Monday, February 20, 2006

What's At Stake In The Evolution Debate?

"Intelligent Design" remains in the news. A fair analysis of the controversy was written by Bruce Lieberman on He obviously leans toward evolution in the article, but he investigates some of the philosophical roots. He quotes UC San Diego biologist Ajit Varki as saying, "Everybody can have their own view of faith and origins and so on. But when it comes to science, you've got to deal with facts.” Then responds by writing, "Although researchers such as Varki embrace evolution, polls show that nearly half of the American public rejects it..." The reason is because it doesn't pass the "smell test". In other words, much of the public gets the feeling that scientists don't deal with all the facts. After all, the meteorologists get it wrong all too often. Also, we're told that coffee is bad for you, but helps prevent cancer; or we're told that peanut butter causes cancer, but then we're told that it prevents cancer; or dozens of other examples. When the public is faced with glaring inaccuracies by scientists eager to earn more grants, a natural cynicism about scientific discovery becomes part of the nation's fence talk.

Now we're faced with some intriguing discoveries. In New Guinea a "Lost World" of undocumented species has been discovered. How did they get there? Did they "evolve" separately from the surrounding populations? Were they trapped there after an ice age or something and couldn't migrate with the rest of the world? How about the recent discovery of giant apes in DR Congo? Why haven't we seen these before? Most recently there's been news of the colony of "Bigfoot" in Malaysia that has been studied by the Johor Wildlife Protection Society. In the news also has been the debate over how the dinosaurs became extinct. It's no wonder people should ask why, if scientists know so little about the particulars, they are so dogmatic about evolution.

Lieberman also writes in his column that "at stake are decisions on how public schools should teach children about the origin of humans, religion's place in public life and whether Americans believe in the ability of science to describe the natural world." That's not the only thing at stake. The system of classification of organisms that we are all so familiar with is also at stake. Sure, we can look at two different birds and make observations about their similarities. But the system of classification requires the scientist consider them not far removed in the whole scheme of evolution. While a scientist who adheres to Intelligent Design may use the classification to demonstrate similarity of design between animals, the classification system gets fuzzy at points. We have birds that swim (penguins), fish that fly, mammals that look and act like fish (whales) and other animals that don't seem to fit into a classification very well (platypus). Scientists guess at evolution in order to classify them. The IDer currently has no other structure of classification to use. This is one reason why evolution has such a foothold. To consider anything else is to propose that the way biologists classify the world must be changed. That's no small amount of work, and it could set new discovery back by years if not decades in order to reclassify everything and teach whatever new method of classification is developed. But the real challenge is for scientists to search their own motivations for touting an unlikely theory. Is it worth continuing to misclassify organisms within an evolutionary framework if evolution isn't true?


Anonymous Millionaire Maker said...

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Fri Feb 13, 05:41:00 AM GMT-5  

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