by Denyse O'Leary, ARN correspondent
What do biology texts bought with tax money teach (or preach) regarding the origin of life?
Most parents do not bother to read the texts their teens study from. Many might be surprised if they did. Today, I want to offer a peek into some of the stuff you can learn from a major US science text about the much-contested origin of life.
In Chapter 4 of Biology, Sixth Edition, "The Origin and Early History of Life," we are told that one of the changes from previous editions is that "The discussion of ideas about the origin of life is now much more open-ended, stressing competing hypotheses and the key role of assumptions for which there is little data."
My first thought, of course, was, well - that's a relief. So they are going to come right out and admit that origin of life is a baffling problem, as OoL researchers have often admitted. Because I have edited a book chapter on the origin of life, and therefore read up on some of this stuff, I know that such observations are mainstream rather than "pseudo"-science.
Now, how does McGraw-Hill's Biology address the problem? For the most part, the authors admit the difficulties. However they do something else, which I think should be a source of concern to parents/students/taxpayers. In the Concept Outline, we are informed,
There are both religious and scientific views about the origin of life. This text treats only the latter - only the scientifically testable.
That sounds like a logical approach to me. The mere fact that the authors are knowledgeable about current science theories, however unsatisfactory, does not qualify them to address religious theories. So far so good. Cobbler, stick to thy last.
But the authors promptly break their promise, as we shall see.
Figure 4.1 shows a lightning strike, and the caption reads
The origin of life. The fortuitous mix of physical events and chemical elements at the right place and time created the first living cells on earth.
That, of course, is a vague statement of faith in materialism or, as it is sometimes called, naturalism. Materialism is an old idea that goes back to the time of Lucretius about two and a half millennia ago, as I point out in By Design or by Chance?.
It is philosophy, not science. Science asks for evidence, for details, for specifics, not for statements of faith in the power of physical events and chemical elements, like this one. And success at explaining the detailed specifics are precisely what is lacking in the current origin of life scenarios.
The authors admit that "The first cells are thought to have arisen spontaneously, but there is little agreement as to the mechanism," and that "there is very little that we know for sure," and that "there is as yet no one answer to the question of how life originated on earth,"
Right. But despite all that, we know that materialism is the answer? How? Is it because the authors' are entitled to promulgate that philosophy in the public school system, irrespective of evidence, whereas other philosophies are forbidden? But why? has the United States established materialism as a religion, in violation of the First Amendment?
The authors also inform us that "By the time this text is published, some of the ideas presented here about the origin of life will surely be obsolete."
I am so sure that they are right about this that I wonder why origin of life is even a current topic in undergrad science, except as an optional project for interested students, just as an examination of "irreducible complexity" should be. But, in fairness to the authors, if they are required, by an unlucky arrangement of the stars or the bureaucrats, to teach OoL, then I suppose they must.
But they might have spared us the following, in Section 4:2:
Special Creation. The theory of special creation, that a divine God created life is at the core of most major religions. The oldest hypothesis about life's origins, it is also the most widely accepted. Far more Americans, for example, believe that God created life on earth than believe in the other two hypotheses. Many take a more extreme position, accepting the biblical account of life's creation as factually correct. This viewpoint forms the basis for the very unscientific "scientific creationism" viewpoint discussed in chapter 21.
(p. 62) (Note: The other two hypotheses referred to above are extraterrestrial origin and spontaneous origin.)
Later, on the same page, the authors concede that special creation might even be true:
This is not to say that the first possibility [special creation] is definitely not the correct one.
But so? I thought we weren't going to get into religion at all. Wasn't that the idea? If we must get into religion, what does it mean to say that special creation is "very unscientific" but also possibly correct?
Is science now at war with correctness, in defense of materialism? But why?
Then, the rest of the chapter speculates as enthusiastically about the origin of life as the tabloids do about movie idols' affairs, pregnancies, and breakups.
Students will learn some useful things, but principally they will learn, I fear, how to build a theoretical castle in the air. If all this stuff is "scientifically testable", just how eludes me.
In those school systems where texts are bought with public funds, this is a strange use of public funds. I am glad that no one has sued, because I think litigation bad in principle. But I am somewhat surprised that no one has sued.
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