HoustonChronicle.com — http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Viewpoints, Outlook
Oct. 22, 2003, 6:40PM
Keep good science in, dogma out of textbooks
By DON McLEROY
THE State Board of Education is required by law to adopt textbooks that are factually correct and adequately cover the state curriculum. In the case of biology books, there is no place for dogma (the teaching of an opinion as a fact); science books must present good science.
The state curriculum, the future educational opportunities of Texas students, the strong general consensus of biologists, and intellectually stimulating teaching require that evolution be taught. However, evolutionary hypotheses that life spontaneously arose billions of years ago, and that all life since then is related by descent from a common ancestor — for example, that we share a common ancestor with a tree — raise tremendous difficulties. To fulfill the requirement of Texas law and good science, textbooks must adequately present these difficulties. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, this is the issue.
What, if any, are the major difficulties? Are they presented in the textbooks? Will our Texas children be given the opportunity to hone their critical thinking skills on this controversial subject?
The spontaneous origin of life is beset with the most extreme difficulties. In the 50 years since Stanley Miller’s first scientific experiment that semi-randomly produced organic molecules from inorganic molecules, scientists have vigorously pursued the study of the origin of life. How has it progressed? According to Steve Benner, as stated on the International Society of the Study of the Origin of Life Web site, it is now clear that Miller-like experiments create too many biological molecules, in mixtures that are too complex to self-organize in a way rationally likely to lead to replication. The intrinsic reactivity of organic material under the influence of energy is to create tar, not life. If this up-to-date analysis from the premier scientific origin of life organization is not reflected in our modern textbooks, they violate state law.
Common descent is likewise beset with a myriad of difficulties. A cogent argument makes its appeal to authority, utility (it works), and empirical data to prove its point. How cogent is the common descent argument? The appeal to a qualified authority is the strongest argument for common descent; it is incredibly strong! This was readily apparent at our public testimony. Common descent’s critics are likewise highly qualified; they include, historically, the founder of paleontology and comparative anatomy, Cuvier, and the founder of modern taxonomy, Linnaeus.
Common descent’s appeal to utility is incredibly weak; adaptive variation has been empirically demonstrated, but it cannot be extrapolated as evidence for common descent. As for empiricism, common descent must be inferred historically and philosopher Karl Popper doubts if historical science is science
Also, a good theory displays the qualities of coherency, adequacy and consistency. How good a theory is common descent? Common descent is a completely naturalistic explanation for life, but does it adequately explain all the facts — for example, the fossil record? At first appearance, common descent explains the fossil record with old rocks with simple life and young rocks with more complex life. Yet a leading paleontologist, Niles Eldredge, has stated that: “We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports (the story of gradual change) all the while knowing it does not. Also, common descent is inconsistent with the laws of thermodynamics and, many discoveries in the field of embryology.”
In spite of many scientific experts’ opinions, there is plenty of scientific evidence that demonstrates common descent difficulties; these are required by law to be presented in our children’s textbooks.
Scientific dogmatism about origin of life and common descent has no place in Texas biology books. Our state’s scientific educational system must not be corrupted. Teach evolution? Yes, warts and all!
McLeroy is a member of the Texas State Board of Education.