Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, a special two-hour documentary about the Kitzmiller v Dover case, in which teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional, aired nationwide on PBS at 8:00 PM on November 13, 2007. "Judgment Day captures on film a landmark court case with a powerful scientific message at its core," explained Paula Apsell, NOVA's Senior Executive Producer, in a publicity statement. "Evolution is one of the most essential yet, for many people, least understood of all scientific theories, the foundation of biological science. We felt it was important for NOVA to do this program to heighten the public understanding of what constitutes science and what does not, and therefore, what is acceptable for inclusion in the science curriculum in our public schools."
Reviewing Judgment Day for the November 8, 2007, issue of Nature (450: 170), Adam Rutherford was impressed, not least with the way in which the filmmakers met the challenge of retelling the story. "The makers of Judgment Day inject tension with eyewitness accounts from the people of Dover," he wrote, "and homevideo footage of raucous school board meetings shows how passionate and divided this small community became. It works: it is inspiring to hear parents and educators, such as Sunday school and physics teacher Bryan Rehm, recount how they refused to be steam-rollered into bringing religion into the science classroom."
"Judgment Day gracefully avoids ridiculing intelligent design for the pseudo-intellectual fundamentalist fig-leaf that it is, by simply showing how the protagonists shot themselves in the foot," Rutherford added. Acknowledging that the "intelligent design" movement is still alive in the wake of the trial, he nevertheless concluded, "the Kitzmiller vs Dover verdict, matched this September with the outlawing of intelligent design in the UK national curriculum, marked the official neutering of this unpleasant, sneaky movement in much of the western world. Judgment Day is just the sort of thoughtful programming that celebrates how sensible people — faithful and otherwise — can use science and reason to combat fundamentalism."
Judge John E Jones III, the federal judge who presided over Kitzmiller v Dover, appeared on The NewsHour on November 13, 2007, to discuss the show. Following a clip from the program, Jones discussed his background knowledge of "intelligent design" and evolution, the Establishment Clause and its applicability in the Kitzmiller case, the role of the independent judiciary, and the influence of his seminal decision. Jones commented, "It's not precedential outside of the middle district of Pennsylvania, but I thought that if other school boards and other boards of education could read it, they would possibly be more enlightened about what the dispute was all about."
On the same day, NCSE issued a press release congratulating the producers of Judgment Day for the show's accuracy. "NCSE has been studying the influence of creationism and its assault on science education for the past twenty years," said Eugenie C Scott, NCSE's executive director. "Judgment Day accurately portrays the events that led to the legal decision that it is unconstitutional to teach 'intelligent design' in public school science classrooms." The press release also highlighted NCSE's role in the trial, observing that three members of its board of directors testified as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, and that NCSE's archives provided critical evidence for the linkages between "intelligent design" and previous forms of creationism. (For more on NCSE's role in the trial, see RNCSE 2006 Jan–Apr; 26 [1–2].)
For its part, the Discovery Institute attempted to poison the well by offering a series of shrill press releases, not all of which seem to have been carefully considered. One, dated November 9, 2007, took exception to Judgment Day's use of actors to re-enact the testimony during the trial by saying, "First they dramatized the OJ Simpson trial. Then they acted out Michael Jackson's courtroom drama. This time around we have NOVA re-enacting parts of the 2005 Dover intelligent design trial presided over by Judge John E Jones" — thus comparing the proponents of "intelligent design" to alleged murderers and pedophiles, which was presumably not the intention. In any case, the effort was largely wasted: the press releases were virtually ignored not only by the mainstream media, as with the Discovery Institute's similar press release campaign against Evolution in 2001 (see RNCSE 2001 Sep–Dec; 21 [5–6]: 5–14), but also by the publications and organizations on the political and religious right that are usually receptive to the "intelligent design" movement's message.
Meanwhile, Judgment Day continued to receive high praise from reviewers, both in Pennsylvania, where the historic trial took place, and across the country. The York Dispatch, one of the two daily papers serving the Dover area, editorially offered (2007 Nov 11), "Thumbs Up to PBS for bringing tribulations of the Dover Area School District to national attention in the two-hour Nova special 'Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial' ... The blatant attempt to introduce religion- based 'creationism' into the public school classroom is detailed along with a recreation of the ensuing battle in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg that resulted in a humiliating defeat for the intelligent design proponents. A reminder that fiddling with public education to impose an individual religious viewpoint is a non-starter, 'Judgment Day' should be required watching."
Reviewing Judgment Day for the Philadelphia Inquirer (2007 Nov 13), Jonathan Storm praised not only its scientific content but also its objective approach: "Nova, the science show, stoutly defends science against the attack of the surprisingly hard-to-pin-down intelligent-design brain trust. It does use such loaded words as 'claim' and 'so-called' to describe tenets of the supposed theory, but it is surprisingly clear of a 'nyah-nyah, we won' tone. That makes this significant program more accessible to all." He also quoted Judge Jones as saying, "If you glibly embrace intelligent design, or if you're in that 48 or 50 percent who believe creationism ought to be taught in school, I hope [you] will watch this."
It was as a legal drama that Judgment Day struck Rob Owen, writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2007 Nov 12). Describing the program as "a fascinating and gripping look at the trial and both sides of the issue," Owen wrote, "I didn't know much about so-called 'intelligent design' theory beyond its name and a sense that it's synonymous with creationism. So I went into the film willing to be persuaded that maybe there's some validity to 'intelligent design'. If there is, those in favor of ID failed to prove it. And failed miserably. That's what makes 'Intelligent Design on Trial' such a thriller. As a legal exercise, the proevolution team presents a slamdunk case; in the end, even a defense attorney says his losing side received a fair trial."
In The New York Times (2007 Nov 11), Cornelia Dean admired the scientific content of Judgment Day, commenting, "the program as a whole recognizes that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And it shows how witnesses attacked two of the central premises of intelligent design — that there are no 'intermediate' fossils to show one creature morphing into another (there are) and that some body parts are too complex to have formed from the modification of other body parts (not true)." She added, "But viewers also learn a more important lesson: that all science is provisional, standing only until it is overturned by better information. Intelligent design, relying as it does on an untestable supernatural entity, does not fall into that category."
Elsewhere, the Cincinnati Post's reviewer (2007 Nov 13) wrote, "Leave it to the respected PBS science show 'NOVA' to put some common sense back into the often hysterical debate over whether intelligent design is science or religion — and remind us that Darwin's theory of evolution is a solid one that should be taught in science classes." The Deseret News's reviewer (2007 Nov 13) described the program as "captivating," and quoted Judge Jones as saying, "I think there's a lesson here for communities and how they elect their school board members." And the Oregonian's reviewer (2007 Nov 13) wrote, "'Judgment Day' offers an admirably compact and methodical presentation of the sides in the debate. It should be highly useful in years to come."
Finally, writing on Salon (2007 Nov 13), Gordy Slack, the author of The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007; reviewed in RNCSE 2007 May–Aug; 27 [3–4]: 43), looked forward from the trial, explaining that although "intelligent design" aspired to be a big tent under which creationists of all stripes were welcome to shelter, "Judge Jones'[s] decision was like a lightning strike on the big top, sending many of the constituents running home through the rain." He ended by quoting NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott's warning: "Evolution remains under attack ... If creationists have their way, teachers will eventually just stop teaching evolution. It'll just be too much trouble. And generations of students will continue to grow up ignorant of basic scientific realities."
Despite the general acclaim for Judgment Day, residents of Memphis, Tennessee, were not able to watch it on the regular, analog, channel of WKNO, the local PBS affiliate. A locally produced documentary about World War II was aired instead. The Memphis Commercial Appeal (2007 Nov 15) quoted a spokesperson for the station as explaining, "We had plans to do our local programs to honor veterans this week during Veterans Day. We thought Tuesday night was a good spot for local programs of this nature, and we were concerned about the controversial nature of the ... program as were 15 percent of the top 50 public television stations in the country."
Although Judgment Day was aired on WKNO's digital broadcasts, the station's failure to air it on the regular channel elicited complaints; the spokesperson for the station would not disclose how many. The Commercial Appeal quoted one disgruntled viewer, NCSE member David O Hill, as saying, "I really appreciate what service they do, but when they step out of line like this it violates the whole premise of what NPR and PBS stand for nationally ... This was an historical review of an important judicial decision in America, and they chose not to do it." Trained as a biologist, Hill added, "Evolution is as important a building block to biology as atomic theory is to chemistry and gravitation to physics." The station promised to air Judgment Day in January 2008, "with a local followup to discuss the various views on the show."
Judgment Day is over, but its generous website (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/) remains, featuring interviews with Kenneth R Miller on evolution, Phillip Johnson on "intelligent design," and Paula Apsell on NOVA's decision to produce the documentary; audio clips of Judge John E Jones III reading passages from his decision in the case and of various experts (including NCSE's Eugenie C Scott) discussing the nature of science; resources about the evidence for evolution and about the background to the Kitzmiller case; and even a preview of the documentary. Teachers will be especially enthusiastic about the briefing packet for educators, the teacher's guide, a two-session on-line course, and a number of lesson plans. And the complete show is available for viewing on-line there as well; it was also released as a DVD in February 2008.
The project, which would develop a plan to promote better science-based education in Ouachita Parish by the Louisiana Family Forum, has raised concerns among some that its intention was to mandate and push creationism within the public schools. That is clearly not and never was the intent of the project, nor would it have been its effect. However, to avoid more hysterics, I would like to move the $100 000 recommended for this project by the subcommittee when the bill goes to conference committee to another Louisiana priority project funded in this bill.Senators Tom Harkin (D–Iowa) and Arlen Specter (R–Pennsylvania), the floor managers of the appropriations bill, accepted Vitter's proposal and agreed to move the funds to a different project in Louisiana when the bill is in its conference committee.
Two symbolically connected events took place in different parts of the world in 2007. In the United States, Petersburg, Kentucky, was the site of the newly created "Creation Museum", while at approximately the same time a federal court in St Petersburg, Russia, tried a case in which a school girl, Maria Schreiber, demanded that the ministry of education must allow an "alternative" to evolution to be taught in high school biology classes. The St Petersburg case would not deserve much attention, if it did not reflect the tensions which have accumulated in Russian society after the breakdown of the USSR in 1991.
Even though most RNCSE readers think of creationism as a North American phenomenon, advocates of so-called "scientific creationism" are currently very active worldwide. This movement was imported to Russia after perestroika. Important books in the American and Western European "scientific creationism" tradition have been translated into Russian. In Russia, representatives of both the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and of some Protestant churches advocate creationism, even though both confessions arrive at this position independently and remain faithful to their theological doctrines. The ROC (to which 58% of the Russian population belongs) has no officially declared position towards "scientific creationism". The latter plays no significant role in official theological discourse, but unofficially remains a significant part of the Orthodox theological landscape. The ROC, of course, has a strong centralized organization, but Protestant denominations have also founded creationist centers throughout the former Soviet Union.
The story of the St Petersburg case began as Maria Schreiber went to court to force the Ministry of Education to allow an "alternative" to evolution to be taught in high school biology classes (Levit and others 2006). The journal Gazeta.ru (2006 Oct 27) reported from the court that one issue was the textbook used for senior high school biology, General Biology by Sergei Mamontov, in which the biblical creation story was called a "myth". Schreiber (through her lawyer Konstantin Romanov, a remote descendant of the last Russian Tsar, Nikolai II) demanded an apology from the author and from the Ministry of Education. In a comment, Andrei Fursenko, the Russian Minister of Education and Science, expressed his support for the creationists in that he welcomed the teaching of "alternative ideas" in school (Rosbalt, 2007 Jan 3).
The defense pointed out that Mamontov's textbook does in fact mention creationist concepts, such as the ideas developed by the French comparative anatomist Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) in the early nineteenth century. It was also pointed out that the textbook corresponds to the secular nature of the Russian educational system in that it does not contain religious teachings and that a scientific theory by its very nature cannot hurt religious sensibilities. Even though the court turned down Maria Schreiber's complaint on February 21, 2007, it is clear that the St Petersburg case shows many similarities to the recent lawsuits in the US. In both countries, creationists have attacked a secular school system because they wanted "alternatives" to evolution to be taught. In both cases the courts have prevented the integration of biblical stories into the teaching of science in school, and thereby defended the secular nature of the state school systems.
However, unlike in the US, where criticism of evolution and demands for "equal time" for the biblical creation story in schools are articulated mostly by evangelical groups, in Russia the traditional Orthodox Church also supported this attack on the secular education system. During the legal proceedings, the plaintiff suggested a replacement for Mamontov's textbook, written from an "Orthodox" creationist position by Sergej Vertjanov (2005), in which the biblical story is presented as an alternative to evolution. And this is just one of a number of "Orthodox" and non-Orthodox creationist textbooks currently on the market in Russia. His Holiness Alexij II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, recently stated in a lecture in the Kremlin: "Those who want to believe that they are descended from apes, should do so, but they should not force their opinion upon others" (Die Presse.com, 2007 Feb 6).
The publication of creationist literature in Russia was pioneered by Protestant churches, which serve only about 2% of the Russian population. In the 1990s translations of several creationist biology textbooks appeared. The publishing house The Protestant alone has translated books by European and American creationists (for example, Gish, Ham, Snelling, Wieland, Morris, Clark, Junker, and Scherer). Most of the books achieve copy runs of about 10 000, which is a lot by Russian standards.
One of the non-Orthodox creationist textbooks published was a translation of a "critical textbook of evolution" originally written in German by Reinhard Junker and Siegfried Scherer (1997; see Kutschera's "The basic types of life", RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 : 31–6). This book repeats some statements from "ordinary" textbooks of evolution, but at the same time calls into question the major claims of modern evolutionary theory. For example, it repeats the creationist conception that microevolution and macroevolution are separate, unrelated processes and that even the most primitive living organisms are so complex that they cannot have evolved by random mutations and natural selection. At the same time, this book, as is characteristic of the works by the "intelligent design" movement targeted at the general public, contains no direct appeals to confessionally determined statements: although the reader is given the impression that science is impotent and incomplete without religious beliefs, specific appeals to particular religious doctrines are difficult to pinpoint.
By contrast, the Orthodox creationist writers, who became active in the second half of the 1990s, have chosen another tactic. They very clearly articulate positions in keeping with Orthodox theology. One of the early attempts to present an Orthodox view on school biology was articulated, for example, by Father Timofej Alferov, whose book bylines simply read "Father Timofej" (Alferov 1996, 1998a, 1998b).
The books were strongly criticized by scientists (for example, Eskov 2000; Borisov 2001; Surdin 2001). In addition to pointing out that the books spread religious ideology in the guise of a science text, the critics also identified many factual errors in the textbooks. This is not surprising, since Alferov, who holds a diploma in thermal physics (in addition to his theological credentials), clearly writes about biological issues from outside his field of competence.
Vertjanov's textbook (2005), presented during the Schreiber proceedings, illustrates the newest generation of creationist textbooks in Russia. The book concentrates exclusively on biology, is well illustrated, and combines "Orthodox" interpretations with quite traditional biological passages. The structure of the textbook copies the structure of secular textbooks and corresponds to Russian educational standards. The difference between "Orthodox" and secular views becomes evident only in the final sentences of each chapter, where one can read, for example, "[the] wonderful properties of the DNA should induce us to think about the Creator" or "biocoenoses [ecosystems] present harmonic systems of organisms, where certain species and communities cooperate wonderfully with the others demonstrating the wholeness and interconnectedness of the blessed world" (Vertjanov 2005: 301). The textbook also includes a supplement with quotations from the Holy Fathers, which can be related to biological problems.
The most outright creationist part of the book is found in chapter 4, which is devoted to the origin of life and includes a section entitled "The Hypothesis of Evolution and the Creation of the World". As in other creationist books, the author argues that there are no "transitional forms" in the fossil record and that there is a "plan of creation" that determines the real course of "evolution". The intention of the chapter is evidently to discredit the theory of evolution and the "materialistic worldview" using both theological and "scientific" arguments. "There are a few qualified biologists who are still convinced of the evolutionary-materialist version of the origin of life" (Vertjanov 2005: 198). Just like his American and European colleagues, Vertjanov argues that the earth was created in six days. Summarizing the ages of all 23 generations from Adam to Joseph, he concludes that the earth is about 7500 years old. The author also claims, without showing any evidence, that "contemporary science slowly comes to the acceptation of every word of the Holy Bible" (2005: 224).
Like his colleagues from the American Creation Museum, Vertjanov also claims that dinosaurs co-existed with ancient humans. Vertjanov also contributes to the "scientific" description of the world before the Fall when he reconstructs the food chains in Paradise. One of his ideas is that mosquitoes before the Fall obtained necessary hemoglobin from plants (instead of animals), which "should have been very rich in it". Although Vertjanov's textbook was not recommended by the Ministry of Education, it is used both in private schools and in some state schools. For example, it is used in Moscow in the private grammar schools Jasenevo and Saburovo and, as an experiment, in State School Nr 262 (Zheleznjak 2005).
It is notable that Vertjanov's textbook was subject to criticism not only by scientists (Mamontov 2005) but also by some Orthodox theologians. At present, conflicting positions regarding evolution seem to exist within the ROC. So-called "Orthodox creationists" reject the theory of evolution completely based on theological and pseudoscientific arguments. The "Orthodox evolutionists" interpret evolution as the continuation of divine creation. The transition from the lifeless to the living world and from animal to human are interpreted as acts of direct divine creation (Levit 2003, 2006). Even though neither of these schools of thought actually welcomes Darwinism and the theory of natural selection, the difference is that "evolutionists" do not reject evolution, but give it another (partly theological) explanation that would be comparable to the position of many "theistic evolutionists" in the US. The radicals, like Vertjanov, deny the very fact of evolution.
The first author interviewed the archpriest AV Skripkin, who represented the Orthodox Church during the Maria Schreiber proceedings in St Petersburg, to learn more about the position of the Church towards creationism in schools. The archpriest is generally very positive towards the initiative of the schoolgirl and her lawyers. In his view Darwinism is a kind of pseudoscientific mythology. It is responsible for the positivism and progressivism in the modern worldview and therefore also for the anti-human catastrophes of the twentieth century. The problem of Darwinism is not a scientific issue, Skripkin continued, it is a worldview. The choice between creationism and Darwinism is the choice between "divine humanity" and "human animality".
At the same time, Skripkin emphasizes that the Bible never has been, and never will be, a chemistry textbook. There must be a borderline between science and religion and each should do its job. Skripkin, however, welcomes Vertjanov's textbook and maintains that this textbook can be used not only in Orthodox but also in state grammar schools. It is his personal view, Skripkin stressed, because the Church has no ultimate doctrine about this issue.
Skripkin, along with many other Orthodox leaders, wants a high profile of Orthodox religiosity in all schools. In addition to trying to squeeze religious beliefs into the biology classes, the Orthodox Church also tries to make religious teaching compulsory in state schools. The most debated issue in this respect is whether to introduce a new course, "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture", in Russian schools. In 2002 the federal Ministry of Education published a letter to the education departments of the local governments with recommendations on how to establish the new optional course "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture" (Ministry of Education 2002). The course should be taught at all stages of the school system (from elementary to high school) and include issues such as "The Orthodox worldview", "The Orthodox way of life", "God and Creation", "The Natural and Supernatural Worlds", and so on. Proposed test questions include, for example, "What did God create first?" Although this course caused sharp debates in Russian society, it was established in many schools. For example, in 2003, 70% of the schools in the Belgorod region already had the new course in their curricula.
As a reaction to the growing clerical influence on education, ten Full Members of the Russian Academy of Science — including two Nobel Prize winners (Vitaly Ginzburg and Zhores Alferov) — published a letter to President Vladimir Putin that warned against making "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture" a compulsory element of federal education programs (BBC Russian Service 2007). The academicians not only argued that theology is mixed with science, but also pointed out that making such a course compulsory in a multi-confessional country would lead to ethnic tensions.
Indeed, Orthodox creationism in all its forms is confronted not only by atheist movements and scientists, but also by the Muslim communities. Thus Nafigullah Ashirov, chairman of the Moslem Board for the Asian part of Russia, criticized the plans of the Orthodox Church sharply, arguing that it could lead to ethnic conflicts as well.
Our overview of the modern Russian educational landscape reveals several trends relevant to the understanding of creationist movements in modern societies based on science and technology. We distinguish two major types of creationism, which we conditionally label "scientific creationism" and "clerical creationism". The ordinary "clerical" creationism assumes that the entire world and its biological diversity is a result of supernatural activity and thus makes any discussion of natural causes meaningless. "Scientific creationism", in contrast, tries to incorporate religious elements into scientific theories as an auxiliary but unavoidable element of explanation. It is characteristic of this kind of proposals that they include elements immune to any kind of scrutiny or criticism. "Scientific creationism" in Russia attempts to act in a "confession-neutral" manner as, for example, the adherents of the ID movement do. It is, however, common for authors to propagate a particular religious view in educational texts. The purpose of "scientific creationists" is to "infect" the reader implicitly with the idea that science is helpless when faced with the "ultimate questions" related to the meaning and purpose of life and our existence. Biology, they want to prove, is even incapable of explaining biological evolution, that is, of fulfilling its most fundamental purpose.
"Scientific creationism" initially came to Russia in the form of translated texts by Western Protestant creationists and members of the ID movement. Because the most important creationist arguments are of a universal anti-scientific nature, they are easily converted into any cultural context and were able therefore to influence the Orthodox creationists, who saw them as useful in their doctrinal attack on secular education. They can nevertheless be seen as a part of the international creationist movement and their arguments are directed towards the broadest possible audience.
Encouraged by the successes of the "scientific creationists" and by the growing influence of the Orthodox Church in Russia, the ordinary "clerical creationists" also strengthened their efforts to give Russian education clear confessional colors, thereby changing the educational landscape. The "clerical creationists" apply a different strategy than the "scientific creationists" consisting of two parallel tactics. The first tactic is trying to make religious education with an Orthodox bias part of the compulsory curriculum. The course "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture" for ordinary schools is an example of this tactic. The second tactic is intervention into areas of science important for shaping the worldview of modern man. The production of new "Orthodox" science textbooks and participation in the Maria Schreiber trial are examples of this second tactic.
Thus to a certain extent the strategies of the "scientific creationists" and the "clerical creationists" do not contradict each other and can co-exist peacefully in the same educational context as long as they face a common enemy: evolution. Both in Europe and in North America, it is biology — and particularly evolution — that is the primary target of creationism. Since the creation story takes up only a few pages of the Bible, and the rest is the history of the "holy people", one might therefore expect that the main attack would be against secular historical education, not against one of the natural sciences. But the crucial role biology, and especially evolutionary theory, plays as part of the modern scientific worldview has made it into an arena for major educational battles. This is the case in Russia much as it is in the rest of the world. As long as schools teach evolution as a fundamental theme in biology, religious anti-evolutionists will join together as allies in the battle to remove or neutralize it — even when these allies are themselves deeply divided over religious doctrine and theology. Even though the short-term goal of removing evolution causes the coalition to deemphasize the longer-term sectarian objectives, they are simmering just below the surface and present a clear and present danger to the nature of public education in Russia just as they do in other parts of the world.
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[Asked by Time magazine to provide a nomination for the 2007 Person of the Year, Frans de Waal wrote, "I nominate all the brave biology teachers of this nation who teach evolution despite the opposition they encounter. Without evolution, there is no biology; without biology, there is no medicine. It's as simple as that. These teachers arm their pupils with the knowledge they need, putting them on level footing with the rest of the world where evolutionary theory is uncontroversial." His words appeared in the November 26, 2007, issue of Time. NCSE asked him to amplify on his nomination, and we are pleased to publish his further comments here.]
I made this nomination and offered this quote, because I feel it is truly remarkable that so many teachers in this nation have the courage to go against the opinion of parents and sometimes school boards to defend science in the face of what I consider medieval ideas. The idea that the world was created a couple of thousand years ago is not any more believable than the idea that the cosmos revolves around the earth or that the earth is flat. To revamp this line of thinking by calling it "intelligent design" and giving it a scientific flavor doesn't change anything. The fact remains that 99%, or more, of my fellow biologists are convinced that evolution offers the most comprehensive and best theory, and that "intelligent design" is simply untestable, which is the worst thing scientists can say about any idea.
I admire the persistence of teachers to do what is right, to defend the evidence-based approach to the truth that is science, and to risk the wrath of people who believe that "theory" means "we don't know." In science, "theory" simply means that we have a way of finding out, which is far more than can be said of faith.
When I came to this country, one of the things that struck me right away is its irrational approach to biology. Mind you, this was twenty-five years ago, and at the time I just hoped it would blow over. It never did, however, and I have become pretty desperate about it. How come that all modern nations accept evolutionary theory and don't even consider it a point of debate, but not the US? Is it a small minority that thwarts progress, or is there a deep-down resistance? And if so, where does it come from?
One of the issues often brought up is the misunderstanding that if we were to believe that humans descended from "monkeys" and that God was not part of the process, this would imply the absence of a moral compass. Evolution would conflict, in this view, with a society based on values. People sometimes tell me, "to believe in evolution means I could rape my neighbor and it would be fine." I find this a strange idea, and I must say that in fact I don't very much like meeting people who are only stopped from raping their neighbor by their belief in God.
My personal belief is that nature is wonderful. For me, there is nothing negative about being part of nature. Moral rules, insofar as we have and obey them, have a basis in evolved human nature; hence in the animal kingdom as a whole. Nature does not prescribe how we should live, but it has given us the capacity for empathy and sympathy, and has produced cooperative tendencies, all of which we relied upon when we constructed a moral world.
Teachers should be free to communicate all of these exciting ideas about the role of biology and the evolution of the human species. Biology has so much to offer. It is in fact the most exciting discipline of our age, so let the teachers convey this excitement without being hampered by the outdated ideas of previous, uninformed eras.
[Textbook disclaimers are down, but not out. This satirical look at "only a theory" disclaimers imagines what might happen if advocates applied the same logic to the theory of gravitation that they do to the theory of evolution.]
All physics textbook should include this warning label:
This textbook contains material on Gravity. Universal Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding the natural law of attraction. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
The Universal Theory of Gravity is often taught in schools as a fact, when in fact it is not even a good theory.
First of all, no one has measured gravity for every atom and every star. It is simply a religious belief that it is "universal".
Secondly, school textbooks routinely make false statements. For example, "the moon goes around the earth." If the theory of gravity were true, it would show that the sun's gravitational force on the moon is much stronger than the earth's gravitational force on the moon, so the moon would go around the sun. Anybody can look up at night and see the obvious gaps in gravity theory.
The existence of tides is often taken as a proof of gravity, but this is logically flawed. Because if the moon's "gravity" were responsible for a bulge underneath it, then how can anyone explain a high tide on the opposite side of the earth at the same time? Anyone can observe that there are two — not one — high tides every day. It is far more likely that tides were given us by an Intelligent Creator long ago and they have been with us ever since. In any case, the fact that there are two high tides falsifies gravity.
There are numerous other flaws. For example, astronomers, who seem to have a fetish for gravity, tell us that the moon rotates on its axis but at the same time it always presents the same face to the earth. This is patently absurd. Moreover, if gravity were working on the early earth, then earth would have been bombarded out of existence by falling asteroids, meteors, comets, and other space junk. Furthermore, gravity theory suggests that the planets have been moving in orderly orbits for millions and millions of years, which wholly contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since everything in the Universe tends to disorder according to the Second Law, orderly orbits are impossible. This cannot be resolved by pointing to the huge outpouring of energy from the sun. In fact, it is known that the flux of photons from the sun and the "solar wind" actually tends to push earth away.
There are numerous alternative theories that should be taught on an equal basis. For example, the observed behavior of the earth's revolving around the sun can be perfectly explained if the sun has a net positive charge and the planets have a net negative charge, since opposite charges attract and the force is an inverse-square law, exactly as proposed by the increasingly discredited Theory of Gravity. Physics and chemistry texts emphasize that this is the explanation for electrons going around the nucleus, so if it works for atoms, why not for the solar system? The answer is simple: scientific orthodoxy.
The US Patent Office has never issued a patent for anti-gravity. Why is this? According to natural law and homeopathy, everything exists in opposites: good–evil; grace–sin; positive charges–negative charges; north poles–south poles; good vibes–bad vibes; and so on. We know there are anti-evolutionists, so why not anti-gravitationalists? It is clearly a matter of the scientific establishment elite's protecting their own. Anti-gravity papers are routinely rejected from peerreviewed journals, and scientists who propose anti-gravity quickly lose their funding. Universal gravity theory is just a way to keep the grant money flowing.
Even Isaac Newton, said to be the discoverer of gravity, knew there were problems with the theory. He claims to have invented the idea early in his life, but he knew that no mathematician of his day would approve his theory, so he invented a whole new branch of mathematics, called fluxions, just to "prove" his theory. This became calculus, a deeply flawed branch having to do with so-called "infinitesimals" which have never been observed. Then when Einstein invented a new theory of gravity, he, too, used an obscure bit of mathematics called tensors. It seems that every time there is a theory of gravity, it is mixed up with fringe mathematics. Newton, by the way,was far from a secular scientist, and the bulk of his writings is actually on theology and Christianity. His dabbling in gravity, alchemy, and calculus was a mere sideline, perhaps an aberration best left forgotten in describing his career and faith in a Creator.
To make matters worse, proponents of gravity theory hypothesize about mysterious things called gravitons and gravity waves. These have never been observed, and when some accounts of detecting gravity waves were published, the physicists involved had to quickly retract them. Every account of anti-gravity and gravity waves quickly elicits laughter. This is not a theory suitable for children. And even children can see how ridiculous it is to imagine that people in Australia are upside down with respect to us, as gravity theory would have it. If this is an example of the predictive power of the theory of gravity,we can see that at the core there is no foundation.
Gravity totally fails to explain why Saturn has rings and Jupiter does not. It utterly fails to account for obesity. In fact, what it does "explain" is far outweighed by what it does not explain.
When the planet Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, he relied on "gravitational calculations". But Tombaugh was a Unitarian, a liberal religious group that supports the Theory of Gravity. The modern-day Unitarian-Universalists continue to rely on liberal notions and dismiss ideas of anti-gravity as heretical. Tombaugh never even attempted to justify his "gravitational calculations" on the basis of Scripture, and he went on to be a founding member of the liberal Unitarian Fellowship of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The theory of gravity violates common sense in many ways. Adherents have a hard time explaining, for instance, why airplanes do not fall. Since anti-gravity is rejected by the scientific establishment, they resort to lots of hand-waving. The theory, if taken seriously, implies that the default position for all airplanes is on the ground. While this seems true for Northwest Airlines, it appears that JetBlue and Southwest have a superior theory that effectively harnesses forces that overcome so-called gravity.
It is unlikely that the Law of Gravity will be repealed given the present geo-political climate, but there is no need to teach unfounded theories in the public schools. There is, indeed, evidence that the Theory of Gravity is having a grave effect on morality. Activist judges and left-leaning teachers often use the phrase "what goes up must come down" as a way of describing gravity, and relativists have been quick to apply this to moral standards and common decency.
Finally, the mere name‚ "Universal Theory of Gravity" or "Theory of Universal Gravity" (the secularists like to use confusing language) has a distinctly socialist ring to it. The core idea of "to each according to his weight, from each according to his mass" is communistic. There is no reason that gravity should apply to the just and the unjust equally, and the saved should have relief from such "universalism." If we have Universal Gravity now, then universal health care will be sure to follow. It is this kind of universalism that saps a nation's moral fiber. It is not even clear why we need a theory of gravity: there is not a single mention in the Bible, and the patriotic Founding Fathers never referred to it.
Overall, the Theory of Universal Gravity is just not an attractive theory. It is based on borderline evidence, has many serious gaps in what it claims to explain, is clearly wrong in important respects, and has social and moral deficiencies. If taught in the public schools, by mis-directed "educators", it has to be balanced with alternative,more attractive theories with genuine gravamen and spiritual gravitas.
There are only a few names within the field of primatology that are recognizable to the general public, and Frans de Waal certainly falls into this category. The noted Emory University primatologist has studied our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, for nearly 30 years. He has authored countless scientific articles and texts, as well as several books. While his previous works have focused on such topics as chimpanzee politics and ape social complexity, de Waal's 2005 book looks at similarities between humans and our two closest living ape relatives. Entitled Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are, this book looks at various aspects of what most people believe to be distinctively human characteristics, including love, kindness, and power, explaining them in the context of our evolutionary cousins: chimpanzees and bonobos.
Yet instead of simply describing cultural traits that we may share with chimpanzees or bonobos, de Waal continually poses the question: to which species we are more similar, the often-violent chimpanzee, or the peaceful and overtly sexual bonobo? De Waal attempts to find an answer to this question through the examination of the human characteristics of power, sex, violence, and kindness.
One of the strengths of de Waal's writing is his vast amount of first-hand experience, having worked with chimps and bonobos at facilities both in his native Netherlands and in the US. De Waal uses these experiences to help to explain important similarities between human and chimpanzee/bonobo cultures. In chapters on power, sex, violence, and kindness, he offers powerful examples of how chimpanzees or bonobos exhibit the characteristic in question, often in a very humanlike manner. Indeed, it is these examples, peppered throughout each chapter, that allow this book to be enjoyed by a wide audience.
For instance, in the chapter on power, de Waal describes a struggle for male dominance that took place between three chimpanzees in the Arnhem zoo in Amsterdam. In this touching story, de Waal tells how the alpha male, Luit, was attacked by two other chimps, Yeoren and Nikkie, as a response to Luit's fast ascent to power within the group. Yeoren and Nikkie had formed an alliance, whose purpose was to get rid of Luit and then take over control of the group. Unfortunately, Luit did not survive the encounter, and this display of both violence and strategy leads de Waal to remark, "Those two had been plotting against him in order to take back the power they had lost. The shocking way they did so opened my eyes to how deadly seriously chimpanzees take their politics" (p 43). Noting that political murder is also present in our species, de Waal observes that the struggle for power among both chimpanzees and humans illustrates just how closely related to each other we are.
However, though humans' violent nature can be compared accurately to that of chimpanzees, perhaps our sex drive can be compared more accurately to that of bonobos. Bonobos used to be known as "pygmy chimpanzees," but have since been upgraded to their own separate species within the family of great apes. Though they are physically similar to chimpanzees, their social structure and culture is markedly different, especially with regard to sex. De Waal examines human sexuality in the same way he examines human violence: in the context of our ape relatives. Indeed, de Waal begins his discussion on sexuality by asking, "Why are people and bonobos such sexual hedonists? Why are we endowed with sexual appetites beyond those needed to fertilize the occasional egg and beyond the partners who make this possible?" (p 96). De Waal then continues on an exploration of multiple aspects of both human and ape sexuality, covering such topics as homosexuality, child-rearing, and infanticide. He then ends his discussion on how we came to differ from bonobos in our sexuality, pointing to the evolution of the nuclear family as a step towards reduction of overt sexual competition, which in turn increased cooperation among these family units. De Waal finally proposes that our success as a species may have been a result of an abandonment of the "bonobo lifestyle" in favor of a tighter control of our sexual expressions.
De Waal's final chapter takes the characteristics on which he focuses — power, sex, violence, and kindness — and asks which species humans are more similar to: chimpanzees or bonobos? However, de Waal argues that attempting to categorize ourselves in this way is fruitless, as we humans are much too bipolar: we cooperate and we compete,we are characterized by hate and by love. Further, de Waal argues that if we are "essentially apes, or at least descended from apes,we are born with a gamut of tendencies from the basest to the noblest. ... our morality is a product of the same selection process that shaped our competitive and aggressive side"(p 237). In other words, when attempting to discover from where our humanity evolved, we must look towards both our closest living relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos; and that both these species represent our two "inner apes."
De Waal's exploration of our "inner ape" is largely readable and often engaging, and even a reader with only a general interest in primatology would have no trouble understanding the arguments that de Waal presents. However, advanced primatologists and students might find the subject matter rather basic, as there is not much new research discussed in the book. In addition, the reliance on vivid, often emotional examples may put off some veteran primatologists who would prefer a more straightforward or dry approach. Yet it is clear that de Waal was not trying to create a data-heavy textbook on human and ape cultures. Rather, de Waal's argument that humans exhibit important qualities of both chimpanzees and bonobos is well-developed, organized, and is complemented by excellent examples from his years in close contact with these animals. As a result, the reader is left with a solid understanding of what it means to be human, as well as what it means to be an ape; something that would be appealing to anyone with a general interest in anthropology and psychology.
The most common criticism anyone involved in the evolution/creationism controversy is likely to hear is that evolution is just a theory, and thus there's no reason to privilege it over other ideas. Although Ben-Ari does not focus exclusively on evolution, he does pay it significant attention as he attempts to explain what it means for a scientific idea to rise to the level of theory.
He does a nice job, for example, of comparing the theory of gravity to the theory of evolution, pointing out that while there is no public controversy over the former, a great deal more is actually known about the latter. Sophisticated evolutionary mechanisms abound with a great deal of research being produced each year designed to determine the conditions under which each operates. A mechanism for gravity, on the other hand, is still purely conjectural with no solid evidence that gravitons — gravitational waves, and particles hypothesized to be "analogous to the electromagnetic waves and photons that come from electromagnetic fields" — actually exist. In the light, somewhat humorous style that permeates the book, Ben- Ari concludes, "Currently, the evidence [for gravitons] is controversial, so we must live with the embarrassment of risking our lives on a theory whose mechanism is not fully understood" (p 32).
Ben-Ari makes his comparative point very clear: "the theory of evolution more than fulfills all of the requirements of scientific 'theoryhood,' even more than the theory of gravitation.To brand evolution as 'just a theory' is the finest compliment one can confer on it!" (p 38).
The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this discrepancy is that those who attack evolution for being just a theory are clearly not doing so on scientific grounds. If the theory of gravity could be interpreted by some to have political ramifications, it too would be attacked by those who disagreed with those political extensions. What's important to remember, though, is that the misuse of scientific concepts, purposefully or ignorantly, when those concepts are brought into the public arena should have no bearing on their underlying scientific validity. Ben- Ari appropriately explains that science is a discipline that strictly imposes self-limitations."Few people appreciate that modern science is quite limited in scope and restricts itself to description and explanation of natural phenomena; on purpose, science does not deal with purpose" (p x).
Ben-Ari deals with the basics of the epistemology of science, how we know what we know, in a straightforward and readable fashion that is fully accessible to the general reader. He covers the importance of falsification, makes critical distinctions between the technical use of terms and the common use of the same words, provides a cursory overview of the use of statistics in science (focusing mostly on medical examples), and offers abbreviated critiques of the sociology of science and postmodern attacks on science. Taken together, all of this allows Ben-Ari to accomplish his main goal of helping readers "distinguish claims that are provisional and debatable, from claims that are so well established that rejecting them drives one over the border that divides real science from pseudoscience, which are activities that illegitimately wrap themselves in the mantle of science" (p ix).
The more sophisticated reader, one who is already fairly well immersed in the evolution/creationism controversy, is not likely to find much new in the book. Similarly, this is not the book for those looking for specific refutations of creationist assertions about their "discipline" or for ammunition to rebut creationist attacks on evolution beyond those of the "it's just a theory" genre.
Ben-Ari ends each chapter with a very short vignette of a famous scientist. These interesting but fairly superficial asides are designed to humanize the face of science and to demonstrate that science is always conducted within a cultural and historical context. The twelve people discussed include such notables as Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Pasteur and Pauling, but, unfortunately only one woman, mathematician Emmy Noether, is included.
By covering topics as varied as the nature of reductionism, geology, and the future of science, in addition to the epistemological approaches mentioned above, in such a short book it is not surprising that Ben-Ari is barely able to scratch the surface of any one of them. He has provided the equivalent of a tasty appetizer, one that might be the precursor to an elegant meal. Many readers will likely finish the book ready for the next, more substantial, course — and that's not a bad thing!
Other than the tantalizing clue of a dedication "To my fellow evangelicals," Angus Gunn offers little sense of the purpose or intended audience for this short, polemical work. Whether these referenced evangelists are spreading the good news of the Christian gospels or the modern evolutionary synthesis is not clear, though his book seems to lament the drift of ever more American Christians into anti-evolutionist camps. Evangelical Christian fundamentalists and nonfundamentalists might agree on very little, he asserts, but they "find common ground in their opposition to the theory of evolution" (p 53). How they came to this state, and why that poses a problem for modern America, is the focus of the book.
The major theme of Gunn's work is "the importance of modern science and the tragedy of fundamentalist rejection of it for such a long time" (p 2). Gunn attacks one side of this problem in the final chapter, offering a few case studies of how biological research has been important in improving "human welfare". Concentrating on recent advances in genetics and their positive impact on medicine, Gunn also appends a listing of "medical breakthroughs over 100 years" at the end of his book (p 189–90). The role of biological research in these advances is not entirely clear, and it seems that Gunn could have strengthened his case for the plausibility of evolution by examining how human pathogens actually evolve and not just stating that science is finding ways to combat disease.
Perhaps too easily blurring distinctions among "creationists, ... proponents of intelligent design, [and] fundamentalists" (p 3), Gunn nonetheless offers some helpful insights into what unites anti-evolutionists. In less temperate moments he damns them all as "just defending the past" (p 1), but at his best Gunn demonstrates the binding thread of a "common sense" approach to science, theology, and even political philosophy that lies at the heart of an evangelical rejection of evolutionary biology. The problem with such a belief, he notes incisively, is that these claims to inductive study of science or scripture mask the reality that the reader or Baconian scientist are still engaged in a process of interpretation. Theological fundamentalists seek to privilege their readings as the most authentic, but their conclusions are no less bound up with their own times and concerns than are those of theological modernists or evolutionary biologists. Gunn seems unwilling to pursue these insights about interpretation into science, boldly claiming,"science is and always has been free from issues of ethics and morality" (p 4), despite the growing literature in the social history of science since Thomas Kuhn's path-breaking The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970).
Too often Gunn falls into an approach he criticizes when used by anti-evolutionists; like several chapters in The Fundamentals, the early-twentieth-century handbook of theologically conservative Christian thought, Gunn's book frequently proves more "vitriolic rather than critical" (p 93). He describes evolutionary opponents as practitioners of a "mindless fundamentalism"( p 22) who refuse "to deal rationally" (p 39) with modern science. He even turns on its head the oft-used anti-evolutionist attack linking belief in evolution with the Prussian militarism of World War I or the Nazi atrocities of World War II. Gunn explains the success of George McCready Price's flood geology with an explicit connection to Adolf Hitler, suggesting that both perpetrated "a big lie" (p 160) with disastrous consequences. I am not suggesting a purity of motive for anti-evolutionists — among other sources, evidence from the 2005 Dover trial demonstrated a clear pattern of deception on the part of several proponents of "intelligent design" — but to equate opponents of naturalistic evolution with a mass murderer of historic proportions is sure to produce more heat than light.
Beyond the excess of vitriol, Gunn's volume suffers from insufficient background in the admittedly voluminous secondary literature. He asserts that Dayton, site of the 1925 Scopes trial,"was as fundamentalist as any place in America" (p 106), although as Edward Larson has demonstrated, the town was mostly Methodist and had a higher percentage of non-church members than many surrounding towns (Larson 1997: 92–3). Careless editing leads Gunn to several confusing passages: he covers the same topics in multiple places, at times repeating multiple sentences verbatim (for example on p 120 and 161, on Henry Morris); he seems to regard Stephen Jay Gould as a contemporary of Karl Marx and a precursor to the Russian Revolution (p 103); and he suggests that modern scientists no longer regard "naturalism ... as very important" (p 129).
US President Warren G Harding (1921–23) reportedly remarked "I have no trouble with my enemies, but my damn friends ... they're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!" The President was reacting to accusations lodged against several members of his short-lived administration; Harding complained that allegations of wrongdoing by others prevented him from pursuing his agenda. While there is no hint of corruption, malfeasance, or malicious intent in the volume under review, Angus Gunn's combative approach and inattentive editing might leave defenders of the teaching of evolution in public schools wandering the hallways after dark. In short, it is neither a very effective tool for explaining to evolutionists why fundamentalist Christians cannot accept the central arguments of modern biology nor for converting anti-evolutionists to an understanding of the importance of modern science.
Kuhn TS. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Larson EJ. 1997. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. New York: Basic Books.
Peter Cook, a philosopher with a degree from the University of Sydney, suffers from terminal objectivity — the idea that you have to give equal consideration to both sides of any controversy, whether or not both sides have equal merit. Why all the fuss indeed! There is a fuss because a tiny handful of well-funded activists, few of them scientists, have set themselves up to undermine the theory of evolution and thereby all of science, because evolution does not fit well with their preconceived religious notions. You would not know that from reading this book. Indeed, on page 45, Cook swallows, hook, line, and sinker, the contention that "intelligent design" creationism is not religious in origin because it does not "rule out the possibility that the intelligent designer may in fact be a hyper-intelligent race of aliens from another galaxy!"
Cook's approach is to present competing factoids so that, as the back cover of the book advises, "You, the reader, can make up your own mind." No one, layperson or not, can make an informed decision about a highly technical subject like evolution on the basis of a sequence of 100-word factoids.
It does not help that Cook conflates "intelligent design" creationism with creationism in general, as when he notes, incorrectly, that "intelligent design" creationism uses the supposed absence of transitional fossils as evidence against speciation or macroevolution. It also does not help that the book is badly proofread and contains a number of annoying factual errors. For example, contrary to Cook, Darwin was unaware of genetic variation and genetic drift. Galileo did not devise the heliocentric theory in 1616 (nor at any other time). Darwin did not publish the Origin of Species in 1859 when he "got wind of a similar theory being proposed by fellow naturalist Alfred Wallace"; Darwin and Wallace published jointly in 1858, the year before the Origin was published. Design does not necessarily imply purpose. Energy is not exerted; entropy is not lost energy or "spent energy that loses its direction."The No Free Lunch theorems are not physics. Genesis and the fossil record do not agree. And so on.
Cook writes,"Evolution is a theory in the sense that it is a story about how all past and present life on our planet came to be as it was, and as it now is." If he thinks that a scientific theory is just a story,then it is no wonder that he cannot choose between evolution and creationism. Cook goes on to say that "scientists are more likely to simply assume the idea of evolution from the outset ..." as if that assumption were an arbitrary choice based on faith. Scientists,he says, could in principle "find data which simply cannot be made to fit with the theory of evolution. This [finding] would imply that the theory of evolution is wrong." He then argues, correctly but inconsistently, that scientists "constantly" find things they cannot explain but, rather than doubt the theory of evolution, try to explain any apparently anomalous results within the context of the theory. "So," asks Cook, "is it possible to challenge the validity of the theory of evolution?"The short answer is no, probably not.The theory of evolution is far too well established to be challenged, for example, by a handful of anomalous data or carping criticisms based on tenuous concepts like specified complexity or irreducible complexity.
The structure of the book is like a he said–she said story: "intelligent design" creationism says this; evolution says that. Or sometimes evolution says this; creationism says that.Almost no argument runs longer than one page, and they are mighty small pages at 5 x 7 inches. Arguments on both sides are presented without comment; readers are left to decide which arguments they prefer, but they are given no guidance whatsoever. For example, Cook repeats uncritically William Dembski's spurious claim that the No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems prove that no search algorithm performs better than a blind search. On the facing page, he notes that evolution has no target and that the NFL theorems do not apply to co-evolution. But he leaves out the crucial fact that Dembski is prevaricating: the NFL theorems do not apply to a single search algorithm in a single environment (that is, a single fitness function) but to the average over all fitness functions. In other words, the NFL theorems are irrelevant to evolution under any conditions, and discussion of a target or coevolution is beside the point.
As a specialist in optics, I was particularly amused by Cook's uncritical repetition of the creationist claim that the parts of the eye are arranged precisely as a human engineer would have arranged them. I do not know about Cook's eye, but mine would be a lot better if the nerves were not on top of the retina. As it is,the nerves have to pass through a hole in the retina, and we can get glaucoma if the tensile force on the nerves gets too great. In addition, if I were designing an eye, I would have made the retina lie on a plane, I would not have designed such a small area of high resolution, and I would have made a lens that did not get stiff and opaque with age. I suppose an automatic exposure control would have been a bit too much to ask for, but at a minimum I would have made the nerves that attach to the rods and cones go to different parts of the brain so that the user could switch rapidly between rods and cones and not have to wait minutes or longer to accommodate to darkness. Nature did what it could with the materials at hand, but, frankly, if I had been around at the appropriate time, I might have made some good suggestions. Cook observes that biochemists sometimes reverse-engineer a system and says they find "design decisions" built into those systems; he uses the possibility of reverse-engineering as evidence that biochemical systems may have been designed. I certainly hope they are better designed than my eye, but I doubt it. Indeed, I would argue that the existence of demonstrably suboptimal systems militates against a design argument.
Not everything in this little book is bad. But, apart from the errors, Cook's dogged refusal to take a stand is vexing, if not downright irresponsible.Not every question has two sides, and some truth claims are better supported than others. "intelligent design" creationism is bunk and should be treated as such.
"Long ago, humans intuited that the Universe had a beginning, and told creation stories the world over. Science now confirms that ancient tradition."
— Jennifer Morgan
Mammals Who Morph is the third and final book in Jennifer Morgan's trilogy for children on the earth's history, preceded by Born with a Bang and From Lava to Life. As in her previous two accounts, Morgan's chronicle opens with a "Letter from the Universe" in which the reader is invited to follow the universe's life story, as told in first-person by the universe.
As readers, our time travels begin with "mousy mini-mammals" who "ruled the nights" in a world of giant dinosaurs "who ruled the days"; that is until the great meteor struck the earth 65 million years ago. The mini-mammals then disperse across the land, sea, and air, with some mammals returning to an "easier life" in the seas.
Along the way, Morgan effectively demonstrates the powerful force of co-evolution using an example of the bargain struck between horses and grasses. "Unlike other plants, grass grew from the bottom so it didn't get damaged when the top was eaten ... over time the horses ... had just the right teeth for grinding grass." Hominins enter the story wielding a variety of tools and strategies for survival, capturing the power of fire and sun, and close the story by confronting the current environmental crisis with the "creative powers of the universe that reside within each of us: imagination, love, and decision making."
Throughout the storyline, the universe moves from "crisis to crisis". In each episodic occurrence, Morgan characterizes the crisis as an opportunity for inventiveness and emphasizes how the interconnectedness of all life forms is very much in evidence today. For example, a lightning storm brings fire to the humans; a human's backbone was "fashioned by fish"; the deepest part of the brain was "built by reptiles"; the cells "are directly descended from ancient single cell organisms"; the rotating shoulder was "developed by primates in trees".
Morgan's tale is vividly told and thoughtfully supportive of teachers or parents who plan to use this narrative with their children. Each page contains a timeline of events and in the footer Morgan succinctly captures the science concept or concepts being developed. For example, when she relates how the "morphing of the earth" resulted in the creation of wide-open plains, the science concepts are listed as "Earth cools down and new partnerships form"and a page number links the reader to a more complete scientific explanation of the event. Morgan also provides the reader with a comprehensive list of books, videos, and websites to use in extending the scientific concepts introduced.
While Morgan's combination of storytelling and science is a compelling format for young readers, it may also prove provocative for some. First Nations readers will likely be troubled by the reference to the peopling of North America via the Bering Strait; their creation narratives do not recognize migration from Asia. Is this a case where Morgan's personification of the universe undermines her effort to advance the reader's scientific way of knowing the world? Will the reader infer then that the theory of evolution is just another story?
As I pondered these questions and how Morgan might respond, I read Morgan's farewell to the reader. Here she explains that "God is purposefully not in the story so that it can be embraced by people of all religious traditions, or of none at all ... people usually refer to "God" as a transcendent, supernatural creator who exists outside the physical world ... today we're rediscovering a sense of divine creativity, not simply in the transcendent mode, but also as immanent, as present in the Universe itself."
While this adieu did not provide an answer to any of my questions, I do know this. In these pages Morgan elegantly captures the richness and wonder of an interdependent and ever changing world where who we are cannot be separated from where we are.
Pamela Winnick is an attorney and former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who has written several articles that lean against evolution and in favor of "intelligent design". I recently forced myself to read her 2005 book, A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion. It was not a pleasant experience.
Winnick's book covers a variety of topics: abortion, population control, eugenics, medical experimentation, the Scopes trial, the theory of evolution, "intelligent design", and fetal tissue research. Her thesis — if this rambling, disjointed book can be said to have one — is contained in the book's final paragraph: "The Galileo prototype of the scientist martyred by religion is now purely a myth. Science long ago won its war against religion, not just traditional religion, but any faith in a power outside the human mind. Now it wants more" (p 298).
Throughout the book, scientists are depicted as crazed, power-hungry, and immoral. Only religion, Winnick implies, can rein in these dangerous nuts who threaten society.
Winnick's claim that "science long ago won its war against religion" is far too glib. Ironically, 2005 also saw the publication of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science (New York: Basic Books, 2005; reviewed in RNCSE 2005 May–Aug; 25 [3–4]: 45–6), a far better documented book that shows in depressing detail how American science has been subjugated to the political and especially religious goals of the Christian right.
Winnick's reporting is often sloppy. Incidents are slanted to support her thesis, names are misspelled (Stanislaw Ulam's last name is comically morphed into "Ulsam"; Richard Lewontin's middle initial is given incorrectly), quotes are mined (sometimes incorrectly), and some "facts" are just plain made up (see below).
Here is an example of a mined quote. Winnick claims, "In a 1997 piece in the New York Times, Dawkins famously remarked that anyone who does not believe in evolution is 'stupid, and ignorant and ... wicked' (emphasis added)" (p 161). However, Dawkins's actual remark was "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Winnick entirely changed the meaning of the quote by replacing Dawkins's "or"s with "and"s. Further, Dawkins's remark did not appear in 1997; it appeared in an April 9, 1989, book review.
As might be expected of someone with no scientific training, Winnick displays multiple misunderstandings of science. In this, she joins several other lawyers who have criticized evolution, such as Phillip Johnson (Darwin on Trial), Norman Macbeth (Darwin Retried), and Dean Overman (A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization). (Oddly enough, the reverse case — evolutionary biologists writing books about law — does not seem to occur.) And despite the fact that Winnick claims to be a "practicing Jew and liberal Democrat", her book uses the same nasty and dishonest rhetorical tricks that are the staple of far-right Christian creationists.
First, let us look at some of Winnick's misunderstandings.
On page 110, Winnick claims that, although evolution cannot be observed, "evolution could be inferred from the rapid variations that occur within a given species. During his famed five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin observed these variations first hand. On a stop in the Galápagos Islands, he noticed the different beak sizes and shapes among the finches that had flown in from the mainland, each settling on a different island" (emphasis in original). Winnick fails to understand that the Galápagos finches are not merely variations "within" a species (here she merely echoes a typical creationist objection to evolution), but different species — in fact, thirteen different species in the Galápagos. And of course, evolution can be observed, as speciation has been observed in both the laboratory and the wild. How many times can these creationist falsehoods be repeated? Why does Winnick not subject these false claims to some critical scrutiny?
Later on the same page, Winnick writes (in a footnote), "The word 'theory' when used in science is different from its ordinary use. A scientific theory is considered virtually the same as fact." While the first sentence is correct, one can only stare open-mouthed at the ignorance of the second. A theory is not the same as a fact; otherwise how could one speak of competing scientific theories? Rather, a theory in the scientific sense is a coherent system of explanation for natural phenomena, testable by experiments, that makes predictions and explains observations. Some theories are better supported than others; only the really wellsupported theories, such as gravity and evolution, can be considered as similar to facts, keeping in mind that in science every explanation is provisional.
Winnick also claims that "Darwin's theory was inspired not by science, but by the politics of his time" (p 111). Although it is true that Darwin hit on natural selection by an analogy with Malthus, it is misrepresentation to suggest that his theory was inspired by politics alone. Has Winnick never read the Origin of Species? If so, she would have known that Darwin patiently built his scientific case for evolution on a host of supporting facts, not politics. And her history is wrong, too, since Darwin began his transmutation notebook (the "B" notebook) in 1837, but did not make the connection with Malthus's essay until 1838.
But then, Winnick is no stranger to misrepresentations. In 2001, she claimed, "I am, however, writing a book about the subject showing how the media and scientific elite has stifled meaningful debate on the subject. In doing so, I am indeed supported ($25 000) by the Phillips Foundation, an organization which takes absolutely no position on the subject of evolution, but which seeks to promote fair and balanced reporting in all subject areas." However, Wesley Elsberry took a look at the Phillips Foundation web page and found that Winnick's fellowship was then described as follows: "Project: 'Examination of How Media and Established Scientists Treat the Subject of Evolution,' analyzing why there seems to be little tolerance for teaching creationism in America." (See http://www.anti-evolution.org/events/pbsevo/wre_prw_20011129.html for details.) Since then, the Phillips Foundation has altered its web page and the description of Winnick's project.
Another creationist trick that Winnick uses is credential inflation. Phillip Johnson, a law professor with no biological training, is described as "brilliant". Ironically, on page 195, Winnick asks, "how likely was it that Alec Baldwin or Kim Basinger or any of the many other glitzy Hollywood stars had ever seriously studied biology or understood Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection or ever read anything on the subject other than PFAW press releases?" Offhand, I'd say it is about the same likelihood that Phillip Johnson or William Dembski or David Berlinski has seriously studied biology, but Winnick does not hesitate to tout them as experts.
No creationist saw is too unreliable for Winnick to repeat. Here are a few examples:
A nameless Chinese paleontologist is quoted on page 198 as saying, "In China we can criticize Darwin, but not the government; in America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin." Neither Winnick nor others who have used the quote, including Phillip Johnson and Jonathan Wells, have ever identified the paleontologist or provided any corroboration for the anecdote.
On page 122, two brief quotes from mathematicians expressing skepticism about the mathematical feasibility of neo-Darwinism are presented as representing the consensus of the 1966 Wistar Institute Symposium. Winnick says that their dissent was ignored and their objections "faded into oblivion" because of ideological resistance, not considering the possibility that they were mistaken.
Fred Hoyle's "tornado in a junkyard" objection to current theories of abiogenesis is mentioned on page 172 as if it represented a scientific result rather than his own expression of incredulity and as if no progress had occurred in origins- of-life research in the 25 years between Hoyle's comment (in his 1983 book The Intelligent Universe) and Winnick's book.
Liberal Democrat or not, this book cements Pamela Winnick's reputation as a flack for the Christian right. It is not a fair, reliable, or objective look at the battles between science and religion. It appears to me that Winnick has a bad case of science envy.