Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creationism in Texas and Other Strange Goings-ons ...

Dear Members and Friends of The Clergy Letter Project,

With the Texas State Board of Education set to act on the state’s science standards later this week, it seems an appropriate time for an update – especially since those endorsing The Clergy Letter have been brought into the controversy. Additionally, there are a number of other issues that should interest you.

1. The Situation in Texas – And the Role of The Clergy Letter Project

The Texas State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Friday on science standards to be implemented across the state for the next ten years. While the preliminary meeting which took place in January was largely positive, with the Board largely adopting the language recommended by the experts it empanelled, a number of troubling motions that open the door for creationism were introduced at the last minute by the Board’s chair. The actions of the Board are of great importance for all of us, even those of us outside of Texas, because Texas adopts its textbooks at the state level and because they purchase so many texts that publishers edit books to be certain that they are acceptable to the Texas market. So, if creationism enters textbooks in Texas, you can be sure that it will enter textbooks everywhere else in the US. You can read more about the situation at the web site The Clergy Letter Project co-sponsors with the Center for Inquiry (www.teachthemscience.org).

Don McLeroy, the Chair of the Board, is a self avowed creationist. A recent article in The Texas Observer (www.butler.edu/clergyproject/pdf/The%20Texas%20Observer.doc) summarizes McLeroy’s beliefs quite simply: “McLeroy is convinced that teaching evolution leads to atheism. There’s not a lot of room for negotiation in that position.” Obviously, this position is in direct contradiction to what The Clergy Letter stands for!

Interestingly, and somewhat frighteningly, McLeroy has just written an endorsement for a self-published book entitled Sowing Atheism that attacks The Clergy Letter Project and calls the clergy who have signed our Clergy Letters “morons.” The book says, “In my judgment, only morons—more than 11,500 morons in this case—could sign a letter maintaining that the ‘timeless truths of the Bible’ are compatible with the billions of unpredictable aberrations of evo-atheism. What do these apostate morons celebrate at their Sunday services, the lies about humanity’s origins told by Moses, Jesus, and Paul?”

It is exactly this sort of anti-intellectual name calling that The Clergy Letter Project is designed to combat. What a shame that the individual in a position to shape the framework for science teaching in the country for the next decade thinks that such actions are to be supported. You can read more about the situation on a blog written by Ryan Valentine, the Deputy Director of the Texas Freedom Network (http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/what-does-don-mcleroy-really-want-to-teach/).

2. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis Declares Moral Outrage Over an Action He Performed

This item falls well within the dictionary’s definition of hypocrisy! Ken Ham, the head of Answers in Genesis, the group that built the $27 million Creation Museum-cum-theme-park in Kentucky, has recently railed against the BBC for “ambushing” a member of his staff (http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/aroundtheworld/2009/03/21/bbc-radio-and-ambush-journalism/). As you’ll see if you read the link, Ham claims that Jason Lisle was surprised to find that his scheduled interview on the BBC was actually to be a debate with Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. (I’ve not checked with Genie to get her side of the story since it is actually not relevant to the point I’m making here!) Here’s how Ham summarizes the situation: “By the way—the BBC has not responded to our publicist who has challenged them concerning their deception. Then again, for those people who don’t believe in God and there is no absolute authority, not telling the truth and deception would not be ethically wrong—as they have no basis for right and wrong!”

What makes Ham’s complaints so incredibly ironic and hypocritical is that this is exactly what he did to me a year ago. I was scheduled to do an interview last year on a fundamentalist Christian radio show only to discover, upon going on the air, that Ken Ham was also on the line, ready to debate me. When asked why neither the host nor Ken had the courtesy to inform me that I was to participate in a debate rather than in an interview, I was told that they believed that I wouldn’t have accepted their offer had I been told the truth. When I questioned them about the deception, I was told that since the debate was to further God’s wishes, a minor deception of this sort was acceptable.

That’s quite a double standard!

3. Canadian Science Minister Refuses to Discuss Evolution on Religious Grounds

When asked whether he accepts evolution, Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Science Minister refused to answer the question, claiming it pries into his religious beliefs. According to The Globe and Mail (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090317.wgoodyear16/BNStory/National/home), “’I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,’ Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.”

The response to Goodyear’s comments has been clear. Again, from the same news report: “Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said he was flabbergasted that the minister would invoke his religion when asked about evolution. ‘The traditions of science and the reliance on testable and provable knowledge has served us well for several hundred years and have been the basis for most of our advancement. It is inconceivable that a government would have a minister of science that rejects the basis of scientific discovery and traditions,’ he said.”

4. Journal Editor in Turkey Fired for Publishing Story on Darwin

Cigdem Atakuman, the editor of Science and Technology magazine, a state-run publication in Turkey, was fired, according to the Associated Press (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h8i-0AuYSMrEzBR24V6tfdzQcrVAD96S22580), for attempting to run a story about the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in the magazine. According to the AP, “Atakuman confirmed reports that the publication was stopped at the presses and the article was removed from the issue. Newspapers printed copies of both the original issue and the new issue without the Darwin article.”

5. Evolution Weekend 2010 – Call for Participation

With creationism continuing to spread as noted above, our efforts continue to be important. Although we are far closer to Evolution Weekend 2009 than we are to Evolution Weekend 2010 (12-14 February 2010), I’ve begun to build a list of participants for next year. What’s utterly amazing is that at this early date, we already have 89 congregations from 34 states and 4 countries signed up to participate. Signing up early will help us enormously by permitting us to focus on new congregations. So, please, if you plan to participate next February, let me know by dropping me a note at mz@butler.edu. I plan to post the list of participants in a couple of months. Remember that participation can take any form you think is most appropriate for your congregation – all that matters is that you help elevate the public discourse about the compatibility of religion and science. Please sign up now and please invite friends and colleagues to do the same.

As always, thanks to all of you who have been active in The Clergy Letter Project. Together we are making a difference.