Re: Corrected Insert

Keith B Miller (
Thu, 20 Nov 1997 22:25:50 -0600 (CST)

Bill posted;

>I just found out that the Alabama Textbook Insert has been revised and
>is being honed so it can be used in the textbooks of all the states. If
>you have any comments on the following, I would appreciate hearing from

>> This textbook discusses the controversial theory of evolution. As you study
>> this material please keep the following in mind:

How is evolution "controversial"? How do you define controversial? To whom
is it controversial? It is certainly not controversial within the
scientific community. There are strong disaggreements about certain
aspects of evolutionary theory, but the great majority of scientists in the
field have great confidence "common descent" as an overarching framework.
And as I have stated before that confidence is based on a persuasive body
of evidence.

>> The word "evolution" may refer to many types of change. "Evolution" is used
>> to describe changes that occur at or below the species level. This process,
>> called microevolution, can be observed and described as fact (e.g., dog
>> breeds), although no new major animal groups have been observed to arise by
>> microevolution. "Evolution" is used to refer to the change from one major
>> body plan into another (e.g., reptiles into birds). This process, called
>> macroevolution, has never been observed and should be considered a theory.
>> Evolution also refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces
>> produced a world of living things.

The whole distinction between micro and macro evolution is a non-starter in
my opinion. There is no consensus within the scientific community on what
the terms even mean, or if they are even valid. It is inappropriate to
call speciation a "fact" in contrast to "macroevolution" which is a theory
(read guess). This is an absolutely false dichotomy. The evidence for
speciation is built up by inference in the same way as evidence for
patterns of evolutionary change on longer time scales. Speciation is
accepted even though many questions about mechanism (both at the genetic,
behavioral, and population levels) remain. In the same way, questions
remain about mechanisms for change at larger scales while the continuity of
life is accepted.

>> There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not
>> mentioned in your textbooks, including:
>> Why did the major groups of animals (phyla) appear "suddenly" in the fossil
>> record (known as the Cambrian Explosion)?
>> Why have no new major groups (phyla) of living things appeared in the
>> fossil record since the Cambrian Explosion?
>> Why do major groups (phyla) of plants and animals have no transitional
>> forms in the fossil record?
>> How did you and all living things come to possess such a complete and
>> complex set of "instructions" for building a living body?

Why is the issue of unanswered questions singled out for evolutionary
science? All scientific fields have unanswered questions! That's the
heart of science!! By all means encourage teachers (and textbook writers)
to highlight remaining unresolved issues within their subject matter. But
here we have a group of non-specialists defining for a discipline what its
unanwered questions are -through a political process no less. The
statements above are repleat with undefined terms, misunderstandings, and
factual errors.


Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506