Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Doubters

Yesterday, the New York Times released the second installment in their series on the so-called "evolution debate". Unfortunately it was terrible (for example, see Cosmic Variance, Pharyngula and The Light of Reason). Evolutionary biologists were called "Darwinists", which is bad enough. To make matters worse intelligent design (ID) creationists were referred to as "doubters". Does this mean that they have finally embraced the Royal Society's motto "Nullius in Verba" ("On the words of no one") and become real scientists? No, not really. Apparently, evolution is the only thing they doubt. The piece is filled with the "doubts" of Behe, Meyer and Axe: the same discredited claims about the clotting cascade, the Cambrian explosion, the evolution of antibiotic resistance... The NYT should be ashamed.

The end is interesting, as Mike the Mad Biologist has pointed out:

Dr. Behe, however, said he might find it compelling if scientists were to observe evolutionary leaps in the laboratory. He pointed to an experiment by Richard E. Lenski, a professor of microbial ecology at Michigan State University, who has been observing the evolution of E. coli bacteria for more than 15 years. "If anything cool came out of that," Dr. Behe said, "that would be one way to convince me."

Dr. Behe said that if he was correct, then the E. coli in Dr. Lenski's lab would evolve in small ways but never change in such a way that the bacteria would develop entirely new abilities.

In fact, such an ability seems to have developed. Dr. Lenski said his experiment was not intended to explore this aspect of evolution, but nonetheless, "We have recently discovered a pretty dramatic exception, one where a new and surprising function has evolved," he said.

Dr. Lenski declined to give any details until the research is published. But, he said, "If anyone is resting his or her faith in God on the outcome that our experiment will not produce some major biological innovation, then I humbly suggest they should rethink the distinction between science and religion."

Dr. Behe said, "I'll wait and see."

No prizes for guessing who will come out on top. But that hasn't stopped Behe in the past. I'm confident that he'll continue giving interviews on his pathetic "doubts" for years to come.