Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Truth: the Ultimate Family Value

krebsatjcccJack Krebs gave a wonderful presentation last night at JCCC about the controversy over the Kansas Science Standards and why we should care. So here are a few of my comments about this controversy. Ultimately why we should care gets at the importance of science for our civilization. If science is to advanced there must be adherence to the notion that truth is fundamental. But let's examine the claims made about the standards. The Board of education and the intelligent design folks at the Discovery Institute, claim that the science standards do not mention intelligent design.

Well that in a sense is true...For instance in the 8th through 12th grade indicators intelligent design is not overtly mentioned. But why do the standards have statements such as the following little gems in bench mark 3? By the way all of these statements are false or distortions of modern biological thought!

...The sequence of the nucleotide bases within genes is not dictated by any known chemical or physical law.

This is like saying, as Jack pointed out, that since you cannot predict whether or not a coin will come up heads or tails that coin flipping is somehow supernatural. Further, we do know something about what dictates the sequence of nucleotides. Those sequences that lead to gene products that confer higher fitness will end up being selected for. Since the BOE seems to want to allow microevolution then just maybe they are contradicting their own statements.

...Patterns of diversification and extinction of organisms are documented
in the fossil record. Evidence also indicates that simple, bacteria-like life
may have existed billions of years ago. However, in many cases the
fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences
postulated by biological evolution.

This one is false as any paleontologist will tell you, though it is true that the fossil record is biased and incomplete. Given the rarity of fossils and the sorts of organisms that leave fossils this is not surprising.

...The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified
descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a
branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by:

This one is a distortion of some recent work that that suggests that there may have been different lineages of protocells contributing to modern cells, the scientific proponents of these ideas in no way deny the existence of evolution and the concept of modification with descent.

...Studies that show animals follow different rather than identical
early stages of embryological development.

Partly true but distortion of the truth. We know and have known and taught that embryos do not faithfully recapitulate phylogeny. The statement in the BOE standards echoes the scientifically debunked claims of Jonathan Wells in icons of evolution.

...Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be
extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new
complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which
appear irreducibly complex) is controversial.

irreducible complexity is an ill formed concept due to Michael Behe that basically says that if a structure has to have all its parts to work then it could not have arisen by evolutionary processes since these imply gradual transitions. This has been debunked.

...Natural selection, genetic drift, genomes, and the mechanisms of
genetic change provide a context in which to ask research questions and
help explain observed changes in populations. However, reverse
engineering and end-directed thinking are used to understand the
function of bio-systems and information.

Only partly true. Evolutionary scientists routinely conduct experiments under natural conditions to examine the function of adaptations in populations.

...Some of the scientific criticisms include:
...The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the
sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical
machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems,
and the formation of proto-cells; and

It is true that we don't know much about the origin of life and I at least constantly point this out to my students but the Board of Education here as else where takes what are legitimate questions and uses the existence of these questions as evidence for supernatural causation rather than as legitimate scientific problems.

...The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time
that the Earth first became habitable.

To at least some scientists this suggests that life can develop very easily given the types of physical and chemical processes present in the early Earth.

One other thing: Has it escaped everyone else's notice that in Bench Mark 1 while isotopes are mentioned, nothing is said about their use in determining the age of the Earth, the age of fossils or the age of archeological artifacts? Do you think just maybe this relates to Steve Abram's belief in special creation? Just maybe? Remember, there is a type of lie called a lie of omission.

So if you live in Kansas pay attention and vote for those candidates who really are interested in truth, not those who want to distort the truth for narrow religious gain. If you are not in Kansas, watch out the same creationist types are already in your state, even if you live in South Dakota. They will paint themselves as only wanting to be fair and you will hear buzz phrases such as teach the the controversy, preying upon our belief in fairness. But it is only a ruse to push an antiscience agenda for their own ends. They are not friends to truth, the ultimate family value.

Documenting Links:

The current 8 -12 science standards.

What the Intelligent Design Network says.

What Kansas Citizens for Science says.

What the Discovery Institute says.

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