Science: A Religion Unto Itself

, Michael P. Tremoglie, Leave a comment

The debate about what should or should not be taught in public schools about the origin of life resulted in a 2004 lawsuit, Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, brought by parents of students in the Dover school district to prohibit the teaching of Intelligent Design.

The parents were represented by the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and Pepper Hamilton LLP. The school district was defended by the Thomas More Law Center.

At issue was a statement mandated to be read to biology classes that included this:

“The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. … Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. … students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families …”

How this statement is deemed to threaten the republic is difficult to understand. Yet, those adamantly opposed to teaching Intelligent Design (ID) condemned it. Saying “ID is an argument of ignorance.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted ACLU attorney Witold Walczak as saying, “The “theory, not a fact” line is just one of several used by intelligent design proponents in attempts to gin up the appearance of a scientific controversy …That is an old creationist ploy. … there is simply no controversy in the scientific community. … Gravity, too, is a theory.”

The smug attitude of the liberal intelligentsia about “scientific theory” is rather shocking when given the mutability—and fallibility—of “scientific theories.”

Geologist J. Harlan Bretz’s theory about a huge, catastrophic Ice Age flood occurring in the Northwestern United States was soundly condemned by the scientific community, during the 1920’s. Many establishment geologists skewered him because this sounded too much like the great biblical flood. They were rooted in the “uniformitarianism” school which says, “the present is key to the past.”

It was not until a half century later, though, that geologists changed their minds and accepted Bretz’s hypothesis.

Here are some other erroneous pronouncements by scientists:
“Radio has no future.”

* Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), British mathematician and physicist, ca. 1897:
”While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility …”

*Lee DeForest, 1926 (American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube.):
“In Bavaria the Royal College of Doctors … declared that railroads … would cause the greatest deterioration in the health of the public … Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.”

*Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London:
“No possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery, and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which man shall fly long distances through the air …”

*Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), astronomer, head of the U. S. Naval Observatory:
”Space travel is utter bilge.”

*Dr. Richard van der Reit Wooley, Astronomer Royal, space advisor to the British government, 1956. (Sputnik orbited the earth the following year.):
One of the most sterling examples of the hatred the scientific community possesses for the nonconformist— and for those who dare to mention Intelligent Design—is that of Richard Sternberg, who was burned at the stake, metaphorically, by the scientific community.

Mr. Sternberg, an evolutionary biologist with two doctorates in biology, was thought to defend Intelligent Design, when, as editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he published, in 2004, a paper making the case for ID.

Soon afterwards a campaign began against him by Smithsonian scientists, where Mr. Sternberg was a research associate. “They were saying I accepted money under the table, that I was a crypto-priest, that I was a sleeper cell operative for the creationists … I was run out of there,” a Washington Post article quoted Steinberg.

A congressional investigation confirmed this. They examined e-mail traffic from scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and noted, “retaliation came in many forms … misinformation was disseminated through the Smithsonian Institution and to outside sources. The allegations … were later determined to be false.”

The Bretz case of the 1920s and the Sternberg case today demonstrate that the scientific community can be just as dogmatic as the religious one. Neither science nor religion has a monopoly on truth. Each field learns new ideas that change or validate existing beliefs.

One day the courts will realize it.

Michael P. Tremoglie is author of the critically acclaimed novel A Sense of Duty, available at This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Bulletin.