Saturday, February 26, 2005

I just ran across this -- a "Best and Worst of 2004" list from an organization called New Mexicans for Science and Reason -- in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Here's something that caught my eye -- just let it wash over you if you don't really get it (it's not my area of expertise either):

The "Don't Stop Now - It's Getting Good" Award goes to the Theory of Evolution, which still struggles for popular acceptance while finding stupendous experimental support and utility in science. In 2004, the evolution of irreducibly complex features was documented for flagellum motors and colorful coral proteins; more transitions were found between fish and amphibians (nostrils and fins-to-legs), the handedness of primordial amino acids was better understood, a single gene was found to be capable of giving mice long, bat-like fingers (explaining rapid evolution of bats), the natural history of the Uterus was developed, a gene common in Tibetans was found to improve oxygen intake, and a possible common ancestor of all the great apes, including humans, was found. Not a bad year, except for that "popular" thing....

In plain English, this is pointing out that scientists continue to find new evidence confirming the validity of evolution every few months. Americans don't understand this. Scientists discuss this with scientists, and a few popular-science writers address it in books written for readers who lack specialized knowledge but have fairly hoity-toity educations nonetheless.

Nobody tries to reach a broad general public with this. But isn't it more or less the same wriggling-flagellates-under-the-microscope stuff millions of Americans watch on CSI?

If Peter Jennings can host a two-hour prime-time network-TV special on UFOs, for pity's sake, why not this -- real science, on a subject that has a lot of Americans genuinely worked up?


The NMSR "Best and Worst" list also recalls a statement Jimmy Carter made in early 2004 when Superintendent Kathy Cox of the Georgia Department of Education proposed removing the word "evolution" (though not the concept) from the state science curriculum.

"There can be no incompatibility between Christian faith and proven facts concerning geology, biology, and astronomy.

"There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to defend our religious faith."

I can't help suspecting that many Americans who doubt evolution think no one who believes in God also believes in evolution. I wish Carter would lead an effort to set them straight. And, as Jim Holt noted in The New York Times last Sunday,

Pope John Paul II was comfortable declaring that evolution has been "proven true" and that "truth cannot contradict truth."

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