Thursday, February 9, 2012

“Only a theory”??? - Jerry Coyne - Why Evolution Is True, which appears to be the student newspaper from North Carolina State University, has a new editorial called “Evolution: theory not fact” by deputy viewpoint editor Madison Murphy. It not only mischaracterizes evolution, but makes the crucial mistake of dismissing evolution as not a fact but “only a theory” (not her words, but an accurate characterization).  Murphy begins with a somewhat misguided definition of evolution:

The theory of evolution can be explained simply: Complex creatures evolved from simplistic creatures over time. All creatures come from a common ancestor. Over time, mutations in genetic codes were maintained as they aided in survival. This process of mutation is called natural selection. Eventually, these mutations build up until a complex creature is the result.

Leaving aside the hilarious misuse of the word “simplistic,” this paragraph gets natural selection wrong in several ways: mutations aren’t “maintained”, but increase in frequency; the currency of selection is reproduction, not survival alone; and selection is not just a “process of mutation”, but a process that involves the selective disposition of mutations via a deterministic process of gene sorting.

She then appears to favor teaching alternative creationist views, a deeply misguided notion, but in the process also conflates those views:

There are opposing theories to evolution, however, and they are also some of the most controversial theories to ever be discussed in science, politics, religion and education. These opposing theories are creationism and intelligent design. Some people lump these two together, but they are slightly different.

The theory of intelligent design states that the creation of a complex being could not have happened randomly or by chance. There had to have been a higher power that created this complexity. However, according to intelligent design, this “designer” could have been anyone.

The theory of creationism, on the other hand, states the designer was God. The extremes of creationism vary as well. Some people believe in what is strictly stated in the Bible in Genesis without any room for other possibilities. Others, such as Catholics, believe evolution could have occurred the way Darwin describes, but by the power of God. This belief also says evolution cannot account for the creation of the human soul.

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