Kansas - what can we expect in 2004?

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The process of reviewing the Kansas state science standards started this week, and already contention has arisen over the selection of members of the review committee. (See here for a news story.) Board members have nominated one (or in some cases more) people they would like to be on the committee along with those selected directly by the Department of Education. Given that at least four of the ten Board members are supporters of “revisiting” the issue of evolution, we can anticipate, I think, that Kansas may once again be a focus national interest in the evolution/creationism issue.

Furthermore, as noted in my previous post on Kansas here, Board of Education elections are this summer and fall and there is a possibility that the creationists will gain a majority. The architect of the 1999 standards, Steve Abrams, is still on the BOE, John Calvert and other IDnet members are still in Kansas, and other creationists from 1999 are still politically active in the state.

Therefore, in preparation for this, I would like to take a quick look at what has happened since the first time Kansas became infamous for its science standards, and then look at what we might expect this time around. In this post, I will summarize briefly what happened in Kansas in 1999, what has happened in other states since then, and, most importantly, what we might expect to happen in 2004. I offer this both for the benefit of those of you in Kansas who will directly involved and for those of you who should be preparing for when the anti-evolution movement comes to your neighborhood. (P.S. If you would like to get involved with Kansas Citizens for Science, please visit KCFS and send us an email.)

So now let’s look at the situation.

Kansas in 1999-2000

Young-earth creationist (YEC) attempts to influence the teaching of science have been common, but Kansas was the first state in which the “Intelligent Design” (ID) movement became active. The 1999 Kansas science standards passed in 1999 were primarily a young-earth creationist project which eliminated or distorted elements of biology, geology, and cosmology. However, the standards also contained the first example of ID influenced content when they proposed that the definition of science be changed from seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the physical world to seeking logical explanations. John Calvert, founder of the Intelligent Design network (IDnet) later explained that this was the one contribution the IDists made to the standards, and that they were strongly committed to getting it included. (Both the creationist 1999 standards and the revised standards of 2001, as well as other drafts, can be found at the KCFS website.)

In late 2000, after it was clear that a pro-science majority would be on the Board in 2001, the IDnet made a last attempt to insert more explicit ID material into the standards. This ID influenced draft can be found at the IDnet website, and a KCFS response to the state Board is here. The IDnet’s proposal was defeated by a 7-3 vote in February, 2001 and the same day the current standards were adopted by the same margin.

Kansas was also the first state to be visited by Discovery Institute (DI) fellows in support of creationist science standards. Wells and Meyer participated in a “debate” at Washburn, Johnson spoke twice (once at a Kansas City church in support of one of the creationist incumbent who was in fact later defeated for re-election), and once at the University of Kansas. In addition, at some point Wells started working with IDnet managing director Jody Sjogren, who became the illustrator for “Icons of Evolution.”

Even though all these attempts to insert YEC and ID into the standards failed, the ID movement saw the situation as a victory. They had made an impact in the news, they had connected with grassroots support (the IDnet), and, most importantly, they had learned some lessons to take to their next state. In the summer of 2001, Johnson gave the opening speech at the IDnet’s summer ID conference (DDD2) on “The State of the Wedge.” In this speech, he said,

After the primary election [August, 2000], when some of the members of the Kansas board were defeated, and it looked like the original Darwinist guidelines were going to be reinstated in full, one of the legislators called me up and asked if this was at all discouraging.

I said, “No, not in the least, I am not discouraged,” because what has grown out of these Kansas events is a grassroots organization that didn’t exist before.

It has brought together people of very different views; people from traditional grassroots creationist movements and people from the universities and the professions who very much stand off from the traditional creationist position but saw something wrong with the Darwinist position and the dogmatic way in which it was being taught in the school, - so we have this Kansas Intelligent Design network.

And a movement like this doesn’t really need to win all its battles. What you find is that after a temporary setback, they’re taking two steps forward. They come back strong and more determined to avoid whatever mistakes were made before, to learn from the position and to have that much more dedication in the future.

And so there was nothing to be discouraged about at all. We were going through a joint learning experience.

So Kansas was a victory for ID, and the ID movement was ready for their next opportunity - onward to Ohio!

After Kansas

Ohioan Robert Lattimer attended the IDnet’s DDD2 conference, met Calvert, Johnson, and others, and took the ID movement back to Ohio, which was beginning to start revising their science standards. At the same time, Jody Sjogren moved back to Ohio, and in early 2002 Calvert was invited to make the case for ID to the Ohio school board.

The ID movement took a new turn during a public forum in March 2002 when DI fellow Stephen Meyer seemed to abandon the idea of inserting ID concepts into the standards, and suggested instead that the standards adopt a “teach the controversy” about evolution. Later the ID movement adopted the Kansas tactic of working to change the definition of science itself, stating that the Ohio standards should contain “no definition of science that would eliminate alternative theories;” that is, the standards should define science as “the systematic search for the best explanation of natural phenomena, not the best naturalistic explanation.” (source)

Politically, the ID movement mobilized conservative and traditional creationist groups for support but kept YEC beliefs out of sight At DDD2, Johnson had counseled that

there should be a central issue that people agree to discuss first, that they agree as the starting point to put other issues aside until they have addressed this first issue. There should be a central issue that they argue around and about. And that position would not involve the days of Genesis, and how long they were, or a world wide flood, or the doctrines of any church. It would involve the simple question of creation - do you need a Creator to do the creating, or don’t you.

The Ohio situation ended with a small but important “victory” - the insertion of the statement that students should “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” This phrase was the door they needed to assert that their “teach the controversy” position had been adopted. They then capitalized on this by placing several ID advocates on the model curriculum committee, and eventually producing a “model lesson plan” built primarily on Wells’ “Icons of Evolution” that was meant to meet the “critically analyze” standard.

After Ohio, some combination of the DI and the IDnet were active in New Mexico, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota, and Darby, Montana. Interestingly enough, the DI did not get involved in either West Virginia or Missouri (although Calvert was involved in West Virginia) because of the blatant YEC involvement.

The DI got quite involved in Texas, where the issue was not curriculum standards but rather textbooks. Textbook selection in Texas is of national importance because Texas adopts state texts and they are a large market. The DI focused on material from “Icons of Evolution,” arguing that the textbooks were full of information that offered false or misleading support for evolution.

And last, note that activity is not limited to activity at the state level. Places like Cobb County, Georgia, Darby, Montana, and Pratt, Kansas in 2000 are perfectly acceptable places for the DI to expend their energies - anyplace where they can get publicity and have a chance of “winning a small victory for ID.” is worth the effort.

So what can we expect in Kansas

The ID movement has refined their tactics considerably since Kansas in 2000. So what can we expect in Kansas? We can expect the ID advocates to attempt to amend the standards to include some of the following or to offer the following arguments for such amendments:

  • The standards should include “the scientific evidence for and against evolution.”
  • The standards should allow discussion of “alternative scientific theories of origins.”
  • “Origins science,” being an “historical science,” cannot be directly tested, and therefore naturalistic and design interpretations are matters of philosophical viewpoint.
  • The standards have a philosophical bias towards “naturalism” that must be remedied, both for the sake of fairness and in order to conform to the constitutional requirement that the state be neutral in respect to issues that bear on religion.
  • ID is about science, not religion.
  • Similarly, ID is about detecting design, but not about identifying the designer.
  • A “growing body” of scientists are doubting “Darwinism.”

Note that none of these actively include the idea of teaching ID, as the ID movement has dropped that goal for now. However, as was clear in the Ohio lesson plan issue, the point of all their arguments is to open the door for ID and to allow it to come out in the course of instruction.

The other thing we can expect in Kansas is political activity, and of course the pro-science supporters will need to be ready to respond in kind. We can expect ID supporters to speak at state Board meetings and to cultivate relationships with Board members who support their cause, to write letters and op-ed columns for state newspapers and to look for support among legislators (many of whom are also up for re-election this year.) We can also expect the Discovery Institute to be involved, both by sending people to Kansas and by editorializing in print.

And how should we respond?

This will be the topic of my next post. I invite comments here on this question: what are effective arguments and activities that will reach the interested layperson in this matter? The action of citizens is important here. Writing letters, speaking to friends, voting - all these things will make a difference in whether the ID movement succeeds in getting another foot in the door or not.

45 Comments

Jack Krebs Wrote:

Note that none of these actively include the idea of teaching ID, as the ID movement has dropped that goal for now. However, as was clear in the Ohio lesson plan issue, the point of all their arguments is to open the door for ID and to allow it to come out in the course of instruction.

While the various things in the list do not have the label of “intelligent design” attached, it is obvious that the content of “intelligent design” is being advocated as suitable for the classroom. The content of “intelligent design” is simply negative arguments against evolution. This is precisely what ID advocates are telling school boards to put into the curriculum. The argument that they aren’t asking for “intelligent design” to be included is hogwash and falls under the general category of “intentional deception”.

This is a little off the topic, but here in beautiful Henrietta, NY, we have a school board election upcoming. I would like to know the positions of the candidates regarding the teaching of evolution. Anyone who wants “the scientific evidence for and against evolution” will not get my vote.

So I plan to call the candidates and ask them their views. But how do I detect a stealth candidate? That’s my main worry, someone gives all the right answers and then goes ahead and votes against evolution once elected – I know this has happened in other school districts.

Paige, maybe a good way to tell is to ask them instead, “Why don’t you think creationism should be taught in schools?” I think it wouldn’t be easy for a creationist to fake a good answer to that on the spot.

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Some excerpts transcribed from Lattimer’s talk at DDD4 last November:

This is basically a political struggle. It is in any state, it’s a political struggle. Science will have very little to do with the arguments on what science standards will look like. Education will have little to do with it. It’s basically how the politics will work in a particular state.

Their three goals for the Ohio Science Standards and Model Curriculum were:

1. “The evidence for and against evolution should be taught. And the focus here is on macroevolution, that is, descent with modification; we didn’t really have any problem and don’t have any problem with microevolution, which is simply genetic variation within a population.”

2. “We did not insist that intelligent design be in the standards, or any other alternative, but we did want teachers to have that option available to them, and we wanted in writing that teachers could teach alternatives to evolution if they wanted to.”

3. “The third objective was to put a definition of science in the standards that would be neutral. The original draft standards had a definition of science that was naturalistic, and said basically that science is the study of natural explanations for natural phenomena. That was in the Standards, and we wanted to get that out because if you stick to that definition then things like intelligent design are not permissible; it is not a natural explanation. So that was our third objective, to get that ‘naturalistic explanation’ out of the Standards and to replace it with a neutral definition that would allow consideration of alternatives.”

To accomplish that, the ID movement enlisted every conservative organization they could:

And so we got our supporters by various means, TV, radio interviews, we contacted all the pro-family organizations and had them contact their membership, and the Governor received, in a two month period, September and October of last year (2002), more input on this subject than he ever received on anything else. Virtually of it was in favor of teaching the controversy ‘cause this was not an official survey type system like the Department of Education. He did not ask for input, but he got it.

In the end, the Governor’s appointees to the Ohio Board of Education voted 8-0 to adopt the corrupt model lesson plan. The elected members of the board voted 7-2 (with one abstention and one absent) to reject it. Hence it was adopted.

Kansas can expect the same purely political movement, probably better organized even than we had here in Ohio - the IDist tactics and strategy evolve. And you’ll have physicians and veterinarians cited as “Scientists who question Darwinism.” They marched into the Ohio Board of Education and faithfully and mindlessly parrotted the blather sold by Wells. It was sickening to watch, to be frank.

Those of us who are scientists find it hard to understand that scientific evidence and arguments are of no use in this issue. Lattimer is right: There is precious little science and precious little education: it’s a purely political issue, and that’s how the ID proponents treat it. There’s a thin veneer of pseudoscientific gloss, the veneer designed to slip past the Establishment clause, but that’s all it’s there for.

The membership of the review committee must be fought hard. In Ohio the IDists succeeded in loading the subcommittee that wrote the 10th grade life sciences lesson plans and thus were able to get that damned Wellsian lesson plan into the model curriculum. Now they’re pushing into the Educational Resources phase of the process, re-introducing Wells’s Icons as a reference. (It was taken out of the model lesson plan.) They are obsessively determined to get that crap admitted as a legitimate critique of evolutionary theory. As Jack says, their goal is to open the door at the state level so that instruction at the local level can include ID glop.

RBH

RBH wrote:

In Ohio the IDists succeeded in loading the subcommittee that wrote the 10th grade life sciences lesson plans and thus were able to get that damned Wellsian lesson plan into the model curriculum. Now they’re pushing into the Educational Resources phase of the process, re-introducing Wells’s Icons as a reference. (It was taken out of the model lesson plan.) They are obsessively determined to get that crap admitted as a legitimate critique of evolutionary theory.

Surely you don’t mean the Wells material discussed here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wells/

How could any honest State Board of Education member vote to tell kids that Wells’ book is valid science?

Pete

Most ID advocates don’t have much knowledge of, or even interest in, actual biology. Don’t know how much that helps in a political situation, though.

Yes John, that’s why points that will be politically effective with the lay public need to not be about the biological intricacies (which just helps create the impression that ID is posing a genuine scientific challenge,) but rather about the broad ways in which ID is deficient scientifically, and from there moving on the cultural and religious agenda and the political strategy they have tp achieve that agenda.

My 2c to Jack K and John W:

I also think that the religious motivation of ID should be downplayed, because it can backfire with a mostly religious public. The public does need to be reminded, however, that most mainstream religions and most science-literate conservatives have no problem with evolution. I’d stress the fact that ID is a mostly semantic strategy with a tacit admission that the mutually contradictory pseudoscientific creationisms have failed, not just legally but scientifically. The chief ID tactics are to misrepresent evolution by defining terms to suit the argument, often with bait-and-switch definitions, and to quote scientists out of context, to give the erroneous impression that healthy disagreements on mechanistic detail somehow weaken the general theory, or even the fact of common descent. With a little more effort, most people can see that the so-called “critical analysis” in the Ohio lesson plan is anything but.

Here’s what we did in Texas, with some good success:

First, recruit some of the state’s very good scientists to explain why evolution is critical in education. Here in Texas, we have several industries that are dependent on evolution theory – the grapefruit industry being a prime example, supporting entire communities growing a species that did not exist 150 years ago, and mostly a variety that came from a sport mutation in the middle of the 20th century. We pointed out that ID has made no contribution to these industries, but abandoning evolution would damage them.

We also recruited scientists to respond directly to the wild claims of the “Discovery Institute.” The two public hearings are on line, and I encourage their study. Dr. Andy Ellington, a biochemist working on origins of life stuff at the University of Texas, delivered a bravura performance at one of the hearings, branding Jonathan Wells’ stuff hooey, but politely, and with an overwhelming number of citations, and a great presentation that pointed out exactly the errors Wells made and the truth of the matter.

You may not have this same opportunity, but we worked to get the state’s Nobelists to weigh in. Physicist Stephen Weinberg showed up for an evening testimony, and was brilliant and funny. (See some of it here: http://www.aip.org/isns/reports/2003/081.html) Several others joined in an op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning News, and the rumor is that several took an opportunity during a visit with Gov. Rick Perry to explain their views on textbooks – with the result that Perry did not lend any political heft to the DI effort, nor to creationism.

We had the benefit of a state-wide organization dedicated to fighting wackiness from the right and religious right, the Texas Freedom Network (www.tfn.org), the benefit of the national reputation and good will of the National Center for Science Education, and a new start-up, Texas Citizens for Science.

Most of our state’s nobelists are in medicine. So their word is important when we have several world-class medical research facilities in the states. Cancer research at M. D. Anderson in Houston, and at UT’s Southwest Medical Center in Dallas, is based on evolution theory. Were the ID folks right, the cancer treatments known to be successful wouldn’t work.

The real stakes need to be laid out. Most states have at least one good cancer treatment center with a number of good scientists working there. Most states have some agricultural crop dependent on evolution theory to develop it or keep it going, and some agricultural problem whose solution is evolution based (the eradication of cotton boll weevils is close, but dependent on understanding evolutionary pressures on a pest, to avoid forcing a mutation to make it immune to effective pesticides, for example).

There are other things we did NOT do, which I think we should have. We should have proposed a number of the problems in the evidence for evolution theory, for discussion when considering strengths and weaknesses. A straight up discussion on exactly what we can learn from the fossils is more productive than fighting claims that all fossils are lied about. I think some group needs to establish, early on, what the new synthesis of Darwinian theory is. All of the ID (and DI) complaints about how Darwinian theory is taught are about minor issues on the edges, not about what is actually taught. None of them touch the heart of the theories of evolution. Unfortunately, that case has not been made in any state I’m aware.

The chief thing is to organize, organize, organize. Don’t leave gaps through which opponents can drive – assume you need to recruit the governor, the state legislature, the state’s teachers, and especially the state’s scientists in the colleges and universities.

The second thing to remember is to stick to the facts. You need to start NOW to lay the groundwork that Darwinian theory is sound. There should be opinion articles in weekly and daily newspapers noting that in the past three years, the “Discovery Institute” has succeeded in finding only about 300 people with anything close to science credentials who are willing to lend their names to an ambiguous statement that really doesn’t oppose Darwinian theory at all. Then, when they drop a press release with “100 scientists say Kansas standards should include ID stuff” you can politely point out they appear to be losing ground, and that 80,000 professional biologists in the U.S. still support Darwin.

Most people don’t know what evolution theory states, even supporters. Most supporters don’t have more than one or two examples of evolution they can offer, and those are often the ones DI claims are “invalid.” Make sure you have lots of handouts explaining what is on the Advanced Placement tests, what is taught in your state’s colleges and universities, and what kids should know. Make certain that they note there is no statement against any faith in any textbook. And bone up on examples of evolution.

We ought to have a seminar in how to do this stuff - are there any meetings we could piggy-back on this summer? Evolution 2004 in Ft. Collins, perhaps?

Ed Darrell is right on target, especially his statement that most people, even supporters, are ignorant concerning evolution which is why ID has any success. The most damaging and common misconception is that evolution is “just a theory” when, of course, the Theory of Evolution refers to the mechanisms that cause macroevolution. The phenomenon of macroevolution is a scientific fact. If this distinction was understood, ID and creationism in general would be much less persuasive. The leading light of ID, Behe, accepts the phenomenon of macroevolution. I would not mind if ID was taught as what it is: a weak hypothesis about a proposed mechanism with the backing of one biology professor (I am not counting “professors” from Oral Roberts and the like.)

Ralph Jones wrote

I would not mind if ID was taught as what it is: a weak hypothesis about a proposed mechanism with the backing of one biology professor (I am not counting ?professors? from Oral Roberts and the like.)

“Hypothesis,” weak or otherwise, is too strong a word for it. There is no “ID hypothesis.” ID identifies no candidate causal variables, describes no potentially relevant antecedent conditions, suggests no possibly correlated or associated variables, and for darn sure it offers no mechanism beyond “poof.” There is no purchase for a test, no empirical leverage, no place one can get a wedge in to start pecking at it empirically. “Conjecture” is even too strong a word. It is a label, nothing more.

RBH

What a great website- I just discovered it tonight. I am having my own website finished up in the next few weeks (www.evolushark.com) which offers t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and stickers that display a pro-evolution mascot(Evolushark) that spoofs creationists who are meddling with science curriculum (the word “evolution” takes on the form of a blue shark-a rival for “Ichthus”). On the back of the shirt is the statement, “It just happens.” by itself, or its written directly above a chase scene between Evolushark and Ichthus (some also have blank backs). I am going to add a link to your site for those who visit evolushark.com. I live in Sacramento, CA. which is about 10 miles from Roseville, where the school district is dealing with the issue of a few parents wanting “supplemental materials”[intelligent design] included in their student’s science curriculum. The district has chosen to deal with the problem at the site level rather than handle it district wide. I am a retired public school math teacher and am following the situation closely. Thanks for providing so much up to date information on the evolution/creationism issue. Ron Dodd

Steve — great idea! Andrea — thanks for the info. Everyone else … great discussion on a very important topic.

Wow! I obviously stand corrected by RBH about ID being a “weak hypothesis”, but my more important point that layman are burdened with misconceptions about science is thus made more convincing. If I do not know what a hypothesis is as an educated layman who has read extensively in biology, I doubt many other non-scientists do, and this is exactly why ID has any foothold at all. We need a concise, but comprehensive essay explaining why ID is not science and RGH seems to be just the person to do it.

Ralph:

We need a concise, but comprehensive essay explaining why ID is not science .…

ID simply comes down to substituting “Design” in place of “Don’t know”. You can’t do science that way.

For some ID fun with what used to be a favorite example of Dembski’s, look here.

Pete

Paige: My sure-fire way to detect stealth creationists and other bozos running for school board is to find your most politically active local church or religious organization (say, your local branch of Promise Keepers or Upstate New Yorkers for Life, or Concerned Women for America, or whatever) and take down the list of the candidates they endorse. Then, go to the polls and make sure you vote for everyone EXCEPT those people. It works every time.

Well, far be it from me to rain on ~this~ parade. Nevertheless, if I were planning on getting involved in this Kansas science standards thing on the ID side, I’d probably shoot for the following goals:

1. Focus on explaining the need to “teach the controversy”, and the need to protect teachers’ legal right to do so. Simply shine a bright light, a la Ohio, on the rather obvious need for a far-more-critical, far-less-spoonfed approach to how origins are taught in the science classroom.

Here’s an example from my hometown high school. The following snip is what my son and his peers read in their biology textbooks:

“How did these chemicals combine to form the first cells? The work of American biochemist Sidney Fox showed how this may have occurred. As shown in Figure 17:14, Fox was able to produce protocells by heating solutions of amino acids…” (page 414, “Biology: The Dynamics of Life”, Glencoe, 1998)

Now, here’s the part my son and his peers were never told about:

“In his experiment, Fox used mixtures containing only ~protein forming L-amino acids~. Where on the primitive earth could such a mixture have occurred? We have already seen that thousands of interfering cross-reactions would have occurred in the soup, preventing the successful fulfillment of Assumption No. 3 of Oparin’s hypothesis. These would have tied up protein-forming amino acids like Fox used…” (page 53, Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed., 1993)

Clearly, a strong case could be made for some sort of science standards that legally permits teachers to offer Dr. Kenyon’s origin-of-life chapter to science students as a way of filling in the obvious blanks of the standard textbook shpiel.

Sure, if you allow science teachers to tell the whole truth, to “teach the controversy” as in the above example, some science students might, (for example), begin to harbor doubts about chemical evolution primordial soup claims. Well, it’s time to just tell the kids ~both~ sides of the scientific story in such cases, and let the chips fall where they may. Educate, don’t indoctrinate.

2. Because some evolutionists would probably try to repeat the political strategy of claiming that “religion” was somehow being introduced into the science curriculum, I’d remind the board of what Edwards versus Aguillard said:

“We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught.”

And, just for fun, I’d throw in a snippet from philosopher of science Dr. Del Ratzsch:

”…There is no compelling conceptual basis for any blanket prohibition on exploring applications or implications of the idea of supernatural design within the scientific context. Some design theories may be inappropriate in some instances, but that is perfectly consistent with others being in principle legitimate.” (Nature, Design, and Science, page 149, c2001 State University of New York Press)

.

Anyway, just some random thoughts on how I would approach things. I think reasonable pro-science people can make a strong case that it’s time for some changes in the way we teach about origins.

FL :-)

FL, forgive me for being necessarily blunt: you’re either a troll or an idiot.

Of *course* introductory science classes are “indoctrination.” In physics, for example, teachers assume Newtonian mechanics in a frictionless universe. It would be ludicrous to “teach the controversy” regarding aspects of physics (i.e., quantum theory) until students understand the basics.

There ARE legitimate controversies in evolutionary theory – punctuated equilibrium being the most obvious example. But it’s foolish to “teach the controversy” until students understand the basics.

Most likely, you know this already (i.e., you’re a troll, not a moron), but are attempting to mislead the general public with notions of “controversies” that don’t exist.

“In his experiment, Fox used mixtures containing only ~protein forming L-amino acids~. Where on the primitive earth could such a mixture have occurred?…”

Clearly, a strong case could be made for some sort of science standards that legally permits teachers to offer Dr. Kenyon?s origin-of-life chapter to science students as a way of filling in the obvious blanks of the standard textbook shpiel

Actually, a pretty strong case could be made for not legally permitting teachers to offer Dr. Kenyon?s origin-of-life chapter to science students; if he’s going to bring up the issue of chirality he should also mention the many possible answers to his question, some of which have been demonstrated in the lab, rather than leave the question hanging and implying that there’s no answwer.

I would think, Jon, that a ~much~ better approach regarding this example of Fox, would be to legally permit science teachers to offer Kenyon’s accurate, corrective information that I quoted earlier, AND also for the science teacher to offer a brief summary of the kind of stuff you’re talking about.

Like I said earlier in another post, I know that people are working on these kinds of problems, and that’s fine to mention some of their efforts while also offering Kenyon’s correctives.

What does not make sense, however, is continuing to MERELY offer that sanitized Glencoe version of Fox’s (or Miller’s, or Oparin’s) stuff to science students with zero mention of the big questions and problems associated with it. That’s not cutting it anymore. We’ve got to legally permit science teachers to tell the kids the whole story, not just half of it.

For me, “teaching the controversy” in this area would look something like this:

1. Present the standard biology textbook version of things. 2. Present major questions or problems that the standard textbook leaves out, using informational handouts such as Kenyon’s origin-of-life chapter or a watered-down version of Thaxton Bradley Olsen. 3. Present summarized and simplified informational handouts on current scientific efforts to resolve those big questions and problems, but also be honest and upfront about it, letting science students know for sure whether or not said efforts have ~actually resolved~ those big questions/problems.

As an example of (3), a summarized laundry list of recent efforts to find an explanation for the homochirality issue appears at Kris Plankensteiner’s 2003 Astrobiology Seminar. “Possible Explanations for the Origin of Homochirality in Living Biological Systems.”

As listed by Plankensteiner, some recent explanatory efforts seem better than others in erms of experimental support, but nevertheless Plankensteiner is clear and upfront about where things are currently at:

“Many possibilities have been and still are investigated but none really led to a conclusive explanation so far.”

(I think Plank meant to say “lead”, but I quote his statement as it appears on his presentation.)

Anyway, along with presenting (1) and (2), I would think that a conscientious, pro-science teacher would want to inform their students in a brief simplified way about (3), definitely including that important bottom line statement about none of the current efforts yet leading to a conclusive explanation for homochirality.

The alternative to teaching the controversy, Jon, is the usual Sanitized Business As Usual Spoonfeeding, which diminishes education (especially critical thinking skills necessary to science) and promotes indoctrination.

THAT situation should no longer be acceptable to any of us, no matter what side of the origins fence we find ourselves.

——————————–

Ref: Plankensteiner Astrobiology Seminar 01.04.2003 http://astro.uibk.ac.at/astroneu/as[…]hirality.pdf

—————————— FL

Clearly, either (a) FL is a troll, or (b) FL has never tried to teach 10th graders.

This argument is ridiculous. “Teach REAL controversies” in college. Instruct high school kids in the basics without letting religiously motivated nutjobs distract them and undermine actual learning.

I don’t think calling anyone a troll is very useful. FL is expressing a common idea among people who think there is something to the ID movement’s arguments, and these ideas need to addressed without derision.

With that said, there are very good reasons why the “teach the controversy” idea is wrong in ways and certainly unfeasible in others. This will be a good topic for a further post.

I disagree. There are people who are legitimately taken in by the pseudoscience of IDspeak, and we should try to reach those folks.

Then there are people who deliberately attempt to engage in the same kinds of obfuscation as IDers and creationists. Those people should be called out on the carpet and exposed as frauds, trolls, or ideologically-motivated idiots.

FL said:

Now, here’s the part my son and his peers were never told about:

“In his experiment, Fox used mixtures containing only ~protein forming L-amino acids~. Where on the primitive earth could such a mixture have occurred? We have already seen that thousands of interfering cross-reactions would have occurred in the soup, preventing the successful fulfillment of Assumption No. 3 of Oparin’s hypothesis. These would have tied up protein-forming amino acids like Fox used … “ (page 53, Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed., 1993) Clearly, a strong case could be made for some sort of science standards that legally permits teachers to offer Dr. Kenyon’s origin-of-life chapter to science students as a way of filling in the obvious blanks of the standard textbook shpiel.

I suppose it’s possible that there are non-protein forming amino acids that might muck up the reaction – I’m no great chemist, so I don’t know.

But I do know I have searched in vain to find any science paper that says Fox got it screwed up, that such a reaction could never occur naturally.

Consequently, I can’t think of any good or noble reason to suggest, as Kenyon appears to, that Fox did screw it up.

Is there any researcher who has concluded as a result of research that Fox was wrong? Has any research concluded that no such proteinoid forming reaction is possible?

Ed: No.

I personally do not think that the phrase “Fox screwed it up” is the most accurate way to describe the situation, Ed.

Instead, let me offer something Kenyon said about Fox’s and other proposed models:

“Moreover, the geochemical plausibility of many of these ‘protocell’ models is open to serious question.” (D.H. Kenyon and A. Nissebaum, 1976, Journal of Molecular Evolution, #7, p.246.)

That’s the problem there. Not so much that Fox “screwed up”, but that Fox’s results are clearly marked by a very real geochemical implausibility.

It’s just like Miller’s results. Miller used a cold trap to get his results—but nobody has yet located any cold traps in the hardware section of the Primordial Wal-Mart. Geochemical implausibility.

Likewise, Fox used exclusively protein-forming L-amino acids. Again, it ain’t something you can buy on sale at the primodial clearance racks. In fact, can’t buy it at all due to the chemical price tag, it seems. Therefore, with Fox as with Miller, one is left with Geochemical Implausibility up the wazoo.

Hence, Kenyon (who, speaking of “researchers”, seems eminently qualified as the author of the well-received 1969 college text Biochemical Predestination) asked the clear question in Pandas:

“Where on the primitive earth could such a mixture have occurred?”

Nor was Kenyon the only one asking. C.E. Folsome, a researcher (for example, an article in Precambrian Res., 1975, #2,) who wrote The Origin of Life, A Warm Little Pond,1979), asked a similar question concerning Fox’s method:

“The central question is where did all these pure, dry, concentrated, and optically active amino acides come from in the real, abiological world?” (Warm Little Pond, p. 146, as quoted in Thaxton Bradley Olsen, “Mystery of Life’s Origin”)

So, it’s all about Geochemical Implausibility. That’s what high school biology students are NOT being told about when they get to the origin-of-life chapter and the usual tale of Fox’s experiments. The simple, meaningful, critical-thinking-skills questions of Kenyon and Folsome are being left out, and hence “teaching the controversy” can be as simple, and as necessary, as giving your local science teacher the legal protection to insert such questions back into his or her classroom lectures.

If one looks to the normal spoonfed textbook claim of a “primordial soup”, then Kenyon (and similarly Thaxton et al) have already pointed out the problems involved relative to Fox. To repeat:

“We have already seen that thousands of interfering cross-reactions would have occurred in the soup, preventing the successful fulfillment of Assumption No. 3 of Oparin’s hypothesis. These would have tied up protein-forming amino acids like Fox used.…” (page 53, Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed., 1993)

This constitutes what Ed called “a good and noble reason”, not so much to claim that “Fox screwed up”, but instead to clearly support the conclusion that Fox’s results are marked by clear geochemical implausibility and therefore is ~not~ a scientifically realistic scenario of how that part of things went down Way Back When.

And while I genuinely appreciate your taking time to search, albeit unsuccessfully, for any science paper that might show “that such a reaction could never occur naturally”, the fact is that the ~thousands~ of interfering chemical cross reactions cited by Kenyon can’t be blown off.

Looks like they would in fact result in a “never occurring naturally” situation via tying up the kind of L-amino acids Fox used in his mixtures.

Unless, of course, somebody can show how Fox’s stuff would occur “naturally” anyway, DESPITE the clearly prohibitive problem of soupy cross-reactions, and DESPITE the geochemical implausibility thereof. Has any researcher or science paper solved these problems and answered Kenyon/Folsome’s question? If so, please offer ‘em here.

In the meantime, however, I conclude by simply asking for consideration of the following:

1. Present the standard textbook version of Fox’s experiment. 2. Present Kenyon’s origin-of-life chapter from Pandas as a supplemental handout. Share the critical questions and problems about Fox and Miller that got left out of the sanitized textbook. 3. If recent research sheds any light on the critical questions and problems, share that information, appropriately simplified for teen consumption. But if the recent research doesn’t conclusively settle the questions/problems, say so.

That is how “teaching the controversy” works. There exists, as this example shows, a quite reasonable justification for legally being permitted to do so in the public school science classroom.

FL

A couple of comments. First, the criticism that, because Fox’s studies included L-amino acids, they are not pertinent is a non-starter. Protocells can be formed with quite a range of compounds, including some that are achiral as well as many that are not found in extant proteins (see, e.g., Saunders and Rohlfing, Science 176, 172-173, 1972). This renders Kenyon’s objections rather meaningless, IMO. Moreover, a cursory examination of the chemistry that underlies polyaminoacid formation reveals that homochirality is not required for such reactions, and that a racemic mixture of amino acids (and related compounds) would form the same range of polymers and functionalities (including catalytic functions) as did Fox’s proto-living things.

FL misses the point: That’s the problem there. Not so much that Fox “screwed up”, but that Fox’s results are clearly marked by a very real geochemical implausibility.

Actually since 1976 science has advanced significantly and found that the mineral which catalyzes RNA reactions also catalyzes cell formation. Coincidence? Certainly it makes any claims about geochemical implausibility without much merrit.

FL: That is how “teaching the controversy” works. There exists, as this example shows, a quite reasonable justification for legally being permitted to do so in the public school science classroom.

By quoting 1970’s papers ‘teaching the controversy’ misses the point namely that Fox protocells and Miller Urey experiments showed feasibility and that since then science has progressed to address many of the open issues.

It would be helpful if those promoting ‘teaching the controversy’ were to familiarize themselves with the issues first.

It would be helpful if those promoting “teaching the controversy” were to familiarize themselves with the issues first.

I agree that familiarity with the issue is important, Pim. And indeed, there ARE some serious issues here for conscientious pro-science teachers to familiarize their public school science students with. Let’s look closer.

Once again, to provide the context for what follows, I remind you of the sanitized chemical evolution dogma that high school biology students are currently being spoonfed:

“How did these chemicals combine to form the first cells? The work of American biochemist Sidney Fox showed how this may have occurred. As shown in Figure 17:14, Fox was able to produce protocells by heating solutions of amino acids … “ (page 414, “Biology: The Dynamics of Life”, Glencoe, 1998)

In response, I proposed giving science teachers the legal protection to “teach the controversy” in this area, because in this example, doing so is as simple, and as necessary, as asking Kenyon/Folsome’s question, “Where on the primitive earth could such a mixture (as Fox’s) have occurred?”

Art’s response was:

Protocells can be formed with quite a range of compounds, including some that are achiral as well as many that are not found in extant proteins (see, e.g., Saunders and Rohlfing, Science 176, 172-173, 1972). This renders Kenyon’s objections rather meaningless, IMO.

(Now, if I were in a persnickety mood, I might ask Pim why he failed to comment about the date of Art’s paper, while apparently offering a comment about Kenyon 1976 and Folsome 1979. But let’s set that aside.)

Honestly, Art’s first sentence there is okay as far as it goes. But the second sentence is simply false, because the issue at hand is the Geochemical Implausibility of Fox’s “proteinoid” stuff. In fact, it turns out that Saunders and Rohlfing even make a reference to this very same problem in the opening paragraph of their article. (footnotes excluded.)

“Polyamino acids have been prepared by heating suitable proportions of amino acids under simulated prebiotic conditions. These polymer, which resemble contemporary protein in many way, are regarded as models for prebiotic protein. However, the proportions and kinds of amino acids used as reactants have not been those reported among the products of simulated prebiotic synthesis.”

So, in fact, the geochemical implausibility of Fox’s stuff (they cite him in the footnotes) IS in fact an issue for them, in fact it’s their admitted motivation to do the stuff. So this is a meaningful and important issue after all.

So, did Saunders and Rohlfing neutralize Folsome’s 1979 question and Kenyon’s 1993 question? No, I don’t think so. Let me steal an 2003 snippet from the ARN website for a minute.

Responding to Art’s 1972 reference, Mike Gene said:

Let’s turn to the recipe for making these proteinoids. The last time around, I (gasp) quoted Gish as noting:

“If random proportions of amino acids are heated, no product is obtained. A very high proportion of one of the acidic amino acids, aspartic and glutamic acids, or of the basic amino acid, lysine, is required. Generally, about one part of one of the acidic amino acids, or one part of lysine, a basic amino acid, is heated with two parts of all the remaining amino acids combined. Under no naturally occurring conditions would any such ratio of amino acids ever exist. In all origin of life laboratory experiments, the amino acids produced in highest ratios are glycine and alanine, the simplest in structure and therefore the most stable of all the amino acids. Aspartic and glutamic acids are generally produced, but in small proportions. Detectable quantities of lysine are rarely, if ever, produced. Again, Fox’s scheme is completely out of touch with reality.”

And you (Art) replied:

“Not surprisingly, Gish is wrong. Refer again to the first column in Table 1 of the 1972 paper by Rohlfing. In it, he demonstrates that thermal proteins can be produced readily from mixtures of amino acids that reflect those found in “Miller-type” experiments - ca 50% gly, 27% ala, 0.3% asp, 0.5% glu, 12% beta-ala, 4% alpha-amino butyric acid, 4% sarcosine, 0.8% N-methylamine.”

But let’s consider the recipes for the proteinoids that would be relevant to your hypothesis:

Acidic proteinoid: 3.2% His, 2.3% Lys, 65% Asp, 12% Glu, 3.9% Gly, 4.4% Ala, 2.1% Val, 0.9% Ile, 2.3% Leu, 2.0% Phe, 1.0%, alloiso-leucine.

Basic proteinoid: 7.1% His, 45.4% Lys, 1.2% Asp, 4.3% Glu, 8.9% Gly, 6.7% Ala, 3.1% Val, 1.1% Ile, 2.6% Leu, 0.5% Thr, 0.3% Ser, 2.9% Pro.

Looks like Gish was right with regard to this important activity.

Seen in this light, I have to conclude that Fox’s geochemical implausibility is INDEED extremely meaningful, even with the Saunders paper. In fact, Fox’s geochemical implausibility remains unrefuted. It can’t be blown off.

But, “since 1976”, as Pim said, it has gotten only worse for Fox. Behe quotes R. Shapiro:

(The proteinoid theory) has attracted a number of vehement critics, ranging from chemist Stanley Miller.…to creationist Duane Gish. On perhaps no other point in origin of life theory could we find so much harmony between evolutionists as in opposing the relevance of experiments of Sidney Fox. (Darwin’s Black Box, p.170).

Geneticist Paul Lurquin of Washington State University wrote in his 2003 book The Origins of Life and the Universe that “Fox died in 1998 and, to my knowledge, work on proteinoids has stopped.”

Hey, I’ll be the first to say, Pim, that there’s still so much more I need to “familiarize” myself with.

On the other hand, however, it’s really really clear, to all but the most biased evolutionists imo, that high school biology textbooks like Glencoe and Miller Levine (which ALSO fails to mention any problems with Fox) are NOT cutting the mustard in terms of informing young students and encouraging critical thinking so necessary to science.

It’s also clear that the responses Art and yourself offered, though I offer sincere thanks for both of you doing so, are highly insufficient to refute the given problems with Fox’s stuff. Fox used amino acids in geochemically implausible amounts (at least initially, according to Thaxton), used an exclusive homochiral kind not found on the early earth (according to Kenyon Folsome), and then there’s Gish’s points as well.

It’s time to teach the kids the controversy on Fox and Miller. There’s no excuse, certainly no scientific excuse whatsoever, for failing to do so. Agreed?

FL

I’m still confused about what the controversy is that you are referring to.

Does any scientist REMOTELY believe or does any widely used textbook REMOTELY claim that scientists have determined beyond a doubt exactly how life arose from the prebiotic soup?

If you are aware of such teachings, then I understand your concerns.

If not, then I don’t understand your obsession with teaching “the controvery” when there is no “controversy.” Instead of a “controversy,” we have some experiments that show molecules which we know are important to life today can arise OUTSIDE OF THE CONTEXT of living organisms. The conclusion scientists have drawn from the experiments you refer to (and other research) is that some types of molecules important for life CAN arise under approximately natural conditions, i.e., they do not NEED to be created inside “living cells” as we understand living cells today.

Is that really so “controversial”? Again, I’m not aware of any text that characterizes any of the experiments you cite as definite proof that THIS IS EXACTLY HOW THE MOLECULES WHICH LED THE FIRST LIFE FORMS WERE CREATED.

A real “controversy,” FL, is if a substantial number of scientists believed that LIFE COULD NEVER EVOLVE UNDER ANY CONDITIONS EVER FOUND ON EARTH FOR A BILLION YEARS (billion = 1,000,000,000). If that were the case, I would be all for teaching that “controversy.”

There is no such “controvery,” however, that I am aware of. Please educate me if I’m mistaken.

By the way, FL, do you also propose that we teach the “controversy” that right now, as we speak, the same processes which led to the first proto-life on earth may be creating new proto-life? But we scientists just haven’t figured out yet where to look or how to identify the proto-life forms? That sounds like a fascinating controversy and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want that controversy taught wherever your “controversy” is taught.

Hi FL,

A few comments. First, Mike Gene’s comments had nothing to do with the geochemical possibility of protocells forming - rather , they concerned a different speculation, on my part, that is unrelated to the subject of this thread. (Bring it up on ARN and I’ll explain why MG’s comments are groundless - here’s not the place for that.)

Second, Saunders and Rohlfing lay to rest the canard (which was raised afterwards, apparently out of ignorance) that Fox’s protocells (or analogous things) cannot have arisen on the very ancient earth. You really should add, when you quote from the citation I mentioned, the design and results of the experiments that the initial premise you cite led to. For, as a matter of fact, they address this issue explicitly and refute the claims of Kenyon categorically.

Third, the other canard that has been raised here - the purported “poisoning” of polymer formation by the “wrong” stereoisomer - is not addressed only by Saunders and Rohlfing, but also by many other characterizations of protocells that show how insensitive the chemistry would be to this alleged poisoning.

What to make of all of this? Certainly, it is true that Fox’s work is not pursued at the present as one might expect, if this was the key to abiogenesis. But this has nothing to do with the objections raised by Kenyon et al., all of which are either irrelevant or wrong. It makes no sense to “teach the controversy” by repeating incorrect assertions. It would, OTOH, make sense to explore why Fox’s work has been put aside (e.g., the inexorable pull of the RNA World), and how some current studies in abiogenesis incorporate, in very interesting ways, some of the basic chemical principles that were derived (perhaps, but probably not, first) from the 30+ year-old studies of proteinoid microspheres.

Duddly, you asked:

Does any scientist REMOTELY believe or does any widely used textbook REMOTELY claim that scientists have determined beyond a doubt exactly how life arose from the prebiotic soup?

Certainly I never claimed any such “beyond a doubt” beliefs on the part of any scientist or textbook. What I did do, however, was offer a clear textbook example of how critical problems and questions associated with Fox’s “proteinoid microspheres” are completely left out of the two high school biology textbooks used in my hometown.

To me, at a minimum, it seems clear that a scientific controversy exists, at least on this specific issue of Fox and Miller. But I don’t mind using phrases likes “teach the known associated problems and questions” if that is more helpful.

But I am convinced that given these extra details about Fox, it absolutely does not make sense to merely continue offering a sanitized spoonfeeding version like:

How did these chemicals combine to form the first cells? The work of American biochemist Sidney Fox showed how this may have occurred. As shown in Figure 17:14, Fox was able to produce protocells by heating solutions of amino acids … “ (page 414, “Biology: The Dynamics of Life”, Glencoe, 1998)

You also said,

A real “controversy,” FL, is if a substantial number of scientists believed that LIFE COULD NEVER EVOLVE UNDER ANY CONDITIONS EVER FOUND ON EARTH FOR A BILLION YEARS (billion = 1,000,000,000). If that were the case, I would be all for teaching that “controversy.”

Well, I’m not sure how many scientists would have to believe that in order to qualify in your view as a “substantial number”, Duddly. What I do know, however, is that Thaxton Bradley Olsen point out in their book that the available time period can only be 170 million years or less, NOT one billion.

Also, according to Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada,

“Antonio Luzcano and Stanley Miller point out that the primordial soup would have been destroyed by circulation of the ocean through hydrothermal vents in a mere 10 million years.” (The Spark of Life, c2000 Perseus, pg 255).

Only 10 million years available, in their calculation. NOT one billion, not even Thaxton’s 170 million.

So, umm, you’re right that “billion = 1,000,000,000” like you said, but you don’t HAVE a billion years to work with. You have between 170 million to 10 million years to chemically evolve life from non-life on the Earth with no intelligent intervention at all.

(Why not tell the science students the TRUTH about those serious time constraints? In general, why not teach the controversy, or associated critical problems and questions, as it were?)

FL

Art, you said,

First, Mike Gene’s comments had nothing to do with the geochemical possibility of protocells forming - rather , they concerned a different speculation, on my part, that is unrelated to the subject of this thread. (Bring it up on ARN and I’ll explain why MG’s comments are groundless - here’s not the place for that.)

Well, Art, I certainly don’t mind seeing your explanation on ARN, and my intention is to in fact “bring it up” there (and maybe email a couple of folks about the Saunders paper on my own), because I do want to see how this thing plays out.

However, Gish’s specific paragraph that Mike briefly defended against your Saunders citation-response concerning, does seem to plainly speak to the issue of Fox’s geochemical plausibility. And in fact, in the next paragraph which I did not quote, MG also makes a reference to “geological implausibility” in connection with the Jungck-Fox paper.

So I do want to see your explanation as to “why MG’s comments are groundless”, even if only at ARN, and I’m additionally interested in seeing some criticism (if any) of your explanation from those at ARN or elsewhere. Does the 1972 Saunders paper reduce Kenyon’s, Folsomes’, and others’ main question to a mere “canard”, or is that a false assertion? We shall see.

(As an aside, I notice that recent evolutionist origin-of-life authors like Lurquin, Wells, Bada, etc. don’t seem to mention Saunders and Rohlfing when discussing Fox. Neither do textbooks like Glencoe and MillerLevine at the high school level, nor Volpe/Rosenbaum and Freeman/Herron at the college level. Question: If Saunders’ 1972 paper really eliminates Kenyon and others’ “geochemical implausibility” questions/objections, why are evolutionists seemingly so quiet about it?)

Anyway, I want to ask one other question. You say that this forum “isn’t the place” for you to offer your response to the MG comments I quoted. I really do not see why that is the case. Could you explain further?

Certainly it cannot be because your explanation might be too “technical” as compared to certain other threads in this forum. Nope, not at all.

Certainly it cannot be because your explanation might be “off topic” or something as compared with other threads in this forum. What we’re discussing here is right in line with the goals mentioned under the Panda’s Thumb banner— “to discuss evolutionary theory, critique the claims of the anti-evolutionary movement, defend the integrity of science and science education in America and around the world.”

Certainly it can’t be because our exchange is getting volatile or disrespectful. To your credit, your posts lack that haughtiness factor that sometimes casts a real shadow over what ought to be an exceptional website.

So, could you at least say why you feel you have to now move any part of our discussion to ARN?

FL

Hi FL,

FL Wrote:

Does the 1972 Saunders paper reduce Kenyon’s, Folsomes’, and others’ main question to a mere “canard”, or is that a false assertion? We shall see.

Briefly, the only way to “demonstrate” geochemical implausibility with respect to Fox’s protocells (or analogous beasties) is to prove that 1. amino acids cannot have existed on the early earth; and 2. the cyclical drying and wetting that even a 10th grader can use to create these critters cannot possibly have occurred on the early earth. Both of these claims seem to me to be absurd (not to mention quite at odds with almost everything that is written on the subject).

(As an aside, I notice that recent evolutionist origin-of-life authors like Lurquin, Wells, Bada, etc. don’t seem to mention Saunders and Rohlfing when discussing Fox.

So? If they are arguing as Kenyon does, and they ignore this work, then they are wrong. Otherwise, this is a non-issue.

Neither do textbooks like Glencoe and MillerLevine at the high school level, nor Volpe/Rosenbaum and Freeman/Herron at the college level. Question: If Saunders’ 1972 paper really eliminates Kenyon and others’ “geochemical implausibility” questions/objections, why are evolutionists seemingly so quiet about it?)

Maybe it’s for the same reason that Kenyon is rarely or ever mentioned - it’s a moot point.

Do these textbooks explicitly cite the 1977 paper by Berget, Moore, and Sharp when they mention splicing? If not, then why? What is the point of such a line of reasoning as you are using, FL?

Anyway, I want to ask one other question. You say that this forum “isn’t the place” for you to offer your response to the MG comments I quoted. I really do not see why that is the case. Could you explain further?

MG’s comments pertain to an idea of mine, not to Fox, education, or Kansas. No need to clutter this thread (or PT) with yet another tangent (no matter how clever).

I appreciate the discussion that has followed from my opening post. However the discussion has gotten narrowly focused on a particular example, and probably does now belong on a discussion forum such as Antievolution.org or ARN.

So has the originator of the thread, here is what I am going to do.

First, in a few days (by Monday at the latest) I will close comments on this thread.

Secondly, I invite FL, Art and others to summarize their general thoughts on the “teach the controversy” approach that is being illustrated here by the particular topic they are discussing. In particular, here are some questions to consider:

1) What is the general controversy that you guys are discussing? Is it that scientists sometimes disagree about things? Is it that science doesn’t allow the idea that life might have arisen by ID? Is it that textbooks are sometimes wrong, outdated, or superficial?

Setting aside the details of your discussion, what is really at issue here?

2) What is the proper pedagogical function and method of teaching controversies in science in the high school science classroom?

a) How much time should be spent on controversies as opposed to fundamental material (both content and process skills.)

b) What is the purpose of teaching controversies?

c) Given the time limits addressed in a) and the purpose described in b), how does a teacher or a curriculum committee decide which controversies to teach?

d) What level of detail in teaching controversies is appropriate in, for instance, a high school biology class?

I will address this issue of teaching controversies in a new post here at the Panda’s Thumb some time next week, and I will particularly try to address the answers those of you supply in your comments in these next few days.

Thanks for participating.

Thaxton Bradley Olsen point out in their book that the available time period can only be 170 million years or less, NOT one billion.

????? That is absurd. “170” million? But not 210 million?

I call bullshit on that number and I don’t even have to know how it was calculated.

How did they come up with that? What assumptions are built in? Does their analysis show up in high school textbooks that you are aware of?

I call bullshit on that number and I don’t even have to know how it was calculated.

How did they come up with that? What assumptions are built in? Does their analysis show up in high school textbooks that you are aware of?

Well, Duddly, based on what are called “molecular (or chemical) fossils” and “microfossils”, Thaxton et al points out:

“Brooks and Shaw state that the oldest rocks on earth are probably about 3.98 billion years old. However, the oldest age confirmed by dating techniques is 3.8 billion years for the rocks from the Isua series in Greenland.

“In either case, the surprising implication is that we may almost say that life has always existed on earth. Before 3.98 billion years ago (from 4.6 to 3.98 billion years), the earth was probably too hot to support life. Then life appeared about 3.81 billion years ago.

“That is, only 0.170 billion (170 million) years were available for the abiotic emergence of life. Indeed, according to Brooks and Shaw, this amount of time for abiogenic synthesis of of essential precursors, let alone chemical evolution, is ‘very small.’

“The discovery of microfossils has confirmed this conclusion. As a result, the thinking of scientists has undergone dramatic change. In the words of Miller, ‘If the origin of life took only 10e6 years (0.001 billion), I would not be surprised.’”

(from page 71-72, “Mystery of Life’s Origin”).

That’s what Thaxton et al are basing their figure on, Duddly. Now you know how it was calculated and why.

And no, this important information doesn’t show up AT ALL in the Glencoe 1998 or Miller-Levine 2nd edition 1993 high school biology textbooks.

So it would sure would be nice (and also conducive to improving science education) if the Kansas state science board would install one or two science standards to legally permit teachers to offer Thaxton’s additional information here.

Would you agree on that particular point, Duddly?

————

Jack, I’m not ignoring what you said. I’ll get back on your items there and look forward to your upcoming post(s).

I will say, however, that since the 1972 Saunders paper is the ONLY serious and published counter-response that “Panda’s Thumb” posters are even attempting to offer in response to the specific questions/problems of Kenyon Folsome Thaxton Gish etc, I think a close detailed look at whether or not that paper makes “canards” of their concerns–or fails to–is entirely appropriate to the Panda’s Thumb forum, especially given the topic at hand of “teaching the controversy”.

Having said all that, however, I fully respect your desire to move that discussion to ARN, and I look forward to satisfying my curiosity about that issue over in that forum.

FL :-)

Brooks and Shaw state that the oldest rocks on earth are probably about 3.98 billion years old. However, the oldest age confirmed by dating techniques is 3.8 billion years for the rocks from the Isua series in Greenland.

Thanks for the cite, FL.

However, if this is your support for the statement that “Thaxton Bradley Olsen point out in their book that the available time period can only be 170 million years or less,” then I feel safe in my initial conclusions: bogus.

What is the standard error in these two numbers, FL? Shouldn’t you be reporting that?

Note that I personally have no opinion on how long it took for life to “originate” because the question seems too vaguly articulated to be answerable. Whether the “facts” allow me 10,000 years or 1 billion years doesn’t make much difference under the circumstances.

But in terms of the actual evidence as to the age of the oldest fossils versus the oldest rocks (assuming that life did not proceed rock formation, which could be debated, I suppose) I have a hard time believing that the difference between those numbers can be fairly stated within 10 million years of accuracy. I would be skeptical about any numbers without a 500 million year error bar.

Honestly, FL, are you not a bit skeptical of such numbers? Does anyone here have any insight into the robustness of this data (I’m no geologist)?

Brooks and Shaw state that the oldest rocks on earth are probably about 3.98 billion years old. However, the oldest age confirmed by dating techniques is 3.8 billion years for the rocks from the Isua series in Greenland.

OT … but that’s pretty out of date. The oldest known rocks on Earth are the Acasta Gneisses in northwestern Canada near Great Slave Lake, 4.03 billion years old (http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/geotime/age.html). And rocks over 3.8 billion years old by radioisotope dating have been known since at least 1986 (Black, Williams, and Compston, Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, v94 pp427-37).

The oldest known minerals on Earth are circa 4.4 billion years old. http://www.nature.com/nature/links/[…]10111-1.html.

Well, Duddly, I honestly don’t really see a reason to be skeptical of their numbers, and Thaxton et al’s credentials in this department are quite good.

However, if you’re feeling a bit, ummm, pinched for time, RESA’s “NASA Space Science” gig is willing to spot you another few million years in addition to Thaxton’s 170.

But even they cannot offer you any more than a total of 300 million years, tops, for the origin of life.

You’ll just have to figure out how “chemical evolution” can do the entire job, unassisted by any intelligent intervention, in that short amount of time. Plus you’ll still have to break the news to the kids in the science classroom, too.

“We are looking at some two to three hundred million years for the appearance of a form of life on Earth.”

http://www.resa.net/nasa/origins_li[…]htm#earliest

FL :-)

Is it generally accepted that 300 million years is the outer limit for macro-evolution to have taken place?

Cheers,

Navy Davy

The 300 million years refers to the origin of life time span. When following the many links to Origin of Life research it is obvious that the outlook for the origin and evolution of life appears to be hardly as dark as projected by some people here.

The 300 million years is based on evidence of earliest life and the end of the bombardment of earth by meteorites.

But that assumes that 1. The dating of earliest fossils is correct 2. That the bombardment meant that life could not have originated in more protected areas such as deep water vents

Additionally there is the possibility that life was seeded from space.

Astrobiology and the Origins of Life

The fossils from 3.5 billion years are thought to be the remains of Cyanobacteria. Microbiologists and molecular biologists have concluded that Cyanobacteria were one of the last major groups of bacteria to evolve. That would suggest that much of the microbial evolution at the phylum or division level may have already been around by 3.5 billion years. If 3.8 billion years is the date of the last common ancestor that leaves 300 million years for life to evolve to the level of Cyanobacteria. Microbiologists, however, believe 300 million years is too short a period of time for that level of evolution to have occurred.

FL–

You’ll just have to figure out how “chemical evolution” can do the entire job, unassisted by any intelligent intervention, in that short amount of time.

What do you mean by “the entire job”?

And in what universe is 300 million years a “short amount of time”?

However, if you’re feeling a bit, ummm, pinched for time

My issue was with the accuracy of the cited number (170 million, remember). I told you I could care less if “it” takes 10,000 years because precisely what “it” is has not been articulated in such a way that any reasonable estimate could be made of how much time is minimally needed for “it.”

In any event, since we both agree that there is absolutely no evidence of any intelligence capable of “designing” all of the living things on earth 1 million years ago – not to mention 5 billion years ago – what would compel you to even mention “intelligent intervention.” Hmm? What would compel you to mention “intelligent intervention” when you have ZERO evidence for such intelligence FL?

you’ll still have to break the news to the kids in the science classroom, too

As I said, I fully support teaching kids that Christians have created a political lobbying group to have their unscientific beliefs presented in classrooms as a “scientific” controversy. I also advocate teaching students that the difference between such Christians and the Islamic fundamentalists who flew their planes into the World Trade center is only a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one.

Since you’re so fixated on teaching the “controversy”, FL, I’m sure you’ll want the entire “controversy” taught in no uncertain terms.

Right?

Duddley, I can’t support comments on this thread such as your statement above about Christian and Islamic fundamentalists. There are ways you could have made a point about teaching the full range of controversies about the origin of life without invoking such a emotional and uncalled for comparison.

I am closing comments on this thread. I invite FL and others to respond to the broader questions I asked in my post this morning by either emailing me directly at jkrebs at sunflower.com, or by starting a thread at ARN.

It has been instructive to see some details of people’s ideas about what “teach the controversy” means, but I think the constructiveness of the discussion has come to end.

Thanks to all who participated.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on May 15, 2004 8:20 AM.

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