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Today's word on journalism

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dueling masters on words:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

--William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962), on Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

--Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961), on William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962)

For many, battle over intelligent design pits the head vs. the heart

By Joseph Sheppard

March 29, 2006 | Legislators, scientists, school-board members, and lobbyists have been swapping arguments, insults, votes, and tens of thousands of emails as a major movement to unseat the theory of evolution as absolute science in schools appears to sputter.

Before the end of this year's legislative session, Utah House of Representatives voted down Senate Bill 96. The bill would have ensured that the State Board of Education endorse no particular theory on the origins of human life and that they stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct.

This defeat closely follows the Ohio Board of Education decision to drop a mandate which included a critical analysis of evolution in 10th grade biology classes.

Evolutionists may feel that justice is being served with these recent decisions, but others claim that science has prejudiced itself to the point of burying all theories opposing evolution.

People talk about the controversy surrounding evolution, but among most scientists there is no controversy, said Frank Messina, a professor of general and evolutionary biology at USU. He said the SB 96 was deceiving in claiming that scientists do not agree on which theory of the origins of life is correct.

"It's like saying that scientists are not in complete agreement as to whether the earth moves around the sun or the sun around the earth," Messina said.

Evolution is one of the best demonstrated facts in science, not one of the most questioned facts, Messina said.

"No one is working on whether evolution occurs, but people are working on how it occurs and how it has occurred in the past," Messina said.

Of course others, including the majority of the Utah State Senate, which had passed SB 96, disagree with him.

More and more scientists from respected institutions are speaking out against evolution, said Rob Gunn, the USU director of the Christian group Focus and a former professor of evolution courses at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

He said there are a number of scientists who have theories on the origins of life other than evolution, like Michael Behe of Lehigh University and the scientists at Discovery Institute, but that the findings of their work is underplayed because of scientific prejudice.

The culture of the university has put science in the category of naturalism, Gunn said. There must be a naturalistic explanation for any phenomenon and that naturalism is absolutely pervasive in the field of biology, he said.

"Science is not the neat and tidy objective world that we all think it is," Gunn said. "There is tremendous prejudice and persecution if you don't buy in to evolution."

Messina says he disagrees that evidence for theories opposing evolution is being suppressed.

"Bring any evidence in to me and we'll publish it and become rich and famous," Messina said.

The ultimate source to determine whether something is real science are the scientific peer reviewed journals, where scientists go out of their way to check other research, Messina said. In these journals there is no debate about whether or not evolution occurs, he said.

Despite the apparent continuity among biologists, a majority of Americans still refuse to accept evolutionary theory's explanation of the origin of humans, Gunn said.

He's right. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, more Americans are likely to endorse a purely creationist view on the origin of humans than either a purely evolutionary view or a view involving elements of both.

"At a gut level people think, 'No, things didn't happen by chance and aren't here because of something that emerged from primordial slime,'" Gunn said.

But, science does not depend on polling people- it rises or falls according to the weight of the evidence, Messina said.

"Even if 99 percent of biologists believed in intelligent design it would be irrelevant until their beliefs were published and verified in peer-reviewed journals," Messina said. "It would be unethical for scientists to modify what they have learned to make people comfortable."

For now, peer-reviewed journal content wins out over alternate theories as evolution will continue to be taught unhampered and uncontested in Utah public schools.

The battle now won, it is still unclear whether it was a battle of beliefs or of science. For Senator Chris Buttars, who sponsored the bill, it was clearly one of beliefs.

"There are a number of influential legislators who believe you evolved from an ape," Buttars told the Salt Lake Tribune following the Monday vote. "I didn't."

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Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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