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NCSE Promotes Shrill Editorial Suggesting “Students be Forced to Consider the Possibility that There Is No God”

Casey Luskin

“Bastion of ignorance”? “Right-wing political ideology”? “Pseudo-scientific claptrap”? Not exactly the sorts of taunts you expect from a purportedly calm, collected, objective scientific source like the president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). Undoubtedly, such over-the-top rhetoric brings coos of approval from ID’s most vehement critics, such as those at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

Gregory A. Petsko, president of the ASBMB, recently published an article in ASBMB Today attacking intelligent design (ID) printing the rhetoric quoted above. But that’s not all he did. His article (which was also published in the journal Genome Biology) goes so far as to insinuate that people believe in religion due to “insecurity and need for certainty” and suggests that students at Christian private schools should “be forced to consider the possibility that there is no God, or that the Muslim faith, or Hindu faith, or Jewish faith, might be the true one”. The NCSE, which claims it is both pro-Darwin and religion-friendly, must have liked Petsko’s article, because they are now promoting it on their website:

“Two articles in the August 2008 issue of ASBMB Today react to recent creationist initiatives. ASBMB’s president, Gregory A. Petsko of Brandeis University, pulls no punches in his column, beginning, ‘They’re at it again. Armed with another new idea from the Discovery Institute, that bastion of ignorance, right-wing political ideology, and pseudo-scientific claptrap, the creationist movement has mounted yet another assault on science. This time it comes in two flavors, propaganda and legislative.'”
(“Creationist initiatives denounced in ASBMB Today,” NCSE Website, last visited 9/15/08)

Unfortunately, Petsko’s article only gets worse.

First, Petsko’s article attacks the Louisiana academic freedom law because it allegedly permits the teaching of “creationism.” What part of the law’s provision that, “This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion” does Petsko not understand?

Next, following the lead of Darwinists like Bryan Carstens, Petsko is also unable to acknowledge the existence of scientists who dissent from neo-Darwinism, stating, “Just because a few misguided so-called scientists question the validity of the concept of evolution doesn’t mean there is a controversy.” In Petsko’s version of reality, the professional Ph.D. scientists who testified before the Louisiana State Legislature about scientific problems with neo-Darwinism, or these 700+ scientists, are now merely “so-called scientists” who might as well believe “the earth might be flat” (Petsko’s words).

With scientists like Petsko presiding over over major scientific organizations, it’s no wonder our country faces a stark need for legislation like Louisiana’s Academic Freedom law to protect the academic freedom of educators who question evolution.

Finally, none of this compares to Petsko’s argument about why religious schools should force students to consider atheism (discussed briefly above). To elaborate more on Petsko’s argument, he writes:

[I]f we accept the creationists own rationale for this bill, then shouldn’t right-wing fundamentalist Christian schools be forced to “teach the controversy” about religion? It’s a much more controversial subject than science. Shouldn’t their students be forced to consider the possibility that there is no God, or that the Muslim faith, or Hindu faith, or Jewish faith, might be the true one? Or that there are so many different translations of the Bible that there is no way of knowing which one is the “word of God”?

(Gregory A Petsko, “It Is Alive,” ASBMB Today, pages 3-4 (August, 2008); also published in Genome Biology, Vol. 9(6), Article 106 (June 23, 2008).)

Did you follow Petsko’s pop-atheism logic? If not, here’s Petsko’s argument broken down:

  • Premise 1: Public schools are supposed to promote evolution;
  • Premise 2: Private religious schools are supposed to promote religion;
  • Conclusion: Therefore if you allow public schools to attack evolution, it’s only fair to force private religious schools to attack religion.

Setting aside the other absurdities in Petsko’s argument, why should attacking evolution therefore mean you must attack religion? The missing piece of Petsko’s twisted logic would be this: Premise 3: For Petsko, evolution functions like a religion, so if you attack his religion, it’s only fair to attack all others.

Even more troubling is that under Petsko’s vision of fairness, it seems that he wishes the government could force private religious groups to attack their own religious viewpoints. Thankfully, the First Amendment provides the protection that no law may prohibit “the free exercise” of religion. In other words, you cannot force private religious groups to attack their own religious viewpoints. Does Petsko support this First Amendment principle?

Petsko closes with more anti-religious rhetoric and a call to “familiarize ourselves with the facts of evolution so that we can mount a spirited defense against the forces of ignorance and charlatans who would exploit human insecurity and need for certainty.” I’m all for learning about evolution, and I’m all for combatting ignorance, but not using the kind of anti-religious agenda that Petsko clearly wishes to integrate into such evolution-education.

Petsko ends by saying that “Carl Sagan memorably called science ‘a candle in the dark'” and that “the darkness is around us, closer than you think sometimes.” With influential scientists like Petsko threatening scientific, educational, and religious freedom, and the NCSE happily endorsing his editorial on its website, perhaps the darkness is “closer than you think” indeed.


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.



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