Intellectual Imperialism: Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education
Anthropologist Eugenie (“Genie”) Scott received her BS and MS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her PhD in Physical Anthropology from the University of Missouri. As a young college professor in the 1970s, she attended a debate between her mentor-professor James Gavan and creation scientist Duane Gish. She left appalled. “After seeing the enthusiasm with which the audience received Gish and his message, the cold water of the social and political reality of this movement hit me for the first time … I realized that there was a heck of a lot more in this … than just the academic issues.”
Addressing that “heck of a lot more” became her life’s mission. In 1980, when the “Citizens for Balanced Teaching of Origins” approached a local school board, Scott spearheaded the opposition effort, and in 1987, she joined the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) as its first executive director, a position she still holds today.
Several years ago, I engaged in a lengthy dialogue with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. As pleasant as they were, their communication tactics were those common to religious cults: exclusive claims as sole possessor and arbiter of knowledge; prescripted answers for anticipated objections; carefully crafted talking points that dismiss, rather than address, challenges; all subservient to the cardinal rule: Never entertain questions that challenge fundamental dogma. After reading Scott’s writings and hearing her speak, it hit me. Her communication tactics were just like theirs!
A skilled communicator, Dr. Scott travels, speaks, and writes extensively in pursuit of her stated goal to “keep evolution in public school science education.” But what she actually does is impose her particular metaphysical worldview – metaphysical naturalism – onto science education.
This became overtly obvious in a 46-page talking point document the NCSE prepared for activists testifying before the Texas State Board of Education in 2009. “Science posits that there are no forces outside of nature. Science cannot be neutral on this issue.” Dissent from this prior philosophical commitment, whether it comes from an African witch doctor or an intelligent design biologist with two PhDs (they’re all the same to her), amounts to ignorance and constitutes grounds for exclusion from the table. “All educated people understand there are no forces outside of nature,” declares Dr. Scott.
Most Recent Offense:
Scott, a Notable Signer of Humanist Manifesto III and a self-identified “non-theist,” waxes philosophical and theological. “The reason why people reject evolution – trust me on this one – is … for emotional and religious reasons,” she told Atheist Talk radio. “So you have to deal with this from … a more holistic perspective.” “People … are reluctant or unwilling to relinquish their belief unless those needs or concerns are otherwise assuaged.”
To assuage those concerns, she coaches science teachers in ways to reorient students’ theology. In a communiqué titled “Defuse the Religion Issue,” Scott suggested, “A teacher in Minnesota told me that he had good luck sending his students out at the beginning of the semester to interview their pastors and priests about evolution. They came back somewhat astonished, ‘Hey! Evolution is OK!’ … it was educational for the students to find out for themselves that there was no single Christian perspective on evolution.”
Scott speaks in soothing tones, like a kindly grandmother gently guiding young ones in proper ways to think and behave. It would be nice if other contenders in this debate would adopt her demeanor. But the intellectual imperialism behind all her niceness is staggering. Donning the mantle of science, it proclaims, I am the way of knowledge. Do not question me.
This article first appeared in Salvo 17, Summer 2011.