Don McLeroy hasn't changed. The man - the creationist - is as personable and principled as he was during the taping of The Revisionaries, a truncated version of which will appear on Houston PBS this evening at 10 p.m. He's 66 years old. He's still assured of Genesis's inerrancy. He's not going to shift now.
The former chairman of the State Board of Education provided much of the divisive fodder in filmmaker Scott Thurman's take on 2009 debate surrounding creationism and evolution within Texas's textbooks. ("Someone has to stand up to experts!" he famously thundered.) He and his mustache have become a touchstone for everything surrounding the creationist debate sparked by Scopes, carried by Kansas, currently rampaging through Louisiana. The man's picked up the mantle as a public face of creationism - namely, the Young Earth folks who believe Noah made extra space for a pair of triceratops - and continued to carry this cross forward.
Lampooned by Colbert, excoriated by scientists and laity alike, it would have been easy to see McLeroy crawl into a shell of caution. It'd be easy to see him clamp his views, distancing himself from the McLeroy the Character - the Caricature - and McLeroy the Man. But here he is, shuttling between dental patients as he ever has, prattling on about a film that tossed him and his state into something approaching a national laughingstock.
"I don't accept evolution because the evidence doesn't support it," McLeroy said on Tuesday, din of his dentist's office whirring behind him. "The atheists - they're the ones who aren't free. But Christians, gosh. We're divided on the age of the Earth, but it's no big deal. ... The atheists have the biggest problem: How do you get something from nothing? How do you explain unguided natural processes?"
McLeroy stands by his anti-evolutionary beliefs, stuck with the idea that biblical writ remains ineffable, infallible. And that could, very easily, be the end of his approach. After all, if the Bible remains inerrant, why bother searching for another Word? Why bother seeking something that should, prima facie, already be written off?
But that's not how McLeroy operates. He knows what he believes. But he sees the fundamentalism mirrored in others - Darwin and Dawkins and Wilson were looking for evidence, just like him - and he'd hate to have anyone accuse him of epistemic closure.
"This past Christmas holiday I read both Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne and The Greatest Show on earth by Richard Dawkins," McLeroy told me. "I read them, studied them, on my Kindle, on my Nook. And the evidence is not compelling. And how many people have read those books in the last month?"
("Not me," I informed him, hesitating to share that my time had instead been taken with going through Christopher Hitchens's anti-religion screeds.)
His research, his church, his work - all of it has only reaffirmed his convictions, has only led him to the same conclusion. God made the Earth in six days, he said. We were made in his image. Velociraptors may have been the original beasts hunting Little Red Riding Hood. We don't yet have all the answers, but these are things we know.
"I organize it into a simple syllogism," McLeroy said, noting they fact that his textbook standards have continued. "If the standards are compromised in a creationist direction and they haven't been challenged in court, they're legitimate, and to me that means they represent legitimate science. And if they're legitimate, you can make the sub-argument that science can lean in a creationist direction."
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Logical aerobatics aside, McLeroy made it clear that he holds no grudge with The Revisionaries. Though he feels conservatives were unfairly presented as favoring the separation of church and state - "Why would we downplay what Jesus began?" he noted - he did stamp the film with an "A"-rating. Tonight's truncated version is even better, he said. Gets tedious watching yourself, apparently.
After scuttling off to another patient - again, the Man's remained the same as the Character - McLeroy took a half-hour to collect his thoughts on where Texas currently stands, and where the impetus for discussion now lay.
"Our science standards are fine," he wrote me after our conversation. "As stated in The Revisionaries, 'I got what I wanted; I got exactly what I wanted.'"
"The evolutionists have been painted into a corner; they need to provide evidence or be quiet."