RNCSE 27 (1–2)

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

Print Edition Contents: 27 (1-2)

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

News

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

NCSE News

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

Special 10th Anniversary Pages

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

Members' Pages

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

Features

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

Book Reviews

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

The Evolution of RNCSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT'S IN RNCSE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRENDS IN RNCSE CONTENT

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

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

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

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

BROADER,WIDER, DEEPER

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

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

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

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

About the Author(s): 

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

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

NCSE: A Decade in Retrospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author(s): 

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

A Visit to the New Creation "Museum"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Darwinism and its Discontents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Doubting Darwin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Living With Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

References



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Creationist Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Edge of Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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