Thursday, March 24, 2005


Call me Steve

You thought we Canadians were running amok with our liberalist ways - sanctioning gay marriage, legalizing marajuana, and allowing our beef to get mad cow cooties. You ain't heard the half of it. According to today's Ottawa Citizen (yes, it's subscriber only, but I'll tell you the juicy parts anyway - oh wait, here's a link to a similar story on the BBC) ... ahem, where was I? Oh yes, according to news reports, IMAX theatres in the U.S. Bible Belt are refusing to screen science films that mention or even hint at the theory of evolution - and where are most of those films made? Why, right here in Canada of course.

One of the more recent films, Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, has been called "blasphemous" because although it never explicitly mentions evolution, the script does explain that the DNA of microscopic bacteria living in undersea volcanoes contains the same building blocks as human DNA. Cover your preschooler's ears, this is risqué stuff!

I would like to be open-minded about this. Really, I think the idea of creationism, or it's modern incarnation of "intelligent design" is a quaint idea. Sure, if you want to believe in that, good on ya - kind of the same way I'm more than happy to let you continue to believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. But I was astonished to read that in more than 40 (that's FORTY!) U.S. states, the creationist lobby has attempted to push evolution out of the science textbooks and classrooms entirely.

I could go on about this for a while, but instead I will tell you about the brilliant response the U.S. based National Center for Science Education has concocted: Project Steve. They wanted to counter the prevalent creationist argument that even scientists dissent with the theory of evolution, and issued a statement supporting the teaching of evolution in schools.

The 220 signatories are a distinguished group. Almost all hold PhDs in the sciences. They include two Nobel prize winners, eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, and several well-known authors of popular science books such as Why We Age, Darwin's Ghost, and How the Mind Works. And they are all named Steve....

Creationists are fond of amassing lists of PhDs who deny evolution to try to give the false impression that evolution is somehow on the verge of being rejected by the scientific community. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Hundreds of scientists endorsed the NCSE statement. And we asked only scientists named Steve -- who represent approximately 1% of scientists. (from the NCSE Web site)

They started with 220 scientists named Steve (and Stephanie) in early 2003, and now have more than 500 signatories, including the Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg and the incomparable Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time. Their statement, also available on a T-shirt that I did not know existed and am now fiercely coveting, sums up the argument better than I ever could. (Sheesh, you'd think these guys were rocket scientists or something, they're so smart.)

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.

Amen, brothers. I'd be honoured to be a Steve for a day.