Saturday, October 28, 2006


Science Fink

I've written before about the race by Tom Sawyer against Deborah Owen Fink, who was one of the architects of Ohio's former "teach the controversy" public school policy, for her seat on the state Board of Education. This past Thursday there was a radio debate (as usual, more of a joint interview) between them, with the addition of Ken Miller, Brown University professor of biology and author of Finding Darwin's God, supporting evolution, and Chris Williams, who was described as a Ph.D. in biochemistry working in the field of human genetic screening, favoring Intelligent Design. An MP3 file of the broadcast "Evolution's Effect on Voters" can be downloaded from the website of 90.3 WCPN, the National Public Radio outlet in Cleveland, Ohio.

A couple of "jawdroppers," not unlike her previously calling the National Academy of Sciences, perhaps the nation’s preeminent scientific organization, "so-called scientists," escaped Ms. Owen Fink during the hour. One good one, in response to a caller's question (beginning at about minute 26:15) was that Jonathan Wells and his book, Icons of Evolution, "has nothing to do with Intelligent Design" and, if she had had her druthers, she would not have removed it from the original standards. Ken Miller gently smacked that one out of the park by inviting the public to go to the Discovery Institute's site and check out the fellows of the Center for Science and Culture.

Then Ms. Owens Fink (at 42:20), when asked about the letter signed by 75 members of the science faculty at Case Western University endorsing Mr. Sawyer and denouncing her characterization of the National Academy of Sciences, virtually reenacted it by alleging that the faculty members "have no science background" and "don't understand how to do scientific research." Mr. Sawyer's response was both forceful and eloquent and was one of the high points of the show.

But my very, very most favorite moment of all (37:25) belonged to Ken Miller. Dr. Williams, in his best Discovery Institute imitation, decried the harm supposedly done to scientific discovery by following "evolutionary dogma." As an example, Williams cited how the alleged dogma that "junk DNA" had no function supposedly held back the discovery of "small interfering RNA," with its great promise for medicine. Miller first pointed out that a lack of function of junk DNA was not a prediction of evolutionary theory, though the sequence information in such DNA was strong evidence for the theory. But then Miller told of a student he had in the very first class in evolutionary biology Miller had taught at Brown. The student was a young dark-haired man who was always asking questions. Miller then told how, just 3 weeks ago, that student, named Craig Mello, had won the Nobel Prize for discovering small interfering RNA. It seems learning about evolution didn't hold him back one little bit. Game, set, match.

If you want to see the difference between scientific thinking and the thinking of people who hate the very idea, you can't ask for a much better example than this debate.

Thanks for your report on the evolution/creationist 'debate'. In it you mention my son, Craig Mello, and his interaction with his Brown Professor. I appreciate the insight that gave me about Craig at Brown. He was, and still is, a very inquisitive person, and a very strong proponent of evolution (as should all thinking people be).
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