Sunday, March 08, 2009

When I started this blog, my goal was to provide support for the theory of evolution by demonstrating that, contrary to statements by anti-evolutionists, new evidence of evolution is continually being reported. This includes new findings from fields such as cell biology, ecology, morphology (the study of the forms organisms take), ethology (the study of animal behavior), medicine, and neurology. Oh, and let's not forget fossils, which continue to turn up new examples of intermediate forms. Time has not allowed me to carry through with this agenda.

But there is an argument that needs to be made that relates to the question of evidence and evolution. Anti-evolutionists, who with a few exceptions are not biological scientists, claim that current text books and biology curiculla need to reflect an alleged abundance of evidence that calls evolution into serious question. Now this "evidence" has been refuted by competent scientists, but the idea that such evidence could exist is refuted by a proper understanding of the way science works.

If the evidence existed which seriously challenges evolution, and if biological science is operating by the same rules as other sciences, then it would be leading biological scientists who would be insisting on debate about the validity of the theory. Scientists make their mark on the history of science by seeking out such evidence as cannot be explained with current theories. That is what science does. Yet no such fight is being fought, at least not by scientists.

A good example of how this works can be seen in the history of phyics around the turn of the 20th Century. A famous anecdote illustrates the attitude of established physicists at this time. A recent college graduate asked a physics professor if he recommended a student seek an advanced degree in physics. The professor discouraged the student, saying that all the important theories had been established and the only work that remained for physicists was to calculate the known constants to greater and greater accuracy. One student at the time, who thankfully did not receive and follow that advice, was Albert Einstein. In 1905, working as a patent clerk, published papers that exploded the complancy of physicists and established whole new fields of study, such as relativity and quantum mechanics.

How did the scientists of the day respond? Did they ignore this evidence, attempt to cover it up, try to stiffle criticism of the established theories? No. Physicists were energized and zestfully set to work to find the theory that would explain the evidence coming to light better than the established theories. This is not to say that every physicist of the day was persuaded that new theories were needed. In some ways, the new theories did not really take off until the old theorists died off and were replaced by students who did not have any emotional stake in maintaining the status quo.

This is how the system is supposed to work. Science invites the reporting of evidence that calls theories into question. It thrives on them. If the new theories proposed by physicists such as Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and others did not explain the evidence in hand better than the established theories, no changes would have been made. Science is inately conservative, requiring a lot of evidence before changing its collective mind.

My point is that if the evidence that seriously challenged evolution existed, we would not need non-scientists to lead the charge to change the acceptance of evolution in the scientific community or the lay community. The scientists themselves would be fighting over whose theories would replace evolution. No such fight has ever occured in the case of evolution. Most of the evidence that seemed to call evolution into question has turned out to be improperly interpreted. Sometimes later discoveries shed new light on the evidence.

For example, some anti-evolutionists have made much of a bed of rock with fossil footprints that appeared to show footprints of humans along-side footprints of dinosaurs. If this were good evidence, it would indeed throw the field of evolution into a dither; according to orthodox evolution theory dinosaurs were extinct long before primates, much less humans, had evolved. But the evidence was being misinterpreted. A closer examination of the footprints by qualified paleontologists demonstrated that what appeared to be human footprints were prints of a dinosaur which left prints which, at first glance appeared human.

Likewise, anti-evolutionists have insisted that a complex structure like an eye could not evolve because it does not work if any part did not do its job. But scientists have shown that a wide range of organisms have eyes ranging in simplicity from mere light sensitive spots to the eyeball with a lens. Each is but a small change from a simpler example, demonstrating that evolution can produce complex structures.

These attempts to discredit evolution are dead-ends that evolutionary biologists have already considered and rejected, not because they don't want to see the theory discredited, but because evidence supports the conclusions. If this is not yet convincing you, let me give you an analogy that might clarify it.

There are some who claim that the Nazi holocaust of Jews and others undesirables never happened. Knowledgable historians do not discuss these claims, citing this as an alternative interpretation of the evidence, nor are these theories taught in history classes. This is because the evidence for the Holocaust is so extensive that it would be irrational to claim it never happened. Historians don't consider the Holocaust a theory which deserves to be viewed as inconclusive because the evidence is so extensive and so clear that no qualifiers need be made. The Holocaust, unfortunately, happened; it is a fact of history, not a theory.

If we consider what could cause people to question the Holocaust, we cannot but conclude that they choose to believe this in spite of the evidence based on bigotry, not evidence. In a like manner, I conclude that those who believe in intelligent design and creationism do so in spite of the massive weight of evidence based on religious beliefs. To suggest that such ideas have a place in science class is as irrational as to assert that anti-Holocaust texts be introduced in history classes. The only reason to even mention these topics in science or history classes would be to demonstrate antithesis of science and history.