Let a thousand ignoramuses bloom: Texas creationist wants pro-evolution texts adopted!

September 19, 2013 • 3:32 am

(Perhaps the plural is “ignorami”?)

As you may know, the Texas State Board of Education is holding hearings this week for new biology textbooks. This is always a farce, enlivened not only by the testimony of religious creationists (an obvious tautology), some of who approach frothing lunacy in their testimony, but also by the sympathetic questions of school board members, who have often been creationists.

In the last four years, the Texas State Board of Education has asked biology textbook publishers to adhere to a “show-the-strengths-and-weaknesses-of-evolution” standard (see here), so that proposed books are supposed to highlight these “problems” with evolution.

  • Stasis and “sudden appearance’ in the fossil record (supposedly not explained by evolution)
  • Uncertainties about the origin of life and self-replicating molecules
  • Inability to explain “biochemical complexity” (the pet love of “cdesign proponentsists”

(You can read more about the latest creationist textbook madness here.)

The Texas Freedom Network (TFN), an activist pro-evolution group, has also had doctoral candidates from Texas Universities analyze some of the proposed books. Their report, which you can find here, shows that textbook publishers, thank Ceiling Cat, have not watered down the proposed biology books to meet the creationist guidelines. The main conclusion is this:

Our reviews reveal that creationists on the State Board of Education have failed to pressure publishers into including “junk science” that questions evolutionary theory in the new high school biology materials. Indeed, all of the publishers have submitted biology instructional materials that honestly address and support the science of evolution and that do not include pseudoscience intended to water down or “disprove” evolution.

But that’s not the end of it, of course. I’m a bit worried this round because, as I reported last May, the school board asked eleven reviewers to look over the proposed biology texts. Six of these were creationists or had creationist sympathies! This is absurd in a supposedly advanced scientific nation, and a shameful blot on the intelligence of those who set the science standards for one of our largest states. I’m sure my friends at the University of Texas are gnashing their teeth.

Perhaps the most farcical bit of testimony this week is shown in the video below. It gives the testimony by Don McLeroy, a dentist who was once head of the Texas State Board of Education. He’s a dentist and a creationist, apparently lacking any understanding of science, though he seems well versed in scripture. McLeroy  played hob with Texas science standards for years: he was on the Board for 13 years and its chairman for two.

The issue with Texas as a benighted state vis-à-vis textbooks is that publishers are loath to issue separate editions of public-school texts, as that costs money, and they don’t want to publish “Texas editions” purged of evolutionary biology.

At any rate, it appears that McLeroy has gone off the rails, for in this video he argues that the state should go ahead and adopt all the evolution-filled texts, because that will show students how pathetically weak the case for evolution is! In other words, he’s arguing the pro-evolution case in the misguided hopes that students, by reading the good textbooks, will somehow discern the truth of Genesis amidst the truths of evolution.

Yesterday’s report from the Texas Freedom Network notes this bizarre ploy, adding that (as you’ll see in the video), McLeroy clearly flaunts his religious agenda in his testimony, something that will make a good First Amendment issue:

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.”

. . . 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.’”

Here’s the video. McLeroy testifies for 3.5 minutes, going all over the map about stasis and biochemical complexity, and then fields questions from Board of Education members.

His shtick is apparently the usual one: we need to see evolution in real time, and historical evidence simply doesn’t count. (Presumably McLeroy wouldn’t accept the existence of Jesus, then.) Further, evolutionary biologists haven’t yet produced every tiny bit of evidence we need to “prove” evolution. Look at McLeroy’s statement from the video:

“Well, how many facts do you need to show evolution? Well it’s in the billions and billions and trillions.”

That would make for a very long book!

I’m pleased to see that WEIT makes an appearance at 5:30, where I’m faulted for not going deep enough into the origin of biochemical complexity (note that my book refers the reader to Ken Miller’s and other people’s excellent discussion of this topic).  I take this to mean that McLeroy wants my book used so that students can see for themselves that biochemical complexity—I presume he means “irreducible complexity”, in which biochemical pathways supposedly couldn’t have evolved by natural selection since the intermediate stages could not have been adaptive—is a severe problem for evolution.

Well, McLeroy, bring it on! Let’s adopt all those pro-evolution books, and see if Texas students are so brainwashed by religion that they’ll buy the creationist/ID arguments without even having heard them!

Texas will decide in November which textbooks to adopt.

76 thoughts on “Let a thousand ignoramuses bloom: Texas creationist wants pro-evolution texts adopted!

  1. ‘(Perhaps the plural is “ignorami”?)’

    From Wikipedia:

    ‘In Latin ignōrāmus the first-person plural present active indicative of īgnōrō (“I do not know”, “I am unacquainted with”, “I am ignorant of”) literally means “we are ignorant of” or “we do not know”. The term acquired its English meaning of an ignorant person or dunce as a consequence of Ruggle’s play.’

    ‘…of religious creationists (an oxymoron)…’

    Sorry to be a pedant but I think that’s an example of a redundancy, not an oxymoron. “Scientific Creationism” is an example of an oxymoron.

      1. “Jumbo” (big) and “shrimp” (colloquial for small) are obviously opposites. But “jumbo shrimp” is almost always a reference to a relatively large type of crustacean. So in that sense, does it qualify as a true oxymoron? 😉

  2. “religious creationists (an oxymoron)”
    Yes. For the fun of it I have tried to find atheist creationists, but in vain. Perhaps Nagel comes close.

  3. The plural of ignoramus is indeed ignoramuses. In latin of course (as already pointed out), ‘ignoramus’ is already a plural form (we know nothing!) and what we call an ignoramus in English would probably have been called stultus (an idiot) in Latin – idiot of course having its origins in Greek rather than Latin. Don’t you love English – how often do you get an opportunity to explain one mangled foreign word by using another mangled foreign word?

    1. Compare “agenda” (gerund plural of agere; things that need to be done), as a singular in English. and data (plural neuter past participle of dare, give) also heading for singular status, though I still stick out for “data ARE”, and “data sets” rather than “data is” and “datas”.

      However, nothing ignorant about saying “ignoramuses”, the correct plural of a verb that has been co-opted as a noun. the fac that the verb itself is plural is irrelevant. Compare the home-reared “know-nothings”, where “know”, rather than “knows”, is a plural form.

      But this is pedantry, from Greek root “paed”, child, Latinised to ped-, attached to false present Romance (Italian?) present participle form, then -ry to transform adjective to noun.

      Which proves (no, scientists don’t prove) illustrates Madscientist’s point.

      1. According to Collins and Random House the plural is indeed ignoramuses, but Merriam-Webster accepts either ignoramuses OR ignorami.

          1. “One hippopotami cannot get on a bus.
            For one hippopotami is two hippopotamus.”
            -Alan Sherman

          2. If it’s Latin it’s a bi & if it’s Greek it’s a boi just like it is hippopotamoi. 😀

    2. This is how I handle Latin and Greek words – I anglosize them wherever possible. So I say ignoramuses, octopuses, exits (well everyone says that), agendas, etc. Some of them are actual Latin plurals, some are not (non are Greek plurals because the Greeks are tricksy!). The only tricky one is appendix because “appendixes” is hard to say & the Latin plural “appendices” is easier so I go with that.

      This of course opens the door to the pedants and when they correct me, I just Latin & Greek them to death until they stop. 🙂 Musical Beef linked to the best workflow ever in the Cephalopod post yesterday that perfectly illustrates my thoughts on this!

        1. Those are already plural: data (pl), criteria (pl) & alumni (pl) but most see at least the first two as singular so typically I either leave the word and change the verb or may use criterion since most know it.

          BTW I think changing alumni to the singular is one thing but then changing the gender is annoying. I usually go along with the convention but I find it tiresome to refer to myself as an “alumna”.

    3. IMO, “ignoramuses” should be the plural of “ignoramus” on the grounds that it sounds more ignorant than “ignorami”. 🙂

  4. A basic problem is that publishers insist on printing in the most expensive format, and doing it centrally. They could print in paperback, divided into modular volumes, and print locally for each state. Then, if a state decides to intellectually cripple it’s kids, they can issue a substitute volume promoting creationism, or none at all. Meanwhile, the enlightened states teach evolution.

  5. Wow, I thought English was my first language but I understood very little of that 3min torrent of disjointed mumbo-jumbo. How can he begin to make a case for something if the first reaction is “Woah, slow down there what you talking’ about?!”

    1. Oh that works surprisingly well, if you have an audience that is impressed by big words. In my experience it works especially well in surroundings of businesspeople. They don’t understand it and are not trying to. They only need to get the feeling that you know what you are talking about.

      1. Yes, you see a lot of “talkers” rise to the top in business until they actually come upon someone who stops them & questions them.

  6. One thing Dr. McLeroy deserves a bit of credit for is his final remark: “I don’t prove anything. I may be wrong.”

    But he sounds like a man who is frustrated as hell, and clutching desperately at straws when he claims to be happy about these books. He seems to think he has cleverly fooled everyone by adding “testability” into the Texas Board of Education definition of science. Science is somehow painted into a corner by that because evolution is not “testable” in the way Dr. McLeroy thinks it should be. How pathetic to think you could define away evolution, as if everyone will agree that Dr. McLeroy’s definition of science should be the definitive final word on whether evolution is science or not.

    It is interesting that McLeroy’s argument about these books mirrors the one atheists often make about the Bible: the best way to become an atheist is to read the Bible. I guess this just goes to show that what you get out of what you read depends heavily on what you already have in your mind before the reading.

    The argument over “teaching the controversy” is annoying, since the controversy is all in their minds. But there is controversy in science, of course. Usually controversies are advanced topics that you can’t even understand or engage in until you are doing graduate level work. The idea that scientific controversies should be taught to young children and teens, before they have grounding in the solidly established fundamentals is wrong because young students can’t even be expected to understand or seriously engage in real controversies. Should they learn about Goedel’s theorems or the interpretation of quantum mechanics before algebra, geometry, calculus, and classical physics?

    Another response to “teach the controversy” might be to fight it head on. It shouldn’t be hard to put side by side with McLeroy’s objections to the untestability of evolution the untestability of the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the unscientific absurdities of the Christian creation story, Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark. Bring it on. Let’s have a text book called “Teaching the Controversy: Religion vs. Science”.

      1. We’re all related, Merilee.

        Mine got as far as the state of Kansas in the late 19th century, and as far as I know my father, the only son of Grampa Olson who died in the 1918 flu epidemic, had no Olson relatives. We’ve never done an exhaustive genealogical search, though, so we could be second or third cousins for all I know.

  7. When I watched this video, I was suddenly struck by how sad it all is that in modern times, in an industrialized country with many scientific achievements that these views are taken seriously, so seriously they affect learning the truth. I felt bad for Americans subjected to this in their society.

    1. Thank you. I don’t feel very good about it either, and it’s my society. But I don’t live in TX luckily, so it’s tolerable.

  8. McLeroy was deeply involved in the Dover trial and even avoided some perjury charges IIRC, about him paying for the “Pandas” book delivered to the Dover High-school…

    This was just an FYI to all 😉

    1. No, Don McLeroy was not involved in the Dover case. I think you’re thinking of Alan Bonsell.

      There is a documentary The Revisionaries about McLeroy’s antics when he was head of the Texas State Board of Education (it also shows him campaigning to defend his seat on the Board and losing re-election).

  9. I wonder if the books will have a recommendation on the front that says how many dentists recommend them. Sorry, couldn’t resist!

  10. Over at Sandwalk LarryM has posted on the high price of textbooks and the possibilities for bringing those prices down.
    It seems to me with the internet and downloadable books the ‘publishing’ cost is drastically cheaper. While this is generally a good thing it means it will be much easier to produce custom editions. Not only will states get their own editions, individual counties will be able to get thier own editions. The general sanity of the country as a whole will no longer be able to influence those sections of the country that are still in the Dark Ages. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

    1. Be careful what you wish for – to do this at a local school board level would engender a lot of poorly attended meetings with (at least in my part of the world) the fundamentalist crackpots turning out to impose their will while nobody is looking – so ultimately even the rich counties in the intellectually challenged states could end up getting poorer.

  11. According to the movie “Pocketful of Miracles” (based on the Damon Runyon story “Madame La Gimp”), the plural is “ignoramice…that’s more than one ignoramouse.”

    With regard to the ‘let them see how bad it is for themselves’ tactic, one shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. After all, look at how much open exposure to religious doctrines and writings has done for atheism. 😉

    1. Depends on how fast they drifted.

      Actually, there is a guy I used to see on TV who insisted there is a nuclear reactor in the Earth’s core which somehow drove the continents apart in about a year, IIRC.

      1. …and I’m pretty sure it would have been all that abiotic petroleum the continents are floating on that kept everything nice and greased up, otherwise nothing would’ve survived the earthquakes in that critical year.

  12. Reminiscent of a towering argument long ago between my PhD advisor (RP) and the other grad student in the lab (Kaz), over some new product that he thought would improve a purification process. The beginning salvo was something like this:

    Kaz: This sounds like it would really help us.
    RP: Kaz, the manufacturer tell you any bullshit to get you to buy their product.

    They went on like this at loggerheads for a good 15min. Everyone else tried to look busy elsewhere. But by the time they finished after easily a half hour, it was along these lines:

    RP: I insist you go buy it. Then you’ll see…
    Kaz: Nope, forget it. I’m sorry I ever mentioned it.

  13. McLeroy said: ”Ironically … Support the Bible, and adopt these books.” Only for people that want to deliberately ignore others options among the six different mythological (or theological if one follows one of them) creation alternatives proposed by other religions: Ex nihilo (from nothing), Ex caos (from chaos), Emergence (mainly to explain human creation), World Parent (this world comes from other world) and Earth Diver (mainly to stress the Earths creation).
    If he thinks that the support for evolution is weak, he would do better considering what are really inexistent evidences that makes one of the six mythical creation explanation above more probable than the other one. And all of them involves some god(s) in some way. Even if the man insists that a ex-nihilo creation by a personal god is the real one, we have, for exemple, a hymn to Ra that says (developed beteween 2575 and 2134 B.C. parallel to Gen. 1:1-2:4a):
    As the sun dawned,Ra spoke:/I am Khepri the beetle./When I come the day begins,/When the almighty speaks, all come to live./There were no heavens and no earth,/There was no dry land and there were no reptiles in the land./ Then I spoke and creatures appeared./ I put them to sleep in Nun the sea, until there was land where I could stand./ When I first begin to create,/When I alone was planning and designing every creature,/ … /There was not a single creature./ I planned a multitude of living creatures,/All were in my heart, and their children and their gandchildren./
    Naturally very similar versions from others ancients nations exist too and they all show pretty clear how the biblical one “must” be the true one, even if tomorrow evolution would be shown false…

  14. Since all reliions have their own “Intelligent Design” ideas, if one is taught in public schools, ALL of them must be taught. That would keep any state from showing any religous preference. Or is the idea of “fairness” too difficult?

  15. I believe you have misused oxymoron. Oxymoron means self contradictory, as in MILITARY INTELLIGENCE. Religious creationists is perhaps superfluous or repetitve.

  16. So Don McLeroy doesn’t find evolution a satisfactory explanation for the biochemical complexity of life. What is it that he does find a satisfactory explanation? That a spirit-man gathered up some dust and gave it CPR with His divine élan vital breath?

    I think he should be more explicit there in Step Two.

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