Thursday, March 12, 2009

Texas: No one is really talking about any weaknesses in evolution

In March, the State Board of Education will vote on amendments to the new Texas high school biology teaching standards. Please contact your State Board of Education (SBOE) representative and encourage them to unanimously approve of teaching strengths and weaknesses regarding all scientific theories, particularly evolution. There is great confusion over what evolution is. The reality is that back in the 1940's, genetics and evolution were united to form the modern evolutionary synthesis. The synthesis takes parts from genetics that I would consider science, and unites them with speculative ideas about origins, which I would refer to as macroevolution or just evolutionism. But even microevolution has weaknesses, and some scientists consider the theory of natural selection as nothing more than a tautology, a circular reasoning argument that says those organisms that survive are fit, and, those that are fit, survive. Here is a definition of natural selection from a biology textbook used in Texas schools:

Natural selection is the outcome of variations in shared traits that affect which individuals of a population survive and reproduce each generation. This microevolutionary process results in adaptation to the environment.

Consider for example a female sockeye salmon in Alaska's Copper River. Let's say she lays 3,000 eggs, and all of them hatch. Now, to keep the population stable, only two of those eggs need to mature to adults and return, which means 2,998 of them will probably not make the return journey and produce offspring. Some will get eaten by birds, others by bears, or maybe even a salmon shark. Some will get smashed against rocks, others may starve. Only two are likely to survive to journey from their birthplace to the sea, then venture thousands of miles, before returning to their birthplace.

Now, do you really think the two salmon that survived to adulthood did so because they were clearly the best suited for the environment? Perhaps, but in reality, there is only a 1 in 3000 chance the salmon with the best set of genes survived to adulthood. And the likelihood gets smaller when you consider redfish, which can lay over one million eggs each season.

So the chances that natural selection results in adaptation to the environment are small, as are the chances the life cycle of a salmon, redfish, or any organism, happened through random mutation of genes. A better explanation is that organisms were designed to adapt. Take for example the recent reports of the "rapid evolution" of Italian Wall Lizards imported to Croatian Islands. According to Professor Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, genetic mutations are the "engine" driving evolution, and he even devoted an entire chapter to The Engine of Evolution. Surprisingly though, scientists who studied the rapidly evolving Croatian lizards found they were genetically indistinguishable from their ancestors. This is a huge contradiction, because if evolution is true, a rapidly evolving lizard should have rapidly evolving genes that distinguish it from its ancestors. The logical conclusion must be that Italian lizards adapted to their new Croatian homes using preexisting genetic information. Another conclusion is that large segments of evolution are not true, but instead evolutionism is dominating real science. Neither creationism nor evolutionism should be taught in public schools. Real science calls for following the evidence. Following the evidence calls for studying both the favorable and unfavorable evidence, both the strengths and weaknesses.

Genes mutate, resulting in differences in parents and offspring. However, the low probability of mutation and selection working together to produce fitter populations is a weakness of natural selection theory, and Texas high school biology textbooks should explain such weaknesses.


The British government is waging a malevolent class war by punishing all academic excellence

While top universities find themselves penalised, with money being taken away from them to fund places at lesser universities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, we learn of the complete collapse of education standards further down the line. The headmaster of Eton, Tony Little, told a conference that clever pupils `wrestle with questions of crippling simplicity' at GCSE because they cannot believe that there isn't more to such questions than appears to be the case.

Worse still, the brightest are penalised because the standards are so low. He related how one Eton pupil gained five A grades at A-level but failed a sixth exam altogether. Eton sent the `ungraded' paper to two university dons who said the work was of the standard normally achieved in a first class honours degree. Mr Little said the boy was given almost no marks because he used `intelligence and flair' and refused to answer the question in the formulaic way demanded by examiners.

What an extraordinary situation this country is now in, that in order to pass a public examination ostensibly designed to test academic achievement a candidate now has to express dullness, stupidity and narrow intellectual reach!

The reason is the fact that these exams are now dominated by a `tick-box' approach, which requires candidates to deliver in their answers a list of expected sound-bites for the examiners to tick off. As Little observed, it is an approach that `makes no allowance for lateral thinking, for creative extension or wit.' Indeed, such expressions of intellectual ability or flair are actually penalised - because such knowledge or brilliance does not appear on the examiners' check-lists. So the more able the candidate, the more likely he or she now is to fail. Truly, an education system straight out of Lewis Carroll.

Now independent schools are moving towards dropping GCSEs altogether because they are such a farce. But in truth, this problem has beset A-level and GCSE for years. The problem is so bad it's certainly not just the top independent schools that are tearing out their hair. As Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul's boys' school said, heads from all types of secondary schools now shared a `deep concern at what is seen as the comparative neglect of academic education and the needs of a significant number of our gifted and talented children'.

No wonder so few pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are making it to good universities - causing `social mobility', or the progression of poor people up through the social classes, to go into reverse.

But instead of acknowledging the disaster in our schools and the profound collapse of education standards - caused by more than two decades of benighted education theories pushing `equality' and the inertia or worse of successive governments -ministers are still determined to press on with their malevolent `class war' by punishing academic excellence still further. So some 400m pounds will be hurled next year at the former polytechnics - which are more likely to target sixth-formers from poor backgrounds - despite claims that overall student numbers have barely increased in recent years. At the same time, universities such as Imperial College London and the London School of Economics, which were recently named among the best in the world, have seen their research funds cut.

Britain's education system was once acknowledged to be the finest in the world. It produced a class of people who went out and governed that world. Now, in no small measure because its intelligentsia has turned upon that class precisely because it once governed the world and was therefore `racist', `colonialist' and exploitative, Britain has developed an education system which risks giving itself no significant future in the world at all.


Why is school selection fine, when it's done on the basis of daddy's wallet, and wrong when it's done of the basis of the child's ability? Beats me

And so that time of year comes round again when thousands of [British] parents will discover that 'school choice' is a joke, and their child has not got into the school they wanted for him. All kinds of things will have helped decide his destination. But hardly anywhere, except in Northern Ireland and a couple of English counties, will the child's academic ability have any influence on which school he goes to. Even in those English counties, ability will count for less than it should because England's rare remaining grammar schools are so besieged by parents prepared to do almost anything to get a good secondary education, worth at least 60,000 pounds in post-tax income, for free.

His parents' wealth will be the main influence - not through fees, but through the devout socialist's method of paying fees - buying your way into the catchment area of a desirable school, and then telling all your friends how much you believe in state education.Though quite why anyone would want to believe in such a thing, I am not sure.

I agree that there are other methods (I go into them all in my forthcoming book, 'The Broken Compass'). But the catchment area technique is supreme, and adopted by a lot of hypocrites who claim they are against privilege, as well as by others who just see it as a perfectly reasonable way of buying something important - getting double value for a nice house in a good area, in fact.

There are many problems with this arrangement, the biggest being that bright children in poor homes are utterly barred from good schools, a terrible crime which makes me grind my teeth whenever I think about it. I am sure that a few of the usual suspects will still try to argue that this system is preferable to the supposedly cruel selection of the 11-plus. I can't see how they can continue to believe this, honestly. Ability's obviously a better guide than wealth, if you have to choose. And we do.

But the other thing that is perhaps wrong with it is that it creates two kinds of complacency. Even the best state schools aren't that good any more, because the comprehensive system has forced the dilution of exams and curriculum to a far lower level than used to exist. So even that 'good' state school is only good by the unexacting standards of GCSEs, A levels and the OFSTED classroom police. And it will go on getting worse as long as the system is unreformed.

The other kind of complacency is political. The better-off classes ought to be outraged at the betrayal of the nation, and the trashing of its future, caused by the comprehensive cataclysm. It will in the end help to destroy the peace and prosperity we seem to think are ours by right - but aren't. But because it does not affect them immediately and personally, they let it pass.

New Labour are, I think, aware of this. They continue to press, bit by bit, for the egalitarian wrecking of our whole education system. They know that their deep hopes of an egalitarian society depend more on this than on any other project. But precisely because it matters so much to them, they proceed with great caution.

They have their fingers on the windpipes of Oxford and Cambridge, through funding threats linked to pressure to give more places to state school applicants. They likewise have their fingers on the windpipes of the independent schools through the new, militant Charity Commission run by Dame 'Suzi' Leather. They are working, through 'adjudication' on the ability of the Roman Catholic secondary schools to select (now that Mr Blair's children have been educated) and are beginning to find ways of menacing Church primary schools.

The first shots have been fired (by think tanks, as usual) in what will be a long war designed to drag them down to the bog standard and erase their religious element. They have done as much as they can to besiege Northern Ireland's grammar schools, in alliance with the IRA. The 'Academies', whose alleged benefits are unproven anyway, face more and more attempts to regulate and regiment them into Bog Lane methods and aims. The remaining English grammar schools are under never-ending pressure of one kind or another, designed to demoralise them and force them into the comprehensive fold.

Everyone sensible should be in revolt over this. Politics should be in turmoil over the dogmatic destruction of a precious national resource, over the waste, the slamming of educational doors in the faces of the poor.

And if New Labour had pressed ahead with schemes to end the catchment system, and allocate places by lottery, then the direct and obvious personal interests of the middle class would have coincided with their political interests (which they are not so good at spotting), and the Tory-Labour-Liberal coalition against good education would have been blown apart by parental fury.

The Schools Secretary (I know he calls himself by another name, but who cares?) Ed Balls, like all cunning revolutionaries, had the sense to see that it was too early to take this step. That is why Mr Balls has retreated on plans to make such lottery schemes more widespread. But they haven't gone away. Schools are the principal battleground of the modern class war, comprehensive education is the true 'Clause Four' of New Labour (now accepted by the Tories too) and the Left will not give up on their education revolution until every last escape route from mediocrity has been closed.


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