Today’s edition of the New York Times features a wonderful profile of Dr. Eugenie Scott, the long-time executive director of the National Center for Science Education:
Eugenie C. Scott’s journey to the front lines of the evolution wars began in 1974, when James Gavan, a physical anthropologist at the University of Missouri, accepted an invitation to debate Duane Gish, a biochemist and a leader in the creationist movement.
At the time, Dr. Scott was a newly minted professor of physical anthropology at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Gavan had been her mentor at the University of Missouri, where she earned her doctorate, so she took a few of her students to Missouri to hear the debate.
“We were greatly dismayed,” Dr. Scott recalled in an interview. “The scientist talked science, and the creationist connected to the audience and told good jokes and was really personable. And presented a lot of really bad science.”
The most controversial passage in the piece has nothing to do with evolution, but with the age-old question of overlapping magisteria:
She is particularly distressed to hear people assert that belief in evolution is incompatible with religious faith. Though Dr. Scott described herself as a “humanist” who is not religious, she said, “there is not a dichotomous division between people of faith and science. There are many people of faith who accept evolution. This is something many people do not realize.”
As someone who believes science and religion are not compatible, I strongly disagree with what Dr. Scott is saying here, but this was never her issue. It never had to be. Her goal was always to promote sound science. If religious people were capable of being strong allies, great. That’s what mattered to her. The philosophy behind their decision was irrelevant.
Her legacy doesn’t rest on that answer, either. She’s been an advocate for good science her entire career and never hesitated to go after anyone whose primary interest was to promote a particular faith over an evidence-based education. She will be missed even though she’s not leaving the science movement for good.
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