Pharyngula

The various ID blogs are all atwitter over the new textbook the Discovery Institute is going to be peddling, Explore Evolution. I’ve seen a copy, but I’m not going to give an extensive review just yet. I will say that it’s taking a slightly different tack to avoid the court challenges. It does not mention gods anywhere, of course, but it goes further: it doesn’t mention Intelligent Design, either. The book is entirely about finding fault with evolution, under the pretext of presenting the position of evolutionary biology (sort of) together with a critique. The biology part is shallow, useless, and often wrong, and the critiques are basically just warmed over creationist arguments.

What it actually is is Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution rewritten and reworked as a textbook.

The chapters are:

  • Introduction
    • Defining Some Terms
    • Issues in Question
  • Universal Common Descent
    • Fossil Succession
    • Anatomical Homology
    • Molecular Homology
    • Embryology
    • Biogeography
  • The Creative Power of Natural Selection
    • Natural Selection
    • Natural Selection and Mutation
  • A New Challenge
    • Molecular Machines
    • Special Studies
  • Conclusion
    • The Nature of Dissent in Science

Each chapter is divided into “Case For”, “Reply”, and “Further Debate”. None of them are at all useful. The embryology chaper, for instance, has a “case for” that only talks about Haeckel, as if that were the most interesting and informative and sole example of modern developmental biology they could find. The “Reply” is a reiteration of Richardson’s demonstration of diversity in embryonic form. The “Further Debate” section is a summary collection of phony platitudes: “there is a wide range of debate on the merits of the case from embryology” (no, there’s not) and “No doubt the debate will continue” (which is true because creationists will continue to invent objections.)

I know the creationists are infatuated with Haeckel, but get over it, please. It’s an obsolete theory that was proposed about 140 years ago, was discarded in the 19th century, and is only mentioned to dismiss it in modern textbooks. They couldn’t find anything current and interesting in modern developmental biology to discuss, but had to go dig up that antique, again? Presenting modern development through the distorting lens of Haeckel is simply dishonest and misleading.

For another example, biogeography has two pages for, 2 and a half pages in reply, and one page of further debate. “For” basically says marsupials were found in South America and Australia, and the distribution is explained by plate tectonics. The rebuttal is that opossums are found in North America and fossil marsupials were found in China. It’s pathetic.

In general, the book presents the subjects superficially, cherry picks examples, and sets up shallow hypotheses that bear little resemblance to what scientists actually think about the subject, and then shoots down the examples in such a way as to cast doubt on entire disciplines. It’s a dirty, dishonest book in a slick package. It’s gonna sell like hotcakes to every lazy, stupid teacher who wants to substitute vacuous crap for an honest and serious examination of a difficult and important subject.

Now get ready, isolate your irony meters, and stand back in case your monitor explodes. I’m going to have to show you some weapons-grade, highly refined irony here.

Have you braced yourself? It’s a quote from John West of the DI.

Last warning: don’t read further if you aren’t thoroughly locked down, with a friend nearby in case resuscitation is needed. West is going to blow your mind.

DISCLAIMER: I am not responsible for any seizures induced by the following text.

“Sadly, the majority of biology textbooks in use today are ‘dumbed-down’ and do a poor job explaining evolution,” said Dr. John West of Discovery Institute, the book’s United States distributor. “Explore Evolution will improve the teaching of evolution by providing teachers and students with more information about evolution than they are likely to find in any other textbook written at the same level.”

Explore Evolution is a slender book, about 150 pages, with lots of filler and padding, and is about the same size as the old Of Pandas and People. Try comparing it to Miller and Levine’s Biology, which is marketed to the same age group: 1,146 pages.

This has got to be some kind of joke. The DI is sending that claim out as a press release: I hope some journalist somewhere gets a picture of Biology next to Explore Evolution to communicate the idea of just how pathetic that comparison really is.

I think the DI’s new strategy is to completely avoid that embarrassingly bad “intelligent design” nonsense altogether, and instead focus on driving out good textbooks with incredibly bad ones of their own—you could not teach evolution from Explore Evolution. And that’s exactly what they want.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan S.
    June 7, 2007

    AP Biology teachers who need a stimulating capstone unit for the last 5-6 weeks of their AP course after their students have taken the AP biology test.

    It would be a stimulating capstone (crapstone?) unit for post-test AP Bio students to rest and relax by taking this nonsense apart, but given the description, I can’t see it taking more than 2-3 weeks, max . . .

    The next Dover trial isn’t going to be such a slam dunk. When some school district starts using this book, what’s going to be the legal argument against it?

    Excellent point. This is why we need strong support for real science education in the community, so that any board member tempted to select this dreck would know to expect a) uproar from angry parents and community members and b) an uphill re-election battle, at best.

    And statistically speaking, most of those fine folks are going to be (at least vaguely) theists. Where we go from there – well, hopefully not back to calling each other names based on historical WWII-era analogies . . .

    I dunno. The idea that us atheists should be politely cringing in little closets doesn’t have a lot of appeal for me, and frankly doesn’t even seem useful (the last few decades of furious creationist backlash derives, if I understand correctly, from the post-Sputnik emphasis on better science education on one hand, and broader social changes/politicized culture wars on the other – if Dawkins didn’t exist, the creationists would have had to invent him).

    The idea that the battle for better science ed and reason generally is intimately tied up in a long war against religious belief – well, I’m not a big-picture person, which may be why this makes little sense to me, but regardless, pushing advocates of this view to degenerate into ID-style tacticians would be repellent. Certainly framing evolution as anti-God is one of the creationists’ trump cards – but if one shares this frame, from the other side of the mirror, so to speak, carefully hiding it seems extremely dishonest.

    But it’s more complicated than that, imo – it would seem that most reality-based (mainstream/religiously moderate to liberal/etc.) theists who appreciate science and the importance of education will make whatever mental edits are necessary to support these values, short of some sort of imaginary campaign to stuff atheism into bio class, while fundies will make whatever mental edits are necessary to support their values and oppose evolution (translated whatever we say as death, decay, utter terrifying meaninglessness and the overthrow of proper social order), short of – well, I dunno, an major shift in the nature of fundamentalism? It’s the folks in-between that we need to talk to. What do we have to say?

  2. #2 Tulse
    June 7, 2007

    The DI folks are getting tricksier. It is indeed interesting to see how the religious aspect of creationism has increasingly been watered down (from YEC, to creationism, to DI, to this), in order to make it more acceptable and pass Constitutional muster.

    As much as I hate to bring up the issue, there’s a sense that this the other side’s example of “framing”. DI seems to believe, and I think quite rightly, that they will have more success in sneaking creationism into schools by creating a textbook that doesn’t actually mention creationism, but just “questions” evolution.

    I’m an Uppity Atheist, and I think that the forthrightness of Dawkins et al. has brought an enormous amount of attention to the arguments for atheism. However, I do wonder if we don’t also need a more stealthy approach, to combat the DI’s new stealthy approach.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    June 7, 2007
    This is the honorific title by which he is generally known in the scientific community in Europe.

    There is no “scientific community in Europe”. There is a grand total of one scientific communities in the world.

    Liars.

    It does not imply that his degrees involved doctorates, but is on account of his voluminous scientific achievements.

    Has a university bestowed an honorary degree on him?

    If so, they’d mention it with immense pride. Liars.

    if Dawkins didn’t exist, the creationists would have had to invent him

    They couldn’t, even if they tried.

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    June 7, 2007
    This is the honorific title by which he is generally known in the scientific community in Europe.

    There is no “scientific community in Europe”. There is a grand total of one scientific communities in the world.

    Liars.

    It does not imply that his degrees involved doctorates, but is on account of his voluminous scientific achievements.

    Has a university bestowed an honorary degree on him?

    If so, they’d mention it with immense pride. Liars.

    if Dawkins didn’t exist, the creationists would have had to invent him

    They couldn’t, even if they tried.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 7, 2007

    In the past, creationists have been remarkably unable to keep the religion out of their fake science. When he profiled Richard Dawkins for Time Magazine, Behe admitted that Intelligent Design was religiously motivated.

    Of Richard Dawkins’ nine books, none caused as much controversy or sold as well as last year’s The God Delusion. The central idea—popular among readers and deeply unsettling among proponents of intelligent design like myself—is that religion is a so-called virus of the mind, a simple artifact of cultural evolution, no more or less meaningful than eye color or height.

    Well, no, that’s not the central idea, but thank you for being honest about where Intelligent Design comes from.

    So there’s always the chance that if we are vigilant, we’ll find the people adopting “Explore Evolution” in flagrante delicto.

  6. #6 Brownian
    June 7, 2007

    PZ, have you removed some comments? #51 and #58 at least appear to me to be dangling.

  7. #7 Kseniya
    June 7, 2007

    Yup Brownian, it appears that the trolling comments from “Your Dad” have been excised.

  8. #8 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 7, 2007

    Ritchie Annand asks,

    Perhaps we need a Questions to Ask About Exploring Evolution in Class pamphlet?

    I like this idea. Anything which helps teenagers be obnoxious and advances the cause of critical thinking is OK in my book.

    :-)

    I can already think of one question: “Why does the chapter on embryology only discuss Ernst Haeckel, when Haeckel’s theory was discarded and replaced with something better in the 19th century, and is only mentioned today in order to show how it was mistaken?”

  9. #9 Brownian
    June 7, 2007

    But we hunger!

    Nothing kicks that 3:30 PM blood sugar low in the pants like troll flambé.

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