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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How to freak out your bio prof: Forget getting frogs drunk. Try questioning Darwinism!

Student Josh Dill kindly sends me an account of what happened when he started asking questions at Highline Community College in Washington State:

I recently left Highline Community college after receiving my AA. While at Highline I had an interest in Biology, specifically evolution and natural selection. A few of the classes I took were intro to Biology, where we discussed natural selection, evolution, and origin of life. I took Anthropology where we learned about human evolution, and our close relationship with chimpanzees, I even went to Central Washington University to the chimposium and observed the chimpanzees (not an assignment). I also took a class called ‘Genetic Revolution’ where we learned about the genome, genetic traits, protein synthesis, and I even did a presentation on human evolution to that class. I followed the textbook for the presentation in fear of my grade. This professor had written a few articles criticizing Intelligent Design. But after hearing “we are 98.8% chimpanzee” almost every single day, I used an article from National Geographic about lab rats and their genome. I applied the same method used in the chimp example and stated “we are 60% rat”. The students laughed, but the professor didn’t.

Naughty Josh. According to a learned rabbi we are also thirty percent banana. But you are not to draw any conclusions from that, do you understand? You are only supposed to draw the conclusions you are told to draw.

Anyway, Josh took to reading literature written by intelligent design theorists, a dangerous practice. He then booked a room at the end of the year and showed two videos, Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mystery of Life. Two biology profs attended. Here is Josh's account of what happened next:

I offered asked if they would like to say a few words in response to the videos (I did this out of respect to them coming to my event), but they declined and asked me to take questions from the students. I took a couple of questions from the students, but then an interruption came out, it was one of the professors.

He lambasted me with accusations of having a religious agenda, that I was just simply a creationist. He had immediately lost his temper with me and shouted at me in front of an audience of students. He accused me of misleading the students, "you should be ashamed of yourself… what you’re doing is criminal!"

He belittled me saying "just because you take a couple science classes doesn’t give you the right!" I kept my composure and a good attitude. I tried to ask him science questions, after all, the event was intended to be about Intelligent Design, and evolution, not creationism or Christianity.

I asked the professor about embryology, he said "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny!" I questioned "well then why are the earlier stages, which we are not shown, different when those would be the ones that are the most important?" He said "yes they're different but that doesn’t matter!"

I asked him to explain how natural selection can account for fossils in the Cambrian explosion where nearly thirty-five of the forty total phyla are found in a geologically short time span of ten million years with no precursors, and given the novel genes, thousands of novel proteins, and novel body plans needed for these organisms how can natural selection be applied? He avoided answering and asked me to take someone else’s question.

He abstained from giving any explanation to how genetic material within our cells could have originated, he said "that’s a different question, I'm talking about evolution!" He then looked at all the students and urged them that "the truth is that evolution is nailed down flat, its secure as gravity, I can’t emphasize that enough."

The professor claimed that any scientist skeptical of Darwin’s theory are only questioning because of religious motivations. I held up the list of names of 400 scientists who question the power of natural selection and asked him if he could account for every single one of those people, and he said "I would bet my pensions on it!"

I asked him how micro-evolution could be extrapolated to explain macro-evolution. He replied "well extrapolation is a good word, you have to use your imagination. Given the amount of time you have." I insisted that the probabilistic resources are not evident to allow for the scale of macro-evolution required by the theory of Darwinian Evolution. He didn't have an answer to this either. Now when I look back, I still can't believe he answered "you have to use your imagination." That should be a bit discerning to some scientists.

I think Josh means "disconcerting" here. (I'd be disconcerted too if I were paying good money to have these fellows teach me. As a writer, I am all for using one's imagination, but in my line of work we make a clear distinction between fiction and non-fiction.)

Anyway, after one of the bio professors attacked Josh's character, a political science prof stepped in and defended him. The meeting ended on that note, but there was an interesting followup:

A couple of weeks later, the professor that I had an exchange with e-mailed me and was interested in meeting me one on one to have a discussion. I agreed and was thankful for his interest. I figured that in a one on one meeting he wouldn’t be as irate and personally aggressive as he was in our first encounter, but I was wrong. He stayed resolute in stating that I am a dishonest person, and that I shouldn't have done what I did. He accused me of encouraging students to rebel in their science classrooms. I never asked students to question their professors in class. I never encouraged disobedience or disrespect, but he insisted that it was wrong. He told me that I should have opened with a preamble, telling students not to bring these questions into the classroom.

Well, there you have it. If you are a student who questions Darwinism, do not bring your questions into the biology classroom. Just memorize and reiterate the party line, and find out the true state of the evidence somewhere else. No wonder there has been a boom in ID-related books lately ...

Blog service announcement: Are you looking for the following story? "Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

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