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Letters And God said: "Let monkey turn into man". Or perhaps not. This very question has vexed many of you, this week. It all kicked off when the National Academy of Sciences decided to launch a portal providing access to recent scientific research on evolution. The site was intended to provide resources for teachers, and to be a direct challenge to those who oppose the teaching of evoutionary theory in US public schools on religious grounds.

Among the hysterical rants, there were some more interesting letters. Here are five from the pro-evolutionists, and five from the pro-creationists. See how balanced we are? (Cough, cough, cough).

Off we go:

Quote: Bizarre as this seems to us in the UK, in the states, the teaching of one of science's most robust and well-tested theories is a highly controversial matter.

Bizzare my a**e... Have you ever seen Tony Blair answer to the question in the house of commons on his belief in creationism and should it be taught in schools? Have you by any chance noticed that we have a George Bush Style "Devote" Cristian and a follower of creationism for an Education Minister? Further to that, creationism is now permitted to be taught in schools and schools in the UK are allowed to state that evolution is a supposition and theory same as US? This: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wear/2981663.stm is just one example. It is a product of Blairism and if you have failed to notice it it may be a good idea for you to wake up.

Anon


I still chuckle from time to time whenever "In God we trust" comes to my mind. You should see my version of the map of the US of A. To me, it seems the whole religion thing in the government is strictly to be on the good side of all those who fall out of my version of the map. On a more serious note: any moderately religious family will take their kids to church (or their religion's equivalent) from a young age. Evolution is taught at school maybe starting in grade 7, but seriously in higher grades. Don't you think by that time kids will already know the theory of creation inside-out? No wonder the States have noticeably decreased in scientific output since the Space Race. Where'd the money go? Doing God's work, across the Atlantic.

Max


Thanks for printing the tip about the NAS anti-creationism website. There's a spin on the latest anti-evolutionary threat, Intelligent Design, that the Register should enjoy taking. That is, if evolution is "only a theory", then so is ID, and the two theories make distinct predictions: ID predicts the absence of "stupid design", while evolution predicts equal amounts of clever and stupid designs, as long as they increase the reproductive success of the organisms they appear in.

Of course, stupid designs in nature far outnumber the miraculously intelligent ones, starting with the human appendix and tailbone, ranging across non-functional foot bones in whales, to joke animals like the dodo and the platypus, to molecular features like "junk DNA" and vitamin-C processing genes that are broken *in the very same way* in humans, apes and monkeys. If there was a creator, he/she/it sure was a bungler!

George


Worrying, isn't it, that half the inhabitants of an allegedly sophisticated nation prefer to believe that we were all put here by a benign cosmic being? They never explain how He arrived, I notice... (although my own thought is that he appeared after the last stroke of midnight following the previous Big Crunch, making it the Big Bong hypothesis).

However, your piece does perhaps lend a clue as to the Americans' difficulty with global warming. If we're having such an effect on the planet, then maybe we're not being so well looked after by the Almighty, after all. Unless, of course, He's just punishing us for our carelessness, the worst offenders being.... oh dear.

James


I am afraid your characterization of theory in science is incorrect. The correct characterization is quite close to normal usage and is even stronger for refuting our American Taliban.

In science, all theories are current working models of our understanding of reality. Newton is just a theory. Einstein is just a theory. Maxwell is just a theory. They are always unproven approximations. We can never prove a scientific theory correct. We can only prove them wrong. (See Karl Popper) Mathematical theories can be proven correct, but mathematics statements are all tautologies and say nothing. (see Wittgenstein's Tractatus). (Science does use mathematics to make arbitrary mappings between mathematical symbols and concepts in reality, but this is something different.) Theories never represent "Truth." Only a working model. The task of every scientist then is to construct experiments to break a theory. We succeed when we can prove a theory wrong. It is only by understanding the bounds of our theories that we increase our understanding of the World.

Consequently, scientists are the biggest failures in the professional world. We only succeed when we disprove a theory. Just think of all the experiments that have "failed" by confirming the hypothesis. ;-) Of course those "failures" have given us much of modern world.

So how does this refute those who want to teach theories other than Natural Selection, such as Intelligent Design?

In science, we only consider theories that we can prove wrong. If we can't find experiments that will invalidate them, then they aren't scientific. (This is a major concern in some of the string theory work currently going on. We have these wonderful explanations, but we don't know how to test them.)

So let the fundamentalists tell us what experiments we must perform to prove Intelligent Design wrong. What you say, they aren't any! Then fine, you can talk about Intelligent Design elsewhere, but not in science. In science we only talk about theories that can be proved wrong.

So you see, they are all *just* theories! ;-)

Take care, John Day

Take your point, but we wanted to draw a clear line between a hypothesis and a theory, as this line is so often blurred.


"Bizarre as this seems to us in the UK, in the states, the teaching of one of science's most robust and well-tested theories is a highly controversial matter."

Of course, it isn't tested at all, let alone well-tested. Variation within a kind (a closely-related group of species) is well-established, observed fact; but this is only variation within an existing gene pool.

If the varied species are allowed to mix, the differences will be merged back. Even without mixing, the changes in Darwin's finches are not unidirectional; they shorten and lengthen their beaks according to variations of climate and environment. However, they never cease to be finches. The hypothesis that whole new kinds of animals have developed from other "more primitive" kinds is incapable of being tested because the supposed timespan is hundreds of thousands to millions of years. Just who has been around to conduct these experiments in order to make evolution a well-tested theory?

Still less has there been any experimental evidence of abiogenesis (the spontaneous generation of life from non-life), and the lack of any credible mechanism for that has led supposedly sane scientists to postulate seeding by aliens and space spores (they don't ask by what method that alien life is supposed to have arisen from non-life).

The weaknesses in evolutionary theory were obvious to most people when it was first proposed. It is only since the 1950s that it has really become accepted by most people and that not on the basis of real evidence but because there is no alternative theory that does not involve a creator.

Men are desperate not to admit the existence of God and therefore face the prospect of being held to account for their misdeeds; they will accept any illogic in order to avoid that.

Creationists and evolutionists look at the same set of facts but interpret them according to different world views (that is, the sets of axioms that you take as not needing proof). The creationist accepts that God exists and is utterly reliable and that he has revealed himself in the Bible.

Therefore he takes the biblical account of creation and the flood as true, and then interprets the evidence in the light of that. The evolutionist starts by assuming that God does not exist (or that he has no interaction with the physical world, which comes to the same thing). He is therefore forced to postulate hypotheses that will (supposedly) work without divine intervention, no matter how outrageously improbable they are.

It is not really possible to convert someone from one worldview to another on the basis of any evidence. All we can do is to see which worldview is most consistent with the evidence (which is the same for both).

Creationists consider that our world view is far more consistent with the actual evidence and makes far less demand on the credulity of its adherents.

The reactions of outrage by evolutionists that creationists should even dare to exist are strong evidence that their chief objections are religious rather than scientific; their comfortable atheistic faith is being threatened and they react in the same way as the Inquisition did.

They are very rarely willing to debate, but want their version to be accepted as dogma. If they had the power to adopt the Inquisition's more extreme measures, I suspect that some of them would do it.

"Of course, writing off evolution as a 'mere theory' demonstrates a very clear misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "theory" in science. In everyday language, theory is synonymous with conjecture. Not so in science..."

The intended audience for statements about 'mere theory' is not scientists but the general public, for whom everyday language is the most appropriate.

However, to put it in scientific terms, the development of life from non-life and the proliferation of all existing life from a primitive first ancestor is an untested and untestable hypothesis which depends on a huge number of dubious assumptions that violate other well-established theories, in particular the laws of thermodynamics and the universally-accepted fact (universally-accepted, that is, in all other walks of life) that meaningful information can only be produced by intelligence.

Oliver


Folks wishing to consider both sides may be interested in the book Darwin's Black Box, by Michael J. Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University. Behe presents the idea of Irreducible Complexity, which means that certain mechanisms in nature, such as the eye, cannot fulfill their purpose at all unless they exist in complete form. He uses a mousetrap as a simple analog: if you take away any one part, it doesn't simply become less effective, but rather doesn't work at all, and he maintains that such mechanisms cannot evolve.

Eric

We can't let this one go by without mentioning that the argument that an eye must evolve in its completeness in one step has been rather neatly refuted. Computer simulations have shown that an entire eye can evolve in 400,000 generations. The researchers began with a simple photo sensitive cell, allowing for mutations at a reasonable rate, with only those that improve the performance (ie. ability to detect light) of the 'eye' being retained.

Half an eye is bucket-loads better than no eye at all.


Objective Science is based upon observations. The only observations that can be made about the past rely on historical (documentary) evidence of eyewitnesses or on the interpretation of currently available physical data.

Scientific theories are conjectures based upon interpretations of the data, and therefore are never "proven", but merely supported or not by such interpretations. Scientific theories have a habit of going by the wayside in the light of new interpretations. Indeed, the interpretations depend upon the starting assumptions (axioms). If you start with millions of years you find ways to accommodate the evidence to it. As no-one was there, Evolution is based on faith, just as much as Creation. The only problem is that the Creationist has documentary evidence to validate the observations.

The debate against creation is fuelled not by a desire to arrive at objective truth, but by an overwhelming desire to remove the Creator from the picture. For to admit to that would require recognition of just who we are and how far we have fallen.

Chaz


I was disappointed that a person in a country so loving of diversity would take such a visceral attitude towards those who believe in creation. These people, no matter how ignorant they may seem, are taking legitimate routes to promote their legitimate points of view.

The fact is that only microevolution has been observed. Macro, Stelar, Planetary, ect. evolution has never been observed. This does not negate the possibility of it existing, it merely shows that it is not observable or repeatable in a controlled environment. We have also never observed new information in the genome. Everything we have observed is a variation of what already exists. Never has a helpful mutation (that introduces new information) ever been observed. Once again, this does not negate the possibility. It merely weakens the theory.

The point? Creation is religion. Evolution is not totally proven (or provable for that matter). Neither should be taught in the classroom.

Mark


I'm sure you will get lots of mail on this, but you have not quite grasped the non-evolutionist view.

In essence we object to a simplistic view being taught - one that says that evolution is one united, complete and unargable whole.

We object since there are many different beliefs amongst evolutionists, and some are mutually incompatible. We think that this should be reflected in teaching. As time progresses, scientist may remove the incompatibilities or superceed them (eg from physics: Hawking's black holes, or the waves outside the universe, both of which have been in the news recently).

As a creationist I would add that the evidence of mutations adding to genetic information, rather than subtracting from it, is too thin to sustain the theory, but that is just one view out of a range.

Steve


We are not planning a follow up piece on this, and consider the matter closed. Emails responding to this letters page and any further responses to the original news story will be forwarded to Otto Stern. ®

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