The Loom

The American Geophysical Union just issued a press release in response to Bush’s comments about intelligent design. It’s not online at their web site yet, so I’ve posted it here. (Update: It’s on line now.) This is not the first time that the 43,000 members of the AGU have spoken out against creationism. They protested the sale of a creationist account of the Grand Canyon in National Park Service stores, and condemned the airing of a creationist movie about cosmology at the Smithsonian Institution. But this is the first time they’ve taken on the President.

American Geophysical Union 2 August 2005 AGU Release No. 05-28 For Immediate Release

AGU: President Confuses Science and Belief, Puts Schoolchildren at Risk

WASHINGTON – “President Bush, in advocating that the concept of ?intelligent design’ be taught alongside the theory of evolution, puts America’s schoolchildren at risk,” says Fred Spilhaus, Executive Director of the American Geophysical Union. “Americans will need basic understanding of science in order to participate effectively in the 21st century world. It is essential that students on every level learn what science is and how scientific knowledge progresses.”

In comments to journalists on August 1, the President said that “both sides ought to be properly taught.” “If he meant that intelligent design should be given equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation’s science classrooms, then he is undermining efforts to increase the understanding of science,” Spilhaus said in a statement. “?Intelligent design’ is not a scientific theory.” Advocates of intelligent design believe that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own and must therefore be the work of a designer. That is an untestable belief and, therefore, cannot qualify as a scientific theory.”

“Scientific theories, like evolution, relativity and plate tectonics, are based on hypotheses that have survived extensive testing and repeated verification,” Spilhaus says. “The President has unfortunately confused the difference between science and belief. It is essential that students understand that a scientific theory is not a belief, hunch, or untested hypothesis.”

“Ideas that are based on faith, including ?intelligent design,’ operate in a different sphere and should not be confused with science. Outside the sphere of their laboratories and science classrooms, scientists and students alike may believe what they choose about the origins of life, but inside that sphere, they are bound by the scientific method,” Spilhaus said.

AGU is a scientific society, comprising 43,000 Earth and space scientists. It publishes a dozen peer reviewed journal series and holds meetings at which current research is presented to the scientific community and the public.


  1. #1 Doug
    August 2, 2005

    Advocates of intelligent design believe that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own and must therefore be the work of a designer. That is an untestable belief and, therefore, cannot qualify as a scientific theory.”

    On the other hand abiogenesis, that life can arise out of non-life, is testable. The problem is its a test that fails experimentally. It doesn’t even come close, but even if it did…horseshoes, hand grenades etc. Not to mention the many assumptions necessary to even attempt it. Even if experiments met with success it would be impossible to verify that the assumptions were correct. Wow, I guess its no more testable than ID or Creation after all. Maybe we should get it out of the Biology classroom and into the Comparative Religions class.

  2. #2 John Wilkins
    August 2, 2005

    Ah, but can 43,000 geophysicists be wrong?

    [Of course not when it’s their own field of study, as evolution and scientific method both are. But one had to ask…]

  3. #3 Richard C. Sutter, Ph.D.
    August 2, 2005

    Advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) rely on notion of “God in the gaps” . . . if it is too complex (for us to understand) then it must have been the work of God.” ID advocates and creation scientists dismiss macroevolution claiming that “nobody was there to see it” (once again – “then it must have been God”), but neglect to mention the hundereds of instances of speciation events that have occurred recently and in recorded history (see Evolution is the nuts and bolts explanation of how biological forms change, just as gravitational theory, plate tectonics, and atomic structure are descriptions of natural phenomena. But we don’t evoke God to explain how the sun and moons pull on the earth and its oceans, yet nobody has ever seen a graviton. So why don’t we evoke Intelligent Design when explaining all other natural phenomena?

  4. #4 daen
    August 3, 2005

    why don’t we evoke Intelligent Design when explaining all other natural phenomena?
    Because creation mythologes are usually a bit quiet about physical constants, plate tectonics and general relativity, but very explicit about man’s dominion over every other living thing. Fundamentalist Christians (indeed, fundamentalists religious followers anywhere) generally have no comprehension of how important the former is, but believe that they have a monopoly on explaining the latter. This causes them to focus all of their energy on defending only that which they believe to be defensible, and to completely ignore that which has, in their odd world, no bearing on their case. This is good news for proponents of hard science, because unlike creation mythology explanations, most of hard science dovetails together nicely. And unlike the mythologies, if it doesn’t dovetail, you can be pretty sure you’ve missed something and you need to look again. The upshot of this is that science is beginning to develop into the most comprehensive and all-inclusive physcial descriptive and predictive model of the univere (from sub-atomic levels, through our human scale, and up to the scale of galaxies and superclusters) that mankind has ever had. Is it full of holes? Yes, although comparatively speaking, we’ve only just seriously started to build it. Do some of the models not agree? Again yes. Is it consistent? Way more so than any Biblical explanation, could do better. Decision making under doubt and uncertainty is something the fundamentalist never has to deal with, so the absence of any mention of 99.999% of modern scientific discoveries in his creation mythology causes him no pain. His certainty is based on Faith, and Faith alone, so these absences are mere irritations. So uniting quantum mechanics and relativity isn’t of any interest to the fundamentalist. Only man’s illusory supreme position in the universe is actually of interest, which is his downfall, and Darwin’s triumph.

  5. #5 DouglasG
    August 3, 2005

    To answer the Doug who is not me… The Theory of Evolution is what happened between the first life forms and now. While it may be involved in the construction of the first life forms, there are many theories of abiogenesis. Are we to toss out Evolutionary theory because it doesn’t explain how the first life form came to be? For most of science, abiogenesis is an interesting but not pressing question…

  6. #6 Charlie Wagner
    August 3, 2005

    Carl wrote:

    “This is not the first time that the 43,000 members of the AGU have spoken out against creationism.”

    Do you really believe that out of the 43,000 members of the AGU that there is not one single member who advocates for intelligent design and all 43,000 are staunch darwinists?
    For the record, do I believe that religious creationism should be taught in any public school?

    The answer is an emphatic NO!

    Do I believe that the possibility of intelligent input should be discussed and investigated as a possible mechanism for evolution and that it falls comfortably within the realm of the scientific method?

    The answer is an emphatic YES!

  7. #7 Doug
    August 3, 2005

    I don’t question the differentiation between abiogenesis and the subsequent “evolution” from that early self-replicating living organism.

    The statement I addressed
    “…life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own…” implies an inclusion of abiogenesis into the theory of evolution. Anyone familiar with the ID arguments, specifically “irreducible complexity,” knows a cornerstone of the ID worldview is that the probability of life from non-life, through a lightning strike in a puddle of chemicals, or what have you, is so immeasurably small that it is effectively zero.

    Where a creation proponent imposes God, an ID’er imposes a Designer, an evolutionist invokes Time. The evolutionist recognizes the improbability of the theory but reconciles this improbability with the old adage that “With enough time anything is possible.”

  8. #8 Doug
    August 3, 2005

    Although a creationist, I’d also make clear that I do not support teaching creation or even ID in the classroom.

    First, forcing an “Origins of Species” thumping evolutionist to teach the alternatives would be ridiculous. Can you imagine the sarcasm and epithets Dawkins would invoke if he were forced to lecture on the 6 days of creation?

    Second, teaching on origins, be they biblical or evolutionary, is of virtually no value to a high school student. The only predictive power of macroevolution (for lack of a more descriptive but accepted term) comes in the science-fiction genre. Evolution’s only possible value to science comes from the study of natural selection and its counterparts, microevolution. These are also tenets of creationism. There is no quarrel with their presentation in the classroom. As its my experience that most evolutionists seem willingly ignorant as to what creationists actually believe this will likely meet with protest. For example, Richard’s above comment about speciation. He and others like him should visit

    Speciation conference brings good news for creationists
    Argument: Natural selection leads to speciation

    The precious little time most high schoolers spend in the science classroom should be spent introducing the topics that inspire the interest that ultimately leads to more efficient engines, computer chips, cures for disease, etc. The question of whether or not a whale evolved from a dog, or bird from a dinosaur, is of little value to the vast majority of scientists and people in general.

    If evolution – common descent of all organisms from an original life form, though mutation and selection etc. – is to be taught in high school, I see no reason why its potential flaws and shortcomings should not also be presented. Wouldn’t students find a dynamic discussion of the topic more engaging? A discussion that unveiled areas in need of further study might inspire a student to beome the investigator that fills in a hole or two. Revealing the mistakes, hoaxes and deceptions (nebraska man, piltdown man, Haekel’s embryo’s, etc) would be of interest to the student and lend credibility to the vast majority of scientists showing that they verify each other’s work. The current one-sided presentation of evolution as thouroughly known and understood fact would be better called indcotrination.

  9. #9 gbusch
    August 3, 2005

    Perhaps a No President Left Behind program could be established?

  10. #10 Paul Hackett
    August 3, 2005

    Hi there

    No, I’m no the Paul Hackett from Ohio. Im from England.

    Ha Ha! My country is going to take back the science crown from you lot soon! If this is what you are going to teach your children, how much longer are you going to be able to make silicon chips? A faith-based space shuttle? I cant wait!

    But seriously. This is not good news for anyone. Its bad when some backwater town decides that it understands science better the the scientists, but when the commander in chief does it? Whoh!

    I am reminded of a humorous radio program over here (Title – “I’m sorry I hav’nt a clue”) which reported a lagre increase in UFO abductions in the US after the last election, with the victims being probed in depth and questioned – The question being “What an earth were you thinking of, voting for Bush?”.


  11. #11 James
    August 3, 2005

    What irks me about this is: what if science progresses to make the Theory of Evolution into a Law? Can humanity claim possession of the Law after discovering it? Of course not. So where did such a fundamental Law of systems in this universe come from? My guess would be it came from whatever created all this stuff (ie our universe). Thus, creationism and the theory of evolution dovetail into each other. The creationists are just confused by taking a book which is about our social system and applying it to a physical system.

  12. #12 arwind
    August 3, 2005

    So Charle Wagner HAS fled here, avoiding the nasty problem of answering questions and being exposed as a complete humbug, regularly!

    You have my condolences on being subjected to such a self-inflated jerk, but he does represent the very BEST of the creationist (and minions) opposition.

  13. #13 Juke Moran
    August 3, 2005

    Of course Doug’s right – life evolving from not-life, what he’s calling “abiogenesis” is not only testable but so far it’s failed those tests miserably.
    That the armamentaria of applied science are aimed precisely at that target may have more pertinence than he realizes. They just haven’t done it yet, but soon they may.
    Another way of looking at it is that life evolved from something we’ve been calling not-life, but that we were wrong about that, that it was alive all along. That the universe is alive, but that Doug and his ilk are wrong about the nature of that living.
    In fact it’s more than likely that Doug’s wrong, and the converse position, of life and evolution having a starting gun in some amino soup way back when, is also wrong.
    And the energy expended by both sides may be not so much in order to get at the truth, but to further cement the polarity and their positions in it.
    Unintelligent Design means there is no moral context for the Mengelian tinkering with the things at the heart of life that is the most prominent face of applied science now; Intelligent Design means the holders of the copyright on the Designer and his biography are in a privileged biological position.
    Both stances mean their holders are superior to the other side, and both positions confer a Darwinian leg up. Doug and Co. are wrong superficially, the unorganized troops of logical positivism are right superficially. Deeper in they switch.
    The universe is alive – it can’t be proven though, so without some kind of faith, what difference does it make?
    The difference is where we end up – for instance with a world on fire from human arrogance and unchecked greed.
    The idea that the same heedless assault is being carried into what has to be a far more delicate place than the skies of earth – the heart of what this life is – by men who are as blind and as viciously intent on their own aggrandizement as the men who gave us the worship of automobiles and petroleum – that’s enough to make some of us overlook the superstitious idiocy of much of the creationist/ID position, if it wasn’t leading to pretty much the same end as the logical positivists.
    It’s like watching one of those old cartoons, where, headed for a tree, the front wheels of the cartoon car start separating, going in two different directions while the car starts splitting up the middle.

  14. #14 Pam
    August 3, 2005

    Oh, my gosh, we’re putting our children at risk to accept theories that my not be able to be difinatively proven. What kind of mother am I that I was only thinking of public school risks, such as, drugs, guns. All this time I should have focused on new scienfic or non scienfic theories. Am I putting my child at risk to have a brain or question scienfic fact (yes, I was born in the 60’s)? Half of what is taught is merely conjectsure or has been so watered down to be polically correct that their getting only half truths. What is so dangerous about a new possible theory. New theories, new studies come out all the time and we preach them as gospel (no pun intended). ID does not mention God or one God. Only the possibility of a creator. The scientific community needs to get there collective heads out of the lab and imagine that they may actually have consider the old “your guess is as good as mine” theory. Oh, but that would require a leap of faith.

  15. #15 Kirk Hughey
    August 4, 2005

    Thanks to Juke Moran for a genuinely intelligent position on the question- one that not only happens to agree with that of Louis Pasteur but the contemporary research of information theorists like Simon Berkovich.

  16. #16 Kevin W. Parker
    August 4, 2005

    The only predictive power of macroevolution (for lack of a more descriptive but accepted term) comes in the science-fiction genre.

    Well, let’s see. Macroevolution predicts:
    – All living things on Earth will have the same genetic code.
    – Testing drugs on animals can be helpful toward seeing what their effects will be on humans.
    – Any new mammal discovered will have four legs.
    – Any new insect discovered will have six legs.
    – Any new spider discovered will have eight legs.
    – You will never find a creature, past or present, that’s a transition between mammals and birds.
    – You will never find a marsupial, past or present, outside of the Americas, Antarctica, or Australia.
    – You will never find a primate, past or present, in the Americas, Antarctica, or Australia (excepting the primates who have invented boats).

    I left out a few thousand other things, but that’s a start.

  17. #17 Mike Lambert
    August 4, 2005

    But has anyone considered the impact of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Intelligent Design?

  18. #18 Randy
    August 10, 2005

    I thank God for President Bush. I only wish that more of our so-called “scientists” had the courage to admit what is staring them all in the face: i.e. that from a purely scientific basis (as in real science that is observable, testable and repeatable) there is absolutely NO WAY that life (as we know it) could ever have Created itself — without the aid of an Intelligent Being, directing the process. And anyone who says otherwise is either TOTALLY IGNORANT of the facts, or lying about them.

    And It is high time that we start teaching our kids the truth in this regard. Meaning that we should be teaching them that there MUST be a Creator/God.

  19. #19 pwb
    August 11, 2005

    Does anyone know what Randy is talking about?

    Carl, I agree, your titles are very misleading. Couldn’t you just report the fact that the organization put out a statement?

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