'IT OUGHT NOT TO BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOL'
We are grateful to Profs. Brian Husband and Elizabeth Boulding
(@Guelph Jan. 17) for their comments on our letter
of Dec. 12. Some of their points require more detailed response
than this forum will support, so we restrict our discussion
to a comment on the definition of evolution and further
explanation of the distinction between natural selection
Profs. Husband and Boulding, in agreement with the National
Academy of Sciences (Teaching About Evolution and the
Nature of Science, National Academy Press, Washington,
D.C.) define evolution as "any hereditary change."
Given this definition, we would agree that natural selection
is at least one means to effect evolution. But "any
genetic change" is quite different than the claim that
life evolved from simple molecules or that a fish was transformed
into Albert Einstein. If evolution really means the transformation
of simple molecules to living organisms, then important
distinctions between natural selection and evolution emerge.
First, natural selection is a conservative process that
acts to preserve existing genomes, but does not generate
any new information. It may also preserve genes beneficially
altered by mutation, but even in that case, it acts conservatively
rather than creatively, whereas the evolution of life requires
the development of complex genetic blueprints. Second, natural
selection is abundantly verified by empirical evidence,
and its principles are well understood and applied in artificial
selection, whereas the macro processes described for evolution
are still speculative.
Many scientists (including some renowned biologists such
as Steven Jay Gould and Francis Crick) are skeptical that
the conservative process of natural selection plus the destructive
process of random mutation can explain the transformation
of a primordial soup to bumblebees. Here we include only
the now-famous quote (as cited in Philip E. Johnson's 1991
book Darwin on Trial) from a 1981 lecture by Colin
Paterson, senior paleontologist at the British Natural History
Museum: "Can you tell me anything you know about evolution,
any one thing . . . that is true? I tried that question
on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History,
and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the
members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar in the University
of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and
all I got was silence for a long time, and eventually one
person said: "I do know one thing - it ought not to
be taught in high school.'"
We disagree. Evolution should be taught in school, but
it ought to be taught as a theory, clearly outlining its
scientific and philosophical weaknesses as well as its strengths.
Prof. Art Hill, Food Science,
Prof. Bonnie Mallard, Pathobiology
DISUNITY OF BUILDING MATERIALS ON CAMPUS IS UNINSPIRING
I was pleased to see that "quality and/or unity of
materials," including materials for structural elements
in buildings, was identified as a leading concern in the
campus master plan consultations (@Guelph, Jan. 30).
Over the years, I have been truly inspired on many university
campuses because of the unity of structural materials, from
the "modified collegiate gothic" buildings at
the University of Western Ontario, seen first as a young
teenager 60 years ago, to the uniformly beautiful buff-coloured
sandstone buildings of Stanford I saw last year. As John
Keats wrote: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
In contrast, as I now walk on this campus to the Richards
Building, as I have since it opened in 1958, I see such
a disunity of materials in the new abutting Thornbrough
Building extension that I'm upset that people will have
to look, even if not forever, at such an uninspiring, unpleasant
view for years to come.
Ken King, Professor Emeritus, Land Resource