Judge orders removal of "evolution disclaimer" stickers in Georgia, USA

by seattleniceguy 72 Replies latest social current

  • AlanF

    GetBusyLiving27 posted a link to Ray Franz's essay regarding evolution. The essay is based on the book Icons of Evolution by one Jonathan Wells. Wells is one of the stars of the so-called Intelligent Design movement. He's also a minister for the Unification Church, aka the Moonies, who revere the nutjob and charlatan Reverend Sun Myung Moon as a god. Wells obtained a Ph.D. specifically to give himself some secular credibility towards his goal of doing everything in his power to advance the goals of the Moonies.

    Wells' book has been thoroughly discredited by a number of writers. Check out the talkorigins.org website and search for stuff about Wells to see this.

    Wells' presentation is even worse, in terms of honesty, than the JW Creation book. The following discussion shows a good example of how misleading the presentation is. Franz presents the following material extracted from Wells' book:

    Chapter Six- Archaeopteryx: The Missing Link

    Popular View: First discovered in 1861 in a limestone quarry in Solnhofen, Germany, the eight known fossils of Archaeopteryx (meaning ?ancient wing?) have been viewed as evidence of a ?transitional link? between reptiles and birds. Wells notes it ?had wings and feathers; but it also had teeth (unlike any modern bird), a long lizard-like tail, and claws on its wings.? It has been recognized as perhaps the most widely published and revered fossil specimen in history. Ernst Mayr referred to it in 1982 as ?the almost perfect link between reptiles and birds.?

    Updated Understanding: Paleontologists now agree that Archaeopteryx is not the ancestor of modern birds and, in the midst of a heated controversy about bird origins, this fossil has been quietly set aside as the ?First Bird.? Nonetheless, it persists in modern textbooks as a classic example of a missing link. Sylvia Mader?s 1998 Biology refers to it as? a transitional link between reptiles and birds, and William Schraer and Herbert Stoltze?s 1999 Biology: The Study of Life states that ?many scientists believe it represents an evolutionary link between reptiles and birds.? Yet neither side of today?s controversy would now give it this status.

    This entire argument is an example of the strawman fallacy, where a caricature of an argument is presented which is then knocked down, leaving careless readers with the impression that the argument itself has been demolished. Note, in the following discussion, how the above argument contains half-truths that lead the reader astray.

    While it's true that the fossils of Archeopteryx "have been viewed as evidence of a 'transitional link' between reptiles and birds," it is no longer viewed as THE "missing link" between them by modern paleontologists, for the simple reason that other fossil birds have been found that were nearly contemporary with it but display more modern features. Furthermore, recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs have muddied the waters considerably. The present view -- sure to be modified many more times -- appears to be that there were many kinds of birds with dinosaurish characteristics such as teeth, as well as many kinds of small, feathered dinosaurs. Archeopteryx remains the most chimeric of early birds, i.e., it has the most dinosaurish characteristics of all the ancient birds discovered so far. In fact, its characteristics are so dinosaurish that one specimen was classified as a small dinosaur called Coelurosaurus when first found in the late 1800s, and was not recognized as an Archaeopteryx until around 1990, when a careful reexamination revealed feathers. So, as paleontologists have been stating for at least a couple of decades, the evolution of birds is not a linear affair, but a highly branching bush. The same appears to be so for the feathered dinosaurs. And no one with half a brain today thinks that the discovered fossils represent more than a tiny fraction of all the animals that have lived. Interested readers can find a somewhat outdated but still relevant discussion of Archaeopteryx here: http://www.geocities.com/osarsif/ce05.htm

    Given the above, note how the strawman argument proceeds: Wells (and Franz) next note that modern paleontologists no longer view Archaeopteryx as THE ancestor or THE transitional link between reptiles and birds, or as the "First Bird", but they fail to note that it's still viewed as the archetype of a creature that displays features of both the creatures that came before it and the creatures that came after it, evolutionarily speaking. In other words, they fail to note that paleontologists view Archaeopteryx as just one twig on the bush of bird evolution.

    Here's where the strawman comes in: rather than giving the full view of modern paleontologists, Wells and Franz complain that some modern textbooks still view Archaeopteryx "as a classic example of a missing link." But modern paleontologists don't use that term. Rather, they use terms like "transitional form" and "intermediate form" -- which do not mean THE one and only link between earlier and later creatures, but one of a number of creatures on various branches of the evolutionary bush that display "transitional" or "intermediate" features -- features such as the teeth and tail and clawed wings of early birds. Wells and Franz then improperly equate the outdated term "missing link" with the terms used in two textbooks, "transitional link" and "evolutionary link" -- but this completely misunderstands and misrepresents the views of modern paleontologists. They also fail to talk about the observable evolution in the fossil record of various bird features, such as the fact that all of the earliest birds have teeth and some have tails, and these features gradually disappear in later birds. Having built the strawman, they proceed to knock it down: "Yet neither side of today?s controversy would now give it this status" of THE missing link between reptiles and birds. I can't say what Wells wrote beyond what Franz quoted, but Franz leaves the reader with the impression that the entire idea of bird evolution has been disproved -- which is far from the case with this strawman presentation.

    The rest of Franz's essay proceeds along similar lines, and as I said, interested readers can look at the talkorigins.org website to see how some experts deal with many of Wells' misrepresentations.

    While Ray Franz has done excellent work in the field of exposing the Watchtower Society, and in this I have nothing but admiration for him, his expertise demonstrably does not extend to evolutionary science. In fact, it appears that he still retains much of the thinking he learned as a JW. He certainly doesn't understand how poor Jonathan Wells' book is.


  • Euphemism

    I'm going to look for a copy of the judge's actual published opinion; but my initial feeling is that much as I approve of the end result of the stickers being removed, I cannot agree with the means.

    The judge wrote:

    "While evolution is subject to criticism, particularly with respect to the mechanism by which it occurred, the sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community."

    That is true, but in the American legal system, a judge does not have the authority to overturn the decision of a democratically elected school board merely because it is bad science. He can only do that if it violates a higher law, such as the State or Federal Constitutions.

    The textbook sticker does not endorse any religious viewpoint, therefore it is not unconstitutional. So as boneheaded as it is, I think that the judge should have allowed it.

  • seattleniceguy

    Heya, Euph! Interesting point. Just to take this to its logical extremes, let's say that the democratically elected school board decided to put in stickers that say something that is completely false, scientifically speaking. Let's say the sticker says that humans have explored Pluto extensively. Obviously, this is untrue. Does a school board have the right to teach whatever it wants, with brazen disregard for the facts? Would a judge be able to order those stickers removed?

    Obviously, a blatant untruth is not present on these stickers. But they are certainly misleading. Can a school board be allowed to mislead its students?

    Just some thoughts.


    Thanks for that analysis! Have you considered sending it to Franz? I noticed that he invited comments on the page containing his essay.


  • GetBusyLiving27

    Thanks for the reply AlanF. Man, I never even knew what a 'straw man' was until I read In Search of Christian Freedom.. it kinda stranges me out that he would endorse that type of reasoning again if what you say is true.

  • seattleniceguy


    I don't know anything about Ray except what I know from reading his writing, but I don't think he would be deliberately dishonest. I think in this case, he simply doesn't know enough on the topic to realize that the arguments are strawman, and his religious views compel him to want to dismiss evolution.


  • confusedjw

    We all clearly see how genetic pooling creates characteristics in animals or how adaptation (genetic pooling via selection) works - but proof of one species evolving into another does not seem to be proven to me. Granted I haven't made this a real true research project, but....

    If someone could just explain to me how the hole in baby's heart, which needs to close up within seconds after birth, so the child can breath on it's own, evolved - I would find evolution easier to accept.

    Then again I can't explain anything David Blaine does in his street magic.

  • Euphemism
    seattleniceguy writes:
    Let's say the sticker says that humans have explored Pluto extensively. Obviously, this is untrue. Does a school board have the right to teach whatever it wants, with brazen disregard for the facts? Would a judge be able to order those stickers removed?

    That would depend on state law. But based on the Federal Constitution, which is what is at issue in this case, a judge would have no power to order your hypothetical stickers removed.

    Part of the separation of powers is that courts cannot make policy. IOW, they cannot strike down a law or ordinance because it is stupid, or even because it is totally retarded. They can only strike it down if it violates some other, superior law.

    So if the State of Georgia has a law requiring that children be taught that Pluto is unexplored, but Cobb County teaches otherwise, a court can order the county to comply with state law. OTOH, if state law leaves the curriculum decisions up to each county, then the court cannot prevent Cobb from teaching something just because it's not true. That's simply not the court's prerogative to decide. (There is a spectrum of possibilities between those two extremes, as well.)

    What's at issue in this case is the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits an 'establishment of religion'. Starting in the 20th century, this clause was interpreted to forbid any direct government funding, endorsement and/or promotion of religion or opposition to religion. That is why, legally, Cobb County cannot teach creationism; the Supreme Court has held that public instruction in creationism constitutes endorsement/promotion of religion.

    So the legal question is purely whether or not the sticker constitutes an endorsement of religion. I've posted on my blog the reasons why I find the court's argument unpersuasive and even dangerous.

    Disclaimer: I took a semester-long course in college on the Constitution's religion clauses, but I am most definitely not a lawyer.

  • Midget-Sasquatch


    If one goes by Mayr's definition of a biological species: a group or population of interbreeding organisms that are reproductively isolated from other such groups , then there are several examples of speciation in nature.

    Here's just one example I pulled from www.talkorigins.org.

    You can read the full article in the February, 1989 issue of Scientific American.

    It's called "A Breed Apart." It tells about studies conducted on a fruit fly, Rhagoletis pomonella, that is a parasite of the hawthorn tree and its fruit, which is commonly called the thorn apple. About 150 years ago, some of these flies began infesting apple trees, as well. The flies feed an breed on either apples or thorn apples, but not both. There's enough evidence to convince the scientific investigators that they're witnessing speciation in action. Note that some of the investigators set out to prove that speciation was not happening; the evidence convinced them otherwise.
  • seattleniceguy

    Hello confused,

    I hear you. You might check out talkorigins.org when you get a chance. It's really expansive, but just start on the FAQs page and go where your interest takes you.

    When I was a Witness, I realized that I was required by logic to accept that some evolution does happen. Otherwise, the flood could never have happened, because the variety of creatures alive on earth today vastly outnumbers the variety that could possibly have squeezed onto Noah's cruise ship. But for some reason, I arbitrarily decided that large-scale evolution didn't happen. I didn't have any evidence to suggest any such division. I guess I still wanted to believe the Bible somehow.

    But really large-scale evolution is merely small-scale evolution, many times over. In nature, there are really no insurmountable walls between what we see as kinds. Humans are good at creating those in our heads, but life is good at showing us it can do whatever it damn well pleases.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Talkorigins has a lot of great info.


    Hmm....bummer. Have you read the decision yet? Maybe Georgia has a law that says state-sponsored educational institutions can't teach misleading things? :-)


  • Euphemism

    LOL @ SNG! Actually Georgia state law does mandate the teaching of evolution. Otherwise, Cobb County would probably just remove the pages on evolution from the textbook, which is what they've done in the past.

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