Friday, August 12, 2005

Mooney on Fire

But pride of place in this round-up must surely go to the superlative Chris Mooney, who has published this essay, adapted from his forthcoming book The Republican War on Science, over at the website of The American Prospect. He writes:

The Dover case was ?led on church-state grounds, and the Dover school-board member who drove the policy in question made his conservative Christian motivations clear in widely reported public statements (which he now disputes having made). And yet, curiously, members of the national ID movement insist that their attacks on evolution aren’t religiously motivated, but, rather, scienti?c in nature.

That movement’s home base is Seattle’s Discovery Institute, whose attempt to lead a speci?cally intellectual attack on evolution -- one centered at a think tank funded by wealthy extreme conservatives and abetted by sympathetic Republican politicians -- epitomizes how today’s political right has developed a powerful infrastructure for battling against scienti?c conclusions that anger core constituencies in industry and on the Christian right. Just as Charles Darwin himself cast light on the present by examining origins, in the history of the Discovery Institute, we encounter a narrative that cuts to the heart -- and exposes the intellectual sleight of hand -- of the modern right’s war on science.

His essay concludes with this apt summary:

But just like creation scientists of yore, ID hawkers have clear and ever-present religious motivations for denying and attacking evolution. And like creationists of yore, they have failed the only test that matters: They simply are not doing credible science. Instead, they are appropriating scienti?c-sounding arguments to advance a moral and political agenda, one they hope to force into the public-school system.

That is where the true threat emerges. ID theorists and other creationists don’t like what the overwhelming body of science has to tell us about where human beings come from. Their recourse? Trying to interfere with the process by which children are supposed to learn about the best scienti?c (as opposed to religious) answer that we have to this most fundamental of questions. No matter how many conservative Christian scholars Chapman and the Discovery Institute manage to get on their side, such interference represents the epitome of anti-intellectualism.

The material in between is absolutely fascinating. I've been a serious creationist-watcher for some time, but I found myself learning a lot from Mooney's essay. Go read it! Right now!

Bottaro on Behe and Bugs

Meanwhile, over at The Panda's Thumb, Andrea Bottaro has written this important essay documenting yet another example of ID folks just making stuff up:

Well, the Discovery Institute-sponsored translation of Sermonti’s un-informed and dis-informing book, which I reviewed a few weeks ago here on PT, is out. There isn’t much more to say about the translation that I haven’t said already, but an endorsement by Mike Behe on the back cover does stick out, and I think it’s worth discussing here. Behe says:

With charming prose, Sermonti describes biology which contradicts Darwinian expectations: leaf insects appearing in the fossil record before leaves, insects before plants, and biological forms that reflect abstract mathematical expressions. He shows that there are more things in life than are dreamt of in Darwinian philosophy.

I am sure several readers will wonder what the heck this insect stuff is about. So did I, and looked into it. In short, it means that neither Sermonti nor Behe know much about insect and plant evolution, and more significantly, they are not keen to put any effort learning about them.

As always, go to the original for links.

Bottaro goes on to describe in great detail some of the many errors Sermonti makes in his discussion of insect evolution. For some reason I continue to be surprised by how little interest ID proponents have in getting their facts right.

As for Michael Behe, he may want to have a look at the recently published The Evolution of Insects, by David Grimaldi and Michael Engel, reviewed here by Science magazine. It's almost eight hundred pages. Apparently real scientists don't find insect evolution quite as mystifying as Behe and Sermonti do.

Zimmer on Weisberg

Meanwhile, Carl Zimmer offers some comments on Jacob Weisberg's Slate essay on evolution and religion. He writes:

It's bad enough to see basic scientific misinformation about evolution getting tossed around these days. USA Today apparently has no qualms about publishing an op-ed by a state senator from Utah (who wants to have students be taught about something called "divine design") claiming there is no empirical evidence in the fossil evidence that humans evolved from apes. I'm not sure what we're supposed to do with the twenty or so species of hominids that existed over the past six million years. Perhaps just file them away under "divine false starts."

But history takes a hit as well as science. Creationists try whenever they can to claim that Darwin was directly responsible for Hitler. The reality is that Hitler and some other like-minded thinkers in the early twentieth century had a warped view of evolution that bore little resemblance to what Darwin wrote, and even less to what biologists today understand about evolution. The fact that someone claims that a scientific theory justifies a political ideology does not support or weaken the scientific theory. It's irrelevant. Nazis also embraced Newton's theory of gravity, which they used to rain V-2 rockets on England. Does that mean Newton was a Nazi, or that his theory is therefore wrong?

Creationists are by no means the only people who are getting history wrong these days. Yesterday in Slate, Jacob Weisberg wrote an essay in which he claimed that evolution and religion are incompatible. He claims to find support for his argument in Darwin's own life.

See the original for links.

Zimmer goes on to describe, in fascinating detail, how Darwin's religious faith changed as a result of his scientific work and personal tragedies. It's difficult to pick a representative paragraph out of this, but the ending sums things up perfectly:

It is a disservice to Darwin, and to history, to turn his tortured, complex life into a talking point in a culture war.

Exactly right. Now go read the whole thing.

Harris Weighs In

It seems that lately I've been dwelling on the many dopey things people are writing and saying about evolution. So let's wrap up the week with a round-up of some of the more insightful recent writing on this subject.

Over at The Huffington Post, Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, has posted this essay on “The Politics of Ignorance”:

Imagine President Bush addressing the National Prayer Breakfast in these terms: “Behind all of life and all history there is a dedication and a purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful Zeus.” Imagine his speech to Congress containing the sentence “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that Apollo is not neutral between them.” Clearly, the commonplaces of language conceal the vacuity and strangeness of many of our beliefs. Our president regularly speaks in phrases appropriate to the fourteenth century, and no one seems inclined to find out what words like “God” and “crusade” and “wonder-working power” mean to him. Not only do we still eat the offal of the ancient world; we are positively smug about it. Garry Wills has noted that the Bush White House “is currently honeycombed with prayer groups and Bible study cells, like a whited monastery.” This should trouble us as much as it troubles the fanatics of the Muslim world.

Well said. I don't agree with everything in the essay, he takes a pot shot at “religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller” that I think is unfair an uncalled for, but the essay is still well worth reading.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ruse vs. Weisberg

While Jacob Weisberg was dutifully bashing scientists for suggesting that evolution and Christianity were reconcilable, Michael Ruse was bashing them, in this interview for Salon, for being too overt about their atheism. After a long career of being one of the most passionate defenders of evolution over creationism, Ruse has now decided that actually they are merely two different religious views. His basis for this view, it seems, is that a handful of popularizers, most notably Richard Dawkins, have strayed too far into the realm of theology.

In his introduction to the interview, Andrew O'Hehir, writes the following:

Ruse is drawing a crucial distinction between evolutionary science, narrowly considered -- which need not have any religious or spiritual consequences -- and evolutionism, the secular, atheistic religion he says often accompanies and enfolds Darwinism. Leading evolutionists like Dawkins, Ruse believes, have failed to draw clear distinctions between the two, and have led many to believe that Darwinian science is fatally allied to an arrogant atheism and a hostile caricature of religious belief. In essence, Ruse believes that fundamentalist evolutionists like Dawkins and W.D. Hamilton hold similar beliefs to fundamentalist creationists -- both sides would agree that Darwinism is a “dark theology” that removes ultimate meaning and purpose from the universe and augurs the death of God. (Emphasis in original)

The distinction made in the first sentence in this paragraph is fatal to any claim of an equal footing, in any sense, between evolution and creationism. If Ruse disagrees with the theological conclusions drawn by this or that popularizer he is welcome to make his argument. But the fact remains that evolutionists are basing their pronouncements on the best available scientific evidence, while the creationists are basing theirs on delusion and fantasy.

But the bigger problem is that you can count on one hand the number of people who preach evolutionism in Ruse's sense. In the interview Ruse focuses especially on Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is certainly an outspoken atheist, but he is not guilty of evolutionism. In fact, Dawkins routinely talks about how understanding evolution tells us nothing about proper behavior. He talks about humans being able to overcome the nastiness of the evolutionary process. As far as I know, he has never said that evolution implies atheism. He simply says that evolution makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

Let's consider some specifics:

You raise this argument that creationism and evolutionism are essentially two competing religions. That's exactly what creationists say, or at least the sharper ones: “We have two competing belief systems. All we ask is to have our case considered.” One could look at this and say, “Wow, Ruse is saying the creationists are right.”

I am saying that. I think they are right. I want to qualify that immediately by saying that the creationists play fast and loose. Like a lot of us, creationists slide from one position to another according to the kind of argument they want to make. A major theme of the intelligent design people is that theirs is in fact a scientific position, and I think that's a double whammy.

Inasmuch as the creationists want to say openly that both sides are making religious commitments, I have to agree with them on that. I don't think that modern evolutionary theory is necessarily religious. Evolutionary theory was religious, and there's still a large odor of that over and above the professional science. The quasi-religious stuff is still what gets out into the public domain, whether it's Richard Dawkins or Edward O. Wilson or popularizers like Robert Wright. Certainly Stephen Jay Gould. Whether you call it religious or philosophical, I would say these people are presenting a weltanschauung

Ruse isn't making any sense here. On the one hand he says that evolutionists are making religious commitments. But then he immediately turns around and says that evolutionary theory isn't necessarily religious.

Really he is only saying that he objects to some of the things that certain popularizers write. He should simply say that, instead of chumming the waters by saying that creationists are right about anything.

Well, and the rhetoric of both sides is subject to slippage, as you've said. The evolutionists reject creation science by saying it's not science -- but they're just resorting to a dictionary definition of science that, in effect, they wrote. As you say in the book, it's a bit too slick.

What I find particularly troublesome is the extent to which evolutionists and Darwinians say, oh no, we're doing science, and if you do this you have to be an agnostic at minimum, and preferably an atheist. I want to say, “Hang on, if the position implies this, then aren't you taking what I would want to argue is a religious stand -- namely, there ain't no God?” My position is that there isn't a necessary connection between Darwinism and atheism.

Someone explain to me what Ruse is talking about here. First, as I've already said, virtually everyone agrees that there is no necessary connection between Darwinism and atheism. In their professional work, evolutionists never even hint at such a connection. Second, it sounds like Ruse is attacking methodological naturalism here. But that can't be right, since Ruse wrote an essay defending methodological naturalism for Robert Pennock's book Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics. So what does Ruse have in mind when he says that evolutionists require agnosticism at minimum? So much for philosophers bringing clarity to difficult issues.

The interview goes on in this vein, but there's only one more portion that merits further discussion:

Are the creationists genuine in their belief?

I really, truly think so. I think sometimes they have worries about how it all fits together. I know the philosopher Paul Nelson, who has said that theologically he's drawn very strongly to a young-earth creationism. Scientifically, he realizes there's a lot to be said for a much older earth. Paul is genuinely puzzled. In the end he votes for theology over science because, you know, that's his paradigm. That's not to say they don't have motivations. Phillip Johnson, after a brilliant beginning to his legal career, had become best known as the author of textbooks. It's pretty clear that he has found it very satisfying to lead a movement like this, just at a personal level.

I see the sacrifices they make. William Dembski [the mathematician and philosopher who is among the I.D. movement's intellectual stars] is a very bright guy who should have been able to get a very good job, and he's reduced to going off to some theological tinpot college in Tennessee or something [actually, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.]. Paul Nelson hasn't got a regular job. They're making sacrifices for their faith. While I think their position is terrible, I don't see them as evil people. I don't see them as Hitlers. They're caught up in an appalling, idiosyncratic American religion. So they're not the first.

This is really too much. As an academic philosopher, Ruse can't imagine any fate worse than not having a job at a reputable university. Sure, people like Nelson and Dembski have closed off certain career paths by the choices they have made. But many other doors are open to them as a result of those same choices.

I have often commented that it is much easier to make a living as a crank than it is as a legitimate scientist, as long as there is a market for your particular brand of crankery. For example, I would love to write a book about evolutionary biology. But were I to propose the project to any university press, they would take one look at the fact that I am an assistant professor of mathematics and laugh in my face. But if I were to propose an anti-evolution book to an outfit like Regnery or InterVarsity Press, they would see that I have a PhD in something and tell me to have at it. The fact is that Dembski is making a good living peddling lies and ignorance to a gullible public. That doesn't make me sympathetic towards him.

As for Dembski being “a very bright guy who should have been able to get a very good job,” has Ruse overlooked the fact that universities expect their mathematicians to carry out research in the subject? If Dembski had produced a decent research record in the decade since receiving his PhD, he would indeed be able to get a decent job. It's not his creationism that is keeping him out of the academy, it's the fact that he has not lived up to the standards professional mathematicians are expected to live up to.

Perhaps describing people like Dembski and Johnson as evil is too much. How about “very, very bad” instead? The fact is that their scientific assertions are totally false, and they routinely use sleazy, dishonest rhetorical tricks to make their case. Ruse knows that better than anyone. So why is he defending them?

Incidentally, for a taste of how prominent ID folks react to Ruse's largesse, have a look at this account (PDF format) of an ID conference I attended a few years ago. Read the third section, in which I recount a talk given by J. P. Moreland. Moreland attacked Ruse, viciously and dishonestly, and Ruse was kind enough to provide me with a reply for my write-up.

Weisberg on Evolution and Religion

Slate editor Jacob Weisberg has this piece up arguing that evolution and religion are fundamentally incompatible. He gets off to a good start:

The president seems to view the conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design as something like the debate over Social Security reform. But this is not a disagreement with two reasonable points of view, let alone two equally valid ones. Intelligent design, which asserts that gaps in evolutionary science prove God must have had a role in creation, may be—as Bob Wright argues—creationism in camouflage. Or it may be—as William Saletan argues—a step in the creationist cave-in to evolution. But whatever it represents, intelligent design is a faith-based theory with no scientific validity or credibility.

See the original for links.

Well said! It's nice to see a mainstream journal of opinion take such an unambiguous stand on the relative merits of evolution and ID.

Sadly, though, this is Slate we're talking about. That means every single article they publish must be contrarian in some way. As I've commented before, you don't get to look keen and insightful by bashing creationism. No. To look insightful you have to find some way to turn things around on those pointy-headed scientist types:

Many biologists believe the answer is to present evolution as less menacing to religious belief than it really is. In much the same way that intelligent-design advocates try to assert that a creator must be compatible with evolution in order to shoehorn God into science classrooms, evolutionists claim Darwin is compatible with religion in order to keep God out. Don't worry, they insist, there's no conflict between evolution and religion—they simply belong to different realms. Evolution should be taught in the secular classroom, along with other hypotheses that can be verified or falsified. Intelligent design belongs in Sunday schools, with stuff that can't.

This was the soothing contention of the famed paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who argued that science and religion were separate “magisteria,” or domains of teaching. The theme appears frequently in statements by major scientific organizations and wherever fundamentalists try to force creationism or its descendents on local school boards. Here, for instance, is the official position of Kansas Citizens for Science, the group opposing the inclusion of intelligent design in the state's science curricula: “People of faith do not have to choose between science and religion. Science is neither anti-Christian nor anti-God. Science denies neither God nor creation. Science merely looks for natural evidence of how the universe got to its current state. If viewed theistically, science is not commenting on whether there was a creation, but could be viewed as trying to find out how it happened.”

In a state like Kansas, where public opinion remains overwhelmingly hostile to evolution, one sees the political logic of this kind of tap-dance. But let's be serious: Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief, but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world's great religions (and most of its not-so-great ones as well). Look at this 1993 NORC survey: In the United States, 63 percent of the public believed in God and 35 percent believed in evolution. In Great Britain, by comparison, 24 percent of people believed in God and 77 percent believed in evolution. You can believe in both—but not many people do.

Again, see the original for links.

Let's begin with that survey. To me this looks like a classic case of correlation not implying causation. The numbers Weisberg provides certainly suggest a correlation between acceptance of evolution and lack of religious faith. But where's the evidence that the former causes the latter? Were the seventy-seven percent of British people who accept evolution inclined towards religious faith prior to learning about evolution?

I always feel a little funny discussing this issue. I'm as hard-core an atheist as you'll ever find, but not because of evolution. I often tell people that it's not evolution that renders Christianity implausible - it's simple common sense that does that. To put it another way, if you really thought the whole rigmarole about virgin births and bodily resurrections was plausible prior to learning about evolution, you should still think that's plausible after learning about evolution.

I really don't see how evolution poses a threat to any but the most fundamentalist of Christian beliefs.

Weisberg later says:

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna, was saying nothing very different when he argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on July 7 that random evolution can't be harmonized with Catholic doctrine. To be sure, there are plenty of scientists who believe in God, and even Darwinists who call themselves Christians. But the acceptance of evolution diminishes religious belief in aggregate for a simple reason: It provides a better answer to the question of how we got here than religion does. Not a different answer, a better answer: more plausible, more logical, and supported by an enormous body of evidence. Post-Darwinian evolutionary theory, which can explain the emergence of the first bacteria, doesn't even leave much room for a deist God whose minimal role might have been to flick the first switch.

As usual, see the original for links.

In his snide dismissal of “Darwinists who call themselves Christians” Weisberg is simply perpetuating the idea that fundamentalism is the only legitimate form of Christianity. Evolution only explains how an ancient, relatively simple form of life evolved over time into the complex sorts of life we see today. If you previously looked to religion to explain that, than I would agree with what Weisberg says here. But the fact is, there's a lot left to be explained even after you accept evolution.

He is also assuming that the purpose of religious belief is to fill gaps in our understanding of nature. To put it kindly, that is hardly the only way to view God's action in the world.

I really wish I could claim that evolution rules out any meaningful sort of religious belief. Just as the creationists want to be able to claim that science supports their religious beliefs, so too I would like to claim scientific vindication for mine. But I can't, and it doesn't.

Unfortunatly, Weisberg is typical of many generally sensible pundits who weigh in on this issue. Anyone willing to live in the real world can see that evolution is one of the crowining achievments of science, while ID is a load of religiously-motivated nonsense. But rather than simply write an article saying that, he feels he has to find some angle that will allow him to criticize scientists nonetheless.

Weisberg's argument is both wrong and unhelpful to the cause. In asking why so few American's accept evolution, he whould begin by looking at how the media reports on this issue. The acceptable opinions are fawning allegiance to creationism in the right-wing media, polite skepticism in more mainstream outlets, or bemused indifference coupled with scientist bashing in the left-wing media. Short of slogging through a pile of biology textbooks, where are people supposed to turn for accurate information on this subject?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Of course, Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly had to weigh in on this as well. Let's have a look at his Talking Points Memo, subtly titled “God vs. Science”, from last Wednesday. We will consider it in its entirety.

While speaking to some Texas reporters, President Bush opined that he believes public schools should expose students to both evolution and the so-called intelligent design belief concerning creation.

Intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution and that a higher power might be involved. Evolution, put forth by Charles Darwin (search), says that life organisms developed over time through random mutations and factors in nature.

Not bad! I would simply point out that ID asserts that a higher power must, to a scientific certainty, have been involved in the origin of species. That claim is totally ridiculous, which is why O'Reilly opted for the softer phrasing. And while I'm not sure what “life organisms” are, that's about as good a one sentence explanation of evolution that I've seen on television.

Whatever your belief, it should be respected. But the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science both reject intelligent design and don't want it mentioned in science classes. That, in my opinion, is fascism. There is no reason the students cannot be told that more than a few people, including some scientists, believe the creation of the world, no matter how it occurred, involved a higher power. What on earth is wrong with that?

It would be wrong to teach Genesis (search) in a science class. That's for a theology course. But it is equally wrong to ignore the fact that evolution is not a universal belief. Just state the facts, whether it be science or any other subject.

So, if you believe that a pack of religiously motivated lies should not be taught in science classes you're a fascist. Lovely. So much for all beliefs being respected.

Of course, O'Reilly is using an incredibly benign definition of ID. He is treating ID as if it were just the bald assertion that God did something in the course of natural history. The way he tells it, if you stand in front of a science class and say, “You know, some believe that God was directly involved in natural history,” then you have taught ID and can now move on.

I have no particular objection to a teacher saying such a thing in science class, as long as it was immediately balanced by the comparable statement that many people also believe that the relentless progress of science has essentially disproved the Christian conception of God. The reason for not doing so is simply that such statements are totally irrelevant to the material being presented. Okay, so we've acknowledged that people believe many different things on the subject of God. Can we get back to teaching science now?

Should history teachers, when discussing the American Revolution, be expected to say, &lduqo;Some believe that the American victory over the British was only possible because of divine intervention”? Or when teaching about the holocaust, shoud teachers say, “Many people believe that the fact that the holocaust was allowed to happen shows that there is no all-loving, all-powerful God”? Of course not. So why should science classes be forced to discuss the topic?

Now President Bush told the reporters that he favored an exposition of intelligent design so, “people can understand what the debate is about”. It seems logical to me. But a Knight-Ridder reporter named Ron Hutchinson spun it this way.

“Bush essentially endorsed efforts by Christian conservatives to give intelligent design equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation's schools.”

Well, I didn't hear anything about equal standing for the president. Of course, the reporter spun the story that way to make it seem like Mr. Bush is a fanatic under the spell of religious zealots. That's what some in the press do all day long.

Incredible, don't you think? Just moments after referring to the people who disagree with his view of this as fascists, O'Reilly protests that a reporter gave a snide description of Bush. I'm pleased, though, by O'Reilly's implication that evolution and ID do not have equal standing.

Now we come to the grand finale:

This isn't a complicated matter. Public schools have an obligation to present all subjects in perspective. Again, “Talking Points” isn't advocating Adam and Eve in the science lab. But if you're going to discuss the biological procedure of abortion, for example, you have a responsibility to tell students that half the country feels it's morally wrong. Right? The same thing with evolution. Of course it's accepted science. It should be taught as such. But there's no downside to mentioning that many people of faith believe a creator was involved in the process.

Are the public schools in this country champions of free discourse or not? The president is right.

O'Reilly was so fond of that abortion example, he made a big production about it when he later discussed the issue with biologist Paul Gross. It's an insane example. Find me one public school that discusses abortion in its biology classes. Furthermore, abortion is not a scientific theory.

I agree that this is not complicated. Schools should teach the basic facts of the various scientific disciplines, the methods that were used to obtain those facts, and the conclusions scientists draw from those facts. If you want to include some respectful statement about all the different beliefs people hold about the existence or nonexistence of God, go right ahead. But by the time you craft something that really includes everyone, you'll find that you have little time left for teaching science. Why not just state the obvious: Science has nothing to do with God. People who say otherwise probably don't understand either one.

Harball, Part Two

Meanwhile, on yesterday's Hardball, guest host David Gregory (who is so much better than Chris Matthews that he should really be the permanent host) discussed the matter with Eugenie Scott of the NCSE and Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute. The ufll transcriptis available here (be prepared to scroll down a bit). We'll consider a few excerpts:

GREGORY: Mr. Chapman, the shorthand in the intelligent design community is that you should teach the controversy. What is the controversy?

CHAPMAN: Well, first of all, we do not suggest and are not proposing that the schools should teach intelligent design. And, to that extent, we really want to emphasize that there are problems with evolution, per se, and that students really need to know the weaknesses and strengths, from a scientific standpoint, of Darwin‘s theory of evolution. That‘s the—that‘s the main issue. The other is a side issue.

GREGORY: That is the controversy—but is that the controversy that ought to be taught?


GREGORY: In other words, that students ought to be taught that there are some holes in the theory of evolution?

CHAPMAN: They ought to be taught that there are—there is evidence for evolution, but there is also strong evidence, growing evidence against evolution.

The Discovery Institute has become quite adamant lately that they don't want to teach ID in science classes. That they are lying through their teeth on this point is made obvious by a simple thought experiment: Suppose the Supreme Court agreed to step out of the way completely on this issue. Further suppose that the DI was given a free hand to establish whatever curriculum they wanted for high school biology classes. Does anyone seriously believe that under such conditions the DI would give a fair presentation of evolution? Is there really any doubt that they would teach as The Truth the idea that there are aspects of natural history that can only be explained via an omnipotent designer?

I was very happy to see Gregory's next question:

GREGORY: What—what is that evidence?


CHAPMAN: There is all kind of evidence. In the peer-review science literature, it goes on for—you could pile it a foot, two, three feet high on everything from Haeckel‘s embryos to the gill slits to the peppered moth theory, to the Urey-Miller experiments, all these things that Jonathan Wells in his book Icons of Evolution refers to as icons, have serious problems.

GREGORY: All right. But—I‘m sorry. But that is hard to follow.

What is the bottom line? What does that tell us?

CHAPMAN: Well, the bottom line is that scientists increasingly recognize that there are serious problems with Darwin‘s theory as a way of explaining life and the universe. And, therefore, we think that people ought to be able—particularly, students—to know that there are these serious and growing instances of evidence against Darwin‘s theory.

Wow! Evidence three feet high in the peer-reviewed literature against evolution. I think I do a reaosnable job of keeping up with what's in the literature. How could I have missed all that?

Of course, the examples he cites are pathetic. Peppered-moth theory? Please. The peppered moths are simply one out of thousands of known examples of natural selection in the wild. It is used in science textbooks both for its historical significance and for its relative simplicity. The criticisms levelled by ID folks in this regard are total bunk, but even if they weren't how would that constitute evidence against evolution?

Likewise for Chapman's other examples. It is convenient that Chapman explicitly used Jonathan Wells' book to bolster his point here. Every serious claim Wells made in his book has been shown to be total nonsense.

Chapman's next answer is revealing:

GREGORY: Is intelligent design a scientific theory?

CHAPMAN: Well, first of all, I want to say again that we are proposing that Darwin‘s theory be taught. We are not proposing that intelligent design be taught in high schools. But it is a robust and interesting scientific theory, that is intelligent design, that certainly should be in the universities and seminars in robust kinds of dialogues that take place. And people have a right to know that, too, and to be protected.

I wish Gregory has followed up by asking why, if Chapman believes that ID is a scientific theory, he is so adamant about not teaching it in science classes.

Scott finally got a chance to speak later on:

GREGORY: Do you believe that this is a controversy?

SCOTT: Well, by saying it is parity doesn‘t make it so.

The bottom line is that the Discovery Institute wants teachers to pretend to students that there is a nonexistent debate going on among scientists about whether evolution happened. And that simply is not happening. And you don‘t have to take my word for it.

I would suggest anybody who is interested in this go to your local university or community college library and just pick up a half-a-dozen science journals and see if any of those articles are discussing—arguing over whether evolution took place.

What you will find—and this is where the ground definitely gets trampled and muddied—is scientists arguing about how evolution takes place, the pattern the tree of life takes. That is what all this hand-waving about Haeckel‘s embryos and peppered moth and stuff is about. We are arguing about the details. We are not arresting about the whether.

But that is what these people want to us tell children is going on.

And it simply is not true.

Well said. I would simply have added that when scientists argue about the “how” questions, the problem is that there are potentially many possible mechanisms through which evolution might have acted, but in specific cases it is often difficult to discern the correct one. This is in stark contrast to the view the ID folks want to promote, in which the whole idea of a naturalistic explanation is so absurd that we must resort to ID.

There are some other interesting points in the transcript, and I invite you to follow the link and read the whole thing.

Hardball, Part One

Over at MSNBC, Chris Matthews has done several segments on this subject. On last Friday's show the subject arose during his discussion with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Rendell is a Democrat and Huckabee is a Republican. Here's the full exchange:

MATTHEWS: Let me take the—turn to some cultural issues in the country.

Again, let‘s go to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. I know your state is very diverse. You‘ve got people who are pretty conservative, people pretty liberal, people in the middle. What did you make of the fact that the president this week weighed into the argument over education and said that we should be teaching not just the theory of evolution, which we all grew up believing in or learning at school, but also alongside that this sort of neo-creationism, this notion that man himself did not really participate in the evolution of the species?

Do you think that‘s something the president should be pushing?

RENDELL: Well, with all of the challenges that President Bush has, lord knows why he weighed into that issue.

I believe, in Pennsylvania, that we should stick to in education what is proven scientific theory. I also think there‘s nothing wrong with having our public schools teach religion and comparative religion. In the instruction of religion, we can talk about theories like intelligent design. But I think, in science classes, we should stick to those that are supportable by scientific evidence.

MATTHEWS: Rick Santorum, the senator from Pennsylvania, the junior senator, who is a Republican, has come out against the president on this and said the president—he doesn‘t agree with the president, that science courses should be teaching this neo-creationism. Does that surprise you?

RENDELL: Well, yes, it does surprise me a bit.


RENDELL: But I agree with Senator Santorum. Science courses shouldn‘t be teaching it. If we want to have—and I think it is fair game to have religion taught in the schools, comparative religions. And if they want to discuss intelligent design in a religious course, so be it. And I think Senator Santorum is right, although there‘s another guy—I happen to like Rick Santorum personally, although I disagree with him on a lot of philosophical things.

Why in lord‘s name did he come out with a book a year before he is running in an election? Couldn‘t that book have waited a little bit?

MATTHEWS: I know. Well, we talked about the book on the show the other day. We‘ll talk about it with him again.

MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to Mike Huckabee, the Governor of Arkansas.

Are you comfortable with the president‘s suggestion that schools might properly teach evolution, like was learned in school, the sort of scientific approach, and also, alongside that, another point of view, which is that man somehow did not—did not—was created separately in the universe and not part of the rest of the—the living beings on this planet?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think the proper thing to do is to make sure that students have an understanding that there are a lot of points of view as to how the world began.

Personally, I‘m a devout believer. I believe God created the heavens and the Earth. But, frankly, how he did it, I don‘t know. I wasn‘t there.


HUCKABEE: I have to take a lot of things by faith. One thing I will say, Chris...


No, but do you believe there should be a separate—do you think there should be a public school science course that says that evolution should be challenged by another point of view, which is that there was a separate creation of man? Do you think they should teach that in science courses?

HUCKABEE: I would be more comfortable with simply an acknowledgment that there are many points of view and that nobody actually knows what happened and we can‘t prove any of them. You can say, this is the predominant view.

But one thing I‘m very adamant about, I don‘t expect the public school system, a secular public school system, to instruct my children in religious affairs. And I frankly don‘t want them to, because I think they‘ll mess it up.


HUCKABEE: So, I would rather have those sorts of things focused at home and at the church.

But I certainly don‘t mind them having a variety of views, because real faith can withstand the challenge. Faith that isn‘t very sturdy, that‘s the faith that is shaky any time somebody challenges it.

MATTHEWS: So you think it is unhealthy even to have Bible studies as part of a history or a literature course, literature course, especially?

HUCKABEE: Oh, no, no, no, no. I think it‘s a—no, I think it‘s a wonderful thing, because people should understand...

MATTHEWS: In public schools?

HUCKABEE: Absolutely. That‘s fine.

MATTHEWS: I thought you just said you didn‘t want any of that taught in public schools.

HUCKABEE: No. I don‘t want the doctrine taught.


HUCKABEE: But, as far as to have a comparative religion course or to let students read the Bible, I think that‘s great. Kids ought to be able to be exposed to a wide variety of subjects and courses and understand, not everybody is going to agree with them.

Sadly, this was one of the more coherent sugements I've seen on television on this subject. Matthews' initial question doesn't really make sense, but I like his use of the term “Neo-Creationism.” Ed Rendell gave a typically sensible answer. I would simply add that in principle I'm all in favor of teaching comaprative religion, and “Bible as literature” classes. As a practical matter, though, I think it is impossible to teach such things in the public schools without offending just about everyone.

Huckabee's answer was rather suprising, however. I would have expected something much more overtly supportive of teaching creationism. His comments about “not being able to prove any of them” is standard creationist cant, but otherwise I got the impression that he was trying to say the minimum possible that wouldn't cause people to question his right-wing credentials.

Bush Weighs In

Okay, so maybe a few things happened while I was gone. President Bush offered his thoughts on the subject of teaching ID in science classes:

Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over “creationism,” a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.

On Monday the president said he favors the same approach for intelligent design “so people can understand what the debate is about.”

The Kansas Board of Education is considering changes to encourage the teaching of intelligent design in Kansas schools, and Christian conservatives are pushing for similar changes in other school districts across the country.

“I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” Bush said. “You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.”

Many other bloggers have already commented on this, and I have little to add. Over at the Panda's Thumb, P.Z. Myers has compiled a list of bloggers who have weighed in on the subject.

That Bush would take this view is not surprising. As governor of Texas he came out in favor of teaching creationism in science classes, after all. It's a sure thing that Bush knows nothing at all about modern biology, but he does know that this is a red-meat issue for his religious base.

The really unfortunate consequence of Bush's remarks was to give the media another excuse to do a round of excruciatingly irresponsible reporting on this subject. We will take a look at a few of them in the next few posts.

I'm Back!

Well, my vacation went a little longer than I anticipated, but now I'm back. EvolutionBlog will now resume regular publication. Updates will be posted Monday through Firday, generlaly in the late faternoon or early evening. That's a small change form my previous Sunday-Thursday publishing schedule.

I haven't been completely inactive during that time. I attended the 2005 Mega Creation Conference in Lynchburg, VA. I wrote a series of lengthy blog entries for The Panda's Thumb about my experiences there. You can find them here: Part One, Part Two
, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six.

In Part Four of the series I disucssed a conversation I had with one of the conference speakers. He was not happy by my unflattering description of him, and consequently wrote a reply to my essay here. I then replied to his reply here.

So, let's see. It's not like anything especially important happened while I was away, right?