American Association for the Advancement of Science statement on evolution

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The Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has released the following updated statement on evolution (I will discuss the statement and the activities surrounding this statement in a different posting). This powerful statement of the board explains what is wrong with ‘teach the controversy’ legislation.

Evolution is one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science. It is the foundation for research in a wide array of scientific fields and, accordingly, a core element in science education. The AAAS Board of Directors is deeply concerned, therefore, about legislation and policies recently introduced in a number of states and localities that would undermine the teaching of evolution and deprive students of the education they need to be informed and productive citizens in an increasingly technological, global community. Although their language and strategy differ, all of these proposals, if passed, would weaken science education. The AAAS Board of Directors strongly opposes these attacks on the integrity of science and science education. They threaten not just the teaching of evolution, but students’ understanding of the biological, physical, and geological sciences.

AAAS Statement

Read on for more

Some bills seek to discredit evolution by emphasizing so-called “flaws” in the theory of evolution or “disagreements” within the scientific community. Others insist that teachers have absolute freedom within their classrooms and cannot be disciplined for teaching non-scientific “alternatives” to evolution. A number of bills require that students be taught to “critically analyze” evolution or to understand “the controversy.” But there is no significant controversy within the scientific community about the validity of the theory of evolution. The current controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution is not a scientific one.

Science is a process of seeking natural explanations for natural phenomena. Scientists ask questions about the natural world, formulate hypotheses to answer the questions, and collect evidence or data with which to evaluate the hypotheses. Scientific theories are unified explanations of these phenomena supported by extensive testing and evidence. The theory of evolution, supported by extensive scientific findings ranging from the fossil record to the molecular genetic relationships among species, is a unifying concept of modern science. Of course, our understanding of how evolution works continues to be refined by new discoveries.

Many of the proposed bills and policies aim explicitly or implicitly at encouraging the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in science classes as an alternative to evolution. Although advocates of Intelligent Design usually avoid mentioning a specific creator, the concept is in fact religious, not scientific. In an October 18, 2002 resolution, the AAAS Board underlined the inappropriateness of teaching Intelligent Design in the science classroom because of its “significant conceptual flaws in formulation, a lack of credible scientific evidence, and misrepresentations of scientific facts.” Judge John E. Jones III of the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania firmly reached similar conclusions in the Dover Area School District case.

The sponsors of many of these state and local proposals seem to believe that evolution and religion are in conflict. This is unfortunate. They need not be incompatible. Science and religion ask fundamentally different questions about the world. Many religious leaders have affirmed that they see no conflict between evolution and religion. We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view.

11 Comments

“School started this week and a lovely well-spoken youngster came up to me and asked to be excused any time that I referred to evolution in class. I explained that that might be every day;

I asked her to let her parents know.”

Science department chair Arizona

Pim,

every once in a while I’m motivated to try to find the official statement AAAS uses to define “Science”. I’ve searched their whole site, and have yet to be able to locate it.

I’m sure it exists somewhere tho. Have you ever run across it?

thanks

On TT Krauze makes the following statement

Interestingly, when “creation science” lost in Edwards v. Aguillard, at least one prominent scientist predicted that that term too would go the way of the dodo.

Nope, it merely evolved into “cdesign proponentsists”

Comment #80973 Posted by PvM on February 20, 2006 12:49 AM

“School started this week and a lovely well-spoken youngster came up to me and asked to be excused any time that I referred to evolution in class. I explained that that might be every day;

I asked her to let her parents know.”

Science department chair Arizona

Pim, Where did that quote come from? Paul

And for anyone interested in the history of junk ideas including neo-creationist jargon such as “cdesign proponentsists” and the pile of turtles on the long jounrney through the underworld, can see it’s all been done before. Mix a little pseudo-science and theology, plus starry-eyed neo-Platonists of 2nd-century Alexandria

THE DEVIL’S DOCTOR Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science by Philip Ball .

I will discuss the source of the quote in a separate posting where I discuss the work by the AAAS to help teachers deal with the controversies of creationism. It is part of the presentation of one of the contributors.

I concur with everything in this statement of the AAAS except for the last paragraph, which I believe is a grave mistake.

Some religious groups are in open conflict with evolution - bad old-fashioned creationism for one. Other groups are in not very cunningly disguised conflict with evolution - bad new-fashioned creationism (ID) for one.

ID could make a claim for itself to be compatible with evolution if it wished to do, and I am surprised that it has not. In so far as it seeks to pass itself off as science, it is doing something rather similar. It does not deny that evolution happens, nor that the basic mechanism involved is natural selection. It claims only that there is insufficient evidence to prove that “macro-evolution” occurs and that there is some evidence to indicate that certain bio-molecules could not have evolved from simpler forms.

All complete rubbish as we know, but it works for some of those persons who wish to reconcile their religion with science in some way. It is an abysmally crass attempt, but there is nothing to stop those who wish to believe it from saying that in this way their faith and evolution are rendered compatible.

Now let us consider the Catholic Church: a religious organization which proclaims the compatibility of its beliefs with evolution - “when properly considered”. We ought be able to see what is coming in that subjunctive clause.

The CC denies that the process of evolution shows no evidence of being guided by an intelligence. It has stated that it is against reason to deny the transparent physical evidence which demonstrates this intelligence at work. Faith is not required to perceive the evidence of design in nature, only the eyes and “the light of reason”.

All of which stands in flat contradiction with the scientific facts. Scientific reason sees no physical evidence for design in nature.

Nonetheless, by allowing that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, the CC then says that this could be the way that the intelligent designer, so obviously known to exist by reason’s examination of the world about us - and known to be the triune God by faith - has chosen to create humans.

In this way evolution - properly considered - is shown to be compatible with faith. Which is fine except that a huge chunk of bedrock science has been dissed in order to achieve it.

It would not be so bad if the CC were to simply say that despite the lack of scientific evidence of design in nature, through faith it could be known to exist. At least then it would not be in flagrant denial of evolutionary science. It would look a great deal more compatible than it presently appears.

Science must stand alone and defend itself by the means by which it exists - hard evidence considered first by reason and then the viciously hard empirical testing of all its theories. Always allow the science to speak for itself.

At the end of the day it really does not matter for science whether it is compatible with religion.

Science is good in and of itself and can justify itself far better than religion is able to do. It requires absolutely no favours from religion and should not seek them.

Anyone who is both a theist and a biologist must necessarily argue that science and religion are compatible.

I am neither a theist nor a biologist. I believe that the philosophical argument to say that religion and science are incompatible is at least as strong as the opposite argument; but also I believe that there is a strong argument to say that it makes no practical difference to science whether they are compatible or not.

Science ought to be making it clear that whether or not science is compatible with religion is a contentious philosophical question which can only be answered on a personal basis, and that an individual scientist’s personal view on this question is of no consequence when it comes to the evaluation of his or her work by the rest of the scientific community. Just as it is of no consequence what the individual’s personal religion is, or whether they even have one.

Science should also be making it clear that science is one and the same whether God exists or not, because science deals with the world as it is, and the world as it is, is the same world whether or not God exists.

The endorsement or the rejection of evolution by different religious groups is a matter for them. Science falls into a terrible trap if, for political reasons, it is seen to be endorsing religions which endorse it, or even appears to be doing that.

It compromises both its integrity and independence,its own essential nature, which is orthogonal, if not antithetical, to all religion.

It turns out that Dembski has claimed that ID is compatible with evolution.

Far from being incompatible with intelligent design, evolutionary biology makes no sense except in light of ID.

All he has to do now is get honest and admit that ID is religion, and we have more evidence of the compatibility of science and religion.

Leigh’s link to Dembski’s article leads in turn to Dembski’s link (highlighting the word “theory” in Dembski’s phrase “the theory that a designer may guide evolution”) to a statement by one Dr. Thomas P. Sheahan. (Note that both these little essays are posted on something called “Beliefnet.”)

The doctor’s statement is interesting in part because Dembski, presumably, would not link to a discussion with which he had serious problems. Arguably, the link suggests that Dembski regards Sheahan’s discussion as authoritative.

“Intelligent Design” (ID) is a school of thought asserting that the universe was designed by a superior intelligence, customarily identified with God.

Proponents of Darwinian evolution are antagonistic to ID, stressing the role of random chance within the process of “natural selection,” and asserting that nothing more is needed to explain nature and life.

Evidence in favor of ID includes the exceptional fine-tuning of certain physical constants of the universe, as well as certain biological phenomena (such as the human eye or the body’s blood clotting mechanisms) that seem to be “irreducibly complex.” ID proponents maintain that this complexity is sufficiently great that a pathway of mutations and natural selection couldn’t get you from point A to point B.

Some creationists have latched onto ID and diverted it in their direction, thus introducing more controversy than is warranted by the fairly modest claims of the original “Intelligent Design” theorists.

[Bold emphasis added.]

Still no “there” there, and still sounds pretty religious to me. The doctor is said to be “a physicist and the author of ‘An Introduction to High-Temperature Superconductivity.’ “ A Google search suggests this same fellow may also have “worked at Bell Labs, the National Bureau of Standards, and the Science Applications International Corp., [and who was going to] … discuss ‘Higher Dimensions of Thinking: Teilhard’s Perception of Purpose and Direction in the Cosmos’ “ at a Methodist church in the D.C. area.

The good doctor follows his precis of ID with the following list of “pros” and “cons”:

Pro: Intelligent Design gives a coherent explanation that hangs together.

Con: Intelligent Design steps outside the boundaries of science.

Pro: Intelligent Design explains what evolution must leave untouched.

Con: Intelligent Design only shifts the “unknown” another step backward by attributing its explanation to God.

How exactly does ID “explain what evolution must [?] leave untouched” without going outside the bounds of what science can meaningfully inquire into? And what exactly is the explanatory pipeline that ID “scientists” have access to that regular scientists don’t? And, if they do have access to such a pipeline, why don’t they share any of the data they are receiving, as opposed to their wishful “theorizing”?

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on February 19, 2006 9:13 PM.

School boards heeding lessons from Dover ruling was the previous entry in this blog.

How to get science across to the public is the next entry in this blog.

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