THIS ISN’T the usual anti-science letter to the editor. No, gentle reader, today’s example was published with pride by the Abilene Reporter-News as a “Guest Column,” written by Clyde Berkley. We Googled the author’s name. All we could find is a preacher or missionary by that name. It could be the same man, but maybe not. It doesn’t matter; the column we’re dealing with speaks for itself.
Today’s gem of creationist wisdom is titled Theory of evolution should be questioned. Here are some excerpts, with bold and a few other embellishments added by us:
The question before the State Board of Education for Jan. 21 to 23 is whether or not teachers should teach the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, including Darwinian evolution. First, what is a scientific theory? Before we can answer that, we must answer the question, what is scientific?
Clyde begins in a decent fashion, but after those first three sentences, things go horribly wrong. Let’s read on:
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says …
We groan. Our eyes roll. Our head slowly moves from side to side. Clyde is going to do science by dictionary. Stay with us, dear reader. It gets worse. Much worse:
What is a theory? It is a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation. Then what is a scientific theory? It is a hypothesis about the physical world and its phenomena that is the basis for investigation.
Being altogether clueless about science, Clyde has consulted an online dictionary to see what it might be. Your Curmudgeon went to the same online reference that Clyde used. “Theory” has 6 definitions there, none of which is totally adequate for scientific purposes, although the fifth is at least not very far from the ballpark — “5: a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena” Even that, the best of the bunch, fails in several ways, but one could beef it up and have something satisfactory.
But of those six inadequate definitions, Clyde selected the last of them — “6 a: a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation.” This is wrong in every detail, but it’s what Clyde has decided to go with, and his “Guest Column” has now begun to dissolve into worthlessness. Let’s read on. We’re still in Clyde’s first paragraph about definitions:
Because it is called a theory, it must be questioned. Scientifically, a theory must be questioned in every way possible and tested multiple times under different conditions in order to be accepted as a fact or a law. If a theory cannot be tested, then it may not even be worthy of being called a scientific theory. If the theory cannot be tested, it certainly must be questioned. Any policy which would not encourage questions about a theory would be political policy, not scientific policy. Science requires the questioning of everything in order to make progress.
Clyde is not only babbling, he appears to be drifting in and out of consciousness. Let’s just say that a theory never becomes a fact, and never becomes a law. Facts, laws, and theories are different things. And, aside from all of that confusion, Clyde seems to be blundering and stumbling close to the idea that theories must be testable. That’s true, but if some so-called “theory” can’t be tested, then it’s not a scientific theory — period — so it’s of no scientific consequence whether it’s questioned or not. Clyde doesn’t know what the rest of us know — evolution is both testable and tested, so it’s a theory; while creationism is just … well, it’s creationism.
We shall continue — and in this next excerpt, where Clyde is being continuously goofy, we’ll just interject with a subtle [Aaaarrrgh!]:
If the theory of a flat Earth had not been questioned, we may not have ever established that the Earth is round.[Aaaarrrgh!] If the Big Bang theory had not been questioned, we might never have known that the large bodies of the universe are increasing in their velocity as the universe expands.[Aaaarrrgh!] This has brought about the theory of dark matter and dark energy. If the theory of “ether” had not been questioned, then Maxwell’s equations might not have been developed.[Aaaarrrgh!] If the theory that the atom is the smallest particle in the universe had not been questioned, then we might never have had nuclear energy. Even scientific laws need to be questioned. If Newton’s law had not been questioned in its relationship to subatomic particles, we might never have had quantum mechanics.[Aaaarrrgh!] There could be many more examples. Progress is made through questioning the present theories and even laws.
At this point we know where this mess is going, don’t we? Clyde is implying that evolution-denying creationists are like all those brilliant men of the past, who dared to challenge “flat earth theory.” Let’s observe how Clyde makes that point:
In regard to Darwin’s theory of evolution of the species, there are many questions which must be pursued in order to establish it as a fact or law.
Uh, Clyde … click away from that online dictionary and try reading this: Evolution as Fact and Theory, by Stephen Jay Gould. Okay, Moving along now:
The theory requires that the DNA of one species become the DNA of another species..[Aaaarrrgh!] When I asked a biochemist who was a DNA expert how this could happen, he admitted that he did not know. But he believed it did happen. This is faith and not science. We need to pursue every option as to how this could happen in order to prove the theory or discard it. It may be that the questions regarding the theory may actually result in proof of the theory.
The most amazing thing to us, dear reader, is that, notwithstanding Clyde’s display of thundering ignorance — indeed, he has clearly qualified for membership in the Legion of Lunacy — Clyde is somehow able to put so many words together without chewing up the paper upon which they’re written. Here’s more:
There is a possibility that Darwin’s theory of evolution could be tested. [Aaaarrrgh!]
Clyde actually believes … never mind. Here’s the rest of that paragraph:
The DNA of a human being has billions of nucleotides in a particular order. The DNA of the nearest other mammal to a human being also has billions of nucleotides, but there are about 120 million of them in a different order or location. [Aaaarrrgh!] Today we have computers that are fast enough to test random changes of the nucleotides in the mammal to see if they could ever become the DNA of a human. [Aaaarrrgh!] If these tests were to show that this is possible, then the theory would have further credence. But this is not being done. Some statisticians have done a mathematical analysis of the possibilities and have determined that the probability for this to occur is approximately zero. [Aaaarrrgh!] If this is the case, we certainly need to question the theory in every way possible.
Dear reader, we can’t go on with this. There’s just no way we’re going to spend the time detailing all the ways in which Clyde is is wrong. So where does this leave us? Right where we began — groaning, eyes rolling, head slowly moving from side to side.
Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.