Statute Attacks All of Science

It is most important that the U.S.  Supreme Court affirm the decision  of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  Fifth Circuit, which threw out a  Louisiana statute mandating the teaching of "creation science." That statute would require that in the public schools of Louisiana the teaching of certain parts of science (which concern "origins"

By | November 17, 1986

It is most important that the U.S.  Supreme Court affirm the decision  of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  Fifth Circuit, which threw out a  Louisiana statute mandating the teaching of "creation science." That statute would require that in the public schools of Louisiana the teaching of certain parts of science (which concern "origins" and thus appear to conflict with the claims of particular religious sects) would be selected for special pejorative treatment and would have to be "balanced" by the teaching of something called "creation science." It is shown in our brief that this expression can mean only one thing, namely a pseudo-science based on the literal interpretation of certain Bible stories, and preaching that the universe and the Earth are both young (thousands instead of billions of years old), that animals and plants were created in immutable "kinds," that fossils are to be explained by a universal Noachian flood, and so forth.

I should like to emphasize that the portion of science that is attacked by the statute is far more extensive than many people realize, embracing very important parts of physics, chemistry, astronomy and geology as well as many of the central ideas of biology and anthropology. In particular, the notion of reducing the age of the Earth by a factor of nearly a million and that of the visible expanding universe by an even larger factor conflicts in the most basic way with numerous robust conclusions of physical science. For example, fundamental and well-established principles of nuclear physics are challenged for no sound reason when creation scientists attack the validity of the radioactive clocks that provide the most reliable methods used to date the Earth.

If the kind of requirement envisaged by the statute is imposed on our public schools, the graduates may be ill-equipped to deal with problems of health, agriculture, industrial production, environmental quality and national defense, and our republic is in grave danger.

It has often happened that science has had to defend itself against the dark forces of ignorance and superstition. The action by the Louisiana legislature recalls in some ways the situation in the Soviet Union under Stalin and his immediate successors, when the authorities interfered with the teaching of biology and promoted the pseudo-science doctrine of Lysenko, with adverse effects on agriculture as well as on teaching and research.

All scientific conclusions are subject to revision if new discoveries or new convincing arguments arise. When there are serious competing hypotheses, they are discussed and compared in scientific papers in refereed journals, in serious textbooks, in seminars and in science classes. By contrast, creation scientists who are members of the Creation Research Society have to subscribe to a statement of belief in the literal truth of Bible stories.

The Louisiana statute represents an attempt by a legislature to force entry into science classrooms on behalf of a particular kind of fundamentalist religion dressed up as science.

Gell-Mann, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 91125, won the Nobel prize in 1969 for his work in the classification of elementary particles.
 

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