believe that allowing “alternative” explanations like the creationists want is one good way to counter them. Give them what they want but not in the way they want it. Teach SCIENTIFIC alternatives such as gradualism vs. punctuated equilibrium, allopatric speciation vs. sympatric speciation, neutralism vs. selection (aka the various roles of natural selection, sexual selection, & genetic drift in speciation). These would have to be done on a grade-appropriate level, of course.

    And Charles is right about this compromise giving them just enough rope to hang themselves.

  15. It was gratifying to hear McElroy’s rambling, repetitive, confused words on the Utube transcript. Not gratifying because of his correctness or erudition, but rather because he demonstrates his own ignorance and almost medieval adherence to personal beliefs. He may be a wonderful dentist and a good person, but he is not qualified to debate evolution or have a great impact in our classrooms. To suggest that the the proper study and understanding of evolution requires no mathematics, that it is “reasonable” nature of the fossil record that is the major support of evolution, that organisms in the fossil record pop up and go unchanged, to suggest that a Time magazine cover holds any credibility, to suggest that Gould’s stasis statements are to the contrary, to do all these things is ludicrous; his statements are misleading, only half-truths. There are weaknesses in evolutionary theory; details that beg further questions, but they do not denigrate the entire concept.

    Thank you for giving us a chance to hear, in his own words and voice, how deranged, how confused, Mr McElroy is. May he please return to his own dentistry profession and leave the education of our youth to those who have skills and knowledge to do so.

  16. There is a great need in our country to convey science to the masses. Stephen Gould was one of the great writers that make great strides in doing so. In his highly erudite monthly essays in Natural History magazine this paragon of science outreach dealt with many scientific topics, including his understanding of evolution. How many school teachers, administrators, SBOE members have read these timeless essays, now nearly all published in book form? I daresay very few. How many of these same people, those who teach our children, read the weekly science journals Science and Nature, that have come to contain excellent “layperson” interpretations of the science of the week? I daresay very few. As a retired scientist I find it sickening that not just the general public, but even our teachers’ only contact with science comes from the local newspaper or from a popular news magazine such as Time or Newsweek (needless to say, good, but insufficient).

    If you are familiar with the works I mentioned, congratulations! If not, you need to head down to the nearest library a do some reading. Lots of it. Mr McElroy, and the rest of the SBOE, this includes you.

  17. I believe this is a golden chance for TFN to print and provide to the science teachers of Texas, a booklet giving solid answers to those questions that will be asked by the creationist-oriented students in their classes. The SBOE seems to be stuck on fossils and the fossil record. What about the wealth of information available from sequential protein analysis of the hemoblogins, myoglobins, cytrochromes. etc. that show large amounts of homology between species? Add to that the DNA analyses that show that the human genome has many areas of homology with species that evolved well before humankind came on the scene. If the SBOE wants students to question evolution, let them also question creationism and show them how wanting is the explanation – “because God ordained it”. Wen

  18. To be fair to Lawrence Allen, he did indeed introduce moves to strike out the most problematic amendments, and in general provided strong support for a pro-science set of standards. In the end, he voted for the weakened document, but he did do a great deal to keep the document from being weaker, and for that he certainly deserves credit. I think Knight also tried to do her best to support science, but I think it was difficult for her since she had to be present only by video, and had no opportunity to even talk to science experts.

  19. It’s easy to agree and create alternate truths, or promote lies, when all your “peers” “believe” the same lies. A bully surrounded by his “peers” picking on the little guy…does this make the little guy wrong? No it just makes evolutionary scientists and their supporters bullies.

  20. At the risk of being labelled an “elitist” or “expert” by McLeroy, periods of stasis in the fossil record are no problem for Darwinian evolution. As Darwin noted in Chapter 10 of *On the Origin of Species*:
    “It is a more important consideration, leading to the same result, as lately insisted on by Dr. Falconer, namely, that the period during which each species underwent modification, though long as measured by years, was probably short in comparison with that during which it remained without undergoing any change.”

    Given Terri Leo’s out-of-context quotes of Darwin in board meetings (I recall her use of one regarding the eye) and McLeroy’s distortions of Gould’s work, it is clear that the creationists have no intention of overcoming their ignorance, but expect their audience to have the same level of ignorance. These are not people that need to be directing the education of the children of Texas.

    Another example of McLeroy’s apparently deliberate ignorance:

    “Darwin’s critics are likewise highly qualified; they include the founder of the fields of paleontology and comparative anatomy-Cuvier and modern taxonomy-Linnaeus.” – Don McLeroy, current Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, attacking Charles Darwin’s concept of common descent, at

    McLeroy is engaging in some historical revisionism with that assertion. Here’s some information he seems to have overlooked:
    Carolus Linnaeus (born May 23 [New Style] 1707 – died January 10, 1778)
    Georges Cuvier (born August 23, 1769 – died May 13, 1832)
    Charles Darwin (born 12 February 1809 – died 19 April 1882)

    McLeroy must believe that someone had a seance with Linnaeus for the taxonomist to have been a critic of Charles Darwin, given that Linnaeus died before Charles Darwin was born.

    While Cuvier’s latter life overlapped with Darwin’s early life, Cuvier died a few years before Darwin had his insight about common descent, and long before Darwin published his first peer-reviewed paper on evolution or any of his books.

    The creationists on the Texas State Board of Education seem to be Dumb and “Dunbar” – not that those are mutually exclusive.

  21. I think this is a good opportunity to teach high school students about the nature of science, how to think critically, and what makes creationism and other forms of pseudoscience bogus. As other commenters have said, maybe the creationists now have enough rope to hang themselves. And keep up the good work, Texas Freedom Network and Texas Citizens for Science.

  22. I think teaching critical thinking is so important. But so is teaching humility and restraint.

    Scientists think their big thing is skepticism, but that is an imperfect tool. Scientific method warns against bias, but skepticism contains the very potent bias of “doubt.” Splitting hairs? Not really. Look at skepticism when it becomes self-indulgent ridicule (full of subjective opinion); and this has made the news often enough — scientists ridiculing each other.

    By the same token, believers should practice more humility, too. Any contention with science is likely based on a poor interpretation of scripture. And it takes humility to find answers (in both science and religion).

    New biblical research has turned up a biblical timeline compatible with those of science. Imagine that. Perhaps we no longer need a rift between science and religion.