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Scientists to Kansas Science Committee: Don't Bet the Farm on Darwin

TOPEKA, KS -- The first of three consecutive days of hearings before Kansas Science Committee concluded today. A number of scientists who are skeptical of chemical evolutionary explanations for the origin of the first life and/or neo-Darwinian evolution testified before the Committee that good science education demands that students learn the scientific weaknesses of these respective theories, in addition to the theories’ strengths.

Yet, after leaving the hearings, I came across a few news stories that read more like science fiction alternate histories than science news stories. The scope of the day’s hearings spanned numerous issues—but NO ONE advocated removing or “diluting” evolution. (For a good discussion of this and a good start on the Kansas Science Subcommittee hearings, see Rob Crowther’s post below.)

Here’s a brief rundown of the day’s testimony…

William Harris, Ph.D., a local biochemist and medical researcher, was the leadoff speaker. Harris introduced the minority report and discussed scientific criticisms of origin of life scenarios, among other things. At the outset, he stated that he was not advocating the mandating of intelligent design (ID) in the Kansas Science Standards. This point deserves repeating: Harris stated that he was not advocating the mandating of ID in the Kansas Science Standards.

Much discussion did touch upon ID throughout the day. Some of the questions and the answers they elicited from certain speakers did stray beyond the confines of scientific criticisms of chemical origin of life scenarios and neo-Darwinian evolution. But while extraneous issues such as ID did become part of the exchange, no scientist testifying on Thursday advocated the inclusion of ID in the science standards. And most certainly, no scientists testifying Thursday advocated that evolution be removed or “diluted” in Kansas science standards. The Kansas science writing team’s minority report overwhelmingly involved supplementing and adding to classroom instruction in evolution.

Charles Thaxton, Ph.D., author and CSC Fellow (who is pictured in Rob Crowther’s post below), followed Harris and spoke at length about various problems that scientists have raised with chemical origin-of-life scenarios—i.e., scientific problems with recent explanations for the origin of the first life on earth from non-living chemicals.

Jonathan Wells, Ph.D., a molecular biologist and CSC Senior Fellow, provided perhaps the most thorough testimony, which Rob Crowther aptly discusses below. During cross-examination, Darwin-only lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray spent little time on science matters, instead firing personal attacks in the guise of questions at Wells. When he did focus on science, Irigonegaray strangely charged that testifying scientists were using the term “neo-Darwinian” as part of a plot to undermine evolution. Wells deftly handled the strange accusation, by listing various definitions of the vague term “evolution”—change over time, change in gene frequencies, universal common ancestry, Darwin’s theory of decent with modification, neo-Darwinian theory, etc.—reiterating the importance of precision in science and science education.

Giuseppe Sermonti, Ph.D., a distinguished Italian geneticist and editor of a well-respected biology journal, provided the Kansas Science Committee with brief testimony. Sermonti introduced himself as a member of the Osaka Group—a group of international scientists subscribing to a structuralist view of life. He described the group’s members as scientists who were dissatisfied with neo-Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the life we see in the natural world. Good science, noted Dr. Sermonti, requires that scientists acknowledge “we don’t know” when confronted with scientific problems that they do not have the answer to. He reiterated that students should learn about Darwin’s theory as well as some of the scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory that have been raised.

Ralph Seelke, Ph.D., a microbiologist and university professor and researcher, was the final speaker for the day. He focused upon microevolution and his own work in the laboratory concerning bacteria and the abilities and limitations of microevolution. Seelke gave a quick overview of studies in microevolution and voiced his skepticism of the extrapolation of small microevolutionary changes that have been observed to establish the sufficiency of macroevolution as an explanation for novel, complex body parts, body plans and organs.

Side issues occasionally sprang up during the day’s testimony. With complicated questions of science, complex metaphysical implications and a multi-faceted education policy process all involved, this should surprise no one. Yet, one who watched the hearings could clearly take stock of the following: none of the scientists advocated removing evolution or diluting it. All of the scientists advocated teaching evolution and allowing students to critically analyze it.

Keep in mind that these testifying scientsts are the precisely the scientists that certain hyper-Darwinists and their lobby claim do not exist. Go figure.

Count day one of the hearings in the books. Days two and three to come…