The San Francisco Chronicle

 

Nature’s diversity beyond evolution

Debate over intelligent design

 

Carl T. Hall, Chronicle Science Writer

Sunday, March 17, 2002

 

Leaving fundamentalist dogma behind, a new species of anti- evolutionists has arisen under the banner

of "intelligent design" -- now at the heart of a bitter debate erupting in Ohio about how science and

evolution should be taught in the public schools.

 

Intelligent-design advocates delve into the minutiae of biology in search of evidence that random

mutation and natural selection are not enough to explain the wonders and diverse forms of nature.

 

The result has been a spate of books and academic papers trying to poke holes in Darwinian theories

of evolution, often with elaborately detailed examples of what some call “irreducible complexity” - the

defensive apparatus of the bombardier beetle, the fine bony structures of the mammal inner car, the

ion channels and pumps that underlie vision, the hairlike filaments that allow bacteria to swim about,

the exquisite biochemical cascade that causes blood to clot the instant an injury occurs.

 

AU are said to be examples of a designer’s handiwork. The question of just who - or what - that

designer might be is usually left open, in part to avoid charges that intelligent design is little more

than a stalking horse to sneak God back into the public schools.

 

It could be space aliens, said William Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher at Baylor

University in Texas and author of “No Free Lunch,” a new book on intelligent design. “There are

many possibilities.”

 

FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS

 

He described his main focus as a matter of elucidating some “fundamental problems with Darwinism,

including what he considers some big gaps in the overwhelming scientific consensus supporting the

evolutionary model.

 

Like most of the others in the design camp, he steers clear of the so- called “young-Earth” creationists

who argue for a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Instead, he talks of the complexity found

in nature, perhaps evidence for “systems that have no function until you have a whole integrated package

in place.”

 

It takes a leap of faith to conclude that this means someone or something must have designed such a

system. The Darwinist explanation, accepted by the overwhelming majority of biologists, holds that

no such leap is necessary - all it takes, instead, is enough time, random mutations, and a process of

natural selection to propagate the accidents that confer a survival advantage.

 

Ifs a heady discussion that in some ways can be traced back to Aristotle’s musings on acorns and oak

trees, updated these days by a constant stream of academic cross talk on the Internet and at science-and-

religion conferences. Lately, it’s jumped from esoteric journals and books to the public stage, too, after

Ohio’s 19-member state school board began revising science teaching standards.

 

PROPOSAL IN OHIO

 

Some Ohio school officials have proposed downgrading Darwinian evolution to allow - or perhaps even

require teachers to present intelligent design on more or less equal footing. Legislation has been

introduced that would put more of the decision-making power in the hands of elected lawmakers.

With passions rising, a school board hearing in Columbus last week attracted national attention and an

audience of 1,500.

 

Beyond the inevitable mudslinging, Darwin’s new critics insist they are engaged in essentially scientific research,

parting company with the mainstream only in that they are willing to question some bedrock notions of modem biology.

 

“I’m not an enemy of science,” - said Jonathan Wells, an embryologist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle

think tank and the undisputed intellectual center for the intelligent-design  philosophy. “I am a scientist.”  “But I want science

to be an open-ended search for the truth and not a dogmatic commitment to natural explanations.... When I look at the evidence

for evolution, I see very serious problems with it.”

 

Not surprisingly, mainstream scientists and educators tend to dismiss much of the intelligent-design movement as a

pseudoscientific - and dangerous - masquerade.

 

The Discovery Institute includes several subsidiaries, with the intelligent-design component set up under something called the

“Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture."

 

Eugenie Scott, who champions the teaching of evolution as executive director of the National Center for Science Education in

Oakland, said the Seattle centers ambitious-sounding name reveals the true agenda behind the Ohio controversy.

 

"The cultural renewal part is really what motivates this whole effort" she said. "These are people who are very concerned about

the amount of secularism in American culture. They are theists. They believe America is too secular and believe we need to bring

Christian theism back into American life."

 

POSSIBILITY OF SPACE ALIENS

 

She dismisses the talk allowing for the possibility of space aliens as an agnostic patina covering an inherently religious intent.

“I wish these guys would just get real here,” she said. “Everybody knows they’re talking about God.”

 

Those are fighting words among such leading intellectuals as Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University and

author of “Darwin’s Black Box,” one of the founding tomes of the intelligent-design movement.

 

Belie coined the term “irreducible complexity,” the idea that some natural structures, like mousetraps, consist of many Parts

functioning as an interlocking system.  It’s difficult to imagine how such systems might have evolved, although that is exactly

what many biologists spend their careers doing. But for Belie and his allies, it’s illogical that biological mousetraps could have

gradually formed from Darwinian "gradualistic evolution."

 

Behe’s favorite example is the flagellums a whiplike structure that serves as a kind of rotary propeller for certain cells, bacteria

and protozoans.  Although its functions seems simple enough, a close look at the structural and biochemical details shows there’s

nothing simple about it. Where Behe parts company with most of his scientific colleagues is his claim that the individual

components of the propeller make no biological sense except as elements of the completed molecular machine.

 

NO FOREBEARS

 

There seem to be no obvious evolutionary forebears in nature, and certainly no fossil record, to explain how such a machine might

have been selected for through a series of random mutations in some simpler flagellum-like structures.

 

“If you don’t have intermediate structures, it could mean one of two things," Belie said. "Either we just haven’t found them, or they

are not there. It’s a good bet, with these biochemical machines, that they are not there."

 

Others suggest the flagellum came about from cell structures that developed for other reasons.  But Behe concludes that it 

morphologically happened as the result of a plan --  stuck onto the skin of some primordial bacterium by some clever designer.

 

 “We are arriving at this conclusion based strictly on the physical evidence, the structure of these physical systems," Belie said

"We’re not quoting from the Bible.”  He, too, was a bit cagey as to who might have done the designing "Certainly, many people

think the designer is God,” he said, allowing that as a Roman Catholic himself, "it seems natural to think that.... But I hasten to

add that the identity of the designer is not inscribed in the cell."

 

Scott at the National Center for Science Education makes no argument on that point. But she does insist that most of the other

intelligent-design arguments are wrong. "They want to change the ground miles under which we do science for the last 200 years,"

Scott said. 

 

And even if there is an element inspiring healthy debate among professional scientists, she and most other mau6u,eam experts

suggest it’s clearly not the sort of thing that’s appropriately taught to students in publicly financed classrooms.

 

One of the basic ground miles of science, Scott said, is to cede the realm of the supernatural to theologians, focusing instead on

finding natural explanations for natural phenomena, no matter how complex they seem to be.

 

E-mail Carl T. Hall at chall@.Sfchronicle-com.

 

C2002 San Francisco Chronicle Page A - I

 

 

The Columbus Dispatch

 

Evolution debate raises issue: What’s “science”?

 

Sunday, March 17, 2002

 

David Lore, Dispatch Science Reporter

 

In sorting through the claims for evolution and intelligent design, the state Board of Education is being asked to do something even

more difficult: Define science.

 

Actually, that's exactly what an advisory committee to the board has done. But first some background. Last week, the board

sponsored a debate on whether Ohio's new school standards for science should provide for the teaching of intelligent design as well

as evolution.

 

Evolution is the generally accepted scientific theory that natural selection has changed living things over 4 billion years. It's nature’s

way of adapting some species to survive while weeding out others. Intelligent design rejects this, saying the complexity of biological

structures required an intelligent creator, God or otherwise.

 

Much of the debate, however, focused not on the biological evidence for each point of view but rather on whether intelligent-design

could be regarded as science. This is important because, although there's little support for bringing the Bible into biology class,

everybody's OK with exposing students to the scientific debate over evolution.

 

As a congressional report in December suggested, "Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological

evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views .... “

 

But what is meant by science and scientific views?  One definition, offered by both supporters and critics of evolution, is that science

is what scientists do. But that still leaves open to debate how they should be doing it.

 

Science, said evolutionists Lawrence Krauss and Kenneth Miller, consists of gathering evidence, developing a hypothesis and then

subjecting one's observational or experimental findings to the gauntlet of peer review. Those findings that hold up over time to

rigorous debate and criticism are science. Those that don't are history.

 

They accused design theorists Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells of ducking peer review by not defending their ideas before scientific

bodies or publishing them in recognized scientific journals.

 

Meyer and Wells, however, argued that the science game is rigged. New ideas in science are rejected today by the reigning

establishment, just as they were in Copernicus's time, they said. Top journals won't publish articles on intelligent-design, said Wells,

a biologist. So design advocates turn to writing books for the public, just as Charles Darwin did.

 

Wells and Meyer called for a broader definition of science that doesn't depend on scientific acceptance.

 

'”We're science in search of a hearing," said design advocate David DeWolf.

 

Meyer did suggest that the teaching of intelligent design be optional in local schools rather than mandatory. But he also said the state

should not prohibit teachers from presenting all “scientific” views, including design.

 

Last month, however, the board’s standards-writing team reportedly moved to close what it perceived as a loophole by defining in the

standards what the state means by science and scientific views. The exact language is under wraps until April I but reportedly will

define science fit for the science classroom as that offering “natural explanations for natural phenomena.”  Since that’s too restrictive

for design concepts, look for the battle to rage on.

 

David Lore is Dispatch science reporter. Stem Rissing's column will resume next week.

 

 

 

 

 

The Toledo Blade

 

Article published March 17, 2002

 

Special report: Evolution vs. intelligent design

 

By Michael Woods, Blade Science Editor

 

WASHNGTON - The myths of evolution: That great atheist Charles Darwin finally disowned evolution as the devil’s handiwork

on his deathbed in 1882. Most major religious denominations oppose teaching evolution to children. Evolution is “only a theory."

There's no evidence that evolution actually happens.

 

It's time for a reality check for evolution, creationism, and 'intelligent design.

 

Those topics preoccupied the Ohio Board of Education last week during hearings that attracted thousands in Columbus. And

they've been showcased elsewhere, including Kansas’ controversial 1999 decision to drop the teaching of evolution from high

school science classes.

 

The Ohio board is the first in the United States to consider including intelligent design in school science curricula alongside evolution.

By December, the 19-member board will adopt new science standards that will decide what students in 612 public school districts

learn about life's debut on Earth.

 

"Attacks on evolution in Ohio and other states have been pretty amazing,' said Eugene C. Scott, executive director of the National

Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif. The nonprofit organization works with school boards and others to increase public

understanding of evolution.  Ms. Scott said the battering fosters increasingly common myths and misconceptions about evolution.

"The public bears the critics,” she said, “but rarely gets the scientific facts.'”

 

Recent Gallup polls document the situation. They show that 40 percent of Americans think there is no scientific evidence to support

the theory of evolution; 45 percent now accept creationist and intelligent design views about humanity's origins; 68 percent favor

teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools; 40 percent favor dropping evolution altogether and teaching children

only the biblical version of creation.

 

Evolution is losing ground to two distinctly different beliefs about human origins.

 

Many creationists believe that the Earth is 6,000 to 10,000 years old.  Humans, they add, were created by God six days after the Earth

in one place, the Garden of Eden.

 

Intelligent design advocates believe that life involves processes too complex to have occurred naturally. They say that an "intelligent

agent,” who many personally believe to be God, directed the development of life on Earth.

 

Evolution regards humans and other living things as the result of natural processes. In a nutshell: Offspring vary from their parents.

Over the eons, offspring better adapted to the environment (because of sharper claws, a broader wingspan, a keener brain) will

survive and reproduce. Through those two processes - termed "random variation" and "natural selection" - primitive life forms

evolved into modern forms over the 4.5 billion years that Earth has existed.

 

Today's clash between creation and evolution involves what should be taught in school science classrooms. Creationists and

intelligent designers want their ideas presented.  Evolutionists say some of the beliefs may be true, but they are rooted in religious

faith, not science, and should be taught outside the science class.

 

Science is limited to explanations based on actual observations and experiments that can be repeated and verified by anyone who uses

the same method. Faith goes beyond what can be tested and proven in the world. 

 

Dr. William Thwaites said fallout from the scrap gives the impression that most religious denominations officially oppose evolution.

He is a San Diego State University biologist who gives public lectures on creation and evolution.

 

“Most major religious denominations do not oppose the theory of evolution, or teaching it in public schools,” Ray L. Hart, professor of

religion and theology at Boston University, said in an interview last week. Among them, Dr. Thwaites said, are the Roman Catholic

Church, most Protestant Christian denominations, and conservative and reformed Jews.

 

In 1981 and 1996, for instance, Pope John Paul H said that evolution is compatible with Catholicism, and that the biblical account of

creation was not intended to be taken literally. "Any other tea clung about the origins and makeup of the universe is alien to the

intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven," the Pope said in Ins 1996

message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

 

This was not the first time the Catholic Church had tackled the thorny issue of evolution and theology. Pope Pius XIIl in 1950 issued

the encyclical Humani Generis, which stated that the teaching authority of the church did not forbid “research and discussions ... with

regard to the doctrine of evolution.”

 

“ Pope John Paul H referred to this earlier encyclical in his own 1996 message: “The encyclical Humani Generis considered the

doctrine of evolution a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study,” but he added that evolution cannot address

the “soul that the whole person possesses." Pius XII stressed this essential point: “If the human body takes its origin from

pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God," stated Pope John Paul III.

 

Judaic teachings on evolution parallel that of Christianity. Liberal or Reform Jews believe that evolution does not conflict with the

Torah or Bible, according to Rabbi Sam Weinstein of the Temple-Shomer Emunim in Sylvania, while Rabbi Yossi Shcmtov of

Chabad House-Lubavitch, a conservative Jew, said the account of creation in Genesis is to be taken literally.

 

Is evolution ”only a theory”?  Dr. Thwaites said individual members of the major denominations often make up their own minds about

evolution, and ignore official teachings on the topic. Indeed, many are not even aware of the official teachings of their churches, he

added "Thas why you have such a huge number of Americans in the anti-evolution columns in the Gallop polls," he explained.

 

Dr. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, addressed the same topic in a 1999 report on science and

creationism. The academy is the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, chartered by Congress to advise the federal

government on science and technology. "Demanding that they be combined distracts from the glory of each," he said in the

report to the public on evolution's scientific underpinnings.

 

The 'devil-made-him-do-it' myth about Charles Darwin also is making a resurgence on the Internet and elsewhere. It depicts

Darwin as a staunch atheist who recanted his theory on his deathbed.  Biographers, however, describe Darwin as an ”agnostic,"

who felt it was impossible to know whether there is a God-.  Darwin's daughter, Henrietta, was at his death and said he never

disavowed evolution.

 

Darwin had no reason to recant. The Church of England was among several dominations in the 1880s that found no conflict

between evolution and church teachings. The church even allowed Darwin's burial in Westminster Abbey, Great Britain's most

famous church.

 

What about the claim that evolution should be taught along with intelligent design or creationism because it is “only a theory?”

The National Academy of Sciences report emphasized that the word "theory" has a different meaning in science than in general

usage. A scientific theory is not a guess or speculation. A guess in science is called a hypothesis. A theory is a carefully documented

explanation based on facts, observations, and experiments.

 

Is there evidence that evolution did occur?

 

There is so much evidence that evolution ranks as one of the strongest and most important theories in science, according to the

Academy of Sciences. The academy's report quoted the renowned Russian-American geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky: “Nothing

in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

 

The evidence stems from hundreds of thousands of fossilized remains of plants and animals; technology for dating fossils and rocks

which shows that life first appeared 3.5 billion years ago; striking similarities between the skeletons, genes, and biochemistry in

animals as different as mice and humans, and other sources.

 

“Molecular clocks” have added some of the newest and strongest evidence. Based on changes that occur over time in the genetic

material DNA, molecular clocks establish when one species started to diverge and evolve into another. They also bolster the evidence

that different organisms had common ancestors.

 

Millions of people experience evolution.

 

How do scientists know that the Earth has been around long enough for evolution to happen? The estimate of 4.5 billion years for

Earth's age is based on measurements, such as the rate at which certain radioactive materials in rock “decay” or change into different

chemical forms. The universe's estimated age - 10 billion to 15 billion years - is based on other measurements, including the distances

separating galaxies, which are moving away from each other.

 

Has anyone ever seen evolution occur?

 

Unfortunately, millions of people experience evolution, with a sometimes deadly outcome. Among examples of evolutionary

forces observed in everyday life, the academy report cited antibiotic-resistant bacteria, insects that shrug off the effects of

existing pesticides, and parasitic diseases like malaria.

 

Evolutionary forces enable bacteria to adapt and survive in the presence of once-lethal antibiotics. Pesticide-resistant insects emerge

in the same way. Malaria is on a rampage in tropical areas, with 300 million annual cases, because the malaria parasite has adapted,

and older drugs are no longer effective.

 

Doesn't life involve structures and processes too incredibly complex to have evolved naturally, step-by-step, without a master

designers “My theory would absolutely break down,” Darwin said, "if anyone can demonstrate that any structure exists in Nature

that could not have arisen by natural selection.”

 

In 1996, Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe took on Darwin's challenge in a popular book, Darwin's Black Box: A

Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. He cited examples of organs and systems so complex that God must have created them in a

single stroke. One, for instance, was a series of at least seven chemical reactions that must occur for blood to clot and stop a wound

from bleeding. The National Academy of Sciences said blood clotting and other biological processes can be explained through natural

selection. Structures and processes that appear complex often are not on closer inspection, it added.

 

So why the great evolution debate that's now under way? Myth, says the Academy of Sciences. And myth, again.

 

Evolution is one of the most widely accepted concepts in science. There is no great debate in the scientific community, and no serious

challenges are being posed in scientific journals or conferences. “I’m a theologian,” Boston University's Professor Hart said, “but I'm

still comfortable with science. And evolution is the best science we have about human origins."

 

 

The Associated Press

 

Saturday, March 16, 2002

 

Second science-standard draft keeps evolution focus

Only “natural” processes in this Ohio version

 

By Liz Sidoti, The Associated Press

 

COLUMBUS - A second draft of new state science standards, to be released April 1, takes a stronger stance on evolution by including

a definition of science that advocates for "intelligent design” say would prevent the teaching of alternative ideas.

 

"It says that all science deals with are natural processes. In other words, the natural world,” said Pat Barron, leader of the 41-member

team writing the guidelines for what Ohio's schoolchildren should learn about science.

 

The state Board of Education is struggling to rewrite the standards by year's end. Controversy erupted after the December release of

the writing team's fag draft; some board members complained it included evolution, but not alternative ideas.

 

In the second draft evolution remain the only explanation of how life developed. The definition of science includes the word "natural,”

thereby eliminating supernatural possibilities.

 

During a panel discussion before the school board Monday, prominent advocates for intelligent design, Seattle-based-Discovery

Institute fellows Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells, urged the board not to adopt a definition of science that would prevent the

discussion of ideas they say are contrary to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.

 

The writing team's life sciences subcommittee had already adopted, on Feb. 8, language that states: “Scientific knowledge is limited

to natural explanations for natural phenomena (material world perceived by our senses or technological extensions)."

 

“What that definition does - the purpose of it - is to exclude design theory,' said John Calvert a Kansas lawyer and founder of the

Intelligent Design Network, who has pushed for broader standards.

 

The first draft has a more vague definition that does not include the word "natural."

 

Supporters of intelligent design argue that living things are too complex to have occurred through random genetic change and,

therefore, must have been designed by some purposeful being. The nature of that being is not specified, but backers acknowledge

it could have been a biblical God, supernatural or extraterrestrial.

 

Critics of the concept argue that intelligent design is not science and that it is a disguise for creationism, winch credits the origin of

species to God and has been barred by courts from public schools. They say adding the word "natural' to the standards only reinforces

that science by definition is the study of natural processes.

 

Robert Iattimer, a writing team member who supports intelligent design and founded Ohio Citizens for Science Excellence, said he

believed science needed to be defined and told that to his fellow team members. "But I didn't like what they came up with,' Mr.

Lattimer said. “It eliminates other explanations for life at the outset."

 

Some writing team members did not believe the definition was needed because it's commonly understood that science operates under

the limits of the natural world, said Scott Charlton, a science teacher at Lebanon High School who is on the writing team.

 

However, he said, others wanted to provide a clear definition of what constitutes science and some wanted to keep nonscientific ideas,

such as intelligent design, out of science classrooms.

 

Jennifer Sheets, the board's president, noted that the standards still are in the draft stage and will be revised several more times.

 

The writing team, made up of volunteers including science teachers and scientists, has indicated it is opposed to writing intelligent

design into the standards. Some members have said they will resign if they are told to do so.

 

Lynn Elfner, director of the Ohio Academy of Science, which supports evolution, said defining science as natural is redundant. "But

it's probably needed in this case to clarify what we're talking about - science as opposed to supernatural phenomenon," he said.

 

 

The Columbus Dispatch

 

Evolutionists struggle with growing debate

 

Sunday, March 10, 2002

 

David Lore, Dispatch Science Reporter

 

It was an evolutionist's nightmare: the Rev. Freddie Dutton, a

Freewill Baptist, lecturing for two hours on biblical creationism

before a tax-supported science class.

 

Rolling out 15 "scientific arguments for creationism," a volley of

unverifiable anecdotes and his own unshakable faith in biblical

truth, Dutton said all the "good science" supports his view that God

created the universe about 6,000 years ago and populated it with

people about 4,400 years ago.

 

Any questions?

 

Most of the students in the Ohio State University biology class

seemed dumbstruck by Dutton's dismissal of what they'd always been

taught was solid evidence of evolution during the past 4 billion

years.

 

Their response was not unusual. Scientists accustomed to explaining

life down to the molecular level find it difficult to respond to

those who don't play by their rules.

 

That's why OSU plant biologist Andria Wolfe invites a number of

anti-evolutionists to speak during her course "Creation and

Evolution: Differing World Views."

 

OSU is one of many public universities exposing science students to

creationist arguments, hoping to prepare them for what they're likely

to hear once they leave the campus.

 

The problem with teaching creationism in high school, Wolfe said, is

that it gives beginning science students the impression that these

are scientific ideas before they know much about biology, evolution

or the scientific method.

 

Still, the current debate at the State Board of Education over the

teaching of evolution baffles Wolfe and other scientists who

considered the issue settled decades ago.

 

"It's very frustrating for me," said Jeffrey McKee, an OSU

paleontologist who has written two books on human evolution.

 

Raised as a Lutheran, McKee recalled "coming to confirmation in my

church at the same time I was coming to grips with evolution."

 

A 1997 poll by the University of Georgia found that about 40 percent

of working physicists and biologists hold strong religious beliefs.

Conflict results when fundamentalists want religious viewpoints

taught as science.

 

"I spent 10 years overseas in South Africa digging up evidence for

this (book), and I come back to Ohio to find all this opposition to

evolution," McKee said. "It almost looks like the state itself is

devolving."

 

Creationists say that God made all living things pretty much as we

find them today. In Ohio, opponents of the state's proposed school

science standards say they want students to learn not biblical

creationism but "intelligent design," the idea that life is too

complex to have developed without intervention by an intelligent

designer, supernatural or extraterrestrial.

 

Dutton-style creationists view the idea of intelligent design as an

unwise compromise of biblical truth.

 

Anti-evolutionists of all stripes accuse scientists of defending

their own brand of religious orthodoxy. They say scientists are

expressing a faith in materialism or naturalism when they rule out

God and say that life originated from chemical processes and evolved

over billions of years in response to changes in the environment or

the competition for resources.

 

These battle lines extend back nearly two centuries, before Charles

Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 in England. Since

Darwin, the theory of evolution has come as close to accepted fact as

anything in science ever is.

 

There are exceptions, of course, even among biologists. One of them,

biologist and intelligent-design supporter Jonathan Wells, will speak

before the board -- and at Ohio State -- on Monday. But they are a

distinct minority.

 

"Evolution has never been proven, but aspects of it have been

observed," McKee said. "But the theory of gravity has never been

proven, either."

 

This point is often misunderstood because a "theory" in science is

not a hunch but a well-developed set of ideas that survived

challenges over time while continuing to explain what we see in the

natural world.

 

"It's all about testing a hypothesis," Wolfe said. "Most people don't

understand that science is a process. You never actually arrive at

the 'truth.' You're actually exploring a continuum." And because no

absolute truth exists, she said, scientists argue about evolution all

the time, particularly about how it specifically works. There's

debate, for example, about whether evolution is a process of slow,

consistent change over time or abrupt interruptions of the status quo.

 

Stephen J. Gould at Harvard University and Niles Eldredge of the

American Museum of Natural History have pioneered the theory of

"punctuated equilibria," which holds that most organisms remain

unchanged for millions of years and are only occasionally forced to

biologically adapt to changes in their environment or in

life-supporting resources.

 

Another issue is the purpose of evolution. Darwin never saw it as an

engine to improve or perfect a species, but social Darwinists put

that spin on his teachings in the 20th century. "But Darwin did say

lots of things that wouldn't be politically correct today," McKee

said. "He downgraded non-European races and predicted they'd

eventually go extinct. Obviously, that has turned out to be

incorrect."

 

On the other hand, Darwin thought the first humans emerged from

Africa, long before the first hominid skulls were found there in the

1920s. "Darwin said Homo sapiens and apes shared a common ancestor,"

McKee said, "but he had no time scale to work with, no fossils, no

genetics."

 

A century-and-a-half later, many questions remain unresolved about

human evolution. Early hominids split off from the ape line about 6

million years ago, but no fossils have been found between about 4

million and 15 million years ago, McKee said. "We've determined

there's a common ancestor, but we don't know what they looked like."

 

Scientists also continue to debate whether Neanderthals were Homo

sapiens or a separate species. Many find it curious that only one

species of hominids survived.

 

Some scientists think that modern medicine has checkmated natural

selection among humans, overcoming defects that otherwise might

influence the characteristics of future generations.

 

Human evolution is now more likely in terms of culture than biology,

McKee said. Even global warming is not likely to disrupt a species

that already has adapted to a range of climates, from polar to

tropical.

 

As for ultimate questions, such as the origin of life, it might be

too soon to expect answers from science. "Right now, the origin of

life is more a matter of biochemistry than evolutionary theory,"

McKee said. "Whether or not there was a divine spark is really

irrelevant to science. Scientists are allowed to hold whatever

beliefs they want, but the statement 'God did it' is not a scientific

hypothesis."

 

 

Gordon Aubrecht

Professor of Physics

OSU Physics  (614) 292-2574, FAX (614) 292-7557

Marion Campus  (740) 389-6786, ext. 6250, FAX (614) 292-5817

 

check out my web sites through my home page

http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~aubrecht

 

Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but

that's not why we do it. --Richard Feynman