Saturday, January 5, 2008

Update on the Discovery Institute's 700

First a brief reminder. Starting in 2001 the Discovery Institute put together a little letter called "A SCIENTIFIC DISSENT FROM DARWINISM" which claims “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

They managed to collect about 700 signatures of, and I am using the Discovery Institute words, "Doctoral Scientists" which of course means these people have a PhD or their county's equivalent. Makes this sound like something important. Now in previous posts I have stated that 700 is not a very large number, and when you examine the tens of thousands of scientists who support evolution, the number shrinks in importance. 700 just doesn't support a widespread scientific controversy over Evolution. I have also stated that the wording doesn't really detract from Evolution, it only examines part of the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution. The Discovery Institute likes to wave their petition around, it also doesn't imply support for Intelligent Design. So what's left to say about it?

Well as I was searching for something else, I came across an interesting article from the NY Times from Feb 2006 "Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition" that I found truly fascinating. Apparently only about 25% of the list are actually biologists, over 350 are in non-biology related fields. I guess just having a Doctorate was all the requirement you needed to sign. The article also says that "Of the 128 biologists who signed, few conduct research that would directly address the question of what shaped the history of life." So they have signatures from biologists who don't actually work in the field they are questioning? The Discovery Institute failed to mention this.

The 700 contain very few prominent scientists, as the NY Times says the majority are in more modest positions, like Dr. Thomas H. Marshall, director of public works in Delaware, Ohio, who has a doctorate in environmental ecology. Oh yea, environmental ecology, real cutting edge evolution there!

Of course the title of the article is the real driving point. Yes, 700 people with Doctorate degrees signed the petition, but the real question is do they object to "Darwinism" for scientific reasons or religious reasons? The NY Times found that many are Evangelical Christians who are expressing their dissent because of religious reasons! Another thing the Discovery Institute forgot the mention. The only connection this petition seems to have with science is that all the signers have Doctoral degrees.

I am amazed at the misleading way this petition is used by the Discovery Institute! Actually I am not, but sarcasm doesn't always come though well in print. You really need to see my facial expressions and voice inflection when I say it. They love to wave this petition to convince people there is a hotbed of controversy about Evolution and also use it to justify their "Teach the Controversy" tactic to get Intelligent Design into the classroom. But when you shine a little light on it, you see it's not worth the tissue paper it's written on!

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