[Home] [Updates] [Site map] [My Quotes; C/E quotes: Unclassified, Classified] [CED blog]
The following are quotes added to my Unclassified Quotes database in March 2008.
The date format is dd/mm/yy. See copyright conditions at end.
[Index: Jan, Feb, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
23/03/2008 "By the theory of natural selection all living species have been connected with the parent-species of each genus, by differences not greater than we see between the natural and domestic varieties of the same species at the present day; and these parent-species, now generally extinct, have in their turn been similarly connected with more ancient forms; and so on backwards, always converging to the common ancestor of each great class. So that the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great. But assuredly, if this theory be true, such have lived upon the earth." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection," , John Murray: London, Sixth edition, 1872, Reprinted, 1882, pp.266-267) 23/03/2008 "Politically astute scientific naturalists feel no hostility toward those religious leaders who implicitly accept the key naturalistic doctrine that supernatural powers do not actually affect the course of nature. In fact, many scientific leaders disapprove of aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins, who seem to be asking for trouble bricking fights with religious people who want only to surrender with dignity. Besides, debating the truth or falsity of religious claims takes those claims more seriously than they deserve. To say that a statement is false is to concede that it could conceivably be true. This can be dangerous. Focusing the mind of an unbeliever on the question whether Christ's claims are true has often had unanticipated consequences. The most sophisticated naturalists realize that it is better just to say that statements about God are `religious' and hence incapable of being more than expressions of subjective feeling. It would be pretty ridiculous, after all, to make a big deal out of proving that Zeus and Apollo do not really exist." (Johnson P.E.*, "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1997, pp.100-101) 23/03/2008 "The late astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan worried that an epidemic of irrationality is loose in the world. Millions read astrology columns in the newspapers. People who ought to know better are taken in by faith-healing scams or believe that aliens in flying saucers kidnap people to perform scientific experiments on them. What is just as bad, wrote Sagan, is that most Americans continue to believe that they were created by God despite everything that he and other prominent scientists have done to persuade them that nature is all there is. What we need to protect ourselves from such false beliefs, Sagan writes in his book The Demon-Haunted World, is a well-equipped `baloney detector kit.' A baloney detector is simply a good grasp of logical reasoning and investigative procedure. Carl Sagan and I would agree about how to describe the principles of baloney detecting in general. We would disagree only about where the detectors are to be pointed, and especially about whether we should ever suspect the presence of baloney in claims made by the official scientific establishment. Sagan was that familiar figure in the modern scientific culture, the selective skeptic. His debunking skills were directed against the con artists and eccentrics who work on the margins of society, but he was an unquestioning true believer in the pronouncements of mainstream science about subjects like evolution." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18) 23/03/2008 "Let me describe the varieties of baloney that every baloney detection kit should be equipped to recognize. They are basically the same ones Sagan listed, but I'll apply them to some examples of my own. Selective Use of Evidence There is a whole lot of evidence out there, and even a false theory is likely to be supported by some of it. That is the main reason it is so important to keep a debate open to dissenting points of view: one side shouldn't be allowed to just ignore evidence it finds inconvenient. I see this point continually illustrated in debates over evolution. For example, textbooks and museum exhibits highlight fossils that can be interpreted as possible transitional forms between major groups- fossils that are actually quite few in number. They rarely inform the public about the far greater mass of contrary evidence, such as the absence of ancestors for the major animal groups that appear in the Cambrian explosion. I have written elsewhere about the `Hard Facts Wall' museum exhibit in San Francisco, which goes so far as to supply imaginary common ancestors for the animal groups, thus leading unwary visitors to think the ancestors have actually been found. Visitors to the museum at first take the exhibit at face value; after I explain it to them, they are astonished that a reputable museum would commit such a deception. But the museum curators are not consciously dishonest; they are true believers who are just trying too hard to help the public to get to the `right' answer. Without dissenters, such misrepresentations would go uncorrected. So don't be impressed by claims that specific fossils, like the bird/reptile Archaeopteryx and the hominid Lucy, prove the theory of evolution. All such fossils are at most possible ancestors of living groups (like modern birds and humans), and a lot of interpretation is involved in classifying them. Insist on asking the right question: Does the fossil evidence, considered as a whole and without bias, tend to confirm the predictions of Darwinian theory?" (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12- 16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Appeals to Authority Nothing is true just because some big shot says it is true. Sagan tells us that "in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts." Of course the experts sometimes get the idea that they are authorities and that what they say must be right just because they said it. The best check on this human tendency to be dogmatic is the test of experiment. A really good experimental test can call everybody's bluff. I like to illustrate this point by telling a fictionalized version of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Imagine that the launch of the shuttle has been delayed several times by bad weather or technical problems, and there is a lot of political pressure to go ahead and not to delay any further. Despite some misgivings because conditions are not ideal, top scientists and NASA administrators agree that the launch should proceed. A lowly student intern upsets this happy consensus by saying that the temperature is too cold and so the seals won't work and the rocket engine will explode. Nobody will listen to her because she has no status, although she has worked out the calculations carefully. If the top people go ahead with the launch and the engine explodes as the intern said it would, there's no doubt who was right and who was wrong. Reputations and status don't count for anything against the test of experiment. Science would never go far wrong if direct and conclusive experimental tests were always possible. Unfortunately, sometimes only very limited tests can be made, and not all the tests will agree. In that case, scientific conclusion may be based on the opinion of the experts, who arrive at their judgment by a process of debate and negotiation. The result that comes out may depend more on who has the power than on who has the right answer. That's the difference between politics and science. To illustrate, let's suppose that the Challenger launch was just a practice simulation and the rocket engines weren't actually ignited. Suppose Congress is fed up with delays and cost overruns, and top NASA executives are afraid their budget will be cut if they don't report a successful launch. That means a lot of people down the line will lose their jobs or research funds. So the top scientists and managers want very badly to report that the launch was a success. When the experts get together to write that report, who is going to pay attention to the student intern who did all the careful calculations? I'm not suggesting that the experts will lie. Rather, they will be under enormous pressure to reason their way somehow to the conclusion that she must have made a mistake somewhere. If the intern insists on pressing her point too far, she will endanger her own future in science. Nobody wants to hire a troublemaker." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Ad Hominem Arguments A person with the wrong motives may have the right answer. Be careful about ad hominem arguments, which attack the person making the argument instead of the argument itself. (Ad hominem is Latin for `to the man.') Attacking somebody as a creationist, or an atheist, is often a way of distracting attention from valid arguments that person has to offer. On the other hand, it is not necessarily irrelevant or unfair to point out that a person has a bias. Again, the problem is not so much that people might lie as that we all have a tendency to believe what we want to believe. If a man argues that secondhand cigarette smoke isn't hazardous to your health, nobody thinks it unfair to point out that he owns a cigarette company or that he has smoked heavily for years and doesn't want to think that he may have endangered the health of his family. His bias is relevant, but it doesn't necessarily mean he is wrong. That depends on the evidence. In almost every disputed matter there is a problem of bias on both sides, and it's legitimate to bring this out. Bible believers may be reluctant to credit evidence that seems to contradict some passage in the Bible, and atheists may be reluctant to credit evidence that seems to suggest that natural selection can't do all Darwin claimed for it. Business owners don't like to believe facts that may hurt their business, and zealots for consumer protection may exaggerate the conclusions of a single study that confirms their worst suspicions about business. Scientists may be biased in favor of theories that make their work important and hence tend to increase their funding. In this imperfect world an ad hominem argument sometimes performs the legitimate function of showing that a person has a bias and hence that his or her arguments should be examined carefully. The argument is misused if it does more than that, causing us to ignore worthwhile arguments because of what we think of the person making them. The point is to recognize and acknowledge bias, and then get beyond it to evaluate the evidence fairly." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Straw Man Argument A `straw man' argument distorts somebody's position in order to make it easier to attack. Creationists are particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack. That is so in part because some creationists really have made crazy arguments and in part because of the Inherit the Wind stereotype.[Inherit the Wind, play and movie, is a simplistic account of the infamous `Scopes Monkey Trial,' in which evolution lost the case but won the ideological war] Many Darwinists want to pretend that the only people who doubt their theory are the most extreme religious fundamentalists. They know how to win a debate when the issue is framed as `science versus the Bible,' and so they want to keep the debate framed that way. Contrariwise, Darwinists are in trouble when they have to present positive evidence that natural selection can create new kinds of plants and animals from simple beginnings. Hence they are constantly trying to divert the discussion away from the scientific issues so that they can debate the straw man position that we should close our eyes to scientific evidence if it seems to contradict Genesis. One prominent science writer wrote to me for months, never engaging the scientific issues but constantly pestering me with questions about my interpretation of Genesis ('Did Adam have a navel?'). Obviously he was hoping to find a straw man to ridicule." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Begging the Question An argument is said to "beg the question" if it assumes an answer to the very point that is in dispute. Here's a simple example: Question: Why should I believe the Bible? Answer: Because the Bible says so. Arguments defending Darwinism often seem to beg the question because they assume the point at issue, which is whether the scientific evidence really does support the theory. Here's a typical example: Question: What evidence proves that life evolved from nonliving molecules? Answer: Don't reject a scientific theory just because you have a religious prejudice. The answer assumes the point in dispute, which is whether the evidence for the chemical evolution of life is so overwhelming that only a prejudiced person would be skeptical of it. Question-begging arguments typically assume that science or reason is on the arguer's side; then the person tries to put you in the position of arguing against science and reason. If you let a straw-man maker define the terms of the argument that way, you've lost before you make your first point. Insist on a level playing field." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Lack of Testability Learn to distinguish between theories that put themselves at risk- that is, invite testing by observation or experiment-and theories that can't be shown to be either true or false. Everything scientists say isn't necessarily scientific, and some theories that come from eminent scientists may be as speculative as a theologian's musings about what heaven is like. Sagan gave the example of the `many worlds' hypothesis in quantum physics, which suggests that there may be many other universes other than the one we inhabit, so that every possible physical event has actually occurred somewhere. This could be true, but as there is no way to check out the existence of the other universes, it remains mere speculation. An even better example is Sagan's own statement at the beginning of his famous Cosmos television series: `The Cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.' What experiments can we perform to test that statement?" (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Either creation or evolution can be stated in both safe and risky forms. If I say I believe in creation on faith, no matter what the evidence is, then we can't test my belief by scientific observations or experiments. But if I say the evidence indicates that living organisms are necessarily the products of intelligent design and that life never could have emerged by purely natural means from a prebiotic soup of chemicals, my statement invites scientific testing. Theories of chemical and biological evolution aim to contradict my hypothesis of intelligent design by showing that purposeless natural processes can do the creating by evolution. The question is whether they have been successful in doing this-that is, whether the theories have passed the experimental test or failed it. Darwin's theory of evolution was originally stated in risky form. It predicted, for example, that fossil hunters would eventually find myriad transitional intermediates between the major groups (they didn't) and that animal breeders would succeed in creating distinct species (they didn't). Today the theory is usually stated in risk-free form. Naturalistic evolution is identified with science itself, and any alternative is automatically disqualified as `religion.' This makes it impossible to hold a scientific debate over whether the theory is true (it's virtually true by definition), which explains why Darwinists tend to think that anyone who wants such a debate to occur must have a `hidden agenda.' In other words, critics couldn't seriously be questioning whether the theory is true, so they must have some dishonest purpose in raising the question." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18) 23/03/2008 "Vague Terms and Shifting Definitions Make sure people don't mislead you by using vague terms that can suddenly take on a new meaning. In the creation-evolution debate, the key terms that are subject to manipulation are science and evolution. Everybody is in favor of science, and everybody also believes in evolution--when that term is defined broadly enough! But science has more than one definition, and so does evolution. Watch out for `bait and switch' tactics, by which you are led to agree with a harmless definition and then the term is used in a very different sense. Here's an example of how you can be deceived: `You believe in dog breeding, don't you? Well, did you know that dog breeding is an example of evolution? Now that you know that, and have seen all those breeds of dogs for yourself, you realize that you actually do believe in evolution, don't you? Good. That's enough for today. Later on we'll tell you more about what evolution means.' (It's going to mean that all living things are the accidental products of a purposeless universe.) This is not a `straw man' example, by the way. Selective breeding of animals is a process guided by intelligence, and it produces only variations within the species; yet Darwinists from Charles Darwin himself to the more recent Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick have cited it as a powerful example of `evolution.' If somebody asks, `Do you believe in evolution?' the right reply is not `Yes' or `No.' It is: `Precisely what do you mean by evolution?' My experience has been that the first definition I get will be so broad as to be indisputable-like `There has been change in the course of life's history.' Later on a much more precise and controversial definition will be substituted without notice. That one word evolution can mean something so tiny it hardly matters, or so big it explains the whole history of the universe. Keep your baloney detector trained on that word. If it moves, zap it!" (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Original Sin Finally, watch out for the universal human tendency to believe what we want to believe. I call this the `original sin' in science because it is the one big temptation that all the specific rules of baloney detecting are designed to protect us from. Even top scientists have to guard against the temptation to believe what they want to believe. For one thing, their funding may depend on an experiment coming out `right,' and so they may be tempted to accept too readily a preliminary test that gives the result they want. That is why scientists place so much importance on repeatable experiments, meaning experiments that give the same result when they are performed by other scientists who don't necessarily have the same reason to want a particular result. That is also why there is a connection between good science and democratic political values like freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Unpopular dissenters often insist on pointing out the facts that powerful people might prefer to ignore." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Trustworthy Experts There's plenty more to be said about baloney detecting, but if you understand these basic points you are well on your way to becoming a good critical thinker. Rather than consider more refinements, we need now to consider a fundamental problem with the whole project of critical thinking. We can't possibly think out everything for ourselves all the time. Much of the time we have no alternative but to trust the experts. But how do we know whether we can trust them? The experts know more than we do, but they may also have an interest in persuading us to believe something that is in their own interests rather than our interests. They may give us what is popularly known as a `snow job.' Trustworthy experts are ones who understand their responsibility to give us their expertise without claiming to know more than they really do. Really trustworthy experts don't try to evade our baloney detectors, and even warn us to watch out for their own expert bias. The best description I know of the qualities that make an expert trustworthy comes from the late great physicist Richard Feynman, one of the unquestioned heroes of modern science. If a teenager with a passion for science wanted to take one twentieth-century scientist as a model, he or she couldn't do much better than to pick Feynman. In his 1974 commencement speech at the California Institute of Technology, Feynman told the graduating students to cultivate `a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid-- not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated... . In summary, the idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself- and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that. I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the laymen when you're talking as a scientist... . I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is [more than] not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.' I would like to think that when the graduating students of Caltech heard those inspiring words, they all stood up and shouted `Amen!' Maybe the students really did react that way, but (alas!) scientists who are not as scrupulous as Richard Feynman often employ very different principles when they deal with the public. They are afraid we will come to the wrong answers if we do our own thinking, and so they try to bluff and intimidate us." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12- 16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Sagan's Bluff Let's take Richard Feynman as our prime example of a truly scientific thinker and ask ourselves what he would say about the following statement by Carl Sagan. The quoted statement comes from Sagan's final book, The Demon-Haunted World, the same book where he urged us not to be impressed by invocations of authority and to insist on asking whether claims put forward in the name of science are really testable: `I meet many people who are offended by evolution, who passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime. They also tend to be less than assiduous in exposing themselves to the evidence. Evidence has little to do with it. What they wish to be true, they believe is true. Only nine percent of Americans accept the central finding of modern biology that human beings (and all the other species) have slowly evolved by natural processes from a succession of more ancient beings with no divine intervention needed along the way.' Sagan here turns his baloney detector around. It's no longer a light to protect us from a snow job. It's a club to browbeat us into believing, against our better judgment, that humans arose by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime. (This central finding comes, mind you, from a scientific establishment that also insists that it isn't saying anything about God.) The statement has the form of critical thinking-it speaks of people who ignore evidence and believe what they want to believe-but there is no real attempt to reason. Is it really likely that 91 percent of the public disagrees with Sagan for no reason at all? Let's consider two possibilities. One is that 91 percent of the public consists of ignorant people who ignore the evidence and just believe what they want to believe. On that assumption, democracy is a farce. We are like children who think we can set fires and not be burned. In that case we ought to be ruled by a scientific elite, who will protect us from the consequences of our folly. The other possibility is that the evolutionary naturalists are the ones who believe what they want to believe, and they are likewise the ones who are less than assiduous in exposing themselves to contrary evidence. Maybe Carl Sagan ignored Richard Feynman's warning: `The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool.'" (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "Education or Indoctrination? In a dictatorship, the dictator tells the people what they are supposed to believe. In a democracy, we try to educate citizens so they can reason for themselves. That doesn't mean we treat all answers as equally correct. The claim that two plus two equals five is not a dissenting opinion; it's a mistake! But we don't have to force people to believe the truths of arithmetic. If they are properly educatedy will accept them by reason. Democracy rests on the faith that ordinary people can be trusted with the powers of government if education teaches them to think rationally. This implies a democratic concept of education. When good teachers are teaching more advanced problems in mathematics, or in other subjects, they love a student who will argue that the textbook answer isn't correct. The reason isn't so much that the textbook answer might be wrong, although that always is a possibility. The real reason is that people learn the truth best if they fully understand the objections to the truth. If I believe in evolution (or anything else) only because `Teacher says so,' you could say I don't really believe in evolution. What I believe in is obedience to authority, and in letting `Teacher' do my thinking for me. A democratic education aims to produce citizens who can think for themselves. Carl Sagan would have agreed emphatically, and he would have said that unquestioning acceptance of the dictates of authority is the opposite of the kind of skeptical thinking science education ought to try to foster-except, of course, when it comes to evolutionary naturalism. Given that only a small minority of Americans believe the central finding of biology-'that human beings (and all the other species) have slowly evolved by natural processes from a succession of more ancient beings with no divine intervention needed along the way'- how should our educational system deal with this important instance of disagreement between the experts and the people? One way would be to treat the doubts of the people with respect, to bring them out in the open and to deal with them rationally. The opposite way is to tell the people that all doubts about naturalistic evolution are inherently absurd, that they should believe in the orthodox theory because the experts agree that it is correct, and that their silly misgivings will be allowed no hearing in public education. American educators have chosen the second path, the path of Sagan's Bluff. I'll illustrate that with two examples that occurred in 1996." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "The Lakewood Case A high-school senior in Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, wrote an editorial in the school paper in appreciation of physics teacher Mark Wisniewski. Wisniewski, a creationist, used a classroom exercise in which students were asked to think about how their own worldviews influence their interpretations of the debate between creation science and the more orthodox scientific views of cosmology and biological evolution. The student later observed that Wisniewski `never stood on a soapbox and never made us feel like we were in Bible study... . The philosophical element is what made it special. [Wisniewski] wanted us to make up our own minds rather than spoonfeed us like other educators.' According to a commendably fair-minded article in the anticreationist magazine Skeptical Inquirer, Wisniewski himself explained, `I tried to find something in the science arena [that would raise the worldview issues,] and the creation-evolution debate fits like a glove.' Asked whether any other issue might illustrate his point as well without bringing religious debates into the classroom, Wisniewski argued that it is important that the dispute goes to core beliefs or the example wouldn't really hit home. He said his goal was to teach students how to interpret data on their own and not just `memorize and regurgitate the favorite interpretation of the teacher.' He graded on how students supported their ideas and not on the ultimate answers they gave. Unwittingly, the student got her favorite teacher in a peck of trouble by publicizing his teaching objectives and methods. No students in the class (or their parents) complained, but calls from out of town flooded the district's offices. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union threatened the district with expensive litigation, and the district's own counsel advised administrators that they had better issue a directive forbidding teachers to raise the religious issues. Facing a lawsuit and a public controversy that would distract it from everything else, the district capitulated and ordered the teacher to stop." (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original) 23/03/2008 "The Response to Danny Phillips Danny Phillips was a Denver high-school student who startled his teachers by challenging teaching materials, including a film, that presented evolution as a fact. What he was challenging, of course, was the broad theory of evolution as defined by the National Association of Biology Teachers: `an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process' that accounts for the entire history of life. Danny challenged evolutionary naturalism on two grounds: it is effectively a religious dogma, and it isn't supported by the weight of the scientific evidence. The school's administrators, impressed by Danny's arguments, initially ordered the offending film replaced by other teaching materials. Danny's case ended like so many others; he lost because the power was on the other side. Self-styled `civil liberties lawyers' threatened to bring an expensive lawsuit, and the school board capitulated to them. Before that happened, however, Danny's challenge to evolutionary orthodoxy got a lot of newspaper and television coverage. Some of it was favorable, probably reflecting the natural sympathy many reporters feel for the student rebel who challenges the educational orthodoxy. The uproar so upset science educators that they brought out a really big gun to squelch the high-school student. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), personally responded to Danny in an editorial published in the Denver Post. The NAS is the most prestigious organization of scientists in the United States, and so its president is effectively the official voice of the scientific establishment. Danny should have felt very honored to be engaged by so powerful an adversary. Unfortunately, Alberts replied with the stock arguments that evolutionary naturalists use to silence discussion on this topic. He identified dissent from evolutionary naturalism with `religion,' and hence with untestable speculation that science must disregard. As a clincher, he recommended that `those interested in understanding how science works may wish to read a recent book, The Beak of the Finch, by Jonathan Weiner, which describes new studies on the Galápagos Islands that confirm and elaborate on Darwin's original work. Evolution happens all around us.' Alberts was referring to studies which show that the average size of finch beaks on a particular island varies from year to year in response to environmental changes. ... Anyone who has even the slightest acquaintance with the evolution- creation controversy would know that such minor variation is readily accepted by even the strictest biblical creationists. The evolution-creation controversy is not about minor variations but about how things like birds come into existence in the first place. One of the truly bizarre things about our current cultural situation is that the leading figures of the scientific establishment seem genuinely amazed that the citizens do not accept finch-beak variation as proof of the claim that humans, like all animals and plants, are accidental products of a purposeless universe in which only material processes have operated from the beginning. It's an absurd situation, isn't it? Educators aren't allowed to address the issues about which their students, and the general public, are most concerned. Civil liberties lawyers threaten school districts with litigation they can't afford if they dare to allow teachers to consider how their worldviews affect their understanding of the creation- evolution controversy. The president of the National Academy of Sciences writes an essay so simplistic that it insults the intelligence of a well-informed high-school student. He urges a bright high- school student not to think for himself but to trust the findings of a research community that thinks it can settle the question of our origins by defining finch-beak variation as `evolution.'" (Johnson, P.E.*, "Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector: How to Get a Good Grasp on Logical Reasoning and Investigative Procedure," Cornerstone, Vol. 26, Issue 112, 1997, pp.12-16, 18. Emphasis original)
* Authors with an asterisk against their name are believed not to be evolutionists. However, lack of
an asterisk does not necessarily mean that an author is an evolutionist.
Copyright © 2008-2010, by Stephen E. Jones. All rights reserved. These my quotes may be used
for non-commercial purposes only and may not be used in a book, ebook, CD, DVD, or any other
medium except the Internet, without my written permission. If used on the Internet, a link back
to this page would be appreciated.
Created: 30 March, 2008. Updated: 20 March, 2010.