Genome Biology: "It is alive" by Gregory A Petsko

In a Comment in the journal Genome Biology Gregory Petsko, Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry Protein Crystallography at Brandeis University discusses the latest shenanigans of the Intelligent Design movement. ( Gregory A Petsko It is alive Genome Biology 2008, 99::106)

They’re at it again. Armed with another new idea from the Discovery Institute, that bastion of ignorance, right-wing political ideology, and pseudo-scientific claptrap, the creationist movement has mounted yet another assault on science. This time it comes in two flavors: propaganda and legislative.

What is Petsko talking about?

The propaganda refers to the movie “Expelled” which Petsko appropriately describes as a “poorly written and badly acted movie” and observes how the movie failed quickly in the theatres.

The legislative assault refers to the Louisiana bill which promotes ‘critical thinking’ on such topics as evolution, origins of life and global warming.

The bill is cleverly worded: it states in section 1C that it “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.” In an interview with the conservative newspaper The Washington Times (12 June 2008), Jason Stern, vice-president of the Louisiana Family Forum, a Christian right-wing lobby group, insisted “It’s not about a certain viewpoint. It’s allowing [teachers] to teach the controversy.”

Petsko wastes no words

Let me say this as clearly as possible, so there can be no mistake about what I mean: there is no controversy. Just because a few misguided so-called scientists question the validity of the concept of evolution doesn’t mean there is a controversy. There are still some people who believe the Earth is flat (there’s even a ‘Flat Earth Society’), but that doesn’t mean that a grade-school science teacher should teach his or her students that the Earth might be flat.

So what about the ‘academic freedom’ argument? Again Petski quickly dismisses this argument

What about the academic freedom argument? If someone wants to teach creationism in a science class, shouldn’t they have the right to do so? Certainly - if they want to get fired. Because if they do that they deserve to get fired. It has nothing to do with academic freedom; it’s about basic competence.

Similarly, creationists are trying to undermine science teachings in other states, for instance in Texas

On 7 June 2008, the Houston Chronicle wrote that “strengths and weaknesses” language is “a ‘teach the controversy’ approach, whereby religion is propounded under the guise of scientific inquiry”. The editorial went on to say: “What students really need is to be able to study science from materials that have not been hijacked by creationists whose personal agenda includes muddying the science curriculum. Creationism is not a ‘system of science’.”

Hear hear.

ID’s scientific vacuity has doomed it to a misleading approach called “teach the controversy” where teachers are indirectly encouraged to present ID materials to their students where it has failed to meet even the minimum standards of science. Such indoctrination efforts should be of concern to anyone interested in the quality of science. To Christians these efforts should be of concern as they practice the flawed “God of the Gaps” approach to science where our ignorance leads us not to stimulate further scientific inquiry but rather to invoke a supernatural cause.

Our children deserve better than to be exposed to such nonsense.

As Darwin observed

Savages like York minister who consider thunder and lightning the direct will of God were scarcely less primitive than the miracle mongering philosopher who says the innate knowledge of a Creator has been implanted in us … by a separate act of God, rather than evolving according to His most magnificent laws.

Full quote:

So ready is change, from our idea of causation, to give a cause (& no one being apparent, one fixes on imaginary beings, many vicarious, like ourselves) that savages (Mem York Minster) 102 consider the thunder & lightning the direct will of the God ((thus) & hence Those savages who thus argue, make the same mistake, more apparent however to us, as does that philosopher who says the innate knowledge of creator (is) /has been/ implanted in us (?individually or in race?) by a separate act of God, & not as a necessary integrant part of his most magnificent laws. which we profane in thinking not capable to produce every effect of every kind which surrounds us. Moreover /it would be difficult to prove this/ this innate idea of God in civilized nations has not been improved by culture ((who feels the most implicit faith that through the goodness of God knowledge has been communicated to us)). & that it does exist in different degrees in races.–whether in Ancient Greeks, with their mystical but sublime views, or the wretched fears & strange superstitions of an Australian savage or one of Tierra de Fuego.–
  1. York Minster was one of three Fuegians brought back to Tierra del Fuego by Capt. FitzRoy and the Beagle.

Source: Barrett, P. H. 1974. Early writings of Charles Darwin. In Gruber, H. E., Darwin on man. A psychological study of scientific creativity; together with Darwin’s early and unpublished notebooks. Transcribed and annotated by Paul H. Barrett, commentary by Howard E. Gruber. Foreword by Jean Piaget. London: Wildwood House.