Skewering the Clueless in the Peoria Journal Star

The Peoria Journal Star’s opinion page has a couple of recent entries. Here’s a disappointing rant from someone who claims to be a middle school science teacher:

The Texas Board of Education allowing evolutionary theory to be questioned is long overdue.

All science theories should be scrutinized. Otherwise, Einstein would not have proven that time is not constant and that gravity is simply acceleration through space/time. Those school boards that add to their biology books that parts of evolution may not be correct don’t go far enough. No concept in any science book should be absolutely accepted.

Parts of the evolutionary theory are confusing. If survival of the fittest is the standard, then why don’t we let diabetics die instead of weakening the gene pool? Where does compassion fit into this theory?

If brain power propelled man to the top of the food chain, why have all other plants and animals been denied this intelligence? The first time I hear a duck ask a hunter, “Could you please aim that shotgun somewhere else?” I will be impressed.

What explains the enormous complexity of the human body with thousands of processes operating simultaneously that, by themselves, have no purpose? What evolutionary advantage did the first bat have that sent out a sonar signal with no receptors to receive the reflection?

“Teaching students to think is more important than what to think” should be more than just a slogan.

Gary Kutkat

Science teacher

Morton Junior High School

Morton

Karen Bartelt, who many readers may remember from her thorough demolition of the “dissertation” filed by “Dr.” Kent Hovind, responded to Kutkat. She kindly sent me the complete letter she submitted to the Peoria Journal Star with permission to post it.

The first step in being able to scrutinize a scientific theory like evolution is to understand it. This is true whether one is a high school biology student or a junior high science teacher. Gary Kutkatb’s mind-numbingly ignorant caricature of evolution demonstrates that he neither understands evolution nor realizes where science stops and disciplines like ethics begin. His letter says a lot more about his own scientific background, or lack thereof, than it does about evolution and science.

Parts of evolutionary theory become less confusing when one studies the evidence supporting this scientific paradigm. A recent and very accessible book is Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne.

Scientific theories ARE continuously scrutinized. It is by this process that evolution is now recognized, to paraphrase biologist E.O. Wilson, as one of the two universal principles governing our understanding of life. The other principle includes the laws of physics and chemistry. The vast majority of people who work in science see evolution in this light, because they are aware of the evidence supporting it.

Students should be encouraged to question what they learn, but it’s important that they know what they are talking about first.

Karen E. Bartelt, Ph.D.
Semi-retired science educator

As someone who has actually done research on biosonar, let me take up Kutkat’s swipe there:

What evolutionary advantage did the first bat have that sent out a sonar signal with no receptors to receive the reflection?

This rather precisely makes Bartelt’s point. Kutkat is apparently unaware that the hearing apparatus in vertebrates has been described by a researcher with decades of experience, Art Popper, as showing variations on a theme, the theme being established in various fish lineages, and showing modifications of anatomy in amphibians, reptiles, and humans. The receptors are hearing organs or ears, and nobody with half a clue thinks that the last common ancestor of bats didn’t have ears. Humans don’t have built-in active biosonar, but research has shown that humans can perform target discrimination tasks as well as dolphins when a slowed-down version of a dolphin biosonar click train is provided for the humans. Blind humans have taken up echolocation, and have not had any problem using the receptors they still have the use of.

Kutkat may not be aware of how extensively biosonar is used. The most derived systems are those found in some bats and in odontocetes, the toothed whales, but biosonar has also been observed to be used by shrews, voles, badgers, some birds, and most recently a group of parasitic wasps was noted to use it. Most of these other organisms are using biosonar at a very coarse level of resolution, and these sorts of systems make it clear that one need not have the highly-tuned system of some bats in order to derive benefit from active biosonar.

This isn’t the first time a religious antievolutionist has trotted out a claim that biosonar somehow disproves evolutionary biology, and I doubt it will be the last.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

3 thoughts on “Skewering the Clueless in the Peoria Journal Star

  • 2009/04/24 at 10:48 am
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    The education communities overenthusiastic embrace of having high schoolers question science as an exercise in understanding the process is disturbing. Its being applied by teachers who don’t understand the scientific community, or the scientific process. There seems to be no attention being paid to teaching that scientists working within the framework of the scientific community do, in fact, have the authority to tell the general population what the state of current science is. Instead the impression is being given high school students that they get to decide for themselves what to accept as science.

    Recommending Jerry Coyne to a fundamentalist is doubly disturbing. Coyne has taken point in an insane push by militant atheists to insist that science can, and should, study and denounce religious beliefs. Scientists and educators need to extricate biology from the culture wars, not stoke the fires. Its insane. Science and education will lose.

  • 2009/04/24 at 5:21 pm
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    I haven’t had a chance yet to look over Coyne’s book for myself. There have been past books on understanding evolution whose content is commendable even if the particular stances taken by the author elsewhere merrily push the conflict model along.

  • 2009/04/27 at 12:33 pm
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    The evolutionary process can be gradual. This sort of canard where a feature suddenly appears in part is frequently used in attempts to critize evolution. It is this type of mis-representation that makes clear to me that these people are lying with knowledge of their lies.

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