Reason-Free and Proud of it

On May 20, 2008 post entitled “Washington Post Editorial Page on Evolution: Fact-Free and Proud of It,” John West writes about the coverage of various academic freedom bills by a Washington Post writer named Jo-Ann Armao. The editorial is short and I encourage you to read it. Rather than rehash all the points made in the editorial, I will simply ask:

Is there really a need for such a bill? Besides the evolution deniers, who is this really going to help? Scientists should be the ones to challenge scientific theories, not teachers.

Back to the Discovery Institute Blog.  West’s first point is to bring up that there are scientists who are anti-evolution:

The Post also absurdly claims that offering criticisms of Darwinism is tantamount to “question[ing] the existence of gravity or… suggest[ing] that two plus two equals anything but four.” Tell that to the more than 700 Ph.D. scientists at institutions such as Princeton, MIT, Ohio State, and the University of Georgia who have expressed their skepticism of the central tenet of Neo-Darwinism.

This allows me to bring up the funny, yet highly effective, ‘project Steve.’ The idea is to compile a list of scientists who both accept evolution and are named Steve. Steve isn’t the most rare name, but it does represent only a small percentage of scientists. The funny thing is that at current count there are 886 Steves on the list. Compare that to the 700 scientists that John West points to, and the absurdity of pointing to these scientists becomes apparent.

Dismissing evolution isn’t exactly like dismissing the existence of gravity, but it isn’t far from the truth. In order to not accept evolution, you have to ignore the vast abundance of evidence pointing towards evolution. One would also have to ignore the complete lack of real evidence for intelligent design. Finally, you would have to disregard the fact that more and more evidence for evolution is found every day, while none is found for ID. On second thought, it is exactly like questioning the existence of gravity.

West goes on to use a technique often used by IDers:

I gave Ms. Armao an entire list of scientific controversies involving key aspects of biological and chemical evolution, including the origin of the first life, the role of mutations, the limits of natural selection, and the origination of animal body plans during the Cambrian Explosion some 500 million years ago. Such controversies are already discussed in the mainstream scientific literature—but teachers are being forbidden in many places from telling students about them.

The idea here is to point to real scientific controversies and then imply that the controversies somehow show weaknesses in evolution. These are simply details that need to be worked out and are part of the scientific process to understand any theory, including evolution. Lets go back to the theory of gravity for a second. There are controversies in this theory, including whether or not there is a particle that is responsible for gravity (see: graviton). By John West’s logic, we should allow for criticism of the theory of gravity to be taught in school.

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