10 Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher

10 Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher” is the latest gimmick of the anti-evolution crowd. The 10 questions are pretty much the same old crud that one can expect from creationists. This is rather sad considering that the questions are coming from the Discovery Institute, home of Intelligent Design. For example, here is the first question,

The origins of life. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life’s building blocks may have formed on Earth – when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Creationists try to pull this one off. The Miller-Urey experiments deal with the issue of abiogenesis which is basically life from non-life. Abiogenesis is not evolution. Abiogenesis is seperate from evolution. For example we can look at two situations.

  1. God creates the most basic life form and evolution takes over.
  2. Life spontaneously arises and from there evolution takes over.

From the perspective of evaluating evolution both of these scenarios are the same. In other words, evolution takes the presence of life as a given and proceeds from there.

The next question is also another attempt by creationists to pull a fast one.

Darwin’s tree of life. Why don’t textbooks discuss the “Cambrian explosion,” in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor – thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?

This one also comes from William Dembski’s essay “Five Questions Evolutionists Would Rather Dodge”. The problem is that for Dembski to come up with this view he has to quote mine evolutionist Peter Ward. However, Ward later wrote,

Until almost 1950 the absence of metazoan fossils older than Cambrian age continued to puzzle evolutionists and earth historians alike. Other than the remains of single-celled creatures and the matlike stromatolites, it did indeed look as if larger creatures had arisen with a swiftness that made a mockery of Darwin’s theory of evolution. This notion was finally put to rest, however, by the discovery of the Ediacarian and Vendian fossil faunas of the latest Precambrian age. (Pp 35).

The next question is very curious,

The archaeopteryx. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds – even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?

This question contains two dubious Creationist tactics. The easiest is the “gaps in the fossil” record. We can’t believe archaeopteryx is a transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds because of the gaps in the fossil record. The problem is that fossil formation is not something that happens with great regularity. You can’t go out in your backyard and find fossils with every other rock you pick up. Thus, we expect the fossil record to have gaps. The other problem is a bit more subtle. The authors of these questions have basically made a hidden assumption: That archaeopteryx is the precursor to birds. Here is an interesting article at TalkOrigins.org.

Some people like to claim that the finding of a fossil bird from the Triassic of Texas (Protavis) proves that Archae cannot be transitional between dinosaurs and birds because Protoavis predates Archae by 75 million years. This is, of course, errant nonsense, mainly because no one is claiming that Archae is the transitional species between dinosaurs and birds, merely that Archae represents a grade of organisation which the proposed lineage went through to get from dinosaurs to birds. Archae is, I’m sorry to say, out on a limb, evolutionarily speaking. It represents a side branch, useful for comparative purposes, but not in the thick of things. So even if there were birds in the Triassic, that fact would not diminish Archae’s importance as an indicator that “yes, birds could have evolved from dinosaurs.”

Almost all of the questions suffer from well known problems and actually represent not even the slightest challange to the Theory of Evolution. Of course a high school biology teacher probably wont know that. Further, high school biology students wont know it. So to those who are not well versed in biology/evolutionary theory these questions will look “devastating”.

FILED UNDER: Education, Science & Technology
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. […] rdon described the ten question plank fed to students to use to confront biology teachers. 10 Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher Outside the Beltway (05ma03). The fact that students ar […]

  2. […] iled under: General — Steve_V @ 1:19 pm

    The other day I wrote a post at Outside the Beltway about the latest gimmick from the Creationists. The gimmick are ten question […]

  3. Anderson says:

    The really sad thing is that Steve’s probably right—a high school biology teacher probably WON’T know these refutations.

    Why not?

    If evolution by natural selection is the fundamental theory of biology, virtually the element that distinguishes “biology” from “some other science,” then how can anyone get a B.S. in biology without at least one course on evolution?

    I wonder whether science curricula in foreign universities have such a gap.

  4. Scott in CA says:

    OK, I’m going to say it directly: Evolution is a FACT. If you don’t believe in it, then send your kids to what ever backwater “school” you want to, I really don’t care. Meanwhile, educated students in the biological sciences will continue to do great work in understanding our species. I am SO tired of this crap. If you want to argue the science of Optics and say it’s all caused by Kaleidascopes, then fine – just leave me and my kids out of it. The future is in biogenetics. If you choose not to “believe” in it, fine. Go read your tracts and leave the serious people alone. I know this is harsh, but I am fed up. I don’t try to mandate teaching that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle, like the Iroquois believed. It doesn’t rest on 4,000 year old Middle Eastern stories, either.

  5. Just Me says:

    Well I have an issue with the whole abiogenesis isn’t evolution in science, and you can’t ask abiogensis questions regarding evolution argument.

    And it is mainly that watch any movie/science show and the two are tied together, and the stuff is presented as if all the issues/questions regarding evolution and abiogenesis have been answered. Go watch some discovery channel show about dinosaurs or similar, or watch something from anthropology, and that is how it is presented.

    So essentially, since abiogensis and evolution are tied together so closely, in what our kids are presented with in school, and everything is presented as if all the answers are known, asking the questions seem pretty fair.

  6. Joe Blough says:

    I believe the “10 questions to Ask your Biology Teacher” originally came from the DI’s Jonathan Wells and were answered by the NCSE here.

    There is a more detailed, chapter by chapter, critique of Wells’ book “Icons of Evolution” at the talk.origins archive.

  7. C.B. says:

    in regards to Scott,
    Shoot, they don’t have to send their kids to a backwater school. Parents are allowed to have their kids “opt out” of evolutionary biology or anything else that they don’t agree with. Why don’t these anti-evolution people simply opt their kids out and leave the rest of us the hell alone?
    And, as a former biology nerd, I am obligated to add that evolution isn’t a fact.

  8. Timothy Chase says:

    wont let me post.

  9. Timothy Chase says:

    Part I

    Sounds like teachers might need a little ammo.

    Here are a eight links to some pretty dramatic stuff and links to their associated home pages where they can find out more…

    Whale Evolution/Cetacean Evolution (Atavistic Hind Limbs on Modern Whales)

    http://edwardtbabinski.us/whales/

    from

    Edward T Babinski

    http://edwardtbabinski.us/

    Smooth Change in the Fossil Record

    http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/fossil_series.html

    from

    Don Lindsay Archive

    http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/

    Transitional Fossil Species

    http://www.origins.tv/darwin/transitionals.htm

    from

    Darwinians and Evolution

    http://www.origins.tv/darwin/indexpage.htm

    Observed Instances of Speciation

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

    from

    The Talk.Origins Archive

    http://www.talkorigins.org/

  10. Timothy Chase says:

    Test

  11. Timothy Chase says:

    Part II

    Some More Observed Speciation Events

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html

    (Homepage given above)

    Ring Species: Unusual Demonstrations of Speciation

    http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/irwin.html

    from

    Action Bioscience.Org

    http://www.actionbioscience.org/

    The Evolution Evidence Page (homepage for website)

    http://www.gate.net/~rwms/EvoEvidence.html

    The Fossil Record: Evolution or “Scientific Creation”

    http://www.gcssepm.org/special/cuffey_05.htm

    from

    GCSSEPM Special Interests

    http://www.gcssepm.org/special/

    Today, anyone with a connection to the internet who knows how to use Google can find plenty of evidence for macroevolution without much work.

    A bit of advice: you are going to find polite people who are curious about whether there is any evidence for macroevolution, or for the evolution of so-called irreducibly complex features of life, etc.. Such people should be taken at face value — they are hoping that someone in a forum knows a little more than they do about a given topic and will have the information readily available.

    As for people who argue that there is no evidence for one or another aspect of evolutionary theory, the most polite interpretation, particularly in the age of the internet — is that they simply haven’t looked. In either case, it is a good idea to have a collection of links to post — readily available — which includes a variety of websites. For macroevolution, you might want to start with the list I gave above, order and add to it as you see fit, and remove links when you find better ones.

    Then when either kind of post appears, you are ready to provide some pretty impressive information. Oftentimes, when responding to some Young Earth Creationist, Old Earth Creationist, or advocate of one or another form of Intelligent Design Theory, writers will only have the time or space to cover the broad principles, if that. They won’t have the time or space to provide a good number of examples of the evidence. But if you have some links handy, you can quickly remedy that.

    Incidentally, by all means, not all evolutionists are atheists. A good number are religious, but they do not permit their religious views to interfere with the quest for empirical knowledge. Here is one good example:

    “Science and Religion” interview with Kenneth R. Miller

    http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/miller.html

  12. floyd says:

    carl sagan said ” there is nothing in being absolutely sure; that precludes a man from being completely wrong.” he now knows it applied to him, as well as others.

  13. Steve says:

    And it is mainly that watch any movie/science show and the two are tied together, and the stuff is presented as if all the issues/questions regarding evolution and abiogenesis have been answered.

    I’d like to know where this is occurring. The science surrounding abiogenesis is very uncertain. The science surrounding evolution is much, much more fleshed out and sound.

    So essentially, since abiogensis and evolution are tied together so closely, in what our kids are presented with in school, and everything is presented as if all the answers are known, asking the questions seem pretty fair.

    No I don’t think so. Saying the science is still rather uncertain with regards to abiogenesis is one thing. Extrapolating from that position that evolution is also in doubt is pseudo-science.

  14. Just Me says:

    Steve you must not watch very much Discovery channel.

    Have you had an anthropology class?

    Shoot just go watch Fantasia-there is a nice segment without any words, just pictures (and I realize it isn’t “science” but my point is that it is that kind of stuff that does tie it all up together and make them the same thing, and it is all over science, ecucational and other disciplines films).

  15. wavemaker says:

    Check out Transparent Eye’s discussion of JohnJoe McFadden, British molecular biologist (http://transparenteye.net/).

    As a non-religious, non-creationist, I am increasingly dumbfounded by the intransigence shown by evolutionists in their refusal to entertain legitimate scientific inquiry.

    The more I read about the concept of random mutation, the more I wonder if evolution isn’t the theology.

  16. Doubting Thomas says:

    Try this link, and the other magnificent posts on the subject at Ambivablog.

    http://ambivablog.typepad.com/ambivablog/2005/05/quantum_theory_.html

  17. Explaining science to Evolutionists
    Yesterday I blogged about the problem Evolutionist zealots are having with students who dare to think for themselves. Steve Verdon…

  18. Steve says:

    As a non-religious, non-creationist, I am increasingly dumbfounded by the intransigence shown by evolutionists in their refusal to entertain legitimate scientific inquiry.

    Maybe because Creationism doesn’t present any scientific challenges/inquiry. Creationism, which includes intelligent design, is about religion based “science” and trying to tear down the current theory. The people who engage in the last one seem to think that if evolution is torn down Creationism wins by default.

    There is actual controversy in evolutionary theory, but oddly enough it deals with evolution…not magic, superstition, and an unknown designer (well actually we all know the designer is the Christian God, the IDists just don’t have the balls to admit it).

  19. It’s amusing how zealots from the religion of Evolution seem to think their religion can be proven by calling Creationists names. Yeah, that’s science.

    The ten questions are definitely legitimate, and closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears and shouting, “LA LA LA” won’t change that. Those darn kids that have decided to think for themselves will still challenge your religion.

  20. MC says:

    Why isn’t it reasonable scientific inquiry to ask why there are almost no transitional forms within the fossil record?

    If we postulate that incremental species change has occurred throughout the past then the fossil record should reflect it. There should be millions of transitional species. Why are they not there?

  21. Steve says:

    It’s amusing how zealots from the religion of Evolution seem to think their religion can be proven by calling Creationists names. Yeah, that’s science.

    What names?

    The ten questions are definitely legitimate, and closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears and shouting, “LA LA LA” won’t change that.

    Let me see. I read all the questions, answered three of them, and this is putting my fingers in my ears and shouting “LA LA LA”? Okay. Thanks for playing: I’m commenting but I don’t have a point.

    Why isn’t it reasonable scientific inquiry to ask why there are almost no transitional forms within the fossil record?

    Because there are lots of transitional fossils in the fossil record? That would be my first answer. Look at the early mammal like reptiles and you’ll see similarities and fossils that are pretty good candidates for transitionary fossils.

    If we postulate that incremental species change has occurred throughout the past then the fossil record should reflect it.

    And it does, but there are gaps. However, the gaps are to be expected since fossil formation is not something that happens with great regularity. You need certain conditions, starting with the animal that is going to be fossilized dying in the right location (e.g. a stream bed).

    There should be millions of transitional species. Why are they not there?

    There are transitional fossils, maybe not millions (this bar is way to high, it is irrational) but there are lots of them. Have you actually gone to TalkOrigins.org and read their articles/essays on transitional fossils?

  22. Anderson says:

    It’s amusing how zealots from the religion of Evolution seem to think their religion can be proven by calling Creationists names. Yeah, that’s science.

    It’s amusing how zealots from the religion of Relativity seem to think their religion can be proved by calling anti-Einsteinians names. Yeah, that’s science.

    Or how about math? What’s up with this dogmatism about “2 + 2 = 4”? Can’t we entertain other points of view?

    Comments like Mr. Carlton’s display a complete lack of understanding of what science is … or religion, for that matter.

  23. Steve says:

    Dang Anderson. I wish I had written that. Well done.

  24. Or how about math? What’s up with this dogmatism about “2 + 2 = 4”? Can’t we entertain other points of view?

    Comments like Mr. Carlton’s display a complete lack of understanding of what science is … or religion, for that matter.

    Closed-minded dogmatism that refuses to acknowledge that a theory is a theory shows exactly why it is a religion.

  25. Steve says:

    Danny,

    Evolution is a fact.

    The theory of evolution is a theory.

    The two are related, but not identical. Hence your claim about dogmatism is off the mark.