Judy Wesselhoft ("Kids deserve better," Dec. 16, 2009, Gazette) made several statements in her letter that need to be addressed. First she claimed that "Government spends billions of dollars every year promoting evolution." I am curious to know where this figure comes from.
After a brief search on the Internet, I found summaries of the federal budget published by the Government Printing Office (www.gpoaccess.gov). I read the budgets for both the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education.
As far as I am aware, these are the only government agencies that could conceivably have jurisdiction over "promoting evolution," but neither budget makes any mention of evolution. The NSF does have several programs for promoting science education in general, some of which are specifically directed at evolution. However, the total budget for education from NSF is $790 million. Far short of the "billions" cited by Mrs. Wesselhoft.
Mrs. Wesselhoft's letter also mentions that "The number of renowned scientists that have publicly expressed doubt concerning Darwin's theory of evolution is on the rise." Again, no reference is given for this statistic. I assume she is referring to the various attempts by anti-science propagandists to influence public opinion by forming petitions of so-called "scientists" who dislike the theory of evolution.
The best counterweight to these petitions is "Project Steve" by the National Center for Science Education (ncse.com). The point of the list is not to show how many scientists agree with evolution, because that can be shown just by reading any legitimate scientific journal or attending a major scientific conference. The point is to show that science is not a popularity contest. It would not matter if every single person with a doctorate thought that evolution was a myth. It would not matter if Charles Darwin himself had renounced his own theory. Science is driven purely by facts, and popular opinion cannot change the facts of evolution.
This leads to the boldest claim from the letter you published: "There is not a speck of evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution "¦" Without knowledge of Mrs. Wesselhoft's background in biology, I do not know with what authority that statement was made.
After more than 14 years of studying biology, however, I can say with some confidence that she is right, in a way. There is not a speck of evidence for evolution; there are mountains of evidence. The fossil evidence alone was enough to convince Darwin and his contemporaries that all species have a common ancestor and that natural selection is the primary driving force that causes the appearance of new species. Fossils discovered since Darwin's time have only further confirmed these ideas.
However, the molecular evidence, much of which has only been discovered in the past 50 years, is even more convincing. The genetic homology between every organism on the planet can only be explained by descent with modification. If there are credible reasons why all of this evidence should be ignored, I am not aware of it.
Mrs. Wesselhoft's letter is a prime of example of why every science education curriculum must include evolution. Children must be taught the value of evidence over opinion and critical thinking over credulity.
"A. Brent Richards