Re: Professing evolution column by Maggie Gallagher

From: Jim Armstrong (
Date: Thu Feb 06 2003 - 23:50:22 EST

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      Bill -- They say the first guy in the water gets the wettest, so
    I'll take my chances.

    The first time I saw this news item I shrugged it off a little. But upon
    further consideration (and with some discussion with my peers) I changed
    my mind. It's a bit in-your-face (no, a lot!), but if a person is going
    into a biology-related field, this is not an unreasonable expectation of
    him. The screener has the reputation and credentials for his school and
    for his other graduates to consider. As my mathematician friend says,
    it's a bit like having a math student affirm his acceptance and
    understanding of group theory if she's going into mathematics as a
    career. It is pretty baseline concept in that working environment.

    As has already been said, the whole of "evolution" is greater than just
    the man's-origin part of it. But even at that, the genome work is
    bringing greater clarity to our connectedness in the physical
    inheritance chain with each new discovery.

    "But any scientific theory of the origins of the species is necessarily
    not based on repeated and repeatable experiments." ...but most of the
    evolution mechanisms are quite repeatable.

    "At best it is based on inferences from existing experimental data. As
    impressive as the evidence for evolution as the origin of the human
    species may thus be, it will always remain in part akin to social
    science: the scientific effort to explain what cannot be directly
    proven. Lots of scientific theories (such as the big bang) are in this
    category. And theories of this kind tend to evolve over time as new
    evidence emerges. " ...but let's understand that any time we write down
    an expression for any physical law, we are stating an inference. We are
    saying that we have observed this behavior in the past, and we are
    confident enough of it to project further into the future, ... or the
    past. We do not have this discussion about the law of gravitational
    attraction (at least not much anymore), and indeed we have found it
    reliable enough to predict orbital trajectories that span interplanetary
    distances and flights into the future that have now spanned years and
    behaved as predicted.

    The evidence is piling up heavily in confirmation of virtually every
    aspect of a connected physical evolution of living kind on this planet.
    There are some nuances, but it is not going backward. That is a familiar
    pattern of science. If a theory or hypothesis basically has the right
    idea, it will hold in its essentials, and the "evolution" of the ideas
    comprise refinements -- hardly ever refutations. - especially with high
    acceptance and validation of the essentials in both academia and the
    commercially-driven workplace.

    On the one hand, I don't take very kindly to the loyalty oath concept,
    but this seems to me to be a somewhat different matter. It seems more
    akin to requiring an acceptance of quantum mechanics to be affirmed for
    anyone going into a graduate physics program. If a student were to
    somehow emerge from my university with an advanced degree in physics and
    be in denial about the essentials of QM, his stand would likely affect
    his opportunities for work (especially in the university!), peoples
    perceptions of the school, and perhaps even the futures of other
    graduate students. One might even reasonably assert that such a
    university was tacitly endorsing the student's views by granting him an
    advanced degree.

    Would this be the same issue if no written confirmation were required,
    but the student were still required to explain and affirm the mechanisms
    of evolution in his orals? I think the answer is "yes", but the oral
    question is not as confrontational to as many people as this very public
    and broadly publicized written confirmation story.

    What if Mr. Spradling changes his mind after entering school and finds
    virology more captivating than treating people with injured limbs?

    I hope I don't get too wet!

    Regards - Jim Armstrong

    William T. Yates wrote:

    > Any thoughts?
    > --Bill Yates

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