Science, Just Science

Truth in Science: A Rebuttal Of Their Major Claims

*** Originally posted by Chris Hyland of SJS ***

Introduction

The main aim of Truth in Science is to cast doubts on the modern theory of evolution, and promote the idea of ‘intelligent design’ as an alternative. The method of attacking evolution used is highly reminiscent of the book “Icons of Evolution” by the intelligent design advocate Jonathan Wells, and this book is indeed referenced on the site. The idea seems to be that we can infer from the fact that there are often oversimplifications and inaccuracies in modern biology textbooks, that there are problems with the theory of evolution itself, or that the topics covered somehow aren’t evidence for evolution at all. While most biologists would like to see a more thorough treatment of evolution in science classes, considering it is the cornerstone of modern biology; the impression given that any inaccuracies or simplifications hide problems with the theory, or present a particular field as providing greater evidence than it actually does is simply false.

Further Reading:

The idea of intelligent design as scientific theory is one that is completely rejected by the scientific community. While they present design as a scientific hypothesis, it’s proponents have not produced any research supporting their position, and instead spend their time either attacking evolution in the manner discussed above, or attempting to get their ideas taught in school science classes without first getting them as accepted scientific theories. While recently some in the movement has claimed that research is taking place, not one of them can even give an example of what intelligent design research would entail, or a hypothesis based on their ideas. It has been repeatedly shown that ID is not only more of a religious and political movement than a scientific one, but that it was created primarily in the wake of several US court decisions forbidding the teaching of biblical creationism in schools. Many ID arguments claimed to be based on ID are in fact old creationist arguments with any references to God removed. Presenting ID as a valid alternative scientific theory to be taught alongside evolution is not only an insult to the entire of modern science, it is at best seriously misleading our children and at worst intentionally deceptive.

Further Reading:

In the spirit of other intelligent design advocates, the Truth in Science website does not make any statements about topics like the age of the earth. This is generally referred to as the ‘big tent’ strategy of intelligent design, where all creationists are able to attack evolution without mentioning the major differences between them. Despite this, the website includes many references to young earth creationist sources in its anti-evolutionary articles, including references to ‘baraminology’, the attempt by creationists to classify living organisms into the ‘kinds’ mentioned in Genesis. Creationist authors cited include Kurt Wise, who has said that no evidence will convince him that the earth is old because that is what he believes the Bible says. Additionally, most of the advocates of Truth in Science appear to be young earth creationists and members of prominent young earth creationist organisations.

Further Reading:

This short review attempts to address some of the false or misleading claims made on the Truth in Science website that people may have been directed to by either media reports or from material that was sent to their school. The claims are addressed in approximate order they appear on the site.

  • Main Page
  • Misrepresentation Of Alternatives
  • National Curriculum
  • The Fossil Record
  • Antibiotic Resistance
  • Peppered Moths
  • Sickle-cell Anaemia
  • Comparative Genetics and Biochemistry
  • Horse Evolution
  • Embryology
  • Homology
  • Scottish Curriculum
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Related Articles

Homepage

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science home page, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Welcome to Truth in Science, a new organisation to promote good science education in the UK. Our initial focus will be on the origin of life and its diversity.

  • The ‘origin of life’ is not a subject that is part of the UK science curriculum.
  • Given the kind of material that TIS promotes we find it extremely difficult to believe that their mission is to promote good science.

For many years, much of what has been taught in school science lessons about the origin of the living world has been dogmatic and imbalanced. The theory of Darwinian evolution has been presented as scientifically uncontroversial and the only credible explanation of origins.

  • Evolution is not a theory of origins. Evolution is a theory of diversity.
  • There is completely separate scientific discipline called Abiogenesis which deals with hypotheses about origins.
  • We don’t believe abiogenesis should be taught in school science lessons either, because all of the hypotheses out there are currently extremely tenuous.

This is despite the National Curriculum which states:
Pupils should be taught … how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence (for example, Darwin’s theory of evolution) [The National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 Science (Sc1: Scientific enquiry)]

  • This is from the Key Stage 4 Science Curriculum that was active BEFORE the first of September 2006. This curriculum is not longer current. TIS are aware of this (see later).

Few schools have taught this controversy. This is partly because many popular textbooks present Darwinism as the only scientific theory of origins and give little coverage to alternative theories, sometimes misrepresenting them.

  • There is no controversy and claiming there is does not make it so.
  • Science does not recognise any theory called ‘Darwinism’.
  • We assume that by ‘Darwinism’ TIS mean the theory of evolution. Evolution is not a theory of origins.
  • There is no ‘scientific theory of origins’ there are a number of tentative hypotheses collectively referred to as ‘abiogenesis’.
  • There is plenty of coverage of all the alternative abiogenesis hypotheses.

New GCSE Science Specifications in September 2006 give a fresh opportunity to reconsider what is taught about origins in science lessons. These specifications place an emphasis on students understanding “How Science Works”. This concept is explained as follows by the Edexcel Examination Board:
“How Science Works” is primarily about helping students to engage with and challenge the science they meet in everyday life. Students need to adopt a critical, questioning frame of mind, going ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the workings of science and how it impacts on society and their lives.

  • Notice the mention of the ‘New GCSE Science Specifications in September 2006’. It’s strange how TIS fail to mention that these do not include the quote they have chosen above.
  • We have no problem with the ‘How Science Works’ program at all. We don’t think it should be applied to the origins question because it is still under research and can be considered ‘tentative science’ at best.
  • We don’t think that any tentative science should be taught in schools.
  • We don’t believe that any pseudoscience such as Intelligent Design should be taught in schools either.
  • We believe that the major and established scientific theories should be taught in schools.

We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be given fair and accurate presentations of alternative views.

  • There are currently no credible scientific alternatives to evolution. Evolution is supported by a vast amount of evidence, makes a large number of predictions and is falsifiable. It is therefore a scientific theory.
  • Intelligent Design is not backed up by any data, makes no predictions and is not falsifiable. It is therefore NOT science at all.

In an Ipsos MORI Poll carried out in January 2006 for BBC Horizon , 41% of the respondents thought that Intelligent Design Theory should be taught in school science classes, and 44% believed that Creationism Theory should be taught. An Opinion panel Research Survey in July 2006 found that 30% of University Students in the UK believe in creation or intelligent design.

  • We lament this state of affairs and sincerely hope that Truth in Science is not making things worse.

There is a modern controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications. Truth in Science promotes the critical examination of Darwinism in schools, as an important component of science education.

  • The only controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution is that it conflicts with very literal interpretations of some religious scriptures e.g. the books of genesis in the Bible.
  • The ‘social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications’ of any scientific finding are – as always – outside of the remit of science. Evolution is a set of mechanisms to explain the diversity of life on this planet, nothing more.
  • Science fully supports critical examination of all scientific theories, all the time. This is done via a process called “peer review” which ALL that scientific papers must go through before they are published and is performed (and often administered) by scientists with relevant qualifications and a great deal of experience.

Misrepresentation Of Alternatives

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Alternatives to evolution are rarely presented; where they are they are presented as religious and without scientific merit.

  • Since no alternatives have been published in scientific journals and have been rejected by the scientific community, it is fair to say they are currently without scientific merit. With ideas such as the creationism and intelligent design movements it is a trivial task to show that they are religiously based.

National Curriculum

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Lord Filkin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Education and Skills, confirmed that Intelligent Design can be covered as part of the National Curriculum.

  • Schools minister Jacqui Smith has since said:
    “Creationism and Intelligent Design are not included in either the present science programme of study or the revised science programme of study to be implemented in September 2006” and “Intelligent Design is sometimes erroneously advanced as a scientific theory but it has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and is not accepted by the international scientific community.”

The Fossil Record

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The fossil record shows a lack of transitional species.

  • A transitional fossil is defined as one that shows features of both more ancient and more recent organisms. By this definition there are hundreds of transitional fossil species that have been discovered, and many between higher levels such as families and genera. In many cases the theory of evolution allowed scientists to predict exactly where these fossils would be found.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CC200): There are no transitional fossils.

The fossil record should show a smooth continuum.

Punctuated equilibrium lacks a clear mechanism

  • The theory of punctuated equilibrium is based on observation of living as well as extinct species. There is much support in the population genetics and molecular evolutionary literature for their theory, as well as mechanisms at both the genetic and species level of how this phenomenon occurs.See Wesley R. Elsberry’s “Punctuated Equilibrium FAQ

Some scientists to say that evolutionist explanations are wrong, and that all life has not evolved from a common ancestor.

  • The number of scientists with relevant qualifications that believe this is miniscule compared to those that accept the accepted scientific explanation. Common descent is one of the most strongly supported theories in all of science, and those few that oppose it have produced no research to back up their claims.

The fossil record is the subject of a great deal of scientific controversy.

  • While there are some genuine scientific controversies concerning the fossil record, none of them involve the reality of common descent.

Archaeopteryx was not an ancestor of birds and is no evidence for evolution

  • The claim that Archaeopteryx is a transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds is not the same as saying it was a direct ancestor of birds (see above). There are many other examples of reptile to bird transitions that are also used as evidence.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CC214): There are no transitional fossils between reptiles and birds.

The duckbilled platypus shows features of both reptiles and mammals, but is not transitional between the two.

  • The platypus contains highly specialised features of its own that are not shared by either reptiles or mammals, therefore it does not appear to transitional between the two. This shows a misunderstanding of how transitional fossils are identified.

The Cambrian explosion shows many animal forms appearing without any fossil ancestors.

Non-evolutionists take the fossil record to show that the Cambrian animals did not evolve gradually from a common ancestor, and came into being through intelligent design.

  • No intelligent design advocate has produced any hypothesis of how Cambrian animals came into being through design, or produced any research supporting the idea that they could not have evolved. In contrast there are several hypotheses from many fields of science dealing with the evolution of Cambrian animals.

Antibiotic Resistance

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Most antibiotic resistance involves the spread of traits from bacteria already resistant before the antibiotic was in use.

  • There is much evidence that many cases of antibiotic resistance are have been caused by mutation of several genes, as well as creation of new genes. Triclosan resistence in S. aureus is cause by mutations in several different genes, and vancomycin resistance involves a radical change to the structure of cell wall, and the development of five different genes. This complexity is reflected in the fact that bacteria did not develop resistance to vancomycin until thirty years after the antibiotic was introduced.Further Reading:
    * Refutation of creationist arguments regarding antibiotics
    * Post from the talkorigins newsgroup on the subject

Antibiotic resistance does not result in the formation of new species, or prove that all of life arose from single celled organisms.’

  • Antibiotic resistance is not used as an example of speciation, and not all evolution involves the formation of new species. Antibiotic resistance is just one piece of evidence and it is bizarre to claim that a single piece of evidence must be proof of the theory of evolution by itself.

Peppered Moths

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The peppered moth story only involves small scale change.

  • The purpose of Kettlewell’s and other experiments was to determine if the changes in peppered moth genotypes was due to natural selection, these experiments were not intended to look at speciation or other aspects of evolutionary theory.

Kettlewell’s experiments were flawed.

Sickle-cell Anaemia

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The fact that sickle-cell mutation confers resistance to Malaria does not prove that all organisms arose from a common ancestor.

  • The idea that individual pieces of evidence in support of evolution must prove the entire of common descent on their own is misleading. The modern theory of evolution is based of countless pieces of evidence from 150 years of research.

Comparative Genetics and Biochemistry

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The difference between the human and chimpanzee genomes has been lowered from 98% to 96% after the sequencing of the chimp genome.

  • Since the most common measure for describing differences in genomes is based on individual nucleotide differences, so describing the difference as 98%-99% is entirely appropriate.See: Nature article on the chimpanzee genome

Similarities between organisms may be due to them having the same designer.

  • Evidence for common design must begin by specifying what is expected from the designer. For example predicting when we expect similar or different forms. Then it can be seen whether new evidence fits in with prediction. Any theory could be concocted to fit the data after the fact. Considering that no one has yet proposed an actual theory if design it is hard to see in what sense this is a scientific statement.

The existence of non-standard genetic codes is evidence against common descent.

  • These kind of claims appear to purposefully ignore the larger picture of molecular similarities in organisms. In any case there is no reason to think that the non-standard genetic codes disprove common descent, especially as they are only slight variations of the standard code. There are also plausible theories as to their existence.Further Reading: EvolvingCode.net

Different analyses give different patterns of evidence.

Horse Evolution

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The change represented by horse evolution can be accommodated by both evolutionary and non-evolutionary theories.

  • This claim is hard to evaluate since no one has produced an analysis of the horse fossil record using a non-evolutionary theory.Further Reading: Fossil Horses (Florida Museum of Natural History)

Embryology

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Some textbooks use Haeckel’s embryo pictures, which are flawed.

  • While this is true, the implication that embryos do not show similarities is untrue. At earlier stages of development for example, vertebrate embryos show similarities and differences that match the pattern of common descent.

Many school textbooks still refer to Haeckel’s work.

Embryos never have gills, and calling features of human embryos ‘gill slits’ is merely to read Darwinian theory into the evidence.

  • While they are not technically gill slits, the structures are properly referred to as ‘pharyngeal pouches’. These structures are morphologically indistinguishable between human and fish embryos, and while they go on to form gills in fish, in humans they go on to form structures that evolved from gills such as the middle ear and the thymus.The fact that human and fish embryos develop the same structure reflects the fact that mammalian ancestors were once aquatic gill-breathing vertebrates.Further Reading:
    * See Talk Origins (creationist claim CB704): Human embryos do not have gill slits; they have pharyngeal pouches
    * Panda’s Thumb: Explanation of evolution of human organs from gills

Parents, teachers and pupils should be aware that one of the key evidences for evolution used by these textbooks is flawed.

Homology In Vertebrate Limbs

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Scientists only pick certain features to support common ancestry. For example the platypus has fur like a rabbit, a bill like a duck and lays eggs like a crocodile.

  • This is a misrepresentation of how homology is inferred from comparative anatomy. At any acceptable detail, a platypus’ bill is very different from a ducks, and does not support common ancestry between the two. The overwhelming majority of features point to a common ancestor with other mammals. These kinds of claims ignore the fact that many different lines of evidence give the same overall pattern of common descent, and in cases of comparative anatomy the overwhelming majority of features studied support the same pattern. To claim this is not the case involves very selective citing of the literature, and ignores the fact that the study of limb development increases the support for common descent.Further Reading:
    * Talk Origins: Discussion of how limb homology is evidence of a common ancestor of reptiles and birds
    * NCSE: Explanation of how homology is misrepresented by creationist Jonathon Wells

As Darwinists have to assume that evolution has occurred in order to identify homology, they cannot use homology as evidence for evolution. Using homology as evidence for evolution is to argue in a circle. And circular arguments prove nothing.

  • This is not how inferring homology works. Similarities of many traits group to show a nested heirarchical pattern of common descent. This patter was originally identified by Linneaus long before Darwin. Common ancestry is inferred because of the huge number of traits and different lines of evidence that show the same pattern.Talk Origins (creationist claim CB801): Claim that homological evidence for common ancestry is a circular argument.

Scottish Curriculum

Students are taught that their behavior is dependent on their genes.

Students are taught that their unique place in the world as humans is due to the recent evolution of large brain size.

  • The syllabus says: “In relatively recent evolutionary times there has been an exponential increase in human brain capacity. It is the large size of the human brain which gives humans a unique place in the animal world.” Biologically speaking our brain capacity is the main distinguishing feature between humans and other animals. Any other differences that may not be biologically based are beyond the scope of a biology syllabus.

Differences between males and females are explained using Darwin’s controversial theory of sexual selection.

  • Although certain tenets of sexual selection are controversial, it is generally accepted by the scientific community. There is evidence for sexual selection at both the population and the genetic level.See Stanford University: Discussion of sexual selection

Frequently Asked Questions

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Over 600 scientists with PhDs have signed a public statement: “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.”

  • This is an example of a fallacy known as an argument from authority, it is not the number of people you can get to sign a list that decides the validity of a theory it is research and evaluation of the evidence. Even if we were to accept these lists as authoritative, if you count the signatories with relevant qualifications (about 20%) the total comes to much less than one percent of all qualified scientists. The statement also presents a false dichotomy, as not even Darwin believed that natural selection was the sole driver of evolution, so this does not even count as an antievolutionary statement.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA111.1): More than X scientists support …

British school textbooks misrepresent creationists views.

  • Although not desirable, this is understandable, considering the vast majority of views on specific topics held by creationists. This problem is compounded by the fact that there is currently no scientific theory offered in support of creationism.

New advances in science often begin with just a few scientists who are prepared to risk questioning the reigning paradigm.

  • While this is true, theories at this level of development are not generally suitable to be taught in schools, and theories pushed by small groups questioning the reigning paradigm may also turn out to be completely wrong. Cold fusion is an example of a theory that is not taught in schools even though there are hundreds of papers on it in the literature.

Peer pressure stifles objections to evolution.

  • Even if this was the case it could only ever be temporary as the evidence should be impossible to deny. However scientists are encouraged to challenge accepted ideas and produce novel results, a scientist who successfully challenges evolution would achieve worldwide fame and respect in the scientific community.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA320): Scientists are pressured not to challenge the established dogma

Theories of origins have profound moral, social, ethical and cultural implications.

  • This may be true, but it does not change the fact that there are no scientific alternatives. Additionally, any such impact has no bearing on evolution’s validity as a theory.

Scientists discount theories that make reference to God or supernatural mechanisms.

It is very difficult to publish papers which contain alternative theories to evolution. When one was published attempts were made to ruin the career of the editor.

  • Since no examples are given of papers containing alternative theories that were rejected from journals, there is no evidence for this claim. In the example given of the paper that was published it appears that the editor abused his position to get the article published, because it did no meet the journals standards nor did it contain appropriate subject matter. The editors charges of harassment are far from proven.

Even if scientists realise that Darwinism is flawed in their own field, they may assume that in other areas it is well supported by evidence.

  • Although it is hard to call this claim false as it is rather subjective a conversation with only a few scientists in relevant areas would reveal that they all believe it is their field that provides the most support for the theory. Paleontologists regard the fossil record as the best evidence, molecular biologists cite DNA sequencing, organismal biologists will cite comparative anatomy etc.

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

  • In terms of a scientific theory, this can best be described as a hypothesis or a conjecture. In over 25 years intelligent design has yet to produce any research supporting its claims.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA100): Intelligent design theory is science.

Intelligent Design is not based on the Bible, and a growing number of scientists propose design as the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity in the natural world.

  • It is a fairly trivial task to show that a great deal of intelligent design proponents reject evolution for religious reasons. However their technical claims are rejected because they are demonstrably false. There is no reason currently to think that evolution cannot generate specified complexity.

Darwinism is questioned by thinking people all over the world.

  • Questioning of evolution is mostly correlated with certain denominations of fundamentalist Christianity that occur in many countries.

”’Many prominent advocates of Darwinism are ‘distinguished supporters of humanism’ (according to the British Humanist Association) and Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins’ latest book is entitled: The God Delusion.”’

  • This is true, however there is no evidence that Richard Dawkins’ or any other Humanists support of evolution is because of their humanism. This is not true for a great many of the major supporters of creationism and their religion.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA100.1): Intelligent design is scientific, not religious.

Related Articles

Looking at the articles at Truth in Science in more depth.

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