Now That's A Petition

You may have heard about a petition that was being signed by scientists earlier this month against the teaching of intelligent design. The inspiration came from another petition drafted by the Discovery Institute opposing evolution. It garnered 400 signatures of scientists in four years. R. Joe Brandon, an archaeologist, decided to see how many signatures he could get from scientists in just four days by spreading the word from his web site.

The answer: 7,733.

"During my short, four-day experiment, I recieved about 20 times as many signatures at a rate 690,000% higher than what the Discovery Institute can claim," Brandon said in a statement.

Given the many scientific societies that have vouched to the importance of evolution, this result was no big surprise. But a fresh illustration never hurts.


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I agree that Intelligent Design should not be taught as it is self-evident. Any doctrine (neo-Darwinism) which denies Intelligent Design should also not be taught. The undeniable reality of a past evolution should be presented and, since the mechanism for that evolution has not been disclosed yet, that should be presented as well.

"Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know."

By John A. Davison (not verified) on 24 Oct 2005 #permalink

That's unfair! It's much eaier to assemble a petition from web-savvy scientists than anti-evolutionists, many of whom have to be shown how to use a mouse first ;-)

I wonder if science should be decided by a vote. The great thing about science is that science is based on making observations of a bit of nature, devising theories that explain how that bit of nature works and or came into being, and then finding the data that supports the theory.

ID is, at best, an observation, by a few, that life on earth resembles man-made objects, that it is, thus, designed. Now we await a theory to be put forward to explain how this design occurred and then the discovery of data that supports the theory. ID is not a theory of anything.

Evolution is a theory that explains the observation that life on earth seems to all be related to a common ancestor. Evolution explains how life arose from a common ancestor. Evolution is a theory, it explains the observation. All the data ever found completely supports evolution as the explanation of the origin of species from a common ancestor.

Evolution is not the theory that life arose from a common ancestor; it is the theory of how such an observation about life on earth is explained.

There is no theory of how ID occurred, thus there is no competing theory to evolution. ID is only a competing idea to the observation that life arose from a common ancestor.

Regardless, ID has put forth no explanation and thus nothing to investigate and thus no science. It really is nothing more than the fanciful child noting that a passing cloud looks like a rabbit, no a dog, no a cow ...

George, you make a good point.

But when the government runs all the schools, science is never free of politics.

George's comment is cogent. No, science is not determined by majority vote. Nor for that matter are Constitutional rights. Alas, what is taught-as-science, however, is determined by majority vote - by school boards and those who elect them.

What will matter in Kitzmiller v Dover is whether or not teaching ID violates the establishment clause that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". In this, the petition (which I helped in parsing and analyzing) was very clear: the signatories hold that ID is "theistic".

Moreover it is important to take the petition in the context that it was created. Specifically the Discovery Institute's 4 year, 400 signatory petition calling for the teaching of ID. Absent a reply from a similar (or larger number) the impression to the "court of public opinion" could be that the Discovery Institute has the general backing of science.

It is clear now, without speculation, that DI does not have such support for ID.

By Mark Siddall (not verified) on 24 Oct 2005 #permalink

Mark Sidddall is right. This is not "voting" for evolution, it is standing up for good science.

By David Tisdale (not verified) on 24 Oct 2005 #permalink

"George, you make a good point."

"But when the government runs all the schools.."

"Absent a reply from a similar (or larger number) the impression to the "court of public opinion" could be that the Discovery Institute has the general backing of science."

This is simply wrong, Google "Project Steve," which is a response to DI/ID's list of 400 (minus the one that removed themself from the list) signatures. Project Steve, however, restricts its signatories only to people with the name Steve, Stephen, Stephanie, Stefan, etc, which should be about 1% of the population. Therefore, the 600 signatures it has garnered represent 60,000 scientists.
It would simply be overkill to have 60,000 scientists sign a long document supporting evolution, even though we know it would be far more than that. over 4,000 in four days? Talk about viral marketing. But Project Steve, done by NCSE ( was intended to MOCK lists of names that are supposed to show its true by argumentum ad populum, by the number of supporters. The four-day 4000-signatures list is another creative way to show how absurdly small the number of ID supporters who have advanced degrees really is.

Re: George & mark,

First off I am the author of the petition in question here so I thought I should comment.

You are both absolutely right. Science is not, nor should it ever be perceived to be, dictated by popular vote. Copernicus, Darwin, & Einstein would have all been in trouble if that were the case.

The point of this petition is summed up well by Mark:

"...absent a reply from a similar (or larger number) the impression to the "court of public opinion" could be that the Discovery Institute has the general backing of science"

These decisions about whether ID should be taught as science in schools is being decided by publicly elected officials in school districts around the country. These officials are rarely trained in science, much less evolutionary sciences. The upshot of that is that they have little to base their opinions on other than faith, and what they read or are told from scientists. In the absence of this petition the Discovery Institute can wave their petition around and (neglecting to point out only 1/4 of the signatories are trained in evolution related fields) herald it as dissent among scientists about the veracity of evolution.

The problem with project Steve is that it aims to mock the DI four hundred in four years petition (which they do a pretty good job of). This petition does not aim to mock though. Instead it is presented as an apples to apples (scientist to scientist actually) comparison. DI will never be able to present anything on this scale BY scientists trained in evolutionary theory.

This petition also underscores the passion of these scientists about this dilema. I, with no funding, and not professional societies support, organized this petition and it spread completely by word of mouth in four days. DI however has an annual budget of $4,000,000 and only achieved 400 in four years. So while numbers of names of scientists on petitions does not carry any legal weight, this petition does carry a symbolic message to the public. Scientists do not believe ID passes the rigors of scientific testing and should not be taught as science in schools.


R. Joe

The general theory of evolution is simply bad science. I am afraid it is even bad religion. As a geneticist, I do not have enough faith to believe that hydrogen can become human, frogs can become princes or that the ancestor of a camel/cow can become a whale - no matter how much time is allotted.

Observable science is what is best taught in schools. Bacteria reproduce bacteria, fish reproduce fish and humans reproduce humans. The genetic code works against mutations (3 correcting mechanisms) and we just do not see the evidence of the mechanisms for evolution producing such complicated interactive environments which are required for the development of sight and almost any other real biological situation. Oh, and let's not forget to mention that Pasteur showed 160 years ago that Life comes from life. Period. And that is what we observe. The origin of life is clearly a religious metaphysical event and thus should be treated in philosophy/religion classes, not science classes.

Besides how many scientists really use the concept of evolution in their research? Not archeologists, not chemists, not most biologists, not most physicists, etc. Paleontologists are the exception of course.

Keep creationism and evolutionism out of the science classrooms and teach basic science as it should be taught (explaining the observable).

Teach adaptation within genetic limits (which is what we observe).

Just a few thoughts.