NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/11/06
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott tackles a creationist version of the Origin of Species. Islamic creationism is addressed by The New York Times and the Boston Globe. And the second part of Becoming Human airs on November 10, 2009.
NCSE'S SCOTT TACKLES CREATIONIST ORIGIN NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott was invited to debate Ray Comfort, a creationist in the news recently for his plans to distribute copies of the Origin of Species with his own introduction, on the God & Country blog of U.S. News & World Report. Comfort began the debate on October 29, 2009; Scott replied on October 30, 2009; Comfort responded on November 2, 2009; and Scott replied on November 3, 2009. The debate, according to Dan Gilgoff, who maintains the blog, elicited "more feedback than any other issue on this blog has received over any similar stretch in its not-quite-one-year of existence." In her first post, Scott urged students to accept the free copy of the Origin that Comfort is offering, but not to waste time reading Comfort's introduction -- especially the middle section. "[It's] a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments," she observed, "teeming with misinformation about the science of evolution, populated by legions of strawmen, and exhibiting what can be charitably described as muddled thinking." After giving a number of examples of scientific errors in Comfort's introduction, she added, "I have faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas." Scott also noted that the copy of Comfort's version of the Origin she was sent by the publisher was missing four chapters as well as Darwin's introduction. In his response, Comfort claimed that the next edition includes the missing material: "Not one word will be omitted." Scott observed, "It's still missing a crucial diagram from Chapter 4 as well as the epigraphs from Bacon and Whewell, which Darwin chose with care," and also wondered about the unexplained change of heart: "Elsewhere he wrote that it was 'abridged because it was too many pages (too expensive) for a giveaway.' But now he's going to try to give away even more copies of this more complete version?" "I stick by my advice," Scott wrote in her second post. "Students who are interested in learning about science can skip Comfort's introduction, which, despite a few cosmetic revisions, remains a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments." And she concluded, "Anyone who honestly examines the data supporting evolution -- even a young-earth creationist [such as Bryan College's Todd C. Wood, whom Scott quoted as acknowledging, "Evolution is not a theory in crisis"] -- concludes that the science is strong. If you reject evolution, you are doing it for religious reasons. You're entitled to your religious opinions -- but not to your own scientific facts." For the debate, visit: http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/10/29/exclusive-ray-comfort-defends-his-creationist-edition-of-on-the-origin-of-species.html http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/10/30/how-creationist-origin-distorts-darwin.html http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/11/02/ray-comfort-responds-to-genie-scott-on-creationist-origin-of-species.html http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/11/03/scientist-genie-scotts-last-word-to-creationist-ray-comfort-there-you-go-again.html For Gilgoff's comments on the reception of the debate, visit: http://www.usnews.com/blogs/god-and-country/2009/11/3/your-thoughts-on-creationismdarwinism-debate.html ISLAMIC CREATIONISM IN THE NEWS The phenomenon of Islamic creationism was addressed by two major newspapers, The New York Times (November 3, 2009) and the Boston Globe (October 25, 2009), in the wake of a recent conference at Hampshire College on evolution in the Muslim world. (Webcasts of the conference presentations will be available on-line by November 15, 2009, according to the conference website.) The Globe's article began arrestingly, with the news that the Arabic-language version of Al Jazeera's website -- a major news source in the Middle East -- triumphantly misdescribed the recently described early hominid Ardipithecus ramidus as "evidence that Darwin's theory of evolution was wrong." "'Ardi Refutes Darwin's Theory,' Al Jazeera announced in an Oct. 3 article." "It's hard to say exactly how much support the theory of evolution enjoys in the world's Muslim countries, but it's definitely not very much," the Globe noted. The Times added, "The degree of acceptance of evolution varies among Islamic countries," citing Pakistan as a country where evolution is covered in high school biology texts, with the aid of Qu'ranic verses. In Turkey, however, "the teaching of evolution has largely disappeared, at least below the university level, and the science curriculum in public schools is written in deference to religious beliefs," the Times reported. Both articles attributed the disappearance of evolution in Turkish schools to the activities of Adnan Oktar -- widely known by his pseudonym, Harun Yahya. "Oktar's work is easy to lampoon," the Globe commented, but added, "Oktar's main concern -- that evolution is the tool of atheists bent on destroying Islam -- does resonate there and in other Muslim countries." Moreover, "in the West, where non-Islamic influences are strongest, Islamic creationism may be stronger in reaction to the outside pressure," according to the Times. Islamic creationists "do not quarrel with astronomers and geologists," the Times explained, "just biologists, insisting that life is the creation of God, not the happenstance consequence of random occurrences." Both articles also reported that, like their Christian counterparts, Islamic creationists take especial issue with the idea of human evolution in particular. “[T]he fact that there is a creationist debate at all can be seen as a sort of progress," the Globe observed. "In the most conservative parts of the Muslim world, creationism isn't a political or philosophical force because it doesn't need to be -- there aren't enough people who believe in evolution, or have even been exposed to it, to require a counter-doctrine." For the stories in the Times and the Globe, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/science/03islam.html http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/10/25/in_the_muslim_world_creationism_is_on_the_rise For the information about the Hampshire conference, http://evolutionandislam.hampshire.edu/ For information from Science about Ardi, visit: http://www.sciencemag.org/ardipithecus/ BECOMING HUMAN, PART 2 The second episode of Becoming Human -- a three-part NOVA documentary on what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives -- will air on November 10, 2009, on public broadcasting stations around the country. According to NOVA: *** In "Birth of Humanity," the second part of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA investigates the first skeleton that really looks like us -- "Turkana Boy" -- an astonishingly complete specimen of Homo erectus found by the famous Leakey team in Kenya. These early humans are thought to have developed key innovations that helped them thrive, including hunting large prey, the use of fire, and extensive social bonds. The program examines an intriguing theory that long-distance running -- our ability to jog -- was crucial for the survival of these early hominids. Not only did running help them escape from vicious predators roaming the grasslands, but it also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing down prey animals such as deer and antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Birth of Humanity" also probes how, why, and when humans' uniquely long period of childhood and parenting began. *** Further information about the film, including a preview, interviews, and interactive features, is available at NOVA's website. Information on finding local public broadcasting stations is available via PBS's website. For further information, visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beta/evolution/becoming-human-part-2.html For information on local stations, visit: http://www.pbs.org/stationfinder/index.html Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x310 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncseweb.org Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncseweb.org/membership