The Legacy of Frank T Awbrey

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Legacy of Frank T Awbrey
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
1
Year: 
1998
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
5–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Frank T Awbrey, Professor Emeritus, San Diego State University (SDSU), avid supporter of NCSE, and champion of the accurate representation of science, died of cancer on May 31, 1998. Until shortly before his death, Frank was actively pursuing research in bioacoustics, studying the sounds made by animals and the effects of human-caused sound on animal adaptation and survival.

Besides maintaining an active research program even after his retirement from SDSU in 1997, Frank devoted part of nearly every lecture he gave to explaining how science works. For Frank, the presentation of scientific facts and conclusions was a means toward the end of showing the workings of scientific methods and logic. In the syllabus for his introductory course he wrote, "Science is not just a body of facts; it is a process for understanding and explaining facts of nature.This science course, therefore, emphasizes critical thinking and understanding of basic concepts rather than accumulation of facts."

He was convinced that the primary purpose of science education is to protect against the harm done by pseudoscientific claims. We were fortunate to have someone who thought and taught as Frank did, when "scientific creationism" arose in the 1970s. Frank took an early and active interest in this movement and became one of a small circle of scholars who devoted considerable time and energy to investigating the science of creation "science". He helped found the journal Creation/Evolution and contributed many articles on topics as diverse as thermodynamics and "dust on the moon" as well as such biological topics as "kinds" vs species, and creationist biochemistry. His article, "Yes, Virginia, there is a creation model" laid out the essence of young-earth creationism on page 1 of the very first issue of Creation/Evolution.

In 1995 he shared with William Thwaites the American Humanist Association's "Humanist Contributions to Science" Award for his efforts to combat creation "science".

Frank Awbrey was a formidable anticreationist debater—one of the few scientists successfully to confront the professional debaters from the Institute for Creation Research. Thwaites and Awbrey pioneered the only debate strategy that has any hope of success: attacking creation "science" head on by analyzing and refuting the specific statements of creationists. Awbrey and Thwaites wrote in their 1993 Creation/Evolution article, "Our last debate: Our very last" that they began studying creation science hoping "there might be some small chance that a creationist would dig up a real biological paradox, one that would prove to be an interesting brain-teaser for the scientific community." Although they studied creationist literature for years, they never found one. But their efforts resulted in Frank's amassing an impressive series of over 1000 slides on creationism.

The collection contains hundreds of creationist claims along with their logical extensions and comparisons with original sources and data. Shortly before his death Frank donated this collection along with its associated database to the NCSE. Earlier, at the time of his retirement, he had donated his papers and creation/evolution library to NCSE's archives.

His long-time friend Bill Thwaites writes, "I know that I am only one among many who will sorely miss Frank's advice, seemingly infinite knowledge, counsel, and boundless good humor. I suspect that the more perceptive of creationists will also miss him."

Donations may be sent to NCSE in Frank's memory.

[NCSE Executive Director Eugenie C Scott and long-time NCSE member William Thwaites contributed to this obituary.]