Sunday, August 14, 2005

Kansas moves to stem role of evolution in teaching, etc

Here are news items, with my comments in square brackets:
Kansas moves to stem role of evolution in teaching, CNN, August 11, 2005 ... OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) -- After months of debate over science and religion, the Kansas Board of Education has tentatively approved new state science standards that weaken the role evolution plays in teaching about the origin of life. The 10-member board must still take a final vote, expected in either September or October, but a 6-4 vote on Tuesday that approved a draft of the standards essentially cemented a victory for conservative Christian board members who say evolution is largely unproven and can undermine religious teachings about the origins of life on earth. "We think this is a great development ... for the academic freedom of students," said John West, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design theory. ... The board is sending its drafted standards to a Denver-based education consultant before a final vote, planned for either September or October. If they win final approval, Kansas will join Minnesota, Ohio and New Mexico, all of which have adopted critical analysis of evolution in the last four years. The new science standards would not eliminate the teaching of evolution entirely, nor would they require that religious views, also known as creationism, be taught, but it would encourage teachers to discuss various viewpoints and eliminate core evolution theory as required curriculum. Critics say the moves are part of a continuing national effort by conservative Christians to push their views into the public education process. "This is neo-creationism, trying to avoid the legal morass of trying to teach creationism overtly and slip it in through the backdoor," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. ... [This is another milestone in the process of enabling the problems of evolution (including its unproven and unprovable philosophical assumptions) discussed in Kandas schools. Scott's term "neo-creationism" is disingenuous since she knows that the Kansas standards mandate only critical thinking about the scientific theory of evolution, not even intelligent design and certainly not the Bible.]
Scientists' Belief in God Varies Starkly by Discipline, Robert Roy Britt, Livescience, 11 August 2005 ... About two-thirds of scientists believe in God, according to a new survey that uncovered stark differences based on the type of research they do. The study, along with another one released in June, would appear to debunk the oft-held notion that science is incompatible with religion. ... Nearly 38 percent of natural scientists -- people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology -- said they do not believe in God. Only 31 percent of the social scientists do not believe. In the new study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed 1,646 faculty members at elite research universities, asking 36 questions about belief and spiritual practices. ... Some stand-out stats: 41 percent of the biologists don't believe, while that figure is just 27 percent among political scientists. In separate work at the University of Chicago, released in June, 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.[Larson & Witham (1998) found that unbelief in God among the National Academy of Sciences was 80-95%. This indicates that the scientific elite is out of step with scientists in general on this. It would be very interesting to run a survey to see what the percentage is of scientists who believe in design!]
Biblical Pool Uncovered in Jerusalem, Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2005 ... Workers repairing a sewage pipe in the Old City of Jerusalem have discovered the biblical Pool of Siloam, a freshwater reservoir that was a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city and the reputed site where Jesus cured a man blind from birth, according to the Gospel of John. The pool was fed by the now famous Hezekiah's Tunnel and is "a much grander affair" than archeologists previously believed, with three tiers of stone stairs allowing easy access to the water, said Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, which reported the find Monday. "Scholars have said that there wasn't a Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit" to illustrate a point, said New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth of the Princeton Theological Seminary. "Now we have found the Pool of Siloam … exactly where John said it was." A gospel that was thought to be "pure theology is now shown to be grounded in history," he said. ... [Yet another example of where the Bible has been proved to be historically accurate and the critics wrong.]
Appeals court upholds Pledge law, CNN, August 11, 2005 ... RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) -- An appeals court on Wednesday upheld a Virginia law that requires public schools to lead a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, rejecting a claim that its reference to God was an unconstitutional promotion of religion. A suit filed by Edward Myers of Sterling, Virginia, a father of three, raised the objection to the phrase "one nation under God." A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not an affirmation of religion similar to a prayer. ... Myers' attorney, David Remes, said ... "The problem is that young school children are quite likely to view the pledge as affirming the existence of God and national subordination to God," Remes said. "The reference to God is one of the few things in the pledge that children understand." ... Myers belongs to the Anabaptist Mennonite faith, a Christian sect opposed to the mingling of church and state. ... "The combination of God and country approaches a civic religion that is in competition with my religion," he said. ... [I must say I am surprised by this result. I actually share Myer's concern about "civic religion" but OTOH his lawyer Reems is right!]
Volcanoes score one in dinosaur extinction debate, CNews, August 10, 2005. ... CALGARY (CP) - In the ongoing debate about whether a giant meteor or spewing volcanoes killed the dinosaurs, notch one up for the volcanoes. At a scientific conference on Wednesday, a French researcher presented a study of Indian lava fields that suggested ancient volcanic activity was intense enough to have caused the climate changes believed to lie behind the extinction of the giant lizards. "We can see that due to the surface degassing of the lava flow we have a potential impact on climate," said Anne-Lise Chenet of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. Some scientists theorize that dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago - along with more than 70 per cent of all species on Earth - as a result of climate change caused by the impact of a massive asteroid crashing into our planet. ... But other scientists believe earth's climate changed as a result of gases belched into the air from an upswing in volcanic activity. Eruptions release both carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, and sulphur dioxide, a source of acid rain. They also load the atmosphere with fine dust and soot. Pro-volcano researchers have long pointed to the Deccan Trap in India, a vast area of volcanic rock thought to have originally contained up to three million cubic kilometres of ancient lava. That many eruptions could have released enough gas to be climate-altering - if they happened in rapid enough succession. According to Chenet, that's exactly what happened. ... Chenet estimates that a layer of lava 600 metres thick may have piled up in as little as 30,000 years, and that the entire volcanic episode lasted about a million years. ... As well, right in the middle of the lava, Chenet also found a layer of iridium thought to have come from the Yucatan asteroid, which would prove the volcanoes predated it. "Our view is that impact added to the stress already generated by an ongoing massive eruption, enhancing significantly the extent of the extinction - which would have taken place even if the impact had not occurred." ... [See also "India’s Smoking Gun: Dino-Killing Eruptions," The Geological Society of America, 9 August 2005; Volcanoes score one in dinosaur extinction debate, Cnews, August 10, 2005. More evidence that it took a one-two punch to extinguish the dinosaurs, by a precisely angled impact in the midst of an already major environmental crisis. The dinosaurs exothermic metabolism could not cope with a combination of a greenhouse global warming caused by the volcanism and then a sudden global cooling caused by the asteroid impact dust in the atmoshere blocking out the Sun. The mammals (which includes us) with their preadapted endothermic metabolism did survive and they afterward explosively radiated into the empty ecological niches left by the dinosaurs. I accept the evidence that if that had not happened, we would not be here:
"It is probable, by the way, that the nocturnal trades go way back in the ancestry of all us mammals. In the time when the dinosaurs dominated the daytime economy, our mammalian ancestors probably only managed to survive at all because they found ways of scraping a living at night. Only after the mysterious mass extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago were our ancestors able to emerge into the daylight in any substantial numbers. (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.22)
"And if diatoms prevailed by such good fortune, let us not forget a key reason behind the possibility of this most immediate interaction between me as writer and you as reader. Dinosaurs and mammals had shared the earth for more than 130 million years, fully double the subsequent period of mammalian success that led to the possibility of Homo sapiens among some 4000 other living species in our mammalian clade. If the data of Sheehan et al. (1991) hold, and dinosaurs did persist in respectable abundance right to the moment of impact, then we may reasonably conjecture that, absent this ultimate random bolt from the blue, dinosaurs would still dominate the habitats of large terrestrial vertebrates, and mammals would still be rat-size creatures living in the ecological interstices of their world. In this most vitally personal of all cases, we really should thank our lucky stars that, at least in one cogent interpretation, certain marks of our ancestral incompetence-persistently small size in a dinosaurian world, for example-suddenly turned into a crucial and fortuitous advantage under the different rules of K-T impact, while the former source of triumph for dinosaurs may have spelled their doom under these same newly imposed rules. To be sure, this speculative scenario only references a particular event, and its much later impact upon the possibility of origin for one odd species. Yes, of course, we seek general theory as the goal of science, not the explanation of such odd particulars. But this tale, above all, happens to be our particular, and the most precious source of our possibility." (Gould S.J., "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory," Belknap: Cambridge MA, 2002, Fifth printing, p.1320)
"Homo sapiens did not appear on the earth, just a geologic second ago, because evolutionary theory predicts such an outcome based on themes of progress and increasing neural complexity. Humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness. To cite just four among a multitude: (1) If our inconspicuous and fragile lineage had not been among the few survivors of the initial radiation of multicellular animal life in the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago, then no vertebrates would have inhabited the earth at all. (Only one member of our chordate phylum, the genus Pikaia, has been found among these earliest fossils. This small and simple swimming creature, showing its allegiance to us by possessing a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, is among the rarest fossils of the Burgess Shale, our best preserved Cambrian fauna.) (2) If a small and unpromising group of lobe-finned fishes had not evolved fin bones with a strong central axis capable of bearing weight on land, then vertebrates might never have become terrestrial. (3) If a large extraterrestrial body had not struck the earth 65 million years ago, then dinosaurs would still be dominant and mammals insignificant (the situation that had prevailed for 100 million years previously). (4) If a small lineage of primates had not evolved upright posture on the drying African savannas just two to four million years ago, then our ancestry might have ended in a line of apes that, like the chimpanzee and gorilla today, would have become ecologically marginal and probably doomed to extinction despite their remarkable behavioral complexity." (Gould S.J., "The Evolution of Life on the Earth," Scientific American, Vol. 271, No. 4, October 1994, pp.63-69, p.64)
"About sixty million years ago the dinosaurs, which at that time were the dominant vertebrates especially on land, suddenly became extinct, together with a large number of other species of both animals and plants. ...Alvarez and Alvarez ... proposed that an asteroid, some six miles in diameter, hit the earth, producing a tremendous cavity and scattering a large amount of material into the atmosphere which, spread by winds all over the world, blocked out the sunlight for several years until at length even the finest dust particles had time to settle. ... As a result of this massive loss of plant material the food chain was totally disrupted. This would have been especially lethal to the larger animals at the top of the food chain. Thus, all the dinosaurs became extinct except possibly a few small ones, the ancestors of the birds. The earliest mammals had evolved about 200 million years ago, but at the time of the catastrophe they had not had a great deal of success, probably because they were kept down by the dominant dinosaurs. These early mammals were mainly small, nocturnal insectivores and might thus have survived the years of darkness. When the light eventually returned, the mammals rapidly evolved to occupy all the various ecological niches vacated by the now-extinct dinosaurs ...soon forming the many species whose descendants we see all around us today. One branch, the primates, developed good color vision and an enlarged cerebral cortex, eventually producing man. The key question is whether the dinosaurs, if they had been left undisturbed, would have evolved any animal intelligent enough to develop science and technology. This we cannot answer with any certainty, but one has a sneaking suspicion that the dinosaurs had specialized in the wrong direction. If so, then the evolution of a higher intelligence on earth depended crucially on this very drastic jolt given to evolution by the asteroid." (Crick F.H.C., "Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature," Simon & Schuster: New York, 1981, pp.109-111. Ellipses mine)
"When the skies cleared after the impact, the Cretaceous period was over. The giants were gone. The longnecked sauropods that converted whole forests into muscle and bone were extinct, along with Tyrannosaurus rex and the other big meat-eating dinosaurs. Giant marine reptiles and spiral-shelled ammonites disappeared from the seas. After a few thousand years the plank ton in the oceans rebounded, as did the plants on land. But the ecosystems of the early Tertiary period were bottom-heavy and top-light. Once again, a mass extinction had cleared the way for a new burst of evolution: the age of dinosaurs was followed by the age of mammals. "The death of the dinosaurs allowed mammals to evolve into many ecological niches that were not available for them," says Ward. "It was the removal of the dinosaurs through mass extinction that allowed so many lineages of mammals to come about through the evolutionary process. In that sense, it's really a good thing. There would not be humans here but for that mass extinction." (Zimmer C., "Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea," HarperCollins: New York, 2001, p.165)
I have included the above quotes to the outline of my planned second book "Progressive Creation," section PC "Preparing Earth for Life and Man ... Pruning the Tree of Life ... The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) extinction".]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
Problems of Evolution"


Anonymous said...

To claim that evolution is unproven is incredible and inexcusable. A past evolution is undeniable and a present evolution is questionable. That is perhaps all that needs to be presented with absolute certainty about what remains a great mystery, at least in the public school system.

It is hard to believe isn't it?

Stephen E. Jones said...


JD>To claim that evolution is unproven is incredible and inexcusable. A past evolution is undeniable and a present evolution is questionable.

Please define exactly what you mean by "evolution". Thanks.



"Darwin ... wrote in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, the leading geologist of his day: `If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural
selection, I would reject it as rubbish ... I would give nothing for the theory of natural selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.' [Darwin C.R., letter to C. Lyell, October 11, 1859, in Darwin F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," (1898), Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II., 1959, reprint, pp.6-7]. This is no petty matter. In Darwin's view, the whole point of the theory of evolution by natural selection was that it provided a non-miraculous account of the existence of complex adaptations. For what it is worth, it is also the whole point of this book. For Darwin, any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.248-249. Emphasis Dawkins')

Anonymous said...


I am late responding to your request for what I mean by evolution. I am naturally a little gun shy about being deleted so often.

Evolution is reproductive continuity with profound change such that in one or a few steps the organism becomes profoundly modified to the extent that it is no longer recognized as the product of its ancestor. This definition clearly does not apply to varieties such as dog breeds, goldfish monstrosities and other clearly derived products of artificial selection where the ancestral form, wolf or asiatic carp is both known and experimentally demonstrable. Such transformations have absolutely nothing to do with creative evolution and neither does the Mendelian (sexually mediated) process by which they have been expressed. Evolution, a phenomenon of the past, resulted from mechanisms apparently no longer in operation or, if they are, have not been properly identified. The experimental production of a new species has not been achieved. There is also no evidence that allelic mutation had anything to do with macroevolution. The vast majority of such mutations are either deleterious or neutral.

I postulated (Davison 1984) a mechanism by which it might be achieved, the semi-meiotic hypothesis, which has yet not been either acknowledged or subjected to critical laboratory experiment. Until it is, like all untested hypotheses, it remains viable. In the meantime it has becoming increasingly obvious that the Darwinian mutation/selection model has now and of course had nothing to do with creative evolution. It remains what it was at its inception, a pipe dream independently produced by a pair of Victorian naturalists who happened to have shared a common reading experience with the works of Charles Lyell and Thomas Malthus.

"He that I am reading seems always to have the most force."

I hope this serves to answer your question as to what I mean by evolution.


Davison, J.A. (1984) Semi-meiosis as an evolutionary mechanism. J. Theor. Biol. 111: 725-735.