Volume 17 (1997)

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Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
1
Year: 
1997
Date: 
January–February
Articles available online are listed below.

Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Author(s): 
Richard Dawkins
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
1
Year: 
1997
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
8–14
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

You could give Aristotle a tutorial. And you could thrill him to the core of his being. Aristotle was an encyclopedic polymath, an all time intellect. Yet not only can you know more than him about the world. You also can have a deeper understanding of how everything works. Such is the privilege of living after Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Watson, Crick and their colleagues.

I'm not saying you're more intelligent than Aristotle, or wiser. For all I know, Aristotle's the cleverest person who ever lived. That's not the point. The point is only that science is cumulative, and we live later.

Aristotle had a lot to say about astronomy, biology and physics. But his views sound weirdly naive today. Not as soon as we move away from science, however. Aristotle could walk straight into a modern seminar on ethics, theology, political or moral philosophy, and contribute. But let him walk into a modern science class and he'd be a lost soul. Not because of the jargon, but because science advances, cumulatively.

Here's a small sample of the things you could tell Aristotle, or any other Greek philosopher. And surprise and enthrall them, not just with the facts themselves but with how they hang together so elegantly.

The earth is not the center of the universe. It orbits the sun — which is just another star. There is no music of the spheres, but the chemical elements, from which all matter is made, arrange themselves cyclically, in something like octaves. There are not four elements but about 100. Earth, air, fire and water are not among them.

Living species are not isolated types with unchanging essences. Instead, over a time scale too long for humans to imagine, they split and diverge into new species, which then go on diverging further and further. For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria. Aristotle was a distant cousin to a squid, a closer cousin to a monkey, a closer cousin still to an ape (strictly speaking, Aristotle was an ape, an African ape, a closer cousin to a chimpanzee than a chimp is to an orangutan).

The brain is not for cooling the blood. It's what you use to do your logic and your metaphysics. It's a three dimensional maze of a million million nerve cells, each one drawn out like a wire to carry pulsed messages. If you laid all your brain cells end to end, they'd stretch round the world 25 times. There are about 4 million million connections in the tiny brain of a chaffinch, proportionately more in ours.

Now, if you're anything like me, you'll have mixed feelings about that recitation. On the one hand, pride in what Aristotle's species now knows and didn't then. On the other hand an uneasy feeling of, "Isn't it all a bit complacent? What about our descendants, what will they be able to tell us?"

Yes, for sure, the process of accumulation doesn't stop with us. 2000 years hence, ordinary people who have read a couple of books will be in a position to give a tutorial to today's Aristotles: to Francis Crick, say, or Stephen Hawking. So does this mean that our view of the universe will turn out to be just as wrong?

Let's keep a sense of proportion about this! Yes, there's much that we still don't know. But surely our belief that the earth is round and not flat, and that it orbits the sun, will never be superseded. That alone is enough to confound those, endowed with a little philosophical learning, who deny the very possibility of objective truth: those so-called relativists who see no reason to prefer scientific views over aboriginal myths about the world.

Our belief that we share ancestors with chimpanzees, and more distant ancestors with monkeys, will never be superseded although details of timing may change. Many of our ideas, on the other hand, are still best seen as theories or models whose predictions, so far, have survived the test. Physicists disagree over whether they are condemned forever to dig for deeper mysteries, or whether physics itself will come to an end in a final 'theory of everything', a nirvana of knowledge. Meanwhile, there is so much that we don't yet understand, we should loudly proclaim those things that we do, so as to focus attention on problems that we should be working on.

Far from being over-confident, many scientists believe that science advances only by disproof of its hypotheses. Konrad Lorenz said he hoped to disprove at least one of his own hypotheses every day before breakfast. That was absurd, especially coming from the grand old man of the science of ethology, but it is true that scientists, more than others, impress their peers by admitting their mistakes.

A formative influence on my undergraduate self was the response of a respected elder statesmen of the Oxford Zoology Department when an American visitor had just publicly disproved his favorite theory. The old man strode to the front of the lecture hall, shook the American warmly by the hand and declared in ringing, emotional tones: "My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years." And we clapped our hands red. Can you imagine a Government Minister being cheered in the House of Commons for a similar admission? "Resign, Resign" is a much more likely response!

Yet there is hostility towards science. And not just from the green ink underlining brigade, but from published novelists and newspaper columnists. Newspaper columns are notoriously ephemeral, but their drip drip, week after week, or day after day, repetition gives them influence and power, and we have to notice them. A peculiar feature of the British press is the regularity with which some of its leading columnists return to attack science — and not always from a vantage point of knowledge. A few weeks ago, Bernard Levin's effusion in The Times was entitled "God, me and Dr. Dawkins" and it had the subtitle: "Scientists don't know and nor do I — but at least I know I don't know".

It is no mean task to plumb the full depths of what Mr. Bernard Levin does not know, but here's an illustration of the gusto with which he boasts of it.

Despite their access to copious research funds, today's scientists have yet to prove that a quark is worth a bag of beans. The quarks are coming! The quarks are coming! Run for your lives . . .! Yes, I know I shouldn't jeer at science, noble science, which, after all, gave us mobile telephones, collapsible umbrellas and multi-striped toothpaste, but science really does ask for it . . . Now I must be serious. Can you eat quarks? Can you spread them on your bed when the cold weather comes?

It doesn't deserve a reply, but the distinguished Cambridge scientist, Sir Alan Cottrell, wrote a brief Letter to the Editor:— "Sir: Mr. Bernard Levin asks 'Can you eat quarks?' I estimate that he eats 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 quarks a day."

It has become almost a cliché to remark that nobody boasts of ignorance of literature, but it is socially acceptable to boast ignorance of science and proudly claim incompetence in mathematics. In Britain, that is. I believe the same is not true of our more successful economic competitors, Germany, the United States and Japan.

People certainly blame science for nuclear weapons and similar horrors. It's been said before but needs to be said again: if you want to do evil, science provides the most powerful weapons to do evil; but equally, if you want to do good, science puts into your hands the most powerful tools to do so. The trick is to want the right things, then science will provide you with the most effective methods of achieving them.

An equally common accusation is that science goes beyond its remit. It's accused of a grasping take-over bid for territory that properly belongs to other disciplines such as theology. On the other hand — you can't win! — listen to the novelist Fay Weldon's hymn of hate against 'the scientists' in The Daily Telegraph.

Don't expect us to like you. You promised us too much and failed to deliver. You never even tried to answer the questions we all asked when we were six. Where did Aunt Maud go when she died? Where was she before she was born? . . . And who cares about half a second after the Big Bang; what about half a second before? And what about crop circles?

More than some of my colleagues, I am perfectly happy to give a simple and direct answer to both those Aunt Maud questions. But I'd certainly be called arrogant and presumptuous, going beyond the limits of science.

Then there's the view that science is dull and plodding, with rows of pens in its top pocket. Here's another newspaper columnist, A A Gill, writing on science this year in The Sunday Times.

Science is constrained by experiment results and the tedious, plodding stepping stones of empiricism . . . What appears on television just is more exciting than what goes on in the back of it . . . That's art, luvvie: theater, magic, fairy dust, imagination, lights, music, applause, my public. There are stars and there are stars, darling. Some are dull, repetitive squiggles on paper, and some are fabulous, witty, thought-provoking, incredibly popular...."

The 'dull, repetitive squiggles' is a reference to the discovery of pulsars in 1967, by Jocelyn Bell and Anthony Hewish. Jocelyn Bell Burnell had recounted on television the spine-tingling moment when, a young woman on the threshold of a career, she first knew she was in the presence of something hitherto unheard-of in the universe. Not something new under the sun, a whole new kind of sun, which rotates, so fast that, instead of taking 24 hours like our planet, it takes a quarter of a second. Darling, how too plodding, how madly empirical my dear!

Could science just be too difficult for some people, and therefore seem threatening? Oddly enough, I wouldn't dare to make such a suggestion, but I am happy to quote a distinguished literary scholar, John Carey, the present Merton Professor of English at Oxford:

The annual hordes competing for places on arts courses in British universities, and the trickle of science applicants, testify to the abandonment of science among the young. Though most academics are wary of saying it straight out, the general consensus seems to be that arts courses are popular because they are easier, and that most arts students would simply not be up to the intellectual demands of a science course.

My own view is that the sciences can be intellectually demanding, but so can classics, so can history, so can philosophy. On the other hand, nobody should have trouble understanding things like the circulation of the blood and the heart's role in pumping it round. Carey quoted Donne's lines to a class of 30 undergraduates in their final year reading English at Oxford:

"Knows't thou how blood, which to the heart doth flow,
Doth from one ventricle to the other go?"

Carey asked them how, as a matter of fact, the blood does flow. None of the thirty could answer, and one tentatively guessed that it might be 'by osmosis'. The truth — that the blood is pumped from ventricle to ventricle through at least 50 miles of intricately dissected capillary vessels throughout the body — should fascinate any true literary scholar. And unlike, say, quantum theory or relativity, it isn't hard to understand. So I tender a more charitable view than Professor Carey. I wonder whether some of these young people might have been positively turned off science.

Last month I had a letter from a television viewer who poignantly began: "I am a clarinet teacher whose only memory of science at school was a long period of studying the Bunsen burner." Now, you can enjoy the Mozart concerto without being able to play the clarinet. You can be a discerning and informed concert critic without being able to play a note. Of course music would come to a halt if nobody learned to play it. But if everybody left school thinking you had to play an instrument before you could appreciate music, think how impoverished many lives would be.

Couldn't we treat science in the same way? Yes, we must have Bunsen burners and dissecting needles for those drawn to advanced scientific practice. But perhaps the rest if us could have separate classes in science appreciation, the wonder of science, scientific ways of thinking, and the history of scientific ideas, rather than laboratory experience.

It's here that I'd seek rapprochement with another apparent foe of science, Simon Jenkins, former editor of The Times and a much more formidable adversary than the other journalists I've quoted, because he has some knowledge of what he is talking about. He resents compulsory science education and he holds the idiosyncratic view that it isn't useful. But he is thoroughly sound on the uplifting qualities of science. In a recorded conversation with me, he said:

I can think of very few science books I've read that I've called useful. What they've been is wonderful. They've actually made me feel that the world around me is a much fuller . . . much more awesome place than I ever realized it was . . . I think that science has got a wonderful story to tell. But it isn't useful. It's not useful like a course in business studies or law is useful, or even a course in politics and economics.

Far from science not being useful, my worry is that it is so useful as to overshadow and distract from its inspirational and cultural value. Usually even its sternest critics concede the usefulness of science, while completely missing the wonder. Science is often said to undermine our humanity, or destroy the mystery on which poetry is thought to thrive. Keats berated Newton for destroying the poetry of the rainbow.

Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine —
Unweave a rainbow . . .

Keats was, of course, a very young man.

Blake, too, lamented:

For Bacon and Newton, sheath'd in dismal steel, their terrors hang
Like iron scourges over Albion; Reasonings like vast Serpents
Infold around my limbs . . .

I wish I could meet Keats or Blake to persuade them that mysteries don't lose their poetry because they are solved. Quite the contrary. The solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle, and anyway the solution uncovers deeper mystery. The rainbow's dissection into light of different wavelengths leads on to Maxwell's equations, and eventually to special relativity.

Einstein himself was openly ruled by an aesthetic scientific muse: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science", he said. It's hard to find a modern particle physicist who doesn't own to some such aesthetic motivation. Typical is John Wheeler, one of the distinguished elder statesmen of American physics today:

[W]e will grasp the central idea of it all as so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that we will all say each to the other, 'Oh, how could it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind for so long!'

Wordsworth might have understood this better than his fellow romantics. He looked forward to a time when scientific discoveries would become "proper objects of the poet's art". And, at the painter Benjamin Haydon's dinner of 1817, he endeared himself to scientists, and endured the taunts of Keats and Charles Lamb, by refusing to join in their toast: "Confusion to mathematics and Newton".

Now, here's an apparent confusion: T H Huxley saw science as "nothing but trained and organized common sense", while Professor Lewis Wolpert insists that it's deeply paradoxical and surprising, an affront to commonsense rather than an extension of it. Every time you drink a glass of water, you are probably imbibing at least one atom that passed through the bladder of Aristotle. A tantalizingly surprising result, but it follows by Huxley-style organized common sense from Wolpert's observation that "there are many more molecules in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in the sea".

Science runs the gamut from the tantalisingly surprising to the deeply strange, and ideas don't come any stranger than Quantum Mechanics. More than one physicist has said something like: "If you think you understand quantum theory, you don't understand quantum theory."

There is mystery in the universe, beguiling mystery, but it isn't capricious, whimsical, frivolous in its changeability. The universe is an orderly place and, at a deep level, regions of it behave like other regions, times behave like other times. If you put a brick on a table it stays there unless something lawfully moves it, even if you meanwhile forget it's there. Poltergeists and sprites don't intervene and hurl it about for reasons of mischief or caprice. There is mystery but not magic, strangeness beyond the wildest imagining, but no spells or witchery, no arbitrary miracles.

Even science fiction, though it may tinker with the laws of nature, can't abolish lawfulness itself and remain good science fiction. Young women don't take off their clothes and spontaneously morph themselves into wolves. A recent television drama is fairytale rather than science fiction, for this reason. It falls foul of a theoretical prohibition much deeper than the philosopher's "All swans are white — until a black one turns up" inductive reasoning. We know people can't metamorphose into wolves, not because the phenomenon has never been observed — plenty of things happen for the first time — but because werewolves would violate the equivalent of the second law of thermodynamics. Of this, Sir Arthur Eddington said.

If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

To pursue the relationship between werewolves and entropy would take me too far afield. But, since this lecture commemorates a man whose integrity and honesty as a broadcaster is still an abiding legend 30 years after his death, I'll stay for a moment with the current epidemic of paranormal propaganda on television.

In one popular type of programming, conjurers come on and do routine tricks. But instead of admitting that they are conjurers, these television performers claim genuinely supernatural powers. In this they are abetted by prestigious, even knighted, presenters, people whom we have got into the habit of trusting, broadcasters who have become role models. It is an abuse of what might be called the Richard Dimbleby Effect.

In other programs, disturbed people recount their fantasies of ghosts and poltergeists. But instead of sending them off to a kindly psychiatrist, television producers eagerly hire actors to re-create their delusions — with predictable effects on the credulity of large audiences.

Recently, a faith healer was given half an hour of free prime time television, to advertise his bizarre claim to be a 2000 year-dead physician called Paul of Judea. Some might call this entertainment, comedy even, though others would find it objectionable entertainment, like a fairground freak show.

Now I obviously have to return to the arrogance problem. How can I be so sure that this ordinary Englishman with an unlikely foreign accent was not the long dead Paul of Judea? How do I know that astrology doesn't work? How can I be so confident that the television 'supernaturalists' are ordinary conjurers, just because ordinary conjurers can replicate their tricks? (spoonbending, by the way, is so routine a trick that the American conjurers Penn and Teller have posted instructions for doing it on the Internet! See http://www.randi.org/jr/ptspoon.html).

It really comes down to parsimony, economy of explanation. It is possible that your car engine is driven by psychokinetic energy, but if it looks like a petrol engine, smells like a petrol engine and performs exactly as well as a petrol engine, the sensible working hypothesis is that it is a petrol engine. Telepathy and possession by the spirits of the dead are not ruled out as a matter of principle. There is certainly nothing impossible about abduction by aliens in UFOs. One day it may be happen. But on grounds of probability it should be kept as an explanation of last resort. It is unparsimonious, demanding more than routinely weak evidence before we should believe it. If you hear hooves clip-clopping down a London street, it could be a zebra or even a unicorn, but, before we assume that it's anything other than a horse, we should demand a certain minimal standard of evidence.

It's been suggested that if the supernaturalists really had the powers they claim, they'd win the lottery every week. I prefer to point out that they could also win a Nobel Prize for discovering fundamental physical forces hitherto unknown to science. Either way, why are they wasting their talents doing party turns on television?

By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out. I'm not asking for all such programmes to be suppressed, merely that the audience should be encouraged to be critical. In the case of the psychokineticists and thought-readers, it would be good entertainment to invite studio audiences to suggest critical tests, which only genuine psychics, but not ordinary conjurers, could pass. It would make a good, entertaining form of quiz show.

How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the popular media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium — in which case it's depressing to realize that the millennium is still three years away. Less portentously, it may be an attempt to cash in on the success of "The X-Files". This is fiction and therefore defensible as pure entertainment.

A fair defense, you might think. But soap operas, cop series and the like are justly criticized if, week after week, they ram home the same prejudice or bias. Each week "The X-Files" poses a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses. But it is only fiction, a bit of fun, why get so hot under the collar?

Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it by saying: "But it's only fiction, only entertainment".

Let's not go back to a dark age of superstition and unreason, a world in which every time you lose your keys you suspect poltergeists, demons or alien abduction. Enough, let me turn to happier matters.

The popularity of the paranormal, oddly enough, might even be grounds for encouragement . I think that the appetite for mystery, the enthusiasm for that which we do not understand, is healthy and to be fostered. It is the same appetite which drives the best of true science, and it is an appetite which true science is best qualified to satisfy. Perhaps it is this appetite that underlies the ratings success of the paranormalists.

I believe that astrologers, for instance, are playing on — misusing, abusing — our sense of wonder. I mean when they hijack the constellations, and employ sub-poetic language like the moon moving into the fifth house of Aquarius. Real astronomy is the rightful proprietor of the stars and their wonder. Astrology gets in the way, even subverts and debauches the wonder.

To show how real astronomical wonder can be presented to children, I'll borrow from a book called Earthsearch by John Cassidy, which I brought back from America to show my daughter Juliet. Find a large open space and take a soccer ball to represent the sun. Put the ball down and walk ten paces in a straight line. Stick a pin in the ground. The head of the pin stands for the planet Mercury. Take another 9 paces beyond Mercury and put down a peppercorn to represent Venus. Seven paces on, drop another peppercorn for Earth. One inch away from earth, another pinhead represents the Moon, the furthest place, remember, that we've so far reached. 14 more paces to little Mars, then 95 paces to giant Jupiter, a ping-pong ball. 112 paces further, Saturn is a marble. No time to deal with the outer planets except to say that the distances are much larger. But, how far would you have to walk to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri? Pick up another soccer ball to represent it, and set off for a walk of 4200 miles. As for the nearest other galaxy, Andromeda, don't even think about it!

Who'd go back to astrology when they've sampled the real thing — astronomy, Yeats's "starry ways", his "lonely, majestical multitude"? The same lovely poem encourages us to "Remember the wisdom out of the old days" and I want to end with a little piece of wonder from my own territory of evolution.

You contain a trillion copies of a large, textual document written in a highly accurate, digital code, each copy as voluminous as a substantial book. I'm talking, of course, of the DNA in your cells. Textbooks describe DNA as a blueprint for a body. It's better seen as a recipe for making a body, because it is irreversible. But today I want to present it as something different again, and even more intriguing. The DNA in you is a coded description of ancient worlds in which your ancestors lived. DNA is the wisdom out of the old days, and I mean very old days indeed.

The oldest human documents go back a few thousand years, originally written in pictures. Alphabets seem to have been invented about 35 centuries ago in the Middle East, and they've changed and spawned numerous varieties of alphabet since then. The DNA alphabet arose at least 35 million centuries ago. Since that time, it hasn't change one jot. Not just the alphabet, the dictionary of 64 basic words and their meanings is the same in modern bacteria and in us. Yet the common ancestor from whom we both inherited this precise and accurate dictionary lived at least 35 million centuries ago.

What changes is the long programs that natural selection has written using those 64 basic words. The messages that have come down to us are the ones that have survived millions, in some cases hundreds of millions, of generations. For every successful message that has reached the present, countless failures have fallen away like the chippings on a sculptor's floor. That's what Darwinian natural selection means. We are the descendants of a tiny élite of successful ancestors. Our DNA has proved itself successful, because it is here. Geological time has carved and sculpted our DNA to survive down to the present.

There are perhaps 30 million distinct species in the world today. So, there are 30 million distinct ways of making a living, ways of working to pass DNA on to the future. Some do it in the sea, some on land. Some up trees, some underground. Some are plants, using solar panels — we call them leaves — to trap energy. Some eat the plants. Some eat the herbivores. Some are big carnivores that eat the small ones. Some live as parasites inside other bodies. Some live in hot springs. One species of small worms is said to live entirely inside German beer mats. All these different ways of making a living are just different tactics for passing on DNA. The differences are in the details.

The DNA of a camel was once in the sea, but it hasn't been there for a good 300 million years. It has spent most of recent geological history in deserts, programming bodies to withstand dust and conserve water. Like sandbluffs carved into fantastic shapes by the desert winds, camel DNA has been sculpted by survival in ancient deserts to yield modern camels.

At every stage of its geological apprenticeship, the DNA of a species has been honed and whittled, carved and rejigged by selection in a succession of environments. If only we could read the language, the DNA of tuna and starfish would have 'sea' written into the text. The DNA of moles and earthworms would spell 'underground'. Of course all the DNA would spell many other things as well. Shark and cheetah DNA would spell 'hunt', as well as separate messages about sea and land.

We can't read these messages yet. Maybe we never shall, for their language is indirect, as befits a recipe rather than a reversible blueprint. But it's still true that our DNA is a coded description of the worlds in which our ancestors survived. We are walking archives of the African Pliocene, even of Devonian seas, walking repositories of wisdom out of the old days. You could spend a lifetime reading such messages and die unsated by the wonder of it.

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been standing in my place but who will never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara — more, the atoms in the universe. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Donne, greater scientists than Newton, greater composers than Beethoven. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why.

There is an appetite for wonder, and isn't true science well qualified to feed it?

It's often said that people 'need' something more in their lives than just the material world. There is a gap that must be filled. People need to feel a sense of purpose. Well, not a BAD purpose would be to find out what is already here, in the material world, before concluding that you need something more. How much more do you want? Just study what is, and you'll find that it already is far more uplifting than anything you could imagine needing.

You don't have to be a scientist — you don't have to play the Bunsen burner — in order to understand enough science to overtake your imagined need and fill that fancied gap. Science needs to be released from the lab into the culture.

Anti-evolutionists Form, Fund Think Tank

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Anti-evolutionists Form, Fund Think Tank
Author(s): 
Eugenie C. Scott
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
1
Year: 
1997
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
25–26
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

A press release dated August 10, 1996, announced that two private foundations have granted the Seattle-based Discovery Institute nearly a million dollars to establish the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The Center will sponsor conferences, disseminate research and support postdoctoral students.


Individuals associated with the Center include some familiar old-earth anti-evolutionists employed at secular colleges and universities: Stephen Meyer (philosophy, Whitworth College), John West (political science, Seattle Pacific University), Phillip Johnson (law, University of California-Berkeley), and Michael Behe (biology, Lehigh). The current crop of research fellows include William Dembski (mathematics, formerly at Princeton), Paul Nelson (philosopher, former editor of the Bible-Science Newsletter and recent University of Chicago Ph.D.), and Jonathan Wells (molecular and cell biology Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley.)


Think Tanks and University Anti-Evolutionism


The funding and deployment of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture is a major step towards scholarly respectability for a relatively new group of anti-evolutionists: religious conservatives based at secular universities. They are organizing (or have organized) Internet list serves and web pages, conferences, new journals (see NCSE Reports 1996 Fall; 16[4], p 5) and, now, think tanks.


We are witnessing the embryogenesis of what I shall call "university-based anti-evolutionism". This term, though imperfect, reflects the fact that the newer crop of old-earth, mostly "design theory" anti-evolutionists are disproportionately located in secular institutions of higher learning, rather than at the more familiar independent, not-for-profit centers such as the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and so on. Because most of them are not, in fact, in science departments, it would be inaccurate to refer to them as creation "scientists".


Historically, the leading anti-evolution activists have been such "young-earth" creationists as Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research. However, the publication of Phillip Johnson´s Darwin on Trial in 1991, encouraged the growth of a more moderate, "old-earth" anti-evolutionism which, because it accepts that the earth is ancient, is perceived by the public as being less on the fringes of science than other creationist models. Although they disagree on the age of the earth, neither old earthers nor young-earthers accept biological evolution (descent with modification) as the basis for the emergence of new species from ancestral forms. Most will accept mechanisms and processes of evolution such as natural selection, but they balk at a natural origin of new "kinds" and "basic body plans".


Phillip Johnson, a nationally-known scholar at a major secular university (Boalt School of Law at UC-Berkeley) legitimized the concerns of conservative Christians that their views were being systematically excluded from the secular institutions in which they worked. Johnson and others supporting university-based anti-evolutionism have challenged academe that if it is acceptable in academia to teach and do research from the perspective of an "ism" such as Marxism or feminism, why is it not also acceptable to argue from the perspective of Christianity? A concern of university-based conservative Christians is the increasing secularization of society and what they see as the abandonment of faith. Their own universities, they believe, are mainsprings of this tendency, and they don´t like it. They believe society is locked in a struggle between materialism and theism.


Materialism and Theism


Materialism is the view that the natural world can be explained in terms of matter, energy and their interactions. It may be expressed as a methodological rule "science is restricted to explaining the natural world through natural means", or as a broader, philosophical conclusion that, "therefore, there is no God." Theism is the belief in a supreme God, and for conservative Christians, this God must be an active participant in the running of the universe and in the affairs of humankind. But instead of arguing philosophically about the values of theism vs. materialism, the university-based anti-evolutionists use evolution as a stalking-horse. Evolution is a symbol of these conservative Christian professors´ discontent with secularism in academia and in society at large. NCSE objects to books by Johnson (Pennock 1996; Fezer 1996) and Michael Behe´s recent Darwin´s Black Box (see review by Miller 1996) not because they promote a philosophy, but because they unjustifiably attack a science.


The focus on theism vs. materialism is well exemplified by "intelligent design" (ID), the argument that some aspects of nature are "too complex" to have occurred through evolution, and thus a place must be left in science for supernatural intervention. But the practice of modern science is overwhelmingly (methodologically) materialistic: supernatural explanations are dead ends that do not lead to further understanding. University-based anti-evolutionists object to the current primacy of methodological materialism in science and request that we scrap a methodology that has worked very successfully for over a hundred years. I have frequently run into a, "but-if-it-is-the-truth, why-can´t-we-teach-it?" argument for allowing supernatural explanations into science classes. Members of the public who feel this way can now claim support from an impressive source: scholars based not just at Bible colleges, but at secular universities.


The rise of university anti-evolutionism is relatively new, and the promised hard-hitting critiques of the science of evolution have not yet appeared. ID has not influenced evolutionary biology or any other mainstream science, for example. However, although it has been inconsequential in science, university anti-evolutionism appears to be seeping into philosophy, history, "science studies", and social studies classes, in which works by Johnson, Behe, and others are being assigned and read. As valuable as it may be for understanding the social context of late 20th-century science to read these modern critiques, the question arises as to whether a philosopher or a sociologist has sufficient scientific background to see and to articulate to students how these books and articles fail as science.


What will be the future influence of university-based anti-evolutionism? How will its rise affect the current struggle to keep evolution in the schools? Currently, resources and influence of the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture pale next to the vigorous proselytizing of the Institute for Creation Research, the Bible Science Association, or Answers in Genesis. But there is another, more long-term way that university anti-evolutionism may affect the creation/evolution controversy: To the extent that anti-evolutionism spreads throughout the secular university community, its major influence is likely to be in training the next generation of teachers (and school board members and state legislators) to be suspicious of evolution. It does not matter that university-based anti-evolutionism is not rooted in science departments: most students take few courses in these department anyway. If university-based anti-evolutionism expands, there will be ample opportunity for them to learn erroneous science in non-science courses.


University scientists should watch for opportunities to open channels of communication when colleagues in other disciplines assign readings that distort or misrepresent science, such as Johnson´s Darwin on Trial or Behe´s Darwin´s Black Box. The point that should be made is that although the philosophical issues raised in these books are legitimate subjects for debate, the science is often substandard, and if the books are used, scientific errors should be noted for the student.


As an example, if a history teacher wanted to discuss the historical issue of the divine right of kings, he would be unlikely to use a source that claimed that ancient Egyptians ruled 15th-century France -- the historical issue could be discussed, but the historical example itself is just bad history. Similarly, Johnson brings up issues of philosophical interest, but Darwin on Trial is not a source one should use to learn the science of evolution (see Scott and Sager 1992, Scott, 1993).


Ironically, from the standpoint of evolution education, it is far preferable to have anti-evolutionary ideas expressed and debated at the university than in the local school board meeting. At least at the college level, individuals can be found who can show the scientific flaws in anti-evolutionist arguments, as has been done with Behe´s and Johnson´s books.

References


Behe M. Darwin´s black box: The biochemical challenge to evolution. NY: The Free Press; 1996.


Fezer K. Is science´s naturalism metaphysical or methodological? Creation/Evolution 1996 Winter; 16(2) nr 39:31-35.


Johnson PE. Darwin on trial. Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway; 1991.


Miller KR. Book review of Darwin´s black box: The biochemical challenge to evolution by Michael J Behe.

Creation/Evolution 1996 Winter; 16(2) nr 39: 36-40.


Pennock R. Naturalism, creationism, and the meaning of life. Creation/Evolution 1996 Winter; 16(2) nr 39:10-30.


Scott EC. Book review of Darwin on Trial by Phillip E Johnson. Creation/Evolution 1993 Winter; 13(2) nr 33:36-47.


Scott EC, Sager TC. Book review of Darwin on Trial by Phillip E Johnson. Creation/Evolution 1992 Winter; 12(2) nr 31:47-56.

Evolution of the NABT Statement on the Teaching of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution of the NABT Statement on the Teaching of Evolution
Author(s): 
Joseph E. McInerney
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
1
Year: 
1997
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
30–31
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In Ireland, the Irish say, there is no future, only the past happening over and over — a sorrowful statement of resignation and frustration that reflects centuries of near-intractable sectarian and political strife. I sometimes feel the same way about the evolution/creation conflict: One hundred and fifteen years after Darwin's death there is no future, only the same, tired creationist arguments repeated over and over and the continuing expenditure of precious time and money to combat creationist nonsense — resources that could be applied to other problems.

Perhaps historian Gary Wills (1990) was correct when he wrote that the evolution/creation debate will never subside because "the Bible will never stop being the central book of Western culture." Richard Lewontin (1996) may also be right when he asserts that the scientific community has made little progress in convincing the public to embrace a scientific world view — including evolution — because hubris has blinded scientists to the fundamental distinctions between "elite" and "popular" culture. I suspect, however, that the cultural and philosophical reasons for the staying power of creationism and the intransigence of its proponents matter little to the average high school biology teacher when he or she is attacked for teaching evolution and unwittingly becomes a central player in a political struggle for control of the curriculum.

Unlike those of us who generally work behind the lines, as it were, dealing with the more global (read "safe") aspects of the evolution/creation conflict, teachers are at the front, dealing with direct challenges to their teaching from real students and real parents who have immediate questions and immediate demands. Some typical examples include:

  • "If you're going to teach your religion [evolution], you should teach mine [the Genesis story], too."
  • "Are you a Christian, or do you believe in evolution?"
  • "My parents say I don't have to listen to this stuff."
  • "It's only fair to have a creationist come to class to present the other side of the argument."
  • "There are lots of questions about evolution, and lots of scientists don't believe in evolution any more."

Discussions with teachers across the country confirm that challenges to the teaching of evolution are commonplace. There is evidence of correlation between such challenges and student attendance at events such as "Back to Genesis," a week-long seminar sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research and devoted to evolution-bashing and "creation science". For example, Danny Phillips, the Jefferson County, Colorado, high school student who challenged the use of the video The Miracle of Life and the BSCS textbook Biological Science: An Ecological Approach, attended a "Back to Genesis" seminar in Manitou Springs, just west of Colorado Springs (Matsumura 1996a, 1996b). There also is evidence that challenges to evolution increase in any given community following evolution/creation debates, a good reason to heed Eugenie Scott's advice that scientists inexperienced in such events should decline invitations to participate (Scott 1996).

Three unfortunate facts conspire to put most high school biology teachers at a severe disadvantage when challenges to evolution arise. First, few teachers are acquainted with the ever-evolving range of creationist arguments. Second, most teachers do not have enough background and training in the range of subjects and disciplines pertinent to evolution to respond effectively when parents or students confront them with those arguments. Third, teachers get little help from their administrators when creationists begin to make noise, because most administrators themselves do not understand evolution or its importance to biology cause they do not like controversy. Most administrators are more likely to compromise, or even capitulate completely to creationist demands, than they are to support their teachers or to protect the integrity of science. Many teachers, for example, have told me that their principals suggest that "it would be okay not to get to evolution" during the course of the school year, and others have told me that they simply avoid evolution because they do not want the controversy themselves, specially when their administrators fail to support them. It is, in fact, quite easy for teachers to avoid evolution, because most biology textbooks relegate the topic to one or two chapters, often near the end of the book, and do not integrate evolutionary perspectives throughout the program.

Against this distressing backdrop, the board of directors of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) appointed an ad hoc committee to prepare a new statement on the teaching of evolution. During the fall of 1994, the six-person committee, chaired by Dr. Richard Storey, chairman of biology at Colorado College, produced a document intended to:

  • provide support for biology teachers when they are confronted with challenges to the teaching of evolution;
  • reinforce the centrality of evolution to biology and to biology teaching;
  • summarize some of the most frequent creationist challenges to evolution theory and provide concise refutations thereof; and
  • summarize the major legal decisions related to the teaching of evolution to ensure biology teachers that the law is solidly in their corner.

Following approval by the NABT board in March, 1995, the statement appeared in January, 1996, in the Association's journal (The American Biology Teacher 1996 Jan; 58[1], pp 61-2) and in the second edition of Voices for Evolution published by NCSE in 1996.

NABT — comprising approximately 8,000 professionals who teach at the middle school, high school, and college levels — is the only professional society devoted exclusively to the teaching of biology. It is appropriate, therefore, that the society be on record with an unequivocal statement about the importance of teaching evolution, and it is imperative that the scientific and educational communities embrace the statement and support those teachers who put themselves on the line to defend the integrity of biology. The immediate future of the evolution/creation conflict likely holds few surprises, but the nation's biology teachers — and creationists — need to know that someone will be watching and responding as the past repeats itself over and over.

References

Lewontin R. Billions and billions of demons. New York Review of Books 1997 Jan 9; 44(1): 28-32

Matsumura M. Evolution challenged in Colorado's largest school district. NCSE Reports 1996 Summer; 16(2): 21.

Matsumura M. Updates and short takes. NCSE Reports 1996 Fall; 16(3): 10.

Matsumura M, ed. Voices for evolution. rev ed. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Science Education; 1995.

Scott E. Debates and the globetrotters. Creation/Evolution 1994 Winter; 14(2) nr 35: 22-6.

Wills G. Under God: Religion in American Politics NY: Simon and Schuster; 1990.

RNCSE 17 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1997
Date: 
March–April
Articles available online are listed below.

Evolution "Too Controversial" for Illinois Schools

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution "Too Controversial" for Illinois Schools
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1997
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
6–7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

A large, industrial Northern state may be about to banish the word "evolution" from its science curriculum standards. Acting on a mandate from the state legislature, the Illinois Board of Education has developed new Learning Standards for a number of subjects, including science. Learning Standards are supposed to define appropriate content for meeting a number of goals, including the expectation that students will come to "Understand the fundamental concepts, principles, and interconnections of the life, physical, and earth/space sciences" (State Goal 12). Yet evolution, which has been listed as one of the major unifying concepts organizing the National Science Education Standards issued by the National Academy of Science, is never specifically mentioned in Goal 12 or anywhere else in Illinois' proposed learning standards.

NCSE members who contacted Board of Education staff learned that there had been no mention of evolution in the first public draft of the Standards, but revision teams added a reference in response to extensive public comment, as well as the recommendations of expert reviewers. However, according to a letter from the Superintendent of Education that was released with the final "Proposed Learning Standards", members of "an External Review Team consisting of parents, educators, business people, civic leaders, and representatives of family groups ... recommended... that no controversial content which was not included in the draft previously disseminated for public review would be included"... (italics in original). Goal 12, Standard A now reads, "Know and apply concepts that explain how living things function, adapt, and change."

As NCSE member David Bloomberg commented at the June 11 meeting of the Board, the vague wording of the standard can refer to individual or short term changes "like my blood pressure changing during the day." While "benchmarks" expanding upon the standards refer to evolutionary processes and supporting evidence, the fact is that the "e" word never appears. Teachers who use the most accurate term to describe what they are teaching are given no protection from parental complaints. Worse, the External Review Team's report says only that the state "could provide examples and support materials to assist local districts in deciding when, where, and how to teach these [omitted, "controversial"] subjects. Since evolution is one of the topics omitted from the revised "Draft Standards" before they were submitted as "Proposed Standards", districts that choose to teach it could be forced to rely on limited, local resources.

At press time, the Board of Education is again receiving comments from the public. It is impressive that there had been so much public support for evolution, and if there is more such support, the Board could decide to override the Review Team’s recommendations. If they do not, it is likely that evolution education will become a local option, and many Illinois students will be denied the opportunity to learn about the major theory unifiying biological knowledge.

Arizona Regent Protests Evolution Institute Move

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Arizona Regent Protests Evolution Institute Move
Author(s): 
Eugenie C. Scott
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
2
Year: 
1997
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
7–8
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In April 1997, the Institute for Human Origins (IHO), a not-for-profit paleoanthropology research institution located in Berkeley, CA, completed negotiations with Arizona State University to move to that university in July of 1997. NCSE Supporter Donald C Johanson will remain Director of the Institute, and senior staffers William H Kimbel and Kaye Reed will hold dual positions as Institute scientists and members of the ASU Department of Anthropology. Also moving to Arizona with IHO are geochronologist Robert Walker and paleoanthropologist Eric Meikle and support staff.

The move is viewed by both IHO and ASU as being to their mutual advantage: ASU receives a prestigious research institution and IHO receives partial financial stability and the many administrative and scholarly advantages of a university affiliation. Johanson and his staff were looking forward to mentoring graduate students.

Of particular interest to NCSE members, however, is the response of Arizona Regent Kurt Davis when asked to approve the University's association with IHO. Although voting to approve the arrangement, he added an amendment that ASU would "come back with a plan that would implement and examine the use of courses to offer alternative theories, as well." The ASU newspaper reported that, in a memorandum to other regents, Davis expressed concern that "we will expend tax dollars to continue research and create debate from only one perspective" (State Press, April 28, 1997). The Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve Davis' motion.

Letters to the editor in local Tempe papers varied from support to criticism of the regents' decision, some assuming it would require the teaching of creation "science" at ASU. As NCSE members know, "alternative theories to evolution" is a popular euphemism for creation science, but the wording of the resolution is vague. Reportedly, both the religious studies program and science departments are uninterested in presenting "alternatives to evolution". Administrators appear to be uncertain as to what to do about Davis' suggestions, which also raises questions regarding Regents' authority to determine curricula.

RNCSE 17 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1997
Date: 
May–June
Articles available online are listed below.

The Elusive Scientific Basis of Intelligent Design Theory

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Elusive Scientific Basis of Intelligent Design Theory
Author(s): 
George W Gilchrist
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1997
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
14–15
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The book of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Origins by Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon is a high-school level textbook designed to supplement traditional biology texts. The authors repeatedly refer to intelligent design as an alternative theory to neodarwinian evolution (Davis & Kenyon 1993, pp. 25, 26, 41, 78, 85). Because the adoption of this book is being considered in some public schools, it is worth asking about the status of this theory: Is intelligent design theory actually used by scientists? The question is a fundamental one because scientific theories are not just ideas or hypotheses outlined in a textbook, but are the basic research tools of professional scientists. A theory represents a collection of explanations, hypotheses, tests, and applications, including anomalies and failures (Kuhn 1962). Not all aspects of any theory are directly testable. For example, any theory explaining organismal diversity cannot be directly tested, since the plants, animals and microbes that make up the living world are the result of a historical process not readily replicated in the laboratory. However, evolutionary theory (and presumably, intelligent design theory) contains corollaries that make non-obvious predictions about patterns within the existing biota that can be tested.

If intelligent design theory is a viable alternative to evolutionary theory, then scientists must be using it to devise tests and to interpret patterns in the data they collect. What sense would there be in presenting an idea as a scientific theory if the idea were not actually used by working scientists? The importance of a scientific theory is not related to its popularity with the general public, but to its utility in directing research and explaining observations within a particular field of study (Kuhn 1962). For example, millions of people read their horoscopes each day, but astrology plays no role in directing research by astronomers or psychologists. Astrology, therefore, is not discussed in science textbooks except in a historical context. Because professional scientists must publish their work to retain their jobs and to obtain funding, the relative status of intelligent design theory and evolutionary theory can be assessed by comparing their frequency of usage in the professional scientific literature.

To compare the scientific literature on evolution and intelligent design, I used five different computerized databases that catalog scientific periodicals, books, and reports. I searched each database for the keywords "intelligent design" and "evolution". BIOSIS (1997, Biological Abstracts, Inc.) is the online version of Biological Abstracts and covers approximately 6000 journals in the life sciences. The Expanded Academic Index (1997, Information Access Co.) indexes and abstracts 1500 scholarly and general interest periodicals, covering all major fields of study in the humanities, social sciences, and science and technology. The Life Sciences Collection (1997, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts) indexes 200 journals in all fields of biology. Medline (1997, National Library of Medicine) indexes over 3700 journals in the health and life sciences. Finally, the Science Citation Index (1996, Institute for Scientific Information) covers over 5000 journals in all fields of science. The expanded Academic Index covers a broader range of subjects and lists more general publications; the other four indices list primarily professional science publications and feature more technical journals. The results of the searches are shown in Table 1.



Although Davis and Kenyon may claim that intelligent design represents a viable alternative to neodarwinian evolution, the scientific literature does not support that claim. Compared with several thousand papers on evolution, the combined searches produced only 37 citations containing the keyword "intelligent design." A closer look at those 37 references suggests that none reports scientific research using intelligent design as a biological theory. "Intelligent Design" popped up most frequently in the index with the broadest range of topics, the Expanded Academic Index. Of the 30 articles, 12 were articles on computer software or hardware, eight were on architectural or engineering design, two were on advertising art, and one was on literature. The remaining seven were about biology; five were discussions of the debate over using Pandas by various school boards, and two were comments on Michael Behe's (1996) book in a Christian magazine.

The four papers in the Science Citation Index were all about engineering or welding technology. The single paper in the Life Science's Collection was about computer methods used to analyze particulate air pollution. The single paper in Medline was about bioengineering drugs with high thermal stability. The single paper in BIOSIS was about a computer-controlled system for manufacturing fertilizer. This search of several hundred thousand scientific reports published over several years failed to discover a single instance of biological research using intelligent design theory to explain life's diversity. It is worth noting that although Davis and Kenyon are both professional scientists, neither has apparently published anything in the professional literature about their theory.

In all fairness, the number of references found using "evolution" surely overestimates the number of papers about biological evolution since the word "evolution" is widely used among academics to describe directional change. This is especially a problem in a diverse database, such as the Expanded Academic Index, which lists popular periodicals as well as research publications. For this index, I narrowed the search by specifying "evolution AND research" as subjects. This eliminated most of the non-scientific entries and brought the number of citations down from over 14 000 to 6935. This index, however, lists far fewer primary research publications than the other, more specialized professional indices referenced here.

Indices such as BIOSIS limit their citations to those in the science literature and so should provide a better estimate of the frequency of studies on evolution. BIOSIS applies a code to each reference indicating its intellectual scope. The code "CC01500" is applied to articles on "...philosophical, theoretical, and experimental studies on the origins of life, natural selection, phylogeny, speciation, and divergence." Thus, articles categorized by this code deal in someway with biological evolution. Of the 68 832 articles found in BIOSIS (1991-1996) using the keyword "evolution", 46 749 of them were assigned "CC01500" as their major code. Most of these papers were written by professional scientists to communicate their research efforts. Although popular authors such as Michael Denton (1986) and Phillip Johnson (1991) have published books declaring Darwinism to be dead, the data above suggest that the message apparently has not reached professionals doing the actual science.

Davis and Kenyon have baptized their concept of external design of living organisms as "intelligent design theory", but where is the research using this theory? The first edition of their book appeared in 1989; surely by 1997 there should be some evidence of intelligent design theory in the scientific literature if it is a bona fide piece of science. Scott and Cole (1985) searched the literature in the mid 1980's for published evidence of "scientific creationism" and found no articles dealing with empirical, experimental, or theoretical treatments of the creationist "model" in over 4000 professional and technical journals. During the course of this search, I also looked for scientific research articles containing the words "creation science" in the above indices; like Scott and Cole, I found none.

Creationists and proponents of "alternative" theories of organic diversity claim that the science supporting their views is not given a place in the classroom ; if any science supporting these views has been done, it is quite well hidden. Why should we reserve a place in the science curriculum for science that apparently does not exists? Teachers wanting to give an exercise in frustration should send their students to the library to glean the latest scientific research on intelligent design theory or creation science, admonishing the students that papers on welding technology do not count. Any school board considering adoption of the Pandas text needs to question why science teachers should be expected to bear false witness in the classroom. Until intelligent design theory can be shown to have any status as a scientific theory of biological organization, it has no place in a biology curriculum.

References

Behe M J. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press; 1996

Davis P, Kenyon DH. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, 2nd ed. Dallas: Haughton Publishing Co.;1993.

Davis P, Kenyon DH. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Dallas: Haughton Publishing Co; 1989.

Denton M. Evolution: A theory in Crisis. Bethesda (MD): Adler and Adler; 1986.

Johnson PE. Darwin on Trial. Washington DC: Regnery Gateway; 1991.

Kuhn TS. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1962.

Scott EC, Cole HP. The elusive basis of creation "science". Quarterly Review of Biology 1985; 60: 21-30.

About the Author(s): 
George W. Gilchrist
Department of Zoology
Box 351800
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-1800
gilchgw@u.washington.edu

Miracles In, Creationism Out

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Miracles In, Creationism Out: 'The Geophysics of God'
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
3
Year: 
1997
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
29–32
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

On June 16, 1997, a major weekly magazine, US News & World Report published "The Geophysics of God" reporting claims that a sophisticated computer program written at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and "used by geophysicists around the world... proves the Bible is correct" (Chandler 1997). By mid-July NCSE had received copies of letters submitted to a large state textbook commission making similar claims. One letter said that textbooks should include "Flood geology as a theory for mass extinction... [since] this idea is currently being studied in some of the national laboratories in New Mexico"; another letter cited a sophisticated-sounding argument used by geophysicist John Baumgardner, the scientist profiled in the article, claiming that different methods for dating ancient rocks yield different results.

NCSE members need to know the flaws in these arguments because this "evidence against evolution" may appear in an opinion piece in your local newspaper, or, worse, a proposal to your local board of education. NCSE has consulted several geologists for detailed comments on the US News article. Excerpts from the article are presented in italics followed by responses from scientists working in the relevant fields.

Terra [a computer program for modeling the flowing movement of the earth's mantle]...exists because its creator, John Baumgardner, is a fundamentalist Christian who believes, in accordance with the Bible, that the Earth was created by God less than 10 000 years ago...[and] created Terra expressly to prove that the story of Noah and the flood...happened as the Bible tells it".

There are good scientific reasons for developing a computer model of mantle flow, independent of Baumgardner's motivation. His views do not represent those of LANL. According to Dr. Jerry M Boak, another geologist at LANL, "Creationist modeling was distinctly not part of the work scope. Scientific publications of research using the Terra program have nothing to do with ...flood geology..." (For the history and the results of this research, readers should examine Baumgardner 1985, Bunge and Baumgardner 1995, or Bunge, Richards, and Baumgardner 1996).

Boak requested further information from Dr. Chick Keller, Director of the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics at LANL, who explained that Baumgardner had originally written Terra as a part of his doctoral dissertation. According to Keller "...[Terra] fell into disfavor when it could not adequately reproduce results [derived] from other 3-D spherical mantle convection codes." Keller told NCSE that Peter Bunge and other workers later "improved it considerably, to the point that the community now accepts it as [reasonable].... [However], [Baumgardner's] version is somewhat different from [Bunge's] and still needs benchmarking — that is, testing against other codes to assure that it gives reasonable answers to well-defined problems."

Not only did he come up with a tool used by geophysicists around the world but his "numerical code" actually proves the Bible is correct. Or at least in Baumgardner's view it does.... Terra proves that this is true — or, more precisely, that it could be true, provided one accepts certain assumptions.

Computer models do not prove anything; they can help work out the consequences of certain assumptions. One can feed a computer program data about cheese and rats and find out how large a rat must be in order to take crater-sized bites out of a moon made of green cheese, then illustrate the process with realistic graphics. This would not prove that the moon is made of cheese or that there are giant, space-going rats. The article's author admits that Baumgardner's explanation of the flood "contradicts almost every existing piece of evidence" (emphasis added). For example, accepting Baumgardner's assumptions would include changing the values of known physical constants such as rates of radioactive decay.

Keller commented that it was unfortunate that "The article gave the impression that one need only change a few numbers like viscosity and you can get anything from mantle convection to continents' zooming around." He added that there are important questions about other variables that Baumgardner's model does not consider. As for the computer program itself, Baumgardner's "Terra" is not the only mantle modeling program in use and, Keller commented, while Bunge and possibly some other scientists have gained "considerable respect and support" for their use of some versions, "I don't think it's very widely used."

Baumgardner believes that around 6000 yearsago,...[God] caused an enormous blob of hot mantle material to come rushing up at incredible velocity through the underwater midocean ridges. The material ballooned, displacing a tidal wave of sea water over the continents.... Then, after 150 days (Genesis7:24), the bubble retreated with equal speed into the Earth.

According to University of New Mexico geologist John W Geissman, this series of events would create "an enormous volcanic province in a single region. So, where is it??" Keller added, "Blobs don't just emerge and retreat...; one needs a source mechanism.... Current blobs which emerge, for example, out of a volcano or midocean ridge, are rather local and short lived...."

[A]nd the continents began re-emerging above the water, sending the runoff back to the oceans at around 100 miles an hour....Baumgardner says that this runoff would have been sufficient to create the Grand Canyon and other massive geologic features and to deposit the various sedimentary layers in about one week.

The phrase "various sedimentary layers" glosses over a great variety of geological formations, many of which could not possibly have been deposited in one week, least of all by currents traveling one hundred miles per hour. Examples of these include sediments that settled in still water, those transported by wind, and those formed by evaporation or precipitation of dissolved chemicals (Strahler, p 61, 170). Not only does one week provide too little time for sediments to be deposited, Baumgardner does not explain inter bedding of sediments clearly formed by different processes; for example, a layer formed of wind-borne particles sandwiched between layers of sediment that had settled from still water.

The US News article also does not say what kind of land surface was being eroded. Arthur Strahler's comments on erosion by forty days and forty nights of rain apply to Baumgardner's model of streams rushing back to the ocean: "Fully lithified, hard, dense rock — such as ... [various] kinds of igneous and metamorphic rock... — could withstand forty days and nights of torrential rainfall with scarcely a measurable quantity of erosional removal.... Even on the assumption that a thick (100-meter) layer of decayed rock (saprolite) was available... it would be woefully inadequate to supply the quantity needed to form all existing Proterozoic and younger sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks" (Strahler, p 201). Simply put, sudden erosion cannot explain the sheer volume of material in the earth's "sedimentary layers".

Almost all physicists calculate the age of the planet at 4.6 billion years because they assume that mantle viscosity...has been consistent throughout time and so use the value that applies today. They add other ingredients like the speed of the tectonic plates... and arrive at the conclusion that one full deformation cycle of the mantle occurs about every hundred million years, giving the 4.6 billion figure. But Baumgardner says scientists wrongly assume that geology happens consistently,...."If you look at the geological record," he insists, "there are fingerprints of catastrophe everywhere one looks."

G Brent Dalrymple, author of The Age of the Earth, told NCSE, "The viscosity of the planet does not enter into calculations of the age of the earth. There is no way to calculate the age of Earth from plate tectonics or from mantle convection." Boak added, "Certainly there are catastrophes in the geologic record, but they aren't the catastrophes Baumgardner describes, and they don't represent the fingerprints of God spinning up a planet last week."

Baumgardner...notes, first, that different radiometric dating methods give vastly different ages. To date rock, geologists commonly use three types of unstable (radioactive) 'parent' isotopes — samarium, rubidium, and potassium — which decay into stable 'daughter' elements.... But different isotopes yield different dates for the same rocks. As an example, Baumgardner points to the Cardenes [sic]basalt, a Precambrian volcanic rock found in the Grand Canyon's inner gorge.

In fact not three, but at least seven isotopes are used for dating rocks (Dalrymple 1991, p 80). More significantly, Baumgardner simply misinterprets what is to be learned by comparing different isotopic dates.

Boak pointed out that in the Cardenas rock "The sequence of these dates [found by the different dating methods] is exactly what would be expected for such old rock." Rocks can be altered by heating or melting, and Dalrymple commented, "Alteration is readily visible in thin sections of the [Cardenas] rock." The different dating methods date different events in the history of the rock and Dalrymple added, "The results tell us that this particular rock is not a reliable chronometer, but say nothing about the dating methods themselves.... There are many more instances of agreement than disagreement; if Baumgardner finds a wristwatch that doesn't work would he conclude that all watches and clocks are unreliable?" When rocks are altered by heating, the geological clock is reset so that, as Boak put it, "The Cardenas rocks ... may be more like modern stopwatches, which may record several lap times. Because the degree of heating required to reset the various geochemical clocks is different, we may be able to identify several different events."

The science Baumgardner uses to account for these extraordinary happenings is a sort of niche physics called runaway subduction ...[which] posits that the potential energy in the cold, heavy crust of the Earth is like the potential energy in a rock held above the ground. Drop the rock, and its potential energy is turned by gravity into kinetic energy, and into heat when it hits the ground. As gravity pulls the rock, so it pulls the gigantic, heavy plates of ocean floor under the continents into the hotter, lighter mantle, which is silicate rock.

As the plates deform the surrounding rock, the mechanical energy of deformation is converted into heat, creating a superheated 'envelope' of silicate around the sinking ocean floor. Silicate is very sensitive to heat, so it becomes weaker, allowing the plates to sink faster and heating the envelope still further, and so on, faster and faster. As the plates pull apart, the gap between themgrows into a broadening seam in the planet. This sends a gigantic bubble of mantle shooting up through these ridges; [w]hich displaces the oceans; [w]hich creates a huge flood.

"Fringe" physics might be a better description. The article does go on to quote another geophysicist who pointed out that one would have "to believe that by some miracle the diffusivity of the Earth was different before we learned to measure it;" in fact, the miracle would have to increase thermal diffusivity by a factor of 10,000. Boak commented, "The problem with his work on 'runaway subduction' is that the frictional heating he requires to accelerate subduction may not continue, given the reduced viscosity of the subducting materials as they are heated. To my knowledge, this aspect of his model has never survived a peer review by others in ... mantle modeling."

[Baumgardner] cites the common geological feature of erosional channels, like the sunken rivers running through Zion National Park. The walls of these channels, created by rainwater eroding uplifted terrain, show the cross sections of sedimentary layers laid down over millenniums [sic]. But while the evidence of erosion and sedimentation is all around (the Mississippi Delta, the Ganges taking soil from the Himalayas), surprisingly few erosional channels can be seen in the sedimentary layers themselves.

Just as it is erroneous for Baumgardner to state that sediments clearly formed by different processes could have been deposited in a single flood, it is erroneous to lump together many types of channels. Besides, as Dalrymple points out, the article does not state that there were no such channels, but that there were "too few". Yet we are not told how many would be "enough", or why.

Another piece of evidence [Baumgardner] points to is the fact that coal — fossilized plant matter — is found in concentrated seams rather than spread out, as forests generally are. This indicates to Baumgardner that a huge mass of water — a flood — swept floating trees together, depositing them in thick layers.

Baumgardner's argument is a red herring. There are many types of forest environment, not all of them conducive to the initial steps of coal formation. Coal seams originated in swamps in deltas, and their boundaries are those of the deltas. Besides, layers of marine and non-marine sediments can be found between layers of coal, and Baumgardner neither asks how this alternation of layers could occur nor offers an explanation. While the standard geological explanation accounts for these alternating layers, Baumgardner's flood does not. The flood currents bearing trees would have had to alternate quickly with currents moving in a different direction, carrying different materials. Currents moving as swiftly as 200 km/hr would have to alternate approximately every half hour, not allowing enough time for rafts of water-borne trees to settle between the other strata (Strahler, p 218-221). Furthermore, according to Dr. Steven M Getty of the University of New Mexico, fast-moving water currents pick up large quantities of sand and gravel, and mix them with organic matter, while many large coal seams are almost purely organic, often preserving details of plant structure too well to be consistent with Baumgardner's model.

Baumgardner himself says, "The only way to square the radiometric data with a flood that caused all these changes is to conclude that one aspect of the catastrophe was rapid radioactive decay." ...This is not impossible.

As the article itself comments, this is only possible in "a Through-the-Looking-Glass world where nothing is as it seems and no scientific principle — from gravity and electromagnetism on down — exists as it exists today." Moreover, this objection can't be met by calling on miracles, not if one considers other events that would have occurred in Baumgardner's scenario — something the article does not do. For example, Dalrymple points out that "If one 'speeded up' 4.5 billion years of radioactive decay into just a few years, then the heat released over such a short time would melt and probably vaporize the Earth." In effect, readers are being told that it is "not impossible" for Noah's Ark and its inhabitants to have withstood the melting of a planet. Was the "ocean" on which the ark floated one of molten lava (which should have burned the Ark to a cinder), or is the earth supposed to have recondensed and generated new plant life while the Ark's passengers waited?

[T]here is universal agreement that Terra, created to prove the Bible literally true, is one of the most useful and powerful geological tools in existence. "Baumgardner is seen as one of the world leaders in numerical models of mantle convection," says Hager. Agrees Gerald Schubert of the University of California - Los Angeles Department of Earth and Space Sciences: "As far as the code goes, Baumgardner is a world-class scientist."

NCSE wrote to Hager and Schubert to ask about their remarks attributed to them. Schubert replied, who explained, "I did not agree with what Hager [reportedly] said. I simply stated that John Baumgardner had written a state-of-the-art numerical code to study mantle convection.... In no way can John's numerical code say anything about the possible validity of a literal biblical view of creation." Hager, too, told NCSE that he had only been commenting on the computer code, and had not in any way endorsed Baumgardner's opinions.

It is Baumgardner's "scientific" claims that are most likely to be repeated by advocates of "creation science", especially now that coverage in a national weekly has given Baumgardner a much larger audience than the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School where he is an adjunct faculty member. However, the article also underplays the manner in which Baumgardner "takes issue with the teaching of evolution in public schools". He is not just a local "rabble-rouser"; he has been appointed to the committee that is working to develop "performance standards" measuring what New Mexico's school-children have learned about science. These standards are supposed to redress the omission of evolution from New Mexico's content standards (RNCSE, 17[1] p 4, 17[2] p 8-9), but Baumgardner's participation in the committee might prevent that from happening.

The US News article concludes, "Belief does not need the blessing of science. But to John Baumgardner ... apparently it does." That, of course, is a personal choice. But as a matter of public policy, public school science education should not be required to receive the blessing of unscientific beliefs.

[With thanks to (in alphabetical order) Jerry M. Boak, G. Brent Dalrymple, John W. Geissman, Stephen R. Getty, Chick Keller, and Brad Hager for their comments and, in some cases, detailed explanations.]

References Cited

Baumgardner J. Three-dimensional treatment of convective flow in Earth's mantle. Journal of Statistics in Physics 1985; 39:501-11.

Bunge P, Baumgardner J. Mantle convection modeling on parallel virtual machines. Computers in Physics 1995; 9: 207-15.

Bunge H-P, Richards MA, Baumgardner JR. Effect of depth-dependent viscosity on the planform of mantle convection. Nature 1996; 379: 436-8.

Chandler B. The geophysics of God. US News & World Report 1997 Jun 16; 122:55-8.

Dalrymple GB. The age of the earth. Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press; 1991.

Strahler AN. Science and earth history : The evolution/creation controversy. Buffalo (NY): Prometheus Books; 1987.

RNCSE 17 (4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
4
Year: 
1997
Date: 
July–August
Articles available online are listed below.

The Predictive Power of Evolutionary Biology and the Discovery of Eusociality in the Naked Mole Rat

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Predictive Power of Evolutionary Biology and the Discovery of Eusociality in the Naked Mole Rat
Author(s): 

Stanton Braude

Volume: 
17
Issue: 
4
Year: 
1997
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
12–15
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Anti-evolutionists have asserted that evolutionary biology lacks predictive power (Gish 1979; Johnson 1991; Morris 1974, 1989). They still cite Karl Popper's early suggestion that evolutionary theory is untestable because it cannot be used to make predictions, despite the fact that this view has been rejected by philosophers of science and that Popper himself unequivocally reversed this opinion (1978:344-5). Such assertions that evolutionary theory is unpredictive ignore the power of the comparative method in testing both alternative hypotheses and models of evolutionary processes as well as the pervasive implicit tests of evolutionary theory in every aspect of modern biological science. In this paper I will discuss briefly how biologists across disciplines use evolutionary theory as a foundation for understanding biological systems. Next I will give a few examples of how evolutionary biologists test hypotheses about specific modes of selection and evolution. Finally I will discuss, in detail, an example of the extremely successful predictive power of one evolutionary hypothesis.

 

Pervasive use of Evolutionary Hypotheses in Biology

 

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (Dobzhansky 1973). Accordingly, biochemists, geneticists, ecologists and medical researchers do not choose their hypotheses randomly. A hypothesis must first be logically consistent to be worth testing. An underlying part of the logic in most biological hypotheses is that the system under study is adaptive, selectively neutral or even maladaptive (but maladaptive in ways that we can understand based on conflicting biological demands or novel circumstances). Maladaptive characters are studied in the context of their unusual nature and the surprise they pose in light of an apparently well adapted biological world. When molecular biologists investigate complex biochemical pathways, gene regulators, or carrier proteins, they are working under the paradigms that the molecules in question serve an adaptive function. Biochemists do not test hypotheses about the beauty of a molecule but about its function (Stryer 1995).

The fact that not all biological systems are adaptive can be confusing, and this confusion has misled some scientists to conclude that evolution is, therefore, irrelevant to understanding particular maladaptive systems. However, evolutionary theory is not limited to explaining adaptations. For example, simple adaptive hypotheses cannot explain senescence, but the study of age-related changes in the potential for future reproduction (reproductive value) and of (pleiotropic) genes that produce a number of different traits has given us the clearest understanding of why senescence has evolved differently in different organisms (Alexander 1987; Charlesworth and Hughes 1996; Williams 1957). Cancer is also best understood as the result of selection working at the cellular level and in conflict with competing selective forces at the individual level (Tomlinson and others 1996).

Biologists across disciplines also indirectly test phylogenetic hypotheses and assumptions when choosing test organisms. When medical researchers want to test the effects of a new drug or treatment, they recognize that the phylogenetic relationship between the model experimental organism and humans is relevant to interpreting results and judging either the efficacy or danger to humans. Results based on rodent studies are given less weight than primate studies because of our more distant common ancestry and the greater divergence that has resulted.

 

Direct Tests in Evolutionary Biology

 

Direct tests and predictions about the mode of evolution are conducted daily by evolutionary biologists and population geneticists. However, an arbitrary distinction between micro- and macro-evolutionary processes has been used to devalue tests of evolutionary hypotheses in selection experiments or in insect population cages (where insects can hatch, breed and die for hundreds of generations in the course of an experiment). Population geneticists make predictions and test hypotheses about the mode of evolution. In population cages, petri dishes or growth media, population geneticists test hypotheses about evolutionary change in controlled populations (for example Carson and others 1994; Goodnight and Stevens 1997; Templeton 1996). In wild populations, population geneticists look at gene frequencies within species or populations in order to test hypotheses about relatively recent evolutionary events (for example Crandall and Templeton 1993; Routman and Templeton 1994; Templeton and others 1993).

Ecologists and conservation biologists use evolutionary theory to interpret the relationships we see in wild communities and to predict how those communities will be affected by changes and environmental pressures (for example Georgiatis and others 1994; Losos and others 1997; Templeton and Read 1994). While much of current ecological theory is complex and multivariate, MacArthur and Wilson (1967) were able to make rather simple and testable predictions about the diversity of species on islands of different sizes and distances from mainland. In addition, behavioral ecologists make predictive hypotheses about the trends we expect to see across a wide variety of taxa (Alexander and others 1979; Harvey and Pagel 1991; Martins 1996; Ryan 1990).

In the examples cited above, predictions from and tests of evolutionary theory fit into two general categories: how evolution works in specific cases and circumstances, and what evolution has produced in response to particular circumstances. Ecologists, phylogeneticists, and population geneticists are interested in the subtle details of how evolution works. In testing adaptive hypotheses about how their particular biological system works, other biologists are testing predictions of what evolution has produced. The underlying paradigm is that evolution has generally produced adaptive systems and structures.

The uses of evolutionary theory to make these various predictive hypotheses have also been criticized as being post hoc since we already know what has evolved but cannot do simple experiments and predict what will evolve. This line of reasoning not only ignores all the population cage experiments in evolutionary biology but, if true, would lead to the classification of astronomy as unscientific as well, since we cannot manipulate the cosmos. The multitude of minute, precise predictions about the locations of known planets and stars in tomorrow night's sky are analogous to the specific predictions that are made in comparative tests by evolutionary biologists.

Occasionally, however, more striking predictions are made. In 1845 John Couch Adams and Urbain Jean Joseph Leverrier both predicted the presence of an unseen planet which affects the orbit of Uranus. It was not until the following year that Neptune was discovered as they had predicted.

Richard D Alexander has made a similarly striking prediction based on first principles of the evolution of social behavior. Although common in social insects, eusociality—the social system with a queen and sterile workers—was unknown in any other taxa. Under the appropriate set of conditions, Alexander predicted, evolution ought to produce a eusocial vertebrate, even though eusociality in the naked mole-rat (or any other vertebrate) was unknown at the time.

 

A Fertile Use of Inductive and Deductive Logic

 

The roots of Alexander's prediction go back to questions raised by Darwin over 100 years prior. In his chapter titled "Difficulties with the theory" Darwin addressed the problem that sterile workers in social insect colonies pose for natural selection. How could natural selection cause differences between queen bees and workers if the workers are sterile? Darwin guessed that in these cases selection is acting between families or hives.

In 1964 William Hamilton formalized this idea of kin selection and suggested that eusocial colonies with queens and workers have evolved many times in the ants, bees, and wasps because of their unusual genetic system. In these hymenopteran insects, males have one set of chromosomes (haploid) and females have two sets (diploid); this is called haplodiploidy. As a consequence of this genetic peculiarity, sister workers in these insects are more closely related to each other than they would be to their own offspring. Consequently, they contribute to the propagation of a greater proportion of their genes by helping to rear siblings than by producing offspring themselves.

In 1974 entomologist and evolutionary theorist Richard Alexander argued that "subsocial" behavior (that is parental care) and the opportunity for parental manipulation were even more powerful factors in the evolution of social behavior in insects (Alexander 1974). Across taxa, parental behavior correlates much more strongly with eusociality than does haplodiploidy (Andersson 1984; Alexander and others 1991). Alexander's critics argued that if parental care is a crucial precursor to eusociality, we should expect eusociality to have also evolved among the highly parental vertebrates: birds and mammals. Alexander could have pointed out that there are far fewer species of birds and mammals than there are species of insects, or that birds and mammals have only existed for 160 million and 250 million years respectively (Eisenberg 1981; Welty 1979) while insects have existed for 350 million years (Borror and others 1989). Instead he asked himself what characteristics a eusocial vertebrate would have if it had evolved.

Alexander based his answer on his understanding of the selective forces involved in the evolution of insect eusociality and hypothesized a eusocial vertebrate. He created a 12-part model for a eusocial vertebrate, based on this body of theory. He had no idea that a mammal with these characteristics existed.

Alexander predicted that a eusocial vertebrate's nest should be (1) safe, (2) expandable, and (3) in or near an abundance of food that can (4) be obtained with little risk. These characteristics follow from the general characteristics of primitive termite nests inside logs. The nest must be safe or it will be exploited as a rich food source for predators. It must be expandable so that workers can enhance the value of the nest. It must be supplied with safe abundant food so that large groups can live together with little competition over food or over who must retrieve it.

The limitations of the nest characteristics suggested that the animal would be (5) completely subterranean because few logs or trees are large enough to house large colonies of vertebrates. Being subterranean further suggested that the eusocial vertebrate would be (6) a mammal and even more specifically (7) a rodent since many rodents nest underground. The primary food of the hypothetical vertebrate would be (8) large underground roots and tubers because the small grassy roots and grubs that moles feed on are so scattered that they are better exploited by lone individuals and would inhibit rather than encourage the evolution of eusociality.

The major predator of the hypothetical vertebrate would have to be (9) able to enter the burrow but be deterred by the heroic acts of one or a few individuals. This would allow for the evolution of divergent life lengths and reproductive value curves between workers and reproductives. Predators fitting this description would include snakes.

The eusocial vertebrate was also expected to (10) live in the wet-dry tropics because plants there are more likely to produce large roots and tubers that store water and nutrients to help them survive the dry periods. The soil would need to be (11) hard clay because otherwise the nest would not be safe from digging predators. These two characteristics further suggested (12) the open woodland or scrub of Africa.

Alexander described this social vertebrate in a series of guest lectures at North Carolina State University, University of Kansas, University of Texas, Colorado State University, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff in 1975 and 1976. At Flagstaff, mammalogist Terry Vaughan suggested to Alexander that his hypothetical eusocial rodent was a "perfect description" of the naked mole-rat Heterocephalus glaber. He further described the burrowing East African mammal and suggested that Alexander contact Jennifer Jarvis, an authority on African mole-rats. Jarvis had studied the ecology and physiology of naked mole-rats but at that time nothing was known about their social system. Subsequent field and laboratory observations have confirmed that they are in fact eusocial, as Alexander's model had predicted, and that the other elements of his model are accurate as well (Braude and Lacey 1992; Jarvis 1981; Sherman and others 1991; Sherman and others 1992). This case demonstrates one type of predictive power in modern evolutionary theory.

Evolutionary biologists are making new discoveries every day. To suggest that evolutionary biology is either untestable or unpredictive ignores their vast body of work including the dramatic discovery of eusociality in the naked mole-rat based on clear understanding of the selective forces leading to the evolution of social behavior.

 

Acknowledgments

 

Many thanks to Nancy Berg, Keith Butler and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions.

 

References

 

Alexander RD. The evolution of social behavior. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 1974; 5:326-83.

Alexander RD, Hoogland JL, Howard RD, Noonan KM, Sherman PW. Sexual dimorphism and breeding systems in pinnipeds, ungulates, primates and humans. In: Chagnon N and Irons W eds. Evolutionary Biology and Human Social Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective. North Scituate (MA): Duxbury Press, 1979. p 402-35.

Alexander RD. The Biology of Moral Systems. Hawthorn (NY): Aldine de Gruyter, 1987.

Alexander RD, Crespi B, Noonan K. The evolution of eusociality. In: Sherman P, Jarvis J, Alexander RD, eds. The Biology of the Naked Mole-Rat. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. p 3-44.

Andersson M. The evolution of eusociality. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 1984; 15:165-89.

Borror D, Triplehorn C, Johnson N. The Study of Insects. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing, 1989.

Braude S, Lacey E. The underground society. The Sciences 1992; 32:23-8.

Carson HL, Val FC, Templeton AR. Change in male secondary sexual characters in artificial interspecific hybrid populations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1994; 91(14):6315-8.

Charlesworth B, Hughes KA. Age-specific inbreeding depression and components of genetic sequence variance in relation to the evolution of senescence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1996; 93(12):6140-5.

Crandall K, Templeton AR. Empirical tests of some predictions from coalescent theory with applications to intraspecific phylogeny reconstruction. Genetics 1993; 134(3): 959-69.

Darwin CR. On the Origin of Species. New York: Collier Books, 1859.

Dobzhansky T. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher. 1973; 35:125-9.

Eisenberg J. The Mammalian Radiations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Georgiatis N, Bischof L, Templeton A, Patton J, Karesh W, Western D. Structure and history of African elephant populations: I. Eastern and southern Africa. Journal of Heredity 1994; 85(2): 100-4.

Gish DT. Evolution? The Fossils Say No! San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1979.

Goodnight CJ, Stevens L. Experimental studies of group selection: What do they tell us about group selection in nature? American Naturalist 1997; 150(Supplement):59-79.

Harvey P, Pagel M. The Comparative Method in Evolutionary Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Jarvis JUM. Eusociality in a mammal: Cooperative breeding in naked mole rat colonies. Science 1981; 212:571-3.

Johnson PE. Darwin on Trial. Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1991.

Losos JB, Warheit KI, Schoener TW. Adaptive differentiation following experimental island colonization in Anolis lizards. Nature 1997; 387: 70-3.

MacArthur RH, Wilson EO. The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Martins E. Phylogenies and the Comparative Method in Animal Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Morris HM. Scientific Creationism. San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974.

Morris HM. The Long War Against God. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Book House, 1989.

Popper KR. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Popper KR. Natural selection and the emergence of mind. Dialectica 1978; 32:339-55.

Routman E, Templeton AR. Parsimony, molecular evolution and biogeography: The case of the North American giant salamander. Evolution 1994; 48(6):1799-809.

Ryan MJ. Sensory systems, sexual selection, and sensory exploitation. Oxford Surveys in Evolutionary Biology 1990; 7:157-95.

Sherman PW, Jarvis JUM, Alexander RD. The Biology of the Naked Mole-Rat. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Sherman PW, Jarvis JUM, Braude S. Naked mole-rats. Scientific American 1992; 267(2):72-8.

Stryer L. Biochemistry 4th Ed. New York: Freeman, 1995.

Templeton AR. Experimental evidence for the Genetic-transilience model of speciation. Evolution 1996; 50(2): 909-15.

Templeton AR, Read B. Inbreeding: One word, several meanings, much confusion. In Loeschke V, Tomuik J, Jain SK eds. Conservation Genetics. Basel: Birkhauser Verlag, 1994.

Templeton AR, Hollocher H, Johnston IS. The molecular through ecological genetics of abnormal abdomen in Drosophila mercatorum. Female phenotypic expression on natural genetic backgrounds and in natural environments. Genetics 1993; 134(2): 475-85.

Tomlinson IPM, Movelli MR, Bodmer WF. The mutation rate and cancer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1996; 93(25):14800-3.

Welty J. The Life of Birds. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing, 1979.

Williams G. Pleiotropy, natural selection and the evolution of senescence. Evolution 1957; 11:398-411.

About the Author(s): 

Stan Braude
Biology Department
Campus Box 1137
Washington University
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis MO 63130
email: braude@wustlb.wustl.edu

 

Stanton Braude has been studying naked mole rats in the laboratory and field for the past 15 years. He is currently on the faculty of the International Center for Tropical Ecology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and at Washington University in St. Louis

(c) 1998, National Center for Science Education

Dealing with Anti-Evolutionism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Dealing with Anti-Evolutionism
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
4
Year: 
1997
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
24–30
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In November 1995 the Alabama Department of Education required all biology textbooks used in the state to display a disclaimer informing the young reader that

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans. No one was present when life first appeared on earth, therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact.


In March 1996 the governor of Alabama sent all biology teachers a copy of an anti-evolution book, Darwin on Trial, using his discretionary funds. Shortly thereafter the Tennessee legislature debated and ultimately rejected a requirement that

No teacher or administrator in a local education agency shall teach the theory of evolution except as a scientific theory. Any teacher or administrator teaching such theory as fact commits insubordination. (Tennessee HB 2972/SB 3229 1996).


Also during the spring of 1996 Georgia voted down an amendment to an education bill that would "provide that local boards of education may establish optional courses in creationism" and

As part of any science curriculum wherein students are taught concerning the origins of life and living things, including the origins of humankind, teachers shall have the right to present and critique any and all scientific theories about such origins and all facets thereof, including without limitation scientific theories other than evolutionism.


"Critiques of evolution" or "arguments against evolution" are code-phrases for creation science, stimulated by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent to Edwards v. Aguillard, the 1987 case that struck down "equal time for creationism and evolution" laws. Another "arguments against evolution" law was debated by the Senate Education Committee of the Ohio state legislature in May 1996. It was ultimately rejected (by a vote of 12-8). The wording directed that

Whenever a theory of the origin of humans or other living things that might commonly be referred to as "evolution" is included in the instructional program provided by any school district or educational service center, both scientific evidence and related arguments supporting or consistent with the theory and scientific evidence and related arguments problematic for, inconsistent with, or not supporting the theory shall be included.


And, as this essay was being written, news arrived to the office of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) that the Cobb County, Georgia school district had requested MacMillan-McGraw Hill to delete a chapter on the Big Bang and earth's origin in an earth science booklet for fourth graders after parents complained. Newspaper accounts reported that MacMillan would comply.

What's going on here? Clearly, pressure against the teaching of evolution has not abated, and even appears to be on the rise (Gillis 1994; Scott 1994; 1996). What is it about evolution, more than any other scientific theory, that elicits this response? The Alabama disclaimer "no one was present" argument is especially puzzling, as many phenomena studied in modern science are not observed directly. In fact, no one has stood in space and observed the earth making its circuit around the sun through the course of a year, but we do not hear protestations that heliocentrism should be considered just a guess or hunch (the street definition of "theory").

Heliocentrism, as Galileo discovered, was once considered a challenge to religion, because it was thought to conflict with the Bible. The Bible, read literally, assumes the ancient view of the cosmos that the earth is the center of the solar system and the sun revolves around it. Few Americans these days interpret the Bible as a geocentric document, but a healthy percentage still accept a literal reading of Genesis regarding the separate creation of plants and animals as independent "kinds". This belief contrasts starkly with the scientific concept that living species are descended with modification from ancestors that differed from then. Thus evolution, and not theologically-acceptable heliocentrism, is vigorously opposed by an active segment of modern American society.

Anti-evolutionism extends beyond mere biblical literalism, however, as shown by comparing survey data on American religious opinions with survey data on attitudes towards evolution. Polls of adult Americans have consistently shown over the last fifteen years or so that a substantial proportion of us do not think humans evolved (whether other creatures evolved is usually not part of the standard query). In May 1996 the National Science Foundation released results from a telephone survey of 2006 individuals who were asked questions about basic science literacy (Petit 1996). One question was, "Human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." Only 44% of Americans answered "True". In 1994 the American Museum of Natural History asked "Human beings evolved from earlier species of animals, true or false" and only 45% agreedùresults virtually identical to the NSF study.

Defining religious conservatism is tricky, as there is no uniform agreement on terms. One term for conservative Christians is "evangelical." Evangelicals are Christians who believe the Bible is inerrant, and that salvation is achieved only through Christ (Hunter 1983). According to Marsden (1987), about 20% of Americans are evangelicals, far fewer than the 44% of Americans who reject evolution.

In a nutshell, there is more anti-evolutionism than there are religious conservatives: anti-evolutionism appeals both to evangelicals as well as Americans who adhere to religiously-moderate faiths. There is an irony here: the "official" theologies of Catholic and mainstream Protestant Christianity are not literalist and have accommodated evolution as the way God created (Scott 1995). NCSE's book, Voices for Evolution (Matsumura 1995), includes a collection of statements from the Roman Catholic Pope, the Episcopalians, Methodists, United Church of Christ, Presbyterians, and the Lutheran World Federation (and several Jewish groups) all expressing respect for science and for evolution as part of science. Nonetheless, even if the ministers, priests and rabbis accept evolution, many people on the other side of the pulpit appear largely ignorant of their own theology!

It is important for those of us trying to teach evolution to recognize that many of our fellow citizens find evolution profoundly disturbing. They have been told or have somehow acquired the belief (sometimes from scientists, unfortunately) that evolution "proves" that there is no purpose to life, that life has no meaning, that they must give up their sense of the divine. According to a respected City University of New York poll, 90% of Americans describe themselves as religious (Goldman 1991). If evolution is presented as antithetical to religion (which is precisely how organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research present it), it is no wonder that a high percentage of Americans reject it. Actually, as suggested by the selections in Voices for Evolution, mainline Christianity can accommodate evolution, though it is doubtful that Biblical literalism can. As teachers and scientists, we need to leave an opportunity for the religious individual to work out the accommodation according to his or her beliefs, and not slam the door by inserting extra-scientific philosophical statements about purpose and meaning into our discussions of evolution. I will discuss this in greater detail below.

The Importance Of Evolution In The Curriculum

Evolution is a necessary part of the science curriculum. A biology or earth science course taught without the inclusion of evolution is an inferior course. Students who take these courses without being told that evolution unifies the data and concepts of the field are being cruelly short-changed. They will leave the course having been misled that science largely consists of the tedious memorization of lists of facts, rather than a tool we can use to help us understand the world of nature. This episodic, atomistic view of science is particularly regrettable: it turns students away from studying science, and perhaps worse yet, defeats our efforts to produce a scientifically literate society.

Evolution needs to be taught, but some teachers will be doing so in a hostile environment. How can teachers present this topic and avoid the potential minefields? Or, since some of the land mines are unavoidable, how can a teacher defuse them?

Evolution Happened

First, teachers need to be confident that evolution is state of the art science. A common claim made by anti-evolutionists is that evolution is a "theory in crisis," in the words from the title of a popular anti-evolution book (Denton 1985). Many teachers have not studied evolution, feel unconfident about teaching it, and are susceptible to being swayed by "new" information that "evolution is not as well accepted as it used to be". Evolution is presented matter-of-factly at every decent college or university in this country, including Brigham Young, Notre Dame, and Baylor. It is simply untrue that evolution is being widely challenged by scientists themselves. Help your colleagues to understand that scientists do not debate whether evolution (change through time, descent with modification) took place, though they vigorously argue how it took placeùthe processes, mechanisms and details of evolution. The previously-mentioned Voices for Evolution contains 33 statements from scientific organizations, all of which reassure teachers that evolution is indeed the reigning paradigm explaining how the universe came to be in its present state. Some statements, such as that from the National Academy of Sciences' booklet Science and Creationism, clearly distinguish between evolution as something which should be taught in the science classroom and creation science which should not:

[T]he Academy states unequivocally that the tenets of "creation science" are not supported by scientific evidence, that creationism has no place in a science curriculum at any level, that its proposed teaching would be impossible in any constructive sense for well-informed and conscientious science teachers, and that its teaching would be contrary to the nation's need for a scientifically literate citizenry and for a large well-informed pool of scientific and technical personnel. (Committee on Science and Creationism 1984, p 7-8).

As scientists agree that evolution is a crucial part of science, so also do educators. The National Science Education Standards, released in February of 1996, present evolution as one of the "Unifying Concepts and Processes," as well as listing it prominently in the Content Standards for grades 9-12. Anticipating a tendency for states and districts to pick and choose among the standards rather than truly revise their curricula, the publication states firmly that, "No standards should be eliminated from a category." Perhaps presciently, the Standards chose evolution as a negative example. "For instance, 'biological evolution' cannot be eliminated from the life science standards." (National Research Council 1996, p 112).

"Benchmarks for Science Literacy," the 1993 publication by the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Project 2061: Science for All Americans, cites evolution as an integral part of the science curriculum. Similarly, the California Science Framework and the curricula of most other states require evolution to be presented. (Some disguise it as "change through time," and confuse ontogeny with phylogeny by referring to evolution as "development"). Voices for Evolution includes statements from 30 science education organizations including the National Science Teachers Association, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the National Science Supervisors Associationùall exhorting science educators to teach evolution and not present creation science. If evolution is a "theory in crisis," somehow the entire science and education establishments are unaware of it.

Know What You Are Talking About!

Now, appealing to authority may often be effective with students, but it is hardly something we wish to encourage! Opponents of evolution rely exceedingly heavily upon (out of context) quotations from authorities like Stephen Jay Gould in their attacks upon evolution. Because "famous scientist X" said something, it supposedly should be accepted. As it happens, when it comes to appeals to authority, the pro-evolution side wins hands down! We have the National Academy of Science, the Nobel laureates, and all the other heavy hitters of big science - but what is more important, we have the science itself. Teachers need to be familiar with the data and theory of evolution, and why this theory has such strong explanatory power. Evolution is accepted by scientists today because it explains more observations than any alternative. Any of a number of basic college level biology and especially evolution textbooks will provide teachers with plenty of evidence for evolution's being the unifying theory explaining observations from biogeography, comparative anatomy, comparative biochemistry, the fossil record, developmental biology, and many other fields.

Define Evolution

A colleague in physical anthropology teaching a small college in the Southeast told me she was teaching a class of freshmen college students and found that none of them had ever studied evolution or even knew what evolution was. When they found out, they found the concept exciting and intellectually challenging, and they clamored for a special course on the topic. Their response, in her words, was "Of course species change through time! You mean that's evolution?!" Sometimes finding out what evolution actually is (or more precisely, replacing erroneous ideas about evolution) in itself reduces students' reluctance to learn about it. A proper definition of evolution is important to helping students understand the concept.

It's been my experience (and perhaps yours too) that most non-scientists think evolution means "man evolved from monkeys," which is an exceedingly narrow definition. It is both scientifically accurate as well as strategically wise to embed evolution within the broadest scientific context possible. Evolution isn't just about humans, or even about living things. Astronomers do, after all, study cosmic evolution. Geologists and geophysicists study the evolution of the planet earth, and evolution is the organizing concept of earth science just as it is for the life sciences. Biologists and biochemists study the change through time of living things. Rejection of evolution doesn't mean merely rejection of "man evolved from monkeys," but rejection of principles relevant (and in some cases crucial) to modern science.

The word "evolution" is defined and used in many different ways, some more useful and accurate than others. Embedding evolution in a wide range of sciences requires a broad definition. What unites astronomical, geological, and biological evolution is the concept of change through time. But "change through time" can also refer to phenomena like the water cycle, or the rotation of the earth around the sun, or the passage of energy through a food chain, or the metamorphosis of insects. Not all change is evolution, so we must distinguish evolution as being cumulative change through time. The evolution of a star from white dwarf to supernova is one such cumulative change.

When we discuss organic evolution, we must be especially precise. Here I part company with many of my colleagues: I do not find the traditional "evolution is changes in gene frequencies through time" to be a useful definition, even if it were modified to be "cumulative changes in gene frequencies through time." Especially at the beginning of a course, who knows what a gene frequency is? The genetically-based definition of evolution is useful in understanding the major constituents of evolution (genetic variation, adaptation, reproductive isolation/speciation), but if a teacher waits until students understand all of the related concepts, it will be the end of the semester. If evolution is to be taught as the organizing principle of biology, we shouldn't wait until the end of the semester to let them in on the secret! I find that even college students lose track of the relationship of evolution to biology using this genetically-based definition, and I am sure high-school students will, also.

What do we want students to know about organic evolution? The "Big Idea" is that living things (species) are related to one another through common ancestry from earlier forms that differed from them. Darwin called this "descent with modification," and it is still the best definition of evolution we can use, especially with members of the general public and with young learners. Descent with modification makes biology make sense. We can study and understand the workings of evolution using genes, cells, fossils, ecology, taxonomy—you name the biological subfield, and evolution is there.

For example, everyone teaches some taxonomy in high school and junior high. But how many explicitly teach how the concept of descent with modification makes it possible to group organisms into taxa? Horses and donkeys are similar because they shared a common ancestor quite recently, geologically speaking (in fact, they can still interbreed, though the hybrid is sterile). The horse/donkey group can be grouped with zebras because it shared a common ancestor with zebras, and so on up through genera, families, orders, classes, and phyla. Most of the time taxonomy is taught backwards: organisms are classed together because they are similar. Wrong. They are classed together and they are similar because they shared a common ancestor.

A good example of a confused understanding of evolution is even found in some textbooks. How many times have you seen the peppered moth or other cases of industrial melanism used as an example of evolution? It is an example of change, but fluctuating change. Remember that the frequencies of melanic genes shifted back to their pre-industrial lows after scrubbers were placed on smokestacks and air pollution was reduced. Industrial melanism is an example of natural selection, not of evolution. A good exercise would be to have the students figure out whether industrial melanism could be an example of evolution (as in our definition of "descent with modification.") (Hint: add reproductive isolation and speciation!)

Define "Theory"

Not incidentally, teachers also need to be clear in their minds about what a "theory" is, because (as illustrated in the examples with which I opened this essay) evolution is under attack for being "just" a theory. The problem is that "theory" is used outside of science in a deprecating way as a synonym for guess or hunch.

What is a "fact" and what is a "theory?"

A fact is a confirmed observation. For example, it is a confirmed observation that every tetrapod known has at some stage of its life, a humerus, a radius and ulna, and a distal cluster of bones corresponding to carpals, metacarpals and phalanges. The general public (and even some scientists) use the word "fact" to imply capital T "Truth": unchanging agreement. In science, facts, like theories, may change: it was once a fact (for about 10 years) that Homo sapiens had 48 chromosomes. But other observations were confirmed and explanations found for the erroneous observations, and now we know that there are 46. In general, though, in science we treat facts as statements we don't need to test and question anymore, but rather can use as givens to build more complex understandings.

A theory, in science, is a logical construct of facts and hypotheses that attempts to explain a natural phenomenon. It is an explanation, not a guess or hunch, that one can casually disregard. Theory formationùexplanationùis the goal of science, and nothing we do is more important. A scientist joked that we should applaud the Tennessee law punishing teachers for teaching evolution as a "fact rather than a theory" because "everyone knows that theories are more important than facts!" Theories explain facts, but the general public doesn't know that.

Concerning evolution, then, what's a fact and what's a theory? One hears from many scientists, "Evolution is FACT!!!" The meaning here is that evolution, the "what happened," is so well supported that we don't argue about it, anymore than we argue about heliocentrism versus geocentrism. We accept that change through time happened, and go on to try to explain how. What we mean and what is heard is often different, however. What the public often hears when scientists say "Evolution is FACT!" is that we treat evolution as unchallengeable dogma, which it isn't.

We must learn to present evolution not as "a fact" in this dogmatic sense, but "matter of factly," as we would present heliocentrism and gravitation. Most people consider heliocentrism and gravitation as "facts", but they are not "facts" in my definition of "confirmed observations." Instead, they are powerful inferences from many observations, which are not in themselves questioned, but used to build more detailed understandings.

From the standpoint of philosophy of science, the "facts of evolution" are things like the anatomical structural homologies such as the tetrapod forelimb, or the biochemical homologies of cross species protein and DNA comparisons, or the biogeographical distribution of plants and animals. The "facts of evolution" are observations, confirmed over and over, such as the presence and/or absence of particular fossils in particular strata of the geological column (one never finds mammals in the Devonian, for example). From these confirmed observations we develop an explanation, an inference, that what explains all of these facts is that species have had histories, and that descent with modification has taken place. Evolution is thus a theory, and one of the most powerful theories in science.

We may also speak of "theories" (plural) of evolution, in the sense of the explanations for how descent with modification has taken place. It is conceptually sound to separate evolution as something that did or did not happen from explanations about how, or how fast, or which species are related to which. I'll return to this idea below.

Indeed, teachers have to be sure that students know what theories are and why they are important. Students also must - this is crucial - learn as part of their science instruction that our explanations change with new data or better ways of looking at things. Anti-evolutionists make the statement that "evolution isn't science because you guys are always changing your minds about stuff." This is not a criticism. That's the way a vigorous science works.

Defuse The Religion Issue

People don't oppose evolution because they disagree with the science but because it offends their religious sensibilities. In most communities, at least some students come into a class wary of the "e-word" because somehow they have acquired the idea that acceptance of evolution is incompatible with religious faith. Anti-evolutionists, in fact, make a special point of proclaiming that one is either an evolutionist or a creationist, falsely dichotomizing the issue. Although it is not the job of public school science teachers to teach theology, when students come to class with their fingers stuck into their ears and their eyes closed, it is necessary to figure out a way to get the fingers out and the eyes open.

Most Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations have accepted evolution as the way God brought the world about, and this is also true of the theology of all but the most conservative Jews. Although it would be inappropriate for a teacher to encourage students towards or against any religious view, it is appropriate to inform them, in a comparative sense, of the existence of more than one religious perspective on creation and evolution. Because students are not tabulae rasae when they come to class, a constructivist approach is a useful way to help them build their understanding of this important fact.

Teachers have told me they have had good results when they begin the year by asking students to brainstorm what they think the words "evolution" and "creationism" mean. As expected, some of the information will be accurate and some will be erroneous. Under "evolution," expect to hear "Man evolved from monkeys" or something similar. Don't be surprised to find some variant of, "You can't believe in God" or some similar statement of supposed incompatibility between religion and evolution. Under "creationism" expect to find more consistency: "God"; "Adam and Eve," "Genesis," etc. The next step in constructing student understanding of concepts is to guide them towards a more accurate view. One goal of this exercise is to help them see the diversity of religious attitudes towards evolution.

After one such initial brainstorming session, one teacher presented students with a short quiz wherein they were asked, "Which statement was made by the Pope?" or "Which statement was made by an Episcopal Bishop?" and given an "a, b, c" multiple choice selection. All the statements from theologians, of course, stressed the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution. This generated discussion about what evolution was versus what students thought it was. By making the students aware of the diversity of opinion towards evolution extant in Christian theology, the teacher helped them understand that they didn't have to make a choice between evolution and religious faith.

A teacher in Minnesota told me that he had good luck sending his students out at the beginning of the semester to interview their pastors and priests about evolution. They came back somewhat astonished, "Hey! Evolution is OK!" Even when there was diversity in opinion, with some religious leaders accepting evolution as compatible with their theology and others rejecting it, it was educational for the students to find out for themselves that there was no single Christian perspective on evolution. The survey-of-ministers approach may not work if the community is religiously homogeneous, especially if that homogeneity is conservative Christian, but it is something that some teachers might consider as a way of getting students' fingers out of their ears.

A less constructivist but not necessarily ineffective approach is to begin by properly separating "evolution" as something that occurred (change through time) from the processes and mechanisms - the causes - of evolution. Define evolution as an issue of the history of the planet: as the way we try to understand change through time. The present is different from the past. Evolution happened, there is no debate within science as to whether it happened, and so on. Then, list (for later discussion) a number of causes or processes which might explain in whole or in part, how this change through time might have taken place. Stress that this is where debating takes place. List both currently-debated and also rejected explanations, such as Lamarckism, saltation, Darwinian natural selection, neodarwinism, non-Darwinian evolution, and so on. At the end of the list (and I recommend using a transparency or writing the list on the blackboard), include "Supernatural Causation". Explain that some people think that change through time is caused directly or indirectly by a supernatural being, including God, the Hero Twins (Navajo), or some other supernatural power. At this point you then state because this is a science class, and science is limited to explaining through natural forces, we cannot discuss supernatural causation here.

I have used this approach at the college level and seen a remarkable development: the fingers start coming out of the ears. Just by mentioning the fact that some people believe God was responsible for change through time, you are recognizing the view of many Christian and Jewish students, even though you are not going to discuss it further (you're not a theology teacher!) Many religious students have never been exposed to a continuum of religious views, and in a very real sense, you are giving them an opportunity to listen to you and not shut you out. Note that you are not to promote theistic evolution: the schools must be religiously neutral. The purpose of this exercise is to give the student some critically important information so that he or she will be more willing to listen to the scientific information you will present.

Similarly, it is useful to separate "creationism" into two parts. Most Americans define "creationism" as "God created," and when creationism is juxtaposed with evolution, the translation made is that "evolution = God-didn't-create." This is the perspective promoted by anti-evolutionists, of course, but it is an unnecessary dichotomy. As discussed above, mainline Christian and Jewish theology accept evolution as the way God created. The other type of "creationism" tries to more specifically answer the question, "what happened?" Special creation, the view of biblical literalists, is that everything in the universe was created all at one time, in its present form. From my experience in dealing with the general public on this issue (radio talk shows are very educational...), most Americans are willing to accept that change through time has taken place, but they very much want to retain God as the creator.

Whether God created is of course, not a scientific question, because science is restricted to explaining natural phenomena using only natural processes. But science can tell us a great deal about "what happened," and the evidence powerfully leads us to conclude that change has taken place and not that everything appeared in its present form.

Helping students understand that evolution, like all scientific explanations, deals only with proximate, never ultimate cause, allows them to accommodate their religious views to evolution, if they so choose. Much resistance to evolution is overcome by allowing the religious student to retain his or her faith in God the creator, while still accepting the scientific evidence for descent with modification.

"But I don't believe in evolution"

There will doubtless be students who refuse to accept evolution. That's all right. Remember, the job of you and your colleagues at the K-12 level is to help students understand the consensus view of a discipline, whether it is history, literature, mathematics, or science. No one said a student has to "believe" in a spherical earth, and in fact, a teacher in a small mountain community in Appalachia told me that she had a brother and sister who would walk out of the class when she discussed a heliocentric solar system! It's the job of the teacher to instruct, not to indoctrinate. All you are asking is that the student learn the subject. Whether he agrees with what is being taught is up to him. Although you'd feel silly telling students, "Well, kids, today we're going to discuss the theory of heliocentrism, but you don't have to believe it!," tension is often reduced when you reassure students that all you're expecting of them is to learn the material (they have to pass the test, after all). Whether they accept the modern scientific consensus that evolution occurred is up to them.

Counter The "Equal Time"/"Fairness" Sentiment

School boards in every state have been pressed by citizens to include creationism in the science curriculum because "you already teach evolution, so it's only fair to teach creationism too." The idea of "balancing" evolution with creationism, giving "equal time" out of "fairness" is an approach that resonates with Americans. It is, in fact, the strongest argument creationists have raisedùnot because of logical soundness, but because Americans value fairness and equality.

Science is not a democratic process

We decide which explanation (theory) is superior based on its power to explain successfully, not on how popular it is. Heliocentrism was not a popular idea 300 years ago - ask Galileo - but it is now the standard explanation for the relationship of the earth to the sun because it explains so many more observations than any other theory. The theories of kin selection and parental investment derived from sociobiology are not "popular" views, but if they continue to explain social behavior successfully, they will be utilized.

If scientists could vote to choose theories, I'd vote for Lamarckism! It's a lot more humane and useful than natural selection! But the world doesn't work that way. The laws of nature work as they will, irrespective of human wish or will. The explanations scientists accept are the ones that work, and Lamarckism doesn't work. The special creationism explanation that the universe was created all at one time in its present form doesn't explain nature nearly as well as the evolutionary explanation that the universe has had a history and that change has taken place. Thus, special creation has been discarded as a scientific explanation.

"It's only fair!"

It is not "fair" to mislead students by pretending that discarded ideas are still viable. We do not present geocentrism and heliocentrism as if they are currently contending theories. We only confuse students by presenting special creation and evolution as if both were equally scientific and as if scientists were still trying to decide between them.

There is another question regarding the "fairness" approach: How should educational curricula be determined? Most of the time, we agree that the consensus scholarship of history, literature, art, or science should be presented to Kindergarten - 12th grade students. We do not teach astrology with astronomy because professional astronomers (and physics teachers) tell us that astrology is not considered good scholarship. Biologists, geologists, astronomers and other scientists tell us that evolution should be taught, and creation "science" should not. The proponents of creationism in the curriculum are a political pressure group outside of the educational and scientific communities. A good defense against the "fairness" argument is to point out that we do not determine scholarship depending on what a political pressure group wants, otherwise we would teach Holocaust revisionism along with standard World War II history, and give equal time in medical school to the ideas that AIDS is caused by viruses and AIDS is a curse sent from God.

"Teach both creationism and evolution to promote critical thinking"

Often teachers are encouraged by parents or others to present creationism with evolution for pedagogical reasons: supposedly, presenting nonscience with science and "letting the children decide" will improve their reasoning skills. It makes more sense to have students practice critical thinking by evaluating ideas that are truly in contention. Few teachers would have students evaluate the "scientific" evidence for flat-earthism (there is some, with emphasis on the quotation marks!) versus spherical-earthism "and let the children decide." Again, the creationists make an issue of whether evolution occurred, rather than how. The scientific debates concern the latter, not the former.

It is possible to use creationism and evolution as foils in a discussion of the nature of science, but this may well result in a student's taking offense at what may appear to be criticism of his or her religion. It is better to avoid this, for many reasons.

Evaluating the creation science literature requires far more background than students have, or will haveùand maybe even than the teacher has. Most teachers would not ask students to evaluate whether balloon angioplasty or by-pass surgery should be used to treat heart failure, and that question deals "only" with medicine, one field in biology. Consider that organic evolution (not to mention astronomical and geological evolution) relies on data from biochemistry, comparative anatomy, the fossil record, biogeography, and many other fields. The vast majority of students are not well enough versed in even one of these areas to critically evaluate it. The amount of time devoted to evolution in most classes is pitifully small as it is, although the consensus of science educators and scientists is that it should be the organizing principle of biology and geology, and be referred to regularly throughout the semester. Few teachers who favor teaching the "two models" would be willing to spend enough time teaching about evolution so that students could see why the creationist arguments are faulty.

Summary

Teachers should teach evolution, but in many classrooms they encounter much opposition, mirroring the rejection of evolution by large percentages of the population. There are three approaches discussed here to help teachers deal with anti-evolutionism.

First, be informed about the nature of science, and the science of evolution.

Second, understand the religiously-based opposition to evolution, and consider ways to defuse it. Before students can learn evolution, they must be willing to learn, and many come into class thinking that evolution is incompatible with their religious views. In some cases, this will indeed be the case, and nothing a teacher can say will change it. In this situation, it is best to remind the student that the job of the teacher is to communicate the consensus view of the field, and the job of the student is to learn it. Whether the student accepts what he learns is up to him. For most students, becoming aware of the plurality of religious views towards evolution allows them to accommodate their views to the science you are presenting.

Finally, there is much pressure on teachers to teach creationism along with evolution in the science class because doing so is "fair," or, perhaps, "good pedagogy". Neither is the case: students should learn state of the art science, not outmoded views which have been rejected as science. Also, we do not determine curricula based on the desires of a pressure group, but based on the consensus of scholars in the field.

But teachers themselves need to take the initiative, because ultimately, the buck stops in the classroom, with the teacher. Many teachers teach science without having had training in the subject, or with only inadequate training. Especially at the elementary level, many teachers have "science phobia." These teachers are especially reluctant to teach evolution, for obvious reasons. They need better knowledge of the content of science, but they also need encouragement to teach a controversial issue. There are many knowledgeable teachers who are teaching evolution, and teaching it well. You have a responsibility to mentor those who are not, and I encourage you to do so.

Evolution is the organizing principle of biology and geology, and it needs to be taught if we are to produce new scientists as well as have a scientifically literate society. There is help for teachers willing to teach this "controversial subject," from organizations like the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Center for Science Education, and also - most importantly - from colleagues.

[Originally published in The Paleontological Society Papers Oct 1996; volume 2, LEARNING FROM THE FOSSIL RECORD, edited by Judy Scotchmoor and Frank K McKinney. ]

References

[Anonymous]. American Museum of Natural History announces results of nationwide survey on science literacy. NY: Office of Public Affairs, American Museum of Natural History, 1994.

[Anonymous]. Only 25% of American adults get passing grades in science survey. Los Angeles Times 1996 May 24, p A22. Committee on Science and Creationism. Science and creationism. A view from the National Academy of Sciences. Washington (DC): National Academy Press, 1984.

Denton M. Evolution, a theory in crisis. Bethesda (MD): Adler and Adler Publishers, Inc, 1985.

Gillis AM. Keeping creationism out of the classroom. Bioscience 1994:44(10):650-6.

Goldman AL. Portrait of religion in US holds dozens of surprises. New York Times 1991 Apr 10: A1.

Hunter JD. American evangelicalism: Conservative religion and the quandary of modernity. New Brunswick (NJ):Rutgers University Press, 1983.

Marsden GM. Evangelical and fundamental Christianity. In: Eliade M, editor. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 5. NY: Macmillan, 1987. p 190-7.

Matsumura M. Voices for evolution. 2nd ed. Berkeley (CA):National Center for Science Education, 1995.

National Research Council. National science education standards. Washington (DC): National Academy Press, 1996.

Petit C. Americans flunk science basics. San Francisco Chronicle 1996 May 24: A1.

Project 2061. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Scott EC. The Struggle for the schools. Natural History 1994 Jul: 10, 12-3.

Scott EC. . Science and Christianity are compatibleùwith some compromises. The Scientist 1995 Jan 9: 12.

Scott EC. Monkey business. Creationism regroups to expel evolution from the classroom. The Sciences. 1996 Jan/Feb: 20-5.

RNCSE 17 (5)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Articles available online are listed below.

Milestone, 1997: NCSE Submits Brief in Creationism Case

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Milestone, 1997: NCSE Submits Brief in Creationism Case
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
4
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In 1984, three years before the Supreme Court ruled in the well-known Edwards v. Aguillard decision that "balanced treatment" of evolution and "creation science" is unconstitutional, the Attorney General of Texas put an end to another anti-evolution practice. In answer to an inquiry from a state legislator, the Attorney General gave an official opinion that the Board of Education policy requiring "disclaimers" in biology textbooks violated the First Amendment.

However, disclaimers were never actually tested in court, and in April, 1994, the Board of Education in Tangipahoa, Louisiana, adopted a disclaimer to be read aloud by teachers before they presented any material concerning evolution (NCSE Reports 14[2]:8). The Louisiana disclaimer was followed by the Alabama Board of Education's adoption in November 1995 of a statement describing evolution as a "controversial theory"; the Alabama statement, like the Texas disclaimer, has been pasted into biology textbooks (see NCSE Reports 15[4]: 10-11). The Alabama disclaimer has been more widely reported and was followed by proposals of similar disclaimers in a number of school districts. However, it is the Louisiana disclaimer that has been challenged in court.

In August 1997, the US District court for Eastern Louisiana found the oral disclaimer unconstitutional. In the first court decision to define "the theory of intelligent design" as another term for "creation science", Judge Marcel Livaudais wrote, "As hard as it tries to, this Court cannot glean any secular purpose to this disclaimer.... [T]he school board is endorsing religion by disclaiming evolution" (NCSE Reports 1997 17[3]:5). (A summary of court decisions concerning "creation science" and anti-evolution legislation is available at http://ncseweb.org/taking-action/ten-major-court-cases-evolution-creationism.)

Judge Livaudais' decision is already being cited in opposition to other anti-evolution policies. However, the school district has appealed the decision, insisting that their policy served the secular purpose of encouraging critical thinking. The Christian Legal Society (CLS) and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations jointly filed a "friend of the Court" brief supporting the school board's policy, arguing that the policy serves still another "secular" purpose — accommodating religious diversity by disclaiming evolutionary "orthodoxy". The brief, written with the assistance of law professor Phillip Johnson, extensively cites claims in his book Darwin on Trial that evolution is a "metaphysical world view". (Readers who watched the Firing Line "special debate" on evolution will recall that Johnson took part.)

Briefs supporting the views of the plaintiffs were also filed by the American Jewish Congress and the National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty, of which NCSE is a member. However, these briefs concentrated on constitutional issues, and legal advisors believed that it would be important to clarify the scientific issues as well. The Board of Education's defense and the CLS brief rely heavily on the claim that there are scientific objections and "alternatives" to the theory of evolution, when in fact there are none.

Against this background, NCSE decided that there should be a separate legal brief, addressing scientific issues exclusively. NCSE is fortunate to be able to call on the services of an attorney who has helped us in the past. Though we have joined other organizations in signing other "friend of the court" briefs, this is the first time in our 15-year history that we have filed a brief independently. It is an important milestone for NCSE and potentially a major contribution to the defense of evolution education.

History Forum Addresses Creation/Evolution Controversy

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
History Forum Addresses Creation/Evolution Controversy
Author(s): 
John Schweinsberg
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
12–16
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Every year, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) History Department presents a series of four programs on a topic of current interest such as turmoil in the middle east and the break-up of the Soviet bloc, Recently the creation/evolution controversy was considered to be sufficiently important and interesting to be the central topic. Dr Jack Ellis, professor of history and moderator of the forum, told me that Alabama's 1995 decision to require the insertion of a disclaimer about the validity of evolutionary theory into all high school biology books may well have been the decisive factor in the selection process. The purpose of the forum, which was officially titled "Creationism and Evolution: The History of a Controversy", was to look at the controversy from a historical and sociological, rather than a scientific, point of view. The Honors Program, the Humanities Center, the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and The Student Life Fund joined with the History Department to cosponsor the forum.

The Evolution of Scientific Creationism

The lead-off speaker was Ronald L Numbers, William Coleman Professor of History of Science and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and author of The Creationists (University of California Press, 1992). Numbers defined the world-wide flood as the leading characteristic which distinguished "scientific creationism" from other forms of creationism and quoted Henry Morris (of the Institute for Creation Research) to that effect. A second characteristic is its claim to be scientific, rather than to use religious reasoning directly from the Bible. "Scientific creationism" is currently the basis of nearly all creationist activity. At the beginning of the century, however, "scientific creationism" had not yet been formulated. At that time all creationist belief was divided into two other camps.

One of the camps, "Day-age" creationism, was championed by G Frederick Wright. Wright was the author of the anti-evolution section in a very influential series of pamphlets, The Fundamentals, published from 1910-1915, from which the word "fundamentalism" was eventually derived. Day-age creationism held that the 7 "days" of creation in Genesis were figurative days, rather than literal 24-hour days, thus leaving open the possibility of an ancient earth. Another supporter of Day-age creation was William Jennings Bryan who was much more open-minded to scientific results than the image attributed to him from the play Inherit the Wind. His opposition to evolution was based on the perceived negative social consequences of evolutionary theory. Living in an age when "Social Darwinism" had great following, Bryan was concerned that evolutionary belief was causing loss of religious faith and destroying the foundations of public morality.

The second creationist camp accepted the Gap Theory, championed in the Scofield Reference Bible (1909). It also allowed for an ancient earth by maintaining that there was a "gap" between Genesis 1:1, the 7-day creation story, and Genesis 1:2, the Garden of Eden story; that is, the Bible provided no information about the potentially long time period between the initial creation of the earth and the creation of mankind, which was given the traditional date of approximately 4004 BC. Jimmy Swaggert is one of the few major evangelists who supported the Gap Theory in recent times.

The single most influential figure in scientific creationism is George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist. In 1899, he was teaching at a remote village in Nova Scotia. A medical doctor, who wanted to dissuade Price from his creationist beliefs, loaned him geology books which influenced him greatly. Only his prayers and his faith in the visions of the Seventh Day Adventist prophet Ellen White were able to rescue Price from conversion to evolutionism. Price, however, was determined to reconcile his creationist beliefs with the geological record. Price's "rescue" came in the form of a "deceptive conformity".

A deceptive conformity is a geological structure in which relatively young rock is layered directly above much more ancient strata without a layer of intermediate age between them. Overthrusting results in the placement of more ancient rock on top of younger rock—an inversion of the "normal" order. Price interpreted both of these structures as refuting the standard geologic ages. His interpretation was combined with flood geology to explain fossils as the remains of victims of a single great catastrophe. By the end of the twenties, Price was considered a leading fundamentalist authority. Yet, in spite of the great impression which he had made, there was very little conversion of adherents from the other two anti-evolutionist camps. This may be due to the association of Price's flood geology with the Seventh Day Adventist Church which was considered an unpopular fringe denomination in fundamentalist circles.

In 1954 Bernard Ramm, an evangelical philosopher and theologian, published The Christian View of Science and Scripture which attacked Price's geology. The viciousness of the attack motivated a theology student,John Whitcomb Jr, to write his PhD dissertation in defense of flood geology. To obtain scientific advice, he later teamed with Henry Morris, who possessed a PhD in hydraulic engineering, to co-author The Genesis Flood, which appeared in 1961. It was effectively an updated version of Price's geology. Two years later, the Creation Research Society was founded by 10 evangelical scientists. Five of these scientists held PhDs in biology.A sixth, Duane Gish, held a PhD in biochemistry. The society was dedicated to "young-earth creationism" which eventually succeeded in totally co-opting the label "creationism".

Why did flood geology succeed in the second half of the century after its complete failure at the beginning of the century? Numbers believes that there are two major reasons:
1) The launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union led to a perceived crisis in American education. In turn, the federal government sponsored the writing of biology texts by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. These textbooks became widely used in the seventies and, for the first time, placed strong emphasis on evolution as the basis of modem biology. This created a fundamentalist backlash by the 80s.
2) Fundamentalists were apparently converted from the Day-age and Gap "theories" because the Bible could be interpreted more literally. It was no longer necessary to assume that "day" meant a long time or that the Bible had a major "gap" in its historical account. It was particularly attractive to pre-millenialists who took the entire book literally. Flood geology had now also lost its negative association with the Seventh Day Adventists. Instead, it appeared to give scientific respectability to fundamentalist beliefs about creation.

Ancient Texts Versus Sedimentary Rocks: Cosmologies in Conflict

The next speaker was Paul K Conklin, Distinguished Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and author of The Uneasy Center: Reformed Christianity in Antebellum America. He explained that the first creation account in Genesis, which dates to a period immediately following the Babylonian captivity, is cosmological. A personal creative masculine God named Elohim created the universe in six days. The second creation account is more ancient. A more human-like God named Jehovah makes a garden and creates a man as caretaker. Animals and eventually a woman are created to satisfy the man's loneliness. It is a story about temptation, disloyalty, punishment, and self-consciousness. Due to sin, Adam and Eve's offspring were destroyed by a great flood. Afterwards the earth was less fertile and human longevity was greatly reduced.

These two stories have been extraordinarily influential, being accepted by the Christian,Jewish, and Moslem religions alike. The creation stories had the property of "causality", giving a purpose to existence. Christians specifically believe in creation ex nihilo. Mature theism does not require God to have an origin and considers God to be an eternal ground of being who simply created an extension of himself. The creation stories also posses a certain incoherence and "tension" which actually serve to make them more appealing.

Although Christians have always argued about the details of the Genesis accounts, their basic validity was not in doubt until the end of the 18th century when critical biblical scholarship, as well as the growing scientific field of geology, both began to establish questions. It was becoming clear that the earth was older by several orders of magnitude than previously believed. A consistent geologic column was found to exist word-wide, and there was no evidence for a global flood. Genesis was in conflict with the rocks.

In the 19th century these tensions had to be faced. Theologians re-interpreted Genesis to allow the creation of new species at the beginning of each geological period. In the 1830s the continuity of geological epochs was not yet obvious. The radiation of species at the beginning of each epoch was explained by re-creation — including the re-creation of species from the preceding epoch who would appear as survivors. This periodic intervention of God preserved agency and purpose in the concept of evolution.

Darwin was able to describe a mechanism for change, based on population theory, which explained the continuity of species without a need for divine intervention. Inherited variations which enhance the probability of survival can accumulate to produce new variations and even new species, resulting in all modern life forms. Its explanation defined general patterns, not the predictable clockwork mechanism of Newton. The greatest threat to Christianity, however, was not evolution per se, but the naturalization of the mind. Darwin's Descent of Man gave an evolutionary explanation for self-consciousness. "Mind" and "idea" were no longer necessary causative agents for creation. A naturalistic explanation was sufficient.

The religious concept of cosmology shapes our language. The terminology "big bang" is itself a creationist concept. By personifying nature, the term "natural selection" is also a misnomer. Darwin writes that natural selection "selects for the good" of each individual and that nature rejects "bad" variations. This is the language of the natural theology which he studied in school. Even today, biologists and physicists talk in terms of causative agents, even though evolution does not "cause" an observed result. The language of evolutionists often resembles that of theists.

Many Christians assimilated evolution by transforming Genesis into a suggestive myth. God is the "ultimate cause" who intervened only at the beginning of creation, and possibly a second time to create human self-consciousness. Conservative Christians, on the other hand, persisted with the Day-age and Gap "theories" through the 1930s, in spite of their mythological aspects. Today, they have returned to a literal interpretation of flood geology in which people coexisted with dinosaurs. They argue that they simply have a different set of suppositions and paradigms than those used by the humanistic scientists. On this basis, they consider their own approach as equally valid scientifically.

Today, we live in a tragic age in which all old gods are dying. The Genesis story has become mythological for most people. Feminists cheer the demise of the highly masculine Jehovah. Liberal theologians commit deicide by making a new thunderless god every year. Why did the Lord of Eden warn against eating from the tree of knowledge? Was it really to protect Adam and Eve from knowledge? Knowledge is addictive and will eventually kill all gods. Perhaps God proclaimed the prohibition for reasons of self-preservation.

The Scopes Trial: A Reappraisal of Science, Religion, and Law in the South

The third speaker was Edward J Larson, Professor of History and Law at the University of Georgia. He is author of the book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and the Evolving Concept of Freedom. Larson maintained that the popular images of the Scopes trial, formed from sources such as Inherit the Wind, are extremely inaccurate. William Jennings Bryan had been a strong hero to common people for a long time. He had been a leading crusader for labor and tax reforms and for women's suffrage. He had been a major candidate for president three times. He had resigned as Secretary of State in opposition to the expected entry of the US into World War I.

Bryan's opposition to evolution was based on sociological considerations. He opposed "social Darwinism" which was popular at the time. He also believed that evolutionism would lead to atheism and a breakdown in public morality. He opposed both religious instruction in schools and teaching that evolution was a fact. When Tennessee passed its law forbidding the teaching of evolution, Bryan was supportive but disagreed with the provision for a $100 fine.

The Tennessee law was supported by the World Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA) which had been founded three years earlier to promote similar laws. It was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which considered the law to be an attack against academic freedom. The ACLU published an ad in a Chattanooga newspaper asking for a volunteer teacher who would be willing to initiate a test case. The offer was taken up by the civic leaders of Dayton, who wanted publicity for their small town. They convinced a local teacher, John Scopes, to cooperate. The WCFA recruited Bryan to represent them. Recognizing the promotional opportunity, Dayton appointed Bryan assistant prosecutor. Arthur Garfield Hayes put together a publicity-conscious defense team which included Dudley Field Malone, a strong supporter of the rights of women, blacks, and reformers, and Clarence Darrow, a non-Christian who doubted the existence of God. Both lawyers were new to the ACLU. Each side was interested in the publicity value for its own program. The trial was covered by hundreds of reporters and was the first to be carried live by radio.

The prosecution attempted to limit the trial to the narrow grounds that the legislatune had the authority to control education in the public schools. This was a legally sound argument which would, in practice, suffice to uphold the validity of anti-evolution laws. Expert witnesses to debate the scientific merits of evolution were not desired, since this could only serve to tilt the trial in favor of evolution. In fact, evolution was well accepted by the scientific community, and no expert of adequate scientific credentials could even be found to support the creationist view. The defense was successful in having expert testimony excluded.

The defense argued that the law infringed upon individual freedom. The defense also argued that it was unreasonable and compared it to a law forbidding the Copernican theory. Since the judge had the authority to decide legal issues, these arguments were not heard in the presence of the jury. After the judge upheld the state's control of public education, Darrow argued about interpretation of the statute. He maintained that evolution did not conflict with the Bible and that the Bible could be interpreted to support evolution. He invited Bryan to become an expert witness regarding the Bible. In spite of the legal dangers, Bryan, as a noted religious columnist, felt obligated to accept.

Bryan initially gave evasive answers when asked whether he had ever interpreted the Bible. When asked about Old Testament miracles, such as the sun's standing still, Bryan left the door open to interpretation by admitting that the earth may not have stood still but that the Bible was written in language which common people could understand at the time. Questioning continued about Noah's flood and finally the six days of creation. Bryan admitted that these may not refer to literal 24-hour days. All attempts by the prosecutor to halt the interrogation failed. Darrow maintained that the purpose of the interrogation was to demonstrate that bigotry and ignorance shouldn't control education. Bryan maintained: "I am trying to protect the word of God against the greatest atheist in the US."

Scopes was found guilty. The ACLU appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, making the case an issue of individual freedom vs. state authority over education. The court upheld the law, claiming that Scopes had to obey his employer, the state. However, it overturned the conviction on the technical ground that the judge, rather than the jury, had set the fine. This prevented the ACLU from appealing the case.

The Scopes trial had important but mixed effects on our culture. Newspapers ridiculed the anti-evolutionist position. The ACLU had successfully exposed the ignorance, intolerance, and arrogance of the anti-evolutionists. On the other hand, the anti-evolutionists had won the legal battle. There was little change in the South, and other southern states adopted similar laws. A generation of textbooks was affected.

Today we think of the trial in terms of its media image. The play Inherit the Wind was written in 1955 to reflect on McCarthyism. The play intended to show a parallel from history. Initial reviews criticized the depiction of heroic evolutionists vs. ignorant creationists. The play has now reopened at a time when fundamentalists are taken seriously but McCarthyism no longer applies. Northern papers give it good reviews. Secularists see the issue as individual liberty vs. majoritarian democracy.

Creationism and Evolution: Perspectives for the 1990s

The 4th event in the program was a panel discussion. The panelists were as follows:

Stephen Waring of the UAH history department opened the session by summarizing the development of religion and science. Pre-modern people explained the past through legends and myths. Religion became the basis of knowledge. In the West, where Christianity became the dominant religion, the Bible was understood to be complex but was still accepted as factual history. Genesis was accepted as accurate revealed truth. In the Middle Ages, the investigation of the natural world was considered a means toward better understanding of God. Modern ideas began with the discovery of new information not mentioned in the Bible, such as the heliocentric astronomy and the existence of America. Early scientists rejected the use of supernatural hypotheses since these could not be tested, falsified, or observed. Science and religion were consequently separated into different realms. There remains no easy harmony between science and religion.

Donald Armentrout of the theology department of the University of the South was the second panelist and identified himself as a Christian evolutionist. Armentrout believed that the dispute was about biblical interpretation, since a large portion of Protestantism has mistakenly made the Bible absolute and infallible. The Genesis account should be considered poetry, showing the Creator's transcendence. Literal interpretation of Genesis has caused much mischief. Scientific discoveries simply describe things without affirming or denying God. There is no inherent principle in evolution which requires a non-theistic world view. There is nothing in evolution which precludes divine intervention. There is no need to protect the Bible from science.

John R Christy, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at UAH, was the third speaker. He identified himself as an evangelical Christian who was formerly a minister and missionary. He remarked that scientific observations show that the earth is very old. He cited the example of ice cores from Greenland which date back 1.2 million years. The cores contain separate layers which can be counted like tree rings and at least 150,000 individual years have been counted. Rocks in Greenland containing fossilized alligators and ferns show evidence of a former tropical climate. Evolution is the best explanation for hundreds of thousands of observations world wide. Christy strongly opposedthe anti-science movement and considers science to be an ally of Christianity.

William Gartska of the UAH biology department explained that evolution is a major principle of science. "Creation science" is a strictly American belief which assaults skepticism. The "Equal Time" decision in the Arkansas case (McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education [1982] 529 F Supp. 1255, 50 US Law Week 2412) defined science and disqualified creationism for its dependence on the supernatural. Creationists would turn science into a belief system by allowing miracles and revelations. To demonstrate that science is not a belief system, Gartska cited the example of Francis Crick's suggestion that life on earth was seeded from space. Even though Crick was a Nobel Prize winner of great authority, his proposal was met with great skepticism and not accepted by the scientific community.

The final and most controversial panelist was Kurt P Wise, Associate Professor of Science and Director of Origins Research at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. Wise gave a different history of creationism than previously heard in the forum. He explained that creationism died in academia at the end of the last century because it had accepted Aristotelian fixity and was unable to adapt to evidence of change. Creationism was unable to resurrect itself because of "scientism" in academia, specifically the rejection of the supernatural as an explanation of events. Wise questioned this doctrine with the rhetorical question: "What if supernaturalism is really true?" In the 20th century, creationism stayed alive in the laity who have now rebelled against scientism. The separation of supernaturalism from science successfully provided new ways of looking at the world but subsequently shackled investigation. Wise strongly criticized the "scientific creationism" movement, particularly its political orientation and its "evolution bashing". He remarked that its "science" was of poor quality, much of it from non-scientific engineers. However, the controversy did cause necessary re-evaluation in academia.

Wise suggested that creationism has been reborn at an academic level. He claimed that the number of trained creationist PhDs is doubling every 10 years. It is also growing in Germany where it is more research oriented. Creationists are now concentrating on a positive creation model, rather than "evolution bashing" . The creation models are undergoing continuous revision due to a process of peer review which was implemented 15 years ago . There are now three peer-reviewed creationist journals. However, Wise believes that standards must be further increased. The new creationism has developed theories which are predictive and explanatory.

Furthermore, mainline science is beginning to move in a creationist direction. In geology, catastrophism is becoming more popular. In biology, the hyper-gradualism of Darwin is being revised. More attention is being given to evidence of discontinuity in the origin of different major groups. Creationists have developed a new method of classification which allows discontinuity. They have also developed a model of plate tectonics which predicts the movement of continents at a more rapid time scale than generally accepted. Wise emphasized that creationism does not represent a monolithic camp. He denied any political agenda and opposed attempts to force the teaching of creation in schools. This must wait until an adequate creation model has been developed. Wise has great respect for science and scientists. Science helps him to know and serve God.

Question Period

After each panel member made a prepared opening statement, the panel took questions from the audience. Most questions were directed to Wise and Armentrout. When asked about Greenland's ice cores, Wise denied detailed knowledge, but suggested that most layers were fused and couldn't be distinguished. When Christy stated that they could be counted distinctly for hundreds of thousands of years, Wise readily accepted this and admitted that he had no explanation. Questioned whether he accepted any restrictions to supernaturalistic explanations,Wise said that the nature of God is the limit. Supernatural explanations should be viewed very skeptically and be invoked rarely. Personally, he would use supernaturalism only to explain the great flood and creation itself. Asked to explain stars separated by millions of light years, Wise likewise admitted he had no explanation because the creationists do not have any experts in cosmology. When asked whether new evidence would change his conclusions, Wise stated that all scientific theories must be consistent with data, but that the current evolutionary theories are blind to discontinuities.

When asked about the moral implications of evolution, Armentrout stated that evolution has no relevance to the question of morals. When questioned about the interpretation of Genesis as poetry, he insisted that he does indeed take Genesis seriously and believes that Genesis is enhanced by a poetic interpretation. When asked why Protestantism has a problem with evolution, Armentrout stated that Protestantism has a strong tendency to violate the First Commandment by placing the Bible ahead of God.

Impressions

The lecture series was very well attended, although I think that the university setting and sponsorship may have resulted in a small turnout of active proponents of creationism from the general public. Nevertheless, I believe that it was greatly informative to those who did attend. Personally, I was impressed by the honesty of Kurt Wise. Although he is unscientific in the sense that he uses a preconceived notion and accepts supernatural explanations, he openly admits that he does this. Instead, he questions scientific philosophy on these points, which is his right. This is a refreshing change from politically oriented creationists who talk about the Bible to church audiences but tell school boards that creationism has nothing to do with religion.

About the Author(s): 
John Schweinsberg
1105 Rivlin RD
Huntsville AL 35801
105251.1614@compuserve.com

The Newer Anti-Evolutionists: Introducing Greg Koukl

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Newer Anti-Evolutionists: Introducing Greg Koukl
Author(s): 
Stephen B Hunter
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
17, 20
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
There have been a number of articles published recently by the National Center for Science Education which explore "Design Theory" as a replacement for old-style, young-earth creationism as the reigning paradigm of anti-evolution apologetics (see, for example, "Origins & Design: A Journal, not Just a Debate Ploy!" by John Cole in NCSE Reports 1996 Winter; 16[4]:4-5 and "Naturalism, Creationism, and The Meaning of Life: The Case of Philip Johnson Revisited" by Robert Pennock in Creation/Evolution 1996 Winter; 16[2], nr 39:10-30).

Under the old paradigm, opponents of evolution were the denizens of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and their ilk, whose science is laughable and whose arguments resemble not so much an exchange of ideas but the rhetorical counting of coups. Since young-earth "evidence" collapses under even the most cursory examination, it is only effective when wielded by fast moving riders. And ride they did. Long ago, it became clear that the adversarial debate format favored by young-earthers was not conducive to careful discussions of science. Defenders of evolution, pummeled by coup sticks, learned that, like the punch line from the movie "War Games", the only way to win was not to play. There was some solace in the fact that this hollow coup counting did not fly in the federal courts where it really seemed to matter.

With the shift of paradigm came a certain optimism that we could finally move beyond discussions of the depth of the dust on the moon or those human footprints in the Mesozoic rock of Texas and could finally begin to address issues of substance. That optimism was short lived as the names changed but the impasse seemed just as intractable.

One name that has not appeared in these articles on "Design Theory" apologists is that of Gregory Koukl. It is my impression that Koukl is an emerging heavyweight in this field and I would like to introduce you to him and his positions and in exploring some of those arguments suggest that the tooth-and-nail conflict between "us and them" is, at base, illusory.

First the stats: Koukl is a licensed Pentecostal minister and founder of Stand to Reason, a Christian apologetic ministry dedicated to promoting "clear thinking Christianity that can compete in the marketplace of ideas." He lectures extensively, teaches at Simon Greenleaf University, has been featured on James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" radio program, sponsors seminars, publishes a bimonthly newsletter (Solid Ground) and a quarterly journal (Clear Thinking), operates a web site (http://www.str.org) and is about to release his first book (Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Thin Air) with co-author Dr. Francis Beckwith. But his main venue is an 8-year-old, call-in radio program broadcast over KBRT in Avalon CA, KKPZ in Portland OR, and KJSL in St. Louis MO. He deals in an intelligent and erudite way with a broad range of religious and philosophical issues, but his thoughts on science and evolution are at issue here.

In a radio commentary called "God and Evolution" delivered on February 26 1995 Koukl said
If you are an evolutionist, you are not a theist in the sense that your theism has anything to do with the real world. Your belief about the real world is evolution, and that means time and chance. If you believe that God has something to do with the real world, then you can't be an evolutionist because evolution is run by chance, not by God, by definition.
Koukl holds that evolution and Christianity are in direct opposition to one another. This is a common, perhaps even universal, position among those at the forefront of this movement as well as among those listening to them. This view has become the linch-pin of the log jam that is preventing honest discussion of the science of evolution (that's not a mixed metaphor, but a compound metaphor). As a committed, thoughtful and sincere Christian, Koukl says that the most important thing in life is his relationship with God. If accepting the reality of evolution means abandoning that relationship with God, no conceivable scientific evidence will move him. That is understandable, even expected. Before we can hope to make progress with Koukl and his numerous allies, we must address the compatibility of their profoundly held religious beliefs with the idea of biological evolution. This is where it gets dicey. We should be arguing evidence. Evolution is a scientific theory, not a philosophy. But that is pointless until we get past this philosophical/religious question.

Nature and Lawfulness

At the heart of Koukl's position are a couple of unfortunate assertions. One is that in the case of evolution the methodological naturalism necessary to the function of science has become equivalent with philosophical naturalism. Because direct intervention by God contrary to natural law is not included within evolutionary processes, God either does not exist or is at best impotent. This principle is certainly not consistently applied to all scientific theories. There are many other scientific theories accepted by Koukl and other old-earth creationists which do not refer to miracles in contravention to natural law. In those cases God is considered to be the author of natural phenomena; therefore violation of natural law is not necessary to infer the hand of God. Evolution is merely an effort to describe life as an ongoing natural phenomenon.

Chance and purpose may be mutually exclusive in all instances save one — the instance of God. If God exists and is the author of the universe, in God's case chance and purpose are one and the same, "by definition". For purposes of discussion let us stipulate that it was that errant bolide that whacked the Yucatan 60-something-million years ago that put the period at the end of the dinosaurian sentence. This freed up all of the choice ecological niches for our mammalian ancestors which in turn allowed for the development of us. From the point of view of a scientist, no laws of nature have been violated. As fortuitous as it turned out to be, it was a just a natural phenomenon. Impacts happen. But, just perhaps, God arranged from the foundations of the universe for just the proper-sized asteroid to be dislodged from its comfortable orbit and sent on a collision course with our destiny. This is not something that can be explored empirically. Science is in no position to include nor exclude divine motivations behind natural events; our role is only to describe the natural events themselves.

Science or Scientism?

Another related, but distinct, assertion is that support for evolution is contingent upon "Scientism". Scientism is defined as the contention that the only valid means of understanding the totality of human experience is science. Philosophy and religion may be comforting pursuits, but are ultimately worthless. If science is the only valid means of understanding and science excludes the supernatural, then even whenthe evidence points to supernatural creation, evolution is adopted by default. Scientism, so defined, is foolishness and constitutes a straw-man argument. (Paradoxically, Koukl's radio commentary from January 15, 1995 is entitled "Science Doesn't Tell Us Anything Important." Would we call this "anti-scientism"?)

Science is a means of investigating natural phenomena. It has proven to be an extremely effective and valuable tool, but only as a means of investigating natural phenomena. Clearly, there is more to life. Is it more important for me to discover how the bluefin tuna came to be warm-blooded or to discover how to relate to my son's decision to become a Buddhist monk and live the monastic life? If I must choose between the two, the fish is on its own — obviously. But why must the two be mutually exclusive? I guess that's a crude way of saying that this is an elaborately constructed false dichotomy.

Koukl has expressed many of the familiar specific objections to evolution that have been expounded by Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Michael Denton, Hugh Ross and others. His favorite objection is that there can be no objective morality if evolution is true. Although there are cogent answers to each of his other objections, these answers will continue to fall on deaf ears until this core objection can be addressed.

In his radio commentary "Chance and Dignity" on August 13, 1995, Koukl said
Science has limited its area of study to the area of natural occurrences. Not only has it limited its search to that area, but it has essentially said that that is the only area that really exits.... If only nature exists, then it turns out that we are merely parts of the machinery in the workings of nature, and we are the unwitting victims of the machinery of cause and effect happening over time without any plan. That robs human beings of their dignity. Clearly, if we are the product of chance, then we have no purpose.... We are all unwanted pregnancies.... Mother nature didn't want us... It just spewed us forth. It just unconsciously squeezed us out. We were the thoughtless conceptus of intercourse of blind natural compulsions with no thought given to us, strangers who accidentally bump into each other in the dark of the universe. We are bastards of the one-night stand if evolution is true.
You cannot dispute that passion by pointing to the postdentary bones of a therapsid reptile and saying, "Look. A transitional form!" If, however, it were possible to convince Koukl and his colleagues that evolution need not threaten their world view, the rest of the conflict would largely evaporate.

Because the thread of evolution is woven into a myriad of areas of scientific inquiry, an understanding of evolution is fundamental to a comprehensive science education. Every time curriculum standards or textbook purchases come up, the issue of creation vs. evolution intrudes. But it is really not the scientific issues that are driving the objections. As the example of Greg Koukl points out, we are faced with a deeply-held conviction that evolution inevitably includes the rejection of God and morality, and further greases the slippery slope leading to the ultimate destruction of civilization. If we were able to defuse this line of reasoning without compromising or soft-pedaling evolution, imagine how much would the quality of science education improve when we could devote our efforts to the task at hand? That is one reason why understanding Koukl and folks like him remains a vital issue. Besides, it is insulting to sincere and knowledgeable Christians who accept evolution as a compellingly demonstrated scientific theory to be told they either don't understand evolution or that their faith is faulty.

About the Author(s): 
Stephen B Hunter
c/o RNCSE
P0 Box 8880
Madison, WI 53708-8880
Email: sbhunter@earthlink.net

The Naked Truth

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Naked Truth: The Fallacy of Genetic Adam and Eve
Author(s): 
Greg Laden, Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
22–24
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Since the mid 1980s, scientists have compared mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from several different humans, reconstructing an ancestor of living human mitochondria about 100-200 thousand years ago, which probably lived in Africa (Cann, Stoneking and Wilson 1987). More recently, other researchers reported similar results from a study of human Y-chromosome DNA indicating a common ancestor of a large part of the human Y-chromosome at a similar or more recent time, also in Africa (Hammer, 1995; Hammer, Spurdle and others 1997; Gibbons, 1997). The studies of mtDNA immediately evoked the image of an African "Eve", and now, the Y-chromosome research has evoked a corresponding image of an African "Adam". The metaphorical association between genetic research and the Book of Genesis may have helped sell newspapers, but this metaphor involves a misunderstanding of the meaning of these findings. In both the popular press and scientific journals we see such statements as "All women/men can trace their ancestry back to a single female/male living in Africa X thousands of years ago." Such statements are misleading, and may obscure more interesting aspects of this important research (see side bar1).

The genetic code includes units of information that are kept whole when they pass from generation to generation. Genes are passed on as whole units. The DNA in our mitochondria (cell organelles responsible for energy production) are also passed on as whole units, and a large part of the Y-chromosome is, similarly, passed on as a whole unit. Any stretch of genetic code so inherited necessarily has a single common ancestor — called a "coalescence point" — that existed in a particular individual. Furthermore, each of these units of DNA can, and probably does, have a different coalescence point. So, if there is a mitochondrial Eve and a Y-chromosome Adam, there is also a hair color Medusa and a melanin Midas.

Even if the historical role of Adam and Eve is overstated, there is still reason for excitement about the mtDNA and Y-chromosome studies. These bits of DNA are passed on in humans through only one parent. Mitochondria replicate asexually within cells. The ovum produced by a woman includes a small number of her mitochondria, which in turn reproduce to supply the mitochondria in all of the cells in her offspring's body. The non-recombining part of the Y-chromosome does not swap genetic material with the X-chromosome to which it is matched, so each human male gets all of these genes from his father. Therefore, it is possible to study genetic echoes that reflect different population histories for humans as a whole, females as a group, and males as a group.

Were we gibbons, who do not migrate far and who are very strictly monogamous, this would be less interesting; our mtDNA, non-recombinant Y, and other genes would show a similar pattern. However, humans are diverse and imaginative in their marriage and mating practices. At the very least, we practice serial monogamy. Polygyny happens. Hypergamy (unidirectional exchange of mates of one sex across a cultural boundary such as class), polyandry, and other varieties of marriage and mating practice are widespread in humans now and in the past. Often, males and females differ in their patterns of residence after marriage (commonly, newlyweds move to a residence near the male's family). These factors shape separate histories for maternal and paternal lineages.

Coalescence is key to understanding this, so let's examine this concept more closely. Coalescence is a property of divergent systems, like genes, rumors, and chain letters. Chain letters come in different flavors — some asking for money, others merely warning of bad luck. For each "species" of chain letter, there is a source to which all copies could be traced. As the letter is duplicated and passed from one person to others, it may be changed by accident or design, so over time there are many minor variants of the first document. A hard-working detective seeking the original version of a chain letter could work backwards through postal records to track down the very first copy written months, years, or decades earlier. A lazy detective might simply examine all of the available chain letters and reconstruct a document that must look much like the original (even if not exactly). Our lazy detective might even take a guess as to how many "generations" have passed since the initial letter was written, by noting the number of typos and alterations, assuming that more changes means more generations. In both cases, the first copy of that chain letter is a "coalescence" point. Our diligent detective has located the actual coalescence point, and our lazy detective has estimated or reconstructed it.

To reconstruct genetic coalescence points, scientists use the techniques of our lazy detective, not because they are lazy, but because genetic coalescence points are generally ancient and must be inferred from modern samples. "Mitochondrial Eve" and "Y-chromosome Adam" are not individuals, but estimates of coalescence points based on modern samples. New data added to the equation could move Adam or Eve (independently) back through time, or even to a new region of the earth.

Mathematical modeling of Y-chromosome and mtDNA data has revealed one or more "bottlenecks" in human population history. These bottlenecks are periods when our ancestors were reduced in number and confined to one or a few groups. Bottlenecks are detectable because they reduce the diversity of genetic material. We should not be surprised that our species has passed through these bottlenecks. Repeated severe "Ice Ages" of the last million years or so reduced the geographical range of many animals and plants, causing many species to go extinct (from the point of view of extinction, a bottleneck is a "near miss"). Eventually, genetic bottlenecks may be matched to these climate changes and to archaeological evidence from those times.

The bottleneck model for human history has led to further confusion about genetic Adam and Eve. Evolutionary change such as the rise of a new species is perhaps more likely when a population is broken up into small, isolated groups. Thus, a bottleneck is a good place to look for a speciation event. Also, the earliest modern Homo sapiens fossils date to about the same time as the mtDNA bottleneck. This has led to the idea that the genetic echo from this bottleneck marks the origin of modern H. sapiens.

It is important to remember, though, that coalescence points occur for all genetic units, whether there was a bottleneck or not, or a speciation event or not. The identification for a coalescence point is an inevitable outcome of comparing variants of a gene. Perhaps coalescence points will be found to cluster in time near important evolutionary events, but for now there is no evidence that this is the case. Perhaps the life and times of genetic Eve, Adam, Medusa and Midas were quit ordinary.

Not all bottlenecks are genetic; some are informational. The most recent Y-chromosome results are very interesting, and clearly deserving of news coverage. But there have been several studies of human Y-chromosome variability going back several years which have not been as widely reported (see Gibbons and Dorozynski 1991; Shreeve 1991). Low variability in Y-chromosome DNA has been found in several populations. There is a Jewish Adam (Lucotte and David 1992; Lucotte, Smets and Ruffie 1993), a Finnish Adam (Sajantila, Salem and others 1996), and a Native American Adam (Karafet, Zegura and others 1997), for instance. If the geneticists have it right, and this variability is properly calibrated (the Y-chromosome is a badly behaved genetic mess, perhaps not surprisingly), then it would appear that male population histories have more restrictions than do female histories. This accords with what we know about human reproductive patterns. Males vary more than females in their reproductive output. Some males have far more offspring than others, and many males have no offspring. Each female is likely to have a nearer to average number of offspring. This would cause apparent bottlenecks in the male lineage that would not appear in female-only DNA.

Stay tuned. Fifteen years ago, when this sort of research was just getting off the ground, it was difficult, time-consuming and expensive to analyze genetic data. The first studies of mtDNA required human placentas, which are not easy to come by. Now, geneticists extract, isolate, and sequence DNA from many different tissues, more cheaply and more quickly. Until recently, geneticists had all but given up on the Y-chromosome, which appeared to be poorly behaved as a genetic clock. Now somewhat redeemed, the Y-chromosome is starting to yield promising results. Although earlier work in human historical genetics was important, it is also true that the data are only now starting to roll in, and the next few years should be a very exciting time.

Sidebar

In the beginning was the word (on Adam and Eve)

The following quotes are reproduced here to demonstrate a range of conceptions about mitochondrial and Y-chromosome historical genetics. They are taken from articles in the popular press, scientific journals, and web sites. The author has chosen to not provide citations for these phrases, in order to avoid pointing fingers at well meaning writers, and because many of these quotes are subtitles or pullouts that are probably the work of anonymous editors.

All men can trace their ancestry back to one man who lived 150 000 years ago and whose closest living relatives are a small tribe in South Africa, according to scientists who have spent a decade searching for the original Adam.

Scientists have "established that all humans are descended from a single woman — a prehistoric 'Eve' born some 200 000 years ago in Africa. More recent studies of the male Y chromosome indicate that there was also a corresponding 'Adam' from which all males are descended."

This source goes on to clarify (sort of)...

Any comparison to the Adam and Eve of Genesis would be mistaken, however, since the genetic Adam and Eve probably did not live on the same continent or during the same millennia...

One source reports that

modern humans descended from a common male ancestor who lived 188 000 years ago. Although the new report does not say where that ancient man, whom some are calling "Adam," lived, his age is close enough to Eve's for this kind of work.

To be fair, this source later adds:

Even tough the studies refer to a single man or woman in the past, they do not imply that those people were a couple or even that they were the only parents of all humans.

Better. But the redemption is quickly mitigated by this follow-up:

Their (Adam and Eve's) primary significance is in pointing to the time when anatomically modern human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens, evolved from a more primitive ancestor, generally thought to be an "archaic" form of Homo sapiens.

Oops.

A prestigious scientific journal reports that

In the beginning, there was mitochondrial Eve — a woman who lived in Africa between 100 000 and 200 000 years ago and was ancestral to all living humans.... To test this view of human origins, scientists have been searching ever since for Eve's genetic consort 'Adam' ... Now, after almost a decade of study, two international teams have found the genetic trail leading to Adam, and it points to the same time and place where mitochondrial Eve lived.

References

Gibbons A, Dorozynski A. Looking for the father of us all: After finding the controversial "mitochondrial Eve," molecular biologists are hoping that the Y chromosome will lead them to the genetic Adam. Science 1991; 251(4992): 378-80.

Gibbons A. Y chromosome shows that Adam was an African. Science 1997; 278(5339): 804-5.

Hammer MF, Spurdle AB, Karafet T, Bonner MR, Wood ET, Novelletto A, Malaspina P, Mitchell RJ, Horai S, Jenkins T, Zegura SL. The geographic distribution of human Y chromosome variation. Genetics 1997; 145(3): 787-95.

Hammer MF. A recent common ancestry for human Y chromosomes. Nature 1995; 378(6555): 376-9

Karafet T, Zegura SL, Vuturo-Brady J, Posukh O, Osipova L, Wiebe V, Romero F, Long JC, Harihar S, Jin F, Dashnyam B, Gerelsaikhan T, Omoto K, Hammer MF. Y chromosome markers and trans-Bering Strait dispersals. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 1997; 102(3): 301-16.

Lucott G, David F. Y-chromosome-specific haplotypes of Jews detected by probes 49f and 49a. Human Biology 1992; 64(5): 757-61.

Lucotte G, Smets P, Ruffie J. Y-chromosome-specific haplotype diversity in Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Human Biology 1993; 65(5):835-40.

Sajantila A, Salem A, Savolainen P, Bauer K, Gierig C, Paabo S. Paternal and maternal DNA lineages reveal a bottleneck in the founding of Finnish population. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States 1996; (93)21: 12035-40.

Shreeve J. Madam, I'm Adam: Genetic ancestry of all humans may lead to a male African pygmy. Discover 1991; 12(6): 24.

Creation Science and Free Speech

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creation Science and Free Speech
Author(s): 
Alex Ritchie, Australian Skeptics
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
25–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
As a participant and witness for the scientific side in the recent Plimer/Roberts "Noah's Ark" court case, I have been disturbed by media reports in Australia and overseas suggesting that Justice Sackville's verdict was a victory for free speech. I disagree and would appreciate an opportunity to explain why, based on my own experience. Very important principles are at stake in this matter. This has been reinforced by the news on July 2, 1997 that the Geological Society of London, the oldest geological society in the world, has made Professor Ian Plimer an Honorary Fellow for his "courageous stand" against creationism — international recognition of the fact that he is "a man of enormous courage who has put his money where his mouth is."

In delivering his judgment in the Plimer/Roberts case, Justice Sackville took the opportunity to comment that "there is a serious risk that the courts will be used as a means of suppressing debate and discussion on issues of general interest to the community." Most of your readers would probably agree with His Honor, as I do — but most of them would also be unaware that his judgment was based on only part of the evidence and tells only part of the story. The Plimer/Roberts "Noah's Ark" case was not about free speech, nor was it about creationism. The judge was asked to determine, within the strict confines of the Fair Trading Act, whether Allen Roberts had made misleading statements in a series of public lectures about Noah's Ark "in trade and commerce". Evidence deemed irrelevant to the strict provisions of the Fair Trading Act was therefore rejected as inadmissible before the case began.

However, some of the rejected evidence bears directly on the free-speech issue. It was all the more surprising, therefore, that Justice Sackville, having considered only part of the evidence, chose to speculate publicly about the possible effects of such cases on free speech. It was also ironic that Allen Roberts, despite having been found to be "misleading and deceptive", was able to hail his technical legal win as a victory for "free speech".

In a democratic society, the concept of free speech surely also includes the right to reply, to dissent, to question. I have attended many public meetings organized by so-called "creation scientists" and can confirm, from personal experience, that many creationists have a strange concept of "free speech". The format of the meeting is always tightly controlled. Various tactics and stratagems are employed to ensure that discussion or dissent is minimized or prevented. This is especially true if any scientist present tries to protest about public misrepresentation of science.

"Dr" Allen Roberts's lecture tour provided a good example of how the process works. Before each of Roberts's public lectures on "Noah's Ark", the meeting chairman would announce to the audience that Roberts would not respond to questions from the floor. He would only answer written questions dropped in a barrel in the foyer during the interval and left temporarily out of sight when the audience reentered the hall. Roberts's Ark lectures, heavily dependent on biblical sources, also included many references to supposed scientific evidence supporting his findings. To anyone scientifically literate, these revealed Roberts's limited knowledge of science, and especially of geology.

Professor Ian Plimer, Head of the School of Geology in the University of Melbourne and one of Australia's most experienced and respected geologists, attended Roberts's Ark lecture in Melbourne in April 1992. When he publicly challenged Roberts on his statements about geology and tried to question him, the chairman immediately called on police, apparently waiting ready in the wings, to evict Plimer from the hall.

Later the same week, Plimer flew to Tasmania to attend Roberts's next lecture in Hobart and invited a Channel 9 TV crew to accompany him to record what might happen. Plimer again tried to question Roberts on geological matters and the results were caught on camera. When he rose to ask his question the chairman immediately called on police officers, again conveniently waiting in the wings, to evict him. The bizarre aspect of this eviction was not just that it happened, but where it happened. The Hobart meeting was held on the grounds of the University of Tasmania and saw a respected Professor of Geology evicted from university premises for daring to ask a fundamentalist creationist a question on his own specialty — geology! And the officials who evicted him were not campus police, but state police, operating outside their jurisdiction.

Word of these events soon spread through the scientific community. I decided to attend Roberts's lecture on "Noah's Ark" held a month later, in May 1992, in the Wesley Centre in Pitt Street in central Sydney. I took the precaution of inviting some friends, science students and members of Australian Skeptics to accompany me, and approximately thirty of them did so. Plimer, who was passing through Sydney, was also present. As we entered the hall together, he was handed a writ for defamation, taken out by Roberts, concerning remarks that Plimer had made about Roberts's "scientific" qualifications.

When we entered the hall we saw no sign of police, but something more alarming. The auditorium was patrolled by five burly security guards, the leader ostentatiously wearing a two-foot long wooden club in a sheath on his hip. They circulated the hail trying to identify potential "trouble makers". One security guard occupied the seat immediately behind mine throughout Roberts's lecture, presumably to intimidate me. I had not intended to interject during Roberts's talk, but could not stay quiet during one of his more fatuous references to scientific evidence. My query, about radiocarbon dating, was picked up by another member of the audience who, for his pains, was evicted from the auditorium, together with his wife, by the security guards. He was Dr Colin Murray Wallace, an expert in radiocarbon dating, then with Newcastle University!

In the interval after Roberts's talk, I asked my supporters to form a protective square around myself and Plimer when we went back into the hall for question time. In the naive belief that it is not yet against the law in Australia to ask a speaker a polite question at a public meeting, I intended asking Roberts a simple geological question! During his talk, in referring to the "boat-shaped structure in Turkey, which he interprets as remains of Noah's Ark, Roberts scathingly said that "some geologists say this is only a geosyncline!" In a newspaper article a week before the Sydney meeting I had been mistakenly reported as describing the structure as a "geosyncline" when in fact I used a quite different term — a syncline. A first-year geology student would know the difference.

During question time, I rose and invited Roberts "to explain to his audience the difference between a syncline and a geosyncline". Pandemonium ensued. The chairman of the meeting leapt to his feet and shouted "Call the police!" At the same time three of the security guards forced their way into the center of our group to confront me, trampling on the feet of my supporters to do so. "Sir, you are causing a disturbance and we are asking you to leave." I had quietly resumed my seat after asking my question, and I declined their invitation to leave until I got an answer to my question. Three of them then proceeded to try to lift me bodily out of my seat to throw me out of the hall. Being of a fairly robust constitution, I was able to remain attached to the seat until they belatedly realized that they had gone too far and withdrew. It was real storm-trooper tactics — but it took place in the center of Sydney in the 1990s.

Only later did I discover what might have happened if things had got out of control and turned really nasty! Dr Peter Pockley, a qualified scientist, attended Roberts's Sydney meeting as a science journalist writing for various newspapers and journals. He later informed me that he had seen the security guard leader bring in another three clubs and place them on an empty seat near our group, presumably ready for use.

Roberts made no attempt to answer my simple geological question, or any other questions from the barrel. The meeting closed shortly afterwards, after state police finally arrived, wondering what all the fuss was about. It was a very educational experience, and very illuminating in what creationists mean when they talk about "free speech". In their interpretation, "free speech" means they have the right to misquote or misrepresent scientific evidence in public in front of lay audiences of adults and children. And if any scientist in the hall is foolhardy enough to publicly question, or disagree, they believe they have the right to evict them from the hall, by force if necessary. So, when "Dr" Allen Roberts claims that his rights to freedom of speech are being infringed by scientists, I beg to differ. I have many witnesses to confirm what happened when I tried to question "Dr" Roberts on a matter of science. In my long scientific career I have never ever attended a scientific meeting where the organizers felt it necessary to have police waiting in the wings, or to employ baton-wielding security guards, to ensure that no one asked the speaker a question.

The Canberra Times recently reported that Senator Kim Carr was concerned about the number and nature of new fundamentalist schools being opened around Australia, many of which receive both state and federal funding, but whose activities were, he said, "shrouded in mystery and completely unaccountable." "We have no mechanisms to check what is going on in these schools" he says, and he is correct. "Dr" Roberts's doctoral thesis, from Freedom University (based at a suburban church in Orlando, Florida) was "On the teaching of absolute Christian values in Australian primary schools". Having experienced what happens when I, a qualified scientist with 40 years' experience in geology and paleontology, tried to question Roberts on scientific matters, I shudder to think what reception a bright pupil might receive in a fundamentalist school if he or she had the temerity to question a creation science teacher's statement that the world was formed in six 24-hour days, 6000 years ago, and that all of the world's rock and fossil record was laid down in the year of Noah's Flood!

No one is attacking, or questioning, creationists' rights to free speech. No scientist is demanding equal rights to teach science as well as creationism from the pulpits of churches. But surely we have a right and a duty to question the intrusion of religious dogma into science classes of Australian schools, especially those supported by state or federal funding.

We live in a competitive and highly technological world. Our survival as a nation is dependent on encouraging our best and brightest students to develop their skills and compete in an international arena, and that includes the fields of science and technology. If children are not exposed to the scientific method while still at school then it is unlikely that most of them will encounter it after leaving school. Who knows how many bright pupils have been turned off science forever by missionaries masquerading as science teachers in their schools? Mainstream religious organizations may also like to ponder how many students have had their religious beliefs shattered after discovering that they have been systematically lied to by proponents of pseudoscience in the classroom.

Despite the outcome of the Plimer/Roberts case, I suggest that Judge Sackville has clarified the situation by his judgment. He may well also have created a legal precedent for tackling the educational threat to the education system in Australia posed by young-earth, Noah's Flood creationists. His Honor found that, had the Fair Trading Act applied to this case, Roberts's behavior "would have constituted misleading and deceptive conduct on his part." Despite this, Judge Sackville found in Roberts's favor because, technically, he was not "in trade and commerce".

His Honor took into account that Roberts did not receive a salary from his Noah's Ark lecture tour and that his organization was not incorporated at the time of the public lectures and was supported by unpaid volunteers, not by paid staff. Roberts's lecture tour was not "a business carried on for profit". Roberts also did not operate from special premises but from his own home. It should be noted, however, that the main drive to infiltrate creationist teachings into the science classes of Australian schools is spearheaded, not by Roberts, but by an organization called the Creation Science Foundation (CSF).

The CSF has established headquarters in Brisbane and Sydney, and a mobile arm, its Creation Bus, which regularly tours throughout Australia. The CSF is an incorporated organization and much of its income comes from the sale of its own long-established publications (magazines, journals, books), audio and video tapes etc. Although CSF uses volunteers for many of its activities it also employs many permanent staff on salary. I suggest that it is legally "in trade and commerce" and is "a business carried on for profit".

In his judgment on the Plimer/Roberts case, Judge Sackville may thus have inadvertently provided grounds for a follow up court case, if a public-spirited sponsor can be found. I suggest that sufficient grounds exist for a legal class action on behalf of the scientific and educational communities in Australia against the threat to scientific education posed by the Creation Science Foundation.

The aim of such a case would be "to request and require the Creation Science Foundation to remove the word "science" from the name of its organization on the grounds that such usage constitutes "misleading and deceptive conduct". It can hardly be an infringement of their rights merely to require the CSF, in future, to call itself the Creation Foundation, especially since their own Statement of Faith makes it abundantly clear that, in all matters, science is subordinate to religion. Such a test case would provide an opportunity for any qualified scientist (and there are several) employed by CSF to explain publicly why its activities should be classed as scientific rather than religious.

In proposing this it should be made clear that no one is attacking CSF's right to free speech, or to publish or promote its creationist wares and views, only its claim to be using scientific methods and evidence to support such claims. Many scientists, myself included, who are well aware of the misrepresentation of science inherent in fundamentalist creationism, would welcome an opportunity to question, in open court, leading Australian creation scientists on the "science" behind "scientific" creationism. This should not be seen as an attack on religion but as a public defense of science. I suspect that, given the opportunity, most mainstream churches would support the case for a clear demarcation of science and religion as different ways of interpreting the world around us.

The problem, as Ian Plimer recently discovered to his considerable cost, is that no working scientist has the financial resources to mount such a legal test case personally. I invite some public spirited individual or organization with sufficient financial backing to sponsor a class action on behalf of Australian science and education to test the legality of "science" in the "Creation Science Foundation".

About the Author(s): 
Alex Ritchie
Research Feloow, Palaeontology
Australian Museum
Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2000

[Ed. Readers should be aware that the Australian Creation Science Foundation has recently changed its name to Answers in Genesis, which is the name used by Australian-born creationist Ken Ham for his US-based organization.]

The More Things Change

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The More Things Change
Author(s): 
John R Cole, Contributing Editor
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
28
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Anti-evolutionists have evolved over the decades from demanding that biblical creation be taught in schools to demanding equal time for "scientific" creationism to arguing that evolution classes give a sort of equal time to the weaknesses of evolution. Like peppered moths, they change as pressures and resistance change, and they often revert back to earlier guises when circumstances are ripe. Tactics and tangents apparently long-dead or defeated can reappear and flourish when time or other distance leaves an opening. Some examples include out-of-place fossil claims, Piltdown Man, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the "lost Peking Man fossils", misunderstandings of probability statistics — and the granddaddy of them all, "Design Theory".

Paley postulated in 1699 that the appearance of order in the universe was similar to the appearance of order in a clock — a watch suggests there is a watchmaker, and an orderly Universe also suggests there is a Creator or Designer. A brilliant maneuver in biblical apologetics at the time (at the dawn of the scientific age), the "argument from design" fell into disfavor over the years for a number of reasons. One reason was that alternate explanations of why natural things had specific forms shrank the number and scope of situations in which a designer seemed necessary. Chemistry, physics and mathematics demonstrated that there were sound natural reasons for physical forms and easily understood naturalistic explanations of changes in form. Ice "organizes" water without divine intervention, crystals self-organize, chemicals react in predictable ways to form compounds. It became reasonable to assume that there were natural and naturalistic explanations of some or most phenomena which remained as yet unexplained.

The situation was similar to the theological bent often termed "gap theory" in which what we understand is considered the realm of science, leaving God in charge of the gaps in knowledge or the unexplained phenomena. But the gaps kept shrinking, and theologians by and large realized that their efforts to propose a God who acted only when the lights were out, figuratively, was a limited God and one being further limited daily as scientific knowledge grew. Many theologians decided they should not limit their Deity by such narrow human rules, and the "God of the Gaps" faded from debate. God the Watchmaker was similarly downplayed, in due course.

The advent of Darwin’s theory of natural selection set in motion what seemed to be the end of this narrow theology, even more decisively than of "gap theory". Natural selection seemed to provide plausible explanations and naturalistic ways to derive complex organisms. In addition, it became increasingly obvious that nature was awe-inspiring but, alas, incredibly jerry-rigged in design. Much of the design is just "good enough" to get the job done, not the perfection one would expect of a perfect Creator who would not seem to have to cobble things together with quite as many sub-optimum birth canals, fragile foot bones, backaches, and pandas’ thumbs.

Today we see the single biggest comeback story in the revived "Intelligent Design Theory". The theory is rather rickety and impoverished, compared with the robust, active God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, performing clear miracles rather than working behind a curtain at a drafting table developing subtle ways to fool human observers with ever-so-slight miracles, at most. This seems like a conscious "design" by some creationists attempting to come up with a sort of "Creator Lite" who cannot easily be challenged because so little is in fact being claimed for this Creator. At least one of these nouveau anti-Darwinists, law professor Philip Johnson, seems content just to cast doubt on what he considers to be naturalistic explanations of life and behavior, since he offers no alternative scenario or suggestions, let alone any testable theory. Biochemist Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, has a similar approach. Although he, unlike Johnson, understands the scientific issues involved, he too seems simply uncomfortable with where they lead and proposes a rather tepid theory of "irreducible complexity" as a sort of "opening" for God to exist.

Most of the same "scientific" creationists are involved in the "intelligent design" movement, to one degree or another, in that they happily quote these supposedly new ideas, although the leading lights of the new movement are not drawn from these same old faces. Some, like Johnson and Behe, are not even young-earth creationists. However, they are trying to advance the same old idea — get rid of evolution. Like their predecessors, they do not have an alternative theory to offer, although they are loath to admit this, still. At least the older-style creationists have a model, of sorts, which they prefer!

Why Teach Evolution?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Why Teach Evolution?
Author(s): 
Bruce Miller
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
5
Year: 
1997
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
29–30
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
[Recently, a student in Bruce Miller's biology class brought him a video tape of Rev Todd Cook's sermon against evolution (and other science) delivered at Hoffmantown Church on August 4, 1997. The sermon began with the grim admonition that if any of his audience accepted any part of the evolutionary scheme, then it must logically follow that there is no God, Heaven, Hell or even any purpose in life.

At first. the student asked if an "alternative assignment" could be arranged for her because of her feelings about evolution. Bruce considered having her withdraw from his biology class and take a physical science course instead. However, she insisted on the alternative assignment. Bruce discussed the issue with the girl's parents, and with his principal and counselors. Ultimately, the girl decided to stay in class. She agreed that it is better to learn about an issue before taking a stand against it — a very mature decision!

With his permission, we have reprinted Bruce's response to the videotape and the student's request.
]

I am writing this letter in response to your recent request that I show the videotape of the Hoftmantown Baptist Church presentation on the creationism/evolution topic to my Biology I classes. I wanted to try to explain to you as clearly and as completely as possible why I have decided not to show this tape. As you may appreciate, for many people this is a tremendously emotional issue, when in fact, it should not be at all. In light of this emotional atmosphere, I hope to make you aware of the fact that my objections to showing the tape are based on rational thought and the desire to promote science.

My first, and perhaps greatest, area of concern is how the gentleman making the presentation gave his listeners a very grim set of consequences arising from making a choice between the two sets of ideas. I very strongly disagree with him that if one finds the ideas of evolution and natural selection acceptable, then it must follow that there is no God, no Heaven and no Hell. According to the speaker, acceptance of the ideas of biological evolution must ultimately lead one to conclude that life itself has no purpose! I find this effort to arouse fear in others completely unreasonable and even patently unfair. To start a presentation that purports to be objective with such an emotional outburst plays on the fears of people in an unacceptable and even cruel manner.

I have been teaching the basic tenets of evolutionary thought for twenty two years now, and I would never consider starting this unit with a statement demanding a choice be made between the two points of view on the basis of unreasonable fear! Demanding such a choice is diametrically opposed to the basic nature of science, which implores us to continually seek out evidence related to natural phenomena as a means of being able to explain these phenomena rationally.

My second area of deep concern regarding this presentation is that, along with presenting a fearful and agonizing choice to his audience, the speaker also dispenses gross misinformation. I will give the speaker the benefit of the doubt that these mistakes came from simple errors as he conducted his "research" on evolution in preparation for this presentation. I also believe that if he had a more thorough foundation in the biological sciences, these errors would likely not have been made at all.

One of the first errors is found in the speaker's account of the big bang theory. He mentions that a large quantity of dust and chemicals came together and formed a big bang. In fact, the events of the big bang actually formed the matter after the initial explosion. The speaker has mis-takenly reversed the sequence of the events. Curtis and Barnes, in the fifth edition of An Introduction to Biology, write on page 19 "Our universe began, according to current theory, with the 'big bang', a tremendous explosion that filled all space. Prior to this, all of the energy and matter of the present universe is thought to have existed in the form of pure energy, compressed into an infinitesimally small point. This energy was released by the 'big bang' and every particle of matter formed from the energy was hurled away from every other particle." The text goes on to explain how protons and neutrons were then formed as the temperatures cooled.

The speaker next talks about how the accretion of this matter into gas clouds which formed galaxies, planets and solar systems was all due to random chance. In fact, the laws of physics predict such an accumulation of matter, even accounting for the complex orbital and celestial mechanics of these systems!

The speaker then goes on to discuss how he has no problems with the evolutionary tenet of microevolution, which he presents as the biological mechanisms that enable a single animal or plant to change or adapt. Again, he is wrong. In their textbook, Biology, The Science of Life, Wallace, Sanders and Ferl state that microevolution, "is evolutionary change below the species level, including changes in gene frequencies, brought about by natural selection and random drift". The speaker also is in error when he states that a single organism is able to adapt. In fact, adaptation occurs at the level of the population and usually requires a great deal of time in which to occur.

The speaker also presents an interesting system to explain why mules are sterile. He states that God, in an effort to insure that organisms only breed within their "kind", has made the mule, the progeny of a horse and donkey mating, sterile. This idea simply has no basis in biological fact. In fact, Wallace, Sanders and Feri state that a mule, "is unable to reproduce successfully because abnormal meiosis in the hybrid produces abnormal gametes."

There are many more inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the presentation, such as the speaker's assertion that every major form of animal, such as elephants, has appeared in the fossil record quite suddenly. This is simply not based on any real evidence. In fact, there is a great deal of hard fossil evidence to the contrary.

Finally, when the speaker begins to cite the Second Law of Thermodynamics to refute the theory of evolution, I began to realize his "research" likely included only literature supplied to him by various creationist groups. I have long heard the arguments from creationists stating that all of the universe is running down, which of course, is quite true. The universe, ever since the "big bang", has been growing more and more random, or increasing in entropy. However, the laws of thermodynamics describe the behavior of matter and energy in what are referred to as "isolated systems", which are theoretical constructs developed by physicists. Isolated systems — those in which matter or energy cannot enter or leave — do not really exist, but are contrived as models by scientists who wish to test their ideas under hypothetical conditions that can be limited and controlled. In other words, isolated systems are closed systems, where there is no input or output of energy or matter. The living world, in contrast, exists in an open system, where there is a constant input of energy, ultimately from the sun. The result is that life is able to use vast quantities of energy through such mechanisms as photosynthesis to slow entropy, while your house, unless it is radically different in composition from mine, is not able to trap energy for its routine maintenance and upkeep!

The introduction of the Laws of Thermodynamics into the presentation of course led to the very dramatic and yet somehow sad demonstration where the speaker smashed an alarm clock to pieces and then facetiously waited for it to reassemble itseif. Of course, without the ability to capture energy from the environment, the result was a permanently compartmentalized alarm clock! I wish the speaker could have seen a similar demonstration I saw in my Invertebrate Zoology class at the University of New Mexico! Here, the professor took a small section of a live sponge and put it into a blender. He then pressed the button for a few seconds so that the sponge was reduced to a "puree" . He then set the mixture aside until the next class meeting a few days later. When we came in, the sponge had reassembled itself! The difference, of course, is that the living sponge is able to take in energy to power this re-assembly.

There is a great deal of highiy emotional dialog currently going on about teaching what are referred to as "alternative theories of evolution or creation" in science classes. I think that at some point teachers should be given credit for having some intelligence and sensitivity in this matter. They should be given credit for having enough intelligence and knowledge of subject matter in their teaching fields to be able to teach mainstream ideas in the limited time at their disposal. With the call from some quarters that alternative ideas about the origin of life be taught in high school biology classrooms, I am waiting for demands from these same individuals or others that geography teachers also teach the old flat earth theory. I am also expecting that chemistry teachers will soon be required to teach the outdated phlogiston theory to their students. Will physics teachers next be required to present alternatives to the laws of gravity?

At some point in this conflict, I believe biology teachers must state clearly and calmly that what they are teaching are ideas that have been carefully developed and expanded over many years of rigorous scientific endeavor. We are not attempting to warp young minds. What we are attempting to do is simply present an elegant construct of how life began on this planet and how it has come to be present in such bewildering and majestic abundance and diversity. I always make it a point to tell my students that the theory of evolution is a theory. To those ungrounded in the vocabulary of science, the term "theory" implies a largely untested set of ideas. In fact, Curtis and Barnes describe a theory as "a generalization based on many observations and experiments; a verified hypothesis". The mechanisms of evolution, such as natural selection, are regarded as scientific law. As we discuss the status of the theory of evolution, my students always want to know how I feel about the matter. At this point, I tell them that I personally and professionally regard the tenets of evolution as fact. However, I make it very clear that this is my own opimon and that they should listen to the ideas presented in class before they reach their own conclusions.

In conclusion, I do not plan to show this video tape to my Biology I students because it only offers emotional, irrational and erroneous attacks on an elegant and vibrant explanation for the marvelous complexity and diversity of life on this planet. People who insist on attacking evolutionary thought in this manner do so with an insulting air of ridicule and derision, with no hard evidence or facts of their own to offer. Our students deserve much better.

RNCSE 17 (6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
6
Year: 
1997
Date: 
November–December
Articles available online are listed below.

A Visit to the Institute for Creation Research

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Visit to the Institute for Creation Research
Author(s): 
Karen Bartelt
Eureka College
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
6
Year: 
1997
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
6–7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
On January 9, 1998, a group of about 25 skeptics visited the "Museum of Creation and Earth History" run by the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, California. This tour was a part of a workshop entitled "Creation/Evolution" which was sponsored by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. The ICR staff was made aware that our group would be visiting the museum, and they suggested an introductory lecture followed by a tour of the museum.

The lecture was given by geologist Dr Steve Austin, who showed us a video which he said is also shown at the Mt St Helens visitor center. The Mt St Helens eruption was described in accurate detail, and there was a great emphasis on the velocities of the mudflows and the amounts of material that were removed and deposited elsewhere.

It was Austin's intention to use the Mt St Helens eruption to convince us that catastrophes can cause rapid, large-scale changes on the earth's surface. Austin said that he had once been an evolutionist, but that his observations of the Mt St Helens eruption had converted him to catastrophism and creationism. He set up a "straw man", implying that his "catastrophist" view of geology was something new and revolutionary in the geologic world and that "uniformitarian" (that is, mainstream) geologists ignore the role of volcanoes and other catastrophic events in the shaping the earth. One of our group leaders, PhD paleontologist Jere Lipps, took Austin to task for having such a simplistic view.

Austin continued his presentation by showing us some of his slides of the Mt St Helens area. One slide was simply described as showing "strata 25 feet high deposited by Mt St Helens". He referred to this stratified volcanic ash oniy as '"sedimentary rock" and observed that it took only a few hours to be deposited in layers. What was implied here, of course, was that large-scale sedimentary strata, such as limestones and sandstones found in many parts of the world, could be deposited in a similar, rapid manner. I asked Austin whether he had any evidence that any of the more typical sedimentary rock—limestone, sandstone, or shale—had ever been deposited rapidly, but he provided no such example. Our group's level of geologic expertise was above average, but I wonder how many less-skeptical people have left such presentations thinking that all sedimentary rocks show evidence of rapid deposition.

Young-earth creationists would be interested in a mechanism that allowed for the rapid formation of coal (since coal would have time to form in a young earth only if such a mechanism existed). Austin pointed out the post-eruption burial of trees in a nearly vertical, root-down position at the bottom of Spirit Lake (apparently there are some trees in that position) and said that he was sure that coal was forming at Spirit Lake now.

He then referred to the petrified forests found in Yellowstone Park and described them as remnants of similar ancient catastrophes (to be fair, he never came right out and said "'Flood of Noah""). The generally-accepted view of the petrified forests of Yellowstone — that the trees represent 27 forests, buried sequentially by many volcanic episodes — was not mentioned. Austin also failed to mention why, if these forests in Yellowstone were such good models for catastrophic burial and coal formation, they do not contain any coal deposits. Erling Dorf, in his comprehensive article on the petrified Yellowstone forests, reported the presence of conglomerates from stream deposits, breccias from mudflows or landslides, volcanic tuff from the numerous volcanic events, and lava beds — but no coal!

Though Austin described himself as "an age-dating agnostic", he was eager to share with us the fact that he alone had radiometrically dated the Mt St Helens lava dome. Using potassium/argon dating, he determined a lava dome age of 350 000 years. His unstated conclusion was that radiometric methods are unreliable and give all sorts of bogus dates. There are, however, several other explanations of his results.

First, Austin sent young, low-potassium rocks to Geochron Laboratories. Such samples are very low in radiogenic argon, which is the isotope responsible for the radioactive decay that is the basis of the dating techniques. Although Geochron specifically stated that it did not want to deal with young, low-potassium samples, Austin sent them anyway and specifically stated in his paper that he did not reveal the origin of the samples. This "omission" can result in potentially large ranges of error in the results and also opens his research to ethical questions.

Second,Austin may have dated some of the solid material that came up with the lava rather than the lava itself. Austin had mentioned that the lava contained xenoliths—pieces of solid rock that came up with the lava. Although Austin stated that he was careful to remove the xenoliths, we have no assurances that he succeeded; and he apparently made no effort to date the xenoliths separately. Although Austin's date was published in a "peer-reviewed" journal (Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal), this journal is "peer-reviewed" only in the sense that the journal was published by other creationists. The peer-review process of a mainstream geology journal would have demanded that he explain his unusual results more completely Therefore, contamination by rock that is 350,000 years old or older remains a possibility.

Third, some of Austin's previous forays into the radiometric dating of rocks demonstrate that he is not an expert in this field. Austin is the head of the ICR's "Grand Canyon Dating Project". As such, he is committed to casting doubt on the radiometric ages of the lavas in the Grand Canyon. In a 1992 publication, ICR Impact #224: "Excessively Old 'Ages'" for Grand Canyon Lava Flows", Austin asserted that he found Cenozoic (relatively recent) lavas that gave radiometric (Sr/Rb) ages of 1.34 billion years.

These assertions are completely debunked in Chris Stassen's "Criticism of the ICR's Grand Canyon Dating Project" at the Talk.Origins Archive (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/icrscience.html#sec2, last accessed 1-13-98). Stassen points out that Austin's Grand Canyon lavas came from different flows, and the "ages" of the flows may actually represent a minimum age for the mantle that served as source material for the flows. Despite the obvious problems with Austin's methods, Impact #224 is alive, well, and available at the ICR museum!

Austin's last point about Mt St Helens was that the rapid erosion of volcanic ash in the Mt St Helens area (which he calls the "Little Grand Canyon") was a good model for catastrophic erosion over much larger areas. He proposed the existence of large pluvial lakes above the current Grand Canyon. According to this scenario the Canyon itself was cut when the lakes drained catastrophically. Again, this presumes that recently-deposited volcanic ash has properties similar to those of lithified limestone, sandstone, and shale — something most mainstream geologists do not accept.

As a young-earth creationist, Austin presumably believes that the sedimentary strata of the Grand Canyon were laid down rapidly and catastrophically during The Great Flood. I was eager to hear Austin's response to what I would consider a general problem for catastrophists, whether we are talking about catastrophic erosion of sedimentary strata or floods depositing these strata. Many of the sedimentary strata in and around the Grand Canyon contain the tracks of animals. The red Kayenta formation, exposed nearer to Glen Canyon Dam, contains the tracks of dinosaurs. I have seen these tracks personally and told Austin so. I asked Austin to comment on the fact that these tracks exist and are difficult to square with a catastrophic formation of the layers of the Grand Canyon. It is inconsistent to have all life on earth obliterated by a flood and then have animal tracks in the layers deposited by the flood. Austin stated that these certainly were animal tracks, laid down by animals walking through mud or sand, but he never satisfactorily explained how animals could happily meander through an area during or so soon after a global catastrophe.

At the end of the presentation Austin was confronted by another member of our group, who asked, "Whatever happened to Stuart Nevins? Does he publish anymore?" Those of you familiar with ICR literature may recognize the name from tracts published in the late 70's. Austin admitted that he had published under that pen name. So much for his recent, Mt St Helens-induced conversion to creationism!

Our group of skeptics was beginning to realize what passed for reality at the ICR, and we had not even set foot in the museum... yet.

[The author thanks Chris Stassen, Andrew MacRae, and Steve Austin for their helpful critiques via email and telephone.]

References

Austin S. Excess Argon within mineral concentrates from the new dacite lava dome at Mt St Helens Volcano. Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 1997 http://www.icr.org/research/Sa/sa-r01.htm. Accessed 3-07-98.

Dorf E. The petrified forests of Yellowstone Park. Scientific American 1964 April; 79-85.

About the Author(s): 
Dr Karen Bartelt
Eureka College
300 East College Avenue
Eureka IL 61530
Email: bartelt@eureka.edu

Creationist Geology and Intuition

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creationist Geology and Intuition: Isn't science just common sense?
Author(s): 
by Kevin Padian
NCSE President
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
6
Year: 
1997
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
28–29
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The dismay expressed about "The Mysterious Origins of Man," a pseudoscientific jumble of Bible distortion, garbled geology, warped paleontology, and gonzo archeology that aired on NBC-TV in February 1996, burned up phone and fax lines, tied up modems, and sent postal workers scurrying around with stacks of letters to editors and broadcasting executives. Jere Lipps, then Director of Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology and President of the Paleontological Society, led the charge on behalf of science and was recently rewarded with NCSE's "Friend of Darwin" award for these and other efforts.

The uproar about the program reached the pages of scientific journals such as Science, mass-market magazines such as Time and a bunch of internet talkgroups and bulletin boards. The network responded, "Hey! It's not our fault. We do entertainment!"; the producers responded, "We don't know what you're getting all upset about. It's true, isn't it?"; and the NBC executive responded, "Oh, come on. everyone knew it was just opinion."

Perhaps Kris Krishtalka, a vertebrate paleontologist who directs the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, said it best when he was quoted in Science (March 8, 1996): "I'm sure in a few months [NBC News anchor] Tom Brokaw will have a special on the deplorable state of science knowledge among American school children." Unfortunately, we now know better; NBC rebroadcast "The Mysterious Origins of Man" several months later.

It is well known by now that the "Mysterious Origins" people are Hare Krishna people, not biblical fundamentalists, and they think that all the life forms on earth are hundreds of millions of years old, not a few thousand. However, there are instructive comparisons between the two groups, and their approaches to the distortion of science and the selective presentation of often apocryphal evidence are in many ways similar.

What Makes This Strategy Successful, and Why Should We Care?

The answer is that their line is persuasive to the poorly educated in science — which happens to include the majority of American adults and adolescents. But people like to be persuaded. They especially like to be persuaded that their views are right, and that they are intelligent people capable of figuring out things for themselves. What the so-called experts know is just their opinion, after all. It may not be right. Look how many times the "experts" have gotten the rest of us into trouble!

I was reminded of this in re-reading Tom McIver's revealing article, "A Creationist Walk through the Grand Canyon" (Creation/Evolution Issue 20, 1987). Tom signed up for a field course, as something of an undercover anthropologist, at the Institute for Creation Research. In this course, participants were led through the Grand Canyon, and its geology was explained through the window of "creation science." So, for example, participants were told that the Coconino Sandstone, a Permian deposit with a great many nice footprints of amphibians and reptiles, could not be formed from desert dunes because the angles of these beds are supposedly inconsistent with the bedded layers in the Canyon. Instead, of course, they were all formed in the Noachian Flood. Participants were taught to distinguish "creation" rock (preCambrian) from "Flood" rock (Cambrian and later).

Melver reported that none of the participants expressed any doubts whatever about the veracity of this kind of explanation; in fact, they were incredulous that anyone could accept the traditional geologic story. "How could this whole enormous canyon have been formed by such a small river, as the evolutionists claim? Where is the necessary downstream deposition of eroded canyon sediment? What about all the alleged missing layers? We shook our heads in wonder and genuine pity at the ability of evolutionists to accept such utter absurdity."

There are abundant clues as to why this teaching strategy is successful. It makes people who know very little about a complex subject feel confident about their ignorance. McIver writes: "Our opinions were solicited, although most of us had no previous geological training." This is consistent with the creation-science tradition of amateur nature-watching. "Creation science relies upon a naive empiricist philosophy of science:
  • science is built up of common-sense observations;
  • nature (like Scripture) is perspicuous;
  • ordinary folk, if not blinded by theoretical speculations and materialist, evolutionist idols, can participate in this enterprise of understanding God's creation.

In other words, traditional "creation science", like Krishna pseudoscience and "Intelligent Design" panaceas, provides people with validation of what they want to believe. There is no need for fancy theories, complex instruments, or laborious testing of hypotheses. It's American populism — your view is just as good as anyone else's. People love to be asked, "What do you think?"

There is a subtle flattery to this approach. How much harder it is for a scientist to remonstrate, "Well, we have to see where the facts lead us. We have to form hypotheses and test them. We have to examine many different lines of evidence. We may not have enough information to get to the right answer." Hmph. That doesn't make me feel as good as that fellow over there did. At least he thought my ideas were important.

It is a seductive idea that ordinary people can understand the natural world with only the most superficial training, and that it is as likely to be correct as the views of that fellow over there with the PhD. But it also has a parallel in religion. In most faiths, there is a hierarchy of clergy and a standard system of tenets. This does not simply mean a holy book, like the Bible, the Torah, or the Tao; rather, it means an orthodox interpretation of these views, developed through history by scholars and clerics (and invested with all the institutional prejudices of that history).

The tradition of American fundamentalism is outside this institutional scholasticism because it has no hierarchy, it does not particularly value academic scholarship, and it places the validity of religious interpretation squarely on the individual preacher (See Ronald Numbers's masterful book, The Creationists). If you have witnessed, if you believe, if you understand, then you can pretty much preach and interpret however you like, as long as you can get people to listen. This is not to say that fundamentalist clergy cannot be scholars or cannot interpret the Bible accurately, any more than one would assert that anyone with a PhD degree in a scientific field is widely read in science, let alone inerrant about scientific matters. But this is why the absurd literalisms of many fundamentalist preachers, pointed out by historians, theologians, biblical scholars, and scientists, make no impression on their beliefs or teaching. One man's view of the Bible is just as good as that pointy-headed theologian's over there; after all, he probably doesn't share my Faith, so why should anything he says be trusted?

If anyone can receive the Word, if they believe, and can interpret the Bible correctly, then certainly anyone can interpret the phenomena of the natural world, which is of course the handiwork of the Creator. Hence the parallel between the "common-sense" or "populist" view of religion, and that of nature.

McIver continues: "Yet, despite this tradition of obsolete common-sense empiricism, with its harsh criticism of evolution and other modern scientific theories for being nothing but biased, abstract speculations, creationists indulge in hypothesis-spinning of the most reckless sort. We were encouraged in this: what scenarios could we devise which would account for the observed data — fossil footprints, various strata, faults and unconformities, or whatever — and still preserve the absolutely required literal interpretation of Genesis? No discrepancy is perceived, because creationists know that the Bible is totally inerrant."

Here, the two components of this world view are combined. Anyone can figure out the science; and the Bible tells us all we need to know. It may seem odd that a person would reject a secular scientific view of natural phenomena on the grounds that it is authoritarian and a belief system, but would accept with ease an authoritarian view of natural phenomena based on religious knowledge that has little or nothing to do with the proximal evidence of the natural world. But it is just as odd to think that a person could reject a secular scientific view of natural phenomena with nothing whatever in its place, able to be swayed by the flimsiest prima-facie case for human and dinosaur footprints together, human artifacts 55 million years old, or continents slipping halfway around the earth suddenly every 41,000 years. The uncertainties of science, and its philosophical methods of forming hypotheses and testing them, are not congenial to you if you like things simple, and accept that the average person can come up with explanations as good as those of the most highly trained scientist, just by sitting down and thinking a little. After all, science is supposed to be an open-minded process, isn't it?

The best answer to this, perhaps, is the well-known aphorism that "science is open-minded but not empty-headed." It builds on itself, it is continually self-correcting, it has expectations, and if these are not met by the evidence then it looks for other evidence in the system that would explain why. People from all religions and cultures can participate in this community endeavor as long as they follow the precepts of scholarship and hypothesis-testing. But don't be disappointed if the "populist science" folks don't seem overly impressed by this. And you won't just find them in the pews.They'll be on the bus next to you, reading the astrology column; they'll be listening to the salesman in the jewelry store at the mall talking about the healing powers of crystals; and they'll be perusing the offerings in the New Age section of the bookstore.

Many Scientists See God's Hand in Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Many Scientists See God's Hand in Evolution
Author(s): 
Larry Witham
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
6
Year: 
1997
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
While most US scientists think humans are simply smarter apes, at least 4 in 10 believe a creator "guided" evolution so that Homo sapiens are ruled by a soul or consciousness, a new survey shows. Scientists almost unanimously accept Darwinian evolution over millions of years as the source of human origins. But 40% of biologists, mathematicians, physicians, and astronomers include God in the process.

"I believe God could work through evolution," a South Carolina mathematician wrote in a marginal note on the survey "Bell shaped curves describe how characteristics are distributed.. . so I think that God uses what we perceive to be 'random processes.'" Despite such affirmations, however, 55% of scientists hold a naturalistic and atheistic position on the origins of man, according to the random survey of 1000 persons listed in the 1995 American Men and Women of Science.

"I am surprised to find that so many are theistic evolutionists" Duncan Porter, a Virginia Tech botanist and Darwin scholar, said in an interview. "As an Episcopalian, I don't compartmentalize those things," he said of God and evolution, "I put them together in an overall view." Rick Potts, director of human origins at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, said it is not unusual to find religious beliefs in any community including scientists.

But "I'm happy to see that 55% are taking a naturalistic approach," he said. "Most anthropologists would draw the line heavily toward the naturalistic side. We want to explain our phenomenon without recourse to things we can't observe or measure." The survey, which had a 60% response rate, asked scientists the same Gallup Poll question posed to the public in 1982 and 1991. In the 1991 round, 40 percent of Americans said God "guided" evolution to create humans.

While this 40% is a middle ground of agreement between scientists and the public, there is a sharp polarization between the groups taking purely naturalistic or biblical views. While most scientists are atheistic about human origins, nearly half of Americans adhere to the biblical view that God created humans "pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10 000 years." Forty-six percent of Americans agreed with this view of human origins in the 1991 Gallup poll. Only 5 percent of the scientists agreed.

Because only a quarter to a third of Americans are Protestant evangelicals or fundamentalists, the 1991 Gallup Poll showed that many mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews believe in a "last 10,000 years human creation." The 1991 poll also showed that college-educated Americans were far more likely to accept evolution, underscoring their closer affinity to the views of scientists.

The standard view in science is that modern-day Homo sapiens emerged 40,000 years ago and began to organize societies 10,000 years ago. The oldest humanlike ape is called Australopithecus, or "southern ape." It was found in Africa and is believed to date back 4 million years. Homo erectus developed 1.8 million years ago. Neanderthals roamed Europe and Asia beginning 100,000 years ago.

The survey was a separate but parallel study to one reported in Nature (1997 Apr 3; 386:435-6) in which 40 percent of the same scientists reported a belief in a God who answers prayers and in immortality. Both surveys were conducted by a reporter for the Washington Times and Edward J Larson, a historian of science at the University of Georgia. The report in Nature was based on a replication of a 1916 survey that scandalized Americans by finding that 45 percent of scientists were atheists and 15 percent were agnostics. Before the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, scientists and the Western public agreed that God designed human life. Afterward, they became sharply divided.

The belief that God creates through evolution has been called "theistic evolution" though there are different views on how much God intervenes in the process. A physicist from New Mexico wrote on the survey that God created man "within the last 10,000 years, but the universe is billions of years old." Two biologists from Ohio refined the question about God and evolution. One said, "God created the universe and principles of energy and matter, which then guided subsequent evolution." The other said God did not guide the process "but did create the conditions that allowed the process to take place." "Creation science," most visible in school board debates and court rulings, is only one brand of creationism. It holds that the earth is about as young as human creation. But many Bible believers combine an ancient earth and some evolution with a recent human creation.

[This article appeared in the Washington Times on April 11, 1997, pA8. It is reprinted here with permission.]

The Tale of the Whale

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Tale of the Whale
Author(s): 
Kevin Padian
Museum of Paleontology, UC Berkeley and President, NCSE
Volume: 
17
Issue: 
6
Year: 
1997
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
26–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The Winter 1996 issue of Pacific Discovery, published by the California Academy of Sciences, was devoted to whales. Among the nice articles and beautiful pictures is a particularly interesting article about the origins and early evolution of whales by Elizabeth Culotta, a writer for Science who covers evolution and ecology. Culotta is collaborating on a book on whale origins with Hans Thewissen, one of the scientists intimately involved in studying whale evolution. Her interviews with noted specialists underscore what tremendous progress in understanding whale origins has occurred just in the last few years. At least three new forms — Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, and Rodhocetus — have been found to fill in some of the gaps between the whales we know and their terrestrial ancestors, a group of mesonychid carnivores that lived in the Eocene epoch, some 60 million years ago. Along the way, paleontologists have learned a lot more about the evolution and relative timing of the adaptation of skulls, ears, jaws, backbones, and limbs for life in the open sea.

The problem of the origin of whales, of course, has long been one in which anti-evolutionists have been particularly interested. "Creation scientist" and former biochemist Dr Duane Gish liked to mock the traditional paleontological assertion that whales evolved from an ungulate ancestor. In his lectures, Gish would explain to his audiences that an ungulate was a hoofed mammal, like a cow. Then he would show a cartoon of Jersey cows with bells around their necks and mermaid-like tails, asking his audience if they thought such an evolutionary transition were possible. No paleontologist, of course, suggested that whales evolved from cows, but this seemed to make little difference to Gish.

Culotta’s article points out that the fossil relatives of living whale groups are recognized not primarily by the great size and specialized swimming adaptations that generally describe today’s whales, but instead by features of their skulls and teeth that are shared only with living whales. However, what interests most people is how whales came to take up an aquatic existence.

The first steps in whale evolution included a reduction of the pelvis and hindlimbs even while these structures still remained fully functional for locomotion and bearing weight. By the evolutionary stage represented by Ambulocetus, we find elongated hands and feet, a longer skull, and larger teeth. But the tail is still long and lacks a fluke, and the toes still end in little hooves.Thewissen and his co-workers suggest that this animal swam by vertical undulations and was amphibious (lived both on land and in water).

Rodhocetus, which occurs a bit later in time, has a shortened neck and more reduced hindlimbs. It appears to have been a more open-water swimmer, while still retaining many terrestrial features. These animals are still in the 5- to 8-foot range and lived about 50 million years ago. However, Basilosaurus shows that by 40 million years ago, whales had become much larger and more like the living groups.

As its name suggests, Basilosaurus was thought to be a dinosaur or marine reptile when it was first discovered in the early 19th century, but its mammalian affinities were soon recognized. NCSE Reports reported that Duane Gish dismissed it as a reptile (Anonymous, 1990), however, to my knowledge he has not published a peer-reviewed scientific paper documenting his evidence. Meanwhile, the rest of us may find interesting some recent scientific efforts on early whales, many of which are summarized in a couple of nice (and short) pieces by Dr Michael Novacek, a pre-eminent mammalian paleontologist and Vice President of the American Museum of Natural History in New York (Nature 1993, 361:298-299; and 1994, 368:807; Other relatively accessible pieces are listed at the end of this article.)

A more recent creationist postscript to the whale saga began not long after the recent "Firing Line" television program on evolution. Science teacher Larry Flammer wrote to law professor and self-proclaimed Darwin expert Philip Johnson, asking about his comment that a "recent article in Science" refuted what biologist Dr Ken Miller said on the show about whale evolution. Johnson referred Flammer to microbiologist Dr Michael Behe, who responded by citing a single sentence in Novacek’s 1994 article (listed above): "Ambulocetus, Rodhocetus and other more aquatically specialized archaeocetes cannot be strung in procession from ancestor to descendant in a scala naturae." Flammer checked with NCSE as to whether Johnson’s interpretation was an accurate statement of Novacek’s views.

The excerpted sentence, which begins the last paragraph of a nearly full-page commentary, is classically taken out of context. Novacek spends the entire article explaining the traditional problem of the lack of fossil intermediates between land mammals and whales, then shows how recent discoveries are morphologically, functionally, and stratigraphically intermediate. Novacek’s quoted sentence means only to say that we do not regard these things as successive direct ancestors. This is because Ambulocetus, Rodhocetus, Pakicetus, and other forms each have their own "autapomorphies" or distinguishing characteristics, which they would have to lose in order to be considered direct ancestors of other known forms. (For general information, modem evolutionary biologists do not search for ancestors, but for relationships among organisms based on the new appearances of heritable features, which are represented in the form of cladograms.)

Here’s the important part. Any modern paleontologist or evolutionary biologist knows that the chances of finding an actual lineal ancestor to a later form are very small. Imagine your own chances if you returned to where you think your 6th-century ancestors are buried and started to dig looking for them. Even if you found a graveyard from that period, what are the chances that any of the bones would belong to your direct ancestors? A distant cousin, maybe. But couldn’t you tell a lot about those people and how they lived, the stage of cultural development in their society, their possessions and features? Would it be unreasonable to suppose that your direct lineal ancestors had the same features and lived in more or less the same ways?

This is exactly the approach that Novacek is taking to the whale fossils. He is clearly saying that these fossils show progressive specialization of features common to whales today, even if they are not the direct lineal ancestors of whale species that survive in modern oceans. This is what he means when he writes: "Nonetheless, these fossils are real data on the early evolutionary experiments of whales." In previous paragraphs he pointed out that archaic whales first evolved cetacean features of the middle ear, muzzle, skull roof and teeth; then an amphibious habit with front-to-back flexion of the body for providing locomotion in the water aided by paddle-like hind feet (Ambulocetus); then shorter neck vertebrae, unfused hip vertebrae, and the reduced femur (Rodhocetus); and so on. Finally, Novacek writes, "They powerfully demonstrate transitions beyond the reach of data, whether molecular or morphological, derived from living organisms alone."

Readers may judge for themselves, based on what Novacek actually said, but in my view it is not responsible scholarship, nor accurate representation, to tell someone that Novacek’s article refuted what Miller said about whale evolution. Novacek, Gingerich, Thewissen, and other scientists are understandably upset about the distortion of their work and publications, but it seems to make little difference. Sadly, as long as creationists can pretend to hold scientists to a semantically strict and epistemologically unreasonable definition of ancestry, they will continue to try to fool the public. Readers who are not professional scientists might be interested to know, however, that if someone tried this sort of misrepresentation in the scientific literature, they would be sat down hard by reviewers and by the authors themselves. Understanding what someone actually said and meant in his work is the first precept of scholarship.

References

Anonymous. Gish reclassifies Basilosaurus as a mososaur? NCSE Reports Sept-Oct 1990; 10(5): 11.

Berta A. 1994. What is a whale? Science 1994 Jan 14; 263:180-1.

Gingerich PD, Raza SM, Arif M, Anwar M, Zhou X. New whale from the Eocene of Pakistan and the origin of cetacean swimming. Nature 1994; 368:844-7.

Gingerich PD, Smith BH, Simons EL. Hind limbs of Eocene Basilosaurus: Evidence of feet in whales. Science 1990; 249:154-7.

Thewissen JGM. Madar SI, Hussain S. Ambulocetus natans, an Eocene cetacean (Mammalia) from Pakistan. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg 1996 Jun 28; 191:1-86.

Thewissen JGM, Hussain ST, Arif M. Fossil evidence for the origin of aquatic locomotion in Archacocete whales. Science 1994 Jan 14; 263:210-2.

Thewissen JGM. Phylogenetic aspects of cetacean origins:A morphological perspective. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 1994; 2: 157-84.

Review: Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
17
Year: 
1997
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
36–38
Reviewer: 
Robert T. Pennock
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds
Author(s): 
Phillip E Johnson
1997. Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 131 p.
Those who have read Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial (1991) and Reason in the Balance (1995) will immediately recognize the argument as well as the rhetoric in his latest book. Johnson again brings up the Cambrian explosion and other features of the fossil record that he says biologists can't explain, but he opposes evolutionary theory primarily by way of an attack on scientific naturalism. He speaks of how the young need protection against "indoctrination" (p 10) from "the ruling naturalists" (p 22) who make students memorize "naturalistic doctrine" (p 34). He continues to insinuate a conspiracy of atheist Darwinian elites who control the airwaves — "the microphone-owners of the media [who] get to decide who plays the heroes and who plays the villains" (p 33).

Though his arguments against evolution are broadly philosophical rather than scientific, he ignores most of the history of philosophy, and still perversely insists, for instance, that taking God as a supernatural foundation is the only way to avoid relativism of both knowledge and morality. When we "declared our independence from God" (in the 1960s of course, on the heels of the 1959 Darwin Centennial), we lost the assumption that "the law was based on a set of underlying moral principles that came ultimately from the Bible," and this, Johnson opines, resulted first in the divorce revolution, then the sexual revolution, the feminist revolution, and inevitably abortion rights and homosexual liberation (p 103-4). These themes, as well as Johnson's characteristic shrill notes, are by now tiresomely familiar. There are, however, a few important developments in the book.

The most significant new point in Johnson's attack on evolution is that for the first time he comes out explicitly against the core thesis of common descent. In many previous writings Johnson blithely ignored the basic textbook meaning of evolution and used his own idiosyncratic definition that made no mention of descent with modification. One always suspected that Johnson was more of a traditional creationist than he let on, but he refused to be pinned down on any specifics and mostly confined his objections to the Darwinian mechanism (what he called "the blind watchmaker thesis") and to the purported "dogmatic philosophy" of naturalism that he claimed was part of its definition.

He proffered "intelligent design" as the correct alternative account, but refused to say anything about that "theory" beyond the vague claim that God's intentional design was the true explanation of biological complexity, leaving open the possibility that God did not create biological kinds ex nihilo, but by guiding the process of descent. However, as he previously claimed that the Darwinian mechanism was a false doctrine propped up by naturalism, he now says the same of descent with modification: "Put aside the materialism," he concludes, "and the common ancestry thesis is as dubious as the Darwinian mechanism" (p 95). Perhaps in a future book he will finally tell us what intelligent design theory has to say about stratigraphy and Noah's Flood.

A second significant addition here is an indication of how "intelligent design" theorists hope to update the old creationist argument from the information content of biological molecules. Johnson suggests (incorrectly) that information is a radically anti-materialist concept. He claims that information is primary and prior to the material, noting that the Gospel of John says that "in the beginning was the Word," not matter. This is admittedly a clever interpretive idea and, given the real importance of information theoretic issues in biology we can expect creationists to run with it. Johnson first broached his idea in a 1996 article in Biology and Philosophy, picking up on a few statements of biologist George C Williams who was discussing (far too loosely, I would say) biological information. Williams had said that information was "not physical objective reality" and was a "more or less incommensurable domain" from matter, and Johnson proposed that this was a recognition of an ontological dualism of matter and information, and that matter could therefore never explain the origin of information.

Williams and Richard Dawkins each wrote pithy, scathing replies, but in Defeating Darwinism Johnson oversimplifies their objections. He admits that it is easy to account for the origin of information if its content is low, but he clalms that there is no accounting naturally for the "highly specified information" of complex organisms. Expect this to be where the new creationists will try to make their next pitch for intelligent design. As they do, watch for those subtly question-begging words like "specified" which lead one to think of an "intelligent agent" (a specifier), where "specific" would be more precise.

The next time Johnson says that "The Word (information) is not reducible to matter, and even precedes matter" (p 71), be sure to ask for an example of information that is prior to matter (or anything physical)—he won't have one because information is a relational property that can't exist in a "disembodied" form. And don't be put off by facile claims about irreducibility, for that is a difficult and controversial philosophical concept. While it is true that, in one simple sense of reduction, information is not reducible to matter (that is, the same information can appear in any number of different material forms), this is not a sense that would lead to any spooky dualism or would necessarily require an intelligent author.

A less substantive, but perhaps more important, change in this new book is an explicit shift in Johnson's target audience. In a 1993 interview Johnson had said that he was not interested in discussing how the creationism debate should be conducted in the schools. "[T]he public school system isn't really my venue," he explained, "it isn't where I want it argued. It's in the universities and scientific community that I really start the argument" (Barbero 1993). Now Johnson is ready to switch venues and writes that the aim of this new book is to give "a good high-school education in how to think about evolution" (p 11). His audience consists of "late teens - high-school juniors and seniors and beginning college undergraduates" (p 9) and their parents and teachers. He even tells us how he would design a curriculum in evolution for these students. Apparently Johnson now does want the issue argued in the schools, for he says that the biology curriculum should be built around principles of critical thinking. He wants to turn the table on scientific skeptics and have students learn to train what Carl Sagan called their baloney detectors upon evolutionary theory.

Johnson goes through Sagan's baloney detection list of fallacious appeals to authority, selective use of evidence, begging the question, ad hominem arguments, and so on, but illustrating these with ways that he claims evolutionary biologists are dishing out the baloney. For example, he says students should be taught to watch for evolutionists' bait-and-switch strategy of starting with what they call "the fact" of evolution and then surreptitiously inflating it to include the mechanism as well. (Gould and some other evolutionary biologists speak of common descent with modification as "the fact" of evolution to distinguish that from "the theory" of the mechanism [s] by which it occurred. In Johnson's section on the curriculum he misleadingly defines and dismisses it as being just the uncontroversial point that "organisms have certain similarities like the DNA genetic code, and are grouped in patterns" [p 58], though he later uses it in Gould's sense to refer to common descent when he rejects that thesis [p 94].)

Incredibly, Johnson claims that this important distinction between product and process is "just a debating gimmick" (p 59) to hide problems with the Darwinian mechanism. He warns teachers that if they want to try to teach about the evolutionary "snow job" they may have trouble avoiding the attention of "so-called civil liberties lawyers" (p 116) and offers his services and those of his colleagues to help. He directs teachers to the Access Research Network Web site, www.arn.org, which has become the outlet store for "intelligent design" creationism, where their materials will be posted.

We should applaud Johnson's call for teaching critical thinking, but his seven-point program for applying this as the framework for a biology curriculum is ludicrous. Imagine suggesting that the proper way to teach geology is to tell students that the subject is little more than "philosophical dogma" and that geologists are "bluffers" who intentionally "dodge the hard questions" and who should be "viewed with suspicion." Teaching an academic discipline in this manner would be intellectually irresponsible and morally reprehensible. Even parents who are creationists and would like to see this critical approach to evolution in the schools may be less than pleased to hear that Johnson also recommends that students learn in biology class to turn their baloney detectors upon their own religious beliefs. He argues that to believe in God simply on faith rather than reason is either a "mistake" or a "rational defensive strategy born of desperation" (p 20), and that students must confront the theological problems that result from taking on evolution.

Believe it or not, critical thinking about such theological matters also comes under one or other of the seven points Johnson would include in his biology curriculum. Johnson wants to to blame everything on scientific naturalism, but that is no more or less an "assumption" of every other theoretical and applied science than it is of Darwimsm; if Johnson's curriculum is justified in biology classes, then why doesn't he consistently recommend that it be applied in like manner in physics class and auto shop?

Johnson tells high-schoolers that they need to "learn to use terms precisely and consistently" (p 57) but that biologists are intentionally slippery in their use of the term evolution, so that when they hear it "the indicator screens on their baloney detectors should display ‘Snow Job Alert'" (p 116). Students reading his book will profit from turning their baloney detectors upon it, for Johnson's own use of terminology is no model of the virtues he rightly praises. In addition to the terminological laxity noted above, one finds that Johnson is similarly loose with other evolutionary concepts when it is to his advantage. One instance involves what he calls "Berra's Blunder".

In Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (1990), zoologist Tim Berra illustrated a point about the nature of an evolutionary sequence using a series of photographs that show the development of the Corvette over several decades. Johnson says Berra has blundered here because "[t]he Corvette sequence.. .does not illustrate naturalistic evolution at all. It illustrates how intelligent designers will typically achieve their purposes by adding variations to a basic design plan" (p 63). But it is Johnson who is being misleadingly ambiguous here, for Berra never claims that this is an example of natural selection but says explicitly that this is an illustration of a kind of descent with modification. He uses the example to illustrate how small changes, where the relatedness of intermediate forms is easily recognizable, can add up to differences such that the endpoint is nearly unrecognizably distinct from the starting point. For this purpose the Corvette example, using artificial rather than natural selection, works perfectly well.

Furthermore, it is an important, basic point to make with a familiar example, since many creationists continue to cling to the immutability of species and insist that cumulative selection of small variations in a species (microeveolution) can't add up to form new species from old (macroevolution). Johnson misleadingly defines microevolution as "cyclical variation within the type" [p 57] so that it looks like it fits with the creationist idea of fixity of kinds. Johnson claims that these small changes can't add up to form new species from old (macroevolution). It is an important, basic point to make with a familiar example. It is thus Johnson, not Berra, who has blundered. Moreover, are we really supposed to take seriously his implicit suggestion about discovering the divine Designer's purposes on analogy with that of automotive designers? If so, what should we conclude about God's purposes for human beings, chimps, gorillas and the various extinct fossil hominids given that we are all but a minor variation on the primate "design plan?" It looks like Homo sapiens is just the latest of a line of mostly failed production models.

Johnson's imprecision and inconsistency are even more pronounced when it comes to the philosophical concepts he tries to make so much of. For instance, with no regard for the basic distinction between ontological naturalism and methodological naturalism, Johnson continues to speak generically of "naturalism" as a dogmatic metaphysics (see Pennock 1996). His evidence that biologists are committed to the ontological view that there is no God and that nature is "all there is" comes from the 1995 Position Statement of the American National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) that said that evolution was an "unsupervised" and "impersonal" process. The fact that NABT recently dropped these two terms from its statement to remain properly agnostic about God's role (as methodological naturalism requires) repudiates Johnson's charge.

Compounding the above prevarication, Johnson also confuses scientific naturalism and materialism. Mechanistic materialism became the dominant naturalist ontology in the 17th century, but scientific naturalism allows other explanatory categories of being, provided that they do not violate natural law. Indeed, it is more common in philosophy of science today to speak of physicalism rather than materialism, so as not to over-emphasize matter over space-time, forces, fields and other basic categories that have been added to physics in the intervening centuries, and so as not to beg ultimate philosophical questions about metaphysics.

Johnson does (temporarily) correct one serious philosophical error he had made in Reason in the Balance. There his main target was "modernism," but he incorrectly described modernists as being ethical and epistemic relativists, and attributed to modernism characteristics that actually belong to postmodernism. In Defeating Darwinism he does better, writing: "Modernists believe in a universal rationality founded on science; postmoderists believe in a multitude of different rationalities and consider science to be only one way of interpreting the world. In other words modernists are rationalists; postmodernists are relativists" (p 90). But after admitting this difference he goes back to lumping the two together and criticizes modernism generically as the subjectivist "established religion" of the West (p 97).

Interestingly, Johnson's own view is clearly postmoderist in many of its key elements. His writings are rife with postmodern language about the "construction" of knowledge by those in the "establishment" who are acting to protect their "power and wealth" by "indoctrinating" the masses with an oppressive "ideology". I was not surprised to learn recently that Johnson's original title for Darwin on Trial had been Darwinism Deconstructed. Like postmodernist phiosophers,Johnson seems to think that what is called knowledge is nothing more than the fashionable cultural narratives held by the ruling elite. One way this view is exemplified in Defeating Darwinism is the emphasis he places on the play Inherit the Wind — a fictionalization of the Scopes trial, which he calls a "masterpiece of propaganda" (p 25). Spinning his own masterpiece of deconstruction Johnson tries to argue that the play actually achieves its effect by borrowing from the Gospels and essentially giving Bert Cates (the character representing the evolution teacher Scopes) the moral role of Jesus.

Well, maybe so, but what does that have to do with whether the scientific evidence tells us that evolution is true? The answer, of course, is that although Johnson is like postmoderists in opposing scientific methods as having any special evidential merit for discovering truths about the empirical world, he is at heart really a premodernist in holding (though never quite forthrightly admitting) that the only warrant for truth is God's Word. Johnson wants to defeat Darwinism by having students "open their minds" to supernatural possibilities in the ways he suggests and ignore standards of evidence. As an antidote to Johnson s postmodernist call to carelessly throw out scientific methods, it behooves us to remember Bertrand Russell's wise recommendation that it is good to keep an open mind, but not so open that one's brain falls out.

References

Barbero Y. Interview With Phillip E Johnson. California Committees of Correspondence Newsletter 1993.
Berm T. Evolution and the Myth of Creationism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Pennock RT. Naturalism, evidence and creationism: The Case of Philip Johnson. Biology & Philosophy 1996; 11(4): 561.

About the Author(s): 
Robert T Pennock
Dept of Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin.