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Woods Hole Creationist Loses Suit:

Via Tim Sandefur comes news that Nathaniel Abraham's lawsuit against the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has been tossed. Abraham, readers may recall, alleged he was a victim of religious discrimination after Woods Hole fired him as a biologist because he refused to work on "evolutionary aspects" of an NIH research grant. As I noted before, it seems to me that belief in evolutionary theory would be a bona fide occupational requirement for a research position in a biology lab. Abraham did not lose on the merits, however, as the district court dismissed the case on procedural grounds.

UPDATE: To qualify the above, I certainly accept that a belief in evolution is not a bona fide job requirement for any and all biology research positions. In this case, however, Woods Hole maintained that the application of evolutionary theory was a key component of the research grant under which Abraham was hired, and it's not clear that Abraham was even wiling to "fake it" in order to keep the job. More here.

Gaius Marius:
I am not surprised. I know a Christian (a Seventh Day Adventist) who many years ago (about 20 years) was denied his doctorate degree in biology or anthropology by a public university in the midwest for the sole reason that he refused to acknowledge that he believed in the theory of evolution. He had completed all his credits and his thesis and could regurgitate the theory of evolution to anyone that mattered but he didn't want to acknowledge that he believed in evolution. Thus, he was denied his doctorate.
4.30.2008 11:38pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
As I noted before, it seems to me that belief in evolutionary theory would be a bona fide occupational requirement for a research position in a biology lab.


I disagree about general biology labs. A good portion, if not a majority, of biological research doesn't focus on evolutionary theory. It's a useful underpinning of scientific understanding, but it's not mandatory even in a lab merely identifying new species or subspecies -- they don't really care why X animal exists, only that it does and wasn't previously discovered. Other types of labs can end up paying even less attention to the subject : oil companies tend to have biology labs on hand for loads of different tests and paperwork, but do very little evolutionary biology. For that matter, the same is true of most biotech companies; outside of tests to make sure new compounds don't cause mutations, you really don't want to see any examples of evolution inside a lab, since it'll kill most new medicines (and all antibiotics, eventually).

That ignores specific subtypes of disbelief of evolution, as well. I've encountered individuals that state opposition to evolution, but have no issues with the assertions that mutations occur and that most common genetic code of a particular species can change over time due to the addition of a particular mutation or the eventual extinction of another -- it's the evolution as origin of life thing that they don't buy, and that particular one only comes up in a pretty limited number of situations even within biology.

Moreover, even situations that require evolution do not require belief in evolution. Science is one of those nice things that works whether you believe it or not. I don't believe that electric devices are meaningfully powered by the flow of electrons, but science based on that theory is still a good way to predict how those devices work. I don't believe that theory because we know it isn't true: electrons tend to move in mere feet per second, while electron holes move at two thirds the speed of light.
Even if you don't believe in gravity -- strange, but not totally illogical under some models of the universe -- that doesn't change what happens when you plug numbers into the equations.

That's not to say this particular laboratory did or did not require use of evolutionary theory, but presuming that belief in all aspects of the theory should be an occupational requirement for most or all biology labs suggests either a very problematic understanding of science or an odd definition of the word belief.
4.30.2008 11:43pm
NI:
Gattsuru, assume everything you say to be true. Evolution is probably the single best documented scientific discovery in human history. Why would any scientific institution want a research scientist who misses something that big? It's like a math department not wanting to hire a professor who doesn't believe in calculus even if his job doesn't involve calculus -- the real question would be how good a mathemetician can he really be?
4.30.2008 11:51pm
jccamp:
"it seems to me that belief in evolutionary theory would be a bona fide occupational requirement for a research position in a biology lab"

The Plaintiff argued exactly that opposite, alleging that "Plaintiff's work...focused...on areas of research that required no acceptance or application of the theory of evolution as scientific fact."

The Plaintiff also alleged that he offered to use "evolutionary concepts" in analyzing his work if necessary.

Since there was no finding by a trier of fact, should we be assuming the Defendants would have prevailed, or that the Plaintiff's position had no merit?
4.30.2008 11:56pm
jccamp:
"...the real question would be how good a mathematician can he really be?"

No, the meaningful question is could he (the Plaintiff) fulfill his duties, irrespective of his religious beliefs. He claims that he could. Woods Hole claimed that he could not. Because he filed his suit beyond the time constraints, I guess we'll never know.

But I don't think he should have been fired solely because he held to a theory that his peers thought foolish and indicative of substandard intelligence - if that's what you were trying to say. Shoot - that would disqualify half the tenured professors in...well, never mind that thought.
5.1.2008 12:08am
Curt Fischer:

I disagree about general biology labs. A good portion, if not a majority, of biological research doesn't focus on evolutionary theory. It's a useful underpinning of scientific understanding, but it's not mandatory even in a lab merely identifying new species or subspecies -- they don't really care why X animal exists, only that it does and wasn't previously discovered.


Can you point me to a lab in which scientists, on discovering a new species, do not at least wonder or speculate on its evolution? I have never encountered such a place. For example, in many labs, molecular techniques are used to determine whether a new specimen constitutes a new species, or not. Reliance on this technique is a an implicit assumption of evolution.


Oil companies tend to have biology labs on hand for loads of different tests and paperwork, but do very little evolutionary biology.


Again in this paper which documents oil company-funded research, 16S RNA-based phylogeny is used in support of the authors' hypothesis (that biodegradation of oil occurs mainly through acetogenic syntrophy).

Use of this technique is an implicit assumption that evolution is true. Two biomolecules that have related or identical functions need not have the same sequences, but countless observations of a myriad of diverse proteins and enzymes in species from bacteria to primates has revealed a close relationship between the sequences of the molecules taken from two species believed to be closely related *even before* the sequencing was done.

The scientists in the paper I linked worked for oil companies, and used the 16S sequence based technique. It seems even biology research at oil companies relies on evolution.

In general, gattsuru, I disagree that any of your examples are relevant. Technicians who are expected to follow recipes and obey orders do not need to "believe" in evolution to do their jobs. But researchers are supposed to be able to direct and focus lines of inquiry. Disbelief in evolution would cut off from a researchers entire avenues of thought and experimentation which could be crucial to a projects success. For this reason, as well as the one NI mentioned, I think belief in evolution is a sine qua non for researchers in the biological sciences.
5.1.2008 12:17am
NI:

But I don't think he should have been fired solely because he held to a theory that his peers thought foolish and indicative of substandard intelligence - if that's what you were trying to say. Shoot - that would disqualify half the tenured professors in...well, never mind that thought.


There are different levels of foolishness. Some questions really are settled. The fact that there is a lunatic fringe that thinks the income tax is unconstitutional doesn't mean it's an unsettled question. And I certainly would have no problem with a law school firing or refusing to hire a tax professor who thinks the income tax is unconstitutional, even if he agreed to teach the contrary, because anyone that ignorant of basic constitutional law has no business anywhere near students.

Disbelief in evolution is the scientific equivalent of believing the income tax is unconstitutional. Evolution is not an unsettled question, despite the Creation Research Institute's entertaining publications to the contrary, and anyone so ignorant of basic scientific theory shouldn't be working in science.
5.1.2008 12:18am
Lior:
@gattsuru:
I don't believe that electric devices are meaningfully powered by the flow of electrons, but science based on that theory is still a good way to predict how those devices work. I don't believe that theory because we know it isn't true: electrons tend to move in mere feet per second, while electron holes move at two thirds the speed of light.

It is a common misconception that electric power is transmitted by the flow of electrons. Electric power is transmitted at approximately the speed of light by the electromagentic field outside the conductor.

It is true that the model of classical non-intreacting electrons flowing through the metal (or better, quantum electrons freely flowing through a periodic structure) gives suprisingly accurate predictions for the properties of most conductors. However, that this naive model works is a non-trivial fact; that such behaviour arises from the more complicated, fulling interacting, underlying picture is very interesting. By the way, electrons and holes at the same wavenumber and on the same branch move at the same speed.

So it's not you -- no-one else "believes" in the non-intreacting model also; but it does give very accurate predictions.
5.1.2008 12:31am
Peter Twieg (mail):
So they basically sacked this guy for being a Creationist, when in fact his being so had no real impact on his work. While I'm not a fan of anti-discrimination laws, this does seem quite arbitrary and I expect that if they are meant to protect anything, it would be from this type of scenario. Obviously some commentators here feel that Creationism is fundamentally incompatible with being qualified in several disciplines (history, physics, biology, anthropology, etc..) and perhaps to any kind of scientific pursuit, but even if this were the case wouldn't it be more reasonable to judge his professional competence by his actual work rather than his religious beliefs? Does anyone believe that Abraham's beliefs would have meaningfully interfered with his studies on Zebrafish, or were sufficiently indicative of his incompetence that it justified dismissing him? Of course not.
5.1.2008 12:49am
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
Gaius Marius, you "knew" a Christian who didn't get his doctorate from a public university just because he refused to take a loyalty oath to evolution even though all his work was in great shape? Then you either knew a guy with a great lawsuit on his hands or you knew a guy who was only telling you his side of the story.

Can you point out the lawsuit he filed? Or did he just spend years working on a doctorate, give up, and then fade into the stuff that blogs are made of?
5.1.2008 12:51am
Oren:
Disbelief in evolution is the scientific equivalent of believing the income tax is unconstitutional. Evolution is not an unsettled question, despite the Creation Research Institute's entertaining publications to the contrary, and anyone so ignorant of basic scientific theory shouldn't be working in science.
Amen.
5.1.2008 12:51am
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
Peter,

No, I think jccamp has it right. The version of the story I heard at the time was that the guy was refusing certain activities. If true, then it is a fireable offense. If false, then he should have won his case (had he remembered to file it in time).
5.1.2008 12:53am
jccamp:
Cross-Thread Border Incursion.

Sorry, but I just have to say it.


"And I certainly would have no problem with a law school firing or refusing to hire a tax professor who thinks the income tax is unconstitutional, even if he agreed to teach the contrary, because anyone that ignorant of basic constitutional law has no business anywhere near students. "


Would that be anything like 2 former bomb-throwing terrorists who are self-avowed Communists being on the faculty of a major University, where they help set the agenda for educating this country's children? You mean letting people who describe Chicago as "the belly of the beast", or living in the U S as being "inside the monster" create policy for school-teacher standards or teach in the law school? Shoot, they have dinner parties with the guy who might be our next President. And you want to toss some other fellow out of his livelihood because he believes in Creationism, regardless of his job performance?

A little harsh, I think.
5.1.2008 1:26am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Evolution is probably the single best documented scientific discovery in human history.

Depends, again, on what attribute we're looking at. What's often called "microevolution", the flow and ebb of mutations, is fairly well-documented and well-known, although I'd argue it's not the single best documented discovery what with things like gravity. Then again, that's something Catholic school teachers and even some ID proponents don't complain about, and was commonly taught even under the pre-Scopes trial laws. "Macroevolution" is a good deal weaker, simply because it takes so remarkably long for changes into new species to occur, but it's still very strong. The evolution on Earth as a source of all life one is distinctly less so; even among scientists there are some heretics who worry about the relevant amounts of time. There's not a lot of documentation available, and what does exist have several very important gaps, in some cases tens of millions of years. That's to be expected, when the only expected components are a few dozen amino acids and a rare protein chain, but it makes it really hard to get real evidence rather than simply guess as to what a lack of information means.

It's like a math department not wanting to hire a professor who doesn't believe in calculus even if his job doesn't involve calculus — the real question would be how good a mathematician can he really be?


I don't see how that logically follows. There are some fairly well-known scientists that clung to unpopular ideas, even those within their own fields. Einstein's disbelief of a probabilistic universe, for example, is often pointed out. While it probably kept him from publishing a few good theories, he still wrote a hell of a lot of good deterministic stuff that was fairly impressive. Burkhard Heim is infamous for using some fairly odd mathematical structures and assumptions, while ignoring popular beliefs, and his papers are recognized to at least be well worth the time.

That's the nature of science. If you assumed Newtonian gravity was perfectly correct, you'd just end up using special calibrations every time you looked at certain moons in our own solar system and do fine until the mid-70s. It's the people that think oddly in the first place that notice issues first and make big names for themselves.

That's not to say this particular individual is especially good at biology as a result of his beliefs. I rather doubt that. But the assertion that disbelieving one field — even if the individual is willing to use the field when necessary — automatically causes or implies faults in another indirectly related field is rather questionable.

I can find no direct evidence suggesting he was especially good or bad at biology within the linked materials. Barring such evidence, I find it difficult to rely on such a basis for judgment.
5.1.2008 1:37am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
So it's not you -- no-one else "believes" in the non-intreacting model also; but it does give very accurate predictions.


Well, no, as you said, it's a fairly common misconception. If you asked a thousand high schoolers fresh out of a Physics or AP Physics course, or even a good number of college students, the most common remotely accurate description you'd get would rely on the non-interacting model.

And that model doesn't give good predictions. It falls apart if you want to know the speed of a data signal, under some types of semiconductors, and a boatload of other types of events. That's why teachers only explain the model in order to get the concept down, rather than base the actual mathematics off the model.

There are a lot of people who do believe in it, though, even ones that tell you how to calculate drift velocity. They may all be wrong and many would consider themselves non-experts, but even among educated individuals it's a known issue.
5.1.2008 1:50am
JB:
The weak point in the creationist argument isn't evolution, it's creationism. However well evolution is documented, it might be wrong. That's what makes it a theory. Not believing in it is OK.

It's rejecting evolution for lack of evidence, and then substituting in its favor something that has -less- evidence, that's the problem.
5.1.2008 2:23am
Frater Plotter:
it's the evolution as origin of life thing that they don't buy

Neither do biologists.

Evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life, a subject known as abiogenesis. Evolution deals with the origin of new species from earlier existing species.

Many evolutionary biologists (and more molecular biologists) have conjectures about how the origin of life, or rather, how some chemical processes in the early Earth became complicated and self-sustaining enough that we'd call them "life". But nobody claims that evolutionary theory requires a specific sort of abiogenesis.
5.1.2008 3:49am
Doc Rampage (mail) (www):
If someone passes all of the tests and can do all of the work, but you judge them incompetent just because of religious beliefs that do not effect their ability to do the work, then how are you being scientific? Seriously, don't you see the contradiction in your position? You think that you are superior because you rely on observation and measurement rather than on faith. But if someone disagrees with you then you insist that this person is intellectually inferior even though there is no measurement to demonstrate the inferiority.

It never fails to amaze me how many intelligent people display such an astonishing lack of introspection as to believe that their beliefs about the world are based on provable, indisputable facts. There is nothing outside of mathematics for which this can possibly be the case; the nature of the world does not allow it.
5.1.2008 4:21am
Greg D (mail):
NI says:

Gattsuru, assume everything you say to be true. Evolution is probably the single best documented scientific discovery in human history.

You know, NI, before you pontificate about "science" that you know nothing about, you might want to learn some things.

We've been breeding dogs for something on the order of 10,000 years. We've yet to create a new species.

Explaining the divergence of the genetic code in evolutionary terms requires belief in a "molecular clock", where the mutation rate is the same across species, and per unit time rather than on any sort of generational basis.

To take my favorite example, this means to believe in evolution you have to believe that Cytochrome C (involved in respiration) has, over the last 200 million years, mutated the exact same amount in humans (whose ancestors were either amphibians or sea dwellers at that point), as in lungfish and sharks (neither which species has changed habitat or outward appearance, to the best of our ability to detect).

Oh, and once you accept that, then you have to deal with the fact that current research implies that rodents have a faster molecular clock than other species.

After you've waded through that, you need to consider other interesting questions, like "where did t-RNA come from?"

The evolutionary hypothesis proposes that evolution works by taking existing genes and putting them to new functions. t-RNA (transfer RNA) are the things that enable Translation (the process of making a protein from an mRNA) to take place. SO tell us, NI, where did the t-RNA come from? What were they doing before? How is it that they just happened to match up with RNA floating around in the early cells, and produced proteins that were so useful and efficient that those early cells took over the world?

I'd really like to know, because I've yet to meet anyone who can explain that. In fact, when I've asked evolutionary supporters about that, I'm told they'd never even thought about that problem before.

The Woods Hole firing wasn't the action of scientists. It was the action of religious zealots. They have their belief system, and no one is allowed to question, or to doubt. "No heretics allowed" isn't the kind of sign you see at a Scientific institution.

Is evolution the best "scientific" explanation of how life came about? Yes.

Is it a good, functional, believable explanation of how life came about?

No.

Would we all be better off if those religious zealots masquerading as scientists who are pretending to understand far more than they do understand would end their dishonesty, and simply lay out "this is what we know, this is what we assume because it makes our job easier / possible (even though we have no real proof it's true), this is what we think is true, but we haven't proved it yet" etc.

Yes, we would.

Is it going to happen? Certainly not while everyone else bows at their feet and agrees to unthinkingly accept their religion.
5.1.2008 5:44am
BGates:
Are defense lawyers required to sincerely believe in their cases, or is it enough for them to build a theory of the case that is consistent with all the evidence?

In this case, if the guy was fired because he refused to work, I have no sympathy for him. If he's not willing to consider existing, well-established theories, he should do something else for a living. But if he can develop hypotheses that are consistent with the available evidence - which almost certainly will be consistent with evolutionary biology - there should be no problem, right? And if he pointed out flaws in current thinking and came up with convincing evidence for creationism, then he shouldn't work at Woods Hole, he should run it, because if he could overturn 100+ years of biological research with a completely new paradigm, he'd be the greatest scientist ever.

I don't see any need for 'belief', and I'm certainly not convinced by someone who appears ignorant of what 'ignorant' means.
5.1.2008 6:54am
NI:
Greg D, you obviously know very little about the scientific method. In the first place, it's not a murder trial where the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt; rather, the standard is: In which direction does the evidence point? And it unequivocally points to evolution.

You seem to be saying that unless and until science has answered every possible question that its findings must be rejected. You don't hold your own belief system to that standard (and I don't even have to know what your belief system is to know that you don't hold it to that standard since no belief system would qualify).

Of the multitude of evidence pointing squarely at evolution, DNA is a complete record, not only of who you are, but of who your ancestors were all the way back to the very first one. When historical human DNA is compared to historical chimpanzee DNA, there is a point a million or so years ago at which human and chimpanzee DNA was identical. Not merely close, but absolutely identical. The only conclusion to be drawn (unless you reject DNA evidence) is that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor.

Now, that doesn't mean that we know everything there is to know about how the two lines separated and the mechanics of how it all started (although we know more than we used to, and there are fewer and fewer questions all the time). But identical DNA means common ancestry, no question about it. That issue is closed.

Besides which, as Curt Fischer so ably pointed out, there is a vast array of other science that is founded on evolutionary assumptions that actually works. If you reject evolution do you also reject genetics, pathology, and bio-chemistry? Those disciplines all use evolutionary theory and find that it works.
5.1.2008 8:56am
Curt Fischer:

Greg D.: You know, NI, before you pontificate about "science" that you know nothing about, you might want to learn some things. [...]


All your things are very interesting to learn, Greg D., but shouldn't they be relevant to the core ideas and observations that support macro-evolution?

1. No one said that for evolution to be true, the mutation rates of cytochrome cs need to be identical across species.

2. Darwin seemed pretty confident about the idea of evolution despite not having the foggiest idea of what a tRNA was. Can you explain how the existence of tRNA disproves evolution? If, as you write, its not a problem that evolutionary biologists have not thought about too much, is it surprising that no well-developed theory of its origins exist? Since its tough to get reliable data about biochemical events of 2 or 3 billion years ago or more, studying the evolution of tRNAs may be a difficult proposition.

3. Anything to say in response any of the 29 arguments for macro-evolution listed at talkorigins.org?


They have their belief system, and no one is allowed to question, or to doubt.


As others have noted, though, the operative belief in this case seems to be that researchers should have to earn their paycheck. The Dr. Abraham's refusal to work on evolutionary aspects of his research problem, is above all a refusal to work.
5.1.2008 9:17am
Happyshooter:
I agree. Christers should be banned from any position in science or academics. It is plain that their belief is wrong, evil, and harms the holy big bang itself.

The only persons with faith that should be allowed in science or the academy are islam (since they want to kill America they must be great) and the jewish faith, since that is very nearly the academy faith--but only for extra days off or when the U tries to hold a social event on Friday night and so long as they otherwise don't believe.

-Sarcasm off- Did you really mean to argue that science and the academy should bar people if they fail to believe a belief currently popular in the academy?
5.1.2008 9:42am
Public_Defender (mail):
Sometimes, your beliefs don't let you do a job. If my religious beliefs prohibit me from fighting for the death penalty, should a prosecutor's office be required to hire me to fill a spot in its capital litigation section? Of course not.
5.1.2008 10:02am
NI:
Happyshooter, an awful lot of "christers" believe in evolution, including the Catholic church. The current presiding bishop of the Episcopal church has a doctorate in biology and also believes in evolution.
5.1.2008 10:05am
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
I love arguments like Greg D's.

If you believe in evolution, then you must also believe that squares are circles! Squares clearly aren't circles, so you're wrong!

"to believe in evolution you have to believe that Cytochrome C has, over the last 200 million years, mutated the exact same amount in humans as in lungfish and sharks"


Yeah, that is exactly what evolution requires. ::rolls eyes:: Let's see... Google molecular clock... third hit looks good... first line of website says:

The controversial hypothesis of molecular clock (MC) is a consequence of the neutral theory of evolution. It holds that in any given DNA sequence, mutations accumulate at an approximately constant rate as long as the DNA sequence retains its original functions.
5.1.2008 10:29am
jccamp:
Public Defender -

Agreed, and had the case proceeded, Woods Hole may have prevailed. Hard to say at this point. But his religious views don't automatically disqualify him - only an inability to complete his job because of those views would have done that. He claimed that not to be true.

Would you agree that a prosecutor who personally believes the death penalty to be wrong could still argue on behalf of his client - the state? Isn't that what attorneys do every day?
5.1.2008 10:34am
Cornellian (mail):
Presumably if that prosecutor's sincerely held religious belief requires him to take the view that the death penalty is never justified, then he isn't going to be able to prosecute a crime involving the death penalty. Either he won't be able to argue in favor of it in that case or, if he can, then he never had a sincerely held religious belief that required him to take the view that the death penalty is never justified.

If he just has a religious view that makes him somewhat skeptical that the death penalty is a good idea, then big deal, lots of people (including more than a few prosecutors, I suspect) think that for reasons both religious and secular.
5.1.2008 11:11am
Ben P (mail):

Presumably if that prosecutor's sincerely held religious belief requires him to take the view that the death penalty is never justified, then he isn't going to be able to prosecute a crime involving the death penalty. Either he won't be able to argue in favor of it in that case or, if he can, then he never had a sincerely held religious belief that required him to take the view that the death penalty is never justified.


but at least as I understand the facts in this case, they're more analogous to the prosecutor being told by the elected DA that "I want the death penalty in this case," and the prosecutor's response is "I refused to do that." To which the DA basically responds "Fine, I'll find another prosecutor, you're fired."

Maybe if there were a number of prosecutors and it was known in advance the prosecutor could still win by arguing that it was a precondition that he wouldn't be forced to prosecute death penalty cases, but that goes into factual situations and exactly what sort of duties this guy was refusing to do.
5.1.2008 11:29am
curious guy (mail):
I'm wondering how many scientists (whether for religious reasons or otherwise) have reservations about evolution, but don't dare voice them? I know two scientists who do not believe in evolution, but don't dare tell any of their colleagues. However, their specialties have little to do with evolution and the life sciences, so they aren't put on the spot about it.
5.1.2008 11:30am
Ben P (mail):

I'm wondering how many scientists (whether for religious reasons or otherwise) have reservations about evolution, but don't dare voice them?


But what is the objective quality of the arguments behind their doubts?

There is some, but not an overwhelming, bias toward mainstream thinking in the peer review process.

But what this means is if you're challenging the accepted throught of your area of expertise, you better damn well have all your P's and Q's in order, because everyone and their brother is going to pile on and try to disprove your theories.

If your theories stand up to scrutiny, you become famous and a "innovator in the field." If they don't it's just another paper that sits in a file cabinet somewhere.

I certainly wont' speak for the ideas of your colleagues, but much of the literature that seeks to totally undermine the theory of evolution is simply of laughable quality.
5.1.2008 11:44am
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
curious guy: People seriously discount opinions of people who step out of their field. Are these two engineers of some sort? (Engineers design complicated things, and seem to get especially hung up on the idea of complicated things that aren't designed.)

I don't want to hear about problems in the tax code from a Child Custody lawyer, I want to hear about them from a Tax lawyer.

As an informal survey, the Discovery Institute has asked scientists (meaning anyone with a technical degree) to sign a statement saying they have serious doubts about evolution.

The Nat'l Center for Science Education has asked scientists to sign a statement showing their support for the evidence that underlies evolution.

The two lists stay roughly equal.

The catch? You have to be named "Steve" to sign the NCSE list. Take into account that less than 1% of the population is names Steve, do the math, and ....
5.1.2008 11:54am
gattsuru (mail) (www):
We've been breeding dogs for something on the order of 10,000 years. We've yet to create a new species.


We've been trying to avoid having new species when breeding dogs, mostly due to backwards compatiblity issues and lack of new 'features'.

When dealing with ferns we've been able to create new species in a few years. Polyploidy might be cheating, but it fits the necessary descriptions.
5.1.2008 1:08pm
Buckland (mail):
An aside to a thread that desparately needs one (and I know absolutely nothing about the person in question):

Working for a government contractor for many years made me a cynic toward anybody filing a claim/suit/grievance that amounts to "the world doesn't understand me". These are usually the weakest performers on a team that never do their share of the work. Such claims are a way to keep the clock of their employment going while things are being investigated.

I once worked with a lady that had made a 15 year career in government by filing various discrimination claims. Each supervisor she had was hit with sex discrimination claims. She filed for whistleblower protection, she filed racial discrimination claims (supposedly she was partially Native American). All of these claims had the effect of intimidating anyone who gave any thought to trying to get rid of her despite her work being greatly lacking in quality. While claims were being investigated she had complete protection.

Government employees and by extension contractors have access to lots of paths to air their grievances. However there are always folks that figure out that filing claims is a great substitute for actually working. To lesser extents this type of thing goes on every day in the government and in government contractors, and I'd guess grant recipients would be covered under many of the same umbrellas.

I may be wrong, but to me this story has that feel.
5.1.2008 1:17pm
Hoosier:
gattsuru--

Then again, that's something Catholic school teachers and even some ID proponents don't complain about,

And then we have the above . . .

Catholics accept evolution.

Greg D--No response to your example, since I have no idea what it means. But when you say:

Is evolution the best "scientific" explanation of how life came about? Yes.

you have hit on the heart of the issue. What is frustrating is this refusal on the part of some Christians, and Ben Stein, to accept what you said. Science has to be science. it does certain things, and it does not do others. And it has a method of doing the things that it does. No more, no less.

As far as the broader question of whether something unexplained vitiates a scientific theory that has significant explanatory rigor, I keep thinking of Newton. He himself said that the theory of Universal gravitation was so ridiculous that there was no reason to accept it. Except that it precisely explained everything he was seeking to explain, and did so over and over again.

He didn't know how, since there did not appear to be any threads or wires pulling things toward each other. But the best analysis of the best data nevertheless said that this is what they were doing.
5.1.2008 1:20pm
Public_Defender (mail):

Would you agree that a prosecutor who personally believes the death penalty to be wrong could still argue on behalf of his client - the state? Isn't that what attorneys do every day?

You're changing the hypo. If a prosecutor who's religious beliefs permitted him to seek the death penalty despite personal reservations, there would be no conflict. I speaking of a candidate for a prosecutor's job whose religious beliefs prohibit him from helping the State to kill a man the State has rendered helpless.

In some large offices, they could work around the prosecutor (although with some difficulty), but some offices have death penalty sections or "major crimes" sections that include the death penalty. And some smaller offices need each prosecutor to be able to do everything. Those offices could reasonably refuse to hire a potential prosecutor who would refuse to do a task that needs to be done.

Same here. The question is whether this guy could have done evolutionary biological work when he thought evolution was bunk. That's a factual question, but I doubt it.

Bottom line: Deeply held beliefs will close some career doors, but they open others.
5.1.2008 2:00pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Just adding to the chorus that says actions, not beliefs, should matter -- but since this didn't get decided on facts, Abraham can claim all he wants that he was fired for his beliefs.

If your beliefs get in the way of your taking an action, like prosecuting a death penalty case, that's action, not belief, that's getting in the way of doing your job. The fact that the actions are belief-based doesn't change them into not-action.

Disclaimer: I tend towards Jewish observance, but AFAIK Judaism requires only action, not belief (noting that stating apostacy or blasphemy is action.) I understand Christianity holds that internal thoughts matter more.
Disclaimer 2: Occam's Razor isn't evidence. Even if it is all a result of randomness, it is indistinguishable from the results of a Divine Clockmaker, or that it's all an implanted memory and you were created only seconds ago, or that it's all a self-consistent dream.
If I worry too much about where all the stuff that was in a single infinitely dense infinitismally small point some 15 billion years ago came from, my head starts to hurt, so I find that cosmology richer but not much more satisfying than creation ex nihilo 6 thousand years ago.
5.1.2008 2:13pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
For what it's worth -

When in grad school in midwest college town learned of the following fact pattern in the Econ Dept.

Offer made to prospective tenure track assistant professor.
Candidate received offer from coastal, big city school of comparable reputation - salary $2000 higher.
Candidate asked small town school to match.

Econ profs determined error to make offer in first place since candidate clearly couldn't integrate concepts and knowlege properly, since he clearly failed to grasp that when recognizing cost-of-living, midwestern offer contained greater renumeration.

HGB
5.1.2008 2:23pm
Hoosier:
Hippos--Wasn't the candidate simply seeking to maximize utility?
5.1.2008 3:34pm
Happyshooter:
Prospect wrote back pointing out that onthe coast he could live very cheaply indeed and negate their BS cost of living, but no matter where or how he worked he needed raw dollar amount X to make his student loan and child support payments.

He invited them to give him twice as much as he was asking for, in return for lifting the department's over aged liberal average out of the 1960s where it was stuck and into the modern era.
5.1.2008 4:11pm
Happyshooter:
Prospect wrote back pointing out that on the coast he could live very cheaply indeed and negate their BS cost of living, but no matter where or how he worked he needed raw dollar amount X to make his student loan and child support payments.

He invited them to give him twice as much as he was asking for, in return for lifting the department's over aged liberal average out of the 1960s where it was stuck and into the modern era.
5.1.2008 4:11pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
actually, story was told to great mirth when candidate reapplied next year having realized his mistake . . .
5.1.2008 4:16pm
CJColucci:
I don't "believe" in the theory of evolution. I know a little about it. I know that virtually all working scientists competent to have an opinion on the question subscribe to it. I know a small amount of the evidence that they find convincing. I know that there is no competing theory. I know that there are issues within the theory of evolution about which experts differ, and I know that I don't have the chops to evaluate the evidence myself and form an opinion. All of that I actually know; "belief" doesn't enter into it. I genuinely don't understand the mental state of a person who is actually trained in the relevant science, has the technical chops to understand the evidence, and still says: "But I still don't believe it." Literally, what is he thinking?
5.1.2008 6:25pm
Greg D (mail):
Hoosier:

Unfortunately, you've complete missed the point. Let me try again:

Why do people fall in love?

I am sure there's a "scientific" answer to that question. I am also sure that, when teaching a class on relationships, only a complete and utter idiot would restrict the class to discussing the "scientific" ideas on love.

OTOH, when discussing the rate at which items fall, only a complete idiot would worry about what poets and philosophers think about the subject (other than Newton, of course).

The question before the bar is "is the origin of life on the planet Earth more like 'why do people fall in love', or is it more like 'at what rates do things fall when dropped'?"

Those here who babble about the superiority of evolution are taking the position that it's "rate of things falling". They're wrong. For all the reasons I've mentioned.
5.1.2008 7:10pm
Greg D (mail):
Statement: Science cannot explain how life began on Earth. There exist no scientific theories of any validity that would explain how DNA -> RNA -> Protein came about, and we have no realistic hope of developing such theories any time soon.

If you agree with that statement, great. You have no need to come up with a scientific explanation for how t-RNA came about. However, believing the above puts you in direct conflict with evolutionary dogma, which says that evolution does explain how life came about.

What's that? You say you realize that evolutionary theory cannot currently explain hwo t-RNA came about, but you're sure it will be able to do so some day?

Excellent. I'm happy for you that you have a faith that keeps you comfortable. but since faith is all you have, I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop pushing your religion on the rest of us. And I'd really appreciate it if you'd stop lying, and pretending that your religion is actually science.
5.1.2008 7:19pm
Greg D (mail):
Curt Fisher wrote:

All your things are very interesting to learn, Greg D., but shouldn't they be relevant to the core ideas and observations that support macro-evolution?

Nope. See my previous post. I enter into this debate not because I believe in God (because I don't), and not because I have some fundamental beliefs about how life came about (because I don't).

I'm in it because I loathe dishonesty. Because I have complete and utter contempt for "scientists" who abuse their positions and lie about what they do and don't know. Because for years I mindlessly parroted the evolutionary line, and was really embarrassed when I read an article that finally forced me to sit down and think about the crap I'd been believing.

Science in the main advances with the statement "what we previously believed was wrong." When you put that statement out of bounds, you've left the realm of science.

And that is what I object to.

We have no clue how life came about. We have the beginnings of fumblings of ideas as to how species get created. We have some tools that we can use to analyze genetic data, and the tools are useful.

Are those tools the best possible ways to examine the data? We don't know. And BS like the Woods Hole firing demonstrate how fundamentally opposed "the scientific community" is to even trying to find out if there are better ways to look at the data. How opposed they are to admitting how little we know.

And so long as that continues, I will be out here,poking holes. Pointing out how little we know. Because once you start lying about your accomplishments, what matters is exposing the lies, not honoring the parts that happen to be true.
5.1.2008 7:52pm
Greg D (mail):
Curt Fisher also wrote (Chris Bell, this is response to yyou, too):

No one said that for evolution to be true, the mutation rates of cytochrome cs need to be identical across species.

Yes, they have Curt. Because they've sequenced cytochrome c in a large number of species. And the only way the amount of divergence found accords with evolutionary theory is if you assume that the change rate is constant for any given gene per unit time. Every single "these species diverged x million years ago" is based on that assumption. Every phylogenetic tree is built with that assumption. That is the reason why all those trees have all currently existing species as leaves on the tree, leaves that are all at the same level.

Darwin seemed pretty confident about the idea of evolution despite not having the foggiest idea of what a tRNA was.

Darwin also was confident that evolution took place because of the gradual accumulation of little changes in the characteristics of living organisms. But we know that's not true, and no current evolutionary biologist still holds with that (see "gaps in fossil record"). Last I checked, the favored hypothesis was "punctuated equilibrium".
5.1.2008 7:56pm
Greg D (mail):
Hi NI,

Thanks for demonstrating that you have absolutely no clue what you're talking about.

Of the multitude of evidence pointing squarely at evolution, DNA is a complete record, not only of who you are, but of who your ancestors were all the way back to the very first one. When historical human DNA is compared to historical chimpanzee DNA, there is a point a million or so years ago at which human and chimpanzee DNA was identical. Not merely close, but absolutely identical.

Wow, this is so unclear on the concept that it's hard to know where to start.

1: Your DNA tells us a lot about you. It and of itself it tells us nothing about your ancestors, let alone providing "a complete record, not only of who you are, but of who your ancestors were all the way back to the very first one."

Now, your DNA plus other people's DNA can tell us things about your relationship with those other people. Comparing human consensus DNA sequences with the consensus DNA sequences of other species can give us ideas about our relationships with those other species.

However

2: There is no such thing as "historical human DNA" or "historical chimpanzee DNA". There are reconstruction projects trying o determine the DNA sequences of our presumed common ancestors. The equivalence of DNA there is assumed, not proved. Because no one has a copy of that ancestor's DNA. If you've got a copy, there's a lot of scientists who'd like to have it, so do them a favor, and send it to them, ok?


This sort of pseudo-scientific, utterly ignorant garbage (add in CJColucci "I know that evolution is true" religious babbling) is one of the things that keeps me in this fight. This is religious zealotry, plain and simple. It has no place in real science. But it is what the "scientists" in this field give us. Not "here's what we know, here's what we don't know", but "brothers and sisters, you must believe."

Count me among the unimpressed.

I'll close with this:

you obviously know very little about the scientific method. In the first place, it's not a murder trial where the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt; rather, the standard is: In which direction does the evidence point?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The scientific method is "here's a hypothesis, does it explain all the data? Is there any data that contradicts it? There is? Ok, I guess we need a new hypothesis." "At the least it is "we can explain this data, but can't explain this, but hope to do so in the near future." It most certainly is not "our hypothesis explains the data (except for this data that we won't mention, and will sweep under the rug and hope that nobody notices)." It is a far higher standard than that of a criminal trial. After all, unlike humans, we expect that Mother Nature won't actually lie to us.
5.1.2008 8:25pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
There exist no scientific theories of any validity that would explain how DNA -> RNA -> Protein came about, and we have no realistic hope of developing such theories any time soon.


Given that you can synth the various materials in fairly mundane laboratory settings, I really don't think that's an accurate statement.

It's ridiculously, extraordinarily unlikely, especially if you assume terran abiogenesis rather than cometary abiogenesis, but even with terran abiogenesis you've got 60 million years worth of ridiculously extraordinarily unlikely to work with.
5.1.2008 9:40pm
CJColucci:
Along with everything else we now know about Greg D.'s shortcomings -- a topic we wouldn't have cared about if he hadn't insisted on inflicting them on us -- we know he can't read. Many of you, unlike Greg D., can read. Did I say anywhere that "I know that evolution is true"? Of course not. I know nothing of the sort. What I know is that the experts who are competent to have a view on the subject accept the theory of evolution and that I don't have any knowledge that would entitle me to an intelligent contrary opinion. I doubt that even Greg D. would deny this -- but, then, I thought he could read.
5.1.2008 10:02pm
NI:

Science in the main advances with the statement "what we previously believed was wrong." When you put that statement out of bounds, you've left the realm of science.


GregD, I'm not aware of any scientist who wouldn't be willing to re-visit evolution if somebody showed up with some comptetent contrary evidence, but so far nobody has. And that's the fundamental problem with attacks on evolution: They're mostly regurgitated stuff that the scientific community has already answered repeatedly. If you have a new argument to make against evolution that hasn't already been refuted, bring it on.

There's also no sweeping under the rug. There are unanswered questions -- the one thing you did get right is that we're just beginning to understand how life came about, but we still have much to learn. As more evidence continues to come in, no doubt hypotheses will be adjusted. But again, you're imposing a standard on science you wouldn't impose on yourself.

On the DNA stuff, I believed my original statement was correct, but to check I sent it (and your response) to my old college roommate who has a Ph.D. in biology and teaches genetics at the University level. He had some quibbles about the way I worded it but told me that in substance my original statement was largely correct. Your statement was true ten years ago but we've learned a lot about DNA since then.

Finally, I don't know what happened to make you so pissed off at science and scientists, but whatever it is, find a professional and talk it out. It's apparent to me that whatever's bothering you it ain't evolution.
5.1.2008 10:29pm
Curt Fischer:

Greg D.: [T]he only way the amount of divergence found accords with evolutionary theory is if you assume that the change rate is constant for any given gene per unit time. Every single "these species diverged x million years ago" is based on that assumption. Every phylogenetic tree is built with that assumption.


This is patently false, of course! People made phylogenetic trees long before the first protein or DNA had ever been sequenced. In fact, the molecularly derived phylogenies and the phylogenies derived from trained physiologic inspection and classification are incredibly similar. I personally find the match between these two independent phylogenies to be staggering. It is unquestionably a very, very compelling evidence in favor of evolution. And it has nothing to do with the molecular clock.

Look, I'll agree with you that sometimes over-represent how much evolution can teach us about the origins of life. But in my experience these people are rare exceptions. The fact is, we know little about life's origins. Dawkins' abiogenesis chapter from the Selfish Gene is completely unlike recent "metabolism-first" theories. I don't think either Dawkins or anyone else would argue that they know with certainty the mechanism of abiogenesis.

But I would be lying if I told you I didn't find even brazen speculation on the topic to be interesting.
5.2.2008 12:40am
Forsooth And:
I am alarmed that so many of you are not the defenders of intellectual freedom you usually claim to be.

Apparently skepticism about Darwinian evolution is now intolerable. This contrasts sharply with the vigorous VC defense of oddballs and outcasts on typical academic freedom questions. And contradicts Jefferson's "we are not afraid . . . to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."

I suggest that your requirement that every scientist adhere to an apparently doctrinal 'belief' in evolution is a blind spot. It certainly is a raw nerve. And it will be to the detriment of honest and successful scientific inquiry.

Instead of intolerable, it may be more precise to say that you have declared skeptics of evolution to be "anathema" or "heretical." For the sake of science, I invite you to have a thicker skin.
5.2.2008 6:06pm
Greg D (mail):
gattsuru Quoted me, then wrote

There exist no scientific theories of any validity that would explain how DNA -> RNA -> Protein came about, and we have no realistic hope of developing such theories any time soon.

Given that you can synth the various materials in fairly mundane laboratory settings, I really don't think that's an accurate statement.

Um, no. The question is not "could such materials exist. The question is "do we have any way of explaining how the entire RNA -> Protein translation material could come about by random chance "mutations", including having mRNA around that just happen to code for things useful to life given the decoding machinery that happened to appear by random chance.

I can see why you're having a hard time grasping that. After all, it's a pretty ludicrous idea.

Of course, if you don't accept that ludicrous idea, what you're left with is "science (currently) has no way to explain how life came about."

Which is why I take tha position.
5.4.2008 10:42pm
Greg D (mail):
NI writes:

GregD, I'm not aware of any scientist who wouldn't be willing to re-visit evolution if somebody showed up with some comptetent contrary evidence, but so far nobody has.

Bull. The editor of a scientific journal recently (w/n the last two years) solicited articles on the questions where evolution wasn't working. He did not get a positive response from the "scientific community" for publishing those articles. IIRC, it was discussed here on Volokh.

And that's the fundamental problem with attacks on evolution: They're mostly regurgitated stuff that the scientific community has already answered repeatedly. If you have a new argument to make against evolution that hasn't already been refuted, bring it on.

Where did tRNA come from? I've brought it on, here repeatedly. We've had people deliberately mis-read what I wrote, we've had them ignore it completely. What we haven't had is a single person come up with an even remotely coherent response.

On the DNA stuff, I believed my original statement was correct, but to check I sent it (and your response) to my old college roommate who has a Ph.D. in biology and teaches genetics at the University level. He had some quibbles about the way I worded it but told me that in substance my original statement was largely correct. Your statement was true ten years ago but we've learned a lot about DNA since then.

I fell sorry for your friend's students, because he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about.

1: We do not have any sequencable DNA from the assumed chimp-human ancestor. If we did, we wouldn't need to do reconstructions of its DNA, reconstructions that are done based on the assumption that the molecular clock works and that evolution is correct. Quoting that work as a proof of what it assumes is a basic intellectual fallacy

2: We are approaching a level of competence where, given the DNA sequence of a small protein, we can make a good guess as to its structure. Figuring out what it does, how it does it, or trying to do this for anything other than a short protein requires doing comparisons w/ other DNA sequences. The DNA, in and of itself, doesn't tell us nearly enough.

3 I have no intention of getting "Woods Holed", so I'm not going to tell you where I work, or what I do, or who I've been (gently) bouncing all this off of in the hopes that I could find people who are actually willing to think about it. But I do find your friend's assertion that my understanding is "pre 1998" to be very amusing.

He's either clueless or very sloppy.
5.4.2008 11:03pm
Greg D (mail):
I wrote:
Every phylogenetic tree is built with that assumption.

Curt Fischer wrote
This is patently false, of course! People made phylogenetic trees long before the first protein or DNA had ever been sequenced.

You're right, that should have been "every phylogenetic tree built from DNA sequences"

Look, I'll agree with you that sometimes over-represent how much evolution can teach us about the origins of life. But in my experience these people are rare exceptions. The fact is, we know little about life's origins. Dawkins' abiogenesis chapter from the Selfish Gene is completely unlike recent "metabolism-first" theories. I don't think either Dawkins or anyone else would argue that they know with certainty the mechanism of abiogenesis.

Curt, every single person who says "evolution tells us how life came about, therefore we can't have ID / Creationism in the schools because all we need is Darwinian Evolution" is vastly "over-representing" "how much evolution can teach us about the origins of life."

Because right now what evolution can teach us about the origins of life is Zero. Nada. Nothing. The null set.

We can postulate wildly about an "RNA World". But no one's even seriously trying to explain how we might get to an RNA -> Protein world, and the reason why they're not is because there do not appear to be any non-ludicrous ways to get there.

Wild-assed guesses coupled with basic humility would be quite interesting. Wild-assed guesses combined with unjustified arrogance, OTOH, are entirely off putting, at least to me. YMMV.

But I must admit, I've missed all the "defenders of evolution" stating "we have no clue about how life actually came about." Could you point me to some of them?

Thanks
5.4.2008 11:16pm
Greg D (mail):
Curt,

Thanks for engaging in reasonable discussion, you've helped me remember the basic points I used to try to make, back when I still thought I could find someone reasonable to discuss this with. So, here goes (note: not all of this is directed at you. I'm also saving this for the next time this discussion pops up, so I can get my points out early):

I: Macro-evolution
1: The Darwinian Evolutionary Hypothesis was that there were random mutations in the "bits of heredity" (for lack of a better term), that mutations that were favorable to reproductive fitness survived, and that the accumulation of these mutations eventually led to new species being formed.

This led to claims that there were "gaps" in the fossil record that would eventually be filled in with a bunch of intermediate species.

By and large, those gaps have not been filled, and those intermediate species have not been found. No one active in the field believes that those gaps will be filled in. To the best of my knowledge, the current favorite hypothesis is "punctuated equilibrium".

So, frankly, saying you believe in "Darwinian Evolution" is a lot like saying you believe in "Newtonian Mechanics", when discussing the behavior of objects moving at .9 C. It simply shows you don't know what you're talking about.

2: We have sequenced members (and collections of members) of a lot of species. So we have a lot of sequencing data, both raw DNA sequences, and protein sequences. The data is entirely inconsistent with the naive evolutionary model of species B and C splitting off from Species A in order to exploit some ecological niche. Because that model requires that species A be genetically "in between" B and C, and there are no existing "in between" species. None.

3: The response to this is the molecular clock hypothesis. This hypothesis holds that all species are constantly mutating, even when they're not apparently changing. So, for example, Great White Sharks, and Lungfish, which have both been around for ~200 million years, have changed genetically just as much as has the line of descent that ended in humans (despite the belief that that line was using gills 200 million years ago).

A: This is at the level of DNA, and at the level of protein sequence (so no, it's not just that the sharks are getting lots of silent mutations at the third base in the codon).

B: This rate of change varies among proteins, and varies among non-coding regions, too. But all the Cytochrome C's for example, are assumed to change at the same rate, even if that rate is different than the rate for beta galactosidase.

C: Unfortunately for this hypothesis, it's already starting to break down, because it appears that rodents have a "faster clock" than the rest of us.

4: When scientists talk about the DNA sequence of a previous species, i.e. "the human-chimp ancestor species", they are always talking about a "reconstruction", made by starting with the sequences of the current species, and then merging those sequences together using rules based on the above assumptions.

A: There has been talk about using PCR to sequence the DNA of insects stuck in amber. So far, unfortunately, nothing has come of this. A scientific community that was serious about finding out the truth, rather than serious about pushing their dogma, would make sequencing one of these insects a top priority, because doing so would either provide solid proof of the molecular clock hypothesis, or destroy it.

B: So far as I know, no one has tried to sequence the DNA from one of those woolly mammoths found in the ice. If anyone knows better, I'd love to hear about it.


II: The Origins of Life
The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology is DNA -> RNA -> Protein. In order to go from RNA to Protein you must have the following (note that I'm leaving out some things, like Aminoacyl t-RNA synthetase, because I don't want to make the task too challenging. If you think adding in a requirement for them makes it more likely that this would all evolve by chance, then by all means include them in your case):

1: An mRNA. Which is to say you must have a strand of RNA that "codes" for a useful protein, given the decoding key of the translation machinery. There is, to the best of our knowledge, no particular reason why "AUG" should inherently code for Methionine. It just so happens that the t-RNA we ended up with translate it that way. Different t-RNAs would have led to different codes.

2: A t-RNA. An object that mates an amino acid residue with a particular codon in an mRNA.

3: A Ribosome. A structure that brings mRNA and t-RNA together, that facilitates taking the amino acids attached to the t-RNA and attaching them to each other instead, and that makes sure the mRNA is read in the proper reading frame (since you're get an entirely different protein if you have one t-RNA bind at spots 1-3, and the second one bind at spots 5-7 instead of 4-6).


III: Wrap up / Conclusion
1: Are we genetically related to the other species on this planet?
It sure seems that way, looking at the DNA and protein sequence data.

2: Does a "natural selection" evolutionary hypothesis provide a good "explanation" for how we came about?
No, it doesn't. It absolutely relies upon the ludicrous, and appears to be on its way to be entirely discredited, "molecular clock" hypothesis in order to square itself with the sequence data. When you have data v. theory (let alone a mere hypothesis), the data wins.

3: Do we currently have the slightest shred of an idea of how RNA -> Protein Life began on this planet?
No, we do not. We have vague hand waving. And a strong desire to avoid all questions on the subject, because the "scientific community" doesn't like the answers that those questions would provoke. (Disagree? Great. Tell me about the time in biology class when you discussed how t-RNA might have come into existence. Point me to the pro-natural selection book that has a serious discussion about the origins of t-RNA.)

4: Is "natural selection" the best scientific "explanation" for how we came about?
Yes. But so what? I'm sure there's a "scientific" explanation for how and why people fall in love. When a highschool or college "personal growth" class discusses relationships, do you therefore demand that they confine themselves to only discussing the "scientific" approach to relationships?

"Natural Selection" is a "scientific" explanation, but it's not a good one. Teaching it as "the truth" is, at this point, a lie. A fraud. A triumph of religious zealotry over actual scientific thought. The triumph of the desire to believe over the reality of our ignorance.

So don't go bitching about "religious nuts" pushing their ideas into biology classes, when you're one of them, just on the other side.
5.5.2008 5:35pm