Monday, September 26, 2005

Macro-Micro Controversy

Still very busy with classes and not much (or much time) to report. Nevertheless, in rooting around the web about the evolution controversy, I ran across this article by Bruce Alberts and Jay Labov, both from from the National Academies of Science, on teaching evolution in schools:

[...]this lesson plan uses the terms “microevolution” (defined by Intelligent Design proponents as genetic changes within existing species) and “macroevolution” (defined by proponents of Intelligent Design as genetic changes that lead to speciation) in ways that make them seem like two distinct processes. In fact, evolutionary theory makes no such distinction; the processes that lead to changes within species, when accumulated over time, also can give rise to new species.

Interesting that it is precisely the most controverted aspect of natural selection that the NAS wants to equivocate: the idea that micro- and macro-evolution are absolutely identical is exactly what needs to be proven!

Meanwhile, the Discovery Institute's 2003 document examining the treatment various textbooks give the macro/micro debate claims that

[t]he scientific controversy over whether processes observable within existing species and gene pools (microevolution) can account for large-scale changes over geological time (macroevolution) continues to this day.
and gives quotations from recent papers and says that their authors are all "believers in Darwinian evolution, and that all of them think the controversy will eventually be resolved within the framework of that theory."

On the other side, I ran across this page that claims to give examples of "speciation events" (i.e., macro-evolutionary). I'm making inquiries about the truth of these examples, but I'd appreciate hearing from any experts out there in web land.

Whether these examples hold water or not, any intellectually honest person has got to wonder why the Academies feels the need to blur the macro/micro distinction without scientific inquiry.

Strictly speaking, such a pattern of obfuscation is only circumstantial evidence of untruth. It's possible these guys are being completely honest. It could be they are telling the truth, but just feel guilty about it because it justifies (in their minds) an impure intention.

My own intention is to give them the benefit of the doubt, while such doubt exists, despite their apparent determination to demonstrate guilt.

Bruce Alberts and Jay B. Labov "From the National Academies: Teaching the Science of Evolution," Cell Biology Education (Volume 3 Summer 2004).

Sunday, September 18, 2005

September News

It's been quite a while since I've posted. And I owe everyone (who may happen to be reading) an explanation.

It's actually very good news. After over two years of unemployment, I got a job! And not only just a job, but a great job. I'm teaching biology (mainly) at a college in New Hampshire. That's the good news. The bad news is that all the class preps and lab organization keep me rather busy. That's the reason I've been unable to post.

I wish I could say that despite the constraints on my time I am going to post regularly, but I'm afraid I honestly can't. I owe it to my students to be there for them full-time. I will post when time allows though.

More good news: Since I'm teaching biology, I have a unique opportunity to look in-depth at the arguments for and against Darwinian evolution. My reading so far makes me suspect that Darwinism is neither all its proponents would have us believe nor quite as meritless as its critics allege.

On the purely philosophical level, I think part of the dispute arises over the meaning of "randomness." Scientists often use words in different ways than the rest of us, and I think they mean "apparent randomness" (that is, the limits of science keep us from finding a cause). Anyway, I'm hoping to have something to say in about six weeks and the time to say it in.

On the subject of randomness and evolution, there's a worthwhile analysis of Darwinism in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Harold Morowitz, Robert Hazan, and James Trefil, "Intelligent Design Has No Place in the Science Curriculum," Chronicle of Higher Education (September 2, 2005), B6-B8. [subscription required]

The article's argument against teaching ID in the classroom (or at least defending Darwinism from ID arguments) is disingenuous, and it's another data point in Darwinist PC party line. The pull-quote that encapsulates the Orwellian double-speak:

We shouldn't teach students about intelligent design for the same reason we don't teach them that the Earth is flat. [emphasis added]

The slight of hand here is to draw a parallel that isn't parallel. We may not teach students that the Earth is flat, but when we teach them that it's not flat, we are refuting the flat-Earth argument, that is, teaching about it. Similarly, even though we may not be teaching students that ID is either true or false, any honest attempt at science education (as opposed to scientistic indoctrination) will teach them why Darwinism is either true or false by teaching them why ID is false or true. This means teaching about ID!

Yes, my friends, science is based on reason and any scientific belief can be defended by reason. It's sad that has to be said to supposed proponents of science.

The laudable part of the article (very laudable) was its analysis of Darwinism into two camps of explanations based either on determinism or chance. Here's the best paragraph:

It seems to us that the frozen-accident theory of life's origin is at best unsatisfying, and may be unworthy of the scientific way of approaching the world. To say that a natural process is random is, in effect, an act of surrender, something that should be done only as a last resort. If you read the frozen-accident literature carefully, you often get the feeling that what is really being said is: "My friends and I can't figure out why things happened this way, so it must have been random."

Very, very reasonable. Aristotle couldn't have said it better.

See you in six weeks, if not sooner....