Science Advocate Frank Lovell: A Remembrance
Guest post by Tom Wheeler in remembrance of his friend, Frank Lovell. We extend our sincere condolences to Mr. Wheeler and to Mr. Lovell’s family.
Frank Lovell, an outstanding defender of evolution and promoter of public understanding of science, died on January 26, 2023, from injuries suffered in a fall. He was 79 years old. He is survived by his wife Debbie and children Annie Lovell, Frank Lovell III, Alicia Lovell (Dennis Nalley) and Simon Lovell (Sneha Thapa) (1).
Born in Ashland Kentucky, he served four years in the United States Army. He then studied physical organic chemistry at the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky, receiving a bachelor’s degree from the latter. A 30-year career with General Electric in Louisville followed.
Frank’s anti-creationism efforts began in 1982 with letters to the editor; he estimated that he wrote a couple of dozen letters in the next couple of years (2). In 1983, I had a letter of my own published, critiquing a creationist op-ed. A couple of days later, I received a letter from Frank, praising my letter and including a copy of the letter he had written personally to the creationist. He invited me to join him in fighting creationism. This was the beginning of an extensive collaboration that would continue until I moved away from Louisville in 2006.
Frank and I decided to form a new Committee of Correspondence in the Louisville area, the Kentucky Committee for Science Education. This was to complement the existing Committee for Effective Action in Science Education (CEASE) in Lexington, founded by Drs. Eugenie Scott and Wayne Davis of the University of Kentucky. Unlike the case in Lexington, where proposed teaching of creationism in public schools led to the formation of CEASE, there did not appear to be a similar threat in Louisville. Rather, our focus was on the public presentations (letters to the editor, public talks, media presentations, etc.) of local creationists, particularly ministers of the Church of Christ. (Frank designed a letterhead with a KCSE logo, and issued documents on behalf of the group, but in reality it just consisted of the two of us.)
Frank described our efforts in a presentation at a 1988 AAAS meeting, which can be seen in a YouTube video (2). These included letters to the editor; correspondence with local creationist speakers and other individuals; a poster presentation; handouts distributed at talks related to evolution; and public talks of our own. We engaged extensively with one biology-trained preacher, and even got invited to give a couple of talks at his church. Throughout this we tried to document errors in materials of prominent young-Earth creationists, and hold the locals accountable for not repeating arguments that had been shown to be false. The bulk of this correspondence was Frank’s work; his scholarly output was impressive, especially in light of all his other interests (as noted below).
In 1985, the local pastors challenged us to a public debate. I decided that, given the pitfalls of debating creationists and the amount of time required to debate properly, it was not something I wanted to do. However, Frank accepted the challenge, and a four-night debate was arranged (3). I assisted Frank. The creationists brought in Dr. H.E. “Buddy” Payne from Florida College. Frank made a vigorous attack on the young Earth model as promoted by the Institute for Creation Research. However, Payne refused to take a stand on the age of the Earth, leaving him free to attack standard findings from geology and evolution without having to defend anything. As I noted (3), “Overall, Payne’s superior public speaking ability probably helped make his presentation more persuasive to the audience, which appeared to be mostly sympathetic to creationism.” Frank acknowledged that it was “a very humbling, character building experience” (2).
We also corresponded with both nationally known creationists and scientific experts in analyzing and responding to creationist claims. These included meteoritic dust on the moon (4) and Grand Canyon lava flows. Frank also assisted me in my detailed rebuttal to D. James Kennedy’s presentations on “The John Ankerberg Show.”
Another of Frank’s activities was attending creationist conferences, often with Robert Schadewald. They frequently met informally with creationists at lunch. As Schadewald wrote (5), “…our interactions with the creationists invariably were cordial or better…We both felt that these exchanges were the best part of the conference.”
I have less information about Frank’s activities after I left Louisville in 2006, but I believe that he continued to defend evolution with similar enthusiasm.
He was also active in combating other forms of pseudoscience besides creationism. When the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) issued a call for local groups to coordinate with its goals, we volunteered KCSE to be such a group. Simultaneous, Dr. Robert A. Baker of the University of Kentucky offered to form a group. We decided to defer to Dr. Baker’s leadership and joined his new Kentucky Association of Science Educators and Skeptics (KASES). Later, Frank accepted my invitation to join the Kentucky Council Against Health Fraud.
Frank’s activities were not restricted to critiquing bad science; he was an active promoter of scientific knowledge and science education. He was a long-time member of the Louisville Astronomical Society, serving at various times as President, Chairman of the Board, Editor, and Librarian. He served nearly 30 years as a member of the Board of Directors of the Louisville Regional Science Fair, and at different times was Head Judge for physics, Head Judge for team projects, Judging Committee Coordinator, and Fair Co-director.
Another major interest of Frank’s was philosophy and religion. I recall that he described himself as “an atheist of the agnostic variety,” meaning he could not disprove the existence of God, but found no compelling reason to believe. He was an active member of the Louisville Freethought Society, participating in weekly meetups and staffing a booth at the Kentucky State Fair each year. As he did with creationists, he carried on extensive correspondence with preachers and lay individuals concerning religious topics, and gave public talks. One of these that I attended was a two-night debate with a local minister. He expressed his views on science and religion as follows: “Where ever objective knowledge is incomplete, there is a place for religious ‘faith’ (for any who feel need for religious ‘faith,’ at any rate); but where ever objective knowledge and religious ‘faith’ conflict, it is religious ‘faith’ (not objective knowledge) which should be modified or abandoned. That is the only rational way that there can be no conflict between science and religion.”
He was a regular participant on FreeThought Channel, including a major interview (6). His fellow panelists have posted a remembrance (7).
Frank had a large following on Facebook, where he regularly posted on new scientific developments, philosophical questions, and videos of musical performances that he felt especially enjoyable. The announcement of his death on his Facebook page was met with an outpouring of condolences from around the world. Here is one typical comment: “I deeply appreciated his intelligence, integrity, humanity, warmth and tolerance.”
Thomas J. Wheeler was a biochemistry professor at the University of Louisville for 25 years, followed by a second career as a high school science teacher in Scranton, PA. He is now retired and living in the Chicago area.
Matt Young will be the moderator of this thread.
Frank Lovell obituary 2023. Fern Creek Funeral Home
National Center for Science Education. Do’s and Dont’s Debating Creationists: Part 3
Wheeler TJ. Lovell-Payne Debate, Aug. 12-16, 1985. Creation/Evolution Newsletter, 1986. 6(1):16-17
Wheeler TJ. More on Creationists and Meteoritic Dust. Creation/Evolution Newsletter, 1987. 7(4):14-15
Schadewald R. The 1998 International Conference on Creationism. Reports of the National Center for Science Education, 1998. 18(3)
Ask an Atheist with guest Frank Lovell. FreeThought Channel
Eulogy to Frank from the VotN panel. FreeThought Channel