July 1990 +quot;BASIS+quot;, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics Bay Area Skeptics Informa
July 1990 "BASIS", newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics
Bay Area Skeptics Information Sheet
Vol. 9, No. 7
Editor: Kent Harker
by Lynn Hammond
[Lynn Hammond is a Bay Area Skeptic from Idaho (he has never lived
in the Bay Area) and frequent contributor to "BASIS".]
What is it about human nature that we seem to bend in the mystical
direction when we confront some puzzling phenomenon?
This behavior has always interested me, so I bought Joseph
Campbell's "The Power of Myth". The reading is a bit daunting, to
say the least (if I were not so afraid of being thought a mental
midget I would say the print has some chloroform in it), and the
typeface is too small. Why, even the pictures are hard.
Campbell draws the conclusion that we NEED myth: it plays a vital
role in developing consciousness. Prescientific cultures took their
mythology very seriously. However, they made a very important
distinction in the way they approached myth that we moderns do not
appreciate: they didn't worry if myth had any relation to truth.
That sounds paradoxical to us; perhaps a better sense of ancient
mythology would be how we use imagination.
There was no need to try to make any real sense out of their
mythology, so it was free to float and evolve in any direction at
any time. Harmonization with reality and internal consistency are
definitely modern -- and mostly western -- notions. The number of
their gods and goddesses multiplied rapidly, but if a particular
god became useless there was no psychological angst involved in
simply discarding the bugger as easily as a worn shoe.
How early societies might have dealt with mythology was
delightfully exhibited in a PBS documentary about some East African
tribes. These tribes had been under British colonial rule, so the
game of cricket was one of the vestiges that had somehow stuck. But
not without some radical modifications. Originally, when the tribal
teams met to compete, violent fights (even death) were usually the
result. The chiefs realized that they could not play the game with
British rules. They adapted the play to correspond with tribal
ethos: virtually every aspect of the game was ritualized.
The occasion of a game quickly became rich with the ritual display
of the competitors and the event took on epic proportions. A grand
drama would be played out on the field in which larger-than-life
heroes would meet to do cosmic battle. Skill in play was not the
point: the home team must win, with ready excuses for the visiting
team (the gods did not favor them, etc.). Thus myth became part of
I think that this human need for mythology, if there is such a
thing, may help explain why so many of us lean to bizarre
explanations. Prosaic solutions just don't have the tantalizing
flair of mystery that fulfills the "myth" spot in our core.
THE GREAT PYRAMIDS
Consider now how this applies to the construction of the Great
Pyramids. Egyptology itself is the embodiment of mystery. The
sophistication of that society is suffused with the richness of a
culture advanced beyond its historical setting.
Modern researchers have carefully put the pieces of the puzzle
together to learn how the pyramids were made. Quarry sites have
been uncovered. Cut marks in the quarries show how the slabs were
hewn (they drilled holes in a slab, drove in wooden pegs and then
soaked the pegs, which, when they expanded, split the rock). Tons
of rock chips exist at the quarry sites -- the "tailings" of the
stone work. There are many paintings and bas-relief depictions of
giant sleds bearing the construction blocks, pulled by legions of
workers. Researchers have uncovered pyramids abandoned at the
beginning stages of construction. In those abandoned projects are
the "scaffolding" as it were, left with the remains: earthen ramps
built to the monument. Just as we remove the scaffolds and
construction cranes when a building is completed, they removed the
But this is so mundane! Atlantians, ancient astronauts, psychic
energies from the ethereal plane are all vastly more tantalizing to
imagine how the 60-ton monoliths were somehow hoisted. (Never mind
that the whopping majority of the pyramid's mass is from stones
under a ton, not to diminish the engineering feat and sheer
Science just pulls the rug from under our sense of fancy sometimes.
Well, this whole thing about the pyramids came to my consciousness
in an article forwarded to me from BAS member Leilane Allen. In it,
a French researcher, Joseph Davidovits, claims to have solved the
pyramid riddle -- despite the fact that it is no longer a riddle -
- "once and for all." He wrote a book about it from which the
article was excerpted. He claims that the stones are a high quality
concrete, cast in situ. There you have it.
What the book apparently lacks in evidence for this rather
fantastic hypothesis is perhaps revealed in the author's motive:
"It has been one of my goals," he says on page 108 of his book,
"not only to offer materials for monument repair, but also to show
Egypt how to make unsurpassed building materials with local natural
resources for more urgent needs."
Davidovits, you see, holds a patent on a polymer cement, which he
calls a "revolutionary construction material." He intimates that
his discovery is either the original formula or an upgraded
derivation, revealingly calling the stuff "Pyrament." He wants the
Egyptian government to buy it to repair and maintain the pyramids.
He suggests that it would be a "revolutionary way" for modern
Egyptians to overcome their housing problems.
Surely his own financial interest in his "discovery" could not
explain his shrug of all the modern evidence we have. Mythology
begins to look refreshing over the crass commercialism of this
shameless misuse of science.
KEEP IN TOUCH
with the BAS BBS: 300/1200/2400 baud. Lively exchange, current
events, updates on skeptical happenings, relevant TV and radio
appearances of BAS notables and rationality are a dial away.
In what began as an introduction to the following article, I soon
realized that it was too long and too italic, hence this intro.
When mainstream scientists speak of "creationists" it is generally
regarded that reference is to that narrow group of Christian
fundamentalists exemplified by the faculty at the Institute for
Creation Research (ICR) in Santee, California. The people at ICR
refer to themselves as "scientific creationists", claiming that
their conclusions are the result of scientific research. At the
same time, ICR, and two other similar organizations in the US,
require their faculty to subscribe to an oath of Biblical inerrency
in matters of science and history.
According to the scientific creationists, Genesis, not the
universe, is the source of knowledge. Whatever one observes must
conform to a literal reading (specifically their literal reading)
of Genesis, according to the sworn oath. The universe was created
ex nihilo roughly 6,000 years ago in six twenty-four hour days, and
nothing -- NOTHING -- has, or could be, created since then. When
God rested on the seventh day it was not because He was tired, but
because He was finished, and His creation was "good." Nothing could
improve upon what God had wrought.
ICR has gone so far as to assert that if those professing
Christianity do not accept a literal Genesis as "foundational" they
cannot be "true" Christians. (See, for example, Ken Ham's "The Lie:
Evolution", Creation-Life Publishers, 1987. Creation-Life
Publishers is ICR's press.) Thus the creationists have set a
dichotomy to sunder the sheep and the goats: Creation vs.
Evolution. They have cast this struggle between Good and Evil. They
believe that this clash is part of an apocalyptic battle that must
be won at any cost. This is how serious they are, and it should
give us pause to consider the length to which they will go to see
their views advanced in society. For them, it is a cause celebre,
and nothing will deter their aspirations and determination. Their
small numbers belie their effectiveness.
This creationist dichotomy is as ludicrous as it is false. The axe
they use to cleave has surgical as well as bludgeon aspects,
depending on where and how they wield it. To an uninformed public,
the slice is made to appear clean and easy: If one has the sense to
know that a 747 cannot assemble itself in a junkyard how much less
sense does it make to presume that a human could assemble itself
from some random molecules in the universe? To a scientist, the
creationist tool is a dull, heavy meat axe. The butchery of logic
is only one of a long inventory of casualties. The creationist
false dichotomy parcels mainstream Christianity into the same
cauldron as the hated "secular humanists," though ICR tries to
moderates its rabid stance in the presence of other Christians. (In
private, the "Romanists" are just a step up from secular
It is perhaps somewhere in here -- in the gap between the
creationist's dichotomy -- that the so-called theistic
evolutionists may find themselves. I do not like to be pigeonholed,
so I do not want to make matters worse by cutting a large piece of
cloth in which to wrap all the rest of Christianity. On one end of
this spectrum are the creationists, and perhaps on the other end is
someone like Teillard de Chardin, the French Jesuit paleontologist
who taught that biological evolution gave rise to consciousness in
man and that a "spiritual" evolutionary process has been underway
It is important that evolutionists not create their own version of
the false dichotomy. There is room for a lot of diversity within
the modern theory(s) of evolution. Most scientists are able to
separate their religious sentiments from their work in the
laboratory and reconcile their faith as a wholly different aspect
of their lives. They are thus able to let the evidence lead them
wherever it will.
A favorite trick of the creationists is to mix the origin of life
with the origin of the species. The speculative nature of the
former can then be used to dilute and taint the sound theory of the
latter. Origins research is still an infant science; there are, at
present, no credible theories. We are still at the hypothesis stage
-- not much advanced from the time of Darwin when he said that
there is a greater gulf between inanimate life and the simplest
living thing than between the simplest living thing and Homo
sapiens. Darwin assumed the existence of life for evolution to
work, and we are hardly further along today. However life began,
evolution of that life is a fact. Only HOW evolution occurred is
"BASIS" does not, for the most part, deal with the philosophic
questions that might be raised by scientific theories, and matters
of faith are outside the purview of skeptical inquiry. The
editorial view on the creationist question is motivated by the
perceived threat of what the creationists want to do in our
schools. The minds of our youth are the concern of us all, theist,
atheist and everyone in between.
The following article is by Walter Hearn, a leader in a group of
Christians opposed to ICR's view of the universe. It is a response
to some statements made by Bill Bennetta in a recent "BASIS"
article. BAS believes that controversy and spirited confrontation
in the best Socratic tradition is desirable and healthy. We do not
pretend to have all the answers -- in spite of our telephone
mnemonic -- so we welcome reproval, correction and confrontation
whenever one thinks we have fallen off the path.
Bill Bennetta will certainly have the opportunity to respond to Mr.
Hearn's rebuttal in next month's issue of "BASIS". If others of our
readers would like to join the fray we welcome your thoughts.
BENNETTA V. ASA: MISGUIDED ZEAL?
by Walter R. Hearn
In a book review in "BASIS" ("Creationists issue a phony
schoolbook," Apr. 1990, pp. 5-7), William Bennetta took a
gratuitous swipe at an entirely different publication, a 48-page
booklet for teachers published by the American Scientific
Affiliation (ASA). He labeled ASA's "Teaching Science in a Climate
of Controversy" "creationist pseudoscience" and "classic
creationist quackery." Mr. Bennetta has trained himself to pursue
creationists with prosecutorial zeal, but this time his trained
zeal is barking at another kettle of fish. I know, because I'm a
long-time ASA member and one of the authors of that ASA booklet.
Skeptics in the Bay Area have been treated to many pages of Bill
Bennetta's pungent prose. I may be the only one, however, who has
seen a demonstration of his ability to read minds. In 1986 he
quickly discerned and exposed evil purposes lurking behind ASA's
attempt to moderate the so-called creation/evolution controversy.
Now he does not hesitate to state that the ASA booklet's authors
are "trying to put `creation science' into public schools by
offering bogus publications to science teachers." He KNOWS what an
author intends. He is so convinced by the "aura" or whatever it is
he sees about ASA members that he is absolutely sure we are
"scientific-creationists." Well, he is wrong. We are not.
Bennetta is of course right to call the leaders of the Institute
for Creation Research (ICR) creationists. For one thing, that is
the label they give themselves. As far as I know, ICR's Henry
Morris invented the term "scientific creationism," now legally
defined by "McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education", "Aguillard v.
Edwards", and "Edwards v. Aguillard". Creationism is "religion
masquerading as science."
In his relentless pursuit of Morris and company, Bennetta has had
to spend so much time reading their literature that he now sounds
like a fundamentalist himself. He is his own authority. If he calls
you a creationist, you must BE a creationist: it is the
authoritative Word of Bennetta. To deny his classification is to
defy the Will of Bennetta -- proving that you are not only wicked
but clever enough to try to conceal your wickedness. (Sorry, Bill,
but that's what it feels like to be caricatured.)
The "BASIS" review is not the first time that Bennetta has
deprecated "Teaching Science" in print, but this time I think he
chose the wrong audience. Skeptics' opinions are notoriously hard
to mold. Why take some authority's word for it if we can examine
the evidence for ourselves? That's what I had in mind on April 7
when I wrote a Letter to the Editor of "BASIS" protesting
Bennetta's calumny. I offered to provide a copy of the ASA booklet
to any "BASIS" reader interested in checking out the accuracy of
Bennetta's charges. Editor Kent Harker telephoned to say that the
May and June issues were already full. On the other hand, he would
have room in the July issue for a full response.
If you're reading this, be proud of the openness of "BASIS" to
dissenting views. Not every publication, even in the name of
science or education, is so free from censorship. For example,
consider the "California Science Teachers Journal". In "BASIS",
Bennetta cited his own "CSTJ" article, "A Question of Integrity,"
an expanded version of his initial blast at the "Teaching Science"
booklet in "Creation/Evolution Newsletter". That newsletter of the
National Center for Science Education (now "NCSE Reports" -- may
its scribe increase) printed my full reply to Bennetta, along with
a number of both positive and negative responses to the ASA booklet
("C/E Newsletter", Jan./Feb. 1987; Mar./Apr./May/June 1987).
In contrast, the "California Science Teachers Journal" refused to
print a response. Evidently if Bennetta said it, they believed it,
and that settled it.
The manuscript rebutting Bennetta's "CSTJ" article, received by
that journal on 25 Aug. 1987, was rejected on 4 Sept. 1987 on
grounds that "all reviewers have judged this article to be
seriously contradicting a position statement of the National
Science Teachers Association." I was more impressed by the rapid
and unanimous decision by "all reviewers" than by the reason given
for rejection. Why? Because "The Science Teacher", published by the
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) itself, treated my
response quite differently.
"The Science Teacher" had devoted eight full pages of its May 1987
issue to a clutch of negative reviews of the ASA booklet solicited
and edited by William Bennetta. I responded to Bennetta's claims
echoing through those reviews in a manuscript that took "TST"'s
referees more than a few days to evaluate. At the suggestion of at
least one referee, I was invited to shorten my response and
resubmit it as a Letter to the Editor, which "TST" printed in its
Feb. 1988 issue. (Editor Juliana Texley had panned the ASA booklet
in a Feb. 1987 editorial, but then in Sept. 1987 printed my letter
responding to her own editorial comments. I call that integrity.)
ASA published "Teaching Science" in 1986 and mailed it to about
half of the 40,000-plus high-school biology teachers on the NSTA
list. (Bennetta got that part right in his "BASIS" remarks.) With
additional foundation funding in 1987, we reprinted the booklet and
mailed it to the other half of the same list. In that reprinting we
could make only a few changes, but in a second reprinting in 1989,
which brought the total number in print to over 100,000, we took
into account all substantive criticisms of the earlier versions,
whether from friendly or hostile reviewers. (The 1989 version of
"Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy" is available
postpaid for $6 from ASA, P.O. Box 668, Ipswich, MA 01938.)
See for yourself
"BASIS" readers interested in the teaching of science in public
schools can evaluate the ASA booklet on its own merits and compare
it with Mr. Bennetta's caricature. I have a small stack of author's
copies at my home. As long as they last, for $2 P&H (check made to
Walter Hearn or to ASA), I will send by First Class mail to any
"BASIS" reader a free copy of the current (1989) version of
"Teaching Science". My address is 762 Arlington Ave., Berkeley, CA
I suggest that the booklet be read for its content, with no
preconceived notions about whether one is "for it" or "against it."
But just in case a toxic mischaracterization has already poisoned
the well of independent judgment, I will also enclose copies of the
following, as antidote:
1) The manuscript, "Teaching Science in a Climate of Trust" (my
response to Bennetta's full attack), which was rejected by
"California Science Teachers Journal";
2) Three published responses to specific criticisms by Bennetta et
al.: my letter in "The Science Teacher" (Feb. 1988) and two
communications in the Sept. 1988 "Perspectives on Science and
Christian Faith", ASA's own journal (one by "Teaching Science"
coauthor John Wiester, the other by parasitologist Wilbur Bullock),
along with Bullock's editorial from that issue;
3) A positive review of "Teaching Science" by retired chemistry
professor Alan H. Crosby (not an ASA member, so far as I know), to
show that the ASA booklet is gradually educating conservative
Christians, letting them know that there is a broad and legitimate
middle ground between the ideologies of "militant creationists" and
"militant evolutionists" (the reviewer's terms); and
4) An ASA brochure, so you can see that the organization openly
describes itself as "a fellowship of Christians in the sciences
committed to understanding the relationship of science to the
Christian faith," and see how it answers the question, "What is the
ASA position on controversial issues like evolution?"
OF PANDERS AND SLANDERS
Bennetta's excuse for tearing into the ASA authors (David Price,
John Wiester, Walter Hearn) in "BASIS" was the fact that we were
listed in the book he was denouncing, "Of Pandas and People", among
35 "critical reviewers of portions or all of the manuscript." When
"Pandas" first appeared I wrote to the sponsoring organization
Foundation for Thought & Ethics, Richardson, Texas), to point out
where I thought "Pandas" had gone wrong.
Since I disagreed with some of their book's basic premises, I asked
that my name be dropped from the list in any further printings. I
now suggest that instead of dropping my name, they should add
William Bennetta's name to the list, since he and I have both
become "critical reviewers" of "Pandas". That should keep others
from jumping to the same erroneous conclusion that a "reviewer"
necessarily liked the book.
About "Pandas" I need say only that the three ASA authors think it
is seriously flawed. We have met with two of the book's sponsors to
explain why so think. Although we are in sympathy with their
opposition to "evolutionary naturalism" as a philosophical
position, we think that their approach does not distinguish
carefully enough between that philosophy of "evolutionISM" and
evolution as science. Despite Bennetta's efforts to read a "two-
model" approach into our ASA booklet, "Teaching Science" fully
supports the teaching of evolution as science and warns against
both theistic AND atheistic scientisms. More about these important
About half of Bennetta's review of "Pandas" concerned the
qualifications of its authors and editor. I agree with him that it
was a mistake not to identify them because I, too, would like to
know what they have accomplished. Editor Charles Thaxton is the
only one I know well enough to argue with, and I've done quite a
bit of that in the over 25 years that I've known him.
Bennetta doubts that they could contribute anything useful to
science education because, even if they've earned doctorates in
pertinent fields, they haven't contributed much to "the formal
scientific literature." Maybe what they've been doing is
"scientific consulting" -- Bennetta's own profession.
Ironically, I hit a snag a few years ago when I tried to check out
Bill Bennetta's qualifications. I called U.C. Berkeley's Life
Sciences Library and asked a reference librarian to look up Dr.
William J. Bennetta in the latest edition of "American Men & Women
of Science". She couldn't find him so she asked me to check the
spelling of his name. Still no luck. She wanted to know what
position he held. The conversation went something like this:
"That's what I'm trying to find out," I said. "He seems to have
some connection with the California Academy of Sciences. He may be
the director of it, for all I know."
"Well, his name's not here. He could be a scientist, but still not
be listed. Only the very top scientists are listed in ["American
Men & Women".]"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that, exactly. I'm in it, myself, or used to
be. His field seems to be biology. Evolutionary biology. I got his
name from something he published in "Creation/ Evolution
"Oh, well, then! That explains it. He may not even be a scientist.
People who write in creationist publications like that aren't REAL
"Er, uh, have you ever seen a copy of "Creation/Evolution
Newsletter"? I don't think you could call it a creationist
"Well, they're really sneaky. Sometimes you can't tell just by
reading that stuff."
Since then I've had some correspondence with William Bennetta and
seen him described in an Academy publication as "a scientific
consultant, a professional editor, and a research associate of the
California Academy of Sciences." In the Academy's Annual Report for
1987-88 two papers of his in science education journals were listed
as "Staff Publications," but a person in the Education Office could
not find his name on the Academy staff. It turns out that he is
listed as a Fellow of the Academy. No doubt he's a jolly good
Fellow. He makes an occasional statement, however, which somebody
A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
One thing that seems to irk Bennetta about the American Scientific
Affiliation is its name. In "BASIS" he called ASA "a religious
organization with a misleading name." Sometimes he writes it with
"[sic]" after "Scientific." I'm sorry that the American Scientific
Affiliation's name makes him sic, but it has served its purpose for
almost 50 years. I like "Affiliation," distinct from the more
common Association or Society. I'm not so keen on "American"
because we have so many members overseas, many applying their
technical skills in developing countries. Since glasnost, we have
our first member in the Soviet Union, a Moscow physicist. He is a
Christian, as are all ASA members.
Most ASA members are active in research or science teaching. There
are several categories. "Members" must have at least one degree in
science; "Associates" are interested in science but (like Members
of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) need
not have scientific training; a new category of "Friends" was set
up for scientists supportive of ASA who for one reason or another
do not wish to sign ASA's Statement of Faith; "Fellows" must have
a doctorate or, for a few, the equivalent in years of experience
(no doubt like Fellows of the California Academy). ASA also has
In 1973, primarily for tax reasons, Canadian ASA members formed
their own related organization, calling it the Canadian Scientific
and Christian Affiliation. At the time, some members thought it
would be good to add the "and Christian" phrase to the ASA's name,
but it wasn't done. I doubt that ASA's name misleads anyone.
Compare it with that of the Federation of American Scientists
(which I take to be essentially a labor union) or the Union of
Concerned Scientists (which I take to be not a union but a
political organization). Those organizations of scientists have a
distinct purpose; ASA is an organization of scientists with a
distinct purpose. That purpose is has NEVER been "to put `creation
science' into public schools." It is "to investigate any area
relating Christian faith and science" and "to make known the
results of such investigations for comment and criticism by the
Christian community and by the scientific community."
Even the American Chemical Society has an agenda.When "chemicals"
started getting a bad name, some ACS members wanted to change the
name of the society. It isn't a society of CHEMICALS, they said,
it's a CHEMISTRY society. No, said others, its a society of
CHEMISTS. In the end, the ACS kept its old name. In the same way,
our affiliation of like-minded scientists has kept the term
Bennetta's real problem with ASA seems to be that its members sign
a statement of religious faith. Maybe he can't see any difference
between taking the Bible SERIOUSLY in matters of faith (ASA's
position) and taking it LITERALLY in scientific matters (ICR's
position). He is evidently convinced that no real scientist could
give assent to a statement of belief in God as creator, in Christ
as savior, or in the Bible as God's Word and hence "the only
unerring guide of faith and conduct." He is wrong about that --
unless HE gets to define who is a real scientist.
ICR's Henry Morris has frequently defined real believers in the
Bible: those who see creation the same way he does, as having
occurred suddenly, only a few thousand years ago. In my opinion
Bennetta and Morris are both wrong and both are annoyed by ASA for
the same reason: its existence challenges their definitions.
(Morris was once an ASA member but evidently grew uncomfortable
around so many Christians who disagreed with him and dropped out.)
In 1989 ASA changed the wording of its Statement of Faith. It now
says that God has endowed the universe with "contingent order and
intelligibility, the basis of scientific investigation, and
contains a new statement explicitly committing members to
stewardship of science and technology "for the good of humanity and
the whole world." ASA's agenda goes beyond science, but so does
that of every scientific organization that says anything about "the
good of humanity" or any "good" at all. Values in science and the
values OF science are philosophical issues that extend beyond
CONTROVERSY OVER EVOLUTION
The controversy over the teaching of evolution in public schools
touches on values that definitely go beyond science. Few writers
have stated the problem more clearly or succinctly than
philosopher-historian Robert Root-Bernstein (in "Evolutionists
Confront Creationists", ed. by F. Awbrey & W. Thwaites, 1984, p.
The evolutionist-creationist controversy is not a
scientific one. It is a religious, political, and
educational controversy stemming from three basic
problems: 1) the confusion between science and religion;
2) the attempt by creationists to subject science to
ideological control; and 3) the total failure of our
educational system to teach the public the basic
information needed to evaluate and recognize these
In short, the controversy is not caused by scientific
disagreements. It is caused by ignorance: ignorance of
what science is, what religion is, and how they differ;
ignorance of the sociopolitical dangers of ideological
control of science; ignorance of the purpose of modern
education. I assert, therefore, that scientists are
wasting their time debating scientific issues with the
creationists. Creationism is not the enemy. Ignorance is.
Debates are no solution. Education is. And on this score,
evolutionists clearly have as much to learn as do
creationists -- particularly in the fields of history,
philosophy, theology, and politics where the educational
battle must be fought.
Concern about Root-Bernstein's point no. 2 is what drives
"Bennetta's Vendetta" against creationists in general and against
the Institute for Creation Research in particular. The harmful
effects of ideological control of science, whether by the church in
past centuries or by totalitarian regimes officially hostile to the
church in our own, are evident. Those who do battle against
creationists must at times wonder how a handful of such
scientifically marginalized leaders can command such a following.
Root-Bernstein attributes their following to "the total failure of
our educational system" to teach the public the facts of public
I agree that better education is badly needed, but as a product of
public education myself, I hesitate to make such a sweeping
denunciation. Somehow, even before Sputnik launched the Biological
Sciences Curriculum Study, I learned enough about biological
evolution to take it seriously and learned how to distinguish
science from religion. I'm not sure that the best approach to
re-educating science teachers is to call the system in which they
work a "total failure." In "Teaching Science" we tried to take a
more positive and helpful approach.
Members of ASA, who have been busy educating ourselves all these
years about "history, philosophy, theology, and politics" in
addition to science, have an alternative analysis of the
controversy to offer. Why is such a large part of the public that
does NOT buy into young-earth creationist doctrine unwilling to
write off the creationist cause? Is it really because all of them
are ignorant, especially of science, and "the purpose of modern
education, and politically naive? I doubt it.
Rather, I think many ordinary citizens perceive the scientific
establishment to be ALREADY at risk of control by an essentially a
NON-theistic or even ANTI-theistic ideology. That is why ASA takes
pains to support evolutionary science while opposing evolutionISM
(evolutionary naturalism). That is why ASA's "Teaching Science in
a Climate of Controversy" urges teachers to distinguish evidence
from inference and (while treating students' religious questions
with respect) stick to teaching science with neither theistic nor
In my experience, working scientists are seldom as ideological as
non-scientists perceive them to be, but the public perception is
continually fed by pronouncements from scientistic ideologues like
biologist William Provine of Cornell University. Here's a paragraph
from a "sermon" of his in "The Scientist" (5 Sept. 1988, p. 10):
The implications of modern science, however, are clearly
inconsistent with most religious traditions. No purposive
principles exist in nature. Organic evolution has
occurred by various combinations of random genetic drift,
natural selection, Mendelian heredity, and many other
purposeless mechanisms. Humans are complex organic
machines that die completely with no survival of soul or
psyche. Humans and other animals make choices frequently,
but these are determined by the interaction of heredity
and environment and are not the result of free will. No
inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there
absolute guiding principles for human society. The
universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate
meaning in life.
With friends like Professor Provine, science also needs friends
like ASA to provide balance. ASA members demonstrate that at least
some scientists who take evolution seriously are theists. We are
not mere deists who attribute some distant primeval act of creation
to a deity or divine force -- a position Provine considers
"effectively indistinguishable from atheism." We are THEISTS who
practice our religious faith and worship God as our creator, on
whose purposeful activity we consider the world to be always
contingent. We do not claim warrant for that theistic stance from
science, but our presence in the scientific community helps to deny
claims of exclusive scientific warrant to naturalism or materialism
the philosophical positions that William Provine would certainly
consider "indistinguishable from atheism."
The idea that evolution is being taught with ideological bias in
many classrooms is hardly far-fetched. Nor is it naive to suspect
that proponents of a scientistic ideology other than creationism
want to control science or education. If "control" seems too strong
a word in our open democratic system, consider the last paragraph
of Bennetta's review in the April "BASIS". There he proudly reports
talking an NSTA official into refusing to accept advertisements in
their publications for a book he (Bennetta) has declared "bogus
from cover to cover."
What has happened to respect for the ability of science teachers to
judge for themselves? And what if our "bogus detector" is not an
unerring guide? With Bennetta or some other self-appointed censor
controlling what appears in print, how can an error be corrected?
(Hooray for editor Robert Romer of the "American Journal of
Physics", who is dead set against ideological control -- even his
own. In a letter to "Science" (13 Apr. 1990, pp. 44-45) he declared
his policy "not to refuse advertisements, not even for books that
I know should never have been written and ought never to be read.")
Someone (we can only guess who) tried to exercise a blatant brand
of censorship after ASA rented an exhibit booth at the NSTA
national convention in Washington, D.C., in March 1987. In
"Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy" we had criticized as
overstatements two sentences about human evolution in "Science and
Creationism", a 1984 booklet distributed to teachers by the
National Academy of Sciences. Some stalwart guardian of scientific
truth called NAS, saying that ASA had attacked their booklet, and
persuaded NAS to put pressure on NSTA to take away ASA's exhibit
privileges. The ploy didn't work, but it came close enough to show
ASA what ideological control feels like.
Indeed, some published responses to the ASA booklet seemed
emotional and out of proportion from the beginning. The nine
scientists Bennetta assembled to critique the booklet in "The
Science Teacher" (May 1987) offered little correction for any
scientific or pedagogical errors we might have made, but accused us
of all sorts of moral offenses, including:
undermining public understanding of science; attempting
to cripple science education; rejecting evolutionary
biology; trying to appear respectable to lay people;
using innuendo and selective omission; making a mockery
of claims of objectivity; telling lies for the purpose of
proselyting; producing an insidious but masterful piece
of propaganda; being treacherous, nefarious, and
dishonest; attempting to impose particular religious
beliefs on others; lacking intellectual curiosity;
concealing religious motives; misquoting or
misrepresenting the views of professional biologists;
obfuscating, distorting, and waffling with regard to
human origins; promoting an incredibly naive approach;
failing to follow the norms of science or the traditions
of fair and decent argument; using lamentable rhetorical
tricks; and inappropriately offering a synthesis of
science and religion.
Doesn't that make you want to get hold of a copy of "Teaching
Science in a Climate of Controversy"? Can it really be that
vicious? Although Bennetta edited the reviews, the monotonous tone
of those phrases may arise more from his selection of like-minded
critics than from his editing of what they wrote.
With the notable exception of anthropologist Vincent Sarich,
though, the scientists devoted more space to moralizing than to
substantive critique. That is why I ended my Letter to the Editor
(Feb. 1988) this way:
What About The Major Conclusions?
Primarily the ASA booklet discusses the drawing of
appropriate inferences from scientific evidence. Focusing
on four unsolved problems in science, it uses each to
make a basic point about how to evaluate evidence. It
also suggests an "answer" for each "Open Question":
"Did the universe have a beginning?" The booklet says
that present evidence points to a positive answer, but
the question is still open. It warns that the question
easily moves beyond the limits of science per se.
2. "Did life on earth arise by chance?" The booklet says
that chance means different things to different people,
but the fact is that in spite of all the experimental and
theoretical work done to date, "Scientists do not know
how life arose."
3. "Where did the first animals come from?" The booklet
concludes that the origins and earliest evolution of the
invertebrate phyla remain essentially undocumented in the
fossil record. It neither proposes an explanation nor
accuses researchers of covering up our ignorance. But why
should high school textbooks neglect such a pivotal point
or (in the words of Gould et al.) "crux" in life's
4. "Do we share common ancestry with apes?" The fourth
question should have been worded more narrowly, to focus
on what we know (and do not know) about the point (or
points) where the hominid line diverged. But even the
broader conclusion, that it is too soon "to say with
certainty that we share a common ancestry with apes," was
meant to demonstrate that many problems are yet to be
solved. As the scientific establishment begins to face
tighter budgetary restrictions, paleoanthropology should
not be shut down "because we already know the answer."
Those are the four major conclusions of the ASA booklet.
We say to our critics; stop the name-calling and
pigeonholing. Skip the naturalistic or supernaturalistic
speculations. Just tell us (and the teachers): on the
basis of presently available evidence, are those
In the current version of "Teaching Science" we changed the fourth
question to "What is known of the earliest hominid?"; rewrote part
of that section and the whole section on the first animals; and
made the bibliography more useful. We kept the focus on unsolved
scientific problems but added a WARNING label to identify the
booklet as a supplement, not a textbook containing a complete
presentation of evidence for evolution.
We saw no reason to change our major conclusions, but we're willing
to be educated. See for yourself.
ANNUAL BAS PICNIC
This year the BAS picnic is going to be the best one on record,
pure and simple. If you attended last year there is no doubt that
you will have this event on your agenda. Ben and Carol Baumgartner
did the ENTIRE shebang on their own time and money last year.
We can only thank them for such generosity, but we can't allow them
to do the whole thing again. All this notwithstanding, they said
that they would like to prepare the food for us -- something we
would all heartily endorse -- but we ask participants to pay for
their own food. At any fast-food service you'll easily spend five
bucks for some processed swill, but for the same five you will have
a variety of food you couldn't match at twice the price. Please
lend a hand if you live in the Mountain View area, or if you can
help the day of the picnic please call, too: 415-968-1535.
We need two things from you: (1) your check for $5 per person to
Ben Baumgartner (2467 Betlo Ave., Mountain View 94043), (2) Your
first and second choice of meat. The meat choices will be chicken
(teriyaki or BBQ), BBQ beef patties, or Polish sausage. The
logistics for supplying beverage is just too much, so bring your
own drinks. Hors d'oeuvres, salad and dessert will be provided.
There will be entertainment for the whole family, so bring the
kids; a child's (10 and under) plate will be $3 each. Place: Palo
Alto (exact location to follow). Date Aug. 18. Time: 10 a.m. (eat
between 12 and 2). We look forward to seeing you there. Make your
reservations early so you won't be disappointed. Come meet fellow
skeptics and mingle with a truly interesting bunch of people.
June meeting . . .
KIDS AND PSYCHOLOGY: A SKEPTICAL VIEW
by: Jeffrey Masson, Ph.D.
Tuesday, July 24th, 7:30 pm
El Cerrito Library
The El Cerrito Public Library is at 6510 Stockton Ave. From Route
80, take the Central Ave. exit (the third exit north of University
Ave.). Go east about three blocks and turn left on San Pablo Ave.,
continue three blocks and turn right on Stockton. The library is on
the right in the third block.
Watch for coming events in the BAS CALENDAR, or call 415-LA TRUTH
for up-to-the-minute details on events. If you have ideas about
topics or speakers leave a message on the hotline.
WARNING: We STRONGLY URGE that you call the hotline shortly before
attending any Calendar activity to see if there have been any
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF CHILDREN ON THE COUCH
by Jeffrey Masson
Author of "The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the
Seduction Theory", "Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth
of Psychological Healing" and numerous other books and articles
questioning psychiatric history and practices, Dr. Masson now
tackles the analysis of children. Masson, who counts Sanskrit
among the half dozen or so Asian and European languages he
understands, is presently looking into how children's mental
hospitals are operated in California.
Dr. Masson (Ph.D. in psychology), a trained psychoanalyst, offers
insight into basic questions about the treatment of children much
as he did with the treatment of women in his earlier work, ("A Dark
Science: Women, Sexuality and Psychiatry in the 19th Century"). His
talk will cover the use of psychiatry as a means to label, evaluate
and manipulate children in and out of institutions.
As traditional Freudian psychoanalysis is under increasing fire,
come and see light cast at the another aspect of the Dark Science.
BAS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chair: Larry Loebig
Vice Chair: Yves Barbero
Secretary: Rick Moen
Treasurer: Kent Harker
Kent Harker, editor; Sharon Crawford, assoc. editor;
Kate Talbot, distribution; Rick Moen, circulation
William J. Bennetta, Scientific Consultant
Dean Edell, M.D., ABC Medical Reporter
Donald Goldsmith, Ph.D., Astronomer and Attorney
Earl Hautala, Research Chemist
Alexander Jason, Investigative Consultant
Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
John E. McCosker, Ph.D., Director, Steinhart Aquarium
Diane Moser, Science writer
Richard J. Ofshe, Ph.D.,U. C. Berkeley
Bernard Oliver, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Kevin Padian, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
James Randi, Magician, Author, Lecturer
Francis Rigney, M.D., Pacific Presbyterian Med. Center
Wallace I. Sampson, M.D., Stanford University
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., Anthropologist
Robert Sheaffer, Technical Writer, UFO expert
Robert A. Steiner, CPA, Magician, Lecturer, Writer
Ray Spangenburg, Science writer
Jill C. Tarter, Ph.D., U. C. Berkeley
Opinions expressed in "BASIS" are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect those of BAS, its board or its advisors.
The above are selected articles from the July, 1990 issue of
"BASIS", the monthly publication of Bay Area Skeptics. You can
obtain a free sample copy by sending your name and address to BAY
AREA SKEPTICS, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco, CA 94122-3928 or by
leaving a message on "The Skeptic's Board" BBS (415-648-8944) or
on the 415-LA-TRUTH (voice) hotline.
Copyright (C) 1990 BAY AREA SKEPTICS. Reprints must credit "BASIS,
newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, 4030 Moraga, San Francisco,
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank