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Creationism and Evolution

November 08, 1989

Shaver claims that many evolutionary biologists now are having second thoughts about evolution. The standards of accuracy in her column are not high. For example, she claims that British paleontologist Colin Patterson publicly recanted his believe in evolution in a talk at the American Museum of Natural History in 1981, and now admits that evolution is unsupported by the fossil record. This "Patterson fable" was first published in June, 1982, in "Impact," a four-page insert in the monthly newsletter of the Institute for Creation Research of San Diego, and has been copied ad nauseam by creationist writers ever since. In a letter written in June, 1982, Dr. Patterson explains what happened:

"The story behind the 'Impact' article is that last November I gave a talk to the systematics discussion group in the AMNH. I was asked to talk on 'evolution and creationism,' and knowing the meetings of the group as informal sessions where ideas could be kicked around among specialists, I put a case for the difficulties and problems with evolution, specifically in the field of systematics. I was too naive and foolish to guess what might happen: The talk was taped by a creationist who passed the tape to Luther Sunderland . . . I was putting a case for discussion, as I thought off the record, and was speaking only about systematics, a specialized field. I do not support the creationist movement in any way, and in particular, I am opposed to their efforts to modify school curricula. In short the article does not fairly represent my views."

So the Patterson fable has no foundation.

So much for the veracity of Shaver's article. Evolution is far from dead; it remains the central working principle of modern biology. Biology without evolution would only be natural history, and we haven't taught natural history for 100 years. The heated arguments among biologists today and how evolution occurs are signs of the life and vigor of the field. It would be a loss to good teaching if the eccentric fringe of science and their tape recorders would discourage teachers from speaking provocatively for fear that their words later would be twisted and tortured out of context, as Shaver has done with Colin Patterson.

RICHARD E. DICKERSON

Director, Molecular Biology

Institute, UCLA

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