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Bad Science, Evolution

March 07, 1994

While I commend you for your editorial, "Why Bad Science Can't Be Good Education" (Feb. 27), on the threat to science education by pseudoscience from the left and right, I must take issue with your statement that " . . . evolution has been proven beyond any doubt . . . " The problem with this well-meaning but misleading sentence is that a scientific theory (in contrast to a mathematical theorem) can never be proved. We scientists prefer to use the term confirm. We confirm theories, we don't prove them.

A scientific theory must always be testable and falsifiable. This sets a scientific theory apart from a religious belief, which is neither testable nor falsifiable because it is based on the faith of the believer. A theory is testable if it can be questioned by experimentation or observation. It is falsifiable if an experiment could conceivably provide evidence against the theory.

In the history of science, many important theories (the Earth-centered universe, for example) have had to be discarded or modified as a result of new evidence. An enormous body of evidence has accumulated for hundreds of years (evolution is older than Darwin) that serves to confirm the theory, and there are precious few scientists who doubt that evolution of living things has occurred. Nevertheless, evolution remains testable and falsifiable; it has never been, and can never be, proved.

RICHARD E. GOODMAN Ph.D.

Camarillo

I applaud The Times' desire to see dogma removed from the science education our children receive. However, within the very editorial arguing for this, The Times decided to parade its own dogmatic view: "Although science continues to debate the fine points, evolution has been proven beyond any doubt, no more open to question than whether the Earth is round." While that position squares nicely with the position of many people, especially those who hold secular philosophies, it is not a true statement from a scientific viewpoint. I suggest that the writer of that editorial spend a little time with Michael Denton's book, "Evolution: A Theory In Crisis." Denton's book is just one example of the debate raging among legitimate scientists who are taking a stand against politically correct science. Evolution remains an interesting theory. It is far from "proven beyond any doubt."

CHARLES R. KING

Covina

Was it an accident that you featured an article on Francis Crick on your front page the day after your editorial about bad science (Feb. 28)? Crick's assertions on dreams, memories, joys, sorrows, ambition, identity and free will are the product of the "belief" that our behavior can be reduced to genes, chemistry and ultimately physics. This is reductionism of the first order. It produces quackery just as does the bad science you condemn in your editorial. You assert that evolution has been proven beyond a doubt; according to science it took at least 11 billion years for life to occur on Earth, consciousness was a later development, and human consciousness much later still.

To ignore the meaningful differences between the inorganic, life, consciousness and human awareness, as Crick and most neuroscientists do, is to take us backward to a time before life made a difference on Earth. I call that very bad science.

TERRENCE T. DOWNES

Huntington Beach

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