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