I’m a card-carrying member of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, and as such receive the glossy production, On Wisconsin, quarterly. Usually, the mag offers light reading and occasional updates on faculty, staff and fellow former classmates. However, an article published in the Summer 2006 volume, Putting Faith in Science (in pdf format) resulted in a flurry of letters from alumni to the editor in the Fall 2006 issue. Dismayingly, quite a few supported Intelligent Design. Granted, these are just a few creatio-cranks out of a large number of alums, but still, these were an embarrassing reflection on a university which prides itself as one of the major research institutions in the US.
The Winter 2006 issue of On Wisconsin published a wonderful letter, signed by 43 UW faculty, staff, and grad students, which went a long way toward mitigating that embarrassment. The full text of the letter is below the fold. The legislation which is referred to in the letter is a bill introduced to the Wisconsin state assembly by Terese Berceau, D, which would ban teaching of “supernaturalistic pseudoscience” in public schools. More on the bill may be found in an article on the National Center for Science Education’s website: Anticreationism legislation in Wisconsin. Naturally, Dembski bleated “this means we’re winning” in response to the proposed legislation, as demonstrated in this article from Baptist News.
Wisconsin’s proactive response to the idiocy of ID is commendable. Plus, my post-doctoral advisor is one of the ringleaders of the anti-ID movement at the UW-Madison and in the state. I am so danged proud of him!
Editor’s Note: This is the full text of a letter that ran in an abbreviated version in the Winter 2006 print edition of On Wisconsin. The letter is signed by forty-three professors, scientists, and graduate students.
The recent article by Deborah Blum in On Wisconsin [Putting Faith in Science,” Summer 2006] seems to have triggered a response from Intelligent Design proponents. The multiple letters follow a script that tries to infuse ID with scientific standing while at the same time arguing that evolution has little science behind it. The letters represent good examples of the now familiar talking points widely disseminated by proponents of Intelligent Design and other related ideologies. To some, these efforts will be transparent and not require a response. However, a response to the letters offers an opportunity to re-iterate some key points regarding evolution and intelligent design.
Our call to action, and the bill introduced into the Wisconsin legislature, is not a call to censorship. It is simply a call to label things honestly. Topics presented as science in any curriculum should legitimately fall within the realm of science. Supernatural ideas and explanations do not fall within this realm. The bill does not ban discussion of Intelligent Design or any other ideology. It merely insists that if such topics are brought up, it should be made clear to students that we have left the realm of science. A statement that Intelligent Design fails the test as science should no longer need justification. Countless major scientific organizations have released statements making it clear that ID is not science. A court decision in Dover, Pennsylvania, by a conservative judge appointed by President G. W. Bush, has also resoundingly made the same point.
Perhaps the greatest fallacy in these letters is the repeated assertion that science cannot properly support the idea of evolution, and that scientists are at odds over the question of whether evolution occurred. The reality is this. The peer-reviewed scientific literature generates approximately 1.4 million papers every year, with many of them either providing new substance to the theory of evolution or relying on that theory to provide the context for important new discoveries. A major barrier to relating the idea of evolution to the general public is simply the vastness of the literature that underlies it. The geological record, the fossil record, the record of change in the genome of every organism, every aspect of modern biology fits together to provide evolution as one of the most compelling and exciting facts ever uncovered by science. There remain robust debates in scientific circles about new mechanisms of evolution and continued efforts to fill in gaps in the records. However, the general idea that extant living organisms evolved over billions of years with shared ancestry was settled many decades ago. That idea is being constantly enriched by a relevant scientific literature involving countless thousands of individual papers. To suggest that there is a scientific controversy about whether evolution occurred is simply nonsense. The level of dishonesty – or more likely delusion – required to deny evolution in spite of an even casual look at the work that underlies it would disqualify anyone from the title of scientist.
Intelligent Design is easy to demolish. The 139-page decision in the Dover trial does a particularly good job, and should be required reading for anyone who is genuinely interested in this topic. Perhaps the most important point for readers of On Wisconsin is that ID does not lead anywhere that is scientifically or technologically useful. The uncountable papers that continue to reinforce the idea of evolution in the scientific literature each year provide the context and inspiration with which scientists address AIDS, future flu epidemics, terrorist threats, forensic investigations, advances in agriculture, and new approaches to treating cancer. That context literally saves lives. In contrast, the idea of Intelligent Design – in its more than 200 year history – has produced nothing. No contributions to medicine, no contributions to agriculture, no contributions to anyone’s economy. No real contributions of any kind to the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Given the stresses on our civilization, do the authors of these letters really want students to study, and scientists to spend time on, ideas that have no predictive value and thus no chance of helping anyone?
And yes, we do see Intelligent Design (and whatever it evolves into after the Dover decision) as a threat to science education. The future of science in this country depends on sensible people seeing through the ID charade.
Michael M. Cox, Faculty, Biochemistry
Elliott Sober, Faculty, Philosophy
Richard Amasino, Faculty, Biochemistry
Alan Attie, Faculty, Biochemistry
AJ Petto, Faculty (UW-Milwaukee), Biological Sciences
David A. Baum, Faculty, Botany
Ronald L. Numbers, Faculty, Medical History and Bioethics
Jeffrey McKinnon, Faculty (UW-Whitewater), Biological Sciences
Nancy Ruggeri, Academic Staff, Engineering
Rachel Schmidt Jabaily, Graduate Student, Botany
Nina Hasen, Graduate Student , Zoology
Terra J. Theim, Graduate Student, Botany
Craig Roberts, Faculty, Population Health Sciences
Millard Susman, Faculty emeritus, Genetics
Guy Plunkett III, Scientist, Genetics
Don Waller, Faculty, Botany
Erin D Gonzales, Graduate Student, Cellular & Molecular Biology
Nick Jikomes, Undergraduate, Genetics and Zoology
TFJ Martin, Faculty, Biochemistry
Henry Lardy, Faculty emeritus, Biochemistry
Mike Madritch, Postdoctoral Fellow, Entomology
Jenny Boughman, Faculty, Zoology
Aseem Ansari, Faculty, Biochemistry
Chris Todd Hittinger, Graduate Student. Genetics
Eric Caldera, Graduate Student, Zoology, Bacteriology
Joel McManus, Graduate Student, Biomolecular Chemistry
Christina Matta, Graduate Student, Plant Pathology
Carol Eunmi Lee, Faculty, Zoology
Michael R. Culbertson, Faculty, Genetics
Tom Record, Faculty, Biochemistry, Chemistry
Tom Givnish, Faculty, Botany
Grace Boekhoff-Falk, Faculty, Anatomy
Ann C. Palmenberg, Faculty, Biochemistry
Cecile Ane , Faculty, Statistics, Botany
Colin Dewey, Faculty, Biostatistics and Medical Informatics
Andrew Bent, Faculty , Plant Pathology
Sean Carroll, Faculty, Genetics
DeWayne Shoemaker, Faculty, Entomology
Bill Engels, Faculty, Genetics
Ronald T. Raines, Faculty, Biochemistry
William F. Tracy , Faculty (Chair), Agronomy
Dana Geary, Faculty, Geology and Geophysics
James G. Coors, Faculty, Agronomy