Italian science organization funds creationist book

December 20, 2009 • 3:07 pm

This week’s Science reports that the main science funding agency in Italy — their equivalent of the NIH or NSF — has not only funded but promoted a creationist book.  (There’s more on this debacle at the Dec. 9 Science Insider.)

Evolutionism: the decline of an hypothesis was assembled by Roberto de Mattei, a historian of Christianity at the European University of Rome, from proceedings of a February meeting he organized at CNR, at which several scientists and philosophers explained why evolution is unscientific. The book, published last month, includes claims that conventional dating methods are wrong, that fossil strata resulted from the Deluge, and that dinosaurs died 40,000 years ago.

The book states that CNR contributed money for its publication ({euro}9000, according to the newspaper La Repubblica). CNR President Luciano Maiani has acknowledged that CNR contributed to expenses but said the agency has not endorsed the book. In an e-mail to Science, however, he said, “I’d like to stress the fact that intellectual research is an open enterprise as well as my [opposition to] any form of censorship.”

Maiani’s explanation is lame. Sure, intellectual research is open to zealots and crackpots, but did the CNR have to fund it? And would their refusal to do so be exercising “censorship”? I wouldn’t have thought this possible in Italy, or anywhere in western Europe.

If you’d like to express your feeling about this, as I just have, Maiani’s email at the CNR is

Here’s what I sent; if you’re too busy to compose an email, you can cut and paste this one, but unless you’re an obstreperous evolutionary biologist, edit the penultimate sentence:

Dear Dr. Maiani,

I read with dismay in this week’s Science that your organization has not only funded but promoted a creationist book edited by Roberto de Mattei.  Your remarks on this book indicate that you think the CNR’s financial and intellectual support was justified because you consider intellectual research an “open enterprise” and are “opposed to any form of censorship.”

Certainly intellectual research is “open” to anyone, but do you really think it’s at all useful for a respected body of scientists to promote and support blatant lies like those promulgated in this book? (I need hardly tell you that dinosaurs did not die out 40,000 years ago, nor that the geological strata are not the product of a sudden, worldwide flood!)  Really, it’s like the CNR supporting flat-earth theory, or the view that diseases are produced by evil spirits.

And do you really think that the CNR’s refusal to publish these lies would be considered censorship? I call such a refusal “good science”.  Would it be “censorship” for your organization to refuse to publish a book proving that the earth is flat? For that is what creationism is equivalent to.

We have our own problems with creationism in the United States, but I never thought that that problem would crop up in Italy, particularly in an organization as respected as the CNR.   As an evolutionary biologist who has long fought against creationism, I urge you to condemn this ludicrous volume rather than supporting it. It’s an embarrassment to Italian science — indeed, to all of science.


24 thoughts on “Italian science organization funds creationist book

  1. I was just reading about this over at Panda’s Thumb. One of the commenters there found it ironic that the Catholic Church opposes the book and the claims in it whereas Italy’s equivalent of the NSF considers it an “open enterprise.”

    1. The irony is that the church does so from their own position of creationism.

      Cabibbo is uncharacteristically forthright: “The Catholic Church has accepted the thesis of evolutionism.”

      That should be read from the philosophy that is theology as “4. (Philosophy / Logic) an unproved statement, esp one put forward as a premise in an argument. [The Free Dictionary]”

      1. They deny that evolution is a fact.
      2. They deny that evolution is proven theory.
      3. They deny that evolution is theory, they implicitly claim that it is a philosophical “-ism”.

      And instead they promote “theistic evolution” of course. Which if taken at face value is both rejected by the successful testing of the more parsimonious theory of evolution on exactly the same set of predictions (by construction) and equivalent with creationism. Either by claiming that the initial condition to evolution that is abiogenesis is woo-lly created, or that ongoing woo create influential contingencies.

      You can’t really sneak in belief into natural processes, they are 100 % “testing-proof” against that as soon as there is a tested theory. The sooner religion acknowledges that, the sooner they will stop looking foolish trying.

      [They will of course look foolish elsewhere, but that isn’t any concern of science.]

      1. “create influential contingencies” – create (ideally, for them) non-testable influential contingencies.

  2. Done!

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention, it is an always ongoing effort to work against the forces of ignorance.

    Btw, I see that the Lepanto foundation is started and driven by US creationists: “The Lepanto Foundation is a non-profit institution founded in Washington, D.C., in March 2001.”

    It is also an organization that can and likely do deny secularism: “Its stated mission is to defend the principles and institutions of Western Christian civilization.”

  3. Well, not to defend Maiani’s statement (preposterous, I concur), but he was elected president of Cnr last year, and De Mattei was already there as vice-president. He had, and has, VERY strong ties with the rightwing government (can I say fascist?) and Maiani has been under attack by the government itself from his signing of the letter against the pope speaking at the university of Rome for a lectio magistralis last year. In a couple of words; it’s all politics. Of course, a strong pro science position should have been to withdraw his support for the book, but, ehi, Italy’s Italy; look who is our PM!

  4. What next, a CNR sponsored book on a terracentric universe?

    The dumbing down disease is spreading world wide and I thought the only hot spot was the U.S.

  5. My shorter version: A free and open marketplace of ideas is essential to the well being of any healthy democracy. However, that presupposes that there will be a competition of ideas within that marketplace. You get on your street corner and explain why what the other guy is teaching on his street corner is garbage. But you don’t walk around wearing the other guy’s sandwich board! You don’t encourage everyone to listen to what he has to say! You don’t pass out leaflets for the guy. In short, you don’t promote contrasting opinions, you oppose them. Is that really so hard to figure out?

  6. It’s frightening how big a role some aspects of religion play in the ignorance of society.

    The refusal to have an open mind is in my opinion, quite a step backward.

  7. The problem is that De Mattei is the type of religious persons who have come to believe, as Barney Frank suggests, that Life begins with conception and ends at birth. See more of De Mattei’s antics on La Repubblica, Jan 6th, 2010, and Corrado Augias’ response to my letter. gm

  8. Writing a letter to president L. Maiani is useless. He can’t do anything, it’s the governement who decides; moreover, as said by Marco Ferrari in a previous post, Maiani has to be careful if he wants to mantain his position; the former president of CNR (obviously designed by mr Berlusconi) was an idiot of the same caliber as de Mattei.

    If you want to write to someone, write to the minister of university and research, ms Gelmini…

  9. if there is as much holes in PROVING evelotion (in wichever 5 forms it comes in) as there is in proving the existance of a Creator (in however much forms that come in) , isn’t evelotion as much a religeon as for example Chritianity? Atiests irritate me as much as some Christians do in failing to actually explore the oposite believe, wich is the corner stones of critical reasoning / thinking. They just defend what they BELIEVE or what has been taught to them. I dare any Athiest and I dare any Christian (creationists or not) to actually start thinking for themselves rather than accepting things that has been forcing down their throats just becasue everybody else or authoroties blieves it.

    1. Sir,

      Please use proper spelling in your posts, as they’re hard to read. More important, you keep asserting that there are lots of holes in evolutionary theory. Do you really understand evolutionary biology? If so, please state what these holes are. If you can’t, please go somewhere else. If you can, be prepared to defend your assertions about science–and on scientific grounds

      1. please excuse my spelling mistakes, English isn’t my first tounge. (if you can reply in perfect French, I’ll start checking my grammer and spelling mistakes, for now, lets just use it to comunicate?)

        let me start out by saying that I’m (although no-one can be completely) a bystander so to speak. I have listened to countless debates on the theory of evolution. I have had countless conversations with thiest professors as well as athiest. if you’re prepared to really listen, respect and explore the view and reasoning of the oposite party you will descover that for people preparing to think, evolution has as much unproven ‘facts’ as the young earth(or old earth) theory of creationists…where did God come from?(if he made it all) Where did the little dot(nothingness) that exploded come from…where did the energy come from that actually made it explode and you’ll descover that at best its specilation and THEORY. Why does planets spin in oposite directions? Where the moon part of the earth 20 million years back (as it currently moving away from the earth at a certain rate) …to give just 2 really simple objections (as i can gather your an evolutionist)…in history, were scientists always right in everything they state in theory? We are still learning and descovering new things every day. The theory of evolution makes alot of sense to me personally, but again, only to a certain point, then the specilation starts again…My objections is that very little people actually really THINK about something, they’re just searching for evidence to support their own belief. I don’t defend a certain viewpoint here, because my viewpoint is that people just loves to be right becasue it’s always been the survival of the fittest (or cleverest in this case) and this mindless debates for ours and ours only prove just that. People will do anything to be superior to their fellow human beings. That is part of the nature of man. I’m a clinical Psychologist and did my majors in Psychology and Philosophy and Criminology. I’m not a scientest….my argument isn’t about evolution being wrong or right, it’s about how pathetically people try to defend their own point of view. I have Thiest and athiest patients and I, over time saw how trying to prove their point of view completely destroyed their lives because they’re not able to THINK practically and critically. They braught their debates into counceling wich is where my curiosity about the subject came from.

        Neither could ever convince me 100% that they are right. I believe parts of all, becasue some parts just don’t make sense.

  10. I’m not a scientist, but i am italian and i have to admit that in this moment i feel a bit ashamed of it.
    We already have (possibly) the worst politicians in the western world… now i have to add that even the researchers are falling in with the general stupidity…
    And then we wonder why we have one of the lowest “scientific culture” in europe…

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