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By Stuart Faulk Edit

Posted to Web: Monday, Mar 2, 2009 05:53PM Appeared in print: Tuesday, Mar 3, 2009, page A9 Opinion: Editorials & Letters: Story

In his Feb. 12 guest viewpoint, Dr. Philip Skell suggests that “Darwin has been oversold,” arguing that the contributions of evolutionary theory are exaggerated, that it has no practical application, and that the scientific community is encouraging polarization by injecting itself into theological matters. Even a little research shows that these assertions are not only false, but are not about science at all.

The National Academy of Sciences states that evolutionary science has made major contributions “to human well-being, including its contributions to preventing and treating human disease, developing new agricultural products, and creating industrial innovations.”

Skell rebuts these claims with two arguments: First, that studying long-dead organisms preserved as fossils could not possibly contribute to our understanding the inner workings of living organisms. Hence, the claim that medical and agricultural advances arise from the study of fossils is absurd. Second, that progress in medicine and other fields does not now, and never has, depended on the results of evolutionary science. In short, it is neither useful nor used.

He supports these arguments by noting some scientific breakthroughs (e.g., the discovery of penicillin) that did not use evolutionary theory, and then asserting (based on a personal survey) that evolutionary science does not contribute anything except “narrative gloss” to current research.

The contention that evolutionary science is not useful is easily shown false by counter-example. The necessary research is accomplished by walking the five feet to my coffee table and picking up the March edition of Scientific American magazine, in which the article “New Tactics Against Tuberculosis” describes progress against the spread of drug-resistant TB. The authors (medical researchers, not evolutionary biologists) explicitly mention the role and contributions of evolutionary science:

1) Evolutionary science is critical to understanding the problem because it is precisely the mechanisms of evolution (adaptation and natural selection) that lead to drug-resistant TB strains in the first place.

2) Evolutionary science is critical to directing research toward an effective cure. Since the tuberculosis bacterium rapidly develops resistance to new antibiotics, current research is seeking ways to block the bacterium’s genetic mechanisms of adaptation.

3) Finally, evolutionary science yields new approaches to a cure. As the authors state of one promising approach, “It allows us to harness the power of natural selection in our quest to thwart (drug-resistant TB).”

Seeing how evolutionary science actually is applied in practice helps us understand why Skell’s other arguments do not hold water. That evolutionary science did not happen to be used for some particular discovery (such as penicillin or, for that matter, the light bulb) tells us nothing about research where it is used (such as TB). This is a red herring, as is the discussion of fossils.

As the research on TB shows, it is other facets of evolutionary science (e.g., natural selection, adaptation, genetics) that drive medical research. While the study of fossils is one facet of evolutionary biology, and evolutionary biology is used in medical research, it does not follow that fossil biology somehow drives medical research. This absurd idea is introduced by Skell, not evolutionary scientists. Similar errors in fact and inference attend Skell’s subsequent arguments, but this suffices to show the modus operandi.

Given how easily Skell’s arguments can be dismissed, it is reasonable to ask why he would make them in the first place. He is just as capable of reading Scientific American as I am, and probably more qualified.

The short answer is that this is not a debate about factual truth and science, but about public opinion and religion. What Skell neglects to mention (but any Web search will show) is that he has long supported creationist causes. His guest viewpoint is but one of many letters supporting “intelligent design” and opposing the teaching of evolution in public schools, which he equates to “indoctrination of students to a worldview of materialism and atheism.”

Since the courts have blocked teaching of creationist ideology in public schools (in the case of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District), creationist strategy has focused on marginalizing evolutionary science: casting doubt on its validity, minimizing its usefulness, and discrediting its proponents. Skell’s assertions simply are repackaged versions of standard creationist arguments along these lines. They are made not because they are true, but because they have proven effective in casting doubt on evolutionary science.

Ultimately, such tactics are a disservice to everyone. In their zeal to discredit evolution, creationists have discredited science in general: confusing the public and our students about what science is, how it works and what it has accomplished. This damages our nation’s ability to teach science and fund scientific research at a time when both are desperately needed.

As Darwin himself remarked, “great is the power of steady misrepresentation.”

Stuart Faulk is a teacher and research affiliate of computer and information sciences at the University of Oregon, and also is Philip Skell’s son-in-law. Comments


reduced 1 Edit

March edition of Scientific American magazine, in which the article “New Tactics Against Tuberculosis” describes progress against the spread of drug-resistant TB. The authors mention the role:

1) Evolutionary science is critical to understanding the problem because it is precisely the mechanisms of evolution (adaptation and natural selection) that lead to drug-resistant TB strains in the first place.

2) Evolutionary science is critical to directing research toward an effective cure. Since the tuberculosis bacterium rapidly develops resistance to new antibiotics, current research is seeking ways to block the bacterium’s genetic mechanisms of adaptation.

3) Finally, evolutionary science yields new approaches to a cure. As the authors state of one promising approach, “It allows us to harness the power of natural selection in our quest to thwart (drug-resistant TB).”

Seeing how evolutionary science actually is applied in practice helps us understand why Skell’s other arguments do not hold water. That evolutionary science did not happen to be used for some particular discovery (such as penicillin or, for that matter, the light bulb) tells us nothing about research where it is used (such as TB). This is a red herring, as is the discussion of fossils.

As the research on TB shows, it is other facets of evolutionary science (e.g., natural selection, adaptation, genetics) that drive medical research.


reduced 2 Edit

March edition of Scientific American magazine, in which the article “New Tactics Against Tuberculosis” describes progress against the spread of drug-resistant TB. The authors mention the role:

1) the mechanisms of evolution (adaptation and natural selection) that lead to drug-resistant TB strains in the first place.

2) Evolutionary science is critical to directing research toward an effective cure. Since the tuberculosis bacterium rapidly develops resistance to new antibiotics, current research is seeking ways to block the bacterium’s genetic mechanisms of adaptation.

3) The power of natural selection was harnessed by the TB researchers in their quest to thwart (drug-resistant TB).”

The research on TB shows, it is natural selection, adaptation, genetics that drive medical research.


reduced 3 Edit

1) the mechanisms of evolution (adaptation and natural selection) leads to drug-resistant TB strains.

2) The TB bacterium develops resistance to antibiotics, ways are seeked to block the bacterium’s mechanisms of adaptation.

3) The power of natural selection was harnessed by the TB researchers in their quest to thwart (drug-resistant TB).

Conclusion: The research on TB shows, it is natural selection, adaptation, genetics that drive medical research.





















commnets Edit

It seems to me that the arguments here about TB (mutations, adaption) are not very relevant to the real controversies or questions about evolution (origin of species, speciation, new species). Nobody, or very few, doubt that species mutate and adapt, and that some sort of natural selection takes place ("microevolution"). The question is whether the evolutionary paradigm (random mutations, natural selection) can account completely for the origin of existing species or the formation of new species. As far as I can tell, this is a hypothesis, but not something that has been proven or disproven, or will be provable or disprovable in the foreseeable future.

It also seems to me that some evolutionary biologists have been mounting an agressively atheistic campaign, with evolutionary science brought forth as scientific "evidence' for atheism. This strikes me as unnecessary and very wrongheaded. Yet just very recently, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Chicago, a Professor Coyne, had an article in the New Republic making just such claims.

Unfortunately, many religious people buy into this argument, but use it as reason to reject science, rather than religion!

This all strikes me as very unfortunate, and damaging to science and religion both. 2. Don't You Believe It 03/02/2009 07:47PM

One doesn't--or shouldn't--need science of any kind to doubt very seriously the claims made in the name of religion; the extreme unlikelihood that a) an all-knowing, all powerful and particularly all "good" being exists and b) any human knows the nature and/or desires of this HYPOTHETICAL critter (even more unlikely) should be enough. Unfortunately, the ability of mankind to delude itself knows few bounds--which in part explains the Bush Administration. 3. Mr. Ed 03/02/2009 07:53PM

OK, DYBI -- I take it you don't like the Bush administation, fair enough, not that I see what that has to do with the article

But then how to explain the Obama administration? The stock market is down, what, 35% since the election? How much since inauguration day? His popularity is sinking at record speed. If the market keeps going, we'll be in another Great Depression in a month.

Is it because he listened to that nutty preacher all those years in Chicago? 4. Ray 03/02/2009 10:52PM

Hey Ed,

Most of us already understood natural selection's role in new species. You want proof?

http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Natural_Selection_General_Force_Behind_Formation_Of_New_Species.html

"His popularity is sinking at record speed."

No it's not. Still running in the mid 60's.

"we'll be in another Great Depression in a month."

We've pretty much already been there. If you calculate unemployment with the methodology used in 1980 our current rate would stand at close to 18%.

The problem with our economy is loss of demand. Government spending will spur consumption, leading to business investment. Same thing that got us out of the Great Depression. FDR took over with almost 25% unemployment. He boosted consumption by spending on infrastructure. This created a steady lasting stream of consumption which led to business investment. Eventually dropping unemployment to 9.1% by 1941.

"Is it because he listened to that nutty preacher all those years in Chicago? "

Turn off the AM radio Ed. 5. Lindsey 03/03/2009 12:48AM

Ray,

One could also argue that WWII caused the economy to bounce back. What with all the jobs it created, and production that needed to be done. Not that war is a solution, or in a perfect world, should even happen. But it was a factor that cannot be ignored. 6. Don't You Believe It 03/03/2009 06:36AM

Yo, Ed,

Yeah, I'm sure you can't see the connection, even though I pretty much spelled it out for you, ie, both adherence to religion and trust in the Bushies seem to extend from the same unquestioning credulity and wishful thinking. As does the inability to grasp that opposition to the Shrub somehow translates into support of Obama, it would seem.

But hey, congrats; you managed to side-step the main point of my response. Or do you need me to take you by the hand and lead to back to it? 7. Mr. Ed 03/03/2009 07:15AM

Ray -- I know the article you referred to. I looked up your link to the pop science account. Here's a quote from the end of the article:

"The fact that the association is statistically significant despite the crudeness of our estimates suggests that the true biological association is very strong," Funk says. "Darwin's famous book was called 'On the Origin of Species,' but it was really about natural selection on traits rather than speciation. Since our study suggests that natural selection is a general cause of speciation, it seems that Darwin chose an appropriate title after all."

Let me count try to list the hedges: "association is statistically significant ... crudeness of our estimates ... suggests ... association is very strong ... [Darwin did not really have a theory of speciation] ... suggests that natural selection is [A] general cause of speciation ..."

This sounds more hedged than most medical research reports -- it hardly constitutes a "complete account of speciation", to use the language of my original post.

When someone has observed the true origin of a true new species -- glossing over some very vexed questions there -- and has a complete record of the individual molecular biological steps in the process, please let me know.

DYBI -- whatever the point of your post was -- not very closely related to the article -- it was lost with the completely gratuitous stuff about Bush. 8. Ray 03/03/2009 07:56AM

Lindsey,

America's involvement in WW2 started in 1941. That's why I put the 9.1% unemployment figure from 1941. Did you know that in 1937 FDR attempted to balance the budget by cutting some of his spending. The result was a short-lived recession, because the following year FDR pumped another 5 billion of government spending.

So, no, one could not argue WW2 brought us out of the Great Depression. Revisionist history is not impressive.

Ed,

"When they compared the ecological divergence estimates with the degree of reproductive isolation for each of hundreds of pairs of species from the original studies, they found that the overall association was positive with a surprisingly high level of confidence: The odds that these findings are simply due to chance are only one in 250, substantially higher than the standard confidence level of one chance in 20 that scientists demand."

What are the odds that you theory/belief is correct? Where is your empirical evidence to support your claims?

Empirical, peer reviewed, scientific evidence of evolution:

http://www.pnas.org/

Btw, you are the one that went on the Obama rant. More ignorance. 9. Ray 03/03/2009 08:34AM

Here's another thing for you Lindsey. Many consider the 1950's as America's greatest decade. For those making the most in the 50's, tax rates were over 90%! Can you imagine that today. Conservatives cry foul about raising the highest bracket from 35% to say 38-40%. They insist that it's socialism and a redistribution of wealth (though we've had that going on from the bottom up for quite some time). By their reasoning, during the height of the Cold War we were already a socialist country.lol And don't get me started on 'Socialist Security' for my mother.

10. Ed 03/03/2009 08:48AM

I'm sure it was lost to you...or better yet, it continues to give you an excuse not to address the rest of my post. 11. Mr. Ed 03/03/2009 08:57AM

Ray -- I never claimed to have a "theory" -- where did you get that idea? -- I simply doubt the pretensions that there is anything like a solid scientific account of the origin of species -- with the solidity, say, of the theory of gravity, or Maxwell's equations, or thermodynamics. With the experimental evidence to back it up. Such a theory of species simply does not exist. Maybe it will some day, but not now.

As for talking about Obama -- I was not the one who introduced presidential politics into the discussion. 12. Ray 03/03/2009 09:19AM

I did answer your question by quoting from the article. Normally scientists want a 95% probability rate to have 'confidence' in a particular study. In this case it is 99.6% confidence. Quite conclusive. And that's the point. From your quote, ""The fact that the association is statistically significant". I just explained that significance.

The reality that 'think tanks', like the Discovery Institute, put out most of what is gathered on anti-evolution/pro-creation science should make you question their validity.

I just asked you for any empirical peer reviewed studies that show that new species are not a product of evolution. I don't think, considering the volume of evidence for evolution, that it is much to ask for. You claim to not have a theory, then why are you refuting evolution if you have NO evidence to the contrary. You seem to suggest that anything undiscovered or unexplained is evidence that evolution theory is not correct.

Are you a creationist? How old do you believe the Earth is?

13. Jan 03/03/2009 10:58AM

Evolution is a crock! I will never believe the liberal mindset of evolution. You can keep this false theory and will never convince some otherwise!! It's no different that believing in false or made up gods! 14. Don't You Believe It 03/03/2009 11:08AM

Jan: Religion is a crock! All gods are false and made up, including the make-believe god of Abraham! Science is not a "liberal mindset", it's a method of examining reality; simply put: "If you make a claim, better have good, solid evidence [not unassailable "proof"; subtle but crucial difference] to back it up"! Evolution does; god does not!

!

Ed: here's a thought. Go back to my original post and delete the part at the very end: "--which in part explains the Bush Administration."

Hey, I'll even make it easier for you; assume my original post was this:

"One doesn't--or shouldn't--need science of any kind to doubt very seriously the claims made in the name of religion; the extreme unlikelihood that a) an all-knowing, all powerful and particularly all "good" being exists and b) any human knows the nature and/or desires of this HYPOTHETICAL critter (even more unlikely) should be enough. Unfortunately, the ability of mankind to delude itself knows few bounds."

Okay, now, can you quit using the "--which in part explains the Bush Administration."--segment as an excuse to avoid the rest? I know it's uncomfortable, but can you? Come on, surely your capacity for critical thought hasn't been COMPLETELY wiped out by Rush and Lars. 15. Ray 03/03/2009 11:13AM

"It's no different that believing in false or made up gods!"

Like the one YOU believe in? 16. Jan 03/03/2009 11:14AM

Believe what you choose, but don't force it on others! Who said I was religious? Theres no real evidence to back evolution up, just some quack like Darwin. 17. Ray 03/03/2009 11:19AM

Jan,

Do you believe in Jesus?

How about Horus?

  • Horus is the Father seen in the son...Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life.
  • Horus claims to be the light of the world represented by the symbolic eye, the sign of salvation. Jesus stated that he is the light of the world.
  • Horus said that he was the way, the truth, the life. Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life.
  • Horus was the plant, the shoot. Jesus says "I am the true vine."
  • Horus says It is I who traverse the heavens, I go round the Elysian Fields. Eternity has been assigned to me without end, Lo! I am heir to endless time and my attribute is eternity. Jesus says I am come down from heaven, for this is the will of the Father, that everyone who beholdeth the Son and believeth in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
  • Horus...I open the Tuat that I may drive away the darkness. Jesus says I am come a light unto the world.
  • Horus says I am equipped with thy words O Ra [Father in Heaven] and repeat them to those who are deprived of breath. These were the words of the Father in heaven. Jesus says The Father which sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say and what I should speak. Whatsoever I speak therefore even as the Father said unto me, so I speak. The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me."
  • Horus baptized with water by Anup. Jesus baptized with water by John the Baptist.
  • Horus-Aan, the name of the divine scribe. Jesus-John the divine scribe.
  • Horus born in Annu, the place of bread. Jesus Born in Bethlehem, the house of bread.
  • Horus The good shepherd with the crook on his shoulders. Jesus The good shepherd with a lamb on his shoulders.
  • Horus Seven on board the boat with him. Jesus Seven fishermen on board the boat with Jesus.
  • Horus Depicted as the Lamb Jesus depicted as the lamb.
  • Horus as the Lion. Jesus as the lion.
  • Horus identified with the Tat or cross. Jesus identified with the cross.
  • Horus of 12 years. Jesus of 12 years.
  • Horus A man of 30 years. Jesus a man of 30 years at his baptism.

... 18. Ray 03/03/2009 11:19AM

continued...

  • Horus the KRST. Jesus the Christ.
  • Horus the manifesting son of God. Jesus the manifesting son of God.
  • Horus The trinity...Atum the Father, Horus the son, Ra the Holy Spirit. Jesus...God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • Horus The first Horus as a child of the virgin, the second as son of Ra. Jesus as a child of the virgin, Christ as the son of the Father in heaven.
  • Horus...Horus the sender and Set the destroyer in the harvest field. Jesus...Jesus the sender or the good seed, Satan the sender of tares.
  • Horus carried off by Set to the summit of Mount Hetep. Jesus carried by Satan to an exceedingly high mountain.
  • Horus and Set contending on the Mount. Jesus and Satan contending on the Mount.
  • Horus...The star was the announcer of the child Horus. Jesus...The Star in the East indicated the birth-place of Jesus.
  • Horus...the avenger. Jesus who brings the sword.
  • Horus...as Iu-em-hetep comes with peace...Jesus...the bringer of peace.
  • Horus...the afflicted one. Jesus...the afflicted one.
  • Horus...as the type of life eternal.
  • Jesus...as the type of life eternal.
  • Horus as Iu-em-hetep the child teacher in the temple. Jesus as the child teacher in the temple.
  • Horus The mummy bandage was woven without seam. Jesus The vesture of the Christ was without seam.
  • Horus As Har-Khutti has twelve followers... Jesus has twelve disciples.
  • Horus The revelation written down by divine scribe Aan (Tehuti). Jesus the Revelation written down by John the Divine.
  • HorusAani bears witness to the word of Ra. Jesus...John bears witness to the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • Horus The secret mysteries revealed by That-Aan. Jesus The secret mysteries made known by John.
  • Horus The morning star. Jesus The morning star.
  • Horus Who gives the morning star to his followers. Jesus who gives the morning star to his followers.
  • Horus The name of Ra on the head of the deceased. Jesus The name of the father written on the forehead.
  • Horus The paradise of the Pole star...Am-Khemen. Jesus The Holy City lighted by one luminary that is neither the sun nor the moon.
  • Horus Har-Seshu or servants of Horus. Jesus The servants of Jesus Christ.

Btw, Horus's story is much older.

19. Ray 03/03/2009 11:20AM

We could discuss the Babylonian flood myth and it's remarkable similarities to the Bible flood.

Noah or Ut-Napishtim? But the truth is they are one in the same.

20. Don't You Believe It 03/03/2009 11:45AM

Jan: there IS good evidence to back up evolution. You want a 100% incontrovertible PROOF? You won't get it; science doesn't deal in "proof", it deals in "best explanation for the evidence". And when the evidence gets better, the science either alters or is strengthened.

But you go ahead and believe in you magical sky-daddy, if it comforts you. Just don't try to introduce any of that garbage into the public science curriculum.

Oh, BTW, if you don't want to be accused of being religious, you might choose your words better. 'Cause you sure SOUND like the standard "Young-Earth Bible-Thumper".

21. Ray 03/03/2009 12:00PM

"Theres no real evidence to back evolution up, just some quack like Darwin."

Except the entire fossil record (amongst countless others).

I would suggest, if you are serious, that you stop taking antibiotics to fight the multiple drug resistant strains diseases have evolved into (since you don't believe they evolve). Try streptomycin for TB. You'll find it no longer works!

22. Jan 03/03/2009 12:03PM

Don't You Believe It (no name):

You can believe your false, so called Science, liberal THERORY all you like. I bet you even look more and more like the monkey you are or think you came from! I bet you think the universe was created by Darwin himself. LOL! Keep your own FALSE, garbage OPINIONS to yourself and the idiots like you that believe it! Jerk off! 23. Ray 03/03/2009 12:13PM

Jan,

Wow! Such intellectualism.

Unfortunately for people like you, we will not keep our KNOWLEDGE silent. You can choose to live in the Bronze Age all you want. But, for the modern world, we prefer knowledge over superstition (except in the Middle-East). Belief and faith are just that...belief and faith. It has no purpose in the public arena, and if you choose to place it in the public arena be prepared to defend it scientifically. 24. Scott 03/03/2009 12:49PM

Mr. Ed, saying that small mutations and adaptations over time cannot lead to new species is like saying the same mechanism you use to get from the bedroom to the kitchen could not get you from New York to LA.

Also, the claim that evolution = atheism is false. There are many, many scientists that have no problem with fitting God into the picture. Ken Miller is a great example of this.

I am personally moved by statements made by Theodosius Dobzhansky, who, unless I am mistaken was a very religious man. He said in his paper "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution",

"Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It

does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for

elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and

anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they

are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble

conflicts. As pointed out above, the blunder leads to

blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness."

There is no valid scientific opposition to the theory of evolution. None. Intelligent design is creationism in a lab coat. That was proved very clear in Kitzmiller vs. Dover. To continue to deny our students a comprehensive scientific education will lead to further technological and economic decay in this country.

The anti-evolution crowd has made it very clear that their purpose is not to get a valid alternative scientific explanation to evolution. To quote one of the most prominent creationism proponents, Phillip E. Johnson.

"This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy."

Their purpose is to get Jesus into the science class, and then into public school at large; a clear violation of the Constitution as interpreted by multiple Supreme Court rulings on the matter. 25. Mr. Ed 03/03/2009 01:46PM

"saying that small mutations and adaptations over time cannot lead to new species"

But I didn't say that. I said that no convincing demonstration has been given that speciation works this way. I'm completely open to the possibility that it might be demonstrated some day. But it hasn't yet. It's not like walking from New York to LA, that has been demonstrated and observed probably thousands, if not millions of times.

I agree that the standard theory of evolution, even if it could be demonstrated to be true, would not necessitate atheism. That was precisely one of my original points. Certain evolutionary biologists -- Dawkins and Coyne come to mind -- are aggressively trying to create a conflict between evolution and religion. Unfortunatley, many of the religious people seem to fall for the trap.

I'm not a proponent of Intelligent Design, at least the biological versions of it. Nor am I fan of Phillip Johnson. 26. Scott 03/03/2009 02:27PM

Mr. Ed:

I apologize if I misunderstood your post.

Species is not a clear cut definition anyways. Look at dogs. While hard to imagine, someone completely unfamiliar with dogs could conceivably believe that a chihuahua and an English Mastiff are two separate species of animals.

Given the amount of time we are dealing with, the expanse and depth of the fossil record (which is far greater than most people realize), and the expansion of our knowledge at the cellular and molecular levels of biology; the mechanisms behind evolution are being exposed to more and more confirming light.

It is much more than just small changes leading to big ones given enough time. New information is being added to the theory, and the theory is being adjusted as new information improves and expands upon the old. Some see fit to accuse this adjustment as "moving the goalposts", but scientific theories change over time, otherwise they aren't science. 27. Mr. Ed 03/03/2009 04:46PM

Scott, I appreciate your reply. We agree on quite a lot, at least. 28. Lol 03/04/2009 01:25AM

These comments are very entertaining to read! Ha! 29. SA Wells 03/04/2009 06:42AM

Claiming that evolution is nothing but a claim by Darwin is like claiming that apples only fall because Newton said so. If you don't know anything about evolutionary biology, please keep your ignorance to yourself or go and get an education; until then you're not qualified to have an opinion. 30. who is your creator 03/04/2009 06:44AM

First, in regard to dogs, artificial breeding produced much of the variations that you see today. Breeders have proven that only dogs come from dogs, roses come from roses, flies come from flies, etc.

The litmus test that might prove Darwinism to be true comes down to this:

Can evolution produce novel features that have never been seen before in that organism?

Since there is an utter lack of proof for that occurring in the past or present, teaching this nonsense to students is a menace to scientific research, discovery, and progress!

See http://whoisyourcreator.com/junk_dna.html

http://whoisyourcreator.com/evolution_menace.html

http://whoisyourcreator.com/common_descent.html

http://whoisyourcreator.com/how_does_evolution_occur.html

31. Susan 03/04/2009 07:05AM

This op-ed is excellent-- clearly written and making points that should be spelled out far more often in the media. If this country had set out on a concerted path to hobble scientific knowledge and stupify its citizens, it couldn't have done a better job than by letting creationists get involved in "educating" our children. With zero evidence, they've been given a platform, and it's our collective loss. 32. GBM 03/04/2009 08:03AM

"The litmus test that might prove Darwinism to be true comes down to this:

Can evolution produce novel features that have never been seen before in that organism?

Since there is an utter lack of proof for that occurring in the past or present, teaching this nonsense to students is a menace to scientific research, discovery, and progress!"

Ah that is actually false; scientists have caused bacteria to evolve the ability to eat nylon--a completely novel feature that was not even possible before nylon was invented in the 30's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nylon_eating_bacteria

Also it is worth noting that evolution is actually much better supported than the theory of gravity, because unlike gravity it does not conflict with other well-established branches of science. (quantum mechanics v. relativity.) 33. Ray Ingles 03/04/2009 08:22AM

Mr. Ed - if you want a demonstration of small changes accumulating to bring about new species, look up 'ring species'. For example, the Larus gulls are several subspecies where variants live in a ring around the Arctic. The Herring Gull in the U.K. can interbreed with the American Herring Gull, and the American can interbreed with the Vega Gull in Russia. And so on, until you come to the Lesser Black-Backed Gull in the Netherlands. It can’t breed with the Herring Gull.

So, is it a separate species? You could breed it with its relative to the East, and so on. But what if, say, the Vega Gull went extinct? Would you have separate species then?

Now, imagine such variations happening across time instead of (or as well as) space, and you’ve got an idea how species actually do form, instead of the ’saltationist’ strawman that many try to imply. 34. GaryB 03/04/2009 09:41AM

WIYC, give an example of a novel feature. 35. dominate somewhere else! 03/04/2009 10:18AM

Ray go back to the back east where to came from. A little education and fancy wording doesn't make you an expert on evolution! Anyone can get the same info your quoting from the internet! Not everyone agrees with you! It's very apparent you have nothing better to do than ramble on evolution all week! 36. Mr. Ed 03/04/2009 10:38AM

Ray -- I'm well aware of "ring species", indeed an interesting phenomenon. But when you say "imagine such variations happening across time instead of (or as well as) space, and you’ve got an idea how species actually do form"

I can imagine such variations across space and time, and I can imagine that this MIGHT be how species form, but I certainly don't accept that this is how species ACTUALLY do form. Because as far as I know, it hasn't been observed in any unambiguous way, that ANY species ACTUALLY do form in this way, let alone that species in general i.e. ALL species ACTUALLY do form in this way.

It's an interesting hypothesis, and there is some experimental sort, but nothing like a complete theory or complete verification.

If you don't believe me, compare what you can explain and predict with the theory of gravity, with what you can explain and predict with the "theory" of evolution. There simply is no comparison.

By the way, even if the theory of evolution was all it's cracked up to be, if it did explain the origin of species, there is still no answer to the probably much harder question of how the first life form(s) originated at all. In fact, it's pretty much a complete mystery. 37. Ray 03/04/2009 10:58AM

Dominate,

A little education does help you understand tangibility.

Ed,

How can you say it's not observable. Dinosaurs with feathers, birds that can't fly, fish with lungs, etc. Evolution, as explained earlier, is taking place all the time through small mutations.

The origins of life have nothing to do with evolution or Natural Selection. What you're talking about is abiogenesis. Some things we do know...amino acids are the building blocks of life and they form naturally in nature. The three components for life are metabolism, plus the ability to replicate and evolve. We've CREATED synthetic genomes in the lab and many believe we are on the verge of creating bacterial organisms from these genomes. So, it's not a complete mystery.

38. Evolution 03/04/2009 01:14PM

Stop fighting about me. It's making me conceited. 39. Mr. Ed 03/04/2009 02:13PM

Ray -- "How can you say it's not observable." Because it's not. Not observable in real time. The exact sequence of mutations. The changes in the development process. What I'm talking about is laughably far from being observable in any past record. And, do you have a mathematical theory to predict future speciation? If not, I hope you won't compare the "theory" of evolution to the theory of, say, quantum mechanics.

As for the origin of life, it's far more mysterious than you think. What we do in the lab is a far cry from spontaneous generation of -- what? DNA + RNA? Or ??? If you would do a little reading, you'd find that how it started is a complete mystery. All we have are a few more or less plausible hypotheses about how it must just possibly have happened. Honest chemists and biologists will readily admit that. Anybody who tells you the problem is solved is either ignorant, or pulling your leg. 40. Evolution 03/04/2009 03:05PM

If creationists didn't gossip about me, they wouldn't have anything else to talk about. 41. Scientist 03/04/2009 03:09PM

Science is about predicting the future in reasonable detail from facts/conditions know at a given time. The key to doing so is to observe dynamics, formulate theory to predict the future, test theory with more observations, reformulate theory to better comply with observations, and so on.

The past dynamics of life's development cannot be observed meaningfully since they are past and cannot be contrived to repeat since initial conditions are largely unknown and time scale required is a bit long (a few billion years). One can speculate about what might have happened in a comfortable fuzzy sort of way, but the discipline of true science which requires observation/prediction of dynamics from known starting points cannot be applied.

The discussion of evolution generally degrades into religion versus "science." As a scientist, I find the science side a little embarrassing. The more one knows about science, the more one realizes how little we really know. We are far from understanding the grand scheme of things. It is amusing to read the arm-chair scientists so righteous of their positions when in fact they know so little. There are profound mysterious left for us to discover. 42. Schnurrbart 03/05/2009 12:06AM

Scientist, what is your field of science? How "little" is it that we know about evolution? It has been studied for 150 years now - any idea how much has been written, how much NEW knowledge is gained every day these days?

There is no 'profound mystery WRT evolution - but it takes a LOT of study to even begin to really understand, and to realize how solid our knowledge is - based on the FACTS alone.

Your claim that "Science is about predicting the future in reasonable detail from facts/conditions know at a given time." make me suspicious. An example of a scientific prediction is like what Neil Shubin has told in "Your Inner Fish": It was predicted that the best place to look for a transitional between fish and land animals would be Ellesmere Island because the sediments there were from the right time period - when, according to the time table established from earlier research the transition should have taken place.

You better read it for yourself - a a scientist you should appreciate it!

And oh yes, the prediction was proven right, they found the transitional fossil that had been predicted to exist right there.

Many more predictions about past events have been made throughout history, but you don't think that's science? 43. Philosopher 03/05/2009 01:56AM

I hardly know where to begin but my first reaction to many of the arguments on this intriguing set of issues is that our society and most others around the world are failing at teaching people the art of critical thinking and arguing and what it means "to know." A few of you have expressed an awareness that empirical strategies do not yield Truth (with a capital T) and that faith based knowledge, while it claims to yield Truth, is purely conjectural and is mainly culture, tradition and "sacred" book based. By contrast, scientific inquiry is intended to be dynamic (including the methodological strategies employed in observation) and leads ONLY to tentative positions used as a matter of convenience to link "facts" (which is itself a concept I regard with considerable caution). This dynamic quality may be a major stumbling block for "believers" who seem to have been persuaded that there are absolutes in the world -- that "our" world is actually composed of immutable principles which we only discover.

My view is that ALL human constructs are, while dizzingly complex, sets of personal (mostly internal) behaviors that are difficult to observe processes within each of us. The "realities" of the theories and the beliefs are literally each of us behaving. They are, in fact, process "realities" and they are strictly speaking, human processes. Furthermore, it seems to me that every model we conceive and every theory we develop are only as valuable as they are changeable. "Good" theories through out their entire "life," will ONLY fit most of our observations. At some point it is important to grasp that our deepest and most thorough contemplations will become naive and will have to be revised, updated or discarded in response to new observations. People who have faith in particular Truths often have trouble with this. It's my contention that whichever Truths we decide to accept, whether they are manifested in the form of religious, political or scientific orthodoxies, will eventually disconnect us from changes going on all around us. Unresponsive belief systems literally get us nowhere. These kinds of Truthes do NOT set us free, rather they trap us.

The complaint that Darwin's theory didn't answer very much about how we came to be is a strength; it is NOT a weakness. It was a very daring insight on par with those of Galileo, Newton and Einstein and it has stimulated us. It has turned out to be a generally durable and defensible perspective about the nature and origins of life. It is important, however, to recognize that genetics and molecular biology are not merely corroborating or clarifying. They are also redefining the theory and, in particular, how we think of species (phylogeny may be a more productive way to look at it). But Darwin's rudimentary theory should be celebrated not scorned and hated. Undeniably, his writing has provoked us to examine our world from a new perspective. It also opened us up to some of the most perplexing and wonderful mysteries about biological life.

Will we eventually reject most of Darwin's views? I don't know - but his intuitive hunches don't anger or frighten me. On the contrary, they are like great art - they were thrilling and surprising for their time. Other contemporaries were also wondering about origins and the age of earth so if Darwin hadn't published it was only a matter of time before some other intrepid thinker put some similar views about life and origins out there. But dwelling on the shortcomings of any 150 year old theory and demanding unassailable proofs seems unproductive to me. This debate reminds me of the stalling tactics deployed by tobacco companies because scientists were unclear about the exact carcinogenic mechanisms of lung cancer. Similarly, the exact and complete molecular clarifications of mutations and how they are spread through and are preserved in populations will never get perfect answers but they should lead to new and better techniques and questions. Theories will continue to evolve and improve because, I think, we have a need to comprehend our dazzlingly beautiful world. I am deeply dismayed at how the process of fleshing out our understanding of life on earth seems to provoke such resistance and anger in some responders.

Finally, I am doubtful that any of the brief arguments found here (in this blog) would dislodge the convictions of people who are strongly inclined to stay loyal to sacred writings as their ultimate authority on biology. But I recommend other reading: Sean Carroll (developmental genetics and molecular biology) and E. O. Wilson (sociobiology and general biology) and people like Brent Mishler (for up to date thoughts about systematics).

44. My Karma Ran Over My Dogma 03/05/2009 08:29AM

All you creationist demanding unequivocal PROOF that evolution does not exist, please provide unequivocal PROOF that your theories are true and we can have a reasoned discussion. Otherwise it is all superstitious ranting. Show me YOUR proof, it is only fair since you demand it yourselves. What's good for the goose and all that... 45. Jazzer 03/05/2009 10:35AM

I don't know about evolutionary times, but brief "recorded" human history demonstrates our species is so hard-wired toward ego, power, greed and reproduction, we may wear different clothes and recite different verses, but we don't change.

Look at the world today? As a species, how are we doing? A century after we humans inherited the incredible power of technology, does our future appear brightened, or bleaked?

And maybe a world body could be assembled and decide, once and for all, of the world's religions, which ones are the pretenders?

Maybe there could be competition, like prayer effectiveness tests, levitation feats, and a mysterious eclipse of the sun, or make the Earth flat (again). 46. Robert O'Brien 03/09/2009 08:38PM

Dr. Skell does not have a problem with so-called "microevolution," which is all you were able to cite. What, exactly, has the concept of common descent, specifically the common descent of humans and apes, contributed to the common weal? Which scientific breakthroughs require the concept of common descent, specifically the common descent of humans and apes? 47.

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