What's on my mind.

28 December 2007

Transitional Form

I went by to check on Honu-Girl's cats today. I think I offended Percy when I didn't let him sit in my lap because I was about to eat. And I generally offend Molly because "I'm not Mom." But I stayed and tried to convince Percy to come sit with me and get some loving and watched a Nova episode they had tivo'd, "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial". A great episode in my opinion.

If you haven't seen it here's a quick summary. The Dover, PA Board of Education's curriculum committee adopted a brief statement that was to be read to the students presumably just before studying evolution. The statement mentions the State's requirements that evolution be taught and that standardized test would cover it. It then states that evolution is a theory and not a fact (and it has "gaps"). Intelligent design is said to be another theory of how life on Earth began and suggests the book "Of Pandas and People" as a reference. (Sixty copies had been donated to the high school.) The science teachers refused to read the statement and eleven parents sued the school board on the basis that requiring the mention of intelligent design was a violation of the Constitution. The judge agreed that intelligent design was not only not science but that the statement's intent was a violation of the establishment clause.

One of the things creationists, and their descendants the intelligent design proponents, like to say is that if one animal evolves from another than why are there no transitional forms. THERE ARE. Plain and simple, transitional forms exist*. Scientists have not found every single transitional form in an evolutionary line and never will, but transitional forms do exist. In fact one person who testified for the plaintiffs had recently been part of an expedition that found an excellently preserved fossil of a fish that had lobed fins, scales, and a flat amphibian like head. He didn't get to talk about that fossil since the paper was in preparation during the trial but he did talk about many others. Transitional fossils are one piece of evidence amongst many many pieces that support evolution as the explanation of how life began.

Intelligent design proponents argue that an "intelligent agent" designed life. Well, even if you don't call it God, Allah, Gaea, or Yahweh, this intelligent agent is a god. Intelligent design may not specify a religion but it relies on the existence of a god. This is not good science. The existence of God cannot be proven or disproven. Her intervention in a given event may be disproven, although the most stubborn will cling to the argument that "that She only makes it look like [insert appropriate scientific principle like gravity, germs, and natural selection]", Her actual existence is not disprovable. The key to science is that if something can't be tested, often by negation, than it isn't science. Many things can't be proven to always be true but can be disproven. Take Pythagoras' theory for example, find just one right triangle that doesn't fit a*a + b*b = c*c and no one will ever have to learn their Pythagorean triples again (but they are so useful).

My favorite part of the two hours was when they went back to discuss one tactic for proving the religious nature of intelligent design. A reference to the academic editor of "Of Pandas and People" wanting to write a "balanced" textbook that presented both evolution and creation was found, so the lawyers subpoenaed all drafts of the book from the publishers and sent them to Barbara Forest. She found two drafts one written shortly before the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision that outlawed the teaching of creation in schools and one shortly after it. The first had this statement:

Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly, through the agency of an intelligent Creator, with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, et cetera.
The second had this sentence in place of the above on:

Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, et cetera.

Wow, there's a big rewrite. The first word becomes two and a seven word phrase becomes a four word one. Gee, really changes the meaning, doesn't it? Well, in addition to this blatant attempt to hide the religious foundation of this "theory", she also found something somewhat amusing. You may have noticed up there I referred to intelligent design proponents as the descendants of creationists. They really evolved from the creationists. Now you may ask if they evolved than where is the transitional form? That's what Dr. Forest found. In the later draft there is reference to "cdesign proponentsists". This is the transitional form between "creationists" and "design proponents". There you have it evolution occurs even to those who don't believe in it.
(I can't take credit for the transitional forms bit, Nick Matzke said it on the show. I just thought it was hilarious and wanted to share it with y'all)

*Bill, hate to break it to you but fossilized rooted surfaces are found under coal seams. Jack can show you some, not that it will change your mind. All coals are NOT deposited from rafts of floating vegetation and they most certainly were NOT deposited in a world-wide flood.

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