Evolution in Alaska

| 29 Comments

This editorial from the Anchorage Daily News is one of the best-informed I’ve ever seen about the creationists’ national strategy to “Teach the [made-up] scientific controversy about evolution!” It appears that a number of scientists and educators turned out for public hearings on Alaska’s new science standards last week, and they educated both the board and the media in the process.

It would be nice if every newspaper was this smart about the creationists’ “teach the controversy” strategy:

Without much fuss, the Alaska Board of Education put an essential bit of science back into the state science standards last Friday. That was thanks to more than a bit of civil discussion that took place the day before.

[…]

But to teach the “evolution vs. intelligent design” controversy in science classes would give too much weight to ideas that haven’t earned their scientific keep. There are better challenges to evolution on scientific grounds.

That does not mean evolution is only a hypothesis. As speakers at last week’s Alaska Board of Education hearing on state science standards pointed out, the theory of evolution is as sound scientifically as the theory of gravity. Both raise unanswered questions, but they are generally accepted in the world of science, acted upon in real life and, most of all, supported by the preponderance of evidence.

The serious scientific challenges to evolution or Darwinism are not from creationists or intelligent design theorists who draw their inspiration from faith, but from scientists who draw their conclusions from evidence. Evolution is sound theory, not fixed dogma. It can both withstand and profit by continued scrutiny and revision.Anchorage Daily News, “Board restores reason to evolution studies

While we’re on the subject of Alaska, be sure to check out the website of Alaska artist Ray Troll (www.trollart.com). He did the shark image in this post, and he does some great art on ocean biology, fossils, and evolution.

Also, the Evolution 2005 meeting has been going on up in Fairbanks. I suspect PT poster Reed Cartwright, who is at the meetings, will have a report at some point.

For posterity, here are some previous news articles on evolution and the Alaska science standards, from the Anchorage Daily News and elsewhere. ADN reporter George Bryson deserves a lot of credit for putting the issue on the map in Alaska back in 2004.

“Alaska editorial: Board restores reason to evolution studies.” June 12, 2005. http://www.juneauempire.com/stories[…]614001.shtml

“Evolutionists gather at UAF for conference.” June 12, 2005. http://www.news-miner.com/Stories/0[…]7363,00.html

“State Board of Education adopts revised standards.” June 12, 2005. http://www.juneauempire.com/stories[…]612013.shtml

“Science teaching standards evolve.” June 11, 2005. http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/stor[…]478760c.html

“Testimony calls state guidelines soft on evolution.” June 10, 2005. http://www.adn.com/news/education/s[…]474520c.html

“Start with science.” June 9, 2005. http://www.adn.com/opinion/story/65[…]469605c.html

“Evolution of Ray Troll.” September 26, 2004. http://www.adn.com/life/story/56015[…]532823c.html

“Educator’s Dilemma: Teachers try to explain evolution without offending religious students.” Part 2. September 6, 2004. http://www.adn.com/life/story/55141[…]451979c.html

“War of the word: Alaska educators join national debate over use of ‘evolution’.” Part 1. September 5, 2004. http://www.adn.com/life/story/55103[…]448476c.html

PS: Reed also mentioned the new website of the Society for the Study of Evolution, http://www.evolutionsociety.org/, which everyone should check out.

29 Comments

I bought a Fairbanks paper the other day which discussed the new standards. Specifically it mentioned that Alaska was going to remove the term “evolution” from their standards until us Georgians bitch slapped a similar proposal in our state.

Hey, I’m here too!

Crumbs, they’ve swallowed your lines whole, haven’t they?!

The theory of evolution is as sound scientifically as the theory of gravity. Both raise unanswered questions, but they are generally accepted in the world of science, acted upon in real life and, most of all, supported by the preponderance of evidence.

As sound as the theory of gravity? Presumably this is the usual careful vagueness about which theory of evolution we are talking about here. The theory of (micro-)evolution may be as well attested as the theory of gravity - but the theory of gravity is in any case only a special case, and it does a lot better job of making predictions about the behaviour of objects - lots of decimal places! - than evolution makes about … well, anything, really, other than the vague fact that selection occurs.

The serious scientific challenges to evolution or Darwinism are not from creationists or intelligent design theorists who draw their inspiration from faith, but from scientists who draw their conclusions from evidence. Evolution is sound theory, not fixed dogma. It can both withstand and profit by continued scrutiny and revision.

I don’t think that’s quite right. There are no serious scientific challenges to evolution from people who aren’t creationists or IDists. Any discussion “isn’t a challenge to evolution, but simply debate about how evolution occurred”. Or so we are told .… Can you give me any examples of non-creationist, non-ID “serious scientific challenges to evolution”?

And any organisation who might even think about considering opposing views activates the army of darwinbots who are programmed to exert massive pressure to oppose this.

And if people are told that dissent is not acceptable at highschool age, then they are fully programmed by the time they get to college to think that dissent is unthinkable. So where, exactly, is the continued scrutiny and revision supposed to come from?

This last paragraph reads great. Perhaps the writer really wishes this was the case. But it has absolutely no connection with reality.

a Creationist Troll, apparently Wrote:

As sound as the theory of gravity?

Actually, evolution is currently in one sense on a better scientific footing than gravity because we know that the theory of general relativity is incomplete.

So you’d be better off to go “teach the controversy” about gravity and fight with those insidious Einsteinbots.

Can you give me any examples of non-creationist, non-ID “serious scientific challenges to evolution”?

Evolution is challenged every single time any biological experiment is conducted or someone digs up some old fossils. It’s succeeded so many times we all just call it a fact now, like the “fact” of gravity.

There are no serious scientific challenges to evolution from people who aren’t creationists or IDists.

Umm, what, again, are the alternative scientific theories offered by either creationists or IDers (assuming there is some sort of difference between them, which is of course an unsupported assumption)?

the army of darwinbots

Hey lookie, everyone — the fundies have found a new buzzword !!!!!

How ironic — “monkey see, monkey do”. How ironic.

Any time you’re ready to tell the world just what the hell this “scientific theory of ID” is, you just let us know, OK?

As sound as the theory of gravity?

There isn’t a theory of gravity at all though in the same sense as the theory of evolution.

What we have is an observational law of gravity (Newton’s maths) followed by an extension from Einstein showing how this is only a limited range approximation to a more accurate view of behaviour (ie including the speed of light). Both of which are lacking a decent explanatory framework despite, as quantitative laws, being able to make predictions which work well enough. An accomodation for the quantum end of the scale is also still lacking. While there are hypotheses around (string, loop quantum), the detail of how gravity works is still not in a fit consensus state to teach to school children. So it isn’t taught there.

And if people are told that dissent is not acceptable at highschool age, then they are fully programmed by the time they get to college to think that dissent is unthinkable. So where, exactly, is the continued scrutiny and revision supposed to come from?

Um, why is it, again, that none of the DI’s blogs allows any “dissent” or “scrutiny” or “revision” . … . ?

Is there some legitimate scientific reason for that?

Ah, a slow simulpost on that. (waves at STS) :-D

Creationist Troll, apparently Wrote:

I don’t think that’s quite right. There are no serious scientific challenges to evolution from people who aren’t creationists or IDists. Any discussion “isn’t a challenge to evolution, but simply debate about how evolution occurred”. Or so we are told . … Can you give me any examples of non-creationist, non-ID “serious scientific challenges to evolution”?

What is meant by this is that none of the “challenges” put forth by ID/Creationists can be taken seriously. They are simply full of holes and do not carry any scientific weight what-so-ever.

Prof. Steve Steve wrote “Hey, I’m here too!”

How do you type with paws?

Any other Creationist Troll, apparently’s out there who need a “Flank Spanking?” Funny how they never answer Flank’s questions?

Greenman: Actually, you are so preconditioned by your programming, you don’t recognise answers when they are posted. Most ID/creationist types get bored here with shouting at deaf ears and wander off.

SEF: So the detail of how evolution works is in a fit consensus state to teach to school children?

Flank: blogs aren’t the places for debates - and given darwinists’ bullyboy propensity for trashing any sign of dissent, there isn’t much point in making things open for general comment. However, it is still possible to comment on my blogsite. And Dave Heddle’s. And William Dembski’s. And Dave Mobley’s .… And there is ARN if you want to discuss things in detail.

aCTa Wrote:

So the detail of how evolution works is in a fit consensus state to teach to school children?

Yes, because it’s good science. Though the amount of detail children get will depend on their age/level.

For example, none of the most detailed PhD stuff is suitable for infant schools. At that stage they don’t need to know exactly which physical/chemical environments promote mutations or which loci are most likely to acquire mutations or how to tell the difference between a highly conserved gene under selection pressure and a currently unexpressed section accumulating relatively regular random mutations. It would be a good idea for them to have studied biochemistry and probability/statistics at a higher level first. Otherwise they might behave as ignorantly as a typical creationist.

In comment 35328 whose author hides behind “Creationist Troll Apparently” moniker (and providing a phony email address) he (she) wrote:

Flank: blogs aren’t the places for debates - and given darwinists’ bullyboy propensity for trashing any sign of dissent, there isn’t much point in making things open for general comment. However, it is still possible to comment on my blogsite. And Dave Heddle’s. And William Dembski’s. And Dave Mobley’s . … And there is ARN if you want to discuss things in detail.

The quoted passage is like a a boumerang hitting the CTA: contrary to his (her) impudent statement, his (her) crock is tolerated here on Panda’s Thumb while on Dembski’s blog any comment that is short of unbounded admiration of the Isaac Newton of information theory is promptly deleted. A good example of the reliability of IDists’ statements.

Nic George Wrote:

Prof. Steve Steve wrote “Hey, I’m here too!”

How do you type with paws?

I imagine that unique thumb comes in handy.

Amiel:

As many have also noted, ARN tends to do regular purges as well, and these are clearly ideological. Any anti-evolutionist (even Davison) is welcome to spew insults and nonsense at high volume. Anyone accepting the procedures of science is automatically suspect, and strong language such as “I disagree” is reason for banishment. Other than that, of course, detailed discussion is welcome.

Amiel:

whose author hides behind “Creationist Troll Apparently” moniker (and providing a phony email address) he (she) wrote:

FYI, every post I have placed on PT I have used the same moniker. It was derived from some typically abusive comments on here about creationists. It substantially predates my use of “Exile from GROGGS” as a handle. In actual fact, I considered using “Exile from GROGGS” when I started using that in a more widespread way elsewhere, but since I had a significant number of posts with aCTa as my handle, I thought it might be interpreted as deceptive to change away from it. If you really wanted to find out who I am, you could - though I am here to talk about ideas, not me.

A confession and an apology. Sorry. The email address was not intended to be phoney - and is now definitely not phoney. I missed out some underscores. I don’t check it as often as my regular ones - I use it so that any abusive emails I might get as a consequence of trying to talk things through with darwinists don’t upset my wife.

So, aCTa, are you ready to provide direct, comprehensive answers to Flank’s questions?

That’s where the derision comes from, you know; evading crucial questions or trotting out the same old refuted (false-to-fact) nonsense gets the drubbing it deserves.

Apology for the typo: it must be “boomerang.” Flint: You’re certainly right - any critique of ID is unwelcome on their sites, so that CTA’s assertion to the contrary which was so obviously arrogantly false was probably an attempt to tease his opponents. What else could be expected from such hopeless louts?

Engineer-Poet - I did, on other threads. He ignored the answers, and restated the questions. I got bored after several attempts.

Amiel: “arrogantly false” “hopeless louts”. Oh, good grief.

aCTa:  How about a link roundup instead of just claims?  (Every response is a bookmark, should be easy for you.)

In comment 35353 aCTa wrote:

“arrogantly false” “hopeless louts”. Oh, good grief.

Why do you, aCTa, view the epithets “arrogantly false” and “hopeless louts” unfounded? I am not a biologist, and moreover, not a scientist, so I do not feel qualified to offer a judgement about the debate between evolutionary biologists and ID advocates. However, I feel I may say a few words about the above epithets. You, aCTa, have made, in your preceding comments, two statements which indeed were false. One statement asserted that “Darwinians” do not allow for a discussion (perhaps it is not a precise quotation, but you certainly wrote something to this effect). You made that statement in the very comment posted on this blog (where also numerous other comments of yours have been posted in various threads) and that simple fact shows that your statement was false.

The second statement was that a discussion still may be conducted on several other sites which you listed. I am not familiar with these (presumably creationist?) sites, but I know at least about one of them, maintained by Dembski, where all comments Dembski dislikes are promptly deleted. Hence, your second statment was false as well. So, why do you disagree with the epithet “false”?

And what about “arrogantly”? That your two statements were false, is something you certainly must be aware of. Nevertheless you made them so why don’t you agree that it was arrogant to do so?

As to “hopeless lout” perhaps it was just in response (perhaps a little too hrsh?)to multiple occurences of rather unflattering epithets you have often used when arguing against “Darwinists” on this blog.

I have seen this one before. Did really nobody noticed that he’s parodying? The claim about talking at Dembski’s blog is dead giveaway. His claims are way too exaggerated to be meant seriously.

“Engineer-Poet - I did, on other threads. He ignored the answers, and restated the questions. I got bored after several attempts.”

Try again. For us.

There isn’t a theory of gravity at all though in the same sense as the theory of evolution.

What we have is an observational law of gravity (Newton’s maths) followed by an extension from Einstein showing how this is only a limited range approximation to a more accurate view of behaviour (ie including the speed of light). Both of which are lacking a decent explanatory framework despite, as quantitative laws, being able to make predictions which work well enough. An accomodation for the quantum end of the scale is also still lacking. While there are hypotheses around (string, loop quantum), the detail of how gravity works is still not in a fit consensus state to teach to school children. So it isn’t taught there.

I’d like to nit-pick several of your comments. But mainly, I think gravity is an excellent “poster child” for discussion of a scientific theory, with several interesting points of comparison to evolution.

First of all, stuff falls down : the fact of gravity, just like the fact of evolution (all living beings, and the molecules that make them up, fit into phylogenetic trees, and appear in geological strata, that are entirely consistent with descent with modification from a common ancestor.)

The we have Newtons theory of Universal Gravitation. This is not just an “observational law”, it is a profound unifying principle. It states that any matter, anywhere, be it an apple, the moon, a dustspeck, or a human being, all interact via a simple mathematical law that can be computed with no reference at all to a higher intelligence. Shit happens, and it happens in a very simple, inescapable pattern that couldn’t care less about a divine puppeteer. Not only was it a huge unification of phenomena, but it works !!!

Incidently, Newton sat on his theory for 30 years before making it public, and only then because he thought he was about to be “scooped” by Leibniz. Part of his reluctance was strategic – he didn’t want to reveal his methods of Calculus – but also out of fear of repercussions from, well, people that didn’t exactly welcome thought.

Newton’s theory was unassailable for a quarter millenium or so until Einstein came along. Einstein’s theory of General Relativity was not a modification or refinement of Newton’s theory. Einstein started with a very simple, very profound idea about how any theory of science should behave. He claimed that stuff shouldn’t behave in a way that depended on the geometric frame of reference of the person looking at it. This included, but was not limited to, the fact that light in a vacuum propagates at a definite speed. That is all he claimed. Amazing. But the consequences were far-reaching, including the fact that the gravitational interactions between objects followed a pattern nearly identical to Newton’s Law – in a sense, he “discovered” what Newton proposed. Only in very rare, very extreme cases, do the differences matter, but they are preceisely predicted, they are confirmed experimentally beyond a shadow of a doubt, and the theory is universally accepted.

So what is important here is that an idea (like Darwin’s idea about evolution) when applied with careful reason and confronted with a flood of ever more precise experimental and broad ranging evidence, has (like the idea of evolution) been able to thrive and guide the development of scientific research. Like Darwin, Einstein set in motion a theory that led to discoveries he could not have envisioned : black holes, dynamic cosmology, gravitational waves (evidence is strong, but as yet indirect…)

One of the curious things about Einstein’s theory is that, although it is as perfectly successful as a theory can be, we do know that it is “wrong” : as it is currently framed, it does not account for the fact that elementary exchanges of energy/momentum are quantised. Conversely, quantum mechanics does not account for the fact that space-time is curved. This is of no consequence at all to any practical person, unless s/he wants to understand the very early dynamics of the Big Bang. However, it does help “Einsteinists” from making absolute claims.

So how do we teach gravity to our kids ? There’s really no problem here. Teach Newton’s law. It’s easy, it works, and it’s right. NASA still uses it for orbital trajectories, and our kids probably won’t need more precision than that. If advocates of “teach the controversy” raise their voices, sure we could include some info on General Relativity and Quantum Gravity or Strings.

The only real differences I see between gravitation and evolution as theories are :

1) Einstein’s gravitation (and, by consequence, Newton’s) makes very precise quantitative predictions which can be tested by making very precise measurements, whereas evolution makes predictions of a more qualitative nature, albeit about a profoundly more vast array of phenomena.

2) Einstein’s theory is known to have shortcomings in the domain of extremely high energy density, where gravitational effects become quantum mechanical in nature. Evolution has no domains where, by necessity, it must be modified.

3) Kooks who seek to deny or modify Einstein’s theory based on emotion, ego, or dogma are pretty universally recognised as kooks.

Other than that, the conceptual foundations of Einstein’s theory (general covariance) and Darwin’s (descent with modification) are so simple, and so unassailable, that the success of each theory seems, in retrospect, unavoidable. I’m sure that if we continue to live in a world where thought and exploration are not supressed, each will continue to provide fantastic progress.

the article's author Wrote:

Let the professionals, including that splinter minority of scientists who hold with “intelligent design,” carry on a thriving scientific argument in books, speeches, journals and the like.

Great article. But does the author think that “professionals” carry on a “thriving scientific argument” anywhere, much less in journals !!!

Guess we still have work to do !

Engineer-Poet - I did, on other threads.

Liar.

Show us the links.

Flank: blogs aren’t the places for debates

Then why are you here . … .

Of course, the place for scientific debates is peer-reviewed scientific journals. Oddly enough, IDers don’t have anything to say in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I wonder why that is …

Wait, let me guess —– they’re all atheists who are out to get you, right?

(snicker) (giggle)

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on June 14, 2005 1:52 PM.

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