Is Evolution "Just a Theory"?





Mr. Larson is the Russell Professor of History and Talmadge Professor of Law at the University of Georgia. Among his recent books are Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2003) and Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory (Modern Library, 2004).

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"Evolution is just a theory," is the refrain heard in countless conservative Christian churches. "It is guesses strung together," orator William Jennings Bryan liked to say during America's first anti-evolution crusade in the 1920s. The refrain continues today.

Within America's growing conservative Christian subculture, best selling authors on scientific topics repeat the refrain. Creationist Henry Morris revived it with co-author John Whitcomb in their still popular 1961 book, The Genesis Flood, and repeated it in scores of books, articles, and lectures over the ensuing decades. He founded the Institute for Creation Research to promote his view that scientific evidence supports the Genesis account of special creation over the Darwinian theory of evolution. University of California law professor Phillip Johnson took up the theme in his 1991 book, Darwin on Trial. Unlike Morris, Johnson does not offer an alternative to evolution theory. Instead, he focuses his legal skills on making case against Darwinism. It's just a theory to Morris and Johnson, and not a very good one.

Turn on Christian broadcasting -- that all-enveloping net of radio and television enveloping conservative Christians in modern America -- and you will hear Morris's message popularized in Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis and Johnson's thoughts echoed on Chuck Colson's "Breakpoint" and James Dobson's "Focus on the Family." These daily radio programs reach millions of households on hundreds of stations in every state of the union.

Add to this tapes, videos, children's books, sermons, Sunday school classes, Christian schools and even Christian theme parks reinforcing the refrain, and one can hardly blame Americans living in the Christian subculture for believing that evolution is an all-but discredited theory propped up mostly by the philosophical biases of its atheistic proponents. Doubters are urged to read biologist Richard Dawkins's book or, better yet, selected quotes from Dawkins, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, and others agnostic evolutionists as reprinted in creationist literature. Indeed, Johnson boasts that Dawkins's Darwinian arguments for atheism inspired him to take on evolution in the first place. It's only a theory, Johnson concludes, and one with potentially damnable implications for religious faith.

In his 44-page judicial opinion issued on January 13th, federal district court judge Clarence Cooper of Atlanta belled this particular cat. Three years ago, responding to concerns expressed in a petition circulated by a local resident who identifies herself as a Biblical creationist and signed by about 2,300 local residents, the suburban Cobb County school board mandated that biology textbooks carry a sticker warning, "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." Some parents objected and sued the school district to remove the sticker.

On its face, the sticker seems harmless enough. Of course evolution (or at least Darwinism) is a theory, and all scientific theories merit critical consideration. Open minds are central to the scientific method. In ruling that the sticker violates the separation of church and state, however, Judge Cooper identifies four constitutional problems with this particular sticker.

First, Judge Cooper notes the long-standing and well known religious objections to the theory of evolution voiced by some conservative Christians over the years. Against this historical background, he concludes that "the informed, reasonable observer would perceived the School Board to be aligning itself with proponents of religious theories of origins." As such, the sticker constitutes an impermissible endorsement of religion under prevailing constitutional standards.

Second, Cooper stresses that evolution as more than just another theory of origins. It is the dominant scientific theory of origin accepted by the majority of scientists, he states. "This Sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community for the benefit of the religious alternative," Cooper writes.

Third, Cooper adds, "the Sticker targets only evolution to be approached with an open mind, carefully studied, and critically considered without explaining why it is the only theory being isolated as such." If school board members believed that all scientific theories should be so approached (as they testified at trial), why did they not say so on the sticker? Cooper asks rhetorically. In light of the historic opposition to the theory of evolution by certain religious groups, a reasonable observer would infer that the school board's action endorsed a particular religious viewpoint.

Fourth, the judge asserts that the Sticker undermines science education by playing on two meanings of the word "theory." In science, a theory is a well-tested explanation for observed facts, backed by substantial scientific evidence. Evolution is such a theory. In common conversation, however, "theory" suggests little more than a guess. Using this word in a textbook sticker, Cooper writes, "suggests to the informed, reasonable observer that evolution is only a highly questionable 'opinion' or a 'hunch'."

Public schools should accommodate students' religious beliefs. They certainly should not promote atheism. Given these four problems, however, Cooper concludes that "the Sticker's primary effect surpasses accommodation and endorses religion." In particular, it aids the belief of a particular group of religious believers that Cooper identifies as "Christian fundamentalists and creationists."

Although Cooper does not expand on this last point, it raises an important issue. Many Christians accept the theory of evolution. For some liberal Christians, evolution is central to their religious world view. Even many conservative Christians accept organic evolution as God's means of creation, and see no conflict between it an a high view of scripture. Theistic theories of evolution have a long and distinguished pedigree within evangelical Christian theology.

By cautioning students against all theories of evolution rather than solely atheistic ones, the Cobb County board of education appears to line up on one side of a deep dispute among Christians. On this basis, Cooper finds that the sticker also violates the Georgia state constitutional bar against using public monies in aid of a particular church or sect.

The issue is bigger than the Cobb County stickers. Responding to what they hear in their church communities, millions of Christian parents and taxpayers across America clamor for limits on teaching evolution in the public schools. Some settle for labels warning that evolution is only a theory, others ask for the inclusion of scientific evidence against evolution or for intelligent design in public school biology classes. More lawsuits dealing with variations on these ongoing themes will certainly follow. Cooper's ruling may deter some states and school districts from putting anti-evolution stickers on textbooks, but it won't discourage Christian creationists from demanding protection from what they see as a scientifically discredited and spiritually dangerous concept. After all, it's only a "theory."

Related Links

  • Design for Living By Michael J. Behe

  • This article was first published by TC Record, a publication of the Teachers College at Columbia University and is reprinted with permission of the author.


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    David Annis - 3/28/2008

    just a theory that is supported by an overwhelming huge enormous pile of evidence.

    http://teachthecontroversy.com


    Mark C - 2/6/2008

    Evolutionism IS a religion. This isn't repeatably testable science we're talking about. It's conjecture based on worldview supported by "origin science". You can take the real, valid science and try to force fit it into Evolutionism, or take a look at how much better it fits into the Creation model.

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/RE2/chapter1.asp

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v2/n3/science-or-the-bible


    Mark C - 2/6/2008

    This is because they don't understand how inconsistent they are being by doing so. They feel that they HAVE to try to reconcile the world's evolutionary worldview with their religious faith. The fact is that they're completely incompatible. Even Thomas Huxley pointed out how absurd it was to believe part of the Bible, while tossing out the very foundations of scripture. Evolution puts hundreds of millions of years of death before original sin. This doesn't make these people "non-Christian", but it does make them incredibly inconsistent in their faith and approach to the Word of God, which is always more reliable than the fallible ideas of man. Evolution even puts the appearance certain animals in a different order. Not to mention the fact that the Word tells us the Earth was created before the Sun, not after.

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v17/i4/theistic_evolution.asp

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v20/i1/theistic_evolution.asp


    Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


    and the Bible is not science. Maybe if we could get a slight exception to the banning of all religion in schools, so as to teach the Bible, and other religious texts as forms of literature there, young minds would not be quite so susceptible to deliberate confusion engineered by bogus Christian groups, touting "Intelligent design",and some unwitting followers of such groups. Of course, the American public school pupils' shoddy performance in math and science, a national disgrace not surprising in a country which elects a proud C-average student president, demonstrates a serious need for better funding, much more disciplined application, national standards, and tough action to crack down on the pollution of minds by garbage TV. Making touch football respectable again, and ridding high schools of the more extreme forms of worship of competitive sports for teens might not hurt either. High schools don't need to spend 20x as much on football as on science. How about parity ?


    Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

    You have managed to articulate the precise opposite of reality.

    The towering mountain of evidence (in the century and a half since Darwin) supporting evolution does not (and cannot) disprove any faith-based belief in divine creation. Nor, for an intelligent and insightful Christian, does it contradict it.

    This is not a debate about religion versus science. It is a discussion of American ignorance. Other countries with less abysmal education systems do not have half-wits trying to put the Bible into science texts. Educated and intelligent Christians in other countries (and some in the U.S. too) know the Bible, understand it, and realize that it is a profound series of men's ideas about the word of God (among many other things), not the word of God itself, and thus cannot be taken literally. This is one of the things that distinguishes people who can build tall buildings from those who think they will go to heaven by blowing them up.


    Arnold Shcherban - 2/21/2005

    I would like to submit to the attention of this board
    long excerpt from the comments taken from the other board
    that identifies and elucidates the principal differences between Religion and Science, and the outright fallacy
    in using religious faith/legends as the basis for logical explanation of Nature under any excuses or "arguments".
    Though the presented excerpt adresses mainly Physics, its
    validity and full apllicability to the present debate on evoluion remains intact.

    <...But physics is a discipline. It is a repository of knowledge certainly, but primarily it is a discipline, so tailored as to be able to reach the truth about Nature, in such a manner as to avoid error. In this regard it is a *method* that filters reality from nonsense, and it stands rock solid on one basic foundation, *empiricism*. Everything else is hypothesis, and if hypotheses can be supported by rigorous empirical evidence, then these become the theories or "laws" of physics.

    Mind you, the term "law" is not a good one because it covers both direct observations and confirmed theories. So for example, "Heat only passes spontaneously from hot to cold" is a law based on simple observation.
    The reverse has never been seen to occur. However the second law of thermodynamics is itself a refinement of this expressed in theoretical terms. The word "law" is thus somewhat ambiguous.

    But some old terms hang around by convention and usage. Strictly speaking though, modern physics restricts itself to well defined terminologies and principles. A hypothesis becomes a theory when it has overwhelming empirical support, and a principle if it is subsequently found to be so fundamental that it underlies a large swathe of further theory. Thus for example, the principle of equivalence is a hypothesis, borne out by experiment but it underlies the whole of relativity theory, and is thus called a principle.

    Likewise the uncertainty principle began as a mathematical formulation, - a hypothesis - that was borne out by countless experiments, and found to underly our knowledge of atomic structure and far, far more. So it too is regarded as a principle. Now, the point is that there are only four levels of knowledge in physics. Fact - the result of direct observation. Hypothesis - an explanation for fact. Theory - a hypothesis that has stood the test of empiricism and principle - a theory that has not only stood the test of empiricism, but is deeply foundational to further knowledge.

    Now, unless that empirical element is there or potentially there, whatever you are talking about is simply not physics. It may be metaphysics, or errant nonsense, but physics it most definitely is not.
    For a concept to be physical, it must be in principle falsifiable. That means there has to be a mechanism whereby IF the concept is false, it can be shown to be so. Now, this depends upon the logical nature of proof. In fact, other than in mathematics where one proceeds logically from arbitrary axioms to theorems, there is no such thing as proof, and definitely no such thing in physics.

    You can only DISPROVE false assertions, but there has to be a way to do this in principle. The difference between physics and metaphysics is that in metaphysics an assertion may be logical, even mathematically rigorous, but without an empirical mechanism to disprove it, the concept is not falsifiable. It is therefore not physical. OTOH, a physical concept is falsifiable.

    Take the much discussed theory of evolution for example.

    First there is the fact pf superposition, and the observed advancement of fossil remains over time in the rock strata. Evolution as such is not arguable. It happened because we can see that it happened. Even the Greeks figured that much out two millennia ago. The next step is therefore to hypothesise *how* it happened. Charles Darwin et al.
    played with this one for decades, but only Darwin came up with one that made really good sense, because he was able to demonstrate *empirical* evidence..

    But in 1850 or whenever, before the voyage of the Beagle, it was still only a hypothesis. The clincher was the demonstration of allopatric speciation, which the hypothesis predicted (prediction is the most powerful tool a scientist can bring to bear on a hypothesis), so now with empirical support, the hypothesis could be called a theory, and at that level, Darwin published and started a storm with Biblical literalists that has still not subsided.

    However the theory is so all encompassing, 150 years later, with the wealth of information we now have regarding genes, proteomics, medicine, and ecology, the theory is so thoroughly borne out, and underpins just about the whole of biology that some workers are pushing for it to be known as the *principle* of organic evolution, and in keeping with other sciences, that makes good sense to me.

    Yet, like any good physical theory or principle, it remains falsifiable.
    One of its predictions is that human remains will always be found above dinosaur remains in the rock strata, unless they can be shown to have been overturned by tectonic forces. However if we were to find the remains of Barney Rubble inside the tummy of a T. rex, that would be a real kick in the guts for evolution....IOW there is in principle always the *possibility* that the theory could be proven false. Though it's not very likely.... ;-)

    So, coming back to physics, all physical concepts must be either empirical fact, hypothesis, theory or principle, and must be *in principle*, empirically falsifiable. Now no artistic or religious concept can fit that bill, even though like you, my own physics stands on both those foundations. Because of this, one must be rigorous and not mix the breeds. There is physics over here, and metaphysics (which is a superset to all that is artistic and religious among everything else non-physical) is over there.

    The moment one brings "God" into a physical discussion, it is invalidated, because God is an unfalsifiable proposition. We cannot prove God because we cannot prove anything, but also we cannot disprove God because there is just no way that could conceivably be done, so the concept is unfalsifiable. It is thus metaphysical, not physical.

    OK, many great physicists and mathematicians have informally invoked God in their work. Einstein said "God does not play dice". Well he was wrong on that one, but even if he had been right, it would have been a metaphysical statement, not a physical one.

    Cantor when he exposed the logical consequence of the transfinite numbers (though all of mathematics is actually metaphysical, but much of it can be supported physically by real analogs ) and he defined the Continuum, he honestly thought he had revealed God, and some of his contemporaries really thought he'd gone potty.....

    The bottom line though is that you simply cannot invoke God as input to a physical problem, or any other non-falsifiable idea for that matter.
    It completely invalidates the argument. Sure, you want to talk metaphysics and theology? Feel free, but don't call it physics because it's not. Call it what it is. Metaphysical conjecture. If you want to talk physics, stick to that which is observable and falsifiable. But stop mixing metaphysics in with physics and calling the result physics.
    The idea you come up with may even be true, but there is no way it can be called physics.

    Even when hypothesising we have to apply the same rigour. And there's no doubt that here on this list we get pretty far out in that regard, but to be physical, a conjecture *has* to at the very least stand upon already established and in principle falsifiable theory, or on observed fact. And it goes without saying that it must be logical.

    If any of these elements are missing, then the assertion has little to do with physics. As this list is called InfoPhysics, I presume physics is what we are supposed to be talking about, and frankly we are reaching some pretty far out but at first sight valid concepts relating to spacetime and creation. But they all stand on well founded principles, and may even be amenable to empirical test. One consequence for example, of regarding spacetime as a spin network is that ultra high energy photons would;d travel ever so slightly faster than low energy ones (but still within the limit c), and this is potentially observable.

    So it's physics! But God is not physics! So, I suggest, if you want to
    talk about metaphysical theology, you set up a subgroup of InfoPhysics, say - InfoPhysicsTheology, and you can have a ball! But it will leave the physics unadulterated by unprovable and unfalsifiable metaphysical ingredients which ruin the brew.....>


    Arnold Shcherban - 2/21/2005

    That's was my point exactly: the scientists intelligently
    discuss or debate, the religious cooks claim they possess
    ABSOLUTE TRUTH, period!

    And wasn't it the same Galileo that was persecuted by the clergy?


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2005

    One of the most savage moments in Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth" is when the Ark returns at great risk to the last little spit of land to rescue the Tse Tse Fly.

    Part of me--my warped inner child no doubt--wishes that people and dinosaurs had wandered around together. A lot of that is inspired by Ray harryhausen, who made those big old lizards lookd real to me. I suspect the reality of such interactions, at least with the carnivore lizards, would be more like what's in Jurassic Park, between the velociraptors and people. That's about as romantic as a tropical swin with pirahna.


    Vernon Clayson - 2/20/2005

    Ms. Vox, you're funny, not as funny as Bill Cosby and his comedy sketch about the Ark, but funny nevertheless. Personally, I've always wondered why they took pairs of poisonous snakes, or any snakes, and spiders, or any spiders, on the ark, to say nothing of Tazmanian Devils or stink bugs. I doubt that we will ever know whether man actually walked with dinosaurs but did you ever wonder if perhaps the stories of fire breathing dragons weren't stories, passed down from ancient generations, of humans facing, for example, a tyrannosaurus, wow, can you imagine the hot and foul breath from those monsters??


    E. Simon - 2/20/2005

    Third sentence in the paragraph: "fallacious" should occur before "approach," not before "extension." "...then this extension of your fallacious approach..." is how it should read.


    E. Simon - 2/20/2005

    Who here would like to argue that the chance events that lead to congenital anomolies are also the product of "intelligent design?"

    Seems to me we're working from a definition of the current reality as a subjective goal. Namely, that life, in its current forms, represent things the way they "ought" to be. Once you accept that "well-suited to" is the standard that Darwin incorporated, rather than "ought to be", then the fallacious extension of your approach which I describe above is not necessary. Otherwise, it would stand as a necessary reminder that we should acknowledge that chance events are not, ipso facto, so uncommon as to be likely neutral in their contribution to evolution. Whether or not they are productive in this context depends largely on the environments and populations in which they take place - a broad and rich caveat that evolution knockers so often miss.


    E. Simon - 2/20/2005

    A large chunk of genomes, particularly the human genome, is comprised of inactivated retroviral genomic material. Such stretches of oligonucleotides can jump into and out of another organism's genome, altering the structure and yes, function of the genetic blueprint - changing chromosomal structure, inactivating certain genes. The landscape is littered with pseudogenes that were once likely active, but no longer. Even genes themselves can modify function during meiosis as recombination events could allow for not only the exchange of differing chromosomal portions, but differing portions of genes, as well, through the use of intronic sequences.

    Perhaps the most useful observation is that the outstanding degree of morphological diversity seen, for instance, in different breeds of dogs, results from the variation in range of length in non-coding regions of highly repetitive DNA that precede coding gene sequences. Instead of merely changing gene number and identity, the level of production of a gene copy number, (as controlled for by the number of the repetitive sequences, and therefore, their overall length), has apparently played a previously underappreciated role in accounting for morphological, and perhaps, physiological diversity as well. Not quite the same thing as random mutation, but no more an intelligent designer than mate selection, genetic diversity and yes, a degree of molecular happenstance.

    I also suggest reading up on the molecular evolution of the FOXP2 gene (most of the work has been published within the last five years) for a fairly sound explanation for how 2, yes, TWO(!) chance events from roughly 100 thousand years ago basically made human language, culture and civilization possible.

    http://www.evolutionpages.com/FOXP2_language.htm

    There is a vast body of work in molecular biology that fits quite nicely with what evolution is all about. Whether or not people consider retroviruses, transposons or VNTRs to be intelligent or not seems to be a philosophical matter, but if one bothers, there exist many opportunities to fill in Behe's "gaps" in a much more plausible format. Now is not the time for retrogression, in the name of skepticism or anything else, and please stop going on about overwhelming gaps in knowledge when overwhelmingly well-filled in mortar is available to anyone with an interest in and reading ability capable of understanding the current state of the science. There's still work to be done, but it doesn't seem to coming from the ideas promoted by Behe.


    E. Simon - 2/20/2005

    Sorry - the threads are extensive and I realize you've been careful to distance yourself from religion or ID when it conveniently benefits your arguments to do so, but for the sake of your having brought up Behe's piece, replace the word "God" with "intelligent designer" in the last paragraph. I think the doctor will have an interesting reaction. He will probably stroke his chin, lean back a bit, give you a perplexing look, and say... "Hmmmm...."

    It might not have much to do with his sense of credulity in Behe's ideas.... Ideas, which, by the way, have many more holes in them than does the body of work on evolution.


    E. Simon - 2/20/2005

    Sigh. Look at how holistic we have to get so that some can understand the big picture. Einstein had huge misgivings about quantum mechanics and yet without the latter it's doubtful we will ever have the Grand Unifying Theory he sought. His ideas turned Newtonian mechanics upside down and yet no physics student learns relativity without first learning the kinetics he (Newton) pioneered. They both accurately describe the universe from the perspectives within which they are useful and yet somehow, people look at a difference of perspectives as constituting a conflict. This sounds, to me at least, like an incredibly myopic and constrained worldview.

    Is it any wonder that ideologies, rather than rational observation, are what start wars and drive conflict? One of these approaches has historically been obsessively consumed with driving away inconsistencies rather than seeking a way to account for them, usually at the expense of its own utility, and it sure as heck isn't science.

    And it irks me to even have to bring this up, Mr. Vought, but where on earth do you get the idea to conflate punctuated equilibrium with a refutation of natural selection? Assume genetic diversity exists within a species. Assume that such diversity has no bearing on the ability of individuals within that population to survive to reproduction. Assume that an event changes the environment in which that population lives in such a way as to make some of those genetic traits now more relevant. Is it such a stretch to consider that such individuals will be more likely to survive to reproduction and pass on those traits? Is it such a stretch to consider that even more adapted versions of those traits will drive the continued ability of that species to be suited to its new environment, even at the expense of morphological and physiological continuity? We don't get "new" species, rather species that diverged from other species.

    The next time you get sick and are prescribed different antibiotics from the ones that would have worked 10 years ago, ask the doctor if God made the bacteria different rather than the model described above. Why God would "handle" the genetic material of any other organism differently from that of a bacteria is beyond me, but apparently I'm not in the business of making gaps in knowledge a substitute for knowledge.


    E. Simon - 2/20/2005

    Yes. This ID verbiage is much, much more about a need to argue for the existence of a (G)od than attempting to come to a rational understanding of and explanation for the diversity of the species. The irony is, how is the existence of a (G)od of any comfort to a world full of mastadons and dinosaurs, devoid of humans? Would the tiny brains of these animals appreciate that beyond a chaotic existence consisting of basically avoiding the next hungry T. rex, that an intelligent designer was watching over and caring for them? H. sapiens might appreciate the company in this universe of another intelligent being but that doesn't sound, to me, like it would be very comforting to the Brontosaur.

    Project all you guys want on the nature of the divine, but please for crying out loud, confine the relevance of such speculation to at least the Cenozoic era.


    Lisa Roy Vox - 2/20/2005

    Ahh, upon reading your post again, Mr. Clayson, on the issue of the age of humanoid bones, one often sees arguments that try to discredit methods used to date fossils etc....carbon dating is a favorite target.

    One of my favorite pieces of "evidence" used is an excavation supposedly of human footprints next to dinosaur footprints in Glen Rose, TX (to prove dinos and humans co-existed....the argument being that dinos died in the flood. Guess they were a bit too large for the ark). Check out the photo here: http://www.bible.ca/tracks/taylor-all-14.jpg


    Lisa Roy Vox - 2/20/2005

    Well no, Mr. Clayson, actually my ninth grade biology teacher said in class that he did not believe in evolution and that was why he was not going to teach it. So I was not making assumptions about his views or reasons for not teaching evolution. On the other hand, I think my AP biology teacher probably was reluctant, as you suggest, to talk about evolution "because of the turmoil it might have caused with some students and their parents." She did not discuss her views either way, but as an AP biology teacher, she would have had to have certain credentials and it is more likely that she would have believed in evolution than not. This was in the early nineties, by the way (I graduated from HS in '95).

    The point, however, remains. In certain states, particularly the south, individual teachers can control their curriculum and choose not to teach evolution (for whatever reason), in spite of the textbooks school districts choose to adopt etc.


    Vernon Clayson - 2/19/2005

    Ms. Vox, your teachers were reluctant to speak at length on evolution because of the turmoil it might have caused with some students and their parents, not because they did or did not believe it might have credence. They could not win by expressing an opinion on either side of the question but it makes one wonder what the creationists think when they read that humanoid bones have been found that are hundreds of thousands of years old.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/19/2005

    We have no good way to set odds on life evolving because we only have one planet that we have examined closely (Earth). Nor do we have a sense on whether there are other chemical bases for life.

    As far as an intelligent designer is concerned, what are the odds that one exists? Can you even talk of placing odds on the existence of a god?


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/19/2005

    Hans,

    Your point about calling a theory Darwin's theory raises a very good point. Sometimes the name of a scientist stays with a theory long after it is significantly revised. This can lead to confusion.

    For example, we still refer to a sun-centered planetary system as the Copernican model, even though it has been seriously altered. The last epicylces are gone; the circular orbits are now ellipses(Kepler). Newton's laws, and later einstein's provide our understanding of the motion.

    I think as long as evolutionary theory dominates and as long as natural selection remains at the center of that theory, it will be called Darwinian despite the many changes. But that does not mean the changes will not be big ones.


    Dale L. Dworak - 2/19/2005

    One problem is that it is only Creationism by another name. While some proponents will shy away from naming a "designer," he/she/it can only be a god/supernatural being because otherwise that being would be subject to the complexity arguments of intelligent design.


    Hans Vought - 2/19/2005

    My discussion of my teaching methods was meant as an interesting aside, not as any justification of intelligent design.

    If you do your homework on the scientific revolution, you will recall that one scientific paradigm (heliocentric) replaced another scientific paradigm (geocentric) - it did not replace a "religious paradigm." You will also recall that Galileo was opposed by many leading scientists of his day not on religious grounds, but because his proofs were, in fact, faulty.


    Hans Vought - 2/19/2005

    You write, "As for the “odds” of a cell emerging in a chemical soup, I am reminded of various equations that attempt to prove that the odds of there existing conditions necessary for life on other planets are so small as to be almost impossible. I also had just one problem with such statistics: it happened here."

    The logical assumption, given the astronomical odds of it happening by random chance, is that it didn't happen by random chance - it happened by intelligent design. In other words, as science now stands, you have only two options: believe that it there are a limitless number of parallel universes, and we just happen to inhabit the one that "lucked out," or believe that an intelligent designer from outside our universe created it and set the rules which govern it. There is no logical third option.


    Hans Vought - 2/19/2005

    My point was not that catastrophic changes can only be caused by divine intervention, much less that God was somehow punishing sinful dinosaurs. My point was that the slow, gradual process of evolution through natural selection which Darwin posited does not fit the record of massive species destruction and the sudden appearance of entirely new species. Punctiated equilibrium, in other words, is not Darwin's theory at all, but a new theory.


    E. Simon - 2/19/2005

    "If species remain relatively unchanged for thousands of years, and then they are suddenly wiped out and replaced by entirely new and (in many cases) not closely related species, then evolution through natural selection has not taken place."

    Not agreed. Most of us do not believe that catastrophic changes with biological implication are the result of supernatural phenomena. Once, long ago, people used to believe that earthquakes, meteorites, drought, floods, tsunamis, etc., etc., etc., were the result of (G)od's retribution. I daresay this is not the case anymore and you cannot rely on such an interpretation in order to advance "intelligent design" without even further, and even less viable social retrogression.


    E. Simon - 2/19/2005

    Great post, Mr. Plotts. I think you describe the nature of the conflict accurately.


    E. Simon - 2/19/2005

    Theories are competitive. They must be viewed in the context of comparing one against another. Just because one wins out doesn't mean it is the final explanation on everything related to it. It just means that, opposed to the other theory, such as one that supposes an invisible hand coming out of heaven and plopping living entities - pre-formed - on the planet, ideally suited for some similarly pre-fabricated biological niche, or some "indirect" version thereof, for which there is no evidence whatsoever, the one with less (preferably NO) supernatural gaps is superior. I would caution you against underappreciating the value of applying logic to sensory observation, and certainly against seeking to divorce the two from one another.

    Natural explanations for order from chaos do not require divine intervention. There are branches of mathematics that deal specifically with this, and I never noticed that any lay person appreciating the manifestations of fractals in say, crystal formation, or the design of tree branches, or petal arrangement on a sunflower, thought that a literally theological interpretation was at work, or that such an interpretation could provide a superior explanation for the phenomenon in any fashion other than metaphorically or for the value of psychological comfort.

    "Evolution as an explanation for present life has a lot of cracks. If what is meant by evolution is Darwinism, it has glaring chasms and is likely wrong if submitted as the principal explanation."


    tom plotts - 2/18/2005

    I also disagree with some of what Mr. (Dr.) Hagedorn says in his response. Especially the comments with my name attached to them, which follow here:

    "I have a couple comments for Mr. Plotts and then my take on this topic."

    "...organisms still do bear distant relationships across species..." - An intelligent designer could certainly use similar plans to design various species, leaving us with similar structures.

    Well, yes, an ID'er *could* do that, but they don't. Further, if they did that, it would be an argument for yet a new theory called "intelligent evolutionary design", which would leave all parties largely standing upright in the ring. One camp wouldn't particularly care whether a deity is responsible or not, the other would find it of central importance to their liturgy. I certainly support the argument that gods and evolution are not mutually exclusive, but there are certain sects that have a large stake in literalism, and evolution (and science in general) messes with their narrative.

    "(This is a battle of "...science against superstition..." - ad hominem statements are usually thrown out in debates and they don't advance the discussion. "

    First of all, it's not ad hominum. Most people have superstitions they cling to, whether its cats crossing paths, walking under ladders, or the existence and activities of various deities (myself included). That's not a "personal" attack, but a description based on the fact that most of those beliefs are not empirically founded. Second, I suppose comments like these could be thrown out of a debate, but I've heard much worse in garden variety NDT rounds when I was a student. Second, this is a serious fight with serious stakes, and Queenesbury rules don't interest me as much as resistance does. We just have different agendas here, nothing more.
    Third, calling people's beliefs in ID superstitious probably does aggravate them, and I'm all for that aggravation. They certainly return the favor as often as possible. The nature of these kinds of beliefs are that they generally are beyond the reach of rationality to a certain extent, so advancing the discussion may not be that important of a goal. Let me put this another way: I don't see this exchange--on HNN or anywhere else--as an authentic exchange of views. This is politics made print.

    I was just cautioned to be careful to distinguish between political operations and genuine scientific heterodoxy. I agree, although I didn't feel like I somehow threw this caution to the wind in my original post. But the reverse is true. DOn't lump genuine scientific dissension or reevaluation with what is a discernable, identifiable, social movement to control information in public schools that advantage a group of political players. And whatever you do, don't assume it's the scientists driving this debate. You'd be wrong.


    tom plotts - 2/18/2005

    Agreed, the key words being replaced by entirely new species. In any event, I'm not lumping the two types of "scientists" together in any way shape or form, but to suggest that the debate is being driven by the camp of authentic scientists as opposed to the faux white coats in the service of political organizations is pretty naive. I'm sure you'd agree that's not the case. This debate isn't a result of Nature articles in controversy. It's the longstanding residue of Scopes.




    Arnold Shcherban - 2/18/2005

    The fact that your students cannot prove the Earth's revolution around Sun proves only that they, i.e. your students are incapable to do that, not the Science - Physics and Mathematics. The proof(s) of what you were asking them to prove, however, does exist and well-accessible to more able students (and other people interested in the physics and astronomy.)
    So I don't see how this fact can be used as an argument
    against any existing scientific theory, in general, and
    theory of evolution in its contemporary form, in particular.

    As for the rest of your allusions and delusions, I think
    Tom Plotts gave to them excruciatingly clear and definitive responce.
    I can only add to it one amusing remark: the continuously used by you astronomic illustration (as the analogy of the biological one) can be made even more illustrative,
    by recalling that the scientific, not religious paradigm,
    eventually prevailed, despite fierce resistance on the part of the clergy.


    Hans Vought - 2/18/2005

    I'm sure you would agree that your example is the product of intelligent design.


    Andrew D. Todd - 2/18/2005

    Here is a little bit of code that I pulled out of one of my programs. This little function, which is known as a "flood-fill algorithm," exhibits curiosity and explores its environment. As you will note from the footnote, it is computer science textbook stuff, a commonplace example of the self-organizing system. Behold curiosity!
    /*------------------------------------------------------------------------*/
    /*------------------- Carrfldf -------------------------------------------*/
    /*----------------------------- Does a Flood Fill on a two dimensional */
    carrfldf( /* character array. */
    char *arr, /* array acted on */
    int ival1, /* starting position */
    int ival2, /* */
    int d1, /* array dimensions */
    int d2, /* */
    char bnd /* fill char that also forms perimeter */
    ) /*-----------------------------------------*/
    {
    int k1, k2, k1p, x2, mx2, mn2, stakndx, i, j, l;
    short unsigned stak1[512], stak2[512];
    arr[ival1*d2+ival2]=~bnd;
    stak1[0]=ival1; stak2[0]=ival2; stakndx=1;
    while(stakndx >= 1)
    {
    stakndx--; k1=stak1[stakndx]; k2=stak2[stakndx];
    i=k1*d2;
    l=d2-1;
    arr[i+k2]=bnd;
    for(mx2=k2; (arr[i+mx2+1] != bnd) && (mx2 < l); mx2++) arr[i+mx2+1]=bnd;
    for(mn2=k2; (arr[i+mn2-1] != bnd) && (mn2 > 0); mn2--) arr[i+mn2-1]=bnd;
    for(k1p=k1-1; k1p <= k1+1;k1p+=2) /*for k1p=k-1 and k1p=k+1 */
    {
    if((k1p < 0) || (k1p >= d1)) continue;
    i=k1p*d2;
    for(x2=mx2; x2 >= mn2; x2--)
    {
    j=i+x2;
    if(
    (arr[j] != bnd) &&
    ((arr[j+1] == bnd) || (x2 == mx2)) &&
    (stakndx < 512)
    )
    {
    stak1[stakndx]=k1p; stak2[stakndx]=x2; stakndx++;
    }
    }
    }
    }
    }
    /* After: James D. Foley and Andries Van Dam, Fundamentals of */
    /* Interactive Computer Graphics, Addison-Wesley Systems Programing */
    /* Series, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1983, orig. pub. 1982, pg 446-450 */


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/18/2005

    Thomas,

    I disagree with some of what you say here, but you are absolutely right about the quality of this discussion from all sides.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/18/2005

    We have one certainty: matter and energy behave in some ways and not in others. The question here is if it is possible for those behaviors to result in the complexities of human life without any other agency-- after the establishment of those behaviors.

    The last point is a reminder that evolution does not preclude the possibility of something designing the universe so that life would result. Science is silent on the existence of God. The theory simply assumes, as all modern science assumes, that the rules of the game are not being jerked around once the game starts. Intelligent design assumes that the rules are jerked around repeatedly as the design process would require repeated interventions over time.


    Andrew D. Todd - 2/18/2005

    One of the implications of the Human Genome Project has been the discovery of just how few genes there are. The last I heard, the count was down to 30,000, not all of which are unique to humans. People are beginning to think more in terms of the notion of "complexity," that is, the ways in which simple mechanisms, interacting with their environment, generate complex structures. This is sometimes called a "self-organizing system." Experiments with rats have demonstrated, for example, that bones grow to meet the loads placed on them. Bone contains osteoblast and osteoclast cells which patch damaged areas, changing the bone's shape in the process. The use of the bone generates continuing microfractures to be mended. Instead of presuming a lot of co-evolved genes, you talk about feedback mechanisms which tend to synchronize the different elements of the body. For example, if one of your legs is longer than the other, this will tend to affect the respective loads placed on the two legs when you walk, and presumably it would generate a corrective growth mechanism. The shape of a bone does not reflect genetic programming, so much as the fact that this shape is the strongest one for a given load pattern. It is much the same principle as soap bubbles forming spheres. It is reasonable to think that clusters of neurons work on a principle analogous to bones. At this level, the differences between a man and a rat are essentially differences of dimension rather than differences of kind.

    The implication of Complexity is that evolution is not as difficult as was previously thought. Complexity is, I suppose, a kind of paradigm shift. It is much more economical in its operation than Darwinian natural selection. One could think of complexity as a kind of "reduced Lamarckianism."


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/18/2005

    1) “With all due respect, the only logical opposite of intelligent design is random chance. "Non-intelligent design" is an oxymoron.”

    In science, as in logic, the opposite of X is always –X (or “not” X), and thus the opposite of random chance is non-random chance and so forth. That is why I used the terminology.

    2) “Natural selection is not incompatible with intelligent design. The properties of chemical proteins which create the "rules" by which they combine and interact were either determined by a designer, or came about by chance. Michael Behe's research on cellular chemistry points out that it is so astoundingly complex that the odds of even the most simple one-celled organism just happening to pop into existence in the primordial chemical soup are so astronomical as to strain credulity to the breaking point.”

    I am not familiar with Behe’s research, but I would agree that there is nothing incompatible between natural selection and ID. My point is simply that it is difficult for any scientist to embrace a theory that is non-falsifiable. That is to say, it is possible that life was created by God, or a god, or many gods, or a giant primordial elephant. It is also possible that at some distant time in the future, mankind will travel back in time a billion years and actually create life on earth themselves. It is all possible, but none can even be disproven, either by science or by theory.

    As for the “odds” of a cell emerging in a chemical soup, I am reminded of various equations that attempt to prove that the odds of there existing conditions necessary for life on other planets are so small as to be almost impossible. I also had just one problem with such statistics: it happened here.


    Hans Vought - 2/18/2005

    With all due respect, the only logical opposite of intelligent design is random chance. "Non-intelligent design" is an oxymoron. Design presumes an intelligent designer. Natural selection is not incompatible with intelligent design. The properties of chemical proteins which create the "rules" by which they combine and interact were either determined by a designer, or came about by chance. Michael Behe's research on cellular chemistry points out that it is so astoundingly complex that the odds of even the most simple one-celled organism just happening to pop into existence in the primordial chemical soup are so astronomical as to strain credulity to the breaking point.


    Hans Vought - 2/18/2005

    I think we should be careful to distinguish between non-scientists promoting a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis and scientists (like Michael Behe) doing scientific research. Lumping the two groups together and dismissing them both as superstitious is an intellectually dishonest way of avoiding debate.

    "Punctuated equilibrium" is a clever way to save the appearances, similar to the epicycles astronomers and mathematicians proposed to save the geocentric model of the universe. But it fundamentally changes the nature of the theory of evolution. If species remain relatively unchanged for thousands of years, and then they are suddenly wiped out and replaced by entirely new and (in many cases) not closely related species, then evolution through natural selection has not taken place.


    Thomas W Hagedorn - 2/18/2005

    This is one of the more intelligent strings that I have followed on HNN. There is a lot to chew on here. I know a little about evolution, intelligent design, etc and less about the history of science. What I DO know about both makes me a skeptic of evolution as the origin of species. I have a couple comments for Mr. Plotts and then my take on this topic.

    "...organisms still do bear distant relationships across species..." - An intelligent designer could certainly use similar plans to design various species, leaving us with similar structures.

    (This is a battle of "...science against superstition..." - ad hominem statements are usually thrown out in debates and they don't advance the discussion.

    Again, I am certainly not a specialist in the history of science, but I am pretty well-read in science. I am skeptical of in-bred disciplines that develope theories to explain our world and then make those theories dogma. I am struck by all the great discoveries, especially in the biological sciences that have been made accidentally or by someone not deemed a "professional". I have great confidence and appreciation for the ability of science to explain today's world. I have much less confidence in its effectiveness in dealing with the past (say, evolution) or the future (say, climatic change). Back at the beginning of the environmental movement, I had graduate training in meteorology, climatology and air pollution controls. The big concern back then (60's and 70's) was global cooling, which was going to bring on a new ice age.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/18/2005

    I do not agree that ID “cannot” be science, but I do believe that it has yet to establish itself as a scientific theory. I do not believe that the alternative to ID is “random chance” either. The alternative to ID is the exact opposite: Non-intelligence design. Life was thus created out of the chemical environment on earth, and then further environmental changes led such life to adapt to the new environment and then evolve as the millenniums went on. Under this theory, natural selection will encourage changes that promote survival, and the evolutionary process continues. This is just a theory, of course, and one that might be wrong, but it does happen to fit the facts as we understand them. ID does not fit those facts and there is simply not consistent with current scientific understanding of the world.


    Hans Vought - 2/18/2005

    My comment about what most students think did not reflect my own thoughts, naturally. In fact, I just finished the "Scientific Revolution" in my Civ survey and I went to great lengths to try to demonstrate exactly what you said - that the old paradigm fit observable reality and there were valid reasons to accept it. I also try to get them to realize that what they consider to be "science" is, in fact, a matter of pure faith for them. I challenge any student to come up to the blackboard and prove mathematically that earth revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit, offering an A for the course. No student has ever taken up the challenge. The point, of course, is that they believe the earth revolves around the sun only because teachers they trust have told them it is so.

    As for the argument that intelligent design cannot be science, I remain unconvinced by this argument. If we must rule out the explanation of intelligent design, then we must also rule out the explanation of random chance. Neither one can be empirically verified. We cannot replicate the chemical and genetic processes that have taken place over billions of years in our labs. Indeed, any attempts to do so actually undermine the whole theory of random selection, since such experiments are the products of intelligent design.

    If it is "unscientific" to attempt to explain how life came to be, then this whole debate is moot. Science is left only with the task of describing currentprocesses, not explaining how those processes came to be and continue to operate. Perhaps some scientists are satisfied to only provide play by play, but I doubt it. Most of the ones I know indulge readily in color commentary.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/17/2005

    Andrew,
    You make some excellent points in your post and I would disagree with any one of them. I would agree that any introduction of religion in public schools must be soley for the purpose of educating about them rather than "preaching" them, so to speak. Given this, I would agree that an anthropological approach to the subject would be the best way to introduce it.


    Andrew D. Todd - 2/17/2005

    Well, obviously, one cannot cover everything. One of the most basic points you have to decide is whether you are teaching things like religion historically or anthropologically. That is, are you thinking primarily in terms of the legacy of the past; or in terms of the range of possible variation, and the possibility of choice? In anthropological pedagogy, a typical approach would be to select a limited number of groups who embody a wide range of "designs for living."

    Note that we are discussing the particular case of a course in religion for a public school, not for a parochial school, nor yet again for a college. My stance in this particular case would arise out of the understood best traditions of a public school, ie., pluralism, and this would dictate an anthropological approach. Note again, that we are talking about a course in religion, not, say, a course in science and technology. I can take a particular stance about the teaching of religion without saying that the children have to learn to chip flint arrowheads with a piece of reindeer antler.


    tom plotts - 2/17/2005

    It may help to bear in mind that Kuhn's argument requires a couple of things from his agents. The first is that their devotion to science trumps other identity affiliations (such as political or social ideology). The second is that the dialectic that results in the overturning of a paradigm is essentially scientific, professional, and authentic.

    In the case of the evolution "debate", these conditions are generally not being met. Kuhn sees adjustments made in the body of knowledge as a highly insular, specialized process. In the row over evolution, I think what you have is a clash not between scientists so much, but between science and social forces who find scientific inquiry problematic to their belief systems.

    Addressing the centrality of slowness and incrementalism to evolutionary theory, it may also help to keep in mind that no theory begins and ends with a single author, and Kuhn mentions this as well. For theory to fall apart, virtually *all* efforts to accomodate anomalies within that theory must ultimately fail at the same time that a countertheory is developing. This is also not happening.

    Most of the general work you cite involves the idea that evolution isn't smooth, but is a process of stasis with periodic events of "punctuation" that produces what could be regarded as revolutionary change. Nevertheless, the best evidence indicates that organisms still do bear distant relationships across species (which to me and others is the heart of Darwin's argument, as well as the source of the biggest threat to biblical literalists), and even if you have a model of stasis and punctuation instead of slow incrementalism, the heart of evolution is still pretty valid.

    To sum up, this is *not* a moment of paradigm shifting in science at all. This is a garden variety social and political battle, pitting science against superstition, with the stakes being political power, not truth. Much of the "science" quoted by millenarians, literalists and others is nothing more then taking those anomalies out of their proper scientific context and presenting them falsely as alternative theory, not a genuine dialectic in the sense that Kuhn illustrates that process. As for what the word "theory" means, that's been handled well already on this thread.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/17/2005

    "If you want to teach religion in the public schools, you need to teach the full range of religion: Islam and Judaism, of course, but also Greek Philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc. Come to that, you need to teach the full range of Christianity, not just Protestantism."

    I do not really knnow why this is so? Religion is taught in some form in most colleges, as is philosophy, but no course that I have ever heard of has taugh ALL relgions or ALL philosophy. You make it sound as if history classes must teach all of history, from every country, since the beginning of time. This is not a belief that I can agree with.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/17/2005

    Hans, you could be right that a new theory will come. But until someone starts coming up with a theory that's testable, evolution will remain the dominant theory because it provides the best, if not the only, coherent explanation today. And therefore it should be taught that way, as the best theory.

    Intelligent design cannot be a scientific theory because it cannot be tested scientifically. It is, in essence, a statement that science cannot explain the diversity of life.

    That our students don't understand how people could have once concluded that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth is evidence of how poorly the history of science is usually taught.

    Given the logic with which people examined the natural world, and given the evidence they had, the older world view was compelling. Also, the Copernican theory, in its original form, had many flaws, the most important being that it was no more predictive of planetary motion than Ptolemaic astronomy.

    In short, just because they were wrong in fact does not mean they were dumb in holding to that idea.


    Hans Vought - 2/17/2005

    A while ago Thomas Kuhn wrote _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_ in which he pointed out that whenever scientific research begins to pile up anomalies that do not fit the reigning paradigm, scientists (usually younger ones) will propose new paradigms that fit the evidence better. Kuhn noted that older scientists tend to vociferously defend the old paradigm and silence those who dared question it. Eventually, however, the new paradigm will win out if it explains the evidence more effectively.

    I am not a biologist, nor do I play one on TV, but it seems to me that Kuhn's model is playing out now. Anomalies in several fields, from the fossil record (which has never supported Darwin's theory of slow, incremental change) to microbiology (where cell chemistry seems to display what Michael Behe calls "irreducible complexity"), seem to be accumulating rapidly. Several scientists are now suggesting that intelligent design fits this evidence better than random chance. Most do not believe in a "young earth" or 6, 24-hour days of creation, and not all of them start from a Christian or even theistic position. Other scientists seek to shout them down and stifle debate because of their fierce commitment to the old paradigm. But if the new paradigm fits the evidence better, it will win out. Fifty years from now history students may well wonder why people in the 20th century ever believed in evolution, just as our students now wonder how anyone could have believed the sun and planets revolved around the earth.


    Andrew D. Todd - 2/17/2005

    If you want to teach religion in the public schools, you need to teach the full range of religion: Islam and Judaism, of course, but also Greek Philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc. Come to that, you need to teach the full range of Christianity, not just Protestantism.

    I understand that, theologically, creationism is not incompatible with Catholicism. However, since the end of Simony, it is very difficult for a man to become an Archbishop without being extensively educated. Further, it would be safe to say that the intellectual pride of the Church are the Jesuits. Here are, respectively, Archiepiscopal and Jesuit statements on the point of Creationism.

    http://www.philosophy-religion.org/handouts/creationism..htm

    http://www.americamagazine.org/gettext.cfm?articleTypeID=1&;textID=584&issueID=279

    ----------------------------------------------
    Practically speaking, Creationists are Fundamentalists, radical Protestants maintaining the inerrancy of the King James Edition, and the lack of need for further commentary or exegesis. The Catholic position is of course that the Bible is a tricky old document, and that before you start preaching it, you need to go through a rigorous course of instruction, including the study of ancient languages, in a seminary or divinity school, which course of instruction normally leads to ordination as a priest.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia's position on the King James Edition is fairly temperate:

    http://www.newadvent.org/
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02141a.htm

    Also some articles from the Catholic Encyclopedia on Creationism and Evolution:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05654a.htm
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04475a.htm

    Inter alia, they suggest that divine providence might act through evolution.
    --------------------------------------------
    An unofficial Catholic attack on the King James Edition. The sort of things that an Archbishop or a Jesuit would be too high-minded to say :

    http://www.catholicapologetics.net/
    http://www.catholicapologetics.net/0002kjv.htm
    ---------------------------------------------


    John H. Lederer - 2/17/2005

    "The debate between evolution and creationists is scientifically nothing more or less than never-ending philosophical debate between materialists and idealists.
    Ideologically, however, it is the debate between conservatives striving to preserve the greatly benefitial (if so) for them economo-social status-quo, and the progressivists who strive for better and fairer distribution of human, societal, and natural resources."

    I have trouble seeing evolution or creationism as being supportive of either. Indeed, to the degree I see ideological implications they would be the opposite,

    However, the point I have been trying to make here is that this is not a dichotomy: evolution or creationism.

    The possibility is evolution or other scientific theories or non-scientific theories.

    Evolution as an explanation for present life has a lot of cracks. If what is meant by evolution is Darwinism, it has glaring chasms and is likely wrong if submitted as the principal explanation.


    John H. Lederer - 2/17/2005

    "I respectfully disagree. Without adequate expertise on every issues, people are forced to rely on those who are educated and experienced in a field for guidance. Thus when doctors agree that something called “germs” exist and can transmit diseases and bacteria, people believe them even when they cannot personally study and “prove” the existence of such things."

    For about a century *after scientific proof* the consensus of doctors was that childbirth fever was not caused by germs.


    Scott Anderson - 2/16/2005

    Yes. Religion must always be a matter of choice.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/16/2005

    Scott,
    I see your point. Given the fact that the vast majority of the population believes in God and represents a few particular religions, and given the fact that many cultures (such as in the Middle East) are virtually defined by their religion, it probably would not be a bad idea to teach religion in school so that students at least have the opportunity to explore "faith" and its impact on society (which is great indeed). Such a class should be, I would conted, optional, like an elective or something.


    Scott Anderson - 2/16/2005

    1) "Anyone can say they have personal experience with God because no one can disprove it."

    True.

    2) "How is it possible to have a subjective observation (experience) about God when the subjective mind is only able to reason deductively and not inductively, while the objective mind can do both."

    I don't follow. Can you explain what you mean by the subjective mind? Why can it not think inductively, and what does that have to do with an experience caused by God?

    3) "If deductive reasoning proceeds on the assumption of the correctness of certain hypotheses then you will certainly need a tentative explanation that accounts for a set of facts."

    Can you give an example of what you mean by "certain hypotheses" and "a set of facts?"


    Scott Anderson - 2/16/2005

    I'm glad we established that we agree in many areas. I suspected as much. In fact, we may only disagree in viewpoint. I'm looking at this as a public school issue, a societal point of view. In fact, the article is trying to understand why evolution is fought against in our public schools.

    It seems to me you do not want religious tenets being taught in the manner that science is taught. I agree. Religion and religious tenets should not be taught as science. They are not the same.

    As I see it, science has been used to beat down on religion, perhaps rightly so and perhaps wrongly so. And now religious groups are trying to beat down on science, at least evolution. Evolution happens to be an area where they seem to be at direct odds. For me, I think as a society we must admit that there are conflicting views about the origin of man in our public schools. To have only evolution taught is a distortion of reality. If we can't have the religious-based versions taught, then at least teach a healthy level of respect for all viewpoints. At least we can try.

    One response:

    1) "Biblical creation, by contrast, does not explain the creation of the universe, but is directly contradicted by what we believe to be the age of the universe, the time it took for planets and oceans and mammals to form, and so forth."

    You can agree this is a matter of interpretation. Many religions based on the Bible do not see a contradiction. Interpret the meaning of "day" as "a long period of time" or "a length of time in which an action took to complete," and there is room for the creation to fit with the data we have collected about the world, universe, etc. According to Einstein, time is not constant, but relative. I agree that hand waving is going on, but I see it in all explanations. The science explanation too.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/16/2005

    This is always a tricky issue since religion can be an extremely person thing for people. I would like to say that although I disagree with your posts, I hope that nothing that I say in any way is taken as a slight to any religion or religious person (after all, some of the greatest scientists in world history have also been devoutly religious and many of the great advancements in science occurred in religious institutions).

    1) "Well, you never had this experience. I did. I think we both agree that this should not happen.”

    I agree with that 100%.

    2) “I am NOT saying it takes faith to believe in the mechanics of evolution, just the extrapolation about the origins of man.”

    I am glad that you made the clarification. This being the case, I agree with your post, it does take faith to believe that something “caused” spirituality since spiritually cannot be directly observed.

    3) “The "religion" of science is those parts of science that are not standing on fact, but on extrapolation of facts proposed by theories. For example, I support that we teach the theory of evolution in its details, but do not proport that it is a fact that man descended from single-celled organism. That part is not a fact. It's a theory that may be right, or it may be wrong.”

    I agree 100%. However, it is a theory that happens to fit the facts and since all scientific theories are presumed correct unless contradicted by evidence, it remains a valid theory. I have no problem with teachers pointing out the difference between a “fact” and a theory, indeed I think they are obligated to do so. However, a scientific theory is not simply a guess just as good as the next one. It is some explanation that happens to fit the facts and cannot be contradicted by the evidence. Thus, teachers who teach evolution should be mindful to point out that almost nothing in science can be “proven” definitively, it can only survive the test of competing theories and contradictions.

    4) “I am not calling all science a religion. I am saying that there are parts of science that must be taken on faith. Promoting that faith is as wrong (or as right) as promoting any other religious faith. Have the schools be fair in this regard.”

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “faith.” If you mean that many elements of science cannot be empirically proven or tested, then I would agree with you. For example, although most astronomers agree that something called “black holes” exist, it has never (and can never) be observed or studied in any direct way. Is its existence a matter of faith? Not by my understanding of the term, since although black holes cannot be observed, the surrounding gravitational elements and other empirical facts conform to the theory of their existence. Another example was when, in 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev created the periodic table, leaving some spaces blank because the evidence indicated that such elements should exist even though they had not been discovered yet. Or when Newton hypothesized what conditions would be like without gravity despite being unable to test his theory. His conclusions however were not based on faith or just a hunch, but on scientific inquiry and available data.

    Biblical creation, by contrast, does not explain the creation of the universe, but is directly contradicted by what we believe to be the age of the universe, the time it took for planets and oceans and mammals to form, and so forth. It has no more scientific basis than the Greek legends of Zeus and Hercules. This is not to say that the biblical creation story did not happen exactly as the Bible says it did. I am simply saying that it contradicts what we know about the observable universe and does not fit those observations. Thus, it is taken on faith without evidence.

    4) “I contend that Judao-Christian religion is based on personal experience with God. One gains that experience by hearing the teachings of God from a prophet, or from reading the revelations from God in scripture and acting on those teachings. That spiritual experience is just as valid an evidence to the individual as the evidence obtained from physical objects.”

    I respect your beliefs and opinions on this subject, and happen to agree with you that to individuals, the revelation from scripture is just as true and factual as the hardest scientific theory. However, Western civilization long ago decided that in order for something to be considered “true” (in the scientific sense), it had to undergo the scientific method, one based on observation, testing, and evidence. Thus people are free to believe in anything they like, and think anything they like. But if it is to be accepted as valid in our society, it has to survive the test of scrutiny and religion and faith simply do not. Thus when someone says that they hear voices from nowhere, and they cannot offer any evidence for this action, it cannot be accepted as true by any scientific community, even if it is true to that person (not to compare the two, mind you).

    This does not make them invalid or wrong in any way. It simply means that they do not survive the test of science. If you would like to advocate a loosening of the standards of science to include personal, but un-testable, experiences, than that is fine, but as it stands, we should not confuse genuine science with religion.


    Jonathan Pine - 2/16/2005

    Anyone can say they have personal experience with God because no one can disprove it.

    How is it possible to have a subjective observation (experience) about God when the subjective mind is only able to reason deductively and not inductively, while the objective mind can do both.
    If deductive reasoning proceeds on the assumption of the correctness of certain hypotheses then you will certainly need a tentative explanation that accounts for a set of facts.


    Arnold Shcherban - 2/16/2005

    The debate between evolution and creationists is scientifically nothing more or less than never-ending philosophical debate between materialists and idealists.
    Ideologically, however, it is the debate between conservatives striving to preserve the greatly benefitial (if so) for them economo-social status-quo, and the progressivists who strive for better and fairer distribution of human, societal, and natural resources.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/16/2005

    Glenn, thank you for your kind words, and for pushing me to clarify my vague course description.

    In part I was inspired by the Darwin section of a topics in history of science course that I teach with a colleage in the sciences. We spend a month on the development of Darwin's theory. That gives us time to look more carefully at the logic of the theory and at the challenges made to it at the time.

    The course I had in mind here could, along with looking with great care at Darwin and evolution, look at creationism and intelligent design. In fact, I think doing so in the context of teaching what a theory is would help make clear to students why they are not valid scientific theories.

    Looking at faith-based approaches to knowledge in the same course could also help, by making clear that asking science to confirm or deny the divine is to ask it to do what it cannot. As I once put it to a class, "science does not do miracles." In fact, as many religious people know, trying to make science confirm faith weakens faith by making it contingent on the evolution of science.


    Scott Anderson - 2/16/2005

    I'll try to stay on the common ground between us, because I think you misunderstood my meaning in many of my comments.

    1) "I have never encountered this situation in my experience, and have found that most of the biologists I spoke with would just as soon not mention God, or creation at all in their classes."

    Well, you never had this experience. I did. I think we both agree that this should not happen. I see the effort of the "religious movement" to work to that end.

    2) "It does not take any “faith” to believe in evolution. It takes fossil evidence, empirical observations, and scientific reasoning."

    Let's narrow the focus on this point: I propose it takes faith, and a large amount of it, to believe that the process of natural selection resulted in a being as complex and conscious and "spiritual" as man. By "spiritual" I mean, having the capacity to feel emotion, love, hate, anger, intuition, etc.

    I am NOT saying it takes faith to believe in the mechanics of evolution, just the extrapolation about the origins of man.

    3) “I propose that the "religion" of science be left out of the classroom as much as the religion of God.”

    This was my line. I'll explain what I meant. In line with my proposal in 2), aspects of science require faith. The "religion" of science is those parts of science that are not standing on fact, but on extrapolation of facts proposed by theories. For example, I support that we teach the theory of evolution in its details, but do not proport that it is a fact that man descended from single-celled organism. That part is not a fact. It's a theory that may be right, or it may be wrong.

    I am not calling all science a religion. I am saying that there are parts of science that must be taken on faith. Promoting that faith is as wrong (or as right) as promoting any other religious faith. Have the schools be fair in this regard.

    Also, please don't assume I mean to remove science as a subject from schools. We definitely need science and to promote the scientific method to advance as a society.

    4) "I disagree that religion is based on subjective observation. Religion, at least the Judao-Christian religion, is based on revelation through scripture, not on observation. Jews believe that God revealed His laws to Moses at Sinai despite never observing it, and Christians who never saw Jesus rise from the death take it as an article of faith."

    Perhaps I should have said "subjective experience" as you have focused most of your rebuttal on physical sight. At any rate, I completely disagree with your statements. I contend that Judao-Christian religion is based on personal experience with God. One gains that experience by hearing the teachings of God from a prophet, or from reading the revelations from God in scripture and acting on those teachings. That spiritual experience is just as valid an evidence to the individual as the evidence obtained from physical objects. But to each individual, the experience may be subtly different, and as such, subjective. Hence my statement that religion is based on subjective observation (experience).

    Again, don't misunderstand my attitude toward science. Science is wonderful. But I still contend that some people try to use science to thwart religion. There is not requirement that they be at odds.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/16/2005

    1) “Some proponents of evolution use it in a science class to "prove" God did not create man. This is what was taught to me in my high school biology class.”

    I have never encountered this situation in my experience, and have found that most of the biologists I spoke with would just as soon not mention God, or creation at all in their classes, preferring to teach evolution as scientists would, highlighting what they know (changes in species over time) and perhaps mentioning what they do not know (exactly how and when such changes occur).

    Those who do teach that God could not have created the world should be the focus of concern, since no rational scientist would ever claim to be able to “prove” a negative. The theory itself however, remains valid and should not be supplemented with non-scientific beliefs simply to offset some preconceived prejudices.

    2) “I agree with the argument that it takes as much faith, or willful belief, that man descended through evolutionary processes from a bath of carbon-based chemicals where a spark of "life" struck billions of years ago as it takes to believe that God created man. Both are possible, but only one was allowed to be taught to me in school. Why is that?”

    Because I do not agree that both are equal in validity. Certainly, both are possible, as it is possible that many gods created man, or that sun is god and it created man. All are certainly possible, to name a few. However, only one should be taught in school and that is the one that has undergone scientific scrutiny and relies on some empirical data. It does not take any “faith” to believe in evolution. It takes fossil evidence, empirical observations, and scientific reasoning. It does take faith to believe in the biblical creation story since the story contradicts empirical evidence on the age and development of the planet, and offers no proof for its validity.

    That is not to say that evolution is “good” and creation is “bad” or that people should believe one over the other. However, it is to suggest that if we are trying to teach young people the value of the scientific method and data collection and analysis, we should avoid teaching those things that do not use any data collection or analysis. Students can get those from their family and churches, they should not get them from public education (at least, not in a science class, perhaps in philosophy class or something).

    3) “I propose that the "religion" of science be left out of the classroom as much as the religion of God.”

    From where shall our future doctors come from? Who will invent the great cures of the 21st century? Are we to abolish chemistry, physics, and biology from school curriculums because you seem to think that they are a “religion” (although how this is so, you do not say). What of mathematics? Do you believe that it is equally “religious”? You may purge schools of whatever you like, but I would pose the question: what is the purpose of education if not to encourage critical thinking based on reason and evidence?

    4) “Or that religion be taught in the classroom as much as the religion of science.”
    Why? They are entirely dissimilar, as I have argued above? Indeed, even if they were similar, what religious would you propose? Should students of anthropology be taught the existence of Babel is the cause of different languages? Should those studying marine biology be forced to learn the science behind the great flood of Noah? Perhaps doctors should be taught about the miraculous healing powers of Christ? If you believe that creation is just as “scientific” as evolution, why not the whole thing?

    5) “Science is based on hypothesis and validated through objective observation. Religion is based on subjective observation.”

    I disagree that religion is based on subjective observation. Religion, at least the Judao-Christian religion, is based on revelation through scripture, not on observation. Jews believe that God revealed His laws to Moses at Sinai despite never observing it, and Christians who never saw Jesus rise from the death take it as an article of faith.

    6) “By that I mean, do not allow the use of evolution or other science principals to interfere with religious teachings.”

    Here is the real hart of your argument and perhaps it would have been best to simply state this from the outset. You believe that public education should teach religion (or at least not teach anything that contradicts religion). I respect your beliefs, but I disagree with them and believe that such a theocratic educational system could not possibly compete with the rest of the world in a global economy. Remember that religion is not just the creation story, but an entire dogmatic theology. Even if we could agree on what religion should be taught, why cripple America’s youth with ideas and theories that close them off to science?


    Graham Hick - 2/16/2005

    How do you have a debate with people who value faith over science? I feel the same frustration. People who are righteous in god cannot be wrong. Period. Open minds are required on both sides and unfortuantely only one side appears to be open minded.

    That's always the weak link in the arguments of rational, fair minded, liberal thinking people. They prefer to be open minded and accepting whereas their oppents would silence any differing opinions at all costs.

    No easy answers.


    Scott Anderson - 2/16/2005

    The problem with evolution is not in science, but in society. Some proponents of evolution use it in a science class to "prove" God did not create man. This is what was taught to me in my high school biology class. However, most religions teach God created man.

    Now add the movement to enforce the separation of church and state in the public school system. I see the religious movement as responding to the statement, "evolution proves God did not create man", at least as espoused in the Bible, and fighting to discredit that assertion.

    I agree with the argument that it takes as much faith, or willful belief, that man descended through evolutionary processes from a bath of carbon-based chemicals where a spark of "life" struck billions of years ago as it takes to believe that God created man. Both are possible, but only one was allowed to be taught to me in school. Why is that?

    I propose that the "religion" of science be left out of the classroom as much as the religion of God. Or that religion be taught in the classroom as much as the religion of science. Science is based on hypothesis and validated through objective observation. Religion is based on subjective observation. As an individual, I live by relying on both. So, either allow subjectivity to be taught in schools, or remove anti-subjectivity all together. By that I mean, do not allow the use of evolution or other science principals to interfere with religious teachings.


    Glenn Rodden - 2/16/2005

    Chamberlain: "I am not suggesting that such a class be a substitute for biology or a substitute for teaching evolutionary theory as the integral part of modern biology that it is. What I am suggesting is to make the conflict itself a subject of a course."

    I apologize for misinterpreting your original post, if that is what I did. BTW, the university that I attended taught a very interesting course on the history of science that sounds like what you are suggesting.

    Chamberlain: "The conflict is very real and a logical topic for a course. It rises up not simply from ignorance of evolutionary theory but from important differences in world view. Given that context, I think such a course can provide, dare I say it, enlightenment."

    Perhaps, but what problem are we attempting to solve? According to standardized test scores, American students do not understand science. Will they do better if we teach them creationism or intelligent design theory?

    Hagedorn: "Gallop Poll - I did not offer the Gallop Poll comment as proof of the lack of validity of evolution as the origin of man (and other species). I offered it to invite evolutionists to engage their critics in a more open, less personally dismissive manner, addressing some of evolution's weaknesses."

    Is it fair to say that evolutionists have not engaged their critics openly and fairly? The debate between creationists and evolutionists has been going on for more than a century.

    "The November, 2004 Gallop Poll showed the USA split right down the middle whether the theory of evolution is convincingly supported by evidence. (As an aside, only 13% of respondents believed in evolution not directed by God.) So the current Evolution pedagogy is not going too well."

    Given the 25 year assault on evolution by creationists I am surprised that half of the people surveyed by Gallup responded in favor of evolution. But I am not convinced that this poll is evidence of any weakness in evoluationary theory. The results of this poll demonstrate that scientific theory is under attack by creationists for political reasons.

    Hagedorn: ""What theory do these people buy?" - Logically, it is not necessary to have an alternate theory in order to question another one that has been put forth."

    But creationists do want to replace evolution with their own theory.

    "Isn't science littered with theories - generally accepted by professionals at the time - that were later found to
    be quite wrong? After all, we don't "bleed" people anymore, but Benjamin Rush thought it worked quite well."

    I am not sure where you are going with this analology, but the bleeding theory was replaced by other theories of how the body heals. And those theories are based on modern biology.

    Chamberlain: "Thomas, the comparison to bleeding is a bit harsh. The theory of evolution by natural selection has had a lot more testing. The original version predicted in a general way genetic drift and the existence of small transitions between distinct species. The modern version is very much a part of biological inquiry. To put it simply, hypotheses based on evolutionary theory have provided significant results in most if not all areas of biology."

    A thoughtful and concise explanation of evolution.

    Chamberlain: "Does that mean that evolution cannot be supplanted as theory? The answer is no. It could be that exploration of some of the things that it does not explain well will lead to a new theory, just as subtle problems with Newtonian physics eventially led to General Relativity quantum mechanics and the current search for a "theory of everything."

    But as best as I, as a layman, can tell, there is no such theory on the horizon in biology. Until one is, then the truth in biology class is that evolution by natural selection is far and away the dominant theory explaining the diversity of life, past and present, on Earth."

    I could not agree more.


    Keith P Knuuti - 2/15/2005

    John,

    Read up a bit on the theory of punctuated equilibrium, developed by Gould and Eldridge, and then look again at the Cambrian explosion. This makes your claim that "Evolution... lacks the ability to explain all, and thus is not a sufficient explanation for life's myriad forms" appear somewhat dubious.

    As for your "space poop" theory, recall that evolution does not claim to explain the *origin* of life on earth, just its subsequent development. Therefore, your belief that "Ice masses hitting the atmosphere... would provide conditions in which one could imagine primitive life from extra-terrestial origins arriving in viable form on earth. These then evolve," is simply not at odds with evolutionary theory!


    Jonathan Pine - 2/15/2005

    How Intelligent Design is a science is still beyond my understanding, it seems to be more like Creationism dressed up in a lab coat, a way to get around the laws of separation of church and state. As stated by Mr. Spence, Creationism and Darwinism are mutually exclusive paradigms. But are they? Both sides are looking for the same thing, maybe one in a more primitive way but both are looking for the answer to the question: why? Darwin provided a simple explanation of why we exist. Of course the other Darwinian concepts, such as the meaninglessness and purposelessness of existence, may prove entirely unwarranted Mr. Spence mentioned John Wheeler’s view of the world that may provided an alternate way of looking at things.
    There’s more about him on this site: http://www.discover.com/issues/jun-02/features/featuniverse


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/15/2005

    The real issue here is that evolution needs to be taught based on the standards of any other scientific issue, nothing less. To "balance" a theory almost universally accepted by mainstream scientists with its negation is no fairer to any student than to present a "flat-earth" theory or a theory about the moon landing being a hoax, or Holocaust denial simply to provide balance.

    There is a difference between fairness and balance. It would be balanced to teach the opposite of every theory as plausible and thus worthy of consideration, but it would only be fair to teach students topics that have pass the test of scientific study, experimentation, and time.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/15/2005

    Because we should be judging ideas, not the people who come up with them. The world would still be round, after all, even if Hitler said it was.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/15/2005

    Thomas, the comparison to bleeding is a bit harsh. The theory of evolution by natural selection has had a lot more testing. The original version predicted in a general way genetic drift and the existence of small transitions between distinct species. The modern version is very much a part of biological inquiry. To put it simply, hypotheses based on evolutionary theory have provided significant results in most if not all areas of biology.

    Does that mean that evolution cannot be supplanted as theory? The answer is no. It could be that exploration of some of the things that it does not explain well will lead to a new theory, just as subtle problems with Newtonian physics eventially led to General Relativity quantum mechanics and the current search for a "theory of everything."

    But as best as I, as a layman, can tell, there is no such theory on the horizon in biology. Until one is, then the truth in biology class is that evolution by natural selection is far and away the dominant theory explaining the diversity of life, past and present, on Earth.


    Thomas W Hagedorn - 2/15/2005

    Mr. Rodden -

    Gallop Poll - I did not offer the Gallop Poll comment as proof of the lack of validity of evolution as the origin of man (and other species). I offered it to invite evolutionists to engage their critics in a more open, less personally dismissive manner, addressing some of evolution's weaknesses. The November, 2004 Gallop Poll showed the USA split right down the middle whether the theory of evolution is convincingly supported by evidence. (As an aside, only 13% of respondents believed in evolution not directed by God.) So the current Evolution pedagogy is not going too well.

    "What theory do these people buy?" - Logically, it is not necessary to have an alternate theory in order to question another one that has been put forth. Isn't science littered with theories - generally accepted by professionals at the time - that were later found to
    be quite wrong? After all, we don't "bleed" people anymore, but Benjamin Rush thought it worked quite well.


    Jonathan Rees - 2/15/2005

    Think about it. Didn't Newton try to turn lead into gold? Since his thinking was obviously flawed, why should we trust anything he said?

    JR


    William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 2/15/2005

    Precisely. The problem's in--alas for the word-- scientific "literacy." Even the Vatican's made its peace with evolution. A better response than that of defending the idea of evolution (not done very well on this site) is, rather, accounting for why it is such an issue in the US. Sure, it's fun--and in the States I had fun--baiting Creationists. I label'em idiots as others do. But we could also try to understand what is going on with them, because I suspect that below the surface there's more to the anti-evolution story than we might think.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/15/2005

    "Why run the two classes together?"

    Good question.

    I am not suggesting that such a class be a substitute for biology or a substitute for teaching evolutionary theory as the integral part of modern biology that it is. What I am suggesting is to make the conflict itself a subject of a course.

    The conflict is very real and a logical topic for a course. It rises up not simply from ignorance of evolutionary theory but from important differences in world view. Given that context, I think such a course can provide, dare I say it, enlightenment.


    Glenn Rodden - 2/15/2005

    Hagedorn: "Why don't biology texts and curricula present some balanced critical thinking exercises concerning evolution? This seems to me a reasonable solution to this dispute. I have read enough about evolution to doubt the claims of some that this explains our origins."

    And what would that critical exercise consist of?

    Hagedorn: "Creationism isn't science, though I believe in God's creation of the world."

    I see. You want a non-scientific critique of science in order to promote critical thinking skills among high school science students.

    Hagedorn: "Intelligent design is a theory that can never be proven in a convincing way, since it relies on a supernatural, other-worldly force behind creation."

    I agree.

    Hagedorn: "I think intelligent design is science, but probably not something that should ever be mainstream, because it is not subject to proof using any sort of evaluation of direct evidence."

    Please name another generally accepted scientific theory that relies on supernatural causal explanations that cannot be proven.

    Hagedorn: "I don't have the Gallup Poll figures at my fingertips, but I know that a very significant % of Americans do not believe that evolution is the explanation for "why we are here". "

    Ah, the old number game. I don't have a Gallup Poll in front of me either, but many polls show that millions of Americans believe in alien abduction. Does that mean that aliens exist?

    Hagedorn: "Evolutionists need to drop their approach that evolution should be an "article of faith" for a modern people and engage their critics in a more direct way."

    Scientists do not take anything as an "article of faith." That is a fundamental misunderstanding of science. Scientists are always testing hypotheses and looking for different explanations. Such is the nature of scientific explanation.

    "I know several PhD-trained life science researchers who don't buy the evolution theory."

    What theory do these people "buy?"

    Chamberlain: "Sometimes scientists have simply tossed evolution at people and said, with their tone if not their words, "just believe us."

    Which scientists are you talking about?

    Chamberlain: "I also think that some of the hostility from the fudamentalists has to do with somce scientists' disdainful attitude toward most of their vision of the universe."

    How do you know this?

    Chamberlain: "It should be interdiscplinary, with intstructors with expertise in sciences and humanities."

    This already happens, but apparently not the way that you like. Science is taught in science classes and humanities are taught in humanities classes. Why run the two classes together?

    Chamberlain: "I don't think it would be two-sided, as you suggest, but multi-sided."

    And muddled beyond comprehension.

    Chamberlain: "Ideally, some students would emerge with a greater appreciation of why most scientists come to the conclusions that they do, even if some of those students still disagree."

    Obviously, this already happens. As you noted above, many Americans do not believe in evolution.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/15/2005

    To some extent I agree with you. Sometimes scientists have simply tossed evolution at people and said, with their tone if not their words, "just believe us." I also think that some of the hostility from the fudamentalists has to do with somce scientists' disdainful attitude toward most of their vision of the universe.

    It would be interesting to have a course that looked carefully at the development of evolution as a scientific theory and also looked at non-scientific modes of understanding the universe and life.

    It should be interdiscplinary, with intstructors with expertise in sciences and humanities. I don't think it would be two-sided, as you suggest, but multi-sided. Ideally, some students would emerge with a greater appreciation of why most scientists come to the conclusions that they do, even if some of those students still disagree.

    And ideally other students will have a better appreciation of why some people have doubts about evolution, despite the consensus among scientists.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/15/2005

    John, There is something intriguing about a universe filled with jags of speckled blue ice searching for a home.

    And if we find out that life was seeded here by the jetliners of the gods, then evolution on earth indeed will be part of a larger whole.

    But then we will ask, where did the ice and the jet liners come from? Will a grander theory incorporate that?

    Mmmmmm. Could be.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/15/2005

    Your clarification of what you mean by “evolution” helps us to resolve this issue. I do not know enough about archeology and biology to precisely articulate all of the various problems that evolution simply cannot explain, although I have never doubted that there are too numerous to mention.

    However, a theory is not invalid or even suspect because it fails to explain something (Einstein readily admitted that relativity was unable to explain much of what goes on in the universe). It is invalid or suspect when some observed phenomena directly contradicts it. In my opinion, and it seems to be the opinion of many, that nothing in the genealogical record, or in the sudden appearance of many different species on earth, contradicts the theory of evolution. Indeed, many biologists consider biological evolution to be a fact (in the scientific context of one), rather than a theory since it can be demonstrated to occur both today and in the past.

    “Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.”

    - Theodosius Dobzhansky "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", American Biology Teacher vol. 35 (March 1973) reprinted in Evolution versus Creationism, 1983

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html

    Perhaps our disagreement is merely a question of semantics then, rather than one of principle.


    Thomas W Hagedorn - 2/15/2005

    The tenor of many evolutionists evokes fundamentalism. I looked at several high school history textbooks a few years ago and critical thinking exercises wereliberally sprinkled throughout. One in particular that I remember dealt with Truman's use of The Bomb. This text seemed to lead the reader toward the conclusion that The Bomb did not have to be used. (This is probably a bad example of what I am calling for.)

    Why don't biology texts and curricula present some balanced critical thinking exercises concerning evolution? This seems to me a reasonable solution to this dispute. I have read enough about evolution to doubt the claims of some that this explains our origins.

    Creationism isn't science, though I believe in God's creation of the world. Intelligent design is a theory that can never be proven in a convincing way, since it relies on a supernatural, other-worldly force behind creation. I think intelligent design is science, but probably not something that should ever be mainstream, because it is not subject to proof using any sort of evaluation of direct evidence.

    I don't have the Gallup Poll figures at my fingertips, but I know that a very significant % of Americans do not believe that evolution is the explanation for "why we are here". Evolutionists need to drop their approach that evolution should be an "article of faith" for a modern people and engage their critics in a more direct way. I know several PhD-trained life science researchers who don't buy the evolution theory.

    Let's present BOTH sides of this debate in our public schools. Evolutionists have nothing to lose. They haven't convinced people with their "article of faith" approach.


    John H. Lederer - 2/15/2005

    "I believe that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the contention that evolution happens, and has happened on this planet. While this may not be enough to prove everything, I have never read anything that has even come close to successfully challenging its validity."

    Darwin stated that the biggest problem with his theory was its inability to explain the Cambrian explosion ( the relatively sudden appearance of sharply different life forms with scant evidence of transitional forms from previously existing fossil record). His suggestion was that the problem may lie in the insufficiency of the fossil record.

    Over time the completeness of the fossil record has improved. Rather than minimizing the contradiction of the Cambrian explosion it seems to have heightened it -- the magnitude of the explosion is greater, and the lack of transitional forms remains despite the improvement in the fossil records.


    Of course to some extent, one has to define "evolution". If by evolution we mean speciation, the evidence is much better that speciation occurs (although we have never observed or induced speciation as opposed to seeing the fossil record of it). If, however, by evolution we mean Darwin's theory that all life is descended from a common ancestor, the evidence there seems to increasingly deny the validity of the theory.

    The problem is not merely the criticism of a few cranks. It has been acknowledged by many reputable scientists (starting of course with Darwin's commendable acknowledgement of the problem).




    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/15/2005

    1) “Most major blunders in science have been the result of the agreement of a large number of "scientists". We don't vote on science. Things are proven or disproven, and the fact that many scientists think one way or the other is immaterial.”

    I respectfully disagree. Without adequate expertise on every issues, people are forced to rely on those who are educated and experienced in a field for guidance. Thus when doctors agree that something called “germs” exist and can transmit diseases and bacteria, people believe them even when they cannot personally study and “prove” the existence of such things. In other words, scientific consensus can, and often has, been wrong, but it is not immaterial. The real issue, of course, is not how many people agree or disagree, but whether those people have utilized the scientific method in coming to their conclusions.

    2) “Don't misunderstand me. I am not disagreeing that there is clear evidence that species evolve. However, there is also, I think, fairly clear evidence that evolution is not a complete or even a satisfactory explanation for the existence of the life we see today or the historical record we have extrapolated from a few findings.”

    I would agree that evolution does not explain the existence of the universe or how life on earth ever really developed, but it has never claimed to. Evolution is a process, not an event, and while many have utilized its theoretical underpinnings to extrapolate theories about the creation of life on earth down to the first atom, the theory itself does not demand such a leap.

    I believe that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the contention that evolution happens, and has happened on this planet. While this may not be enough to prove everything, I have never read anything that has even come close to successfully challenging its validity.


    John H. Lederer - 2/15/2005

    The defeat of creationism in a scientific sense (rather than the theological one) is not scientific proof of evolution.


    John H. Lederer - 2/15/2005

    "Nevertheless, the great difference is that those theories are embraced and accepted by the greater community of scientific experts, which presumably are qualified to make decisions in such matters (since we rely on them for almost every non-evolution-related scientific decisions)"

    Most major blunders in science have been the result of the agreement of a large number of "scientists". We don't vote on science. Things are proven or disproven, and the fact that many scientists think one way or the other is immaterial. In many respects, because science tends to be a very large logical structure built on a few underlying understandings, scientists are more resistant than many others in conceding that they were wrong about something fundamental. I think this particularly apparent in medical science, but it is common in all science.

    Don't misunderstand me. I am not disagreeing that there is clear evidence that species evolve. However, there is also, I think, fairly clear evidence that evolution is not a complete or even a satisfactory explanation for the existence of the life we see today or the historical record we have extrapolated from a few findings. That doesn't require a theological explanation, but it does require some sort of alternative/additional explanation.

    And I disagree with Oscar Chamberlain's comment -- were the "space poop" theory the correct explanation, I don't think it would be an addition to evolution. I think it would be the core, with evolution a nice addendum for filling in the corners.

    I am, of course, deeply disappointed that Oscar did not regard my clear analogy to jetliner toilets as being, if something a little short of indisputable proof, at least darn convincing <g>.



    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/15/2005

    John

    Actually nothing in the "space poop" theory contradicts evolutionary theory in any essential way. The essential points remain--that the lines between species are blurry, that genetic drift alters old features and adds new ones, and that competition in its numerous forms "selects" mutations that make a species a better fit for a given environment.

    It certainly does make it more complex, and it could challenge the assumption that life emerged from "lifelessness" on Earth. However, unlike creationism, one can devise experiments and searches for data that might tend to confirm or deny "space poop."


    Christopher Alan Danielson - 2/15/2005

    My 9th grade biology teacher believed in evolution, a far as I can recall, but I remember she told me that we would not be covering the chapter on it because it was controversial (when I asked her - she did not volunteer this on her own). This was in South Houston, Texas, in the early 1990s, in the same district (Pasadena Independent School District) that banned peace symbols as representing the defeat of Christianity.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 2/15/2005

    It is true that what we are discussing depends on what someone means by “evolution.” However, in the scientific community, evolution does have a meaning, and the validity of evolution as a theory has been embraced by the scientific community as a group (not to suggest the absence of any dissenting opinions). The failure of the theory to explain “all” is no more evidence against it than any other theory unable to explain everything (even Einstein failed at his goal of trying to find a theory for everything).

    I would disagree that evolution is becoming dogmatic like biblical creation. While many people undoubtedly believe evolution just as surely as others do creationism is not a reasonable basis for comparison. After all, most people believe the theory of gravity, relativity, and numerous other scientific theories despite having little real understanding of them. Nevertheless, the great difference is that those theories are embraced and accepted by the greater community of scientific experts, which presumably are qualified to make decisions in such matters (since we rely on them for almost every non-evolution-related scientific decisions). In other words, if an athlete starts telling me that one plus one equals five while the mathematicians agree that it does not, I will agree with the mathematicians over the athlete. So too with evolution.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/faq/cat01.html#Q01


    John H. Lederer - 2/14/2005

    I don't have religious problems with evolution. I have scientific problems (of course it all depends on what you mean by "evolution"). Evolution simply does not, by itself, explain the several explosions in the numbers of species that the fossil evidence suggests. It lacks the ability to explain all, and thus is not a sufficient explanation for life's myriad forms.

    Personally, I am attracted to the "space poop" theory. This theory rests on the discovery by a meteorologist that the earth is bombarded by a significant number of masses of ice.

    Ice masses hitting the atmosphere and turning to water vapor would provide conditions in which one could imagine primitive life from extra-terrestial origins arriving in viable form on earth. These then evolve.

    I imagine something akin to the occasional news story of the accumulated frozen lavatory vent overflow from an airliner dropping from altitude to crush someone's car. I of course substitute a spacehip crewed by little green men for the jetliner.....<g>

    The point is that, much like a literal biblical creation, evolution is becoming dogmatic rather a suitable issue for scientific exploration. We do not benefit by substituting scientific dogma for religious dogma.

    But then politics has never been much about finding truth.




    William . H. Leckie, Jr. - 2/14/2005

    Why dumb down the nature of scientific theory?

    'Seems to me, the problem is in the poor quality of science teaching in the schools.

    If you can't win the debate--and to "win" in an age of what philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt calls bullshit is not just a matter of debating--you can at least render them speechless, the idiots, that is.

    Ask them what they think a theory is. Go from there. For example, there are all kinds of examples from sciences other than biology. Physics and astronomy are rife with them. There is nothing more elegant than a Herzsprung-Russell diagram. Explain it, where it came from, and how it's used and they'll either say we don't know beans about stellar evolution or they'll be aghast.


    Derek Charles Catsam - 2/14/2005

    This may be an argument that those who support science cannot win, but it is one that they must not lose.

    dc


    James Spence - 2/14/2005

    People seem to get them mixed up, Bush being one of them and he is setting the example for a lot of pliable minds.
    whenever a Creationist gets cornered he changes the subject,has material ready to present from several different subjects. As he gets out of his depth in one subject, he ducks into another because he knows no is an expert in all subjects. especially true when subjects are distantly related like cell biology and astrophysics, this dodge is set up while the opponent gets buried in quotes. When all else fails, Creationists use name-calling that, society’s ills are attributed to the beliefs of "evolutionists" but Creationists ignore the fact that society’s problems existed long before Darwin studied the ascent of man. They like to make links between evolution and ideological movements such as Marxism, Communism, and Nazism.

    however there is something that may offer the middle path called "genesis by observership", one that can possibly be scientifically tested (from an idea by a man called Wheeler) who says that genesis is not a distant myth of creation but something that took place in the past, something that is forever evolving.


    Oscar Chamberlain - 2/14/2005

    John, You are right that the debate cannot be "won." But one reason that creation/intelligent design as theories has gained popularity is the poor way in which theories in general and evolution in particular is taught to the non-scientist public.

    Engaging in debate is one way to change this.


    John Reed Tarver - 2/14/2005

    I have never been able to understand the mindset of otherwise intelligent people that permits them to engage in raucous debates with another group of people speaking a different language. In popular usage a theory is little better than a guess. To the scientist a theory is a logical way to explain physical phenomena. Continuing this "debate" with religious groups seems non-scientific, at best. Certainly, it cannot be won. Scientists should simply upgrade the "popular" expression of evolution from a theory to a law and refuse to engage in further debate.


    Lisa Roy Vox - 2/14/2005

    Besides equating evolution with atheism, another tactic that creationists use to instill doubt is to list scientists who have questioned evolution or aspects of it. See http://www-acs.ucsd.edu/~idea/scidoubtevol.htm#list for an example. Though scientists who don't believe in evolution are in tiny minority, creationists seize upon any article or book that seems to question the validity of evolution.

    Many creationists subscribe to a story of Darwin converting to Christianity on his deathbed and renouncing evolution. This is a favorite urban legend among creationists. I'm not quite sure of the origins of it, though I was curious enough to look into biographies of Darwin after having heard that my entire life, and of course discovered that it was a myth in college. Linking the intellectual hero of evolution to Christianity and making it appear that with the light of Christianity came the "Truth" about the beginnings of the world combines these two methods of discreditation through atheistic linkage and by citing scientists who don't "believe."

    Frankly, at my high school in a suburb of Memphis, TN, no sticker was needed. My 9th grade biology teacher announced that he did not believe in evolution and would not teach it or discuss it. My AP biology teacher in the 12th grade did not state her opinion, but expressed anxiety about teaching such a "controversial" issue....so the class read the chapter on evolution and had an open-book test on that chapter. No discussion. No lecture. We probably only covered it to that extent because evolution was on the AP biology test. I wonder how much of that goes on--individual teachers deciding not to teach evolution.

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