Volume 27 (2007)

RNCSE 27 (1-2): Special double issue.
RNCSE 27 (1-2):
Special double issue.
RNCSE 27 (3-4): Special double issue.
RNCSE 27 (3-4):
Special double issue.

RNCSE 27 (5-6): Special double issue.RNCSE 27 (5-6): Special double issue.

RNCSE 27 (1–2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2007
Date: 
January–April
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 27 (1-2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2007
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
2
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

News

  1. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Europe, Russia, and the United Kingdom
  2. Obituaries
    Jerry Falwell, NCSE Supporter F Clark Howell, origin-of-life researcher Stanley Miller, and Texas textbook critic Norma Gabler

NCSE News

  1. News from the Membership
    Glenn Branch
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.

Special 10th Anniversary Pages

  1. The Evolution of RNCSE
    Andrew J Petto
    Since our new format premiered in 1997, we have grown and adapted.
  2. NCSE: A Decade in Retrospect
    Eugenie C Scott
    The changes in RNCSE reflect both changes at NCSE and in the battle against anti-evolutionism.

Members' Pages

  1. Visit Your Local Natural History Museum
    To see places around the country that feature real science, drop in on one of these, or visit on-line.
  2. Books: "Intelligent Design" on Trial
    Books about “intelligent design” and its failure to gain legal or scientific acceptance.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers

Features

  1. A Visit to the New Creation "Museum"
    Timothy H Heaton
    It’s slick, it’s fun, but it glosses over both science and conflicting creationist views.
  2. Intelligent Design 101
    James Curtsinger
    A satirical view of what a lesson on “intelligent design” might sound like.
  3. Evolution in Schools: Where's Canada?
    Jason R Wiles
    Though anti-evolutionism is not as prevalent north of the border, Canadian schools are feeling the pressure to downplay evolution.

Book Reviews

  1. Flock of Dodos: The Evolution–Intelligent Design Circus directed by Randy Olson
    Reviewed by Steven Pinker
  2. Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith by Philip Kitcher
    Reviewed by Arthur McCalla
  3. Evolution for Everyone by David Sloan Wilson
    Reviewed by J José Bonner
  4. The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe
    Reviewed by David E Levin
  5. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul by Edward Humes
    Reviewed by Warren Eshbach
  6. Doubting Darwin? Creationist Designs on Evolution by Sahotra Sarkar
    Reviewed by Michael Ruse
  7. The Creationist Debate: The Encounter Between the Bible and the Historical Mind by Arthur McCalla
    Reviewed by J David Pleins
  8. The Challenge of Creation: Judaism's Encounter with Science, Cosmology, and Evolution by Natan Slifkin
    Reviewed by Shai Cherry
  9. Not By Chance! by Lee M Spetner
    Reviewed by Zev Stern
  10. Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism edited by Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz
    Reviewed by Oren Harman
  11. The Evolution Dialogues by Catherine Baker
    Reviewed by Phina Borgeson
  12. Evolution and Christian Faith by Joan Roughgarden
    Reviewed by Charles F Austerberry
  13. Darwinism and its Discontents by Michael Ruse
    Reviewed by Doren A Recker
  14. Thank God for Evolution! by Michael Dowd
    Reviewed by Clay Farris Naff
  15. By Design or By Chance? by Denyse O'Leary
    Reviewed by Phina Borgeson
  16. Original Selfishness by Daryl P Domning
    Reviewed by Patricia A Williams

The Evolution of RNCSE

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Evolution of RNCSE: The First Ten Years
Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2007
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
16–18
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Many of our readers are aware that this publication is a combination of two earlier serial publications — NCSE Reports, the newsletter of NCSE, and Creation/Evolution, originally published by the American Humanist Association and later acquired by NCSE for the publication of scientific rebuttals of creationism and for reviews of creationist and anti-creationist books. In 1996, NCSE's board of directors decided to launch a new type of publication for our members that would combine the two publications into one, and would provide for a new type of contribution — the special feature.

The board realized that focusing mainly on scientific rebuttals to creationist arguments limited NCSE's ability to carry out its missions of promoting evolution education. The old format put us in the position of defending against creationist claims, but, more important, allowed creationists to set the agenda. The special features would allow NCSE and its contributors to promote a better understanding of evolution (and of science in general) because they would not be limited to the issues and arguments raised by opponents of evolution. The special features material also includes items that are reprinted from other sources, whenever we think that our readers might not have ready access to these materials in their original formats or locations.

The new format allowed us also to present reviews in areas of scientific research — such as human evolution or microbial genomes — that would bring our readers an upto- date understanding of various fields related to evolution. Such contributions are specifically chosen because they represent a scientific field of study that is important to understanding evolution and not because they specifically refute a particular creationist argument.

Articles of these two new types have made up about 30% of our content over the past ten years. The new format allowed us to tap into a rich array of contributions that we had turned away for lack of an appropriate way to publish them, and, even in the early years of RNCSE, about 20% of our items were special features or scientific reviews.

However, RNCSE in 2007 is not what it was in 1997, and it has changed in ways that we did not imagine at the outset. Some of these reflect changes in communications media. In Creation/Evolution, it was common for anti-evolutionists to write rebuttals to our articles. In 2007,it is more common for creationists to post a comment to a blog or to a web site. Of course, our policies on rebuttals has not changed, but fewer antievolutionists seem to bother.

In retrospect, the history of the content of RNCSE is a record of the history of NCSE and the state of anti-evolutionism in North America (and a few other places around the world) over the past ten years. Some issues persist, but others seem to ebb and flow. As we review some of the highlights of the first ten years, please note that this content analysis excludes the short news briefs in the Updates section, the contents of the book reviews, and the reports of the many outstanding contributions to our mission that appear each issue in the News From the Membership column. This analysis examines only news reports, special features, and scientific articles (see Figure 1).

WHAT'S IN RNCSE?

Of all the components of RNCSE, the one that appears most often is the special feature, provided for by the new format established by NCSE's board of directors in 1996. About 18% of all the items published in the last ten years were special features. Our earlier volumes were lower in this content than some later ones, but six of the ten volumes contained 15–19% special features.

The ten-year average for original scientific reviews — not specifically addressing or refuting an anti-evolutionist position — is about 13%. There is a bit more variation in these items than in the special features, but six of the ten volumes contained 12–18% scientific reviews. Part of the variation in the volumeby- volume averages is that there were several special issues of RNCSE that took on special themes. Special scientific articles often appeared in themed issues, and some special issues focused on important events — such as the release of the PBS series Evolution and the outcome of Kitzmiller v Dover.

There were, of course, still many scientific articles in the Creation/Evolution mold. Their main purpose was to address or refute specific claims, arguments, and objections to evolution made by creationists. These appear in Figure 1 as categories ID-Gen and Biblical to refer to the source of the original idea. ID-Gen refers to the "intelligent design" literature, including all formats. About 7% of our content dealt specifically with these claims. Slightly less (about 6%) dealt with similar claims being made by biblical creationists. So overall about 13% of the content was devoted to scientific materials addressing specific claims by "intelligent design" or biblical creationists.

With the implementation of statewide science education standards administered by state school boards or departments of education, legislative action seems to have declined in importance (though a review of our Updates will show that anti-evolution legislation is a perennial issue). The action on statewide opposition to evolution has focused on these administrative units and their development, promulgation, and enforcement of state standards that include evolution. In eight of ten years, these items have made up over 10% of RNCSE content (see Figure 2).

We carried a similar proportion of items on evolution education (about 12%). It is important to know how teachers can — and do — implement the standards for evolution education. In addition, we read about the districts around the country where teachers and parents find opposition to their efforts to promote evolution education.

Associated with those statewide agencies are a number of grassroots and local citizens' organizations that have formed in various states to promote evolution education in the standards. These come and go as state agencies address evolution issues periodically. The grassroots column also includes reports on or by citizens who become active in supporting evolution in response to local or regional challenges.

The dialog between science and religion is another area in which RNCSE has been able to explore ideas that are not anti-evolutionary. Taking up from the tradition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution, these items explore the religious traditions that support — or at least do not oppose — modern science,and evolution in particular.

Finally, we had minor, but measurable, numbers of contributions about "intelligent design" conferences around the country, about evolution in the media (excluding the internet), textbook adoption issues, and various legal cases involving evolution. Early in the history of RNCSE we carried a regular column by NCSE Supporter Frank Sonleitner detailing the contemporary research that refuted the arguments in Of Pandas and People. We ultimately moved Frank's review of Pandas — along with other resources about this book — to NCSE's website.

TRENDS IN RNCSE CONTENT

What is perhaps more interesting than the variety of articles that we publish is the way in which the content has evolved over the past ten years. For example,"intelligent design" conferences were rare in the early volumes, but "academic conferences" were a key goal of the "Wedge" strategy, and so the "intelligent design" community began organizing them. The number has been rising steadily,but our coverage has dropped off, since there is rarely anything new to report from these conferences.

However, general coverage of "intelligent design"-related issues has increased over the past ten years. Its presentation in RNCSE is episodic — as ID proponents trot out new materials or arguments, they are analyzed and reviewed. However, more and more of the anti-evolutionary materials seen by school boards and legislatures are from ID sources, and fewer are from old-style biblical creationists. In general, "intelligent design"- related content has been rising and biblical creationism-related content declining, but there has been an upsurge in old-style creationist material that has been addressed in the past two volumes — this is not unrelated to recent legal troubles of Kent Hovind and Answers in Genesis, and the ongoing saga of the "Creation Museum" that AiG opened recently.

Items related to textbook adoption, state science standards, elections and polls, and media also appear episodically (Figure 2). Textbook adoptions happen only at multi-year intervals, so stories about them do, too. Once the state science standards are adopted, they are typically re-examined only after five or more years. The media items we covered had to do with the PBS series Evolution and the reactions of anti-evolutionists to the materials — including their "alternative" video productions. Legal items appear only when there is an active court case, and most of the conflicts over the past ten years — with the notable exception of Kitzmiller and Selman — were settled before they went to court.

One part of RNCSE that seems to change little is the Updates section. For some reason, legislators and school officials can easily be convinced that court decisions on various aspects of creationism — "balanced treatment", "equal time", "alternatives to evolution", and now "critical analysis"— somehow do not apply when the anti-evolutionism is relabeled. Perhaps the most honest of these are the oldtime "creation scientists" who made it clear that the Bible was the basis for their proposals — and this does sometimes occur in the public forum even today. However, our Updates sections provide a stark confirmation of Genie Scott's observations (see p 19) that anti-evolutionism ********LINK DECADE IN RETROSPECT is both enduring and adaptable. It keeps popping up — in forms that we recognize as "same old, same old", but that seem to convince creationists that they are on to something new.

BROADER,WIDER, DEEPER

Finally, several other changes have allowed RNCSE to present new original material. Our associate editors help sort out the best papers to print. The application of their expertise in a wide variety of fields has helped us to provide high-quality features and articles thanks to their advice and guidance.

We also print more book reviews than before. We still ask our reviewers to focus on the issues of the public understanding of evolution and of the various forms and guises of anti-evolutionism. But, we can present more than just the standard "we-say–they-say" critiques of creationist publications. In the last ten years RNCSE has reviewed educational materials, websites, DVDs, CD-ROMs, films, and books in archaeology, geology, anthropology, geography, biochemistry, literature, and politics. All of these reflect the pervasive and multidimensional anti-evolutionism in our culture.

With the help of NCSE staff, and especially our archivists, more of RNCSE and Creation/Evolution appears on our NCSE website. We cannot post reprinted items, but much of the content of our publications is available shortly after it appears in print. We also have begun to post longer versions of some items on our website — keeping the items in print shorter and making the issues more diverse, while still providing access to an unabridged version.

Ten years ago, we had an idea about new things we could do for our readers. The board's decision to provide more and more different types of items for our membership has been exceeded. It has been an exciting ten years for us at RNCSE, and we anticipate more growth and more changes as we move into the future to meet NCSE's primary goal of providing our members with the best resources for promoting and defending evolution wherever you are.

About the Author(s): 

Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
editor@ncseweb.org

Andrew J Petto is editor of Reports of the National Center for Science Education (RNCSE) and a member of NCSE's board of directors.

NCSE: A Decade in Retrospect

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
NCSE: A Decade in Retrospect
Author(s): 
Eugenie C. Scott
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2007
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
19–20
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The year 2007 marks the tenth anniversary of the first publication of Reports of the NCSE, or RNCSE. In looking back over the last ten years, it is clear that these have been extraordinarily full years for NCSE as an organization. Our staff has grown from two full-time and two part-time staff members to the current roster of ten full-time and four part-time employees. Our annual budget has grown from $250 000 to about $800 000. In 1997 we had one and a half very overworked "program" people trying to monitor the creationism/ evolution controversy, provide information to the public and the press, and convey information to people at the grassroots trying to cope with local and state creationist challenges to evolution education. Much of the time our activities required triage: with such a small staff, we had to choose which "flare-ups" we could spend time on; we were often frustrated that there were simply not enough hours in the day to provide sufficient assistance to some of our callers.

Because we now have more staff, we have much less anguish over triage. Moreover, as NCSE staff increased, staff has become much more diversified. Scientists still comprise the backbone of NCSE's program staff, but we now also have a philosopher of science, a historian of science, a theologian, and a former classroom teacher - all areas of relevance to our organizational mission. Our program staff is also highly qualified, holding among them five PhDs (two in anthropology, two in biology, and one in theology), and five master's degrees (one each in archaeology, education, geography, library science, and philosophy). Thus we have a wide range of expertise to draw from when requests for information arrive; as has always been the case, our staff makes NCSE the effective organization it is.

Yes, we have grown, but we needed to: the creationism/evolution controversy has become more complicated since 1997. It was during the mid- to late-1990s that "intelligent design" creationism truly hit its stride, although of course NCSE had been monitoring it for the previous decade. In 1996, Michael Behe published Darwin's Black Box, and in 1998, William Dembski published The Design Inference. Most importantly, in 1996, the Discovery Institute announced the opening of its ID-promoting center, the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (later renamed the Center for Science and Culture). As the Discovery Institute became more active in the late 1990s, NCSE's workload increased. I and other staff published analyses of "intelligent design" arguments, and we began advising on local controversies where school boards or citizens were seeking to have "intelligent design" taught in public schools. At the same time, of course, the traditional young-earth creationists did not go away, but in fact expanded, as Answers in Genesis opened its national headquarters in northern Kentucky and even "Dr Dino" - the notorious Kent Hovind of Pensacola, Florida - expanded his popular creation science ministry.

NCSE participated in all of the large (and a lot of the small) creationism/evolution conflicts of the decade: the 1996–97 struggle in Kentucky to keep Answers in Genesis from building its creation museum next to Big Bone Lick State Park; the so-called Santorum amendment and its fallout; textbook adoptions in Texas in 2003 - the list goes on and on. Some of them, like the struggle in Darby, Montana, to keep "intelligent design" out of the science class, or the Kansas "Evolution Wars I" and "Evolution Wars II", made the national papers; most of the controversies received local coverage at best and were well off the radar of the national press. You never heard of many other controversies we monitored and helped to resolve - because these were solved behind the scenes with little publicity, sometimes not even local newspaper coverage.

Much of NCSE's time in the last decade was spent coping with creationist pressure on state science education standards. The science education standards movement, begun in the early 1990s, has had a revolutionary effect on the science curriculum in the United States. Whereas previously each individual school district was largely in charge of its own science curriculum, now statewide standards shape instruction in all districts. The National Science Education Standards (NSES), produced by the National Academy of Sciences, although only advisory, has had a huge influence on the writing of science standards in the individual states. Because the NSES included evolution, and because in most states the standards were written by education professionals, evolution was included in the standards of almost all the states - at least in the first drafts.

Evolution did not always stay in later drafts, however, because creationists protested its inclusion, and political pressure on education is a fact of life in the US. It is a tribute to NCSE and its allies on the state and local level that creationists rarely succeeded in compromising science standards. Conflicts arose in almost every state, the noisiest ones being Kansas, Ohio, and Alabama. But NCSE members and other citizens also worked to keep creationism out of, and evolution in, the standards in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia - it is hard to remember them all.

The No Child Left Behind Act, the federal education bill signed into law in 2002, requires states to test students at regular intervals, with tests based upon the state's science standards. If evolution is in the standards, it will be on the test; if it is going to be on the tests, it will be taught. After 2002, pressure on standards developers increased even more as creationists lobbied them either to omit evolution or to include some form of creationism. When scientists and others, assisted by NCSE, fought these efforts, the creationists' fallback position was usually to opt for watering down the teaching of evolution by presenting it as something that needed to be "critically examined" - creationist-speak for "criticize". This strategy was apparent in both Kansas and Ohio, and in several other places that did not receive as much national publicity. As long as high-stakes testing is the norm in science education, we can anticipate fights over evolution in states' science education standards.

During the decade, NCSE participated as advisors in the legal challenges to the teaching of evolution, including Freiler v Tangipahoa, LeVake v Independent School District 656, Selman v Cobb County, and Kitzmiller v Dover. It was for the Freiler case, in fact, that NCSE wrote its first amicus curiae brief; we have written (and ghost-written) several more since. But even though our assistance is frequently sought by legal teams defending evolution education, for NCSE legal redress is always the absolutely last recourse and to be avoided if at all possible. Lawsuits are expensive, exhausting, time-consuming, and distracting, and they tend to be very disruptive of small communities. Our first goal is to try to solve problems behind the scenes, when people are more likely to compromise. But sometimes a school board or other decision-maker is simply recalcitrant - the Dover school board comes to mind - and there is no recourse but to sue. Our side has prevailed in all cases, but the courtroom is always the last resort.

NCSE staff is proud to have promoted evolution education by assisting a dozen or more scientific or education associations write statements on the teaching of evolution - and the number of entries in our Voices for Evolution compilation almost doubled in the decade. We also assisted in 1998 and 1999 in the writing of the National Academy of Sciences's Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science and the second edition of Science and Creationism. We also advised on the NOVA Evolution series of television programs, as well as other documentaries produced during the period.

An innovation for us during this decade was NCSE's first member excursion: a trip to the Galápagos Islands in 1998. This was followed by our first Grand Canyon excursion in 1999, led by NCSE's great good friend Wilfred Elders. We have had other Grand Canyon trips in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007, using NCSE's own "Gish" - geologist Alan Gishlick, NCSE's first postdoctoral scholar. These adventures have proven to be very popular with members, and we will try to go every year to the Grand Canyon as long as interest exists. (The 2008 trip will be from July 30 to August 6 - mark your calendars!)

NCSE has grown in number of staff, budget, and impact. We take pride that we are sought for the "evolution side" of the argument by a variety of media; we take even more pride that we are the "first stop" for members of the public trying to cope with the creationism/evolution issue on the community or state level. We would not be able to do this without our members, and we hope that you are proud that your support has produced an effective organization that has truly made a difference for the integrity of science education over the last ten years. And NCSE promises to continue to do so for the foreseeable future - with your continuing support.

About the Author(s): 

Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
scott@ncseweb.org

A Visit to the New Creation "Museum"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Visit to the New Creation "Museum"
Author(s): 
Timothy H Heaton
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2007
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
21-24
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
There has been much publicity about the new Creation Museum built by Answers in Genesis in northern Kentucky (greater Cincinnati). My wife and I decided to pay the museum a visit as part of a family vacation. We took the tour on May 29, 2007, the day after the Grand Opening. Despite continuing construction and a few incomplete exhibits, I can only describe the museum as impressive. The phrase from Jurassic Park, "spared no expense", kept coming to mind throughout the tour, and with all the animated dinosaurs, lush vegetation, and tropical sounds, it actually felt like a Jurassic Park!

The museum is exquisitely designed and well choreographed. Visitors are led through a long sequence of exhibits interspersed with videos — some on screens among the exhibits and some in comfortable theaters. The exhibits are ordered by the "7 C's of History: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation" (McKeever 2007) and have considerable diversity. The Dragon Theater, Special Effects Theater, and Stargazers' Planetarium are not part of the exhibit sequence and can be visited for scheduled presentations. The Special Effects Theater features vibrating chairs and splashes of water — during a presentation of Noah's Flood, of course.

The exotic feel of the museum extends well beyond the exhibits and theaters. Noah's Café has the sounds and décor of a jungle and overlooks the lake outside, which has fountains and a variety of interesting bridges. The bookstore features a dragon theme. There are diverse activities and special exhibits for children. Visitors are photographed on their way into the museum and offered computerized prints with dinosaur backgrounds on their way out. The museum is full of helpful staff members wearing safari vests that read "Prepare to Believe". With a touch of humor, exhibits still under construction are labeled with signs that say "This Space is Still Evolving!" Photographs of the museum and its exhibits are available on the Web (AiG 2007; Lynn 2007), but hardly do it justice. The museum is well worth a half-day visit.

What is the message and presentation style of the Creation Museum? This is where things get interesting. First of all, Creation is only one of the "7 C's" presented in the museum. They all get extensive coverage, though Creation Week and Noah's Flood take center stage. The crowning event of the main tour is the Last Adam Theater where the gory details of Jesus's crucifixion are vividly portrayed — all to offset the sin committed in the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve presented earlier. Visitors are encouraged to discuss this Christian message with trained staff members as they exit the theater. Perhaps a more appropriate name would be the Christian Museum.

Which creationism?
As a close follower of young-earth creationism, I was curious about many subtle aspects of the presentation. Most observers are hardly aware of the striking conflicts among creationists, both in terms of their beliefs and their presentation styles. The Creation Museum is the brainchild of Ken Ham, founder and president of Answers in Genesis USA and author of such books as The Lie: Evolution and The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved (Ham 1987, 2000). Ham has a radio program called Answers with Ken Ham devoted to mocking evolution and "millions of years" with simplistic logic and innuendo — blaming these beliefs for social ills such as racism, drugs, and pornography. At first I expected the tone of the museum to fully reflect Ham's negative propaganda style.

However, I was pleased to learn that Kurt Wise — a less propaganda-oriented creationist — was hired as a scientific consultant for the museum and played a major role in designing the exhibits. Kurt Wise and I were both graduate students under Stephen Jay Gould, and we have remained friends over the years despite our different perspectives. Richard Dawkins (2001) singled Wise out as "an honest creationist," willing to admit when scientific evidence does not weigh in his favor. Wise despises evolution bashing and avoids most aspects of apologetics. His books (Wise 2002, Wise and Richardson 2004) simply lay out the Christian story and seek to build historical models that incorporate both scriptural and scientific data. Wise shuns the limelight that Ham thrives in. The common thread that links Ham and Wise is an absolute belief in biblical accuracy and authority. For example, both accept the Genesis account of animals' and humans' being created on Day Six of creation week, so both have concluded that dinosaurs and humans co-existed on earth — a conclusion prominently displayed throughout the Creation Museum. But beyond this biblical worldview they have little in common.

Kurt Wise's contribution to the museum is easy to recognize. A major theme of the exhibits is introduced in the Dinosaur Dig Site diorama near the beginning of the tour. Two paleontologists are excavating together as colleagues, and each explains how his "starting point" determines his interpretation of the fossils. One begins with "Human Reason" and believes in long ages of fossil deposition; the other begins with "God's Word" and believes the fossils formed quickly in Noah's Flood. The two perspectives are presented as equals with no test for evaluating them (not yet, at least). One observer commented: "Here I was very surprised. The museum, so far, does not seem as militant as I was expecting. This exhibit does not say that creationism is the correct choice (where, obviously, it must be — this is the Creation Museum), but instead seems to be trying to only allow creationism to be equal to evolution" (Lynn 2007). This respectful contrast continues in a series of exhibits on fossilization and the history of life. For example, a diagram of the "Evolution Tree" shows common ancestry for all living things, whereas the "Creation Orchard" shows diversification within a number of separately-created "kinds". The contrast between the old-earth/evolution and young-earth/creationist viewpoints continues, in various forms, through all the science-oriented exhibits. Creationism is thereby presented as a legitimate alternative science rather than a non-science or anti-science perspective. This represents a simple but powerful harmony for those trying to reconcile Christian doctrine with science.

What likely escapes even the most sympathetic visitors is the modernness of the creationist theories being presented in the museum. Elsewhere I have summarized the latest historical modeling by young-earth creationists (Heaton 2007). The museum presents no history of creationist thinking — only the latest conclusions of prominent young-earth model builders. For example, the old notion of special creation of species is never mentioned anywhere in the museum. Ironically, while creationists tend to disparage Charles Darwin, they have fully accepted the primary conclusion of his Origin of Species: that similar species are related and have a common ancestor. Modern creationists simply put limits on how far evolution can go in a young-earth timeframe. This allows them to accept the undeniable evidence for microevolution while dismissing macroevolution. An entire creationist society (the Baraminology Study Group) has emerged to work out the boundaries between the Genesis "kinds" (baramins), but these creationists and their efforts are not mentioned at the museum (see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4] for several articles on "baraminology"). Only a general outline of their perspective is illustrated.

Other modern efforts by creationists exhibited in the museum include Catastrophic Plate Tectonics, the rapid formation of coal, the post-Flood ice age, and the carving of the Grand Canyon by the catastrophic draining of post-Flood lakes. Once again the theorists and the history of their research are not covered, but only a general outline of their conclusions. I was disappointed that the pros and cons of these models are not developed in the museum as they are (to some degree) in the creationist literature (see Wise 2002). I got the impression that the scientific aspects were being downplayed compared to the larger Christian story. However, Wise informed me of delays in several scientific videos that are yet to come on line, so this part of the museum may be expanded. One video currently online includes an interview with creationist Michael Oard discussing his modeling of the post-Flood ice age. The museum fails to acknowledge that Oard is an ardent critic of the Catastrophic Plate Tectonics model, exhibited just a few feet away. Creationism is presented as standardized doctrine worthy of uniform acceptance throughout the museum, while in reality this is hardly so. Creationists hold radically divergent views on basic factual issues, such as which rock layers were deposited by Noah's Flood.

Balanced treatment?
Are the scientific merits of creationism and evolution presented fairly in the museum? This is perhaps the most important but also the most complicated question to answer. Science and its underlying assumptions can be addressed at many levels. At the most basic philosophical level, science makes assumptions that deserve questioning, and supernatural intervention is within the scope of philosophical consideration. But the exhibits of the Creation Museum are not aimed at science's philosophical assumptions but at its empirical successes. The comparative results of "Human Reason" and "God's Word" presented in the museum in no way meet the same scientific standards. Young-earth creation models are a hodge-podge of religious and scientific components judged mainly by scripture. The model presented in the museum includes familiar scientific elements such as microevolution, plate tectonics, and an ice age (not mentioned in the Bible, but not contradicting it), while other equally well-established scientific conclusions such as the Big Bang, the antiquity of the earth, and the close relationship between humans and apes are rejected simply because they cannot be harmonized with a literal reading of Genesis. This is a biblical worldview with a few scientific elements thrown in for show. The creation model presented in the museum represents a reconciliation that holds true to the Bible, but this does not mean that the fit is good or that the conglomeration is scientific. In the primary literature some creationists have willingly admitted the scientific drawbacks of their models (see Heaton 2007; Wise 2002), but the museum presents creationism as a fully developed, unified model that covers all the scientific and scriptural evidence. Untrained visitors will be deceived by this presentation. To be honest the museum needs to admit frankly that creationism is not scientific and that its attempts to incorporate scientific findings are meager at best.

Despite the portrayal of the creationist and evolutionary models as equal scientific alternatives throughout the museum exhibits, there are subtle suggestions that creationism holds a better fit with the data. For example, in an exhibit on coal formation, the "problem" of clay layers within the coal is mentioned, and visitors are told that the young-earth model has a simple explanation for this while the old-earth model does not. The proposed explanation for the clay is not provided, nor is the reported "problem" for the old-earth model. In reality the same explanation, such as a storm with turbid runoff, would be adequate to explain the clay in either model.

Sleight-of-hand tricks of this type are far more egregious in other museum presentations, particularly the major video productions. For an extra fee visitors can watch a show in the Stargazers' Planetarium. This show includes an excellent presentation on the scale of the universe, including many recent astronomical findings, and light-years are used as the unit of measure. The show invites the question of how light could have traveled millions of light-years if the universe is only about 6000 years old. But visitors are assured that there are several simple explanations for how light could have traveled more quickly in the past and that many astronomical features, such as spiral galaxies and near-star Jupiter-like planets, cannot be explained by old-universe theories. In reality young-earth creationists have made no meaningful progress in resolving the starlight problem, and there is little agreement on the matter. One favorite explanation (as deceptive as it is ad hoc) is that God simply created the light en route to earth (Wise 2002: 64–5, 87). Creationists have no explanations of their own for astronomical objects other than "God made them," and creationist astronomy lags far behind creationist biology and geology in its development.

But even these attacks on conventional science pale in comparison with the show being presented in the museum's Special Effects Theater. This show is wildly comical and entertaining. It features a star-struck mannequin named Wendy sitting on stage by a campfire, alone in a desert wilderness, contemplating whether there might be a God. Two young men dressed as angels come flying in to take Wendy on a grand tour of creation and Christian history. These angels portray the voices of "evolution" and "millions of years" as evils sent to confuse people and lead them away from truth. They tell Wendy that radiometric dates are based on "assumptions" and therefore mean nothing. In a truly offensive scene the two angels (sans halos) appear as students in the back of a classroom where the teacher is trying to explain evolution using a slide show. The angels swap their own slides for his and proceed to harass the teacher at every turn. The teacher is portrayed as a dogmatic, bumbling idiot who holds to evolution despite all the evidence against it and cannot offer a coherent explanation to save his life. Incidentally, Answers in Genesis has published and is heavily promoting a new book called Evolution Exposed: Your Evolution Answer Book for the Classroom (Patterson 2006). This book, which is sold in the museum, encourages high school students to interrupt and challenge their teachers if evolution or an ancient earth is taught, and it provides them with copious ammunition. The museum's special effects show appears to be a demonstration of how students are to implement this aggressive, disrespectful behavior.

It is hard to miss the schizophrenia going on at the Creation Museum in terms of its presentation style. Kurt Wise informed me that these materials were created prior to his involvement and that the museum is trying to obtain the video masters in order to edit out the offensive material. But is Ken Ham ready to give up his attacks on evolution? By a stroke of luck we got a partial answer to this question. In our tour of the exhibits — with the most impressive animated dinosaur as a backdrop — we ran into Ken Ham himself giving a filmed interview. As we arrived he was praising Kurt Wise, telling the interviewer that the designer of the exhibits was trained at Harvard University by the eminent evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould. But the thrust of his message was that the museum is honest and balanced in its treatment of the two sides of the creationism/evolution debate and that evolution is treated fairly and respectfully. He emphasized that it is the underlying assumptions that lead a person to one side or the other. His only adversarial comments were that scientists refuse to admit their own assumptions and that several groups had opposed the opening of the museum because they were afraid to have the creation story told. But this was a far cry from the Ken Ham I have heard bashing evolution over the radio. When the interview ended I introduced myself to Ham, and my wife snapped a photo. When I mentioned that I was a friend of Kurt Wise, he seemed pleased and pointed me toward the exhibits on earth history that Wise had designed. Whether Ham will change his tune in a significant way remains to be seen.

During my tour I tried to determine what group or groups of people the museum was designed to influence. I found little that would appeal to the sentiments of non-Christians or to committed scientists. Perhaps more significantly, there is nothing that would appeal to Christians that are already committed to old-age or allegorical interpretations of Genesis. In fact the museum exhibits and videos never admit the existence of popular Christian reconciliations with science, such as theistic evolution, progressive creation, and the day-age theory. Instead the museum contrasts only the extremes of biblical literalism and atheistic science. This appears to be a deliberate device to force visitors to accept one extreme or the other. Since the vast majority of visitors is likely to lean toward creationism, this approach will probably be quite effective. The museum is definitely designed to bolster the faith of conservative Christians and lead them to believe that young-earth creationism is in perfect harmony with the facts of modern science. The museum seems especially designed to dissuade those visitors that think they can believe both in Christianity and an old earth. The evil of "compromise" is explained in a section of the exhibits called Graffiti Alley and Culture in Conflict. In these dark, dingy rooms the evils of society are blamed on the acceptance of worldly view by many Christians. One of the statistics mentioned is that only half of Christian pastors accept "absolutes". To clinch the blame for this compromise, a giant wrecking ball labeled "100 Million Years" is shown demolishing a church. From this gloomy corner of the museum visitors are led through a starry tunnel into a bright theater where the six literal days of creation are read from Genesis, together with vibrant video and sound.

I found it hard to leave the museum because there was so much to see and absorb. But the experience was not over because I had arranged to visit Kurt Wise, whom we met at his new post at Southern Seminary in Louisville, just a hundred miles from the museum. We spent an enjoyable evening with Kurt and his wife discussing the museum and reminiscing about our days at Harvard. When I told Kurt that Ham had lauded his credentials, he wagged his head in disapproval but explained how he hoped he had made a positive impact. He seemed a bit conflicted about the museum and his involvement with it. Kurt's faith is so sound that he feels no need to bolster it by convincing others. He loves science and wants to find a harmony that remains true to his strict belief in scripture. But he is perfectly at ease letting others believe as they see fit. The museum was an opportunity and a frustration for him: an opportunity to put more honesty and respect into creationism, but a frustration because he had to compromise with a propaganda machine that he dislikes. Had it not been for Kurt's stories and explanations the museum experience might have remained a puzzle, but now the museum's schizophrenia makes perfect sense. While I remain merely a curious observer of young-earth creationism, I can only applaud Kurt's efforts and hope his approach wins the day.

References



[AiG] Answers in Genesis. 2007. Creation Museum walk-through. Available on-line at http://www.answersingenesis.org/museum/. Last accessed June 10, 2007.

Dawkins R. 2001. Sadly, an honest creationist. Free Inquiry 21(4): 7–8.

Ham K. 1987. The Lie: Evolution. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Ham K. 2000. The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved. Green Forest (AR): New Leaf Press.

Heaton TH. 2007. Creationist perspectives on geology. In: Schneiderman JS, Allmon WD, editors. For the Rock Record. Berkeley: University of California Press. Forthcoming.

Lynn Z. 2007. Sneak peak at the Creation Museum. Available on-line at http://studentweb.eku.edu/zachary_lynn/museum/index.html. Last accessed June 10, 2007.

McKeever S. 2007. So, what are the "7 C's" anyway? Available on-line at http://www.answersingenesis.org/museum/docs/7cs.asp. Last accessed June 10, 2007.

Patterson R. 2006. Evolution Exposed: Your Evolution Answer Book For The Classroom. Hebron (KY): Answers in Genesis.

Wise KP. 2002. Faith, Form, and Time. Nashville (TN): Broadman & Holman Publishing.

Wise KP, Richardson S. 2004. Something from Nothing: Understanding What You Believe about Creation and Why. Nashville (TN): Broadman & Holman Publishing.

About the Author(s): 
Timothy H Heaton
Department of Earth Science/Physics
University of South Dakota
Vermillion SD 57069
theaton@usd.edu

Timothy H Heaton is Chair and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of South Dakota and teaches a course called "The Evolution/Creation Debate". His research currently focuses on Ice Age fossils from caves in coastal Alaska.

Review: Darwinism and its Discontents

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
50–52
Reviewer: 
Doren A Recker
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwinism and its Discontents
Author(s): 
Michael Ruse
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 316 pages
The purpose of Michael Ruse's newest book is to "defend Darwinism from false (or misguided) friends as well as from real enemies" (p 237). To this end he revisits themes he has addressed at book length in the past, including: (1) providing a historical context for Darwin's theory (1979, 2003); (2) demarcating the appropriate relations between science and religion (2001); and (3) evaluating debates among those who consider themselves to be Darwinians (1979, 2000). There is thus a considerable range of topics in this book, with chapters devoted to whether Darwinian evolution can be considered a "fact", whether there are constraints on the power of natural selection, and whether evolution needs to tread within religious waters, among other topics. Because of this breadth, Darwinism and its Discontents should prove useful to those familiar with any of these controversial topics, whatever their level or area of expertise. It may not be an easy read for novices, however, as Ruse moves too quickly for someone without at least some background in these debates. Still, he provides many references for each of the topics covered, and a substantial bibliography. So readers are guided to whatever background material they may need.

Can we meaningfully speak of the "fact" of evolution? Chapter two addresses this issue by distinguishing different senses of both "fact" and "theory" (for "fact", consider the differences between "My car is green" and "The earth is in orbit around the sun"). Once simple observational descriptions are distinguished from inferences based on reliable evidence, there is no oddity or impropriety in labeling the evolution of organisms and their constituent parts a "fact". "Judged against the kinds of criteria and practices that we normally apply and use when making inferences, the evidence for the fact of evolution is very, very solid" (p 45). Indeed it is.

Ruse reviews a representative sample of direct evidence for both human-directed organic change and examples from nature (dogs and hybrid corn/industrial melanism and resistance to insecticides), to show that there is good support for the fact of substantial organic change, as well as for "selection" (artificial or natural) being causally efficacious in the process. Then he (correctly) argues that the bulk of the evidence for Darwinian evolution is indirect, and based on consilience (explanatory power, especially involving data from a variety of areas or by continuing to seamlessly cover new data). This is a good chapter for use as an antidote against creationist and "intelligent design" advocates who use non-scientific senses of "fact" and "theory" to try to tag Darwinian evolution as "philosophy" or even "religion" (thus on a par with supernaturalism).

Two chapters (five and six) consider one of the hottest areas of controversy within evolutionary biology, namely, is natural selection the only (or at least by far the predominant) cause of evolutionary change? Even non-specialists familiar only with the popular science literature will recognize echoes of this controversy associated with Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins (and their various supporters). To what extent can we assume adaptationism and/or optimality in our construction of evolutionary models? Do self-organizational, developmental, or structural constraints on functional characteristics of organisms shaped by natural selection limit its efficacy, or require additional explanatory models? Embedded within these general questions are issues such as (1) whether human-like intelligence was to be expected from the Darwinian process (or generally, whether "progress" is necessary or ubiquitous in evolutionary history); and (2) whether history and contingency or reverse-engineering and optimality provide better guides for understanding evolutionary processes.

To some extent intuitions here depend on what sort of data are taken as paradigmatic. If one stresses examples of arms races and cases that look very much like products of direct design, adaptationism and the ubiquity of selection may seem paramount. If instead one stresses "panda's thumb" sorts of cases that are relatively clumsy (or due to contingent historical pathways instead of near-optimal solutions to design problems), internal and external constraints may seem to exercise more of a role. Ruse, I think, does a good job of steering between Charybdis and Scylla here, while favoring adaptationism and the use of optimality models, at least methodologically. He explains his preferences while backing away from more extreme claims that seem to deny legitimate evidence for historical and other constraints (which only fuel popular debates that have generated more heat than light).

Many will disagree with the details of his assessment, but, given the present state of controversy, that is to be expected. Ruse certainly doesn't settle these issues here, but he does provide what I think is a reasonable and fair summary. Those not familiar with these issues could do much worse than beginning with these chapters. Those who are more knowledgeable (and/or partisan), will find a well-mannered and thoughtful treatment.

What about creationism and/or "intelligent design"? Here some readers might be a bit disappointed. While Ruse has weighed in on such issues through most of his professional career (see Ruse 1982, 2003, 2005), and has also participated in public debates and testified at trials, he says very little about "the enemy" in this book. To be sure, he shows clearly in chapter three that anyone opposing a basic evolutionary pattern in the fossil record or comparative anatomy or comparative molecular biology is not supported by the evidence from these areas. And in chapter twelve he makes it clear that no version of direct design can now hope to provide or supplement biological explanations (that is, natural theology has no scientific role to play), and takes a brief swipe at the bacterial flagellum totem that has become the icon of the intelligent design movement. On the other hand, this battle is not his major concern.

What he does say about evolution and religion in chapter twelve, however, is important. Characteristically, he distinguishes Darwinian evolution as science from any metaphysical position. Its authority extends to biological processes and structures, and no further. It simply cannot adjudicate issues concerning spirituality and the supernatural (though it can certainly exert its legitimate — and hard-earned — authority anywhere religiosity is extended to biological claims). This, too, is controversial, as anyone who has read Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion (2006; the title says it all) can testify. Still, I find Ruse's position both plausible and important, and well worth considering before weighing in on this issue (see also Ruse 2001, 2003).

References


Dawkins R. 2006. The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Ruse M. 1979. The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Ruse M. 1982. Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies. Reading (MA): Benjamin/Cummings.

Ruse M. 2000. The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Controversies. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-CLIO.

Ruse M. 2001. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? The Relationship Between Science and Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ruse M. 2003. Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Ruse M. 2005. The Evolution-Creation Struggle. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

About the Author(s): 
Doren Recker
Philosophy Department
308 Hanner Hall
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater OK 74078-5064
doren.recker@okstate.edu

Doren A Recker is associate professor and head of the philosophy department at Oklahoma State University, specializing in the history and philosophy of science. He teaches courses on evolution versus creationism (and "intelligent design") and philosophy of biology, and is a board member of OESE (Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education).

Review: Doubting Darwin?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
41–42
Reviewer: 
Michael Ruse
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Doubting Darwin? Creationist Designs on Evolution
Author(s): 
Sahotra Sarkar
Malden (MA): Blackwell, 2007. 214 pages
When I first heard that this book was being written, I confess that I was skeptical. We have heard a huge amount in recent years about so-called "intelligent design" (ID) and much that we have heard has been very critical. Why then do we need yet another book on the topic? Now that I have had a chance to read the finished product, I think I was wrong and that my doubts were overstated. This is a splendid discussion of the whole question of ID. It is true that Sahotra Sarkar, a well-known philosopher of science, like most philosophers has little interest in going behind the scenes to dig up the real motives of ID enthusiasts - their religious drives. But, sticking to his task and looking fairly at all of its claims to be science, Sarkar does a great job of rejecting decisively the claims of ID. With a reservation to be noted, this is an excellent primer to the subject.

Sarkar plays things in a very straightforward manner. After an introductory overview, he begins with the thinking of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, taking things up through the discovery of Mendelian genetics. Then we have a discussion of the argument from design - the eye is like a telescope, telescopes have telescope designers, therefore the eye must have had a designer, namely God - and the ways in which Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection roughs up this argument. Rightly, Sarkar has little sympathy for the attempt by leading ID exponent William Dembski to bring this argument back to life.

On then to discussion of contemporary evolutionary biology. Overall, this is very fair and balanced, with a good discussion of the neutral theory of evolution as compared to the more standard Darwinian selectionist theory. I do confess however, that Sarkar's contempt for human sociobiology, very evident here but a leitmotif through the book, started to grate a little. Why keep harping on the point? Of course, his discomfort shows that he is not a blind selectionist, but the point could have been made once and then left.

Now, the biological science given as a foundation, Sarkar starts to rip into the claims of the ID side. First, he goes after William Dembski's invocation of No Free Lunch theorems, supposedly showing that selection cannot be that effective. We learn that Dembski is mistaken mathematically and, even if he were not, the evolutionary situations to which he would apply these theorems are not relevant. Then on to Michael Behe's claims about irreducible complexity. Sarkar is right, although I doubt he will have much effect. Behe has recently published a new book (The Edge of Evolution [New York: Free Press, 2007]; see review, p 38) showing that he is quite indifferent to the many criticisms of his work. If you can't answer them, ignore them!

We move on to information theory and then to the trendy anthropic arguments. These are the arguments that work from the improbability of the laws of nature being as they are, and the necessity for life of the laws of nature being as they are for life to appear, to the existence of a supreme lawmaker or some such body. Strictly speaking, as Sarkar realizes, these are not part of the ID package and are in fact popular among people who detest ID. They are not intended to replace science but rather to supplement theologically or philosophically. But I think Sarkar is right to include them, because at some level they have the aim of ID, namely to resurrect the argument from design. Biologists got the argument out of science in the 19th century. Who would have thought that physicists would be trying to bring it back in the 21st? I agree with Sarkar's arguments - how can one argue about any kinds of probabilities when all one has is a set of one? But I would like to have seen some discussion of Steven Weinberg's claim (which strikes me as plausible) that the world is nothing near as fine-tuned as is claimed by people like my former colleague, the philosopher John Leslie.

So we move on to a discussion of naturalism and a final chapter ending with the wrongness of including ID in biology classrooms. I think readers will appreciate Sarkar's careful discussion of kinds of naturalism and his rejection of the critics like Alvin Plantinga. Of course, although Sarkar can refute Plantinga, one doubts that Sarkar will change Plantinga's mind. This will have to wait until we evolutionists can show people like Plantinga that they can be evolutionists and Christians at the same time. Or rather, not just show them, but convince them. With works like The God Delusion on the best-seller list, I am not holding my breath.

What is my reservation? Although Sarkar writes clearly and gives carefully chosen examples, I still feel that he is too technical for the general reader. This might be a good book for a more advanced philosophy of science class, with a qualified teacher, but it is not for the person picking something up off the shelves of Borders or Barnes and Noble. Sarkar gets into mathematics and he is not always aware of how difficult even fairly straightforward discussions can be. Take for instance the discussion of evolutionary algorithms that is a crucial part of Sarkar's attack on Dembski's use of No Free Lunch theorems. I defy anyone without some background training to understand the definitions that are given or the subsequent discussion.

Or put things this way: William Hamilton's formal discussion of kin selection was complex and mathematical. In The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), Richard Dawkins brilliantly explained all of this in words. I am afraid that Sahotra Sarkar is no Richard Dawkins. But then, no one else is either! Judged on his own terms, Sarkar is right at the top of what he is doing. Get this book and read it.

About the Author(s): 
Michael Ruse
Program in History and Philosophy of Science
Florida State University
Tallahassee FL 32306
mruse@mailer.fsu.edu

Michael Ruse is Lucyle T Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University and a Supporter of NCSE. His latest book is Darwinism and its Discontents (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Review: Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
47–48
Reviewer: 
Oren Harman
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism
Author(s): 
edited by Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. 240 pages
Wherever one turns these days – from television interviews, to radio debates, to courtroom dramas, to the limitless bounds of the printed press – the ongoing saga of humankind's grappling with the implications of science for the meaning of faith seems ever-present. In particular, the debate between evolutionists and the latest incarnation of creationists has suffused the consciousness of many Americans and awakened their political sensibilities. When considering the clash of science and religion in modern times, what is perhaps not always consciously internalized and made explicit is the extent to which descriptions in the English language of this battleground are restricted to the Christian encounter with Darwinism, to the exclusion of other faiths. We should not be surprised by this fact, since the current battle over the teaching of evolution is being waged, almost exclusively, by evangelical Christians, and since the English-speaking world is primarily Christian. Historical scholarship, too, has been skewed towards the reception of Darwinism in a Christian context; after all, it was in Anglican England that Darwin's ideas were first formed and disseminated.

How refreshing, then, to encounter a treatment of the challenge of Darwinism to the Jewish faith, in a new collection of essays edited by Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz, following an academic conference on the subject in March 2004 at Arizona State University. Very little has been written about Jewish responses to Darwinism until now, and although the collection of essays is somewhat idiosyncratic and far from comprehensive, it is a hopeful beginning of a welcome expansion and broadening of scholarship on the challenges posed to religious thinking by Darwinian evolution, both past and present.

What is perhaps unique to the cases explored in Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism is the extent to which the encounter of Judaism with evolutionary thought has been molded by the relationship between Jewish and Christian communities on the one hand, and the dynamics operating within the various Jewish factions on the other. The reality of assimilation and the fear that it would be encouraged or broadened by secular scientific thinking has played an important historical role in the reception of Darwinism in Jewish communities; no less so, however, has the internal divide and political dynamic among Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstruction Judaism been reflected in each group's unique attitudes towards the idea of evolution and its moral and practical consequences. From outright rejections of Darwinism espoused by biblical literalists, through attempts of modern-Orthodox scientists to explain how the Bible accords with modern-day interpretations of nature and her ways; from Kabbalah-inspired hermeneutics, to "practical fundamentalism" (see the interesting chapter by Ira Robinson), Jewish responses to Darwinism have reflected the need of the various communities to define themselves both with an eye inward and a glance towards the outer world. The responses have been quite varied and creative; often, they have been surprising. Rabbis AI Kook and JB Soloveitchik, for example, two of the giants of early-to-mid–20th–century Orthodox Judaism in Palestine and in the United States, respectively, both embraced evolutionary thought based on their readings of canonical, normative Jewish texts and exegeses. In contrast, Rabbi Abraham Geiger, a leading 19th–century figure in the ostensibly more progressive and less theologically rigid Reform Movement, rejected Darwinism vehemently.

Jewish responses to evolution have themselves evolved as a function of the internal and external politics of religion and state: The relatively comfortable, assimilated Jews of Victorian England espoused publicly in the Jewish Chronicle in 1875 the view that: "[t]here is only one theology in existence which is not antagonistic to science," gratifyingly (and somewhat conceitedly) setting themselves apart from Christian creationists; one hundred years later, the assimilation-fearful leading American ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Moshe Feinstein, on the other hand, hesitated little in calling his throngs of followers to "tear out those pages from the textbooks" which do not accord with a literal reading of the Bible. Perhaps most striking was the encounter of Jewish nationalism with the fruits of modern science: Rafi Falk shows in his chapter how a number of prominent Zionists conceived of their political enterprise in terms of safeguarding a Jewish race rapidly degenerating in a biologically untenable Diaspora. While it might be somewhat incongruous to read the great Jewish national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik bellowing, "I too, like Hitler, believe in the power of the blood idea," it may perhaps not be all that surprising considering how, as Richard Weikart shows in his chapter, late–19th-century anti-Semites adapted their social Darwinism to argue for racial competition, and, eventually and tragically, racial extermination: Racially-sensitive Zionists simply took the anti-Semites' arguments and turned them on their head; if the Jews were weak and sickly, it was because they lacked a national homeland where they could work the land, outbreed amongst their scattered diasporas, and regain once again their racial strength. What provided justification for Jewish national dreams, such men believed, was the racial unity of all Jews the world over.

With further chapters on the teaching of evolution in modern-Orthodox high schools in the US today, and on various attempts of accommodating evolutionary thought with religious creationist belief, Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism will present the reader used to encountering the debates in an exclusively Christian context with an interesting counterpoint. Both the similarities and unique aspects of Christian and Jewish responses to Darwinism are instructive. It will be a much-welcomed result if this collection not only spurs further research into Jewish encounters with modern science and evolution, but also research into the encounters of other religions and systems of faith with modern science and evolution. As always, Darwinism can teach us much about the natural world; our own reactions to its powerful ideas can teach us no less about ourselves.

About the Author(s): 
Oren Harman
Science, Technology, and Society
Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan, 52900
Israel

Review: Living With Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
35–36
Reviewer: 
Arthur McCalla
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith
Author(s): 
Philip Kitcher
New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 186 pages
Creationists take every opportunity to remind audiences that the founders of modern science were devout, Bible-believing Christians. This historical truth is the starting point of a new book aimed at a general readership by the distinguished philosopher of science, Philip Kitcher, on the historical entanglement of science and religious doctrine in relation to Darwinism. Kitcher argues that creationism and "intelligent design" are better understood as dead sciences rather than as pseudosciences. Creationist views, broadly speaking, did play a role in the history of geology and the life sciences but they are no longer part of science. Kitcher devotes a chapter to showing, in accessible language, when and why each of the three major anti-Darwinian positions successively became a dead science: "Genesis creationism", or opposition to the idea of an ancient earth in the name of a literal reading of the biblical creation narrative, around 1830; "novelty creationism", which defended the special creation of species against the evolutionary idea that all living things that have ever existed on our planet belong to a single tree of life, around 1870; and "anti-selectionism", or opposition to natural selection as the principal agent of evolution, around 1930. Genesis creationism, novelty creationism, and anti-selectionism have all been revived in our day by those who oppose Darwinian evolution on religious grounds. Kitcher demonstrates that as science these attempts to resurrect the dead have failed.

Much of the material in these chapters will be familiar to readers of Kitcher's earlier writings on creationism and "intelligent design" (including 1984 and 2001). What is new is a conviction that we must take seriously the religious concerns of those for whom the possibility of such a resurrection offers hope and comfort. The bridge to this new conviction is Kitcher's discussion of the slipperiness of present-day "intelligent design" (ID) advocates who publicly present their position as a religiously neutral commitment to anti-selectionism while signaling to conservative believers that it opens the door to biblical creationism. While Kitcher is as firm as ever in denouncing ID as scientifically bankrupt, he is sympathetic to those scientifically unsophisticated Christians who respond positively to it in the hope that it will protect their cherished values. Whereas Kitcher formerly thought that Darwinism was not a threat to religion, he now recognizes that for very many religious people accepting Darwinism means abandoning their hope for eternal life with a loving God - or, in the biblical phrase that provides the title for his final chapter, trading their birthright for a mess of pottage.

The waste, suffering, and inefficiencies inherent in the Darwinian account of life really do contradict providentialist religion's faith in a benign supernatural Creator. Kitcher, however, rejects a "science versus religion" model in favor of an "Enlightenment case against supernaturalism". In so redrawing the battle lines, he widens science to include all intellectual disciplines that derive from Enlightenment empiricism and rationalism while narrowing religion to its supernaturalist forms. He then briefly discusses selected strands of the Enlightenment case against supernaturalism. Biblical criticism has shown that Scriptural accounts of creation are neither true historical accounts nor originate in extra-human revelation (Friedman 1997); the sociology of religion demonstrates that religion owes its survival not to being true but to serving important social functions (Stark 1997); philosophical and psychological analyses of religious experience identify the motivations and dispositions that induce people to interpret their experiences in religious terms (Proudfoot 1985; Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle 1997); and ethical reflection reveals the dangers of belief without evidence (Kitcher 2004).

Since providentialist religion depends on supernaturalism, the Enlightenment case against it is devastating. And yet, Kitcher denies on two counts that its inevitable terminus is atheism. First, while science is committed to empirical methods, we cannot assert dogmatically that the universe contains nothing beyond what is currently known scientifically. Second, Kitcher holds out the possibility of what he calls "spiritual religion", or religions "that do not require the literal truth of any doctrines about supernatural beings" (p 133). While acknowledging that spiritual religion will be attacked from opposite directions by supernaturalists and secularists (as indeed liberal versions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have been), Kitcher, while remaining himself a secularist, draws on the work of John Dewey (1934) and Elaine Pagels (2003) to assert the possibility of non-supernaturalist religions that would provide their followers with the same emotional benefits as supernaturalist ones do for theirs. Kitcher here aligns himself with an insight shared by modern critical approaches to the study of religion: there is indeed a reality behind the various religions that explains their ubiquity and persistence, but that reality is not the transcendent entity that devotees believe it to be. Emile Durkheim identified this reality as society, Freud as repressed psychical drives, and Kitcher identifies it as emotional comfort in an uncaring universe and, too often, society.

Kitcher's spiritual religion is strongly reminiscent of Auguste Comte's Religion of Humanity. Comte (1798–1857), the founder of Positivism, thought that any society depends for its survival on a consensus about its objects of belief, devotion, and value. Historically, religion provided that consensus but science has rendered religion obsolete as an explanation of the universe and human life. The result is a social crisis whose resolution will require a functional equivalent of religion; that is, some ideological system that will heal the rupture between our cognitive and our emotional life. Comte's Religion of Humanity was to fulfill this function by attaching our emotions to the true source of morality: the "Great Being" that is Humanity itself (Preus 1987). Like Comte, Kitcher argues that religion is both socially necessary and in its traditional forms intellectually obsolete. Will Kitcher's spiritual religion enjoy greater success than Comte's Religion of Humanity? Readers may have their doubts, but the similarity between their analyses paradoxically illuminates the ways that American religious and social history have diverged from those of Western Europe since the early nineteenth century. As Kitcher's final paragraphs discuss, the peculiarly American phenomenon of anti-evolutionism draws on both an intellectual problem of ignorance of the Enlightenment case against supernaturalism (derived from a unique confluence of populism and biblicism [Noll 2002]) on the part of large numbers of Americans and a social problem of civic anomie and lack of the sort of social security provisions taken for granted by citizens of other affluent countries.

In suggesting that only cooperation among secular (education, social reform) and religious (spiritual religion) forces can terminate the cycle of controversy over Darwinism, this thought-provoking and highly recommended book directs our attention to an often-neglected aspect of the controversy - the spiritual and religious cost of "living with Darwin".

References



Beit-Hallahmi B, Argyle M. 1997. The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief, and Experience. London: Routledge.

Dewey J. 1934. A Common Faith. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press.

Friedman RE. 1997. Who Wrote the Bible? New York: HarperCollins.

Kitcher P 1984. Abusing Science: The Case against Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Kitcher P. 2001. Born-again creationism. In: Pennock RT, editor, Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press. p 257–87.

Kitcher P. 2004. A pragmatist's progress: The varieties of James's strategies for defending religion. In: Proudfoot W, ed. William James and a Science of Religions. New York: Columbia University Press. p 98–138.

Noll M. 2002. America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pagels E. 2003. Beyond Belief. New York: Random House.

Preus JS. 1987. Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud. New Haven (CT):Yale University Press.

Proudfoot W. 1985. Religious Experience. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.

Stark R. 1997. The Rise of Christianity. San Francisco (CA): HarperSanFrancisco.

About the Author(s): 
Arthur McCalla
Philosophy/Religious Studies Department
Mount Saint Vincent University
Halifax NS B3M 2J6
Canada
arthur.mccalla@msvu.ca

Arthur McCalla is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy/Religious Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University, and the author of The Creationist Debate: The Encounter between the Bible and the Historical Mind (London: T&T Clark International, 2006).

Review: The Creationist Debate

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
42–43
Reviewer: 
J David Pleins
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Creationist Debate: The Encounter Between the Bible and the Historical Mind
Author(s): 
Arthur McCalla
London: T&T Clark International, 2006. 288 pages
It is a curious war story.

Where other authors might see in the centuries from Galileo to Phillip Johnson a war between religion and science, McCalla carefully recounts the real battle: the struggle between reactionary religion and a belief that seeks understanding.

The first volleys were thrown in the Renaissance and the Reformation. McCalla identifies the challenge of Galileo's day as not simply the telescope, but the shift in consciousness away from seeing nature and the Bible as realms of symbol toward the Reformation's "plain sense" view of Scripture and the world. This is McCalla's thesis in a nutshell: Mechanical-mindedness about nature, when coupled with historical-mindedness about the Bible, necessitates a new view of both God and Nature.

Despite the hankering to unlock nature's mechanics, creationists have not been able to give up their addiction to "purposiveness". John Ray saw purposes in the wind and male nipples. It was jarring to move away from such purposiveness to a world view dominated by extinction, imperfection, and lack of providential planning. Major steps were taken when Hooke and Steno unlocked the fossils: "Mother Nature had become a woman with a past," McCalla writes. It would be a while before the earth's deep time would be comprehended. In the meantime, Thomas Burnet constructed a fiery engine for the earth's geology within the confines of a biblical chronology. Christian historical consciousness worked overtime on the biblical clock, even as global explorers encountered civilizations with calendars far more ancient than the Bible's.

The historical bug bit hard in the Age of Exploration as Erasmus, Valla, Cappel, Simon, La Peyrère, and a host of others began to look at the Bible as any other document, one marred by textual corruptions and betraying an ancient mentality. Removing Moses from the pantheon of biblical authors brought a new consciousness about the foundations of Christianity itself. As the Bible became a local map of the Jewish landscape, its usefulness for navigating history's broad waters was diminished forever. With Matthew Tindal, Thomas Paine, and the rise of Deism in the 18th century, it would not take much to treat the Bible as just one more fanciful collection of ancient anecdotes. As deep time came into view with the unwrapping of the primary and secondary rocks, biblical frames were put to further tests. Then, as Cuvier sequenced the animal strata, the biblical picture was undone completely. Entire worlds long forgotten were discovered in the Book of Nature that gleaned neither a jot nor a tittle in sacred scripture. The Bible had no frame for this new historical horizon. The cosmic shakeup wrenched hearts like Tennyson's (McCalla gives us ample extracts) and stirred John Ruskin to exclaim, "If only the Geologists would let me alone, I could do very well, but those dreadful Hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verses."

Charles Darwin, of course, was a creature of his time, searching for design and worrying about the Bible's frame. He was also a creature of his time in following a new tributary, letting science and not the Bible dictate what he discovered. Neither male nipples,the misery of the world, nor the basis of human morality was designed by God, as far as Darwin could tell.

The conservative Christian reaction to all this was predictable, if not instructive. They were bothered by the science but perhaps more so by the moral wilderness created by evolutionary secularism. Liberal Christians, for their part, went so far as to re-invent the Fall of Man and the concept of the eternal soul, weathering the theological storm for a time. But by the end of the 19th century, as even the human mind was seen by many to be a product of evolution, theology of the liberal sort could not constrain science's profound shift in human historical consciousness.

The 20th century became one long century of conservative Christian "special pleading". To be sure, fundamentalists were not entirely literalistic about Genesis 1, at least at the start. Key figures like Bernard Ramm insisted that while Darwin's mechanism was wrong, still the Bible and a kind of evolution could be blended. Yet louder voices like those of Billy Sunday, Dwight Moody, William Bell Riley, and Gresham Machen prevailed against any belief in evolution. The Scopes trial was one skirmish on this anti-evolutionary revivalist battlefield. For a time, conservative Christians continued to accept an old fossil earth alongside their anti-evolutionism, but the plain reading of Genesis 1 encouraged Whit-comb and Morris in the 1960s to champion literalism with a vengeance. The rise of "intelligent design" has reinforced this anti-Darwinian tendency, as in the name of microbiology and information theory, its proponents seek to revive Paley's design view while clashing swords with secular scientists and liberal religionists.

McCalla's is a well-told tale. Invariably, however, even in such a comprehensive book there will be chapters left to tell. As biblical "higher criticism" developed in the 19th century, archaeological adventurers discovered Assyrian and Babylonian creation myths that paralleled the Bible, underscoring the mythic character of Genesis. Liberal Christians have found something powerful in religion's mythic side and this story deserves telling. Also, given the press coverage of William Ryan and Walter Pitman's book Noah's Flood, I am surprised that McCalla overlooks more recent attempts to put Genesis on a secularized historical basis. The Bible's legends may have compelling historical origins worth considering. Lastly, the world of modern Christian evolutionists goes untouched, omitting discussion of such figures as Teilhard de Chardin, John Polkinghorne, John Haught, Arthur Peacocke, and Kenneth Miller. There are religionists who remain committed to combining Darwin and religious belief in a non-rejectionist fashion. Their story deserves to be heard alongside "intelligent design" reactionism.

These are really minor criticisms. McCalla's book is well worth adding to your collection. No one has brought all the key players under one roof and done so this crisply.

About the Author(s): 
J David Pleins
Department of Religious Studies
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara CA 95053
jpleins@scu.edu

Review: The Edge of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
38–40
Reviewer: 
David E Levin
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Edge of Evolution
Author(s): 
Michael J Behe
New York: Free Press, 2007. 320 pages
The same mistakes in the same [pseudo]gene in the same positions of both human and chimp DNA. If a common ancestor first sustained the mutational mistakes and subsequently gave rise to those two modern species, that would very readily account for why both species have them now. It’s hard to imagine how there could be stronger evidence for common ancestry of chimps and humans.
One could be forgiven for assuming this to be a quote from a prominent evolutionary biologist. Rather, they are the words of "intelligent design" (ID) advocate Michael J Behe in his new book The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (p 71–2). Oddly enough, Behe regards the notion of common ancestry as "trivial" - a characterization that will ruffle more than a few feathers among his creationist followers. The real issue, he argues, is the role of the designer in the evolutionary process.

This embrace of evolution is a divergence from Behe’s 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: Free Press), in which he presented a molecular-age version of the argument from design, most eloquently championed by 18th-century theologian William Paley, which states that conscious design can be inferred from the complexity of living things. Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University, recast this theological argument in terms of the molecular complexity of living cells. In doing so, he brought to the ID movement a veneer of scientific respectability. Behe argued in Darwin’s Black Box that a biological structure or biochemical pathway that would fail to function if any one of its parts were removed could be thought of as "irreducibly complex". Such complexity, he asserted, could not possibly have evolved, as suggested by Darwin, through numerous stepwise improvements of a simpler system, because the structure or pathway would not function until fully assembled. "Irreducible complexity" of biological systems was denounced universally by the scientific community as an intellectually bankrupt notion because of the great plasticity of the evolutionary process. Components of a complex structure or pathway that are today essential to its function were not necessarily always essential. Components, when initially recruited, may have been merely helpful to the function of a simpler version. Evolution refines function of a complex system both by adding new components and by remodeling existing parts along the way. So it is illogical to look at the final product, with its many well-matched interacting components, and assert that, because removal of a part would destroy function, it must have been created as a complete unit.

Nevertheless, Darwin’s Black Box was well received by many creationists who believed naively that Behe had posed a serious scientific challenge to evolutionary theory. The book made him such a prominent figure within the ID movement that he served as an expert witness for the defense in the recent case against the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board, which made the fateful decision to incorporate ID into its high school science curriculum. In his landmark verdict for the plaintiffs, Judge John E Jones III ruled that "ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition" and that "it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

What is perhaps most remarkable about The Edge of Evolution is how much Behe now concedes to the evidence that supports Darwinian evolution. He not only accepts that life has existed on earth for billions of years, but that it has evolved over time. He now agrees with the Darwinian notion that all life on the planet "descended with modification from one stage to another." He even acknowledges that natural selection is the obvious mechanism by which adaptive gene variants spread through a population. It is difficult to imagine his core audience being receptive to this revised position. But at this point, Behe is stuck between the need to establish a semblance of scientific credibility and the desire to forward his distinctly unscientific creationist ideas.

Behe’s new thesis is that there are limits to what Darwinian evolution can accomplish. Evolutionary theory holds that genetic variation within populations is caused by random changes in the DNA, called mutations, which arise each generation. It is this variation that natural selection uses to reshape a population one step at a time. However, Behe believes that random mutation, coupled with natural selection, is not a sufficiently powerful engine to drive the evolution of complex subcellular structures and molecular machines. Most of the really important mutations, he insists, must have been directed by an intelligent agent.

His case for a designer who engineers mutations rests in this book on two arguments drawn largely from the evolutionary battle between humans and the single-celled parasite that causes malaria. To understand these arguments, it is necessary to know something about the interaction between the two species. The parasite lives within the red blood cells of infected people and uses hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to our tissues, as its food source. A variety of human mutations that affect red blood cells have spread through malarious regions of the world because they confer some degree of resistance to infection by the often-lethal parasite, one of the species of Plasmodium. The best known of these is the sickle-cell mutation, which arose within a hemoglobin-encoding gene of an individual in Africa. The sickle hemoglobin mutation, when present in only one copy, prevents the parasite from establishing an infection. But when both copies of the hemoglobin gene carry the sickle mutation, the result is the devastating disorder known as sickle cell disease.

Behe first argues that sickle hemoglobin, as well as most of the other genetic alterations that have arisen in humans in the battle against malaria, are fundamentally destructive mutations. That is, they typically break or damage existing genes, rather than construct some new, protective system. By contrast, the author is most interested in how complex molecular machines came into existence. He insists that because humans have not evolved any complex structures to combat malaria, random mutation is not capable of such constructive adaptation. But evolutionary theory does not predict how a population will adapt to a selective pressure - only that it will, or that failure to do so will result in extinction. That we have not evolved complex defenses against malaria is no argument that it cannot happen, or that such complexity has not evolved through natural mechanisms in response to other selective pressures across vast geologic time spans.

The author’s second argument is one of large numbers. He correctly asserts that in cases where at least two mutations are required before any benefit arises, evolution is impaired. This is because, in the absence of an adaptive advantage conferred by the first mutation, natural selection cannot work to spread it through the population. In such a case, for evolution to proceed, both mutations would have to arise simultaneously - an exceedingly rare event. The example he provides is the evolution of drug resistance in malaria. Resistance to chloroquine, a widely used antimalarial drug, has evolved independently only a handful of times around the world because, according to Behe, resistance requires two specific mutations in the parasite’s protein, which have to arise together to confer any adaptive advantage. The parasite, he argues, has been able to solve this problem only because of the vast numbers of these organisms and their short generation time. In animal populations, such as vertebrates, with many fewer numbers and much longer generation times, an adaptive change that requires at least two simultaneous mutations would be so improbable as to be evolutionarily insignificant. Here, he claims to have found the "edge of evolution," jumping to the conclusion that "No mutation that is of the same complexity as chloroquine resistance in malaria arose by Darwinian evolution in the line leading to humans in the past ten million years" (p 61, emphasis in original) Throughout the remainder of the book, Behe uses the evolution of chloroquine resistance as a theoretical boundary beyond which random mutation coupled with natural selection cannot extend.

Behe’s thesis of evolutionary limits hangs on the assumption that important evolutionary steps require multiple simultaneous mutations without the benefit of cumulative selection. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. His error is evident even in his example of chloroquine resistance, which, by his logic, should not have involved evolutionary intermediates. But the scientific data say otherwise. The existence of natural isolates of malarial strains that possess one or the other of the supposedly critical mutations suggests not only that evolution of chloroquine resistance is a stepwise process, as has been argued by others, but that there are multiple mutational paths to resistance.

He applies the same unfounded assumption to assert that the evolution of new protein-to-protein interactions, a critical step in the assembly of complex cellular machines, is not possible without the assistance of a designer. His reasoning is that five or six simultaneous mutations would be required to generate a new interaction site, and the likelihood of a protein’s acquiring so many random mutations at once is vanishingly small. This number is based on the requirements for tight associations that antibodies form with their targets - interactions that involve five or six protein parts called amino acids. However, Behe ignores volumes of experimental evidence that many classes of proteins can interact with other proteins through the recognition of fewer than five amino acids. For example, enzymes that add sugars to other proteins (often important to their function) typically recognize as few as two amino acids. Although such enzymes normally interact only transiently with their target proteins, weak interactions can evolve gradually into stable associations through the sequential accumulation of mutations if the association confers an adaptive advantage. Behe’s logical error here is identical to the one he committed in asserting that many biochemical pathways are irreducibly complex. He looks at the final product, incorrectly assumes that each part always existed as it does today, and cannot imagine how stepwise evolution could have generated such an integrated system.

Behe is likely aware of at least some of the existing evidence that new protein-to-protein interactions have evolved. One must look no further than one of his acknowledged examples of evolutionary prowess. Under the heading of "What Darwinism Can Do," he describes the stepwise evolution of an antifreeze protein from a digestive enzyme in Antarctic fish. This was an important evolutionary adaptation that allowed fish that possess this protein to survive in frigid Antarctic waters. However, he omits an interesting detail from his description - the antifreeze protein has sugars added to it (by an enzyme), whereas the protein from which it evolved does not. Therefore, a new protein-to-protein interaction must also have evolved to allow modification of the antifreeze protein. In fact, this beautiful example of evolution involves the construction of significant complexity.

The author next uses his unsupported claim that groups of simultaneous mutations are required for the evolution of complex cellular structures in a weakly argued attempt to define a demarcation between intelligently designed features and those that arise through Darwinian evolution. Behe allows that random mutation and selection are capable of driving the evolution of closely related species and perhaps even account for the divergence between humans and chimpanzees. But he asserts that design extends from the early construction of cellular machinery all the way into the animal kingdom at least through the separation of vertebrate classes - mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. This is because these classes possess unique cell types, the appearance of which he assumes to be beyond the "edge of evolution." With only his flawed logic to support his claims, Behe’s perceived "edge" reflects nothing more than the limits of his own conceptual horizon.

The final chapter is devoted to a philosophical discussion of the designer’s identity and motivations. Although Behe describes himself as a "pretty conventional Roman Catholic," he dissembles here in quoting philosopher Nick Bostrom, "The ‘agent’ doing the designing need not be a theistic God." Considering Behe’s testimonial concession at the Dover trial that "the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God," this position seems disingenuous and intended to distance his ideas from their religious foundations. As for the goal of the designer, Behe claims that it was none other than the emergence of intelligent life. Here, he makes the classic creationist error of assuming the primacy of humans among all living things, a distinctly religious notion. Behe offers no evidence or arguments to support this presumed goal, yet remarkably clings to his insistence that ID is a scientific proposition.

In the end, the most irritating aspect of this book is Behe’s selective use of the ever-expanding base of scientific knowledge as a soapbox from which to shout his embrace of perpetual ignorance. The better our understanding of the intricate details of complex biological systems, the stronger is his belief that they must have been designed and that science will never unravel how they came to be. This is a trend for him. As Eric Rothschild, chief counsel for the plaintiffs at the Dover trial, observed of Behe’s claim that the immune system is irreducibly complex, "Thankfully, there are scientists who do search for answers to the question of the origin of the immune system … Their efforts help us combat and cure serious medical conditions. By contrast, Professor Behe and the entire "intelligent design" movement are doing nothing to advance scientific or medical knowledge and are telling future generations of scientists, don’t bother." Scientists have never listened to him. But with so many concessions to evolution mixed with his new message of God-as-mutagen, will anyone?

About the Author(s): 
David E Levin
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Baltimore MD 21205
dlevin@jhsph.edu

David E Levin is Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

RNCSE 27 (3–4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" link for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 27 (3-4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
2
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

News

  1. The ICR Moves to Dallas
    In a recent issue of Acts & Facts, Henry Morris III explains the rationale and the impact of the move.
  2. Workshop on Teaching Evolution at the University of Colorado
    Sarah Wise and Matt Young
    A description of the program with advice to others interested in educational outreach on evolution.
  3. Updates
    News from Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Texas, Canada, and Turkey.

NCSE NEWS

  1. Comings and Goings
    Glenn Branch
    Changes in the home office as new staff arrive and others move on.
  2. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  3. NCSE Thanks You for Your Generous Support
    We are grateful for the continuing support of our members and other contributors.

SPECIAL Grand Canyon Section

  1. NCSE 2007 Grand Canyon Raft Trip: “The Best Ever”
    Eugenie C Scott
    If you missed it, think about joining NCSE in 2008.
  2. Renewed Concern About Creationism at Grand Canyon National Park
    Glenn Branch
    Park employees and the scientific community are concerned, but there is little movement in reviewing creationist books or providing guidance to interpreters on evolution and geology.
  3. Dry Rot, Not Arson: National Park Service and Science
    Wesley R Elsberry
    NPS policy is contradictory on the inclusion of creationist perspectives in book sales and interpretive materials. It appears that the Service is not following its own guidelines for presentation of accurate scientific information.

MEMBERS’ PAGES

  1. Join Scott and Gish on a Creation/Evolution Tour of the Grand Canyon!
    Make your plans now for the 2008 “Two Models” tour.
  2. Books: Flooded by Information
    Books about geology, earth history, and the Grand Canyon.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

ARTICLES

  1. Has Natural Selection Been Refuted? The Arguments of William Dembski
    Joe Felsenstein
    A close look at William Dembski's assertions about complexity, biological change, and evidence of design.
  2. Recurrence of the Same? “Intelligent Design” and the Biology Classroom
    Jason Borenstein
    Evaluating the claims of “intelligent design” proponents over the value of including ID in the biology curriculum.

FEATURES

  1. The Design Revolution? How William Dembski is Dodging Questions About “Intelligent Design”
    Mark Perakh
    Critics have posed numerous questions about Dembski’s models and use of mathematical and scientific concepts. But he seldom engages these critiques ... even when he does respond.
  2. Responding to ID in a Freshman College Class
    Jack Keyes and Nancy Broshot
    A constructivist approach to engaging students in the nature of scientific inquiry and challenges to evolutionary science.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C Dennett
    Reviewed by John C Greene
  2. The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything by Gordy Slack
    Reviewed by Randy Olson
  3. 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania by Matthew Chapman Reviewed by Lauri Lebo
  4. Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolution Models Face Off by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross
    Reviewed by Gary S Hurd
  5. Encyclopedia of Evolution by Stanley A Rice
    Reviewed by Tim M Berra
  6. An Introduction to Biological Evolution by Kenneth V Kardong
    Reviewed by Werner G Heim
  7. Fritz Müller: A Naturalist in Brazil by David A West
    Reviewed by Aubrey Manning
  8. The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth’s Antiquity by Jack Repcheck
    Reviewed by William Parkinson
  9. Darwin in the Genome: Molecular Strategies in Biological Evolution by Lynn Helena Caporale
    Reviewed by Finn Pond

Workshop on Teaching Evolution at the University of Colorado

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Workshop on Teaching Evolution at the University of Colorado
Author(s): 
Sarah Wise and Matt Young
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
4–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

For the second year, Sarah Wise, Mike Robeson, and Cathy Russell of the University of Colorado, Boulder's Science Discovery Unit have organized a workshop on "Teaching Evolution: Meeting the Challenge" at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The program was aimed at college and public school teachers, including elementary school teachers. The workshop's purpose was to "feature a full day of practical onehour workshops and panel discussions on Teaching Evolution, interspersed with opportunities to interact informally with other participants." During the workshop, resources relating to teaching evolution were displayed in common areas, and many are available for download at the event website, http://www.colorado.edu/eeb/EEBprojects/teaching/workshops.html.

Approximately 70 people attended the workshop. Of those, about 50% were high-school teachers; 15% were teachers from middle or elementary levels; 25% were university faculty, staff, or students; and 10% were from other scientific organizations such as the Denver Zoo and the Boulder Open Space Department. In a survey given in conjunction with the workshop, 57% of respondents reported that they self-censor their teaching of evolution to some degree and/or receive pressure to avoid teaching evolution from their school or community. This figure was highest among middleschool teachers (86%) and informal educators (62%), while the incidence among high school teachers was lowest (33%).

For those interested in organizing and holding similar events, Matt Young interviewed organizer Sarah Wise about the workshop.

Matt Young: What gave you the initial idea to hold a workshop like this one?

Sarah Wise: I attended a lecture by Patty Limerick, a well-known historian and the director of the University of Colorado's Center of the American West. She and her colleagues hold forums on controversial issues in the West, providing information that help the public gain perspective on those issues. While her group hadn't ever focused on evolution, her example inspired me to take action and provided a model for me to work from.

How did you get funding for the workshop?

The first workshop, which was a half-day, was funded by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, an NSF-funded University of Colorado GK12 program, and the Colorado Citizens for Science. This year nearly all of the funding came from the University's United Government of Graduate Students (UGGS), which contributed $750 through its regular event-funding program. The EEB department graciously bailed us out when we had a cost overrun, however. We also received generous donations from Qdoba, Izze, and a local bakery, which we acknowledged during the introductory remarks and in the program.

The all-day workshop cost about $1000, not counting donations. This included $160 for breakfast, $530 for lunch, $210 for photocopies, and $100 for other office supplies. We did not charge a registration fee specifically in order to maximize access for teachers.

How did you motivate your department to get involved?

I didn't have to work too hard at that — our department chair had been involved in the first year's event, so he was very supportive and readily agreed to cover expense overruns, let me use the department copier, and obtained the assistance of our office staff. The staff was essential in getting the copying done, lunch set up and cleaned up, and the website designed and uploaded with content. It was easy to use our e-mail listserver to recruit other graduate students to help on the day of the event. A team of graduate students has organized to plan next summer's event, so I can now move into an advisory role.

How did you arrange academic credit and CDE (Colorado Department of Education) credit?

To maintain their certification, teachers have to earn a certain number of professional development credits. Additionally, some teachers can get a salary increase if they earn college credits. We arranged for participating teachers to earn college credit, at a minimal cost, if they requested it. Alternatively, teachers could apply to receive professional development credit from the CDE at no cost.

Arranging for these credit incentives was easy. The Biological Sciences Initiative at the University has an arrangement with the continuing education department at the Colorado School of Mines, so it was a simple matter to arrange college credit through CSM. The CDE required me to submit a form for each participant and to ensure that those participants had actually attended all 7.5 hours of the workshop, so I circulated a sign-up sheet at each session and crosschecked it with an attendance form that each participant filled out at the end of the event.

You had 16 presenters, counting the panelists. How hard was it to find presenters?

I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of presenters who made their way to me. The 16 educators who presented came from a network of nearly 30 interested parties. The most significant of these was the participant list from the original half-day event, which I used to make a call for proposals. A few others contacted me after I posted the same announcement on a listserv for Colorado science educators. I met others by attending various area lectures and events having to do with evolution. Being connected to the university was very helpful overall in organizing presenters, since 15 of the potential presenters were affiliated with CU as a former student, current student, or faculty member.

You held the workshop on a Monday shortly after school was out. Why during the summer?

It was not possible to reserve the university lecture hall and other rooms during the academic year. I also wanted to avoid times of the school year when teachers are under a lot of pressure. The weekend was an option for reserving rooms at the university. I had been told, however, that weekend events are fairly unpopular with teachers, and they are definitely unpopular with university people. I considered a Monday holiday but found through an e-mail survey that holidays were also unpopular with teachers. I think the week after school gets out is good, and the week before school starts again may be even better. Of course, scheduling is complicated by the fact that school districts have different starting and ending dates. On the other hand, I have also been told that you get more no-shows in the summer than on school-year Saturdays. This year we had 30 no-shows, which was disappointing. If we do a summer event next year, we'll overbook a few to avoid this problem.

And, finally, what may be the big question for some: How much time did you spend?

About 80 hours during the semester, 40 in the last week before the workshop, and about 20 hours in follow-up work such as arranging for credit and assembling data. Other grad students spent about 40 hours altogether, but most of that was the day of the workshop, unless they were presenters. Presenting, by the way, is an excellent opportunity for a grad student to get some experience.

Any further advice for people who want to organize a series of workshops of their own?

Carpe diem! If this appeals to you, there's no reason to delay action. There will always be pressures on your time, and the issue is perennially controversial. On the other hand, just a few e-mails are likely to net you some committed, passionate helpers. Don't be shy about asking for help from local businesses, universities, and museums. I am willing to answer questions any time; just e-mail me at findbliss@hotmail.com.

We have high hopes that this workshop will be repeated annually and further that it will be emulated in other states and at other universities.

About the Author(s): 

Matt Young
Physics Department
Colorado School of Mines
1500 Illinois St
Golden CO 80401-1887
mmyoung@mines.edu

Sarah Wise is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she investigates the evolution and development of teeth. She has her MEd from San Francisco State University. Her outreach work with teachers was supported by a fellowship from the NSF's GK12 program.

Matt Young is Senior Lecturer in Physics at the Colorado School of Mines and formerly a physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He is President of Colorado Citizens for Science and Senior Fellow with the Jefferson Center for Science and Religion. With Taner Edis he coedited Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism (New Brunswick [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, 2004).

Renewed Concern About Creationism at Grand Canyon National Park

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Renewed Concern About Creationism at Grand Canyon National Park
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
15–16
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Toward the end of 2006, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — "a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, land managers and other professionals dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values" — charged the National Park Service with stalling on a promised review of a creationist book sold at the bookstores at Grand Canyon National Park. Although the park's bookstores are operated by a separate non-profit organization, the Grand Canyon Association, the National Park Service is responsible for approving the items that are sold there. In August 2003, the NPS approved the sale of Grand Canyon: A Different View, edited by Tom Vail and published by Master Books, the publishing arm of the Institute for Creation Research. A Different View expounds a young-earth creationist view of the geology of the canyon, and proclaims, "all contributions have been peer-reviewed to ensure a consistent and biblical perspective." In his review of the book (RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 [1]: 33-6), the geologist Wilfred Elders described it as "'Exhibit A' of a new, slick strategy by biblical literalists to proselytize using a beautifully illustrated, multi-authored book about a spectacular and world-famous geological feature," adding, "Allowing the sale of this book within the National Park was unfortunate. In the minds of some buyers, this could imply NPS approval of young-earth creationists and their religious proselytizing."

After the sale of A Different View was approved, the superintendent of the park appealed to the NPS headquarters for "a review of the book in terms of its appropriateness," and the Chief of the Park Service's Geologic Resources Division recommended its removal, saying that it "does not use accurate, professional and scholarly knowledge; is not based on science but a specific religious doctrine; does not further the public's understanding of the Grand Canyon's existence; [and] does not further the mission of the National Park Service." Meanwhile, the sale of the book became a matter of public controversy (see RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 [1]: 4-5). Elders's review appeared in Eos (the weekly newsletter of the American Geophysical Union); the presidents of the American Paleontological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Association of American State Geologists, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, the American Geological Institute, and the Geological Society of America signed a joint letter to the NPS, urging that A Different View be removed "from shelves where buyers are given the impression that the book is about earth science and its content endorsed by the National Park Service" (see RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 [1]: 19); and stories about the controversy appeared in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. A spokesperson for the NPS repeatedly assured the press and Congress that the promised review would be forthcoming.

In its December 28, 2006, press release, however, PEER charged, "Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park." Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, commented, "As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan." In a December 28, 2006, letter, PEER urged the new director of NPS, Mary Bomar, to remove the book from sale at the park's bookstores and museums as well as to "[p]rovide training to the interpretive staff at Grand Canyon NP regarding how to answer questions from the public concerning the geologic age of the Canyon and related matters; and ... [a]pprove an updated version of the long-stalled pamphlet 'National Park Service Geologic Interpretive Programs: Distinguishing Science from Religion' for distribution to agency interpretive staff." It ought to be noted that PEER was not accusing the NPS of forbidding its interpretive staff to present the scientific facts about the canyon's age and geology. Unfortunately, careless wording in its press release suggested otherwise, and PEER's credibility suffered as a result, obscuring PEER's important charge that the NPS is not providing its staff with the resources it needs to present the scientific facts about the canyon's age of geology effectively, especially when faced with park visitors who have questions about, or even embrace, views that reject those facts on religious grounds.

Prompted by PEER's press release, the controversy over the sale of A Different View began to attract attention again in the media, with the Arizona Daily Sun (2007 Jan 4) offering a report in which a spokesperson for the NPS was quoted as saying, "We do not use the creationist text in our teaching, nor do we endorse its content. However, it is not our place to censor alternate beliefs." The Sacramento Bee (2007 Jan 4) suggested, in a forceful and cogent editorial entitled "Don't use parks to promote creationism," "A new year and a new National Park Service director mark an opportunity for change. Here's an easy one. Settle the 3-year-old controversy about a creationist account of the Grand Canyon." The editorial argued that "Mary Bomar, the new National Park Service director, should send a message that programs and materials in national parks present the best scientific evidence and don't endorse any particular religious beliefs," and concluded by urging Bomar to do so quickly:
Remove the book from sale from within the park; its proper place is for sale in private bookstores outside the public park. Equally important, finish the long-delayed pamphlet ... and distribute it to park rangers. The nation's public parks are not the place to promote religious theories about the formation and development of Earth.
A spokesperson for the NPS, David Barna, told The New York Times (2007 Jan 5) that there was no formal review of whether the bookstores ought to discontinue selling A Different View in part because of differences among the NPS's specialists. According to the Times, "When officials got together to discuss the book, the geologists and natural resource specialists would say, 'Get this book out of here,' Mr. Barna said. 'But the education and interpretation people would say: 'Wait a minute. If your science is so sound, the fact that there are differences of opinion should not scare you away.'" In a written statement, the Times reported, Barna "notes that Park Service management policies require reliance on 'the best scientific evidence available' and, as a result, rangers tell visitors that "the Colorado River basin has developed in the past 40 million years." But the Times also reported, "the guidelines also say that material available from concessionaires in national parks should adhere to the standards used to evaluate Park Service materials." PEER's executive director Jeff Ruch was quoted as contending that selling the book promoted fundamentalist Christian views: "This is government establishment of religion in a fairly fundamental way, if you pardon the pun."

Ronald Bailey, the science columnist for Reason, heard NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott speak about the controversy at the James Randi Educational Foundation's event The Amazing Meeting V, and promptly went to Grand Canyon National Park to see A Different View for himself. He reports, "As I was buying it, I asked the clerk what she thought about it. 'We're not allowed to say anything about it,' she said covering her mouth with her hand in the 'Speak No Evil' monkey fashion. 'Oh come on,' I cajoled, but the clerk refused any further comment. Later I went in search of it at the other south rim Park Service bookstore at Desert View. In this much smaller bookstore, Vail's slender Flood geology volume was mixed in among the other photo books. Again, I asked this clerk what she thought, and she smiled and replied, 'All I will say is that it's got some really beautiful photographs'" (2007 Jan 26; available on-line at http://reason.com/news/show/118334.html). Acknowledging that the NPS-overseen bookstores carry books that present and discuss the creation myths of Native Americans, Bailey nevertheless drew the crucial distinction: "unlike books on native creation myths, Vail insists that he is making scientific claims about how rock layers are laid down, fossils formed and the canyon carved."

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

Has Natural Selection Been Refuted? The Arguments of William Dembski

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Has Natural Selection Been Refuted? The Arguments of William Dembski
Author(s): 
Joe Felsenstein
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
20–26
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
"Intelligent design" (ID) is the assertion that there is evidence that major features of life have been brought about, not by natural selection, but by the action of a designer. This involves negative arguments that natural selection could not possibly bring about those features. And the proponents of ID also claim positive arguments.

Critics of ID commonly argue that it is not science. For its positive predictions of the behavior of a designer they have a good point. But not for its negative criticisms of the effectiveness of natural selection, which are scientific arguments that must be taken seriously and evaluated. Look at Figure 1, which shows a cartoon design from T-shirts sold by an ID website, Access Research Network, which also sells ID paraphernalia (I am grateful to them for kind permission to reproduce it).

(click here for image)
Figure 1. A summary of the major arguments of "intelligent design", as they appear to its advocates, from Access Research Network's website http://www.arn.org. Merchandise with the cartoon is available from http://www.cafepress.com/accessresearch. Copyright Chuck Assay, 2006; all rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.



As the bulwark of Darwinism defending the hapless establishment is overcome, note the main lines of attack. In addition to recycled creationist themes such as the Cambrian Explosion and cosmological arguments about the fine-tuning of the universe, the ladder is Michael Behe's argument about molecular machines (Behe 1996). The other main attack, the battering ram, is the "information content of DNA" which is destroying the barrier of "random mutation".

The "irreducible complexity of molecular machines" arguments of Michael Behe have received most of the publicity; William Dembski's more theoretical arguments involving information theory have been harder for people to understand. There have been a number of extensive critiques of Dembski's arguments published or posted on the web (Wilkins and Elsberry 2001; Godfrey-Smith 2001; Rosenhouse 2002; Schneider 2001, 2002; Shallit 2002; Tellgren 2002; Wein 2002; Elsberry and Shallit 2003; Edis 2004; Shallit and Elsberry 2004; Perakh 2004a, 2004b; Tellgren 2005; Häggström 2007). They have pointed out many problems. These range from the most serious to nit-picking quibbles.

In this article, I want to concentrate on the main arguments that Dembski has used. With a few exceptions, many of the points I will make have already been raised in these critiques of Dembski — this is primarily an attempt to make them more accessible.

Digital codes
Stephen Meyer, who heads the Discovery Institute's program on ID, describes Dembski's work in this way:
We know that information — whether, say, in hieroglyphics or radio signals — always arises from an intelligent source. .... So the discovery of digital information in DNA provides strong grounds for inferring that intelligence played a causal role in its origin. (Meyer 2006)
What is this mysterious "digital information"? Has a message from a Designer been discovered? When DNA sequences are read, can they be converted into English sentences such as: "Copyright 4004 bce by the intelligent designer; all rights reserved"? Or can they be converted into numbers, with one stretch of DNA turning out to contain the first 10 000 digits of π? Of course not. If anything like this had happened, it would have been big news indeed. You would have heard by now. No, the mysterious digital information turns out to be nothing more than the usual genetic information that codes for the features of life, information that makes the organism well-adapted. The "digital information" is just the presence of sequences that code for RNA and proteins — sequences that lead to high fitness.

Now we already knew that they were there. Most biologists would be surprised to hear that their presence is, in itself, a strong argument for ID — biologists would regard them as the outcome of natural selection. To see them as evidence of ID, one would need an argument that showed that they could only have arisen by purposeful action (ID), and not by selection. Dembski's argument claims to establish this.

Specified Complexity
How does his argument work? Dembski (1998, 2002, 2004) first sets forth an Explanatory Filter to detect design. To make a longish story short, it concludes in favor of design whenever it finds Specified Complexity. He requires that the information in question be complex, so that the probability of that DNA sequence's occurring by chance would be less than 1 in 10150. Dembski chooses this value to avoid any possibility that the sequence would arise even once in the history of the universe. If this complexity were the only issue, his argument could instantly be dismissed: any random sequence of 250 bases would be about as improbable as this. Similarly, any random five-card hand in a card game has a chance of only one in 2 598 960 and this rare an event occurs every time we deal, so that the rarity is not a cause for concern.

This is where the "specified" part comes in. Dembski requires that the information also satisfy a requirement that makes it meaningful. He illustrates this with a variety of analogies having different kinds of meaning. In effect, he is saying that the relevant quantity is the probability that a random sequence of DNA is as meaningful as the one observed.


Figure 2. Two 101x100 pixel images, each with 3511 black pixels and the rest white. Both have equal information content. Which one has specified complexity, as judged by its resemblance to an image of a flower?



The image on the left of figure 2 shows an example. It is a 101-by-100–pixel image. If our specification were, say, that the image be very much like a flower, the image on the left would be in contention (not surprisingly, as it started as a digital photograph of a zinnia). Of all the possible arrangements of 10 100 black-and-white pixels, it is among the tiny fraction for which the images are much like a flower. There are 210100 possible such images of this size, which is about 103040, a vast number. We do not know how many of these would look as like, or more like, a flower than this, but suppose that it is not greater than 10100. That means that, if we choose an image randomly from all possibilities, the probability that an image would look this much (or more) like a flower is less than 10100/103040, which is 10-2940.

The image on the right would not be in contention in any contest for images that looked like a flower. Like the left image, it has 3511 black pixels, but they seem to be arranged randomly. Both images have the same information content (10 100 bits), but the image on the left looks like a flower. It not only has information, it has information that is specified by being in a flower-like arrangement. This is a useful distinction, which Dembski attributes to Leslie Orgel. I cannot resist adding that a related concept, "adaptive information", appears in one of my own papers, perhaps the one least frequently cited (Felsenstein 1978).

Sequences in the genome that code for proteins and RNAs, and associated regulatory sequences, have specified information. Although Dembski (2002: 148) mentions a number of possible different criteria, the one that will concern us here is fitness. Sequences contain information that makes the organism well adapted if it has high fitness, and the specified information will be judged by the fraction p of all possible sequences that would have equal or higher fitness.

(Dembski also defines specified information in another way — using concepts from algorithmic information theory and saying that information is specified if it can be described simply. A perfect sphere would then be more strongly specified than an actual organism. But this has nothing to do with fitness or with explaining adaptation. I will concentrate here on explaining adaptation.)

Specified complexity does one thing — when it is observed, we can be sure that purely random processes such as mutation are highly unlikely to have produced that pattern, even once in the age of the universe. But can natural selection produce this specified complexity? Dembski argues that it cannot — that he can show that these strongly nonrandom patterns cannot be designed by natural selection.

To support that argument, Dembski makes two main arguments. The first involves a Law of Conservation of Information — he argues that it prevents the process of natural selection from increasing the amount of adaptive information in the genome. The second uses the No Free Lunch theorem to argue that search by an evolutionary algorithm cannot find well-adapted genotypes. Let us consider these in turn.

Conservation of Information
For his concept of the Law of Conservation of Information, Dembski points to a law stated by the late Peter Medawar. In its clearest form it states that a deterministic and invertible process cannot alter the amount of information in a sequence. If we have a function that turns one DNA sequence X into another one Y, and if this function is invertible, then there is also a reverse function that can recover the original sequence X from the sequence Y. Any information that was present in the original sequence cannot have been lost, as we can get the original sequence back.

This is fairly obviously true. For example, if we take the picture of the flower above, and scramble the order of its pixels, we destroy its resemblance to a flower. But if we did so using, say, a computer random number generator (a pseudorandom number generator) to make a permutation of the pixels, we could record the permutation we used, and use it at any time to unscramble the picture. The original information is conserved, because it has been hidden by the scrambling, but not really lost.

Does this mean that such a process cannot increase or decrease the amount of information in the genome? Yes, if we simply mean information, but no, if we mean specified information. Here I am disagreeing with Dembski on a critical point. In his reformulation of Medawar's theorem "the complex specified information in an isolated system of natural causes does not increase" (Dembski 2002: 169). Note that he is discussing not simply information, but specified information. Now look again at the pixelated flower. I said that the second figure had the same number of black pixels, distributed randomly. The reason I knew this is that the second picture is simply the first picture with its pixels scrambled. I generated the permutation using a pseudorandom random number generator and can easily tell you how to generate it yourself, so that you can do the scrambling yourself and get exactly the same result, and you can also make the tables needed to unscramble the picture. So no information was lost.

But the amount of specification certainly was lost. The second picture would be instantly rejected from any "like a flower" contest. When we use the permutation to unscramble the picture, we create a large amount of specification by rearranging the random pixels into a flowerlike form. We blatantly violate Dembski's version of Medawar's theorem.

Dembski's proof
Why am I saying this, when Dembski does sketch a proof of his Law of Conservation of Specified Complexity? How can he have proven the impossible? He does this by changing the specification. If the original permutation, from the first picture to the second, is called F, we can call the reverse permutation, the one that converts the second picture back into the first, G. Dembski's argument points out that the first picture has the specification "like a flower". The second picture has an equivalent specification: "when permuted by G, like a flower". For every picture that is more like a flower than the first picture, there is one that we would get when applying the permutation F to it. That permuted picture will of course satisfy the second specification to the same extent in that, when permuted back by G, it too is more like a flower. So both pictures have specifications that are equally strong, and that is the essence of Dembski's proof. Dembski's proof has been strongly criticized by Elsberry and Shallit (2003; Shallit and Elsberry 2004), who pointed out that it violates a condition that the specification has to be produced from "background information", and thus has to be independent of the transformations F and G. The specification of G is not. But even if their criticism of Dembski's proof were dismissed, and Dembski's proof accepted as correct, in any case Dembski's proof is completely irrelevant. We want to explain how DNA sequences come to contain information that makes the organism highly fit (by coding for adaptations). The specification that should interest us is this one: "codes for an organism that is highly fit". Dembski is applying his proof by arguing that it shows that no random or deterministic function can increase the specified information in a genome. The permutations I have been using as examples are deterministic functions, and his theorem would apply to them. If a genome codes for a highly fit organism, so that it satisfies the specification, when it is permuted it does not satisfy it. The scrambled genome is dreadfully bad at coding for a highly fit organism. And when we use the unscrambling permutation G on it, we create the specification of the information, for this original specification which uses fitness.

The flaw in Dembski's argument is that, to test the power of natural selection to put specified information into the genome, we must evaluate the same specification ("codes for an organism that is highly fit") on it before and after. If you could show that the scrambled picture and the unscrambled picture do equally well in satisfying that same specification, you would go far to prove that natural selection cannot put adaptive information into the genome. Our flower example shows that there is a big difference in whether the original specification is satisfied before and after the permutation. Scrambling the sequence of a gene may not destroy its information content, if we have used a known permutation that can later be undone. But the scrambling certainly will destroy the functioning, and thus the fitness, of the gene. Likewise, unscrambling it can dramatically increase the fitness of the gene. Thus Dembski's argument, in its original form, can be seen to be irrelevant. And when put into a meaningful form by requiring that the specification we evaluate is the same one before and after, the example presented here shows his argument to be wrong.

Generating specified information
Evolution does not happen by deterministic or random change in a single DNA sequence, but in a population of individuals, with natural selection choosing among them. The frequencies of different alleles change. Considering natural selection in a population, we can clearly see that a law of conservation of specified information, or even a law of conservation of information, does not apply there.

If we have a population of DNA sequences, we can imagine a case with four alleles of equal frequency. At a particular position in the DNA, one allele has A, one has C, one has G, and one has T. There is complete uncertainty about the sequence at this position. Now suppose that C has 10% higher fitness than A, G, or T (which have equal fitnesses). The usual equations of population genetics will predict the rise of the frequency of the C allele. After 84 generations, 99.9001% of the copies of the gene will have the C allele.

This is an increase of information: the fourfold uncertainty about the allele has been replaced by near-certainty. It is also specified information — the population has more and more individuals of high fitness, so that the distribution of alleles in the population moves further and further into the upper tail of the original distribution of fitnesses.

The Law of Conservation of Information has not considered this case. Even though the equations of change of gene frequencies are deterministic and invertible, when the gene frequencies are taken into account there is no law of conservation of information. The amount of information changes as the gene frequencies change (it can go either up or down, depending on the case). The specified information as reflected by the fitness does obey a law — in this simple case fitness constantly increases, as a result of the action of natural selection. So the only law we have is one that does predict the creation of specified information by natural selection. One might object that we have not actually created specified complexity because the increase in information has been only 2 bits, rather than the 500 bits (150 decimal digits) which is Dembski's minimum requirement for specified complexity. But what we have done is to describe the action of the mechanism that creates specified information — if this acts repeatedly at many places in the gene, specified complexity would arise. Thus one of the two main arguments used by Dembski can be seen to be wrong, when we consider a population.

No Free Lunch?
The second pillar of Dembski's argument is his use of the No Free Lunch theorem. This gave his 2002 book its title, and Dembski (2002: xix) declares the chapter on this to be "the climax of the book". The theorem was invented by computer scientists (Wolpert and Macready 1997) who were concerned with the effectiveness of search algorithms. It is worth giving a simple explanation of their theorem in the context of a simple model of natural selection. Imagine a space of DNA sequences that has to be searched. Suppose that the sequences are each 1000 bases long. There are 4 x 4 x 4 x … x 4 = 41000 possible sequences, which in alphabetic order would go from AAAA...A to TTTT...T. Now imagine that our organism is haploid, so that there is only one copy of the gene per individual, and suppose that each of these sequences has a fitness. A very tiny fraction of the sequences is functional, and almost all of the rest have fitness zero.

Suppose that we want to find an organism of high fitness, and we want to do so by looking at 10 000 different DNA sequences. The best we can do, of course, is to take the highest one we find among these. Now note that 41000 is about 10602, a number far greater than the number of elementary particles in the universe. It is not unreasonable to guess that the fraction of DNA sequences that has a nonzero fitness is tiny — let's be very generous and say 1 in 1020.

One way we could search would be at random. Pick one of the DNA sequences, then pick another completely at random, then another completely at random, and continue on until 10 000 different ones have been examined. As we are picking at random, each pick has essentially one chance in 1020 of finding a sequence with nonzero fitness. It should immediately be apparent that we have almost no chance of finding any sequence with nonzero fitness. In fact we have less than one chance in 1016. So a completely random search is a really terrible way to increase fitness — it will overwhelmingly often find only sequences that cannot survive. In effect, it is looking for a needle in a haystack, and failing.

Of course, evolution does not do a completely random search. A reasonable population genetic model involves mutation, natural selection, recombination and genetic drift in a population of sequences. But we can make a crude caricature of it by having only one sequence, and making, at each step, a single mutational change in it. If the change improves the fitness, the new sequence is accepted. Suppose that we continue to do this until 10 000 different sequences have been examined. We will end with the best of those 10 000.

Will this do better? In the real world, it will if we start from a slightly good sequence. Each mutation carries us to a sequence that differs by only one letter. These tend to be sequences that are somewhat lower, or sometimes somewhat higher, in fitness. On average they are lower, but the chance that one reaches a sequence that is better is not zero. So there is some chance of improving the fitness, quite possibly more than once. A fairly good way to find sequences with nonzero fitnesses is to search in the neighborhood of a sequence of nonzero fitness.

The No Free Lunch (NFL) theorem states that if we consider the list of all possible sequences, each with a fitness written next to it and if we average over all the ways that those fitnesses could be assigned to the sequences, then no search method is better than any other. We are averaging over all the orders in which we could write the fitnesses down next to the list of sequences. Almost all of these orders are just like random associations of fitnesses with genotypes. That means that search by genetic mutation could not do any better than a hopelessly bad method such as complete random choice of sequences. The NFL theorem considers all the different ways fitness could be associated with genotype. The vast number of those are like random scramblings. For those assignments of fitnesses to genotypes, when we mutate a sequence by even one base, the fitness of the new sequence is the same as it would be if it were drawn at random from among all other possible sequences.

This randomization destroys all hope of finding a better fitness by mutating. Each single-base mutation is then just as bad as changing all of the bases simultaneously. It is as if we were on the side of a mountain and took one step. In the real world, this would carry us a bit up or a bit down (though sometimes over a cliff). In the No Free Lunch world, it would carry us to the altitude of a random spot on the globe, and that would most often plunge us far downward. In sequence space the prospects are even more gloomy than on the globe, as all but an extremely tiny fraction of sequences have fitness zero, and thus they have no prospects.

The NFL theorem is correct, but it is not relevant to the real world of evolution of genomes. This point has been overlooked in some responses to Dembski's use of the theorem. For example, H Allen Orr in The New Yorker (Orr 2005) and David Wolpert in a review of Dembski's book (Wolpert 2003) both argue against Dembski by pointing out phenomena such as coevolution that are not covered by the NFL theorem. In effect, they are conceding that for simple sequence evolution, the NFL theorem rules out adaptation by natural selection. In arguing this way, they are far too pessimistic about the capabilities of simple sequence evolution. They have overlooked the NFL theorem's unrealistic assumptions about the random way that fitnesses are associated with genotypes, which in effect assumes mutations to have disastrously bad fitness.

Mutations
In the real world, mutations do not act like this. Yes, they are much more likely to reduce fitness than to increase it, but many of them are not lethal. I probably carry one — I have a strong aversion to lettuce, which to me has a bitter mineral taste. This is probably a genetic variation in one of my odorant receptor genes. It makes salad bars problematic, and at sandwich counters I spend a lot of time scraping the lettuce off. But it has not killed me — yet. The great body of empirical information about the effects of mutation in many organisms makes it clear that a great many mutations are not instantly lethal. They do on average make things worse, but they do not plunge us instantly back into the primordial organic soup.

In Dembski's NFL argument a single base change would have the same effect, on average, as changing all the bases in the gene simultaneously. A single amino acid substitution in a protein would have the same effect as replacing the whole protein by a random string of amino acids. This would make the protein totally inactive. That changes of a single base or a single amino acid do not have this sort of effect is strong evidence that mutations are much more likely to find another almost-functional sequence nearby. The real fitness landscape is not a scrambled "needle-in-a-haystack" landscape in which a sequence of moderately good fitness is surrounded only by sequences whose fitness is zero. In the real world, genotypes near a moderately good one often have moderately good fitnesses.

Empirical evidence
Note that if Dembski's arguments were valid, they would make adaptation by natural selection of any organism, in any phenotype, essentially impossible. For that would require adaptive information to be encoded into the genome by natural selection. According to Dembski's argument we would not need to worry: bacteria infecting a patient could not evolve antibiotic resistance. Human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) would not become resistant to drugs. Insects would not evolve resistance to insecticides. Dembski's designer would be busy indeed: he would need to design every last adaptation, leaving out only a few that might be purely accidental.

Dembski himself seems unable to draw this self-evident conclusion from his own argument. He acknowledges that "the development of antibiotic resistance by pathogens via the Darwinian mechanism is experimentally verified and rightly of great concern to the medical field" (Dembski 2002: 38). But by saying that he undercuts his own argument — if correct, his argument would actually prove that the adaptive information in the bacterial genome could not be created by natural selection, except by the pure accident of mutation and genetic drift, unaided by natural selection.

His argument will also be news to animal and plant breeders. They use simple forms of artificial selection such as breeding from the individuals that have the best phenotypes. These forms of selection are like natural selection in that they do not use detailed information about individual genes — they do not require a particular detailed design. Dembski's argument implies that the breeders' efforts are in vain. They cannot create changes of phenotype by artificial selection, as this should be as ineffective as natural selection. Artificial selection provided Darwin with such powerful examples that he opened his book with an entire chapter on "Variation Under Domestication" in which he discussed case after case of changes due to artificial selection, but Dembski does not discuss artificial selection at all, mentioning it only once, in passing (in Dembski [2004] it is on page 311).

Smuggling?
Dembski (2002, sections 4.9 and 4.10) is not unaware of arguments that smoother fitness surfaces than the needle-in-a-haystack ones would allow natural selection to be effective. For example, Richard Dawkins (1996) has a computer program to demonstrate the effectiveness of selection, which evolves a meaningless jumble of 28 letters into the phrase "Methinks it is like a weasel" by repeatedly mutating letters randomly and then accepting those offspring sequences that most closely match the target phrase. Each match improves the fitness, so that mutations that make the phrase closer are readily available. Dembski argues, however, that the information in the resulting phrase is not created by the natural selection — it is already there, in the target phrase. He calls this the "displacement problem" (2002, section 4.7).
But invariably we find that when specified complexity seems to be generated for free, it has in fact been front-loaded, smuggled in, or hidden from view. (Dembski 2002: 204)
Computer demonstrations of the power of natural selection to bring about adaptation do often have detailed targets that natural selection is to approach. It is easier to write the programs that way. In real life, the objective is higher fitness, and achieving that means having the organism's phenotype interact well with real physics, real chemistry, and real biology.

In these more real cases, the environment does not provide the genome with exact targets. Consider a population of deer being preyed upon by a population of wolves. We have little doubt that mutations among the deer will cause changes in the lengths of their limbs, the strength of their muscles, the speed of reaction of their nervous system, the acuity of their vision. Some of these will enable the deer to escape the wolves better, and those ones will tend to spread in the population. The result is a change in the design of the deer. But this information is not "smuggled in" by the wolves. They simply chase the deer — they do not evaluate their match to detailed pre-existing design specifications.

There have been computer simulations that mimicked this process. The most fascinating is that of Karl Sims (1994a, 1994b, 1994c), whose simulation evolves virtual creatures that swim or hop in intriguing and somewhat unpredictable ways. The creatures are composed of connected blocks that can move relative to each other, and they are selected only for effective movement without screening for any details of the design. All that is required is genotypes, phenotypes, some interaction between the phenotypes and an environment, and natural selection on one property — speed. There is no "smuggling". A similar simulation inspired by Sims's is Jon Klein's (2002) breve program, available for download.

Evolvability
Dembski makes another argument about the shape of the fitness function itself. If it is smooth enough to allow evolution to succeed, he argues that this is the result of more smuggling:
But this means that the problem of finding a given target has been displaced to the new problem of finding the information j capable of locating that target. ... To say that an evolutionary algorithm has generated specified complexity within the original phase space is therefore really to say that it has borrowed specified complexity from a higher-order phase space ... it follows that the evolutionary algorithm has not generated specified complexity at all but merely shifted it around. (Dembski 2002: 203)
He is arguing that the fitness surface itself must have been specially chosen out of a vast array of possibilities, and that this means that one started with the specified complexity already present. He is saying that the smoothness of real fitness functions is not typical — that without a large input of specified information one would be dealing instead with needle-in-a-haystack fitness functions where natural selection could not succeed.

Now, it is possible to have natural selection alter the fitness function. There is a small literature on the "evolution of evolvability". Altenberg (1995) showed a computer simulation where natural selection causes the extent of interaction among genes to become less, so that the genotypes tend to become ones that have a smoother fitness function.

But even this may not be necessary. Different genes often act in ways separated in space and time, and that reduces the chance of their interacting. A mutant affecting one's eye pigment typically does not interact with a mutant at a different gene affecting the bones in one's toe. That isolation does not require any special explanation. But in a world that has a needle-in-a-haystack fitness function everything interacts strongly with everything else.

In effect, that world has everything encrypted. If you get a password or a lock combination partially correct, you do not partly access the computer account or partly open the safe. The computer or the safe does not react to each change by saying "hotter" or "colder". Each digit or letter interacts with each other, and nothing happens until all of them are correct. But this encryption is not typical of the world around us. Password systems and combination locks must be carefully designed to be secure — and this design effort can fail.

The world we live in is not encrypted. Most parts of it interact very little with other parts. When my family leaves home for a vacation, we have to make many arrangements at home concerning doors, windows, lights, toilets, faucets, thermostats, garbage, notifying neighbors, stopping delivery of newspapers, and so on. If we lived in Dembski's encrypted universe, this would be impossible. Every time we changed the thermostat setting, the windows would come unlocked and the faucets would run. Every time we closed a window, the newspaper delivery would resume, or a neighbor would forget that we were leaving. (It's worse than that, in fact. The house would be totally destroyed.) But, as we live in the real universe, we can cheerfully set family members to carrying out these different tasks without their worrying about each other's actions. The different parts of the house scarcely interact.

Of course a house is a designed object, but it is not particularly hard to have its parts be almost independent. When architects train, they do not have to spend much of their time ensuring that the doors, when closed, will not cause the faucets to run.

We live in a universe whose physics might be special, or might be designed — I wouldn't know about that. But Dembski's argument is not about other possible universes — it is about whether natural selection can work to create the adaptations that we see in the forms of life we observe here, in our own universe, on our own planet. And if our universe seems predisposed to smooth fitness functions, that is a big problem for Dembski's argument.

Bibliographic note: Dembski's critics
Of the major arguments here, two are, I believe, my own. One is the argument that Dembski's Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information could not succeed in proving that information cannot be generated by natural selection, because his Law requires us to change the specification to keep the amount of specified information the same. The other is the argument that changes of gene frequency by natural selection can increase specified information. The other major arguments will be found in some of the papers I cited. In particular, the argument that the No Free Lunch theorem does not establish that natural selection cannot do better than pure random search was also made by Wein 2002, Rosenhouse 2002, Perakh 2004b, Shallit and Elsberry 2004, Tellgren 2005, and Häggström 2007.

In conclusion
Dembski argues that there are theorems that prevent natural selection from explaining the adaptations that we see. His arguments do not work. There can be no theorem saying that adaptive information is conserved and cannot be increased by natural selection. Gene frequency changes caused by natural selection can be shown to generate specified information. The No Free Lunch theorem is mathematically correct, but it is inapplicable to real biology. Specified information, including complex specified information, can be generated by natural selection without needing to be "smuggled in". When we see adaptation, we are not looking at positive evidence of billions and trillions of interventions by a designer. Dembski has not refuted natural selection as an explanation for adaptation.

Acknowledgments
I wish to thank Joan Rudd, Erik Tellgren, Jeffrey Shallit, Tom Schneider, Mark Perakh, Monty Slatkin, Lee Altenberg, Carl Bergstrom, and Michael Lynch for helpful comments. Dennis Wagner at Access Research Network kindly gave permission for use of the wonderful cartoon "The Visigoths are Coming". Work on this paper was supported in part by NIH grant GM071639.

References



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

Dawkins R. 1996. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. New York: WW Norton.

Dembski WA. 1998. The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dembski WA. 2002. No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Intelligence. Lanham (MD): Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Dembski WA. 2004. The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design. Downer's Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Edis T. 2004. Chance and necessity — and intelligent design? In: Young M, Edis T, editors. Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism. New Brunswick (NJ): Rutgers University Press. p 139–52.

Elsberry WR, Shallit J. 2003. Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski's complex specified information. Available on-line at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/eandsdembski.pdf. Last accessed September 3, 2007.

Felsenstein J. 1978. Macroevolution in a model ecosystem. American Naturalist 112 (983): 177–95.

Godfrey-Smith P. 2001. Information and the argument from design. In: Pennock RT, editor. Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press. p 575–96.

Häggström O. 2007. Intelligent design and the NFL theorems. Biology and Philosophy 23: 217–30.

Klein J. 2002. Breve: A 3-D simulation environment for multi-agent simulations and artificial life. Available on-line at http://www.spiderland.org/breve/. Last accessed September 3, 2007.

Meyer SC. 2006 Jan 28. Intelligent design is not creationism. Daily Telegraph. Available on-line at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/01/28/do2803.xml. Last accessed September 3, 2007.

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About the Author(s): 

Joe Felsenstein
Department of Genome Sciences
University of Washington
Box 355065
Seattle WA 98195-5065
joe@gs.washington.edu

Joe Felsenstein is in the Department of Genome Sciences and the Department of Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle. He has worked in theoretical population genetics and on the inference of phylogenies. He is the author of Inferring Phylogenies (Sunderland [MA]: Sinauer, 2004) and of PHYLIP, the first widely distributed program package for reconstructing phylogenies.

Recurrence of the Same?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Recurrence of the Same? "Intelligent Design" and the Biology Classroom
Author(s): 
Jason Borenstein
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
31–34
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In the ongoing and complex issue of teaching evolution in public schools, "intelligent design" (ID) purports to overcome objections to inserting religion into science classrooms and to illustrate conceptual and empirical shortcomings in evolutionary theory. ID supporters argue that students should be made aware of these shortcomings and suggest that "alternatives to evolution" need to be taught. A key issue that needs to be resolved is whether it is a sound pedagogical approach to teach "design" alongside evolution, which may in part be resolved by helping policy makers determine whether ID is a true rival to evolutionary theory — or has any scientific merit at all.

Even though creationism, in its various forms, has typically failed to pass legal muster, the Supreme Court has not categorically forbidden biology teachers from discussing "alternatives to evolution" as long as those lessons do not cause religion and science to be overly intertwined. ID supporters and other critics of evolution typically latch on to the Edwards v Aguillard ruling to provide legal grounds for introducing challenges to evolution in the classroom. According to the Edwards Court, "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction" (Edwards v Aguillard 482 US 578 [1987]: 594). In accordance with their interpretation of this case and other legal precedents, ID supporters seek to take advantage of a "legal opening" to offer what they argue is a secular, scientific body of claims.

Although the teaching of ID has not been specifically required in accordance with most states' science standards, several state school boards and legislatures have considered implementing proposals that would encourage teachers to discuss evidence against evolution (Carroll 2005; Taylor and MacDonald 2002). In Ohio, the state school board explicitly considered incorporating it into the curriculum (Stephens 2004). Missouri's legislature has considered a bill that would require teachers to discuss alternatives to evolution (Anonymous 2004). The school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, became the first one to mandate that ID be taught as part of the biology curriculum (Raffaele 2004). Yet a federal judge has since invalidated Dover's policy. At this point, the Discovery Institute, one of the main organizations defending the notion that ID is a credible scientific theory, is not openly advocating that it should be a mandatory part of biology education (Meyer 2002), opting instead for tactics that try to cast doubt on the validity of evolution.

"TEACH THE CONTROVERSY"

One of the main arguments in support of teaching ID in public schools is that students need to be aware of the controversy circulating around evolution. If portions of evolutionary theory are truly on shaky ground, then ID supporters suggest that students need to be made aware of this fact. This is the so-called "teach the controversy"approach. Since ID supporters argue that there is substantial evidence contradicting at least some of the claims supporting evolution, students should be apprised of the situation and then make up their own minds on what is true. Further, even if there is evidence to support evolution, students need to be cautioned against merely assuming that it is "fact" just because it is presented in a classroom. According to ID supporters, there is momentum behind the "teach the controversy" approach as evidenced by a document that contains signatures from scientists who believe there are flaws contained within Darwinism (Discovery Institute 2001). Yet the "teach the controversy" approach, as articulated by Stephen Meyer (Meyer 2002), is profoundly misguided.

To begin, Meyer contends, "When two groups of expert disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives" (Meyer 2002). According to Meyer:

In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents.

Yet it is not possible to present students with each and every dispute that is ongoing within the expert communities, let alone every dispute that is ongoing between scientists. It would be arduous and impractical to cover, as Meyer's logic implies, each particular political party's arguments, such as the ones offered by libertarians, socialists, the Green Party, and the Reform Party, on each controversial political issue. In other words, there are numerous other options beyond "both perspectives"offered by Democrats and Republicans that could be mentioned with reference to the issue. Further, we would certainly want to disregard the opinions of some groups, such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, even if they do offer a "competing view" on politics. Not every "competing view" warrants consideration even though some might consider them to be rivals.

ID supporters defend the notion that students need to be made aware of "the controversy" in part because they see ID as being among the main candidates to be covered alongside evolution. Yet the logic of Meyer's argument opens the door to discussing various alternative views on the history of life, such as the one offered by the Raëlians that human life emerged on this planet through cloning procedures undertaken by human-like aliens. The Raëlian view is undoubtedly a "rival" (in some sense of the term) to evolution since it attempts to explain how human life on this planet emerged; it does challenge a number of evolution's tenets. Raëlians proclaim that they can offer a competing explanation for how life began and that their view merits serious consideration. As a result, the "teach the controversy" approach implies that such a view would not be discounted as a candidate to be discussed in biology classrooms, which is a profoundly troubling consequence.

Introducing students to each and every rival view as it emerges, such as the one offered by the Raëlians, can give them the wrong impression that each expert's or group's opinion is of equal worth and has the same level of supporting evidence behind it. In accordance with the goal of teaching students about controversies, teachers could plan lessons on witchcraft, astrology, and tealeaf reading, as Paul Feyerabend suggests (Feyerabend 1975), because there are inquirers who use these approaches in order to acquire evidence. Yet there are good compelling reasons to resist this type of thinking, which in part relates to the value and importance of obtaining evidence to support claims before students learn about them. There are plenty of individuals who purport to be "scientific" experts, but the mechanisms of science need time to evaluate and assess the relevant theories in question. It can be unwise to present an expert's arguments until relevant claims have been thoroughly examined by other experts. The implication that rival views are all on even grounds scientifically (have the same level of supporting evidence) does a disservice to how science works.

Thomas Murray describes a similar phenomenon within the context of debates over embryonic stem cell research (Murray 2001). As Murray points out, the manner in which disputes about science are typically presented to the public and to policy makers — by inviting one or two scientists on opposite sides of the spectrum to speak — implies that scientists are evenly divided on an issue. This approach can grossly distort how much consensus there actually is within the scientific community about an issue such as stem cell research. Similarly, if the views of a biologist and an ID supporter are presented at the same forum, it could mislead the audience to think that the scientists themselves are split, for example, on the issue of whether evolution is accepted as fact. Applying this insight to the classroom, presenting "both perspectives" to students implies that each one is on equal footing and that scientists are evenly divided into the two camps. Recognizing this implication does not necessarily prove that ID is false, but the biology curriculum needs to reflect accurately its standing within the scientific community.

DISPUTING EVOLUTION

Meyer and other ID supporters contend that there is active scientific "controversy" about whether evolution's key tenets are supported by evidence. Yet labeling it as a "controversy" about evolution is misleading because the disputes are not primarily within the scientific community. The controversy occurs among religious groups, politicians, parents, and advocacy groups. Disputes about whether evolution is a "fact" frequently are waged at school board meetings and at legislative sessions by these groups, but not among scientists in relevant disciplines.

There are of course active disputes within scientific communities regarding the specific mechanisms governing evolution, including the issue of how significant the role of natural selection is. There have also been debates about the tempo of evolutionary change (for example, Eldredge and Gould 1972) and the unit of selection (Sachs and others 2004). Although biologists ardently disagree on some of the details of how evolution works, they are largely convinced that it did in fact occur. According to the National Science Teachers Association, "There is no longer a debate among scientists about whether evolution has taken place"(NSTA 2003). Thus, couching the issue as a "scientific" controversy between the scientists themselves misrepresents how divided the scientific community actual is on the issue. For example, according to Chad Edgington (Edgington 2004):

...given the diversity of belief on the subject and the lack of accepted, substantiated evidence supporting any theory, whether one is a creationist or an evolutionist is largely a matter of opinion.

Vocal proponents of "intelligent design", such as Michael Behe and William Dembski, offer passionate defenses of their views, but they are noticeably on the outside of the scientific community. Neither creationism nor "intelligent design" is considered to be a viable alternative to evolution by most scientists. Scientists vehemently and consistently challenge the notion that evolution still needs to overcome the burden of proof to vanquish either "rival" theory.

THE PUBLIC FAVORS IT

The "teach the controversy" approach also takes advantage of the notion that the public seems comfortable with teaching "alternatives to evolution" along with the theory. There is some basis for Meyer's statement that "voters overwhelmingly favor this approach" (Meyer 2002). For example, according to one Gallup poll, 68% of Americans favor teaching both creationism and evolution in biology classrooms (Moore 1999). A Zogby poll suggests that 71% of Americans would prefer that evidence both for and against evolutionary theory be taught (Zogby International 2001). However, even though Meyer's assertion about public opinion may be accurate, it is not necessarily sound educational policy to allow the public to dictate what is taught within a discipline, especially in the sciences where extensive knowledge of technical concepts and background information is typically needed before claims can be properly assessed.

Along these lines, there is evidence to indicate that the public's understanding of science may be inadequate (National Science Board 1998; National Science Board 2000; Russell 1994; Sanchez 1997). For example, many individuals operate with the misconception that antibiotics can help treat a viral infection and that having a flu shot immunizes against the various different strains of the virus. For some time, the public believed that AIDS only affected homosexual populations and later that it could be contracted through casual contact. But it would be profoundly dangerous if these beliefs were perpetuated by teachers, because they are false. Accordingly, ID should not be taught to students merely because the public demands it. It should be discussed only if ID proponents succeed in convincing the scientific community that ID has supporting evidence behind it.

PROMOTING "GOOD PEDAGOGY"

It has been commonly argued within the context of the "teach the controversy" approach that "academic freedom" (Hacker 2004) and "good pedagogy" (Meyer 2002) demand that alternatives to evolution be taught. It is ironic that ID supporters appeal to these notions to support the inclusion of anti-evolution evidence, considering that biology teachers avoid teaching lessons pertaining to evolution because they fear reprisal from politicians and from parents (Jacoby 2005). Some school administrators have even recommended to teachers that they sidestep the topic (Dean 2005). Further, the Georgia State Superintendent of Schools, Kathy Cox, temporarily removed the term "evolution" from Georgia's science standards "to give teachers some leeway to teach it without having to use a word that antagonizes some parents," (Tofig 2004). In Dover, Pennsylvania, an administrator had to read the district's policy on "intelligent design" to students because teachers refused to do so (Anonymous 2005).

A profound cost associated with distorted arguments against evolution is that widespread misunderstanding about and ignorance of evolutionary theory endure. According to a study by Lawrence Lerner, evolution is poorly treated in the state science standards of at least a third of US states (Lerner 2000). It seems to be the case that American students do not receive adequate instruction about the fundamentals of evolution and do not appreciate how integral evolution is to numerous scientific and non-scientific fields. As a result, misconceptions about evolution are abundant, including the notion that humans are merely a product of "random chance", that evolution is inconsistent with laws of thermodynamics, and that there are no transitional fossils (Rennie 2002).

This is not to say that evolutionary theory is untouchable. As mentioned previously, there are certainly active controversies about evolution and gaps in biologists' explanations. Rather, it is to assert that evolution must be understood thoroughly by students before its merits can truly be assessed. Yet since many students may only be learning a caricature of evolution or perhaps nothing substantive about it, teaching them about challenges to evolution might not be very meaningful (Moore 2001).

IS THE PROPOSED SOLUTION WORSE THAN THE ALLEGED ILLNESS?

Even though the "teach the controversy"approach has its flaws, the question still remains whether it is warranted to discuss "intelligent design" specifically in biology classrooms. ID proponents contend that their view is scientific and thus should be taught alongside evolution. They claim that design arguments are more attuned to scientific evidence than older versions, including the ones offered by William Paley. Indeed, instead of doing original research, ID proponents have dedicated much time and effort to identifying problems with evolution and suggesting how design might be compatible with a scientific picture of the world.

However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle ID from discussions about religion. Even if ID proponents could be taken at their word that ID could be taught without religious overtones (Behe 2005), questions about the designer will inevitably emerge. Metaphysical and religious assumptions built into any version of ID are not easily separable from the "scientific" lessons that would be offered to students. For example, one of the chief assumptions built into current formulations of "intelligent design" is that the designer is a single entity or "intelligent agent", which means that some contemporary views about the nature of the designer(s) are dismissed. Of course, monotheism tends to be the preferred view of ID supporters but one could legitimately question whether that assumption should be granted and whether it is appropriate to allude to one subset of religious views at exclusion of others. As Hume asks, "Why may not several Deities combine in contriving and framing a World?" (Hume 1779: 192).

Discussion of ID in a classroom opens, perhaps unintentionally, the door to religious conversation about the identity and traits of the designer. Yet it is not clear that it would be wise for biology teachers to stray into religious instruction. Even if a biology teacher can successfully dodge questions about the nature of designer, how will teachers explain the causal mechanisms of the design process? ID proponents do not offer much in the way of an explanation. Creationists, for example, offer a forthright and direct answer on this issue. Duane Gish "bites the bullet", so to speak, and argues, "We cannot discover by scientific investigations anything about the creative processes used by the Creator" (Gish 1979: 40).

Assuming that evolution is accepted to some degree, which ID proponents largely say that they do, at what point do the designer's actions end and evolution begin? One potential hypothesis is that the designer was involved in the initial formation of the universe and that ended the designer's role. Another hypothesis is that the designer is continually involved in designing the universe. Alternatively, the designer may act intermittently. On what basis should a biology teacher (or any human for the matter) distinguish between these competing explanations? Yet it seems crucial that we have some means to sort through these explanations if ID is to help us understand better how the universe works.

CONCLUSIONS

When the issue of evolution emerges in the classroom, students should not be left with the impression, with which much of the current debate might leave them, that evolution is scientifically "controversial" and that it is the only area of science where scientists themselves have disputes. In all these issues, the current crop of "intelligent design" proposals significantly misleads students regarding the nature of science and the evidence for evolution. Teaching that evolution is dubious or controversial within the sciences does the students a disservice because the "controversy" is over how science is to be understood and applied in modern society.

If the outgrowth of the legal, religious, and scientific disputes about evolution leads to the emergence of a high school class dedicated to the intersection of science and values, that would be a welcomed addition. Considering how central science is to our lives and how often its social, moral, and religious implications are not examined thoroughly enough, a class that looks at the broader aspects of scientific disputes might be a wise — and desirable — approach.

References

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Sachs JL, Mueller UG, Wilcox TP, Bull JJ. 2004. The evolution of cooperation. The Quarterly Review of Biology 79 (2): 135–160.

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Taylor M, MacDonald M. 2002 Sep 26. Cobb unanimously approves discussion of other theories. Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Zogby International. 2001 Sep 21. [Untitled memorandum]. Available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/ZogbyFinalReport.pdf. Last accessed October 16, 2007.

About the Author(s): 

Jason Borenstein
Georgia Tech
School of Public Policy
685 Cherry Street
Atlanta GA 30332-0345
jason.borenstein@pubpolicy.gatech.edu

Jason Borenstein is the Director of Graduate Research Ethics Programs at Georgia Tech and the editor of the Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law. While at Georgia Tech, he has taught courses on biotechnology and ethics, research ethics, philosophy of science, and political philosophy. During the summer of 2001, he worked as an intern for the National Academy of Sciences' Science, Technology, and Law Program. During the summer of 2000, he worked as an intern for the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Scientific Freedom, Responsibility, and Law Program. Borenstein received his doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Miami in May 2001.

The Design Revolution?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Design Revolution? How William Dembski is Dodging Questions about "Intelligent Design"
Author(s): 
Mark Perakh
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
35–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Who is William A Dembski? We are told that he has PhD degrees in mathematics and philosophy plus more degrees — in theology and what not — a long list of degrees indeed (Dembski 1998: 461).

We all know, however, that degrees alone do not make a person a scientist. Scientific degrees are not like ranks in the military where a general is always above a mere colonel. Degrees are only a formal indicator of a person's educational status. A scientist's reputation and authority are based only to a negligible extent on his degrees. What really attests to a person's status in science is publications in professional journals and anthologies and references to one's work by colleagues. This is the domain where Dembski has so far remained practically invisible. All his multiple publications have little or nothing to do with science. When he writes about probability theory or information theory — on which he is proclaimed to be an expert — the real experts in these fields (using the words of the prominent mathematician David Wolpert [2003]) "squint, furrow one's brows, and then shrug."

When encountering critique of his work, Dembski is selective in choosing when to reply to and when to ignore his critics. His preferred targets for replies are those critics who do not boast comparable long lists of formal credentials — this enables him to dismiss the critical comments contemptuously by pointing to the alleged lack of qualification of his opponents while avoiding answering the essence of their critical remarks. (See, for example, Dembski's replies to some of his opponents [Dembski 2002b, 2002c, 2002d, 2003a].) These replies provide examples of Dembski's overarching quest for winning debate at any cost rather than striving to arrive at the truth. For example, in his book No Free Lunch (Dembski 2002a), he devoted many pages to a misuse of Wolpert and Macready's (1987) No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems. (Some early critiques of Dembski's interpretation of the NFL theorems appear in Elsberry [1999, 2001]. A detailed analysis of Dembski's misuse of the NFL theorems is given, in particular, in Perakh [2004a].)

Dembski's faulty interpretation of the NFL theorems was strongly criticized by Richard Wein (2002a) and by David Wolpert (2003), the originator of these theorems. Dembski spared no effort in rebutting Wein's critique, devoting to it two lengthy essays (Dembski 2002b, 2002c). However, he did not utter a single word in regard to Wolpert's critique. It is not hard to see why. Wein, as Dembski points out, has only a bachelor's degree in statistics — and Dembski uses this irrelevant factoid to deflect Wein's well-substantiated criticism. He does not, though, really answer the essence of Wein's comments and resorts instead to ad hominem remarks and a contemptuous tone. (Wein 2002b replies.) He cannot do the same with Wolpert who enjoys a sterling reputation as a brilliant mathematician and who is obviously much superior to Dembski in the understanding of the NFL theorems of which he is a co-author. Dembski pretends that Wolpert's critique does not exist.

Dembski has behaved similarly in a number of other situations. For example, the extensive index in his latest book The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Dembski 2004a) completely omits the names of most of the prominent critics of his ideas. Totally absent from the index to the book are the following names of serious critics: Rich Baldwin, Eli Chiprout, Taner Edis, Ellery Eels, Branden Fitelson, Philip Kitcher, Peter Milne, Massimo Pigliucci, Del Ratzsch, Jeff Shallit, Niall Shanks, Jordan H Sobel, Jason Rosenhouse, Christopher Stephenson, Richard Wein, and Matt Young. All these writers have analyzed in detail Dembski's literary output and demonstrated multiple errors, fallacious concepts, and inconsistencies which are a trademark of his prolific production. (I have not mentioned myself in this list although I have extensively criticized Dembski both in web postings [Perakh 2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c] and in print [Perakh 2004a, 2004b]; he never uttered a single word in response to my critique, while it is known for a fact that he is familiar with my critique; the above list shows that I am in good company.)

Thomas D Schneider, another strong critic of Dembski's ideas, is mentioned in the index of The Design Revolution but the extent of the reference is as follows:

Evolutionary biologists regularly claim to obtain specified complexity for free or from scratch. Richard Dawkins and Thomas Schneider are some of the worst offenders in this regard.

Contrary to the subtitle of Dembski's book — Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design — this remark can hardly be construed as an answer to Schneider's questions. But even this is more of a mention than most serious critics get from Dembski.

Essentially, all the critics listed above have asked Dembski a number of specific questions regarding his concepts. The absence of any replies to the listed authors suggest that the title of Dembski's new book should have properly been The Design Revolution? Dodging Questions about Intelligent Design. Is Dembski also of the opinion that selectivity in choosing when to respond to opponents and when to pretend they do not exist is compatible with intellectual honesty?

PREMATURE REPORTS OF THE DEMISE OF "DARWINISM"

One of beloved themes of Dembski's diatribes is his claims that "Darwinism" (the creationists' term for evolutionary biology) is either dying or is already dead ( see for example Dembski 2004a). In that assertion, Dembski joins a long list of "Darwinism"'s deniers who started making such claims almost immediately after Darwin published his magnificent On the Origins of Species. Predictions that "Darwinism" (read: evolutionary biology) will very soon be completely abandoned by the majority of scientists, claims that it has already died, assertions that it cannot withstand new discoveries in science — all this stuff has been a regular staple of the anti-Darwinian crowd for 148 years (see Morton 2002). Despite all these claims, evolutionary biology is alive and well and the evidence in favor of most of the Darwinian ideas is constantly growing.

Dembski asserts time and time again that evidence favoring "Darwinism"was always weak and that new discoveries make it less and less plausible. His claim (bolstered by the Discovery Institute's so-called "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" advertisement), concludes that this lack of evidence is causing more and more biologists to abandon Darwinian ideas. In fact, he is proclaiming something he desperately wants to be true but that in reality is utterly false — at least if the evidence from the current research literature is any indication. It is hard to believe Dembski himself does not know that his claims are false. Indeed, Dembski is well aware of Project Steve (Dembski 2003b), conducted by the National Center of Science Education (http://ncse.com/taking-action/project-steve).

This endeavor by NCSE has unequivocally demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of scientists, and more specifically of biologists, firmly support evolutionary biology based largely on Darwinian principles. According to these data, the ratio of scientists who are firm supporters of the neo-Darwinian synthesis to those who doubt the main tenets of modern evolutionary biology is estimated, as of March 10, 2004, to be about 142 to 1. Dembski knows about this ratio and even tried to dismiss its significance (Dembski 2003b) by asserting that Project Steve was "an exercise in irrelevance" because the support of evolution by the majority of scientists is "obvious" anyway and was not disputed. It is remarkable that such a statement plainly contradicts Dembski's incessant claims in his other writing about scientists' allegedly abandoning "Darwinism" in droves; this contradiction apparently does not make Dembski uncomfortable. Of course self-contradictory claims in Dembski's output are too common to be surprising.

Dembski is a relatively young man and will most probably continue emanating repetitious philippics against "materialistic science" for many years to come. Science is not impressed, though (and hardly will be), by a relabeled creationism, supported not by evidence but only by casuistry in a pseudo-mathematical guise. (The purely religious motivation underlying Dembski's relentless attacks on evolutionary biology — in which he has no training or relevant experience — and on "materialistic science" in general is obvious from his numerous statements to non-scientific audiences — see, for example, Dembski 2004b, in which he told his audience, "When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God's glory is getting robbed").

A SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION?

In his latest book, Dembski (2004a) says:

I take all declarations about the next big revolution in science with a stiff shot of skepticism. Despite that, I grow progressively more convinced that intelligent design will revolutionize science and our conception of the world (p 19).

Is the Design Revolution, so boldly forecast by Dembski, indeed imminent? I suspect that Dembski is in for a deep disappointment. He may continue generating noise within the shadow region underneath science, but at some point in the future all this brouhaha that "intelligent design" allegedly will replace "materialistic science" most probably will result in adding one more item to the amusing collection of absurdities that already contains Barrow and Tipler's Final Anthropic Principle with its prediction of a neverdying intelligence (Barrow and Tipler 1986; Gardner 1986), Tipler's further prediction of the imminent resurrection of the dead as computer-reincarnated entities (Tipler 1994), homeopathic quasi-medicine, and other fads and fallacies that so easily earn cheap popularity among the benighted crowds. Paradoxically, these "scientific revolutions" occur regularly in the same country where efforts by the avant garde of honest scientists and inventors lead the world in the progress of technology and genuine science. Dembski's work may be remarkable among these only in its quantity.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I appreciate helpful comments to the initial draft of this essay by Matt Young, Alec Gindis, Wesley R Elsberry, and Gary S Hurd.

References

Barrow JD, Tipler FJ. 1986. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dembski WA, ed. 1998. Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Dembski WA. 2002a. No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Intelligence. Lanham (MD): Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Dembski WA. 2002b. Obsessively criticized but scarcely refuted: A response to Richard Wein. Available on-line at http://www.designinference.com/documents/05.02.resp_to_wein.htm. Last accessed September 3, 2007.

Dembski WA. 2002c. The fantasy life of Richard Wein: A response to a response. http://www.designinference.com/documents/2002.06.WeinsFantasy.htm. Last accessed September 3, 2007

Dembski WA. 2002d. If only Darwinists scrutinized their own work as closely: A response to Erik. Available on-line at: http://www.designinference.com/documents/2002.08.Erik_Response.htm. Last accessed September 3, 2007.

Dembski WA. 2003a. Biology in the subjunctive mood: A response to Nicholas Matzke. Available on-line at http://www.designinference.com/documents/2003.11.Matzke_Response.htm. Last accessed September 3, 2007.

Dembski WA. 2003b. Project Steve — Establishing the obvious: A response to NCSE. Available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=1393. Last accessed on September 1, 2007.

Dembski WA. 2004a. The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Dembski WA. 2004b Mar 7. Lecture at the Fellowship Baptist Church, Waco, Texas.

Elsberry WR. 1999. Responses to Dembski's "Explaining specified complexity". Available on-line at http://www.antievolution.org/people/dembski_wa/19990913_csi_and_ec.html. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Elsberry WR 2001. [No free lunch theorems] Available on-line at http://www.antievolution.org/people/mgrey/IDC/200106080021.html. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Gardner M. 1986. Review of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. New York Review of Books 33(8): 22–5. Available on-line at http://www.nybooks.com/contents/19860508. Last accessed September 23, 2007.

Morton GR. 2002. The imminent demise of evolution: the longest running falsehood in Creationism. Available on-line at http://home.entouch.net/dmd/moreandmore.htm. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Perakh M. 2002. A presentation without arguments: Dembski disappoints. Skeptical Inquirer 26 (6): 31–4. Available on-line at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/presentation.cfm. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Perakh M. 2003a. A consistent inconsistency. Available on-line at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/dembski.cfm. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Perakh M. 2003b. A free lunch in a mousetrap. Available on-line at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/dem_nfl.cfm. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Perakh M. 2003c. The no free lunch theorems and their application to evolutionary algorithms. Available on-line at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/orr.cfm.

Perakh M. 2004a. There is a free lunch after all: Dembski's wrong answers to irrelevant questions. In: Young M, Edis T, editors. Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism. New Brunswick (NJ): Rutgers University Press. p 153–71.

Perakh M. 2004b. Unintelligent Design. Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books.

Tipler FJ. 1994. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York: Doubleday.

Wein R. 2002a. Not a free lunch but a box of chocolate. Available on-line at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/choc_nfl.cfm. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Wein R. 2002b. Response? What response? How Dembski avoided addressing my arguments. Available on-line at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/response.cfm. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Wolpert DH. 2003. William Dembski's treatment of no free lunch theorems is written in Jell-O. Mathematical Reviews MR1884094 (2003b:00012). Available online at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/jello.cfm. Last accessed September 1, 2007.

Wolpert DH, Macready WG. 1987. No free lunch theorems for optimization. IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation 1 (1): 67–82.

About the Author(s): 

Mark Perakh
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Mark Perakh is an emerius professor of physics at California State University Fullerton. He has to his credit nearly 300 scientific articles, four books, and several patents, and was a recipient of several prizes and awards, including one from the Royal Society of London. After his retirement he became involved in debunking various versions of pseudo- science, in particular in his book Unintelligent Design (Amherst [NY]: Prometheus Books, 2004).

Responding to ID in a Freshman College Class

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Responding to ID in a Freshman College Class
Author(s): 
Jack Keyes and Nancy Broshot
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2007
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
38–41
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

INTRODUCTION

For several years we have taught a course, Science as a Candle in the Dark, to help students deal with questions about the foundations of their belief systems and to promote science and skepticism as a way of inquiry. Our goal was to help students learn how to challenge ideas in a constructive manner that would lead to further insight and understanding. We examine issues where religion and science tend to interdigitate. Another goal was to help students begin to understand ambiguities that arise when religion and science seem to conflict. We take no religious position in this class; the students have a right to their own beliefs and religious views. We emphasize the differences between science and religion. We discuss the conflict between evolution and creationism to focus attention on problems that seem to arise between these two domains.

The majority of our first-year students are creationists whose beliefs span the spectrum from young-earth creationism to "intelligent design" (ID). They have been told evolution is "only a theory" with troubling gaps that scientists do not acknowledge. Part of the problem is that many public schools ignore evolution, and teachers are afraid to broach it. One high school biology teacher in Oregon said he would not touch it with a ten-foot pole. Another said she uses only the word "change"— the word "evolution" is not used in her classes. This seems to be a common experience in our state and perhaps throughout the US. We have found that most of our incoming students were woefully ignorant of evolution. The only place most students were exposed to evolution concepts was in biology classes, but frequently not until they enrolled in college level courses. Even after learning about evolution, some students remained unconvinced. We have students in our program who memorize everything about evolution needed to pass a test, but state flatly they do not "believe in" evolution.

We try to help our students to understand the issues surrounding this divisive artificial controversy. In our classroom, we have advantages over other venues. First, we have a captive audience and adequate time to explain the science behind evolution and argue against creationism. Second, the seminar is not a biology class, so we do not sacrifice critical science content for this issue. Finally, we have the advantage of having sufficient time to discuss evolution and religious beliefs in the classroom; we are not confined to sound bites and a 5- to 20-minute terse counterargument. We have time to educate the audience.

APPROACH TO THE COURSE

Science as a Candle in the Dark examines the issues of evolution versus creationism. Until recently, we presented evidence for evolution, but gave no time for presenting creationist or ID views. Students are assigned readings from Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World (1996), Stephen Jay Gould's Rocks of Ages (1999), Chet Raymo's Skeptics and True Believers (1998), and an article on evolution by Ernst Mayr. This year we are adding Edward J Larson's Summer for the Gods (1997) to provide more extensive historical background. We give about six hours of lecture on the subject of evolution itself including the history of evolutionary thought, as well as evidence for evolution. We present clear arguments for evolution to help students understand what evolution is. We have had success with more than half of our students as evidenced by them questioning creationist explanations because of the class. Unfortunately, we do not persuade them all; many true believers do not budge despite our efforts.

We begin reading from Sagan's book. This taps into students' sense of awe and wonder of their world and begins their education in skepticism. We emphasize the careful and precise use of definitions and concepts. When we bring up the concept of skepticism, we help students understand that skepticism is not pejorative. We teach them to differentiate between skepticism and cynicism as part of their vocabulary. Using Sagan's examples, we illustrate how easy it is for them to be gullible and believe everything they hear or read in popular media. We emphasize that skepticism is a tool to separate factual knowledge and ideas from misinformation. We introduce them to Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit, an excellent tool students can use when evaluating ideas.

In our discussions, we explain that religion is a different domain from science. We classify the paradigms (Gould's Non-Overlapping Magisteria) of religion and science as Type I and Type II teaching disciplines or knowledge. Type I is religious belief or knowledge based in faith, not evidence; it is a philosophical construct evolving from the suppositions of faith. We explain this kind of knowledge is not wrong or bad; it is just a different magisterium from that of science. We give several examples of different kinds of Type I beliefs, but avoid discussing which, if any, are correct, pointing out that such views are typically faith-based and not something we can debate. We emphasize that Type I beliefs cannot be tested using scientific methods.

We define Science as Type II knowledge, which is testable and based in evidence, not faith. We define science as a method of inquiry so it is not misinterpreted as just another religion. We emphasize that science, unlike Type I knowledge, uses skepticism as one of its tools. We define and distinguish between the concepts of hypotheses, theories, and scientific laws. It is too easy for proponents of creationism to talk about creationist or ID theories, implying these are scientific theories, when they are Type I beliefs with no testable supporting hypotheses. Using clear definitions and making sure that students use words correctly in our discussions helps us to clarify real issues in evolutionary science. Clear understanding of terminology sets limits about the discussions that follow.

Using Type I and Type II terminology avoids some of the emotional pitfalls associated with words such as faith, religion,and evolution. This helps defuse the animosity some students have toward science and scientists. Because many fundamentalists see scientists as atheists, we want to avoid the dismissal of our teaching just because students think we do not share the same worldview. We refer to Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God (1999) as evidence that not all scientists are atheists. We try to defuse stereotypes and keep students interested and open to new ideas.

We review several articles that help students to begin developing skeptical skills. They read about and challenge ideas such as therapeutic touch and the use of polygraphs as lie detectors, and learn how courts of law misinterpret science because the judiciary often lacks adequate science knowledge or proper expert testimony.

Assigned readings from Skeptics and True Believers by Chet Raymo gives students a sensitive view of how one scientist looks at the universe from a perspective of gentle skepticism and wonder. The first contact with the subject of evolution is from Raymo's book. We show Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy and Frederic March playing the protagonists. Whereas the film distorts what really took place, it accurately describes the emotional tone permeating the current debate about evolution. We want students to get the drama from the Scopes Trial and understand what creationists mean when they say "Scopes Monkey Trial". True believers in the class squirm with the portrayal of fundamentalists in the film. We take advantage of this discomfort by asking them if the film expresses how they feel. Typically, they deny such feelings, and this gives the opportunity to question what the issues really are. We point out the real issue:Type I beliefs from religion cannot explain ideas and theories in the Type II magisterium of science and vice versa. That issue is blurred in creationist arguments.

Students are then assigned readings from Gould's Rocks of Ages that explain what really happened in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. The farcical part of the issue becomes clearer and students are amused at what really happened. This is followed with six hours of lecture on the history of evolutionary thought, the evidence for evolution, and the history of life on Earth. During and following the presentation, students are encouraged to ask questions about evolution.

Next, students read Greg Easterbrook's article "The new fundamentalism" (2000). In this cleverly written opinion piece, Easterbrook advocates "teaching the controversy", the darling of the ID movement. He also advocates changing the definition of science from natural explanations to logical explanations. He expresses a cynical view of biologists and attacks biologists openly. We ask students to write two responses to the article. One must agree with Easterbrook's contentions and state why. The other takes the opposite position. The purpose is to encourage students to articulate in writing and discussions their understanding of the issues. This assignment helps students evaluate their own beliefs and separate science from religion. It also provides insight into how ID proponents distort and twist arguments about evolution, and gives us the opportunity to help students express their arguments clearly and concisely focusing on careful use of definitions and concepts. We want no blurring of concepts and issues.

ICONS OF EVOLUTION

We show the video Icons of Evolution (based on the book of the same title by Jonathan Wells) to provide an opportunity to take a hard look at ID. This video takes the student to the core of the issues from the perspective of the ID enthusiast. The video is intelligently designed to deceive the viewer. Showing this video to church groups and school boards would likely convince the lay public that evolution is a "theory in crisis". In reality, the video is a mendacious attack on the integrity of scientists and scientific research. We follow the video with an extended discussion of issues raised by Wells and his ID colleagues.

We challenge several basic arguments central to the video's thesis and cast doubt on the veracity of the entire video. Several well-written articles available from the NCSE debunk Icons of Evolution and we use these to help make the case against the video. Two of these examples are familiar to RNCSE readers: the case of Roger DeHart, and the misuse and misinterpretation of data from evolutionary studies.

Roger DeHart, a teacher in the Burlington-Edison school district in Washington state, presented ID and other creationist misinformation about evolution to his high school biology class. Icons of Evolution portrays Dehart as a victim and martyr to generate sympathy and create the view that science and school boards unfairly undermine alternative (creationist) views. The fairness doctrine used by ID advocates plays a major role in this first part of the video. However, the Burlington-Edison Committee for Science Education's website on this issue (http://www.scienceormyth.org) gives a different picture of what happened. DeHart, a die-hard creationist, taught creationism in his classes. The school board and superintendent initially worked out an agreement with DeHart, which he subsequently deliberately broke. Our students, at first sympathetic to DeHart, did not like his duplicity. For Icons to be effective, it is necessary to have sympathy for the fairness argument and for DeHart. We told our students that science has nothing to do with fairness; it is evidence that counts. That approach also helped undermine sympathy for DeHart.

Once sympathy for DeHart is challenged, the students are open to a more critical analysis of the deliberate deceptions, omissions, and distortions of science that make up most of the "evidence" in Icons. For example, the video argues that if antibiotics are removed, bacteria revert to the wild type that lack resistance; therefore bacterial resistance has not "evolved". Whereas bacteria do revert under certain circumstances, Icons ignores evidence showing bacteria subjected to the selective pressure of antibiotics for longer periods of time retain the resistance even after the antibiotics are withdrawn. In essence, research on bacterial resistance to antibiotics supports evolutionary theory and does not contradict it.

APPLICATION TO THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE USA

Scientists are at a disadvantage when ID rears its head in school board meetings and community meetings. Our approach requires a significant amount of time and a willingness of the audience to listen and think about these issues. Addressing these issues in the classroom context is an ideal setting for grappling with the real arguments that ID proponents make. The value of exposing and examining ID arguments in detail was shown during the Kitzmiller trial in Pennsylvania when plaintiff's witnesses were given a chance to testify. The arguments took time, money, and careful examination by a judge who listened. This is a rare opportunity, but we are heartened that whenever anti-evolutionism has had its day in court, the courts have had no difficulty seeing through its pretences to scientific respectability.

In the classroom, however, we can take the time to explore, compare, we are not constrained by time limits for testimony or sound-bite reporting. One advantage is that students begin to understand the difference between scientific arguments and ad hominem attacks. We also engage the emotional responses of people who feel that their belief systems or values are under attack by scientists, especially those who teach evolution. By addressing these issues head on in the classroom, we helped our students see that we were not afraid to confront the issues, but that we wanted to have a conversation that was rational and fair — and one that did not distort the scientific studies that support evolution.

We began teaching this class because we were frustrated with the assault on reason promulgated by creationists. We were concerned that teachers should not be forced to teach science through the lens of creationism. Instead we decided to confront creationism, especially ID, directly and honestly with an understanding that both religion and science are part of human culture, but with the understanding that the two domains do not overlap. We found students are interested in learning about these issues. Not addressing them gives the argument to the creationists. We thought it was time to confront the issue. Most of our students have appreciated the opportunity to learn the facts about evolution and the conflict generated by "intelligent design" proponents and other creationists.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Mark Terry, as well as Glenn Branch and Alan Gishlick from the NCSE, provided essential information and resources for our rebuttal to Icons of Evolution.

References

Easterbrook G. 2000 Aug 8. The new fundamentalism. The Wall Street Journal.

Gould SJ. 1999. Rocks of Ages. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1999.

Larson E. 1997. Summer for the Gods. New York: Basic Books.

Miller KR. 1999. Finding Darwin's God. San Francisco: Cliff Street Books.

Raymo C. 1998. Skeptics and True Believers. New York: Walker and Co.

Sagan C. The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Random House.

About the Author(s): 

Jack Keyes
Department of Biology
Linfield College-Portland Campus
2215 NW Northrup Street
Portland OR 97210-2932
jkeyes@linfield.edu

Nancy Broshot
Department of Biology
Linfield College-Portland Campus
2215 NW Northrup Street
Portland OR 97210-2932
nbrosho@linfield.edu

Jack Keyes is Professor of Biology and Chair of the Science Department at Linfield College in Portland, Oregon. His doctorate is in physiology, and he teaches physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and a liberal arts course, Science as a Candle in the Dark. He is a member of the NCSE.

Nancy Broshot is an Associate Professor of Biology at Linfield College in Portland, Oregon. Her doctorate is in Environmental Sciences – Biological from Portland State University. She teaches Principles of Biology, genetics, evolution, environmental health, and the history of women in science.

Review: Breaking the Spell

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
40–43
Reviewer: 
John C Greene
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Author(s): 
Daniel C Dennett
New York: Viking, 2006. 464 pages

In this sizeable book, Dennett, a philosopher already famous for his earlier work Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), undertakes to convince his readers that religious beliefs have no empirical foundation and hence should be abandoned to prevent religious fanatics from destroying the world in a nuclear holocaust. In developing his argument Dennett relies on two sources: Charles Darwin's theory of organic evolution by natural and sexual selection and Richard Dawkins's theory of cultural evolution by the copying and competition of "memes" (ideas, rhymes, behavior patterns, and so on) which lodge themselves in the brain and compete for survival in human societies. Religious memes — gods, spirits, and so on — have no reality except as memes because their extra-human existence cannot be proved scientifically by observation and experiment.

Armed with this criterion of believability, Dennett presents an imposing array of scientific studies of religion by philosophers of religion, sociologists and psychologists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists. His purpose, he confesses, is to "cajole" his readers into abandoning some of their religious convictions and thereby to alleviate the world's "moral crisis" and make possible scientific solutions to the world's momentous political decisions by "delv[ing] into the evolutionary history of the planet" (p 53).

It then turns out that the reasons we love the things we love — religion, romantic love, folk art and music, sugar and spice, and so on — are not the reasons we give when asked about them. The real reasons, Dennett argues, are evolutionary reasons, free-floating rationales that have been developed by natural selection, that "blind, mechanical, foresightless siftingand- duplicating process that has produced the exquisite design of organisms" (p 79–80).

The second part of Breaking the Spell devotes four chapters to the "current version" of what scientific "proto-theories" tell us about how religions came to be what they are. It all began, says Dennett, with mutations in hominin genes enabling humans to speak. Language then spread rapidly, perhaps by sexual selection (women like to talk and hence would choose talkative males as partners). Language then gave rise to a virtual world of imagination, a world of intentional agents with beliefs and desires, a world gradually shaped by natural selection so as to improve cooperation within, but not among, social groups. Eventually — here Dennett cites Richard Dawkins — these "protomemes" produced what neuroscientists call the "god center" in human brains, paving the way for shamans to take charge as "stewards" of the beliefs and practices of folk religions. As religions were "domesticated", carefully crafted reasons for these beliefs and practices replaced earlier free-floating rationales.

As folk religions evolved into organized religion and priests took over as stewards of the sacred memes, Dennett continues, secrecy, deception, and the devising of doctrines designed to protect the body of beliefs from being discredited by scientific methods emerged, and rival systems of religious memes competed for adherents in the religious market place.

Moving forward in time, Dennett presents David Hume's essay "Of Miracles" and William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience as models of the empirical study of religion. Like Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, Dennett proposes a scientific study of the efficacy of prayer. On this question and on the question whether religion is good for people Dennett finds the evidence "mixed". On the related question whether religion is the foundation of morality he concedes that "nothing approaching a settled consensus among researchers has been achieved" (p 280). At the same time he aligns himself with the "brights" — atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secular humanists and others — who have "liberated" themselves from specifically religious allegiances and who "channel [their] charity and good deeds through secular organizations" because they do not want to be "complicit in giving a good name to religion" (p 300–1).

Dennett then mounts a spirited defense of "scientific materialism" — "the theory that aspires to explain all the phenomena without recourse to anything immaterial." Spirituality, he insists, does not require believing in "anything supernatural". Instead it is grounded in an "awestruck vision of the world" viewed with a "humble curiosity" and a sense of wonders and beauties still to be discovered by scientific inquiry (p 303). The presumed relation between religion and moral goodness, Dennett declares, is an illusion.

In a final chapter, "Now What Do We Do?", Dennett describes his depiction of religion as "a family of 'proto-theories' in need of further development," acknowledging that it "is not yet established and may prove to be wrong"(p 309–10). His only "categorical prescription" is: do more research. To ensure that the scientific researchers are well trained for their task, he suggests that priests, imams, and theologians prepare an "entrance exam" which researchers must pass before beginning their research. They can then tackle such questions as: Is religion the product of blind evolutionary instinct or rational choice? Confessing that he is "deeply moved" by religious ceremonies, music, and art, although unpersuaded by the doctrines which gave birth to them, he concludes with his "central policy recommendation": "... that we gently, firmly educate the people of the world, so that they can make truly informed choices about their lives" (p 339).

Can we accept Dennett's reliance on Dawkins's much disputed theory of "memes" as cultural replicators and the supposed analogy between the copying of "memes" and the replication of biological traits? Dennett acknowledges the objections raised to this analogy by some of the scientists he cites as exemplifying the scientific study of religion and does all he can to answer them in Appendix A of his book. But this is not the only difficulty confronting Dennett. Religions such as Judaism and Christianity are historical religions claiming historical validation by the testimony of witnesses, as, for example, the resurrection of the crucified Jesus.

How would a scientist set out to prove that, in principle, miracles can never occur? The question whether they have occurred in any particular case must be settled by historical evidence,but Dennett shows very little interest in history or in historians like Thomas Cahill, Garry Wills, and John Pairman Brown who have taken the trouble to master the languages and perspectives of the ancient world. Like David Hume, one of his favorite philosophers, he excludes miracles as incompatible with the laws of nature (Hume's criterion) or with "scientific or philosophical materialism" (Dennett's criterion). But there is nothing scientific about materialism as a philosophy, which the Oxford American Dictionary defines as "the opinion that nothing exists but matter and its movements and modifications."

Among philosophers the mathematician- logician-philosopher Alfred North Whitehead took the lead in rejecting the concept of matter and expanding the idea of experience to embrace all natural entities, each entity prehending (taking into its own being the rest of the universe in some degree) in its occasions of experience. Among scientists the population geneticist Sewall Wright concluded that for humans "reality consists primarily of streams of consciousness. This fact must take precedence over the laws of nature of physical science in arriving at a unified philosophy of science, even though it must be largely ignored in science itself" (1977: 80). In science, he adds, the richness of the stream of consciousness is impoverished because the scientist restricts his investigation to "the so-called primary properties of matter" (p 80), which, ironically, can be measured only by voluntary actions. Wright concludes that we must acknowledge the necessity "of dealing with the universe as the world of mind" (p 85).

On the subject of the historical relations between science and religion in the Western world Dennett's remarks are equally sketchy. He concedes that priests collaborated with astronomers and mathematicians in fixing the dates of religious festivals, but he seems unaware of the numerous books and articles on important developments in medieval science by scholars like Marshall Claggett, David Lindberg, and Carl Boyer, or of the religiosity of Johannes Kepler, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton, to say nothing of scientists such as John Dalton, Michael Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, and the early English geologists and paleontologists, or of the polls taken of the religious views of twentieth-century scientists.

Dennett seems equally ignorant of the views of writers like Whitehead, Michael Foster, Reijer Hooykaas, and Denis Alexander who have argued cogently that the Christian world view helped to pave the way for the rise of modern science by conceiving nature as a contingent phenomenon intelligible only by empirical investigation, by raising the status of the manual trades essential to Bacon's experimental method, and by glorifying natural philosophy and natural history as the study of God's works (for example, Alexander 2001).

What, then, shall we conclude about Dennett's wide-ranging effort to discredit religious beliefs in the hope of preventing a nuclear holocaust? Shall we permit his "memes"(that is, ideas) to infect our brains, or shall we use our brains to detect the weaknesses in his argument? No doubt his intentions are good. He believes in spirituality ("whatever that is") but not in a human spirit (something science cannot conceptualize or explain). He concedes that science cannot give us moral values but thinks it can accumulate a "pool of knowledge" from which we can infer "what is just and what is good." Apparently he is not aware of the words of the Hebrew prophet Micah: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God," a prescription which TH Huxley, known as "Darwin's bulldog", considered "a wonderful inspiration of genius". "But what extent of knowledge [Huxley adds], what acuteness of scientific criticism, can touch this? Will the progress of research show us the bounds of the universe and bid us say 'Go to, now we comprehend the infinite?'" For his part Dennett relies on "respect for truth and the tools of truth-finding".

"'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer," wrote Francis Bacon, an early advocate of experimental science. Bacon does not answer Pilate's question, but in an essay "Of Goodness and Goodness of Nature" he links goodness to the character of the Deity and to the theological virtue of charity. He writes: "The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall;the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall: but in charity there is no excess; neither can angel nor man come in danger by it. ... But above all if he [the good man] have St Paul's perfection, ... it shows much of a divine nature, and a kind of conformity with Christ himself" (Bacon 1909). Apparently this early prophet of a new kind of science based on observation and experiment had none of the animus against religion which inspires the author of Breaking the Spell.

References

Alexander D. 2001. Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century. Grand Rapids (MI): Zondervan.

Bacon F. 1909. Of goodness and goodness of nature. In: Eliot CW, editor. Essays Civil and Moral. The Harvard Classics. New York: PF Collier & Son. p 34–6.

Dennett DC. 1995. Darwin's Dangerous Idea. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Wright S. 1977. Panpsychism and science. In: Cobb JB, Griffin DR, editors. Mind in Nature: Essays on the Interface between Mind and Nature. Washington (DC): University Press of America. p 79–88.

About the Author(s): 

John C Greene
651 Sinex Ave, B215
Pacific Grove CA 93950
johngreeneca@infostations.com

John C Greene earned his PhD in American history from Harvard in 1952. He taught at several Midwestern universities before settling down at the University of Connecticut from 1967 to 1987. His book The Death of Adam: Evolution and Its Impact On Western Thought (Ames [IA]: Iowa State University Press, 1959) was the first of several books on the rise and development of evolutionary thought, climaxed with Debating Darwin: Adventures of a Scholar (Claremont [CA]: Regina Books, 1999).

Review: 40 Days and 40 Nights

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
44–45
Reviewer: 
Lauri Lebo
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania
Author(s): 
Matthew Chapman
New York: Collins, 2007. 272 pages
One of the most interesting aspects of the "intelligent design" battle that waged in the now famous community of Dover, Pennsylvania, was watching the national media at work. For when journalists descend on a small town, the local press tends to view the impending deluge of coverage cautiously and with trepidation.

In covering stories over the years that have drawn wide media attention, my fellow journalists and I have witnessed the routine. Prominent reporter flies into town, spends a few hours observing us as if we are rare and exotic zoo animals. Reporter jumps back on plane, tapping away on laptop a collection of anecdotes, using smug shorthand that all too often passes for insight. With sweeping generalizations, everyone in the town becomes the same. We locals have collected our favorites of such stereotypical assertions. The one I most enjoy is from a 2001 Time story about York, a town only a few miles from Dover. The writer referred to the city as "a hard-knock river town" — even though the closest river, the Susquehanna, is twelve miles away.

So when the national and international spotlight shone on Dover, those of us reporters who had been covering the story from the beginning were wary. In the end, we need not have been. For the most part, I found the national coverage to be thankfully free of such broad-brush stereotypes that plague this kind of parachute journalism.

Perhaps the best evidence of this is the trio of recently released books about the trial. Edward Humes, the author of Monkey Girl (New York: Ecco, 2007), and Gordy Slack, who penned The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), have written competent accounts. The third book, 40 Days and 40 Nights, was written by Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. The title is a reference to the trial's span of time, as well as ... well, you already know ... the number of days God had it rain on the world to cause the Noachian Flood.

Readers of RNCSE know well the details of the first, and likely only, constitutional challenge of "intelligent design". The Dover Area School Board, in the fall of 2004, required that 9th-grade biology students hear a four-paragraph statement that said evolution "was just a theory" and that "intelligent design" is "an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view." Students were also referred to the pro-"intelligent design" textbook, published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, Of Pandas and People. Eleven parents, who viewed the statement as an assault on the First Amendment's prohibition of governmental advocacy of religion, sued the district.

The resulting six-week trial was a gripping interplay of fascinating scientific testimony, intelligent design exposed as fraud, and moving accounts by parents, teachers and yes, reporters, who described the divisiveness that the school board's actions inflicted on the community.

Judge John E Jones III, in a thoughtful and precise 139-page opinion, not only chided the "breathtaking inanity" of the school board members who lied under oath, but ruled that "intelligent design" was a religiously based concept and was not science.

As I covered the trial, I had taken the view of an insider looking out and wondered how we are perceived. Chapman, as a native Briton, is the consummate outsider looking in, wondering who we are and what motivates us.

Kevin Padian, president of NCSE's board of directors and one of the trial's expert witnesses, wrote in his review in Nature (2007; 448: 253-4) of the Dover books, "Is the American tradition one of philosophical and political idealists, or of persecuted pilgrims who then turn around and ostracize anyone who doesn't agree with them?"

It is a great question and Chapman explores it quite effectively. In a chapter recounting the trial testimony of Georgetown University theologian John Haught, Chapman writes of the joining of forces between conservative Protestants and Catholics. "Fundamentalists of all kinds have taken the idea of God and whittled it down into an ecumenical baseball bat which all can use to crack the heads of those they fear or hate. In the war against materialism, all allies are welcome" (p 117).

Perhaps the national media was so drawn to the story because what took place in Dover seems to serve as a reflection of what is playing out in Washington DC and across the country. Chapman frequently references this parallel. As he writes about Dover's school board president Alan Bonsell, "He reminded me of President Bush in some ways. His faith seemed to have given him a confidence unwarranted by the facts" (p 25).

Chapman genuinely seems to want to understand the issues that played out in Dover and that led to the "intelligent design" showdown. At the beginning, he makes it clear that he develops a real affection for the characters that have made this story both so endearing and so compelling. He also seems to grasp, as evidenced in his account, that to take one person out of the story no doubt would have changed the story remarkably. In Chapman's mind, everyone seems to have played a significant part, even Matthew McElvenny, the trial's technology specialist, who delivered the graphics and exhibits each day onto a courtroom screen with nonplussed precision. Chapman calls McElvenny "the Wizard of Oz".

In his interviews, Chapman manages to uncover enticing tidbits of information. In his most delightful chapter, "Marilyn Monroe is alive and well," he writes about Angie Yingling, one of the school board members who, at first, supported the ID policy. The interview careens about like a roller coaster, and Chapman just holds on tight and enjoys the ride.

Chapman can also deliver an amusing turn of phrase and apt descriptions of the players. His summation of Nick Matzke, one of the plaintiffs' NCSE advisors, is dead-on and funny — although his description of plaintiffs' attorney Eric Rothschild, in comparing him to a defense attorney with nine children, as "the more sperm-conservative Jew" is a bit … hmm, how to describe … icky?

Still, Chapman's strength is that he grasps that perhaps the truth is more complicated and messy than the either/or proposition that Padian suggests — that the American tradition is neither solely one of persecuted and self-righteous pilgrims, nor one of tolerant idealists. For within every small town, there are both.

About the Author(s): 

Lauri Lebo
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org


Lauri Lebo covered Kitzmiller v Dover for the York Daily Record. She has also written a book about Dover's intelligent design battle, The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America (New York: The New Press, 2008).

Review: Origins of Life

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
45–48
Reviewer: 
Gary S Hurd
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolution Models Face Off
Author(s): 
Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross
Colorado Springs (CO): NavPress, 2004. 298 pages
The standing of evolutionary biology is independent of the origin of life. This has been true from the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859. In that work, Darwin allotted less than a page toward the end of 670 pages of text to the question. The last two sentences of the sixth edition read:
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
class="rncse"> And in an 1871 letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker, Darwin wrote:
It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, &c., present, that a proteine [sic] compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.
class="rncse"> Darwin added, "It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter."

However, faced with mounting evidence in support of evolutionary biology coming from scientific fields from genetics to paleontology, the origin of life has become an obsession with creationists who assert that science's failure to create life de novo is "proof" of supernatural creation. The first book-length argument of this sort was published in 1984. Written by Charles B Thaxton, Walter L Bradley and Roger L Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin argued that there is a scientific "crisis" in origin-of-life research, the Miller-Urey experiment was actually a failure, the early earth was oxidized and thus incapable of supporting amino acid synthesis, scientists are "dogmatic materialists" and manipulate their experiments to produce their desired results, and the second law of thermodynamics requires that order cannot appear spontaneously. There is even the introduction of a language model of DNA coupled to an "information entropy" argument.

Bradley and Thaxton reprised their information argument in 1994 for a book edited by Biola University philosophy professor JP Moreland entitled The Creation Hypothesis. Prominently displayed on the cover of the book are the names of Hugh Ross and the young William Dembski. In their chapter, "Information and the Origin of Life" (p 173-210), Bradley and Thaxton introduce the notion that "design detection" was similar to archaeology, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) particularly as depicted in Carl Sagan's fiction, and forensic investigations. They also apply Leslie Orgel's 1973 concept of "specified complexity" to life and rephrase it as a sort of measure of information. In short, Bradley and Thaxton's short chapter on the origin of life set the agenda for William Dembski's whole career. Similarly, The Mystery of Life's Origin is a cornerstone of Rana and Ross's book.

One of the goals of Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off, according to the introduction, is to update The Mystery of Life's Origin. Fazale Rana has a chemistry PhD from Ohio State, and Hugh Ross has his PhD from the University of Toronto in astronomy. Together, they are leaders of Reasons to Believe (RTB), an old-earth creationist organization founded by Ross. Their strong arguments regarding the age of the earth are welcome antidotes to young-earth dogmas promoted by such outfits as Answers in Genesis. Rana and Ross are most certainly creationists, however, asserting that the biblical God actively intervenes in biology to "... create each and every new species of life on Earth"; in particular, "God supernaturally and miraculously created Adam from the 'dust of the earth' ..." (http://www.reasons.org/about/8_myths_about_rtb.shtml). (See Numbers 1993 and Scott 2005 for a discussion of the various flavors of American creationism.)

The errors begin immediately. There are errors of fact, logic, and scholarship. There is a standard dose of quote mining mixed in as well. The creationists' current favorite scientists to quote-mine on the origin of life are Robert Shapiro (a creationist's favorite since his 1986 book), Peter Ward (paydirt from the 2000 book Rare Earth co-written with Donald Brownlee), and Hubert Yockey (possibly the mother lode, with half a dozen citations). Origins of Life also offers ample cheap innuendo that scientists lack integrity, are "desperate," and "... are keeping quiet ..." about the so-called research failures Rana and Ross claim to expose. All this before the end of chapter 1.

More importantly, the "RTB Model" predictions offered by Rana and Ross are not and cannot be differentiated from the predictions of modern origin-of-life research when they are testable at all. The creationist face of the subtitle's "face off" is a hollow mask. The proffered predictions from this "biblical model" appear on pages 43-4:
1. Life appeared early in Earth's history while the planet was still in its primordial state.
2. Life originated in and persisted through the hostile conditions of early Earth.
3. Life originated abruptly.
4. Earth's first life displays complexity.
5. Life is complex in its minimal form.
6. Life's chemistry displays hallmark characteristics of design.
7. First life was qualitatively different from life that came into existence on creation days three, five, and six.
8. A purpose can be postulated for life's early appearance on Earth.
class="rncse"> Predictions 1-3 are identical with those of origin-of-life research. From geochemistry, it is known that the chemical signatures of life are present in the earth's oldest sedimentary rock (Rosing 1999, which is actually cited by Rana and Ross). A decade earlier than Rana and Ross, and well before Rosing's confirmation, Antonio Lazcano and Stanley Miller predicted that life appeared in as little as 10 million years following the establishment of favorable conditions (Lazcano and Miller 1994, 1996). Part of the second RTB prediction is trivial — life today began at some point and then persisted. The rest — the notion that the early earth was particularly hostile to life — is absurd. Modern life is found from alkaline to acidic conditions, from below freezing to near boiling temperatures, from harsh sunlight to total darkness, from alpine lakes and hyper-salty lagoons to the driest sands, in solid rock miles beneath the surface, and in forms dependent on molecular oxygen and in others destroyed by it.

The term "specified complexity" was coined by Leslie Orgel in his 1973 book The Origins of Life: Molecules and Natural Selection. He wanted to draw the distinction between life and the non-living organization of crystals, which lack complexity, and non-living complex organic aggregates such as tars, which lack organization (that is, specificity). Given the importance that Rana and Ross give this notion of complexity in their model predictions 4 and 5, and their frequent call on "complex organization" and "function", I am unable to understand why they failed to explore its meaning. Equally puzzling is why they failed to mention that this was a central part of our scientific exploration of life for over 30 years. Predictions 4 and 5 can be dismissed.

Prediction 6, presenting the chemical "hallmark characteristics of design," would be an astounding breakthrough, and something that "intelligent design" creationists have all failed to provide in spite of a decade of promises. Alas, Rana and Ross also demur, apologizing that such a difficult topic is beyond the scope of their book, and promising a future book that will present "a comprehensive case for biochemical design" (page 43).

Their last two "predictions" are no such thing. They are at most scriptural interpretations or theological directives and leave no room for independent confirmation of any kind. Rana and Ross provide no means to differentiate their creationism from mainstream science, and try to usurp long-established scientific results for their "biblical model".

Lacking any valid predictions from the RTB model, there was little reason for me to persevere with the book, so I attribute my continued reading to masochism. The situation was not improved when I reached the "predictions" Rana and Ross claimed are the logical scientific consequences of origin-of-life research. These are listed below from pages 58-60:
1. Chemical pathways produced life's building blocks.
2. Chemical pathways yielded complex biomolecules.
3. The chemical pathways that yielded life's building blocks and complex molecular constituents operated in early Earth's conditions.
4. Sufficiently placid chemical and physical conditions existed on early Earth for long periods of time.
5. Geochemical evidence for a prebiotic soup exists in Earth's earliest rocks.
6. Life appeared gradually on Earth over a long period of time.
7. The origin of life occurred only once on Earth.
8. Earth's first life was simple.
9. Life in its most minimal form is demonstrably simple.
class="rncse"> The first "prediction" is amply demonstrated experimentally and by direct observations from geochemistry and astrochemistry. The second claim seems innocuous; after all, complex biochemicals are produced everyday by chemical pathways. However, Rana and Ross augment the second claim by explaining that it means that DNA, RNA, proteins, membranes, and cell walls "condensed" from the prebiotic environment. This does considerable violence to actual origin-of-life research and theory, which offer specific hypotheses about how such biomolecules formed and outlines cumulative sequences, rather than proposing life simply "condenses".

The third claim, that a rich chemistry existed under early earth conditions, is harmless enough until Rana and Ross piggyback the false assertions of their fourth prediction: The claims that modern origin-of-life researchers imagine a "placid" early environment for "long periods of time" and that such an environment would be favorable for the origin of life are unfounded. Nor are they necessary corollaries to the proposed third prediction.

The fifth proposed consequence for a natural origin of life, that some original remnant of the prebiotic environment must exist, is neither necessary nor cogent. However, such an evidentiary demand can be satisfied in two obvious ways. First, there are multiple examples of amino acids, sugars, and even vesicle-forming lipids from products extracted from meteors, and detected in space by spectroscopy. These are the least altered fragments of our ancient solar system. As it turns out, Rana and Ross cite a small part of this literature, only to dismiss it. Second, isotopic studies provide some indications that even under the horribly destructive dynamics of the earth, some vestige could still exist (Pavlov and others 2001).

Their sixth proposed "scientific prediction" is simply untrue, as is their seventh. It is in fact an area of considerable research and discussion whether there were multiple origins of life, and whether this can ever be untangled. Work by Carl Woese (especially 1998, 2002) argues strongly that multiple origins will never be disentangled. It is with a respect bordering on awe that I contemplate how Charles Darwin allowed for this in the last page of his Origin of Species, writing that life was originally breathed "... into a few forms or into one."

Rana and Ross's claim that science predicts first life to be "simple" is incoherent because they have never defined complexity. The scientific conception of life has always entailed complexity, and Rana and Ross's argument cannot be evaluated without some anchor to make it meaningful. According to the scientific literature, the earliest life was simple compared with later life, and complex compared to most chemistry. Efforts are under way to find, as well as to theoretically predict, the minimal complexity of a living organism, and these results will also inform origin-of-life research.

One of the frustrations reviewing a book one finds fault with is suppressing the desire to mention all its errors, or worse attempting to correct them. Regarding Rana and Ross, this would require a longer work than their original. Failing that, a modest goal is to ask if they have met the goals they set forth in the introduction to their book. First, they wished to update the creationist classic The Mystery of Life's Origin. Second, they wished to set out their model of the origin of life. A striking departure from most creationist approaches is that Rana and Ross promise explicit predictions for a "face off" with mainstream scientific theory.

So how did Rana and Ross fare in their efforts to update The Mystery of Life's Origin? They have failed. They have many references more recent than 1984, but no new ideas. Many references they do give are incorrect, incomplete, or misinterpreted. Every old objection raised by Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen is recycled by Rana and Ross — from the idea that the second law of thermodynamics prohibits life to the claim that there is no explanation for chiral biomolecules, there is nothing new.

The origin-of-life model offered by Rana and Ross fails on two grounds. First, their biblical model slips in considerable scientific material without acknowledgment, and they then failed to present any evidence for those parts that are original. Second, they have offered a caricature of origin-of-life research in their so-called "naturalistic predictions." The greatest difference of course is that science never appeals to divine intervention to do the heavy lifting.

Do we know how life originated on earth? No. Is every one of the innumerable chemical and geological events that led to the origin of life preserved? No. Is this "proof" of a supernatural origin of life? No. Nevertheless, the origin of life will be the last refuge for "God of the gaps" arguments in decades to come.

References



Lazcano A, Miller SL. 1994. How long did it take for life to begin and evolve to cyanobacteria? Journal of Molecular Evolution 39 (6): 546-54.

Lazcano A, Miller SL. 1996. The origin and early evolution of life: Prebiotic chemistry, the pre-RNA world, and time. Cell 85: 793-8.

Moreland JP, editor. 1994. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for the Intelligent Designer. Downers Grove (IL): InterVarsity Press.

Numbers RL. 1993. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.

Orgel L. 1973. The Origins of Life: Molecules and Natural Selection. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Pavlov A, Kasting JK, Eigenbrode JL, Freeman KH. 2001. Organic haze in Earth's early atmosphere: Source of low-13C Late Archean kerogens? Geology 29 (11): 1003-6.

Rosing TM. 1999. 13C-depleted carbon microparticles in >3700-Ma sea-floor sedimentary rocks from west Greenland. Science 283 (5402): 674-6.

Shapiro R. 1986. Origins: A Skeptics Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth. New York: Summit Books.

Scott EC. 2005. Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.

Thaxton CB, Bradley WL, Olsen RL. 1984. The Mystery of Life's Origin. New York: Philosophical Library.

Woese C. 1998. The universal ancestor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 95 (12): 6854-9.

Woese C. 2002. On the evolution of cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 99 (13): 8742-7.

About the Author(s): 
Gary S Hurd
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Gary S Hurd is a scientist with interests in anthropology, archaeology, and forensic taphonomy; he was formerly Curator of Anthropology and Director of Education for the Orange County (California) Natural History Museum. His contribution to Why Intelligent Design Fails (New Brunswick [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, 2004), edited by Matt Young and Taner Edis, was cited in the Kitzmiller decision.

Review: Encyclopedia of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
48–49
Reviewer: 
Tim M Berra
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Encyclopedia of Evolution
Author(s): 
Stanley A Rice
New York: Facts On File, 2007 (hardcover)
New York: Checkmark, 2007 (paperback)
468 pages
It is not often that one reads an encyclopedia from cover to cover, but this task was more enjoyable than onerous. I benefited from reading articles on Eugenics, Evolutionary Ethics, Evolutionary Medicine, The Evolution of Intelligence, The Evolution of Language Ability and many other topics. There is much to commend this book, not the least of which is its dedication to Emma Darwin, Charles's devoted wife and caregiver. There are 215 entries, including biographical sketches of 47 scientists from Louis Agassiz to Sewall Wright that capture the essence of a person's contribution to evolutionary science. Each topic begins with its definition followed by details. Many entries, such as Flores Island People, Galápagos Islands, and Macroevolution are treated in up to three pages, while Lysenkoism, Red Queen Hypothesis, and Uniformitarianism are covered on a single page. Major topics such as Charles Darwin, Continental Drift, and Natural Selection are given five or six pages, and the Scientific Method merits seven pages and includes appropriate comments on the Bush Administration's abuse of science. There is a "Further Reading" section for each entry. Many articles are illustrated with helpful black and white drawings or photographs. There are cross-references in each entry. For example, the Donald Johanson sketch leads the reader to Australopithecines, Hominin, Bipedalism, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Homo Habilis. Other subjects can be located via the index. There is no entry for memes, but the index directs the reader to the Richard Dawkins account where memes are explained. The geological periods are treated in a uniform style that includes dates, climate, continents, marine life, terrestrial plants and animals, and extinctions.

The encyclopedia was written by a very well-read botanist who announces his Christianity in the introduction, but does not allow faith to overrule science. His position is elaborated in one of five boxed essays entitled "Can An Evolutionary Scientist Be Religious?" He says "yes," but he never details how to reconcile the two, nor discusses why he thinks it would be necessary. The other essays include "How Much Do Genes Control Human Behavior?", "What Are the 'Ghosts of Evolution'?", "Why Do Humans Die?", and "Are Humans Alone in the Universe?'. The three-page Scopes Trial entry has a fascinating one-page box comparing the actual trial with the 1960 film, Inherit the Wind.

The Charles Darwin biographical sketch hits all the important highlights. The writing is at times thoughtful ("Charles Darwin was to put his inherited wealth to better use than perhaps anyone ever has") and occasionally simplistic ("He was attracted to Emma Wedgwood, who also happened to be his cousin, and she liked him as well, and they were married"). I have a few quibbles as with the statement that Fitzroy chose Darwin for the Beagle voyage because of the shape of his nose. Actually, Fitzroy the phrenologist nearly rejected Darwin, but Darwin convinced him that "my nose had spoken falsely" (Barlow 1958: 72). The suggestion is planted that the death of Annie, Darwin's eldest daughter, might have been due to inbreeding, but she actually succumbed to tuberculosis (consumption) (Keynes 2001: 219).

There is a presumable typo on p 32 where Australopithecus afarensis is substituted for A africanus, which could lead to confusion. No phylogenetic diagrams are given in the discussions of Australopithecus or Homo and some of the more recent books are not cited (Zimmer 2005). As an ichthyologist I am underwhelmed by the Evolution of Fishes article. It does not say much about the group of vertebrates that has more members than all other vertebrate classes combined. Rice stated that tetrapods evolved from crossopterygians rather than lungfishes as generally thought today, and he does not cite any major ichthyological texts. Some accounts read like the synthesis that comes from consulting a few sources, but that is to be expected in a single-author work of this scope for the general public. Rice puts an astonishing amount of important information at one's fingertips.

In the Alfred Russel Wallace section, Rice confused Borneo and Sulawesi (Celebes) and garbled the mammalian examples. Wallace's Line passes between Bali and Lombock and Borneo and Sulawesi (Berra 2001). To the west of the line (Bali and Borneo) is the Oriental biogeographical realm and to the east (Lombock and Sulawesi) is the Australian realm. Sulawesi has at least one species of marsupial; Borneo has none (Flannery 1995). Five species of native felids occur on Borneo (but not tigers) while no native cats occur on Sulawesi (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).

The appendix is a masterful 14-page, chapter-by-chapter summary of the sixth edition of Origin of Species.

There is relatively little overlap between accounts of the same subject in Milner's Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990) and the current volume. Reading both accounts of Robert Chambers, for example, will provide more information and insight than reading only one. Many topics treated in one of the encyclopedias are not mentioned in the other, so even if Milner's book is in your library, you still need Rice's encyclopedia. Pagel's (2002) Encyclopedia of Evolution is a two-volume, multi-authored work of 1205 pages, which, naturally, can incorporate more details.

Rice's coverage is broad, interesting, relevant, and informative. If you want examples of Convergent Evolution or a primer on Cladistics, Coevolution, or Creationism, this is a good place to begin. Reading this book would be excellent preparation for graduate school general exams. It can serve as a ready reference for science journalists, teachers, school board members, and the intelligent layperson. I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and at $24.95, the paperback version is good value.

References



Barlow N, ed. 1958. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882, with Original Omissions Restored. New York: WW Norton.

Berra TM. 2001. Freshwater Fish Distribution. San Diego: Academic Press.

Flannery T. 1995. Mammals of the South-West Pacific & Moluccan Islands. Ithaca (NY): Cornell University Press.

Keynes R. 2001. Darwin, His Daughter & Human Evolution. New York: Riverhead Books.

Milner R. 1990. The Encyclopedia of Evolution. New York: Facts on File.

Pagel M, editor. 2002. Encyclopedia of Evolution. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sunquist M, Sunquist F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Zimmer C. 2005. Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Books.

About the Author(s): 
Tim M Berra
Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology
The Ohio State University
Mansfield OH 44906
berra.1@osu.edu

Tim M Berra is Professor Emeritus at the Ohio State University and Research Associate at the Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory in Darwin, Australia. He is the author of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (Stanford [CA]: Stanford University Press, 1990) as well as A Natural History of Australia (San Diego: Academic Press, 1998) and Freshwater Fish Distribution (San Diego: Academic Press, 2001).

Review: An Introduction to Biological Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
49–50
Reviewer: 
Werner G Heim
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
An Introduction to Biological Evolution
Author(s): 
Kenneth V Kardong
Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. 322 pages.

There are several excellent textbooks on the market for upperlevel courses on evolution for biology majors in colleges and universities, but there are few recent books suitable for a class meant for general liberal arts students or for intelligent adult readers curious about the subject underlying all of modern biology. Kardong's An Introduction to Biological Evolution begins to fill the gap. It covers most aspects of the science of evolution, gives an excellent historical introduction, and sometimes points out the broader societal implications of particular aspects.

After a historical introduction, Kardong lays the groundwork with chapters on time and on heredity. The origin of life is covered only briefly, but the course of evolutionary change over time is well presented, perhaps somewhat incongruously in the same chapter with discussions of genetic coding, protein formation, and cellular metabolism. A strong chapter on the evidence for evolution is perhaps placed somewhat too early in the book, before most of the evolutionary mechanism has been discussed. The core material — selection, variation, and speciation — is handled well and in some detail. Perhaps the weakest part of the book is a chapter on life history because the reader might not see the relation of this subject to the evolution process.

The two chapters on human evolution present the material clearly while steering a middle course between the whirlpools of views among paleoanthropological experts. While the dispersal of Homo sapiens from Africa is well covered, there is no mention of the genetic tools by which some of these migration paths are studied. One learns little of such techniques as blood typing, haplotyping, mitochrondrial DNA analysis, X- and Y-chromosome analysis, and so on, as tools for migration studies or intra-specific evolution.

A final chapter, "Evolutionary biology: Today and beyond", tells many interesting biological tales but does not always show their evolutionary components. A discussion of the evolutionary patterns seen in the HIV or flu viruses would have helped bring evolutionary biology into the reader's life. Three short appendices — on cell division, taxonomy, and molecular clocks — contain materials of a slightly more technical nature. A glossary helps with the specialized terminology.

There is, however, a glaring omission: The book says virtually nothing concerning the attacks made and being made on the concept of evolution and on the unhindered teaching of this science. Surely an educated citizen should know something of the groups in our society that are attempting to bring their supernaturally-based views into the biological sciences classroom. Equally important, the reader should learn to recognize the axioms and procedures of science so that he or she cannot be fooled by those who falsely claim that their views are equally good science as alternatives to evolutionary biology. The intended readers of this book are or will shortly be the votes who elect members of school boards, state legislators, and governors. If these voters cannot distinguish good science from bad or from nonscience, it will not be surprising if their children will be taught something other than good biology.

The author deliberately chose to use colloquial language, sometimes resulting in the use of fifty words where forty might suffice, but making for easy reading. He does not shy away from technical terms when these are needed. The sequence of topics is suitable for class use without major rearrangement and the general continuity is good. While there are the usual misprints and minor problems, the material is, with perhaps a very few exceptions,accurate and properly presented. The black-and-white illustrations are mostly clear and helpful.

In summary, we have here a fine book suitable for the layperson, whether student or not, but one that could be substantially improved in an anticipated second edition.

About the Author(s): 

Werner G Heim
Biology Department
The Colorado College
14 E Cache La Poudre
Colorado Springs CO 80903-3298
WHeim@ColoradoCollege.edu

Werner G Heim is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Colorado College.

Review: The Man Who Found Time

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
51–52
Reviewer: 
William Parkinson
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton And The Discovery Of The Earth's Antiquity
Author(s): 
Jack Repcheck
New York: Perseus Publishing, 2003. 256 pages.

Jack Repcheck's book is a well-written account of the career and times of James Hutton. Hutton, a well-known figure in geological circles, is the man credited with discovering so-called Deep Time. Unfortunately, Hutton's contributions to science, unlike those of Charles Lyell, remain unrecognized by the general public. Repcheck's stated task is to give Hutton his due by enlightening the general public about Hutton's seminal contribution to our understanding of earth history.

As Repcheck paints his portrait of Hutton, he takes us through the period of the Scottish Enlightenment and the history of Scotland at that time. Repcheck does a decent job at situating Hutton in his proper cultural and historical context. Hutton, as Repcheck notes, was part of the Scottish Enlightenment, one of the most astonishing periods of original thought and intellectual contribution in recorded history (earning Edinburgh the moniker of "the Athens of the North"). Other figures of this remarkable era in Scotland are the economist Adam Smith, the sociologist Adam Ferguson, the philosopher and historian David Hume, the poet Robert Burns, the novelist Sir Walter Scott, and the great chemist Joseph Black.

Beyond the general background material of Hutton's life, Repcheck also introduces the reader to Hutton's scientific contributions. First, Repcheck escorts his readers deftly through the phase of Hutton's life when he discovered the rock cycle. Hutton was the first to recognize the importance of erosion in the rock cycle, and the place of eroded sediments in producing sedimentary rocks. Hutton was also the first to recognize igneous intrusion in rocks (such as sills and dykes). At the time, many of his conclusions were quite controversial.

More importantly, though, Repcheck gives a good account of Hutton's discovery of an important geological outcrop and its implications: Siccar Point, Berwickshire, in southern Scotland. This outcrop may be called the "other Rock of Ages", for it was here that Hutton was able to convince his skeptics of the antiquity of the earth. This outcrop is composed of Silurian greywacke (known as "schistus" to Hutton) of marine origin (established by the fossils contained in the greywacke), tilted into a vertical orientation. It forms an angular unconformity (that is, two stratified rock units, with the lower one being tilted and eroded while the upper unit, deposited on the lower unit, is at a lower angle than the bottom unit) with the overlying Old Red Sandstone, also of marine origin (again established by fossils), in a normal horizontal position above it.

Hutton, using common sense and a few established principles, was able to figure out the general sequence that produced this particular rock outcrop. The Silurian greywacke had been deposited horizontally in a marine environment, which, Hutton reckoned, took thousands of years to accomplish. Thousands of years more was needed to accumulate enough sediment over this strata to cause the kind of pressure and heat necessary to lithify the graywacke. Later, heat and other additional forces caused the originally horizontal strata to be contorted and lifted up into a vertical plane. The once-submerged rock was then uplifted out of the water and erosion began immediately to wear at the graywacke. Once again the graywacke was submerged under the water (either through subsidence of the land or through a transgression from the sea) and the Old Red Sandstone, which contains a different assortment of fossilized marine life, as well as sediments derived from a different rock source,was laid down on top of the Silurian greywacke. The Old Red Sandstone and the Silurian greywacke that we see today were both covered with sufficient sediment to produce the necessary heat and pressure to lithify the Old Red Sandstone. Finally, both the Silurian greywacke and the Old Red Sandstone (which is today recognized as Devonian in age) were lifted up and exposed to the processes of erosion (for a photograph of the Siccar Point outcrop, see Doyle and others [2001: 20]).

As he worked out the sequence of events for Siccar Point, Hutton realized that this one outcrop could not have formed in the single year of the Flood, or even in the 6000 years generally believed to have transpired since the beginning of Creation. It was an astonishing conclusion! Hutton would later take those who doubted his claims to Siccar Point and use it as an incontrovertible testimony to the antiquity of the earth. It was at Siccar Point that biblical chronology fell to the observations of science, and for that reason alone, it deserves to be better known among the general public.

As for the influence of Hutton's observations, they were enormous, as Repcheck observes. In the end it was Charles Lyell who recognized the significance of Hutton's work, reserving a place of honor for Hutton in his historic textbook Principles of Geology. Lyell was taken to Siccar Point after Hutton's death by Hutton's friend James Hall — and Siccar Point worked its magic once again. Lyell became a believer of Hutton's claims. Later, a young Charles Darwin read Lyell, on his trip to the Galápagos Islands, and recognized the significance of Hutton's and Lyell's work for his own developing theory of evolution. Simply put, without Hutton's contribution, we would never have had the theory of evolution from Darwin.

It is when discussing the reception of Hutton's work, in chapters 8–10, that the book really shines. Repcheck chronicles in detail the reception of Hutton's presentation to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in March 1785 and his battle to win over his skeptics; he then progresses to the time when Darwin read Lyell's discussion of Hutton and accepted the conclusions of both men. The three chapters are really the heart of the book and make for engaging reading.

Repcheck documents the resistance to Hutton's ideas both from those still committed to biblical literalism and from the Neptunists, proponents of Abraham Gottlob Werner's idea that the rocks found in the present era were revealed when a "universal ocean" that formerly covered the whole world receded.

I must level one criticism, however. Although Repcheck discusses some of the scientific opposition to Hutton's ideas, he fails to consider the position of the Church of England or the Church of Scotland concerning Hutton. This leaves several questions unaddressed such as: Did the Church of Scotland weigh in on the controversy surrounding Hutton? What about other denominations? What about the so-called chattering classes? Did they accept Hutton's ideas, condemn them, or just ignore them? From the perspective of those interested in church/science issues, this is an unfortunate gap in Repcheck's research. Understanding the interactions with the religious authorities is vital to Hutton's story, and regrettably Repcheck has not included this dimension.

Reference

Doyle P, Bennett MR, Baxter AN. 2001. The Key to Earth History: An Introduction to Stratigraphy. 2nd ed. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

About the Author(s): 

William Parkinson 3415 Bryce Drive Lake Stevens WA 98258 ameradian1@aol.com

William Parkinson received his BS in biology from SUNY Albany in 1990 and his PhD in religion from the University of Edinburgh in 2002.

Review: Darwin in the Genome

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
52–53
Reviewer: 
Finn Pond
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin in the Genome: Molecular Strategies in Biological Evolution
Author(s): 
Lynn Helena Caporale
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. 245 pages.

What if mutations are not random? A mechanism that curtails mutation in critical housekeeping genes while allowing exploratory mutations in certain contingency genes would be a boon to a population of organisms. In a highly variable or changing environment, directed mutations could provide an ideal survival strategy; a species could in a sense regulate its own evolution, not leaving its fate entirely to chance. Is this possible? Molecular biologist Lynn Helena Caporale, in her book Darwin in the Genome: Molecular Strategies in Biological Evolution, argues that the mechanisms by which genetic variation occur are themselves subject to natural selection. The result, she contends, is that genomes have evolved mechanisms that enhance the possibilities for beneficial mutations and genomic changes, while limiting changes that are likely to be detrimental. In other words, organisms have evolved mechanisms to harness genetic change to their advantage.

Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin laid the foundation for a scientific understanding of biological evolution. Darwin built a strong case for the common ancestry of living organisms and gave biologists a mechanism to explain the vast diversity of life; the process of natural selection is his legacy.

Evolutionary theory has not remained static, however. In the first half of the twentieth century, new insights about mutation and the genetics of variation revitalized Darwinism, leading to the development of powerful mathematical approaches to study evolution. Neo-Darwinism, as the synthesis of genetics and natural selection came to be labeled, possessed great explanatory power and continues to dominate much of evolutionary thought. In this view, heritable variations, the raw material for evolution, result from random mutations in a population. Biotic and physical constraints, acting through natural selection, then shape the evolution of a population in a non-random way.

During the past twenty or more years, we have seen an explosion of molecular and biochemical investigations into the nature of genetic systems. Our understanding of how information is stored, maintained,retrieved,and transmitted has changed considerably as a result of genome exploration. Biologists are now more hesitant to talk about "junk DNA", for there are clear examples of non-protein-coding, repetitive DNA sequences that modulate gene expression. We now recognize a variety of small RNA molecules that affect genomic interpretation. We have documented genomic reorganizations by retroviruses and transposons. We now know that the structure of DNA is not uniform throughout a genome, and we have learned that the rate, type, extent, and location of DNA mutations can vary within a given genome.

These new understandings have led some biologists to suggest that the traditional gradualism of neo-Darwinism may not be the only pattern of biological evolution, and that speciation might in some instances have occurred quickly and dramatically through processes such as endosymbiosis, horizontal gene flow, or genomic reorganization by retroviruses.

Caporale presents examples of both non-random and large-scale genomic changes. She describes, for example, how mutational hot spots in genes for vertebrate antibodies can enhance the capabilities of our immune system and how similar hot spots in cone snail toxin genes expand their arsenal of toxic weaponry. Caporale argues that some DNA sequences are more prone to mutational events because of their chemical nature and the biochemistry of DNA replication machinery. She points out that blocks of genetic information can be shuffled within a genome and even passed to the genome of another species. The strength of her book is in collecting and detailing relevant examples from the literature. She maintains throughout that not all mutations are random and that "focused, regulated variation is biochemically possible."

Caporale's idea of "variation-targeting mechanisms" has been criticized for implying foresight in the selection process. She argues,however, that naturalistic mechanisms can explain what appears to be directed purposeful mutation. Caporale offers an approach to working out the molecular and biochemical details, and challenges us to consider the idea that the mechanisms for generating genetic diversity can themselves evolve.

Of course, creationists will attempt to portray such theorizing by biologists as a crisis in neo- Darwinian thought. They will be wrong, as usual. "Survival of the fittest" via natural selection remains the cornerstone of evolutionary theory. Now under discussion are the mechanisms for generating genetic variation; that is, the "arrival of the fittest", with molecular biology demonstrating that genetic change is not limited to an accumulation of random point mutations.

Although written for a lay audience, Caporale's prose is clumsy and cloudy at times, and unfortunately small errors crept into the text, as, for example, when she gives the size of the human genome as three billion base pairs distributed in forty-six chromosomes instead of the haploid number of twenty-three (twenty-four if we make allowance for two different sex chromosomes).

She uses informal language, attributing "anticipation" or "strategy" to genomes. Although it should be clear to biologists that these are rhetorical devices, this distinction may be lost to others, and could provide fertile ground for that creationist specialty, quotation out of context. To talk of genomes as having "worldviews", or to say that "information can flow back from survival to the places in the genome that affect the generation of diversity," will leave some readers uncomfortable.

Despite these weaknesses, I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the molecular complexities of genomes and current discussions on genetic variation.

About the Author(s): 

Finn Pond
Department of Biology
Whitworth College
300 W Hawthorne Rd
Spokane WA 99251
fpond@whitworth.edu

Finn Pond is Professor of Biology at Whitworth College.

RNCSE 27 (5–6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" link for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 27 (5-6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
2
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

NewS

  1. Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
    Glenn Branch
    Most (but not all) PBS stations air a two-hour documentary on Kitzmiller v Dover and the aftermath.
  2. A Victory over “Intelligent Design” in Oklahoma
    Daniel Dickson-LaPrade
    William Dembski came to Oklahoma, but the audience was not impressed.
  3. “Intelligent Design” Reflects Human Ignorance
    Phillip E Klebba
    Things often seem “irreducibly complex” when we do not know the answers — yet!
  4. The Rise and Fall of the Vitter Earmark
    Glenn Branch
    A Louisiana senator attempts to use “earmarking” to provide financial support for creationism.
  5. The History of Life as a Walk in the Park
    Andrew J Petto
    A Wisconsin artist teams up with school children to promote evolution through the arts.
  6. Creationism in the Russian Educational Landscape
    Inga Levit, Uwe Hoßfeld, Lennart Olsson
    A student sues her school district for “alternatives”; various factions promote creationism in the schools.
  7. Political Science: Presidential Candidates’ Views
    Andrew J Petto
    The journal Science reports about positions on science and technology issues in the presidential campaign.
  8. The Answers in Genesis Schism: No Resolution in Sight
    Andrew J Petto
    CMI fires a new volley in the ongoing dispute.
  9. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Europe, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.

MEMBERS’ PAGES

  1. How to Talk to the TV Media
    Martha Heil
    Most Americans get their news from TV — a medium suited to very short stories.
  2. Books: Teaching and Learning About Evolution Books for young and old, neophytes and old hands.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

FEATURES

  1. Polls Apart on Human Origins
    George Bishop
    You may have suspected that the answers to those creation/evolution polls are skewed by the way that pollsters phrase their questions. George Bishop documents the effects.
  2. In Praise of the Bravery of Biology Teachers
    Frans de Waal
    When asked by Time magazine to name a person of the year, de Waal cited biology teachers who resist public pressure to water down evolution in the curriculum.
  3. Gravity: It’s Only a Theory
    Ellery Schempp
    What would happen if every scientific theory were subject to textbook disclaimers?

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are by Frans de Waal
    Reviewed by Anne D Holden
  2. Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science by Moti Ben-Ari
    Reviewed by Michael Zimmerman
  3. Intelligent Design and Fundamentalist Opposition to Evolution by Angus M Gunn
    Reviewed by Charles A Israel
  4. Evolution versus Intelligent Design: Why All the Fuss? by Peter Cook
    Reviewed by Matt Young
  5. Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story, Book Three by Jennifer Morgan
    Reviewed by Lisa M Blank
  6. A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion by Pamela Winnick
    Reviewed by Jeffrey Shallit
  7. Dinosaurs: The Most Complete Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages by Thomas R Holtz Jr
    Reviewed by Randall B Irmis
  8. The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey Around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H Weaver
    Reviewed by Jason R Wiles
  9. God and Evolution: A Reader edited by Mary Kathleen Cunningham
    Reviewed by James F McGrath
  1. Instructions for Contributors
    Would you like to write for RNCSE? Here’s how.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
4–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, a special two-hour documentary about the Kitzmiller v Dover case, in which teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional, aired nationwide on PBS at 8:00 PM on November 13, 2007. "Judgment Day captures on film a landmark court case with a powerful scientific message at its core," explained Paula Apsell, NOVA's Senior Executive Producer, in a publicity statement. "Evolution is one of the most essential yet, for many people, least understood of all scientific theories, the foundation of biological science. We felt it was important for NOVA to do this program to heighten the public understanding of what constitutes science and what does not, and therefore, what is acceptable for inclusion in the science curriculum in our public schools."

Reviewing Judgment Day for the November 8, 2007, issue of Nature (450: 170), Adam Rutherford was impressed, not least with the way in which the filmmakers met the challenge of retelling the story. "The makers of Judgment Day inject tension with eyewitness accounts from the people of Dover," he wrote, "and homevideo footage of raucous school board meetings shows how passionate and divided this small community became. It works: it is inspiring to hear parents and educators, such as Sunday school and physics teacher Bryan Rehm, recount how they refused to be steam-rollered into bringing religion into the science classroom."

"Judgment Day gracefully avoids ridiculing intelligent design for the pseudo-intellectual fundamentalist fig-leaf that it is, by simply showing how the protagonists shot themselves in the foot," Rutherford added. Acknowledging that the "intelligent design" movement is still alive in the wake of the trial, he nevertheless concluded, "the Kitzmiller vs Dover verdict, matched this September with the outlawing of intelligent design in the UK national curriculum, marked the official neutering of this unpleasant, sneaky movement in much of the western world. Judgment Day is just the sort of thoughtful programming that celebrates how sensible people — faithful and otherwise — can use science and reason to combat fundamentalism."

Judge John E Jones III, the federal judge who presided over Kitzmiller v Dover, appeared on The NewsHour on November 13, 2007, to discuss the show. Following a clip from the program, Jones discussed his background knowledge of "intelligent design" and evolution, the Establishment Clause and its applicability in the Kitzmiller case, the role of the independent judiciary, and the influence of his seminal decision. Jones commented, "It's not precedential outside of the middle district of Pennsylvania, but I thought that if other school boards and other boards of education could read it, they would possibly be more enlightened about what the dispute was all about."

On the same day, NCSE issued a press release congratulating the producers of Judgment Day for the show's accuracy. "NCSE has been studying the influence of creationism and its assault on science education for the past twenty years," said Eugenie C Scott, NCSE's executive director. "Judgment Day accurately portrays the events that led to the legal decision that it is unconstitutional to teach 'intelligent design' in public school science classrooms." The press release also highlighted NCSE's role in the trial, observing that three members of its board of directors testified as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, and that NCSE's archives provided critical evidence for the linkages between "intelligent design" and previous forms of creationism. (For more on NCSE's role in the trial, see RNCSE 2006 Jan–Apr; 26 [1–2].)

For its part, the Discovery Institute attempted to poison the well by offering a series of shrill press releases, not all of which seem to have been carefully considered. One, dated November 9, 2007, took exception to Judgment Day's use of actors to re-enact the testimony during the trial by saying, "First they dramatized the OJ Simpson trial. Then they acted out Michael Jackson's courtroom drama. This time around we have NOVA re-enacting parts of the 2005 Dover intelligent design trial presided over by Judge John E Jones" — thus comparing the proponents of "intelligent design" to alleged murderers and pedophiles, which was presumably not the intention. In any case, the effort was largely wasted: the press releases were virtually ignored not only by the mainstream media, as with the Discovery Institute's similar press release campaign against Evolution in 2001 (see RNCSE 2001 Sep–Dec; 21 [5–6]: 5–14), but also by the publications and organizations on the political and religious right that are usually receptive to the "intelligent design" movement's message.

Meanwhile, Judgment Day continued to receive high praise from reviewers, both in Pennsylvania, where the historic trial took place, and across the country. The York Dispatch, one of the two daily papers serving the Dover area, editorially offered (2007 Nov 11), "Thumbs Up to PBS for bringing tribulations of the Dover Area School District to national attention in the two-hour Nova special 'Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial' ... The blatant attempt to introduce religion- based 'creationism' into the public school classroom is detailed along with a recreation of the ensuing battle in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg that resulted in a humiliating defeat for the intelligent design proponents. A reminder that fiddling with public education to impose an individual religious viewpoint is a non-starter, 'Judgment Day' should be required watching."

Reviewing Judgment Day for the Philadelphia Inquirer (2007 Nov 13), Jonathan Storm praised not only its scientific content but also its objective approach: "Nova, the science show, stoutly defends science against the attack of the surprisingly hard-to-pin-down intelligent-design brain trust. It does use such loaded words as 'claim' and 'so-called' to describe tenets of the supposed theory, but it is surprisingly clear of a 'nyah-nyah, we won' tone. That makes this significant program more accessible to all." He also quoted Judge Jones as saying, "If you glibly embrace intelligent design, or if you're in that 48 or 50 percent who believe creationism ought to be taught in school, I hope [you] will watch this."

It was as a legal drama that Judgment Day struck Rob Owen, writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2007 Nov 12). Describing the program as "a fascinating and gripping look at the trial and both sides of the issue," Owen wrote, "I didn't know much about so-called 'intelligent design' theory beyond its name and a sense that it's synonymous with creationism. So I went into the film willing to be persuaded that maybe there's some validity to 'intelligent design'. If there is, those in favor of ID failed to prove it. And failed miserably. That's what makes 'Intelligent Design on Trial' such a thriller. As a legal exercise, the proevolution team presents a slamdunk case; in the end, even a defense attorney says his losing side received a fair trial."

In The New York Times (2007 Nov 11), Cornelia Dean admired the scientific content of Judgment Day, commenting, "the program as a whole recognizes that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And it shows how witnesses attacked two of the central premises of intelligent design — that there are no 'intermediate' fossils to show one creature morphing into another (there are) and that some body parts are too complex to have formed from the modification of other body parts (not true)." She added, "But viewers also learn a more important lesson: that all science is provisional, standing only until it is overturned by better information. Intelligent design, relying as it does on an untestable supernatural entity, does not fall into that category."

Elsewhere, the Cincinnati Post's reviewer (2007 Nov 13) wrote, "Leave it to the respected PBS science show 'NOVA' to put some common sense back into the often hysterical debate over whether intelligent design is science or religion — and remind us that Darwin's theory of evolution is a solid one that should be taught in science classes." The Deseret News's reviewer (2007 Nov 13) described the program as "captivating," and quoted Judge Jones as saying, "I think there's a lesson here for communities and how they elect their school board members." And the Oregonian's reviewer (2007 Nov 13) wrote, "'Judgment Day' offers an admirably compact and methodical presentation of the sides in the debate. It should be highly useful in years to come."

Finally, writing on Salon (2007 Nov 13), Gordy Slack, the author of The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007; reviewed in RNCSE 2007 May–Aug; 27 [3–4]: 43), looked forward from the trial, explaining that although "intelligent design" aspired to be a big tent under which creationists of all stripes were welcome to shelter, "Judge Jones'[s] decision was like a lightning strike on the big top, sending many of the constituents running home through the rain." He ended by quoting NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott's warning: "Evolution remains under attack ... If creationists have their way, teachers will eventually just stop teaching evolution. It'll just be too much trouble. And generations of students will continue to grow up ignorant of basic scientific realities."

Despite the general acclaim for Judgment Day, residents of Memphis, Tennessee, were not able to watch it on the regular, analog, channel of WKNO, the local PBS affiliate. A locally produced documentary about World War II was aired instead. The Memphis Commercial Appeal (2007 Nov 15) quoted a spokesperson for the station as explaining, "We had plans to do our local programs to honor veterans this week during Veterans Day. We thought Tuesday night was a good spot for local programs of this nature, and we were concerned about the controversial nature of the ... program as were 15 percent of the top 50 public television stations in the country."

Although Judgment Day was aired on WKNO's digital broadcasts, the station's failure to air it on the regular channel elicited complaints; the spokesperson for the station would not disclose how many. The Commercial Appeal quoted one disgruntled viewer, NCSE member David O Hill, as saying, "I really appreciate what service they do, but when they step out of line like this it violates the whole premise of what NPR and PBS stand for nationally ... This was an historical review of an important judicial decision in America, and they chose not to do it." Trained as a biologist, Hill added, "Evolution is as important a building block to biology as atomic theory is to chemistry and gravitation to physics." The station promised to air Judgment Day in January 2008, "with a local followup to discuss the various views on the show."

Judgment Day is over, but its generous website (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/) remains, featuring interviews with Kenneth R Miller on evolution, Phillip Johnson on "intelligent design," and Paula Apsell on NOVA's decision to produce the documentary; audio clips of Judge John E Jones III reading passages from his decision in the case and of various experts (including NCSE's Eugenie C Scott) discussing the nature of science; resources about the evidence for evolution and about the background to the Kitzmiller case; and even a preview of the documentary. Teachers will be especially enthusiastic about the briefing packet for educators, the teacher's guide, a two-session on-line course, and a number of lesson plans. And the complete show is available for viewing on-line there as well; it was also released as a DVD in February 2008.

About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

A Victory over "Intelligent Design" in Oklahoma

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Victory over "Intelligent Design" in Oklahoma
Author(s): 
Daniel Dickson-LaPrade
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September-December
Page(s): 
7-8
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
I first heard that William Dembski was going to visit the University of Oklahoma quite by accident from one of my technical writing students. I was astonished. People still pay the honoraria of "intelligent design" (ID) advocates even after Kitzmiller v Dover? Apparently, they do, and after two phone calls I found out who was doing the paying: Trinity Baptist Church. On a "Note from the Elders" on its website, I read that they viewed the expense as a "gospel investment" — part of their attempt "to penetrate the university campus with the gospel," especially the science departments. "In case you are wondering, these departments and their teachings are not friends of Christianity."

I quickly contacted every faculty member in our zoology and botany/microbiology departments with news of Dembski's upcoming visit on September 17, 2007. Several of these faculty members — many of them affiliated with the group Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education — worked with me to put together a game plan.

We wrote an advertisement which was to appear in the OU student paper on the day of Dembski's arrival. In this ad, we listed several points showing, first, that evolution is not inherently atheistic, and second, that ID is not a scientific enterprise. Since we put the ad through several drafts to maximize its effectiveness, and since we had to turn in the ad two business days before it was to run, we only had about 48 hours to collect donations to cover the expense of the ad and signatures to appear beneath it. We had expected to get enough money for a half-page ad, along with perhaps a hundred signatures. Instead, we collected 180 signatures and ample money for the ad to cover a full page.

On the morning of Dembski's appearance, our ad was augmented by a guest column on the opinion page by OU biologist Douglas Mock, author of The Evolution of Sibling Rivalry and More than Kin and Less than Kind. Mock's column argued against ID, while a pro-ID counterpoint column was written by a journalism major.

Dembski's presentation
Dembski's talk was held in an auditorium in our student union. Students posted at the building's entrances were passing out copies of mathematician Jeffrey Shallit's expert report in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial. In this brief document, Shallit takes Dembski to task for using flawed and nonsensical methodology which has not been utilized by real scientists and mathematicians. Outside the door of the auditorium, the local Christian bookstore had a table of books for sale by various ID advocates, including several titles by Dembski himself. A pamphlet recycling old ID arguments was also provided.

As the last of the auditorium's 407 seats were filled, an announcer told us that Dembski's talk would last for about an hour, after which there would be an open question-and-answer session. Two microphones had been set up for this purpose. On the screen was Dembski's first slide — a quotation from our full-page advertisement about how ID proponents "refrain from publishing their results in peer-reviewed math and science journals."

Dembski began by saying that no one had ever taken out a full-page ad against him before, and spent the first five or ten minutes of his presentation trying to refute our point about ID's lack of peer-reviewed publications. As though this helped his refutation, he posted a list of eight such peer-reviewed publications — most of which had nothing to do with ID methodology. The remainder of Dembski's presentation had all the usual examples and analogies (the bacterial flagellum, Mount Rushmore, the motorcycle engine), as well as stills and clips from films like This is Spinal Tap and Dumb and Dumber.

Having taught college-level writing classes for several years, and having been a trainer in the corporate world before that, I can tell when a speaker has carefully honed a presentation to razor sharpness and when a speaker is coasting along based on past acquaintance with the material. As far as I could tell, Dembski was phoning in his presentation. This became particularly apparent when Dembski reached the one-hour mark that should have ended his presentation. He began to skip some slides and to skim others. Finally, having gone over on time by fifteen minutes, he skipped virtually all of his last dozen slides to get to his conclusion.

After this, the question-and-answer period started. As lackluster, rushed, and incomplete as the presentation itself was, the question-and-answer period went even more poorly for Dembski. I was first in line to question, and I began by pointing out that there were several tenured science faculty in the room who had, by themselves, exceeded the peer-reviewed publication output for the entire ID movement. A zoology professor pointed out that Dembski had provided no positive evidence for ID and that his analogies for the complexity of living systems were very shabby ones. Then, in the highlight of the evening, a microbiologist on our faculty pointed out numerous errors and distortions in Dembski's treatment of the bacterial flagellum. In all, some 25 or 30 questioners grilled Dembski over the course of more than two hours, most of them undergraduates and grad students. Only two of the questioners were supportive of ID.

I had expected Dembski's talk to get a warm reception, and for many people to be fooled into thinking that ID was a worthwhile scientific enterprise. Instead, the the room had almost a carnival atmosphere. Dembski was heckled repeatedly for evading questions and responded to this heckling with further evasion. The audience laughed and applauded often and at length when a questioner put Dembksi on the spot. As one of our professors with the Oklahoma Biological Survey later told me, "No one could have come away thinking that it was anything but a complete disaster for Dembski."

The lasting impression
This disaster continued even after Dembski finally went home. In the week after his presentation, the OU student paper published one opinion letter by me, another by a zoology professor, and a guest column by the same microbiology professor who took Dembksi to task for his misrepresentation of the bacterial flagellum (see below). During this same period, not a single column or letter to the editor in support of ID appeared in the school paper.

All in all, our preparations were successful, and Dembski's visit to the University of Oklahoma did the "intelligent design" movement more harm than good. There is no doubt in my mind that if all presentations by ID proponents went as poorly as Dembski's did and if evolution supporters can organized and coordinate their efforts, then the support for the "intelligent design" movement would simply evaporate.

[See the September 2007 entries on the blogs ERV (http://endogenousretrovirus.blogspot.com/) and Ontogeny (http://mattdowling.blogspot.com/), as well as the blogs linked on the September 22, 2007, entry of The Panda's Thumb. The Trinity Baptist Church website hosts a copy of a pamphlet entitled "Design versus Dogma: A Brief Introduction to Intelligent Design", which was distributed before Dembski's talk.]

About the Author(s): 
Daniel Dickson-LaPrade
dicksonlaprade@ou.edu

Daniel Dickson-LaPrade is an adjunct technical writing instructor with the University of Oklahoma. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Masters in English, both from the University of Oklahoma. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma, with his wife and two children.

The Rise and Fall of the Vitter Earmark

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Rise and Fall of the Vitter Earmark
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch, NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September-December
Page(s): 
9–12
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

"Sen David Vitter, R–La., earmarked $100 000 in a spending bill for a Louisiana Christian group that has challenged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public school system and to which he has political ties," reported the New Orleans Times-Picayune (2007 Sep 22). Buried in the Senate Appropriations Committee's version of the appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education was a provision allocating funds to the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) of Baton Rouge "to develop a plan to promote better science education."

In a written statement, Vitter explained, "This program helps supplement and support educators and school systems that would like to offer all of the explanations in the study of controversial science topics such as global warming and the life sciences." The Times-Picayune added, "The money in the earmark will pay for a report suggesting 'improvements' in science education in Louisiana, the development and distribution of educational materials and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the Ouachita Parish School Board's 2006 policy that opened the door to biblically inspired teachings in science classes."

Adopted in 2006 with the backing of the LFF, the Ouachita Parish School Board's policy permits teachers to help students to understand "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught;" "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning" are the only topics specifically mentioned. A local paper editorially described it as "a policy that is so clear that one School Board member voted affirmatively while adding, 'but I don't know what I'm voting on'" (Monroe News-Star, 2006 Dec 3; see RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec; 26 [6]: 8–11).

Although the Ouachita policy reflects the stealth creationist campaign of "teach the controversy," the LFF is not always so coy. The Times-Picayune reported: "Until recently, its Web site contained a 'battle plan to combat evolution,' which called the theory a 'dangerous' concept that 'has no place in the classroom.' The document was removed after a reporter's inquiry." (That document was written by Kent Hovind, the flamboyant young-earth creationist who is currently serving a ten-year sentence in federal prison for tax evasion and obstruction of justice; see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4]: 12–3.) The LFF also distributes "addenda" for science textbooks that promote various creationist claims, including the "irreducible complexity" of the bacterial flagellum and flood geology.

Writing in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (2007 Sep 26), columnist James Gill took Vitter to task for his proposal. The Louisiana Family Forum, Gill observed, "has said the theory of evolution 'has no place in the classroom' and has blamed Charles Darwin for Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot." "The Web site," he added, "leaves no doubt that they would ban evolutionary theory altogether if they could; there is no incentive to give equal billing to what they see as heresy."

Concerned about Vitter's earmark, a coalition of more than thirty religious, civil rights, education, science, and advocacy organizations, spearheaded by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and including NCSE, sent a letter to every member of the Senate, calling on them to oppose the Vitter earmark. The letter (see sidebar, p 10–1) argued, "Not only would granting federal funding for the LFF's program be unconstitutional, it also would be bad policy that would infringe upon students' religious freedom and undermine their education in the important discipline of science."

People for the American Way (PFAW) sent its own letter opposing the earmark. In a press release dated October 17, 2007, PFAW's Director of Public Policy Tanya Clay House described the earmark as "completely inappropriate," adding, "Sending taxpayer money to a religious group whose mission is to force creationism into public schools as science is a blatant attack on the separation of church and state. Claiming that the money will be spent on improving science education adds insult to injury."

Additionally, NCSE e-mailed its members and friends in Iowa, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Mississippi to urge them to lobby Senators Tom Harkin, Arlen Specter, Robert Byrd, and Thad Cochran to remove the Vitter earmark. (Due to their positions on the Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, these senators were in a position to wield the greatest influence on the final form of the bill.)

The protests were apparently heeded, for Vitter withdrew the earmark on the Senate floor on October 17, 2007, even while insisting that the money was not aimed at promoting creationism and describing the concerns as "hysterics." According to the Congressional Record, Vitter said:
The project, which would develop a plan to promote better science-based education in Ouachita Parish by the Louisiana Family Forum, has raised concerns among some that its intention was to mandate and push creationism within the public schools. That is clearly not and never was the intent of the project, nor would it have been its effect. However, to avoid more hysterics, I would like to move the $100 000 recommended for this project by the subcommittee when the bill goes to conference committee to another Louisiana priority project funded in this bill.
Senators Tom Harkin (D–Iowa) and Arlen Specter (R–Pennsylvania), the floor managers of the appropriations bill, accepted Vitter's proposal and agreed to move the funds to a different project in Louisiana when the bill is in its conference committee.

Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, applauding the removal of the earmark in a press release dated October 18, 2007, commented, "If [Senator] Vitter's aim was to improve science education in Louisiana, I have to wonder why he did not direct these funds to a scientific group or a museum." He added, "Boosting science education is an odd task for a religious group."

"Senator Vitter's defense of the earmark is obviously disingenuous, given the Louisiana Family Forum's record of fighting tooth and nail against evolution education," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott. "But I'm glad to see that, with the removal of his earmark, public funds are not going to be misused to miseducate the children of Louisiana about the science of evolution."

Not all fears were allayed, however. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported (2007 Oct 20) that Vitter wanted to redirect the funds of the earmark to science and computer labs in Ouachita Parish schools, which prompted Barbara Forrest — a native of Louisiana and a member of NCSE's Board of Directors — to worry, "The money is just being moved around ... All the signs indicate that it could be used for its initial purpose." Representatives of People for the American Way and the ACLU echoed her concern.

In a subsequent letter to the Advocate (2007 Oct 25), Forrest contended that the redirection of the funds to Ouachita Parish was suspicious, given the LFF's support of the stealth creationist policy there. Quoting LFF Director Gene Mills's statement that the LFF "wasn't disappointed with the funding change and encouraged Vitter to redirect it," she remarked, "Given LFF's alliance with the Ouachita Parish School Board, we should take him at his word," and warned, "The LFF will make sure this battle doesn't go away."

But Forrest's concerns were overtaken by events. Shorn of the Vitter earmark, the appropriations bill passed the Senate, proceeded through a conference committee, and was ultimately vetoed, on November 13, 2007, by President Bush.

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org

The History of Life as a Walk in the Park

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The History of Life as a Walk in the Park
Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
12–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
A recurring theme for science educators is how to make the vastness of the history and diversity of life "real" for students. In their classrooms, they devise clock models, modified calendars, and even use 1000-sheet rolls of toilet tissue to emphasize the deep history of life on earth and the variety (and success) of the many forms of life that have appeared during that time.


A park visitor stops to consider Station 6: Reptiles Become Dominant, 270 mya, as viewed from Station 5: Plants and Amphibians Come onto Land, 400 mya.
In the fall of 2007, artist J Nicholas Schweitzer set up an installation in a public park in Madison, Wisconsin. The installation consisted of fifteen signposts depicting significant events in the history of life with illustrations of life forms that emerged and flourished in association with certain "milestones" — for example, the emergence of the first plants and animals onto land or the first appearance of primates. In addition, the stations are spaced in such a way so that the distance between them is in proportion to the amount of time that passed between the milestones. So, for example, the distance representing the one billion years from the formation of the earth to the first record of unicellular life is about half as long as the distance between the first unicellular life and the diversification of multicellular organisms almost two billion years later in the late Precambrian.


Rendition of Station 5: Plants and Amphibians Come onto Land, 400 mya, by a student at Van Hise Elementary School, Madison, WI.
For those familiar with the exhibit "A Walk Through Time" created in the 1990s at Hewlett Packard by Sidney Liebes and his colleagues (Liebes and others 1998), Schweitzer's installation recalls the value in adding the "kinesthetic" dimension to the learning experience. It is almost as though having to travel in space and take time to reach the next milestone in the history of life imparts a deeper appreciation for the length of time between events.

Although the "Walk Through Time" exhibit was about twice as long — extending for about a mile — it consisted largely of displays to view and read. Schweitzer's exhibit added two significant dimensions to the approach that Liebes and colleagues pioneered. First, each station contains both a cover page created by the artist and several illustrations composed by students at Van Hise Elementary and Velma Hamilton Middle Schools in Madison. The children's renditions show their engagement in the materials and their creative responses to the idea of the evolution of life. Perhaps the most interesting are the drawings at the last station of the installation where children speculate artistically to create their answers to the question: "What's next?"


View of the last 400 million years of the installation showing containers for sidewalk chalk for inspired viewers to use.
A second added dimension is an invitation for those experiencing the exhibit to stop and draw their own impressions on the sidewalk next to the exhibit. Schweitzer provided a container with several large sticks of sidewalk chalk for this purpose. During the several visits that I made to the exhibit, there were always fresh drawings — and it may be serendipity that the chalk used to make the drawings was itself made from the preserved remains of organisms featured in some of the installations' stations. One of these visitors' drawings can be seen on the cover of this issue.

Exhibits of this type are temporary, so there will soon be no trace of the installation. But the work of the children who were a part of the exhibit and the drawings on the sidewalk alongside the installation both clearly show how successfully this artist connected the idea of evolution and the deep history of life on earth with several audiences. This exhibit certainly makes it clear that innovative, creative ways of helping children (and the general public) engage and understand evolution are valuable — even without a giant carnivorous dinosaur or a fossil hominin to excite and amaze. Schweitzer's exhibit, by contrast, was almost contemplative in tone, inviting the viewer to stop and commune for a while with ancient life forms that lived in a world we can only imagine.

[For readers not able to view Schweitzer's exhibit in person, there are photos of the exhibit available on-line here. There are two virtual tours of the original "Walk Through Time", which lack the kinesthetic dimension of walking the history of life, but show the main graphics and text and give some of the history of the Walk. Visit http://conexions.org/wtt/walk_menu/3700.html or http://www.globalcommunity.org/wtt/walk_online.shtml to take the virtual Walk.]

References



Liebes S, Sahtouris E, Swimme B. 1998. A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us — The Evolution of Life on Earth. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
editor@ncseweb.org

Andrew J Petto is Senior Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is co-editor with NCSE Supporter Laurie R Godfrey of Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond (WW Norton, 2008). Since 1995, he has served as editor of RNCSE and as a member of NCSE's board of directors.

The History of Life as a Walk in the Park—Online Supplement

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The History of Life as a Walk in the Park—Online Supplement
Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The following photographs are a supplement to Andrew J Petto's "The History of Life as a Walk in the Park", RNCSE 27 (5-6).



















Creationism in the Russian Educational Landscape

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creationism in the Russian Educational Landscape
Author(s): 
Inga Levit, Uwe Hoßfeld, Lennart Olsson
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
13–17
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Two symbolically connected events took place in different parts of the world in 2007. In the United States, Petersburg, Kentucky, was the site of the newly created "Creation Museum", while at approximately the same time a federal court in St Petersburg, Russia, tried a case in which a school girl, Maria Schreiber, demanded that the ministry of education must allow an "alternative" to evolution to be taught in high school biology classes. The St Petersburg case would not deserve much attention, if it did not reflect the tensions which have accumulated in Russian society after the breakdown of the USSR in 1991.

Even though most RNCSE readers think of creationism as a North American phenomenon, advocates of so-called "scientific creationism" are currently very active worldwide. This movement was imported to Russia after perestroika. Important books in the American and Western European "scientific creationism" tradition have been translated into Russian. In Russia, representatives of both the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and of some Protestant churches advocate creationism, even though both confessions arrive at this position independently and remain faithful to their theological doctrines. The ROC (to which 58% of the Russian population belongs) has no officially declared position towards "scientific creationism". The latter plays no significant role in official theological discourse, but unofficially remains a significant part of the Orthodox theological landscape. The ROC, of course, has a strong centralized organization, but Protestant denominations have also founded creationist centers throughout the former Soviet Union.

The story of the St Petersburg case began as Maria Schreiber went to court to force the Ministry of Education to allow an "alternative" to evolution to be taught in high school biology classes (Levit and others 2006). The journal Gazeta.ru (2006 Oct 27) reported from the court that one issue was the textbook used for senior high school biology, General Biology by Sergei Mamontov, in which the biblical creation story was called a "myth". Schreiber (through her lawyer Konstantin Romanov, a remote descendant of the last Russian Tsar, Nikolai II) demanded an apology from the author and from the Ministry of Education. In a comment, Andrei Fursenko, the Russian Minister of Education and Science, expressed his support for the creationists in that he welcomed the teaching of "alternative ideas" in school (Rosbalt, 2007 Jan 3).

The defense pointed out that Mamontov's textbook does in fact mention creationist concepts, such as the ideas developed by the French comparative anatomist Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) in the early nineteenth century. It was also pointed out that the textbook corresponds to the secular nature of the Russian educational system in that it does not contain religious teachings and that a scientific theory by its very nature cannot hurt religious sensibilities. Even though the court turned down Maria Schreiber's complaint on February 21, 2007, it is clear that the St Petersburg case shows many similarities to the recent lawsuits in the US. In both countries, creationists have attacked a secular school system because they wanted "alternatives" to evolution to be taught. In both cases the courts have prevented the integration of biblical stories into the teaching of science in school, and thereby defended the secular nature of the state school systems.

However, unlike in the US, where criticism of evolution and demands for "equal time" for the biblical creation story in schools are articulated mostly by evangelical groups, in Russia the traditional Orthodox Church also supported this attack on the secular education system. During the legal proceedings, the plaintiff suggested a replacement for Mamontov's textbook, written from an "Orthodox" creationist position by Sergej Vertjanov (2005), in which the biblical story is presented as an alternative to evolution. And this is just one of a number of "Orthodox" and non-Orthodox creationist textbooks currently on the market in Russia. His Holiness Alexij II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, recently stated in a lecture in the Kremlin: "Those who want to believe that they are descended from apes, should do so, but they should not force their opinion upon others" (Die Presse.com, 2007 Feb 6).

"ALTERNATIVE" TEXTBOOKS

The publication of creationist literature in Russia was pioneered by Protestant churches, which serve only about 2% of the Russian population. In the 1990s translations of several creationist biology textbooks appeared. The publishing house The Protestant alone has translated books by European and American creationists (for example, Gish, Ham, Snelling, Wieland, Morris, Clark, Junker, and Scherer). Most of the books achieve copy runs of about 10 000, which is a lot by Russian standards.

One of the non-Orthodox creationist textbooks published was a translation of a "critical textbook of evolution" originally written in German by Reinhard Junker and Siegfried Scherer (1997; see Kutschera's "The basic types of life", RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4]: 31–6). This book repeats some statements from "ordinary" textbooks of evolution, but at the same time calls into question the major claims of modern evolutionary theory. For example, it repeats the creationist conception that microevolution and macroevolution are separate, unrelated processes and that even the most primitive living organisms are so complex that they cannot have evolved by random mutations and natural selection. At the same time, this book, as is characteristic of the works by the "intelligent design" movement targeted at the general public, contains no direct appeals to confessionally determined statements: although the reader is given the impression that science is impotent and incomplete without religious beliefs, specific appeals to particular religious doctrines are difficult to pinpoint.

By contrast, the Orthodox creationist writers, who became active in the second half of the 1990s, have chosen another tactic. They very clearly articulate positions in keeping with Orthodox theology. One of the early attempts to present an Orthodox view on school biology was articulated, for example, by Father Timofej Alferov, whose book bylines simply read "Father Timofej" (Alferov 1996, 1998a, 1998b).

The books were strongly criticized by scientists (for example, Eskov 2000; Borisov 2001; Surdin 2001). In addition to pointing out that the books spread religious ideology in the guise of a science text, the critics also identified many factual errors in the textbooks. This is not surprising, since Alferov, who holds a diploma in thermal physics (in addition to his theological credentials), clearly writes about biological issues from outside his field of competence.

Vertjanov's textbook (2005), presented during the Schreiber proceedings, illustrates the newest generation of creationist textbooks in Russia. The book concentrates exclusively on biology, is well illustrated, and combines "Orthodox" interpretations with quite traditional biological passages. The structure of the textbook copies the structure of secular textbooks and corresponds to Russian educational standards. The difference between "Orthodox" and secular views becomes evident only in the final sentences of each chapter, where one can read, for example, "[the] wonderful properties of the DNA should induce us to think about the Creator" or "biocoenoses [ecosystems] present harmonic systems of organisms, where certain species and communities cooperate wonderfully with the others demonstrating the wholeness and interconnectedness of the blessed world" (Vertjanov 2005: 301). The textbook also includes a supplement with quotations from the Holy Fathers, which can be related to biological problems.

The most outright creationist part of the book is found in chapter 4, which is devoted to the origin of life and includes a section entitled "The Hypothesis of Evolution and the Creation of the World". As in other creationist books, the author argues that there are no "transitional forms" in the fossil record and that there is a "plan of creation" that determines the real course of "evolution". The intention of the chapter is evidently to discredit the theory of evolution and the "materialistic worldview" using both theological and "scientific" arguments. "There are a few qualified biologists who are still convinced of the evolutionary-materialist version of the origin of life" (Vertjanov 2005: 198). Just like his American and European colleagues, Vertjanov argues that the earth was created in six days. Summarizing the ages of all 23 generations from Adam to Joseph, he concludes that the earth is about 7500 years old. The author also claims, without showing any evidence, that "contemporary science slowly comes to the acceptation of every word of the Holy Bible" (2005: 224).

Like his colleagues from the American Creation Museum, Vertjanov also claims that dinosaurs co-existed with ancient humans. Vertjanov also contributes to the "scientific" description of the world before the Fall when he reconstructs the food chains in Paradise. One of his ideas is that mosquitoes before the Fall obtained necessary hemoglobin from plants (instead of animals), which "should have been very rich in it". Although Vertjanov's textbook was not recommended by the Ministry of Education, it is used both in private schools and in some state schools. For example, it is used in Moscow in the private grammar schools Jasenevo and Saburovo and, as an experiment, in State School Nr 262 (Zheleznjak 2005).

It is notable that Vertjanov's textbook was subject to criticism not only by scientists (Mamontov 2005) but also by some Orthodox theologians. At present, conflicting positions regarding evolution seem to exist within the ROC. So-called "Orthodox creationists" reject the theory of evolution completely based on theological and pseudoscientific arguments. The "Orthodox evolutionists" interpret evolution as the continuation of divine creation. The transition from the lifeless to the living world and from animal to human are interpreted as acts of direct divine creation (Levit 2003, 2006). Even though neither of these schools of thought actually welcomes Darwinism and the theory of natural selection, the difference is that "evolutionists" do not reject evolution, but give it another (partly theological) explanation that would be comparable to the position of many "theistic evolutionists" in the US. The radicals, like Vertjanov, deny the very fact of evolution.

THE ROC WEIGHS IN

The first author interviewed the archpriest AV Skripkin, who represented the Orthodox Church during the Maria Schreiber proceedings in St Petersburg, to learn more about the position of the Church towards creationism in schools. The archpriest is generally very positive towards the initiative of the schoolgirl and her lawyers. In his view Darwinism is a kind of pseudoscientific mythology. It is responsible for the positivism and progressivism in the modern worldview and therefore also for the anti-human catastrophes of the twentieth century. The problem of Darwinism is not a scientific issue, Skripkin continued, it is a worldview. The choice between creationism and Darwinism is the choice between "divine humanity" and "human animality".

At the same time, Skripkin emphasizes that the Bible never has been, and never will be, a chemistry textbook. There must be a borderline between science and religion and each should do its job. Skripkin, however, welcomes Vertjanov's textbook and maintains that this textbook can be used not only in Orthodox but also in state grammar schools. It is his personal view, Skripkin stressed, because the Church has no ultimate doctrine about this issue.

Skripkin, along with many other Orthodox leaders, wants a high profile of Orthodox religiosity in all schools. In addition to trying to squeeze religious beliefs into the biology classes, the Orthodox Church also tries to make religious teaching compulsory in state schools. The most debated issue in this respect is whether to introduce a new course, "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture", in Russian schools. In 2002 the federal Ministry of Education published a letter to the education departments of the local governments with recommendations on how to establish the new optional course "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture" (Ministry of Education 2002). The course should be taught at all stages of the school system (from elementary to high school) and include issues such as "The Orthodox worldview", "The Orthodox way of life", "God and Creation", "The Natural and Supernatural Worlds", and so on. Proposed test questions include, for example, "What did God create first?" Although this course caused sharp debates in Russian society, it was established in many schools. For example, in 2003, 70% of the schools in the Belgorod region already had the new course in their curricula.

As a reaction to the growing clerical influence on education, ten Full Members of the Russian Academy of Science — including two Nobel Prize winners (Vitaly Ginzburg and Zhores Alferov) — published a letter to President Vladimir Putin that warned against making "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture" a compulsory element of federal education programs (BBC Russian Service 2007). The academicians not only argued that theology is mixed with science, but also pointed out that making such a course compulsory in a multi-confessional country would lead to ethnic tensions.

Indeed, Orthodox creationism in all its forms is confronted not only by atheist movements and scientists, but also by the Muslim communities. Thus Nafigullah Ashirov, chairman of the Moslem Board for the Asian part of Russia, criticized the plans of the Orthodox Church sharply, arguing that it could lead to ethnic conflicts as well.

CONCLUSIONS

Our overview of the modern Russian educational landscape reveals several trends relevant to the understanding of creationist movements in modern societies based on science and technology. We distinguish two major types of creationism, which we conditionally label "scientific creationism" and "clerical creationism". The ordinary "clerical" creationism assumes that the entire world and its biological diversity is a result of supernatural activity and thus makes any discussion of natural causes meaningless. "Scientific creationism", in contrast, tries to incorporate religious elements into scientific theories as an auxiliary but unavoidable element of explanation. It is characteristic of this kind of proposals that they include elements immune to any kind of scrutiny or criticism. "Scientific creationism" in Russia attempts to act in a "confession-neutral" manner as, for example, the adherents of the ID movement do. It is, however, common for authors to propagate a particular religious view in educational texts. The purpose of "scientific creationists" is to "infect" the reader implicitly with the idea that science is helpless when faced with the "ultimate questions" related to the meaning and purpose of life and our existence. Biology, they want to prove, is even incapable of explaining biological evolution, that is, of fulfilling its most fundamental purpose.

"Scientific creationism" initially came to Russia in the form of translated texts by Western Protestant creationists and members of the ID movement. Because the most important creationist arguments are of a universal anti-scientific nature, they are easily converted into any cultural context and were able therefore to influence the Orthodox creationists, who saw them as useful in their doctrinal attack on secular education. They can nevertheless be seen as a part of the international creationist movement and their arguments are directed towards the broadest possible audience.

Encouraged by the successes of the "scientific creationists" and by the growing influence of the Orthodox Church in Russia, the ordinary "clerical creationists" also strengthened their efforts to give Russian education clear confessional colors, thereby changing the educational landscape. The "clerical creationists" apply a different strategy than the "scientific creationists" consisting of two parallel tactics. The first tactic is trying to make religious education with an Orthodox bias part of the compulsory curriculum. The course "The Basics of the Orthodox Culture" for ordinary schools is an example of this tactic. The second tactic is intervention into areas of science important for shaping the worldview of modern man. The production of new "Orthodox" science textbooks and participation in the Maria Schreiber trial are examples of this second tactic.

Thus to a certain extent the strategies of the "scientific creationists" and the "clerical creationists" do not contradict each other and can co-exist peacefully in the same educational context as long as they face a common enemy: evolution. Both in Europe and in North America, it is biology — and particularly evolution — that is the primary target of creationism. Since the creation story takes up only a few pages of the Bible, and the rest is the history of the "holy people", one might therefore expect that the main attack would be against secular historical education, not against one of the natural sciences. But the crucial role biology, and especially evolutionary theory, plays as part of the modern scientific worldview has made it into an arena for major educational battles. This is the case in Russia much as it is in the rest of the world. As long as schools teach evolution as a fundamental theme in biology, religious anti-evolutionists will join together as allies in the battle to remove or neutralize it — even when these allies are themselves deeply divided over religious doctrine and theology. Even though the short-term goal of removing evolution causes the coalition to deemphasize the longer-term sectarian objectives, they are simmering just below the surface and present a clear and present danger to the nature of public education in Russia just as they do in other parts of the world.

References

Alferov T. 1996. [The Science of Creation: The Orthodox View. Textbook for Pupils. Issue I. Series: Russian Teacher]. Moscow: Literator Press. Russian.

Alferov T 1998a. [Natural Sciences. Textbook for the Primary Classes of the Orthodox and Sunday Schools]. Moscow: Palomnik. Russian.

Alferov T. 1998b. [Orthodox Worldview and Contemporary Natural Sciences. The Creation Classes in the Ordinary High School]. Moscow: Palomnik. Russian.

BBC Russian Service. 2007. [Scientists call on Putin to leave Russia secular]. Available on-line at http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/russian/russia/newsid_6911000/6911750.stm. Last accessed February 12, 2008. Russian.

Borisov HM. 2001. [Christian view on the universe or setting rumors abroad]. Fizika (uchebno-metodicheskaja gazeta) 44: 7–10. Russian.

Eskov KJ. 2000. [Apply with care! Protect from children!] Tchelovek 1: 176–83. Russian.

Junker R, Scherer S. 1997. [The Origin and Development of Life: The Basic Concepts for Biology Lessons]. St Petersburg: Kairos. Russian.

Levit GS, Hoßfeld U, Olsson L. 2006. Creationists attack secular education in Russia. Nature 444: 265.

Levit I. 2003. [Evolutionary theory and contemporary orthodox theology]. In: Levit GS, Popov IY, Hossfeld U, Olsson L, Breidbach O, ediors. In the Shadow of Darwinism: Alternative Evolutionary Theories in the 20th Century. St Petersburg: Fineday Press. p 149–55. Russian.

Levit I. 2006. Evolutionstheorie und religiöses Denken in der zeitgenössischen orthodoxen Theologie. In: Kaasch M, Kaasch J, Wisemann V, editors. Netzwerke: Verhandlungen zur Geschichte und Theorie der Biologie. vol 12. VWB: Berlin. p 233–47.

Mamontov SG. 2005. [Science and Religion. Review of the SJ Vertjanov Textbook of General Biology]. Available on-line at http://www.isps.su/rez/vertyanov.html. Last accessed February 12, 2008. Russian.

Ministry of Education. 2002. [Letter from the Ministry of Education to the Local Education Departments]. 22.10.2002 Nr 14-52-876. Russian.

Surdin VG. 2001. [Orthodox natural science]. Fizika (uchebno-metodicheskaja gazeta) 36: 7–10. Russian.

Vertjanov SJ. 2005. [General Biology: Textbook for 10–11 years of the Ordinary Schools with Teaching Biology on the Orthodox Foundations]. Moscow: Svjato- Troitzkaja Lavra. Russian.

Zheleznyak M. 2005 Oct. [There was dough at the beginning]. Russian Newsweek 38 (68) 10–6. Russian.

About the Author(s): 

Inga Levit
Chair of Science of Religion
Department of Social Sciences
A Herzen State Pedagogical
University of Russia
Reka Moika Emb 48
191186 St Petersburg Russia

Uwe Hoßfeld
AG Biologiedidaktik
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität
Dornburger Str 159
D-07743 Jena, Germany

Lennart Olsson
Institut für Spezielle Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie mit Phyletischem Museum
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität
Erbertstr 1, D-07743 Jena, Germany
Lennart.Olsson@uni-jena.de

Inga Levit holds a PhD in religion studies and is the Chair of Science of Religion at the Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University in St Petersburg. Her scientific interests include religious anthropology, religious fundamentalism and bioethics.

Uwe Hoßfeld is a historian of science and head of the biology teacher training centre (AG Biodidaktik) at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena, Germany. His research interests include the history of evolutionary biology and physical anthropology, and biology and religion.

Lennart Olsson is a zoology professor at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena, Germany. His research is focused on developmental and evolutionary biology, and he also writes on the history of biology.

The Answers in Genesis Schism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Answers in Genesis Schism: No Resolution in Sight
Author(s): 
Andrew J. Petto
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
18
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Jim Lippard reported in RNCSE at the end of 2006 on a split within the Answers in Genesis ministry that pitted the officials running the affiliate in the US against their counterparts in Australia, where the ministry began (Lippard 2006). Although Lippard reported several efforts between the two factions to negotiate a solution to various issues that divided them, it appears that those efforts have fallen apart yet again.

Creation Ministries International (CMI) — the name of the breakaway group in Australia — published an update on its website in early January 2008 (http://www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/5563/). The page — entitled "CMI-AIG: What's the dispute all about?" — details the history of the schism and CMI's complaints against AIG.

However, the most remarkable feature of this update is an index with links to documents on the web that lay out various details of the conflict, outcomes of various investigations and legal actions, and CMI's version of the current state of the dispute.

In contrast to the prominence that CMI has given to the dispute, it is difficult to find any mention of the disagreement on the Answers in Genesis web page. Searching for "CMI" and "Creation Ministries International" at http://www.answersingenesis.org returned no results. However, it is possible to get an overview of AiG's position on the conflict by reading through its History page (http://www.answersingenesis.org/about/history). This page lacks most of the details about the schism, saying only that there were no differences in doctrinal or scientific positions and that most of the disagreement was over management and operations. It is interesting that the AiG website lists the acronym "CMI" in its history page, but nowhere gives the full name of the Australian organization.

It is clear that this conflict will not be resolved soon, but it seems from the content of the web pages that CMI may be more affected by the split than is AiG. Except for the new details, the current state of the relationship between these two creationist organizations does not seem to have changed significantly over the past year.

References
Lippard J. 2006. Trouble in paradise: Answers in Genesis splinters. RNCSE 26 (6): 4-7.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
editor@ncseweb.org

[Thanks to Jim Lippard for alerting us to the latest events in the ongoing dispute between AiG and CMI.]

In Praise of the Bravery of Biology Teachers

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
In Praise of the Bravery of Biology Teachers
Author(s): 
Frans de Waal
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
42
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

[Asked by Time magazine to provide a nomination for the 2007 Person of the Year, Frans de Waal wrote, "I nominate all the brave biology teachers of this nation who teach evolution despite the opposition they encounter. Without evolution, there is no biology; without biology, there is no medicine. It's as simple as that. These teachers arm their pupils with the knowledge they need, putting them on level footing with the rest of the world where evolutionary theory is uncontroversial." His words appeared in the November 26, 2007, issue of Time. NCSE asked him to amplify on his nomination, and we are pleased to publish his further comments here.]

I made this nomination and offered this quote, because I feel it is truly remarkable that so many teachers in this nation have the courage to go against the opinion of parents and sometimes school boards to defend science in the face of what I consider medieval ideas. The idea that the world was created a couple of thousand years ago is not any more believable than the idea that the cosmos revolves around the earth or that the earth is flat. To revamp this line of thinking by calling it "intelligent design" and giving it a scientific flavor doesn't change anything. The fact remains that 99%, or more, of my fellow biologists are convinced that evolution offers the most comprehensive and best theory, and that "intelligent design" is simply untestable, which is the worst thing scientists can say about any idea.

I admire the persistence of teachers to do what is right, to defend the evidence-based approach to the truth that is science, and to risk the wrath of people who believe that "theory" means "we don't know." In science, "theory" simply means that we have a way of finding out, which is far more than can be said of faith.

When I came to this country, one of the things that struck me right away is its irrational approach to biology. Mind you, this was twenty-five years ago, and at the time I just hoped it would blow over. It never did, however, and I have become pretty desperate about it. How come that all modern nations accept evolutionary theory and don't even consider it a point of debate, but not the US? Is it a small minority that thwarts progress, or is there a deep-down resistance? And if so, where does it come from?

One of the issues often brought up is the misunderstanding that if we were to believe that humans descended from "monkeys" and that God was not part of the process, this would imply the absence of a moral compass. Evolution would conflict, in this view, with a society based on values. People sometimes tell me, "to believe in evolution means I could rape my neighbor and it would be fine." I find this a strange idea, and I must say that in fact I don't very much like meeting people who are only stopped from raping their neighbor by their belief in God.

My personal belief is that nature is wonderful. For me, there is nothing negative about being part of nature. Moral rules, insofar as we have and obey them, have a basis in evolved human nature; hence in the animal kingdom as a whole. Nature does not prescribe how we should live, but it has given us the capacity for empathy and sympathy, and has produced cooperative tendencies, all of which we relied upon when we constructed a moral world.

Teachers should be free to communicate all of these exciting ideas about the role of biology and the evolution of the human species. Biology has so much to offer. It is in fact the most exciting discipline of our age, so let the teachers convey this excitement without being hampered by the outdated ideas of previous, uninformed eras.

About the Author(s): 

Frans de Waal
Living Links, Yerkes Primate Center
Emory University
954 N Gatewood Road
Atlanta GA 30322

Frans de Waal is Director of the Living Links Center and the CH Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University. He is the author of a number of popular books, including Our Inner Ape (New York: Riverhead, 2005).

Gravity: It's Only a Theory

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Gravity: It's Only a Theory
Author(s): 
Ellery Schempp
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2007
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
43–44
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

[Textbook disclaimers are down, but not out. This satirical look at "only a theory" disclaimers imagines what might happen if advocates applied the same logic to the theory of gravitation that they do to the theory of evolution.]

All physics textbook should include this warning label:

This textbook contains material on Gravity. Universal Gravity is a theory, not a fact, regarding the natural law of attraction. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

The Universal Theory of Gravity is often taught in schools as a fact, when in fact it is not even a good theory.

First of all, no one has measured gravity for every atom and every star. It is simply a religious belief that it is "universal".

Secondly, school textbooks routinely make false statements. For example, "the moon goes around the earth." If the theory of gravity were true, it would show that the sun's gravitational force on the moon is much stronger than the earth's gravitational force on the moon, so the moon would go around the sun. Anybody can look up at night and see the obvious gaps in gravity theory.

The existence of tides is often taken as a proof of gravity, but this is logically flawed. Because if the moon's "gravity" were responsible for a bulge underneath it, then how can anyone explain a high tide on the opposite side of the earth at the same time? Anyone can observe that there are two — not one — high tides every day. It is far more likely that tides were given us by an Intelligent Creator long ago and they have been with us ever since. In any case, the fact that there are two high tides falsifies gravity.

There are numerous other flaws. For example, astronomers, who seem to have a fetish for gravity, tell us that the moon rotates on its axis but at the same time it always presents the same face to the earth. This is patently absurd. Moreover, if gravity were working on the early earth, then earth would have been bombarded out of existence by falling asteroids, meteors, comets, and other space junk. Furthermore, gravity theory suggests that the planets have been moving in orderly orbits for millions and millions of years, which wholly contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since everything in the Universe tends to disorder according to the Second Law, orderly orbits are impossible. This cannot be resolved by pointing to the huge outpouring of energy from the sun. In fact, it is known that the flux of photons from the sun and the "solar wind" actually tends to push earth away.

There are numerous alternative theories that should be taught on an equal basis. For example, the observed behavior of the earth's revolving around the sun can be perfectly explained if the sun has a net positive charge and the planets have a net negative charge, since opposite charges attract and the force is an inverse-square law, exactly as proposed by the increasingly discredited Theory of Gravity. Physics and chemistry texts emphasize that this is the explanation for electrons going around the nucleus, so if it works for atoms, why not for the solar system? The answer is simple: scientific orthodoxy.

The US Patent Office has never issued a patent for anti-gravity. Why is this? According to natural law and homeopathy, everything exists in opposites: good–evil; grace–sin; positive charges–negative charges; north poles–south poles; good vibes–bad vibes; and so on. We know there are anti-evolutionists, so why not anti-gravitationalists? It is clearly a matter of the scientific establishment elite's protecting their own. Anti-gravity papers are routinely rejected from peerreviewed journals, and scientists who propose anti-gravity quickly lose their funding. Universal gravity theory is just a way to keep the grant money flowing.

Even Isaac Newton, said to be the discoverer of gravity, knew there were problems with the theory. He claims to have invented the idea early in his life, but he knew that no mathematician of his day would approve his theory, so he invented a whole new branch of mathematics, called fluxions, just to "prove" his theory. This became calculus, a deeply flawed branch having to do with so-called "infinitesimals" which have never been observed. Then when Einstein invented a new theory of gravity, he, too, used an obscure bit of mathematics called tensors. It seems that every time there is a theory of gravity, it is mixed up with fringe mathematics. Newton, by the way,was far from a secular scientist, and the bulk of his writings is actually on theology and Christianity. His dabbling in gravity, alchemy, and calculus was a mere sideline, perhaps an aberration best left forgotten in describing his career and faith in a Creator.

To make matters worse, proponents of gravity theory hypothesize about mysterious things called gravitons and gravity waves. These have never been observed, and when some accounts of detecting gravity waves were published, the physicists involved had to quickly retract them. Every account of anti-gravity and gravity waves quickly elicits laughter. This is not a theory suitable for children. And even children can see how ridiculous it is to imagine that people in Australia are upside down with respect to us, as gravity theory would have it. If this is an example of the predictive power of the theory of gravity,we can see that at the core there is no foundation.

Gravity totally fails to explain why Saturn has rings and Jupiter does not. It utterly fails to account for obesity. In fact, what it does "explain" is far outweighed by what it does not explain.

When the planet Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, he relied on "gravitational calculations". But Tombaugh was a Unitarian, a liberal religious group that supports the Theory of Gravity. The modern-day Unitarian-Universalists continue to rely on liberal notions and dismiss ideas of anti-gravity as heretical. Tombaugh never even attempted to justify his "gravitational calculations" on the basis of Scripture, and he went on to be a founding member of the liberal Unitarian Fellowship of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The theory of gravity violates common sense in many ways. Adherents have a hard time explaining, for instance, why airplanes do not fall. Since anti-gravity is rejected by the scientific establishment, they resort to lots of hand-waving. The theory, if taken seriously, implies that the default position for all airplanes is on the ground. While this seems true for Northwest Airlines, it appears that JetBlue and Southwest have a superior theory that effectively harnesses forces that overcome so-called gravity.

It is unlikely that the Law of Gravity will be repealed given the present geo-political climate, but there is no need to teach unfounded theories in the public schools. There is, indeed, evidence that the Theory of Gravity is having a grave effect on morality. Activist judges and left-leaning teachers often use the phrase "what goes up must come down" as a way of describing gravity, and relativists have been quick to apply this to moral standards and common decency.

Finally, the mere name‚ "Universal Theory of Gravity" or "Theory of Universal Gravity" (the secularists like to use confusing language) has a distinctly socialist ring to it. The core idea of "to each according to his weight, from each according to his mass" is communistic. There is no reason that gravity should apply to the just and the unjust equally, and the saved should have relief from such "universalism." If we have Universal Gravity now, then universal health care will be sure to follow. It is this kind of universalism that saps a nation's moral fiber. It is not even clear why we need a theory of gravity: there is not a single mention in the Bible, and the patriotic Founding Fathers never referred to it.

Overall, the Theory of Universal Gravity is just not an attractive theory. It is based on borderline evidence, has many serious gaps in what it claims to explain, is clearly wrong in important respects, and has social and moral deficiencies. If taught in the public schools, by mis-directed "educators", it has to be balanced with alternative,more attractive theories with genuine gravamen and spiritual gravitas.

About the Author(s): 

Ellery Schempp c/o NCSE PO Box 9477 Berkeley CA 94909-0477

Ellery Schempp is a long-time NCSE member and defender of evolution education.

Review: Our Inner Ape

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
45–46
Reviewer: 
Anne D Holden
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
Author(s): 
Frans de Waal
New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. 288 pages.

There are only a few names within the field of primatology that are recognizable to the general public, and Frans de Waal certainly falls into this category. The noted Emory University primatologist has studied our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, for nearly 30 years. He has authored countless scientific articles and texts, as well as several books. While his previous works have focused on such topics as chimpanzee politics and ape social complexity, de Waal's 2005 book looks at similarities between humans and our two closest living ape relatives. Entitled Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are, this book looks at various aspects of what most people believe to be distinctively human characteristics, including love, kindness, and power, explaining them in the context of our evolutionary cousins: chimpanzees and bonobos.

Yet instead of simply describing cultural traits that we may share with chimpanzees or bonobos, de Waal continually poses the question: to which species we are more similar, the often-violent chimpanzee, or the peaceful and overtly sexual bonobo? De Waal attempts to find an answer to this question through the examination of the human characteristics of power, sex, violence, and kindness.

One of the strengths of de Waal's writing is his vast amount of first-hand experience, having worked with chimps and bonobos at facilities both in his native Netherlands and in the US. De Waal uses these experiences to help to explain important similarities between human and chimpanzee/bonobo cultures. In chapters on power, sex, violence, and kindness, he offers powerful examples of how chimpanzees or bonobos exhibit the characteristic in question, often in a very humanlike manner. Indeed, it is these examples, peppered throughout each chapter, that allow this book to be enjoyed by a wide audience.

For instance, in the chapter on power, de Waal describes a struggle for male dominance that took place between three chimpanzees in the Arnhem zoo in Amsterdam. In this touching story, de Waal tells how the alpha male, Luit, was attacked by two other chimps, Yeoren and Nikkie, as a response to Luit's fast ascent to power within the group. Yeoren and Nikkie had formed an alliance, whose purpose was to get rid of Luit and then take over control of the group. Unfortunately, Luit did not survive the encounter, and this display of both violence and strategy leads de Waal to remark, "Those two had been plotting against him in order to take back the power they had lost. The shocking way they did so opened my eyes to how deadly seriously chimpanzees take their politics" (p 43). Noting that political murder is also present in our species, de Waal observes that the struggle for power among both chimpanzees and humans illustrates just how closely related to each other we are.

However, though humans' violent nature can be compared accurately to that of chimpanzees, perhaps our sex drive can be compared more accurately to that of bonobos. Bonobos used to be known as "pygmy chimpanzees," but have since been upgraded to their own separate species within the family of great apes. Though they are physically similar to chimpanzees, their social structure and culture is markedly different, especially with regard to sex. De Waal examines human sexuality in the same way he examines human violence: in the context of our ape relatives. Indeed, de Waal begins his discussion on sexuality by asking, "Why are people and bonobos such sexual hedonists? Why are we endowed with sexual appetites beyond those needed to fertilize the occasional egg and beyond the partners who make this possible?" (p 96). De Waal then continues on an exploration of multiple aspects of both human and ape sexuality, covering such topics as homosexuality, child-rearing, and infanticide. He then ends his discussion on how we came to differ from bonobos in our sexuality, pointing to the evolution of the nuclear family as a step towards reduction of overt sexual competition, which in turn increased cooperation among these family units. De Waal finally proposes that our success as a species may have been a result of an abandonment of the "bonobo lifestyle" in favor of a tighter control of our sexual expressions.

De Waal's final chapter takes the characteristics on which he focuses — power, sex, violence, and kindness — and asks which species humans are more similar to: chimpanzees or bonobos? However, de Waal argues that attempting to categorize ourselves in this way is fruitless, as we humans are much too bipolar: we cooperate and we compete,we are characterized by hate and by love. Further, de Waal argues that if we are "essentially apes, or at least descended from apes,we are born with a gamut of tendencies from the basest to the noblest. ... our morality is a product of the same selection process that shaped our competitive and aggressive side"(p 237). In other words, when attempting to discover from where our humanity evolved, we must look towards both our closest living relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos; and that both these species represent our two "inner apes."

De Waal's exploration of our "inner ape" is largely readable and often engaging, and even a reader with only a general interest in primatology would have no trouble understanding the arguments that de Waal presents. However, advanced primatologists and students might find the subject matter rather basic, as there is not much new research discussed in the book. In addition, the reliance on vivid, often emotional examples may put off some veteran primatologists who would prefer a more straightforward or dry approach. Yet it is clear that de Waal was not trying to create a data-heavy textbook on human and ape cultures. Rather, de Waal's argument that humans exhibit important qualities of both chimpanzees and bonobos is well-developed, organized, and is complemented by excellent examples from his years in close contact with these animals. As a result, the reader is left with a solid understanding of what it means to be human, as well as what it means to be an ape; something that would be appealing to anyone with a general interest in anthropology and psychology.

About the Author(s): 

Anne D Holden
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
holden@ncseweb.org

Anne D Holden is a postdoctoral scholar at NCSE. She earned her PhD in biological anthropology from Cambridge University, with a dissertation entitled Sahara Passage: The Post-Glacial Re-colonization of North Africa by Mitochondrial L Haplotypes and its Role in Modern African Genetic Diversity.

Review: Just a Theory

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
46–47
Reviewer: 
Michael Zimmerman
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science
Author(s): 
Moti Ben-Ari
Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2005. 237 pages.

The most common criticism anyone involved in the evolution/creationism controversy is likely to hear is that evolution is just a theory, and thus there's no reason to privilege it over other ideas. Although Ben-Ari does not focus exclusively on evolution, he does pay it significant attention as he attempts to explain what it means for a scientific idea to rise to the level of theory.

He does a nice job, for example, of comparing the theory of gravity to the theory of evolution, pointing out that while there is no public controversy over the former, a great deal more is actually known about the latter. Sophisticated evolutionary mechanisms abound with a great deal of research being produced each year designed to determine the conditions under which each operates. A mechanism for gravity, on the other hand, is still purely conjectural with no solid evidence that gravitons — gravitational waves, and particles hypothesized to be "analogous to the electromagnetic waves and photons that come from electromagnetic fields" — actually exist. In the light, somewhat humorous style that permeates the book, Ben- Ari concludes, "Currently, the evidence [for gravitons] is controversial, so we must live with the embarrassment of risking our lives on a theory whose mechanism is not fully understood" (p 32).

Ben-Ari makes his comparative point very clear: "the theory of evolution more than fulfills all of the requirements of scientific 'theoryhood,' even more than the theory of gravitation.To brand evolution as 'just a theory' is the finest compliment one can confer on it!" (p 38).

The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this discrepancy is that those who attack evolution for being just a theory are clearly not doing so on scientific grounds. If the theory of gravity could be interpreted by some to have political ramifications, it too would be attacked by those who disagreed with those political extensions. What's important to remember, though, is that the misuse of scientific concepts, purposefully or ignorantly, when those concepts are brought into the public arena should have no bearing on their underlying scientific validity. Ben- Ari appropriately explains that science is a discipline that strictly imposes self-limitations."Few people appreciate that modern science is quite limited in scope and restricts itself to description and explanation of natural phenomena; on purpose, science does not deal with purpose" (p x).

Ben-Ari deals with the basics of the epistemology of science, how we know what we know, in a straightforward and readable fashion that is fully accessible to the general reader. He covers the importance of falsification, makes critical distinctions between the technical use of terms and the common use of the same words, provides a cursory overview of the use of statistics in science (focusing mostly on medical examples), and offers abbreviated critiques of the sociology of science and postmodern attacks on science. Taken together, all of this allows Ben-Ari to accomplish his main goal of helping readers "distinguish claims that are provisional and debatable, from claims that are so well established that rejecting them drives one over the border that divides real science from pseudoscience, which are activities that illegitimately wrap themselves in the mantle of science" (p ix).

The more sophisticated reader, one who is already fairly well immersed in the evolution/creationism controversy, is not likely to find much new in the book. Similarly, this is not the book for those looking for specific refutations of creationist assertions about their "discipline" or for ammunition to rebut creationist attacks on evolution beyond those of the "it's just a theory" genre.

Ben-Ari ends each chapter with a very short vignette of a famous scientist. These interesting but fairly superficial asides are designed to humanize the face of science and to demonstrate that science is always conducted within a cultural and historical context. The twelve people discussed include such notables as Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Pasteur and Pauling, but, unfortunately only one woman, mathematician Emmy Noether, is included.

By covering topics as varied as the nature of reductionism, geology, and the future of science, in addition to the epistemological approaches mentioned above, in such a short book it is not surprising that Ben-Ari is barely able to scratch the surface of any one of them. He has provided the equivalent of a tasty appetizer, one that might be the precursor to an elegant meal. Many readers will likely finish the book ready for the next, more substantial, course — and that's not a bad thing!

About the Author(s): 

Michael Zimmerman
Office of the Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Butler University
Indianapolis IN 46208
mz@butler.edu

Michael Zimmerman is Professor of Biology and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis. He is also the founder and director of The Clergy Letter Project (http://www.evolutionsunday.org), an organization designed to demonstrate that religion and science need not be at odds with one another.

Review: Intelligent Design and Fundamentalist Opposition to Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
47–48
Reviewer: 
Charles A Israel
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Intelligent Design and Fundamentalist Opposition to Evolution
Author(s): 
Angus M Gunn
Jefferson (NC): McFarland and Company, 2006. 215 pages.

Other than the tantalizing clue of a dedication "To my fellow evangelicals," Angus Gunn offers little sense of the purpose or intended audience for this short, polemical work. Whether these referenced evangelists are spreading the good news of the Christian gospels or the modern evolutionary synthesis is not clear, though his book seems to lament the drift of ever more American Christians into anti-evolutionist camps. Evangelical Christian fundamentalists and nonfundamentalists might agree on very little, he asserts, but they "find common ground in their opposition to the theory of evolution" (p 53). How they came to this state, and why that poses a problem for modern America, is the focus of the book.

The major theme of Gunn's work is "the importance of modern science and the tragedy of fundamentalist rejection of it for such a long time" (p 2). Gunn attacks one side of this problem in the final chapter, offering a few case studies of how biological research has been important in improving "human welfare". Concentrating on recent advances in genetics and their positive impact on medicine, Gunn also appends a listing of "medical breakthroughs over 100 years" at the end of his book (p 189–90). The role of biological research in these advances is not entirely clear, and it seems that Gunn could have strengthened his case for the plausibility of evolution by examining how human pathogens actually evolve and not just stating that science is finding ways to combat disease.

Perhaps too easily blurring distinctions among "creationists, ... proponents of intelligent design, [and] fundamentalists" (p 3), Gunn nonetheless offers some helpful insights into what unites anti-evolutionists. In less temperate moments he damns them all as "just defending the past" (p 1), but at his best Gunn demonstrates the binding thread of a "common sense" approach to science, theology, and even political philosophy that lies at the heart of an evangelical rejection of evolutionary biology. The problem with such a belief, he notes incisively, is that these claims to inductive study of science or scripture mask the reality that the reader or Baconian scientist are still engaged in a process of interpretation. Theological fundamentalists seek to privilege their readings as the most authentic, but their conclusions are no less bound up with their own times and concerns than are those of theological modernists or evolutionary biologists. Gunn seems unwilling to pursue these insights about interpretation into science, boldly claiming,"science is and always has been free from issues of ethics and morality" (p 4), despite the growing literature in the social history of science since Thomas Kuhn's path-breaking The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970).

Too often Gunn falls into an approach he criticizes when used by anti-evolutionists; like several chapters in The Fundamentals, the early-twentieth-century handbook of theologically conservative Christian thought, Gunn's book frequently proves more "vitriolic rather than critical" (p 93). He describes evolutionary opponents as practitioners of a "mindless fundamentalism"( p 22) who refuse "to deal rationally" (p 39) with modern science. He even turns on its head the oft-used anti-evolutionist attack linking belief in evolution with the Prussian militarism of World War I or the Nazi atrocities of World War II. Gunn explains the success of George McCready Price's flood geology with an explicit connection to Adolf Hitler, suggesting that both perpetrated "a big lie" (p 160) with disastrous consequences. I am not suggesting a purity of motive for anti-evolutionists — among other sources, evidence from the 2005 Dover trial demonstrated a clear pattern of deception on the part of several proponents of "intelligent design" — but to equate opponents of naturalistic evolution with a mass murderer of historic proportions is sure to produce more heat than light.

Beyond the excess of vitriol, Gunn's volume suffers from insufficient background in the admittedly voluminous secondary literature. He asserts that Dayton, site of the 1925 Scopes trial,"was as fundamentalist as any place in America" (p 106), although as Edward Larson has demonstrated, the town was mostly Methodist and had a higher percentage of non-church members than many surrounding towns (Larson 1997: 92–3). Careless editing leads Gunn to several confusing passages: he covers the same topics in multiple places, at times repeating multiple sentences verbatim (for example on p 120 and 161, on Henry Morris); he seems to regard Stephen Jay Gould as a contemporary of Karl Marx and a precursor to the Russian Revolution (p 103); and he suggests that modern scientists no longer regard "naturalism ... as very important" (p 129).

US President Warren G Harding (1921–23) reportedly remarked "I have no trouble with my enemies, but my damn friends ... they're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!" The President was reacting to accusations lodged against several members of his short-lived administration; Harding complained that allegations of wrongdoing by others prevented him from pursuing his agenda. While there is no hint of corruption, malfeasance, or malicious intent in the volume under review, Angus Gunn's combative approach and inattentive editing might leave defenders of the teaching of evolution in public schools wandering the hallways after dark. In short, it is neither a very effective tool for explaining to evolutionists why fundamentalist Christians cannot accept the central arguments of modern biology nor for converting anti-evolutionists to an understanding of the importance of modern science.

References

Kuhn TS. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Larson EJ. 1997. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. New York: Basic Books.

About the Author(s): 

Charles A Israel
Department of History
Auburn University
Auburn AL 36849

Charles A Israel is Associate Professor of History at Auburn University and the author of Before Scopes: Evangelicalism, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870–1925 (Athens [GA]: University of Georgia Press, 2004).

Review: Evolution versus Intelligent Design

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
48–49
Reviewer: 
Matt Young
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolution versus Intelligent Design: Why All the Fuss? The Arguments for Both Sides
Author(s): 
Peter Cook
Sydney (Australia): New Holland Publishers, 2006. 128 pages.

Peter Cook, a philosopher with a degree from the University of Sydney, suffers from terminal objectivity — the idea that you have to give equal consideration to both sides of any controversy, whether or not both sides have equal merit. Why all the fuss indeed! There is a fuss because a tiny handful of well-funded activists, few of them scientists, have set themselves up to undermine the theory of evolution and thereby all of science, because evolution does not fit well with their preconceived religious notions. You would not know that from reading this book. Indeed, on page 45, Cook swallows, hook, line, and sinker, the contention that "intelligent design" creationism is not religious in origin because it does not "rule out the possibility that the intelligent designer may in fact be a hyper-intelligent race of aliens from another galaxy!"

Cook's approach is to present competing factoids so that, as the back cover of the book advises, "You, the reader, can make up your own mind." No one, layperson or not, can make an informed decision about a highly technical subject like evolution on the basis of a sequence of 100-word factoids.

It does not help that Cook conflates "intelligent design" creationism with creationism in general, as when he notes, incorrectly, that "intelligent design" creationism uses the supposed absence of transitional fossils as evidence against speciation or macroevolution. It also does not help that the book is badly proofread and contains a number of annoying factual errors. For example, contrary to Cook, Darwin was unaware of genetic variation and genetic drift. Galileo did not devise the heliocentric theory in 1616 (nor at any other time). Darwin did not publish the Origin of Species in 1859 when he "got wind of a similar theory being proposed by fellow naturalist Alfred Wallace"; Darwin and Wallace published jointly in 1858, the year before the Origin was published. Design does not necessarily imply purpose. Energy is not exerted; entropy is not lost energy or "spent energy that loses its direction."The No Free Lunch theorems are not physics. Genesis and the fossil record do not agree. And so on.

Cook writes,"Evolution is a theory in the sense that it is a story about how all past and present life on our planet came to be as it was, and as it now is." If he thinks that a scientific theory is just a story,then it is no wonder that he cannot choose between evolution and creationism. Cook goes on to say that "scientists are more likely to simply assume the idea of evolution from the outset ..." as if that assumption were an arbitrary choice based on faith. Scientists,he says, could in principle "find data which simply cannot be made to fit with the theory of evolution. This [finding] would imply that the theory of evolution is wrong." He then argues, correctly but inconsistently, that scientists "constantly" find things they cannot explain but, rather than doubt the theory of evolution, try to explain any apparently anomalous results within the context of the theory. "So," asks Cook, "is it possible to challenge the validity of the theory of evolution?"The short answer is no, probably not.The theory of evolution is far too well established to be challenged, for example, by a handful of anomalous data or carping criticisms based on tenuous concepts like specified complexity or irreducible complexity.

The structure of the book is like a he said–she said story: "intelligent design" creationism says this; evolution says that. Or sometimes evolution says this; creationism says that.Almost no argument runs longer than one page, and they are mighty small pages at 5 x 7 inches. Arguments on both sides are presented without comment; readers are left to decide which arguments they prefer, but they are given no guidance whatsoever. For example, Cook repeats uncritically William Dembski's spurious claim that the No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems prove that no search algorithm performs better than a blind search. On the facing page, he notes that evolution has no target and that the NFL theorems do not apply to co-evolution. But he leaves out the crucial fact that Dembski is prevaricating: the NFL theorems do not apply to a single search algorithm in a single environment (that is, a single fitness function) but to the average over all fitness functions. In other words, the NFL theorems are irrelevant to evolution under any conditions, and discussion of a target or coevolution is beside the point.

As a specialist in optics, I was particularly amused by Cook's uncritical repetition of the creationist claim that the parts of the eye are arranged precisely as a human engineer would have arranged them. I do not know about Cook's eye, but mine would be a lot better if the nerves were not on top of the retina. As it is,the nerves have to pass through a hole in the retina, and we can get glaucoma if the tensile force on the nerves gets too great. In addition, if I were designing an eye, I would have made the retina lie on a plane, I would not have designed such a small area of high resolution, and I would have made a lens that did not get stiff and opaque with age. I suppose an automatic exposure control would have been a bit too much to ask for, but at a minimum I would have made the nerves that attach to the rods and cones go to different parts of the brain so that the user could switch rapidly between rods and cones and not have to wait minutes or longer to accommodate to darkness. Nature did what it could with the materials at hand, but, frankly, if I had been around at the appropriate time, I might have made some good suggestions. Cook observes that biochemists sometimes reverse-engineer a system and says they find "design decisions" built into those systems; he uses the possibility of reverse-engineering as evidence that biochemical systems may have been designed. I certainly hope they are better designed than my eye, but I doubt it. Indeed, I would argue that the existence of demonstrably suboptimal systems militates against a design argument.

Not everything in this little book is bad. But, apart from the errors, Cook's dogged refusal to take a stand is vexing, if not downright irresponsible.Not every question has two sides, and some truth claims are better supported than others. "intelligent design" creationism is bunk and should be treated as such.

About the Author(s): 

Matt Young
Department of Physics
Colorado School of Mines
Golden CO 80401
mmyoung@mines.edu

Matt Young is Senior Lecturer in Physics at the Colorado School of Mines and the co-editor, with Taner Edis, of Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism (New Brunswick [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, 2004).

Review: Mammals Who Morph

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
49–50
Reviewer: 
Lisa M Blank
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story, Book Three
Author(s): 
Jennifer Morgan
Nevada City (CA): Dawn Publications, 2006. 48 pages.
"Long ago, humans intuited that the Universe had a beginning, and told creation stories the world over. Science now confirms that ancient tradition."
— Jennifer Morgan

Mammals Who Morph is the third and final book in Jennifer Morgan's trilogy for children on the earth's history, preceded by Born with a Bang and From Lava to Life. As in her previous two accounts, Morgan's chronicle opens with a "Letter from the Universe" in which the reader is invited to follow the universe's life story, as told in first-person by the universe.

As readers, our time travels begin with "mousy mini-mammals" who "ruled the nights" in a world of giant dinosaurs "who ruled the days"; that is until the great meteor struck the earth 65 million years ago. The mini-mammals then disperse across the land, sea, and air, with some mammals returning to an "easier life" in the seas.

Along the way, Morgan effectively demonstrates the powerful force of co-evolution using an example of the bargain struck between horses and grasses. "Unlike other plants, grass grew from the bottom so it didn't get damaged when the top was eaten ... over time the horses ... had just the right teeth for grinding grass." Hominins enter the story wielding a variety of tools and strategies for survival, capturing the power of fire and sun, and close the story by confronting the current environmental crisis with the "creative powers of the universe that reside within each of us: imagination, love, and decision making."

Throughout the storyline, the universe moves from "crisis to crisis". In each episodic occurrence, Morgan characterizes the crisis as an opportunity for inventiveness and emphasizes how the interconnectedness of all life forms is very much in evidence today. For example, a lightning storm brings fire to the humans; a human's backbone was "fashioned by fish"; the deepest part of the brain was "built by reptiles"; the cells "are directly descended from ancient single cell organisms"; the rotating shoulder was "developed by primates in trees".

Morgan's tale is vividly told and thoughtfully supportive of teachers or parents who plan to use this narrative with their children. Each page contains a timeline of events and in the footer Morgan succinctly captures the science concept or concepts being developed. For example, when she relates how the "morphing of the earth" resulted in the creation of wide-open plains, the science concepts are listed as "Earth cools down and new partnerships form"and a page number links the reader to a more complete scientific explanation of the event. Morgan also provides the reader with a comprehensive list of books, videos, and websites to use in extending the scientific concepts introduced.

While Morgan's combination of storytelling and science is a compelling format for young readers, it may also prove provocative for some. First Nations readers will likely be troubled by the reference to the peopling of North America via the Bering Strait; their creation narratives do not recognize migration from Asia. Is this a case where Morgan's personification of the universe undermines her effort to advance the reader's scientific way of knowing the world? Will the reader infer then that the theory of evolution is just another story?

As I pondered these questions and how Morgan might respond, I read Morgan's farewell to the reader. Here she explains that "God is purposefully not in the story so that it can be embraced by people of all religious traditions, or of none at all ... people usually refer to "God" as a transcendent, supernatural creator who exists outside the physical world ... today we're rediscovering a sense of divine creativity, not simply in the transcendent mode, but also as immanent, as present in the Universe itself."

While this adieu did not provide an answer to any of my questions, I do know this. In these pages Morgan elegantly captures the richness and wonder of an interdependent and ever changing world where who we are cannot be separated from where we are.

About the Author(s): 

Lisa M Blank
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Montana
32 Campus Drive
Missoula MT 59812

Lisa M Blank is Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction of the School of Education at the University of Montana.

Review: A Jealous God

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
50–51
Reviewer: 
Jeffrey Shallit
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion
Author(s): 
Pamela R Winnick
Nashville (TN): Thomas Nelson, 2005. 368 pages.

Pamela Winnick is an attorney and former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who has written several articles that lean against evolution and in favor of "intelligent design". I recently forced myself to read her 2005 book, A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion. It was not a pleasant experience.

Winnick's book covers a variety of topics: abortion, population control, eugenics, medical experimentation, the Scopes trial, the theory of evolution, "intelligent design", and fetal tissue research. Her thesis — if this rambling, disjointed book can be said to have one — is contained in the book's final paragraph: "The Galileo prototype of the scientist martyred by religion is now purely a myth. Science long ago won its war against religion, not just traditional religion, but any faith in a power outside the human mind. Now it wants more" (p 298).

Throughout the book, scientists are depicted as crazed, power-hungry, and immoral. Only religion, Winnick implies, can rein in these dangerous nuts who threaten society.

Winnick's claim that "science long ago won its war against religion" is far too glib. Ironically, 2005 also saw the publication of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science (New York: Basic Books, 2005; reviewed in RNCSE 2005 May–Aug; 25 [3–4]: 45–6), a far better documented book that shows in depressing detail how American science has been subjugated to the political and especially religious goals of the Christian right.

Winnick's reporting is often sloppy. Incidents are slanted to support her thesis, names are misspelled (Stanislaw Ulam's last name is comically morphed into "Ulsam"; Richard Lewontin's middle initial is given incorrectly), quotes are mined (sometimes incorrectly), and some "facts" are just plain made up (see below).

Here is an example of a mined quote. Winnick claims, "In a 1997 piece in the New York Times, Dawkins famously remarked that anyone who does not believe in evolution is 'stupid, and ignorant and ... wicked' (emphasis added)" (p 161). However, Dawkins's actual remark was "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Winnick entirely changed the meaning of the quote by replacing Dawkins's "or"s with "and"s. Further, Dawkins's remark did not appear in 1997; it appeared in an April 9, 1989, book review.

As might be expected of someone with no scientific training, Winnick displays multiple misunderstandings of science. In this, she joins several other lawyers who have criticized evolution, such as Phillip Johnson (Darwin on Trial), Norman Macbeth (Darwin Retried), and Dean Overman (A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization). (Oddly enough, the reverse case — evolutionary biologists writing books about law — does not seem to occur.) And despite the fact that Winnick claims to be a "practicing Jew and liberal Democrat", her book uses the same nasty and dishonest rhetorical tricks that are the staple of far-right Christian creationists.

First, let us look at some of Winnick's misunderstandings.

On page 110, Winnick claims that, although evolution cannot be observed, "evolution could be inferred from the rapid variations that occur within a given species. During his famed five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin observed these variations first hand. On a stop in the Galápagos Islands, he noticed the different beak sizes and shapes among the finches that had flown in from the mainland, each settling on a different island" (emphasis in original). Winnick fails to understand that the Galápagos finches are not merely variations "within" a species (here she merely echoes a typical creationist objection to evolution), but different species — in fact, thirteen different species in the Galápagos. And of course, evolution can be observed, as speciation has been observed in both the laboratory and the wild. How many times can these creationist falsehoods be repeated? Why does Winnick not subject these false claims to some critical scrutiny?

Later on the same page, Winnick writes (in a footnote), "The word 'theory' when used in science is different from its ordinary use. A scientific theory is considered virtually the same as fact." While the first sentence is correct, one can only stare open-mouthed at the ignorance of the second. A theory is not the same as a fact; otherwise how could one speak of competing scientific theories? Rather, a theory in the scientific sense is a coherent system of explanation for natural phenomena, testable by experiments, that makes predictions and explains observations. Some theories are better supported than others; only the really wellsupported theories, such as gravity and evolution, can be considered as similar to facts, keeping in mind that in science every explanation is provisional.

Winnick also claims that "Darwin's theory was inspired not by science, but by the politics of his time" (p 111). Although it is true that Darwin hit on natural selection by an analogy with Malthus, it is misrepresentation to suggest that his theory was inspired by politics alone. Has Winnick never read the Origin of Species? If so, she would have known that Darwin patiently built his scientific case for evolution on a host of supporting facts, not politics. And her history is wrong, too, since Darwin began his transmutation notebook (the "B" notebook) in 1837, but did not make the connection with Malthus's essay until 1838.

But then, Winnick is no stranger to misrepresentations. In 2001, she claimed, "I am, however, writing a book about the subject showing how the media and scientific elite has stifled meaningful debate on the subject. In doing so, I am indeed supported ($25 000) by the Phillips Foundation, an organization which takes absolutely no position on the subject of evolution, but which seeks to promote fair and balanced reporting in all subject areas." However, Wesley Elsberry took a look at the Phillips Foundation web page and found that Winnick's fellowship was then described as follows: "Project: 'Examination of How Media and Established Scientists Treat the Subject of Evolution,' analyzing why there seems to be little tolerance for teaching creationism in America." (See http://www.anti-evolution.org/events/pbsevo/wre_prw_20011129.html for details.) Since then, the Phillips Foundation has altered its web page and the description of Winnick's project.

Another creationist trick that Winnick uses is credential inflation. Phillip Johnson, a law professor with no biological training, is described as "brilliant". Ironically, on page 195, Winnick asks, "how likely was it that Alec Baldwin or Kim Basinger or any of the many other glitzy Hollywood stars had ever seriously studied biology or understood Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection or ever read anything on the subject other than PFAW press releases?" Offhand, I'd say it is about the same likelihood that Phillip Johnson or William Dembski or David Berlinski has seriously studied biology, but Winnick does not hesitate to tout them as experts.

No creationist saw is too unreliable for Winnick to repeat. Here are a few examples:

A nameless Chinese paleontologist is quoted on page 198 as saying, "In China we can criticize Darwin, but not the government; in America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin." Neither Winnick nor others who have used the quote, including Phillip Johnson and Jonathan Wells, have ever identified the paleontologist or provided any corroboration for the anecdote.

On page 122, two brief quotes from mathematicians expressing skepticism about the mathematical feasibility of neo-Darwinism are presented as representing the consensus of the 1966 Wistar Institute Symposium. Winnick says that their dissent was ignored and their objections "faded into oblivion" because of ideological resistance, not considering the possibility that they were mistaken.

Fred Hoyle's "tornado in a junkyard" objection to current theories of abiogenesis is mentioned on page 172 as if it represented a scientific result rather than his own expression of incredulity and as if no progress had occurred in origins- of-life research in the 25 years between Hoyle's comment (in his 1983 book The Intelligent Universe) and Winnick's book.

Liberal Democrat or not, this book cements Pamela Winnick's reputation as a flack for the Christian right. It is not a fair, reliable, or objective look at the battles between science and religion. It appears to me that Winnick has a bad case of science envy.

About the Author(s): 

Jeffrey Shallit
School of Computer Science
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1
Canada

Jeffrey Shallit is Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo. He blogs at http://recursed.blogspot.com.

Review: Dinosaurs

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
51–52
Reviewer: 
Randall B Irmis
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages
Author(s): 
Thomas R Holtz Jr
illustrated by Luis V Rey
New York: Random House, 2007. 428 pages

There is no shortage of dinosaur books for children, and this is reflected by Tom Holtz’s admonition on the inside flap that “the world doesn’t need another A-to-Z list of dinosaurs.” Typically, dinosaur books are organized by name, vague groupings of creatures, or by time period, rather than any evolutionary or biological theme. Many of these volumes have passable to excellent art, but are light on scientific content, and more informative books are generally inappropriate for children. What, then, does this new book offer over other popular dinosaur books?

The major strength of Dinosaurs is that Holtz has done an excellent job explaining dinosaur science as a process; that is, how paleontologists understand the biology of dinosaurs through inferences from the fossil record. There are four basic sections of the book: basic principles of dinosaur science; the relationships and major groups of dinosaurs; the evolution of Mesozoic faunas through time; and dinosaur paleobiology; and each is infused with explanations of how science is done. Complex topics are clearly explained in a way that both children and adults will understand. Particularly impressive is that Holtz spends an entire chapter explaining the principles of cladistics, the method by which scientists reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of organisms. Although cladistics is fundamental to modern organismal biology, few popular books (and perhaps no children’s books) tackle the subject in any detail, and Holtz should be applauded for taking the plunge. This explanation is also practical for the reader, because Holtz often refers to cladistics in other sections of the book when explaining the relationships of dinosaurs and how scientists make conclusions about dinosaur paleobiology.

Another advantage of this book over others is the inclusion of sidebars written by a variety of dinosaur experts. These short articles cover topics that are not directly discussed in the main text, including dinosaur growth, diseases, and feeding. Not only do these sidebars broaden the topics discussed in the book, but also they introduce a diversity of opinions and information that wouldn’t be possible with a single author. The quality of these contributions varies (some are more informative than others), but they are superb overall and put the book on a level above most other children’s dinosaur books.

Dinosaurs may not be the first book that I’d reach for to teach children about evolution, but it does an excellent job integrating the principles of evolution and natural selection into the discussion of dinosaur topics. Evolution is used to explain how we know the relationships of dinosaurs, provide hypotheses about dinosaur behavior, and explain why different growth strategies might be beneficial. Holtz’s introductory chapter on evolution is short, but it effectively communicates the basic principles of natural selection and concepts like the evolutionary tree of life.

This is one of the best popular dinosaur books I’ve read. Although focused for children, it will also be informative for students and adults. The book is packed with up-to-date and clearly explained information, and the author maintains a website for future updates (http://www.geol.umd.edu/~tholtz/dinoappendix/). Given the information content, clear explanations, full-color semi-glossy printing, and hardback binding, this book is an excellent value at the list price of $34.99.

About the Author(s): 
Randall B Irmis
Museum of Paleontology
1101 Valley Life Sciences Building
University of California
Berkeley CA 94720-4780
irmis@berkeley.edu

Randall B Irmis is a PhD candidate in the Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley.

Review: The Voyage of the Beetle

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
52–53
Reviewer: 
Jason R Wiles
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey Around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle
Author(s): 
Anne H Weaver
illustrated by George Lawrence
Albuquerque (NM): University of New Mexico Press, 2007. 80 pages
Its title easily recognizable as a play on that of Darwin's own volume, Anne Weaver's The Voyage of the Beetle is a fanciful account of the historic circumnavigation from the perspective of Rosie, another passenger on the Beagle who happens to be a rose chafer beetle (Cetonia aurata).

Those acquainted with books on evolution for young readers will probably, and fondly, recall The Sandwalk Adventures (2003), Jay Hosler's delightful graphic novel in which Darwin is similarly associated with a storytelling arthropod. And while the subject matter and the intended age level may overlap, there are marked differences between these two works. For example, in Sandwalk, Mara, a young follicle mite and resident of Darwin's left eyebrow, is unfailingly respectful to Darwin, calling him "sir" while she wrestles with his insistence that he is not, as she has always believed, an all-powerful god called "Flycatcher", an allusion to his moniker among the Beagle's crew. Mara listens raptly as Darwin explains his theory of natural selection and debunks misconceptions about evolution such as, for example, that individuals (rather than populations) evolve — a misconception retained in Weaver's definition of adaptation in Beetle's glossary, which suggests, erroneously, that adaptation in animals is achieved "by learning".

Rosie contrasts starkly with Hosler's reverent Mara. She has been a constant, though independent, companion of Darwin since the young naturalist discovered her under a rock, and she rather familiarly calls him Charles — which she prefers over his "silly nickname of Gas." Fortunately, Rosie followed a most unbeetlelike whim in her decision to forsake a comfortable life among England's rosebuds to join Darwin in his travels. Otherwise he might never have discovered his solution — descent with modification via natural selection — to "the mystery of mysteries", the origin of new species.

Darwin is already pondering questions about the diversity of life as the story begins, sometime before the Beagle's embarkation. Even at this point, Rosie hints that she was aware of the workings of evolution, since "beetles have been around for more than 200 million years" and thus "have an ancient and unique vantage point when it comes to the mysteries of nature." However, describing Charles as resistant to suggestions or advice, Rosie decides to guide him toward a solution, challenging the reader to figure it out before Darwin.

Recounting the five-year voyage, Rosie colorfully describes several members of the ship's crew and a few particulars of life at sea, which, to say the least, was uncomfortable for Darwin. Although she portrays him as "a restless and irritable cabin mate," Rosie sympathizes with Darwin over the cramped conditions and his seasickness. She also commends him for faithfully recording and sketching countless and amazing species of microscopic creatures collected via plankton nets, and admires his enthusiasm for such discoveries. At this point, however, our coleopteran narrator turns to well-intended subterfuge, covertly scribbling clues into Darwin's notebook in hopes that she can lead him toward the answer to "the mystery of mysteries".

Rosie's clues are drawn from their encounters with the organisms and environments of South America, the Galápagos, and a few stops in the southern Pacific. They essentially comprise the basic tenets of Darwin's theory (variation exists among individuals of a species; some individuals have traits which give them advantages in the struggle for life; those that survive pass on their traits to offspring) as well as observations about geologic change, comparisons between extinct and extant organisms, and the inference that the diversity of living things has changed over time.

After their return to England, Rosie explains, she "continued to accompany Charles on long walks" where she listened and waited for him to figure out what all the clues meant, and she lists them again for the reader to ponder. A solution is offered in the final chapter which condenses Darwin's theory and a few supporting concepts in a scant three pages.

Although Darwin is often portrayed in Beetle as fussy, clumsy, and at times obstinate, he is more often described as insatiably curious, brilliant, and congenial. In the afterword, Weaver explains, "the comical incidents included in this book were chosen to show that Darwin was open to new experiences and able to laugh at himself." Indeed, the book does paint Darwin as likeable, as do the wonderful illustrations by George Lawrence, which refreshingly portray a youthful and spry Darwin with locks of "fly-away red hair" rather than the wizened old sage of Down.

Sundry references to Darwin's training in theology (curiously defined in the glossary as being specific to Christianity) and associations with missionaries on his travels are no doubt intended, and may well help, to make him and the book more palatable to potentially wary Christians. Rosie describes Darwin as a loving husband and father as well as having a deep and caring respect for others. Noting his vehement opposition to slavery, she explains that he had been "much grieved by the misery" of the slaves and that such cruelty was "a mystery that even Charles could not fathom."

Such efforts to depict Darwin as the genius and grand human figure that he was, and such efforts to acquaint young readers with evolution and natural selection, will always get my nod of approval, even if a number of errors detracted from my enjoyment. (For example, spiders are included among Rosie's "insect companions"; a tsunami is called a "tidal wave"; Darwin is described as the Beagle's naturalist — a legend that Stephen Jay Gould [1977] was fond of dispelling.) And Beetle is such an attractive book that it is sure to catch the attention of youngsters. I'd like to see Beetle in the hands of children of the appropriate age, especially if they have knowledgeable parents and teachers nearby to shore up the details, catch misconceptions, and answer the questions that are sure to arise. As Weaver aptly states, "one mystery leads to another."

References


Gould SJ. 1977. Darwin's sea change, or five years at the captain's table. In: Gould SJ. Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. New York: WW Norton. p 28–38.

Hosler J. 2003. The Sandwalk Adventures. Columbus (OH): Active Synapse.

About the Author(s): 

Jason Wiles
Evolution Education Research Centre
McGill University
3700 McTavish St
Montréal, Quebec H3A 1Y2
Canada
jason.wiles@mcgill.ca


Jason R Wiles is a professor in the Department of Biology at Syracuse University with a secondary appointment in the Department of Science Teaching. He is also affiliated with the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University, and he recently co-edited a special issue of McGill Journal of Education focused on evolution education (available on-line at http://mje.mcgill.ca/issue/view/54).

Review: God and Evolution: A Reader

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
27
Year: 
2007
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
53–54
Reviewer: 
James F McGrath
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
God and Evolution: A Reader
Author(s): 
Mary Kathleen Cunningham
New York: Routledge, 2007. 385 pages.
Mary Kathleen Cunningham's reader God and Evolution provides an up-to-date collection of key excerpts from the most important representatives of various positions and viewpoints on this subject. Each section begins with an introduction that helps guide the reader to important similarities and differences between the selections, filling in useful background knowledge that makes the readings themselves more accessible.

The first part, on methodology, is focused primarily on method in theology, with a consideration of how language and method in theology relate to language and method in science. This section would have benefited from the inclusion of a discussion of what science is, and how it works, written by a philosopher of science or a biologist who was not specifically concerned to make a comparison with religion. Nevertheless, what is included is extremely helpful. The excerpt from the nineteenth-century Protestant theologian Charles Hodge illustrates that, when Christian fundamentalism first developed, it did not regard a young earth as one of the fundamentals that gave the movement its name. The other excerpts in this section are by Sallie McFague, Mary Midgley, and Ian Barbour, and reflect a more mainstream approach to religious language and theology.

Part two presents evolutionary theory, with excerpts from Darwin's Origin of Species as well as works by Francisco Ayala and Michael Ruse. The latter are appropriate choices, since these individuals illustrate that a Christian can be a prominent evolutionary biologist, and that an atheist philosopher of science can see no inherent incompatibility of evolution and Christianity. Both Ayala and Ruse distinguish between the fact of evolution, the path of evolutionary development down the ages, and the mechanisms that drive evolution. The distinctions are important ones that are often overlooked when people discuss evolution in theological contexts.

The third part, entitled simply "Creationism", is rather more problematic. It consists of only two readings. The first is simply the first two chapters of Genesis. It was a good choice to use the New Revised Standard Version translation, which neither presupposes that the creation described was a creation out of nothing (the Hebrew in Genesis 1:1 is ambiguous on this point), nor tries to cover up elements of a pre-scientific worldview such as the dome of the sky. Yet it would have been appropriate to provide an example of scholarly treatment of these chapters, showing that the order of the days has more to do with parallelism than chronology, that there in fact seem to be two creation stories in these chapters, and so on. Without such analysis of the Bible itself, it is that much harder to get young-earth creationists over the hurdles that keep them from accepting evolution. It might also have been useful to include here something written by a young-earth creationist author. Nothing is more effective in persuading students of the bankruptcy of the young-earth creationist approach than allowing them to read what they themselves have to say, coupled with insightful scientific and theological analysis of their arguments by people like Kenneth R Miller. Nevertheless, the second reading in this section, a historical overview of young-earth creationism by Ronald Numbers, is very helpful.

Part four deals with "intelligent design", beginning with William Paley's famous argument. The chapter by Michael Behe makes the case for "intelligent design" as well as it possibly can be made, with the result that Miller's response in the chapter that follows becomes all the more effective, showing how much of the evidence Behe says would disprove his claims actually exists.

Part five presents proponents and critics of forms of metaphysical naturalism based on evolution. The excerpts from Richard Dawkins and Daniel C Dennett are excellent examples of their views and of their delightful writing style. Mary Midgley's short piece points out that Darwin himself denied that natural selection is an all-encompassing explanation in biological change over time, much less in economics and other areas. Another (very short) excerpt from Ruse rounds off this section.

Part six is entitled "Evolutionary Theism" and presents a diverse group of theologians united in their acceptance of evolution and their openness to incorporating the relevant scientific data into their theological reflections. Howard Van Till points out a number of ironies that typify both extremes in many discussions of this subject. Arthur Peacocke's piece nicely complicates the oversimplified view that many have of the relationship between Darwin's theory and faith, pointing out that initially there were many in the religious community who embraced evolution, just as many in the scientific community were exceedingly skeptical. Jürgen Moltmann's contribution is an example of the wonderfully creative and exciting theological thinking that he has offered on the subject of creation. The section's final piece by Elizabeth Johnson complements the others, discussing concepts such as that of the soul and incorporating a number of important quotations by a variety of theologians and scientists.

I am puzzled by the editor's decision to place an excerpt by John Haught in the seventh part, "Reformulations of Tradition". Haught represents a Roman Catholic theological outlook very much in line with those offered in part six — indeed, Haught draws heavily on Moltmann's ideas in places, and is, like Peacocke, a panentheist. The other pieces in this section — by Sallie McFague, Ruth Page, and Gordon Kaufman — sit more comfortably under the rubric of "revisionists". McFague explores the idea of the universe as God's body, combining a number of already-existing models in innovative and creative ways. Page suggests that it is more appropriate to speak of God being with everything than in everything in what may perhaps be the least helpful excerpt in the collection, since Page seems to conflate the idea of everything existing in God (panentheism) with the idea that God is in everything. Finally, Kaufman suggests that it is more appropriate to think of God as creativity rather than creator in the context of our current state of scientific knowledge.

On the whole, God and Evolution is a useful reader, although some examples of non-Western perspectives might have made the diversity of the book richer still. Quibbles about what was and was not included aside, for most American readers with some background in or contact with conservative Christianity of an anti-evolutionary sort, this book will provide helpful information that will enable readers to understand what is at stake and navigate the current debates over God and evolution in a more well-informed manner.

About the Author(s): 
James F McGrath
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Butler University
4600 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis IN 46208

[For a longer version of this review, visit http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/11/review-of-god-and-evolution.html.]


James F McGrath is Assistant Professor of Religion at Butler University. He blogs at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/.