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Studying Evolution And Science

September 28, 2009 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 87, ISSUE 39

Six letters about evolution and all are wrong (C&EN, July 6, page 5). Evolution is about change, a concept that allows extremely diverse fields of scientific inquiry to be investigated—experimentally and/or theoretically—published, and confirmed or not by other scientists. There can be no "debate" or reason to discuss, much less teach, alternatives to evolution since change is all around us, always has been and always will be. I ask just one question concerning "intelligent design" or whatever other "alternatives" come to mind: What is the syllabus?

After concluding that there is great complexity in our biological world, such as the structure of the cell, the intelligent designers simply cop out and say, "There must be a superior being who designed it." That is the end of the investigation, along with all of the scientific inquiry which should go on. With "intelligent design" there can be no follow-on study, no tracing the changes in life forms from the pre-Cambrian to the Cambrian and on and on to the present.

Yet the literature is vast, in all fields of real science, from geology to paleontology to biology and so forth, confirming the changes that lead from one era to the next. And even to the present day, the development of viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is proof of the capability of organisms to change, adapt, and multiply—think of HIV and swine flu. There are many other proofs as well.

So it is almost criminal to raise these doubts about evolution. Our schoolchildren far too often are being denied the chance to study real science. Why is it that perhaps half of our adults say they do not believe in or doubt evolution? With this attitude, how can they believe in science itself? Why is it that the U.S. is falling so far behind the rest of the industrial world in science?

So let's support President Obama in his recommended increases in funding for science and engineering. Let's beef up our science curriculum with a real syllabus and support our children in the tough, challenging study of science. Let's stop the call to "prove" the theory of evolution. The proof is all around us if we only look. The universe changes, galaxies come and go, suns are born and die, Earth changes with every rainstorm, all organisms change including ourselves. With scientific study, we can understand, correlate, confirm, and often predict what will happen next. That is evolution.

Richard S. Greeley
St. Davids, Pa.

Over the decades that I have received C&EN, the question about science and religion has resurfaced periodically in the editorial and subsequent letters. The common argument given is that science is concerned with self-consistent, testable theories based on supposedly independent facts. This argument involves the mind, but I think there is something far deeper than this—the "guts." Let me illustrate this difference by personal experiences that I suspect a lot of readers have had, but the reason behind these experiences has not been pointed out before in any letters that I have seen.

Two or so years ago, I attended a Bible class at a local, middle-of-the-road Christian church. This five-week class was to cover the various background research materials that one should study to get the most out of the Bible. The instructor was an astronomy teacher at the local junior college and was also supposedly well versed in this background material. Throughout the class he emphasized the importance of self-consistently using the independent facts and told how he had to keep reminding his astronomy students about doing so.

I noticed that in the common Bible commentaries discussed in the class, many words were not correctly translated from the classical Greek, such as "devil" and "Satan." I had some previous knowledge of the classical Greek material since I had written two books involving the Greek New Testament upon retiring from a 32-year chemistry professorship. I wrote a short paper involving these two words with references based purely on the class materials, such as classical Greek dictionaries, presented by the instructor. When I attempted to discuss and present my paper to him, he absolutely refused to discuss and to accept my paper. He kept saying that his religion was based on "faith" and he could not care less about any of my findings, even if they were based on his class presentations.

My mother was a devoted Christian and could "speak in tongues." She had one of the few master's degrees in biology in her time and raised two sons with Ph.D.s in chemistry, yet she refused to discuss any contradictions in her religion. She was very afraid of losing her faith and the ability to speak in tongues.

"Keep the faith or go to Hell!" has been the mantra of institutionalized Christianity and has kept the "faithful" in doctrinal line since 325 A.D. This is the "guts" of why any debate with creationists and, for that matter, "faith Christians" is a complete waste of time and energy. The question is not why scientists do not debate the issues, rather it is why creationists cannot really debate the issues (or, in other words, say they might be wrong).

My personal view is that true religion and true science are in complete agreement, for truth is truth. If religion is not in agreement with science, it is superstition; if science is not in agreement with religion, it is materialism.

Douglas S. Rustad
Santa Rosa, Calif.

Several of the (scientist or engineer) authors of letters who were responding to Rudy Baum's editorial "Once More into the Breach" (C&EN, April 6, page 3) clearly believe in an all-powerful intelligent designer as the creator for anything science can't currently explain. This must be recognized as simply belief or opinion, as there is no (zero) basis in evidence or facts or observations for any such designer. Their positions have no scientific standing, only religious.

The intelligent design folks or creationists see, as we all do, that there are certain extremely complex and (as yet) little understood things in this universe that we do not yet have explanations for, such as the origin of the universe and the origin of life. So what they do is simply ascribe these unknowns to the work of an even greater unknown: the intelligent designer. But does not elementary logic require that that intelligent designer be incredibly more complex than either the universe or life? And this begs the question: Who or what created the intelligent designer? And then ...

Joel Selbin
Boulder, Colo.

I have always been attracted to articles discussing evolution and creation. I consider myself open-minded and will not believe in something without some evidence. My problem with creation or intelligent design is that I have not seen any solid supporting evidence. Even if everything around us was designed by a god, I still hesitate to call it "intelligent" design due to the never-ending problems we humans have been dealing with.

Linsheng Song
Manitowoc, Wis.

The April 6 editorial states that "there is no debate in science about evolution." This is true in secular circles, but not for the reason Baum implies. Try questioning evolutionary explanations by pointing out weaknesses and faith statements (assumptions) and see how long you keep your job at our colleges, universities, and museums.

Once you are labeled pro-creation or pro-intelligent design, simply because you dared to question evolution, you have trouble receiving research grants. Papers supporting your views with scientific data suddenly are not accepted for publication, suffering rejection by the peer review process. Repeated requests for viewing time on major telescopes around the U.S. are delayed indefinitely. Chairmanship of important boards and committees is lost. Obviously such practices, to name a few, quickly stifle freedom of expression.

A just cause for C&EN and your editorial column would be to speak against these practices and help get them removed from within the science community. Only then will we really see if there is no debate among secular scientists about evolution.

Frank Lutz

I found the juxtaposition of the editorial by Baum about his wrens with the letters under the headline "Debating Science and Religion" to be somewhat amusing (C&EN, June 29, pages 3 and 4). I wonder if the time will ever come when Rudy might admit that perhaps there is a "miracle of life."

John Hofmann
Watchung, N.J.



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