NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 February 2009

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Darwin Believers Hide Fears of Intelligent Design Behind a Wall of Denial and Ridicule


February 12, 2009 12:09 PM ET | Casey Luskin

Guest blogger Casey Luskin is cofounder of the Intelligent Design & Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center and program officer in public policy and legal affairs at the Discovery Institute in Seattle .

Most Darwinists involved in the public debate today have one, and only one goal: To stifle free debate on this subject and thereby discourage you, the public, from scrutinizing the scientific evidence for yourself.

Over the years, Darwinists have evolved a variety of strategies to accomplish these goals. We see each of these strategies in play in the op-eds and comments by Darwinists in this present forum on U.S. News and World Report. I'll discuss how my opponents on this forum use the strategies of (1) Ridicule, Demonization, and Character Assassination; (2) Equating Darwin-Skeptics with Religion; (3) Persecute Darwin-Skeptics; and (4) Pretend There Is No Scientific Controversy Over Evolution in order to try to dissuade you, the reader, from thinking for yourself on this subject.

Strategy 1: Ridicule, Demonization, and Character Assassination

Darwinists have adopted a discourse of demonization where they try to attack their opponents as dishonest, deceitful, or even worse—uncool and medieval! We should be suspicious of this tactic because Darwinists practice character assassination against nearly every single leading member of the ID movement, and I am no exception to that rule.

The comments on this forum have characterized my work as "pathetic," saying I work for the "Deception Institute," calling me an "IDiot," charging that I "display a total disregard for the truth," and claiming that my arguments that "sound good to the ignorant." (So if you believe anything I say, then don't worry, you're in good company for you too must be "ignorant.") One commenter said the following about me:

"Another ID wack-job trying to discredit evolution! You are out of touch with reality. Eventually, nut-jobs like you and your enablers will be weeded out by natural selection. Good Riddance!"

Another person replied by saying, "You have the freedom to remain ignorant and superstitious (and are doin' a nice job)."

One person even suggested that my viewpoint does not deserve to be printed, and wrote that: "it's surprising that even the editors of USN&WR did no background check on" me. This provides a nice buttress for my argument that Darwinists are trying to stifle debate on evolution. But at least these Darwinists are showing U.S. News & World Report readers exactly happens to you when you stand up and simply support academic freedom for scientists to support intelligent design.

Clearly, people with the evidence on their side do not feel the need to demonize their opponents in order to prevent the public from listening to the other viewpoint. So let me make myself clear: I'm not complaining about the treatment I've received, I'm just trying to show readers how Darwinists behave. The goal of such Darwinist namecalling, of course is to convince you that Darwin-skeptics shouldn't be listened to because we're evil, and to intimidate you from speaking out in support of ID, lest you become subject to the same ridicule. In the end, their tactic of demonization and character assassination is just another way they stifle free speech in this debate.

Unfortunately, this namecalling is not limited to the commenters, and in fact it is encouraged and modeled by my respectable opponents Richard Katskee and Robert Pennock.

Richard Katskee is well-practiced at the art of character assassination against ID proponents. In an article in the American Bar Association's journal after the Kitzmiller ruling was released in 2005, he was quoted saying that it is only "the lunatic fringe" of scientists who challenge neo-Darwinian evolution. The message sent, of course, is that if you are a scientist who doubts Darwin, you better not express your views or you'll be regard as a member of the "lunatic fringe."

In an article published in First Amendment Law Review in 2007, Katskee went even further, charging that those who do not oppose intelligent design "have been deceived" and are "succumbing to the basic deceit at the heart of intelligent design." He uses language to ridicule ID as uncool and evil, calling it a "Humpty-Dumptyesque linguistic project" which is "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" and "disingenuou[s]." Mr. Katskee engages in complex ridicule, asserting that "viewed from a sufficient distance, and with eyelids half closing in technospeak-induced slumber, even a cheap tuxedo can look almost elegant—at least to those of us without the training or discernment to distinguish cashmere from polyester blend."

We should ignore this type of empty rhetoric that is patently designed to intimidate dissenters.

In his latest article here at U.S. News & World Report, Katskee makes the don't do it because it isn't what the popular kids are doing argument that if we allow students to question evolution or learn about ID, then we'll be ridiculed as an "international laughingstock." I'm sure that he'd be more than happy to fling much of that mud to incite the "international laughingstock" ridicule himself.

Again, the message is clear: If you support ID you're evil, and if you decide to speak out in support of ID, you'll be called all kinds of nasty names. These are intimidation tactics, pure and simple.

Robert Pennock behaves in much the same fashion. In 2006, I observed that the University of California at San Diego ("UCSD," my alma mater) was requiring all freshman students to attend a lecture by Pennock attacking ID. I had no particular problem with that, apart from the fact that this was an imbalanced lecture series and no pro-ID speaker was invited for a similarly mandatory lecture. Pennock responded to my protests by writing a UCSD dean, attacking me as deceptive:

"The article on the Discovery Institute website about my talk (actually prior to my talk) is standard propaganda from these guys and filled with their usual deceptions and factual mistakes." (emphasis added)

In his recent op-ed here with U.S. News & World Report, Pennock likewise attempts to equate ID with creationism (more on this below) and tries to demonize ID proponents by stating that "Creationism, in whatever guise it has taken to get into the schools, has proven itself to be fundamentally deceptive."

Again, we see the use of demonization and character assassination to prevent people from scrutinizing the evidence for themselves.

Clearly, Mr. Katskee, Mr. Pennock, and many other Darwinists feel that the use of namecalling and ridicule should play a central role in their case against intelligent design. The poison pen is a powerful weapon, and Katskee and Pennock know how to use it. Without commenting upon the propriety of Mr. Katskee's and Mr. Pennock's behavior and without discussing their ability to treat their opponents with civility, let's simply ask: what kind of a climate is produced in academia when people treat their opponents in this fashion?

For example, imagine that you are a biology researcher who holds doubts about Darwinism, and you hear your department head telling people that only "the lunatic fringe" would question modern evolutionary biology. Would that make you feel free to discuss your views in the classroom or conduct research that challenges evolution? Not if you value your career.

Or imagine that this department head says that those who support ID "have been deceived." Would you want to promote a theory which your supervisor believes has "basic deceit at the heart" or is "fundamentally deceptive"? Would you want to subject yourself to ridicule of being "deceptive" by promoting these views?

Statements like those of Mr. Katskee and Mr. Pennock serve to create a climate of intimidation of teachers, educators, and researchers who support intelligent design. This is why civility is so important in a functional democracy: People should treat their opponents in a civil fashion in public marketplace of ideas so that the best arguments can win the day based on their merits, not based upon pressure from namecalling and demonization.

Apparently these Darwinists don't feel like the merits are enough for their arguments, so they have to resort to all kinds of personal attacks. People should be able to espouse viewpoints free from fear of demonization or ridicule from Darwinists like Mr. Katskee and Mr. Pennock and the myriad other Darwinist namecallers they represent. But their strategy of character assassination only further bolsters my points that Darwinists are desperate to stifle free and open debate on evolution.

Strategy 2: Equating Darwin-Skeptics with Religion

In his op-ed, Richard Katskee writes, "Every time creationism has been brought into public schools, the courts have found it unconstitutional." That may be true. But intelligent design is not creationism, and allowing mere critique of evolution is also not creationism. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized scientific critique of evolution in the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard case where it stated that it is possible to "require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught." The U.S. Supreme Court has never addressed the teaching of intelligent design. If Katskee claims that teaching intelligent design or simply critiquing evolution are the equivalent of teaching creationism, then he is basing his views on thin or highly questionable legal precedent.

In order to make his statement true, Katskee tries to equate intelligent design with religion, stating that ID and creationism "are cut from the same unconstitutional cloth." His evidence bolstering this assertion was to cite to a 2005 court case from the lowest level of the federal courts in Pennsylvania as proof that ID is creationism. I anticipated this tactic in my op-ed and thus wrote:

"In 2005, such Darwinists even managed to convince one federal judge to ban ID from a school district and rule that ID is not science. Darwinists today continue to cite this wildly inaccurate and activist judicial ruling as if one federal judge can settle this entire scientific debate."

Any good lawyer knows that judges get things wrong all the time, and that one federal cannot settle complex social and scientific questions. In fact, the Kitzmiller ruling had many problems, not the least of which were the facts that the judge:

When I raised these points in a different forum on OpposingViews.com, Katskee's organization's response was to say "You Lost the Case—Get Over It," further refusing to defend his organization's demonstrably false claims against ID. His nondefense of Judge Jones's demonstrably inaccurate claims in the Kitzmiller ruling showed that there is no good defense for this ruling. Instead, Katskee elects to model the "Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It approach to ID, by simply referencing this judge, expecting the ruling to end debate. This is no way to seek truth, but it's a great way to discourage you, the public, from investigating the issue for yourselves.

Richard Katskee wants you to think that ID proponents "want the Bible to be treated like a science book." There's a major problem with this argument: ID proponents make their case using the scientific evidence, not the Bible, which is why even some non-religious scholars support ID. For example, what would Katskee say to the atheist philosopher Antony Flew, the atheist legal scholar Thomas Nagel, the atheist philosopher of science Bradley Monton, or the secular humanist sociologist of science Steve Fuller, all of whom support ID? If ID is just about proselytizing people into Christianity or Biblical creationism, I'm fairly sure that these atheists and agnostics would not support ID.

The atheist University of Colorado professor of philosophy Bradley Monton is worth discussing further. He has offered a compelling annihilation of Robert Pennock's arguments during the Dover Trial that ID is not science. In this regard, I recommend that readers read Professor Monton's article, which states:

Now, I will turn to the issue of whether there is a consensus by philosophers of science that methodological naturalism is a constraint of science. During Pennock ' s cross-examination, he was asked the following question:

"Q: Dr. Pennock, isn ' t it true that there ' s not agreement among philosophers of science concerning the validity of methodological naturalism?"

Pennock implies that only philosophers of science who are sympathetic to ID reject methodological naturalism:

"A: The term methodological naturalism is fairly straightforward in the literature. There have been criticisms of it from people like Del Ratzsch from discussions specifically of this debate. So there ' s some who have taken up a sympathetic position to the intelligent design folks and tried to argue that we could dispense with this. (Pennock 2005b, 84)"

Larry Laudan (1983) is a good counterexample to this: he is not sympathetic to ID, yet he rejects methodological naturalism as a demarcation criterion for science. (This follows from the sentence from Laudan ' s paper I quoted in Section 1, as well as from the rest of Laudan ' s paper.) Later in cross-examination, the defense asks Pennock about Laudan.

After Pennock says that he is familiar with Laudan, he is asked:

"Q: And Larry Laudan said he believes that creationism is science, it ' s just bad science, correct?"

Pennock ' s response to this question takes up three pages of the trial transcript. In my opinion, Pennock misleadingly implies that Laudan would endorse methodological naturalism. Pennock says that if creationism is understood as a naturalistic hypothesis (focus ing on its naturalistic implications about the age of the Earth, for example), then it is bad science, but if it is understood supernaturalistically, then it is not science at all. Pennock doesn ' t explicitly attribute this view to Laudan, but someone who hadn ' t read Laudan would probably come away thinking that this is Laudan ' s view. For example, Pennock says:

"If you seriously take the supernatural possibility, then you can ' t disconfirm it. So that ' s the sense in which it ' s important to say under the assumption of methodological naturalism, we have disconfirmed it, it ' s bad science, that ' s what Laudan is talking about, but if you were to take seriously the non-natural part, that ' s to say rejecting scientific method, then it ' s just not science ... " (Pennock 2005b, 104-5)

Now, what the defense should have done here is pushed Pennock to clarify, to make clear to Jones that Laudan does not endorse methodological naturalism. But in fact the defense responds to Pennock ' s three-page answer with the following:

"Thank you, Your Honor. I have no further questions. (Pennock 2005b, 105)"

The defense dropped the ball: it would be reasonable for Jones to conclude on the basis of this cross-examination that (except for a few supporters of ID) philosophers of science agree that that methodological naturalism is a constraint of science.

Of course, Laudan is not the only philosopher of science who rejects methodological naturalism. I ' ll cite just one more example, that of anti-ID philosopher Niall Shanks. Shanks says that he endorses methodological naturalism, but he gives a nonstandard account of methodological naturalism, an account proponents of ID would be pretty happy with:

"The methodological naturalist will not simply rule hypotheses about supernatural causes out of court ... But the methodological naturalist will insist on examining the evidence presented to support the existence of supernatural causes carefully ... . methodological naturalists do not rule out the supernatural absolutely. They have critical minds, not closed minds." (Shanks 2004, 141-2)

I conclude that it ' s not the case that there ' s a clear consensus in favor of methodological naturalism (when understood to rule out appeals to the supernatural) in the scientific or philosophical communities.

In his most recent op-ed here at U.S. News & World Report, Pennock further hedges by claiming that "Disguising a religious view as science doesn't make it one. Following the Supreme Court decision in 1987, creationists regrouped and rebranded their views as 'Intelligent Design (ID) Theory.'" Pennock tries to pretend that intelligent design was concocted in 1987 to dodge a Supreme Court ruling, but he has misdated the origin of intelligent design by about 2500 years: intelligent design began with the ancient Greek philosophers, hundreds of years before the advent of Christianity.

The Greek philosophers Heraclitus, Empedocles, Democritus, and Anaximander believed that life could originate without any intelligent guidance. Plato and Aristotle, both advocated that a mind was required to explain life's existence. In more modern times, Isaac Newton asked in his treatise Opticks, "Was the Eye contrived without Skill in Opticks, and the Ear without Knowledge of Sounds? [...] And these things being rightly dispatch'd, does it not appear from Phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent..."

The debate over design continued vigorously among scientists and philosophers—not just theologians—at the time of Darwin in the 19th century. Zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, a critic of Darwin, invoked an "intellectual power" to explain the diversity of living organisms in his "Essay on Classification," published in the late 1850's, near the time that Darwin published Origin of Species. The term "intelligent design" was invoked as a plausible alternative to blind Darwinian evolution in 1897 by Oxford scholar F.C.S. Schiller, who wrote that "it will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design." Even the independent co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, concluded that it was possible—and appropriate—to detect design in nature.

The research and ideas that ultimately inspired ID proponents were conceived in the decades and years prior to the Edwards ruling. Highly influential behind ID arguments was the discovery that life depended upon information, whose structure was not only independent of its physical or chemical form, but whose ordering was not amenable to explanation by physical or chemical laws. As the chemist Michael Polanyi wrote in an article titled, "Life's Irreducible Structure," published in the journal Science in 1968:

"Suppose that the actual structure of a DNA molecule were due to the fact that the bindings of its bases were much stronger than the bindings would be for any other distribution of bases, then such a DNA molecule would have no information content. Its code-like character would be effaced by an overwhelming redundancy. [...] Whatever may be the origin of a DNA configuration, it can function as a code only if its order is not due to the forces of potential energy. It must be as physically indeterminate as the sequence of words is on a printed page."

The term "intelligent design" appears to have been coined in its contemporary scientific usage by the atheist cosmologist Dr. Fred Hoyle, who in 1982 argued that "if one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure of order must be the outcome of intelligent design." The term "intelligent design" was also used by non-scientist James E. Horigan in his 1979 book Chance or Design? where Horigan used the term "intelligent design" and framed his argument as an empirical one, "without resort to biblical or other religious references," and without investigating questions about "ultimate purpose."

Horigan and Hoyle, however, did not become part of the later ID movement. But in 1984—three years before the Edwards ruling—three scientists who did help found the ID movement published a book titled The Mystery of Life's Origin that made arguments for an "intelligent cause" in the origin of the information in DNA:

"We have observational evidence in the present that intelligent investigators can (and do) build contrivances to channel energy down nonrandom chemical pathways to bring about some complex chemical synthesis, even gene building. May not the principle of uniformity then be used in a broader frame of consideration to suggest that DNA had an intelligent cause at the beginning?"

Those three scientists were Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen. Soon thereafter, Thaxton, a chemist and academic editor for the Of Pandas and People textbook ("Pandas"), adopted the term "intelligent design" after hearing it mentioned by a NASA engineer. Thaxton's adoption of the term "intelligent design" took place pre-Edwards and therefore could not have been an attempt to "evade" a court decision. Rather, his adoption of this terminology was done to distinguish ID from creationism, because, in contrast to creationism, ID sought to stay solely within the empirical domain. As Thaxton testified during his deposition in the Kitzmiller case:

"I wasn't comfortable with the typical vocabulary that for the most part creationists were using because it didn't express what I was trying to do. They were wanting to bring God into the discussion, and I was wanting to stay within the empirical domain and do what you can do legitimately there."

Thaxton, who is a scientist and not a lawyer, adopted "intelligent design" terminology out of a desire to respect the limits of scientific inquiry, not as some conspiracy to avoid a Supreme Court ruling. When recounting the history of why he adopted "intelligent design" terminology, Thaxton explains that his goal was not to avoid any court decisions but to help people understand that their argument was "trying to operate entirely within the empirical domain":

"Unfortunately for Westerners ... anytime you use the word creation it automatically conjures up any of a number of religious discussions. We knew from the beginning of our project, that turned out to be the making of Of Pandas and People, that we wanted to avoid this automatically concluding that what you're talking about was religion because in fact we were dealing with a biological discussion. So we were trying to operate entirely within the empirical domain. And my thought was, how to arrive at a set of terms that would allow us to traffic the literature and the discussion and build an argument without having to use terminology that would automatically bring one into the religious realm?"

Thaxton continues, saying "we did what we could do to stay within the empirical domain and make legitimate inferences." He then explains the terminology that was originally in the early pre-publication drafts of Pandas:

"I realize that the charge was that we were trying to just use a substitute word for creation, but that isn't the case at all. In the early days of writing the Pandas book for example, although we understood what we were doing, most other people who we were talking to didn't know our objectives really. And if you have a whole culture that knows about creation as a term ... So we used that word early on, not for deception so we could later switch on them but because we wanted the materials to be understood that we were focused on. It was always clearly within the empirical domain, even the things that we wrote early on."

Thaxton completes his account by recounting that after speaking widely on the subject of origins that "gradually it became clear that there was a real good way that there was a case we wanted—completely within the empirical domain—and we looked for a term that would do this and reading the literature and ah, 'intelligent design,' is the most appropriate term. And that's why we did it."

In conclusion, the term "intelligent design" not only long pre-dates the Edwards ruling, but the basic arguments for design pre-date Christianity. Moreover, modern members of the ID movement started using the term "intelligent design" not to evade a court ruling, but because they sought terminology that would accurately communicate their project's original intent to remain entirely within the empirical domain and avoid investigating religious questions about the supernatural. Since the U.S. Supreme Court declared creationism to be a religious viewpoint because it postulated a "supernatural creator," it seems that regardless of what wording was used early on, the ID project has always been substantively distinct from creationism. Any arguments that ID is creationism because early pre-publication drafts of the Pandas textbook used "creation" terminology are false conspiracy theories based not upon substance, but semantics and revisionist history. The very fact that Darwinists must resort to such arguments shows just how weak is their case that ID is creationism.

Any readers interested in learning about the true history of the origin of intelligent design might benefit from listening to two podcast interviews with Charles Thaxton on this topic at:

Pennock tries to ignore the long history of intelligent design arguments and instead cites measly evidence that early pre-publication drafts of one single book about intelligent design used the word "creation" rather than "intelligent design," but then the published version said "intelligent design." He alleges the terminology was switched merely in an effort to evade the Edwards ruling, which found "creation science" unconstitutional.

Conceptually, early drafts of the Pandas, although they used the word "creation," did not advocate "creationism" as that term has been defined by the Supreme Court and most scholars in this debate.

Before the Edwards ruling, pre-publication drafts of Pandas specifically rejected the view that science could determine whether an intelligent cause identified through the scientific method was supernatural. A pre-Edwards draft argued that "observable instances of information cannot tell us if the intellect behind them is natural or supernatural.

This is not a question that science can answer." The same draft explicitly rejected William Paley's 18th century design arguments because they unscientifically "extrapolate to the supernatural" from the empirical data. The draft stated that Paley was wrong because "there was no basis in uniform experience for going from nature to the supernatural, for inferring an unobserved supernatural cause from an observed effect." Another pre-publication draft made similar arguments:

"[W]e cannot learn [about the supernatural] through uniform sensory experience ... and so to teach it in science classes would be out of place ... [S]cience can identify an intellect, but is powerless to tell us if that intellect is within the universe or beyond it."

By unequivocally affirming that the empirical evidence of science "cannot tell us if the intellect behind [the information in life] is natural or supernatural," it is evident that these pre-publication drafts of Pandas meant something very different by "creation" than did the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard, in which the Court defined creationism as religion because it postulated a "supernatural creator."

Unfortunately, in his Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling, Judge Jones bought into the revisionist history of ID that claims ID is just repackaged creationism, and the Judge presented a sharply truncated and inaccurate view of the intellectual history of design. A correct history will make it clear that "intelligent design" was not a term invented to avoid the Edwards ruling, but a project that has always been distinct from the core claims of creationism.

Likewise Pennock tries to trace the origin of "irreducible complexity" to the arguments of a famous creationist named Henry Morris, but ignores the fact that this concept of irreducible complexity has been made in mainstream scientific venues long before Michael Behe's book. In 1986, Michael J. Katz, in his Templets and the explanation of complex patterns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) wrote:

"In the natural world, there are many pattern-assembly systems for which there is no simple explanation. There are useful scientific explanations for these complex systems, but the final patterns that they produce are so heterogeneous that they cannot effectively be reduced to smaller or less intricate predecessor components. As I will argue ... these patterns are, in a fundamental sense, irreducibly complex..."

Katz then applies this concept to what he finds in biology:

"Cells and organisms are quite complex by all pattern criteria. They are built of heterogeneous elements arranged in heterogeneous configurations, and they do not self-assemble. One cannot stir together the parts of a cell or of an organism and spontaneously assemble a neuron or a walrus: to create a cell or an organisms one needs a preexisting cell or a preexisting organism, with its attendant complex templets. A fundamental characteristic of the biological realm is that organisms are complex patterns, and, for its creation, life requires extensive, and essentially maximal, templets."

Likewise, leading ID theorist William Dembski's concept of specified complexity can be traced back to leading origin of life researcher, the late Leslie Orgel, who in 1973 wrote:

"[L]iving organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals are usually taken as the prototypes of simple, well-specified structures, because they consist of a very large number of identical molecules packed together in a uniform way. Lumps of granite or random mixtures of polymers are examples of structures which are complex but not specified. The crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; the mixtures of polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity."

If you actually read the works of Dembski and Behe, you'll see that they rely not on the arguments of creationists, but on the arguments of mainstream science.

Pennock is trying to argue that if creationists use some ID arguments, then ID is the same as creationism. As a philosopher, he should know that this argument employs a logical fallacy called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. This fallacy is committed when someone argues like this: "Your dog is red, therefore all dogs are red." Obviously, the fact that I observe that one dog is red, or even that many dogs are red, does not mean that all dogs are red. Yet Pennock wants you to believe that if creationists have also made some arguments that ID proponents make, then ID and creationism are the same. He forgets that there might also be key differences between ID and creationism.

ID as a scientific theory limits its scientific claims to what can be learned from the empirical data and does not attempt to address religious questions about the identity or metaphysical nature of the designer. This makes ID distinct from creationism and shows that ID respects the limits of scientific inquiry.

The theory of intelligent design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism typically starts with a religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. ID starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what scientific inferences can be drawn from that evidence. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural. The charge that ID is "creationism" is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize ID without actually addressing the merits of its case. And that scientific case for ID is exactly what Pennock failed to address in his op-ed.

One can disagree with the conclusions of ID, but one cannot reasonably claim that it is an argument based upon religion, faith, or divine revelation. Nothing critics can say—whether appealing to politically motivated condemnations of ID issued by pro-Darwin scientific authorities, or harping upon the religious beliefs of ID proponents—will change the fact that intelligent design is not a "faith-based" argument. Intelligent design has scientific merit because it is an empirically based argument that uses well-accepted scientific methods of historical sciences in order to detect in nature the types of complexity which we understand, from present-day observations, are derived from intelligent causes.

As a final rebuttal to Pennock, he states: "Discovery Institute Fellow Ralph Seelke was brought in to testify in favor" of a bill in Michigan. Mr. Pennock is incorrect: Ralph Seelke is not and never has been a Discovery Institute fellow.

Pennock also tries to pretend that academic freedom legislation brings creationism or religion into the classroom but he fails to tell readers that the bills only protect the teaching of science, and have an express provision that says that the bills "shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion." In other words, it would be impossible for creationism or religion to be taught under this bill.

We should have no misconceptions about what is really happening here: For the Darwin-skeptics, these academic freedom bills are about upholding the important value of academic freedom and the freedom to pursue legitimate scientific inquiry. For the Darwinists who oppose these bills, this battle is about falsely appealing to people's emotions and fears in order to suppress and censor from students scientific information that challenges evolution.

Strategy 3: Persecute Darwin-Skeptics

Katskee completely validates my op-ed's point that there is intolerance toward ID in the academy, stating that: "The reason that their ideas have been expelled from the classroom is not a vast conspiracy or rampant hostility toward religion; it's that those ideas lack scientific value." Of course, I didn't say that it was hostility towards religion or a "conspiracy" but I did document hostility among academics toward ID.

This is where academic freedom comes in. Academic freedom doesn't just give you freedom to agree with the majority viewpoint. If that's all it did, then academic freedom would be virtually meaningless. Academic freedom protects the rights of teachers and scientists to discuss both majority and minority scientific viewpoints. Given that scientists have published their doubts about Darwin in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and support for such views comes from hundreds of well-credentialed scientists, such dissenting views deserve the protections of academic freedom.

I'm pleased to see that Katskee at least admits that Darwinists are intolerant of views they disagree with.

As for Pennock, let's return to Bradley Monton. In a podcast, Monton reports that Pennock threatened Monton with a lawsuit after Monton published his article critiquing Pennock. According to Monton, "Pennock sent me an E-mail, calling my paper defamatory and telling me that I had to pull it off the internet," and made the "legalistic threat" demanding that Monton remove the paper from the scholarly internet archive. Monton called Pennock's bluff and refused to pull the paper. His feeling about the episode was as follows: "it really disturbed me that a fellow academic would behave that way." This is just another example of Darwinists scheming to use the force of the courts and persecution to stifle debate over intelligent design and evolution.

Strategy 4: Pretend There Is No Scientific Controversy Over Evolution

Richard Katskee says that "Unlike creationists, real scientists aren't afraid to change their hypothesis if the facts don't support it," but Katskee himself preaches the dogmatic viewpoint that "the debate is over." Moreover, who seems unwilling to change their viewpoint? Last year, the staunchly pro-Darwin U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a booklet, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, proclaiming that "[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution" because "no new evidence is likely to alter" it. They sure sound like they are unwilling to change their minds. In fact, it's only the Darwin-skeptics in this forum—myself and Candi Cushman—who wrote op-eds supporting teaching multiple scientific views on evolution. So who here is on the side of freedom and allowing people to change their minds?

Katskee further tries to stifle debate, saying that we "pretend that there are controversies in science, when in fact there aren't." I anticipated this argument, stating in my op-ed that:

"Darwinists today seek to stifle scientific dissent from their viewpoint by asserting that there are no serious scientific weaknesses in modern evolutionary theory (called neo-Darwinism).. The real losers here are students and scientific progress."

Again, Katskee's goal is to prevent you, the reader, from investigating the evidence for yourself. Yet my op-ed discussed a number of scientific challenges to neo-Darwinian evolution. Instead of discussing the science, Mr. Katskee appeals to authority: he wants you to accept evolution simply because many scientists do, so he asserts that, "Evolution is accepted by the overwhelming majority of biologists in this nation." Katskee wants to turn science into a voting contest. In science, votes don't matter, only the evidence matters, which is why I noted, there are significant, well-credentialed scientists who dissent from neo-Darwinism. We have an obligation to ourselves to investigate the evidence and make up our own minds. Based upon the types of arguments he makes, that's the last thing Katskee wants you to do.

Katskee does discuss a little science, asserting that "Major advances in medicine, biology, and the study of human origins hinge on evolution. Understanding evolution is thus becoming more important than ever as we look to biotech industries and medical breakthroughs to combat disease and improve our quality of life."

Of course he's right that evolution does accomplish small-scale changes in microorganisms that create problems when we try to fight diseases. But no one in the ID movement says that we should stop teaching the evidence for evolution. In contrast, it's Katskee who wants to censor the views of those scientists who dissent from neo-Darwinian evolution.

Moreover, Katskee isn't telling the whole story about how evolution relates to the fight against disease. When trying to fight anti-biotic resistant bugs, Darwinism provides little guidance beyond the truism that bacteria that are insensitive to a drug will produce more offspring, while those that are susceptible to a drug will die off. It is probably for this reason that evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne admitted in Nature that "if truth be told, evolution hasn't yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say." What Katskee doesn't tell his readers is that to actually outsmart superbugs, biomedical researchers must intelligently design drug cocktails that rely upon the fact that there are limits to how much microorganisms can evolve.

So what Katskee means when he says "teach evolution properly" is really that we should teach evolution like a dogma that can't be questioned. This is will hamper the ability of students to understand science accurately.

Who now is behaving dogmatically and trying to squelch debates?


The arguments from my distinguished adversaries in this forum, and the commenters on this forum have only served to bolster and confirm my op-ed's central argument:

"People who have the evidence on their side don't behave like this. Science and education are suffering because Darwinists are using bluffs about the evidence, fear-mongering about religion, and discrimination against minority viewpoints to stifle the debate over evolution."

Darwinist debate tactics are all part of a complicated strategy to distract you, the public, from looking at the evidence for yourself. So whatever conclusion you come to—whether you accept neo-Darwinian evolution, intelligent design, or something else—you owe it to yourself to look past the distracting and dogmatic rhetoric of the Darwinists and investigate this issue for yourself.

If you do that, it doesn't really matter whether you ultimately agree with me on intelligent design, because you'll agree with me on something more important: academic freedom and freedom of speech in the debate over evolution.

Synthetic biology yields clues to evolution and the origin of life


Public release date: 15-Feb-2009

Contact: Tim Stephens
University of California - Santa Cruz

CHICAGO, IL--Researchers in the field of synthetic biology are still a long way from being able to assemble living cells from scratch in the laboratory. But according to biochemist David Deamer of the University of California, Santa Cruz, their efforts are yielding clues to the mystery of how life began on Earth.

Deamer has been investigating the origin of life for more than 20 years, focusing on the molecular self-assembly processes that led to the first "protocells" nearly 4 billion years ago. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago, he will discuss evolution, biochemistry, and the origin of cellular life. His presentation is part of a symposium on evolution organized by Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif.

According to Deamer, life began with complex systems of molecules that came together through the self-assembly of nonliving components. A useful metaphor for understanding how this came about, he said, can be found in combinatorial chemistry, an approach in which thousands of experiments are carried out in parallel by robotic devices.

"I look at the origin of life as the result of combinatorial chemistry on a global scale," said Deamer, a research professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC who is also affiliated with the Department of Biomolecular Engineering in UCSC's Jack Baskin School of Engineering.

The power of combinatorial chemistry lies in the vast numbers of structurally distinct molecules that can be synthesized and tested at the same time. Similarly, conditions on the early Earth allowed not only the synthesis of a wide variety of complex organic molecules, but also the formation of membrane-bound compartments that would have encapsulated different combinations of molecules.

"We have made protocells in the lab--artificial compartments containing complex systems of molecules," Deamer said. "The creationists charge that it's too unlikely for the right combination to have come together on its own, but combinatorial chemistry gives us a better way to think about the probability of life emerging from this process."

Life began when one or a few protocells happened to have a mix of components that could capture energy and nutrients from the environment and use them to grow and reproduce. Efforts to replicate this process in the laboratory are still in their infancy, but Deamer said he is optimistic that scientists will eventually be able to assemble a living cell from a parts list and thereby achieve a better understanding of how life began.

The first forms of life did not evolve in the usual sense, he said, but simply grew. "Evolution began when large populations of cells had variations that led to different metabolic efficiencies," Deamer said. "If the populations were in a confined environment, at some point they would begin to compete for limited resources."

The first evolutionary selection processes would have favored those organisms that were most efficient in capturing energy and nutrients from the local environment, he said.

In his talk at the AAAS meeting, Deamer will outline the conditions that scientists think were necessary for life to emerge on the early Earth. He is currently working on a book about the origin of life to be published by UC Press.


Neanderthal genome will unlock secrets of human evolution


Mark Henderson, Science Editor, in Chicago

The genetic code of Neanderthal Man has been pieced together from DNA recovered from ancient fossils, providing insights into evolution that promise to reveal many of the genes that make us human.

As Homo neanderthalis is the closest evolutionary cousin of Homo sapiens that has ever existed, comparisons between its genome and those of modern humans and chimpanzees will allow scientists to identify DNA sequences that are unique to our species. Many of these will explain human capabilities that are not shared by other animals, such as complex thought, language and art.

"Studying the Neanderthals and studying the Neanderthal genome will tell us what makes modern humans really human, why we are alone, why we have these amazing capabilities," said Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, who led the project with his colleague Professor Svante Pääbo. "It will allow us to analyse our genome and manipulate it."

The reconstruction of the Neanderthal genome will not, however, pave the way for the resurrection of the ancient human relatives by cloning. While sufficient DNA can be recovered from fossils to allow a rough genome map to be assembled, this will be too incomplete to clone a living being, the scientists said.

It is clear the distinguished palaeontologists who took part in the excavations were victims of a most elaborate hoax

"I would say that starting from DNA from a fossil, it [cloning] remains impossible," Professor Pääbo said. "As far as I can see into the future, there isn't an improvement in technology that would make that possible."

The announcement came on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. "It is really about understanding our evolution," Professor Pääbo said. "We will be able to catalogue the changes that happened before humans diverged from Neanderthals, and those that happened afterwards. The second goal, which is fitting for Darwin's birthday, is finding evidence of positive selection, of identifying changes that really made a difference in our ancestors."

The Neanderthal genome, which will be presented by Professor Pääbo on Sunday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago, is a first draft, containing at least some data on 63 per cent of the DNA letters that make it up. Nonetheless, it is a scientific tour de force that has greatly improved the ability to study the genetics of extinct species.

While DNA from extinct creatures has been extracted and sequenced before, this has come from animals that were frozen in permafrost, mainly mammoths, and in which soft tissue had been preserved. The Neanderthal DNA, by contrast, was taken from bones found at four sites: Vindya in Croatia, El Sidrón in Spain, Mezmaiskaya in Russia and Feldhofer in the Neander valley in Germany, where the original specimens that gave the species its name were found.

This DNA could be read because of new genome sequencing technology that has become available only in the past few years. The sequencing was conducted by 454 Life Sciences, which recently mapped the genetic code of James Watson, who with Francis Crick identified the double-helix structure of DNA.

Preliminary analysis of the Neanderthal genome has identified several critical genes that are similar or different to modern humans. Neanderthals do not appear to have the gene for lactase, which allows adults to digest milk and is common among Europeans and some Africans, but rare elsewhere in the world.

The research has also confirmed that Neanderthals share the human version of a gene called FOXP2, which is known to be involved in language, which suggests it is possible that they could have been capable of speech. "This is the only gene we happen to know about that's involved in speech, and there will be many others, so we cannot say that they could speak," Professor Pääbo said. "However, there is no reason to assume they couldn't speak, from the little we know. How human were they? My take on that is we will probably never fully know."

Another early finding is that Neanderthals appear not to have interbred with modern humans. "Our data show that the contribution of Neanderthals to the modern gene pool is very little, if anything," Professor Pääbo said.

Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said: "If the Neanderthal genome data show little evidence of potential hybridisation, that would fit with my view from the fossil evidence that, while interbreeding was probably possible, it may have occurred only rarely, with trivial impact on modern humans.

"The populations had been separate for hundreds of thousands of years and I think there would have been significant physical and behavioural differences between them. However, larger samples would be desirable to get a more complete picture, and hopefully those will follow soon."

The research suggests that the evolutionary split between humans and Neanderthals happened about 830,000 years ago. The Neanderthals died out around 30,000 years ago, and competition with modern humans may have been an important factor.

Meet the relatives

— The first Neanderthal fossils were found in a limestone quarry in Germany in 1856, three years before Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published

— The stocky, muscular human species was Homo sapiens' closest evolutionary relative and at its peak dominated vast territory, from Britain and Iberia in the west to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east

— Modern humans entered Europe 40,000 years ago. Within 10,000 years Neanderthals had largely disappeared from the continent. Whether the two mated has been the subject of intense debate

— Neanderthals' brains were about 10 per cent larger than those of modern humans. Their squat physique helped to conserve heat in the Ice Age

Source: Times archives, BBC

Scientists begin to decode the history of human evolution


By David Brown
The Washington Post
Thursday, February 12, 2009

In biology's most famous book, "On the Origin of Species," Charles Darwin steered clear of applying his revolutionary theory of evolution to the species of greatest interest to his readers — their own.

He couldn't avoid it forever, of course. He eventually wrote another tome nearly as famous, "The Descent of Man." But he knew in 1859, when "Species" was published, that to jump right into a description of how human beings had tussled with the environment and one another over eons, changing their appearance, capabilities and behavior in the process, would be hard for people to accept.

This 1875 file photo shows Charles Darwin, who, along with Benjamin Franklin, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nicholas Copernicus and Gregor Mendel, was among "laterborns", with at least one older sibling. All were revolutionaries. In fact, laterborns are up to 15 times more likely than firstborns to resist authority and break new ground, says Frank J. Sulloway, a research scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Darwin's 200th anniversary

Darwin was born 200 years ago this week. "On the Origin of Species" will be 150 years old in a few months. There's no such reluctance now.

The search for signs of natural selection in human beings has just begun. It will ultimately be as revelatory as Newton's description of the mathematics of motion 322 years ago, or the unlocking of the atom's secrets that began in the late 1800s.

The inundation of data since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, and the capacity to analyze it at the finest level of detail — the individual DNA nucleotides that make up the molecule of heredity — are giving us a look at humanity's autobiography in a way that was once unimaginable.

In small, discrete changes in our genes that have accumulated over time, we are seeing evolution's tracery, as durable as it is delicate. It is slowly revealing how climate, geography, disease, culture and chance sculpted Homo sapiens into the unique and diverse species it is today.

Biologists are discovering that the size of our limbs and brains, the enzymes in our spit and stomachs, the color of our skin, the contour of our hair, and the armament of our immune systems are each to some degree the products of evolutionary adaptation. They are the hard-earned, but unintended, bequests of our ancestors' struggle to survive.

This, of course, is no surprise. Darwin knew it was so — and he'd never heard of a gene.

The surprise is our capacity to see the mechanical changes — for genes are nothing more than little machines operating in water — that are evolution's working material. Natural selection has moved beyond metaphor. We can see the thing itself.

"Why are we the way we are? That has always been a sort of fundamental question, hasn't it? But it is only now that we can really begin to address it," said Carlos Bustamante, a professor of computational biology at Cornell University. "Over the ages we catalogued the anatomical differences between people and eventually biochemical differences, too. Now we can get down to the molecular differences. We really mean it this time."

Understanding which of our 25,000 genes have changed since we climbed out of the trees may have practical results as well. Many of mankind's most common health problems — hypertension, diabetes and obesity are examples — may partly be consequences of natural selection that occurred long ago, in a world far different from today's. Identifying which genes have undergone the most rapid evolution, and then figuring out what they do, may shed important light on these ailments.

Out of this research may come one other tantalizing insight: How, if at all, are we still evolving?

Promising Leads, Few Complete Answers

At the moment, though, there are a lot more promising leads than mysteries solved.

More than 300 human genes show strong evidence of recent mutations that favored survival in the face of new threats or novel environments, and consequently spread quickly through populations. For only a few, however, have researchers nailed down the full story of what the mutations did and how they helped our ancestors.

"We are really just beginning to see the landscape of human evolution. We're working toward a coherent picture of how we evolved over time," said Pardis Christine Sabeti, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

Some of that landscape is visible on a map of the world. Many of the differences in appearance and physiology between ethnic groups are products of natural selection that occurred eons ago in the geographic regions those groups still inhabit.

Natural selection, of course, didn't begin just when human ancestors and chimpanzees diverged 6 million years ago and we became our own, distinct lineage. Much of what makes us special (at least in our own eyes) was already underway.

Take our brains.

The marvelous things they can do — and the use of language is right at the top of the list — didn't leap fully formed from a profoundly inferior predecessor. Instead, our brains are the result of small structural changes, some more important than others, accumulating since deep in evolutionary time. That appears to be the case of a gene called FOXP2.

When a mutation occurs in that gene in people (a rare event), they lose the ability to make sense of language and to produce coherent speech. When the gene is knocked out in birds, their songs are incomplete and inaccurate. In bats, it seems to be involved in echolocation.

Across many species, the gene appears to play a role in processing sound and using the information to perform an action — making an intelligible grunt, singing the right song or avoiding a collision with a cave wall. And it turns out that human beings have two mutations in the FOXP2 gene that chimpanzees don't. What do they mean for the functioning of our brain cells? Nobody knows, but the betting is: something that may be key to humans' unique capacity for language.

Curiously, sometimes evolution lurches forward when a gene stops working. Making room in our skulls for our outsize brains may have been helped by such an occurrence.

Humans have completely lost the function of a gene called MYH16. It's still there, but scientists can tell from the DNA sequence that it underwent a "frameshift mutation" and no longer works.

MYH16 codes for a protein that is a component of some muscles. In chimpanzees and other primates, it is active only in muscles of the head, especially ones used for chewing. Some scientists speculate that the mutation that disabled the gene freed our skulls of the physical constraints required to anchor large, powerful jaw muscles. That, in turn, may have helped make room for the brain's rapid enlargement.

Brain size itself appears to be controlled by at least four other genes; mutations in them cause microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by a small head and mental retardation. These genes have been changing more rapidly in primates than in rodents, and the pace of that evolution has been especially fast in humans and chimps. That's no surprise; they're smart and we're smarter.

Beneficial Traits Spread

It takes time for a mutation that produces an advantageous genetic trait to sweep through a population. How quickly that occurs depends, in part, on how big an advantage the change provides.

With many traits — big brains, upright posture, scant body hair, color vision — the advantage is so great that the DNA sequence for them reaches what geneticists call fixation. Everyone has it.

But fixation isn't always the endpoint. A gene-altering mutation can sweep through one population but remain virtually absent in another. That's because all that's required for a mutation to spread is for it to improve its carriers' chance of surviving and reproducing under their current circumstances. And circumstances are not the same for all people and can change over time.

That was certainly the case 2,000 generations ago, when groups of modern humans began to leave Africa and settle nearly every corner of a geographically, climatically and botanically diverse planet. Their genes changed as a result of their journeys, and the genes of people who stayed in Africa continued to evolve, too, as life there changed.

All of this occurred by chance, and the result is the world of human diversity we see today.

"Evolution in a pure Darwinian world has no goal or purpose," biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote in the introduction to a collection of Darwin's writings a few years ago.

In other words, evolution is not like an arrow shot at a target, but like a blind dog stumbling across an obstacle-strewn landscape. This is what caused Darwin to shy away from talking about evolution and mankind in the same breath, at least at the beginning. It is still the heresy that quickens the creationist's pulse.

The current conservative estimate is that 10 percent of our genome has undergone "positive selection" since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago. Not surprisingly, the changes that tell the clearest stories involve basic needs — food, protection from the elements, resistance to disease.

The adaptation to malaria is the best and oldest example.

Children and pregnant women are at highest risk of dying from malaria (and about 900,000 still do each year). Any mutation that protects victims from early deaths and lets them reproduce will spread widely, because the survivors are more likely to carry it — and therefore pass it on to their descendants.

Over the past 10,000 years, such protective mutations have arisen and been "naturally selected" not once, but several times. They emerged in places where malaria was endemic — West Africa, Southern Africa, the Middle East — and took hold independently of one another.

So great was their value that they became widespread, even though they can cause problems of their own — sickle cell anemia, thalassemia and G6PD deficiency, diseases most prevalent in places where malaria was a scourge.

Matching Skin Tone to Sunlight

Non-living threats have also exerted heavy pressure on our genes over the eons. Sunlight is the most obvious one.

Several mutations that lighten skin swept through the out-of-Africa migrants, though different populations have different "suites" of altered pigment genes. That probably explains why fairness in Europeans often extends to hair color, while in Asians it almost never does.

Curiously, the reason sunlight is such a driving force isn't entirely clear.

Too much sun can burn the skin and damage folate, a vitamin essential to fertility and embryo growth. Too little blocks formation of Vitamin D, which is crucial for absorbing the calcium necessary for bones and muscle. Whatever the reason, having the right skin color for one's home latitude has clearly been a huge evolutionary task.

Of course, it's possible it could have happened by chance.

The random death of individuals carrying some genes and the chance survival of people bearing others — called genetic drift — has also shaped our genomes, most biologists believe. But the fact that so many mutations affecting skin color occurred in non-African populations and went to fixation (or close) makes chance an unlikely explanation.

"A big thing that makes you think this is natural selection is when you see 'convergent evolution' — different mutations with the exact same biological function," said Sabeti, the Harvard geneticist. "Lightning strikes once, but it doesn't often strike twice."

Researchers are now showing that culture — what humans have created — also can drive natural selection with as much force as disease and the environment.

The ability to digest milk in adulthood, called lactase persistence, exists in more than 90 percent of Scandinavians but only 1 percent of Chinese. It is much more common in places where cattle, goat and camel herding are common — and milk is a big part of the diet — than in populations (such as hunter-gatherers) where herding is more rare.

Most Europeans have a mutation in the lactase gene that allows them to digest milk as adults. But it is virtually absent in Africans, many of whom can also drink milk.

In 2006, scientists found three previously unknown lactase mutations that swept through East African herding cultures in the past 5,000 years, long after the European one emerged.

"The reason for the advantage is not entirely clear," said Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania who made the discovery. "It could be the protein in the milk; it could be the fat; it could be that it's a source of water in an arid region — or none of the above."

Are Humans Still Evolving?

Which brings us to the question: In a world of intensive-care units, vitamin pills, sunscreen, down jackets and (for many) too much food, has evolution ground to a halt? Or will global warming, urban crowding, HIV infection, the obesity and diabetes epidemics, and the galloping changes in technology crank it up again?

The answer seems to be: Nobody knows. But something is probably still happening.

"I definitely think people will come under new pressures," said Eugene Harris, a biological anthropologist at Queensborough Community College in New York. "There are going to be micro-evolutionary adjustments that occur over time. Culture is imperfect and is not going to buffer all of us."

But Bustamante, the computational biologist from Cornell, cautions that it takes 200 generations for natural selection to show its hand — and that's when it's working full tilt.

"What is going to happen in 200 generations? I don't think we have any mathematical models to answer that," he said.

Darwin, like evolution, took his time. He is the patron saint of dawdlers.

He got off the HMS Beagle, the ship that took him on the trip that taught him almost everything, on Oct. 2, 1836. He then spent 22 years in study, experiment and cogitation — capped with the equivalent of an all-nighter — to come up with his theory. He crashed it into print in a dead heat with Alfred Russel Wallace, a young man in a hurry, presenting it on the night of July 1, 1858, before the Linnean Society of London.

The truth is that even 200 years from today, on Darwin's 400th birthday, when we're all dead, our descendants still won't have a clue as to what the traits just now starting to evolve may be.

Evolution moves slowly, and it grinds exceeding small. Darwin knew this, and wouldn't be surprised.

Some Pastors Preach Evolution, but Americans Are as Anti-Darwin as Ever


February 12, 2009 04:17 PM ET | Dan Gilgoff
By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Haggerty has a wonderful story up about Evolution Weekend, an annual worldwide event in which pro-Darwin religious leaders speak from the pulpit about what they say is the compatibility between evolution and religion. More than 1,000 congregations are participating this year.

The one problem with the NPR piece is that it implies there's a shift toward acceptance of evolution among religious folks, with lines like this:

Tim Bagwell, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, Ga., says that even in the Bible Belt there's a quiet shift away from literalism.

Actually, no. Americans' rejection of Darwin's ideas have remained remarkably constant over time.

A new Pew report shows that in 1982, 9 percent of Americans believed in an evolutionary process in which God played no role, 38 percent believed in God-guided evolution, and 44 percent believed that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so.

Today, the numbers are almost identical. According to a Pew poll last year, 14 percent of Americans believe in an evolutionary process in which God played no role, 36 percent believe in God-guided evolution, and 44 percent believe God created humans as-is within the course of recent history. There was a jump in supporters of evolution without God's guidance, but I'm guessing those aren't the religious folks.

Scientists Ask: What Would Darwin Do?


Friday, February 13, 2009
By Robin Lloyd

If Charles Darwin were alive today, 200 years after his birth, he would be thrilled, excited and a little shocked with the scientific vitality and validation of evolution and its predictions — but bored by the lingering public controversy over his theory, experts say.

Here is what would tickle the father of evolution on this bicentennial, which also coincides this year with the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species," his most famous book:

"If he had the opportunity to look back for the past 150 years and see all amazing discoveries in the fossil record, including feathered dinosaurs, walking fish and walking whales, he'd be delighted to see that there is evidence in the historical record of the planet for evolution and the transformation from one organism to another," said Michael Novacek, provost and curator in the Department of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

• Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Evolution & Paleontology Center.

When Darwin penned "Origin" in 1859, there were few fossils available for him to use as evidence, because fossil-hunting was a relatively new field and expeditions to dig for fossils were harder to undertake than they are today — no Jeeps, no satellite phones, no electricity.

Also, genes, which enable the passing of traits down through generations, were unknown at the time.

Even though the laws governing inheritance were being worked out by Austrian priest and scientist Gregor Mendel during Darwin's lifetime, the significance of this work for evolution and all of biology went undiscovered until the early 20th century.

"The breakthroughs of Mendelian inheritance, from genetics down to the human genome, are an exuberant celebration of evolutionary theory," Novacek said in a telephone interview this week.

Meanwhile, creationists and claims about intelligent design would sound something like a broken record to Darwin, who was familiar, as were his contemporaries, with William Paley's "Natural Theology," published 50 years before "Origin," Novacek explained.

Paley asserted that living organisms are so complex and refined that there must be some divine creator behind their design and creation.

"Darwin would probably say, this looks like history repeating itself. This is a little déjà vu," Novacek said. "He would say, 'Here we go again.'"

Happy but also shocked

Chris Beard, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, agreed that Darwin would be happy, and then some, to see how his theory has been sustained and elaborated on since "Origin" was published.

"I think he would perhaps even be shocked to see how well it has held up and to see how the theory itself has evolved through time to encompass new technologies, the modern science of sequencing entire genomes," Beard said.

Mohamed Noor, associate chair of biology at Duke University in North Carolina, said advances in genetics , in particular, would truly excite Darwin.

"Today, researchers are finding actual genes that cause species-forming traits like hybrid infertility," said Noor, who is traveling this week to London where he will receive the Linnean Society's prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal for making "major advances in evolutionary biology."

"We are using 'genome sequences' to show that natural selection is pervasive in its effects and that it has contributed to the formation of new species," Noor told LiveScience. "It's truly an exciting time to be an evolutionary biologist, and Darwin would surely be equally excited."

'Surprised' and 'disappointed' at progress

The contemporary controversy over teaching evolution in some parts of the United States and in a handful of other nations would shock Darwin, Beard said.

"I think he was someone who had enough confidence in the power of progress that is inherent in the human mind that he would have assumed that we would be past this by now," Beard said. "In most parts of the world we are. It's mainly us here in America and, oddly enough, people in the Muslim world, who have problems with Darwinian evolution. I think he would be surprised and disappointed that society, frankly, has not made more progress in absorbing the power and, in many ways, the beauty of his theory."

But Darwin would be very pleased to find that there is no controversy in science today about whether evolution occurred, despite continual attempts by creationists to manufacture one, said science historian Richard Milner.

"He would have been delighted, I believe, that the debates within evolutionary biology are now about the why and how of evolution — a continuation of some of the disputes he had with his friend Thomas Huxley about the limits and efficacy of natural selection," Milner said.

Milner continued: "Also, I think he would have been astounded at the some of the twists and turns of modern theory: endosymbiosis (cells made up of combinations of critters), lateral gene transfer (a challenge to the vertical tree of life), self-organization (the mystery of how cells combine into larger entities).

"Also, the science of genetics, which originated after his death, would have opened a whole new window for him: how genes work, either as 'blueprints' or 'switches,' the 'junk DNA' that turns out not to be junk at all, and the question of whether organic forms are shaped as embryos by some kind of organic origami."

What would Darwin do?

Novacek and Beard offered the following visions for how Darwin might spend his time as a scientist if he were alive today.

Beard: "If I were to speculate, I would think that Darwin would be a modern field biologist, which is what he was in his own time. He devoted a huge amount of his youth to the Beagle voyage and he clearly loved going out in to the field and collecting living animals and plants and collecting fossils, and he enjoyed observing living animals and plants and figuring out how they adapted their anatomy to the environment ...

"By the same token, it is possible that he could be fascinated by scientific and technological advances, and morph into somebody who wears a white lab coat all day long and mixes chemicals in test tubes and tries to figure out the genetic sequences of some strange organism. But that is too much too imagine. I think he'd be a field biologist, collecting information on living plants and animals and collecting fossils too."

Novacek: "He might go crazy ... the embarrassment of riches in biology would probably overwhelm him. He loved beetles. Maybe he would just continue to describe beetles. He got very interested in human evolution as his work went along. He might be interested in studies of paleoanthropology and human evolution.

"One area of biology that might intrigue him is the emergence of evolution in development and the way that development plays a role in more ways than we appreciated before.

"Finally, there is the tree of life. He drew the first tree of life in his notebook. The fact is that today that is one of the most important biological missions, to map tree precisely from genes to structures, all the information we have on this vast diversity of life.

"Clearly, this would have excited him, because the tree we have now is a little bit more refined than that sketch he drew, but nonetheless it is basically the fleshed out version of that sketch. The spirit of it was there in Darwin's work."

Copyright © 2009 Imaginova Corp.

Darwinism is the root of terrorism, Islam is the antidote: Harun Yahya


News date: Monday, February 9, 2009

Tehran Times Political Desk

TEHRAN - Adnan Oktar, born in Ankara in 1956, known by his pen name Harun Yahya, is a prominent advocate of Islamic creationism in the creation-evolution debate. He is considered to be the leading Muslim advocate of creationism.

Mr. Yahya is opposed to Zionism and Freemasonry and sees them as very interrelated movements. He denounces terrorism, which he says is a product of Darwinism, while he considers Islam its antidote. Islam, he believes, is a religion of peace and love.

Following is an excerpt of Harun Yahya's exclusive interview with Kourosh Ziabari:

Q: Mr. Yahya, it seems the world is paying a heavy price for ignoring moral values and religious ethics -- and many governments make irrational and irreligious decisions, which lead to starvation, massacres, corruption, poverty, and economic inequality. What's your view on this?

A: Muslims are generally unaware where the troubles are coming from. People in the world as a whole are unaware of the essence of the matter. When I investigated it I saw that Darwinism lay at the root of all this suffering, trouble, violence and pain as there would be no materialism without Darwinism. Darwinism is essential for materialist philosophy and without materialism there can be no communism, fascism, imperialism, savage capitalism, nor immorality nor terror. These are all inter-related, but because people are ignorant of that, they fail to grasp the importance of the intellectual struggle against Darwinism.

"Why is it so important, why do you concentrate on it so much?" they say. Atheism is active right across the world, hurting and literally damning people. But they do not look for the root cause. Yet Darwinism is the foundation of godlessness, of all atheist ideologies, and thus of all these troubles. I have gone right to the root of the matter and struck at the root of atheism in my work.

It is this that lies at the heart of Darwinists' own suffering and the savagery in the materialist universe. In other words, by Allah's leave, I have severed the jugular, the main artery of atheism. As Darwinism has collapsed, materialists have of course less and less respect for their own beliefs. It is no longer possible for people to be materialists. That is why, if Muslims want to fight atheism, they must wage an intellectual struggle against the religion of atheism.

They can make use of the www.harunyahya.com web site for that. They can download all the books, documentaries and articles on the site free of charge and make use of them. They must raise their own knowledge, understanding, culture and reveal the invalidity of Darwinism one by one with scientific evidence. You will then see that all these problems you listed will disappear. The truth will come and falsehood fades away, insha'Allah.

Q: The Western media often try to distort the image of Islam by depicting extremists, fanatics, and suicide bombers as Muslims. How can we respond to this and show the true face of Islam?

A: Darwinists attempt to equate the violence and terror they themselves nurture and grow with Muslims. But this is inconsistent, because I have exposed it as a ruse. Darwinism is the root of terrorism, whereas Islam is the antidote to it. Islam is a religion of peace and love. Allah says in the Quran that "it is better for you if you forgive," even those who commit murder.

There is obviously no room for the violence of terror in such a faith. The fact is that some people who have received a Darwinist and materialist education have subsequently said they are Muslims, but they have never abandoned the mindset stemming from that education. As you know, Palestine was a training camp for Marxists and communists in the 1980s. In the same way, the socialist Baathist mindset dominated Syria and Iraq for years. Afghanistan was subjected to communist occupation. Some of these people received a Darwinist education in the West and then returned to settle in their Muslim countries. It is always Darwinists today that espouse the killing of the innocent, terror, and anarchy in the supposed name of Islam.

But it is impossible to provide any proof for what they do from the Quran, the Sunnah of our Prophet, or statements by great Islamic scholars.

Q: In your view, what caused the current world economic crisis?

A: This economic crisis is proof of how powerless Masons and atheist Zionists are in the face of the might and power of Allah. Allah has shown them how the system they established fails to lead to success. They are at a complete dead end with no way out. And with His name of "Jabbar" (Compeller), Allah has made that system impossible to implement and is obliging them to implement Islamic moral values.

Interest rates across the world are heading toward zero. Interest rates are nearly zero in the USA and Britain. News reports say that rates are at the lowest level ever. What does an interest-free system mean? It means the system encouraged by Islam. Another aspect of this crisis that is directing people toward Islamic moral values is its instrumental role in reinforcing solidarity among people, increasing mutual aid, and passing laws for the protection of the poor. Indeed, that is the only way out of the crisis, in other words, to act in the light of Islamic moral values. Trust in Allah is essential; people cannot overcome the crisis if they fail to invest or spend their money out of a fear for the future.

The reason for the crisis is the flow of goods coming to a stop, money coming to a halt and frozen production. In other words, people are holding onto their money out of a worldly concern for tomorrow, worldly greed.

Manufacturers are halting production because they cannot sell anything, be paid or borrow money. They hide away what they have in warehouses, just in case the price goes up.

Those who want to buy hold their hands in case the price goes down or up. The result is a collective death. But those who place their trust in Allah will use their money in the best way, knowing that all things belong to Allah and that He distributes or holds back blessings as He wishes. You know that accumulating possessions is contrary to the moral values of Islam. They will reinvigorate the markets, helping the poor and increasing their purchasing power. In addition, taxes must be brought down, the agriculture and livestock sectors must be supported, luxury consumer goods limited and greater demand established in the markets.

However, it is also most important to remember that the appearance of such a great economic crisis is one of the portents of the coming of Hazrat Mahdi (peace be upon him), as revealed by our Prophet. As with all events created in destiny by Allah, it will therefore all work out for the best for believers.

Q: How do monotheistic religions bestow inner peace, stability, and strength on their adherents?

A: The existence of Allah, the Hereafter and true faith in Allah bestow happiness and joy on humanity. This is a secret of Allah. Almighty Allah says, "Only in the remembrance of Allah can the heart find peace."

All people who genuinely and sincerely live by the human nature created by Allah are highly balanced, moderate, pleasant, happy, and peaceful, as a blessing from Him. They know only too well that greed, a longing for wealth and the things of this world do not make people happy.

If living for this world made people happy, if they found peace in this world, why are there almost no happy people around? Why is drug abuse, the use of anti-depressants and psychiatric therapy so high in some Western countries? Why are people so lonely, restless and stressed? Why do newspapers every day carry pages full of stuff about stress-related diseases?

It means that, contrary to what some people say, turning away from Allah and religious moral values does not make people happy. Artificial happiness is not happiness. The fact that someone is smiling or shouts out in places of entertainment does not show that he or she is happy. For example, huge concerts take place. Tens of thousands of people attend. But nobody is happy. They all shout out, they all beat the rhythm out as fast as they can. They jump up and down, but they are not happy. If anyone asked the truth, or if they told the truth, they would say they are not happy. Happiness has nothing to do with these things. For example, people were very happy in the time of our Prophet (PBUH). The disciples of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) were very happy with him. These things are real happiness.

The climate of friendship the Prophet Moses (PBUH) established with the people around him was an environment of happiness.

We must look for happiness in profundity; in profound pleasures and delights. But this is a blessing and secret from Allah for believers, one hidden from those who deny Him.

Q: Mr. Yahya, how can we create a peaceful and pleasant world, and how can we improve our lives and enjoy success?

A: We must be very sincere right from the start. Allah says that "sincere servants will be saved." We must be deeply sincere. When we are sincere, Allah will show us the true path. He will inspire us with how to perform our daily prayers, how to fast, with what we must do to possess human and proper moral values and to live in love, and we will then do those things.

We merely have to be sincere. Allah brings the Quran into our homes. We look and see the Quran, and we open it up and read it. Allah brings that knowledge to us. We just have to be sincere. People must be sincere; genuinely sincere. Because when they are sincere, they may encounter many things that conflict with their lower selves.

They may experience many troubles and difficulties. But these difficulties are still agreeable and pleasant ones. A Muslim will accept them all. Because a person will not tell a lie when one is possible. A sincere person will be loyal when disloyalty might be expected. Loyalty is difficult. It may conflict with one's lower self. Compassion, for example, may inflict material losses on people. Not being selfish and egotistical may also result in material losses. But a sincere person will nonetheless continue to be honest despite all the difficulties. Insha'Allah, the Almighty God will smooth the path for such sincere servants and bestow profound faith on them, lead them to salvation, and draw them close to Himself in this world and the Hereafter.

Q: Mr. Yahya, what's your take on hegemonic powers' occupation of independent nations under the pretext of the 'war on terrorism' and Israel's merciless assault on the people of Gaza?

A: Since we are living in the End Times, these things are all developments which our Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) has revealed will take place before the coming of Hazrat Mahdi (PBUH). The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) watched these incidents, literally as if in a mirror, saw them, and described them as they are.

He referred to Muslim blood being spilled, to such happenings taking place in this period, to terrible corruption and chaos, to the spilling of innocent blood, to the killing even of women and children, to the killing of pregnant women, and to terrible strife. But our Prophet says that after that, "all this will be reversed with the appearance of Hazrat Mahdi (PBUH), one of my children, and that there will come an age of well-being, abundance, peace, plenty, gentleness, and beauty." All this will happen. In other words, all the current trouble and difficulties presage the proximity, insha'Allah, of a delightful, enlightened and prosperous age.

What Muslims must do at this time, the most urgent issue they must concentrate on from morning till night, is to unite.

All Muslims must sincerely ask this from Allah. They must constantly pray to Allah to "Hasten the coming of Hazrat Mahdi (PBUH), hasten the coming of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH)." They must cry out for this at legal meetings, write it on legal banners. They must say, "We want an Islamic Union." As a prayer, they must keep this demand constantly on the agenda at every available opportunity, with great passion and enthusiasm. Even talking about the Turkish-Islamic Union will make those responsible for the oppression very uneasy. Once the Turkish-Islamic Union is set up there will be no such issue any more. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine will emerge into the daylight.

But we must all be united, a whole, for that to happen. This is Allah's command in the Quran. Almighty Allah states in the Quran, "Allah loves those who struggle in His Way in ranks like well-built walls." We will carry out that command of Allah. At that time, by Allah's leave, no harm will come even to a hair of Muslims' heads.

Q: Mr. Yahya, you've talked about the appearance of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) and praised Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for recalling Imam Mahdi (PBUH) at the beginning of each of his addresses. Could you elaborate on your views?

A: In the Quran, Allah promises sincere believers that religious moral values will rule the world. The Messenger of Allah has also described how Hazrat Mahdi (PBUH) will be the instrument of that dominion as well as Hazrat Mahdi's moral and physical features and the portents of his coming, all in great detail. Of course, Muslims will seek Hazrat Mahdi (PBUH) with joy and excitement and will pray for the coming of this holy personage.

Everything our Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) said has happened. But if someone attaches no credence to our Prophet's words, that means they attach no credence to the faith. Muslims must be courageous and determined and persistent, and must offer one another encouragement. If they do not want to sit back in the face of oppression, if they want to be active supporters of Hazrat Mahdi (PBUH), then they must strive for Muslim unity with all their hearts. They must love one another very much; regard one another as brothers and put their brothers' lower selves above their own, like the parts of a building all welded together.

I regard, insha'Allah, President Ahmadinejad as very sincere and genuine. I think he is a model for Muslims with his modesty and courage. The way he expresses his love for Hazrat Mahdi (PBUH) at every opportunity and encourages Muslims on the subject are very excellent traits.

President Ahmadinejad sent the world a very important message when he came to Istanbul. The way he prayed behind a Sunni imam was a message meaning, "We are all one, Shiites and Sunnis are brothers, and I support the unification of the Muslim world." That message made him very valuable in both Shiite and Sunni eyes, and earned him enormous respect, insha'Allah.

Copyright © 1998-2007 The Tehran Times Daily Newspaper, Tehran-Iran

Bad Day for Darwin Haters


By Robert Mackey

As you might have already heard, like Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin was born on this date 200 years ago, February 12, 1809.

Celebrations of the lives of both men are taking place in many parts of the world and in many places online — including on the Science section of this very Web site, where there is an interactive look at Darwin's writings, a collection of articles and multimedia features on evolution, an Editorial Observer column by Verlyn Klinkenborg and an Op-Ed by Olivia Judson.

Then there're the stamps, the polls, the virtual tours of the Galapagos, the service at his grave in Westminster Abbey, the biopics on YouTube, the exhibitions in London, Lisbon and Frankfurt, the unanswered questions and, of course, the awards.

But on the day that Darwin's life and work are most celebrated, spare a thought for the haters.

There are, of course, many people who do not accept Darwin's theory of evolution, for many different reasons, but no one is more vehement in his distaste for Charles Darwin than the Turkish author and Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar, who writes under the name Harun Yahya.

Mr. Oktar recently explained at great, great length to the Tehran Times that, in his view, Darwin, not money, is the root of all evil. According to Mr. Oktar:

Darwinism is essential for materialist philosophy and without materialism there can be no communism, fascism, imperialism, savage capitalism, nor immorality nor terror.

This is not the first time Mr. Oktar has made the claim. Last September, he also told the German magazine Spiegel that "all the members of terrorist organizations — even those that portray themselves as Muslim organizations — are Darwinists."

As Adam Rutherford explained on The Guardian's Comment Is Free blog, Mr. Oktar is "the author of a gargantuan tome called the Atlas of Creation, in which he tirelessly asserts that the fossil record demonstrates that all creatures were created as they are today."

Mr. Oktar recently announced that he would pay "10 trillion Turkish lira to anyone who produces a single intermediate-form fossil demonstrating evolution." That's about 6 trillion dollars, which makes one think that perhaps the U.S. government should get someone on this right away, before the next round of the bank bailout gets under way.

Not surprisingly, some noted evolutionary biologists dispute Mr. Oktar's claim that he has proven that evolution is wrong. Mr. Oktar lays out in great detail on his Web sitethe many ways he believes Darwin was wrong, but the special site he has set up to commemorate, or anti-commemorate, Darwin's birth gives perhaps the clearest sense of how close to distraction he is driven by what he calls "the Darwinist deception."

Looking at this site, you almost wish this anniversary would just hurry up an be over, for his sake.

Why Evolution Is True



Jerry A. Coyne, 02.12.09, 11:44 AM EST

Creationists don't deserve credence--especially from Forbes.

Michael Egnor is a neurosurgeon at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. For the sake of his patients, one must hope that he understands the brain's anatomy better than its provenance. In an article on this site, "A Neurosurgeon, Not A Darwinist," he claims that the theory of evolution is bogus.

After studying Darwinism, Egnor apparently discovered that "claims of evolutionary biologists go wildly beyond the evidence." Indeed, he says, the only way complex biological systems such as biochemical pathways could have arisen is via direct divine intervention. Egnor concludes that "Darwinism itself is a religious creed that masquerades as science"--"atheism's creation myth."

While Egnor's misguided attack on evolution tells us nothing about the truth of Darwinism, it does prove one thing: Doctors aren't necessarily scientists. Some, like Egnor, seem completely unable to evaluate evidence. Why does he so readily dismiss a theory that has been universally accepted by scientists for over a century?

Apparently because a rather old book, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, first published in 1985, convinced him that evolutionary theory was underlain by very weak evidence. If Egnor had bothered to look just a little into Denton's book and its current standing, he would have learned that the arguments in it have long since been firmly refuted by scientists. Indeed, they were recanted by Denton himself in a later book more than 10 years ago.

Since Egnor is decades out of date and shows no sign of knowing anything at all about evolutionary biology in the 21st century, one wonders what could have inspired his declaration at this time.

The tenets of evolutionary theory are simple: Life evolved, largely under the influence of natural selection; this evolution took a rather long time; and species alive and dead can be organized on the basis of shared similarities into a tree whose branching pattern implies that every pair of living species has a common ancestor.

Among genuine scientists, there is not the slightest doubt about the truth of these ideas. In contrast to Egnor's claim, the evidence for all of them is not only strong but copious--so much so that evolution has graduated from a scientific theory to a scientific fact.

My recent book, Why Evolution Is True, gives 230 pages of evidence for evolution--evidence from many areas of biology, including the fossil record, anatomy, biogeography and molecular biology. My main problem in writing the book was not deciding what to present, but what to leave out; I could easily have made it three times longer without even beginning to exhaust the data. There is so much evidence and so many kinds of evidence that one would have to be either willfully ignorant or blinded by faith to think otherwise. (I leave it to the reader to judge to which category Egnor belongs.)

This is sheer nonsense. As all biologists know, we have many examples not only of gradual change within species but also of "transitional forms" between very different kinds of species. These include fossil links between fish and amphibians, reptiles and birds, reptiles and mammals and, of course, the famous fossils linking apelike creatures with our own species, Homo sapiens. Does Egnor not know this, or is he simply trying to mislead the reader?

Another specious claim is his assertion that "Darwin's theory offers no coherent, evidence-based explanation for the evolution of even a single molecular pathway from primordial components." Nonsense--even the complicated pathway of blood clotting (an example much favored by creationists) is the subject of coherent, evidenced-based explanations.

Egnor also declares that "intricate biomolecules such as enzymes are so functionally complex that it's difficult to see how they could arise by random mutations." He is right here: such complex adaptations could not have arisen under the power of random mutation alone.

What he seems to have forgotten is the process of natural selection, which filters those mutations, preserving the good ones and eliminating the bad ones. It is the combination of mutation and the selection filter that produces the extraordinary instances of adaptation we can document in nature. Bacteria, for example, evolved brand-new enzymes to break down nylon--an artificial polymer that was never encountered by bacteria before 1930.

How does Egnor account for the natural world? He does not, in fact, offer a scientific theory. Rather, he subscribes to the creationist view that complex things, which are difficult to explain, are the domain of God. If we don't understand something, there's no point trying to understand it--we should just throw up our hands and say, "God did it."

Imagine what would have happened if, over the history of science, we imputed to God's hand everything we didn't understand. We would never have cured the plague, which--like most diseases and disasters--was once thought to reflect God's anger rather than bacteria-carrying fleas. "Barrenness" in women was thought to reflect divine displeasure; it is now treated effectively by scientific means, not by propitiating the gods.

There are no observations in nature that refute Darwinism, but there are plenty that refute Egnor's creationist alternative. How does he explain the persistence of "dead genes" in species (like our own broken one for making vitamin C)--genes that were functional in our ancestors? What explains those annoying hominin fossils that span the gap from early apelike creatures to modern humans? Why do human fetuses produce a coat of hair after six months in the womb, and then shed it before birth? Why didn't the creator stock oceanic islands with mammals, reptiles and amphibians? Why did He give us vestigial ear muscles that have no function? Why do whales occasionally sprout hind legs? Did God design all creatures to fool us into thinking that they evolved?

The good news is that Egnor is just one benighted physician. Far more disturbing is Forbes' ham-handed policy of "balancing" the views of evolutionists by giving a say to Egnor and four other creationists. (Their articles, found here, are at least as misleading as Egnor's.) Perhaps Forbes sees Darwinism as "controversial." But it's not, at least not in a scientific sense. Scientifically, evolution is a settled issue--a fact.

The only "controversy" is social and political: Will Americans, in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, be allowed to impose a false, religiously based view of biology in the public schools? This "teach the controversy" approach, so popular among fundamentalists, ill suits a publication with the gravitas of Forbes.

Can we expect that it will balance stories on medicine with the competing views of shamans, Christian Scientists and spiritual healers? Will articles on the Holocaust be rebutted by the many Holocaust deniers? When the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing rolls around this July, will Forbes give a say to paranoids who think the landing was a fraud, staged on a movie lot?

This, in effect, is what Forbes has done by giving equal time to evolution-deniers. Journalists have an obligation to be fair, but this doesn't mean that they must give charlatans a prestigious platform from which to broadcast their lies. By doing so, Forbes has debased both journalism and science.

Jerry A. Coyne is a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. His latest book is Why Evolution is True, published by Viking.

Cal Web site draws anti-evolution lawsuit


Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, February 14, 2009

If you think dying can keep you out of court, look at Charles Darwin.

The celebrations of his 200th birthday coincide with an anti-evolution lawsuit that has just landed him on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Christian schoolteacher from Roseville (Placer County) who takes the Bible literally says a UC Berkeley Web site about evolution is unconstitutional, like a cross in a public park.

The Web site, "Understanding Evolution," is supported by government funds and violates the constitutional separation of church and state, according to the suit by Jeanne Caldwell.

Rebuffed by lower courts, she has appealed to the nation's highest court, and UC joined the battle this week, saying in its response that the Internet is not like a park and that, in fact, Caldwell has no right even to file the suit.

The sides wait to see whether the justices will take the case and tackle the unsettled issue - not of evolution, but of whether the Internet is a public space that needs new principles to enforce the state-and-religion barrier.

At issue is one page, out of 840 on the Web site, that says Darwin's theory and religion can co-exist. The page - titled "Misconception: 'Evolution and Religion are Incompatible' " - also features a drawing of a smiling scientist holding a skull and shaking hands with a smiling cleric holding a book with a cross on it.

Caldwell says UC's government-funded assertion contradicts a religious belief that evolution and religion are incompatible and amounts to a state position on religious doctrine. This violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment barring Congress from making any law respecting the establishment or exercise of religion, she says.

She first sued in 2005. UC thwarted the suit in federal district court and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco by successfully arguing that Caldwell's exposure to the Web page is too minimal to cause the type of injury that would make her eligible to sue. The lower courts threw the case out based on her eligibility and didn't rule on whether the Web page violates the First Amendment.

The Web page is presented as a resource for teachers, and Caldwell said she visits that section as a teacher and participant in the evolution debates and has the same right to sue as the plaintiff who was allowed to sue over a cross in the Mojave National Preserve.

Allowing the lower-court rulings to stand, Caldwell says in her Supreme Court appeal, "would make government Web sites an Establishment Clause free zone." Because the Internet is increasingly used by the government to communicate with citizens, the Supreme Court needs to address the issue, she says. She is represented by the conservative Pacific Justice Institute in Sacramento and her husband, attorney Larry Caldwell.

Attorneys for UC say the lower-court rulings did not make the Internet immune to such claims but that existing legal principles are sufficient to dismiss Jeanne Caldwell's eligibility to sue. They also say deciding a new standard for the Internet would violate the role of the Supreme Court, which is not to open new legal frontiers but to resolve issues that arise from a body of lower-court rulings.

Roy Caldwell, director of Cal's Museum of Paleontology, the site's sponsor, said some UC officials worry that the high court may want to clarify standards on "standing," or eligibility to sue. (He's not related to Jeanne Caldwell.)

On the eve of Darwin's birthday last Thursday, a new Gallup Poll was released showing that 39 percent of Americans believe in evolution, with 25 percent not believing in it and 36 percent holding no opinion. Among weekly churchgoers, 24 percent believe in evolution and 41 percent do not.

Center of dispute

To view the UC Berkeley Web page, "Misconception: 'Evolution and Religion are Incompatible,' " go to links.sfgate.com/ZGDS.

E-mail Charles Burress at cburress@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Malaysian evolution



TODAY, Charles Darwin is hailed as one of the world's great thinkers, and his name is synonymous with his theory. About which everyone seems to have his or her own interpretation and something to say, including the cast of popular TV series, Sex and the City:

"If a man is over 30 and single, there's something wrong with him. It's Darwinian. They're being weeded out from propagating the species."

"What about us?"

These skulls form part of an educational exhibition explaining man's evolution at New York's Museum of Natural History – the Malaysian education system addresses parts of Darwin's theory but doesn't discuss the evolution of man. – AFP "We're just choosy."

When his theory on evolution was broached, however, Darwin's name was mud to all but a few supporters, especially with the 1871 publication of his second book, The Descent of Man, which theorises that man and apes could share a common ancestor. And 50 years on from that, teaching evolution in school could still land you in court, as one John Thomas Scopes, a biology teacher and football coach, learnt in a landmark case in Tennessee, United States.

The 1925 Scopes Trial, aka the Monkey Trial, took place to test the constitutionality of the Butler Bill, which banned the teaching of "any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible" (npr.org). Scopes was found guilty, and fined $100. After the verdict was read, he stated his intention to oppose the law in any way he could. He would have to wait until 1967 to see the Bill repealed, three years before his death at the age of 70.

A little closer to home and reality, we quizzed several Malaysian secondary school and college biology students and teachers for their thoughts on teaching the subject. Surprisingly, here and now and far from the days of Scopes, I managed to find one prominent yet controversy-shy private school in the Klang Valley that refused to speak, even off the record, on the subject. Its reason was that it was not covered in the KBSM syllabus at all, which left little room for discussion.

Erroneous, as it turns out, as a trawl through Form Four and Five KBSM Science and Biology textbooks reveals core elements of evolution explained: variation, adaptation, natural selection, survival of the fittest, and species diversification. What is not covered is the evolution of man, let alone the creation of man – questions that have remained inconclusive from an evolutionary point of view since Darwin's time, despite fossil finds like Lucy, the African skeleton touted as the latest "missing link."

Fortunately, other schools proved braver, such as SMK (P) Sri Aman in Section 14, Petaling Jaya, and Taylor's University College in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

In 26 years of teaching biology, six of them at Sri Aman, Datin Mary John hasn't had any students asking her about Darwin or evolution: "They do ask about other topics. Cloning, for example, we can usually have a debate about. But not so much on evolution. They accept the fact that that's Darwin and that's what he said, but nobody really asks whether it's true or not," she says.

As it turns out, just because they don't ask doesn't mean her students don't think about it. Certainly her Form Five biology students do, as I found out one morning.

So who was Darwin?

"The guy who came up with evolution. But a lot of people didn't believe him at first," says Millie Ong, the Buddhist and budding psychologist in the group.


"They couldn't accept the fact that we came from monkeys, or fish came from other, weirder-looking fish," she says.

Do you accept that? How would you feel when you study evolution in more detail and are examined on it?

"I think it makes sense. I think humans did come from monkeys," she argues, "because we're too alike. There are so many similarities between monkey and human chromosomes. And some monkeys act like humans and some humans act like monkeys."

"I don't think we evolved from another species altogether," counters Grace Kiew, a Christian. "I'd treat it as a subject for an exam, but as far as there being evidence to prove human evolution, there's also evidence to the contrary. Like, why don't you see apes half turning into Man walking about?

"So I think it's a matter of what you believe, and that it won't affect me. I think we have evolved to some extent, but from the beginning man was already man. Even though we changed over the centuries, we're still essentially human."

Nur Liyana Muhamad agrees: "I figure if it's a subject, I'll just answer the questions. On seeing strong evidence for it (human evolution), I guess I'd tend to lean more towards it. But if our faith is strong, then we'll keep to our own opinions as suggested by our religion, ie that man was created as man," she says.

Are you taught that in Islamic Studies?

"No, we're not. We're just encouraged to do our own studies at home on interpretations of the Holy Quran," she answers.

"They won't teach it in school to be politically correct. If you want to know more, you have to go learn about it on your own," says Millie.

So where do you learn about it?

Millie and Grace: "Books."

Nur Liyana: "National Geographic. Pokemon."


"Last year, I wrote an article, for my own entertainment, on the evolution of Pokemon. When their powers mature, they can choose whether to evolve or not. But the main Pokemon, Pikachu, doesn't want to evolve because it's happy the way it is," explains Nur Liyana, while the girls snicker.

So it's the opposite of evolution, huh? "Yeah."

Already familiar with Darwin, A-Levels senior biology lecturer Ho Yen Him's 18-year-old students at Taylor's University College could get right to the meat and potatoes.

Jonathan Lim explains confidently: "He went on the HMS Beagle and arrived at the Galapagos Islands, where he noticed differences between the species. It drew his interest. So when he went back to Cambridge he showed friends specimens, got more interested, and went on."

Says Yang Zhen Ning, "To me his major contribution was not that he showed evolution did happen, but how it happened and he supported it with logical arguments that convinced scientists that this indeed governed the laws of nature."

Tai Jian Eu says, "(Apart from within a biological context) I've seen the term social Darwinism in the newspapers. They always say rich countries have a competitive advantage over poor countries, and those with financial strength will be selected for (survival), which twists Darwin's idea to say there is a stronger kind of human. But ethically, we shouldn't advocate such ideas because everybody has their own role in society."

Adds Yang, "That's actually one of the misconceptions proposed by Herbert Spencer, if I'm not mistaken, regarding Darwinism, which was later known as social Darwinism (to differentiate the two)," adds Zhen Ning.

(Spencer was a 19th century British philosopher who championed the now-refuted idea of Lamarkism – that an organism can pass on characteristics it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring – and, more famously, coined the evolution theory's most famous phrase, "survival of the fittest" after reading Darwin's Origin of Species.)

All very sound and erudite answers. And while I'm very impressed, I think I enjoyed the weird fish and Pokemon ones more....

Christian TV presenter apologises to viewers


Published: Saturday 14 February 2009 17:22 UTC
Last updated: Sunday 15 February 2009 08:10 UTC

A Dutch television presenter who recently caused commotion in orthodox Christian circles by stating that he did not believe in creationism, is to apologise for his remarks. The well-known presentor Andries Knevel, who works for the evangelical television station EO, will make his apology in the television station's magazine. In a letter to the magazine, he says he regrets the hurt he may have caused to viewers. "My comments are personal and are completely separate to the EO view on creationism."

On a recent television chat show, Mr Knevel said that he regretted propagating the idea, to his children and his viewers, that the world was created in 6 days, 6,000 years ago.His comments resulted in dozens of complaints by angry EO members. Some even withdrew their EO membership. The number of members determines the amount of airtime public broadcasters are allocated in the Netherlands.

Why do people think Darwinism is a perfect creation?


Christopher Booker is familair with the unabashed bigotry of staunch Darwinists.

By Christopher Booker
Last Updated: 5:27PM GMT 14 Feb 2009

As an old hand at tangling with Darwinists, I was well aware that a howl of furious protests would greet my item last week describing their curious inability to recognise just how much of the story of evolution Darwin's theory cannot explain, For pointing out that they rely on no more than an unscientific leap of faith to believe that an infinite series of minute variations could bring about all those extraordinary leaps in the evolutionary story, such as the emergence of the eye and countless others, I was derided as "stupid", "idiotic" and "scientifically illiterate". Clearly I was unaware all these riddles had been solved by genetics and the decoding of the human genome.

The trouble is that, as my colleague Dr James Le Fanu has lucidly set out in his admirable new book Why Us? How Science Rediscovered The Mystery Of Ourselves (Harper Press, £18.99), the unravelling of the genome has done nothing of the kind. When mice, men and chimpanzees all turn out to be made of almost identical genetic material, the unknown factor which determines why the same building blocks should give rise to such an astonishing variety of different life-forms leaves the Darwinian thesis as full of holes as ever. To believe that genetics have solved the riddle relies as much on a leap of faith as that Biblical â Creationism' which causes the more fanatical Darwinians to foam at the mouth.

Last Tuesday various eminent figures from the scientific establishment wrote to the Daily Telegraph, prompted by the remarkable finding of a poll published in this newspaper two weeks ago that only 37 percent of those questioned agree that Darwin's explanation for evolution is â beyond reasonable doubt'.

These eminent Darwinians want those who â reject evolution' to accept that the evidence for his theory is now â overwhelming' - while at the same time asking those neo-Darwinians who promote â an anti-theist agenda', such as Richard Dawkins, to keep quiet, because their obsessive vehemence is discrediting the theory.

On Friday another group of scientists, including several professors, wrote to the Telegraph to say that the problem with Darwinism Is that it has â far outrun its basis in scientific evidence'. While he might have been right on micro-evolution (Galapagos finches etc,), the â evidence for how complex organisms developed' - those macro-evolutionary jumps - is â modest in the extreme'.

Is it surprising, they asked, â that there is such incredulity' that random mutations alone can â account for the vast complexity of life?'.

In other words, as they put it, these hugely important questions are far from settled, and if we attempt to shut down the debate â we dishonour the spirit of science'. Or as one scientist, L.Harrison Matthews, himself a convinced Darwinian, wisely put it 40 years ago in his introduction to my dog-eared copy of The Origin of Species: "belief in the theory of evolution is thus exactly parallel to the belief in special creation - both are concepts which believers know to be true but neither, up to the present has been capable of proof'.

The unabashed hagiolatry of Darwin, notably by the BBC, continues to shower down on us from every side. But those readers who rushed last week to say that I was a "bloody fool", and that they would never again believe a word I said on anything, little realised how neatly their fanatical intolerance confirmed the point I was trying to make.

On the origin of ignorance


Ian Bell

ACCORDING TO a survey conducted recently, 75% of British people don't get Charles Darwin. Astounding. That's three from four. That's most of the two-legged beings you are liable to meet. That's almost everyone at the check-out. That's most of your blood relatives.

It should come as no surprise, however. Reportedly, these folk harbour "doubts" as to natural selection. They incline instead towards myths with a comforting whiff of refutation and brimstone. They are otherwise persuaded, despite a ton of evidence. People, as ever, believe what they want to believe.

Perhaps, though, they also demonstrate, at a monkey-never-typing-Hamlet stroke, that there might be less to this evolution business than the brochures claimed. Chimps will be chimps.

Speaking as a monkey's uncle's less popular nephew, I don't mind. If I have read Darwin half-way right, employing both opposable thumbs to prop up the book, natural selection depends on a majority always missing the point. Then we kill and eat them.

Metaphorically speaking, obviously. I have no wish to chew your leg. But consider things from my evolutionary point of view. Here I am on a planet upon which, reportedly, two billion beings profess a Christian outlook. By my count, thumbs included, that's two thousand million mammals who are mildly mentally ill. Or blessed.

They concede, some of them, that Darwin had a point as to the viability of species. They admit that the poetry of a six-day Big Bang tends more to the spiritual than the scientific. They are not against science, as such, and have not burned anyone alive for ages and ages.

But they tell me, while approving miracles, canonising the extra-holy, opposing stem cell research, and abortion, and birth control, and gay people, and bad words, and the simple ability to think independently, that natural selection is only a theory. Only.

God bless the Jesuitical, for no one else would dare. A theory? Only? It makes the progress of all existence sound like Some Bloke's Best Guess. It renders Darwin's insights as the equal and opposite to your local witch doctor's story about women torn from the ribs of men. It demands intellectual equivalence, the suspending of faculties, and respect for "belief". Always respect.

But that's OK. Two hundred years and a day or so after Darwin's birth, I raise no secular deities. I can't stick Richard Dawkins, for one thing, any more than I can the cassocked types who are "hurt" by my non-belief.

All of the Arguments for God (we capitalised them, in my day) are nonsensical. So - and these two words might well comprise the only philosophical statement worth making - what?

Here's Darwin and a few interesting budgies. Here's a man so cowed by his times that he waits 20 years to publish a heartfelt statement of his accumulated research. He does so finally because the scientific record, to which he has contributed copiously, says that the pre-existing God-shaped reality is wobbling.

Then he loses his taste for the supernatural, once and for all. This was always the most moving part of the Darwin parable. He could cope with fundamental change, and with the need for living things to adapt, alter, adapt to alteration, and change the process of adaptation. What Darwin could not abide, as a thinking microbe, was the notion of a presiding holy force oblivious to hellish suffering.

He noticed. Things kill and eat other things. Some of those things out there just want a good lunch, with or without a decent Chianti. They select, naturally, from a menu. Ripping the head or the guts from a fellow being, or planting a ravenous offspring in its flesh, has no moral resonance in that world. Life is not an M&S advert. It's not, as Darwin understood, scripture, either.

Hence the continuing religious campaign against On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Hence the great human mass still clinging to superstition, the insistence that creationism is an "alternative" to natural selection worthy of consideration in a science class. Hence, indeed, the specious claim that natural selection does not preclude a Creator.

That was not Darwin's thinking when he stopped attending church. He could grasp how life worked, more or less. What he ceased to accept was the notion that a god could take credit for the relentless cruelty involved and call it glorious. Darwin revealed the staggering complexity and beauty of the natural world, but his real offence - let's be blunt - was to encourage blasphemy.

Did an originating force allow throats to be ripped, or lend licence to man's recreational feeding habits? Is God so good that he allows children to die because their God-given equipment is substandard? Things evolve, but the process is slow, painful, and never pretty. As Darwin did not write: if this was God's best shot, questions are in order.

Darwin dispensed with the gift of faith and left the rest of us with the after-dinner speeches of the faithful. These days some still peddle the creation myth. Others attempt to restore the omnipotent intelligent designer (why just one, and why the fixation with appalling diseases?). What does George W Bush truly believe about the nature of reality? What does Barack Obama, fresh from a "prayer breakfast" with the devout Tony Blair, actually believe? This is not yet a secular world, God help us.

The recent bicentenary celebrations for Darwin's birth have tended to demonstrate two things. First, he is not forgiven, even now, for the destruction of the old fairy tales. Darwinism has a habit of putting the religious on the spot, and of inciting rebellion towards creation myths. So the godly see the Darwin story, above all, as a test of their power.

You doubt me? Even in the 21st century, even with the continually accumulating evidence that natural selection nails it, the men - always the men - in the funny costumes are displeased. Good. Darwin retains a certain provocative utility. We should teach him in schools, surely? But not if some have their way. Creationism, intelligent design and the rest are real and continuing threats to reason and scientific method.

Science, and the arguments therein, holds sway in one arena. Darwin did not anticipate genetics, they say, as though Leonardo failed to grasp laser printers. The authentic eccentrics, meanwhile, continue to pull up the partial dinosaur record to confirm faith in a deity whipping up humanity in a holy blender on a slow Monday morning. They are wrong about the dinosaurs, just as they are wrong about supernatural intervention.

Things die: discuss. Or explain, perhaps, why the "theory" of natural selection describes how life has worked slowly and brutally towards a species capable of contemplating its own slow and brutal nature. Was this the plan? We live, we die, and in between, amid the unending cruelty, we pray?

Mr Darwin's very merry unbirthday seems to have provoked a redoubling of effort from those he dismays. The Vatican, no less, is celebrating (not my word) On the Origin of Species. Men who will not reproduce will speak, I presume, of creation's reproductive urge. Priests and ministers, meanwhile, compete on TV, radio and in the press, to demonstrate their grasp of evolutionary science while denying its import.

Meanwhile, Christian English high-school "academies", with their creationist thought police, are allowing "the theory" to be heard as merely one account among many. It is as though Einstein is being asked to compete with the Tooth Fairy.

Yet Darwin is confirmed, triumphantly, by genetic research. That's a fact. Species, even the praying variety, evolve. Secondly, by implication and inference, there is no God. The non-fact is exhausted whenever someone takes a peek at the human genome.

Personally, I'm not much cheered by that. Unlike Dawkins and his fans, I do not revel in the wonders of a godless universe. Nature is hellish, as often as not, with or without a deity. But I prefer to see things as they are. The credit for that privilege, singular in human history, goes to Charles Darwin.

Jindal dooms Louisiana


I just received a distressing email from Barbara Forrest, a tireless fighter against creationism in Louisiana. It's distressing because it shows that the actions of the increasingly antiscience government of Louisiana are having repercussions.

The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), a scientific society with over 2000 members, has chosen to boycott Louisiana for their annual conference because, basically, their creationist governor and legislature want to make sure kids in their state grow up without a basic scientific education.

Last year, the Louisiana government overwhelmingly voted to allow creationist materials to be used in the classroom, a clear violation of the First Amendment and an incredibly foolish decision with regards to children's education. I wrote about it quite a bit at the time (here is when it was signed into law, as well as here, here, and most recently here).

Well, their chickens are starting to come back to roost. At the time, Governor (and amateur exorcist) Jindal was warned that putting a jack-booted heel to the neck of science would not be without ramifications. And now the SICB won't have their conference in New Orleans, and they have specifically cited the actions of Jindal and the Legislature as the key part of their decision. They have even gone as far as to say that the conference — with nearly 2000 attending — will be in Utah instead, where science is held in higher regard.

That can't have been an easy decision for the society; New Orleans is a city that needs money, and holding a fair-sized conference there would help. But I understand their decision. Jindal and the creationists in the Louisiana government are essentially holding the educations of their students hostage, so scientists and everyone in the reality-based community need to take action. It's one thing to make your voice heard, but it's another to speak with your wallet. Holding the conference in Louisiana would be tacitly acquiescing to the fundamentalists running the state.

I think this was the right decision, and I urge anyone who is considering running a science-based event to seriously consider states that hold science in higher regard. I hope that Louisiana teachers, parents, and students rise up and let their representatives know how they feel about science. I would hate to see the students suffer because of this, but the politicians in that state have already guaranteed that will happen.

The LA Coalition for Science has released a statement to the press about this as well. It makes me physically ill that the science education of these children has been put into this position by the creationists, forcing the hand of the SICB. But the larger issue at stake here is the future of science itself in Louisiana as well as other states, a future Jindal and the other creationists are trying to choke out of existence.

February 14th, 2009 10:15 PM by Phil Plait in Antiscience

The bulldog's bulldog


Posted February 15, 2009 | 06:12 AM (EST)

I try, from time to time, satisfying idle curiosity, to fathom the mind of the creationists, rather in the way that I might try to understand the thought processes of a tribe from deepest Amazon, or the art of a Pleistocene hunter.

And here is something that came to me, unbidden, as I watched a documentary on Darwin's voyage. You know how creationists always refer to "Darwinism", and ask the, to them, rhetorical question as to who would you rather believe, god or Darwin? I had thought this was just pure ignorance, a not unreasonable guess given their total failure to understand the simplest thing about the world they live in (it evolves). But now I wonder if the problem goes even deeper than this. I wonder, and it is like confessing a murder, whether they believe that had Darwin never lived, never voyaged on the Beagle, that the people of the world would have gone on, happily, accepting the truth of the biblical accounts of Genesis?

The Catholic Church, similarly perturbed by Galileo, forced him to recant his belief in the anti-biblical heliocentrism of this particular solar system. The Pope of the day and his cardinals seem to have thought that they need only silence this fool who, asked whether he would rather believe his own eyes or the bible, chose, temporarily, his eyes, that the Sun would keep happily circling the Earth as it had done for the preceding 6000 years or so.

Educationally challenged evangelicals seem similarly to believe that Darwinism was simply a quirk in the eye of the man who Lincoln must have been proud to share a birthday with, and that, if silenced, species would go back to being placed in position by divine intervention, as they had always been before 1859.

But in one sense Darwin was just (!) the right man in the right places at the right time. Had he not discovered the mechanisms by which species both changed over time and separated from each other then someone else would have done so. Either sooner (Alfred Wallace was so close that he pushed Darwin into publication), or a little later (could Huxley have failed to come up with the process if he was not needed as Darwin's bulldog, might he have needed his own bulldog?). It might have taken a bit more time to see the full sweep that Darwin's genius (not "just" anything) saw, but there were hundred of biologists playing around with ideas who would have recognised the truth within a few years of 1859. Great men speed up the recognition of great truths, but they don't create the truths. The world is there, in all its complexity and beauty, whether we accept it or not. A tree falls in the forest whether or not it is observed.

You want to keep believing in the Sun circling the Earth, or creationism, go right ahead, but your belief system, in this as in all else, exists in a parallel universe to the real one. And that would be true whether I had discovered it or not.

On The Watermelon Blog we try to keep evolving whether anyone notices or not.