Rick Perry's Anthropogenic Climate Change Denialism
and Endorsement of Creationism

On the Campaign Trail, Governor Perry is Texas Proud
To be Anti-Scientific and Anti-Intellectual

by

Steven Schafersman
President, Texas Citizens for Science
2011 August 17-18


Governor Rick Perry of Texas campaigning and answering questions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The Governor is making a name for himself thanks to the attention of the national press and the questions of citizens.

Perry: Humans are not responsible for Climate Change and Global Warming

At a breakfast meeting in New Hampshire on Wednesday, August 17, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, now a candidate for U.S. President, announced that he does not believe in anthropogenic global warming. He said,

I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. Yes, our climates change. They’ve been changing ever since the earth was formed.

So not only does our governor not believe in human-caused climate change and global warming, he thinks scientists are fraudulently manipulating data to cash in and get rich quick. Certainly vilifying and maligning scientists is a sure way to win the Republican nomination in today's partisan environment. It always worked in Texas, the state whose Republican Party is totally controlled by religious-right radicals who would rather believe in fundamentalist sectarian doctrine than what they were taught in science class. But will it work on the national stage?

Scientists are usually seen as quiet individuals who work to discover new knowledge that helps human civilization to survive, such as finding new sources of energy, new properties of matter that create better industrial materials and chemicals, and new drugs to cure diseases. Scientists also map the geology and biology of the Earth, so we know what we're mining, drilling, and killing. But when scientists try to warn us that using fossil fuels as a major energy source is poisoning our atmosphere and changing the climate in dangerous ways, Rick Perry would rather think the worse of them: Not only are scientists wrong, they are venal, too. Indulging in baseless insults is a prerogative of some candidates, and Rick Perry is a master of this, a skill he learned during his Texas campaigns.

Perry makes his bizarre claims deliberately. Even though he sincerely believes what he says, an intelligent candidate would presumably keep his crazy thoughts hidden from the voters until after he--or she, since I must not exclude Michele Bachmann--is nominated and elected. But our governor loves the publicity. He knows the nightly commentators on MSNBC won't be able to resist him and will give him plenty of air time in front of their left-leaning viewers--a priceless opportunity to spread his message of hope to the unconverted. Already the national press (here and here) is falling all over itself to publicize his every utterance. Perry will certainly keep saying stupid things because it gains him enormous press attention and the commitment of millions of Republican voters. Also, his extreme positions are endorsed by the majority of Republican primary voters, as he well knows. For example, the 2004 Texas Republican Party Platform endorses Intelligent Design Creationism and says evolution should be taught "as merely a theory rather than scientific fact," a position contrary to modern biology. The 2010 Texas Republican Party Platform supports

equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories, including evolution, Intelligent Design, global warming, political philosophies, and others. We believe theories of life origins and environmental theories should be taught as challengeable scientific theory subject to change as new data is produced, not scientific law. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

Last year, Governor Perry was not shy about telling people he is a Creationist:

Explain where you stand on evolution-creationism being taught in school.

I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution. The State Board of Education has been charged with the task of adopting curriculum requirements for Texas public schools and recently adopted guidelines that call for the examination of all sides of a scientific theory, which will encourage critical thinking in our students, an essential learning skill.

Perry's answer assumes that there is more than one side to science's explanation of biological origins, a purely scientific side (evolutionary biology) and an alternative scientific side that is also compatible with his religion (intelligent design creationism or IDC). There is not: IDC is not considered scientific by scientists; instead, IDC has been well-documented to be a continuation of a decades-long marketing effort by Creationists to convince the public that biological evolution is insufficient to explain biological diversity and complexity and to substitute Scientific Creationism or IDC as a valid scientific alternative. To this end, Perry has appointed three recent members of the Texas State Board of Education—Don McLeroy, Gail Lowe, and Barbara Cargill—to be the chairmen. All three are, as is Perry himself, Young Earth Creationists who worked hard to push their sectarian beliefs about the natural world into Texas science standards and textbooks. Scientists had to leave their important work at our state's universities and take time to oppose these radicals on the State Board. Fortunately, this effort largely succeeded.

At least our governor is willing to act on his beliefs about science, as backward and mistaken as they are. Imagine what he could do as President. He could deny scientific facts repeatedly, politicize the country's science agencies to publish inaccurate scientific information and suppress scientists who dare to speak the truth, and continue to give federal support to corporations who make money defying environmental laws. Oh, wait....that already happened during the previous Republican administration.

Perry: We Teach both Creationism and Evolution in Texas Public Schools

On Thursday, August 18, the very next day, Texas Governor Rick Perry told a student in New Hampshire, in front of his mother and national reporters, "In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." Strictly speaking, this statement is true, but not for reasons that are very flattering for Rick Perry's education policies, since he has appointed a sequence of three creationists to be chairmen of the Texas State Board of Education in the last few years. A few Texas public school teachers do teach creationism, but they aren't supposed to. It is bad education, bad science, religious discrimination, and against the law. The Texas science standards require that evolution be taught in our public school system, and 50% or more Texas biology teachers do teach evolution as the scientific explanation for biological diversity. Unfortunately, a very large percentage, about 40% in my experience, leave out any discussion of origins because the topic is controversial in our very religious state in which a large majority of citizens are fundamentalist Christians. Curriculum directors, science supervisors, and teachers themselves have told me over the last three decades that it is difficult to instruct students about evolution because parents complain to principals and superintendents and these school administrators ask the biology teachers if they could just leave it out. Many comply. The intimidation and implied threats to one's career are enormous in this state. This sort of behavior doesn’t happen in good Texas high schools, of course.

Again, from my experience in Texas as president of Texas Citizens for Science—the state's major organization that opposes aggressive, organized Creationism—I think no more than 15% of Texas biology teachers mention creationism to their students in preference to evolution. Most of these probably discuss both the religious and scientific explanations and they do so quietly, since the Texas science curriculum contains only evolution and even these teachers know they are not supposed to bring religious topics into the classroom, especially a science class. But here's the point: If Perry is trying to characterize teaching both creationism and evolution in his state’s public schools as official education policy, he is just flat-out wrong. It is not true. Biology teachers are required to teach only evolution, not creationism, as an official topic in Texas science classrooms. They are obligated to follow the state’s science standards and they know they are being unprofessional if they fail to do so. Unfortunately, Texas does not ask questions about evolution on the state's standardized biology exams so students don't have to demonstrate any knowledge about the subject. That's why many teachers feel they can ignore the topic and not have their students state academic results damaged by slightly lower exam scores. Those teachers and their students achieve those low scores in other ways.

Two political scientists, Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, have recently published their research about what is really being taught in our country’s biology classrooms and why biology teachers teach what they do. Their book is titled Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America's Classrooms. Several news reports (here, here, and here) described their work. The two authors discovered an amazing statistic: 13% of U.S. high school biology teachers advocate creationism in their biology classrooms; this is the national statistic—the percentage in the South, which includes Texas, may be higher. Just as troubling was their finding that about 60% of biology teachers did not teach evolution adequately or correctly as a fact of science. This majority of teachers did not teach creationism, but they failed to be a “strong advocates for evolutionary biology.” The remaining 27% of biology teachers consistently followed the recommendations of the National Research Council to straightforwardly describe the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology.

Good biology teachers in good school districts, such as the large urban and suburban ones, usually do a good job of presenting evolution to students, and this is as true in Texas as for other states. I found in my own conversations with Texas biology teachers and science supervisors that school districts outside of population centers are not so good. This is probably why Rick Perry himself, a product of rural Texas schools, does not have a good understanding of science. He claims humans do not cause global warming and climate change (which includes the extreme and potentially permanent Texas Drought), he has several times expressed his preference for Creationism rather than biological evolution, and he thinks scientists are venal and doing their work for the money. This is not a picture that gives one confidence in Rick Perry's administration of one of the richest and most technically and scientifically advanced states in the country. Nor should it give one confidence in Perry's abilities to be president or vice-president of the United States, offices for which he is campaigning.

Perry was asked by the student (encouraged by his mother to ask these very specific questions of the Texas Governor, an exotic specimen in New England, a region characterized by rational thinking, political moderation, and emotional stability—in other words, the complete opposite of Texas) about the age of the Earth.

"How old do I think the Earth is? You know what, I don’t have any idea,” Perry replied. “I know it’s pretty old so it goes back a long, long way. I’m not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how long, how old the Earth is.”

Wrong, Governor. Scientists do know how old the Earth and Universe are (4.54 and 13.75 billion years old respectively), not 6,000–10,000 years old as Christian Fundamentalist Perry himself surely believes but didn’t want to say. Perry doesn’t flaunt his education and it is well he shouldn’t, since he is a product of the Texas public education system which has some of the lowest achievement statistics in the country.

The mother urged her son to next ask Perry about his views on evolution, and Perry began to answer his question:

“And here your mom was asking about evolution, and you know, it’s a theory that’s out there and it’s got some gaps in it,” Mr. Perry continued. “In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.”

Before he left, Perry told a New Hampshire teacher, “We teach the straight out facts in Texas in our schools. You'll have to pick those up in our classbooks." Would those be the textbooks edited, manipulated, and censored by our wonderful State Board of Education led by Perry’s hand-picked Young Earth Creationist chairmen? Why yes, they would.

Texas Education Agency Supports Perry's Statement

No doubt because many national reporters today asked the Texas Education Agency to confirm Governor Rick Perry's statement, the TEA issued the following statement by email today:

Our science standards require students to analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations, so it is likely that other theories, such as creationism, would be discussed in class. Our schools can also offer an elective course on Biblical history and it is likely that creationism is discussed as part of that class, too.

This official TEA statement is extremely misleading, disingenuous, and shamefully inaccurate. I don't know who wrote it but three different names of TEA spokespersons (DeEtta Culbertson, Suzanne Matchman, Debbie Ratcliffe) have been connected with it in press reports. First, the Texas science standards (officially known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS) do indeed ask that students know the following:

(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: (A) in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student;

Please note that TEKS (3)(A) is a scientific knowledge and skill process that students are supposed to learn how to do while taking a science class, not a knowledge and skill concept that they are required to learn about in science class. Process skills and knowledge require students to learn how to think about or practice something; concept skills or knowledge require students to learn and remember specific content or facts. Knowing how to use the scientific method is a required process, but students don't have to actually use the scientific method for every piece of scientific information they learn. Learning some new knowledge by conducting lab exercises and practicing the scientific method is sufficient to satisfy that requirement. Most content knowledge is learned by traditional reading, study, and taking notes. For example, evolution but not creationism is required scientific concept knowledge. TEKS (3)(A) refers to practices that students do not need to actually conduct with every scientific explanation, clearly something that is impossible due to lack of student and teacher time, knowledge, and instructional materials coverage. Certainly students are not expected or required to "analyze, evaluate, and critique" evolution and creationism, since doing this would be neither scientific nor legal. Analyzing, evaluating, and critiquing biological evolution by discussing bogus weaknesses or problems of evolution obtained from Creationist sources (but not explicitly mentioning creationism) would be unscientific and unprofessional but probably not illegal.

It is also essential to note that the terms "critique" and "all fields of science" and the long phrase "including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student" were added to the science standards in 2009 by an 8-7 majority vote of the SBOE precisely to suggest, without being explicit, that evolution should be critiqued and creationist-inspired bogus problems and weaknesses of evolution should be examined along with the scientific evidence for evolution. The radical religious right SBOE member 8-vote majority were forced to be ambiguous because being more explicit about evolution and creationism would be illegal (as they were carefully briefed by their Discovery Institute "advisers" present throughout the meetings). The SBOE amendment to change this important standard was done over the specific and vociferous objections of the scientists and science teachers who wrote this standard and many professional science organizations who had been warned that attempts would be made to change it. This standard was infamous for approximately 15 years because it contained the unscientific phrase "strengths and weaknesses," but this phrase was deliberately removed by the science standards-writing panel. Before the Board's politically-forced revision, the standard was this:

(3) The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to: (A) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;

I know the history of this issue because I was a member of the science standards-writing panel and I composed the new wording of (3)(A), which was fully discussed and accepted by all the science panel members. I removed the old "strengths and weaknesses" phrase and stressed that I didn't want any suggestion in this standard that any topic, especially including biological evolution, would be singled out for critique by teachers and students and contrasted with nonscientific alternative such as creationism or intelligent design creationism. The other scientists and science teachers agreed after considerable discussion and the revised, improved (3)(A) was sent to the Board for final debate and approval.

Contrary to the TEA statement, it is certainly not "likely that other theories, such as creationism, would be discussed in class" in Texas. Of course, some teachers do it, as discussed above, but doing so is both unprofessional and illegal and the teachers know this. Those that unfortunately discuss creationism place their own religious prejudices above both their students' education and the law, a reprehensible practice. If a student brings up the topic of creationism in class, as some are told to do by their Sunday School teachers and ministers, the best way to deal with it is to say, "We are not going to discuss nonscientific or religious topics in this class" or "Please visit me after school and we will discuss that topic in private." It is always wrong to discuss creationism in a science class because it confuses and misleads all the students as to the scientific legitimacy of the topic. If they hear about it in a public school science class, it will gain more legitimacy than it deserves. (This is the same reason why scientists should never debate Creationists.) Furthermore, the vast majority of science teachers do not have the knowledge or training to explain to students the differences among various explanations of origins; often the philosophical, scientific, and religious differences are subtle and complex.

Teaching creationism or even mentioning it in a favorable way in a public school classroom violates the law, specifically the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. This has been decided by several federal court decisions, including the Supreme Court in its 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision, so the law applies to the entire country. The federal courts have determined that creationism, including Intelligent Design Creationism, is religious and therefore can't be mentioned in public schools. This emphasizes that Texas biology teachers who discuss creationism in labs and classrooms are breaking the law. The Supreme Court's 1987 decision did contain the sentence that,

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught [and] teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.

This has given Creationists great encouragement to attempt to force states to teach and critique alleged weaknesses, problems, and errors of evolutionary biology rather than obvious Creationist doctrine. This was the motivation behind the changes the radical religious right members of the Texas SBOE made to the state biology standards in 2009, which obliquely suggested in the standards that evolution had problems explaining the fossil record and complexity within cells and DNA. Unfortunately for the Creationists, all of the weaknesses and problems of evolution they identified were bogus and invariably creationist-inspired. Their arguments defending the problems and errors depended on sophistry and scientists were able to demonstrate that there was no scientific validity to them at all. Additionally, while the Supreme Court's decision explicitly allows teaching a "variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind," scientific theories other than evolution simply don't exist now; more precisely, alternative scientific hypotheses have long been abandoned by science. Creationists have tried to make it appear--with prodigious marketing, framing, and rhetorical efforts, but no actual scientific evidence--that Intelligent Design is a scientific alternative to evolutionary biology, but their efforts have been refuted in every detail by committed scientists. Scientists consider Intelligent Design to be another, more sophisticated form of Creationism, not a scientific alternative to evolution

The final sentence of the TEA statement is partly true. Texas has non-required "Elective Courses on the Bible's Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament and Their Impact on the History and Literature of Western Civilization" in which students may learn how Biblical literature, not Biblical history, influenced Western history and literature (see also here and here). The story of creation in Genesis is a poem about a myth that would be a legitimate part of this course. It influenced many great works of art, such as John Milton's Paradise Lost. The concept of religious creationism could be discussed here since many Christians believe in the creation of humans and all Christians believe in the creation of the universe as described in Genesis. This has nothing to do with science, of course, but it could be relevant to Rick Perry's statement if by "In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools" he is referring to all public school courses, not biology class. However, I don't think that was Perry's intention or context. I think he truly and mistakenly believes that both evolution and creationism are taught in Texas public school biology classrooms because he has been told this or allowed to believe this. This just proves our governor's enormous ignorance and contempt for the law. Thus, the TEA statement is extraordinarily misleading, disingenuous, and inaccurate.

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Update, 2011 August 19: I discovered this morning that Politifact Texas (our state needs its own Politifact service since our politicians generate so much false information) published its analysis of Governor Rick Perry's statement about teaching both evolution and creationism in Texas public schools. The analysis is accurate and concludes that Perry's statement is false. I and several others were interviewed by the Politifact Texas writer for his analysis but for some reason my name is not mentioned as a source. I provided the writer with the information about the study of creationist teaching in U.S. biology classes (original note here, best public analysis here) by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer that was discussed. Plutzer was himself interviewed and correctly told the Politifact writer that, "One thing you can be certain of is that large numbers of public school science teachers in Texas are endorsing creationism." Politifact Texas also quoted a statement from Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier that is eerily similar to TEA's statement:

It is required that students evaluate and analyze the theory of evolution, and creationism very likely comes up and is discussed in that process. Teachers are also permitted to discuss it with students in that context. Schools are also allowed to teach biblical history as an elective and creationism is part of that teaching too.

For reasons discussed above, the Perry spokeswoman's statement is also misleading, disingenuous, and inaccurate. Teachers are not permitted to discuss creationism in a biology class if the subject is brought up by a student. Doing so is unscientific, unprofessional, and illegal. (The teacher can discuss the topic outside the class or after school.) The Politifact author recognizes this and comes to the correct conclusion:

No doubt, some Texas teachers address the subject of creationism. But it’s not state law or policy to intermix instruction on creationism and evolution. We rate Perry’s statement False.


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2011 August 19