Caldwell’s “non-Religious” anti-Evolution Materials

A small victory for Larry Caldwell, the California lawyer who believes he has a right to dictate science education in his school district. Caldwell is an anti-evolutionist, and his Quality Science Education for All was set up to promote

a science education that exposes students to the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

Eugenie Scott wrote an attack on Caldwell’s aims and methods, which Caldwell considered to be libellous. The latest California Wild magazine (published by the California Academy of Sciences) now carries a retraction by Scott of some of her accusations, and a response by Caldwell:

Contrary to false statements and implications in Scott’s article, I never asked the district to ban or limit the teaching of evolution in biology classes, or to present the Bible or the Genesis account of creation in biology classes, or to teach creation science, or young-earth creation, or intelligent design theory in biology classes, and our district’s board of trustees never considered implementing any such policy for its biology classes. Contrary to Scott’s claim, our board also never “declared that . . . [any] creationist materials would be ‘recommended’ but not required.”

So it seems from this Caldwell is really just interested in science, and not religion at all. But a prior paragraph suggests otherwise:

The only materials I submitted for adoption and use in classrooms in our district were a video entitled Icons of Evolution Curriculum Modules, and written materials authored by Cornelius G. Hunter, who holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of Illinois. The Icons Modules video consists of a discussion of five scientific weaknesses of Darwinian evolution by well-credentialed scientists, including, ironically, Eugenie Scott herself defending Darwin’s theory. Dr. Hunter’s written materials are contained in a Power Point presentation Dr. Hunter made to our science teachers. His Power Point presentation consists of Dr. Hunter’s critique of the District’s biology textbook’s discussion of evolution and suggested written materials to be used in conjunction with the textbook.

Icons of Evolution  is very well-known, and was written as a book by Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute. His work was inspired by Rev Moon, as he explains on the True Parents Organisation website:

Father’s [i.e. Moon’s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism…When I finished my Yale Ph.D., I felt confident that I understood the theological basis of the conflict between Darwinism and theism.

The book from which the Icons video is derived was not, of course, scientifically peer-reviewed, and was published by the right-wing publishing house Regnery.

Hunter’s 2001 PhD was entitled Protein structure analysis and prediction (via the University of Illinois library catalogue), but he is better known as the author of Darwin’s God, published by the evangelical Brazos Press, in which he claims

the theory of evolution, from its origins with Charles Darwin up to its present-day proponents, is motivated at bottom by theological concerns. Behind the scientific story is the story of Charles Darwin’s grappling with questions about God, reality, and the nature of the universe. Ultimately, Hunter shows how Darwin’s inability to reconcile his understanding of a benevolent God with the cruelty, waste, and quandaries of nature led him to develop the theodicy called evolution. Importantly, the tale Hunter has to tell is not merely historical. He demonstrates how today’s theory of evolution continues to rely on Darwin’s metaphysics.

Doubtless it is this argumentation, rather than anything derived from Hunter’s study of protein structure, which Caldwell believes qualifies Hunter to critique the biology textbooks currently in use.

So, two religiously-motivated scientists known only for books published by non-scientific and ideologically conservative publishing houses. And just why do they deserve to have the law step in to ensure that their opinions are taught in science classes? Caldwell explains:

The science statements made in the Icons Modules video and Dr. Hunter’s slide show presentation are supported by meticulous citations to peer-reviewed articles in mainstream science journals, and Dr. Hunter’s Power Point presentation and the Icons Modules video have been endorsed by a number of university professors and other scientists.

There. Caldwell’s materials may not have been peer-reviewed, but they do mention peer-reviewed works in them, which is just as good. Plus some other scientists and professors (who may be friends and co-ideologists with Wells and Hunter, but that doesn’t matter) liked them.

UPDATE: I’m always happy to get feedback from someone on the inside; Cornelius Hunter and Larry Caldwell respond in the comments.

16 Responses

  1. I appreciate Bartholomew’s concern for ulterior motives making their way into science. There are, however, several subtleties of which Bartholomew should be aware. He questions whether Caldwell is “really just interested in science, and not religion.” Is this how those seeking quality science education are going to be judged, according to perceptions of what their real motivations are? Unfortunately, this is where much of the debate lies today. It is a new version of the McCarthyism from half a century ago. People are smeared and branded according to popular stereotypes rather than their words and deeds. Ironically, this stereotype was fueled by the play “Inherit the Wind,” a fictionalized account of the famous 1925 Scopes trial written to illustrate the threat of the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy era.
    Hence, scientific problems with evolution no longer matter because, after all, such problems are raised by “religious” people, and we know their real motives. This form of anti intellectualism leads to libel. Scott’s attack on Caldwell was not merely in error, it was fictitious to the point of being bizarre. Bartholomew unfortunately, rather than helping his readers understand the nuances of today’s debate, picks up where Scott left off.

    Bartholomew judges me to be “religiously-motivated.” And those scientists and professors who endorsed my evaluation of the textbook? Bartholomew brands them as probably “co-ideologists.” It is all about inferred religious motivations. No matter that the textbook has several scientific errors and oversights. No matter that my review was a scientific analysis of the textbook content.

    I do commend Bartholomew for his concern for ulterior motives. I urge him and others to look into evolution more carefully. As I documented in my book “Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil,” it is crucial to understand the influence of religious concerns in the development of evolution.

    Bartholomew did mention my book, but has not read it. If he had, Bartholomew would know that “Darwin’s God” is a scientific and historical critique of evolution, not the religious dogma he envisions it to be. In fact, my book was a criticism of trends in modern Christian thought as much as it was of Darwin’s theory of evolution and earned a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. As the reviewer wrote, “Biophysicist Hunter brings rare depth and originality to this analysis of an often-neglected stream of Darwin’s thought, illuminating not only the original debates surrounding ‘The Origin of Species,’ but also contemporary questions about evolution and religion. … This book falls outside the standard niches of the evolution-and-religion literature, and readers who strongly identify with either side of creation-evolution debates will find grounds for disagreeing with some of Hunter’s assertions; but the cogency of his central argument should attract readers of both persuasions.”

    We need to move beyond naïve cultural stereotypes. Rather than brand people with simplistic name-calling, let’s engage this interesting and important debate with the knowledge and intelligence it requires.

  2. Thanks for the response. It’s true I have not read the book, which is why I declined to discuss it in any detail. But my problem is not with whether the book is any good or not; it’s whether it’s so good that it means your perspective on science education content deserves to have such a big impact (or any impact) on California schools. The fact that the push for the adoption of your critique is coming from an anti-evolutionist lawyer rather than from your scientific peers seems to me rather unencouraging.

  3. Thank you for your interest in the debate over how evolution should be taught to high school students in Roseville, California.

    Let me see if I understand your position correctly: Any scientist who is known to hold a personal religious belief is automatically disqualified from being able to form a valid scientific opinion on evolution. So that would mean that Kenneth Brown is disqualified, since he is a declared Catholic, Michael Behe is disqualified, since he is a declared Catholic, Eugenie Scott is disqualified, since she is a declared secular humanist, Richard Dawkins is disqualified, since he is a declared atheist, Cornelius Hunter is disqualified, since he is an Evangelical Christian, and Jonathan Wells is disqualified, since he is a declared Christian.

    Or would it be a more accurate statement of your position to say that if a scientist doubts Darwin, then their personal religious beliefs are relevant, but if a scientist doesn’t doubt Darwin, then their personal religious beliefs are not relevant?

    Please explain.

    Larry Caldwell

  4. And thank you for your interest in my blog. However, you have not understood my position correctly. My concern is only that a scientist (or any other academic) should not be given an unwarrented prominence and influence based on the legal activism of a religious lobbyist.

  5. It sounds like you are now conceding that Dr. Wells’ and Dr. Hunter’s personal religious beliefs are not relevant to evalulating the validity of their scientific opinions after all. If that’s your position, then why did you consider it relevant to mention the personal religious beliefs of Dr. Wells and Dr. Hunter?

    What is your basis for labeling me as a “religious lobbyist”?

  6. Hunter’s and Wells’ scientific opinions are marginal within the scientific community, not because of their religious beliefs, but because most scientists have judged their work to be wanting (or they are not aware of it, since the authors have chosen unusal publishing outlets). One critique of Hunter’s work can be seen here, for instance.

    So why do Wells and Hunter hold such marginal opinions? Wells admits he was inspired by Rev Moon; Hunter belongs to a different religious tradition that has theological problems with evolutionary theory. Religion has apparently led them to develop their opinions, and that is interesting in itself, whether or not their work has any validity.

    I did, however, simply assume that your enthusiasm for their marginal opinions was also based on religious convictions. If that is incorrect, then you have my apologies. But I’m at a loss to understand why else you should think that Wells and Hunter deserve to have such a big influence on California science education, when ID has failed to make a convincing case to the scientific mainstream.

  7. Unfortunately, Bartholomew continues to use inappropriate stereotypes and generalizations. He writes that I belong to a “religious tradition that has theological problems with evolutionary theory.” Quite the opposite, my religious tradition does not have theological problems with evolutionary theory. I wouldn’t expect Bartholomew to know that, but then again, I wouldn’t expect Bartholomew to write about things of which he doesn’t know. Again, let’s engage this interesting and important debate with the knowledge and intelligence it requires.

  8. Sorry, I should have said, “a religious tradition that has a belief that a divine Creator can be made known through the study of the natural world”. Is that better? But then again, perhaps these terminological problems could be avoided were it not for the ID polemical habit of terming mainstream evolutionary biologists as mere “Darwinists”, as if mainstream science were just some attempt to conform to the dogmas of a C19 book.

  9. Is Dr. Hunter’s PowerPoint critique available on line? Is it a strictly scientific critique?

    Darwin’s possible theological motivations may be quite interesting from a biographical, historical, sociological, and/or philosophical perspective. But his motivations are really irrelevant in assessing the validity of modern evolutionary theory. Certainly there’s no place for discussing his possible religious motivations in a high school science class.

    The book review Bartholomew quotes includes the following passage:

    “Importantly, the tale Hunter has to tell is not merely historical. He demonstrates how today’s theory of evolution continues to rely on Darwin’s metaphysics. Contemporary Darwinists such as Kenneth Miller, Mark Ridley, Niles Eldredge, and Stephen Jay Gould rely on Darwin’s God to justify evolution as much as Darwin did. Ironically, we discover that the theory that supposedly made God unnecessary is predicated upon dearly held beliefs about the very nature of God.”

    I’d be interested to know if Hunter agrees with the reviewer’s characterization. I strongly dispute that today’s theory relies on anyone’s metaphysics, or that it’s (scientifically) predicated on any beliefs about God.

    However, I agree that some individuals do consider evolution a (partial) justification for their (a)religious beliefs. That is their right, just as it is Caldwell’s and Hunter’s right to disagree (assuming they do).

    There is no place for discussing anyone’s religious beliefs in a science class. If Caldwell &/or Hunter wish only to ensure that evolution is taught strictly as a scientific theory, with no discussion of possible metaphysical implications, then I am in complete agreement. (At least as regards public high school science classes.)

    However, some people wish to see the science of evolution watered down, or omitted entirely, because they are uncomfortable with what they think are the metaphysical/religious implications. I am strongly opposed to that.

    Overall, the current theory of evolution is incredibly well-supported by the evidence, and has enormous predictive power. That’s what high school students should be taught. There are also many aspects of evolution that are not fully understood, with plenty of disagreement over exact mechanisms, relative importance of different processes, etc. Those uncertainties should also be taught to high school students, but not to any greater or lesser degree than for any other highly accepted scientific theory.

    Evolution should not be subject to ‘special’ critique, and especially not as a covert attempt to allay the concerns of any religious group. Note that I am not arguing that this is Caldwell’s or Hunter’s motivation. I don’t know their motivations. But there are clearly some very vocal groups with exactly this motivation.

  10. qetzal, you may be interested in knowing that the possible theological and metaphysical motivations for Darwin’s theory of evolution have already been expressly injected into our school district’s biology classes by the biology textbook itself.

    You may also be interested in knowing that Darwinian advocates such as Eugenie Scott and recommend that science teachers bring up religion and encourage students to discuss their religious beliefs in science class. For an example, go to Scott’s article at where she gives the following advice to public school teachers:

    “People don’t oppose evolution because they disagree with the science but because it offends their religious sensibilities. In most communities, at least some students come into a class wary of the “e-word” because somehow they have acquired the idea that acceptance of evolution is incompatible with religious faith. Antievolutionists, in fact, make a special point of proclaiming that one is either an evolutionist or a creationist, falsely dichotomizing the issue. Although it is not the job of public school science teachers to teach theology, when students come to class with their fingers stuck into their ears and their eyes closed, it is necessary to figure out a way to get the fingers out and the eyes open.

    Most Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations have accepted evolution as the way God brought the world about, and this is also true of the theology of all but the most conservative Jews. Although it would be inappropriate for a teacherto encourage students towards or against any religious view, it is appropriate to inform them, in a comparative sense, of the existence of more than one religious perspective on creation and evolution. Because students are not tabulae rasae when they come to class, a constructivist approach is a useful way to help them build their understanding of this important fact.

    Teachers have told me they have had good results when they begin the year by asking students to brainstorm what they think the words “evolution” and “creationism” mean. As expected, some of the information will be accurate and some will be erroneous. Under “evolution,” expect to hear “Man evolved from monkeys” or something similar. Don’t be surprised to find some variant of, “You can’t believe in God” or some similar statement of supposed incompatibility between religion and evolution. Under “creationism” expect to find more consistency: “God”; “Adam and Eve,” “Genesis,” etc. The next step in constructing student understanding of concepts is to guide them towards a more accurate view. One goal of this exercise is to help them see the diversity of religious attitudes towards evolution.

    After one such initial brainstorming session, one teacher presented students with a short quiz wherein they were asked, “Which statement was made by the Pope?” or “which statement was made by an Episcopal Bishop?” and given an “a, b, c” multiple choice selection. All the statements from theologians, of course, stressed the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution. This generated discussion about what evolution was versus what students thought it was. By making the students aware of the diversity of opinion towards evolution extant in Christian theology, the teacher helped them understand that they didn’t have to make a choice between evolution and religious faith.

    A teacher in Minnesota told me that he had good luck sending his students out at the beginning of the semester to interview their pastors and priests about evolution. They came back somewhat astonished, “Hey! Evolution is OK!” Even when there was diversity in opinion, with some religious leaders accepting evolution as compatible with their theology and others rejecting it, it was educational for the students to find out for themselves that there was no single Christian perspective on evolution. The survey-of-ministers approach may not work if the community is religiously homogeneous, especially if that homogeneity is conservative Christian, but it is something that some teachers might consider as a way of getting students’ fingers out of their ears.

    A less constructivist but not necessarily ineffective approach is to begin by properly separating “evolution” as something that occurred (change through time) from the processes and mechanisms — the causes — of evolution. Define evolution as an issue of the history of the planet: as the way we try to understand change through time. The present is different from the past. Evolution happened, there is no debate within science as to whether it happened, and so on. Then, list (for later discussion) a number of causes or processes which might explain in whole or in part, how this change through time might have taken place. Stress that this is where debating takes place. List both currently-debated and also rejected explanations, such as Lamarckism, saltation, Darwinian natural selection, neodarwinism, non-Darwinian evolution, and so on. At the end of the list (and I recommend using a transparency or writing the list on the blackboard), include “Supernatural Causation”. Explain that some people think that change through time is caused directly or indirectly by a supernatural being, including God, the Hero Twins (Navajo), or some other supernatural power.”

    So I ask: Which side of this debate is attempting to inject religion and religious discussion into science classes?

  11. Evolution is separate from religion Mr. Caldwell. You look at Ms. Scott’s article and say, “See, they are injecting religion,” when the crux of it all was to show that the two are quite separate entities. You are being disingenuous.

    Also, Wells’s “scientific problems” with evolution have all been debunked point by point. To add those to a science class would be a disservice to the students, since they are simply not accurate. By trying to insert Wells’s drivel Mr. Caldwell, you are watering down their education. Shame on you.

  12. Mr. Caldwell,

    Although I agree with Dr. Scott that many people do not see a conflict between evolution and their religious beliefs, I strongly disagree with her proposals to explore that in high school science class. As I indicated in my first post, I don’t believe there’s a place for religious teachings of any kind in public high schools.

    I think your final question is a bit unfair, in that it implies that Dr. Scott’s views are a fair representation of one ‘side’ of the debate. I doubt that to be the case. Regardless, I’ll say it again: I strongly disagree with what Dr. Scott advocates, just as I strongly disagree with ‘evolution disclaimer’ stickers, teaching intelligent design, teaching special creation (young earth or old), or singling out evolution for ‘special’ critique in public high school science classes.

    I also recognize that some students will see a conflict between evolution and their religious views. So, even if teachers take care not to raise religious issues, they may still have to respond to them. A simple response could be, “This is a science class, and not a proper place to discuss religion.” I think that’s inadequate. My response would be something like the following.

    “Evolution is a scientific theory. Like all scientific theories, it attempts to account for the observable world around us. The theory of evolution is widely accepted among scientists because it does an excellent job explaining the diversity and properties of life on earth. But much more importantly, evolution is widely accepted because it has an excellent record of successfully predicting new observations. This is the hallmark of a successful theory, and the true value of all science. Explanatory power is nice, but predictive power is practical. It works.

    “Our goal for this unit is to learn what the theory of evolution says, understand some of the evidence that supports it, understand something about its predictive power, and understand why it is the only accepted scientific theory for the diversity of life that we have. Whether you ‘believe’ in evolution is not relevant for this class. It will not affect your grade, so long as you understand evolution and can correctly apply its principles in a scientific setting.”

    An even better approach might be to pre-empt the whole issue, by starting off the class year with a discussion about what science is, what a scientific theory is, the importance of prediction (hypothesis testing), and the importance of accepting theories (or not) based on evidence and successful prediction. Then, every new unit (not just evolution) can be approached from that perspective. What do the theories say? Why do they say it? What’s the evidence? What has been successfully predicted? What would be predicted in some new setting?

    IMHO, an approach like that might help defuse any religion vs. science conflict (in science class, anyway), and also do a better job teaching students what science really is, not just what it currently says.

    If I may ask you a question, Mr. Caldwell, would you have any objection to such an approach?

  13. Dr. Wells’s religious opinions are relevant to the topic as well, because he bases his “science” on those religious opinions. The difference between Wells and Brown, for instance, is that Wells consults religion to come up with his “science” while Brown does the science first without consulting his religion.
    Wells’s opinion is also relevant when ID is presented as a backdoor way to teach children about his religious opinions.

  14. […] As with Intelligent Design, who cares about the opinions of actual experts when you’ve got lawyers fighting your cause? This is about winning, not truth. (The two constitution attorneys, by the way, are Robert P George of Princeton, who advises George Bush on bioethics, and Gerard Bradley – see here. One wonders whether they gave their opinion on teaching about the Bible in schools in general, or whether they actually lent their reputations to the pseduo-scholarship of the NCBCPS.) […]

  15. […] Posted on September 11, 2007 by Richard Bartholomew Remember Larry Caldwell? I blogged him in July 2005, a few months after he announced plans to sue his children’s school: California […]

  16. So why is Eugenie afraid of looking at scientific questions? Who cares what motivates them!

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