RNCSE 22 (1–2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Articles available online are listed below.

Farewell to the Santorum Amendment?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Farewell to the Santorum Amendment?
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Despite the claims of creationists and other ideological opponents of evolution, the so-called Santorum Amendment - which, by singling out evolution as uniquely "controversial", was apparently intended to discourage evolution education - was not included in the No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in late 2001 and signed into law by President Bush in early 2002. Although the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference contains a brief and not as objectionable mention of evolution, the Joint Explanatory Statement is not part of the law as enacted. Teachers in particular should be aware that the No Child Left Behind Act in no way requires them to teach evolution any differently than they do now.

Background

On June 13, 2001, the US Senate adopted a Sense of the Senate amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Authorization bill, S 1, then under consideration. Proposed by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), the amendment read:

It is the sense of the Senate that (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

As Eric Meikle explained (RNCSE 2000 Nov-Dec; 20 [6]: 4), the fact that evolution is singled out as uniquely controversial amply indicates the amendment's anti-evolutionary intention. There were several indications that "intelligent design" proponents were instrumental in framing the resolution. In proposing the amendment, Senator Santorum cited a law review article coauthored by "intelligent design" proponent David K DeWolf, professor of law at Gonzaga University and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. And the godfather of the "intelligent design" movement, Phillip Johnson, was quoted in the June 18 Washington Times as having "helped frame the language" of the amendment.

On June 14, the bill, including the Santorum Amendment, passed the Senate 91-8. It seems likely that most of the senators who voted for the bill were unaware of the antievolution implications of the Santorum Amendment, although Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) alluded to them in their remarks in the Congressional Record. Unsurprisingly, anti-evolution groups such as Answers in Genesis were quick to rejoice at the token of support for their cause embodied in the Santorum Amendment.

Because HR 1, the version of the bill that passed in the House of Representatives, contained no counterpart of the Santorum Amendment, the House-Senate Conference Committee needed to reconsider it when it met to reconcile the two versions of the bill. Thus there was still a chance for the scientific and educational communities to influence the outcome. And they seized the day. The officers of almost 100 scientific and educational societies, together representing over 100 000 scientists, called upon the chairs of the conference committee to drop the Santorum Amendment. (See RNCSE 2001; 21 [1-2]: 7 for the text of their letter.)

In December 2001, the joint committee finished its work. The compromise bill was submitted to Congress, which passed it (renaming it the No Child Left Behind Act in the process) and sent it to President Bush for his signature, which it duly received on January 8, 2002.

The Good News

The good news is twofold. First, the Santorum Amendment was substantially weakened during its stay in committee, eventually appearing in the following two sentences:

The conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

Note that evolution is no longer singled out as uniquely controversial: it is merely used as one example of a host of potentially controversial topics. The conference committee's wish to keep "religious and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science" out of the science classroom is, of course, fully supported by NCSE. "Creation science", including "intelligent design", indeed consists largely of religious and philosophical claims that are disguised as science, and that is why NCSE opposes its presence in the science classrooms of our nation's public schools. Note also that the Santorum Amendment's original desire for students "to be informed participants in public discussions" was replaced with the conference committee's desire for students "to understand the full range of scientific views" - although creationism might be regarded as a matter of public discussion, it is certainly not a scientific view.

Second, the Santorum Amendment, even in its weakened form, is not present in the bill that was signed into law. It appears only in the Conference Report, buried deep in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference in Title I, Part A, as item 78. The Joint Explanatory Statement is not part of the bill itself; it is simply an explanation of how the conference committee reconciled the various provisions of the House and Senate versions of the bill. The law itself neither mentions evolution nor includes any sentiments reflecting the Santorum Amendment. Thus the No Child Left Behind Act in no way requires teachers to teach evolution any differently.

It appears as if the conference committee largely heeded the call of the officers of the scientific and educational societies. The Santorum Amendment was dropped from the bill; the fact that a weakened version of it was included in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference, where it enjoys no force of law, was probably intended to appease religiously conservative constituents - politics is, after all, the art of compromise.

The Bad News

The bad news is that many creationists and other ideological opponents of evolution took the Santorum Amendment and jumped on the propaganda bandwagon with it. In a press release dated December 21, 2001, with the headline "Congress gives victory to scientific critics of Darwin", Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, announced, "The education bill just passed by Congress calls for greater openness to the study of current controversies in science, notably including biological evolution." Although he evidently recognized that the Santorum Amendment was substantially weakened and that the weakened version appeared not in the bill but only in the conference committee report - writing that "What began as the 'Santorum Amendment' … now resides in report language" - he nevertheless misleadingly characterized the bill as "a substantial victory for scientific critics of Darwin's theory and for all who would like science instruction to exercise thoroughness and fairness in teaching about contemporary science controversies." Interestingly, Chapman harped on Darwin and Darwinists, although Darwin's name never appeared in the Santorum Amendment; the Discovery Institute's practice of tendentiously equating evolution and "Darwinism" is documented by Skip Evans in "Doubting Darwinism by creative license" (see RNCSE 2001; 21 [5-6]: 22-3).

Then, apparently in response to a precursor of the present report posted on the NCSE web site, the Discovery Institute issued a further press release on December 28, 2001, entitled "Congress urges teaching of diverse views on evolution, but Darwinists try to deny it". It also appeared in a slightly revised form as "Deny, deny, deny" by John West in WorldNetDaily. In both versions, West contended that NCSE originally was wholeheartedly against the Santorum Amendment and then, when it appeared in weakened form in the conference committee report, opportunistically engaged in "after-the-fact attempts to rewrite history" by praising the conference committee's wish to keep "religious and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science" out of the science classroom. Needless to say, he misrepresented NCSE's views: it was only clause (2)of the Santorum Amendment that was intrinsically objectionable.

The Discovery Institute was misleading on the status of the Santorum Amendment vis-à-vis the bill that was signed into law, but Phyllis Schlafly of the conservative Eagle Forum was downright wrong. In an editorial posted on the conservative web site TownHall.com on February 6, 2002, Schlafly wrote:

The "No Child Left Behind" bill signed by President Bush on Jan 8 includes a science requirement that focuses on "the data and testable theories of science". This new federal law specifies that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist."

Because Schlafly was discussing the ongoing controversy about state science standards in Ohio, she may have been relying on misinformation about the Santorum Amendment posted on SEAO's web site, which was later corrected. To give credit where credit is due, the anti-evolutionist ministry Answers in Genesis recognized that the fact that the Santorum Amendment was not present in the No Child Left Behind Act was a defeat for the anti-evolution movement. In "Honest science 'left behind' in US education bill", posted at the AIG web site on January 7, 2002, Mike Matthews emphasizes that "The final version of the bill … says not one word about evolution or the controversy surrounding it" and remarks in a footnote that "The original Senate amendment was 'watered down' in two senses", citing the same changes of wording cited above.

Nevertheless, expect to see distorted reports of the Santorum Amendment in the antievolution press from now on. As we know from long experience, creationist misinformation is hard to quash.

Goodbye, Columbus

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Goodbye, Columbus (Ohio Board of Education intelligent design/evolution panel discussion)
Author(s): 
Kenneth R. Miller
Professor of Biology
Brown University
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
6–8
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The much-anticipated intelligent design / evolution panel discussion sponsored by the Ohio Board of Education took place on Monday, March 11, 2002, in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio. Speaking on behalf of intelligent design (ID) were Stephen C. Meyer, an associate professor of philosophy at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, and Jonathan Wells, the author of Icons of Evolution (Washington DC: Regnery, 2000) and, like Meyer, a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Speaking on behalf of evolution were Lawrence Krauss, the chair of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and me.

My host (Patricia Princehouse of Case Western) drove me to the site about an hour before our 8:30 AM start time. Anticipating a crowd of thousands, the Board had moved the discussion from its original venue to Veterans, which has a capacity of 4,000. We paid $4.50 to park, and strolled past a group of "Repent or Burn in Hell" picketers into the huge theater-like room.

Lawrence Krauss and I set up our laptops, and within a few minutes Meyer and Wells arrived. We nodded to one another briefly and shook hands. The President of the Board, Jennifer Sheets, spoke to all four of us together, laying down the ground rules and making it clear that our presentations would be timed to the second — as, it would turn out, they were. Each of us was allotted 15 minutes to make a presentation to the Board, and Sheets, as moderator, was careful to ensure that no one ran over by more than a few seconds.

I had prepared my talk assuming that Wells would go right after one of my textbooks, and I was right. Leading with the "Haeckel embryo fraud," he displayed the cover of one of my textbooks that he said contained the fraudulent drawings, tsk-tsking that, although it was "nothing personal" against me, I had helped to spread Haeckel's fraudulent claims to students.

The rest of his 15 minutes was occupied by a recitation of the classic "icons" he discusses in his book. He showed a slide of a "peer-reviewed" 1999 article in The American Biology Teacher, told the audience about the "Darwinist persecution" of teacher Roger DeHart, and showed a slide with David DeRosier's picture from his "peer-reviewed" Cell paper together with Dave's comment that the bacterial flagellum, more so than other biochemical motors, has many features of machines designed by humans. In fact, I would wager that the single most repeated phrase in his talk was "peer-reviewed paper," which he applied to nearly every publication he cited.

He showed Darwin's drawing from the Origin illustrating the divergence of taxa, and commented on how poorly it described the great gaps between the animal phyla, ignoring the fact that it was designed to depict speciation, not the origins of major animal groups. To my delight, he introduced Michael Behe's argument from "irreducible complexity" (which meant that I would not have to explain it myself). He (correctly) anticipated that I would rebut Behe's argument, and tried to undercut what I might say by telling the audience that there was a well-qualified scientist in the audience (Scott Minnich) who disagreed with me — as if bringing along one more colleague from the Discovery Institute somehow made a difference.

Lawrence Krauss, Chair of the Physics Department at Case Western, spoke next. He was clear and forceful, and uncompromising on the standards of science — standards that "intelligent design" simply does not meet. In one of the most-quoted phrases of the morning, he pointed out that the two-on-two format of this presentation wouldn't render a fair picture of the sentiment in the scientific community. A more reasonable arrangement, he noted, would have one member of the Discovery Institute on one side, and ten thousand scientists on the other. He also made the telling point that two of the Discovery Institute's nine senior fellows were the ID speakers who were there; if they had not been there, the only place to find more advocates for ID would be back at the Discovery Institute. If Krauss or I had not been there, however, we could have been replaced by scores of scientists from just about any college or university anywhere in the state of Ohio.

Steven Meyer followed Krauss. His presentation contained cute, cartoon-like slides similar to the drawings I've seen in ID books. One compared the "controversy" to two shouting people holding signs labeled "Theory A" and "Theory B". How are students to deal with them? By being told that there's a controversy, of course. "Teach the controversy" was Meyer's message. He quoted Darwin on the importance of hearing all sides of a scientific issue, and then attempted to rebut Krauss's criticism of the fact that the ID people mostly seem to publish books by pointing out that folks such as Copernicus and Darwin had first published their theories in books, too. (While he was speaking, I scribbled a note on his pad reminding him that Darwin and Wallace had published a joint paper before the publication of the Origin. I am sure he was unimpressed!)

Finally, and most importantly, Meyer offered a "compromise" on the issue. This was, of course, accompanied by a slide labeled "compromise" showing cartoon people smiling, shaking hands, and slapping one another on the back. Compromises, apparently, make people very happy. The compromise was that his side was willing to drop its insistence that ID be placed in the State standards — if, of course, the standards made it clear that individual teachers should be free to teach the scientific controversy about Darwinism. This, he said, would help Ohio to open the minds of its students, and would meet the high standards for evolution education mandated by the "Santorum language" in the new education law, the No Child Left Behind Act. My jaw dropped as he concluded with this statement, but more on that later.

In the first five minutes of my presentation, I exposed Wells's tactics when he writes or speaks about evolution. I chose three of his icons to show how he misrepresents, distorts, or simply lies about the facts. These were the peppered moths, which he claims do not rest on trees, when in fact they do; the Haeckel embryo drawings, which I corrected in my own textbooks two and one-half years before he wrote about them in Icons; and human evolution, in which he used out-of-context quotes to distort Henry Gee's views of human evolution and systematically withheld data in order to provide a false picture of human evolution. The point that Wells is not reliable was made very clearly.

Both speakers from the Discovery Institute had stressed Behe's arguments about "irreducible complexity." I used Behe's own language to show that he has, in fact, made a testable scientific prediction based on his idea: that the parts of an irreducibly complex machine, such as a flagellum or a mousetrap, should be "by definition nonfunctional." Unfortunately for Behe and ID, both the mousetrap and the flagellum fail that test, falsifying the prediction. To the delight of the crowd, I illustrated the failure of Behe's prediction by pointing out that I had removed two parts from a mousetrap and was now using my "nonfunctional" mousetrap as a perfectly functional tie clasp! Wells and Meyer never brought Behe up again, except when Meyer claimed that my refutation of Behe would convince only people who heard only "one side" of the story. Curiously, he did not seem to be able to supply the "other side" himself.

I pointed out the many failures of ID to explain the fossil record, especially the problem of extinction, about which ID enthusiasts are notably silent — if all those organisms Wells claims were "designed" in the Cambrian were the work of an intelligent designer, why did all of them succumb to extinction? Neither Wells nor Meyer, of course, had an answer. Finally, I made it very clear that there was a simple way that ID could, in principle, find its way into the scientific curriculum, and that was the same way taken by every other idea that's there now — by fighting it out in the scientific marketplace. Instead, the proponents of ID are asking for special treatment from the government, a sure sign that their ideas cannot stand on their own merit.

The question period, in which each speaker was given one or two minutes to respond to each question, provided opportunity for us to reiterate and amplify our points. One particularly telling moment came when a questioner asked about the "Santorum" language in the No Child Left Behind Act, which supposedly requires the teaching of alternate scientific theories. Meyer enthusiastically agreed that it did, and urged Ohio to follow the "law". I stepped to my computer, asked for its screen to be projected in front of the audience, and then explained that I had a copy of the law on my laptop and would execute a search for the word "evolution," which supposedly is in the language of the bill. As the audience buzzed (and a few of its members chuckled), the search came up empty. Why? "Because," I informed the audience, "the ID folks have misled you" (I should have been blunt enough to say that they lied). Santorum's amendment to the Senate's version of the bill was watered down during the conference committee and then was relegated to its report. The language that Meyer cited is not part of the bill, was not signed into law by the President, and does not have the force of law. The effect on the audience was dramatic. The ID folks had been caught in a lie. How did Wells respond? Incredibly, he simply picked up a copy of the conference report and read the language slowly, apparently on the principle that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, people will begin to believe it. No one was fooled, however, and the ID folks had blundered badly on the most basic issue of all — telling the truth.

The rest of the hour-long question period was great fun as well. At one point I diagrammed the Cambrian explosion to make the point that the "major animal groups" Wells likes to talk about as appearing suddenly in a geologically short period of time include only the phyla, and do not include what most people think of as "major groups," such as insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds. It also completely excludes the plants, and I pointed out that nearly all the plant phyla (which botanists call "divisions") appeared well after the Cambrian. Wells then borrowed my drawing and, of course, contended that he meant "phyla" by "major animal groups," saying that he meant to mislead no one. And the phyla really do appear in the Cambrian.

As the question period drew to a close, the ID folks claimed that we wished to suppress the discussion of controversy. Krauss scored points with the audience by emphatically and humorously stating that, on the contrary, we scientists like nothing so much as "to prove another scientist wrong."

The final questions gave me an opportunity to plug my new textbook and to prove Wells wrong yet again in a single stroke. Speaking on the origin of life, he pleaded with the Board to reject a "dogmatic" Darwinian approach on the origin of life, and allow ID to explain to students just how uncertain and controversial theories about the origin of life really are. Textbooks, he implied, present the origin of life as solved. Since Meyer had already broken the commercial ground by plugging a videotape sold by the Discovery Institute, I gleefully held up my new textbook and quoted from the section on the origin of life, which clearly indicates the scientific uncertainties Wells had claimed that we suppressed. Another point lost for the ID side.

Post-debate chatter in the evolution camp was jubilant, if somewhat muted by the political realities of the current situation in Ohio. Krauss and I felt that we had exposed the empty nature of "design" at every hand. Yet to many members of the Board, it was doubtless clear that, at the conclusion of the debate, there were still "two sides" talking away on the issue. As much as I enjoy the debate format and the opportunity to expose the flimsy science and misleading tactics of the ID folks, the two-on-two format clearly promotes a misleading impression of there being "two sides to the issue," and that's the continuing danger. Nonetheless, Krauss and I had great fun, and the lack of scientific evidence on the other side was obvious to anyone who was willing to recognize it.

Michael Behe and "Intelligent Design" on National Public Radio

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Michael Behe and "Intelligent Design" on National Public Radio
Author(s): 
Steven Schafersman
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
35–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.


On February 13, 2002, the day after Darwin Day, Dr Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University, appeared on "Talk of the Nation: (TOTN) on National Public Radio. Since the publication of his book Darwin's Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996), Behe has made dozens of public appearances to promote his creationist ideology and respond to criticisms with specious arguments; and he has – so to speak – learned on the job. Even I was impressed at the excellence of his sophistry. TOTN listeners would never surmise that every single one of the reviews of Behe's book in scientific journals by scientists thoroughly slammed his book and the ideas of irreducible complexity and "intelligent design" (ID) as unscientific and essentially worthless – a genuine argument from ignorance (many of these reviews are posted at Behe's Empty Box.)

Behe represented himself as a scientist persuaded by the evidence – not as a creationist with an agenda. To a question from host Melinda Penkava about how his ideas differ from creationism, Behe disingenuously answered, "Well, now to tell you the truth, I'm not real knowledgeable about creationism. I'm a Roman Catholic." Behe used his "I am a Roman Catholic" mantra more than once to divest himself of the creationist label. Needless to say, this argument against an embarrassing label – while apparently convincing in Behe's mind – is not really conclusive (since many Catholics are creationists – see, for example, Patrick O'Connell's Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis [Rockford (IL): Tan Books and Publishers, 1993], reviewed by Colin Groves in RNCSE 2000 Nov-Dec; 20 [6]: 17-8, 23-4). In addition, most of his ID colleagues would not be able to use the same argument!

Behe's analogy for why irreducible complexity proves "intelligent design" was simple: If one were to gaze upon Mt Rushmore, one would conclude that a sculptor – an "intelligent designer" – created the complex set of faces; these could not be due to natural wind and water erosion over time. Likewise, complex biological structures, such as the biochemical "motors" of bacterial flagella, are like little biochemical machines that should be interpreted the same way as are human-designed and -constructed machines, such as the outboard motor of a boat. Such features, according to Behe, are irreducibly complex – composed of many separate parts arranged so that if even one part were removed or altered, the structure would not work. Therefore, the separate and mutually interdependent parts must have been designed with a final purpose in mind; they could not have evolved as different and independent parts that fortuitously and ultimately worked together to form a functioning complex structure. This argument can, of course, be used with every biological feature, structure, and process, since all are complex and make use of interdependent and interacting parts, themselves exceedingly complex.

As readers of RNCSE know, this argument is over 200 years old; it has been thoroughly and consistently discredited by many thousands of scientific observations and experiments and, on this basis, is firmly rejected by scientists. "Irreducible complexity" is a term employed by Behe to argue that evolutionary processes cannot account for at least some of the observed complexity in living things. However, Behe's insistence that complex structures must always retain the same function and must be built step-by-step overlooks many well-known evolutionary processes. While it is true that there are complex biologic features and processes that would not operate at 100% effectiveness or even at all if one part were removed or altered today, legitimate scientists understand that these features and processes were formed by a natural process (that is, evolution by natural selection).

One point that Behe persistently ignores is that evolution utilizes precursor features and processes, perhaps less efficient and sometimes having completely different functions (in such cases termed preadaptations or exaptions), that exist as steps on the evolutionary pathway to the current feature or process. Despite their relative inefficiency, however, these features and processes nevertheless possessed adaptive value (that is, they contributed to increased fitness) of their own – irrespective of the function that they would eventually serve in future generations. They would thus be favored during natural selection and would adaptively evolve. Behe irresponsibly either ignores or dismisses this natural and historical explanation – which happens to be the one that other scientists accept. For Behe, apparently, complex structures have no history at all, which is why he can see only their proximate usefulness and current interdependence of parts. Behe is a creationist precisely because he does not seriously explore the possibility of the evolutionary historical modification and change of interdependent parts.

Where Behe gives the hoary creationist argument a modern twist is by introducing biochemical complexity. The older arguments were refuted by Darwin's demonstration – and subsequent demonstrations in developmental and molecular biology – that complex structures at the organ level could change by modification of existing parts. In this way, the eye could evolve by the gradual change of light-sensitive structures from generalized light sensors to the complex, highly-adapted, and efficient eyes of vertebrates and squid. All biologically complex features and processes at the organ and organ system level, and most at the tissue level, can today be explained this way, with abundant empirical genetic, physiological, anatomical, and fossil evidence to back up the explanations. This is not true, however, of such features at the cellular and biochemical levels: scientists simply do not know enough to explain how many of the complex features and processes at this level evolved – yet. Behe cleverly exploits these gaps in scientific knowledge, filling them with an intelligent designer. This is classic God-of-the-Gaps sophistry.

However, some of the gaps have been filled. A number of reviews of Behe's book have convincingly described some, if not all, aspects of flagellar evolution. The same is true for most of the other biologic features and processes claimed by creationists to be evidence of "intelligent design" and not natural evolutionary processes because they are irreducibly complex. We still have gaps in knowledge about the evolutionary history of all sorts of complex features and processes, but the gaps are not necessarily permanent. Scientists have been filling such gaps in knowledge and expect to keep doing so.

On TOTN, Behe also repeatedly mischaracterized modern evolution – what he called Darwinian evolution – by claiming that only random processes generated the complexity we see in organic life. Of course, natural selection, the primary mechanism of this process, is neither a chance nor a random process, but a wholly deterministic one – albeit one characterized by a probabilistic determinism that can only be studied and understood statistically. The irony of this frequent creationist misrepresentation of modern evolutionary theory as "only chance" is that the most important evolutionary process that makes modern evolutionary theory "Darwinian" is precisely the same process that prevents it from being exclusively random. A completely random process could never generate the diversity, adaptation, and complexity we observe in living organisms (as has been well documented by creationists!).

Behe's suggestion that ID can be tested by taking flagella-less bacteria and growing them for thousands of generations to see if they evolve flagella without "intelligent" modification of their genes was superbly audacious, but deliberately deceptive. A proper test of ID would involve its making some prediction about a biological process, event, or feature that could not, in principle, be explained by evolution but only by "intelligent design". Not only have there been no successful tests of ID reported in the scientific literature, there have been no tests of ID reported there at all, indicating the essentially nonscientific nature of the enterprise.

Behe also repeated the ID motto – the evidence shows design in living organisms, but "ID leaves the identity of the designer open". His colleague William A Dembski also uses this disingenuous disclaimer, saying that ID research points to "generic design", not necessarily supernatural design. It is scientifically (and epistemologically) absurd to accept these claims. Contrary to Behe and Dembski, there is no evidence for any true design in the structure of living organisms – in the sense of a purposeful planning of outcomes – but there is excellent and well-known evidence for natural selection as the cause of their apparent design.

Deborah Owens-Fink, a member of the Ohio State Board of Education (OBE), also appeared on the program. She did a remarkable job of pretending to be unbiased and positive about this issue, saying that "we need to be very careful that we don't get into the issue of religion, but yet, at the same time, that we also do not censor ideas that might go against what some elite scientists believe with respect to evolution … explaining the total diversity of life and origins of life." Owens-Fink, in reality, is one of the main proponents on the OBE in support of including ID in the state science standards. Without knowing Owens-Fink (a marketing professor at the University of Akron), I strongly suspect that her motives are religious. In my experience, no legitimate scientists or informed and unbiased laypeople are clamoring to include ID in science standards; only religiously motivated politicians and other non-scientists want to do this.

Behe's sophistic and misleading claims and his responses to arguments against ID might be convincing to many – perhaps most – listeners. It was the responsibility of the legitimate science supporter on TOTN, David Haury (Professor of Science Education at the Ohio State University), to refute Behe's pseudoscientific arguments, but he failed to respond adequately to them. This often occurs when creationists get valuable public exposure in the mainstream media. Haury truly has impressive credentials and a background in science education, so he should have done better; however, experienced and knowledgeable university professors are frequently unprepared for the specious arguments and rhetorical tricks that creationists use to promote their agenda, and thus are often ineffective against them.

I sent Haury an early version of this essay, and in defense of his efforts he told me that he tried to steer the conversation to the educational issues, remarking, "What is not…obvious to folks in general is that there are school issues that go beyond science, and I was hoping to move on to those issues more quickly by simply noting that [ID proposals] do not come to us from within the scientific community, are not embraced by scientists, and fail all tests of being identified as science. I did not want to waste air time getting immersed in debating his absurd ideas point by point." Haury was of course right to want to avoid debating irreducible complexity with Behe, but unfortunately he was not able to steer Behe away from the minutiae of his anti-evolutionism and to the broader issues surrounding science education.

Haury made one notable rhetorical mistake on the program, saying, "that the idea of 'intelligent design' and the theory of evolution do not talk about the same things. … [ID is about] how it all got started, [while evolution is] about how things change over time. … It makes no statement about the origins [of life]". He appeared to reason that, since evolution is indifferent to the way in which life originated, positing an "intelligent" force at the origin of life would not diminish evolution in any way. However, ID purports to explain both the origin of life and the generation of diversity, and both of these explanations conflict with well-established scientific theories – the abiogenic origin of life by chemical evolution and the generation of diversity by biological evolution. Thus Haury's statement seemed to allow that ID was a legitimate scientific theory about the origin of life; this mistake was unfortunate, since in such discussions it is important not to muddle the distinction between ID and science.

It was a pleasure to hear from the fourth guest, Ernan McMullin, a distinguished historian and philosopher of science at Notre Dame University and a person whom I admire for his historical insight and fairness on the creation/evolution controversy. He understood the issue perfectly, saying that "the motive behind this proposed measure in Ohio … is clearly one which would advance religion." Of course the efforts to politicize science education by requiring legislative oversight of evolutionary topics (a honor never bestowed on gravity, thermodynamics, or planetary revolution!) and to force ID into state science standards are politically and religiously motivated by the desire to include God and religion in the public school science classroom. There is no other credible reason for anyone to make such an effort. Clearly the reason is not to improve science education; otherwise the politicians would let the scientists and science educators write the standards themselves without political interference!

The callers to TOTN were wonderful: they asked questions that really put Behe on the defensive. Steve of Danville, California, asked the guests to address the "God-of-the-gaps" approach to science, correctly observing that ID was an example of this approach. Behe tried to turn the argument back against itself by preposterously claiming that "ID has grown stronger as we have learned more about science". He alleged that the God-of-the-gaps objection does not apply to irreducible complexity arguments for ID because we have learned that cells are more complex than we knew in the 19th century, when evolution was proposed to explain adaptive complexity in nature. He ignored the fact that the "irreducible complexity" is not the same as the degree of complexity; what is at issue is not complexity itself, but whether complexity is used to claim ultimate ignorance and the uselessness of further study. Behe responded with a warning against a "naturalism of the gaps" – a mistaken and specious characterization of the naturalistic methodology of science.

Mark of Columbus, Ohio, was especially perceptive about the issue. He wanted to know how the idea of "intelligent design" gave students a better understanding of how the world works. This, of course, is one of the major ironies of ID studies: unlike science, ID is a question stopper, not a question generator. Behe's response? He conceded that "Darwinian theory" works for some things, but for "other things it doesn't work at all. … I'm not going to say any more than when we drive past Mt Rushmore, we just throw up our hands and say because we can't understand how wind and rain did this, then it must have been designed." I think that this response is as good an example of the vacuity of ID ideology as anything could possibly be.

The next caller was Cynthia of Phoenix, Arizona, who agreed with McMullin about his characterization of the motive of ID advocates in Ohio. Behe replied that, in his opinion, topics like ID are mistakenly excluded from the public schools because people believe they have "religious implications". The real reason ID is excluded is because it is lousy science!

Irreducible complexity – one of the pillars that supports "intelligent design" – is an argument from ignorance. No real scientist would ever say, "this is so complex that it can never be explained by evolution, so I give up." Instead, a scientist would continue to formulate hypotheses to explain it and then test the hypotheses. Behe suffers from a very unscientific failure of curiosity, creativity, and nerve. Not only does he promote willful ignorance and pseudoscience, he encourages people to repress their intellectual curiosity – a moral lapse for a scientist!
About the Author(s): 

Steven D Schafersman
Department of Science and Mathematics
The University of Texas
of the Permian Basin
4901 East University Blvd.
Odessa TX 79762
schafersman@utpb.edu

Review: Darwin's God

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
49–51
Reviewer: 
Donald Nield
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil
Author(s): 
Cornelius G. Hunter
Grand Rapids (MI): Brazos Press, 2001. 192 pages.


This book is far from a dispassionate account by a professional historian. Rather, the author, formerly senior vice president of a high tech firm in Silicon Valley, is currently completing a PhD in biophysics at the University of Illinois. The book is part of the literature produced in line with the "Wedge" strategy of the group of "intelligent design" theorists associated in various ways with the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. This group is led by Phillip Johnson, and includes Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer, all of whom have lauded the book on its dust cover. According to Johnson, Hunter brilliantly argues that Darwinism is a mixture of metaphysical dogma and biased scientific observation, that "at its core, evolution is about God, not science". According to Behe, Hunter argues perceptively that the main supporting pole of the Darwinian tent has always been a theological assertion: "God wouldn't have done it that way."

In chapter 1, Hunter writes "Darwin's concern with the problem of natural evil is apparent in his notebooks and in his published works" (p 14). However, Hunter does not document his claim, either here or elsewhere in his book. (In fact, Hunter gives very few direct quotations from Darwin, and almost all of these refer to scientific matters.) There is, however, one famous quotation from Darwin, that Hunter actually includes twice in his book – a quotation from a letter to Asa Gray (referred to via Stephen Jay Gould and David Hull), namely: "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."

Chapters 2, 3, and 4, on comparative anatomy, small-scale evolution and the fossil record, respectively, follow a common pattern. Hunter gives an outline of evidence for evolution, then discusses the problems he sees with the evidence, and finally talks about metaphysical arguments.

In chapter 5, Hunter looks at the works of five evolutionists who saw fit to continue with Darwin's long argument, namely Joseph Le Conte, HH Lane, Arthur W Lindsey, Sir Gavin de Beer, and Verne Grant. Hunter says that his survey shows that evolutionists who have attempted to prove their theory rigorously have routinely resorted to nonscientific claims. Hunter says that the arguments put forward in support of evolution "are either arguments for the mere plausibility of evolution or arguments against the doctrine of divine creation. Over and over we find arguments about why God wouldn't have done it that way, which work only with a certain concept of God" (p 113).

In chapter 6, Hunter asks and answers the question, how did the evolutionists' notion of God become so popular that it needed no justification? Hunter says that the answer lies in the history of religious thought, and after discussing the ideas of Descartes, Burnet, Halley, Whiston and Leibniz, he points out that one's view of evil is profoundly influenced by one's view of God. Hunter next turns to the theodicies of Milton, the Cambridge Platonists, Leibniz, Grew and Hume (a theodicy is a defense of the attributes of God against objections resulting from the existence of physical and moral evil). These writers moved away from the view that God creates and controls the world and toward a view that God must be separated from evil, and Hunter argues that Darwin followed the same theodicies and just filled in the details.

In chapter 7, Hunter examines how the modern doctrine of God influenced early 19th-century thought and Darwin's formulation of evolution. However, Hunter says remarkably little about Darwin, other than the quote from the letter to Asa Gray mentioned above. In the following chapter, Hunter gives a brief survey of divine sanction and intellectual necessity in evolutionary thought and how the acceptance of evolution has influenced our current metaphysics. Hunter gives another extract from a letter of Darwin to Asa Gray. With reference to a man killed by lightning and a gnat snapped up by a swallow, Darwin wrote; "If the death of neither man nor gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed." Hunter says that it was reasonable for Darwin to argue that God would not be personally involved in the swallow's attack on the gnat – not because of any finding of modern science but because of the persistence of Gnosticism into modern times, and given such a premise it was then reasonable to conclude that God is altogether removed from the world.

In a final chapter titled "Blind Presuppositionalism", Hunter discusses theistic evolution as expounded by Theodosius Dobzhansky, BB Warfield, Terry Gray, Howard van Till, Kenneth Miller, and John Haught. We are told that "like Gray and van Till, Miller professes to be a Christian", and "like Miller, Haught professes to be a Christian" (p 170, 172). According to Hunter, all these people except Warfield "accept and even rely on the Darwinian type of metaphysical arguments against the view that a divine hand is active in creating and sustaining the world." Hunter goes on to say:
Darwin … believed that God could not be responsible for nature's carnage and inefficiency, so he proposed a purely naturalistic explanation. Evolution was a theodicy, and keeping this in mind helps explain the different responses to evolution, including those critics such as Hodge and the theistic evolutionists. This perspective also helps explain how those who accept evolution wholeheartedly can be content with evidence that establishes merely the plausibility of evolution (p 173-4).
Hunter quotes a statement from the National Academy of Sciences that "No body of beliefs that has its origin in doctrinal material rather than scientific observation, interpretation and experimentation should be admissible as science in any science class", and he concludes that on this criterion evolution should not be taught in science classes because it includes religious presuppositions outside of science. His final sentence is: "Ultimately, evolution is about God" (p 175).

The question now is whether Hunter has made his case or whether his book should be regarded as a revisionist reading of history in line with the "Wedge" doctrine of the "intelligent design" movement. There is no doubt that Darwin was concerned with the religious implications of evolution, but was he driven by religious considerations? To help to answer this question, I have studied the book Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation by Neal C Gillespie (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). The author was Professor of History at Georgia State University. Hunter gives eight inconsequential references to Gillespie's book, but does not seriously engage its ideas. Gillespie (p 135) wrote:
There can be no real doubt as to Darwin's theism during the years that he prepared for and wrote the Origin. Aside from the strong evidence in his writing, he tells us in his Autobiography that the need for postulating an intelligent First Cause as initiating the universe – a belief implied in the theological arguments in the Origin – "was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species." When Dr Pusey seemed to accuse him of having written the Origin as an attack on religion and not as science, Darwin replied indignantly that Pusey was "mistaken in imagining that I wrote the Origin with any relation whatever to theology" (not exactly the case, as we have seen), and that "when I was collecting facts for the Origin, my belief in what is called a personal God was as firm as that of Dr Pusey himself."
Theodicy is not listed in the index of Gillespie's book. In light of this, I find Hunter's thesis difficult to accept. Elsewhere (p 133) Gillespie notes that later in his life, in the passage that concludes The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Darwin presents us with the quandary that he himself never resolved: if God is omnipotent and omniscient then it is hard to see why he is not also irrational and even immoral in producing superfluous laws of nature and waste of life. "Thus we are brought face to face with a difficulty as insoluble as that of free will and predestination." Darwin certainly recognized that his work involved the problem of theodicy, but that is completely different from Hunter's claim that it was consideration of theodicy that led Darwin to advance his theory of evolution.

References

About the Author(s): 

Donald A Nield
Associate Professor
Department of Engineering Science
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland New Zealand
d.nield@auckland.ac.nz

Why NCSE Should Be Involved in the Science-Religion Dialog

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Why NCSE Should Be Involved in the Science-Religion Dialog
Author(s): 
Phina Borgeson, Faith Network Director
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
24
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
From time to time at NCSE, we hear questions from skeptical, agnostic, and atheistic members who wonder what we are doing getting involved with people of faith. Creationism in its several forms is, after all, largely motivated by religion. Many of the household names in evolutionary science are quite vocal about the death of religion as they see it, while others seem to see religion as tolerable as long as it is limited to private, individual faith or to informing moral and ethical decisions. So why would NCSE want to be involved in science and religion conversations?

Perhaps the first reason is simply that many NCSE members are people who belong to communities of faith. They support the teaching of evolution; they disagree strongly with creationist attempts to substitute their spin on religion for science, yet they are themselves religious. NCSE is a membership organization, and a part of what we do is support our members in their advocacy for evolutionary science. That means being where they are, and that is sometimes in the thoughtful dialogs between science and theology – the places not just where science and theology conflict and contrast but where they make contact with and confirm each other's assumptions and world views.

The second reason is what we might unabashedly call good politics. Not all Christians are creationists, and many are not happy about the appropriation of the name "Christian" as synonymous with anti-evolutionist – as well as with other reactionary and exclusivistic stances. Many Christians deplore equating "Christian" with the radical religious right and enemies of religious liberty. Many moderate and liberal Christians, and yes, even some conservative Christians, are our allies in working to keep religion out of the science classroom. We simply cannot make common cause with Christians who stand for evolution if we use the categories "Christian" or "religious" for one narrow stripe of Christian tradition and activism.

When working for Uni-tarian-Universalist Project Freedom of Religion in Southern California in the late 1990s, I did considerable reading and research on all the issues that were favorites of the religious right. Reading Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement and the Politics of the 1990s by Chris Bull and John Gallagher, I saw how easy it is to make perfect enemies – how tempting it is for both sides on a controversial issue to play to each other's prejudices, hobby horses, and weaknesses in such a way as to keep the conflict going without getting anywhere.

Two significant ways to avoid such a situation caught my attention. Do not adopt a campaign mentality, but build a movement for the long haul – a strategy at which NCSE excels. Another involves finding those people in the middle who are more open to dialog than invested in being the perfect enemy. When it comes to supporting the teaching of evolution, those people are most likely to be found among people of faith who reject the claims of the religious right, but themselves make faith claims of a broader and more exploratory nature. Allying with such folks is good politics. There is no need to make perfect enemies.

These are perhaps the major reasons, and the most obvious ones, that NCSE needs to be there in science and religion dialogs. But there are also softer reasons – reasons not just of obligation and expedience, but of values.

One I have already mentioned is the ethical connection. People of different faiths and no faith agree that the insights of both the biological sciences and of theological reflection are needed if the human community is to grapple effectively with issues in human genetics and the human impact on the rest of the life on our planet. While these issues are not primary to the mission of NCSE, the scientific literacy we support and advocate is partnered in public debate with theological and philosophical literacy. While actively working for better science teaching, free of religious restraints, we must also respect those exchanges in which we "deal with our deepest differences".

Finally, NCSE has been effective because we connect, encourage, and provide resources to people at the grassroots – dealing with real threats to the teaching of evolution in their communities. We recognize that it takes whole communities to do this, with activists from education, science, citizen groups, and religious congregations working together. Yet many religious congregations that want to be partners in our cause have not done the dialog work at the local level that can help them to argue for sound science teaching from a faith perspective. We cannot do that work for them, but we can point them toward resources that can help if, and only if, we are involved and informed about what is happening nationally and internationally in the conversation between religion and science.