An Effective Response To Creationism?

The Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology, formerly the American Society of Zoologists, has said it will not hold its 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans as planned to protest a new law in Louisiana that lets teachers use “supplemental textbooks to help students critique and review scientific theories,” according to the New York Times, Feb 17, 2009, page A14. The law, the society claims, is a backdoor effort to sneak creationism into classrooms. SICB’s annual meetings attract less than 2,000 attendees. Compare that with Pittcon, which averages 20,000, or ACS annual meetings, which bring between 8,000 to 10,000 people to one city for a full week. With proponents of creationism continuing to press their belief as science, it appears that SICB has decided it’s time for scientists to strike where it really hurts: the pocketbook. Why should scientists continue to convene in and bring money to states that deny the theory of evolution? I admire SICB’s guts, though I wish their target didn’t have to be New Orleans. New Orleans is a great city for scientific gatherings, and after the devastation it suffered from Katrina, it needs everyone’s support for its revival. New Orleans’ citizens shouldn’t have to suffer more because of the state’s pandering to the religious right.

Author: Maureen Rouhi

Share This Post On


  1. I don’t know how much input NO had into the makeup of the legislature and the people who suggest and enact these laws, but they do help (more than average, since NO has a larger proportion of the population than other parts of the state) – they helped to choose the governor who (presumably) signed the bill and some of the legislators who might have helped to draft it and vote for it. Presumably, businesses in NO are also likely to have more money and lobbying power as well – I would figure that they (as a whole) have more power to determine how things run in LA than the businesses elsewhere in LA. At least part of the way LA runs has to be placed on them, and while the consequences disproportionately fall on NO relative to the rest of LA, it isn’t completely unfair.

    LA chose a party to run the state one of whose primary interest groups is the religious right. The people who did so understood what they were voting for. They perhaps need to understand that other people also understand what their votes meant, and are willing to act accordingly.

  2. ACS’s two national meetings per year are a bit larger than you suggest. The spring and fall meetings each bring between 13,000 and 15,000 to a city.

  3. Thanks for the correction, Chris. I wonder, do you have any info on the financial impact of one ACS meeting on a city?

  4. Maureen,
    It is important to draw these lines. New Orleans voted for Bush and suffered horribly for its choice when Bush-era cronyism put the infamous “Brownie” in charge of FEMA. Creationism will kill the scientific leadership of America. When I come back from Iraq in 2010, I am thinking about running for my local school board to keep Creationism out of science classes in my city.

  5. Neil, I bow to you for your extraordinary sense of public service. Individuals running for elective office on behalf of science will surely make a lot of difference. Collective action is also important, and I wonder whether chemists as a group can take the same step that SICB did. One can argue that the theory of evolution is so much closer to zoologists than chemists, but biology at the molecular level is chemistry, and implicit in a lot of what chemists do, especially in drug discovery and development, is that evolution is at work.

  6. Maureen,
    When it comes to science education, every science is undermined by Creation Science. Natural philosophy split into separate disciplines with specialization in the 19th and 20th centuries, but where exactly are the boundaries between quantum physics, physical chemistry and molecular biology? I am a believer who does not want a scientist meddling in metaphysics and most certainly do not want religious zealots making up science and selling it as the real thing in faux museums and slick Web sites.
    If the creationists take over science in a classroom, they will stop all science, not just biology.

  7. Let me start by saying that I am a science teacher who feels that the evidence supporting natural selection is overwhelming and clearly the unifying theory of biology. I am also a communicating Catholic. Every time discussions of faith and science crop up I feel like the redheaded step child of the ACS. The vitriol and personal attacks on people of faith from the scientific community in general and the vocal members of ACS in particular,seem to teat us as though we are all Luddites trying to drag the discipline back to the 10th century. I head a science department that put 10 % of the students that go to my rural school into college science and engineering programs, and they do well. That’s 10 % of the entire school population, not 10 % of the college bound seniors. They are very well prepared for the cutting edge of science. Yet that doesn’t seem to be enough for the majority of the members of the scientific community, once they know I am a person of faith. Science is supposed to be a self-correcting discipline. If the evidence for or against intelligent design, punctuated equilibrium, or string theory is there, it will endure. If it isn’t, it will whither, as did the geocentric model of the universe, or Lamarkian evolution. Our fear should not drive us to become the intolerant bigots we claim the creationists to be. Unfortunately, as a Christian ACS member that seems to be where the community is heading, and it isn’t a comfortable direction for me.

  8. You make very good points, Wade. In the ideal world, people would be crystal clear about how science works. Faith and science are important and, in my view, complementary rather than antagonistic. It’s confusing the limits of either one to give meaning and clarity to our lives that causes tensions.

  9. Theory of evolution is still only a theory, not a fact. Nobody was there to witness a monkey become a man. It’s the same with the big bang theory, nobody was there to see a big bang. If you take it as fact, then you too are placing your entire faith in a theory just like you say creation is a theory.
    God created life on this planet, allowed it to naturally evolve, then decided to wipe it clean for the creation of man. This is a blended view of how evolution and creation can co-exist, and it is only my opinion.

  10. I agree that creation and evolution can coexist, but not in the way you put it. In my view creation belongs to faith, evolution to science.

    Scientific theories have key features: they are supported by a preponderance of facts; the are predictive and their predictions are testable; and they are replaceable by better theories, just as Wade said. Witness how scientists are still looking for ways to test the predictions of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the more they are able to do so the stronger that theory stands.

    Einstein famously said, “I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe.” But did he believe that Earth is a few thousand years old or that Genesis is literally true? I wonder.

  11. Interesting article but what is a state if it is not its citizens? Maybe its citizens should vote for candidates that actually represent them instead of the church’s interests.

  12. Faith versus Science ? The methodologies may be very similar:

    Physicist Feynman says that we have to learn about the behavior of atoms “in a sort of abstract or imaginative fashion and not by connection with our direct experience.” Christians have the same sort of problem when learning about God. Fortunately, the Bible offers an important principle about perceiving the invisible:

    “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . . . The things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3, NKJ)

    Biblically defined faith is clearly not just a belief based on blind credulity or trust in authority. It is based on evidence from actual, observable facts. The methodology used by Christians is thus very similar to that used by physicists.

  13. Theories depend on interconnected networks of facts – while atoms can’t be directly seen or perceived, they can be perceived by a variety of instruments, and different groups of people can correlate their observations with one other. The theories that invoke atoms make predictions whose outcomes can be observed independently and are falsifiable.

    How does Biblically defined faith do the same?

  14. First, I don’t think that the ACS should suspend holding meetings in NO becasue of the unfortunate religious/political stances taken by the LA legislature and governor. Tha said, I think the ACS should work through it’s national and local channels to protest the unrelaistic stances taken by LA governmental bodies and officals. SiCB is an organization of biologists and I have no say on how they handle their business

    Wade, as a person of faith who also subscribes to evolution/natural selection, I hope that the science community in general and ACS members in particular do not succumb to the polarized attitudes so often exhibited by the CS/ID crowd. I’ve written on this unfortuate dichotomy before (including in C&EN) and will continue to do so. Incidentally, your school’s track record is indeed remarkable and evniable.

    Robert, sorry but your arguments are time worn and based on misinformation and inadequate definitions. You’re entitled to your views, but in general your arguments typify the saying “the emperor has no clothes”.

    Brian Fraser, I appreciate your zeal in attempting to combine religion and science, but IMHO it’s not very scientific.

  15. Why doesn’t the Society just stay home and burn books?
    Why do we have to pass laws to allow books?
    When will the “adults” pick up on how interesting they make things to children when they forbid those things?
    What would teachers actually teach if they could just go in and do it?

    I don’t see religion and science posing any threat to each other, unless one or both are in the hands of a fundamentalist. Myth is not a matter truth or fiction and does not contradict anything arrived at through the scientific method, as I understand it. Myths are very good things–they are narratives that explain our life and society. They stay alive in much the same way a scientific theory stays alive. Luckily there is a separation of Church and State making sure that nobody’s myth overrides anyone else’s.

    So, c’mon. Let’s be true liberals, huh?! New Orleans is fun and the city could use the Society’s business. The Zoologists should get over themselves and go!



  1. Canadian Science Headed By Creationist? at C&ENtral Science - [...]  Some of this is discussed in a recent C&ENtral Science post here. [...]
  2. Once More Into The Breach at C&ENtral Science - [...] really on his mind: the decision of the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) to move its 2011…