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Sunday, August 17, 2008

My op-ed piece in The Calgary Herald - Albertans are right to reject Darwinian evolution

My op-ed piece published in The Calgary Herald, Saturday, August 16, 2008, responding to radio host and commentator Rob Breakenridge, with links to sources:

In rebuttal - Theory needs a paramedic, not more cheerleaders

Denyse O’Leary

Re “What is it about evolution theory that Albertans don't get?” (August 12, 2008), Rob Breakenridge has cobbled together key talking points of the American Darwin lobby. The resulting column is an excellent illustration of why one should not write about big topics without basic research.

The 2005 Judge Jones decision in Pennsylvania, to which Breakenridge devotes much of his column, has not crimped the worldwide growth of interest in intelligent design. That is no surprise. A judge is not a scientist, and Jones cannot plug gaping holes in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Evolution is—contrary to its (largely) publicly funded zealots— in deep trouble, for a number of reasons.

The history of life has not been the long, slow “survival of the fittest” transition that classical evolution theory requires. Life got started on Earth soon after the planet cooled. All the basic divisions of animal life took shape rather suddenly in the Cambrian seas, about 550 million years ago. Later, there was, for example, the "Big Bang" of flowers and the Big Bang of birds, where many life forms appear quite suddenly.

Modern human consciousness is one of these leaps, judging from the superb cave paintings from recent millenniums. The creationists whom Breakenridge derides may be wrong on their dates, but not on much else.

Breakenridge hopes that we can enlighten backward Albertans by teaching more “evolution” in Alberta schools. But that won’t help. Textbook examples of evolution often evaporate when researchers actually study them (instead of just assuming they are true).

For example, the peacock’s tail did not evolve to please hen birds; hens don’t notice them much. The allegedly yummy Viceroy butterfly did not evolve to look like the bad-tasting Monarch (both insects taste bad). The eye spots on butterflies’ wings did not evolve to scare birds by resembling the eyes of their predators. Birds avoid brightly patterned insects, period. They don't care whether the patterns resemble eyes. Similarly, the famous “peppered moth” of textbook fame has devolved into a peppered myth, featuring book-length charges and countercharges.

And remember that row of vertebrate embryos in your textbook years ago? It was dubbed in the journal Science one of the "most famous fakes" in biology—because the embryos don’t really look very similar. And Darwin’s majestic Tree of Life? It's now a tangleweed, or maybe several of them.

We seldom see evolution happening. Michael Behe’s Edge of Evolution (2007) notes that for decades scientists have observed many thousands of generations of bacteria in the lab. And how did they evolve?

Well, they didn’t. Worse, when evolution is occasionally observed (and widely trumpeted), it often heads the wrong way. For example, bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance by junking intricate machinery, not by creating it. Cave fish lose their eyes. But we don’t need a theory for how intricate machinery gets wrecked. We need a theory for how it originates and how it develops quite suddenly. Evolution, as we understand it today, apparently isn’t that theory.

We aren’t going to improve science education by teaching Darwinian fairy tales.

Breakenridge informs us that in a recent Angus Reid poll, “A shockingly low 37 per cent of Albertans supported the position that humans beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years.” Well, good, let's drive the numbers lower still. That position is an article of atheist dogma. Evidence for it is hailed as a truth we must all embrace; evidence against it is shrugged off as a temporary setback. Try doubting the dogma, and you could end up starring in Ben Stein’s Expelled, Part II.

Breakenridge also frets, “An even greater number of Albertans—40 percent—agreed that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.” That’s easy to explain. It was the only other option (barring “don't know”). The ever-popular “God uses evolution” choice wasn’t offered.

Forced to choose between excluding God and including him, I’d pick option two, even though I accept NASA’s estimate of our Earth’s age (4.5 billion years) and consider common ancestry a reasonable idea.

My guess is, Albertans diverged from the national norm because they considered the question more carefully than some folk. History, anyone?

This summer a meeting of key evolutionists took place at Altenberg, Austria, to revise the theory. So, Albertans, if you haven't started believing it yet, don’t bother. Right now, the theory needs a paramedic, not more cheerleaders.

Denyse O'Leary is a journalist and blogger who is the author of By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy and co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

(Note: I put this opinion piece up because I was beginning to receive correspondence about it, but could not find a link to the Herald, and in any event wanted to link readers to my sources. Thanks to Jane Harris-Zsovan for the scan.)

Read more about why there is an intelligent design controversy here:

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