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. With 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.
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?
Because 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!