The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) usually tries to puts forth a religion-friendly image, despite the fact that the NCSE’s executive director, Eugenie Scott, is a signer of the Third Humanist Manifesto. Something must have slipped through the cracks, because the NCSE’s talking points for Texas have encouraged activists to testify not just that science doesn’t study the supernatural, but to expressly testify that science denies the existence of the supernatural:
Science posits that there are no forces outside of nature. Science cannot be neutral on this issue. The history of science is a long comment denying that forces outside of nature exist, and proving that this is the case again and again. There is simply zero scientific evidence for forces outside of the natural world. Scientific experiments do not rely on “magic” in order to explain their results. Magic–as magicians Penn & Teller and James Randi hasten to point out–does not exist. … By implying that there exist explanations outside of nature, [a scientist skeptical of Darwinism] posits supernatural, mystical phenomena. The assumption that “the only explanations that count are those that rely on nature” is indeed an important part of science; in fact, this is a foundational axiom for any rational thinking. … It needs to be said clearly: All educated people understand there are no forces outside of nature.
(Steven Newton, NCSE “Preparatory Materials for Speakers at the 21 January 2009 Texas SBOE Meeting,” pp. 32, 44. Note: The NCSE’s “Talking Points” document was previously linked at http://skepchick.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/prep_materials_21janmeeting1.pdf, which is where I first found the document online, and which is where I linked to it when I first posted this commentary. Apparently soon after I posted this commentary, the NCSE’s talking points were removed from that website.)
Now I don’t think that science should adopt supernatural explanations, but I always thought the evolution-lobby’s party line held that science remains silent on questions about the existence of the supernatural. This document is hardly silent on the existence of the supernatural…
Not only does it assert that “rational thinking” denies the supernatural, but it unambiguously states that “[s]cience posits that there are no forces outside of nature. Science cannot be neutral on this issue. The history of science is a long comment denying that forces outside of nature exist, and proving that this is the case again and again.” To be clear: the NCSE isn’t saying that science denies the influence of the supernatural on science, it clearly tries to say that science denies “that forces outside of nature exist.” Such rhetoric doesn’t say that science is merely a way of knowing–it clearly implies that science is the only way of knowing. There’s a term for this position: scientism.
Let’s imagine, hypothetically, that activists took the NCSE’s advice and offer such testimony before the Texas State Board of Education (TSBOE), and the TSBOE proceeded to take the NCSE’s advice and adopt evolution standards stating the following: “There are no forces outside of nature; science cannot be neutral on this issue; the history of science is a long comment denying that forces outside of nature exist, and proving that this is the case again and again; the only explanations that count are those that rely on nature; this view is a foundational axiom for any rational thinking.” What would happen? The TSBOE would quickly be in court for showing government hostility and opposition towards religion (such hostility is illegal under much long-standing Supreme Court precedent) and perhaps also for showing a preference for atheistic religion. In other words, it’s fine if private individuals at the NCSE hold the views expressed in their “Talking Points” document, but it has no place in a public school science classroom.
Eugenie Scott better rein in her staff members or the NCSE will not only lose its religion-friendly image–it may land some school districts or state boards of education in court if their advice is followed.