Sunday, 9 November 2008

What's the Storey?

This week, due to finding myself very busy, I haven't had a chance to write my usual (vaguely) weekly blog. I did manage to write a letter to the Irish Times newspaper after being rather incensed by the comments of Northern Irish politician Cllr. Mervyn Storey. Since it has been a week and I'm very impatient, I decided to post it here. Cllr. Storey, it seems, would like to bring creationism to European shores. He would also prefer to see the theory of evolution removed from sylabbuses in Northern Ireland, but seems to have a fairly hazey notion of what it is he wants rid of. His poorly-researched thoughts on the matter may be read here. My general thoughts on evolution and creationism can be read elsewhere on this blog.


Mervyn Storey (Opinion and Analysis, November 3rd) describes a scientific theory called "naturalistic evolution" in his argument for the teaching of creationism in Northern Irish schools. "The central, core belief of naturalistic evolution", Storey claims, "is that somewhere in the universe at some time in the far distant past, non-living matter of itself, with no outside influence or mind to guide it, gave rise to living creatures." As a biology research student, I must confess to having never heard of the theory of naturalistic evolution. However, on examination of Storey's description, I find that it summarises the hypotheses on a process called abiogenesis, the emergence of life from non-living matter. A hypothesis is a candidate theory, not yet accepted by the scientific community as a model or representation of reality. With regard to abiogenesis, there are several of these hypotheses, but no accepted theory. Biochemists know of many plausible means by which simple life might emerge by materialistic means, but whether any of these actually occurred is very much an open question. Mr. Storey might well delight at such an admission from a biologist, however I should point out that abiogenesis is not in fact an element of the theory of evolution. Rather, evolution is a theory which explains the emergence of the many varied species from a single common ancestor species, and does not address the first emergence of the first life from lifelessness. This is why Darwin's 1859 work describing evolution was entitled "The Origin of Species" and not "The Origin of Life". Whether that single-celled Adam or Eve emerged by abiogenesis, fell from the sky or was sculpted from clay by the hands of the Creator is largely irrelevant to the veracity of the theory of evolution.

It is troubling that Mr. Storey is either ignorant of the theory he is attacking, or has knowingly constructed a straw man in this "naturalistic evolution" concept that no scientist accepts as fact or teaches as fact. Such ignorance and misrepresentation are common tools of the American creationist movement, and it is most saddening to see such stock anti-scientific rhetoric finding receptive minds on our shores. It is also very worrying that such a flimsy argument is being used to promote what Mr. Storey must consider to be the automatic alternative to evolution. He is presenting us with the same old false dichotomy; that if evolution is false, creationism is true. The veracity of evolution relies on evidence; creationism, to judge from Mr. Storey's argument, on the falseness of evolution.


Neuroskeptic said...

It's very distrubing to see this kind of thing over here - it's par for the course in the US - although I think Northern Ireland has always been more religious and more conservative than the mainland. Hopefully it won't catch on.

Eoin said...

Scientists on the whole aren't violent enough, that's the real problem here. :-D