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ID's Threat to Science and Religion:

It is unfortunate that so many conservative thinkers fall have fallen for the idea that Intelligent Design (or "ID") qualifies as science. ID may well be true -- that is, there may well be a God or other designer who created the cosmos and set the universe in motion -- but that does not mean it is science. ID offers no testable hypotheses or anything else that can be validated empirically. While some works of ID may be interesting conjecture or provocative philosophical exercises, they they do not entail rigorous applications of the scientific method.

In Friday's column, Charles Krauthammer makes this point, and challenges the effort to inject ID into scientific education.

Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God. It is a "theory" that admits that evolution and natural selection explain such things as the development of drug resistance in bacteria and other such evolutionary changes within species but also says that every once in a while God steps into this world of constant and accumulating change and says, "I think I'll make me a lemur today." A "theory" that violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the "strong force" that holds the atom together?

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase " natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.

Krauthammer further argues that the question whether God designed the universe or is the ultimate force behind the laws of the universe is a question for religion, not science -- and that conflating the two threatens both.
The relentless attempt to confuse the two by teaching warmed-over creationism as science can only bring ridicule to religion, gratuitously discrediting a great human endeavor and our deepest source of wisdom precisely about those questions -- arguably, the most important questions in life -- that lie beyond the material.
Evolution is not a threat to religious belief, nor should religious truth threaten science. Once school boards recognize this fact, and stop trying to inject one into the other, both religion and science will be better off.

anonymous coward:
"Evolution is not a threat to religious belief..."
I am not at all sure what this means. Clearly science does not threaten all religious beliefs, but it is certainly a threat to some--like those which rely on the literal truth of Genesis.

Science cannot extend beyond natural explanations, but religion in practice is not limited to the fuzzy stuff "beyond the material." (I suppose Krauthammer thinks it should be.)
11.21.2005 9:51am
Medis:
Insofar as a given religion depends in part on its ability to provide explanations or predictions with respect to observable phenomena, obviously science can in fact be a "threat".

But I agree that even in such cases, religion is rarely well-served by cloaking itself as science or pseudoscience.
11.21.2005 10:01am
Edie:
I think you, and Krauthammer, have hit the nail on the head.
11.21.2005 10:03am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I'd like to hear a debate between IDs and evolutionists on one topic: why in hades do we have an appendix, an organ whose sole function is to give us appendicitis?

Its inclusion is decidedly unintelligent.

And on the other hand, one would have thought an organ that serves no purpose save to kill (until about 70 yrs ago) its owner would have evolved away long ago.
11.21.2005 10:03am
Tommy Esq.:
I believe that the real problem Christians have with the teaching of evlolution is that (a) it is in direct conflict with (at least a strict interpretation of ) the Bible; (b) it is taught as a factual matter, rather than a hypothesis which is laregly unproven; and (c) there is no discussion of the problems with the theory. As to the last two points, there is a fair amount of evidence that evolution occurs, but there is little (i.e. no) evidence that the kind of massive effects that are attributed to evolution have occured. We have not only not found the "missing link" between ape and man, we also have not found the missing link between any of the diverse species. Further, the kind of event that would have led to sexual reproduction - the development of egg and sperm, the development of gentialia to allow the transmission of each, the development of the womb, etc., would have had to occur in both male and female, at the same time, in a fashion that the two developments were compatible to one another, in the same physical location such that the male and female could interact. I fully admit that none of this proves that evolution did not occur, but these are significant problemds to blithly ignore based on the scant evidence favoring the theory.

The continued pushing of such a specious theory as a factual matter must feel like the direct teaching against Christian beliefs.
11.21.2005 10:05am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Not to mention, high level evolutionary theory comes very close to metaphysics. It tries to answer the question "Who are we and where did we come from?" This is traditionally the realm of religion or philosophy.
11.21.2005 10:07am
Honest Question:
I'm not a scientist nor a mathmatician, so a question for those who are:
My understanding of evolutionary theory is that it claims that natural features can be explained through a process of (1) Random mutation and (2) Natural selection.

My understanding of the basic theological objection evolutionary theory is that randomness is at odds with a universe of meaning derived by divine plan, and thus that it is (1) rather than (2) that poses the greater theological problem.

My question is this: Can these be reconciled through chaos theory? My understanding of chaos theory is that it claims that patterns lurk within even seeming chaos. If so, perhaps the seeming randomness of evolutionary theory could be patterned and thus possibly compatible with divine plan?
11.21.2005 10:08am
bearing (mail) (www):
I'm with you --- Evolution is not a threat to religion, nor vice versa.

But I believe that because I'm not a Biblical literalist.

"School boards" are made up of ordinary American citizens for the most part, and guess what --- a lot of ordinary American citizens are Biblical literalists.

So I'm skeptical that "school boards" in general will ever "recognize" that evolution and religion aren't in conflict. For many people, evolution and their religious sect are very much in conflict.

It would be better to hope that "school boards" would recognize that biology classes in government schools should avoid waxing philosophical about what all this wonderful diversity of life, which is not entirely explained at this time by science (is anything?), MEANS.

I recommend the liberal use of the phrases "apparently" and "appears to," as in "The genetic mutations appear to be random."
11.21.2005 10:12am
Henriet Cousin (mail):
That the appendix is proof of evolution is well known (What all who study the matter agree is the Truth is what is known.)

There is no "link" between the apes and Man missing or otherwise. Apes and Man descended from a common ancestor, which may or may not be found but not identified as such.

There are at least nine biblical Creation stories! The Big Band Theory reads like a Judeo/Christian conspiracy to tell the most commonly know biblical account as science--"Let there be light and there was light," etc.

Science can only take us back to a nano second or so before the Expansion. God is to be found before the Singularity.
11.21.2005 10:17am
Per Son:
Appendices are genetic leftovers. They are large and useful in herbivores. In humans they are just shrinking away. Give a million or so years - and they will be gone with the sagital crest.
11.21.2005 10:21am
Medis:
Tommy,

My own experience is that biology teachers, and biologists in general, discuss the various problems that arise within evolutionary biology all the time. I think what they don't do, however, is claim that evolutionary theory in general is uniquely problematic in that sense.

Incidentally, we have found a lot of the links between humans and their common ancestors with the other modern apes in the fossil record (modern humans, of course, did not evolve from other modern apes, but rather they all evolved from common ancestors). What we haven't found is every link in the chain, and we may never do so, given that fossilization is not exactly an ideal recording method.

In fact, we are arguably getting a lot more useful information at this point from DNA studies, rather than fossils. In that sense our picture of human evolution, in conjunction with the evolution of other modern apes, is developing much more rapidly.
11.21.2005 10:21am
bearing (mail) (www):
Incidentally, Tommy Esq., let's not lump all Christians together here as threatened by evolutionary theory. For example: The Catholic Church explicitly teaches that there is no conflict between scientific attempts to explain the origin of life and theological ones. They are linked in that the one may shed light on the other, of course. Here is the quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


159 Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."



To clarify, the phrase "does not override moral laws" refers not to the discoveries science makes, but to the means by which science is carried out --- it's not objecting to the acceptance of truth that appears to conflict with the Gospel, rather, it's objecting to performing evil experiments (e.g. on human subjects without their consent).

And this applies only to the 30 percent of American Christians who are Catholic. Surely, many of the remaining 70 percent of American Christians would agree, either because their church allows them to or because they've come to that conclusion on their own.
11.21.2005 10:24am
Chukuang:
It's pretty clear that evolution is threat to some religious ideas, and certainly to many ideas held by many people in the U.S. But the many commentators who note that religion is not helped by pretending to be science are right. For an alternative approach to the relationship between religion and science, note that the Dalai Lama recently said that all beliefs of Buddhism that can be should be tested scientifically. Those that don't hold up to such tests should be dropped.

As for the appendix, seeing this as a "problem" for evolution depends on the idea that human beings as we presently exist are some sort of final and ideal result of the process of evolution. Evolutionary theory, of course, says nothing of the sort. We are but a series of points in an endless process of change, and a process that works quite slowly at that. There's no reason to believe that we will necessarily be optimized in every way for every environment. Personally, I'm still pretty pissed that I don't have a prehensile tail, but I'm happy with my thumbs.
11.21.2005 10:30am
Houston Lawyer:
Traditional Christian teaching is that faith cannot be based upon what our senses are able to observe, but that faith itself is a gift from God. Consequently, trying to prove the existence of God through the scientific method could possible be construed as heretical.

Many Christians have no problem reconciling the evidence for the theory of evolution with their faith. However, there are a large number of people who believe that you can believe only one or the other. I believe that the teaching of the theory of evolution as indisputable fact, including the integral part that life just spontaneously happened, has undermined the faith of a large number of people.

Clearer teaching on both sides would be helpful, but would not cause the conflict to go away.
11.21.2005 10:31am
Medis:
bearing,

I think it is interesting how different religious people in general, and different Christians in particular, see these issues. For example, Daniel suggests that evolutionary theorists are necessarily encroaching on theology because they are dealing with certain basic questions, but I think others focus on the nature of the answers, rather than the nature of the questions, and think that it is clear that science rarely if ever comes close to theology.
11.21.2005 10:33am
Curmudgeon:
How is this different than string theory, generally accepted as science but just as unproveable as ID?
11.21.2005 10:34am
SKlein:
I don't recall if the "Slifkin Affair" has been discussed here. If not, the 2 sentence synopsis is that Slifkin is an ultra-orthodox (haredi) rabbi and scientist who was declared a heretic after publishing a book attempting to reconicle the biblical creation story with evolutionary theory. The resulting controversy has been extraordinarily divisive within the ultra-orthodox community. This link: http://atwood.co.il/godol/Slifkin_Salem_and_the_Senator.pdf is to a terrific article analogizing the controversy to the Salem witch trials.
11.21.2005 10:37am
frankcross (mail):
Lots of misunderstanding or word games here. Science recognizes nothing as "indisputable fact." However, the theory of evolution is about as well supported scientifically as the theory of gravity. There's no reason to teach it as if it were seriously doubted. Contra earlier posts there is a great deal of evidence for macroevolution and a number of "missing links" on the transition from ape to man (rather than just one; evolution would not predict just one). Moreover, the creation of the universe and spontaneous generation of life is not an "integral part" of evolution, it is an entirely different scientific question. The criticism of evolution is in essence a criticism of science itself.
11.21.2005 10:38am
anonymous coward:
I believe string theory makes falsifiable predictions, just not ones we can test yet. (I am not claiming falsifiability is a coherent definition of science, though it is pretty good in practice.)
11.21.2005 10:40am
Medis:
Curmudgeon,

As a general proposition, it seems to me that the scientific theories that have been perceived as most threatening to religion, at least in Western History, have been those which somehow undermine the sense that we humans are a special part of God's creation. So, one notable historical example was the dispute over whether the Earth was the center of the Universe. And I think the main trigger in this dispute is the idea that the evolution of our species is just one example of a general process that applies to all other species as well.
11.21.2005 10:43am
PersonFromPorlock:
I'm not religious so, if I may wag dyslexic, I don't have a God in this fight. But I think the idea that chance is the rule and ID the exception is flawed. We know that new species can be created by intelligent design because we (or at least our genetic engineers) do it. If the world is supposed to work consistently then the onus, logically, is on those who believe species are created by blind chance to show that human intelligent design is the exception. Not easy to do, since the scientific assumption is that there's nothing exceptional about people.

But if we're 'typical', then our most direct evidence of how the world works is our experience of ourselves. We seem to work by will, and therefore, by extension, the world works by Will. ID is consistent with this, while evolution-by-chance is not.

That the world works by Will may be false, but it is something that needs to be proved to be false since the logical presumption, based on our direct evidence, is that will does have an effect.
11.21.2005 10:52am
Gene Vilensky (mail) (www):
Actually, they are going to run some experiments to test certain parts of string theory in a year or two.

As for randomness... it is not entirely clear what the word "random" actually means and whether it makes sense for things like randomness to actually exist in the world if you define randomness as having no cause. As far as mathematicians go, randomness just means that you do not know the underlying cause of the event, just the distribution of the possible outcomes of events like it. So, random mutation could mean truly random mutation, where there was no cause for it. Or random mutation could mean that the mutation occurred as a result of some electromagnetic radiation from outer space but that as far as science goes, it is impossible now to measure or detect it. Probability theory is very useful in studying evolution. In fact, most of the most promising models have some stochastic aspects. However, these are only models are not meant to be 100% perfect, just sufficiently predictive to be useful.

So the point is, learn what people mean by "random mutation" before going off on how it undermines the will of the good Lord.
11.21.2005 10:56am
zaoem (mail):
Of course there is, and always has been, a conflict between science and religion. To start with, as rational beings, the more we believe in the truth of evolution, the more we should believe that essential passages in the bible are flat-out wrong and misleading. Genesis is not a footnote in christianity.
11.21.2005 10:57am
Tommy Esq.:
Medis:

I understand that at a high level, the problems with evlolution are discussed - else I would never have known of them (I certainly didn't come up with them on my own!). However, the evolution vs. creationism argument generally arises at the k-grade 12 level. At that level, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, evolution is taught as a fact in the same way that 2+2=4 is taught to be fact. Please correct me if I am wrong about this.
11.21.2005 11:03am
taalinukko:
PersonFromPorlock: You have it the wrong way. Think about it this way, humans dig ditches and they do this based on intelligent design. Therefor it is incumbent on the geologists to prove that streams carve valleys by simply flowing down hill since the only ditch digger we are intimately familiar with does so via an intelligent process.

I hope you can see the folly of that line of reasoning.
11.21.2005 11:03am
Colin:
Tommy E.,

It would help if you could clarify what you mean by 'the problems with evolution.' What in particular would you want students learning scientific fundamentals to be taught? Do you see similar problems with the way that physics or mathematics are taught?
11.21.2005 11:07am
Medis:
PFP,

I agree that our experience with things is that some are made by design--in particular, by us. But why does that imply that all things are made by design until proven otherwise? That seems to me like saying that since we know the wind makes makes some things through erosiion, we should assume that all things are made by erosion until proven otherwise.

I might also note that we have direct experience with the process of designing and making in these ordinary cases (eg, we can actually observe humans designing and then making things, and even do it ourselves). So the identification of the things made in this way is usually not too difficult ... indeed, we can usually identify the particular humans involved without much investigation (handily, lots of things come labelled with that information).
11.21.2005 11:11am
NYU Jew (mail):
Great book on Science and American Religion by Steven Goldberg, a Georgetown Law prof- Seduced by Science: How American Religion Has Lost Its Way.
11.21.2005 11:15am
P J Evans (mail):
Part of the problem here may be that the scientific usage of 'theory' is not the same as the everyday usage of the term. In science, 'theory' can apply to ideas that are proven to be true, or have a majority of the evidence in favor of them (ususally because of habit; it was unproven but evidence has shown...). The typical person seems to use 'theory' to mean 'unproven hypothesis', thus confusing the situation.

Evolution has a lot of evidence in its favor, but will probably never be completely proven; nature has destroyed a lot of it. There is, AFAIK, zero evidence in favor of ID; it's all faith.

"God is a civil engineer: who else would run a sewer through the middle of a recreational area?"
11.21.2005 11:33am
Medis:
Tommy,

My recollection of my childhood biology education is quite different. At least in high school (where my recollections are most clear), we discussed the history of evolutionary theory over time, as well as all sorts of unanswered questions in evolutionary biology, and generally treated it just like the theories in Physics (eg, we learned Newtonian physics, but we were also informed that modern physics had made a lot of progress since Newton, and was still developing).

Again, though, these are all problems with a lower-case "p" ... we generally didn't talk about evolutionary theory as particular problematic in comparison to something like the theories of mechanics we studied in Physics. But are you suggesting that is what should be done (that there should be special attention paid to the problems with evolutionary theory, as opposed to the problems with other scientific theories)?
11.21.2005 11:35am
Tommy Esq.:
Colin:

By "problems," I am referring primarily to the lack of evidence to support evolution as the causual event that led to things like sexual reproduction. I am not trying to say that there is no evidence, or that evolution could not have been the driving force; merely that we do not currently know that evolution was the driving force. It may well be that there was something else that led to this, and that something else may not be explained by evolution, intelligent design, or Genesis. Again, I think that the way evolution (and science, generally) is taught to younger audiences is as completely factual, and only much later (college and beyond) is any serious discussion given to the notion that a theory is a best guess, currently unrefuted, etc. I do remember being taught about the idea of a theory generally in high school, for example, buty I never heard it put into the context of any specific scientific area.
11.21.2005 11:35am
Ken Willis (mail):
ID is not only harmful to both science and religion, it is harmful to conservatism, as shown in the recent Republican rout in Dover, PA.
11.21.2005 11:43am
Robert F. Patterson (mail):
Without having read all the comments, I suggest that "if there may be a God" is to enter into any discussion, then "there may be right or wrong" or "there may be truth or fiction" are also valid hypotheses. THen why bother talk? Let's be like Socrates and move the forefinger up and down, for that is all we can do. If a statement cannot be verified as true or false, then any statement is no more valid than its contradiction. THen there can be no commuication.
11.21.2005 11:46am
Notary (mail):
It's true that "the question whether God is the ultimate force behind the laws of the universe is a question for religion, not science", and it's true that "conflating the two threatens both." But it's also true that Evolution and Religion are consistently and insistently conflated by the most prominent spokesmen for Darwinism. Dawkins, Dennett, Sagan, and company can hardly write three consecutive paragraphs without asserting the truth of Atheism -- which is a religious belief. Should their works be banned from the classroom? Or is it only the Christians who are to be kept out? (I am strongly opposed to the ID theories, by the way.)
11.21.2005 11:54am
corngrower:
Science can promote a theory. Than ask some one to prove it wrong, with nothing but anecdotal eviedence to prove the theory right.

Question. Science knows the makeup of a cell. Ammino acids, in the right combination, in the right enviorment will sprout from no where.

Just seems that science has never created a single cell from 'nothing'. We know parts of atoms that we cant measure, track, see, predict. Yet science has yet to create a single cell being.

Evolution has to start somewhere. Science tells me a single cell is the source. This most simple of life forms that science has reduced to moecules, and further reduced to Atoms, and further reduced to electrons, protons, nuetrons, further reduced to things they have identified, cataloged, etc, just cant measure or predict.

Who has a blind belif that cannot be proven
11.21.2005 11:54am
Medis:
Tommy,

I would agree that is a problem (children getting a mistaken impression of science in general, not just biology in particular, at the earlier stages of their education). I'm not sure there is an obvious solution, however: children need to learn basic scientific concepts and terms, and that process likely should start before they are ready for some of the more complicated discussions about the nature of science. The best one may be able to do is stress the experimental nature of science, and hopefully do so in a way which incorporates the notion of falsification and modification. Then, when they are later told about the complicated and ongoing process of real science, it may strike them as familiar.
11.21.2005 11:55am
juris imprudent (mail):

To start with, as rational beings, the more we believe in the truth of evolution,

Ah, how I love unintentional self-contradiction. Evolution is a theory not a truth. Like all science, it is a provisional explanation of observed phenomenom, always subject to modification to better explain. Such can never be a truth, nor should it ever be a matter of belief, least of all for a rational being. Unless of course, that being a rational being is merely a matter of belief as well.
11.21.2005 12:00pm
subpatre (mail):
"Evolution is not a threat to religious belief..."
You forgot to say "in theory". In practice, from 4th grade through university, instructors use evolution to explain away a host of inexplicable or enigmatic biological phenomenon.

Maybe it's just human nature, the desire not to be perceived as ignorant or uncertain, but it has no place in a science classroom. No mechanics lecturer would dream of explaining away non-linear friction; no lecturer should do the same in any other field. Yet it happens all the time with evolution.

An example's found above. Biologists have debated for decades about the human appendix and haven't reached consensus. Yet 'Per Son' feels no compunction about making something up on the spot and presenting it as fact.

Considering that evolutionary theory ranges from physiology to perception and behavior, it's little wonder that people, especially biblical literalists, object to its teaching.
11.21.2005 12:03pm
Per Son:
Subpatre:

Why the ad hominen attack. I presented what I believe to be fact. If there are problems you have with my factual assertion: debate me, demonstrate that I am wrong, but please do not make a crass attack.
11.21.2005 12:09pm
anon2:
I'm certainly not a proponent of ID, but from what little I've read it seems that 1) ID is falsifiable and 2) it isn't set up to address theological questions.

Falsifiability: This is a sketchy criteria for science anyway as Quine and others have pointed out. Even so, it seems to me one could test Dembski's "design filter" by applying it to various systems (for example, can it distinguish between gravel and arrow heads). If it generates false positives, then we know that the filter isn't useful. If it is capable of identifing artifacts, then perhaps it deserves further attention. Is there some reason such a design filter can't be applied to biological systems (to distinguish say GM corn from "natural" corn). If it can, why can't it be applied to natural biological systems to suggest design? I'm not a biologist, so I don't know how one might go about applying such a filter in the first place.

Optimization: Some argue that ID is false because there are clearly "design flaws". But this seems to be a non-sequitor. If one can detect ID anywhere in nature, this simply implies a non-stochastic process (perhaps a designer). The nature of such a designer is perhaps best left to the philosophers and/or theologians.

Finally, why is ID such a threat. My understanding is that the ID folks like Behe accept common descent, and descent with modification. If a high-school kid goes to college and believes that there are evolutionary steps that point to a designer, how does this keep the kid from being a competent scientist?
11.21.2005 12:10pm
Medis:
corngrower,

The evolution of the first cells is obviously a very interesting question, and a very difficult one to answer if for no other reason that it happened a very long time ago and on a very small scale.

As I recall, one helpful insight is that at the time, it might have been RNA, not DNA, that was evolving (this is helpful because RNA can reproduce on its own). Also, there are good reasons to believe that replicating genetic material collected together in a cell would gain competitive advantages through mutation and selection (because unlike with free-floating genetic material, genetic material collected in a cell could benefit from a positive mutation without sharing those benefits with any other nearby genetic material).

So, at least in theory, the conditions for evolving cells could have existed: replicating genetic material and a competitive advantage to be gained by collecting genetic material within cells.
11.21.2005 12:12pm
Colin:
Tommy: "[O]nly much later (college and beyond) is any serious discussion given to the notion that a theory is a best guess, currently unrefuted, etc."

I agree with Medis' point (or at least, what I read it to be, and apologies if I'm wrong) that there is a serious problem with any biology class--or any science class--that doesn't teach the scientific definition of "theory." But it's important to point out that there really aren't any gaping flaws in evolutionary theory; unanswered questions are great to present to students at all levels, but to teach children that "The theory of evolution is flawed because it doesn't explain X" is deceptive.

Many of the ongoing areas of investigation are too complex to be adequatly presented to primary students. We don't ask (most) high-school physics students to understand the ongoing research questions in high-energy physics or graduate level mathematics, so why downshift the same level of question in biology to beginning students?

To me, it smacks of media and political advocacy to drum up a controversy that simply doesn't exist among objective scientists. Questions over the *method* of evolution don't indict the *truth* of evolution.
11.21.2005 12:13pm
Medis:
anon2,

I think whether any given ID theory is falsifiable likely depends on the details. Generally, though, the problem seems to be that the theory is based on this principle: as long as there is anything in the universe, or any event in the history of the universe, that could only be explained through the actions of an intelligent designer, then an intelligent designer must exist. So, to falsify the hypothesis that an intelligent designer must exist, we have to prove that there is no thing in the universe, and no event in the history of the universe, that could only be explained through the actions of an intelligent designer.

That is a very hard theory to falsify. Practically, there may always be things and events we have not yet been able to fully explained, or that we even know about such that we could explain them, and so it is hard to rule out the mere possibility that such a thing or event exists.

Conversely, it may be possible to verify, rather than falsify, intelligent design theory, as you point out. If we could find a way to reliably detect things that only could be produced by the action of an intelligent designer, and then we find such a thing, we will have verified intelligent design.

But until that happens, what can we say about intelligent design theory? It hasn't been verified. On the other hand, it can't in practice be falsified. So is it really a scientific theory?
11.21.2005 12:23pm
Chukuang:
Perhaps those who think that evolution is false, particularly those who don't believe in any evolution (i.e. the "young earthers" etc.) should voluntarily refrain from taking advantage of any aspects of medical science based on such ideas. Put your money where your faith is. No vaccines for you! And what do you mean this old antibiotic isn't working on your infection? It used to work. In my view this would put great evolutionary pressure on the species to acknowledge the value and proven validity of evolutionary ideas. But of course this pressure shouldn't exist if evolution doesn't happen.
11.21.2005 12:25pm
Colin:
Anon2:

Dembski's filter is useless in practice. To my knowledge, he has not chosen to rigorously apply it at all, much less to a selection of objects that we know were/weren't designed, in order to test for false positives. (At one point, he claimed that it was impossible to generate false positives with the filter, which strikes me as a ridiculous claim.) One of the several critical flaws with it is that the numbers he would like to plug into it simply don't exist. Creationists often suggest that evolution is an entirely random process--the "tornado in a junkyard" process--and ignore the non-random elements of evolution. I do not know if it is possible to generate more accurate numbers; I do know that neither Dembski nor Behe have made any progress in doing so, at least in professional research circles. Regardless of how theoretically sound the "filter" might or might not be, the old CS "garbage in, garbage out" adage applies.

There are many excellent refutations of the "filter." For one, please see http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CI/CI110.html.

As for your second point, it's not clear to me that Behe does accept common descent - my understanding is that he's never clearly stated whether he actually accepts that humans and primates have a common ancestor. Regardless, the problem is that he has abandoned objective scientific practice - he now focuses his work entirely on attempting to support his presuppositions about how the world works. The problem is that a high-school student following in that model will understand that it doesn't matter what the *evidence* says, just what you *want* to be true. Even worse, they'll understand that an interest group that screams loudly enough can get their pet interest injected into science classes, whether or not the research supports their claims. What then is the incentive to engage in actual, difficult science? I would rather than prospective scientists learn that knowledge is what matters, not guesswork, and that "then magic happened" is no part of a functional scientific theory.
11.21.2005 12:32pm
tab (mail):
The problem is not ID v. Evolution per se, but rather, how we teach science in the classroom. I think the goal non-college level science courses should be to teach students how to think scientifically, i.e. the scientific method. The shear lack of critical thinking demonstrated by most ID advocates is a sad reminder how much scientific education is lacking in this country. Although I wouldn't advocate it, I think you can teach both evolution and ID in the classroom in a fairly objective way by guiding students through the principles of the scientific method and letting them make up their own minds about the validity of each theory (and for ID, I use the term lightly). The important lesson is not which one is right but which one has more scientific validity. This is determined using time tested tools developed by science.
11.21.2005 12:33pm
plunge (mail):
"Even so, it seems to me one could test Dembski's "design filter" by applying it to various systems (for example, can it distinguish between gravel and arrow heads). If it generates false positives, then we know that the filter isn't useful."

And this is the joke of the whole thing. Dembski's filter CANNOT generate false positives! Because the idea that CSI=intelligent design is built directly into the filter, it's impossible for the fitler to be "fooled" by seeming design: it always declares it to be ultimately the result of design. In fact, Dembski has gone to great lengths to explain how even things that are obviously not directly designed were ultimately designed, albiet indirectly. He can't help himself.
11.21.2005 12:34pm
Jam (mail):
"However, the theory of evolution is about as well supported scientifically as the theory of gravity."

Really? Anybody here witnessing evolution or do you fall up?

And when the appendix "goes away" will we become lions or remain humans?

If theistic evolutionists have no problem with reconciling evolution with belief in a god, why would evolution not reflect intelligence? Why are the theistic evolutionists so afraid of ID? If God started the process would not that process reflect the intelligence of the being that started the process and the processes laws?
11.21.2005 12:40pm
snoey (mail):
Tommy,

Humans share retroviral introns with chimps, gorillas, and other primates. This makes the existence of a common ancestor a 2+2=4 fact. If the current theory of evolution is incorrect, the theory that replaces it will still have to be based on this and other known facts.
11.21.2005 12:41pm
Jam (mail):
The so called "scientists" that are so vocal against ID are also very vocal when it comes to, even, teaching the weaknesses/problems with the theory of evolution.

So much for open inquiry.
11.21.2005 12:42pm
Jam (mail):
To my fellow Christians, and those who claim to be, and think that evolution is true: Did Jesus really died for the sins of the world or did He die only for a metaphor? Was Jesus who He said He was or was Jesus a "historical" fiction, a mad man or a liar? If Jesus is God incarnate why did he interpret creation literally ("Haven't you read ... that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,')?
11.21.2005 12:45pm
Medis:
Jam,

I don't want to speak for another poster, but I suspect that by the "theory of gravity" he or she meant not just a theory that things fall down, but rather an explanation of why they fall down. And as it turns out, the "theory of gravity" in that sense has been in flux since the time of Newton, and still isn't settled or complete.
11.21.2005 12:46pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Believers who also accept science recognize that "chance" operates within the domain of the possible. It is this universe of possibilities that is God's creation.

To believers, chance is not a sign of God's absence or remoteness but of the freedom granted by Him to His creation.
11.21.2005 12:46pm
Chukuang:
"Why are the theistic evolutionists so afraid of ID? If God started the process would not that process reflect the intelligence of the being that started the process and the processes laws?"

Excellent point. The "theistic evolutionists" are just fooling themselves. The evidence for evolution is undeniable and they understand this, but they can't give up the comfort that the idea of a god provides. Yes, I realize this is simplistic and doesn't apply to all of these people, but in my experience it applies to a good many.

As for "will we become lions or remain humans," the problem here is with the common definition of such things as humans, which assumes a reality that doesn't change substantially over time. "We" or the creatures that count as our distant decendants, will certainly be very different from us. Whether we would count them as "human" is an issue of languange, not evolution.
11.21.2005 12:48pm
Colin:
Jam,

Speciation has been observed many times; please see the TalkOrigins faq for details. The distinction between "micro-" and "macro-" evolution is without scientific basis; there is nothing standing between the accumulation of inherited variations and so-called "macroevolution" other than the passage of enormous amounts of time.

Perhaps it would be helpful to say that biological evolution has the same scientific footing as geology; we haven't seen water erode a feature the size of the grand canyon from start to finish with our own eyes, but we neither expect to nor need to. Science allows us to make great discoveries by analyzing the evidence of past occurences, even those that take place on a timescale too large to be personally experienced by interested humans. (I would note also along those lines that we don't personally observe "gravity," but rather its effects. Hopefully that will soon change with some of the wave-detection experiments being constructed.)

As to your second point, the division between theistic evolutionists and ID creationists (in my humble opinion) is that TEs follow the evidence where it leads and accept natural processes for what they are, with faith in the divine causes of those processes. Creationists, including IDists, believe that natural processes stop at some discrete and detectable point, and that magic happened to fill that gap.
11.21.2005 12:53pm
Jam (mail):
Uuuum, Chukuang. We are humans and not primates. I do not think that this is a semantics issue.
11.21.2005 12:53pm
Medis:
Jam,

By the way, there is a more general version of your argument about theistic evolution which suggests that any sort of order or law-like behavior in the Universe is proof of an intelligent creator. In that sense, even a "complete" evolutionary theory (one in which everything that happens in evolution can be explained as a result of the basic laws of physics operating on physical things) could be seen as reflecting the intelligence of the creator of the Universe.

Again, though, this really isn't science, but rather a theological view based on a general observation about the law-like attributes of the natural world.
11.21.2005 12:54pm
Michael B (mail):
"The criticism of evolution is in essence a criticism of science itself."

A feel-good statement or assertion, perhaps no more than a tautology or affirmation of one's own beliefs about truth within the realm of science. This is one of those debates which more typically devolves into a pseudo-debate as soon as the inquiries become too probative for convenient formulations and sensibilites. The relative truth of the above assertion, for example, depends entirely upon what definitions applied to the boldened terms. (I.e., the debate is about substance, not mere definitions.)

A specific example within the scope covered by the above assertion: To criticize a pure Darwinian evolution (i.e., conceived/defined as pure randomness and chance within a strict materialist philosophical substrate), for example to account for the types of things Eldredge's and Gould's punctuated equilibrium serves as a theoretical attempt to account for, is surely not "in essence a criticism of science itself."

If it is, one can rightly ask what definition of "science" is being applied.
11.21.2005 12:55pm
Jam (mail):
"we haven't seen water erode a feature the size of the grand canyon from start to finish with our own eyes"

Maybe not that size but I do not think that it is claimed tht the Canyon was cut by pure water. Have you seen the Mount St. Helen's area?
11.21.2005 12:56pm
Jam (mail):
The distinction between "micro-" and "macro-" evolution is without scientific basis

Of course that is your opinion but humans mating to produce bigger and bigger noses (ahem, I poking fun at myself) do not "evolve" into tucans.
11.21.2005 12:58pm
Chukuang:
We are humans and not primates. I do not think that this is a semantics issue.

Actually, we are primates. Hence the term "non-human primates" to refer to monkeys, apes, chimps, etc.
11.21.2005 1:03pm
Medis:
Jam,

We could be both humans and primates, because the former is a classification at the species-level, and the latter is a classification at the order-level.

Incidentally, last I knew the lowest level at which we are classified with any other remaining species is the "tribe" level (right above our genus, Homo). We sole remaining members of genus Homo are classified as part of the tribe Hominini, which also includes the genus Pan, which includes the two species of chimpanzees. Hence the the term "the third chimpanzee," although strictly speaking we are "the third homininin" (the term for members of tribe Hominini).
11.21.2005 1:05pm
therut (mail):
Evolution also has a problem with Christ. Evolution can not explain that. A non created entitity that was born of a virgin BEGOTTON by God that was God incarnate. An entity that died and was resurrected. This is a reason you see so many theological liberals deny the basic tenets of Christianty--------- Christ himself. They replace their Christian beliefs with something else and hence are non-christian. They have developed a new religion that is not Christianity.
11.21.2005 1:13pm
Jam (mail):
I dare y'all to perform this test on strangers, to get their attention:
1) Refer to someone as: hey, human.
2) Refer to someone as: hey, primate.

No semantics there. Very clear distinction between the two and how it will be understood.

On 2nd thought, I am not sure that the average person this day will not think that you are an Aussie.
11.21.2005 1:14pm
taalinukko:
Maybe not that size but I do not think that it is claimed tht the Canyon was cut by pure water. Have you seen the Mount St. Helen's area?

Are you suggesting that the Grand Canyon was made by a volcanic eruption? One that left no evidence that it ever happened except for the great hole that is the canyon?

Now as I understand it there was more than water involved. There was a long term raising of the Earth's crust that effectively lifted the ground under the Colorado River. But that is not what you had in mind I think.
11.21.2005 1:15pm
sroper:
"Evolution is not a threat to religious belief, nor should religious truth threaten science."

Maybe evolution is not a threat to some generic religion, but it is certainly a threat to Reformed Christianity. If man is descended from the brute animals, then what does that do to the story of redemption? I'm not sure how an evolutionary view can accommodate the Fall. If there was no Adam and no Fall, then there is no need for Christ, the second Adam, to be the savior.
11.21.2005 1:20pm
Jam (mail):
No volcanic eruption. Just that the Canyon may have been cut in a faster period of time.

I have read about possible explanations. For example, water contained in a high plateu and the natural dam collapsing. I do not know enough to say one way or another.
11.21.2005 1:22pm
plunge (mail):
"Evolution also has a problem with Christ. Evolution can not explain that."

Nor can it explain nuclear fission. So what?

"A non created entitity that was born of a virgin BEGOTTON by God that was God incarnate."

Actually, parthogenesis (virgin birth) is actually fairly common outside of mammals: it isn't impossible in mammals or humans, and scientists have even artificially caused it to happen with human embryos.

But that's sort of entirely beside the point (though interesting in its own right, no?).

Anyway, yes, evolution doesn't purport to explain God incarnate. (But then, I've never seen any theologian explain it satisfactorily either, yuk yuk) And... well there is no and. It doesn't explain it, just like it doesn't explain how to make toast. So?
11.21.2005 1:24pm
Jam (mail):
sroper. You got it perfectly. This is one of the reasons why Christians are probably the most archeologically minded people, as a group (yes, I know, it is a huge generalization). Not that we are all archeology but that we have a special affinity to it.
11.21.2005 1:25pm
gwangung (mail):
I have read about possible explanations. For example, water contained in a high plateu and the natural dam collapsing. I do not know enough to say one way or another.

I do, as a former geologist. And I think you should study a bit more--the Canyon shows every indication that it took a long time to create.
11.21.2005 1:26pm
plunge (mail):
"And when the appendix "goes away" will we become lions or remain humans? "

If any human being "became," specifically, a lion, it would violate Dolo's Law (a statistical law of evolution). You've got a lot to learn!

"Of course that is your opinion but humans mating to produce bigger and bigger noses (ahem, I poking fun at myself) do not "evolve" into tucans."

Again, humans evolving into any other modern life form would violate everything we know about evolution, not be an example of it. The fact that you think evolution works like that is proof positive that you don't know what you are talkig about.
11.21.2005 1:28pm
taalinukko:
gwangung, I think that Jam is trying to indirectly state that the process had to have taken less than 6,000 years. Any other explanation must therefor be heretical in his mind.
11.21.2005 1:32pm
Jam (mail):
My lame attempt at humor failed!.

Okay, change nose for beak and me for a finch. They finches remainded.

I am a creationist but I do not hold to the 6,000 year old Earth. And, no I do not pretend to know how old or young. I have read people who purport to know dating methods argue for and against.
11.21.2005 1:38pm
Jam (mail):
plunge, my question about Jesus was specifically directed at the "theistic evolutionists." Of course Christ and evolution cannot explain nuclear fission. The question was meant to [re]raise an issue that is specific to the beliefs of Christians that hold to the "theistic evolution" idea.
11.21.2005 1:41pm
plunge (mail):
"The question was meant to [re]raise an issue that is specific to the beliefs of Christians that hold to the "theistic evolution" idea."

But your question is nonsense. Belief in evolution does not exclude belief in miracles.

"Okay, change nose for beak and me for a finch. The finches remainded."

Only on a short scale would finches remain. As we see from the history of life on earth, over time they would diversify into any number of new species.

Finches turning into, specifically, toucans would violate Dolo's law just as certainly.

"I am a creationist but I do not hold to the 6,000 year old Earth. And, no I do not pretend to know how old or young. I have read people who purport to know dating methods argue for and against."

Unfortunately, there is little basis for the idea that age of the earth could be anywhere between 6000 and millions of years. There are just too many indepedent lines of dating evidence that all agree on the same general timeline.
11.21.2005 1:48pm
Medis:
Jam,

I think it would be a little odd to hail any particular person with "Hey, Human!" But if that isn't too odd, I suspect, "Hey, Homo Sapiens!" isn't too much odder. The "homo" in that case is the genus, of course, and calling us "primates" is just going up several more levels in that system of scientific classification.
11.21.2005 1:48pm
Jam (mail):
And I have been taught that the erosion under the Sphynx was caused by rain but a hydrologist analyzed pictures and concluded that the erosion was caused by raising water. The hydrologist was shown the picture of the erosion, without being told where the geological feature was located. Of course, Egypologists all raised heck at the conclusion.

Is it true? I do not know.

I read broadly. There are geologist, on the creatinsits camp, that argue otherwise.

On a sepparate topic, do you have an opinion on abiotic oil?
11.21.2005 1:52pm
anon2:
Colin:
Thanks for the link. I find Dembski's claim that his filter cannot (apriori?) generate false positives absurd as well. Do you have a reference handy?
11.21.2005 1:57pm
Jam (mail):
I know that would odd. Although, "hey, Homo." would be a bit problematic too. :)
11.21.2005 1:59pm
Zephyr:
Hmmmmm it seems to me if ID is to be "mentioned" in public schools, then churches which subscribe to the Christian belief system will to need address the verse below:

Gen 1:26

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

In the verse above it appears to me that God is not alone or not the only designer of man.

To introduce ID is to say that, because we have no answers, then God did it. But, that does not explain UFOs. ID cannot be any more "proven" than UFOs.

Religion or a personal belief system, has been handed down via the generations, in part, to explain the un-explainable. Returning to putting God or the Devil in place of solid evidence is a return to superstition. Darwinism does justify the process of evolution via natural selection. Otherwise, all humankind would be "unchanged" from the biblical Adam and Eve. But, through the science of genetics, humankind can trace its genetic history to one male and one female. But that still does not explain who Cain married:

Gen 4:16

"And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

Gen 4:17

"And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch."

Problem, if Adam and Eve are the only "parents", where did Cain's wife come from? Did God (and company) create genetically identical "men and women" throughout the planet as ancestors to humankind? If that assumption is correct, then we are all descendants of clones. And our current genetic differences are actually a "de-evolution" from the "perfect" original as a result of enviroment or natural selection.

ID would interject superstition into science and uproot religeous foundation. Our level of "collective consciencousness" cannot dissect a debate arising from mixing the "unproven" of religion with the "unexplained" of science. One ideaology would have to cancel out the other. Which one do you think is being attacked here?
11.21.2005 2:01pm
JB:
Sroper:

"If man is descended from the brute animals, then what does that do to the story of redemption? I'm not sure how an evolutionary view can accommodate the Fall."

Easy. Apes don't know good from evil, and thus can't sin. The episode of the apple is an analogy for the beginning of human consciousness. Then humans left Africa (the Garden), for the much less hospitable Eurasia.

There's your Fall.
11.21.2005 2:04pm
anon2:
Re: "scientific method"
Sorry to get off topic, but many of the postings indicate an awfully ideal picture of science, and the so-called scientific method. The fact of the matter is that politics do come in to play in regards to what subjects are studied, how research funding is meted out, and what gets taught in the classroom.

But beyond funding issues and textbook politics, an impressive case can also be made that social pressure and historical accidents can have a profound influence on how scientific theories are adopted (see for example Cushing's "QM: Historical Contingency and the Copenhagen Hegemony").

Finally, I thought that the Quine-Duhem thesis and Kuhn's more recent work had demonstrated that falsifiablity is a myth.
11.21.2005 2:15pm
plunge (mail):
"Is it true? I do not know."

Then why don't you find out? That's what science is all about after all. And this is what I never understand. Creationists are constantly telling stories like this that have no endings: that just beg for further information, and yet none is forthcoming. Okay, so what happened next? What's the evidence say? What tests did they devise in order to figure out who was right and who was wrong? What would falsify the claims of one, the other, or both camps? Those are questions actual scientists would pose. Inquiry doesn't stop just because there are two sides making claims. Science actually goes and figures out which side is right, based on continual re-examination of the evidence.

"I read broadly. There are geologist, on the creatinsits camp, that argue otherwise."

It's not enough that there are people that argue otherwise or that they call themselves geologists. None of that is of any account. What matters is the evidence. And the evidence is clear: the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old. There is no real getting around this conclusion: there is just too much evidence from indepedent lines that cross-confirms. It's no longer enough to raise some hand-waving objections to this or that piece. One must actually explain why all of these methods, even if they are each and every one completely wrong, all agree on the same basic timeline in such great detail in so many different ways.

Seafloor spreading is a process by which there is an upwelling of material in the cracks between two tectonic plates. This stuff wells up then cools in the ocean, filling in the gap as the two plates pull apart from each other. Given that the speed of the process leaves unmistakable record in the way the rock cools and forms, we can date the rocks produced on either side, and they'll match up based on the distance from the gap. In this way we can gauge how long this process has been going on. In the case of the Atlantic floor, the rocks closest to the contients of South American and Africa (the ones we can actually reach) date to roughly 170million years: the approximate date at which those continents started splitting from each other in earnest. But wait: these dates can also be cross-confirmed by radioactive isotope dating and indeed they match up. They ALSO match up with the dates that magnetic polarity shifts suggest. And in terms of the life we find on each continent, the fossils of the creatures we find on each show that they separated at about this time as well. Add that into the fact that if the seafloor had spread faster than the slow rate at which the 170million year date would require that it would have left unmistakable signs and required an insane amount of energy that might well have just shattered the plates entirely.... well we're looking at just way way way too much evidence to just hand-wave away as unreliable. Why does all of that stuff all fit together into a coherent whole? How can that be if it is all a falsehood?
11.21.2005 2:16pm
Colin:
Anon2,

Yes, here is one of Dembski's essays in which he claims that his filter is proof against false positives (but not false negatives.) I seem to recall now that he has backed off from that assertion, but I don't remember where I might have read that. The paper is almost a decade old, and it is such a ludicrous assertion that I would not be surprised if he has toned down his rhetoric.

"I argue that the explantory filter is a reliable criterion for detecting design. Alternatively, I argue that the Explanatory Filter successfully avoids false positives. Thus whenever the Explanatory Filter attributes design, it does so correctly.

Let us now see why this is the case. I offer two arguments. The first is a straightforward inductive argument: in every instance where the Explanatory Filter attributes design, and where the underlying causal story is known, it turns out design actually is present; therefore, design actually is present whenever the Explanatory Filter attributes design.

My second argument for showing that the Explanatory Filter is a reliable criterion for detecting design may now be summarized as follows: the Explanatory Filter is a reliable criterion for detecting design because it coincides with how we recognize intelligent causation generally. In general, to recognize intelligent causation we must observe a choice among competing possibilities, note which possibilities were not chosen, and then be able to specify the possibility that was chosen."

http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_explfilter.htm
11.21.2005 2:20pm
corngrower:
Gravity?

every piece of matter has gravity. The larger the piece, more gravity. Its kind of the thingy that holds atoms together. it is provable and repeatable. And someone wants to call the thing thats keep the planets in orbit and the solar system from flying apart an unproven theory?? Great argument!
11.21.2005 2:25pm
plunge (mail):
"Finally, I thought that the Quine-Duhem thesis and Kuhn's more recent work had demonstrated that falsifiablity is a myth."

Kuhn died almost ten years ago at the age of 73. How recent can this work be?

Suffice to say that, no falisifiability is not generally considered a myth. It's still pretty much the only thing separating science from tarot cards.
11.21.2005 2:26pm
Michael B (mail):
"ID would interject superstition into science and uproot religeous foundation. Our level of "collective consciencousness" cannot dissect a debate arising from mixing the "unproven" of religion with the "unexplained" of science. One ideaology would have to cancel out the other. Which one do you think is being attacked here?"

It's simply not true ID "would interject superstition"; this is a derivative of the ID=creationism assertion, it's also a manifestation that advocates of the opposing sides are often past one another rather than maintaining more rigorous and transparent formulations within the overall debate. Despite Krauthammer's formulation, ID is not a phony theory, it is instead a partial and too nascent a theory (to be taught as science per se, presently, imo as a layman). Also despite Krauthammer's formulation, it is not a "false conflict" in the least, though it is typically a poorly articulated conflict, as Krauthammer himself decidedly helps to exemplify.
11.21.2005 2:29pm
Jam (mail):
plunge. Why do you think I am reading posts like yours? If I do not know I will not pretend to know. If I know something I will ask a question or make a statement, hopefully qualified to the degree of my certainty. And because I am knowledgeable in one area does not imply knowledge on another.
11.21.2005 2:30pm
Medis:
corngrower,

I think you are conflating the observable phenomenum of gravity with the explanatory theory of gravity. The theory of gravity in the latter sense is in flux and is incomplete. See, for example, here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity

The "theory of evolution" is also an explanatory theory in the second sense. We can observe all sorts of things about living beings, but what explains what we are observing? The theory of evolution seeks to provide such explanations, just as the theory of gravity seeks to provide an explanation of different observable facts.
11.21.2005 2:32pm
subpatre (mail):
Per Son - "Why the ad hominen attack. I presented what I believe to be fact. If there are problems you have with my factual assertion: debate me, demonstrate that I am wrong..."

A delightful illustration of 'creative evolution' in practice. In the face of a biologic discrepancy, Per Son makes something up out of thin air to explain it. When confronted, demands disproof of his statement, as if it was a fact.

Science doesn't work that way. Politics and barroom BS might; but science demands rigorous proof of the positive. Not belief, proof.

The human appendix is an anomaly and there isn't a good explanation for that. The appendix might be disappearing (the general feeling among many), might be static, or might be developing. We don't know.

The existence of an appendix, even vestigial, is inconsistent with other fully developed features such as omnivorous teeth. If disappearing, the 1:100,000 currently born without one should become a dominant trait; but it isn't. We don't know.

"Appendices are genetic leftovers. .... In humans they are just shrinking away. Give a million or so years - and they will be gone..."

Pure and utter speculation, presented as a fact. It isn't ad hominem, it's exposing fraud, and a convincing example of the practical pitfalls of teaching evolution:
Evolution's proponents make stuff up, act like it's fact, and even get offended when challenged.
11.21.2005 2:39pm
Cornellian (mail):
very piece of matter has gravity. The larger the piece, more gravity. Its kind of the thingy that holds atoms together. it is provable and repeatable. And someone wants to call the thing thats keep the planets in orbit and the solar system from flying apart an unproven theory?? Great argument!

I guessed you missed The Onion's hilarious article about the push to get "Intelligent Falling" onto the physics curriculum alonside the so-called Theory of Gravity.
11.21.2005 2:39pm
Colin:
As an aside, I would like to thank JNV for his post. I am often tempted to ascribe creationist nonsense to everyone on the cultural right, which I know is unfounded and unfair. I appreciate being reminded that tempting stereotypes are still stereotypes.
11.21.2005 2:41pm
mummifiedstalin (mail):
My biggest problem with ID is not with the potential conclusions but with its method. Rather than offering testable hypotheses, it works in reverse. For example, Behe's book, arguably the most mature "statement" of ID, works like this: microbiologists can't explain how certain characteristics of cellular construction appeared on evolutionary terms. In fact, (claims Behe) there *can be no* evolutionary explanation because it is *irreducibly complex*. Therefore, we must look at something beyond natural causes that could create something *irreducibly complex* from scratch. Ergo, a creator.

It's the idea of trying to prove a negative (that there can be *no* natural explanation of a thing's creation) that strikes me as particularly unscientific. The weaker claim, that evolutionary theory as it stands may not account for these things' appearance may be valid, is fine. But why not another naturalistic explanation? At best, ID is a kind of probability game, saying that it seems more likely that it was designed than random, but I have never seen a good argument for why we should drop *any* naturalistic explanation rather than going whole hog off into the supernatural.
11.21.2005 2:57pm
Charles Chapman (mail) (www):
For me, the touchstones are:

Falsifiability
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

Karl Popper
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/
11.21.2005 3:14pm
Medis:
mummifiedstalin,

It is certainly odd to have a theory which basically depends on disproving all the alternatives. But the basic problem is that apparently we can't directly observe the Designer, and the theory does not offer any details about how the Designer designs, or how the Designer makes things happen, or so on. In other words, the theory's model of the Designer is extremely sparse.

Of course, entities that cannot be directly observed are posited in all sorts of scientific theories. But usually we provide enough detail in our models of these theoretical entities such that we can extract novel predictions, which in turn allow us to verify, or falsify and modify, our models.

In the case of ID, however, the Designer is such a black box that we cannot even begin to extract novel predictions. In other words, we have no idea where to look for the Designer's "fingerprints," nor even what sorts of "fingers" the Designer might have, which makes it impossible to verify or falsify ID in any normal, scientific, way.
11.21.2005 3:22pm
corngrower:
I think you are conflating the observable phenomenum of gravity with the explanatory theory of gravity. The theory of gravity in the latter sense is in flux and is incomplete. See, for example, here

The phenomenon of gravity? What the hell does that mean? I got kids that have spent years in school and now you call physics a phenomenon?

Help out here , people need help in the sciences. If You have a theory that trumps the phenomenon of gravity, the world of science would love to hear it.

I was just trying to point out that some arguments just don't hold any marit. Your attempt to defend the statement of gravity being nothing more than a theory, proves, you have not a good grasp of science, or, you just want to pick a fight. I will take up the challenge. Maybe you will learn something in spite of your self
11.21.2005 3:25pm
taalinukko:
The existence of an appendix, even vestigial, is inconsistent with other fully developed features such as omnivorous teeth. If disappearing, the 1:100,000 currently born without one should become a dominant trait; but it isn't. We don't know.

This statement that the appendix should disappear is not correct as presented here. Omnivorous teeth have a selective pressure that has driven their development; a vestigial organ almost by definition does not have any selective pressure on it. Now things like appendicitis will provide a slight pressure to get rid of the appendix or at least to create a less troublesome version. But that assumes that there is not some other factor contradicting that pressure. Maybe at the present time the appendix is just a wash?

Evolution's proponents make stuff up, act like it's fact, and even get offended when challenged.

Careful, above I just answered your conjecture above by presenting a valid explanation of the facts that are not in dispute. Now this is in the state of "Made up guess" but we can imagine some studies that would verify this interpretation. For instance, if we were to isolate the genes regulating the development of the appendix and discover that they also contribute to preventing heart attacks well then that gives us a useful theory and an explanation.

This is a made up example but this is exactly the way that evolution is "proven" in scientific labs around the world daily. Someone has an idea that they want to investigate, they analyze the problem and make predictions about the presence of evidence that can be evaluated and test it. There is no orthodoxy enforcing evolution in this case if someone found an experiment that contradicted evolution they would be grinning from ear to ear and waiting for the call from Sweden.
11.21.2005 3:31pm
corngrower:
I think you are conflating the observable phenomenum of gravity with the explanatory theory of gravity. The theory of gravity in the latter sense is in flux and is incomplete. See, for example, here

The phenomenon of gravity? What the hell does that mean? I got kids that have spent years in school and now you call physics a phenomenon?

Help out here , people need help in the sciences. If You have a theory that trumps the phenomenon of gravity, the world of science would love to hear it.

I was just trying to point out that some arguments just don't hold any marit. Your attempt to defend the statement of gravity being nothing more than a theory, proves, you have not a good grasp of science, or, you just want to pick a fight. I will take up the challenge. Maybe you will learn something in spite of your self
11.21.2005 3:33pm
Michael B (mail):
"Therefore, we must look at something beyond natural causes that could create something *irreducibly complex* from scratch. Ergo, a creator." mummifiedstalin

This is a misrepresentation, both a common and a convenient one, and yet another one that helps ensure the debate doesn't evolve beyond superficial exchanges. Taking note of aspects of the evidence is not at all the same thing as declaring ex nihilo conclusions and Behe does not pretend they are equivalent. Predictably The Onion has been brought up in this debate, not unlikely a reflection of the notion that putatively more thoughtful and more intelligent people are knowingly looking over and down at the superstitious folks. Hence these two successive episodes at The Dilbert Blog, here and here, serve to maintain this same level of "debate" cum studied avoidance, excepting that at The Dilbert Blog a much more valid point actually is made - and supported.

Now, back to that posture of comfortably superior and conveniently complacent studied avoidance.
11.21.2005 3:34pm
anon2:
Plunge,
I only meant to note that Kuhn's work (extending into the 1990's with "The Road Since Structure") was post-Popper and post-Quine. If falsifiability is the only thing separating science from tarot cards, then science is in trouble indeed! My point is only that the question "what is science?" is far more complicated than most seem to acknowledge in this discussion. I certainly don't mean to imply that thus ID is scientifically valid, only that the case against it should be more nuanced.
11.21.2005 3:35pm
Colin:
Corngrower:

Phenomenon, n. An occurrence, circumstance, or fact that is perceptible by the senses.

You seem to want to boil the debate down to a "common sense" level (I apologize if I've misunderstood you), but bear in mind that we are discussing the nature of science--it's a complex argument, and one that deserves some contemplation and outside study. I think that your last paragraph, in particular, is inappropriately insulting to Medis; nothing he said suggests that he doesn't have "a good grasp of science." His terminology and observation are both correct.

Medis' point (and mine, as well) was simply that the observed phenomenon of gravity--things falling, or planets in their orbits--are not the same thing as gravity itself. We can see and detect the results of gravity, but we cannot see "gravity." That does not, however, prevent us from understanding that there is such a thing as gravity, or studying its effects.
11.21.2005 3:40pm
bearing (mail) (www):
Jam:

I believe that there was an original mate-pair of humans from which all living humans are descended ("Adam" and "Eve") and that sin entered the world through them. And that the human soul does not evolve, but is always created by God.

I also see no reason to reject the evidence, such as it is, that creatures evolved --- perhaps even that humans evolved.

There's a world of possibilities that admit both views, and I freely admit that I do not understand how it works. Why should I? Maybe there were other humanoids at the time who looked the same but weren't ensouled. (No fossil will tell us when souls entered the picture.) Maybe the others died out and only A&E's descendants survived. Whom did Cain take as wife? I don't know.

I know that the story of the fall of man must be taken to be true in the way I've described. I can't deny physical evidence either. Both must reflect reality --- the reconciliation of the two, however, is perhaps not to be understood in this life, but taken on faith.

My $0.02 from the theistic perspective which accepts evolution (don't call me an evolutionIST though --- what a silly word.)
11.21.2005 3:44pm
corngrower:
my point. gravity is definable and repeatable. Evolution is neither. Create a cell that can reproduce from scratch. Get me from amphibian to mammal. do that and we'll talk
11.21.2005 3:47pm
bearing (mail) (www):
My point: Accepting scientific evidence of evolution, and the evolutionary theory that purports to provide an explanation for the evidence, should not cause problems for Christians provided:

- they don't deny that God made everything
- they don't claim that the human soul evolved
- they don't deny that there existed an identifiable
original sin
- they don't deny that the sin was committed by a single
pair of humans
- they affirm that all living humans are descended from
that pair
- they affirm that Jesus died to atone for that sin.
11.21.2005 3:49pm
Medis:
corngrower,

I meant (although did not spell correctly) "observable phenomenon" in the sense of "an observable event" (although on reflection that was a redundant turn of phrase, since "phenomenon" alone implies observability). In other words, we can observe the behavior of physical bodies in the presence of each other, and their natural, law-like, tendency to accelerate toward each other is what we call gravitation. See, for example, here:

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=gravitation

As you will see if you follow that link, in Physics gravitation is defined as a kind of "natural phenomenon."

What I was suggesting is that a "theory of gravity" is an attempt to provide an explanation of why this phenomenon of gravitation occurs. If you follow the Wiki link above, I think you will find that the "theory of gravity" in that sense is indeed in flux (compare, for example, Newton's Law of Universal Gravity with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity), and incomplete (note, for example, the ongoing attempt to create a theory of quantum gravity).
11.21.2005 3:50pm
taalinukko:
corngrowerI was just trying to point out that some arguments just don't hold any marit. Your attempt to defend the statement of gravity being nothing more than a theory, proves, you have not a good grasp of science, or, you just want to pick a fight. I will take up the challenge. Maybe you will learn something in spite of your self

Just to clarify a bit here since this is a common misunderstanding among those who have been failed by the science teachers. Gravity is a phenomenon in that you can test it by picking up a pen and dropping it on your desk. It fell, you observed that phenomenon and now you can add the result of your test to your list of facts about gravity -- your collective observations of this falling thingy. But it does not address the how or why of gravity, that is the theory part.

The fact that there are two independent theories of gravity in common use today is probably a shock to you? The first and oldest is Newton's model of gravity which is pretty good but do you know it predicts the motion of Mercury (the planet) wrong. That was a bit of a sticking point for some time. Luckily, almost exactly 100 years ago Einstein came up with a new theory of gravity that correctly calculates the motion of Mercury as well as some other troubling observations (facts).

Today the problem is that even this new theory of Einstein's gets the rotation of the galaxies wrong. That is what is driving all of the research into subjects like dark matter, dark energy and so on. So I am certain that one day even our present "Theory of Gravity" will be proven lacking and replaced with a better one.

So nobody talking about the theory of gravity expects your pen to fall up the next time you drop it but they lack the hubris to state they know the why or how of it for certain.

P.S. I mentioned we still use Newton's version of gravity today even though it is "wrong". That is because it is simpler to calculate in and the error is so small it doesn't matter. So even an "incorrect" theory can have great value.
11.21.2005 3:54pm
Colin:
Earlier I noted my gratitude to JNV for starting this thread. I note that Pharyngula has preserved the original text of Todd Zywicki's post following JNV's, in which he called Dr. Myers a "Lysenkoist" for pointing out Scott Adams' poor understanding of biology (or unclear writing, whichever interpretation you prefer).

That is a very ugly slur, and perfectly inapposite. I'm not accustomed to seeing such posts from the Conspirators. Rather than simply erasing the insult and pretending it never existed, I believe it would be more appropriate for Mr. Zywicki to preserve the original text of his post and apologize to Dr. Myers.
11.21.2005 3:54pm
Medis:
corngrower,

Perhaps it will help to recall that Darwin's famous book was titled, "On the Origin of Species." The "theory of evolution" attempts to explain the development of species over time, and the various observable facts about species (including, these days, things like degrees of commonality in DNA).

So, the "theory of evolution" is a theory about these phenomenon associated with species in the same sense that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is a theory about the natural phenomenon associated with bodies that we call gravitation.
11.21.2005 3:59pm
Medis:
Of course, the plural of phenomenon should be phenomena. Clearly I should just stay away from this word.
11.21.2005 4:14pm
plunge (mail):
"This is a misrepresentation, both a common and a convenient one, and yet another one that helps ensure the debate doesn't evolve beyond superficial exchanges."

If I had a dime for every time ID theorists claimed they were misrepresented, I'd be a millionare. If had to pay a dime for every time it was ultimately their fault for being ambiguous, confused, and indeed saying that but then saying six other things besides, backtracking, then denying that they said anything, etc. I'd be a pauper again. Behe and his apologists can whicker all they want about misrepresentations: but they have no credibility to get away with the charge without backing it up with some hard and specific explanation.

corngrower: "my point. gravity is definable and repeatable. Evolution is neither. Create a cell that can reproduce from scratch. Get me from amphibian to mammal. do that and we'll talk"

Unfortunately, that's not what definably and repeatable refer to in the case of a historical. The tests of the evidence have to be definable and repeatable, not the thing which the evidence it purporting to demonstrate.

Your standard, applied in history, would deny that World War 2 happened because it was not "repeatable." That's nonsense.

anon2: "I only meant to note that Kuhn's work (extending into the 1990's with "The Road Since Structure") was post-Popper and post-Quine."

And Marx was post Smith: so? Kuhn's work has been broadly misrepresented as some sort of well-regarded takedown of all of science. In fact, his work gets a lot more attention from litterary theorists than it's more out-there claims do in the study of science.
11.21.2005 4:26pm
Xander (mail):
Admittedly I haven't read much of Kuhn's work. However, as a student of hard science I fail to see his "revolutionary" idea. Perhaps in the realms of social science, which I have little experience in, his ideas may hold more water. Frankly, it seems to me as if he's arguing in circles when you apply his theory to the natural sciences. Even Newton relied upon already stated theories and postulates (As well as primitive laws of fluxion) when he turned the worlds of science and mathematics on their heads. Some would claim Kuhn is saying that these new paradigm shifts are "revolutionary science." All scientist are trying to solve some riddle, and some will be more interested in fundamental questions while others will focus on more specific issues. Likewise some will fight against strongly held theory, others will use it to advance in some other area.
I would say they are merely good science practiced at the right time by the right mind. While we can argue about the exact definitions of science I will only say this: If ID is legitimate science someone should be able to develop a research question and design an experiment. Any science taught to high school aged students should revolve around scientific inquiry and experimentation. Any science that doesn't have readily available research models being tested by scientist in the academy then I don't think it belongs in a high school classroom. It's about simplicity.
11.21.2005 4:45pm
Michael B (mail):
"If I had a dime for every time ID theorists claimed they were misrepresented, I'd be a millionare." plunge

And you avoided the point and the specifics in this post upthread. Utterly. If I had a dime every time that occurred ...

This is the only thing that was said: "Taking note of aspects of the evidence is not at all the same thing as declaring ex nihilo conclusions and Behe does not pretend they are equivalent." But in lieu of simply ignoring the post altogether, or countering and disproving it, or admitting it's correct - instead you respond with rank, rhetorical dismissiveness.

Thoroughly scientific. What you're really saying is anyone who presumes to disagree, even on a specific point such as the one presented, is not worthy ...

If I had a dime everytime that attitude manifested itself ...
11.21.2005 4:56pm
mummifiedstalin (mail):
Michael B,

Then please offer a non "misrepresenation" of Behe's argument. I found his book to be thoughtful and persuasive at points, particularly when he stays within microbiology. But it's the larger conclusion that doesn't seem warranted.

If I'm misrepresenting his argument, then please correct it. Don't just say that I'm wrong. Tell me what's right.
11.21.2005 4:56pm
snoey (mail):
Medis,

There actually could be very strong natural evidence for a Designer. A "trademark" codon in DNA would be one such. Appearance of features outside normal lines of inheritance would be another. Just one mammal where the Designer substituted the no-blindspot squid eye for our inferior version would call evolution into question. No such thing has been found.
11.21.2005 5:03pm
mummifiedstalin (mail):
Just some additional points:

Behe in fact doesn't claim that there must be a supernatural designer (and, on this, I'll grant that I oversimplified his account). In his book, this "designer" could be anything natural or supernatural outside of the direct line of evolutionary pathways. Even alien "designers" would be admissible in the argument. So it needn't be something supernatural, but only something outside the regular chain of self-generating causes.

Many of the processes Behe claimed to be unexaplainable on evoluationary terms have been shown to be so after his book was published. One of the more problematic ones was the evolution of the eye. Behe claimed that a certain number of components needed to be present simultaneously for the eye to function and could not, therefore, have developed in any kind of linear succession. Since his book, however, a few species with intermediary forms of sight have in fact been discovered. So the definition of "irreducibly complex" seems to be a sticking point.
11.21.2005 5:11pm
Michael B (mail):
mummifiedstalin,

The reproduced point, reproduced again below, is the point:

"Taking note of aspects of the evidence is not at all the same thing as declaring ex nihilo conclusions and Behe does not pretend they are equivalent."

That was in response this post of yours.
11.21.2005 5:15pm
Medis:
snoey,

True, all sorts of things might be strong evidence in favor of ID. But because ID does not provide a substantive model of its key hypothetical entity--the Designer--it does not help us predict where to find such things. Moreover, the theory seems to suggest that any given thing need not show any signs of ID.

So, ID puts us in the position of searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack--except we don't know if there is really a needle at all, and we don't know anything in particular about what the "needle" would be like if it does in fact exist. Instead, the hypothesis is just that somewhere in the stack, there might be something that isn't hay.
11.21.2005 5:22pm
Larry Westrum (mail):
The ID "hypothesis" is faulty on many levels and most of the high points have been covered very cogently by others. What seems to have been missed in all of the discussion is that the ID/evolution argument itself needs to be deconvoluted into two domains- The origin of life and the evolution of life. The environmental circumstances surrounding the origin of life are no longer present for the most part and as such, the methods of science are more constrained due to the lack of uncontaminated data. While evolution rests on firm footing from chemistry and biology, the matter of the origin is considerably sketchier. Having followed the argument for quite some time, I believe that many refer to origin and evolution interchangeably- heaping disdain without discretion. Criticism in the question of origins doesn't necessarily pertain to or invalidate the matter of evolutionary change. All parties must remember that evolution is 1) a molecular phenomenon, and 2) blind looking forward. Regarding Point 1, while the initiation and early propagation of life is far from settled, we can readily observe that contemporary life forms make heavy use of basic chemical transformations- a phenomenon that can be extrapolated backward in time without too much risk.

At present, it is possible to manipulate life processes at the level of single chemical bonds. Furthermore, science is constantly discovering that pathological processes are fundamentally explained by biochemical misteps or by physicochemical insult. Many, perhaps most, genetic misteps are fatal, but ocasionally one offers a favorable outcome. Evolution is happening around and within us all the time at the level of molecules- not by way of the zoological freakshow of episodic morphological changes envisioned by ID proponents. In regard to point 2, evolution is blind going forward. Even many proponents of evolution have a basic misunderstanding of how evolution works. Evolution cannot "plan" for the future because evolution isn't a "designer". Evolution is the result of a succession of countless semi-random chemical alterations related to DNA/RNA activity. The fatal changes are self limiting and the non-fatal changes may or may not result in a survival benefit. Many forces impact the survival of a mutant species- predation, adverse environment, starvation, etc. The reader can follow this thread elsewhere. The point is that the eventual path of evolution is based on the unique circumstances and surroundings of a strand of DNA over time. At any given time in the distant past, there could be no indication that life would evolve bipedal primates. A unique chain of circumstances would have to unfold to lead to the hairless bipeds. The result of the apparent lack of absolute genetic fidelity is the great variety of lifeforms that have come into being and adapted to the environment. The mechanics of evolutionary change are now so evident that had not Darwin and Lamarck postulated evolution, modern biochemistry would have been forced to postulate it from the microscopic view to serve as a unifying model for biology.
11.21.2005 5:30pm
Medis:
mummifiedstalin,

That trend actually goes at least as far back as Aristotle (the ID theorists of the day claim some phenomenon can't be given a natural explanation, a natural explanation emerges, and the ID theorists move on to a new phenomenon). This dynamic seems unlikely to stop any time soon, and indeed it would seem possible to continue it right up until we have a complete explanation of everything that ever happened or is happening.

And somehow I don't think they are going to be content with "42".
11.21.2005 5:31pm
plunge (mail):
"And you avoided the point and the specifics in this post upthread. Utterly. If I had a dime every time that occurred ..."

Point? Specifics? Hello? That would require going beyond snark and actually explaining what had been misrepresented. You didn't do any of that. You still haven't. In fact, the best I can make out from your posts is that you have an attitude... but I'm not even sure about what because you've so far failed to convey much of substance with which one can agree or disagree.

"Thoroughly scientific. What you're really saying is anyone who presumes to disagree, even on a specific point such as the one presented, is not worthy ..."

Blah blah blah. Put up or give up: ho wis Behe being misrepresented? For someone that whines about studied avoidance, you certainly seem to be doing a lot of argument by vague implication instead of actually getting down to brass tacks and making some specific arguments, whether about Behe or Id in general.
11.21.2005 5:34pm
Michael B (mail):
mummifiedstalin,

Also, to be clear, as I indicated in a post above, "Despite Krauthammer's formulation, ID is not a phony theory, it is instead a partial and too nascent a theory (to be taught as science per se, presently, imo as a layman)."

So I don't believe ID should presently be taught in schools, at least not at this time. Though I may be willing to qualify that in something like the Dover, PA case where they're not really asking ID be taught, only that a reference to a text book in the library be noted (if I understand it correctly). Additionally, while I'm an evolutionist, am not a philosophical materialist. The basic problems I have with the rank dismissiveness is not how it pertains to ID/evolution within genuine science and the methodological materialism which supports it, instead it's how various forms of materialist philosophy are adumbrated onto and promoted with the science. One aspect of that pertains to the fact that the ideology of scientism is not science. So when people talk of keeping philosophy and theology separate from science, they need to observe that principle when looking at the flip side of the coin as well.
11.21.2005 5:35pm
ReaderY:
It's worth remembering that random sequences are infinite. We don't know that any sequence is random until we've seen the whole thing. Given our finite and limited viewpoint, we can never know if any given sequence is "truly" random. We can only know if it is random enough for some limited purpose, such as an estimate or a test. It may not be random enough for other purposes. Sequences that look somewhat random but aren't in other ways happen in nature all the time. I don't see how ultimate claims can be proven, or falsified, one way or the other.

Also, it doesn't seem to me that science explains much of anything. It tells us what, sometimes how, but it's very bad at answering "why" questions. Indeed, it's questionable whether the kinds of answers science can offer are adequate or sufficient for human beings who often seem to need explanations that go deeper than what or how, just to be able to live a psychologically healthy life.
11.21.2005 5:47pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge, you're the one who replied with the snark and dismissiveness. To this by mummifiedstalin: "Therefore, we must look at something beyond natural causes that could create something *irreducibly complex* from scratch. Ergo, a creator."

I replied essentially (excerpted) with this: "Taking note of aspects of the evidence is not at all the same thing as declaring ex nihilo conclusions and Behe does not pretend they are equivalent."

It was at that point that you began replying with the snark. Additionally, I'm not defending each and every aspect of Behe, I not acquainted with his work sufficiently to do so, was only reply to that specific example supplied by mummifiedstalin, no more than that. Good evening.
11.21.2005 5:52pm
Medis:
ReaderY,

Yes, science does not answer entire broad categories of questions--in other words, "explanation" is a term of art in science, and science provides only a certain limited kind of explanation. And I think that is why some people do not see the threat supposedly posed by science, because religion for them is all about the sorts of "why" questions that science does not even try to answer.

But I think religion for other people also speaks to the "what" and the "how", and thus regularly comes into conflict with science.
11.21.2005 6:02pm
Colin:
Michael B., how is mummifiedstalin's characterization of Behe's stance unfair? Behe leaves open the possibility of a natural 'designer' of terrestrial organisms, but this leaves open a serious ad infinitum problem; Behe argues that complex life can't arise naturally, which (at least) suggests very strongly that there must be direct, supernatural intervention somewhere along the chain of designers, no matter how far back. (This is the rather tired "Who designed the designer?" response to IDists' claims that they don't directly invoke God.)

Is your interpretation of Behe's work different?
11.21.2005 6:13pm
MrsDrP (mail) (www):
Hi. I am both a devout Catholic and a geologist on the bleeding edge of science. I've recently posted on my blog about both ID and science education. I'd invite you to check it out because the two posts are too long to replicate here.

***I just deleted a large chunk of text that was supposed to be a "few short points" from this comment. Come over to my blog to read it.***
In short:
*Science attempts to discover processes underlying what we see in the natural world.
*Science cannot hope to addresses the origin of (and reason behind) these processes (ie. science asks How? not Why?)
*There is only one Truth and that is God. Everything that is true comes from Him. DarwinCatholic points out that ID is the first to find evidence for a creator not in the order of the universe, but in small details that it claims deviate from the overall order.
11.21.2005 6:57pm
Master Shake:

Earlier I noted my gratitude to JNV for starting this thread. I note that Pharyngula has preserved the original text of Todd Zywicki's post following JNV's, in which he called Dr. Myers a "Lysenkoist" for pointing out Scott Adams' poor understanding of biology (or unclear writing, whichever interpretation you prefer).

That is a very ugly slur, and perfectly inapposite. I'm not accustomed to seeing such posts from the Conspirators. Rather than simply erasing the insult and pretending it never existed, I believe it would be more appropriate for Mr. Zywicki to preserve the original text of his post and apologize to Dr. Myers.

Absolutely correct. Zywicki was way out of line, and continues to be way out of line for claiming that he withdrew the post because he decided he "didn't want to open a can of worms", when in fact he realized he had written THE SINGLE MOST EMBARASSING AND BONEHEADED STATEMENT THAT HAS EVER BEEN POSTED BY A VC CONSPIRATOR. Own up to it, Zywicki.
11.21.2005 8:22pm
plunge (mail):
What's particularly despicable is that he now seems to want, in toto:
1) to post the insult and then not apologize or explain
2) then erase it from the record and pretend it didn't happen
3) now replaces that record with a long series of backhanded slaps to Myers and then beg off on having to explain or defend THAT either.

That's a pretty decent list of unmanly cowardice. I wonder if he'll add to it some more or if this is where it ends, for now?
11.21.2005 8:30pm
Sarah Brabazon-Biggar (mail):
There was a philosophy teacher at my college who was completely into ID. It was amazing how quickly he would introduce it into a discussion. I can only imagine what his classes were like. He invited me to come to a philosophy club discussion on ID. I came because I was at one point in my youth somewhat interested in ID, but had concluded it was really just an attempt to prove God by manipulating science. During the discussion I asked the philosophy teacher what it would take, in his mind, to prove ID wrong. He was kind of stunned and it was obvious he'd never even thought about it before. I found this somewhat odd because isn't that one of the first things science teachers tell us to do when we're making hypotheses?

Anyway, I felt sorry for the guy, because he was so enthusiastic and dedicated to ID. Even I couldn't help getting caught up in it a little, even though I didn't believe a word of it.

FWIW, I'm a fundamentalist Christian who believes in evolution.
11.21.2005 10:11pm
subpatre (mail):
taalinukko: "This statement that the appendix should disappear is not correct as presented here." That's Per Son's conjecture, not mine.

"Maybe at the present time the appendix is just a wash?"

Maybe, but that's my point. Making a definitive statements about the human appendix (or about anything) when the facts aren't known is called ....making stuff up.

"...I just answered your conjecture above by presenting a valid explanation of the facts that are not in dispute. Now this is in the state of "Made up guess" but we can imagine some studies that would verify this interpretation."

Imagine all you want to. Until studies provide proof one way or the other, Per Son's statement is just hot wind. And no, your explanation is not "valid"; it's possible and maybe even plausible. Presenting a possibility as fact is....making stuff up.

There's a basic misunderstanding here. Evolution's a good theoretical framework. The problem is the practical end where --especially in the debate-- the gaps in the framework get filled by BS from it's own proponents, usually not biologists or scientists of any stripe.

After a session of human appendices, peacock's tails and the thousand other apparent anomalies; evolution's framework is so plastered by BS that, from a distance, the whole theory appears to be BS. Who can then complain when critics say it all looks like BS?
11.21.2005 10:19pm
jwx (mail):
Actually evolution is more than a good theoretical framework. It makes an excellent practical tool as well. I mostly use simulations of it to produce computer programs, but pharmaceutical researchers use it too. From
Stanford news service:

So why does Darwin's theory deserve some credit? Hsueh explained that before he and his colleagues started the project, they used the genome projects' information to create a database of GPCRs that grouped them according to their evolutionary relatedness.

From the 300 GPCRs found in the human genome, the researchers selected about 100 that had no known hormone partner. They then chose those 30 that seemed most likely to interact with a peptide hormone, basing this choice on evolutionary analyses.

"These sequences stood out because they each have evolutionarily close 'sister genes' known to bind peptide hormones," Hsueh said.

Next, they focused on identifying the unknown hormone partners. Darwin again lent a hand. Hsueh and colleagues narrowed the search by focusing on sequences that have been conserved during hundreds of millions of years of evolution—in organisms as diverse as fish and humans—because these are likely to be of greatest biological importance. They zeroed in on several sequences, including the one known to make ghrelin, the appetite-enhancing hormone. That sequence appears in humans and at least 10 other mammals.
11.21.2005 10:54pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin,

Reasonable question, will need to review in order to answer:

From this post of mummifiedstalin's I excerpted a brief part of it and replied: "Taking note of aspects of the evidence is not at all the same thing as declaring ex nihilo conclusions and Behe does not pretend they are equivalent."

However, in replying to mummifiedstalin I was replying to the entirety of his post, even though I excerpted for the sake of brevity. So to explain, I'll repeat the entire two paragraphs of mummifiedstalin's below and then reply:

"My biggest problem with ID is not with the potential conclusions but with its method. Rather than offering testable hypotheses, it works in reverse. For example, Behe's book, arguably the most mature "statement" of ID, works like this: microbiologists can't explain how certain characteristics of cellular construction appeared on evolutionary terms. In fact, (claims Behe) there *can be no* evolutionary explanation because it is *irreducibly complex*. Therefore, we must look at something beyond natural causes that could create something *irreducibly complex* from scratch. Ergo, a creator.

"It's the idea of trying to prove a negative (that there can be *no* natural explanation of a thing's creation) that strikes me as particularly unscientific. The weaker claim, that evolutionary theory as it stands may not account for these things' appearance may be valid, is fine. But why not another naturalistic explanation? At best, ID is a kind of probability game, saying that it seems more likely that it was designed than random, but I have never seen a good argument for why we should drop *any* naturalistic explanation rather than going whole hog off into the supernatural."

Firstly, in terms of the brief quote which was excerpted (in bold above). That, per se, is simply a statement of fact. Observing and recording evidence (e.g., in the field, after a test of an hypothesis) is first and foremost precisely that, the observation and recording of evidence only. Any serious and thoughtfully rigorous scientist understands this and understands it requires a consciously applied, disciplined approach to the overall process they're engaged in.

Secondly, and beginning to take some content from the entirety of the quote, Behe doesn't claim that "there can be no evolutionary explanation" (because it is irreducibly complex) nor does he say it's impossible for an irreducibly complex entity or system to evolve. What he says is there is no evidence that the molecular processes he has identified as irreducibly complex originate in a sequentially ordered manner. Again, specification as to what the evidence says vs. the formation of conclusions and refined hypotheses and theories. Big difference. And keep in mind how mummifiedstalin introduced the subject, with this misrepresentation: "My biggest problem with ID is not with the potential conclusions but with its method. Rather than offering testable hypotheses, it works in reverse." No, it does not "work in reverse," it works, in terms of their methodology, just like other scientists work.

Thirdly, quoting from the beginning of his second graph: "It's the idea of trying to prove a negative (that there can be no natural explanation of a thing's creation) that strikes me as particularly unscientific." Similarly, as with the above, where does this come from other than the negative PR/propaganda that either mendacious or simply naive detractors have promulgated along with the misconceptions such as is represented in posts and threads such as this? Could elaborate further, but am out of time, not to mention VC bandwidth.

Also, fyi, another opinion piece, rather more intriguing than Krauthammer's, in The Seattle Times entitled "Those defensive Darwinists".

Finally, studied avoidance was mentioned, in fact for a variety of reasons. For example, to paraphrase poster 'Media' and to therein recall my own earlier post concerning the need to better distinguish science from scientism: I think scientism for too many people also speaks to the "why", and thus regularly comes into conflict with a more rigorous application of science per se, as well as philosophy and religion.

When scientism attempts to speak to the "why" (e.g., Dennett and Searle) it in fact reflects an unwarranted overreach, as Dennett and Searle make more explicit than others generally do. When people talk about keeping disciplines "separate" that is well and good; they should also heed their own advice, in the classroom and elsewhere they need to practice what they're so generously willing to preach to others.

(One rather succinct summary of scientism, as distinguished from science, is provided here.)
11.21.2005 11:13pm
Michael B (mail):
Too, since an adjacent post here at VC references it, this Dilbert Blog post helps verify some of the info in The Seattle Times piece cited above.
11.21.2005 11:29pm
juris imprudent (mail):
plunge,


Unfortunately, that's not what definably and repeatable refer to in the case of a historical. The tests of the evidence have to be definable and repeatable, not the thing which the evidence it purporting to demonstrate.

Your standard, applied in history, would deny that World War 2 happened because it was not "repeatable." That's nonsense.

There is a subtle shift you have introduced, and it shows just where science strains - where it cannot produce a repeatable event, but only a repeatable interpretation. The inalterable fact is that we can never really know what happened in the early stages of the universe. We have, at best, some educated guesses - but we cannot begin to experimentally validate those by reproducing the event. This problem permeates any scientific examination of historical events - the events themselves are not recreatable and thus the science is not as solid as one where real experiments occur. This same methodological problem also tends to pervade the social sciences.

Conversely, your second paragraph illustrates the difference between science as a tool and historical inquiry as another kind of tool. One is neither better than the other. Obviously, WWII is not repeatable (at least we should hope) - that does not invalidate it as history, though it should probably invalidate any scientific theory that uses it as a datum.
11.21.2005 11:45pm
taalinukko:
subpatre: "Making a definitive statements about the human appendix (or about anything) when the facts aren't known is called ....making stuff up."

Yes it is making stuff up, but you have missed the point. This always comes up in when someone makes a statement like "The appendix is useless, even dangerous, and therefor disproves evolution." This is its own pernicious version of making things up from the creationist side where the set of facts and interpretations is limited so as to arrive at the desired conclusion. Logically it is a statement that no evolutionary explanation can exist. My response and others like it, that "make things up" as you say, are trying to illustrate a counterexample to the universally quantified claim of non-existance.

In other words, you say it cannot be explained. I say good explanations are a dime a dozen - here is one and here is how you test it out. It might be right or it might be wrong and that is where the scientific method will help to distinguish one case from another.

And no, your explanation is not "valid"; it's possible and maybe even plausible. Presenting a possibility as fact is....making stuff up.

You know I even called it a conjecture, my precise words were "Made up guess" I never presented it as fact. But to address the assertion that no explanation could possibly exist a plausible guess is good enough here, it demonstrates that the set of potential evolutionary explanations is not empty as was asserted.

There's a basic misunderstanding here. Evolution's a good theoretical framework. The problem is the practical end where --especially in the debate-- the gaps in the framework get filled by BS from it's own proponents, usually not biologists or scientists of any stripe.

I agree that there is a misunderstanding here but I would identify it differently. The problem is that you are confusing gaps in the history of the world and biological processes with flaws in evolution. Events in the past are lost to us and can only be detected through their lasting effects, that is no failure of evolution or any other physical theory. Just because I didn't see little Bobby knock the vase off the table and break it is no reason to suspend my belief that gravity pulled it to the ground to finally do it in.

In many respects the theory of evolution is a done deal and all that is seriously being hashed out scientifically are the particulars of the implementation. For instance is change gradual or punctuated? There are good cases to be made for both - more of those pesky research questions (my money is on "both and it depends")

But there is no BS here and no paper over the cracks. Now it might look like that to a layman's eyes because they are talking to the scientists at cross purposes. I guess that that is the fault of science but I am more and more hesitant to give the benefit of the doubt to the vocal lay audience. They are too interested in rhetorical tricks rather than objective rational discussion.

Sorry that became rantish, 'nite.
11.22.2005 1:12am
subpatre (mail):
JWX - Next time you visit your doctor, wait until they tell you they've narrowed your diagnosis to 30 most likely surgeries. ;-) Evolution theory is a framework. There's nothing wrong with frameworks.


Taalinukko - At the end of the day, you're advocating fabricating plausible explanations to pre-empt 'those pernicious creationists'. It's still making stuff up, and has no place in science. People's BS-detectors are more highly evolved than their reasoning (joke!) and backing a major theory with non-supported, creative ideas doesn't help it.

The point is that, as a practical matter, one of evolution's hurdles is created by it's own advocates.
11.22.2005 7:51am
Medis:
juris imprudent,

Although sciences that deal with phenomena that cannot be the subject of controlled experiments (evolutionary biology, cosmology, empirical macroeconomics, etc.) face some unique verification/falsification problems, I don't think those problems are insurmountable. Moreover, many theories cannot be fully tested with controlled experiments, or at least not easily (Newton's theory of gravity, for example, appeared to work perfectly within laboratory conditions on Earth, but made inaccurate predictions about the motions of the planets).

The essence of verification and falsification is novel prediction: the theory in question must give rise to novel predictions, and the scientist then ascertains whether those novel predictions are accurate. If they are, the theory is verified to some degree. If they are not, the theory is falsified to some degree and must be modified.

And even theories that deal with phenomena that cannot be the subject of controlled experiments can make novel predictions in this sense. Scientists can then ascertain whether those predictions are accurate. For example, Einstein's theory of gravity explained the motion of the planets, and also can be used to make many novel predictions, such as that the Sun should act as a "gravity lens" ... which turned out to be true, thus providing some verification for Einstein's theory.

Similarly, evolutionary theory makes novel predictions. For example, it predicts certain patterns of genetic commonality among related species (consistent with the theory that related species had various common ancestors from which they diverged at various times--if this had not happened, the patterns of genetic commonality could be quite different, and inconsistent with the theory). Scientists can then perform genetic tests on related species to see if those patterns of genetic commonality actually occur. And these tests can be applied to many different sets of related species.

As it turns out, related species do exhibit the patterns of genetic commonality that evolutionary theory predicts. So, evolutionary theory has been verified to some extent by this sequence of tests (which is ongoing, by the way).

And as an aside: this to me is really the problem with ID ... getting any sort of testable novel predictions out of it whatsoever, whether or not they can be the subject of controlled experiments.
11.22.2005 8:35am
Tommy Esq.:
Subpatre:

You stated "At the end of the day, you're advocating fabricating plausible explanations to pre-empt 'those pernicious creationists'. It's still making stuff up, and has no place in science." here I disagree. Science necessarily involves guesswork, making things up, etc., and particularly in this area, because we cannot know what took place. I don't have a problem with the guesswork - but it is important to remember that it is but a guess, and that other guesses should not be dismissed out of hand. ID is another guess, having much less evidentiary basis, but also having much less thought and experimentation put into it to produce any evidentiary basis. God may have created the system (e.g., may be the creator of ID), but the typical scientist will dismiss it out of hand because it cannot be proven (and note that I am not necessarily advocating a Genesis style of creation here - God may well have established the system in which, for example, a precursor to both man and ape was created, and he may have been perfectly comfortable with the divergence of the two speiceis thereafter - who is to say?). Those who scoff at faith tend to have great faith in the unproven and unprovable themselves, if you just dig deep enough.
11.22.2005 10:27am
Tommy Esq.:
By the way, my compliments to everyone at the VC - both bloggers and commenters. I don't think there are many sites that could have close to 140 comments on a divisive and emotional topic as this and maintain this level of decorum and respectfulness.
11.22.2005 10:32am
corngrower:
plunge'

corngrower: "my point. gravity is definable and repeatable. Evolution is neither. Create a cell that can reproduce from scratch. Get me from amphibian to mammal. do that and we'll talk"
Unfortunately, that's not what definably and repeatable refer to in the case of a historical. The tests of the evidence have to be definable and repeatable, not the thing which the evidence it purporting to demonstrate.

How do I say this politely? Uhm, gee, WWII isn't, because I cant repeat it? So my sister that died 23 years ago never existed? That is your version of science?

I want you to give a single example of 'evolution' just one. One should be easy. persons like you, that try to compare scientific process (Definable and repeatable) with historic evidence, need not participate. Guess Dinasors never happened. Cant repeat them. Dope

Create a single cell from nothing, that reproduces and we will talk.

BTW Gravity may be more well definded as we go along. But it is still gravity. It does exist. As in my earlier post, come up with an alternative 'theory' that explains why everything we understand doesn't spin out of existance.

Every piece of matter has mass thus gravity. Heard of a black hole? It has so much gravity 'mass' that even light is sucked into it. I got examples of the holes in evolution. Give me one hole in the theory of gravity.
11.22.2005 11:06am
Medis:
Tommy,

I don't think it is quite right to say that the typical scientist will dismiss religious claims based on faith out of hand. Indeed, I think many scientists are themselves religious and people of faith in a religious sense. The more precise problem with ID is that it appears to many scientists to be a faith-based religious claim repackaged as a pseudoscientific theory.

That said, I would agree that there are elements of faith, or at least something very much like faith, underlying almost every truth-claim. As David Hume famously pointed out, for example, empiricism (including much of what we know as science) essentially depends on the belief that tomorrow the physical world will be much like it was when we observed it yesterday. As it turns out, this basic belief about the nature of the physical world is very difficult to motivate in non-circular ways, and it seems true that most of us just take this belief "on faith" in some way.

And for some people, in fact, this basic belief is a matter of religious faith (eg, some people believe that we can rely on our past observations to make predictions about the future because a loving God would not have it any other way). In such a case, however, the religious beliefs in question truly are not a threat to science--indeed, rather than competing with beliefs based on science, this sort of religious belief actually supports beliefs based on science.

So what is it about ID that makes scientists react against it? I think the answer cannot be that ID somehow involves faith, or even religious beliefs. Rather, it is the particular role faith and religion appears to be playing in ID, specifically insofar as it seems aimed at producing beliefs that will compete with, rather than support, beliefs that are based on ordinary scientific reasoning and methods.

Of course, this would not be a problem if ID was itself based on ordinary scientific reasoning and methods, but I think the ID theorists have failed to persuade scientists that ID can be supported in that way. And I think that is why so many scientists reject ID ... not because it somehow involves faith or religion, but rather because it claims to be science and yet is not.
11.22.2005 11:13am
Student:
From a purely philosophical angle I am uncertain what there is so much concern over evolution as the issue that puts the differences between science and faith. There's some pretty good points on the issue of science being raised here at http://marriagevocation.blogspot.com/ by MrsDrP that she linked to above.

More pressing though philosophically are going to be issues of higher physics. Quantum theory, especially where the behavior of each and every particle is determined by chance alone, seems that it poses a much greater problem to many of the viewpoints expressed here. I have never been able to see why that is not the issue that many people wish to argue over. That always seemed a much more worrisome concept for any aspect of "Intellegent Design" of the universe.
11.22.2005 11:23am
taalinukko:
subpatre: At the end of the day, you're advocating fabricating plausible explanations to pre-empt 'those pernicious creationists'. It's still making stuff up, and has no place in science.

This is directly countering arguments like those of irreducible complexity. The original creationist argument that is made is that there is no possible evolutionary explanation for X (say the human eye) because it is irreducibly complex. It is logically sufficient to provide a plausible "made up" evolutionary explanation of the development of this structure to refute this claim.

Now, you might come back and say that my invented solution is not what actually happened and I will happily agree. That is not the point. The point is that I have refuted the assertion that no such explanation could exist a priori. Now a different, and much more interesting, situation would be where someone is making the case that all explanations for the evolution of the eye have been identified, evaluated and found lacking. Then you could make a case for intelligent design, but you might run into trouble evaluating the infinite set of potential explanations first.

I also want to vigorously defend the role of "making stuff up" in science - that is the absolute most important task in any scientist's career. The most efficient place to run any experiment or evaluate any explanation is in your head. By running little thought experiments the vast majority of "bad" ideas are filtered out because they fail this initial mental processing step. If you can't do that you are not doing science and will be replaced by a robot in the near future.

In the case of the particular creationist argument that was being addressed the quick thought experiment is sufficient to debunk it - even with a made up example. So we move on to other hopefully better explanations, but you cannot fault scientists for not investing time and effort refuting something that never makes it out of the gate.
11.22.2005 11:25am
Medis:
corngrower,

I really think you need to more carefully distinguish the phenomena to be explained from the explanatory theory associated with that phenomena.

With respect to gravity, the phenomenon to be explained is what we call gravitation--the law-like acceleration of bodies toward each other. A "theory of gravity" is an explanation of why this phenomenon occurs. And these theories can look quite different. Newton's theory, for example, was basically that massive bodies exerted a force on each other. Einstein's theory, in contrast, is basically that mass and energy bend space itself. And incidentally, we are looking to replace Einstein's theory of gravity with a theory of gravity that can be reconciled with quantum mechanics, and that "quantum gravity" theory may look very different from both Newton's and Einstein's.

With evolutionary theories, the phenomena to be explained is basically the existence of species (both currently and in the past), and the various observable facts about those species (again, both currently and in the past). Just as with gravitation, the existence of these phenomena is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the proper explanation of why these phenomena occur.

I think part of the problem may just be in the name. A "theory of gravity" appears to be named after the phenomenon (gravitation), whereas "evolutionary theory" appears to be named after the explanation (species are produced through the process of evolution). In fact, this naming distinction does not appear in practice. Again, Darwin titled his book after the phenomenon ("On the Origin of Species"), and then added a subtitle about the explanation ("by Means of Natural Selection"). When Einstein published his theory of gravity, he didn't call it a theory of gravity--he called it a General Theory of Relativity, a title which tells you about the method of explanation, not the phenomenon to be explained.

So, evolutionary theory is a theory about species in the same sense as the General Theory of Relativity is a theory about gravitation. And when we say that evolutionary theory is basically as well-confirmed as our theory of gravity, what we mean is that the explanations with respect to species that evolution provides are as well-confirmed as the explanations with respect to gravity that the General Theory of Relativity provides. What we don't mean is that the existence of gravity is in doubt, any more than we doubt the existence of species.
11.22.2005 11:43am
Medis:
corngrower,

A brief supplement to my prior post. I believe that the original claim to which you objected was, "However, the theory of evolution is about as well supported scientifically as the theory of gravity."

Suppose this claim had instead been, "The theory of evolution is about as well supported scientifically as our current theory of gravity, the General Theory of Relativity." Would you think that such a claim was problematic?
11.22.2005 12:01pm
Tommy Esq.:
Medis

I take all of your points, and I generally agree with them. I do think we should distinguish bewteen the question of whether ID is a valid scientific theory (which it probably is not, at least as of yet) and what the reasons ID is being pushed might be. In other words, why are so many people looking to push an alternative to evolution? I would agree that many people promoting ID are doing so to try to slip God into the equation, but I don't think it is in the desire to have our school systems secretly promoting the Christian faith (while conceding that this is likely the motivation for some percentage of ID proponents). Instead, I think it is in some attempt to allow for the unexplained, to allow for a space where God might exist without necessarily placing God into that space. They don't necessarily want the schools to teach God, they just don't want them to teach a system that excludes God necessarily (bearing in mind that, to take Genesis literally, much of both evolutionary theory and other aspects of science, such as geology and the like, must be false).

As to why this is important with evolution and not other areas of science, I think there are a few reasons. First, Darwin's theory is widely known and relativly easy to have at least a surface understanding of. SSecond, it was at the center of a widely publicized and still very well known cultural/legal war between science and the Bible (for years, I thought there was a creature in the jungle somewhere named a "Scopes monkey"). Third, at least insofar as the general public is concerned, the other areas of science that either appear to clash with religion or to have holes, gray areas, unknown or unsolved parts, etc., are not well known or well understood. For better or for worse, this is the subject at which science and religion knock heads.
11.22.2005 12:15pm
plunge (mail):
"As David Hume famously pointed out, for example, empiricism (including much of what we know as science) essentially depends on the belief that tomorrow the physical world will be much like it was when we observed it yesterday. As it turns out, this basic belief about the nature of the physical world is very difficult to motivate in non-circular ways, and it seems true that most of us just take this belief "on faith" in some way. "

Again, nonsense. Science and all empiricial observation of reality are to be taken as unproven, unprovable AXIOMS, with the understanding that we tenatively take these axioms to be true because we can think of no other way to possibly make inquiries into the world or to establish facts in what we all seem to percieve as a common reality. Science is as much a social agreement, in this sense, as it is a philosophical stance. But there is no reason to accept the basic axioms "on faith" or as beliefs: we can happily state that they are tenative and unknown, taken for convienience more than anything. And the delicious trap they set is that any denial of those particular axioms is self-defeating for anyone that wishes to make any truth claim whatsoever. Without first granting those axioms, claims about the world become impossible to establish as true.
11.22.2005 12:42pm
Greg D (mail):
One big problem is that, as science, evolutionary "theory" is also a fraud. Which is to say, when was that last time you read of a significant and confirmed prediction made based on evolutionary theory?

Take a look at the human genome project. How much of the information that came out of that was a surprise? How many of the predictions made about the data (for example: predictions on the number of genes we'd find) turned out to be wrong?

The other big problem is that it's supporters are begging the question. The improtant question is not "how does science say we came about?" The important question is "can science answer the question of how we came about?"

There's an old joke about a drunk looking for his keys by a light poll, instead of where he dropped them, because "the light's better over here." That's what the "ID isn't science" people sound like. Until "science" can address all the data (see "Kicking The Sacred Cow" by James P. Hogan for a good starting point), its "supporters" will continue to look like drunks huddled around a light poll.

(Here's a simple problem for those who believe in evolutionary theory: explain the existence of tRNA, and ribosomes. What did they do before they got used for RNA -> Protein?)
11.22.2005 12:50pm
Xander (mail):
The introduction of axioms into the debate is an interesting place to go. In science and mathematics, subjects I am most familiar with, Axioms are so basic that they seem like second nature. By definition there really is never really debate or dissent about these basic tenets.

Also, as an undergraduate looking forward to a research career I can say this about guesswork: It's all we do. Every experiment starts with us seeing something and wondering how it came to be/is, or if something in our mind's eye could be. Then we go on to prove or disprove it. This is how we describe the scientific method to kids and it seems to work. The idea that science is motivated by pure data is ridiculous. Imagination and ingenuity are the prime movers of the scientific world.
11.22.2005 1:05pm
Xander (mail):
Greg D,

It seem like many others you may be confusing science with philosophy. Science is a tool of how. We are looking at the world around us and trying to understand the patterns and movement we see. Are their surprises when we test a theory or hypothesis? You bet. Science is a limited pursuit and what we can explain is limited by scope, power, and time. See the thing is that as scientist we have no interest in the things falling outside the light, for they cannot be seen by our tools, our frail human perception. So, let others look in the darkness for they may be far more suited to do so. At the edges of the light things may seemingly overlap but we'll see different things. And I for one think that's a good thing. For the why I open the Catechism and my Bible. I'm in the lab searching for the how.
11.22.2005 1:13pm
corngrower:
Still waiting for that part of science that can create a single cell that is able to reproduce itself.

It is proven here on this thread that a fact has emereged. Evolution is faith based. Just like ID.

Medis you just ramble to confuse. I dont bite profer up somthing of substance. Back to gravity. I did not bring this up. Only diffused the silliness of the anolgy. Got a 2 cnd theory of why atoms, or our galaxy or the universe, or your own head dont spin away???

We have a debate here on ID v evolution. Please prove either.
11.22.2005 1:16pm
Medis:
Tommy,

I agree with much of your analysis of the motivations of those who want to include discussions of ID in the schools. As I discussed above, I'd also add another possible contributing factors: scientific theories that undermine the special position of humans in the cosmo have historically been seen as a particular threat.

plunge,

You have articulated one of the many possible theories about the sorts of basic beliefs I was identifying. I don't think much depends on whether you agree with me that the theory you articulated contains "elements of faith, or at least something very much like faith" (although I do think that there are many parallels between your theory and some of the theories that arise in discussions of the nature of religious faith). The important point is just that what you are describing as basic axioms are not themselves products of science, and thus there is no conflict with science if someone accepts those basic axioms in part or in whole for religious reasons. Rather, it is just important that they do accept those axioms.

Greg D,

Actually, every time that a new DNA study produce results consistent with the predictions of evolutionary theory, we are in fact adding to the verification of evolutionary theory. Your point seems to be that no one finds this "surprising," but what that really suggests is just that we are so confident in evolutionary theory that we expect it will keep making the right predictions, so are not at all surprised that it does so.

I also wonder about your claim that evolutionary theory has to address "all the data" before it can be considered science. I take it from your parenthetical question that you mean evolutionary theory has to have provided a full explanation of everything that ever happened in the history of life. But that is not the usual scientific standard--indeed, by that standard, our current theories of physics would not be science because they haven't been able to explain everything that ever happened in the physical world.

I also do not see how this helps make ID into science. Suppose evolutionary theory currently cannot provide a full explanation of some phenomenon . . . how does that provide scientific evidence in favor of ID?
11.22.2005 1:31pm
Medis:
corngrower,

I really have no intention to confuse. In fact, I'm trying to dissolve what may be an ongoing confusion. So, I again offer this claim: evolutionary theory is basically as well-confirmed as our current theory of gravity, the General Theory of Relativity. I hope that clarifies the issue.

On cells: as I noted above, the conditions for the evolution of the first cells plausibly existed: self-replicating RNA plus a competitive advantage to collecting genetic material into cells. But to my knowledge, this remains an ongoing area of active investigation.
11.22.2005 1:41pm
BobNelson (mail):
I stopped reading about one third of the way through the thread, so forgive me if anyone else already said this.

Two suggestions:

Rather than debate the evidence against evoloution, let's debate the evidence against biblical literalism. Slam dunk. Ooos, sorry.

This country would be far better off in the long run if we talked openly about what is really going on. Like so many other things these days, the "debate" about evolution is a proxy for the political fight between reason and control. With the exception of a handful of individuals who have somehow entirely avoided an education, no one REALLY believes in biblical literalism. Claiming you is just a badge of membership.
11.22.2005 2:08pm
Colin:
BobNelson, the problem with that approach is that ID is a form of creationism explicitly designed to evade the existing precedent banning "creation science" from public schools. It is intended to encompass the goals and methods of traditional creationism (old or young earth, dealer's choice) without relying on the vocabulary. ID is, essentially, "creation science" with all instances of "God" replaced by "undefined, unspecified designer." [FN1] Arguing against "Biblical literalism" simply invites ID creationists to respond, "Who cares? ID doesn't rely on the Bible, it's merely a minority scientific position." It's generally better to address the claims actually being made, especially since ID is so successful at deceiving its intended audience.

[FN1] The Dover trial elicited some fascinating testimony--the central text of ID, Of Pandas and People, was apparently written as a creation science textbook and then edited in the aftermath of Aguilar to literally replace "creation science" with "intelligent design."

Also, there are actually ID advocates who are not Biblical literalists. See, i.e., Jonathan Wells, who is a devotee of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Corngrower, I have to admit that I've found your last couple of posts very difficult to parse. I think you did ask for a definition of "evolution," though. It's a complicated concept, and the definition depends on the context, but the most basic definition (as I learned it, anyway) is "change in allele frequency over time." Professional biologists may tell you different.
11.22.2005 2:22pm
taalinukko:
corngrower: Still waiting for that part of science that can create a single cell that is able to reproduce itself.

You do realize that this has exactly nothing to do with evolution don't you? Evolution does not make any claims about where the first organism came from be it an organic soup or divine intervention. Evolution only talks about what happened once life was going. Your instance on doing this in the laboratory would not prove anything about what happened on Earth in the past and it only illustrates that you don't even understand the question at hand.

corngrower: Evolution is faith based. Just like ID.

Only insofar as my observations and sences are faith based. Sure I could be hooked up to some big computer like in the Matrix, but after taking the little bit on faith that we really are living in this world the rest is pure rational thought.

corngrower: We have a debate here on ID v evolution. Please prove either.

No, because nothing I can say would prove anything to you about evolution or ID. You were quick to heap scorn on people who did not get gravity because only a fool who had observed 10,000 things fall could not get it. However, biologists see similar levels of evidence for evolution every day and you deny that they might be right. Nobody can prove evolution, Id or for that matter gravity to you because tomorrow things might just start to fall up.
11.22.2005 3:09pm
corngrower:

Hoo Haa!

Bob Nelson gots it. To paraphrase, 'the political debate between the fight of reason and control'. Shall we all parse this little statement? Bob has it figured out...! Control= the govt trying to 'control' the thoughts of the people,,,v,,,the people who are unable to 'reason'. Hence we have the self proclaimed telling the less fortunate what is 'reasonable' Bob, When did the Bible come into this debate? That would be your prejudice. But, hey, we know where you come from, and that is refreshing. AND lets not forget,,,Lawyers have just ruled the parents have no legal standing concerning the information provided to their own children. I guess a blog that loves to parse things,,,this whole debate is 'moot'.

Medis

Give it up until you are coherent.
Evolutionary theory is equal to the theory of gravity? Your just messing with me right? Your last statement admits that ' we cant seem to create dna but we could,will, someday given enough time, even tho we understand sub atomic particles, most likely, probablely might, no, will be able to create life from nothing.

Science tells us they 'know' Just seems for some reason they have this stumbling block about CREATING life. Gee
11.22.2005 3:56pm
Medis:
corngrower,

Actually, I wrote that evolutionary theory is basically as well-confirmed as the General Theory of Relativity. Why is that not coherent?

I think the rest of your reply to me was on the issue of the first cells. I'm not sure what you are trying to claim, but I would direct your attention here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_life

I think if you read that, you will find that while, on the one hand, we still do not know for sure how the first cells developed, on the other hand, there are a lot of viable possibilities and a great deal of fruitful research has been done on the issue. Anyway, that link should give you some sense of what scientists studying this issue currently have to say.
11.22.2005 4:17pm
Michael B (mail):
As regards comparing Darwinian evolutionary theory to gravity (as one example only):

See this quite a bit, but is there anything which compares, within the latter, to the Cambrian explosion in macroevolutionary theory? Is there a corresponding "punctuated equilibrium" hypothesis within gravitational theories as accounted for by either Newton or Einstein? Are there prominent and well supported philosophical positions which serve in any way to theoretically question workable gravitational theories? Several other similarly probative questions come to mind, but those three will do for now.

Other:

Darwinian Fundamentalism has a post challenging Krauthammer's opinion piece.

And Colin:

Replied to your request directly upthread here. Obviously, don't reply if you don't wish to, but am always receptive to thoughtful challenges.
11.22.2005 4:23pm
Medis:
Michael B,

I think the most obvious, and perhaps best known, challenge to general relativity is quantum mechanics. This article will give you a quick rundown on the problem:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_gravity

Frankly, I think quantum mechanics poses a far more serious challenge to general relativity than anything currently challenging evolutionary theory. In other words, I think what is likely to emerge from the quest for a "quantum gravity" theory will be something that is as different from general relativity as general relativity was from Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation.
11.22.2005 4:39pm
DT:
Evolution does not meet the criteria for scientific law, which is probably the major objection to how it is presented in schools without critical analysis.

The scientific method in a nutshell is (1) observation, (2) hypothesis, (3) make predictions based on hypothesis, (4) test validity and change or refine the hypothesis accordingly, (5) repeat 3 and 4 until no contradictions found.

MACRO evolution cannot be tested due to the limited lifespan of humans and the proposed millions of years MACRO evolution requires (MACRO evolution referring to cross species, like ape to human). If it's true, the human species as we know it will not be around long enough to witness it. Additionally, MACRO evolution is non-repeatable. Scientific tests require repeatability to be valid. So MACRO evolution only goes as far as HYPOTHESIS.

ID is similar, in that it introduces the possibility of an intelligent original design, whose actions are non-repeatable. ID is also a hypothesis only.

Differentiation within species, which would be MICRO evolution/natural selection, DOES allow for repeatability and hence, qualifies as scientific law. MICRO evolution is an accepted process in both evolution and ID, but the interpretation of long-term significance differs.

ID does not dispute intra-species differentiation, which is clearly the result of selective breeding from a diverse gene pool (wild dogs/mutts have the most diverse genes, thoroughbred dogs have the least diverse).

At the root of the debate are differing assumptions. Evolution starts from a much simpler less diverse gene pool, and introduces more complexity and diversity to the gene pool over time. ID starts from a complex and diverse gene pool, and moves towards less diversity as traits are lost through breeding-out.

ID and evolution are both unproveable theories, which is why ID proponents object to evolution being taught as stated fact, without critical thinking about the assumptions that evolution is based upon. THE SAME EVIDENCE is used for both ID and evolution, but the starting assumption leads logical people to different conclusions.

Most of the research scientists that I personally know fall into the ID camp, because in their fields of expertise (mostly chemical and biological) they come across increasingly complex low-level processes where evolutionary theory would suggest DECREASING complexity. I know grad students who abandoned evolution during the course of their PhD studies because of the increasing complexity they found.

They are logical, rational, brilliant men and women who have come to the conclusion that probability is not the originator of life processes, and I think it would be a healthy critical-thinking exercise for students to consider how rational educated scientists can arrive at different conclusions.
11.22.2005 4:51pm
Colin:
MB, I'm not sure how you're comparing the two theories. Medis' point is the same advanced by virtually 100% of the practicing scientific community--the theory of evolution, like the theory of relativity, is supported both by its overwhelming congruence with observed phenomena and its ability to make testable and accurate predictions. Both theories are subject to ongoing research. The questions productive scientists (i.e., not Behe or Dembski, who have effectively resigned from the scientific community) ask are refinements, not challenges to the existence of the plainly observed and well-supported theories themselves.

As for your specific example of the "Cambrian explosion," this is a very common misconception. The "explosion" presents no difficulties for evolutionary theory, and many for all varieties of creationism. Please see TalkOrigin's FAQ on the matter. Some highlights: the Cambrian was not the origin of complex life; many phyla postdate the explosion; the fossil record from the period includes so-called "transitional" fossils.

As to your earlier reply, I agree with mummifiedstalin. You are correct that Behe accepts (to a limited extent) that evolution occurs. (His failure to attempt to delineate when it occurs and when it stops is one of the many fundamental flaws with his method.) And I think that you correctly summarize his approach as, "What he says is there is no evidence that the molecular processes he has identified as irreducibly complex originate in a sequentially ordered manner." But this is an impossible standard of evidence, because Behe wants evidence for every biochemical step. He is willing to assume a supernatural intervenor whenever there is an unknown intermediate process of even moderate complexity; see, for example, his discredited claim that eyes are irreducibly complex.

Science will never be able to produce a day-by-day or mutation-by-mutation chronology of a historical evolutionary process in any significant scale. It's simply not possible. Behe's approach, as I read him, is to say, "Well, since we can't show evolution, and since X is irreducibly complex, there must have been a designer." But that is simply a god-of-the-gaps argument, and/or and argument from incredulity. His inability or refusal to accept the deductions of the physical evidence does not justify throwing that evidence out. Nor is his concept of IC useful or productive--he has had to revise his estimate of just what actually is IC more than once, if I recall correctly, but rather than revise his theory he simply accepts that his old example may have evolved and applies the same standards to a new subject. That's not science, that's sophistry.

How can we discern which method is superior? I admit that I have an inherent bias towards competitive, results-based science, as opposed to the work of a man whose life's work seems to be to justify his preconceptions. So I look to the actual results of the two processes. Evolutionary theory makes productive predictions, which we can see in big pharma's use of evolutionary biology to simplify its research and design. We can also see the fruits of ET in the public health (such as the management of epidemics) and genetic engineering.

What has ID, IC, or any other form or process of creationism produced? What knowledge has it generated? What new fields of research have grown out of it? The sum total of creationist effort seems to be a struggle in the media and the courts to bypass the normal need to show results. This comports with the early statements of the ID founders, who were more concerned with winning souls than making new discoveries.

I digressed quite a bit from your argument, and I apologize. My essential reply is this: Behe is, in fact, trying to prove a negative--that evolution could not have produced some particular biological form or function. He has failed. He has not even attempted to prove his theory in the conventional sense, and in any event he has not made any significant or useful discoveries. (I recognize that not all legitimate scientists make such discoveries, but I am constantly struck by the absolute paucity of ID's research.)

Behe is making an extraordinary claim, but cannot provide even ordinary evidence to support it. The meat of his argument is merely a critique of conventional science, but not a very convincing one; both the underlying theory and the actual practice are seriously and severely flawed.
11.22.2005 5:03pm
Medis:
Michael B,

The final section of this article mentions three more challenges to general relativity: dark matter, dark energy, and the Pioneer anomaly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tests_of_general_relativity
11.22.2005 5:11pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
corngrower: Still waiting for medicince to cure cancer. In the mean time, let's continue with faith healing for pneumonia. Does that make sense to you? Funny, because it's the argument you use against evolution. Common descent is as obvious to anyone who chooses to look at it as gravity is. (Does the fact the moon hasn't fallen into the earth "disprove" gravity? You might be a little more careful about how "obvious" gravity is!) Anyway, you seem to have missed The Onion article on "intelligent falling". You'll notice that's it's just an alternative explanation for gravity. Can you think of a good reason to exclude it from science class? Doesn't the Onion prove all theories of gravity are faith-based? [Aside: are you even familiar with the issues involved in modern theories of gravity? I mean, just at the "Scientific American" level—which is all I have?]

Greg D: Here's a study from this month where the scientists credit evolution and Darwin. (JWX linked to this upthread, but you seem to have missed it.) Ah, what do they know. Why, look at all the changes the scientists made to their so-called science during the genome project. Our copy of Genesis never changes that way, does it! Which is more reliable, something that changes all the time or something we know is inerrant from the git-go!

Michael B: There most certainly are philosophical theories that are incompatible with some modern theories of gravity. They just happened to be on the l osing side of World War Two. You somehow missed how much Nazi physicists hated not just Einstein but his theory and disputed the experimental results in its favor. In other words, a lot like ID. The fact is, there's probably greater disagreement between the various theories of gravity still held currently than the disagreement over puntuated equilibrium (or not) in evolution.
11.22.2005 5:15pm
Michael B (mail):
Medis,

As I understand it nascent or developing theories such as "quantum gravity" or approaches to a "unified theory" are not so much challenges per se to Einstein's general relativity than they seek to be fuller comprehensions. I.e., encompassing Einstein's explanatory power, but providing greater explanatory power as well; much as Einstein's relativity did not so much nullify Newton as it did encompass it and provide fuller or far greater explanatory power.

If those comprehensions are essentially correct, then there isn't any philosophical problem being confronted or addressed, in fact it would more simply represent a more encompassing scientific theory, one with more explanatory power, within the same philosophical materialism, as well as methodological materialism.

As regards the science per se (outside the philosophical aaspect) and the aptness of the analogy, will have to tackle that later, but it does invoke some more interesting questions.

Colin,

Disagree very much with critical aspects of your characterizations and substance, certainly so the ad hominem dismissiveness, but beyond that as well. However, will have to wait till late tonite or next day to reply.
11.22.2005 5:18pm
Colin:
DT, you take a very narrow view of science. Not every scientific discipline lends itself to test-tube laboratory practice. By your standards, for example, astronomy is not a science. We certainly can't reproduce stellar formation or planetary accretion in a laboratory, or on earth (at least not without killing us all). Yet astronomy is a science, because we can use our incredible wealth of observations to learn about the natural world, formulate theories, and yes, even test them. The same is true of evolution.

As for your distinction between "macro" and "micro" evolution, this is another common misconception. Actual biologists (IANAAB) do not make this distinction, although regrettably it has become part of the "Creation v. Evolution" lexicon. The short version is that there is nothing--theoretical or observed--standing between the observable (and reproduceable) accumulation of inherited changes and speciation (even to the point of gross morphology that would convince a [shudder] baraminologist).

As for being a "healthy critical thinking exercise," I strongly disagree. It would not be useful to have science students examine whether colored quartz crystals actually have healing powers. It would be a colossal waste of time, and it would grant unearned legitimacy to crackpot pseudoscience. In a philosophy class, it might be useful. But even there, creationism--especially ID--would be corrosive to good education, because ID advocates at the highest levels are actively deceptive. ID isn't designed to compete with research science, but to convince laypeople that it does. The difference is crucial, especially because high school students aren't well-educated enough to see through ID's deceptive materials (such as Of Pandas and People, which seriously misrepresents the state of the fossil record and other evidentiary matters).

ID advocates have lots of rationales for injecting their ministry into public schools. Teach the controversy, teach critical thinking, teach all valid theories. I would rather teach what has been proven.

New scientific theories propogate from the top down, by persuading the scientific community with actual results. Pseudoscience works from the bottom up, by convincing laypeople that this science stuff is easy, and hey, this looks like it's probably true, so why not run with it? Medis mentioned the ongoing work to develop a theory of quantum gravity. That didn't start in high schools, nor do high school physics classes waste time doing "critical thinking" exercises to test relativity against a nonexistant theory. It started among serious scientists doing the hard, unglamorous work of science, and will eventually be taught to beginning students if those scientists can back up their claims.

I would dearly love to see a copy of the Discovery Institute's budget. (How did we crank out 100+ posts without ever discussing the Wedge Document?!?) They seem to spend an enormous amount of money on media outreach and attempts to persuade laypeople that their ideas look like cool science, and absolutely zero on doing actual research. I wonder why that is? I think it's perfectly clear why that is. Pseudoscience is easy, and doesn't have to be true to succeed.
11.22.2005 5:19pm
Medis:
DT,

"Macroevolution" can be tested in precisely the way that you describe. As I noted above, for example, the theory of "macroevolution" predicts certain patterns of genetic commonality among living species, the kind that would be produced if species were diverging from certain common ancestors at certain times. As it turns out, living species do exhibit just such patterns. So, "macroevolution" made a novel prediction about patterns of genetic commonality (step #3), and we are continually testing the validity of that prediction through DNA studies (step #4).
11.22.2005 5:26pm
Michael B (mail):
Andrew J. Lazarus,

What I said was: "Are there prominent and well supported philosophical positions which serve in any way to theoretically question workable gravitational theories?" Am aware there are all types of philosophical theories, but was obviously (I had thought it would be obvious at any rate) referring to viable and working positions within the philosophy of science which contradict operational gravitational theory? Specifics would be helpful. Later....
11.22.2005 5:35pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Michael B, set your browser to show links.

During the early Nazi period, German physics was dominated by leaders who, as a matter of philosophy rejected Einsteinian physics and hence, at least one theory of gravity. LINK

One of these Nazis was himself a Nobel Laureate in Physics, which is way ahead of Behe and Dembski.

I think you have things backwards: if a so-called philosophy is incompatible with well-established empirical facts like common descent, it's the philosophy that should go into the ash heap. Can you name any contribution that philosophy has made to medicine, chemistry, physics, astronomy [Hmm. Do we decide between Ptolemy and Copernicus based on philosophy? Ooops, been there done that.]?

[Aside to DT: please repeatedly create a star in your laboratory as an experiment. If not, please teach my theory that they're shinig sould of my ancestors in your science class. Thanks.]
11.22.2005 5:45pm
Medis:
Michael B,

I'm not quite sure I understand your suggestion. Perhaps we can start with a comparison of Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation versus Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. I would suggest that the latter is quite different from the former, such that it could not fairly be said, "Einstein's relativity did not so much nullify Newton as it did encompass it and provide fuller or far greater explanatory power." Instead, I would say that general relativity replaced Newton's theory of gravity entirely.

Indeed, as another poster previously noted, the only reason we still use Newton's theory of gravity at all is that it is more simple mathematically, and it gives an answer close enough to the actual answer in many circumstances. But we no longer credit it with any explanatory power--to put it bluntly, Newton's force of gravity has been entirely replaced by Einston's curved space/time.

On quantum gravity, it might be worth quoting the article I linked just a bit:

"Much of the difficulty in merging these theories comes from the radically different assumptions that these theories make on how the universe works. Quantum field theory depends on particle fields embedded in the flat space-time of special relativity. General relativity models gravity as a curvature within space-time that changes as mass moves. The most obvious ways of combining the two (such as treating gravity as simply another particle field) run quickly into what is known as the renormalization problem."

The section called "The incompatibility of quantum mechanics and general relativity" goes on to discuss this problem, and a few others, at greater length.

In general, then, I think it is not right to say that "nascent or developing theories such as 'quantum gravity' or approaches to a 'unified theory' are not so much challenges per se to Einstein's general relativity than they seek to be fuller comprehensions." Rather, "quantum gravity" is an attempt to come up with an alternative to general relativity ... one which will not run into this fundamental incompatibility with quantum mechanics. And I think if you pursue the links to "string theory" and "loop quantum gravity", you will get a sense of how different a quantum gravity theory may be from general relativity.

So, in that sense, I think evolutionary theory actually fits your description much better. Within the broad outlines of that theory, people have been identifying various problems and arguing for various modifications to the details of the theory. Nonetheless, the most basic assumptions and structure of the theory have more or less remained unchanged since Darwin. In contrast, general relativity was a major break with Newton's theory of gravity, and it is very likely that quantum gravity will be a major break with general relativity.
11.22.2005 5:52pm
Michael B (mail):
Lazarus,

You are so caught up with yourself you still haven't shown you comprehend the question and context. Try combining some comprehension with your reading skills and patronizing sneers. Logging off now!
11.22.2005 5:56pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Bye, Michael.

Did you know, as you leave, that Lysenkoism was based on Commnuist philosophy? Good science that was, too.

Have fun in Inerrant Bible Studies Class.
11.22.2005 7:01pm
juris imprudent (mail):
Medis,

Points all taken, but consider the difference between studying gravity (where we may make many observations of a given subject to compare the result to the prediction) with the speculations about a process based on very incomplete and utterly non-repeatable observations. This is the very thing that limits the scientific method in application to the social domain. That such limits exist do not entirely invalidate the use of the scientific method. But you really can't argue that the science is as sound.

However, many people grasp at the mantle of authority that goes with "science". Karl Marx may have been many things, but a scientist he was not - yet look at the appeal of modifying mere 'socialism' with "scientific". Unfortunately many people, and not a few scientists, embrace that aura even when it is quite dubious.

No tool is appropriate to all problems. Which leads me to the most annoying thing about speculative (i.e. non-experimental) science - the reliance on [abstruse] mathematics as the arbiter of theoretical validity. Why are we in hot pursuit of "dark matter"? Because we can't balance the cosmic books! Isn't it equally possible that the math itself is wrong? Or that the rules we perceive locally don't apply across the entire universe? Heaven forbid! The notion that the universe must have a consistent set of rules, particularly under a quantum understanding, is a no less astonishing bit of human hubris then the God we make in our image. Yet how routinely we take it that if the math is right, well... Economics has all but been destroyed in subservience to arithemetic correctness. Where once God was the final appeal to authority, now it is the cant of calculus that dominates all.
11.22.2005 10:54pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Juris, it would seem to me that Karl Marx more strongly resembles the ID Network in the desire to call non-scientific propositions 'scientific', yes?
11.23.2005 1:07am
Medis:
juris imprudent,

As an aside, the study of gravity has moved into the same basic territory: labs on Earth are largely not capable of conducting useful experiments, so we are looking to the cosmos for evidence to test our theories about gravity. I would indeed suggest, however, that this does not make the science inherently less "sound." Instead, with enough of these "natural experiments" (and there is a lot in the natural world to study: a lot of stars, a lot of living beings, and so on), I think you can achieve the same level of verification as you would achieve with lab experiments. In fact, lab experiments are limited in their own ways--if nothing else by the availability of resources. The nice thing about natural experiments is that nature conducts them for free, and you only have to pay for the instruments necessary to observe these natural experiments.

But I take it from your comments on mathematics that you have a deeper skepticism about this math-based approach in physics (and perhaps the search for formalized systems of laws of nature in general). All I can say is that so far, in physics (and science in general) this approach has worked really well.

For example, both general relativity and quantum mechanics were basically derived in exactly that way: our old math-based models were getting certain things wrong, and when we eventually derived entirely new math-based models to explain these old problems. These new models in turn made a bunch of novel predictions that ended up being accurate, and have actually generated new and useful technology as a result. Incidentally, that is the same basic story that led to Newton's Laws in the first place.

Of course, perhaps at some point this math-driven approach in physics (and science in general) will fail. But given how successful it has been so far, I think it makes sense to stick with it for now. Viewed in that way, this is more a pragmatic than philosophical notion ... although certainly some scientists discuss the usefulness of mathematics in a philosophical, or indeed religious, way. But as I discussed above, I don't think it really matters why scientists adopt certain useful conceptual tools (mathematics broadly speaking being such a thing), as long as doing so allow them to do productive science.
11.23.2005 8:18am
Tommy Esq.:
Andrew J. Lazarus:

Wow, it took about 165 posts, but we finally got to a Nazi reference! Remember, whether their country won or lost the war has nothing to do with whether their science was correct or not.
11.23.2005 9:47am
Tommy Esq.:
Andrew J. Lazarus:

Wow, it took about 165 posts, but we finally got to a Nazi reference! Remember, whether their country won or lost the war has nothing to do with whether their science was correct or not.
11.23.2005 9:47am
corngrower:
Medis'
Gravity debate. give it up. you make yourself look sillier than I suspect you are. science is on a constant quest to recalibrate all things. Like gravity. You present gravity as theory, yet science measures it, calculates the density of planets, and the weight of an atom. So it is not a theory but something that is on a constant fine tuning schedule. But back to the the debate.

Evolution has huge holes in it. I have yet to see a single being explain how we got from a lizard to a chicken. Man evolved from apes, just, we lost the thumb on our foot. Backsliding? Early man stopped using the thumb on our feet, and thru natural selection only those whithout thumbs on their feet survived and only those without thumbs on their feet reproduced? There is not one single piece of evidence, not a single observance, not a single one, that elevates evolution to a scientific 'theory'

BTW' to all. Stop equating natural selection with evolution. It would make more sense to compare an apple with pluto, they're both round.
11.23.2005 9:56am
Medis:
corngrower,

I think you are suggesting that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was just "fine-tuning" Newton's Law of Universal Gravity, and that quantum gravity will likely just be "fine-tuning" general relativity. But as the links I provided above note, in actuality all these theories of gravity are based, or will be based in the case of quantum gravity, on fundamentally different descriptions of how the physical world works. But if you have read the relevant links and remain convinced the theory of gravity is not in flux, then I'm not sure what could convince you otherwise.

More broadly, I agree with others that some elements of the discussion in these comments indicates a general failure of basic science education in the United States. People apparently have gotten the impression that modern science is largely unproblematic, and that science has just been "fine-tuning" the same basic theories and models since the Renaissance. Instead, the recent history of science is far more dynamic than that, with new problems constantly arising, which periodically spark dramatic changes in basic theories, models, and descriptions.

And this, of course, is why science is so successful: each new theory and model opens up new avenues of research, and often generates new technology. In that sense, it is identifying and working on problems that ultimately drives progress in science.

But because some people apparently do not know all this about modern science, it becomes relatively easy to convince them that there is something particularly problematic about evolutionary theory. And that is not just a problem with respect to something like the debate over whether to discuss ID in public schools--it is symptomatic of this deeper failure to properly educate our citizens about science. And I think our society--and our economy--would be better off if we were doing a better job of educating our children about science.
11.23.2005 10:25am
Colin:
Corngrower: "Evolution has huge holes in it. I have yet to see a single being explain how we got from a lizard to a chicken. Man evolved from apes, just, we lost the thumb on our foot. Backsliding? Early man stopped using the thumb on our feet, and thru natural selection only those whithout thumbs on their feet survived and only those without thumbs on their feet reproduced? There is not one single piece of evidence, not a single observance, not a single one, that elevates evolution to a scientific 'theory'"

You seem to be unfamiliar with the very basic elements of science and biology. Unfortunately, no one is going to knock on your door and volunter to give you a lengthy lecture course in basic biology. May I recommend some books? In particular, Ernst Mayr's "What Evolution Is" is well-written, informative, and comes straight from one of the most preeminent biologists of his generation. It's a little dated now, but not to the extent that laypeople like ourselves would be able to tell.
11.23.2005 11:12am
corngrower:
Colin;

You must not understand Biology. Else, you, could offer one example to demonstrate 'evolotion' as in amphibians evolving to, say, birds. What is always cited is natural selection, but hey give an examlpe to prove me wrong! I have offered several examples of why evolution is a flawed theory, yet to see a rebutle of any. Also, Still waiting for the science community to 'create' life. Just thinking that 1 million scientists working in 200 labs, over 200 years, would, by the theory of randomness created a single cell that could reproduce.
11.23.2005 11:32am
Michael B (mail):
"Bye, Michael.

"Did you know, as you leave, that Lysenkoism was based on Commnuist philosophy? Good science that was, too.

"Have fun in Inerrant Bible Studies Class." Andrew J. Lazarus

Well Andrew, I see you resolutely refuse to combine some comprehension with those reading skills of yours. And yet, by stark contrast, you readily combine vapidity with your facile presumption and sneering disdain. As long as you continue looking in that inerrant mirror you're holding I'm sure you'll continue being impressed with yourself.
11.23.2005 11:35am
Michael B (mail):
"I'm not quite sure I understand your suggestion. Perhaps we can start with a comparison of Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation versus Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. I would suggest that the latter is quite different from the former, such that it could not fairly be said, "Einstein's relativity did not so much nullify Newton as it did encompass it and provide fuller or far greater explanatory power." Instead, I would say that general relativity replaced Newton's theory of gravity entirely." Medis

I agree with that formulation. When I said it did not "nullify" Newton, was more simply, informally, referring to the fact that Newton's laws can still be used with a high degree of reliability within the framework of many, many experiments and calculations which do not require the refined quantifications which Einstein's calculations would produce. Was speaking informally to refer to this fact rather than formally.
11.23.2005 11:46am
Medis:
corngrower,

I think it might be helpful if you explained your definition of "evolution" in the biological sense. You might also want to check out this brief discussion:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-definition.html
11.23.2005 11:52am
Colin:
Corngrower, what do you mean by an "example" of an amphibian evolving into a bird? The example would be the bird - the end product of the process of evolution, which procedes through natural selection (along with other causes, such as the 'founder effect'). If by "example" you mean a documented, step-by-step change from an amphibian into a bird as observed by humans, then this is impossible; it would take millions of years. But science isn't deterred; it's also impossible to physically observe the formation of an asteroid belt from start to finish, but that doesn't prevent us from knowing that the belt was formed, or understanding the processes that formed it.

As for insisting that scientists create life in a laboratory, this is the field of "abiogenesis." Recall that I defined evolution as "Change in allele frequency over time." No part of that definition involves the origin of genetic material. Another way of looking at it is seeing evolutionary biology as the study of replicators; evolutionary theory does not make any predictions that I'm aware of as to how abiogenesis happened. They are separate fields; evolutionary didn't start until after abiogenesis. Conflating the two is an unfortunately very common misunderstanding of both. Once again, I strongly recommend that you read a book or two on the relevant science.

It's also worth mentioning that you are entirely incorrect when you say that "1 million scientists working in 200 labs, over 200 years, would, by the theory of randomness created a single cell that could reproduce." Here is one problem with that challenge: One million scientists in 200 labs would get very crowded. Here is another, more serious flaw in expecting science to replicate abiogenesis or evolution in a laboratory: Science posits many, many, many billions of replicators working all over the planet over vast stretches of time. One million scientists in 200 years is a miniscule drop in an unutterably huge bucket. I understand that the scales involved are nonintuitive; again, I cannot recommend outside reading too highly. Biology is *complicated*, even on our laymen's level, and it's not possible to understand the state of the art from cruising comments on blogs or listening to preachers pontificate.
11.23.2005 11:52am
taalinukko:
Corngrower,

Lets try to keep things civil. I can see your frustration but I think that largely it is because you are arguing out of your depth here. People you trust have told you that there are all these holes in evolution and you have accepted that because it meshes with your world view. The problem is that when your arguments are refuted you can't see that they are because you did not understand them in the first place. I have invested a little time into your case and this thread is already far down the list on the front page so we can have this discussion in relative calm.

I will take the time to carefully deconstruct what you have written here and identify the point where we are going different ways. Some of these point have been made to you several times very carefully and I honestly admit that I am at a loss for why you don't get it. (Of course I am assuming you are a honestly dealer in this and not just lying.)

Gravity debate. give it up. you make yourself look sillier than I suspect you are. science is on a constant quest to recalibrate all things. Like gravity. You present gravity as theory, yet science measures it, calculates the density of planets, and the weight of an atom. So it is not a theory but something that is on a constant fine tuning schedule. But back to the the debate.

Here I believe that you have made a definitional error in what gravity is. Now I admit that those of us arguing this with you might have been too loose with using certain terms and confused you. So lets try again.

First off, you cannot feel or see gravity, rather you see its effects. When we measure "gravity" really we are measuring a force of acceleration on a body. If you want an illustration of this take a bath room scale with you into an elevator some time. As the elevator starts and stops moving you will register a higher and lower weight on the scale. In fact without some extra information you cannot tell the difference between the acceleration resulting from gravity or that of the motion of the elevator.

So to talk about science measuring gravity in the literal sense is wrong - science measures acceleration. Now the Theory of Gravity is the explanation we have of the source of these acceleration forces. Newton said it was because mass attracts mass and Einstein said it was because mass actually bends space.

Those are the Theories of Gravity. They also are both wrong because there are situations where they accelerations they predict are different than the ones scientists measure. That is why we are a looking for a better theory of gravity.

Now lets turn to your next paragraph. Answering this one is a bit trickier since you have presented it as a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" style question.

Evolution has huge holes in it. I have yet to see a single being explain how we got from a lizard to a chicken.

I am interested in any holes you can present, so lets examine those you have listed here. First, evolution never posited that chickens came from lizards. At present the consensus is that birds are descended from a branch of the dinosaurs closely related to the carnivores like t. Rex. However, modern reptiles represent a much earlier split with the dinosaurs. The question itself is nonsensical, a better question would be something like "What is the most recent common ancestor of lizards and chickens?"

Man evolved from apes, just, we lost the thumb on our foot. Backsliding? Early man stopped using the thumb on our feet, and thru natural selection only those whithout thumbs on their feet survived and only those without thumbs on their feet reproduced?

If you compare the foot of a human with that of an ape you will notice more differences than just the lack of a prehensile thumb. The big advantage in the human foot is the arch and the big toe. This really is a significant innovation because it make humans incredibly efficient in walking. It allows us to cover huge distances that other primates can't even dream about.

So this is a wonderful example of evolution where a primarily arboreal creature (an ape) has moved into a new ecological niche (the african savannah) and evolved new adaptations to better survive in that new environment. It most certainly is not a case of devolution as was suggested.

There is not one single piece of evidence, not a single observance, not a single one, that elevates evolution to a scientific 'theory'

There are so many where could one start. I think that this is really a problem with not understanding the scientific method and how predictive theories are evaluated. What kind of observation would you need? We have to start with what we can observe to begin with, Darwin had the distribution of various species on several islands. Today we can sequence DNA and reconstruct the historical story of species and their evolution via what is effectively a large scale paternity test. All of that data corroborates evolution, what deficiency in it needs to be addressed in order to convince you?

BTW' to all. Stop equating natural selection with evolution. It would make more sense to compare an apple with pluto, they're both round.

Could you please precisely define both evolution and natural selection for us as you use the words? I agree they are not one to one identical concepts but what you are saying is a good parallel with "Stop equating wings with airplanes when discussing flight." Yeah they are not exactly the same but the shorthand does not do any harm.
11.23.2005 11:54am
Michael B (mail):
"Biology is *complicated*, even on our laymen's level, and it's not possible to understand the state of the art from cruising comments on blogs or listening to preachers pontificate." Colin

Or for that matter, having to listen to any type of presumptive pontificate. As a corollary to the fog of war, the fog of patronizing presumtives is endemic in these "discussions," such as they are. In other words, heeding one's own advice is also recommended.

For example, in what is likely to be another vain attempt, this post by Yeshooroon helpfully summarizes a number of perfectly valid scientific concerns which those who almost habitually resort to a patronizing dismissiveness, both among the hoi polloi and the better informed scientific community, might pay more heed.
11.23.2005 12:05pm
Medis:
Michael B,

Sorry, I understand now. I would describe what you are talking about as "approximation," meaning that Newton's model gives us approximately the right answer in many cases. My wife, however, would probably say something like, "It is good enough for government work."

Anyway, I think it is interesting to then ask what status Newton's model currently has. On the one hand, it is still useful, in that it is accurate enough for many purposes. On the other hand, we think it has no descriptive value. Then again, many of us strongly suspect that is where general relativity is likely heading as well, so Newton's model in that sense is not much worse off.
11.23.2005 12:06pm
Medis:
Colin,

This is just an aside, but I think corngrower may be specifically interested in the origin of the first cells. You seem more familiar with contemporary biology than I am, so correct me if I am wrong, but I think there are at least some theories that suggest that evolution started before the appearance of the first cells, and that natural selection may have contributed to the development of the first cells. In other words, there may have been some sort of replicating and mutating genetic material before cells, and when this material mutated in a way that encouraged the development of the first cells, it gained a competitive advantage.

Of course, this just pushes the point at which evolution started a little further back, to whenever this free-floating replicating and mutating genetic material first developed. But I wanted to note that corngrower may in some sense be asking a question within the proper field of evolution (specifically, how did the first cells come about?).
11.23.2005 12:18pm
Michael B (mail):
Medis, yes, I won't quibble about a couple of definitions (e.g., "descriptive value"), but that was my intention and we're on the same page as regards Newton vis-a-vis Einstein.
11.23.2005 12:30pm
Medis:
Michael B,

Yep, I think we have the same basic picture of what is going on in physics. So, back to the issue at hand . . . it is difficult to truly compare the status in fields as different as physics and biology. Still, it seems to me that evolutionary theory is doing at least as well as general relativity in this sense: it continues to make accurate predictions about all sorts of matters, and is also proving very useful in terms of generating new and fruitful research programs.

And identifying the problems with, or gaps in, our understanding of how living things have evolved at any one time is an important part of generating these new research programs. Indeed, when solving a problem or filling a gap ends up requiring a significant modification to one or more of our evolutionary models, an explosion of fruitful new research tends to follow.

So, what precisely is the problem with evolutionary theory? By the standards normally applied to scientific theories, it seems to be a roaring success. And that is not because evolutionary theory is unproblematic ... to the contrary, raising all these problems is part of what has made it such a success.
11.23.2005 12:46pm
Colin:
Medis, I think that's correct. Evolutionary theory--at least the essentials--would apply to any replicators, and I believe that biologists can actually point to the evolution of pre-cell biological (but maybe not biotic?) replicators. A good example, at least from my limited understanding, would be the incorporation of mitochondria into complex cells.

Michael B., I don't understand your comment:
"Or for that matter, having to listen to any type of presumptive pontificate. As a corollary to the fog of war, the fog of patronizing presumtives is endemic in these "discussions," such as they are. In other words, heeding one's own advice is also recommended."

Are you suggesting that I've been inappropriately patronizing? If so, I apologize, but I also disagree. I've tried to provide sources that people can use to read up on the issue for themselves, such as texts and the TalkOrigins FAQ, and been careful to explain that I am not an expert. I certainly do follow my advice, and I think I can reasonably claim to be very well informed on evolutionary biology, for a layman.

If you don't agree with my opinions, or the information I present, then I'm sorry that you weren't persuaded. I can't source every assertion that I make, nor will I try--it has to be incumbent on the people who are interested in this discussion to try to educate themselves, if they care to.
11.23.2005 1:07pm
Michael B (mail):
Medis,

Won't be posting a lot today (hold the applause please), but to be clear I've always been an evolutionist. For example in the link provided above (to Yeshooroon's post) that is noted immediately after Yeshooroon's post.
11.23.2005 1:12pm
Colin:
Michael B.,

Rereading my last post, it sounds more confrontational than I intended it to be. All I meant to say was that I have tried to not pontificate needlessly. I've appreciated discussing the issue with you, and I especially pleased that this thread has remained so civil and interesting.
11.23.2005 1:22pm
Medis:
Michael B,

No problem--I'm gratified this discussion went on so long as it is. And just to clarify a bit on my side: my last post addressed to you was intended to be a summary of my answer to your question above (asking about the substantive basis for comparing evolutionary theory with general relativity). The question near the end of my post was not directed at you per se ... it was just a rhetorical question.
11.23.2005 1:22pm
Michael B (mail):
Well Colin, yes I do at times, but am more interested in communicating and having some views understood and challenged than focusing on that. For example, as a result of the link above, for example, am reviewing this article in a publication called "The Scientist," the article is entitled Why Do We Invoke Darwin?
11.23.2005 1:46pm
Medis:
Michael B,

That is an interesting article. The most important part seems to be:

"In the peer-reviewed literature, the word 'evolution' often occurs as a sort of coda to academic papers in experimental biology. Is the term integral or superfluous to the substance of these papers? To find out, I substituted for 'evolution' some other word - 'Buddhism,' 'Aztec cosmology,' or even 'creationism.' I found that the substitution never touched the paper's core. This did not surprise me. From my conversations with leading researchers it had became clear that modern experimental biology gains its strength from the availability of new instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical biology."

Personally, I wonder about the design of this thought experiment. Is it really true that the "core" of these papers did not depend in any way on evolutionary concepts? For example, suppose he replaced "evolution" not with "Aztec cosmology," but rather with "spontaneous generation." And further suppose we try to imagine that the author really, truly believed in spontaneous generation. Would the author's experiments and conclusions really look exactly the same?

Of course, it is hard to imagine all this, since no one actually believes in spontaneous generation anymore. Still, it seems to me that the reason why papers do not even need to say "evolution" when expressing their core findings is that evolutionary concepts are so deeply embedded at this point that they need not be explicitly named.
11.23.2005 2:07pm
Michael B (mail):
Another quickie here,

As regards the criticisms on this subject, and others as well for that matter, I don't mind some sharp rebukes at times, even when they're not justified, I understand these can be sensitive subjects for any number of reasons, often for completely justified reasons indeed. What is particularly frustrating though is to assume too much about one's motives or to assume one is attempting to undermine a science, qua science, or some of the most basic philosophical tenets** which support a valid science. Questioning something is not at all the same thing as wanting to destroy it or undermine it and while that's obvious and we can all smile at that in the abstract, it nonetheless too often feels as though one is being accused of those types of motives.

** The methodological materialism which undergirds the physical, harder sciences (foremost physics, but including chemistry, biology, paleontology, etc.) is not synonymous with the philosophical materialism I was previously drawing attention to when attempting to distinguish between science and scientism, the latter representing more of an ideological disposition and set of prejudices.

(Should be back for another post or two to declaim and sermonize a bit more (actually, to respond to some of the comments), but if not, have a great Turkey-day and extended weekend.)
11.23.2005 2:35pm
Colin:
I've seen Skell's article before. I have to say I was dismissive of it at the time, and I don't think it's improved since then. Some of his points are nonsensical - evolution had nothing to do with the (accidental) discovery of penicillin? Perhaps not, but it certainly has an enormous influence on our understanding of why penicillin is not a panacea, and how and why bacteria develop resistances.

Dr. PZ Myers debunked this particular article a while ago, in his usual hyper-aggressive style. (I love Myers' acerbic style, but many people find it offputting; you might try just jumping directly to the primary materials he links to in refutation of Skell's points.) Skell wrote an email to Myers with many of the same points before he published the The Scientist piece, and Myers fisked it rather efficiently. They had a followup round, too.

I find Skell's article most interesting in its context. I originally read it as an interesting commentary on the schism between biologists and peripheral specialists like molecular biologists - Skell seems very divorced from productive and practical biology, even more than the apparent age of his own research would suggest. But I later read ths post on The Panda's Thumb that seems to suggest that Skell is a chemist with no history in biology.

Not being a biologist doesn't invalidate his opinion, of course. But it makes his article strange in my eyes. He seems to be saying that biologists don't use evolutionary theory, despite his own inexperience in the field and the howls of protests from the practicing biologists who had refuted his points before. He tries to support his assertion by asking some biologists that he knows if "Darwin's theory" is part of their research. I would find this part of his article much more persuasive if he gave a clearer idea not only of who he asked, but what he actually asked them--"Darwin's theory" is very sloppy terminology. That they would answer "no" is hardly surprising; "Darwin's theory" has long been surpassed by the modern synthesis and current biology.

The weirdest thing is his assertion, "To find out, I substituted for "evolution" some other word - "Buddhism," "Aztec cosmology," or even "creationism." I found that the substitution never touched the paper's core." That is mind boggling. I am stupefied that you could take biological research, replace "evolution" with "Buddhism," and not break the meaning. I have to admit that I doubt that Skell is aboveboard when he says this; my suspicion is that (A, at best) the word "evolution" is often passed over for more technical and precise terms, and/or (B, and more likely) he's packing a lot of wriggle room into "the paper's core." The fact that he doesn't provide an example of this phenomena feeds that suspicion.

I'm not qualified to say that Skell's interpretation of the state of the science is necessarily wrong, but Myers' response seems much more robust to me. Skell seems to me--and this is purely my opinion--to be a crank operating out of his depth. His article reads like a screed from incredulity, and seems poorly informed, especially paired with the commentary of a professional biologist. It's an interesting read, though, especially in context with its refutations. Thanks for posting it.
11.23.2005 2:36pm
Colin:
MB, we seem to have crossposted regarding the same part of the article, and with more or less the same reaction.
11.23.2005 2:38pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Michael: You wrote

Are there prominent and well supported philosophical positions which serve in any way to theoretically question workable gravitational theories?
as a way of distinguishing evolution from gravity. Your statement only makes sense if you believe that there are prominent and well supported philosophical questions that theoretically question evolutionary theories.

Well, just what philosophical questions could those be? The USSR did indeed go down this road: Stalinist philosophy found Lysenkoist biology much more appealing than evolution. This philosophy was prominent, at a particular time and place, and I suppose it was well supported in the sense that at that particular time and place few dared to question it. I suppose that it's possible you intend to argue some question that, say, Popper might have raised about evolution. But it seems far more likely that the prominent philosophy you refer arises from Biblical literalism in its new better adapted version, i.e., ID. Common descent, for example, is about as well established as any process that takes place over such a long period of time. That's a problem for corngrowers’ creationist belief system. Not the other way around.
11.23.2005 7:29pm
Michael B (mail):
"Your statement only makes sense if you believe that there are prominent and well supported philosophical questions that theoretically question evolutionary theories." Andrew J. Lazarus

Andrew, you're simply not reading my position in the least and it's apparent your patronizing, reductionist and highly simplifying read of the positions I've taken is something you're seemingly viscerally unable to transcend. I don't mean this harshly, but I'm not going to continue in this vein. (Hint: at least once or twice above I quite explicitly identified myself as an evolutionist, secondly I noted my concern was with facile adumbrations of scientism and philosophical speculations upon science per se, specifically as regards this topic adumbrations of materialist philosophical positions onto both the evidence and theory which supports variious evolutionary positions.)

Also, OT excepting as it addresses some aspects of received myths concerning religion/secular divides, a substantial and well documented volume by Rodney Stark entitled For the Glory of God : How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. It's clear you're already of a dismissive mindset, but perhaps one or two others will find it more substantial and intriguing.
11.26.2005 3:57pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin and Medis, to be clear, in referencing Skell's article, I am not a "Skellian" and found disagreements with aspects of his article immediately, on the first reading. On the other hand, being acquainted with PZ Myers, am certainly not in agreement with his overly dismissive style either. Myers's rhetoric is so dismissive as to exhibit a psychological need that roughly corresponds with that of a dominatrix. To deny the psychological, totalizing and virtual Pavlovian impact someone like Myers is attempting, or to categorize it as merely rhetorical is, imo, not convincing. Myers offers substance and food for thought and appreciable evidence as well, but to wade through his assaultive style is more than a little demanding. Hence responses to his posts at Pharyngula often exhibit rigidly psychologically conformist aspects, and not at all surprisingly.
11.26.2005 5:07pm
Colin:
Michael B, I understood that you were not endorsing Skell's article, but rather pointing to it as something of interest. I agree that it's interesting, but only in context and primarily for how foolish it is.

I doubt that you'll see this comment, since this post is about to fall off the bottom of the page, but the latest issue of Harper's has a very intersting article on how ID advocates have coopted the language of postmodernism to advance the cause. I think Stanley Fish is the author. It's worth checking out.

Thanks for the discussion,
Colin
11.28.2005 11:04am
Michael B (mail):
Thank you Colin, it's been quite awhile since I've picked up a copy of Harpers so now's as good a time as any. I do admit to regarding Stanley Fish rather dispassionately and with some ambiguity, imo he can range anywhere from very helpful and insightful to being little or nothing more than a sophist. But thanks again.

More generally and for the record, as something which does better summarize my own skepticism toward a Darwinian evolutionary thesis (i.e., randomness and chance operating on a materialist substrate), David Berlinski's The Deniable Darwin is probably as good as any single piece, first appearing in Commentary ten years ago, then followed in a subsequent issue with a lengthy set of responses and extensive replies by Berlinski to those responses. Well reasoned and cogent throughout. Berlinski's article and its sundry replies and counter replies along with the general brouhaha which accompanied it were all somewhat formative or at least solidifying for my own skepticism, though it's only the most prominent example which comes to mind. Too, Berlinski is Ivy League educated, an avowed agnostic, a decided secularist and has served as a professor of philosophy and of mathematics both in France and in the U.S. (Yet despite Berlinski's bona fides and curriculum vitae, many of his evolutionist critics have attacked him along ad hominem grounds - e.g., Dawkins branding him a "creationist" - when in fact he's a skeptic who bases his argument along empirical/rational and congently articulated lines, also avoiding baser ad hominem snipes.)
11.28.2005 8:12pm