Volume 25 (2005)

RNCSE 25 (1-2)RNCSE 25 (1-2):
Special double issue.
RNCSE 25 (3-4)RNCSE 25 (3-4):
Special double issue.

RNCSE 25 (5-6)RNCSE 25 (5-6): Special double issue.

RNCSE 25 (1–2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 25 (1-2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. The Senator and the Science Committee
    Robert T Dillon Jr
    One South Carolina state senator's attempts to legislate the definition of science — and the effective opposition to his efforts.
  2. Your Official Program to the Scopes II Kansas Monkey Trial
    Tony Ortega
    The Kansas School Board pays to bring in "experts" ... from a creationist organization in Turkey!
  3. Address to the Haverford Township School Board on the Science Curriculum
    William A Wisdom
    A native son reminds the school board of the accomplishments made possible by a quality science curriculum.
  4. Updates
    News from Alabama, Alaska,Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,Texas, and Virginia.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    Glenn Branch
    A sampling of our members' activities and accomplishments.
  2. NCSE Thanks You
    We gratefully acknowledge your continuing support.

ARTICLES

  1. Starting Early: Preventing Misconceptions about Evolution Through Elementary Education
    Dina Drits
    What can young children learn about evolution — and when? Dina Drits studies students' preferences and progress in learning key concepts in evolution.

FEATURES

  1. My Trip Down the Rabbit Hole: Experiences as a Science Teacher in South Texas
    William J Gonzalez
    Even when state standards require teaching evolution, what really happens in the schools can be something quite different.
  2. Is Evolution Arkansas's "Hidden" Curriculum?
    Jason Wiles
    Are schools and educational programs keeping a low profile on evolution to avoid controversy?
  3. Evolution and Middle-Level Education: Observations and Recommendations
    Vince Sperrazza
    Reflections on students' reactions when teachers give evolution the full treatment.
  4. Nothing Wrong with Discussing Evolution in School
    Lisa Westberg Peters
    The author of an award-winning children's book on science tells her community what is right about teaching evolution.
  5. Teachers' Comments on Evolution Education
    Teachers share their experiences with evolution in the classroom on an NSTA forum.
  6. The Taboo Standard
    Marni Landry
    What happens when a graduate student tries to ask teachers questions about how they teach evolution? Sometimes administrators respond that the question is too controversial even to ask!

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Why Teach Evolution?
    Andrew J Petto
    Citizens in Dover PA and Grantsburg WI were faced with these common questions. Here are some answers.
  2. Books: Evo Edu
    Books that explore the value of teaching evolution and related topics.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    An NCSE speaker may be coming to your neighborhood. Check the calendar here.
  4. Letters
  5. Instructions for Contributors

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Missing Links: Evolutionary Concepts and Transitions Through Time by Robert A Martin
    Reviewed by Kenneth D Angielczyk
  2. A Heretic in Darwin's Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace by Ross A Slotten
    Reviewed by Jane R Camerini
  3. An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace by Martin Fichman
    Reviewed by Charles H Smith
  4. Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies: The Age of the Earth and its Cosmic Surroundings by G Brent Dalrymple
    Reviewed by Timothy Heaton
  5. The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery by Guillermo Gonzales and Jay W Richards
    Reviewed by William H Jefferys
  6. How Blind is the Watchmaker? Nature's Design and the Limits of Natural Science by Neil Broom
    Reviewed by C Kevin Geedey and Stephen B Hager
  7. Does God Belong in Public Schools? by Kent Greenwalt
    Reviewed by John Pieret

The Senator and the Science Committee

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Senator and the Science Committee
Author(s): 
Robert T. Dillon, Jr.
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The origin of the 2005 threat to science education in South Carolina can be traced back five years to the initial adoption of science curriculum standards by our state board of education. Those standards, subsequently awarded a grade of "A" by the Fordham Foundation, included a rigorous treatment of evolutionary science. (See RNCSE 2000 Jan–Apr; 20 [1–2]: 14–5 for a review of the controversy surrounding the adoption of a standard science curriculum for South Carolina in 2000.)

One might expect that legislation requiring textbooks and other educational materials to match academic standards would be a logical follow-up to the adoption of statewide curricula. Such legislation was indeed introduced in the South Carolina General Assemblies of 2001–2002 and 2003–2004 without success. Science educators were caught by surprise in April 2003 when Senator Mike Fair (R–Greenville) amended the textbook bill to establish a "South Carolina Science Standards Committee" to examine "alternatives to evolution"; fortunately, that bill died in the House at the end of the 2004 session. So when Fair and two co-sponsors pre-filed S114 for consideration by the 2005–2006 General Assembly "relating to the criteria for the adoption of instructional materials for the public schools," friends of science education in South Carolina were alert and ready for action.

The legislative approach taken by Fair is unique, insofar as we are aware. His bill included 4 sections: (1) requiring that textbooks match the state standards, (2) establishing a science committee to examine those standards, (3) providing no funds for the science committee, and (4) repealing the old law. The (rather detailed) section (2) specified a committee membership of 19 to be appointed almost entirely by politicians and charged the committee with determining "whether there is a consensus on the definition of science" and "whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools."

Fair's district includes the fortress-like Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist institution that "exists to grow Christ-like character that is scripturally disciplined." And clearly the intent of his legislation was to introduce creationism into the South Carolina public school curriculum. But because S114 did not specifically authorize the science committee to take any action, nor provide any public funding for its deliberations, it is difficult to see how the constitutionality of his legislation could be challenged.

In January 2005, S114 was referred to the Senate Education K–12 Subcommittee, where Fair holds considerable influence. The K–12 Subcommittee is chaired by Robert Hayes (R–Rock Hill), a member of the Presbyterian Church in America — a small fundamentalist organization that has broken from the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) over the ordination of women.

Citizen Action

With the assistance of the NCSE, a statewide group of concerned citizens organized in early 2005 to oppose S114. The group was primarily composed of faculty from the College of Charleston, the University of South Carolina, and Clemson University, with members from public-school education and the community at large, including clergy. We enjoyed excellent communication through an open listserver organized in 2000 by the AIBS, as well as through a more restricted NCSE system.

Early response is a key to successfully countering a creationist threat. So when the Senate K–12 subcommittee first took up S114 on February 9, both Doug Florian (College of Charleston) and I were present to offer comments, supported by a number of allies in the gallery. I argued that the current state science standards are excellent, and that S114 as currently drafted would seem designed to fix a process that "ain't broke." I observed that the term "science" is well-defined, that no committee need be impaneled to examine the meaning of that term, and that there are no "alternatives to evolution" that qualify as science under any conventional definition. Doug followed my comments with a brief review of the legal precedents regarding creationism, should some hypothetical science committee reach ill-conceived recommendations leading in that direction. Also offering comment was a representative from the state Council of Teachers of Mathematics, who simply asked for a clean bill requiring textbooks to match standards, obviously opposing both science committees and creationism without specifically mentioning either.

A debt of gratitude is owed to Senator JW Matthews (D–Bowman), who arrived at the subcommittee meeting prepared with an amendment to strike section (2) from S114. Matthews opined that the evolution/creationism issues raised in section (2) seemed too important and controversial to be confounded with the simple textbook issues addressed in section (1). His motion to strike section (2) was approved by a vote of 5–3, with Hayes joining Fair in the minority.

What goes 'round …

But we had not heard the last of Senator Fair or his Science Committee. On February 23, S114 was remanded by the full committee back to the K–12 Subcommittee without objection. Working through contacts, we were able to preview draft language for a new amendment to be proposed by Fair. In his new conception, the Science Committee would "determine whether scientific alternatives to socially or scientifically controversial theories should be offered in schools." This language seemed to us even more slippery than the language deleted on February 9 — avoiding mention of evolution, creation, the origin of species, or indeed any specific "socially controversial theory" at all.

After a series of delays, S114 was taken up by the Senate K–12 Subcommittee on April 13. Present to offer comment on this occasion were Jerry Hilbish (USC Biology), John Safko (USC Physics), and I. Fair surprised us all with a new amendment to S114, specifying that his science committee would perform six tasks — some of them overtly creationist, many of them described in terms failing the simple test of subject–verb agreement. His task #5 was, for example, "Is there scientific design theory/ies available for discourse in the public school classrooms of South Carolina?"

I was first to offer comment. I spoke in favor of the simple, clean version of S114 as currently amended, pointing out the logic of textbooks' matching curriculum standards. As I was thanking Senator Matthews and his colleagues for their wisdom in deleting the provision for a science committee in February, I was interrupted by much ado among the senators. Fair stated that he did not realize that his science committee provision had been removed!

I will live and die and never understand how the senator could have been so confused. The language of the amendment he distributed on the morning of April 13 neglected to reinstate his science committee before charging it with the six creationist tasks. So after this (rather important) point was clarified, I finished by observing that a state science committee, as originally proposed by Fair, and obviously still advocated by him, would introduce needless controversy — legal problems, constitutional problems, religious problems — which would complicate the passage of an otherwise simple bill.

Jerry Hilbish came next to the speaker's table, and he offered an excellent overview of the many problems with inserting creationism or "intelligent design" into the public-school curriculum generally. Jerry also spoke highly of the current science curriculum in South Carolina. John Safko followed with some well-aimed attacks at the specifics of Fair's proposed amendment, focusing on the scientific method.

All three of us were engaged at great length by Fair. He denied that any of his legislation had any religious content or motivation. He listed all the books on his shelves supporting his position, authored by such respected scientists as Gish, Behe, Denton, and Dembski. He called for a tornado to assemble the South Carolina statehouse spontaneously. He evoked pathetic images of his scarred youth, tricked by diagrams of humped-over human ancestors — all faked! We must ensure that both sides of this story are fairly presented, he argued.

Fair concluded by moving that S114 be amended to include the same science standards committee as described in the original version of his legislation, but changed so that its charge included the six tasks specified that morning. Chairman Hayes seconded Fair's proposal. The amendment failed on a vote of 5–3. Then Hayes put the main motion — to report S114 to the Senate favorably without amendment — and that passed unanimously.

This was the best result we could have hoped for, and we were all quite pleased. Afterward I met a lobbyist outside the meeting room who remarked how refreshing it was to hear anything intelligent said at a Senate committee meeting. He commented at length on the influence that can be wielded by three PhD scientists in a meeting such as we had just attended. John, Jerry, and I sat front row center all morning and controlled the show, simply by speaking calmly and looking reasonable.

S114 successfully passed the Senate in clean form on April 26 and went to the House on May 5, where the political climate has been much more favorable in previous sessions. Senator Fair's efforts did, however, slightly affect the review process for our Year 2000 state science curriculum, which (by accident of timing) is on a 5-year cycle. The work of the Science Standards Review Panel, a committee of 28 professional science educators assembled by the State Department of Education, was delayed by the threat of a politically-appointed science committee as envisioned by Fair.

Among the many lessons to be taken from the events of the previous months are the values of information, organization, communication, and early action. We also suggest that it is especially important, even in the face of success, never to declare victory. A new battle may be looming in South Carolina later this year, when our freshly revised science curriculum standards are submitted to the state board of education for approval. We'll keep you posted.

About the Author(s): 
Robert T. Dillon, Jr.
Department of Biology
College of Charleston
Charleston SC 29424
dillonr@cofc.edu

Is Evolution Arkansas's Hidden Curriculum?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Is Evolution Arkansas's Hidden Curriculum?
Author(s): 
Jason Wiles
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
32–36
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
As I was working on a proposal for a project at the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University in Montréal, I received an e-mail from an old friend back in Arkansas, where I was raised, whom I had known since high school. She was concerned about a problem her father was having at work. "Bob" is a geologist and a teacher at a science education institution that services several Arkansas public school districts. My friend did not know the details of Bob's problem, only that it had to do with evolution. This was enough to arouse my interest, so I invited Bob to tell me about what was going on.

He responded with an e-mail describing the scenario. Teachers at his facility are forbidden to use the "e-word" with the kids. They are permitted to use the word "adaptation" but only to refer to a current characteristic of organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term "natural selection". Bob fears, and I agree with him, that not being able to use evolutionary terms and ideas to answer his students' questions will lead to reinforcement of their misconceptions.

But Bob's personal issue is more specific, and the prohibition more insidious. In his words, "I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these Ordovician rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old." As a person with a geology background, Bob found this restriction a bit hard to justify, especially since the new Arkansas educational benchmarks for 5th grade include introduction of the concept of the 4.5-billion–year age of the earth. Bob's facility is supposed to be meeting or exceeding those benchmarks.

The explanation that had been given to Bob by his supervisors was that their science facility is in a delicate position and must avoid irritating religionists who may have their fingers on the purse strings of various school districts. Apparently his supervisors feared that teachers or parents might be offended if Bob taught their children about the age of rocks and that it would result in another school district pulling out of their program. He closed his explanatory message with these lines:

So my situation here is tenuous. I am under censure for mentioning numbers ... I find that my "fire" for this place is fading if we're going to dissemble about such a basic factor of modern science. I mean ... the Scopes trial was how long ago now??? I thought we had fought this battle ... and still it goes on.

I immediately referred Bob to the people at the NCSE. He wrote to them explaining the situation, and they responded with excellent advice and support. Bob was able to use their suggestions along with some of the position statements found in the NCSE's Voices for Evolution in defense of his continued push to teach the science he felt he was obligated to present to his students, but his supervisors remained firm in their policy of steering clear of specifically mentioning evolution or "deep time" chronology.

I was going to be in Arkansas in December anyway, so I decided to investigate Bob's issue in person. He was happy for the support, but even more excited to show me around the facility. Bob is infectiously enthusiastic about nature and science education. He is just the kind of person we want to see working with students in this type of setting. He had arranged for me to meet with the directors of the facility, but he wanted to give me a guided tour of the place first.

Self-censorship in defense of science?

I would like to describe the grounds of the facility in more detail, but I must honor the request of all parties involved to not be identified. It was, however, a beautiful setting, and the students, 5th graders that day, seemed more engaged in their learning than most I had ever seen. To be sure, the facility does a fantastic job of teaching science, but I was there to find out about what it was not teaching. Bob and I toured the grounds for quite some time, including a hike to a new cave he had recently discovered nearby, and when we returned I was shown to my interview with the program director and executive director.

Both of the directors welcomed me warmly and were very forthcoming in their answers to my questions. They were, however, quite firm in their insistence that they and their facility be kept strictly anonymous if I was to write this story up. We talked for over an hour about the site's mission, their classes, and Bob's situation specifically. Both directors agreed that "in a perfect world" they could, and would, teach evolution and deep time. However, back in the real world, they defended their stance on the prohibition of the "e-word", reasoning that it would take too long to teach the concept of evolution effectively (especially if they had to defuse any objections) and expressing concern for the well-being of their facility. Their program depends upon public support and continued patronage of the region's school districts, which they felt could be threatened by any political blowback from an unwanted evolutionary controversy.

With regard to Bob's geologic time scale issue, the program director likened it to a game of Russian roulette. He admitted that probably very few students would have a real problem with a discussion about time on the order of millions of years, but that it might only take one child's parents to cause major problems. He spun a scenario of a student's returning home with stories beginning with "Millions of years ago ..." that could set a fundamentalist parent on a veritable witch hunt, first gathering support of like-minded parents and then showing up at school-board meetings until the district pulled out of the science program to avoid conflict. He added that this might cause a ripple effect on other districts following suit, leading to the demise of the program.

Essentially, they are not allowing Bob to teach a certain set of scientific data in order to protect their ability to provide students the good science curriculum they do teach. The directors are not alone in their opinion that discussions of deep time and the "e-word" could be detrimental to the program's existence. They have polled teachers in the districts they serve and have heard from them more than enough times that teaching evolution would be "political suicide".

Bob's last communication indicated that he had signed up with NCSE and was leaning towards the "grin and bear it" option, which, given his position and the position of the institution, may be the best option. I was a bit disheartened by the situation, but still impressed with all the good that is going on at Bob's facility. I was also curious about the climate regarding evolution in other educational facilities in the state, so, I decided to ask some questions where I could.

The first place I happened to find, purely by accident, was a privately run science museum for kids. As with Bob's facility, the museum requested not to be referred to by name. I was only there for a short time, but I'm not quite sure what to make of what happened there. I looked around the museum and found a few biological exhibits, but nothing dealing with evolution. I introduced myself to one of the museum's employees as a science educator (I am indeed a science educator) and asked her if they had any exhibits on evolution. She said that they used to at one time, but that several parents — some of whom home-schooled their children; some of whom are associated with Christian schools — had been offended by the exhibit and complained. They had said either that they would not be back until it was removed or that they would not be using that part of the museum if they returned. "It was right over there," she said, pointing to an area that was being used at that time for a kind of holiday display.

Because I had happened upon the place by accident, I had not made room in my schedule for a longer exploratory visit. I did call the museum at a later date to find out more about the removal of the evolution exhibit. After calling several times and leaving a few messages, I finally reached someone who explained that the exhibit had not been removed due to complaints, although people had in fact objected to the display. Rather, it had been taken down to make room for their merger with another science education institution. I am not speculating here, only reporting information that I was given, but when I asked when the newly partnered institution planned on moving in, I was told that the grant for the new space had not yet been written. It could be quite some time.

Later that evening, I had a visit with the coordinator of gifted and talented (GT) education at one of Arkansas's larger public school districts. As before, she has requested that she and her school system be kept anonymous, so I will call her "Susan". Susan told me about a situation she had been trying to decide how to deal with. She had overheard a teacher explaining the "balanced treatment" given to creationism in her classroom. This was not just any classroom, but an Advanced Placement Biology classroom. This was important to Susan, not only because of the subject and level of the class, but also because it fell under her supervision as part of the GT program. Was she obliged to do something about this? She knew quite well that the "balanced treatment" being taught had been found by a federal court to violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause — perhaps there is no greater irony than that two of the most significant cases decided by federal courts against teaching creationism were Epperson v Arkansas and McLean v Arkansas Board of Education. She is quite knowledgeable, and her husband is a lawyer who has written about the Edwards v Aguillard evolution case. She also knew that this was unsound pedagogy, but dealing with the issue is not easy in Arkansas.

Susan sincerely wanted to do something about it, but in the end, she had decided to let it go. Her reasoning was that this particular teacher is probably in her final year of service. To Susan, making an issue out of this just was not worth the strife it would have caused in the school and in the community when it would soon be taken care via retirement.

As the discussion progressed that evening, I learned that omission was the method of dealing with evolution in another of Arkansas's largest, most quickly growing, and wealthiest school districts — an omission that is apparently strongly suggested by the administration. I decided to check on this, but made little progress, receiving the cold shoulder from the administration and the science department at that school. However, I spoke with a person who works for a private science education facility that does contract work for this district: "Helen" — she, like the other people I had visited, requested that she and her employers not be identified. I asked Helen about her experiences with the district's teachers. Her story was that in preparation for teaching the students from that district, she had asked some of the teachers how they approached the state benchmarks for those items dealing with evolution. She said, "Oh, I later got in trouble for even asking," but went on to describe their answers. Most teachers said that they did not know enough about evolution to teach it themselves, but one of them, after looking around to make sure they were safely out of anyone's earshot, explained that the teachers are told by school administrators that it would be "good for their careers" not to mention such topics in their classes.

Inadequate science education

How often does this kind of thing happen? How many teachers are deleting the most fundamental principle of the biological sciences from their classes due to school and community pressure or due to lack of knowledge? How many are disregarding Supreme Court decisions and state curriculum guidelines? These are good questions, and I have been given relevant data from a person currently working in Arkansas. I was introduced to this person, who has clearly expressed his wishes to be kept anonymous (are you noticing a pattern here?), through the NCSE. I will call this science educator "Randy". When I began looking into Arkansas's evolution education situation, the NCSE sent me Randy's contact information.

Randy runs professional development science education workshops for public school teachers. He's been doing it for a while now, and he has been taking information on the teachers in his workshops via a survey. He had a bit of data that he was not sure what do with while maintaining his anonymity, but he shared it with me. He later posted the same results on an e-mail list-serve for people interested in evolution education in Arkansas, but this is the way it was reported to me.

According to his survey, about 20% are trying to teach evolution and think they are doing a good job; 10% are teaching creationism, even though during the workshop he discusses the legally shaky ground on which they stand. Another 20% attempt to teach something but feel they just do not understand evolution. The remaining 50% avoid it because of community pressure. On the list-serve Randy reported that the latter 50% do not cover evolution because they felt intimidated, saw no need to teach it, or might lose their jobs.

Apparently, by their own description of their classroom practices, 80% of these teachers are not adequately teaching evolutionary science. Remember that these are just the teachers who are in a professional development workshop in science education! What is more disturbing is what Randy went on to say about the aftermath of these workshops. "After one of my workshops at an [state] education cooperative, it was asked that I not come back because I spent too much time on evolution. One of the teachers sent a letter to the governor stating that I was mandating that teachers had to teach evolution, and that I have to be an atheist, and would he do something."

Of course the dichotomy of "you're either an anti-evolutionist or you're an atheist" is a false one. Many scientists who understand and accept evolution are also quite religious, and many people of faith also understand and accept evolution. But here is a public school teacher appealing to the governor to "do something" about this guy teaching us to teach evolution. Given that evolutionary science is prescribed in the state curriculum guidelines, and given that two of the most important legal cases regarding evolution education originated in Arkansas and Edwards v Aguillard originated in Louisiana directly to the south (all of these cases resulted in support of evolution education and restriction of creationist teachings in public schools), how exactly would we expect the governor to respond? I am not sure how or even whether Governor Mike Huckabee responded to this letter, but I have seen him respond to concerned Arkansas high-school students regarding evolution in the schools on television.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network produces a program called "Arkansans Ask" on which the state's citizens confront the governor about various issues affecting the region. I've seen two episodes on which students have expressed their frustration about the lack of evolution education in their public schools. These students obviously care about their science education, and for two years running Huckabee has responded to them by advocating that creationism be taught in their schools. Here is an excerpt from one of these broadcasts, from July 2004:
Student: Many schools in Arkansas are failing to teach students about evolution according to the educational standards of our state. Since it is against these standards to teach creationism, how would you go about helping our state educate students more sufficiently for this?
Huckabee: Are you saying some students are not getting exposure to the various theories of creation?
Student (stunned): No, of evol ... well, of evolution specifically. It's a biological study that should be educated [taught], but is generally not.
Moderator: Schools are dodging Darwinism? Is that what you ... ?
Student: Yes.
Huckabee: I'm not familiar that they're dodging it. Maybe they are. But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that's why it's called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I'd be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that's held by people. But it's not the only view that's held. And any time you teach one thing as that it's the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.
Governor Huckabee's answer has several problems and is laced with some very important misconceptions about science. Perhaps the most insidious problem with his response is that it plays on one of the most basic of American values: Huckabee appeals to our sense of democracy and free expression. But several court decisions have concluded that fairness and free expression are not violated when public school teachers are required to teach the approved curriculum. These decisions recognized that teaching creationism is little more than thinly veiled religious advocacy and violates the Establishment Clause.

Furthermore, Huckabee claimed not to be aware of the omission of evolution from Arkansan classrooms. From my limited visit, it is clear that this omission is widespread and no secret; but it is even harder to understand the governor's apparent ignorance about the situation in July 2004, when another student called in with similar concerns almost exactly one year earlier on the July 2003 broadcast of "Arkansans Ask":
Student: Goal 2.04 of the Biology Benchmark Goals published by the Arkansas Department of Education in May of 2002 indicates that students should examine the development of the theory of biological evolution. Yet many students in Arkansas that I have met ... have not been exposed to this idea. What do you believe is the appropriate role of the state in mandating the curriculum of a given course?
Huckabee: I think that the state ought to give students exposure to all points of view. And I would hope that that would be all points of view and not only evolution. I think that they also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism ... .
The governor goes on for a bit and finishes his sentiment, but the moderator keeps the conversation going:
Moderator (to student): You've encountered a number of students who have not received evolutionary biology?
Student: Yes, I've found that quite a few people's high schools simply prefer to ignore the topic. I think that they're a bit afraid of the controversy.
Huckabee: I think it's something kids ought to be exposed to. I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory, personally. But that does not mean that I'm afraid that somebody might find out what it is ...

Sisyphean Challenges

How are teachers like "Bob", administrators like "Susan", and teacher trainers like "Randy" supposed to ensure proper science education regarding evolution in accordance with state standards and within the bounds of case law and the Constitution if politicians like Huckabee consistently support and advocate the teaching of non-science and pseudoscience that flies in the face of sound pedagogy and the First Amendment's Establishment Clause?

It is quite telling that none of the people I spoke with were willing to be identified or to allow me to reveal their respective institutions. In the case of "Bob" and his facility's directors, they were concerned about criticism from both sides of the issue. They did not want to lose students by offending fundamentalists or lose credibility in the eyes of the scientific community for omitting evolution. "Susan" has been trying to avoid a rift in her district, so identifying her school is out of the question. "Randy" believes that much of the good that he does is at least partly because of his "behind- the-scenes" activity and that he "may do the cause more good by not standing out."

Some people might assume that the evolution education problems of Arkansas and its governor end at its border. In fact they do not, but I think that we seldom realize the wider influence our local politicians might have. For instance, the Educational Commission of the States is an important and powerful organization that shapes educational policy in all 50 states. Forty state governors have served as the chair of the ECS, and the current chair is — you guessed it — Governor Huckabee of Arkansas.

Because anti-evolutionists have been quite successful in placing members of their ranks and sympathizers in local legislatures and school boards, it is imperative that we point out the danger that these people pose to adequate science education. Although each school, each museum, or each science center may seem to be an isolated case, answering to — and, perhaps trying to keep peace with — its local constituency, the larger view shows that evolution is being squeezed out of education systematically and broadly. Anti-evolutionists have been successful by keeping the struggle focused on the local level and obscuring the larger agenda, but the educational fallout is widespread ignorance of the tools and methods of the sciences for generations to come. The scientific literacy of our future leaders may very well depend on it.

[Update: May 1, 2008. The pseudonymous "Randy" is Bill Fulton, formerly the K-12 Science Curriculum Specialist for the Arkansas Department of Education. Bill retired after 36 years of service.]

About the Author(s): 
Jason Wiles
Evolution Education Research Centre
McGill University
3700 McTavish Street
Montréal PQ Canada H3A 1Y2
jason.wiles@mcgill.ca

Nothing Wrong with Discussing Evolution in School

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Nothing Wrong with Discussing Evolution in School
Author(s): 
Lisa Westberg Peters
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2005
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Under the newly approved science standards, Minnesota's youngest students will be expected to understand that biological populations change over time. Students will need to know that many organisms, such as dinosaurs, used to live on earth but are now extinct. This understanding of basic science can't come soon enough.

A suburban Twin Cities elementary school invited me to speak to its students recently about my work. I have written several children's books, including a science book about our intimate connection to earth and life's history. This book recently won the Minnesota Book Award for children's nonfiction. The school agreed to prepare for my visit by reading and discussing my books with the students.

The day before my presentation, the school sent me an e-mail. The faculty and the principal had discussed whether it was a good idea to share a book about evolution in their school and they decided that without much more in-depth discussion, it was not. They hadn't shared my evolution book with the students, and they preferred that I not share it either. Later, on the phone, I learned that parents with certain religious beliefs would object to the presentation of this book. The school was asking me to censor myself, but the idea didn't much appeal to me. I knew I would do a disservice to myself and other writers by agreeing to this surprise, last-minute request.

What if parents had come to this same school arguing that the earth was the center of the universe? Teachers, well familiar with the scientific evidence, would have continued teaching their students the facts: the earth is not the center of the universe and here's the evidence for that position. Even Pope John Paul II, who must be as devout as any Christian, accepts the idea that life has evolved. Millions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims have a concept of God that is large enough to include the process of evolution. But I was asked not to discuss this fascinating subject in a Minnesota school. Many other elementary schools avoid it, too. Some teachers tell me they wouldn't dare teach evolution. A southern Minnesota educator warned me in hushed tones that her town was pretty religious. I hear the word "touchy" all the time.

This widespread timidity comes, in large part, from ignorance. Elementary teachers reflect the general population: They don't know much about evolution. If they did, they would have captive audiences. They could tell their students that we share 98% of our genes with our closest relatives, chimpanzees. They could ask: Is it the remaining 2% that makes us wear platform shoes and dye our hair purple? What child would not be intrigued by that discussion?

While we wait for the new science standards to force teachers to bone up, here is a brief biology lesson: Elementary teachers have backbones, inherited from the earliest fish in ancient seas. Teachers should use their backbones to stand tall and teach basic science. Tell the kids who object that they don't have to accept it, but they do have to understand it to graduate. Teach students about the wide range of creation stories, too, but do it during social studies.

Teachers have lungs, also inherited from early fish. They should use their lungs, take a deep breath and repeat: Evolution is not just one explanation for the diversity of life; it's the scientific explanation. Evolution is not a belief system that you take on faith; you examine the evidence for it and accept it or not. Teachers have legs and feet, inherited from early amphibians. Teachers should use their legs and feet to politely escort anyone who protests the teaching of basic science to the front door. And finally, elementary teachers have large brains, inherited from the earliest hominins. They should use those great brains to read more and learn more about evolution. When a parent comes in arguing that life hasn't changed over time, these informed teachers can continue teaching the facts: life has indeed evolved, and here’s the ample evidence for that position.

Knowledge is power and elementary teachers need more of both.

[Originally published in the St Paul Pioneer-Press 2004 Jun 1 and reprinted with permission.]

About the Author(s): 
Lisa Westberg Peters
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477

Review: The Privileged Planet

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
47–49
Reviewer: 
William Jefferys
University of Texas at Austin
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery
Author(s): 
Guillermo Gonzales and Jay W Richards
Washington (DC): Regnery Publishing, 2004. 444 pages

The Same Old Shell Game

The Privileged Planet is based upon the odd notion that the more unsuitable our universe is for producing intelligent life, the more likely it is that our universe was "designed" to produce intelligent life by a "designer" of indeterminate nature; put another way, supposedly the less likely it is that there could be a planet in our universe that supports intelligent life, then the more likely it is that the universe was "designed" to produce a particular intelligent life form — us — that can and will investigate the nature of the universe.

We know from experience that this is not how human beings, the only intelligent designers of which we have any experience, work. We know that a human designer of a factory does not design a factory so that it will only occasionally, if ever, produce a car, or a computer, or whatever the target object is; rather the factory is designed to produce the largest possible amount of product consistent with the constraints: cost, energy, physical reality ... whatever.

The fundamental error made by Gonzalez and Richards, as with most creationists (including "intelligent design" [ID] creationists), is that they imagine that they can prove the existence of their "intelligent designer" by merely alleging evidence against a particular strawman naturalistic scenario, and, without clearly specifying an alternative model, simply assert that the only other explanation possible is that everything was created by a "designer". Under this strategy, no details are specified about what we would expect to see if the "designer" existed, or why we would expect to see that and not something else. It is, as we shall see, not a scientific theory. It is instead nothing but the usual fallacious Argument from False Dichotomy.

Of course, we know why ID creationists do not want to talk about the nature of the "designer". If they were to do so, they would undermine their claim that ID creationism has nothing to do with religion. They do admit the nature of their designer in private, among friends, but not before school boards or state boards of education. Since the real point of ID is to slip religion surreptitiously into the public school classroom, they cannot reveal the true nature of their "designer" in any arguments intended for public consumption (as this book is). In line with this political strategy, the authors of this book are similarly cagey about the nature of the designer (p 330).

But they are between a rock and a hard place. Gonzalez and Richards do not realize that unless they can show that what we actually see is more probable — given that an "intelligent designer did it" — then they have no case. This is because a basic rule of inference is that one has to compare the likelihood of observing evidence E under all relevant hypotheses H1, H2, ..., Hn. Then the hypothesis that has the greatest likelihood is the one best supported by the evidence. Obviously, if you do not say what your hypothesis is — in this case by specifically describing the nature of the "intelligent designer" and the consequences for the real world if that entity exists, so that actual calculations can be made — then it is impossible to compute the likelihood of observing E under your hypothesis, and your hypothesis never even gets to the starting gate.

One wonders what Gonzalez and Richards would say if the evidence were otherwise. They talk about the fantastically small probability that our universe would give rise to intelligent, inquisitive life, but what if it were the opposite? What if we had observed that the universe was actually quite conducive to the existence of intelligent, inquisitive life? Would Gonzalez and Richards then conclude that the probability of observing such a universe, given that it was designed by an "intelligent designer", was small? I hardly think so. In such a case they would surely be pointing to the fecundity of the universe as evidence for the existence of their "intelligent designer". In other words, the assertion of a "designer" is a no-lose position. Whatever evidence one observed would by this fallacious reasoning support their "designer."

But there's the rub. They cannot have it both ways. An elementary rule of inference is that if evidence E supports hypothesis H, then observing that E is false would undermine H. In other words, if observing that the universe is fecund were to support the hypothesis that the universe is "designed", then observing that it is not fecund would necessarily support the hypothesis that it was not "designed" and would undermine the design argument.

Unfortunately, it means that the ancient argument from design (of which this book is just a modern example) is scientifically useless. There is no conceivable evidence that could, even in principle, refute the notion that everything happens as a result of an unconstrained, very powerful "designer". This is because such an entity can be invoked to explain any evidence whatsoever. Real scientific hypotheses have to be vulnerable to evidence. It must be possible to imagine evidence that would undermine them (see Pennock 1999, ch 6, for an extensive discussion). This is not the case for a mysterious "intelligent designer" of nature so unspecified that one cannot even make predictions about what one would expect to observe if it existed.

Consider, for example, the fine-tuning argument: The fact that "the constants are right" for our own existence is supposed to support the existence of an intelligent designer. Philosopher of science Elliott Sober (2003) has refuted this argument and, independently, Michael Ikeda and I have made similar points with some variations (Ikeda and Jefferys 1997). Sober points out that the usual design argument is that the probability that the "constants are right," given that design is true, is greater than the probability that "the constants are right," given a naturalistic universe. Notwithstanding the fact that we do not know whether this inequality is true or not in the ID creationist view — because the ID community stubbornly refuses to specify the nature of the "designer" so that we can actually do the required calculations — there is a deeper problem.

Sober and Ikeda and I pointed out that the relationship fails to take into account our own existence. In other words, we are here (we know this, and could not be making any arguments if it were not so), so any discussion must take this fact into account. Thus, the correct comparison is between (A) the probability that "the constants are right" given design and our own existence, and (B) the probability that "the constants are right" given a naturalistic universe and our own existence. Since in a naturalistic universe our own existence implies that the constants must be right, this means that (B) is equal to 1. What about (A)? Clearly, since probabilities are always less than or equal to 1, (A) cannot be larger than 1, so the ratio of (B) to (A) must be at least 1. This means that observing that "the constants are right" cannot undermine the naturalistic hypothesis.

Sober says that (A) is also 1, but here he missed an important point. Since the nature of the designer is unspecified, and might be an omnipotent deity, for example, it would be possible for the designer to produce universes where the constants are not right, but in which we could still exist.

An example would be a universe where the constants are not right for producing carbon in stellar interiors. In their book, Gonzalez and Richards mention Fred Hoyle's remarkable 1954 prediction of special resonances in carbon and oxygen nuclei (p 198 and following). These resonances were predicted because without them, carbon and oxygen could not be synthesized in stars, and since they also could not be synthesized by the Big Bang, our own existence implies that the resonances must exist, at least if the universe is naturalistic. This in turn leads to rather narrow predicted ranges for certain physical constants ("the constants are right"). Indeed, the resonances were found to exist, one of the earliest and possibly best examples of a prediction of a physical fact from the so-called weak anthropic principle, that sentient beings ought to observe that the universe they inhabit is consistent with their own existence.

But, if the universe had been designed by a sufficiently powerful designer, the constants would not have to be right in order for us to exist. For example, the designer could create a universe where the constants are not right for the production of carbon and oxygen in the interiors of stars, preferring instead (for whatever reason: whim, or the desire to accomplish other goals such as letting us know that he exists by means of a subtle scientific clue) just to manufacture the required carbon atoms and sprinkle them where needed throughout the universe.

If we consider the possible existence of such a designer — and remember, the ID creationists' intentional refusal to specify the nature of their designer leaves this possibility open — then it is no longer the case (as Sober asserts) that (A) is equal to 1. Indeed, it is less than 1 and could be quite small, which means that our observing that "the constants are right" actually provides powerful evidence in favor of the naturalistic hypothesis. It would actually be our observing that "the constants are wrong" that would undermine, and in fact refute the naturalistic hypothesis. The ID creationists have the inequality backwards.

In another section, Gonzalez and Richards also attempt to refute the so-called "Many Worlds Hypothesis" (MWH), which postulates the existence of a very large or even actually infinite collection of universes called the multiverse (p 268 and following). I should first point out that they are simply wrong to think that the motivation for the MWH is to get around the fine-tuning problem. In fact, it is a consequence of the leading theory of cosmology — the theory of chaotic inflation — which is the theory best supported by the evidence (including that from the recent Wilson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP). Chaotic inflation was invented to explain certain observed facts about our universe, for example its flatness and homogeneity. One consequence of inflation is that the universe is actually infinite in extent both in space and time, containing infinitely many regions that have each inflated into expanding universes much like ours, but perhaps with physical constants different from ours. Indeed, this multiverse is so vast that it would contain infinitely many universes exactly like ours, as well as infinitely many others that differ from ours in only subtle ways, for example ones in which I am an ID creationist and the authors are attempting to refute my pro-ID arguments, or ones where I have a long green tail, or ones in which a particular gene in my genotype has a C substituted for an A (see Seife 2004 for more on this).

Gonzalez and Richards's "refutation" of the MWH is unconvincing. It consists of a bland dismissal that an actual infinite set can exist (p 268 — where did they learn their mathematics?) together with a claim that "we have no evidence to think that other universes exist," a claim that happens to be false, for several reasons. One reason is that it is a prediction of the best-supported theory in cosmology — one that is strongly supported by evidence. And the second is that under that model, our own existence evidentially supports the MWH (since under that hypothesis a selection effect is involved: we can only exist in one of the very small proportion of worlds in which "the constants are right," so our own existence implies the existence of these other worlds).

As Mark Perakh (2004) has pointed out in another context, there is nothing particularly unparsimonious about the multiverse hypothesis. For one thing, it is based on the observational fact that our own universe definitely exists, and since it does exist, it is reasonable to presume that naturalistic processes would produce other universes, just as different versions of our own. If physics can produce one universe, there is nothing in principle to prevent it from producing infinitely many. Indeed, it would be expected. By contrast, the hypothesis of an intelligent designer of universes is completely speculative; there is, as Perakh points out, not a single observational fact that points to the existence of such an entity other than ancient, conflicting legends.

In their discussion of the MWH, Gonzalez and Richards also repeat a fallacious argument (p 270) that has been made by John Leslie, concerning a hypothetical officer who survives a Nazi firing squad and concludes that this must be due to design (the firing squad intended to miss) rather than chance (the firing squad members all missed by accident). We are supposed to reason by analogy that since the officer concludes that design rather than chance was the reason for this particular low-probability event, we should infer the same as regards the universe. Notwith-standing the obvious differences between naturalistic universes that have no known intentions, alleged "designers" whose intentions cannot be clearly specified without undermining the political aspirations of ID creationists, and firing squads that have well-understood intentions, this argument is plain silly and has been decisively refuted in Sober's paper (2003). Analogies can be treacherous things.

Finally, I turn to Gonzalez and Richards's notion that our earth is uniquely designed for its inhabitants to do scientific exploration, and that the universe is similarly designed for us to do that scientific exploration. They point to a number of phenomena that have aided our scientific enterprise, such as the transparency of the earth's atmosphere, the fact that we have a moon that is just far enough from the earth to produce spectacular solar eclipses, and so on. Of all the arguments in the book, I find this the weakest. It puts the cart before the horse. Suppose it were not so; if we existed on another world very different from the earth, then we would surely be doing something. We would be doing whatever was possible for us to do under the circumstances in which we found ourselves. If we accepted the Whiggish reasoning of the authors, we would be just as justified in concluding that our planet — and our universe, if we could see it in this alternative reality — was designed so that we would do whatever we happened to be doing at the time or find interesting at the time (as diverse human cultures have always done). The authors could learn much by studying a little anthropology and a little history.

To summarize, the little that is new in this book is not interesting, and what is old is just old-hat creationism in a new, modern-looking astronomical costume. It is the same old shell game. It is too bad that Guillermo Gonzalez (whom I know from his tenure as a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Texas's Astronomy Department) has allowed himself to be sucked in as an advocate for this ancient argument. The Argument from Design is at least 200 years old and has not improved with age. It has not resulted in any new knowledge in all of those years. Modern astronomy is constantly producing new knowledge and understanding of the universe. Gonzalez is a promising young astrophysicist, and I hope that he does not throw away his career on such nonsense.

References

Ikeda M, Jefferys WH. 1997. The anthropic principle does not support supernaturalism. Available on-line at ; last accessed January 4, 2005.
Pennock RT. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.
Perakh M. 2004. Paul Davies: Emergentist vs reductionist. Available on-line at ; last accessed January 4, 2005.
Seife C. 2004 Jul 23. Physics enters the twilight zone. Science 305 (5683): 464–6.
Sober E. 2003. The design argument. In: Manson NA, editor. God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science. New York: Routledge. p 27–54. Also available on-line at ; last accessed January 4, 2005.

About the Author(s): 
William H Jefferys
Department of Astronomy
University of Texas at Austin
Austin TX 78712-1020

Review: Does God Belong in Public Schools?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
51–53
Reviewer: 
John Pieret
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Does God Belong in Public Schools?
Author(s): 
Kent Greenawalt
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. 261 pages
Kent Greenawalt is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John M Harlan, a former Deputy US Solicitor General, and Professor of Law at Columbia University's School of Law. He is an expert in the field of constitutional law and jurisprudence, with an emphasis on issues of church and state.

Professor Greenawalt's book is a good primer in the often arcane jurisprudence surrounding the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and its application to issues of religion in public education. About a quarter of the text is devoted to the questions that arise out of the teaching of natural science, specifically focusing on the area of evolutionary theory, "creation science" and "intelligent design" ("ID"). It should be noted that much of this material can be found in Greenawalt's paper "Evolution, creationism, and intelligent design" delivered at the Colloquium on Constitutional and Legal Theory in March 2003 (available on-line in PDF format at ).

One good reason for reading this book is that recent positions taken by advocates of ID, including the Discovery Institute, appear aimed at meeting some of the criteria for passing constitutional muster that Greenawalt posits. But any teacher or administrator in the public school system will find the book a most useful resource for navigating such thorny issues as what sort of holiday celebrations can take place in public schools, sex education, student religious clubs, prayers at school events, and the like. Naturally enough, this review will focus on the part of the book dealing with the teaching of science.

The book is written in an open style, without much in the way of legal jargon, but is heavily footnoted (67 pages' worth) for those who want to delve deeper. It should be noted that books of this sort have been influential on US courts in the past, especially in areas fraught with more public passion than solid case law, as is the case with the relationship of ID to science and religion.

Greenawalt starts with a brief history of public schools in the US, noting that, up until quite recently, it was common practice to require students to participate in religious devotions that amounted to a kind of nonsectarian Protestantism. Greenawalt then summarizes the major Supreme Court decisions during the last half of the 20th century that, at least officially, ended such practices.

Next, Greenawalt lays out the various theoretical purposes for having a tax-supported educational system in order to set the stage for differentiating valid secular purposes from impermissible religious ones. He identifies the major aims of public education as: vocational training; enhancement of the capacity to make life choices; enrichment of lives through knowledge of literature, science, history and sports; training to participate in civic life and the instillation of socially desirable morals and ideals, such as honesty and respect for others.

Greenawalt quickly points out that there is no simple one-to-one relationship between any one of these purposes and any particular area of study. Great literature, for example, not only enriches the aesthetic sense but also can illuminate political life, instruct in social morals and even contribute to career choices. These necessarily overlapping domains result in what Greenawalt calls "spillover effects," where an area of study undertaken for otherwise acceptable purposes can impact a particular set of religious beliefs. Spillover effects are the source of much of the conflict that occurs in the realm of religion and public education.

An early question to address is: What are religious propositions? Greenawalt generalizes suggests that claims about the existence, nature and actions of God; life after death and the ultimate significance of physical reality and human life are inherently religious. Agnostic and atheist claims that address these areas, whether or not these beliefs are themselves "religions," are constitutionally impermissible, if taught as true, because they consist of answers to those same religious questions. Similarly, practices such as church attendance, prayer, and sacraments cannot be held up as desirable or mandatory, but neither can they be held up as undesirable or forbidden. Gray areas arise because religions typically include ideas about how people should live their lives. For example, many religions teach personal honesty, generosity towards others and parental love. Greenawalt would identify these as secondary religious propositions that flow from, but are not themselves dependent on, the primary religious perspectives. For example, a belief that the nature of God includes a desire that we care for each other does not debar schools from teaching that children need love from their parents, as that can be presented on a basis other than the nature of God. On the other hand, teaching that parents should love their children because the Bible tells them to would involve primary religious claims and is not allowed.

When Greenawalt turns to science education, he makes this initial point:
Although I have no expertness in evaluating the plausibility of scientific claims, my appraisals are nevertheless worth stating, both because almost anyone trying to figure out what is true overall must engage a field in which he is not expert and because many educational officials and virtually all judges who must discern if educational decisions are constitutional will lack special scientific competence. (p 101)
No matter how much we might wish otherwise, because of our constitutional framework and the patchwork system of US education that emphasizes the political role of state and local school boards, critical decisions about what constitutes valid educational goals are necessarily in the hands of people with little or no expertise in either education or the particular subjects to be taught. (Science education would be well served if all school board members, administrators and judges had anywhere near Greenawalt's grasp of the issues involved in the evolution/creationism dispute. If his notes are any guide, he has read widely in the literature of both sides. Besides referencing such well-known philosophers of science as Hume, Popper, Lakatos, and Kuhn, he discusses the works of philosophers particularly interested in the evolution/creationism debate, including Philip Kitcher's Abusing Science, Larry Laudan's "Science at the bar: Causes for concern" and Robert Pennock's Tower of Babel and Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics. Among scientists, he is familiar with Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God and numerous works by Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Niles Eldredge, and others. Nor does he neglect the creation science and ID side, citing works by Henry Morris, Jonathan Wells, Phillip Johnson, Alvin Plantinga, William Dembski, and Michael Behe.) Greenawalt admits that "it may seem that I give more credence to critics of dominant evolutionary theory than would the overwhelming majority of practicing scientists" (p 89), but goes on to point out that the primary issue in the law is not the scientific validity of the critique but whether including it in public education transgresses constitutional boundaries.

One point Greenawalt forcefully makes is that natural selection, and evolutionary theory in general, are important not only in the study of the development of species but also across the board in the biological sciences. Therefore, according to the standards within the discipline, evolutionary theory would undoubtedly be taught except for religious opposition. Any decision not to teach evolution or to teach that it is "only a theory" (as long as that implies that it is less well confirmed that than most scientific explanations) would be an implicit endorsement of religious views and violate the Establishment Clause.

After discussing the philosophy of science in some detail, he concludes that both creation science and ID are really about the limitations of science. He further concludes that claims that scientific theories may fail as explanations could be an appropriate subject in science courses. In short, he is of the opinion that at least some issues in the philosophy of science are appropriate to public school science courses. Greenawalt also points out that negative arguments do have a legitimate role in scientific discourse, but he acknowledges that the leap ID makes from arguments that selection fails to explain apparent design to the claim that such features are necessarily the result of an intelligent creator, is unwarranted.

As an "ideal" statement of what might be discussed about the limits of science, Greenawalt offers the following:
Modern science seeks to discover natural explanations for physical events. We cannot be certain that natural explanations will always suffice, but physics, chemistry, and biology have made amazing advances by assuming that they will. If we had powerful evidence that science could not conceivably explain some phenomena, this evidence of limits could be one small part of science courses; some people believe such evidence exists about evolutionary processes, but the uncertainties there are matched by those in other areas of science. In any event, it is too soon to conclude that any difficulties with evolutionary theory, even if they exist, cannot be rectified by scientific explanation. (p 114)
Coming to the nitty-gritty, Greenawalt has no great difficulty identifying "creation science" as a religious program. "[W]hat makes the theory religious is that religious premises explain why the practitioners reach the conclusions they do" and no attempt to edit out scriptural references and to substitute "abrupt appearance" for "divine creation" can disguise that (p 116).

ID is, however, less easy to locate within constitutional law. Greenawalt notes that just because a scientific explanation of phenomena happens to bear on the likely truth of a religious tenet does not make the explanation religious in nature and, hence, impermissible in public education. However, he goes on to make the important point that this is a two-way street. If an explanation lends support to a religious view, that alone does not bar it from being scientific or from being taught in public schools. After reviewing the Supreme Court cases of Epperson v Arkansas and Edwards v Aguillard, he concludes:
The dominant neo-Darwinian account has enough conundrums for text writers, science teachers, and boards of education to conclude that teachers could usefully discuss them and, further, suggest that whether the dominant theory, and particularly the pre-eminent place it accords natural selection, may require substantial revision or supplementation is an open question. I do not claim that scientific evidence supports this qualified presentation of neo-Darwinism better than an unqualified account, only that the choice is within the range of constitutionally permissible judgment — something judges have to assess by the balance of scientific opinion and their own sense of the strength of arguments. (p 124)
However, Greenawalt immediately goes on to say:
Were educators to go further and insist that intelligent design is probably a needed supplement to natural selection and other aspects of neo-Darwinism, or that intelligent design is the alternative to unvarnished neo-Darwinian theory, they would step over the constitutional line, because such judgments could now be made only on religious grounds. (p 124
That the proponents of ID may have taken Greenawalt's positions to heart in recent days should now be clear. In the case of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district's attempt to present ID, the local school board — at least following the court challenge — has denied that it will curtail the teaching of evolution in any way and presents ID merely as one possible alternative to evolutionary theory (see RNCSE 2004 Sep/Oct; 24 [5]: 4–9).

Those interested in strong science education in US public schools may be disappointed that Greenawalt would open the door to the "teach the controversy" ploy. When implemented, these programs may well degenerate into spurious philosophical claims, selective quotations and arguments from incredulity, instead of sound science education. That does not mean that he is wrong about the constitutional permissibility of attempting them.

If there is one serious flaw in Greenawalt's analysis, it is that he makes no attempt to elucidate how any "conundrums" might properly be presented or whether it is even appropriate to address the real controversies in evolutionary theory in K–12 education. We are left in the dark as to whether any limitations exist on what can be claimed to constitute conundrums, how the courts could evaluate those limitations, if any, or what constitutional standards they could apply. Certainly, courts would be loath to micro-manage the science curricula of public schools but, as we all know, the devil is in the details.

Greenawalt is right enough when he says:
I have proposed a middle course somewhere between what evolutionists insist is the only sound scientific approach and what proponents of Genesis creation and intelligent design seek. This counsel of moderation may have little appeal for opposing camps who standardly accuse one another of dogmatism and dishonesty. (p 125)
The problem is that he has left us with no way to tell what his "middle course" might look like in practice.

[Originally posted on the talk.origins usenet group, 2005 May 28, and reprinted with permission.]

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

RNCSE 25 (3-4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2005
Date: 
May–August
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 25 (3-4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2005
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. New Mexico's Science Standards Do not Support the Concept of "Teach the Controversy"
    Marshall Berman and David Thomas
    When ID proponents failed to change science education standards, they tried to spin the committee's decision.
  2. Carl Baugh ... Archaeologist?
    Christopher O'Brien
    When an activist opposes the inflated credentials of pseudoscientists in Northern California, he is in for a pleasant surprise.
  3. Divine Design in Utah?
    Glenn Branch
    A state legislators keeps threatening to insert religion into the science curriculum.
  4. Creationists Sue the University of California
    Glenn Branch
    At stake: can a university enforce standards concerning pre-college academic preparation?
  5. President Bush Addresses "Intelligent Design"
    Glenn Branch
    Recent comments show the President's take on science.
  6. Updates
    News from California, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    Glenn Branch
    A sampling of our members' activities and accomplishments.

FEATURES

  1. The Ugly Underside of Altruism
    David P Barash
    If our genes promote altruism toward closely related others, can they also promote antipathy to those most different?
  2. The Accidental Creationists: Why Evolutionary Psychology is Bad for the Teaching of Evolution
    James Miles
    If genes encode our behaviors, then why does evolutionary psychology shy away from some obvious conclusions?
  3. Evolution and the Biology of Morality
    Douglas Allchin
    How can we use evolution to understand the emergence of behaviors that we would consider "moral"?
  4. Bush Science Is a Dangerous Slope
    The editors of Indian Country Today
    The editors of a leading Native American newspaper ponder the President's take on science and religion.
  5. Bird Flu, Bush, Evolution — and Us
    Steven Salzberg
    The evolving strains of influenza virus demonstrate evolution in action.
  6. Evolution is a Winner — for Breakthroughs and Prizes
    James McCarter
    How many of the last 50 Nobel Prizes in Medicine are based on research informed by and based on evolutionary theory?

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Would We All Behave Like Animals?
    William Thwaites
    If we accept our evolutionary roots, are we "just" animals?
  2. Books: Evolutionary Psychology: Sic et Non
    Books that explore the concepts and critiques of evolutionary psychology.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    An NCSE speaker may be coming to your neighborhood. Check the calendar here.
  4. Letters: Steve Bratteng's 13 Answers

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Speciation by Jerry A Coyne and H Allen Orr
    Reviewed by Norman A Johnson
  2. Law, Darwinism, and Public Education by Francis J Beckwith
    Reviewed by Todd Mollan, Bradley J Consentino and Jason J Williams
  3. Why is a Fly not a Horse? by Giuseppe Sermonti
    Reviewed by Andrea Bottaro
  4. Faith-Based Government: The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney
    Reviewed by Robert L Park
  5. Paradigms on Pilgrimage by Stephen J Godfrey and Christopher R Smith
    Reviewed by Daryl P Domning
  6. The Trial of John T Scopes by Steven P Olson
    Reviewed by Glenn Branch
  7. Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths by Vine Deloria Jr
    Reviewed by H David Brumble
  8. Glimpses of the Wonderful by Ann Thwaite
    Reviewed by Robert Ackerman
  9. The Piltdown Forgery by Joseph S Weiner
    Reviewed by Jim Foley
  10. Controversy, Catastrophism, and Evolution by Trevor Palmer
    Reviewed by Hiram Caton

New Mexico's Science Standards Do not Support the Concept of "Teach the Controversy"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
New Mexico's Science Standards Do not Support the Concept of "Teach the Controversy"
Author(s): 
Marshall Berman and David Thomas
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2005
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
4–8
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
On August 21, 2005, The New York Times published an article entitled "Politicized scholars put evolution on the defensive." This otherwise excellent article unfortunately contained several errors that resulted from treating some false information from the Discovery Institute as accurate. One major error was accepting the claim that New Mexico has "embraced the institute's 'teach the controversy' approach." This is absolutely false, as the following evidence will show.

New Mexico Standards Development Process and History

New Mexico's Public Education Department states on its website (http://www.nmlites.org/standards/science/index.html), "The Science Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Standards revision process began in 2002. Writing teams consisting of educators and scientists developed draft standards, which were reviewed by teachers, scientists, parents, and other community members; over 200 responses were received during the review process."

On August 28, 2003, the New Mexico State Board of Education unanimously (13–0) approved a new set of public school science standards that had been strongly supported by scientists, science teachers, the New Mexico Conference of Churches, and dozens of other state and national organizations (see RNCSE 2003 Sep–Dec; 23 [5–6]: 9–12).

New Mexico Intelligent Design Network Intervention and Distortion

The evolution portions of these standards had been opposed by the New Mexico Intelligent Design Network (IDnet–NM; http:/www. nmidnet.org/) for many months, and they continued to propose massive wording changes right up to the day of the vote.

Four days before this vote, on August 24, IDnet–NM capped months of intense lobbying of state education officials by publishing a full-page ad (http://www.nmidnet.org/IDNet.pdf) in the Sunday Albuquerque Journal, saying that "the goal of completely objective language has not yet been met," and pleading for people to get involved.

What was the "objective language" that "intelligent design" promoters wanted? IDnet–NM posted a document on its website in the summer of 2003, entitled "IDnet–NM Proposal for Alternative and Added Language to the 2003 Field Review Draft Science Standards, dated May 27, 2003, Submitted to the individual members of the New Mexico State Board of Education, July 21, 2003."

In the proposal, IDnet–NM objected to the following draft standard as being "dogmatic":
Examine the data and observations supporting the conclusion that one-celled organisms evolved into increasingly complex multi-cellular organisms.
IDnet–NM formally asked the State Board to replace that statement with this one:
Evaluate the data and observations that bear on the claim that one-celled organisms evolved into increasingly complex multi-cellular organisms.
And what was finally adopted? Here's the statement the State Board approved 13–0 on August 28, 2003:
Understand the data, observations, and logic supporting the conclusion that species today evolved from earlier, distinctly different species, originating from the ancestral one-celled organisms.
There were sixteen other changes proposed by IDnet–NM, and none of those was accepted by the Board of Education. IDnet–NM's plea to the board to delete the phrase "Explain how natural selection favors individuals who are better able to survive, reproduce, and leave offspring" was denied, as were all the rest of their suggestions. (For details, see the article "Do NM's science standards embrace intelligent design?" available on-line at http://www. nmsr.org/embrace.htm.)

However, just prior to the board vote, and to the shock and dismay of most of the audience and the board, Joe Renick, executive director of IDnet–NM, used his final opportunity for public comment to try to trick the Department of Education staff — Steven Sanchez and Sharon Dogruel in particular — into expressing support for his views and to try to "place on the record" his false interpretation of the board's support for the standards. This display of arrogance and disregard for the staff and the board was halted by board member Flora Sanchez. As reported by Diana Heil of the Santa Fe New Mexican (2003 Aug 29), "Board member Flora Sanchez put a stop to mixed messages, though. She clarified this point: The state is not asking teachers to present all the alternatives to evolution and 'put them on an equal footing.'"

Renick then reversed himself. The Albuquerque Journal reported (2003 Aug 29): "Joe Renick, executive director of the New Mexico branch of the Intelligent Design Network Inc, on Thursday reversed course and recommended that the board adopt the science standards without changing the language on evolution. 'All we wanted to do was have an opportunity to state our concerns,' Renick said after the board vote."

The IDnet–NM "intelligent design" strategy then metamorphosed into a different public relations approach to turn their defeat into victory. Two other members of IDnet–NM, Rebecca Keller and Michael Kent, wrote a letter to the Albuquerque Journal (2003 Sep 4) extolling the standards, but inserting once again their distorted view of what the standards say: "There must be an opportunity to analyze the data critically from an open philosophical view. This is an area where it is necessary to present the evidence and the arguments for and against, and let the students decide for themselves what to believe."

Renick then further advanced this propaganda in a piece for the the website of the Center for Reclaiming America, which describes itself as a project of D James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries which enables Christians "to defend and implement the Biblical principles on which our country was founded" (http://www.reclaimamerica.org/pages/NEWS/newspage.asp?story=1416). Disregarding the actual text in the standards, Renick bragged about his success, and considered his rude interrogation as "for-the-record" support for his misrepresenting the standards. The article reported:
While much language in the standards was not changed, an important caveat was added which stated in part, " ... these standards do not present scientific theory as absolute. ...

Further, "for-the-record" questions posed by ID-net confirmed that the SDE's [State Department of Education] intent for the new standards was that (1) evolution would not be taught as absolute fact and (2) teachers would be allowed to discuss problems with evolution.

Renick's final evaluation of the situation: "If there is ever a dispute over intent and meaning of the Standards in the area of biological evolution, these policy statements may be referenced for clarification ... [and] will essentially neutralize the impact of the remaining dogmatic language.

What the Standards Actually Say About Evolution

Here is the only portion of the New Mexico standards (available on-line at http://www.nmlites.org/standards/science/index.html) directly relevant to this issue:
Strand III, Content Standard V-A, Benchmark 9–12.16:

"[Students shall] [u]nderstand that reasonable people may disagree about some issues that are of interest to both science and religion (e.g., the origin of life on earth, the cause of the big bang, the future of earth)."
Even the word "controversy" does not appear anywhere in the standards.

Here are some of the other standards related to evolution:
K-4 Benchmark II: Know that living things have similarities and differences and that living things change over time.

5-8 Benchmark II: Understand how traits are passed from one generation to the next and how species evolve.

9-12 Benchmark II: Understand the genetic basis for inheritance and the basic concepts of biological evolution.
and:

Strand II, Standard II, 5–8 Benchmark II:

Biological Evolution

7. Describe how typical traits may change from generation to generation due to environmental influences (e.g., color of skin, shape of eyes, camouflage, shape of beak).

8. Explain that diversity within a species is developed by gradual changes over many generations.

9. Know that organisms can acquire unique characteristics through naturally occurring genetic variations.

10. Identify adaptations that favor the survival of organisms in their environments (e.g., camouflage, shape of beak).

11. Understand the process of natural selection.

12. Explain how species adapt to changes in the environment or become extinct and that extinction of species is common in the history of living things.

13. Know that the fossil record documents the appearance, diversification, and extinction of many life forms.
and:
Strand II, Standard II, 9–12 Benchmark I:

Biodiversity

8. Understand and explain the hierarchical classification scheme (i.e., domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species), including:
classification of an organism into a category
similarity inferred from molecular structure (DNA) closely matching classification based on anatomical similarities
similarities of organisms reflecting evolutionary relationships.

9. Understand variation within and among species, including:
mutations and genetic drift
factors affecting the survival of an organism
natural selection
and:
Strand II, Standard II, 9–12 Benchmark II:

Biological Evolution

8. Describe the evidence for the first appearance of life on Earth as one-celled organisms, over 3.5 billion years ago, and for the later appearance of a diversity of multicellular organisms over millions of years.

9. Critically analyze the data and observations supporting the conclusion that the species living on Earth today are related by descent from the ancestral one-celled organisms.

10. Understand the data, observations, and logic supporting the conclusion that species today evolved from earlier, distinctly different species, originating from the ancestral one-celled organisms.

11. Understand that evolution is a consequence of many factors, including the ability of organisms to reproduce, genetic variability, the effect of limited resources, and natural selection.

12. Explain how natural selection favors individuals who are better able to survive, reproduce, and leave offspring.

13. Analyze how evolution by natural selection and other mechanisms explains many phenomena including the fossil record of ancient life forms and similarities (both physical and molecular) among different species.


Benchmark 9 above may be (deliberately?) misinterpreted by suggesting that "critically analyze" means "criticize" or "reject", when in fact it is intended to have the students apply the scientific method. Both Benchmarks 9 and 10 include the phrase "supporting the conclusion", with no suggestion that the conclusion is not, in fact, well-supported. The phrase "critically analyze" appears several times in the standards on other topics ranging from technology and scientific knowledge to ecology. It appears to be misused only by the "intelligent design" movement with reference to evolution.

Renick's "for-the-record" Claim

So the standards themselves disprove the "intelligent design" propaganda. But the Center for Reclaiming America's article, which clearly relied on Renick, said that his "for-the-record" cross-examination "confirmed that the SDE's intent for the new standards was that (1) evolution would not be taught as absolute fact and (2) teachers would be allowed to discuss problems with evolution." His public attack was directed at two Education Department officials who managed and led the standards revision effort: Steven Sanchez and Sharon Dogruel. What do the victims of his interrogation say about this episode?

Steven Sanchez, former Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Learning Technologies, notes:
From the beginning of the development of these science standards to their adoption by the State Board of Education, we were guided by two principles. First, important content should be introduced in early grades and strengthened year after year, so that our students will be scientifically literate when they leave high school. Since evolution is the only accepted scientific theory of the history and unity of life on earth, it is unambiguously central to our life-science standards, beginning in middle school and with increasing sophistication in high school. Second, students should understand the process of scientific inquiry in addition to specific scientific content, so our standards require that students learn to use scientific thinking to develop questions, design and conduct experiments, analyze and evaluate results, make predictions, and communicate findings. In a classroom where those standards are met, students will understand that scientific methods produce scientific knowledge that is continually examined, validated, revised, or rejected, and they will understand the difference between scientific knowledge and other forms of knowledge.

Mr Renick tried to use our scientific-inquiry standards to attack our life-science standards when he addressed the Board of Education on the day of their final deliberations. However, the members of the New Mexico Board of Education saw science as a unified whole, not as a house divided against itself, and unanimously adopted the standards without modification or caveat.
Sharon Dogruel, Program Manager, Curriculum, Instruction and Learning Technologies, said:
Over 14 months, members of the science standards writing team worked diligently to craft standards in which science content, scientific thinking and methods, and societal and personal aspects of science were integrated into a coherent framework for exemplary science education. Members of this team considered all issues at great depth and, in the area of biological evolution, they were confident that the standards respected the backgrounds and beliefs of all students while remaining perfectly true to science. Based on the extensive development and thorough public review process completed for the science standards, coupled with the strong support from New Mexico teachers, and the praise and congratulations from numerous state and national science organizations, the team and the Department recommended that the New Mexico State Board adopt the standards without further modification.

The board was poised for [its] final vote when Joe Renick attempted to distort the intention of the standards by suggesting that teachers had to treat evolution according to his own perspective. Using a tactic that focused on student inquiry, he tried to manipulate the meaning of scientific inquiry, as elaborated in the standards, into a discussion of a controversy that may be political, philosophical, or even religious, but is not scientific. The writing team was clear: There is no controversy regarding the principles of evolution as presented in the standards. Mr Renick's attempt to undermine the standards failed.

I was appalled at this attempt to discredit the hard work of so many educators, scientists, parents, and the public, including Mr Renick's fellow members of NM IDnet. Any statements that the New Mexico science standards open the door to "alternatives to evolution" or that science instruction in New Mexico should cast doubt on the principles of evolution are completely false. New Mexicans can be extremely proud of their science standards, and it is unfortunate that some people continue to advance misrepresentations at a time when we need support for strong science education.
It appears that Renick and the people he interrogated disagree about whether his comments reflected any reality in the standards. In our view, his behavior was boorish and his conclusions are disingenuous.

Official Public Education Department Clarifications

As the "intelligent design" advocates continued to misinterpret the standards and even conduct teacher workshops to promote this misinformation, the Public Education Department issued two memoranda to all the state's school districts, describing in no uncertain terms how the department interpreted the standards; in addition, Berman also received a third memorandum. Excerpts from these three memoranda, written by Richard Reif, science consultant for the department, follow:
The Public Education Department requires all school districts to align their curricula to the New Mexico Science Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Standards. Therefore, all science teachers in New Mexico should be teaching about evolution in the appropriate grades and courses, according to their districts' curricula.

Further, because of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and a wide-reaching United States Supreme Court case, New Mexico public schools are not permitted to endorse a particular religion, teach religion, or teach "creation science" or any of its variations that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind.

… Third, the state must remain neutral in matters pertaining to religion. In no way do the science standards support the teaching of notions of intelligent design or creation science or any of its variations.

Fourth, fundamental to science and the New Mexico science standards is the role of inquiry in learning about the world. There is no place in science instruction for the teaching of notions that are not or have not been investigated through rigorous scientific means or that are not consider by the mainstream scientific community to be consistent with sound scientific inquiry.
So far, nothing that the "intelligent design" movement has produced meets the criteria of acceptance by mainstream science or is consistent with sound scientific inquiry.

Conclusion

The claim that New Mexico's science standards support the teaching of "intelligent design" or any other alternative "theory" to evolution, or encourages teachers "to present the "evidence and the arguments for and against" evolution, is baseless and false.

Nevertheless, this disingenuous and/or self-deluding misrepresentation has been widely circulated, including by the Discovery Institute, which has published similar claims on its website. These misrepresentations have infected such outlets as the Washington Post, which claimed (2005 Mar 13) that "Alabama and Georgia legislators recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio [sic] have approved new rules allowing that," and The New York Times.

New Mexico is not the only state to have been misrepresented in "Politicized scholars put evolution on the defensive" (The New York Times 2005 Aug 21), which (like the Washington Post's article) claimed, "Ohio, New Mexico and Minnesota have embraced the institute's 'teach the controversy' approach. In Ohio, as Patricia Princehouse of Ohio Citizens for Science explained (RNCSE 2004 Jan/Feb; 24 [1]: 5–6), the problem was not primarily with the standards but with the "secret process ... used to build the model curriculum in 2003, incorporating creationist mischaracterization not only of the content, but also of the process of science itself." As for Minnesota, Glenn Branch of NCSE reports that on seeing the story, he alerted a public relations official in the Minnesota Department of Education, who promptly e-mailed the Times to request a correction with regard to his state.

A correction of sorts followed in the August 24, 2005, edition of the Times, reading: "The article also referred incorrectly to recent changes in science standards adopted by Ohio, Minnesota and New Mexico. While those states encourage critical analysis of evolution, they did not necessarily embrace the institute's 'teach the controversy' approach."

If there's anything to be learned from the saga, it's that claims from proponents of "intelligent design" ought to be taken, as we used to say in Latin class, cum grano salis — with a grain of salt.

About the Author(s): 
Marshall Berman
5408 Vista Sandia NE
Albuquerque NM 87111

President Bush Addresses "Intelligent Design"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
President Bush Addresses "Intelligent Design"
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2005
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
13–14
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
During a press conference with a group of Texas reporters on August 1, 2005, President George W Bush responded to a question about teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools. The reporter referred to "what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus 'intelligent design'" and asked, "What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools?" In response, Bush referred to his days as governor of Texas, when "I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is about." (It is noteworthy that Bush tacitly equated "intelligent design" and creationism.) Pressing the issue, the reporter asked, "So the answer accepts the validity of 'intelligent design' as an alternative to evolution?" Bush avoided a direct answer, construing the question instead as a fairness issue: "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

Although there was nothing unexpected about Bush's response, which is consistent with his previous statements on the topic, the present heightened awareness of issues involving evolution education ensured a media frenzy. NCSE was widely consulted for comment. The New York Times (2005 Aug 3) quoted NCSE's Susan Spath on the specious appeal to fairness: "It sounds like you're being fair, but creationism is a sectarian religious viewpoint, and 'intelligent design' is a sectarian religious viewpoint," she said. "It's not fair to privilege one religious viewpoint by calling it the other side of evolution." NCSE's Glenn Branch concurred, telling the Los Angeles Times (2005 Aug 3) that because "[t]he question was presented to him as a fairness issue," it was not surprising that Bush expressed the view that "both sides ought to be taught." Branch also told the Financial Times (2005 Aug 3) that "Bush would have done better to heed his White House science adviser, John Marburger, who [has] said that evolution was the 'cornerstone of modern biology' and who has characteri[z]ed ID as not even being a scientific theory."

When interviewed by The New York Times, Marburger reiterated that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and that "intelligent design is not a scientific concept." According to the Times, Marburger — who is Science Adviser to the President and Director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy — suggested that it would be "over-interpreting" Bush's remarks to endorse equal treatment for "intelligent design" and evolution in the public schools. Instead, he said, Bush's remarks should be interpreted as recommending the discussion of "intelligent design" as part of the "social context" in science classes. Marburger's charitable interpretation was not shared, however, by Richard Land, the president of the ethics and religious liberties commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, whom the Times quoted as construing Bush's remarks as supportive of the view he favors: "if you're going to teach the Darwinian theory as evolution, teach it as theory. And then teach another theory that has the most support among scientists" — presumably alluding to "intelligent design."

The scientific community rushed to deplore Bush's remarks. The American Geophysical Union issued a press release (2005 Aug 2) in which its executive director Fred Spilhaus stated, "President Bush, in advocating that the concept of 'intelligent design' be taught alongside the theory of evolution, puts America's schoolchildren at risk." In its press release (2005 Aug 4), the American Physical Society accepted Marburger's interpretation of Bush's remarks, but emphasized that "only scientifically validated theories, such as evolution, should be taught in the nation's science classes." The American Institute of Biological Sciences issued a press release (2005 Aug 5) in which its president Marvalee Wake stated, "'Intelligent design' is not a scientific theory and must not be taught in science classes." And in a letter to President Bush dated August 5, 2005, Robert Kirschner, the president of the American Astronomical Society, commented that "intelligent design has neither scientific evidence to support it nor an educational basis for teaching it as science."

The education community expressed its concern, too. According to a statement dated August 3, 2005, the National Science Teachers Association, the world's largest group of science educators, was "stunned and disappointed that President Bush is endorsing the teaching of intelligent design — effectively opening the door for nonscientific ideas to be taught in the nation's K–12 science classrooms" (see p 38). In a statement dated August 4, 2005, the American Federation of Teachers, with over 1.3 million members, described Bush's remarks as "a huge step backward for science education in the United States," adding that "[b]y backing concepts that lack scientific merit, President Bush is undermining his own pledge to 'leave no child behind.'"

On editorial and op-ed pages, Bush's remarks took a hammering. The Washington Post's editorialist wrote (2005 Aug 4), "To pretend that the existence of evolution is somehow still an open question, or that it is one of several equally valid theories, is to misunderstand the intellectual and scientific history of the past century." Referring to "intelligent design," the Baltimore Sun's editorialist wrote (2005 Aug 4), "It's creationism by another name, and if it makes its way into schools at all, it should definitely not be part of science classes." In its editorial (2005 Aug 4), the Sacramento Bee connected the dots between Bush's remarks and the Wedge strategy for promoting "intelligent design," commenting, "America's children deserve a first-rate education in science in public school and not a false, politically motivated 'Teach the Controversy' debate between science and religion." And in his August 5, 2005, column in The New York Times, the economist Paul Krugman perceptively remarked, "intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory."

Nevertheless, two prominent Republican politicians subsequently echoed Bush. According to the Associated Press (2005 Aug 18), Senator Bill Frist (R–Tennessee), the Senate majority leader, told reporters in Nashville that students ought to be exposed to different ideas, including "intelligent design": teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution, he said, "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone. I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future." According to the Arizona Daily Star (2005 Aug 24), Senator John McCain (R–Arizona) "told the Star that, like Bush, he believes 'all points of view' should be available to students studying the origins of mankind."

Senator Rick Santorum (R–Pennsylvania), who as the Senate Republican Conference Secretary is third in the Republican leadership, took a different tack, however. Speaking on National Public Radio (2005 Aug 4), he said, "as far as intelligent design is concerned, I really don't believe it has risen to the level of a scientific theory ... that we would want to teach it alongside of evolution." Santorum's reaction represents a departure for him: writing in the Washington Times (2002 Mar 14), for example, he stated, "intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." Like Frist and McCain, Santorum is reportedly contemplating a run for the presidency in 2008.

A welcome congressional response appeared in the following month. Writing as a guest columnist on the popular TPMCafe blog (2005 Sep 8; available on-line at ), Representative Rush Holt (D–New Jersey) — one of the very few research scientists who serve in Congress — contributed a piece entitled "Intelligent design: It's not even wrong." "As a research scientist and a member of the House Education Committee," Holt wrote:
I was appalled when President Bush signaled his support for the teaching of 'intelligent design' alongside evolution in public K–12 science classes. Though I respect and consistently protect the rights of persons of faith and the curricula of religious schools, public school science classes are not the place to teach concepts that cannot be backed up by evidence and tested experimentally.
He added, "It is irresponsible for President Bush to cast 'intelligent design' — a repackaged version of creationism — as the 'other side' of the evolution 'debate.'" His incisive essay ends with the sobering thought, "When the tenets of critical thinking and scientific investigation are weakened in our classrooms, we are weakening our nation. That is why I think the President's off-hand comment about 'intelligent design' as the other side of the debate over evolution is such a great disservice to Americans."

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

Bird Flu, Bush, Evolution — and Us

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Bird Flu, Bush, Evolution — and Us
Author(s): 
Steven Salzberg, University of Maryland
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2005
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
36–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The emergence of the new, highly virulent bird flu is just the latest example of how the microscopic world is constantly evolving into new forms that threaten to devastate the human population. The seriousness of the threat was underscored yesterday by President Bush's announcement of a new $7.1 billion national preparedness plan.

To fight off this threat, we need to understand everything we can about the influenza virus. But even if we succeed completely in defeating the flu today, the problem is not going away. Not only will flu pandemics continue, but also we never know when a new disease such as SARS or West Nile virus will appear.

To keep ahead of these diseases, we need to continue our scientific research, and we need to educate our citizens about what they can do both to protect themselves and to help control the spread of disease. The current assault on the teaching of evolution greatly undermines our efforts to do this, now and in the future. If we stop educating our children about science, our society runs the risk of losing many of the wonderful advances that make our lives better.

Why has the debate about evolution re-emerged? Perhaps because few people see the obvious effects of evolution that geneticists and evolutionary biologists see every day.

Consider the influenza virus. Like many viruses, it mutates very fast, creating many slightly different strains that compete to see which ones can infect their host most efficiently. Each year, we create a new flu vaccine, which although not perfect, is very effective.

Why do we need a new vaccine every year? In a word, evolution. Each year, the flu accumulates many mutations, and some of those mutations allow it to avoid the existing vaccine. These resistant strains quickly take over — that's what Darwin meant by phrase "natural selection” — and become next year's flu strain. The same thing happens with bacteria, and this is why our over-use of antibiotics — in animal feed, hand soaps, and a growing number of other products — is hastening the evolution of frightening new antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

What about the feared bird flu, the H5N1 strain that has jumped from birds to humans and killed more than half the people it has infected? Most people do not understand that H5N1 is evolving not in people, but in birds. We do not yet know what genetic changes will turn this flu strain into a pandemic, but we do know that it will continue to evolve. Each time it jumps to humans, there's a chance that this one will be the new pandemic strain.

Scientists in my lab and others can tell you that developing a vaccine for the flu absolutely requires that we understand its evolution. We can also tell you that the flu does not "care” if we believe in evolution. It will keep evolving anyway, and it will kill us if we ignore it.

A major misconception about evolution is that it is a theory of the origin of life. It isn't. It is about the origin of species. It does not explain how life came to be in the first place, but rather it explains how, once life appeared, it separated into distinct forms that led to the wonderful diversity of life on our planet. (Darwin himself believed that the first life was put here by a divine being.)

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming and increases every year. Among the many astonishing things we have learned through the sequencing of the human genome is that we share hundreds of genes with the lowly E coli bacterium. These genes are so essential to life that their DNA has been preserved for two billion years, and today we can read the evidence in our genomes.

Several polls have reported that a majority of Americans believe that religion-based alternatives to evolution should be taught in science classes in our schools. These polls are called evidence that perhaps we should teach these alternative views. Reporters and pollsters deserve much of the blame here: Science is not like politics, where outcomes are determined by polls. Another recent poll revealed that less than half of the US population knows that the earth revolves around the sun. Does this mean we should teach that the sun revolves around the earth? What these polls do highlight, sadly, is the failure of science education. Of course it would be a huge mistake, and a disservice to our children, if we used polls to decide what to teach in school.

Let's drop the artificial debate about evolution and "intelligent design" and teach our children what science really is. Let's teach them that science requires a skeptical mind and that scientific theories must be supported by objective facts. If we want to teach children about scientific debates, let's pick a real debate — there are plenty of them — rather than an artificial one. And let's equip the next generation of scientists to bring us new cures and new technology, rather than burying our heads in the sand.

[Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer 2005 Nov 2 and reprinted with permission.]

About the Author(s): 
Steven Salzberg
3125 Biomolecular Sciences Building #296
University of Maryland
College Park MD 20742
salzberg@umd.edu

Evolution is a Winner — for Breakthroughs and Prizes

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution is a Winner — for Breakthroughs and Prizes
Author(s): 
James McCarter
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2005
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
38–39
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In 1965, the young American scientist Leland Hartwell had to make a decision crucial to his research on understanding how cells divide, a key step toward curing cancer.

Hartwell had to decide whether to place his bet on simple single-celled organisms like baker's yeast, which were easy to study but might be too distantly related to humans for the information to matter. Or he had to cast his lot on cells from humans and mice, which were clearly relevant but difficult to study. Hartwell gambled that over the course of evolution, certain genes would be so important that natural selection would conserve their key features, making them recognizable even between yeast and humans. Over the next few decades, this speculation was confirmed, and in 2001 Hartwell was awarded the Nobel Prize.

The importance of evolution to Hartwell's work exemplifies a key perspective that has been overshadowed by recent attacks on science and evolution from creationist ideologues advocating "intelligent design". While it is essential to explain the flaws in the pseudoscience of "intelligent design" and to review the overwhelming evidence supporting the facts of evolution, such discussions of fossils and extinct species can seem irrelevant to everyday concerns. So let's focus on some of the many practical applications of evolution in an area that matters to all of us: breakthroughs in medicine.

Evolution, in addition to being solid science, provides us with a practical and powerful tool-kit. Applied techniques based on evolution play central roles in the biotechnology industry, and in recent advances in genomics and drug discovery. Bioinformatics, the application of computers to biology and one of the hottest career opportunities in science, is full of evolution-based computer code. Tens of thousands of researchers in the multibillion-dollar field of biomedical research and development use evolution-based discoveries and concepts as a routine part of their important work.

For instance, our interpretation of the human genome is largely based on comparisons to genomes of other species. Coincidentally, the statement by President George W Bush in support of teaching "intelligent design" (see p 13) occurred just weeks before the publication of the chimpanzee genome, work led by Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center.

In a peer-reviewed article, many of the same world-renowned scientists responsible for sequencing the human genome presented in detail the differences between the DNA of humans and chimps. Consistent with chimpanzees' being our closest living relatives, the researchers reported that across billions of bases in the genomes, about 97.4% of the human and chimp DNA is identical. And the differences in the remaining 2.6% are fascinating, showing the signatures not of creation or design but of evolution. The DNA sequence differences show change driven over the last 6 million years by the forces of mutation and natural selection, from the selection for genes that aid in our defense against infection to the movement of transposable elements (parasitic DNA).

To see the integral role of evolution in biomedical research, consider Nobel Prizes, a good indicator of the most important breakthroughs in biology. Reviewing the last 50 years of Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology, I asked, "Is training in evolutionary biology necessary for a thorough understanding of the award-winning discoveries and work resulting from each breakthrough?" By my criteria, understanding of evolution is necessary in 47 of 50 cases. From vaccines, viral cancer genes, and nerve cell communication to drug trials, and genes controlling cholesterol and heart disease, evolutionary insights are crucial.

In Hartwell's case, a bet on the simple yeast cell revolutionized our understanding of how cells of all organisms replicate. Versions of most of the genes found in yeast cells by Hartwell and his co-recipients Tim Hunt and Paul Nurse were later found in humans. Despite over a billion years of evolution since they diverged from their common ancestor, humans and yeast still maintain similar gene-encoded machinery for cell replication. Drugs aimed at this replication machinery are currently in clinical trials for the treatment of breast, lung, kidney and other cancers.

In Kansas, backers of "intelligent design" have scoffed at the idea that watering down the evolutionary biology curriculum would have a negative effect on that state's fledgling biotech industry.

What does evolution have to do with biotechnology? As the president of a biotech firm in St Louis, I can tell you that evolutionary biology is an integral part of what we and other companies do. I hire scientists who are well-trained in molecular evolutionary biology; who know how to recognize the business end of enzymes simply by looking at DNA sequences; who know which changes in a protein are important; who can design research tools based on the way a species manipulates the genetic code. Today, these skills are as important to discoveries in the laboratory as knowing how to use a microscope, and it takes an understanding of evolution to master them.

Creationists ask, "Do you really think an ape was your ancestor?" Biologists are actually saying something much more profound. From anatomists, biochemists and immunologists to molecular biologists, neurobiologists and cell biologists, we are stating that all aspects of biology support the conclusion that humanity shares ancestry not only with primates, but with mammals, reptiles, fish, insects, worms, plants, and yes, even yeast and bacteria. We have evolved as part of one inseparable living world — one ancient tree of life that inhabits this planet. And for many scientists of diverse religious traditions, this realization does not pose the conflict with their faith that fundamentalist ideologues assert.

Americans, in addition to being a passionate people of many faiths, are also practical people. We are innovators who expect to lead the world in medical breakthroughs and products. Open-minded Americans must know that the assault on evolution in the science curriculum not only puts at risk our understanding of natural history, ecology and environmental change, but also jeopardizes the science literacy of our students and our international competitiveness in making biomedical breakthroughs of Nobel-Prize caliber. Americans have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 39 of the last 50 years. At a time when we face international competition that is more intense than ever, a good start toward success is to put the attacks on evolution, biology, and science behind us.

About the Author(s): 
James McCarter
Divergence Inc
893 North Warson Rd
St Louis MO 63141

Review: Why is a Fly not a Horse?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
43–45
Reviewer: 
Andrea Bottaro, University of Rochester Medical Center
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Why is a Fly not a Horse?
Author(s): 
Giuseppe Sermonti
2005. Discovery Institute, Seattle, Washington.
At the ripe age of 80, Giuseppe Sermonti can hardly be considered the new kid on the block of creationism, even more so because he has been pushing his personal brand of anti-evolution, an idiosyncratic brew of supernaturalism, structuralism, and postmodernist anti-rationalism, already for a couple of decades. Judging by the treatment this retired Italian genetics professor recently received in the United States by the local creationist “intelligent design” honchos, however, one would be almost forgiven for thinking that Sermonti might be the movement’s next star. Much of the newfound enthusiasm is, I suspect, due to his editorship of Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum, a third-tier but historical and, importantly, ISI-indexed biology journal which he has turned into a haven for all sorts of creationist and anti-Darwinian material. Sermonti’s Rivista provides “intelligent design” advocates a much-needed back door to the “mainstream scientific literature” without the inconvenience of proper peer-review — a unique opportunity that they have already started to exploit. Hard on the heels of Sermonti’s trans-Atlantic travel to appear at Discovery Institute-sponsored lectures and as an “expert witness” at the Kansas anti-evolution hearings, now comes a translation of his book Dimenticare Darwin (“To forget Darwin”), published by none else but the Discovery Institute itself, under the title Why is a Fly not a Horse?

Despite the back-cover claim that the book is “loaded with scientific facts,” it can hardly be called a scientific treatise. In fact, the book lacks any coherent thread, any substantial argument that is logically developed. In its place, two main ideas reverberate and echo throughout the book: first, that modern evolutionary theory and the current mechanistic models of development — indeed, the scientific method itself — are utterly inadequate to explain biological form in all its fascinating and rich complexity, and second, that abstract form exists apart from, and precedes — indeed must precede — its physical ontogenetic and phylogenetic realization. Sermonti bounces these two ideas around, roaming across themes as diverse as fractals and paleoentomology, prions, and anthropology. This could have even been an instructive approach, if it were not for the fact that the treatment is mostly superficial, and often outright misleading, practically overwhelming the reader with an avalanche of factoids, pseudo-claims, and anecdotes which, due to the general lack of proper citations and attributions, a general reader will not even be equipped to confirm and evaluate properly.

The lack of citations is actually strategic, because for the most part Sermonti runs through the usual gamut of well-known creationist rhetorical arguments and scientific misrepresentations (key transitional forms are missing, no models exist for the origin of genetic information, evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics, natural selection is a purely conservative force, and so on), sometimes with highly personal twists, such as his creative claim that the evidence indicates that Homo sapiens appeared first (and abruptly) among hominids, and that all other fossil hominids and extant great apes are its degenerate forms. When support for an argument is missing, Sermonti does not turn away from inventing some, for instance when he argues that modern evolutionary theory, via its adherence to the “Central Dogma” of molecular biology, posits that DNA must act as a thermodynamically closed system (and therefore is subject to the Second Law).

In most cases, Sermonti’s arguments are based on mere misrepresentations or cherry-picking of the existing evidence; I can’t say whether intentionally or due to ignorance. Thus, the finding that homologous “master” genes (hox genes, pax6) can drive similar developmental programs in morphologically different organisms is cited as a strong argument that morphological differences cannot be genetic in origin, but must be due to “some vague ‘field’ that unfolds to the point of being the very form of a fly or a cat” — a view, Sermonti assures the reader, that is “gaining ever wider support” (which may be news to developmental biologists). Later, he claims that leaf insects, or phasmids, predated the appearance of the leafy plants they mimic (angiosperms) in the Cretaceous. This is simply false.

First, there is no fossil evidence at all of Phasmida before the radiation of angiosperms. Second, the Permian fossil insects of the order Protophasmida, which Sermonti cites as problematic evidence, do not particularly mimic sticks or leaves, and certainly not angiosperm leaves. (As Sermonti notes with characteristic suspicion for scientists’ motives, they are unfortunately named: they are not even related to modern Phasmida at all.) Third, leafy plants, such as ferns and gymnosperms, existed in the Paleozoic anyway, and with visual predators such as amphibians and early reptiles around, it would hardly be a surprise if some insects did find an advantage in forms of camouflage. Sermonti says, “The entomologists I have consulted prefer to gloss over the phasmids.” Quite possibly, he simply did not like their answers.

Also on an insect topic, Sermonti cites as another case of impossible evolutionary “premonition” the fact that most of the extant insect mouth apparatuses existed before angiosperms (Labandeira and Sepkoski 1993). He asks, “How did it happen that these complex and delicate apparatuses existed millions and millions of years before they had a job to do?” The straightforward answer is, because they had a job to do on non-angiosperm plants, as highlighted by the damage detected on plant fossils.

A review paper by Labandeira (1998) describes insect feeding modes for which Paleozoic evidence already exists: “spore feeding and piercing-and-sucking” (extending to the early Devonian), “[e]xternal feeding on pinnule margins and the intimate and intricate association of galling” (in the Carboniferous), “hole feeding and skeletonization” (in the early Permian), “surface fluid feeding” and possible but inconclusive evidence of “mutualistic relationships between insect pollinivores and seed plants” by the end of the Paleozoic. In other words, insects pierced, sucked, gnawed, crushed, lapped, imbibed, scraped and otherwise fed on non-angiosperm plants then, much as they do on angiosperms today (the only exception being the current highly specialized flower-feeding apparatuses, whose appearance in the fossil record not surprisingly overlaps that of flowering plants).

Quite amusingly, these supposed entomological “evolutionary mysteries” so struck “intelligent design” advocate and biochemist Michael Behe’s fancy that he made them the centerpiece of his endorsement of Sermonti’s book: “With charming prose Sermonti describes biology which contradicts Darwinian expectations: leaf insects before leaves, insects before plants [sic] …“ It would have taken Behe some basic knowledge of biology and paleontology and a few hours of checking the appropriate literature to figure out the facts. Perhaps Behe blindly trusted Sermonti’s scholarship, but he should have asked the book’s editor (Jonathan Wells of Icons of Evolution fame) and translator first, who (to their credit) went to the trouble of correcting several banally gross errors from the Italian version of the book (such as the claims that all animal phyla, including Protozoa, Porifera, and Cnidaria, appeared in the Cambrian, and that there are no known fossil transitional forms in cetacean evolution).

The alternative view of the biological world Sermonti proposes has less to do with science, even anti-Darwinian structuralism, and more with some sort of passive, contemplative mysticism. Ultimately, Sermonti seems to suggest, we should just marvel at nature’s intricacies, and give up on trying to understand it with our faulty tools: “The budding flower of the world is a cathedral of cathedrals, and it remains to us to bend our knee and say ‘Domine, non sum dignus’”.

I am all for being transported by contemplation of nature at times, but Sermonti is not St Francis, and his anti-scientific approach ultimately sounds alternatively resentful (of the veil-piercing successes of science) and defeatist (of its future prospects). The goal of Sermonti’s approach, however, is not knowledge but, as he states in a 1996 open letter to Rupert Sheldrake in Rivista di Biologia (Sermonti 1996), to endow the modern world with an “enchanted and magic aura” (interestingly, Sermonti is also the author of several books and articles of literary criticism of fables and fairy tales).

If one has to look for a positive aspect in the book, it may reside in the exposure of creationist and “intelligent design” readers to some of the more respectable structuralist ideas, which although limited may be something not often encountered in their pamphlets. As one of the founders of the Osaka Group, Sermonti should at least have a reasonable understanding of structuralism. Alas, he barely runs through the topic in a couple of chapters (most effectively in the one entitled “Prescribed forms of life”). He talks about D’Arcy Thompson and even describes Brian Goodwin’s more pragmatic approach to structuralist embryology, only later to essentially apologize for its empirical nature, and fall back on empty fluff such as Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” and the “inherent collective memory” of natural systems.

So, all in all, between the poor arguments, the many errors, and the misrepresentations, what is left of this book to leave a mark on the reader is the “charming prose” Behe alludes to. Certainly Sermonti loves to turn out flourishing phrases and rich descriptions — possibly even too much for many English readers, more used to terse and utilitarian prose. Another Discovery Institute Fellow, Jonathan Witt, crows, “Anyone who believed in reincarnation would say Sermonti was a poet in a former life.” Judging solely from this book, any knowledgeable reader would have a hard time believing that Sermonti has been a scientist in this life.

[Some material and ideas in this essay first appeared on the Panda’s Thumb website in Bottaro’s review of the Italian version of Sermonti’s book and later commentaries.]

References

Labandeira CC. 1998. Early history of arthropod and vascular plant associations. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 26: 329–77.

Labandeira CC, Sepkoski JJ Jr. 1993. Insect diversity in the fossil record. Science 261: 310–5.

Sermonti G. 1996. The impossible exists: About the “seven experiments” suggested by Rupert Sheldrake. Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum 89: 479–82.

About the Author(s): 
Andrea Bottaro
URMC Box 695
University of Rochester Medical Center
601 Elmwood Ave
Rochester NY 14642
abottaro@pandasthumb.org

Review: The Republican War on Science

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
3–4
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
45–46
Reviewer: 
Robert L Park, University of Maryland
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Republican War on Science
Author(s): 
Chris Mooney
2005. Basic Books.
On August 1, 2005, in an interview with Texas reporters, the President of the United States of America publicly declared war on science. Siding with biblical literalists, George W Bush called for “intelligent design” to be taught in public schools alongside the theory of evolution (see p 13). An undeclared war that had smoldered behind the headlines suddenly broke out on the front pages. The war on science was now national news.

It was certainly not the first time that George W Bush had embraced ideologically driven pseudoscience. Large blocks of the scientific community had already been alienated by the President’s stand on such issues as climate change, missile defense, abortion, stem cell research, the environment, the test ban treaty, energy, and so on. But now, as if by design, he had found the one issue that seemed to offend every scientist. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection occupies a special place in the world of science. When it was published in 1859, the reaction of the great biologist Thomas Huxley was “why didn’t I think of that?” Every scientist since, whatever his or her field, has felt that same sense of awe. How could an idea of such clarity and simplicity, an idea that explains so much of what is known, have eluded scientists for so long? Darwin’s theory of evolution demonstrates what the human mind is capable of when it’s freed from the shackles of tradition. It is treasured by scientists in every field — even as it is despised by the religious right.

By fortunate coincidence, even as the President was calling for a religious fable to be taught beside science in our schools, the story of how the most advanced nation on earth came to reject science, Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science, was already at the printer’s.

The Republican dismissal of mainstream science actually began two decades ago with Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, a missile defense program commonly referred to as “Star Wars”. Technological optimism was substituted for scientific reality. The reckless Reagan “dream” of “rendering nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete” never had any realistic prospect of working and risked initiating a peremptory strike from the Soviets. “Star Wars” — overwhelmingly opposed, even ridiculed, by the scientific community — simply did not work. Now, under George W Bush, a vastly scaled-down version of Star Wars is also opposed by scientists, and it also does not work.

George W Bush, like Ronald Reagan, has no interest in science. Bush, like Reagan, saw no urgency in appointing a science advisor and listens to whoever tells him what he wants to hear. It was almost a year before Jack Marburger, a physicist and director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, was confirmed as director of a scaled-down White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Moreover, the job had been stripped of the rank of Special Advisor to the President, greatly reducing the influence of science in this administration. None of this seemed to perturb Marburger, a registered Democrat, who was President of the State University of New York at Stony Brook prior to becoming director at Brookhaven.

Following the President’s comment on teaching “intelligent design”, however, Marburger, whom the President had not bothered to consult, told The New York Times that the President had been misunderstood. “Evolution,” he said, is the “cornerstone of modern biology,” whereas “‘intelligent design’ is not a scientific concept.” All of this is perfectly true, but he needed to be telling this to the President, not The New York Times. The President did not bother to take notice of Marburger’s comments.

Scientists have traditionally been reluctant to take public stands as a group on partisan political issues, believing that science should be a high priority for both parties. But as Mooney points out, that changed on February 18, 2004, when 60 leading scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, signed a statement denouncing the Bush administration for distorting scientific information and manipulating the process by which science advice is factored into government decisions. To the charge of manipulating the science advisory process, the eloquent White House response was to eject two advocates of stem cell research from the Council on Bioethics, replacing them with three appointees whose opposition to stem cell research is solidly faith-based.

The number of Nobel laureates signing the statement eventually rose to an astonishing 48, along with 62 recipients of the National Medal of Science. The administration response was to trivialize the issue. John Marburger was assigned the task of belittling the statement. Marburger, after all, had nothing else to do. He told The New York Times that it was just a matter of a few scientists “getting their feathers ruffled.”

It is one thing to point out how pervasive the Republican war on science has become, another to devise a strategy for deterring future abuse. In a final chapter, or “Epilogue,” Mooney makes it clear there is no one solution. Legislative reforms are needed to safeguard science advice and rescind measures that have served to further politicize science. Moderate Republicans might convince their more extreme colleagues of the dangers of science abuse, but so far he points out, “we can detect no evidence” that they are having any effect. Indeed, in the short time since Mooney wrote those words, the lure of the White House has pushed Republican moderates such as McCain and Frist, who witnessed the power of the Christian right in the last election, to endorse the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside evolution.

Strong belief in “fair play” is one of the most appealing characteristics of Americans, but it is often exploited by fringe groups who have little rational justification for their positions. Reporters also justify giving “balanced” treatment to such issue on which one side has little or no sensible support.

But in the end, Mooney says, “We must mobilize the natural defenders of Enlightenment values: scientists themselves, who all too often fail to engage anti-evolutionists and other know-nothings in defense of what they hold dear.”

About the Author(s): 
Robert L Park
University of Maryland
Department of Physics
John S Toll Physics Building
College Park Maryland 20742
bob@physics.umd.edu

RNCSE 25 (5-6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2005
Date: 
September–December
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 25 (5-6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2005
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. On, Wisconsin?
    Andrew J Petto
    From local school districts to the state legislature, evolution is a hot topic in the Badger state.
  2. Anti-Evolution Legislation in Utah
    Glenn Branch
    The next chapter in an ongoing story of one state legislator's attempt to insert religion into science curriculum.
  3. Updates
    News from Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and the United Kingdom.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    Glenn Branch
    A sampling of our members' activities and accomplishments.
  2. ICR's Henry Morris Dies
    Remembering the architect of creation science.
  3. NCSE Thanks You for Your Support
    Recognizing those who have helped NCSE financially.

FEATURES

  1. The Lay of the Land: The Current Context for Communicating Evolution in Natural History Museums
    Robert "Mac" West
    NCSE board member Mac West addressed a group of museum educators and administrators, asking,With all those dinosaurs and fossil critters, is evolution front and center in museums ... or not so much?
  2. Creationism and the Laws of Thermodynamics
    Steven L Morris
    A physicist calculates how much energy is available on earth to drive life's evolution. It turns out that we have entropy to burn!
  3. The Life Science Prize
    Michael Zimmerman
    A long-time supporter of evolution education tries to pin down a creationist on the terms of an intellectual competition to prove evolution ... and has some fun in the process.
  4. Non-Mineralized Tissues in Fossil T rex
    Joe Skulan
    Creationists have cited recent research reporting the recovery of "soft tissue" from dinosaur bones as proof that these remains must be young. What is the real story of fossilization?
  5. You Tell Me that It's Evolution ...
    Arthur M Shapiro
    A lepidopterist's research project is unexpectedly stymied by young-earth creationists.
  6. I Know a Place ...
    Phil Plait
    The creator of the Bad Astronomy web site invites readers into the world of science ... where we can know what we have not experienced first-hand.
  7. Framing the Issue: The "Theory" Trap
    David Morrison
    Anti-evolutionists make a lot of hay claiming that evolution is "only a theory".Trying to argue about the meaning of the word "theory"may be fruitless.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Entropy in Muffins: Why Evolution Does Not Violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics
    Patricia Princehouse
    Energy order and disorder in baked goods: a simplified explanation of a scientific concept.
  2. Books: Getting Physical
    Books that explore thermodynamics, the Big Bang, and the age of the earth.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    An NCSE speaker may be coming to your neighborhood. Check the calendar here.
  4. Letters

RECAPITULATIONS

  1. Response to John C Greene
    Sheldon F Gottlieb reacts to Greene's thoughts on the Claremont Conference
  2. Reply to Gottlieb
    John C Greene replies

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Into the Cool by Eric D Schneider and Dorion Sagan
    Reviewed by Sonya Bahar
  2. The Counter-Creationism Handbook by Mark Isaak
    Reviewed by Tim M Berra
  3. Organisms and Artifacts by Tim Lewens
    Reviewed by John S Wilkins
  4. Why Much of What Jonathan Wells Writes about Evolution is Wrong: Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells
    Reviewed by Matt Cartmill
  5. Evolution 101: Finding a Solid Introduction: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Evolution by Leslie Alan Horwitz and Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth
    Reviewed by Andrew J Petto
  6. Evolution — Why Bother?
    A film produced by the BSCS and AIBS
    Reviewed by Karen Mesmer
  7. The Plausibility of Life by Marc W Kirschner and John C Gerhardt
    Reviewed by Andrew J Petto

Creationism and the Laws of Thermodynamics

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creationism and the Laws of Thermodynamics
Author(s): 
Steven L. Morris
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2005
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
31–32
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

INTRODUCTION



Pseudoscientists love to use "abracadabra" words to dazzle an ill-informed audience, and for creationists, the word "entropy" fills the bill nicely. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that, in an isolated system, the entropy tends to increase. As entropy may be considered a measure of disorder, the orderliness of living systems and the complexity of organic molecules are taken by creationists to be a violation of this law of physics, requiring divine intervention.

An example of this sort of thinking is provided by Henry Morris (1989: 32, emphasis in the original):
The universe is not "progressing from featurelessness to states of greater organization and complexity," as Davies and other evolutionary mathematicians fantasize. It is running down - at every observable level - toward chaos, as stipulated by the scientific laws of thermodynamics. Local and temporary increases in complexity are only possible when driven by designed programs and directed energies, neither of which is possessed by the purely speculative notion of vertically-upward evolution.
An even less intellectual effort is provided by Ross (2004: 108):
One feature of the law of decay (the second law of thermodynamics, or the entropy law) seems especially beneficial in the context of sin: the more we humans sin, the more pain and work we encounter.
Thank God for torture chambers, and congenital diseases!

A perfectly adequate response to such nonsense is to point out that the earth is not an isolated system, and therefore the condition required by the Second Law is not met. We can surely say more than just this, however. After all, entropy is not merely some nebulous concept of disorder, but an exactly defined quantity in physics. For example, 18 grams of water at 25° C has an entropy of 70.0 Joules per Kelvin (Lide 2004-5: 5-18; 6-4). Since entropy can be calculated precisely, it is possible to determine what restrictions the laws of thermodynamics really place on evolution. To do this, we should first look at how entropy is defined mathematically.

THE CALCULATION OF ENTROPY



The change in the entropy of a system as it goes from an initial state to a final state is

ΔS = ∫ dQ
T


which simplifies to

ΔS =  Q
T
if the temperature is constant throughout the process. In this equation:
S is the entropy in units of Joules per Kelvin (or J/K),

ΔS is the change in the entropy during the process,

Q is the flow of heat in units of Joules (or J) (Q is positive if heat flows into the object, and negative if heat flows out of the object), and

T is the temperature in units of Kelvin (or K).


For example, suppose that two cubes of matter at temperatures of 11 K and 9 K are brought together, 99 Joules of heat spontaneously flow from the hotter to the colder cube (as shown), and the cubes are separated. If the heat capacities of the cubes are so large that their temperatures remain essentially constant, the change in entropy of the entire system is

ΔS =  Qcolder  +  Qhotter  =  99  +  -99  = 11 - 9 = +2 J/K.
Tcolder Thotter 9 11


Notice that this change of entropy is a positive quantity. The entropy of any system tends to increase, as energy flows spontaneously from hotter to colder regions.

THE ENTROPY OF SUNLIGHT



To examine the change of entropy necessary to generate life on earth, begin with a square, one meter long on each side, at the same distance from the sun as the earth (93 million miles) and oriented so that one side fully faces the solar disk. The amount of radiant power that passes through this area is called the solar constant, and is equal to 1373 Joules/second (Lide 2004-5: 14-2). In the absence of the earth's atmosphere, the entropy of this sunlight would equal this energy divided by the temperature of the sun's surface, known from spectroscopy to equal 5780 K. The result would give the entropy of this amount of sunlight as 0.238 J/K every second.

A more sophisticated analysis of the energy and entropy that reaches the surface of the earth is given by Kabelac and Drake (1992: 245). Due to absorption and scattering by the atmosphere, only 897.6 J of energy reaches one square meter of the earth's surface through a clear sky every second (731.4 J directly from the solar disk, and 166.2 J diffused through the rest of the sky). For an overcast sky, all the energy is from diffuse radiation, equal to 286.7 J, according to Kabelac and Drake's model. The entropy that reaches this square meter through a clear sky every second is 0.305 J/K (0.182 J/K directly from the solar disk, and 0.123 J/K diffused through the rest of the sky). For an overcast sky, all the entropy is from diffuse radiation, equal to 0.218 J/K (see figure, p 32).

So, for one square meter on the earth's surface facing the sun, the energy received every second from a clear sky is 897.6 J, and the entropy received is 0.305 J/K. If we are to apply these numbers to a study of life on earth, we must spread these quantities over the entire earth's surface (of area 4πr2) rather than the cross-section of the earth (of area πr2) that receives the rays perpendicular to the surface. Therefore, these numbers must be reduced by a factor of 4 to represent the energy and entropy that an average square meter of the earth receives every second, as 224.4 J and 0.076 J/K, respectively.

THE ENTROPY BUDGET OF ONE SQUARE METER OF LAND



The average temperature of the earth's surface is 288 K (= 15° C = 59° F) according to Lide (2004-5: 14-3). To maintain this temperature, that one square meter must radiate 224.4 J of energy back into the atmosphere (and ultimately into outer space) every second. The entropy of this radiation is

ΔS =  Q  =  224.4  = 0.779 J/K.
T 228


Assuming sunny skies, this one square meter of ground gains 0.076 J/K of entropy every second from sunlight, and produces 0.779 J/K every second by radiating energy back into the sky for a net entropy creation rate of 0.703 J/K every second. In effect, the earth is an entropy factory for the universe, taking individual high-energy (visible) photons and converting each of them into many low-energy (infrared) photons, increasing the disorder of the universe. As long as life on earth decreases its entropy at a rate of 0.703 J/K or less per square meter every second, the entropy of the universe will not decrease over time due to this one square meter of earth, and the Second Law will be obeyed.

How much energy and entropy are contained in life on the earth's land surface, compared to a lifeless earth? The average biomass occupying one square meter of land is between 10 and 12 kg, mostly as plant material (Bortman and others 2003: 145). Taking 11 kg as an average,we can calculate how much energy it would take to create this biomass from simple inorganic chemicals. This can be done by reversing the process, and asking how much energy is released when combustion reduces plant life to ashes. The answer is the heat of combustion, which for wood (which we may take as representative of plant life) is 1.88 x 107 J/kg (Beiser 1991: 431). Multiplying these two numbers together, the energy required to generate the amount of life currently found on an average square meter of land is 2.07 x 108 J.

If this life is generated at the earth's average temperature of 288 K, its entropy decrease will be

ΔS =  Q  =  2.07 x 108  = 7.18 x 105 J/K.
T 228


The earth's bodies of water are relatively sterile, and can be ignored; if life on land can be generated, the sparse amount of life in water can certainly be generated as well.

WHAT THE LAWS OF THERMODYNAMICS TELL US



We are now able to determine what restrictions the laws of thermodynamics place upon the evolution of life on earth. According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, heat is a flow of energy and must obey the Law of Conservation of Energy. The average square meter of land surface on earth receives 224.4 J of energy from the sun every second, and contains

2.07 x 108 J of energy stored in living tissue. The ratio of these two values is

2.07 x 108  = 9.22 x 105 seconds = 10.7 days.
224.4


If all the solar energy received by this square meter is used to create organic matter, a minimum of 10.7 days is required to avoid violating the First Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in an isolated system, the entropy tends to increase. The average square meter of land may balance the entropy increase due to radiation by generating a maximum entropy decrease of 0.703 J/K every second through the growth of life without violating this law. The difference in entropy between this square meter with life and the same square meter in the absence of life is 7.18 x 105 J/K. The ratio of these two values is

7.18 x 108  = 1.02 x 106 seconds = 11.8 days.
0.703


A minimum of 11.8 days is required to avoid violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The Third (and final) Law of Thermodynamics, which states that S = 0 J/K for a pure perfect crystal at 0 K, has no application to creationism.

CONCLUSION



Shades of a Creation Week! As long as the evolution of life on earth took longer than 10.7 or 11.8 days, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics are not violated, respectively. Even for an overcast sky, these numbers increase to merely 33 and 43 days respectively. As evolution has obviously taken far longer than this, the creationists are wrong to invoke entropy and the laws of thermodynamics to defend their beliefs.

Of course, solar energy is not going to be converted into the chemical energy of organic compounds with 100% efficiency. It takes a growing season of several months to reestablish the grasses of the prairie, and forests can take centuries to regrow. What this study has shown is that the time constraints for these two laws are very similar. Can creationists seriously argue that there has not been enough time for the sun to provide the energy stored in the living matter we find on earth today? If not, then they cannot honestly rely on entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics to make their case, either.

References

Beiser A. 1991. Physics. 5th ed. New York:Addison-Wesley.

Bortman M, Brimblecombe P, Cunningham MA, Cunningham WP, Freedman B, eds. 2003. Environmental Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. New York: Gale Group.

Kabelac S, Drake FD. 1992. The entropy of terrestrial solar radiation. Journal of Solar Energy Science and Engineering 48 (4): 239¨C48.

Lide DR, ed. 2004¨C2005. CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. 85th ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press.

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

Ross H.2004. A Matter of Days. Colorado Springs (CO):NavPress.

About the Author(s): 
Physics Department
Los Angeles Harbor College
1111 Figueroa Place
Wilmington CA 90744
morrissl@lahc.edu

Steven L Morris received his BSc in astronomy from the University of Toronto and his PhD in physics from the University of Calgary. After two years as a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at UCLA (which included a one-year winter-over at the South Pole, Antarctica!), he spent two years as a physics professor at the University of Puerto Rico before returning to Los Angeles. He currently teaches physics and physical science at Los Angeles Harbor College.

Non-Mineralized Tissues in Fossil T rex

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Non-Mineralized Tissues in Fossil T rex
Author(s): 
Joe Skulan, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2005
Date: 
May-August
Page(s): 
35–39
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In the March 25, 2005, issue of Science, paleontologist Mary Schweitzer and her co-authors reported the discovery of intact blood vessels and other soft tissues in demineralized bone from a 65- million-year–old specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex housed at the Museum of the Rockies (MOR). Scientists’ reaction to this discovery has been cautious; Schweitzer and others have not provided the biochemical data necessary to decide whether or not the “flexible vascular tissue that demonstrated great elasticity and resilience” is, in fact, T rex soft tissue. But while scientists have been appropriately skeptical of Schweitzer’s claim, many young-earth creationists improperly have seized on it as evidence that the T rex fossil from which Schweitzer extracted the putative soft tissue, and fossils generally, are not more than a few thousand years old.

The absolute ages of all fossils ultimately hinge on radiometric dating techniques, the validity and accuracy of which are beyond reasonable doubt. These techniques are derived from the pre-eminent scientific enterprise of the 20th century: nuclear physics. If we did not know enough about radioactive materials to date things, then we would not be able to build atomic bombs. I would eagerly admit that the earth was young if it meant that A-bombs were not real, but that Faustian bargain has been made and we must live with it. Multiple analyses using several independent radiometric techniques show that the rocks in which the MOR T rex was found are about 65 million years old. The age of this fossil is a settled fact. The question that I want to ask here is why creationists see the preservation of soft tissue as evidence that the MOR T rex is relatively modern. The answer lies not in the muddled thinking of creationists, but in the careless and ambiguous way that paleontologists themselves discuss “fossils” and explain how fossils form.

Fossils and Fossilization

While “fossil” originally referred to anything that originated in and was dug out of the earth, including gems and metals, the term in English has been used mainly in its modern sense since the early 19th century. But what is this modern sense? This turns out to be a difficult question to answer. Ignoring a handful of etymological fundamentalists, for the past few centuries “fossil” has had two distinct meanings: the remains or traces of ancient life (the time-based definition), and an object of biological origin that has undergone the process of “fossilization” (the process-based definition). The creationist challenge to the age of the MOR T rex is an equivocation based on this dual definition:

1. A fossil (time-defined) is old.

2. The MOR T rex is not a fossil (process-defined) because the presence of soft tissue demonstrates that it is not fossilized.

Therefore, the MOR T rex is not old.

The argument is invalid because each of the premises defines “fossil” in a different way. Few arguments used by creationists are as easily refuted as this, because most errors in creationists’ reasoning are not simple logical fallacies, and arise instead from misinterpretations of empirical evidence and hence requiring detailed refutation. But the equivocal use of “fossil” is not a creationist invention; it is a bad habit that they learned from paleontologists themselves.

It is curious that a term so central to their science should be used so carelessly, but paleontologists rarely differentiate the two definitions of “fossil,” and often use them interchangeably, even in situations that demand precision, such as in reference books. For example, Herve Bocherens (1997: 111) writes:
The chemical composition of fossilized vertebrate tissues is the result of the uptake, exchange, and loss of chemical elements, in two different sets of circumstances. First, during the life of the animal. ... Second, during the diagenetic evolution of the mineralized tissues (i.e., fossilization) this original organization of the chemical elements is altered ... [emphasis added]
Statements such as these are so common in paleontological literature — especially as throw-away remarks in prefaces and introductions — that they tend to roll smoothly off the brain without critical evaluation. But this passage is quite ambigious. Fossilization, here defined as the “diagenetic evolution of the mineralized tissues,” is a process. Unmineralized tissues apparently cannot undergo fossilization. But can unmineralized tissues be fossilized? “Fossilized” also implies a process-dependent definition of “fossil,” because, under the time-dependent definition, becoming a fossil simply is a matter of getting old, something that hardly qualifies as a process; calling a bone “fossilized” simply because it is old would be as meaningless as calling an old chair “antique-ized.” So if unmineralized tissues can be fossilized, then there must be some way of becoming fossilized other than through fossilization, and T rex soft tissue could be described as “unfossilization-ized fossilized tissue.” But if unmineralized tissues cannot be fossilized, this would imply that unmineralized tissues cannot be fossils. What, then, are “fossil” leaves, soft-body animal “fossils”, and petrified wood?

The topic of Bocherens’s article is not fossils per se, and the problems I point out here have no real bearing on the bulk of his excellent and informative article. Nevertheless Bocherens’s confused discussion of “fossilized” and “fossilization” is typical of the careless way that many paleontologists use “fossil,” especially when discussing “unusual” fossils such as ancient soft tissue.

For example, in reference to the purported T rex soft tissue in an interview with a BBC reporter (BBC 2005), Schweitzer said:
This is fossilised bone in the sense that it’s from an extinct animal but it doesn’t have a lot of the characteristics of what people would call a fossil.
As with Bocheren, this statement sounds reasonable until you think about it. “Characteristics of what people would call a fossil” presumably refers to decay of soft tissue, petrifaction or some other process. But what does “fossilized bone in the sense that it’s from an extinct animal” mean? Here Schweitzer clearly intended to use “fossil” in the time-defined way, but instead of simply using the word “fossil”, she adds the chronological qualifier “from an extinct animal” to “fossilized” — a term that connotes process. This leads to exactly the same confusion that we encountered in Bocheren. And again, as with Bocheren, I do not mean this as a critique of Schweitzer’s science. I cite these passages in order to demonstrate that we think so little about how we use “fossil” and related terms that even careful and accomplished scientists use them in careless and ambiguous ways.

What We Don’t Know

What accounts for this confusing hybrid terminology? The answer is the widespread assumption that the two definitions of “fossil” are logically dependent on each other; either because organic remains must be fossilized in order to become old enough to be a fossil, or because as things become old they inevitably become fossilized. These assumptions belong to the vast netherworld of scientific pseudoknowledge; bits of received wisdom that crowd encyclopedias and textbook introductions; answers to questions so basic and obvious that they are overlooked as things that must have been thoroughly discussed and decided generations ago. In the conflict over Schweitzer and her colleagues’ discovery, pseudoknowledge confronts pseudoscience.

The standard textbook account of “fossilization” might be termed the “Tin Man” story: soft tissues decay, the resulting cavities are filled with minerals precipitated from groundwater, and the original biominerals transform into or are replaced by other substances. This process results in a replica of the original object in which the original substance has been heavily altered and largely or entirely replaced by other materials.

The Tin Man story of fossilization is something of a fossil itself, having been around in essentially its present form since at least the end of the 18th century. The third edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1795, describes “Petrafaction” as follows:
A petrified substance, strictly speaking, is nothing more than the skeleton, or perhaps image, of a body which has once had life, either animal or vegetable, combined with some mineral. Thus petrified wood is not in that state wood alone. One part of the compound or mass of wood having been destroyed by local causes, has been compensated by earthy and sandy substances, diluted and extremely minute, which the waters surrounding them had deposited while they themselves evaporated. These earthy substances, being then moulded in the skeleton, will be more or less indurated, and will appear to have its figure, its structure, its size, in a word, the same general characteristics, the same specific attributes, and the same individual differences. Farther, in petrified wood, no vestige of ligneous matter appears to exist.
More modern variants simply embellish this story with chemical language, substituting atoms, molecules, or minerals for “diluted and extremely minute” substances, for example. Pulling a book off my shelf at random, I encounter this:
After an animal dies, if it is to become a fossil, it must be buried before the elements destroy the carcass, completely…. After burial, minerals carried by percolating groundwater are deposited in vugs within the bone structure, or they may actually replace bone salts, literally turning the bone to stone. (Jacobs 1993: 47)
Both passages give readers the sense that scientists have a pretty good understanding of what happens to fossils in the ground. In reality we have no such understanding. Indeed, it is only in the past 15 years that paleontological geochemists begun to address, in a serious and organized way, basic questions about why some things endure long enough to become fossils. To date, these efforts have revealed important details about the chemical behavior of some fossils in some settings, but we are a long way from the kind of systematic knowledge implied by the cited passages.

The new understanding we do have of fossils unfortunately has been used to revamp and reinforce the Tin Man story, rather than to challenge it. For example, in the introduction to their textbook on dinosaurs, Fastovsky and Weishampel (2005: 8–10) write:
Bone is made out of calcium (sodium) hydroxyapatite, a mineral that is not stable at temperatures and pressures at or near the surface of the earth. This means that bones can change with time, which in turn means that most no longer have original bone matter present after fossilization. This is especially likely if the bone is bathed in the variety of fluids that is associated with burial in the earth. ... If, however, no fluids are present throughout the history of the burial … the bone could remain unaltered, which is to say that original bone mineralogy remains. This situation is not that common, and is progressively rarer in the case of older and older fossils.
This explanation of what happens to buried bones is vastly better than most. It makes the important but seldom articulated point that bone will not necessarily decay just because it is unstable, and leaves open the possibility that unaltered bone and soft tissues can survive. The authors make no implausible claims, and it is possible that a century from now we will know that everything they wrote was entirely correct.

But we are not living a century from now, and in the meantime much of what Fastovsky and Weishampel present as fact is really educated conjecture. We do not know that most fossil bone no longer contains its original bone material; we do not know that for bone to survive unaltered it must be isolated from fluids throughout its history; most importantly we do not know that the preservational state of bone is directly related to its age. As in the previously quoted passages, Fastovsky and Weishampel present their story of how things become fossils as if it were based on well-understood facts. And their story still largely is the Tin Man story: except under extraordinary conditions, fossils undergo the same replacement process that was expounded in the Encyclopaedia Britannica over 200 years ago.

It is this habit of presenting conjecture and tentative knowledge as settled fact that makes paleontologists vulnerable to creationist attacks based on “extraordinarily” well-preserved fossils. In reference to the MOR T rex, the ICR claims:
Would evolutionary theory have predicted such an amazing discovery? Absolutely not, soft tissue would have degraded completely many millions of years ago no matter how fortuitous the preservation process. Will evolutionary theory now state — due to this clear physical evidence — that it is possible dinosaurs roamed the earth until relatively recent times? No, for evolutionary theory will not allow dinosaurs to exist beyond a certain philosophical/evolutionary period. (Sherwin 2005)
The discovery of intact T rex soft tissue indeed would challenge prevailing scientific thinking, if not, as the author claims, “evolutionary theory”. This discovery can be reconciled with the Tin Man story only by invoking extraordinary causes. These invocations come across as makeshift attempts to prop up an exhausted hypothesis — which in fact they are. From the same BBC article previously cited:
Dr Schweitzer is not making any grand claims that these soft traces are the degraded remnants of the original material — only that they give that appearance.

She and other scientists will want to establish if some hitherto unexplained fine-scale process has been at work in MOR 1125, which was pulled from the famous dinosaur rocks of eastern Montana known as the Hell Creek Formation. (BBC 2005; emphasis added)
Rich Deem, writing at the creationist site godandscience.org, explains:
[Schweitzer] indicated that the bones have a distinct odor, characteristic of “embalming fluids.” Therefore, it is possible that the bones landed in some chemical stew that preserved the soft tissue inside from decomposition….The new study reveals that the cortical bone within T rex [femora] may, under certain conditions, retain cellular and subcellular details. Under normal conditions, fossilization replaces living material with minerals. In this case, the soft tissue was protected from degradation, possibly through some chemical process, then desiccated to prevent further changes. (Deem nd; emphasis added)
Creationists know a weak spot when they see one, and dodgy phrases like “some hitherto unexplained fine-scale process” and “some chemical stew” advertise a weak spot like a giant gorilla balloon over a used car lot. The fact that the weakness is in our understanding of fossils, not of evolution or the age of the earth, is a subtle distinction that creationists do not make and their audience does not grasp.

Often the best defense is a frank admission of ignorance. “How do you explain the presence of soft tissue in a 65 million year old fossil?” Based on what we really know about fossils (and assuming the soft tissues are real and not just globs of glue) the best answer to this journalistic question is “I have no idea. But since we don’t know very much about why things become fossils in the first place, that’s not surprising. What we do know is that this particular fossil is 65 million years old.” Neat narratives like the Tin Man story are betrayals of the honest ignorance that is the heart and engine of science.

Things Fall Apart

Everyday experience teaches us that dead organisms and their traces do not last long when they are exposed to the ordinary wear and tear of the earth’s surface: scavengers of all sizes, the effects of sunlight, mechanical and chemical weathering, and so on. From this experience it is easy to apprehend the notion that things spontaneously fall apart unless some process intervenes to preserve them. To the extent that “fossilization” means anything, it means preservation from destruction.

Organic remains must not be destroyed if they are to endure, yet there is a subtle but important error in jumping from this tautology to the view that preservation is an active process. Preservation is nothing more than the evasion of the process of decay. Decay, not preservation, is the active process; and decay can be avoided in many — perhaps in infinitely many — ways. If nothing happens to stop it, a dead organism will become a fossil. This applies to all parts of the organism, soft tissues as well as hard.

Imagine that, before you leave your house in the morning, you put a rock on your kitchen table. When you return home that evening, you expect the rock to be there. It would never occur to you to think of a cause for its still being there, because things that do not happen do not have causes. If nothing happened to change it, the rock still would be there after a week, or a year or a hundred years. Not finding the rock where you left it is what would demand an explanation, regardless of how long you left the rock untended.

This reasoning would also apply if you built a house of cards on your kitchen table. A house of cards is intrinsically less stable than a rock, so upon your return you would not be surprised to find that it had collapsed. In fact, you might be surprised to find it still standing, especially if you had been gone for a long time or you owned cats. But even so, if the house of cards did survive, you would not invoke a special process to explain this. You might say “I didn’t expect that — it must be stronger than I thought,” but I doubt that you would ask yourself what stabilizing force, or process, intervened to spare your creation. Merely extending the time that you left the house of cards standing would not change this. If you checked back in a billion years from now you would be amazed to find your continent in the same place you left it, not to mention your kitchen and its tabletop sculpture. But if you did find the house of cards intact, it still would not demand a cause. Again, things that do not happen do not have causes.

The same is true of fossils. We may be surprised to find fragile structures and materials, that in ordinary experience are impermanent, preserved after millions of years; but preservation does not have a cause. Preservation simply means that nothing has happened. This is not to deny that the continued existence of fossils has explanations, and it is true that certain conditions strongly favor the preservation of fossils; but these explanations and conditions are not the cause of the fossil’s survival, any more than not taking a pain killer is the cause of pain. The fossil owes its survival to its own intrinsic stability.

The Stability of Unstable Things

No part of any organic remain is absolutely stable. For example Fastovsky and Weishampel are correct when they note that apatite in bone is unstable at surface temperature and pressure. Indeed bone apatite is unstable at any pressure and temperature and will tend to recrystalize into other, more stable, minerals. But, as Fastovsky and Weishampel point out, this does not mean that bone mineral actually will make this change. The mere fact that something is unstable does not mean that it will decay, just as the fact that a house of cards is unstable does not mean that it will fall down. Decay happens only if the bone is in an environment that permits it.

But even if we know that a material is unstable and is in an environment that permits it to decay, we still know nothing about how quickly that decay will happen. It can be easy to determine the thermodynamic stability of materials, but it is notoriously difficult to predict the rate at which an unstable material actually will decay into something else, or even if it will decay at all. All forms of carbon other than carbon dioxide are thermodynamically unstable in the earth’s oxygen rich atmosphere, yet we live in a world full of carbon-based paper, plastic, tables, clothes, and carpets; and have adopted one of the most thermodynamically unstable forms of carbon, the diamond, as a symbol of permanence. Many familiar minerals, including pyrite, feldspar, and quartz, are unstable on or near the earth’s surface. Yet we do not marvel at the discovery of intact grains of quartz in half-billion year old sandstone.

Human versus Chemical Time

The crux of the creationist argument that the MOR T rex could not be more than a few thousand years old is the commonsense idea that the older the fossil, the more altered it will be. This also is part of the Tin Man story. But the relationship between age and alteration is not as straightforward as common sense would suggest, because the humans experience time differently than molecules and atoms.

The various processes that cause decay tend to work on very short time scales. As humans, we would regard a chemical compound that completely degrades after one minute as extremely unstable, but from a molecule’s point of view a minute is a very long time. A molecule that has survived for a minute has beat the odds; it has survived trillions of bond-straining vibrations and contortions, and assaults from an army of chemical agents that destroy most molecules almost the instant they form.

Radioactivity provides us with a well-studied example of how decay processes work. Atomic nuclei contain protons and neutrons. In theory protons and neutrons could be combined in an infinite number of ways. For example, we could combine one proton with 100 neutrons and make a nucleus of hydrogen-101. But this nucleus would be so unstable that it would break apart the instant that it formed. Almost all conceivable combinations of protons and neutrons are so unstable that for all practical purposes they cannot exist.

There are about 4800 exceptions, nuclides that are stable enough to be studied. About 400 of these nuclides are so stable that they are called “stable nuclides”: they either do not decay, or decay so slowly that we have not observed it. The remaining 4400 nuclides are known to decay, with half-lives ranging from a few millionths of a second to over one trillion years.

Among these unstable nuclides, the median half-life is about two minutes. This means that if you randomly assembled nuclei and measured the half lives of those that were stable enough to hold together for a millionth of a second or so, the average half life would be about two minutes. From a human point of view, two minutes is a very short time. But in the first two minutes of its existence, nature has expended half of its destructive arsenal at any randomly constructed nucleus; such a nucleus will experience the same total intensity of destructive forces during its first two minutes that it will experience during the next trillion years. In terms of the likelihood of decay, two minutes is half way to a trillion years. About 97% of unstable nuclides have half-lives shorter than 75 years. So, from a nuclide’s point of view, a human lifespan and the age of the universe are about the same.

The same is true of the molecules and crystals that make up organic remains. When thinking of how a dead plant or animal decays, we tend to concentrate on processes that occur on time scales that are easy for humans to observe, and then extrapolate these into the future. But humans observe only the very early stages of decay, a period corresponding to the first few minutes in the life of a nuclide. Even so, we observe the same steep decline in the rate of decay that nuclides display. A raccoon that dies in your attic will decompose rapidly for a month or so, but thereafter will change little for many years. Unless someone moves it, the coyote skull on my shelf will still be there tomorrow, 20 years from now, and 1000 years from now.

From the point of view of a fossil, 1000 years probably is a lot closer to 100 million years than it is to a month. If the preservational state of a fossil correlates in any law-like way with its age, it most likely is with the nth root of its age, and not its age directly.

Conclusion

Anyone who believes that fossils must undergo radical transformations in substance that are proportional to their age will always be confounded by discoveries such as those reported by Schweitzer and others (2005). For over 100 years the scientific world regularly has been surprised by accounts of fossil bones that are so “extraordinarily well preserved” that microscopic details, such as the cavities left by bone cells, still can be seen. Yet such preservation is not only common, but in some categories of fossils it is the rule. Probably most fossil bone preserves microscopic detail, and exquisite preservation also is common in plant, mollusk, and many other kinds of fossils.

Exquisite preservation is surprising only because it clashes with poorly supported preconceptions about what fossils are and how they form, preconceptions that are reflected in loaded yet ambiguous terms like “fossilization.” We cannot properly describe any fossil as “extraordinary” unless we first know what “ordinary” is. This is something that paleontologists only are beginning to understand.

The creationists have found a real weakness in the way scientists discuss fossils and hardly should be blamed for using this weakness to their advantage. The creationist challenge provides us with a good opportunity to clarify our thinking, and with object lessons in the dangers of using poorly defined terms when clarity is needed, and substituting time-honored narrative for real knowledge.

References

[BBC] British Broadcasting Corporation. 2005 Mar 24. T rex fossil has “soft tissues”. Available on-line at ; last accessed May 1, 2006.

Bocherens H. 1997. Chemical composition of dinosaur fossils. In: Currie P, Padian K, editors. The Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs. San Diego: Academic Press. p 111–17.

Deem R. nd. Dinosaur soft tissue found in T rex bones. Available on-line at ; last accessed May 1, 2006.

Fastovsky DE, Weishampel DB. 2005. The Evolution and Extinction of Dinosaurs. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jacobs L. 1993. Quest for the African Dinosaurs: Ancient Roots of the Modern World. New York: Villard.

Schweitzer MH, Wittmeyer JL, Horner JR, Toporski JK. 2005. Soft-tissue vessels and cellular preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex. Science 307: 1952–5.

Sherwin F. 2005. The devastating issue of dinosaur tissue. Acts and Facts 34 (6): 5. Available on-line at ; last accessed May 1, 2006.

About the Author(s): 
Joe Skulan
Department of Geology and Geophysics
University of Wisconsin, Madison
1215 W Dayton St
Madison WI 53706
jlskulan@geology.wisc.edu

Entropy in Muffins

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Entropy in Muffins: Why Evolution Does Not Violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics
Author(s): 
Patricia Princehouse, Case Western Reserve University
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2005
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.


Anti-evolutionists get a lot of mileage out of this chestnut because it uses scientific terms like “thermodynamics” and “entropy” to bolster their contention that evolution is unscientific. In fact, local increases in complexity/order are not only completely consistent with thermodynamics, but even expected by the theory. Nevertheless, anti-evolutionists contend: “Evolutionary theory stands in obvious defiance of the Second Law” and “Evolution teaches that life increases in complexity, and therefore defies the second law. …The second law says that everything in our world and in the universe is like a wound-up clock that is running down” (http://www.pathlights.com/ce_encyclopedia/18law03.htm or http://evolution-facts.org/Ev-Crunch/c18.htm; see also http://www.cryingvoice.com/Evolution/Physics.html). This ruse works best with an audience that is already inclined to hope that evolution is not true, and requires that the audience does not already understand thermodynamics. This burdens the defender of evolution with having to explain not only all of evolutionary theory but thermodynamics on top. I’ve found that the following explanation often works pretty well to help folks understand basic implications of the Second Law as it relates to life on earth and evolution.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics has to do with entropy — the entropy of the universe increases during any spontaneous process. A traditional way to understand this is that disorder increases in an isolated (closed) system. This is where some muffins come in handy.
  1. Imagine you have 6 muffins hot from the oven and 6 frozen in the freezer.You place the dozen muffins in a special box alternating hot with cold muffins. You place a lid on the box, which will not allow any heat inside the box to escape or any outside temperature to affect the muffins. All heat in the muffins will remain in the box (a closed system).
  2. Inside the box, your system is highly ordered: hot, cold, hot, cold. The average temperature in the box is obtained by averaging the temperature of all the muffins together. As time goes by, the heat from the hot muffins mixes with the cold from the frozen muffins to produce a situation where all muffins are the same temperature. Notice that the average temperature is still the same as it was when the muffins first went into the box; only the arrangement of the heat has changed. Entropy has increased; your system is no longer ordered.
  3. To keep your system ordered, you would have to have some sort of action or intervention system that would continue to heat the hot muffins and cool the frozen ones. This energy would have to come from outside the system (as it does in the case of a refrigerator, which must be plugged into an external energy source). So you could keep the system ordered, but to do so you would have to have an open system (where energy can flow in).
  4. Life is similar.You might have two human beings who seek to increase order by making the two human bodies into three. In a closed system, this increase in order would be impossible. But humans exist in an open system where they take matter and energy in and can spin out additional humans at the rate of one every 9–12 months.
  5. This is because the earth is not a closed system. Energy from the sun is like a giant generator powering life on earth. Plants increase the order and complexity in their own bodies as they grow from seed to flower (using the sun’s light directly plus the minerals and water in the earth and the carbon from the atmosphere). Herbivores use the energy in plants, carnivores use herbivores, and so on. So a huge cascade of complexity is built on the very simple source of energy from the sun.
  6. If the earth were a closed system, then every living organism on earth would be defying entropy on a daily basis. But...
  7. The earth is not a closed system; thus, respiration, growth, reproduction, and evolution happen on earth on a daily basis without violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
  8. Many physicists think the universe as a whole is a closed system. That is, not only will the sun burn out some day with the result that life on earth will no longer have the external energy source it needs (actually worse things will probably destroy life on earth before that, as the sun will probably expand and cook everything well before it burns out), but eventually all the energy in the universe — currently arranged like the muffins in the closed box — will even out to the point where no order will exist at all.When the muffins are all the same temperature, the game is over.
  9. However, many physicists think that long before the universe falls into total entropy, other things will happen to the overall structure of the universe, so it hardly makes sense to talk about the entire universe as a closed system anyway.
One caveat: Do not look for the muffin example to cover all of physical theory comprehensively. It discusses entropy in terms of the classical theory of thermodynamics. Quantum mechanics and relativity theory put a different spin on it. Since we do not really have conservation of energy in general relativity, it is hard to say what a really comprehensive thermodynamics will look like once the physicists work it out. However, the more Einsteinian versions of thermodynamics thus far all look far worse for the anti-evolutionist objection than does the classical theory. For a more advanced treatment of classical thermodynamics, see http://www.entropylaw.com/.

About the Author(s): 
Patricia Princehouse
Department of Philosophy
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland OH 44106

Patricia Princehouse teaches evolutionary biology and the history and philosophy of science at Case Western Reserve University, and also serves as the president of Ohio Citizens for Science (http://www.ohioscience.org).

Review: Into the Cool

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
44–45
Reviewer: 
Sonya Bahar, University of Missouri at St Louis
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Into the Cool
Author(s): 
Eric D Schneider and Dorion Sagan
2005. University Of Chicago Press.
As readers of RNCSE are undoubtedly all too aware, a familiar creationist argument runs as follows: since the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that disorder is increasing, how can evolution, which involves an increase in complexity, possibly have occurred? The answer has been repeated before almost every school board in the country, and in more than a few courtrooms: first, the Second Law of Thermodynamics addresses an increase in the total entropy of a system, but does not in any way preclude local decreases, and, second, there are other driving forces aside from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as the last few decades of research on self-organization in complex systems have amply shown. How those other “organizing” forces actually drive evolution, self-organization, and complexity, however, remains a wide-open question and a very active area of interdisciplinary research.

Eric D Schneider and Dorion Sagan weigh in on the argument with their new book Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermo-dynamics and Life. Their central thesis is contained in the striking catchphrase “nature abhors a gradient”; they propose that it is the flow of energy down gradients that is the central driving force that balances the Second Law’s drive toward disorder. It is a striking and provocative thesis and certain to inspire new ways of thinking in many scientists studying complexity in biological systems. Unfortunately, the catchphrase is unlikely to provide as sweeping a solution as the authors propose, and it is packaged in a book that suffers from a number of flaws likely to put off many readers. The book may aim for the sharp clarity of Richard Dawkins, or the charm and scintillating wit of Stephen Jay Gould (the flyleaf even makes a comparison to Darwin!). But, plagued by overblown hyperbole and intellectual sloppiness, it falls far short.

The book begins with a clichéd review of the history of science. Newton enters, straight out of central casting, accompanied by his faithful “clockwork universe”, and endless references to apples. A wince-inducing chapter subheading reads: “Clunk Goes the Clockwork Cosmos”. The section begins with a description of Robert Boyle’s work in the “twilight of thermodynamics”. One would think that authors who show a deep concern for time’s arrow (“Thermodynamics had released the arrow of time,” they write on page 36. “It went quivering into Newton’s shiny smooth apple, generating heat as friction.”) would appreciate the distinction between twilight (end of the day) and dawn (beginning), which is, historically, where Boyle was in relation to the history of thermodynamics. One might be struck by the quivering-arrow metaphor, but the metaphors fall too thick and fast to be taken seriously. “The wake-up call [of thermodynamics] is still reverberating in the collective scientific mind, still groggy from Newton’s dreams.” “Classical thermodynamics upset the Newtonian applecart.” You get the idea.

The authors set up a false dichotomy between the “celestial clockwork” and thermodynamics, which “messed all that up. It measured loss, and implied that — despite the magnificent motions of the planets — time moves in only one direction. The direction of burning.” But Newton was familiar with burning: he was an alchemist, whose mystical views strongly influenced his science. Neither scholars nor the readers of a popular science book (and Into the Cool, published by a university press, appears to aim to be more than that) should be treated to such a cartoon version of the history of science.

Having dispensed with Newton and Boyle, we enter the history of thermodynamics. Following a discussion of irreversibility, the authors’ attempt at metaphor turns ugly as they refer to Ludwig Boltzmann’s suicide as “an irreversible act”. If this is an attempt at humor, it is unnecessary and cruel.

Into the Cool becomes equally problematic when it moves toward the exposition of the authors’ “grand theory” that thermodynamic gradients drive evolution. This exposition, to the reader’s great frustration, is approached, but never consummated. The mechanism by which a system’s motion down a gradient leads to complexity remains unexplained, unless one can infer that this occurs simply because competition for more efficient methods of exploiting gradients drives evolution. The authors do make this point, but they constantly imply that more is going on than this — but what that “more” is, they never clearly articulate.

The authors replace clear exposition of a scientific idea by the use of sweeping metaphors that hold little substance. “Separate from the world, we are yet inextricably connected to it.” (How are we separate from the world?) A paragraph later: “Metastable processes underlie the selves we mistake for things.” And finally, one which had this reviewer’s metastable self reaching for the unstable equilibrium of a stiff drink, “… the cyclical pendulum of scientific overreaction has perhaps reached its apex, coming to just that point where the potential energy of its historical emphasis is ready to give way to the kinetic energy of physics as a factor in macroevolutionary explanation” (p 152).

Excessive tendency toward metaphor and cliché could be forgiven, were it balanced by clear exposition of a strong idea. The idea of the central role of gradients in the organization of life is tantalizing, intriguing, and definitely worth pondering. But the authors never settle down to a clear exposition of how gradients lead to increased complexity. They skitter from one subheading (“Mousetraps and Dynamite”, “Toward a Science of Creative Destruction”, and so on) to another, never staying in one place long enough to build a coherent argument. The book is also frustratingly filled with scientific inaccuracies: bifurcation is confused with bistability (Figure 6.1), hysteresis is mistakenly defined as “retardation or lagging” (p 129), population biology is confused with population genetics (p 145), and on the same page we are told that “Darwin connected all living beings through time to a single origin.” Did he?

More frustrating than the inaccuracies, and the arguments that begin but are never completed, are the arguments that simply make no sense. The authors decry algorithmic models of complexity, inexplicably conflating such models with the idea that the laws of physics change, and condemning both “inevitable casualt[ies] of a thoroughgoing evolutionary world-view.” How does the emergence of complex structures from simple algorithmic rules relate to the notion of the gradual changing of fundamental constants of nature? If there is a connection, it is far from obvious, and it is certainly not explained.

Despite its inaccuracies and hyperbolic atmosphere, Into the Cool raises provocative questions as to the role of thermodynamic gradients in the origin of complexity and in evolution. It is a shame that Schneider and Sagan develop these ideas neither clearly nor fully, and fail to set them in the context of other well-studied influences on the development of complexity in living organisms. Had they done so, the authors might have made a much stronger case for the primacy of gradients.

About the Author(s): 
Sonya Bahar
Center for Neurodynamics
Department of Physics & Astronomy
University of Missouri at St Louis
One University Boulevard
St Louis MO 63121
bahars@umsl.edu

Review: The Plausibility of Life

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
25
Year: 
2005
Issue: 
5–6
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
52–53
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma
Author(s): 
Marc W Kirschner and John C Gerhardt
2005. Yale University Press.
The diversity of life forms throughout the history of life on earth is so engaging and impressive that it is easy to overlook the other side of the coin: the continuity that connects all organisms to an array of common ancestors. In fact, any evolutionary model that used only data on divergence and none on conserved traits would fail to make any sense of the emergence of new species from ancestral ones. In The Plausibility of Life, Kirschner and Gerhardt focus on a number of conserved “core cellular processes” shared by all living things. Their thesis is that these core processes represent successful innovations that are inherited by evolutionary descendants. However, they argue that the success of these processes lies not in their highly specified functions, but in their abilities to produce quite variable outcomes under different environmental conditions.

In essence, this is the negation of the “irreducible complexity” argument of “intelligent design” proponents. The authors show how a single molecule with a highly specified function can perform a different one under different environmental conditions. In other words, the molecular imperative for the cell is flexibility, not specificity. The apparent specificity that we observe is so reliably produced, they argue, because the genome is selected for adaptability. How else could such complex organisms so full of complex biochemical and developmental pathways be produced with so few genes?

Kirschner and Gerhardt explore several specific examples in the text that illustrate their points quite effectively. They give examples of metabolic processes, body-plan evolution, developmental and regulatory change, and morphological specialization (for example, adaptations for flight). Two of the key concepts are weak linkage and exploratory behavior.

The first of these is based on the observation that there are many steps between the DNA sequence for a particular protein and the outcome of the process in which that protein will participate. In a number of well-documented cases, a protein produces a weak signal that produces a particular effect only under specific conditions. The “linkages” between the form and function are “weak” or “easily forged and broken” without any significant genetic change in the organism (p 110–1). This allows new pathways and new linkages to be formed to produce new pathways and products while retaining substantially the same DNA sequence.

Exploratory behavior is viewed from both organismal and cellular perspectives as the basis for the appearance of complex organization from simple actions. In the case of ant foraging, it is clear that the brains of ants do not encode territorial or resource “maps” but build a successful complex foraging strategy based on the accumulation of the results of random foraging behaviors. In the case of the development of blood vessels and nerves, the authors show how these structures emerge in response to signals generated by the target tissues so that they grow in the “right” directions and connect to the “right” cells. This exploratory behavior — whether cellular or organismal — produces complex outcomes from simple conditions, and, as the authors point out using the examples of the pattern of blood vessels that we all can see in the skin of our arms and hands, highly variable ones even within the same individual.

These two examples capture only a bit of the flavor of this book, which extracts the results from contemporary research and presents them in a format for nonspecialists. The authors succeed in illustrating their points from the biochemical to the behavioral levels of the organismal hierarchy with examples from each of the levels in between. They are frank about what is known and what is still to be learned, but they present a strong case for the conservation of core processes that allow for the evolution of complex, highly specific functions, but that also allow organisms to adapt these structure-function complexes to a variety of conditions with a variety of outcomes depending on the environment in which the organisms operates. Indeed, in their view of the evolution of complex structures, what is now a mousetrap could easily have started out as a starting gate or a spring latch. The conserved core process is geared to producing components, but the assembly and final configuration are anything but foreordained.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
ajpetto@uwm.edu

Reviews: Evolution 101

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution 101: Finding a Solid Introduction
Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto (Reviewer)
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2005
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
50–51
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Evolution
Author(s): 
Leslie Alan Horvitz
Indianapolis (IN): Alpha Books, 2002. 310 pages
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolution: A Very Short Introduction
Author(s): 
Brian and Deborah Charlesworth
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. 135 pages.


As we travel around the country talking with people about evolution education, one question comes up over and over: “What would you suggest as a good way to get the basics of evolution so we know what we are talking about?” There ought to be an easy answer, but there are very few books available that are suitable for a general audience. There are, however, two books that we always carry to these public events: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Evolution and Evolution: A Very Short Introduction. Ideally, the book written for a general audience would combine the best aspects of these two … and eliminate the worst.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide is the more “user-friendly” because of its design and format. It is brightly colored and the cover has that distinct bright orange border that marks it as one of a series of Complete Idiot’s Guides, making it stand out among the books on the shelf. The text is accessible and broken up by a number of boxes, sidebars, highlights, and special features. One of the best of these is a bulleted list at the end of every chapter entitled “The Least You Need to Know”. This book is easy to read, and it is easy to pick up again after a few days without having to go back and re-read several pages or sections. The book is also strong on the historical and cultural contexts of both evolutionary thinking and of anti-evolutionism.

The main problem with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Evolution is that it is full of errors. Some of these are terms that are misused throughout. For example, Horvitz uses ”development” as a synonym for “evolution” — an error we keep trying to prevent people from making. He defines a mutation as “differences in offspring of an organism” (p 101) — something most biologists refer to as biological variation. On page 215, he asks which of two Australopithecines “truly represented early hominids?” The correct answer, of course, is “both”, but Horvitz seems to be more interested in which of these taxa is the direct ancestor of modern humans, in which case the correct answer is most likely “neither”. And on page 287, he conflates hybridization (“cross-breeding”) with selective breeding.

For every concept clearly described and explained, there seems to be one of these serious, fundamental errors. Because of these problems, it is difficult to recommend this book, despite its general ease of use and attractiveness to the general public. At least it should not be used without proper supervision.

Evolution: A Very Short Introduction is everything that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Evolution is not. The contents are thorough, well-organized, and up-to-date. There are eight very succinct chapters with writing that is clear and to the point. The format is not user-friendly, however. The text is densely packed and there are few illustrations and other “diversions” from the text.

The writing is excellent, as one would expect from these authors, and the contents, of course, are accurate. The authors give a clear explanation of the current state of evolutionary theory and research, as well as exploring some unanswered questions and some disagreements among scientists regarding particular models or research issues.

For all that Evolution: A Very Short Introduction has to offer, it is not a book that would be picked up off the shelf at the local bookseller’s or library. We often recommend it to general audiences, but make it clear that it has to be read carefully, because there is so much “coverage” of important information in a very few words. The reading level is not difficult, but it does require that the reader be conscientious and attentive to the text. This is not for the casual reader.

In the end, the book we would like to see is one that combines the best aspects of these two: one that is accurate and up-to-date, but also “user friendly”. To be useful to a general readership, the many checkpoints, sidebars, marginalia, and end-of-chapter lists help to reinforce what can be complex content. On the other hand, these reference points for the reader can improve understanding of evolution only if they contain accurate information.

Even though neither one of these alone completely meets the need for a good, clear account of the basics of evolution, together they contain valuable resources. Neither, however, should be used as the sole source of information for a general audience.

About the Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
ajpetto@uwm.edu

The Life Science Prize

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Life Science Prize
Author(s): 
Michael Zimmerman, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
Volume: 
25
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2005
Date: 
September–December
Page(s): 
33–34
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.


In February 1870, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-founder with Charles Darwin of the concept of natural selection, responded to an advertisement in a journal entitled Scientific Opinion placed by members of the Flat Earth Society. The event, most recently told by Ross Slotten in his biography of Wallace (The Heretic in Darwin’s Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), was described by Wallace as “the most regrettable” incident in his life. The ad enticed Wallace because, short on funds, he saw an easy way to make some money. The Flat Earthers “offered a prize of £500 to anyone who could prove that the earth was a sphere.” The society said it was ready to put up £500 if the contestant would match. An impartial judge would review the evidence and award the money to the winner. As Slotten says, “The offer was perhaps too good to be true, but because of his knowledge of the techniques of land surveying Wallace knew that he could easily win the bet.” Indeed, he did — but the Flat Earthers began years of lawsuits and harassment of Wallace.

On February 14, 2004, a slow Saturday, I received an e-mail from a Teno Groppi inviting me to contend for the “Life Science Prize”. Like the Flat Earthers over a century earlier, Groppi and his friends outlined a contest in which both parties would put money in escrow and a “judge” would decide on the winner. Groppi said the “Life Science Prize” required a $10 000 deposit from me and from my presumptive opponent, one Joseph Mastropaolo. Groppi went on to add, “If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, he wins the $20 000. If the creation scientist proves that creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist collects the $20 000. The standards of evidence will be those of science: objectivity, validity, reliability and calibration. The preponderance of the evidence prevails.” Groppi concluded his note with the following challenge: “If the task is too threatening for individual evolutionists, Dr Mastropaolo will entertain suggestions for terms that will bolster the courage of Darwinian dogmatists.”

Coming to Terms

Having decided years before that it is futile to debate creationists, and knowing full well that the “Life Science Prize” was a scam designed to lure the unsuspecting into just such a debate, I decided to have some fun. I immediately wrote back saying how pleased and proud I was to be invited to contend for the prize. I also outlined my terms: “We would agree, at the outset, on our definitions. ... For a definition of evolution, we would use that which is in virtually every biology textbook for the past half century: Evolution is a change in allele frequencies in a population over time. For creation we would use that promoted by the Creation Research Society.

“Members of the society,” I continued, “had to sign the following oath attesting to the fact that they believe in the following:
1) The Bible is the written Word of God, and because we believe it to be inspired thruout [sic], all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all of the original autographs. To the student of nature, this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths.

2) All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during creation Week as described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since creation have accomplished only changes within the original created kinds.

3) The great flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian Deluge, was an historical event, worldwide in its extent and effects.

4) Finally, we are an organization of Christian men of science, who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman, and their subsequent Fall into sin, is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind. Therefore, salvation can come only thru [sic] accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.


Alternatively, if you prefer a simpler definition of creation, I would be happy to go with that offered by the now defunct Bible-Science Association. Their statement of faith reads: ‘Belief in Special Creation; Literal Bible Interpretation; Divine Design and purpose in Nature; a Young Earth; a Universal Noachian Flood; Christ as God and Man—Our Savior; Christ-Centered Scientific Research.’”

I went on to address two additional points. “You talk about some debate. That confuses me. I’m not sure what the contest you propose has to do with a debate. Certainly you are not implying that a collection of individuals who are not necessarily educated in science, religion, or philosophy somehow serve as the judge for this contest.

“You also talk about handing the money to ‘the judge,’ which leads me to believe that you do not really mean that there will be a debate of the sort alluded to above, but you fail to mention who the judge might be. I propose that we select an individual with impeccable credentials in both science and religion. Perhaps someone like Dr Francisco Ayala. He is a past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the National Academy of Science, as well as an ordained [priest]. Of course I would be open to someone else, as long as his or her credentials were appropriate. At a bare minimum, I would require that the judge be a member of the National Academy of Science. I would then propose that both Dr Mastropaolo and I submit a text of, say, no more than 2000 words to the judge outlining our case. The judge will then determine the winner.”

“Negotiations”

Groppi wrote back telling me that “change in allele frequency is about as meaningless a definition of evolution as can be offered.” And then the fun really began. I had been copying Mastropaolo on my e-mails, and he too railed against my proffered definition of evolution and provided his own “rules” for the debate, including his own definitions. He asserted, for example, that “evolution is the development of an organism from its chemicals to its primitive state to its present state.” And he said that the “judge” would be “a superior court judge” since, after all, “there is no science outside the intellectual jurisdiction of the superior court judge.” He also began a series of ad hominem remarks by stating that I “may not be competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.”

I responded by indicating that I might be able to make arrangements for a federal district judge from the 9th circuit in California (assumed to be the most liberal circuit in the country) to serve. Alternatively, I said that I could get a local judge in Wisconsin to participate if he preferred. I also said that, through my connections as a consultant a number of years back to NBC, I might be able to attract the interest of either Dateline or Jay Leno. And, I added, that because of my past work as a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, I should be able to generate some fairly hefty media attention — but he would have to firm up the rules and the definitions, as well as set a firm date for our contest. Mastropaolo repeatedly told me that I had the rules and continued with various ad hominem attacks. He wrote, for example, “Evolutionist hallucinators so out of touch with reality are psychotic by medical dictionary definition, and therefore not mentally competent to contend for the Life Science Prize.”

When I repeatedly said that the “rules” I had been given made no sense, Mastropaolo composed an e-mail to me in the name of Teno Groppi. He chastised me for not “paying attention,” and then, under Groppi’s e-mail header pasted in rules from his own web page saying that I had been given those rules days before.

Knowing the opposition

After completing a web search to try to figure out who Mastropaolo was, I sent messages to some of the organizations with which he claimed to be affiliated. I wrote, for example, to the Institute for Creation Research where Mastropaolo claimed to hold adjunct faculty status. The response I got back was fascinating: “Dr Mastropaolo is not on ICR’s staff.” When I wrote back numerous times pointing out that Mastropaolo regularly claimed affiliation with ICR, I was told that while, in fact, he did hold adjunct status, it did not mean anything and that they did not want to correspond with me any longer!

Mastropaolo was also listed on the advisory council of the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation so I wrote to the director, Hugh Owen, explaining about the e-mail fabrication undertaken by Mastropaolo. We engaged in quite an extended exchange while Owen claimed to be “investigating” the matter. Somewhat surprisingly, he asserted what I can only call a belief in situational ethics when he claimed that “in our Catholic Christian tradition, the morality of an action depends on the object chosen, the circumstances of the action, and the end in view,” and asserted that Mastropaolo did not really do anything wrong because my motives were not pure enough! He then demanded that I apologize to Mastropaolo for my attempts to destroy his reputation or he would contact my “superior”.

After I told Owen how to file a formal grievance against me at the University, he wrote a letter to my Vice Chancellor demanding that he do something about my unfair attacks on Mastropaolo. Needless to say, nothing came of his letter. (Indeed over the past two decades, at two different institutions, my supervisors have received many such letters complaining about me because of the very public stances I’ve taken in support of evolution and sound environmental practices.) Owen also said that he would no longer correspond with me, adding, “I will continue to hope and pray that we will meet in Heaven one day.”

Are they really serious?

My experience with the Life Science Prize extended over two months, involved detailed correspondence with numerous people, all of whom made it clear that they would refuse to discuss the matter any further, and each resulted in a letter of complaint to my supervisor. Since the level of frustration evidenced by my correspondents continued to rise with every e-mail, and since the ad hominem attacks on me increased over time, I consider the experience to have been a great success. And none of this even considers the fun I was having responding to each e-mail pointing out the lack of substance in the responses I was receiving while begging for an opportunity to work out an agreeable arrangement to permit me to contend for the Life Science Prize. Because all of this was done in a semi-private setting, with copies of the e-mail exchanges being distributed to a select group of people, the circus-like atmosphere usually associated with “debates” never took place.

One last point! Although the rules associated with the Life Science Prize were similar to the challenge to which Alfred Russel Wallace responded, apparently anti-evolutionary forces took their challenges more seriously a century ago; the “winner” of the Life Science Prize would walk away with $20 000 while the “winner” of the flat earth challenge would have earned approximately $91 980 in today’s dollars.

About the Author(s): 
Michael Zimmerman
University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
College of Letters and Science
800 Algoma Blvd
Oshkosh WI 54901