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SEPM Position Statement - Evolution

5/19/2021

Members of the SEPM Council recently formed a committee to develop a formal Position Statement on behalf of the organization around the topic of evolution. Per SEPM's formal adoption process, this position statement must be made publicly available for...

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Member Comments

The comment period for the Evolution Statement has closed. The committee will review the comments and make changes to the statement as needed. A full report on the statement and it revision will then go to Council for further review.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Howard Harper

It isn't clear what the purpose of the statement is. Is it aimed at SEPM members? Few will disagree with the conclusions. Is the intent to provide ammunition? There are already plenty of well written summaries. Is the piece aimed at non-members with doubts about evolution? Few will ever find or read it. Nor is it written at a level appropriate for those who know nothing of the subject. My recommendation: to boil the whole thing down to a one-paragraph position statement. Append selected resources.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Nicholas Christie-Blick

I appreciate the work of SEPM to promote sterling scientific endeavor. I am concerned, however, that this document can be regarded (and probably not without reason) as adding legitimacy to the claim that mainstream science bolsters itself by stating that all real scientists believe as they do by simply defining anyone who doesn’t believe that way as "nonscientists." It can also be regarded as adding legitimacy to the claim that science is intolerant of minority opinions when, by nature, minority opinions have been the catalyst of all scientific revolutions. (For this cause, appeals to percentages of scientists who subscribe to this or that view are of limited value in support of a position, and should be especially shunned in preparing a document designed to exclude those who take a different position). Further, this document can be regarded by many as a defensive move, as though mainstream science feels threatened by young earth creation, and so is fighting back with a creedal statement rather than with science. Science should be supported with science, not with absolute statements of consensus, no matter how many evidences are thrown in for good measure.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Trent Logan

Monday, July 26, 2021

Steve Warren

Like others who have made comments, I view this as just a little too long and somewhat off-target. We need to have a position paper. This one appears designed to defend science against a religious belief held by some Christian practitioners. Religion is not science, nor is mythology or superstition. Further, what about all the other religions practiced around the world? Let’s not forget atheists too. Please, drop any references to religious beliefs or arguments. These are irrelevant to a science-driven position paper. Also, do not use the term biblical because less than 25% of the world’s people actually recognize the Bible as a holy book, or even an accurate representation of human history. So, put out our position based on science. State it clearly. Let a 15 year old read it for understanding. I also suggest reordering the flow of the document. Start by stating how old the earth is and why we really do know this with high confidence. Next reflect upon the evolution of the planet over time. This sets the stage to discuss how and why life evolved over time, especially the past 500 million years. Finally, human evolution should be regarded as an insignificant process (except perhaps for us). Remember to keep things in perspective. We are but a small pebble in a vast ocean. Evolution of the galaxy, of the solar system, and of Earth created the conditions that resulted in life. Humans are just a single example of the manner in which life evolved.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Chris Donofrio

On a technical matter: the discussion of human evolution is a bit dated, simplistic, and probably would add fodder for Creationists who can cite legitimate published material to contradict some of the details. For example, Homo habilis may not be the ideal bridge between Australopiths and later Homo species: we have evidence of early Homo fossils at 2.4 Myr. The fossil record around 1.8 to 2.4 Myr. in east and south Africa is becoming quite complicated, with Eurasian fossils also appearing about the same time as Olduvai H. habilis. Also, the 5-6 Myr. date for last common ancestor of hominids and hominins is probably too young. Then too, the "progression in brain size" is not that simplistic and implies linearity in evolution, which is again, not how mosaic and iterative evolution usually works. I would suggest either deleting this discussion or having a working palaeoanthropologist vet this section.

Friday, July 23, 2021

David Schwimmer

This statement seems to have been conceived as a tool to expose the “false or misleading claims” of “young earth creationists.” I am concerned about the personalization of some of the argumentation presented in the statement. A professional society that strives to create an environment of respect and inclusiveness should refrain from adopting language that fosters outgroup/ingroup dynamics (e.g., “their views and ours”- section on uniformitarianism). Keeping the discussion at the level of concepts (e.g., creation) instead of people (i.e., creationists) is an important way to reach out genuinely to the community. Attempting to characterize a group of people as devious or ignorant, won’t help. In particular, the final section with the 99.9% vs 0.1% argument is concerning, not only for its poor methodological and informational value, but because it could be construed as an attempt to demarcate and diminish a minority. Thank you for the opportunity of sharing these concerns.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Ronald Nalin

As a life long trained scientist, I believe in what scientific data/facts are showing us. Yes, I have been vaccinated against the Covid virus; and yes, I believe in evolution. I think the SEPM statement is lengthy...could be condensed because the ignorant non-believers are never going to read all of it anyway. Anyone who thinks the earth is only 4,000 years old is beyond any point of scientific logic.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Sharon Cornelius

Thank you for preparing the position statement and putting it out for comment. I agree with earlier comments that it is too long. I recommend not mentioning non-scientific organizations such as YECS and more-specifically not mentioning or attempting to rebut their positions. Perhaps something short and simple such as the following: Position Statement SEPM is a society of professional geologists in academia, industry and government, specializing in the scientific study of sedimentary strata and paleontology. Members of SEPM understand and agree that life has been evolving on earth for billions of years. This knowledge is consistent with the Theory of Evolution, which is basically the idea that characteristics of species change over time through the process of natural selection. Our knowledge that life has been evolving on earth for billions of years is fully-supported by the scientific data, including by the fossil record that is contained in sedimentary rocks (i.e., paleontology), and by scientific methods (e.g., radiometric dating) that are used to determine the ages of the rocks that contain the fossils.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Terence Eschner

Dear Colleagues, I find the Statement well written. However, I feel the piece closes any ability of our society to debate any opposing views rationally. By saying that most of the members believe in Darwinian Evolution and Old Age Earth and that then all is set on stone (paraphrasing) does not reflect the spirit of discovering and science; this reminds me instead of the time when Aristotelian Physics and Ptolemeian Astronomy were set "in Stone". We know well people were killed by having opposing views to the majority at that time; I hope we are not coming back to those years, but in the opposite direction. Regarding the Age of the Earth I have found many of the Young Earth postulates weak and ineffective; I have read "Is a Young Earth Possible?" by Jay L Hall an honestly did not like it. However, the book shows some points were more research is needed to disproved their postulates. For this reason, I am not convinced of the Young Earth Possibility being a Geochronologist myself, but I am open to discussion. Regarding Darwinian Evolution I do not believe on it by my personal philosophy studies. However, I do not deny the utility of Paleontology to study and understand Earth processes. Thus is this regard I am not with the majority. If possible I would like a grandfather clause that allows me not to adhere to this statement. Best regards. Miguel Etayo-Cadavid

Friday, July 23, 2021

Miguel Etayo

The proposed position statement regarding evolution is way too long. It would be better if a short, concise, abridged statement would be written for the general public and politicians, whose knowledge of science and attention spans are limited. Then, somewhere in this abridged statement, a note should be placed referring the reader to the long, technical version of the statement (with or without references below which are only of interest to serious evolution researchers). Raphael Ketani

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Raphael Ketani

I agree that the statement is too long and complicated for most readers. I recommend an abbreviated, one-paragraph version in which you list the YEC challenges and that each of these have been scientifically debunked without going into how. You could include footnotes to add detail for those that require more information. The "exaggeration of working scientists" section needs to be revised. Although true, it is snarky, which is hard to avoid in rebuttals like this. Having said all of this, the statement will only assist those on the fence. The statement will do nothing for folks that believe that evolution and an old earth contradicts their interpretation of the bible. Instead of a statement, I think your efforts would be better spent finding and supporting speakers who are both scientists and devote Christians that can speak on their experience as to how science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Cynthia Ross

I agree with the position statement, however, I agree with all those who have criticized it as “…too long, pedagogic, and academic.” This statement is fine as an internal white paper on the points that you want to get across but will do little to support the cause with the average non-scientist. You are just preaching to the choir (pun intended) and not to the audience that I think that you want to reach. I agree with other critics that state that what you need is a series of short, precise, and hard hitting arguments that the average person can understand. Further, if your intended audience is the American public, there really should be reference to the religious authority of the majority of Christian denominations that support an understanding of creation that is consistent with a long age for the Earth and for evolution of life. The committee should look at some of the writings on the subject by the late Father James Skehan, S.J. of Boston University (https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/bcnews/campus-community/faculty/in-memoriam-james-skehan-s-j.html) who was a prominent structural geologist and director of the Weston Geological Observatory. Check his paper “Theological basis for a Judeo-Christian position on Creationism” (1983, J. Geol. Edu. 31-4 307-314). Also, it would not hurt to at least mention the statements of other religious authorities (https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/10/28/pope-francis-comments-on-evolution-and-the-catholic-church, https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-what-is-the-united-methodist-position-on-evoluti). I know that most religious fundamentalists will little regard what is said by the Catholic or mainline Protestant churches and probably do not even know the names of any prominent theologians, but it will be enough to make the average churchgoer take pause. Further, since what we are arguing about here is essentially a theological interpretation of science, we should consult some theological authority. After all Nicolas Steno was a Catholic bishop and during his time fundamentalism was considered heresy (actually, I think it still is, fundamentalists just aren’t burned at the stake any more). I hope that these comments are a help in your efforts. Jay Gregg

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Jay Gregg

Too long, too confrontational. The statement that scientists in the petroleum industry accept and use principals of an ancient Earth and evolution may resonate with the people being targeted, but I doubt they will read that far. There's a quote, usually ascribed to Mark Twain, that goes something like this: Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience. Mike Palin

Thursday, July 22, 2021

J. Palin

HHarper for Leslie Eliuk: The brief gist of it was I am not sure beliefs versus theories is a workable debating platform that will change any minds. So those who suggest a short position statement in comparatively simple language followed by more details and amplification with big words where necessary seems like a good suggestion BUT all I was going to suggest is that if you use some of the words you already have then up near the front change "sew" to 'sow' as in the metaphor 'sow the wind and reap the whirlwind' since it is an agricultural not a millinery or clothing allusion. Biblically knowledgeable folks will appreciate that and it will give some young earthers one less thing to take SEPM to task about Regards, Dr/Mr Leslie Eliuk - emeritus member from 1969 and PhD in my semi-retirement 2016

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Howard Harper

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Howard Harper

I tend to agree with the gist of most other comments/criticisms here. The current "statement" reads more like a rhetorical argument than a position statement. 99% of us, as you point out with the survey data, have long and handily dismissed religion-based and question-begging "young earth" pseudoscience as rubbish. As for the other 1%, they are almost certain to be unmoved by a scientific argument like the one up for comment. Having said that I think it is important for SEPM to make clear our position on deep time, evolution, and anthropogenic climate change. But no need to rebut the YECs I think, that seems punching down quite a lot. Beyond that, it seems to me if there is something more than a brief position statement that could be constructive it might be best aimed at educators and students. Perhaps a brief and unequivocal position statement, followed by some links to quality educational materials would be a more effective approach? It might be interesting for SEPM itself to publish a lesson/powerpoint set aimed at secondary school science curricula tackling the issue in more detail, although that might be more work than you've bargained for, and good luck with school boards in anti-science states like Texas and Oklahoma.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Christopher Modica

Howard Harper for Paul Wright: I do not understand why such a long policy statement is needed. While the Society acknowledges that many people hold sincere and deeply held beliefs in the biblical account of earth and biological history, and everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, offering a series of short rebuttals is misguided because we are not dealing with alternative scientific arguments but beliefs. The Society might instead state something concise, perhaps along the lines of – The Members of this Society, based on many decades of enquiry, applying rigorous scientific methodology, regard as an irrefutable fact that the Earth is of a vast age, supporting estimates derived by scientists in other disciplines, and that Earth history is marked by changes in the composition of life requiring such long time spans, as evidence of evolutionary processes. Offering any rebuttal arguments is effectively giving credence, suggesting validity to the alternative view, which is a belief, not a scientific theory warranting a critique. Paul Wright

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Howard Harper

Kudos to the committee for taking on this important task and thank you for the opportunity to chime in. I think most of the comments already submitted hit the mark rather well, especially those by Roy Plotnick and James Evans. A statement like this is easy to overthink and I think that's what has happened here. Keep it simple and focused with bullet points if needed.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Timothy Farnham

This particular document reads like a rebuttal rather than a position statement. I suggest this document be divided into two documents, an organizational (SEPM) position on the topic and a rebuttal to specific points of one or more criticisms. There will likely be other groups, in addition to the one specifically addressed, with their own stories to put forward so the SEPM Scientific Position Statement needs to be independent of all of that. A position statement should not address any specific criticism, group or story. It should set out the various sciences, observations, measurements, experiments, hypotheses, data, etc. in the disciplines of physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, biology, paleontology, anthropology, etc. that contribute to the ongoing understanding the Earth and Earth’s history. All of these scientific disciplines have and will continue to contribute to the specific topic of understanding life on Earth, its history, its changes and its evolution. How about removing all the direct references to the criticisms of other guys and stating the positions of SEPM on the topic based on the evidence. The text about the supporting sciences is very good and supports the position well. References are always a help to encourage the reader to learn more. • Suggested Scientific Position Statement The SEPM Scientific Position Statement should set out the official stance that SEPM takes on a specific topic and the supporting evidence that leads to that stance. Something like— The SEPM recognizes the more than 4 Billion year history of Earth, its processes, its changes, its dynamics, and the more than 3 Billion year history of life on Earth, its development, its changes and its evolution. This position is based on worldwide observations, measurements, collection of data, and confirmable experiments of numerous scientific disciplines over centuries. These disciplines include chemistry, physics, geology, biology, zoology, paleontology, hydrology, astronomy, climatology, anthropology . . . • Rebuttal Statement In a separate document, maybe a separate tab within the Position Statement tab on the SEPM web-site, then bring the rest of the text together into a rebuttal that addresses specific points of the criticisms. The rebuttal portions of the document are also done very well and supported by data and an understanding of where the criticisms come from. This portion will also likely need some re arrangement, additional set up text and connecting text for clarity. Thanks for asking the membership for their input to this very important issue. I appreciate that you will be reading numerous suggestions and trying to synthesize many inputs from members.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Michele Bishop

Two amendments: 1- Other indicators of an ancient earth, line 4- archaeocyaths not archaeocyathids 2- Very few geologists ..., Project Steve table, line 3- YECs do a grave injustice to the Bible by reading it literally. Proper consideration of the text in its literary genre derives no constraints on the age of the Earth. So young Earth creationism is not particularly biblical. Hence, in line 3 of the table: accept young Earth creationism not accept biblical creationism

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Peter Kruse

There is no definition or “evolution” in the document so a ‘position’ about some unstated axiom is rather diffuse. It is one thing to say that our “position” is that the physical, chemical, and biological Earth has changed (evolved) - quite another to start down the path of describing the nature and (worse) causes of these changes. The draft ‘statement’ is full of opinions that might or might not be “true” (whatever that means) – without going beyond the first two ‘things’ - just maybe many transitions of coccolith species (I don't even know exactly what that phrase means either) are not exactly synchronous relative to paleomagnetic reversals and oxygen isotope cycles (the entire statement implies some sort of deterministic link between the magnetic field, temperatures of oceans, and rates of evolution which might or might not be true) - just maybe nobody on the council knows what a ‘genus’ really is (I don’t) and just maybe the numbers of these extinct thingies is closer to 3 or 300. The balance of the document is full of similarly overstated truisms. A bad idea and a somewhat worse execution -

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Bruce Wilkinson

I agree with other comments that have been made. The audience for this statement is unclear. If it is intended for the general public, it is much too long and complicated, with too much jargon and arguments that will be hard to follow. Please see other comments to this effect. I also think it would be useful to state that religion and evolution do not need to conflict. See for example the position statements by GSA and the Paleontological Society (both of which I was involved in crafting). People of faith can be strong allies in promoting an understanding of and acceptance of evolution. In four decades of teaching evolution to non-science majors, I found that students from a religious background were relieved to realize that faith and science were not necessarily incompatible.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Patricia Kelley

The statement is far too long, attenuating its impact and effectiveness. The SEPM statement includes the National Center for Science Education's elegant (and brief)statement: Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. I suggest modifying the NCSE statement with a more geological emphasis, but keeping it just as brief: "Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle, and the geological evidence overwhelmingly supports the concept of descent with modification from a common ancestor."

Friday, July 2, 2021

Danita Brandt

am pleased that SEPM has decided to put out a statement about evolution. It is long, long overdue; other societies, such as the Paleontological Society, posted such statements decades ago Unfortunately, the proposed statement fails on many fronts and should be rethought. The issues involve both structure and content. In terms of structure, it is too long, pedagogic, and academic. There is a huge literature on why evolution is correct and creationism is wrong; a policy statement is not the place to repeat such details. Keep it simple!! Related to this, it is not clear what the intended audience will be. The public? Students? SEPM members? What do you want them to know? As for content: it takes far too simplistic a view of the opposition to the teaching of evolution and the age of the Earth. Eugenie Scott, of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), wrote an excellent essay on the spectrum of creationist beliefs (https://ncse.ngo/antievolutionism-and-creationism-united-states). Young Earth Creationists are only a fringe part of this. The statement misses all of the current tactics used by the creationist community, such as “teach the controversy,” which is also used a method against teaching climate change (https://ncse.ngo/teach-controversy-comes-climate-science). Also, why give the YEC people any credibility by talking about them at all? What would make this much stronger is it focused on topics that are the particular purview of the members of SEPM. For example, why not say that sedimentary geology documents that the history of the Earth shows the joint evolution of its atmosphere, oceans, surface, and life? That dealing with future environmental issues requires understanding this history and that doing so is what members of SEPM work on every day.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Roy Plotnick

All members if you having issues in posting your comments please send them to Howard Harper and he will get them posted

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Howard Harper

posted by H Harper for George Anderson My question is this: Why This Issue Statement – Why Now? There is so much destructive, hate-filled, arrogant ignorance abroad in Academia today, not to mention questionable applications of science in several areas that are considered unquestionable - settled, Why This Particular Issue Now? Professional Geologists I’ve spoken with over the years who are Christians, have each resolved this issue for ourselves within the context of our Faith. Given that personal understanding, we still understand the complexity and work with the principles and fundamentals of stratigraphy, sedimentology, paleontology, petrology, petrophysics, geochemistry and reservoir engineering we use in surface and subsurface evaluation. Dr. George A. Anderson III

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Howard Harper

posted by H Harper for Bob Scott This is an important contribution and it is well written for scientists. The attached file offers one correction and one suggestion. Cheers, Bob Scott

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Howard Harper

posted by H Harper for Lee Krytinik First off, thank you for taking on this task. There is no easy win in trying to convince someone who is steeped heavily in a belief system that is based on faith vs. scientific evidence. I agree with James Evans. Who is your intended audience?... Whether school children, the general public, or the conservative Christian folks, this position paper would seem to largely miss the mark. The piece is well written and the wording is great for our fellow scientists, but as you say, we scientists fully support evolution as a well-founded principle, based upon overwhelming, independent technical evidence. I fear that the folks you may be attempting to reach will be immediately put off by the use of scientific jargon and the length of your position paper – they will become glassy-eyed and walk away before getting halfway through your treatment of the issue. Several of the examples are somewhat obtuse and as I read through the piece, I could see where someone taking an opposing pseudo-scientific position might try to pick the supporting arguments apart (to the eyes of a non-scientifically-trained person) by saying things like… “Coccoliths are everywhere because the flood was everywhere” and “Coccoliths are absent below the flood strata because there was land BEFORE the flood” or “Since the great flood we have raised horses that are 2 orders of magnitude different in size… nothing new to see here folks”. And it goes on and on, especially so with some who may be intentionally disingenuous, for whatever benefit they may gain for it... these types of statements alone are enough to sew doubt for someone who is not educated in the fundamental principles of science. Sadly, this applies to a large percentage of our US and global population. For the general populace go with assertive, short, graphic, and with a wow factor with click here links to cool graphical information, or don't bother at all. With properly designed click here links, you can lead someone down your intended logic path toward a conclusion that agrees with good scientifically based perspectives (this is how Q-Annon gets people to believe in satanic, Washington DC elite, blood-sucking, cannibalistic pedophiles working out of a pizza joint in NYC - if they can do that... evolution is easy-peasy by comparison). For the conservative Christian folks, there are geoscientists who routinely deal with the sects of Christianity that reject the concepts of an old earth and evolution. They work from within the context of their faith and are having some degree of success (contact me if you need a name or two). This audience will likely be more responsive to things like Psalm 90:4 “For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that passes by, like a few hours of the night” or “God is truth"... most quickly agree to this. "And if God is truth, why would things be put in the rocks that would intentionally mislead us?” Then, go after some very simple and graphic examples... Thousands and thousands of floods and the seas came in and went out and came in again, etc..., or the 10,000-year-old Sumerian flood myth of Gilgamesh - likely the flooding of the Black Sea as this interglacial began - it totally flooded their known world. Most sects of Christianity comfortably accept an old earth and evolution and would quickly argue the God doesn't need anyone to defend their belief system. However, for those who are anti-evolution and anti-old earth, we have to remember that in their eyes, they are defending what they see as an all-out vicious attack by science and especially by us heathen, godless geoscientists on the one true document written through inspiration by the very hand of God. If you wish to sway a few of these folks toward at least asking questions, aim for much shorter, punchy, much less technical language (put in "click here" links to more detailed insights), and for the writing style, please think of using 7th-grade-level language and consider including someone who understands the arguments that work with your intended audiences and how the folks who consider evolution to be “only a theory” present their alternate case. Warm regards, Lee Krystinik

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Howard Harper

I'm curious as to whom this statement is addressed. If to SEPM members and other geological scientists, you're preaching to the choir. If to the YECs, it is to no avail because their minds are already made up. If to the general public, especially those who are open-minded, great. But, based on years of giving lectures and writing papers for the general public, I find there is far too much scientific jargon in this statement for the average non-scientist to comprehend without a really good dictionary at hand. If you have fashioned this statement for the general public, I believe it should be rewritten to be more understandable to them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

John Harper

How can SEPM help the AGU in their mission regarding this topic?

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Wayne Camp

I am a former Congressional Science Fellow, and have been active in public policy issues with AGU. We (AGU) recently significantly revised all of our position statements to get away from the "White Paper" approach being used in this SEPM policy statement, because policy makers simply don't read them. It is important to clarify, right from the start, what is this organization asking for? What are the key points? A useful format is more like newspaper articles--the topic sentence goes first, and the topic paragraph leads, and the header below the title really explains the whole thing. Make the story brief and to the point and compelling. It is perfectly fine to, after all that, then go into the details (but don't expect this section to be read). References--really? Do we really expect a U.S. Congressman to look up references? Again--who is this policy statement directed at, and what do we hope to achieve?

Thursday, May 27, 2021

James Evans

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