Afraid of evolution

It’s been 86 years since the “monkey trial,” but most biology teachers still are afraid to teach evolution straight, concludes a survey of 926 public high school biology teachers.

Only 28 percent describe the evidence for evolution and “explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology,” reports the New York Times.  Thirteen percent teach creationism or “intelligent design” as a valid alternative to evolution. The “cautious 60 percent” tell students they teach evolution only because it’s on the state exam.

Others treat evolution as if it applied only on a molecular level, avoiding any discussion of the evolution of species. And a large number claim that students are free to choose evolution or creationism based on their own beliefs.

“It’s horrible,” Science Guy Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society, tells Popular Mechanics.

. . . if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster. . . . The main idea in all of biology is evolution. To not teach it to our young people is wrong.

For one fourth of high school students, biology is the only science class they take.

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Comments

  1. While I do personally believe in (theistic) evolution, I think that for the overwhelming majority of jobs out there, it doesn’t actually matter whether the person believes in evolution or “Young Earth” Creationism. If you are an accountant or a plumber or a cashier etc. what difference does it make if you believe God created the universe 6,000 years ago in a period corresponding to 144 modern hours?

    I am personally FAR more concerned about the reading, writing, and math skills in this country because that has an actual impact on our economic competitiveness.

  2. I don’t think Bill Nye does himself much credit here. It’s quite a stretch to say someone is conflicted about religious beliefs about the origin of earth and that they don’t believe in gravity or the table of elements. He sounds like an ideologue not a scientist.

  3. @crimson wife

    It makes a great deal of difference!

    Plumbers, truck drivers and mathematicians are all citizens of our republic, and are asked to vote on matters that depend on ligic and reasoning.

    What is at stake is not a trivial philosophical matter, but the foundation of logic and reason- if scientific consensus is treated as a matter of faith, then everything is cast into doubt and becomes he-said, she-said:

    How do we resolve matters like whether or not to go to war? The Founders preferred that the American citizens use evidence, logic, and reasoning, not faith and intuition.

  4. “Right” and “wrong” are not scientific terms, and I’m soo not listening to moralising from some dude who can’t stay married for more than two months.

    I don’t see local science teachers as being “afraid” of teaching evolution at all, just as I am not “afraid” of opting my children out of any and all classes or units that concern me as a parent. In reality, schools and parents can work together on most things. :)

  5. “The Founders preferred that the American citizens use evidence, logic, and reasoning, not faith and intuition.”

    Did they indeed? Aside from a handful of Deists, the Founding Fathers were devout Christians.

    John Adams: “The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity… I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

    Sam Adams: “Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity.”

    Alexander Hamilton: “I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”

    Patrick Henry: “It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    Perhaps the most relevant quote, however, is from Thomas Paine: “It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences, and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles: he can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.”

  6. Except that Darwin, as he was often taught, wasn’t particularly scientifically rigourous either — Darwinism is all about gradualism. Some of his examples, like the Moths, turned out to be false. Plus, with the new research on methylization, it’s starting to look like La Marque wasn’t all wrong!

    It seems like teaching about what happens on the DNA level is a good place to begin. After all, not all mutations are beneficial, and sometimes population change isn’t about “survival of the fittest’ and ‘filling niches’ but just ‘this particular mutation is dominant and not actively HARMFUL.”

    Also, Darwinism can be dangerous when kids start asking questions like “So when did human evolution STOP?” Some topics are too scary to address in science class……

  7. @crimson wife-
    The Founders were products of the Enlightenment; they saw no contradiction between science and their personal faith.

    In fact, many theologians are comfortable with the notion of evolution, as a part of the workings of the universe that God created.

    Democracy itself is impossible without scientific logic that the Enllightement era philosophers brought to bear.

  8. Thomas Paine: “There is scarcely any part of science, or anything in nature, which those imposters and blasphemers of science, called priests, as well Christians as Jews, have not, at some time or other, perverted, or sought to pervert to the purpose of superstition and falsehood.”

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    It matters because in the classroom, teachers are teaching not only the future plumbers and cashiers, but also, we hope, the future cancer researchers, the future climate change scientists, the future government officials overseeing science programs. We need to teach kids what science really is, and what we really know, instead of tiptoeing around the facts.

    It also matters because evolution is a beautiful, unifying theory. We need to inspire our future scientists with the intellectual beauty of real science, instead of purveying stories that don’t explain anything.

  10. Cardinal Fang says:

    “Darwinism can be dangerous when kids start asking questions like “So when did human evolution STOP?””

    Why would that be dangerous? It sounds like a great question to me, and one that could start an interesting discussion. The short answer is, of course, it hasn’t stopped.

  11. Ok… a couple of things-

    Lamarck’s (not La Marque) work can only loosely be related to current discoveries of DNA methylation if you ignore everything he actually said and heavily paraphrase his work. The inclusion of Lamarck’s name in current research is nothing more than an eye grabber and is not an endorsement of his work.

    Secondly – human evolution is still occurring. I’m not sure why it is scary. The interesting aspect of it is that we as a species are coming close to being able to guide our evolution to a limited extent. One could also say that we are evolving as a society… think of all the ways we have artificially adapted ourselves or our environments.

    Whether or not Darwin was a gradualist does not change the fact that the mechanisms of evolution that he proposed revolutionized the field and still form the foundation of our understanding today.

  12. Peace Corps says:

    I’ve found that teachers teach what they want to teach, and don’t teach what they don’t want to teach. Given the constraints that we have, how do you change that? (If you want to)

  13. Why shouldn’t teachers be afraid? The anti-teacher/ anti-public school crowd includes a large group of religious nutjobs who are determined to force their beliefs upon everyone else.

  14. But if you start looking at the evidence that Human Evolution is still occuring (and especially the kind of cool stuff involving literacy and whatnot) and you start thinking about selective mating…..

    For a teacher who likes interesting discussions, sure, it could be fun….. but for the teachers who are afraid of things getting out of hand…..

    (Also, thanks for the clarification on Lamarck– I’ve never read him– just had the picture in my Bio book explaining how crazy he was…..)

  15. That cat’s already out of the bag, Deidre. We have some interesting discussions about such while studying Frankenstein.

  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    One respectable theory about the rise of autism is precisely what you’re talking about, Deirdre: assortative mating– that nerdy men and nerdy women are now more able to meet and have children than used to be the case, and those children have a higher-than-normal chance of having autism.

    What would human evolution involving literacy be? What would be the mechanism? That is, if someone had a beneficial or deleterious mutation involving literacy, how would that affect the person’s reproductive fitness? How would you detect this species change? Literacy seems to me to be so much affected by factors other than genetics that genetic change would be hard to unearth.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    I can think of a couple of things I’d be reluctant to teach in high school, for the reason that there are amped-up activists ready to make more trouble for me than my life would conveniently handle.
    1. Joe McCarthy was right about communist infiltration. See Venona, et al. Problem was, he was drunk and picked the wrong list. Worst thing that ever happened to the anti-communist effort.
    2. I teach AmGov and have a sign on my wall that the only money the government has is what they take from you and even borrowing to spend is taxation. (In a Rust Belt city with strong UAW influence.)
    3. Global warming is a hoax.
    4. The 3/5 rule for counting slaves was better for African Americans back then than 1/1 would have been.
    5. I’m sure you could think of a dozen more.
    Fortunately, I’m not a teacher.

  18. deirdre does have a point about the challenges of discussions that lay outside the standard curriculum. many states have evolution introduced in middle or even elementary school. how many teachers teach evolution, which is a complex field of study in itself, when their only source of knowledge is a poorly designed text book designed for their students?

  19. or, even worse, their knowledge comes from pokemon.

  20. I do believe that public schools ought to teach about the theory of evolution in biology classes. Students should be able to explain the tenets of Darwinism, whether or not they personally choose to accept them as true. I do personally believe in it, but it’s not my place to judge those who do not.

    It’s akin to learning about different religions- I don’t believe that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in the 7th century A.D. or that an angel named Moroni gave the Book of Mormon on golden plates to Joseph Smith in 1827. But I do think it’s important to understand those things are what Muslims and Mormons believe.

    The public schools should be in the business of teaching about different things, not trying to change students’ personal beliefs. If, after learning about the theory of evolution, students choose to disbelieve it, that’s their prerogative.

  21. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Only 28 percent describe the evidence for evolution and “explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology,” reports the New York Times.

    That’s good. That means 72% are withholding their consent from an obviously false notion.

    They’re probably not all doing it for good reasons, but it’s a start.

    Now what to do with that 28% that thinks evolution is a “unifying theme” in all of biology….

  22. Crimson Wife:

    Aside from a handful of Deists, the Founding Fathers were devout Christians.

    But none of them were Gnostics.  They did not believe that the world was created as an elaborate lie, and had they known about the age of the Earth, the size of the universe and the independent and consistent lines of evidence for evolution of all life on earth from a common ancestor, I doubt that any of them would have doubted it.

    Dierdre:

    Except that Darwin, as he was often taught, wasn’t particularly scientifically rigourous either — Darwinism is all about gradualism.

    Darwin didn’t know about DNA or even Mendelian inheritance; there’s a lot he got wrong.  His seminal insight, that species can evolve by accumulation of heritable changes, is still absolutely valid.

    That’s not a problem for science.  That’s only a problem for people who expect everything to work on “revealed truth”; in other words, people who expect everything to be religion.

    It seems like teaching about what happens on the DNA level is a good place to begin.

    If you don’t follow through with the fact that humans share roughly 40% of major genes with yeast (and 95% with chimps), you’re not telling the whole story.

    Also, Darwinism can be dangerous when kids start asking questions like “So when did human evolution STOP?” Some topics are too scary to address in science class……

    You can sidestep such questions by saying that modern human evolution is too new and specialized to be covered in a basic biology class.  This kicks the can down the road without lying to anyone.

    Michael Lopez:

    That means 72% are withholding their consent from an obviously false notion.

    You are obviously one of the ones who think that the world is an elaborate lie. Are you also a 9/11 troofer? Chemtrails theorist?

    Now what to do with that 28% that thinks evolution is a “unifying theme” in all of biology….

    They head up the AAAS and get Nobel prizes for their work; I don’t think they need any more help.  Now, our poor students getting crappy education in science because some clowns think the truth is blasphemous or something… THEY need help!

  23. The main problem with science today is the belief/insistence that science is fact. Or that once a consensus is reached, the science is settled.

    This goes against history and principle. History is replete with instances in which the consensus was wrong. The basic principle of science is based on theories, not facts.

    If you teach evolution, and most of science, as theory instead of fact, you should not be afraid to teach it. If you teach evolution, and most of science, as fact, then you are just as wrong as the religious who reject evolution outright.

  24. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Engineer-Poet saith:

    You are obviously one of the ones who think that the world is an elaborate lie. Are you also a 9/11 troofer? Chemtrails theorist?

    Really? You really think that I’m “obviously” one of those nutjobs? It’s not like you’ve not had a goodly chance to get to know my postings, EP. I’ll be accepting apologies all day.

    Sciences don’t have “themes”, much less “unifying themes”. Science is a reflection of nature, not an art project. That sort of “thematic” talk comes from mushy-headed thinkers who want to turn science into a sort of religion.

    And it’s a very rare thing that sciences get “unified” in any sort of effective way. Usually, if you want to “unify” science for the purpose of teaching it as a cohesive whole, you have to lie to the students. Much — probably most– of our science is composed of little patchwork theories that work really well in their own tiny spheres of applicability, and when stitched together form a sort of “quilt” that overlays the world of our experience.

    Unification theories are exceedingly rare and hard to come by, and most of them prove false (or, more properly, prove to be applicable only within their own little sphere).

    Evolution ain’t one of them, or if it is, it’s because while it’s true as far as it goes, Evolution is, in it’s larger-scale, higher-level application (the very sort of application that people see as a “unifying theme”), more or less a content-less theory. I’ve got no problem with people studying the science of mutation or doing genetic demography. Understanding the processes that underlie Evolution’s more sweeping theories is important — way more important than the high-level crap that people are trying to foist off as quasi-religious dogma.

    I’ll take my science as science, thank you. And I prefer my religions to stick to things like God, good, evil, salvation, and the eternality of the soul.

  25. gahrie, evolution is as much a fact as gravity; there’s an immense body of evidence which makes it impossible to honestly deny either one.  The difference is that we have good working theories for the methods of evolution, while our theories of gravity are sadly lacking (none of them play nice with quantum-level phenomena, IIUC).

  26. Let’s be honest: no human truly knows for 100% certain whether macroevolution has occurred. Therefore, it’s wrong to claim that it is a “fact” it has. We *CAN* state that the scientific evidence we have at this time strongly supports the theory of evolution. That’s good enough for me to accept that the theory is true. But many evolution proponents overstate the case for it. Evolution is not a fact, but rather a theory that may or may not ultimately turn out to be the correct explanation for the evidence we have.

  27. Perhaps we could worry about what teachers are learning at the ‘education’ schools first. I have been horrified by what some of the teachers have said to my children in off the cuff discussions. They have so little basis in fact and some were downright lies (in my daughter’s AP American history class her teacher told the class that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor and let it happen, even if the history book debunked this!). The lack of real intellectual abilities is what causes the lack of respect for teachers in this country. Raise the standards and then we can talk.

  28. Michael Lopez:

    You really think that I’m “obviously” one of those nutjobs?

    Hyperbole, but you’re the one exhibiting the same kind of conspiratorial thinking.  And about the entire science of biology, no less.  If you don’t like the comparison, you can stop making it so apt.

    Sciences don’t have “themes”, much less “unifying themes”.

    Next you’ll be saying that Sir Isaac Newton didn’t find any “unifying themes” between the motion of falling fruit and orbiting planets.  Einstein didn’t find any unifying theme between the behavior of matter and of light; Eddington’s observed shift of the visible positions of stars near the Sun during the total eclipse of 1919 meant nothing.  Right?

    Or electroweak theory?  No unifying principles there?

    You’re stuck in the mind-set of the fundamentalist:  all facts are sui generis, and there is no point in questioning what they might mean; indeed, it might be blasphemous.  That is not how science works; science looks for the common principles and tries to expose and state them explicitly.  Without that, you would not be typing on a computer today.  Without the concerted prying into the “unifying themes” of biology, yielding vaccines and antibiotics and public health measures like chlorinated water, you might very well not be here at all.

    Science is a reflection of nature, not an art project.

    So you expect to raise a linguistic quibble and “deconstruct” the whole edifice of science.  That’s worthy of a post-modernist.

    And it’s a very rare thing that sciences get “unified” in any sort of effective way.

    Only an ignorant person could claim this seriously.  I would not be surprised if you’d never heard of electroweak theory before.

    Understanding the processes that underlie Evolution’s more sweeping theories is important

    You’re positing a boundary between process and the body of facts that isn’t there.

    Evolution is, in it’s larger-scale, higher-level application (the very sort of application that people see as a “unifying theme”), more or less a content-less theory.

    How would it be content-less, or to put it another way, useless?  Would it be useless to use our knowledge of evolution to test drugs and procedures and even psychology on rats, because they are also mammals?  Would it be useless to do more refined tests on macaques, because they have a more recent common ancestor with us and thus more commonalities?  Does that lack content?

    Maybe you’d accept that evolution predicts that the change from 24 chromosome pairs in the other great apes to 23 in humans means that two ancestral chromosomes were fused into one in our line… and that is indeed the case?  Or is that a lack of content too?

    These things are true.  They have important implications.  They should be taught explicitly in every high-school biology class in this country, fundies be damned.

    I’ll take my science as science, thank you. And I prefer my religions to stick to things like God, good, evil, salvation, and the eternality of the soul.

    But you don’t like it when science lets someone be intellectually satisfied without believing any of that other stuff, and especially when it threatens to let every high-school science student in on it.

  29. Crimson Wife:  if you express so much doubt in well-confirmed evidence, you must logically discard every claim supported by less.  Have you given up religion?  If not, you’re just engaging in special pleading.

  30. @ Engineer-Poet: your post confuses me. Where did you get the impression that I do not personally accept evolution is true? I have stated the contrary several times in this discussion.

    Faith and reason are complementary ways of knowing. One is not “true” and the other “false”. Certain things can be observed through scientific means. Other things do not fall into the realm of science but rather are supernatural. One can neither prove nor disprove scientifically that the bread and wine I take every Sunday at Mass actually changes into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. That does not mean that it is untrue but rather it is something that can only be known through faith.

    It is your prerogative to disbelieve anything that cannot be proven scientifically. I am not a materialist, however, but a Christian.

  31. Michael E. Lopez says:

    To continue the EP/MEL debate:

    Next you’ll be saying that Sir Isaac Newton didn’t find any “unifying themes” between the motion of falling fruit and orbiting planets.

    Actually, as you’re supposed to be something of an Engineer, I’d suspect that you realized that I did say that. (Cf. “logical implication”) You can call Newton’s work a cherry pie, but that doesn’t make it a cherry pie. You can call it a theme, but it’s simply not a theme: themes are things that are present in designed works. Teaching evolution as a “unifying theme” raises a descriptive theory to the level of a normative theory — which is teaching science as religion. The sorts of people who advocate evolution as a “theme” want their universe to make sense, to have a purpose. So they infuse science with normative content.

    And they’re dangerous to the very project of science, as dangerous as the Global Warming people with their non-falsifiable “theories”.

    Eddington’s observed shift of the visible positions of stars near the Sun during the total eclipse of 1919 meant nothing. Right?

    (blinks) WTF? What are you smoking and where can I get some? It meant we had evidence for some pretty cool theories. Why would you think I thought it meant nothing?

    Unless, of course, you think it “means” something in the deep, meaningful poetic sense. But that’s not at all what I take it you think it means, and I can’t for the life of me imagine why you’d think I don’t think it means anything at all.

    But I do think it doesn’t contribute to an ongoing “theme” in science.

    Would it be useless to use our knowledge of evolution to test drugs and procedures and even psychology on rats, because they are also mammals? Would it be useless to do more refined tests on macaques, because they have a more recent common ancestor with us and thus more commonalities? Does that lack content?

    Frankly, I’m disappointed in your argument here. The things that you are describing have very little to do with evolution, and certainly nothing relevant to the current discussion: the practices you bring up are the application of the scientific method, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter why the similarities exist — what matters is that the similarities allow us to eliminate extraneous variables. We don’t test drugs on snakes or rocks or cans of Diet Coke because there aren’t that many similarities. Such an experiment wouldn’t tell us anything interesting or useful.

    Or, let’s put this another way:

    We know that the other species are our “relatives” because of the similarities. We see the similarities, and then we have a theory (evolution) that lets us explain “why” those similarities exist (in the sense of a descriptive history).

    And also — no surprise here — we know that our relatives make good test subjects because of the similarities. The fact that they are our relatives is beside the point: if we made artificial organisms that perfectly mimicked human biological functions, they wouldn’t be products of evolution, but they’d be wonderful test subjects.

    Just to make sure my point is crystal clear here: We don’t know that they make good test subjects because they are our relatives and we don’t know that they are our relatives because they make good test subjects. Both conclusions are drawn from the similarities that are or are not found to be present. It’s the observed similarities that are doing all the work in both cases, not a theory of evolution.


    So you expect to raise a linguistic quibble and “deconstruct” the whole edifice of science. That’s worthy of a post-modernist.

    Newsflash: I’m not the one who is misrepresenting the “edifice of science” — but we’ll get to more of that in a moment. (see below) I’m also tremendously hostile to postmodernism — something that I don’t try even for a moment to hide.

    (responding to my assertion that “it’s a very rare thing that sciences get “unified” in any sort of effective way.”)

    Only an ignorant person could claim this seriously. I would not be surprised if you’d never heard of electroweak theory before.

    For the life of me, I don’t see how anything I’ve said could possibly give you grounds for predicting that I’ve not heard of any particular scientific theory. You seem to have quite the wrong idea of who I am. I’m not a religious person, and I’m not adverse to science. I’ve suspicions about God, but they’re just suspicions and I don’t generally consider them good material for scientific or philosophical debate.

    I have, however, read quite a bit (compared to the average person) about the philosophy of science, and I’m no slouch when it comes to these things. You’re not dealing with some religious fundamentalist here, but with someone who apparently thinks about the purposes and nature of scientific inquiry a lot more than you do.

    I may suspect that you’re not a subscriber, say, to theories about tropospheric complacency in the development of scientific accomplishments. But I certainly would never say that it wouldn’t surprise me if you’d ever heard of it, because you’ve given me no reason to think that you haven’t.

    Maybe you’d accept that evolution predicts that the change from 24 chromosome pairs in the other great apes to 23 in humans means that two ancestral chromosomes were fused into one in our line… and that is indeed the case? Or is that a lack of content too?

    What I’d accept is that your sentence makes no sense. Evolution predicts that a change means something? What does it mean to “predict that a change means something?”

    In the first place, to say that there was a change from 24 chromosome pairs to 23 is to assume that there was some sort of continuous, ongoing process. So we’re apparently already working within the confines of evolutionary theory. I’m OK with that — I just want to make sure we’re clear about this.

    Second, to say that the change means that two chromosomes were fused is to put the cart before the horse. The fusing of the two chromosomes is an explanation for how the change happened, and as it happens it’s a pretty good one. But if there’s meaning here, it’s that the fusing “means” that the change happened, not the other way around. The change could have happened in a number of different ways; in fact, it seems to have happened in a very specific way.

    But let’s talk about that. You want to say that the fusing of chromosomes “is indeed the case.” You even provide a helpful link to show that this “is indeed the case.”

    Please allow me to quote from the FIRST PARAGRAPH of the page to which you linked:

    All great apes apart from man have 24 pairs of chromosomes. There is therefore a hypothesis that the common ancestor of all great apes had 24 pairs of chromosomes and that the fusion of two of the ancestor’s chromosomes created chromosome 2 in humans. The evidence for this hypothesis is very strong.

    (emphasis added)

    Until and unless we invent time travel and someone sees this fusion in action first-hand, we’ll have to settle for “We have a pretty good working theory of what happened.” Now, I happen to agree that it’s a pretty damn good theory. I like it. But it’s a theory about what might have happened that’s consistent with the evidence.


    But you don’t like it when science lets someone be intellectually satisfied without believing any of that other stuff, and especially when it threatens to let every high-school science student in on it.

    Frankly, I find it disturbing that science should be seen as allowing anyone be “intellectually satisfied.” Being intellectually satisfied I take as generally a bad thing. It means that inquiry has stopped, and that further progress is unlikely.

    I would have hoped a professed science-minded person like yourself would have agreed, but I suppose that’s too much to hope for.

    (I should caveat my entire discussion: if you think that God designed and created the universe, there may indeed be “themes” and evolution could be one of them. But you’d have to explicitly approach science as a branch of natural theology for such a discussion to even begin to make sense.)

  32. Lightly Seasoned– I just wanted to say that your class sounds like fun! ;)

  33. CW:

    Faith and reason are complementary ways of knowing.

    People reach contradictory and even opposite conclusions through faith.  If you cannot even create a faith-based test to falsify erroneous claims, you can’t actually use faith to know anything.  You can only take it axiomatically.

    Other things do not fall into the realm of science but rather are supernatural.

    Which is synonymous with “things which cannot be demonstrated to exist”.  Your acceptance is axiomatic, not evidentiary.  I, raised as a Lutheran, was taught a different set of axioms and have since discarded many of them (I won’t say “all” because I can’t be sure how many e.g. familial ideas originated in dogma).

    On the other hand, remaining RCC after the recent revelations of chronic child abuse and Church protection of the abusers backs up the message of this Tim Minchin takedown (EXTREMELY NSFW! likely offensive to NEARLY EVERYONE!) which says something about how much evil you tolerate for the sake of your axioms.  I will quote the last verse with edits suitable for a family-friendly blog:

    And if you look into your ———-ing heart and tell me true
    If this ———-ing stupid —-ing song offended you
    With its filthy —-ing language and its —-ing disrespect
    If it made you feel angry go ahead and write a letter
    But if you find me more offensive than the —-ing possibility
    The Pope protected priests when they were getting —-ing fiddly
    Then listen to me ———-er this here is a fact
    You are just as morally misguided as that ———-ing power-hungry self-aggrandized bigot in the stupid —-ing hat.

    There’s a point where faith becomes a moral evil.  Those whose support enabled the RCC to get away with its centuries of abuses have gone past that point (and the same is true of e.g. Communists).

  34. There appears to be an issue with comments posting.  I’m going to attempt to post the second of two replies and wait to see if either appears anytime soon.

    MEL:

    Teaching evolution as a “unifying theme” raises a descriptive theory to the level of a normative theory — which is teaching science as religion. The sorts of people who advocate evolution as a “theme” want their universe to make sense, to have a purpose. So they infuse science with normative content.

    Oh, for crying out loud… the teleological claims for evolution were ridiculous from the start, and have not improved with age.

    Does teaching the geological colum as a “unifying theme” raise a description to normativity?  You’d have to be crazy to suggest such a thing.  We can be sure that the geological column is real because every time we come up with a new way to test the concept (e.g. radioisotope dating) it is confirmed.  If we kept finding evidence which contradicted the basic idea, we would have long since abandoned it.  This is why the idea of a “Great Flood” has zero support among serious geologists:  it doesn’t fit the evidence.

    What’s the scientific point of using and teaching this “unifying theme”?  Two come to mind even to this non-scientist:

    1.  It suggests the sort of things we ought to find.  This doesn’t mean we discard everything that doesn’t fit the preconception (as the Discovery Institute does), it means that we know when we’ve found something new and therefore interesting (which can lead to changes in theory, or at least papers suitable for impressing tenure committees).

    2.  It suggests where we ought to be looking for certain things.  For instance, the transitional forms between land-dwelling animals and cetacea would have been living in near-shore habitats around a certain time.  Searching sedimentary forms laid down near ancient shorelines of the proper age turned up Sionyx and Pakicetus.

    That last example is also an example of the “unifying theme” of evolution.  Geology and evolution and nuclear physics and cosmology and molecular biology all backstop each other; there are no Chinese walls in science, and any applicable data can be used to test (and perhaps falsify) any theory.

    So they infuse science with normative content.

    This is projection on the part of creationists.  Their claims are explicitly normative (their creation myths connect directly to morality!), so they practice “tu quoque”.

    And they’re dangerous to the very project of science, as dangerous as the Global Warming people with their non-falsifiable “theories”.

    Begin AGW digression:

    You’re just going to have to wait for the data to come out wrong.  Here in Michigan we’ve received some amazing snow-dumps (due to unseasonably humid, tropical air being swept north) and today we’ve got Chinook conditions.  The last 130 years of temperature data support AGW models.  And even if AGW models are wrong, we’d only be moving up our switch away from carbon-based fuels that will run out anyway.  Even if you’re willing to take the chance (we’ve known that this would almost certainly happen since the 1930′s!), there are many good reasons, including human health and geopolitics, to get moving immediately.

    End AGW digression.

    Until and unless we invent time travel and someone sees this fusion in action first-hand, we’ll have to settle for “We have a pretty good working theory of what happened.”

    That’s the creationist’s “were you there?” tactic.  What we have would be iron-clad proof if this were e.g. a murder trial.  The chromosome numbers match, the gene locations on the fused chromosome match, the dual centromeres and telomeric sequences in the middle match, the common endogenous retroviruses match….

    Ironically, it’s a page at “Detecting Design” which admits that chromosome fusions are fairly frequent.  Kinda funny when you think about it.

  35. Actually, in a criminal trial, we rarely have “iron-clad proof” that the defendant committed the crime. That is why the legal requirement is merely “beyond a reasonable doubt”. And as anyone who watches the news can attest, there have been a number of cases where better evidence has turned up later that served to exonerate a convicted felon.

    I would not disagree with a claim that the evidence we have now supporting the theory of evolution meets a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. But it isn’t “iron-clad proof” and it is certainly possible that some time in the future, scientists will discover further data that would necessitate a new explanation (the proverbial “paradigm shift”).

  36. in a criminal trial, we rarely have “iron-clad proof” that the defendant committed the crime.

    That’s fine.  The molecular evidence for common ancestry of humans and apes is better.

    it isn’t “iron-clad proof”

    Combined with everything else it is.  The skeptics and deniers have had over a century and multiple revolutionary developments in scientific methods to come up with a competing explanation to the common descent scenario originally supported by anatomical and paleontological evidence.  It just keeps adding up.

    it is certainly possible that some time in the future, scientists will discover further data that would necessitate a new explanation

    No, it isn’t.  What possible findings could do more than write a footnote to the pile of evidence from anatomy, molecular biology and behavior of extant species, plus the fossils showing convergence toward greater similarity of past (and probably ancestral) species as they get older?

    None, that’s what.  It’s to the point where if some hyper-advanced species showed up from another galaxy and claimed that they found apes and decided to make an intelligent species so similar they’d think they were descended from tree-dwellers a few million years ago, we’d have to assume that they were probably pulling our leg.

  37. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Ladies and gentlemen…. the difference between Engineers and Scientists.

  38. … is that the engineers take scientists seriously when they’ve got something that obviously fits the evidence.

    Religious ideologues just make up whatever they want.