Once more into the breach ride Republican state legislators of Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Montana in their war against science. In all four states, Republican legislators are in the process of proposing bills that will require the teaching of “intelligent design” (otherwise known as the theory that “God Created the World and Evolution is the Devil’s Spawn”) in their schools.
Fresh legislation has been put forward in Colorado, Missouri and Montana. In Oklahoma, there are two bills before the state legislature that include potentially creationist language.
A watchdog group, the National Center for Science Education, said that the proposed laws were framed around the concept of “academic freedom”. It argues that religious motives are disguised by the language of encouraging more open debate in school classrooms. However, the areas of the curriculum highlighted in the bills tend to centre on the teaching of evolution or other areas of science that clash with traditionally religious interpretations of the world.
Oh, these bills won’t mention the word “God” but only a fool would believe that teaching creationism and calling the theory of evolution and natural selection into question is is not the real purpose behind these so-called bills. For example, from the mouth of Clinton Fiscus, a realtor and, Montana’s sponsor of a intelligent design law:
Rep. Clayton Fiscus, R-Billings, said evolution isn’t settled science and called it a “monumental leap” to believe it is true. His bill would allow teachers – if they want – to address perceived weaknesses in evolution studies in the classroom.
“This is just a bill to instruct what we have presently in the science on the origins of life,” Fiscus said. “We should teach what we do know. We should also teach what we don’t know.”
Of course, this is pure malarkey when you research the issue. The website of the publisher of the highly renowned journal, Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), addresses the question of whether evolution is settled science and the so-called theory of intelligent design:
Is there “evidence against” contemporary evolutionary theory?
No. There are still many puzzles in biology about the particular pathways of the evolutionary process and how various species are related to one another. However, these puzzles neither invalidate nor challenge Darwin’s basic theory of “descent with modification” nor the theory’s present form that incorporates and is supported by the genetic sciences. Contemporary evolutionary theory provides the conceptual framework in which these puzzles can be addressed and points toward ways to solve them.
Is there a growing body of scientists who doubt that evolution happened?
No. The consensus among scientists in many fields, and especially those who study the subject, is that contemporary evolutionary theory provides a robust, well-tested explanation for the history of life on earth and for the similarity within the diversity of existing organisms. Very few scientists doubt that evolution happened, although there is lively ongoing inquiry about the details of how it happened. Of the few scientists who criticize contemporary evolutionary theory, most do no research in the field, and so their opinions have little significance for scientists who do.
What is intelligent design?
“Intelligent design” consists of two hypothetical claims about the history of the universe and of life: first, that some structures or processes in nature are “irreducibly complex” and could not have originated through small changes over long periods of time; and second, that some structures or processes in nature are expressions of “complex specified information” that can only be the product of an intelligent agent.
Is intelligent design a scientific alternative to contemporary evolutionary theory?
No. Intelligent design proponents may use the language of science, but they do not use its methodology. They have yet to propose meaningful tests for their claims, there are no reports of current research on these hypotheses at relevant scientific society meetings, and there is no body of research on these hypotheses published in relevant scientific journals. So, intelligent design has not been demonstrated to be a scientific theory. While living things are remarkably complex, scientists have shown that careful, systematic study of them can yield tremendous insights about their functions and origins (as it has in the past).
Intelligent design necessarily presupposes that there is an “intelligent designer” outside of nature who, from the beginning or from time to time, inserts design into the world around us. But whether there is an intelligent designer is a matter of religious faith rather than a scientifically testable question.
In 2006, the IAP, a “global network of science academies,” issued a statement supporting evolution and and denouncing the teaching of intelligent design that was endorsed by national scientific organizations from 67 countries, including the Royal Society in the UK. In 2005, in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a federal judge appointed by George W. Bush, held that a Pennsylvania School Board’s decision to require the teaching of intelligent design was a violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. After a lengthy six week trial, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III determined that the theory of intelligent design, which the school board required students to be taught, was:
“[A]n interesting theological argument” but is not science for many reasons: it invokes a supernatural cause; it relies on the same flawed arguments as creationism; its attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community; it has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community; it has not generated any peer-reviewed publications; and it has not been the subject of testing or research.
But the decisions of Republican appointed judges be damned. The new, more radical republican party, isn’t about to give up the fight to impose their religious beliefs on students in the public school system (even if they lacked the guts to appeal the Judge Jone’s decision in the Dover case). It’s ironic, when you consider that the first person to discover that genes determine how biological traits are manifested by living organisms was Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk who taught “natural science” to school children. His studies with pea plants determined that the inheritance of biological traits were not a blend of the traits of the parent organisms, but were instead the result specific genes. He abandoned is scientific inquiries after he was appointed the abbot of his monastery.
Though his research was largely ignored during his lifetime, Mendel is now considered the father of modern genetics. The discovery of DNA and how it operates in our cells by Watson and Crick was made possible by Mendel’s initial research. Mendel believed in God, but he also believed in the scientific method. It’s safe to say that Darwin’s original theory of evolution through the process of natural selection would not have acquired the level of acceptance among scientists in many fields if Mendel and those who followed in his footsteps had not discovered the mechanism, our genes encoded in our cells’ DNA, by which <various biological traits change from one generation to another.
The second big problem [for Darwin and his theory] was the nature of heredity. If natural selection or any other mechanism was to work and have lasting effects, then the gains had to be conserved and passed on from one generation to the next. Regrettably, not only did Darwin have no good ideas on this subject, but he got hold of the wrong end of the stick. When two organisms mate, then there are basically two possible outcomes. Their differences can as it were blend in the next generation. Human skin color is a good example. Our president is about half way between his dad and his mom. Or they can stay separate. Our president is a male like his dad and not female like his mom. Darwin of course knew about the two possibilities but he assumed that the blending option is the norm and the separate option needs special explanation. Unfortunately, as critics pointed out, blending means that however good a new feature may be, in a generation or two it will be blended to virtual nonbeing. Without massive amounts of new variation, something no one really believed in, evolution is really going to go nowhere.
As we all know today, unknown to Darwin, in his monastery garden the Moravian monk Gregor Mendel was working away developing just the mechanism of heredity that was needed by the theory of the Origin. Mendel experimenting on pea plants was showing that the basic mechanism of heredity is nonblending, and that in fact a process like natural selection that picks out good new variations can be fully effective as a means of evolutionary change. Mendel provided the famous ratios (of variations passed on from one generation to the next) that are the basis for what today we know as “Mendel’s laws.” The trouble is that, as we also all know today, Darwin never read Mendel and so his problem went unsolved. Indeed, it was not until the next century (around 1900), when new researchers worked with Mendel’s discoveries, that natural selection and heredity could be brought harmoniously together and the route was then opened for the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution that is the dominant paradigm in biology today.
We stand in the early part of the 21st century, awash in new scientific discoveries each day that enhance our understanding of genetics and reinforce the factual basis for evolution critical to saving human lives.
Jan. 31, 2013 — A new study, which involves the participation of CNIO researcher Oscar Fernandez-Capetillo, demonstrates the existence of new fragile genomic sites responsible for chromosomal alterations in tumors. […]
This study moves us a step closer to understanding the mechanisms that explain the chromosomal alterations in tumour cells most common in tumours. “This new mechanism can even explain up to 50% of the abnormalities associated with some types of leukaemia,” says Fernández‐Capetillo.
Furthermore, this work defines a new class of genomic fragile sites that might contribute to our understanding of the changes that took place in the genome throughout evolution.
Yet, in America, once the bastion of leading scientific research, religious zealots and the Republican politicians who depend on their support, wish to dumb down our children’s education by teaching a theological understanding of the universe that reached its zenith during the Dark Ages in Europe. At a time when our nation’s children rank 17th in their knowledge of science when compared to all other countries, this is the Republican path to our future – the enforced teaching of ignorance and religious theology rather than an aggressive approach to improving our kids knowledge of science and the scientific method.
For that is the Republican platform in a nutshell: starve funding for teachers and public education, force parents to send their kids to privatized charter schools where the teaching of science is not a priority – indeed where education takes a back seat to profits – and where religion is introduced through the back door so that our children are indoctrinated in fundamentalist Christian theology five days a week, regardless of their own beliefs or their parents desires.
My children, fortunately graduated from public schools in New York that taught science, not religion. Because of this, my daughter was able to learn more than sufficient knowledge in the areas of higher math, biology, and chemistry to prepare her for the next step in her educational journey – her pursuit of a degree in biochemical engineering. I have no doubt she will accomplish that goal. I do wonder, however, whether her younger cousins (who happen to live in Colorado, where education funding has been cut to the bone) will receive the same high quality education in science and have the same opportunity t o pursue careers in engineering, biology, physics, mathematics and other advanced fields critical to our nation’s economy and their future earning potential if Republican policies regarding education continue to be implemented state by state.