Department of Amusing Quotations

I am currently working on a section of the BECB (the big evoluition/creation book) in which I discuss some of the legal history of the issue. Towards that end I just read the opinions of the Tennessee Supreme Court in the Scopes Trial. The Court addressed a number of issues, but we shall save that for a different post.

Mostly I just wanted to call attention to an amusing statement from one of the opinions:

The following statement of Dr. E.N. Reinke, Professor of Biology in Vanderbilt University, is repeatedly quoted in briefs of counsel for the defense:

“The theory of evolution is altogether essential to the teaching of biology and its kindred sciences. To deny the teacher of biology the use of this most fundamental generalization of his science would make his teaching as chaotic as an attempt to teach astronomy without the law of gravitation or physics without assuming the existence of the ether.”



  1. #1 Thony C.
    January 20, 2011

    Dark energy!

  2. #2 Rules For
    January 20, 2011

    Wow, and relativity had already been well established by that time.

  3. #3 Thony Christie
    January 20, 2011

    Wow, and relativity had already been well established by that time.

    Actually it hadn’t!

  4. #4 SLC
    January 20, 2011

    Re Thony Christie @ #3

    The fact that there was no need for an aether is a consequence of the Special Theory of Relativity, which was well established and generally accepted by the time of the Scopes Trial.

  5. #5 James Sweet
    January 20, 2011

    @3,4: Yeah, that’s why Jason linked to the timeline regarding aether. I had also erroneously thought Scopes pre-dated the aether being generally accepted as bullshit, until I checked the link.

    Though this is an embarrassing faux pas on the part of Reinke, in defense of science in general, I have to say that the Michelson-Morley experiment (and its follow-ups and replications) was a bit of a “rabbits in the Precambrian” event. Evolutionary biologists are well aware of the sorts of things that would really wreck up the theory, and (rightly so) do not expect to see them.

    Just in case any Creationists try to quote-mine this to push the “science is just another opinion” angle, y’know. There are relatively few events in the history of science that shake things up on that level.

  6. #6 SLC
    January 20, 2011

    Re James Sweet @ #5

    Prof. Reinkes’ faux pas should be a warning to exercise caution when commenting on scientific theories outside ones’ field.

  7. #7 eric
    January 20, 2011

    So, the obvious explanation is that this biology professor didn’t know much about the physics of his time.

    But it occurs to me that there might be a different explanation. I wonder if this wasn’t the Judge’s gaffe rather than the witnesses’ gaffe. I.e., perhaps the professor discussed science’s rejection of the ether theory correctly in court, but the judge got it mixed up.

    Jason, were you able to find the opinion itself? That would interesting to read.

    But either way, its an amusing quote.

  8. #8 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 20, 2011

    I linked to the text of the opinions in the original post. The particular statement comes from the concurring opinion by J. Chambliss. Chambliss interpreted the Butler Act (the law Scopes violated) as prohibiting evolution only if it was taught in a way that explicitly rejected any role for God in the process. That’s an incredibly narrow interpretation that would have robbed the law of all its force. To be honest, it’s not clear to me why Chambliss thought the Reinke quote helped his make his point. After the quote Chambliss writes,

    Conceding that “the theory of evolution is altogether essential to the teaching of biology and its kindred sciences,” it will not be contended by Dr. Reinke, or by learned counsel quoting from him, that the theory of evolution essentially involves the denial of the Divine creation of man, and that, when construed to prohibit such a denial only, the act is objectionable as denying to “the teacher of biology the use of the most fundamental generalization of his science.”

  9. #9 Jon Wharf
    January 20, 2011

    Question, though: when did Dr Reinke actually say that?


    It seems to me that the cosmic microwave background does actually give an external reference for what “motionless” means. So perhaps relativity needs to look out for its successor…

  10. #10 M
    January 24, 2011

    “It seems to me that the cosmic microwave background does actually give an external reference for what “motionless” means.”

    Nope. The CMB is going to look the same regardless of what velocity the observer is moving at. The problem is that relativity is so darned non-intuitive that it is hard to picture sometimes…


  11. #11 retired middle school science teacher
    January 24, 2011

    I hope the Big Evolution Creation book contains a section mentioning the creationist takeover of Vista Unified School District in 1992. We recalled them in 1994. I was a middle school science teacher in VUSD and on the Executive Board of the Vista Teacher’s Association at the time.

    During the Creationist takeover, I was able to continue to teach evolutionary theory in my classroom although there were a number of incidents meant to intimidate me and other science teachers in the district. I am ashamed to admit that for many of my fellow science teachers the tactics worked and they de-emphasized evolution by always falsely saying up front it was “just a theory” or not mentioning the word at all. During my youngest son’s year long freshman biology class at Vista High School his teacher mentioned the “e-word” on only one day out of 180 class days of “biology”.

    Although we recalled them, the creationist have never left our district and every school board election since has become a titanic battle between those who advocate for ignorance and those who advocate for FACT based public education. So far rationals have won a majority in each election. But the Great VUSD Wars go on almost daily in the on line comment section of the local newspaper (North County Times) and every two years when new school board members are elected.

    The take home message is that rationals can win consistently against “little god” creationists, even in a very heavily Republican area (home district of Congressman Darrell Issa) as long as a small group is willing to fight and never give up.

    Good luck with the book.

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