Letters

God vs. Darwin: Readers respond to Katharine Mieszkowski's "A Textbook Case of Bad Science."


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Salon Staff
August 22, 2003 11:30PM (UTC)

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A curious side note to Katharine Mieszkowski's article: Contrary to the assertions of Ray Bohlin, quoted in the article, Charles Darwin did indeed publish in the peer-reviewed literature. His first published thoughts on evolution came in the form of a joint paper with evolution's co-discoverer Alfred Wallace, published in the very prestigious "Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society." Furthermore, by the time Darwin published "On the Origin of Species," he was already famous among scientists for numerous scientific discoveries unrelated to evolution, most notably his theory (still regarded as correct today) concerning the formation of coral reefs. Darwin always submitted his ideas to the consideration of other scientists. And when his ideas were criticized, he did not run crying to the nearest school board.

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-- Jason Rosenhouse

I had to laugh when I read this: "Nobody in the scientific community takes them seriously," says Sarkar, "because the theory is not based on scientific experiments that can be replicated in a lab."

Perhaps Sarkar would care to describe the scientific, observable, replicable-in-a-lab method by which a single-celled life form in a petri dish becomes a double-celled life form. I'll wager any amount of money that he can't. Evolution, by Sarkar's measuring stick, is no more or less scientific than the intelligent design proposition.

-- Darryl Dixon

I appreciate Katharine Mieszkowski's article on the Texas textbook flap and the efforts of the ironically named Discovery Institute to alter the books for their religious and political ends. Many people do not realize the extent to which the "Intelligent Design" (ID) movement is putting pressure on school boards across the nation to get their altered definition of science into public schools, and the extent to which their use of rhetorical sleight-of-hand is fooling people into thinking that their motives are somehow different from the creationist movement from which they've sprung.

The movement's own claims to be interested only in research and in developing a "theory" of intelligent design are a laughable sham. The movement conducts no meaningful research, and after several years of making bold claims has failed to produce anything resembling a testable, coherent scientific theory. Their considerable resources are spent almost exclusively on PR efforts -- videos, Web pages, books, press releases, staged "conferences," and of course, sending their minions to places like Texas to influence educators.

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Salon readers may find it instructive to read the movement's manifesto, the "Wedge Document," to understand their true nature.

It is clear that the ID movement's motives are entirely political and religious in nature, and are part of a broader strategy in the extreme right's "culture war." They have no real interest in science. To achieve their ends, they employ the worst tactics of ideological demagoguery.

Excellent critiques of the ID movement, and their so-called scientific claims, can be found at the following Web site.

-- Steven Reuland

If evolutionists are going to explain the scientific theory, they need to let go of historical experiments that were inaccurate and focus on modern research. The Discovery Institute's report on biology textbooks made valid points. There is no reason for evolution textbook chapters to include discussions of peppered moths, the Miller-Urey experiment, or gill-like slits in human embryos. These were celebrated experiments that got large amounts of press, but have later been found scientifically inconclusive at best. Biology textbooks should focus on the modern distinctions between microevolution and macroevolution using modern model systems, and only discuss peer-reviewed, scientifically valid experiments. The only way to silence critics of evolution is to be scientifically rigorous.

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-- Nick Glatzer

Having worked for a major American educational publisher for three years, I saw first-hand the lengths to which the textbook companies will go in order to appease the special interests. Millions of dollars in sales are at stake in the all-important Texas market, and in order to even play the game, you need your book vetted by the educational board. Katharine Mieszkowski's article did not nearly go far enough in showing the extent to which a few special interests control the selection process. Anyone who would like a fuller view of the frightening picture should read this interview I published in my Web 'zine, CorporateMofo.com.

-- Ken Mondschein

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That creationists are attempting to influence the content of textbooks is an affront to our education system. That textbook publishers submit to these influences is no less than a bastardization of academia for the sole purpose of profit.

As a theory, intelligent design truly has only two sources from which to draw evidence -- the writings in ancient texts and gaps in the evidence that supports other theories.

The theory of intelligent design cannot be subjected to scientific standards because its precepts do not derive from any process resembling scientific discovery.

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Proponents of intelligent design will never submit their convictions to the scrutiny of science because they realize scientific examination of their beliefs is impossible.

Supporters of the "intelligent design" theory are abusing scientific principles to further their agenda. They pretend to care about scientific accuracy when their real goal defies their approach.

Their goal:

Abolish the teaching of a widely accepted theory -- evolution -- and replace it with instruction that promotes the belief that the universe was created by one God who sent his son to atone for the evils of humanity.

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To many of those creationists, one of those evils is the assertion that we evolved from lesser beings.

I admire those with a faith that is so strong they can truly deny the theory of evolution -- or any other theory. These are people who stick with their convictions in the face of contradiction.

However, their convictions are not necessarily my convictions. They are free to share their beliefs with me -- as long as I am willing to receive them. When they attempt to force their convictions on me and my children, I begin to take issue.

Creationists -- or intelligent designists -- want the school system to abandon evolutionist theories because they contradict their beliefs. I am sure they would be happy if creationism replaced evolutionism in our public school systems. Ultimately, they are trying to impose on me what they claim has been imposed on them -- the teaching of ideas with which they do not agree.

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-- B. Buck

If the quote in Katharine Mieszkowski's article on creationists in Texas is accurate, then there is a legitimate reason to criticize one of the books cited. Her article stated:

"In 2002, in an effort to appease Texas, references to the Ice Age as occurring 'millions of years ago' in a history textbook were changed to read 'in the distant past' so it wouldn't conflict with literal interpretations of the Bible."

While there were (several) ice ages millions of years ago, the last glacial period (which is what is meant when using the term "The" ice age) didn't end until a relatively recent 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Such quibbles are the meat to much creationist silliness.

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Personally, I would like see creationists challenge a mere theory of say, gravity, by allowing me to drop a bowling ball on their head. But if you have a reporter dealing with science issues, they should have a background in the sciences.

-- Jerry Kram

I read the article on textbook science with great dismay. It seems we must continue to insist that the world is really round, and that the earth revolves around the sun ... So I apologize for nitpicking about this, but I must object strenuously to the use of the term "creation scientist" in the article's header. Creationism, in any guise, is not a science, and its promoters are not scientists. To call them that contributes to the general confusion. God knows, we must not give in to that temptation.

-- Shilla Nassi

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What is inherently wrong with debating about evolution?

Sure, there might be some ulterior motive on the part of creationist "institutes." Sure, there might be some political kowtowing on the parts of textbook writers and publishers. Sure there might be some confused faces in the classrooms of America. But will this change the truth? Will it tell students that evolution is "wrong"?

It would be better to say that this is an opportunity to teach the scientific method, and allow students to come to their own conclusions, with their own evidence and research. Learn about why creationists believe what they believe, and learn what evolutionists believe what they believe. Debate the issues, rather than having them being lectured (and probably not believed). Learn about what creationists believe, and then argue against them (and vice versa).

In the end, intelligent debate and discussion will be better learning tools than mere "dogma." If scientists truly believe that evolution is a truth, it will be an argument that will eventually blow back in the faces of creationists who first brought up the idea.

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-- Jason Paik


Salon Staff

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