Sunday, October 19, 2008


Beyond Reason

Don McLeroy has a guest column in the Waco Tribune.

Texas is adopting new science standards. Scientists representing evolutionists and calling themselves the 21st Century Science Coalition say that creationists on the State Board of Education will inject religion into the science classroom. Should they be concerned? No. This will not happen.

They also say that the board will require supernatural explanations to be placed in the curriculum. This will not happen.
But, interestingly, McLeroy appears to admit that the opposition to removing the "weaknesses" language from Texas' science standards is, in fact, religion-based:

[T]he coalition also makes claims about evolution that will be challenged by creationists.
As to specifics, McLeroy quotes, without attribution, from chemist Philip Skell's disingenuous opinion piece in The Scientist (prominently hyped by the Discovery Institute) that argues that evolutionary theory is not vital to the understanding of biology. McLeroy particularly refers to Skell's claim that he "asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong" and they said "no."

Amusingly, McLeroy also quotes Galileo: "In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual." Then one has to wonder why Skell and those 70 unnamed "eminent researchers" are appealed to -- without any reasoning, humble or otherwise, backing them up -- in support McLeroy's contention that:

[H]as evolution been demonstrated to be true beyond any reasonable doubt? No.

Is evolution's support from the peer-reviewed literature unassailable? No.
As I've already noted, Skell's objectivity and honesty is self-destructed by his use of a quote mine of A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays. And PZ Myers has already explained the reasons why biologists can work without "particular reference" to evolutionary theory:

[The] whole point is bogus. Yes, I can go into my lab right now, make up some solutions, run a pH meter, collect embryos, use a microscope, etc., without once using the principles of evolutionary biology. Likewise, I can do a lot of the day-to-day stuff of the lab without even thinking about developmental biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, or physiology; that does not imply that these disciplines are not central to how life works. We don't need evolutionary biology ... except whenever we want to think about how these narrow, esoteric little experiments we do fit into the grander picture of life on earth. You know, biology.
McLeroy also quotes the experts at the National Academy of Sciences, from its booklet Science, Evolution and Creationism, which defines science as "the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process." But, if those authorities are worth quoting on that point, why doesn't McLeroy quote the reasoning that comes immediately after that:

Because observations and explanations build on each other, science is a cumulative activity. Repeatable observations and experiments generate explanations that describe nature more accurately and comprehensively, and these explanations in turn suggest new observations and experiments that can be used to test and extend the explanation. In this way, the sophistication and scope of scientific explanations improve over time, as subsequent generations of scientists, often using technological innovations, work to correct, refine, and extend the work done by their predecessors.
In other words, no one expects evolutionary theory to be "unassailable," whatever McLeroy may mean by that. Moreover, as the NAS points out, that fact is not a weakness of science. Instead, as the NAS says:

Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the Sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. ...

In science, a "fact" typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term "fact" to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur.
In short, the scientific "weaknesses" of evolution are all in the imagination of people like McLeroy, based on nothing more than their religious belief in creationism. Injecting those misunderstandings of science and of the evidence in favor of evolution into science classes is most definitely importing religion and supernatural explanations into Texas public schools.

All McLeroy has demonstrated is that evolutionary theory is not been proven beyond all unreasonable doubt.


In other words, McLeroy has indulged in some bog-standard creationist carping about the theory of evolution with the usual disclaimer about having no intention of introducing religion into the science class. Apparently the word "Dover" means nothing to him.
Apparently the "Buckingham lesson" means nothing to him: Don't use the word "creationism" or any of its cognates.
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