Frogs in a glass containers preserved and conserved in formalin.
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Just the Facts, Please

Across the country, writers continue to lambaste the Kansas Board of Education for its last August decision–to do what? Some say to “strip evolution from the curriculum.” Others say to “omit evolution from the state assessment test.” Still others say to “eliminate all mention of evolution from all science texts used in the public schools.”

Guess what. None of that happened.

Here’s what did happen. The Board did adopt new statewide science testing standards. Curriculum was left where it had been, in the hands of local districts. Contrary to press reports, the new standards actually require students to know more about evolution than the old ones did; biologist Jonathan Wells points out that they increase the space devoted to the subject fivefold. However, they omit mention of “macroevolution” and shift the emphasis to the “micro” kind. Both terms refer to change by natural selection, but microevolution means change within species, while macroevolution means change from one species to another.

The reason for the shift is that although microevolution is not controversial, macroevolution is. Everyone agrees that natural selection can turn short finch beaks into long ones; not everyone agrees with Darwin that it can turn fish into frogs. The fossil record shows only when frogs appeared, not where they came from. By dropping the requirement that students must follow the Darwinist party line to do well on the statewide test, the Kansas Board of Education made it easier for local districts to teach the controversy as they think best.

Critics of the Kansas decision believe that biology without Darwin is hardly biology. As soon as the new standards were adopted, they announced a Dark Age in Kansas science education, warning that Kansas students would be unable to get into good college biology programs. Within weeks, the warnings turned into threats. Kansas students wouldn’t get in, it seems, because Darwinists wouldn’t let them.

The threats began with a letter by Herbert Lin, published in the Sept. 17 issue of Science. Mr. Lin, associated with the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, proposed that colleges and universities refuse to recognize Kansas high-school biology courses.

In October, Scientific American editor-in-chief John Rennie turned up the heat, urging college admissions officials to “Make it clear that … the qualifications of any students applying from that state in the future will have to be considered very carefully. Send a clear message to the parents in Kansas that this bad decision carries consequences for their children.”

Responding to such efforts at thought control, Berkeley law professor and Darwin critic Phillip E. Johnson quotes a Chinese paleontologist who told him, “In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin.”

A great obstacle to clarity is the persistence of the Inherit the Wind stereotype that portrays the Darwinism controversy as a fight between facts and faith. Scientists supposedly follow the evidence wherever it leads; religionists are supposedly blinded to evidence by faith commitments. The fight really is about faith vs. facts. However, the faith that gets in the way of the facts is the faith of the Darwinists themselves.

You don’t have to take it from me. Take it from them.

Writing for himself and his fellow Darwinists in the Jan. 9,1996, issue of The New York Review of Books, Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin said that he is a materialist not because of the facts, but despite them. Even while admitting the “patent absurdity” of some of the theories that result from this materialist commitment, he insisted that “we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.”

Kansas State University immunologist Scott C. Todd struck precisely the same note, writing shortly after the Board of Education made its decision. In a letter published in the Sept. 30 issue of Nature, he declared that “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.”

Though Mr. Lewontin calls his dogma materialism while Mr. Todd calls it naturalism, they are speaking of the same thing: the atheistic faith that nature means matter, and nature is all there is.

Why can’t we just teach the controversy? Why not let Kansas students hear what are those facts that Mr. Lewontin is a Darwinist “in spite of”? Why not let them hear what evidence there is for the intelligent design hypothesis that Mr. Todd wants to “exclude from science”?

Darwinists would have you believe that the debate is about whether to teach a literal interpretation of Genesis as science, forbidding teachers from presenting scientific evidence for the Darwinist position. A better description of the question under debate is whether to teach materialist philosophy as science, forbidding teachers from presenting scientific evidence against the Darwinist position. There are at least six major problems with Darwin’s theory.

First, the predictions of Darwin’s theory are contradicted by the fossil evidence. If the Darwinist theory were correct, then species ought to appear and die out gradually. Each species should change slowly but continuously, and the history of life on earth should reveal accumulating improvements in “fitness.” What the fossil record actually shows is that species appear and die out suddenly. Each species tends to remain the same until it disappears, and the history of life on earth shows small variations among a small set of basic designs. As the Harvard Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould admitted in 1977, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”

Moreover, natural selection is not dynamic but conservative. One reason for the patterns evident in the fossil record is that the overwhelming majority of mutations are harmful rather than beneficial. Natural selection–the weeding out of imperfectly adapted organisms–turns out to work against radical change, not for it.

A fatal difficulty for Darwinism is that it cannot explain irreducible complexity. Natural selection cannot produce “irreducible” complexity-in which every part of a system must be present for the system to work at all-because in natural selection, the parts of living systems must evolve one by one, with each new part making the system work a little better. Yet irreducible complexity turns up throughout the machinery of life, for example, in the clotting system for blood, the light-detecting system for cells in the retina of the eye, and the repair and transcription systems for DNA.

Even if Darwinism could explain irreducible complexity, it could not explain preadaptation. Adaptation can work only if there is something to adapt to. For example, insect mouths couldn’t adapt to flowers unless there were flowers. Guess what: There weren’t. Writes Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, “insects had evolved at least ten elaborate forms of mouthpieces, uniquely ‘adapted’ (one would say) to their feeding upon flowers, one hundred million years before there were any flowers on Earth.” Examples of such “preadaptation” turn out to be easy to find.

Yet another problem is that Darwinism cannot explain how life arises from nonlife. Natural selection kicks in only after things that live and reproduce exist; it cannot explain how they come to be. Scientists do know a number of ways to get organic from inorganic molecules, but none of them could have produced compounds like DNA under the conditions now believed to have existed in the years before life appeared.

Finally, there hasn’t been enough time for the “impossible” to occur. In 1954, Harvard biochemist George Wald admitted that the chance development of life from nonlife was fantastically improbable, but argued that given enough time, “the ‘impossible’ becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain.” Few biochemists take this view today, largely because the time available for life to have arisen is getting shorter and shorter. Mr. Wald himself thought two billion years had passed between the time the oceans stopped boiling and the time life appeared. New estimates suggest that his guess was forty times too long.

Is there any scientific reason to shut out the evidence that living things have been designed? Not one. Scientists sift evidence of intelligent design in numerous fields: For example, archaeologists consider whether the objects they dig up are rocks or tools, and forensic pathologists figure out whether the marks on bodies are better explained by sickness or violence. Is biology somehow different than the other sciences? Science should mean finding the explanation that best fits the evidence-not finding the explanation that best fits the dogma that “nature is all there is.”

J. Budziszewski

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Professor Budziszewski is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin, where he also teaches courses in the law school and the religious studies department. He specializes in political philosophy, ethical philosophy, legal philosophy, and the interaction of religion with philosophy. Among his research interests are classical natural law, virtue ethics, conscience and moral self deception, the institution of the family in relation to political and social order, religion in public life, and the problem of toleration.