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The Ceaseless Wonders of the Evolution Debate

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After much reading and careful consideration, I find myself on the side of the religious right on one issue, even though I firmly believe that this ambiguous group of fundamentalists, evangelicals and fanatics has, through their political machinations and incessant meddling into numerous other matters of secular public policy, brought the injustice of Selman v. Cobb County School District upon themselves — and the rest of us.

In Selman v. Cobb County School District, the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled on January 13, 2005 that a sticker placed into science textbooks is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The sticker in question reads, “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” In determining whether the government-sponsored message is in violation of the Establishment Clause, the court applied the “Lemon test,” provided by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which asks whether the message: 1) has a secular purpose; 2) advances or inhibits religion in its principal or primary effect; or 3) creates an excessive entanglement of the government with religion.

Now, call me crazy, but the text of the sticker appears to easily pass the Lemon test because it has the secular purpose of encouraging critical thinking, which should be considered essential to any sort of education. And since the sticker doesn’t even mention religion, it cannot advance or inhibit it. Thus it cannot not create any excessive entanglements of the government with religion.

Those who believe in Charles Darwin‘s theory of evolution without question might be offended by these assertions, but please lower your defenses ( I am quite sensitive to the deteriorating condition of that proverbial wall that is supposed to separate church from state), keep an open mind and remember that the theory of evolution is based upon empirical evidence and observation which cannot be completely verified which means that evolution is indeed a scientific theory, not scientific fact. Therefore, belief in evolution (and many other scientific theories and hypotheses which are still being studied) requires more than a few leaps of scientific faith, even if some of the faithful cannot accept that uncomfortable truth.

The theory of evolution is still a scientific work in progress and there are several big questions that it does not answer such as how evolution adds information to a genome to create progressively more complicated organisms, how evolution brings about drastic changes so quickly and — most pertinently — how the first living cell arose spontaneously to get evolution started. As more study and research are done, the theory of evolution will either become complete, answering those questions which are currently unsolved, or it will be replaced by a new theory that better explains nature’s phenomena.

That is how the scientific process is supposed to work. As new discoveries are made, new theories are created and expounded and existing ones are modified in order to explain that which was previously misunderstood or unexplained. For example, Newtonian physics answered many types of problems — and still does — but it did not explain the many things that were eventually answered by Einstein’s theories of relativity.

And yet, there are many disciples of Darwin who insist that evolution is a fact, sometimes with a closed-mindedness which is not unlike that of which they readily accuse creationists who believe that the Biblical accounting is the absolute truth. To these believers, this talk about critical thinking with regard to the questions still surrounding the theory of evolution is nothing but religiously motivated nonsense. Can you smell the irony?

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About Margaret Romao Toigo

  • http://www.bigtimepatriot.com Big Time Patriot

    “evolution adds information to a genome to create progressively more complicated organisms”

    this is not true, evolution can also reduce information from genomes (look how much our tails have been reduced to a vestigal apendage). Given a long enough period all the permutations of evolution will grow to include more complicated organisms, at least until the next global eco disaster when all the largest specimen may die out.

    Also, I believe the earth worm has more genes than a human being does.

    Your other points are not so clearly answered as of yet, but this particular part is just a misconception of what evolution is all about, a kind of second hand cousinof the belief in “intelligent design”. Evolution doesn’t really progress, it just blossoms out in all directions and some of the survivors are more complex, just as some are less complex.

    See, reading all those Stephen Jay Gould books has finally paid off. I recommend them highly, entertaining as well as enlightening which is not always easy to find..

  • Nick Jones

    If believing in the Theory of Evolution is indeed a leap of faith, then I go with Evolution over Bronze Age superstition every time.

  • http://www.viewpointjournal.com David Flanagan

    What I find most interesting about the evolution debate, just as margaret aptly points out, is how much energy goes into quashing the debate on evolution. We know that evolution is a theory, but whenever a school district somewhere in the US contemplates promoting debate in order to stimulate critical thinking, a whole series or individuals, groups, and organizations goes berserk and ignites national controversy.

    WHY is it unacceptable to allow the debate? Why is it unacceptable to teach the controversy? Why is it unacceptable to ask the question; are there better theories to explain the existence of life on this planet?

    Thanks for your post Margaret.

    David

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Wow, how on earth did the court find that sticker to have anything at all to do with religion? It could apply to anything at all. There are actually multiple theories of evolution, some of which are discredited and some of which are just ignored. Why couldn’t the sticker be about them?

    All common sense has flown out the window.

    Dave

  • Duane

    The purpose of all the energy input is not to quash the debate on evolution. It is to quash the encroachment of superstition. It is to head off at the pass future textbook disclaimers, such as

    “This textbook suggests that the earth is spherical. The shape of the earth is a controversial topic, and not all people accept the theory. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” *

    Intelligent design “theory” will not lead to “critical thinking.” It invokes an omnipresent, omniscient being, who with magical powers blinks us into existence. What’s left to debate if we accept that?

    * No citation to the original reference is given here. That seems to be acceptable, since Margaret has not bothered to cite her sources.

  • http://www.viewpointjournal.com David Flanagan

    The purpose of all the energy input is not to quash the debate on evolution. It is to quash the encroachment of superstition.

    Duane,

    Your comments are exactly representative of those seeking to stifle any debate on darwinian evolution. The thinking is something like this:

    Anyone who disagrees with the theory of evolution (never mind the fact that there are multiple competing theories) is, automatically, a religious zealot. Therefore, in order to prevent religious influences from creeping into public schools, we must suppress ALL debate on this theory.

    My questions stand and they are perfectly valid, and a helluva lot more valid than your close-minded approach, which is to suppress debate on the fear that we might discuss something “religious.”

    And in regards to “Intelligent Design,” I happen to know that many creationists are adamntly opposed to this theory because it does not presuppose God. ID seeks simply to examine the evidence to see if complexity could have occurred naturally or through intent, the same way a forensic scientist examines crime scene evidence to determine, for example, if a fire were accidental or purposefully started.

    We use design-type theories for forensics, archeology, and other disciplines as well. Sorry, but something that seeks to compete with darwinian evolution does not a religious controversy make, no matter how desperately you try to paint it as such.

    Again, why can’t we teach the debate? Why can’t we ask the question; are there other theories that might better explain the origin of life on Earth?

    David

  • Duane

    David, thank you for your thoughtful response. I have no desire to see the debate ended. That’s precisely what goes on in the scientific community, and I’m all for that. However, the fact that biologists disagree on the details of the Theory of Evolution is used as ammunition against these scientists by anti-evolutionists, who rabble rouse their constituency into impugning the Theory of Evolution as “just a theory,” which is misleading, if not downright dishonest. All the great scientific theories have been — and are — “just theories.” As far as creationists vs. IDers, you must be joking. ID is just a dressed up version of the same old creationism. They’re not fooling anyone except anti-evolutionists.

    As far as other theories that might explain the origin of life (which is not really a part of the traditional Darwinian theory — evolution happens regardless of life’s origin), I would be interested in hearing about them. What are some of the other theories that you refer to?

  • http://www.bigtimepatriot.com Big Time Patriot

    As far as “intelligent idea” the main argument seems to be that some people just can’t get their head around the idea that evolution and chance CAN create wonderful things. Sorry, the lack of comprehending something doesn’t seem to me to be really a good argument. I think I comprehend evolution but I can’t really comprehend entangled photons or how that could possibly be true, but I choose to believe it anyway despite how far fetched it may seem, because there is SCIENCE to back it up. Science is all about testing and retesting the truth of theories.

    A lot of modern religion seems to be about denying and redenying the reality of the world. Homosexuals have been around for at least several thousand years (we can only know from the written record for sure, I would imagine much earlier than that since it exists in other animals). But SOME religious people (not all) deny the fact that humanity has survived the existence of homosexuality for all these centuries and if you point it out, they just re-deny it.

    As far as: “WHY is it unacceptable to allow the debate? Why is it unacceptable to teach the controversy? Why is it unacceptable to ask the question; are there better theories to explain the existence of life on this planet?”

    I would rephrase this: “WHY is it unacceptable to allow the debate? Why is it unacceptable to teach the controversy? Why is it unacceptable to ask the question; are there better theories to explain the existence of trunks on elephants?” (This would be a comment on why the story of how the elephant got his trunk should be taught as an alternate theory in biology class)

  • mo_loh

    I lurk often and rarely comment, but feel obligated to respond to this post, mostly to correct the “framing” of the debate as per the exhortations of Mr. Pawluk in another thread.

    To begin, within the vocabulary of science, EVERYTHING found in a science textbook is a “theory” — including electricity, flight, etc.

    Therefore there is no need to single out evolution as a theory with the use of a warning sticker, especially since the first chapter of the textbook would presumably explain the use of critical thought with respect to data, hypotheses and theories.

    Why, then, would the religious right lobby to place, and then litigate to retain, the warning sticker re: evolution? The obvious answer is that they had ulterior motives beyond encouraging critical thought, for example, 1) to enter “intelligent design” (a.k.a. creationism or God) into the scientific classroom discussion, or 2) to discredit evolution as a “theory” by conflating the everyday use of the term with its scientific use.

    (That line of reasoning might explain why the warning stickers failed the “Lemon” test in the judgment … can someone confirm or deny that?)

    Someone might then reasonably ask, as Mr. Flanagan has, why not teach intelligent design or creationism in the classroom anyway? Why not allow the debate and teach the controversy?

    The short answer, IMHO, is that this is a SCIENCE classroom. Evolution may be a mere theory, and it may well have shortcomings, but it is still the dominant scientific theory because it is a far better theory than intelligent design/ creationism/ God. It is a better theory because it best fits the observed data like the fossil record, speciation, DNA similarities, etc. It is also, ironically, a better theory because it is capable of being DISPROVEN — which intelligent design/ creationism/ God is incapable of.

    Moreover, if the Christian version of creationism is to be taught, then why not the Raelian or Amer-indian or Hindu versions? Will every alternative theory to every dominant scientific theory be taught likewise? Teach religion if you must — but do it in the religion classroom and keep it out of the science classroom.

    The problem with the warning stickers is not the encouragement of critical thought, as Ms. Toigo suggests. The problem is the surreptitious attempt to enter God into the science classroom.

    More, extensive discussion of this very same topic can be found (try to ignore the flaming) at:
    http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=1306204 .

  • Tym

    Firstly, I suggest we check the definition “scientific fact” vs. “scientific theory”. Just as the cell theory (all living things are made of cells) could be incorrect, evolutionary theory could be incorrect and in need of revision as well. A scientific theory is a set of statements which offer broad explanatory and predictive powers that make testable statements which are well supported by experiments. Indeed, both the cell theory and evolutionary theory meet these criteria. Such a sticker immediately discounts the latter, prejudicing students to evolution when is it just as supported as the cell theory.

    But as for representation of Creationism? Indeed, I can see how this could seem like irony, one group suppressing the views of another’s because they are having their own views repressed, but Creationism differs in a major way. It’s not science. It’s not a theory. It doesn’t make any testable statements, has no predictive ability. It’s not even a hypothesis, it’s not an observation; Creationism is a mere conjecture at best. Along with “Invisible Leprechauns dance on the moon.”

    So does Creationism belong in the classroom? Sure. Just not a science classroom. Theology is an excellent class for students to learn the many diverse legends of cultures’ supernatural origins in an unbiased and objective way.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    It comes down to hours in the day and establishing a basis for the discussion. Evolution is that base.

    I want my kids to be taught basic scientific facts that the majority of people agree on.

    Evolution has to be learned first before the discussion ranges further. Evolution has to be learned first before you can disagree with it. (Not always a requirement, apparently, if comments here are any evidence)

    Evolution is discussed in a biology class, where there is, literally, the whole world’s building blocks to explain in a semester.

    It comes down to hours in a day. You can’t teach a child everything all us adults know before they become adults. It rarely happens. Life and learning don’t work that way.

    To say The Theory of Evolution is “just a theory,” as mentioned above, is merely to display your ignorance of the scientific method and terminology. It is not a theory to say, “The moon is made of cheese.” That’s a belief and a guess. It could even be classified as wishful thinking.

    A theory, in the scientific method, is already surrounded by many measured and quantified facts. It is past “belief.”

    Intelligent design – a fairly new collection of thought – isn’t even a theory, yet. There’s nothing measured there and nothing quantified. It’s not science.

    That’s it. Period. Yes, it is that simple.

  • Steve Dipala

    I am very worried if America keeps going down this path. 96% of school kids in Japan know and understand the basics of evolution. Here in the US, why are we on a blogsite where many of these thoughtful comments have to state the obvious. Evolution is one of the greatest theories in the history of science. I will be blunter then the great comments before me. This is EXACTLY analogous to arguing if the earth is flat or round once most of the scientists have shown that it was round. Exactly. Imagine how people would feel if stickers and blogs want to say we must debate that the earth is not round when these people ( those many years ago on there forms of blogs and stickers where benefiting of all the advances that the understanding of a flat world was given them.. Why though in the US, do we have to be the stupid ones, the ignorant ones? Who benefit from all this but won’t believe it.

    Evolution has been completely verified. It is the details that are being debated and enlarged and refined by scientists. It is verified many times a day. Scientists are using the rules of it to do many things and have been doing so for many, many years. It is pervasive in every walk of life – the understanding of evolution aids the food we eat, aids in the prevention of diseases, new drugs. Everywhere. 10 of thousands of scientists are using what it tells us about us, to make our life’s better – what more would you have of a real science than that. Just in it’s innovation in computers alone there are 1000s of researcher using the understanding of it with 100s of papers a year, just on the most esoteric version of it evolutionary programming. Image if it is there how it is everywhere else in our life’s. NASA scientist use the theories of evolution (as do 1000s of programmers in the fields of genetic algorithms and genetic program) to evolve better space antenna (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2004/04_55AR.html) . Soon these same folks in the US might be talking and blogging via antennas made via evolutionary understanding, eat foods, taking medications, … and still arguing that the world seem flat though.

    As a side note, the reason Darwin is so haled, was not because anyone wants to make him Jesus or a celebrity or pray to him or turn the fish the other way for him. It is once again because of pure science – After all this verification it was obvious that he got so much of it right, early on. Usually many scientists build on such a powerful idea, but with Darwin as people did build a lot of times Darwin’s initial theories were dead on (yes there was a lot wrong). But the reason he got it so right, is he was very timid in many ways and knew of the onslaught that would come if he presented his findings (and was worried because his religious ties too). So he sat on it for ~ 10 years and just kept questioning and refining, questioning and refining it. It was very solid when he published.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I think everyone is still missing the point. Regardless of the infinite validity of evolution when compared to any fantasy imagined by bearded old loons 6000 years ago, the court still shouldn’t have removed the sticker because although the sticker said evolution was a theory – which we all accept. It didn’t say word one about anything other than evolution and certainly didn’t endorse any religion, creationism or holy writ. It doesn’t even mention the existence of anything but evolution. It may be unnecessary, but it’s not a violation of the separation of church and state.

    Dave

  • Steve DiPala

    Same as above: hit post instead of preview before I grammar checked – sorry for all the error in the first pass – here again (yes I know – I’m the stupid one for flaming and not checking).
    Same content, spell and grammar corrected:

    I am very worried if America keeps going down this path. 96% of school kids in Japan know and understand the basics of evolution. Here in the US, why are we on a blog site where many of these thoughtful comments have to state the obvious. Evolution is one of the greatest theories in the history of science. I will be blunter than the great comments before me. This is EXACTLY analogous to arguing if the earth is flat or round , once most of the scientists have shown us that it is round. Exactly. Imagine how people would feel if stickers and blogs kept wanting to debate the earths shape (those many years ago on their forms of blogs and stickers) even while they were benefiting of all the advances that the understanding of a round world has given them.. Why though in the US, do we have to be the stupid ones, the ignorant ones?

    Evolution has been completely verified. It is the details that are being debated and refined by scientists. It is verified many times a day. Scientists are using the rules to better the world and have been doing so for many, many years. It is pervasive in every walk of life – the understanding of evolution aids the food we eat, aids in the prevention of diseases, new drugs. Everywhere. 10s of thousands of scientists are using what it tells us about us and the world, to make our life’s better – what more would you want out of a real science. Just in it’s innovation in computers alone there are 1000s of researcher using the understanding of it publishing 100s of papers a year, in a rather esoteric version of it: evolutionary programming. NASA scientists use the theories of evolution (as do 1000s of programmers in the fields of genetic algorithms and genetic program) to evolve better space antenna (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2004/04_55AR.html) . Soon these same folks in the US might be talking and blogging via antennas made via evolutionary understanding, eating better foods, taking life saving medications, … and still arguing ‘that the world seems flat though’, evolutionary-speaking.

    As a side note, the reason Darwin is so hailed, was not because anyone wants to make him Jesus or a celebrity or pray to him or turn the fish the other way for him ( OK a few humanist do but not scientists). It is once again because of pure science – after all the years of verification, it was obvious that he got so much of it right early on. Usually many scientists need to build on such a powerful idea, but with Darwin as people did build, a lot of time, Darwin’s initial theories were dead on (yes there was a lot wrong too and a lot we have built on it). But the reason he got it so right, is because he was very timid in many ways and knew of the onslaught that would come if he presented his findings (and was worried because of his religious underpinnings too). So he sat on it for ~ 10 years and just kept questioning and refining, questioning and refining it. It was very solid when he published.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    It didn’t say word one about anything other than evolution and certainly didn’t endorse any religion, creationism or holy writ. It doesn’t even mention the existence of anything but evolution. It may be unnecessary, but it’s not a violation of the separation of church and state.

    Dave, I clicked on the .pdf file that Margaret provided in the post, and read the actual ruling. This is what they determined:

    The court looked at several factors.
    1) Before the sticker was advocated, no parent had complained.
    2) The woman who did complain, is a self-avowed 6-Day Creationist. She took it upon herself to gather several thousand signatures, most of whom had NO kids in the school. SHE is the one who pushed this sticker forward.

    So the court had to ask itself, this question:
    Does the Sticker run afoul of the Establishment Clause (separation of church/state) only if it is ‘entirely motivated by a purpose to advance religion’.

    (Question is on page 21 of the .pdf file, up to that point, it gets into detail about the people involved and their motivations). The court concluded that the sticker no matter what it said was created by people who had a religious bias motivation.

    So you can see, that even though the Sticker says nothing about religion, it is motivated by a purpose to advance religion. For proof of that, you need only read the motivations of the people in the court case.

    That is why it failed, and when you read it in that context, it makes perfect sense, and IS a violation of the separation of church and state.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I was kind of hoping they’d just made the ruling based on it being a needless waste of taxpayer money to put the sticker on there.

    Dave

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    I would also think they would consider the wording and placement of the sticker.

    If the purpose of such a sticker (regardless of who pushed for it) is to promote critical thinking, the place to put it would be in the foreword or introduction, and the wording would be such to clarify the meaning of “theory” in the context of a scientific discussion.

    When the purpose is to cast doubt on a specific theory and undermine its scientific validity, you put the sticker in the section covering this theory, and word it so that neither this nor any other theory on the topic can acquire any special weight. In essense, you tell the readers, “no one can judge this issue, so believe whatever you want.”

    Incidentally, the “disciples of Darwin” have already been through several paradigm shifts since the massive one Darwin introduced; “punctuated equilibrium” for example. Alternative scientific theories in evolution are tested and incorporated or rejected all the time – think of Lamarckian inheritance!

    Let’s not leave our children to grow up not knowing about the lively and real debates of science, because we are so absorbed with intruding faith (not religion, faith) into their science classes.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Here’s a good article about this aspect of the culture war. Currently, creationism is being fought for, in 17 states.

    It also points out a theme I’ve heard before. That this battle for Creationism isn’t really about Creationism. It’s about a religious movement that wants to create an impression on society in some way, feeling it’s losing it’s impact on culture. And that it’s also about working to get religious belief taught alongside science, because then it ultimately becomes science.

    I don’t know if all that’s true, but it makes perfect sense. This movement for Creationism isn’t separate-but-coincidental from the movement that’s sweeping the land, with it’s attacks on cartoons, judges, gay people, Desperate Housewives with NFL players, and Janet’s booby, I’m sure it’s all part of a much bigger picture, which should make the motives at least suspect to begin with.

    Court rulings like the one in the case available above, pretty much confim there’s an ulterior motive behind all this.

  • Shark

    The great irony is that most folks on the Religious Right are explicit evidence proving that humans evolved from lower life forms.

    End of “debate”.

  • Eric Olsen

    I believe mo loh put it best: why single out evolution for the warning? Why? Because there is religious motivation behind it. The theory of electricity does not contradict biblical teaching so is left un-warned against.

    I also agree that the “debate” and creationism itself are perfectly reasonable topics of discussion, in theology or sociology, or history of ideas classes, but not in biology.

    If you put a sticker on this “contested theory” then you have to put one on every “contested theory” and then you won’t be able to read the freaking book: it’ll look like the bumper sticker of a college radio station music director’s VW bus.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com/ andy marsh

    I think the sticker could have had a completely different goal. Maybe, they were saying to kids that have a strong religious background, “don’t just throw this idea away because it doesn’t match what you’re taught in Sunday School, keep an open mind.” I went to catholic school growning up and we were taught both, evolution and creationism and left to our own how to figure out which one made more sense. I don’t think people give kids anough credit.

  • Eric Olsen

    but Catholic school and public school are two completely different animals

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Interestingly, I went to a parochial school as well, and they sure didn’t teach creationism in biology class. It was all evolution. Creation was taught in Religious Studies class.

    Dave

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org Margaret Romao Toigo

    The intent of the article was to encourage critical thinking with regard to the origins of life — and it worked (thank you for all of the thoughtful and insightful comments)! — not to promote any particular ideology such as intelligent design theory (which is technically an hypothesis, even if the arithmetic might qualify it as theory).

    I do believe in evolution. It is widely accepted as the current prevaling scientific theory about the origins of life, even if it ultimately raises more questions than it answers. Evolution is all we’ve got for now, until more study is done.

    The origin of life is really a gigantic question mark. Certainly Charles Darwin did an excellent job of documenting some of it and the scientists who have followed in his footsteps have expanded upon and modified Darwin’s original theories as new discoveries have been made over the years. However, the theory of evolution does not explain that much about the origins of life, even if it is a fairly accurate accounting of the biological and genetic connections between living things.

    Faith is the human virtue which helps us to resolve our natural curiosity with our pride and the frustrations it causes us to feel when we contemplate the Great Unanswered Questions. Because it is difficult for the human psyche to accept that there are some things which are unknown and possibly unknowable, each of us places our faith in the ideas which we find most plausible. For some people the most plausible explaination is in the Book of Genesis, others believe it is found in the theories of Charles Darwin, while others put their faith in the concept of intelligent design (sometimes in conjuction with Darwin’s teachings, sometimes not). In addition to these, there are numerous other ideas, religions, theories and hypotheses to which people subscribe in order to find the peace of mind which can only be attained by placing one’s faith in something.

    And faith is really what the evolution versus creationism versus intelligent design versus Chariots of the Gods versus etc, etc, etc debates are ultimately all about. We seek peace for ourselves and when we find it, we wish for others to feel the same peace, which is all well and fine until people begin to discuss the various faiths (religious, scientific and others) which brought them their peace, as if they should work for everyone else, too.

    But faith is about finding what works for you, which may not necessarily work for someone else. This is why speculation, critical thinking, relfection, debate and other studies and contemplations are essential to our spiritual, emotional and intellectual well-being. How can any of us find something in which to place our faith if we are not first presented with a number of ideas from which to choose?

  • Eric Olsen

    I agree the “original” origin of life is a total and awesome (meant literally) mystery

  • Duane

    Margaret: “The intent of the article was to encourage critical thinking with regard to the origins of life….”

    Scientists (for the most part) do think critically. When they don’t, they don’t get paid to be scientists (unless you go work for the Discovery Institute). School kids would benefit from gaining some insight into the process of scientific advancement. There is no need to water that down with archaic notions about superpowerful beings.

    “…there are some things which are unknown and possibly unknowable….”

    Many things are unknown, such as the origin of life. But that, in particular, is knowable. In our lifetime? Perhaps not. But eventually. I don’t see it as a mystery. I see it as a scientific question to be answered through scientific means.

    “Evolution is all we’ve got for now, until more study is done.”

    Are you really going to suggest that the Theory of Evolution will be overthrown?

    “Faith is the human virtue which helps us to resolve our natural curiosity with our pride and the frustrations it causes us to feel when we contemplate the Great Unanswered Questions.”

    I thought you were trying to encourage critical thinking. I would prefer to say “I don’t know” instead of resorting to faith. There is another human virtue that we might call upon in times of grappling ith the Big Questions — patience. Since this year is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “miracle year,” it might be appropriate to point out that one of his 1905 papers has been taken as proof for the existence of atoms, an idea that originated in ancient Greece more than 2000 years ago. Patience.

    “…each of us places our faith in the ideas which we find most plausible.”

    Yes, in our ignorance, “each of us” will tend to do that, forgetting that there is an objective reality. Only one. Or shouldn’t I believe in an objective reality?

    Margaret, you make effective use of rhetoric, but science is not a faith. It is related to another human faculty — reason. We don’t need to call upon faith, when so many of the intellectual products of science operate before our eyes on a daily basis, including the computer monitor you’re looking at. I have faith in electrons? If God performs a miracle in front of my eyes, then I wouldn’t need faith to believe in God. Faith is something to be taken seriously. Don’t water it down by putting it on equal footing with empiricism.

    I could go on forever, but I won’t.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    All the comments here are a reminder that the war between science and faith is very much a battle of two religions, each with their unswerving adherents, neither admitting the slightest bit of give or take. Non-materialism versus materialism, belief in God versus a belief that life popped up out of thin air, a belief in meaning versus no meaning whatsoever — it just goes on and on. I think part of the reason is that neither side much understands the other, and neither cares to. Churchgoers would not prefer testing their beliefs, and evolutionists think religion isn’t worth thinking about. Everyone just kind of prefers to bury their head in their preferred reality, I guess, and force everyone else to go along with it or be shot.

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Churchgoers would not prefer testing their beliefs, and evolutionists think religion isn’t worth thinking about.

    Because somebody dismisses religion, we shouldn’t assume they have dismissed it without thinking about it.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Steve S —

    True. And there are Christians who have not only studied evolution, but accept it — they just don’t down take it all the way down the road to nihilism and death. But people far more intelligent than I have raised questions as to how much the leading evolutionary theorists know about religion; Marilynne Robinson takes Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea to task in her own book, The Death of Adam, and Richard Dawkins recently came in for a pretty good pasting by Stephen Barr in First Things.

  • truly controversial

    Why is it that each subject in school is looked as a complete separate study, something that is not completely tied to another subject of study? Math is directly connected to science as is history, english, phys ed, and religion… Your view that science should have no religious influence is ignorant and foolish as if you said that mathmetics has no influence on science.

    There is no objective reality as a human (your mind is too finite), all of your senses is subject to your mind for interpretation. You and I could look at the same exact thing and think something totally different. As an example I will use your computer: you could look at your computer and think of it as a tool you can use to express your opinions, your perspective on life, I may look at it more as a tool of contacting a friend, accomplishing a task. We both view the same tool as a use for differing things. Have you ever been sitting and conversing in a small group, someone says something slightly inaudible, you think one thing, but the individual said something completely different? What you thought you heard, was really what your mind was filling in on presupposition. So to say that you can be objective is also ignorant and foolish.

    Is there an objective reality, something that exists outside our minds? Yes of course, but to not admit that our minds have a presupposed idea to what our senses take in is completely absurd.

    Don’t be so arrogant to say what you think you see, hear, touch, feel and understand is objective reality. I am imperfect, what makes you think that you are…

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    My favorite thing to say to people who want to stick creationism into science classes: You want to teach creationism alongside evolution? Fine. But be prepared to have students think critically about it, just like you want them to think critically about evolution.

    I don’t have a problem with the controveries about evolution being taught in science class. But if you’re talking about science and want to counter evolution with creationism, then creationism will have to stand up to a little scientific evaluation.

    Of course, the people who want creationism taught alongside or in place of evolution don’t want anyone thinking critically about it. They want it taught as fact. Evolution: Not fact. Creationism: fact.

    Irony, indeed.

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org Margaret Romao Toigo

    Duane wrote:“School kids would benefit from gaining some insight into the process of scientific advancement. There is no need to water that down with archaic notions about superpowerful beings.”

    Contrary to the assertions of some atheists and agnostics, notions of superpowerful beings are hardly archaic. If they really were we would not even be having this discussion because the evolution debate would already be resolved.

    Open-mindedness along with the contemplation of the possibility that current widely accepted scientific hypotheses, theories and beliefs could somehow, someday be proven wrong is essential to the process of scientific advancement. Questions and doubts born of critical thinking lead to study and research which lead to new discoveries from which new hypothses and theories emerge.

    “I don’t see it as a mystery. I see it as a scientific question to be answered through scientific means.”

    Whether you call it a mystery or a scientific question, the fact remains that until those scientific means can eventually provide humaity with an answer, the origins of life remain a conundrum to be studied. In the meantime, we have faith to see us through.

    “Are you really going to suggest that the Theory of Evolution will be overthrown?”

    Only that it is within the realm of scientific possibility. After all, Darwin’s original theories have been modified and expanded over the years as scientists have made new discoveries — often with the use of technologies that did not exist during Darwin’s lifetime (1809-1882).

    “I would prefer to say ‘I don’t know’ instead of resorting to faith.”

    “I don’t know” is a manifestation of faith in the idea that you do not know.

    There are a multitude of ironies in the notion of a natural human virtue being something to which one resorts, but that is a matter for another discussion.

    “…here is another human virtue that we might call upon in times of grappling ith the Big Questions — patience.”

    Patience is one of the keystones of faith. But calling for patience as a subsitute for faith with regard to the unknown is often the last resort of those who lack the supporting data to defend previous assertions of certainty about the uncertain.

    “Yes, in our ignorance, ‘each of us’ will tend to do that, forgetting that there is an objective reality. Only one. Or shouldn’t I believe in an objective reality?”

    That each of us places our faith in the ideas which we find most plausible is not a matter of erudition because perception is reality, which is only objective to the perceiver who believs that perceptions contrary to his own are subjective.

    So, go ahead and believe in your objective reality, just don’t get too shocked and shaken when others call it subjective because it is different from their perceived, objective-to-them version of reality.

    “…but science is not a faith. It is related to another human faculty — reason.”

    The study of any science requires reason, which does not function properly without faith. Confusion between the intellect and the spirit are the hallmarks of agnosticism, but this dynamic can be observed in rigid thinkers of many other faiths, too.

    “We don’t need to call upon faith, when so many of the intellectual products of science operate before our eyes on a daily basis, including the computer monitor you’re looking at.”

    That’s all well and fine when discussing technology and invention because engineeered things like computer equipment are tangible items, faith is how we deal with those intangible things which science has yet to answer.

    “Faith is something to be taken seriously. Don’t water it down by putting it on equal footing with empiricism.”

    Those of us who have faith already understand that practical experience and observation are not the only sources of human knowledge and understanding.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    >>”I don’t know” is a manifestation of faith in the idea that you do not know.

    That is the definition of a completely useless statement. I know that. “I don’t know is a confession of ignorence or a wise statement of fact.” I don’t have faith that I don’t know. I really do .. not … know.

    Excuse me why I spin around and try to bite my tail.

    Margaret is, of course, right that everyone could exist with the idea that NOTHING is resolved. But you can’t live and you can’t be useful and you don’t necessarily learn with that idea.

    Everyone needs building blocks. It’s how children grow. From literal blocks to solid ideas from which to launch others and to think about what can be.

  • Vern Halen

    PART A: THE BIBLE SUPPORTS SCIENCE:

    The Bible itself states in the first couple of chapters of Genesis “THIS IS NOT A SCIENCE TEXTBOOK!” It does this by offering two creationism stories that are actually somewhat contradictory to each other. One expresses God’s power, the other His love (really – check it out). The ancient Jews knew how to read this – unfortunately, we in the modern world want everything to be observable & provable. That’s why a literal interpretation of the Bible is so limited. It’s truths were meant to be understood on a much deeper level.

    PART B: SCIENCE SUPPORTS THE BIBLE

    On the other side, evolution itself goes against the process of entropy. So in my books, science proves tHe existence of God.

    Yes indeed, life’s much easier if you can live with a little ambiguity.

  • Eric Olsen

    nicely put and argued VH!

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    ah the bitter smell of misspelling ignorance.

    +

  • Duane

    Vern said, “On the other side, evolution itself goes against the process of entropy. So in my books, science proves tHe existence of God.”

    Sorry Vern, but that’s not true. This is an easy trap to fall in to, and gives ammunition to the Intelligent Design adherents, because it allows them to invoke one of the pillars of modern science (the Second Law of Thermodynamics, to which you refer) to snow people who have heard of it, but don’t understand it.

    The Second Law states that the entropy in a CLOSED SYSTEM can only increase in time. The earth, let alone the biosphere, is not a closed system. We Earthlings draw energy from the Sun. The entropy of the Sun is increasing far more rapidly than the entropy among identifiable subsystems (say, lifeforms) on Earth is decreasing. The development of organization (molecules, cells, intelligence, etc.) on Earth is thus fully consistent with the Second Law.

    Are there any other ways that you think science supports the Bible?

  • Duane

    truly controversial (post #30) seems to think that I’m arrogant, not to mention ignorant and foolish, in claiming that there is an objective reality, and tries to counter my (obvious?) assertion by discussing the existence of subjective realities. Uh…well…OK…thanks for pointing out the difference between the words objective and subjective. I think we all get it.

  • Duane

    Margaret: “That each of us places our faith in the ideas which we find most plausible is not a matter of erudition because perception is reality, which is only objective to the perceiver who believs that perceptions contrary to his own are subjective.”

    Resorting to obfuscation? C’mon, you can do better than that. Perception is reality? What does that mean? Are you taking “truly controversial”‘s position that I don’t know the difference between subjective and objective? You seem to be saying that I, unlike any other human, am claiming access to the objective reality. Did you really misunderstand my comments, or are you playing at rhetoric again?

  • http://www.landofthefreehomeofthebrave.org Margaret Romao Toigo

    Duane wrote: “Perception is reality? What does that mean?”

    It means that each of our realities is what we perceive them to be through the various filters we have set up in our individual minds.

    To those who believe that their own perceptions of reality are objective, an assertion of the subjectiveness of individual perceived realities is perceived as obfuscation. To those who believe that perception is reality the meaning of such assertions are quite clear. Now is that an objective or subjective observation?

    Are you taking “truly controversial”‘s position that I don’t know the difference between subjective and objective?

    I do not care for semantic games. I am sure that you understand the dictionary definitions of the words subjective and objective. What is uncertain here is whether or not you understand the concept of perceived reality and how that relates to believing ones own perceptions of reality to be objective.

    “You seem to be saying that I, unlike any other human, am claiming access to the objective reality.”

    Well, let’s see about that. In an earlier comment, I wrote, “…each of us places our faith in the ideas which we find most plausible.”

    To which you responded, “Yes, in our ignorance, ‘each of us’ will tend to do that, forgetting that there is an objective reality. Only one. Or shouldn’t I believe in an objective reality?”

    Perhaps I was confused by your rhetoric — or maybe it was your suffixing of the assertion of an objective reality with the emphatic two-word sentence, “Only one.” — when I interpreted the above statement as a claim of access to the [only one] objective reality.

    “Did you really misunderstand my comments,”

    I do not really know. Did I?

    “…or are you playing at rhetoric again?”

    I write commentaries on culture, society and politics. Rhetoric — the art or study of using language effectively and persuasively — is one of my passions.

  • Duane

    Margaret: “It means that each of our realities is what we perceive them to be through the various filters we have set up in our individual minds.”

    That is a subjective reality. The (sub)issue is whether or not you believe that there is an objective reality. Do you? A simple yes or no will suffice, without all the academic-in-training bluster.

    “To those who believe that their own perceptions of reality are objective….”

    Are you implying that I said that my perceptions of reality are objective? I don’t recall saying that.

    “To those who believe that perception is reality….”

    Does that fit you? Are you serious?

    “Now is that an objective or subjective observation?”

    It’s a trite observation, at best.

    “I do not care for semantic games.”

    A manifestly false claim. Hehe. Nice one.

    When I said “only one,” the word “one” obviously refers to the objective reality, not to a particular person’s subjective reality. So, yes, you did misunderstand me, and casts serious doubt on the rest of your previous posts. Care to try again? Maybe get back on topic?

  • http://www.bigtimepatriot.com Big Time Patriot

    Schools should teach the truth as best it can be determined and/or tested at any particular moment. Schools are not smorgasbords of assorted ideas to form a “faith” from. If you want to utilize an idea that is not true and not tested to base your faith upon, you should be looking outside of schools. (I guess I’m speaking o Public Schools, in private or religous schools I only ask that their students can read, write and do ‘rithmatic when they get out.)

  • Vern Halen

    Well, if the Earth is not a closed system, I can accept that, but wouldn’t the universe in its entirety be a closed system? Maybe there’s some space/time thing I missed there, but I would think that at some point “all that there is” would be a closed system.

    Quantum theory and uncertainty principles and relativity and Heisenberg and Schroedinger and Einstein and all that stuff – that borders on religion, because it can’t be totally based on observable fact, on some levels anyways.

    And I’m OK with that. I really don’t think God spends a lot of time thinking about it; it seems like it’s only humankind that always strives to know more about itself, and to that end the pursuits of religion and science outght to be working together instead of at odds with each other.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion everyone. G’night.

  • Duane

    “…but wouldn’t the universe in its entirety be a closed system?”

    Yes, unless you go in for the multiverse conjecture. The Universe, as a whole, will run down in accordance with the Second Law. It will undergo the so-called Heat Death far in the future. Organization that leads to intelligent lifeforms can appear to violate the Second Law locally. Think globally.

    “Quantum theory and uncertainty principles and relativity and Heisenberg and Schroedinger and Einstein and all that stuff – that borders on religion, because it can’t be totally based on observable fact, on some levels anyways.”

    I think that religion revolves around belief in a higher power, so quantum mechanics, etc., lies outside the purview of religion. Relativity and the Uncertainty Principle make specific predictions about Nature that have been tested and confirmed to high accuracy. In that sense, they are based on observable “fact.” They would not have survived scrutiny by critically thinking scientists if they hadn’t been put to the test. Which is not to say that quantum theory is fully understood. It, like the Theory of Evolution, is evolving.

    “…the pursuits of religion and science outght to be working together instead of at odds with each other.”

    Yes, indeed.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    I don’t know if the universe is a closed system, because it’s expanding at an increasing rate.

    Any physics geeks out there want to help clarify?

  • Duane

    Always nice to be overlooked, bhw. As a member of the geekhood, let me respond thusly: while the Universe is indeed expanding, it is still, thermodynamically, a closed system. That means that energy cannot be created within that system. You are referring to a different use of the word “closed,” i.e., will the Universe continue to expand (open) or will it collapse back in on itself (closed). That’s another matter entirely, and does not bear on the origin of life as far as anyone knows.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Duane, I didn’t overlook you, my geeky man. I started composing my comment before yours was posted (I had to go and look for the link and everything!).

    Thank you for the clarification!

  • Duane

    Sorry, bhw. No problem.

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    I had a similar post a couple weeks back–two actually (“In theory” and “In theory . . . redux”). Like you, Margaret, I was surprised to find myself siding with the school board, though I didn’t go so far as to look into the Lemon test. Rather, just on the basis of definition, my original argument was that that the stickers are an endorsement of science, not an endorsement of religion as the judge ruled. After all, theories are the cornerstone of science. A lot of people disagreed with me, even arguing that evolution is fact, which is clearly erroneous. Regardless, I had a change of thought (heart?) when someone pointed out to me that while evolution *is* a theory, that so are lots of other things in most science texts, inc. gravity. The school board only chose to highlight evolution, and I think in that sense, the stickers are being used to promote religion. The other part of my argument, from which I have not budged, is that along with the dumbing down of science in the daily lives of most adult Americans, has come the unfortunate misconception that to call something a “theory” is to demean it somehow. Like it doesn’t carry any weight. In fact, the opposite is true, as you know. Theories are based on evidence and the best theories are based on mounds of evidence. But we bandy the word “theory” about in the common vernacular such that we seem to have forgotten what the term really implies. At least that’s my theory ;)

  • Albanesse

    Interesting debate. My thing… how about we put a sticker on any bibles in public shools. “this book is one theory of many. Please do not judge as fact” In a nice yellow with blue font.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Let me beat someone to it.

    What!!!!!!! (count ‘em, 7). There are no Bibles in public schools.

    Now we can move past that.

    The best part Albanesse? You’re right. The sticker would be, too.

  • http://cowbells.blogspot.com mpho

    The writings of the bible do not constitute scientific theory. That’s the whole point. There are huge differences between theory, fact, and belief, but unfortunately the terms have become to emotionally loaded for them to be used rationally without raising someone’s ire.

  • http://gstone@warpnet.net George

    Should the followong be tagged to remind students that they are all only “Theories”?

    Algebra
    Analytic Geometry
    Atomic theory Stellar Spectroscopy
    Baroclinic Instability (theory for why storm systems form)
    Calculus
    Carnot Cycle
    Celestial Mechanics
    Cell Theory
    Chaos Theory
    Chapman mechanism that explains why the earth has an Ozone Layer
    Cloud physics theory of precipitation
    Computers
    Conservation Laws and implications
    Conservation of Mass (Lavoisier)
    Continental Drift
    Discovery of the Electron 1897
    DNA
    Electrodynamics
    Endosymbiont Origin of Eukaryote Organelles
    Equivalence of Work and Energy – Joule
    Euclidean Geometry
    Existence of Antimatter (positron)
    Existence of subatomic particles (protons, neutrons, etc)
    Existence of Subnuclear particles (quarks)
    First Law of Thermodynamics – Conservation of Energy
    Germ Theory
    Heliocentric Solar System
    High Temperature Superconductivity
    Ice Ages
    Ideal Gas Laws
    Inverse theory (using observations to reconstruct unobservable things, like the interior of the earth or of you (seismology and MRI, for example).
    Kepler’s Laws
    Kolmogoroff theory of isotropic turbulence
    Laplace’s Tidal Theory
    Lasers
    Maxwell’s Equations for Electromagnetism
    Mendelian Genetics
    Milankovitch theory of ice ages
    Monin-Obukhov theory of convective turbulence
    Navier-Stokes Equations of Fluid Dynamics
    Newtonian Optics
    Newton’s Law of Gravity
    Newton’s Laws of Motion
    Non-euclidean geometry
    Nuclear power plants
    Nucleosynthesis (what makes the sun shine)
    Numerical Weather
    PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)
    Photography
    Plate Tectonics
    Principle of superposition (geology)
    Prion Theory of Disease
    Punctuated Equilibrium
    Quantum Chromodynamics
    Quantum Mechanics
    Radioactive Dating
    Radioactivity – Becquerel 1895
    Recombinant DNA
    Second Law of Thermodynamics
    Semiconductors
    Statistics
    Stommel and Arons theory of the Abyssal circulation
    Subconsciousness
    Superconductivity
    Telescope
    Television
    The Big Bang theory
    The Modern Synthesis (of Mendelian genetics and evolution)
    The Norwegian Low (theory from meteorology)
    The Periodic Table
    Theory for the form of the earth, including isostacy
    Theory for the geostationary satellite – Arthur C. Clarke
    Theory of convection
    Theory of Data Assimilation Theory of the Ventilated Thermocline
    Theory of flight
    Theory of General Relativity
    Theory of Radiative Transfer (tremendously improved by Chandresekhar 1950, though it existed more or less for the previous century)
    Theory of Special Relativity
    Theory of the Chemical Bond
    Third Law of Thermodynamics – Nernst
    Unification of the Electromagnetic and Weak Nuclear Force
    Vaccination (Jenner, 1xxx)
    Variational Mechanics
    X rays
    Zernike’s phase contrast
    Zero