Joined: Sep. 2002
Though it will probably never get printed, I felt compelled to rebut Schafer's op-ed piece, and sent this to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Yes, I know it's snotty!
Henry Schafer's Little Strawmen
In the 9-28-02 Guest Column, chemist Henry Schaefer becomes another in the line of Discovery Institute Fellows who first veil their affiliation and true agenda - intelligent design/neocreationism - and second, concoct arguments against evolution that are outdated, spurious, or totally irrelevant.
We start with Schaefer's definition of evolution: "...the claim that random mutations and natural selection can fully account for the complexity of life, and particularly macroscopic living things." Newsflash, Henry: Evolution is not defined in this way by anyone except the Discovery Institute and other creationist organizations. It is obvious that Schaefer has done no reading of the evolutionary literature, and is unaware of the other factors that are involved in the evolution of species. For a layman's introduction, Carl Zimmer's At the Water's Edge would be a great place to start.
Next we hear about Piltdown Man and the fossil hoax (singular) from China. But does Schafer tell you that the Piltdown hoax was debunked in the 1950's by evolutionists, or that most scientists were skeptical of it from the start, or that the Chinese hoax was also rapidly exposed by evolutionists, or that there exist extensive transitional fossil records for whales, horses, and humans, to name just a few? Heck no.
Lastly, Schaefer spouts three "reservations concerning the standard evolutionary model" (the Discovery Institute's model, I presume), which do not rise above Arguments from Personal Incredulity.
He points to the Miller-Urey model as not being THE complete explanation for the origin of life, not mentioning that this was a 1953 experiment and that there are now 50 years of additional data. Is there a consensus about THE mechanism of the origin of life? No. It's pretty hard to run that clock backwards. However, Schaefer does not mention ANY current research in complexity theory or work on self-replicating systems, concepts about which he is surely aware. It is ignorant if not dishonest to dismiss origin-of-life research on the basis of one 50-year-old experiment. However, that's what the Discovery Institute does.
Second, he doesn't like the amount of stasis in the fossil record, and what appears to him to be the relatively rapid formation of species (though we could still be talking millions of years here). To grab and modify an old campaign slogan, "It's the environment, stupid." Survival depends upon the ability of a species to adapt to a particular environment. If the environment is static, there is no impetus for species to change significantly. If the environment changes, new adaptations are likely and necessary. Biology 101.
For Schaefer's third "area of reservation" (large scale changes) I can only add that Zimmer's book sheds a lot of light in this area. Perhaps Schaefer should enlarge his reading material beyond that given to him by the Discovery Institute, and read some real evolutionary biology before he deigns to have expertise in the area.