Here we go again

“One only has to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet, we are here as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.” - George Wald,

“The Origin of Life”, George Wald, Scientific American 191:48 (May 1954).

Alabama is considering legislation to allow teachers to include intelligent design creationism in their daily instruction. The March 03, 2004 Tuscaloosa News carried a guest editorial by Joseph M. Lary, Ph.D. which is headed “Schools should teach intelligent design, too.” Dr. Lary makes the implicit claim that his education and professional background give him special authority on the creationist debate and the consequences this has to education. Because of this claim, it is appropriate to consider if this is true. Lary has very few publications, either statistical manipulations of historical data, or those where he is third or fourth author. This is adequate for a non-academic epidemiologist, but unfortunately demonstrates no actual understanding of evolution or its role in understanding disease. Nor does Lary have a strong background in education other than as a student. In fact, Lary has no more credibility as an expert than any other citizen. Lary even fails to show a deep understanding of the issues involved as his editorial is largely a paraphrased rehash of very dated creationist sources.

I do think that it is very telling that Lary presented “classic” young earth creationist arguments of the type that have specifically been found to be unconstitutional, hiding behind an “intelligent design” fig leaf.

I’ll take Lary’s editorial apart nearly line by line in about three sections; first his error of equating evolution and the origin of life, second his use of bogus, and out of date “quotes” known as quote mining, and last his lack of familiarity with the fossil record and its evolutionary significance.

Tuscaloosa News

Lary started with a clear statement that schools should teach creationism. Should we ask that Churches should be forced to teach evolution, too? This is obviously an unwarranted government intrusion into religious practice correctly forbidden by the Constitution. But, a school using the force of government should not be intruding on the rights of the public by compeling students to learn the religious dogma of creationism.

Last month Kathy Cox, the Georgia state schools superintendent, proposed eliminating the word "evolution" from Georgia science textbooks. She withdrew the proposal after being criticized and ridiculed by education officials and politicians, including Gov. Sonny Perdue and former President Jimmy Carter. Carter called Cox's proposal an embarrassment, saying that Georgia would be ridiculed and that teaching evolution does not conflict with religious faith. In state after state, attempts by legislators or state and local school boards to present a scientific alternative to evolution in science classrooms has been met with similar scorn and derision from scientists, educators, politicians, the media and even many ministers and theologians.

Lary, and the people of Alabama should stop to consider why teaching creationism is derided by “scientists, educators, politicians, the media and even many ministers and theologians.” A little thought should tell them that this is because creationism is a failed dogma without any scientific support that is only consistant with an extremely narrow view of Scripture.

Scientific evidence for the intelligent design of life is banned from science classrooms as an alleged violation of the doctrine of the separation of church and state.

This is not true. Scientific evidence for Intelligent Design Creationism can not be banned because none exists. If there were scientific data that could be used to shore up the stealth creationism called intelligent design, its activists would present it to the public through normal publications and it would be found in every textbook.

Despite attempts by scientists, educators and the media to extol evolution as the only scientific explanation for the origin of life, polls show that most Americans believe that God created life on Earth. A recent poll even found that 40 percent of American high school biology teachers do not believe in evolution.

There is a clear misperception here made by Lary, that evolutionary theory is dependent on the origin of life. As a simple matter of fact, evolutionary theory is focused on the manner that life forms differentiate within populations over time. The study of evolution would be largely unchanged regardless of the origin of life. If these general population polls are valid, and I doubt it, it would merely show us that the education system has indeed failed, and the claim that “40 percent of American high school biology teachers do not believe in evolution” could explain why this ignorance has been perpetuated.

Notwithstanding the widespread proclamation by the scientific establishment and the media that evolution is an established fact, scientific research in the last few decades has actually provided overwhelming evidence that evolution is impossible. Modern science has proved Darwin wrong. Life is the result of intelligent design.

This is simply untrue. There is no such research. “Modern science” has not proven that Darwin’s core concept that species form within populations by decent with modification under pressure imposed by natural selection. Instead, modern science has repeatedly confirmed that evolution occurred much as Darwin imagined 150 years ago. I would direct Lary’s attention to any college textbook on Evolutionary and Developmental Biology. If web pages are prefered I have found that 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution The Scientific Case for Common Descent has more than adequate information to debunk the absurd charge that “evolution is imposible.”

Because evolution has been the only theory of origins permitted in school science curricula, I, like most other scientists became a doctrinaire evolutionist.

I have no idea what a “doctrinaire evolutionist” might be. Lary’s apparent lack of understanding of what evolution means, or the suporting data indicates that in his case doctrinare means “without knowing much about it.”

However, while studying for my doctorate in biology, I became aware of glaring weaknesses in the theory. To my surprise, I found that evidence for the intelligent design of living organisms far outweighed the superficial evidence for evolution.

This is very odd, because there is no evidence for “intelligent design” while the overwhelming evidence of evolution includes the direct observation of new species formation both in laboratory and natural settings. For some well documented examples I recommentd the following, Some More Observed Speciation Events.

Today, thousands of doctoral-level scientists in the United States and around the world have reached a similar conclusion and have rejected evolution in favor of intelligent design.

One of the longest running lies in creationist writing is that “Darwinism” is dead and has lost the overwhelming acceptance of nearly all scientists. This started shortly after Darwin first published back in the 1850s. Creationist organizations such as Seattle’s Discovery Institute publish lists of a hundred or so “scientists” that supposedly have rejected “evolutionism.” On careful review, their “scientists” include many low level technical workers, professional creationists and non-scientists. Project Steve is a tongue-in-cheek response to the false creationist claim that scientists are abandoning evolutionary biology in droves. Sponsored by the National Center For Science Education, Project Steve is the affirmation of a clear, unambiguous statement of the central importance of evolution to scientific knowledge. The twist is that they all have to be working science professionals and also be named a variant of “Stephen” in honor of the late paleontologist and author Stephen Jay Gould. As of March 11, 2004 there are 428 qualified “Steves” including all living “Steves” with Nobel Awards. Since only about 1 out of 100 people in America qualify by name alone, this statistically represents about 42,800 scientists.

Louis Pasteur and other scientists long ago proved that the spontaneous generation of life from nonliving matter is impossible.

Pasteur, by a famous experiment in 1861, showed that complex life did not instantly spring out of nothing. This has nothing to do with modern research into the origin of life. Lary would apparently be happy to reduce American science to the level of 140 year old French experiments.

However, for evolution to be true, living cells had to spontaneously arise from nonliving matter.

This another untruth. The origin of cells has long been recognized as coming well after the advent of self-replicating molecules. These cyclic self-replicators have been created in laboratory settings controlled to match key features of the ancient Earth. The spontaneous production of phospholipid membranes that could encapsulate and protect these earliest life forms has recently been demonstrated as had been predicted by Deamer. The following are just a tiny sample of the avialable research of which Lary seems totally ignorant and he would force students to be equally ignorant.

Deamer, D. W., and Barchfeld, G. L.

  1. Encapsulation of macromolecules by lipid vesicles under simulated prebiotic conditions. J. Mol. Evol. 18:203-206.

Lee DH, Granja JR, Martinez JA, Severin K, Ghadri MR. 1996 “A self-replicating peptide.” Nature Aug 8;382(6591):525-8

Lee DH, Severin K, Yokobayashi Y, and Ghadiri MR, 1997 Emergence of symbiosis in peptide self-replication through a hypercyclic network. Nature, 390: 591-4,

Martin M. Hanczyc, Shelly M. Fujikawa, and Jack W. Szostak 2003 Experimental Models of Primitive Cellular Compartments: Encapsulation, Growth, and Division Science October 24; 302: 618-622. (in Reports)

Martin, W., and M.J. Russell.

  1. On the origin of cells: A hypothesis for the evolutionary transitions from abiotic geochemistry to chemoautotrophic prokaryotes, and from prokaryotes to nucleated cells. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 358(Jan. 29):59-85.

Woese, Carl
2002 “On the evolution of Cells” PNAS Vol. 99 13:8742-8747, June 25

Evolutionary biochemists over the past 50 years have failed to synthesize even the basic building blocks of life from simple inorganic molecules let alone a living cell under conditions thought to be present on the Earth before life began.

Either Lary is particularly ignorant for a Ph.D., or he has chosen to purposefully mislead the public. The first production of a “living” molecule was urea by Wühler in 1832. The famous Miller/Urey experiment published by Miller in 1953 categorically demonstrated that amino acids, the “building blocks” of proteins, could be produced naturally on the early Earth. Studies of the composition of meteorites, and comets demonstrates that these are additional sources of lipids (for cell walls), sugars (needed for PNA, TNA, RNA, and ultimately DNA). These “building blocks of life” have been shown to independently, and spontaneously combine into more complex processes. Viruses have already been created with “off the shelf” chemicals. There is an active discussion today about the ethical implications of the next step– the human creation of new life.