Archive for February, 2007

Anti-Darwinism Spreading

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

“The ‘Anti-Darwin movement’ is currently spreading in European countries and in Russia,” reported plant physiologist and evolutionary biologist Ulrich Kutschera on February 15, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among other examples, he was bemoaning that some Intelligent Design materials have gone through as many as six printings in Germany. Concerning the same presentation, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported the following:

In September a creationist group called Truth in Science mailed teaching packets that promote intelligent design as an alternative to evolution to every secondary school in Britain. In October, Maciej Giertych, a member of the European Parliament from Poland who has a Ph.D. in tree physiology, organized a workshop for other members of parliament called “Teaching Evolution Theory in Europe: Is Your Child Being Indoctrinated in the Classroom?”

Kutschera suggested that the solution to this “problem” is to deemphasize Darwin and Darwinism. He apparently believes that Darwin has become an albatross around the neck of evolution, pointing out that the theory is far beyond the target at which he believes “Creationists” are aiming. Even Eugene Scott agrees, offering the idea that perhaps teaching religion simultaneously could help. At one point she clarifies the problem as follows:

And at least in the United States – and I strongly suspect in Europe as well, but I don’t know – one of the major arguments is that it’s fair to teach both: ‘We’ll give the students all the choices, this is good pedagogy, it’s critical thinking. Give the students evolution and creationism, or evolution and evidence against evolution, and let them work this out and they’ll become good critical thinkers.’ Americans really resonate to that argument. But it’s a false argument..

I carefully studied the rest of the article, and she never explains why this is a “false argument.” Speaking as a sociologist, not a biologist or theologian, I observe that in both the articles linked above, there is never any consideration that the theory of evolution may be in any way objectionable, much less flawed. And of course there is no indication that they may be carrying a bias on the subject. Elsewhere Scott sites research that 40% of Europeans poled in a survey believe that evolution alone is sufficient to explain biological origins. She divides the remaining responses, so it is not obvious that 60% don’t. CosmicLog references a survey that indicates that “Europeans were far ahead of Americans in their acceptance of evolutionary theory,” implying, no, SAYING, that to believe in evolution puts them “ahead.” Kutschera claims Creationists are aiming at an outdated view of evolution, while he seems to caricature all objection to evolution as a 1925 version of Creationism.

They see the growing openness of many to consider alternatives to evolution, but they fail to see why. They see the changing of the tide, but fail to acknowledge possible existence of a moon causing the tides. It is a little like the noted chemist Joseph Priestley, who in 1800 published his Doctrine of Phlogiston Established. Speaking of this theory in a letter that same year he wrote, “I feel perfectly confident of the ground I stand upon.” The irony is that he wrote 25 years after the death knell had been struck to this 150-year-old theory by Antoine Lavoisier. Many today are reading and understanding Behe’s and Demski’s arguments for Intelligent Design, yet many defenders of evolution do not hear for whom the bell tolls.

A Civilized Question

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

I don’t remember why we were standing at the door. It was the mid ’50′s, and Ricky and I may have been looking for more kids to play with. We had knocked, and a woman came slowly to the screened door, wiping her hands on her apron. When I saw that she was black, I asked what any kid in my neighborhood would have asked: “Do you live here?”

The woman, who had initially been quite cordial, straightened up, placed one fist on her hip, and asked back, “Now, is that a civilized question?” From her tone and posture the apparent correct answer was, “No.” I don’t remember the rest of our short conversion. I already had enough to think about. Not only did no black people live in my neighborhood, but to even question the idea was uncivilized.

Today, as a sociologist, I find it intriguing that not only was I taught that black people should not live in white neighborhoods, but also that black people believed and repeated it! The concept is profound: If people are treated inferior long enough, they too eventually believe and preach it themselves.

Today I experience it again when I hear, “Oh, I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe we should bring religion into public school science classes.” Much of what we accept today we get through society by the way ideas are handled. Sometimes what is not said communicates with more power than what is said; just as when the woman at the door would not entertain my question.

These ideas being subtly communicated today include that science is measurable, hard facts; religion is not. Underneath that is the idea that science is sufficient to explain everything without a Creator. No matter how the evidence stacks up, the worst material explanation is always superior to a more reasonable explanation involving a Designer.

Consider with me for a moment that God just might be real. No, I mean really. If there might actually be a Creator, shouldn’t we at least be allowed to consider that there might actually be material evidence (not theological evidence), evidences not better explained any other way? If it’s there, fine. If it’s not there, that’s fine, too. If we are not allowed to ask the question in a science context, then that’s not fine. We are actually promoting the paired concepts that science is real, and God is not.

So let’s cut the fluff: When people say, “Sure, I respect your faith, but we should keep that separate from science,” what they really mean is, “I respect your right to pretend whatever you want, but let’s keep that separate from reality.” And when people who claim to have faith in God repeat it, they have bought into the idea that any question that suggests otherwise is uncivilized. Just like the woman at the door, they have been trained to believe that faith in a Creator for which evidence is not allowed is inferior to faith in a theory for which proof has not been found.

E(volution) is not equal to mc2

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Suppose a respected scientist goes into the lab or office of another scientist and says, “I believe that there exists a way for information to travel faster than the speed of light, and I believe I can prove it.” Many experiments have been done to detect if the speed of light (c) is or has been exceeded by anything, so the second scientist would be very skeptical, but he would also hear him out. This is because true science is always open to question. Now suppose a respected scientist went into the lab or office of another scientist and said, “I believe I have found evidence that some species or characteristics of species exist that could not have evolved, and I believe I can prove it.” Even though much life exists that has not been investigated, the second scientist is more likely to lose respect for the first than to be open to discussion. I stand by my premise: True science is always open to question.

Micro vs. Macro Poker

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Evolution is evolution, right? I have read many references to the bait-and-switch objection to presenting evolution as all the same, and I have read many explanations of micro- vs. macroevolution, but I have found none of them completely satisfactory. Most leave me with the impression that macroevolution is simply the extreme of microevolution, and nothing can be farther from the truth. Allow me to attempt an explanation using a card game:

All life is based on DNA. There is not only no known life form apart from DNA, there is also no viable theoretical model for life apart from DNA.

DNA is like a deck of cards. The cards are shuffled, and you are dealt a hand. Some combinations have meaning, and some are more valuable in play than others. Just as each hand is different, though delt from the same deck, each generation of reproduction is a little different, though from the same “deck” of DNA. A simple game of Poker would be to get a hand of five cards and be allowed to turn back as many as two for a chance at better cards. Of course you have to know the meaning of the various possible combinations of cards to determine if you have a good enough hand to play.

Suppose we change the objective of the game to have the least number of red cards: At the end of each round of play, the person with the most red cards permanently removes those five cards from future play. In the next round everyone would get the same number of cards, but the round would be played with five fewer cards in the deck. What would eventually happen? As the deck gets smaller, everyone would be dealt predominantly black hands, and red cards would become rarer and rarer. This is how microevolution works: Certain DNA alternatives are removed by “natural selection,” until some remaining characteristic dominates among all the organisms. Sometimes the new organisms are called a breed, sometimes they are called a species. This applies to the size of beaks among Galapagos finches, and the number of dark specks on speckled moths.

Now suppose we are back at the beginning of the game, and we forget the rule about withdrawing the hand with those despised red cards. This time the new rule is that any person who is dealt a new card, one not in the original deck of 52, gets to duplicate that new card, put them both back into the deck, and retire any one other card at random. No one is allowed to intentionally (by design) create a new card. It must come into existence by accident–cards rubbing against each other, getting torn, or drinks being spilt on them are all fair game. How long would it take for the new card to dominate? Yes, this is how macroevolution “works.” A new characteristic comes into existence in an organism–eyes, feathers, whatever–and it eventually dominates, creating a new species.

Microevolution takes away characteristics until one feature dominates. Macroevolution adds a characteristic and then favors it until the new feature dominates. The processes of micro- and macroevolution are exact opposites.

But if you were tracking with the “macrogame,” a more reasonable question than, “How long would it take for the new card to dominate?” would be, “How long would it take for a new card to come into existence?” Tares and spills are unlikely EVER to create a 13 of Spades or a Queen of Circles. A fortuitous tare might yield a One-eyed Queen, just as sickle cell anemia yields a defense against malaria, but the limited biological advantage comes at a tremendous cost, and it again occurs by taking away information, not adding it.

So if microevolution is not contested by anyone, being observed; and macroevolution requires new information, which is unlikely by chance alone; why don’t student textbooks make this information clear? Now we should introduce another poker term–”bluffing.”