November 4, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Evolution Thriving in Mexico; Creationismo No Comprendo

Mexicans, religious or not, have no problem with Darwinism, and cannot understand their American neighbors who get so uptight about it.  That’s the gist of an article by Antonio Lazcano, a Mexican biology professor and origin-of-life researcher, who was given lengthy press in Science1 this week under the heading “Global Voices of Science.”

I am always amused when I am asked by my American colleagues about the problems and pressures they imagine I face in Mexico because of my interest in life’s beginnings.  However, pressure to include creationism in public pedagogical and research settings has been primarily a phenomenon in the United States.  Only twice during my 30 years of teaching about evolutionary biology and research into the origins of life, have I encountered religious-based opposition to my work.  In both cases, it came from evangelical zealots from the United States preaching in Mexico.  One of the little recognized U.S. imports into Mexico is a small flow of creationists, who, through religion, are trying to impose their fundamentalist beliefs and hinder the teaching of Darwinian evolution in all levels of schooling.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

Now that you know how Dr. Lazcano feels about non-Darwinists, his “Love Affair with Darwin” (subtitle 1) is understandable.  The rest of the editorial falls into place.  Getting the praise is primordial soup, Aleksandr Oparin, Huxley, and separation of church and state.  Getting condemnation is fundamentalism, America, intelligent design, creationism, and President Bush.  Lazcano and his fellow Mexicans are incredulous at the American phenomenon of creationism.  Even his staunchly Catholic students “found hilarious the idea of teaching creationism based on biblical literalism.”  But creationism is not just silly, it is dangerous.

Scientists from other countries could take a certain solace in the fact that the creationist movement appears to be largely confined to the United States.  I find it extremely encouraging that Mexican students, for the most part, are not driven by gaps in the scientific view of life to search for religious explanations or to vitiate evolutionary theory by advocating intelligent design.  Our teachers and pupils alike generally view the framework of intelligent design as a thinly disguised attempt to introduce religious preconceptions into the classroom.  Even so, it would be unwise to simply sit back and watch with incredulity as our American colleagues struggle against intelligent design creationists and other fundamentalisms.  There are, in fact, manifold indications that the creationism movement has been flexing its muscles and looking to proselytize far and wide.  Its potential threat to science education in Mexico and other Latin American countries should not be underestimated.

Speaking of gaps, does Lazcano have anything to say about arguably the biggest gap of all, life’s origin, since he is a specialist in that area, and the author of a book on it?  Un problemo, sí, but alto, creationistas:

Since we can never know in full detail how the origin of life took place, it is not surprising that it is becoming a target for intelligent design creationists.  The geological and chemical evidence required to understand life’s beginnings remains insufficient and difficult to understand.  For creationists, that evidentiary gap provides an opportunity to erect a framework of controversy and endless discussion around the study of prebiotic evolution and the origin of life, which they assume are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than by an undirected process like natural selection.
    It is true that there is a huge gap in the current descriptions of the evolutionary transition between the prebiotic synthesis of biochemical compounds and the last common ancestor of all extant living beings
[02/29/2004]  Even the unanticipated discovery in 1982–by the research teams directed by Thomas Cech and Sidney Altman–of catalytic RNA molecules (ribozymes), which can be loosely described as nucleic acids that simultaneously have characteristics of DNA and enzymes, has not closed this gap.  Instead, that and related discoveries have led to a more precise definition of what should be understood as the origin of life.  The origin of protein synthesis is still not understood, but the surprising conservation of widely distributed polypeptide sequences related to RNA metabolism has led my group and others to suggest that these sequences provide insights into an RNA/protein world that may have resulted from the interaction of ribozymes with amino acids, and that very likely preceded our familiar DNA/RNA/protein world.  Our understanding of the origin and early stages of biological evolution still has major unsolved problems, but they are recognized by the scientific community as intellectual challenges, and not as requiring metaphysical explanations, as proponents of creationism would have it.

A photo in the article shows an elementary school in a small Mexican town, where “children celebrate Darwin’s birthday (12 February) with a ceremony and display of murals on his life and theory.”

1Antonio Lazcano, “Teaching Evolution in Mexico: Preaching to the Choir,” Science, Vol 310, Issue 5749, 787-789, 4 November 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1115180].

Anyone who has been watching the intelligent design controversy against evolution must surely wag his head over this adult tantrum.  It’s articles like this that reinforce Phillip Johnson’s observation that certain Darwinists are so incorrigible, society will likely have to wait till they retire and die off before a rational discussion can be had.  But that will never happen as long as Lazcano’s type take impressionable elementary school children, who cannot discern their left hand from their right, and indoctrinate them early into the Church of Darwin with celebrations of Darwin Day (02/13/2004) and worship of a Padre Carlos Darwinez they don’t even know.  Maybe a little more free trade and removing of export controls is in order.
    Lazcano is a hopeless demagogue, like Barbara Forrest, who cannot be trusted, because the search for truth is not their motive.  They are at war; any lie is fair game if it advances the cause.  Their arsenal includes the tactical weapon B.A.D. (Bluffing Assertion Dogma), which communicates, “anything I say is true because I said it with feeling.”  They also use the M.A.D. bomb (Most Accept Darwin) and fuel their propaganda firebombs by drawing the starkest black-and-white distinctions: science vs. “creationism and other fundamentalisms,” so that the little children envision their alleged enemies as bomb-vested terrorists disguising their shifty eyes with smiling Phillip Johnson masks.
    This is really S.A.D. (silly antiquated Darwinism).  And so, we ask, what warrants this unquestioning allegiance to the cause, this eternal Love Affair with Darwin?  Tell us about your specialty, Señor Lazcano, the origin of life.  Here, we are told that yes, there are major gaps, even in the favored RNA World scenario, BUT don’t you think for a moment of exploiting that little vulnerability in the wall of our Jericho with your ID trumpets.  Sooner or later we will find a brick that won’t fall down flat at the slightest shout of “intelligent design.”
    The shame of this bluff, wroth, fluff and froth by a modern Darwin Bulldog is only exceeded by Science having printed it.  No opportunity for debate or rebuttal, just a temper tantrum by a man who cannot even use his own field to prop up his idol.  Instead of blushing over his paucity of scientific evidence, he is determined to shove his idolatry and intolerance down the throats of poor Mexican children.  Undoubtedly the editors were shouting “Hear, hear!” as they read this, gleefully giving it prominence in their liberal-leftist propaganda rag (speaking of the editorial positions, not the legitimate research papers by practicing scientists).
    Notice the arrogance.  Lazcano and his cheering buddies have basically set themselves up as the intellectual superiors of generations of the world’s greatest thinkers.  As one example, consider the quote at the top right of this page.  Dr. Daniel J. Robinson is a scholar par excellence at Oxford, a professor’s professor, a man who could run intellectual marathons around Lazcano.  Conversant in several languages, he is able to ad lib on the intricacies of Stoicism, the mind-body problem, Cicero, David Hume, scholasticism, the history and philosophy of science, psychology, ancient literature, Turing machines, Greek philosophy – practically any subject from the Babylonians to E. O. Wilson.  Robinson ended 30 hours of profoundly deep and enlightened lecturing with that quote.  After surveying the grand sweep of intellectual history from ancient times to the present, when all was said and done, he found the evidence for intelligent design convincing.  His winsome manner allowed for all good arguments to be heard, but from his own broad base of knowledge and experience, he chose that one – the conclusion that a benevolent, provident, all-wise, all-knowing Creator, yes indeed “God, really?  Yeah; really,” designed this world for a purpose.  Lazcano and Science have just called Dr. Robinson a know-nothing.  They have consigned all others who have doubts about Padre Carlos, anyone who thinks the arguments for design have merit, from David Berlinski to President Bush, from Antony Flew to Scott Minnich, no matter how much expertise, experience and knowledge, to the party of dangerous enemies who must be stopped before they corrupt the childlike faith of students.  They have consigned millennia of great thinkers, scientists and educators to oblivion, now that Messiah Carlos has come and brought the great enlightenment.
    Sorry, Antonio, we tried to help.  May you someday rest in peace.

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