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McLeroy Under Scrutiny

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
McLeroy Under Scrutiny
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
10
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

As the final vote on the proposed revision of the Texas state science standards approached, the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Mar 8) offered a profile of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy. Describing his conversion to fundamentalism as a dental student, the profile explained, "He is now a young-earth creationist, meaning that he believes God created earth between 6 000 and 10 000 years ago," quoting him as saying, "When I became a Christian, it was whole-hearted ... I was totally convinced the biblical principles were right, and I was totally convinced that it could be accurate scientifically." Particularly important to McLeroy is the biblical tenet that humans were created in the image of God.

David Hillis of the University of Texas, Austin, told the newspaper, "McLeroy's amendments are not even intelligible. I wonder if perhaps he wants the standards to be confusing so that he can open the door to attacking mainstream biology textbooks and arguing for the addition of creationist and other religious literature into the science classroom." He added, "If Chairman McLeroy is successful in adding his amendments, it will be a huge embarrassment to Texas, a setback for science education and a terrible precedent for the state board's overriding academic experts in order to further their personal religious or political agendas. The victims will be the schoolchildren of Texas, who represent the future of our state."

Preparing for the March 25–27 board meeting at which the final vote on the standards was expected, McLeroy armed himself with "a large binder that is adorned on the front with a picture of Albert Einstein" and contains "numerous passages from books — such as [Kenneth R] Miller's and others on evolutionary theory — and articles that he plans to use as ammunition in the fight this month over what should be in the state's science standards." One page from his binder, the American-Statesman reported, shows a diagram of the fossil record from a book by Miller, with McLeroy's gloss, "What do we see?" 'Sudden appearance' of species." Miller replied, "That diagram shows evolution. If he thinks it says evolution does not occur, he is dead wrong. It's really quite the opposite."

With Texans still reeling from the American-Statesman's profile of McLeroy, Texas Citizens for Science disclosed that McLeroy endorsed a bizarre creationist screed, Robert Bowie Johnson Jr's Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles (Annapolis [MD]: Sowing Light Books, 2008) — aimed, of course, at Evolution, Creationism, and Science, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine in February 2008 to general acclaim (see RNCSE 2008 Jan/Feb; 28 [1]: 14). McLeroy, however, praised Sowing Atheism for showing "how the NAS attempts to seduce the unwitting reader by providing scanty empirical evidence but presented with great intellectual bullying — both secular and religious."

In a March 18, 2009, post on its blog, the Texas Freedom Network summarized the themes of the book — "Scientists are 'atheists.' Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are 'monsters.' Pastors who support sound science are 'morons'" — and pointedly asked, "Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn 'weaknesses' of evolution back into the science curriculum standards?" Mavis Knight, a member of the Texas State Board of Education who supports the integrity of science education, wryly commented to the Dallas Observer (2009 Mar 18), "So much for neutrality in the chairman's position."