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Evolution Vs. God in the Classroom

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 6, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: A battle in Kansas over evolution (search) again, the state board of education holding hearings on what students should be taught about the origins of man, in fact, all life talk about political science. Darwin (search) defenders on one side outraged, calling it simply a platform for the so-called intelligent design. But others say they're questioning the science of evolution.

Joining me now is the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Eugenie Scott, and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, Stephen Meyer.

Today's big question, Stephen: Is the debate over evolution a ploy to get religious ideas into public schools?

STEPHEN MEYER, SENIOR FELLOW, DISCOVERY INSTITUTE: No, John. That's been widely misreported.

Your trailer said that what was at stake in Kansas was putting Darwin to the back of the class. Actually, it's allowing the critics, the scientific critics of Darwinism, into the class. And what you're seeing in Kansas is a parade of very well qualified scientists, from places like the University of Wisconsin and the University of Georgia. One scientist came all the way from Italy from the University of Perugia.

And these are scientists who are openly critical of Darwin's theory. They would like their views to be heard. And what the Kansas State Board of Education (search) is considering is a proposal that would allow students, yes, to learn about Darwin's theory in its full glory, but also to learn about the current scientific criticisms of the theory as they exist within the scientific literature.

GIBSON: So, Ms. Scott, what's wrong with that?

EUGENIE SCOTT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION: Well, if there were scientific criticisms of evolution within the scientific literature, then, of course, students would be being taught them.

However, what you're seeing is just the evolution of creationism. It started out back in the 20's, in the Scopes trial (search), "Ban evolution." That failed in the courts. Then, in the '70s, they decided, "Teach evolution, but balance it with creation science." That failed in the courts. Now they are trying, "Teach evolution, but balance it with teaching intelligent design theory." That court trial is coming up.

In Kansas, what you see is the latest version, which is what Steve was talking about. Teach evolution, but balance it with the so-called evidence against evolution.

GIBSON: How about the issue? Does the theory of evolution answer all the questions about, for instance, how life started? Are scientists able to explain the origin of life in scientific terms? Are they able to replicate it in a lab? Can you make mud live?

SCOTT: No, but that's not what evolution is all about. Evolution is the inference that living things had common ancestors. The origin of life is a completely separate problem, much less well investigated.

But one of the things that creationists like to do is confuse the two, because they look at the origin of life as the soft underbelly of evolution. And if we can't understand the origin of life, then we can't understand...

(CROSSTALK)

MEYER: Can I jump in here?

GIBSON: All right, Stephen, what about that?

MEYER: Well, first of all, who are these they that she's referring to? Not all the people that she's referring to are the same people. We have serious scientists here from all around the world, and they're not all of the 1920 Scopes trials. That's a different group of people.

Secondly, there is an evolutionary theory about the origin of the first life. It's called chemical evolutionary theory. It's taught in the textbooks and it is widely disputed in the scientific literature. So, what is wrong with telling students that many scientists dispute that theory? In fact, the dominant view now is, there is not an evolutionary explanation for origin of the first life.

Thirdly, the idea that evolution is nothing more than the idea that things change or that things have a common ancestor is false. One of the rhetorical ploys that Eugenie has started to play is to say, "There's no controversy about evolution except, well, there is controversy about natural selection, but everyone agrees that things have a common ancestor."

That's kind of like saying, "There's no controversy about Marxism (search), except for the sticky bit about the no private property."

Natural selection is essential to the idea of evolution in the modern synthesis. And she's throwing it overboard.

GIBSON: Ms. Scott, I, for instance, have read several pieces written by scientists who question the Cambrian explosion (search), in a relatively certain period of time, a sudden profusion of a gazillion different life forms, for which evolution doesn't seem to have enough time. What is wrong with raising that question with students?

SCOTT: The so-called problem of the Cambrian explosion and it being a problem for evolution is nonsense.

If you talk to paleontologists who actually study the Cambrian explosion and the Cambrian evolution of invertebrate body forms, they will tell you it's a fascinating puzzle, but it has no problem for evolution, even evolution through natural selection.

But the point is that, as Steve pointed out, there is a difference between evolution as the common ancestry of living things and the mechanisms that bring it about, one of which is natural selection. There are other mechanisms as well.

MEYER: Which are also disputed. That's just the point.

SCOTT: What the anti-evolutionists like to do is take the arguments among scientists — which are legitimate, because science is about argumentation — take the arguments among scientists about how evolution takes place and pretend that there's a legitimate controversy going on about whether. And that simply is not true. You don't have to take my word for it.

GIBSON: Ms. Scott, though, one of the things that really is obvious about what's happening in Kansas, is that scientists won't come.

SCOTT: Right.

GIBSON: The people who believe that the theory of evolution is largely fact, less theory, won't even show up.

SCOTT: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

MEYER: John, actually, it's not the scientists who are not showing up. It's the Darwinian scientists who are not showing up.

There are plenty of scientists there, very good scientists, who are skeptical of Darwinism. And many of them are also skeptical of common ancestry, as well as the question of mechanism.

GIBSON: Ms. Scott, why won't the people on your side come and make their arguments?

SCOTT: I probably go to a dozen scientific conferences every year. And I'm old, so I've been doing this for 30 years. I've gone to scores and scores of scientific conferences.

In not a single scientific conference have I ever experienced lawyers cross-examining scientists about what is science. This is absurd. The Kansas hearings are a show trial, like in the sense of the Soviet Union back in the '50s. The board already has its conclusion. They're just going through these motions, making a big show for the public, to get an idea out.

GIBSON: Eugenie Scott and Stephen Meyer, thanks to both of you. I'd like to keep going, but I'm out of time. I've got to run.

MEYER: Thanks for having us, John.

GIBSON: We'll talk about it another day.

SCOTT: Thank you for having me.

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