Big Tex, T-Rex, and the American Scientific Soul

big tex and trex mark in austinMaybe it was in the spirit of “Keep Austin Weird”: Big Tex and a T-Rex on a sunny day last September, marching together across the University of Texas campus.

Their destination (as well as the crowd of supporters following behind) was the State Board of Education’s hearing on the adoption of biology textbooks for Texas public schools.close up of big tex and trex

For decades, Texas has ruled textbook adoptions nationwide. Due to its size and large number of school districts, textbook publishers overwhelmingly sought to please Texas schools. icepocalypse aint texasWith the advent of customizable digital textbooks, this influence may soon decrease. But for now, the (partisan-elected) Texas School Board rules the day.

This past fall, the State Board held hearings to select the biology texts to be in use for the next ten years. Top publishers submitted fourteen books for review. The books were first given to a 28-member review committee selected by the state’s education commissioner.

So reviewers review and make recommendations to the board – makes sense, right?

Here’s the problem: six of the reviewers were known to reject the very basis of modern biology – evolution.

By November, the reviewers had submitted their reports and the State Board of Education voted to accept all fourteen submitted biology textbooks – with one caveat. The board’s approval of Miller and Levine’s Biology (published by Pearson Education and one of the nation’s most highly regarded texts), was contingent on an expert panel evaluating supposed “errors” found by one of the reviewers.

The “errors” in the book were about evolution and were raised by reviewer Ide P. Trotter who, incidentally, is named a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website.

Dr. Ron Wetherington, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Southern Methodist University responded with a point by point rebuttal of the “errors”, soon followed by a 13-page official rebuttal by the Pearson authors, Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph S. Levine. The three member panel subsequently appointed by the State Board to review the claimed “errors” rejected all of them and the Miller and Levine book was adopted without reservation.miller levine text cover

Dr. Kenneth Miller (one of the authors of the disputed biology text) was an expert witness in a similar but more extensive case in Dover, Pennsylvania during the fall of 2005. The issue in the Dover case was an attack on evolution to be sure, but primarily it was an effort to include the concept of “intelligent design” in public school science curriculum.

For the opponents of evolution in the Dover case, evolution was more than just a mistaken scientific idea – evolution was dangerous, destructive, and a threat to the soul of society and culture (Kenneth Miller, preface to Only a Theory).

Using the Dover case as his backdrop, Dr. Miller examines the fight against evolution and the support of intelligent design concepts in his book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul (Viking, 2008). In the preface, Dr. Miller states

There is indeed a soul at risk in America’s “evolution wars”, but it is not the cultural one that (William F.) Buckley sought to save. Rather, it is America’s scientific soul, its deep and long-standing embrace of discovery, exploration, and innovation, that is truly at risk.

The battle grounds are state capitals and courtrooms, but the battle lines are being drawn by Christians.

According to a December 2013 Pew poll, sixty percent of U.S. adults believe that humans have evolved over time.

But break the numbers down by religious groups, and a different trend emerges. Most white evangelical Protestants (64%) and half of black Protestants (50%) believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

This trend is unsettling:

The trajectory is not encouraging, especially as it runs in parallel with a steady increase in the evidence for evolution—evidence now piled so high that not even one evolutionary biologist at any of America’s research universities rejects the theory. Evolution is as widely accepted in biology departments as gravity is in physics departments. (Karl Giberson).

Giberson goes on to ask this important question:

So how is it that 64 percent of “white evangelical Protestants”, an unusually powerful and wealthy demographic, remains so strongly opposed to evolution?

My question is broader: why are evangelicals as a whole opposed to evolution? Why is denying evolution a written or unwritten tenant of most evangelical churches’ statements of faith?

Why should we care?

fraction 3 out of 5Because three out of every five young Christians are disconnecting from church after age 15.

The Barna Group has extensively studied the “millennials” demographic, and they are leaving – in droves. Six reasons for leaving emerged from the Barna research, including “churches come across as antagonistic to science”.

Karl Giberson recounts how science professors at evangelical colleges work, often with little to no support from their university or denomination, to instill in students that faith and science are not incompatible. These professors hope that these young evangelicals will go forth as leaders in their faith communities and persuade their fellow evangelicals that “evolution is not a lie from hell”.

But instead scientifically informed young evangelicals became so alienated from their home churches that they walked away, taking their enlightenment with them.

Introducing a New Series!

This post launches my new blog series. Each posting will be a discussion of Kenneth R. Miller’s Only a Theory, with my comments and analysis. By the way – Kenneth Miller is a Christian. His book Finding Darwin’s God is an excellent examination of evolution and its compatibility with faith and belief in God. I love both of these books, and because Dr. Miller was so recently in the midst of the Texas textbook adoption case, I think you’ll enjoy this series.

I hope you’ll follow along. Please pass the posts along to others!

12 responses

  1. Isn’t saying all “evolutionary biologist” believe in evolution like saying all Christians believe in Christ? Seems like a given. Why would anyone go into a field they don’t believe exists? That doesn’t seem like proof at all.

    I personally do not believe in evolution over millions of years. Things may change over time, even biologically, but that doesn’t mean my ancestors were monkeys. I believe in a young earth, and while things may evolve, God didn’t turn a monkey into a human. Kirt Martin (Biology Professor, Lubbock Christian University) is a friend and mentor, and while he teaches modern scientific theories (including evolution), he most certainly believes in a young earth.

    • Thanks for responding – it is very helpful to me to have feedback.
      I hope you’ll keep reading the series. It is my goal to demonstrate that God and science is not an either/or choice.
      It is a common misconception that evolution means that monkeys “turned into” humans. The theory of evolution states that all living things are related, and that humans and apes share a common ancestor. The science that tells us that humans and apes share a common ancestor is the same science that is used in medical research, medical treatments, drug testing and development, not to mention forensic science, agriculture…on and on. Is the science true when a new drug is developed for cancer (we praise God for that!) but not true when it comes to human origins? It’s the same science.
      We experience rain because of a natural process – the water cycle. We experience day and night because of a natural process – the rotation of our planet. We welcome new babies because of a natural process – conception and embryonic development. We credit God with the creation of rain, day and night, and our children, yet we understand that these are the results of natural processes and laws. To say that God used natural processes to bring about life (including humans), does not negate God or his creative power.
      There is quite observable evidence that the earth is very old. On a very basic level, we have lake core samples and ice core samples that visibly demonstrate that the earth is far older than the 6-10K years posed by young earth creationists.
      This is a link to a summary of posts in the last series I wrote about science and faith: https://janetkray.com/2013/12/03/science-or-faith-do-we-have-to-choose/
      It delves into many common questions asked by those who want to understand how God and science are not in conflict. I think you’d find it interesting!
      I hope you stay with me through this series!

      • I do agree that God and Science go hand-in-hand. God created the world, and science is the study of the world and everything in it, so it is the study of God’s creation. However, I feel like trying to date things that are older than the known history (6000 years) is questionable. Trying to figure out how the world old Earth is is like going into a room with a pool table and trying to figure out every single configuration of balls from the start of the game to the current configuration. Evolution doesn’t deal with dandy designs, and I’ve seen some science images that show whale evolution where the skulls vary from 6 inches to 24 inches, but the skulls vary up and down in the middle, not in order. The skulls are lined up in a nice pretty format, showing them growing, which is false and deceptive. I don’t think all scientists are without an agenda (such as athiests)

        I appreciate your efforts, and I will continue to read. I look forward to hearing this series.

  2. Pingback: Intelligent Design: Creationism Redux « Janet K. Ray

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