Big Bang Cosmology
Rav Dessler zt"l
The Slifkin Affair
Evolution as a religion
Prof. Philip S. Skell is a member of the National
Academy of Sciences, and the Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus,
at Pennsylvania State University, best known for his work in carbene chemistry.
written a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, voicing "strong support
for the idea that students should be able to study scientific criticisms of the
evidence for modern evolutionary theory along with the evidence favoring the
theory." For Skell, who is an octogenarian, this must have taken considerable
courage as most member of the NAS are either atheists or agnostics and strong
supporters of evolutionary naturalism.
www.discovery.org (accessed May 15, 2005). Emphasis not in the
May 12, 2005
Dr. Steve E. Abrams, Chair
Kansas State Board of Education
C/o Kansas State Department of Education
120 SE 10th Avenue
Topeka KS 66612-1182
Fax: (785) 296-7933
Dear Dr. Abrams:
I have been following the controversy over the adoption of new science standards
in your state with interest. I am writing—as a member of the National Academy of
Sciences—to voice my strong support for the idea that students should be able to
study scientific criticisms of the evidence for modern evolutionary theory along
with the evidence favoring the theory.
All too often, the issue of how to teach evolutionary theory has been dominated
by voices at the extremes. On one extreme, many religious activists have
advocated for Bible-based ideas about creation to be taught and for evolution to
be eliminated from the science curriculum entirely. On the other hand, many
committed Darwinian biologists present students with an idealized version of the
theory that glosses over real problems and prevents students from learning about
genuine scientific criticisms of it.
Both these extremes are mistaken. Evolution is an important theory and
students need to know about it. But scientific journals now document many
scientific problems and criticisms of evolutionary theory and students need to
know about these as well.
Many of the scientific criticisms of which I speak are well known by
scientists in various disciplines, including the disciplines of chemistry and
biochemistry, in which I have done my work. I have found that some of my
scientific colleagues are very reluctant to acknowledge the existence of
problems with evolutionary theory to the general public. They display an almost
religious zeal for a strictly Darwinian view of biological origins.
Darwinian evolution is an interesting theory about the remote history of life.
Nonetheless, it has little practical impact on those branches of science that
do not address questions of biological history (largely based on stones, the
fossil evidence). Modern biology is engaged in the examination of tissues from
living organisms with new methods and instruments. None of the great discoveries
in biology and medicine over the past century depended on guidance from
Darwinian evolution---it provided no support.
As an aside, one might ask what Darwin would have written today if he was aware
of the present state of knowledge of cell biology, rather than that of the mid
19th century when it was generally believed the cell was an enclosed blob of
gelatin? As an exemplar, I draw your attention to what Prof. James A. Shapiro,
bacteriologist, U. of Chicago, wrote (http://www.bostonreview.net/br22.1/shapiro.html).
For those scientists who take it seriously, Darwinian evolution has
functioned more as a philosophical belief system than as a testable scientific
hypothesis. This quasi-religious function of the theory is, I think, what lies
behind many of the extreme statements that you have doubtless encountered from
some scientists opposing any criticism of neo-Darwinism in the classroom. It is
also why many scientists make public statements about the theory that they would
not defend privately to other scientists like me.
In my judgment, this state of affairs has persisted mainly because too many
scientists were afraid to challenge what had become a philosophical orthodoxy
among their colleagues. Fortunately, that is changing as many scientists are now
beginning to examine the evidence for neo-Darwinism more openly and critically
in scientific journals.
Intellectual freedom is fundamental to the scientific method. Learning to think
creatively, logically and critically is the most important training that young
scientists can receive. Encouraging students to carefully examine the evidence
for and against neo-Darwinism, therefore, will help prepare students not only to
understand current scientific arguments, but also to do good scientific
I commend you for your efforts to ensure that students are more fully informed
about current debates over neo-Darwinism in the scientific community.
Professor Philip S. Skell
Member, National Academy of Sciences
Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus
Penn State University