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]
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 : 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.]
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?"
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).
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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”.
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.
|God created the universe, the earth, the sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, and the first two people within the past 10 000 years.||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.||599|
|The earth is less than 10 000 years old.||531|
|God made the dinosaurs, along with all other animals and humans, less than 10 000 years ago.||587|
|Dinosaurs lived at the same time as people.||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.||573|
|Archaeological findings have confirmed the authenticity of the people and incidents recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible.||583|
|The theory of evolution is not supported by any confirmed facts.||566|
|The theory of evolution proposes missing links and speculates about how humans developed but does not have strong factual evidence to support it.||580|
|All of the events recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible are supported by archaeological evidence.||547|
|Human fossils have been found mixed in with dinosaur fossils showing that humans existed at the same time that dinosaurs existed.||573|
|All people are descendants of one man and one woman — Adam and Eve.||578|
|The Bible describes the creation of life exactly as it occurred in six days.||607|
|There is no such thing as a genetic defect — all genetic changes result from the decisions of a God or an Intelligent Force.||584|
|All living things exhibit evidence of having been purposefully designed, which means there must be an Intelligent Force or a God.||525|
|God created the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry in just the right way, so that life, particularly human life, would be possible.||544|
|God has intervened in the evolutionary process to create millions of species at various times over millions of years.||533|
|God started the evolutionary process and directed it over millions of years.||521|
|God allows organisms to survive by way of natural selection in a post-Flood world.||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.||535|
|Humans are so complex, advanced, and unique that we cannot have arisen due to chance events.||525|
|The life processes in cells are so complex that they could not have developed by random events.||530|
|The complexity of life cannot have arisen by chance or random events.||532|
|Some traits in humans were produced by intelligent design while other traits evolved by natural selection.||508|
|The origin of all life in the universe is the result of intelligent design and not chance events.||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:
And perhaps most amazing:
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%).
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
Furthermore, Americans’ self-reported acquaintance or familiarity with key evolutionary concepts looks equally abysmal:
|Concept||Very Familiar||Somewhat Familiar|
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 : 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.
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, 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.
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.
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 : 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.
Larson EJ. 1997. Summer for the Gods. New York: Basic Books.
Olasky M, Perry J. 2005. Monkey Business. Nashville (TN): Broadman and Holman.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Last accessed January 26, 2009.
Wedgwood E. 1838 Nov 21–22. [Letter to
Charles Darwin.] Darwin
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Wedgwood E. 1839 Feb. [Letter to Charles
Darwin.] Darwin Correspondence
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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).
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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.
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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.
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.
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.]
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).
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.
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.
|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.
|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.
|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).|
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.]
Peter Wellnhofer holds 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.
Oxford paleobiologist 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”.
Thanks to Jere Lipps and Stephen Dornbos for their comments on this review.
Andrew Parker, evolutionary 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.
Parker A. 2003. In the Blink of an Eye. New York: Basic Books.
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.
|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.|
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.
|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  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).
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).
|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.
|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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
The idea of 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.
As a theologian 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).
When the National 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
The prescient lines could have been written today.
For anyone interested 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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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 — 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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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Those of us engaged in 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.
In 1900, Jane K Sather endowed 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.
Do not judge this 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.
Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution, and Enlightenment
Dunbeath, Scotland, United Kingdom: Whittles, 2010. 224 pages
In 2009 we celebrated 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,
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.
Daniel Loxton has 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.
As a student of Stephen 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.
Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution
Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2009. 249 pages
This short 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).
In his book Wonderful Life (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.
Conway Morris S. 2003. Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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.
The documentary under review 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.
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.