scientists challenging Darwin
September 26, 2001
PLEASANTON -- Two scientists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and a UC Berkeley researcher are among 100 scientists who are publicly proclaiming their doubts about Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.
The scientists have signed a statement that's being used by a Seattle-based group as ammunition in its attacks on "Evolution," a seven-part television series airing this week on public television stations nationwide.
The Discovery Institute, which circulated the statement, alleges that the series does not present all sides of what the group maintains is a scientific debate over the validity of Darwin's theories.
The institute promotes a theory known as "intelligent design," which holds that the actions of a thoughtful creator, not random mutation and natural selection, best explain life on Earth.
Producers of "Evolution" contacted the Discovery Institute in an attempt to include the group's views in the program. But the group decided not to participate when its members learned that their theories would be discussed only in the final segment of the series, "What About God?"
"We wanted to talk about science, and they wanted us to do Sunday school," said Mark Edwards, a spokesman for the Discovery Institute. "The final episode paints a picture that the only critics of Darwinian theory are these guitar-strumming hillbillies in Kentucky who are creationists, and that's just not true. We're glad we're not part of that stereotype."
Proponents of the "intelligent design" theory come from many faiths and don't advocate the views of a particular religion, Edwards said.
The executive producer of "Evolution," Richard Hutton, said that the final episode was where the group's views belonged, because the theory of "intelligent design" has not been debated in peer-reviewed, scientific journals.
"If the ideas were tested in the way science is traditionally tested, I would feel very differently about the nature of what they have to say," Hutton said.
Hutton, a science journalist who also produced the PBS documentary series "The Brain" and "The Mind," said he's also read a "viewer's guide" the Discovery Institute has published in response to his program.
The group posted the viewer's guide on its Web site, www.reviewevolution.com, and hopes teachers will use the 152-page critique of all seven episodes if they show the series in their classrooms. Among the allegations in the viewer's guide is a claim that the series "mischaracterized the details of Darwin's life to promote the scientist-vs.-fundamentalist stereotype that runs throughout the series."
Hutton denied those and other allegations.
"I've discussed it with scientists and historians ... we stand by our series as factually accurate and appropriate," Hutton said. "The Design Institute has leveled some very broad charges, and the question is what's right, and what's not."
Hutton has scientists like Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, in his corner. Alberts has compared the Discovery Institute's criticism of the television series, which concludes Thursday, to an attack on the scientific process itself.
Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, said one problem with intelligent design is that its proponents have put forward few specific theories that can be tested by their peers.
"These guys don't have a scientific model," she said. "All they have is a bunch of assertions that evolution didn't happen. Because they don't produce anything that's of scientific value, they're not taken seriously."
The center has posted its defense of the series on its Web site, www.ncseweb.org.
To help publicize their views, about four weeks ago, members of the Discovery Institute set out to gather signatures from scientists from around the nation.
The scientists were asked to sign a statement declaring they were "skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life" and that "careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."
The scientists hadn't seen the PBS series but were aware that the Discovery Institute would use the statement to criticize it, Edwards said.
Ted Saito, one of two Lawrence Livermore researchers to sign the statement, described himself in an interview Tuesday as "a committed Christian. I strongly believe in the biblical account (of Earth's creation)."
Although the physicist hadn't seen the series, he was willing to sign the statement because "there's just a tremendous lack of evidence (in the fossil record), where you can see one species evolving into another."
Another who signed the statement, UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Jed Macosko, said his willingness to question conventional thinking about evolution has made it harder for him to find work and gain acceptance from colleagues.
The 29-year-old Berkeley resident said that if he is eventually able to conduct research on the theory of intelligent design, he believes he may have to start his own journal to get it published.
"I think intelligent design means widening the box of the scientific universe," the microbiologist said. "It's unfortunate that the intellectual gatekeepers have rendered it inadmissible evidence in the court of science."
For more information and contrasting views on the series "Evolution," visit www.pbs.org, www.reviewevolution.com, and www.ncseweb.org on the Web.
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