And it’s from Michigan, from a blog that calls itself The Local Area Watch, run by William and Bridget Tingley (who have given each other funny titles like “executive director” and “editor”. And they’re not too happy with the school board’s decision. Darwinism Isn’t Science, they declare, and then proceed to show that they know next to nothing about the subject (which is hardly surprising to anyone who pays attention to anti-evolutionary screeds). The nonsense begins almost immediately:
There is a great deal confusion about evolution. For instance, what does the word mean? If evolution means that organisms have changed form over the billions of years since life originated on Earth, who can seriously dispute that? Sure, there are the Young-Earthers who misread Genesis as a science text to draw the factually unfounded conclusion that our planet is only 6,000 years old. The Board of Education rightly excludes from the classroom their psuedo-science which is refuted by the well-established facts of paleontology.
But if evolution is synonymous with Darwinism, then evolution is not science and should no more be taught in science classes than the creationism of the Young-Earthers. Darwinism is a conjecture (not a scientific theory as it is commonly mislabeled) as to HOW living organisms first originated on Earth and then changed into other organisms over time. As to origins, the Darwinist conjecture is that non-living matter combined in some manner to become living creatures. As to evolution, the Darwinist conjecture is that natural selection, sometimes called “survival of the fittest”, is the mechanism that forced organisms to change form over the eons.
One of the most fascinating and annoying rhetorical tools in the anti-evolutionary arsenal is this bizarre notion that there is a difference between “Darwinism” and evolution. In no other area of science does anyone define a theory by the name of its founder; no one speaks of Einsteinism or Newtonism. Of course, evolutionary biologists do not typically use the term “Darwinism” either except in a very narrow and mostly historical sense. But the claim that “Darwinism” is distinct from the theory of evolution is absurd and does nothing but obscure the issue.
Tingley’s first mistake is in thinking that abiogenesis is a part of “Darwinism”; that simply isn’t true. In fact, Darwin said virtually nothing about the origin of life, as opposed to its evolution, and even suggested in the second edition of the Origin that the first life forms had been placed here by a Creator. It’s actually quite a famous phrase:
There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
The origin of life is certainly a fascinating question, and one that many scientists are working on answering, but its answer has little bearing on the validity of the theory of evolution. However the first self-replicating life forms came to be here, whether through inevitable self-organization, or carried on the solar winds from meteorites, or placed by God, life has evolved on Earth since that time. On that, the evidence is exceedingly clear. He also seems to think, as so many anti-evolutionists do, that “Darwinism” presumes that natural selection is the only mechanism that drives changes in species; again, that simply is not the case. How ubuiquitous natural selection is in relation to other mechanisms (neutral evolution, genetic drift, sexual selection, etc) is still an open question, but no one, not even Richard Dawkins, would argue that every single change in a population had to be driven by natural selection.
So far, so bad. It doesn’t get much better.
As to whether or not these conjectures are correct, we simply don’t know. There is no evidence as to HOW life originated or HOW it later evolved into the plants and animals that now inhabit the Earth. Indeed, the persistent failure of scientists over the past 150 years since Charles Darwin first published his conjectures to establish any scientific foundation for them suggests that Darwinism probably should be consigned to the same dustbin as phlogiston, phrenology, and the steady-state universe.
This is a statement so profoundly ridiculous that you can do little but laugh at its obvious ignorance. Evolution, most simply stated, is the theory that all modern life forms are derived from one or a few common ancestors via descent with modification (that’s the basic model; there are hundreds of ancillary theories and hypotheses under that umbrella). And the evidence for common descent is absolutely overwhelming. Even the famous young earth creationist geologist Kurt Wise told a gathering of creationists a few years ago that anyone who claims that evolution is not a very successful explanation for the evidence is kidding themselves.
The evidence for common descent is so obvious to anyone who has studied the question that it hardly seems necessary to continue to list them. I would love to hear from Mr. Tingley how he explains the nested heirarchies found in the fossil record without common descent. Or the successional order of appearance (scroll down for my challenge on that subject to anti-evolutionists, which has never been answered) for the various life forms on earth. Or the symmetry of phylogenetic trees based on anatomical evidence with ones based on molecular homologies. Or the patterns of endogenous retroviruses among species, which can only be explained by common descent.
However, what the fossil record is and what explains it are two separate subjects. The first is science and clearly suitable for instruction in public classrooms. The second is hotly contested and no scientific theory exists regarding it, only a lot of conjectures and a few hypotheses.
Wow. No scientific theory exists to explain the fossil record? He’s gone from arguing that the theory of evolution is unsupported to arguing that it doesn’t exist at all. Stunning, isn’t it? He’s right, of course, that the fossil record and what explains it are separate things; one is a fact (or set of data), the other is the explanation for it. And evolution is not only the best explanation for the data, it’s the only explanation for it. Bizarrely, he appears to think that we should teach about the fossil record, but not evolution as its explanation. Pray tell, then, what explanation would he prefer?
To teach that Darwinism is the only scientifically valid explanation of the origin of life and evolution is to seriously misinform students. Whatever one thinks of Intelligent Design (which if nothing else is asking fundamental questions that Darwinism has not answered) it is not the only challenge to the dogma of Darwinism. Even if the American academy is strait-jacketed by Darwinism, this not so in Europe and Asia where scientists are exploiting discoveries in genetics and molecular biology to develop alternatives to the Darwinist account of evolution. Even Lamarckianism, of all things, has gotten a new scientific respectability.
Really? I’d sure like to hear some of those alternatives to evolution. Can Tingley provide any actual references to them? I highly doubt it. He’s talking out his posterior. If he has a compelling non-evolutionary explanation for the natural history of life on earth, by all means bring it up and let’s discuss it.
In science, a theory is an explanation for a phenomenon that has been validated by observation or experimentation, such as Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. A hypothesis is a proposed explanation that makes claims that are testable by observation or experimentation. The standard model of the Big Bang is a hypothesis that could be reduced to a theory once there is sufficient astronomical observation of its claims. A conjecture is another proposed explanation, uncontradicted by any known fact, that is not presently testable by any practical means. So-called string theory is such a conjecture. It is a fascinating explanation of what the fundamental bits and pieces of our universe may be, but it makes no claims right now that can be tested.
Darwinism is a conjecture in this sense, because we cannot devise any experiment that would prove life could never arise from non-life (you can’t prove a negative), nor can we as a practical matter sit around for a few million years to observe whether or not natural selection causes current organisms to evolve into other ones.
Utter nonsense. By his reasoning, the entire field of astronomy is “conjecture” because we cannot sit around for millions of years observing how galaxies formed. But that hardly means we can’t find other means to test such explanations. Evolution is tested by observation every day, in both big and small ways. Only someone completely ignorant of the scientific literature would argue that evolution is untestable and therefore “conjecture”.
Interestingly, Intelligent Design (which is whole ‘nother kettle of fish from the creationism of the Young-Earthers) is more scientific than Darwinism in this regard. It puts forth the hypothesis of irreducible complexity: The idea that the basic component of life, the cell, could not originate from the blind forces of physics and chemistry bringing together non-living matter to produce it or any predecessor to it. If scientists ever do create life from non-life, that would go a long way to shooting down irreducible complexity and so Intelligent Design.
Absolutely bizarre. One paragraph after saying “we cannot devise any experiment that would prove life could never arise from non-life (you can’t prove a negative)”, he then claims that irreducible complexity is a testable concept. But how on earth do you devise an experiment to prove that allegedly IC systems could not have evolved? Behe tried to do it in his paper with Snoke and failed miserably; the paper actually showed that IC systems can evolve, even when he rigged every variable to make it as unlikely as possible. And he admitted that under oath in the Dover trial.
Bridget, presumably his wife, then jumped in with a comment and displayed her own rank ignorance. She basically repeats the entire Icons of Evolution hitlist of silly arguments and false claims one by one. I particularly enjoyed this one:
A vast quantity of plants and animals appeared on the scene in the blink of a geological eye more than 500 million years ago. The Cambrian period it is known as. In a stretch of time less than 5-10 million years (the maximum length of time), there was a sudden explosion of the majority of animal phyla that is in place in our world today.
5-10 million years, maximum? That claim was out of date half a century ago, for crying out loud, and it’s downright laughable now. As more and more precambrian fossils are found, this “explosion” is looking more and more like a long process stretching out at least 100 million years. And the notion that this “explosion” included animals “in place in our world today” is a baldfaced lie. In fact, not one of the animals found during this period still exists today except for a few marine invertebrate descendants. Missing from this “explosion” are virtually animal that exists on earth, including almost all of the major taxa – insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals (all land animals, in fact) and all land plants as well.
She goes even further and declares that “the evidence AGAINST Darwinism is greater than the evidence for it.” How do you even begin to argue with that kind of delusion? Well, you don’t. But ridicule may lawfully be employed where reason has no hope of success.