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Letter to a Representative

Post of the Month: September 2003

by

Subject:    Re: Another call for ID in school science
Date:       22 September 2003
Message-ID: a34cc8ef.0309211835.701878f9@posting.google.com

r norman wrote in message news:<682qmvooh9ivtv3a4btav3ktv9bi1fev5b@4ax.com>...
> "Science classes should consider intelligent design"
> "Faith and Policy" OpEd column in the Detroit News, Sept 20
> http://www.detnews.com/2003/editorial/0309/20/d07-275984.htm
>
> More scariness in Michigan -- an appeal to force creationism into the
> public schools. Note the section that states:
>
> The wording in Rep. Bradstreet's legislation would replace the current
> scientific method theory for explaining life to say that: "All
> students will explain the competing theories of evolution and natural
> selection based on random mutation as well as the theory that life is
> the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a Creator." Or, it
> will ask them to "describe how life may be the result of a purposeful,
> intelligent design of a Creator."
>
> Although there is supposed to be a careful attempt to keep religion
> out of it (the column says explicitly that "intelligent design doesn't
> require belief in a God") it sure is strange that "Creator" is spelled
> with an upper case "C"!

My latest letter to my Representative, copies to all members of the state education committee:

Dear Representative Taub,

Subject: House Bill 4946 and House Bill 5005

As I stated in previous letters regarding House Bill 4946 and House Bill 5005, the intention of these Bills is to change State educational requirements by diluting valid science education, and insert a particular theological view into the public school curriculum. They must be opposed.

Specifically, HB 4946 titled, "The revised school code" intends to introduce "intelligent design creationism" into the public school science curriculum, by requiring the insertion of ". . . life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a Creator" and other similar language. This is clearly a religious concept of a particular type, which has no place in a science class, much less in public school instruction. Under the guise of "fairness" and "diversity," the effort to introduce the concept of "intelligent design" as an "alternative" to evolution into the public school curriculum merely undermines the teaching of science by promoting obvious appeals to supernatural forces and inscrutable agents. The courts have consistently thrown out such modifications.

HB 4946 also erroneously states, ". . .all references to 'evolution' and 'natural selection' shall be modified to indicate that these are unproven theories. . ." Of course there is no disagreement that evolution is a theory, only that it is incorrect and intentionally misleading to refer to it as "just a theory" or "an unproven theory." This indicates a misunderstanding of what constitutes a theory in science. In contrast to "a guess" in colloquial usage, a theory in science is an explanatory framework for the data supporting it. Evolution has a vast amount of data to support it. Today the theory of evolution and the mechanism of natural selection is as much open to doubt as the theory that the Earth goes around the Sun.

HB 5005 has the same purpose as HB 4946, seeking to insert a requirement to teach a "design hypothesis" as an alternative to "materialistic naturalism". No professional scientific organization recognizes a "design hypothesis" as a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution. Quite the contrary, a host of scientific organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, and the National Academy of Sciences have issued clear statements rejecting creationism (including "intelligent design by a creator") and detailing the ways in which it is not science. Promotions of a "design hypothesis" in the popular press have been examined, refuted and discarded by the scientific community as logically unsupportable, lacking in detail, equivocal, inconsistent and having no predictive power.

A "designer" who creates the conditions for the origin of life or the universe (by whatever means) exists outside of the laws of nature, and is by definition "God". God is by definition a religious idea, is not scientific in nature, and serves no secular purpose. The entire "argument from design" is therefore religious belief, nothing more and nothing less. The "design hypothesis" also forms the basis for a variety of religious cults such as Heaven's Gate, the Raelian Movement and Scientology, and other non-religious extra-terrestrial conspiracy cults. Legislators should be cautious of potential association with the lunatic fringe.

There is no scientific theory of any sort of creationism, whether "intelligent design" or otherwise. Its proponents have no coherent framework, have no data and do not publish in peer-reviewed technical, professional or academic journals. Nor does "intelligent design creationism" meet the essential characteristics of science as outlined in Judge Overton's 1982 decision in McLean v. Arkansas: 1) It is guided by natural laws, 2) It has to be explanatory by natural laws, 3) It is testable against the empirical world, 4) Its conclusions are tentative--subject to continual review and revision, and 5) It is falsifiable. On every point, "intelligent design" and every other form of creationism fail as science.

One must question how many working scientists the authors of HB 4946 and HB 5005 consulted before attempting to alter existing science education standards. One must question how many educators in our Michigan colleges and universities were consulted while drafting these bills. I find it disconcerting that those entrusted with overseeing the education of our children are willing to risk mis-educating future generations on scientific matters when they have among their constituents scientists who can explain to them the state of scientific knowledge and the importance of evolution as a foundation for that knowledge.

Evolution is a fundamental concept necessary for the understanding of biology. It is not a "theory in crisis" having "serious flaws". It meshes precisely with a vast number of independent observations in genomics, anatomy, geology, paleontology, astronomy and physics. It has direct economic impacts in areas as diverse as medicine, agriculture, land use planning, petroleum exploration, and mineral resources. Future economic growth will certainly be science-based, and to compete successfully Michigan will have to attract and retain companies that demand high levels of scientific sophistication in the workforce. A reputation of being either scientifically illiterate or hostile to mainstream science would be extremely damaging to Michigan.

I urge you to convince your colleagues to eliminate these bills in their entirety--the ONLY purpose in introducing HB 4946 and HB 5005 is to attempt to insert religious teaching into the public schools. To require by law, as in HB 4946, that students set aside their own beliefs, or non-belief, and acknowledge someone else's idea of the existence, methods and purposes of a "Creator" is nothing less than an establishment of religion and must be opposed. This is an infringement on my right as a parent to determine the religious instruction of my child without interference by government.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Respectfully yours,

Leonard A. Zanger

[Return to the 2003 Posts of the Month]


The Evolution of Hot Peppers

Post of the Month Runner-Up: September 2003

by

Subject:    Re: Hot peppers
Date:       7 September 2003
Message-ID: 54522494.0309070924.5c72809f@posting.google.com

Roadking1576 wrote in message news:<20030906000052.13272.00000527@mb-m15.aol.com>...
> Someone recently asked a good question about evolution and hot peppers on
> another forum....but that forum crashed before the topic could be discussed.
> If hot peppers evolved into being hot as a defense against being eaten...and
> we humans tried them and liked them...and then decided that we liked them so
> much that we created hybrids which in turn became even hotter as a
> defense...which some with a higher tolerance for pain liked even more, then
> is it possible that these peppers could go on turning up the heat? Or would
> they just give up and die off?

The peppers that we eat today have indeed been bred for their flavor. The original evolution of capsicum was probably a defense against consumption by rodents or other small omnivores, since the plant would "prefer" to be consumed by birds whose digestive system won't destroy the seeds. Once humans began consuming them, the peppers encountered and adapted to a different selective environment. The plants "manipulated" human behaviour to ensure that their seeds would be replanted, much the same as they had previously used bird consumption to transport and fertilise the seeds. Humans offered peppers a more efficient reproductive vector than the birds did, since the humans would not only transport and plant the seeds and fertilise them, we would also stick around and water them and protect them from other predators and competitors. All the peppers needed to do to ensure that humans would continue to do so was to grow increasingly large and/or flavorful fruits.

Most (perhaps all) of our domesticates would face extreme selective disadvantages in the absence of their mutualist relationship with humans (and vice versa!) so I suspect that if humans stopped deliberately intervening in their life, growth, and reproductive cycles, the plants would either change rather radically (and quickly) or go extinct. However, as long as they remain in a co-evolutionary relationship with us, some species of peppers will become hotter and hotter, up to the point where they actually become toxic (e.g. one tiny grain of dried, ground, ▄ber-haba˝ero, dissolved in a gallon of sour cream causes an instant, incurable bleeding ulcer), simply because we want them to, and it is to their reproductive advantage to provide us with what we want. Of course other peppers will remain quite mild, since we also like that.

IOW, the peppers may originally have developed spiciness as a defense, but now, the trait is not a defensive one, but an attractant. The peppers "want" us to eat them, since that's the best way to get their seeds planted. A pepper that does its best to avoid human consumption will not do as well as one that encourages human consumption. It's best to think of human agriculture not as a form of predation, but as a form of mutualism, in which both species (the human and the domesticate) gain reproductive benefit from their interaction. The pepper, just like the human, is going to die either way, eventually; the goal is to get as many genes into subsequent generations as possible. Plants can do that very efficiently by making humans want to eat them. Think about wheat, for example. 10KYA, the wild ancestor of wheat was restricted to a few miles of hillsides in southwest Asia. Today, wheat fields cover vast amounts of land on every continent but Antarctica. Wheat has, in short, used us as a means of increasing its reproduction. Peppers are simply doing the same thing.

If you want to learn more about this, I strongly recommend this reference:

Rindos, David
1984    The Origins of Agriculture: An Evolutionary Perspective.
Academic Press, New York.

Cheers,
    -Floyd

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