Archive for Friday, September 16, 2005

Nobel winners defend teaching evolution

State board asked to reconsider science standards

September 16, 2005


— Thirty-eight Nobel laureates led by Holocaust survivor and noted author Elie Wiesel have turned their attention to the Kansas State Board of Education.

The Nobel Prize winners are asking the board to reject science standards that criticize evolution.

In a letter to the board released Thursday, the group of leading scientists and thinkers from around the world said Darwinian evolution was the foundation of biology.

" ... its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA," the group wrote.

The conservative majority on the State Board of Education have accepted science standards that were proposed by proponents of intelligent design, which holds that the complexities of life point toward evidence of a master planner. A final vote on the standards is expected in October or November.

The Nobel winners, however, said intelligent design could not be tested as a scientific theory "because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent."

The group said it wanted to defend science and reject "efforts by the proponents of so-called intelligent design to politicize scientific inquiry."

The Nobel winners also said science and faith were not mutually exclusive and "neither should be threatened by the other."

The signers of the letter from the New York-based Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity include leading physicists, chemists and medical experts. Wiesel, who has written more than 40 books, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 1985 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

It is the most prestigious collection of scientists yet to challenge the proposal before the education board.

Their letter, however, did not convince supporters of the science standards to back off.

Board Chairman Steve Abrams, a conservative Republican from Arkansas City, said evolution shouldn't be immune from critical examination.

"I don't think anything should be taught as dogma," Abrams said.

He said nothing in the standards promoted intelligent design.

John Calvert, director of an intelligent design organization, and who helped the conservatives change the science standards, also wasn't impressed by the letter from the Nobel laureates.

"Until they are willing to address specifics of the changes, this is unhelpful," he said.


MoreThanUltimate 12 years ago

Of course it didn't sway Abrams and Calvert. They are both unintellectual buffoons. Maybe no one has explained to them our DNA and monkeys share 98.5% of the same DNA. Too bad neither uses more than 1% of their brain.

Good thing I don't have my children enrolled in Kansas Public Schools. Their high school science classes might not be accepted at universities. Oh yeah, happening right now in California with religious high schools that teach creationism and ID in science class. Their "science class" is not accepted at the University of California... Hmmmm

jokesmoker 12 years ago

All bibles must be updated to include the theory of evolution.

Jeff Barclay 12 years ago

How could an evolving DNA strand support life? Either it is complete and "works" or it is incomplete and will not function, resulting in the death of its organism. Biological systems share similiar DNA because the basic biological processes of living organisms are the same. For example, all cars do similiar things. No one questions why they have similiar parts. Would anyone ever suggest a car evolved? Their complexity and similarities are examples of design, not chance. The human engineer designed a system for life that works well in all organisms . What is the mechanism for evolution? Time? Chance? They don't work at a casino, neither can they create life. Its called the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, i.e. entropy. Disorder can not make order.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

wendt and morethanultimate, I think it is you that are ignorant (not stupid). The portion of similar DNA between humans and other primates is continually decreasing as we begin to compare non-coding sequences that are critical to gene expression and regulation. In addition, we're learning that there are epigenetic (that's external to genes) factors in cells that contribute to cellular development, meaning that not everything happens in DNA.

But all of that is sort of irrelevant anyway, as "similarity" would be equally plausibly explained by common descent or common design. Therefore it is evidence for neither. The important data in regards to evolution is a demonstration of material mechanisms' ability to produce unlimited sophistication and integration step by step. It is that mechanism that is being challenged.

And wendt, you seem to think that ID means dismissing every aspect of evolution. This is simply wrong. ID is compatible with evolutionary theory and material mechanisms, so long as there is actual data to support the claims.

Interestingly, you just introduced a theological argument in the form of - "I can't imagine a designer would design something like that, therefore it isn't true". Not very scientific.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

Here's another interesting bit. The proposed changes to the standards suggest defining evolution as an unguided process via primarily random genetic variation and natural selection. This is an accurate definition, and is supported all throughout literature.

However, opponents to the changes don't want this definition, because it implies that somehow Darwinian evolution is incompatible with theism - which of course is a bad face to wear publicly.

Now, in the letter to the board, the 38 Laureates include this statement:

"Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection."

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

MoreThanUltimate, who is being unintellectual? Calvert is practically flat out asking for substantive discussion about the proposed changes, and yet all he ever gets is blanket, vague endorsements of "evolution" by authority figures. Are you not curious as to why the substance is never engaged?

Horace 12 years ago

Can anyone explain how being a Holocaust survivor makes one an expert in biology and genetics?

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

Congratulations on your BS in biology, and give my regards to your professors. I've had enough discussions about this, and have been studying it long enough such that I've become resistant, shall we say, to arguments from authority.

Young Earth creationists are significantly different than IDers. The first presume the existance of God (the Judeo-Christian God at that), and seek to find evidence supporting that story, where as the latter make no such presumptions. IDers uphold no religious text, don't seek to confirm any religious creation story, and do not make deductions based on any religious dogma. ID has no issue with a 4 billion year old earth either. In fact, ID doesn't even assume that design in nature exists. It only infers it.

In regards to ID and complexity, in fact ID is very explicit in what it claims cannot be produced by material mechanisms alone. Namely, they are specified complexity (a measure of information), and irreducible complexity (which is rooted in biochemistry and evaluated at the molecular level).

The fossil record most prominently exhibits stasis, and sudden appearance and extinction with little or no directional evolution documented in its steps (I'm sure you're read Gould and Eldridge). A link between the lower classes is not persuasive, when what should be present is literally countless transitions between PHYLA. It is here that the fossil record's lack of support for Darwinian evolution is so striking (see Cambrian). Evolutionary theory would predict a rather continuous history of life, where as the fossil record clearly records one of great discontinuity.

I think the important thing for profitable discussions is to stay on substance. How can a material process create an irreducibly complex system? This is the core empirical claim of ID. Have you given thought to this? Intelligent action is not a myth, in fact I've just engaged in it composing this post. What's more, detecting design is an empirical venture, and is done in many other sciences already (for example SETI).

Now, I enjoy discussing this issue, but unfortunately I don't have time to respond to unsubstantive points. I'll back out on this now unless someone wants to discuss - thoughtfully - issues at the center of this (including what is actually being proposed in Kansas). Ad hominem attacks and other fallacies aren't worth it - this issue is way more sophisticated than those tired stereotypes.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

wendt, show me substance in the letter please. Once again, an argument from authority is unpersuasive.

You're also conflating ID and Biblical creationism, just one post after seeming to recognize the separation of the two. ID has always accepted evolutionary explanations where the data support them, and I challenge you to document otherwise.

In regards to test-data, one meaty area is irreducible complexity. Irreducibly complex systems are determined by empirical tests (i.e. genetic knock-out experiments), and ID claims such systems cannot be produced by material causes alone. This is clearly a testable, and falsifiable hypothesis. It's also very useful and interesting because these systems are sub-cellular, and thus have implications for the evaluation of the evolution of life on up the chain. It also gets to the heart of evolutionary mechanisms, and what they can ACTUALLY do.

Finally, you might do well to stop making assumptions about the education level of those you encounter here.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

wendt, I suppose I should repeat my comment earlier about substantive points. All you do here is make one vague attack on my intellect after another (and uninformed attacks at that, given you don't know me or my educational background).

It is you, not me, that keeps bringing up theology. Where have I made a religious argument? I'm trying to steer this thing toward a discussion of biochemistry and data, and you respond unfailingly with fallacious attacks on me.

These are not "little pieces" of the evolutionary puzzle. They are foundational and major problems in mechanism.

You keep ragging on my grasp of biology (and I don't know why, since, as I mentioned above, you have no idea what my educational background is), yet you've provided no responses to my questions raised regarding the morphological gaps between phyla, the limits to the creative ability of the variation/selection mechanism, proposed evolutionary explanations for irreducibly complex systems, etc. Why not?

John1945 12 years ago

I would find the scientific community more credible if they answered the critiques rather than just saying "Look at me, I'm a scientist", or throwing around ad hominem insults while they lurk around the hallways at hearings where they could have made their case. The classic, of course, was the moron who dressed up like a gorilla for one of the hearings the first time around. Yeah baby, that's science.

If the scientific community insists on special categories where their grand theories must be treated as dogma, they lose the right to betreated as authorities, or scientists.

Everytime you "scientists" address requests for substantive information with insults, hissy fits and religious bigotry you just look more ridiculous.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

No one is trying to prove God's existence. You are stuck in a "century" old stereotype, and you're missing the point. The point is to provide the best explanations for the biological world we can. Many systems are best explained by recourse to intelligence.

ID and creationism are not the same thing, and differences should be clear. A simple evaluation of assumptions, premises, and conclusions of the two, as well as the claims they make are all it takes. I have my doubts that you've actually examined either carefully, but perhaps you have.

Irreducible complexity is evaluated at the level of proteins (and therefore likewise at the level of genes), and is applied most often within biochemistry. An "irreducible" system in this biochemical sense, is one that requires all of it's constituent proteins to function at all. In other words, we have system Y made up of X number of proteins, and knock out experiments (by knocking out genes coding for particular proteins) have shown that system Y fails to function at all unless all proteins are in place.

A real example is the flagellum (although the ribosome may be a very interesting application here as well). It is made of approximately 40 different proteins (many multiples of each). Knock out experiments have demonstrated that absent even one of the proteins, all function ceases. You either have all the proteins, or you have nothing. So the obvious question is this:

How does an evolutionary process produce such a system. There are no simpler versions of the flagellum which evolution could have gradually improved to get to this configuration - we know experimentally that simpler versions don't function, and natural selection selects for improved function. In other words, there is no direct, gradual path to the flagellum for evolutionary processes to take. This leaves open the possiblity of indirect pathways like co-option, but I find them implausible as well for a variety of reasons that I'd be happy to discuss with you.

Also, perhaps you didn't take any philosophy of science classes, but this is an historical science, and nothing will ever be "proved". We're evaluating unique, unrepeatable, unobservable events in the distant past - proof is impossible.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

Did you read anything I just wrote? It seems like you're incapable of reasonable discussion.

A citation from Dembski would be helpful so I can evaluate context.

For someone who, by attempting to berate my intellect, is implying your superior intelligence, I'm surprised at your unsophisticated understanding of the design inference, and what it logically entails philosophically.

MoreThanUltimate 12 years ago


No, I'm not curious as the there is not a debate among 99.9% of scientists. There is a debate by people like you who distort the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution and the overwhelming evidence by scientists who have looked at ID and have said no thanks, not even close. Go back to your cave or challenge the scientific community. Until then ID is nothing more than science fiction for people like you who wish to challenge by distortion of science by pseudo-science. Prove your ID fantasy to the 99.9% of scientists who dissagree... That's right you cannot do it! You talk the talk but in reality your fantasies of ID have been disproven time and time again. Why are there nearly 100 science organizations including the National Science Foundation that call ID a hoax? Why are the most celebrated minds inscience laughing at you? hmmmm, keep trying Ultimate175, maybe you will be the one that finally proves ID theory to the rest of the world...NOT!

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

wendt, read up on knock-out experiments. They're fairly routine in biochemistry.

I'm talking about suppressing the expression of specific genes to deprive a system of a protein it would normally have, and evaluating function. It's not lost structure, it's not a different protein, it's the absence of the protein.

DNA is first transcribed in the nucleus, whereby mRNA moves to a ribosome for translation and formation of a protein - 3 codons at a time. That was a quick and dirty answer to your question.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

What does stored chemical energy have to do with function of a system missing a protein?

I'm not ignorant of biology, and your insistence to the contrary is making you look foolish (how do you know I'm ignorant of the scientific method, we haven't even discussed it?). Just stop.

How was my answer to your question about protein formation in the cell?

MoreThanUltimate 12 years ago

BTW ultimate 175, the flagellum example by IDers has also been torn apart by scientists as poppycock. You really ought not state twisted logic and twisted science. You are not impressing anyone who has studied science. Obviously you were asleep while the rest of us were learning! Every arguement you have stated has been discussed ad nauseum by those who know much more than you. None of them hold water. Try regurgitating something fresh and worthy of discussion, the examples you pose are not...

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

MoreThanUltimate, are you a troll? Do you think I haven't read, and have had in depth discussions about the evolvability of the flagellum? Come on, don't be so presumptuous.

I'm wondering if you could carry on an informed discussion about the responses by the evolutionary community to flagellum example. It seems, from what you're written thus far (including your tone), that you have no idea what the repsonses have entailed. They're not compelling, in my estimation.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

wendt, in my first real explanation of irreducibly complex systems, I said this:

"In other words, we have system Y made up of X number of proteins, and knock out experiments (by knocking out genes coding for particular proteins) have shown that system Y fails to function at all unless all proteins are in place."

Not sure how you missed it.

You're misunderstanding "irreducible". It doesn't mean that the "designer" created the atoms. It means that the system in question is not "reducible" to a simpler version - i.e. less parts, and still maintain function.

And once again, nothing is going to be "proven". See my reasoning a few posts above.

Brian Sandefur 12 years ago

To all fair readers, judge for yourself the quality of argument above (between myself, wendt, and morethanultimate), and judge for yourself who made the genuine attempt to discuss relevant, specific issues within science.

Too nice of a day to stay inside, so I'm taking the rest of the day off. If this conversation descends back into ad hominem attacks and boring stereotypical rehashes, as I expect it will, I hope you enjoy it.

And by the way wendt, I never saw your answer - did I get that thing concerning where proteins are made right? Just checkin'.

Lepanto1571 12 years ago

Ultimate175 and wendt,

Having read this entire thread, Ultimate175 did, in fact, mention knock out experiments at his 9:17 and 9:55, while reiterating at 10:30, and respectfully answered the challenges while the opposition diverted.

Wendt, you may pedantically assert this debate is closed and beneath you, or that those in oppostion to you are all too dumb to understand the issues involved, but you'd be engaging in a rash and foolish presumption. You really should be careful of ostentatiously touting high credentials and thinking this board only viewed by nit-wits.

Too bad you want to leave and contemptuously dissmiss Ultimate175, wendt. This is an interesting discussion despite your attempts to marginalize your opposition through stereotyping, indulge in pedantry, and sabotage the discussion by devolving into dissmissive pejoratives. Most of us would expect more objectivity from those who adhere to the scientific method.

Wendt, you seem intelligent, and have admitted above to some expertise in this matter and we may yet benefit from your experience and knowledge. You really ought to stick around, unless, of course, you're grinding some idiot partisan axe; in which case, just continue as you are. Neither credentials nor formal instruction necessitate wisdom and objectivity.

I for one, am enjoying this debate and I'll warrant there's more than I learning something here.

hobb2264 12 years ago


I was surprised by the following comment from one of your earlier threads:

"Contradiction is a waste of time. It's not legitimate intellectual argument. It achieves nothing."

Without people contradicting the "norm", the theory of evolution would not even exist. It seems to me that contradictions help promote open-mindedness.

Here's an open question....Are all things verifiable / provable by the scientific method?

MoreThanUltimate 12 years ago


It appears Ultimate175 has been peddling his psuedo-science degree around the net for quite awhile, try Googling his handle. Others have responded to his fantasy in other forums and still Ultimate175 uses twisted arguements that have been disproven numerous times by responders to his rantings and by the overwhelming scientific study available by those who actually know what they are talking about. Time and time again, ID has been shown and proven to be science fiction by the scientific community. ID is fine for church or theology class, but never in a science class as it will never be a science! Ultimate175 feels there is a conspiracy by science to supress ID. Yeah, right...

Kodiac 12 years ago

After reading this blog I am beginning to become a firm believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Being a lay person with no training or background in biology or science, I find much of the arguing back and forth about Intelligent Design to be pointless. As far as I can see there is nothing here the supports an Intelligent Designer. To say we can't see how a structure can function without all of its components or that we cannot find simpler versions of that structure and then go on to say that somehow shows proof for a Designer requires no science, only a leap of faith. You might as well believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster which is exactly what I am going to do.

MoreThanUltimate 12 years ago

Yeah, exactly the crew that all the other scientists laugh at... Nice try... No cigar!

If ID is a true science, then why isn't the scientific community reviewing any peer papers in earnest or giving any serious discussion as to the validity of points raised by this science fiction? All ponts raised by ID have been smacked down and laughed at. ID has no scientific credibilty by any credible scientists in the disciplines associated with evolution... period end of discussion.

Once ID becomes a science a majority of people like myself might take it seriously. Until then keep it at the church or theology class of your choice. That is where it will always belong.

BunE 12 years ago

Intelligent design is just creationism wrapped in a pseudo-science wrapper to get it into the classroom and spread the jebus-freaks' brand of theocracy. Soon we will have scientist-lynching squad stopping by the Stowers and various research biology labs all over draggin out everyone who has a white coat on.


Keep your silly myths out of the science classroom and in history or philosophy classrooms. You are just slowing down progress, afraid that science will find truth that may put your faith on a tenous perch. Pull your kids out of public schools and send them...elsewere. Maybe a generation can be maded ready for the American Taliban.

The Kansas School board is controlled by small minded scared little people who are more concerned with corrupting the populace with fairy tales than finding the truth.

ID will NEVER be science unless we find the fossilized body of the "designer" and all of his/her notes. But then at least we will know that Nietszche was right.+

murf60099 12 years ago

I've read some stuff that makes me feel that Mayby ID should be taught In a Phillosiphy cirricula, along with mythology and such, seems reasonable , But Not as Science. There are no Facts to SUPPORT ID, just doubts and fears About evolution, Which Has facts to support It (although) It is'nt "complete" It sure has been growing and expanding in the quest for answers. evoulution Theory is science. ID is phillosphy

mustardseed 12 years ago

The decision making criteria for Intelligent Design conclusions is "I think I see it, therefore it is real."

In the world of Intelligent designers, reality is created by popular vote.

It is Dogma defined.

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