Are You Too Dumb to Understand Evolution?
Astrobiologist David Deamer believes that life can spontaneously emerge without design, but he thinks lay people are too uneducated to understand how this is possible, so he gives them the watered-down version of Darwin’s natural selection instead, which he knows is inadequate to explain the complexity of life. That’s what he seemed to be telling reporter Susan Mazur in an interview for the Scoop (New Zealand). Is the lay public really too dense for the deeper knowledge of how evolution works?
Suzan Mazur: Change of subject. Why does NASA promote natural selection as the only mechanism of evolution in its literature – for example, in Astrobiology Primer, whose editor is a priest, and on television in the program Origins of Life?
David Deamer: NASA is speaking to the general public. They’re just trying to keep it simple and explain evolution to people who may not know much about it.
Suzan Mazur: But there are other mechanisms contributing to evolution. The public is not being told about this. Not informing the public is not really serving the public.
David Deamer: The Astrobiology Primer and the Origins of Life program are intended for a lay audience. Biologists agree that life started simple and became more complex through a natural process, and at the most general level we call that process evolution.
If I were teaching an advanced class in evolutionary biology to a college level audience, they would have enough preparation to deal with the other aspects that go into the evolutionary process beyond Darwin’s initial explanation. It takes a lot of background to understand the details that contribute to the evolutionary process.
For instance, the Altenberg 16 you have written about are professional biologists who are trying to go beyond the simplistic explanations that involve nothing more than natural selection. They are bringing to the table ideas that require considerable knowledge to understand their argument.
I certainly wouldn’t want to state that natural selection is the only process driving evolution, but if I am going to explain what that means my audience needs to have enough information to understand the questions that are being raised.
Susan Mazur has written about the Altenberg 16 before (03/07/2008, 08/29/2008), asking some of its participants hard questions about why the “Darwinian establishment tapeworm” continues to “feed unenlightened information to the public at public expense” about how evolution works. She responded to Deamer’s rationalization by suggesting that the public would accept evolution more “if the science was where it should be.” That’s when Deamer revealed another reason for keeping the truth from the public:
David Deamer: I get the point. Unfortunately, creationists have politicized the science so much that the very fact of evolution is being questioned.
Perhaps this is why scientists tend to fall back on the bedrock of Darwin’s basic concepts when they speak in a public forum. No one denies the factual basis of evolution, but we are still learning how evolution takes place, particularly in animal and plant populations in ecosystems.
I have debated creationists and intelligent design people in public forums, and my impression is that they are not looking for scientific truth. Instead they are working to advance their political aim, which is to get Christian fundamentalism taught in public schools as an alternative to evolution.
Mazur responded that some scientific societies have a kind of fundamentalism of their own. They are “unnecessarily conservative, stick together, protect their foundation grants instead of recognizing the validity of alternative mechanisms and advancing the science.” To her, scientific “fundamentalism” feeds the creationist perspective.
Deamer seemed exasperated. “No matter what we do, the creationists are going to focus on things we don’t know and forget about all the things we do know.” To him, the creationist threat appears to justify giving the lay public a watered-down version of evolutionary theory that not even he believes himself.
Mazur persisted. She pointed to independent researchers whose papers get rejected simply because they take an unorthodox approach. Deamer denied this. He pointed to the views of Gunther Wachtershauser, whose views on the origin of life were outside the mainstream, but were given serious consideration by the insiders. He mentioned the unconventional views of Stephen Jay Gould (punctuated equilibria) and E. O. Wilson (sociobiology). He did not mention, however, that all these ideas assume naturalism.
The interview moved on to other topics, but at one point Mazur asked Deamer about the origin of the gene. “I think genetic information more or less came out of nowhere by chance assemblages of short polymers,” he said. He dodged a question about Darwin’s falsifiability test. Darwin had said that if any organ had been found that could not have been formed by successive slight modifications, his theory would absolutely break down. Deamer said he didn’t know enough about what Darwin meant by that to make a knowledgeable comment.
Speaking of knowing, a search on the words know or knowledge provides few examples of things Deamer thinks he knows. The strongest claim was in response to Mazur’s question whether astrobiology has yielded any knowledge in the 10 years since it began.
Yes, absolutely. Astrobiology has put life on the Earth into a larger context of our solar system and our galaxy. The origin of life on Earth is likely to be a universal process, and that’s why we are so excited by the discovery that Mars once had shallow seas. Perhaps in the next decade we will have clear evidence that life began there as well, by the same process of self-assembly that we discussed earlier.
It also has given us a vast amount of information about the history of life on the Earth. We now know that oceans were present well over four billion years ago, and there is evidence for life in the isotopic record that goes back about 3.8 billion years ago.
A context does not refer to a specific scientific fact, however, and most of the findings he mentioned refer to geology, not the origin of life, which is his specialty. Scrutinizing his answer for things he knows requires bypassing the likely and perhaps statements. What remains are claims about earth history that are largely theory-laden with evolutionary assumptions. As for his specialty, the self-assembly of molecules prior to life, he pointed to soap bubbles as an example, but admitted that his examples of self-assembly are downhill energetically. Life, by contrast, uses energy to produce complexity. “If self-assembly is a spontaneous, energetically downhill process, I would define self-organization as a step up from self-assembly in which more complex structures, including living organisms, use energy to organize themselves into functional aggregates.” Did he have any examples of this occurring in nature? No; that’s when Mazur changed the subject and asked him that question about how evolution is communicated to the lay public.
Update 09/11/2008: EurekAlert announced two public programs to be aired next month in Houston at a “large scientific conference” on how to teach evolution “in plain language.” There will be a teacher forum and public forum. For the free public forum, “A panel of experts will give a non-technical presentation on the latest geological evidence for evolution, the finding of ‘missing’ links, the importance of understanding evolution to modern societies, the nature of science, and why intelligent design should not be considered science.” The Geological Society of America is one of five societies hosting the event. No critics of Darwin’s natural selection or of evolutionary theory will be on the panel (see GSA announcement). Teachers will be given free copies of the NAS booklet “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” without any rebuttals, such as those published by the Discovery Institute (see Evolution News).
These one-sided presentations run counter to public sentiments. Evolution News republished a 2006 Zogby Poll that showed 69% or respondents agreeing with the statement, “Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.” Only 21% felt that only Darwin’s theory should be taught. But even if they got their way, that minority would be promoting a distorted view of evolution (Darwin’s natural selection) according to David Deamer and Susan Mazur.
Come on, David, we can handle it. Give us your best shot. Many readers of Creation-Evolution Headlines are highly educated and can take the advanced-wizard version of evolutionary theory instead of the watered-down Astrobiology Primer and other NASA propaganda. While you’re at it, show us some experiments of self-organization better than soap bubbles. We stopped playing with those as kids. We can’t remember any of them generating information out of nowhere by chance, either.
Do creationists really just harp on what evolutionists don’t know, and ignore what they do know? You be the judge. Read eight years of articles with the leading evolutionary biologists speaking their own words in their own journals, and ask them, like Colin Patterson, did (see ARN) “Can you tell me anything about evolution, any one thing that is true?” In 2008 you will still get the same answer he got: silence. Oh, you may get some bluffing, generalities, analogies (09/04/2008) and bandwagon arguments that all scientists believe it. You may get appeals to what we might find out in the far distant future if they keep getting their funding. But for things they can point to that they know are true about evolution, they know less than nothing, because things they thought they knew turned out to be wrong. Need some proof? Revisit these entries: 09/05/2008, 08/23/2008, 08/11/2008 – and those are just from the past month.
Some day when the Darwin house of cards collapses, and the books are opened, interviews like this are going to sound shameful and despicable. The wizards who peep and mutter behind closed doors and deceive the public with half-truths and big lies are not going to have any recourse, because it will require integrity to be a scientist. For those who excuse their misdeeds on the grounds that their opponents have a political agenda, well, guess what: that criticism cuts both ways. Who butters your bread, D.D.? Who you gonna vote for? Why are so many of your colleagues liberal Democrats? Why are they so adamant about keeping DODO in the schools? (Darwin-Only, Darwin-Only). Is that not an agenda?
The myth of the bias-free, politically-neutral scientist in the white lab coat went out with World War I. Let’s focus, shall we, on who makes the better case based on logic and the evidence. That person doesn’t need to misrepresent his case for the lay public.