Thursday, February 12, 2009

Posted with permission

Posted with permission from Ames at A Candid World

The Top 25 Things Every School Board Member, Legislator, Minister, etc. Should Know About the Theory of Evolution

1. Trying to teach creationism is expensive. Are you a school board member, just itching to “make a point” by forcing your kids to toss away the scientific method, and instead treat the Bible as some sort of science textbook? Then take this to heart: if you do, YOU WILL BE SUED. AND YOU WILL LOSE. HARD. By all means, don’t take my word for it: ask Bill Buckingham, the drug-addled creationist who forced the school board of his town of Dover through protracted, multi-million dollar litigation, only to expose his friends and constituents to nationwide ridicule, and be forced out of office the next year. Even if you think you’re doing your kids a spiritual favor, you’re doing your town a huge temporal disservice, by squandering taxpayer money to defend a lawsuit you’ll eventually lose. Don’t do it.

2. Public consensus has no bearing on scientific validity: it’s true. Creationists love to wave surveys in front of scientists, proving that less than 50% of the population believes in “naturalistic evolution.” That doesn’t matter. Just as you can’t vote away the fact that 2+2=4, you can’t vote away scientific truths, even if you don’t like them.

3.There’s no such thing as “irreducible complexity”: Michael Behe tried to prove to the world that the flagellum and blood cascade effect were “irreducibly complex,” such that no linked chain of beneficial mutations could give rise to them naturally. He failed. Each of his examples - especially the flagellum - has a clear evolutionary path. Remember, prior forms of flagella don’t have to be just bad or incomplete flagella: they just have to be useful.

4. Just because it’s hard to imagine, doesn’t mean it’s not true: there’s no “argument from awe” in science. You can’t say, “evolution is so hard to believe!” and expect that to hold water. Much in the world seems incredible at first, but turns out to be true. I find it hard to believe that Fox could ever have canceled “Futurama,” “Arrested Development,” and “Firefly,” but sadly, they did.

5. It doesn’t matter that evolution isn’t “observable”: science doesn’t require you to have observed something to be able to prove it true. The scientific method contemplates a method of reasoning that posits an explanation for linked facts (a hypothesis), and then performs experiments to test whether the hypothesis or its logical effects are observable, to establish the hypothesis’ validity. For example, we don’t have to see an animal evolve - we can postulate that, if species evolve, certain genetic markers would exist. And - whaddya know! - they do. Bottom line, there are methods of proof that aren’t simply observational.

6. There’s no difference between “macro” and “micro” evolution: creationists loooooove to argue that the observable, irrefutable change-over-time in laboratory bacteria is different than evolution over the long term, and its results, like speciation. However, the distinction between variation within a species (”microevolution”) and variation that results in split species (”macroevolution”/speciation) is simply a matter of degree. Microevolution, over time, becomes macroevolution. Deal with it.

7.“Theory” doesn’t mean “random hunch”: the colloquial definition of “theory” differs from its scientific meaning. In science, theory means something like, “fully-reasoned natural explanation for natural events born out by experimentation.” A scientific theory is as close as one gets to scientific Truth. Saying that evolution is “just a theory” is, scientifically, nonsensical.

8.There’s a reason science excludes non-naturalistic explanations: and no, the reason isn’t “liberal bias.” Science exists to explain natural phenomena in an objective manner, so as to provide predictions and applications useful to all of humanity. “Goddidit,” as a scientific explanation for a phenomenon, is useless to someone who believes in a different God, for example. Science is built to exclude this manner of failing.

9.There are loads of transitional forms: a long time ago, Darwin hypothesized that, if archaeologists couldn’t find fossils somewhere “between” extant species, his theory would be proved false. Creationists love to dredge that quote up and, without evidence, claim that no such “transitional fossils” have been found. They’re wrong: for God’s sake, they should do their reading. And recall that not all lifeforms fossilize: we shouldn’t expect the fossil record to be 100% complete, but as it stands, it’s more complete than we could have even expected.

10. Thermodynamics does not disprove evolution (besides, isn’t thermodynamics “just a theory” too?): a few especially ignorant creationists argue that, because evolution involves the increase of biological “order,” if an evolutionary system existed, it would violate the laws of thermodynamics by failing to conserve energy. Nota bene: conservation of energy only applies in “closed systems,” and the Earth is not a closed system. In fact, it constantly receives energy from space. If you don’t believe me, look up into the sky on a cloudless day.

11. What Darwin said in 1890 has little bearing on the merit of modern evolutionary biology: some people say that Darwin was kiiiind of a racist. Whether or not he was, it has no bearing on the validity of his theories: there’s no “sins of the father” doctrine in science that exists to transmute the scientist’s moral failings to his theory. Think of it this way: Werner von Braun was kind of antisemitic. Antisemitism is bad. But does that mean that atom bombs don’t work. Don’t think so, buddy.

12. A teacher or professor’s right to “academic freedom” is circumscribed by her job description: when a science teacher teaches creationism instead of evolution to her students, she’s not exercising her “academic freedom” - she’s violating the terms of her employment, by failing to teach science. Similarly, a physics teacher pronouncing the revolutionary idea that objects fall up is flat-out wrong, not a champion of first-amendment values.

13. There is no “controversy” to teach: something approaching 95% of scientists in all fields accept evolution as “true,” meaning, the only scientific explanation available to account for the variation of life on Earth. That’s not a controversy, that’ s a standard of professional responsibility.

14. There are no peculiar problems of “weaknesses” in evolution that need to be taught: all scientific theories have “strengths” and “weaknesses.” Einstein’s theory of gravitation, for example, can’t be reconciled with quantum theory. It’s really quite troubling. But it’s a weakness that points the way towards future research, not a weakness that undermines his theory of gravitation. Ditto for the supposed “weaknesses” in evolutionary biology. Such academic discourses ought not be inflicted on young students, and especially ought not be framed as reasons to distrust evolutionary biologists.

15. Logical problems with “young-earth creationism” are especially insurmountable: radiocarbon dating and the light from far-flung stars both completely demolish young-earth creationism - unless you’re going to argue that God changes the speed of light at His will. And please don’t argue that. So much for seven literal days.

16. No-one cares what Hitler thought about evolution: Hitler was a bad man. So what if he used evolution to justify genocide? He also used sandwiches to give him the biological energy necessary to keep him alive to commit genocide. Are sandwiches evil? Further, science doesn’t compel a moral conclusion (#17): it takes a sick, twisted human mind, extrinsic to evolutionary biology, to use it as a justification for murder.

17. Social Darwinism is emphatically NOT evolution: social Darwinism - the belief that, in a modern society, poverty is a type of evolutionary “unfitness” deserved by those upon whom it is visited - is a moral and philosophical attempt to employ the idea of “survival of the fittest” in service of a particular political philosophy. Evolution doesn’t imply “social Darwinism” any more than atomic physics implies the use of a nuclear bomb: it takes a human element external to the theory to “weaponize” the actual science.

18. Science doesn’t compel moral conclusions: science says what is, and why it is, in a natural sense. Science at no time attempts to contemplate the ramifications of the facts it exposes. That’s the job of philosophy and religion. While you may be “insulted” by the implications a scientific theory (see #19), the implications come from your own philosophy, and are wholly extrinsic to the scientific fact exposed by evolutionary biology.

19. Evolution is not random: mutation is random. Natural selection, the process by which some mutations are allowed to perpetuate in a species, is anything but random, instead dependent on a host of natural factors. So evolution is random in the sense that games like “Monopoly” are random: one part of it involves chance, but the rest is shaped by rules and circumstances.

20. Evolution does not mean you “came from goo”: this is an oversimplification just spun to sound particularly nasty and un-Godly, as if the theory of evolution is somehow an insult to mankind’s dignity. Even if it is, see #17: science doesn’t make moral judgments, you do. And besides, even if you think the theory is “insulting,” it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

21. Stop calling it “Darwinism”: evolutionary biology long since progressed beyond its association with a single scientist, long-since dead. Countless scientists have built on Darwin’s work over the past 150 years, meaning that evolutionary biology is no more “Darwinism” than “Lenski-ism,” or “nameless grad student-ism.” You don’t call telescopes “Galileoism,” and you don’t call gravity “Newtonism.”

22. Evolution is not a “religion” or “faith”: faith is unflinching belief without evidence. See #8 about the proof. And, evolutionary biologists are not unwavering in their commitment to the theory. The theory itself evolves as time goes on and discoveries are made. That’s how science works. Just because creationism keeps being proved wrong doesn’t mean that scientists are somehow religiously committed to being right.

23. Evolution is not the same as abiogenesis/the Big Bang theory: evolution answers the question of how life develops after it already has begun: it does NOT speak to how life began in the first place. You may have issues with abiogenesis, but that’s not a reason to discredit evolution.

24. You can be a good Christian and still “believe” in evolution: about 50% of the population does. Evolution only conflicts with fundamentalism. Don’t be a fundamentalist.

25. Natural selection can generate new “information”: creationists love to characterize the evolutionary process as somehow degenerative. Their idea seems to be that evolution can only delete genetic “information,” and so evolution could never progress towards something advantageous. This argument rests on a misconception of what genetic information actually looks and behaves like. Besides, Richard Lenski proved this claim wrong already.

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