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The state legislators and the Creation Evidence Expo: a cautionary tale
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Let us tell you a story…
The last issue of FWR (#155) featured an article about Marlin Stutzman, the Republican nominee for the 3rd district US Congressional seat.
One item in particular attracted some attention — the fact that last year Stutzman, while he was running for Senator, co-hosted a dinner at the Creation Evidence Expo in Indianapolis with state Representative Cindy Noe.
We won’t claim we received thousands and thousands of calls and e-mails from people asking us about that paragraph, but it did raise enough eyebrows — “what is this? Is this even true?” — that after poking around a bit, we decided to pursue it and see where it took us.
Just to be clear, Stutzman fully admitted he co-hosted the dinner, but he seemed a little vague on the details and circumstances (more on that in a few paragraphs). We initially thought he was being evasive, that he didn’t want to have to explain his participation at the event and possibly have to field the question “do you believe in evolution?” at every public appearance during his campaign. But now, after talking to the organizer of the Creation Evidence Expo… we’re sort of inclined to see the whole thing as a cautionary tale.
The Creation Evidence Expo is an annual week-long conference in Indianapolis that features lectures with titles like “Explosive Geological Evidence for Creation” and “Devolution: The Creator Denied, Morals Decline.” Some presenters, past and scheduled, include Dr. Carl Baugh, founder of the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose Texas, and Dr. Jay Wile, author of numerous textbooks with names like Exploring Creation with Biology and Exploring Creation with General Science.
The Expo is organized by Reverend Frederick Boyd, an Indianapolis-based pastor, and the event’s philosophy is unambiguously stated on its website: “…to make current scientific evidence that supports the conclusion that God created man. The CEE… brings together scientists and recent evidence along with established evidence that answers questions pertaining to the age of the earth, when did the last dinosaur walk the Earth, natural selection and the ultimate question of evolution.”
The statement goes on to say, “We want all human beings to realize that God specifically designed each individual - without mistakes and not from animals.”
There are millions and millions of people who have reconciled their religious faith with current scientific theories concerning evolution, the age of the universe, the formation of the Earth, etc. Frederick Boyd and the Creation Evidence Expo are not among those people. Their view seems to tend towards a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis — seven days mean seven days, and you can calculate the age of planet Earth by counting the generations since Adam, etc. Past presentations at the CEE have included evidence to support that dinosaurs and man co-existed…
We could go on, but many people are probably familiar with the basic tenets of what’s called “creationism” or “intelligent design,” and the mountains of data and research that counter those beliefs are also readily available.
Boyd and the Creation Evidence Expo have not garnered a lot of attention outside of creationist and intelligent design circles. The CEE first started in 2006; back then, it was a one-day event, though it has grown over the past few years, stretching over seven days (appropriately enough). Boyd estimates that 4500 – 4800 people attended the Expo last year.
Like we said, the Expo does not seem to give pause to the greater population of Indianapolis. For the most part, media generally ignore it, and those who have heard of it tend to roll their eyes.
And it would probably be easy to dismiss as a bit of fringe weirdness if last year’s guest list for the “Evening with the Stars” dinner that kicks off the event didn’t include State Senator Marlin Stutzman (R-13) and State Representative Cindy Noe (R-87).
For FWR’s profile of Stutzman last issue (FWR #155), we asked him about his involvement with the event. Stutzman said he and Noe were asked by the organizers to co-host a dinner and invite other state legislators to attend. He was vague about his opinion on the CEE’s views. “The information they had there was good information,” he said. “They wanted to raise awareness of their issue, and wanted to meet as many folks who are willing to support their organization and also make those who are in the legislature aware of their issue as well.”
But it seemed strange and risky for Stutzman, who at the time was already running for US Senator, and Noe, who serves on the state’s education committee, to associate themselves with such an organization. It also seems out-of-sync with the priorities of Governor Daniels, who often stresses a background in science and technology as key for Indiana’s economic growth. Not that all party members need to fall into lock-step behind the governor, but Stutzman for one has expressed his admiration for Daniels.
The involvement of Stutzman and Noe — and whoever from the state legislator accepted their invitation to the dinner — went almost unnoticed (we stumbled across it on the Blue Indiana blog). And in fact, the whole event might have come and gone were it not for the appearance of another Indiana public official on the speaker’s list for last year’s “Evening with the Stars” dinner — the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Bennett.
Dr. Bennett’s name did get some attention, and the small controversy generated by that and Dr. Bennett’s subsequent withdrawal probably provided the Creation Evidence Expo with its biggest moment in the spotlight. Dr. Bennett claimed that he had agreed to speak at the “Evening With the Stars” dinner when he had initially met with Boyd to talk about a mentoring program, but that he didn’t know the exact nature of the Expo and had assumed he would be speaking about the future of Indiana education. Dr. Bennett’s spokesperson told the Indianapolis Star that Bennett “…a former science teacher, agrees with the Indiana standards for science, which include the teaching of evolution.”
Boyd says he was disappointed with the whole situation, and that he felt the media coverage made him out to be deceitful and underhanded. “All I said was, I just wanted to know where he stood on education, and his value system,” Boyd recalls. “I was very pleased (that Bennett was) trying to get teachers to be accountable for their teaching. I said ‘I agree. They’re not accountable. They do what they want to do.’”
Boyd continues: “After we had such a wonderful conversation about wanting to see educational change, I simply asked Dr. Bennett, I said ‘I’d like you to share your vision for the education of our children in Indiana at our annual dinner.’ That’s all. I wasn’t asking him to be part of our organization. I wasn’t asking him to support what I believe about science. I just said ‘you come share your vision.’ Then the politicians, and I don’t know who else in the state house, made it look like he was joining the creation movement. They jumped on him, and he probably told them the truth, but the media doesn’t want to know that.”
But talking to Boyd, it’s pretty easy to see how Bennett might not have known exactly what he was signing on for. Boyd talks about how important education is in our society. He talks about how children need a quality education. He talks about how public schools aren’t giving students what they need. He talks about addressing society’s ills. This year, for example, Boyd plans to kick off the Creation Evidence Expo with a rally in Indy’s Monument Circle, calling on people to stop the violence in Indianapolis. “I believe the best way to stop the violence is to teach people who they are,” he explains. “So I’m saying, let’s educate people. That’s what the Expo is all about: education.”
Well gosh, who isn’t for education? Or stopping violence? Or helping the kids? It takes a while for “creationism” or “intelligent design” to come up, but that is exactly what Boyd is talking about. According to Boyd, many of these social ills can be traced back to the 1980 Supreme Court decision that basically banned teaching creationism as part of science courses in public schools.
And he would like to see it put back in there, in the form of intelligent design being taught as part of a science curriculum in Indiana’s public schools. “I’d like to see two things,” he says. “One: teach evolution, but teach it to the depths. If you teach it to the depths, it’ll fizzle out on its own. There’s no evidence. When they teach evolution, they don’t dig deep enough. They just say ‘this bone is million of years old.’ Based on what?”
And two: “Teach intelligent design. In the state of Texas, it’s working very successfully. Why? Because the politicians there said ‘were going to teach the other side of the story,’ and it’s working very well. The students are getting the right concepts. Teach there was a designer, and let me finish the story.”
“Those are the two things I’d like to see in Indiana,” he adds. “If it doesn’t work, go back to what you’ve been doing, but I guarantee it will work, and we’ll see a difference in the academic scores, the core graduation rates, because we’re working on the plane of truth, and our children want quality education, which is based on truth, and they’re not getting it.”
Of course, the number of sources that contradict Boyd’s claims about science, evolution, and education are legion. You could start with, for example, how the scientific community determines the age of those fossils and rock formations by delving into a complicated explanation of carbon dating procedures. Or to look at another facet of the argument, you could read truckloads of studies and papers discussing the potentially catastrophic results that might occur years down the road if public education in the U.S. abandoned teaching core fundamentals in science — as one commentator put it: “I guarantee you kids in China are not being taught ‘intelligent design’ in science class.”
And frankly, it’s very doubtful that we’re going to see intelligent design pop up in Indiana public school science classes anytime soon. The last time the state legislator flirted with the issue was in late 2005, though even “flirted” might be too strong a word to describe what happened. A State Representative named Bruce Borders sought to introduce a bill that would make intelligent design a required subject in Indiana public schools. Borders, a Republican, is the former mayor of Jasonville, and represents Indiana’s 45th district (a section of Southwest Indiana). He’s also an Elvis impersonator, and by many accounts a pretty good one; his take on The King earned him appearances on David Letterman and Oprah (no, I am not making this up).
But the bill Borders eventually offered was a watered-down version of the one he had planned on; intelligent design didn’t appear anywhere in the text. Instead, the bill stated that the state board “… shall not adopt a textbook if the state board knows the textbook contains information, descriptions, conclusions, or pictures that are false." Borders is an avowed creationist, but he told the Indianapolis Star in January 2006 that a ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania just weeks earlier, stating that intelligent design in school textbooks was a violation of the separation of church and state, had taken a lot of momentum out of the issue.
“Based on some very good, solid advice, what I ended up having to do is transition it basically saying ‘we don’t want lies in the textbooks,’” says Representative Borders, who was a math and science major. “There’s no question that evolution in its one form, or what we call macroevolution, where one species literally transitions into another species, is certainly a faith. I’ll admit my faith as a Christian is a faith subject; I feel there’s much more scientific evidence for an intelligent designer than there is for evolution. But I made no bones about it. My goal was to promote the concept that we didn’t just happen to evolve.” (Borders still does Elvis, by the way — “You can still put on a white jumpsuit and think for yourself once in a while").
At the time, another legislator, Representative Frank Denbo (D-French Lick) had a similar bill drafted, but did not submit it, and House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) added that the House’s interest in the intelligent design issue had been exaggerated anyway.
Boyd says he has never worked with Borders, though he does acknowledge that he asked Stutzman and Noe (whose district covers a chunk north of Indianapolis that contains parts of Boone, Hamilton, and Marion counties) to co-host the dinner, with a view to making his cause known to more state legislators. “Cindy Noe is a supporter for educational change in our state,” Boyd says. “In other words, she believes like I do, that we’re not giving our students the best quality education in a lot of areas, especially science. So she’s a supporter of our organization.”
“Cindy and Marlin are good friends, so they thought it would be good to get other political figures to come check us out. That’s why they put together the team to invite their fellow peers to come.”
Of course, no one can remember which of Stutzman and Noe’s “other peers” actually showed up to the event, if any (repeated requests to Noe for comment went unanswered). Boyd puts the number at “six or eight” — “some key senators and legislators who believe education is important to our society” — but says he can’t remember any names.
And it is quite possible that, like Bennett, Noe and Stutzman did not know what they were committing to, and that their beliefs don’t necessarily coincide with those of the organizer of the Creation Evidence Expo. The event’s website is easy enough to find, and is also pretty clear about what they believe, but as one former member of the Indianapolis media told us, “…Boyd has a history of distorting what people have committed to in supporting his organization… (I’m) not sure how much stock I'd put in how he characterizes someone's views.”
So, there are still dozens of questions we’d like to ask — did Noe and Stutzman know exactly what they were signing up for? Were there really any other state legislators at the event? Did they know what they were signing up for? But like most matters of science and faith, we aren’t able to offer any definitive answers.
This year’s Creation Evidence Expo happens in mid September, and Boyd says he has invited (“conservative”) members of the Indiana House and Senate to attend the opening dinner. Whether they know exactly what they’ve been invited to… well, we can’t be sure. For any conservative legislators who get an invitation to a vaguely worded event that has something to do with education in Indiana, we might suggest heeding a maxim that one of their own was quite fond of — “Trust but verify.”