Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Intelligent Design and intelligent science education revisited

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this post, responding to this column by Jay Mathews. Well, Mathews reports, most of his email was, to put it mildly, quite negative. As befits the civil tone of most NLT readers, those who took me to the woodshed for agreeing with Mathews were thoughtful about it. There was a huffy comment over at the Education Wonks, a site devoted to--what else?--education. (The comment, to be clear, was not by the bloggers, but by a reader.)

So where am I now? This morning--I’m a slow learner--I read a very long piece entitled "No Faith in Science" in today’s Globe and Mail (not available on-line for free, but once again, don’t give these guys any money). Covering three full pages in the "Focus" section, it was devoted to a litany of complaints about anything that could be remotely construed as connnected with the Bush Administration’s science policy (including, for example, abstinence education). While the author did quote some defenders of the Bush Administration (from outside as well as inside), it was not, ahem, fair and balanced, as they say on a network I don’t generally watch (I don’t watch any other network either). Among other things, it turns out that questioning the funding of research or refusing to fund research is kind of like McCarthyism. But that’s not the fish I want to fry here.

The title--"No Faith in Science"--is unintentionally telling. The headline writer wanted to call attention to the allegedly faith-based ("fundamentalist") influence on the Bush Administration’s science policy. But in the article itself, I discovered that science is also an object of faith. Here are some of the relevant paragraphs:

When the Traditional Values Coalition prepared its list of "questionable" research projects, it proudly described the endeavour as targeting a "sacred cow." That sentiment hints at a larger problem--a signficant conversion in a society that once seemed to embrace science as tantamount to a new religion.

From the Second World War to the close of the millenium, miracles seemed to spring from laboratories--moon landings, heart transplants, commercial jets, the polio vaccine, nuclear power, computers, antibiotics, and a decoded human genome (a feat Mr. Clinton likened to learning the language of God).

But now all around are mysteries it struggles to solve, from cancer to mad cow disease.... Wonder drugs have been exposed as killers. Cold fusion has flopped. Even the flu looms as an insurmountable foe. People are losing faith.

"Science is not viewed as nearly as infallible as it once was," said Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It just so happens that the paper I delivered at the conference here touched on these themes, albeit somewhat tangentially. It dealt with Tolkien’s treatment of human finitude and the longing for immortality, focusing on his narrative of the downfall of Numenor. I suggested that Tolkien provides us with an analysis of the psychological and intellectual dynamic connected with efforts to extend life indefinitely (that is, to achieve immortality), which we’re approaching when we regard every death as a failure of medical science and hence every death as in some way "optional." (For background, go here, here, and here.) While there are economic, political, and sociological arguments against seeking immortality (arguably the modern project since Bacon and Descartes), Tolkien calls our attention to the religious dimension of this issue, i.e., the fundamental impiety of trying to play God.

To make an already too long story short, I’m tempted to argue that what the emotional reactions to Mathews’ column reveal is that many understand science as a kind of orthodoxy that they’re not willing to have challenged. This is--how shall I say it?--not a scientific attitude toward science. And those who worry about whether such issues can be handled in high school seem to me to be worrying about whether "enlightenment" is possible. If they’re right, if all we can do is indoctrinate, then science does not deserve the high (because neutral or "scientific") ground that they claim for it. What the schools are doing--if they’re right-is establishing the "religion" of science. Now, anyone who has read my Ashbrook op-eds or my posts must be aware that I’m not in principle opposed to government support for religion, but I would favor "multiple establishment," support for all religions (not just one to the exclusion of others, and only for the sake of and conditioned on legitimate government purposes). So if high school science education is in fact a form of religious indoctrination, then I’d favor teaching the conflict over merely foisting one dogma on the students.

Anyone out there provoked?

Update: Do read the comments: they’re interesting, civil, and contain a clickable link to the G & M article I excerpt above. For my own part, as far as science education is concerned, I’d actually be happy with a course in the history and philosophy of science, as a result of which students learned something about the way in which modern science and modern politics are inextricably linked, and about how both are connected with (perhaps even dependent upon) a peculiar and peculiarly unorthodox understanding of revealed religion. This wouldn’t necessarily require teaching Intelligent Design, nor would it involve even the "multiple establishment" of "religion" I mentioned above, but it would provide an understanding of science that would deprive it of any pretenses to be neutral or non-partisan. Of course, this, too, is probably too much to ask.

Update #2: Since I wrote the first update on Saturday, the tone of the comments section has degenerated somewhat, so that I’d no longer necessarily describe all of them as "civil." Read them, if you will, but beware: people’s hackles have been raised, there is some name-calling, and so on. When that begins in any weblog comment section (not only NLT), I tend to tune out.

Discussions - 52 Comments

Leaving aside your position about government embracing all religions, I do agree that making science a religion is distinctly unscientific. Science is an epistemology, and its prime advantage over other (non-rational) epistemologies like religion is its open-endedness and refusal to rule things out altogether (all theories are subject to retesting). Indeed, since the beginning and ending product of science is theory not fact, scientific "truth" is a scarce commodity (the principle of falsifiability). This is what I teach my students. Anything that treats science as the wellspring of ultimate truth is doing violence to scientific principles.

I would’ve have liked to have a specific response to the Glob’s charges that the Bush administration is anti-science.

Can you recommend any more balanced treatments of this subject?

Here’s a clickable link to the G & M story. Thanks to Tom for providing it.

It is true that the idea of science as infallible began in the Enlightenment (I would call it the Endarkenment), with Descartes, who wrote in his Discourse on Method: "Science will make us [Man] the masters and possessors of the Earth." In other words, science is the means by which Man will become tyrants or little gods. Many of the Romantics, notably Blake and Coleridge, saw the great flaw in such reasoning. Because of its basis in empirical experiments, science is limited to what the senses can perceive. But sensory perception is itself hopelessly limited and easily fooled. Once one limits knowledge to what can be discerned by the senses, as opposed to say logic, one’s knowledge becomes instantly incomplete.

The great flaw in scientific theory is that all science can really do is construct a model of nature based on fallible sensory perception. Science then purports the model as Nature. So when something happens in Nature that the model cannot explain (speciation for example), scientists see something wrong with Nature, not the model. The greatest example of this is Darwin, who has become unquestionable. Darwin’s theory of random mutation and natural selection is now taken as irrefutable fact, even though said theory (actually a hypothesis) cannot explain the appearance of over twenty new species of American sparrows in less than one hundred years. The sparrow, a bird indigenous to Europe, was brought to the US in 1850, and in less than one hundred years the original breeding population of 200 birds had expanded across the continent and adapted into 20 new species, each specifically adapted to the envirnomental niche it occupies. Random mutation and natural selection simply cannot account for the rapidity and specificity of such speciation. There is some other mechanism involved in the appearance of new species. But scientists ignore the reality of Nature and instead cling to the flawed theory.

Science is a method, nothing more. It is not infallible. But in its zeal to replace religion, science has simply replaced biblical fundamentalism with Darwinian fundamentalism, substituting one closed mind for another.

I comment on some of the issues you raise, as well as made some comparisons between Canada and the US hereThe Politic

One of the problems is that "science education" teaches the so-called "facts of science" rather than teaching the methods of science. Who knows what Newton’s laws are? And by know I don’t mean repeat verbatim, but understand enough that the laws can be applied usefully. Who? "Scientists"; as most of us don’t consider ourselves "scientists" (us/ourselves meaning Americans), we admit that we don’t understand the methods and pronouncements of science.

And so "Scientists" (like myself) become the clergy that is solely able to interpret "science", providing the laymen with "facts". Laymen, since they do not understand "science", have to take on faith our (scientists) pronouncements. If a layman disagrees, it is because he is an ignorant layman, even if he is a ruler or king; we revisit the Church-State predicament. If I disagree with the orthodoxy (whether because of legitimate skepticism or not), I am a heretic (unless I am already well respected) and should be excommunicated from the "scientific community" (lose funding, publishability); thus we revisit the inquisition/witch trials.

Scott, I think your post is a bit over the top. First, non-empiric epistemology has no checks-and-balances -- your word is as good as mine. Revealed religion really is about faith alone, as Luther would have said. For moral and political purposes I think religion is important, but I really don’t think it’s on a par with science on a daily (mundate or materialist) basis. While certain religious points of view have been strong spurs to scientific thinking (e.g., Puritans), the fruits of science really come from its accuracy in describing how the world works. Is it partial? Of course, and good scientists admit that.

Second, this war-to-the-death between Darwinists and creationists is just silly, and I have to say that most of the silliness comes from the creationist’s side of the debate. Sparrows contradict natural selection? Hardly. That is microevolution, and as any good biologist will tell you, the shorter the lifespan and the newer (or more challenging) the environment, the faster the rate of sub-speciation. So, does 20 to 25 generations of a species completely new to a set of given microenvironments accelerate micro-evolution? Yes, and it can do so mighty quickly. What I think biologists have underemphasized is that fact that all flora and fauna are seething with genes, most of which aren’t used. The rate of micro-mutations is probably quite high in all species (which might explain why medicine is still as much an art as a science). I mean, look at what we’ve done with the wolf in just a hundred years (i.e., the number of new dog breeds has tripled, and they are extremely variable).


Very insightful. That is why we need scientists who are philosophers (displaying the method of Truth-seeking), rather than sophists (giving their version of the "truth").

Somewhere along the line, we seemed to have forgotten that Ph.D = Doctor of Philosophy.

I don’t think my post was at all over the top, but your post, Dain, merely proves my point. The idea of natural selection has become so ingrained that it is beyond question. No one even considers that it might not be true. Darwin’s entire "theory" rests on two assumptions: random mutation and natural selection. Mutation occurs randomly and natural selection then weeds out the bad mutations and promotes the good mutations. But if it can be shown that mutation does not occur randomly, then the entire theory falls apart. In fact there is much evidence to suggest that mutation is not random at all, but rather deliberate and adaptive. DNA--which of course Darwin knew nothing about, making his theory even more questionable--is akin to an extremely complex organic micro-computer chip, capable of self-regulation. It seems to me that DNA is somehow capable of processing environmental pressures or opportunities and deliberately mutating in response. This would explain the rapidity and specifity of speciation, but scientists don’t even consider it because to do so would contradict their god, Darwin. There is no such thing as natural selection; it is merely a flawed hypothesis of an outdated mid-nineteenth century construct.

Sorry, Scott, but natural selection is NOT beyond question in the scientific community. It is simply agreed upon as the best, most consistently sound theory available. Again, I must invite readers to check out a fairly definitive response to all of these creationism science/intelligent design arguments, an article from the July 2002 issue of Scientific American (I hope you won’t react in knee-jerk fashion by adding this distinguished periodical to your list of despised liberal media outlets) called 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.

Some pertinent excerpts:

"In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as ’true.’" The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling.

All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists’ conclusions less certain."

Scott said "There is no such thing as natural selection." I think the evidence is quite compelling that there is such a thing. The same SciAm article succinctly explains:

"2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.

"Survival of the fittest" is a conversational way to describe natural selection, but a more technical description speaks of differential rates of survival and reproduction. That is, rather than labeling species as more or less fit, one can describe how many offspring they are likely to leave under given circumstances. Drop a fast-breeding pair of small-beaked finches and a slower-breeding pair of large-beaked finches onto an island full of food seeds. Within a few generations the fast breeders may control more of the food resources. Yet if large beaks more easily crush seeds, the advantage may tip to the slow breeders. In a pioneering study of finches on the Galápagos Islands, Peter R. Grant of Princeton University observed these kinds of population shifts in the wild [see his article "Natural Selection and Darwin’s Finches"; Scientific American, October 1991].

The key is that adaptive fitness can be defined without reference to survival: large beaks are better adapted for crushing seeds, irrespective of whether that trait has survival value under the circumstances."

and further,

"Natural selection is the best studied of the evolutionary mechanisms, but biologists are open to other possibilities as well. Biologists are constantly assessing the potential of unusual genetic mechanisms for causing speciation or for producing complex features in organisms. Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the energy-generating mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger of ancient organisms. Thus, science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces beyond natural selection. Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved."

Sorry, but I remain unconvinced. By the way, my first degree was in Biology, and I have studied evolutionary theory to some depth, read every relevant book on the subject. But my perspective is broadened by my later studies in philosophy and the humanities. My point is this: any text, like The Origin of Species, is a product of the intellectual milieu in which it was written. Thus, the philosophical assumptions of the time underlie the premises of the text. Darwin wrote in a time when a Newtonian construct of the cosmos was prevalent, and his theory only makes sense in that constuct. Because Newton postulated that interractions between atoms where random, Darwin assumed that mutation is itself random. He then postulated natural selection as the means by which bad mutations are eliminated and good mutations promoted. Exactly which experiments have been performed to confirm this hypothesis? None that I am familiar with. In fact, recent advances in the sciences of chaos and complexity have shown that the interractions of atoms, if there really is such a thing (an atom is really only a mathematical model of substance, and a model is NOT the thing it represents), are not random at all but occur by spontaneous self-organization. The Newtonian cosmos has largely been proven inadequate to explain the behavior of matter, especially at far from equilibrium states. But Darwinian theory, which is based on the Newtonian construct, escapes criticism. If mutation is not a random event, then there is no need for natural selection to favor good mutations over bad ones. In other words, if mutation is not random, there is no such thing as natural selection, regardless of what scientists may say. Futhermore, I reject the idea of evolution as progressive or "descent with modification." I do not see speciation as progressive but as adaptive. The environment changes and species adapt to take advantage of new opportunities or environmental niches. Anyone can quote scientists ad nauseum, but it really doesn’t prove anything. Most scientists are more concerned with confirming their own pre-suppositions--for example, that Darwin is correct--than they are with finding the truth. Because they are unwilling to question Darwin’s flawed theories, they are incapable of arriving at a true view of what is happening in Nature.

Oh my, Scott, you are sounding like a LaMarckian biologist. I seriously doubt you have read everything that is pertinent in biology...if you had I doubt you could write these things. If DNA is a toolkit of sorts, and animals "use" this to adapt to different environments (in other words, the environment plays no role in the selection), then you have two problems. First, what/who decides when/how to adapt and what genes to do it with (I know, you’ll say God, but then since I can’t test that the discussion has to end, doesn’t it?). Second, how do you explain extinction? God got angry with the dinosaurs, did he? Or the Irish elk just ran of our adaptive genes?

I agree with Dain and J. Andros -- the militant close-minded one here is Scott.

J Andros,

Scientific American is very biased. Reading that magazine as an authority in validating evolution is no different than a Christian reading the Bible for validation of Jesus.

Darwin’s Origin of Species spends much time defining species. The reason is simple; species are defined by people. A lot of old species are redefined as new species. There are lots of reasons, some legitimate, for new designations, but keep in mind that recognizing species is highly controversial. Also keep in mind that until one species becomes another, evolution has not occurred. Evolution requires new information. Variation (micro evolution) is not make new information.

The fossil record is the weakest link in evolution theory and this is admitted by many evolutionists. Your magazine article deceives you on this point. If Darwin is right there should be hundreds and thousands of fossils exhibiting tiny changes that connect one species to another. We have had over a hundred years to find them. Instead we have huge gaps that led to another theory. The gaps are used as evidence, earning this new theory the dubious honor of using the lack of evidence as evidence. Real science.

SA wrote "Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved."
Well, that kind of ends the discussion right there doesn’t it? A lot of things were mysterious a hundred years ago. But I’m glad Pasteur didn’t give up because people believed there was no understandable force causing disease. And that quote was from Scientific American?

The controversy needs to taught. If evolution is unquestionable, which version is the right one?


Surely those who would favor the creationist view know that the real fulcrum of modern biology isn’t the randomicity of genetic recombination. It is something far more threatening to their worldview: the observation (not theory) that speciation occurs by a means - genetic transmission - that is reducible, essentially, to chemistry. This is a process that we can indeed observe, quantify and explain in purely physical terms.

To date, the only mechanism of recombination that has ever been observed is random mutation.

While I understand why this might seem, well, blasphemous to you, you should acknowledge - at least to yourself - that even should new methods of recombination be found, this doesn’t change the essential challenge to your worldview. That is, if some other (perhaps Lamarkian) mechanism is ever added to the stock of techniques found in biological adaptation, Biology would still not need supernatural explanations for the evolution of mankind. Thus, *even if you are right* that there is more to speciation than random selection, you are still fundamentally misguided in any belief that this means that "God did it" - that a supernatural force created Earth’s biosphere.

Of course, the broader issue is one of epistemology. In this arena, I am mystified by your stance. It is incomprehensible to me that you can sit at an unbelievably sophisticated computer terminal, in your temperature-controlled room, with an automobile parked outside, down the road from a pharmacy filled with life-saving drugs, and underneath a sky filled with airplanes and satellites
and claim that science "only" deals with observables or that "Darwin was limited to a Newtonian worldview" or that Science is "just a belief set."

Let’s be blunt: mankind lived for millenia under the yoke of "revealed truth." With few exceptions, such times were marked by hunger, sickness and extreme discomfort. You who would demand the primacy of revealed truth had your chance and, relative to the success enjoyed by science, you failed. Whether science is perfect is immaterial - it is better than any alternative you have to offer.

That being said, you are surely correct that science does not provide us the entire blueprint for a happy life. There is much room for us to marvel at the wisdom regarding human nature revealed in the great religious traditions and I willingly agree that such wisdom exceeds that found in many "learned" sociological and psychological texts.

However, your willingness to step outside of the moral and religious realm and into the physical sciences - given your abject failure to engage effectively with the physical world and science’s dazzling mastery of the same - reflects and arrogance that is simply beyond the ken.

So let us talk about the means for living a life filled with grace and honor and achievement. Let us limn the boundaries of scientific discovery and build a consensus regarding the metaphysics of a well-lived life or of a social compact established in freedom and the rule of law. But let us not waste our time in pointless dispute regarding whether God’s chemistry might be better deciphered via scripture than by actual study of the thing itself.

I’ve written about this several times on my own weblog. I’m not a "scientist", I’m a technician (a darned good one, I might add). Most of the "discussion" of "science", "intelligent design" and "creationism" is from minds that refuse to accept anything but their own beliefs as true.

Consider this: IF there is a God, and He created "the heavens and the earth" - all things that exist - He just as well could have created the "natural laws" that mankind has finally stumbled upon. IF God created both all things and the mechanisms by which they interact, there is no difference between "science" and "religion" - one is just another way of searching for the truth, and centered on a different aspect than most "religous" teachings.

Either you have a universe that "just happened", or you have a universe that was created. The laws of probability work against a "just happened" universe. If you have a created universe, that creation includes EVERYTHING about that universe, from sub-atomic particle interaction to the universe itself. As Scott mentioned, mankind is learning that DNA has the ability to react to stimulus, to act as a self-correcting feedback system. That shoots huge holes in Darwin’s theories, and it’s time to understand and recognize that.

I believe in an Almighty God who Created the universe. I also believe He’s head and shoulders above any of the "scientists" who believe they are discovering "original truth". Many people don’t like that, don’t like my attitude, and call me names. I could care less. God created the heavens and the earth, and all that is within them. There is Intelligent Design, from the greatest of all Designers. You either believe or you don’t. All the rest is philosophical swamp gas.

I’m close-minded because I dare to question Darwin? All that proves is when someone resorts to ad hominem attacks, in lieu of logic, I have won the debate.


Recombination does not conflict with anything written in the Bible.

Scientists all over the world are discussing Darwin’s failings as revealed by the truth of modern science (not as revealed by religion. One place this discussion is sometimes prohibited is in educational institutions. Scientists do not prohibit the discussion; courts do. Men who have a degree in law, not science, are deciding what science is and what information can be presented to school students. Science is the big loser here because religious people will believe what they want to believe, but science is a self correcting system that suffers when opposing views are stifled.

The controversy needs to be taught. That controversy would better educate students about the purpose of science than merely remembering verses from the sacred and protected book of evolution.


Scott - did you not say the following in #10:
"There is no such thing as natural selection; it is merely a flawed hypothesis of an outdated mid-nineteenth century construct." ? These are not the words of a scientific mind, but someone who’s already made up his mind. In short, on this topic you are closed-minded and militant -- that’s not my fault. And, for the record, I could call you any number of names and, so long as I also provide cogent argumentation (which I have), still ’win’ the argument.

I notice that you haven’t addressed any of the criticisms of your point of view. You spew some bilge about complexity/chaos theory (which is often incoherent in its own right), slam Darwin for being Newtonian (semi-Kuhnian analysis?), and assert a specious example about sparrows and speciation. What do you give us in return? Quasi-Lamarckian mysticism:
"It seems to me that DNA is somehow capable of processing environmental pressures or opportunities and deliberately mutating in response."

If you intend to persist, please address my question about extinction. Moreover, how do you explain the overwhelming evidence of mutations that don’t succeed (e.g.,5-legged toads, 2-headed snakes)? Did this God/DNA get confused?

To suggest I am a quasi-Lamarkian is laughable. Obviously you are incapable of understanding my argument, which says more about you than it does about me. I am merely pointing out the fact that Darwinian theory is out-dated, erroneous and inconsistent with the evidence we know today. If you were even remotely familiar with the evidence, that point would be obvious. As for your assertion that chaos-complexity is bilge, obviously you are not familiar with the science, which is at the cutting edge of a new paradigm. As for extinction, it proves what? That some species are unable to adapt to rapid environmental change and therefore die out? Why not consider a species that has not gone extinct, the cockroach. Here is an insect that has remained virtually unchanged for 5 million years. If mutation were truly random and natural selection a real force in Nature, why has not the cockroach randomly mutated and through natural selection evolved into a more modified or higher insect? The fact that it hasn’t proves my point. By definition, random means maybe / maybe not. Maybe the mutation will be advantageous, maybe it won’t. For the American sparrow to develop into 20 new species in less than 100 years is living proof that mutation cannot be random. That would require too many advantageous mutations to occur randomly and in rapid succession. It simply isn’t possible. As for mutations that result in deformities, like five-legged frogs, this proves nothing; there are other factors involved, like faulty cell division, to explain such anamolies, which do not in any way lead to new species by the way. What I notice in this debate is that some people just refuse to acknowledge that Darwin might be wrong. If that isn’t indicative of a closed mind, I don’t know what is. The reason why people refuse to acknowledge that Darwin might be wrong, that mutation is not random and that natural selection is a flawed theory and not a fact, is because to admit that would be to admit that they really don’t know anything about Nature and how Nature works. There is adaptation and speciation and, yes, extinction. The fundamental question then is how and why such things occur. Darwin, who knew nothing about DNA, proposed a theory (actually a hypothesis since it cannot be confirmed experimentally) that is inconsistent with the evidence we have today. Elaine Morgan, author of The Descent of Woman and The Aquatic Ape, proposed a much more plausible theory of human speciation than Darwin did. But no one wants to admit it, because Darwin has been elevated to an irrefutable deity in the simple-minded. For the record, I am not a proponent of Intelligent Design, which I believe is a flawed, circular theory. Nor am I a Creationist. I am simply trying to reconcile the real evidence we have today with the observable workings of Nature. The foundation of science is that any theory, no matter how firmly entrenched, must be discarded in the light of evidence that contradicts it. Just as Newton’s linear, mechanistic model of the cosmos had to be discarded when evidence contradicted it, so too must Darwin’s theory of evolution. Just because some scientists continue to believe Darwin’s theory is no more proof that it is valid than the fact that some scientists believe crop circles are made by extra-terrestials proves they aren’t made by humans. This is ridiculous. Only the simple mind of a fool would cling to mid-nineteenth century constructs, like Darwin’s theory, in the face on the new paradigm in the unfolding twenty-first century. But a fool is as a fool does, that is, resorts to ludicrous assertions and deranged name-calling when anyone calls into question the cherished falsehoods in his simple mind.


You wrote: "It seems to me that DNA is somehow capable of processing environmental pressures or opportunities and deliberately mutating in response."

Is this your interpretation of the studies referenced by Jonathan Wells who has catalogued evidence that genetic programs do not control development? If so you have given too much credit to the power of DNA; some of Wells studies show that egg structures such as microtubule arrays and membrane patterns exercise control over development independently of DNA. His writing explains the rapidity of adaptation (which is certainly not evolution or speciation). Is this what you refer to? There are others who are following up evidence related to your statement, but I thought of Wells when I read your post.


G.M. In response to your question, I base my statement on the existence of transposons, which are segments of DNA that are capable of extracting and reinserting themselves anywhere along a chromosome. If a transposon inserts itself in the middle of the start code for a protein, for example, then that protein will not be transcripted. This enables the DNA molecule to regulate which proteins are transcripted and which are not, giving it a crucial role in the development of an organism. But it certainly isn’t the only thing in the cell regulating development. Microtubule arrays and membrane patterns also certainly play a role. All the components of a cell act together. A cell is a remarkably complex thing, far more complex than most of us are willing to allow. I think the great problem facing science today is that far too many scientists cling to out-dated paradigms to explain cellular growth, development and behavior. In complexity there is the idea of emergence, which is that at each level of organization--molecule, cell, organism, species--a thing acts as an independent whole. In other words, a cell acts on its own, independent of the actions of the molecules that comprise it, just as an organism acts independent of the cells which make it up, or a species acts independent of the individual organisms which make it up. At each level of organization, independent wholes interract and spontaneously self-organize to form a larger whole at the next higher level of organization, which then acts indepently with other wholes to self-organize and emerge to a higher level, and so on. Ilya Prigoine and Stuart Kaufman have written extensively on this subject. What is most interesting to me is that both chaos and complexity harken back to a view of matter that is Leibnizian, rather than Newtonian. In Newton’s construct, matter is inaminate and subject to random interraction. But in Leibniz’s construct, matter is animate, possessing an identity and a memory making it capable of spontaneous self-organization. It’s the old atoms vs. monads debate that was all the rage in the mid-eighteenth century. Read the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence for Leibniz’s argument against Newton’s atoms. Not that I think Leibniz had all the answers, but he does propose several ideas that better explain the behavior of matter than Newton does. It is also very interesting that Leibniz inventing the first calculating machine which became the great-grandfather of the modern computer. I find it remarkable that when the computer became sufficiently advanced to perform nonlinear functions, giving rise to the new sciences of chaos and complexity, scientists began proposing theories on the behavior of matter that harken back to Leibniz. If we allow that the behavior of matter or molecules or cells or oganisms or species is not random but spontaneous, then we arrive at a view of Nature that is decidedly not Newtonian or Darwinian. But people cling to their cherished beliefs and revered thinkers, rather than modifying their thoughts to account for new ideas and paradigms.

Scott -- you are a bit hot-headed, aren’t you? Let’s take this step by step.

In natural selection, offspring are born with mutations, some of which are harmful and some helpful. Those who have beneficial mutations live to reproduce, while those who have harmful mutations don’t. In your "theory," somehow DNA "reads" the environment and mutates the animal, by design I’m assuming. So, where does all this purposeful change in DNA take place, in the egg/womb or in the offspring after birth? If in the womb, that means that the adult is somehow transmitting environmental information to the gestating offspring -- an achieved adult characteristic (environmental knowledge) directly inscribed on the DNA of offspring. That, sir, is quasi-LaMarckian - an adult passing on something environmentally acquired during its lifetime genetically. The only thing that prevents it from being fully LaMarckian is that you don’t appear to be saying that the adult animal (or plant) can "morph" its own genes in response to the environment and then pass them on to its offspring genetically. Maybe you ARE saying that, in which case you are a full-blown LaMarckian. Deal with it.

The aquatic ape? least cite the scientists who developed the theory, not some feminist who bastardized it. Regardless, the critiques of that hypothesis are well-known.

Cockroaches? Tell me, how would you improve them? They seem ideally suited for a wide variety of environments, which is why they haven’t changed much. Ditto for the sleeper shark and the centipede. Since you’ve already admitted that macroevolution CAN be driven by cataclysmic environmental change (natural selection works to favor some species and extinguish others - as per Gould, I suppose?), I would say the reason for long-term stability is species is obvious -- environmental stability (e.g., the deep ocean) or near-perfection in generalist design, such as the cockroach.

I really don’t think Darwinists embrace their theory in religious terms. They embrace it because it fits the facts very nicely. Anomalies like sparrows (fast breeders, new environments, limited competition) just don’t begin to falsify the theory. Worse, you want people to abandon a great, parsimonious theory for some polyglot nonsense that 1) you can’t quite articulate, 2) is based on pop-biology and pop-physics, and 3) requires mechanisms that require mechanisms that would be highly complex and improbable.

I’ll switch from Darwinism when you have actually have a theory that fits the facts better.


Thanks for the info. I look forward to reading Prigoine and Kaufman.

Have you studied information theory or thought about the implications it might have on information transfer through DNA? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Would you share some of your thoughts about the implications of spontaneous behavior in matter, molecules and cells?

The debate on this subject is ample evidence that the controversy needs to be taught.

Scott, why do you think it is so difficult to communicate the fact that science, not religion, is challenging Darwin?


Well, G.M., as to why it is science that is challenging Darwin and not religion, I think the answer lies in the fact some scientists are not constrained by out-dated modes of thought. Most of the discoveries made in the sciences have come from experts outside a given field. Chaos and complexity, which began with the study of weather patterns, have profound implications in the field of biology. But it is only scientists whose minds are open to new lines of thought that are aware of it. As to information theory and its implications on DNA cross-over, this is fertile ground for advancing our understanding of genetics. But it would be a mistake to assume that the chromosomes transfer information like a digital computer system; there may be analogies, but not exact ones. DNA is a living molecule after all, whereas a computer is merely an electronic machine. As to spontaneous behavior in matter, molecules and cells, understanding it requires an entirely new way of thinking. It cannot be understood in a Newtonian or Darwinian construct. Prigogine has written extensively on the subject--I recommend Order Out of Chaos and The End of Certainty--although he certainly doesn’t have all the answers either. It appears that under certain conditions, especially in far-from-equilibrium states, matter exhibits behavior that allows it to spontaneously self-organize. How and why this occurs remains a mystery, but it is an observable fact that requires further investigation. Kaufman has written extensively on this subject in the field of biology in At Home in the Universe and his latest book of which I forget the title, since I haven’t read it yet. A thorough discussion of the subject would require far more space than is allowed here, but I hope that these titles give you the information you seek. As to Mr. Crenshaw, he is obviously so ill-read and ill-informed as to make his lunatic rantings unworthy of any further response.


You are probably aware of this quote but I thought I’d post it anyway:

"You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world (to the extent that we are authorized to speak of such comprehensibility) as a miracle or as an eternal mystery. Well, a priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way . . . . Even if the axioms of the theory [gravitation] are proposed by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the “miracle” which is being constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands".

- Albert Einstein -

From ’The “Just So” Universe’ by Walter L.Bradley - Signs of Intelligence - ed. Dembski and Kushiner

Gee, I guess that means that I’ve run out of arguments, and you can’t articulate a better theory. All you seem to be able to do is mutter catch-phrases like "outdated theory" and "paradigm" and such. Kind of like a postmodern gnostic, aren’t you? We have to be "open-minded" to see the "secret truth." How sad that you aren’t up to a substantive debate.

Mr...., oh, that’s right. You don’t have the courage to truly identify yourself. I guess that explains a lot. We’d almost certainly find out that you have no credentials and are some kind of crackpot. You’re right, this conversation is over.

I haven’t much time tonight - it is quite late - but I just would like to point out to Scott that the real issue isn’t whether we "question Darwin." No practicing scientist treats Darwin’s original formulation of natural selection as the beginning and end of the story. It was an idea that had explosive consequences but still needed an enormous amount of work. We are still fleshing out the mechanisms whereby natural selection works. Indeed, there are many, many very smart people looking to push the field forward. We can deal with the specifics of your argument (non-random factors) another time but suffice it to say that when you attack "Darwin" you are attacking a straw man. No serious scientist worries about remaining true to Darwin’s original formulation of natural selection.


You wrote: "No serious scientist worries about remaining true to Darwin’s original formulation of natural selection."

Your sentence should be the starting point in modern education related to natural selection; not the end point.

I’d still bet you couldn’t get it past a judge to have it included in a school text book.


Wildmonk is correct. No serious scientist takes Darwin seriously anymore. This is especially true in molecular biology, where leading scientists have all but abandoned Darwinian selection as a viable theory. But that is beside the point. When I took evolutionary biology at UT Austin, I asked the TA teaching the course whether it was possible that mutation was not random but somehow deliberate. He became deranged and shouted at me in front of the entire class. I think Scott is making a valid point. Questioning Darwin is forbidden in a high school or undergraduate setting. Only serious scientists are allowed to do so, and they are almost always ignored.

Gawain -- as I repeatedly asked Mr. Collier above, why would anyone think that pointing to a (supposed) anomaly or two entirely debunks one of the most useful grand theories of all time? Since your knowledge must be as great as his, point us to a viable alternative theory, please. Moreover, if it really is true that molecular biology has rejected Darwin in toto, can you point out the major scholars in that field who say so? When I read this thread I see a few of us making reasoned arguments (that would be me and a couple of others), while others make wild claims about Darwin’s utter uselessness. So, be productive here...educate. Where is the evidence that Darwin was completely wrong? Where can we find an alternative theory that makes more sense? What are the pivotal pieces of scholarship that debunk natural selection? Many of us would like some references, please.

Gawain and crew...

Don’t take me too far out of context. My point isn’t that Natural Selection has been abandoned - it hasn’t - my point is that the scientists studying the thing are focused on understanding what is going on rather than staying true to some canonical text.

That being said, you have a point regarding your T.A. The biology of speciation is in the unenviable position of being the scientific pursuit most offensive to fundamentalist Christians and of having to deal with one of the more complex natural phenomena. I think a lot of biologists are on hair-trigger simply because they are used to people with (ahem) questionable beliefs trying to set them up. I remember my father asking, years ago, how the hell an alligator can turn into a bird ("what, the scales just turn into feathers?"). This from a very smart man with a Master’s Degree in business at a time when this was not at all common.

If you get hit with this stuff enough and I’m sure that it leads to a certain degree of crankiness.

I, for one, am confident that biology will continue to move forward and that the people who are working the problem are doing so in an honest effort to find the truth. Call me naive if you wish but I’ve found two rules of great value in life: (1) anyone who assumes that every scientist in a field is too stupid or vain to see the "real" truth is himself invariably both and (2) any conspiracy that would require the cooperation of more than 10 or so otherwise unassociated people is a fiction generated by the ignorant in the service of their own biases.

I apologize to Mr. Knippenberg for allowing my posts to degenerate. However, when I am insulted I respond in kind. And I do not suffer fools gladly. That being said, Wildmonk makes a good point. But I would argue that the problem facing biology is that it hasn’t abandoned natural selection. There is absolutely no evidence that I am familiar with that such a force exists in Nature; it is merely an uverifiable hypothesis. But it has become so firmly ingrained that scientists "see" it because they believe it is there. When bacteria in hospitals mutate very rapidly to develop immunity to specific antibiotics--which is why hospitals have to rotate antibiotics regularly--it seems obvious to me that such specific mutations cannot be considered random but rather calculated. The same is true in the speciation of the American sparrow; the appearance of 20 new species each specifically adapted to its environment in so short a time is inexplicable in terms of random behavior. These are real world examples, not hypotheticals, and scientists’ inability to reconcile evolutionary theory with them is evidence to me of their refusal to abandon out-dated modes of thought. I would also encourage anyone truly interested in the origin of humans to read Elaine Morgan’s work. Far from the deranged feminist she has been called above, by someone who knows nothing of which he speaks, she posits a quite viable theory of human speciation. Morgan argues that humans did not evolve on the African plains, as Darwin assumed, but in a semi-aquatic environment. Her evidence is quite compelling. Humans are the only apes with rotary shoulders and the only apes that swim. The human body is streamlined for swimming and has lost its body hair but kept long hair on the head, so infants can grasp the hair of their parents as they swim. Human infants grow fatter over the first two years of their lives, unlike terrestrial species. Morgan posits the reason why as being the "baby fat" provides insulation to keep them warm in the water. Also, it is quite interesting that every year a small percentage of infants are born with webbing between their fingers and toes, which is often surgically removed in the hospital. Pierce Antony has also written on this subject in The Water People, and it is well worth considering, if only as another nail in the coffin of Darwin. Finally, G.M., probably the best book for you to read if you wish to research spontaneous self-organization is Klaus Mainzer’s Thinking in Complexity: The Complex Dynamics of Matter, Mind, and Mankind. It is a quite extraordinary read.

Thanks for the references, Matthew. I’ve read a few books on spontaneous order (e.g., Sync), and I’ll add this one. I do wish you’d stop questioning my intellect, however. Your own discipline is on my side, after all.

Natural selection has been demonstrated both experimentally and in the field. Does the fieldwork on Galapagos finches by the Grants count for nothing with you? While some have criticized it, I think that Kettlewell’s work on moths is still quite valid. And what of the various laboratory experiments on selection using fruit flies, not to mention the obvious evidence of artificial selection (in dogs and other domestic animals, for instance)? Dog breeding, in particular, relies on the opportunistic manipulation of random mutations. What of the fossil records of horses and whales, which show quite clearly that evolution is chained to heredity (not some willful morphing to ideally suit a given environment)? There is a mountain of evidence you ignore or dismiss...because of some sparrows?

I think at best you could argue is that the process of natural selection is often indistinguishable from this inexplicable self-selection mechanism you hint at. Any good scientist would apply Occam’s Razor in this instance. Your explanation requires mysterious mechanisms that can’t be articulated (e.g, how did the source animal KNOW to morph into Archaeopteryx, if why didn’t it just make itself a true bird rather than a monstrousity?). On the other hand, natural selection requires only differential mortality -- pretty simple, and vastly logical.

I’m the fool? What would your colleagues say?

Sir. You obviously have me confused with someone who care what you say or think about anything. The Gallapagos finches, Kettlewell’s moths? Not only am I familiar with these studies, I also know that they posit no evidence of natural selection whatsoever. Ever read Icons of Evolution? It’s a book that conclusively demonstrates that many of the models used in biology textbooks to prove Darwin’s theory--like the pepper moths that supposedly changed color when soot from factories covered ash trees--are in fact fake. Ever read Systematics and the Origin of Species by Earnst Myer? Are you familiar at all with The Animal in Its World by Nikko Tinbergen or The Evolution and Modification of Behavior by Konrad Lorenz? I seriously doubt it, but I’m just pulling a few titles off the bookshelves in my personal library. So it comes as no surprise to me that you are wholly ignorant of the work by cutting edge theorists like Benoit Mandelbrot (The Fractal Geometry of Nature), Ilya Prigogine (Order Out of Chaos), and Klaus Mainzer (Thinking in Complexity). You belittle Elaine Morgan instead of addressing her argument, as if you had ever heard of her before I mentioned her work. Your knowledge of biology is superficial at best, and your thinking skills rudimentary. You have yet to make even an attempt to address the salient points in any of my posts. Simply asking how to improve the cockroach does not in any way answer the question of how the sparrow can randomly mutate into 20 new species in 100 years or how bacteria can randomly mutate in a few days to develop a specific immunity to an antibiotic, but the cockroach has not randomly mutated in 5 million years. You have provided no answer to the question of how natural selection can exist if mutation is not random, which is the fundamental question at the heart of Darwin’s theory. Instead you become unhinged and resort to the same tired old arguments to support Darwin, all of which have been largely discredited. You sound more like a doddering old fart at the head of a classroom who confuses credentials with expertise and superficial knowledge with intelligence. I would suggest a freshman class in rhetoric or elementary logic. Or better yet, why don’t you take some time and read the relevant texts by leading scientists before you mouth off on a subject of which you know nothing about. A fool? Yes, sir, you are.

Hmm...more name-calling. Now, in addition to being stupid, I’m also a "doddering old fart." What’s next...I’m an atheistic SOB?

I’m sad to say it, but there must be unfortunate gaps in your biological training. Icons of Evolution isn’t a serious book. Wells, a biologist but also a religious zealot, offers no substitute for evolutionary theory, and his "critique" of some fine teaching examples is off-base and illiterate. For example, he criticizes the Miller-Urey "genesis" experiments for using the improper primordial atmosphere, but many contemporary studies have adjusted those parameters and have still been able to form organic molecules (and I’ll cite these studies if you like -- but keeping up on the literature in biology is YOUR job, isn’t it). He criticism of the Grants’ finch studies is also rather stupid. That fact that beaks "morph" in response to wet/dry seasons doesn’t contradict natural selection but rather confirms it. Indeed, his criticism misses the mark altogether. And I could go on, but what’s the point. The fact that you accept Wells’ work uncritically tells me volumes about your scientific integrity.

Also, FYI, I’ve read Mandelbrot and Lorenz. Define "strange attractor" for me? Complexity theory WAS at the cutting edge about 10 years ago, but since no one can find many applications it has receded. Current work using "chaos" in the study of emergent order has done its best to operationalize the theory -- soon it will be a straightforward set of positivist assumptions.

I am no fool, nor am I an incompetant half-trained instructor working on the margins of my own discipline. You need to calm down and re-evaluate your values, both professional and personal.

Wow, you two need to get a grip. I only minored in biology at UT and majored in English literature which I teach. So I’m not really familiar with the names of leading molecular biologists. But when I took genetics the professor used the following example to show that random interaction cannot explain the formation of macromolecules like proteins or DNA. Imagine a 747 completely disassembled into its smallest parts, spread out on the floor of a hangar. Could a tornado sweep through the hangar and reassemble the airplane? The professor noted that would be analogous to a protein or DNA molecule forming through the random interraction of atoms. That struck me as deeply profound and is what led me to later ask the TA if it were possible that genetic mutation was not random. Anyway, this entire debate reminds me of one of my pet peeves, the Shakespeare Conspiracy. The true poet and playwright was in fact Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. His identity was first discovered by Thomas Looney in Shakespeare Identified in the 1920s, but the definitive work is by Charlton Ogburn, Jr., The Mysterious William Shakespeare. I have done an enormous amount of research on this subject and for the life of me cannot imagine how anyone familiar with the evidence can possibly conclude that the Bard was Guillermo Shagsper, whose figure graces the frontispiece of the First Folio. Shagsper, who was illiterate and whose own daughter said wrote no poetry, was actually a distant cousin of de Vere’s and was used as a foil so the Earl could publish his work. Nobles were forbidden from publishing their own writing until 10 years after their death. But there is only one university in the entire Western hemisphere, Concordia in Washington State, that teaches Shakespeare as written by de Vere. If you were to approach any PhD in any other English department at any university and question the identity of Shakespeare, you would be greeted with scorn and derision. These PhDs simply cannot admit that everything they think they know about Shakespeare might be wrong and often resort to intimidation and ridicule when questioned. The reason why I suppose is because their entire sense of themselves, their self-worth and their psyche is so wrapped up in believing they know everything about Shakespeare that any question of their knowledge causes them to become unhinged. They have an industry to protect--university departments, biographies, textbooks, critical interpretations, etc. And their minds are so locked up in falsehoods that they cannot even consider the evidence to the contrary. I suspect much the same is true with Darwin. Far too many people have far too much invested in Darwin for them to even consider any evidence that he might have been wrong. I am not familiar with very many of the books that Scott mentions, but Elaine Morgan’s work sounds fascinating. I did however read a review of Icons of Evolution in the National Review a few years back, and he is correct that the pepper moths used as evidence of evolution were actually pinned onto the trees so they could be photographed. I haven’t read the book, but if the models used to support Darwin’s theory are in fact falsified, that raises serious questions about the integrity of the scientists involved and places the validity of Darwin’s theory in serious doubt.

Confusion about the subject is common and easily explained. This is a passage from a college biology textbook that educated professors who are teaching today:

“There appear to be no exceptions to the generalization that ‘all life comes only from living things’. The idea that large organisms such as worms, frogs and rats could arise by spontaneous generation was disproved in the 17th century by Redi and Spallenzani. The experiments of Pasteur, Tyndall and others just a century ago finally provided convincing proof that microorganisms such as bacteria are also incapable of originating from nonliving material by spontaneous generation. Whether the submicroscopic filterable viruses should be considered as living or not is perhaps arguable, but it seems clear that the multiplication of viruses requires the presence of preexisting viruses; viruses do not arise de novo from nonviral material.

In recent years, biologists have come to realize that although spontaneous generation does not occur under the conditions prevailing on this planet at present, it must have occurred some billions of years of ago, when life initially appeared. At that time conditions in the atmosphere and in the sea were quite different from those that exist today, and not only was the spontaneous generation of living things possible, it was highly probable.” (10-11)

(Biology. Ville, Claude A., Harvard University: sixth edition 1972.)

Even though the Theory of Recapitulation was debunked in 1920, it is also included in a section called the Theory of Organic Evolution (11).


ha ha ha ha Pushed your buttons did I? ha ha ha ha Excuse me, but who started hurling insults first? It wasn’t me, fool. You disparage Elain Morgan, even though you probably never even heard of her before I mentioned her. You dismiss Mandelbrot and Lorenz because their work is only 10 years old? (Actually, Lorenz began his work on strange attractors in the 1950s, but that’s beside the point.) Darwin wrote over 150 years ago! So by your own definition of relevancy, he should be dismissed outright. ha ha ha ha You still have yet to provide any kind of answer to the salient points in my posts. That wouldn’t be because you are intellectually incapable of doing so, would it? ha ha ha ha And you don’t even know what I do for a living, you pretentious blowhard. I left education years ago precisely because I got tired of teaching out-dated, irrelevant theories in boring textbooks and trying to argue with doddering old farts like you. I sell real estate. I own my own company. And I make a lot of money, which allows me plenty of leisure time for reading and research on subjects of interest to me. I suppose the reason you’re still stuck in the classroom is because you lack the intellect to make it in the real world. ha ha ha ha Hey, Gawain, the name of that deranged TA wouldn’t happen to have been Crenshaw, would it? ha ha ha ha That’s a great quote, G.M. Of course, spontaneous generation and spontaneous self-organization are two entirely different things. The former is an impossibility--the generation of living beings from non-living matter--but the latter is a certainty--the formation of living beings from the self-organization of living matter. You really need to look into Mainzer’s book. It will really open your eyes, G.M.

You are unhinged, sir. Truly unbalanced...deny reality all you want to, it’s not my problem. As far as owning your own company, etc...I’ll let you pretend about that too. No one wants to admit to being a visiting assistant professor at a 4rth-rate school (perhaps because your ideas make you unemployable?0). I certainly wouldn’t want you teaching my kids biology.

As far as answering your "salient points," I didn’t see any. I saw 1) baseless critiques of Darwin (e.g., your example of cockroaches, which ignores the simple principle that the longevity of a species steadily reduces its mutation rate via natural selection!), 2) bizarre half-assed non-theories, 3) lots of name-dropping of scholars whose ideas you didn’t integrate into any coherent message, and 4) maniacal name-calling and false glee. Truly weird.

I really will say goodbye now, frankly because I sincerely believe you aren’t well. Forgive me for "messing with your head." I didn’t realize it would have this effect...honestly.

This post has been linked to The Carnival Of Education: Week 10A collection of posts from around the EduSphere

Well, if anything, this length list of comments demonstrates the natural progression of our world to destruction--I’m not scientist, just an English teacher, but I think it is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics?

So much rehashing...Ultimately, creationism depends on one unfalsifiable, unalterable tenent from which all else flows: God--the Christian (often fundamentalist, evangelical, etc.) God--made it all. Intelligent Design is simply a version of creationism that seeks to be deceptive and to conceal its unfalsifiable tenant. I short, intelligent designers belive the same things as creationists, they just express it differently, and in many ways much more dishonestly. Those who have followed these movements for many years recognize that a common tactic of the ID/C movement and their fellow travelers is to label their oponents as religions in a crude attempt to impose the intellectual and Constitutional limitations of genuine religion on them. Thus does evolution become a religion. Thus does science in general become a religion. Thus do the Ten Commandments become merely a historical document, and on and on. If it’s not falsifiable, it’s not science. If it’s not science, it does not belong in science classes.

All this silliness and wasted intellect dissing Darwin!

Talk to real biologists.

" I am merely pointing out the fact that Darwinian theory is out-dated"
As pointed out above, you are exactly right. He didn’t know about genetics or DNA, he had a vastly less complete fossil record, a number of scientific discliplines weren’t even around yet, and so couldn’t be drawn upon . . . It doesn’t matter. The basic ideas have proved to be both sound and productive, and have been mixed together with new ideas to create modern evolutionary theory, which includes a whole bunch of interesting stuff that Darwin didn’t know. It will continue to change, that being the nature of science. Interested parties should go to
The Talk.Origins Archive
The Panda’s Thumb blog
Pharyngula (another evolution blog)

" Ever read Icons of Evolution?"
Your point? Do you believe everything you read?

" When bacteria in hospitals mutate very rapidly to develop immunity to specific antibiotics--which is why hospitals have to rotate antibiotics regularly--it seems obvious to me that such specific mutations cannot be considered random but rather calculated."

I’m not a biologist. I don’t read nearly enough to make a truly informed argument. However.
1) LOTS of bacteria. They’re everywhere, man!
2) Reproducing very quickly.
3) With not just brand-new mutations (although that too!) but also pre-existing variation, including bacteria that suddenly have the marvelous advantage of being the only ones left to colonize the poor fool who didn’t finish taking all his antibiotics.

There may be new stuff out there that makes this story more complicated. That’s science.

"Pierce Antony has also written on [the Aquatic Ape hypothesis] and it is well worth considering, if only as another nail in the coffin of Darwin."

More than the freaky laughter, this really disqualifies you from any serious discussion of the issues. Whatever the merits of the aquatic ape idea, the fact is that Darwin was writing before the birth of modern paleoanthropology.
You don’t seem to have a good grasp of what science is (as opposed to revealed truth or philosophy).

This bizarre fixation on Darwin among anti-evolutionists kinda bugs me. He was a very impressive fellow, but the modern theory of evolution doesn’t rest entirely on his shoulders. It’s not like a search of the scientific literature on evolution will turn up "On the Origins of Species" and then nothing but fawning praise for the next 15 decades . . .

Creationism (in original biblical or new intelligent design flavor) doesn’t belong in the high school biology classroom. If you don’t get this, I can’t convince you. The only honest way to teach it is as non-science, which many kids will hear as their teaching yelling about how their family’s beliefs are stupid and wrong, causing them to turn against a) science, or b) less likely, religion. Some teachers aren’t going to bother with the honest way, or won’t be well informed/brave enough to do so. That’s the idea, of course. Google "The Wedge Strategy".

There’s not enough time in the school day as is. Have a nifty comparative religions course (which many creationism-in-schools supporters rapidly back away from), find real controversies to debate, or spend the time doing real hands-on-science, letting the kids *be* scientists as they form and test hypotheses, etc. Don’t use them as culture war cannon fodder, k?

Talk.Origins Archive
The Panda’s Thumb

Sorry. Used to know HTML, really . . .

I’ve always favored the so-called "hard sciences" myself, so forgive my ignorance (and educate me) if you know the answers to the following questions:

What is the falsifiable hypothesis of "Evolution"?

What specific predictions has "Evolution" made? What were the results (fulfilled/unfulfilled)?

If we don’t have a full mapping and understanding of a "species’s" genome, how do we know if a trait was acquired through a random mutation?

How, exactly, is a species determined? Are Great Dane and Chihuahua different species? Are dog and wolf? Why or why not?

And the following questions are stylistic rather than substantive:

Why point someone to a website, then suggest that he not believe all that he reads? What makes the suggested website(s) more believable than the other materials)?

Why is "science" skeptical about some claims but not others? Why should "scientists" promote only limited skepticism?

Why are "Evolution" opponents always labeled "Creationists"? Why stoop to this ad hominem attack? In fact, why point out an opponents previous position or religious affiliation at all?

Well, all of you fans of Intelligent Design (Creationism II) and all of you fans of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld - those factions often overlap, I suspect - should go bonkers over this one. Apparently, two entomologists (insect scientists) have opted to name three newly discovered species of slime mold beetles after the trio. Wait, wait, wait...not to INSULT them, but to HONOR them. Expect to see these scientists win The Halliburton Prize for Excellence in Science soon, and maybe we’ll see a Pentagon Strategic Beetle Studies division in the near future, as well. My question is, will all of these handsome rewards be withdrawn if "The-Jury-Is-Still-Out-On-Evolution" Bush should learn that the scientists "collected and borrowed thousands of specimens of slime-mold beetles in order to study their evolution and classification" (bold mine)??

"so forgive my ignorance (and educate me) if you know the answers to the following questions:"

I’m neither a biologist nor a particularly good writer, so I’m going to refer you, as in the post above, to the Talk.Origins Archive, an excellent resource.

"If we don’t have a full mapping and understanding of a "species’s" genome, how do we know if a trait was acquired through a random mutation"
I don’t understand this question. How would a full mapping and understanding of a (scarequotes)species(/scarequotes) genome tell us anything either way?

"How, exactly, is a species determined? Are Great Dane and Chihuahua different species? Are dog and wolf? Why or why not?"
An excellent question. Interesting overview here.

"Why point someone to a website, then suggest that he not believe all that he reads? What makes the suggested website(s) more believable than the other materials)?"

Ah, good point! Are those mutually exclusive? Critical thinking should generally be left on.
What makes talking to your average doctor a better bet than say, consulting me (qualifications: First Aid merit badge!) in terms of a medical problem? Etc. It’s difficult when this involves highly specialized bodies of knowledge, but there are some basic guidelines. Work that is downright dishonest or otherwise misrepresents what it’s talking about - that’s a pretty big clue.

"Why is "science" skeptical about some claims but not others? Why should "scientists" promote only limited skepticism?"
Yawn... You can go to the hospital or the psychic surgeon. Which one will you pick?

"Why are "Evolution" opponents always labeled "Creationists"? Why stoop to this ad hominem attack?"

1)If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck . . . .
2)Why is this an ad hominem attack? Do you say this about identifying something as, say, "a liberal think tank", etc? You’re right; there are people who oppose evolutionary theory without being creationists, although I think they’re dwarfed by the much larger number of people who are. Personally I usually refer to
"anti-evolutionists," in order to stress the basic point - it’s not religion vs. science, but anti-science vs. science. Of course, people can oppose evolutionary theory without being anti-science (usually because of limited knowledge of evolution, science, etc.), but that’s what the overall conflict is.

" In fact, why point out an opponents previous position or religious affiliation at all? "
Previous position? What do you mean? Religious affiliation? When opposition to evolution is driven by religious belief, it is relevant, no? Especially in a political forum!

I wish I could have a slime mold beetle named after me, although a pet baby pygmy mammoth still tops my list . . .

I really hadn’t thought much about evolution until I saw David Attenborough’s Life on Earth back in the early 1980s. Man, what a great miniseries. It’s hard to find, but for people who would really like a better handle on the history of life on Earth, this miniseries is a must! Also, Attenborough’s Trials of Life and The Blue Planet are simply excellent miniseries.

Of course, there are lots of good books (like Richard Dawkins’ stuff, which tries to popularize evolutionary science), but nothing brings these dynamics to life like pictures with commentary.

Don’t forget The Living Planet!
I love that documentary. I still have two of the aged and wobbly videotapes that my parents used to record a few episodes, and have fond memories of us watching this and other PBS nature documentaries together. Also going to the Museum of Natural History, reading children’s books about dinosaurs, etc.. . This is why creationists make me get what is -for me- downright rude at times; what they want, if without always realizing it, is to take this away from other little kids, replacing it with crude "triceratops with saddles"-style pseudoscience..

Life on Earth was also great, though. It had, if I remember correctly, a bit about the Burgess Shale that was just amazing to watch.

Do you produce balloons that are of the brand of Dazzling Deals?

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