Project Steve is a lighthearted project organized in 2003 by the National Center for Science Education: creationists often compile lists of scientists who disagree with evolution, so the NCSA compiled a large list of scientists who accept evolution. Not only that, but the list includes only scientists named Steve (or Stephen, or Stephanie, or Esteban, or other variants on the name "Steve"), in honor of biologist Stephen Jay Gould. The list has over 700 names.
Comparison of Project Steve with creationist lists
Creationist lists are examples of the argument from admired religious scientists, which is itself a form of the argument from authority, a logical fallacy. The Project Steve list suffers from the same problem, but the NCSE freely acknowledges this, and does not use its list as an argument for evolution. Rather, it serves as a refutation of creationist lists, as if to say, "If you think large lists are impressive, then our list is even more impressive, since we have more names than they do, and we only counted the ones named Steve."
Lists compiled by creationists tend to include few biologists. This constitutes list inflation, since evolution is a biological theory, and people outside that field, however qualified in their own field, should not be considered experts in evolution. Project Steve, on the other hand, was originally conceived as a list of scientists working in the life sciences, who can be expected to hold an informed view on the validity of evolution. This requirement was later dropped, in order to allow Stephen Hawking, a cosmologist, to add his name to the list.
Lists compiled by creationists often include scientists who have died, often before the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species. These people never had an opportunity to become acquainted with the theory of evolution and the evidence supporting it. We will never know whether they would have accepted or rejected evolution if they had access to the knowledge we have today. Project Steve, on the other hand, includes only scientists who were alive when their name was added (between 2003 and the present).
The list on which Project Steve was perhaps most directly modeled is A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, compiled by the Discovery Institute, which stated:
- We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.
This statement is rather mild, and one can even imagine an opponent of creationism like Richard Dawkins endorsing it: of course the evidence evolution should be examined critically.
The Project Steve statement is much stronger:
- Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.
The NCSE estimates that roughly 1% of the US population is named Steve or some variation. Therefore, the 700 signatories of Project Steve represent tens of thousands of other scientists.
As a result of Project Steve, in many discussion forums, if a creationist brings up a list of scientists who oppose evolution, someone will ask, "Yes, but how many of them are named Steve?"
- Project Steve at NCSE