Eugenie Carol Scott is an American physical anthropologist who has been the executive director of the National Center for Science Education since 1987. She is a leading critic of young earth creationism and intelligent design.
Scott grew up in Wisconsin and first became interested in anthropology after reading her sister’s anthropology textbook. Scott received a BS and MS from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, followed by a PhD from the University of Missouri. She joined the University of Kentucky as a physical anthropologist in 1974 and shortly thereafter attended a debate between her mentor James A. Gavan and the young earth creationist Duane Gish which piqued her interest in the creation-evolution controversy. She also taught at the University of Colorado and at California State University, Hayward. Her research work focused on medical anthropology and skeletal biology.
In 1980 Scott was at the forefront of an attempt to prevent creationism from being taught in the public schools of Lexington, Kentucky. From this grassroot effort in Kentucky and other states, the National Center for Science Education was formed in 1981. Scott was appointed the NCSE’s executive director in 1987, the year in which teaching creation science in American public schools was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard.
Scott and her husband, Thomas C. Sager, a lawyer, have one daughter and reside in Berkeley, California.
In 1993 the University of Missouri honored Scott as a distinguished alumna. She was elected to the California Academy of Sciences in 1994. She served as president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists from 2000 to 2002. She was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2002 and was its chair. She is also a member of Sigma Xi.
Scott has received many awards from academic organizations. In 1999 she was awarded the Bruce Alberts Award by the American Society for Cell Biology. In 2001 she received the Geological Society of America’s Public Service Award. She received the 2002 Public Service Award from the National Science Board for “her promotion of public understanding of the importance of science, the scientific method, and science education and the role of evolution in science education”. In 2002 the American Institute of Biological Sciences awarded her the first Outstanding Service Award. Scott also received the 2002 Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award from the California Science Teachers Association. The National Association of Biology Teachers gave her honorary membership in 2005. In 2006 she was awarded the Anthropology in the Media Award by the American Anthropological Association for “the successful communication of anthropology to the general public through the media”. In 2007 Scott and Kenneth R. Miller were jointly awarded the Outstanding Educator’s Award by the Exploratorium Museum.
Scott has been awarded honorary degrees by McGill University in 2003, by Ohio State University in 2005 and in 2006 by Mount Holyoke College and her alma mater the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. In 2007 she was awarded an honorary degree by Rutgers University. In 2008 she was awarded an honorary degree by University of New Mexico.
In 2009, Scott became the first-ever recipient of the Stephen Jay Gould Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution. She was chosen for devoting “her life to advancing public understanding of evolution.” She was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 2010.
On August 21, 2010 Dr. Scott was honored with an award recognizing her contributions in the skeptical field, from the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) during its 10th Anniversary Gala.
On October 9, 2010 Committee for Skeptical Inquiry announced Scott (and others) as a part of their policy-making Executive Council, she will also serve on Skeptical Inquirer‘s magazine board.
Scott was initially brought up in Christian Science by her mother and grandmother, but later switched to a Congregational church under the influence of her sister; she describes her background as liberal Protestant. Scott is now a secular humanist and describes herself as a nontheist. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Scott describes herself as atheist but does not discount the importance of spirituality.” In 2003 she was one of the signers of the third humanist manifesto, “Humanism and Its Aspirations“. She is also a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In 2003 she was awarded the “Defense of Science Award” from the Center for Inquiry for “her tireless leadership in defending scientific evolution and educational freedom”.
In 1998, Scott received the American Humanist Association’s Isaac Asimov Award in Science. In her acceptance speech she explained how a statement adopted by the National Association of Biology Teachers that evolution was “unsupervised” and “impersonal” was attacked by creationists such as Phillip E. Johnson, and the initial reaction of the NABT was not to bow to pressure from creationists to change it. However, Scott agreed with theologian Huston Smith and philosopher Alvin Plantinga that “unsupervised” and “impersonal” should be dropped from the statement as they made philosophical and theological claims beyond those science could claim to make based on its principle of methodological naturalism – and the statement was altered.
NCSE is religiously neutral and has members who hold a variety of faith-based beliefs or no beliefs at all. Nevertheless, both Scott and the NCSE are criticized as being “atheistic” by creationist groups. Scott jokes that she sometimes thinks her first name is “Atheist” for the frequency with which she is referred to as “Atheist Eugenie Scott” by creationists.
Scott is widely considered to be a leading expert on creationism (including intelligent design), and one of its strongest opponents. Her book “Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction” was published by Greenwood Press in 2004 and then in paperback by the University of California Press in 2005. It has a foreword by Niles Eldredge.
She also co-edited with Glenn Branch the 2006 anthology “Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools“.
In 2006 Jon D. Miller, Scott and Shinji Okamoto had a brief article published in Science entitled “Public Acceptance of Evolution“, an analysis of polling on the acceptance of evolution from the last 20 years in the United States and compare that to other countries. Turkey had the lowest acceptance of evolution in the survey, with the United States having the next-lowest, though the authors saw a positive in the higher percentage of Americans who are unsure about evolution, and therefore “reachable” for evolution.
David Berlinski, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, describes Scott as an opponent “who is often sent out to defend Darwin”. However, Scott prefers to see herself as “Darwin’s golden retriever”. Scott says that her job “requires coping with science illiteracy in the American public”.
Scott has been profiled in Scientific American, The Scientist, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Stanford Medical Magazine. She has had been interviewed for Science & Theology News, CSICOP, Church & State and Point of Inquiry. She has commentary published by Science & Theology News, Metanexus Institute.
She also acted as the education spokesperson for the 2001 PBS: Evolution TV series.
Scott has taken part in numerous interviews on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel, debating various creationist and Intelligent design advocates. On 29 November 2004, Scott debated astrophysicist Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis on CNN. On May 6, 2005 Scott debated Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute, on “The Big Story with John Gibson”. The latter concerned the Kansas evolution hearings.
In 2004, the National Center for Science Education was represented by Scott on “Penn and Teller: Bullshit!“, on the episode titled “Creationism”, in which Dr. Scott offered philosophical views about the creationist and intelligent design movements. She noted “it would be unfair to tell students that there is a serious dispute going on among scientists whether evolution took place” because there is no such debate between scientists. She further noted that “a lot of the time the creationists… they’ll search through scientific journals and try to pull out something they think demonstrates evolution doesn’t work and there is a kind of interesting rationale behind it. Their theology is such that if one thing is wrong with the Bible you have to throw it all out so that’s why Genesis has to be interpreted literally. They look at science the same way. If one little piece of the evolutionary puzzle doesn’t fit the whole thing has to go.” Scott then explained, “that’s not the way science is done.”
Scott serves on the National Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and on the National Advisory Council of Americans for Religious Liberty. In 1999 Scott was awarded the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for “for tirelessly defending the separation of church and state by ensuring that religious neutrality is maintained in the science curriculum of America’s public schools”, and in 2006 was one of the three judges chosen to make the awards.
In 2005, Scott and other NCSE staff served as scientific and educational consultants for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, which originated in Dover, Pennsylvania. Judge John Jones ruled against teaching intelligent design or creationism in the public schools.