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The Evolving Dr. Schafersman (Again)

Dr. Steven Schafersman, self-proclaimed "secular humanist" and head of Texan Citizens for Science, is once again insisting that "language by the anti-evolutionists about doubt or weaknesses or controversy involving evolution is just rhetoric. Doubts or weaknesses don't exist among scientists." Poor Dr. Schafersman needs to recheck some of his previous public statements, for despite what he says now, during the 2003 biology textbook adoption process in Texas he ultimately conceded that there are plenty of scientific controversies in modern evolutionary theory. As I pointed out in a podcast in January, Schafersman in 2003 did initially assert that there were no scientific controversies over evolution for textbooks to cover. But then he began to...well... evolve. By the time the adoption process was finished, Schafersman was admitting that there are in fact many scientific controversies raised by modern evolutionary theory, only he thought that students were too stupid to study them. Recounting Dr. Schafersman's evolving statements is a great way to expose the sham claim we've been hearing throughout this week that evolution has no weaknesses.

Below is a step-by-step account Dr. Schafersman's amazing evolution in 2003:

1. In his written testimony submitted to the Texas State Board of Education on July 9, 2003, Dr. Schafersman asserted categorically:

All the biology texts are factually accurate and free of errors concerning evolution; the books do not misrepresent any details of the modern scientific understanding of evolution, nor do they omit scientific information critical of evolution, because there isn't any such information, contrary to what you have led to believe. (emphasis added)

2. In his oral testimony before the Board on July 9, 2003, Dr. Schafersman made the same general point but added a slight, unexplained qualification:

There is no scientific controversy about the fact of evolution and, thus, no weakness concerning its occurrence. There are also no weaknesses about the theory of evolution at the level it is presented in these textbooks. [Transcript of Hearing on July 9, pp. 112-113] (emphasis added)

3. In the web version of Dr. Schafersman's written testimony of July 9, 2003, a more extensive qualification suddenly appeared (which was not in the version of his testimony he actually submitted to the Board). In his revised written testimony, Dr. Schafersman explicitly acknowledged that there are in fact "disagreements and controversies ('weaknesses') concerning evolutionary theory," but he implied they are only appropriate for professional researchers and graduate students to hear about:

There is no scientific controversy about the fact of evolution and thus no scientific weaknesses concerning its occurrence. There are also no weaknesses about the theory of evolution at the level it is presented in these textbooks. Disagreements and controversies ("weaknesses") concerning evolutionary theory are found at the frontiers of research and graduate education, not at the level of introductory biology textbooks. [originally posted at http://www.txscience.org/files/testimony.htm] (emphasis added)

4. Finally, in the web version of Dr. Schafersman's written testimony submitted to the Board for the Sept. 10, 2003 hearing, Dr. Schafersman acknowledged that there are in fact "many disagreements among scientists" about evolution, and he even conceded that learning about these disagreements need not be limited to just graduate students and researchers, but also some upper-division undergraduate students might be able to study them. Dr. Schafersman also provided a detailed list of what he regarded as the genuine scientific controversies over evolution. Notably, Schafersman's list included some of the key controversies previously raised by critics of evolution (such as the sufficiency of microevolution to explain macroevolution, and questions about the primacy of natural selection):

There are many disagreements among scientists about the correct nature or explanation of the evolutionary process. These should be studied in a university evolution class, usually taught in the senior year because of the great amount of prior biological knowledge needed to understand the issues. Their existence indicates that evolutionary science is a very healthy, active, and productive field. Here are some of them, including all the most contentious ones:

A. The sufficiency of microevolution to explain macroevolution v. the existence of specific macroevolutionary processes such as mass extinction, species selection, macromutation, etc.

B. Disagreements about the tempo and mode of evolution under different circumstances: slow v. fast, gradual v. punctuated, before and after a mass extinction event, background evolution v. adaptive radiation, etc.

C. Adaptation of all features in evolution via natural selection v. features resulting from non-adaptive events and processes, such as correlation of growth, body constraints, neutral theory, genetic drift, etc.

D. The role of contingency and non-progression in evolutionary history v. evolutionary progress, improvement, and repetition due to convergent evolution.

E. Disagreements about the primacy of natural selection of individuals compared to other levels of the evolutionary hierarchy, such as gene selection, group selection, and species selection.

F. Nature v. Nurture, Genes v. Environment--this is the most divisive controversy. There are at least three positions: blank slate/human potential proponents v. sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists v. biological determinists and IQ and race investigators.

G. The extent to which evolutionary theory can explain or account for human morality, religion, behaviors, self-awareness, free will, etc.

H. The reality or not of memes in the human population; memes are similar to genes, but are actually ideas or concepts that evolve throughout the human population and are affected by similar processes that affect genes, such as natural selection, genetic drift, founder effect, etc. Memes affect cultural evolution in the same way that genes affect physical evolution.
[originally posted at http://www.txscience.org/files/icons-revealed/index.htm ] (emphasis added)

5. So Dr. Schafersman eventually conceded that there are many scientific controversies over evolutionary theory, and he was even willing to allow some undergraduate students to study them. But he continued to oppose the right of high school students to learn about them. Why? To be blunt, he seemed to think that high school students are too dumb to understand scientific controversies. So in his view, even "Real scientific problems, controversies, etc., should not be included in introductory science textbooks." It's better for high school students to simply accept existing theory and learn not to question:

Scientific theories are too massive and established to expect any high school student to critique or question. The vast majority of high school students would not be able to perform such critiques in a scientific way. Scientific theories should be accepted as reliable knowledge in K-12 classes, and not made the object of questioning until they have the educational training necessary to do so, which consists of years of graduate study at universities.

Real scientific problems, controversies, etc., should not be included in introductory science textbooks, because they are almost always too difficult to understand and their presence would only lead to student confusion and frustration.

There are certainly problems, controversies, difficulties, and knowledge gaps with the modern theory of evolution--the explanation of how the mechanism of the evolutionary process operates over time--but for the reasons stated above, these topics are just too complex to be dealt with in high school. They almost never are, and the textbooks need not and usually do not cover them.

The concept of students learning about the 'strengths and weaknesses' in scientific 'hypotheses and theories' in high school is unscientific and pedagogically useless.

[originally posted at http://www.txscience.org/files/icons-revealed/index.htm] (emphasis added)

6. So who are the ones trying to "dumb-down" how biology texts cover evolution? Those who want textbooks to cover evolutionary controversies, or Darwinists like Steve Schafersman who think allowing students to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of existing theories (as mandated by Texas law) is "unscientific and pedagogically useless"?