Support the National Center for Science Education

I try not to do any shilling for political groups on the blog, but I’ll make an exception for the National Center for Science Education. Why? Three reasons:

1) They do good and important, if not always glamorous work, supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools, both in the classroom and in the courts.

2) Josh Rosenau has a really good blog, one of the best on science-and-politics issues, and his day job is with NCSE.

3) Jerry Coyne is a jackass, whose latest bit of jackassery involves sending an open letter to NCSE complaining that Josh (among others) was mean to him on the Internet. Because, apparently, he’s twelve.

So, there you go: it’s an organization that does good work, employs good people, and pisses off the Nü Atheists. That’s an organization I’ll give money to, and encourage others to do the same.

22 thoughts on “Support the National Center for Science Education

  1. I agree with reason #1, and I’m agnostic on #2. But #3? Really? How is that one any less juvenile than you think Coyne is?

  2. They do good and important, if not always glamorous work, supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools, both in the classroom and in the courts.

    You neglected to recognize their important work in theology.

    Their particular theological position is plainly stated on their Religion and Science page, where we are instructed on how to “properly understand” the roles of God, scripture, and revelation in our lives.

  3. “Nü Atheist”

    I like it. It has a nice, Swedish ring to it.

    And, yes, Jerry Coyne is a jackass, and God bless him for it.

    Well, Josh Rosenau has a blog, I’ll give you that much. If you like it, all the more power to you. I have to admit I usually skim over your fiction posts as well, so it may well be that I just don’t understand literary and/or dog people.

    Still planning on buying the book at some point, though.

  4. Thanks, Chad, for putting my thoughts on this brouhaha into a shorter and more polite form than I’ve managed to formulate yet. I appreciate your support, and I’m sure NCSE appreciates your reader’s support.

    Jack: That link doesn’t go to NCSE.

  5. Yep, those darn Nu Atheists. Don’t they realize that their frank criticism of religion makes them seem like angry, vituperative children who should really shut up. Especially when NCSE says so.

    But no, not only would they not shut up, they complain about NCSE as well. And while their public letter may seem quite polite and direct, it is actually just a screen to hide their militant and vitriolic nature.

    Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable that Jerry Coyne can write a letter with no ad hominems or direct attacks on anyone, and still be a jackass. While you, Chad, can call someone names, and be perfectly in the right.

    It is a Good Thing that we have people like you and Josh to speak for all the reasonable* people. As for Nu Atheists, well, it’s not like they have a right to have an opinion. If they try, why, that makes them even more jackassy.

    (*Reasonable is accommodatingly defined as belief in NOMA, belief in compatibility of faith and science, and avoidance of criticisms of unsubstantiated beliefs. Some disagreement about this definition may occur. This definition was not evaluated by FDA. Your mileage may vary.)

  6. Oh, M. Don’t you get it? Rules regrading tone apply to New Atheists, but are quite malleable when it comes to people who disagree with them.

    I think phsyics is your strong point, Chad.

  7. Prof. Orzel: I have been trying to figure you out for a while, but I think I finally have it: you are a reverse sock puppet! You are a new atheist troll pretending to be an accommodationist to make accommodationists look bad. I mean, calling some one a “jackass” because they said you made “misguided attacks” – nothing could make you look more like an asshole – which I know you are not.

  8. I have never been less than impressed and amazed by how much you do, Dr. Orzel, to forward the twin causes of science education and communication. It is one of my hopes that I shall one day be able to bring concepts from my research area of quantum information to the public even half as effectively as I’ve seen you do here on this blog. In this instance, however, I must emphatically and categorically disagree.

    While I do not expect to change your mind on this issue in the slightest, I at once feel compelled to explain why I signed off on Coyne’s letter, and was proud to do so. While I don’t even slightly disagree that the NCSE has done good work in the past, I feel that their current strategy of alienating some of their most dedicated allies is not sustainable, and is unwise. To have that relatively modest criticism met with the kind of vitriol that has been directed at atheists as of late is unfortunate and inexplicable.

    It is patently clear that the current leadership of the NCSE disagrees with a significant segment of the atheist community in terms of tactics, which is of course their prerogative. What I object to, however, is that rather than simply pursue their own strategy, they seem to be seeking to discredit and denigrate an alternative strategy to obtain the exact same short term goals. Many of the most successful campaigns of the past have benefited from a diversity of political and cultural tactics, and I see no reason why science education should be any different.

    Of course, it is true that many in the more vocal segments of the atheist community have criticized the NCSE’s strategy. It is ridiculous to equate this, however, with a lack of support for the NCSE’s goals and their work. I agree with Coyne and others that for the NCSE to get involved in the “bad theology” argument at all is a grave tactical error, but I do not see that as being a blanket condemnation of the organization. What has drawn ire seems to be the juvenile way that such criticisms have been met. They argue that “New Atheism” jeopardizes religious allies, but apparently have no fear that making atheists into some kind of scapegoat for broader cultural issues might annoy or alienate their allies that don’t believe in any gods.

    All that aside, I am glad that people still continue to support the NCSE, for as you point out, they do good work still. I would be remiss, however, to not join my name in that chorus looking for the NCSE to recognize that they do, in fact, have allies in the atheist community that are seeking many of the same goals.

    Chris Granade

    PS: I also must disagree entirely that Coyne is a “jackass,” on the simple principle that I have no evidence to that effect. The relative level of civility he has shown in the face of vile invectives actually rather impresses me.

  9. Bravo! I’m a long time supporting member of the NCSE. You’re not just whistling Dixie about their indispensible combative value on the frontlines of the current medieval assault on science education.

  10. Josh Rosenau has a really good blog

    Really? In that case, you seem to have messed up the link – you’re linking to “Thoughts from Kansas”, instead.

    And the top post on TfK, ironically, is mostly about drawing a strict line between Rosenau’s blogging and his work for the NCSE – on which grounds he would probably have to disagree with your listing of his blog as a reason to support NCSE. (Just kidding, that would be intellectually consistent and honest).

  11. I’d think you’re estimating Coyne’s emotional development a bit high.

    He once sent me an e-mail in which he called me a “sourpuss”, which I thought was funny, though it’s clear he didn’t intend it that way.

  12. Chad,

    Thanks for supporting NCSE. I endorse completely your remarks, which are stated with most admirable brevity. Since Coyne has written an open letter to NCSE and BCSE, I eagerly await his letter to the World Science Festival for having the gall of allowing itself to become a “hostage” to the malevolent intentions of the “evil” John Templeton Foundation. Have no doubt that Coyne will write equally “distinguished” commentary. Moreover, I believe I can predict, with utmost confidence, that he, Myers, and others will rant and rave and howl with righteous indignation about how physicist Brian Greene, his wife journalist Tracy Day, and their World Science Festival staff have allowed themselves to become “intellectual whores” of the Templeton Foundation simply for accepting its financial support and for organizing yet again, a World Science Festival panel devoted to science and faith. For Coyne and Myers, their online behavior against the World Science Festival has metamorphosed into a most peculiar blend of annual religious rite and circus freakshow all rolled into one.

  13. Here’s my open letter to Jerry Coyne that was sent to him over a year ago, but I never received a reply:


    If I didn’t have ample respect for your demonstrated excellence as an evolutionary biologist and as a brilliant critic of creationism, especially Intelligent Design creationism, I would have never written this as the opening paragraphs of my review of “Why Evolution Is True”:

    “’Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’. That classic quote from the great Russian-American evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky is replete with far more truth now than when he uttered it in 1973. Thousands of scientists around the globe are using the principles of evolution towards understanding phenomena as simple as bacterial population growth to those as complex as the origin and spread of such virulent diseases as malaria and HIV/AIDS, and the conservation of many endangered plant and animal species. There is no other scientific theory I know of that has withstood such rigorous, and repeated, testing as the modern synthetic theory of evolution. The overwhelming proof of biological evolution is so robust, that entire books have been written describing pertinent evidence from sciences that, at first glance, seem as dissimilar from each other as paleobiology, molecular biology and ecology. But alas this hasn’t convinced many in the court of public opinion, especially here, in the United States, who remain skeptical of evolution as both a scientific fact and a scientific theory, and who are too often persuaded by those who insist that there are such compelling ‘weaknesses’ in evolution, that instead of it, better, still ‘scientific’, alternatives exist, most notably, Intelligent Design creationism. Distinguished evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution Is True” is not just a timely book, but it is quite simply, the best, most succinct, summation I can think of on behalf of evolution’s scientific validity.”

    “No other modern evolutionary biologist has attempted to convey, with such excitement, and enthusiasm, a comprehensive, quite compelling, proof of biological evolution, unless you consider the notable literary careers of Coyne’s graduate school mentors; Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould. Coyne’s achievement is especially noteworthy for covering virtually every major evolutionary aspect of biology in a treatment that barely exceeds two hundred and thirty pages. In essence, ‘Why Evolution is True’ can be viewed as an updated, modern rendition of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’, but encompassing those biological sciences, such as population genetics, molecular systematics, evolutionary developmental biology – better known as ‘evo – devo’ – and, indeed, even paleobiology, which were unknown to Darwin; to put it bluntly, this is ‘one long argument’ on behalf of evolutionary biology, told via Coyne’s respectable, occasionally lyrical, prose and compelling logic.”

    However, I am greatly perplexed, and distressed, by your recent criticism of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). I feel this way especially since you yourself have noted NCSE’s key role in “manning the barricades” against irrational foes like the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis. So since you do recognize this, then how can you reconcile your support for NCSE’s sterling work on behalf of both the scientific community and scientifically literate public with your assertion that NCSE should refrain from seeking some kind of compatibility with religion? When there are many mainstream religious organizations, and others, such as the Templeton Foundation, which not only seek such compatibility, but, more importantly, recognize that evolution is valid science. When these very organizations recognize that it is quite risible to claim that “belief in evolution EQUALS denial of GOD”. What you are advocating is not merely bad philosophy, but also one that merely confirms all the worst instincts of Evolution Denialists. To put it most succinctly, you are merely allowing yourself to fall into the philosophical trap that creationists have set for scientists and others who accept valid mainstream science like evolutionary biology, by giving them yet another example that only those who reject religion can accept evolution.

    Neither the NCSE nor other major scientific organizations like the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) are overreaching by insisting that there can be some kind of compatibility between science and religion. This is an opinion recognized by major religious leaders like Buddhism’s Dalai Lama, and by organizations that promote this compatibility, such as, for example, the Templeton Foundation. It is a view that is reflected in academia through institutes like Columbia University’s Center for Science and Religion. For these very reasons, it is quite reasonable for NCSE and NAS to issue statements supporting compatibility between science and religion.

    Neither you nor PZ Myers, or any of your fellow militant atheists, have had the decades-long experience that Eugenie Scott and her NCSE colleagues have had in countless successful efforts at science advocacy both within the courts and legislatures of the United States. One of the reasons why NCSE has succeeded is by adopting the very philosophy which is the unofficial “official” policy of the American Museum of Natural History; by reminding its visitors that it is not in the business of changing their religious views, but instead, it is interested only in teaching them the principles and facts of valid mainstream science like evolutionary biology. One of the reasons why NCSE may be succeeding is by refusing to attack religious faith, and by seeking instead, some kind of accommodation with those religious faiths that recognize evolutionary biology as sound mainstream science.

    I agree with you and Myers that it is a worthwhile goal to have a society in which rational beliefs have a preeminent role in forming public opinion. However, it is a goal that will remain elusive as long as militant atheists like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins insist on mocking and humiliating those who are religiously devout. Instead of offering persuasive evidence on behalf of atheism and evolutionary biology, Richard Dawkins’s writings, lectures and television appearances, may have contributed substantially to strong negative opinion in Great Britain towards Darwin’s life and work and the acceptance of evolutionary biology as sound mainstream science. Depending upon which poll you believe, nearly forty percent of Dawkins’s fellow Britons now reject evolution as valid science. Are you certain that you wish to continue writing criticism that may prove to be as counterproductive as Dawkins’s writings and Myers’s outrageous acts – like the infamous “cracker incident” – have been?

    Sincerely yours,
    John Kwok

  14. Interesting set of comments; we at the British Centre for Science Education have had the same run in with Coyne and his merry band of men at WEIT, including Dawkins.

    I notice someone comments about his criticisms of Answers in Genesis. Well he hasn’t even curtailed its activities let alone pushed it out of business – it seems to be going from strength to strength.

    Well our policy on dealing with Answers in Genesis UK may have produced some results. It’s just closed down.

  15. As to #1, I cannot answer to that one. I no longer teach High School Biology, but because of my location (CA) evolution was not a controversial subject anyway.
    As to #2, it is a matter of opinion, and opinion based on aesthetics and emotional connection. Politics I see, science, not so much. Jerry is guilty of the same flaw, but when he does science it is interesting and engaging.
    As to #3, well… You are known by the company you keep. Russell Blackford, Richard Dawkins, Ophelia Benson, and other fairly intelligent respondents frequent there. That other blog is inhabited by, imho, tone trolls. There is no doubt in my mind, I would rather have a beer with the netizens of Jerry’s website (it’s not a blog?!) than attend a banquet with the netizens of TfK. If Jerry is a jackass, then he’s my kind of jackass.
    Which begs the question, why wander into this mess? I personally find the flap somewhat amusing, and rarely comment on it. I find it odd because you have not offered anything of substance to conflict other than picking sides. Jason Rosenhouse offers much better analysis, one that is tempered and emotionally detached. This post on the other hand is senseless blithering, more suitable for pandering to the tone trolls (who are out in force here!).

  16. I read your book. I liked it.

    I don’t understand why you’re embroiling yourself in this issue.

    The WEIT thread was up for at least two days, had well-over 600 comments, and, had you wished to contribute, there was plenty of room and time for you to do so–certainly, had you wished to call Coyne a “jackass”, that would have been the place and time.

    This makes you look like a weenie.

  17. I see that accomodationists believe in the do as I say , not as I do (dont alienate allies – we’ll make an exception for gnus. Be civil in disagreements – except to call a gnu a jackass ) So I suppose

    That’s an organization I’ll give money to, and encourage others to do the same.

    should mean we shouldn’t donate.

  18. @17 Roger Stanyard

    Could you point me to some information about AiG UK shutting down? I cannot seem to find anything on it? Cheers

  19. Jerry Coyne is a noted evolutionary geneticist and one of our foremost experts with respect to understanding speciation. However, unfortunately, he indulges in “jackassery” whenever he posts a screed against NCSE and AAAS’s penchant for “accomodationism” or objects to financial support of the World Science Festival by the John Templeton Foundation. His “open letter” to NCSE and BCSE is as pathetic as his public rejection from World Science Festival founders – and directors – physicist Brian Greene and his wife journalist Tracy Day – to participate as a panelist during the 2009 festival in a program discussing the intersection between science and faith. His behavior pales in comparison with the charm, wit and superb diplomacy displayed by the likes of other notable evolutionary biologists like Francisco J. Ayala and E. O. Wilson.

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