Monday, February 25, 2008

Academic Integrity

I was published last week in our local paper for the first time. The following essay made it in the opinion page of Thursday's News Herald. If you've read my other blog on intelligent design, there's some definite overlap, but I'd like to hear your thoughts.

The evolution debate would greatly benefit if people who put forth their opinions quit using bogus information to justify their position. Those against evolution should therefore:

1-quit using the evolution-is-just-a-theory argument. This has been successfully debunked in the News Herald many times. Evolution is considered a working theory, which, like gravity, has enjoyed widespread acceptance among scientists.
2-Quit using the second law of thermodynamics as an attack. It’s a law of thermodynamics, not a biological law. It may make logical sense as an argument, but it isn’t justification to debunk evolution.

The bulk of this piece will focus on the other side of the debate, however. I've read and heard many pleas for scientific rigor in the science classroom. Nonetheless, I think the other side is so focused on stamping out any vestige of faith from the I.D. or creation side, they have done little to correct misinformation on the evolution side that has found itsway into textbooks.

It is true that bringing God in to answer scientific mysteries is nothing short of metaphysics (or religion), but I feel that popular evolutionary theory has been doing this for over a century: by removing the word “God” and inserting “evolution” or “natural selection” or “punctuated equilibrium” in its place-i.e., replacing theist leaps in logic with materialist leaps in logic. And, yes, I do understand that there is evidence for natural selection and evolution on some level, but much of the accepted understanding of macroevolution and evolutionary theories of origins are so faith-based, I don’t understand how it constitutes science because it’s not testable, provable or falsifiable.

How can I say that evolution is not falsifiable? Because it still chugs along even though quite a number of its holy grail moments have been weighed by years of scientific scrutiny and found wanting. The Miller, Urey experiment is one of those cases. To this day, the experiment is still taught as a proof of evolution (see Glencoe's 2007 High School Biology Textbook at, even though for over thirty years scientists have known that the substances used to perform this experiment may not have adequately recreated the earth's ancient atmosphere.

Bill Bryson, in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, has this to say about it: "Despite half a century of further study, we are no nearer to synthesizing life today than we were in 1953 and much further away from thinking we can. Scientists are now pretty certain that the early atmosphere was nothing like as primed for development as Miller and Urey’s gaseous stew” (287). If we were really concerned about the integrity of the scientific education, why is an experiment known to be inaccurate for over thirty years still taught?

Currently, no one is quite sure how life formed originally, because any experiments are at the very best semi-educated guesses due to the amount of time that has passed. This explains the occurrence of the following kinds of statements whenever origins are addressed in science textbooks:

"What modern cells do scientists believe to be close relatives of the Earth's first cells?" (from Glencoe Biology, Chapter 14 Test Practice, question #7 at, emphasis mine).

I did a survey of another high school textbook when I was teaching at Arnold High School, and I made the discovery that suppositional words like "believe" and "speculate" appeared much more frequently in the chapters addressing origins and evolution than any other chapters I perused. Granted, my study was not exhaustive, but any time I found those words used in other chapters they were describing old ways of thinking that have since been proven wrong. So scientists believe certain things? That’s great! But according to the logic of those criticizing our School Board for their "bigoted" decision those beliefs should be relegated to religion class.

My point in all this is to ask the question, "Why are we teaching origins at all?" I'm not talking about testable and provable microevolution and adaptation, but macroevolution and the origins of life. Keep teaching the stuff that's verifiable, but if we're going to remove metaphysics from textbooks, can we at least be fair about it?

A good show of faith on the side of those who support the teaching of evolution would be to:

1-Remove those traces of mythology that have worked their way into popular evolutionary theory and have gone unchecked in the school system for over two decades.
2-Quit the lowbrow sucker-punch rhetoric of branding creationists or I. D. proponents as illiterate bigots, and start policing the religious extremism that is being displayed by the supposedly enlightened side.
3-Remove Haeckel's embryos, remove the bogus peppered moth data, and remove the notion that Miller and Urey proved that life did originate without intelligent help. In short, start teaching science again.

Ford Seeuws