Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Starting today, the Kansas Board of Education will begin a six-day debate on the state’s science standards, specifically the teaching of Darwinian evolution. On one side there will be about two dozen skeptics of Darwinism and proponents of an alternative theory of evolution known as intelligent design. And on the other side there will be a trial lawyer, Pedro Irigonegaray, who has volunteered to defend Darwin.

If this seems one-sided, that’s because the Darwinian scientists have chosen to boycott the debate, which is surprising since Darwinian theory is still the accepted standard within the scientific community. Their reason for doing so, at least according to Mr. Irigonegaray, is that “[t]o debate evolution is similar to debating whether the earth is round. It is an absurd proposition.” But that’s not entirely fair. Nearly 400 scientists have signed a statement of dissent from Darwin’s theory. Moreover, Darwinian skeptics and ID theorists don’t question evolution, at least as it’s understood as species changing over time.

The fact is that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is not infallible. It hasn’t been since Darwin himself acknowledged that gaps in the fossil record could eventually undermine his theory of common descent. One of those gaps occurs right before the Cambrian Explosion — a biological “big bang” that happened about 530 million years ago. Scientists have been unable to uncover clear precursors to the huge amount of new species that arose from the explosion. Their failure has led many to wonder if all life forms indeed branched off from a common ancestor, as Darwin theorized.

Of course, to explain anomalies like the Cambrian Explosion requires a little imagination — hence the theory of intelligent design. Put simply, ID theory rejects the role that random mutations play in evolution. To account for evolutionary change, and as a way of making sense of life systems so complex that randomness couldn’t possibly account for it all, ID theorists prefer the notion that an “intelligent cause” guides change. It is on this point that ID theory departs so dramatically from Darwin.

It is also why Darwinists reject ID scientists as a bunch of creationists. Again, this is unfair — but also beyond the scope of the Kansas debate. The scientists joining the debate in Topeka aren’t necessarily interested in replacing Darwin with ID theory, and certainly not with the Biblical account of creation. For them, Darwin’s theory is so riddled with holes that to teach it to students unquestioningly is a disservice and inimical to the definition of science.

And it is just this legitimate scientific debate that Darwinists refuse to have. “The defense of Darwin’s theory … has fallen into the hands of biologists who believe in suppressing criticism when possible and ignoring it when not,” wrote David Berlinski recently in the Wichita Eagle. Mr. Berlinski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is widely recognized as a leading Darwinian skeptic. He continues, “It is not a strategy calculated to induce confidence in the scientific method.” It also doesn’t help our students.

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