Published as an Op-Ed Piece in the Marion Star, Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Comments about evolution show lack of understanding
by Thomas Baillieul
I have been following the extensive commentary in your letters’ page concerning teaching of the Theory of Evolution in Ohio schools. What has become very apparent that those individuals who criticize the Theory of Evolution most strongly demonstrate by their comments that they don't understand modern Biology and evolutionary theory in particular. The recent letter by Carl Rardon is a case in point.
He (Rardon) makes the claim “ We know life exists today. How it got here, science hasn't a clue.” As noted in other letters, evolutionary theory does not address life’s origins - only what happened after life came into being. However, science is anything but clueless about the nature of the earliest life. Abiogenesis (the study of life’s origin) is a very active and dynamic field of research here and abroad as demonstrated in two recent international symposia on the topic (www.ees.lanl.gov/protocells). According to these researchers, it is only a matter of time before living, evolvable chemical systems will be created in the laboratory from precursor molecules likely to have been present in the early Earth. We will probably never know the exact process by which life arose over 4 billion years ago because the dynamic forces which constantly reshape the Earth’s surface have obliterated any conclusive evidence. However, we can, and will continue to demonstrate some very likely scenarios.
Another common creationist argument used by Mr. Rardon is that there has been insufficient time for evolution to occur. Such statements are frankly silly in light of the extensive fossil record, well constrained by a variety of independent age dating techniques, which shows conclusively that evolution happened as well as the timing and the nature of the major changes that occurred. No, we don’t know which twig on the tree of life gave rise to each subsequent twig, but the pattern of the tree’s branches is well established. The Theory of Evolution is largely a reflection of this grand display of life's history.
Such statements as “current support for evolutionary theory from fossils is no better today than it was in Darwin's time,” are completely false and demonstrate an ignorance of the science of Paleontology (the study of fossils) and its tremendous development over the past century and a half. In addition, the claim “Evolutionists are forced to pick and choose the fossils that fit the theory,” is an accusation of fraud on such a massive scale that, if true, would become the story of the Century. The idea that there is some vast conspiracy involving all evolutionary biologists around the world (who in reality are in competition with each other to make the next great discovery) is ludicrous. Mr. Rardon should either present his evidence, or retract his accusation.
Rardon does not define what he means by "major life forms". A recent paper in Science (July 9, 2004) on microscopic bilaterian fossils shows that major animal body plans were in existence well before the early Cambrian era. Also, research over the past 5 years has shown that only minor changes to 1 or 2 genes (e.g., the HOX gene) are necessary to create major body plan modifications. Science may not know the exact genetic changes that resulted in the formation of each new organism in the fossil record - but with every discovery, every study, we have an ever growing understanding of the mechanisms involved. And that, after all, is what science is all about.
Rardon claims that evolution is not based on solid science and is dependent upon “philosophical presuppositions.” This is standard creationist-speak for the fact that evolutionary biologists seek to understand the nature of life and its diversity through natural process (i.e., the basic laws of physics and chemistry). The fact is, this approach to understanding nature is also true of every scientific discipline, from Astronomy to Zoology. Supernatural explanations (Rardon’s non-specific “interventions”), which cannot be tested objectively and independently, have no place in the science lab - or in public school science classes.
Thomas A. Baillieul of Columbus is a geologist who recently retired as a senior environmental scientist with the Federal government. He has been active in the creation-evolution dialogue for more than 15 years.