Monday, January 19, 2009


Don't Know Much Biology

It ain't just biology that the creationist members of the Texas State Board of Education are out to gut. It's Earth and Space Sciences too. Steven Schafersman, a member of the standards-writing panel, has a long report on the efforts of the young-Earth creationists, Roger Sigler and Tom Henderson, put on the panel to water down the standards as to such YEC-killing science as radiometric dating of rocks from the Earth, the Moon and meteorites; red shift and cosmic microwave background radiation evidence for the Big Bang and, generally, to make the standards less "dogmatic," wherever they refuse to pander to such scientific nonsense as a young Earth, by removing all science standards altogether.

Typically, it involves subterfuge, such as submitting secret "minority reports" to the Board, doubletalk and double dealing. It's a depressing story.

But, as always, it comes back to evolution. The standards, as written (pdf file), have the following:

(8) Earth in space and time. The student knows that fossils provide evidence for geological and biological evolution. Students are expected to:

(A) evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution;

(B) explain how sedimentation, fossilization, and speciation affect the degree of completeness of the fossil record; and

(C) evaluate the significance of the terminal Permian and Cretaceous mass extinction events, including adaptive radiations of organisms after the events.

Naturally, the latest "minority report" finds this promlematical:

Concerning c8 Roger suggested replacing the word "evolution" with "change" in this heading only, and leaving the word "evolution" as is in c8(A).

Nearly all scientists agree that geological and biological change has taken place on Earth. The problem is that the very word "evolution" is subjective, for there are at least three broad definitions of "evolution":

• Evolution #1: First, evolution can mean that the life forms we see today are different than the life forms that existed in the distant past. Evolution as "change over time" can also refer to minor changes in features of individual species -- changes which take place over a short amount of time. We can observe this type of evolution going on in the present and even skeptics of Darwin’s theory agree that this type of "change over time" takes place. Evolution in this sense is "fact." However, it is invariably the case that when Darwinists cite some present-day observations of change within a species, they will be small-scale changes that are not easily extrapolated to explain how complex biological features arose.

• Evolution #2: Some scientists associate the word "evolution" with the idea that all the organisms we see today are descended from a single common ancestor somewhere in the distant past. This claim became known as the Theory of Universal Common Descent. This theory paints a picture of the history of life on earth as one great branching tree. Many scientists are skeptical of Universal Common Descent.

• Evolution #3: Finally, some people use the term "evolution" to refer to a cause or mechanism of change, the biological process Darwin thought was responsible for the branching pattern. Darwin argued that unguided natural selection had the power to produce fundamentally new forms of life. Together, the ideas of Universal Common Descent and natural selection form the core of Darwinian evolutionary theory. "Neo-Darwinian" evolution combines our knowledge of DNA and genetics to claim that random mutations in DNA provide the variation upon which natural selection acts in a completely unguided fashion. It is this form of evolution that is the most controversial meaning of evolution.

Only the first definition is objective. The other two have never been demonstrated and are ideological, and as such, provide insufficient guidance for textbook publishers. The word "change" will help publishers be more objective. (Emphasis added)

Isn't that lovely? Not only is the "evolution" that every major scientific organization and virtually every scientist knowledgeable in biology agree is overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence called "unobjective" and "ideological," but the tiny minority of scientists who disagree, motivated all-but-exclusively by religious belief, is suddenly inflated to "many scientists." And the only "change" in organisms that publishers are supposed to endorse in their textbooks is the kind that can happen in "over a short amount of time" and, therefore, fit within the YEC timeframe of an Earth no more than 10,000 years old.

The good thing about these minority reports is that, if the creationist Board members can get one more vote and implement some distorted set of standards, the reports will make powerful evidence, in the inevitable court cases, of the motivation of the Board to inject old-style "creation science" into Texas' public schools.

Remind me again ... why was the serpent made to go on its belly?

Via Dispatches From the Culture Wars

"Universal Common Descent" as defined by these guys is *not* a core idea of evolutionary theory -- there could in principle have been several "first organisms", though we think not. But I've seen Creationists abuse Doolittle's ideas re gene-swapping among the earliest microorganisms, which turns the picture of a "single root" into a sort of network emerging from the pre-biotic world (wherever you choose to draw that dividing line). Of course, they miss the point and jump from "revision of the earliest stages" to "even the evilutionists admit common descent is wrong".
Remind me again ... why was the serpent made to go on its belly?
Ooh...ooh--I know! So Creationists can look him in the eye when they converse.
... there could in principle have been several "first organisms" ...

Well, I'm inclined to cut them some slack on that one, since widespread gene-swapping makes it kind of hard to distinguish one early microorganism from another as different species or whatever taxonomic unit you want to use. Also, Darwin himself had life "originally breathed into a few forms or into one."

If we could expect them to get it exactly right, they wouldn't be creationists.

And Mark:

ba da dom BISH
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education