On the Other Hand

An article by Catherine Candisky in the Columbus Dispatch documents that various anti-science elements of the Ohio Board of Education think that “teaching the controversy” is just something that they do to other people. Persons of other viewpoints need not try to confuse them with the facts.

Newly released tapes obtained by The Dispatch from the Department of Education show:

* Elected board member Michael Cochran of Blacklick “cross-examined” a string of witnesses, including a graduate student, who criticized the 10 thgrade biology plan.

* Elected board member Deborah Owens Fink of Richfield questioned the character of a witness by producing an e-mail he wrote to a colleague that ridicules a supporter of intelligent design.

* One person declined to testify, citing attacks on previous witnesses.

* Cochran and appointed board member Richard E. Baker of Hollansburg showed their apparent lack of interest by reading a newspaper during the testimony.

The display prompted one board member to urge his colleagues to behave.

“I’m not convinced in my mind that cross-examining witnesses that make presentations before the board is in the best policy of boardmanship. I think it might be better to listen to the testimony and let it pass,” said board member Eric C. Okerson, an appointed member from Cincinnati.

And this passage has a mind-boggling argument within it. I advise you to turn off any operating irony meters you might have.

Switched off? Good.

Yesterday, Cochran and Fink said they may have gone too far in some of their remarks to witnesses but stopped short of apologizing.

“When people come before the board, I think board members have every right to ask questions,” said Fink, whose term expires this year. “It was an anomaly, but I don’t think that one side is to blame and the other side is not.”

She and Cochran said they have tired of the issue.

“We have debated this issue ad nauseum,” said Cochran, whose term expires in December 2008. “The same people come forward and say the same thing and it comes to a point where you can’t listen anymore.

“I think it boiled over because it was the end of a long day and it was the same subject matter we’ve heard over and over.”

The board is hearing scientists say the same things over and over because the antievolution content approved by the board is the same old stuff that has been pushed by creationist antievolutionists for decades. Those arguments have changed hardly at all, and the responses don’t need to be any more novel, either.

The “critical analysis” lesson plan, for example, has “challenging answers” for “aspects” of evolutionary biology. For “Aspect 1: Homology”, the challenging answer disputes homology as an outcome of common descent, saying that, “Some scientists think similarities in anatomical and genetic structure reflect similar functional needs in different animals, not common ancestry.” This is a well-known antievolutionist bleat. It appears in Henry Morris’s 1974 book, Scientific Creationism (see CI141.1).

“Aspect 2: The Fossil Record” has several recognizable antievolution standbys.

Transitional fossils are rare in the fossil record.

This, again, goes back to Morris in 1974 (see CC200).

A growing number of scientists now question that Archaeopteryx and other transitional fossils really are transitional forms.

This one is due to Jonathan Wells in 2000, among others (see CC214.1).

The fossil record as a whole shows that major evolutionary changes took place suddenly over brief periods of time followed by longer periods of “stasis” during which no significant change in form or transitional organisms appeared (Punctuated Equilibria). The “Cambrian explosion” of animal phyla is the best known, but not the only example, of the sudden appearance of new biological forms in the fossil record.

This, again, goes back to Morris in 1974 (see CC300).

For “Aspect 3: Antibiotic Resistance”, the “critical analysis” lesson plan says,

The increase in the number of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains demonstrates the power of natural selection to produce small but limited changes in populations and species. It does not demonstrate the ability of natural selection to produce new forms of life. Although new strains of Staphylococcus aureus have evolved, the speciation of bacteria (prokaryotes) has not been observed, and neither has the evolution of bacteria into more complex eukaryotes. Thus, the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance demonstrates microevolution.

Compare that with this concluding paragraph from an Impact article from the Institute for Creation Research:

Antibiotic resistance in bacteria can also be achieved when mutations in a ribosome or protein change the site where an antibiotic binds. For example, four of the antibiotics mentioned earlier, tetracycline, streptomycin, kanamycin, and spectinomycin, bind to a specific region of a ribosome and interfere with protein synthesis. Mutations may prevent an antibiotic from binding to the ribosome (kanamycin)[12] or allow the ribosome to function even while the antibiotic is bound (streptomycin and spectinomycin).[5] Although it appears these mutations are beneficial and provide an advantage to the bacterium possessing them, they all come with a cost. Ribosomal mutations, while providing antibiotic resistance for the organism, slow the process of protein synthesis, slow growth rates, and reduce the ability of the affected bacterium to compete in an environment devoid of a specific antibiotic.[13,14] Furthermore, a mutation that confers resistance to one antibiotic may make the bacterium more susceptible to other antibiotics.[15] These deleterious effects are what would be expected from a creationist model for mutations. The mutation may confer a benefit in a particular environment, but the overall fitness of the population of one kind of bacterium is decreased as a result of a reduced function of one of the components in its biological pathway. The accumulation of mutations doesn’t lead to a new kind of bacterium—it leads to extinction.

(Impact #378)

For “Aspect 4: Peppered Moths”, the “critical analysis” lesson plan says,

English peppered moths show that environmental changes can produce microevolutionary changes within a population. They do not show that natural selection can produce major new features or forms of life, or a new species for that matter—i.e., macroevolutionary changes. From the beginning of the industrial revolution, English peppered moths came in both light and dark varieties. After the pollution decreased, dark and light varieties still existed. All that changed during this time was the relative proportion of the two traits within the population. No new features and no new species emerged. In addition, recent scientific articles have questioned the factual basis of the study performed during the 1950s. Scientists have learned that peppered moths do not actually rest on tree trunks. This has raised questions about whether color changes in the moth population were actually caused by differences in exposure to predatory birds.

Like we haven’t seen this before (see CB601.1, CB910.2, and CB601.3).

For “Aspect 5: Endosymbiosis”, the “critical analysis” lesson plan says,

Laboratory tests have not yet demonstrated that small bacteria (prokaryotic cells) can change into separate organelles, such as mitochondria and chloroplasts within larger bacterial cells. When smaller bacterial cells (prokaryotes) are absorbed by larger bacterial cells, they are usually destroyed by digestion. Although some bacterial cells (prokaryotes) can occasionally live in eukaryotes, scientists have not observed these cells changing into organelles such as mitochondria or chloroplasts.

Now, the endosymbiotic hypothesis itself is not terribly old, so antievolutionist responses are a bit more recent. However, they exist. Consider Answers in Genesis’s response from 2000 and another from 2002, which together make the same points as the “critical analysis” lesson plan. Coincidence?

It took me about an hour to put this post together. It’s a slapdash thing. Now, just imagine the fun that will be had in any court case that sets about to test whether the “critical analysis” lesson plan violates the First Amendment establishment clause, when plenty of time will be available to research all the history of its “challenging” arguments through the antievolutionary literature, and no effort will be spared in examining the claims of experts trying to defend it.