Steven A. Edinger's testimony to the Ohio Board of Education on March 7, 2000


March 7, 2000

Well, Good Morning and thank you for the opportunity to be here. I'm here from Ohio University representing a number of faculty members and also representing a kind of a loose group - you could say - of science faculty members and science teachers around the state that I have contacts with.

I think I found a fortunate time to be called upon and asked to testify in here. The reason for that is one of the things that I suggested was a competency that's going to specifically ask people what is meant by "theory" when scientists say it, and what does that mean? Because what I'm hearing tossed around is very far removed from it. A theory as scientists understand it is a working model - a working model that tells you something about how a process occurs. It's going to be supported by an enormous amount of evidence. It's something that can be tested and measured out in the real world.

I was really quite surprised to hear two ideas in particular. One was that evolutionists when we are amongst ourselves say that there's not very much about it. I am one of those evolutionists. I am a biologist at Ohio University; I came through the ecology and evolution section there. I've never heard anybody saying that there isn't much of it - in fact, there's a lot of specific ways to measure it. One of the things that has been good in this curriculum overall is an emphasis on having students go out and make measurements so I made suggestions for competency - what was 13, now is 14 - that it includes specifically how scientists test and measure two of the most important aspects of evolution. One is speciation because it is something that is tested and measured in spite of what you've heard said earlier, and the other is natural selection. Natural selection is the much easier of the two to test and measure on here.

One of the other things is just an aside that I heard was an implication that somehow evolution is bad for the morals of your kids. I've got my tie tack on for my youngest son who is an Eagle scout and became one in December. I don't think that his morals have been somehow degraded by having an evolutionist for a father that's been raising him and taking care of him.

The other thing I wanted to mention - this is very important - the basis of science is the idea of having some kind of hypothesis and testing it and measuring it with data from the real world. We could spend quite a bit of time, but I can't do it in five minutes, obviously, talking about how scientists measure speciation, natural selection, and so on like that. There are bookshelves in OU's library that are filled with books and journals on how this is done.

The thing I want to point out - very important - is that when you turn to creationism you find two ideas - and this is why it doesn't belong in the schools - ideas that cannot be measured scientifically. The second kind are ideas you can measure scientifically and have been disproven. For example, somebody asked about the age of the universe and that was rather coyly avoided. Most creationists will tell you it's 6 to 10 thousand years old. There's something I can measure very easily because for one thing I can look at stars, and if I see stars more than 6,000 light years away, I know that the universe has to be more than 6,000 years old. We can measure that and disprove it.

There are a number of other things. For example, I've heard the word "design" mentioned this morning. Nobody has ever come up with a way to measure design. Design is something that's much like art, it's in the eye of the beholder. And to differentiate between design and organization, nobody has devised a scientific method to do that. The other thing that is very important and I'm glad that I came after several people who have spoken about creationism and in favor of it. Have you heard any hypotheses mentioned about how creationism was going to be tested or data that was testing those hypotheses? I've been listening carefully, and what I've been hearing is a lot of complaints about evolution, several of which are highly inaccurate. For example, the notion that we don't know how to test or measure speciation is incorrect. The idea that the measurements of natural selection can't really be done is incorrect. In fact, it's something that is easily enough done that if you were to try to propose, as a graduate student let's say, some kind of a research project where you were going to test once again to see if natural selection really happens, you'd better have a darn good reason why you're testing this yet again. Nobody's going to fund you - this is something that is already a decided issue.

The last thing I wanted to mention is we've had some talk about being dogmatic about some of these things. Let me ask the Board, what would you guess? How many people in this country think that it's actually the sun circling the earth instead of the earth circling the sun? Any guesses - wrong, ballpark, 10%, 20%, 30%? It turns out to be about 18% that still hold to that view even though that view has been long since laid to rest and I hate to say it for those of us that are living in Ohio, but there's actually an organization in Cleveland that's still touting the view that it is the sun circling the earth. We are not teaching that as an alternative. We are quite dogmatically teaching that it is the earth circling the sun. The same thing happens with evolution. We are not teaching alternatives to it because there aren't any scientific alternatives that have survived. And creationism is not even a scientific alternative.

Mr. Byrne: Some people think that there are such things as miracles and they can be measured. XYZ had cancer ... or something and by some miraculous means was cured and I guess that's kind of measurement, isn't it?

Mr. Edinger: I've never heard of anybody measuring a miracle. Miracles are something and in fact that comes very close to one of the most serious cardinal sins is the idea of looking for proof instead of faith. I don't know of anybody that's ever measured miracles.

Mr. Byrne: Well, I say, it's unmeasurable then. You can't say that something happened because of a new condition; or they can't prove that some pharmaceutical product caused this remission as it were.

Mr. Edinger: What do you mean by proof? How certain do you want to be? Most of the time I can statistically be 95% certain that I've proven something. It's precious seldom ...

Mr. Byrne: How about that last 5%.

Mr. Edinger: You are always going to have some uncertainty in your measurements.

Mr. Byrne: Then you are saying that not all science is measurable. There are some voids there.

Mr. Edinger: Oh, no. It is measurable. But it is measurable to a degree of certainty. And this depends on which kind of science that you're going to be doing as to how fixed it is. Physics is pretty fixed with its certainty, chemistry a little bit less so, biology a little bit softer on that. So that a lot of things we know statistically but you can't say something about a specific organism what fate that specific organism would have.

Mr. Byrne: As long as there are any voids I suspect there will be creationists.

Mr. Baker: I look at item 14 and I look at the speciation as the result of natural selection and how are we going to teach that now with the evolution of gene modification? That doesn't seem like natural selection to me. You're going to have some problems with the scientific community, by the way, that gene modification is ...

Mr. Edinger: You are going to have to clarify for me how humans altering the genes would some way ...

Mr. Baker: No, I'm not talking at this point on humans - I'm talking about a lot of other species as well as ... flora and fauna. Anybody who's a farm boy would know that we have gene modification in our crops and that's ...

Mr. Edinger: Yes, we've had that for a long time ...

Mr. Baker: ... and that's a problem for some people. No, it's not been a long time, but it's been long enough to know that we can modify anything through gene modification - almost. You know, this isn't even up to date when we look, about natural selection. Natural selection is not something that's going to continue to happen because we have the ability now to scientifically modify genes in any organism.

Mr. Edinger: Your argument does not necessary follow that because humans can alter genes that somehow natural selection stops occurring. Natural selection is still occurring with the variations that arise in nature ...

Mr. Baker: ... well I'm saying this isn't even adequate in the course of study. We should go beyond this - natural selection - there's a lot more than that now that takes place ...

Mr. Edinger: Well, you could talk about the human impact on it, and humans do select and breed. Now we are actually manipulating genes directly - but that is more in addition to. The natural process occurs - it's quite separate from it.

Mr. Baker: I'm not criticizing this. What I'm saying - there needs to be an addition to this.

Mr. Edinger: And some of that does come down under the biotechnology. The people probably that originally cultivated corn were in a sense doing biotechnology although not with the kind of sophistication we have now where we can actually pull out genes. They certainly selected crops, they picked the better ones, they kept those seeds and they definitely altered remarkably a number of crops and animals.

Mr. Baker: True. And is that natural selection or is that manipulated selection?

Mr. Edinger: That's artificial selection - when humans do it it's referred to as artificial selection as opposed to natural selection where the environment is having an impact on these organisms. And of course, our impact on the environment alters them. They are finding a lot of salt tolerant plants that are evolving along the highways in northern states - particularly places like Michigan and Minnesota. You dump a lot of salt on the road, the salt washes off, it kills off the plants that don't have variations - that haven't got mutations that help them resist that - the ones that can resist it are left. We are accidentally causing some changes because we altered their environment.

Mr. Turner: I appreciate from your testimony that you don't want science teachers teaching that the earth is 6,000 years old based on a very strict interpretation of one part of the Bible that I'm not even sure I would share as an interpretation. But let me ask this. Are you suggesting that you don't want science teachers teaching anything relating to the possibility of intelligent design?

Mr. Edinger: Well, if you're going to teach it as science, then you're going to have to have some way of measuring and testing design. The reason that it gets excluded is not - we've also heard a little bit about there being kind of prejudice and censorship by scientists - the problem is that nobody's found a way to measure it. If you can find a way to measure it and test it, then you've gotten into the realm of science. There are a lot of things that we can't measure or test. Thank goodness nobody has tried to make scientific measurements of which paintings look good and which ones don't. I hope that it never comes to that. Now you could measure peoples' response to it. But if you can't measure it, then it falls outside of that realm of science. Science is a limited realm where you can take measurements and test ideas.

Mr. Turner: Are you excluding the possibility of intelligent design yourself?

Mr. Edinger: Excluding the possibility? Something is neither excluded or included - if you can't measure it then it's not part of science. It falls outside of the realm of science. It falls into an area of theology and belief that people have.

Mr. Turner: But if teachers are precluded from teaching it then we are excluding the possibility of intelligent design in the curriculum.

Mr. Edinger: But you're looking at this in one sense if I don't disprove this then I've got to include it. We have a lot of things that we don't include in science that are not measurable or testable. And if it's not something that can be measured, then it's not something that comes into science. It's just not a part of it. If people wanted to talk about that in other classes on philosophy or theology or particularly history of culture because it's had an enormous impact then it's a very valid subject in there. But when you come into the science classroom, you are limited to what you can measure and test ideas about.

Mr. Turner: I'm just unclear on your testimony. Are you saying in your personal view that there is no evidence of intelligent design?

Mr. Edinger: Well, there's no scientific evidence, no. And nobody has found a way to measure that. That's part of it right there. First off, before you can have evidence of it, you have to have a method of measurement. Somehow to be able to measure design and differentiate between design and organization. There's a lot of things that we look at and people sometimes say, "Well, that clearly shows design," that you've got to question. Human eyes are amongst them. As good as our human eyes are, we have a retina that faces backwards and a blind spot in the middle. Is that design? Does that show good design?

Mr. Turner: It works.

Mr. Edinger: Yea, but we could have an eye like a squid's eye which doesn't have a blind spot and the retina faces forward.

Mr. Turner: We wouldn't be as attractive, though, would we?

Mr. Edinger: It depends on whether you're a squid or not. I don't want to ask any squids what they think of our appearance. Fortunately they can't talk, so ...