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Does the NCSE Target Faith Viewpoints?

A recent blog post here at ENV by Michael Egnor, “Why Doesn’t the NCSE Have an Atheism Project?,” stated that “for quite a while; people of faith have long been the target of NCSE litigation.” To be fair to the NCSE, I don’t think that Egnor’s statement is exactly accurate; however, the truth is probably just as bad, or worse. It would be more accurate to say that the NCSE targets people who adhere to a certain purported faith and has eagerly supported litigation against those people. Part III (A) of my law review article from last year, “Zeal for Darwin’s House Consumes Them: How Supporters of Evolution Encourage Violations of the Establishment Clause,” provides some documentation on this:

In the summer of 2005, President Bush stated his view: in the teaching of ID and evolution, “both sides ought to be properly taught.”46 Susan Spath, a spokesperson with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a pro-evolution lobbying organization, then criticized Bush in the New York Times, arguing that his view was untenable in light of her organization’s position that ID is a religious viewpoint that is unconstitutional to advocate in public schools:

“It sounds like you’re being fair, but creationism is a sectarian religious viewpoint, and intelligent design is a sectarian religious viewpoint,” said Susan Spath, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.47

Evolution lobbyists like Spath, the NCSE, and others in their movement, have long contended that ID is a “sectarian religious viewpoint,” and that advocating it in public schools is thereby unconstitutional.48 To illustrate, in the Kitzmiller case, the plaintiffs (who were closely advised by the NCSE) complained that “[t]he purpose and effect” of the Dover Area School District’s policy requiring the teaching of ID would “advance and endorse the specific religious viewpoint and beliefs encompassed by the assertion or argument of intelligent design.”49 Likewise, an article published in 2007 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA by NCSE executive director Eugenie Scott and former NCSE staff member Nicholas Matzke asserts that ID promotes “a sectarian religious position,”50 but then claims it “has been rejected for its scientific failings” because “ID does not adequately explain the natural world.”51 Another article, published in Biochemical Journal and co-written by Matzke and NCSE president Kevin Padian, asserts that ID is “not science, but a form of creationism,” that “ID is theology,” further endorsing the view that ID is “religiously based” and is “entirely a religious proposition . . . .”52 They claim that ID’s leading proponents are motivated by “a crypto-fundamentalist Christian ideology.”53 Yet these authors also assert that the “case for ID” has “collapsed,”54 and argue that “no one with scientific or philosophical integrity is going to take [ID] seriously in future.”55

Darwin’s legal defenders unmistakably contend that ID is a religious viewpoint, yet such an organization as the NCSE clearly evinces no small measure of hostility and animus towards this purported “sectarian religious position.” This, of course, is their constitutional right,56 but could the government adopt such an attitude towards ID or creationism? If ID is a religious viewpoint, then the Kitzmiller plaintiffs were correct that it cannot be advocated in public school science curricula. But in such a case, would it be constitutional for the government to attack, inhibit, denigrate, oppose, disparage, or show hostility towards ID?


[I]magine the uproar over a textbook that explicitly attacked the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, or explicitly argued against the resurrection of Christ. Or imagine the outcry against a textbook denying that Mohammed was divinely inspired when writing the Koran. Along these very lines, the NCSE’s publication Voices for Evolution quotes The National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty offering analogous hypothetical situations, saying that “[t]o teach pupils that the account of Moses splitting the sea or Jesus walking on it is only a theory could hardly be reconciled with the Amendment’s ban on the inhibition of religion.”200 Yet the NCSE and its cohorts in the evolution lobby advocate making far harsher critiques of ID or creationism – viewpoints they deem are religious.

(Casey Luskin, “Zeal for Darwin’s House Consumes Them: How Supporters of Evolution Encourage Violations of the Establishment Clause,” Liberty University Law Review, Vol. 3(2):403-489 (Spring, 2009) (emphasis added).)

NCSE types have tried to deflect this exposure of their disregard for the First Amendment by pretending that I am somehow stating that ID is a religious viewpoint. I want to make it unmistakably clear that I do NOT think that ID is a religious viewpoint, and thus I think that there is no legal problem with public schools advocating or critiquing intelligent design. However, given that the First Amendment prohibits the government from attacking, inhibiting, denigrating, opposing, disparaging, or showing hostility towards religion, it seem wrong for the NCSE to claim to uphold the First Amendment while claiming ID is a religious viewpoint and encouraging public schools to critique ID.

Michael Egnor was only a little off: NCSE targets people who they believe adhere to a certain purported faith and has eagerly assisted in litigation against those people.

References Cited:
[46.] Elisabeth Bumiller, Bush Remarks Roil Debate on Teaching of Evolution, N.Y. TIMES, Aug. 3, 2005, at A14.
[47.] Id.
[48.] See Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Sch. Dist., 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, 763 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (holding that teaching of ID violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause).
[49.] Complaint at 19-20, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Sch. Dist., 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (No. 4:CV 04-2688).
[50.] Eugenie C. Scott & Nicholas J. Matzke, Biological Design in Science Classrooms, 104 PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES 8669, 8675 (2007).
[51.] Id. at 8671.
[53.] Id. at 39.
[54.] Id.
[55.] Id.
[56.] Bd. of Educ. of Westside Cmty. Schs. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 250 (1990) (“[T]here is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.”).
[200.] NAT’L CTR. FOR SCI. EDUC., INC., VOICES FOR EVOLUTION 201 (Carrie Sager ed., 2008).


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, 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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