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"The Most Scientifically Irresponsible Passage":

What is "the most scientifically irresponsible passage in United States Reports"? According to Jim Chen it is "Justice Scalia's gratuitous swipe at evolutionary biology" in his dissent from denial of certiorari in Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education v. Freiler. Drawing upon his article "Legal Mythmaking in a Time of Mass Extinctions: Reconciling Stories of Origins with Human Destiny" from the Harvard Environmental Law Review, Chen lambastes Scalia in this Jurisdynamics post:

In Tangipahoa Parish, a Louisiana school board had declared that lessons on "the Scientific Theory of Evolution" would "be presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not . . . to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit duly invalidated the school board's disclaimer. Public expressions challenging the scientific validity of evolution have no chance of withstanding the Supreme Court's leading decisions regarding legal efforts to restrict the teaching of evolution. This is routine, settled law, a straightforward application of Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968), and Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).

Justice Antonin Scalia, however, took extreme pains to dissent from this decision. He derided the appeals court's reasoning — and, by extension, that of his colleagues who voted to deny urther review — as "quite simply absurd." He found no reasonable prospect of treating the school board's "reference to . . . a reality of religious literature" as an unconstitutional "establishment of religion." After expressing seeming disapproval of Epperson and Edwards, Justice Scalia berated his colleagues for advancing further "the much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial."

Justice Scalia's allusion to the 1925 prosecution of John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee high school represented a transparent political appeal to the shockingly powerful lobby that opposes the teaching of evolution in American public schools.Justice Scalia's dissent in Tangipahoa Parish deserves condemnation because no other legal authority comes as close to supporting the teaching of creationism. The creationist lobby goes by the name "intelligent design" these days, but the enemy deserves to be called by its proper name: creationism. Justice Scalia's shameless pandering gives judicial aid and comfort of the highest order to the creationist lobby.

Here is the relevant portion of Justice Scalia's opinion:

The only aspect of the disclaimer that could conceivably be regarded as going beyond what the rehearing statement purports to approve is the explicit mention--as an example--of "the Biblical version of Creation." To think that this reference to (and plainly not endorsement of) a reality of religious literature--and this use of an example that is not a contrived one, but to the contrary the example most likely to come into play--somehow converts the otherwise innocuous disclaimer into an establishment of religion is quite simply absurd.

In Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968), we invalidated a statute that forbade the teaching of evolution in public schools; in Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987), we invalidated a statute that required the teaching of creationism whenever evolution was also taught; today we permit a Court of Appeals to push the much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial one step further. We stand by in silence while a deeply divided Fifth Circuit bars a school district from even suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution--including, but not limited to, the Biblical theory of creation--are worthy of their consideration. I dissent.

I don't know if Scalia's opinion qualifies as the most scientifically irresponsible passage ever — I am not sure that the scientific soundness of a school board policy is the proper measure of its constitutionality — but I see no defense of the reference to the Scopes trial. At best, it was an ill-considered rhetorical flourish. At worst, it reflected a shocking level of scientific illiteracy for such an esteemed and intelligent jurist.

If Justice Scalia's Tangipahoa Parish opinion is not the source of "the most scientifically irresponsible passage" ever to appear in a Supreme Court opinion, what is? Are there any nominations?

UPDATE: Several commenters have suggested that Justice Scalia's reference to "the much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial" was disparaging the historically inaccurate conventional narrative of what occurred at the Scopes trial. As Hans Bader notes in the comments, the trial was the product of a "collusive arrangement" to challenge a rarely enforced state statute. Moreover, as Jim Lindgren has noted, the pro-evolution textbook in question was horribly racist and tied evolutionary theory to eugenics and social darwinism.

Under this reading, the "secular legend of the Monkey Trial" to which Scalia refers is the myth that Creationists are (in Hans Bader's words) "a mortal threat to education and a free society," and the legend is "push[ed] . . . one step further" by excluding any reference to creationism from public schools. This is a reasonable interpretation of the reference, but I don't think it gets Justice Scalia off the hook. In the next sentence he suggests that evolution is simply one among many competing theories, "including, but not limited to, the Biblical theory of creation." This suggestion is certainly scientifically irresponsible, and was not necessary for Justice Scalia to make his doctrinal point. When placed in this context, I unconvinced that Justice Scalia's reference to the Scopes Trial was as benign as some suggest, though I open to being persuaded on this point.

John (mail):
It's hard for us without access to law libraries to analyze this. Was the state regulation at issue one that told schools to advocate alternatives to evolution? Or simply to inform students that they existed, in the way a course on Norse mythology might teach something about Thor, even to the point of saying there were (are?) some people who believe he exists, while at no time telling students to adopt such beliefs. Surely the latter would not violate the establishment clause. Is Scalia saying anything more than this?

If this is all it is, it doesn't seem scientifically irresponsible, or even scientific. Or even particularly irresponsible.

And what, by the way, is the myth of the Scopes trial?
8.27.2006 8:27pm
RMCACE (mail):
Everything in Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927).
8.27.2006 8:36pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Being not involved in the law (except in self defense), I can't answer Jonathan's specific question. I would, however, speak in support of Justice Scalia. We've really gone overboard on the evolution thing. The "Darwinian" theory of evolution is still just that: a theory; the improbablities in a totally "Darwinian" view make it less and less plausible as the entire explanation of the evolution of species.

A more likely explanation is what I will call "guided evolution" and what others may call "Intelligent Design (ID)." That is to say, something or someone has of necessity intervened in the evolutionary process at critical points - otherwise it doesn't work.

The problem in the public schools is, that the Darwinists - I will not use the term "scientists" - have gained a legally sanctioned monopoly on teaching a belief which in its own way is just as "religious" as that of the Creationists - which category definitely does not include honest proponents of ID. Unfortunately, in what is probably the most overtly religious nation in the West, if not the world, the atheists have gotten control of the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and in many cases, their purpose is not so much education as indoctrination in the tenets of atheism and hostility towards religion. This has been pointed out by many observers over the years; Ann Coulter's book "Godless" is only one of the more recent (and for other reasons most controversial) examples.

An honest approach to the teaching of evolution would be open to the problems of the Darwinian model (as it stands today) and would be open to rational alternatives such as ID (but not necessarily Creationism). If, as opponents charge, ID has some unknowns (the "designer"), Darwinism certainly has its share of unanswerables.

As a possible jumping-off point for anyone who wants to look at this debate without getting stuck in the Tar Baby, I recommend the recent article by George Gilder in National Review.
8.27.2006 8:48pm
Joel B. (mail):
I am so totally confused Jonathan, I mean totally. What is "scientifically irresponsible" about the passage you quoted by Scalia about the Monkey Trial?

Is it this?
We stand by in silence while a deeply divided Fifth Circuit bars a school district from even suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution--including, but not limited to, the Biblical theory of creation--are worthy of their consideration. I dissent.

or this?
today we permit a Court of Appeals to push the much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial one step further.

Or am I just supposed to automatically recognize that any potentional to introduce criticism of evolution is scientifically irresponsible. That seems odd.

In any event as to the "secular myth" of the Monkey Trial. I think he is very much referring to the way that the monkey trial has been presented in the 80 or so years since the trial. Especially in the production "Inherit the Wind."

Much of the public presentation of the monkey trial by the media is very biased as to what actually happened.

You can see Answers In Genesis perspective on the monkey trial here.

And RMCACE makes an excellent point, can this even compare to Holmes which, so deliciously ironic was premised on many of the evolutionary biology to which Scalia "so diliciously takes a swipe at."
8.27.2006 8:49pm
Joel B. (mail):
Wow, my spelling was pitiful. Apologies.
8.27.2006 8:57pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
You've got to admit however, Jonathan, if not THE most scientifically irresponsible passage, this is right up there.
8.27.2006 8:58pm
M (mail):
Does it make any of the hosts of this site a bit worried or sad that so many of their readers are willing to put forward sites like "answers in genesis" as a reasonable place to look for any sort of sound information? I rather hope it does.
8.27.2006 9:03pm
blackdoggerel (mail):
They're not in the U.S. Reports, but the most scientifically irresponsible passages are probably some of the comments to this thread.
8.27.2006 9:03pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I wouldn't worry so much, M. It's not the end of the world.

(That's in Revelation)
8.27.2006 9:04pm
John Thacker (mail):
There is a big myth about the Scopes Monkey Trial, certainly. "Inherit the Wind" is hardly accurate. Rather than the site linked to, I'd suggest Summer for the Gods by Edward J. Larson, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History.

Buck v. Bell is somewhat on point, considering that the discussion of Darwinism in the text Scopes wanted to use included a long digression on how one could see Darwinism in the difference between the white race and the "lesser races," and in how it deliniated a clear hierarchy of races. Very icky stuff.

Another ridiculous myth of the history is the one that paints the people of Dayton as the hicks. Not so; the city fathers intentionally hired Scopes, who wasn't trained as a biology teacher, to break the statute (which was a Tennessee, not local law) in order to get the publicity. Which turned out poorly for them in the long run.
8.27.2006 9:19pm
agnostic rick:
Two points.

Has Scalia made any public comments about creationism vs. evolution so we could get a better sense of what his views are on this issue? The quoted passage is a bit unclear.

Second, to Brooks Lyman, haven't we learned from Tony Snow and Mitt Romney that "tar baby" is extremely offensive to a lot of people?
8.27.2006 9:19pm
Cornellian (mail):
The "Darwinian" theory of evolution is still just that: a theory; the improbablities in a totally "Darwinian" view make it less and less plausible as the entire explanation of the evolution of species.

Everything in science is "just a theory." Saying that evolution is "just a theory" doesn't say anything that isn't applicable to the whole of science. As for "less and less plausible", that's laughable. Few theories are as well established as evolution is in the field of biology. Much of modern biology and medicine depends on the assumption that evolution is a correct description of how life on earth came to be in its current physical state.

"An honest approach to the teaching of evolution would be open to the problems of the Darwinian model (as it stands today) and would be open to rational alternatives such as ID (but not necessarily Creationism)."

And what exactly does ID have going for it? Where's the research, where's the tested hypotheses? Where's the predictive power that separates the wheat from the chaff among scientific theories? Complaining about evolution doesn't begin to get ID into the credibility ball park.

This has been pointed out by many observers over the years; Ann Coulter's book "Godless" is only one of the more recent (and for other reasons most controversial) examples.

Hmm, citing Coulter, that caricature of a conservative... Well that explains a lot.
8.27.2006 9:19pm
ReaderY:
It's worth remembering that the evolution book in the Scopes trial was basically a racist rant, an argument that Science proves the inherent inferiority of the darker races. We've since learned science proves no such thing, of course, and also that it is right for society to be skeptical when people attempt to use analogies to scientific theories to make sociological arguments. For this reason, although I think key elements of the theory of evolution quite well-founded, other elements with heavy implications -- such as the role of competion vis a vis cooperation -- are still in the air. Nor do I think that methods to answer questions about HOW, which science tends to do quite well, are very good at addressing questions about WHY, which is science is quite poor at. Some pooh-pooh the human need to ask why, but I don't personally consider it to be in the least bit irrational.

My principle issue involve Kolgomorov information -- the fact that the most informative (intelligent) way to code information tends to result in a sequence that looks random. For this reason, I don't think we can ever know scientifically whether an evolutionary sequence is a result of an intelligent or a random process. I think such questions are matters for faith or philosophy. I don't they are scientific questions -- I don't think science is capable of either proving or refuting them.

In short, while on the one hand I thinks it's quite incorrect to say evolution is "just a theory", and I also think it's incorrect to present intelligent design as science, I nonetheless also think that conservative elements in society are quite reasonable, given the legacy of Scopes (and Buck v. Bell) to advise some caution and skepticism, particularly regarding claims that evolution refutes religion or renders traditional moral considerations -- the kind that "scientific" racists and eugenists once pooh-poohed-- irrelevant.

I don't see this as a pure good-vs.-evil thing, there is some depth in both directions.
8.27.2006 9:33pm
Joel B. (mail):
Does it make any of the hosts of this site a bit worried or sad that so many of their readers are willing to put forward sites like "answers in genesis" as a reasonable place to look for any sort of sound information? I rather hope it does.

So Answers in Genesis may be incredibly wrong as to the science of "evolution" does this mean that their perspective on the Monkey Trial is also invalid or wrong? How linking to them should make the proprietors sad is beyond me. Unless, they should be saddened by the fact that the have a broad readership with a multitude of opinions and an ability to draw on a wide variety of sources. Which, I'm sure must be very sad for them.

Adler said he say "no defense" for the passage about the Scopes trial. Rightly or wrongly I offered him the perspective of creationists on the Scopes trial. A perspective complete with documented and indisputable facts.
8.27.2006 9:33pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

At best, it was an ill-considered rhetorical flourish. At worst, it reflected a shocking level of scientific illiteracy for such an esteemed and intelligent jurist.


Sadly, 'd have to say that the level of scientific illiteracy among people educated in arts and humanities, while shocking, is no longer surprising.
8.27.2006 9:39pm
John Herbison (mail):
I am just speculating here, but the "secular legend of the Monkey Trial" to which Scalia referred may be the popular conception that the proponents of evolution won. That may have been the result in the court of public opinion, but in fact, John Scopes was found guilty of violating the statute and fined $100 by the trial judge. (The conviction was reversed on appeal by the Supreme Court of Tennessee because of a provision, unique to the Constitution of Tennessee, that fines exceeding $50 be imposed by a jury. Here the jury had imposed no fine, and the trial judge imposed the statutory minimum.)
8.27.2006 9:48pm
fishbane (mail):
Sadly, 'd have to say that the level of scientific illiteracy among people educated in arts and humanities, while shocking, is no longer surprising.

Judging by those willing to site Coulter as an authority on evolution here, spout the same old 'just a theory' nonsense and generally spread blatant misinformation that's been shot down repeatedly and comprehensively, I'd have to add 'some people with J.D.s' to that list.
8.27.2006 9:56pm
Hans Bader:
I am baffled by Adler's criticism of Justice Scalia. I myself believe in evolution. But the validity of evolution does nothing to undermine Scalia's criticism of how biased historians have falsely portrayed the Scopes trial (also known as the Monkey trial) to wrongly make creationists seem like a mortal threat to education and a free society.

What Scalia was no doubt alluding to in his perfectly reasonable opinion was the deliberate distortion of legal history that paints the Scopes trial as involving ignorant hick locals being exposed by Clarence Darrow -- when in fact the trial was a collusive arrangement designed to drum up business for the town by the clever townspeople, who arranged for Darrow to be hired to represent Scopes in order challenge the seldom-invoked state statute which forbade the teaching of evolution. Scopes was in no danger of persecution, and the creationists were not on a book-burning crusade.

Of course, things ultimately didn't work out that well for the town, in part because Darrow, Scopes' lawyer, acted like an unbelievably arrogant left-wing snob (which he in fact was), as illustrated by his claim that anyone who disagreed with him was an ignoramus, and his insulting treatment of three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

By the way, the textbook that Scopes wanted to use was full of racism towards non-whites, depicting them as less highly evolved than whites.

Darrow was a narrow-minded socialist ideologue, to the point of self-parody, who thought that society was responsible for crime, not criminals. He was the progenitor of today's limousine liberals.

If Adler really wants to write about attacks on science by the supreme court, he would be better advised to write about the Victorian-era Supreme Court's sexist and false claim that nature intended women to stay in the home and out of the professions, such as the practice of law, or the Supreme Court's bogus citation of social science research to justify racial preferences in its 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision.
8.27.2006 10:13pm
Chris Bell (mail):

Sadly, I'd have to say that the level of scientific illiteracy among people educated in arts and humanities, while shocking, is no longer surprising.


Over half of the people in this country, when polled, admit to not "believing" in evolution.

As a scientist, this makes me sick. As to this:


Was the state regulation at issue one that told schools to advocate alternatives to evolution? Or simply to inform students that they existed, in the way a course on Norse mythology might teach something about Thor, even to the point of saying there were (are?) some people who believe he exists, while at no time telling students to adopt such beliefs


I can agree with that, but do we teach Norse mythology in science class? No. ID doesn't belong there either.
8.27.2006 10:15pm
Appellate Attorney:
Justice Scalia's dissent -- or at least the quoted portions -- does not criticize evolution at all. Scalia mocks the "much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial" not the "much beloved secular legend of monkey to Man." Only the latter would be an attack on evolution; the former is only an attack on the myth of the monkey trial as commonly misunderstood and promoted by historically revisionist documdramas like "Inherit the Wind." This seems to me to be quite clear from the quoted text.
8.27.2006 10:19pm
CEB:
The entry for "Evolution" in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica stated:

"The doctrine of evolution has outgrown the trammels of controversy and has been accepted as fundamental principle." Authors writing about biology "no longer have to waste space in weighing evolution against this or that philosophical theory or religious tradition."

From a Chronicle of Higher Education article linked on Arts &Letters Daily the other day.

How times have changed.

That's all I'm going to say; trying to debate ID advocates is like trying to debate Communism apologists or 9/11 deniers.
8.27.2006 10:25pm
gr (www):

Justice Scalia's dissent -- or at least the quoted portions -- does not criticize evolution at all

But it does refer to biblical creationism as an 'other theory' in the same way that evolution is a 'theory.' We know thats not the case. 'Theory' means something in science, in reference to evolution. Creationism is not that.
8.27.2006 10:33pm
Appellate Attorney:
Over half of the people in this country, when polled, admit to not "believing" in evolution. As a scientist, this makes me sick.

The "scientists" have no one but themselves to blame -- or at least the science educators have no one but themselves to blame. I say this not because of their failure to persuade a majority of the population despite a near-monopoly on the teaching in high school and college (which is telling enough by itself) but because the "real scientists" routinely refuse to defend evolution in any forum where the other side might be heard.

I saw this illustrated a few years ago as an undergrad at Columbia. I tried to address the fact that despite years of indoctrination education, most people refuse to believe in evolution by arranging for a formal debate on campus. I naively thought that the professors in the biology department would jump at the opportunity to publicly expose the folly of the ignorant fundamentalists. Then after every single member of the biology department refused to debate -- even when offered the opportunity to set their own terms for the debate -- I begin to think something was fishy.

In the end, the debate, which was attended by several hundred students was held -- but only by importing a professor from Fordham University to defend evolution. He faced a mere Bible college professor from a school so obscure I cannot even recall its name. Yet when all was said and done, the students who observed the debate overwhelmingly voted that the Bible college professor had won. This was so even though the vast majority also indicated they had come to the debate believing in evolution.

I understand the anger of Professors Adler and Chen. But it is misdirected. Instead of criticizing Scalia they should criticize the leading academic evolutionists for utterly failing to do their jobs. It is only when such men (rather than those skeptical of evolution, however prominent) feel the sting of criticism for their cowardice that any real progress in public understanding is likely to be made.
8.27.2006 10:43pm
Chris Bell (mail):

The "scientists" have no one but themselves to blame -- or at least the science educators have no one but themselves to blame. I say this not because of their failure to persuade a majority of the population despite a near-monopoly on the teaching in high school and college


Don't be so positive about this part. When we got to Evolution in my high school biology class, my teacher read Genesis to us.
8.27.2006 10:48pm
Appellate Attorney:
That's why I said "near monopoly" rather than "monopoly"
8.27.2006 10:51pm
gr (www):

Yet when all was said and done, the students who observed the debate overwhelmingly voted that the Bible college professor had won.

This is why biologists dont waste their time debating these quacks. Because theyre busy being biologists, meanwhile the quacks are busy coming up with debate points. I have physicist friends who tell me that they simply see no debate, and no point debating, because it justifies the idea that there is a debate. The information is out there for people. There are people who take their time to expose common creationist frauds, and the only way to prepare for these debates is to find out what kind of fraud you'll be facing and memorize the opposing talking points. Not very appealing. Also not very educational.

I do think its wrong to place so much importance on sayingthat biologists have a monopoly on education in high school and college. For one, most people would have very little exposure to evolution in high school or College, say, perhaps a semester or two in high school and no requirement at all in college. Of this time, not much of it is going to be spent explaining evolution.

Compare this to how much time they spend in church, in religious settings, or even in non-religious settings being reminded that God made us all. The result is far from an evolutionary monopoly, but rather much more time spent on reinforcing creationism than on evolution.
8.27.2006 10:54pm
RANSOM SIMMONS (mail):
I HAVE AN OPINION ON THIS MATTER. I AM A PHYSICIAN, WITH A MASTERS IN BIOCHEMISTRY. DARWIN NEVER PUT FORTH HIS THEORY AS THE ONLY EXPLANATION FOR THE ORIGIN OF ALL SPECIES, IT WAS HIS BEST GUESS GIVEN THE INFORMATION HE HAD GLEANED FROM HIS TRAVELS. ALSO, THE TERM EVOLUTION IS BANDIED ABOUT MERCILESSLY AS IF IT IS A SPELL TO BE INVOKED ON ANY OCCASION THAT SOMEONE POINTS OUT OBVIOUS GAPS IN DARWINIAN THEORY. BACTERIA HAVE BEEN ON THIS PLANET FAR LONGER THAN WE HAVE. THEY ALSO HAVE "EVOLVED", AND HAVE PRODUCED NOTHING THAT WE CAN RECOGNIZE AS A SOCIETY, SOCIAL ORDER, CIVILIZATION, ETC. IF IT ONLY REQUIRES ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF TIME, EXPOSURE TO DIFFERING ENVIRONMENTS, AND THE OCCASIONAL DISASTER , TO PROVOKE EVOLUTION, THEN WHERE ARE THE INTELLIGENT BACTERIA, WOLVES, DINOSAURS, WHALES, ETC. THERE IS NOTHING THAT WE HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO THAT EVERY OTHER SPECIES ON THE PLANET HAS NOT BEEN, AND YET WE ARE SUBLIMELY DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHERS THAT CAME BEFORE OR EVEN SINCE OUR OWN ARRIVAL. I HAVE BEEN AWAITING AN EXPLANATION OF THAT FACT FOR MANY YEARS. I RECENTLY CAME ACROSS AN INTERESTING FACTOID. THERE IS APPARENTLY A NEWLY DISCOVERED GENE SEQUENCE THAT IS BELIEVED RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR "EVOLVED" INTELLIGENCE. IN THE PARTICULAR LOCATION OF THIS GENE SEQUENCE THERE ARE SHARED FACTORS AMONG ALL VERTEBRATE SPECIES. THERE ARE ONLY 4 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHIMPANZEES AND THE LOWEST VERTEBRATES AT THIS LOCATION. THERE ARE ELEVEN BETWEEN CHIMPS AND HUMANS. SO, IN APPROXIMATELY 500 MILLION YEARS ONLY 4 CHANGES IN THIS GENETIC LOCUS "EVOLVED" , UNTIL APPROXIMATELY 3 MILLION YEARS AGO WHEN NATURE SUDDENLY DECIDED SHE NEEDED US? HERE IS YOUR FINAL DILEMMA. EITHER YOUR LIFE, AND THE LIVES OF THOSE YOU LOVE , ARE EACH PRECIOUS TO AN OVERRIDING FORCE, OR WE ARE ALL ABOUT THE SAME VALUE AS A ROCK, WHICH ALSO CAN BE SAID TO HAVE EVOLVED FROM THE PRIMORDIAL SOUP OF THE ORIGINAL MOLTEN SURFACE OF THE EARTH. ROCKS ARE ROUTINELY CRUSHED, MELTED, AND ABUSED AND USED WITHOUT ANY THOUGHT. ARE YOU PREPARED TO HAVE YOUR OWN SELVES USED IN THE SAME MANNER?
8.27.2006 11:04pm
James Lindgren (mail):
One should separate out the legal opinions expressed in the passage from the scientific ones.

SCIENCE. The theory of evolution in some form is extremely well established. As far as natural selection, that seems extraordinarily likely. In the lab (heck, I've done it), one can change the makeup of organisms by introducing a toxin that will kill most but not all of the organisms, leaving the surviving organisms with a different makeup than the originals.

The other major part of the theory relies on genetic drift; one can observe children with genetic mutations from the genes supplied from the parents, so again that seems to make perfect sense (again, I've been shown cells with some of these mutations myself).

SCIENCE DOES NOT WORK BY CONSENSUS. From what I understand, the science behind the theory of evolution is very strong. But it's only a theory. Science does not work by consensus, but rather from evidence and data. If there were good SCIENTIFIC reasons for teaching intelligent design, which I don't think there are, then it ought to be allowed to teach in science classes.

NOT ESTABLISHMENT. But there are other issues in Scalia's opinion. You have to remember that Scalia has been leading the charge to use a different metaphor for establishment than separation of church and state--which as I've pointed out before was a big part of the KKK's jurisprudence. It was introduced into the US Constitution in a 1947 case brought by a lodge with ties to the KKK, and written into the constitution by the most prominent (former) Klansman ever to serve on the Court, Justice Black.

So Scalia insisting that the school board's approach is not actually the establishment of a state religion may be inconsistent with some embarrassingly poor Supreme Court jurisprudence, but it's hardly outrageous for a Supreme Court justice to take constitutional language seriously, especially when one considers the prejudiced origins of the doctrine he is unwilling to accept.

THE SCOPES LEGEND. Last, the crack about the "much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial" may refer to the true nature of the grossly racist book that was involved in the case. I blogged on the book here.

My offhand observation here about one of the premises of intelligent design provoked a backlash from ID's defenders.
8.27.2006 11:05pm
Appellate Attorney:
This is why biologists don't waste their time debating these quacks. Because they're busy being biologists, meanwhile the quacks are busy coming up with debate points.

This is precisely the reason my criticism is limited to the academic biologists -- you know, the ones who are supposed to teach, not just do lab work. Surely if evolution is real science, then some prominent evolutionary biologist who actually knows his field would find it worth the time to publicly refute his opponents? At least one. This kind of thing happens all the time in other disciplines, and those who take the trouble to prepare for and do well in public debate tend to earn the honor of not only the public but also their peers.

I simply don't find credible the argument that academic evolutionists are too busy doing real work to correct public error about their field -- especially when the "public" consists primarily of their own students on their own campus.
8.27.2006 11:06pm
M (mail):
I have the opinion that anyone who can't turn of capslock shouldn't be taken as an expert or authority on anything.
8.27.2006 11:10pm
gr (www):

Surely if evolution is real science, then some prominent evolutionary biologist who actually knows his field would find it worth the time to publicly refute his opponents?

They do. There are websites galore devoted to this stuff. There is a catalog of common creationist misconceptions. There is the Talk Origins FAQ. Start reading PZ Myer's blog, and you'll begin to discover it.

But realize that it is hard to simply walk up to a random biology department and request that someone give a short lecture -- worse, not even a lecture, an incredibly condensed debate with a fraudster -- before a lay audience on a topic they probably do not work on using materials they do not know.

And now think about this: you blamed the scientists for the lack of understanding of evolution in America. Does that mean that scientists in other parts of the world are doing the right thing, and forcefully debating the quacks? Or perhaps they don't face the quacks and therefore the difference between the US and other countries points to where the blame lies: the quacks.
8.27.2006 11:17pm
James Lindgren (mail):
CEB:

You wrote:


The entry for "Evolution" in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica stated:

"The doctrine of evolution has outgrown the trammels of controversy and has been accepted as fundamental principle." Authors writing about biology "no longer have to waste space in weighing evolution against this or that philosophical theory or religious tradition."



But the accepted view of evolution in 1911 was that whites were at a higher stage of development. Read the leading biology texts of the day, such as the one litigated in Scopes (Hunter's Civic Biology):


The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.

Improvement of Man. — If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment. . . . .

Eugenics. — When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.


Creationism is bad science, but not because we understood evolution in 1911, because we didn't!
8.27.2006 11:26pm
Christine Hurt (mail) (www):
To answer the question at hand, I believe that Justice White, in Coker v. Georgia, was "scientifically irresponsible" with this sentence: "Life is over for the victim of the murderer; for the rape victim, life may not be nearly so happy as it was, but it is not over and normally is not beyond repair." Although true that victims of horrific crimes that survive are in a different, and almost always better, state than if they had died, I think the sentence is far too glib. The use of the word "happy" seems to diminish the trauma of rape. All we can concede is that rape victims have suffered a loss of happiness. They are now merely content.
8.27.2006 11:41pm
Appellate Attorney:
But realize that it is hard to simply walk up to a random biology department and request that someone give a short lecture -- worse, not even a lecture, an incredibly condensed debate with a fraudster -- before a lay audience on a topic they probably do not work on using materials they do not know.

I don't think it is too much to expect (1) an Ivy League biology professor to debate (2) before a highly educated and friendly audience (3) on his own campus (4) in the debate format of his choice (5) on the fundamentals of his own field of expertise (6) an instructor from a no-name fundamentalist college.

I admit it's much easier to label your opponent a fraudster than to actually prove he is one. And it's much easier to frame your issues and your opponents on your own websites and in your own papers that to give the other guy an opportunity to reply to you publicly in real time in the same forum. Level-playing field debate does take time and effort.

But fairness and thoroughness in debate are worth the time and effort. And, in the sphere of evolution, without much more such on the part of the evolutionists, I think most Americans will continue to believe for the foreseeable future that it is the evolutionists who are the real fraudsters.
8.27.2006 11:47pm
Lev:

By the way, the textbook that Scopes wanted to use was full of racism towards non-whites, depicting them as less highly evolved than whites.


Yet, according to evolution, or at least natural selection, populations isolated from one another and subject to different stresses will "evolve" in different ways to different ends. If stresses put a premium on adapatability on one group, and are absent from another, then one would expect the first group to evolve under the pressure of natural selection to be more adaptable, which may also mean more intelligent.


Much of modern biology and medicine depends on the assumption that evolution is a correct description of how life on earth came to be in its current physical state.


I have never heard that one. I have heard that modern medicine, especially in treatment of bacteria and viruses, has to cope with "within species" changes through natural selection in response to, say, antibiotics. But what does that have to do with the "description of how life on earth came to be in its current physical state"?

And even so, I have yet to see an explanation of how a bluegreen algae evolved into a mighty oak with a living organisim at each step. Yes, looking at DNA and RNA etc. show changes over time, but if there is not living organism at each step, then there is nothing.

I think it is possible that Intelligent Design could be science at some point, but at the moment it is just an interesting idea. For it to be a science it would have to convert its very general reliance on statistical improbability, to specific analyses of the probabilities of bonds breaking and reforming, molecules assembling etc. and comparing them to live or fossil evidence of how frequently the break/reform etc. in nature and still yielding living organisims.

After all, most mutations die.
8.27.2006 11:49pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Jim's post is well worth reading. I might also note this interesting, if not ironic relationship: So many of those who reject the "consensus" model with respect to ID, rely upon it strongly as their basis for the "inconvenient truth" of global warming. :)
8.27.2006 11:49pm
plunge (mail):
"Surely if evolution is real science, then some prominent evolutionary biologist who actually knows his field would find it worth the time to publicly refute his opponents?"

This is an argument full of bad faith. The fact is that these opponents have had their challenges answered countless times, and there are a wealth of resources that deal with them.

But that does no good, because they just keep making the same dumb arguments over and over again. How many times do we STILL hear the "2nd law of thermodynamics" argument against evolution? This isn't even a biologist problem: those arguments belie a terribly screwed up understanding of physics too... and yet no amount of explaining ever seems to do any good.

The fact is that mostly what the quacks want IS to gain publicity by engaging in constant publicity-rich debate with scientists: not so much in print in journals or written debates, but in media-savvy events where they can ring off falsehoods far faster than they can be corrected. I don't see much wrong with biologists not demeaning the subject by trying to pretend that you can get it across in twenty minutes of talking to laypeople. That's positively idiotic.

"By the way, the textbook that Scopes wanted to use was full of racism towards non-whites, depicting them as less highly evolved than whites."

Ah, you're right: unlike all those other non racist views of things around at that time, right? What exactly WERE the competing theories of races at that time? Do you recall? If not, let me tell you: they were that either God just created inferior races to help the white man understand his place in things, or maybe God created a perfect race, and the inferior races happen to have DEVOLVED faster than white people. Heck, even many civil rights leaders believed in at least racialism even into the 1950s and beyond.

Given that evolutionary theory would, within just a few decades, do what millenia of supposedly "it's right there in the text all along!" religion had failed to do and for the first time in human history destroy the idea that "race" is a particularly meaningful macro-distinction, I'm inclined to give biology some slack for merely reflecting the pervasive prejeduces of its day.

Darwin, for instance, was indeed a racist. But he was no more of a racist than W.E.B. DuBois, and he was among the most racially progressive people in the world in his day. Trying to shock people by pretending that all good god-fearing people were being twisted by evil evolutionary eugenics is simply an attempt to mislead. Racism was the norm and eugenics just the latest expression of that norm in a new scientific idiom. The solution was better science: and it proved to be a better solution than anything.
8.27.2006 11:59pm
Je McFaul (mail) (www):
For appellate attorney and all others wondering about that debate.

It's happened already. The problem is that unlike a "debate" that occurs on college campuses and other locations where "freedom with the facts" is expected, the debate occurred in a courtroom, and the "factual freedom" typically associated with debates on alternative theories was noted by the trial judge. Kitzmiller v. Dover required the ID pronents to actually pur on real evidence and they failed miserably.

Seriously, read the trial transcripts and decision for yourself. Yes, an intelligent design expert really did say intelligent design had the scientific validity of astrology.

So Scalia is essentially referring to some non-existent scientific controversy, a reckless and scientificailly inaccurate comment.

But, Buck v. Bell is pretty darn good, itself.
8.28.2006 12:07am
James Lindgren (mail):
plunge,

I am in general agreement with your arguments but you overstate things. Bryan was in part concerned about the non-egalitarian implications of social Darwinism. And it was the progressives who were pushing eugenics; many people disagreed, thinking it cruel and heartless.

Here is how I commented on the racist nature of the Scopes book:


For me, this irony cuts many different ways. The ACLU and Darrow were right in principle that the legislature shouldn't be determining what is or is not good science, but the version of evolution (white genetic superiority) that was being taught in Scopes would be viewed as very bad science today. This also illustrates that the spirit of free inquiry works, not because it is always right, but because people are free to put ideas out and have them refined and corrected. [UPDATE a day later: Here 1920s science was right about the basics of evolution, but was wrong about social Darwinism and white genetic supremacy and was immoral to advocate eugenics.] It also reminds us that eugenics was a "progressive" idea in the 1920s. Last, of course, it suggests that the enlightened are often much less enlightened than they think they are. Sometimes neither the enlightened nor the supposed unenlightened are right.
8.28.2006 12:16am
plunge (mail):
"We've really gone overboard on the evolution thing. The "Darwinian" theory of evolution is still just that: a theory"

How. How can there still be people that make this utterly comically ridiculous mistake (not understanding the concept of "theory" in science, one of the most basic)? And, as if to compound the irony, they make this very fundamental mistake and THEN propose to lecture actual scientists about what all they don't understand or have wrong. I don't get how this same basic error keep cropping up over and over... although, to be fair, that seems to be par for the course for all the other criminally awful creationist arguments that keep cropping up even after most big-name creationists at least publically have to disavow them (while still telling them to their friendly auidences).

"the improbablities in a totally "Darwinian" view make it less and less plausible as the entire explanation of the evolution of species."

Can you explain what "probabilities" you are talking about? What's the basic equation behind what you're talking about here? Who is claiming this?

"A more likely explanation is what I will call "guided evolution" and what others may call "Intelligent Design (ID)." That is to say, something or someone has of necessity intervened in the evolutionary process at critical points - otherwise it doesn't work."

How would you, you or ANYONE, know what does or does not work, just from the comfort of an easy chair and a keyboard and the internet? Is that how we do science from now on? "Well, google didn't turn up anything: must be impossible"

Are you aware that a similar approach could have worked to, say, explain the cause of rain? "I don't see how water could be in the sky, and then fall out of it. But it someone or something used magic.... that's the solution! Ok, we're done. Back to reading MAXIM! Gosh science is easy!"

"The problem in the public schools is, that the Darwinists - I will not use the term "scientists""

Oh, of course: why use a term that admits how overwhelmingly a non-issue evolutionary biology is among scientists and especially biologists? Instead, lets use a creationist term to help demonize them and make them sound more like a religious cult!

"which category definitely does not include honest proponents of ID."

Outside of Berlinski (who is his own bundle of wax), name me a single "honest" proponent of ID who is not also a creationist (i.e. who really believes that the ID is not the God of their religion)

"Unfortunately, in what is probably the most overtly religious nation in the West, if not the world, the atheists have gotten control of the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and in many cases, their purpose is not so much education as indoctrination in the tenets of atheism and hostility towards religion."

So much for all the Christian biologists. I guess they must secretly hate Jesus. Turncoats! Backstabbers! Conspirators!

"This has been pointed out by many observers over the years; Ann Coulter's book "Godless" is only one of the more recent (and for other reasons most controversial) examples."

No, not just for other reasons: also for her presentation of evolution being criminally awful. Do us a favor though: please cite some of her arguments that you find compelling and an excellent point against mainstream biology.

"An honest approach to the teaching of evolution would be open to the problems of the Darwinian model (as it stands today)"

An honest approach to your diatribe would be to admit that scientists are VERY open about discussing problems, controverisies and debates over various elements of evolutionary biology. In fact, if you actually LISTEN to REAL biology, you'll about almost nothing else. The difference though, is that most of these people don't recognize the particular poorly informed problems people like you claim there are, because they know better.

"and would be open to rational alternatives such as ID (but not necessarily Creationism). If, as opponents charge, ID has some unknowns (the "designer"), Darwinism certainly has its share of unanswerables."

ID doesn't just have "some unknowns." It has NOTHING at all to offer: no positive explanation for anything, no plausible mechanism to study, no way to make predictions. Mainstream biology has a vast picture of common descent spanning billions of years in fine detail to credit to its "answerables." ID? ID doesn't have ANY answerables: anything at all could be consistent with ID.

"As a possible jumping-off point for anyone who wants to look at this debate without getting stuck in the Tar Baby, I recommend the recent article by George Gilder in National Review."

Yeah, who would want to get stuck in, like, the Tar Baby of reading up on boring things like evidence, philosophy of science, and biology journals. Boring! Instead, let's politicize everything and claim vast atheist conspiracies!
8.28.2006 12:17am
plunge (mail):
"I am in general agreement with your arguments but you overstate things. Bryan was in part concerned about the non-egalitarian implications of social Darwinism. And it was the progressives who were pushing eugenics; many people disagreed, thinking it cruel and heartless."

True. I'm just pointing out that we cannot pretend that it was biology of the time inflicting a new evil on society: as opposed to merely reflecting an existing evil. Even those that found eugenics "heartless" nevertheless were almost all racists who thought minorities inferior. They just pitied them and thought they should have equal treatment instead of being punished for their shortcomings.

We just had a broadcast of a programe that basically blamed Darwin for the Holocaust. Not once did it mention Martin Luther or his "On the Jews and their Lies" or any other element or example of how, for instance Christianity was twisted to justify evil things done by the Nazis (even though they appealed much more to Christianity than to Darwin). Without context, apparently only evolutionary biology can be misused. With context...
8.28.2006 12:26am
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
This opinion may go some way towards explaining why Justice Scalia is unfazed by those of us who, from time to time, feel obliged to describe some of his views as "troglodytic". He apparently has some doubts as to the historical existence of troglodytes, and therefore doesn't find it insulting....?
8.28.2006 1:04am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Appellate, you're a lawyer, so the debate format seems to you like a good way to address a controversy. It isn't.

You don't see calls to debate Newton's Laws of Motion or the rightful place of sodium in the periodic table.

Actually, as an appellate lawyer, you ought to be more sensitive to the problem here. If we take the jury trial as the debate, then the appeal to the record is what happens in science.

Appeals court judge do not play to grandstands but retire to deliberate thoughtfully. And, still, they often come up with absurd opinions.

That an audience at Columbia was unable to see through the same kinds of silly objections that we see right here, eg, from Ransom, merely reinforces the point. Evolutionary biology is not simple, even though its parameters can be delimited in a couple of sentences. Like the couple of sentences in the 2nd Amendment, there's a lot more there.

There are places where the law is of little or no value. This is one of them.
8.28.2006 1:06am
Harry Eagar (mail):
However, to address Professor Adler's question directly, I do not have access to the U.S. Reporrts, but if you do, type in 'Bendectin' or 'silicone implants' and I'm sure you will find plenty of scientifically irresponsible opinions.
8.28.2006 1:08am
elChato (mail):
Ransom Simmons: capslock hurts my eyes! See if your posts can evolve towards using normal capitalization.

The early answer by RMCACE, Buck v. Bell, was a good one. Probably there are citations to warped scientific theories of some type in Dred Scott and some of the racial discrimination cases on up to the turn of the century. But with all of those examples, the courts were relying on what was understood by educated people of the time to be the best available science, or at least a plausible candidate for the "right" scientific answer (think also of the children's-dolls experiment cited in Brown). String theory or dark matter may look laughable in 200 years, but a court opinion today suggesting they are plausible will not be looked upon with derision in the future.

By contrast, intelligent design is overwhelmingly disdained by scientists with training and experience in this area of biology. But we should be fair to Scalia- he really isn't endorsing any scientific view. His reference to the "Monkey trial" is just another of his sarcastic attempts to lampoon an idealized pillar of the liberal canon.

Plus, although I haven't read the 5th Circuit opinion, from the summary above it doesn't appear the board's "disclaimer" had to be read to students, or that the teachers were required to do or not do anything. It was an essentially meaningless "requirement" that teachers merely present evolutionary theory as science, and not try to "dissuade" anyone from believing the Bible. What teacher or professor ever sets out to do so anyway?
8.28.2006 1:23am
gr (www):

But fairness and thoroughness in debate are worth the time and effort.

But that does exist. There is a very fair and thorough system of peer review behind all of biology. There is a very thorough world of published biological works that depend on and expound on evolution. There is even a quite accessible lay explanations for it out there.

What there isn't is people engaged in theatrics for the lay audience. The ID fraudsters have this, true. And there are people who have torn them apart. Including at least one District Court. That's how we know they're frauds. We've solved that problem, and can move on. But some people want to hold us back -- the people who want to demand that each time one of these frauds speak, they have to be spoken to.

To ask a particular biologist to take one of these frauds on is ridiculous. You're an appellate lawyer. You prepare quite deeply for a debate thats going to be done in a very circumscribed manner before an expert audience with quite an accepted system for determinign a winner. Thats a piece of cake compared to the show -- and it is a show -- that these evolution vs. creationism debates are.

Frankly, fairness and thoroughness requires that these fraudsters just stop.
8.28.2006 1:44am
jvarisco (www):
It's interesting that he calls Creationism a "theory". That means it's not true, right?

Does not teaching evolution have to be invalidated on separation of church and state? Is there some way of making school districts teach actual science? What if some state decided to teach about how in the 1860s the evil north came and stole all the slaves and basically caused problems? Wait a second...
8.28.2006 1:52am
Roger Schlafly (www):
I don't get it. Where is the scientific error?

There is a legend of the Monkey Trial, and there are later courts that weighed in on the issue. I guess that Scalia doesn't think that judges need to pass judgment on those evolution-related issues. Whether you agree or disagree with evolution or those court decisions, where is Scalia's scientific error?

One reader thinks that the problem is that Scalia referred to "the Biblical theory of creation". If Scalia called the Biblical theory a scientific theory, then I'd join the criticism, but he does not.

Some comments have suggested some of the possible reasons for Scalia using the term "legend of the Monkey Trial". I think that there are several other possibilities as well. But none involve a scientific error.
8.28.2006 2:36am
duncan:
But that does exist. There is a very fair and thorough system of peer review behind all of biology. There is a very thorough world of published biological works that depend on and expound on evolution. There is even a quite accessible lay (bold by duncan) explanations for it out there.

Back in the day the Catholic clergy felt the effects of this type of mindset. Rather than open debate they said, "read the book over there, accept what we say about it blindly, and ask no questions or we burn you at the stake." I'm also sure Luther was considered to be a "fraudster" to more than a handfull of Catholics.

The religion of science (as opposed to the tool) and it's practitioners are not above reproach to the "lay" masses. Nor will debate be limited to the prescribed environments you describe. Best you learn to deal with that or start piling wood for the bonfires of those who will not accept your ideas.

Frankly, fairness and thoroughness requires that these fraudsters just stop.

As an apparent proponent of evolution you should be aware of the futility of this irrational and illogical notion of "fairness."
8.28.2006 4:02am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I saw this illustrated a few years ago as an undergrad at Columbia. I tried to address the fact that despite years of indoctrination education, most people refuse to believe in evolution by arranging for a formal debate on campus. I naively thought that the professors in the biology department would jump at the opportunity to publicly expose the folly of the ignorant fundamentalists. Then after every single member of the biology department refused to debate -- even when offered the opportunity to set their own terms for the debate -- I begin to think something was fishy.
Why is that fishy? Having been involved in debates -- and I use the term loosely -- with tax protesters and 9/11 conspirators, I can tell you it's totally fruitless. Because one side is bound by evidence and logic, and the other side isn't, it's impossible to hold a real debate. Moreover, what I call "the other side" has perfected a technique which works rhetorically, if not logically, in these "debates": acting as if an incomplete theory (as all science is) is an incorrect theory, and then acting as if an incorrect scientific theory "proves" the non-scientific one.

And to the extent the non-rational side in these "debates" has points that need to be addressed, they already have been. Many many many times.

So the "debate" goes something like this:

Creationist: "What about A? Your theory can't account for A."
Scientist: "Yes, it can. X, Y, and Z explains it."
C: "What about B?"
S: "1, 2, and 3 explains it."
C: "What about C?"
S: "Alpha, beta, gamma explains it."
C: "What about D?"
S: "We don't know the answer to that yet."
C: "Aha! Then you don't really know everything, so that shows that your side is 'just a theory', and we need to teach our side, too!"
S: "But that's not the way it works. We research and we find answers. You just make stuff up."
C: "Well, then, what about if I restate A in such a way that it sounds like something different than when I said it the first time?"

Rinse, lather, and repeat. Do you see why scientists might get reluctant to debate?


Oh, and as for the guy who recommended Gilder's piece, why not look at Derbyshire's evisceration of Gilder's piece?
8.28.2006 4:43am
plunge (mail):
"Back in the day the Catholic clergy felt the effects of this type of mindset. Rather than open debate they said, "read the book over there, accept what we say about it blindly, and ask no questions or we burn you at the stake." I'm also sure Luther was considered to be a "fraudster" to more than a handfull of Catholics."

I dunno. While Luther's disgust of Catholicism's corruption seem dead on, his theological arguments look, in retrospect quite awful. And his towering works of anti-semetism, in which he basically drew up the blueprint for the holocaust, don't look too great either.

However, science isn't like Catholicism. Scientists are happy and often eager to explain and teach what they know, and debating is very common within biology. It's just that the debates HAVE to be well informed to be productive. And that, unfortunately requires effort. And, it really can't take place in a high-school debate format setting. It has to take place mostly in print.

"The religion of science (as opposed to the tool) and it's practitioners are not above reproach to the "lay" masses. Nor will debate be limited to the prescribed environments you describe. Best you learn to deal with that or start piling wood for the bonfires of those who will not accept your ideas."

I'm so sorry for your mind, but unfortunately, no matter what you say, debating and understanding evolution is, at least for the forseeable future, going to have to require lots and lots of reading. If this is unacceptable to you, I'm sorry. But that's the way it is. Things can only be dumbed down so much before they start to be so simple that they are grossly misleading, and there's only so much that can be done before biology has to use lots and lots of charts and equations and so forth.
8.28.2006 10:07am
plunge (mail):
"It's interesting that he calls Creationism a "theory". That means it's not true, right?"

Something being a theory doesn't necessarily tell you much about whether it's true. Number Theory, for instance, is mostly proven deductively: a far stronger form of proof than is usually available in the real world of inferential evidence. And Orgone Energy Theory is still called a theory, but it's flat-out wrong, as far as anyone knows. Calling something a theory, in science and math and such, implies that it is a more complex set of ideas and explanations rather than a simple relationship or constant. Theories can contain laws, but they never "graduate" to laws.

"Does not teaching evolution have to be invalidated on separation of church and state?"

No. Does teaching astronomy? If we don't speak to religion at all, then we aren't calling up religious dispute or endorsing one religious view over another.
8.28.2006 10:14am
Anono (mail):
We've heard from several people, including Jim Lindgren and Hans Bader, as to why the usual presentation of the Scopes trial is indeed a myth. Is Adler ever going to defend his post on this point? Adler had said that "I see no defense of the reference to the Scopes trial. At best, it was an ill-considered rhetorical flourish. At worst, it reflected a shocking level of scientific illiteracy for such an esteemed and intelligent jurist."

What sort of "scientific illiteracy" is allegedly involved in believing something that is abundantly true, i.e., that the Scopes trial isn't remotely close to the way it is usually portrayed?
8.28.2006 10:22am
plunge (mail):
The comment really is too ambiguous to note as being scientifically illiterate. I personally think the interpretation that has him saying "the way this case is being debated is as backwards as the understanding of the monkey trial" makes more sense, which has nothing to do with science per se.

Then again, Scalia's larger point is just wrong. You just teach science, plain vanilla science and you don't even get into the religious debates. Telling kids that it's all lies and Jesus wants you to not touch your pee pee is a job for parents, not school districts. That's what this case was about.
8.28.2006 10:44am
gr (www):

Back in the day the Catholic clergy felt the effects of this type of mindset. Rather than open debate they said, "read the book over there, accept what we say about it blindly, and ask no questions or we burn you at the stake."

But there is quite open debate in science and biology. Thats how the science advances, via the rather conservative process of peer review.

What there isn't is showboating with fraudsters.
8.28.2006 11:01am
godfodder (mail):
I have to say, I think a mountain is being made of a smallish hill here. I think that a casual dismissal of creationism by mentioning that there is a "Biblical theory of creation" is hardly an effort to "establish" a religion. I also don't think that it is reprehensible to make such a statement in a high school biology class. Afterall, it probably is on the minds of many of the students, so why not address it? Some people on this thread seem to think that it is beneath the "dignity" of science to spend even an instant discussing creationism. To me, that seems to be an overly rigid insistance on ideological purity. In reality, I think that the topic of creationism would make for a lively discussion in a high school class, and maybe even a good "teaching moment." It seems a bit ridiculous, and a bit um... alarmist, to forbid such discussions in the name of the Establishment Clause (of all things).

And for all you evolutionists, here is something that has always puzzled me— how did the first cell come to be? It seems to me that the leap from "frothy soup of disembodied chemicals" to even the simplest cell is a large one indeed. Just how [i]did[/i] billions of molecules get together and form a self-replicating co-operative? Beats me. And why don't we see such "proto-cells" somewhere in the world today? (I would feel a lot better if they existed.)

Also, and this is a bit of a cliche (but still puzzling), how does evolution avoid running afoul of the second law of thermodynamics? A system of swirling trillions of randomly moving atoms spontaneously arranged itself into a thing of surpassing complexity (the first cell). Is there no wonderment at that?
8.28.2006 12:16pm
DHBerger (mail):
This is just another example of how intellectually bankrupt Justice Scalia really is. He is most definitely not an Originalist, as he constantly lets his conservative religious beliefs get in the way of constitutional reasoning- in Lawrence, Raich, this case, etc. He is an embarassment and his worst offense is giving intellectual cover to religious hokum.
8.28.2006 12:18pm
lyarbrou (mail):
Given that the genomes of thousands of organisms ranging from man and chimpanzee to the smallest bacterium (Mycoplasma genitalium) have now been sequenced and their relationship analyzed, it is no less than astounding that many educated individuals continue to fail to accept the reality of evolution. Evolution is only a theory in the same sense that the atomic theory of matter is only a theory. Science, the journal of The American Association for the Advancement of Science, had an interesting article in the 11 August edition ("Public Acceptance of Evolution" vol 313, pp765-766). Polls show that in countries such as Denmark, Sweden, France, and most other developed countries a significant majority (over 80% in some cases) accept evolution as true. In the US, only 40% accept it as true. Only one country, Turkey, has a lower percentage than the US where less than 30% accept evolution as true! The authors note this is because of widespread fundamentalism and the politicization of science in the United States. I live and work in Kansas and I have seen this firsthand. Fortunately, following our most recent election, our state Board of Education has now a majority of those who understand that science and religion are separate issues.

Coyne, Dennet, Dawkins and other evolutionary biologists demolish the so-called theory of Intelligent Design (ID) at www.Edge.org (#166 and 167). Judge Jones also did a superb job of showing that ID is not science in his 139 page decision in the Pennsylvania ID case of Kitzmiller vs Dover.

(I had problems with the links so I am providing the URLs)

http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge167.html

www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf
8.28.2006 12:33pm
Joel B. (mail):
Re - And for all you evolutionists, here is something that has always puzzled me— how did the first cell come to be? It seems to me that the leap from "frothy soup of disembodied chemicals" to even the simplest cell is a large one indeed. Just how [i]did[/i] billions of molecules get together and form a self-replicating co-operative? Beats me. And why don't we see such "proto-cells" somewhere in the world today? (I would feel a lot better if they existed.)

Also, and this is a bit of a cliche (but still puzzling), how does evolution avoid running afoul of the second law of thermodynamics? A system of swirling trillions of randomly moving atoms spontaneously arranged itself into a thing of surpassing complexity (the first cell). Is there no wonderment at that?


Uh oh! Now the fun's going to begin.

Of course, the quick outline of the argument will go...

Evolutionist - "Open System 2nd Law not Apply, see Big Fusion Ball in Sky"
Creationist - "A big fusion ball in sky is insufficient to overcome 2nd Law, energy from big fusion ball must be processed in some positive way, big fusion ball tendency to destroy complexity not build it up, oh and Universe is ultimately closed system"
Evolutionist - "We see order all the time appear in universe despite lack of intelligent force, such as crystals etc."
Creationist - "Crystals etc. are explained through the curie dissymmetry principle, formation does not rely on "time, chance, but upon dissymmetric force."
Evolutionist - "You must be kidding me."
Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

As to abiogenesis. I'll just direct you to the Talk.Origins explanation here (because I think it is so great!)

Excerpted:

The theory of evolution applies as long as life exists. How that life came to exist is not relevant to evolution. Claiming that evolution does not apply without a theory of abiogenesis makes as much sense as saying that umbrellas do not work without a theory of meteorology.


Abiogenesis is a fact. Regardless of how you imagine it happened (note that creation is a theory of abiogenesis), it is a fact that there once was no life on earth and that now there is. Thus, even if evolution needs abiogenesis, it has it.
8.28.2006 12:35pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Does anyone think the theory of evolution has the same level of scientific certainty as (say) the special theory of relativity? The former theory has more assumptions, and relies more heavily on observational data. I personally think the theory of evolution is one of greatest scientific accomplishments of all time. But I would hate to see it presented as dogma.

When we teach relativity, we also teach Newtonian mechanics, and we tell the students where Newton went wrong with absolute time. I realize the analogy is somewhat flawed because Newtonian mechanics is approximately correct and easily co-exists with relativity. Not so for evolution and intelligent design which stand in contrast to one another. Of course, in a sense, so do absolute and relative time. Now does time exist at all? In the 1940s Godel demonstrated "rotating universe" solutions to Einstein's field equations, which seem to make time travel possible. But Godel says that if time travel is possible then time itself really doesn't exist. Einstein was quite disturbed that his field equations permitted something so bizarre as a Godel Universe. The point being there is always room for doubt about scientific theories and this includes the theory of evolution too. However, thus far it's holding up pretty well. So well, I use it as a guide on what to eat.
8.28.2006 2:04pm
jvarisco (www):
Zarkov) There is certainly doubt in evolution. But they are about details, not the whole. Biologists often question specific aspects of evolution; however, they do not question the basic theory itself; that is true beyond a doubt. Unfortunately, without significant background in biology it is generally hard to understand (let alone have a well informed opinion on) such debates.

Evolution and ID do not work in your example because ID is NOT science. It is not based on any empirical data (or even equations) and does not involve testable hypotheses. I could make a theory about a giant sheep in the sky creating us; this would be incompatible with evolution too. It also has just as much evidence for it as ID does (which is to say, none at all).

And even if evolution happened to be entirely false, that would not make ID any more likely to be true.
8.28.2006 2:39pm
EKR (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov,

The analogy of evolution to SR or GR is a bit of a category error because "evolution" is more like "gravity" than it is like SR or GR. I.e., we know (to the level that we know anything in science) that it's occurred and we understand the broad outlines of how it works. Newtonian gravity theory and GR are both attempts to provide a concrete mathematical/predictive framework for understanding gravity. The corresponding theory in evolution would be something like the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. So, it's certainly possible that elements of that are wrong but that wouldn't make evolution wrong. To continue the analogy in the specific case of GR, it seems quite likely that something is seriously wrong there because of our inability reconcile it with QM. But that doesn't mean that gravity doesn't exist.
8.28.2006 3:33pm
godfodder (mail):
Joel B.
If I am not mistaken, the Talk.Origins answer to my question is "Because!!"

While it may very well be true that evolution, in the narrowest sense, has to do with living organisms, is it not possible to see "evolution-like" explanations for the behavior of non-living, pre-life chemicals? What I mean is that back in the primordial soup, there was a "competition" of sorts, and a "survival of the fittest." Collections of molecules that tended to be stable "survived," and those that weren't stable went "extinct." This evolutionary logic is precisely the mechanism by which dead matter became life, no? Somehow, through uncounted, googleplexian molecular interactions, the first stable components of a living proto-cells composed themselves. They survived, persisted and propagated because they had certain characteristics which other, similar large molecules/structures lacked.

These "survivors" eventually fell into configurations that possessed life-like characteristics (like the ability to replicate). Still... having a stable string of amino acids is a long way from a cell...

And, I would like to add, the real argument the ID folks have with evolution is NOT the notion that competition yields species diversification. You can't just dodge the "origins of life" problem by saying it is out of bounds; that evolution is exclusively about the "origin of the species." That's cheating, man!! The ID folks dislike the evolutionists because the evolutionists imply that life itself is the result of blind, material forces. Randomness. Atoms and the Void. You are trying to slip out of answering that one!

The "watch on the beach" story is about life itself, not finding a new species of fruitfly.
8.28.2006 9:03pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Nobody knows how the first cell arose, godfodder, although there are some reasonably detailed hypothesees.

The Darwinian theory of evolution takes that first cell as a starting point, just as chemists do not have to show where the first atom of hydrogen came from.

That's somebody else's job.

By now, 30 years after the religionists started blathering about the Second Law, whose relationship to Darwinian evolution is nil, anyone who brings it up is labeling himself a flat-earther.

Find an argument that hasn't already been mashed flat.

++++

Zarkov, I see you have repeated your question about the standing of biology v. physics twice.

It is a sort of meaningless question. Biologists sometimes say that Darwinian evolution is the most overdetermined theory in science.

That's a bit over the top, because it gets into questions about what evidence is, which have philosophical rather than purely scientific answers.

It should be sufficient to say that Darwinian biology is overwhelmingly supported by observed evidence. Furthermore, it is terribly vulnerable to collapse -- a single fossil out of sequence would wreck it.

Unlike some 'theories' -- ID, for one -- that are practically invulnerable to that sort of attack because they are so unspecific and predict nothing.
8.28.2006 11:20pm
plunge (mail):
"You can't just dodge the "origins of life" problem by saying it is out of bounds; that evolution is exclusively about the "origin of the species." That's cheating, man!! The ID folks dislike the evolutionists because the evolutionists imply that life itself is the result of blind, material forces. Randomness. Atoms and the Void. You are trying to slip out of answering that one! "

No. You have to actually understand what Darwinian evolution is to understand why abiogenesis is something different, but once you do understand it the distinction is obvious. It's something different precisely because Darwinian evolution requires what a theory of abiogenesis would explain the origin of. You simply cannot have the process without the requisite elements, and prior to them, you're talking about a very different sort of process. So it's not in the least an unfair dodge. The two things do not rely on each other scientifically or philosophically. Either could be true and the other wrong.

"I think that a casual dismissal of creationism by mentioning that there is a "Biblical theory of creation" is hardly an effort to "establish" a religion."

But that's the whole point. Public school systems shouldn't be dismissing creationism any more than they should be promoting them. What public school systems should do is explain what science is, how it works, what it assumes, and what the current scientific theories are and what the evidence is. They shouldn't be in the business of counseling people on what religious beliefs to have or not have. That's not an appropriate job for a government. It's none of the government's business.

"Some people on this thread seem to think that it is beneath the "dignity" of science to spend even an instant discussing creationism."

I think science has discussed creationist claims ad nasuem to the point of sheer boredom. But that's not what's at stake here. It isn't a question of science discussing anything, but rather the government getting into the religious business, which is just a bad idea.

"In reality, I think that the topic of creationism would make for a lively discussion in a high school class, and maybe even a good "teaching moment." It seems a bit ridiculous, and a bit um... alarmist, to forbid such discussions in the name of the Establishment Clause (of all things)."

Discussions can and do arise, certainly. But what we don't want is public schools having as part of their official principles something like "here's creationism.... and here is why its stupid." That (or the opposite) is inevitably what we end up with when we bring religion into a science class. Religion isn't science. It doesn't belong there, both for the good of science, and possibly more importantly for the good of religion.

"And for all you evolutionists, here is something that has always puzzled me— how did the first cell come to be?"

We don't know, though frankly that's a less important question because that's MUCH farther on. Early life was undoubtedly much simpler than a modern cell, which is one of the most advanced and highly developed and most evolved structures on the planet.


"It seems to me that the leap from "frothy soup of disembodied chemicals" to even the simplest cell is a large one indeed."

Just what is the simplest form of life though (not cell, since early life may not have involved cells per se at all). No one is really sure.

"Just how [i]did[/i] billions of molecules get together and form a self-replicating co-operative? Beats me."

Well, again, no one has a step by step accounting of a historical event that happened billions of years ago and would have left no trace. But there IS quite a lot to learn about the sorts of things relevant to the likely sorts of processes that would be involved, all of which serve to make the event seem a lot less crazy and a lot more like a fascinating puzzle with too many possible solutions and a lack of direction as to which to pursue.

"And why don't we see such "proto-cells" somewhere in the world today? (I would feel a lot better if they existed.)"

One reason is that the chemical conditions in general are very different from those of the early earth which seem to have been a lot more conducive to the formation of organic self-replicators. But another perhaps more important reason is that already existing life already blankets nearly every corner of the earth, and it metabolizes nearly every organic compound of any complexity that it comes across. Simple life once got along a lot easier because there was no other life around to eat it. That's no longer even remotely the case.

"Also, and this is a bit of a cliche (but still puzzling), how does evolution avoid running afoul of the second law of thermodynamics?"

Let's turn that question around: why do you think evolution is prevented at all by thermodynamics? How does the 2nd law prevent a) darwinian evolution or b) abiogenetic chemical reactions?

"A system of swirling trillions of randomly moving atoms spontaneously arranged itself into a thing of surpassing complexity (the first cell). Is there no wonderment at that?"

Of course there is wonderment. But what there ISN'T is "oh well, that's so cool that I think I will just drink martinis all day long and not bother to try and learn more about it"
8.29.2006 12:13am
Michael B (mail):
"the much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial."

How is this problematic at all? I can't think of what this might refer to other than what it refers to (and in a rather unambiguous manner), i.e. the much beloved secular legend of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Why is that even difficult to apprehend? As to Scalia's excerpted quote, he never does refer to science explicitly, he never refers to science qua science, and by contrast he does explicitly refer to "a reality of religious literature." Hence his intent may not be in the vein suggested. He may be referring to philosophical underpinnings of science, the philosophy of science, or his quote may be suggestive of some problems with overreach on the part of some prominent teachers of evolution, or perhaps is suggestive of general philosophical issues, such as not only clarifying and defining science per se (again, referring to the phil. of science, epistemology) but to metaphysical and ontological questions.

Perhaps ideologues need to tell themselves massive untruths (e.g., about what we putatively and positively do know and don't know) in order to reinforce the truths, together with the attendant extra-truths, they're so certain they "know". How else to explain not only this much beloved (and oft repeated) secular legend, but even such germinal events as the Galileo Galilei history.

If simple truth (i.e. unadorned historical facts) need to be obscured and distorted in order to putatively advance a larger truth, how is that larger truth advanced, in point of fact, as truth per se? That would, seemingly, be problematic for those genuinely interested in science qua science. Seemingly. But legends are attractive, in large part, because they help to simplify some things which defy simplification.

Ref. also, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion
8.29.2006 12:15am
godfodder (mail):
plunge:
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my posts. I appreciate your efforts to enlighten me. When evolution is held to the narrow focus of "the origin of the species," it is clearly unassailable as a theoretical model. I mean, it is visible during our lifetimes as bacterial resistence to antibiotics.

I'm hoping that even the most ardent creationist wouldn't insist that God himself was inserting the plasmids into the bacteria!
8.29.2006 2:37am
Jim Chen (mail) (www):
Greetings, Volokh Conspiracy readers. I intended to respond in this forum, but it turns out that I'll be spinning this issue in an extended series at Jurisdynamics. I invite you to see what I wrote initially in Tangipahoa and in my Harvard Environmental Law Review article. Then come see the opening post in my new series, Genesis for the Rest of Us.
8.29.2006 10:39am
DC Lawyer (mail):
Setting aside the evolution debate, I would argue that one of the most scientifically irresponsible passages in the U.S. reports is Justice Scalia's recent plurality opinion in Rapanos v. United States, which demonstrates a shocking ignorance of wetlands hydrology and at one point even seems to deny the fairly obvious proposition that silt flows downstream.
8.29.2006 11:03am
dm:
"Of course there is wonderment. But what there ISN'T is "oh well, that's so cool that I think I will just drink martinis all day long and not bother to try and learn more about it"

Damn, didn't know that was an option... all those years I spent in grad school, post-doc, tenure track biology prof and the martini option was there all the time.
8.29.2006 2:00pm