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Creationism reappears in Texas


Of course, it never really disappeared, as Michael Zimmerman notes in an article in the Huffington Post this past week.

I will not go into detail, but according to Professor Zimmerman, a committee of the Texas State Board of Education had voted 6-2 to remove four standards that had been added in 2009, more or less at the last minute. Suffice it to say that the standards had been supported by Don McLeroy when he was chairman of the SBOE, and the two dissenting votes were by the creationists who, Professor Zimmerman says, were “added” to the current committee.

Now, things get nasty. The committee is not scheduled to present its recommendations to the full Board until November. Nevertheless, Ray Bohlin, one of the two dissenting committee members and vice-president of something known as Probe Ministries, attacked the committee’s recommendation at a recent Board meeting. No one else from the committee had attended the Board meeting, so the Board received an unscheduled and “one-sided perspective on the four anti-science, politically driven standards.”

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, wrote to the SBOE (as quoted by Professor Zimmerman), complaining that “a number of state board members seemed willing to call into question [the committee’s] objectivity and professionalism based on hearsay from one individual.… Some board members even suggested that the panelists somehow want to prevent students from asking questions.”

It is distressing, then, that Mr. Bohlin in effect went over the head of the committee and directly to the board, and, perhaps more importantly, that some of the Board were sympathetic to his position. Though Don McLeroy lost his position as chairman of the SBOE, I am afraid Texas and we are by no means done with creationist attacks on the schools.

The Washington Post reported the other day that Justice Antonin Scalia, in a commencement address, said,

Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.

I suppose that “at least 5000 years” gives you some wiggle room, but I would hardly call, say, 200,000 years “at least 5000 years.” That is a bit like saying, “The trip from Boulder to New York is at least 20 kilometers.”

Jerry Coyne, who is much nicer than I am, thinks that it might have been “just an offhand remark that’s been blown out of proportion.” Well, maybe, but I watched most of the speech on Professor Coyne’s website, and I could not help but notice that Justice Scalia was reading that text: he did not misspeak.

Justice Scalia dissented in Edwards vs. Aguillar, but he seemed more concerned with whether the legislature intended creation “science” as a religious doctrine than with its scientific merit. He also supported the “balanced treatment” argument to the effect that students who learn evolution are entitled to the opposing view as well. His argument was well reasoned but depended on the assumption that creation science is not a religious doctrine if its supporters think it is not.

Contrary to some reports, Justice Scalia did not say, “The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution”; rather, he was paraphrasing the testimony of witnesses and states explicitly “that I by no means intend to endorse its accuracy” but that “what is crucial is not [the legislature’s] wisdom in believing that [a certain secular] purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be” [italics in original].

Still, Justice Scalia generally comes across as an authoritarian, uncomfortable with ambiguity and guided by literalist interpretations. If he takes the Bible as literally as he takes the Constitution, then it is easy to see that he might well believe in a young Earth. I hope I am wrong and Professor Coyne is right.

Anyone who relies on the Supreme Court to guarantee that creationism will not be taught in public school or that the Ark Park’s threatened lawsuit will necessarily fail might want to read an article by Erwin Chemerinsky in the January 1 issue of The Washington Spectator. In that article, which I take to be a longish abstract of his book, Chemerinsky argues that the Court has generally not lived up to its “lofty expectations” and indeed has more often “upheld discrimination and even egregious violations of basic liberties.” The Chemerinsky article does not appear on the Spectator website, so I will abstract it very briefly below the fold.
Update, January 5, 2015. The article is now available here, so you may read it for yourself and not take my word for what Chemerinsky says.

The Last Word on the Ark Park


The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority, in a unanimous vote, gave preliminary approval to $18 million in tax incentives for the Ark Park.

In what you might call an unusual piece of reverse evolution, Lawrence O’Donnell last night made a monkey of Ken Ham, Biblical literalists, and the Tourism Authority. The “tape” is 8 min long and worth every moment.

Unfortunately, it will not be the last word on the Ark Park.

Evolution Weekend


The Clergy Letter Project has announced the ninth annual Evolution Weekend, February 7-9, 2014. Their theme this year is Different Ways of Knowing/Asking Different Questions, and they say,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

They go on to note that many religious people recognize evolution as “sound science” and furthermore that “mischaracteriz[ing] evolution for partisan gain” has real (and I would add, uniformly negative) “consequences for society.” Read their statement for yourself, and by all means bug your clergyperson to address evolution from the pulpit or to develop some special program for that weekend – even if you have to prepare that program yourself! I certainly intend to bug my rabbi, who last year very graciously helped me put together a program on the trolley problem, and see what we can do this year.

Stephen Dilley’s new book, Darwinian Evolution And Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, is now available, at least on Kindle. Chapter 12 is by me; it’s entitled, somehwat dully, “Classical Liberalism And Evolution.” In it, I argue that evolution, far from undercutting the premises of classical liberalism, is at least compatible with them, and, as I think, provides a stronger foundation for them than any variety of creationism. But, as I contend at the outset, it doesn’t much matter, because evolution is true. So if it’s incompatible with libertarianism, then so much the worse for libertarianism.

Chapter 11 is by my friend Shawn Klein; it’s called, somewhat more interestingly, “Volitional Consciousness and Evolution.” Other contributors include Roger Masters and Michael J. White.

Bombings and biased samples


Jerry Coyne, over at Why Evolution is True, has a post up entitled “Islam apparently behind Boston bombing.” He writes,

The Revisionaries on PBS


A somewhat shortened version of the movie, The Revisionaries, will be shown on PBS Monday night at 10 Eastern Time. The Revisionaries is a documentary about attempts by the Texas State Board of Education to inject creationism into the school standards.

Here is what PBS says about the program:

Creationism bill in Colorado


Update, January 27: Phil Plait reports here that the bill almost certainly will not make it out of committee.

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy reports here on the latest creationism bill in Colorado. As always, the bill is disguised as an academic freedom bill but, as Plait says, questions evolution, cloning, and global warming and omits, say, religion and literature:

If this were really about academic freedom, why is it so specific? Why not include all fields of science, instead of just those three? In fact, why not include all academic fields? I’d be fascinated to see literature, art, and math added to that. Or religious study…how about supplementary texts that show the contradictions in the Bible? I wonder how that would go over. [Ellipsis in original.]

Me? I do not wonder at all.

Acknowledgement. Thanks to Mike Klymkowsky and James DeGregori for the link.


Well, this is interesting! Pseudo-historian David Barton, whom we last heard from here on the Thumb declaring that America’s Founding Fathers had considered evolution, and rejected it for creationism, has had his newest book examined and rejected by a group of conservative authors headed by the Discovery Institute’s Jay W. Richards.

From the New York Times Artsbeat blog for August 14, 2012:

Last month the History News Network voted David Barton’s book “The Jefferson Lies” the “least credible history book in print.” Now the book’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, has decided to stop publishing and distributing it.

The book, which argues that Thomas Jefferson was an enthusiastic orthodox Christian who saw no need for a wall of separation between church and state, has attracted plenty of criticism since it appeared in April, with an introduction by Glenn Beck. But the death knell came after Jay W. Richards, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author, with James Robison, of “Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family and Freedom Before It’s Too Late,” began to have doubts and started an investigation.

The Times blog refers to a detailed August 7th, 2012 article by Thomas Kidd at World Magazine, which notes

Richards says in recent months he has grown increasingly troubled about Barton’s writings, so he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess Barton’s work.

Their response was negative. Some examples: Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.”

More on the story in an August 10th report by Tim Murphy of Mother Jones, “The Right’s Favorite Historian Comes Apart at the Seams” :

Barton has turned the study of America’s Christian roots into a lucrative business, hawking books and video sermons, speaking at churches and political confabs, and scoring a fawning New York Times profile and interviews on the Daily Show. He’s got friends in high places: “I almost wish that there would be like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced–at gunpoint no less–to listen to every David Barton message,” Mike Huckabee told an Evangelical audience in March of 2011. “I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things,” Newt Gingrich told conservatives in Iowa that same month.

That’s probably because much of what David Barton writes seems to have originated in David Barton’s head.

On Thursday, Barton’s publisher announced that it was recalling Barton’s newest book, The Jefferson Lies, from stores and suspending publication because it had “lost confidence” in the book’s accuracy. That came one day after NPR published a scathing fact-check of Barton’s work, specifically his claim that passages of the Constitution were lifted verbatim from the Bible.

Wow. We know how much the Discovery Institute needs to feed on disinformation and polemics. That one of their leaders had to reject Barton’s book is a strong indication that the book must be really, really, really bad!


A reader, Dan Phelps, tells me, “Looks like the ‘fiscal conservative’ school board member is going to cost his district a lot of money.” See here, and stay tuned to a local newspaper near you.

As predictable as the sunrise, creationists are launching another round of the disgusting practice of trying to tie every mass murderer to Darwin and evolution, self-consistency and logic be damned. This time it’s about Brevik, the bomber and shooter in last Friday’s killings. We saw this at Uncommon Descent on Sunday (“Norway shooter a Darwinian terrorist?”) – itself relying on an article from the fundamentalist WorldNetDaily (“Terrorist proclaimed himself ‘Darwinian,’ not ‘Christian’”), and today from alleged scholar John West at the Discovery Institute (“Fundamentalist Christian or Deranged Social Darwinist?”).

West does the usual thing, word-searching Brevik’s 1500-page screed for the few references to Darwin, and brazenly playing down the hundreds of references to Christianity and God and the Templars and Christian holy war against Islam. These are just brushed off by West. West pretends that Brevik calls himself a “Christian atheist” through pretty optimistic (optimistic from West’s perspective) readings of some Brevik passages, which completely ignores the various quite direct references that Brevik makes towards his own belief in God. Here’s West:

The New Scientist reported yesterday that U. S. Muslim clergy have signed an Imam Letter to the effect that evolution is compatible with their Muslim beliefs. I cannot find any information yet as to the number of signatories, but they will join approximately 13,000 Christian clerics, 500 rabbis, and 250 Unitarian-Universalist clerics when they affirm

that the timeless truths of the Qur’an may comfortably coexist with the discoveries of modern science. As Imams we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth

After watching an episode of the Jon Stewart show, a frustrated Chris Rodda has decided to make her book Liars for Jesus available free as a pdf file. Ms. Rodda is senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which I recently discussed here.

Stuck in moderation at Coyne’s place


Apropos of Matt’s post just below, in a post titled “NCSE becomes BioLogos” Jerry Coyne has thrown a hissy fit over NCSE noting the upcoming Webcast on ‘Evolving Christianity’ featuring a number of theists of varying stripes speaking on how they accommodate their theism and science in general and evolution in particular.

I commented on Coyne’s site more than five hours ago but my comment is still labeled (after hard refreshes) as “Awaiting moderation” while several comments posted later than mine have appeared. So I’ll reproduce my comment below the fold, warts and all.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Thomas Ratliff has narrowly defeated Don McLeroy in the Republican primary race for Texas State Board of Education. McLeroy is the right-wing extremist who wants to doctor the state science standards so they reflect his own disbelief in the theory of evolution. Since there is no Democratic candidate, Ratliff will automatically assume McLeroy’s seat.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Ratliff had received the support of “mainstream public education groups” and quotes him as saying, “I want to take politics out of our public schools,” and added that Ratliff

told gatherings across the district that Texans are tired of political posturing on the board as the social conservative [sic] bloc – led by McLeroy – tries to impose its views in history, science and other areas of the curriculum.

“Our kids don’t go to red schools. They don’t go to blue schools. They go to local schools,” he said, also criticizing attempts by some board members to inject their religious beliefs into what children are taught.

The News reports further that McLeroy was “unapologetic about the actions of the social conservatives” and bragged about the “incredible accomplishments that will help our children.”

Thanks to a commenter known to me only as Aagcobb for the tip.

This is slightly off-topic and will reveal that I sometimes read Parade magazine, but readers of Parade recently voted “No” by a ratio of approximately 4 to1.

Lunacy From Campolo

Writing in Christian Today, Tony Campolo unloads the familiar creationist cliches about what a big racist Charles Darwin was.

Campolo is something of a celebrity on the evangelical left, you might recall that he was a spiritual advisor to President Clinton, which makes this essay especially disappointing. In the past I have tended to view him as an island of reason in what often seems like an ocean of evangelical narrow-mindedness. To see him casually repeat a pile of hoary old smears and vile falsehoods about Darwin and his work is rather depressing, to put it mildly.

Anyway, I ponder the grim details over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there.

As everyone knows by now, President-Elect Barack Obama has chosen his “friend” Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Mr. Warren is not just opposed to marriage between homosexuals, but is also an evolution denier. According to The New York Times, Mr. Obama defended his choice with these words:

That’s part of the magic of this country, is [sic] that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated [sic]. That’s hopefully going to be a spirit that carries over into my administration.

Mr. Warren’s position on marriage between homosexuals is now widely known, but according to Sarah Posner, writing in The Nation magazine, Warren is also a creationist:

Warren, a creationist, believes that homosexuality disproves evolution; he told CNN’s Larry King in 2005, “If Darwin was right, which is survival of the fittest[,] then homosexuality would be a recessive gene because it doesn’t reproduce and you would think that over thousands of years that [sic] homosexuality would work itself out of the gene pool.”

Sic, sic, sic. I’ll grant that appointing a creationist to give the invocation is not exactly the same as appointing him science adviser, but if it represents the “spirit” of Mr. Obama’s administration, then I am not, shall we say, optimistic that Mr. Obama is truly the agent for change that he purports to be. His science appointments, I thought, have mostly been good ones, but I am utterly appalled by his inviting a homophobic creationist to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.

Christian Nazis?


This article is for people who think that “Darwinists” were responsible for the Holocaust. Yesterday, presumably because I am listed as a scientist in support of the Clergy Letter Project, I received an e-mail from a Christian clergyman, Steven D. Martin, who has this to say:

I am a United Methodist pastor who has turned to filmmaking as an extension of my ministry. While my films are not directly related to your work in the field of evolution, perhaps they might be interesting as a way of illustrating the importance of constantly working to have a constructive conversation between science and religion.

My web site,, is full of resources for the church and university classroom that might help you. “Theologians Under Hitler” is a film about three major Protestant theologians who supported Hitler during the Third Reich. This film is a good resource for helping Christians understand the importance of keeping nationalism at bay. I think this relates directly to the debate over evolution, where a false science is being promoted for nationalistic/religious purposes.

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