A Creationist at the SBOE Hearings

This is a continuation of posts on my experiences at the Texas State Board of Education text book hearings in September. Previously I discussed the presentation of Young Earth Creationist (YEC) David Shormann.

Earlier this year I participated in the SBOE reviews of high school physics curriculum materials. This involved reviewing materials on-line at home and this summer with a team of reviewers in Austin. What was surprising (not really) was there were a number of creationists at the Austin review session, as well; reviewing biology texts. Out of band channels had indicated these people were appointed by members of the SBOE who, in turn, had sought election to the Board to do just this sort of thing. More on that later. The Texas Freedom Network has covered a lot of this, and I am going to be reposting some of their findings on this blog.

One of the creationists at the Austin review session this summer was Ray Bohlin, a Ph.D. in biology and also head of Probe Ministries in Plano, Texas. Surprise again. Bohlin was present at the hearings in Austin this September, but apparently he didn’t come to talk about the books he had reviewed, he came to complain about being outed for his outlandish review comments. I made a short video of Bohlin’s presentation and posted it on YouTube. Here’s the gist.

Ray Bohlin at the SBOE hearings 17 September 2013

Bohlin reviewed, among other things, the Pearson Biology, Texas Edition, and this review is a public document. I have previously commented on his review, which drew a lot of attention, said attention being the focus of his comments to the Board. Specifically, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirement included the following Student Expectation:

(3)  Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to: (D)  evaluate the impact of scientific research on society and the environment

The Pearson text has also been made available publicly for review, and it addresses this expectation, but not in a manner satisfactory to Dr. Bohlin. The Pearson book, by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine, has the following chart plotting temperature Earth surface temperature rise.

Miller and Levine Biology page 177

Bohlin did not reject the coverage of this expectation, which would have required the publisher to respond and present a defense to the Board. Bohlin did, in the Comments column, add the following:

Case Study #3 on Climate Change needs extensive revision. The temperature graph in Figure 6-30 wrongly indicates that temperatures have continued to rise. It is well recognized that global temps have stalled for the last 16 years. This graph does not indicate that. Since the publisher indicated these case studies as fulfilling 3Dii I cannot approve this TEKS breakout. Additional problems can be found in the CO2 graph on page 178. One axis uses ppm and the other uses ppb. This discrepancy will be asily lost on many HS students and therefore will lead to misinterpretations of the graph. No mention is made of the benefit to plants of higher CO2 concentrations. There is jjst so much wrong with this case study.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Bohlin’s comments were reviewed by more knowledgeable academics and scientists, and these comments received some public ridicule. Now at the SBOE hearings Bohlin objected to being publicly revealed as the author of the comments. His opinion is these reviews should have been kept anonymous.

Bohlin also remarked on the practice of painting Christians and creationists with the same brush.

In general I would like to point out that dissatisfaction with the neo-Darwinian evolution is not in any way limited to some imagined, religiously-motivated, uneducated minority. As one small example, I offer this book for you today called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, by Thomas Nagels (sic), from Oxford University Press. Nagel [is] university professor of philosophy from New York University, and he is convinced, even though he is an atheists, that the materialistic evolutionary stories can’t answer important questions about the mind’s evolution and the origins of life, specifically the origin of the [genetic code?].

The next voice on the video is apparently Board Chair Barbara Cargill, District 8, of The Woodlands, Texas. I would be at little risk if I concluded she promoted the appointment of Ray Bohlin to the biology review team. According to the Texas Freedom Network:

Cargill is the third creationist in a row appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as SBOE chair. She first won election to the board in 2004 with substantial backing from wealthy school voucher advocate James Leininger.

My personal observation from the review session in Austin this summer is that she is on friendly terms with creationist Ide Trotter, who was also there reviewing biology texts. Cargill thanked Dr. Bohlin for his commentary and asked for questions from the Board. The next voice is that of my very own District 5 representative, Ken Mercer, from San Antonio. The TFN has this to say about Mercer, among other things:

Claims that established science on evolution can’t be true because he’s never seen a “cat-dog” or a “cat-rat”

Board member Mercer engaged Bohlin in a short dialog:

Mercer: Just one quick [unintelligible]. Because you doubt evolution, does that make you a creationist? And I think you are saying… No.

Bohlin: Not at all.

Mercer: [unintelligible] If you have a question—you want to raise your hand, you have a concern about the fossil record [unintelligible], you must be a Christian creationist. And that’s not a true statement, is it?

Bohlin: Well it seems to be that’s how some people respond to that.

Mercer: Thank you, Doctor.

I have to say I salvaged a lot of humor out of that exchange. A Christian creationist asks another Christian creationist why it is that people who deny the science behind evolution are assumed to be Christian creationists. What came immediately to mind is a quote attributed to English poet John Donne, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

When we say “Christian creationists,” members of the Board, we are talking about the Christian creationists on the State Board of Education who came to sit on the Board for the purpose of promoting Christian creationism.

Outside of that, Bohlin’s point needs to be taken. Not all who doubt naturalistic explanations of biological science are Christians and not all are creationists. As far as Christians are concerned, they are in good company. Many Jews and Muslims also doubt materialistic evolution, and they all tend to be creationists. As far as non Christians (non Jews, non Muslims) who doubt evolution science, very few can pass as non creationists. Strictly, a creationist is a person who thinks something besides natural processes is behind at least one of the following: the creation of the universe, the creation of life and the origin of the human species. That’s the definition of creationism.

People like Bohlin may deny being creationists, because they do not adhere to a literal interpretation of Genesis, which describes the creation of the universe and all living things by the God of Abraham. If 50 years of debating the creationists has accomplished anything it’s been the application of such a stench to biblical literalism that many modern creationists want to put some distance from it. We can only be grateful for small favors.

Thomas Nagel is not the first professional philosopher I have come across who denies natural evolution.

David Berlinski is a Senior Fellow with the Discovery Institute based in Seattle. The DI the leading supporter of the Intelligent Design form of creationism in the United States. Berlinski does not seem to have any religious affiliation. Rather the drive behind his distaste for natural evolution seems to be his antipathy towards materialism in any form.

David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institutes’s Center for Science and Culture. Dr. Berlinski has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.

We came across Robert Koons, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, during a meeting of the IDEA club at the University of Texas at Dallas in 2004. The IDEA (Intelligent Design Evolution Awareness) clubs were set up by Discovery Institute staffer Casey Luskin.

Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law. In his role at Discovery Institute, Mr. Luskin works as Research Coordinator for the Center for Science and Culture, assisting and defending scientists, educators, and students who seek to freely study, research, and teach about the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution and intelligent design. He formerly conducted geological research at Scripps Institution for Oceanography (1997-2002).

I previously posted my scripted comments for the SBOE hearings, and I concluded with a few sentences. These included some remarks about the creationists:

They were here yesterday, they are here today and they will be here tomorrow. They are not going away

I can only hope so. Without creationists my life would be so very devoid of excitement.

One thought on “A Creationist at the SBOE Hearings

  1. Pingback: Is There No Embarrassment? | Skeptical Analysis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.