Teaching Evolution

A blog devoted to teaching evolution, both in our schools and in our communities.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Survey on Religion and Both Parties

About half the public (48%) says that humans and other living things have evolved over time, while 42% say that living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Fully 70% of white evangelical Protestants say that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time; fewer than half as many white mainline Protestants (32%) and white Catholics (31%) agree.

I tend to be most bothered by the one-third of Catholics who believe in the literal truth of the Genesis creation tale, since the official doctrine of the Catholic church is accepting of evolution. Unfortunately, the new pope may change that. Overall, I find this survey troubling but not surprising.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan, who writes, "I must say that there are times when one is rendered speechless. No educated intelligent person could possibly look at the evidence of science and say such a thing. And yet we are supposed to have a reasoned debate with these people on the matter. How is that even possible?"

UPDATE: Kevin Drum reminds me that 25 percent of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth. The link is to a PDF of the study results, which are all fascinating.

Penguins and Grizzlies

I haven't seen March of the Penguins, but from the almost unanimously positive reviews I've read, I have to say I find it a little disappointing that it's become the stunning box office hit of the summer. It sounds to me like a rather silly attempt to make penguins seem like they have human qualities.

I have seen Grizzly Man, and I think it's probably the best movie I've seen so far this year. How is it possible that so many more people are interested in seeing penguins than grizzlies? What's wonderful about Grizzly Man (which also has been almost universally praised)is that director Werner Herzog points out that grizzlies aren't like people at all: Grizzlies basically think of every other animal they encounter as a potential mate, a potential attacker, or potential food. Timothy Treadwell, the Grizzly Man of the title, thought he could become one with the grizzlies. He was wrong.

George Will comes to the same conclusions as I did. Money quote:

Reality's swirling complexity is sometimes lovely, sometime brutal; its laws propel the comings and goings of life forms in processes as impersonal as Antarctica is to the penguins or the bears were to Treadwell or Alaska was to Drop City North. It is so grand that nothing is gained by dragging an Intelligent Designer into the picture for praise. Or blame.

And it's really those last two words that say it best. Why do Intelligent Design believers want the Designer to get the blame that would have to be accorded to the Designer of the harsh realities of nature?

Hat tip: dhodge

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More Conservatives on Intelligent Design

John Derbyshire gives his opinion here, and Andrew Sullivan seconds that opinionhere.

But Is There Intelligent Spaghetti Out There?

If you're going to teach religion in schools, do you have to give all religions equal time? Flying Spaghetti Monster believers think so.

Bobby Henderson, a 25-year-old with a physics degree from Oregon State University, had a divine vision. An intelligent god, a Flying Spaghetti Monster, he said, "revealed himself to me in a dream."

He posted a sketch on his Web site, venganza.org, showing an airborne tangle of spaghetti and meatballs with two eyes looming over a mountain, trees and a stick man labeled "midgit." Prayers to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, his site says, end with "ramen," not "amen."

Then, Mr. Henderson, who says on his site that he is desperately trying to avoid taking a job programming slot machines in Las Vegas, posted an open letter to the Kansas board.

In perfect deadpan he wrote that although he agreed that science students should "hear multiple viewpoints" of how the universe came to be, he was worried that they would be hearing only one theory of intelligent design. After all, he noted, there are many such theories, including his own fervent belief that "the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster." He demanded equal time in the classroom and threatened a lawsuit.

Hat tip: ejswanso

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Remember: Scopes Lost at Trial

Tennessee teacher John Scopes won in the court of public opinion but lost at trial in 1925. A lot of people, including, apparently, radio host John Gibson, seem to think Scopes won the trial but lost the court of public opinion. Media Matters is on it here, although I think they're missing the big picture in what Gibson was saying. Gibson said:

Hey, everybody. It's John Gibson in for Bill O'Reilly. And uh, this hour threatens to be big trouble. Big, big, big, big, big trouble. Because this subject has been big trouble in this country since at least -- 1925? Wasn't that when the Scopes trial happened? Inherit the Wind, 1925? And we're still arguing about it, although the argument has transmogrified in a lot of ways and is something different. And it's probably not even fair to talk about the Scopes trial of 1925. When the ACLU found John Scopes and was able to challenge, uh, the teaching of Bible-based science in schools. Successfully. And ever since then, we've had science-based science in schools.

Media Matters criticizes Gibson for saying "Successfully," although he might have been referring to the success in persuading people to believe in evolution. But more importantly, we should remember that it was actually Clarence Darrow, who was operating separately from the ACLU, who did such a fine job of arguing the case for evolution to the broader American audience, even though he knew he couldn't persuade the 12 men in the jury box in Dayton. The ACLU actually wanted to defend Scopes without Darrow's involvement, but Scopes insisted that Darrow come on board his legal team.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science

A fascinating opening to this article:

At a recent scientific conference at City College of New York, a student in the audience rose to ask the panelists an unexpected question: "Can you be a good scientist and believe in God?"

Reaction from one of the panelists, all Nobel laureates, was quick and sharp. "No!" declared Herbert A. Hauptman, who shared the chemistry prize in 1985 for his work on the structure of crystals.

Belief in the supernatural, especially belief in God, is not only incompatible with good science, Dr. Hauptman declared, "this kind of belief is damaging to the well-being of the human race."

But the rest of the article features many scientists who do believe in God, and includes information about the poll conducted by Edward J. Larson, who we've discussed around here before, that revealed that 40 percent of scientists believe in God.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Poll numbers

This is depressing. It turns out that only 12 percent of Americans think evolution-only should be the way to teach science classes. As Matt Yglesias writes, "The evolution-only view is less popular than gay marriage, less popular than the abolition of the death penalty, and generally speaking one of the very least popular liberal cultural causes."

What can we do about that? I'm not sure. Matt thinks we need to persuade people, but how? The evidence is already there and people are choosing not to be persuaded. Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.

Monday, August 22, 2005

New York Times: Darwinists and Doubters

This is the type of article I don't like because it doesn't really tell the reader much of anything. OK, so some people say the complexity of life is proof of a designer, and others say otherwise. But how does that advance the story? If I could find a historian somewhere who said the Roman Empire had never existed and was simply the work of a bunch of fakers who made bogus artifacts, would the Times give my historian his say in its pages?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Exploiting Journalism's 'Both Sides' Rule

We've discussed before in this space the tendency of the news media to report every issue as if opposing sides always have equal merit. Evolution vs. creation/intelligent design is just one example, but it's the example we're most interested in here.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jon Carroll writes:

The thing is, people savvy in manipulating the media have figured out the "both sides" rule, and sometimes they create another "side" where one barely existed, so the two sides can be seen to be in conflict. Obviously, giving equal weight to a fringe idea just lends unwarranted legitimacy to that fringe idea -- a fringe idea like "intelligent design."

"Intelligent design" used to be called "creationism," but some of the wackier creationists began alleging that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time and that the Earth was only 6,000 years old, and that sort of stuff made even the theocrats nervous. So "intelligent design" was born.

Intelligent design is not science. It is not even a field of study. It is a belief system wrapped up in "scientific" language. Scientists have been studying the origin and nature of life on earth for at least 4,000 years. In that time, they have come up with a number of hypotheses. Then new evidence has been turned up, and the old hypotheses have been discarded, often reluctantly.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

The Onion is on the case. My favorite part:

"Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

Hat tip: EJSwanso

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Harvard Project Angers Swank

Our buddy J. Grant Swank, Jr. is back. This time he's angry about the Harvard study that seeks information about the origins of life. Mr. Swank pretty much just rehashes the last column we linked of his, though. And will someone please tell the editors over at the MichNews site how to spell "hokum"?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Harvard Jumps Into Evolution Debate?

OK, is it just me, or do the headline and the first paragraph of this story not make any sense in the context of what this story is actually about?

The story begins:

Harvard University is joining the long-running debate over the theory of evolution by launching a research project to study how life began.

But evolution isn't about how life began, it's about how life continues to develop. I see nothing here to indicate that this has anything at all to do with the "controversy" over evolution. I think the AP reporter and the editors of the papers that chose to run this article are doing their readers a disservice.

It appears that the AP got its story from this story by Gareth Cook of the Boston Globe. Cook just won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the stem cell debate, so I assume he's a good reporter and knowledgeable about science. But it's weird that there doesn't seem to be any clarification of the origins of life vs. the development of life.

Friday, August 12, 2005

South Carolina Fills the Hall of Shame

Are there any politicians in South Carolina who believe in evolution? It doesn't seem like it. State superintendent of education hopeful Karen Floyd said she'll run in 2006 on an intelligent design platform. State Sen. Mike Fair wants to require schools to teach intelligent design, and he has support from U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis.

I wonder if, even in the more progressive parts of South Carolina, any politicians have the guts to stand up for evolution.

Evolution and the Boll Weevil

One thing that's interesting about the intelligent design folks is they're willing to acknowledge "micro-evolution" but not "macro-evolution." In other words, they'll acknowledge that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, and they say that's part of micro-evolution. But they say macro-evolution never happens. They say only the designer can create a new species.

I don't really understand where a line exists. At what point would micro-evolution stop? Just short of where the differences were too great for mating to occur? Why?

Anyway, that's what I thought about as I read this interesting article that addresses cotton farmers and their enemies, the Anthonomus grandis Boheman, more commonly known as the boll weevil.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

J. Grant Swank, Jr.: One Brilliant Writer

This column is hilarious. Mr. J. Grant Swank, Jr. (I love that name, by the way) writes that evolution is "hockum." How does he know this for sure?

The bottom line is this: The Bible is the divine revelation. There Genesis states that Creator God did what He did. It spells it out in as much detail as any mortal needs to know in this life.

Therefore, be done with it.

Yep, that's it. He knows he's right because the Bible tells him he's right, and he's not particularly interested in the "mentally unstable people" who don't see that.

I don't know how I lived as long as I did without ever coming across MichNews.com, the Web site where this column appeared. It's worth a look at their About Us page.

Evolution vs. Religion - Quit Pretending they're Compatible

In Slate, Jacob Weisberg writes that "this is not a disagreement with two reasonable points of view, let alone two equally valid ones." He's exactly right.

There are two types of arguments that we see in the media, and one of the things I really hate is that the arguments are completely different, but the media's presentation of them is exactly the same. Arguments over tax policy don't really have a right and wrong answer. Both sides can present their evidence, of course (and politicians who say they'll dramatically cut taxes, raise spending on every popular program, and eliminate the national debt all at once deserve to be scorned), but by and large it's OK for reporters to cover those arguments by simply repeating both sides' claims.

But the other type of argument clearly has a right side and a wrong side. A good example of this, I think, would be the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their ads against John Kerry. They were saying one thing, Kerry was saying something else, and there was no question that one side was simply wrong. The media should have investigated Kerry's claims, investigated his critics' claims, and then reported on who was more believable. Instead, they just repeated both sides' claims and left it to the audience to decide. That's a mistake.

And they make the same mistake when it comes to evolution. It might play well in the polls when President Bush says he thinks both sides in the intelligent design/evolution "controversy" should be taught, but it's nonsense. Read Weisberg's whole column.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Wikipedia: Hands Off Intelligent Design

I love Wikipedia. Obviously, only an idiot would take an online encyclopedia that allows anyone to post anything as gospel, but if you just want some general information on a topic, it's probably the single best resource available. The reason is that there's a lot of knowledge among the millions of people who use it, and most of those people are eager to share their knowledge in a way that makes a meaningful contribution.

The problem comes when there's a dispute. Who decides who's right and who's wrong? Checking out the Intelligent design Wikipedia page, I see that it's one of the few pages on the site that can't be edited. There's a disclaimer at the top saying, "This page is protected from editing until disputes have been resolved on the discussion page."

I don't know how long that disclaimer has been up there or what Wikipedia's policy is for resolving such disputes, but I certainly hope a site as smart as Wikipedia will ultimately make clear on the intelligent design page that it's a pseudo-science and a critique that in no way diminishes evolution.

See also Wikipedia's pages on evolution and the creation-evolution controversy.

DNA Traces Evolution of Sabretooths, American Cheetah-Like Cat

Interesting analysis of how computer models and DNA evidence can be used to help us learn about the relationships among big cats. It turns out that the modern African cheetah and an extinct American species that looks like the cheetah are an example of parallel evolution. They have similar features because they experienced similar environments, but genetically they're not closely related.

Kansas Board OKs Evolution Criticism

Apparently an outside academic will review the standards before they go into effect. I have no idea what that means.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Teach Science in Science Class

This is the editorial stance of USA Today. This is the rebuttal USA Today ran. A few paragraphs from the rebuttal:

These vehement critics claim that there are mountains of scientific proof that man evolved from some lower species also related to apes. But in this tremendous effort to support Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, in all these "mountains of information," there has not been any scientific fossil evidence linking apes to man.

The trouble with the "missing link" is that it is still missing! In fact, the whole fossil chain that could link apes to man is also missing! The theory of evolution, which states that man evolved from some other species, has more holes in it than a crocheted bathtub.

I realize that is a dramatic statement, so to be clear, let me restate: There is zero scientific fossil evidence that demonstrates organic evolutionary linkage between primates and man.

Why does USA Today print something like that? I'm sure the editors at USA Today would tell us they're supporting evolution and doing the fair thing by giving the other side equal time. But when that other side is printing something factually inaccurate, shouldn't the USA Today editors step in? I'm reminded of the Saturday Night Live skit where Bill O'Reilly insists that the capital of New York is New York City, and when he's presented with the evidence of the other side, he says, "We'll just have to agree to disagree," as if he's being very magnanimous by allowing the other side to have its say. Journalists need to be able to distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of fact and let their coverage reflect that.

Hat tip: Chris Mooney.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Charles Krauthammer: Let's Have No More Monkey Trials

When we were talking about the conservative intellectuals and their views on evolution, I mentioned that I have a lot of respect for Charles Krauthammer, who now devotes a column to the topic. You should read the whole thing, but I especially liked:

Well, if you believe that science is reason and that reason begins with recognizing the existence of an immanent providence, then this is science. But, of course, it is not. This is faith disguised as science. Science begins not with first principles but with observation and experimentation.

In this slippery slide from "reason" to science, Schönborn is a direct descendant of the early 17th century Dutch clergyman and astronomer David Fabricius, who could not accept Johannes Kepler's discovery of elliptical planetary orbits. Why? Because the circle is so pure and perfect that reason must reject anything less. "With your ellipse," Fabricius wrote Kepler, "you abolish the circularity and uniformity of the motions, which appears to me increasingly absurd the more profoundly I think about it." No matter that, using Tycho Brahe's most exhaustive astronomical observations in history, Kepler had empirically demonstrated that the planets orbit elliptically.

The Reaction to Bush's Statements

I certainly wasn't the only one who objected to Bush's support of intelligent design.

Bush Remarks Roil Debate on Teaching of Evolution

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Bush's science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, sought to play down the president's remarks as common sense and old news.

Mr. Marburger said in a telephone interview that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept." Mr. Marburger also said that Mr. Bush's remarks should be interpreted to mean that the president believes that intelligent design should be discussed as part of the "social context" in science classes.

I have no idea what the "social context" in science classes means. Is that like teachers saying, "Now, children, you should be aware that some idiots don't believe this"?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush Endorses Teaching `Intelligent Design' Theory in Schools

The current president thinks evolution is only one theory that should be taught:

"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."

OK, now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about something else in the same article. (As many readers know, my real passion is not evolution but sports.) Keep reading and you see that the president -- who in the past has insisted that steroid users must be banished from sports -- now says that Rafael Palmeiro should be believed when he said he never used steroids, despite a positive steroid test to the contrary:

"Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him," Bush said, referring to Palmeiro's denials under oath to a congressional committee on March 17. "He's the kind of person that's going to stand up in front of the klieg lights and say he didn't use steroids, and I believe him. Still do."

And here's what infuriates me about the mainstream media. I've read and heard Bush's quote a dozen times already, but no one has bothered to point out that Palmeiro and his homemaker wife donated $8,000 to Bush's 2004 campaign. That's a very important part of the story: Why aren't reporters asking him whether he's going to send back the eight grand? It was given to him by a steroid-fueled player. Doesn't that taint the donation?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Schools stay out of Evolution Fray

As I've mentioned many times, if you want your children to learn about evolution, you'd be better off sending them to a Catholic school than to a public school. That could be changing. I interpret thisarticle as bad news.

Saying that schools are staying out of the fray when it comes to evolution probably comes across to most people as a good thing. Actually, it's terrible. Do schools stay out of the fray when students ask whether there really was an ancient Rome, or whether a bunch of archaeologists just faked all the evidence? Some Catholic educators are using the code words that I hate to hear:

"Evolution should be taught as one of many theories," said Louis P. DeAngelo, who oversees curriculum for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "But the one true principle above all is there's one creator."

Obviously, Catholic schools are going to teach that there's one creator. Fine. But don't confuse your students by teaching "many theories" if one of them is a predictive, testable, and repeatable theory like evolution and another is a pseudoscience like intelligent design.