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....about that list of scientists who supposedly doubt evolution...

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  • Eric
    A while back Andrew, Jeremy and I engaged in a discussion about a supposed list of scientists who supposedly doubted or rejected biological evolution. I
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2003
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      A while back Andrew, Jeremy and I engaged in a discussion about a
      supposed list of scientists who supposedly doubted or rejected
      biological evolution. I recently found the following article
      (thanks to John Musselwhite), which I thought might be of interest.

      Doubting Darwinism Through Creative License
      by Skip Evans
      April 8, 2002

      In October and November 2001, the Discovery Institute (DI), a Seattle-
      based public policy institute, placed advertisements in at least
      three periodicals, including The New York Review of Books, The New
      Republic, and The Weekly Standard. The advertisement in The New York
      Review of Books appeared under the headline "A Scientific Dissent
      from Darwinism" followed by this text:

      <Public TV programs, educational policy statements, and science
      textbooks have asserted that Darwin's theory of evolution fully
      explains the complexity of living things. The public has been
      assured, most recently by spokespersons for PBS's Evolution series,
      that "all known scientific evidence supports [Darwinian] evolution"
      as does "virtually every reputable scientist in the world."
      The following scientists dispute the first claim and stand as living
      testimony in contradiction to the second. There is scientific dissent
      to Darwinism. It deserves to be heard.>

      After this brief statement is a gray box taking up the majority of
      the page which contains in small print a list of names followed by
      the names of the institutions at which the signatories work,
      previously worked, or attained doctoral degrees. In a cleared space
      in the middle of this display is an area containing the statement to
      which the signatories attest:

      <We are skeptical of the 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

      Under close examination, the text of both the leading paragraphs and
      the statement attested to appear to be very artfully phrased. The
      first paragraph tells readers that spokespersons for the PBS series
      Evolution have assured the public that "all known scientific evidence
      supports [Darwinian] evolution." But notice that "Darwinian" appears
      in brackets. That "all known scientific evidence supports evolution"
      is a different claim than "all known scientific evidence supports
      [Darwinian] evolution." Exactly who is equating Darwinian evolution
      and evolution? In the same vein, the signatories to the second
      declaration are described as dissenting from "Darwinism" - but do
      they reject evolution as well? NCSE decided to go to the source to
      ask the questions.

      The Quote
      On October 31, 2001, Mark Edwards of the DI responded to an e-mail
      request for the source of the quote. He stated that he did not know
      offhand the source of the quotation in the first paragraph but would
      make an effort to track it down. As of this writing, he has not
      supplied that information.

      Personnel from public television station WGBH, the coproducer of the
      PBS Evolution series, were unable to find the exact quotation in any
      of their published literature. An internal memorandum providing
      background information on the Evolution series to PBS stations
      nationwide contains an almost identical sentence: "All known
      scientific evidence supports evolution." - without the
      word "Darwinian".

      Let us assume that this internal memorandum (described on the DI web
      page) is the source of the quote used in the advertisement. If the
      word "Darwinian" does not occur in the original quote, why was it
      added here? In the rest of the paragraph from which the quote was
      evidently taken there is a discussion of "new discoveries over the
      past 150 years", including much of the fossil record, DNA, and the
      process of genetic replication. The paragraph goes on to state that
      any of these discoveries could have potentially discredited
      evolution, but they did not. In fact, they have provided even more
      evidence for descent with modification and common ancestry. The
      paragraph concludes by acknowledging that there certainly are things
      about evolution we do not yet know, just as with "all comprehensive
      scientific theories, from the theory of gravity to quantum

      We believe that the Discovery Institute intentionally modified the
      sentence and thereby changed its meaning. The original PBS sentence
      focused on evolution - the thesis that living things have common
      ancestors. It would not be equivalent to say that "all known
      scientific evidence supports Darwinian evolution"; by
      adding "Darwinian", the meaning of the quotation is changed. Is there
      healthy scientific debate about the role natural selection plays in
      evolution? Absolutely, and this is widely recognized. The discoveries
      of genetics have led to a better understanding of the sources for
      variation, and the latter half of the 20th century has witnessed a
      vigorous debate about the roles of proposed additional mechanisms -
      including genetic drift, gene flow, and developmental processes.
      These are some of the most interesting topics in modern evolutionary
      science. But arguments within the scientific community about how
      evolution occurs should not be confused with arguments -
      conspicuously absent from the scientific community - about whether
      evolution occurred.

      The Statement
      The signatories appear to attest to a statement about the ability of
      natural selection to "account for the complexity of life" - in other
      words, a statement about how evolution takes place. Given the anti-
      evolutionary tone of the introductory paragraphs, a layperson reading
      the advertisement might well assume that the signatories objected to
      evolution itself, rather than to the universality of natural
      selection as its mechanism. But did the scientists themselves object
      to evolution? Any of them? All of them? Or were some of them only
      questioning the importance of natural selection? Many scientists -
      including many associated with NCSE - could in good conscience sign a
      statement attesting to natural selection's not fully explaining the
      complexity of life!

      The Signatories
      The list consists of 41 biologists (over half of whom are
      biochemists), 16 chemists, 4 engineers, 2 geologists/geophysicists, 8
      mathematicians, 10 medical professionals, 4 social scientists, 15
      from physics or astronomy, and 3 whose specialties we were unable to
      determine. Few were from biological subfields associated with
      organismic and population-level biology - the divisions of biology
      most closely associated with the study of evolution. None was
      recognizable as a prominent contributor to the scientific literature
      debating the role of natural selection in evolution. (The list
      published on the review evolution web site, which we analyzed,
      originally contained 103 names. The ads published in the print media
      contained 105 names, with the addition of the Center for Renewal of
      Science and Culture, the creationist arm of the DI, President Stephen
      Meyer and Fellow Paul Nelson, both of whom hold PhDs in philosophy.)

      NCSE contacted a sample of the signatories and asked them specific
      questions about their attitudes concerning evolution, namely whether
      or not they accepted "evidence for common ancestry, meaning that
      different species today shared common ancestors in the past," and
      whether or not they were convinced "that humans and chimps both share
      a common ancestor."

      We anticipated that signatories working for Christian anti-evolution
      ministries - especially those who are young-earth creationists, such
      as David A Dewitt, PhD, an adjunct faculty member at the Institute
      for Creation Research - would answer in the negative, but responses
      from some of the other signatories were quite revealing. One
      signatory responded to each of the two questions with "I don't have a
      problem with this," then went on to elaborate that his "dissent
      mainly concerns the origin of life." But, of course, evolution is not
      a theory of the origin of life, nor was "Darwinism" in any of its
      forms; evolution concerns what happens after life appears.

      Although another signatory responded that "the definition of species
      is very troublesome," he added that "I certainly do accept that SOME
      (perhaps most) modern species shared at least a recent common
      ancestor." On the question of whether chimps and humans share a
      common ancestor, he said, "I believe the genetic evidence is
      overwhelming for the morphology." Another signatory has elsewhere
      written, "I am not a creationist and have no reason to doubt common

      Therefore, although the signatories represent a diverse range of
      opinions about the role of natural selection in evolution, the list
      is nothing more than careful word play - what is known as "spin."
      Should one draw the conclusion from the advertisement that there is a
      growing movement of scientists who doubt evolution? Hardly; many of
      the names on the list are not new to anti-evolutionary activity.
      Ironically, if one were to conduct a survey of scientists who
      accepted evolution, the size of that list would swamp by tens of
      thousands this list assembled by the Discovery Institute!

      It is regrettable that the public is likely to be confused by these
      advertisements and be misled into thinking that all of these
      scientists reject evolution, or that there is a groundswell of
      scientists rejecting evolution. Neither is true.

      The National Center for Science Education is a nonprofit
      organization, based in Oakland, California. On the web at

      For information contact Skip Evans, NCSE Network Project
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