Nova, ID

Anyone watch Nova (Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial)  last night?  If you missed it, you can pick it up again right here.

For any of you who still think that teaching ‘Intelligent Design’ in science class is more about introducing students to a debate within the scientific community and less about introducing religion into public schools…. maybe this will lay it all out for you in color.  People of all religions (and people of no religion) should be outraged that folks with one particular set of religious beliefs have the gall to try to force their beliefs down your kids throats in public school.

I’m sorry- I know that what I say is going to be inflammatory. But it’s so blatant- I can not for the life of me understand how people can’t see that this is WRONG.

And for the record- I don’t have any particular prejudices against any particular religion- if people want to believe in the supernatural, I say let them have at it. But don’t try to push it off on others in public school science class.

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27 thoughts on “Nova, ID

  1. My response to people who want ID in public school science classes:

    So then you’re all right with having me teach natural selection and evolution in your kids’ Sunday school class?

    I’ll put money on the answer being a resounding NO! The hypocrisy is astounding.

    ID is not science. Evolution is not religion. Neither one has any business being “taught” as if they were. Period.

  2. I saw the last half hour or so – if I’d realised it was on I would have taped it for sure. Incredible stuff – I’d heard most of the story before, but was watching it with two people who hadn’t, and they were amazed. Especially when they realised how recent this story is (they had guessed that it was in the 80s).

    The hypocisy and arrogance are just amazing. And they were tripped up so spectacularly by their own words – the “cdesign proponentists” missing link was sweet, sweet poetic justice.

    Judge Jones may just be my favourite all-time Bush appointee.

  3. I find it really frustrating that the ID folks try to set this up as US vs. THEM or Darwin vs. ID. It doesn’t matter how much you want to believe in God or ID (or not), these concepts can’t be tested by the scientific method. Thus, regardless of your religious beliefs or whether you agree or disagree with current evolutionary theory, ID can’t be taught in a scientific context. Somehow whenever this comes up in discussions with religious members of my extended family, I get the “oh you scientists are so close-minded” line. Ugh!

  4. I’ve seen this before and yes it is great. I would also recommend looking up Matthew Chapman and Eugenie Scott’s talks at the Atheist Alliance conference in 2007 on youtube. I can also recommend Matthew Chapman’s book 40 days and 40 nights which was written about this.

    I don’t think you should apologize for saying it is wrong. This is a line in the sand issue. It is about maintaining the integrity of science and preventing people forcing their own unjustified beliefs onto children debasing science in the process. The reason they oppose evolution so strongly is because they know very well it totally undermines their beliefs.

  5. Dr. J- I will look up those talks, thanks for the hint! I’m not sure I am apologizing… I just know there is going to be argument… sooner or later about that on this blog.

    I quite admire those Dover public school teachers that drew a line in the sand and refused to cross it. Those are people who really care about this issue, care enough about it to put their personal needs, wants … and sometimes their personal safety… aside to make sure kids get the best possible education. I was shocked to hear that the judge who decided this case got death threats and he and his family had to be placed under 24/7 protection. I don’t have a lot of faith in religion to teach people right from wrong…. to teach that hatred is not acceptable… to teach that to threaten someone’s personal safety or that of their family- is wrong.

    Bugdoc- Yeah, I’m right there with you. … with the exception that my immediate family isn’t religious… and about the hardest core religious person we’ve got is a Unitarian. On DrMrA’s side all are Christian Orthodox- but it’s a personal thing for them, not something to be evangelized…. and FYI- my orthodox relatives see no issue between their faith and science. They hold the enlightened view that the two don’t mix… if you are not a believer then being a priest probably isn’t for you- and similarly if you find your faith interferes with your ability to consider evidence and draw conclusions- this is probably incompatible with the job description of a scientist.

  6. I guess I maybe welcome the argument as it needs to be had. Surprisingly I’ve not had much over at our blog yet, but really if most of our readers are biologists then none should think ID (or any other form of creation nonsense) has any place in a science classroom. Maybe I’m just too ‘strident’ and people don’t bother. Usually I find the religious will bring it to you though.

    ps. apologies for my appalling grammar! For some reason the text in my comment box is so tiny it is hard to review.

  7. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.
    Also, what you said is not inflammatory. If something is wrong, it is wrong, that is all. This is not a subjective issue— unless you are completely irrational, ID is not science in any way, shape of form.

  8. Nothing substantive to add, but I watched it last night and loved it. The guy who played Behe was a dead-ringer. Getting ready to watch looking for Lincoln tonight… its gonna be phat!

  9. I’m not sure I am apologizing… I just know there is going to be argument… sooner or later about that on this blog.

    Argument? No. There is a simple appreciation for patently obvious reality on one side and sick delusion on the other.

  10. I do not adhere to Intelligent Design. Yet I also do not adhere to evolution. I have not taken courses in biology and chemistry since high school as my academic major only required one course in chemistry that I received credit for by a transfer agreement. Even though I have an increasing interest in sustainability, the idea of setting foot in a biology classroom with a very limited background terrifies me precisely because of the tenor and tone of the philosophical debate played out in the public sphere. The message seems apparent: don’t show up in a biology department if you have questions about evolution. And so I’m trying to mobilize the background I do have, trying to determine other ways to study the topic of sustainability because biology classrooms are the last place I want to be. I know my questions won’t be respected, so why even try to study it?

    I’ve observed that certain physical models have great utility in describing events that I can see. I chose my words carefully because I don’t adhere to Newton’s Laws either. Newton’s Laws serve to model a certain type of physical system.

  11. JP- I knew you would.

    C PP- Members of the ID side do not realize their sick delusion.

    Academic- I’m planning to read the transcript of the trial itself- which is available online for anyone to download from the ACLU site, because apparently there was some quite remarkable testimony from prominent biologists from many different sub-fields of biology. Basically, the opponents of ID had to educate the judge on what the theory of evolution actually is, what a scientific theory is, and what the amassed evidence for this theory consists of. This might give you some answers in the non-threatening setting that you seek.

  12. Academic,
    “The message seems apparent: don’t show up in a biology department if you have questions about evolution.”

    No, this is certainly not the message, although it’s exactly what the Discovery Institute would like its supporters to believe. The idea that evolution cannot be questioned at any level is in flagrant opposition to the very purpose of research; i.e. to question.

    If you have questions about evolution ask them. Ask them here, ask them in the classroom, a meeting, wherever, but by all means ask them. I guarantee that most of the answers are freely available to you. Just don’t buy into this poisonous crap that would have you believe there is some dark and sinister intellectual inquisition at work trying to substitute the Bible/Koran/Torah with the Origin of Species.

    Yes, the odd scientist might be a little abrasive on the subject, but can you blame her? When you have had to explain, for the eleventy thousandth time why the eyeball is not an “irreducibly complex” organ it’s really no wonder that one can become a little impatient. Like I say, most of the answers are out there. Many scientists have taken considerable efforts to ensure that this is so in order to fight back against the tide of disinformation being peddled by religious fanatics. If you have further questions still, then politely ask them and I’m sure you will receive a polite and respectful answer, if indeed an answer is to be had (there might not; science is like that).

  13. So I’ll see if I can’t play here.
    1) How can a person with a very basic background in biology take a course in biology? I’m trained as an engineer, not a biologist, yet I can see why exploring ecology could be helpful in sustainability. Yet, said course has 3 biology pre-requisites. How can one even get started coming in from a different background without being dismissed for asking questions?
    2) Why is it important to understand the grand evolutionary pathway from atoms to proteins to single-cells to (add organism complexity) to humans when you are interested in the situation now, in real time?
    3) How can the fossil record provide information about soft tissues organization? Other than models of incremental change to get to the diversity of today’s organisms, how can we make so many claims about previous life from the fossil record? Do we have other tools?

  14. Academic,
    “The message seems apparent: don’t show up in a biology department if you have questions about evolution.”

    The point about the position taken by ID people (and others) and the reason they want this to be the perception about biology is to cover up what they are trying to do. Science is not a belief system. It is a methodology. Using this methodology and based up a huge amount of evidence dominant theories have been arrived at. Far from being closed to question, quite to the contrary, they are constantly under scrutiny. Imagine if molecular biology (which Darwin had not known about) had shown something different, then the theories would have had to been revised. This alone, however is almost entirely supportive and shows the fundamental strength of the theory of evolution.

    Now consider the alternate position (which is what should be done by critical thinkers – never a strong suit of people who support these ‘sick deluisions’). They want to insert into science classroom subject matter for which there is NO evidence derived from the scientific process. Because of this reasons there is no mainstream science acceptance of these views. It is not science (this is what they were trying to establish in this court case and were roundly defeated). Indeed it is worse than this because they have started with the answer. There is nothing scientific about that sort of bias. Things like ID run into all sorts of problems, but not least of which is that ultimately they are belief systems and not part of the scientific methodology and require faith. Faith is not an admissible argument in science.

  15. Academic – I’ll go ahead and take a stab at these with the caveat that I am not an expert in the fields of paleontology nor evolution. However, as a biologist I think I can give some broad answers here.

    1) How can a person with a very basic background in biology take a course in biology? I’m trained as an engineer, not a biologist, yet I can see why exploring ecology could be helpful in sustainability. Yet, said course has 3 biology pre-requisites. How can one even get started coming in from a different background without being dismissed for asking questions?

    Well, this isn’t really a biology question, but I think there are several venues available to you. If you really want to take the ecology course at University X, and they require pre-reqs…you might actually have to take the pre-reqs. It might be worth it to talk to the course director and ask if they can make some accommodations based on your educational background. If you are currently a faculty member at XU, perhaps you can sit in on relevant bits of the pre-reqs and then the whole of the ecology course. The same might apply if you are a student in program Y but the ecology course you are interested in is actually in department W. In all cases the success of this approach is going to require the good will of the profs. Not everyone loves an auditor. Or, you could take a relevant course at a local community college, which is likely to be cheaper if you have to pay tuition at XU. Keep in mind though that pre-reqs are there for a reason. If you’re wanting to take a course on evolution and ecology that focuses on animal populations and there is a zoology pre-req this should tell you that the professor is going to expect you to already know about classification of species and maybe a bit about various classes of animals and how they are related to one another. They’re not going to cover that again and if you don’t already have this knowledge much of what is covered in the eco/evo course is going to be unintelligible. If you don’t know the field’s language/jargon, you’re not going to get as much out of it. If you can take the pre-reqs, I would.

    2) Why is it important to understand the grand evolutionary pathway from atoms to proteins to single-cells to (add organism complexity) to humans when you are interested in the situation now, in real time?

    Maybe you don’t need to know the nitty-gritty of how self-replicating proteins gave rise to XYZ for your interests (other people may disagree with me on this point). Actually, there is currently very little known about the origins of life and yet we can say a lot about how it evolves and how selection pressures are changing species in the here and now without having the details on life’s origins. What is crucial to understanding how species are affected now, in real time, is a fundamental grasp of a) how traits are inherited – basic genetics and biology, b) how mutations occur in the genome – basic genetics, c) how genes affect phenotype – more basic bio, d) how environment applies pressure on individuals for survival and reproductive fitness – basic ecology/population biology, and possibly e) how species adapt over time to these pressures, and how the pressures keep changing. If you don’t have a background in these areas, this is where pre-reqs can really help you. If you still don’t want to take them, I’d try walking into anyone of these departments and finding a friendly-looking grad student in the field. Offer to buy them a burger and beer in exchange for a short course on these topics and away you go.

    3) How can the fossil record provide information about soft tissues organization? Other than models of incremental change to get to the diversity of today’s organisms, how can we make so many claims about previous life from the fossil record? Do we have other tools?

    I don’t think that I really have the expertise to tackle your question of soft tissue head on – perhaps a paleontologist will chime in. But yes, I would say that we have other tools besides the fossil record. For example, we have sequenced genomes for a number of disparately related species. Those species share many, many genes that do the same or similar jobs in say, fruit-flies and humans – which are obviously not terribly similar creatures so we can say that they are not very closely related. Some of the genes that they share contain similar sequences, but they are NOT identical. We know that the enzymes that make copies of DNA at each cell division have a steady rate of mutation. That is to say that these enzymes make “mistakes” where they change the sequence at a reliable frequency. By comparing the differences in related genes belonging to two species, we can infer an approximation of how long ago those genes diverged from a “parent” gene in a common ancestor. By comparing genes which are conserved (similar between species) to those that are not, we can also learn something about the selection pressures that the two species were under, which can tell us something about the environment that the ancestral species occupied. This is the other tool that I am most familiar with, but I am sure that there are more. So again, here’s an argument for getting some of that pre-req knowledge.

    Hope that’s helpful. Keep asking questions – most scientists are happy to share information with people who are really asking in order to learn something. Some do get bitter if frequently “questioned” by people who are really just trying to be combative about their religious agendas. But people who are truly trying to understand, such as yourself, are really appreciated.

  16. The message seems apparent: don’t show up in a biology department if you have questions about evolution.

    That is a total misconception, and others have already addressed this topic quite capably. I do have to say, though, that the ID crowd plays a good game that does push us towards an uncomfortable corner.

    Having been shot down every which way on the science, they run to the last refuge of the discredited: Appeals for fairness. The latest creationist tactic isn’t even to talk about design, just to ask for “discussions of the limitations of scientific theories” (or something along those lines) in science classes. And on the surface, that sounds pretty reasonable. Of course we all know what it’s a Trojan Horse for, we all know how these discussions would play out if they got to implement their desired curricular changes, but the language offered doesn’t sound so bad on the surface. So I’m in the uncomfortable position of having to argue against “comparing the strengths and weaknesses of different scientific theories.” It doesn’t feel right.

    But it’s great PR for them. They put forward a proposal to “teach students to understand the limitations and strengths of scientific theories” and when scientists respond negatively they put out a press release saying “Scientists don’t want to talk about different theories!” And so somebody can come along thinking that if you have questions you aren’t welcome in the biology classroom. They are very good at the game that they play, I have to give them that.

  17. I also meant to add in my previous comment that biologists are not born knowing this stuff. We all studied it and learned it because we were interested. And guess what? We all asked questions about it too, so that we could arrive at a better understanding.

    No self-respecting scientist is going to chase you out of a biology department for doing the same. You might run into some folks who are disgruntled about all of the things that Alex mentions, but showing that you are really just interested in being a student should alleviate that. I think that you have the right approach – wanting to sign up for the course shows that you are more interested in actually learning what it’s all about rather than starting an argument. And I think that mentioning the context of your interest (sustainability as it applies to whatever you’re engineering) also tells whoever you’re learning from that your agenda is something they can work with, even help you with.

  18. So it turns out the the ecology class biology pre-requisites have other biology pre-requisites AND chemistry pre-requisites for a grand total of 7 pre-requisite courses that I would need to explore ecology (at the 100- and 200-level). At this rate, it seems like I would be much better off letting biologists keep their ivory tower to themselves and try to go along a different path. I’m also amazed that the pre-requisites require a D- or better. As much as I can appreciate how and why these courses in biology and chemistry could be helpful, I’m left feeling like there has got to be a better way to explore these topics, especially since being inter-disciplinary is in. Even approaching a biology professor to ask about how to handle this ecology course seems like a lost cause even before I start. I have taken a college-level course in human anatomy and physiology but it too had a very small component about explanations. It was all about explaining what the different systems were and the various functions they play in the human body. I’m already booked to the gills with work, and I don’t see how adding a year of coursework to my program (incidentally none of these courses are offered in the summer session either) can help me achieve my goals. *sigh* And I thought engineering programs had an inane amount of pre-requisites. At least you could start at various points in the pre-requisite structure instead of at square one. And short courses in 7 pre-requisites is a lot of pizza and beer to a biology grad student 😉

    And incidentally, it’s been my interactions with biologists that make me feel like I can’t set foot into a biology department. But I think it’s absolutely ridiculous when biblical literalists start asking engineers to explain to scientists the principles of design as it relates to living things. An engineer will approximate a horse as a sphere to make the math easier! (And under the right sort of inquiry, this simplification actually does us quite well.)

  19. Since Ambivalent Academic appears to be following and playing along, I’ll ask some other questions that have been floating around my neurons for some time and perhaps other folks will chime in.

    4) AA, you talked about how evolution does not make a lot of claims about the origin of life. What claims does evolution make around this topic? What does it mean to “study evolution”?
    5) A lot of the studies that I’ve seen around genome sequencing seem to all be in the mammalian classification. Humans share 99% of DNA with chimps; humans, mice, and cows share sequences of various DNA but not all of the genes are active (or perhaps they’re shortened). What about some of the big transitions between different types of animals? What about the differences between plants and animals?
    6) So much of the evolutionary stories seem comic. “One day a fish was swimming and got stuck in the mud. It had longer fins than the fish next door and could free itself. The long-fin fished lived and reproduced. Offspring long-fin fish discovered that its fins enabled access to digging for insects in the mud. Eventually the offspring of the offspring became frogs.” Moreover, they assume rather simple cause-effect relationships. How do these sorts of stories provide evidence for evolution?

  20. 4) AA, you talked about how evolution does not make a lot of claims about the origin of life. What claims does evolution make around this topic? What does it mean to “study evolution”?

    I’m not sure that’s what I said…what I did say was that the origins of life is not something that the scientific community knows much about right now. It’s a hot topic, but as far as I can tell we are only just scratching the surface. Evolution is a concept – as such it doesn’t make any claims about the origins of life. An evolutionary biologist might though – I’m going to leave it at that because that’s the extent of my expertise on this topic. What it means to “study evolution” really depends on the perspective that you’re coming from. Because evolution and natural selection are so integral to how we understand life in the here and now, I think that many scientist (who are not necessarily specialists in in evolution) ask questions about evolution as it relates to their field. A geneticist may want to know which particular parts of gene sequences are conserved between species because this will tell her which bases are necessary for the critical function of the gene across species. An ecologist might to know how isolated populations of species are responding to different selection pressures in their respective environments and which are doing a better job of adapting. Both of these scientists are studying evolution. As a mechanical engineer, you probably study things like I don’t know, fluid dynamics, but from the perspective of how it relates to your system…is that a helpful analogy?

    5) A lot of the studies that I’ve seen around genome sequencing seem to all be in the mammalian classification. Humans share 99% of DNA with chimps; humans, mice, and cows share sequences of various DNA but not all of the genes are active (or perhaps they’re shortened). What about some of the big transitions between different types of animals? What about the differences between plants and animals?

    You’ve seen a lot of these studies because these are what makes it into the popular press. People are generally more interested in cute furry critters that look like them. Plus the similarities between humans and other primates are inflammatory to creationists, so that gets your ratings up if you’re a member of the popular media. In fact, the genomes of MANY non-mammalian, invertebrate, even prokaryote organisms have bee sequenced and many more are in the process of being sequenced. And the studies on these genomes just keep pouring in as more and more info becomes available. This might be a good place to start if you’re interested in knowing about other sequenced genomes. The homepage shows “popular genomes” and below that there is a drop-down menu for all currently available genomes. The website is very interactive and you can search for your favorite gene and any orthologs in other species.

    6) So much of the evolutionary stories seem comic. “One day a fish was swimming and got stuck in the mud. It had longer fins than the fish next door and could free itself. The long-fin fished lived and reproduced. Offspring long-fin fish discovered that its fins enabled access to digging for insects in the mud. Eventually the offspring of the offspring became frogs.” Moreover, they assume rather simple cause-effect relationships. How do these sorts of stories provide evidence for evolution?

    Simply put, they don’t provide evidence. They are I think intended to simplify the concept of natural selection and incremental change, which is fundamental to how evolution works. Really, they’re useful in the context of children’s books but are grossly oversimplified from a scientific perspective. In truth, those kinds of small changes that provide a selective advantage occur all the time, but over many many more generations. Furthermore, these small changes are in a dynamic equilibrium with other small variations – it’s not that all fish from that point forward had longer fins – some of them did, and some of them had other variations. Selection pressures can than act on any or all of these variations to change the characteristics of a population or speciation over MANY generations.

    Good questions, hope that helps.

  21. “At this rate, it seems like I would be much better off letting biologists keep their ivory tower to themselves and try to go along a different path.”

    If you are principally motivated by intellectual curiosity, I would strongly advise you not to waste time and money on courses (they’re really only good for career currency, after all). You are far better off in a self-learning environment. Although you can keep your ears open for public lectures in your area; it’s not uncommon for them to be given by scientists, particularly in the current political atmosphere inre evolution in classrooms.

    btw, this isn’t a bad site,
    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

  22. Well, it’s also challenging because I have the career currency objective of completing Master’s level work in sustainability. My present PhD program requires a master’s concentration, but the way the master’s degrees are divided, I don’t have a way of completing the degree that I’m interested in. Although I think it’s amusing that one “learns biology” in a lecture hall that seats over 700 people here at Bridge University. In an interdisciplinary program, you would think that they might offer a graduate-level short course to help people from diverse backgrounds get up to speed, but alas and alack, not so much.

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