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Censoring Science in the Name of the “Consensus”: Will the History of Science Repeat Itself?

Casey Luskin

Darwinists often tell us that scientific views which challenge Darwin should be banned from classrooms or scientific discussion because they are outside the “consensus” of the scientific community. Darwinists love to make this appeal to authority because it is a very effective form of peer pressure which appeals to our respect for science and the conformist tendencies in society. Yet they rarely define the meaning of “consensus,” and they also ignore the fact that true respect for science implies that we should never accept something merely because it’s the “consensus.” Simply put, that’s because the consensus can be wrong, and we should accept something only because of the evidence.

As Stephen Jay Gould and other scientists warned the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992, regarding a case dealing with the definition of scientific evidence, “Judgments based on scientific evidence, whether made in a laboratory or a courtroom, are undermined by a categorical refusal even to consider research or views that contradict someone’s notion of the prevailing ‘consensus’ of scientific opinion.” (emphasis added) This is wise counsel. There are powerful examples from recent scientific memory where a view that was outside the “consensus” eventually became widely accepted as, it would seem, the new “consensus.”

Being both a book hound and a rock hound, I recently picked up an old 1968 geology textbook at a neighbor’s garage sale entitled Introduction to Geology Physical and Historical by William lee Stokes and Sheldon Judson (Prentice-Hall, 1968). This textbook was published before plate tectonics became widely accepted by geologists, so I was interested in what it said on that topic for historical interest. I personally am a huge supporter of the plate tectonics paradigm of geology, and my masters thesis dealt with paleomagnetism, one of the primary lines of geological data that eventually led many geologists to accept plate tectonics. The authors of this 1968 textbook acknowledge that the geological consensus was not firmly supportive of plate tectonics at that time. The textbook defines continental drift as a “process, considered by some to be theoretical and by others to be a fact.” (pg. 500) The authors state:

[I]ntelligent thinkers, if they try to reason on the subject, may soon find themselves taking sides in one of the most important scientific controversies of modern time–the problem of continental drift.


Another respected student in reviewing a large volume devoted exclusively to the problem of continental drift concludes that: ‘ … Both geologist and geophysicist must go considerably farther before the theory can be considered either firmly established or disproved.'”

(William lee Stokes and Sheldon Judson, Introduction to Geology Physical and Historical, pgs. 424, 439 (Prentice-Hall, 1968))

Clearly, we’re peering back at the middle-stages of a scientific revolution, at a time when the “consensus” did not firmly endorse plate tectonics or continental drift. Today, plate tectonics is perhaps the most highly regarded theory in geology.

What does this story teach us about the value of the scientific “consensus”? It shows that the “consensus” of today may not be the “consensus” of tomorrow. Today’s “consensus” may be right, but the “consensus” can also be dead wrong. Keep this in mind when Darwinists tell you to oppose ID because of appeals to the authority of the scientific “consensus.”

I’m convinced of plate tectonics not because it’s the “consensus” of the scientific community but because it’s so strongly supported by many lines of geological data. What matters at the end of the day is not the “consensus” but the scientific evidence. And a lot of scientific evidence is being left out of classrooms today when it challenges the teaching of Neo-Darwinian evolution, all in the name of the “consensus.”


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.