09 October, 2006

UK successfully clones Discovery Institute

See also my update

I had this weekend all planned out: chill out for a bit, play around with next week’s lectures, maybe even finally sort out how to migrate everything over to Blogger Beta without destroying my layout. Unfortunately, the letters page of Saturday’s Times has sent me off on a slightly depressing tangent. Three letters were part of a continuing discussion about a story in the Times Education Supplement a week or two ago, about the recent activities of a group called Truth In Science.

Every secondary school in the UK has been targeted in a new campaign promoting the teaching of creationism in science lessons. Heads of science at 5,000 schools have been sent teaching materials casting doubt on Darwin’s theory of evolution and encouraging children to consider alternative interpretations of life on earth. A booklet and two DVDs, created by Truth In Science, an influential group of academics and clergymen advocating more “balance” in GCSE and A-level science, were mailed to private and state schools this week.

The discussion has led one of the members of the ‘scientific panel’ of Truth in Science to write in:

Truth in Science is seeking to enable school science students to follow the evidence for and against evolution wherever it leads.

We are committed to truthfulness and good science, and invite our critics to identify the alleged “scientific errors” of our website. Where convinced they occur, we will correct them.

Okay then.

I’ll ignore the fact that members of a group calling itself ‘Truth In Science’ have rather obviously failed to grasp the rather fundamental point that science is not engaged in a search for Truth, but models which have predictive and explanatory power. I’ll also pass over the fact that the first thing on their website (I’m not linking to it, but it's truthinscience.org.uk if you’re interested) is exactly the sort of weasel-like interpretation of a statement in the National Curriculum I feared when I first saw it (sometimes I hate it when I’m right). I’ll even be charitable and give them a pass on the fact that, for all their talk of misrepresentation of alternatives to evolutionary theory, there’s nary a mention of what they might be in their non-misrepresented form. Let’s instead examine a few items on the laundry-list rather bizarrely entitled ‘Evidence for Evolution’, which I suppose is trying to imply that it represents the best modern science has got.
  • Antibiotic resistance:

    Most types of antibiotic resistance were already in existence before antibiotics were discovered and used extensively to treat infectious diseases.

    ‘Most’ is pure weasel, hedging bets against the obvious rebuttals that antibiotic resistance does evolve. Of course, that’s only “microevolution” because “they’re still bacteria”. Clearly these guys haven’t seen that when it comes to diversity, bacteria beat us hands down – it’s just all at the biochemical level.

  • Comparative Genetics and Biochemistry

    There is, of course, much dissimilarity between living organisms, some of these at a very fundamental level. For example, the standard system of genetic code used by humans is not universal. Eighteen different genetic codes have been found in various species. Many scientists see this as evidence that all life does not come from a single common ancestor.

    Name some, please (biochemists, preferably). It’s true that some variations in the standard genetic code have been discovered, only a few of the 64 codons are different in any of these variants. Look, for example, at the mitochondrial genetic code; and here’s a full list of known variations and their taxonomic ranges. Note that most are found in bacteria and other single celled-organisms, which are merely microevolving so don’t count anyway. Yes, that was sarcasm.

  • The Fossil Record

    The key problem is this: Darwin’s theory relies on minute changes in organisms which slowly accumulate, gradually changing the organism until it eventually becomes a new species. If this is correct, then the fossil record should contain many fossils with forms intermediate between different species. This is not what the fossil record shows.

    One word: Tiktaalik (see also here. Or how about when whales went back the other way? Or the increasing cranial capacity of hominids?.

    About half of the major animal groups appear, fully formed, in the Cambrian strata of rocks, with out any fossilised ancestors.

    Wrong, unless you think tens of millions of years is ‘sudden’. And, at the time, all the major animal groups were ‘variations on a theme of worm’, anyway. There were no mammals, reptiles, birds, even insects, as we know them.

Well that wasn’t hard, and I could go on, but when I saw them harping on about Peppered Moths and Haeckel’s embryos, it became clear that this is just Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution, redux, and that has been pretty finely shredded by people far more qualified than me - as has it’s new, unimproved incarnation.

Besides, I don’t want to rot my brain too much. I’m meant to be teaching actual science tomorrow.

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