Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Contemplating Cornelia’s Creed

As noted in an earlier post, Cornelia Dean, in her July 9, 2005 article “Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution,” makes a remarkable claim without qualification or citation (because of the importance of Catholic teaching to forestry, you can find the entire article here).

Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory. (Italics added)

Notice that she does not quote any authority, nor even qualify it with something like "a large majority of scientists believe . . . ." Note what must be true for this to be true. For there to be "no credible scientific challenge" to evolutionary theory, all the scientists and others who think macroevolution is not well supported by the facts are not just wrong, they have no credible basis at all for their claims. So according to Ms. Dean, hundreds of scientists at numerous universities, and hundreds or thousands more non-scientific academics doubt macroevolutionary theory on the basis of no credible evidence. The nature and sufficiency of the evidence for and against macroevolution is, of course, one of the "big issues" in the current debates, and for her to pontificate in this way basically tells the reader, "In case you are too stupid to realize, one side of the conflict about which I am reporting is right and the other is wrong. Got that? And, by the way, you can ignore half the people I am quoting.”

Then I said to myself, didn't I read something like that earlier in the Times? In fact, I did. In another Dean article of February 1, 2005, entitled “Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes,” she had this to say:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that all living things evolved from common ancestors, that evolution on earth has been going on for billions of years and that evolution can be and has been tested and confirmed by the methods of science. (Italics added)

Had enough? Sorry. In yet another article, “Opting Out in the Debate on Evolution” in the June 21, 2005 Times (whole article here), she had this to report:

"We were invited to debate one supposed theory against another," Dr. Leshner said, when in fact there was no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution. (Italics added)

Wait, where did the quotes go? Oh right, Leshner didn't say it; Dean did. Think she has a macro on her word processor that just spits the "no credible scientific challenge" language in every article she writes?

So who gets to decide credibility in this debate? Who gets to decide what a “scientific challenge” is? What a priori philosophical assumptions is she bringing to both of these questions and the evidence? And why do you think Cornelia Dean needs to keep reminding her readers not to bother exploring for themselves whether there is any merit to the challenges?

Come all ye who doubt Darwin: recite Cornelia's Creed every time such evil thoughts arise. It helps if you shut your eyes tight and only think about lots of animals having lots of sex for a very long time. Oh, and by all means, do not let a single thought about the actual fossil record enter your mind. Honest paleontologists are like wolves in sheep’s clothing to a devout disciple of Saint Charles.

And finally, next time you read a Cornelia Dean article, try playing the game “Where’s the Creed?”


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