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Is Evolution a Threat to Religious Belief?

Michael Shermer -- with whose views I often agree -- posts at Huffington Post about the evolutionism/creationism debates; and in the process he says two things that strike me as worth considering together:

The primary reason we are experiencing this peculiarly American phenomenon of evolution denial (the doppelganger of Holocaust denial), is that a small but vocal minority of religious fundamentalists misread the theory of evolution as a challenge to their deeply held religious convictions.

OK, sounds plausible on its own (though I'll say some more about it later) -- the theory of evolution doesn't speak to whether God exists or what he has done, but simply aims to explain how things likely happened, and if you believe that God made them happen that way, that's something the theory just doesn't discuss. But here's another quote from earlier in the piece (emphasis added):

In March of 2001 the Gallup News Service reported the results of their survey that found 45 percent of Americans agree with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so," while 37 percent preferred a blended belief that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process," and a paltry 12 percent accepted the standard scientific theory that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process."
(For more on this poll, see here.)

Well, if "the standard scientific theory" is that "God had no part" in the process of evolution -- not just that human beings developed in a particular way, but that God didn't guide this -- then it seems to me that the theory of evolution is a challenge to many people's deeply held religious convictions. And that's so not just as to the young-earthers who believe the Earth was created several thousand years ago, but also to people who are willing to embrace the scientific evidence but see the guiding hand of God in the process.

What's more, how exactly do scientists come to the conclusion that "God had no part in this process"? What's their proof? That's the sort of thing that can't really be proved, it seems to me -- which makes it sound as if scientists, despite their protestations of requiring proof rather than faith, make assertions about God that they can't prove.

And on top of that, if the standard scientific theory is that "God had no part in this process," then the opponents of evolution are right -- the standard theory of evolution may not be taught in the schools. The Court has repeatedly said that the Establishment Clause bars both government endorsement and disapproval of religion. Teaching that God exists and teaching that God doesn't exist are both unconstitutional in government-run schools. Likewise, if teaching that God created humans is unconstitutional, so is teaching that God had no part in creating humans.

Now here's what I think Mr. Shermer is driving at by saying that "God had no part in this process" is the standard scientific theory: The standard theory tries to explain how humans might have evolved without calling on God as an explanation. This isn't because scientists can prove that God doesn't exist in any logical or even empirical sense of "prove." Nor is it because assuming that God had no part in the process is more consistent with the facts than assuming that he did have a part in the process; the God assumption is perfecty consistent with the facts. Nor is it even because in some abstract sense omitting God yields the simplest explanation; "God did it" (3 words!) is a much simpler explanation than the theory of evolution.

Rather, looking for naturalistic causes is standard scientific operating procedure because it seems more likely to produce more useful results, and has in the past produced useful results. Science can't prove to us that there are no angels pushing planets around the sky; maybe they do push the planets around, though in extremely regular patterns. But if you look for a naturalistic explanation, you're more likely to come up with useful, predictive explanations of the world than "the angels are doing it."

In that sense, the theory may be described as "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and we can explain that without bringing in God's intervention." Many scientists conclude that this explanation makes it more plausible that God had no part in the process. Others may conclude that if there's no evidence supporting the existence of some influence, it's methodologically more useful to assume that the influence doesn't exist until some supporting evidence is found. Still others may use "God had no part in this process" as shorthand for "God had no observable part in this process."

Nonetheless, the phrasing that the poll used -- and the one that Mr. Shermer endorsed as the scientifically proper theory -- didn't include these subtleties. It essentially asked people to decide whether, given that they thought that humans evolved from less advanced life forms, "God guided this process" (which could include the most indirect sort of guidance, perhaps guidance that yields results identical to the naturalistically predicted results, or guidance in the form of having created the world that yielded this process) or "God had no part" -- not an indirect part, but no part at all -- "in this process." Small wonder that many religious Americans, even those who are quite happy to accept evolution, preferred the approach that's consistent with the theory of evolution but that let them acknowledge their religious faith. And small reason, it seems to me, to complain. (The "created in the last 10,000 years" group, on the other hand, is definitely reason to complain.)

In fact, science is deeply subversive of religious belief in what one might call "descriptive religion" (religious claims that purport to describe what exists, what happened, what is happening, or what will happen, as opposed to purporting to make normative assertions about what's morally right and morally wrong). This is not because science in some logical sense disproves such assertions. Rather, the scientific mindset, for better or worse, leads people to find descriptive religious claims less plausible.

The more science explains processes that were once thought to be divinely or supernaturally operated (the movement of the planets, the spread of disease), the more likely it is, I think, that people will be skeptical of other claims of divine or supernaturally operated processes; that's not a logical mandate, but it is a psychological effect. The more science trains people to be skeptical about descriptive claims in the absence of evidence that leads us to endorse those claims, the more people will question things that they are asked to take on faith. There are certainly scientists who are religious (even in the "descriptive religion" sense); it is possible to have a scientific worldview but believe in descriptive religion. But the spread of scientific habits and principles makes it less likely that people will accept descriptive religion.

Yet scientific popularizers and educators have to deal with the fact that in our society, many people are still religious, and still accept descriptive religion (at least ostensibly). If the popularizers and educators describe science as taking no stand on the existence or influence of God, and as leaving such questions to others, I think they'll have great success; and, whether they want to or not, they will indeed further undermine descriptive religion. But if they insist, in my view unnecessarily, that the standard scientific theory does take a stand that God is not influencing the world -- and that accepting evolution as the best scientific hypothesis while seeing God's hand in its operation is an inferior conclusion that is worthy of scientific criticism -- then they will encounter much more resistance.

I have turned on comments; please, keep them polite, substantive, on-topic, and nonobvious.

Jeff Howard (mail):
I think Gallup, at least as quoted here, mistated the "standard" view. A better formulation (IMHO) would be more like:

The evidence seems to indicate that human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. There is no evidence of divine intervention.

There is an important distinction, I think, between this and the originally quoted form.
6.16.2005 2:37pm
DBL (mail):
1) The addition of the phrase "G-d had no part in this process" was unecessary and misleading for the reasons you state. It's quite possible to believe, for example, that there is a G-d and that He created the universe along with the laws of evolution. It's just impossible to prove it one way or the other, which is why it's not a scientific statement.

2) I don't think it's the case generally that religious people feel their faith is threatened by the theory of evolution. It seems to be only members of certain Protestant sects that feel that way. Members of other Christian faiths (Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox) and other monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Islam) do not seem to find any inconsistency between Darwin and faith. I have yet to read a convincing explanation for this fact.
6.16.2005 2:37pm
Matthew Pickut (mail):
As a non-fundamentalist pastor (Methodist) I do not have a problem with evolution being taught (I believe the Bible is poetic at the edges), but I do have a problem with the villification of those who oppose teaching evolution. Calling them a doppleganger of Holocaust deniers is to say the least unhelpful rhetoric and at worst bigotry.

Evolution is the best theory we have now, but what many religious people object to is the idea that the issue is settled forever. The fact remains that there are gaps in the theory of evolution (for example, survival of the fittest is a vacuous tautology -- fitnes is defined as surviving, so what is really being said is "those that survive will survive".)

I would argue however, that increases in science lead to a decrease of only a certain type of hyper literal discriptive religions. The basic theology of historic Christianity is the historicity of Christ's atonement -- very discriptive and not at all falsifiable by science. I for one welcome scientfic inquiry into the way the world works, it informs my faith, but it cannot replace it. As Jay Kestler once said, "I'm not afraid of anything jumping out from under a rock and eating God."

What I am curious about is the legal threshold for what should be taught in schools. How accepted does a theory need to be before it is taught? Exactly how much leaway does a local government have in deteriming what is or isn't included in texts?

Matt
6.16.2005 2:43pm
Ed Brayton (mail) (www):
I think it's important not to confuse an inartfully worded poll question, or even the equally poorly worded claim of Michael Shermer (who is not even a scientist, must less an evolutionary biologist) with the actual theory of evolution and what it says. Evolution is "atheistic" in exactly the same way that the theory of gravity, the kinetic theory of gasses or plumbing are atheistic - supernatural beings simply are not invoked in our attempts to explain the data because A) there is no means of testing such a hypothesis, B) there is no way of potentially falsifying such a hypothesis, and C) history has shown that supernatural explanations are replaced by natural explanations given more knowledge of the subject being examined. The theory of evolution does not end with "and therefore, there is no God." The general theory of evolution, if one could call it that, is simply the theory of common descent - all modern life forms are derived from one or a few common ancestors via descent with modification.

Scientists do often make assertions about the existence of God, and they often refer to the findings of science to justify those positions. But a distinction must be made between scientific explanations and the philosophical or theological inferences one might draw from those explanations. Shermer's comments, the Gallup poll question, and often the claims made by both evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins and the creationists on the other end of the spectrum, are all guilty of blurring that distinction.

But it should also be made clear that the question of constitutionality would not be judged on the basis of statements found somewhere other than in the science textbooks themselves. And no science textbook that I know of in any public school makes any claims about God whatsoever. The mere fact that what is taught in the textbook may conflict with someone's religious beliefs does not mean it's not constitutional to teach it. If that was so, then we would be able to teach virtually nothing. There are still some Christian groups who believe that the bible teaches geocentrism, and even some who believe that the bible teaches that the earth is flat. No one would seriously suggest that therefore teaching heliocentricity is unconstitutional.
6.16.2005 2:49pm
Brant (www):
Just thought I would suggest that the "created in last 10,000 years" view is also entirely consistent with embracing evolution as well.

The thinking would go like this: God created Adam and Eve as full grown adults, why could he not create a universe with age as well, in the process of evolving? This would also explain fossils, etc. Wouldn't God want us to have the joy of discovering his creation, figuring out how it all works? A planet with evolution is more interesting than one without.

Say what you will about the merits of this philosophy, and yes, maybe it is some distant cousin of solipsism. But, as devil's advocate, I thought I should point out that believing God created the world 10k years ago is not necessarily inconsistent with studying evolution, and teaching evolution is not necessarily a threat to that sort of belief in God either, unless you specifically believe that God somewhere said evolution does not take place.

Anyway, great piece of writing as usual, Prof. Volokh.
6.16.2005 2:57pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Assuming your indulgence, I will go off-track a bit, then return to the point of the original post:

One of the problems that scientists and non-scientists alike have trouble grasping is that all scientific theories are models of reality, not reliable metaphysical devices nor truly ontological descriptions/pictures of reality itself. Part of the problem is that many terms used in scientific models have become so widely adopted that few, if any, who use them realize how contingent and indeed magico-religious" they are.

When Newton introduced the terms mass, momentum, force, energy, etc. and developed equations relating them in various ways these concepts were as strange as the most esoteric string theories are today. Anyone who really starts seriously thinking about them -- especially physicists -- quickly realizes that it is hard or impossible for human thought to envision these human creations as truly describing the underlying reality of the universe.

I hope a couple of simple questions may clarify the point I'm trying to make: Does the earth solve a large set of second-order linear differential equations and then position itself in time and space as the solution dictates? Does this positioning -- the earth's orbit around the sun -- exist concretely? Do electrons in atoms solve some form of the Schroedinger equation to determine the probability that they will be within a given volume of space at a given time and then arrange things so that the proportion of time they are in a given volume is proportional to the calculated probability?

The answers to these questions are obviously "no" or alternatively one can argue that the questions are absurd and meaningless. Yet physicists in their everyday work and non-physicists discussing physical phenomena usually talk as if they would answer these questions in the affirmative.

Now back on track:

The key words in the penultimate sentence are "as if". All scientific descriptions should be preceded by these two words. Example: "Most of the material evidence we have available is best explained AS IF forces of natural and sexual selection led to the evolution of species." Very few of even the most extreme irredentist, KJV anti-Darwinists would disagree with this statement, although they might well not choose to go any further down the speculative paths to which it leads.

My point is that current scientists and many of their fellow human beings have implicitly, explicitly, and unjustifiably granted science and the scientific method a metaphysical and ontological supremacy to which science is not entitled.

If this is recognized by science and its supporters, I think that many current "enemies" of science might be far more accepting of scientific theories.
6.16.2005 2:57pm
rholtmeyer (mail):
Regardless of which belief (evolution v. intelligent design) one choses in the debate of biology, it is hard to find many astrophysicists who have any explanation for the science/math that point to a central starting point for the universe known as the Big Bang. Essentially, they don't have a clue as to who or what caused it. But something did. That is where metaphysics steps in. The biology debate over the creation of man is muddling up metaphysics and confusing it with science.

In astrophysics, universities teach the theories and formulas that are testable and proven to a degree of certainty. In biology, our schools are (or are trying to) teaching/teach theories that have not been subjected to testable conditions. Regardless of which theory any chooses to explain the creation of man, the point of PUBLIC SCHOOL should be education, and not indoctrination. Instead of teaching testable theories that can be proven to a degree of certainty, these schools choose to teach theories which are based in empircism. Empirical studies and theories exist about everything and teach nothing. No logic, no true reasoning skills, just a link between the observed and a statement of opinion.

Rather, I think that PUBLIC SCHOOLS should not teach evolutionary/intelligent design biology, but should instead focus on teaching the processes of cell division, the basics of DNA/RNA, the fundamental parts of a cell that allow that cell to function. This type of education will create the scientists and engineers that are needed to expand our ability to create new medicines and processes. Empirical education creates pundits, tin-foils, and monday morning quarterbacks.
6.16.2005 3:08pm
Mark Madsen (mail) (www):
I really appreciated Matt's comments, and I think it's important to extend Eugene's "shorthand" discussion to something Matt said. When examining evolutionary theory for gaps, (and there are gaps in our knowledge as there necessarily are in any area of knowledge), it's important to examine the actual theory, in its primary form, rather than treating popularizations or aphorisms as if they faithfully "stand in" for the underlying scientiic theory.

In the case Matt mentions, for example, "survival of the fittest" is an aphorism, a popularization of the underlying theory, rather than a definitional part of the scientific theory itself. (Elliot Sober's classic work The Nature of Selection has a much better discussion of this than I can reproduce here, for those interested). In the underlying theory, fitness is a mathematical measure of the relative or absolute (depending upon the precise measure being used) rate of increase of traits within a population. The rate of increase of a trait (under selection) is caused by some combination of real-world "performance" advantages, relative to alternative traits. In other words, fitness can sound tautological when we use the cute aphorism "survival of the fittest" in casual conversation, but it isn't defined that way in the underlying scientific theory.

And this is all that is really being claimed and demonstrated by evolutionary biologists, when you're talking about the theory of evolution by natural selection itself. The mathematics contains no reference to God, one way or the other. It is people, interpreting what they believe the rigorous version of the scientific theory implies, that create the conflict we perceive between religion and evolution. As others have commented, scientists often do make assertions about the existence of God or the relationship between religion and evolution, but in order to create a better, more civil public debate, we need to be able to distinguish between (a) statements where a scientist is describing their personal beliefs about how the science relates to religious belief, and (b) statements where a scientist (often the same person!) is describing the details of how a scientific theory works, or what results are empirically justified, or where the existing theory requires more research in order to resolve issues or determine which of competing hypotheses is better supported and thus deserving of being called a "scientific result."

I believe that better attention to this kind of distinction -- between the science itself, and the personal beliefs of scientists -- would help us defuse some of the acrimony that surrounds today's public debate, and possibly help more people understand that we need not attack the scientific enterprise itself simply in order to gain respect in the public forum for the full spectrum of individual beliefs on this subject.
6.16.2005 3:22pm
paulhager (mail) (www):
Your points are well-taken. I discussed the topic in Idiotic Design versus Theistic Evolution.

Where you talk about "descriptive religion", I assume you are talking about myth, dogma, and/or magic. Much of the content of a given religious system falls into these categories and therefore runs afoul of science. In fact, I'm prepared to make a much stronger claim than you: science leads us to reject myth in much the same way as it led us to reject the Phlogiston "theory" of combustion.

Fundamental precepts of most religions are incompatible with essentially the entire corpus of modern science. Consider Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which tells us that it is not possible to simultaneously know the position and momentum of an elementary particle. This means that no being, including a Deity, can be omniscient. A super being/race of the kind envisioned by Arthur Clarke (in several novels/stories) or Carl Sagan in CONTACT could well exist - our universe could even be the product of deliberate creation - but the God/Creator's understanding of the universe or his/her creations is necessarily limited.

Incidentally, in a follow-up piece, ID, take 2: A scourge for the Jews?, I discuss how Darwinian Theory might be compatible with the idea that Jews are God's Chosen People. How to tweak natural selection to produce Jews I'll leave as an exercise for aspirants to godhood.
6.16.2005 3:25pm
gst (mail):
Equating evolution denial with holocaust denial is not just distasteful rhetoric, but nonsensical. I suppose they're alike in that they both deny something.
6.16.2005 3:34pm
Mark Madsen (mail) (www):
In brief response to rholtmeyer's last point, I'd like to point out that within modern biological science, the old distinction between "evolutionary biology" on the one hand, and "functional biology" (i.e., cell function, biochemistry, genetics) is breaking down as we discover that the details of the latter are explicable only with reference to the former. A truly superb and accessible (to non-specialists) work on this subject is Sean Carroll's recent book Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo-Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom. In it, Carroll describes the last two decades of primary research into embryology and molecular biology, and how the precise evolutionary history of animal species is critical to understanding why development works the way it does within animal species.

Similarly, epidemiologists and biologists who study infectious diseases are increasingly called upon to understand the microevolutionary processes that operate within bacterial populations, in order to deal with antibiotic resistance, changes in disease virulence, and to explain why diseases affect populations in variable ways. I'd strongly recommend Paul Ewald's book The Evolution of Infectious Disease for a perspective on this.

In summary, it's really no longer tenable to separate the "functional" aspects of biology out from "evolutionary" aspects, and simply teach the former to students. To do so would be to insist that we not teach the real state of our biological knowledge. Given the increasing criticality of biology to health care, industry, and economic growth, to under-educate our children in this area of knowledge would be to short-change their -- and our -- future. Instead of stifling the exchange of knowledge and ideas, I would strongly argue for other methods of creating a more respectful, and less acrimonious, public discussion of these issues.
6.16.2005 3:37pm
Oldejoe (mail) (www):
What’s more, how exactly do scientists come to the conclusion that “God had no part in this process”? What’s their proof? That’s the sort of thing that can’t really be proved, it seems to me -- which makes it sound as if scientists, despite their protestations of requiring proof rather than faith, make assertions about God that they can’t prove.


You cannot disprove something if there is no evidence that that thing exists. The real question is whether there is any proof, whatsoever, of God? To believe in God is a matter of faith. To believe that God has a guiding hand is a matter of faith. To believe that the aliens created the planet and will return next week is a matter of faith. To not believe these statements has nothing to do with faith - the proponents simply cannot provide any evidence.
6.16.2005 3:39pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
In my time in Catholic schools (K-12), I was taught biology and evolution with no suggestion that God was disproved thereby. That is standard Catholic teaching in the modern era and has been since WWII at least. But perhaps it was the Maryknoll Sisters.

As for science vs descriptive theology, note that many descriptive faiths have access to a particular species of evidence that is used every day in courts of law to "loose and bind": testimonial evidence.
6.16.2005 3:43pm
JRC:
Mostly a well-considered post, but I think you (and perhaps the Gallup pollsters cited) make a fundamental mistake: "Science" is not an ideology and therefore does not "take positions." (Which is not to say that some ideologies don't dress in pseudo-scientific clothing.) "Science" is a process of inquiry, intended to develop theories about the observable world based upon observations which are ideally repeatable.

"Science as a process" is based on the assumptions that there are some irreducible "laws of nature" (an anthropocentric term probably better expressed as "fundamental patterns and relationships" or something like that) which operate uniformly throughout the observable world, and that it is possible to identify and formulate these laws/patterns in terms which can be accurately communicated from one human being to another. These formulations are hypotheses which can be tested by controlled experimentation, or where experimentation is not possible because conditions are beyond control (e.g. hypotheses about long-term evolutionary patterns - we don't have the ability to run experiments over millions of years), by careful analysis of that which can be observed. Hypotheses which prove to predict observed results reliably can become theories. But in all cases, hypotheses and theories must be formulated so that they can be *falsified:* they are the best formulations we are able to develop about the fundamental patterns and relationships which give rise to events in the observable world.

This is not the same as an ideological position that "God has no part" in evolution or any other process. It is, however, a process that cannot work on any untestable hypothesis - which is what any hypothesis about the nature and works of God must be, as far as I can understand it. A hypothesis that life began because God created it, is not testable. A hypothesis that human beings evolved from other types of primates because God intervened in a miraculous fashion is not testable - any more than a theory that intelligence evolved because aliens dropped a weird monolith on East Africa is testable (unless, of course, you can find the monolith . . .). A theory that human evolution occurred because of changes to (observable) genetic material which caused somatic changes which are identifiable in the (observable) fossil record, and are consistent with adaptations to the (observable) evidence of changes in the environment of those primates, may or may not be correct, but does support testable hypotheses, which may or may not be supported by experiments and analysis.

Saying, instead, that "God did it" stops this process - unless by "God" you mean something like "an invisible being who can be manipulated by human action into causing observable events." This is a hypothesis you can test, as in the studies of the efficacy of prayer in healing (assuming you can control for other possible causes), or the ability of charismatic televangelists to persuade God to change the course of hurricanes - assuming they would be willing to repeat the test under controllable conditions.

Science does tend to be subversive of authority - it is an inherently skeptical project, and to the extent that it provides explanations of events and phenomena which people find more persuasive than those which have previously or otherwise been provided by religious, political and/or cultural institutions, it inevitably erodes their authority. It is likely to be especially erosive of institutions and explanations which depend upon miracles and other non-testable fact statements.

This is certainly likely to be a bad thing from the point of view of those vested in the success of such institutions. It might also be a bad thing from the standpoint of social and political management or stability, if the authority and explanations provided by such institutions are necessary conditions for the achievement of social or political stability, or other potentially or theoretically desirable social or political objectives.

So there may well be political, cultural and social arguments for the limitation or even elimination of science, as an excessively disruptive influence. These are not necessarily illegitimate, if the harms which are shown to be flow from science outweigh the benefits. Now, that would probably mean giving up any further progress in fields like medicine and engineering as well as giving up less evidently useful "pure science," but that might be a trade-off worth making. I doubt it, myself, but would be very interested to see the counter-argument made honestly and in good faith.

As to religion? I tend to think that the universe is not only more mysterious than we know, but that it is more mysterious than we can know - and I mean that quite seriously, as a matter of logic and mathematics (cf. Godel's theorem) as well as epistemology. It doesn't make any sense to me that any entity subject to the same limitations I suffer from can know the universe so completely as to know God's mind and intentions, inerrantly. Those who do make such claims either must be superior beings themselves - a hypothesis not generally supported by the observed evidence - or making unjustified claims in error or bad faith.

Science is not the enemy of faith, but it is the enemy of error and dishonesty in explaining natural events. Popularizers of science do it no service - and do make a fundamental error - when framing it as an ideology which makes claims one way or another about God. This error only serves opponents of science, perhaps in some cases ideologues themselves whose positions and authority are threatened by skeptical inquiries and scientific explanations, by helping them frame the complex, difficult, optimistic and very promising process which is scientific inquiry as just another partisan ideology struggling for power.
6.16.2005 3:49pm
Tylerh (mail):
Matthew Puckut said survival of the fittest is a vacuous tautology -- fitnes is defined as surviving, so what is really being said is "those that survive will survive"

The logic of natural selection is clear and well established: Matthew's tautology does not exist. Summarizing brutally, the current generation is defined by those who were most fit[*] in the prior generation. Likewise, those most fit fn the current generation determine what the next generation looks like.

Natural selection is not circular but rather is a spiral boring ever into the future.

Mathew's tuatology arises because two different groups (the currrent and prior generation) have been conflated into the same concept ("those") and thus reflects the understandable logical error of confusing the recursive for the circular.


Hope that helps.


[*] where "fit" means "those most successful at creating similar members in the next generation"
6.16.2005 3:54pm
Dave Mellert (mail):
In response to rholtmeyer:

I don't think it's fair to say that the theory of evolution has not been "subjected to testable conditions". There are many aspects of the theory which are testable. Unfortunately, some of the predictions are impossible to test on time scales we can deal with. Because of this limitation, we are forced to call the mountains of evidence in favor of evolution examples of "microevolution". Of course, this makes the theory easier for opponents to attack, because they miss the larger point.

When drugs are invented and therapies designed, they are done so by scientists that have a good understanding of evolutionary theory. It is hard for a non-scientist to understand how the "model" of evolution aids in such things. Simply put, evolution is a clean and elegant framework that helps us to understand many of the complexities of our biology. It is a predictive model.

It serves no purpose to challenge evolution on non-scientific grounds. It is a good model - the best we have given the observations we can make and the experiments we can perform - and it has helped us to understand our world in a way which allows us to be productive and innovative. One can not teach about processes such as cell division, DNA/RNA, etc. without teaching about evolution. It is the difference between teaching a fractured discipline or a science that attempts to paint a complete picture of the mechanism of life.

Now my non-specific comments:

Why attack and call into question the theory of evolution simply because of a fear that it will disrupt religion? Isn't religion about faith? I wonder if it occurs to people that those deeply troubled by evolutionary theory typically don't find themselves moved by the science of biology enough to follow up on it anyway, so it's not like evolution is breaking the fabric of religion at the seams or anything. There really is no good argument against teaching evolution as-is, unless you want to call into question the entire scientific process, or nitpick a few words here or there that pop up in surveys directed at a general audience.
6.16.2005 3:59pm
DK:
This is a response to DL's comment about how some religions have no problem with evolution, but certain Protestant groups do. I have heard an explanation for this that I find convincing: that opposition to evolution grew out of the Populist political movement, and out of what were the Southern and midwestern wings of the Democratic Party in the late 19th century. William Jennings Bryan and some other populists began their careers fighting Social Darwinism, and later came to oppose all Darwinism, primarily because they feared Darwinism would lead to Social Darwinism and other political consequences. Bryan himself blamed the theory of evolution for both eugenics and for the European nationalism/racism that fueled the two world wars. He did not become an active opponent of evolution simply b/c he though that every word of the Bible was true, but b/c he saw evolution as a direct political threat to the poor, the working class, and small family farms (i.e. losers in economic competition). Naturally, the churches of the East Coast economic elite did not feel the same threat, and thus were able to accept evolution.

Note that this theory of history also explains the demographics of current opponents of evolution -- although they have switched political parties, they are still concentrated in the rural, Southern and Midwestern, and poorer communities that were once the backbone of the Democratic Party.

The real mystery is in how the opponents of Darwinism switched parties, coming to see the Washington bureaucrats as a greater threat to their interests than the New York financial elites that worried their ancestors.

disclaimer: I am an Episcopalian happy to accept both evolution and God, and happy to live in a free market society, so I am not writing this as a fan WJ Bryan's policies, except of his opposition to eugenics.
6.16.2005 4:01pm
DaveK:
[I]f “the standard scientific theory” is that “God had no part” in the process of evolution...

Simply put: it's not. Either this is shoddy polling or shoddy reporting or both.

Science doesn't make any claims about God. In some sense, it's true that God has no part in scientific explanations of evolution, but only in the same sense that God has no part in the observation that bats are nocturnal, or the proof that the sum of the angles in a triangle in Euclidean geometry is 180 degrees, or, for that matter, the statement that the First Amendment protects pamphleteering about Tibet. God just doesn't get mentioned; it's not about Him. Maybe He set everything up to work this way; maybe He invented the ground rules; maybe He is She or They; maybe He is fiction. Absent a testable hypothesis about the existence of God, that's for religion and philosophy, not science.

The sad thing is that polls like this, and reports like this, only serve to cement the misinformation that underlies animosity towards evolution. Science isn't incompatible with God--but the ignorant public understanding of it may be.
6.16.2005 4:03pm
cathyf:
The husband is a physics professor, and my degree is in math. We have often discussed that we see a chasm in the academy, and it runs right down the middle of the biology department. On one side you have the microbiologists, biochemists, chemists, physicists, while on the opposite side are the ecologists, botonists, evolutionary biologists, humanities and social sciences. (As for math, well, we don't really belong anywhere, and it shows.) People on the "hard science" side of the chasm are typically either practicing members of some non-evangelical religion, or mostly indifferent to religion, whereas on the "fuzzy studies" side they tend to be shrill and strident anti-religion zealots.

Physicists say things like, "String Theory is a crock of s***," all the time and are still considered scientists. But try questioning the notion that evolution explains all of the biological diversity out there, and you will be instantly attacked with a shrillness that only comes from True Belief. To be fair, perhaps the defensiveness and shrillness is a reaction to the whole history of evolutionary biology being under attack since day one. But on the other hand, it doesn't really help your credibility as a sober scientist when you react like a soothsayer who has just been told that the entrails of sacrificial goats don't predict the future.

Hey, I have no problem reconciling evolutionary biology with my faith in God. I do, however, have problems reconciling it with my belief in the laws of probability. And the frothing-at-the-mouth defenders of evolution look to me to be nuts. Maybe not as nuts as the frothy fundamentalists, but nuts for sure.

(And then God said, "e^(i * pi) = -1" and he chuckled softly to Himself as he saw that it was very good indeed.)

cathy :-)
6.16.2005 4:08pm
Tylerh (mail):
rholtmeyer's thoughtful comment " In biology, our schools are (or are trying to) teaching/teach theories that have not been subjected to testable conditions." reflects the tremendous damage the creationsist are doing to science education in American.

Evolution is a testable hypothesis.

Darwin's natural selection triumphed over Lamarckian adaptation precisely because Darwin's theories tested better than the alternatives. Natural selection is continuously subjected to testable conditions and refined: that's why the current set of ideas is called "the modern theory of evolution" and differs in some vital details from what Darwin and Wallace published. Evolution even leads to testable predictions. My personal favorite example was the revelation of the naked mole rat as a mammal with the behaviours and breeding patterns of a social insect. A evolutiationary theorist realized that, under certain conditions, natural selection would favor the rise of a "social insect" mammal. Others noticed that the naked mole rat seemed to meet those conditions, so careful field studies were undertaken that revealed the prediction to be (largely) correct.

Evolution is one of the great organizing principles of modern biology. You can no more have a biology curriculum without evolution than you can have a physics curriculum without gravity or chemistry curriculum without the periodic table.
6.16.2005 4:15pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Perhaps the reason that laypeople often summarize evolution as a God-free process is that the anti-evolution fundamentalists have successfully framed the debate that way? Being wrong but noisy is not a bad way to infiltrate your position into your opponents' own beliefs. The notion of "evolution v. god" has been firmly implanted in our thoughts, and it's hard to break out of an "either/or" into a "both/and."
6.16.2005 4:37pm
kate mc (mail):
Even Stephen Hawkins when writing about the big bang theory proposes the possible existence of an original creator.. May cosmologists do.. isn't it posssible to posit that an original creator started it all and evolution follwed
6.16.2005 4:41pm
theophylact:
The appropriate way to characterize the "scientific" last choice would be that "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life; the process does not require an intervention by a God for it to be understood." In other words, it's pretty much the answer Laplace gave to Napoleon:
Someone had told Napoleon that the book [Méchanique céleste] contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, "M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator." Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là."
6.16.2005 4:45pm
Clarence (mail):

My point is that current scientists and many of their fellow human beings have implicitly, explicitly, and unjustifiably granted science and the scientific method a metaphysical and ontological supremacy to which science is not entitled.

If this is recognized by science and its supporters, I think that many current "enemies" of science might be far more accepting of scientific theories.>

I really wish you'd explain this a bit more. If I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that science is just "another worldview" or some such nonsense. I apologize if I misunderstand.

In any case, science deserves its ontological status because at a fundamental level science works. To take an example, theories are only viable in science if they fit observed phenomana. However, many scientific theories go well beyond merely descriptive power; they make predicitions as to as-yet unseen phenomana. For instance, E=MC squared is a fact of the universe, or at least our little local coordinates in it. If E=MC were to be wrong, there'd be no atomic bomb or atomic power. Try getting that kind of result out of philosophy or the humanities.

To put it bluntly I'd take the scientific method over "womyn's ways of knowing" anyday, and have very good reason for doing so. I don't think you are any different.
6.16.2005 5:05pm
Mark Madsen (mail) (www):
Perhaps the most persistent source of error in trying to compare "science" to belief systems/worldviews/etc is in assuming that science is a belief system, or a worldview. That simply isn't true: science is not a body of beliefs so much as it is a method. Science is a method, surrounded by a set of social processes, for collaboratively winnowing ideas to find those that "work" in an experimental, empirical, and (sometimes) predictive sense.

Scientific results are pieces of theory and empirical evidence which are arrived at via the methods we call science, and which are shown to "work," even though a given set of results may have areas which are poorly understood, underdeveloped, and occasionally even wrong.

The beliefs or worldview of an individual, on the other hand, is *not* the same as science or scientific results. One's worldview may be informed by scientific results, and one's worldview may include the belief that the natural world is best understood using the methods of science, but this is a very different proposition than making the claim that the "scientific worldview" which is superior ontologically to other worldviews. And this is, IMHO, the source of much of the rancor in the public debate over evolution.

As an individual, my particular beliefs are that the methods of science are the best way we have to generate workable, testable knowledge about the natural world (including the history and development of life). I also believe that in the public realm, we need to ensure that our policy decisions and the education of our children makes use of the methods of science and the best current results of that inquiry. Nevertheless, these are opinions about how to use scientific methods and results, not a claim that my opinions are right and the opinions of others wrong.

In the political realm, what I would advocate is that we keep two things separate: first, the methods of science and their results, and second, how society chooses to use those results to influence policy.

Democratic decision-making is inherently aimed at the second, not the first category. Voting, representation, and deliberation are terrific ways of solving issues arising under the second category, but are unworkable as a way to arrive at workable, testable knowledge about the world. We can't legislate the results of science, but at the same time, scientific inquiry isn't capable of telling us the best way to use our knowledge to organize our lives.

The latter can only be done by free citizens engaged in a dialogue about the choices we face. And dialogue is only possible if we separate clearly our personal opinions from claims we're making about the results of scientific inquiry.
6.16.2005 5:39pm
Felix (mail):

For anyone actually interested in the truth on the issue of evolution, please read the following (at least for starters):

The Deniable Darwin

Articles by Phillip E. Johnson, who by the way, I would love to see guest-blog here

Articles by Michael J. Behe

Revolution Against Evolution
6.16.2005 5:41pm
Carole Newton (mail):
Hello, Eugene. A short response to the "God and Science" thread: I am a born-again, evangelical Christian who has a minor in biology. I graduated from a Southern Baptist university in Kentucky. We were taught evolution (does that surprise you?) but it was presented as a "theory," (which it is) and not as "fact." I think this simple approach is the best one because you are presented with both sides and then it is up to you to choose what you want to believe. Not one of my science professors or instructors ever injected their own personal religious beliefs into their class instruction. I find it wholly ironic that so many in the academy today do not follow this pedogogy at all any more but seem intent upon forcing their views upon everyone with whom they come in contact. They are not engaging in sound teaching principles when they do this. Thank goodness there are some reasonable people like you around to discuss this issue.
6.16.2005 5:41pm
fling93 (www):
As Volokh has already pointed out, science is not incompatible with a belief in God. I'm an agnostic, so I might not be the most objective person on this issue. However, I think there are two major reasons why many religious people do not like to see evolution taught.

1) Whether true or not, the perception seems to be that most scientists have an antagonistic and sometimes condescending attitude towards religion and religious people, and that they are pushing evolution as a means towards wiping out religion. I know I used to feel that way when I was younger (of course, maybe this attitude partly stems from the Catholic Church's treatment of scientific-minded folks like Galileo, but it's kinda silly to get into a "Who started it?" argument).

2) Evolution raises some uncomfortable questions for some religions. For example, why would God work through evolution without saying so in the Bible? Why did he put dinosaur bones in the ground? This raises the possibility of God being intentionally deceitful, and some religious people avoid this issue and/or prefer that their kids not be exposed to ideas like this at an impressionable age. This is probably compounded by the fact that many non-believers will often mock this avoidance (although I admit I did find that funny).
6.16.2005 5:44pm
Ralph Adam Fine (mail) (www):
Hubris: A belief that we matter (and thus were “created”). The observable universe is some 14 billion light years in diameter (whatever its real “shape”). Reduce the Milky Way, 100,000 light years across (with an average thickness of some 10,000 light years), to less than one-quarter of an inch, and the observable universe is some 785 feet across. We, a small speck in the Milky Way, are not the focus of anything or anyone – other than our own sense of importance. Those who decry the evolutionary paradigm ignore the incredible engine of relatively limitless time, and inject an anthropomorphism that says more about themselves than reality.
6.16.2005 5:48pm
Patrick (mail):
Fundamental precepts of most religions are incompatible with essentially the entire corpus of modern science. Consider Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which tells us that it is not possible to simultaneously know the position and momentum of an elementary particle. This means that no being, including a Deity, can be omniscient.

This is an overstatement of Heisenberg's theory. Heisenberg's theory more precisely says that we can't measure one of the properties without creating a related degree of uncertainity in the other. It does not directly speak to whether it is literally possible to "know" both the position and momentum. The way that Paul interpreted the uncertainity principle is another example of creating a false conflict between "hard sciences" and religion. It is also an example of the dangers of non-scientists teaching science since these errors will invariably be made.
6.16.2005 6:01pm
TLove (mail):
A response to Clarence's statement:


"In any case, science deserves its ontological status because at a fundamental level science works. To take an example, theories are only viable in science if they fit observed phenomana. However, many scientific theories go well beyond merely descriptive power; they make predicitions as to as-yet unseen phenomana. For instance, E=MC squared is a fact of the universe, or at least our little local coordinates in it. If E=MC were to be wrong, there'd be no atomic bomb or atomic power. Try getting that kind of result out of philosophy or the humanities.

To put it bluntly I'd take the scientific method over "womyn's ways of knowing" anyday, and have very good reason for doing so. I don't think you are any different."



So would I. But to what "science" are you referring? The "science" of Global Warming? The "science" of on the one hand, the assertion that government doesn't spend enough on medical research for women, and universities don't spend enough on women's studies, but not the science of Larry Summers, who takes those two notions to their obvious conclusion and obvserves, to his everlasting discredit, that there may actually be real differences between men and women which are both scientifically observable and would justify specific research to understand and the need for women's studies departments and seperate medical research budgets?

Where is this parallel universe in which "scientists" don't hijack research to support their "research grant addiction" (if I propose as study supporting global warming I get paid for another year or two, if I propose one to develope alternative explanations I don't, lemme see if I have this straight, get paid, don't get paid, get paid, don't get paid....) and make their personal political and social viewpoints less apparently assailable by cloaking them in the force field of "science." I want to move to that parallel universe.
6.16.2005 6:08pm
Jeff Z:
The funny part about this is that Shermer commits the sin he accuses his enemies of in his opening sentence. He calls "the peculiarly American (uh, ever hear of Lysenkoism? But never mind.) phenomenon of evolution denial...the doppelganger of Holocaust denial." Holocaust denial is, of course, an argument about an historical episode, that is, a dispute as to whether something happened in a specific place at a specific time. Hard physical evidence is brought to bear and evaluated. People who deny the existence of it are called Holocaust deniers because they deny this evidence. Evolution denial is something else; nobody (all right; almost nobody) is denying all of the specific evidence that exists. They are discussing who or what did or did not create that evidence. There is no more proof that it was created by God than that it was not. For Shermer to say it was not is no more or less rational than to say that it was. To use the terminology of the Gallup poll, there is no more evidence that God had a part in the process than that God did not, whether you believe in a biblical creation,a god-guided evolution, an unguided evolution, or the murkiness of IDers who say that ID only proves that "someone" designed "something." The one gray area, where ID and anti-ID people dispute the causes of the same event or physical structure, is a matter of the interpretation of a phenomenon, not the existence of it. Personally, I do not see why atheistic scientists cannot summon up the maturity to say: "You may very well be right, but it is beyond the limits of science for me to say yes or no. If the legislature wishes to place a sticker on a textbook to echo this, I do not see how I can object, but I will remind my students that this is no excuse not to pass the course." This would, as the poll cited indicated, defuse the mass of resistance without compromising science a bit. Personally, I believe created the whole beautiful mess, but I would not pretend I had hard evidence of this any more than someone who believed the precise opposite (i.e. my best pal) could claim that he had proof otherwise. Still, it given us plenty to talk about these last 30 years.
6.16.2005 6:13pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
The Catholic Church has no problem with Darwin.

So obviously evolution is not anti-Christian.

Galileo evidently taught that church a lesson they do not want repeated.
6.16.2005 6:43pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Sheesh. This (that science and cosmology are orthogonal) is subtle, but it isn't so subtle that it should be missed by so many.

Please see the commentary in Scrappleface on "Marines to Shield Air Force Cadets from Evangelicals" especially Godfrey's remarks on May 14, 2005 at 02:38 AM:


The only thing that matters when Christians are being attacked is that Christians are being attacked, which means it's time to circle the wagons. Which I guess is what any group would do.

But sometimes it's a bit over the top.


In an interview in Plain Truth Ministries magazine, BC cartoonist Johnny Hart discusses the Christian messages that appear in his strip from time to time.

Q. Do you ever get complaints about the B.C. strip?

A. Every once in a while. But it's usually people who are offended by an antievolution gag.


These "gags" don't strike me as funny, just as jabs. I've been intending to blog on the Sunday, May 1, 2005 strip (can't find a no-cost link, but a subscription to MyComics allows archival searches), which contains this bit of poetry by character Wiley:

There once was a preacher named Charlie D.
Whose degree was in Christianity
But he chose to take up botany
So he sailed aboard the H.M.S. B (Beagle, that is)
A fox of a man, on a dog of a ship,
Allowed his Christianity to slip
And concocted a "theory" at sea
Designed to make monkeys of you and me. (And he did)
6.16.2005 6:47pm
Bezuhov (mail):
JRC, if your prose were any more lucid, I might have to adjust the brightness on my monitor.

= )

Many thanks for dedicating your attention to this discussion.

"As to religion? I tend to think that the universe is not only more mysterious than we know, but that it is more mysterious than we can know - and I mean that quite seriously, as a matter of logic and mathematics (cf. Godel's theorem) as well as epistemology."

If there were only some way to make the preceding some sort of mandatory Surgeon General's warning for discussions such as these...

"It doesn't make any sense to me that any entity subject to the same limitations I suffer from can know the universe so completely as to know God's mind and intentions, inerrantly."

I may be mistaken, but I suspect your impeccably well-dressed man here is made of straw. Those who argue for inerrancy, and I am unaware of any who argue the case better than B.B. Warfield a century ago, would be the last to claim anything at all like inerrancy regarding their own knowledge. Lacking the evidence of the twentieth century, it is to his credit the extent to which he comprehended the imperfection, indeed the imperfectibility of human beings, of which you yourself speak so well.

Inerrancy in this case pertains to the Word of God, not our hearing of it, or lack thereof, which will be inevitably imperfect. And yet this imperfect world is the one in which we currently live, so we make the best of it. This includes the commitments we make, including commitments to ways of living that inform our behavior and the way we understand the world. The character of those who sought to understand God's Word spoke to Warfield as it speaks to many today, as does the utility of the scientific method.

The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, although those who now accept the scientific method on what can accurately be called faith, and rightly so, originally moved to do so by its evident utility, would do well to see those who seek the Word of God, who were originally moved to do so by the character of witnesses to that Word, as having made a similar commitment, and that this commitment itself is not necessarily deleterious, but may on the contrary be necessary for our common survival as a species.

That hypothesis will be tested too.

"Time is the only critic without ambition."

- Steinbeck
6.16.2005 6:48pm
Slocum (mail):
Well, the problem is that the theory of an old earth and evolution happening over billions of years really is a pretty direct challenge to religious belief if you think about it in any detail. Regardless of what you believe about how the process was 'guided' or not guided you have a couple of million years hominids and a hundred or two hundred thousand years of modern homo sapiens all living and dying without the benefit of Christ or even Judiasm. And follow evolution back, generation by generation--sooner or later you have to find parents without souls giving birth to offspring with them, no? Or do our single-celled ancestors way back when have single-celled souls?
6.16.2005 6:58pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
My point is that the theory of evolution is not anti-Christian.

It is just anti some Christian sects. Not the same thing at all.

So then to be anti-evolutionist re: teaching of the theory is an obvious attempt to establish religion.

BTW all evolution says is that evolution is an interplay of DNA with the current local environment through reproductive success. Variations in DNA will produce individuals more or less fitted to reproduce in the local environment.
6.16.2005 7:00pm
rholtmeyer (mail):
I hope to dispel my earlier post's lack of clear delineation when I wrote that the theory of evolution isn't testable to a degree of certainty. I should have added (after I should have previewed first) that the theory of evolution isn't as testable the same degree of certainty that astrophysics and quantum physics are.

Warning, stereotype to follow:
The reason so many people believe the creationist philosophy is that they don't understand how complex biology is, but they seem to understand/comprehend that the sun is a part of a larger system and that the earth revolves around the sun which is hurtling predictibly in a solar system that is rotating predictibly. They get that, but what they don't get is fundamental biology. If they taught the fundamentals, I am sure that the rest will fall into place.
6.16.2005 7:11pm
Mona (mail):
Mr. Shermer and his view that evolution deniers are akin to Holocaust deniers was heavily discussed a week ago when J. David Velleman endorsed that analogy at Left2Right.

I agree with Prof. Velleman that the comparison is apt, insofar as it goes to intellectual praxis. As I commented in that very lengthy thread:

...both are characterized by intellectual dishonesty. To quote from and tweak a comment made over at Panda's Thumb on the subject of the similarities:


1. The scientific/medical/scholarly establishment has made a fundamental error about (insert issue here).
2. The vast majority of scientists/scholars have all independently made this same error and “confirmed” each other’s research so that a prevailing dogma is the paradigm.
3. It is necessary to continue the prevailing dogma at the expense of truth, usually for financial or political reasons.
4. There is a small band of truthseekers seeking to tell the American public the truth about (insert issue here).
5. The evidence in support of the prevailing dogma is incomplete, inaccurate or forged. Sine it’s dogma, no contrary evidence will be received.
6. The establishment controls the means of communicating the truth to the American public including peer reviewed journals, the mass media and education system and will publish nothing that contradicts the prevailing dogma.
7. The battle against this conspiracy continues as the truthseekers fight the good fight against overwhelming odds.

The conspiracy theorizing is a significant hallmark of both the Holocaust deniers and the IDers.



6.16.2005 7:13pm
Challenge:
Excellent post and excellent discussion. As an earlier commenter pointed out, the scientific "standard view" has been misrepresented.

Science and evolutionary theory specifically are not incompatible with religious belief per se, but it is undoubtedly true that they are at least in part incompatible with fundamentalism. One should not be suprised if one accepts one, they feel they must reject the other. It is true, however, that "creationism" is something of a misnomer. Even evolution is creation, albeit creation via a process. But what is meant by creationism (as opposed to "intelligent design" or "ID") is belief in the creation myth contained in Genesis. Creationism is the defense of the the fundamentalist perspective, and evolutionary theory conflicts with that perspective.

I do not agree with the supposed "apt" analogy to Holocaust deniers. Though there are similarities, I do not think they have similar origins, nor do I think they are equally corrosive to society. Contrary to the prior post, I do not think most believers in creationism are being "intellectually dishonest." Leave that to the sophists and legal scholars. I believe there are two reasons for the belief in creationism. First, there is simply ignorance. I have debated creationists extensively in online forums and they are often (though not always!) ignorant of the science. Second, due to the long time periods involved, one cannot observe or confirm (the usual scientific method) macro evolution.

I must say that many of the "enlightened," those who believe in evolution, are probably accepting the theory based more on the scientific consensus than in their own understanding of the theory. The consensus is due more to the fact that evolution is the ONLY theory which explains the diversity of life. And as far as scientific theories go, I have to say that the theory of evolution is weak (which is not to say it is false).
6.16.2005 7:46pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
Would you have complained if they said "but giant pink space bunnies had no part in the process?" From the perspective of empirical science, they are pretty much the same thing.
6.16.2005 7:55pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Cathy F.,

I get your idea re: chance. It is the tornado in a junk yard theory.

The alternative is the tornado in a magnet factory.

i.e. it is not totally random. There are prefered outcomes.

In fact chemistry tells us some reactions are prefered over others.

Which tells me you have to recalculate your probabilities.
6.16.2005 7:58pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
We do in fact have evidence of macro evolution in a historical time period.

Ashkenazi Jews are about 12 IQ points higher than average.

There is an evolutionary explanation.

Google it.
6.16.2005 8:04pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
F=ma is a theory.

Automobiles are not.

Evolution is a theory.

Changing bacteria by contolling their environment is not.

The value of a theory is its ability to tell us what to do to get results we want.

By that measure evolution is a rousing success.
6.16.2005 8:15pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Anderson writes,

Perhaps the reason that laypeople often summarize evolution as a God-free process is that the anti-evolution fundamentalists have successfully framed the debate that way? Being wrong but noisy is not a bad way to infiltrate your position into your opponents' own beliefs. The notion of "evolution v. god" has been firmly implanted in our thoughts, and it's hard to break out of an "either/or" into a "both/and."

It's been "firmly implanted," sure, but most recently not, I think, by "fundamentalists"; rather by writers of popular books on evolutionary theory, particularly Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. (Stephen Jay Gould, to his great credit, never did this. He was an atheist, but he never sneered at religious belief so far as I know, though he certainly took patiently to pieces a lot of arguments in its support.)

I forget whether it was Dawkins or Dennett who said that Darwin had "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist," but the tone of both is explicitly mechanistic from the get-go.

(Why no one who argues like this ever realizes that he's only saying what the laws of physics command him to say I've never understood. If all you are is a pile of subatomic particles, then obviously you're governed by law and by chance, but never by yourself. You'd think this would make people go a little easier on the poor fundamentalists, who are only obeying the laws of physics. You'd think that, that is to say, only until a half-second later, when you've twigged that the critics are doing the same. A half-second after that, you discover that so are you, so what's the bloody point anyway?)

Anyway, the weak point of "Evolution As She Is Taught" in my experience is that they still try to introduce some theory of the origin of life as opposed to the evolution of it, and that's something we really don't (and probably can't) know anything about in a scientific sense. When I was in high school, a couple decades back, the theory in our textbook was that various simple organic compounds got washed up together on a rock, got struck by lightning, and then formed more complex molecules (amino acids in particular), that in turn somehow combined into a whole self-replicating system. Without the help of self-replication, which is Darwin's mechanism for everything that comes after. I've never understood how anyone could think this plausible. Once you have self-replication, go for it; but you've got to have it first. Before that we're talking incredibly complex machines randomly assembling themselves by accident.
6.16.2005 8:25pm
JRC:
Good thread, it's great to see smart discourse in good faith so I'll volunteer a (quick this time) followup post.

Bezuhov, I can't claim meaningful acquaintance with religious thought; my reference to "inerrancy" was not informed by any knowledge of previous work around that concept, though I'm not surprised that there's been some substantial work around it. I was really responding to the sort of crude literalism which necessarily/implicitly claims that (a) "these words, as written down here, are a true and complete description of [whatever]," and (b) "we [or at least I, the speaker] know exactly and completely what they mean." This discursive strategy tends to be attributed to fundamentalist Christians - and is sometimes quite openly and honestly adopted and accepted by some of them - but is and I suspect in human history always has been a strategy used to appeal to naive "common sense." I'd call it a political strategy, in a broad sense. This kind of "inerrancy," which is what I meant, is necessarily threatened by science - and that's just fine by me.

On the other hand a concept of inerrancy which postulates that there is a transcendent "text" (if that's not an inappropriate metaphor for the Word of God) which is inerrant, but which we can only struggle to understand, is not at all inconsistent with science. In fact I think the are quite consistent, as scientists struggle to "read" and understand the reasons why the world is the way it is. If the Word of God created the natural world - and therefore the rules which it obeys - isn't science (ultimately) another way for inevitably flawed, partial perception to try to understand that Word?
6.16.2005 8:26pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Check out my most recent post, inspired by this post, where I find a way to incorporate our "Deists" founders and their potential views about all of this.

These Founders weren't Darwnists because they existed before Darwin, but they were Men of Reason and Science, who accepted what was the best science. Therefore I think they'd be Darwinist. But, if it's possible to be both a Darwinist and a theist (and I think Volokh's post gives a good argument that you can), they'd be both.

Here's a taste:

-- ...According to our Founders' beliefs, yes God intervened, but He didn't perform "miracles," if by "miracles" we mean acting in a way that breaks the laws of science and nature. He didn't part the Red Sea, turn Lot's wife to Salt, Walk on Water, or Turn Water into Wine, etc.

-- So when God did intervene, it must have occurred in a way consistent with the laws of science. Hence that would make God into a cosmic "dice-thrower" who could intervene by manipulating probabilities. For instance, remember in "Pulp Fiction" when Jules and Vincent were shot multiple times at point blank range and all of the bullets missed. What are the chances of that occurring? Jules thought it to be divine providence, while Vincent thought it to be a freak occurrence. (An aside: D. James Kennedy relays a similar story that supposedly happened to Washington while fighting the war where his coat revealed multiple bullet holes but, *miraculously* none hit Washington's body. Given Kennedy's track record of pushing phony history, I'll need more evidence before I believe in that one.) --
6.16.2005 8:32pm
Pauly (mail):
Evolution is a theory that can easily be disproved. For example if someone finds fossils of vertebrate mammals in the Edicarian (pre-Cambrian) period evolution is disproved. Despite 150 years of searching no one has managed to disprove evolution yet. What has happened is that the theory has been substantially modified over time, especially with respect to the modern view that evolution has long periods of stasis then bursts of sudden change (in geological terms) in response to rapidly chnging environments.

The problem with Intelligent Design is that it is not a theory that can be tested and proved or disproved.
6.16.2005 8:37pm
Daniel Wiener (mail) (www):
Teaching that God exists and teaching that God doesn’t exist are both unconstitutional in government-run schools.

The key here, as in so many other matters, is "government-run schools". When parents with strongly-held and diametrically-opposed viewpoints on such fundamental issues are impelled to place their children in public schools, there will inevitably be conflicts over what should be taught there. This problem does not exist if parents are effectively able to select private schools which accurately reflected their preferences. In the latter case, Constitutional questions disappear.

To a limited extent this already happens, since the public school monopoly is not all-encompassing. Private and parochial schools and homeschooling provide alternatives for a few million students, but the lack of vouchers or tuition tax credits gives government schools an enormous economic advantage. With hundreds of billions of dollars annually at stake, the battle is going to be intense over who will control those dollars and how that money will be employed in teaching impressionable young people.

I suspect that a privatized educational system would exhibit evolutionary behavior on a societal level. For example, children who were taught evolution theories would tend to develop into better scientists and biologists and doctors than children who were taught creationism. Over time this selective advantage would favor schools which taught the more accurate curriculum.
6.16.2005 9:35pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Pauly,

That was exactly Gould's argument whenever someone alleged evolutionary theory to be non-falsifiable: show me mammalian fossils in pre-Cambrian strata and I'll be the first to call evolution a lot of hooey. But obviously you know your Gould. (Though I didn't think "punctuated equilibrium" was about "rapidly changing environments" so much as small populations isolated from most of their species by geological accident.)

You're right, though, that you could in principle falsify evolution, but not ID, and that's the real asymmetry here. Behe &co. can continue pointing to things that evolutionary theorists can't explain (and personally I hope they keep at it, if nothing else because I'd like to see better answers to a lot of these questions than we've got yet), but the bottom line is that a Designer might design anything, including but not limited to the world we now have, and it's the "not limited to" that takes us out of science altogether.
6.16.2005 9:38pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"If the Word of God created the natural world - and therefore the rules which it obeys - isn't science (ultimately) another way for inevitably flawed, partial perception to try to understand that Word?"

Indeed. You said it better than I, but this is exactly what I was suggesting.

I bring up B.B. Warfield because he is the best example I've found of confronting my own limitations of understanding, and it is a limitation widely shared. Cogent contemporary intellectual discourse, where one can find it, is exceptionally adept at the epistemological humility, the importance of which you duly noted, that one learns naturally from the practice of the scientific method. This discourse itself, however, is not exempt from (Godelian?) blind spots, where self-criticism is avoided for various reasons, and more often irreasons, that have little to do with science.

The question of inerrancy, and the issues associated with it, including how well evolution theory fits in with religious belief, appears to be one of these blind spots, most likely given the threat to science itself posed by some who held to this doctrine in the past (see The Syllabus of Errors, et. al.). As long as practioners of science have present-day fundamentalists to kick around, the kicking can at times preclude the very self-critical work that makes the method itself so fruitful.



J. Rowe writes:

-- ...According to our Founders' beliefs, yes God intervened, but He didn't perform "miracles," if by "miracles" we mean acting in a way that breaks the laws of science and nature. He didn't part the Red Sea, turn Lot's wife to Salt, Walk on Water, or Turn Water into Wine, etc.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."

Mt 5:17

But do you not make the mistake of thinking of these laws of science and nature as static things of which we have perfect understanding? To a Newtonian, relativistic phenomena would seem miraculous in a sense. Our understandings of the laws of science and nature are broken every day, whether by God or not: that's how we "discover" new ones.

We really have no way of knowing at this late date whether God, or anyone else for that matter, parted the Red Sea or not, whether that means the section of the Red Sea the Israelites passed was a swampy area that turned to quicksand under the feet of the pursuing Egyptians (due to, say, a well-timed cloudburst), or whether beings in a parallel universe determined that the survival of the Israelites was the key element in averting a future disaster and made use of their unimaginably advanced technology to intervene in our universe. These are only two possibilities among many. The first may well have broken the laws of nature as understood by the Israelites. The second certainly breaks our own.

It is true that the founders tended to discount the role of miracles, but I would assert that this was only because the miraculous had been so much abused by those they were fighting against. Unlike them, we are the products of at least a century where the miraculous has been dismissed out of hand by the great majority of the intellectually serious. If we are to follow in the contrarian footsteps of the founders, a less reductionist consideration of the possible relation between science and religion seems in order.
6.16.2005 9:45pm
_Jon (mail) (www):
Reminds me of a joke:

God is sitting in heaven when a scientist beckons to Him;
"God, we don't need you anymore. Science has finally
figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other
words, we can now do what You did in the "beginning."

"Oh, is that so? Tell Me..." replies God.

"Well," says the scientist, "we can take dirt and form
it into the likeness of you and breathe life into it, thus
creating man."

"Well, that's interesting... Show Me."

So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to
mold the soil.

"No, no, no..." interrupts God, "Get your own dirt."
6.16.2005 9:49pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson,

Brings up the idea of random assemblage of a self replicator again.

What if it is not (as I said before) totally random.

Suppose the energetics of the universe have a prefered outcome. Suppose once you have CTAG in an environment there is a significant enough probability that by random chance a minimum self replicator will self assemble given enough time.

The tornado in a magnet factory idea again.

We are endeavoring to do this with our research in nano-self replicators. With the speed up of trying to find what conditions will encourage self replications rather than witing on the universe to produce such conditions.

Now random chance may be able to do in billions of years what we are able to do in decades. Because given the right environment auto assemblage of self replication is possible.

The more we learn the easier it is to see how such a result might come about.
6.16.2005 10:00pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
To those who protest against comparisons between ID peddlers and Holocaust revisionists, please pay attention to what Shermer said

"The primary reason we are experiencing this peculiarly American phenomenon of evolution denial (the doppelganger of Holocaust denial), is that a small but vocal minority of religious fundamentalists misread the theory of evolution as a challenge to their deeply held religious convictions."

Shermer isn't comparing every scientifically illiterate American (and darn if there aren't a ton of those folks around thanks to our cruddy public school system) to Holocaust-denying anti-Semites.

Rather, he's pointing out how some fairly loud-mouthed cranks (e.g., the charlatans at the Discovery Institute) have trained themselves into an adept science-attacking machine in order to achieve an ulterior motive (in a nutshell, that motive is to inject Jesus Christ back into every aspect of American life, where many Christian extremists believe he belongs, First Amendment be damned).

In my experience, those who deny the similarities between Holocaust deniers and our country's well-documented loud-mouthed anti-science evolution-denying charlatans are either ignorant of the tactics used by those charlatans or they belong to some sort of post-modernist crowd where the mere mention of the term "scientific fact" is akin to insulting one's mother.

That life on earth has evolved from what it was 4 billion years ago to what it is today is a fact that is precisely as incontrovertible as the fact that Nazis killed a whole a hell of a Jews. We can quibble about the precise order of events and the degree to which various proposed processes were involved, but anything else (mysterious alien beings????) is just a waste of our short human lives (not to mention the even shorter time we have to educate public schoolchildren).

Nevertheless, we do not need to look terribly far to find ignorant deluded people who believe that neither evolution nor the Holocaust occurred. Nor do we need to look very far to see people, some with transparent motives, calling themselves "experts," whining about being "persecuted" by the "establishment," and writing books that purport to "show once and for all" why "all those scientists (or historians)" are wrong.

And therein lies the problem especially in today's strange climate where our media is only to happy to put the worst sort of cranks and charlatans on TV and in the newspaper so they can express their self-promoting "alternate viewpoint."

The danger of ignoring the similarity between Holocaust deniers and "intelligent design" peddlers is that once the latter group of charlatans is let into the building, it becomes much more difficult to keep the other cranks out.

Bill Dembski says that life is too remarkable to have evolved so we need to consider that mysterious aliens might have been involved? Okay, well Jill Dumbski says the Holocaust was so remarkable those mysterious alien beings must have been invovled there too.

From the purpose of trying to understand life on earth, the hypotheses of Bill and Jill are equally useless.

Is Jill's idiotic claim more shocking? Sure.

But that fact doesn't make it less worthless to scientists than "intelligent design theory", nor does it make it any less useful to Holocaust deniers.

My last comment would be some advice to those who find these comparisons distasteful: instead of directing your anger at scientists who are justifiably pissed off by the inroads into public discourse achieved by Christian extremists, direct your anger at the lying and reality-denying Christians who are turning our country into a frightening joke.
6.16.2005 10:01pm
Pete Dunkelberg:
Here is another take on the Volokhs matter.

I see only a few evolution disprovers here. You have been indexed. Here is an example of using the index. One person brought up the 'it's a tautology' argument. This was nicely explained soon after. In case anyone is still not sure: natural selection is a process. This makes it ineligible to be a tautology since only a sentence can be one. I saw one comment to the effect that it is not possible to get anywhere on the question of the origin of life. Is this a version of 'scientific inferences can't be made about the past'? In any case OOL research is progressing.

Let us note: it makes little sense to believe in the creator and then turn around and disbelieve the creation. And: those who push for creationism (by whatever clever name) in science class are asking teachers to lie, unless creationism is presented only to debunk it.
6.16.2005 10:07pm
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
I am a passionate evolutionist yet I must point out the tautology of trying to use science to declare that all events in the past resulted from impersonal natural forces.

To make any statements about the unobserved past scientist must assume that the same natural laws we describe in the current era also existed in previous unobserved times. This has been called the "Grand Assumption" of science and it is wholly untestable. In principle, any event that occurred in the past that did result from a natural process observable today would be invisible to science. Divine intervention on any scale would defiantly violate the grand assumption and so would always be undetectable by scientific method. So, in order to create a completely naturalistic description of the past one must assume a priori that all the events of the past resulted from naturalistic forces. Hence the tautology.

People like myself who believe that there was no divine intervention in past are making just as much a leap of faith as those who believe the that there was divine intervention. There is never going to be a scientific way to tell.
6.16.2005 10:26pm
vicstich (mail):
Eugene (and everyone else): if you haven't read religious biologist Kenneth Miller's "Finding Darwin's God" get thee to a bookstore and devour it. It answers almost all of these issues: how some science populizers have gone too far past the science of evolution, how creationists are demeaning and weakening their own faiths just to stick it to science. The first half brilliantly takes creationists and ID'sts to task, the second scientists (most of whom Miller considers allies and even friends), in the end showing how one can even find the theory of evolution to be a boon to faith if one wants. I think most of the scientists Miller criticizees would even accept that their rhetoric, in their anger at the lies of creationists, had taken them too far in the other direction.

"We were taught evolution (does that surprise you?) but it was presented as a "theory," (which it is) and not as "fact." I think this simple approach is the best one because you are presented with both sides and then it is up to you to choose what you want to believe."

Presenting evolution as a "theory" instead of a "fact" is a confused mangle of nonsense. In science, theories are not adolescent facts: theories EXPLAIN and are based on facts. Evolution (as a gaggle of mechanisms including natural selection, genetic drift, and so forth) is a theory that explains the fact of common descent and the diversification of species. But make no mistake: things like the ancestry of man from ancient apes is a fact, not a theory: as much as fact as that George Bush is President (deal with it!). The theory of evolution is what explains how and why that happened. Facts are, of course, always open to challenge and question: that's how science works. But you cannot run around calling historical facts facts without also admitting that the biological history of common descent is just as much fact as well.
6.16.2005 10:27pm
vicstich (mail):
"So, in order to create a completely naturalistic description of the past one must assume a priori that all the events of the past resulted from naturalistic forces. Hence the tautology."

Er, no. The grand assumption is simply that the universe is observable and consistent and thus potentially open to observation and inquiry. But without that openly unprovable assumption, there is NO point to discussing the truth or falsity of anything anyway (including everything we take for granted in ordinary life and experience). It has nothing to do with some special bias for "naturalism." If there was divine intervention, then there should be evidence of it. If there is no evidence, then there is simply no empirical point in discussing whether there was or not. It has nothing to do with ruling out god, and everything to do with ruling out claims that there is no possible way to prove OR disprove (like last Thursdayism, the idea that the universe came into being fully formed last Thursday)
6.16.2005 10:40pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Shannon

"People like myself who believe that there was no divine intervention in past are making just as much a leap of faith as those who believe the that there was divine intervention."

That is true if your belief is not based on evidence. If your belief that there was no divine intervention is based on your observation that no evidence for such intervention (or such divinity) exists, then you are not making a leap of faith. Rather, you are thinking about the earth's distant past just as rationally as you think about the earth's recent past.

Interestingly, your comment echoes a very common and very weak creationist argument that "science is religion."

Don't buy into it. If you have bought it, please return the item to your grocer. It's defective.
6.16.2005 10:43pm
Patrick (mail):
A short comment to respond to what was one of the earliest posts. Why would evolution be more of a problem to certain forms of Protestantism than Roman Catholicism or Judaism, for example? I don't have this idea fully formed, but I've wondered if it has to do with decentralization of faith that takes place in (American) evangelical churches. Absent a core leadership or corpus of interpretive thought on matters of faith, a highly decentralized religion entrusts each follower to come to the faith directly. That being so, individual interpretation becomes corrosive. Thus, a literal approach becomes the easiest way for a decentralized faith to maintain order and a shared set of beliefs.
6.16.2005 10:44pm
Moneyrunner (www):
Bruce, thank you. I was afraid your side's cranks would not show up.
6.16.2005 10:55pm
Dick Eagleson (mail):
There is a long history of religion making assertions about the nature of physical reality that have subsequently failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny. Any time a church has attempted to use temporal power to supress such "heresies," the long-term injury has been to the church, not to science.
6.16.2005 10:56pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Up above in a more recent post, Eugene writes

"But it does seem psychologically likely that most people who deny the Holocaust in the face of very powerful contrary evidence are indeed pro-Nazi or anti-Jewish."

Indeed. And it similarly seems likely that most of the people who are most vocally and publicly opposed to teaching children that life on earth evolved without invoking mysterious alien beings (for which no evidence exists) are indeed pro-Christian, anti-atheist and anti-gay.

And it similarly seems likely that most HIV-deniers would be anti-gay. Lo and behold, the major architect of the "ID strategy", Phil Johnson, is an AIDS denier as well!!

Coincidence?

Surely not.

Even the most strident ID apologists will only attempt to argue that Johnson's reality-denial in other venues is irrelevent to the "truth" about ID.

Who, after all, provided the seed money for the Discovery Institute? And what is the stated purpose of the "ID movement" according to "Wedge document"?

Is it possible to have a discussion about "intelligent design" without these incontrovertible facts on the table?

Sure.

Is it honest to do so?

That's debateable.
6.16.2005 10:59pm
DrJohn (mail):
Felix, do you really want a lawyer to deal in biology? Would you go to him for surgery?

This entry has been discussed (vivisected?) at http://www.pharyngula.org . The author, Volokh, is a bit limited in his presentation of factual information. Most of the creationist types are. Asking for proof of god indicates they are seriously lacking in faith as well. I wonder why?

As to the Protestants/Catholic question, this is not an issue outside the US. We might be particularly stupid here, as a people, but I think it is best explained by a distinct fear/distrust of intellectuals and intellectual behavior, as well as a misapplication of 'fairness'. All points of view are not equal. I really hope all the IDC believing Christians convert to Raelianism - aliens are the designer there!
6.16.2005 11:12pm
vicstich (mail):
"Why would evolution be more of a problem to certain forms of Protestantism than Roman Catholicism or Judaism, for example?"

Well, it might have something to do with a) Catholicism having a leader that can declare things like "evolution is good science and not at odds with our faith as long as one also accepts some basic extras (like souls and so forth: things that are outside of science rather than contradicting it)" and b) Catholicism and Judiasm not generally caring as much about litteralism, favoring the poetic and symbolic when it comes to texts more than the coldly and bitterly analytical.
6.16.2005 11:13pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
cathyf says
"Hey, I have no problem reconciling evolutionary biology with my faith in God. I do, however, have problems reconciling it with my belief in the laws of probability."

Now, this worries me because, as pointed out above (the tornado in a junkyard meme), there is a standard creationist argument along these lines, one that rests entirely upon a poor understanding of what the theory of evolution says. Could you explain what you mean?

Ecologists and botanists are shrill, strident anti-religious zealots? That's just strange. [shakes head]

Rholtmeyer, I think public schools should not teach the theory of plate tectonics, and instead focus in teaching about different kinds of minerals, the rock cycle, etc. . . What? That's a silly idea? No!
And *in this specific conflict* there is no "debate of biology." There's biology (with continued research, questioning and debate over the exact details of evolution, but without any indication that there's another serious contender at this point in time), there's religion, and then there's and a strange offshoot of religionwhich has suffered a crisis of confidence and is trying to dress itself up as science, rather like one of those subtly-crazed teens in the movies who strive to be just like some other person - copying their dress, etc. - and finally try to kill them (intelligent design). Indeed, given that ID is meant as a wedge to kill methodological naturalism and replace it with "theistic science," that's a pretty good analogy.

"Holocaust denier" is strong language indeed. However, besides the fact that IDers and HDers distort truth and methodology in similar ways, I think some of this comes out of the fact that there are relatively few meaningful comparisons you can make. There's flat-earthers and moon-landing deniers, but they're sort of insignificant.

Carole says: "I think this simple approach is the best one because you are presented with both sides and then it is up to you to choose what you want to believe."
Like in church? Wait, no. (I don't mean to attack religion here - that's just not the way it works.) Now, in science a lot of time you *do* have both sides - for example, when I had a class about human evolution we studied both the multiregional and out-of-africa ideas. In this case, at this point, in terms of the scientific explantion of why we have all these diffent creatures, we have only *one* side - evolution. To teach both sides as science would be like presenting Ganesh as a Christian figure. From within the framework of Christianity that makes no sense; likewise, creationism (regular or new ID flavor) doesn't fit into science, at least not yet. I agree that profs shouldn't push religious beliefs, but evolution isn't any more a religious belief than the germ theory of disease . . .

Jeff Z. says: "evolution denial is something else; nobody (all right; almost nobody) is denying all of the specific evidence that exists. They are discussing who or what did or did not create that evidence."
I don't think this is right. During the Kansas hearings, a number of the ID witnesses, when finally pinned down, said they thought the earth was either very young (or between 4.5 billion and 10,000 years old(!!!)) - maybe a misquote, but the low end was in the 1000s), and rejected the idea that people share ancestors with apes . Creationists frequently deny that various pieces of evidence for evolution are not in fact evidence for evolution - transitional fossils are described as being one or the other, observations that have been made haven't, etc etc etc). In other words, while creationists don't deny "the evidence" in the sense that they usually don't pretend that other organisms are just a figment of our imagination, they definitely deny the interpretation of it, on dubious grounds. To some degree, Holocaust deniers do the same thing, although for a far less defensible reason.

Shermer is being bad. "God has no part in this process" isn't part of the standard scientific theory any more than than it is part of the scientific explanation for lightning. And the Krebs cycle isn't part of standard theolgy. And that *is* good!
6.16.2005 11:18pm
Julie B (mail):
"That life on earth has evolved from what it was 4 billion years ago to what it is today is a fact that is precisely as incontrovertible as the fact that Nazis killed a whole a hell of a Jews."

It is that kind of hyperbole, and the inability to understand limits in evidence, and relative strengths of knowlege, that turn off anyone who doesn't already believe in the scientific doctrine. To any reasonable person, those are very different propositions, which require very different analysis of evidence to evaluate, and about which there is necessarily are large difference in certainty, even if you accept both as true.

A physicist wouldn't claim the certainty about an electron that you are claiming for evolution.

"The grand assumption is simply that the universe is observable and consistent and thus potentially open to observation and inquiry."

Assuming that about the present and assuming that about the past are two different assumptions. Success in using the first assumption (about the present) to predict events informs nothing about the validity of the second assumption (that it holds true indefinitely into the past).

"It has nothing to do with ruling out god, and everything to do with ruling out claims that there is no possible way to prove OR disprove (like last Thursdayism, the idea that the universe came into being fully formed last Thursday)"

Since any claim about a created origin is reject a priori as matter of philosophy by the scientific establishment, claims about the lack of evidence are really only self-fulfilling.
6.16.2005 11:21pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
Rholtmeyer says " but they seem to understand/comprehend that the sun is a part of a larger system and that the earth revolves around the sun"
Yeah. Now. There was a little fuss about that . . .

And anyway, most people don't comprehend this. They know it. They believe it. They don't understand it. If somehow sent back in time - before Copernicus or Galileo - they could try to convince people of it, but they wouldn't be able to offer any evidence.
There's actually a big thing in science ed - people tend to hold a bunch of naive beliefs that are *at best* overlaid with a thin layer of poorly-understood info that either wears away or simply just sits there, not really getting in under the surface.

" what they don't get is fundamental biology. If they taught the fundamentals . . ."
Yeah, like evolution! They're trying . . .

Daniel W. says: "I suspect that a privatized educational system would exhibit evolutionary behavior on a societal level. For example, children who were taught evolution theories would tend to develop into better scientists and biologists and doctors than children who were taught creationism. Over time this selective advantage would favor schools which taught the more accurate curriculum."

And this is why I oppose privatizing education. Unlike natural selection, which from a scientific viewpoint is strictly a-moral, people's choices about the education system are supposed to be guided by morals, which in my case indicate that handicapping year after year of children until the eventual education-market correction.

Would be interesting, though, to see how far school quality, science prestige and all would have to drop before it became a more important factor than the "we teach creationism instead of evil atheistic evolution" bit? Interesting to see how groups differed . . .
6.16.2005 11:46pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
"Most people" in my previous post also includes me.

"It [the ID - HD comparison] is that kind of hyperbole, and the inability to understand limits in evidence, and relative strengths of knowlege, that turn off anyone who doesn't already believe in the scientific doctrine. To any reasonable person, those are very different propositions, which require very different analysis of evidence to evaluate, and about which there is necessarily are large difference in certainty, even if you accept both as true. "

Why? They're both inquiries about historical/past events. In fact, evolution has more evidence, in a certain bizarre sense, since it's going on today and can be observed in a lab (not just historical). . .

And about that thing - creationist aren't denying the evidence - it's like saying, sure, we don't deny the fingerprints, bloody murder weapon, (and so on with forensic evidence and etc.) - it's just that we say that God put it there, or (ID version) we can pro
6.16.2005 11:53pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
sorry -
(ID version) the Designer put it there, and we can prove it scientifically!

I want to see good ol' Phil Johnson try *that* in court!
6.16.2005 11:55pm
DrJohn (mail):
Julie B: Bring on the evidence for a diety or its effect on material processes, and then, and in fact ONLY then, can it be discussed.

BTW, you do know that we have direct, physical evidence that the earth is at least 4.25 billion years old?

Finally, and considering especially the recent explosion of molecular biology, are you attempting to get out of parental responsibility? Genetics are used to establish relatedness right now, today, and often. Your saying that the various degrees of genetic relatedness amongst species is precisely the same thing as saying that 'no, ain't my kid, I am not related to that rugrat, period' all in the face of having a 50% share of rugrat's genes.

One needs to think a bit WITH evidence, facts, etc., compare the lines of evidence (including physics - but I doubt you read Dr. Shermer's article) and then come to the conclusion.

Do you even know the definition of evolution? (Change of allele frequency over time.)
6.17.2005 12:15am
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Julie

"To any reasonable person, those are very different propositions, which require very different analysis of evidence to evaluate, and about which there is necessarily are large difference in certainty, even if you accept both as true"

To any reasonable person in the year 2005 who is aware of and understands the evidence which supports the proposition that life evolved on earth and the evidence that supports the proposition that Nazis killed millions of Jews, both events are beyond dispute except for the details as to precisely how and when specific sub-events took place.

Yes, that's right: I'm saying that if you (or anyone else) believes that human beings are not evolutionarily related to life that existed hundreds of millions of years ago, your belief is not based on evidence. In that case, your belief is based either on ignorance of the documented facts and observations (don't feel bad, you're in good company) or faith (i.e., a willingness on your part to ignore evidence and a refusal to make simple inferences that you routinely make in other contexts every day of your life) or a combination of both.

Proving my hypothesis in the above paragraph wrong is straightforward, in theory. All you need to do is present an alternative explanation for the gigantic ever growing piles of data that scientists have collected over the past several hundred years which supports evolution.

Oh, and that alternative explanation should do a better job at explaining the evidence than the "theory" that life evolved and your theory should make testable predictions. Otherwise your "theory" is indistinguishable from what we usually call "mythology" or, if when we choose to worship an aspect of that mythology, "religion".

I don't deny that some people find this last comment "offensive." But there's a really really easy and obvious way to prevent this from happening: stop confusing religious dogma with scientific understanding.

Do sincere scientists sometimes make this mistake? Yes, occasionally they do.

But they do not do so methodically as part of generously funded and public effort to promote atheism or any other religion. Creationists love to claim otherwise, however, and uninformed rubes eat up that nonsense just like they eat up Randall Terry's nonsense about Terry Schiavo and just like they eat up Jim Dobson's nonsense about SpongeBob Squarepants.
6.17.2005 12:38am
Julie B (mail):
"It [the ID - HD comparison] is that kind of hyperbole"

Actually it is the common decent vs. Holocaust denial.

"Why? They're both inquiries about historical/past events."

That doesn't make the evidence for them the same. One is witnessed and documented by people contemporaneously, and one is not. I'll leave it at that.

But I think your response informs a lot about why religious people feel threatened by evolution. Its proponents claim their knowledge about timelines which are 4 billion years long is as absolute as knowledge of events which were 60 years ago. That is an "I know you are wrong" stance which just doesn't have the capability of justifying itself. When people make claims like that, skeptics suspect an agenda.
6.17.2005 12:44am
TLove (mail):

If your belief that there was no divine intervention is based on your observation that no evidence for such intervention (or such divinity) exists, then you are not making a leap of faith. Rather, you are thinking about the earth's distant past just as rationally as you think about the earth's recent past.


How, exactly, does one know that there is no evidence for such intervention?
6.17.2005 12:51am
Bruce Anderson (mail):
I want Mr. Volokh to appreciate that he did an excellent job here:

"Rather, looking for naturalistic causes is standard scientific operating procedure because it seems more likely to produce more useful results, and has in the past produced useful results. Science can’t prove to us that there are no angels pushing planets around the sky; maybe they do push the planets around, though in extremely regular patterns. But if you look for a naturalistic explanation, you’re more likely to come up with useful, predictive explanations of the world than “the angels are doing it.” ---------

That is a very accurate summary of what science is about. Moreoever, it's a very accurate summary of how all of us, every day, every human being on the planet and quite a few animals, deals with reality in this universe. So much for the "different worldview" arguments that creationists and their apologists love to throw around.

But then there's this passage:

"In that sense, the theory may be described as “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and we can explain that without bringing in God’s intervention.” Many scientists conclude that this explanation makes it more plausible that God had no part in the process."

In this context, the phrase "many scientists" is a cop-out at best, misleading at worst.

Very very few scientists -- a microscropic fraction of all scientists, at most -- draw such absurd conclusions from their research about the universe and the living and non-living objects therein.

Anyone can go and search www.pubmed.gov, for example, and see for themselves how "many" scientists conclude that their data makes the existence of "God" (or any other invisible omniscent deity) less "plausible."

The irony here is that Mr. Volokh is criticizing scientists for their rhetoric when, in fact, these claims about "many scientists" who allegedly draw conclusions about God are specious and serve only as sources of helpful quotes for creationists to recite.
6.17.2005 1:01am
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Julie

"Its proponents claim their knowledge about timelines which are 4 billion years long is as absolute as knowledge of events which were 60 years ago."

Guess what? They also are equally confident that erosion played a part in forming the Grand Canyon -- a process that also took place a long time ago over a long time period.

I needn't remind you that the Grand Canyon is unique -- no one has ever observed a Grand Canyon being formed from beginning to end.

Are religious people also offended by my complete confidence that erosion occurred in the distant past and helped form extraordinarily beautiful geologic structures?

Some are!

News flash: that's not my fault. That is not the fault of scientists.

That is the fault of preachers who have been engaged in a campaign for many years to persuade members of their flock that scientists represent a threat to religious faith.

This campaign proceeds notwithstanding the fact that the number of religious biologists vastly outweights the number of ID peddling charlatans who pretend to be genuine scientists.

How do you account for the actions of those preachers? Given what we know about human beings and our planet, how can we explain such behavior?

These are interesting questions, surely suitable for enlightened debate by 12 year olds in public school science classrooms ... right?
6.17.2005 1:16am
Julie B (mail):
"Proving my hypothesis in the above paragraph wrong is straightforward, in theory. All you need to do is present an alternative explanation for the gigantic ever growing piles of data that scientists have collected over the past several hundred years which supports evolution. "

No, all you need to do is quantify how much room there is for an alternative explination is to arise, and how well the scientific method (as applied in this case) can extrapolate back 4 billion years. That would establish your degree of confidence. And you have to take into account how other people are willing to quantify it, and that should allow for the degree of confidence you expect in others.

DrJohn: If you want to address anything I actually said, go ahead. The only thing even vaguely related is the tired claim that evolution only has one meaning.

It is commonly used to refer to common decent. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution )
6.17.2005 1:23am
AlanDownunder (mail):
No true scientist claims to disprove divine creation (as opposed to aspects of literalist fundamentalism), just as no true Christian sees science as anti-religious (as opposed to non-religious). All the turf wars depend the miscenception that there is overlapping turf to fight over.
6.17.2005 1:30am
Dan S. (mail) (www):
"No, all you need to do is quantify how much room there is for an alternative explination is to arise,"
huh?

How would you define common descent? What do you think of it? Do you know what is offered as evidence for it?

"Actually it is the common decent vs. Holocaust denial. "
I guess that's true in the confines of your post, but I'm pretty sure I've heard people compare Intelligent Design to Holocaust denial. It's getting even harder to figure out what ID says - at one point it didn't neccesarily deny common descent (Behe) but now maybe it does?

"That doesn't make the evidence for them the same. One is witnessed and documented by people contemporaneously, and one is not. I'll leave it at that. "
Actually, they both have been witnessed and documented by people.
You know we also accept evidence for things not witnessed and documented by people, right? In some cases, physical evidence might be *more* reliable than eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously iffy.

Kudos for Bruce's comments.

And - re: the "God did it" explanation - that's not simpler!! That means we have to try to figure out how God did it!
6.17.2005 1:49am
Julie B (mail):
"News flash: that's not my fault. That is not the fault of scientists."

The question is not if you believe it, the question is to what degree you castigate and insult those who don't agree, and with what confidence. cathyf has it right above. The hard science scientists, with much better evidence to back them up, with repeatable experiments, are much less absolutist about their conclusion than scientists that deal in extrapolations measurable in millions and billions of years.

Given what we know about human behavior, how can we explain that?
6.17.2005 1:50am
Dan S. (mail) (www):
"But I think your response informs a lot about why religious people feel threatened by evolution."

Look, just because their faith is weak and they're misled into false dichotomies doesn't give them an excuse to undermine science education. Now that's something *I* feel threatened by . . .
6.17.2005 1:59am
Dan S. (mail) (www):
Julie, a lot of the evidence for evolutionary bio is built on a framework of physics, chemistry, biochem, etc.

Interestingly, while this is at best a drastic oversimplification, physics - and to a lesser degree chem - deals with a drastically oversimplified world, with most of the noise and complications and bewilderingly complex interactions edited out. (This isn't really all that true, but I suspect the early training has an effect on their views) This may explain why botany, ecology, and evbio get all lumped up with the social sciences . . .

At the same time, esp. again physicists , some of their ideas are so *big* and *fundamental* - all these extra dimensions, and all . . .they better be less absolutists. Evolutionists, on the other hand, have much simpler ideas
6.17.2005 2:11am
Brian the Q-Chem Guy (www):
As both a scientist and a Christian, I've been interested in this subject for a long time and have written on it extensively. I admit that I haven't read every comment on this thread, so please forgive me for any redundancy.

The bottom line, I think, is that scientists and believers agree much more than we tend to think we do. The fact is that evolutionary theory does not attempt to describe the process by which life originated; it only describes how life has changed over time after it originated.

Too many believers misunderstand this, and assume that evolutionary science is attempting to answer fundamental questions about the origin of life. Furthermore, they tend to (falsely) believe that "competitive" theories like ID similarly deal with the origin of life. Of course, neither of these points is really true. In reality, it is perfectly OK to simultaneously believe that God created life and know that evolutionary theory guides the way that life changes over time. The tendency of rational people to buy into ID nonsense is, in my experience, directly related to these sorts of misconceptions about evolutionary and ID theories.

As such, Prof. Volokh is absolutely right to decry the language used in the HuffPost. False claims about the nature of evolutionary theory make the current problem worse, not better. People who resist the advancement of nonsense like ID theory would do well to understand this.
6.17.2005 2:14am
Dennis:
Why must every scientific discovery be checked for its conformity with the collection of Middle Eastern folklore we call the Bible?

A Personal God is central to the ideology of Christianity, and no, I don't see how the theory of evolution can coexist with this religion. A God that can't be bothered to involve himself with the transformation of ape into human is not the kind of God that is likely to heed prayer, or punish the sinful and reward the faithful.

Which once again brings religion and science into a fundamental disagreement.. and begs the question: isn't it time already to stand up against the childish silliness of organized religions?

Religion - be it faith in monsters under the bed, in Santa, or in a personal god - is a child's attempt to orient himself in this enormous world by filling the gaps in his knowledge(and huge gaps at that) with fantasy. Religions - nearly all founded during humanity's childhood - all fit the pattern.

There's one difference between a child and a religious person, though. A child's mind is malleable: newly acquired knowledge easily displaces fantasy. Adults resist change.

And all the ruckus over evolution is proof yet again that humanity has, indeed, outgrown religion. A person above the age of 16 who still believes in Santa is a sad, sad sight. A civilization above the age of 5000 that still believes in sons of gods, personal gods and the such is much sadder.
6.17.2005 2:29am
BC:
But if they insist, in my view unnecessarily, that the standard scientific theory does take a stand that God is not influencing the world -- and that accepting evolution as the best scientific hypothesis while seeing God’s hand in its operation is an inferior conclusion that is worthy of scientific criticism -- then they will encounter much more resistance.

Keep in mind when making these statements the vast varieties of theories. (1) There are people who believe in theistic evolution (that God played a role in shaping humans to become humans). I think this is poorly supported by the evidence, though I can understand why religious people need to feel like God shaped humankind and them in order to feel like they have a place in the universe. (2) There is also the "atheistic" belief that God created the universe, but did not play a role in shaping life on earth. (3) And there is the belief that God does not exist and (thus) played no role in the creation of the universe or life on earth. People often confuse 2 and 3. They are not the same thing! Taking the position that "God played no role in evolution" is vastly different than saying "God does not exist". Schools who teach #2 are NOT teaching that God does not exist any more than schools that teach that planets move because of gravity (not God) are teaching that God does not exist. The real problem is that people are frightened by the idea that God played no role in shaping life on earth because, in their mind, it's just a little too close to "God doesn't exist".

Personally, I believe God doesn't exist or God simply doesn't care about humanity. I don't believe that God played any role in evolution. However, if someone tries to tell me "nontheistic evolution disproves the existence of God", I know it's bunk. On the other side of the fence, I'm tired of people claiming that "nontheistic evolution is tanamount to denying the existence of God" or "nontheistic evolution is not scientific", because they're not.
6.17.2005 2:56am
Apollo Morgan (mail) (www):
"BTW, you do know that we have direct, physical evidence that the earth is at least 4.25 billion years old?"

This is one of the more foolish statements I've seen here. Correctly stated, it should read, "You do know that we have physical evidence that leads to the conclusion that the earth is at least 4.25 billion years old?" It's the pronouncement of certainty on such matters as this, with such precision considering the vastness of the numbers, that turn normal folk off from poseur science.

Vitriol over this disagreement is caused by a good amount of hautiness on both sides. Science should correctly be a humble field, certain that most things we presently believe to be true will, over time, either be disproved or significantly elaborated on. While our present technical abilities are impressive by any historical measure, so were those of 17th century astronomers, but we have significantly elaborated on the research they produced. We can see farther than those who came before us only because we stand on their shoulders, but that also means that later generations will stand on ours, and will see farther than we thought possible.

Science is a building process, and to claim with certainty that what we presently believe is fact runs counter to the nature of science. We should use our present understandings as operating hypotheses, certainly, but a certain amount of humility is in order when proclaiming fact.

And this doesn't even bring up the problem of presuming causation, which is hardly more knowable than God. Still, it's the best we got, and, like all scientific understandings, we should progress with it until it is disproven or elaborated on.
6.17.2005 3:15am
John-David Filing (mail) (www):
Professor Volokh said

"Teaching that God exists and teaching that God doesn’t exist are both unconstitutional in government-run schools. Likewise, if teaching that God created humans is unconstitutional, so is teaching that God had no part in creating humans."

I disagree with the premise that teaching evolution leads to this conclusion. If that were the case, then teaching that the stars are not fixed points of light in the heavenly firmament would be teaching that the Bible is inaccurate, which means that every word of the Bible is not divinely inspired, which means that God did not have a hand in writing portions of the Bible.
6.17.2005 3:51am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
A Morgan says:

Correctly stated, it should read, "You do know that we have physical evidence that leads to the conclusion that the earth is at least 4.25 billion years old?" It's the pronouncement of certainty on such matters as this, with such precision considering the vastness of the numbers, that turn normal folk off from poseur science.

The proof of 4.25 billion is Hiroshima.

Either nuclear science is well understood or it is not.

Now I will grant that 4.25 billion may show unwaranted accuracy. It may be 4.25 +/- .5 billion. It is certainly not 4.25 million. Or 4.25 thousand.
6.17.2005 4:34am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
A. Morgan,

E=mc^2 did not invalidate F=ma. It extended it.

Which is what you would expect of well established science.
6.17.2005 5:16am
landlord (mail):
Does teaching “God has had no part in creating the world” constitute a disapproval of religion? If I found a religion that teaches Jefferson was the son of God and the history curriculum teaches he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson and God had no part in fathering young Thomas would that amount to disapproval of religion? To take a real world example, if the religiously sanctioned belief is that the world is 10,000 years old and science classes teach it’s 4.5 billion years old, wouldn’t that also be, according to Eugene’s argument, a disapproval of religion?
6.17.2005 6:39am
Nils (mail) (www):
Dan, the key scientific principle here is Ocham's razor: minimize explanatory variables insofar as possible. So the question is this: can you come up with a fully adequate explanation of how humans (or anything else) evolved, without invoking God? If the answer is yes, then you leave God out.

Evolutionary theory posits that humans (and all other biological life) evolved by (1) random mutation; and (2) natural selection. I suppose you could argue that the mutations are not in fact "random" but in fact the work of God, but there's no evidence for that either way, and the Ochamite principle is that if you don't have any evidence for something, then you don't introduce it into the scientific explanation.

The reason that Darwinian theory challenges religion is that it radically restricts the explanatory ambit of God. It explains things without God that previously required God.
6.17.2005 10:00am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Michelle Dulak Thomson writes parentheticallyStephen Jay Gould, to his great credit, never did this. He was an atheist, but he never sneered at religious belief so far as I know, though he certainly took patiently to pieces a lot of arguments in its support.

In his popular one-semester undergraduate course, early on Professor Gould introduced a bit that was touching on human evolution something like this: Some people believe that it's not like this, that God created Man literally as described in the Bible. They are free to believe that and I will not argue it, but that's religion, not science, and it has no part in this class.

I can live with that. He wasn't teaching Truth, he was teaching science. Within its domain science is testable, is self-consistent, corrects itself when errors are found, and most importantly leads to practical applications.

Slocum writes: And follow evolution back, generation by generation--sooner or later you have to find parents without souls giving birth to offspring with them, no?

I know faithful people who believe that there is more than the physical, and in particular that there is an eternal soul, with all the implications that there is an afterlife. They learned at an Augustinian college that evolution as it is understood by science is true, old earth and all that, meaning that Genesis is allegory, but that Man is special because there was a Divine intervention in which Man received the soul, and became different from all the other animals.
6.17.2005 10:46am
Dan S. (mail) (www):
"It's the pronouncement of certainty on such matters as this, with such precision considering the vastness of the numbers, that turn normal folk off from poseur science. "

Shouldn't this include something about "the conclusion that the pronouncement of certainty . . ."?

Look, of *course* a lot of what we think we know will turn out wrong. But it gets really tiring inserting mandatory disclaimers, not to mention the many of the people 'turned off' by science cleave to beliefs that pronounce complete certainty (with no margin of error, not just as verbal shorthand for "as far as we know based on evidence but always subject to revision") on matters far more vast and complicated. (That's ok, the two things work by different rules, but I wish they would acknowledge that instead of confusedly merging the two).

The vastness of the numbers has nothing to do with it, especially because radiometric dating always includes margin of error stuff (in more formal forums than this) and accuracy issues are well known and much discussed. Either the number is mostly correct +/- some time, it isn't correct because of experimental error or confusion about minor details (but the big picture is correct) or we've really misunderstood and the method doesn't work. This applies to numbers big or small.

I understand that this is high school science, so most people aren't really up on it unless it directly impacts their work or interests, but it's not like science is some esoteric brotherhood that hides its secrets from the uninitiated. In fact, all this fuss is because while people happily enjoy the benefits of modern science, they also have to deal with the nerve of scientists and educators who insist that science should be taught in public school instead of safely hidden away - and even post their heretical, authority-challenging mumbo-jumbo all over the internet so people can learn it!

Neal Stephenson has anop-ed on this general topic (public attitudes) and Star Wars in today's NY Times:
Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.
6.17.2005 11:04am
Felix (mail):
DrJohn, it's not whether I want a lawyer or anyone else to deal with biology, it's whether I want someone to apply logic and reasoning when looking at an argument.

Actually, it's the evolutionist types who are more than just a bit limited in their presentation of facts, logic and reasoning.

And, I'm not sure what you mean by "Asking for proof of god indicates they are seriously lacking in faith as well. I wonder why?" Whom are you refrring to? All I was asking for was proof for the ridiculous theory of evolution.
6.17.2005 11:14am
Lawrence Hayes (mail):
F.C. Copleston, in what is still regarded as a standard text on the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas(1955, republished 1991), says:
If Aquinas had lived in the days of the evolutionary hypothesis, he would doubtless have argued that this hypothesis supports rather than invalidates the conclusion of the argument (referring to the fifth proof of the existence of God in the "Summa Theologica").
6.17.2005 11:16am
Jeff Z (mail):
I'm going to go out on a limb and postulate that maybe I'm dumber than I think I am, because I'm just not getting something:

Why do scientists get involved in the question as to whether God exists or has any influence on evolution, at least within the context of science? In discussing theological matters, yes, it can be of obvious concern, but there is no way that I have ever heard or read (and I've done plenty of both in this area) to prove or disprove the existence of God objectively, in the same sense that science can prove or disprove physical phenomena objectively. Why don't scientists simply, as I mentioned in my earlier post (which I unintentionally sent before editing. Sorry!), admit the possiblity, acknowledge that is beyond their purview, and move on?

One other point, in regard to evolution and religion: I think a lot of posters are forgetting that the existence of God has enormous moral implications that go far beyond science. Atheists like to point out the evil that has historically been done by believers in the name of religion, quite rightly; However, since November, 1917, it has been pseudo-scientific atheists on the left and pseudo-Darwinian mystics on the right who are responsible for periodically making huge portions of the earth a nightmarish hell. (If you read a detailed account, of WJ Bryan and the Scopes trial, you will see he was very concerned by this, though he was thinking of the "Social Darwinism" of extreme capitalism. Gentler times.) Is it fair to call Hitler a Darwinian? Not really, but no less fair than calling say, the conquistadors Christians.
6.17.2005 11:27am
DrJohn (mail):
Apollo Morgan:

"BTW, you do know that we have direct, physical evidence that the earth is at least 4.25 billion years old?"

This is one of the more foolish statements I've seen here. Correctly stated, it should read, "You do know that we have physical evidence that leads to the conclusion that the earth is at least 4.25 billion years old?" It's the pronouncement of certainty on such matters as this, with such precision considering the vastness of the numbers, that turn normal folk off from poseur science.



No, we have direct physical evidence of the 4.25 billion yo earth, specifically a zircon crystal from New Zealand.

Now if you want to deny physics, that is your business, and a silly one at that.
6.17.2005 11:51am
Bruce Anderson (mail):
"Science should correctly be a humble field, certain that most things we presently believe to be true will, over time, either be disproved or significantly elaborated on."

Science is a process for understanding the universe we live in.

How many times do some people need to be reminded that it's not scientists who are going to churches and demanding that their observations be taught there?

Take your lectures about humility and deliver them to Jim Dobson and Bill Frist and Terry Randall and the other arrogant preachers who claim to have such great insights into what is right and wrong that they would force me, if allowed, to keep my vegetable wife alive indefinitely, against her wishes.

I can't remember the last time I saw an evolutionary biologist on TV trying to tell Americans that we are going to spend life rotting in hell if we don't believe what they say. But here someone is telling me that scientists need to be more "humble" when they report basic facts about the age of the earth.

Bizarre.
6.17.2005 12:09pm
PZ Myers (mail) (www):
Quite correct. The distinction between "direct physical evidence" and "physical evidence" is a false one, but one that I've seen many creationists try to pull. When pressed, it always turns out that "direct physical evidence" boils down to "Was someone there to see it?" I think I trust multiple instrument readings and multiple methodologies confirmed by multiple investigators far more than I do an untrained eyewitness account; creationists tend to flip those two.

The declaration that "pronouncements of certainty" will "turn off normal folk" is also another creationist ploy, one rich in irony. They're the ones who have absolutist assertions; science has competing hypotheses and degrees of error. It's really a plea for help—they want scientists to emphasize the gaps, because that is precisely where their god lurks.

I have to disagree with Brian the Q-Chem Guy. Biologists tend to restrict their explanation to events after the appearance of life, but it's an artificial boundary, and actually a boundary that is almost certainly very, very fuzzy. It is the domain between biology and chemistry, and chemists in this field do not hesitate to state that life arose by Darwinian principles and other natural processes, requiring no divine intervention. Look up Thomas Cech and Andrew Ellington. Life is a process of interacting molecules. There is no élan vital, no magic instant in which we can say there was no life, and then there was life.
6.17.2005 12:19pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
Jeff Z. asks "Why do scientists get involved in the question as to whether God exists or has any influence on evolution, at least within the context of science"?
They don't! Or rather, the vast majority don't, whatever they privately believe. A very few publicly jump in and use the science to support some theological position (Dawkins, Miller, Behe).

Felix asks: "Actually, it's the evolutionist types who are more than just a bit limited in their presentation of facts, logic and reasoning. "
Do you want to provide some evidence for this statement?

"And, I'm not sure what you mean by "Asking for proof of god indicates they are seriously lacking in faith as well. I wonder why?" Whom are you refrring to?"
(you meaning DrJohn)
Basically, in terms of this issue, the idea is that religious people are supposed to have faith ('the evidence of things unseen') in God, etc., and when scientific creationists (original or new ID flavor) insist that science should/can support their beliefs, it gives the impression that, for them, faith *isn't* sufficient, that they need scientific evidence. "Trust, but verify," is a good motto, but presumably for most Christians it is not meant to apply to the Lord of all Creation. This isn't just balancing the testimony of religion and the findings of science, as many people do, it's implying that religion is in effect a wholly-owned subsidiary of Science, Inc, that God is falsifiable, etc.

"All I was asking for was proof for the ridiculous theory of evolution."
Go to Talk.Origins and look around - although remember, evidence, not *proof*. Could you tell me why you think evolution is a ridiculous theory? I mean, ridiculous is a rather strong word - you suggest it's not just wrong in a serious and dignified way, but absurd and probably laughable, without a shred of credibility . . .
6.17.2005 12:34pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Jeff Z

"since November, 1917, it has been pseudo-scientific atheists on the left and pseudo-Darwinian mystics on the right who are responsible for periodically making huge portions of the earth a nightmarish hell"

Ruthless lunatics and pseudo-science do indeed travel hand in hand.

That is worth remembering when you consider how conservatives in this country love to play games with, e.g., the scientific evidence showing that the earth is warming up and the scientific evidence showing that live evolved.
6.17.2005 12:40pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
And to be fair, conservatives aren't they only ones that play those games. But they sure do get more TV time when they do.
6.17.2005 12:46pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
Jeff Z. argues that" However, since November, 1917, it has been pseudo-scientific atheists on the left and pseudo-Darwinian mystics on the right who are responsible for periodically making huge portions of the earth a nightmarish hell."

Ok, so the period Nov. 1917 - Aug. 2001 was the Age of Evil Left-Wing Pseudo-Scientific Atheists and Right Wing Pseudo-Darwinian Mystics. Boy, am I glad that's over!

Sorry.
I'm glad you use reasonable qualifications and all, instead of insisting that Darwin was an evil racist who is was responsible for Nazism, etc. But I think there's still a distinction to be made re: the (religion:crusaders::evolutionary bio:nazis&communists) analogy. Science isnt supposed to be a moral guis.
Additionally, while Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade (and the Sixth Crusade was "the first major crusade not initiated by the papacy" - wikipeda), I don't think any equivalent scientific figure spearheaded those more modern atrocities . .

We have evidence - DNA tests, fingerprints, etc. - that prove he's guilty!
You mean you have evidence that leads you to conclude he's guilty!

If anyone's a fan of the The Practice - Intelligent Design is the "Plan B" movement. No, it's not that they're secretly trying to promote emergency contraception, rather the tv legal play . . . "Whether or not this accusation is true is immaterial. The point is to cloud the issue and raise "reasonable doubt."
What do you expect, given ID's modern founding father is a law prof?
6.17.2005 1:15pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
I dunno what happened there - I was trying to write:
"Science isn't supposed to be a moral guide (although it can be a pragmatic guide *for* morality). Religion is.

Goddidit! And you can't prove otherwise! And if you rule out the possibility, you're teaching religion! Teach the controversy! Nearly a month ago numerous IDologists got ridiculed for us. Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for them?*

* parodying a statement allegedly made by Dover, PA Board of Ed member William Buckingham, who has been a leader in the charge to teach ID there:
"By last summer, some members tried to stop the purchase of a biology textbook recommended by teachers because it mentioned Charles Darwin. The York Dispatch quoted one board member, William Buckingham, as saying in that debate: "Nearly 2,000 years ago, someone died on the cross for us. Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?"
Although this may not have been the case:
"Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal defense group representing the six board members, said Mr. Buckingham made that statement in another context, a dispute about the Pledge of Allegiance in 2003."
6.17.2005 1:25pm
Bezuhov (mail):
Congratulations! You've won the pissing contest. Strange how few have stuck around to continue to be pissed upon. Bummer.

It is intriguing to me, and as one generally sympathetic to the scientific method encouraging on one level and discouraging on another, that it seems the bullies have switched sides in this debate. Where one could once count on the anti-evolution side for appeals to authority, peer pressure, questioning of motives, name-calling, intimidation, and whatever other non-scientific rhetorical devices they could come up with, strangely these arguments now come from those ostensibly arguing for science.

This is encouraging in that if evolution has any validity, then one would expect some correlation, if not causation, between right and might - i.e. if the bullies are choosing the pro-evolution side, it is because it is the one most likely to prevail in the survival of the fittest idea sweepstakes. It is discouraging, however, in that the very idea of the scientific method is that it resists all these irrational appeals, preferring to place its trust in reason and reason alone.

Everything else is just noise. More and better discourse might ensue were the signal to noice ratio improved.
6.17.2005 2:13pm
Tom Donahue:
Dear Eugene,

Interesting post. There are some confusions in your eighth paragraph. From the proposition that "God had no part in the process of evolution" it doesn't follow that God doesn't exist. Unless, of course, part of your definition of "God" is "a being who necessarily exists and who had a part in the process of evolution." That definition would of course make the proposition "God had no part in the process of evolution" self-contradictory. But it would also beg the crucial question, which you would have to answer by mounting arguments to the conclusions that God necessarily exists and that God had a part in the process of evolution.

You also need to be careful about implying, as your eighth paragraph does, that for any x, x's holding that p is false entails x's disapproving of any belief system which holds that p is true. I hold that the proposition "God exists" is false, on many definitions of "God." But that doesn't entail that I disapprove of those belief systems which hold that the proposition "God exists" is true, on those particular definitions of "God."
6.17.2005 2:24pm
theophylact:
Just yesterday I came across a lovely passage in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, the letters of Richard P. Feynman:
It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different plants, and all these atoms with all their motions and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil -- which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.
6.17.2005 2:29pm
james (mail):
“The stage is too big for the drama.” – big is a term relative to the observer.
6.17.2005 3:04pm
vicstich (mail):
Bruce Anderson, you hit the nail on the head. It's totally bizarre. I can't think of a more humble, inspiring, and just plain in love with the mystery of the universe bunch of people than biological scientists. And yet they are the ones being accused of bullies? They aren't the ones lobbying Congress, hiring PR firms, talking like politicians, trying to push an agenda. Most of them are too naive to even at first consider the idea that people would try such nasty tactics. Those that have woken up are indeed angry: and rightly so.
6.17.2005 3:05pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Bezuhov

"Where one could once count on the anti-evolution side for appeals to authority, peer pressure, questioning of motives, name-calling, intimidation, and whatever other non-scientific rhetorical devices they could come up with, strangely these arguments now come from those ostensibly arguing for science."

Oh, boo hoo hoo. You want sober scientific facts? Go to www.pubmed.gov. Read all the papers about evolutionary biology. Then read all the papers there that describe the evidence that mysterious alien beings interfered with the reproduction of living things on this planet.

Or visit www.talkorigins.org for plainly written answers to your questions.

The change you you've noticed is simply that more and more people have taken the time to educate themselves about sleazeball creationist tactics and, yeah, a lot of us are mad as hell.

Why should I bother reciting -- over and over and over again -- basic science and universally accepted scientific facts (oh excuse me "highly confirmed theories") to people in the comment sections of blogs who (1) don't give a damn or (2) who lack the basic education to appreciate the evidence in the first place?

Let's return again to the Holocaust deniers. Imagine that a rich obnoxious anti-Semite pours millions of dollars into a public relations campaign which provides rubes with all sorts of bogus scripts to recite. So the Internet and public discourse becomes polluted with these jokers, all reciting the same tired canards, all of which have been debunked plainly and publicly a thousand times over.

How much time do we spend reciting those same facts and pointing out the same links and the same sources of information to the rubes before we are entitled to conclude: "You know what? You really aren't interested in the truth about the Holocaust. You're interested in creating confusion to increase the likelihood that a few other rubes will join your cause."

Evidently the answer to this question, in the case of creationists, is either an infinite amount of time or however much time it takes to gut the First Amendment.

"This is encouraging in that if evolution has any validity, then one would expect some correlation, if not causation, between right and might - i.e. if the bullies are choosing the pro-evolution side, it is because it is the one most likely to prevail in the survival of the fittest idea sweepstakes."

Evolution has prevailed over creationist garbage for the last 150 years in the only arena where its "fitness" is properly assessed: in the scientific arena.

The only reason we are having this discussion -- remember this -- is because creationists (i.e., conservative evangelical Christians, for the most part) want teachers to present discussions of deity-like beings in public school science classes as a serious "alternative" to the views of the overwhelming majority of scientists.

I realize that many Americans are simply incapable of understanding that not all opinions are equally valid when tested in the real world, outside of the protective bubble of their church or extreme right wing think tanks or wherever else their scripts are manufactured.

You can blame that on our nation's so-called "journalists."
6.17.2005 3:21pm
vicstich (mail):
Julie B
"It is that kind of hyperbole [that the age of the earth is as certain as the Holocaust], and the inability to understand limits in evidence, and relative strengths of knowlege, that turn off anyone who doesn't already believe in the scientific doctrine. To any reasonable person, those are very different propositions, which require very different analysis of evidence to evaluate, and about which there is necessarily are large difference in certainty, even if you accept both as true."

What you don't understand is that earth science has, in many ways, far MORE certainty than most historical events do. For instance, the age of the earth is something that can be measured and confirmed in many many completely different and indepedent ways. That all of these indepedent lines of evidence cross check and confirm each other, that they are consistent across the entire planet and even into the deepest reaches of observable space, is an extremely powerful method of evidence (it's always possible, for instance, that one or more methods may be in error. But what is the chance that they would all give the SAME error? Truth is the great coordinator of evidence: error gives random and uncorrelated results). That sort of cross-checking in the physical evidence is something that is rarely available for single events on a human scale, which often are very localized and transitory.

"A physicist wouldn't claim the certainty about an electron that you are claiming for evolution."

I think you're quite mistaken here: they would claim pretty much the same level of certainty: that all available evidence confirms and conforms the idea, and as such is the best approximation of the truth that we can ever have at ANY given time.

"Assuming that about the present and assuming that about the past are two different assumptions. Success in using the first assumption (about the present) to predict events informs nothing about the validity of the second assumption (that it holds true indefinitely into the past)."

There is no such thing as "success" in that assumption. It is unprovable in any direction because without it, nothing can be proven. Either you accept it or you don't, but you can't have historical evidence in one case (on the human scale) and reject it on the physical scale without some reason other than that you don't like the conclusion. When you are willing to accept the possibility that all experience is illusion and that the rules of reality could change at any time, past present and future prediction ceases to have any meaning.

"Since any claim about a created origin is reject a priori as matter of philosophy by the scientific establishment, claims about the lack of evidence are really only self-fulfilling."

Again, this is nonsense. If there were some evidence of a created origin, then it would be perfectly within the scientific purview. Many things which people once considered to be supernatural proved to be evidential and testable, and they were not ignored simply because they had been thought to be religious or supernatural. Either your creator had some impact on the universe, leaving evidence of its work in which case science is perfectly open to studying it, or it did not, in which case there is nothing science has to say about the manner one way or the other.
6.17.2005 3:23pm
Stephen M. St. Onge (mail) (www):
      Always interesting, the passions that attempts to discuss evolution invoke.

      We know that there are many, diverse life forms on earth, and the fossil record shows there were others, now extinct.  How did this come about?  The real dispute between neo-Darwinians and anti-Darwinians, as far as I can see, is that the neo-Darwinians START with the assumption the neo-Darwinist theory is basically true, and try to adjust it to fit the evidence as it develops, while the anti-Darwinians think neo-Darwinist theory is false, or at least might be, and want to discuss that possibility.  That discussion never takes place.

      Mark Madsen demonstrates one of the frustrating parts of trying to have an intelligent discussion on whether neo-Darwinism is true.

      He wrote: "In the underlying theory, fitness is a mathematical measure of the relative or absolute (depending upon the precise measure being used) rate of increase of traits within a population."

      So far, so good.

      "The rate of increase of a trait (under selection) is caused by some combination of real-world 'performance' advantages, relative to alternative traits."  Proof?  Evidence?  Logical Argument?  All I see is assertion.  How does one make any testable theories about the "performance advantages" of organisms, when said organisms were extinct before human observation and history began?

      paulhager's comment is another example of the frustration in trying to have rational discussions of science and religion.

      "Consider Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which tells us that it is not possible to simultaneously know the position and momentum of an elementary particle."  Actually, quantum physicists still argue about the meaning of the Uncertainty Principle -- is it impossible to know the precise location of an elementary particle, even though it has one?  Or do elementary particles not have precise locations?  Or do elementary particles not exist (maybe the reason 'elementary particles' behave like waves is because they are waves)?  Is Heisenberg's Principle true, or will it eventually be superseded?  And is God, if He exists, limited by Heisenberg's Principle?  How does God, if He exists, experience the Universe anyway?  And if God created a Universe such that the precise location of an elementary particle is uncertain, but God knows the precise probability distribution of where it might be, and knows this for all particles at all times, in what sense is this not omniscience?

      These are deep questions, dismissed with a shallow remark.

      Tylerh says that the current generation is defined by those who were most fit[*] in the prior generation, where "fit" means "those most successful at creating similar members in the next generation."  So what?  The question is, what causes change over time, especially relatively large scale change (fish to amphibians to reptiles to mammals, for example)?  That's what "survival of the fittest" is supposed to address.  The answer, as I understand neo-Darwinist theory, is that differential breeding success of some genetically determined phenotypes causes changes in the frequency of genes within the species.  Occasional random mutations cause new genes that interact with the old genes to cause new, somewhat different phenotypes.  These different phenotypes sometimes have better breeding success than the old phenotypes, and so the new, mutant gene spreads throughout the population.  Extend this process over all of the history of life on earth, and the current diversity of life is explained.

      But is this true?  Somehow, that discussion never happens.

      Tylerh also says that "Evolution is a testable hypothesis.

      "Darwin's natural selection triumphed over Lamarckian adaptation precisely because Darwin's theories tested better than the alternatives."

      If my understanding of neo-Darwinism is correct, there must have been a continuous intermediate forms between any known form and its ancestors.  Yet such intermediates are rare to the point of non-existance.  Instead, one form shows up in the fossil record, it stays essentially unchanged for its entire history, and it disappears, presumably because it went extinct.  Ever since Darwin, the argument has been that we should ignore this and believe the theory anyway.  That doesn't seem like a 'testable' theory to me.

      M. Simon illustrates another frustration in having rational discussion, when he writes : "Galileo evidently taught that church a lesson they do not want repeated."  As a matter of historical fact, my understanding is that no one yet knows what went on in the Galileo affair.  The author of "Galileo: Heretic" says that the original complaint, explaining what Galileo supposedly said that was heretical, has never been published.  He believes that Galileo's enemies accused him of something that might have gotten him in really serious trouble, and the Church substituted the 'advocating Copernicism' charge to justify a light punishment.

      True?  I don't know.  But given the difficulties in deciding what happened only four centuries ago, the certainties expressed about what happened before humans existed is somewhat puzzling.  Also amusing.

      cathyf states well what the anti-Darwinians find hypocritical and frustrating about neo-Darwinism.  The neo-Darwinists mouth the cliches about science being tentative and subject to test, challenge, and change, but question whether neo-Darwinism is true and you get attacked, frequently personally.

      M. Simon disputes Cathy F., saying:

      "i.e. it is not totally random. There are prefered outcomes.

      "In fact chemistry tells us some reactions are prefered over others.

      "Which tells me you have to recalculate your probabilities."

      Two different books by chemists that examined the current theories of the origins of life ("The mystery of life's origin :
reassessing current theories," and "Origins: a skeptic's guide to the creation of life on earth") said exactly the opposite -- the probability of reactions that don't lead to biological molecules is overwhelmingly higher than the probability of reactions that do.

      By the way, wouldn't it be a good idea, scientifically, to ask to see the probability calculations before explaining that they must be wrong.  Somehow this never happens.

      M. Simon also claims that Ashkazi Jews are about 12 IQ points smarter than the general population (true), that there is an evolutionary explanation (one has been proposed, but not proven), and that this is an example of "macro-evolution."

      There is no point in arguing over definitions.  According to neo-Darwinism, random mutation plus differential survival can gradually change one species into another, one class into another, one kingdom into another.  This is usually called "macro-evolution."  Whatever M. Simon calls such transformations, they have not happened with Jews, Ashkenazi or otherwise, who are demonstrably still members of H. sapiens.  It is precisely the question being disputed whether selection pressure that enhances an already existing trait, plus random mutations, explains the origins of new kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species.

      Later, M. Simon says: "Suppose the energetics of the universe have a prefered outcome.  Suppose once you have CTAG in an environment there is a significant enough probability that by random chance a minimum self replicator will self assemble given enough time."

      I was not aware that 'suppose' was a scientific argument, especially when 'suppose the energetics of the universe don't favor a preferred outcome' isn't, apparently, a scientific argument.

      "We are endeavoring to do this with our research in nano-self replicators."

      But you are deliberately manipulating and designing the nano-machines, using intelligence, no?  That's the point.  We wish to know whether, left alone, the universe is at all likely to create the diverse group of self-replicators we see here on earth.  You seem to be assuming it will happen, and did.  Those who don't share the assumption want evidence that it did happen that way.

      Finally, Mr. Simon assumes that Hiroshima "proves" the age of the earth.  It doesn't.  The evidence that the earth is 4.25 billion years old is the observed fact that isotopes of Uranium disintegrate at certain rates, plus the assumption that this rate has been constant, plus the second assumption that the lead isotopes that uranium ultimately disintegrates into were not there in any great amount when the uranium deposits were laid down.

      The assumptions are reasonable, but they remain untested and untestable, so far as I know.

      Shannon Love gets to the heart of things.  Certain matters are assumed by science (including the rarely stated by always assumed 'Anything that exists in the universe can be explained "scientifically," that is, by completely naturalistic forces.')  In the absence of a way of testing these assumptions, "science" and "scientists" should admit that any claim they have to explaining all things is a matter of faith.  Somehow, this never happens.

      I could continue, but I think this illustrates the problems.  The two sides will continue to talk past each other for the forseeable future.

THE SAUDS MUST BE DESTROYED!
6.17.2005 3:47pm
jongurney:
As a non-American I feel as if I am intruding in these discussions but anyway...
I think it is important for it to be recorded and understood that outside the US, or at least in the whole of Europe, there is no controversy. At all. I can't think of a single religious institution or organisation that would deny natural selection. Sure, you could find the occasional maniac, just as you'd find people claiming to believe that crop circles are made by aliens.
Now, this isn't just bragging. 'Religious' anti-evolutionists in the US really should realise what a tiny minority of "Western world believers" they are. They should realise that they seem to be seriously suggesting adopting a "science" curriculum that is radically different to every other in the Western world.
I'm a science teacher in the UK. I've tried to get students to have some sort of weigh-the-evidence, merits of both sides - it just doesn't happen. Even students with genuine &strong religious belief see ID as simply laughable &faintly embarassing, along with the 'God-of-the-gaps' "I don't immediately understand the origin of life therefore it was God" argument. In no way do they feel this challenges their belief, indeed why would it, given every organised religion (here) holds natural selection to be part of the elegant beauty of the Universe?
6.17.2005 4:00pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Stephen St. Onge writes

"the neo-Darwinians START with the assumption the neo-Darwinist theory is basically true"

False. Evolutionary biologists know that evolution is the best explanation to date for the evidence because no other scientifically testable theory has been proposed which explains that evidence as well as evolution.

Again, please educate yourself at www.talkorigins.org or www.pubmed.org. When you have a compelling alternative theory for the diversity of life on earth throughout history, submit to Science and Nature magazine. A Nobel Prize awaits, Mr. St. Onge!

There really is no point in reading the rest of your rant, but I did anyway.

I noted that you consider the question "How does God, if He exists, experience the Universe anyway" to be a "deep" question.

I consider such questions "philosophical pornography." People who dismiss such questions with shallow remarks value their time on earth, not to mention their sanity.
6.17.2005 4:15pm
Robert F (mail) (www):
I've always wondered just what is the big deal about some people choosing not to accept the end-all, be-all concept that evolution explains everything about life, and this especially includes those who think that the earth is only 6-10 thousands of years old. What is the harm? It is just not true that creationists are anti-science in general. They just have a problem with this one specific aspect of science which they believe contradicts their understanding of God.

What exactly are the real-world benefits of accepting the theory of evolution? Other than not being ridiculed by obnoxious evolutionary enthusiasts, I'm not sure what they'd be. 99.995 per cent (my approximation) of the people could spend their entire lives and do quite well without knowledge of, or belief in, evolution. We could still drive our cars, make babies and create anti-biotics. I don't accept all of its tenets and yet I still managed to get a B in a college course on evolution. Why is it so important that the masses accept it?

I find it quite curious how thin-skinned many evolutionists are. How dare anyone not accept the mighty orthodoxy of the grand theory of evolution. Anyone who doesn't is stupid and a member of the flat earth society. They shouldn't be allowed to play with sharp objects. Such arrogance and condescension isn't reflective of scientific thought.

Please keep in mind that I'm not so much arguing against the science of evolution, simply that the attitude of some of its proponents is unnecessarily nasty. Why exactly do they care so much? They act as if evolution is the equivalent of a religious belief. That couldn't be true, could it?
6.17.2005 4:29pm
paulhager (mail) (www):
In response to my post about incompatibilites between religious dogma and science, in which I said that an omniscient deity was precluded by Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Patrick said:

Heisenberg's theory more precisely says that we can't measure one of the properties without creating a related degree of uncertainity in the other. It does not directly speak to whether it is literally possible to "know" both the position and momentum. The way that Paul interpreted the uncertainity principle is another example of creating a false conflict between "hard sciences" and religion.

He merely restates my original point. Implicitly, one must "measure" something in order to have knowledge about it.

Imagine any superbeing you want. Try to come up with a way for that being to NOT have some degree of uncertainty -- "uncertainty" being a lack of perfect knowledge -- about any given subatomic particle WITHOUT recourse to miracles.

Q.E.D.

Of course, if one allows miracles, then science pretty much goes out the window. Thus the Omphal Hypothesis, which an earlier poster alluded to. This relates to the question that, since a naval is an artifact of birth, would Adam have had a naval? The answer is that because God is omnipotent, He could have created Adam with a naval even though Adam wasn't born of woman. God could have also created the universe to look like it was billions of years old, etc., etc. but the reality is what is stated in the Torah/Old Testament.
6.17.2005 4:44pm
vicstich (mail):
"The real dispute between neo-Darwinians and anti-Darwinians, as far as I can see, is that the neo-Darwinians START with the assumption the neo-Darwinist theory is basically true, and try to adjust it to fit the evidence as it develops, while the anti-Darwinians think neo-Darwinist theory is false, or at least might be, and want to discuss that possibility."

You know what, this is barely even worth aruging with. Anyone that can seriously look in the face all the hard work, research, and evidence that's been painstakingly worked out and say "well, you just assume it's true, just like those people who have done NO research, done NO work, and have NO grasp or interest in the actual evidence" is someone that's pulling the rhetorical equivalent of calling someone worse than Hitler because they won't lend you five dollars.

Anyone that can honestly claim, in the face of entire journals devoted to decades of discussion, that "Somehow, that discussion never happens." is just blowing smoke. No evidence? No logic? No testing? What do you think biologists spend their days doing: patting each other on the back?

"If my understanding of neo-Darwinism is correct, there must have been a continuous intermediate forms between any known form and its ancestors. Yet such intermediates are rare to the point of non-existance. Instead, one form shows up in the fossil record, it stays essentially unchanged for its entire history, and it disappears, presumably because it went extinct."

This is a flat out lie. There are many many lines of progressive change in the fossil record: something that, if you actually knew anything about what you're talking about, you'd know is something scientists never expected to be able to find, given how rare fossilization is (Darwin's own thoeory barely relied on fossils at all for anything other than the insight of extinction: he never expected the fossil record to actually be able to provide evidence on lines of descent). Unfortunately for your argument, however, there ARE some instances in which entire generations of creatures die and are preserved in layers: diatoms for one, snail shells for another. And what do we find when we examine such graveyard beds? Gradual change of this or that mophological feature. You can litterally watch speciation happen right in the fossil record in these lucky treasure troves of information.

Of course, that's not even considering the reality that you can find lines of descent between living creatures in almost exactly the same manner that Jerry Springer does paternity tests.

"The evidence that the earth is 4.25 billion years old is the observed fact that isotopes of Uranium disintegrate at certain rates, plus the assumption that this rate has been constant, plus the second assumption that the lead isotopes that uranium ultimately disintegrates into were not there in any great amount when the uranium deposits were laid down. The assumptions are reasonable, but they remain untested and untestable, so far as I know."

And that's the problem isn't it? You DON'T know. It's apparent to any scientist reading this that not only don't you know, but that, more damningly, you never even bothered to find out before writing this. Not only do you only have a vastly simplified grasp of the use of radioactivity in dating (do you even know what concordancy is without googling it, or know what it has to do with your claim about lead or any other product "already" being there?), but you don't even know that radioactivity is something that is itself checked against many other methods of dating.

Carbon dating, for instance, which is only good for fairly recent things, is checked against tree ring data from ancient and petrified forests going back thousands of years as well as other methods. Similar annualized (or sometimes more irregular and hence more complex) processes abound in the natural world, and they are all used to cross check one another in a manner that is vastly more complicated to figure out than a few sentances on a messageboard. Putting all of this stuff together is like assembling an extremely complex multidimensional jigsaw puzzle: something that really only properly fits together in one way.

But no: you say: not testable, right? Just a few assumptions about the consistency of radioactive decay (nevermind even the simplest of things like that if radioactive decay were once faster, we'd see evidence like, oh, I don't know, matter in the earth being constantly blown apart by shotgun blasts of radioactive particles), a single isotope, and away we go with our wild speculations about the age of the earth! One really has to wonder why anyone would need to take more geology than a high school course if it really were all that simple.

Again, it's utterly no wonder at all that scientists get exasperated and angry over stuff like this. It may be harsh, and people may whine about it being elitists, but good grief, experts are experts for a reason.
6.17.2005 4:53pm
Kev (mail) (www):
DrJohn:"Julie B: Bring on the evidence for a diety or its effect on material processes, and then, and in fact ONLY then, can it be discussed."

But wait, doesn't that work both ways? Bring on the evidence of the lack of a deity, and then it can be discussed.
6.17.2005 4:53pm
vicstich (mail):
"I've always wondered just what is the big deal about some people choosing not to accept the end-all, be-all concept that evolution explains everything about life, and this especially includes those who think that the earth is only 6-10 thousands of years old. What is the harm?"

There is no real harm. All scientists object to is someone falsely presenting their personal beliefs as science.

And why might scientists be touchy? Well, I dunno, might'n it be being called liars, Satanists, conspirators, trying to destroy America, deny Jesus, and so forth. Might it be working for decades on extremely complicated and specific issues, trying to understand them and figure them out, and then having some santimonious person who knows nothing at all about the subject jump in and claim that you're all wrong and you're just taking this or that on faith anyway?

It's like the guy who gets raging drunk at an office party, picks fights, vomits all over the carpet, harrasses women, and then in the morning wonders why everyone is irritated with them.
6.17.2005 5:01pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Robert F.

"I've always wondered just what is the big deal about some people choosing not to accept the end-all, be-all concept that evolution explains everything about life, and this especially includes those who think that the earth is only 6-10 thousands of years old. What is the harm?"

Good question. And what is the harm of someone not believing that the Holocaust occurred?

There is no harm per se in holding unreasonable beliefs based on wishful thinking or mere lies.

You can believe whatever you want. You want to believe that Sasquatch roam the North woods? Excellent! You want to believe that the psychic John Edward can communicate with your dead aunt? Awesome for you! You want to believe that you were probed by aliens? That is simply wonderful.

But it appears that you also expect me to coddle adults who spout their nonsense in public as if their opinions were based on facts and not the mutterings of cranks.

Perhaps I should not be allowed to take into account your bizarre fantasies about, e.g., the age of the earth when I hire you for a job which requires analytical skills. Certainly I should suppress my laughter no matter how stupid your beliefs. You believe the Holocaust never occurred? Whatever. Here's the keys to our school bus.

How many times does it need to be repeated?

The only reason we are having this discussion is because creationists (i.e., conservative evangelical Christians, for the most part) want teachers to present discussions of deity-like beings in public school science classes as a serious "alternative" to the views of the overwhelming majority of scientists.

"Such arrogance and condescension isn't reflective of scientific thought."

You're absolutely right. That's because creationism in 2005 has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics.
6.17.2005 5:24pm
Rich:
"But wait, doesn't that work both ways? Bring on the evidence of the lack of a deity, and then it can be discussed."

No, it doesn't work both ways. The burden is always on the person proposing adding something to a theory -- the theory doesn't have the burden to disprove everyone else's assertions. So, if evolution as a theory does not include a diety, then if someone wants to add the influence of a diety into evolution, its up to that person to provide some evidence as to why the theory is better with the addition of a diety than without.

And it makes sense -- since you can never prove a negative -- and as others have repeatedly pointed out, you certainly can't prove that a diety has had no impact on science or evolution -- the burden is placed on the one making the assertion to prove it (which can be done, if there's evidence for it). Otherwise, you would be in a situation where every hypothesis which can't be disproved -- and that would be every hypothesis -- becomes equally valid. But I guess that's what the creationists and ID folks want anyway, so their strategy of trying to shift the burden to the scientists to prove that a diety didn't play a role make sense...

I don't remember where the quote originally came from, but I remember one of my physics professors telling us that the rule of thumb is "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
6.17.2005 5:27pm
vicstich (mail):
"And it makes sense -- since you can never prove a negative"

Oh yeah? Prove it.

(I agree with you in general, and you're right about the burden of proof for other reasons, but I always find the statement that "you can't prove a negative" delightfully self-refutingly absurd.)
6.17.2005 5:40pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Robert

"They act as if evolution is the equivalent of a religious belief. That couldn't be true, could it?"

You are correct. Believing that living things spawn imperfect copies of themselves and have done so for many hundreds of millions of years is not the same as believing that plants can spontaneously combust and hold conversations with humans.

Another way that you know evolution is not equivalent to religion is that you would never hear self-proclaimed "scientists" attacking it on TV "news" programs if it was a religion, the way that creationists are allowed to attack science routinely in the mainstream media with very little in the way of serious rebuttal.

Religious beliefs -- no matter how bizarre or unsupported unless -- are given a great deal of latitude by our "mainstream media."

An interesting side-effect of the rise of fundamentalism is that this "free pass" may change and we might finally get to see Jim Dobson and other arrogant hate-mongering preachers asked to support their frequent assertions about the clarity of various "instructions" allegedly found in whatever translation of the Holy Bible they are citing that day.
6.17.2005 5:43pm
Steven Thomas Smith (mail):

"What exactly are the real-world benefits of accepting the theory of evolution?"


If you count national defense, public health, and the biotechnology sector of the economy, then I'd say quite a bit.

To support just two of these claims takes a moment to search the web.

A 1994 Science article on Ebola transmission in Africa cites a 1997 Molecular Biology and Evolution article on the origin and evolution of the Ebola and Marburg viruses. [http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/303/5656/387, http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/14/8/800]

Understanding the origin and evolution of these hemorrhagic fevers has very important consequences for prevention and treatment of these terrible diseases (read Richard Preston’s Hot Zone for an "eye-watering" account of their effects).

Also, understanding the origin and evolution of these diseases is essential to their detection as biowarfare agents. The former Soviet Union weaponized Marburg and many other diseases [see, e.g., http://gslc.genetics.utah.edu/features/biowarfare/].

And this is the result of a single search—it's just as easy to find numerous examples of how understanding the origin and evolution of human beings is essential to the health sciences.

So, yes, understanding and accepting the fact of evolution is very, very important.
6.17.2005 5:44pm
Steven Thomas Smith (mail):
Rats—that should say a 2004 Science article (of course).
6.17.2005 5:45pm
Paul Lucas (mail):
1. Science looks at the material component of an explanation. Due to methodological materialism, science can't tell if there is, or isn't a supernatural component to an explanation.

2. The "goddidit" of creationism offers an alternative material mechanism. Instead of organisms reproducing and populations altering by natural selection, genetic drift, etc. creationism says that God runs manufactures plants and animals and then places the completed product on the planet. The manufacturing process is unknown and is often called "miracle", but it is still manufacturing the organism. Just like Paley's watch was manufactured and then placed on the heath.

3. So, when Shermer says we don't invoke God, what he really means is that we don't invoke the direct manufacture by God.

When you say "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and we can explain that without bringing in God’s intervention.", I say your "God's intervention" = "God manufactures"

5. When Shermer says “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.” he steps out of science into philosophy/belief. Standard Christian theology has it that God sustains the universe. That means that NO PROCESS happens without God's will. Combine hydrogen and oxygen with a spark, and this belief says that God, every time, wills it that the atoms combine and you get water. Since we can't set up an experiment where we know God is absent, and thus see if we get water then, Shermer can't say what he says.

Again, what Shermer should have said is “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God did not directly manufacture human beings.” Did God use evolution to create humans? That's the belief of theistic evolution.

BTW, forget Ockham's Razor. It doesn't work at determining truth. Ask any biologist working in signal transduction or transcription control. They threw the Razor out years ago.
6.17.2005 6:06pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Elsewhere Michael Shermer has compared Holocaust denial to creationism at greater length. What he shows is nearly identical is not the iniquity or malicious motives of the believers, but rather their epistemologies. And, frankly, he's pretty persuasive on this score.

For example, Holocaust deniers love to play up the differences, sometimes significant, between different groups of Holocaust recognizers. There is a split between those who believe that Hitler intended and planned out the Holocaust far in advance (intentionalists) and those who believe that it arose out of the question of what to do with the millions of Jews who fell into German hands after the conquest of Poland and the western part of the USSR, only after the war had begun (functionalists). Somehow from this debate, one can cherry pick a few quotes and try to assemble an argument that the Holocaust didn't happen at all. The parallel to creationists is obvious: they are always falling over themselves to cherry pick some out-of-context quotes from the dispute between Gould, Eldredge, and other fans of punctuated equilibrium versus more orthodox Darwinists, to conclude that evolution didn't happen at all.

As a second example, the Holocaust deniers made a big deal out a downward revision to one particular statistic at the Auschwitz memorial (IIRC, the number of non-Jewish Poles slaughtered there), without mentioning that the number had been inflated for political purposes by the Polish Communists and wasn't believed by Western historians in the first place—not that their argument would be that much stronger if it had been. Likewise, creationists jump up and down at every revision of evidence about evolution, that something is younger or older than previously thought, and so on, without paying the least heed to how insignificant the change is to the scientific narrative as a whole.

The argument that the earth is 10,000 years old requires as much suspension of disbelief and the same disregard of plain-view evidence (even tree ring dating) as the argument that the earth was created last Thursday. The only difference is that there is a large group of Americans who believe that their holy book says the former, and as far as I know no such book says the latter.
6.17.2005 6:06pm
vicstich (mail):
"When Shermer says “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.” he steps out of science into philosophy/belief"

Just as long as you accept that it's no differnet than saying "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but alien spaceships made out of creamcheese had no part in the process." It's an extra-scientific assumption, to be sure, but one based on lack of evidence for something.

"The "goddidit" of creationism offers an alternative material mechanism. Instead of organisms reproducing and populations altering by natural selection, genetic drift, etc. creationism says that God runs manufactures plants and animals and then places the completed product on the planet. The manufacturing process is unknown and is often called "miracle", but it is still manufacturing the organism"

This is a nice cluster of semantics, but what exactly does this "unknown process of manufacture" add to the more honest statement of "we have no explanation or testable claims to make about what was done."

"Standard Christian theology has it that God sustains the universe. That means that NO PROCESS happens without God's will. Combine hydrogen and oxygen with a spark, and this belief says that God, every time, wills it that the atoms combine and you get water. Since we can't set up an experiment where we know God is absent, and thus see if we get water then, Shermer can't say what he says. "

Again, this untestable and basically unintelligible belief has about as much importance in science as the idea that everything in the universe happens because bouncybubblebabybathwater. Not only is it untestable (and hence unimportant to the work and findings of science), but it doesn't even explain anything in any meaningful way even philosophically. What does it mean to "will" anything or "sustain" a universe? I submit to you that neither you nor anyone else have any actual clue what those things mean or imply is being done by God: there's no way to further describe what is supposedly going on.

"BTW, forget Ockham's Razor. It doesn't work at determining truth. Ask any biologist working in signal transduction or transcription control. They threw the Razor out years ago."

Uh, no. The Razor is essentially the tool of parsimony. If you think that it has something to do with the complexity or simplicity of some system, then you don't know what you're talking about. Parsimony is alive and well in science, and likely always will be.
6.17.2005 6:19pm
Paul Lucas (mail):
Visitch writes: "Again, this is nonsense. If there were some evidence of a created origin, then it would be perfectly within the scientific purview."

All this depends on HOW creation happened. Since science can't test for deity directly (experiments can only look at material causes), the only way to get deity into science is through the back door. Propose a material mechanism by which deity works.

The most famous example is Flood Geology. Yahweh caused a world-wide Flood which caused all geological features. Notice we have 3 claims here:
1. Yahweh caused geology.
2. Yahweh caused a Flood.
3. The Flood caused geology.

Science can only really test claim #3. Geological features were not caused by a world-wide Flood. Claim #3 is false. Well, that kills claim #2. But it doesn't touch claim #1. After all, Yahweh can cause geology by some other means.

So, let's propose a mechanism God used to create:
1. God created the universe by the Big Bang.
2. God created galaxies, stars, and planets by gravity.
3. God created life by chemistry.
4. God create the diversity of life by evolution.

Notice again we have the basic 3 claims in each statement:
God created the diversity of life.
God causes evolution.
Evolution causes the diversity of life.

We have lots and lots of evidence for a "created origin" now.

You can say: evolution works on its own without God.

I ask: How do you know? Have you ever tested evolution where you KNOW God was absent? No. Not that I can tell. What you have to do is say: evolution works without God. But that's not a scientific statement. There's no data. It's a statement of faith.

Now, you are welcome to your faith. But you can't pass it off as valid science anymore that creationism can pass off their theories as valid science.
6.17.2005 6:20pm
Felix (mail):
Dan S., For some evidence for my statements, see my original comment on this thread here

As for your other point, while possibly true for a few people, it's not at all true in general -- it's not that the faithful need to have science on their side to justify their beliefs, it's that science is already on their side since it is part of creation, and it's only that we are trying to prove to the faithless that science is not on their side.
6.17.2005 6:20pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
Robert F mistakenly believes: "it is just not true that creationists are anti-science in general. They just have a problem with this one specific aspect of science which they believe contradicts their understanding of God."
T
That's not really true. While there are different varities of creationist, etc., creationism has a problem with *any* aspect of science which they believe contradicts their reading of Genesis. Geology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, you name it. ID appears to be reverting to this pattern, and scientists in other fields are becoming concerned. Although it's true that they're not anti-science in the sense that they won't use computers or avail themselves of modern medicine . . .

"What exactly are the real-world benefits of accepting the theory of evolution? "
You know *why* you shouldn't just pop antibiotics any time you feel icky, *why* when you do take them you shouldn't just stop halfway through because you feel better (and are presumably more likely to follow these guidelines, and *why* we shouldn't be using large quantities on farm animals. You know why the instructions on your bag of gentically-engineered Bt producing corn tells you to plant non-Bt buffer areas, and presumably you are more lilkely to do so. . . .

"99.995 per cent (my approximation) of the people could spend their entire lives and do quite well without knowledge of, or belief in, evolution. "
This applies to a lot of stuff.

"We could still drive our cars, make babies"
ok
" and create anti-biotics"
without understanding why so many people were dying of antibiotic-resistant infections - and since we wouldn't understand, we wouldn't be able to take effective action. The .005% of people who would understand what was going on would try to tell us, but it would be like the poor guys in movies who run around trying to tell people that the aliens are coming or to beware of the pod people, etc . . .

Why is it so important that the masses accept it?
Nobody's demanding that the masses accept it - I've yet to see not just knowledge but adherence to evolution become a requirement for graduating, getting a driver's license, having babies, or getting a job. All people are saying is: this is what science says, this is what should be taught in science class.
6.17.2005 6:30pm
vicstich (mail):
"Since science can't test for deity directly (experiments can only look at material causes),"

Again, you're starting off on the wrong foot. Science examines the shared and confirmable experience of the world around us. You can call that "material" or whatever, but the fact is that the limits of science are exactly the same as the limits on any potentially resolvable debate on there being an external truth among us humble creatures. Since I have no idea what something that is "non-material" would even be or be like, and I very much doubt you can provide any useful explanation either, then I don't see the relevance of the issue. What matters is that if there is some being that has done SOMETHING that has affected the rest of the world in SOME WAY, then we are perfectly capable of determining whether or not it happened. If it had no observable or measurable effect, then there is nothing much we can say about it.

"Propose a material mechanism by which deity works."

No, propose an explanation for how something happened, and then provide evidence that it did indeed happen that way. Thhe burden of explaining how the diety itself works and does what it does on its end at all is an even tougher burden, but it isn't necessary to establish the particulars of what happened, and what effect it had on the things we see.

"Science can only really test claim #3. Geological features were not caused by a world-wide Flood. Claim #3 is false. Well, that kills claim #2. But it doesn't touch claim #1. After all, Yahweh can cause geology by some other means."

You've missed the point. If your claim is that the mere existence of geology is sufficient to claim that God caused geology and call that science, you are mistaken. That's as silly as claiming that elves cause it to rain, and as evidence, every time it rains, I say "look, there go those elves again!" If the purported explanation adds nothing tangible or testable to our understanding of reality then it is basically tacked on and unecessary nonsense that serves no purpose. A million other equally untestable "explanations" could be substituted in its place. How would you decide among them?

"So, let's propose a mechanism God used to create:
1. God created the universe by the Big Bang.
2. God created galaxies, stars, and planets by gravity.
3. God created life by chemistry.
4. God create the diversity of life by evolution."

Again, none of this actually means anything, because it tells us nothing at all about what role God supposedly played in any of these things. You call it a "mechanism" but you haven't outlined ANY mechanisms or processes by which God supposedly did these things. Either god played some role in making them the way they are, doing this in some way, effecting events in some way, in which case this role is detectable, or else you aren't really saying anything other than "it happened for unknown reasons in an unknown way." Tacking on the word "God" to something like that doesn't add anything at all. We might as well tack on the word "Bejiltifish!" and claim that we had added some meaningful additional explanation.

"We have lots and lots of evidence for a "created origin" now."

No, you have no evidence for it at all, anymore than you would have evidence for "elves cause rain."

"I ask: How do you know? Have you ever tested evolution where you KNOW God was absent? No."

There is no evidence that there is any further factor called "God" that is part of the process we observe. Have you ever tested the theory of gravity where you KNOW that invisible green elves are not magically willing objects to move closer to each other? No. But... who the hell cares unless you can either provide some evidence of this or at least even show that gravity would require them in order to work?

"Not that I can tell. What you have to do is say: evolution works without God. But that's not a scientific statement. There's no data."

You have it backwards. Either we have data that God has something to do with the process, or else we have no use for that additional and unecessary hypothesis anymore than the millions of other completely meaningless claims I could make about untestable phenomena that could be at play.
6.17.2005 6:42pm
Steven Thomas Smith (mail):

"Even Stephen Hawkins when writing about the big bang theory proposes the possible existence of an original creator.. May cosmologists do.. isn't it posssible to posit that an original creator started it all and evolution follwed"


Stephen Hawking actually said


"So long as the Universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But, if the Universe is really completely self-contained, it would have neither a beginning or end, it would simply be. What place then for a creator?"


The recent confirmation of the Big Bang doesn't hold any solace to creationists and anti-naturalists. Measurements of the random fluctuations of the cosmic microwave background from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP) shows that the universe is 13.7 billion years old (to within 1%), and confirm very precise predictions made by the by the inflationary theory of the big bang. (If you haven't seen the famous picture of the big bang yet, you're missing out on an immense privilege.)

MIT professor Alan Guth, discoverer of this theory, explains that the big bang and the universe could have come about from absolutely nothing, because the negative energy stored in gravity exactly balances the positive energy stored in regular heat and matter:


"The universe could have evolved from absolutely nothing in a manner consistent with all known conservation laws."

"The question of the origin of the matter in the universe is no longer thought to be beyond the range of science ... everything can be created from nothing ... it is fair to say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch."


These physical concepts are explained at a high-school physics level in Guth's outstanding popular book The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins.

Napolean asked about the role of God in Laplace's Celestial Mechanics, to which Laplace famously replied "that hypothesis is not necessary." It seems ridiculous to us now that God is necessary to pull the sun and the planets through the sky. Why should it be any less ridiculous that God is necessary to balance the energies in the big bang?

Invoking the supernatural has not been necessary to explain any natural phenomenon—should schools yield to the spiritual discomfort this fact causes some in society?
6.17.2005 7:03pm
Stephen M (Ethesis) (mail) (www):
Why should I bother reciting -- over and over and over again that 2+2=4, surely little children now come equipped with math skills without being taught?!

No, if you are going to put yourself in the path of the uneducated you will have to continually educate them. It is merely the level of lack of education and the topic that controls what you will have to do.

When your understanding evolves that far, welcome back to discourse.
6.17.2005 7:28pm
vicstich (mail):
How's about less defensive snark, and more responding to substantive content.
6.17.2005 7:32pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
Felix sez: "Dan S., For some evidence for my statements, see my original comment on this thread here [Behe, Phil, etc]"
Oh c'mon, that old stuff? That has no credibility. I thought you were serious!

"As for your other point, while possibly true for a few people, it's not at all true in general -- it's not that the faithful need to have science on their side to justify their beliefs,"
I don't know - I'm just saying what it looks like from the outside. Also, many people seem obsessed with the idea that evolution is destroying the moral order - in fact, that's kinda the basic premise of the ID Wedge Strategy. Teach kids they come from monkeys, and they'll act like aninals, etc.

" it's that science is already on their side since it is part of creation,"
Well, science is 'on the side' of creation. Whether people have interpreted the other accounts correctly . . .
" and it's only that we are trying to prove to the faithless that science is not on their side"
Good luck. Remember, complaining about elitist Darwinists conspiring together to keep ID folks down - not cool.
6.17.2005 9:15pm
Dan S. (mail) (www):
"Well, science is 'on the side' of creation."
By which I mean science has the potential to reveal how stuff came about, and has told us a lot already, not that it validated Genesis!
6.17.2005 9:21pm
DrJohn (mail):

DrJohn: If you want to address anything I actually said, go ahead. The only thing even vaguely related is the tired claim that evolution only has one meaning.

It is commonly used to refer to common decent. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution )


I'm sorry, but you've mistaken me for common in this discussion. I have a real PhD, and have spent some time on this.

Still, let's go with your common definition.

To claim that the genetic analyses used this very day within a species to determine relatedness is suddenly not usable when looking across species is entirely inconsistent, and I think it must take 1) a large amount of dogmatic thinking (see Rokeach, 1960) to keep one's mind somewhat normal, 2) flat out dishonesty with oneself to the point of not actually looking at the data, 3) stupidity in that one cannot actually understand the information or 4) being really insane.
6.17.2005 10:43pm
DrJohn (mail):
Felix:


DrJohn, it's not whether I want a lawyer or anyone else to deal with biology, it's whether I want someone to apply logic and reasoning when looking at an argument.

Actually, it's the evolutionist types who are more than just a bit limited in their presentation of facts, logic and reasoning.


First, it is not about logic until the data are in. Period. Science is decidedly not a philosophical game, nor one best played by lawyers. For the former, no data or reality check is required and for the latter the point is persuasion, not accuracy. Johnson is decidedly a liar on many points.

You argue from your ignorance (a logical fallicy, BTW) that there are no data (you called them facts. Sorry, this is incorrect and had you spent, what, one day of a weekend looking about you would have seen that there are huge piles of facts. In short, through your logical error(s) (I don't know it so it must not be known | my poorly chosen authority says there is none so there must not be any) you have remained ignorant.

Look to:

http://www.pandasthumb.org

and



With the latter which has a nice debunking of all creationist claims (even the halos and dino blood lies), look around for the March post of the month, the one that has a bit about airplanes. See what you might just look like to the educated.

Here, I found it so it will be an easy one step link.



Enjoy the read - may it bring insight and knowledge.
6.17.2005 10:59pm
DrJohn (mail):
Here is an interesting link from PZ's site. It has a link to the original.



A precis:



I'm sick and tired of self-appointed so-called experts and their know-it-all, arrogant attitude. Why don't you people stay out of things you know nothing about? To hear you tell it, you know everything and the rest of us are stupid.



I've seen this script before. At this point I'm supposed to get all humble and apologetic and say "There, there. We didn't mean to make you feel bad. You're really a good person and a valuable human being and your opinions do count."

I'm tired of playing that game.

* We're not "self-appointed" or "so-called" experts. We are real experts. We're not "authority figures." We are real authorities.

6.17.2005 11:08pm
DrJohn (mail):
WTF is wrong with links? I even went to tinyurl and it did not post!

Felix, the last two links are for the talkorigins archive.

http://talkorigins.org

and the PotM (it is Mar05)

http://tinyurl.com/aywpw

PZ's site:

http://tinyurl.com/dnblw
6.17.2005 11:13pm
DrJohn (mail):

DrJohn:"Julie B: Bring on the evidence for a diety or its effect on material processes, and then, and in fact ONLY then, can it be discussed."

But wait, doesn't that work both ways? Bring on the evidence of the lack of a deity, and then it can be discussed.


No, Kev, it does not work both ways. Ever tried proving that a small dragon is on your left shoulder causing you to write everything here, but passes that responsibility to the leprechaun in your car for more serious discussions?

This, your suggestion, is called shifting the burden of proof. (See an intro text on logic, or some of the excellent web pages on this. Beware of one kook, though.) The person asserting that an entity, of any kind, is extant must demonstrate that objectively.

Of course maybe you would rather be accused of a crime and be required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you did not do the crime, and should keep your time. That would be the legal application of your suggestion. It is called the Napoleanic Code. Not a nice thing, that.
6.18.2005 12:41am
DrJohn (mail):
I wrote:

Ever tried proving that a small dragon is on your left shoulder causing you to write everything here, but passes that responsibility to the leprechaun in your car for more serious discussions?


Sorry, Kev, there should be a NOT in there, after 'dragon is' and before 'on'. Blame it on cheap wine. (I make much more entertaining mistakes on expensive wine!)

This is also covered in the topic of 'proving the negative'.
6.18.2005 12:47am
DrJohn (mail):
Bruce Anderson!

Your post at 6.17.2005 2:21pm has been picked up in toto by the Leiter Report.

http://tinyurl.com/adgm7

Congrats!
6.18.2005 1:11am
Bezuhov (mail):
The question remains unanswered. What need have we for this hypothesis?

"God had no part in the process."

The question of proof is superfluous to the prior one of validity.
6.18.2005 2:33pm
DrJohn (mail):
Bezuhov

The question remains unanswered. What need have we for this hypothesis?

"God had no part in the process."


Science has no need whatsoever. I have never seen any god or god act mentioned in the area of scientific literature I have looked at. I have never referred to any god or god act in any of my publications. (Even a statistical comment on a prayer paper.)


The question of proof is superfluous to the prior one of validity.


What?
6.18.2005 5:25pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Science has no need whatsoever. I have never seen any god or god act mentioned in the area of scientific literature I have looked at. I have never referred to any god or god act in any of my publications. (Even a statistical comment on a prayer paper.)"

Well, then you evidently agree with our illustrious host*, which leaves me puzzled as to why you felt compelled to offer, what?, 15? comments on this topic.

* - Closing argument above: Yet scientific popularizers and educators have to deal with the fact that in our society, many people are still religious, and still accept descriptive religion (at least ostensibly). If the popularizers and educators describe science as taking no stand on the existence or influence of God, and as leaving such questions to others, I think they’ll have great success; and, whether they want to or not, they will indeed further undermine descriptive religion. But if they insist, in my view unnecessarily, that the standard scientific theory does take a stand that God is not influencing the world -- and that accepting evolution as the best scientific hypothesis while seeing God’s hand in its operation is an inferior conclusion that is worthy of scientific criticism -- then they will encounter much more resistance.


"The question of proof is superfluous to the prior one of validity.

What?"

Were I to follow the troubling example of you and your colleagues, at this point I would now hold you up for ridicule, assuming you to be ignorant of the most basic of scientific principles. Surely you know how to analyze the validity of a hypothesis?

Such a leap would say more about my own ignorance than yours, however, so I leave it to you to reconsider your own previous comments regarding my competence, and those of others who sought to participate in this discussion. Thanks for the condescension - always a pleasure!
6.18.2005 5:54pm
DrJohn (mail):
Bezuhov

Surely you know how to analyze the validity of a hypothesis?


Actually, no, I don't. I can look at and analyze the validity of instruments (physical, psychological and evaluative) meant to establish dependent measures, or the validity of methodology generally to test hypotheses, even the results of said tests. I can also test hypotheses, but usually that is an issue of reliability, the validity being on the front end of the project (that instrument bit I noted). But judging the validity of a hypothesis is a new one on me. Perhaps you meant to evaluate the degree of relatedness to any theory from which it is derived? Maybe the ability of any method to actually test it?

Feel free to clarify that sentence. I am always happy to learn new things. Even a cite would be helpful.

Bezuhov

Such a leap would say more about my own ignorance than yours, however, so I leave it to you to reconsider your own previous comments regarding my competence, and those of others who sought to participate in this discussion. Thanks for the condescension - always a pleasure!


What comments regarding your own competence (I think this is the second response to any of your posts).

But I am glad that we agree that the hostmaster was arguing against a strawman of his own design.
6.18.2005 10:39pm
DrJohn (mail):
Stephen


Finally, Mr. Simon assumes that Hiroshima "proves" the age of the earth. It doesn't. The evidence that the earth is 4.25 billion years old is the observed fact that isotopes of Uranium disintegrate at certain rates, plus the assumption that this rate has been constant, plus the second assumption that the lead isotopes that uranium ultimately disintegrates into were not there in any great amount when the uranium deposits were laid down.

The assumptions are reasonable, but they remain untested and untestable, so far as I know.


The zircon crystal I mentioned does not form with lead. Period. It has to do with the particular shell structure of the atoms of uranium. Hence, in these crystals, at their formation, there was ONLY uranium. Based on the amount of lead, etc. within these crystals, we can calculate their age. There is, because of the 100% uranium content at the start, no need to consider what amount of lead was about. It was zero. Hence, in this case, the only assumption made is that radioactive decay is stable.
6.18.2005 10:44pm
Don Meaker (mail):
What if G-d created the world 5 minutes ago, and created the fossils in the ground and us with all our memories.

Then, like Einstein in the elevator pondering gravity, we would be unable to detect any difference between the two alternatives. (alt 1: G-d created us and alt 2: evolved over time)

However, Evolution theory gives us some ability to predict. Palentologists predicted the existance of primitive homids, and lo! they were found (some 10 of them so far). Creation doesn't give the ability to predict the same way. Evolution predicts the development of resistant disease germs. Creation: no.

I hold with evolution, but know that we are always looking for the counter example. Evolutionary theory has developed over time in response to new findings.
6.18.2005 10:45pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"But I am glad that we agree that the hostmaster was arguing against a strawman of his own design."

I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. In my experience, one is likely to find as many strawmen as actual human beings in internet comments sections such as these. If only the wizard behind the curtain could give all these strawmen a brain!

As for validity... let's see, a couple minutes on Google comes up with the following:

http://www.mnstate.edu/wasson/ed603/ed603lesson14.htm

A decent explanation. I quit practicing science far short of perfection, so I'm a little fuzzy on the concept myself these days. I seem to recollect that it has something to do with making sure one is asking the right question before embarking upon the search for an answer.

As for your questioning my competence - my apologies, that was Bruce Anderson. Wonder how I got you two mixed up? Let's look at the record of your statements:

"The author, Volokh, is a bit limited in his presentation of factual information. Most of the creationist types are. Asking for proof of god indicates they are seriously lacking in faith as well. I wonder why?"

If you knew the first thing about Volokh, you would know that he is no creationist. Not content to make an ass out of you and me, you add insult to injury (ultimately, your own, and regrettably, any good points you may have made) by further passing judgement upon his faith. Do you truly want a biologist to deal in theology? Fine with me, BTW, but not, given your statements, with you.

"One needs to think a bit WITH evidence, facts, etc., compare the lines of evidence (including physics - but I doubt you read Dr. Shermer's article) and then come to the conclusion.

Do you even know the definition of evolution?"

Condescension? Moi?

"To claim that the genetic analyses used this very day within a species to determine relatedness is suddenly not usable when looking across species is entirely inconsistent, and I think it must take 1) a large amount of dogmatic thinking (see Rokeach, 1960) to keep one's mind somewhat normal, 2) flat out dishonesty with oneself to the point of not actually looking at the data, 3) stupidity in that one cannot actually understand the information or 4) being really insane."

Why stop at one insult when four will do just as well? Might I suggest the following?



And finally...

"First, it is not about logic until the data are in. Period. Science is decidedly not a philosophical game, nor one best played by lawyers. For the former, no data or reality check is required and for the latter the point is persuasion, not accuracy. Johnson is decidedly a liar on many points."

Only three put-downs in this one - progress!

I think this was also the statement that reminded me of the importance of validity. You can have all the accuracy you want, but if the validity is off, it ain't science, or at least good science.
6.18.2005 11:28pm
Bezuhov (mail):
I seem to share your difficulty with links. The book I was suggesting is Changing Minds - The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds, by Howard Gardner (yes, PhD, Harvard). Oddly enough, it lacks a chapter on gratuitous insults. Perhaps the second edition will be more comprehensive...
6.18.2005 11:34pm
DrJohn (mail):
Bezuhov

I seem to share your difficulty with links. The book I was suggesting is Changing Minds - The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds, by Howard Gardner (yes, PhD, Harvard). Oddly enough, it lacks a chapter on gratuitous insults. Perhaps the second edition will be more comprehensive...


Yes, I think the link issue is related to the 60 character limit on a closed line (i.e. within the HTML codes).

Thanks for the book note. ISTR he is a psychologist. They are very concerned with validity. In fact, if you took a look at a book I ordered as a supplemental text (Dictionary of Statistics &Methodology, Sage), you'd note that 'asking the right question' isn't mentioned. Yes, I agree that it is important to know 1) what you really want to know (dependent variable/independent variable realtionship) and 2) what your methods and instruments actually reflect (dependent measure), but yours is not the use of the term validity to which I am accustomed, or taught, or have been taught. Perhaps it is philosophical as opposed to methodological in application.

On the genetic analysis quote, you note four insults. English syntax would require you to note that it is an observation (inconsistency in application of methods and interpretation of results) and the submission of only one possible cause for that error in thinking. You failed to note the OR in the sentence severing the four possible causes of the inconsistency. I don't know the poster well enough to make a case for any one of them. (My bet, isolated belief structure noted by Rokeach.)

Read more of Johnson on pandasthumb.org and talkorigins.org. Perhaps you can look up his 'Wedge Strategy', part of the DI's theocratic goals. (Really, they have a twenty year plan on that. Thank Ahmanson for his bucks going that route.)

As to condenscension, I am decidedly not one to give equal weight to opinions simply because someone can type. Read the link here:

http://tinyurl.com/dnblw

and do go to the original site for the full 'rant'. I am 100% behind Dutch's thoughts. The Mar05 post of the month from talkorigins also is in the same vein.

I have not a problem with people asking questions, saying this, that, the other thing and is this really they way it works. Note Kev's post in regards to his question, honestly put, about proving a negative. I even gave a personal example, though I doubt Kev is a criminal. But when they come armed to the teeth with arrogant belief and ignorance, irrespective of the source of that error, repleat with conspiracy theories direct out of the imagination on or about how scientists do this or that with flat political motives (ignoring any fact at all!) well, I am beginning to have little patience. (No, not all of these have appeared here. This is a general complaint.) Perhaps it is age. Perhaps it is in the latent disrespect these idiot posers have for the efforts I've (and others) put in in my own life to develop a reasonable, productive, and usable knowledge base. Knowledge takes work. Opinion and belief don't.
6.19.2005 5:37pm
Peter S. Chamberlain (mail):
Interestingly, although I usually read Voloch Conspiracy, among other legal sites, I stumbled across this debate between evolutionists and crationists during a Google search dealing with proving a negative proposition with scientific, or scientific and other, evidence, in preparation for a very interesting upcoming legal matter, in which I could use some help, in which I have the burden of proving that I am "not disabled" and that I will not become disabled in the future. The procedural history of how things got to this point, covered by verbatim Reporter's Records and other documentary and actual and alleged expert evidence, includes multiple denials of effective assistance of counsel and other things you would never believe without reading these verifiable parts of this incredible story. I already have affidavits from knowledgeable expert and lay witnesses, and have been promised more. An awful lot of what I have turned up in Google searches dealing with proving a negative seems to deal with the evolution v. creation debate rather than anything within the jurisdiction of a U. S. Court constrained by the First Amendment. If anyone might be interested in helping with this, PLEASE CONTACT ME.

I'm going to duck this latest round of Darwin's v. God's respective self-appointed representatives, though I do have a number of thoughts on it as a lawyer rather than a biologist. Except for its implications for law in a country which both the liberal American Constitution Society and Al Gore, and most people in the conservative gorups and George W. Bush, have noted that human rights were orginally based upon the idea of individuals "endowed by their Creator wiht certain unalienable rights . . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," which language was clearly reflected though not copied verbatim in hte Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Fourteenth Amendment, as further evidenced in the Federalist and innumerable other contemporary records, there seems no point in either side trying to conduct this debate, which actually appears to have been going on endlessly for millenia before as well as since the origins of modern science. Far too much of both sides' efforts are devoted to ad hominem attacks on members of the other side, such as this bit about holocaust deniers, unworthy of anyone claiming either faith or scientific qualifications. Then you get the debates over the shape of, and who can or will sit at, the table. Then you quibble over the burden of proof. The two sides don't speak the same language, and most of the target audience or audiences don't really understand either of them, but it usually really doens't make much difference because they often spend most of their time shifting down into "Me critical Parent, You bad Child,don't you dare contradict me!" voices both of them learned before they could spell evolution or creation. Neither is willing to address the other side's questions. Proving who is better at formal college debating, which I have both done and judged, much less proving who has what degree or a higher class rank or IQ, doesn't prove, and often doesn't shed much light upon, the merits of the controversy.

Atheism, especially at the militant level driving this debate, is a religion, not a scientific position. So, "of course," is Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, etc., or any of their major or infinitely smaller divisions. Everybody has one or more gods, wehther they profess belief in a God or not.

I know a lot of professing conservative and modernist Christians. The only Holocaust denier I have ever met had flirted with spritism, as had Thomas Edison, but had no relationship to a temporal religious body. He's a brilliant investigator formerly employed by the U. S. Senate, but tends to be extremely skeptical across the board. Having had a transcriptionist from the Neuremburg trials as a secretary and knowing how this experience had affected her, known one lawyer who had a major role in that trial, and known some concentration camp survivors, etc., I don't have to take a "leap of faith" to believe in the Holocaust. That does not mean that I could prove it to a court or a teenage kid, but trying to "prove" that it never happened would be preposterous.

Would you, as a lawyer, be inclined to believe me if, after revealing that I was born without a large piece of brain, that I am a mental patient, and that I have been an inmate in an insane asylum, I were to tell you that I know one case in which a judge knowingly appointed defense counsel from the law firm which he knew, as a matter of widely published official record, was on retainer to the adverse party whose people had already filed affidavits against the defendant in that case? Would you believe me if I told you that another attorney representing the same defendant signed in, in writing, as defense counsel and then, at the behest of an attorney from the STate Bar, abandoned the counsel table and any pretense of loyalty to his client to serve as their sole fact witness against his client, including testifying to matters of alleged medical and psychiatric expertise to which no one else would attest, and did all of this, on the record, in front of the Grievance Committee, in his client's absence? I have verbatim records proving those facts, among others, that are not much easier to question in court than the authenticity of those ancient writings called the Old and New Testament. We accept testimony that, and because it will, put the witness, a self-proved felon, in prison or get him executed; why not the testimony of someone who knows that it may well get him killed though he has done no real wrong?

The militant evolutionist atheists quoted or posting here, or elsewhere, betray an abysmal, willful ignorance both of their perceived enemies who believe in God and of the actual or alleged claims of those they seek to rebut, not to mention to deny a place in the pluralistic democrac that gives them the freedom to preach atheism. Far from knuckle-dragging ignoramuses, most of the fundamentalist Christians I know are more literate than the general population, and, since I have spent much of my life in college towns, include college professors, some in math and hard sciences, and other professionals. I have talked to one Christian who was an expert on RNA finishing up his Ph.D. in molecular biology at MIT. There are a lot of Christian medical doctors.
6.19.2005 8:02pm
Kev (mail) (www):
"No, Kev, it does not work both ways. Ever tried proving that a small dragon is on your left shoulder causing you to write everything here, but passes that responsibility to the leprechaun in your car for more serious discussions?"

DrJohn, I think we misunderstood each other earlier. I wasn't speaking specifically to the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the existence of a deity as it pertains to evolutionary theory, but rather in general. You can no more prove that one doesn't exist than I can prove that he does; it seems that, in many cases during this discussion, evolutionists assume the non-existence of a deity in the same way that creationists assume the existence of one. Sorry if I wasn't clear about that.

"Sorry, Kev, there should be a NOT in there, after 'dragon is' and before 'on'. Blame it on cheap wine. (I make much more entertaining mistakes on expensive wine!)"

Sadly, my lack of clarity above can't be blamed on any sort of recreational beverage whatsoever. ;-)
6.19.2005 8:51pm
vicstich (mail):
Peter S. Chamberlain, that sure is a long post, but I'm not sure what the point of any of it is.

"Far from knuckle-dragging ignoramuses, most of the fundamentalist Christians I know are more literate than the general population, and, since I have spent much of my life in college towns, include college professors, some in math and hard sciences, and other professionals. I have talked to one Christian who was an expert on RNA finishing up his Ph.D. in molecular biology at MIT. There are a lot of Christian medical doctors."

I'll start arranging the awards ceremony for you! Yes there are many smart Christians, and no, I haven't stopped beating my wife or stuffing straw men. Meanwhile, creationists are duplicitious hacks, whether they are Christian or not. And it's perfectly fine for an acredited historian sociologist to compare them to Holocaust deniers because their sociology as a group and treatment of evidence and debate works in precisely the same manner. Having studied both groups extensively, and not simply tossing out the comparison for giggles, it's a fair point.

"Neither is willing to address the other side's questions."

Bull. What question do you think has been left unaddressed by scientists? The fact is, creationists and ID proponents are not in this for knowledge or honest debate. Questions are answered over and over, and yet they keep getting brought up fresh in other venues. This is a PR game for them, not a inquiry of knowledge. Science and scientists deserve better.

"Atheism, especially at the militant level driving this debate, is a religion, not a scientific position. So, "of course," is Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, etc., or any of their major or infinitely smaller divisions. Everybody has one or more gods, wehther they profess belief in a God or not."

What deep, incisive logic! So if not believing in god is itself a god, does that mean that Christians believe in roughly 4000 gods since each other god they don't believe in is also a god?

Is not being a racecar driver a type of racecar driver? Is bald hair color?
6.19.2005 9:21pm
DrJohn (mail):

DrJohn, I think we misunderstood each other earlier. I wasn't speaking specifically to the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the existence of a deity as it pertains to evolutionary theory, but rather in general. You can no more prove that one doesn't exist than I can prove that he does; it seems that, in many cases during this discussion, evolutionists assume the non-existence of a deity in the same way that creationists assume the existence of one. Sorry if I wasn't clear about that.


Why pick on biologists? Every scientist ignores the supernatural. Period.+ There being no objective evidence, and none have been found to date that is reliable, it is basically ignored. As I noted, I have never seen it discussed in any of the literature I have read, nor did I ever need to appeal to it in any of my own papers. If you consider ignoring a positive statement, well, it isn't. It is flat neutal. Volokh has established a strawman of sorts. I don't know of any educator that would affirmatively deny any group of dieties. To do so would be a bit much. However saying it (spirits, leprechauns, devils, angels, djinn, etc.) isn't necessary to a scientific explanation is just stating the facts.

For instance, have you EVER seen an episode of CSI where the crew working on the crime appealed to a werewolf?* Noted the headline a any local paper MAN MURDERED BY REINCARNATED HITLER (subheading: A Reincarnated Elijiah, the Jewish Prophet, Tried to Get Even with the Chancellor of the Third Riech - But LOST!). Just plain won't happen.

Still, I remain unconvinced that that damn dragon of yours isn't doing the talking. I at least hope it's cute and can save on your airline fares....

+Unless actually debunking a claim of supernatural involvement, like, say, the light through a window drawing a picture of the Virgin on a wall being interpreted as an actual appearance of the alleged Mother of God. Sacramento, CA some years ago.

*Not including a human lycanthrope, a psychiatric disorder, or a misclassification of some folk with a problem with hair expression (full facial, and I mean like a damn dog, hair at age nine, for instance).
6.19.2005 10:51pm
Ed Darrell (mail):
It is troubling to me that any attorney would not immediately recognize the flaw in the Gallup organization's phrasing of the question. It means that, not only is the admittedly religious-leaning Gallup unable to state accurately what the theory of evolution is and what it says, but so are lawyers, who are supposed to be among the better educated among us.

Clearly we need to double or triple our efforts to teach evolution, and to teach it accurately, and not confuse students with "intelligent design," or any other form of creationism, or any other form of pseudo-science, crank science, or cracked pottery.

If we are going to debate serious issues, it is important that we know what the issues are. If those charged with making the legal system work can't quickly determine what is going on, our culture and nation are in deep difficulty.
6.19.2005 11:58pm
Ed Darrell (mail):
One other thought: In California, under the Mermelstein rule judges may take judicial note that the Holocaust occurred.

Evolution is among our best evidenced scientific theories. It is much better understood than gravity, to pick one popular example -- it has been only in the past few years that it was determined gravity is carried on gravitons, and only in the past three years that it was determined how fast gravitons travel (though I don't think anyone is sure which way they travel). We cannot manipulate gravity. In contrast, we much better understand genes, the units that carry evolution, and we can manipulate them.

In that regard, those who claim that evolution is a "mystery" and poorly understood make such claims despite the facts, facts that judges could probably take as judicial note to the effect that evolution occurs, and that evolution theory is the best explanation for our observations of nature.
6.20.2005 12:10am
Bezuhov (mail):
"In that regard, those who claim that evolution is a "mystery" and poorly understood make such claims despite the facts, facts that judges could probably take as judicial note to the effect that evolution occurs, and that evolution theory is the best explanation for our observations of nature."

The term "mystery" doesn't necessarily denote poorly understood, just incompletely understood. To claim complete understanding of anything, BTW, is poor science and furthermore has the perverse effect of precluding new discoveries.

Sure evolution happens, but it is not necessarily the only thing that happens and our current understanding of how it happens is not necessarily the best of all possible understandings. Even your last claim is unsustainably narrow. Relativistic phenomena are best explained by Einstein's work, not Darwin's.

You can argue the "bad people believe this" line til you're blue in the face, but it will be ineffective for three reasons:

1. The internet is awash in conspiracy theories, you'll get lost in the noise.

2. Those on the losing side of scientific controversies have taken this tack for centuries. Look what good it did them.

3. It may be politics, but it is not science. Bad people also breathe, but I don't see you therefore holding you breath, and a good thing too. As scientists, you might be better served arguing from what you know best.
6.20.2005 9:04am
Felix (mail):
DrJohn and Dan S.,

Thank you both for starting off my Monday morning with a good laugh. If anyone wants a laugh as well, I highly recommend reading their "responses" to my posts.

Other than giving a good laugh, they're also very good examples of various logical fallacies and other argument "tricks," such as accusing the other side of doing what you're doing.
6.20.2005 10:51am
Bezuhov (mail):
"In fact, if you took a look at a book I ordered as a supplemental text (Dictionary of Statistics &Methodology, Sage), you'd note that 'asking the right question' isn't mentioned."

If you interpreted Genesis this literally, you'd be a creationist. The various procedures involved in effective experimental design for the purpose of minimizing threats to validity can be usefully summarized as taking care to "ask the right question". You do pick nits with the best of them, but this was not your finest hour.

Given that neither 1)what you really want to know nor 2) what your methods and instruments actually reflect have much to do with God, I'd say the original hypothesis has serious validity issues. Oh yeah, that's what I said in the first place.

"As to condenscension, I am decidedly not one to give equal weight to opinions simply because someone can type."

Dude, it has nothing to do with opinions - I certainly haven't given equal weight to yours, primarily because for the most part, frankly, they are pretty inept, showing little awareness of anything outside your discipline or even the basic rudiments of common courtesy.

I will allow myself one assumption. I will assume that your blindness to goings on outside the lab is attributable to your single-minded devotion to the work you've done inside it. For that work, I am grateful.
6.20.2005 2:02pm
Bezuhov (mail):
I should have just stuck with the following quote, as this horse has been beaten well beyond dead:

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed... To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true relgiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly relgious men."

- Al Einstein
6.20.2005 2:08pm
ohwilleke:
Keeping our eyes on the prize, the real problem is that 45% of Americans purport to be young Earth creationists, primarily as a result of religious beliefs (biblical literalism) which are rare in any other part of the world where Christianity is a predominant religion. The 37% who think evolution is "God driven" is beside the point. Why are 45% of Americans YEC believers? Because the variety of Christianity that take the biblical literalism position with respect to the YEC reading of Genesis is far more common in the United States (and in particular in the American South) than in any place else in the world. ("Answers in Genesis" is the most popular web site supporting this belief).

Evolution most certainly is a threat to this belief system. So is most of science. Essentially all of modern biology, geology and physics, to name just a few are at odds with this belief system.

This is not the fault of evil scientists or secularists. This is a result of a large proportion of the American people adopting a religion which holds views about the nature of the reality that is starkly at odds with empirical fact. If 45% of the American public wants to believe somethig that is starkly at odds with empirical fact (and most of them do not hold the sophisticated out that the world was created to look like it was old) then those 45% of people are going to have a rough time in life. Lots of Americans believe in astrology too, but it doesn't mean we should teach astrology as part of the public school curriculum.

The establishment clause has to have some sort of neutral standard. Requiring science to be based on theories based on empirical evidence, rather than majority belief, is a good place to begin.
6.20.2005 3:50pm
Hank Barnes (mail):
Simple question to proponents of Darwinian Evolution:

1. What scientific test would falsfify this hypothesis?

For you slow folks, falisify means: If we get result "A," the experiment supports the hypothesis that people evolved over time through natural selection. If we get result, NOT "A" the experiment does not support the hypothesis that people evolved over time through natural selection.

To me, this seems like an easy question, and yet, when I've asked it before, I get a lot of static, umbrage, insults and evasions. I find it odd.

Any takers?
6.20.2005 6:33pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Mr. Barnes, I find it most odd that
you botched the meaning of "falsify". If that makes me a slow folk, I think it makes you a condescending ignoramus, doesn't it?

There are, however, innumerable observations that would falsify our current understanding of Darwinian evolution, e.g., evidence that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. You may be surprised to learn that "Barney" does not count in this context.
6.20.2005 7:01pm
Hank Barnes (mail):
Mr. Lazarus,

Citing Wikipedia as authority, while dodging the question. Typical.
6.20.2005 8:30pm
Bezuhov (mail):
He didn't dodge the question, he gave an example (humans and dinosaurs co-existing).

"If 45% of the American public wants to believe somethig that is starkly at odds with empirical fact (and most of them do not hold the sophisticated out that the world was created to look like it was old) then those 45% of people are going to have a rough time in life."

They seem to have done fine for 2,000 years. If they decide they want something better, it's there for them, if they don't, it's a free country (Yes, I'm aware they are forcing your children at gunpoint to toe the Christer party line as we speak. Whatever.)

I suspect that scientific types would make a lot more in-roads via engagement than attack - nothing Christians understand better than being persecuted, after all. The whole things started out as an ingenuous strategy for surviving and thriving under persecution, and still functions that way for lots of believers.

That was the strategy that was pursued (engagement) with the mainline denominations, and was largely successful. Too successful, in fact, as large swaths of the mainline forfeited even the attempt to take scripture seriously (how would you like to be told that you could read the Origin of Species, as long as you could only take it metaphorically?), leading a relatively mass exodus of believers to those churches where it was.

If one grants them their point that faith requires at least an attempt to take scripture literally, you'll find a great deal of flexibility among evangelicals on the details of those attempts.
6.20.2005 8:51pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Mr. Barnes, this medium does not allow me to scan in chapters of Sir Karl Popper, but here is Popper himself on the subject.
Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks. [My emphasis]
Since you don't understand falsifiability, it's not surprising you don't understand the validity of my experiment: we look for human remains and dinosaur fossils in the same geologic stratum, and if we find them, then evolutionary theory has been falsified.

Now, why don't you tell us an experiment that you agree would falsify Young Earth Creationism (which I believe you adhere to, having wasted enough time on talk.origins to recognize the style of argumentation).
6.20.2005 11:50pm
Bruce Anderson (mail):
Bezuhov

"If one grants them their point that faith requires at least an attempt to take scripture literally, you'll find a great deal of flexibility among evangelicals on the details of those attempts."

I think the world would be better off if we refuse to engage in condenscension towards the bizarre beliefs of fundamentalist religious types.

People don't like to be ridiculed for holding unnecessary and unproductive beliefs. A significant fraction will, under the relentless pressure of articulate scorn, learn to keep their nonsense to themselves and/or throw their worthless fantasies into the trash can.

The people who live in the Southern United States -- and elsewhere -- will be far far better off when number of Biblical literalists who have accepted gay bigotry, anti-science, and embryo worship as the main tenets of their faith has diminished to near zero.
6.21.2005 2:29am
Hank Barnes (mail):
Mr. Lazarus,

You're petty comments don't impress me. Here's an easy Popper website. Here's an easy general description:

Falsificationism is the idea that science advances by unjustified, exaggerated guesses followed by unstinting criticism. Only hypotheses capable of clashing with observation reports are allowed to count as scientific.

Here's an easy example:

1. "Gold is soluble in hydrochloric acid"

This is falsifiable, hence scientific. If you put gold in hydrochloric acid it either: (a) dissolves or (b) does not dissolve.

If (a), you have a scientific statement that is true.
If (b), you have a scientific statement, but it is not true. (I'm not a chemist, but I think (b).)

Very simple. Very easy. Not controversial.

Falsification is necessary, but not sufficient, to make a scientific statement that is true.

Now, I have no problem with the "truthfulness" of the following statement:

2. Over time, humans evolved from bacteria.

But, is it scientific? To be scientific, there must be a test, generating a result, that if demonstrated, would refute the statement.

What is that test and result, please?

As for Young Earth Creationists, I have no idea who or what they are, other than assuming that they believe the earth is young. Myself, I believe the earth is millions of years old. So, since I am not one, I will let them falsify their own hypotheses.

I am surprised that Darwinin Evolutions are so strident and brittle, when asked to satisfy the same scientific criteria that all disciplines are required to satisfy.
6.21.2005 1:47pm