The Evolution Debate

While I was in Miami last week, I watched a show on the Discovery Channel called “Before the Dinosaurs,” a documentary on the reptilian creatures that supposedly inhabited the earth before the dinosaurs evolved. It was a very slick production, using state-of-the-art CGI graphics to create scenes so realistic that you’d think it was filmed. In fact, it was designed to mimic a real documentary, the sort of thing you’d see on “Animal Planet.” For example, as large creatures lumbered by, the “camera” would shake, or when a predator ripped into his prey, “blood” would splatter on the “camera” lens. The narrator even described insignificant little behaviors to give the scenes added realism, like the two male reptiles fighting each other who would do some sort of push-ups to display their aggressiveness. How could scientists possibly know that little detail?

The whole thrust of this documentary, of course, was to further solidify in the minds of viewers the unassailable fact of evolution. Evolution is so thoroughly established, we might as well make the documentary as real as possible.

But like every other scientific theory involving processes we cannot directly observe, evolution is still subject to debate — and its adherents have cause to stack the evidence and silence their opposition. A new documentary is coming out soon that addresses the difficulties in evolution, and the intellectual chicanery that props it up. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is the brainchild of Ben Stein. Matt Barber has reviewed the film, and it promises to be a good one. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

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One response to “The Evolution Debate

  1. Benjamin Franklin

    The Claim
    Large numbers of scientists are secretly questioning evolution. “One on one, in a scientific meeting, after the third or fourth beer, my experience has been that many evolutionary biologists will say, “Yeah, this theory’s got a lot of problems.” (Paul Nelson, Expelled)

    The Facts
    For a movie obsessed with evolution, it is odd that Expelled never bothers to define evolution properly. The big idea of biological evolution is that living things have common ancestors: that they have descended with modification from earlier forms. To understand evolution, we have to study the pattern that the branching tree of life has taken through time as well as the processes or mechanisms that bring about the changes. It is well documented by statements from scientific societies large and small that scientists no longer feel any need to debate whether evolution took place; what they are doing now is working out the details. Scientists agree that natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, genetic recombination, mutation, and symbiosis are major evolutionary processes, but they continue to debate the relative importance of each mechanism to the history and diversity of life. Similarly, scientists agree on the basic contours of the tree of life, although they continue to refine and revise the picture in detail in the light of further data and theory.

    Expelled confuses the debates among scientists about the details of evolution – how it works and what descended from what – with a nonexistent dispute about whether evolution occurred. This approach plays into the conspiracy theme of the movie: somehow, scientists are scheming to keep the unwary public from learning the truth about the supposed falsity of evolution. Science, however, rewards dissent and independence of thought – when it has a solid base. Scientists are an independent lot who find success and professional advancement by successfully overturning established ideas and through vigorously debating the evidence supporting scientific interpretations in scientific conferences and journals. The thought that anyone could herd them together to conspire against anything – even intelligent design – is laughable. One may as well conspire to herd a roomful of cats.

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