Thursday, May 12, 2005

Debunking Skell

Apparently Phil Skell wrote a letter to the Board of Education claiming that biologists don't use evolution. I pondered finding a copy and responding to it, but Pharyngula already dissected a version of the argument from January.

I can't bring myself to link to the Discovery Institute's site, nor to host the text here. A little work with Google will turn up a letter with the sentence "I am writing—as a member of the National Academy of Sciences—to voice my strong support for the idea that students should be able to study scientific criticisms of the evidence for modern evolutionary theory along with the evidence favoring the theory."

In short, he claims that Darwin would give up on evolution if he knew what was going on inside the cell. He doesn't tell us what Wallace would have done.

I think that the emphasis on Darwin obscures an important point. Natural selection's time had come. The data were there, the intellectual climate was right, and two men, on surveying the diversity of life through travel and collecting, both became convinced that natural selection must be at work, and could explain the diversity of life.

For some chemist to turn around and say "No" is preposterous. I like chemistry well enough, I guess. Lots of it makes no sense to me, but I don't call it bunk on that basis. People who study the diversity of life can see the traces of evolution leading back to common ancestors. Chemists don't have the experiences that biologists do, which may explain their inability to understand what we're talking about.

Biologists, especially systematists, don't see intelligent designers sticking their hands in here and there, nor do they see "prescription" at work, as one kook who's been hanging out in the comments claims. If they did, they'd care, but they don't, so they don't.

I believe that Ed Wiley is a member of the NAS, as are several other people who've negatively reviewed the rejected standards. But one NAS member on their side will make them feel good. Even if he has no special expertise in the field.