Of Pandas and Petitions

Kenneth Chang’s NYTimes offering today, “Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition,” is a bit of a breath of fresh air. As PZ says, it’s encouraging to see a journalist avoiding the “50-50 representation of competing viewpoints” pitfall and actually critically examining the claims of one side. What did he find? Only about a quarter of the signers of the Discovery Institute’s meaningless petition are actually biologists:

And even the petition’s sponsor, the Discovery Institute in Seattle, says that only a quarter of the signers are biologists, whose field is most directly concerned with evolution. The other signers include 76 chemists, 75 engineers, 63 physicists and 24 professors of medicine.

Chang goes on to point out that “of the 128 biologists who signed, few conduct research that would directly address the question of what shaped the history of life.” It shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point that the Discovery Institute is and always has been grasping at straws, attempting to claim that a unified base of expert scientists challenges modern evolutionary biology. As we can see, their base is neither unified nor expert, but consists mostly of people with an ideological axe to grind and no particular knowledge of biology. I don’t doubt that chemists, engineers, physicists, and professors of medicine are generally intelligent people, but I certainly don’t acknowledge their expertise on questions of biological science.

In point of fact, the Discovery Institute and its predecessors have consistently been forced to whittle down their claims to the point of meaninglessness. Even with such a watered-down statement as the one on their petition, they’ve only been able to gather a little over 500 signatures over the course of five years. By comparison, as Josh Rosenau points out, the NCSE’s Project Steve (a petition expressing support for evolutionary theory, signed only by scientists named Steve/Stephen/etc.) has over 700 signatures to date. For another point of comparison, the Clergy Letter Project (a letter that, among other things, urges school board members “to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge”) has been signed by over 10,000 clergy members.

As time goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that creationism and ID are at best fringe positions with no legitimate scientific standing. These are not points of argument within the scientific community, but rather artificial controversies introduced by external parties with a broader and more sinister agenda. It’s nice to see that more people are starting to realize these things, even if it’s disappointing that the lunacy has been indulged for so long.

Urizen

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