Friday, March 30, 2007

Monkey Girl at JCCC

Last night at JCCC we had the privilege of hearing Ed Humes discuss his latest book, Monkey Girl, subtitled evolution, education and the battle for America's soul. Humes' book is at one level about the famous Dover Pennsylvania court case Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District (archived here)in which the Federal Judge struck down the Dover School Board's attempt to inject "intelligent design" into the science curriculum.

Humes noted as have many others, that there is a disconnect between what scientists believe about evolution and what the public believes. As most people know, and as Humes documents, more than half of Americans are skeptical of evolution-almost two thirds wanting some form of creationism taught along side evolution in science class. Humes attributes this disconnect to the existence of two separate "theories of evolution.

The first "theory" he called the "talk radio theory" or the "goo to you theory". This theory claims that:

  • Evolutionists (called "Darwinists" in talk radio theory)believe that the origin of life is through random processes;
  • Scientists are engaged in some sort of conspiracy to suppress or censor the truth;
  • Evolution is in its last legs as a theory because of new scientific challenges;
  • Evolution leads to Atheism and is connected to Hitler.

Humes notes that Americans are quite right to reject these ideas. The problem of course is that these ideas are either wrong or a distortion of what modern evolutionists believe about what evolution means and how it operates.

What scientists believe is the second theory-the REAL theory of evolution.

  • Evolution is not about the origin of life but instead focuses on events once life has arisen. There is however an active research program looking at abiogenesis-the development of life from non living materials on the primordial Earth.
  • Evolution is not strictly random since natural selection is not random. As an aside, it is true that we don't have any reason to postulate that natural selection is anything but unguided, but that is a different issue. After the talk I had a somewhat intense (but friendly) discussion with a fellow who failed to grasp the distinction between random and unguided.
  • Evolution is not about denying God but is about common ancestry.
  • As for Hitler, Hitler seems to have been influenced by a document called "Jews and their Lies" written in 1542 by Martin Luther.

Humes gave a good summary of the Dover case and notes that the ruling has not eased the culture wars-indeed the Judge in the case, a conservative Republican appointee, received death threats. Further Humes argues, and I see lots of hints of this at my school, that the battle ground is broadening to one about Church and State separation. He cited the example of a teacher who was teaching creationism in a science class. A student recorded this and when he complained, the STUDENT was vilified and the TEACHER argued that it was HIS religious freedom that was at risk. So the teaching of evolution becomes a violation of religious freedom! The school board's solution-ban taping in class.

Humes is very concerned about, what he views, a growing mistrust of science and he connects this mistrust to the decreasing number of American students going into science, resulting in a loss of America's competitive edge in various areas of science. Humes may be oversimplifying the causes of this loss, but this is something I really worry about because most of the scientists and science teachers, including myself, are products of the last great push for science education that took place in the 1960's in response to Sputnik.

He briefly touched on the Kansas Board of Education hearings where the scientists chose NOT to participate, and yet Kansas in sense provided a prelude to Dover according to Humes. In particular he discusses how Michael Behe got "skewered" by the Dover Lawyers in way that was not possible in Kansas.

Humes made a big push for increased support for science education at all levels including a commitment on the part of administrators to support their science staff in the the proper teaching of science including evolution.

Oh on another note...almost forgot. Just before the Humes presentation, Jack Krebs was presented with the National Center for Science Education's Friend of Darwin award, something that is well deserved. Jack has been tireless in his advocacy of science, including but not limited to evolution. His work is a major reason for the recent political victory of moderates over the conservatives in the last Kansas Board of Eduction election. Congratulations Jack!

My shots of the presentation did not come out so see Red State Rabble's coverage. This shot is a candid shot of Jack with Liz Craig and the last shot is Jack with Ed Humes.

Thanks to Kansas Citizens for Science for arranging the Humes lectures at KU and at JCCC.

Other Links:

Pat Hayes over at Red State Rabble has related coverage here ,here and here.

Quite a different reaction to Humes' talk at KU on Wednesday is from the Creationist blogger "For the kids" over at Reasonable Kansans

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