Boulder, Colo. From the coverage, one would think that the Kansas Board of Education voted to require Kansas schools to indoctrinate the kiddies with the notion that the world was created in 4004 B.C. by angels dancing on the head of a pin. Claiming that the board voted to "delete virtually any mention of evolution from the state's science curriculum," news articles portrayed the vote as "one of the most far-reaching efforts by creationists to challenge the teaching of evolution in schools."
To Randy Moore, the editor of the magazine of the National Association of Biology Teachers, it was the return of the dark ages. "It's going on everywhere, and the creationists are winning," he said. Letters-to-the-editor pages around the country were filled with missives pitying the unwashed uninformed who would presume to question the "fact" of evolution. But evolution is a theory, not a fact. And when it comes to the "facts" that the theory can explain, the Kansas Board of Education has a point.
Microevolution takes a short-term perspective and focuses on intraspecies variation. It assumes that natural selection operates on existing variations in populations to bring about relatively small changes in population characteristics. Changing beak sizes of Galapagos finches, color changes in Manchester moths, and bacterial antibiotic resistance are the classic examples.
Because scientific observation and experiment support the theory of microevolution, it is not controversial. It is included in the Kansas standards. It was the Board's decision to downgrade the theory of macroevolution that caused the furor. Serious scientists have been critical of it for years.
Macroevolution posits that eons of random events produced small changes that were conserved if they increased an organism's probability of survival. Step by gradual step complex, structures were constructed from a few elements floating around in the primordial soup.
The critics point out that macroevolution has never been observed. There is little support for it in the fossil record, and geneticists find that the genes that obviously vary within populations apparently do not cause major adaptive changes. The genes that could cause major changes are very hard to change.
Then there is the problem of irreducible complexity. Macroevolution theorizes that complex structures like the eye result from a series of small changes that were conserved because they increased an organism's probability of survival. Hence the story that creatures with light-sensitive spots ultimately evolved into creatures with complex eyes. But the ability to sense light depends on a complex chain of specific biochemical steps. If one of those steps is missing, the light sensitive spot does not work.
Making proteins with no function wastes energy. Natural selection presumably operates to eliminate such waste. So how, specifically, could natural selection develop the biochemical building blocks underlying any of the complex systems that animate living creatures?
Biochemist Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box, calculates that one could not expect to randomly arrive at TPA and its activator, just two of the may molecules that make up the blood clotting mechanism, even if "the universe's ten-billion year life were compressed into a single second and relived every second for ten billion years."
The odds against natural selection acting to preserve the new molecules constitute a further hurdle. A number of calculations suggest that the astrophysical estimates of a universe that is 10 to 20 billion years old simply leave too little time for a random process of natural selection to produce the results that we see around us.
At present, DNA discoverer Francis Crick's speculation that life began when aliens seeded the planet with bacteria seems to explain the known facts as well or better than the theory of macroevolution. This means that the intellectually honest response to the question of how life occurred on earth is that no one knows.
Yet macroevolution is everywhere presented as fact. Watch the movie at the Denver Museum of Natural History, and you will be told that two molecules become one and, in a flourish of uplifting music, that life began.
Why the apparently unscientific claim in a museum of science? Perhaps the reason lies at the heart of the culture wars. Those who embrace naturalistic beliefs deny the existence of a supernatural creator. Evidence supporting intelligent design would shake their faith to its foundations. They cling to the notion of macroevolution because it provides a comforting story in which nature creates life.
But stories are the stuff of religion, not science. By differentiating between micro and macroevolution the Kansas Board of Education has made great strides in freeing school children from indoctrination with a religious dogma.
It deserves a round of applause from those who believe in the separation of church and state.
Copyright 1999 Linda Gorman. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 9.30.99