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Devolution and Dinosaurs

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Devolution and Dinosaurs: The Anti-Evolution Seminar in the European Parliament
Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Institute of Biology, University of Kassel
Volume: 
26
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2006
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
10–11
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In January 2006, BBC News published an article entitled "Britons unconvinced on evolution", reporting that only 48% of those questioned accept the theory of evolution. About 17% chose "intelligent design" (ID), 22% opted for creationism, and the rest did not know (http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk). Several months later, an anti-evolution seminar was scheduled for members of the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels. The meeting took place on October 11, 2006, and was announced under the following title: "Teaching evolutionary theory in Europe. Is your child being indoctrinated in the classroom?"

The presentation was translated into four languages and publicized by the Catholic Kolbe Centre for the Study of Creation (see its press release "Evolutionary theory dismissed at European Parliament seminar"; available on-line via http://www.kolbecenter.org) and other creationist groups. Much of the tone of the seminar was conveyed by an anti-evolution letter written by a Polish member of the EP, Maciej Giertych (Nature 2006; 444: 265). In this letter, the author claimed that his arguments are entirely scientific and denied any religious motivation.

The series of three public lectures at the EP was introduced and moderated by Giertych, who was announced as "Population Geneticist, MA, Oxford University; PhD, University of Toronto". Giertych indeed holds a PhD in tree physiology; he is also an honorary member of the UK-based Catholic creationist organization Daylight Origins Society. At the meeting, Giertych explained his views on what he called the falsified hypothesis of macroevolution (the emergence of new body plans as documented in the fossil record). According to this EP member, genetics research provides no evidence of, but "only disproof" for, the concept of common ancestry of life. Moreover, Giertych questioned the value of teaching such "wrong theories" in public schools. His arguments were reinforced by the aerospace physiologist Joseph Mastropaolo, who came from the United States to Brussels; he claimed that the theory of evolution "consists merely of interpretational evidence" and that "the biological sciences offer no empirical proof of macroevolution, just insurmountable problems".

In response to my published statement that "evolution is a fact that has been explained by a modern theory" (dpa news service, 2006 Oct 30), Mastropaolo offered me a considerable amount of money for evidence for evolution that must be "scientific, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated" (see RNCSE 2005 Sep–Oct; 25 [5–6]: 33–4). In a letter, Mastropaolo contended that "the entire universe is devolving, the exact opposite and excluder of evolution" … and that "evolution is anti-science, because it is based entirely on frauds and forgeries". He sent me his paper presented at the public EP hearing, entitled "Life devolves", and summarized the general conclusions of this seminar as follows: "All of the evidence proved evolution is non-existent, whereas the entire universe has always devolved." In his EP presentation, Mastropaolo revealed his religious conviction that "life … is dynamically engineered with vast disciplined originality" and referred to his papers published in the creationist literature. In one of these papers, Mastropaolo wrote that "the human muscle was meticulously nanoengineered by a designer of unimaginable intelligence using mathematics and creative power" ("The maximum-power stimulus theory for muscle", Creation Research Society Quarterly 2001; 37 [4]: 213–20).

At the EP meeting, the civil engineer Hans-Joachim Zillmer, a well-known anti-evolutionist in Germany, claimed that the fossil record does not provide evidence for the emergence of novel body plans (macroevolution). Zillmer, who was announced as an "expert for paleontology and evolution" and a "member of the New York Academy of Sciences", has not published a single paper in the international peer-reviewed literature. A young-earth catastrophist, Zillmer is the author of best-selling popular books with titles such as Darwins Irrtum (Darwin's Mistake) (Munich: Langen/Müller, 2006 [8th ed]) and Die Evolutionslüge (The Evolution Lie) (Munich: Langen/Müller 2005). These books, written in German and translated into several languages, are full of factual errors and unsupported claims. In Darwins Irrtum, Zillmer asserts that he has found human and dinosaur footprints in fossil-bearing sediments in a riverbed in Texas and concludes that these organisms lived together. Even most creationists have admitted long ago that these supposed "human prints" are fraudulent carvings or artifacts. However, in one respect Zillmer is right: between 1960 and 1966, humans and dinosaurs co-existed — in the animated television series The Flintstones.

In his sequel Die Evolutionslüge, Zillmer argues that marine trilobites, which he confuses with crustaceans, may have co-existed with humans in the Cambrian. Referring to the 5th edition of the book of the German "basic types" creationists Reinhard Junker and Siegfried Scherer (Evolution — Ein Kritischer Lehrbuch [Evolution — A Critical Textbook], Giessen [Germany]: Weyel, 2001; see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4]: 31–6 for discussion), Zillmer claims that mutations are always harmful and cannot add information to the genome. In essence, he argues that evolutionary biologists, geoscientists, and the editors of leading scientific journals are incompetent ideologists: these dogmatic Darwinists believe in macroevolution — a modern fairy tale that is unsupported by any evidence. Zillmer and Mastropaolo assert that the scientific establishment actively prevents the publication of the truth — that evolution is a fiction. Zillmer is an advocate of the "young-earth catastrophe" view, which suggests that our planet was struck by a global catastrophe (deluge) about 6 000 years ago. Zillmer believes that either the God of the Bible (which he considers more likely) or an extraterrestrial intelligence (alien life forms) created all forms of life on earth. It should be noted that Zillmer is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He uses this prestigious membership to promote his esoteric pseudoscience among the general public of Europe.

At the end of the meeting, the French Catholic creationist Guy Berthault informed the audience about the results of his empirical research programs concerning the deposition of sediments. According to Berthault, sediments "did not form slowly over millions of years", but "have been laid down within very short time periods". Hence, "fossils can not be dated by the strata that they are found in, nor the rocks dated by the type of fossils found in them."

The public anti-evolution seminar was co-organized by Dominique Tassot, the director of Centre d'Etude et de Prospectives sur la Science (CEP). This is an association of 700 French-speaking Catholic intellectuals that was founded in 1997 by the transformation of a pre-existing informal group. CEP members, who include some active researchers such as Berthault, do not accept macroevolution because it is in conflict with their specific reading of the Bible.

Giertych's bizarre letter to Nature was based on the religiously motivated lectures presented at his seminar. The meeting was part of a novel intelligently designed strategy to distribute and popularize anti-evolutionism in Europe. It is obvious that the reputation of the European Parliament was misused for this purpose. A few weeks later, the journal Nature published Giertych's letter on its Correspondence page. This provocative anti-Darwin letter sparked many angry reactions among the readers of this prestigious scientific journal (see Nature 2006; 444: 679–80).

About the Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Institut für Biologie, University of Kassel
Heinrich-Plett-Strasse 40
D-34109 Kassel
Germany