'CREATION SCIENCE ' IS AN OXYMORON By Stephen Jay Gould Science, above all, is a methodolo

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------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 'CREATION SCIENCE ' IS AN OXYMORON ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- By Stephen Jay Gould Science, above all, is a methodology for aquiring testable knowledge about the natural world - "the art of the soluble," in Sir Peter Medawar's apt phrase. It is not, and cannot be, a compendium of certain knowledge. If the venacular word FACT has any currency in science, it can only be defined as "confirmed to so high a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." By this definition, evolution - the observation that all organisms are connected by unbroken ties of genealogy - is as much a fact as anything discovered by science - as well confirmed as Copernicus's claim that the Earth moves around the sun. Evolutionary biologists argue intensely about mechanisms of evolutionary change - and such meaty debates are the soul of exciting science, the chief sign of its good health - but we all accept the fundamental fact of genealogical connection. As a methodology of research, science adopts as its cardinal postulate - proved fruitful by its enormous success since the time of Galileo, Newton, and Descartes - the commitment to explain empirical phenomena by reference to invariant laws of nature and to avoid appeals to the miraculous, defined as suspension of those laws, for particular events. The notion of "abrupt appearance" - the origin of complex somethings from previous nothings - resides in this domain of miracle and is not part of science. Punctuated equilibrium, catastrophic theories of mass extinction, hopeful monsters, and a variety of hypotheses about rapid rates of change in continuous sequences - not about unintelligible abrupt appearances - are part of scientific debate and bear no relationship to the nonscientific notion of abrupt appearance, despite pernicious and wishful attempts by many creationists to distort such claims and misquote and half-quote to their alien purposes. Punctuated equilibrium, in particular, is a claim that evolutionary trends have a geometry that resembles a climb up a staircase, rather tthan a slide up an inclined plane. It is, in other words, an alternative theory about the nature of intermediate stages in evolutionary trends, not, as creationists have claimed, a denial of those stages. As a tern, CREATION SCIENCE is an oxymoron - a self-contradictory and meaningless phrase - a whitewash for a specific, particular, and minority religious view in America, biblical literalism. As a religious idea, it differs sharply from the tenets of most other faiths - from the enormously lengthy cycles of repetition in Hindu thought, from the usual interpretation of origins in my own Jewish faith, and the allegorical readings of the Bible accepted by Catholics since the time of St. Augustine. Biblical literalism, like all notions in the diverse array of faiths professed by Americans, belongs in the homes and churches - not in legislatively mandated curricula of science courses in public schools. It is particularly tragic that public understanding of science should be so threatened just when science has become so central and crucial in all our lives. This battle is for science itself, not only for the right of teachers to teach a fact of nature unimpeded by state commands. How can Americans hope to understand the nature of science if a partisan and minority religious doctrine, completely outside the norms and procedures of science, be taught as science, against the conscience and convictions of trained teachers, in the nation's schools. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Stephan Jay Gould is with the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, where he teaches biology, geology, and the history of science. He is considered by many to be the leading authority in Evolutionary Science and has made numerous appearances on PBS' NOVA series. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Skeptical Inquirer Vol. XI, no. 2 / Winter 1986-87 ppgs 152-153 Retyped by the Jester ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- STATUTE ATTACKS ALL THE SCIENCES ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- by Murray Gell-Mann It is most important that the U.S. Supreme Court affirm the decision of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which threw out a Louisiana statute mandating the teaching of "creation science." That statute would require that in the public schools of Louisiana the teaching of certain parts of science (which concern "origins" and thus appear to conflict with the claims of particular religious sects) would be selected for special pejorative treatment and would have to be "balanced" by the teaching of something called "creation science." It is shown in our brief that this expression can mean only one thing, namely a pseudoscience based on the literal interpretation of certain Bible stories and preaching that the universe and the earth are both young (thousands instead of billions of years old), that animals and plants were created in immutable "kinds," that fossils are to be explained by a universal Noachian Flood, and so forth. I should like to emphasize that the portion of science that is attacked by the statute is far more extensive than many people realize, embracing very important parts of physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geology as well as many of the central ideas of biology and anthropology. In particular, the notion of reducing the age of the earth by a factor of nearly a million, and that of the visible expanding universe by an even larger factor, conflicts in the most basic way with numerous robust conclusions of physical science. For example, fundamental and well-established principles of nuclear physics are challenged, for no sound reason, when "creation scientists" attack the validity of the radioactive clocks that provide the most reliable methods used to date the earth. If the kind of requirement envisaged by the statute is imposed on our public schools, the graduates may be ill-equipped to deal with problems of health, agriculture, industrial production, environmental quality, and national defense, and our republic is in grave danger. It has often happened that science has had to defend itself against the DARK FORCES OF IGNORANCE AND SUPERSTITION. The action by the Louisiana legislature recalls in some ways the situation in the Soviet Union under Stalin and his immediate successors, when the authorities interfered with the teaching of biology and promoted the pseudoscientific doctrine of Lysenko, with adverse effects on agriculture as well as on teaching and research. All scientific conclusions are subject to revision if new discoveries or new convincing arguments arise. When there are serious competing hypotheses, they are discussed and compared in scientific papers in refereed journals, in serious textbooks, in seminars, and in science classes. By contrast, "creation scientists" who are members of the Creation Research Society have to subscribe to a statement of belief in the literal truth of Bible stories. The Louisiana statute represents an attempt by a legislature to force entry into science classrooms on behalf of a particular kind of fundamentalist religion dressed up as science. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Murray Gell-Mann is Robert A. Millikan Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969 and is considered one of the Great Minds of Modern Science. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Skeptical Inquirer Vol. XI No. 2 / Winter 1986-87 ppgs. 156 - 157 Typed by The Jester


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