Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Questions and Answers

The Christian Science Monitor and CBS News report today about a new tactic being used by creationists to disrupt the teaching of evolution: Posing of difficult questions to science teachers.
Fair enough. Science is about questioning. It is an essential part of scientific thinking that questions deserve answers. To deny the right to raise questions or to refuse answers would be anti-scientific. Yes, the creationists are attempting to waste classroom time, but teachers dedicated to science need to turn the tables and use the questions as a reason to explain some of the evidence that supports evolutionary theory.
So what we need to do is to provide well thought-out, well researched answers to these questions so that teachers have the ammunition to answer them. Based on my initial reading of the questions listed in a sidebar to the article on the CBS News website, I think that some of the answers will be explanations and some will be refutations of misstatements made in the questions themselves.
But I'm going to create a little research project for myself over the next several days and try to provide answers to these.
Here's the questions listed in the article:
  • The origins of life. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life's building blocks may have formed on Earth - when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?
  • Darwin's tree of life. Why don't textbooks discuss the "Cambrian explosion," in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor - thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?
  • Vertebrate embryos. Why do textbooks use drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos as evidence for common ancestry - even though biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and the drawings are faked?
  • The archaeopteryx. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds - even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?
  • Peppered moths. Why do textbooks use pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks as evidence for natural selection - when biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don't normally rest on tree trunks, and all the pictures have been staged?
  • Darwin's finches. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection - even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?
  • Mutant fruit flies. Why do textbooks use fruit flies with an extra pair of wings as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution - even though the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory?
  • Human origins. Why are artists' drawings of apelike humans used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident - when fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like?
  • Evolution as a fact. Why are students told that Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific fact - even though many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts?

I'll post my answers as I get time to research and write. I'll start off by linking to this site, which discusses many of the questions raised above -- which evidently have come primarily from a book, Icons of Evolution, by the creationist Jonathan Wells -- and provides answers, documentation of sources, and refutation of misstatements made by proponents of creationism.