Contradicting Intelligent Design

I have read with interest the plentiful coverage of Intelligent Design (ID) in The Signal this semester.

Almost 150 years ago, Charles Darwin explained that life forms had evolved over time. He thereby provided the master narrative in life sciences. Everything that has been discovered since affirms the brilliance of Darwin’s insights. So much more is known today about how evolution occurs, but there is no doubt whatsoever that it does occur.

During the past several decades, we have learned a great deal about the evolution of humankind. In the 1970s, Ethiopia’s Afar region yielded the first fossils of a primitive upright walker with a small brain who lived 3.5 million years ago. A team led by Tim White, a leading paleoanthropologist from the University of California at Berkeley, has just announced discovery of an even more primitive ancestor who lived in the Afar 4.1 million years ago. Many larger-brain specimens from the period of around 1.5 million years have also been located.

In recent years, molecular biologists have zeroed in on the last phases of human evolution, to better pinpoint the juncture when fully modern humans evolved. There is now a solid consensus that this happened in Africa somewhere around 250,000 years ago. Primitive upright walkers and fully modern humans are both natives of Africa.

Human imperfections contradict ID. For example, lots of us have back problems – and well we should, because human backbones evolved from creatures that walked on all fours. There is a price to be paid when a horizontal backbone becomes upright. Of course, upright walking conferred certain advantages, because it freed the forelimbs from locomotion, but it also invited backaches. Evolution is full of trade-offs.

ID is similarly unable to explain why human births are far more difficult and dangerous than other mammalian births. Evolutionary science shows, however, that the rapid evolution of large-brained humans has pushed to the limit the exit from the birth canal and the surrounding hip bones. Yes, there are big advantages in being large-brained, but there are also problems and trade-offs. It is only in modern societies with good obstetrical care that women have longer life expectancies than men.

The College’s claims to excellence would be enhanced if we had a paleoanthropologist on the faculty.

Dan Crofts

Professor of history

Questionable evidence for evolution

Evolutionist Brian Alters spoke at the College last week. On page 110 of his book “Defending Evolution in the Classroom,” Alters touts the discarded idea of embryonic recapitulation. On page 92, he gives the progression from Australopitheous africanus to Homo sapiens via Hobo habilis and Homo ergaster as evidence for human evolution. However, this linear model has been questioned for years. Many similar examples are cited uncritically in typical biology textbooks.

An antibiotic resistance in bacteria is an often-cited “evidence” of evolution. What is usually not mentioned is that this resistance is due to the loss of functions of the transport or regulatory systems and not due to an evolution of a novel trait. The mutants are inferior and die out in competition with “regular” bacteria when the antibiotic is removed.

Textbooks cite similar forelimb bone structure (homology) of a man, a seal, a bat and a dog as the evidence for evolution from a common ancestor. However, homologies would also be expected if the vertebrates had all been designed according to a common plan. The homologous suspension bridges – Golden Gate in San Francisco and Ben Franklin in Philadelphia – did not evolve from a common ancestor via undirected natural processes. They were purposefully built according to a common plan. Consequently, homologies in anatomy are not evidence for or against evolution.

U.S. National Academy of Sciences describes Darwin’s finches as “a particularly compelling example” of evolution. They quote a study in which finch beak sizes increased after a severe drought because only hard-to-break seeds were available. They neglect to mention that the beaks returned to normal when the rains returned.

There are many other examples of an uncritical extrapolation of microevolution to explain macroevolution. It is time to insist that Darwinian theory be critically taught to students without misrepresenting the “evidence” for it.

Danielle Dalafave

Associate professor of physics

Apology for bad scheduling

As the person responsible for scheduling the Brian Alters lecture on April 12, I sincerely apologize to the Jewish members of the campus community.

However, rather than being either inconsiderate or insensitive, I actually went out of my way to change the date to accommodate and respect the traditions of the Jewish community. Alters originally had suggested the date of April 13. After noting that this date was Passover on my calendar, I asked a Jewish friend whether I should avoid having the event on that Thursday night so that it would not conflict with Passover celebrations.

In response to his confirmation that the Seder would be celebrated on Thursday night, I moved the event to Wednesday, April 12. Clearly, I had not phrased my question correctly. I humbly ask the members of the Jewish faith to please forgive my error.

Don Lovett

Associate professor of biology

Rupublicans are self-congratulating

Though I’ve been verbally sparring with Matt Esposito for several years now – in the pages of The Signal and elsewhere – his absurdities never cease to amaze. In a letter from the April 12 issue of The Signal, Esposito claimed that “the College will continue to bring in busloads of communists and left-wing radicals every year, which cost hundreds more than Buchanan.”

Really? I wonder if we’ve been attending the same school for the last four years, or perhaps right-wing Esposito was sucked into a parallel dimension version of the College where a resurrected Karl Marx delivers endless, mandatory speeches in Kendall Hall – maybe his own personal hell.

I challenge him to produce the names of these left-wing radicals he asserts spoke here on his dime, but I suspect that he’s more right-wing bluster and less substance.

If this bit of falsification is exasperating – especially given Esposito’s plea that “people should still expect that the information presented in columns is true and factual” – I appreciate his honesty in the final analysis about the Buchanan event: “The College Republicans bring in one conservative speaker and we’re protested and slurred.”

Thanks for finally acknowledging the sad truth about the College Republicans (or the College Democrats for that matter) – they heartily congratulate themselves for putting on one event.

Moreover, he fails to acknowledge the work that the anti-Buchanan coalition expended in bringing pissed-off students to the event (we even handed out tickets which the Republicans couldn’t give away).

Many of the students who helped plan or demonstrated at the Buchanan event were from campus organizations who regularly bring speakers and sponsor events for the entire campus, while relying on little funding to do so.

The Republicans and Democrats are shamefully negligent in adding anything substantial to political discourse – on campus or otherwise – which Esposito, in a rare moment of forthrightness, all but admits.

Matt Richman