The National Center for Science Education: A Little Truth Goes a Long Way
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 30, 2011
I just wanted to take a few minutes to share with you an excellent post over at the Skepticblog by Donald Prothero titled “A Visit to the Creationists’ ‘Mordor'”. In it, Donald speaks about the National Center for Science Education, an organization very near and dear to my heart as a skeptic and science teacher. The NCSE is the clearinghouse in the United States that tracks all things creationist, and it serves an absolutely vital purpose in countering attempts to force creationism into public schools under the guise of science. Take a few minutes to read Donald’s article, and consider joining the NCSE today…
… I decided to pay a visit to another cultural landmark: the headquarters of the National Center for Science Education. This is the chief non-profit organization in the U.S. that helps local school boards and scientists and teachers when creationism threatens their classrooms. If you read the creationists’ literature and the posts on the ID creationist Discovery Institute’s (DI) website, the NCSE is this monstrous organization which exerts mind-control over every scientist in the country, and forces them to robotically chant “I accept evolution.” According to the creationists, the NCSE is pure evil, suppressing the creationism message with its enormous staff and budget and power over all of U.S. science. In Ben Stein’s crappy little creationist propaganda film Expelled,Ben pays a visit to the gleaming headquarters of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which occupies a vast amount of floor space in a brand-new office building downtown, and has a huge staff. Over and over again the DI staffers complain about how they scientific establishment is against them, and how the NCSE has so much more power, money, and influence than they do.
So it’s surprising to actually visit the headquarters of the NCSE and get an abrupt reality check. This bête noire of creationism occupies a small, rundown, poorly ventilated commercial space in a rough part of Oakland, surrounded by fundamentalist churches. Their tiny staff is paid a pittance compared to most academic or business salaries, and they occupy cramped cubicles cluttered with piles of work. About the only way you could tell it was not any other kind of typical non-profit organization was the decoration: creationist and evolutionary posters and “timelines of creation”, casts of famous hominid fossils and prehistoric animal models, dolls and posters and bobble-heads of Charles Darwin, clever signs from many different school board protests, and over the staff calendar and status board, “You are not in Kansas any more.” …
And here are Donald’s thoughts on how a little bit of truth really can go a long way:
… Despite the polls showing that about 40% of Americans agree with the major tenets of creationism, and the fact that there are many creationist organizations which are larger and more powerful, the NCSE has two key weapons: the law and reality. Fundamentalist ministers may be able to bamboozle their flocks with lies about evolution, but in the marketplace of scientific ideas, there is no longer any doubt that evolution is the way the world actually works. Creationists may try to gussy up their ideas as “intelligent design” or hide behind the “teach the controversy” tactic, but the myths of illiterate Bronze Age shepherds are still a narrow religious dogma believed by only a minority of Americans. And that’s the ultimate line of defense: no matter what a local school board or state government does, if they leave ANY trail of their religious motivations for their acts (which is why the NCSE archive is crucial for detecting this), they run up against the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and ultimately the law is (at least in this case) on the side of scientific reality.
But it’s a never-ending struggle in this country. Creationists may not do any real science, or never learn any new arguments, or never concede that their old arguments were long ago debunked, but they are dedicated and well-funded and never give up. So the job of the NCSE never seems to end, and these hardworking underpaid staffers will never see an empty “hot board map” showing no towns with current infections. Back in 1982, I was one of the original members of the Committees of Correspondence, Stanley Weinberg’s first effort to combat creationism in the Midwest, which evolved into the current NCSE. I’ve debated Gish and Meyer and Sternberg and a bunch of guys from ICR and DI, and written a book debunking their ideas about evolution and fossils. So I do what I can, but I don’t have the patience or time to do the job that the NCSE does. For that, I’m very grateful that they are there, fighting the good fight in the trenches, and manning the barricades that few scientists or teachers have time to deal with. We members of the skeptical and scientific community should all honor them for doing an essential job in trying to preserve the scientific integrity of our educational system, and fighting back against the untiring never-ending hordes of the forces of darkness, all while showing the patience of Job. And if you’re not already a member of NCSE, you should join, because they are doing this important job for all of us!