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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Wednesday, July 24, 2002  
BACK TO EVOLUTION. This week's issue of U.S. News and World report contains several major articles detailing the "new reality" of evolution. The articles are interesting and educational but also filled with the kind of presumptuous editorializing that illustrates how difficult it is to get a firm grasp on the actual facts involved. As one might expect, the editorial bias of U.S. News is obviously that "evolution" (usually referred to broadly with little distinction made between microevolution and macroevolution) is, quite simply, fact:

"Scientists are uncovering the step-by-step changes in form and function that ultimately produced humanity and the diversity of life surrounding us. By now, scientists say, evolution is no longer "just a theory." It's an everyday phenomenon, a fundamental fact of biology as real as hunger and as unavoidable as death."

The article goes on to note that "Darwin proposed his theory of evolution based on extensive observations and cast-iron logic." Cast-iron logic? Is this reporting or cheerleading? In contrast, consider the editorial comments contained in a corresponding article about intelligent design, a theory that is (according to U.S. News) "good enough for those itching to get God into science class."

Here's how U.S. News introduces intelligent design:

"Two people come to your door with a petition to give evolution some competition in the science classroom. One is a biblical literalist who wants genetics out and Genesis in. The other is a science professor with exquisite academic credentials, championing a compelling theory called intelligent design. He speaks in painful detail about the bacterial flagellum, whatever that is. Though many may prefer old-style creationism, nowadays the scientist in the suit is getting the most signatures."

Note the implication: the intelligent design theorist is nothing more than a biblical creationist in scientific clothing -- a politically palatable alternative to those darn evolutionists. Similarly flip language language is used elsewhere in the article ("The flagellum, as surely as a pop-top on a Coke can, was designed by some unnamed intelligence . . ." "Most proponents won't specify the designing force (at least, not publicly)–it could be God, aliens, or time travelers.")

The contrast could not be more obvious. One idea is fact -- as much a part of our reality as breathing -- the next is little more than a convenient vehicle for Christians (or X-Files fans) to push their theology on an unwilling scientific community.

ESTABLISHED FACT? Is the evolution argument actually so ironclad that intelligent design deserves the contempt it receives? Perhaps not. Read the following paragraphs carefully:

"But new research also shows that evolution works in ways Darwin did not imagine. Many creatures still appear quite suddenly in the fossil record, and the growing suspicion is that evolution sometimes leaps, rather than crawls. For example, the first complex animals, including worms, mollusks, and shrimplike arthropods, show up some 545 million years ago; paleontologists have searched far and wide for fossil evidence of gradual progress toward these advanced creatures but have come up empty. "Paleontologists have the best eyes in the world," says Whitey Hagadorn of Amherst College, who has scoured the rocks of the Southwest and California for signs of the earliest animal life. "If we can't find the fossils, sometimes you have to think that they just weren't there."

"A new understanding of Earth's history helps explain why. Scientists have learned that our planet has been rocked periodically by catastrophes: enormous volcanic eruptions that belched carbon dioxide, creating a super greenhouse effect; severe cold spells that left much of the planet enveloped in ice; collisions with asteroids. These convulsions killed off much of life's diversity. Once conditions improved, says Harvard paleontologist Andy Knoll, the survivors found a world of new opportunities. They were freed to fill new roles, "experimenting" with new body plans and evolving too rapidly to leave a record in the fossils."

In other words, despite the absence of fossil evidence that Darwin's "iron-clad logic" tells us should exist, there has to be an evolutionary explanation. There just has to be! While recent experimentation -- detailed later in the article -- reveals that rapid evolutionary change may be theoretically possible, the actual fossil evidence that such rapid evolutionary change actually occurred is missing. The logic seems to move as follows: i) macroevolution is a fact; ii) macroevolution happens gradually; iii) oops! some species suddenly appear on the fossil record, and (despite our best efforts) we've been unable to find fossil evidence of a gradual process; iv) consequently, macroevolution must sometimes happen suddenly.

Will a Curve reader who's an evolutionary biologist (or paleontologist) please tell me if I'm getting this reasoning wrong and if so, how? Is this presumptuous logical leap not, in fact, being made? Is there actual evidence -- aside from the fact that species appeared suddenly -- that macroevolution can occur suddenly?

I want to be educated. I truly do. But until I am, I will continue to point out the obvious logical fallacies in mainstream reporting on evolutionary processes.

8:01 AM

Sunday, July 21, 2002  
THE ANTI-WAR NEWSPAPER. Fresh from slanting poll results against the Bush Administration, America's former "Paper of Record" is apparently attempting to become the leading newspaper of a nonexistent anti-war movement. In two consecutive major articles, the New York Times has attacked first America's successful Afghanistan campaign and then its planned Iraq assault.

On Sunday, the Times ran a lengthy investigative report on America's air war against the Taliban. According to the Times, "flaws" or "mistakes" in the campaign led to "hundreds" of civilian deaths. These alleged "flaws" in the American attack included bombs that hit the wrong targets, bombs that hit the correct targets but mistakenly killed civilians, and an unwillingness to use ground troops that often led to incorrect targeting information.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of the Times report is its insinuation that if only we'd been willing to risk more of our own troops on the ground, then perhaps fewer civilians would have died. This assertion reveals a breathtaking ignorance of military reality. Ground troops (especially American troops) carry significant firepower, and this firepower would have been added to the carpet-bombing and precision strikes that were already occurring. The striking power of a single American division dwarfs that of the Northern Alliance and all their allies combined. American divisions on the ground would have killed many, many more people (including, unfortunately, civilians) as they drove through Afghanistan's cities, towns and villages.

Additionally, American force-protection doctrines would have led to the deployment of absolutely overwhelming firepower when American ground troops came under attack. With thousands of Americans spread around the country -- calling in airstrikes and supported by tanks and artillery -- how could the carnage possibly have been less?

As for the Times other allegations -- that American bombs sometimes missed and those that hit the correct targets often killed civilians -- I leave you with a terrific quote from a fellow weblogger: "Has there ever been another war in history where civilian casualties were so few that journalists could track down virtually all of them individually?"

GIVING THE EUROWEENIES A PLATFORM. the Times second major anti-war story appears in Monday's editions. This article, headlined "Europeans Split With U.S. on Need for Iraq Attack," is nothing more than a lengthy citation of European objections to America's looming campaign against Saddam Hussein. The article is remarkable for two things: i) the total absence of any sources that critique or dispute the alleged European conventional wisdom; and ii) the continued repetition of the idea that -- while Saddam is dangerous -- we must wait to deal with him until after we've somehow addressed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

While the first item is nothing more and nothing less than the kind of biased and sloppy journalism for which the Times is rapidly becoming famous (or notorious), the second item bears some consideration. The heart of the European contention is that any attack on Iraq will only exacerbate a bad situation. The Middle East -- already a tinderbox because of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- could explode if America moves against Iraq. Therefore, any attack on Saddam should occur (if at all) after a Palestinian state is either established or promised.

In reality, however, the Europeans are asking us to wait on deposing Saddam (who is busily trying to build nuclear weapons) until after we have solved a conflict that has proven insoluble for no less than 54 years. The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has been raging since Israel declared independence in 1948. Multiple administrations have exerted maximum efforts to bring peace, and they all have failed. The European request to postpone action on Iraq until after Israel and the Palestinians come to terms is really a demand that America postpone its attack indefinitely -- and the Europeans know it.

I wonder . . . would the Europeans be so eager to delay or cancel an attack on Saddam if it was their cities or their military facilities that were in Saddam's potential nuclear crosshairs?

8:55 PM

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