Another Clueless Legislator on Evolution

Here’s a video of Louisians state Sen. Mike Walsworth questioning a science teacher about the teaching of evolution. He asked if there was an experiment that would prove the theory of evolution “without a shadow of a doubt.” The teacher mentions Richard Lenski’s brilliant experiment at MSU with E. coli, after which the senator asks if the bacteria evolved into a person.

This is a standard creationist tactic, of course, and it’s quite ridiculous. No, there isn’t a single experiment that can prove the evolution of man, which is what he is asking about, “without a shadow of a doubt.” Nor would any educated person expect there to be one. Evolution cannot be collapsed down into something so simple, it is actually a large collection of theories that form a larger model of the natural history of life on earth. There are lots of experiments that are done within each of those sub-theories, of course.

We know that the theory of evolution — the theory of common descent — is true because it is the only coherent explanation for a huge range of evidence over many different fields of science. It’s the only way to explain the patterns of appearance in the fossil record, the nested hierarchies that are present in both the fossils and in molecular sequences, and much more.


  1. slc1 says

    The state senator, like all scientific illiterates, is unaware that there is no such thing as proof in science. In the entire history of science, there is not a single example of a hypothesis or theory that has been “proved”. There is only evidence that supports a hypothesis or theory or that falsifies it. Proof is a concept in mathematics and symbolic logic, not science.

    Thus, for instance, the laws of thermodynamics have never been “proved”; there is just overwhelming evidence that supports them and no evidence that falsified them. Thus, nobody has ever built a perpetual motion machine of either the first type or the second type and it is a safe bet that it will never happen.

  2. Who Knows? says

    “It evolved into a person?” How the hell does he manage to get dressed and to work every day?

    I bet his Biblically subservient wife dresses him and feeds him.

  3. says

    Please excuse me for conflating evolution and natural selection.

    The rock record proves evolution beyond all doubt. Evolution is a fact.

    I have a one word proof of natural selection.

  4. matty1 says

    OK I’ll bite, it takes more than one word to name natural selection so I can’t imagine how you would lay out the evidence for it in one. One of the strengths of evolution as an explanatory framework is that a few ideas – common ancestry, descent with modification, natural selection can explain so many observations but it does make the evidence harder to sum up quickly.

  5. raven says

    after which the senator asks if the bacteria evolved into a person.

    That would be a miracle. Bacteria evolving into people on time scales of less than a billion years is a prediction of religion.

    The theory of evolution predicts that bacteria evolved in a lab experiment would be different but incrementally, not drastically.

    This is a strawperson mistake fueled by toxic fundie religion. They have no idea what biology is but they know it is wrong.

  6. raven says

    He asked if there was an experiment that would prove the theory of evolution “without a shadow of a doubt.”

    Evolution is as well proved as the Theory of Gravity or Germ Theory of Disease.

    In science, you never approach 100% certainty. But you asymptopically approach it to the point where there isn’t much difference.

  7. hunter says

    The really priceless part of this video is the reaction of the witnesses to the “evolved into a person” comment. The guy on the right is trying so hard not to laugh out loud.

  8. oranje says

    I loved the face-palm by the guy in the back-left. The Heck article up the page a bit talks about how we’re not humble anymore, yet this moron thinks humans as we are today is the target at the end of evolution. My head hurts.

  9. says

    without a shadow of a doubt

    Even granting this idiot the benefit of the doubt that he is speaking about “prove” in the way lawyers often do (i.e. as a synonym for “provided evidence”), why beyond “a shadow of a doubt “? We convict and execute people with evidence only beyond “a reasonable doubt”.

    It is not necessary for something to be proven even beyond a reasonable doubt in order for it to be science (which is why scientists go on debating much of what is clearly and uncontroversially “science”) but common descent is not debated any longer in the science community precisely because it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    It just hasn’t been proven beyond an unreasonable doubt.

  10. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    These guys are such idiots. Look, even if your Theory of Why Concrete is Hard is partially or wholly incorrect, concrete is still hard.

    Newton had a theory of universal gravitation. It didn’t explain gravity at all, but is massively useful. A better theory of gravitation that covers some of the finer points and even offers a model did not change gravity, or make Newton incorrect. Other models and theories for what gravity actually is may all be wrong, but gravity is still there.

    Populations evolved and are evolving. Even if every theory about this is wrong (and the modern synthesis might take tweaking but isn’t wrong), life still evolves. It’s in the geological record, the genetic record, observable in nature and in the lab.

    And quit asking for “transitional fossils”. All forms are transitional.

  11. corkscrew says

    This is why you always, always ask people what they think they mean by evolution. Otherwise you’re basically giving them a licence to shift the goalposts on you.

    In practice, you’ll normally find out that what they object to is the idea of humans being related to other species. In which case, they’ve just lined themselves up perfectly for a discussion of e.g. endogenous retroviruses, for which the only counterarguments are pretty blatantly laughable.

    (On that note, it might also be worth clarifying what they think of as evidence, because people can come up with counterarguments for anything up to and including the spherical Earth.)

  12. says

    “Proof beyond a shadow of doubt.”

    I wonder what he thinks about executing people convicted under the standard of reasonable doubt?

  13. Sastra says

    He asked if there was an experiment that would prove the theory of evolution “without a shadow of a doubt.”

    What the creationist means by the standard of “proof without a shadow of a doubt” is something you can be 100% sure of because it happened to you: you saw it, you figured it out, you tested it, you used your own common sense to interpret it. The Gold Standard of Knowledge is a personal experience that just feels exactly right because it IS right.

    This is the same rhetoric you get from people who “know” God exists, or psychic powers exist, or anything else subjective and dubious and extraordinary. They treat the certainty surrounding the subjective and dubious and extraordinary with the same casual standards they’d treat normal certainty. “I’m 100% positive without a shadow of a doubt that my neighbor still has all those tires in his backyard, because I just looked out the window and saw ’em all, same as usual.”

    You’re supposed to be the only person you can really trust. Opposite of science, of course.

    So yes, he wants to see bacteria evolve into a person. And he wants to see it with his own eyes, for himself, so there’s no doubt possible.

  14. azportsider says

    “It evolved into a person?” Well, no, not quite. It actually devolved into a Louisiana state senator.

  15. Rike says

    He asked if there was an experiment that would prove the theory of evolution “without a shadow of a doubt.”
    Do they ever ask that about creationism? “Is there an experiment that would prove creationism without a shadow of a doubt?”

  16. hypatiasdaughter says

    I cannot think of “one experiment that could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt” that the Earth is round or that it orbits the Sun.

  17. rr says

    My favorite “proof” of evolution in one picture: hairless chimp. I’d like to hear the ignorant senator from Louisiana explain why his imaginary god made chimps look so much like us.

  18. baal says

    @#17 – “I wonder what he thinks about executing people convicted under the standard of reasonable doubt?”
    Prosecutors are clear that ‘reasonable doubt’ is something much less than ‘scientific doubt’. Scientists are much harder on evidence than the courts are on putting people* to death.

    *disproportionally minority, particularly black men.

    legislator: “Here’s Darwin’s Theory of Evolution”
    Um, no. The creationists seem to think we’re still in the 1880’s? A lot of scientific stuff has happened since then; like air planes and cell phones and DNA and DNA sequencing. Turns out Darwin was mostly right but he had a problem with the mechanism(s). We’re gotten a lot more evidence since Darwin.

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