Look ma, pet dinosaur

An enormously fun debate is going on in the pages of Nature (subscriber link), initiated after the magazine published the 'Creationism in Europe' article which prompted me to write this post a couple of days ago. After that article was published, a Polish gentleman named Maciej Giertych of the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences sent a letter to Nature, in which he questioned the validity of evolution, apparently without citing a single reference, although he did cite his seemingly impressive credentials from the universities of Oxford and Toronto. Giertych said:

"I believe that, as a result of media bias, there seems to be total ignorance of new scientific evidence against the theory of evolution. Such evidence includes race formation (microevolution), which is not a small step in macroevolution because it is a step towards a reduction of genetic information and not towards its increase. It also includes formation of geological strata sideways rather than vertically, archaeological and palaeontological evidence that dinosaurs coexisted with humans, a major worldwide catastrophe in historical times, and so on."

What on earth (pun intended)?! First of all, assuming that what he means by "microevolution" is evolution on the scale of genes and biomolecules, such microevolution has been demonstrated thousands of times, in fact thus enormously supporting and widening the purview of evolution. Secondly, he actually has the audacity to suggest that humans and dinosaurs may have walked together on the earth!

Quite appropriately, this rash letter invoked a series of no less than eight rebuttals in the latest correspondence section of Nature. There are those who have also criticised Nature for publishing such a hack letter, but most have directly condemned Giertych's views. There is the correspondent from the Institute of Dendrology who is prompt to dissociate his institute's views from Giertych's views, and then there are those who lambast him directly for his opinions and deplore his lack of reference citing. But there are also two correspondents who say

"The very fact that his letter was published shows that Nature has no bias against critics of evolution."

This is an interesting point. Should scientific journals publish letters and so-called articles from people like Giertych? At one end, we may think that this is necessary to prove that scientific journals have no bias in publication. Thus, creationists cannot accuse them of actively suppressing evidence. On the other hand, it is not the responsibility of scientific journals to refute every hack creationist unscientific assertion.

I don't know whether Nature published Giertych's letter to allow dissent (no matter how misguided and unsubstantiated) or to actually publish a serious opposing point of view. It surely cannot be the latter, and I am convinced it is the former reason. But as a matter of principle, I completely agree that scientific journals have absolutely no obligation to publish any pseudoscientific cricticism of sound scientific facts, let alone dissenting correpondence. If pseudoscientists cry foul, it's quite clear they are really crying sour grapes. It's one thing to be a valid scientific critic of evolution, but it's quite another to be a pseudoscientific opponent of evolution who cites not one scientific reference. Since it's really the creationists who assert that the earth was created six thousand years ago, the onus of proof has always been on them to prove their assertions, and no journal needs to pander to their dissenting views that don't have an iota of scientific basis to support them.

The other point is related to Dawkins's stance that we can never disprove the existence of god and creation. Naturally, the creationists tout that as proof of their contentions. Scientific journals also don't have any duty whatsoever to publish assertions that are not disproved. Because in science and the reality seeking world, innocent until proven guilty is a non-existent principle.

On a different note, Poland is a staunchly Catholic country, and I won't be surprised if they start teaching creationism in schools as an "alternative theory". The only condition should be that they should teach all "theories" of creation, including that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Dozing Fatty Spinster.


  1. I just think this whole debate is overrated. If God created a world looking like it evolved, then no scientist will be able to prove or disprove that. On the other there is no reason for a religious person to consider evolution more than a scientific theory. Since it is a productive scientific theory it should be taught.

  2. Yes, I agree. But if God really created the world, then science can at least investigate his tracks. The real problem is that these guys want to teach creationism in schools; if they kept to themselves, most scientists would not have bothered.

  3. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,1965987,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=8

    In the UK the government is to write to schools telling them that teaching materials promoting creationism should not be used in science lessons.

  4. Have you been touched by His noodly appendage?

  5. If it can't be disproven, it isn't science. That's the whole point of falsibility - if the outcomes of theory A and theory B can't be distinguished by experiment or observation, then the theories are falsifiable, and there isn't any point in dealing with them further. Evolution is disprovable because it makes positive claims of what happened while creationism/intelligent design/whatever some genius comes up with next does not, and probably can't (if God exists, He probably used physical processes to do it, after all - but that leaves a whole lot of possibilities). If you can't look for any evidence nor ask constructive questions of a theory, there doesn't seem to be a (scientific or logical) point to doing so.

    If the people people believe so strongly in God, why do they need validation (isn't that the point of faith, and of truth as well)? If it doesn't work as logic, and contradicts the faith on which it depends, then there must be some other reason for its existence. ID/creationism/etc. is a power grab by some Christians over others (subscribers to literal Biblical interpretations over nonliteral interpretations) and over non-Christians (particularly atheists). The "keep to themselves" part is precisely what is excluded here - one set of people wants to institute their idea of truth as policy and to wield the power that results. The last few times people have tried that, though, it seems to have worked out badly for all involved. In addition, the Bible itself seems to provide substantial evidence that such an action denies the principles on which they claim to act and is self-defeating as well (he Pharisees, for example). Considering all of the ways in which ID seems to have been used to indicate disregard for both science and religion, it deserves amply the scorn it has received.

  6. science is designed to investigate things that can be sensed with our senses (touch, sight, smell, taste, hearing) or with instruments to assist our senses with processes to fast, slow, small, large, or far away to directly sense.
    Origins is a subject that cannot be tested by any means that I am aware, if someone invented a time machine or something while I wasn't looking, then I'd like to hear about it. Unless this is the case, science has no real business studying the past.
    All the creationists want you to admit is that creationism and evolution are both theories, and since evolution is taught as fact in our own public schools, something should change.
    I wont get into debating the two theories to much, but can anyone deny that evolution is currently a theory with no real proof outside our classrooms, and scientists minds?

  7. Yes i'm totally agreed with all your words. Thank you for info sharing with well written post.Eventough this article been posted very2 long time ago, but it is worth of time to read it :). Thank you again.


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