Critical ThinkingPedagogyReligionScienceSecondary Education

“Let the Students Decide for Themselves”: Or, Don McLeroy Is Full of What Makes the Grass Grow Green in Texas

I recommend that everyone listen to the interview with Don McLeroy in last week’s episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

I also recommend that you keep breakables safely out of reach and have your favorite antacid tabs at hand. (Not the homeopathic ones.) Maybe also booze if that helps.

McLeroy is a creationist who was appointed to the Texas State Board of Ed by Rick Perry, himself a rancid asswipe of staggering proportions*. The interview was hard for me to get through, in part because I am from Texas and McLeroy’s voice is the voice of people there who think and talk like him and say those same horrible, horrible things, and I have known those people. Too many of those people. Also, though, because the things the voice says are so impossibly, willfully stupid, and would be such in any voice.

The particular stupid idea I want to address today is McLeroy’s repeated specious claim that including “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory in biology textbooks encourages students to examine all of the evidence and make up their own minds.

First of all, I do not believe for a hot nanosecond that this guy wants to empower young people to thwart authority and derive their own conclusions about the world. I really want to know if he employs this inclusive pedagogy when he teaches Sunday School at the Grace Bible Church. Let’s see how this idea of exposing students to all possible views on subjects informs the academic mission of Grace Bible Church, shall we?

Based upon the distinctive values, strengths, and opportunities of Grace Bible Church, God has directed us to focus our efforts on…




To accommplish this mission we seek to be …

a university/family church

that exists to … worship God and multiply worshippers throughout the world

that is empowered by … God’s Spirit, Word and grace in Christ

and by focusing on …

the strategic value of equipping university students,

the power of integrating mature families with university students,

and the obligation of world missions


If our ultimate goal is that people would worship God everywhere in the world, then the greatest contribution our church can make is through unifying strong family and university ministries around the common goal of raising up a surplus of godly college age servant-leaders who can impact our city, nation, and world for Christ.  We firmly believe that students are the future leaders of business, government, religion, science, education, and most importantly they will lead in the arena of ideas.  Students have been the impetus for the great revivals of history. They are largely receptive to the gospel, or at least willing to dialogue about any topic, including God. Once saved, students are the group most receptive to devoting their entire lives to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Uh huh. I’m sure the lessons where students are provided evidence of other gods and of godless worldviews so they can MAKE UP THEIR OWN MINDS is on another page and I just didn’t find it. (Also, one petty thing: “accommplish.”)

Beyond the shameless mendacity of the claim, though, it’s a wrongheaded idea in and of itself. Students taking high school biology will be getting an introductory level education in evolutionary theory. They will not, at that point in their education trajectory, have enough data at their disposal to play Sooper Scientist. How long did it take Darwin to reach and support his conclusions, twenty years? A high school biology unit is not designed to give students that much minute information; it’s designed to teach them what the theory is and what it means and why it’s important.

McLeroy and others like him contort the effort to enrich students as critical thinkers into some bizarre “my opinion matters just as much as any expert’s opinion” pretzel of solipsism. My situation is slightly different since I teach literature, but even the arts have bodies of knowledge. I tell my students that they do not have to like what I’m teaching just because I like it. They are also not required to reach the same interpretations that I do about any particular text. HOWEVER, I am there teaching them canonical (and some fringe but still published) trends of thought and interpretation regarding these works, and I do require that they learn those and understand them and demonstrate that they have engaged them in their readings. Literature doesn’t appear in a vacuum, and neither does criticism; the flexibility of creative thinking does not mean you get to say that Wordsworth’s “Intimations Ode” is really about your cat. Not for class, anyway, unless you have some damn good peer reviewed evidence.

It is crucial, though, that we know what we are facing as skeptical, secular educators, so I urge you to listen to the interview. Also, check out the film The Revisionaries, which McLeroy appears in.


*Opinions expressed by DrShell are the sole property and responsibility of DrShell and not to be construed as reflections of anything anyone else at School of Doubt might ever say or think or condone. Even though Rick Perry sucks so aggressively that DrShell has difficulty imagining other people not recognizing him as a rancid asswipe. He is so awful, you guys, for real.

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DrShell is an Associate Professor of English at a small liberal arts college. She teaches world literature, composition, popular culture, and speculative fiction and serves as faculty sponsor for the Secular Student Alliance. DrShell lives in tame suburbia with her husband and son and a pack of rescued pets, where she spends a lot of time running, taking Body Pump classes, and thinking about getting another tattoo.


  1. May 18, 2013 at 8:00 am —

    This is great! My boyfriend is a huge SGU fan and was telling me about how much this guy annoyed him.
    Also, you used the word “mendacity”, and this delighted me more than almost anything yet this morning. Go, Shelley!

  2. May 18, 2013 at 8:51 am —

    Ha! Thanks. 🙂

  3. May 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm —

    I was a bit disappointed that the other rogues didn’t really chime in, though I know that it’s Steve Novella’s jam. Rebecca got in one that I remember.

    I think it’s not just a matter of hypocrisy and willful, openly contradicted ignorance, but of massively flawed reasoning on all levels. I was unaware of McLeroy by name before the episode, and I actually wondered if he was a science proponent strengthening the curriculum against creationists to start before details started coming out after a minute or two that he’s an actively stupid jerk.

    Here’s what I don’t get. It takes a lot of work to be that purposefully against the mountains of evidence. A lot of work. You’d think accepting 280-ish years (giving Linneas some cred) of active progress and understanding and evidence would be easier and certainly more worthwhile. Especially in light of doing a God of the gaps which will handily be defeated in the span of decades (cell complexity, really? Really? Fossils?).

  4. May 20, 2013 at 7:59 am —

    I was running while I listened to this, and when DM said the strongest evidence for evolution was the fossil record, I yelled “OH MY GOD DNA!” I’m sure the people driving by were enriched. But, still…DNA? Steve did say that the fossil record is incomplete, etc., but I felt like every time DM made that claim someone should have reminded him that we now have genetics. Also, I don’t understand why the “complexity” of the cell is more of a cosmic mystery than the complexity of entire organisms. Perhaps I am being obtuse, but why pick that one thing? And what do you even mean by “complexity,” for that matter?

    • May 20, 2013 at 10:56 pm —

      Right? There are some really good answers to it, too, even as dumbass vague as it is. “You know how pretty much everything alive we can see unaided needs mitochondria? Yeah, it’s probably a symbiotic relationship with an aerobic prokaryotes from WAY back. One cell lived inside another, and now it’s essentially subsumed. That’s also probably why it has different DNA. Shit like that happens. Given billions of years, it’s inconceivable that shit like that didn’t happen a lot. Some of it worked out and stuck around.”

      I can’t remember at this point, did they talk about all the stuff that needs to happen to make a fossil in the first place? It’s not easy. Simple, but not, you know, common. Of course stuff’s going to be missing.

  5. May 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm —

    The haven’t a clue, but they do have an equation, if.. only they could figure out how to use it, or what it applies to, if anything. And, no, I am **not** kidding.

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