When The Scientists Go Marching Out

There was an interesting piece of news that popped up last week that the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology informed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that they would not be holding their 2011 meeting in New Orleans as they had planned because of the passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act in 2008, which provides the go-ahead for teaching creationism and “Intelligent Design” in the state’s K-12 science classrooms.  To me, that’s like calling a bill that allows you to cheat on your wife the Husband Fidelity Act.
Many scientific groups had lobbied both the Louisiana legislature and the governor against the bill in 2008.  It passed overwhelmingly and Jindal signed it into law.  In their letter, the Society president Richard Satterlie said: The SICB leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula.
He went on to remind the governor that 2000+ people visiting for a week is a good thing for a city’s and state’s economy.  He also went onto say that they would be lobbying other scientific organizations to do the same. And it might be working. Last week, Greg Petsko, the president of the much larger and influential American Association for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (whose meetings can have 15000+ attendees) stated, "No future meeting of our society will take place in Louisiana as long as that law stands."  Good.
Now, I think God should be in a lot of classrooms.  Private school religion classrooms, for sure.  History classes – absolutely – a lot of history has transpired over the interpretation of God’s Will – and I find the purging of historical references to God in the name of “correctness” appalling.  Comparative religions? Ethics and morality?  Yep yep yep.
Science class?  No.
Science is about trying to understand the workings of the natural universe by testable, reliable methods, which is contradictory to including God (who is almost by definition beyond the scope of space and time) as a cause.  So even if you believe God is The First Cause, you must exclude that (literally the “super-natural”) from any truly scientific discussion or inquiry.  Or classroom.

The truly infuriating thing is that ID proponents will challenge with “Teach the debate!” – and I’d be all for that – except there is no scientific debate.  Not on the level these folks are talking about.  Not when it comes to the age of the Earth, or the age and expansion of the universe, or the nature of genetic inheritance.  Of course, there are obvious (and sometimes profound) gaps in our knowledge, and that's okay. But, there's no more reason to write "There Be God" in those gaps any more than there was reason to write "There Be Monsters" at the edges of maps in the Middle Ages.
And the damn thing is that if you believe that God has bestowed us with intelligence and reason, then why would He create a universe in which the vast preponderance of evidence (astronomical, geological, archeological, biological, genetic) argues for modern scientific interpretations?  If ALL that disparate science is wrong, then God has led us on a wild-goose chase, given us a giant red-herring.  In short, that God is deceptive.  That’s not my God.  And I doubt He’s yours, either.

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31 thoughts on “When The Scientists Go Marching Out

  1. [So good]. I'm glad they took a stand. And since Jindal may refuse the federal stimulus funds, I wonder if Louisiana citizens will change their minds.
    I just watched a PBS documentary on the Kansas school board case on ID, and I learned some interesting facts I hadn't known before. For instance, the book that the ID proponents tried to use in classrooms, "Of Pandas and People" was so obviously and sloppily changed from "creationism" to "intelligent design" that there were even typos in it like this: creintelligent destionism". HA.

  2. I watched that same show, HapaLove. enthralling and absorbing. should be mandatory viewing for everyone.I cant' recall the judge's name (shame on me), but what a great example of a functional mind. he's a remarkable man.steve, I hope other scientific organizations follow the example of SICB.

  3. Good for these organizations. My Requisite Alabama Story: For my AP History class, a very interesting, very good textbook was voted down in favor of a p-a-i-n-f-u-l-l-y d-u-l-l one because, you guessed it, the interesting book mentioned evolution in the introduction. A history book! Sigh. Such an infuriating topic.

  4. I agree with you in all counts. And I hope that the people of Louisiana and the other states that are pushing this type of policy finally can take a deep long look at the issue and make a better call if their governments can't.

  5. Thanks, Steve, for giving me something to think about. As one of those blasted Creationist-thinkers, and also a lover of science, I understand that there is much we don't know. I think part of the problem with evolutionary teaching is, as you once said about another issue, bad science; that is, people in labs trying to prove their preconceived agendas and remove God from the equation, rather than trying to disprove (and thereby prove) their theory. In my mind, there is no way to prove there is no God through science, because He is blatantly everywhere. However, to be fair, there's really no way to disprove evolution, either. We just don't know. I guess I don't trust a lot of what the scientific community tells me about the beginnings of my planet, because they seem to have a personal agenda that has nothing to do with true, honest science.

  6. Good for them, good for you, good for all of us. As some seem determined to remind us, they don't want a discussion – they want us to agree with their skewed world view. If the ID crowd was truly honest about wanting to do science (as opposed to just trying to confuse the issue so it looks as if evolution doesn't happen), they'd come up with a testable hypothesis and a replicable experiment to test it. So far, the best they've been able to do is a few generic papers slipped in under the radar.Oh well, as a practicing pastafarian, I guess I'll have to move to Louisiana now. (Hey, somebody has to set up the beer volcano!)John

  7. In my mind, there is no way to prove there is no God through science, because He is blatantly everywhere.Can you name any experiments/experimenters that are trying to disprove the existence of God? Or is it merely that the experiments reach conclusions that fall outside of holy writ? However, to be fair, there's really no way to disprove evolution, either. Sure there is. Examine each of the basic axioms and disprove any of them. Boom. Done.I guess I don't trust a lot of what the scientific
    community tells me about the beginnings of my planet, because they seem
    to have a personal agenda that has nothing to do with true, honest
    science.
    Really? As a scientist who has done work on the origins of Earth and the other planets (specifically Mars and Venus), my only personal agenda was to develop the best possible model for corona and lithosphere formation so that other scientists would quote me. (It worked.) And if you truly think that there is an error, all you have to do is write a good paper [1] and send it in. Trust me – that's how Vine, Morley, and Matthews did it and that's how scientists continue to do it.John[1] A "good" paper means one that includes evidence for and against its thesis, as well as cogent arguments, suggestions for further work, and an honest admission of what is known and what isn't. It need not adhere to current scientific thought, but should explain why it doesn't where it doesn't.

  8. I went to Catholic school and, yes, had mandatory religion classes. It must have been a very progressive Catholic school, though, because we covered several religions, not just Catholicism and certainly not just Christianity. More importantly, though, science and religion (and history, for that matter, except within the context of historical facts) never mixed. We studied the Bible in English class for what it was: a literary work. The Book of Genesis was studied not as solid fact but as a creation story; the miracles and parables of the New Testament were studied as fables that exemplified generous, compassionate behavior. And after learning in this environment, I found that my trust in science and my belief in God can coexist quite peacefully. Science explains to me how two very different cells from completely separate donors can combine to create a single cell, divide exponentially, and ultimately create a human life. It's my faith in God that allows me to accept that He made mitosis possible, that He created DNA, that He made it possible to molecules to join, that He is, in the simplest terms, the ultimate catalyst for science. (If there are scientific explanations for mitosis and molecular combinations, I'm really quite curious. I often wonder why Hydrogen only has one "hole", for example, and why carbon has four, and why you need to plug up all the "holes" to have a stable atom.) But I also believe science is the most valuable tool (and, dare I say it was probably God-given?) to stretch our human minds and understand how the world works.
    And really, at the end of the day, I often think God is a scientist himself, and we, in our universe, are just sitting in one giant petri dish.

  9. Here's the truly remarkable part — they ditched New Orleans not for some godless liberal town like San Francisco or Boston, but for Salt Lake City. Last year, Utah affirmed the teaching of evolution in science classes and keeping religion out of them.

  10. BBL — thanks for your comment. One thing I can assure you is that in two-plus decades of being a science "professional", I have never witnessed a "we have to take down God" conversation. For every Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hutchins (neither of who I can stand), there are hundreds of thousands of scientists that want nothing than to figure things out. We will often have coffee or cocktail discussions about the intersection of science, religion and society — but when we get in the lab, we have to leave Faith at the door. What we do is try to understand the Universe that we can perceive and reliably test — anything beyond that — God, His Will, eternal life, the nature of the soul — must be left out of a scientific discourse. And by extenstion, the science classroom. I will disagree that the science community has a dogmatic approach (i first typed godmatic — hah!) towards not questioning evolution and/or the Big Bang. These have been so notable because they HAVE undergone so much scrutiny which has changed (dare i say evolved) our current understanding.

  11. I think the part about this that depressed me the most is that the LSEA passed both houses of the LA legislature by something like 90% — talk about bi-partisan support!!

  12. Eileen — I think we went to the same school. I have also not found the reconciliation of Faith and science all that difficult. Even the Church — as slow to change as it is — had said that Genesis was allegorical and was not meant to contradict our understanding of the universe. I've never really grasped why that is such a threat to so many?

  13. The whys of science are, I think, sometimes more interesting than the hows. Knowing how something will react to a stimulus is great, but I like to delve deeper and understand why.
    BTW, you lost me at "complex molecules". Despite having a sister named for a chemical and two parents who met in their organic chem class, I was hopelessly inept at science. I can fake it at the base level, but when you start using multi-syllabic words, my eyes kind of glaze over… (I picked it up again at "italian dressing", though.) :-)

  14. Great post, Steve. I would try to say something smart here, but have you seen this video? He says it all – Padian testified "for" evolution at the Kansas trial and if I remember correctly, they won the case. Hopefully that will happen in Louisiana.
    As Padian says, the Creationists have not provided any proof that follows the same rules that real scientists have to. None of them are in a relevant field, and they use a "negative" argument – i.e. "We think that Darwin was wrong, ergo we are right". It's annoying.
    My next door neighbor home schools her (7) kids and they're being taught by the "wedge" method, where they present "both sides" as though both are equally legitimate. Luckily one of the daughters told me in private that she thinks evolution is the valid one – it makes me tempted to intervene, but I don't feel it's my place.

  15. Steve – (ps sorry to be a two-commentor today) – the Padian guy was on the show that Hapalove mentioned – it was a Nova special, called Intelligent Design on Trial. It's rewarding to watch. It may be shown as a repeat (I'm a PBS junkie so I'll let you know).
    And I so agree with you on Dawkins. I am personally offended when people try to label all scientists as Athiests. Scientists can easily be any religion, as long as that spirituality is kept seperate from the world of science. And I think every school should teach religion – as a seperate class, using the history of many world religions, with the goal of teaching tolerence, history and ethics.

  16. I'm glad to see a scientific organization standing up for intelligence. I would hope that the rest follow suit. If reason and intelligence don't get through to those that believe in ID then maybe shear economics will. After all, we all know that is what Jindal (and most republicans) really notice anyway.

  17. Jillzey — interestingly (or depressingly) LSEA passed both houses of the LA-legislature at more than 90% — it would appear that we've found the one issue to foster bi-partisan cooperation. D'oh!

  18. Ellie — yes, I watched that video the other day when you linked it in a post of your own. Importantly, I think he conveys disagreement without being disrespectful — something that bothers me about Hitchins/Dawkins — like all polemicists their view is that if you don't think like me, you're stupid.

  19. I frequently have commented that time is man made. God is beyond time. People get mad because they think scientist think they know more than God, but I think a lot of Christians feel they know more than God.

  20. Certainly there must be guidelines for home-taught children, but I wonder how evenly they are applied. It depends on which state you are in. In Oklahoma, there are no true standards. I worked in a science museum there, and every year, we would have home schoolers use us as their "science content". At the annual "get acquainted" meeting, there was always at least one home schooling parent who would ask us to not mention "the B-word" ("billions") when discussing the age of the Universe [1].Most homeschoolers opt for a GED when they "finish" high school, as their materials are not accredited.John[1] While at Northwestern, I did work with one homeschooler who was doing it for practical, rather than religious, reasons. The parents wanted their child to learn, and the schools weren't challenging him. So they homeschooled and supplemented with the best tutors they could find. During the two years I was his tutor, we covered everything from radioactive decay to electronic theory. Fun! Sadly, he was the exception, not the rule.

  21. "But, there's no more reason to write "There Be God" in those gaps any
    more than there was reason to write "There Be Monsters" at the edges of
    maps in the Middle Ages." Well said. An interesting post. I think the scientific organizations are making the right choice.

  22. I watched the PBS thing, too. It was gripping, if that sort of thing interests one. I have problems with the whole creationism/intelligent design thing. I just can't understand how any reasonably intelligent person can believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old. It's just senseless. As an aside, my ex-husband's parents were separatist Jehovah's Witnesses. They home schooled their younger four kids, my ex being the last kid that actually graduated from public schools. Their idea of acceptable history lessons was to play tapes of speeches given over the years at various JW conventions. Science class was a little elementary level botany and growing vegetables. But, that's what happens when religion is allowed to be the be all end all.Because of all the ignorance, hostility and prejudice I, the girl who once wanted to be a nun in the Episcopal church, am standing on the line that divides religion and atheism. I am leaning more toward atheism every day. I'm pretty sure abolishing religion is the only answer if we are ever to live in a peaceful, LOGICAL world. Far too many crimes are committed in the name of God.

  23. I worked in a science museum there, and every year, we would have home schoolers use us as their "science content". At the annual "get acquainted" meeting, there was always at least one home schooling parent who would ask us to not mention "the B-word" ("billions") when discussing the age of the Universe [1]. It got better after you left. In fact, some of the kids who came even had parents who were scientists. One of the moms has been a member of the education staff for several years now (and her son was one of my better apprentices).

  24. Wow! One thing I agree with, Steve, is that the science and religion here don't mix. God is so much greater than we could ever hope to understand. I breathed deeply then took my time writing a reaction in my own blog and invite all who have commented to read it (or not), but only if you plan to read thoughtfully.

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