On Panda’s Thumb, Matt Brauer comments on a news article by Sam Kean in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which reports that the list of majors eligible for the SMART grant omits only the code for “evolutionary biology” among all the biological disciplines.
Does this reflect a way of thinking in which those in the other sub-disciplines of biology are regarded as working in a science that is not founded on evolutionary theory?
I am not a scientist, but from my general high school science education (where my teachers were all Sisters of Mercy working in the school system of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa), I thought that evolutionary theory is as fundamental to biology–all of biology–as, say, molecular theory is fundamental to chemistry, or relativity and quantum theory are fundamental to physics. What would chemistry be without molecular theory? Something like a bunch of recipes?
I thought biology was comparable to chemistry in that regard. On eBay I just bought a copy of the version of the BSCS (blue) biology textbook that we used in my high school class. Sure enough, evolutionary theory is the basis for understanding the material in every chapter. Yet, in the current controversy, I have heard some teachers quoted as saying that the issue doesn’t matter much to them, since they only spend one or two periods out of their year-long course on the “topic” of evolution, anyway. And even in the Dover, Pennsylvania high school, according to some accounts, the “Intelligent Design” statement was supposed to be read to the students at the beginning of the week when they would be learning about evolution.
The Moonie Rev. Wells takes this question on directly in his Politically Incorrect Guide™ to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. On p. 71 Wells quotes the title of the 1973 article by Dobzhansky, who explained that “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”
Wells devotes his chapter seven to disputing that broad claim. But I have also read statements by others in biology who do not seem interested in challenging evolution, and presumably themselves believe in evolution, who say that their work, in their subdiscipline or specialization, does not depend at all on evolutionary theory.
So what is the truth about this? It seems like an important issue. People make strong assertions on both sides. It is still my expectation that evolutionary theory is what makes biology a science, much like molecular theory is what makes chemistry a science (rather than, say, just a collection of recipes). But I myself would not know how to support this view against a contrary assertion by a working biologist who takes the opposing view.
Is there a good treatment of this issue somewhere? How would those in biology make their case on this issue (rather than just asserting their conclusions)?