by Murray Gell-Mann
[DR. GELL-MANN IS A PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS AT THE CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF
TECHNOLOGY WHO WON THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR PHYSICS IN 1969.]
I am one of 72 U.S. recipients of the Nobel Prize in science who recently filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court asking that it uphold the decision of a lower court to throw out a Louisiana statute mandating the teaching of "creation science." [SEE "CENSORING SCIENCE," FEATURE #1.] We are probably the largest group of such prizewinners ever to sign any document together. Why are we so concerned? Why were we joined by a large number of state academies of science? Why did the prestigious National Academy of Sciences file a similar brief?
The statute, like others introduced elsewhere, would require that in public
schools 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 perjorative 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: a pseudoscience based on the literal interpretation of certain Bible stories. It preaches 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 flood such as that associated with Noah, and so on.
I should like to emphasize that the portion of science that is attacked by such
statutes is far more extensive than many people realize, embracing 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
expanding universe by an even larger factor, conflicts in the most basic way
with numerous, robust conclusions of physical science. If the requirement
envisaged by the statutes is imposed on our public schools, graduates may be
ill-equipped to deal with problems of health, agricultural, industrial
production, environmental quality, and national defense.
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 that begins as follows: "(1) The Bible is the written Word of God, and because we believe it to be inspired throughout, all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all of the original autographs. To the student of nature this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths. (2) All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during Creation Week as described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since Creation have accomplished only changes within the original created kind." A leader of the Institute for Creation Research writes, "The only way we can determine the true age of the earth is for God to tell us what it is. And since He *has* told us, very plainly, in the Holy Scriptures that it is several thousand years in age, and no more, that ought to settle all basic questions of terrestrial chronology."
The general public should understand that there is no significant support in the scientific community for the "creation science" construct, which is not
suggested by the observational evidence but is advanced by people (including
some with Ph.D. degrees) who start from religious positions such as those cited
above and then look around for "scientific" arguments to try to discredit the
findings of modern science about the history of the universe, the earth, and
living things, including human beings. One particularly robust finding is the
evolution of life on Earth. This idea especially infuriates "creation
scientists," who frequently quote out of context from the lively disputes among biologists and other scientists about the mechanisms of evolution so as to give the false impression that there is disagreement, or reason for disagreement, about evolution itself.
We are dealing with attempts by lobbyists and legislatures to force entry into
science classrooms on behalf of a particular kind of fundamentalist religion
dressed up as science. Fundamentalists have a perfect right to their beliefs,
but no right to control the teaching of science in the public schools.