Reports of the NCSE

Reports of the National Center for Science Education, or RNCSE, is published six times per year, on occasion as a special double issue. RNCSE's editor is Stephanie Keep.

Starting with volume 31, number 1, in 2011, the contents of RNCSE are freely available online at reports.ncse.com.

Selected articles from RNCSE volume 17, published in 1997, to volume 30, published in 2010, are available here. Browse RNCSE via the links below or in the box to the left.

Volume 30 (2010)

RNCSE 30 (1-2)
RNCSE 30 (1-2)

RNCSE 30 (3)
RNCSE 30 (3)
RNCSE 30 (4)
RNCSE 30 (4)

RNCSE 30 (5): CoverRNCSE 30 (5) RNCSE 30 (6)RNCSE 30 (6)

RNCSE 30 (1-2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2010
Date: 
January–April
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 30 (1–2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2010
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio,Washington, the nation, and abroad — Australia, Italy, and the UK.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. Celebrating the Origin Sesquicentennial
    How NCSE members marked the 150th.

SPECIAL SECTION

  1. Responding to Ray: How NCSE Dealt With the Creationist Giveaway of Origin
    Steven Newton
    NCSE responded with dontdissdarwin.com and guidance for student groups.
  2. True Darwin, but False Comfort
    Eugenie C Scott
    NCSE's executive director's original comments in the US News & World Report blog.
  3. There You Go Again!
    Eugenie C Scott
    NCSE's executive director responds to Comfort.
  4. Stealing Down the Road to Perdition
    Brian Regal
    Some of the material in Comfort's introduction seemed awfully familiar to this author.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Grand Old Man of Fundamentalism
    Randy Moore
    William Bell Riley shaped and influenced antievolutionary action (and legislation) for decades.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Bountiful Books
    Here is a selection of books for an overview of evolution and related issues.
  2. Meet the Mammals!
    These books focus on the evolution and diversity of those warm and fuzzy critters — mammals.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Owen's Ape and Darwin's Bulldog by Christopher E Cosans.
    Reviewed by Ron Amundson
  2. Evolution: A Historical Perspective by Bryson Brown.
    Reviewed by Tim Berra
  3. The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson
    Reviewed by Léo F LaPorte
  4. Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America by Barry Werth.
    Reviewed by Jeffrey P Moran
  5. The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle Over Evolutionary Thought by Robert J Richards
    Reviewed by Lennart Olsson
  6. Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life edited by Warren D Allmon, Patricia H Kelley, and Robert M Ross
    Reviewed by Kevin Padian
  7. Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design by Peter J Bowler.
    Reviewed by George E Webb
  8. Evolution: A Little History of a Great Idea by Gerard Cheshire.
    Reviewed by Mark Terry
  9. Charles Darwin:The Concise History of an Extraordinary Man by Tim M Berra.
    Reviewed by Charles F Urbanowicz
  10. Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Question to Catalog Life, From Nanobacteria to New Monkeys by Rob Dunn
    Reviewed by Mark Isaak
  11. In the Light of Evolution, Vol 1: Adaptation and Complex Design edited by John C Avise and Francisco J Ayala
    Reviewed by Armin P Moczek
  12. Creatures of Accident: The Rise of the Animal Kingdom by Wallace Arthur.
    Reviewed by Christopher Nedin
  13. The Timetree of Life edited by S Blair Hedges and Sudhir Kumar
    Reviewed by Kevin Padian
  14. Natural Selections: Selfish Altruists, Honest Liars, and Other Realities of Evolution by David P Barash
    Reviewed by J Michael Plavcan
  15. Darwin's Legacy: Scenarios in Human Evolution by Sue Taylor Parker and Karin Enstam Jaffe.
    Reviewed by John H Relethford
  16. But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/ Evolution Controversy edited by Robert T Pennock and Michael Ruse.
    Reviewed by David B Resnick
  17. Evolution: The First Four Billion Years edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis.
    Reviewed by Stanley A Rice
  18. Intelligent Design: William A Dembski & Michael Ruse in Dialogue edited by Robert B Stewart.
    Reviewed by Evan B Hazard
  19. The Evolution Controversy: A Survey of Competing Theories by Thomas B Fowler and Daniel Kuebler.
    Reviewed by Jim Hoffman
  20. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H Walton.
    Reviewed by James F McGrath
  21. For the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design edited by Jill Schneiderman and Warren D Allmon
    Reviewed by Mark A Wilson
  22. Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism edited by Andrew J Petto and Laurie R Godfrey.
    Reviewed by Joel Cracraft
  23. Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith by Daniel M Harrell.
    Reviewed by Robert Cornwall
  24. Darwin and God by Nick Spencer.
    Reviewed by John F Haught
  25. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion edited by Ronald L Numbers.
    Reviewed by Richard G Olson
  26. Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science by Robert Park.
    Reviewed by Adrian L Melott
  27. The Religion and Science Debate:Why Does It Continue? edited by Harold W Attridge.
    Reviewed by David A Rintoul
  28. Evolution and the Big Questions: Sex, Race, Religion, and Other Matters by David N Stamos.
    Reviewed by David Livingstone Smith
  29. Evolution and Religion: A Dialogue by Michael Ruse
    Reviewed by David N Stamos

True Darwin, but False Comfort

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
True Darwin, but False Comfort
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2010
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
16–17
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Ray Comfort and I agree that "science is a wonderful discipline, to which we are deeply indebted." We agree that it would be nice for students to get a free copy of Darwin's best-known book, On the Origin of Species. I'll even go further than he might: The Origin — like Shakespeare and the Bible — should be on every educated person's bookshelf. If you do not understand evolution, you cannot be considered scientifically literate. And we agree that students should read the Origin thoroughly.

Unfortunately, thoroughly reading the version that Comfort will be distributing on college campuses in November will be difficult. The copy his publisher sent me is missing no fewer than four crucial chapters, as well as Darwin's introduction. Two of the omitted chapters, chapters 11 and 12, showcase biogeography, some of Darwin's strongest evidence for evolution. Which is a better explanation for the distribution of plants and animals around the planet: common ancestry or special creation? Which better explains why island species are more similar to species on the mainland closest to them, rather than to more distant species that share a similar environment? The answer clearly is common ancestry. Today, scientists continue to develop the science of biogeography, confirming, refining, and extending Darwin's conclusions.

Likewise missing from Comfort's bowdlerized version of the Origin is chapter 13, where Darwin explained how evolution makes sense of classification, morphology, and embryology. To take a simple example, why do all land vertebrates (amphibians, mammals, and reptiles and birds) have four limbs? Not because four limbs are necessarily a superior design for land locomotion: insects have six, arachnids have eight, and millipedes have, well, lots. It is because all land vertebrates descended with modification from a four-legged ("tetrapod") ancestor. Since Darwin's era, scientists have repeatedly confirmed that the more recently two species have shared a common ancestor, the more similar are their anatomy, their biochemistry, their embryology, and their genetics.

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," as a famous geneticist said. That is why evolution is taught matter-of-factly in the biology and geology departments of every respected university in the country, secular or sectarian, from Berkeley to Brigham Young. That is why the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science wholeheartedly endorse the teaching of evolution in the public schools. That's why thousands of papers applying, extending, or refining evolution are published in the scientific research literature every year.

But there is no reason for students to refuse Comfort's free — albeit suspiciously abridged — copy of the Origin. Read the first eight pages of the introduction, which is a reasonably accurate, if derivative, sketch of Darwin's life. The last ten pages or so are devoted to some rather heavy-handed evangelism, which doesn't really have anything to do with the history or content of the evolutionary sciences; read it or not as you please. But do not waste your time with the middle section of the introduction, a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments, teeming with misinformation about the science of evolution, populated by legions of strawmen, and exhibiting what can be charitably described as muddled thinking.

For example, Comfort's treatment of the human fossil record is painfully superficial, out of date, and erroneous. Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man — one a forgery, the other a misidentification, and both rejected by science more than 50 years ago — are trotted out for scorn, as if they somehow negate the remaining huge volume of human fossils. There are more specimens of "Ardi" (the newly described Ardipithecus ramidus) than there are of Tyrannosaurus — and any eight-year-old aspiring paleontologist will be delighted to tell you how much we know about the T rex!

But you would not learn any of this from reading Comfort's introduction. He says, "Java Man [a Homo erectus], found in the early 20th century, was nothing more than a piece of skull, a fragment of a thigh bone, and three molar teeth." Well, that was from a single site — excavated in the 1890s. What about the dozens of other sites where fossils of H erectus are found, from China to Kenya to the Republic of Georgia? Another whopper: "Java Man is now regarded as fully human." Trust me, if one sat down next to you on the bus, you would know the difference.

In fact, the fossil record for the human lineage is impressive, providing the evidence on which our understanding of the big events of human evolution is based. We and modern chimpanzees shared a common ancestor millions of years ago; the main feature separating us from our chimpanzee cousins is bipedalism, followed by toolmaking, and then brain expansion, and then the substantial elaboration of behavior we call human culture. More fossils will provide more details, but this outline of human evolution is not in serious doubt among scientists.

It is not just human evolution that Comfort misrepresents. His main gripe is the old creationist standby, the supposed lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. (Darwin addressed the objection in chapter 9 of the Origin, interestingly one of the chapters not included in Comfort's version.) Comfort sneers at the fossil evidence for the terrestrial ancestry of whales and the dinosaurian ancestry of birds. Too bad for him that he has a knack for picking bad examples: There are splendid fossils of dinosaurs that have feathers and of whales that have legs — and even feet. Faced with ignorance like this, I am reminded of a jeremiad: "Oh foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not."

But if you are willing to use your ears to listen to what paleontologists say about transitional features and use your eyes to look at the evidence described in the scientific literature (as well as displayed in many museums and science centers around the country), you will find transitional fossils galore. There are clear transitional series from aquatic vertebrates to land vertebrates, from primitive land vertebrates to mammals, from dinosaurs to birds, from land vertebrates to whales, and of course a wonderful series of fossils leading to Homo sapiens. A good place to begin is a marvelous website dismissively mentioned (and erroneously described) in Comfort's introduction, the University of California Museum of Paleontology's Understanding Evolution (http://www.evolution.berkeley.edu).

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, both occasions worth celebrating by anyone who cares about our understanding of the natural world. So it is no surprise that creationists are trying to piggyback on the festivities with cynical publicity stunts like Comfort's. But I have faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas.

[Originally posted under the title "How creationist 'Origin' distorts Darwin" at US News & World Report's God and Country blog on October 30, 2009, and republished by permission]

About the Author(s): 

Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
scott@ncse.com

Eugenie C Scott is the executive director of NCSE.

There You Go Again!

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
There You Go Again!
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2010
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
18–19
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

I am delighted that Ray Comfort has decided to provide a near-unabridged version in his next giveaway of On the Origin of Species. It is still missing a crucial diagram from chapter 4 as well as the epigraphs from Bacon and Whewell, which Darwin chose with care, but it is more complete than the first version, which was also missing four chapters and Darwin's original introduction.

In his response to my post (available on-line at http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-andcountry/2009/11/2/ray-comfortresponds-to-genie-scott-oncreationist-origin-of-species.html), Comfort strangely failed to explain why he expurgated that material from the first version. Elsewhere he wrote that it was "abridged because it was too many pages (too expensive) for a giveaway." But now he is going to try to give away even more copies of this more complete version? I am glad that I am not his accountant.

Anyhow, now I am even more enthusiastic about encouraging students to accept a free copy of Darwin's valuable book. But I stick by my advice: Students who are interested in learning about science can skip Comfort's introduction, which, despite a few cosmetic revisions, remains a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments.

Consider Comfort's view on the evolution of sex: "No one even goes near explaining how and why each species managed to reproduce (during the millions of years the female was supposedly evolving to maturity) without the right reproductive machinery." Of course not. That is because no biologist thinks males and females evolved separately!

Birds do it; bees do it; even educated fleas do it: but so do the majority of plants and even certain single-celled organisms. But they do it in radically different ways. A male bee has no father and cannot have sons, for example,while there are animals, even vertebrates — bonnethead sharks and Komodo dragons — in which virgin birth occurs. So it is not just for the obvious reason that sex is a fun topic for biologists.

The myriad ways in which organisms reproduce, sexually and asexually, have fascinated biologists for decades and have been examined, in a thoroughly evolutionary context, since Charles Darwin and August Weismann. But none of them has thought that lonely males waited patiently for millions of years for the first females. And anyone who, like Comfort, tells you otherwise is ignorant — or worse.

Comfort complains that I did not provide enough detail in my brief essay about those fossil whales. You want a list of fossil whales showing the transitional features marking the evolutionary transition from land animal to marine,such as changes in the ears, nostrils, and limbs? Indohyus, Icthyolestes, Pakicetus, Nalacetus, Remingtonocetus, Ambulocetus ... Never mind. Start with "From land to water: The origin of whales, dolphins, and porpoises" (Evolution: Education and Outreach 2009; 2 [2]: 272–88, available on-line at http://www.springerlink.com/content/whn1654v74t64301/fulltext.pdf), for a nontechnical review by a team of whale paleontologists.

Comfort trots out the old creationist warhorse that because scientists revise their theories in the light of new information, science is untrustworthy. Far from it. The ability to revise explanations in the light of new information is a strength of science, not a weakness. It is why we have learned so much about the natural world over the last few hundred years and why we have longer life spans,more reliable food supplies, fewer women dying in childbirth, and many other advantages of modern life.

Because science is a practical endeavor,when a theory is revised, the change is usually to the periphery rather than to the core. For example, the early fossil Ardipithecus ("Ardi") changed our understanding of the details of human evolution, but it did not cause us to reject the common ancestry of humans and chimps. The common ancestor of two descendant species is not expected to be identical to either of them. With Ardipithecus and other fossils, we are closer to knowing what that common ancestor of humans and chimps looked like.

Darwin himself knew that scientists need to change their minds when presented with new evidence. When he mentioned his "cold shudder," he was not — as Comfort misleadingly suggests — expressing serious doubts about his research. Rather, he was praising his friend the great geologist Charles Lyell for his eventual acceptance of evolution:

I rejoice profoundly that you intend admitting the doctrine ' of modification in your new edition; nothing, I am convinced, could be more important for its success. I honour you most sincerely. To have maintained in the position of a master, one side of a question for thirty years, and then deliberately give it up, is a fact to which I much doubt whether the records of science offer a parallel. For myself, also, I rejoice profoundly; for, thinking of so many cases of men pursuing an illusion for years and often a cold shudder has run through me,and I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy. Now I look at it as morally impossible that investigators of truth, like you and [Joseph] Hooker, can be wholly wrong, and therefore I rest in peace.

Whenever a creationist quotes Darwin, check for yourself to see if the original context reflects the creationist's claim. It is easy to do so at The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk).

I close with another quote. Todd C Wood is a young-earth creationist — indeed, the Director of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College, founded in honor of the creationist hero William Jennings Bryan — who rejects evolution for biblical reasons, just like Comfort. Wood insists, "The Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution."

But unlike Comfort, Wood is a trained scientist. And as such, he recognizes that the scientific basis of evolution is strong:

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution ... as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well. (http://toddcwood.blogspot.com/2009/09/truth-about-evolution.html, emphasis in original)

Anyone who honestly examines the data supporting evolution — even a young-earth creationist — concludes that the science is strong. If you reject evolution, you are doing it for religious reasons. You're entitled to your religious opinions — but not to your own scientific facts.

[Originally posted under the title "Scientist Genie Scott's last word to creationist Ray Comfort: There you go again" at US News & World Report's God and Country blog on November 3, 2009, and republished by permission.]

About the Author(s): 

Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
scott@ncse.com

Eugenie C Scott is the executive director of NCSE.

Stealing Down the Road to Perdition

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Stealing Down the Road to Perdition
Author(s): 
Brian Regal
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2010
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
19–20
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In grammar school the nuns made a point of telling us that stealing constituted a terrible sin. Taking what belonged to others and claiming it belonged to you was distinctly frowned upon, would upset Jesus, would get you smacked with a ruler, and could start you down the road to Hell. I learned these lessons in the context of a religious tradition that Comfort would deny has any validity; and yet his "true" religious tradition did not seem to deter him from this unethical — some might say sinful — behavior.

As an historian of science whose work focuses on the history of evolutionary thought and its influences on popular culture, religion, and politics, I read Comfort's introduction to Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species on-line last spring. I had reviewed Comfort's preposterously silly board game Intelligent Design versus Evolution for the British magazine Endeavour the summer before, so I looked forward to more whacky hijinks. As I read I could not help but get a sense of déjà vu and the feeling that the writing was a bit too good. Making my way further into the text, I encountered the type of ham-handed and clumsy syntax, pseudo-literary flourishes, convoluted logic, and superficial attempts at sounding intelligent more in line with what I expected. While most of it was drivel, the beginning of Comfort's text sounded suspiciously like the introduction for the Barnes & Noble edition of The Autobiography of Charles Darwin that I wrote in 2005. Other duties occupied my time so I could not go through it carefully. It was the end of the semester and I was preparing to go to the United Kingdom for a round of conferences as well as the big Darwinopalooza at Cambridge, so I put Comfort aside, planning on returning to him when I wasn't doing something more important like staring at the ceiling. Throughout the summer, however, I began receiving e-mails from eagleeyed readers who also noticed that I had been plagiarized. Others pointed out that Stan Guffey of the University of Tennessee as well as the Darwin Foundation had their work pilfered and insulted too. And now Comfort and his pal in blinkered intellectual vandalism and strange views on fruit, Kirk Cameron, planned on giving away free copies of this thing.

While the plagiarism is telling, what is more so, I think, is the sources Comfort choose to steal from. Along with so many other things, Comfort's introduction shows simple laziness in that he went on-line and grabbed the first few easy sites he found for his sources. He engaged in the same kind of research tactics common among eighth-graders, but for which I would fail one of my university students. Guffey's short biography of Darwin and my own piece for the Autobiography are, with all due respect, not exactly deeply analytic or penetrating scholarly works. They are meant for audiences new to the material, which has been digested and simplified. Had Comfort been serious in his intent to engage in a discourse on the impact of Darwin's work he should have stolen from Adrian Desmond and James Moore's Darwin's Sacred Cause, or Peter Bowler's The Eclipse of Darwinism, John Van Whye, or a host of other world-class Darwin scholars rather than from me. He could have stolen bits from my Human Evolution: A Guide to the Debates; if nothing else I'd get some royalties. Had he done a little actual research and thoughtful reading, he would have seen that there is a vast literature tackling tough questions on Darwin's life and work as well as the role played by science in Nazi ideology. This in turn would have shown Comfort that far from Darwin, the work that most profoundly inspired Hitler came from eugenicists, political conservatives, and Christian fundamentalists, none of whom accepted Darwin's actual writings. He would have seen that Hitler's belief that he was divinely anointed and that God had destined the German people and the Nazi party for greatness made his vision of the world far closer to today's "intelligent design" theory than natural selection. Comfort could at least have corrected the misspelling of Alfred Russel Wallace's name. (I am also waiting for Ray Comfort or Kirk Cameron or any of their ilk to explain why if evolution causes so much death and destruction, the most violent and hate-filled groups in America, like the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and religious cults, all reject evolution and claim to embrace Christ and why a guy has never walked into a restaurant and shot up the place, saying Darwin made him do it? They always blame it on Jesus.) But that level of subtle analysis is beyond Comfort's abilities. Besides we wouldn't want him to behave like one of those socalled scholars he and others like him detest: the ones who "professing themselves to be wise become fools." So he went for the kid's versions instead of the ones for grownups with all the big words and the complex ideas.

Even without the plagiarism, Ray Comfort's work shows an astonishing lack of knowledge of basic history or science, his attitude toward other religions is intolerant, and his sophomoric pontificating never rises above the level of a bumper sticker. He thus insults genuinely religious people as well as those he loves to call atheists: which is anyone who doesn't believe exactly as he does. He seems confused by the "intelligent design" theory he embraces so warmly, failing to see how it undermines the young-earth creationism his followers take as a rigid core belief. His now legendary discourse on banana morphology and his references to child murder in the Origin's introduction are creepy and humorous for all the wrong reasons. His fast-talking flim-flam sounds more like that of a used car salesman than someone who speaks for the Lord.

Like all demagogues, Comfort uses self-conscious underdog rhetoric designed to elicit donations from followers and denunciations from opponents which he uses to generate more donations (although I wonder how anyone can be on God's team and still be an underdog). This formula ensures that Comfort will continue his antics, get rich, and gather followers. He delights in explicating the horrors that await sinners, exhorts them to atone for their sins, and claims to know what God wants and does it with the giddy selfassuredness of the self-righteous. Ironically, as an added bonus he includes a little flying rubber band toy with the signed copies of the Origin he has given out. On it are printed the questions "Have you kept His Command-ments? Ever lied? Stolen?"

REGAL AND COMFORT

The following quotations are from Brian Regal's introduction to The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005) and from Ray Comfort's "special introduction" to his edition of On the Origin of Species (Alachua [FL]: Bridge Logos Foundation, 2009).

Regal

Comfort

Darwin's father and grandfather were both doctors; his mother belonged to the Wedgwood family of pottery fame. His father and grandfather were both doctors, and his mother was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, of pottery fame.
Darwin's parents expected him to go into medicine, and although he entered Edinburgh University to pursue a medical degree, for various reasons, including squeamishness, he left without graduating. Darwin's father expected him to go into medicine, and although he entered Edinburgh University to pursue a medical degree, he found he couldn't stand the sight of blood and left after two years.
As a clergyman, he would have the free time to follow his real intellectual love: natural history. As a clergyman, he would have the free time to follow his real intellectual love: natural history.
Darwin was a passionate student of nature, and while still in school he had amassed a considerable beetle collection as well as other specimens. Darwin was a passionate student of nature, and while in school he amassed a considerable beetle collection as well as other specimens.

There are two important issues in investigating plagiarism. One is whether phrases or sentences are simply copied without attribution from one source to another. This is the case in the boldface text in the table above.

The second has to do with how the reference material is used. It is considered plagiarism if an author uses the original sentence structure from the reference, merely substituting synonyms or near-synonyms: for example, the change from "parents" to "father" in the second quotation above would not exonerate Comfort from the charge of plagiarism.

Using phrases or expressions that are unique to the original author is also considered plagiarism. In this example, phrases such as "of pottery fame", and "to pursue a medical degree" would satisfy the criteria for plagiarism.

An extended discussion of plagiarism with examples of appropriate and inappropriate usage can be found at http://www.usp.edu/writing/plagrsm.shtml.

About the Author(s): 

Brian Regal
Department of History
Kean University
Union NJ 07083
bregal@kean.edu

Brian Regal is Assistant Professor for the History of Science at Kean University. His latest book is Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara [CA]: Greenwood Press, 2009).

Review: The Young Charles Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
27–28
Reviewer: 
Léo F Laporte
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Young Charles Darwin
Author(s): 
Keith Thomson
New Haven (CT): Yale University Press, 2009. 276 pages

Using Darwin's Autobiography (written in old age), his notebooks (both those written during the five-year Beagle voyage and those kept during the post-voyage decade), his voluminous correspondence, family reminiscences, his and other students' course notes, and the secondary literature created by the Darwin industry, biologist and science historian Keith Thomson carefully and economically dispels the apparent paradox of "an ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect" becoming the young genius in his thirties formulating the outlines of his revolutionary theory.

Thomson traces this intellectual trajectory in a thoughtful way, using all the documented evidence and, by delving within it, making his own compelling inferences about its interpretation. For example, in the Autobiography Darwin portrays Edinburgh professor Robert Jameson's lectures on geology and zoology as "incredibly dull," discouraging him from ever reading a book on geology or studying the science in any way. Yet, in a chapter devoted to Jameson, Thomson shows how, on the contrary, Darwin benefited greatly from this polymath, who was "intense and brilliant … a collector of specimens and information." Thomson emphasizes that Darwin "attended Jameson's lectures regularly and … compulsory sessions in [his] museum" of natural history." Darwin, who in his own words "was prepared for a philosophical treatment of the subject," was also introduced to the debates on the origin of the great classes of rocks: whether all primordially water laid (as the "Neptunists" held) or included significant amounts of lava periodically generated by the earth's internal heat (as the "Vulcanists" held). Jameson is reported even to finish up "with lectures on the origins of the species of Animals." Was Darwin perhaps a victim of the common disability of hazy recall in old age, or was Darwin, as Thomson suggests, distancing himself from Jameson to claim his future successes in geology and zoology as his own?

Thomson gives a full account of the role of other Darwin mentors when he was later at Cambridge including John Stevens Henslow (botanist and mineralogist) and Adam Sedgwick (geologist), both of whom found Darwin enough of an engaging young man to include him in their own natural history undertakings: with Henslow, collecting beetles in the local fens, and with Sedgwick, geologizing in north Wales. Because both were Anglican clergymen, they also served as role models for the vocation Darwin was preparing for, however desultorily.

It's often said that "evolution was in the air," and Thomson describes well the pro-and-con positions on Lamarckianism, William Paley's influence on Darwin's appreciation of fine-tuned adaptations, Georges Cuvier's views on animal extinction, and other similar debates. At the same time, Darwin was reading widely out of curiosity and for his final college examinations: including Hume and Locke, Homer and Virgil, Euclid and geometry, and Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences.

Thomson thus makes a strong case that Darwin was a serious student with deep intellectual interests and that owing to his likeable personality he was able to befriend a broad range of men — usually older and more experienced — from whom he gained, like a composite protégé, a sound scientific education that would form the context for his own later scientific efforts. Darwin himself remarked in his Autobiography that "there must have been something in me a little superior to the common run of youths, otherwise [these] men, so much older and higher in academical position, would never have allowed me to associate with them."

Thomson argues that Darwin's selection as the Beagle's naturalist was therefore justified scientifically, and not just because Darwin was suitable as a "gentleman companion" for Captain FitzRoy. Henslow told Darwin that while he was not "a finished naturalist," nevertheless he was "amply qualified for collecting, observing, & noting anything worthy to be noted in Natural History." Thomson indicates how throughout the five-year voyage, Darwin continued to keep in touch with the current science from the publications he solicited from his family (especially volumes 2 and 3 of the geologist Charles Lyell) and from the advice of Henslow, his Cambridge mentor.

Thomson describes how "[as] the voyage unfolded, Darwin would encounter situation after situation that challenged or changed his world view, both in terms of science and of human affairs." The voyage can thus be likened to Darwin's "graduate education," where he started out as a somewhat green ingénue and ended as a fully fledged competent scientist. Thomson points out that Darwin, soon referred to by the crew as "Philos," had the necessary social skills, too, to win over the captain and other officers who willingly cooperated in his onboard and offshore science. Only after the voyage, when FitzRoy's religious persuasion turned fundamentalist, was there a falling out between the two men.

Upon his return to England from the voyage, Darwin was received by his colleagues as a firmly established member of their scientific circle. This reception was made possible by the flood of specimens — animal, vegetable, and mineral — Darwin sent back to England as well as Henslow's sharing (in some cases through publication) of many of his letters with their colleagues. Darwin had full entrée to this exciting, sometimes contentious, world of natural history research and debate.

Before long, after being overwhelmed by all this attention and marrying his cousin Emma Wedgwood, Darwin retreated to the country in Downe, Kent, where he spent the rest of his life in semi-isolation, surrounded by an ever enlarging family. But, of course, he didn't in any sense retire. On the contrary, through the half-dozen years in London and the next few years at Down House, Darwin wrestled with the "species question" that had been stimulated by his time at Edinburgh and Cambridge and became more pressing from his voyage experiences. Using the extensive notebooks that Darwin kept during this period, from 1836 t0 1844, Thomson traces the irregular path Darwin followed in eventually developing the outlines of his theory of organic change. He comments that "reading the notebooks shows the vast range of intellectual debts that Darwin owed to others as he developed his theory — a useful counterpoint to the impressions he gives in the Autobiography."

In summary, in this well-written and interesting book, Thomson works out and demonstrates in detail the education of Charles Darwin. He removes that apparent discrepancy between the "ordinary boy" and the man buried in Westminster Abbey nearby that other English genius, Isaac Newton.

About the Author(s): 
Léo F Laporte
430 Nimitz Avenue
Redwood City CA 94061

Léo F Laporte is Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of George Gaylord Simpson: Paleontologist and Evolutionist (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

Review: Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
30, 35
Reviewer: 
Kevin Padian
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life
Author(s): 
Edited by Warren D Allmon, Patricia H Kelley, and Robert M Ross
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 416 pages.

At scientific meetings, Steve Gould was usually as mobbed as he was at his public lectures. Everyone had something to discuss with him — a point, a quibble, an idea, a request for help. Whenever we spoke, usually after the throng had dispersed, we would talk about Darwin, dinosaurs, Owen, punctuation, homology, species, and adaptation. But first, we would talk about baseball. As diehard American League fans, we had the endless vicissitudes of pitching, hitting, strategies, and injuries to rehash. Steve was a very public person, and his observers have often been puzzled by his fascination with baseball — as with cathedrals, choral music, and antiquarian books. But the answer is obvious, really, encapsulated in the T-shirt motto: "Baseball is Life." The players have different ecological roles, for which they are selected, but few players are good at everything. There are constraints of the rules of the game, contingencies of the consequences of a fielding error or an unintentional fat pitch hit for a homer. The dynamics change with every hesitation before the next ball is thrown; and just when you think nothing is happening, that's often when the most is happening.

Structure, contingency, and history were three major evolutionary themes that also resonated in Steve's non-scientific preoccupations. None of the authors in this tremendously informative and accessible volume talks much about baseball or Steve's other passions, though. That's interesting, because he saw much of evolution — although in strictly analogical terms — through the lenses of his favorite pursuits. But the essays in this indispensable book are less about style than substance, and they comprise a collection of lasting value for any evolutionist.

Do the authors, many of whom are Gould's former students, come to praise him or to appraise him? The latter, although it is difficult not to celebrate the man who was not only the most publicly visible and influential paleontologist of the last half of the 20th century, but also the most publicly visible and influential evolutionary biologist. The only scientist who even came close was Henry Fairfield Osborn, who died in 1936 but used the American Museum of Natural History and a slew of books and articles to keep interest focused on the history of life (Rainger 1991, Regal 2002). Osborn's notions about evolutionary progress, vitalism, and teleology are long dustbinned. Will Gould's ideas about punctuated equilibria, species selection, exaptation, and the hierarchy of evolutionary levels meet the same fate?

The authors of this collection don't think so, on balance, although they are clear-eyed about the reception of Gould's ideas in various corners of the field of evolution. The perspectives of a cadre of leaders in paleobiology, all of whom grew up hearing Gould's ideas straight from the source, trying to test and elaborate upon them, are invaluable as an historical record of one of the most original evolutionary theorists of the century. Yes, Gould had his quirks, his inadequacies, and his blind spots, like any scientist. But how many scientists would merit this kind of theoretical analysis?

At the heart of most assessments of Gould's work is punctuated equilibria, which he originated with Niles Eldredge. Several authors (Allmon, Geary, Kitcher, Lieberman) discuss it with great insight. In particular, they note that the critical issues of PE are whether stasis in evolutionary lineages is predominant, and what causes morphological stasis. These are not only central to PE but to all of evolutionary biology. If stasis really is predominant in evolutionary lineages, then most of what we have been taught about population genetic models of tempo and mode, and the tracking of small-scale environmental change by selection, might just be wrong — or at least due for a revision, as Gould suggested in 1980 and explored at length in The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002).

The authors in this compilation seem to accept Gould (and Eldredge's) contention that PE is a hypothesis about the deployment of speciation through time. But is it? All that the fossil record shows is morphology; speciation has to be inferred. That would be easy if one lineage clearly divided into two through time, but does it usually? In the classic formulations of PE, including coordinated stasis (Brett and Baird 1995) of many lineages simultaneously, no clear splitting is found. Rather, in classic PE form, one rather stable, vacillating lineage swiftly gives way to another. Is this speciation (cladogenesis) or simply rapid anagenesis? If the former, then competitive replacement of one lineage by another must be geologically instantaneous. In either case, how will diversity increase, as it clearly has through the Phanerozoic Era?

There are many perceptive and useful essays in this collection, and anyone interested in the development of 20th-century evolutionary thought will be fascinated by their insights. They explore the implications of Gould's theories for mass extinction (Kendrick), systematics (Yacobucci), creationism and evolution (Kelley), and ecology (Allmon and others, with the conclusion that Gould never cared about it anyway), among other subjects. Dick Bambach contributes a very useful historical chronology of Gould's ideas, which has the effect of limning clearly the various phases in his intellectual development. Philip Kitcher provides a fascinating and well argued essay on the logic of Gould's major ideas. Lewontin and Levins explore Gould's status as a "radical," by which they mean one who returns to the roots of the field (missing only his "radical" emphasis on original historical literature to dispel the myths of evolutionary history). And Warren Allmon contributes both a sweeping perspective of Gould's contributions to the field and an exhaustive (can it be complete?) bibliography of Gould's work (it runs to 44 pages). The elegant final essay by Robert Dorit, on how the promise of evolutionary developmental genetics has (and hasn't) borne out Gould's perennial theme of the importance of ontogeny to evolution, is a masterpiece not only of content but of writing.

The only thing really missing from this book, apart from assessments by Niles Eldredge, Elisabeth Vrba, David Raup, and other close co-authors of Gould, is an appraisal of his debates with the principal critics of his later years, such as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and John Maynard Smith. There will be other essays, tribute volumes, and biographies that assess Gould's work historiographically and scientifically, but as a survey of Gould's contributions to the field, this volume is an instructive and indispensable beginning.

References

Brett CE, Baird GC. 1995. Coordinated stasis and evolutionary ecology of Silurian to Middle Devonian faunas in the Appalachian Basin. In: Erwin EH, Anstey RL, editors. New Approaches to Speciation in the Fossil Record. New York: Columbia University Press, New York. p 285–315.

Gould SJ. 2002. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge (MA): Belknap Press.

Rainger R. 1991. An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890–1935. Tuscaloosa (AL): University of Alabama Press.

Regal B. 2002. Henry Fairfield Osborn: Race and the Search for the Origins of Man. Aldershot (UK):Ashgate.

About the Author(s): 

Kevin Padian
Department of Integrative Biology
Museum of Paleontology
University of California
Berkeley CA 94720-3140

Kevin Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley; Curator of Paleontology at the University of California Museum of Paleontology; and president of NCSE's board of directors.

Review: Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
35–36
Reviewer: 
George E Webb
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design
Author(s): 
Peter J Bowler
Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2007. 256 pages.

For nearly forty years, Peter J Bowler has been contributing significantly to our understanding of the development of evolutionary thought. His published works have included such studies as the elegant survey Evolution: The History of an Idea (originally published in 1983 and now in its third edition), Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence (1990), and the insightful The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the Decades around 1900 (1983), the last of which fundamentally changed the way historians looked at the "Darwinian Revolution". His latest effort to provide a more complete understanding of the evolution controversy will not disappoint those who have come to expect well-written and thought-provoking books from this author.

As has been the case with Bowler's earlier contributions, the current volume is primarily concerned with correcting some of the mythological aspects of the evolution controversy. In this case, he attempts to break down the long-held view of two diametrically opposed perspectives on the evolution debate, one defined as "science" and the other defined as "religion". This polarity has been a commonly accepted one for decades, as currently witnessed by the anti-evolutionism practiced by evangelicals and the evolutionism preached by avowed atheists such as Richard Dawkins. Bowler's great contribution in the current volume is to show that this dichotomy is largely an artificial one and that, in fact, these two perspectives represent merely the two extremes of the long-standing discussion. There is a vast center in this debate, populated by figures who are neither evangelical nor atheist.

Bowler focuses on the "liberal" religious perspective of the late 19th and early 20th century, which in fact represented mainstream religious thought of the time. This perspective largely accepted evolutionary ideas because the concept of "progress" underlay their theological view. The acceptance of organic change paralleled the liberals' progressive mindset, but the Darwinian emphasis on random variation posed a significant problem. Without a directed goal, evolution could not be perceived as God's way of doing things. Fortunately for the liberal perspective, evolutionary concepts of the period increasingly emphasized non-Darwinian explanations, the most successful of which was the neo-Lamarckian explanation that stressed the inheritance of acquired characteristics and the innate tendency of an organism to change. It required little imagination to define the source of that innate tendency in divine terms, thus preventing a theological clash with evolutionary concepts.

Bowler also points out, however, that the liberals' focus on evolution as progress led to a significant change in their theological perspective as well. Religion was no longer defined in terms of the innate evil in humanity (the concept of "original sin") that required salvation through Christ's sacrifice. Now, human progress was the key to religion. Intriguingly, evangelical opponents of evolution (especially Darwinism) saw this new view of sin and redemption as a danger from the beginning. If the new system focusing on progress were accepted, they asked, where would the concept of original sin and the need for salvation fit?

By the early 1920s, mainstream churches had largely accepted a new perspective known as modernism. The modernists maintained the liberals' progressivist perspective and also wanted religion to be more in tune with modern science, continuing their predecessors' acceptance of evolutionary concepts and reinforcing the idea that certain theological concepts (for example, original sin) would have to be modified. The modernist perspective was dramatically shown by a series of sermons given in Westminster Abbey by future bishop Ernest William Barnes, soon described by the press as "gorilla sermons". Barnes argued that religionists must accept modern science, including the ape ancestry of humans and the idea that God operated through law, not miracles. He specifically noted that the concept of original sin must be rejected and that Christ was a great teacher who showed humanity what it could become. The rejection of modernism by American fundamentalists is well documented and is rightly viewed as central to the famous Scopes trial. Here, too, Bowler provides additional insight, stressing that William Jennings Bryan and his colleagues might well have railed against Darwinism, but they were actually reacting against the non-Darwinian evolutionary concepts based on innate progress.

The carefully crafted and largely successful liberal view of evolution and faith collapsed in the 1940s, however, as the evolutionary concepts known as the Modern Synthesis re-established Darwinian random variation as the foundation for organic change. Without a guarantee of progress, the liberal perspective could no longer argue that evolution was merely God's way of doing things. As a result, biblical literalism increased during the post-World War II years, with young-earth creationism becoming the focal point of anti-evolutionism. The rest of the story is well known. That much of the current debate is still couched in terms of science versus religion is a result of a polarization that Bowler's work clearly shows is neither intellectually nor historically legitimate. Rejecting the extremism of anti-evolutionists and atheists, Bowler argues that a middle position that recognizes both scientific knowledge and the cultural importance of religion might remain the most profitable course of action.

Bowler's study does suggest a possible escape mechanism from the current clash between two divergent world views, but many of us probably question his optimism. In a troubling coincidence, the mail that brought my review copy of Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons also contained the fall 2008 issue of National Forum, the quarterly journal of the interdisciplinary honor society Phi Kappa Phi. The editor published four letters from readers in response to an earlier essay supporting the teaching of evolution in public school science classes. All four readers objected to the exclusive teaching of evolution in these classes, insisting that "intelligent design" or creationism be taught alongside evolution to foster the free exchange of ideas that marks true education. If this is the attitude of supposedly well educated individuals, Bowler's solution may not have much chance of success.

About the Author(s): 

George E Webb
Department of History
Tennessee Tech University
Cookeville TN 38505

George E Webb is a historian of science at Tennessee Tech University and the author of The Evolution Controversy in America (Lexington [KY]: University Press of Kentucky, 1994). He served as president of the Tennessee Academy of Science in 2007.

Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
52–53
Reviewer: 
James F McGrath
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate
Author(s): 
John H Walton
Downers Grove (IL): IVP Academic, 2009.

The Lost World of Genesis One is divided into a series of eighteen "propositions" plus an introduction, conclusion, and FAQ. The chapters are short, each focusing on a key point Walton wishes to make. Most provide ancient Near Eastern background material as well as recommendations for further reading. Walton emphasizes the importance of understanding ancient cultures and creation accounts if one wishes to understand the biblical creation narratives. It is not that ancient Israel's authors "borrowed from" or were "influenced by" ancient cultural currents.They inhabited an ancient cultural context and shared many points in common with other peoples and languages located in their vicinity in time and space. Even when certain differences are highlighted by such a comparison (for example, Israel's emphasis on one God alone as creator), in the process it also becomes clear that the "Israelites received no revelation to update or modify their 'scientific' understanding of the cosmos" (p 16).

According to Walton, statements in the Bible about the nature of the creation should be treated as part of the assumptions of the biblical author, not the teaching of Scripture. If one does not do so, one will find oneself not only arguing without good reason about the age of the earth or evolution, but also compelled to defend the existence of the dome that Genesis says was made to hold up the waters above, and into which the lights are placed (see p 56-8,94-5).For that is the literal, plain meaning of the Hebrew term used in Genesis 1:6-8, and Walton further emphasizes that no one ought to be discussing the literal meaning of the Bible based on reading it in English translation.The literal meaning can only be the meaning of the texts in the original languages.

Walton reinforces his point by highlighting another component of the biblical authors' worldview: their location of thought and emotion in organs where we cannot literally locate them, and in some cases would not even do so metaphorically (biblical references to "bowels" being a case in point). Such language was assumed to be literally, factually accurate among ancient peoples in this part of the world, and the biblical text does not reveal an alternative understanding of human physiology. Just as no one argues on the basis of the Bible that we think with our entrails, likewise there should be no attempt to defend the Bible's statements about material origins as an alternative to modern scientific understandings thereof (p 18-9).

Walton's most distinctive argument is that the days of Genesis 1 depict the organization of the cosmos so as to function, rather than focusing on its material origins.This argument is supported by both a careful analysis of key terms from Genesis 1, as well as comparison with other creation accounts from antiquity.Walton argues that Genesis 1 is better understood as a depiction of the inauguration of the cosmos to serve as God's temple. Against this background the idea of the deity resting in the completed temple becomes central, rather than the final day being something of an anticlimax as in most modern readings of the English text.Walton reiterates his point that "science cannot offer an unbiblical view of material origins, because there is no biblical view of material origins aside from the very general idea that whatever happened, whenever it happened, and however it happened, God did it"(p 113). Although the latter point has been made by others, few have made the case in such a detailed fashion in a way so well suited to an evangelical readership.

Many who subscribe to RNCSE will be troubled by Walton's noncommittal view of evolution, but this may in fact be a strength when one considers the intended primary audience of his book.Walton writes as professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, and he thus is approaching a question of biblical interpretation for the benefit of a conservative evangelical primary readership.What he has to say about the creation narrative in Genesis 1 is extremely valuable and highly relevant to those concerned about science education. For the main point of the book is that Genesis 1 is not intended to be an account of material origins, and so Christians should neither oppose nor promote science's best current understanding on the basis of Genesis. Nevertheless,Walton at times seems to place the ancient understanding of the cosmos on a par with the modern scientific understanding of the universe. While there is some truth in his statement that science is constantly revising its understanding in light of new evidence, it would seem that sufficient evidence has amassed and sufficient investigation occurred that it is more accurate to view science's understanding of the natural world as constantly improving rather than merely changing. And it would seem that there is no better that one can do, unless perhaps one is a researcher engaging in pioneering research in the natural sciences,than accept the consensus of the scientific community as it currently stands.Yet when one considers that Walton is making a case against an understanding of Genesis 1 often used to oppose quality science education, and that his intended audience has been indoctrinated with a bias against evolution, it is perhaps for the best that Walton does not connect his arguments about the Bible directly to questions of science. Walton makes a case about Genesis 1 as a biblical scholar,and does so in a way that undermines and challenges many arguments made about the Bible by proponents of pseudoscience. It remains for others to address matters of science in a manner appropriate to that same audience, for which Walton helpfully clears the ground.

About the Author(s): 

James F McGrath
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Butler University
4600 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis IN 46208

James F McGrath is Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University and the author of The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (Urbana [IL]: University of Illinois Press, 2009). He blogs at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com.

Review: For the Rock Record

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
53–54
Reviewer: 
Mark A Wilson
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
For the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design
Author(s): 
Edited by Jill S Schneiderman and Warren D Allmon
Berkeley (CA): University of California Press, 2009. 261 pages.

When the repackaged version of "scientific creationism" emerged in the 1990s as "intelligent design", it notably did not include physical geology in its central arguments about a grand designer. It was obvious to all that the entity supposedly responsible for all that irreducible complexity in life also created the entire physical universe, but the proponents of ID confined their arguments to biological issues and political "fairness" in public education. Geology, with the prominent exception of paleontology, was a source of conflict within the creationist camp and was thus virtually ignored to promote unity under this new banner of anti-evolutionism.

I saw this geologically-induced tension in 2002 after the godfather of ID, Phillip E Johnson, gave a rousing speech in Cleveland presenting his usual case for a "reasonable" science. During the question session, one of my students asked about his views on the age of the earth: Is it 6000 years old, 4.6 billion years old, or somewhere in the middle? In a sudden flash of anger, the normally avuncular Johnson denounced the question as "irrelevant" and moved on to the next, providing not even a hint of his views on the earth's antiquity. It was a wedge question of its own which would split the young-earth and old-earth creationists apart in the shaky ID confederacy. As such, it showed a fundamental weakness in the arguments of ID proponents, and the power of geology to make a hash of their agenda.

The editors of this multi-authored volume, then, faced a dilemma when they collected essays to include. Ever since Hutton and Lyell, the geological sciences have provided devastating critiques of creationism in the broad sense. The specific incarnation of "intelligent design", though, has for the most part avoided geological arguments. One author (Timothy Heaton) says it directly: "Very little attention is paid to geology in ID publications, and this may be because ID proponents have unwittingly selected examples lacking a fossil history in their search for 'gaps' in structural development" (p 31). (I disagree only with the word "unwittingly".) How then can the force of geological evidence be applied to the debate over ID? Ten authors, all geologists, give it a try in this book.

One approach, unfortunately deployed in the first chapter, is to caricature the ID position and force it into a geological argument. The author (Jill Schneiderman) describes a complex cross-section across the Hudson River and then writes, "An intelligent design creationist might well summon the mighty hands of a creator to have upended some rocks while having squeezed and consequently bent the hardest among them, the gneiss and schist, with one hand while using the fingers of the other hand to gouge a channel along which the Hudson River now flows" (p 14–5). Even the crudest of the young-earthers at Answers in Genesis would not make such an anthropomorphic argument, much less an advocate of ID.

Most of the other authors (with the exception of the paleontologists, who have some ID material to work with) solve the dilemma by addressing creationism in general. Much of the book, then, is not specifically geological but consists of geologists discussing metaphysical issues informed by their experiences as successful earth scientists. A better subtitle for the book would have been "Geologists on Creationism", which would include but not be limited to ID.

The most practically useful chapter in this book is "Missing links found" by paleontologist Donald Prothero. In a relatively few pages, Prothero efficiently devastates creationist arguments about the evidence for evolution in the fossil record, and he shows why ID advocates try very hard to ignore paleontological evidence. This chapter should convince anyone who hasn't already to read Prothero's excellent book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). Allison Tumarkin-Deratzian's contribution on "Dino-Birds" is very good as an introduction to cladistic methodology as well as the most common arguments concerning the extraordinary evidence connecting birds with their dinosaur ancestors. She also shows how creationists are often confused by mosaic characterstates when it comes to sorting out lineages. Charlie Mitchell manages successfully to blend a metaphysical discussion of origin accounts with details of graptolite evolution.

Most of the other chapters sort out philosophical, political, and religious issues in the debates about "intelligent design". They are written by working geologists, and their content is informed by geological experience and knowledge, but they do not have many specifically geological arguments in them. Keith Miller discusses various ID misconceptions and misrepresentations of methodological naturalism by the ID crowd. David Goldsmith has an interesting essay on the intellectual construction of Darwin's seminal work and why the ID movement is not even close to understanding it. Tricia Kelley has a short chapter on her attempts to reconcile her religious faith as a Christian with her life as an evolutionary paleobiologist. Warren Allmon ends the book with a long chapter on how scientists approach the religion–science debates, using an interesting "God spectrum" table to pin down otherwise slippery definitions of the deity (at least in a Western sense). He managed to get some geologists to speak candidly about their belief systems, and he effectively presents the issue as one of fundamental importance to humanity.

Despite the awkward packaging as a text in which geologists specifically take on "intelligent design", and the occasional argumentative misstep, this eclectic book is a valuable contribution to the literature on creationism and the earth sciences. Several of the essays will especially interest geologists and students of geology in large part because they are written by colleagues with the courage to enter one of the most contentious and complicated debates in intellectual history.

About the Author(s): 

Mark A Wilson
Department of Geology
The College of Wooster
Wooster OH 44691
mwilson@wooster.edu

Mark A Wilson is the Lewis M and Marian Senter Nixon Professor of Natural Sciences and Geology at The College of Wooster. He is a paleontologist who has been active in the evolution wars since his first day of teaching in 1981.

Review: Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
54–56
Reviewer: 
Joel Cracraft
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism
Author(s): 
Edited by Andrew J Petto and Laurie R Godfrey
New York: WW Norton, 2007. 463 pages.

The first thing I wondered when opening the pages of this fine book was why in the hell — almost a decade into the 21st century, supposedly in the most technologically and scientifically advanced country on earth — why is it that this book is even necessary? Have we utterly failed in promoting rational thinking about the world around us, an effort that should penetrate beyond the walls of academia? I'm not sure that any chapter in this book answers my question satisfactorily, but without books like this, what hope is there?

In their preface, the editors note a quiescent period in creationist activity following McLean v Arkansas (1982), brought about by Judge William Overton's penetrating opinion. But a few short years later, none other than Justice Antonin Scalia stated in his dissent to Edwards v Aguillard (1987):

The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian Fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools.

Scalia's "whatever scientific evidence" eventually took on the moniker of "intelligent design".

This book is an update of a 1983 book — Scientists Confront Creationism — edited by Laurie Godfrey that was published in an effort to thwart the creationism of the '80s. A few of the participants in that volume are here again (disclosure: I was one of the original culprits), but numerous other experts have been added to create a volume more relevant to today's brand of creationism. Like the 1983 book, this book is also caught in an interregnum of court cases, following as it does the Kitzmiller v Dover trial (2005) that put a large nail in the coffin of "intelligent design". Yet although we are in somewhat of a quiescent period once again, hardly a week goes by without pernicious activity in one state legislature or another. Which is why this new volume will have a readership for some time.

There is a lot packaged into this book. It comes with an introduction by Massimo Pigliucci and is followed by fifteen chapters. In part 1, "Creationism and Intelligent Design, "there are three chapters by Ronald L Numbers (the history of creationism and "intelligent design"), Eugenie C Scott ("intelligent design" as the new anti-evolutionism), and John R Cole (on how the "wedge" strategy has empowered "intelligent design" creationism). In the seven chapters of part 2, "Scientific Perspectives," Victor Stenger writes about physics and cosmology, G Brent Dalrymple writes about earth science, Antonio Lazcano treats the origin of life, Kevin Padian and Kenneth Angielczyk discuss transitional forms, Robert Dorit holds forth on biological complexity, Wesley Elsberry dissects the smoke and mirrors of Dembski's so-called "design inference," and C Loring Brace focuses on human origins. Finally, part 3 contains five chapters on "Understanding Science": Robert T Pennock dissects "intelligent design" arguments from his broad philosophical perspective, Norman A Johnson discusses the nature of theory in evolutionary biology, J Michael Plavcan examines the logic of creation science, Alice B Kehoe writes about why evolution is being targeted by creationists, and finally the editors explain why we should be teaching evolution.

A lot of familiar names are here and I salute them for their uniformly excellent chapters. There is a lot of information in these pages that will be of use to a wide audience — professional biologists and educators, teachers at all levels, the general public, and even public officials and school boards who need to understand the issues better before making decisions that might dumb down science, or worse, introduce religion into the classroom masquerading as science. The contributors avoid polemics for the most part, which should facilitate its impact with its audience.

The book contains much pointed refutation of creationism, especially its "intelligent design" form. Thus, readers will learn why "intelligent design" is vacuous for philosophical (Pennock, Plavcan) as well as scientific reasons (all the chapters in part 2), and multiple authors trace the history and sociology of creationist movements as they have mutated over the years in an attempt to keep ahead of the constitutional noose that always seems to dance around them (Numbers, Scott, Kehoe). In his chapter, Numbers argues that these debates will continue as long as our constitutional democracy allows both religious fundamentalism and science to give vent to their respective points of view. So cycles of controversy and culture wars will continue. This is a depressing future indeed.

What is not discussed much in this book is how the cycle might be broken (the exception is the chapter by Petto and Godfrey on teaching evolution). Science has often carried a chip on its shoulder, conveying the impression that scientists know how to think and explain the natural world but, by and large, nonscientists/laypersons don't. Scientists are held in high esteem by the public, because the latter relies on science to reveal and interpret new knowledge, and to look after its welfare with discoveries and innovations. But science is largely the codification of rationalism in the context of learned, special knowledge. Laypeople need to understand that they too are "scientists" because they also largely understand phenomena and events around them through the use of evidence and reasoning. The growth of knowledge, whether within the sciences or not, accrues via this approach. Thus, whether people realize it or not, they are "scientists" much of their lives.

Recent polls indicate people are tired of the culture wars. They seem to be responding to a new American administration that promotes science, evidence, and transparency in decision-making. I take this as evidence of a latent reservoir of rational thinking. One should not get overly optimistic, however, given all the miracle-mongering in the media and everyday life. But now is the time to expand scientific thinking. Some evolutionists have not always been helpful, I think, by belaboring the theme that science and religion are compatible. In the sense that a person can be both religious and a scientist, there's truth in this, and often it is an expedient way to gain some acceptance for evolution. But it is incomplete: merely pointing out that there are people of faith who accept evolution doesn't itself help educate the public about the nature of science. So let's focus instead on teaching how we come to have knowledge, whether in everyday life or in the science lab.

A book like this could not hope to cover all the new and exciting aspects of the science or explain in detail the role of evolution in making people's lives better, but it succeeds in showing the merits of evolution and the bankruptcy of "intelligent design" in juxtaposition and thus is an important contribution. Now we have to get it into the hands of people who matter.

About the Author(s): 

Joel L Cracraft
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York NY 10024-5192
jlc@amnh.org

Joel Cracraft is Lamont Curator of Birds, and Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Ornithology, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. His research interests include avian systematics and evolution, diversification, and biogeography. He was a consultant to the ACLU during McLean v Arkansas. Along with Rodger Bybee, he edited Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation (Colorado Springs [CO]: BSCS, 2005).

Review: Superstition

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
59–60
Reviewer: 
Adrian L Melott
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science
Author(s): 
Robert Park
Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press, 2008. 240 pages.

Bob Park was saved by a miracle. He's not at all young. It's God's will that he is alive at all. A big tree fell on him as he passed by, and after a long spell in the hospital he returned from the dead. God brought him back so he could write eloquently to tell us all what a bunch of crap this kind of thinking is.

I could end the review here, but I suppose many would find that somehow lacking, so I will go on. Park is a distinguished physicist who devotes himself to writing, mostly about the nonsense he sees in the world. He has a brief weekly topical news-editorial e-mail (available on-line at http://www.bobpark.org) which applies his acerbic wit to all kinds of things from perpetual motion cons to the space station to energy policy and population issues. The book I review here is written in much the same style, with much of the same kind of appeal.

The book shows no particular respect for its targets, one of which is religion. Thus targets of his attack include not only the fundamentalists who attack evolution, but also the Templeton Foundation which seeks to find and promote commonality between science and religion, and the physicists who promote fine-tuning arguments and the anthropic principle and are financially rewarded for it with funding in excess of the Nobel Prize. Other targets include alternative medicine and closely related New Age beliefs, quantum consciousness mysticism, recovered memories, the medical efficacy of intercessory prayer, the alleged religious base of morality, environmental problems, overreaching technological optimism, and more. However, he does show some respect for certain individuals with whom he disagrees, symbolized by a pair of Catholic priests named David and Shaun who reappear throughout the book.

The book is written in the same style as his weekly column, which I would describe as "deceptively simple". It has none of the literary elegance or complexity we associate with some of the best science writers, but it is of equally high quality. If I were to look for a model in fiction, it would be Kurt Vonnegut. Thus, the writing is broadly accessible without insulting one's intelligence, which is extremely valuable in this sort of book.

I have some disagreements with Park. Like Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, and many others, he equates religion with "believing things". He rightly notes the absurd and/or damaging beliefs associated with many of the world's religions. This is a very Western-centric interpretation of religion. There exist major religious groups for whom following some set of laws is what matters; there are others that emphasize meditational practices or simply love. He is right that most religions devolve to cult-like or magical practice, but this is not universal.

In his discussion of alternative medical research, he emphasizes the avoidance of double-blind, placebo-controlled, statistically significant research. While it is admittedly not superstition and therefore off-topic, he nevertheless fails to do more than note in passing the extent to which funding by the pharmaceutical industry corrupts research in mainstream medicine. We all know the stories of side effects which were suppressed in early studies and then emerge to injure thousands of people. This is a form of cherry-picking results, which he does discuss in the context of parapsychology, for example, so it would be fair game and would contribute to a balanced discussion.

The longest chapter deals with the attempts by some in the religious community to repress the teaching of evolution, told mostly from a historical perspective. It is condensed (as a single chapter must be) but tells the essentials from the days of Thomas Huxley, through the Scopes Trial, the evolution of creationism into "creation science", the mutation of "intelligent design" which allowed the movement to speciate and enter a new ecological niche in the United States middle class, pioneer species such as Jonathan Wells, and the Dover trial. It brings out all the important points and can be highly recommended. It is valuable in that the issue is put into a broader perspective.

There's something here to offend almost everyone. My New Age friends who support the teaching of evolution will be upset by the attack on their herbs. If they can get past that, they will enjoy this book, learn from it, and most importantly allow it to clarify their thinking. It worked for me.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by NCSE, but they should be.

About the Author(s): 

Adrian L Melott
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Kansas
Lawrence KS 66045-7582

Adrian L Melott is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas. He is the author of over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles in physical cosmology, but since 2003 has moved to astrobiophysics, in which he examines possible astrophysical effects on the biosphere — much of it in collaboration with paleontologists. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the AAAS.

Review: The Religion and Science Debate

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
60–61
Reviewer: 
David A Rintoul
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Religion and Science Debate: Why Does it Continue?
Author(s): 
Edited by Harold W Attridge
New Haven (CT): Yale University Press, 2009. 240 pages.
"Theology made no provision for evolution."
— EO Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York:Alfred A Knopf, 1998), p 6.

The Religion and Science Debate is an attempt, by six authors, to "provide new insights into the contemporary dialogue as well as some ... suggestions for delineating the responsibilities of both the scientific and religious spheres." The authors (Keith Thomson, Ronald Numbers, Kenneth Miller, Lawrence Krauss, Alvin Plantinga, and Robert Wuthnow) represent a spectrum of disciplines, each with a different focus on the controversy. As is the case with all multi-authored texts, the success of each author in shining their particular light on the topic varies.

As one can imagine, the broad arena of the book's title is actually much overstated. There is little debate between much of science and most religious traditions. However, there is a fierce debate between evolutionary biology (and to a lesser extent geology) and a fundamentalist Christian tradition found almost exclusively in the United States. Other branches of science and other religious traditions are apparently quite compatible with each other. So it is somewhat jarring, throughout the book, to see the broad terms "science" and "religion" used as synonyms for "evolutionary biology" and "fundamentalist Christianity". Perhaps a more appropriate title for the book was rejected, but this usage only serves to inflate the importance of the religious arguments while ignoring the vast fields of science that are accepted by nearly everyone.

Thomson, a professor emeritus of natural history at Oxford University, gives a brief introduction to the controversy that sets the historical stage. He attempts to summarize and contrast the arguments of the other authors, and logically concludes that "the real enemy is ignorance". As part of an ongoing attempt to dispel that ignorance, then, the other authors weigh in.

Numbers lays out an excellent historical timeline, beginning with natural philosophy in the pre-Darwin era, and ending with Dembski's and Dawkins's scuffles over "intelligent design" (ID). This is a valuable preparation for the later chapters, because it clearly dispels the notion that the current "controversy" has been with us since Darwin. Even before Darwin, Christian theologians were attempting to reconcile the new discoveries of science with the old interpretations of Scripture. These attempts at "harmonization" continued in the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The post-Sputnik science education renaissance, with its flood of evolution-containing textbooks, triggered the controversy that continues in the US today, although there are still attempts at harmonization (including some of the chapters in this book).

Miller uses the next chapter to discuss the demise of ID in the Kitzmiller v Dover decision. He dismantles the icons of ID (irreducible complexity as epitomized by the bacterial flagella or the human immune system) just as thoroughly as he did during the trial itself. He shines a bright light on the creationist roots of ID as well, pointing out the well-documented mutations that morphed Of Pandas and People from a creationist text to an ID text overnight. Talk about your hopeful monsters! He ends with an analysis of why science is not the enemy of religion in any global sense, and shows how Christians, in particular, need to better understand evolutionary biology in order to accommodate scientific reality into their beliefs about their deity.

Plantinga, the sole ID advocate in this book, predictably sets up the usual strawmen and knocks them over. Methodological naturalism is a constraint on proper science? No, it is proper science. He attacks evolution and seems to assume that a successful attack would provide evidence for ID. The argument from incredulity is deployed multiple times, unconvincingly. Plantinga argues that the aspect of evolutionary biology that is most vexing to Christians is that it seems to be unguided, but his skepticism about this and his belief in a guided process are never buttressed with any evidence for a guided process. Most amusingly, on page 106, this philosopher of ID concedes that youngearth creationists are the recruits in the ID brigades, giving the lie to the oft-repeated complaints from the Discovery Institute that it is unfair to equate creationism and ID. In other words, there's not much new here.

Krauss starts his chapter with a quote from physicist Stephen Weinberg — "Science doesn't make it impossible to believe in God. It just makes it possible to not believe in God." This epigram sums up the chapter quite well. He also makes the excellent point that the current US debate about evolution is a colossal waste of time;we should be spending our time and energy teaching science more effectively, rather than discussing old, tired, and unscientific notions. Regarding the Discovery Institute's latest ploy, "teach the controversy", he provides the best sound bite of the entire book when he writes, on page 142, "the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it." He ends the chapter by reiterating what Thomson said in the introduction; neither science nor faith is the enemy; the enemy is ignorance. Education is the way out of this debate.

The final chapter, by Wuthnow (a sociologist) covers ground that is covered in more detail by other authors in a recent book (John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York's Critique of Intelligent Design, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008). Sociologists have been relatively late to the discussion of this debate, but there is plenty of fertile ground for them here. The compartmentalization of science and faith into different spheres is difficult; the ragged boundary between them provides opportunities for conflict and commentary. Wuthnow ends with an interesting insight, asking why the conflict is not worse. The answer is, as noted above, that this conflict involves one branch of science and one sect of religionists, none of whom seem to see any conflict in benefitting from scientific advances in computer technology, medicine, or agriculture.

In summary, the book is a useful primer on this debate, giving historical and philosophical perspective as well as scientific evidence. It provides yet another small step toward a future when science education focuses on science, and miracles are not invoked as explanations.

About the Author(s): 

David A Rintoul
Division of Biology
Kansas State University
Manhattan KS 66506-4901
drintoul@ksu.edu

David A Rintoul is Associate Professor in and Interim Director of the Division of Biology at Kansas State University.

Review: The Timetree of Life

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January-April
Page(s): 
43-44
Reviewer: 
Kevin Padian
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Timetree of Life
Author(s): 
S Blair Hedges and Sudhir Kumar, Editors

Over a hundred authors, including molecular phylogeneticists, systematists, and paleontologists, contributed to The Timetree of Life, which its editors say is the first volume to publish calibrated divergence times against phylogenies for all major groups of living things. The results are truly impressive reviews of the histories and current knowledge of molecular and other determinations of when the major groups of living things diverged from each other.

In assembling this book, the authors submitted to certain conventions. Alternate phylogenies are not considered. Only timetrees based on molecules are used. The editors say that only one kind of molecule needs to be used, and that it doesn’t have to be independently validated by other (including non-molecular) lines of evidence. If different molecules give different divergence estimates, the estimates are to be averaged. (This strikes me as strange, inasmuch as it equally values or doubts all studies, rather than asking questions about the reliability of certain molecules or studies over others.) In fact, the editors in particular seem to be glossing over a lot of legitimate debate and cognitive dissonance, which seems odd for a scientific book.

For example, in their opening chapter the editors reject fossil evidence as reliable for estimating divergence times. Instead, they advocate “associated geological dates,” an approach first proposed by Charles Sibley in the 1970s and quickly discredited. (What is the “date” of the opening of the Atlantic Ocean?) They give the emergence of islands as good events by which to calibrate divergence times. But what major groups of organisms first diverged on islands? The editors actually don’t give a single example of a reliable “geologic event” that can calibrate molecular phylogenies.

The editors state that “fossil calibrations are always minimum times of divergence,” which would be true if one simply used the first recorded appearance of a member of a stem or node group. More reliable is the assessment of the timing of appearances of characters that are diagnostic of that group. Let’s say that node group A shares derived features 1–5, and that its immediate relatives can be recognized because they have progressive subsets of 1–5 (for example, one critter has 1, another has 1 & 2, and so on). Knowing when these immediate relatives lived provides very strong control on divergence dates based on fossils. Of course, the fossil record may not be good enough to decide these questions in the great majority of cases. On the other hand, unconstrained extrapolations from molecular differentiation rates, with no independent lines of evidence to test them, are technologically impressive but empirically unsatisfactory.

It is interesting that the other introductory chapters disagree with the editors’ methods. John Avise forthrightly extols the use of fossils to calibrate divergence times. Gradstein and Ogg lay out the geologic time scale and the important certainties and uncertainties in its calibration. Benton, Donoghue, and Asher, all paleontologists, in a particularly impressive review (with over 500 references) show how using both fossils and molecules in tandem can produce reliable results for much of the phylogeny of Metazoa.

So the editors seem to be broadminded in including eclectic approaches to assembling the timetrees of life. It is too bad, then, that the prescriptions of Benton and others are not followed throughout the book. Some entries induce head-scratching. Van Tuinen (p 409), for example, says that the two major groups of living birds (paleognaths and neognaths) separated about 120 Ma, whereas Benton and his coauthors list it at about 66 Ma (“soft maximum” dates are often ridiculously old and can generally be disregarded). Here is an example of where a character-based approach to fossils may help constrain molecular estimates. If one examines the fossil record of birds about 120 Ma, and even later in the Cretaceous, what do we find? Well, the fossil birds found in the Jehol Biota of China (Early Cretaceous, about 125 Ma), where the famous “feathered dinosaurs” are also found, include things like Confuciusornis that are hardly advanced beyond Archaeopteryx. Through the Cretaceous we find thousands of bird fossils, but they are all of primitive toothed groups and Enantiornithines, none of which is regarded as close to Neornithes. More importantly, the morphological features that are in any way similar to those of living birds do not appear until the latest Cretaceous (66–70 Ma). To accept the molecular view of life, molecules are doing the diverging, but this is very seldom reflected in morphology.

Is this a reasonable view of life? Space prohibits a review of the editors’ strange take on rates of diversification of taxa, especially where we have an actual fossil record that is pretty reliable. Suffice it to say that there is forty years of literature on Phanerozoic diversity that cannot be reduced to the unsatisfactory alternatives of “dampened exponential curve” or the “exponential model”. This book will be a fabulous basis for advanced interdisciplinary seminars, but I put the accent on “interdisciplinary”.

About the Author(s): 

Kevin Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley; Curator of Paleontology at the University of California Museum of Paleontology; and President of NCSE’s Board of Directors.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Kevin Padian
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
info@ncse.com

RNCSE 30 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2010
Date: 
May-June
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 30 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2010
Date: 
May-June

NEWS

  1. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey,Tennessee,Texas, the nation, and Australia.
  1. From Evolution to Global Warming in South Dakota
    A legislative proposal borrows a tactic from the antievolution movement to attack what is taught about climate change.
  1. The Case of Mark Tangarone
    Steve Newton
    A course proposal in the Darwin bicentennial year was turned down by a school district because “topics need to be altered this year to eliminate teaching of Darwin’s work and the theory of evolution.”
  1. Uproar over Evolution in Israel
    Glenn Branch
    The chief scientist in Israel’s Ministry of Education questions reliability of evolution and climate change. Sound familiar?

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  1. Farewell, Susan
    NCSE says goodbye to Susan Spath.

ARTICLE

  1. Americans’ Scientific Knowledge and Beliefs about Human Evolution in the Year of Darwin
    George F Bishop, Randall K Thomas, Jason A Wood, and Misook Gwon
    Americans’ knowledge about evolution often conflict with their beliefs. It is not uncommon for people to hold contradictory views.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Address to the National Academy of Sciences
    Eugenie C Scott
    Remarks to the NAS on receiving the Public Welfare Medal.
  1. Moore, Moore, Moore, and More
    This issue’s book section features the works of authors named Moore — many of whom you have met on these pages.
  1. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

FEATURES

  1. Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter
    Shelley Emling
    Made famous in the tongue-twister “She sells seashells by the seashore,” this ordinary woman made a huge impact on paleontology in her very short life.
  1. Teaching Evolution in Muslim States: Iran and Saudi Arabia Compared
    Elise K Burton
    Both governments and their schools are under strict religious oversight, but the differences in how they teach science, and especially evolution,may surprise you.

SPECIAL FEATURE

PEOPLE & PLACES

  1. George McCready Price
    Randy Moore
    The father of the “Flood geology” that underlay the emergence of “scientific creationism” in the 1960s.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. The Natural Selection by Ona Russell
    Reviewed by Susan Branch
  2. One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky
    Reviewed by Kate Miller
  3. Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
    Reviewed by Laurel Saiz
  4. Optical Allusions by Jay Hosler
    Reviewed by T Ryan Gregory
  5. The True Adventures of Charley Darwin
    by Deborah Heiligman
    Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
    by Carolyn Meyer
    Reviewed by Anne H Weaver
  6. The Greatest Show on Earth:
    The Evidence for Evolution

    by Richard Dawkins
    Reviewed by Douglas Theobald
  7. The Scopes Trial:
    The Battle Over Teaching Evolution

    by Stephanie Fitzgerald
    Reviewed by Carrie Sager

Americans’ Scientific Knowledge and Beliefs about Human Evolution in the Year of Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Americans’ Scientific Knowledge and Beliefs about Human Evolution in the Year of Darwin
Author(s): 
George F Bishop, Randall K Thomas, Jason A Wood, and Misook Gwon
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2010
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
16–18
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The year 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Over eighty years ago, the Scopes "monkey trial" in Dayton, Tennessee, marked the beginning of a long battle for the soul of American public opinion, pitting biblical creationism against the teaching of human evolution in public schools. But how well do we understand what Americans know and believe about human evolution? National surveys by Gallup have certainly told us much about trends in Americans’ core beliefs about human origins: a relatively stable, sizable plurality (45%), for example, appears to believe in a creationist version of human origins; nearly 40% endorse the theistic supernatural idea that "man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man’s creation"; and only a very small percentage (12–14%) has accepted the naturalistic position that "man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process"(http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/Evolution-Creationism-Intelligent-Design.aspx). We have also learned a good deal about the socio-demographic characteristics of those who hold such beliefs (http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=392). But we know much less about the nuances and structure of these beliefs and the scientific knowledge or ignorance that underlie them. Data from a recent national Harris survey (2008) addresses these deficiencies by measuring multiple dimensions of Americans’ beliefs about evolution, their familiarity with scientific concepts in evolutionary biology (for example, adaptation), and their scientific knowledge in general (for example, the age of the earth and of the universe) — all social-psychological facts that the American scientific and educational communities must confront in dealing with the obstacles to full acceptance of the theory of human evolution in the 21st century.


AMERICANS' BELIEFS AND KNOWLEDGE ABOUT CREATIONISM,
THE ROLE OF GOD, "INTELLIGENT DESIGN", AND HUMAN EVOLUTION
 
 True
 False  Not  Sure  N=
God created the universe, the earth, the sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, and the first two people within the past 10 000 years.
39%
50%
11%
600
There was a flood within the past 10 000 years that covered all of the earth and was responsible for most of the rock layers and fossils that are seen across the world.
60%
25%
15%
599
The earth is less than 10 000 years old.
18%
69%
13%
531
God made the dinosaurs, along with all other animals and humans, less than 10 000 years ago.
35%
53%
12%
587
Dinosaurs lived at the same time as people.
40%
48%
13%
574
The only reliable way to know for certain about what happened in the past is to have a reliable historic record written by someone who was an eyewitness.
50%
41%
9%
573
Archaeological findings have confirmed the authenticity of the people and incidents recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible.
65%
19%
17%
583
The theory of evolution is not supported by any confirmed facts.
35%
52%
13%
566
The theory of evolution proposes missing links and speculates about how humans developed but does not have strong factual evidence to support it.
52%
33%
15%
580
All of the events recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible are supported by archaeological evidence.
48%
37%
15%
547
Human fossils have been found mixed in with dinosaur fossils showing that humans existed at the same time that dinosaurs existed.
43%
41%
16%
573
All people are descendants of one man and one woman — Adam and Eve.
60%
32%
9%
578
The Bible describes the creation of life exactly as it occurred in six days.
50%
39%
11%
607
There is no such thing as a genetic defect — all genetic changes result from the decisions of a God or an Intelligent Force.
24%
68%
9%
584
All living things exhibit evidence of having been purposefully designed, which means there must be an Intelligent Force or a God.
64%
27%
9%
525
God created the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry in just the right way, so that life, particularly human life, would be possible.
69%
23%
9%
544
God has intervened in the evolutionary process to create millions of species at various times over millions of years.
54%
34%
12%
533
God started the evolutionary process and directed it over millions of years.
56%
34%
10%
521
God allows organisms to survive by way of natural selection in a post-Flood world.
55%
27%
19%
539
God allows variations within each species, like a man or a dog, through natural selection, but does not allow changing from one species to another species.
56%
29%
16%
535
Humans are so complex, advanced, and unique that we cannot have arisen due to chance events.
60%
27%
13%
525
The life processes in cells are so complex that they could not have developed by random events.
61%
29%
10%
530
The complexity of life cannot have arisen by chance or random events.
59%
30%
11%
532
Some traits in humans were produced by intelligent design while other traits evolved by natural selection.
52%
36%
12%
508
The origin of all life in the universe is the result of intelligent design and not chance events.
56%
32%
12%
558


Our first analysis of these data has revealed a remarkable diversity of religiously driven and scientifically informed (and uninformed) beliefs about human evolution, much of it seemingly contradictory (see summary table on page 17). To begin with, sizable chunks of the American adult public evidently believe a whole host of creationist articles of faith to be true, among them such claims as:

Archaeological findings have confirmed the authenticity of the people and incidents recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible (65%).

All people are descendants of one man and one woman — Adam and Eve (60%).

The theory of evolution proposes missing links and speculates about how humans developed but does not have strong factual evidence to support it (52%).

The Bible describes the creation of life exactly as it occurred in six days (50%).

The only reliable way to know for certain about what happened in the past is to have a reliable historic record written by someone who was an eyewitness (50%).

Human fossils have been found mixed in with dinosaur fossils showing that humans existed at the same time that dinosaurs existed (43%).

God created the universe, the earth, the sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, and the first two people within the past 10 000 years (39%).

There was a flood within the past 10 000 years that covered all of the earth and was responsible for most of the rock layers and fossils that are seen across the world (60%).

Yet hardly a fifth (18%) actually believes the statement "The earth is less than 10 000 years old." And this is one of many such cognitive-psychological incongruities in the public’s belief system.

At the same time, much of the American public appears to endorse as true propositions about the origins of life that are strikingly theistic and in sync with a range of appeals from the "Intelligent Design" movement, namely such claims as:

God created the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry in just the right way, so that life, particularly human life, would be possible (69%).

All living things exhibit evidence of having been purposefully designed which means there must be an Intelligent Force or a God (64%).

Humans are so complex, advanced, and unique that we cannot have arisen due to chance events (60%).

God started the evolutionary process and directed it over millions of years (56%).

God has intervened in the evolutionary process to create millions of species at various times over millions of years (54%).

There is no such thing as random genetic mutations causing changes in a species — all genetic changes result from the decisions of a God or an Intelligent Force (35%).

And perhaps most amazing:
There’s no such thing as a genetic defect — all genetic changes result from the decisions of a God or an Intelligent Force (24%).
Despite all this religiously-rooted reasoning, large percentages of Americans (often the same people) likewise accept as true a multitude of evolutionary scientific facts that are seemingly at odds with other statements they accept as true, such as:

Layers of rock containing fossils cover the earth's surface and date back hundreds of millions of years (78%).

Humans share reflexes with other primates that are not shared with other animals (75%).

Dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago (69%).

All life forms are descended from common ancestors that developed over millions of years (65%).

Birds appear to have evolved from dinosaurs (55%).

Living organisms on earth have evolved over a billion years ago from nonliving chemicals (44%).

Our exploratory factor analysis of sixty such items turned up four fundamental dimensions that underlie most beliefs about human evolution, which we call: (1) Purposeful Complexity–Intelligent Design, (2) God as Biblical Creator of the Universe & Human Life (3) Reality of Genetic Relatedness & Change in Life, and (4) Truth of Scientific Claims on Evolution (details are not included here, but are available on request from the authors). So Americans’ beliefs about evolution are a lot more nuanced and multidimensional than heretofore suspected. Not only that, we found a number of anomalous response patterns when we looked at the relationship between responses to our belief items and responses to the Gallup question about human origins.

For example, over a third (35%) of respondents who chose Gallup’s creationist category (God created human beings in their present form at one time in the last 10 000 years or so) did not believe the creationist tenet "Dinosaurs lived at the same time as people." In fact, over half (56%) of these respondents also agreed with the statement "Dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago." Even better, a solid majority of them (54%) agreed that "All animals share common ancestors that gave rise to all the different types of animals that are alive today." These and other anomalous patterns (not shown here) tell us that the widely cited Gallup question may significantly overestimate the percentage of orthodox creationists in the American public.

We also discovered that, underneath all these inconsistent and perplexing belief patterns, Americans’ knowledge of basic scientific and evolutionary facts looks rather poorly grounded. Less than half (43%) knew (or guessed in a multiple-choice format) that the earth is billions of years old and only 30% knew that the universe was also billions of years old. Barely more than four out of ten Americans (42%) was aware that the last dinosaur existed on earth millions of years ago; roughly a fourth (26%) thought it was a hundred thousand years ago or less. Just a fifth or so (22%) could correctly answer that modern humans emerged hundreds of thousands of years ago, and not unexpectedly, less than one third (28%) could accurately identify when human beings began to migrate across the world from the continent where they originally emerged: 10 000–100 000 years ago (see "Atlas of the Human Journey" at ). In fact, 39% believed it was actually less than 10 000 years ago .

Furthermore, Americans’ self-reported acquaintance or familiarity with key evolutionary concepts looks equally abysmal:

ConceptVery FamiliarSomewhat Familiar
Natural Selection19%28%
Adaptation16%29%
Genetic Mutation14%14%
Speciation6%14%

So, with evolutionary literacy so rudimentary and fundamentalist, theistic, and "intelligent design" — driven beliefs so widespread, it should not be terribly surprising that public resistance to the theory of evolution in American society remains remarkably high, as compared to what has been documented in international surveys of citizens from other economically and scientifically developed nations by Jon Miller, Eugenie C Scott, and Shinji Okamoto (in their "Public acceptance of evolution," Science 2006; 313 [11]: 765–6) — all this, mind you, in the Year of Darwin, 150 years after the publication of the Origin of Species. Surely the graybeard must be turning in his grave.


Note: This article is a revised and updated version of a paper presented at the 64th Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Hollywood, Florida, May 14–17, 2009. The data were originally collected by Harris Interactive with 4626 respondents in two waves of data collection from July to October, 2009. Respondents were drawn from Harris Interactive’s on-line panel and weighted based on age, sex, region of country, income, education, and ethnicity to resemble the overall US based on US Census proportions.

About the Author(s): 

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

George F Bishop
Department of Political Science
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati OH 45221-0375
bishopgf@ucmail.uc.edu

George Bishop is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Graduate Certificate Program in Public Opinion and Survey Research at the University of Cincinnati, Randall K Thomas is Senior Survey Methodologist at ICF International, Jason A Wood is Research Associate at the Internet Public Opinion Laboratory, Department of Political Science, University of Cincinnati, and Misook Gwon is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science, University of Cincinnati.

Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter
Author(s): 
Shelley Emling
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2010
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
23–24
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Last year’s twin anniversaries of Charles Darwin’s birth in 1809 and the publication of his On the Origin of Species in 1859 prompted a string of books on the life of the English naturalist who was so concerned about his evolutionary findings that he delayed their publication for twenty years. Yet there was a woman, also raised religious, who helped blaze the trail for Darwin — an often forgotten and dismissed fossil hunter who was just as surely tortured by her own bizarre discoveries, but who ultimately came to accept the evolution of life.

Born in 1799, The coast of Lyme Regis, where Mary Anning searched for fossils. Photo by Mary Emling.The coast of Lyme Regis, where Mary Anning searched for fossils. Photo by Mary Emling.Mary Anning — the dirt-poor woman said to have inspired the tongue-twister “She sells seashells by the seashore” — would spend her entire life uncovering and piecing together the fossils of one never-before-seen monster after another: organisms that had been hidden away for nearly 200 million years in the cliffs up and down England’s southern coastline. In short, she provided raw material to the scientists — all male — that would be instrumental in forming their evolutionary theories. Stephen Jay Gould later remarked that Anning is “probably the most important unsung (or inadequately sung) collecting force in the history of paleontology” (quoted in Jo Draper’s Mary Anning's Town: Lyme Regis (Dorchester [UK]: Dorset County Council, 2004). Yet Anning’s place in history happened quite by accident.

By birth, Anning never should have become an influential fossil hunter and geologist. She was marginalized not only by her family’s poverty but also by her sex, her regional dialect, and her nearly complete lack of schooling. But she enjoyed one natural advantage: the very good fortune of having been born in exactly the right place at the right time, alongside some of the most geologically unstable coastline in the world; it was — and still is — a place permeated with fossils.

After her father died in 1810, young Mary’s family was in dire financial straits. In order to put food on her table, she was forced to run the shore’s gauntlet of high tides and landslides to hunt for curiosities that she could sell to seafaring tourists. If she hadn’t, her family very well could have starved.

Her first discovery, made in 1811 when she was only 12 years old, was of the fossil of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile about four feet in length with flippers like a dolphin and a chest like a lizard. At first people thought it must be a crocodile. In time, though, the specimen attracted massive crowds to museums in London, where many soon realized the skeleton was of a creature never before seen.

Indeed, a wide range of lifeforms had been safely deposited in ancient sea beds up and down the coast near Lyme Regis, Anning’s hometown, rendering the region’s stratigraphy uniquely able to store (and later reveal) evidence of 200 million years of evolution. Scientists eventually discovered that the cliffs east and west of Lyme Regis portrayed an almost continuous sequence of rock formations spanning the entire Mesozoic Era, perhaps better than any other locale on the planet. Until the early 1800s, though, the area’s residents had no knowledge of this rich resource.

The strange fossils found along England’s southern shoreline had baffled the locals for as long as anyone could remember. They came in all forms and sizes — including what later were determined to be bivalves, ammonites, belemnites, and brachiopods — and sometimes even the fragments of giant critters never heard of before. Some people thought the fossils were so lovely and delicate that they surely must be God’s decorations, allowed to bubble up from the inside of the earth, a bit like flowers were allowed to ornament the outside. Others thought they must be the remains of the victims of the global flood recorded in Genesis.

Like most everyone in England at the time, Anning and her neighbors had absolute faith in the fact that species never evolved or became extinct. Everything that existed had always existed. Yet the fossils that Anning uncovered as a young woman — including many of the world’s first ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and pterodactyls — had never been seen by anyone, anywhere before.

Indeed her discovery of a nearly intact long-necked plesiosaur (Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus) in 1823 was so incredible that even the celebrated French anatomist Georges Cuvier did not believe it could be valid. It was only after British geologist William Conybeare defended Anning’s find — and verified that the neck did indeed boast at least 35 vertebrae — did Cuvier admit he was wrong. Eventually he pronounced Anning’s fossil a major discovery.

As Anning aged, and began working alongside Britain’s clique of male geologists — most of them Anglican clergymen — there were countless attempts to use biblical stories to explain the new knowledge about the natural world that resulted from her fossil discoveries. For example, Anning’s friend and associate William Buckland — the well-known English geologist and first professor of geology at Oxford — believed that the fossils found at high altitudes proved that a great flood had once covered the planet, just like the Flood described in the Bible.

Anning worked alongside Buckland for years, not only combing the beach looking for fossils, but also in the study of fossilized feces known as coprology. Anning had found many stones about four inches long inside the skeletons of ichthyosaurs, leading her to believe they might be fossilized clumps of undigested food. Soon they both concluded the stones were feces, which helped them figure out what the creatures had eaten.

In her later years, she also assisted the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz during his visits to Lyme Regis. Agassiz was best known as the first person to propose the scientific concept of an Ice Age in 1837. For years he strongly advocated the prime role of glaciers in bringing about physical changes in earth’s crust that had formerly been attributed to the biblical Flood. Agassiz had worked closely alongside Cuvier, who believed that the earth was immensely old and also that periodic catastrophes had wiped out a number of species. At the same time, a rival French intellectual, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, proposed transmutation, arguing that organisms could transform in such a way that higher forms could emerge from lower ones.

Anning’s views on the flood and the disparate theories of the male scientists of her era are not known. But in 1833, she was visited by a tourist, the Reverend Henry Rawlins, and his six–year-old son, Frank. Rawlins believed that God created the world within a week, but Anning described to young Frank how the fossils purchased by his father had been found by her at all different levels in the cliffs, explaining that this meant the creatures possibly had been created and had lived at different times. According to Frank’s journals, his father refused to discuss the issue after they left Anning’s home.

One can only imagine how frightening it must have been for Anning to find the fragments of these exotic creatures — with their bat-like wings, snake-like necks, and big, bulging eye sockets — and wonder if perhaps the live versions were not about to fly out of the sky or come up out of the sea to terrorize her. The puzzle of Anning’s specimens weighed on the public’s mind as well. Many religious leaders were convinced that her ichthyosaur and other fossil finds were soiling the sacred teachings of the Bible. “Was ever the word of God laid so deplorably prostrate at the feet of an infant and precocious science!” exclaimed an exasperated evangelical Anglican pastor named George Bugg, author of Scriptural Geology, written in 1826.

But according to most accounts from her friends, Anning continued to be a deeply meditative woman who often could be found praying or reading the Bible and who almost never missed a Sunday service. Anning’s close friend, Anna Maria Pinney, wrote of how the two often talked of the idea of creation and other spiritual topics. “To think that life shall never have an end quite fills the mind, but to think of God without a beginning is more than a created being can comprehend,” Pinney wrote.

Anning tried to reconcile what she was unearthing with her belief in God’s omnipotence, a belief she apparently held until her death from breast cancer at the age of 47. Some of her letters to friends suggest that she grew to accept that there had been a progression of living things. A few years before she died, she remarked that — from what she had seen of the fossil world — there is a “connection of analogy between the Creatures of the former and present World.” From most accounts, it seems she continued to believe in God throughout her life, but that she also came to accept that evolution was part of God’s plan. Toward the end of her life, she copied into her journals many poems and passages laced with religious overtones.

At the Natural History Museum in London, as well as a small museum in Lyme Regis, Anning is recognized as having laid the groundwork for the theory of evolution, not to mention nearly two centuries of discoveries in the stillevolving worlds of paleontology and geology. Today thousands of people continue to go hunting for fossils along England’s so-called Jurassic coast — a 95-mile stretch of shoreline declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001. And, to this day, real and startling discoveries are still being made, such as the skeleton of a 195-million–year-old Scelidosaurus, the earliest of the armored dinosaurs, in Anning’s hometown of Lyme Regis a few years ago.

With over 700 species of dinosaurs already identified and named, reminders of the prehistoric past just keep on surfacing, thrilling paleontologists. But there are plenty of people who are still unsettled by the signs of the completely different world that must have existed on earth before humans arrived — even if they also are able to marvel at the possibilities.

It is most likely a feeling that — nearly two centuries ago — Anning would have shared.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Shelley Emling
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
info@ncse.com

Shelley Emling is the author of a biography of Mary Anning, The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Review: The Greatest Show on Earth

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May./June
Page(s): 
37-38
Reviewer: 
Douglas Theobald
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
Author(s): 
Richard Dawkins
New York: Free Press, 2009. 480 pages

Richard Dawkins, Darwin’s latterday pit-bull, has a missing link. Or, rather, had. With the publication of his tenth book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins finally gets around to filling a conspicuous void in an evolutionary oeuvre that spans nearly forty years. As Dawkins himself explains, all his previous books primarily deal with the power of natural selection and simply assume that evolution has happened. Dawkins outlines the goal for his latest tome in the introduction:

Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it.No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it.

That ostentatious declaration sets the bar high, but by the final flowery chapter, after over 400 pages of dramatic evidence, it is apparent that the author has successfully cleared the hurdle.

The book’s September 2009 release was just in time for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, certainly no mere coincidence. In fact, Dawkins’s book shares many conspicuous parallels with Darwin’s first edition from 1859. Both have 14 chapters (including Dawkins’s appendix) and follow much the same outline for "one long argument" intended to establish the scientific case for evolution. Both begin by setting out the evidence for natural selection, first treating artificial selection in the origin of domesticated animals and plants and then moving to bona fide natural selection in the wild. Like Darwin, Dawkins next proceeds methodically to the ample evidence from the fossil record, from developmental biology, from biogeography, and finally from vestiges and other remnants of historical contingency. But Dawkins’s job is much easier than Darwin’s was, and it is correspondingly more compelling. Here in the 21st century, the evidence for evolution is indeed great, much more diverse and extensive than 150 years ago when Darwin wrote the Origin.

Chapter after substantial chapter, we are treated to the many independent, converging lines of evidence that all point to the same conclusion: the fact that "all living things are cousins". Dawkins devotes an entire chapter to geological dating, covering radioactive methods, tree rings, geological strata, and leading fossils, with a clear refutation of the oft-made charge that fossil dating is circular.

Dawkins really finds his stride in the fifth chapter, "Before our very eyes". Here Dawkins discusses several cases of evolution observed in real-time in both the lab and the wild, including the impressive Lenski experiments on twenty years of controlled bacterial evolution.

By the sixth chapter (on transitional fossils) one gets the feeling that Dawkins is really batting them out of the park, and he keeps on hitting homers for the rest of the book. Dawkins covers topics often given short shrift in other books of this kind, and his treatment of the modern molecular evidence, ranging from protein folding to molecular phylogenetics, is particularly satisfying. His consideration of the molecular clock and the neutral theory of evolution is especially useful and avoids some of the more common misconceptions that have persisted even in the primary literature.

I was singularly pleased to see David Penny’s formal test of common descent brought to a larger audience, where five independent protein phylogenies are shown to display statistically significant similarities — a result expected if the species harboring these proteins are genetically related. In the closing chapter, Dawkins deconstructs line by line, as if explicating a poem, the famous final paragraph of Darwin’s Origin. This unorthodox conclusion is perhaps the finest chapter of the book, touching on the universal genetic code, abiogenesis, thermodynamics, the RNA world, and the anthropic principle.

Stylistically, this latest offering harbors no surprises, and if you have enjoyed Dawkins’s previous books, you will not be disappointed with this one. Dawkins is the prince of scientific analogies and is uniquely adept at conveying difficult and complex scientific concepts by extracting otherwise arcane similarities from more familiar things. The embryonic development of an animal is likened to "inflating origami". Protein folding is compared to the spontaneous bunching of magnetic beads on a beaded necklace. If, over the millennia, you could hear the ticking of neutral fixations in the molecular clock, it would sound, according to Dawkins, like the random crackling of a Geiger counter.

Dawkins’s frustration with creationists and the excesses of religion are plainly sensed in this book, as in his others, and his indelicate remarks, though largely justified, will undoubtedly be offputting for many potential readers:

The history-deniers [Dawkins’s euphemism for anti-evolution creationists] themselves are among those that I am trying to reach in this book. But, perhaps more importantly, I aspire to arm those who are not historydeniers but know some ... and find themselves inadequately prepared to argue the case.

Flaws and quirks aside, Dawkins’s message will quite likely hit its intended target, as well as open some of the more hardened minds of evolutionary skeptics.

In a book on evolutionary evidence, it is hard to avoid a few nods towards debunking the common creationist fallacies. Nevertheless, unlike many other popular books that cover the evidence for evolution, this is not primarily a refutation of creationism or "intelligent design" arguments. Rather, Dawkins’s latest book is a positive commemoration of the triumph of a grand arching theory that has withstood the continuous onslaught of 150 years of new data, including the tsunami of molecular, genetic, and sequence data from the past fifteen years.

In the final analysis, The Greatest Show on Earth will take a deserved place alongside other "must-read" evolution books. No other book currently available approaches Dawkins’s comprehensive yet accessible treatment of the extraordinarily diverse and massive body of data that drives ineluctably to the same conclusion, the only conclusion that makes sense of everything in biology: that all the "endless forms" of known life share a common genetic kinship, as they have been, and are being, evolved.


About the Author(s): 

Douglas Theobald is Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Brandeis University and author of "29+ evidences for macroevolution: The scientific case for common descent" (available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/).

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS
Douglas L Theobald
Department of Biochemistry
Mailstop 009
Brandeis University
Waltham MA 02454-9110
dtheobald@brandeis.edu

Review: The Scopes Trial

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
38-39
Reviewer: 
Carrie Sager
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Scopes Trial: The Battle over Teaching Evolution
Author(s): 
Stephanie Fitzgerald
Minneapolis (MN): Compass Point Books, 2007. 96 pages

When I was in eighth grade, we read Inherit the Wind in English class. Even when taught as literature, however, the idea that the play is inspired by the Scopes trial translates easily in young minds to the idea that they are more or less the same story, despite the fact that Inherit the Wind is about as historically accurate as Disney’s version of Pocahontas.

The addition of a book like Stephanie Fitzgerald’s The Scopes Trial to the pre-teen marketplace is therefore a boon to historically-minded educators, as well as parents who want to introduce their children to this exciting chapter in American history. Unfortunately, I would recommend a book like Fitzgerald’s The Scopes Trial, which itself has enough flaws that I cannot recommend it.

Certainly, there are things to be admired about the book. It is well-paced and attractive, evolution is treated as the only scientific explanation of life, and there is significant reliance on and reference to primary sources. However, certain elements of the book are less appealing.

The select bibliography includes Marvin Olasky and John Perry’s atrocious, pro–“intelligent design” Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial (2005; reviewed in RNCSE 2006 May/Jun; 26 [3]: 45–6) among a collection of primary sources, while Edward J Larson’s definitive Summer for the Gods (1997) is conspicuously absent. Though there is no evidence that Fitzgerald is sympathetic to anti-evolutionists — quite the opposite, actually — the risk that students or teachers might use the select bibliography for further reading makes this a concern.

In pursuit of the laudable goal of balance, Fitzgerald may overstate the nobility of her subjects. She is sympathetic to the Tennessee government, downplaying their support of the bill:

[T]he people who voted on [the bill] did not feel very strongly about the issue. … The Tennessee House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 71–5. Those who voted for it probably expected the members of the Tennessee Senate to kill it. But when the bill got to the senate it was passed by a vote of 24–6. Most of the members of the senate expected Tennessee Governor Austin Peay to veto the bill. (p 32)

Peay also supposedly signed the bill for fear that failing to do so would prevent fundamentalists from supporting a tax increase to increase school funding.

On the other side, Fitzgerald avoids the anti-defense team attitude taken by Olasky and Perry as she describes Darrow as famous for being a defender of “the poorest and most downtrodden people”; while it is true that he had gained fame defending union members and political radicals, he also defended wealthy murderers, and it was for this that he was most famous by the time of the trial (Larson 1997: 71).

Though Fitzgerald makes motions towards dispelling some of the stereotypes about the trial and its players in the body of the text, in the first chapter she unfortunately plays into many of them for the purposes of summary: Bryan was fighting for the Bible! Darrow was fighting for truth and reason! Scopes was an evolutionist rebel! The people of Dayton were ignorant hillbillies! Though only the first two are directly stated, readers go into the rest of the book with their preconceptions reinforced — not the ideal mindset for absorbing new ideas.

This simplification is not limited to the trial itself. In the chapter summarizing the history of evolution, Fitzgerald follows a perfectly serviceable description of Lamarckian inheritance with the dismissal that Lamarck was “just dealing with guesswork and did not have any evidence to support [his] ideas” (p 24). Though this was a criticism leveled at him both in his own time and by some modern scientists, it ignores the nature of science in his era and the comprehensive nature of the framework he developed. While some simplification is necessary when summarizing the entire history of evolutionary theory in twelve pages, it does no one any favors to dismiss an important figure in the history of biology.

Perhaps the greatest weakness in the book is one of language choices that a casual reader would likely overlook entirely — which is exactly why it is so dangerous in a book for pre-teens, who almost certainly lack the background to read between the lines. The most obvious example to RNCSE readers is Fitzgerald’s repeated use of the cringe-inducing phrase “believe in” evolution — a common but sloppy expression which carries religious undertones (a better alternative is “accept evolution”). There is also a problem with language that means different things to scientists and non-scientists. For example, Fitzgerald claims that the discovery of Neanderthal skeletons “offered proof” of primitive humans, and Archaeopteryx “proved Darwin’s claim that birds had evolved from reptiles” (p 24). When dealing with an audience that is unfamiliar with the scientific process, to imply that scientific claims are proved true or false, and by a single piece of evidence, sets them up for misunderstanding basic scientific concepts later on.

Fitzgerald’s efforts are admirable, and there is no smoking gun in this book, no sentence one can point to and say, “There, that’s wrong.” And it is clear that her heart is in the right place. But all the small objections that might seem petty taken individually add up to a book that just doesn’t make the cut.


References

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

Olasky M, Perry J. 2005. Monkey Business. Nashville (TN): Broadman and Holman.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Carrie Sager
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
sager@ncse.com

Carrie Sager is NCSE’s Project Assistant. She studied American history at the University of Toronto.

Reviews: The True Adventures of Charley Darwin [&] Charles and Emma

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
36–37
Reviewer: 
Anne H Weaver
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

WORKS UNDER REVIEW:

Title: The True Adventures of Charley Darwin
Author: Carolyn Meyer
Orlando (FL): Harcourt. 2009. 272 pages

Title: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
Author: Deborah Heiligman
New York: Henry Holt. 2009. 320 pages

Purchase The True Adventures of Charley Darwin online

Purchase Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith online


The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, by Carolyn Meyer, and Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith are two excellent new additions to Darwiniana for young people. Meyer gives us an engaging account of Darwin’s youth up until his marriage. Heiligman offers a poignant account of Darwin in maturity through the story of his family life and collegial relationships.

Despite some inevitable overlaps, the books are remarkably complementary. Both authors recount classic anecdotes; both authors describe Darwin’s youthful, ill-fated flirtation with Fanny Owen; and both document Darwin’s infamous 1838 list, jotted on the back of a letter, outlining the pros and cons of marriage (Darwin 1838). In fact, that list represents the pivot point between Meyer’s lively historical romance for adolescents and Heiligman’s well-crafted story of an older Darwin for a slightly older audience.

THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF CHARLEY DARWIN

Carolyn Meyer has a devoted following of adolescent readers who love her fictionalized, first-person historical biographies (of Mozart’s sister, Grand Duchess Anastasia, Queen Anne, and others). In this vein, Meyer’s The True Adventures of Charley Darwin introduces the reader to the schoolboy who preferred to catch beetles and hunt for newts in the old quarry rather than study Latin and Greek; the young man who was more comfortable on horseback galloping across the pampas of Argentina than he was sipping tea in an English drawing room” (p 320).

Meyer is a novelist, exercising a novelist’s prerogative in introducing occasional minor anachronisms, arranging fictional encounters to move the action forward, and putting words into the mouths of her characters. On the other hand, she is also a meticulous researcher, who keeps her artistic license well within the bounds of credibility. She makes good use of the little information available about Darwin’s early childhood, relying on his Autobiography (1958) and Janet Browne’s Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) to create an account of school days alive with friendships, pranks, and rivalries, all in the grim context of institutional thin blankets, unwashed sheets, and stale bread.

The dramatic arc is significantly interrupted by a long chronological account of Darwin’s five-year voyage on the Beagle. But Meyer deftly keeps the narrative flow intact by referring to the letters Darwin received from family and friends at intervals during the voyage; and, true to the genre of historical romance, her narrative ends with Darwin’s ambivalent courtship and marriage to Emma Wedgwood.

Meyer gives us the young Darwin as an adored younger brother, a discontented schoolboy, an adolescent romantic; an intrepid explorer, a passionate hunter, a desirable catch, a preoccupied young scientist, and a hesitant suitor. And she offers her readers a rich and lively picture of upper-class English country life in the 19th century.

CHARLES AND EMMA

Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith springs to life at the point where Meyer’s draws to a close. Heiligman’s research is grounded in the available sources, especially the correspondence and diaries of Emma Wedgwood Darwin, Charles’s notebooks, and correspondence among Darwin’s colleagues and friends. From this rich trove, the author has drawn a nuanced and engaging portrait of the Darwins’ lifelong devotion to each other despite divergent religious beliefs.

From the late 18th century onward, scientific explanations for natural phenomena challenged the conventional Anglican world view of supernatural intervention and biblical literalism. A growing movement of freethinkers and Unitarians believed that human affairs should be governed based on reason and empirical evidence. The Darwins’ divergent spiritual perspectives embodied the contemporary tension between religious orthodoxy and science.

Heiligman reconstructs Emma’s perspective from letters, memories recorded by the Darwin children, short moral tales she created to teach her children to read, and from notes in the margins of her Bible. Heiligman depicts Emma as a complex woman: thoughtful, intelligent, honest, highly principled, and devout.

Growing up in a freethinking, Unitarian household, Emma took to heart the Unitarian commitment to rational and independent thought. And yet Emma had a deeply devotional side, which is revealed in her letters.

Heiligman places much weight on three letters in particular. The first, written shortly after the death of Emma’s sister Fanny: “Such a separation as this seems to make the next world feel such a reality — it seems to bring it so much nearer to one’s mind and gives one such a desire to be found worthy of being with her” (Wedgwood 1832).

In a second letter, written by Emma to Charles after their engagement in 1839, she worried that “our opinions on the most important subject should differ widely. My reason tells me that honest & conscientious doubts cannot be a sin, but I feel it would be a painful void between us. I thank you from my heart for your openness with me & I should dread the feeling that you were concealing your opinions from the fear of giving me pain” (Wedgwood 1838). In a later letter she says, “May not the habit in scientific pursuits of believing nothing till it is proved, influence your mind too much in other things which cannot be proved in the same way, & which if true are likely to be above our comprehension” (Wedgwood 1839). At the bottom of this letter, discovered among Darwin’s papers after his death, is a short note: “When I am dead, know that many times, I have kissed & cryed over this. C.D.”

Like Emma, Darwin grew up among freethinkers and Unitarians. Darwin’s father had little patience for religion, but his sisters made sure he knew his Bible, which he interpreted literally in his youth. Heiligman provides a succinct summary of natural selection theory and a detailed description of the decades of inquiry that convinced Darwin that species have their origins in natural processes, leading him to describe himself as a materialist and an agnostic.

Despite Emma’s concern about the state of Charles’s soul and her fear that he was jeopardizing their chances of being together through all time, the Darwins’ marriage was strong and fruitful in many dimensions. Heiligman writes about their love, their family life, and their very human struggles to be true to themselves and to each other.

Charles and Emma is a poignant and intimately researched portrayal of the deep bond between two mature people with a commitment to each other, to their family, and to the truth. It is a worthy departure from the format of Heiligman’s earlier brightly illustrated children’s books.

TWO WELL-WRITTEN PERSPECTIVES

Each of these fine books — The True Adventures of Charley Darwin and Charles and Emma — is unique in tone and emphasis. Each portrays a different and fascinating phase of Darwin’s long and productive life. Together, they offer the young reader (or the devoted Darwin fan) a lively and rich depiction of Charles Darwin and his intimate world.


References

Browne J. 1995. Charles Darwin: Voyaging. New York:Alfred A Knopf.

Darwin C. 1838. To marry, not to marry. The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. Available on-line at http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=CULDAR210.8.2&pageseq=1
Last accessed January 26, 2009.

Darwin C. 1958. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1909–1882. Edited by Nora Barlow. New York: WW Norton & Company.

Wedgwood E. 1832 Sep 15. [Letter to her aunt Mme Sismondi.] The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. Available online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=F1553.1&pageseq=219
Last accessed January 26, 2009.

Wedgwood E. 1838 Nov 21–22. [Letter to Charles Darwin.] Darwin Correspondence Project. Available on-line at http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-441.html
Last accessed January 26, 2009.

Wedgwood E. 1839 Feb. [Letter to Charles Darwin.] Darwin Correspondence Project. Available on-line at http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-471.html
Last accessed January 26, 2009.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Anne H Weaver
1119 South Plata Circle
Santa Fe NM 87501

Anne H Weaver is a physical anthropologist and the award-winning author of The Voyage of the Beetle:A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle (Albuquerque [NM]: University of New Mexico Press, 2007).

RNCSE 30 (4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2010
Date: 
July-August
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Coming Soon: A New RNCSE

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Coming Soon: A New RNCSE
Author(s): 
Andrew J Petto, RNCSE Editor
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2010
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
19
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

It is coming! We are pleased to announce a significant change in the format of the publication that NCSE distributes to its members. Beginning with volume 31 (the 2011 January/February issue), Reports of the National Center for Science Education will be available on line. All our articles, features, and book reviews will be available in their entirety only through the NCSE website (http://ncse.com).


WILL I STILL RECEIVE RNCSE IN THE MAIL?

Yes. There will still be six issues of RNCSE published each year, but we will be changing the format in several ways. You will continue to read about the work our our staff and members are doing to promote good science education that includes evolution as a fundamental explanation for the history and diversity of life. You will also see members-only features and other materials in the print version.

RNCSE will still feature original articles, features, news analysis, and book reviews, but our print version will contain brief summaries of these contributions. The full text of these items will appear on line. Each printed issue will provide a complete citation for the on-line material and a URL to link directly to the items that interest you.

The printed version of RNCSE will be smaller (about 16 pages). The reduction in the size of the publication will be the result of shortening the original articles, book reviews, and features, which will appear only as brief summaries in the on-line version. What you will see in print will be a review of the main thrust of original contributions, including a recap of the authors’ main points and with specific attention to the authors’ conclusions.


HOW WILL I GET THE ON-LINE MATERIAL?

The on-line articles, features, and book reviews will be available in two ways. You will be able to browse issues of RNCSE as you do today by connecting to the publications page of the NCSE website: http://ncse.com. This will present you with content organized into bimonthly issues as you see today on the NCSE website.

You will also be able to locate materials that interest you by using the URL that will appear with each summary in the new version of RNCSE. This will take you directly to the item that interests you without having to look through the contents of an entire issue to locate it.


WHEN WILL ARTICLES BE AVAILABLE?

Beginning in January 2011, the materials that we will summarize in the print version of RNCSE will appear on line in the first month of the publication date. For example, the publication date of RNCSE volume 31, number 1, will be Jan/Feb 2011. The online material will be available in January, and the printed issue will be available in February. Readers may access the on-line material as soon as it is available; you do not need to wait for the issue to arrive in the mail. You may also subscribe to a publication alert that will e-mail you when new materials are available.


WHAT IF I PREFER TO HAVE ARTICLES ON PAPER?

You have two choices for receiving print versions of the content that we provide on line. First, you can connect directly to the materials that you want to print, download them to your own computer, and then print them to read right away ... or later.

Second, NCSE members are entitled to free document delivery services. You simply tell NCSE which articles you would like to see in print, and we will send you a copy of that article on paper. This service is available to all NCSE members — and only to NCSE members.


WHY IS NCSE CHANGING RNCSE?

NCSE made the decision to change RNCSE for several reasons. The first reason is that putting our content on line allows us to continue the evolution of NCSE publications that reached back to the earliest days of NCSE. We want to provide more content and more variety for our readers. This was the rationale for the original revision of the NCSE publications that combined the older Creation/Evolution journal and NCSE Reports into the RNCSE that you are reading now. The on-line environment allows us to continue to expand the contents both in the type of contributions that we offer you and in the supplemental materials that accompany them. This means more charts, graphs, and photos will be available than we can provide in print — and perhaps even some innovative formats that are impossible to print, such as videos.

Second, the new format will allow each reader to customize the “RNCSE experience” — choosing to read the contributions in each issue in the order that suits you, the reader, and only the items that interest you the most. We also plan to provide a searchable database of all the original material published in NCSE publications, so you can create your own collections of materials on a particular subject, such as “flood geology” or “intelligent design” models.

Finally, this change will allow NCSE to make a more efficient use of your financial contributions. Printing and mailing costs continue to increase, and the publication of RNCSE takes up an increasing proportion of our budget. At the same time, NCSE is called on more and more to provide advice, information, and support to citizens, teachers, students, lawyers, legislators, clergy, and the press whenever opposition to evolution education emerges in communities across the continent and around the world. This change in RNCSE will allow us to devote more of our resources to our primary mission of promoting good science education and evolution education everywhere because it will expand access to the original content of our publications even while lowering the costs of distributing this information.

* * *

Our goal is to serve you better with our new publication. Please welcome the new RNCSE in January 2011, and give us your feedback to help us to meet your needs for information on creationism/evolution issues in the future.

Use Sunscreen, and Use Your Brains

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Use Sunscreen, and Use Your Brains
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2010
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
16
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Graduates, parents, distinguished faculty and guests ... but especially graduates, because a graduation should be all about you.

The traditional ritual of a commencement speech is to give graduates advice: how to live your lives, what sort of people you should be, how you can build a better America, and so on. Of course, this is the height of presumption, since you have only just met me, and have no reason to conclude that my judgment would be any better than the judgments of your parents, your roommates, your Facebook friends, or some random person off the street. But a graduation is a ritual, and we anthropologists understand ritual, so I’m going to do it anyway.

So what can I tell you in five minutes? I did what anyone would do: I went to my Facebook friends.

My status earlier this week was “Trying to think of something sensible to say to the graduates of Mizzou later this week.” Suggestions from my friends included, “Throwing in a few appropriate Sartre quotes is a good way to grab a young, upand- coming crowd.”

Well, okay, young, up-and-coming crowd, how about:

All human actions are equivalent ... and ... all are on principle doomed to failure.

Well, that’s sure a cheery thought on your graduation day, as you go forth to begin your new lives.

Another suggestion, however, was more useful. “Wear sunscreen.”

This, of course, is from perhaps the most famous commencement address. If you Google “Vonnegut” and “wear sunscreen,” you will see over 20 000 hits. On YouTube alone, there are well over 1000 video versions and satires, including versions in English, Arabic, Portuguese, Swedish, German, and probably many other languages I missed. One features Yoda from Star Wars.

But this most famous commencement address was never given, and wasn’t even written by Kurt Vonnegut. The author Vonnegut’s name somehow got attached to a fantasy commencement speech written by Chicago Tribune journalist Mary Schmich, which took on a life of its own. In addition to the admonition to wear sunscreen, the essay had lots of other good advice, like:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

And highly relevant for today:

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

And similarly:

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

So, “wear sunscreen” is good advice — go read the essay sometime.

Another of my Facebook friends had a suggestion that really resonated with me: Trust your brain. Now you’re talking.

As you heard, I’m a scientist, and I believe strongly that reason, facts, and empirical evidence are essential for making not just scientific decisions, but other decisions as well. How can I encourage you to trust your brain? Well, as I was writing this talk, I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by a reporter who attended a psychic fair. He wrote:

A whole wonderful building full of miracles. Major credit cards accepted.

The reporter went on to describe these miracles, to wit:

It could be a magic bracelet (results not guaranteed), or a magic stick (your results may vary), or a magic meditation magnet (no refunds).

And indeed, there were people attending the fair who seemed not to be using their brains very much. One purveyor would, for $100, converse with a customer’s dead relatives. As the reporter commented, “her conversation seemed to be a trifle one-sided.”

Trust your brain. It’s useful not just for surviving four years of university, but for deciding lots of things that are important. Like what brand of sunscreen to select, or what policies our elected representatives should follow, or whose fault the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is, as well as whether to believe someone can channel your dead relatives.

Trust your brain. Ask questions when people make claims that sound fishy to you — and perhaps even more importantly, when you agree with them.

Use sunscreen, and use your brains.

Granted, there are times when maybe your brain isn’t the most important part of you. I recently read an analysis of love that explained:

sight, smells, [and] touch [stimulate] the thalamus, which in turn stimulates ... increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing and flushed skin .... [T]he ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens — both rich in dopamine receptors — become quite active ... A network of mutual interactions among the amygdala, the insula, and various parts of the prefrontal cortex integrates bodily perceptions and cognitive appraisal.

Okay. Knowing the neurological wiring that accompanies making love is very interesting, but I’m not sure that it really improves on the experience itself. So use your brains, but use your heart, too. You’ll be a better functioning organism if you use both. The real trick in this world of ours is realizing that there are times when you need to set aside your gut and your heart and trust your brain — because it’s going to give you a better answer.

And that is my presumptuous advice to you on this most happy day of your graduation, which I am highly honored to share.

Congratulations — and the best of luck to you!


[Delivered as the commencement address to the graduating class at the University of Missouri, Columbia, on May 15, 2010.]


About the Author(s): 

Eugenie C Scott is NCSE's Executive Director

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477

scott@ncse.com

Vestigial Structures Exist Even Within the Creationist Paradigm

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Vestigial Structures Exist Even Within the Creationist Paradigm
Author(s): 
Phil Senter
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2010
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
18+
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

INTRODUCTION

A vestigial structure is a rudimentary biological structure that was not rudimentary in the ancestors of its bearer. Such a structure is interpreted by evolutionary biologists as a vestige of a homologous structure that was more fully functional and often larger in the ancestors of the organism in question. Biologists generally consider the existence of vestigial structures one of the main lines of evidence for evolution (Barton and others 2007; Hall and Hallgrimsson 2009). Creationist authors typically argue against the existence of vestigial structures to discredit the idea of evolution (Dewar 1957; Morris 1974; Glover 1988; Bergman and Howe 1990; Bergman 2000; Menton 2000; Sarfati 2002). However, here I show that vestigial structures exist even within the parameters of the creationist worldview, even though creationists go to great lengths to deny their existence and discredit their importance. Vestigial structures are entirely consistent with the creationist worldview and arguments that their absence refutes evolution should be discarded by creationists.

In this discussion, I will examine two predictions derived from the hypothesis that vestigial structures exist. The first prediction is that creationist arguments against the existence of vestigial structures can be refuted. The second prediction is that examples of vestigial structures can be identified even within the creationist paradigm; that is, that examples of vestigial structures can be identified in organisms for which both the putative ancestor and the putative descendant are recognized by creationists as part of the same “created kind” or baramin.

In creationist technical literature, the term “baramin” refers to an organism that was created by God during the Creation Week that is recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, plus all of its descendants (Siegler 1978; Wood 2002, 2006). Creationists recognize that speciation occurs within baramins, so that a given baramin today includes several populations that mainstream biologists regard as separate species (Siegler 1978; Tyler 1997; Robinson and Cavanaugh 1998; Wood 2006). Among closely related species, morphological and/or genetic continuity and the ability to produce hybrid offspring are considered by creationists to demonstrate inclusion in the same baramin (Siegler 1978; Wood 2002, 2006). According to these criteria, most baramins correspond to families in the taxonomic hierarchies of mainstream biology (Robinson and Cavanaugh 1998; Wood 2002, 2006). For example, creationists consider the cat family (Felidae) a single baramin in which all the members — house cats, bobcats, tigers, lions, and so on — are descended from the ancestral cat population that God created during Creation Week (Robinson and Cavanaugh 1998).


REFUTATION OF ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF VESTIGIAL STRUCTURES

By far the most popular creationist argument against the existence of vestigial structures is that many biological structures that were once considered useless are now known to have a function (Dewar 1957; Morris 1974; Bergman and Howe 1990; Bergman 2000; Menton 2000; Sarfati 2002). This argument is invalid, because it confuses vestigiality with uselessness. A rudimentary structure can have a recognizable function and still be considered vestigial if it is demonstrably a remnant of an ancestrally non-rudimentary structure (Isaak 2007). For example, if it is demonstrated that the rudimentary, spur-like hindlimbs of pythons are derived from non-rudimentary hindlimbs in the ancestors of pythons, then python spurs can be considered vestigial hindlimbs, despite the fact that they have a recognizable function: to spear opponents during dominance contests (Barker and others 1979). By the same token, the rudimentary wings of the cassowary can be considered vestigial if it is demonstrated that they are derived from non-rudimentary wings in cassowary ancestors, despite the fact that cassowaries use their rudimentary wings in threat displays (Davies 2002). While it is true that Darwin (1872) assumed that rudimentary structures are useless, modern biologists do not make this assumption and therefore do not employ uselessness as a criterion for recognizing a vestigial structure. Even so, vestigial structures can often be considered useless with respect to the usual function of their non-rudimentary counterparts. For example, python hindlimbs are useless as organs of locomotion, and cassowary wings are useless as organs of flight. This objection by creationists based on the functionality of these vestigial organs therefore arises from a misunderstanding of the concept of vestigiality.

Bergman (2000) argues that a definition of vestigiality based on reduction and not uselessness is meaningless, because biologists do not consider structures vestigial if they have been only slightly reduced. It is correct that biologists do not consider slightly reduced structures vestigial, but Bergman (2000) is incorrect to assume that any degree of reduction is used to label a structure vestigial. Structures are labeled vestigial, based on reduction in size, only if that reduction is extreme. For example, the shortened limbs of a dachshund are not considered vestigial limbs, but the miniscule spurs of a python are. This objection by Bergman (2000) is therefore based on a misunderstanding of the reduction criterion. Bergman (2000) correctly states that the evolutionary history of an organ must be known to determine whether it is vestigial. He then argues against the validity of determinations of vestigiality by claiming that evolutionary histories are not known for most such organs and that their identification as vestigial is based on direct comparison with modern and not fossil examples. That claim shows two errors. First, evolutionary inference does not require direct observation of the history of all structures. Second, the evolutionary histories of vestigial skeletal structures are often well documented by fossil series. For example, in derived tyrannosauroid dinosaurs the third finger is reduced to a metacarpal splint with no phalanges (Lambe 1917), whereas early tyrannosauroids had a complete third finger; the fossil record therefore sufficiently documents the evolutionary history of the tyrannosauroid third finger to determine that in derived tyrannosauroids it is vestigial (Xu and others 2004). This objection by Bergman (2000) is based on the incorrect assumption that fossil series are not used to determine vestigiality.

The above objection by Bergman (2000) is invalid for another reason. In evolutionary studies, a precursor to a rudimentary organ can be deduced by comparison with its non-rudimentary counterparts in close relatives. By the same token, within the creationist paradigm a rudimentary structure in one species must be considered vestigial if the homologous structure is non-rudimentary in other species within the same baramin. In such a case, even a creationist must concede that a rudimentary structure has evolved from a non-rudimentary homolog.

Darwin (1872) and others explain that a biological structure may become vestigial if members of the evolutionary lineage in question stop using it. Some creationists claim that this explanation is Lamarckian and therefore false (see Glover 1988; Bergman and Howe 1990). The term Lamarckian refers to the now-discredited hypothesis, named after the pre-Darwinian biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, that traits acquired by an organism during its lifetime are heritable. An example of a Lamarckian scenario is one in which an organism does not exercise a certain muscle, which then atrophies due to disuse, and the organism’s offspring then inherit an atrophied version of that muscle. Lamarckian scenarios are unrealistic, as witness the fact that the children of amputees are born with their limbs intact. But the creationists’ objection that the disuse explanation of vestigiality is Lamarckian is based on a misinterpretation of the evolutionary scenario described by Darwin and others, which is in fact not Lamarckian. The misinterpretation is understandable, because the evolutionary scenario in question is often described with poor wording, as in the first sentence of this paragraph. This scenario could be better worded thus: if members of an evolutionary lineage cease to use a given organ, then the survival of the lineage will not be compromised if one of its members is born with a heritable mutation that results in the reduction of that organ to a rudimentary state; the descendants of that individual will possess a vestigial organ. This is not a Lamarckian scenario, and the objection that it is one is therefore false. Neither Darwin (1872) nor any modern evolutionary biologist makes the Lamarckian claim that atrophy of an organ due to disuse (for example, withering of a muscle that an individual does not exercise) is heritable.


EXAMPLES OF VESTIGIAL STRUCTURES

Clearly, the creationist arguments against the existence of vestigial structures are based on misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions. Even so, these examples of vestigial structures do not necessarily demonstrate that vestigial structures exist within the creationist paradigm, because they relate to taxa that creationist authors have not identified as belonging to a single baramin. Baraminologists (creationist researchers who seek to determine which extant taxa belong to which baramins) have not placed pythons in the same baramin as any fully legged animal, and they have not yet studied cassowaries or tyrannosauroids.

However, examples of vestigial structures do exist within baramins that have been studied by and are recognized by baraminologists. The fossil horse series offers some examples. Creationists once considered fossil members of Equidae (the horse family) to have been created separately from modern horses (Cousins 1971; Gish 1973). However, recent baraminological studies confirm that there is too much morphological continuity between the various fossil and extant members of Equidae to support that interpretation (Garner 1998; Cavanaugh and others 2003; Wood 2005). Today’s creationists therefore consider the fossil horse series a real example of evolution within a single baramin (Garner 1998; Cavanaugh and others 2003; Wood 2005). The fossil record reveals that in the earliest equids each forelimb had four digits, each hindlimb had three digits, the shaft of the ulna extended the full length of the forearm, and the shaft of the fibula extended the full length of the shank (Figure 1). In each forelimb and hindlimb of later fossil equids all digits but number III were lost, and in modern horses thin splints of bone are all that remain of the metacarpal (hand) and metatarsal (foot) bones that supported digits II and IV in each limb. The shafts of the ulna (inner bone of the lower arm) and fibula (outer bone of the lower leg) were progressively reduced in the horse lineage, and in today’s equids they are reduced to tiny spikes (Marsh 1879) (Figure 1). The metacarpal and metatarsal splints of modern equids are vestigial bones, and the ulnar and fibular splints are vestigial shafts of bones. Because these rudimentary skeletal structures are demonstrably derived from non-rudimentary structures in ancestral members of the same baramin, they must be considered vestigial within the creationist paradigm.

Equid Skeletons
FIGURE 1.Reduction of the digits, ulnar shaft, and fibular shaft to a vestigial state in Equidae, as illustrated by the fossil horse series Orohippus — Merychippus — Pliohippus — Equus. A. left posterolteral view of skeleton of the modern horse Equus, with enlargements of the forelimb (left), knee (upper right), and foot (lower right); in the enlargements, vestigial metacarpals and metatarsals are outlined in black, and arrows indicate the vestigial shaft of the ulna (left) and the fibula (upper right); B. the early fossil horse Orohippus, with arrow in enlargement indicating tip of ulna, showing that it extends all the way to the wrist; C. metacarpus (hand) and phalanges (digits) of Orohippus; D. metacarpus and phalanges of the later fossil horse Merychipuus; E. metacarpus and phalanges of forelimb of the later fossil horse Pliohippus; F. metacarpus and phalanges of the modern horse Equus.

It should be noted that these vestigial skeletal structures perform useful functions in extant horses, and that they are nonetheless vestigial. The metacarpal and metatarsal splints serve as guides for ligaments, and remnants of the ulna and fibula function as muscle attachment sites (Smythe 1967). Even so, these structures are vestigial because they currently exist in a state of extreme reduction and they are derived from non-rudimentary homologs in ancestral equids.

Other cases exist in which the vestigiality of a structure can be deduced by comparison with close relatives without reference to fossils. For example, the family Columbidae includes flying pigeons and doves with unreduced wings, as well as flightless dodos and solitaires with miniscule wings (Figure 2). The family Columbidae is identified by creationists as a single baramin (More 1998), and molecular phylogenetic analysis confirms that the dodo and solitaire are phylogenetically nested deeply within the family and are descended from flying columbid ancestors (Shapiro and others 2009). Therefore, the extremely reduced wings of dodos and solitaires are derived from the flying wings of ancestral columbids and so must be considered vestigial within the creationist paradigm.

Rock Dove and Dodo skeletons
FIGURE 2. Reduction of the wing to a vestigial state in some members of the bird family Columbidae, as illustrated by comparison between the unreduced wings of the Rock Dove (Columba livia> and the vestigial wings of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) A. Rock Dove; B. Dodo.

In some cases, a single genus contains some species with an unreduced version of a given structure as well as species with a vestigial version. The cave salamanders Eurycea rathbuni and Eurycea tridentifera have strongly reduced, nonfunctional eyes, while other species of the genus Eurycea that do not live in caves have unreduced, functional eyes (Petranka 1998). In some species of the Australian lizard genus Hemiergis the forelimb and hindlimb both have five full digits, while in other species the outer digits are reduced to metacarpal and metatarsal splints with no finger bones (Choquenot and Greer 1989) (Figure 3B). Within the African lizard genus Tetradactylus is a morphologically continuous series of species of which some possess complete, unreduced limbs; some possess limbs that are drastically reduced nubs without digits; and others have lost the limbs altogether (Berger-Dell’mour 1985) (Figure 3A). Within the African lizard genus Scelotes is another series of species with a similar spectrum of degrees of limb loss (Branch 1998; Whiting and others 2003), and the same is true for the Australian lizard genus Lerista (Greer 1990). No baraminological study has yet been carried out on Eurycea, Hemiergis, Tetradactylus, Scelotes, or Lerista, but because recognized baramins usually correspond to taxa above the genus level (Robinson and Cavanaugh 1998; Wood 2002, 2006) it is doubtful that today any creationist would place members of the same genus in different baramins. Therefore, within the creationist paradigm the eyes of E rathbuni and E tridentifera are vestigial, as are the reduced fingers of the relevant members of Hemiergis and the extremely reduced limbs of the relevant members of Tetradactylus, Scelotes, and Lerista.

Lizard legs and skeletons
FIGURE 3. Reduction of limbs and digits to a vestigial state in lizards, as illustrated by comparison between member os the same genus. A. Dorsal views of hindlimbs of members of the genus Tetradactylus, showing a species with full limbs (T seps: top), a species with reduced limbs (T tetradactylus: bottom left), and a species with vestigial limbs (T africanus: bottom right); modified from Berger-Dell'mour (1985). B. Hands (left) and feet (right) of Hemiergis initialis (top) and H quadrilineatum (bottom), showing vestigial condition of outer digits in H quadrilineatum; modified from Choquenot and Greer (1989).

CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION

All objections to the existence of vestigial organs are demonstrably invalid, and there are numerous examples of vestigial structures within groups of organisms recognized by creationists as baramins. Thus there is no evidence to falsify the predictions of the hypothesis that vestigial structures exist within the creationist paradigm.

Creationist authors have long maintained that heritable change and speciation occur within baramins (Siegler 1978; Robinson and Cavanaugh 1998; Wood 2002, 2006). Here I have shown that this process sometimes gives rise to incontrovertibly vestigial structures and that their existence is consistent with the creationist paradigm. Creationists should therefore cease to claim that vestigial structures do not exist. That claim should be removed from the arsenal of anti-evolution arguments, because even within the creationist paradigm it is false.


References

Barker DG, Murphy JB, Smith KW. 1979. Social behavior in a captive group of Indian pythons, Python molurus (Serpentes, Boidae) with formation of a linear social hierarchy. Copeia 1979: 466–71.

Barton NH, Briggs DEG, Eisen JA, Goldstein B, Patel NH. 2007. Evolution. Cold Spring Harbor (NY): Cold Spring Harbor University Press.

Berger-Dell’mour HAE. 1985. The lizard genus Tetradactylus: a model case of an evolutionary process. In: Schuchmann KL, ed. Proceedings of the International Symposium on African Vertebrates: Systematics, Phylogeny and Evolutionary Ecology. Bonn: Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig. p 495–510.

Bergman J, Howe G. 1990. “Vestigial Organs” are Fully Functional. Kansas City (MO): Creation Research Society.

Bergman J. 2000. Do any vestigial structures exist in humans? Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 14: 95–8.

Branch B. 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Sanibel Island (FL): Ralph Curtis Books.

Cavanaugh DP, Wood TC, Wise KP. 2003. Fossil Equidae: a monobaraminic, stratomorphic series. In: Ivey RL, ed. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship. p 143–53.

Choquenot D, Greer AE. 1989. Intrapopulational and interspecific variation in digital limb bones and presacral vertebrae of the genus Hemiergis (Lacertilia, Scincidae). Journal of Herpetology 23: 274–81.

Cousins FW. 1971. A note on the unsatisfactory nature of the horse series of fossils as evidence for evolution. Creation Research Society Quarterly 8: 99–108.

Darwin C. 1872. The Origin of Species, 6th ed. London: John Murray.

Davies SJJF. 2002. Ratites and Tinamous. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dewar D. 1957. The Transformist Illusion. Murfreesboro (TN): DeHoff.

Garner P. 1998. It’s a horse, of course! A creationist view of phylogenetic change in the equid family. Origins 25: 13–23.

Gish DT. 1973. Evolution: The Fossils Say No! San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers.

Glover JW. 1988. The human vermiform appendix — a Surgeon General’s reflections. Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 3: 31–8.

Greer AE. 1990. Limb reduction in the scincid lizard genus Lerista. 2. Variation in the bone complements of the front and rear limbs and the number of postsacral vertebrae. Journal of Herpetology 24: 142–50.

Hall BK, Hallgrimsson B. 2009. Strickberger’s Evolution, 4th ed. Sudbury (MA): Jones and Bartlett.

Isaak M. 2007. The Counter-Creationism Handbook. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.

Lambe LM. 1917. The Cretaceous theropodous dinosaur Gorgosaurus. Geological Survey of Canada Memoir 100: 1–84.

Marsh OC. 1879. Polydactyle horses, recent and extinct. American Journal of Science 17: 499–505.

Menton J. 2000. The plantaris and the question of vestigial muscles in man. Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 14: 50–3.

More ERJ. 1998. The created kind — Noah’s doves, ravens, and their descendants. In: Walsh RE, ed. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship. p 407–19.

Morris HM, editor. 1974. Scientific Creationism. El Cajon (CA): Master Books.

Petranka JW. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press.

Robinson DA, Cavanaugh DP. 1998. Evidence for a holobaraminic origin of the cats. Creation Research Society Quarterly 35: 2–14.

Sarfati J. 2002. Refuting Evolution 2. Green Forest (AR): Master Books.

Shapiro B, Sibthorpe D, Rambaut A, Austin J, Wragg GM, Bininda-Emonds ORP, Lee PLM, Cooper A. 2009. Flight of the dodo. Science 295: 1683.

Siegler HR. 1978. A creationist’s taxonomy. Creation Research Society Quarterly 15: 36–8.

Smythe RH. 1967. The Horse: Structure and Movement. London: JA Allen and Company.

Tyler DJ. 1997. Adaptations within the bear family: A contribution to the debate about the limits of variation. Creation Matters 2: 1–4.

Whiting AS, Bauer AM, Sites JW Jr. 2005. Phylogenetic relationships and limb loss in sub-Saharan African scincine lizards (Squamata: Scincidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 29: 582–98.

Wood TC. 2002. A baraminological tutorial with examples from the grasses (Poaceae). Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 16: 15–25.

Wood TC. 2005. Visualizing baraminic distances using classic multidimensional scaling. Origins 57: 9–29.

Wood TC. 2006. The current status of baraminology. Creation Research Society Quarterly 43: 149–58.

Xu X, Norell MA, Kuang X, Wang X, Zhao Q, Jia C. 2004. Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids. Nature 431: 680–4.


About the Author(s): 

Phil Senter is a dinosaur paleontologist who teaches biology courses at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Phil Senter
Department of Biological Sciences
Fayetteville State University
1200 Murchison Road
Fayetteville NC 28301

psenter@uncfsu.edu

“How Did You End Up in This Job, Anyway?”

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
“How Did You End Up in This Job, Anyway?”
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2010
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
13–15
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

It is of course a wonderful thing to receive an honorary degree from the University of Missouri, an institution that many years ago I called home.

I’m extremely grateful to all of the people who supported my candidacy for this high honor, particularly Frank Schmidt.

At the NCSE, we focus on two subjects: the nature of science and evolution. The US stands out among developed (and even some underdeveloped) nations with a high rate of rejection of the idea that living things have had common ancestors, and that the earth and universe are ancient and have changed over time. Only about half of Americans accept the idea that evolution has occurred, whereas the percentage of scientists who accept this is over 95%. Scientists vigorously debate details about how evolution occurred, not whether. Nonetheless, there has for over fifty years been a growing movement to try to persuade our fellow citizens that what is routinely taught at the university level in astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology is without a scientific foundation.

The question I am most frequently asked is “Why do we have this problem (of creationism) here in the US and they don’t have it elsewhere?” The second most frequently asked question is “if humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” The third question — after someone gets to know me — is “How did you end up in this job, anyway?”

For my remarks tonight, I thought I would talk about that third question and tell you a little bit about how I got into this rather peculiar line of work of mine. It starts here, after all, because it was at the University of Missouri that I first was introduced to something called “creation science.” One day, in 1971, my professor, Jim Gavan, handed me a stack of small, brightly colored, slick paper pamphlets from the Institute for Creation Research. “Here,” he said, “Take a look at these. It’s called ‘creation science’.”

Wow. Here I was studying to be a scientist, and here were people calling themselves scientists, but we sure weren’t seeing the world the same way. Creationists claimed to be looking at the same data as mainstream scientists, but were concluding that all living things had appeared in their present form, at one time, a few thousand years ago. I and the rest of science was concluding that living things had branched off from common ancestors over scarcely imaginable stretches of time.

They were concluding that the entire planet had been covered by water, and that all the present-day geological features of earth had been determined by this flood and its aftermath. I couldn’t see any evidence for this at all, and much evidence against it. Why were we coming up with such different conclusions? The data sometimes were the same (although I found many errors in creationist literature), but the biggest differences were in philosophy of science and the approach to problem solving.

I began collecting creation science literature as an interesting problem in the philosophy of science — and because of course it was just inherently interesting. Due to the pressures of graduate school and later my first teaching job at the University of Kentucky, I wasn’t able to pursue it especially deeply, but students would occasionally bring up the topic. I would tell them that even if proponents of creation science claimed they were doing science, one cannot claim that one is doing science if one is doing something very different from what scientists are doing. Creation science was a good foil to use to teach students about the nature of science. Nowadays, “intelligent design” — a more recent form of creation science — can be used in the same way.


WHAT MAKES SCIENCE SCIENTIFIC?

As executive director of the National Center for Science Education, I regularly encounter the public’s misunderstanding of the most basic elements of science. I deal with people who nod in agreement with a typical creationist statement that “neither evolution nor creationism is scientific because no one was there to observe it.” I deal with a public that agrees with creation scientists stating that “evolution isn’t scientific because evolutionists are always changing their minds,” and perhaps most disappointing, with people who contend, “well, if science is a search for truth, why can’t we just tell students ‘God did it’ in science class?” All of these are misunderstandings of what science is all about, which gets us into the question of what is science, and of course the fundamental question of what do you teach in a high school science class.

Of course, philosophers of science vigorously debate the definition of science, but at the level that the public understands these issues, their concerns are more like debating the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Doubtless to the frustration of my colleagues in the philosophy of science, my job requires me to simplify — probably beyond what they consider acceptable. But in doing so, I can make a little progress in helping the public to understand why science works, and also why the various creationisms aren’t science. Maybe down the road the nonscientists I encounter can tackle falsification and the demarcation problem; right now, I’d be happy if they understood two basic rules of science that I believe the majority of scientists would agree upon:

Science requires testing of explanations against the empirical world, and requires explanation through only natural causes.

The reason for the restriction of science to natural causes is related to the importance of testing in science. We can only test an idea if we can hold constant some of the variables under consideration. If God is omnipotent, He is unconstrained, and His actions cannot be held constant. As such, any experiment that postulates God as an actor could have any possible outcome. Therefore there is no way to scientifically test explanations that involve God or any other supernatural force. We are stuck with using only natural causes in science, because those are the only ones we can test. If we ever invent a theometer, maybe then we will be able to test hypotheses involving God.

And that is why creationism isn’t scientific, despite the claims of its proponents. It ultimately invokes the direct hand of God to specially create, whether Adam and Eve, or the bacterial flagellum, and whether true or not, invoking God cannot be deemed science. Furthermore, in my study of creationism, it became clear that the way they carried out their “science” was fundamentally flawed. Starting with a conclusion (God specially created) and looking for evidence to confirm it, is not doing science. And confusing students about what is science and what is outside of science is educational malpractice.


SCIENCE IN SOCIETY

My interest in creationism changed from a casual concern about philosophy of science the year after I left Missouri. In October 1975, Jim Gavan unwisely accepted an invitation to debate the ICR’s Duane Gish. Gish had skillfully-honed debate skills that were highly effective in persuading the public that evolution was shaky science, and that folks should really consider his “scientific alternative”. I and some of my Kentucky students drove from Lexington to Missouri to attend the debate, and it was an eye-opener.

I counted thirteen buses from local church groups parked outside the huge auditorium, and after seeing the enthusiasm with which the audience received Gish and his message, the cold water of the social and political reality of this movement hit me for the first time. It was no longer just an academic exercise. People were taking this pseudoscience very seriously.

The late Jim Gavan was an excellent scientist, a former president of the American Association of Physical Anthropology, a smart and articulate man well-grounded in philosophy of science. He had done his homework: he had studied creationist literature for several months, and came as prepared as anyone could be expected to be. Clearly, his scientific arguments were superior, but judged from the perspective of who won the hearts and minds of the people, the folksy, jocular Gish mopped him up.

So I realized that there was a heck of a lot more in this creationism and evolution business than just the academic issues. I went back to Lexington and my job of teaching evolution to college students with a new appreciation of a growing movement that had as its goal the undermining of my professional discipline, to say nothing of the scientific point of view. But still — there were papers to publish, and a high teaching load, and I was still learning my job, so I didn’t take an active role in the controversy quite yet.

My true baptism into realizing the depth and extent of the social and political importance of the creation science movement came in 1980 in Lexington, Kentucky, when the “Citizens for Balanced Teaching of Origins” approached the Lexington school board to request that creation science be introduced into the curriculum. Because I had collected creationist literature over the years, I became a focal point for the opposition to this effort. I learned a lot: lessons I have applied in my current job. Scientists of course are major stakeholders in this controversy, but we are not alone, nor do we succeed alone.

Teachers are concerned about maintaining professional standards, and parents want their children to get a decent science education. People who care about church and state separation are very concerned about the teaching of creationism in science class. But stakeholders often not recognized are members of the mainstream clergy, who do not want someone else’s religion (biblical literalism) taught Monday through Friday and then have to straighten out their congregants on the weekend. In my experience, evolution is more likely to be taught in Catholic schools than in public ones.

In Lexington, we formed a coalition of scientists, teachers, civil libertarians, parents, and clergy, and after over a year of controversy, we persuaded the Lexington Board of Education to reject the proposal to bring creation science into the curriculum — by a scant 3–2 margin. The fact that the mainstream clergy stood up and announced that they thought evolution should be taught in school, and that they preferred to teach creation their own way, thank you very much, swung the community and thus the elected school board members to our side.

What happened in Lexington has happened in community after community across the US, and — I’m happy to say — when my staff and I can get input into the situation, the evolution side more often than not prevails. But the creationism controversy is not a problem that will be solved merely by throwing science at it. Of course, creationists — whether traditional creation science proponents or “intelligent design” proponents — contend that their views are supported by science and thus should be taught in science class, a point that has often been, and continually needs to be, refuted.


BUT IT’S NOT FAIR

Scientists are the best equipped to make the point. Showing that evolution is solid science, and that creationism is unscientific is necessary — but insufficient. Ironically, the most effective argument creationists have used over the years is not a scientific one at all, but the “fairness” argument: that it is only “fair” to “teach both” — as if there were only two choices. Of course, even within Christianity there are a half dozen varieties of creationism, and if we add other world religions — much less Native American and other tribal society versions of creation — we quickly escalate into the thousands. “Both” indeed.

Yet fairness is an important part of American culture, and appeals to fairness and democracy have a resonance beyond the appropriateness of their application to science. Science is not a democratic process; it’s a meritocracy. We keep the ideas that work, and discard the ideas that don’t. If I’m speaking to a group of biologists I’ll sometimes joke, “How many of you would vote in Lamarckism over natural selection?” and almost all the hands go up! But however much nicer it would be for the diversity of life to be caused by Lamarckian processes allowing for the inheritance of acquired characteristics, rather than the painful, wasteful, and brutal process of natural selection, we have to go with how the world works, rather than how we’d like it to work.

In Missouri, you have had legislation introduced over the years which attempts to capitalize on this American enthusiasm for fairness to both sides. Bills once stressed giving equal time to creation science, and more recently, to “intelligent design”. Within the last decade, the focus has shifted to bills that direct teachers to “critically analyze” (read: criticize) evolution, or to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. We call this the “evidence against evolution” strategy, and it arose from a dissent from a Supreme Court decision that I won’t bother you with here. But the purpose of these bills in Missouri and elsewhere is to encourage teachers to cast doubt on the validity of evolution, and to introduce creationism through the back door.

And ultimately, what we are talking about with the creationism/evolution controversy is “what do you teach in a high school science class?” And clearly, what you should teach, sensibly enough, is science. Not something outside of science, like a religious idea, no matter how popular it is.

Of course, it’s impossible to teach all of science. What a high school teacher does is take the consensus view of science and choose from the topics that are most important for a beginning learner. The skill of a pre-college teacher is figuring out how to break down these topics into a sequence of learning so that a young person can build an understanding of the science that would allow additional study.

What the creationists want is for us to abandon the consensus view of science and introduce materials into the curriculum which are not only outside of the consensus, but not even science at all. Ironically, although anti-evolutionists are quick to accuse opponents of unfairness, theirs is ultimately the most unfair position. It miseducates students and handicaps them for further understanding of science.

Those of us concerned about public science literacy should indeed be concerned about the attacks upon evolution, because fundamentally such attacks are attacks on science itself. And if the United States loses its scientific superiority, it can hardly expect to maintain its international superiority in agriculture, medicine, energy, or any of the many other areas which science informs.

I also would hope you would be concerned that many young people are not learning one of the most profound discoveries in human history: the genetic connection between human beings and all other living things on the planet. And the more that evolution teaches us about the connections among all living creatures, from the simplest singlecelled organism to creatures capable of leaving the planet itself, the more we will understand how very precious life is, and hopefully, we will apply these lessons to preserving and enhancing our lives and those of the organisms with which we share our planet.

Evolution is an important scientific idea. It’s too bad so many students are not being allowed to learn it in our public schools.


[Delivered at the University of Missouri, Columbia, on May 15, 2010.]


About the Author(s): 

Eugenie C Scott is NCSE's Executive Director.


AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Eugenie C Scott
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477

scott@ncse.com

Review: Archaeopteryx

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
33-34
Reviewer: 
Kevin Padian
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Archaeopteryx: The Icon of Evolution
Author(s): 
Peter Wellnhofer
Munich: Verlag Dr Friedrich Pfeil, 2009. 208 pages

Peter Wellnhofer "Archaeopteryx" book coverholds the distinction of having been the pre-eminent world authority on both Archaeopteryx and the pterosaurs for over 30 years, a distinction enjoyed by few scholars on comparable fossil organisms. This semi-popular, lavishly illustrated, and copiously documented book is the crowning achievement of his work on Archaeopteryx. It comes at an auspicious time, given the Darwin celebrations of 2009 and the role that the world’s most famous fossil bird has played in evolutionary theory.

For the readers of NCSE, it should first be said that the “controversy” that Archaeopteryx has traditionally played in the creationist literature (including the more recent instars of the “intelligent design” movement) is not his subject. Wellnhofer feels that NCSE takes care of that very well, which is a real compliment to our organization. This frees him to explore the science of Archaeopteryx. Wellnhofer’s approach is fundamentally historical: the background of the story, each specimen, each paleobiological problem, is treated historically and comprehensively. Wellnhofer is in a very good position to do this, because he has surveyed the historical literature in the field for 40 years. His survey reminds us that few ideas are really new, and that even though the internet can bring us scads of recent articles on any subject, this is no excuse for lack of scholarship in ferreting out and reading the older literature. Of course, some of this literature is obscure, not widely accessible, so it is good to have it brought to our attention.

Wellnhofer begins with the town and region of Solnhofen, Bavaria, whence all ten of the skeletal specimens as well as the original feather have come. He situates Solnhofen in its historical, cultural, geographical, and geological context, presenting information that will be unfamiliar to most American readers. The famous Solnhofen limestones, which have been quarried for millennia, represent the bottom of an ancient, relatively quiescent, anoxic lagoon where critters in various stages of decomposition settled and were buried. Occasionally they died in their tracks there, like the fossil crabs that wandered in and found the poisonous environment not to their liking. This also prevented a lot of scavenging and other post mortem biotic destruction of the specimens, and thereby improved fossilization potential.

The bulk of the book concentrates on descriptions, historical accounts, and illustrations of the Archaeopteryx specimens themselves. It is wonderful to have these clear, straightforward descriptions in one place, laid out in simple language with both color photos and concise illustrations. All of these characteristics have been hallmarks of Wellnhofer’s work throughout his career, and they should be emulated by all paleontologists. He also provides a comparative table of measurements, all the more reliable for being taken by a single expert researcher.

The final part of the book concerns various issues that have historically involved the Archaeopteryx specimens. How many species are really present? (One) What is the correct nomenclature? (Archaeopteryx lithographica) ... and so on. These questions seem to have easy answers, but they are historically complex. Other questions are less easy to answer. Wellnhofer bends over backward to be open-minded, although some of the more recent literature has rather settled many of these. He is also not much of a cladist, so he does not situate Archaeopteryx into nested sets of shared derived characteristics that demonstrate its phylogenetic position (perhaps to the relief of many readers). On the other hand, his literature review is admirably complete, with the exception of some of the most recent works.

One of the most poignant aspects of the book is Wellnhofer’s description of how the friable, easily separated layers of Solnhofen limestones (the Fäulen) are cleared away as rubble, because they can’t serve as building or lithographic stone (the Flinze). How many irreplaceable fossils, he wonders, are destroyed by this process? And this is echoed in his afterword, which laments that in Bavaria there is no law to protect the destruction or private sale of such specimens, a problem that has touched several of the ten current skeletal specimens of Archaeopteryx.

Obviously, paleontologists, ornithologists, and fossil fanciers will want this book, but it should also be on the shelves of public and school libraries, because it lays out in clear and unbiased detail the facts that surround the world’s most famous fossil and a true icon of evolution. No one is likely to replace this book’s scholarship or its production quality for a very long time, so it should be bought and cherished for the future.


About the Author(s): 

Kevin Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley; Curator of Paleontology at the University of California Museum of Paleontology; and president of NCSE’s board of directors.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Kevin Padian
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Oakland CA 94709-0477

info@ncse.com

Review: Darwin's Lost World

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
31-32
Reviewer: 
Roy E Plotnick
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin’s Lost World: The Hidden History of Animal Life
Author(s): 
Martin Brasier

Oxford paleobiologist"Darwin's Lost World" book cover Martin Brasier’s new book, Darwin’s Lost World, is first of all a recounting of his own research history, beginning with a 1970 trip to study the modern reef environments of Barbuda and continuing with expeditions to far-flung localities in China, Mongolia, Siberia, Oman, Newfoundland, and Scotland. At the same time, it is a documentation of Brasier’s role in investigating one of most intensely studied episodes in earth history, the roughly 100-million–year period that culminated in the appearance of recognizable animal life, including such familiar fossils as brachiopods, trilobites, and snails. This culmination is the so-called Cambrian explosion.

At the time of Darwin’s writing of the Origin of Species, there was little or no evidence of fossils prior to the earliest Cambrian strata, making it seem as though complex animal fossils had appeared suddenly worldwide. In the first edition of the Origin, while recounting the difficulties in his theory associated with the imperfections of the geological record, Darwin confessed:

if my theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Silurian was deposited, long periods elapsed as long as, or probably longer than the whole interval from the Silurian age to the present day; and that during these vast, yet quite unknown periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures. To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer.

(At the time, the Silurian encompassed what we now call the Cambrian.)

Readers of RNCSE are aware that this 150-year–old conundrum is still considered state-of-the-art science by many in the creationist community. For example, the acting chair of the Texas state board of education, Don McLeroy, in his failed confirmation hearing before the Texas Senate on May 28, 2009, stated that the sudden appearance of phyla in the Cambrian explosion is evidence from the fossil record against evolution.

But research over the past 50 years has conclusively shown that Darwin’s “lost world” did indeed exist and that the explosion was not really so sudden. The history of life on earth has now been documented for about three billion years prior to the Cambrian. Many of the critical discoveries of Precambrian life and their interpretation are entertainingly recounted in Andrew Knoll’s Life on a Young Planet (Princeton [NJ]: Princeton University Press, 2003), which I highly recommend. The current book focuses on the last part of the Precambrian, the recently established Ediacaran Period (630–542 million years ago) and the succeeding Early Cambrian Epoch (542–513 million years ago). This is the period during which complex multicellular life, including animal life, became established.

Reading Brasier’s book will introduce readers to many of the key localities and discoveries, as well as provide glimpses of many of the major investigators, of Ediacaran and early Cambrian life. The well-known animals of the Burgess Shale — often offered as exemplars of the Cambrian radiation — are about 505 million years old and thus actually postdate the radiation, which was pretty much over by 520 million years ago.

Older still are the Ediacaran fossils, best known from places such as Australia, Newfoundland, Russia, and England, but clearly occurring worldwide. What is not clear is exactly what these forms were; opinions range from the earliest representatives of familiar animal groups to a separate and extinct group of multicellular organisms. Brasier’s own opinion is that they were ancestral to sponges, ctenophores, and jellyfish, living mostly by absorbing nutrients from the water.

One of the ongoing disputes in the field of Precambrian–Cambrian research is when major animal groups first appeared. Paleontologists mostly place originations conservatively at or about their first appearances in the fossil record. Others also use “molecular clocks” based on estimates of the rates of genetic change between groups and calibrated with the fossil record. These clocks have almost always placed the origin of animal groups well before their first appearance, with the lack of fossils being explained as a failure of preservation. Brasier dismisses such explanations as based on what he terms “Lyell’s hunch” — the hope that we lack the fossil ancestors because they have not been found yet. In contrast, Brasier argues that fossil preservation in the late Precambrian was better than it was later in earth history, so that if these early forms were present, we should have found them by now.

The book is illustrated with the author’s own photos and line drawings. It is also enlivened by his sense of humor. I especially liked the “MOFAOTYOF principle”, which stands for “my oldest fossils are older than your oldest fossils” and represents the excitement, attendant publicity, and as Brasier stresses, the necessity for concrete evidence when the oldest member of a fossil group is first discovered and published.

Darwin’s Lost World often assumes too much prior knowledge by the reader. The geologic time scale, for example, is not introduced until p 42. The “Snowball Earth” glaciations are mentioned without explanation on p 96 and are not really discussed until some 90 pages later. I also found his occasional attempts to illustrate a point by arranging the text to resemble a picture or graph to be more irritating than illuminating. A recurring problem is the use of the phrase “Cambrian explosion” to refer to the Cambrian part of this story. As often pointed out by my Berkeley colleague Jere Lipps, the use of the word “explosion” is both a misnomer and misleading. How can something that takes tens of millions of years be an explosion? As a result, you will see many paleontologists using the phrase “Cambrian revolution,” to refer to the profound biological changes occurring during this interval. I prefer the even milder phrase “Cambrian radiation”.

These quibbles notwithstanding, I readily recommend this book as an entertaining introduction to a major field in studying the history of life. It will give you invaluable information for the next time you get asked to explain how evolution explains the Cambrian “explosion”.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Thanks to Jere Lipps and Stephen Dornbos for their comments on this review.


About the Author(s): 

Roy E Plotnick is Professor of Paleontology in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Roy E Plotnick
Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois at Chicago
845 W Taylor St
Chicago IL 60607

Review: The Genesis Enigma

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July-August
Page(s): 
36-37
Reviewer: 
Alexander Glass
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible is Scientifically Accurate
Author(s): 
Andrew Parker
New York: Penguin, 2009. 284 pages

Andrew Parker, "The Genesis Enigma" book coverevolutionary biologist and Honorary Research Fellow at Green Templeton College at Oxford University, is perhaps best known in scientific circles for his “light-switch theory” (Parker 2003), the proposition that the evolution of vision coupled with predation was an important driver of the “Cambrian Explosion” half a billion years ago. In his new book, The Genesis Enigma: Why The Bible is Scientifically Accurate, Parker joins the ranks of those scientists who are weary of having their faith be represented by anti-evolutionists and having their science claimed by atheists. Parker’s plea is that faith in God and an acceptance of modern science is indeed possible without holding on to a naïve biblical literalism. That is the good part of the Genesis Enigma. Unfortunately, Parker takes on far more than can be sufficiently addressed in his 280-page book, leaving both conservative and progressive Christian readers wholly unconvinced.

Parker’s main premise is that when the book of Genesis is read figuratively, the events appear to match our modern reconstruction of earth history. According to Parker:

when the biblical text is taken literally, it is left in the wake of advancing science. But when it is read figuratively, it not only keeps pace with the hottest science, it precedes or heralds it. (p 130)

In other words, the creation chronology of Genesis describes events that took the scientific community several thousand years to identify and piece together. This then is Parker’s “Genesis Enigma”: how is it that an ancient pre-scientific text could accurately describe the early geological and biological history of earth? Parker sees in this match between scripture and science possible evidence of divine inspiration. This claim alone is complex and controversial enough — and the argument should really have stopped there.

Unfortunately for the coherence of the book, Parker takes it several steps further by seeking to convince the reader that Genesis is not only scientifically accurate but that the entire Bible is historically reliable. The resulting read is an odd mixture of biblical archaeology, paleontology, cosmology, evolutionary biology, and theology, all interspersed with long but superficial reviews of the history of science, many of which actually detract from the main argument.

The book begins with a brief summary of the development of the biblical text, in essence arguing that despite minor copying errors and manuscript variations the version we have today is reliable. Parker’s selective treatment is reminiscent of many popular conservative Christian apologetics books and should leave any reader — believer or nonbeliever — unconvinced. Unfortunately, this section is followed by an equally meager assessment of biblical archaeology. The reader is asked to conclude that the Bible is historically accurate based on a few archaeological discoveries that allegedly corroborate the existence of a handful of biblical sites and figures. However, even a casual glimpse through the latest volumes of the Biblical Archaeology Review makes it clear that the correspondence between actual archaeological discovery and biblical accounts is much more tenuous than Parker would like us to believe.

The heart of the book follows the creation events of the first 25 verses of the book of Genesis based on the King James version. Each event is linked to an actual physical, geological, or biological milestone in the 4.55-billion–year history of the earth. At first, Parker’s figurative reading of the text is relatively straightforward: the creation of light (Genesis 1:3) actually describes the formation of our sun accompanied by the coalescing of the planets and other bodies of the solar system. Parker’s figurative reading begins to take much greater liberties on the third day of creation when he argues that the appearance of “grass, herb, and fruit trees” corresponds with the evolution of photosynthetic life in the oceans.

Continuing this free-spirited reading, the fourth day is characterized not by the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, but by the evolution of sight by the first multicellular animals. In a discussion reminiscent of interpretations by old-earth creationist Hugh Ross that Genesis 1:14–17 describes not the creation but the first visible appearance of stellar objects to an observer on earth, Parker argues that this verse stresses the appearance of sight in animals. He supports this interpretation with a thorough discussion of the seminal impact of vision, his “light-switch theory”, on the evolution of life on earth.

Parker develops this line of reasoning further for Genesis 1:20–21, the creation of abundant life in the oceans. He sees this as a reference to the so-called Cambrian explosion, during which most of the phyla of animals first diversified in the oceans. Parker concludes his analysis with a brief nod to Genesis 1:24–25, seeing in it a description of the evolution of land animals before the final appearance of humans.

Parker’s figurative reading in light of the evolution of vision is interesting and creative. However, it is also a great example of how such approaches are prone to reflect the biases and wishes of the reader rather than the intended meaning of the text. Conservative Christians will criticize Parker for not taking the language of Genesis seriously enough, whereas progressives will ask why he perceives such a need to find congruence between the text and modern science. Experienced science-and-religion readers will also be baffled by the near-complete lack of treatment of previous scholarly works on this subject. If Parker’s goal was to add a new serious voice to the now voluminous creationism/evolution discussion, he should have spent more time discussing contemporary issues relevant to his interpretation.

A central mantra of the anti-evolutionists has long been that atheism and evolution are two sides of the same coin. Parker’s voice as a wellknown and respected scientist and believer aids in dispelling this myth. Unfortunately, it also reinforces another: namely that a Christian cannot accept the findings of modern science without also stretching the bounds of scriptural interpretation to its utmost limit.


References

Parker A. 2003. In the Blink of an Eye. New York: Basic Books.


About the Author(s): 

Alexander Glass is an invertebrate paleontologist specializing in the evolutionary history of brittlestars. He is an instructor in the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He spends his free time obsessively thinking about religion, evolution, and pseudoscience.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Alexander Glass
Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences
Duke University
Box 90227
Durham NC 27708

RNCSE 30 (5)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2010
Date: 
September-October
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Origin of Polonium Halos

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Origin of Polonium Halos
Author(s): 
Lorence G Collins &nbsp &nbsp Barbara J Collins
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2010
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
11–16
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

INTRODUCTION

It has been more than twelve years since we (Collins 1988, 1997b; Hunt and others 1992) discussed Robert Gentry’s hypothesis proposing that polonium (Po) halos and granite were created nearly instantaneously on Day Three of the Genesis Week (Gen 1:9–10; Gentry 1965, 1970, 1974, 1983, 1988). It is worth examining new information pertinent to the origin of polonium halos. Gentry points out that most granite petrologists believe that all granite bodies of large size are formed deep in the earth’s crust from magma (molten rock) and that as much as 5 million years are required for this magma to be cooled sufficiently for biotite mica to begin to crystallize (see sidebar on p 13 for descriptions of these minerals).

Polonium halos occur in biotite in granites of supposed magmatic origin, and the half-lives of the polonium (Po) isotopes are short (218Po, 3.05 minutes; 214Po, microseconds; and 210Po, 140 days). Gentry claims, therefore, that no matter how much original polonium may have been present in the granite magma, all would have decayed to stable lead (206Pb) in 5 million years, long before the biotite in which polonium halos are found could have formed. He asserts on that basis that polonium halos can be used to support the literal interpretation of the Bible that granite in the earth was created during Day Three of the Genesis Week and not over a period of ~4.6 billion years (Dalrymple 1991). This rapid formation of granite during Day Three and supposed disappearance of polonium isotopes during 5 million years are ideas that are also promoted by Snelling (2008a, 2008b). [Thomas A Baillieul’s detailed summary and critique of Gentry’s views begins on p 17.]

Gentry and Snelling’s claims are without validity (Collins 2008). These creationists ignore the fact that uranium in the original magma would be continuously supplying polonium isotopes during the 5 million years of cooling. The problem is not the disappearance of polonium through 5 million years, as Gentry and Snelling suggest, but the inability of polonium ions produced during this time to migrate from scattered uranium atoms in very viscous magma to precipitate as polonium atoms in a localized place in a growing biotite crystal lattice so that polonium halos can form. The question to ask, therefore, is: how has it been possible for uranium to concentrate in local sources so that polonium, which is derived from the decay of this uranium, could nucleate in growing crystals of biotite or fluorite? There are two possible mechanisms to make this concentration happen. The first is by the formation of either vein-dikes or pegmatites containing uranium minerals that are associated with chemical replacement processes (metasomatism). The second is by the formation of pegmatites containing uranium minerals that result from magmatic processes. Both mechanisms are examined in this article.

Myrmekite
FIGURE 1. Myrmekite (center; white vermicules [quartz]; black [plagioclase feldspar]) adjacent to potassium feldspar with grid twinning (bottom; black and white) with cross-polarized light.

POLONIUM HALOS IN VEIN-DIKES AND PEGMATITES ASSOCIATED WITH CHEMICAL REPLACEMENT PROCESSES

Collins found that in many places where poloniumhalo- bearing biotite and fluorite crystals are present, the adjacent granitic rocks were microfractured and contained myrmekite (the intergrowth of plagioclase and vermicular quartz) (Collins 1988, 1997a; Figure 1). The granitic rocks in these places were produced by chemical replacement processes (metasomatism) of previously solidified igneous rocks at temperatures below those required for melting (350–550ºC).

The evidence that such granite is formed by metasomatism consists of detailed thin section studies, electron microprobe analyses, and cathodoluminescence images of undeformed diorite through a transition of deformation into granite where calcium, sodium, iron, magnesium, and aluminum were subtracted as potassium and silica were introduced (Collins 2002). The resulting metasomatic granite that is formed at temperatures below melting conditions looks like granite that has crystallized from magma because the newly formed granite inherits the mineral textures and structures (dikes into wall rocks and inclusions of foreign rocks) of the original igneous rock (for example, diorite), but now the rock’s mineral and chemical compositions have been changed into what occur in granite. The process is similar to the formation of petrified wood in which silica atoms are brought in and exchanged for carbon atoms, preserving the cellular structure of the wood, except that in the metasomatic granite, potassium is exchanged for sodium and calcium, converting plagioclase feldspar into potassium feldspar while preserving the original shapes of the plagioclase crystals. Some of these same myrmekite-bearing microfractured granitic rocks contained scattered but relatively abundant uranium (238U) in crystals of uraninite and zircon, so a nearby source for radioactive radon gas (222Rn) was readily available, as were polonium 218Po, 214Po, and 210Po, the three daughter isotopes of 222Rn. Fracturing of the rock that is intense enough produces open spaces that became filled with the dissolved elements that ultimately formed calcite veindikes containing biotite (and fluorite) with polonium halos (Wakefield 1987–8, 1988). Coarse-crystalline pegmatites were produced in other places in this same area when closely spaced microfractured rocks were converted to granite by replacement processes. Uranium continued to supply large amounts of radioactive radon and polonium once it became concentrated in, or was in route to, these lower-pressure microfractured places. This accumulation of radioactive elements in the lower pressure sites enabled polonium to nucleate in growing or recrystallizing crystals of biotite mica (and fluorite).

Polonium ions nucleate in biotite and fluorite because these ions are large and can fit only in large sized holes in a mineral lattice. Such holes occur in biotite and fluorite but not in the other kinds of minerals commonly found in granite. The polonium ions nucleating on the faces of growing biotite crystals and fluorite subsequently became enclosed inside these crystals. The enclosed polonium ions would then begin to decay and emit alpha particles. The alpha particles, shot out in random patterns, would cause damage to the crystal lattice producing spheres with different radii, destroying the lattice structure and producing a disordered pattern, known as a glass, which appears as a black circular spot under the petrographic microscope. Rings of these different radii of damage can be seen if these spheres are cut through in the plane of the equator. Such rings are referred to as halos — hence, 218Po, 214Po, and 210Po halos. From 9 to 10 billion atoms of polonium are needed at a nucleation point before individual halos can be seen (Gentry 1988). This means that vast numbers of polonium atoms were once present in the crystals of biotite before these atoms all eventually decayed to stable lead (206Pb).

Examples of the three types of polonium halos can be seen below the geologic map of Wakefield (1987–8). Figure 2 shows schematic diagrams of the rings (halos) of damage for the three polonium halo types and for a uranium halo. The uranium-halo schematic shows that the three polonium isotopes are the last three daughter isotopes in the eight-step decay of 238U, each step losing a mass of 4. On that basis, the 218Po halo with its three rings, the 214Po halo with its two rings, and the 210Po halo with its one ring are isolated (separate) from any immediate uranium source, but, of course, the polonium ions that nucleate to produce these halos are derived from some nearby uranium source.

Collins Figure 2: Variety of Halos
FIGURE 2. A. Schematic drawing of 238U halo with radii proportional to ranges of alpha-particles in air. B. Schematic drawing of 218Po halo. C. Schematic drawing of 214Po halo. D. Schematic drawing of 210Po halo. (From Collins 1988.)

Numerous polonium halos occur per cubic centimeter in the biotite “books” in the calcite vein-dike of the Silver Crater Mine (figure 14 of Wakefield 1987–8). (Numerous could mean 20–30 thousand polonium halos per cubic centimeter in biotite as reported by Gentry [1968] in a Norwegian mica.) Biotite at the Silver Crater Mine and fluorite in calcite vein-dikes in the Wilberforce area show no evidence of any fracturing that would provide avenues along which radon gas and ions of polonium could move to nucleation points. The growing crystals of biotite and fluorite would be inside large volumes of hot gaseous fluids occupying the open fracture and would not be expected to be fractured or deformed. The Wilberforce area can be seen on the edge of the geologic map in Wakefield (1987–8) west of the Fission Mine where the last four letters “orce” appears.

After crystallization in the calcite vein-dikes, ongoing replacements can continue to occur, involving multiple deformations in the adjacent granitic rocks that allow more fluids to come into the vein-dikes. Both biotite and apatite are reported to replace calcite in some of the vein-dikes in the Bancroft area (Wakefield 1987–8, 1988). These second growth biotite crystals also contain polonium halos, indicating that the hydrous fluids causing these additional replacements carried 222Rn and polonium isotopes.

Because the location where Gentry (1988) reported some of his best polonium halos in biotite (and fluorite) was not in granite but in a calcite vein-dike near the Silver Crater uranium mine in the Bancroft area of Ontario, Canada (Gentry 1971, 1974; Wakefield 1987–8, 1988), his claim for nearly instant crystallization of granite is immediately nullified. In his model, all biotite containing polonium halos crystallized in granite formed from magma. Calcite vein-dikes, however, do not form from granite magma at any stage of its crystallization. Such vein-dikes fill fractures (a meter or more wide) in previously solidified granitic rock and are, therefore, later than the crystallization of the granite (Wakefield 1987–8, 1988).


FRACTURES IN BIOTITE WITH POLONIUM HALOS IN PEGMATITES

Gentry claimed that biotite (and fluorite) crystals containing polonium halos always lacked any microfractures through which radioactive radon or polonium ions could penetrate to produce the polonium halos. This is not true. The adjacent granitic rocks have microfractures where pegmatites were formed by recrystallization and replacement, such as the Buckhorn pegmatite in the Bancroft area. The crystals of biotite crystals in such places that contain polonium halos show evidence of microfracturing or evidence that they had microfracturing prior to recrystallization (Collins 1997b).

Collins Figure 3: Biotite with lattice damage
FIGURE 3. Biotite with a band of lattice damage along a microfracture by radiation from 222Rn, 210Po, 214Po, and 218Po atoms; black circular dot is a 210Po halo; from Buckhorn pegmatite in plain light.

For example, in Figure 3, a band of alpha-particle damage can be seen where radioactive inert 222Rn gas and 210Po and 218Po ions were once migrating in fluids along a fracture in the crystal of biotite. These three isotopes produce radii of damage that are almost the same distance from the center line of the fracture so they are not distinguishable from each other in the band of continuous overlapping damage which produces a smeared-out band of damage to the lattice of the biotite. Billions of radioactive isotopes once moved along this fracture, shooting out alpha particles as the fluids progressed through the fracture. Sufficient 210Po (9 billion atoms or more) nucleated at one place along the fracture to create the isolated black 210Po spherical halo of damage. Another example of a fracture containing a 210Po halo in biotite is shown in figure 4 of Collins (1997b). The assertion by Gentry that polonium halos are never found along fractures in biotite is not true.

Collins Figure 4: Uranium Halos
FIGURE 4. Circular and oval dark U-halos of alpha-particle lattice damage in biotite surrounding tiny U-bearing zircon crystals in granite in cross-polarized light.The thin section showing these halos are too thick to show the eight rings of damage.

RATE AT WHICH BIOTITE CRYSTALS OF LARGE SIZE GROW

Gentry believes that granite and polonium-halo-bearing biotite had to form nearly instantly on Day Three of the Genesis Week. He argued, therefore, that the rate of crystallization of granite must be exceedingly fast. Snelling (2008b) suggested that the granite formed in 6–10 days. In contrast, silicate crystals (quartz, mica, feldspars, and so on) in deep-seated magma normally grow exceedingly slowly (over thousands and millions of years) because (1) the heat in molten rock at great depth escapes only very slowly to the earth’s surface so that the rate of cooling is very slow, (2) the high viscosity of the silica-rich melt (like a hot, thick, molten, silica glass) prevents metallic ions from diffusing quickly to nucleation and growingcrystal- sites, and (3) water (steam) that would facilitate rapid diffusion of such ions is generally absent.

However, the rate at which silicate crystals grow in granite pegmatites (where large crystals several centimeters wide may form) can be rapid because of the local great abundance of water (steam). The abundant water occurs because water tends to concentrate in localized volumes in late stages of crystallization of magma because most minerals crystallizing in granite lack any water in their lattices, and it is where abundant water is present that pegmatites form. Crystals in pegmatites can grow to large sizes in a matter of a few days or weeks (London 2008; Nabelek and others 2009; Sirbescu and others 2008; Webber and others 1999).

The rate of growth of calcite and biotite in fluids where calcite vein-dikes form must be even faster than the rate of growth for silicate minerals crystallizing in pegmatites in a granite body. The fluids that produce the calcite vein-dikes would have a high water content and notably low silica so they would have low viscosity. The growth of large crystals of biotite (and fluorite) crystals could, perhaps, be in a matter of hours or less, and, therefore, the growth of superposed lattice layers would also surround nucleating polonium ions on the faces of the growing crystals. Thus, thousands of polonium halos per cubic centimeter in crystals of biotite and fluorite are possible lacking any evidence for microfractures.


FORMATION OF GRANITE BY CHEMICAL REPLACEMENT PROCESSES CONFIRMED

Gentry rejected the model for granite’s being formed by chemical replacement processes because there was no publication in refereed geology journals of a large-scale chemical-replacement model for the origin of some granitic masses. However, several recent studies have indicated the presence of large scale metasomatic (replacement) processes. Andrew Putnis and colleagues, using microprobe studies on an atomic scale, have confirmed that a chemical replacement model for the origin of some granite masses is correct (Putnis and others 2007; Engvik and others 2008; Plumper and Putnis 2009). The evidence for this replacement is the presence of numerous tiny pores in plagioclase feldspar crystals in primary igneous rocks that were deformed and microfractured. Fluids moved through these pores and brought in potassium and/or sodium while depositing tiny rosettes of red hematite crystals along the walls of the pores. The introduction of the potassium and/or sodium converted large masses of igneous rocks into granitic rocks (with surface areas several kilometers in diameter) in Finland, Sweden, Brazil, and California. Where potassium was introduced, myrmekite (similar to that in Figure 1) locally borders the potassium feldspar in these rocks (Collins and Collins 2002). The presence of myrmekite alone can indicate that the rock system was open to ready movement of fluids that could have contained dissolved radioactive radon and polonium ions (if available). Myrmekite is formed locally where chemically altered lattices of relatively calcic plagioclase are incompletely replaced by potassium feldspar, leaving residual calcium, sodium, aluminum, and silica atoms in the lattice which are not in proper balance to recrystallize only as more sodic plagioclase; so some silica is left over to recrystallize as quartz vermicules (Collins 1997a). During metasomatism the reactions do not occur in balanced mass-for-mass exchanges, as one is taught in chemistry classes, but by volume-for-volume exchanges of elements (ions) in minerals that have different densities.

Other published examples of large-scale chemical replacements by potassium feldspar come from economic geologists. For example, Doucette (2000) reports that such replacements occur in volcanic porphyry where gold and copper enrichments are found, converting plagioclase phenocrysts into potassium feldspar (see figure 27 in Doucette 2000). Large-scale potassiumfeldspar replacements, extending over hundreds of square kilometers, are reported by Liu and others (2003) in the uppermost Precambrian rocks underlying Paleozoic sedimentary rocks in the North American mid-continent.


POLONIUM HALOS FORMED BY MAGMATIC PROCESSES

Uranium halos are commonly found throughout a granite mass; isolated polonium halos are rare or absent (Figure 2). Uranium in magma is incorporated into crystals of zircon or uraninite as the magma cools and solidifies. The element preferentially enters into zircon’s crystal structure because uranium’s ionic charge (4+) is the same as that of the zirconium ion. Cooling magma is normally too viscous for large amounts of uranium or zirconium ions to diffuse. Most uranium and zirconium ions, therefore, move only very short distances, precipitating in tiny crystals of uraninite or zircon, or the uranium is precipitated only in crystals of zircon, which are scattered throughout the granite mass. These tiny zircon or uraninite crystals are then enclosed in, or fill spaces in between, other silicate minerals that are crystallizing in the granite mass, such as quartz, feldspars, and biotite. Once the crystals in the granitic mass have formed, any polonium that would be produced must be derived from the decaying uranium in the zircon crystals that had already nucleated and been incorporated in the crystallized biotite and could not then nucleate in later-formed biotite to create visible isolated polonium halos. Only 238U halos including eight spheres of damage surrounding the zircon (or uraninite) crystals would be produced following the solidification of granite magma. These eight spheres have a common center where the uranium is concentrated, and each sphere has a different radius that corresponds to the energies of emissions of alpha particles from each of the eight daughter isotopes in the 238U decay series until stable lead 206Pb is formed (Collins 1997b). The last three isotopes in the 238U decay series are 218Po, 214Po, and 210Po, so their halos are part of the eight produced in the adjacent biotite bordering the uranium source and do not occur as separate isolated halos (Figure 2). The damage in biotite surrounding 238U-bearing zircon crystals in granite can be seen as circular or oval black halos outlining the shapes of the zircon (or uraninite) crystals under the petrographic microscope (Figure 4). The thin section is too thick, however, to see the eight separate halos.

It is also important to point out that the ratio of the amount of lead 206Pb to the amount of the remaining uranium 238U in zircon crystals is used by geochronologists to determine the age of the crystallization of the granite. Because the age determined by this method is consistent from place to place in the same granite (within experimental error), this consistency indicates that the decay process for 238U obeys natural laws that are not arbitrary, which in turn validates the use of this method for determining the age of a granite body (Dalrymple 1991). This applicability in two (or more) places of the results of a single principle based on the observation of natural processes in a way that is consistent with findings from other models and methods of analysis, such as rubidium-strontium (Rb-Sr) and potassium-argon (K-Ar) age determinations, reinforces the validity of the uranium-lead (UPb) age determinations.

The formation of isolated polonium halos in magmatic pegmatites, on the other hand, is possible because of the very large atomic size of the uranium atom (ion), which causes some uranium atoms to be concentrated in both zircon crystals and in residual hydrous fluids during last stages of crystallization of granite magma. Atoms (ions) that are either too small or too large to fit in stable arrangements in holes in the lattices of such silicate minerals as biotite, plagioclase feldspar, and potassium feldspar that are common in magmatic granite are left over in the residual fluids of the last stages of solidification of granite magma (Klein and Hurlbut 1985). For example, smallsized atoms (ions) of lithium, beryllium, and boron (elements numbers 3, 4, and 5) are commonly crystallized in late-forming pegmatites in gem minerals. Atoms that are too large include gold (element number 79) and uranium (element number 92). Uranium is commonly found in scattered zircon crystals in granite (as noted above), but some uranium may also be concentrated in late stages of granite crystallization in pegmatites in the mineral uraninite because of its very large atomic size. Biotite and fluorite crystallizing near this uraninite could plausibly contain Pohalos because the concentrated uranium atoms in this uraninite and in fluids bringing this uranium to the pegmatites would be an abundant source of radon 222Rn and polonium isotopes.

Gentry (1988) actually includes an illustration of a large biotite crystal containing polonium halos in a pegmatite from Murray Bay, Canada. This pegmatite contains crystals of beryl, zircon, and uraninite (Spense 1940). The association of the gem mineral beryl with biotite probably indicates an origin by crystallization of this pegmatite from magma. The biotite would not be microfractured in such an environment, and the presence of abundant steam would permit rapid growth of large crystals. This mineral association in no way indicates that the pegmatite had to crystallize nearly instantaneously. Furthermore, biotite crystals in pegmatites that lack uraninite also lack polonium halos. The presence or absence of polonium halos in biotite in magmatic pegmatite is directly related to the presence or absence of nearby uranium in uraninite or zircon and not because of instant cooling.


CONCLUSIONS

The absence of microfractures in some polonium halo-bearing biotite and fluorite is plausibly explained where these minerals grew in former large, open fractures that were ultimately filled mostly by calcite. In microfractured granitic rocks that were modified by metasomatic processes, polonium halos can form along microfractures in biotite. The rapid rates at which crystals can grow in calcite vein-dikes or pegmatites in the presence of steam and the rapid rates at which radioactive isotopes can diffuse from areas of relatively high pressures into possible large open fractures are important factors in the formation of polonium halos. The coexistence of uranium-bearing minerals in calcite vein-dikes or pegmatites which release abundant amounts of radioactive radon 222Rn and the easy transport or diffusion of uranium and polonium ions and neutral radon gas in surrounding microfractured rock are also necessary. Also important is the relatively long half-life of 222Rn (3.82 days). All these factors provide the means by which polonium halos are formed in biotite and fluorite by natural processes.

The absence of microfractures in biotite (or fluorite) where these minerals grew in pegmatites that were crystallized during the last stages of the solidification of granite magma is plausibly explained because crystals forming in magma are generally not microfractured. Moreover, it is plausible that polonium halos can form in pegmatites of magmatic origin because of the transport or diffusion of uranium and polonium ions and neutral radon gas in steam that is concentrating in local places during the last stages of crystallization of granite magma.

Granite bodies of both primary magmatic and secondary chemical replacement origins are not created during a single young age in the Genesis Week but are among a continuum of ages that range from early in the Precambrian to the late Cenozoic. The one essential requirement for polonium halos to form in biotite and fluorite in calcite vein-dikes or granite (either produced by chemical replacement processes or by magmatic processes) is the nearby presence of uraniumbearing minerals that supply the large quantities of radon 222Rn and polonium.

If polonium halos truly had a nearly instantaneous origin as suggested by Gentry (1988), then even more examples of other polonium halo types would be expected to occur, such as (1) halos of 215Po and 211Po that are derived from radon gas 219Rn in the radioactive uranium (235U) decay series or (2) halos of 216Po and 212Po that are derived from radon gas 220Rn in the radioactive thorium (232Th) decay series. But they are not found (Collins 1997b). The reason is that the radon gas atoms (219Rn and 220Rn) in these two decay series which are the precursors for the other radioactive polonium isotopes have half-lives in seconds, and their daughter polonium isotopes have half-lives in seconds and microseconds instead of 3.05 minutes for 218Po and 140 days for 210Po in the 238U decay series (Collins 1997b). However, Gentry found only one kind of Po-halo sequences among three possible kinds in biotite and fluorite of supposed instantaneous origin.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We wish to thank Mona Sirbescu for providing information regarding rates of crystallization of pegmatites. We express our appreciation to Richard Wakefield for correcting information about the geology and descriptions of the vein-dikes in the Bancroft area of Canada, Steve Lipshie for editorial suggestions and checking the clarity of the article, Forrest Hopson for suggesting many editorial changes and for annotating illustrations, and John Doucette for recommended style changes in writing the article.


References

Collins LG. 1988. Hydrothermal Differentiation and Myrmekite: A Clue to Many Geologic Puzzles. Athens: Theophrastus Publications SA.

Collins LG. 1997a. Index to myrmekite articles [Internet]. Last accessed October 27, 2009.

Collins LG. 1997b, Polonium halos and myrmekite in pegmatite and granite. [Internet] Last accessed October 25, 2009.

Collins LG. 2002. Myrmekite formation at Temecula, California, revisited: A photomicrographic essay illustrating replacement textures [Internet]. Last accessed November 30, 2009.

Collins LG. 2008. Critical analysis of “Catastrophic granite formation: Rapid melting of source rocks and rapid magma intrusion and cooling” by Andrew Snelling [Internet]. Last accessed November 26, 2009.

Collins LG, Collins BJ. 2002. Myrmekite formation at Temecula, California, revisited: A photomicrographic essay illustrating replacement textures [Internet]. Last accessed October 29, 2009.

Dalrymple GB. 1991. The Age of the Earth. Stanford University Press.

Doucette J. 2000. Petrochemical study of the Mount Fubilan intrusion and associated ore bodies, Papua New Guinea. PhD thesis, Oregon State University. [Internet] Last accessed November 3, 2009.

Engvik AK, Putnis A, Fitzgerald JD, Austrheim H. 2008. Albitization of granitic rocks: The mechanism of oligoclase replacement by albite. The Canadian Mineralogist 46 (6): 1401–18.

Gentry RV. 1965. Pleochroic halos and the age of the earth. American Journal of Physics Proceedings 33: 878A.

Gentry RV. 1968. Fossil alpha-recoil analysis of certain variant radioactive halos. Science 160: 1228–30.

Gentry RV. 1970. Cosmological implications of extinct radioactivity from pleochroic halos. In Lammerts WE, editor. Why Not Creation? Phillipsburg (NJ): Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. p 107–13.

Gentry RV. 1971. Radiohalos: Some unique lead isotope ratios and unknown alpha radioactivity. Science 173: 727–31.

Gentry RV. 1974. Radioactive halos in a radiochronological and cosmological perspective. Science 184: 62–6.

Gentry RV. 1983. Creationism again, the author comments [letter]. Physics Today 36: 13–5.

Gentry RV. 1988. Creation’s Tiny Mystery, 2nd ed. Knoxville (TN): Earth Science Associates.

Hunt CW, Collins LG, Skobelin EA. 1992. Expanding Geospheres: Energy and Mass Transfers From Earth’s Interior. Calgary (Alberta): Polar Publishing Company.

Klein C, Hurlbut CS Jr. 1985. Manual of Mineralogy, 20th ed. NY: John Wiley and Sons.

Liu J, Hay RL, Deino A, Kyser TK. 2003. Age and origin of authigenic K-feldspar in uppermost Precambrian rocks in the North American Midcontinent. Geological Society of America Bulletin 115 (4): 422–33.

London D. 2008. Pegmatites. Canadian Mineralogist, Special Publication 10.

Nabelek PI, Whittington A, Sirbescu M-LC. 2009. The role of H2O in producing large crystals in highly undercooled melts. Geological Society of America. Abstracts with Programs 41 (7): 339.

Plumper O, Putnis A 2009. The complex hydrothermal history of granitic rocks: Multiple feldspar replacement reactions under subsolidus conditions. Journal of Petrology 50: 967–87.

Putnis A, Hinrichs R, Putnis CV, Golla-Schindler U, Collins LG. 2007. Hematite in porous red-clouded feldspars. Evidence of large-scale fluid-rock interaction. Lithos 95: 10–18.

Sirbescu, ML, Hartwick E, Student J. 2008. Rapid crystallization of the Animikie Red Ace Pegmatite, Florence County, Northeastern Wisconsin: Inclusion microthermometry and conductive-cooling modeling. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 156 (3): 289–305.

Snelling AA. 2008a. Catastrophic granite formation: Rapid melting of source rocks, and rapid magma intrusion and cooling. Answers Research Journal 1: 11–25.

Snelling AA. 2008b. Radiohalos in the Shap Granite, Lake District, England: Evidence that removes objections to flood geology. In: Snelling AA, editor. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh (PA): Creation Science Fellowship. p 389–405. Also available from: Answers In Genesis. [Internet] Last accessed September 18, 2010.

Spense HS. 1940. Uraninite and thucholite from Pied des Monts, Charlevoix County, Quebec. American Mineralogist 25 (11): 711–18.

Wakefield JR. 1987–8. Gentry’s tiny mystery: Unsupported by geology. Creation/Evolution 22: 13–33, and also available from: California State University, Northridge. [Internet] Last accessed October 29, 2009.

Wakefield JR. 1988. The geology of Gentry’s “tiny mystery”. Journal of Geological Education 36: 161–75.

Webber K, Simmons W, Falster A, Foord E. 1999. Cooling rates and crystallization dynamics of shallow level pegmatite-aplite dikes, San Diego County, California. American Mineralogist 84: 708–17.



GLOSSARY

210Po — an isotope of polonium, element number 84,having 84 protons in its nucleus and 126 neutrons for a total mass of 210

alpha particle — a helium atom with a mass of 4

biotite — black mica, a sheet-structure silicate mineral

calcite — calcium carbonate

diorite — a dark-colored, coarsely crystalline igneous rock commonly containing hornblende, biotite, and plagioclase

fluorite — calcium fluoride half-life—the time for half the quantity of a radioactive element (isotope) to decay to a daughter isotope

hornblende — a black silicate mineral rich in iron and magnesium

ion — an atom with a negative or positive charge

isotopes — variants of the same element with the same number of protons in the nucleus but differing numbers of neutrons so that the total mass of the element is different

magma — melted igneous rock

myrmekite — an intergrowth of two minerals (plagioclase and quartz). It is commonly wartlike (

pegmatite — a coarse silicate igneous rock containing crystals generally larger than 2 centimeters long. Some pegmatite crystals may be more than a meter long

phenocryst — a crystal formed from magma and much larger than surrounding ground mass crystals

plagioclase — a feldspar that ranges from sodium-rich varieties to calciumrich varieties. In granite this feldspar contains much more sodium than calcium

radon — a neutral gaseous element with no ionic charge

vein-dike — a former open fracture that cuts across the rock structure and is filled with various minerals, such as calcite, quartz, and biotite

uraninite — uranium oxide

vermicules — quartz shaped like curved worm tubes

vermicular — having the shape of worm tubes

volcanic porphyry — a volcanic rock containing phenocrysts

zircon — zirconium silicate;large crystals can be gemstones, but tiny crystals commonly form in granite



About the Author(s): 

Lorence G Collins is a retired professor of geology at California State University, Northridge, who has written extensively to promote general knowledge about geology and to counter arguments by anti-evolutionists, including four other articles for RNCSE, which can be found at California State University, Northridge. [Internet]

Barbara J Collins has taught biology at California Lutheran University for 47 years. She has a PhD in geology from the University of Illinois and was the first woman to earn a PhD in geology at this university.

AUTHORS’ ADDRESSES
Lorence G Collins
Geoscience Department
California State University Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge CA 91330
lorencec@sysmatrix.net

Barbara J Collins
Biology Department
California Lutheran University
60 Olsen Road
Thousand Oaks CA 91360
bcollins@clunet.edu

Review: Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
38-39
Reviewer: 
David B Richman
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation
Author(s): 
Michael Keller, illustrated by Nicolle Rager Fuller
New York: Rodale, 2009. 192 pages

The idea ofKeller: Darwin's On the Origin of Species: Keller: Darwin's On the Origin of Species - Book cover a graphic version of the Origin of Species is a good one, since many casual readers will never get through the original. This is perhaps unfortunate, but so much misinformation is available on evolution in the popular literature that any attempt to clarify Darwin’s views on evolution by natural selection has to be welcomed. A graphic format might be easier to read and understood by those who have no time to read more deeply or are casually interested, but do not want to commit more time on it than a graphic format would require. Some of this audience would certainly include students, especially in high school. Years ago I found the book Darwin for Beginners by Jonathan Miller and illustrated by Borin Van Loon (New York: Pantheon, 1990) to be a rather charming graphic account of Darwin’s ideas, and it is still available and of use in this regard. In this same genre, Rodale Press has recently published Michael Keller’s Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation.

I did not particularly like the illustrations, but tastes differ. When Nicolle Rager Fuller (the illustrator) concentrates on animals, she does very well, but her people sometimes are a bit strange. While I don’t think the illustrations are up to more rigorous scientific standards, they are more than adequate for a book of this nature.

However, the main point is that the theory of natural selection is well covered and I think pretty well explained in Keller’s book. Compared to Miller, Keller concentrates more on the basic ideas in each chapter of the Origin and less on the historical and philosophical background. His treatment of modern ideas in regard to evolution is also more up–to–date. Starting in part 2 on page 41, after 34 pages of background, Keller goes through each chapter of the Origin, briefly summarizing the evidence and arguments used by Darwin. These summaries are generally accurate and present the reader with at least the main ideas involved, although some topics get lesser treatments than others. The discussions of variation under domestication, the difficulties of the theory, geographical distribution, and mutual affinities of organic beings, are especially well done. The last chapter brings the reader up to the present with short panels on Mendel and genetics, the Synthetic Theory, genes and the discovery of DNA as the blueprint for life, jumping genes, and punctuated equilibrium, among others.

I have a few gripes, which primarily have to do with content. For some reason, Keller apparently used later editions of the Origin in which Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest” was added. Darwin did not invent this phrase and it was not in the first edition. The phrase, while accurate if “fit” is understood to apply to any adaptation that works to allow an individual to reproduce, does not necessarily mean that the strong overcome the weak; Spencer’s phrase has unfortunately been used to imply that there are “inferior” peoples because they do not fit preconceived notions of superiority. It would have been wise for Keller to explain this if he was going to use a later edition of the Origin.

I can also quibble with the fact that while Keller abruptly introduces Emma Darwin as Charles’s wife on page 26, he never really explains her background or the circumstances of their marriage (they were first cousins, which concerned him later because of problems that he perceived with inbreeding). Also unaddressed is her religious faith (she was a devout Unitarian) and how it affected their relationship. The death of Annie, their beloved daughter, discussed on page 31, apparently caused Emma to doubt her beliefs; when Darwin died, Emma refuted the rumor that he had recanted his agnosticism on his deathbed. These are important points to discuss if Emma and Annie are introduced, and I felt they were given short shrift.

There were several other places in the book where new subjects seemed to be introduced without much in the way of a connection to what went before, and some important points about modern theory were glossed over in my view, but in a book of this nature some information has to be omitted.

Finally, I found an unfortunate error on page 14: Robert Chambers’s and John Henslow’s occupations are reversed. Chambers was a journalist and author (Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation) and Henslow was a botanist and geologist, as well as mentor to the young Darwin. The reader should not expect an in–depth treatment in what is essentially a comic book, but these were errors that could have been easily avoided.

That said, Keller has produced a mostly accurate and reasonably complete book that introduces the intelligent layperson to the principles of and evidence for evolution by natural selection. It certainly will serve as a good introduction for high school students or for an introductory course for non–biology majors in college. Those who want more depth to the background information on Darwin’s life would do well to read Janet Browne’s two volumes on the subject, and those who would like more detail about Darwin’s arguments should read a reprint of the first edition of the Origin. But the more casual reader will find a reasonably good synopsis of the theory and its more modern developments within the pages of this book. It is to these readers that I recommend this slim volume, with the minor reservations mentioned above.


About the Author(s): 

David B Richman is College Professor and Curator of the Arthropod Museum at New Mexico State University.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
David B Richman
Department of Entomology, Plant
Pathology, and Weed Science
MSC 3BE, Box 30003
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces NM 88003
nmbugman@taipan.nmsu.edu

Review: Creationism and the Conflict over Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
35-36
Reviewer: 
Daniel K Brannan
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Creationism and the Conflict over Evolution
Author(s): 
Tatha Wiley
Eugene (OR): Cascade Books, 2009. 154 pages

As a theologianBook cover: Wiley - Creationism at the University of St Thomas (St Paul, Minnesota), Tatha Wiley engages Darwinian thought in order to gain insight into the doctrines of Christianity. She emphasizes that the theological concept of creation contrasts with the anti–evolutionists’ political definition of “intelligent design” (ID) creationism — a neo–Paleyan construct based in the teleological argument for God. She agrees that supernatural agency must be “bracketed” when doing science. Unless one misreads Genesis as offering an alternative scientific explanation, there is no conflict between Christianity and Darwinian science.

Fundamentalists see the Genesis stories as history and science. Wiley explains why the antimodern and anti–intellectual fundamentalist movement in the US, with its idea of a “plain sense” reading of Scripture, is just flat wrong. Ever since the inception of The Fundamentals in 1909, fundamentalists have ignored a more informed biblical scholarship. Reading the creation stories as symbolic narratives, instead of history, transforms Adam and Eve into a metaphor for human experience; it is a non sequitur to claim that doing so makes Christ a metaphor as well. What impels this non sequitur is what Wiley calls the “fundamentalist anxiety.” Understanding this anxiety, Wiley suggests, should help us gently communicate the science of evolution to fundamentalist students.

The theological concept of creation and evolution address two different realities on both ontological and epistemological levels. They are complementary answers to different questions: whys versus hows. Wiley makes clear that theology, done properly, addresses metaphysical questions of human existence. Questions of an ultimate source of the universe (God) belong to metaphysics and outside the bounds of science. Taking what was meant to be a hymn of praise to encourage exiles to remain loyal to Yahweh (Genesis 1–3) and turning it into a science and history lesson is an incompetent exposition of scripture. Science, by its very nature, must limit itself to physical questions. Just as we wish to keep ID out of our classrooms, we must also keep out metaphysical claims that science proves a dysteleological or atheistic cosmos.

Wiley highlights the flaws of the teleological argument, which claims the order of the cosmos indicates a designer. Rather than ignore the dysfunctions and cruelties in nature, which Paley’s natural theology failed to explain, Darwin solved the conundrum by proposing that whatever allows the better proliferation by an individual in a given environment is what truly counts, not how perfectly that individual serves a purpose in nature. More importantly, natural selection is an empirically based explanation amenable to testing and verification.

Wiley also explains how Roman Catholics have used evolution to inform theology. Both advances in evolutionary science and the work of biblical scholars continued to question the historicity of Adam and Eve and thus the doctrine of original sin. Developed primarily by St Augustine and given dogmatic status by the Council of Trent in 1563, the doctrine reflected a medieval worldview. The Church began considering evolution and modern critical methods of biblical scholarship seriously in 1943. By 1950, Pope Pius XII cautiously accepted evolution but could see no apparent way to reconcile it with the doctrine of original sin.

By 1996, Pope John Paul II recognized evolution as “more than a hypothesis”, noting that even if the body is brought into being by evolutionary processes, the soul is immediately created by God. By shifting to a mystical “ensoulment” of an “Adam” (humankind), he moved the discussion to one of metaphysics outside the purview of science. In 2004, a Vatican statement accepted evolutionary theory as compatible with divine purpose warning only that science should never engage in metaphysical claims that the cosmos has no purpose, humans have no ordained role to play, or God has no function in an evolving universe.

Fundamentalists never signed on. Some of them became a political movement focusing, via the Discovery Institute, on “irreducible complexity”, requiring an “intelligent designer”. Their “God–of–the–gaps” arguments make God dispensable when intelligible natural explanations eliminate the gaps in current knowledge. Consequently, ID does no favors for theology. Good theology prefers God to remain mysterious and ineffable rather than continuously shrinking as gaps are filled.

The insistence that science restrict itself to the study of natural causes is not a rejection of God’s existence. It is a methodological approach to limit science to what is testable. The ID camp fails to understand that science is limited to discovering secondary causes of contingent events (such as laws of nature). Science must bracket a primary cause of those laws. Seeing God as the ultimate source of secondary causes allows theologians to understand him or her as the prime mover, the ground of being itself ... conceptions that belong to metaphysics. ID casts God as a tinkerer who could not get it right the first time — poor science but even worse theology.

The final chapter focuses on the crux of the conflict: without a historical Adam and Eve in Eden, is Christ’s atonement moot? I have to wonder why Wiley was not more forthright in answering with a resounding “no” since her previous publications do this quite well. If I can fault this work at all, it would be here. After all, the resolution of anti–evolution as pointed out by Wiley, echoing Eugenie C Scott’s position, is to educate both scientists and theologians: to allow both to become better informed about biblical scholarship and what scriptures are actually teaching regarding the doctrine of creation. Personal interpretation of Scripture without solid theological insight — so–called plain “sense” readings — must be rejected ... as the Ethiopian admitted when Philip asked him:

Do you know what you are reading?

How can I, unless someone explains it to me? (Acts 8:30–31).


About the Author(s): 

Daniel K Brannan is Professor of Biology at Abilene Christian University.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Daniel K Brannan
Department of Biology
Abilene Christian University
ACU Box 27868
Abilene TX 79699–7868

Review: Darwin's Ark

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
36-37
Reviewer: 
Cleo Fellers Kocol
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin's Ark
Author(s): 
Phillip Appleman, illustrations by Rudy Pozzati
Bloomington (IN): Indiana University Press, 2009. 112 pages

When the Darwin's Ark: Cover: Darwin's ArkNational Center for Science Education asked me to review Darwin’s Ark, I demurred, saying I was not a scientist and while a sometimes poet, certainly not Philip Appleman’s peer. As for drawings, I only know what I like. The NCSE replied I was exactly what they wanted. Feeling somewhat ridiculous, I agreed. But as Appleman points out so aptly in his poems, Homo sapiens many times is ridiculous. Appleman is the Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Indiana University and author of eight volumes of poetry, three novels, and six non–fiction books including the Norton Critical Edition of Darwin. Rudy Pozzatti is Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts Emeritus at Indiana University, whose art resides in museums and public and private collections worldwide.

I first became aware of Philip Appleman’s ability to take seldomaddressed subjects, put them into poetic form, and subject them to public scrutiny in 1984 when his poem “The Skeletons of Dreams” hit me with the power of a hydrogen bomb. I sang its praises in freethought newsletters and read it to graduate students attending a talk at Guangxi Province Teachers’ University in Guilin, China. I was awestruck the many times I have read the poem since.

The poem first appeared in The New York Times and was subsequently included in his 1984 collection of poems entitled Darwin’s Ark. But “Skeletons” is only one star in a glittering galaxy of poems and illustrations (and excerpts from writings by Darwin and others) that add to this volume. Appleman illuminates his theme with empathy, understanding, wit, and humor that is often subtle or satirical. Pozzati’s illustrations, while often whimsical, are also realistic and memorable.

The words and drawings in Darwin’s Ark brilliantly exhibit Darwin’s theory of evolution, starting with “Skeletons of Dreams”. In it Appleman includes these cautionary words,

Back home in his English garden
Darwin paused in his pacing,
writing it down in italics
in the book at the back of his mind:

When a species has vanished
from the face of the earth,
the same form never reappears ...

The poem goes on to point out humanity’s acquisition of an opposable thumb and an expanded cerebral cortex, and the millennia linking us to our ancestral past, while pointing out that our species is still as mortal as mammoths.

All of the poems delineate, describe, or elaborate on Darwin’s theory. The connections between us and them, humanity and the “lesser” animals, slide effortlessly into place, and the very earth we stand on oozes into our consciousness as we read these poems. Appleman blends the past with the present in an elegant fashion.

A sensitive, analytical writer, Appleman takes us into the scenes he paints with his words. We are the lions in the veldt. We feel the sense of urgency in the hunt, whether it is in grasslands in Africa or pews in churches, preachers “baying at sin.” He uses metaphor in amusing ways as well, and we read about the evolution of automobiles, the passing of Cords and Duesenbergs, and “animals tame and animals feral.” Rhymed or unrhymed, all the poems sing with the rhythm and the judicious choice of words.

The book is separated into four sections, Giants in the Earth, The Rust of Civilizations, Animals Tame and Animals Feral, and In the Caves of Childhood. The poems in each section tie the present to all that went before and at times point to the future. In an additional breakdown of the section highlighting animals, we find Phobias (fears) and Euphorias (joys), and these playful seeming titles end up, by the end of the poems, giving us very big challenges, making us look at ourselves and what we have wrought.

Open the book anywhere and you are apt to find an image that expands in your mind, becomes more because of the verbs used — “the concrete is veined with tar bubbling in the sun” or “the land is failing the horizons.” Again a wellchosen adjective lifts a narrative above the obvious such as “to pray above our crippled brother seven raptured hours.”

Darwin’s observations and conclusions have been encapsulated and given back to us in poetic form expanding on the various concepts Darwin noted. We encounter the “survival of the fittest.” We know what it means in a visceral, on–the–scene way in the cold regions of Tierra del Fuego during the “spirit” years. We know what it is to be hungry, when food exists only in another like ourselves. We know what it is to be the hunted, to be the prey. Likewise Appleman makes clear that Noah’s Ark was “not floating on fact but was floating on faith”. Darwin’s Ark floats on word images and the underlying science as well as the social behavior that speaks and lives for all times.

The poem “Reading Our Times” contains the following end lines:

we push though the bars
to Wall Street, promised land,
land of silk and honey,
bearing our Times
into the screaming of monkeys,
into the streaming baobab,
ivory, apes, and peacocks,
hacking at dripping lianas
with our machetes, tracking the gamy spoor
of Honor.

The prescient lines could have been written today.


About the Author(s): 

Cleo Fellers Kocol’s poetry appears in many poetry journals. She is also the author of a historical novel, Fitzhugh’s Woman (North Charleston [SC]: Booksurge, 2009), and of an article about women’s rights in the July/August 2009 issue of The Humanist.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Cleo Fellers Kocol
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709–0477
info@ncse.com

Review: The Panda's Black Box

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
37–38
Reviewer: 
Glenn Sanford
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Panda's Black Box: Opening up the Intelligent Design Controversy
Author(s): 
edited by Nathaniel C Comfort
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 165 pages

For anyone Comfort: The Panda's Black Box: The Panda's Black Box - coverinterested in a wideranging and detailed treatment of the “intelligent design” (ID) controversy, a thorough reading of the transcripts from Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District would be recommended, except that it is extremely long, tedious, and often bogged down in the minutiae of legal proceedings. Nonetheless, a selective glimpse at the testimony is insightful. At issue in Kitzmiller was a statement directing students to “keep an open mind” “because Darwin’s Theory is a theory” and informing those who were interested in an alternative view that the ID “reference book” Of Pandas and People was available.

In his introduction to The Panda’s Black Box, Nathaniel Comfort attempts to unpack the current teach–the–controversy strategy. He concludes that the controversy that exists between ID proponents and advocates of mainstream evolutionary theory “is not about the findings of science. Rather, it is about the place of science in society” (p 7). Comfort champions teaching the controversy, as long as it is taught in a humanities environment that is equipped to handle the rhetoric, dogma, values, and the political baggage that it entails.

Scott Gilbert, the only biologist among the contributors, provides an interesting look at what it would take for biologists to “teach the controversy”. Using his experience teaching developmental biology, he lampoons ID as “what science might be if it lost its respect for evidence and controls” (p 41) and adds that “the debate between evolutionary biology and ‘intelligent design’ is like a debate over whether the aerodynamics of the Boeing 747 are superior to those of flying carpets” (p 43). These oneliners aside, Gilbert’s central theme — that it is important to separate the scientific content of a theory from its science–like packaging — provides a resonant theme.

Michael Ruse and Edward Larson provide histories of the design argument and teaching evolution in public schools, respectively. Ruse’s piece distills portions of his much more substantial Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? (Cambridge [MA]: Harvard University Press, 2003) to provide a history of the design argument that stretches from the ancient Greeks to the contemporary ID movement. He rejects the claim that ID represents a breakthrough in scientific thinking.

Likewise, Larson, author of Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution (third edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) and Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (New York: Basic Books, 1997) condenses substantial scholarship to trace the debates over evolution in the public schools from the 1920s into the 21st century. Beyond the abridged history, Larson touches on the role played by scientists’ attitudes toward religion in shaping the ongoing controversy and on the impotence of our court system when it comes to solving the public controversy.

Jane Maienschein uses the current controversy over human embryonic stem cells to illustrate how the public presentation of purported science–religion battles generally fails to capture the range of issues involved. Her discussion attempts to separate facts, on which there may be little disagreement (for example, that a fertilized egg contains a full complement of DNA), from values, on which there is generally little agreement (for example, “What rights or respect should be afforded to an embryo?”). She also separates metaphysical debates (that is, those about what exists) from epistemological debates (that is, those about how we know things). By citing the centrality of evolutionary theory to any hope of finding a competent response to threats such as the H5N1 strain of avian flu and the loss of biodiversity, she provides the most compelling case for choosing evolution over ID for our classrooms and policy–making arenas.

Robert Maxwell Young’s discussion of scientific reductionism, materialism and the fact–value distinction as sources of the science–religion divide illustrates at the often–ignored complexity of the science of human nature. Rather than attacking either ID proponents or evolutionists, he provides a useful examination of historical transitions that accompanied the shift from natural theology to materialist science. The centerpiece of his discussion casts Darwin’s theory as “arguably the most important idea in the history of the natural or human sciences” (p 13).

The Panda’s Black Box is an accessible reader that quickly and deftly surveys the current evolution– ID debates from a range of philosophical and historical angles. It provides a useful synopsis of considerable scholarship on the issues involved. Despite the considerable abridgment of several lines of argument owing to its brevity, it manages to convey a sense of the debates that is accessible and sufficiently footnoted to allow those who are so inclined to dig deeper into the quagmire of “the controversy” surrounding the place of science in our society.


About the Author(s): 

Glenn Sanford is Associate Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy, Sam Houston State University.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Glenn Sanford
Department of Psychology and Philosophy
Sam Houston State University
Campus Box 2447
Huntsville TX 77341–2447
sanford@shsu.edu

RNCSE 30 (6)

RNCSE 30 (6) Cover
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2010
Date: 
November-December
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Quote-Mining: An Old Anti-Evolutionist Strategy

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Quote-Mining: An Old Anti-Evolutionist Strategy
Author(s): 
Michael D Barton
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2010
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
14–15
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

While searching historical databases for material on John Tyndall, the subject of my master’s research, I came across an article in The New York Times of November 25, 1884, “Turn in the tide of thought: Thomas Kimber’s lecture on science in relation to divine truths” (Anonymous 1884). It is an account of a lecture regarding a return to biblical teachings and harmony between scientific discoveries and Scriptural statements. From the article:

As an illustration of the change of thought, the lecturer spoke of evolution’s failure as a strong theory and the downfall of Darwinism. When the theory came out it was seized upon with avidity, and most of the great scholars examined it and accepted it. Now they had given it up. Prof Virchow in the Edinburgh celebration said evolution had no scientific basis. No skull had yet been found differing to any extent from the general type. Prof Tyndall had lately said that “evolution belongs to the twilight of conjecture”. Prof Huxley, at first one of its strongest advocates, said the link between the living and the not living had not been found. It must be found to prove the evolution theory.

John Tyndall (1820–1893), an Irish physicist and science popularizer, was an ardent supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and showed his support most famously in his 1874 address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Belfast. He was a member of the X Club — with Thomas Huxley, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Herbert Spencer, and five others — a dining and social club established in 1864 that supported Darwin’s theory of evolution and campaigned for the authority of science in British society. Knowing who Tyndall was, when I read “Prof Tyndall had lately said that ‘evolution belongs to the twilight of conjecture,’” I immediately questioned the quote. How is it that a man with a well-documented reputation of his support for evolutionary theory became adjoined to a quotation that seems to imply the very opposite of his position? I popped the quote into Google Book Search.

In 1878, Tyndall published an article in The Nineteenth Century titled “Virchow and evolution” (republished as Tyndall 1879). Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), a German physician and biologist, opposed the theory of evolution based on the lack of fossil evidence (openly in an 1877 speech in Munich). Tyndall’s article addressed that speech:

The keynote of his position is struck in the preface to the excellent English translation of his lecture — a preface written expressly by himself. Nothing, he says, was farther from his intention than any wish to disparage the great services rendered by Mr Darwin to the advancement of biological science, of which no one has expressed more admiration than himself. On the other hand, it seemed high time to him to enter an energetic protest against the attempts that are made to proclaim the problems of research as actual facts, and the opinions of scientists as established science. On the ground, among others, that it promotes the pernicious delusions of the socialist, Virchow considers the theory of evolution dangerous; but his fidelity to truth is so great that he would brave the danger and teach the theory, if it were only proved. The burden indeed of this celebrated lecture is a warning that a marked distinction ought to be made between that which is experimentally established, and that which is still in the region of speculation. (1878: 822)
Two pages later:
In a discourse delivered before the British Association at Liverpool, after speaking of the theory of evolution applied to the primitive condition of matter as belonging to “the dim twilight of conjecture,” and affirming that “the certainty of experimental inquiry is here shut out,” I sketch the nebular theory as enunciated by Kant and Laplace.… (1878: 824, emphasis mine)

Clearly Tyndall did not reject the theory of evolution, but simply made a distinction between what can be known about evolution through experimental inquiry and what cannot. The piece in The New York Times either took Tyndall’s quote out of context and skewed his intentions or unknowingly borrowed the misquote from another source. This is a perfect example of quote mining, a creationist tactic that members of the NCSE are all familiar with (see the Quote Mine Project at the TalkOrigins Archive). It is common to find instances of quote-mining perpetuated by 20th and 21st-century anti-evolutionists against the words of 19th- or 20th-century evolutionists, Darwin included, but I was rather surprised to find an occurrence of strictly 19th-century quote-mining.

Tyndall did not state that “evolution belongs to the twilight of conjecture,” but rather that “the theory of evolution applied to the primitive condition of matter” belongs to “the dim twilight of conjecture.” Surely those are two different meanings. Darwin explained how species evolved, but not how life first originated. This is what Tyndall was getting at.

We cannot be sure of the intention of the person who wrote the piece in The New York Times. The article is neither critical nor laudatory of Kimber’s lecture. What is certain is that Tyndall was not presented accurately in this anti-evolution piece; nor elsewhere. From The Medical Record (December 1, 1883):

In other quarters there are indications that the doctrine of Darwin is losing some of its charms for scientists. Some tell us that they accept it as a step to something else. Others find its demands on their credence too great. Your readers know pretty well the opposition it has encountered by such men as St J Mivart, Virchow, Wharton Jones, FRS, and others. A further indication of uncertainty in scientific minds is afforded by the statements of Prof Tyndall, who, in the Popular Science Review, says that “Evolution belongs to the dim twilight of conjecture. … Those who hold the doctrine are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they only yield to it a provisional assent. … Long antecedent to his advice I did exactly what Virchow recommends, showing myself as careful as he could be, not to claim for a scientific doctrine a certainty which did not belong to it. … I agree with him that the proofs of it are wanting. I hold with Virchow that the failures of proof are lamentable, that the doctrine of spontaneous generation is utterly discredited.” (Anonymous 1883: 611)
In Friends’ Review (March 22, 1884):
Probably the following quotations from Prof Tyndall’s utterances on evolution, taken from The Popular Science Monthly, will surprise some of those who have hastily accepted the theory, and based assumptions upon it. “Evolution belongs to the dim twilight of conjecture, and the certainty of experimental inquiry is here shut out. … Those who hold the doctrine of evolution are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they only yield to it a provisional assent. … Long antecedent to his advice I did exactly what Prof Virchow recommends, showing myself as careful as he could be, not to claim for a scientific doctrine a certainty which did not be long to it. … I agree with him that the proofs of it are wanting. I hold with Virchow that the failures of proof have been lamentable, that the doctrine of spontaneous generation is utterly discredited.” (Anonymous 1884: 524)
Samuel D Gross, an American trauma surgeon, wrote in his Autobiography (1887):
If we believe in a great First Cause, as all rational men must, why not assume that all things, visible and invisible, were the product of a special creation instead of a gradual evolution, as asserted by Darwin and his followers? If God could create the earth, the stars, and the mighty planets, of which our world forms only an insignificant part, could He not also, by a special act, have created all the dwellers therein, from the most minute microcosm up to the most complicated form of animal life? I agree with Professor Tyndall that the whole subject of evolution belongs to the dim twilight of conjecture. (Gross 1887: 186, emphasis mine)

It is important to note that a common creationist strategy — the intentional misquoting of supporters of evolutionary theory by removing particular passages of their writings from their original context to make it seem they were stating something different from their original intent — has a history that dates at least to the decades following Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. Sadly, out-of-context quotes from statements made by supporters of evolution gain a life of their own, being repeated in newspapers, periodicals, books, websites, and documentaries without anyone’s consulting the original source. Anti-evolutionists engage in quote-mining because they can only sustain the mistaken view that even experts in biology doubt evolution if they quote selectively. Once quotes are placed out of context, other anti-evolutionists never go back to check the original source. Furthermore, once they are in print, it is easy for an indiscriminate search to find mined quotes.

It is unfortunate that such misconceptions about evolution have been perpetuated by an organization with a reputation for accuracy like The New York Times. As the Quote Mine Project attests, and my little bit of on-line searching shows, it is only a little more complicated to find the proper context, which allows a reader to know the author’s original intention in what he or she wrote about evolution.


References

[Anonymous]. 1883 Dec 1. Our London letter. The Medical Record 24 (22): 611–12.

[Anonymous]. 1884 Mar 22. Correspondence. Friends’ Review: A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal 37 (33): 524.

[Anonymous]. 1884 Nov 25. Turn in the tide of thought: Thomas Kimber’s lecture on science in relation to divine truths. The New York Times 8 (col 2).

Gross SD. 1887. Autobiography of Samuel D Gross, MD, with Sketches of His Contemporaries vol 2. Philadelphia: George Barrie.

Tyndall J. 1878 Nov. Virchow and evolution. The Nineteenth Century 4 (21): 809–33.

Tyndall J. 1879 Jan. Virchow and evolution. The Popular Science Monthly 14 (17): 266–90.


About the Author(s): 

Michael D Barton graduated from Montana State University in 2010 with a master’s degree in history. His research concerned the role of John Tyndall as a supporter of Charles Darwin, and he is a participant in the John Tyndall Correspondence Project. He blogs about Darwin, evolution, and the history of science at The Dispersal of Darwin.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Michael Barton
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
info@ncse.com

The Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, Glendive, Montana

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, Glendive, Montana
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2010
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
16 & 21
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum FIGURE 1. At first glance, the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum in Glendive, Montana, looks like a typical natural history museum.

From the outside, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum looks like any number of other dinosaur-related attractions in Montana. Its 20 000 square feet of displays features the head and jaws of a menacing Tyrannosaurus rex protruding through the museum’s front wall, and lifesized castings of dinosaur skeletons give the inside the look of a typical natural history museum (Figure 1). The museum opened in 2009 and in its first months of operation, it attracted more than 1000 visitors per month. Most of the $1.5 million needed to open the museum was raised by the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth from citizens and groups in Montana.

In a state filled with dinosaurrelated museums, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is the second-largest dinosaur museum in the state (only the famed Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is larger). However, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is not your typical natural history museum. Instead, it’s an elaborate young-earth advertisement that uses Montana’s rich dinosaur-related history to lure people to lessons in biblical literalism and anti-science nonsense. As Jack Horner, the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, has noted, “there’s nothing scientific about it.” Instead, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is “dedicated to the glory of God the Creator” as it combats “evolutionism’s nonsense” and the “abyss of scientific deception”. Otis Kline Jr, the museum’s founder and director, wanted to include his museum in the Montana Dinosaur Trail (see below), but he abandoned the group when it adopted the slogan “150 Million Years in the Making”.

Entering the museum, visitors walk over models of the sea floor, which claim that life “couldn’t have evolved or developed by chance”. Soon thereafter, there appear a 40-foot–long mosasaur, a 16-foot–long sea turtle, and a series of questions that challenge wellestablished discoveries; for example, did dinosaurs “coexist with man and diminish within the last 5000 years?”

The answers to these and other questions are on the museum’s second — and most entertainingly depressing — floor, which rings the main exhibits like a gallery (Figure 1). Atop the stairs is the usual “here’s why evolution is a lie” propaganda, including exhibits about “The failure of radiometric dating”, Ernst Haeckel, peppered moths, the Glen Rose dinosaur tracks, “irreducible complexity”, and a curious model of DNA and a cell. There’s also an exhibit of Australopithecus (“Lucy is not our ancestor”).

Each exhibit claims to prove evolution is a conspiracy perpetuated by scientists, and in the adjacent theater, you can watch movies such as “Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution” and “The Faith Behind the Science.” Although several museums along the Montana Dinosaur Trail (see below) displayed Bibles, only in the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum were all of the Bibles open to the same passage: Book of Job 40 (which describes “Behemoth”) and 41 (which describes “Leviathan”). And, of course, you can help support the museum’s anti-science mission by spending some money in the gift shop.

The museum’s second floor tells visitors about the biblical flood and stresses how the Colorado River could not have carved the Grand Canyon (“it would have to flow uphill for over 2000 [feet]”). So what did form the Grand Canyon? “A global flood is the simplest explanation.” There’s “scientific” documentation of the remains of Noah’s Ark being found on the mountains of Ararat, as well as a large exhibit titled “Noah’s Ark — Eyewitness Accounts”. I learned that “Noah probably had approximately 16 000 animals on the Ark,” and a scale model of the ark shows tiny animals — dinosaurs included — walking onto the Ark two-by-two. How could Noah and the Ark’s seven other sailors have handled all of these animals? No problem: the animals “hibernated” to minimize the daily chores of the crew. How convenient.

The Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is located on the northeast corner of I-94 Exit 215 in Glendive, Montana, which is also home to Makoshika State Park, an area in the famous Hell Creek Formation that has yielded numerous discoveries of dinosaurs. Nearby, in downtown Glendive, is Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, which opened in 2004 and attracts 2000 visitors per summer.



Badlands, Montana FIGURE 2. The badlands outside of Glendive, Montana, have yielded important discoveries of dinosaurs,and include dramatic exhibits of the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary.

THE MONTANA DINOSAUR TRAIL

If you’re in Glendive and want to see some real science, get on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, a nonprofit set of museums created in 2005 to promote tourism at Montana’s dinosaur-related museums. To see all fifteen of the Trail’s museums, I drove 1348 miles and saw some fantastic exhibits and beautiful countryside. The centerpiece of the Trail is Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies, which is just south of Montana State University. This museum, with one of the largest collections of dinosaurs in North America, is described by Frommer’s Montana and Wyoming as “one of the premier paleontology attractions in the world.” This is not an overstatement, for the museum houses numerous world-class exhibits, including those of the first identified female dinosaurs (an ovulating T rex), the world’s largest T rex skull, and some of the world’s rarest fossils.

Some other museums along the Trail aren’t nearly as famous or elaborate. Although some of these sites have only a few dinosaurrelated exhibits, many are rich in history. For example, the badlands near Garfield County Museum in Jordan, Montana (population 364) are where famed fossil-hunter Barnum Brown in 1902 excavated the first documented T rex. These badlands also show some of the most informative exposures of the K-T Boundary found anywhere in the world (Figure 2). The Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Montana (population 410), was the first museum in Montana to display dinosaurs, and the 27 residents of Bynum, Montana (“25 in the offseason”), are justifiably proud of their Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, which houses the world’s longest dinosaur (the 137-foot–long Seismosaurus). Readers can find more information at The Montana Dinosaur Trail.


About the Author(s): 

Randy Moore is the HT Morse–Alumni Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Randy Moore
University of Minnesota, MCB 3-104
420 Washington Avenue SE
Minneapolis MN 55455
rmoore@umn.edu

The Latest “Intelligent Design” Journal

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Latest “Intelligent Design” Journal
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2010
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
10–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

ENTER BIO-COMPLEXITY

A new on-line, open-access, peer-reviewed journal with the ungainly name BIO-Complexity (ISSN 2151- 7444) was announced on April 30, 2010, by its publisher, the Biologic Institute. According to its statement of purpose and scope, BIO-Complexity “aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life.” The journal hopes to publish “studies in all areas of science with clear relevance to its aim, including work focusing on the relative merit of any of the principal alternatives to ID (neo-Darwinism, self-organization, evolutionary developmental biology, etc.).”

Hailing the journal was the Discovery Institute’s Jay Wesley Richards, on the Discovery Institute’s blog on May 1, 2010. He declared, “A new scientific journal, BIO-Complexity, is set to accelerate the pace and heighten the tone of the debate over intelligent design,” complained that work supporting “intelligent design” is unjustly (if not entirely) excluded from the scientific literature, and added, “Of course, the journal itself is simply a forum for the evidence to be presented, defended, debated, and critiqued — not to be a mouthpiece for ID” (Richards 2010). A look at the publisher, the editorial staff, and the history of “intelligent design” journals suggests otherwise.

THE BIOLOGIC INSTITUTE

The Biologic Institute — as Barbara Forrest noted in her “Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement” — was first publicly mentioned in a story in The New York Times (Chang 2005) in August 2005, “one month before the Kitzmiller trial began, at the time of the ID movement’s greatest need to create the appearance of scientific authenticity” (Forrest 2007: 23). Yet it was not incorporated in the state of Washington until October 2005, and its existence was not publicly confirmed until 2006, when Celeste Biever, a reporter for New Scientist, visited it in person and received a chilly reception. “The reticence,” she reported, “cloaks an unorthodox agenda” (Biever 2006).

George Weber, a director of the Biologic Institute, a retired member of the business faculty at Whitworth University, and the head of the Spokane chapter of the old-earth creationist ministry Reasons to Believe, told Biever, “We are the first ones doing what we might call lab science in intelligent design. ... The objective is to challenge the scientific community on naturalism.” After he spoke to New Scientist, however, Weber left the board of the Biologic Institute, and Douglas Axe, the lab’s senior researcher, told New Scientist that Weber “was found to have seriously misunderstood the purpose of Biologic and to have misrepresented it.”

Instead, Axe said, the lab only seeks “to show that the design perspective can lead to better science. He also contended that it will nevertheless “contribute substantially to the scientific case for intelligent design.” Axe told New Scientist that the Biologic Institute was currently conducting research on “the origin of metabolic pathways in bacteria, the evolution of gene order in bacteria, and the evolution of protein folds”as well as research on computational biology, where, he claimed, “we are nearing completion of a system for exploring the evolution of artificial genes that are considerably more life-like than has been the case previously.”

A list of selected publications on the Biologic Institute’s website cites twenty-eight papers in a variety of fields. But over half were published before the institute was officially formed, and Biologic Institute is listed as the affiliations of the authors on only two (Axe and others 2008, Sternberg 2008); neither mentions “intelligent design”. The editor of the journal in which the former article appeared commented:

There has been some concern about the authors’ connection with an intelligent design institute, which understandably creates a perception that the research may be ideologically biased. I did not detect any such bias in this manuscript; nor do the results support intelligent design in any way. (Scheffler 2008)

New Scientist reported, “It was Discovery that provided the funding to get the Biologic Institute up and running,” but noted that both Axe and a spokesperson for the Discovery Institute insisted that the Biologic Institute is a “separate entity” from the Discovery Institute (Biever 2006). Biologic Institute’s tax return for 2006 indicated revenues of $261 000 from “indirect public support” — a category that would include revenue from a tax-exempt parent organization, such as the Discovery Institute. In 2007 and 2008, the Biologic Institute’s revenues, of $464 000 and $280 998, respectively, were from direct public support. The source is unclear.

There is also overlap between the personnel of Biologic Institute and of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture: Guillermo Gonzalez and Jonathan Wells are both listed under “People” at the former and as “Senior Fellows” at the latter. Brendan Dixon, listed under “People” at the Biologic Institute and a coauthor of Axe and others (2008), donated $700 000 to the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in 2006 through a private family foundation (Bottaro 2007). The same foundation also donated $30 000 to Baylor University to fund a parttime appointment for William Dembski; it was later returned by the university (Bottaro 2007).

Axe himself was named in the Wedge document as the head of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture biochemistry program, and he was listed as a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (as it was known then) in 2000; although his name was removed in the same year, his curriculum vitae in 2003 listed him as a Senior Fellow from 1999 to the present (Forrest and Gross 2004: 40–1). Axe told Forrest in 2001 that he had not attempted to argue for “intelligent design” in any of his publications (Forrest and Gross 2004: 42), although in 2007 he was quoted as saying that they “add to the case for intelligent design” (Forrest 2007: 24).

THE EDITORIAL STAFF

BIO-Complexity’s editor-in-chief and the thirty people on its editorial board have a variety of connections with the “intelligent design” movement. Five — Michael Behe, Walter Bradley, William Dembski, Scott Minnich, and Jonathan Wells — are Fellows at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Those five, as well as Russell Carlson, James Keener, Matti Leisola, and Jed Macosko, were Fellows of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, which William Dembski cofounded in 2001, with the slogan “retraining the scientific imagination to see purpose in nature”. ISCID seems to have become moribund.

The editor-in-chief and twentyfour members of the editorial board of BIO-Complexity are signatories to the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”:

We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged. (www.dissentfromdarwin.com)
The statement, of course, is widely and misleadingly cited by creationists as evidence for the claim that there is a genuine scientific controversy over evolution.

Three members of the editorial board — Behe, Dembski, and Minnich — were slated to testify in Kitzmiller v Dover, although only Behe and Minnich did so (Elsberry 2006). Five members of the editorial board — Behe, Carlson, Edward Peltzer, Ralph Seelke, and Wells — testified in Kansas in May 2005 to express their support for the so-called minority report version of the state’s science education standards, rewritten with the aid of a local “intelligent design” organization to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. (The standards were adopted in November 2005, only to be rescinded in February 2007, after the balance of power on the state board of education shifted.)

There are also connections with creationism in its traditional forms, starting with the editor-in-chief, Matti Leisola. He is identified by BIO-Complexity as “a professor of Bioprocess Engineering at Aalto University (previously Helsinki University of Technology).” Unmentioned, however, is the fact that he is evidently a dyed-in-thewool creationist, having spoken on his “30 years as a non-evolutionist” at the 8th European Creationist Conference (Anonymous 2003), being described by Creation Ministries International as a biblical creationist (Wieland 2009), and having told a Finnish Christian youth magazine that evolution “is basically a heresy” (Anonymous 2006).

Similarly, Colin Reeves is a Trustee of Biblical Creation Ministries and a contributor to the journal of the Biblical Creation Society (Lynch 2009, Pieret 2009); Stuart Burgess is listed as a speaker for the United Kingdom branch of Answers in Genesis and a contributor to AiG’s journal (Lynch 2009, Pieret 2009);Norman Nevin edited and contributed to a book arguing that Christians ought not to accept evolution (Nevin 2009); David Snoke wrote a book arguing for old-earth creationism (Snoke 2006); and so on. To be sure, none of these activities and affiliations implies that the editorial board members are not competent to evaluate submissions to the journal. But it is hard to imagine such a prevalence of creationists in a journal without any axe to grind.

True, it seems that there were efforts to recruit non-creationists to the editorial board. Loren Haarsma and Scott Turner are both on the board: Haarsma is a physicist at Calvin College who coauthored a book arguing for a reconciliation of evolution and religion — in particular, Christian Reformed doctrine — (Haarsma and Haarsma 2007;see Flietstra 2008), while Turner is a biologist at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry who wrote a book declaring on its first page that it “is not about intelligent design ... ID theory is essentially warmed-over natural theology” and adding, “it is not a critique of Darwinism” (Turner 2007).

Günter Wagner, a biologist at Yale University, was also asked to join the editorial board. He told RNCSE that he declined because “the existing evolutionary biology journals are able to handle the necessary research on the evolvability of complex characters.” He explained:

Publishing on this subject in mainstream journals is also better for ... the credibility of the eventual answer to this question, as well as for the integrity of the scientific process in general. There are too many reasons for scientists to distrust a journal with a substantial ID influence, regardless of whether this particular enterprise is biased or not. ... In the current situation any project of this sort will have a hard time to earn the trust of the scientific community.

THE HISTORY OF “INTELLIGENT DESIGN” JOURNALS

The first, and most successful, “intelligent design” journal was Origins & Design (ISSN 0748- 9919), produced by the Access Research Network, formerly Students for Origins Research, which published Origins Research. The stated goal of Origins & Design was “(1) to examine theories of origins, their philosophical foundations, and their bearing on culture, and (2) to examine all aspects of the idea of design.” The journal received a portion of its funding from the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (Forrest and Gross 2004: 166, 176). Origins & Design apparently ceased publication in 1999, with its last issue identified as volume 19, number 2.

After his plan to establish a base for “intelligent design” at Baylor University failed, Dembski founded the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (Forrest and Gross 2004: 207–13). ISCID published the second “intelligent design” journal, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design (ISSN 1555-5089) in an on-line format. Its stated goal was “to advance the science of complexity by assessing the degree to which teleology is relevant (or irrelevant) to the origin, development, and operation of complex systems.” Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design ceased publication in 2005, with its last issue identified as volume 4, number 1.

The on-line Journal of Evolutionary Informatics (no ISSN) was sponsored by the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, a project of Dembski and Robert Marks, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor University. The “Lab”was controversial because it was originally hosted on a Baylor University server; after Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms about its content, it was removed to a third-party hosting facility. As a result, Marks was then featured as a “victim” in the creationist propaganda movie Expelled (Sager 2008). The Journal of Evolutionary Informatics seems to have become defunct before managing to publish a single issue.

These journals failed to make a splash scientifically: articles from none of them appear in major scientific indexes such as PubMed, Web of Knowledge (which subsumes Science Citation Index and Biological Abstracts), and EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete, although a few articles from Origins & Design are indexed in GeoRef. Google Scholar indexes articles from all of the “intelligent design” journals except the Journal of Evolutionary Informatics — but it also indexes articles from such young-earth creationist journals as Creation Research Science Quarterly, Acts and Facts, and the Journal of Creation, betraying a certain lack of discrimination.

Moreover, few articles from “intelligent design” journals are even cited in the scientific literature. According to Web of Science, only two such articles, both from Origins & Design, have ever been cited in the literature — and not auspiciously. One, Craig (1996), was cited by two ringleaders of the “intelligent design” movement, writing in the theology journal Zygon (Dembski and Meyer 1998). The other (Kenyon and Mills 1996; coauthored by Dean Kenyon who also coauthored Of Pandas and People) was cited in a notorious paper (Meyer 2004) published in a legitimate scientific journal under suspicious circumstances and subsequently disavowed by the journal (Sager and Scott 2008).

It is not surprising, then, that academic libraries were not inclined to subscribe to Origins & Design. Only thirty-two libraries listed in WorldCat show holdings of Origins & Design; the majority are libraries of seminaries or of colleges or universities with religious affiliations historically disposed toward creationism in various forms. WorldCat lists fifty-two libraries with holdings of Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design — but those libraries need not subscribe to or provide space for a free on-line journal. No libraries apparently have holdings of the Journal of Evolutionary Informatics (which is not even listed on WorldCat), or of BIOComplexity (which is listed).

“Intelligent design” journals thus seem to be a scientific cul-desac — a fact ironically conceded by the Discovery Institute, which in a “briefing packet for educators” (Discovery Institute 2007) recommends articles from Origins & Design and Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, but under the rubric “Science Resources About Evolution and Intelligent Design” rather than “Peer Reviewed Sciences [sic] Articles”. Scientists with anything scientifically important to say about “intelligent design” will, as Wagner noted, take it to the mainstream scientific literature, which is already widely disseminated and respected, not to a parvenu like BIO-Complexity.

WHITHER BIO-COMPLEXITY?

It seems safe to predict that it will be difficult for BIO-Complexity to attain its ostensible goal of serving as “the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design ... is a credible explanation for life.” But was that really the point? Unable to convince the scientific establishment of the merits of their views, creationists have long been engaged in the project of constructing a counterestablishment, which mimics — or perhaps the mot juste is “apes” — not only peer-reviewed journals but also professional societies, textbook publishers, media organizations, natural history museums, and graduate programs at accredited universities.

The purpose of the counterestablishment is not necessarily to challenge the scientific establishment or to affect the public’s view of science, although those are certainly accomplishments that would not be despised if they were to come to pass. Instead, the counterestablishment seems primarily to serve to reassure the activists, the supporters, and (perhaps crucially) the funders of the creationist movement that there is a worthwhile project under way. To the extent that BIO-Complexity flourishes, it will not be because it is reporting scientific tests of “intelligent design” but because it is evincing, in the otherwise declining “intelligent design”movement, a few feeble signs of life.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Michael D Barton compared the editorial board of BIO-Complexity with the signatories of the Discovery Institute’s “Dissent” statement and kindly shared the result.


References

[Anonymous.] 2003. 8th European creationist congress [Internet]. Available from www.genesis.nu/8thecc/. Last accessed May 25, 2010.

[Anonymous.] 2006. Bilsan maikalle kampeen [interview with Matti Leisola; Finnish] [Internet]. Available from: www.nuotta.com/nuotta/haastattelu/bilsan-maikalle-kampeen.html. Last accessed May 25, 2010.

Axe DD, Dixon BW, Lu P. 2008. Stylus: A system for evolutionary experimentation based on a protein/proteome model with non-arbitrary functional constraints. PLoS ONE 3: e2246.

Biever C. 2006. Intelligent design: The God lab. New Scientist 2482: 8–11.

Bottaro A. 2007. Follow the money: More Dembski/Baylor-related mischief? [Internet]. Available from: pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/09/follow-the-mone.html. Last accessed May 4, 2010.

Chang K. 2005 Aug 22. In explaining life’s complexity, Darwinists and doubters clash. The New York Times.

Craig WL. 1996. Cosmos and creator. Origins & Design 17 (2): 18–27.

Dembski WA, Meyer SC. 1998. Fruitful interchange or polite chitchat? The dialogue between science and theology. Zygon 33 (3): 415–30.

Discovery Institute. 2007. The theory of intelligent design: A briefing packet for educators [Internet]. Available from: www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB -download.php?command=download&id=1453. Last accessed May 27, 2010.

Elsberry W. 2006. Can I keep a witness? Reports of the NCSE 26 (1–2): 45–6.

Evans S. 2001. Doubting Darwinism through creative license. Reports of the NCSE 21 (5–6): 22–3.

Flietstra R. 2008. [Review of Haarsma and Haarsma, Origins.] Reports of the NCSE 28 (1): 36–7.

Forrest B. 2007. Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement: Its true nature and goals. A position paper from the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy [Internet]. Available from: www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/intelligent- design.pdf. Last accessed May 4, 2010.

Forrest B, Gross PR. 2004. Creationism’s Trojan Horse. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haarsma DB, Haarsma LD. 2007. Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution. Grand Rapids (MI): Faith Alive Christian Resources.

Kenyon D, Mills G. 1996. The RNA world: A critique. Origins & Design 17 (1): 9–16.

Lynch JM. 2009. Three (YEC) amigos join the Biologic Institute [Internet]. Available from: blog.jmlynch.org/2009/08/07/three-yec-amigos-join-the- biologicinstitute/. Last accessed May 27, 2010.

Meyer SC. 2004. The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117 (2): 213–39.

Nevin NC, editor. 2009. Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Nottingham (UK): InterVarsity Press.

Pieret J. 2009. The “pros” from Dover [Internet]. Available from: dododreams.blogspot.com/2009/08/pros-from-dover.html. Last accessed May 27, 2010.

Richards JW. 2010. BIO-Complexity: A new, peer-reviewed science journal, open to the ID debate [Internet]. Available from: evolutionnews.org/2010/05/biocomplexity_a_new_peerreview.html. Last accessed May 27, 2010.

Sager C. Meet the martyrs: Robert Marks, Pamela Winnick, Michael Egnor. Reports of the NCSE 28 (5–6): 39–41.

Sager C, Scott EC. 2008. Meet the martyrs: Richard Sternberg. Reports of the NCSE 28 (5–6): 36–8.

Scheffler K. 2008. AE [academic editor] comments [Internet]. Available from: www.plosone.org. Last accessed May 4, 2010.

Snoke D. 2006. A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books.

Sternberg RV. 2008. DNA codes and information: Formal structures and relational causes. Acta Biotheoretica 56 (3): 205–232.

Turner JS. 2007. The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself. Cambridge [MA]: Harvard University Press.

Wieland C. 2009. In Charles Darwin’s footsteps. Available from creation.com/charles-darwin-voyagemovie. Last accessed May 25, 2010.


About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch is NCSE's Deputy Director

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncse.com

Review: Choosing Selection: The Revival of Natural Selection in Anglo-American Evolutionary Biology, 1930-1970

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
32
Reviewer: 
Roberta L Millstein
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Choosing Selection: The Revival of Natural Selection in Anglo-American Evolutionary Biology, 1930-1970
Author(s): 
Stephen G Brush
Philadelphia (PA): American Philosophical Society, 2009. 183 pages

Those of us engaged Brush: Choosing Selectionin defending the teaching of evolution in public schools are aware of the need to understand evolution properly. For example, we emphasize that selection and evolution are not the same thing, pointing out that there are a number of evolutionary processes, for example, selection, drift, mutation, and migration. And we point out that debate among biologists over the relative importance of different evolutionary processes is often deliberately misrepresented by creationists. However, it is also important to understand the history of the debate over evolutionary processes, that is, how it is that we came to hold the views concerning the relative importance of selection that we hold today. Stephen G Brush, perhaps most well known as a physicist and a historian of physics, seeks to help us understand that debate as it occurred in the mid-20th century. In that, he is mostly, if not entirely, successful.

Brush’s thesis is that the “Natural Selection Hypothesis” (NSH) came to be accepted by a “bare majority” of evolutionary biologists in the 1950s and 1960s. The NSH is “the hypothesis that natural selection, with an ample supply of variation in heritable characters, is not only the major process involved in evolution (with the help of geographical isolation or polyploidy in some cases), but also that Lamarckian effects, random genetic drift, and macromutations have essentially no evolutionary significance” (p 2; emphasis in original). The thesis is, on the whole, reasonably uncontroversial, but the devil is in the details. Brush focuses almost exclusively on what he calls the “competition” between natural selection and random genetic drift (roughly, the question of whether changes in populations over time are due to differences in fitness or due to chance); there is little discussion of other evolutionary processes or other processes involved in evolution, such as development. Furthermore, many biologists in fact disagreed, and the “majority” position did not remain the majority position past 1970. Finally, and very unfortunately in my view, Brush has left out a detailed discussion of Sewall Wright’s shifting balance theory and Motoo Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution, both of which were influential views developed during the period Brush is covering and both of which posited a substantial role for drift and selection (defying the “either selection or drift, but not both” way of thinking that sometimes characterized this period).

The thing to understand is that the truth of the reception of the NSH is complicated; people’s views changed over time and could not necessarily be neatly categorized as “accepting” or “rejecting” the NSH. The truth is also difficult to uncover, because like any family dispute where there is widespread general agreement, but disagreement over details (in this case, the particular ways in which evolution is proceeding), arguments can get heated, and it is difficult to find neutral parties whose accounts we can trust.

Brush categorizes his book as a “reception” study, stating that while we have studied the reception of Darwin’s views immediately after 1859 and the early 20th century, we have not studied the reception of what Brush calls “the modern version of Darwin’s theory” in the mid-20th century. The book offers a synthesis of the Modern Synthesis literature, together with a detailed examination of its citation patterns, which (to my knowledge) has not been done previously. Of particular interest to readers of RNCSE will be the discussion of the different types of evidence for selection that influenced mid–20th-century evolutionary biologists. Many of these remain classics in the field.

Brush’s concern is with the empirical reasons why the NSH had the reception it did. He particularly emphasizes the confirmation of “novel” predictions (prediction of facts that were not known at the time that the prediction was made). If the theory of natural selection were to make such predictions, it could either be corroborated or be falsified; in other words, it would be falsifiable. This raises another pair of issues: whether falsifiability is a criterion that demarcates science from pseudoscience and whether the theory of natural selection is indeed falsifiable. Brush suggess that falsifiability is important but should not be considered the sole criterion and argues that the biologists of this period themselves did not seem concerned with confirmation of novel predictions, though many were in fact confirmed. I think readers will enjoy the examples here, especially the brief history of the use and misuse of the falsifiability criterion in creationist attacks on evolution.

I highly recommend Choosing Selection for anyone interested in evolution. Scholars familiar with this period will come away having learned some things they didn’t know and will appreciate Brush’s provocative position on a provocative subject; those new to this area will be introduced to the main players and will receive a wealth of pointers to both primary biological literature and secondary historical and philosophical literature.


About the Author(s): 

Roberta L Millstein is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Davis. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the history and philosophy of science (including the “debates” over creationism wherever she can) and publishes in journals such as Philosophy of Science and Biology and Philosophy.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Roberta L Millstein
Department of Philosophy
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis CA 95616
RLMillstein@UCDavis.edu

Review: Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
24–26
Reviewer: 
James G Lennox
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity
Author(s): 
David Sedley
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. 269 pages.

In 1900, Jane K Sather David Sedley - Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity - book coverendowed a Visiting Professorship in Classics at the University of California, Berkeley, which, beginning in 1920, included an obligation to deliver a series of lectures, to be published as a book, that would make an original contribution to our understanding of the Classical world. The series of monographs that has resulted from that endowment contains many of the most important contributions to Classical studies of the past century, such masterpieces as Paul Shorey's Platonism, Ancient and Modern, ER Dodds's The Greeks and the Irrational, and Bernard Williams's Shame and Necessity. David Sedley's Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity deservedly takes its place in this noble lineage.

As with many of its predecessors, Sedley's is a controversial book that reaches well beyond the world of classical scholarship. It is a study of defenders and critics of the idea that the cosmos, the orderly world around us, is the product of a divine, extra-natural designer. Sedley leaves no doubt that it is appropriately reviewed in this journal. As Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Cambridge, his College, Christ's, he reminds us in the preface, was also the college of both the Reverend William Paley, famous for his "watch on the heath" defense of the argument from design, and Charles Darwin, famous for arguing that apparent design in nature is due to natural selection. Sedley also reminds us that his Sather Lectures were delivered in America, where "it would have been a mistake to consign the debate [over intelligent design] to history" (p xv). His aim, he tells us, is to use history to shed new light on the debate (p xvi). Though infused throughout with Sedley's mastery of the Greek and Latin sources, Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity achieves its goal of wide accessibility by keeping the scholarly details in footnotes and appendices. For a work of such immense learning, the integrity of the narrative is remarkable.

The chapters have a conventional layout in two respects: they examine the key figures chronologically, and they are organized around the narrative's chief protagonists. The first two chapters target two Presocratics, Anaxagoras and Empedocles, chapter 3 the pivotal figure of Socrates, and chapter 4, his disciple Plato. The chief critics of "intelligent design" in the Ancient world, the Atomists, are taken up in chapter 5. Sedley apologizes for placing the discussion of that entire tradition, from Leucippus and Democritus to Epicurus and his Roman spokesman Lucretius, before his chapter on Aristotle — justified, since the early Atomists predate Aristotle; yet problematic, because the later Atomists were clearly reacting to Aristotle. Sedley then turns to the Stoics and concludes with a Galenic epilogue, viewing Galen's teleology through the traditions he inherits.

While the layout is conventional, the interpretations are iconoclastic. Some examples: Anaxagoras and Empedocles, read through the eyes of Plato and Aristotle as they typically are, are materialists and reductionists, in search of the ultimate material roots of all. In Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity, however, Sedley portrays them as design teleologists, stressing the overarching role of Mind (Nous) in Anaxagoras and of Love and Strife in Empedocles. Anaxagoras' Nous is a designer (in fact, Sedley suggests, of the agricultural variety! [p 22–24]), but Anaxagoras' motivations are "not theological ... but scientific and causal" (p 25). Likewise, Empedocles is portrayed as the author of a cosmic cycle, controlled alternately by the powers of Love and Strife, giving rise to a "double zoogony", the production of myriad animals both on the way toward a perfectly spherical cosmos and on the way from it and toward the complete separation of the four elements under Strife's rule. Sedley seeks to unseat "the presumption that teleology plays no significant part in Presocratic philosophy" (p 52), which, he argues, has blinded readers to an obvious role for divine craftsmanship in Empedocles.

If Sedley's presentation of these two great Presocratics as arch-teleologists comes as a surprise, his portrait of Socrates is eye-popping! Rather than relying on the voluminous, but also problematic, evidence of the Platonic dialogues for his Socrates, Sedley turns to Xenophon's defense of Socrates against the charges of impiety in his Memorabilia. "Xenophon's Socrates," Sedley proclaims, "is a fundamentally anti-scientific creationist" (p 78). Our uniquely human attributes (intellect, hands, upright posture) and the clear evidence that other animals exist for our use are evidenced to develop an explicitly "anthropocentric teleology" (p 80). Much later in the narrative we are shown how this very passage serves as a source for Stoic theology (p 212–25), while passages in Aristotle discussing the same human attributes lead Sedley, with far less plausibility, to ascribe the same sort of teleology to the Stagirite (p 201–3). But Aristotle and the Stoics must wait. I am convinced by the portrait of Socrates painted here, in part because we hear echoes of these arguments in Plato's Socrates as well. Summing up Socrates' argument in Memorabilia I 4.2–7 (translation and text appear on p 214–5 during that discussion of the Stoic legacy), he asks, rhetorically, "Do we not have here the earliest instance, or at least direct forerunner, of the Argument from Design?" Even more important, Sedley finds in Xenophon's Socrates an explicitly theological, rather than scientific, defense of design. In Plato's Phaedo (96–9) Socrates reports his early enchantment and gradual rejection of the natural scientific route to discovering why the cosmos was ordered as it was. In the last pages of this chapter, Sedley neatly returns us to Anaxagoras, whom Plato portrays in the Phaedo as Socrates' last hope for a naturalist cosmology. As I noted earlier, Sedley's Anaxagoras is not the one Plato or Aristotle leads us to expect. All the more reason, then, to suspect that the obvious connection we see between Socrates' disappointment in the Phaedo and Plato's "later move into physics" in the Timaeus (the primary topic of the next chapter) is a link, as Sedley puts it, planted in the text (p 92).

The chapter on Plato, principally focused on the dialogue that the echoes through the history of science, the Timaeus, is too rich in argument and interpretation to do it justice here. Suffice to say Sedley's final assessment is well-justified: "Even at its most mythical or its most comic, it is a profound guide to Plato's own views on the world's teleological origin, purpose, and structure" (p 132). Indeed, Plato's Timaeus is my candidate for the single most influential source for the history of natural theology.

Sedley's take on Aristotle on the issue of creationism is as unorthodox as his reading of Anaxagoras, and less convincing. He states it clearly at the outset: "... I want to defend a portrayal of Aristotle's teleological worldview as a reasoned modification of Plato's creationism" (p 167). To give you a sense of the difficulties in the way of such a defense, you only need to be reminded that Aristotle is not a creationist! Sedley says as much: "The world, along with its resident species, is not [according to Aristotle] the product of an intelligent act of creation, for the simple reason that it had no beginning at all but has always existed ..." (p 168). Better, then, to see this as a reasoned rejection of Plato's (and indeed anyone's) creationism. Likewise, we are told that Aristotle's theory of causation as formal replication is essentially Platonic (p 179). Odd, then, that after presenting a defense of his theory of causality in Metaphysics VII 8, Aristotle announces that it renders Plato's account of generation by reference to separate Forms "of no use" (1033b27–30). Aristotle's very un-Platonic understanding of the causes of generation is displayed vividly in his Generation of Animals. It is thus unfortunate that, while acknowledging that Aristotle is "the ancient world's greatest zoologist," Sedley announces that "my focus will not be on Aristotle's biological writings" (p 167).

The final section of Sedley's discussion of Aristotle is entitled "Aristotle's Platonism" (p 203–4). Yet it contains the following sentence: "The result is that, while Aristotle's world retains all the positive values — both functional and other — that Plato had associated with divine craftsmanship, these are now explained by on the one had phasing out the divine craftsman, and on the other representing nature as so closely isomorphic with craft in its structure as to be capable of producing its results even in the absence of a controlling intelligence" (p 204; compare p 208). Especially when one remembers Aristotle's oft-repeated (intentionally anti-Platonic?) maxim that "art imitates nature," it is hard to see the point of referring to this principled rejection of a cosmos created by intelligent design as Platonism.

Similarly, but more plausibly, Stoic cosmology is interpreted as deeply indebted to Socrates (as presented by Xenophon) and to Plato's Timaeus (compare p 205–10). This chapter (largely an English version of a 2005 essay published in French) presents the Stoic doctrine of Cosmic Intelligence as reported by the Skeptic Sextus Empiricus. As he had with Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Sedley again detects an anthropocentrism in the Stoic arguments for cosmic design.

This is an important and timely volume. In the fifth century BCE the Greeks originated a tradition of defending theories about the cosmos and its origins and order by reason. Almost immediately philosophers conceived of "the argument from design," the claim that the apparent order in the cosmos is best understood as created by an intelligent craftsman. As David Sedley recounts the story, the only fundamental attack on this argument was that of the Atomists. My only disappointment with this remarkable work of philosophical synthesis is that it reinforces an injustice done to Aristotle by his Christian apologists. For it was Aristotle who challenged the argument from design by challenging the need for an intelligent creator to explain the order of the cosmos. Sedley acknowledges this, of course, but by treating Aristotle's challenge as a "modified Platonism" he undermines its significance. This one misgiving aside, I urge everyone concerned about the revival of "intelligent design" to read this compelling story of its origins in Ancient Greece.

About the Author(s): 

James G Lennox
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh PA 15260

James G Lennox is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology: Studies in the Origins of Life Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Review: Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution, and Enlightenment

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
29–30
Reviewer: 
Paul S Braterman
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution, and Enlightenment
Author(s): 
JF Derry
Dunbeath, Scotland, United Kingdom: Whittles, 2010. 224 pages

Do not judge Derry: Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution, and Enlightenmentthis book by its cover. Despite the claims made there and in the forewords (by AC Grayling and Stuart Munro, no less), no strong case is made here for the assertion that his time in Edinburgh had any major influence on Darwin. There are references to Darwin’s study of taxidermy and to his membership of the Plinian Society, and a paragraph from his autobiography that describes how hearing Robert Grant’s views on evolution could have influenced him later, but nothing more on the ostensive central theme. A later two-page description of Darwin’s 1838 visit to Scotland and his incorrect analysis of the parallel roads of Glen Roy adds nothing of substance to the more scientifically detailed account in his autobiography.

The book sometimes reads as if aimed at a very restricted audience: those who have personal acquaintance with Edinburgh’s High Street (“So, the next time you are passing by his [David Hume’s] statue ...”). The chronology is, to put it politely, confusing, with no sense of historical perspective. There is a two-page inventory of sources for Darwin’s own writings, and a ten-page list of recommended readings, but the vast majority of these are not taken up in the text. Meantime, almost all of the many excerpts used in the text are presented with little more than the author’s or speaker’s name.

There is no great emphasis on purely Scottish aspects of the response to Darwin. The threepage chapter on “Scottish Geology” starts with James Hutton’s uniformitarianism, and credits him with the discovery in the West of the concept of “deep time,” as if Robert Hooke, Nicholas Steno, Benoît de Maillet, and the Comte de Buffon had never existed. There is only one brief reference in this chapter to Charles Lyell, who should surely qualify for more extended treatment, not only because of his long friendship with Darwin, but because he was, after all, a Scot. We have a paragraph on William Thomson’s (Lord Kelvin’s) thermodynamic objection to uniformitarianism, backed up with a well-chosen quotation, but on this occasion the failure to give an exact reference is more than a trivial annoyance. The passage quoted originally came from Thomson’s address to the annual meeting of the Christian Evidence Society in May 1889. This context is highly relevant to Thomson’s beliefs, as is the date to the detailed evolution of his arguments, but you will not learn that here. Nor will you learn that Thomson’s publication campaign against uniformitarianism in general, and the deep time required for unguided evolution in particular, began as early as 1862, and that Darwin himself described Thomson as an “odious spectre” and among his sorest troubles.

The major part of the book is actually taken up with interviews by the author of an impressive array of people, many of them based in Scotland, or whom he managed to interview while they were passing through. The list of contributors is impressive, twentyfour in all, from Noam Chomsky, Daniel C Dennett, and Richard Dawkins through Michael Behe and William Dembski to Ken Ham, and supplemented by a useful collection of brief biographies. Again, I would have been glad to know the dates of these interviews, and indeed in some cases whether we are dealing with interviews as such or with excerpts from other materials, such as Web postings. The contributors are encouraged to expound their ideas by gentle questioning, although at times I wished the author, himself a biologist, could have brought himself to ask more elementary questions. Despite this, I found these interviews highly informative. My own perspective was shifted on a number of scientific matters, while a damningly self-revelatory interview with Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis and Creation Museum fame) gave me insights into a way of thinking that I could not even have imagined.

A chapter devoted to the teaching of evolution, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, is totally unsatisfactory. Confusing cause with effect, the author attributes the opposition to introducing “intelligent design” (ID) in American schools to vigilance over the First Amendment, and fails to understand why the creationists are so eager to market their products as “science”. He also describes the ruling in Kitzmiller as a rejection of ID’s attacks on evolution. True, but the real point is that the school board lost, not because ID is wrong, but because it is an expression of religion. He incorrectly states that Truth in Science (which he associates with ID, although its young-earth creationist and biblical literalist roots are well-known) was “blocked by the UK government from disseminating Discovery Institute material.” This is not what happened. The UK government did not and could not stop TiS from sending materials to schools; what it can do, and did do, was reiterate its view that ID and creationism are not scientific theories.

The author is rightly concerned that the “faith schools” set up under the (recently displaced) Labour administration would be sympathetic to creationism, but fails to mention that this problem has already arisen in the most acute form in independent statesupported academies (as documented, several years before this book was completed, in Dawkins’s The God Delusion [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006], p 331–7). He does not explain the fundamental problem in the UK, which is that as long as schools teach the scientific curriculum to the required standard, they can, and some do, also teach creationism, or even tell their students that the account required for national examination purposes is false.

One further theme is the relationship between evolution and religion. Here the author falls into the trap of presuming a dichotomy, saying in his preface, “The other role for Darwinian evolution puts it at the heart of the science-religion debate, as a counterpoint to contemporary Creationism and Intelligent Design” (p xiv). The mainstream biologists interviewed have no chance to comment on this assertion, since in the main they are asked only about science, while the creationists have space to expound their full range of objections to naturalism. No mention is made of theologies that embrace evolution or the movement represented by Evolution Weekend. It is only at the very end of the book’s epilog that we are shown a scientist contemplating the notion that evolution itself might be the work of a creator. That scientist is Charles Darwin.


About the Author(s): 

Paul S Braterman is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of North Texas and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Chemistry at the University of Glasgow.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Paul S Braterman
48 Ninth Street
Glasgow G33 2AF
Scotland, UNITED KINGDOM
P.Braterman@chem.gla.ac.uk

Review: Darwin’s Island: The Galápagos in the Garden of England

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
30
Reviewer: 
Kent Holsinger
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin’s Island: The Galápagos in the Garden of England
Author(s): 
Steve Jones
London: Little Brown, 2009. 307 pages

In 2009 we celebratedJones, Steve" Darwin’s Island: The Galápagos in the Garden of England the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. We also celebrated the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous book, On the Origin of Species. Indeed, if you were to ask most people about Darwin and what he wrote, the only work they’re likely to remember is the Origin — with good reason. It was the Origin, after all, in which Darwin laid out the evidence for descent with modification and for evolution by natural selection. If you pressed, some people might remember the Voyage of the Beagle or, maybe, theDescent of Man, but you are unlikely to get much further.

Steve Jones wants readers to remember that there were many other books as well, from On the Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects to On the Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. And he wants them to remember that these books draw largely on original observations he made on plants and animals in “the garden of England” referred to in the subtitle. He wants to convince you that “[t]he great naturalist’s lifelong labours generated an archipelago of information; a set of connected observations that together form a harmonious whole.”

He succeeds. For there is a constant thread running through Darwin’s work. Even when Darwin is writing about the Power of Movement in Plants, the thread of common ancestry is never far from the surface. Darwin couldn’t have known that the signal proteins allowing a sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) to respond to touch are related to signal proteins in the human body promoting the production of certain hormones, but even so Darwin couldn’t stop himself from writing that “[i]t is impossible not to be struck with the resemblance between the foregoing movements of plants and many of the actions performed unconsciously by the lower animals.”

But Jones’s object is not merely to describe what Darwin wrote. Rather, he uses each of Darwin’s books as a springboard to introduce readers to a wide range of discoveries in modern biology, from signaling proteins to DNA paternity testing to homeobox genes, and to show how this vast diversity can all be understood as a consequence of the two fundamental processes Darwin identified: descent with modification and evolution by natural selection.

The book is not perfect. In discussing The Effects of Cross- and Self-Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom, Jones first argues that the death of Darwin’s first daughter, Annie, “may … in part have been due to her parents’ marital history” (Charles and Emma Darwin were first cousins), though the immediate cause was tuberculosis. A few pages later he writes that “[t]he great man’s concern about the possible damage to his own children was not justified.” Small contradictions like this may be difficult to avoid when telling an engaging story, but they are distracting.

As Jones points out, Darwin wrote to Huxley a few years after publication of the Origin that “I sometimes think that general and popular Treatises are almost as important for the progress of science as original work.” Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, in Unscientific America, and Randy Olson, in Don’t Be Such a Scientist, have made similar pleas, and science would benefit if more of us paid attention — as Steve Jones has done for more than two decades. Already a popular author and commentator in Great Britain, in Darwin’s Island he introduces a wide audience to Darwin’s other books, books that specialists know well but that few others even realize exist. In doing so he reminds us all of the great fabric that is modern biology and of its warp and weft, which is evolutionary theory.


About the Author(s): 

Kent Holsinger is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. He is a former president of the American Institute for Biological Sciences and the current president of the Botanical Society of America.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Kent Holsinger
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut
Storrs CT 06269-3043
kent@darwin.eeb.uconn.edu

Review: Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
27–28
Reviewer: 
Joseph Fail Jr
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be
Author(s): 
Daniel Loxton
Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2010. 56 pages

Daniel Loxton Loxton, Daniel - Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Behas crafted an adventurous story about evolution. Not only is the science accurate but it is also presented in a way that draws kids of all ages into Darwin’s “mystery of mysteries.” This book took me back to childhood Saturdays in the library immersed in a journey that I did not want to end. The adventure starts with a dinosaur nearly leaping out of the page, and then Loxton introduces us to the usual evolutionary suspects — Darwin and Cuvier — and unexpectedly to a young woman, Mary Anning, who hunted fossils for a living. The inclusion of Anning is perfect for young girls wondering what adventures to pursue in life — teaching them that they too can indeed take on science.

Our guide wastes no time in providing a clear description of the mechanism of evolution in three easy-to-understand steps: struggle among and between individuals, variation and natural selection acting on it, and the passing on of characteristics to the next generation, and voila! evolution explained. From that point, Loxton gently guides us along the trail of Darwin’s big idea — to the land of “Zooks” (imaginary zebra-like beasts), where we learn how species can split, and on to stories of adaptations as answers to questions posed by nature. Here a gorgeous pterodactyl flies off the page, and there the first amphibians crawl on to dry land to mingle with the first vascular plants, portending the later invention of trees with trunks as an answer to the question of how to trap the most light to make the most food. Pretty soon we are face to face with our own ancestors. Loxton makes that speciation event seem as natural as flowing water, and then unobtrusively points out that the species resulting from those early ancestors has control of the destinies of all other species — indeed that of the whole planet — through technological evolution.

Loxton does miss several teachable moments that could provide young students with non-magical and logic-strengthening insights on how life on the planet is interconnected. One of the omissions is a page devoted to the actual molecular basis of evolution — a depiction of the elegance of a DNA molecule. Elementary students easily grasp the concept of molecular structure and the energetic glue that holds them together, and this understanding can then be applied to the concept of the material basis of evolution — that if a biological characteristic is not written in the codes of the molecule DNA then we are not discussing evolution by natural selection.

One other major oversight is the lack of explanation of the role of photosynthesis as the energetic basis of virtually all life. Students need to understand early on that they are the product of light, and some pages devoted to the story of light and its connection to life would have made evolution so much less magical to young minds. Providing this would have required explaining photosynthesis and respiration, illustrating how the laws of thermodynamics apply to life and thus also to evolution. This is not as difficult a task as it might appear. None of the fourth through sixth graders that I have taught in weekly lessons on biology have been unable to understand these ideas.

Evolution: How We and All Things Came To Be should be an early reading for elementary students’ science education curriculum and a permanent part of the classroom library. The book’s simple lucidity, stunning art, and connected storytelling teaches students that they can learn science, and it teaches them their own special place in the grand scheme — the “grandeur” as Darwin wrote — of life.


About the Author(s): 

Joseph Fail Jr is Associate Professor of Biology in the Department of Natural Sciences at Johnson C Smith University.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Joseph Fail Jr
Department of Natural Sciences
Johnson C Smith University
100 Beatties Ford Road
Charlotte NC 28216
jfail@jcsu.edu

Review: Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
30-31
Reviewer: 
Patricia H Kelley
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution
Author(s): 
David F Prindle
Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2009. 249 pages

As a student of StephenPrindle: Stephen Gould and the Politics of Evolution Jay Gould in the 1970s, I thought it was standard procedure to analyze the social context of scientific thought to determine what possible bias your predecessors, contemporaries, and rivals brought to their work. A historian and philosopher of science, as well as a practicing paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, he delighted in placing the works of others in their social/political context. I think he would be pleased that David F Prindle, Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, has subjected his work to the same scrutiny in Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution.

You might wonder, as I did, what a professor of government is doing writing about evolution. How could he possibly know enough about concepts such as punctuated equilibria and macroevolution to critique Gould’s work? Prindle has done his homework. He has read all of Gould’s books and seminal articles and many additional publications, as well as audited a course on speciation. Except for occasional slips (for example, an inadequate description of species selection, errors in his comments on the Cambrian explosion, underestimation of the acceptance of punctuated equilibria among paleontologists) he gets the science right. But more importantly, I think he gets the politics right.

What’s politics got to do with it? A lot, Prindle argues effectively. His thesis is that “Gould’s mind worked along two tracks simultaneously, the scientific and the political. ... Gould never penned a line that did not address, if only implicitly, both areas of human thought” (p 11). Prindle argues that Gould was involved in both the internal politics of science and the politics of evolution in society as a whole, that is, in his opposition to creationists.

In the first chapter, Prindle evaluates Gould’s political orientation, dispelling the notion that he was a Marxist, arguing instead that he was a “leftist” or “modern liberal” for whom equality of opportunity was key. He also analyzes why Gould’s writing had such charm for his readers, taking them on a voyage of discover; it was personal, informal, and placed ideas in their cultural context.

The next chapter deals with issues in the philosophy of science — Gould’s interest in Kuhn and Popper; the nature of historical science; Gould’s opposition to reductionism; his views that evolution is nondirectional and that humans are not “special”.

The remainder of the book addresses Gould’s involvement in “internal politics”. Chapter 3 discusses the controversies in which Gould was involved relating to evolution and life history (gradualism versus punctuated equilibria, macroevolution, species selection, contingency). The next two chapters focus on the “politics of human nature,” including sociobiology, and on human inequality (Gould’s campaign against intelligence testing). Prindle makes a convincing case that Gould’s scientific stance was inextricable from his political stance. He also recognizes a number of contradictions and inconsistencies in Gould’s writings and relates them to his political aims.

In chapter 6, Prindle discusses Gould’s forays into “external politics” — the evolution/creationism struggle. This chapter will be of particular interest to readers of RNCSE. He summarizes briefly the anti-evolution movement from Scopes through the 1960s to Reagan and the Arkansas court case, focusing on the testimony that Gould presented as a scientific witness at that trial. Prindle also critiques several creationist arguments (such as lack of transitional forms in the fossil record), dismissing all except the question of “origin of mutations,” which he feels (I think unjustifiably) evolutionary biologists have not addressed sufficiently. He examines the way creationists have treated Gould’s work, including punctuated equilibrium, the contingency argument of Wonderful Life, and the argument about design related to the panda’s “thumb”. He states that Gould understood that creationism was a political issue; he sees Gould’s NOMA approach (“Non- Overlapping Magisteria” presented in Rocks of Ages) as politically motivated, because “[i]f there was one American scientist in the 20th century who mixed the magisteria of fact, morality, and ultimate meaning in his work, it was Gould. For him to turn around and recommend the separation of the two spheres begs for some sort of explanation” (p 196). For Prindle, the explanation is that NOMA was a political strategy — an effective one — for building a “coalition of the ambiguous” joining scientists with religious Americans wanting to avoid conflict with science.

Prindle’s final chapter assesses Gould’s long-term contributions, especially as seen in his Structure of Evolutionary Theory. He sees Gould’s final book as a call for a new theory, rather a “series of good starts, shrewd critiques, memorable phrases, and half-baked ideas…. His political legacy, then, must be much like his scientific legacy, a set of ideas that cohere more in tone than in conceptual completeness” (p 212). Should a “Gouldian” theory emerge, he predicts it will be anti-reductionist and focus on emergence, macroevolutionary hierarchies, and constraints. But for now Prindle sees Gould’s main scientific contributions as “two good ideas” (p 213), spandrels and exaptation, which he admits partly solve the “origin of mutations” problem. He concludes that, though Gould’s scientific contributions may not last, his writing will, because “by recontextualizing biological discourse he demonstrated, to scientists, to nonscientists, and even to antiscientists, why it was relevant” (p 217).

This book should interest evolutionary biologists; I can see it being used in seminars on evolution or the philosophy of science, and it would be valuable reading for graduate students who may consider science an objective pursuit. It will appeal to the still strong cohort of Gould’s fans, and should be understandable by the educated lay person (for instance, Prindle does a good job of explaining arcane subjects like factor analysis). Even though I thought I knew Steve well, I learned a lot from this book, and much of it rang true to the lessons Steve tried to teach his students.


About the Author(s): 

Patricia H Kelley is Professor of Geology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and a Supporter of NCSE.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Patricia H Kelley
Department of Geography and Geology
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Wilmington NC 28403-5944
kelleyp@uncw.edu

Review: The Creation-Evolution Debate: Historical Perspectives

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
28
Reviewer: 
Mark Largent
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Creation-Evolution Debate: Historical Perspectives
Author(s): 
Edward J Larson
Athens (GA): The University of Georgia Press, 2007. 66 pages

This shortLarson: The Creation-Evolution Debate volume resulted from the 2006 George L Shriver Lectures on Religion in American History, which Larson presented at Stetson University. It consists of three chapters — one on 19th-century British reactions to evolution as it applied to humans, one on the American controversy over creation and evolution, and one providing a general view of the religions of American scientists. The book offers only a brief survey of material examined much more thoroughly elsewhere. It concludes with a short appendix that describes a survey that Larson and Larry A Witham conducted regarding US scientists’ religious beliefs.

Larson’s first chapter, “Darwinism and the Victorian soul,” turns quickly from Darwin's and other natural scientists’ concerns about the theological significance of his 1859 On the Origin of Species and the widespread acceptance of his theory of evolution by natural selection to the scientific community’s reaction to his 1871 Descent of Man. Larson asserts that the “triumph of evolutionism within the Victorian scientific community during the 1860s did not translate into widespread popular acceptance of the theory, at lease with respect to human origin” (p 8). In general, Larson argues, most people rejected the notion that humans’ highly developed brains, morality, and emotions evolved via selection from lower animals.

In the book’s second chapter, Larson moves the discussion about Darwin's theories to the United States, explaining, “The American controversy over creation and evolution is primarily fought over what is taught in US public school biology classes” (p 14). It occurred, Larson asserts, in three phases: 1) the Scopes Trial in 1925; 2) the creation science movement in the mid-20th century; and 3) the “intelligent design” movement that emerged at the end of the century. He concludes the chapter by predicting little progress in the stalemate between evolution and creation, given that “dark clouds remain on the horizon” (p 36).

The third and final chapter of the book examines the interplay between science and religion in 20th-century America. Larson pays special attention to the warfare terminology employed in discussions about science and religion in the United States by showing how firmly rooted it is in both the proevolution and anti-evolution narratives. He finishes the chapter by introducing some of the work of the Bryn Mawr psychologist James H Leuba, who conducted a series of surveys of American scientists in 1914 and again in 1933. Leuba reported that about 40% of average American scientists believed in God, but when he surveyed the American scientific elite (as defined by being starred in the American Men and Women of Science) he discovered much lower rates of belief.

In the later portion of the third chapter and in the book's appendix, Larson describes the results of his survey of American scientists' religious beliefs. Following Leuba's model, Larson and Witham found similar rates of belief and disbelief among American scientists. They also found, as had Leuba, substantially higher rates of disbelief among the scientific elites in the United States. Larson asks, “Are the deepest contemporary scientific minds drawn to atheism, or does elite scientific society itself select for the trait of disbelief?” (p 50). He concludes — rather unsatisfyingly — that “the answer seems to be a bit of both” (p 50).


About the Author(s): 

Mark Largent is Assistant Professor in James Madison College at Michigan State University, author of Breeding Contempt: The History of Coerced Sterilization in the United States (New Brunswick [NJ]: Rutgers University Press, 2008), and co-editor, with Christian Young, of Evolution and Creationism: A Documentary and Reference Guide (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press 2007).

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Mark Largent
James Madison College
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48825-1210

Review: The Deep Structure of Biology

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
26–27
Reviewer: 
Derek Turner and Andrew Margenot
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Deep Structure of Biology: Is Convergence Sufficiently Ubiquitous to Give a Directional Signal?
Author(s): 
edited by Simon Conway Morris
West Conshohocken (PA): Templeton Foundation Press, 2008. 243 pages.

In his book Wonderful The Deep Structure of Biology - book coverLife (1989), Stephen Jay Gould argued that evolutionary history exhibits contingency: If you could rewind the tape of life and play it back again, you would observe different evolutionary outcomes each time. Simon Conway Morris, a paleontologist whose work on marine invertebrates of the Cambrian period inspired Gould, defends a view of evolution that is just the opposite of Gould’s. In Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe(2003), Conway Morris argued that convergence, rather than contingency, is the hallmark of evolutionary history. Evolutionary convergence is the development of a particular trait in independent lineages: for example, the evolution of wings (in bats, birds, insects, and pterosaurs) and the camera eye (in mollusks and vertebrates). Most biologists think that convergence occurs when natural selection adapts different lineages to similar environmental conditions. The real question is whether convergence is more than incidental. Might it be “a straw in the wind, pointing to a deeper pattern of biological organization” (p ix)? Does convergence suggest a deeper purposiveness in evolution? This debate about the relative significance of contingency versus convergence represents a new development in evolutionary science as well as in the discussion of the relation between science and religion.

This volume offers twelve contributions of mixed quality by scientists, philosophers, and theologians, including one paper by Conway Morris. Especially noteworthy is the paper by Richard Lenski, whose research team at Michigan State University has done experiments that replay the tape of evolution using populations of E coli bacteria in the lab. Following Lenski’s piece, paleontologist and theoretical morphologist George McGhee offers some intriguing speculations about the possibility of developing a “periodic table of life”. McGhee’s paper comes closest to making good on the promise of the title of this book, which is that evolutionary convergence has something to do with the “deep structure” of biology.

The middle part of the book consists of a cluster of scientific papers that explore the evolution of intelligence in plants, social insects, primates, and crows. There is also a fascinating paper by Hal Whitehead on convergent social structures in elephants and sperm whales. These papers illustrate the tricky problem of defining “intelligence”. The idea of plant intelligence seems baffling, until plant biologist Anthony Trewavas reveals that ‘intelligence’ is to be defined in very broad terms, as “adaptively variable behavior”. Don’t all living things exhibit adaptively variable behavior? This points toward a general problem that philosopher of biology Kim Sterelny (2005) identified in a review of Conway Morris’s earlier book: Whether the same trait evolves in two different lineages depends on how broadly or how narrowly you define the trait. If you define “intelligence” broadly enough, that virtually guarantees that intelligence will occur in many lineages.

The last third of the book shifts to talk of purpose in nature. Does evolutionary history have any aim or destination? Michael Ruse provides the clearest and most helpful discussion of purpose in Darwinian science. The functional role of adaptations naturally leads us to see purpose in evolution, but, Ruse and others warn, we must be careful not to conflate adaptational purpose with the idea that evolutionary history has an overarching purpose. The book then takes an abrupt theological turn with essays by Celia Dean-Drummond and John Haught. These authors do not engage much with the scientific details. Instead, they argue that a convergentist evolutionary biology can easily be combined with certain theological views, a claim that most scientists and philosophers would see as unproblematic. Perhaps a more interesting question is whether a convergentist evolutionary biology would lend support to those theological views. None of the contributors to this volume go quite so far as to defend an affirmative answer this last question.

In both his introduction and his contributed paper, Conway Morris himself seems a little reluctant to lay his cards on the table and say what exactly he thinks about the connection between evolutionary convergence and larger metaphysical and theological questions. In other contexts, however, he has been more forthright. In 2005, he delivered the annual Boyle Lecture at Cambridge University, entitled, “Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation” (published as Conway Morris 2006). The lecture provides a stronger taste of his thoughts on science and religion than he offers here. There he writes of a desperate need “to re-examine how science and religion not only must co-exist ... but far more importantly how science reveals unexpected depths to Creation while religion informs us of what on earth (literally) we are going to do about it” (2005: 3). He rejects Stephen Jay Gould’s “reckless canard of science and religion defining independent magisteria of influence” (2005: 3). That, in turn, suggests that he does think that evolutionary convergence has some theological significance. It’s just not entirely clear what the significance is supposed to be.

Gould, it seems, is the real nemesis here. Although the contributors to this volume represent a diversity of perspectives, no one speaks up for Gould’s claim that history is contingent. As many of the selections point out, contingency is the antithesis of convergence. It would have enriched the debate to include some discussion of why Gould thought that the case for contingency is so strong.

And why not expand the discussion of convergence beyond evolutionary biology? What convergence might mean for cultural evolution and the history of science would make for fascinating reading — think of Darwin’s and Wallace’s “convergent” discoveries of natural selection.

Overall, the science makes the book worthwhile. When the book moves beyond the empirical study of evolutionary convergence, things get a little murkier. The papers on crows and ants, elephants and plants, do leave one with the sense that convergence is an important phenomenon. This book provides an accessible, if one-sided, introduction to the discussion of contingency and convergence in evolution.

References

Conway Morris S. 2003. Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Conway Morris S. 2005. Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Available on-line at . Last accessed September 3, 2009.

Conway Morris S. 2006. Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18 (1): 5–22.

Gould SJ. 1989. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: WW Norton.

Sterelny K. 2005. Another view of life. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences 36 (3): 585–93.

About the Author(s): 

Derek Turner (corresponding author)
Department of Philosophy
Connecticut College
270 Mohegan Avenue
New London CT 06320
derek.turner@conncoll.edu

Derek Turner is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Connecticut College and author of Making Prehistory: Historical Science and the Scientific Realism Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). Andrew Margenot is a senior at Connecticut College, majoring both in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology and in philosophy.

Review: The Voyage that Shook the World

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
30
Year: 
2010
Issue: 
6
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
22–24.
Reviewer: 
Jim Lippard and John M Lynch
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
The Voyage that Shook the World
Con Dios Productions, 2009. 52 minutes.

The documentary under The Voyage that Shook the Worldreview is a 52-minute, professionally produced work, funded by Creation Ministries International (CMI), that promotes CMI’s own creationist researchers as correcting Darwin’s mistakes and biases with a view to setting science straight. This picture is drawn by studiously avoiding any explicit mention of creationism, but instead presenting vignettes from Darwin’s life with reputable historians making legitimate points and creationists (with little or no historical training) offering alternative historical and scientific views. The film features excellent cinematography, high-quality graphics and effects, and re-enactments of scenes from Darwin’s life by actors in period dress. There is not much acting to judge — most of it appears for visual effect during narration or interview voiceovers — but we saw nothing to criticize in that regard.

The documentary begins reasonably enough, with the only initial hint that it might not be a mainstream production being the emphasis that is put on Darwin “making up stories” as a child. The first interviewees to appear are well-known professional historians — Peter Bowler, Sandra Herbert, Janet Browne. Several creationists appear quickly thereafter, though they are not identified as such. While CMI’s web page about the film describes the backgrounds of the interview subjects, the film uses on-screen credentials that put recognized experts with well-established reputations on a par with relative unknowns who haven’t established their reputations. For example, Emil Silvestru is identified by his PhD and as a “geologist and speleologist,” but not revealed is that he works full-time for CMI. Silvestru argues for a young earth and the creation of geological features by “a flood,” mentioning the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington as an example of the work of catastrophic forces. He also makes a polystrate tree fossil argument for rapid deposition in a particular case. Both are examples of the film shying away from common creationist generalizations — he doesn’t argue that the Grand Canyon was similarly rapidly formed, or that all cases of polystrate tree fossils are evidence of rapid deposition, though the viewer may be expected to make the incorrect inference.

Many of the problems with the documentary are exhibited in the approximately ten-minute segment dealing with the Galápagos. The film claims that in Darwin’s time, science argued for gradual change, fixity of species, and an old earth, while religion argued for rapid catastrophic change, mutability of species, and a young earth. This is an historically inaccurate, and over-simplistic, portrayal of the myriad of positions that were held regarding these issues. Many of the claims made in this section are made by Rob Carter who is identified as “(PhD, University of Miami) Marine Biologist and Geneticist” rather than as the employee of CMI that he is. Carter makes seemingly scientific points while on location dressed in field gear — the viewer is clearly expected to believe that he has engaged in field work germane to the issue of speciation, when in fact his research was on fluorescent proteins in Cnidaria. Indeed, despite this biological training, Carter is not afraid to make historical claims. He states that Darwin’s contemporary Edward Blyth had a “fully fledged theory of natural selection” and that “Darwin got Blyth’s first paper when Darwin was in South America, so when he came here to the Galápagos, he had Blyth’s idea of natural selection and Lyell’s idea of geology on his mind”. The documentary goes on to claim that Darwin was misled by his reliance on Lyell’s gradualism to initially miss the evidence for natural selection in the Galápagos islands, in particular with regards the avian specimens he collected. (It is perhaps worth noting here that implicit in the claim is that Darwin somehow plagiarized the idea of natural selection from Blyth, a creationist who saw selection as a purely negative force that maintained the type.) The problems here are twofold. First, natural selection is in no way self-evident from the collections that Darwin — or indeed any other naturalist — could have made. What Darwin observed on his voyage was variation and in particular patterns of variation — the processes behind the patterns would only come to him when back in England. Secondly, while Blyth did indeed have a theory of selection, historians — despite the claim made by Loren Eiseley (1959) — have been unable to demonstrate that Darwin had read Blyth’s paper of January 1835 before visiting the archipelago in September, or had indeed for that matter read Blyth's paper before 1837-'38. In short, Carter is being inaccurate — or disingenuous — in his presentations of historical “facts”.

Voyage defends the view that species change can occur, even across genera, though it avoids addressing the possible implications for humans and other primates. Its version of the religious view is that the wide diversity and geographical dispersal of living things emerged in the last few thousand years since the flood of Noah, with a rapidity of evolution that evolutionary scientists would reject as implausible. The film gives cases of rapid morphological changes in finch beak sizes, and hybridization between land and marine iguanas in the Galápagos. Carter asserts that the latter is evidence of a young age for the Galápagos, since otherwise the species would have mixed rather than remaining distinct. At this point, more typical creationist views are made explicit, with arguments that there are “apparent limits” to biological change, “as any pigeon breeder knows,” and that it is impossible for evolution to generate new information. Finnish creationist biochemist Matti Leisola asserts that random mutation cannot generate new information or novel structures, that introducing randomness “causes information to disappear,” and that we only see new information arise from intelligent sources. He fails to provide evidence for his assertions and to specify what notion of information he is using. He goes on to say that genetic engineering originally promised the ability to make arbitrary changes to organisms, but now promises much less — while we can create bacteria that produce insulin, we can’t change bacteria into anything but bacteria. We wonder what his view is of synthetic biology.

The film correctly points out that a role for catastrophes has been found in geology, but not to the exclusion of mostly uniformitarian processes over very long periods of time, such as may be found in the Grand Canyon. Likewise, it is correct in pointing out that there have been bursts of rapid biological change (but again, not to the exclusion of gradual changes), and that biology has turned out to be more complex than originally suspected. But these discoveries, made by evolutionary scientists, have not generated support for the creationist worldview, which has been remarkable for its lack of scientific fruitfulness. The biggest failing of the film is its omission of a complete picture, including its omission of any indication of the overwhelming evidence in support of common ancestry, the great age of the earth, and for human evolution.

At one point, the film touches on Darwin’s racism, and suggests that this was a result of his evolutionary views, as opposed to religion which teaches the common origins of all human beings from Adam and Eve. But both views teach the common ancestry of all human beings, and there was no scarcity of racist religious believers in the mid-19th century. Darwin’s views on race were a product of his social and cultural context, not his views on evolution. The film’s suggested dichotomy of evolution-supporting racists versus religious creationist non-racists is a false one, particularly given recent books by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (2009) and David Livingstone (2008).

Near the end of the film, it is stated that in Darwin’s time, science was only beginning to emerge from philosophy, and that Darwin’s project was philosophical and anti-religious as much as it was scientific (a position probably inspired by Cornelius Hunter, who appears in the documentary identified as a “Molecular Biophysicist & Author” rather than as the Fellow of the Discovery Institute that he is). The film concludes by stating that there are opposing views of evolution and creation, and that “some suggest that they can coexist, but Darwin himself resisted this position.” This appears to be a case where the filmmakers want the viewer to side with Darwin, in opposition to accommodationism between evolution and religion. The final statement of the film is that questions about how we came to be here and why we are here refuse to go away.

In all, the film is somewhat better than we expected it would be, and the film can be described as trying to downplay or even hide its own creationism, probably in hopes of functioning as a Trojan horse. As such, it omits key evidence for evolution, and suggests that the viewer infer the reasonability of creationism from the selective evidence that is presented. In its favor, it does depict scientific research and discovery in a largely positive light, which may encourage young viewers to become interested in scientific questions. If so, perhaps some of them will come to discover a more complete picture, with the assistance of online sites such as the NCSE’s and the TalkOrigins Archive.

References

Desmond A, Moore J. 2009. Darwin’s Sacred Cause. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Eiseley L. 1959. Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth and the theory of natural selection. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103: 94–158.

Livingstone DN. 2008. Adam’s Ancestors. Baltimore (MD): The Johns Hopkins University Press.

About the Author(s): 

Jim Lippard (corresponding author)
Program in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology
Arizona State University
PO Box 875603
Tempe AZ 85287-5603

Jim Lippard is a long-time student of creationism, currently enrolled in the Program in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology at Arizona State University. John M Lynch is an evolutionary biologist and historian of science at Barrett, The Honors College and the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

Volume 29 (2009)

RNCSE 29 (1)
RNCSE 29 (1)
RNCSE 29 (2)
RNCSE 29 (2)

RNCSE 29 (3)
RNCSE 29 (3)
RNCSE 29 (4)
RNCSE 29 (4)

RNCSE 29 (5)
RNCSE 29 (5)
RNCSE 29 (6)
RNCSE 29 (6)

RNCSE 29 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (1)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Moves and Countermoves in Texas
    Glenn Branch
    Texas is one of the largest "textbook adoption" states, and its curriculum choices can have profound effects on what is available in texts throughout the nation. The Texas science education standards are being revised — but not without controversy!
  2. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Malta, and elsewhere.

NCSE NEWS

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

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Selected Works of Charles Robert Darwin
    This much abbreviated list illustrates Darwin's scientific contributions to a wide variety of important questions of his time.
  2. Books: Happy Birthday!
    These books celebrate Darwin's work and its lasting impact on modern science. Every purchase supports NCSE.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

ARTICLES

  1. Charles Darwin: Botanist
    Sara B Hoot
    Not only was Darwin's career about more than evolution, his work with plants revealed him to be both a first-rate botanist and a first-rate scientist.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Siccar Point
    Randy Moore
    Just as Darwin was about more than evolution, there is much more to evolution than Darwin. This is the first in a series of short notes that will examine the history of evolutionary science by visiting significant places and meeting littleknown people who contributed to our current understanding.

FEATURES

  1. Evolution Learning Community Encourages Dialog on Evolution at UNC Wilmington
    Dana Fischetti
    Learning communities provide a variety of opportunities for students and faculty to exchange ideas. The Evolution Learning Community at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, engages the fundamental idea underlying all biology.
  2. Briscoe Geology Park
    Len Eisenberg
    Can a group of community volunteers turn an old school yard into an interactive exhibit of the history of life? You bet!

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution–Creationism Controversy by Randy Moore and Mark D Decker
    Reviewed by Glenn Branch
  2. Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes by Norman A Johnson
    Reviewed by Rebecca L Cann
  3. Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877–1902 by Mariano Artigas, Thomas F Glick, and Rafael A Martínez
    Reviewed by Peter MJ Hess
  4. Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation edited by Richard H Robbins and Mark N Cohen
    Reviewed by Andrew J Petto

Briscoe Geology Park

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Briscoe Geology Park
Author(s): 
Len Eisenberg
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January-February
Page(s): 
24-25
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

A typical fourth grader can rattle off the names of the planets, but does not know the names of the geological chapters of earth history, how old the earth is, when dinosaurs lived, or much else about the history of earth and the life on it. One common excuse for this gap in science education is that these topics are too complicated; but the real reason is the conflict with traditional beliefs — either those of the teacher or of the parents the teacher does not wish to offend. In Ashland, Oregon, the Briscoe Geology Park was built to help students, residents and visitors better understand how our planet and life have changed dramatically through time and how local geology fits into the picture.

In fall 2006, community volunteers proposed to the Ashland School District the construction of a geology park in an unused corner of a closed elementary school. Permission was granted, and with the help of Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, volunteers built the Briscoe Geology Park. The park is designed to operate on multiple levels of ability, such that local university students as well as elementary school students can find it a friendly place to learn a complex subject.

Three "time walks" at the park explain how earth and life have changed through time (Figure 1).Figure 1Figure 1 Each time walk is divided into geologic eons, periods or epochs, as appropriate. The time walks are clearly labeled in tile and of an appropriate length. Hand-made tiles set into the concrete walkways (Figure 2) show animal and plant species representative of each time interval. Figure 2Figure 2Other tiles, placed at appropriate points along the time walks, note local geologic events, mass extinctions, ice ages, and human and planetary events. Tracks of trilobites, tetrapods and dinosaurs show how these animals moved (Figure 3), and tile plate tectonic maps depict continental drift through time.

Figure 3Figure 3

The Earth Time Walk describes the entire 4600-million–year history of earth, and one step along this 20-meter–long path covers about 150 million years. The Life Time Walk covers from the start of the Cambrian Period, 542 million years ago, when multicellular life blossomed, to the present, and each step along this 60-meter–long path covers about five million years. The Human Time Walk describes the most recent 50 000 years of earth history, and one step along this 8-meter path covers about 4000 years. An introductory sign and guideposts introduce visitors to geologic time and the features of the park, and help them navigate between the different time scales of each walk. Other signs note plant species used in the landscaping, and provide information on local rock types. There are also four large interpretive signs, one each to explain local geology, mass extinctions, plate tectonics, and evolution (Figure 4).

Figure 4Figure 4

Landscaping along the Life Time Walk follows the evolution of land plants. Along the Cambrian and Ordovician sections the landscaping is bare rock, because land plants (except perhaps for algae) had not colonized the land at that time. Mosses and liverworts, representing the first land plants, appear along the Silurian part of the walk, followed, at appropriate points, by club mosses, horsetails and ferns, cycads, conifers, ginkgo, flowering plants and grasses. In addition, boulders of local rock types are laid out in stratigraphic order across the park, tilted slabs of rock are placed to mimic outcrops of anticlines and synclines, and fossils and interesting rock types are incorporated into retaining walls.

A 20-page color brochure is available at the park for extra-curious visitors. In it detailed descriptions of major events and interesting organisms are provided for each geologic interval. Extra information on plant evolution, mass extinctions, biological evolution, local geology, and plate tectonics is also included. For students, a two-part educational program has been set up by the North Mountain Park Nature Center. First a docent visits the classroom and explains geologic time and how to use the scale bar on a tile to determine the size of the animal depicted. This is followed by a field trip to the park, during which students use information at the park to discover earth history. Discovery is helped along by multi-page activity sheets that students fill out at the park. There are three sets of activity sheets, one each for elementary, middle and high school grade levels. A 55-page teacher's guide gives educators detailed information on all aspects of the park.

Reaction so far has been very positive from the schools and the community. We hear that the artwork of the tiles, the lush landscaping, high quality rock work, and the interpretive signs combine to make the Park a pleasure to visit and the science fun and interesting to learn. Readers are cordially invited to visit Ashland and the Briscoe Geology Park.

About the Author(s): 
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Len Eisenberg
223 Granite Street
Ashland OR 97520
erdelei@opendoor.com

Len Eisenberg is an independent geologist living in Ashland, Oregon, with his wife Karen and daughter Jane. Len's BS and MS degrees are in geology from San Diego State University, and he has spent most of his professional career with Chevron working on petroleum exploration and production projects in Angola, Morocco, Kenya, Somalia, Croatia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. He now teaches and consults part-time. His current research interest is evidence for giant floods and long-lived lakes in Jurassic eolian sandstones in Utah. He volunteers in Ashland public schools, where he helps teach mathematics, science, and reading.

Charles Darwin: Botanist

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Charles Darwin: Botanist
Author(s): 
Sara B Hoot
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
19—21
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Introduction

While Charles Darwin is famous throughout the world for the development of the theory of evolution and natural selection, few appreciate that he was also a preeminent botanist. Darwin’s work in botany is extremely varied and includes experiments that are still cited in college-level textbooks because of their elegant experimental design and results. And of course, Darwin’s botanical observations, along with his extensive knowledge of many other areas of science (for example, geology and zoology), were involved in shaping his ideas on evolution.

Darwin’s botanical interests were broad and eclectic. He published books on such far-ranging topics as domesticated plants (1875), orchid pollination (1877a), heterostyly (1877b), the effects of cross and self pollination (1878), plant movements and tropisms (1881, 1882), and insectivorous plants (1888). In addition to these works, Darwin also published botanical work in journals, was in regular correspondence with many of the outstanding botanists of the time (for example, Joseph Hooker and Asa Gray), and, in later life, worked with his son Francis on botanical research.

Darwin’s love of plants appears to have been deeply rooted in his childhood. His parents were both interested in gardening and maintained a varied collection of plants in their conservatory and gardens in Shrewsbury, where Darwin grew up. Indeed, one of the few images of Darwin as a child (age 6) show him kneeling with a potted plant on his thigh. In his autobiographical chapter, Darwin (1887) mentions that “…apparently I was interested at this early age in the variability of plants!” A schoolfellow remembers Darwin’s bringing a flower to school and saying that his mother had taught him how to identify the plant by studying the flower.

Darwin’s interest in botany reasserted itself when he attended Cambridge in 1828, where he was greatly influenced by the botanist, John S Henslow. In his own words (Darwin 1887: 52): “Before long I became well acquainted with Henslow, and during the latter half of my time at Cambridge took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons ‘the man who walks with Henslow;’ and in the evening I was very often asked to join his family dinner.” Henslow’s main research interest during this time was understanding patterns of variation within and between populations, work that is believed to have given Darwin material for his later understanding of variation and speciation (Kohn and others 2005).

Henslow is responsible for arranging Darwin’s position as gentleman naturalist on HMS Beagle. During the voyage, Darwin displayed great interest in the flora he encountered and collected more than 2000 herbarium specimens. His collections of “all plants in flower” from the Galápagos Islands, were the basis for the first flora of that archipelago and were largely responsible for his understanding of island endemism (Kohn and others 2005).

It would be no trivial task to report here on all of Darwin’s botanical work, so instead, I will feature a few examples that represent his use of rigorous scientific methodology, sharp powers of observation, and creative thinking. I will report his work on 1) heterostyly in Primula (primroses), 2) plant movements and phototropism, and 3) pollination mechanisms in orchids.

Heterostyly in Primula veris,the English Cowslip

Darwin was first exposed to an extraordinary observation relating to one of Great Britain’s most loved wild flowers, the English cowslip, by his mentor John Henslow: that the length of styles and stamens varied among individual plants (Kohn and others 2005). Some plants had flowers with long stamens and short styles — the thrum type; others had flowers with short stamens and long styles — the pin type (Figure 1). This phenomenon is known as heterostyly, and Darwin studied it extensively in the 1850s (Darwin 1877b). He also observed that the two flower types varied in pollen size; pollen produced by pin flowers was noticeably smaller in diameter than that produced by thrum flowers. What could be the explanation for these phenomena?

Figure 1. Figure from Darwin’s work on heterostyly in Primula species (1877) showing the long style and short stamens of the pin flowers and the short style and long stamens of the thrum flowers.Figure 1. Figure from Darwin’s work on heterostyly in Primula species (1877) showing the long style and short stamens of the pin flowers and the short style and long stamens of the thrum flowers.

His first hypothesis was that Primula veris was tending toward dioecy (where a species has male individuals with only male flowers and female individuals with female flowers). His reasoning behind this was: “Pin plants with their longer carpels, smaller stamens and pollen grains are more feminine; conversely thrum plants are more masculine”. If this were true, then, he expected, pin plants should produce more seeds than thrum plants. To test this, he collected seeds from plants growing in different habitats (to negate possible environmental effects), then counted and weighed them. The results? Pin plants produced less seed than thrum by a proportion of nearly 3 to 4, suggesting that pin plants were certainly not more “feminine” than thrum.

His next hypothesis was: “The two forms of flowers in Primula are related to cross-pollination and prevention of inbreeding.” To test this he set up a sophisticated pollination experiment. First, he covered populations of Primula with fine netting to prevent insect pollination. He then hand pollinated the plants in the following combinations: 1) thrum plants pollinated with pin pollen and vice versa, 2) thrum plants pollinated with thrum pollen, and 3) pin plants pollinated with pin pollen. In cases in which he was using pollen from like plants (2 and 3 above), he always took the pollen from a different plant than the one being pollinated to avoid any effects of inbreeding. This alone shows the depths of his knowledge about reproduction and the care he took in his experimental design.

After the plants had set seed, he counted and weighed seeds from both 100 flowers and 100 capsules. He found that by all measures, plants pollinated by the opposite type of flower had markedly greater reproductive success. From this work he concluded: “The benefit of heterostyled dimorphic plants derives from.....the intercrossing of distinct plants” and “the pollen grains from the longer stamens.....become larger in order to allow the development of longer [pollen] tubes.”

Plant movements and phototropism

Darwin explored plant movements extensively, from the way vines and other plants circumnutate (successive bowing or bending in different directions of the growing tip of the stem) to sleep movements (folding of leaves up or down at night [Darwin 1881]) to movements of insectivorous plants (Darwin 1888). In all his explorations, he performed numerous experiments. For example, in insectivorous plants such as the Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) and Sundews (Drosera spp), he explored how food was absorbed by the leaves, what effect various “foodstuffs” had on the plant’s ability to react or absorb, and how the impulse to move was transmitted.

The elegant experiments of Darwin and his son Francis on phototropism — the growth of a plant towards a unidirectional source of light — are commonly cited in biology textbooks today (Darwin 1881). In their work on phototropism in Canary grass seedlings (Phalaris canariensis), they observed in experiments on seedlings raised in the dark, then exposed to a unidirectional source of light, a marked curvature toward the light. They formed a hypothesis that the tip of the seedling may be responsible for the curvature toward light. To test this hypothesis, they cut the tips off some seedlings while leaving a control group with tips intact. They found that those seedlings with the tips removed did not respond to a unidirectional source of light while the control group with tips intact bent markedly toward the light source.

But the question remained: Did the experimental seedlings remain upright due to their tips not being present to detect light or because they had been damaged? To address this question, they covered some seedling tips with opaque caps and, as controls, covered other tips with transparent caps or placed opaque collars around the base of the seedlings, leaving the tips exposed. They found that the seedlings with opaque caps remained upright, showing no signs of phototropism, while both controls did bend toward the light.

From all of this work, they concluded: “These results seem to imply the presence of some matter in the upper part which is acted on by light, and which transmits its effects to the lower part.” We now know that this “matter” is a plant hormone called auxin. Auxin is produced in the apical meristem of plants, is transported down the stem, and accumulates on the shady side of a plant subjected to unidirectional light. This increased concentration of auxin causes the cells on the dark side to enlarge, thus bending the plant toward light. Of course Darwin and his son knew nothing about this mechanism, but their work laid the foundation for subsequent experiments that led to our current understanding of auxins.

Pollination mechanisms in orchids

It is hard to conceive that any botanist worth his weight in chlorophyll would be immune to the charms and foibles of orchids, and Darwin was no exception. He was especially interested in the close relationship between the flowers of an orchid species and their pollinators (Darwin 1877a). There can be little doubt that his work on orchids provided him with ample material for understanding co-evolution.

Darwin made minute observations on pollination in diverse orchids, including the fascinating bee orchids (Ophrys species). Ophrys excel in the lengths they will go to attract a pollinator. Depending on the species, they mimic female bees, wasps, or beetles. To add to the ruse, they emit pheromones, and these “come hither” smells strongly attract male insects, causing the male to attempt copulation with the orchid flower. As the male pseudocopulates with the orchid flower, packets of pollen called pollinia are attached to his body. And of course, the male is drawn to other individuals of the same orchid species for similar reasons, depositing pollen on the receptive stigma, thus effecting cross-pollination. Darwin spent many hours in painstaking observations and experiments on Ophrys and other orchids to understand the mechanics of pollinia and their attachment to pollinators.

Darwin was fascinated by the observation that a bee orchid common to England, Ophrys apifera, was apparently “adapted to self-fertilization.” His further observations convinced him that these self-pollinating orchids still retained the mechanisms needed for pollination by bees. When he imitated a bee’s action using an object, the pollinia reacted as in other Ophrys, readily attaching to what would have been the bee’s head. He concluded that Ophrys apifera must have at one time been commonly pollinated by bees but, due to an insufficiency of pollinators, “became slightly modified so as to fertilise themselves” (Darwin 1877a).

A famous example of co-evolution in orchids that came in for its share of controversy was Darwin’s explanation for the pollination of Angraecum sesquipedale, an orchid native to Madagascar. This orchid has flowers with very long spurs — about 20–35 cm long! Orchids with spurred flowers usually offer a nectar reward at the base of the spur, to reward the moth pollinator. Darwin hypothesized that Angraecum must be pollinated by a moth with a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar and thus effect pollination. This idea was derided and even used as proof of creationism. In 1867, George Campbell published a book in which he argued that the complexity of A sesquipedale supports the idea that species were created by a supernatural being. Unfortunately for Campbell, a moth with a proboscis of the required length was found in 1903; it was first named Xanthopan morganii praedicta to honor Darwin’s correct prediction.

Summary

It is clear, even from the few examples given above, that Darwin’s botanical work was important to the development of his ideas on evolution and natural selection. Darwin began thinking about evolution soon after his return from the Beagle voyages, starting his notebooks on “transmutation” (evolution) in 1837. He was uniquely situated for the task of developing the theory of evolution, from his early exposure to Lamarckian evolutionary thinking through his grandfather (Erasmus Darwin) and Robert Grant at the University of Edinburgh, his early exposure to the work of Charles Lyell’s book on fossils and the botanist Henslow’s work on populations and speciation, his travels on the Beagle, and his broad knowledge of so many aspects of natural history. This is not to discount other attributes that uniquely placed Darwin to develop the theory: he was hard working and, since independently wealthy, able to spend all of his time on his science. Most importantly, he was able to think logically and creatively (“outside the box” as we say today).

There is no doubt that all the clues and scientific advancements needed to develop the theory of evolution and natural selection were present in the early 19th century. If Darwin had not proposed the theory of evolution, someone else would have. In fact, that is exactly what did happen! Because Darwin put off publication of his ideas, Alfred Russel Wallace caught up with him, and the two presented their findings simultaneously in 1858. But I think that Darwin deserves to have the greater part of the credit. He developed his understanding of evolution and natural selection well before Wallace and it was he who took on the enormous task in the Origin (1859) and elsewhere of convincing the world that evolution was real.

References

Campbell G. 1867. The Reign of Law. London: Strahan.

Darwin CR. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1875. The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. 2d ed. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1877a. The Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects. 2d ed. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR 1877b. The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species. New York: D Appleton.

Darwin CR 1878. The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom. 2d ed. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1881. The power of movement in plants. New York: D Appleton.

Darwin CR. 1882. The movements and habits of climbing plants. London: John Murray.

Darwin CR. 1888. Insectivorous plants. 2d ed. Revised by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray.

Darwin F, editor. 1887. The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Vol 1. London: John Murray.

Kohn D, Murrell G, Parker J, Whitehorn M. 2005. What Henslow taught Darwin. Nature 436: 643–5.

About the Author(s): 

Sara B Hoot
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201-0413
hoot@uwm.edu

Sara B Hoot is Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Director of the UWM Herbarium. She works in the field of systematic and evolutionary botany, where her research involves deriving evolutionary trees for diverse plant groups, using molecular and traditional data. She has published widely and has spoken worldwide on topics related to her work (for example, Menispermaceae, Ranunculaceae, Anemone, Isoetes). One of her favorite side projects and speaking topics is Charles Darwin and his botanical work.

Evolution Learning Community Encourages Dialog on Evolution at UNC Wilmington

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution Learning Community Encourages Dialog on Evolution at UNC Wilmington
Author(s): 
Dana Fischetti
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
22–23
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

For the past three years, the Evolution Learning Community (ELC) at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, has sponsored a variety of speakers, courses and public events related to the study of Darwin and evolution. These activities will culminate in the year-long commemoration in 2009 of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species.

After the success of a similar learning community focused on Brown v Board of Education in 2004, the campus began to discuss the feasibility of a multiyear, interdisciplinary learning community on the topic of evolution. Developed through a grassroots faculty effort and endorsed by the Faculty Senate, the ELC is dedicated to the study of the theory of evolution and its scientific, social, and moral significance for humanity. The executive council of the ELC is headed by Patricia Kelley, Professor of Geology and long-time NCSE Supporter, Dale McCall, Professor of Anthropology and Genetics, and Thomas Schmid, Professor of Philosophy.

Schmid, one of the founders of the group, said of the ELC: “We were looking for a campus-wide series of events that would be long-lasting and substantial and might generate some curricular change. We’ve taken a very academic approach. The focus is not to create a debate on evolution but to develop dialogue and educational opportunities for UNCW as well as the larger community.”

The group has coordinated educational and cultural events for students, faculty, staff and the community to increase awareness and critical discussion of the role of evolutionary principles in the natural and social sciences and in relation to the philosophical, historical, artistic and literary modes of reflection on life.

Activities have included more than 50 formal ELC-related courses per semester, the Visiting Darwin Scholars lecture series, discussion groups and Honors enrichment seminars, cultural events such as film screenings and an art show, community outreach with public lectures and Continuing Studies courses, faculty professional development and student research opportunities, ELC-related publications, and a faculty and student trip to the Galápagos Islands. Visiting Darwin Scholars have included Richard Leakey, EO Wilson, Stephen J O’Brien, and NCSE Supporters Ken Miller and Niles Eldredge. Details and information about the program and events is available on line at www.uncw.edu/evolution.

The work of the Evolution Learning Community will culminate with several significant events in 2009. In March, UNCW hosts “Darwin’s Legacy: Evolution’s Impact on Science and Culture — A Multidisciplinary Student Conference.” The conference is open to undergraduate and graduate students in the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts who are conducting research or creative endeavors related to evolution. Faculty members supervising student research are also encouraged to attend. In addition to oral and poster presentations of student research, the conference will also feature keynote speakers David Buss, a leading theorist in evolutionary psychology; Peter Carruthers, a leading theorist in evolution and language; David Mindell, Dean of Science and Research Collections at the California Academy of Sciences; and Kevin Padian, vertebrate paleontologist, witness at the Dover trial, and president of the NCSE board of directors.


Visiting Darwin Scholars (l to r) Ken Miller,
Stephen J O’Brien, Richard Leakey

“The breadth of programming and strong student involvement has been a key to the success of the ELC,” said Kelley, executive administrator of the group and herself a nationally known speaker on evolution and religion. “We have had increased dialog among faculty and between faculty and students as a direct result of the ELC effort. These are important scholarly conversations that would not have happened without this initiative.”

Other major events planned for 2009 include Visiting Darwin Scholars Eugenie C Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education; Dirk Robert Johnson, Associate Professor of Modern Languages at Hampden-Sydney College, whose scholarly work explores the intellectual interaction between Darwin and Nietzsche; Philip Kitcher, John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and NCSE Supporter; and David Quammen, award-winning author of The Reluctant Mr Darwin. For academic year 2008-2009, the ELC coordinated a Visiting Darwin Scholars competition to fund visiting scholars. Illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of the ELC, proposals to bring speakers to campus came from the Departments of Anthropology, Art and Art History, Biology and Marine Biology, Chemistry, Creative Writing, English, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Geography and Geology, History, Philosophy and Religion, Psychology and the Watson School of Education.

In addition, Ecotone, the university’s literary journal edited by David Gessner, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, will publish a special issue in spring 2009 celebrating the Darwin anniversaries. Through the Ecotone Evolution Contest, the journal accepted submissions in poetry, fiction and nonfiction that creatively reflect the subject of evolution. The magazine sought bold interpretations of a theory that has radically altered the experience of being human: What does it mean to share our DNA with other animals? What are the consequences of our diminishing biodiversity? Why have political lines hardened around an issue so rooted in science?

Students participating in the NSF-funded ELC-related summer program Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Biodiversity Conservation.Students participating in the NSF-funded ELC-related summer program Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Biodiversity Conservation.

A special issue of the Journal of Effective Teaching, an online peer-reviewed journal dedicated to teaching excellence and edited by UNCW faculty member Russell Herman, will be devoted to the teaching of evolution in a university setting. Submissions for the special issue, to be published in fall 2009, will be accepted through May 1.

Throughout all of the activities and events related to evolution, the ELC has maintained one basic premise: no matter how one views the meaning of Darwin’s revolutionary work for modern thought, there is no denial that it transformed biological science and the picture our society has of humans in nature. This statement has formed the basis for inquiry and dialog related to evolution, bringing an entire university campus together to consider what it means to be human.

For more information, connect to the Evolution Learning Community web site at www.uncw.edu/evolution.


About the Author(s): 
Dana Fischetti
Manager, News and Media Services
Marketing and Communications
University of North Carolina, Wilmington
601 S College Road
Wilmington NC 28403-5993
fischettid@uncw.edu

Dana Fischetti is manager of news and media relations at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She has worked in the marketing/public relations field in a variety of capacities in both corporate and higher education settings. As part of her current role, she is providing publicity and media relations support to UNC Wilmington’s multidisciplinary Evolution Learning Community.

Moves and Countermoves in Texas

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Moves and Countermoves in Texas
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January-February
Page(s): 
4-7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The end of 2008 was replete with moves and countermoves in the controversy over the place of evolution in Texas's state science standards, beginning with the release of proposed drafts of the state's science education standards on September 22, 2008. Not surprisingly, the media focused on the place of evolution in the draft standards, with the Dallas Morning News (2008 Sep 23) reporting, "Proposed curriculum standards for science courses in Texas schools would boost the teaching of evolution by dropping the current requirement that students be exposed to 'weaknesses' in Charles Darwin's theory of how humans and other life forms evolved. Science standards drafted by review committees of teachers and academics also would put up roadblocks for teachers who want to discuss creationism or 'intelligent design' in biology classes when covering the subject of evolution."

In particular, a requirement in the current standards for high school biology that reads "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" would be replaced with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing," and a description of the limits of science (adapted from the recent National Academy of Sciences publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism) — "Science uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to construct testable explanations. If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods" — would be added.

Such revisions may seem small and unimportant, but in 2003, the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. At the time, board member Patricia Hardy observed that it was invidious to apply the language only to a single topic; while if it were applied across the board, "we'd need a crane to carry the books to the schools." In the end, all of the textbooks were adopted without substantial changes, but it was clear that the "strengths and weaknesses" language would be a matter of contention when the standards were next revised. As Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network told The New York Times (2008 Jun 4), "'Strengths and weaknesses' are regular words that have now been drafted into the rhetorical arsenal of creationists."

Groups supporting the integrity of science education unsurprisingly applauded the draft standards. In a September 23, 2008, press release (available on-line at http://www.tfn.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5453), the Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller was quoted as saying, "These work groups have crafted solid standards that provide a clear road map to a 21st-century science education for Texas students ... These commonsense standards respect the right of families to pass on their own religious beliefs to their children while ensuring that public schools give students a sound science education that prepares them to succeed in college and the jobs of the future." "It's time for state board members to listen to classroom teachers and true experts instead of promoting their own personal agendas," she added. "Our students can't succeed with a 19th-century science education in their 21st-century classrooms. We applaud the science work groups for recognizing that fact."

In a September 23, 2008, blog post for the Houston Chronicle (available on-line via http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html), Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman also welcomed the addition of the description of the limits of science and the removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language, which he described as "the primary weapon that creationists have to attempt to damage and corrupt science textbooks." He expressed regret, however, that those revisions were not emulated in all of the standards. Schafersman also lamented the omission from the biology standards of any requirement to learn about human evolution in particular, commenting," I'm sure the competent teachers on the biology panel discussed a requirement for human evolution, but they ultimately decided against it. They should have included it and forced the [state board of education] members to remove it by majority vote rather than by giving their prior permission to continue censorship."

The chair of the state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, defended the "strengths and weaknesses" language, telling the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Sep 23), "I'd argue it doesn't make sense scientifically to take it out ... Evolution shouldn't have anything to worry about — if there's no weaknesses, there's no weaknesses. But if there's scientifically testable explanations out there to refute it, shouldn't those be included too?" The newspaper added, "he prefers the 'strengths and weaknesses' language because it allows the board to reject a textbook that doesn't cover the weaknesses of evolution." But Kevin Fisher, who helped to write the draft biology standards, told the American-Statesman, "Something doesn't become a theory if it's got weaknesses. There may be some questions that may yet to be answered, but nothing that's to the level of a weakness."

Clearly the treatment of evolution in the standards — and especially the omission of the "strengths and weaknesses" language — was going to continue to be controversial. Summarizing the political situation on the state board of education, the American-Statesman reported, "In previous public discussions, seven of 15 board members appeared to support, on some level, the teaching of the weaknesses of evolution in science classrooms. Six have been opposed, and two — Geraldine Miller, R–Dallas, and Rick Agosto, D–San Antonio — are considered swing votes." And, as Schafersman commented, "Since there are no scientists on the SBOE and since seven members are young-earth creationists — most of whom have publicly stated their intention to distort evolution standards and damage science instruction — it is likely that the public debate and approval will be contentious."

Schafersman was not wrong. The next focus of contention was the composition of a six-member committee appointed by the board to review the draft set of science standards. Included were three anti-evolutionists, and defenders of the integrity of science education were livid. "The committee was chosen by 12 of the 15 members of the board of education, with each panel member receiving the support of two board members," as the Dallas Morning News (2008 Oct 16) explained. Six members of the board "aligned with social conservative groups" chose Stephen C Meyer, the director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture; Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Superior; and Charles Garner, a chemistry professor at Baylor University.

Meyer, Seelke, and Garner are all signatories of the Discovery Institute-sponsored "Dissent from Darwinism" statement (see RNCSE 2001 Nov/Dec; 21 [6]: 22–3). Meyer and Seelke are also coauthors of Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Melbourne: Hill House, 2008), which, like Of Pandas and People, is a supplementary textbook that is intended to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution. A recent review by biologist John Timmer (available on-line at http://arstechnica.com/reviews/other/discovery-textbook-review.ars) summarized, "But the book doesn't only promote stupidity, it demands it. In every way except its use of the actual term, this is a creationist book." (Timmer's review of Explore Evolution will be reprinted in a future issue of RNCSE.) Garner, for his part, reportedly told the Houston Press (2000 Dec 14) that he "criticizes evolutionary theory in class."

Meyer and Seelke also testified in the 2005 "kangaroo court" hearings held by three anti-evolutionist members of the Kansas state board of education, in which a parade of anti-evolutionist witnesses expressed their support for the socalled minority report version of the state science standards (written with the aid of a local "intelligent design" organization), complained of repression by a dogmatic evolutionary establishment, and claimed to have detected atheism lurking "between the lines" of the standards (transcripts are available on-line at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/kansas/kangaroo.html). A version of the minority report was adopted in 2005, despite criticism from the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association, but the balance of power on the board changed, and supporters of the integrity of science education quickly restored a proper treatment of evolution to the Kansas standards.

Referring to the appointment of Meyer, Seelke, and Garner, Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network told the Austin American-Stateman (2008 Oct 16), "I think these state board members have really lifted the veil on what their real agenda is here ... It's clear they picked a few experts and a few people with a clear conflict of interest and a political agenda." Similarly, in a press release issued on October 15, 2008 (available on-line at http://www.texscience.org/releases/creationists-science-reviewpanel.htm), Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman lamented, "It is unfortunate that some SBOE members have such a poor regard for the education of Texas science students that they must resort to pushing their own anti-evolutionist and creationist religious ideologies into the science standards revision process."

The three remaining members of the committee — "veteran science professors from major Texas universities," as the Morning News observed — were David Hillis, a professor of biology at the University of Texas, Austin; Gerald Skoog, a professor of education at Texas Tech University, and Ronald Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University. The American-Statesman noted,"a seventh panel member could be nominated. The panel is expected to send recommendations on the proposal back to the board in the coming months." In the end, there was no seventh member. And although the recommendations of the individual committee members were completed and posted on the Texas Education Agency's website (available on-line at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/science/expertfeedback.html), there was little reaction to or comment on their suggestions in the media. The panels that wrote the standards for the various subjects were furnished with the outside reviews as well as feedback from the public, a comparison of the draft standards to the Texas College Readiness Standards, and a comparison of the draft standards with the highly regarded Massachusetts science standards.

Meanwhile, the scientific community, both in Texas and nationally, was not remaining silent about the need for a proper treatment of evolution. The 21st Century Science Coalition's advisory committee published a pair of op-eds urging the state board of education to accept the draft standards, emphasizing the scientific centrality and the economic importance of evolution (see sidebar 1). The chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan I Leshner, argued, "The new standards will shape how science education is taught in Texas for the next decade, and it would be a terrible mistake to water down the teaching of evolution in any way" (see sidebar 2). Barbara Forrest explained "Why Texans shouldn't let creationists mess with science education" in a November 11, 2008, lecture at Southern Methodist University in Dallas (video is available on-line at http://smu.edu/flashvideo/?id=248; audio is available on-line at http://smu.edu/newsinfo/audio/barbaraforrest-11nov2008.mp3). And a study conducted by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund and Raymond Eve demonstrated that a vast majority of scientists at public and private universities in Texas reject the arguments advanced by those seeking to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards (see sidebar 3).

At last the day appointed for the Texas state board of education to hear testimony about the proposed new set of state science standards arrived, November 19, 2008 — and plenty of the testimony concerned the treatment of evolution in the standards. As the Dallas Morning News (2008 Nov 20) explained, the standards "will dictate what is taught in science classes in elementary and secondary schools and provide the material for state tests and textbooks. The standards will remain in place for a decade after their approval by the state board." The standards under consideration were not the version released in September 2008, but a revised version drafted in November 2008 and not posted on the Texas Education Agency's website until November 17, 2008. A significant difference is that the September version omitted the "strengths and weaknesses" language of the old standards, which was selectively applied in 2003 by members of the board seeking to dilute the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks, while the November version included a variant of it: "strengths and limitations."

Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman told the board that the "strengths and weaknesses" language was unscientific and pedagogically inappropriate, according to the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Nov 20). He was not alone in defending the teaching of evolution at the meeting. In a story significantly headlined "Evolution proponents descend on state education panel," the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2008 Nov 20) observed, "With few exceptions, the speakers — scientists, teachers, clergy and grassroots activists — took the side of evolution," a situation that evidently vexed the chair of the board, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, who complained,"This is all being ginned up by the evolution side."

Reflecting on the spectacle, the Corpus Christi Call-Times (2008 Nov 20) editorially commented, "Members of the state board of ducation, as they prepare to establish a new science curriculum, should certainly heed the advice of the state's top science teachers: Teaching the 'weaknesses' of the theory of evolution raises questions about its validity, questions that are not shared by established science. Public schools should teach evolution. Period. Texas students will have to compete in the real world, not the flat earth of the past." In addition to the newspaper reports, detailed running commentary on the meeting was posted on their blogs by representatives of two of the groups defending the integrity of science education in Texas: Texas Citizens for Science, on the Houston Chronicle's Evo. Sphere blog (http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html), and the Texas Freedom Network, on its own blog (http://tfnblog.wordpress.com). Both groups are going to continue to monitor the standards, which are expected first to return to the writing committee for revisions in December 2008, and then return to the board for consideration in January 2009.

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Glenn Branch is deputy director of NCSE.

Sidebar 1

COALITION DEFENDS DRAFT STANDARDS IN TEXAS

"The State Board of Education's decisions in the coming months will affect both the college preparation and future job qualifications of our children. Our students deserve a sound education that includes the latest findings of scientific research and excludes ideas that have failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny." That was the message of the 21st Century Science Coalition's advisory committee — Daniel I Bolnick, RE Duhrkopf, David M Hillis, Ben Pierce, and Sahotra Sarkar — delivered in twin op-eds published in two Texas newspapers, the Waco Tribune (2008 Oct 19), and the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 21).

In their op-eds, after describing the vast amount of scientific research that supports evolution, and the absence of any compelling evidence against it, Bolnick and his colleagues responded to the charge of censorship: "Evolution opponents who promote such phony 'weaknesses' claim we are trying to censor them, suppressing free speech. But the entire point of education is to provide students with the best information available, without wasting time on bogus arguments. We don't teach alchemy alongside chemistry, for example, or astrology alongside physics. We don't ask students to decide for themselves whether Earth revolves around the Sun or vice versa. Is that 'censorship'?"

They also emphasized the increasing economic importance of evolution education, writing, "We can't expect future citizens of Texas to be successful in a 21st-century world with a 19th-century science education. Once our children enter the work force, they will find that understanding evolution is central to many innovations in medicine, agriculture, engineering and biotechnology. Undermining biology education risks driving away biotechnology and other industries from our state." The Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 6) already editorially agreed, noting that biomedical industries "have not looked favorably on communities that water down science studies with vague and unproven ideas."

The 21st Century Science Coalition (on-line at ) was organized to resist attempts of creationists to maintain the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards, which are currently undergoing revisions. Already over 1300 Texas scientists with or working towards advanced degrees in life, physical, and mathematical science have signed the coalition's statement calling on the state board of education to approve science standards that "acknowledge that instruction on evolution is vital to understanding all the biological sciences" and that "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses', which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses."

Sidebar 2

AAAS CONCERNED ABOUT TEXAS SCIENCE STANDARDS

Writing in the Houston Chronicle (2008 Oct 22), the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alan I Leshner, deplored the recent appointment of three anti-evolutionists to a committee charged with reviewing a draft of Texas's state science standards. "The new standards will shape how science education is taught in Texas for the next decade, and it would be a terrible mistake to water down the teaching of evolution in any way," he wrote, adding, "At a time when most educators are working to prepare students for 21st century jobs, the board members' action threatens to confuse students, divide communities and tarnish Texas' reputation as an international science and technology center."

Leshner's op-ed emphasized the strength of the scientific consensus on evolution ("Mainstream science and medical organizations in the United States and worldwide, representing tens of millions of scientists, accept evolution as the best explanation for how life developed on Earth"), the fact that many people of faith, including scientists and clergy alike, regard evolution as no threat to their faith, and the importance of preserving the integrity of science education. But what he hammered home was the economic importance of a quality science education: "To maintain the state's strength as an engine of US research and innovation, Texas education leaders should stick to the basics. Students need a solid science foundation to thrive in the 21st century."

In supporting a scientifically appropriate and pedagogically responsible treatment of evolution in the Texas state science standards, Leshner joined the 21st Century Science Coalition, the Texas Freedom Network, and Texas Citizens for Science, as well as the editorial boards of the Waco Tribune (2008 Oct 3) and the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 6). As the world's largest general interest scientific organization, the AAAS regularly defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and presents a useful collection of relevant statements, publications, resources, and links in a section of its on-line press room (http://www.aaas.org/news/press_room/evolution).

Sidebar 3

TEXAS SCIENTISTS OVERWHELMINGLY REJECT ANTI-EVOLUTION ARGUMENTS

Scientists at public and private universities in Texas overwhelmingly reject the arguments advanced by the anti-evolutionists seeking to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas's state science standards, according to a report released by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. "This survey leaves no doubt that the political crusade against evolution and other attempts to dumb down our public school science curriculum are deeply misguided," TFN Education Fund president Kathy Miller said in a press release (available on-line at http://www.tfn.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5621). "Texas scientists are clearly worried that failing to provide a 21st-century science education in our public schools will harm our children's chances to succeed in college and the jobs of the future."

The report, entitled Evolution, Creationism, and Public Education: Surveying What Texas Scientists Think about Educating Our Kids in the 21st Century (available on-line as a PDF at http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/FinalWebPost.pdf?docID=861), details a survey conducted by the TFN Education Fund in conjunction with Raymond Eve, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, Arlington, who is the coauthor with Francis B Harrold of The Creationist Movement in Modern America (Boston: Twayne, 1990). The survey was sent to the 1019 biologists and biological anthropologists on the faculty of all 35 public and the 15 largest private colleges and universities in Texas. The response rate was high — 45% of those surveyed responded. "Their responses should send parents a clear message that those who want to play politics with science education are putting our kids at risk," Eve commented.

The TFN Education Fund's press release summarizes five key findings from the survey: "1. Texas scientists (97.7%) overwhelmingly reject 'intelligent design' as valid science. 2. Texas science faculty (95%) want only evolution taught in science classrooms. 3. Scientists reject teaching the so-called 'weaknesses' of evolution, with 94% saying that those arguments are not valid scientific objections to evolution. 4. Science faculty believe that emphasizing 'weaknesses' of evolution would substantially harm students' college readiness (79.6%) and ability to compete for 21st-century jobs (72%). 5. Scientists (91%) strongly believe that support for evolution is compatible with religious faith."

Evolution, Creationism, and Public Education was released just as the Texas State Board of Education was preparing to consider a new draft set of state science standards from November 19 to November 21, 2008, hearing testimony from the public on November 19. The Dallas Morning News (2008 Nov 17) reported that "a majority of members have voiced support for retaining the current mandate to cover both strengths and weaknesses of major scientific theories, notably evolution, in science courses." But the TFN Education Fund's Kathy Miller told the newspaper that it would be a mistake for the board not to heed the clear consensus of Texas science professors: "This survey leaves no doubt that the political crusade against evolution and other attempts to dumb down our public school science curriculum are deeply misguided."

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.

Siccar Point

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Siccar Point
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2009
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
26
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Figure 1: Siccar Point is at the base of a steep slope on the Berwickshire coast near Edinburgh, Scotland. For scale, the author is shown in the center of the photograph. (Photo by Randy Moore)
What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen then emerging from the deep... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.—John Playfair, upon seeing Siccar Point*
Figure 2: Siccar Point from the North, with the North Sea in the background. Note the horizontal sediments overlying the vertical sediments. (Photo by Randy Moore)

During June 1788, Scottish geologist James Hutton — along with mathematician John Playfair and chemist James Hall — visited Siccar Point, which is arguably the most important geological site in the world (Figure 1). Siccar Point is a rocky promontory "washed bare by the sea" on the Berwickshire coast near Scotland's border with England. Geologically speaking, Siccar Point is an unconformity — a term coined in 1805 by geologist Robert Jameson to describe a surface at which two separate sets of rocks formed at different times come into contact. Sediments at the base of Siccar Point are vertical and, because sediments can only form horizontally, Hutton knew that these sediments had been tilted and raised above land by pressure. Erosion had then worn away the above-ground parts of the vertical sediments, after which they were again submerged and covered by new horizontally deposited sediment (Figures 2 and 3). Charles Lyell, who visited Siccar Point with Hall in 1824, used a sketch of the site as the frontispiece of his Manual of Elementary Geology (1855). It is no wonder that Siccar Point is a Scottish National Heritage site.

Figure 3: A close-up of Hutton's Unconformity at Siccar Point. (Photo by Randy Moore)

The vertical sediments at Siccar Point are Silurian greywacke, a gray sedimentary rock formed approximately 425 million years ago when colliding plates created immense pressure that converted the sediment to rock. By about 80 million years later — a period that is more than 10 000 times longer than all of Archbishop Ussher's proposed history of earth — the raised greywacke had eroded and parts were again submerged in the ocean. Erosion of the nearby Caledonian Mountains produced reddish sandstone sediments (Old Red Sandstone of the Devonian) that were deposited horizontally over the vertical greywacke sediments (of the Silurian).When pressure created by moving plates again buckled the sediments, Siccar Point was raised above land for Hutton and others to see. Except for the chiseling by thousands of souvenir-seeking geologists who have visited the site, Siccar Point looks today as it did when it was visited by Hutton and his friends in 1788.

Finding Siccar Point: Although Siccar Point (Coordinate: 55° 55' 55.89" N, 2° 17' 54.74" W) is part of the James Hutton Trail, it is not marked on any of the tourist maps available at Edinburgh hotels. The best way to see Siccar Point is on a tour provided by GeoWalks (http://www.geowalks.demon.co.uk), a small geology-education company owned by Edinburgh geologist Angus Miller. Siccar Point is beautiful from above looking out onto the North Sea. If you choose to go down to the unconformity, be prepared to slide down the steep hill and to be quite exhausted by the time you get back to the top.There is a mold of a small part of Siccar Point on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

* Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh Vol V, Pt III, 1805.

Review: Darwin and the Bible

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
30–31
Reviewer: 
Andrew J Petto
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation
Author(s): 
Richard H Robbins and Mark N Cohen, eds.
Boston: Penguin Academics, 2009. 216 pages.

The main theme of this book is clearly identified in its subtitle. To reflect the cultural conflict theme, the editors have invited authors with a variety of perspectives on the history and diversity of life and how best to account for it. The volume is polyvocal; the editors clearly did not constrain the authors significantly with a particular editorial perspective, even though the editors' perspectives are made quite clear in the introduction and conclusions.

The book is divided into three sections. The first allows proponents of the sciences and of various creationist — including "intelligent design" — models to make affirmative cases for their positions. There is a nice variety of ideas here, though there are some chapters that fall short. For example, though Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA construct is an important perspective, much of the material in the chapter is outdated. And Phillip Johnson's chapter — much abbreviated due to illness — fails to deliver much beyond presenting the basic claims of "intelligent design" (ID) and reads like little more than slogans. Furthermore, the lack of an exposition of a young-earth creationism is a glaring hole. Although young-earth creationists are perhaps not currently in the forefront politically, they are still a significant force on the "Bible" side of the divide.

Still, most of the material here is well presented and worth reading. Cohen's chapter — on the nature of science and the ways in which certain ideas and procedures that make science successful, such as uniformitarianism, have been demonized by opponents — is insightful. He makes clear one important point that is often muddied by ID proponents: even "intelligent" human behavior is still bound by the operation of natural laws. Therefore, it makes a poor analogy to their design arguments, which (despite their disavowals to the contrary) involve the supernatural.

Walter Hearn's chapter provides a voice seldom heard in the "controversy" but which is not an uncommon position: that of the evangelical Christian who accepts the power of natural laws and processes to produce complex biological outcomes. However, this chapter is mostly uninformative —much of it spent in defining and redefining terms, instead of addressing the issues.

Hewlett and Peters clarify the main issues and lay out the terrain that any victor must claim: the nature and definition of science. They clearly characterize the value of evolutionary theory as "a model that gives directions for scientists to pursue research" rather than an "absolute truth" (p 69). They also decry Darwinism — which they define as the various ideologies that emerge from the scientific theory and not intrinsic (or often even related) to the scientific process.

The second section focuses on historical developments. Jonathan Marks provides both a strong historical perspective as well as additional clarification on the nature and meaning of science: "This is not about whether we came from apes, but about how we draw scientific inferences" (p 95). Co-editor Robbins's chapter is a valuable rehabilitation of the reputation of William Jennings Bryan. Robbins points out that Bryan's concern was that Darwinism might lead to inequality, war, and social conflict. His analysis of the state of Darwinism in the 1920s — including Social Darwinism and eugenics — makes Bryan a more sympathetic character than pro-science readers may be accustomed to.

The first of Larson's chapters adds the necessary "post-Darwinian" development of evolutionary science. While anti-evolutionists often invoke Darwin and "Darwinism" in their critiques, this chapter makes clear how much of modern evolutionary science is non-Darwinian. A chapter by the late Ernst Mayr shows why Darwin's original construction still persists and provides the underpinning for modern evolutionary science. By contrast, NCSE's Glenn Branch illustrates the worldwide pattern of how opposition to evolutionary science is maintained and spread.

The final section focuses on issues that arise from evolution in the classroom. Larson's second contribution to this volume explores the conflict between tradition and modernity. It was not evolution itself that was responsible for the conflict, argues Larson, but intellectual and cultural trends that focused on "rational, naturalistic modes of analysis" (p 156) as the basis for understanding and solving the world's problems. This naturalistic focus is, of course, the main irritant that ID proponents want to remove from science, but Larson traces the effects of methodological naturalism on the development of anti-evolutionism throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. His concluding statement is realistic, if pessimistic: "If history is any guide, dark clouds remain on the horizon" (p 165).

Steve Randak adds a perspective that only a high-school biology teacher could provide. Picking up on the idea of "local control" in Larson's first chapter, he shows how it can play out in fervent opposition to evolution, even in a school district with a strong association with a major research university. His chapter perhaps illustrates what Larson meant by his closing remark. Next, one of those students with a strong anti-evolutionary upbringing, Laura Perras, tries to make sense of the scientific theories she is learning in university. This is a valuable voice to add to the conversation, but it is still rather underdeveloped in comparison to the others in the book.

It is in the conclusions that the co-editors' own perspectives become clearest. It is important, they urge, to separate science as the process of inquiry from science as the cultural institution (just as it is important to separate faith as a framework to understand the meaning, value, and purpose in life from faith as embodied in religious denominations). In one sense, this is a restatement and extension of Gould's NOMA construction, and one that recognizes that both science and religion are intricately woven into the fabric of our culture. Cohen seems to be calling for science and religion to find that place in contemporary culture where they can join their valuable contributions. And yet, Larson's warning still hangs over this aspiration.

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

Andrew J Petto teaches anatomy and physiology in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He also serves as RNCSE editor and on the NCSE board of directors. He is co-editor with Laurie R Godfrey of Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond (New York: WW Norton, 2008).

Review: Darwinian Detectives

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January-February
Page(s): 
28-29
Reviewer: 
Rebecca L Cann
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes
Author(s): 
Norman A Johnson
New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 220 pages.

Just about every topic under the banner "why genetics is important to understand and still amazing to many professional biologists" is covered in this compact book. What a delight to read about some well-chosen examples, glittering in succinct detail and presented in a manner designed to intrigue and captivate a general audience. After all, where else can you find the forensic details about how a dentist did in an ex-lover with an HIV infection, what the chimpanzee genome project could tell us about differences between the sex lives of all three chimpanzees, the true origins of Akita dogs, or what red-haired singers might have in common with talking Neanderthals? Think of the conversation starters at your next sushi bar encounter, where you can captivate an audience with details about the genomes of smooth versus spiny pufferfish! Then toss off a few comments about the delta 32 mutation in CCR5 and the Black Plague, followed by the link between silaic acids and huge brains, and you are sure to be voted geek of the week. The amazing thing is that Norman Johnson has been able to show the scientific method making sense of the world in all this crazy detail.

A designed biota would not be as messy, as haphazardly assembled, or as truly jerryrigged as the genetic systems cobbled together in the last billion years of random processes and presented here for your total wonderment.

Johnson starts with the general, boxing the math for readers to skip over completely or come back to later, and moves to the specific in well-organized sections. The book starts with a good exposition of the methods scientists use to deduce how genomes are organized and how they got that way, that is, evolution. His discussion on natural selection, both positive and negative, is clear and easy to follow. The focus on how scientists are able to identify cases of positive selection sets the stage for discussions of how populations (simple and complex, marine and terrestrial) have changed over time. In cases where morphological shifts cannot be clearly linked to environments undergoing directional change, he also does a good job of introducing a reader to the idea of balancing selection. If you had an hour to read a chapter a week, covering this book would be like taking a good college biology seminar in a semester with your favorite teacher. You come away with enough background to critically dissect a too facile news story, like the one for a "language gene" or "killer male gene". And if your interest runs to recreational genetics as in ancestry testing, you will learn enough here to know that even a $1000 test fee is going to give you a probability statement, not an identity link.

There is one glaring error on page 160 in the text, easily corrected, but unfortunate because it concerns dogs and how they changed in their domestication from a wolflike ancestor. Dogs have been bred to diverse body shapes, colors, and personalities, so much so that behavioral geneticists are particularly keen to unlock many secrets about genes contributing to behavioral patterns using the dog genome as a model system. Because many people have close relationships with their pets and may have missed early stages of behavioral development with their own children, this topic is close to a reader's heart and important to get right. So, when Johnson talks about the latest information from large-scale nuclear gene testing of 85 breeds of dogs and suggests that dogs originated from African stock, contradicting previous mitochondrial DNA work, he does so because he misidentifies the basal breeds in the dog tree as African, when in fact they are Asian. Anthropologists can now note that I am finally arguing for an Asian ancestry of one species dear to humans.

Another minor quibble is his failure to include a good discussion of superbugs, or bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. Hospital acquired infections are important in an aging population undergoing more intense medical care, and while the latest statistics can be scary for someone spending time in an intensive care unit, it is also clear that school gymnasium facilities and hotel rooms with dirty remote controls or bedspreads can also be a problem. Herd immunity assumed by parents in an attempt to avoid autism risks, where failure to vaccinate has contributed to measles epidemics nationwide, is also a public health issue far more immediate than a potential bird flu mutation, yet these topics do not appear. Instead, a final chapter on genome evolution that attempts to give the big picture falls flat, and suffers from both over- and undersimplification, especially in the discussion of transposable elements and gene regulation.

I hope that biology teachers nationwide looking for evidence of evolution to engage their students with take a look at this book. I also hope that physicians who have a shaky understanding of evolutionary processes feel inclined to refresh how their practices can contribute to or detract from the general health of their patients. This slim volume sparked many discussions with airplane seatmates, and clearly covers stories that will resonate with a variety of readers. If a paperback version appears, it would also be a good text for a non-majors biology or an advanced placement high school class. Armed with the right information, these folks may themselves become citizen scientists.

About the Author(s): 

Rebecca L Cann
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Rebecca L Cann is Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa.

Review: More than Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January—February
Page(s): 
27—28
Reviewer: 
Glenn Branch
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy
Author(s): 
Randy Moore and
Mark D Decker
Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. 415 pages

Who replaced John Scopes at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee? Where was the first evolution course offered anywhere in the world taught? And who was the most controversial figure in the evolution/creationism controversy? Randy Moore and Mark Decker — both biologists at the University of Minnesota; both members of NCSE — know the answers to these questions, and in More than Darwin, they share their vast knowledge about (as the subtitle indicates) the people and places of the evolution/creationism controversy. Appropriately as well as alphabetically, they begin with Adam (“the first naturalist,” according to Linnaeus), ending with Evelle J Younger, the attorney general of California who in 1975 ruled that the state’s educational system could not “balance” its teaching of evolution by teaching creationism as well. Moore and Decker explain in their preface, “we have tried to neither condemn nor praise either ‘side’ of the controversy, nor have we attempted to reconcile the views of science and religion ... Our only goal has been to present — as best we can — an objective, interesting, accurate, and accessible description of the people and places associated with the controversy” (p xxii). They succeed admirably.

Most of the book’s 500 or so entries are short, running about 500 to 1000 words, but a few figures — Charles Darwin, of course, but also William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Susan Epperson, the Galápagos Islands, James Hutton, Thomas Henry Huxley, Charles Lyell, and Alfred Russel Wallace — receive extended treatments. The entries are generally concise, organized, and accurate, with the exception of the usual crop of typographical errors and a few minor errors of fact. There are a few places where clarity was lamentably sacrificed for brevity: in the entry for the Kansas State Board of Education, for example, it is insufficiently clear that the board was dominated by and reclaimed from anti-evolutionists twice. The usefulness of the book as a reference work is heightened by a four-page bibliography and a competent index that, unusually but helpfully, includes important quoted phrases. (Between the entries for “Buxton Limeworks” and “Byrd, Robert,” for example, appears “Buzzword that causes a lot of negative reactions,” which was how Kathy Cox, the Georgia state superintendent of schools, described the word “evolution” in 2004.) Scattered throughout are eighty-two useful illustrations, including a number of photographs taken by Moore.

A distinct strength of More than Darwin is its coverage of the contentious legal history of the controversy, to which Moore devoted a previous book, Evolution in the Courtroom (2001). There are entries for several cases that deserve to be better known: Bishop v Aronov, Caldwell v Roseville, Crowley v Smithsonian Institution, Hendren v Campbell, Moeller v Schrenko, and Pfeifer v City of West Allis. Practically everyone of significance in the Scopes trial is allotted a separate entry, and a guide (with map) to the sites of the trial is provided. It is regrettable that McLean v Arkansas and Kitzmiller v Dover were not similarly treated, although a number of people associated with those trials, including Wendell Bird, Stephen Jay Gould, Norman Geisler, John E Jones III, and Kenneth Miller, receive their own entries. It is a minor annoyance that the proper legal citations for the cases — for example, “400 F Supp 2d 707 (MD Pa 2005)” for Kitzmiller — are not included. The entry for Selman v Cobb County fails to explain the denouement, in which the decision was vacated and the case remanded to the trial court, where a settlement was reached.

With its sturdy binding and exorbitant price ($85.00), More than Darwin is clearly intended for the library market. The University of California Press is planning to publish a paperback edition in 2009, however, which is fortunate, since the book is not simply a utilitarian reference work: it is a marvelous trove for the curious browser, who will be constantly tempted to pull the book off the shelf to read a random entry and discover a new fact or two. In addition to scientists and creationists, legislators and litigants, philosophers and poets (well, poet: Tennyson, on the strength of In Memoriam’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw”), More than Darwin addresses a number of delightfully quirky topics: Carl Akeley, the revolutionary taxidermist whose work is still on display at the American Museum of Natural history; Gertie the Dinosaur, the first animal to star in a cartoon strip; and roadside dinosaurs, such as those displayed at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Moore and Decker evidently enjoyed the chore of researching and writing the book, and their hope, expressed in the preface, that readers will “enjoy learning about the people and places of the evolution–creationism controversy” (p xxiv), is bound to be realized.

And what about those lingering questions? Well, the most controversial figure in the evolution/creationism controversy, Moore and Decker confidently state, was J Frank Norris (1877–1952), who “was indicted for a variety of felonies, including perjury, several arsons (including the burning of his own church), and murder. ... As a newspaper editor noted after the [murder] trial, ‘In Fort Worth, the 11th Commandment is “Thou shalt not mess with J Frank Norris”’” (p 271). Fans of Norris’s modern rival Kent Hovind will be pleased to know that he at least receives his own entry. The first evolution course was offered at Indiana University, at least according to the biologist David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), who taught it. And Scopes’s replacement was Raleigh Reece, described in L Sprague de Camp’s The Great Monkey Trial as “a reporter from Nashville with some teaching experience and an unblemished record of Fundamentalism” (1968: 444). Content to let the irony speak for itself, Moore and Decker add, “When Reece missed the first week of classes in the fall of 1925, his substitute was Darius Darwin” (p 298).

References

de Camp LS. 1968. The Great Monkey Trial. New York: Doubleday.

Moore R. 2001. Evolution in the Courtroom: A Reference Guide. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-Clio.

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE’s deputy director.

Review: Negotiating Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
1
Date: 
January—February
Page(s): 
29—30
Reviewer: 
Peter MJ Hess
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877-1902
Author(s): 
Mariano Artigas,
Thomas F Glick, and
Rafael A Martínez
Baltimore (MD): The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 336 pages

On both the popular and scholarly levels, the appreciation of the Roman Catholic Church’s stance with respect to the theory of biological evolution has been ambiguous. On the one hand, it is sometimes assumed that the Church that had rushed to judgment on heliocentrism in the case of Galileo would not have hesitated to pounce on a theory that both undercut a literal reading of Genesis and reduced human beings to the status of animals. On the other hand, it is well known that Roman Catholicism has not been at the forefront of organized opposition to evolution in the same way as fundamentalist Protestantism has been.

Was the Church fundamentally opposed to Darwin’s theory of descent with modification, or was it cautiously open to permitting discussion of the idea? Where along this spectrum should we expect to find the truth? Moreover, by “the Church” do we understand the Vatican and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, or Roman Catholic scholars, or the faithful in the pew? These distinctions are important to make for sorting out the degree of acceptance of evolutionary thinking within Roman Catholicism, since the response by Roman Catholic scholars and churchmen varied according to their region and to their degree of removal from the corridors of Rome. In our collective effort to defend and promote the teaching of evolution in public schools, readers of RNCSE will be well served by even a cursory reading of Negotiating Darwin. The book offers a nicely detailed elucidation of the delicate position in which the hierarchical Church found itself in the generation after Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The authors of Negotiating Darwin — including the late Mariano Artigas — were among the first to study the archives of both the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition and of the Congregation of the Index. In principle it was within the jurisdiction of the Holy Office to examine and prohibit a book, with the decision being communicated to the Office of the Index for promulgation. In practice, however, it was the Congregation of the Index that handled both the examination of and the judgment about the books that had been denounced to it by church authorities. The authors examine six cases featuring Roman Catholic thinkers who were suspect of trying in varying degrees to incorporate evolutionary thinking into Roman Catholic doctrine in the generation after Darwin’s seminal work appeared. In the case of some, evolution was a relatively unimportant aspect of their thinking; with others it was central to their theological project. The principal objective of Negotiating Darwin is “to identify both the ideological and operational stance of the Church with respect to the reception of Darwinism.”

The first case studied is that of Rafaello Caverni, whose New Studies of Philosophy: Lectures to a Young Student (1877) reconciled divine creation with the active intervention of God by leaving humans out of the process of evolution. Caverni countered the predominant literalist hermeneutic by distinguishing between the divine and human aspects of Scripture. Rejecting an evolutionary theory that denied purpose, he insisted upon a theistic vision of evolution attracting the world forward by final causes. The influential Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica reviewed Caverni’s book harshly, leveling the twin objections that evolution is an atheistic and materialistic philosophy explaining matter without reference to God, and that, however much Caverni wanted to exclude humans, materialism would be the inevitable result of the incorporation of humans into the evolutionary scheme. The book was denounced and condemned. The authors note, however, that since Caverni’s title did not mention evolution, this indirect condemnation of Darwin’s theory was ultimately ineffectual.

The episode of French Dominican Dalmace Leroy offers further evidence that the Church had no official doctrine regarding evolution. Leroy published The Evolution of Organic Species in 1887, and critical reviews prompted him to issue an expanded edition under the narrower title Evolution Limited to Organic Species (1891), in which he carefully excluded Adam and Eve from consideration in the evolutionary story. The book was denounced to the Index in 1894 and Leroy agreed to retract, but with reservations. He sincerely believed that in its steadfast refusal even to consider the evolutionary preparation of the human body for reception of the infused soul, the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church was at stake in an increasingly scientific world. Leroy retracted his book, but the episode shows that there was disagreement about the subject even among the theologians of the Index. Even while forbidding the reprinting of the book, they did not publish the decree of condemnation.

The heart of Negotiating Darwin is the extensive treatment of the case of John Zahm (1851–1921). A priest in the Holy Cross Order and Professor of Physics and Chemistry at the University of Notre Dame, Zahm argued in Evolution and Dogma (1896) for the harmonization of evolutionary theory with Roman Catholic doctrine. Zahm’s grasp of contemporary evolutionary theory was remarkable, particularly in his understanding that Darwinism was not equivalent to evolution but only one of numerous attempts that had been made to explain the modus operandi of biological change. Recognizing the paucity of fossil transitional forms, Zahm noted that Darwin himself had acknowledged the current incompleteness of the geological record. Zahm was confident that although the production of variation on which selection works was not yet understood, understanding would eventually arrive. He critically reviewed the controversy about Lamarck’s theory of the transmission of acquired characteristics, concluding that a comprehensive theory of evolution was not yet attained.

Zahm was well aware of the baggage Darwinism carried in being associated with atheism, and he was alert to the evolutionary controversies raging in Europe. However, he retained a serene confidence that revealed theology could validly be integrated with progressive science.

The Vatican’s attention to Zahm’s book must be read in light of Pope Leo XIII’s campaign against “Americanism.” New World political values were often regarded with suspicion by conservative 19th-century Europeans. American Catholics who had adopted the values of freedom of the press, liberty of conscience, and the spirit of free scientific inquiry were less likely to follow Vatican dictates meekly. The appearance of the French and Italian editions of Evolution and Dogma provoked the Congregation of the Index to issue an injunction against further publication and distribution, although apparently this was never enforced. Zahm was a faithful Catholic, and when friends in Rome warned him that the book was about to be placed on the Index, he immediately wrote to the publisher of the Italian edition to slow its distribution. Convinced that the truth for which he had worked would in due time be manifest, he had made his point and was content to follow the orders of the church he loved and served. The decree of condemnation was not published, and Zahm never issued a retraction.

In the remaining three cases examined in this book, evolution played a less direct role. Geremia Bonomelli, Bishop of Cremona, was quite taken with Zahm’s book, adding an appendix discussing evolution to his own Seguiamo la raggione (Let Us Follow Reason, 1898). Bonomelli’s enthusiastic endorsement led the Index to examine Zahm’s thought more closely, and Bonomelli’s book was a casualty. Because he was already controversial for his proposal that the Vatican should recognize the new Italian state, Bonomelli believed that a voluntary retraction of the evolutionary appendix would be in his and the church’s best interest. Bishop John Hedley of England came under fire for favorably reviewing Zahm’s book, and he issued a letter of retraction in the English Catholic magazine The Tablet. Also in England, lay scholar St George Jackson Mivart, author of The Genesis of Species (1871), was condemned not for his evolutionary views but for his challenge to traditional doctrines about sin and punishment.

Rome never formulated an explicit condemnation of evolution as a doctrine and seems to have taken a rather pragmatic approach to the issue. The debates internal to the Congregation of the Index reflect a general concern for rejecting evolution when applied to the human body, but the only condemnation ever issued was internal, the decree was not published. None of Darwin’s books was placed on the Index, nor were any of Huxley’s, Spencer’s, or Haeckel’s. The six cases under review all involved books written by Roman Catholics who had attracted ecclesiastical attention, presumably because their works had greater potential to disturb the life of the Church. Participants on both sides appear to have remembered the Galileo episode, and the Church was careful not to overstep its bounds.

It is hard to find serious fault with this book, both for the meticulousness of its scholarship and for its engaging style. It might have been useful to pursue the history into the 1930s, but the authors have wisely sacrificed breadth for depth. Historians will enjoy its meticulous scholarship, and even non-historians will find this a useful book, as it offers sound historical perspective on a foundationally important and often misconstrued period in the history of the relationship between ecclesiastical authority and the social osmosis of evolutionary theory.

About the Author(s): 
Peter MJ Hess
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
hess@ncseweb.org

Peter MJ Hess is NCSE’s Faith Project Director. He is the coauthor, with Paul L Allen, of Catholicism and Science (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, 2008).

RNCSE 29 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Creationism in Brunswick County
    Anton Mates
    A school district in southern North Carolina considers "equal time" proposals.
  2. Implementing Louisiana's Anti-Evolution Law
    Joshua Rosenau
    The Louisiana Science Education Act is law, and now it must be implemented.
  3. A Furor over Creationism at the Royal Society
    Glenn Branch
    A science educator was embroiled in controversy over remarks about creationism in the classroom.
  4. The Latest on Expelled
    Eugenie C Scott
    The movie is getting publicity again, but as one of the worst films of 2008.
  5. Victory over "Weaknesses" in Texas
    Glenn Branch
    Language about "strengths and weaknesses" of "controversial" scientific theories was dropped from the state standards. But other changes raise concerns.
  6. Updates
    News from Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma,Canada, and the Netherlands.

NCSE NEWS

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

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Revisiting the Creation/Evolution Continuum
    A reminder that there is a range of perspectives.
  2. Books: Science and Religion Redux
    These books explore the relationship between modern science and religious faith.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

SPECIAL FEATURE: MEMBERS' ROUNDTABLE

  1. Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?
    Daryl P Domning
    Domning suggests that scientists who profess religious faith would help more people to accept evolution.
  2. Response to "Winning Their Hearts and Minds"
    Sheldon F Gottlieb
    Gottlieb acknowledges the tactical advantage in Domning's proposal, but worries that this approach may weaken scientific literacy in the longer run.
  3. Communicating Evolutionary Science to a Religious Public
    Keith B Miller
    It is important — for both scientists and the general public — to recognize how science interacts with the values and beliefs of broader culture, and that includes religious belief.
  4. Keeping Evolution Education in Perspective: A Response to Daryl Domning
    Erik B Pietrowicz
    It is the public school teacher who is at the forefront of this issue. How might Domning's approach play out in the classroom?
  5. Rejoinder to Comments
    Daryl P Domning
    Reflections on responses at the roundtable.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: The Temple of Serapis
    Randy Moore
    Charles Lyell correctly inferred past geologic processes by observation at this famous site on a peninsula that juts into the Mediterranean just west of Naples.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Thank God for Evolution! — A Response to a RNCSE Review
    Michael Dowd
    The author discusses the aims of the book.
  2. Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution by Karl W Giberson
    Reviewed by Denis O Lamoureux
  3. Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade against Science by James H Fetzer
    Reviewed by Keith M Parsons
  4. Charles Darwin by Michael Ruse
    Reviewed by Doren A Recker
  5. Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution edited by John B Cobb Jr
    Reviewed by Timothy Shanahan
  6. Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution by Denis O Lamoureux
    Reviewed by Stephen J Godfrey

A Furor over Creationism at the Royal Society

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
A Furor over Creationism at the Royal Society
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
8–9
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The director of education for the Royal Society of London, Michael Reiss, resigned from his position on September 16, 2008, in the wake of a controversy occasioned by his recent remarks on creationism — even though Reiss, a biologist, accepts evolution, recognizes that creationism lacks any scientific legitimacy, and believes that students ought to be told, when the subject arises, that creationism has no scientific basis.

Reiss's remarks were apparently offered during the British Association for the Advancement of Science's Festival of Science, which took place September 6–11, 2008, in Liverpool; he subsequently posted a corresponding essay, "Science lessons should tackle creationism and intelligent design," on the Guardian's science blog on September 11, 2008. In the latter, Reiss posed the question, "What should science teachers do when faced with students who are creationists?" and answered that "when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one's best to have a genuine discussion."

Reiss added, "The word 'genuine' doesn't mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time." He was also careful to note that whether such a discussion would be appropriate depends "on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make-up of the student body," adding, "I don't believe that such teaching is easy." Nevertheless, he insisted, "I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution, while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it — and to learn more science."

Unfortunately, the content of Reiss's message was distorted and sensationalized in the British media. For example, the story in the Times of London (2008 Sep 12) was headlined "Leading scientist urges teaching of creationism in schools," and began, "Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view, according to the Royal Society, putting the august science body on a collision course with the Government"; the Telegraph's story (2008 Sep 11) was similarly headlined "Creationism should be taught in science classes, says expert," and subheaded, "The theory of creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons, a leading biologist and education expert has said."

The Royal Society observed in a September 12, 2008, press release that "The Royal Society is opposed to creationism being taught as science," citing the 2006 Interacademy Panel statement (see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4]: 13–6) on the teaching of evolution, to which the Royal Society is a signatory. It also quoted a clarification from Reiss: "Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis."

Nevertheless, there was a quick outcry from a number of British scientists. Richard Roberts, a member of the Royal Society and a Nobel Prize winner, was quoted in the Guardian (2008 Sep 14) as saying, "I think it is outrageous that this man is suggesting that creationism should be discussed in a science classroom. It is an incredible idea and I am drafting a letter to other Nobel laureates — which would be sent to the Royal Society — to ask that Reiss be made to stand down." And Roberts indeed sent a letter endorsed by his fellow laureates Harold Kroto and John Sulston to the Royal Society, complaining about Reiss's remarks as reported.

Part of the outcry centered on the fact that, in addition to being a biologist and professor of science education, Reiss is also a clergyman, ordained in the Church of England. Richard Dawkins told the Guardian (2008 Sep 14), "A clergyman in charge of education for the country's leading scientific organisation — it's a Monty Python sketch," and Roberts's letter to the Royal Society commented, "We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome. Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?"

Subsequently, in a September 16, 2008, letter to New Scientist, Dawkins distanced himself from the call for Reiss's ouster, describing Roberts's letter's complaint about Reiss's clerical status as "a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste," characterizing his Monty Python comparison as "a little uncharitable," and commenting, "Although I disagree with him, what he actually said at the British Association is not obviously silly like creationism itself, nor is it a self-evidently inappropriate stance for the Royal Society to take." (He also mentioned "Eugenie Scott, whose National Center for Science Education is doing splendid work in fighting the creationist wingnuts in America.")

Dawkins's limited defense notwithstanding, the Royal Society announced Reiss's resignation on September 16, 2008. According to a press release, "Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society's Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education."

It wasn't only scientists who were critical of Reiss's remarks as reported. After Reiss's resignation, Phil Willis, a Member of Parliament who chairs the Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, expressed satisfaction with the result, telling the Times of London (2008 Sep 17), "I hope the society will now stop burying its head and start taking on creationism." Previously Wills told the Times (2008 Sep 16), "I was horrified to hear these views and I reject them totally. They are a step too far and they fly in the face of what science is about. I think if his [Professor Reiss's] views are as mentioned they may be incompatible with his position."

Not all members of the British scientific community were critical of Reiss. After his resignation, Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, told BBC News (2008 Sep 16) that his departure was a "real loss," adding, "I was at the actual discussion and what I heard him say, however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society." Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London and a distinguished medical scientist and science popularizer, lamented, "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists."

Paul Nurse, a member of the Royal Society and Nobel laureate who did not sign the Roberts letter, took a somewhat intermediate position, telling Nature (in a piece published on-line under the dreadful headline "Creationism stir fries Reiss"; 2008 Sep 17), "It does not matter what someone's religious beliefs are as long as he does the job properly. The issue for me here is his competency in the job. I only saw the media coverage of his speech, but it does not look as though he handled it well. Because creationism in the classroom is such a sensitive subject, you have to be very careful and very clear about what you say."

Across the Atlantic, Leslie S Jones of Valdosta State University, who coedited a recent anthology, Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007; reviewed in RNCSE 2008 May/Jun; 28 [3]: 23–5), with Reiss, expressed shock at the events. She told Nature (on-line; 2008 Sep 17), "Michael has a rare blend of transdisciplinary credentials that give him critical insight into the social controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution. He has never advocated the teaching of creationism."

A subsequent editorial in Nature (2008; 445: 431–2) argued:

Those who argue that allowing discussion of creationism in a science class gives it legitimacy, and that students who ask about it should be firmly directed to take their questions elsewhere, are misguided.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, and a long-time advocate for the teaching of evolution, points out that in the real world, any such shut-up-and-take-it-elsewhere response from the teacher will inevitably be perceived by the student (and his or her classmates) as a humiliating personal putdown. It will obstruct rather than encourage enquiry and understanding. It will also invite complaints from outraged parents.

What is more, it will squander what experienced educators like to call "a teachable moment". All too often, that moment is the one opportunity that a school has to engage resistant students and introduce them to what science has to say.

Reiss is returning to his position of Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education at the University of London.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE's Deputy Director.

Communicating Evolutionary Science to a Religious Public

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Communicating Evolutionary Science to a Religious Public
Author(s): 
Keith B Miller
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
34–35
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

First, I want to endorse enthusiastically Daryl Domning's plea to those in the scientific community who are theists, and especially to those of us who are members of the Christian community. It is essential to the advancement of the public's understanding and acceptance of modern science (particularly evolutionary science) that we articulate that science to the faith communities of which we are a part. The presumption of "warfare" between science and religious faith perpetuates erroneous understandings of the nature and content of science. Such misconceptions erect completely unnecessary barriers to the embrace of science by a substantial portion of the population, and turn public science education into a forum for cultural warfare. When people of faith reject the central theories of modern science because of a false perception that those theories conflict with their faith, they not only deprive science of vital public support, but also deprive it of many bright enquiring minds in the future.

In many cases, people reject evolution (and other unifying theories within the historical natural sciences) as much because of popularly held misconceptions about the nature of science itself as because of any perceived theological conflict. The roots of the science/ faith conflict are often embedded in false notions that are widely held within our culture and impact general public science literacy. It is these very misconceptions that are exploited by anti-evolution advocates. For example, theories are often viewed as merely unsubstantiated guesses, rather than as the unifying concepts that give our observations coherence and meaning. Theories within the historical sciences, in particular, are seen as being inherently untestable. Many people conceive of science as simply an encyclopedic accumulation of unchanging observational "facts". Thus, the dynamic nature of science with the continual revision of theoretical constructs becomes for them evidence of the fleeting validity of scientific "truth". The claim that modern science is based on an atheistic philosophy that denies the existence of anything beyond the material is commonly built upon the background of these other false notions of science. The result is both predictable and preventable.

As Domning states, being public advocates for the compatibility of evolutionary science and religious faith is not about injecting religion into science. Far from it! It is simply presenting the true face of science, which is practiced by individuals representing a very wide range of theistic and non-theistic views. The methods of the natural sciences are limited to understanding the natural world and its history in terms of natural cause-and-effect processes, a limitation frequently described by the term "methodological naturalism". Science, as a method of inquiry about the natural world, can make no claims about the existence or non-existence of God, or of any supernatural entity. Atheism is neither an assumption nor a conclusion of science. Scientific investigation is a trans-cultural and religiously neutral enterprise, and is therefore universally accessible. However, while science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not. We each live out our scientific vocations within a broader context.

A view of science that recognizes its interaction with the values and beliefs of the broader culture need not be left at the public school door. Presenting the historical development of scientific theories in the classroom is a very effective way of communicating to students why certain theories have come to be widely accepted by the scientific community. Such historical accounts will of necessity display the roles (both positive and negative) played by culture, religious faith, philosophy, and even individual personalities in the shaping of modern science. History also reveals how new powerful explanatory theories arise and displace previously strongly held views. It reveals the interesting, dynamic, and very human processes involved in advancing our understanding of the natural world. Such an approach to teaching science also provides a legitimate context in which teachers and students can address the ethical and social dimensions of the application of scientific knowledge.

Science is not learned and applied in some culturally and religiously sterile environment. The motivations that drive us to understand the natural world and to apply that knowledge for the good of others and the world are part and parcel of our most deeply held philosophical and religious commitments. Why should those commitments be hidden when we communicate our passion for science to others? People will more easily recognize that science has something valuable for them when they see it embodied in those who share their deeply held faith commitments. A consequence of this more human face to science may just be a reinvigoration of scientific interest in our schools and in our nation.

I discuss these various public misunderstandings at length in my "Countering public misconceptions about the nature of evolutionary science" (Southeastern Biology 2005; 52: 415–27).

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Keith B Miller
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Keith B Miller, a Supporter of NCSE, is Research Assistant Professor of Geology at Kansas State University. He is the editor of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Grand Rapids [MI]:William B Eerdmans, 2003).

Creationism in Brunswick County

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Creationism in Brunswick County
Author(s): 
Anton Mates
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
4–5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Brunswick County is a largely rural county of about 75 000 people in the southern tip of North Carolina, but it drew national attention in the fall of 2008 when its school board considered adding creationism to the science curriculum. (For a brief report, see RNCSE 2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]: 4–8.)

According to the Wilmington Star-News (2008 Sep 16), the controversy began at the September 16, 2008, board meeting, when Joel Fanti, a chemical engineer and local parent, condemned the teaching of evolution as "fact" rather than "theory". Fanti also made a curious argument: "I wasn't here 2 million years ago ... If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?" He volunteered to teach creationism himself, to audience applause.

Board chair Shirley Babson responded that evolution was a required subject, although she personally rejected it. She was uncertain whether creationism could legally be added to the science curriculum, but said, "if we can do it, I think we ought to do it." All other board members present also voiced their support for teaching creationism, and superintendent Katie McGee agreed to research the question of its legality. The board's attorney suggested that it might be possible to add creationism to the curriculum as long as evolution was still taught.

The board's receptiveness to the idea of explicitly mandating creationism may seem surprising to longtime observers of the anti-evolutionist movement. Since 1987's Edwards v Aguillard decision prohibited exactly this sort of policy as unconstitutional, most creationism activists have chosen more indirect tactics, such as "intelligent design" or — since Kitzmiller v Dover — "teaching the controversy" or "strengths and weaknesses".

But several members of Brunswick County's school board — in particular Babson, Jimmy Hobbs, and Ray Gilbert — have consistently supported the promotion of particular religious viewpoints on school grounds. For instance, in 2006, Hobbs, Babson, and Gilbert proposed to let Gideons International distribute Bibles in county high schools. (State Port Pilot 2006 March 21) When it was pointed out that Wiccans, Pastafarians, and other religious groups would also have to be permitted to distribute their literature, the proposition was tabled indefinitely (Star-News 2006 May 5).

The next year, Hobbs and Babson pushed for more parental control over the contents of school libraries, expressing concern that Harry Potter's inclusion in school libraries promoted Wiccanism and would lead children to practice witchcraft and animal sacrifice (Star-News 2007 Sep 21). It does not appear that they were successful in changing library policy.

Presumably Hobbs was referring to this history of failed attempts to promote particular religious viewpoints in the Brunswick County schools when he said at the September meeting, "It's really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism. The law says we can't have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists" (Star-News 2008 Sep 16).

REACTIONS TO THE PROPOSAL

When state education officials were interviewed in the days following the meeting, they were clear on the law. North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said that schools are not allowed to teach creationism as science, and that those that did so are liable to be sued. Edd Dunlap and Tracey Greggs, the chiefs of the science and social studies sections in the state department of public instruction, agreed. Referencing both Edwards v Aguillard and Kitzmiller v Dover, Dunlap explained that creationism and "intelligent design"could be covered in an elective course in religion or philosophy, but could not be taught in science or any other required course, nor could it be taught as fact. Greggs added that creationism could also be included in history class, but would have to be presented alongside other religious perspectives and not specifically promoted (Star-News 2008 Sep 29).

Opinion within the local community was predictably divided. Pro-evolution sentiment was strong; concerned citizens contacted the district, wrote letters to local newspapers, and contacted both NCSE and the Evolution Learning Community at the University of North Carolina's campus in nearby Wilmington, where by coincidence, Richard Leakey was giving a talk on human evolution. Phillip Johnson arrived a week later, at the invitation of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, to discuss "intelligent design".

Local church officials, such as Mary Hart and Father Hector La Chappelle of St Brendan the Navigator Roman Catholic Church in Shallotte, vocally opposed the board's plans (Star-News 2008 Sep 22), while other religious figures supported it just as staunchly. At a forum a month before the November 2008 election, school board candidates were quizzed on their opinions on the issue. The district received letters from as far away as the state of Washington, according to Babson, and the proposal was discussed on numerous national blogs. The high level of nationwide interest in the affair is due largely to the diligent coverage of the Star-News in nearby Wilmington. One of its reporters, Ana Ribeiro, wrote half a dozen articles on the board's proposal, the opinions of board members and candidates, reactions from the community, and the relevant educational laws and policies of North Carolina. (The latest of these, from November 6, 2008, and containing links to the newspaper's previous coverage, is available on-line at http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20081106/ARTICLES/81106023.)

RESOLUTION

Perhaps concerned by the attention, the board canceled its monthly meeting for October 2008. Around that time, Babson noted to reporters that, given the critical response and legal advice the board had received, it would probably not try to teach creationism after all — although, she indicated, she would still like to see that happen someday (Star-News 2008 Sep 29).

The next meeting took place on November 6, 2008, shortly after the election. (Pro-creationist Ray Gilbert, incidentally, was unseated in that election by Bud Thorsen, a challenger who was opposed to teaching creationism in science class.) Addressing the board, Fanti said he recognized that creationism could not be added to the science curriculum and suggested that it be taught in a social studies class such as world history instead, alongside other religious belief systems such as the Indian and the Egyptian. At the same time, he argued, the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory should be discussed in science class. The "weaknesses" Fanti raised were standard creationist fare; he invoked the standard microevolution/ macroevolution distinction and also asked, "how does evolution propose that mankind came into being when the [sic] particles to human beings has never been observed nor can it be proven?"(North Brunswick Pilot 2008 Nov 12).

The board was unwilling to comment on the issue this time around; the standing members said they needed more information before discussing it again. Shirley Babson requested a written copy of Fanti's suggestions, but also said after the meeting that she knew of no curricula that challenged evolution; however, she did not rule out the possibility of teaching about creationism in social science classes.

On the whole, recent developments in Brunswick have been positive. The board's enthusiasm for teaching creationism has apparently cooled significantly; to judge by their previous activities, tabling discussion of an issue "until more information is available" is generally a prelude to discarding it entirely. With one of the board's strongest supporters of creationism on his way out, and a strong pro-science message provided by local citizens, state officials, and the board's own legal advisors, it is to be hoped that good science education in Brunswick will no longer be threatened by the very body in charge of ensuring its provision.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Anton Mates
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
mates@ncseweb.org

Anton Mates is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Implementing Louisiana's Anti-Evolution Law

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Implementing Louisiana's Anti-Evolution Law
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
5 & 7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

On January 15, 2009, Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the Louisiana Science Education Act. While the policy echoes the LSEA's requirement that such materials "not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," a provision that "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class" was deleted, according to a report from the Associated Press (2009 Jan 15).

Enacted in June 2008 over the protests of scientists and educators across the state and around the country, the LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) provides:

A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The new policy governs the way in which BESE will consider such supplementary material.

It was clear from the outset that evolution was in the LSEA's sights. The original draft of the law specifically identified "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as controversial subjects, and called on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." In its final version, these topics are no longer described as controversial, but they are still specifically mentioned. And the Baton Rouge Advocate (2008 Apr 19) editorially recognized, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism ... into science classrooms." (For background, see RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 [2]: 8–11; 2008 Jul/Aug; 28 [4]: 4–10.)

A committee of veteran educators and scientists assembled by the state department of education began drafting the policy to implement the LSEA in fall 2008 which was submitted to the BESE's Student/School Performance Support Committee on December 2, 2008. The Associated Press (2009 Jan 8) reported, "Proposed for discussion at the December meeting were requirements that any information in the supplemental material be 'supported by empirical evidence.' The proposed language also said religious beliefs 'shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking' and that materials 'that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited in science classes.'"

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, coauthor with Paul R Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse (revised edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), and a member of NCSE's board of directors, praised the December version of the policy for ensuring that religion would not be taught in the public schools. But Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right organization that vociferously supported the LSEA, was unhappy with it, telling the Associated Press, "I would think that it left religious neutrality and took a tone of religious hostility. Or at least it could be interpreted by some to have done that." Action on the policy was not taken immediately, but instead deferred until January 2009.

On January 8, 2009, a revised draft was posted in advance of the committee's January 13 meeting. The provision that "religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking" was removed, and a provision forbidding consideration of the "religious or non-religious beliefs and affiliations" of the authors of supplementary material was added. The procedure for challenging supplementary material also became more complicated. Complaints would need to cite the problems with the material, school districts would be notified of challenges, and a hearing would need to be held at which the district, the complainant, and "any interested parties" would have "adequate time to present their arguments and information and to offer rebuttals."

Forrest decried these revisions in a January 12, 2009, letter to the BESE, objecting that the policy was "altered in ways that are detrimental to the education of Louisiana students" (see p 6). She called for the provision regarding religious beliefs under the guise of critical thinking to be restored, explained that "[t]o determine quality, acceptability, and bias, scientists and teachers customarily and quite appropriately examine the source of instructional material," and described the new procedures for challenging supplementary material as "unclear, ill-conceived, and onerous," adding, "The instructions are vague and confusing, and they unnecessarily complicate what should be a straightforward decision based on the professional expertise of [Louisiana Department of Education] staff."

At the committee's meeting on January 13, 2009, the LSEA's chief sponsor, Ben Nevers (D–District 12), and Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum successfully lobbied for the removal of the section of the policy that provided, "Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes." The provision forbidding consideration of the beliefs and affiliations of the authors of supplementary material was also removed, according to a report from the Associated Press (2009 Jan 13).

With the adoption of the policy by the BESE on January 15, 2009, it is still unclear what will happen. Steve Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told WAFB television (2009 Jan 13) in Baton Rouge, "The time spent on this issue may be in total excess of what the problem was because we don't believe there was a problem in the science classroom anyway": teachers in his organization have not complained about the science education materials at their disposals and presumably would not seek to add supplementary materials. Civil liberties organizations have already expressed their readiness to challenge attempts to teach religion in the guise of science in Louisiana's public schools.

In the meantime, the Lafayette Independent Weekly (2009 Jan 12) worried about the effect of the LSEA and the policy on Louisiana's reputation. "For many of us interested and active in economic development and hopeful in a newly resurgent Louisiana ... this is not good news," Steve May wrote. "This attempt to pollute the teaching of science in our public schools with religious dogma does more longterm damage to ourselves than all the painful headlines about Edwin Edwards, David Duke or 'Dollar' Bill Jefferson combined, because the damage is far more lasting. Is this the message of educational ignorance that we want to send prospective employers considering locating or relocating to Louisiana?"

Significantly, creationists revealed their understanding of the policy as adopted in letters to the editors of their local newspapers. The Baton Rouge Advocate, for example, printed a letter commending the BESE for "their efforts to bring God back into the public schools with promoting creationism as an alternative to the hoax of evolution currently taught" (2009 Jan 28), while the Monroe News-Star printed a similar letter thanking "our legislators and governor for taking a stand for God. Our teachers will be able to teach evolution is only a theory. By teaching the option of creationism, I pray our children will realize God created them" (2009 Jan 20).

The Associated Press (2009 Jan 25) analyzed the situation, concluding, "There are disagreements on what exactly will result from policy language the state education board recently adopted for teaching science in Louisiana public schools, but one thing looks pretty clear: sooner or later Louisiana is going back to court in a case that will look like a descendant of the 1987 argument over 'scientific creationism.'" As always, NCSE is working with its allies — including the ACLU of Louisiana and the Louisiana Coalition for Science, a grassroots group recently founded by Barbara Forrest — to prepare for whatever action may be necessary.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Joshua Rosenau
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
rosenau@ncseweb.org

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Keeping Evolution Education in Perspective: A Response to Daryl Domning

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Keeping Evolution Education in Perspective: A Response to Daryl Domning
Author(s): 
Erik B Pietrowicz
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
35–36
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

While Domning raises many interesting points, the one he referred to as the "Global War on Theism" resonated with a concern I have had for some time. Specifically, how can we teach students and the general public that science (and the field of evolution in particular) is not religiously motivated, when many of today's most prominent evolutionary biologists actively intertwine the two in order to promote their theological worldview, and, as discussed later, when many educators share that mindset?

At a fundamental philosophical level, the fact that the opinions expressed by those exemplified by Dawkins are in opposition to the majority is immaterial. Let us remind ourselves that science is a systematic study of the natural world and the methodology used to do so. So, science is a study of nature, and theology deals primarily with the supernatural. Therefore, science cannot address theological concerns such as the existence or nonexistence of any supernatural being. As Domning writes, "one of our central arguments [is] the theological neutrality of good science." This precludes the use of science to promote any theological worldview, from wherever along the spectrum one finds oneself.

However, it would be naïve to stop here, as if the issue may be put to rest simply by invoking Gould's concept of non-overlapping magisteria. The public is not generally concerned with making the distinction between scientific evidence and religious belief. In practice, then, the nature of the theological opinions that are commonly associated with evolutionary biology is important, as they can end up driving a false wedge between religion and science in general. Thus, evolution education (and religion?) suffers as atheism and evolutionism become synonymous in the public mind.

We can all think of examples of theologically inflammatory behavior by scientists in the spotlight. Consider the cover of David Sloan Wilson's Evolution for Everyone, which puts a halo over the old Darwin monkey–man caricature. While this makes for light humor, it can also come across as subtle mockery of those who do not understand evolution, particularly those who doubt evolution based on a perceived conflict with religious belief.

At the Evolution 2008 conference in Minneapolis, I attended many productive discussions and presentations about teaching evolution in the classroom. However, the content of one discussion was particularly worrisome. The topic it attempted to address was "When religion and science clash in the mind of a student, how should the instructor respond?" In other words, if a student refuses to learn in any subject based on personal beliefs, regardless of whether or not they accept the validity of the material, what then are the instructor's responsibilities and/or restrictions toward addressing the student outside the classroom?

The problem in this discussion arose in the wording of the dialog and by extension the attitudes of the discussants. The initial question very quickly deteriorated from being one of ethics and pedagogy into asking if a student refuses to accept evolution, "... can I say no, you're wrong?" and "How can I get them to believe?" I found this shift in thought to be highly disturbing. Education is not about forcing a belief, and antagonism is not an effective educational tool. It serves only to alienate students, and by putting them on the defensive perpetuates their distrust of science, which, in turn, is counterproductive in improving scientific literacy. As another discussant pointed out, the goal is not for all students to accept evolution by the end of their first semester in college — developing understanding often takes time.

This can be extended to say that the goal in the forum of public opinion is not for people to abandon their religious beliefs in favor of evolution (or any other scientific theory), but to promote a better understanding of science. Perpetuating the false dichotomy of science or religion — but not both — can exacerbate the problem and lead to the opposite of the effect we desire.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

Erik B Pietrowicz
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Southern Maine
Portland ME 04103
epietrowicz@gmail.com

Erik B Pietrowicz is a graduate student in biology at the University of Southern Maine, studying neurotoxicology and evolution. He is also actively engaged in high school science education.

Rejoinder to Comments on "Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Rejoinder to Comments on "Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?"
Author(s): 
Daryl P Domning
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
37–38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Should theistic evolutionists take the lead in publicly defending evolution? Shelly Gottlieb gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the answer depends on "what one is trying to accomplish". However, I do not fully agree with the choices he offers. One possibility he proposes is "to demonstrate to the public at large that it is possible to be a 'believer' and still 'believe in' (as opposed to accept based on evidence) evolution"; the other is "educating the 'undecided' group to the importance and power of natural explanations of natural phenomena."

Instead, what I would like to demonstrate to the public is that one can be a religious believer and still accept evolution based on evidence (as opposed to "belief"). Now, if that somehow helps convince them of the power of natural explanations, fine; but that's not my main goal, nor is it necessarily very relevant to the creation-evolution dispute. As Erik Pietrowicz correctly notes, "The public is not generally concerned with making the distinction between scientific evidence and religious belief." Generally, they want to make sense of their existence and find meaning in their lives. Fundamentalists offer them explanations that cannot be reconciled with modern science, and rubbing that fact in just makes them more uncomfortable. If we see our job (especially outside the classroom) as only being to "educate" the public about the ways of science, we are ignoring what our audience sees as important. That is what I would call self-defeating. Evolutionists have been doing that in debates with creationists for forty years and more — and look where it has gotten us.

Gottlieb argues that theistic evolution "opens science to the criticism that science is not really free of the supernatural but that it tolerates (respects) supernaturalism." Actually, this should not describe science, but rather scientists (except for the openly intolerant ones). As Keith Miller says, "while science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not. We each live out our scientific vocations within a broader context." We were all born human before we were trained in science, and we did not check our humanity at the door of the laboratory.We did not forfeit our right to believe in the supernatural, or our civic duty to respect those who do. If we had done so, we would be less than fully human, and even more alienated from our non-scientist fellow citizens. (We Catholics used to have a saying: "Error has no rights." Fortunately, it was abandoned as church policy almost half a century ago, when a different view prevailed: "People have rights, even people who are in error!")

If, on the contrary, we want to communicate with the public and persuade them (and we have to do this to make our schools safe for science), then we need to use that non-scientist part of ourselves, along with our scientific training. We who are believers need to be role models who prove the theological neutrality of science, by showing that believers can be just as comfortable with Darwinism as atheists are. And when fundamentalists question the quality of our belief, we have to be able to defend it, along with our approach to interpreting the Bible and our overall worldview.

Pietrowicz poses the related question: If and when religion and science clash in the minds of students, how should the instructor respond? Certainly not by demanding that they "believe in" evolution in order to pass (though they can be required to learn the evidence presented even if they do not buy the interpretation). But I see nothing wrong with also saying something like "Hey, I'm a Christian too, but I don't have a problem with evolution. If you want, we can discuss that sometime outside of class." In many cases, that would pique the curiosity of students on both sides of the issue, and might lead to a fruitful, even enjoyable off-campus bull session. The key is to avoid pugnacity, defensiveness, or putting students down: respect really pays off and is part of what we should be teaching, in addition to the science.

In such a conversation about beliefs (with questioning students or committed fundamentalists), most scientists who are not believers will quickly find themselves tongue-tied, reduced to sputtering impotence or insufferable arrogance — neither response will be very persuasive. Not all fundamentalists are ignorant, or intellectual pushovers. The sincere ones have serious concerns that deserve serious responses. Explaining how science differs from religion may be a good start, but it does not get us all the way to explaining the meaning of life. Scientists who are unwilling or unable to go beyond science in order to defend science must face the fact that they cannot reach many of the people who need to be reached.

Committed atheists, in particular, have to decide which they care about more: making our schools safe for evolution, or ridding the world of religion. The latter, whether desirable or not, is emphatically not a prerequisite to achieving the former; and in any case, trying to do both at once just inflames the controversy and alienates religionists who are the atheists' potential allies in supporting good science. This does not help the cause of science education.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Daryl P Domning
Department of Anatomy
College of Medicine
Howard University
Washington DC 20059
ddomning@howard.edu

Response to "Winning their Hearts and Minds"

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Response to “Winning their Hearts and Minds”
Author(s): 
Sheldon F Gottlieb
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
33–34
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In the religiously created, artificial creationism/evolution controversy, as in every social political conflict, there are basically three groups: the hard-core pro (non-theistic and theistic evolutionists), the hard-core con, and those in the middle consisting of the undecided and the apathetic — those who do not really care one way or the other. To convince people to side with a specific point of a view, arguments are framed by debaters not for the hard core but for the middle. One extreme will use information presented to support conclusions it already held while the other extreme tends to disregard proffered arguments.

When issues involve religion problems arise because one enters the world of belief — a world in which empirical data have little to no meaning when they conflict with beliefs — unsubstantiated beliefs substitute for facts and are considered to be facts. For this discussion, “religion” will refer primarily to Christianity (with a few changes reflecting other traditions, it could also refer to Judaism and Islam).

There can be no questioning of the axioms of the fundamentalists — there is a God and the Bible is the inerrant word of that God. Those opposed to science and evolution make certain declarations of the supremacy of belief and biblical inerrancy. This position is clearly stated in Biology for Christian Schools, second edition, a high-school level textbook by William S Pinkston Jr (Greenville [SC]: Bob Jones University Press,1991):

Christians who try to accept evolutionary theory when the Bible clearly teaches Creationism are saying that a section of the Bible is not true. The question of whether the Bible or human speculation is true then becomes a matter of choice, open for debate. Dr Bob Jones, Sr has rightly said: “Whatever the Bible says is so. Whatever man says may or may not be so.” This is the only consistent Christian position. All scientific facts and interpretation of those facts, therefore, must fit into the model prescribed by the Word of God. A scientific “fact” that does not fit into the model outlined in the Bible is either in error (and therefore not really a fact) or is being misinterpreted.

The above quote demonstrates that fundamentalist theists have successfully framed all science-versus-religion (SvR) discussions in such a way that they are in a no-lose situation; empirical data and reason are meaningless. Thus, speaking to a fundamentalist theist could (would) be futile.

Atheistic scientists claiming that God does not exist and who use science and/or evolution to buttress their arguments may well be absolutely correct, but those arguments cannot penetrate the unsubstantiated reality of fundamentalist religionists. Further, such arguments tend to confuse those who occupy the broad middle, who tend to be scientifically uneducated and who retain some ties, irrespective of how loose, to a concept of a supernatural being and world. Thus, fundamentalist religionists have an inherent advantage in SvR debates in that they frame the bounds of the debate and they speak with an absolute certainty while scientists speak in tentative terms. In fact, using evolutionary data for disproving the existence of God — rather than just for showing there is an alternative explanation for life on earth based on natural laws that does not require the concept of a God — may be going beyond the boundaries of the data and, among other things, serves the function of enhancing the inherent resistance of fundamentalists — even many non-fundamentalist believers — to scientific and evolutionary thought. Atheistic arguments and individuals may move some people but they could alienate others. This is especially true in the US where there is an additional level of complexity: the involvement of unconscionable pandering politicians and media figures — irrespective of their degree of scientific knowledge — who cater to a society historically dedicated to anti-intellectualism.

Thus, Domning’s interesting concept that theistic evolutionists are the people who, because of a common base of belief and common language, are the most capable of communicating with this large, possibly religiously oriented, scientifically unlearned, middle group has a certain deceptive truth. Of course, it is always desirable to have theistic or non-theistic evolutionists speak to the “undecided” and even to the believing fundamentalists. But is it desirable to have theistic evolutionists take the lead in speaking to the general public about SvR and the artificial, creationism/evolution controversy? The answer may not be a simple yes or no but more nuanced. The answer may lie within the philosophical framework of what one is trying to accomplish.

Reaching out to promote scientific literacy

If the sole purpose of talking to the “undecided” group is political in nature, that is, to demonstrate to the public at large that it is possible to be a “believer” and still “believe in” (as opposed to accept based on evidence) evolution, thereby decreasing public opposition to evolution, then, I suppose, there is much merit in Domning’s proposal. However, if the purpose also consists of educating the “undecided” group to the importance and power of natural explanations of natural phenomena and into the ways of science, then Domning’s approach is self-defeating. Why?

One of the essences of science is hypothesis testing. Theistic evolutionists, similar to fundamentalist theists, hold to an unsubstantiated belief in a supernatural being. The basic difference between the two groups pertains to the use of a certain book — the Bible — which both groups consider sacred but interpret differently. There is no way to formulate a hypothesis that would permit the testing of supernatural beliefs. Thus, the underlying basis of theistic evolution, like fundamentalism, is not completely science-based. It opens science to the criticism that science is not really free of the supernatural but that it tolerates (respects) supernaturalism. This is a view which scientists should neither support nor want to promulgate. In the realm of belief, one could make the case that the fundamentalist theists are better situated than are the theistic evolutionists.

Fundamentalists are absolutists. Once believers interpret the Bible, they raise important theological questions. What part of the Bible is literal? What part allegorical? What part metaphorical? Who makes these decisions? How does a believer know whether those making such decision(s) are right? Under such conditions, how does a believer — or anyone — know what is what or which is which with any certainty? There is the danger that one can conclude that biblical interpreters have preconceived positions and they interpret the Bible so as to support those positions: an origin of different religious sects. If such becomes the case, then why should the book still be considered holy? If humans interpret the Bible according to their personal dictates, then perhaps the Bible is not the word of God but the word of humans. If the Bible is not the word of God, then why is there a need for theistic evolution or theistic evolutionists?

Considering the complexities introduced by religion, any evolutionist, therefore could lead in the discussion on SvR and evolution–creation with one proviso: there is no need for atheistic evolutionists to be strident about the non-existence of God, despite the fact that fundamentalists have inextricably bound the two. The emphasis should be placed on explaining what is science, what is religion, and the differences between them, and framing all SvR creationism/evolution discussions from a scientific perspective (natural explanations of natural phenomena) and not a theistic perspective (untestable and unlimited imagination about the supernatural).

About the Author(s): 
Sheldon F Gottlieb
10418 Utopia Circle East
Boynton Beach FL 33437
shellyeda@gmail.com

Sheldon F Gottlieb was Professor of Biology at Southern Alabama University, and is now retired. His latest book is The Naked Mind (Flagstaff [AZ]: Best Publishing, 2003).

Thank God for Evolution! - A Response to a RNCSE Review

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Thank God for Evolution! — A Response to a RNCSE Review
Author(s): 
Michael Dowd
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
39–40
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

"Michael Dowd illustrates in Thank God for Evolution! that there are many ways to be a spiritual person, and that all of them are enriched by an understanding of modern science, especially evolution. This is a creative, provocative book that sheds light on just about any spiritual path one might be on. Many will find their faith revolutionized." — Eugenie C Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Clay Farris Naff's review of my book, Thank God for Evolution! (RNCSE 2007 Jan–Apr; 27 [1–2]: 52–3). Naff is a gifted writer with a well-honed, wry sense of humor. I found myself laughing even while thinking that he largely missed the purpose of my book. Of course, I realize that the responsibility lies with me, the author, to communicate effectively. That is why I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the nature and purpose of Thank God for Evolution! (TGFE) for RNCSE readers, and to correct one important misrepresentation of my book in Naff's review.

I wrote Thank God for Evolution! mostly to help religious believers from different traditions move toward an evidential worldview without having to abandon their tradition and join the atheist/humanist camp to do so. The book itself emerged out of field-testing the ideas contained within TGFE with religious and non-religious audiences across the theological and philosophical spectrum. Since April 2002, my wife, Connie Barlow (an acclaimed science writer), and I have delivered Sunday sermons, evening programs, and multi-day workshops in more than 550 churches,convents, monasteries, and spiritual centers across the continent, including liberal and conservative Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian Universalist, Unity, Religious Science, Quaker, Mennonite, and Buddhist groups. We have also presented audience-appropriate versions of this message in nearly a hundred secular settings, including colleges, high schools, grade schools, nature centers, and public libraries.

Few things are more important, it seems to us, at least here in America, than for tens of millions of religious believers, over the next few decades, to come to embrace a science-based understanding of the world. Why? Because it matters — politically, theologically, personally — what we think about evolution. Trying to understand reality without an evolutionary worldview is like trying to understand infection without microscopes or the structure of the universe without telescopes. It's not merely difficult; it's impossible.

Until churches in America preach evolution enthusiastically, sacredly, in ways that expand and enrich faith, the battle over teaching evolutionary science in public schools will never end. Thus, the primary purpose of TGFE is to assist religious believers in letting go of literal interpretations of their otherworldly, supernatural myths and to wholeheartedly embrace an evidential, empirical worldview. Surely, this turn needs to happen in order for radically diverse religious people to cooperate in service of a just and sustainable future.

Those who might initially be put off by the religious language in my book should know that my wife, Connie Barlow, an evolutionary humanist/atheist science writer, worked with me very closely throughout the writing and editing process. She ghostwrote the science chapters, as I mention in my Acknowledgments.

Richard Dawkins graciously allowed me to include a letter he wrote to his daughter Juliet as an appendix in my book. That letter was previously published as the last chapter in his A Devil's Chaplain. There, Dawkins highlights the difference between believing something based on measurable evidence versus believing something based on private revelation, scripture, authority, or tradition. That religious people might, likewise, come to value this distinction is a central theme of my book.

In re-reading Naff's review, other than the half dozen or so minor things he didn't like about my book (too many exclamation points, for example, which he was certainly correct about; we removed nearly three dozen of them before the hardcover was printed), his only really substantive criticism related to the question of teleology. He writes, "Dowd has embraced a species of natural theology, and that biases his worldview toward a benevolent teleology that science cannot support."

This is demonstrably incorrect, however. Nowhere in my book do I suggest, or even imply, that there is a force or intelligence outside the universe (or within it) that is pulling strings or making evolution go in a benevolent direction. With respect to "the arrow of evolution," what I do say is this: When we look back over the course of billions of years of biological and human evolution, we see interdependence and cooperation at increasing scale of size and complexity. This is an empirical fact, not a statement of belief. Three or four billion years ago, the peak of earth's evolved complexity was expressed in carbon-based molecules maintained by processes cooperating at the scale of a millionth of a meter. Today, mutual support in the maintenance of peak (cultural) complexity occurs across distances measured in the millions of meters. It is true that I interpret this trajectory in a way that many find religiously inspiring. I also, however, acknowledge that it is just as legitimate to interpret the same facts in a non-inspiring way.

Similarly, Naff wrongly suggests that in my making the case for chaos and "bad news" catalyzing evolutionary creativity, I must therefore believe that some force or intelligence is intending favorable outcomes. Not at all. Rather, I am simply pointing out that how we choose to interpret reality and life's events profoundly affects the quality of our existence — and this is just as true collectively as it is individually. In my book I mention that many, including myself, have found the mantra "the universe is conspiring on my behalf" to be an exceedingly useful outlook in most situations. That is, when I act as if this were true, I love my life. I do not, however, suggest that this interpretation is "the Truth".

In his final paragraph, Naff writes, "a commitment to science requires an unflinching acceptance of the evidence, good or bad." I could not agree more. There is no guarantee that our species will survive into the future. But it does seems to me that we are far more likely to do so if religious people around the world are offered a way of thinking about science in general, and evolution specifically, that they can enthusiastically embrace. I am certain that one of the reasons TGFE has been endorsed by five Nobel laureates and 120 other leading scientists, ministers, and theologians, from Baptists to Buddhists, is that it is an important step in this direction. As David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin's Cathedral and Evolution for Everyone, offered:

An itinerant preacher who teaches evolution in the evangelical style? I was skeptical at first, but Dowd remains true to both science and the spirit of religion. He understands that what most people need to accept evolution is not more facts, but an appreciation of what evolution means for our value systems and everyday lives.

Those who have no use for religious language may nonetheless appreciate my book for how it can help the religiously minded to comprehend and value the worldview of science. Time and again, in speaking across North America, I have found that roughly 70% of Americans, including most humanists and virtually all moderate and liberal Christians (and even some evangelicals) find the integration of faith and reason that TGFE offers to be an exciting and radically fresh third way beyond the chronic debate between the "New Atheists" and those espousing "intelligent design". For public school teachers trying to teach the science of evolution to increasingly resistant students from religious backgrounds, TGFE may be just the bridge they've been looking for. That, at least, is my hope.

Thank God for Evolution! is available as a free PDF download via http://ThankGodforEvolution.com.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Michael Dowd received a BA in biblical studies and philosophy (summa cum laude) from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. He also earned a Master of Divinity degree (with honors) from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He served as a United Church of Christ minister for nine years in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan. His book EarthSpirit: A Handbook for Nurturing an Ecological Christianity (Mystic [CT]: Twenty-Third Publications, 1991) was one of the first attempts to look appreciatively at traditional Christianity from the perspective of a modern cosmology. He and his wife Connie Barlow are co-creators of the leading educational website in the Evolution Theology movement: http://www.TheGreatStory.org.

The Latest on Expelled

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Latest on Expelled
Author(s): 
Eugenie C Scott
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
9–10
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

As 2008 drew to a close, the good news for the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was that their creationist propaganda movie was getting a bit of press again. The bad news is that it was in the lists of the worst movies of 2008, as well as in a fierce, detailed, and incisive review by the popular film critic Roger Ebert.

EXPELLED IN "WORST-OF" LISTS

The Onion's AV Club (2008 Dec 16), was quickest out of the gate, commenting:

There are terrible movies, and then there are terrible movies that cause harm to society by feeding into its ignorance. Nathan Frankowski's odious antievolution documentary belongs in the latter category. ... Few moments in cinema in 2008 were as shameless and disgusting as the Expelled sequence where Stein solemnly visits a Nazi death camp and unsubtly links "survival of the fittest" theory to the Holocaust.

John Serba of the Grand Rapids Press (2008 Dec 26) wrote, "Ben Stein hosts this pro-Intelligent Design documentary that forgets to include a compelling argument for this viewpoint, and instead chooses to equate Darwinism and its legions of rational scientist followers with Nazis and the Holocaust. Facts rooted in reality are at a premium in this insidious, crassly manipulative dreck." Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel (2008 Dec 26) commented, "Ben Stein's documentary was a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they're losing the 'intelligent design' debate because of academic 'prejudice.'"

Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger (2008 Dec 27) described Expelled as lifting "its nonsensical knowledge of early man from an Alley Oop comic and its sense of honest inquiry from a snake-handling preacher." In the LA City Beat (2008 Dec 30), Andy Klein wrote:

Stein's "intelligent design" documentary has all the red flags — inadequate or misleading identification of interviewees, aggressively manipulative editing, extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence, and extreme leaps of logic ... particularly suggesting guilt by association, even to he point of laying blame for the Holocaust on Darwin.

And Ken Hanke of the Ashville, North Carolina, Mountain Xpress (2008 Dec 31) said that Expelled was "as corrupt a piece of work as you'll ever encounter."

Expelled fared no better north of the border. Jay Stone of the Canwest News Service (2008 Dec 26) described Expelled as "a masterwork of intellectual dishonesty." And Richard Crouse of Canada AM (2008 Dec 30) commented:

Wrapping his thesis in good old American jingoistic rhetoric — remember this guy used to write speeches for Nixon — Stein repeatedly compares Darwinist scientists to communists ... and even makes the outrageous connection between Darwin's theory and Nazism.

Crouse added, "Perhaps it isn't just a coincidence that the host's initials are BS."

ROGER EBERT ON EXPELLED

Roger Ebert reviewed Expelled in a December 3, 2008, post entitled "Win Ben Stein's mind" on his blog on the Chicago Sun-Times website (available on-line at http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/12/win_ben_steins_mind.html) — and he pulled no punches. "The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics," he wrote. And he added:

This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.

"And there is worse, much worse," Ebert continued, taking special offense at Expelled's claim that the acceptance of evolution resulted in the Holocaust — "It fills me with contempt." Previously, the Anti-Defamation League said that the movie's claim "is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry." Expelled's lead, Ben Stein, responded, "It's none of their f—ing business," according to Peter McKnight, writing in the Vancouver Sun (2008 Jun 21).

For a thorough critique of Expelled, including a collection of links to reviews of the movie, visit NCSE's Expelled Exposed website. Additionally, a recent issue of Reports of the NCSE (2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]) is a special issue devoted to debunking Expelled, containing reports on its reception, a summary of the ways in which organizations with a stake in the creationism/evolution controversy reacted, a summary of the various controversies over its use of copyrighted material, and a detailed explanation of its unsuitability for the classroom.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

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

Eugenie C Scott is NCSE's Executive Director.

The Temple of Serapis

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: The Temple of Serapis
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
38
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The Serapeum is a structure better known to scientists as the Temple of Serapis, named for an Egyptian deity worshiped by Romans. It stands along the coast just north of Pozzuoli, Italy. Stone used by Romans to build the temple had originally formed as limestone sediment at the bottom of the sea, where it metamorphosed into marble, and millions of years later was raised as land. Approximately 2000 years ago, the marble was quarried, carved into pillars, and set into the temple, which originally was a marketplace and spa for wealthy Romans. Since that time, sea levels changed several times and in the process the temple was repeatedly submerged and exposed. The volcanic features around the Temple of Serapis helped inspire Virgil's account of the entry into the underworld in the Aeneid.

Figure 1: The Temple of Serapis was made famous among geologists by Charles Lyell, who included a sketch of it in the frontispiece of his Principles of Geology. The dark bands on the marble pillars were formed by mollusks that drilled into them after the columns were submerged in the sea.

For most geologists,the Temple of Serapis is more than a monument of ancient art. For example, John Playfair — in a chapter titled "Changes in the Apparent Level of the Sea" — discussed the temple in his Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of Earth (1802). The temple was also visited by Charles Babbage, Emma Darwin, and several other people associated with the creationism/ evolution controversy. However, the scientist most closely associated with the temple is geologist Charles Lyell, who made it an icon of uniformitarianism when he used a drawing of the temple's columns as the frontispiece of his monumental Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes now in Operation (Figure 1),a book that the late Stephen Jay Gould described as "the most famous geological book ever written." Lyell, who wanted to "free the science [of geology] from Moses,"emphasized that the geological changes that have been shaping earth for millennia are observable today. Lyell's ideas about the Temple of Serapis prompted Richard Fortney (author of Earth: An Intimate History) to describe the ruins as a "holy place for rationalists." What makes the temple such an important place for geologists?

When Lyell visited the temple's ruins in 1828, its three remaining marble pillars — each some 40-feet high — were still standing (the fourth column lies in pieces on the temple's floor). In Principles of Geology, after describing the columns as "smooth and uninjured to the height of about twelve feet above their pedestals," Lyell made his most important point: "Above this is a zone, about nine feet in height, where the marble has been pierced by a species of marine perforating bivalve, Lithodomus." (Lithodomus is a genus of clams that burrow into piers and boatmoorings.) Since these clams cannot live above the low-tide line,Lyell concluded that the columns had at one time been underwater (many of the columns' holes still have shells of Lithodomus in them). The original temple had been built above sea level, but the presence of the mollusks on the columns meant that the columns had been partially submerged and were standing upright in the ocean. The columns had then been raised to their present level by the volcanic eruption that produced Monte Nuovo just northwest of Pozzuoli.

Because the lowest parts of the Temple's columns were not bored by bivalves, Lyell suspected that these parts of the columns had been buried in volcanic sediments. He was right; these sediments had been excavated in 1749 — almost 80 years before his visit. While at Pozzuoli, Lyell also noted that two other temples were submerged just offshore northwest of the Temple of Serapis. Since these changes had occurred during recorded history, Lyell concluded that the same geological processes — over the expanse of geological history — could build mountains, valleys, and all the other geological features we see today.

Figure 2: Today, the Temple of Serapis looks much as it did when it was visited by Lyell in 1828. The dark bands on the pillars noted by Lyell are still visible. (Photo by Randy Moore.)

Lyell had a dramatic and immediate impact on Charles Darwin; as Darwin noted,"I never forgot that almost everything which I have done in science I owe to the study of [Lyell's] great works." However, Lyell was reluctant to accept Darwin's ideas about evolution, especially as they related to humans. Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which to many was an inevitable sequel to Lyell's advocacy of uniformitarianism, troubled Lyell, who did not initially accept the same degree of continuity of life as he claimed for the physical features of the earth's surface. However, Lyell finally admitted that Darwin's On the Origin of Species was "a splendid case of close reasoning" and that "I have been looking down the wrong road."

Today, the Temple's pillars — which remain standing (Figure 2) — are pictured on the reverse of the prestigious Lyell Medal, which is awarded by the Geological Society of London.

Victory over "Weaknesses" in Texas

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Victory over "Weaknesses" in Texas
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
10–14
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

In a close vote on January 23, 2009, the Texas state board of education approved a revision of the state's science standards lacking the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language, which in 2003 was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. The stakes are high: the standards will determine what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state for the next ten years. And the threat is real: seven members of the fifteen- member board, including its chair, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, are regarded as in favor of attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas schools. The removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language therefore represented a tremendous victory for science education in Texas, with the Dallas Morning News (200 Jan 23) describing the failure of a proposed amendment to reintroduce it as "a major defeat for social conservatives." But the struggle is not over, for a number of scientifically indefensible revisions to the biology and earth and space science standards were adopted at the last minute. Defenders of the integrity of science education in Texas plan to expose the flaws in these revisions and hope for a reversal when the board takes its final vote on the standards at its March 26–27, 2009, meeting.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

The "strengths and weaknesses" language occurs in the old Texas state science standards, which include a requirement that reads, "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." The first draft of the revised standards replaced the "strengths and weaknesses" language with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The change was hailed by the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, and the 21st Century Science Coalition, as well as by the editorial boards of the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 6) and the Corpus Christi Call-Times (2008 Nov 20). Additionally, a survey conducted by Raymond Eve and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution (see RNCSE 2009 Jan/Feb; 29 [1]: 7).

Nevertheless, as previously reported (RNCSE 2009 Jan/Feb; 29 [1]: 4–7), when the Texas board of education began to hear testimony about the new standards on November 19, 2008, it was presented not with the first draft but with a second draft, in which the "strengths and weaknesses" language was replaced with a variant: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations of scientific explanations including those based on accepted scientific data, and evidence from students' observations, experiments, models, and logical statements." At the meeting, defenders of the integrity of science education strongly argued that "strengths and limitations" was no improvement over "strengths and weaknesses." Indeed, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2008 Nov 20) observed, "With few exceptions, the speakers — scientists, teachers, clergy and grassroots activists — took the side of evolution," a situation that evidently vexed the chair of the board, Don McLeroy, who complained, "This is all being ginned up by the evolution side."

Subsequently, a third draft of the standards appeared in late December 2008, reverting to the first draft's "analyze and evaluate" language. In its discussion of the nature of science, the third draft is similar but not identical to the first draft. According to the first draft, "Science uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to construct testable explanations. If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods." The third draft reads, "Science, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences, is the 'use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.' ... Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable." It was the third draft that was under consideration at the January 2009 meeting of the state board of education.

BEFORE THE VOTE

On January 21, 2009, the first day of the board's January meeting, the board heard testimony about the science standards from dozens of witnesses, including NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott, who urged the board to heed the advice of the scientific and educational experts who revised the standards and omitted the "strengths and weaknesses" language. The New York Times (2009 Jan 22) quoted her as explaining, "The phrase 'strengths and weaknesses' has been spread nationally as a slogan to bring creationism in through the back door." And the Dallas Morning News (2009 Jan 21) added, "Scott warned the board that if it adopts the requirement, it will lead to textbooks that contain pseudoscience and inaccuracies as publishers try to appease the state and get their books sold in Texas. 'If you require textbook publishers to include bad science, you're going to have problems,' she said, asserting that Texas students will suffer as a result."

Kevin Fisher, a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, told the Times that the attempt to retain the "strengths and weaknesses" language is "an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution." And David M Hillis, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Texas, Austin, concurred, adding, "Every single thing they are representing as a weakness is a misrepresentation of science ... These are science skeptics. These are people with religious and political agendas." Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network worried about the consequence for Texas's image: "A misguided crusade to include phony weaknesses in the theory of evolution in our science curriculum will send a message to the rest of the nation that science takes a back seat to politics in Texas," the Morning News reported him as saying.

Also testifying were people who supported the "strengths and weaknesses" language, including a representative of the Discovery Institute, often betraying the connection between the language and creationism. A teacher quoted by the Morning News, for example, said, "As a creationist, I don't want creationism taught in science classes, but this proposal [to drop the strengths and weaknesses rule] smacks of censorship." A mechanical engineer quoted by the Times said, echoing a rhetorical theme prominent in creationist circles since the Scopes era, "Textbooks today treat it as more than a theory, even though its evidence has been found to be stained with halftruths, deception and hoaxes." (As NCSE's Glenn Branch and Louise S Mead recently wrote in Evolution: Education and Outreach [2008; 1 (3): 287–9], "[William Jennings Bryan's] position — that it is okay to teach about evolution but only as something conjectural or speculative, as 'just a theory' and not as a fact — continues to resonate.")

THE CRUCIAL VOTE

The crucial vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language took place on January 22, 2009, the second day of the board's meeting. Board members who opposed the amendment cited the need to respect the work of the experts, according to the Morning News, with Mary Helen Berlanga commenting, "We're not talking about faith. We're not talking about religion. ... We're talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do," and Geraldine Miller similarly commenting, "We need to respect what our teachers have recommended to us." Rick Agosto, widely considered to be a swing voter, was quoted in the San Antonio Express-News (2009 Jan 23) as saying, "I have to consider the experts," and Bob Craig was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Jan 23) as saying, "We appointed individuals, educators — good solid people — to review the (standards) in science. They made a recommendation, and, again, we are taking away from what the educators have indicated to us is the best wording."

Members of the board who favored the amendment seemed, however, to consider themselves to be experts. Ken Mercer — who is on record as claiming that evolution is falsified by the absence of any transitional forms between cats and dogs — was reported by the Express-News as saying that he was not going to rubber-stamp the recommendations of the experts who revised the standards. And he was also quoted by the Morning News as complaining, "The other side has a history of fraud. Those arguing against us have a bad history of lies." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, who was blogging from the meeting (see sidebar), reported that Mercer cited "the bogus and misleading examples of Piltdown Man, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo drawings, the peppered moths that were glued to tree trunks, and the half-bird, half-dinosaur that were all 'evolutionary frauds'" — all of which are familiar staples of creationist literature attempting to discredit evolution.

Ultimately, as the Morning News reported, "The amendment failed to pass on a 7–7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat — who would have opposed the amendment — was absent." The significance of the vote was apparent to the Texas media: for example, the headline of the story in the Morning News was "Texas Board of Education votes against teaching evolution weaknesses"; the San Antonio Express-News began its story with the sentence, "A 20-year-old Texas tradition allowing public schools to teach 'both the strengths and weaknesses' of evolution succumbed to science Thursday when the State Board of Education voted to abolish the wording from its curriculum standards"; and the headline of the story in the Austin American-Statesman was "State board shuns disputed language on evolution." And the momentousness of the vote was not lost on NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott, who explained in a January 23, 2009, press release (available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/2009/01/weaknesses-removed-from-texas-science-standards-004231): "The misleading language [in the original science standards] has been a creationist loophole in the science TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] for decades. Its removal is a huge step forward."

A QUALIFIED VICTORY

The victory was not complete, however. A flurry of amendments introduced by creationist members of the board sought to compromise the treatment of evolution in the biology standards. Terri Leo successfully proposed a revision to the standards to replace verbs such as "identify," "recognize," and "describe" in section 7 of the high school biology standards with "analyze and evaluate" — no other section of the standards was treated similarly. Worse, Don McLeroy successfully proposed a revision to section 7 to require that students "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It is significant that "sudden appearance" is a creationist catchphrase, associated in particular with young-earth creationist Wendell Bird. During oral arguments in Edwards v Aguillard, for example, Jay Topkis observed, "those buzzwords come right out of Mr Bird's lexicon. ... They're his."

Just as worrying were the amendments introduced by creationist members of the board that sought to compromise the treatment of evolution and related concepts in the earth and space science standards. Barbara Cargill successfully proposed revisions to the standards to add, in her words, "humility and tentativeness"; in the view of Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, however," All five of the changes ... are not needed and were proposed to weaken and damage the ESS TEKS." The worst change was to a requirement that students "evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution," which now reads, "evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence."

NCSE's Eugenie C Scott, who was at the meeting and observed the board's confusion over these amendments, commented in NCSE's January 23, 2009, press release, "They didn't ... have time to talk to scientists about the creationistinspired amendments made at the last minute. Once they do, I believe these inaccurate amendments will be removed." The Texas Freedom Network concurred, observing on its blog (see sidebar):

Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That's why it's foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they're scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall.

With respect to McLeroy's revision, TFN added, "What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists do."

THE AFTERMATH

All of the action — the vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language and the flurry of amendments from creationist members of the board apparently eager to salvage a small victory from the defeat — occurred on the second day of the board's meeting. On the third day, January 23, 2009, there was virtually no discussion as the board voted unanimously to adopt the science standards as revised on the previous day, without hearing any further comments from those in attendance. The vote, again, is only a preliminary vote, with a final vote on the standards expected at the board's March 26–27, 2009, meeting. The Houston Chronicle (2009 Jan 23) reported, "Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes final action in March"; since the survey conducted by Raymond Eve and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution, there ought to be no shortage of scientifically competent advice for the board to heed.

Reports in the press recognized that the overall result was a qualified victory for science, with the Houston Chronicle (2009 Jan 23), for example, reporting, "Texas schools won't have to teach the weaknesses of evolution theories anymore, but the State Board of Education ushered in other proposed changes Friday that some scientists say still undermine evolution instruction and subject the state to ridicule," and reporting Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science as concerned that McLeroy's revision, if not reversed, would make the standards a laughingstock. David Hillis, a distinguished biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, added, "This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single science expert. He also told The New York Times (2009 Jan 24), "It's a clear indication that the chairman of the state school board doesn't understand the science."

In the same vein, editorials in Texas and nationally have praised the omission of the "strengths and weaknesses" language but lamented the creationist revisions. The Austin American-Statesman (2009 Jan 24) seemed pleased if not excited about what it termed "an incremental step away from dogma-driven curriculum decision-making," while the Waco Tribune (2009 Jan 26) was happy about the omission of a phrase that "was meant to open the door to the undermining of evolution theory" but dismayed by McLeroy's revision, which it described as "a fall-back attempt by the right wing of the board to hang tough in its effort to undermine evolution theory." The New York Times (2009 Jan 26), which earlier (2009 Jan 22) acknowledged that "[t]he debate here has far-reaching consequences; Texas is one of the nation's biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material," editorialized, "The lesson we draw from these shenanigans is that scientifically illiterate boards of education should leave the curriculum to educators and scientists who know what constitutes a sound education."


AUTHOR'S ADDRESS:

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE's deputy director.

FOR FURTHER READING

In addition to the newspaper reports cited, a variety of on-line sources provided detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings. Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman blogged, and posted photographs, on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog: http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html; the Texas Freedom Network was blogging on its TFN Insider blog: http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/; NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs): http://www.scienceblogs.com/tfk; and the Houston Press blogged the first day of the meeting: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/political_animals. For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website via http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=5173 and http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=4473. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/texas.

Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?
Author(s): 
Daryl P Domning
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
2
Year: 
2009
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
30–32
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Book reviews in recent issues of RNCSE have showcased a growing number of authors and reviewers who advocate some form of theistic evolution. However, other recent books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and other militant atheist advocates of evolution have attracted much more media attention — naturally, since extreme views always sell more newspapers than moderate ones.

Moderate views on creation-vs-evolution are not in short supply. Yet despite the Gallup polls consistently showing 35–40% of Americans somewhere between the poles of special creationism and strictly materialist evolutionism (with only 9–15% for the latter view), this reality is studiously ignored both by creationists and by materialists like Dawkins (and others). This not only polarizes the debate unnecessarily, but fundamentally misrepresents it. To break this impasse and move toward defusing evolution as an explosive social and educational issue, I propose the perhaps shocking idea that it is time for theistic evolutionists to take over from atheists as the public face of evolution advocacy.

A Cultural Stalemate

The stalemated conflict between creationists and evolutionists here in the US (and now spreading abroad) reminds me a bit of conditions in a certain Middle Eastern country where religious passions have also contributed to a dangerous degree of political polarization. At one extreme, we have religious fundamentalists whose worldview is deeply threatened by what they see as a corrupting secular culture and ideology and who resist this at all costs, sometimes by (intellectually) unscrupulous means. At the other pole, with scant understanding of and less sympathy for the thinking, culture, language, and concerns of their religious adversaries, are militant evangelical atheists, waging a heavy-handed, ill-advised Global War on Theism that needlessly provokes their opponents and only inflames the situation. Having seized the mantle of spokespersons for evolution, and the spotlight of the media, they drown out the voices of fellow evolutionists who would pursue a less arrogant and abrasive policy.

Secular critics like these tend to rest secure in the Green Zones of college campuses and major cities. Many scientists, in fact, declared "Mission Accomplished" years ago and dismissed the creationists as just a few diehards whose time has passed. But the sectarians who dominate much of the countryside, and have the hearts and minds of much of the population, are actively targeting their IEDs (intelligent educational designs) at school boards and state legislatures across the country. Meanwhile the noncombatant population, caught in the crossfire and not necessarily committed to any extremist faction, wants nothing more from them than answers to the great questions of human existence: the meaning of life, the reasons for suffering, and whether there is a God, an afterlife, and ultimate justice (Pennock 1997).

In this asymmetrical warfare, the secularists make easy, static targets. They fruitlessly deploy ponderous scientific artillery against the lightweight arguments of "scientific creationist" guerrillas, and wonder at how the latter always blithely dance aside to fight again another day. But the creationist leaders and their lay followers are clearly motivated by those existential and theological concerns and not by science, so the scientific arguments do not lay a glove on them.

As long as the secularists insist on prosecuting the war unilaterally in this way, they will not prevail. The only hope for a successful outcome lies with a coalition: the secularists must ally themselves with — indeed, yield leadership to — theistic evolutionists, who understand the creationists’ religious culture, speak their religious language, and can engage them on their home turf.

The Diversity Among Theists

Anyone who pays close attention to creationists’ rhetoric will see that they ignore whenever possible the inconvenient existence of the large segment of Christianity that accepts evolution (Matsumura 1995: 22). Since most of their philosophical and moral arguments are aimed at atheists, these arguments fall flat when they are confronted with opponents who share many of their theological presuppositions. Such opponents can cut to the chase, posing to creationists the key question, "What is it about evolution that really bothers you? Because if it is a fear that life in the Darwinian view has no meaning and no room for God, then I am here to testify that you can be both a Darwinian and a Christian — in fact, a better, more intellectually consistent Christian!" In other words, Christian extremism is best left to other Christians to handle in-house.

Fundamentalists with an unshakable commitment to biblical literalism, of course, will not be open to this approach. But many people cling to a literal reading of Genesis only because no one has ever shown them acceptable answers to their existential questions that do not conflict with science. By agreeing with the creationists that such answers are impossible, the extreme materialists self-defeatingly drive such folks into the creationist camp.

What I am proposing is simply that those who embrace theistic evolution, Christians especially, shed whatever shyness they have about saying so, in public and in private, and actively engage family, friends, colleagues, clergy, elected officials, news reporters, and anyone else who evinces doubt about the compatibility of evolution and religious belief. Lack of knowledge is no longer an excuse, given the rich resources recently provided by writers such as Beatrice Bruteau, Denis Edwards, Stephen Godfrey, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, Michael Ruse, Patricia Williams, and many others — most of them reviewed or otherwise represented in these pages. Fill the silence that these authors have begun to dispel. We need not agree on all the theological details; the goal is simply to make it unmistakably clear that the atheists have no monopoly on Darwinism. Speak about it, write about it, publish your own insights; but in and out of season, bear witness that you and many like you see ways to reconcile faith and science without compromising either.

Objections to this proposal are foreseeable. The militant atheists will say that it publicly divides the evolution camp; that it is an intellectually dishonest tactical sellout to theism; and that it inappropriately drags religion into a scientific debate just as the creationists do.

However, it is disingenuous to pretend that all evolutionists see eye-to-eye on philosophical or theological matters. We rightly criticize creationists who obscure the divisions among anti-evolutionists, as is done at the new Creation Museum in Kentucky (Heaton 2007). In fact, both extremes downplay their divisions, which they see as weaknesses. For the creationists, it really is a weakness, because they feel the need for science to buttress weak theology, and therefore they must make the science point unambiguously in their direction.

But the diversity of theological views among evolutionists is potentially a strength for us in this conflict, because it corroborates one of our central arguments: the theological neutrality of good science. It shows that a variety of religious views is compatible with the facts of science — and some of those views may be acceptable to many who have hitherto counted themselves as anti-evolutionists. It humanizes what is now seen by many, and held up by our adversaries, as evolutionists’ rigid hostility to religion and contempt for the deepest concerns of most human beings. That kind of religious rigidity is something we associate with fundamentalist religious groups. Think: if we are all about good science, then how did we get maneuvered into being known by a huge public mainly for an extreme religious viewpoint (and one that many of us do not even share)? Who are the real fundamentalists in this fight?

Religionists are hardly unaware that various churches and their members have theological differences. They will not be scandalized to learn that scientists also disagree on these matters that are outside of science. The point is to build a bridge across the divide, by showing them that (surprise!) many evolutionists can and do agree with them on many points of religious doctrine.

Furthermore, this is not a false irenicism, smoothing over fundamental differences between creationists and evolutionists just to quiet the controversy. In truth, many (perhaps most!) evolutionists are theists of one sort or another. Their views are as sincerely and validly held as those of the atheists and have as much (perhaps more!) claim to be representative of evolutionist thinking. Atheists have every right to believe that theists are woefully misguided in failing to see the obsolescence of religion after Darwin; but that is their philosophical opinion, not an infallibly proven proposition of science or logic. No one is expecting them to shut up or sign on to theistic evolution for the sake of a united front; but the theists are justifiably tired of having the folks on both ends of the spectrum pretend they don’t exist — presumed to be atheists by the creationists, and presumptuously spoken for by the real atheists.

The Nature of the Debate

Does my proposal drag religion into a scientific debate? Let’s get real: this has not been a merely scientific debate for a hundred years. The atheists themselves, like the rest of us, proclaim this from the rooftops: the scientific community accepted evolution generations ago, and creationism today has none but religious motives. Yet we keep acting as though the creationists’ phony scientific arguments can be laid to rest by piling on more and more layers of new scientific data. Maybe that will persuade a few folks on the fence who are genuinely perplexed by scientific questions; but it is assuredly irrelevant to most people who disbelieve evolution — because they are scientific laypeople and do not lose sleep over the Second Law of Thermodynamics or whether paleontologists have a correct understanding of punctuated equilibrium. What they do care about are those eternal existential questions, and whether belief in evolution is a threat to civilized society as we know it. Until we start addressing those concerns, the two sides of the debate will continue talking past each other, just as they have for the last 40 years and more.

Finally, is my proposal basically a tactical one? Of course it is — because the old tactics have failed to achieve more than a courtroom stalemate, while the soul of creationism is marching on in churches, classrooms, political campaigns, and the rest of society. We have been fighting the wrong war with the wrong weapons. If we are content to rest on our courtroom victories, as the winners of every stand-up fight, we will end up as we did in Vietnam: or as Sitting Bull supposedly said after the Little Bighorn, we will have "won a great battle, but lost a great war."

To really protect education from creationism’s inroads, it has to be marginalized not just scientifically and legally but theologically; and the atheists among us cannot do that. The voices of other evolutionists need to be heard. There are many such voices out there; let’s start putting them front and center.

References

Heaton T. 2007. A visit to the new creation "museum." Reports of the National Center for Science Education 27 (1–2): 21–4.

Matsumura M, editor. 1995. Voices for Evolution, second ed. Berkeley (CA): National Center for Science Education.

Pennock R. 1997. Naturalism, creationism and the meaning of life: the case of Philip Johnson revisited. Creation/Evolution 16 (2):10–30.

About the Author(s): 
Daryl P Domning
Department of Anatomy
College of Medicine
Howard University
Washington DC 20059
ddomning@howard.edu

Daryl P Domning is Professor of Anatomy at Howard University and coauthor of Original Selfishness: Original Sin and Evil in the Light of Evolution (Aldershot [UK]: Ashgate Publishing, 2006). He is a vertebrate paleontologist and studies sirenians and other marine mammals.

Review: Back to Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
45–46
Reviewer: 
Timothy Shanahan
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution
Author(s): 
John B Cobb, editor
Grand Rapids (MI): William B Eerdmans, 2008. 434 pages

Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution consists of a collection of two dozen papers presented at an academic conference on evolution and religion organized by the Center for Process Studies at Claremont, California, in October 2004. The volume consists of an editor’s introduction, four topical sections containing four to nine essays each, plus an appendix. Most of the essays are contributed by authors whose names will be familiar to anyone who has browsed the literature in what might be called “the reconciliatory genre of science and religion writing,” especially as it concerns evolution. The editor makes no bones about the fact that whereas he has attempted to honor the integrity of each author’s contribution(s), he has also selected, organized, and contextualized this material in order to highlight how a “process perspective” can remedy some of the defects of current neo-Darwinian thinking. (“Process thought” is an elaboration and application of ideas developed by Alfred North Whitehead in the 1920s that takes events, processes, and integration rather than materialistic and dualistic ways of thinking as metaphysically basic.)

Section I consists of “Background Materials. ”The essays in this section seek to convey a history of the problem of science and religion, to provide the basics of contemporary evolutionary theorizing, and to survey some of the tensions between Darwinian ideas and religious belief. Section II aims “To Broaden and Diversify Evolutionary Theory” by integrating scientific ideas from thermodynamics, quantum physics, and chemistry into evolutionary thinking, as well as by promoting the underappreciated biological ideas of neo-Lamarckism, symbiogenesis, Gaia, and the Baldwin effect. Section III takes up “The Philosophical Challenge to Neo- Darwinism.” The inclusion of the term “Neo-Darwinism” in the title of this section alerts the reader to expect a critique, as this term is seldom used by contemporary biologists in describing their work, but occasionally crops up in the writings of authors providing an historical account of the synthesis of Darwin’s theory of natural selection with Mendelian genetics, or by those about to launch into a critique of Darwinian ideas and who therefore need to fix in their sights the intended target. In this case it is the latter. The main theme of the essays in this section is that Darwinism, as currently conceived, needlessly narrows and limits the nature of evolution in a way that excludes all consideration of subjectivity, emergence, and purpose. The final section, Section IV, addresses the issue of “Evolution and God” by posing the question, “Can a scientific account of the world be incorporated into a theistic one?”The essays in this section tend to answer that question in the affirmative by seeking to modify both theology and science in order to integrate them into a unified vision of reality.

It would be impossible to summarize each of the individual essays here. But certain recurring themes stand out. Unlike books by outspoken atheists (such as by Richard Dawkins) that attempt to use Darwin to demolish religious belief, the contributors to this volume seek to find a rapprochement between an affirmation of Darwin’s fundamental ideas and religious belief. Its spirit is fundamentally reconciliatory rather than antagonistic — seeking integration rather than opposition. What unites the essays (and accounts for the volume’s title) is the contributors’ affirmation of Darwin’s demonstration of the fact of biological evolution conjoined with a concern to correct certain assumptions and overstatements in the development of evolutionary theory after Darwin. Of particular concern are certain “extreme” statements of evolution according to which genes are conceived as being unaffected by their environments, and in which more inclusive life-forms (for example, organisms) essentially disappear from explanations of evolutionary change. Hence the authors propose to “go back” to re-affirm Darwin’s major, distinctive ideas without necessarily embracing subsequent restrictive extensions and elaborations of Darwin’s ideas that underwrite (or presuppose) atheistic views.

The volume will be of interest to anyone concerned to explore alternatives to the science–religion debate as framed by the most uncompromising proponents of godless evolution, on the one hand, and by advocates of “creation science” or “intelligent design”, on the other. Perhaps of particular interest for readers of this journal are the views of the volume’s editor concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools. While agreeing with the vast majority of biologists that “creation science” and “intelligent design” have no place in public school science education, and affirming that schools should avoid teaching that evolution shows signs of being directed or guided by an intelligent agent, he nonetheless maintains that the teaching of evolution in public schools should also avoid saying or implying that the evolutionary process is wholly purposeless and devoid of values. Yet rather than leave it at that, as many educators might be inclined to do, Cobb explicitly harnesses the essays in the book to show how such a stance can be underwritten by a theistically-friendly- yet-neutral metaphysics (process philosophy) that gives each side in the evolution-creation/ design debate something (but not everything) it wants: naturalism (of a sort) without dogmatic atheism; purpose and values without fundamentalism or refurbished natural theology.

Of course, precisely because this approach attempts to chart a middle course between the polarized extremes in the evolution-creation dispute, it will seem satisfactory to neither side. More generally, as an attempt at a philosophical via media it is bound to suffer from the fate of nearly every such attempt; or as I explain to my students, it will be yet another confirmation of what I like to call “Shanahan’s Law”: For any fundamental philosophical problem, there will be solutions that lie at either extreme that are admirably clear but which lead to enormous difficulties and hence will be hard to justify; and there will be a range of intermediate positions with greater but varying degrees of plausibility, but burdened by corresponding unclarity sometimes bordering on outright obscurity. The philosophical dilemma of clarity versus plausibility is hardly unique to the science-religion dispute, or to the project of this book, and therefore should not dissuade readers from plunging in. Indeed, to the extent that this volume encourages readers to consider intriguing alternatives to the most vocally defended poles of the debate about the teaching of evolution in public schools, this volume deserves a wide readership.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Timothy Shanahan
Department of Philosophy
Loyola Marymount University
One LMU Drive
Los Angeles CA 90045

Timothy Shanahan is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. He holds degrees in biology, philosophy, and in the history and philosophy of science. Among his books are The Evolution of Darwinism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) and The Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Morality of Terrorism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009) .

Review: Charles Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
44–45
Reviewer: 
Doren A Recker
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Charles Darwin
Author(s): 
Michael Ruse
Malden (MA): Blackwell, 2008
337 pages

Michael Ruse’s most recent book, like his Darwinism and its Discontents (2006; reviewed in RNCSE 2007 Jan–Apr; 27 [1–2]: 50–2), is a general work on Darwinism, including chapters on Darwin’s biography, the history of Darwinian evolution, evidence for his theory, and chapters on religion and morality. This time, however, he is contributing to the Blackwell Great Minds series, which includes such titles as Kant, Descartes, and Sartre. So, as one might expect, there is more attention paid here to philosophical issues, and the general tone is also more philosophical than the earlier text. Still, the style is informal and should be both accessible to readers of various backgrounds and useful for readers at various levels of expertise in evolutionary (and philosophical) matters.

Most of the topics included here have been canvassed before, and Ruse has not changed positions on controversial topics such as the relationship(s) between Darwinism and religion or morality, or the status of neo-Darwinism (including the centrality of population genetics). The novelty here is (again) the concentration on Darwin’s contributions to issues of primary concern to philosophers. In order to provide a sense of this approach, I will concentrate on one issue, evolution and morality.

The general importance of the relation between Darwinian evolution and ethics has increased recently, with texts such as Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler and Ben Stein’s recent movie Expelled painting Darwinism red with innocent blood. The Discovery Institute (among others) is using these sources to push the moral bankruptcy and culpability of evolutionary science to anyone who will listen and is sending copies of Expelled to “key policy makers” throughout the country (as reported in a recent fundraising letter from NCSE).

Even if justified, of course, such a claim does not affect the scientific status of Darwinian evolution. Concern with the Naturalistic Fallacy (attempting to derive an “ought” from an “is’” or to defend a course of action ethically because it is deemed natural, and so on) has led more than a few philosophers and scientists (from Thomas Henry Huxley to Stephen Jay Gould) to refrain from finding any clues about morality in nature. The flip side of the Naturalistic Fallacy, however, is the Moralistic Fallacy (trying to derive “is not” from “ought not”, or attacking the scientific status of a theory based on its allegedly unpalatable moral consequences). None of the evidence supporting evolutionary biology is changed one iota by attacking social policies allegedly based upon it. Still, such political attacks push evolutionists to investigate seriously what, if any, implications evolutionary biology may have for moral theory. This blending of philosophical and biological perspectives has been a concern of Ruse’s for some time — his position on evolution and morality has been greatly influenced by Edward O Wilson, with whom he coauthored two articles in the mid- 80s (Ruse and Wilson 1985, 1986) — and is addressed again in chapter 9 of Charles Darwin.

Basically, Ruse holds that human social behavior is largely under biological influence, often masked behind psychological predispositions (“epigenetic rules”) to behave as we ought to. These predispositions are perceived as being based on objective moral rules, applicable to all rational beings (p 239–40). Our innate moral intuitions allow for quick and dirty judgments about social challenges where actual calculations of costs and benefits (and/or duties) would take far too long to be useful in most day-to-day affairs (p 236). The biological mechanisms fueling the psychological motivations are kin selection and reciprocal altruism, well-known to evolutionary biologists and more than adequate for mapping onto our actual (as opposed to idealized) moral behavior (p 232, 237). Objective, transcendent moral rules are an illusion on this view, due to our objectifying (or reifying) strong moral sentiments (p 240). They are, however, “noble lies”, since they provide motivational teeth for altruistic behavior and hold some of our other more selfish motivations in check for the sake of social intercourse. So Ruse promotes a skepticism about the objectivity of morality (there are no species-independent moral facts), while arguing for the possibility of (limited) altruism being a successful evolutionary adaptation (that is, evolution does not invariably favor selfishness or nature red in tooth and claw).

This represents one among many recent attempts to unpack the relationship between evolutionary theory and human morality, and the evolutionary models used (kin selection and reciprocal altruism) are accepted by the majority of interpretations (which eschew any use of group selection). With more sophisticated models of group selection (Sober and Wilson 1998) on the table, however, serious investigations of evolutionary morality may need to expand the usual armaments available to individual-level selection. In fact, another recent work interpreting Darwin and Darwinism from a more philosophical perspective (Lewens 2007) takes just this path. Lewens shows that group-level selection is both closer to Darwin’s own views concerning evolution and morality, and also has better evidential support than many biologists acknowledge.

Another consideration involves the meaning of “objective moral facts.” If moral realism is committed to the view that legitimate “ought” statements refer to species-independent moral truths or moral rules that all rational creatures (human or not) must acknowledge, then Ruse and Wilson are right to disavow such moral facts. But if moral realism instead (as a counterpoint to relativism and subjectivism) need only be committed to species-wide moral facts, contingent on human evolutionary and cultural history, but independent of individual (or even individual cultures’) beliefs, then it is not so clear that objective morality need be an illusion. If our sentiments are structured by evolutionary history and our basic moral intuitions are grounded on strong emotional sentiments that include sympathy (and empathy) and motivate altruism, then it is possible that, at some level(s), moral claims can correspond with human truths, and in that sense, be factual.

This, too, would be controversial. But it is not clear that faith-based or other so-called absolutist moral codes can do any better at justifying objective, non-relative moral claims. There are at least as many disagreements within and across such views as there are among non-absolutist approaches. In the end, whether one accepts a position like Ruse’s, or prefers one that utilizes some notion of group selection, Darwinists will have no more difficulty supporting the grounds for moral behavior than will the faith-based approaches that blame Darwinism for the Holocaust. After all, anti-Semitism has rich roots in the history of Christianity, and this history includes at least as much intolerance and immoral behavior as does Darwinism (even when the latter is construed most broadly, and inaccurately).

References

Lewens T. 2007. Darwin. London: Routledge.

Ruse M. 1984. The morality of the gene. The Monist 67: 167–99.

Ruse M. 1986. Evolutionary ethics: A phoenix arisen. Zygon 21: 95–112.

Ruse M. 1999. Evolutionary ethics: What can we learn from the past? Zygon 34: 435–51.

Ruse M. 2006. Darwinism and its Discontents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ruse M, Wilson EO. 1985. The evolution of ethics. New Scientist 17: 50–2.

Ruse M, Wilson EO. 1986. Moral philosophy as applied science. Philosophy 61: 173– 92.

Sober E, Wilson DS. 1998. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Wilson EO. 1998. The biological basis of morality. The Atlantic Monthly 281: 53–70.

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Doren Recker
Philosophy Department
308 Hanner Hall
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater OK 74078-5064
doren.recker@okstate.edu

Doren A Recker is Associate Professor and Head of the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma State University, specializing in the history and philosophy of science. He teaches courses on evolution versus creationism (including “intelligent design”) and philosophy of biology, and is a board member of OESE (Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education).

Review: Evolutionary Creation

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March-April
Page(s): 
46–47
Reviewer: 
Stephen J Godfrey
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution
Author(s): 
Denis O Lamoureux
Eugene (OR):Wipf and Stock, 2008. 493 pages

As indicated by its title, this primarily theological work is aimed at the Christian anti-evolution audience and at Christians who accept evolution but want to think further about how that acceptance comports, or can be made to comport, with their faith. Denis Lamoureux (who holds doctorates in both theology and biology) is to be thanked for this attempt to persuade young-earth creationists (YECs), by a close examination of the Bible, science, and history, that the expectations they have of the first eleven chapters of the Bible are simply wrong. Furthermore, he contends that their widely held beliefs are also detrimental to Christianity because their mistakes throw up stumbling blocks in the way of the scientifically literate who might have an interest in this faith. His “in” with this audience is that he is a passionate Evangelical Christian and makes no apologies for boldly affirming his faith in Jesus. His intimate familiarity with the audience he wants so desperately to move in the direction of accepting the reality of evolution will certainly help.

My optimism, however, about how influential this work will be is tempered by how seemingly ineffective other similar attempts have been. Lamoureux is asking his intended YEC audience to swallow a very large pill. From having been a YEC, I know that most will choke on Lamoureux’s central argument, which is that the science and history in Genesis Chapters 1–11 represent only the “science and history of the day.” They are not factual but rather only “incidental vessels”, which nevertheless deliver divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths. But for many Christians, the Bible, divinely inspired, is historically and scientifically accurate on any subject on which it speaks. They consider anathema the notion that the Genesis accounts of creation, the origin of humans, the Flood, and the origin of languages are all wrong. Young-earth creationists do not take kindly to the notion that what they believe to be literally true and scientifically accurate are no more than incidental vessels. Although the original Hebrew audience had no reason not to believe the science and history of their day, Lamoureux is asking YECs not to believe this intuitive and originally intended interpretation of Genesis; he is to be commended for doing his best to fight an uphill battle.

YECs will be quick to ask: If the Genesis stories are only incidental vessels, what is our guarantee that the faith and spiritual components of these stories are true? For the vast majority of young-earth creationists, if the tangible scientific and historic elements of Genesis 1–11 are shown not to be true, then they no longer prove the trustworthiness and accuracy of the parts of the story that are not scientifically testable. In their mind, if the Bible gets its science and history wrong, then there is no reason to place any confidence in those parts of the Bible that demand faith (they possess a conditional faith). But to a YEC it is even more devastating than this, because if all ancient Biblical stories related to Creation and the Flood are wrong, those errors suggest that the divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths are also not true. If this is the case, then the burden of proof in the trustworthiness of the Bible as having had a divine origin increases to an uncomfortable level. This terrifying thought is accompanied by a dreaded realization that the hand of atheists and skeptics might just have been strengthened.

What Lamoureux is asking YECs to do with Genesis would be akin to also asking them to believe that none of the miracles that Jesus did were done as they are recorded in the Gospels. The miracles are the guarantor that Jesus was who he claimed to be, God incarnate, and that his spiritual and intangible claims are also to be taken seriously. Consider the New Testament account of when John the Baptist was imprisoned and he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was “…the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:18–23). At the time this narrative took place it is evident that John was struggling to reconcile his mission with his imprisonment. The important point here is that Jesus confirmed his authenticity and credentials as the “one who was to come” (that is, their Messiah) through the miracles that he performed. The witnessed and verifiable miracles guaranteed that Jesus was the Messiah.

But what if Jesus had simply said to John’s disciples: “Sorry, no miraculous signs; absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here. John is simply going to have to believe that I am the ‘one who was to come.’” What would John have done with that news, and would we know about Jesus today? But it is this very lack of tangible proof (both scientific and historic) in Genesis that Lamoureux is expecting YECs to overlook and yet still accept the spiritual truths as having had a divine origin. Instead of making the paradigm shift, many YECs will prefer to continue to retreat into denial and refuse to relinquish their anti-evolutionary mindset.

I agree with Lamoureux that Genesis represents the science and history of the day, but he should have emphasized more forcefully that it also reflects the religious and spiritual level of understanding of the day. Genesis does not present all there is to know about God. The Bible itself documents a progressive (an evolutionary-like) revelation of God, as that understanding continues to grow and change even today.

As valuable as this book would be to conservative Christian students, it will not likely darken the door of any American public school. Lamoureux’s bold profession of faith in and love for Jesus will ensure that it is kept at bay. Nevertheless, I will be recommending this book to anyone who might have even the slightest interest in moving from an anti-evolutionary world view.


About the Author(s): 
AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Stephen J Godfrey
Department of Paleontology
Calvert Marine Museum
PO Box 97
Solomons MD 20688
Godfresj@co.cal.md.us

Stephen J Godfrey is the Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum and Research Collaborator at the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His latest book is Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation, co-authored with Christopher R Smith (Toronto: Clements Publishing, 2005).

Review: Render Unto Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
42–43
Reviewer: 
Keith M Parsons
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right’s Crusade Against Science
Author(s): 
James H Fetzer
Chicago: Open Court, 2007.
201 pages

Philosopher of science James H Fetzer argues that creationism, both in its fundamentalist young-earth form and in the guise of allegedly more sophisticated “intelligent design”, fails to qualify as science, and therefore is not a respectable theoretical alternative to evolutionary science. As the book’s subtitle implies, Fetzer holds that the attack on evolution is part of a comprehensive effort by the religious and political right to undermine scientific rationality and the authority of science. He further identifies the right’s attack on science as a single battle of a multi-front offensive by political and religious extremists.

Fetzer, of course, is not the first professional philosopher of science to criticize creationism (see Kitcher 1982, 2007; Ruse 1982; Pennock 1999; Shanks 2004; Sarkar 2007), and his critique is decidedly less effective than those previous ones. What made Philip Kitcher’s books, for instance, so effective was that he offered trenchant, detailed, point-by-point critiques of creationist claims, based upon a close reading of creationist texts, and informed by a deep understanding of the scientific issues. Fetzer’s treatment of leading “intelligent design” proponents Michael Behe and William Dembski is cursory at best. Fetzer apparently does not feel that it is necessary to delve into a detailed critique because he thinks that creationism blatantly violates the criteria that demarcate science from nonscience, and that creationist claims can therefore be dismissed without much ado.

In recent years professional philosophers of science have largely shied away from the attempt to formulate criteria to demarcate science from nonscience, for the simple reason that past such efforts have come to grief. Many attempts have been made to spell out the distinctive virtues of scientific theories, such as falsifiability, progressiveness, predictiveness, and so on, that are supposed to distinguish genuinely scientific theories from less worthy ones. Such proposals do not hold up under careful scrutiny. Larry Laudan seems to speak for the majority of philosophers of science when he warns of “the probable futility of seeking an epistemic version of a demarcation criterion” (Laudan 1988: 348). In other words, “science” has historically comprised a set of practices and beliefs so varied that they defy neat categorization by a one-size-fits-all set of demarcation criteria.

It is not, of course, that we do not value scientific theories that, among other things, are falsifiable, progressive, and accurate. Of course we do. The problem is that it is one thing to list some of the various virtues of good theories, but it is another to try to base strict demarcation standards on our descriptions of such desiderata. Consider Sir Karl Popper’s famous falsifiability criterion. Popper held that a theory is scientific only if it is falsifiable, that is, if and only if some observation, measurement, experiment, or other empirical procedure can discredit the theory. The falsifiability criterion is intuitively appealing, and, indeed, we do not accept a theory as scientific if it is compatible with all conceivable observations or data; scientific theories must have empirical content.

But as a candidate for a criterion of demarcation, falsifiability is fraught with problems (see Gale 1979: 199–205 and Chalmers 1999: 87–103), among others, that it seems far too permissive. If creationists and other pseudoscientists are willing to name any possible observation, however improbable, as incompatible with their claims, then the criterion of falsifiability cannot be invoked to rule these claims out of science.

To argue in the manner that Fetzer does that creationism is not science, we first have to say what science is. Fetzer says that the aim of science is to discover laws of nature (p 38). Further, scientific knowledge is expected to meet standards of conditionality, testability, and tentativeness:

Scientific knowledge assumes forms that are conditional, testable, and tentative. The conditionality of scientific hypotheses and theories arises from characterizing what properties or events will occur in a world as permanent properties or causal effects of the presence of other properties or the occurrence of other events. Such knowledge has to be testable, where it must be possible to detect the presence or absence of reference properties or events-as-effects in order to subject those hypotheses and theories to empirical test. Moreover, scientific knowledge is tentative insofar as it is always subject to revision due to technological innovations, the acquisition of additional evidence, or the discovery of alternative hypotheses. (p 38)

Fetzer then considers some typical creationist claims — such as the sudden and recent appearance of the earth and life, including humans, in essentially their current form — and concludes that such claims cannot count as scientific hypotheses since they are asserted unconditionally, are untestable, and are held absolutely and not tentatively (p 38–9).

Surely, though, it is too narrow to say that the aim of science is to discover laws of nature. Much progress in science occurs when scientists produce detailed, well-confirmed explanations of singular phenomena, or localized clusters of phenomena, rather than the discovery of new general laws. For instance, geologists offer detailed explanations of the structure of the Swiss Alps in terms of complex processes of thrusting and folding. This thrusting and folding is further explained in terms of tectonic processes such as the relative movements of lithospheric plates. Of course, such explanations presume that, at considerable explanatory distance, the basic laws of chemistry and physics are operating as the ultimate explanations of geological processes. But the proximate explanations of geological events, such as the Alpine orogeny, neither invoke such laws nor reveal the existence of new ones.

What about Fetzer’s claim that central creationist claims are not made conditionally, that is, they do not specify particular conditions under which such events should be expected to occur? Some unquestionably scientific hypotheses seem to have been asserted unconditionally. Standard big bang cosmology postulates the initial singularity as an ultimate, unconditioned fact. The initial singularity is unconditioned because there are, by hypothesis, no conditions prior to the big bang.

As for testability, are creationist claims testable? If, contrary to fact, the fossil record contained trilobites, dinosaurs, mastodons, rabbits, eurypterids, and coelacanths all mixed together in no discernable order, and if all sedimentary rocks bore evidence of having been deposited in a single, recent, cataclysmic event, and if remains of a large wooden ship were found on top of Mount Ararat, then, surely, young-earth creationism could claim to be not only testable but confirmed. The problem with creationism (besides simple dishonesty) is not that it is untestable, but that it has an egregious record of failure.

Finally, tentativeness does not seem to be a virtue of science but of scientists, that is, it is not a virtue of theories themselves, but how they are held. Scientists are rightly expected to hold on to theories only so long as the evidence warrants, or at least permits, and not to cling to them dogmatically, come what may. Therefore, to say that creationist tenets are not held tentatively may be an accurate ad hominem against creationists, but is not an objection to creationism itself.

It is not that Fetzer is a bad philosopher; he is a very good philosopher. The problem is with philosophy, at least as it is still too often practiced. Philosophers like Kitcher are effective critics of creationism because they are willing to get down from philosophy’s high horse and get down into the trenches with creationists. Philosophy’s self-image, which Richard Rorty mocked as “the tribunal of pure reason,” has too often permitted philosophers, as would-be justices of the high court of pure reason, to refuse to soil their hands with the messy factual details. Too often they have theorized with vague, stereotypical, and ahistorical images of scientific practice, and this fed the illusion that science, and its practices of explanation and confirmation, admitted of neat packaging into simple, rigorous accounts. More historically sensitive studies of science, initiated by Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (which, of course, brought its own distinct problems), were supposed to change all this and prompt philosophers to adopt a far more nuanced, complex, and historically aware understanding of science, its history, and its practice. Fetzer’s book shows that there is still a long ways to go in this regard.

Though Fetzer misfires against creationism, his book contains a number of very interesting and enlightening discussions of questions in the philosophy of biology, such as whether evolution optimizes and whether species should be regarded as individuals, as a number of leading philosophers and evolutionary biologists have maintained. The book can be recommended just for its discussion of these points. Also, some readers may appreciate the fact that Fetzer ties creationism to larger political and ideological forces that provide the impetus for creationism as a social movement and prompt wealthy sympathizers to bankroll its organizations. Others may regard these sections as a distracting diatribe, and view Fetzer’s unabashed characterization of the Bush administration and corporate miscreants as “fascists” as irresponsible agitprop. (I personally hold that some elements of the religious right, especially defenders of so-called “dominion theology,” are quite accurately and appropriately described as “fascist.” See Hedges 2006 and Goldberg 2007).

In summary, then, far better critiques of creationism are available. The main lesson that Fetzer’s book teaches is that philosophy’s attempt to legislate rationality by deploying its admittedly awesome logical weaponry, is an enterprise that should have gone out with Duns Scotus. Logical acuity is not enough; you have to know what you are talking about.

References

Chalmers AF. 1999. What is This Thing Called Science? 3rd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Gale G. 1979. Theory of Science: An Introduction to the History, Logic, and Philosophy of Science. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Goldberg M. 2007. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. New York: WW Norton.

Hedges C. 2006. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. New York: The Free Press.

Laudan L. 1988. The demise of the demarcation problem. In: Ruse M, editor. But is it Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Buffalo (NY): Prometheus. p 337–50.

Kitcher P. 1982. Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Kitcher P. 2007. Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pennock R. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Ruse M. 1982. Darwinism Defended. Reading (MA): Addison-Wesley.

Sarkar S. 2007. Doubting Darwin? Creationist Designs on Evolution. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shanks N. 2004. God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About the Author(s): 
Keith M Parsons
University of Houston, Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Boulevard
Houston TX 77058
parsons@uhcl.edu

Keith M Parsons is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, Clear Lake. Among his books is Drawing Out Leviathan: Dinosaurs and the Culture Wars (Bloomington [IN]: Indiana University Press, 2001).

Review: Saving Darwin

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
2
Date: 
March–April
Page(s): 
40–41
Reviewer: 
Denis O Lamoureux
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution
Author(s): 
Karl W Giberson
New York: HarperOne, 2008.
248 pages

Karl Giberson is a prominent figure in the modern dialog between science and religion. He is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College and the director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College. Giberson was also the founding editor of Science and Theology News and the editor-in-chief of Science and Spirit. His recent book Saving Darwin will enjoy a wide readership, and it will certainly challenge many, raising important questions about how science and Christianity are to be related. The book features a lively and witty writing style, and in particular, it is very personal. A lasting image I have is of Giberson telling his story of leaving home to attend college and bringing along his copies of Henry Morris’s The Genesis Flood and Many Infallible Proofs. I can relate completely with his "teenage fundamentalist" (p 3) phase of life, because I have traveled a nearly identical route (I offer my personal story in Lamoureux 2008: 332–66).

One of the best parts of the book is a summary of the history of the "Darwin wars" in America. Numerous longer and more detailed accounts exist of these encounters, but Giberson offers an accessible distillation of the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial, the 1981 Arkansas trial challenging a law calling for equal treatment of evolution and creation science in schools, and the recent Dover trial dealing with the teaching of "intelligent design". The book is also a historical examination of Darwin’s personal religious beliefs, revealing without any question that the famed naturalist wrestled mightily with the theological implications of his theory of evolution. Giberson correctly points out that the vicious character of nature (as seen with the Ichneumonidae) and personal tragedies (like the death of his beloved ten-year-old daughter Annie) were powerful factors leading Darwin away from theism and Christianity. However, and this is a minor quibble, Giberson understates the spiritual impact of nature upon Darwin. The "wondrous universe" and "wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature" led Darwin to fluctuate from his agnosticism late in life back to deistic, and maybe even theistic, moments (Barlow 1958: 92–3; Darwin 1888: 1: 304, 316).

In order to assist his Christian readers in coming to terms with evolution, Giberson offers an excellent description of evolution’s metaphysical status. He writes:

Biological evolution, in its pure form at least, is purely descriptive. It tells us, as best it can, what happened, like a video of an event. It does not pass judgment on whether the history it describes was good or bad, just as a video passes no judgment on the event it captures. (p 64)

In addition, throughout the book, Giberson respectfully decouples evolutionary theory from the dysteleological metaphysics and personal philosophical commitments of Carl Sagan, EO Wilson, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and other like-minded skeptics. As far as I am concerned, this categorical differentiation is absolutely essential in moving beyond the so-called evolution versus creationism debate. Evolution is a magnificent and fruitful scientific paradigm, but it is dead silent with regard to its metaphysical status, and caution is necessary to avoid conflating one’s personal beliefs, whether religious or antireligious, with this scientific theory.

As much as I enjoyed Giberson’s book, I do have one serious concern. The subtitle, "How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution," is regrettably inaccurate (it was the publisher’s subtitle, not that of the author). Let’s be frank: the anti-evolutionism in America is rooted in evangelical Christianity, and if anyone is going to assist this religious tradition (which by the way is my tradition; I’m a Baptist), then he or she must deal directly with the opening chapters of the Bible. Giberson points to a survey that reveals "over half the population of the United States accepts the biblical creation story," and then attempts to deal with this problem by stating that "this position is thoroughly at odds with almost all relevant scholarship of the past century" (p 6, his emphasis). An argument from authority will never be effective with evangelicals. In the study cited by Giberson, it was shown that 87% of evangelicals believe that the accounts of a six-day creation and Noah’s flood are "literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word." Solving the problem of anti-evolutionism in the nation requires dealing with the evangelical belief in concordism, the notion that the Bible reveals accurate scientific and historical facts in its opening chapters. And Giberson falls quite short on this issue. I doubt that many full-blooded, Bible-verse–memorizing, and Gospel-witnessing evangelicals will step away from their anti-evolutionism after reading Saving Darwin.

But Giberson’s book is an important one. Its personal story is courageous and honest. As a Christian, he is even willing to confess, "[M]y belief in God is tinged with doubts, and in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned" (p 155). Yet, as a physicist, Giberson is drawn back to faith by the universe. In a section entitled "A Brief History of Everything," he outlines surprising characteristics in cosmological evolution, and seven times he states that there is something remarkably "interesting" about these that eventually leads him to believe that "the universe is more than particles and their interactions" (p 220). And in his yearly pilgrimage to the Canadian wilderness, Giberson feels the spiritual impact of nature upon him. He asks, "If the evolution of our species was driven entirely by survival considerations, then where did we get our rich sense of natural aesthetics?" (p 209). Indeed, in many ways, Karl Giberson is Charles Darwin. Both are scientists grappling with faith and in awe of the "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful [that] have been, and are being, evolved." (Darwin 1964: 490).

References

Barlow N, editor. 1958. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882. London: Collins.

Darwin C. 1964. On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Darwin F, editor. 1888. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 3 vols. London: John Murray.

Lamoureux DO. 2008. Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution. Eugene (OR): Wipf and Stock.

About the Author(s): 
Denis O Lamoureux
St Joseph’s College
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6G 2J5
dlamoure@ualberta.ca

Denis O Lamoureux is an Associate Professor of Science and Religion at St Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. With Phillip E Johnson, he co-authored Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins (Vancouver [BC]: Regent College Publishing, 1999), and he wrote Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (Eugene [OR]: Wipf and Stock, 2008).

RNCSE 29 (3)

RNCSE 29 (3) cover image
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May-June
Articles available online are listed below.
Click "Print Edition Contents" for list of articles in the print edition.

Print Edition Contents: 29 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Contents
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
2

NEWS

  1. Texas Science Standards and March Madness: Did We Win or Lose?
    Steven Schafersman
    As the dust settles, activists in Texas review the outcome of interactions between the hard-line antiscience faction and moderate board members.
  2. Testimony Before the Texas State Board of Education
    Joshua Rosenau
    NCSE's Public Information Project Director makes clear to the board the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed compromises to science education standards.
  3. Collapse of a Texas Quote Mine
    Jeremy Mohn
    Much of the antiscience "evidence" in Texas relied on quote mining. Further analysis suggests that the quoter never read the original work, only misleading secondary sources.
  4. Changes in the Texas State Science Standards
    A summary of the various amendments and their dispositions.
  5. McLeroy Under Scrutiny
    Is the role of the chair of a state board of education to undermine science education?
  6. The January Amendments
    Steven Newton, Joshua Rosenau, and Eugenie C Scott
    The first — but not the last — salvo of the attack on the science education dtandards produced by the science writing committee: an analysis.
  7. Updates
    News from California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Canada, and Turkey.

NCSE NEWS

  1. News from the Membership
    What our members are doing to support evolution and oppose pseudoscience wherever the need arises.
  2. New Faces at NCSE
    Glenn Branch
    Meet the new staff and say farewell to old friends.
  3. NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2005
    Glenn Branch
    We recognize outstanding efforts in promoting evolution.
  4. The Kilosteve
    Glenn Branch
    Project Steve's 1000th "Steve" is Steven P Darwin.

MEMBERS' PAGES

  1. Facing Challenges to Evolution Education
    A classic NCSE brochure from Molleen Matsumura that is still relevant to 21st-century anti-evolutionism.
  2. Books: From NCSE's Supporters
    These books show the breadth and depth of the science that supports evolution and that our Supporters practice.
  3. NCSE On the Road
    Check the calendar here for NCSE speakers.

SPECIAL FEATURE

  1. People & Places: Dayton,Tennessee
    Randy Moore
    Famous for the Scopes trial, Dayton has preserved numerous landmarks from the events in 1925.

BOOK REVIEWS

  1. Evolution and Religious Creation Myths: How Scientists Respond by Paul F Lurquin and Linda Stone
    Reviewed by Randy Moore
  2. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald R Prothero
    Reviewed by Peter Dodson
  3. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R Miller
    Reviewed by Andrea Bottaro
  4. Rebel Giants by David R Contosta
    Reviewed by Sherrie Lyons
  5. Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins by David N Livingstone
    Reviewed by J David Pleins
  6. God or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age by Constance Areson Clark
    Reviewed by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
  7. Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne
    Reviewed by Donald R Prothero
  8. Trying Leviathan by D Graham Burnett
    Reviewed by Arthur M Shapiro
  9. Worlds before Adam:The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform by Martin JS Rudwick
    Reviewed by Paul D Brinkman

Dayton, Tennessee

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
People & Places: Dayton, Tennessee
Author(s): 
Randy Moore
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Page(s): 
36–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Every July, throngs of tourists descend on tiny Dayton,Tennessee, to celebrate the Scopes Trial Play and Festival. This festival, which is sponsored by the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, includes a re-enactment of John Scopes's famous trial in 1925 for allegedly teaching evolution in the local public school. Although Scopes's trial accomplished nothing from a legal perspective (his conviction was set aside two years later by the Tennessee Supreme Court), it nevertheless remains the most famous event in the history of the evolution-creationism controversy.

John Scopes's famous trial was instigated by Dayton businessmen as a publicity stunt to attract investors to the area. As Congressman Foster Brown of Chattanooga noted, the trial was "not a fight for evolution or against evolution, but a fight against obscurity." Scopes's trial brought hundreds of visitors to Dayton, but within a week after the trial, virtually all of the spectators, street preachers, circus performers, and hucksters had left town, and Dayton returned to normal. Some people profited from the trial, but the long-term economic stimulus that the trial's instigators had sought never materialized. Several years after the trial, Bryan College opened in Dayton to honor the ideals of William Jennings Bryan, one of Scopes's prosecutors.

Figure 1: John Scopes’s famous trial for teaching evolution occurred in the second-floor courtroom of the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

John Scopes's trial was held in the Rhea County Courthouse (Figure 1). The courthouse, an Italian villa-style building built in 1891, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and was restored with the completion of the Scopes Trial Museum in the courthouse basement in 1978. At the front of the famous courtroom is posted a page from the Congressional Record listing the Ten Commandments. In 2005, a Cessna Decosimo statue of William Jennings Bryan was unveiled outside the courthouse; this statue depicts Bryan in 1891, when he began his Congressional career, and when the courthouse was built.

Scopes Trial Landmarks

Visitors to Dayton will find a number of sites that played important roles during the Scopes Trial. Thanks largely to the efforts of Bryan College Professor Emeritus Richard Cornelius, many of these sites have been preserved and marked with "Scopes Trial Trail" plaques (designated with an asterisk in the list below). A map of Scopes Trial sites with a complete legend can be found at http://www.bryan.edu/1990.html.

The Rhea County Courthouse and Scopes Trial Museum (Figure 1) is in the center of Dayton. Scopes's trial was held in the second-floor courtroom,which still contains several items from the famous trial (for example, the judge's desk and dais rail).*

FE Robinson's home on the corner of 3rd and Market Streets was the home of "The Hustling Druggist," who helped initiate the Scopes Trial. It was occupied by photographers during the proceedings.*

Darwin Cunnyngham home on Market Street housed journalists during the Scopes Trial.

McKenzie Law Office, which is adjacent to the Robinson home,was formerly used by Jim McKenzie, the nephew of JG McKenzie and grandson of Ben McKenzie. In 2007, Jim McKenzie was a judge in the Rhea Family Court.*

WC Bailey's boardinghouse on the northeastern corner of 4th and Market Streets was where John Scopes lived when he worked in Dayton. Scopes's father, journalist Bugs Baer, and briefly the chimpanzee Joe Mendi also stayed at the house during Scopes's trial.*

AM Morgan home at the southwest corner of 7th and the alley was where journalist HL Mencken lived during the Scopes Trial. After Scopes's trial, Morgan was a founder of Bryan College.

Rhea County High School (southwest of Dayton) was where John Scopes taught and coached in 1924–1925. Bryan College used the building from 1930–1935.*

Ballard/Bailey house at the northwest corner of 3rd and Church Streets was where chimpanzee Joe Mendi stayed during the Scopes Trial after being evicted from Bailey's boardinghouse.

Luke Morgan home, located at the southwest corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, is where Clarence Darrow and his wife Ruby stayed during the Scopes Trial. Luke Morgan, a former student of John Scopes, testified during the trial.

Morgan Furniture Company on Market Street housed reporters during the Scopes Trial. The business has been open since 1909.*

Bailey Hardware housed more than 100 reporters during the Scopes Trial. Until recently the building — on Market Street between 1st and Main — housed an antique store.*

Thomison Hospital, Wilkey Barbershop, and Richard Rogers Pharmacy were all in this area. Rogers worked at Robinson's Drug Store during the Scopes Trial, and later opened a pharmacy here. West of Rogers Pharmacy was the Wilkey Barbershop. On May 19, 1925, barbers Virgil Wilkey and Thurlow Reed staged a fake fight at the courthouse with George Rappleyea to promote the upcoming Scopes Trial. Above Rogers Pharmacy was a hospital operated by Walter Agnew Thomison, whose father,Walter F Thomison, was the attending physician at William Jennings Bryan's death. A sign for Thomison's office remains on the wall of the building near the intersection of Main and Market Streets.

Hicks Law Office, located in the second lot from the southeast corner of Main and Market Streets, was used by Scopes prosecutors Herbert and Sue Hicks.

Robinson's Drug Store was where several of Dayton's businessmen devised the Scopes Trial. Adjacent to the drug store was the three-story Aqua Hotel,where John Neal, John Raulston, Arthur Hays, Dudley Malone, and Clarence Darrow stayed, met, or ate during the trial.*

Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built two years after the Scopes Trial; FE Robinson was a member of that church. When Clarence Darrow returned to Dayton after the Scopes Trial and saw this church, he commented,"I guess I didn't do much good here after all." The church no longer is affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination.

First United Methodist Church was where William Jennings Bryan made his last public appearance. During Scopes's trial, the church at this site — the northwest corner of California Avenue and Market Street — was a Southern Methodist church.*

Richard Rogers home was where William Jennings Bryan and his entourage stayed during and after the Scopes Trial. Bryan died in his sleep in the Rogers' home on July 26, 1925. Only the retaining wall of the property is as it was in 1925.*

AP Haggard, the father of Scopes prosecutor Wallace Haggard, built his home across the street from the Richard Rogers home.*

Walter F Thomison built this home for Ella Darwin, his 16–year-old wife. Thomison's house is now called Magnolia House.*

Broyles–Darwin home is on the National Historic Register and housed reporters during the Scopes Trial. SD Broyles, who built the house in 1861,was the first resident of the village in 1820.*

Cedar Hill, the first hospital in Dayton,was built in 1929 by Walter Agnew Thomison. The building was used by Bryan College from 1932–1938 and 1967–1984.*

Bryan College was opened in 1930 as a memorial to Scopes prosecutor William Jennings Bryan. The campus includes several exhibits related to the Scopes Trial, and several of the college's founders were involved in the trial.*

Dayton Coal & Iron Company is a former mining operation that was managed by George Rappleyea, an instigator of the Scopes Trial. The land is now a recreational area, but coke ovens remain visible. Blast furnaces of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company were at this site, which now is covered by sports fields.

St Genevieve's Academy at 449 Delaware Road was where some children of Dayton Coal and Iron Company employees were educated before the Scopes Trial. Today the school building — which was built in 1891 — houses Fehn's 1891 Restaurant.

The Mansion was an 18-room house renovated by George Rappleyea to house several members of the defense team during the Scopes Trial. The house, which was atop a knoll overlooking the furnaces and company store of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company, had been vacant for more than a decade. Before he moved into the Morgans' home, Clarence Darrow stayed at the Mansion, and it was at the Mansion that Darrow and Kirtley Mather prepared for Darrow's questioning of William Jennings Bryan. In Inherit the Wind, several of the participants stayed at a hotel named "The Mansion".

Buttram Cemetery just outside Dayton is where many of the participants in the Scopes Trial are buried.

Dayton Drive-In Theater, which was 2.5 miles north of Dayton,was the site of the US premiere of Inherit the Wind.

McLeroy Under Scrutiny

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
McLeroy Under Scrutiny
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
10
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

As the final vote on the proposed revision of the Texas state science standards approached, the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Mar 8) offered a profile of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy. Describing his conversion to fundamentalism as a dental student, the profile explained, "He is now a young-earth creationist, meaning that he believes God created earth between 6 000 and 10 000 years ago," quoting him as saying, "When I became a Christian, it was whole-hearted ... I was totally convinced the biblical principles were right, and I was totally convinced that it could be accurate scientifically." Particularly important to McLeroy is the biblical tenet that humans were created in the image of God.

David Hillis of the University of Texas, Austin, told the newspaper, "McLeroy's amendments are not even intelligible. I wonder if perhaps he wants the standards to be confusing so that he can open the door to attacking mainstream biology textbooks and arguing for the addition of creationist and other religious literature into the science classroom." He added, "If Chairman McLeroy is successful in adding his amendments, it will be a huge embarrassment to Texas, a setback for science education and a terrible precedent for the state board's overriding academic experts in order to further their personal religious or political agendas. The victims will be the schoolchildren of Texas, who represent the future of our state."

Preparing for the March 25–27 board meeting at which the final vote on the standards was expected, McLeroy armed himself with "a large binder that is adorned on the front with a picture of Albert Einstein" and contains "numerous passages from books — such as [Kenneth R] Miller's and others on evolutionary theory — and articles that he plans to use as ammunition in the fight this month over what should be in the state's science standards." One page from his binder, the American-Statesman reported, shows a diagram of the fossil record from a book by Miller, with McLeroy's gloss, "What do we see?" 'Sudden appearance' of species." Miller replied, "That diagram shows evolution. If he thinks it says evolution does not occur, he is dead wrong. It's really quite the opposite."

With Texans still reeling from the American-Statesman's profile of McLeroy, Texas Citizens for Science disclosed that McLeroy endorsed a bizarre creationist screed, Robert Bowie Johnson Jr's Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles (Annapolis [MD]: Sowing Light Books, 2008) — aimed, of course, at Evolution, Creationism, and Science, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine in February 2008 to general acclaim (see RNCSE 2008 Jan/Feb; 28 [1]: 14). McLeroy, however, praised Sowing Atheism for showing "how the NAS attempts to seduce the unwitting reader by providing scanty empirical evidence but presented with great intellectual bullying — both secular and religious."

In a March 18, 2009, post on its blog, the Texas Freedom Network summarized the themes of the book — "Scientists are 'atheists.' Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are 'monsters.' Pastors who support sound science are 'morons'" — and pointedly asked, "Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn 'weaknesses' of evolution back into the science curriculum standards?" Mavis Knight, a member of the Texas State Board of Education who supports the integrity of science education, wryly commented to the Dallas Observer (2009 Mar 18), "So much for neutrality in the chairman's position."

NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2005

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
NCSE Honors "Friends of Darwin" for 2005
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
33–34
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Every year, NCSE honors a few exceptional people for their support of evolution education and/or their service to NCSE. The "Friend of Darwin" awards are proposed by the staff and approved by the board at its annual meeting; the recipients for the award for a given year are thus selected in the spring of the following year. NCSE usually arranges for the awards to be presented to their recipients by their family, colleagues, and friends, so it often takes a while before a public announcement is possible. Here, finally, are the Friends of Darwin for 2005.

Ed Barber served as the director of the college and trade department for the publisher WW Norton and Company, where he is now a senior editor. NCSE Supporter Laurie R Godfrey writes that Barber "took great pleasure in working with me on the first edition of Scientists Confront Creationism. Ed is a kind-hearted and knowledgeable editor; he has a sophisticated knowledge of evolutionary biology, having worked so closely and for so many years with one of my own mentors from Harvard, Stephen Jay Gould, among others. He was especially proud, I think, to have published a series of popular Gould books, including compilations of the articles that he wrote for Natural History magazine. Most of all, he knows how to help authors connect with the general public."

Fred Edwords is currently the leader of the United Coalition of Reason. He previously served as director of communications for the American Humanist Association, after having served as its executive director from 1984 to 1999 and as editor of its journal The Humanist from 1994 to 2006. Back in the heyday of creationism/evolution debates, Edwords was on the front lines, debating such creationist luminaries as Duane Gish and Henry M Morris of the Institute for Creation Research. As a result of his debate experiences, he cofounded and edited the journal Creation/Evolution from 1980 to 1991, originally published by the AHA but acquired by NCSE in 1991. He also served on NCSE's board of directors from 1982 to 1992. "Fred's knowledge, experience, and plain horse sense combined to make him a formidable ally in the evolution wars," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott.

Jack Krebs, a high school teacher in Lawrence, Kansas, is a former president and current board member of Kansas Citizens for Science (http://www.kcfs.org), the grassroots organization that fought effectively for the integrity of science education in Kansas when the state board of education rewrote the state science standards to disparage the scientific status of evolution in 1999 and again in 2005. Always civil, always cogent, Krebs was tireless in his speaking and writing on behalf of the uncompromised teaching of evolution in the Sunflower State; thanks to his and KCFS's work, a scientifically appropriate and pedagogically responsible treatment of evolution was restored to the state science standards when moderates regained power on the board in 2001 and again in 2007.

Steve Rissing is professor of evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at the Ohio State University, and a member of the board of Ohio Citizens for Science (http://www.ohioscience.org), the grassroots organization that fought effectively for the integrity of science education in Ohio when the state board of education adopted "critical analysis" language in its state science standards in 2002 and then adopted a corresponding model lesson plan derived from creationist sources in 2004. Always concerned with the public understanding of science in general, he also played a major role in revamping the way introductory-level biology courses are taught at Ohio State, coauthored a debunking treatment of creationist myths about Haeckel for The American Biology Teacher, and contributed a bimonthly column about science to the Columbus Dispatch.

Carl Zimmer is the author of such popular books about evolution and related topics as Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, revised edition (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), which Scientific American's reviewer described as "as fine a book as one will find on the subject"; The Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins (New York: HarperCollins, 2005); Microcosm: E coli and the New Science of Life (New York: Pantheon, 2008), and the forthcoming textbook The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution (Greenwood Village [CO]: Roberts and Company, 2009). His honors include the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Science Journalism Award in 2004 and the National Academies Science Communication Award in 2007 for "his diverse and consistently interesting coverage of evolution and unexpected biology."

Michael Zimmerman is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology at Butler University. In 2004, concerned about attempt to undermine the teaching of evolution in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, he recruited local members of the Christian clergy to endorse a statement affirming the compatibility of evolutionary science with their faith. So successful was the Clergy Letter Project that Zimmerman took it national; today, there are almost 12 000 signatories from Christian denominations, with hundreds in parallel projects for Unitarian Universalist clergy and rabbis. Zimmerman also organized the Evolution Weekend project, in which members of the clergy conduct events centering on evolution and faith on or around Darwin's birthday; over 1000 churches participated in 2009. He is also helping to connect scientists with members of the clergy who have questions about science.

Finally, special Friend of Darwin awards were conveyed to the eleven plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the seminal 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools — Tammy Kitzmiller, Bryan Rehm, Christy Rehm, Deborah Fenimore, Joel Lieb, Steven Stough, Beth Eveland, Cynthia Sneath, Julie Smith, Aralene "Barrie" D Callahan, and Frederick B Callahan — in recognition of their bravery in challenging the Dover Area School Board's policy of requiring a disclaimer about evolution to be read to students in Dover's high school. The awards were presented in 2007 by Kevin Padian, the president of NCSE's board of directors, at a gathering of the plaintiffs and their friends and supporters to watch Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, the NOVA documentary about the case.

We thank these and all NCSE members for their support of our organization and our mission. We cannot — and do not — do it alone!


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.

Testimony Before the Texas State Board of Education

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Testimony Before the Texas State Board of Education
Author(s): 
Joshua Rosenau
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
6–7
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Mr Chairman, members of the board, thank you for the chance to speak with you about the draft science TEKS.

The science TEKS on the books now were given an F in a 2005 survey of state science standards by the politically conservative Thomas Fordham Institute, noting that "they produce breadth of assertion instead of depth of understanding."

The TEKS presented by your expert writing committees addressed many of those problems. For instance, they replaced inaccurate and misleading references to "strengths and weaknesses" with a more accurate description of the scientific process.

On behalf of the students, parents, teachers, and scientists represented by the National Center for Science Education, thank you for voting to uphold that decision. You showed the respect this body has for the expertise of Texan scientists and educators.

I am not alone in praising that decision. I am proud to present you with these letters and statements signed by over 60 scientific and educational societies, all thanking you for listening to the experts on your writing committees about leaving "weaknesses" out of the standards. I know of no such society opposing that decision.

I am confident you will show the same respect for these scientists' and teachers' concerns over some amendments which you passed in January.

Fifty-four societies, from the American Institute for Biological Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association to the Biotechnology Institute and the Society of Sedimentary Geology signed a statement drafted by NCSE urging you to remove and reject amendments which single out evolution for scrutiny beyond that applied to other scientific theories, or which inaccurately and misleadingly describing these ideas as scientifically controversial. We're especially concerned by references to "sudden appearance," which may sound confusingly similar to creationist rhetoric about "abrupt appearance" to the untrained ears of a student, just as references elsewhere to "arguments against universal common descent" may be taken as a call for creationist claims that go beyond the standards' clear statement about the limits of science.

I'd be happy to go into further details of my concerns about these amendments if you have any questions.

The National Center for Science Education and these many scientific societies urge the board to delay or reject outright any further amendments which have not been reviewed by your writing committees and the community of Texas scientists and educators. Do not be distracted by discredited creationist claims such as that microbes are irreducibly complex or that the Cambrian Explosion is inexplicable. Do not single out evolution or related concepts in geoscience for scrutiny beyond that given to every other scientific topic.

Texas students deserve a world-class education, and this revision process could move them toward that goal … or hold them back. Please, listen to the voices of scientists and educators, listen to the writing committees you chose, and restore and protect honest science in the TEKS.

[This statement was presented to the Texas state board of education on March 25, 2009.]

About the Author(s): 

Joshua Rosenau
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
rosenau@ncseweb.org

Joshua Rosenau is Public Information Project Director at NCSE.

Texas Science Standards and March Madness

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Texas Science Standards and March Madness: Did We Win or Lose?
Author(s): 
Steven Schafersman
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
4–6
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The revisions of my state's science standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, TEKS) by the State Board of Education (SBOE) are confusing and controversial. News articles following the March 25–27, 2009 meeting reported that the scientific community had succeeded in turning back proposals by the Discovery Institute (DI) and religious radicals on the SBOE that would have weakened science education. The DI and radical SBOE members, on the other hand, gleefully claimed a great victory in their blogs and reports. Who was right?

The correct answer is neither. The results were mixed: science education both won and lost. Texas Citizens for Science (TCS) worked during the past year with several partners — NCSE, the Texas Freedom Network, and several science and science education professors from Texas universities —to preserve the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas during the state's science education standards adoption process. In the end, our efforts did not produce the results we wanted and that Texas's students deserved. It is important to examine why.

Political landscapes

The political situation in Texas is such that the religious right is very strong and controls the state Republican Party. The 15-member SBOE has seven members who are religiously conservative Republicans: these individuals are biblical literalists and creationists, including the board's chair Don McLeroy (appointed by a governor who shares his religious views). We have always had some of these on the state board, but right now there are seven of them, and they are well-organized, well-disciplined, and immune to embarrassment despite their frequent public expressions of ignorance, stupidity, and bigotry. If they pick up just a single additional vote — and they did for a variety of reasons — they can do whatever they want.

The science standards writing panels ultimately produced an excellent set of standards that should have been adopted without change, but the SBOE felt the need to modify them. The outcome of the process was that the scientific method standard and many of the standards that concern cosmic and biological evolution in the biology and earth and space science (ESS) standards were compromised. It is true that the very worst language was avoided, but only by very close 8–7 votes for which the majority disappeared when qualifying or debilitating substitute amendments — suggested as "compromises" — were proposed. Getting rid of the really antiscientific language was a victory, but it was only a partial victory. When their very worst antiscientific amendments failed, creationist members immediately came back with a new substitutes that were less obviously antiscience. Some of these passed.

The creationist SBOE members voted together as a bloc every time. The eight pro-science members — five Democrats and three Republicans — did not vote as a pro-science bloc. Most of the pro-science board members are friendly, moderate-to-conservative individuals who believe in collegiality, cooperation, and compromise, so most were willing to accept the weaker but still flawed substitute amendments. I could sense the emotional compulsion in some board members to vote with a colleague for a less egregious amendment and to find some compromise on controversial issues. The antiscience SBOE members exploited this quality again and again.

The pro-science Republican members may have felt more pressure to compromise (they were being politically assaulted by their own party and by thousands of messages, letters, and phone calls from their fundamentalist and creationist constituents). Several had been attacked in their primaries — a political tactic that had increased the number of creationists on the board from four in 2003 to seven in 2008. Sometimes compromise is good, but compromise on science education standards should not result in students' being forced to learn inaccurate and misleading lessons about scientific knowledge.

The antiscience BSOE members were able to manipulate the process by passing a rule that the pro-science members probably thought was inconsequential: requiring votes on amendments without members' being allowed to talk to their science experts first or hearing scientific testimony during board debate. Thus, pro-science BSOE members — who were not scientists themselves — were forced to vote without understanding what they were voting on. Thus, the board approved several antiscience amendments in January and March.

I explained this problem to pro-science SBOE members and recommended that they always vote "no" to any amendment that the antiscience side proposed, but their plan was to seek a compromise on amendments and standards that were controversial within the board. The antiscience proposals ultimately succeeded because their supporters falsely claimed that their amendments were approved by "science experts" and scholarly publications, and in some cases presented their amendments in a form that did not reveal that vital subject matter was being removed.

Furthermore, the amendments ranged over the map. One SBOE member proposed thirteen bad amendments to ESS in approximately 20 minutes. She talked so fast and so confidently — repeatedly referring to her "scientific experts" who were actually "intelligent design" (ID) creationists — that she managed to convince fellow board members to pass five of them.

By far the worst amendment was to standard (3)(A) (formerly the "strengths and weaknesses" provision), which discusses the scientific method. The original proposal by the science writing panels said simply, "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observation testing." The SBOE changed this to:

in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.

The word "critique" was added to suggest that scientific explanations should be criticized by students, even though it is redundant and inappropriate, since "critique" correctly used means "analyze and evaluate", not criticize. Even worse, the phrase "all sides of evidence of those scientific explanations" awkwardly and inaccurately suggests that all scientific explanations have "sides" when in fact most do not, especially at the level science is taught in high school. The new words were deliberately added, of course, to attack biology textbooks in the future if they do not include "critiques" of evolution or present the bogus "evidence" that creationists mistakenly believe undermines or refutes evolution.

Curricular "time bombs"

SBOE chairman Don McLeroy said he would warn publishers to be sure to cover "all sides" of culturally controversial issues, such as evolution, as specified by these new standards or risk having their textbooks rejected. If SBOE members find "problems" with the books, the publishers could also be told to fix the "errors" to avoid rejection. What will publishers do when faced with this unethical and ugly extortion? If history is a guide, they will make whatever changes are necessary to make sure their textbooks are adopted in Texas or lose many millions of dollars in sales.

Similar time bombs inserted into the proposed biology standards by the SBOE are the requirements to:

analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;

analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell; and

analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.

To many, these new statements may be innocuous, but they were inserted to encourage publishers to include information in biology textbooks that may undermine evolution education and to punish publishers if they do not.

The first one was inserted because SBOE creationists believe that a "sudden appearance" of fossils means they were specially created, rather than reflecting an imperfect fossil record. SBOE members, using misinformation from the DI, will try to force publishers to suggest to students that this pattern in the fossil record is a weakness of evolution. Ideally, publishers could satisfy this standard by including accurate and reliable information about all rates and modes of fossil evolution, including gradual fossil evolution and transitional fossils, but the SBOE still can veto these texts.

Two standards were inserted to attempt to force publishers to tell students that the cell and information-carrying molecules are so complex that evolution cannot explain them (implying that some extranatural process is necessary). Cells and information-carrying molecules are complex and their chemical processes are not totally explained, but that gives no license to incorporate extranatural processes into the science curriculum. Again, the standard will try to make publishers include bogus or misleading information about complex processes and molecules that antiscience members believe demonstrates the inadequacy of evolution, and this could pose problems for publishers in the future.

Only one time bomb was inserted in the new ESS standards. This was a requirement to discuss the complexity of life in the origin-of-life standard (we can be relieved that the origin-of-life standard itself was not removed). Antiscience SBOE members did remove requirements that specify that the universe is about 14 billion years old and that discuss the rate and diversity of evolution of fossils. However, since two relevant standards require discussion of the age of the universe and the evolution of fossils, these will not hinder textbook authors and publishers from including this information in ESS textbooks. Furthermore the YECs on the board apparently overlooked standard (7)(C), which mentions "earth's approximate 4.6–billion-year history"; it remained unchanged. In light of the other compromises they racked up, the creationist members probably could have changed (7)(C) to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" if they had just tried.

Finally, a Democratic SBOE member added a requirement to the Environmental Systems standards to "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming", but this time bomb will backfire, too. Textbook authors and publishers of environmental science textbooks now may have to include common arguments against climate change, all of which are easily refuted by scientists (see "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic"; available on-line at http://www.grist.org/article/series/skeptics/).

Holding our own … for now

Textbook authors and publishers should still be able to use the new standards to write good textbooks. Despite all the problems with the process, the numerous substandard standards do not contain explicit requirements to include antiscientific information, so they do not force publishers to put inaccurate or unreliable science textbooks up for adoption — although they allow and even solicit it. For example, the requirement to "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations" and to examine "all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations" can be easily met by textbook publishers and authors by (1) truthfully stating that there is only one side to most scientific explanations and all that are covered in a high school biology course; (2) pointing out that the standard specifically limits the required examination to "scientific" evidence and explanations, excluding antiscientific information or misrepresentations that some SBOE members and the DI claims should be included; and (3) interpreting the "all sides of…scientific explanations" requirement to mean a much broader discussion of evolution than they normally would present. Perhaps they could include discussions of evolutionary psychology, and the evolution of human intelligence or of religious belief, all of which do indeed have several scientific "sides". By following these guidelines, textbook publishers, authors, and teachers can successfully prepare textbooks and perform instruction that are completely scientific.

The first problem we face in Texas is that content in biology and ESS textbooks is no longer controlled by the Texas science education standards, but by the ability of textbook publishers and authors to stand up to the political whims of members of the SBOE. The second problem is that science textbooks come up for adoption in 2011, so scientists and science advocates will have to return to Austin and the SBOE to resist attempts to weaken science education. The composition of the SBOE may be different then, so attempts to damage science books may fail as in 2003. But if there are no changes, there will be another close fight.

The third and worst problem we face in Texas is that the science TEKS are also the basis for classroom curriculum and statewide end-of-course exams. Science teachers were already operating in a climate of uncertainty, and their situation is now even worse. They may downgrade their emphasis of or even hesitate to teach the topics that the SBOE has made controversial, for fear of being criticized and reprimanded. The Texas Education Agency — the state's Department of Education — is influenced by antiscience activists. Their end-of-course biology exams may contain questions focused on alleged problems with evolution and the history of life, not test whether the students have accurate and reliable knowledge of this field. Teachers and students will be forced to prepare for this pseudoscientific nonsense if they want to pass the exams.

The very bad situation in Texas will not change until there is a change in political leadership in this state. Science education and many other instructional disciplines have been politicized to an alarming extent in Texas (currently, the social studies standards are being subjected to the same attacks that science and English just endured). Under the new standards, students in Texas will receive a blighted science education and fall further behind their peers in other states and other countries. We science advocates still have much work to do.

About the Author(s): 

Steven Schafersman
Texas Citizens for Science
6202 Driftwood Drive
Midland TX 79707
tcs@texscience.org

Steven Schafersman is the president of Texas Citizens for Science (http://www.texscience.org). He received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award for 2004 in recognition of his decades of defending the integrity of science in Texas.

The Kilosteve

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Kilosteve
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
29
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2009
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
34–35
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

With the addition of Steve #1000 on February 12, 2009, NCSE's Project Steve attained the kilosteve mark. A tongue-in-cheek parody of the long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of "scientists who doubt evolution" or "scientists who dissent from Darwinism," Project Steve mocks such lists by restricting its signatories to scientists whose first name is Steve. (Cognates are also accepted, such as Stephanie, Esteban, Istvan, Stefano, or even Tapani — the Finnish equivalent.) About 1% of the United States population possesses such a first name, so each signatory represents about 100 potential signatories. ("Steve" was selected in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould, a Supporter of NCSE and a dauntless defender of evolution education.)

Steve #1000 was announced at the Improbable Research press conference and crowned at the Improbable Research show, both held on February 13, 2009, as part of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott and Steve Mirsky, long-time writer, columnist, and podcaster for Scientific American, presented a commemorative plaque to — of all people — Steven P Darwin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the herbarium at Tulane University. In a February 14, 2009, press release (available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/2009/02/steve-darwin-is-steve-1000-004308), Darwin commented, "This is the first time that being a Darwin — or a Steve — has paid off!" Videos of the press conference and the award ceremony are available on-line at NCSE's YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd), and a Scientific American podcast is available online at http://www.sciam.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=count-on-steves-to-defend-darwin-09-02-20.

The fact that Steve #1000 hails from Louisiana is particularly ironic, since the state recently enacted a law that threatens to open the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes. When a policy implementing the law was drafted, a provision that prohibited the use of materials that teach creationism in the public schools was deleted. Recently, the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology announced that, due to the anti-evolution law, it would not hold its 2011 conference in New Orleans; a spokesperson for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau told the weekly New Orleans City Business (2009 Feb 23) that the city would lose about $2.7 million as a result of SICB's decision. (For background, see RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 [2]: 8–11; 2008 July/Aug; 28 [4]: 4–10; 2009 Mar/Apr; 29 [2]: 5–7.)

Although the idea of Project Steve is frivolous, the statement is serious. It reads

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools."

Currently, there are 1088 signatories to Project Steve, including 100% of eligible Nobel laureates (Steven Weinberg and Steven Chu), 100% of eligible members of President Obama's Cabinet (Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy), at least ten members of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors of widely used textbooks such as Molecular Biology of the Gene, Psychology: An Evolutionary Approach, and Introduction to Organic Geochemistry, and the authors of popular science books such as A Brief History of Time, Why We Age, and Darwin's Ghost. When last surveyed in February 2006, 54% of the signatories work in the biological sciences proper; 61% work in related fields in the life sciences.

Additionally, Project Steve appeared in Steven Pinker's recent book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2007). Pinker, himself a single-digit Steve, described it as "the most formidable weapon in the fight against neo-creationism today," adding, "Part satire, part memorial to Stephen Jay Gould, the project maintains a Steve-O-Meter (now pointing past 800) and has spun off a T-shirt, a song, a mascot (Professor Steve Steve, a panda puppet), and a paper in the respected scientific journal Annals of Improbable Research called 'The Morphology of Steve' (based on the T-shirt sizes ordered by the signatories)."

For further information about Project Steve, visit http://ncse.com/taking-action/project-steve.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

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

Glenn Branch is NCSE's Deputy Director.

Review: Adam's Ancestors

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
43
Reviewer: 
J David Pleins
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins
Author(s): 
David N Livingstone
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 301 pages

Some trips down memory lane in the creationism/evolution debate can be enlightening, others disturbing.

In a previous volume, Livingstone enlightened us by uncovering the early conservative Christian backers of Darwin, those he dubbed Darwin's Forgotten Defenders (Grand Rapids [MI]: Eerdmans, 1987). In his current exploration, Livingstone takes us into the heterodox and racially-charged world of Adam's preadamite ancestors. If we thought we understood the history of the creationism/evolution debate, Livingstone once again upends the standard categories to reveal new fault lines in the bitter battles over the Bible, theology, and science.

Livingstone begins by turning the clock back to the age of heresy to highlight the provocative views of Isaac La Peyrère. Peyrère met the rising tide of the expanding European knowledge of ancient civilizations and the increasing encounters with non-European populations by suggesting that there were men before Adam. If the Chinese and Egyptians were right to say civilization is far older than Adam and if the bewildering array of races on earth suggest colors and customs unknown to Noah's sons, then logically the Bible's story is limited in time and scope. By suggesting there were men before Adam, Peyrère managed to reconcile the Bible and modern knowledge while earning the disdain of many a high churchman.

Thus, the preadamite heresy was born. Ironically, Peyrère's heresy would go on to become an orthodox leitmotif in the 19th and 20th centuries. Livingstone's story is designed to tell us how this topsy-turvy state of affairs came to dominate the discussion of human origins before and after Darwin.

The debates that unfolded in the 18th and 19th centuries hinged on how, scripturally-speaking, to account for the world's diverse races. Some said the climate was the shaping force. Others said God created different races for different places. Some suggested there were multiple Adams, while others claimed there were two creations — the creation of the preadamites in Genesis 1 and the creation of the Adamites in Genesis 2. Whether the preadamites died off before Adam or coexisted became a theological concern. Matters of Original Sin and the dangers of race mingling were at stake. In each case, the effort was made to reconcile Genesis with the new knowledge of world geography and global cultures. Peyrère's heresy was seed cast on fertile soil.

Behind the clever theological schemes, Livingstone reminds us, there was a hellish reality. In many cases, theological gamesmanship went hand-in-hand with the global slave trade and imperial adventures. Defenders of the faith fell rather easily into ranking the races, with white Europeans always coming out on top of the divine pecking order. Whether the theologians spoke in terms of climate, diverse centers of creation, or even common descent from Adam, invariably blacks and other groups trailed behind white Europeans in spiritual worth.

Against this backdrop, the major players of the day can be seen in a new light. Louis Agassiz's distinct zones of God's creation appear awfully racist, whereas the Darwinian view of the common descent of humans and apes looks far less racist and much more egalitarian.

By this point, Peyrère's heresy was here to stay.

After Darwin, some who wished to link the Bible and science would speculate about whether Adam evolved from his preadamite ancestors. Eventually, many Catholics would say that the human body did evolve, but that the human soul takes up residence in a fetus during the gestation period. In other post-Darwinian theological circles, the racist angle would reassert itself as writers worried over whether Adam's white heirs should intermarry with the brutish preadamite blacks, thereby diluting Caucasian spiritual purity.

It is hard to conceive of all the useless theological ink spilled in the name of preadamic racism. Yet, lest the secular evolutionist begin to gloat over Darwin's triumph, Livingstone reminds us that the secularists of the period could play the multiple centers of origin game with similar racist intent. The schools of anthropology of the 19th century are replete with racial invective that parallels the odiousness of preadamite religious rhetoric. Theological references to Adam and preadamite are replaced by talk of races as "varieties" and "species." Somehow, in all the secularist charts, portraits, and cranial measurements, primitive blacks stood several notches below the superior white.

One need not have been religious to be racist in the 19th and 20th centuries. True, there were voices, like some abolitionists, who rose above the devilish din, but Livingstone's tawdry tale (well-told) airs the dirty laundry that wafted on both sides of the creation- evolution divide.

Livingstone's richly detailed, amply illustrated work stands as a warning to a religion that loses its ethical moorings and a science that betrays basic human dignity. This is an unsettling book. The skeletons are out of the scientific and theological closet. Will we heed the lessons Livingstone has set out for us?

About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

J David Pleins
Department of Religious Studies
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara CA 95053
jpleins@scu.edu

J David Pleins is Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. He is the author of When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noah's Flood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Review: Evolution and Religious Creation Myths

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
38-39
Reviewer: 
Randy Moore
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolution and Religious Creation Myths: How Scientists Respond
Author(s): 
Paul F Lurquin and Linda Stone
New York:Oxford University Press, 2007. 240 pages

Evolution and Religious Creation Myths: How Scientists Respond is meant to arm "the public with facts about the differences between myth and science, fiction and theory." The book is intended as a college textbook; it contains a glossary, sections titled "Things to think about" at the end of each chapter, and an appendix of experiments for readers to perform.

Evolution and Religious Creation Myths is generally well-written and addresses many of the topics that are integral to the evolution/ creationism controversy. The book is laid out as follows.

Chapter 1 ("Creationism and intelligent design: The evolution of an idea") covers familiar ground — for example, that there are many different creation myths, that "intelligent design" (ID) is neither science nor a new idea, and that many creationists selectively claim that evolution is "just a theory" (that is, they do not make such claims about the germ theory of disease). This section of the chapter concludes with "... God as creator is right as a matter of religious faith, and evolution by natural selection is right as a matter of science" (p 14). Many readers will question this claim because it is often impossible to separate creation myths from the value systems they support. For example, conservative Christians often defend their values by defending their conception of how God created the universe; Answers in Genesis's $27-million Creation Museum is a monument to how many people link their value systems to a creation myth. That museum, which blames the teaching of evolution for societal ills such as divorce, school violence, and pornography, was visited by more than 360 000 patrons during its first year of operation.

Chapter 2 ("What is evolutionary biology and where is it coming from?") discusses some of the history of evolutionary thought while focusing on Buffon, Lamarck, Lyell, Darwin, and Wallace. The stories in this chapter will be familiar to RNCSE's readers. Although there is a considerable discussion of finches, the authors do not make clear that "Darwin's finches" were not mentioned in the first edition of On the Origin of Species, and became an icon of biology only after David Lack published Darwin's Finches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947). I was disappointed that there was no mention of Lyell's struggles with science and faith.

Chapter 3 ("Creationist purpose and irreducible complexity rebutted") discusses several topics challenged by creationists, including radiometric dating, molecular biology and biochemistry, and the evolution of antibiotic resistance, the eye, bacterial flagella, and the immune system. The chapter concludes with discussions of whether ID and "creation science" are sciences, and whether ID-based research has been published in scientific journals. Again, the stories in this chapter will be familiar to most readers of RNCSE. There is no discussion of any of the court decisions that have addressed "creation science" and ID.

Chapter 4 ("The origins and evolution of Homo sapiens") discusses human evolution, a topic that frightens many creationists. The authors concisely discuss drift, the migration out of Africa, cultural evolution, and the abundance of fossil evidence supporting current views of human evolution. The authors also raise intriguing questions about our ancestors (for example, what caused the demise of Neanderthals?).

Chapters 5 ("The origins of life and the cosmos as evolutionary themes") and 6 ("Evolution of the DNA world and the chance events that accompanied it") are the most interesting parts of the book. The authors do an excellent job of discussing — among other things — abiogenesis (including the difficulties with the experiments of Stanley Miller), the RNA world, the appearance of genetic information, the DNA world, and the evolution of eukaryotes. The authors also contrast probabilistic arguments with teleological ones, noting that the teleology that underlies ID and other types of creationism places these beliefs at odds with all of science, not just evolution.

Chapter 7 ("The dangers of creationism") completes the book with discussions of the political ramifications of evolution and creationism (for example, how conservatives often appeal to the anti-intellectualism of their constituents), the business of creationism, and the importance of a scientifically literate public. Again, the examples and stories will be familiar to readers of RNCSE. The authors note that the Discovery Institute had revenues of $4.1 million in 2003, but do not mention any of the other anti-evolution organizations (such as Answers in Genesis, the revenues of which far exceed those of the Discovery Institute).

Evolution and Religious Creation Myths has many strengths. However, some topics are tantalizingly incomplete. For example, despite the book's title, only about 10 pages are devoted to religious myths that are outside of biblical literalism.

The authors write, "back in those days, the State of Tennessee had banned evolution from its science curriculum ..." (p ix). In fact, Tennessee made it a crime for teachers in public schools (including universities) "to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animal." That is, Tennessee (and, subsequently two other states — Arkansas and Mississippi) banned only the teaching of human evolution (it would have presumably been acceptable to discuss the evolution of cockroaches or turnips). Noting the legislative sensitivity to human evolution would have helped to place the chapter on human evolution into better context.

The authors correctly note, "Most professional scientists, even thought they are deeply irritated by all the attacks against evolution, have remained largely silent in public forms, at least in forums that involve the general public" (p x). It would have been helpful to remind readers that it has usually been high school teachers (for example, John Scopes, Susan Epperson, and Don Aguillard) who have resisted creationists in courts, the most public of forums. The primary battlefield of the creationism/ evolution wars in the US educational system is the high school biology classroom, where surprisingly high percentages of teachers continue to include creationism in their courses.

Almost half of the adults in the United States believe that humans were created by a deity approximately 10 000 years ago and that evolution — the foundation of biology — is a myth. Evolution and Religious Creation Myths will help readers to respond to such nonsense.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Randy Moore
Department of Biology
University of Minnesota, MCB 3-104
420 Washington Avenue SE
Minneapolis MN 55455
RMoore@umn.edu

Randy Moore is the HT Morse–Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Biology at the University of Minnesota. A former editor of The American Biology Teacher, he received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award in 2004. His latest book, coauthored with Mark D Decker, is More than Darwin: An Encyclopedia of the People and Places of the Evolution–Creationism Controversy (Westport [CT]: Greenwood Press, 2008).

Review: Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
39-40
Reviewer: 
Peter Dodson
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters
Author(s): 
Donald R Prothero
New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 381 pages.

Arch-creationist Duane Gish proclaimed that fossils say "no!" to evolution. Creationists perennially make bizarre claims about the supposed deficiencies of the fossil record. This book is motivated by the challenge of "intelligent design" (ID) and the recent Kitzmilller v. Dover Area School Board case decided in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Don Prothero of Occidental College is a very good vertebrate paleontologist. He has written a book to provide definitive resources on exactly what the fossil record shows.

Prothero is equal to his task. He is unusually broad in his background and experiences. Although he is an expert on Late Cenozoic ungulate mammals, he has also published on planktonic microfossils. He is a wily veteran of successful debates with Gish. Like Stephen Jay Gould, he demonstrates familiarity with the Bible, and quotes it frequently to advantage. I am in awe of his ability to read the New Testament in Greek. He is well versed in the history of science and religion and makes it clear that he sees no necessary conflict between science and religion.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I (141 pages) examines exactly what we understand by evolution. Prothero considers the nature of science itself, and the relationship of evolution to biology. The biological material brims with up-to-date content, including a nice discussion of the significance of evo-devo and of hox genes. Very useful is the section aptly titled "Evolution happens all the time!" (p 113–8). He reviews contemporary examples of evolutionary change such as sockeye salmon in Washington state, three-spine sticklebacks in Alaska and Norway, codfishes in the Western Atlantic, and pesticide resistance in insects. He ends this section with a lovely quote from entomologist Martin Taylor, lamenting of farmers in the southern United States: "These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution" (p 118).

In the chapter on systematics and evolution, Prothero hammers the point that the course of evolution is not progressive as conceptualized in such outmoded historical concepts as the scale of nature or the great chain of being but rather takes the form of a bush. Creationist insistence on missing links depends on a metaphor scientists (but not necessarily journalists) have long since discarded. He fully develops concepts of cladistics that systematists universally rely upon today.

Part II (215 pages) is the heart of the matter, a survey of the major features of the fossil record from the origins of life to the appearance of humans. I found chapter 7 ("Cambrian 'explosion' — or 'slow fuse'?") quite useful. To Darwin and his contemporaries it appeared that the geological record showed no evidence of life for an immense interval of Precambrian time, and then all of a sudden life appeared in profusion during the Cambrian Period. Since the 1940s there has been a steady increase in discoveries of soft-bodied fossils and microfossils from the Precambrian, including the famous metazoan radiation of the late Precambrian, with its now world-wide Ediacaran faunas. It is also clear that the profusion of hard-bodied fossils such as trilobites, brachiopods, and sponge-like archaeocyathids that are so apparent in rocks came about 25 million years after the beginning of the Cambrian, and was preceded by a reasonably diverse fauna of small shelly fossils that had long been ignored. Thus the Cambrian explosion turns out to be more apparent than real, and another creationist canard bites the dust!

At one time the finest example of an early tetrapod that we could use was Ichthyostega, an unequivocal amphibian. Tiktaalik roseae, described only in 2006, is as sweet an intermediate fossil as can be imagined. Although just on the fish side of the transition, this "fishapod" from the Canadian Arctic has the flattened skull of a tetrapod and a neck, unheard of in a fish. The forefins show a humerus, radius, and ulna, but bear fin-rays, not fingers. Early tetrapods such as Acanthostega and Tulerpeton show that seven or eight fingers preceded the familiar tetrapod pattern of five fingers.

The book proceeds seriatim through seminal recent discoveries in tetrapods, amniotes, dinosaurs to birds and then to mammals. Prothero points out that the evolution of horses, elucidated since the 1870s, remains one of the finest demonstrations of evolutionary change over time. Horse evolution traced over 50 million years exhibits bushiness and lack of directedness. Similar cases can be made for rhinoceros, camels, tapirs, artiodactyls, and elephants. Whale evolution has been clarified by the recent discovery of important fossils from Pakistan, especially Ambulocetus, the Eocene "walking whale", and Rodhocetus, the proto-whale with the ankle of an artiodactyl. Finally, the book documents the richness of the hominin fossil record, which has been substantially enhanced by new finds of the past decade. Prothero demonstrates atavisms in humans (including several arresting photographs of fleshy tails) that make no sense in terms of "intelligent design", but which are easily understandable as developmental anomalies revealing our evolutionary antecedents.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photos and drawings of fossils, and phylogenetic diagrams. It is enlivened with topical cartoons skewering creationists. The book is very valuable as a demonstration of the quality of the fossil record, which has improved dramatically in the past decade. It is a fine resource for those whose knowledge of either paleontology or evolutionary biology can use a little dusting off and polishing. We often accuse creationists of using outdated arguments. Reading a book such as Prothero's will ensure that we do not do the same.

I do have a complaint, however. The book preaches to the converted. Its polemical tone can become wearying and may produce the unintended effect of nudging undecided readers in the wrong direction. Poorly disguising his contempt, Prothero's rhetoric is sometimes over the top, as when he refers to "hard working, dedicated, self-sacrificing biologists who spend years enduring harsh conditions in the field" in contrast to "creationists who sit in their comfortable homes and write drivel" (p 113). Please! The facts of paleontology stand on their own. They do not need to be undermined by rhetorical shenanigans.

About the Author(s): 

Peter Dodson
Department of Animal Biology
School of Veterinary Medicine
3800 Spruce St
Philadelphia PA 19104-6045
dodsonp@vet.upenn.edu

Peter Dodson is Professor of Anatomy and Paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania, and a coeditor of The Dinosauria, second edition (Berkeley [CA]: University of California Press, 2004).

Review: God or Gorilla

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
44-45
Reviewer: 
Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
God or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age
Author(s): 
Constance Areson Clark
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 312 pages

Images matter. Whether through a political campaign's choice of symbols, a news headline's metaphors, or a cartoonist's deft exaggeration of a famous face, visual images persist in popular culture and influence public reaction to ideas, people, and, yes, science. Animals have long been used to embody subtle messages — automobile brands chosen to imply speed, or nicknames that capture essential elements of personality — but few animals carry such rich cultural baggage as nonhuman primates. Don't "monkey" around with or make a "monkey" of me! As historian Constance Areson Clark demonstrates in her engaging comparison of cultural and scientific images of evolution, the image choices made by scientists, anti-evolutionists, cartoonists, museum curators, and the press all helped to shape public debate during the 1920s and 1930s and not always in the direction intended.

The book's title might, at first glance, seem just another sensational use of such images, but, in fact, it simultaneously references both a central tract of the anti-evolution debate and the ambiguous personal attitudes of one of evolution's most visible defenders. Alfred Watterson McCann's 1922 book God — or Gorilla attacked paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn and challenged the accuracy of the "Hall of the Age of Man" in the American Museum of Natural History that Osborn headed. McCann's publication — one of many salvos in a publicity battle which, Clark points out, raged long before the trial of John T Scopes — targeted a staid and admired museum (a veritable castle of scientific prominence and prestige) and the wealthy and socially connected Osborn, who had been active in the debate against fundamentalists such as McCann, John Roach Straton, and William Jennings Bryan. Osborn was, however, a religious man, an elitist, and a supporter of eugenics. He publicly argued that evolution supported "Christian values" and demonstrated that humankind had always struggled for improvement, physically as well as spiritually, yet he privately expressed distaste for the "image of a simian ancestry." Such ambiguity, Clark points out, characterized the attitudes of many scientists at the time.

Clark skillfully analyzes the technical aspects of the debates (as science's understanding of human evolution was being refined and challenged), but her book holds interest outside the history of science because she also dissects the era's popular culture images of monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, and "cavemen" and analyzes strategies chosen or ignored by scientists in their efforts to defend evolution. A "contest among images" played out in the pages of newspapers and magazines, in radio talks, and in museum halls. Everyone — scientists and theologians, evolutionists and antievolutionists — had an agenda; all sought cultural supremacy of their ideas, sought to have their interpretation of life's origins, and of the appropriate delineation of the territory of science and religion, prevail in the public mind. The weapons in that battle continue to be exploited today — satire, ridicule, lampoonery, and photographic comparisons of "man" and "ape." As Clark notes, "the evolution debate was about so much more than the substance of science."

One complicating factor was the increasing complexity of the relevant biology, geology, paleontology, and anthropology. Even though institutions like the nonprofit news agency Science Service were being created to improve public communication, the scientific community's longstanding resistance to popularization for the masses hobbled these efforts. To reach large audiences required using the latest communications techniques like radio, while most scientists remained more comfortable with formats like formal lectures or museum exhibitions. Osborn himself could be dismissive of the very public he claimed to be addressing (he told his publisher that, in writing a popular book, he had "stooped to conquer"). Scientists mindful of the nuances in the evidentiary record would also carefully qualify their statements, while some opponents of evolution simply reduced the choice to one stark question — "God or gorilla?"

Clark offers perceptive analysis of the metaphors, cartoons, and illustrations (including human "pedigrees" and "trees" used in 1920s school biology texts) which peppered the evolution debate, but her book also poses a deeper question. Why did this particular scientific debate capture so much public attention? Certainly, the breakneck speed of technological and social change during the 1920s — automobiles, movies, radio, flappers, jazz — lent credibility to conservatives' anxiety that science disturbed the status quo but, as Clark emphasizes, the two sides also effectively constructed starkly different images of the past. Either human beings stood erect and dignified in the great chain of being, forged in God's image, or else they hunkered on the muddy ground alongside their simian cousins. Neither fundamentalists nor evolutionists seemed willing to compromise in the images they employed in their writings and lectures.

Popular culture then worked its own magic, conflating cute chimpanzees with powerful gorillas and eventually fashioning a satirical version of a brutish, stoop-shouldered, slack-jawed "caveman" (the comic strip Alley Oop, still carried in hundreds of newspapers today, was created in 1932). In her chapter on "Redeeming the Caveman, and the Irreverent Funny Pages," Clark shows how anti-evolutionists exploited science's own visualizations to advantage. Osborn and other scientists may have imagined that they could determine how evolution would be presented to the public, but even powerful institutions like a New York museum could not control how anti-evolutionists would interpret the images in public exhibit halls. McCann frequently turned Osborn's own displays against him. Osborn had worked with curators and designers to "create a vision of cavemen ennobled, rather than degraded," and yet, Clark points out, they added elements (for example, facial and body hair, or rough wooden clubs) which had little scientific basis, and the murals, busts, and dioramas seemingly celebrated a vision of brutal creatures capable of violence. Critics like McCann then easily pointed to such artistic license as proof that the exhibits "represented speculation, not science." Interpretation (and misinterpretation) of images and evidence thus helped, Clark explains, to raise potent questions "about the very definitions of science and its boundaries," a result that served neither science nor the public well. This history offers an important lesson for popularization and public communication of science today.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
c/o NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
ncseoffice@ncseweb.org

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is a historian of science communication. Her most recent books include Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008) and Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century (Lawrence [KS]: University Press of Kansas, 2008).

Review: Only a Theory

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
40-41
Reviewer: 
Andrea Bottaro
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
Author(s): 
Kenneth R Miller
New York: Viking, 2008. 256 pages.

The thesis of Ken Miller's succinct and very readable book Only a Theory is that the evolution/creationism controversy that has been playing out in schools, school boards, legislatures, and courts across the United States is more than a heated but circumscribed skirmish between scientists and religious fundamentalists over the veracity of evolutionary theory versus divine creation, but actually part of a broader and more widespread battle over "nothing less than America's scientific soul". Since few people in the past decade have been more often and more prominently involved at the front lines of this controversy than Miller, this is an alarm call we ought to listen to.

The book begins with taking stock of the scientific prominence of the United States. According to Miller, this success reflects a deep commonality between the scientific spirit and America's key national virtues, namely individual independence and imaginative enterprise, and the value ascribed to the challenging of authorities. American scientific institutions, Miller argues, have thus tended to reward originality and innovation as opposed to loyalty and adherence to established paradigms, which are part of the Old World's academic structure. This is an interesting observation and, to the extent that such a generalization can do so, it probably reflects a true insight.

The next step in Miller's argument, namely that this same independent spirit leads the American public more freely to doubt and openly to challenge the scientific consensus, allowing grassroots movements such as creationism to prosper and score occasional political victories, is far less convincing. By all published surveys, in fact, Americans are far less skeptical of science and more likely to trust the scientific establishment than the supposedly less independent-minded Europeans (see, for instance, NSB 2004: Fig 7-4). For instance, a stunning statistic is that since 1973 a very large fraction (about 40%) of Americans have consistently expressed "a great deal of confidence" (as opposed to "some" or "no confidence at all") in the leadership of the scientific community, more than any other professional group but medicine (which science actually passed in 2002) and, in brief wartime periods, the military (NSB 2004: Fig 7-13). European skepticism of science, however, expresses itself in ways that are not common among Americans, such as the widespread rejection of genetically modified organisms and biotechnology. To me, these data suggest that evolution is more likely to be a sticking point in the United States because of the country's widespread religiousness and the success of fundamentalist denominations, rather than any innate contrarian spirit.

Regardless, Miller's remark that the creationist attack focuses not only on some of the results of science but even on its very methods, and is therefore a real threat to American scientific success, is sensible and important. Yet, the book continues, if we abide by the spirit of challenge that is intrinsic to science, we owe it to ourselves not to reject the creationist critiques of evolution on principle, but to counter them factually. This is where Miller's broad biological knowledge and science writing skills really shine: in a few central chapters, the major tenets of modern creationism and its objections to evolutionary science, such as "irreducible complexity" and the misuse of information theory, are first fairly outlined and then convincingly dismantled. Ranging from pseudogenes to eye evolution, from the immune system to evo-devo, Miller gives a comprehensive view of the scope of modern biology and the interlocking evidence for evolution. Much of this evidence, and the linked account of the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District trial over the teaching of "intelligent design" in a Pennsylvania high school, will not be new to those who follow the evolution/creationism controversy, but will certainly be a key attraction to readers who want to find a easily digestible and yet factually accurate — well, almost fully accurate: on page 149, Miller classifies the Australian feral dog, the dingo, with the indigenous marsupials — and thorough condensate of the topic.

The factual evidence having been presented, the book goes back to its core argument on the nature of science and how "intelligent design" aims to undermine its very foundations. Miller draws a parallel to a famous book by Allan Bloom (1987), The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Impoverished America's Young and Failed Its Students, which was among the first to highlight the problems associated with the academically dominant post-modernist/multiculturalist paradigm of the time. The striking parallels between the antiscientific arguments of (generally conservative) religious anti-evolutionists and those of (generally leftist) post-modernists have been noted before, most notably by Paul R Gross, who has spent the better part of two decades countering both (Gross and Levitt 1998; Forrest and Gross 2007). Here Miller quotes extensively from Bloom to point out that "intelligent design"'s very own "Wedge strategy" to turn society first against evolution and then against empirically based science altogether very closely matches the rhetoric and goals of some post-modernist philosophy, with similarly pernicious effects. Both attempts, Miller warns, have the potential severely to undermine America's scientific and technological primacy at a critical time in world history. (I dare say that the juncture has become even more critical since the book's publishing, because of the current global economic recession.)

Ultimately, Miller is optimistic about the final success of the pro-science side in this battle, and offers suggestions on how to achieve it by expanding the civic engagement of scientists, renewing our efforts in education, and becoming more savvy in the use of tactics and arguments that appeal to the general public. I suspect that some of these latter proposals will encounter some skepticism, but as usual with Miller's writing, his arguments are thoughtful, his tone engaging, and his enthusiasm infectious. This book is no different, and will make for stimulating reading regardless of a reader's own positions on specific issues and their knowledge of the field.

References

Bloom A. 1987. The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Impoverished America's Young and Failed Its Students. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Forrest B, Gross PR. 2007. Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gross PR, Levitt N. 1998. Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

[NSB] National Science Board. 2004. Science and Engineering Indicators 2004. Arlington (VA): National Science Foundation. Available on-line at . Last accessed December 20, 2008.

About the Author(s): 

Andrea Bottaro
URMC Box 695
University of Rochester Medical Center
601 Elmwood Ave
Rochester NY 14642
abottaro@pandasthumb.org

Andrea Bottaro is Associate Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and Oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

Review: Rebel Giants

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
41-42
Reviewer: 
Sherrie Lyons
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Rebel Giants
Author(s): 
David R Contosta
Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2008. 263 pages

February 12, 2009, was the 200th birthday of two truly remarkable men: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. And we have already witnessed an onslaught of celebrations, conferences, articles, and books reflecting the latest scholarship on them. In this biography of the two men, David Contosta suggests that in spite of obvious differences in their lives, they share a lot more than just their birthdays, and that his comparative approach provides more insight into their character than studying each man separately. Contosta chronicles the lives of the two men from their childhood, through their rise to prominence, Darwin in the scientific sphere and Lincoln in the political. The last two chapters provide an overview of the legacies of the two men. In addition, Contosta discusses how views of the two men have changed as a result of different waves of scholarship.

Each chapter has a particular theme, and Contosta continually switches back and forth between the two men's lives, comparing and contrasting. For readers somewhat familiar with their lives, the book covers well-known ground. Contosta has made some use of the Darwin Correspondence Project as well as Darwin's autobiography, and he does a good job of describing Darwin's family life and interweaving it with the development of his scientific ideas. Both men are often portrayed as very humble, and much is made of Darwin's continual bouts of sickness and Lincoln's long periods of depression. Yet Contosta rightly points out how ambitious both these men were. While many comparisons are made, this reader did not find them particularly illuminating. For example, both experienced lulls in their careers: Lincoln only had limited success in being elected to public office and Darwin delayed publishing his theory. "In the long run these lulls turned out to be beneficial, since the time had not yet come for either of these men to launch their main efforts" (p 255).

Contosta emphasizes that both men were not religious, doing a better job of showing the factors that led to Darwin's loss of faith. Lincoln appears to have been influenced by enlightenment thinkers, particularly Thomas Paine. Both men were also deeply opposed to slavery, yet clearly thought that the Negro was inferior. Although Darwin believed his theory showed that all races belonged to the same human family, Contosta does not show how Darwin's racism influenced the development of his theory. Darwin thought that present-day primitive races provided a window into the past, exhibiting behavior that was undoubtedly quite similar to that of ancestral primitive races. This would suggest a chain of continuity from ape-like ancestors to primitive human ancestors to present-day humans. Did Lincoln share a similar view? Even many of the most militant abolitionists also thought the Negro were inferior. In the next hundred years, findings in biology from evolution to genetics were used to promote racism, and not just by uninformed people, but scientists themselves. How did such views shape the struggle for true equality? It is not accurate just to say that non-scientists have misconstrued scientific findings. Today, two hundred years later in the United States, religion masquerading as science in the form of "intelligent design" is threatening the teaching of evolution and racism is still rampant. Contosta claims that the two men's "rebellions were challenging others ... to join them with wide-ranging applications for human equality and human rights and the interconnectedness of all living things" (p 215). Since the supposed strength of this book is its comparative approach, a deeper exploration of these issues is warranted.

In a book of this length that is targeted for a general audience, it is somewhat surprising that Contosta devotes an entire chapter to essentially a review of the secondary literature. This is useful for someone who wants to do further reading. Although Contosta cites Janet Browne's major two-volume biography of Darwin, he does not appear to have made much use of it, instead relying on older material. He provides an overview of the developments in the twentieth century that finally vindicated natural selection but also points out the challenges evolution still faced from the religious community. He presents a good synopsis of the pertinent aspects of the Scopes trial, less so for the recent case in Dover, Pennsylvania (probably because it was still going on when the book was already in production). Contosta is a historian whose specialty is American history and may have not felt qualified to comment on the Darwin scholarship. However, I was hoping that he would render his professional opinion about the different treatments of Lincoln. He claims that the early work on Lincoln was hagiographic, but he does not answer the questions later scholarship raised. Was Lincoln really a racist and Southern sympathizer? Had he been a pawn of the radical Republicans and led the country into an unnecessary war or did he save the Union and at the same time emancipate the slaves? Instead Contosta closes the chapter with a rather noncommittal statement: "Debates over what they accomplished and what those accomplishments mean for each succeeding generation seem destined to go on for as long as anyone can imagine" (p 330).

For those who are well versed in the scholarship on Lincoln and/or Darwin, there is nothing that cannot be found in earlier works. However, for readers who do not know much about these men, this is a very readable account of their lives and the many important and struggles they faced, both professionally and personally. One comes away with a good basic understanding of the controversies surrounding evolution as well as the tension between Lincoln's desire to prevent a civil war and at the same time bring an end to slavery. It is definitely a worthwhile read in this regard.


About the Author(s): 

AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Sherrie Lyons
CDL Empire State College
111 West Ave
Saratoga Springs NY 12866-6048
sherrie.lyons@esc.edu

Sherrie Lyons has a PhD in the history of science and is the author of Thomas Henry Huxley: The Evolution of a Scientist (Amherst [NY]: Prometheus Books, 1999). She teaches at the Center for Distance Learning, Empire State College

Review: Trying Leviathan

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2009
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
46
Reviewer: 
Arthur M Shapiro
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Trying Leviathan
Author(s): 
D Graham Burnett
Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press, 2007. 266 pages

Strictly speaking, Trying Leviathan is not about evolution. It is about a remarkable legal clash between "common sense" and "expert opinion" — a theme all too familiar in the ongoing creationism/evolution wars. As such it has valuable lessons for us. It is also a terrific read.

The case, Maurice v Judd, played out in the Mayor's Court in New York City in 1818. Because of alleged adulteration of fish liver oil, then an important commodity, the New York state legislature had mandated government inspection thereof — with an inspection fee, and a hefty fine for those failing to comply. At issue was whether whale oil was "fish oil" for the purpose of the statute. The argument boiled down to whether or not whales were fishes. Distinguished zoologist and all-around savant Samuel L Mitchill was the star witness, presenting all the latest arguments from comparative anatomy to demonstrate that whales were mammals, not fishes.

One might expect such erudition to carry the day, but it did not. The lead attorney for the other side, William Sampson, played cleverly on anti-intellectualism to discredit Mitchill as a dilettante and out of touch with reality. Nor did the rhetorical manipulation stop at mere anti-intellectualism. Sampson exploited resentment of what was perceived as New England snobbery, portraying the notion that cetaceans were mammals as a Yankee insult to good old New York common sense: "a mere provincial usage" his co-counsel, John Anthon, called it. And Mitchill had testified that "a whale is no more a fish than a man." Anthon exploited this to tie scientific taxonomy to the slavery question and racial anxiety. He posited a scenario in which Mitchill, using all the same arguments he had adduced in claiming a whale was a mammal, now claimed that an orangutan was a man, and indeed "entitled to vote in our public elections." Sampson cautioned the jury that the distinctness of man from the lower orders would be cast into doubt if this newfangled comparative anatomy were to be recognized in a court of law: "Yes, gentlemen of the jury, in the same order with man, they place the monkey, ape and baboon; all equally related, and differing from the lord of the creation only as they differ from each other" (p 84-5). It is hard to tell which of these ploys was most effective, but something worked, since the jury took only fifteen minutes to rule that a whale was a fish.

The court recommended that the legislature revisit the statute and decide for itself whether it wanted whale oil included. It did not, and amended the statute forthwith.

As we all know, evolutionary biologists are prone to lose debates to creationists if they assume that scientific "knowledge" by its very nature must vanquish creationist "ignorance". Maurice v Judd shows that the same sociological forces and the same rhetorical ploys can maintain their vigor for nearly two centuries, and warns us that when elite culture gets too far ahead of popular culture, it loses its relevance. I think about this every time I explain to students why cladistic reasoning tells us that the "Class Reptilia" does not exist, and that birds are a subset of dinosaurs. It sounds just as "airy-fairy" as the whale-as-mammal theory did in New York in 1818 and is received with appropriate incredulity.


About the Author(s): 
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS

Arthur M Shapiro
Department of Evolution and Ecology
University of California
Davis CA 95616
amshapiro@ucdavis.edu

Arthur M Shapiro is Professor of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis.

Review: Worlds before Adam

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
29
Year: 
2000
Issue: 
3
Date: 
May-June
Page(s): 
46-47
Reviewer: 
Paul D Brinkman
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Worlds before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform
Author(s): 
Martin JS Rudwick
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 800 pages

Martin Rudwick's latest work, Worlds before Adam (hereafter WBA), is a mighty sequel to his massive volume Bursting the Limits of Time (hereafter BLT; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005; reviewed in RNCSE 2006 Nov/Dec; 26 [6]: 35–6). Together they constitute a magnum opus from one of the world's foremost historians of geology and paleontology. Like its predecessor volume, WBA is a weighty book that details the efforts of 19th-century geologists to reconstruct an immensely long and eventful earth history, or "geohistory," as Rudwick puts it in his title.This book begins where the previous one leaves off, in the years following the end of the Napoleonic era (circa 1817), when the French comparative anatomist Georges Cuvier still wielded considerable influence in geology, and ends in the early 1840s, when Louis Agassiz's glacial theory "forced geologists to recognize the contingent character of geohistory as a whole" (p 7). Rudwick divides his book into thirty-six well-written and lavishly illustrated chapters arranged chronologically and grouped into four parts. Part I begins in Paris with Cuvier, vertebrate paleontology, and earth's natural "revolutions," then moves to Great Britain, where important contributions to stratigraphy and paleontology were often interpreted in Biblical terms, and ends with a lengthy discussion of the debates about the adequacy of "actual" causes in explaining geological events of the distant past.Could small, observable changes in elevation during earthquakes, for example, account for crustal movements on a more massive, mountainous scale? Part II deals with the late 1820s and earliest 1830s, when French and English geologists such as Alexandre Brongniart, Louis-Constant Prevost, and William Buckland grappled with questions of a cooling earth, fossil faunas, glaciers, extinction and much more.

Part II ends with Chapter 17, "The specter of transmutation (1825–1829)," which deals briefly (in twelve pages) with the subject of evolution, which is only "loosely linked" (p 237) to the central issues of WBA.As Rudwick argues, Cuvier had already established the reality of extinction by the 1820s, when almost all naturalists agreed that many of the strange fossil remains turning up in all quarters of the globe represented species long gone.Whether it was brought about by gradual, local changes of climate, or through massive catastrophes, the fact of extinction was no longer a question. Explanations for the origins of new species remained steeped in controversy, however, especially as evidence accumulated for the successive appearance of new or