So Suzan Mazur gets a baloney-free appraisal from well-known OOL researcher (and current conference organizer) Steve Benner in advance of the OOL Gordon Conference (see “Only so long you can bang your head against a wall before the wall complains”). And get this: The Darwin-in-the-schools lobby jumps into the action in an evolution education journal.
What to tell students:
Abstract Evolution and the origin of life are separate, if connected, topics, but they are frequently conflated—especially by creationists. Regarding the natural origin of life as “the soft underbelly” of evolution, creationists argue that it is impossible, improbable, or insusceptible to scientific investigation. Underlying their arguments is the hope that the failure of scientific research on the origin of life is evidence for a supernatural account. It is crucial for teachers to understand the nature of science in order to be able to explain why appeals to the supernatural are out of place in explaining the origin of life and why scientific research on the origin of life is not intrinsically a threat to faith.
It’s not like we have anything to learn from the abject failure of a specifically materialist line of inquiry into an event that screams “information.” Which could be one reason Mazur thinks that origin of life studies are shifting to “nonmaterial events.” Information, famously, can’t be measured or studied using methods developed for matter or energy.
In their article, Darwin lobbyists Branch and Scott immediately invoke Darwin, with becoming reverence, whereas Benner told Mazur, “We are finding all sorts of problems in getting behavior that we find useful, let alone Darwinian out of this.”
The sooner the researchers dump all that Darwin stuff the better. They should start by asking themselves: What is the question we are asking, specifically? What would constitute an answer to the question we are asking? What if that answer isn’t available because the question assumes that events happened in a way that they did not? How might we research the problem from an information theory perspective (to take just one example)? It would be historic if the conference chose to break the mold, but don’t hope for it. In fairness, it is probably easier to get grants to follow the same old routines, each with a different twist, even if little or nothing results.
Our Darwin lobbyists conclude,
As with evolution (Wiles and Branch 2008), though, teachers are often not teaching their students the basics of what scientists have learned about the origin of life, whether because they reject it, or because they are fearful of the consequences of presenting the material to students or in a community with religiously motivated objections to it, or because they are not confident of their knowledge of and ability to teach the subject. As with evolution, understanding the science is necessary but not sufficient to help them overcome these obstacles. Understanding the nature of science—and the ways to deploy it to help to defuse likely objections and misconceptions on the part of the student—is necessary as well. More.
The problems outlined by Benner are the most likely reason a teacher might prefer to teach something better established and more demonstrable than OOL. Like cell biology. Not only do we hear crickets about such practical issues, we should be grateful the Darwin lobby has not yet got teach-the-nonsense laws rammed through.