Help me stand up for Darwin

James Foster foster at skink.cs.uidaho.edu
Mon Mar 30 11:59:34 EST 1998


In article <6fmicl$agk at net.bio.net> Ingvald Straume <ingvald at nordi.no> writes:

   From: Ingvald Straume <ingvald at nordi.no>
   Newsgroups: bionet.molbio.evolution

   I'm a Norwegian secondary scool teacher. I'm teaching biology and
   physics at my school.

   Now, some of my pupils are being feeded with creationistic ideas by some
   pseudo-scientists who have been visiting their local christian
   community. The problem is that I am not able to defend the
   evolution-theory on scientific basis. My knowledge is to short. And
   these crazy ideas are starting to spread among the pupils, and also it
   seems that some some of my colleagues are getting to rely on some of
   this creationistic propaganda stuff. I fear that I, and also biological
   science itself are being brought to discredit.

   The arguments that I am not able to stand up against are as follows:

These are the usual arguments.  For an excellent list of
counterarguments, see the talk.origins faq.

   1) "Even thoug micro-evolution has been proved by Darwin and many times
   since, there is no prove what so ever to the existance of
   macro-evolution. Macro-evolution is an erroneous interference, and there
   is no scientiffic reason to assume a correlation between micro- and
   macro-evolution."

This distinction between "micro" and "macro" is bogus.  Try to pin
them down on where the boundary lies.  Ask "What is a 'kind'?"

Speciation has been observed in the lab and in nature several times,
and that's the usual "macroevolution".  In short, "macroevolution" has
been observed and quantified under controlled lab conditions.  They're
wrong.

   2) "Evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics."

Ask them what the 2nd law is, they rarely know.  It's a statistical
law about the behavior *on average* of closed systems.  Evolution does
not take place in closed systems, and even the second law allows for
period increases in information.  If they have ever grown a plant,
they have see the same sort of "violation of the 2nd law" that they're
citing as a crucial objection to evolution, namely the increase in
complexity of a system.

   3) "It is very unlikely (impossible) that complex stereo-isomeric
   molecules in nature arise from non-organic material by accident."

Could be.  Fortunately, evolution doesn't rely on accident.  It
amplifies random changes if they are beneficial.  If you take a random
walk, but never take a step *away* from the refrigerator, its
surprising how quickly you'll be able to get a snack.

Also, ask them what a "stereo-isomeric" molecule is, and then ask them
how many of them have published any actual research on these
molecules.  Not even the "biologists" publishing this argument are
actually doing any work in this area.  

This is the argument from personal incredulity: "I don't understand
how this could happen, therefore it can't".  It's incredibly arrogant.

   4) "According to information-theory, information (as in our genes)
   cannot increase itself or derive itself from nothing."

Silly argument.  Self replicating systems are very common.  Refer them
to the "copy" command that comes with most computer systems.  

Or, ask if they have ever grown a plant from a seed.  

   It is asserted that this makes evolution from lower species to higher
   specises impossible.

The idea of "lower" and "higher" species is taken straight out of
medieval philosophy.  It is not part of modern biology.  Whoever says
this did not understand their high school biology.

   5) "Birds could not have evoluted from reptils. Because their presumed
   ancestor, with wings by wich they yet not could fly, would not be fit in
   the struggle for existance."

Incremental changes can be incrementally beneficial.  Small wings
might have been useful to increase the glide distance, to balance
while running, to cool the animal, or for sexual display.  A little
benefit would be enough.  Also, so long as the change isn't
overwhelmingly negative, even neutral changes can endure.

Again, this is the argument from personal incredulity.

   (Some of my pupils have humiliated me with this and many other similar
   examples, and I have not been able to refute them.)

Students, particularly creationists, love to humiliate their
teachers...and the older generation in general.  You are under no
obligation to "refute" them.  Refer them to Futayama, Dawkins, Gould.
Tell them that reading *about* these people is not enough.  Best of
all, require that they write a paper on one of these books, or that
they write a paper about how biologist would answer their criticism.
Give them an "F" if they say there is no refutation.

Remind them that most of the educated people who have actually studied
this stuff disagree with them, which gives *them* (not you) the
obligation to understand what their opponants arguments are.

Mostly, they need to learn some humility.  No high school student will
undo overnight the last 200 years of biology, let alone the physics,
geology, meteorology, astronomy, and other sciences which support
evolution.  No lawyer (Johnson), mathematician (Berlinski), engineer
(Morris) or other diletante is going to, either.

Best of all, do some experiments with viruses or fruit flies to show
them how evolution really works.

Good luck.

   Please, somone, help me! Give me some good scientiffic arguments that
   will prove to the contrary  these allegations .

   Yours

   Ingvald Straume
   (modestly desperate secondary school teacher)

-- 
James A. Foster			email: foster at cs.uidaho.edu
Laboratory for Applied Logic	Dept. of Computer Science
University of Idaho		http://www.cs.uidaho.edu/~foster

pgp key available at: ftp://ftp.cs.uidaho.edu/pub/foster/pgp-key.asc




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