Jerry A. Coyne
Criticism of moth study no challenge to evolution
I have learned that the Pratt school board, apparently responding to
creationist pressure, has recently revised its tenth-grade biology
curriculum to include material that encourages students to question the
theory of evolution. In reading the standards, I see that one of my
articles - an article constantly misrepresented by creationists - is
included as a supplementary reading used to cast doubt on evolution.
Except for a few creationist dissenters, the community of professional
biologists has long accepted evolution as an essential theory supported by
innumerable pieces of evidence. To make students think otherwise is as
harmful as urging them to question the value of antibiotics because there
are a few people who believe in spiritual healing.
My article appended to the Pratt standards is a re-evaluation of a classic
evolutionary story in which rapid changes in the proportions of color
forms of peppered moths occurred in only about 100 years. This
evolutionary change is thought to be a response to air pollution, changes
in the colors of trees, and increased bird predation. My only problem with
the peppered-moth story is that I am not certain whether scientists have
identified the precise agent causing the natural selection and
evolutionary change. It may well be bird predators, but the experiments
leave room for doubt.
Creationists such as Jonathan Wells claim that my criticism of these
experiments casts strong doubt on Darwinism. But this characterization is
false. All of us in the peppered moth debate agree that the moth story is
a sound example of evolution produced by natural selection. My call for
additional research on the moths has been wrongly characterized by
creationists as revealing some fatal flaw in the theory of evolution.
In reality, the debate over what causes natural selection on moths is
absolutely normal in our field. It is not uncommon for scientists to
reexamine previous work and find it incomplete, or even wrong. This is the
normal self-correcting mechanism of science. Textbook examples may be
altered as additional data are found. Creationists, on the other hand,
neither air their disagreements in public or admit that they were wrong.
This is because their goal is not to achieve scientific truth, but to
expel evolution from the public schools.
It is a classic creationist tactic (as exemplified in Wells' book, "Icons
of Evolution") to assert that healthy scientific debate is really a sign
that evolutionists are either committing fraud or buttressing a crumbling
theory. In reality, evolution and natural selection are alive and well,
with new supporting evidence arriving daily.
I strongly object to the use of my article by the Pratt school board
cast doubt on Darwinism. And I feel sorry for the students who are being
misled by creationists into doubting one of the most vigorous and
well-supported theories in biology.
Jerry A. Coyne
Professor of Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago
"Pratt Tribune" December 13, 2000
LETTER: Why should Coyne object?
I was amazed by Dr. Jerry Coyne's letter to the Tribune. Why would an
evolutionary biologist object to the use of his own article in a high
school biology class? According to Coyne, it's because the "creationists"
suggested it. Does that mean Dr. Coyne's arguments are now invalid? In his
article Coyne writes: "The reexamination of this tale [peppered moth] ....
shows that this classic example is in bad shape, and, while not yet ready
for the glue factory, needs serious attention." Obviously, Dr. Coyne does
not want for this "serious attention" to come from high school students.
In his article, Dr. Coyne notes: "...that the most serious problem is that
B. betularia probably does not rest on tree trunks ... This alone
invalidates Kettlewell's release-recapture experiments, as moths were
released by placing them directly onto tree trunks, where they are highly
visible to bird predators." Check out the PHS, biology textbook and you
find that it refers directly to Kettlewell's experiment and states that
the moths rest on tree trunks (Problem-Solving Lab 15.1, page 407).
Why would Dr. Coyne prefer to censor this information? In the article
notes that: "My own reaction resembles the dismay attending the discovery,
at the age of six, that it was my father and not Santa Claus who brought
the presents on Christmas Eve." I guess he just doesn't want students to
be similarly disappointed in the Darwinist's evidence.
In his letter, Dr. Coyne notes that: "It is not uncommon for scientists
reexamine previous work and find it incomplete, or even wrong. This is the
normal selfcorrecting mechanism of science. Textbook examples may be
altered as additional data are found." This is a very interesting comment,
because in the article he doesn't want students to read, he states. "It is
also worth pondering why there has been general and unquestioned
acceptance of Kettlewell's work. Perhaps such powerful stories discourage
close scrutiny. Moreover, in evolutionary biology there is little payoff
in repeating other people's experiments, and, unlike molecular biology,
our field is not self-correcting because few studies depend on the
accuracy of earlier ones. Finally, teachers such as myself often neglect
original papers in favor of shorter textbook summaries, which bleach the
blemishes from complicated experiments."
Hmmm .... science is self-correcting, but evolutionary biology is not;
textbook examples are altered as additional data are found, but the new
biology text in Pratt still presents an invalid experiment as evidence;
this experiment needs serious attention, but Dr. Coyne objects to this
attention in a high school biology class; teachers like Coyne often
neglect original science papers, but they are the experts to Mom we must
defer. I'm confused, but maybe that's because I'm just an ignorant
"creationist." Or, maybe it's because the Darwinist has evolved to speak
with forked tongue.
"The Pratt Tribune" December 13, 2000
LETTER: Standards not concerned with 'critical thinking'
Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) advocates claim to want evolution
taught using critical thinking skills. These advocates even provide a few
articles in the new standards that critically analyze some of the details
of the modern theory of evolution and are performed by experts in that
field. So how come IDC leaders like Jonathan Wells use these same articles
to claim that evolution is a theory in crisis? Coyne's well-timed letter
is a reminder of the literature abuse so common to creationist arguments.
As already mentioned, the new standards do list articles that criticize
the details of modern evolution. But if IDC advocates really want critical
thinking, why is it that the standards do not have any articles
questioning anything about IDC?
And if IDC advocates really want critical thinking taught in science,
is their focus on evolution only? Why not critically evaluate other
verified theories of science as well? When teachers discuss the germ
theory of disease, why not also talk about the health problems caused by
imbalances of the four humors? Four-humor theory is, at least, a natural
alternative to the view currently being inflicted upon our children by the
apparently Nazi-esque scientific elite.
But Calvert goes a step further than that. It is not enough for him
just criticize evolution - he wants to redefine science to include the
non-natural IDC. If he gets his way, Pratt would not have to keep natural
the alternatives to verified science that it includes in classroom
discussions. From the germ theory of disease to four-humor theory to
demonic influences - they could all be science if Pratt could just let
The inclusion of IDC into the Pratt curriculum is not about expanding
minds of children with critical thinking skills. To continue to assert so
is dishonest. It is obvious why biology alone is singled out for this kind
of curricular revision.
3rd Year Medical Student
Member, Kansas Citizens for Science
"The Pratt Tribune" December 13, 2000
LETTER: Charges of fraud misleading
In recent weeks your newspaper has printed letters debating revisions
high school biology curricula. Some of the correspondents have leveled
charges of fraud directed at evolutionists for attributing changes in the
colors of peppered moths to natural selection. As I am one of the
evolutionary biologists who study peppered moths, I feel obliged to
comment. Charges of fraud cannot be left unchallenged.
Some background about peppered moths is necessary. The common form of
moth species is pale gray. About 150 years ago, a black specimen was
discovered near an industrial city in England. Over the years, the black
(melanic) form became ever more common as the pale form became rare. By
1900 the black form exceeded 90 percent in peppered moth populations
throughout the industrialized regions of England. The phenomenon was
dubbed industrial melanism.
Because people knew that birds eat insects, scientists as early as 1896
suspected that birds were eating the different color forms of peppered
moths selectively based on their degree of conspicuousness in habitats
variously blackened by industrial soot. Extensive experimental work
supports this view, although questions remain. Other scientists proposed
that moths responded to the presence of pollutants by developing darker
body colors. We now know from genetic analysis that the colors of adult
peppered moths are determined by genes; thus, the changes in the
percentages of pale to black moths over generations reflect changes in the
genetic makeup of moth populations.
As industrial practices have changed in many regions, we have observed
black moths plummet from 90 percent to 10 percent in the just the past few
decades. Once again, we have observed significant genetic changes occur in
moth populations. Evolution is defined at the operational level as genetic
change over time, so this is evolution. Of the several factors known to
produce evolutionary change, only natural selection is consistent with the
patterns of the changes we see occurring in moth populations. Evolution
examined at this level is as well established as any fact in science.
We still have work to do. We do not all agree about the relative roles
contributing factors, such as the flow of genes between moth populations
in different regions, the importance of lichens on trees, where on trees
moths might hide from predators, how important is differential predation,
and so on. As in any branch of science, participants endlessly debate
interpretations. Such wrangling is the norm, and it stimulates additional
research. That is how we make progress.
Our debates have never been secret. For recent overviews of the
controversies, please see http://www.wm.edu/biology/melanism.pdf or
www.els.net/elsonline/html/A0001788.html . Yet, unwarranted charges of
fraud, fakery and cover-ups repeatedly appear in letters printed in
newspapers. In your paper, Ms. Katrina Rider "asserts" the peppered moth
story is a hoax. She conveys the impression that dead moths were glued to
trees as part of a conspiracy of deception. She seems unaware that moths
were glued to trees in an experiment to assess the effect of the density
(numbers) of moths on the foraging practices of birds. Taken out of the
context of the purpose of the experiment, the procedure does sound
But, should we blame Ms. Rider for her outrage upon learning that moths
were glued to trees? No. Instead, I blame Dr. Jonathan Wells, who wrote
the article she cites as her source of information. While he has done no
work on industrial melanism, he has written opinion about the work. To one
outside the field, he passes as a scholar, complete with Ph.D.
Unfortunately, Dr. Wells is intellectually dishonest. When I first
encountered his attempts at journalism, I thought he might be a woefully
deficient scholar because his critiques about peppered moth research were
full of errors, but soon it became clear that he was intentionally
distorting the literature in my field. He lavishly dresses his essays in
quotations from experts (including some from me) which are generally taken
out of context, and he systematically omits relevant details to make our
conclusions seem ill founded, flawed, or fraudulent. Why does he do this?
Is his goal to correct science through constructive criticism, or does he
a have a different agenda? He never mentions creationism in any form. To
be sure, he sticks to the scientific literature, but he misrepresents it.
Perhaps it might be kinder to suggest that Wells is simply incompetent,
but I think his errors are by intelligent design.
Professor of Biology
College of William and Mary
Uwaga: Plik w formacie pdf. Konieczne jest posiadanie AcrobatReader
"The Pratt Tribune" December 13, 2000
LETTER: Calvert fails to meet requirements
Last August after attending the Intelligent Design Conference held at
Rockhurst High School on July 15, 2000, I wrote an article for this space
in which I identified the process the IDnet was advocating for patrons to
use in getting their local Board of Education to adopt science standards
that would permit teaching Intelligent Design Creationism in the science
classes of public schools.
This process was advocated by John Calvert a local lawyer who is Managing
Director of Intelligent Design Networks, and Mr. Dewolf a law professor
and official of the Discovery Institute in Seattle. They were advocating
that patrons urge their local board of education members to disavow their
policy-making responsibilities and become directly involved in modifying
science curricula to provide for teaching the religion-based concepts of
Intelligent Design Creationism. In subsequent letters to the editor, both
Mr. Calvert and Mr. DeWolf vehemently protested that I had misrepresented
their position, and that they were merely trying to counter the "science
establishment's" refusal to recognize IDC as legitimate science. I also
sent a copy of that article to the Pratt Tribune because Mr. Richardson, a
lawyer from Pratt, and Mr. Mammoliti, a state wild life biologist from
Pratt participated in the same IDC conference. These two men were actively
trying to get the Pratt school board to adopt a science text book titled
"Of Pandas and People" which has been clearly identified as pro IDC and
not acceptable as science texts in public schools. Their efforts were
unsuccessful, but as reported recently in newspapers across the state, the
Pratt Board of Education adopted a new science curriculum which provides
for teaching IDC concepts in the 10th grade science class. This standard
was developed by Pratt BOE members in exactly the manner advocated by
Messer's Calvert and Dewolf, even though none of them have sufficient
science training to override recommendations from their own science
Recently, Mr. Jack Krebs, a respected Lawrence educator and board member
of Kansas Citizens for Science wrote a letter to the Pratt Tribune
pointing out that the Pratt BOE had indeed followed the exact procedure
advocated at the July IDC conference. Subsequently, (see letter dated
12/6/2000) Mr. Calvert wrote a very inflammatory and demeaning letter to
the Pratt Tribune in which he pulled out all of the stops and attacked Mr.
Krebs, Kansas Citizens for Science, the Vice President of the United
States, the Governor of Kansas, the presidents of all our state
universities, plus National and International science organizations. He
accused KCFS of using scare tactics in "its assault on the brave
contingent in Pratt" and using warfare terminology he used the ultimate
extremist tactic of equating KCFS to the Nazi SS.
It is very clear from reading his letter that Mr. Calvert is very skilled
at making courtroom-style arguments, but it is also very clear that his
understanding of science is distorted and does not even meet minimum
requirements to be advising the Pratt BOE on their science curriculum.
Kansas Citizens for Science continues to advocate that lawyers establish
the curriculum for law school, theologians establish the curriculum for
schools of theology, and scientists establish the curriculum for science
classes. Oh, and by the way Mr. Calvert, we have no eight inch guns.
"The Pratt Tribune" December 13, 2000
LETTER: No declared war
Last week, John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network responded
previous letter of mine by saying that he and I agree "that Pratt can be
likened to an outpost under siege in a culture war," and then went on to
call Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS) a "ruthless outfit" and identify
us with the philosophy and tactics of Nazi Germany.
These charges can not go unanswered.
My letter said nothing about a "culture war." Both the phrase "culture
war" and the accompanying military metaphors are Calvert's alone. There is
a political conflict going on in Pratt, no doubt. KCFS and the ID Network
have been active in this conflict throughout the state. Such activity is
one of the rights and responsibilities of democracy. That does not make
this a "culture war", and I don't agree with him that we are in one.
I also find it ironic that Calvert accuses me of using "scare tactics",
and yet he effectively calls us Nazis and sprinkles his letter with images
of war. This is offensive, and, even more than his "culture war"
statement, exaggerates the nature of the conflict and adds an aura of
potential violence where none is remotely possible.
KCFS is a non-profit educational organization whose members are educators,
scientists, and citizens from many different occupations. We support
teaching mainstream science in schools. We also support and encourage
constructive dialog on all the related issues in education, science, and
religion. Despite the tensions and disagreements this has brought, society
will ultimately benefit from this discussion.
But we at KCFS are not Nazis, and we are not at war with anyone. To
us such is purposely divisive, and is meant to heighten emotional reaction
rather than reasoned response. This type of rhetoric does not encourage
constructive dialog, and has no place in civil discourse.
In the interest of constructive dialog, I have replied to the rest of
Calvert's letter by posting an essay on my website at
www.sunflower.com/~jkrebs. I invite those of you genuinely interested in
the issues to join me there.
"The Pratt Tribune" December 20, 2000
LETTER: Get accepted, then get in the textbooks
It's amazing what a torrent of letters Jack Krebs' comments touched
Taken together, they read like a litany of off-the-assembly-line
creationist propoganda exercises. It was a wonderful coincidence that as
part of this someone wrote in and included the peppered moth story. Jerry
Coyne, who is usually cited as the source of this "problem," also wrote in
to explain just how his work is misused by Jonathan Wells and other
Two letters contained commentary about using evolution to develop
"critical thinking". Now, is it any coincidence evolution is used as the
thing they want to be "critical" about? Why not immunization, or gravity,
or the "round Earth theory", or any one of a hundred other topics? It's
not a coincidence. The reason is that for religious reasons some people
don't want evolution, or anything related to it, honestly taught.
John Calvert's letter shows the many skills developed in his training
be a lawyer. He would make better contributions to law school curriculum
than to science. I don't want to write nearly 1300 words in reply; I will
address only the "censorship of ID" idea-that they have to exploit our
children to advance their "theory" because the science community won't
accept it. Nearly every major advance in science was once regarded as a
silly idea. However, not every idea is a major advance. New hypotheses are
a dime a dozen. Most of them die and are never heard of again.
Our modern science is made up of the new ideas that survived and got
the scientific literature. They persisted because they provided
explanations that not only worked but made predictions that could be
tested. Science is conservative, and demands this of new ideas. My area is
physics, and I get several documents a month that "prove Einstein was
wrong". I don't teach my students from them. We have a hard enough time
communicating the things that have solid support. Consequently, if
Intelligent Design Creationism were somehow to become science, and become
widely accepted, it would be time to begin putting it in textbooks. But we
don't use the opinions of a primarily religious organization to design
curriculum for science class.
I personally favor comparative religion classes in school, so children
learn the viewpoint of many different religions. But this is not science.
Kansas Citizens for Science
"The Pratt Tribune" December 20, 2000
LETTER: Naturalists are censoring science
I have been a securities lawyer for 32 years. In that business we focus
keeping misinformation out of prospectuses that are designed to sell
stock. Under the law misinformation is not only an affirmative
misrepresentation, but is also an "omission" to state a fact that is
necessary to make other statements made not misleading. Over the years I
have found that major misinformation frequently exists in what is not
With that preamble, I have the following comments about the letters
Messrs. Grogger, Krebs and Humberg that were posted in the Pratt Tribune
on Dec 13 in response to my defense of IDnet that was posted on December
The most telling part about the three letters, is that all omit to respond
to any of the substantive issues raised in my letter. By omitting any
discussion of the key issues they draw public attention away from the real
issue and focus it on false characterizations of the motives of IDnet and
The key issue raised by my letter and ignored by the three responses
whether the science establishment and our public schools should use the
philosophy of Naturalism to censor evidence that undermines Darwinism and
that supports an inference that living systems may be designed. My letter
also details rather specific instances of misinformation for which no
public rebuttal is given.
The evidence of design that appears in nature is overwhelming. It has
recognized by scientists, philosophers and theologians since the beginning
of civilization. Even the most ardent ID opponents recognize that living
systems appear to be designed. What is happening now is that as science
develops even more sophisticated techniques to observe nature, it is
finding even more evidence of design. Cosmologists are finding the
universe fine-tuned to such a degree that they are being forced to develop
speculative theories of multiple universes to avoid a design inference.
Biochemists are finding a language and libraries of information in each of
our cells that direct the construction of machines and systems that defy
explanation by anything other than design. Geology (a field in which I was
trained and continue to pursue as an avocation) is discovering a fossil
record that is more consistent with a design inference than the competing
The question facing our culture is whether we are going to use Naturalism
to ignore, suppress and censor this evidence of design so that our
children and their children will come to believe that they are merely the
purposeless products of the laws of chemistry and physics and not the
product of any design.
Webster's defines Naturalism as "the doctrine that cause-and-effect
(as of physics and chemistry) are adequate to account for ALL phenomena
and that teleological [design] conceptions of nature are invalid."
Although a major objective of IDnet is to promote design theory, its
primary objective is to remove the philosophic constraint which censors it.
Although Naturalism may work in sciences that are focused on observation
and experiment, as in the case of physics and chemistry, Naturalism does
not work in evolutionary biology and other origins sciences which are
HISTORICAL sciences that seek to "construct a historical narrative" of
If Naturalism was applied to arson investigations to censor design
inferences all arsonists would go free.
That is the problem with origins science. The science establishment
telling its members to ignore and censor the evidence of design that is
observed to occur in nature. They are also told to refrain from any
criticism of Darwinism because that criticism supports design theory.
Scientists are told that their task is to look only for ways to support
Darwinism. All of this censorship reflects Naturalism in action.
If there is any uncertainty about the true intention of the KCFS and
science establishment, ask how they propose to change the definition of
science in the existing Kansas science standards. They are presently
circulating a draft of new standards that seek to eliminate logic from
science and replace it with Naturalism by changing the definition of
science. Science is now defined as the "activity of seeking LOGICAL
explanations for what we observe in the world around us." The KCFS backed
draft defines science as the "activity of seeking NATURAL explanations for
what we observe in the world around us." Curious as it may seem, the
battle is really over a single word that will determine whether origins
science will be driven by logic or philosophy.
We have repeatedly pointed out in writing the logical, scientific, legal
and cultural problems that arise with the teaching and preaching
Naturalism to our children in public schools. However, rather than respond
to these criticisms, the KCFS has engaged in misinformation by diverting
public attention from these arguments through mischaracterizations of
their own motives and the motives of IDnet.
This tactic is never more apparent than in the three letters. They exhibit
a complete lack of substantive response to any of the key issues mentioned
above and in my letter of December 6. Instead, they label a logical design
inference drawn from evidence that appears in nature as religion and call
it "Intelligent Design Creationism." They use the word "Creationism"
because they want the public to improperly equate design inferences with
the teaching of "creation science" which courts have held to be a
violation of the constitution. "Creation science" has been defined by the
courts as an endeavor which seeks to prove the truth of the Genesis
account of creation. Although a design inference supports any theistic
belief, an inference drawn from naturally occurring evidence is not a
religion and the ACLU and the KCFS know that. As the KCFS knows, the ID
movement is focused on keeping Naturalism and the Darwinian theory that it
protects from being preached in our schools as a religion. Rather than
being a religious organization, IDnet is one focused on getting religion
and philosophy out of origins science so that origins science will be
driven only by logic, the evidence and the scientific method. If there is
any doubt about the focus of IDnet, go to our web site and read the IDnet
publications that are listed on the publications page
The other deceptive strategy used by the science establishment is to
the public into believing that origins science acts like an independent,
unbiased and trustworthy arson investigator. As to evolutionary biology
and other areas of origins science, that is not the case. In those areas
the agenda is to tell only a "naturalistic" account of how things came to
be. Design inferences are not allowed. When origins science protects its
explanation from criticism and the evidence that supports the competing
hypothesis, it becomes a religion and a philosophy and not a science. The
KCFS is not for science. The agenda of the KCFS is to promote the
philosophy of Naturalism in origins science.
I will acknowledge that my letter equates the misinformation of the
to support the teaching and preaching of Naturalism to our children and
our culture as one that is akin to the same sort of naturalistic
misinformation that led a large segment of the German population to
support a eugenics program of mind numbing proportions. However, I don't
see any problem with the analogy when one considers the long range
consequences of a continuation of this brain washing. Although Matt
Grogger's claim that "we have no 8 inch guns" may be literally true, the
misinformation that is being fed into the minds of our children and the
public on the origin of life and its diversity can be far more destructive
over time than a nuclear war head. In a cultural war, which Jack Krebs
just calls a "political conflict," misinformation used by powerful
institutions can be far more powerful than 8 inch shells.
Intelligent Design Network, Inc.