Evolution, Florida And The Grand Canyon
    By Massimo Pigliucci | March 17th 2008 03:41 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Massimo

    Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York.

    His research focuses on the structure of evolutionary


    View Massimo's Profile
    If one didn’t wish to do something productive with one’s life, creationists would be a perennial source of amusement. Florida creationists, in this particular case. A new set of science standards has just been approved by the Board of Education of the orange juice and hanging chads State, and both sides are claiming victory, according to an article in Science dated 4 March 2008. How can that be? The new standards refer to evolution as "the scientific theory of". If you look at it from the point of view of a scientist, that is (half) the way it should be: “evolution” is an ambiguous word, just like “gravity.” We have gravity, the fact (if you don’t believe me, try letting go of a hammer positioned vertically above your head and let me know what happens); then we have gravity, the theory (the current version, embedded in Einstein’s relativity, says that gravity is the degree of deformation of space-time caused by the presence of physical bodies). Similarly, we have the fact of evolution (as indicated by the fossil record, molecular phylogenetics, and all the rest), and a theory of evolution (currently known as the Modern Synthesis, a significant augmentation of Darwin’s original insight).

    Creationists, however, are claiming victory because they take the new wording to finally acknowledge one of their endlessly repeated mantras: evolution is “just” a theory, not a fact. In so reasoning (pardon me the over generous use of the term), they miss several crucial points. First, as I explained above, there is a standard distinction in science between facts and theories, and evolution is not an exception. Second, to call scientific theories “just” theories, as if they were hunches, or personal opinions, seriously (possibly willfully) mischaracterizes what a scientific theory is. Evolution, gravity, and continental drift (as in “the theories of”) are complex sets of empirically testable statements, often formulated in rigorous mathematical fashion. They are most certainly not what biologists, physicists and geologists “come up with” on their way to the gym.

    In its questionable wisdom, the Florida Board of Education decided to strike a compromise: the words “theory of” would be attached not just to evolution, but also to every other scientific concept, like photosynthesis. Textbooks are going to get a bit longer, more trees will be cut, but I guess it’s a small price to pay for peace between science and religion.

    Except, of course, that there is no peace. While conservative FL legislator Marti Coley “applauded” the Board’s decision as “inclusive of a variety of viewpoints” (just as many as one can reasonably have about gravity), the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, Marco Rubio (predictably, a Republican), is not happy. Rubio wants to introduce -- oh novel idea -- a bill to mandate that science teachers can finally present to their pupils unspecified (so not to alert the Supreme Court) “criticisms of evolution.” Donna Callaway, of the infamous Intelligent Design “think tank” Discovery Institute, supports Rubio’s inane idea, commenting “people have asked me why I don’t question math concepts or grammar, I tell them, those things have nothing to do with life. Evolution is personal, and it affects our beliefs.” One ought to deduce from this that if grammar and math did affect her beliefs, Donna would question them. The logic is fascinating.

    Be that as it may, there is more bad news for creationists, in Florida and elsewhere: a new study reported in Science magazine has updated the estimate for the age of the Grand Canyon. Alas, the update is not downwards (toward the 4,000 or so years ago that creationists calculate based on Biblical geology), but upwards: 17 million years. Of course, that’s just a theory.


    Wow! You are completely uneducated. Why don't you do some research before you believe something - Why don't you look into all the facts instead of putting your trust into something that you obviously haven't found the time to fully research and examine... Perhaps you should educate yourself a little bit more then relying on information you learned in the 3rd grade...

    You might be interested to know that the sides of the Grand Canyon go almost straight up and down. (In fact, they actually do go straight up and down in quite a few places along the canyon.) If gradual natural processes of erosion formed this Grand Canyon, and not Noah's Flood, then the top edge (or "rim") should be rounded, and not an edge at all, since the gradual processes of erosion always tend to round out sharp edges, not create them. In fact, after hundreds of millions of years, these same processes of erosion, (which those who believe "The Story of Evolution" claim formed the Grand Canyon), would have turned any such edges that might have once existed into gradual slopes.

    The Grand Canyon is about a mile deep from the rim at the top to the Colorado River way down at the bottom. The Colorado River actually looks very small from the top rim of the Grand Canyon. From the rim, the Colorado River in fact looks like a small bluish-black line way down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. No, I am sorry, but this tiny little river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon could not have carved out a huge canyon a mile deep and many miles wide right out of solid rock! This is just common sense.

    Genetics and evolution have been enemies from the beginning. Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin were contemporaries. Mendel is the father of modern genetics and Darwin is the father of evolution. In Darwin’s day genetics was just starting and Darwin knew really very little about how genetics worked. His idea of change in species was based on erroneous and untested ideas of inheritance. Mendel’s ideas were based on careful experimentation and showed that individual characteristics were surprisingly resilient and constant.

    Darwin believed in the idea that variations caused by environment could be inherited. Thus the giraffe’s long neck was a result of the “inherited effects of the increased use of parts”. The Origin of Species, 6th ed, London 1902, p 278. Darwin believed that if parent giraffes strained their necks to reach the top leaves then the progeny would inherit longer necks. While even evolutionists today would see this a patently false, they still accept with apparent ease the change in the genetic structure it represents and throw that change to the magic of mutation. It wasn’t until much later that mutations were used as the change agent in evolution because it became apparent this idea of Darwin didn’t work.

    Hmmm... Food for thought...

    Much of the eastern Grand Canyon was already formed by the time the river changed its course. Side canyons had formed along fault lines in the rock and these were eroded away and the rock within them carried down to the Colorado.