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NCSE Members Reply to Cal Thomas

In late August 2002, Cal Thomas devoted his syndicated column to calling for "equal time" for creationism in the science classrooms of the public schools. (The column appeared on a variety of dates and under a variety of headlines, the most common of which was "Making monkeys out of evolutionists"; it is available on-line, dated August 27, 2002, at http://www.townhall.com/columnists/calthomas/ct20020827.shtml). In it, all the familiar tropes of creationism are dutifully employed: likening of evolutionists to apes ("pro-evolution forces jumped from their trees and started behaving as if someone had stolen their bananas"), quote-mining of popular and dated sources ("No less a pro-evolution source than Science Digest noted in 1979..."), citation of scientists of the past who supposedly would have agreed with creationism (Johannes Kepler and Wernher von Braun, both of whose first names Thomas misspelled), dogged insistence on a false dichotomy ("There are only two models for the origin of humans: evolution and creation"), and, of course, equation of evolution with atheism ("Anything involving God, or His works, [contemporary evolutionists] believe, is to be censored...").

In addition to Daniel J Phelps's op-ed (see article following), the responses of several NCSE members appeared all across the country. Kudos to them and to everyone who wrote to their local newspapers to attempt to counter Thomas's column.

A long op-ed entitled "Faulty biblical literalism doesn't belong in schools" by Gary Bennett appeared in the Idaho Statesman (2002 Sep 14; available on-line at http://www.idahostatesman.com/Opinion/ReadersOpinions/story.asp?ID=20364). Bennett ironically proposed that "students should also be allowed to vote on the biblical description of the earth (flat) versus the scientific observation of the earth (spheroidal)", adding, "In case anyone thinks this is absurd, consider that the creationist [Tom Willis] who gutted the Kansas school standards three years ago isn't sure that the sun doesn't go around the earth, because that's how the Bible describes it". He went on to explain that evolution is not a theory in crisis and that most of the mainstream religious denominations in the United States do not regard it as theologically problematic. Ending with a reference to Kenneth R Miller's Finding Darwin's God, Bennett wrote, "Apparently the creationist god is too puny to create something as complex as evolution."

Tom Kerr wrote to the editor of the Contra Costa Times (published in Walnut Creek, California) to complain that Thomas apparently "chooses to ignore the overwhelming evidence that has established evolution as the foundation of modern biology. Evolution is simply the best explanation of biological and paleontological data available." He also noted that most mainstream churches accept evolution and support evolution education. He concluded, "This issue shouldn't be about fear or faith. For the sake of our students and the quality of education, we can't afford to teach bad science alongside good." Kerr's letter was published on September 13, 2002.

NCSE Supporter Michael Ruse, Lucyle T Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, contributed an op-ed piece to the Tallahassee Democrat: "Genesis has no place in science class" (2002 Sep 1; available on-line at http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/democrat/news/opinion/3964995.htm). Emphasizing the continued need for separation of church and state, Ruse remarked, "Science tells us that life developed slowly and naturally from primitive beginnings up to the forms that exist today — evolution. And science tells that we humans are part of this process; Homo sapiens evolved about a million or so years ago. This is what is science, and this is what is and should be taught." Responding to Thomas's contention that it is only fair to teach evolution and Genesis side-by-side in science classrooms, Ruse said, "what should be taught as the best science should not be something open to democratic vote ... Science tells us that evolution is the answer. Let us leave matters at that and move on to other issues. Never forget, if we are indeed made in God's image, then turning our backs on where our intelligence leads us is spurning his greatest gift of all."

David E Thomas, president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, wrote to the Albuquerque Journal to protest Thomas's column. Dave — it is necessary to use first names here, for obvious reasons — ironically remarked that Cal's enthusiasm for "equal time" is apparently quite selective: "Surely, this is not the same Thomas who calls for schools to get back to math and science basics, and to stop wasting students' time on 'trendy subjects' like 'sex-ed, environmental-ed and homosexual-ed.'" He also took issue with Cal's "repeated implication that one must choose between evolution and God," explaining, "This is a crock. Many religious groups have no problem accepting modern science, including evolution." Dave ended by rebutting Cal's assertion that both creationism and evolution are untestable, pointing out that the discovery of the Toumai skull and the completion of the sequencing of the human genome both could have conceivably overturned evolution. His letter appeared on September 6, 2002.