The FFRF, Dawkins, and I criticize a Georgia professor who teaches creationism in a public university

October 29, 2014 • 10:14 am

A team of us, including Richard Dawkins, Professor Ceiling Cat, and, especially, the lawyers and co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), have gotten together to protest the religious proselytizing of a professor at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, Emerson T. McMullen. Although an associate professor of history, McMullen teaches courses like these, which he heavily imbues with Christian creationism:

  • HIST 3435 The Scientific Revolution
  • HIST 4336 Science and Religion
  • HIST 4534 Dinosaurs and Extinction

Georgia Southern University is a public school, and so teaching creationism as science violates the First Amendment. If you have any doubts about McMullen’s views, take a look at his personal website at Georgia Southern (that site has a disclaimer that it doesn’t reflect the university’s views, but it’s still hosted on their server). You’ll be horrified at how mired the man is in wrongheaded Biblical creationism.

I was given some material about McMullen, including his exam questions, some student evaluations, and so on. As one example, here’s an excerpt from one of McMullen’s study guides listing two potential essay questions and the answers he would expect from students.  There’s no doubt that this is heavy with creationism:

Essay Question #9: What is Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) known for?

1) Louis Pasteur, in his old age, was one of the most famous men of his time, and rightfully so. 2) Pasteur’s germ theory of fermentation eventually led to the pasteurization processes. 3) he saved the beer, wine, and silkworm industries of France. 4) He was the first to vaccinate sheep against anthrax. 5) He used vaccination for the first time against rabies. 6) He discovered optical isomers and thus founded stereochemistry. 7) Coupled with skillful experiment, he showed as conclusively as possible that life did not come from non-life. 8) Thus, there is no such thing as spontaneous generation. 9) Although some “scientists” today claim that life originated from non-life, this does not explain the origin of our genetic information. Science shows that earth, air, water and other materials have no genetic information. 10) Pasteur correctly stated that the great principle of biology is that life comes from life.

Essay Question #11: Discuss the pros and cons of Darwin’s idea of evolution (descent, by modification and natural selection, from a common ancestor to man, complex species)

Pros: It was appealing at a time of great progress. It appeared scientific. Darwin was upper class in a class-conscious society. Some like its naturalism.

Cons: Darwin had no proof of evolution, only of adaptation (basically, change within a being’s genetic code). There was (and is) no solid evidence for descent from a common ancestor, and for the multitude of predicted transitional forms from one species to another. There was (and is) evidence that the earliest animals (like the trilobites) were complex, not simple. (The eye of the trilobite was fully adapted right at the start.) There was (and is) evidence that the earliest animals were very diverse. Darwin’s idea went against the fact that genetic information degrades from generation to generation, which explains why we see extinction today and not evolution. The implications of evolultion’s naturalism also undercut Judeo-Christian morality, replacing it with notions like “might makes right” and that the “unfit” do not deserve to survive. This laid the foundation for eugenics, which led to sterilization for the “unfit” in the US.

These questions (as well as my criticisms of McMullen’s expected answers) are reproduced in the FFRF and Dawkins Foundation’s letter to Georgia Southern (see below); I’ve put them above for easy access. But that’s only a part of McMullen’s injection of God into the classroom; other disturbing instances are described in the FFRF and RDFRS’s letter. Another complaint is that he gave his students extra credit to go see the execrable anti-atheist movie “God’s Not Dead”!

After reviewing this stuff, I gave the FFRF my “expert” opinion on McMullen’s scientific claims, and the FFRF and the Dawkins Foundation have cowritten a letter protesting McMullen’s proselytizing, which clearly violates the Constitution. The FFRFs announcement is here, and you can find a pdf of the letter hereDo read the letter if you want to see how bad things are at Georgia Southern, and have a look at some sample student evaluations of McMullen at the end of the letter. I’ve also put those here:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.46.00 AM

This is bad stuff, and we’re all insistent that it has to stop. If the school is smart, it will bring McMullen’s preaching to an end pronto. If they don’t, they’ll almost certainly have a lawsuit on their hands.

Besides, I want to retain my status as the Discovery Institute’s “Censor of the Year”!

Special thanks to FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel who worked with me on this and, as always, to Dan and Annie Laurie for their tireless work for the Foundation.

76 thoughts on “The FFRF, Dawkins, and I criticize a Georgia professor who teaches creationism in a public university

  1. Question #9 is fascinating. Though I would phrase the expected answer 7) as “tried to show as conclusively as possible etc.”, I see nothing objectionable up to that point – and then it goes completely overboard. It shows what religion can do to an otherwise reasonable mind.

  2. Wow, on his website the first article I read, Fish Land Fossil Fraud, is downright academically dishonest! It’s not just misrepresentations, it’s deliberate falsehoods bordering on slander (I know, not slander – perhaps just insultingly false)

    It’s one thing for a crackpot creationist or a deliberate paid-liar, like the Tooters, to put out something like this, but McMullen’s article goes way beyond a simple difference of opinion. It’s a systematic failure of scholarship unworthy of a university.

      1. I get bent out of shape by these creeps more by their outright dishonesty than their stupidity.

        Behe, for example, denigrating solid research and hard work as “piffle,” as if no-research-Behe is some kind of arbiter. But, it’s Behe’s job as a Disco Tute Jolly Good Fellow to downplay science in favor of his blessed Designer.

        However, this turkey is claiming that Shubin’s work is fraud and that’s really crossing the line. The guy needs to be kicked to the curb for that.

  3. Forget the Constitution. Any university, public or private, that teaches creationism as science should lose its accreditation, just like any university that would teach that the Earth is flat or that there is no evidence for the atomic theory of matter.

    I am dreaming, of course. University accreditations in the Bible Belt are done by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which proudly accredited, among other insane institutions, the Liberty University. That is one of the largest private universities in the US, and it openly advertises faculty positions in biology reserved exclusively for creationists.

    1. Academic accreditation is a national fraud in the U. S. As one of my more trenchant colleagues put it, speaking of the regional association of accreditors in the midwest, ‘they would accredit a ham sandwich.’ One school here in Illinois recently fired a biology teacher for teaching theistic evolution. It was too liberal for the college’s Nazarene credo. And, yes, it is fully accredited.

    2. “Any university, public or private, that teaches creationism as science should lose its accreditation, just like any university that would teach that the Earth is flat or that there is no evidence for the atomic theory of matter.”

      I agree 100%.

  4. Disgusting! It’s hard to believe students take his course.
    Legalistically, the college is a public (government, sort of) institution. But, at beyond high school, isn’t there wiggle room for professors to teach what they want as long as the school thinks its OK? This is before I’ve done the assigned reading, but maybe someone has a short answer.

    1. Case law (see the FFRF’s letter) is that even a college professor cannot use a classroom to proselytize his religious views, and he can be fired or disciplined for it. When that happened (see the case cited by the FFRF), the professor’s appeal for reinstatement was rejected by the courts.

      1. The Lemon Test is a good one to check, even if its universal applicability hasn’t been fully affirmatively confirmed. Specifically, if an action results in “excessive entanglement” between government and religion; if it advances or inhibits religious practice; or if it lacks secular purpose; it’s almost certainly unconstitutional. And it only takes one of those three to make a problem — even though, in this particular case, all three have been violated.



    2. Most of the court cases involving similar abuse of the Establishment Clause were for K-12 classes, but there is precedent upholding the Establishment Clause for university courses.
      We often hear the argument from some quarters that we should be more flexible about these situations for universities. These arguments boil down to the following claims: (1) the students are not required to enroll; (b) students at a university should be treated as adults, and (c) we should encourage academic freedom of professors even if we do not personally like what they are doing.
      In any case, precedent will be the decider here. This professor is way out of line, and there is no legal means to defend what he is doing.

  5. “Discuss the pros and cons of Darwin’s idea of evolution”

    Pro’s: good theory to explain the origin of life

    Con’s: Antibiotics are going to stop working and we will all die.

    I am sure others can think of a better punchline!

    1. Well, the Pro item really should be – good theory to explain the diversity of life. Although the origin, nestled deep in the mists of time, certainly would have been a process involving a kind of natural selection.

      1. I think I understand where this is coming from. A theory predicting (describing) a process doesn’t need to predict the initial conditions. Newton gravity predicts how masses interact with each other, not how they initially arose.

        But general relativity starts to predict that, as it predicts that mass is a form of energy, and it describes how gravity, energy and pressure interacts. And we can quantize the low-energy field approximation of it to predict the emergence of gravitons, a form of particulate matter. (Presumably a full quantum gravity theory like string theory must embed the standard model of particles to predict the emergence of all standard matter, and indeed string theory does.)

        Seeing that, and knowing that biologists likes to be inclusive rather than exclusive on theories (included population genetics into evolution in the modern synthesis), I would assume they could enlarge the theory to embrace emergence of life.

        To date we have arguable observations of phylogenies of traits (some form of heredity, albeit not among nucleotide heteropolymers alone) and natural selection stretching all the way back to geophysical systems. It is hard to predict future science above analogies as I did above, but perhaps it is as simple as that population genetics would be expanded to consider not variants among nucleotide heteropolymers (alleles) alone but among key molecules of any sort.

        [E.g. hexoses and pentoses (and presumably then nucleotides) would result from certain phosphated 3C hydrocarbons in a membrane protocell in the Archean ocean environment. Natural selection could perhaps work on such populations of key molecules, because the hexoses/pentoses would constitute a feedback – a reversible storage. They would keep phosphates and hydrocarbons closer to the key molecule production source and strengthening the permanence of the metabolic chain.]

        I don’t think that it would defang the creationists in any way. More likely they would get the ammo that what they consider a weakness would be patched up. But such a development could happen.

        Or biologists decide to keep whatever emergence theory will result as separate. But seeing the history of biology, I somewhat doubt that.

    2. Pro: Strongly supported by evidence that could easily have refuted it; comprehensive field that both generates more research and continues to help in other professions; supported by a multitude of other disciplines and so is wonderfully interdisciplinary; inherently fascinating in its own right.

      Con: Not 100% absolutely undeniably certain, so some jackass can crow about how it doesn’t conflict with their empty and insane bull-crap, and not realize how ridiculously hypocritical they look.

      1. I think it really is 100% undeniably certain. It is logically necessary that if the reproductive mechanism is imperfect, (as it is and must be, perfection not existing in this universe), that changes in the genome will accumulate, and that this will inevitably result in evolution. This is a law of nature.

        This is why a place like Pandora cannot exist. It would need constant tinkering by its creators, otherwise natural selection would take over and the animals would start to evolve for their own benefit, rather than so they could be ridden by blue people.

        1. I think you are overthinking this.

          Perfection do exist, we have bosons that are guaranteed to be perfectly interchangeable – it is their defining feature. I see that it reads like a deepity, but if you add that Noether’s theorems guarantee constancy, the bosons themselves and not the interchange as such are also perfect in the constantly alike sense.

          I nitpick because I want to claim that few laws of nature are derived from logical consideration, which is why science is empirical.

          Nice observation on Pandora.

          Pandora’s ecology evolved around the communicating plant-animal roots (an idea nicked from the Uplift trilogy), and that is why all the ‘symbiont’ animals had the same communication contact.

          The generic symbiosis (which was hinted at due to the strong interdependence of the ecology) wasn’t well constructed, but it looked like the plant-animals magically stored and shared memories among the animals, which may have increased fitness. You can almost always invent something to close a scifi+magic construct, so let’s imagine that the plant-animals stole nutrients from the animals to close the ‘symbiosis’ construct.

          Out in the real world, you are perfectly correct.

          1. Oh, and didn’t the movie hint at that sexual reproduction among the animals also needed the plant-animals?

      2. It is just as close to 100% absolutely undeniably certain as it is absolutely undeniably certain that the Sun isn’t a giant firefly on Apollo’s ass.

  6. Good on you, Jerry. Never let the standards slide. It’s appalling to see this sort of propaganda and wanton misdirection pass as academia in any serious sense.

    Do they do this sort of thing in climatology and related studies? I can’t help but think that the same minds that try to replace evolution with creationism would also target anything to do with global warming, especially if they’re funded by some dubious oil company.

  7. The student evaluations are surprisingly polite…good for them. It is unfortunate they have to endure the proselytization. If trends continue, people will shake their heads and ask the professor to move on or get out when religious nonsense is regurgitated to them.

    1. The focus is sort of scary, but I predate the “ratemyprof” generation(s). Focus was all on how hard, how to get by, how to get a good grade, along with how well-traveled and knowledgeable (?!), and NICE Prof. Tom is (maybe soon to be “was”). Yes, they do sound like nice kids there at GSU, but how incredibly naive and lacking in educational focus! They do have a LOT of sororities and fraternities, I see from Wiki, so maybe that is more the focus at this 20,000+ student school. And as “popular” as Yale!

    2. Actually, the evaluations comprise evidence for firing this jackass. Not only does he violate the Constitution for proselytizing in a public university, he violates all standards of academic integrity for giving better grades to students who parrot his trash.

  8. The bit about Pasteur and his experiments disproving spontaneous generation is interesting. I had read somewhere that Pasteur had a deep motivation to tackle and disprove the popular notion of SG specifically because he was religiously opposed to the idea of a natural origin of life.

    1. I find it interesting because people back then apparently believed goose barnacles became barnacle geese, and maggots just spontaneously sprung from rotten meat. The “refutation” of abiogenesis was actually just pointing out that this was crazy.

    2. Yeah, does anyone have any context for what Pasteur was thinking about when he did his experiments? What were his views on creation?

      I just clicked over to AIG and they don’t provide links to Pasteur’s original work. Are they hiding something? Is Pasteur one of us?

    3. Pasteur disproved the specific notion of spontaneous generation, which says that contemporary life-forms can arise from unliving matter. He didn’t disprove the general notion of abiogenesis, which says that some sort of self-reproducing whatzit can arise from unliving matter. As is I-could-have-a-heart-attack-and-die-from-not-surprise common for Creationists, refutation of a highly specific sliver of a larger Concept X (said sliver being, in this case, spontaneous generation) is gussied up as if it were a deathblow to the general validity of that larger Concept X (in this case, abiogenesis).

  9. “No monkey or ape today could draw a picture of horses equal to what humans did when they first entered Europe. The differences between us and them are so great – how could they be relatives?”

    This is part of his answer to “Did We Descend from Animals?” I’ll take “Non Sequitur’s” For $1000, Alex.

  10. Talk about Lying for Jesus! This guy is unbelievable. How can any professor, even a bad one, think that an essay summarizing HIS views is appropriate?

    Even scarier, there are going to be people who will describe the letter from FFRF and RDFRS as part of the War on Christianity and a threat to freedom of speech.

    I think a close watch will need to be kept on the way he grades papers in the future, assuming his teaching is brought up to scratch. I don’t think it is unfair to assume he might favour those who share his beliefs.

    1. “How can any professor, even a bad one, think that an essay summarizing HIS views is appropriate?”

      It appears that he’s going to get to practice his essay writing skills in response to FFRF inquiries.

  11. Wow. This has to be the worst case I’ve seen yet because it is so blatant and he is simply teaching wrong science. If I took his class, I’d drop it and if I needed it as part of my major I’d want my money back and look at getting the credit at another school or leaving the school altogether since you couldn’t trust anything they were peddling there. It really shocks me how universities can think things other than facts, students can get degrees from these teachings and then go out in the world. For the love of Ceiling Cat, don’t let these graduates have anything to do with engineering, aerospace or military weapons.

    Also, what has this got to do with the price of tea in China: Darwin was upper class in a class-conscious society. Maybe the prof is a closet Marxist. 😀

    1. Yes, that’s what you and I would do today…but what about when we were kids in school? I’d like to think I would have…but, honestly, I’m not sure it’d even have occured to me to do something like that in the first place.


      1. It certainly would not have occurred to me. As an 18 year old freshman, I once walked out of a class because they were talking about safe sex and condoms.

        The sad fact is that childhood indoctrination is just too fresh at that age. College certainly did plant the seeds for critical thinking, but I was a long way from boycotting a class for not promoting reason. In fact, I was on the opposite end of the spectrum.

        1. “Youth is wasted on the young.” I’ll admit to having fantasies about attending classes like that just to call assholes such as these on their bullshit….


              1. Well, you could at least do the DeLorean, and the flux capacitor was just a certain model Krups coffee grinder. But you’re not gonna have much luck talking to your younger self, I’m afraid….


  12. Copious applause for the FFRF, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and you, Professor Coyne.

    And a standing ovation for the “concerned student” mentioned in the letter. Speaking up takes more than lungs and a larynx. It takes a lot of guts.

  13. HIST 4534 Dinosaurs and Extinction sounds interesting. Strange that it’s a history class. That is some ancient history.

    1. Not THAT ancient–dinosaurs are the dragons mentioned in myths; then they were killed off by Noah’s flood. Or something. Unless they’re living in Loch Ness.

  14. I think the scare quotes around “scientists” in the Louis Pastuer question just scream scientific literacy don’t they?

    The cons regarding evolution isn’t the first place that I’ve seen a creationist make the argument that evolution propagates a dog-eat-dog worldview. What I find most puzzling about this assertion is that “notions like ‘might makes right’ and that the ‘unfit’ do not deserve to survive” sounds like a spot-on description of the christian conservative approach to public policy and politics to me.

    1. It’s OK when they do it, apparently, because then the unfit really are a problem on society and should receive no “charity” (while the good guys need their “burdens” lifted, of course, to make this happen). Also, when you need a decent villain to cast in your “We’re the heroes” narrative, hypocritical projection often helps.

    2. “Might makes right” and “the unfit do not ‘deserve’ salvation” also sounds like a spot-on description of Christian conservative theology.

  15. Wow. While I don’t agree that it’s unconstitutional, I do agree the school should fire or discipline him, and I do agree the school has that legal ability (to fire him or discipline him). They should investigate and discipline him just based on the student reviews alone, because regardless of whether they have the legal freedom to promote religion or not, no credible school should want its history professors proselytizing in the classroom and giving extra credit for basically regurgitating the professor’s own religious views back on tests.


    As to why I don’t agree with FFRF…they cite four cases: Abington v. Schempp, Edwards v. Aguillard, Kitzmiller v. Dover, and Bishop v. Aronov. I agree and support the results of all four cases…the problem is, none of them say it’s unconstitutional for a university professor to teach creationism. The first three are about high school conduct, not university conduct. There are significant differences between the situations (such as the state mandates attendance in the former, while attendance at a university is the person’s choice). On top of that, Kitzmiller would not be a legally binding precedent even if it was about a University, because it’s a Pennsylvania local ruling that doesn’t apply to Georgia. I certainly hope the school lawyers read Jones’ ruling and take his conclusions to heart, but they have no legal requirement to do so. The fourth case just says that Universities have a legal right to fire employees for (some) on-the-job speech, which I fully agree with…but this has nothing to do with the constitutionality of teaching creationism.

    1. “the problem is, none of them say it’s unconstitutional for a university professor to teach creationism”

      I’m not a legal expert, but doesn’t the fact that it is a public university mean that his proselytizing represents an establishment clause violation?
      Extra credit for “God’s Not Dead” combined with the comments on the student assessments make a compelling case proselytizing, don’t you think?

      1. Agreed. It’s deliberate government entanglement with religion FOR THE PURPOSE of proselytizing that religion. Even if the courts haven’t ruled, it’s just as unconstitutional as if a public elementary or high school did it.

        What’s different about a university?

      2. Maybe. There has never been a court case about it. Not every government expenditure that indirectly goes to religion constitutes an establishment clause violation – otherwise, the government could not give tax breaks to religious organizations or allow them to compete for grants, and yet it does these things. So I think the “the school receives public money” argument – on its own – may not be sufficient.

        In addition, I would say the three big reasons why it’s not a violation are:

        1. Nobody perceives college professors to be speaking for the state the same way HS teachers do.

        2. This perception reflects a reality that professors don’t speak for the state. The State government doesn’t set course curricula, doesn’t decide what is required to graduate, doesn’t take monitor or regulate what goes on in classrooms, or play any active part in hiring, firing, and promotional decsions, etc… Universities are largely independent of state content control, and everyone knows this.

        3. One key reason for limiting and heavily regulating teacher speech – state-mandated attendance – is entirely missing from the University setting.

        And as a pet peeve of mine, I’d lastly add that most state schools are horribly underserved by their states. In Virginia the public universities only receive something like 5-10% of their operating budgets from the state: the rest they must come up with on their own. That’s criminal. The Virginia legislature should be ashamed about that. But what it also means is that, as a practical matter, these are really private universities getting a token amount of state money so that teh state can put their advertising stamp on them. They are not really “public” in the sense of being supported by the people of Virginia.

  16. Incidentally, I have a (sane, non-fundie) contact in the Ga. Southern faculty. I’ll try and see whether this guy is representative of a larger problem, or just a lone old kook professor all the other professors tolerate out of bureaucratic necesssity.

  17. What’s particularly pathetic is that he isn’t even presenting relatively sophisticated seeming creationism such as Behe. This is Hovind level stuff, at a university.

  18. Dr. Coyne wrote:

    If you have any doubts about McMullen’s views, take a look at his personal website at Georgia Southern (that site has a disclaimer that it doesn’t reflect the university’s views, but it’s still hosted on their server).

    It looks like it’s hosted by the hosting service and not on the University’s servers. The service is a free hosting service similar to and

    It’s possible that Georgia Southern is using Google Sites for portions of their web site (some of the links on their site go to Google Drive documents and not to a university web server).

    It’s also possible that this creationist professor is providing a link to his non-university personal site.

    This doesn’t change any of the serious church-state separation concerns raised by this professor’s actions.

  19. That Pasteur thing he teaches. Is it for kindergarten class? Because any two-year-old would suspect some dubious baloney going on there. Somebody should warn Professor McMullen that it makes him look very silly even to kindergarteners.

  20. I’m one of the people who recommended the FFRF and you in the original reddit post on this. I’m glad something is being done. It’s much worse than I realized.

    Besides being a violation of church/state violation, it’s a violation of professional ethics to teach a lie as the truth. They may follow Ball State’s lead in quashing this egregious violation.

    I hope you have room in your trophy case for another award!

      1. “Would you like to see the room where I violated her mother”?

        Henry Fonda’s character in the 1982 movie, “On Golden Pond.”

  21. Must really be a fine institution this Southern Georgia school. Where is the leadership in this place and what kind of clown university could it be?

    Would really be proud to have graduated from this place. The head of the Science department must be really impressive.

    1. A childhood acquaintance of mine went there. She met her husband there and it was a point of pride that her husband first went to her father to ask permission. Yup, women are property to be handed off from one man to another. This is, of course, anecdotal, but I lived in that area of the country long enough to know that the odds against it being a trend are slim to none.

  22. After reading McMullen’s internet article of a debate titled, Did we descend from a common ancestor I am mistified at how he gets only tepid criticism from most students. If I were a student who took a course to learn about evolution or the historical basis of evolution I would hope that I would hear established scholarship not infantile arguments and outright falsehoods. Even a student without a thorough understanding of evolution can see how invalid his arguments are. Unfortunately, as a student we would have neither the knowlege or power to challenge him. It would be my dream to have the good professor point out that my ignorance does not qualify me to challenge him. Then I would get up from my desk and go out into the hall and lead Jerry Coyne into the classroom. If nothing else I would flunk out of the class with a smile on my face.

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