Questionable Motives

April 29, 2011

Why is the NCSE wrong to accommodate creationism?

Russell Blackford quite reasonably points out that When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.

But this isn’t reasonable enough for the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) when it comes to evolutionary biology. Unlike its treatment of all other scientific topics, when it comes to evolution in public education, they feel we must deal more delicately with the religiously inclined. They feel we should be more respectful dealing with christians even though many hold different views about how creation has actually taken place. They feel it wise to avoid dealing with the fact that most of them are wrong, can be proven wrong, and should, at least implicitly, be demonstrated to be wrong. Holding to some form of creationism – it is merely a matter of degree and not kind between Young Earth Creationsim and theistic evolution – avoids the fact that nothing in biology makes sense in light of creationism.

If the Pooh Bahs over at the NCSE wish to respect the notion in policy that parts of the bible remain divinely written or inspired, then is a matter of honesty to admit that the organization, as Coyne argues, is taking itself out of the ambit of empiricism and reason. You’re making a purely subjective decision based on revelation.

This is why the issue is important for the integrity of science education as a whole and the National Center for Science Education in particular to realize that’s why science organizations that endorse some brands of theology, while decrying others, are making a serious mistake. As Jerry Coyne points out in his open letter to the NCSE (motivated by repeated negative articles posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education , let the science of evolution speak for itself.

When this policy is altered to accommodate the kind of theology that presumably (there is little evidence of efficacy) allows for some kind of wider public acceptance for some kind of evolution, then the NCSE is choosing to support a theology that is favourable and good to its aim. Note this is not done for geology and plate tectonics, vulcanism and geography in spite of providing strong evidence against the christian doctrine of a great Flood. No special allowance is made for those who believe the tenets of astrology in the curriculum for astronomy. Alchemists don’t get special consideration and accommodation in chemistry. The subject of physics is not enhanced by pretending that it doesn’t interfere with belief in immaterial things. Yet when it comes to creationism and evolutionary biology, suddenly the wise people at the NCSE think special consideration for christian religious beliefs is necessary and thus warranted. That’s bizarre and, I think, highly counter productive for an organization concerned about educating our youth about science. As Coyne quite rightly points out, who are they (the NCSE) to decide what is “good” theology? What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” (as stated in their policy) but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

And I think Coyne’s conclusion – supported directly as it is by such people as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and many other highly reputable scientists in evolutionary biology – is worth serious consideration because it raises an issue that I think many at the NCSE fail to understand:


First, your repeated and strong accusations that, by criticizing religion, atheists are alienating our pro-evolution allies (liberal Christians), has precisely the same alienating effect on your allies: scientists who are atheists. Second, your assertion that only you have the requisite communication skills to promote evolution is belied by the observation that you have, by your own ham-handed communications, alienated many people who are on the side of good science and evolution. You have lost your natural allies. And this is not just speculation, for those allies were us, and we’re telling you so.

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12 Comments »

  1. (hope you don’t mind my re-posting this here…)

    I think your second Coyne quote (“theology that best comports…”) is spot on. NCSE should have no interest in the divine beyond understanding what it takes to communicate matters of science education to those who are interested in the divine. NCSE does not condone accommodating non-scientific viewpoints in the classroom. But on the battlefield it’s a different matter.

    No one here questions evolution’s legitimacy as science. In that sense it is no different from all those other sciences you mention. But it is different from all the others because it alone faces droves of people that are committed to fighting it tooth and nail. That makes it a political issue as well as a scientific one whether we like it or not. And politics, like foreign policy, requires diplomacy. Exercising diplomacy in foreign relations doesn’t mean you adopt their ideology; but it is helpful to understand nonetheless and adapt your strategy accordingly.

    Maybe NCSE should change their policy to “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.” It would probably be more honest. But it would also be bad diplomacy.

    Comment by Poolio — April 29, 2011 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  2. Let them fight it tooth and nail, it is futile – NCSE should not be concerns with ‘selling’ theories to the public or diplomacy, as this is dishonest – its only concern should be to provide facts to the public in a way that the public can easily understand and access them.

    Education is not a business, it is a service.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — April 29, 2011 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

  3. Russell Blackford quite reasonably points out that When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.

    Sorry guys – but you keep losing me with this nonsense. When was the missing link found? When did you prove that evolution is truly how it all happened? re-create it for us please!

    Everything is a theory – the age of rock, dinosaurs,their coloring, what they ate, etc…NO ONE was here to see it and write it down. There is still a missing link in evolution so it’s not proven. I just want to understand you better – this stuff is nonsense.

    Where is your logic? Maybe God did create evolution but it’s not proven yet. So please move on with this. Schools need to teach what has been found on both sides – not just science because they haven’t proven how life began. Let everyone learn both sides and decide for themselves.

    Comment by 4amzgkids — May 10, 2011 @ 6:47 pm | Reply

    • 4ak: “Maybe God did create evolution but it’s not proven yet.”

      Maybe god did, and it is ok to personally believe that, just so long as you understand that no one has ever found any evidence to suggest that life evolved as part of a planned creation by a sentient being – not one shred of evidence, in every single study including DNA, genetics and medicine – ever.

      See here for a very interesting documentary about the human embryo development:

      The program goes on to say:

      When you argue with established scientific facts you are challenging the conclusions that have been drawn from decades of research and study, by countless numbers of some of the brightest and most intelligent people the human race has ever produced – ever.

      You have to do much better than to just stomp your foot and say “it is not true – because I don’t believe it to be true!” you have to actually understand fully what the theory means, and knock down every conclusion that the theory provides using evidence that other people can repeat well enough for them to support your view over the recognised theory.

      Comment by misunderstoodranter — May 11, 2011 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  4. 4ak – read something – evolution is a scientific fact, every branch of human, animal and plant biology recognises it as a fact – it is used industrially to grow better crops and breed better farm animals. And it is used in medicine, genetics and DNA analysis – it is a fact, get over it.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — May 11, 2011 @ 3:00 am | Reply

    • Please answer my questions MUR – something is not fact until you have all of the proof you need right? Isn’t that what you always try to tell me about God.
      Evolution is NOT proven – there is a missing link – or did they not cover that in your science classes?

      Comment by 4amzgkids — May 11, 2011 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  5. We all need to see both sides of EVERYTHING in life and make our own decisions.

    Comment by 4amzgkids — May 11, 2011 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  6. I can show the evidence for evolution, and I have done many times. I can also show you what it would take for me to change my mind about evolution – i.e. I can tell you exactly what to look for to disprove Darwin completely – let me make that clear:

    - **** I can **** – that is me – a member of the non-academic elite public (i.e. just some bloke) can tell you exactly what you need to find to make every single evolutionary biologist; and every single university (apart from mad ones) reject evolution overnight. And furthermore every university, professor and biological genius would believe me if I could provide that evidence and would change their minds instantly.

    Let’s make that really clear – millions of people (far more people than who are Christians) understand evolution to know exactly how to disprove it to the point where it would no longer be taught as a scientific fact anywhere in the world – and yet the theory prevails.

    Why do you think that is? And what do you think you silly little tantrums provide to the debate?

    Please see here and for once be educated: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory#Pedagogical_definition

    If for some odd paranoid reason you think this is the Wikipedia conspiracy or incompetence – please just internet search for other definitions of the word theory in a scientific context. Or go to any book shop or library in any country, and look the word up in an English dictionary.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — May 11, 2011 @ 4:23 pm | Reply

  7. This is where I feel you are truly Delusional MUR! It has NOT been proven and you cannot prove it. That’s my point. There are more Christians in this world – Billions as a matter of fact then there are atheists – you are a very, very small minority – now that should tell you something. There may be a million atheists and Billions of Christians and another Billion of other religions that believe in God.

    Who is having the tantrum here. You know there is a missing link – so where is it? Give me that and you will be famous and very wealthy!

    Comment by 4amzgkids — May 14, 2011 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

    • There, literally, tens of thousands already discovered for many different branches of life and as far as humans go billions alive today. Unless and until you yourself understand what you mean by ‘missing link’ your question will never be answered to your satisfaction regardless of what evidence is provided to you. Your question, therefore, is duplicitous… meaning you are intentionally being dishonest.

      In addition, you need to understand what is meant by the term ‘proof’. Insofar as you live or die based on our ‘proof’ we have for evolution through medicines and treatments based on exactly this, your living – and the lives of millions of others – is only understandable and explainable if its underlying theory we call ‘evolution’ is true.

      This fact alone leaves your caterwauling into the wind of your selected ignorance (for that is what your lack of knowledge here is) ever further distant from the scientific reality in which you live. It is unbecoming. You are smart enough to learn this stuff rather than continue to tilt at theology’s windmill about creationism. And when you do put aside your shield of faith from respecting what is true in fact, the wondrous world of biology informed as it is by evolution will astound you. Take the plunge into knowledge rather than mistaken beliefs and you will only find benefit and value. I promise.

      Comment by tildeb — May 14, 2011 @ 5:36 pm | Reply

    • The National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) recognizes that the scientific theory of evolution is a foundational concept of science, and therefore must also be a cornerstone of science education. Evolution in the broadest sense refers to any change over time (in terms of biology, evolution means “a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations”). The study of Earth’s evolution provides society with the time and space perspectives necessary to understand how Earth’s physical and biological processes developed, provides insight into the natural processes active on Earth, and shapes our view of Earth’s future.

      Evolutionary studies apply to most branches of science, including organic evolution, cosmic evolution, geologic evolution, planetary evolution, and cultural evolution. Each of these subdisciplines of science provides evidence that evolution is pervasive: galaxies have changed, stars and planets have changed, Earth has changed, life forms on Earth have changed, and human culture has changed. Evolution is therefore factual and is a unifying concept of the natural sciences. For this reason, the National Science Education Standards (NRC), Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS), numerous national education policy documents, and individual states, through their published science education frameworks, all recognize that evolution is a unifying concept for science disciplines and provides students with the foundation to help them understand the natural world. NAGT fully agrees with and supports the scientific validity of evolution as reflected in the position statements of the numerous scientific societies that unanimously support evolution on scientific grounds. NAGT further maintains that the scientific theory of evolution should be taught to students of all grade levels as a unifying concept without distraction of non-scientific or anti-scientific influence.

      Published and reaffirmed position statements on the scientific validity of evolution by all of the scientific societies clearly demonstrate that the modern scientific community no longer debates whether evolution has occurred. Scientific investigation of the mechanisms of evolution and the interconnected “details” of mechanism, process, history, and outcome remain at the current scientific forefront of evolutionary studies. This is the nature of scientific inquiry itself: to continually evaluate scientific theories with an eye towards improving our scientific models and adding more details to our understanding of the natural world. Scientists often disagree about explanations of how evolution works, the importance of specific evolutionary processes, or the patterns that are observed, but all agree that evolution has occurred and is occurring now. Global change will be the future projection of past and ongoing evolutionary processes. While evolution is factual, evolution is also a “scientific theory”, which is an explanation for the observed changes. This usage of theory should not be confused with the non-scientific usage of theory as an ad-hoc idea unsupported by testing or evidence.

      In science, disagreements are subject to rules of scientific evaluation, and this includes the methodologies of teaching scientific concepts. Scientific conclusions are tested by experiment, observation, and evaluation. Sound practices of scientific education are tested and evaluated much the same way. NAGT recognizes that invoking non-naturalistic or supernatural events or beings, often guised as “creation science,” “scientific creationism,” or “intelligent design theory,” are not scientific in character, do not conform to the scientific usage of the word theory, and should not be part of valid science curricula.

      As stated in NAGT’s Constitution, the purpose of the NAGT is to foster improvements in the teaching of the earth sciences at all levels of formal and informal instruction, to emphasize the relevance and cultural significance of the earth sciences, and to disseminate knowledge in this field to educators and the general public. The NAGT fully accepts its role in the evaluation and betterment of the teaching of scientific evolution in formal and informal educational settings, with the explicit goal of helping everyone to understand the scientific merit this fundamental concept has in modern science. The Journal of Geoscience Education publishes papers related to research concerning the pedagogy, assessment, history, philosophy and culture of teaching and learning about the geosciences, especially of fundamental concepts like geologic time and faunal and stratigraphic succession, all aspects of evolution.

      Comment by tildeb — May 15, 2011 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

  8. No, no. You are being dishonest if you believe and try to convince people that evolution is the only truth. Evolution – we evolved from a fish….has not been proven. it is a theory but there is a missing link and you know that – we’ve been through this so I’m not sure why you keep posting this info. My point was that teachers should teach both theories – evolution and creationism and let people decide for themselves. That is the only TRUE and honest way to do it.

    Comment by 4amzgkids — May 22, 2011 @ 2:35 pm | Reply


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