Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science
Free Speech Icon Free Speech
News Media Icon News Media

AAAS Goes from Science Organization to Movie Critic and Promoter of Religion

Casey Luskin

[Note: For a more comprehensive defense of Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, please see: NCSE Exposed at]

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is an influential science organization, but lately it has moved beyond science and now apparently aims to influence people in their choices of movies and religion. This week the AAAS issued a press release officially condemning the documentary Expelled as an instance of “profound dishonesty” because it “badly misrepresents the scientific community as intolerant of dissent.” Ironically, the AAAS’s own behavior seems to demonstrate that the scientific community can be “intolerant of dissent”–at least when it comes to Darwinism: in 2002, the AAAS issued a press release condemning intelligent design (ID), providing proof-positive of the intolerance of the scientific community towards dissent from Darwinism. When top-science organizations issue press releases against an idea, with the obvious intent of making that idea taboo in the scientific community, then you know that they are being driven by politics, not science.

It turns out that the AAAS’s anti-ID edict has been invoked by other scientific organizations to justify intolerance towards dissent from Darwinism, the very behavior that the AAAS denies exists. In 2004, the Biological Society of Washington (BSW) cited the AAAS’s anti-ID statement as justification for why they should not have published Stephen C. Meyer’s pro-ID paper in their journal. The BSW, promising to obey the AAAS’s edict in the future, wrote: “We endorse the spirit of a resolution on Intelligent Design set forth by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (, and that topic [intelligent design] will not be addressed in future issues of the Proceeding.” There you have it: the AAAS’s own statements have been used to justify intolerance of dissent from Darwinism, yet the AAAS has the boldness to deny that such intolerance exists. The AAAS seems to continue its approval of persecuting ID proponents, as its present statement against Expelled claims that attempts to teach ID are “divisive and damaging.”

The AAAS also gets involved in the debate over religion and evolution, stating in its press release that Expelled “needlessly drives a wedge between science and religion.” But why is a scientific organization concerned about religion? More importantly, if they are concerned about religion, why are they attacking Expelled rather than the numerous Darwinists interviewed in the film who wield evolution as a club to beat religion? As will be seen throughout the rest of this post, there are other similar examples where the AAAS singles out Expelled for attack when the movie simply reports on the doings of Darwinists in the scientific community.

The AAAS’s “Darwinism” Blunder
The AAAS statement also attacks Expelled through the amusing comment that “[t]he multi-faceted modern science of evolution” is “inaccurately and derisively described in the movie as ‘Darwinism.'” Yet the AAAS’s own journal, Science, commonly has used the term “Darwinism” to describe modern evolutionary biology. In 2005, a Science news article promoted two pro-evolution websites by stating, “In a section on obstacles to teaching Darwinism, this primer from the University of California, Berkeley, profiles different strains of anti-evolutionism.” (“Standing Up for Darwin,” Science, 308:1847, 6/24/2005, emphasis added.) The following year, Science writer Constance Holden wrote in an article in Science titled, “Darwin’s Place on Campus Is Secure–But Not Supreme” that “Public controversies over Darwinism have inspired college presidents to defend science and professors to sign petitions.” (emphasis added)

In fact, a literature-search of Science revealed that the journal used the term “Darwinism” over 40 times from 1995-2005. A more recent review of their expanded search engine finds that the journal has printed the word “Darwinism” many hundreds of times.

Even prominent scientists use the term in their popular writings. Richard Dawkins writes that “There are people in this world who desperately want to not have to believe in Darwinism.” (The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton, 1996, pg. 250) The term “Darwinism” has over 20 entries in the index to Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.

Again, if the AAAS objects to using the term “Darwinism,” it should stop attacking Expelled and start scrutinizing its own journal and the many leading scientists who employ the term.

The AAAS’s Misrepresentations on the Origin of Life
The AAAS statement against Expelled also implies that scientists understand how the origin of life occurred: “Such verifiable evidence explains how species gradually evolved on Earth, beginning with single-celled organisms approximately 3.5 billion years ago.” This seems like an attempt to cover-up the damage done in Expelled by Richard Dawkins, who openly admits in the film that we don’t understand how the first cell arose. As Bruce Gordon puts it, “Toward the end of the film, in an interview with Ben Stein at the British Museum, Dawkins confesses he has no idea how life originated on earth — nor does anyone, he admits — but, as Nobel laureate Francis Crick once theorized, it could well be explained by having been seeded here by an alien intelligence.”

Like the case of using the term “Darwinism,” if the AAAS objects to scientists admitting that we don’t understand the origin of life, then it needs to start policing its own journal.

In 2002, Science reported on an experiment investigating the hypothesis that life originated on the surfaces of crystals. (Another hypothesis discussed in Expelled.) One scientist promoting that theory argued that a primordial soup “was probably much too dilute to bring the chemicals together to react in the first place” but “[a] mineral surface is a good way to concentrate the compounds.” However, one critic of the crystal-hypothesis, Scripps Institution for Oceanography researcher Dr. Jeffrey Bada, observed that “Life is not just chemistry. Life as we know it is based on the passage of genetic information from one generation to the next.” Another critic observed that the chemicals produced in the mineral experiments were either irrelevant or insufficient: “Acetic acid and pyruvate, adds RPI’s Ferris, ‘are still pretty simple compounds. The real question is how do you build more complex biomolecules.'”

(See Science, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Vol. 295:2006-2007 (March 15, 2002).)

The answer to that question, at present, is that nobody really knows. Yet Science‘s present edict bluffs that we do understand the origin of the first cell, misrepresenting the facts of the issue. Yet in “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Science itself admitted that there are “questions that remain unanswered.” Again, if the AAAS objects to scientists admitting that we don’t understand the origin of life, then it should not attack Expelled but the scientists who (often in its own journal) have conceded our lack of materialist explanations for the origin of life.

Admitting, and then Denying, Intolerance towards Dissent
But what about the AAAS’s denial that the scientific community is intolerant towards dissent? In 1970, the famous and influential historian of science Thomas Kuhn observed that, “No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others.” Apparently the AAAS disagrees with Kuhn, for in its statement against Expelled the AAAS claims that the film “badly misrepresents the scientific community as intolerant of dissent.”

Ironically, the Science article “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” also admits that even scientists who promote alternative naturalistic paradigms on the origin of life face harsh opposition:

Overturning long-cherished theories, especially ones that underpin a whole field, can be a thankless task. Few theories are as iconic as the prevailing explanation of how simple chemicals in a cozy puddle of primordial soup first assembled themselves into the precursors of the earliest forms of life some 4 billion years ago.

If scientists who challenge prevailing explanations for the origin of life but offer new materialist explanations face intolerance, can you imagine the opposition faced by a scientist who suggests that life arose by intelligent design? Indeed, even the leading Darwinist philosopher of science Michael Ruse admitted that the AAAS itself exhibits opposition towards ID:

To say that Intelligent Design is controversial is to offer a truism. It is opposed, often bitterly, by the scientific establishment. Journals such as Science and Nature would as soon publish an article using or favourable to Intelligent Design as they would an article favourable to phrenology or mesmerism — or, to use an analogy to the claims of the Mormons about Joseph Smith and the tablets of gold, or favourable to the scientific creationists’ claims about the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. Recently, indeed, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the organization that publishes Science) has declared officially that in its opinion Intelligent Design is not so much bad science as no science at all and accordingly has no legitimate place in the science classrooms of the United States.

(Michael Ruse & William Dembski in “General Introduction” to Debating Design, pg. 3-4 (Cambridge University Press, 2004); emphasis added.)

And yet in its anti-Expelled statement, the AAAS pretends that such intolerance towards dissent from Darwinism is non-existent. The AAAS’s latest anti-Expelled statement sounds like just another example of how politics, rather than science, is driving the AAAS when it comes to evolution.


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.



aaasAmerican Association for the Advancement of ScienceExpelled