Friday, May 20, 2005

Nature letters

Scientists respond
Jerry Coyne, When science meets religion in the classroom p275

Rather, advocates of ID pretend to use scientific methods to support their religious preconceptions. It has no more place in the biology classroom than geocentrism has in the astronomy curriculum.

David Leaf, Teaching about ID helps students see its flaws p275

Although it seems to have been resurrected for religious or cultural agendas, ID's proponents have made empirical claims that can be examined. Many college students are curious about ID but have little knowledge of the claims made for it. In my experience, upper-level biology students with the appropriate background in molecular biology, genetics, developmental biology and evolution are capable of distinguishing the scientific merits of evolutionist and ID claims — to the great disadvantage of ID.

Students who themselves determine that ID does not cut the scientific mustard will be more effective in their support of teaching mainstream science. Students who remain creationists or fence-sitters will at least have a better understanding of why ID has not been widely accepted in the scientific community.

It may seem contradictory to offer a course on ID and evolution in colleges and oppose teaching ID in high schools. But high-school students are just learning the basics of science. To expect them to make a well-reasoned judgement about the status of any scientific theory, including evolution, is unrealistic.

Chris Miller, Evolution is a short-order cook, not a watchmaker p275

A terrific argument against ID came to me recently after two consecutive talks, one on the Wnt signalling pathway, the next on G-protein crosstalk in control of cellular calcium. Just look at the details, and you'll immediately abandon all thoughts that biological systems were designed with any intelligence whatsoever.

Douglas W. Yu, Seeking evidence of God's work undermines faith p275

The Bible throughout teaches that faith is more valuable when expressed in the absence of evidence. For a Christian, when science is allowed to be neutral on the subject of God, science can only bolster faith. In contrast, and I imagine without realizing it, ID proponents have become professional Doubting Thomases, funded by Doubting Thomas Institutes. When advocates of ID use the vocabulary of science to argue for God's presence in cellular machinery or in the fossil record, they too poke their fingers through Jesus' hands. In so doing, ID vitiates faith.

Rustum Roy, Leave well alone and stick to teaching what you know p276

There are some very skilled experts on the topic of how to deal with different cultures or belief systems. Their advice, from experience, would be: leave well alone. Act like a scientist, confident in your own — always tentative, always open to change — axioms and laws. Read the literature, for God's (or Darwin's) sake. It will prove to you that even graduates of MIT and Harvard do not know simple scientific facts that are irrelevant to their work, such as why the Earth experiences winter and summer, despite having been explicitly taught such facts several times during their education. This amazing ignorance does not affect their performance as scientists. I do not know a single materials scientist or engineer whose technical work would be affected by their beliefs about evolution/ID. My advice: relax. It can do very little harm. Ham-fisted efforts will simply alienate much larger numbers of people from the rest of science

Michael Lynch, Intelligent design or intellectual laziness? p276

Less widely appreciated is that evolution has long been the most quantitative field of biology, well grounded in the general principles of transmission genetics. Yet few students at university, and almost none at high school, are exposed to the mathematical underpinnings of evolutionary theory. The teaching of evolution purely as history, with little consideration given to the underlying mechanisms, reinforces the false view that evolution is one of the softer areas of science.

Dan Graur, Solidarity with the oppressed flat-Earthers p276

was disturbed by your News Feature "Who has designs on your students' minds?" (Nature 434, 1062−1065; 2005), in which the proponents of ID are mostly portrayed as a persecuted minority. They are said to be afraid to reveal their identity and to be frequently censured into silence by anti-democratic scientists and administrators.

Your reporter clearly does not realize that 'intelligent designers' are not the only minority bullied into submission by the scientific establishment. The vast majority of flat-Earthers, tea-leaf readers, astrologers, geocentrists and phlogiston theorists cannot publish their studies in respectable journals. It is rumoured that Nature has rejected without review a study showing that storks bring babies into the world. I have even heard of a physician who was fired from a university hospital for trying to cure his patients by altering the ratio of blood to yellow bile and phlegm to black bile.

Thanks to your News Feature, I am now convinced that by replacing "small, medium and large" with "tall, grande and venti" — as in my local coffee-shop — the disreputable theory of biblical creationism can be turned into a respectable scientific discipline called 'intelligent design'.

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