George Claassen

Stand up against superstition!

2005-09-23 08:52

"Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry.

"Although there are legitimate scientific debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism of evolution.

"It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the science curricula of the public schools."

This statement in 2003 by the National Centre for Science Education (NCSE) in America was again highlighted last week when 38 Nobel prize winners released a letter sent to the Kansas State Board of Education. The Board recently announced its decision to include Intelligent Design theory as an alternative to the theory of evolution in science syllabi at school.

"We, Nobel Laureates, are writing in defence of science. We reject efforts by the proponents of so-called "intelligent design" to politicise scientific inquiry and urge the Kansas State Board of Education to maintain Darwinian evolution as the sole curriculum and science standard in the State of Kansas," the letter, released under the banner of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, begins.

"The United States has come a long way since John T Scopes was convicted for teaching the theory of evolution 80 years ago. We are, therefore, troubled that Darwinism was described as 'dangerous dogma' at one of your hearings. We are also concerned by the Board's recommendation of August 8, 2005 to allow standards that include greater criticism of evolution.

"Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection. As the foundation of modern biology, its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA.

"In contrast, intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent.

"When it meets in October, 2005, we urge the Kansas State Board of Education to vote against the latest draft of standards, which propose including intelligent design in academic curriculum," the Nobel laureates conclude. The letter was signed by 9 winners of the physics prize, 11 for medicine and physiology, 13 for chemistry, 4 (peace) and 1 for economics.

'Not the first time'

This is not the first time that a group of noted scientists have publicly declared their support for evolutionary theory as a fact, despite vehement protests, lies, distortions and blatant misleading of the public by Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationists about Darwin's theory.

In 1986 72 Nobel Prize winning scientists, 17 state academies of science, and 7 other scientific organisations filed a legal brief with the US Supreme Court strongly supporting evolution and condemning any requirement that creationism be taught in science classes.

The court reaffirmed that the Louisiana Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act violated the Establishment Clause, as incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Despite setbacks at the highest judicial levels in the US, ID and Young Earth Creationists, bolstered by the naive support of President George W Bush and scientifically illiterate senators in Congress, are persisting in their campaign to make the US the laughing stock of the civilised world where the voice of science is louder and clearer than the voices of unreason and superstition.

Hopefully Kansas will listen to these eminent scientists. Science has been far too polite and too quiet in this debate. It is about time that scientists, also here in South Africa, stand up against the Trojan horse of superstitious beliefs being quietly slipped into science classrooms.

  • George Claassen is science editor of Die Burger, South Africa's largest Afrikaans language daily newspaper published in Cape Town.

  • Send your comments to George or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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