Re: Message from Phil Skell

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Tue Sep 20 2005 - 15:50:07 EDT


Some of the critiques listed below are ably dealt with in Keith and
David's chapter in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.

An older web version is available at

I'm sorry to say, these are the same old and worn arguments. Why they
prove so problematical to some of us, but not to others, (when
there's no real Biblical/theological/philosophical agenda remains a
mystery to me).


On Sep 20, 2005, at 11:24 AM, Ted Davis wrote:

> A couple of weeks ago I drew attention here to Phil Skell's op-ed
> piece from
> "The Scientist," in which he raised questions about the practical
> value of
> evolutionary theory for doing laboratory science. Phil was not
> aware of our
> discussion of his essay until I told him about it. He asked me to
> forward
> his comments below to the list, hoping thereby to "clear away some
> of the
> fog" (his words to me). I am glad to help him do so.
> Ted
> ******
> The difference between historical and contemporary, experimental
> science is
> most striking when we consider geology and biology. The ancient
> geological
> artifacts have survived substantially unchanged in composition and
> location.
> Modern biology is concerned with examining the structure and
> function of
> tissues from presently living organisms, whereas historical biology is
> primarily informed by stones--that is, fossils--not tissues.
> Consequently,
> in the biological sciences there is a sharp line separating the
> historical
> and the modern; the experimental data obtained by examining these
> disparate
> materials is incommensurable. Beware historiscization of the fossil
> record
> into Fact, and then Orthodoxy.
> The evidential problems most apparent in the Cambrian explosion
> reappear
> less dramatically throughout the fossil succession. This is
> apparent, for
> instance, when we see the enormous work the Archaeopteryx was asked
> to do
> for one corner of the theory, the idea of the dinosaurian origin of
> birds.
> As Ernst Mayr noted in: What Evolution Is? (2001):
> 1. The dinosaurs structurally most similar to birds are very recent
> (80-110
> million years ago), whereas Archaeopteryx is a great deal older
> (145 million
> years ago) and no birdlike dinosaurs are known from the lower
> Jurassic or
> Triassic that could qualify as ancestors of birds. 2. The three
> digits of
> the hand of dinosaurs are 1,2,3, those of a bird are 2,3,4. It is
> quite
> impossible to derive the avian digits from those of dinosaurs. 3.
> Teeth--Theropods have recurved, flattened, serrated teeth, quite
> different
> from the simple peglike, waisted, nonserrated teeth of
> Archaeopteryx and
> other early birds. 4. The pectoral girdle and anterior extremities
> of the
> late theropod dinosaurs are much too small and weak to have served
> as the
> foundation of a powerful wing to lift an incipient bird from the
> ground. No
> factors are known that could have caused a sudden drastic growth of
> the
> anterior extremities. 5. The leading aerodynamic experts of bird
> flight
> claim that an origin of flight from the ground up is a near
> impossibility.
> (pg. 68).
> There appears to be a general sentiment that explaining something, or
> explaining it away, has strong precedence over the heuristic, which
> guides
> research . An investigator may indulge the pleasing task of
> showing, after
> the fact, how a discovery is accommodated within the Darwinian
> paradigm, as
> do many of the ASA commentators, but where was the heuristic
> guidance for
> the discovery? Many seem to imply that (1) without guidance from
> Darwin's
> theory, modern experimental biology would not have developed, and
> (2) all
> that did develop was covered by evolutionary theory. I reject both
> of these
> implications. Consider, in addition to the examples listed in my
> essay, the
> 100 Nobels awarded in Physiology/Medicine. How many of them were
> dependent
> on heuristic guidance from Darwin's theory? The biology that informed
> Darwin included the widely held notions that the cell was a blob of
> gelatin,
> that inheritance involved blending maternal and paternal
> characteristics
> from all parts of the body, that species could be made to vary without
> limit, that life generated spontaneously, etc. Where, exactly, did
> those
> mistaken notions lead to the breakthroughs that so impressed the Nobel
> committees? Were those who contributed to these developments mere
> technicians manipulating their instruments?
> Those engaged by historical biology can attain to minuscule amounts of
> information about those early organisms when compared with the
> results from
> studies of tissues from living organisms. The continuing efforts to
> understand life from studies of living organisms will increase
> exponentially
> over the twenty first century. Perhaps, with all this additional
> knowledge
> one may be in a better position to assess the consilience with the
> relevant
> metaphysical considerations, if ever.
> Repeat from The Scientist: "None of this demonstrates that
> Darwinism is
> false. It does, however, mean that the claim that it is the
> cornerstone of
> modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from
> a growing
> number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as
> cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs."
> What should be taught in high school biology classes? Teaching
> should focus
> on the variety of living organisms in our biocosm and on two
> questions: How
> do those organisms function so admirably over their lifetime; and
> how do
> they interact with one
> another?
> For students aspiring to benefit society through experimental biology,
> Darwinism is very much beside the point.
> --Phil Skell

Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
(o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801
Received on Tue Sep 20 15:52:55 2005

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