Strong evidence for evolution, none for creationist alternatives

February 28, 2005|By Paul R. Gross

AROUND THE country, the debate over evolution in public schools is again incendiary.

The new critics of evolution - including those in Cecil County - promote alternative "theories" claimed to deserve the same study in science classes as the evidence-based modern science of evolution. However, the main current competitor, "intelligent design theory," is far from suitable for such a purpose. Cecil County and others should examine the facts before giving intelligent design and similar creationisms time in science class.

Any reading of the literature of intelligent design makes it immediately clear that it is just an argument from incredulity, not a theory in any ordinary sense. The claim is that Darwinian processes cannot account for the history and diversity of life because life shows evidence of complex design, and that Darwinian processes could not produce design without "intelligent" input. Ergo, presumably, there must be, or must have been, an intelligent designing agent. Never mind who. For this claim there is, so far, zero evidence.

By contrast, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Modern biology, not just "Darwinian natural selection," is a vast body of interwoven observation, experiment and theory, the product of tens of thousands of scientists active over 150 years. Their product is, precisely, evidence: that the design in living things arises in the course of natural processes.

The description of those processes is not just a theory. There are hundreds of cases of evolutionary change observed in progress and dozens of observed speciations, with mechanisms perfectly clear. That the results of such changes over eons of time - at least 3.5 billion years - include complex molecular machinery is no surprise, except to those trying to manufacture belief in a world conspiracy of scientists against faith, or to scientific illiterates.

There is no scientific evidence for intelligent agency behind biological design. But evidence for the making of designs by natural processes is as strong as any scientific evidence we have - in any field of science.

Advocates of intelligent design, such as the Discovery Institute in Seattle, have been selling the same specious anti-evolution argument as though it were valid science for more than a decade. They have convinced not a single widely recognized evolutionary biologist. Yet they prate of "scientists" agreeing with them.

Only the naive, or those indifferent to the rules of serious scientific inquiry, are convinced. Children ought not to be misled about what is good science and what is not.

Paul R. Gross is university professor of life sciences emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of a forthcoming Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report on science standards in the states.

Columnist Ellen Goodman will return Thursday.

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