Kicking the Legs Out From Under the Willfully Ignorant

This is a heartwarming story: Homer Jacobson, a retired chemistry professor, Googles his name and discovers a scientific paper he wrote half a century ago, and which he discovers has errors in it, is being used by creationists using it to show how life couldn’t possibly have started up without help from God.

So he retracted it.

That is not because he objects to religion, he said. Though he was raised in a secular household, he said, “Religion is O.K. as long as you don’t fly in the face of facts.” After all, he said, no one can disprove the existence of God. But Dr. Jacobson said he was dismayed to think that people might use his work in what he called “malignant” denunciations of Darwin.

Things grew worse when he reread his paper, he said, because he discovered errors. One related to what he called a “conjecture” about whether amino acids, the basic building blocks of protein and a crucial component of living things, could form naturally.

“Under the circumstances I mention, just a bunch of chemicals sitting together, no,” he said. “Because it takes energy to go from the things that make glycene to glycene, glycene being the simplest amino acid.”

There were potential sources of energy, he said. So to say that nothing much would happen in its absence “is totally beside the point.” “And that is a point I did not make,” he added.

Another assertion in the paper, about what would have had to occur simultaneously for living matter to arise, is just plain wrong, he said, adding, “It was a dumb mistake, but nobody ever caught me on it.”

Well, he caught himself, rather after the fact. But once he did, he moved to correct the error. Because fundamentally (heh), that’s what science is about: Moving human understanding toward a more accurate representation of the world around us.

What will be interesting to see now is how long it will take for the creationist sites to catch on that a pillar of their defense has been removed; I suspect it will take a while. Which of course will make it fun for the scientifically minded who wander by their sites: “You’re still citing Jacobson? He retracted that piece, you know. Because it was wrong.” To which I can imagine the light-on-the-feet response might be: See, scientists are wrong about everything. You can’t trust them to tell you the truth.

Which, if that were to be the tack they’d take, would be missing the point. The reason to trust scientists to tell you the truth is that they’re always trying to prove things wrong — testing their assumptions and beliefs about the nature of things to see if they still work, or if they come undone with new information and observation. It’s a little pollyanna to suggest scientists like being wrong; scientists are all human and have egos and like most people like it when they’re right about things. And, being human, they can be intractable: Fred Hoyle would have rather died than give up on the steady-state theory of the universe (and he did). But fortunately scientists don’t have problems challenging the assumptions of other scientists. So it works out. On balance science and scientists provide an accurate view of matters relating to the physical world, so far as we understand them at the moment.

I don’t imagine Dr. Jacobsen liked discovering his work was wrong. But I suspect what he liked even less was that people are trying to use his work to spread ignorance. Thus, the retraction. Good for him.

88 thoughts on “Kicking the Legs Out From Under the Willfully Ignorant

  1. Does Athena get Veteran’s Day off? It’s a 3-day weekend, perfect for a short trip.

    Janicece, the Scientific Method most certainly rules.

  2. Nah, they’ll continue to point to it as “scientific proof” of how evolution is wrong. Once they grab a hold of something, they’re unable to release it. Same goes true with the easily defeated “irreducible complexity” and “entropy” arguments (basic logic errors, not in the the actual scientific basis/concepts, but how they applied to the evolution argument).

  3. I agree with Steve. The argument, if any will be made, will be, “He had right at first, but liberals steered him wrong…” More likely, they’ll ignore the retraction and assume that most folks won’t check to see that one exists. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be right about that.

  4. Not only will they not stop using his arguments, but they’ll point to his later retraction as proof of a secular conspiracy to deny God.

  5. Also, they have no problem citing a 1955 paper as the be-all, end-all of their arguments, because as a document it’s just a kid compared to their real sources. (grin)

    But citing a 1955 speculation piece in 2007 is fraught with all sorts of dangers in science. I, for one, am still waiting for my personal helicopter/car and — dammit — where’s my Moonbase and my promised manned mission to Jupiter (or Saturn, depending on your source) from six years ago? All I got today is another Space Shuttle launch where the efforts by NASA to reduce the foam shedding from the external tanks results in broken off foam pieces going from one to two to now six…

    Even Darwin has been revised by science, which means basing your arguments solely on what he wrote over a century ago is obsolete. Science marches on…

    Dr. Phil

  6. Dr. Phil:

    Yeah, the whole “we’re using a 50 year old paper” thing was a little silly. But it’s on par for that crowd.

  7. One of my favorite quotes from the late, great Carl Sagan:

    In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know, that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

    Good on you, Dr. Jacobson.

  8. Also, they have no problem citing a 1955 paper as the be-all, end-all of their arguments, because as a document it’s just a kid compared to their real sources. (grin)

    Dr. Phil, you slay me. LOL

  9. “What will be interesting to see now is how long it will take for the creationist sites to catch on that a pillar of their defense has been removed”

    Um, never? The Hovinds and Dembskis and Gishes of this world aren’t out to defend their position with logic or evidence. Their goal is to drown the opposition by spewing vast amounts of bullshit at them far faster than they can shovel it away again. Honestly, if Creationists recycled old bottle-tops like they recycle long-debunked arguments, the resuting stack would reach Alpha Centauri.

  10. Um – Hoyle championed the “steady-state” theory of the universe, not the “solid-state” theory. I have to admit, my mind boggles at the possibilities for the latter universe. Imagine the storylines: “US and Soviets compete to dig first tunnel to the moon!”

  11. @ Bob’s (excellent) Sagan quote, ” … I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”

    This, of course, happened after Carl’s time, but here’s the last time I recall something like that happening in politics:

    “Two years ago, I believed that civil unions were a fair alternative. Those beliefs, in my case, have changed.”

    — Jerry Sanders, Republican Mayor of San Diego, just a month ago

    Doesn’t happen nearly often enough, though.

  12. Asimov’s Corollary: “If a scientific heresy is ignored or denounced by the general public, there is a chance it may be right. If a scientific heresy is emotionally supported by the general public, it is almost certainly wrong.” In this same article: “It is not so much that I have confidence in scientists being right, but that I have so much in nonscientists being wrong….It is those who support ideas for emotional reasons only who can’t change.” (from 1977 essay “Asimov’s Corollary,” reprinted in Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright, 1977)

    By extension, this would make one question the scientific basis for Anthropogenic Climate Change as well.

  13. The creationists prove themselves to be uneducated loons every time they open their mouths. However the evolutionists do equal damage in my opinion by claiming scientific certainty for a range of things that can never be observed or proved ( i.e. not science).

    Jacobson’s idea that inert chemicals lying on a rock are more likely to remain that way then that they will get together and form glycene with or without an energy source wasn’t “overlooked” as he claims, rather it was taken for the common sense non-scientific statement that it was at the time.

    Like speculating that five pennies on a sidewalk might get together and become a nickle. Would it change your opinion if there were a high voltage power line in the area? a nuclear reactor? A mint? You shouldn’t have to be a scientist to get the right answer. It should be “common sense”.

    Jacobson’s restatement ( retraction) reflects a shift in the percieved “common sense” not a shift in the data.

    His original statement was not based on any observation or data. It was simply his educated opinion. His recent restatement is equally unfounded. He didn’t redo any experiment and discover an error. He just changed his mind.

    That he would do so to avoid association with the creationists is understandable, but hardly any different or more noble than moving away from a bum on the bus.

    “Science” is merely the accepted method of measuring things to see if your esteemed colleague is lying or not. And it has proven successful because it turns out that a lot of people do just make stuff up, and things work better if you can weed out the liars. It’s also why science doesn’t work by “consensus” or majority vote. However it is very limited if you use it to do anything else.

    The smug tone here that somehow “Science” proved it’s superiority because some old guy changed his mind about the outcome of a “conjecture” he wrote about 50 years ago is odd.

    At this point the guy looks more like the jerk who pulls the chair out from under someone just before they sit down. It might be funny to watch, but can you trust him? Do you want to celebrate him? Is that a heart warming profile in courage?

    John, given your stated view of creationists, I have to ask “Do you enjoy laughing at homeless people and retarded children as well?”

  14. Awesome.

    Did you notice that in the photo, his furniture is covered with polyethylene sheeting tacked to the walls. I assume it is to prevent the cockatiel (and perhaps its many friends) from pooping on the shelves. Can’t tell if his carpet is also plastic wrapped or just crunchy.

    So, anyway, in addition to being a conscientious scientist, he is also crazy bird man. Very cool.

  15. Drew:

    ““Science” is merely the accepted method of measuring things to see if your esteemed colleague is lying or not.”

    Well, no. This implies that scientists regularly and systematically lie, or plan to, regarding their work. If you’re going to make that claim, you’ll need to back it up with something more than anecdotes. Certainly, however, the scientific method is a way to test the hypotheses of others, to see if they pan out. Hypotheses are not lies, they are speculations, which are not the same thing.

    Re: your opinion of Jacobsen — you’re free to have it, but I think it’s kind of stupid. People willfully misusing information they don’t appear to entirely understand in order to deceive and confuse others are not poor benighted souls; they’re actively malicious, and Jacobsen was correct to formally deprive them of the evidence for which they formulated their argument.

    “John, given your stated view of creationists, I have to ask ‘Do you enjoy laughing at homeless people and retarded children as well?'”

    Absolutely, and I have stopped beating my wife, too.

    More to the point, your implied association of creationists with homeless or the mentally deficient is a remarkably bad one. Creationists are willfully ignorant, as opposed to being incapable of understanding or victims of mental disease (as many chronically homeless are). It’s not the same thing, and suggesting an equivalence is tendentious.

  16. Drew, to carry John’s analogy farther, the homeless and retarded aren’t demanding that I be homeless and retarded as well. This is unlike the creationists which demand that I, if not believe as they do, shut up about about what I know. For that, they’ve actively engaged me in the debate, they deserve the scorn and witty rejoiners that fly their way.

  17. If a scientific heresy is emotionally supported by the general public, it is almost certainly wrong.”

    Frank’s right: this ought to apply to global warming too.

  18. John,

    You seem to intentionally miss/ignore my point on Jacobson.

    “Jacobsen was correct to formally deprive them of the evidence”

    There is no evidence. In his original paper, Jacobsen offers an opinion on what might have happened billions of years ago. An educated opinion I am sure, but not evidence. He doesn’t know. There is no data. None. Now 55 years later he changes his opinion on what might have been billions of years ago. Still no data. This is not science. At best it is a Kipplingesque “just so ” story.

    That he doesn’t want them to use him as a character reference is understandable, but to suggest that he is acting as a “scientist” who is correcting facts that have been contaminated by exposure to the great unwashed is risable. 55 years ago he stated an opinion that the creationists found to be sympathetic to their own stories. Today he changed that opinion because he doesn’t like being a part of their story. There is no hard science in any of that. In fact his statement that he retracted his paper solely because he was embarrassed by the connection to the creationists makes my point that the action had nothing to do with “science”. Hence my point that evolutionists damage their position when they claim the mantle of “science” to back speculation of this nature. It’s not a good practice.

    ——-
    your statement :

    “People willfully misusing information they don’t appear to entirely understand in order to deceive and confuse others are not poor benighted souls; they’re actively malicious”

    makes a whole lot of assumptions that are unjustified, but are certainly consistant with your bias. Whatever else they might be “creationists” are true believers who put in the time because they actually believe that what they are saying is both true and important. The fact that they are also wrong is irrelevant. They certainly do not see their actions as anything but a positive gesture of goodwill.

    Your statement implies/states that they know up front that they are wrong and they persist in what they know to be a hoax with the intent of ruining the lives of as many strangers as they can.

    There is no way that you can support that.

    Finally, the homeless/retarded shot was not meant to equate creationists literally with those people or to comment on your domestic relations, rather it was a reflection of my impression that you rank creationists intellectually and emotionally at that level and it doesn’t seem very sporting of you to mock a group of people that you have classified as being that deficient.

    However, if, as your earlier comment suggests, you actually think that they are very smart people who have dedicated themselves to peddling a hoax to the uneducated because they are evil, then I can see your point, and I apologize for the cheap shot. Certainly exposing people like that is a worthy cause.

    Finally, I don’t see the harm in these people that you do. Evolution is probably correct, but it doesn’t affect me. The timeline is so long that I will never see the effects in my blip of a life. It doesn’t change the math, physics, or chemistry that makes modern life run. It has no practical applications that I can see. It is full of holes that can never be plugged. So what? Does it really matter if we all started out as an accident or as a creation? Does your life suddenly have more or less meaning if you pick one or the other?

  19. Drew:

    “You seem to intentionally miss/ignore my point on Jacobson.”

    Which is to say: “you’re not having the conversation I want to have on this matter.” Well, you know, Drew. That happens sometimes. When you have a conversation, you don’t always get to choose how it plays out.

    “There is no evidence. In his original paper, Jacobsen offers an opinion on what might have happened billions of years ago. An educated opinion I am sure, but not evidence.”

    Would that the creationists felt the same way — they’ve been using it for that purpose in regards to their point, regardless of whether Jacobsen himself (or anyone else) views it as such. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll put the word in quotes (“evidence”) to reflect its spurious nature, but the point I made is not diminished therein.

    “Your statement implies/states that they know up front that they are wrong”

    Well, yes. Creationists are well aware their beliefs run well counter the vast preponderance of scientific evidence; this is why they spend so much of their time gulling the credulous with their half-baked pseudo-scientific positions which look just rigorous enough to seem reasonable to people who don’t know much. If creationists fellow travelers, the intelligent designers, has genuine confidence in the scientific basis of their hypotheses, they would do what scientists do: Submit their work to peer review and abandon the work if it should be disproved. They don’t because they know it wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. Their game isn’t to prove they’re right; it’s to cast unwarranted doubt on science, for their own ideological purposes. It’s dishonest; they know it’s dishonest, and for that matter so do I. You seem to be under the impression that it’s not, or that they genuinely don’t know they’re participating in a hoax, and if you’d like to have that opinion, that’s fine. I don’t hold much truck with it, myself.

    “I don’t see the harm in these people that you do.”

    I think these people are perfectly free to believe what they want, of course. The issue isn’t that they believe what they believe, but that they continually attempt to force these beliefs on others, notably in the schools, where they tendentiously (to use the word twice in one day) try to give their belief the same scientific equivalence as theories that have been rigorously tested over the course of decades.

  20. Drew, much of modern medicine finds it’s base in evolution. Genetics, genetic studies, and genetic based therapies base much of their research of DNA around the Theory of Evolution. If evolution weren’t true, using animals for drug testing wouldn’t work.

    As for the holes in evolution, I believe you are confusing disagreements between the fast and slow camps, and viral versus mutation theory of gentic drift with the Theory of Evolution. The Theory itself has no holes. The practical application has some things we don’t understand, yet, but that’s only because nobody has definiative research. None of that research would invalidate the Theory, only explain the mechanisms and clairify processes.

  21. That should read, none of the research is expected to invalidate the Theory, since it’s research on mechanisms, not on the Theory itself. What they actually come up with when their done could pose more questions than it answers. In the past, however, with arguments like those that are being made, it is usually discovered that both sides are correct, and it’s a matter of degree (such as it is possible to have slow genetic drift puntuated by periods of fast genetic change with the aid of many retro-virusii).

  22. Drew:

    What is your scientific background? I have a bachelors in biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (before I became a social worker serving the homeless – yeah thanks so much for your asinine cheap shot at them), so what I am going to say comes from some years of study.

    You want to see evolution in action? OK. How about the evolution of drug resistant tuberculosis, something that if you get, could kill you. Or, the evolution of HIV viral particles. Which, again, if you get it, it could kill you. This is evolution on a micro scale. Small enough for your mind to comprehend. If you want, we could start discussing some of the bigger things that impact you….

  23. I just want to take a moment and thank you, John, for using the word “tack” in the proper sense. I mean, not that you wouldn’t, seeing as you’re an educated professional writer, but gawd so many people blunder on that one that actually seeing it used correctly is like a sweet breath of fresh air.

    You’d think people had forgotten about sailboats or something.

    Resume flamefest… :)

  24. It might also be noted in passing that the creationists don’t believe in the physics or chemistry “that makes life run,” either. If the world is only around six thousand years old, a great deal of what we know is wrong, and not merely in biology. The speed of light is inconstant (so much for satellite and tower relay of communications). Unstable atomic nuclei don’t decay at certain statistically predictable rates. Continental plates don’t move the way we think they do. Fossil fuels can’t possibly form in the way they’re believed to.

    If the creationists wanted to be truly consistent, they’d eschew vaccinations as unproven jiggery-pokery, disavow cell phones as black magic, oppose ANWR drilling as simply a matter of drilling random holes in the ground, and call for a complete ban on the fissile triggers of nuclear weapons (and a resulting mass disarmament) on the grounds that nuclear fission is at best a hoax and at worst a dangerous misunderstanding. Oddly enough, a significant number of creationists identify themselves as “conservatives” and Republicans, yet these aren’t major planks of the Republican party. Go figure.

  25. I’m… kind of glad Jacobson did what he did. It’s not that I want Creationists to be citing 50 year old papers that have long been disproven. Yet…

    I kind of worry about the precedent. Retraction of a mistaken paper shouldn’t be the author’s responsibility. If a scientific theory is wrong, it will be superseded by future theories. Newton doesn’t need to declare that his Theory of Gravitation is wrong (or at least, limited) for it to be so.

    Won’t the creationists then dig up another ancient paper, and when you criticize its inaccuracies, they’ll just say “Well look, this guy never retracted it!” Authorial retraction, needless to say, is not the scientific method. The scientific method is bigger than one man and his opinion about a subject, no matter who the man is.

  26. I think it’s kind of foolish to believe that creationists employ some sort of academic honesty or integrity when spewing their mountain of mythology. Their goal is to cram their worthless Bible into whatever facet of our secular educational system they can.

    Essentially, they have nothing, and they know this. Their only method by which to gain some sort of respect for their “theory” is by attacking the veracity of legitimate science. It’s infuriating.

    To me, creationists should be mocked, ridiculed and laughed at for the brainwashed, groveling morons they truly are. Their ideas are worthless. The have absolutely no legitimate foundation for their theory, and they have done nothing to deserve an academic forum in which to teach their ignorance.

    Now, you may sit there and say that no harm is being done, but when your child’s education in a science class is spun off into a time-wasting irrelevant tangent because of Bible study, are you still going to believe no harm is being done?

  27. Geeze, Dan, did a Creationist burn your village? Or are you just intolerant of intolerance?

    Sounds like some of you would have Creationists rounded up and put on an island with others like them. Aren’t we, as an (supposed) enlightened group of future thinkers (read: scifi readers) supposed to be just a bit less judgmental? I know it’s human to feel your opinion is the best, but it’s also polite to respect the differences in our opinions.

    For instance, I don’t really believe in either Creation or Evolution. Not really. I think they are both interesting, and have their own relative merits: Creationism for it’s faith in a higher power, and Evolution for it’s scientific “proof” in, um, a higher power.

    This is not to say things don’t evolve over time, but it always seems to be a linear evolution, like the viruses mentioned earlier. They may be stronger, and they may be different, but they are different within the confines of what makes them what they are. I have yet to hear anything that makes me completely accept vertical evolution.

    I guess it would be more accurate to say I have no opinion one way or the other.

    Now, go ahead and mock me. I can take it. I’m pretty secure in my opinion, and have yet to hear or read anything which has changed it – not for lack of trying. I’ve read quite a bit about evolution. My wife is a Veterinarian and has explained the biology to me. I’ve known scientists who gave it a shot. I just had too many questions where their answers were, “We don’t know.” Not much any of you could say on a message board will sway me, either- and what I mean by that is I would need quite a bit of convincing, and this message board just does not have enough room for that.

    However, what I will NOT do, and what I am just surprised to see, is the venomous attacks on those you disagree with. Creationists may not have science at their beck and call, but some very smart people have faith and that makes them happy. And not all of them are trying to force their beliefs on others. Some find it abhorrent the way their religion has been co-opted by attention-seekers and opportunists.

    I’ve always been told by my atheist friends that their way is better because they force their views on others. I think they would be shocked at the comments on this topic.

  28. EDIT: “I’ve always been told by my atheist friends that their way is better because they DO NOT force their views on others. I think they would be shocked at the comments on this topic.”

    Sorry. I even read it before I posted and didn’t catch that.

  29. I think these people are perfectly free to believe what they want, of course. The issue isn’t that they believe what they believe, but that they continually attempt to force these beliefs on others, notably in the schools, where they tendentiously (to use the word twice in one day) try to give their belief the same scientific equivalence as theories that have been rigorously tested over the course of decades.

    And that’s the problem.

    I don’t even mind if they get to teach it in schools.

    Just not in science class or as science at all.

  30. Corby Kennard, given their behavior towards my wife in class (she teaches college biology), and my own experience with them in real life as they try to “convert me,” I agree with Dan’s position that they should be laughed at and mocked.

  31. Corby, I’m rather confused by your message, here. Are you saying that you equate scientific proof as being as equally unprovable as faith? I can certainly see a case being made for some scientists being dogmatic and as locked into their world view as any religion…but it sounds like you’re trying to eat your cake and have it, too. This is, after all, the core argument that Creationists who are trying to force things like Intelligent Design as good science are putting forth. The idea that their faith REQUIRES a rigorous burden of proof. I don’t even know if we can say that the rise of science has really had that big of an effect on the membership of Christianity. According to the CIA’s world-book, roughly 33% of Earth’s population considers itself Christian, making it the most popular religion in the world.

    What is the subtle difference between ‘not fully accepting’ and ‘accepting’? Saying that evolution has gaps that need to be filled is a lot different, to me, than saying the theory of evolution is no easier to prove than Methusaleh’s age or the validity of a burning bush. I don’t invalidate anyone’s spirituality…but by definition, spirituality and faith shouldn’t require or attempt to use scientific methods to validate itself. And I certainly don’t want my children to be forced to consider bad science of any kind simply because of a political effort of individuals who selectively reject science that threatens their faith.

    It seems to me that there are plenty of folks who have no problem either deciding that parts of the Bible are allegory and not literal truth and that it doesn’t threaten the depth of their faith at all. Any more than my non-religious feelings upset or are upset by close relatives who hold strong convictions. Faith and Science are separate disciplines and should remain so.

  32. I’ve never made a firm decision about whether or not I believe in God, but in my moments of leaning toward the affirmative, the God I envision is certainly capable of creating a world where Evolution is the the ruling system. Denying Evolution seems to me to diminish the God Creationists so loudly proclaim.

  33. Nathan, that’s because the (Evangelical Christian) Creationism vs Evolution has nothing to do with either God or science. It’s really about man’s position in the cosmos.

  34. Science cannot say whether a divine force exists or not, and doesn’t attempt to. The massive paleontological and genetic evidence in favor of evolution doesn’t say there is no God–any more than the massive geological, physical and astronomical evidence that the universe is billions of years old says there is no God. The evidence does say that specific religious accounts of the origin of the universe cannot be taken literally, but the space shuttle tells you that every time it fails to crash into a firmament.

    Science can tell you little (probably nothing) about morals, ethics, philosophy or your reason for existing. The conflict over evolution isn’t a conflict between faith and science–it’s a conflict between religious dogma and contradictory evidence.

    By all means, believe in God if you’d like. But if you tell me fundamentals of biology, geology, physics and astronomy are wrong you can expect me to argue with you–and possibly even to mock you.

  35. WizarDru:

    First off, let me thank you for not calling me a “moonbat” or telling me to get my tin-foil hat. I appreciate your response – you prove one can be tough and opinionated without being rude and dogmatic.

    OK.

    I believe there is a scientific principle that allows things to change over time, becoming more attuned to their environment. I believe in Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest, at least at it’s most basic tenet. I believe that the world, and the universe, is billions if not trillions of years old. I believe this process of change is important to understand because it can help us fight disease, improve quality of life and lengthen lifespans.

    I DON’T believe things become other things. I just don’t. I’ve had it explained to me scientifically, in layman’s terms, in college: I’ve read about it, I’ve looked for the proof that will explain it to me – and no matter what I’ve explored it always sounds like “magic”. Sorry, I guess I’m willfully ignorant.

    I also believe in a “higher consciousness” I call God, but I don’t think it interacts with us at all.

    I believe that there are more choices than Evolution and Creationism – a third choice, a fourth choice, etc.

    I believe we’ve stopped looking for it because, as you have pointed out, some scientists are dogmatic and locked into a position. I would do you one better though – I believe Science is dogmatic and locked into a position. Just like Christianity and Creationism. In fact, I see little difference between the rabid purveyors of either faith.

    That is not to say that Creationism is a scientific principle – it is not. I’m not stupid. Neither are all of the 33% someone quoted who believe in Creationism – and the 66% who apparently believe in Evolution aren’t all brilliant deep thinkers. Many if not most from both camps are indoctrinates who do not have a deep understanding of their own position because they either don’t really care or are too busy not going to college because they are working at cafes, joining the military, working the farm, etc. Assuming everyone has the time and acumen to accept evolution and reject creationism is to lack understanding of the working class, and calling those people morons says a lot about the person doing the finger-pointing.

    Besides, what’s wrong with having my cake and eating it too? I’m not a scientist, my views on evolution change nothing, and they make me happy. It doesn’t change my life one way or the other, and it doesn’t threaten anyone else’s. My daughter will have access to the information and will be able to make her own decision. I’m not forcing my views on anyone, I’m pretty secure in my opinions, and I enjoy a good debate. And if someone can finally explain evolution to me in a way I can understand, and I’m pretty damn smart even if I’ve only got an associates degree, I will consider if I believe in it and may very well change my opinion.

    And Steve and Dan – mocking others for their beliefs is pretty hypocritical. We all have beliefs that are at loggerheads with the “mainstream” and are therefore able to be mocked by someone. All you are doing is validating that other person in their ridicule of you, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what you want.

  36. An Eric:

    I disagree – you said it better. I had no idea what Steve was trying to say.

    But again, I really think the mocking should end. All it does is cement the others position by making them defensive – you teach other people nothing by mocking them, and just make an opponent more entrenched in their ideals, wrong or not.

  37. I am not a creationist. I believe in a God who created us but the mechanism by which he did so is not known to me.

    That said, I was not aware that Evolution had been proven. Natural selection has been observed (see the resistant tuberculosis mentioned above) but selecting for already extant traits is not evolution.

    Evolutionists have not demonstrated, to my knowledge, even a single example of an evolutionary improvement that could have happened and held on through the incremental change possible from natural mechanisms we’re aware of. As far as I’ve been able to see their arguments largely consist of “God doesn’t exist therefore there MUST be a natural explanation for this stuff. Duh.”

    Admittedly, I do not have a science degree nor have I made an exhaustive study of the literature. But I’m not dumb. If someone could point me to an example of evolution, even one that has only been modeled, that demonstrates advantageous change (change that can be selected for) at every chemically incremental stage from, say, no eye spot to a working eyespot (or anything that involves going from zero complexity to high complexity really) I’d love to see it.

  38. John,

    I have no intention of defending the Creationists. They are wrong on the facts.

    However, you are also wrong when you insist that these people know that they are wrong and that they are pushing their positions just to be perverse. You are ascribing a level of evil to this group that you simply can’t back up. Whatever your personal opinion of Christianity, it doesn’t condone lying.

    Your statement:

    “Well, yes. Creationists are well aware their beliefs run well counter the vast preponderance of scientific evidence”

    Is curious at best. Science does not operate by consensus, or even preponderance of the evidence. It hinges on verifiable proof. There are numerous cases where what everyone thought to be settled science turned out to be wrong. Last year the nobel prize in medicine went to a doc in Australia who showed that stomache ulcers are caused by bacteria and not acid. For years he was the only one who held this opinion. He was laughed out of all of the major conferences. The peer reviewed journals refused to accept his papers. Whole industries ( the purple pill) were built on the fact that he was wrong. But it turned out that he was right.

    This is not an argument for the creationists. This is an argument against saying that if someone disagrees with the prevailing scientific consensus then they must be either stupid or dishonest. They could be right. The creationists clearly think that they fall into this category and they expect to be vindicated.

    As I said before, the root of the problem here is that both sides are dealing with ideas that can not be adjudicated by science. There is no experiment that will definitively show what happened on this planet billions of years ago. It’s impossible.

    As for Jacobsen, your admission that his article dealt with an opinion rather than fact does change your whole argument. He changed his mind in order to stiff the creationists and retain the affirmation of his peers. You think that’s cool, I think it’s petty, whatever it is, it’s not science. I’ll spare you the obvious schoolyard analogies.

  39. Drew:

    “Whatever your personal opinion of Christianity, it doesn’t condone lying.”

    Wonderful. Tell that to the creationists, who continue to present discredited data, despite the fact it’s been refuted time and again, which means that they are willfully, consciously and, yes, perversely, lying. They are lying liars who lie, and possibly, theologically speaking, goddamned liars at that.

    I think it’s sweet that you seem to be under the impression that they aren’t lying, possibly because they’re Christians, and Christians think lying is wrong. However, aside from the fact we have ample evidence of Christians lying in a general sense (indeed, the ratio of liars to Christians in this world is roughly one to one, as it is, roughly, for every other group), the fact of the matter is you’re wrong about this. It’s not to the advantage of creationists to admit that scientifically they’re completely in the wrong; it is in their advantage to dissemble and obfuscate and confuse and lie. They are liars. You seem to have difficulty processing this fact, Drew, but your inability to process it doesn’t make it any less true.

    Incidentally, you would do well not to make the sloppy mistake of using “Christian” and “Creationist” interchangably. Not every Christian is a creationist; for that matter, not every creationist is Christian, although that’s the variety we most encounter here in the US.

    “Science does not operate by consensus, or even preponderance of the evidence. It hinges on verifiable proof.”

    This statement suggests you are fairly ignorant about science, Drew. Scientists toss up a lot of hypotheses, many of which are shot down as false; those hypotheses that rigorously stand up to testing move up to theory category, and even then may be eventually disproven. What they’re doing is science, which ultimately hinges not on proving things but disproving them. It’s fair to say much of what we know are theories of the world that have not yet been disproven. There is very little out there that is “proven,” i.e., absolutely and immutably true; there is quite a lot out there that we know because the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests a particular theory is true; for example, the theory of gravity.

    Likewise, your anecdotal notation of how scientists are sometimes wrong or bullheaded does not change the fact that a) there is preponderance of evidence, developed over decades of rigorous testing and review, that give us a view of many of the major features of evolution, and b) independent of this, that the hypotheses of creationists of varying stripes are disprovable, and generally easily so. Your assumption is that creationists don’t know either a) or b). Again, I think that sweet of you, but I also think you’re quite wrong. They know, and they’re odious for continuing to proselytize their nonsense regardless.

  40. Evolution isn’t about things “becoming” other things. Evolution is about speciation.

    I’m merely an interested layman, and I don’t want to botch this. I’d be happy to step aside and let someone more qualified step in and explain things. But I wll at least try to get the ball started down the field.

    Darwin’s core insight was something along these lines: a given population of animals (or plants or whatever) will be in competition for resources–food, mates, etc. Individual animals within that population that are more able to secure those resources will have a greater probability of passing those traits on to descendants through reproduction, while less-able animals will have a lower probability of passing on traits.

    This selective process is roughly analagous to a farmer consciously picking two animals to breed for a particular trait, and not breeding those who lack a trait. In natural selection, instead of a farmer determining what makes an animal “suitable,” the availability of environmental niches determines viability. (The possibility of some divine consciousness shaping the environment is left to philosophers to argue.)

    Where natural selection leads to evolution, in traditional Darwinism, comes in when a population splits and the resulting populations become isolated from each other. As traits are selected from generation to generation, the populations become more genetically distinct. (While classical Darwinism predates genetics, some notion of hereditability was obvious to anyone who bred animals.) Over time, it is possible for the populations to become so genetically distinct that they can no longer produce viable offspring together if the populations are somehow brought together again.

    At that point, we might say speciation has occurred, although saying precisely when it occurred might only be a guess.

    At no point, however, did any individual creature “become something else.” Indeed, in one sense what has really changed, other than the genetic makeup of the original population’s descendants, is the criteria we use to label kinds, that is to say that identifying species and distinguishing species from subspecies or varieties can be a murky business. (This should not be construed as a criticism of “species” as a valid biological concept.)

    I hope the experts will now come in and clarify and correct what I’ve written. The point, though, is that saying you don’t believe things change into other things is well and good–evolutionists don’t believe that either, and haven’t since Lamarck.

    As for claiming there’s no proof or that the argument is, “there’s no god, therefore….” First, re-read the literature. It’s out there. Second, Darwinism doesn’t address whether there’s a god or not, and the existence of god is irrelevant to the basic principles. The “argument” is that we can see biological diversity, we can see transitional forms in the fossil record, we can compare genetic material, and we can reason by analogy from an artificial process of selection that is as old as agriculture.

    Hope I haven’t botched this too much, and sorry for the length.

  41. Conrad, “Assuming everyone has the time and acumen to accept evolution and reject creationism is to lack understanding of the working class, and calling those people morons says a lot about the person doing the finger-pointing.”

    I made no such claim, nor disparaged any class. As for a lack of understanding and calling them morons, I have a higher respect for them than you obviously do, because you are the one that believes they can’t or won’t understand evolution because you don’t. Or would you like to see my teamster’s union card (GCCIBT Local M546, Cleveland) to show you that I am square in the working class.

    If you wish to say that as a matter of doctrinal faith that you believe in a literal -biblical creation, I’ve got no problem. When creationists say not only should I believe it, but also that we should teach it to children as “science” then those people deserve my scorn and mockery. The same as people who think that what really went wonky with the modern world was that children didn’t have organized prayer times in school anymore.

  42. An Eric:

    “Evolution isn’t about things “becoming” other things. ”

    Since evolution is called upon to explain how you me and the fishies all came from some common origin, that origin being nothing but chemicals present on the early earth, I think it IS actually about “becoming” other things. According to evolution, there needs to be an unbroken chain of progression. At some stage organisms that did not have eyespots evolved into organisms that did have eyespots. This goes far beyond speciation. And every intermediate step had to be caused by natural/random forces and promoted by natural selection.

    Now, I’ve read papers that point out that the intermediate advantageous steps between no eyespot and eyespot needn’t have had anything to do with light reception at the beginning. They could have filled other purposes entirely and progressed smoothly from purpose to purpose into the “oh hay i can see light now—food!” state. What those papers failed to do was make even an attempt at describing how the actual physical changes that had to happen for the eyespot to evolve could have been caused by natural/random forces or how the intermediate steps would be promoted by natural selection. That I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it’s not out there though. That’s why I asked someone to point me to it.

    “As for claiming there’s no proof or that the argument is, “there’s no god, therefore….” First, re-read the literature. It’s out there.”

    I didn’t claim that there’s no proof, nor that the only argument is “there’s no god, therefore…” In fact I only said the arguments “largely” consist of “there’s no god, therefore…” And I said I wasn’t aware of any proof or even a hypothetical model that explained how evolution could work in the necessary detail for rigor. You say it’s out there. Seriously, help me out, show me. Give me a link or a reference or something. I’m not being facetious. If it’s out there I want to know about it.

    Steve:

    I’m with you against the literal-biblical creation being taught as fact in schools. (Though I think you were talking to Corby and I don’t think he said he believed that either.)

    But given the absence of the kind of rigorous hypothetical model I describe above Evolution also falls into the “When “they” say not only should I believe it, but also that we should teach it to children as “science” then those people deserve my scorn and mockery” category.

    On a general note, I think we’re falling into a false dichotomy. Evolutionists and Creationists aren’t the only ones out there. The Intelligent Designists, for example, simply point out that if we cannot show how natural/random forces made changes that were then promoted by natural selection then we have to at least allow for the possibility of something else being involved. And since that something else isn’t random it must be some sort of directed or at least organizing force. Whether you think of that force as God or a currently unobserved-by-man phenomenon in opposition to entropy is immaterial to the IDs.

  43. Skar: ” Whether you think of that force as God or a currently unobserved-by-man phenomenon in opposition to entropy is immaterial to the IDs.”

    “Immaterial?” I normally avoid these discussions like the plague, but I do feel compelled to call “foul!” on this. Perhaps I’m misinformed, but I can’t think of a single ID proponent that wasn’t also an advocate of a literal interpretation of the biblical creation story. You don’t have to be disciple of Dawkins to recognize that ID is essentially Creationism in a lab coat.

  44. I didn’t mean to claim there are no IDers who advocate literal biblical creation. I’m sure there are some but I’m also sure there are plenty who don’t. Nevertheless, the root idea behind ID itself does not require literal biblical creation. That is what I meant by immaterial.

    It’s easy for evolutionists to lump everyone who disagrees with them into the zealot-religious-fruitbasket category, but not exactly honest. Especially when they can’t yet answer the questions posed.

  45. Skar: I guess I’m having a hard time accepting that there are “plenty” of IDers who are not also sympathetic to Creationism. I can’t think of a single example, although I confess I haven’t researched the topic. Feel free to correct me.

    Btw, I’m not lumping anyone into anything, although I do think a fruit basket makes a wonderful gift. There’s plenty of boorishness, self-righteousness and bad rhetoric on all sides of this debate. But I do find ID’s incorporation of the *language* of scientific inquiry particularly grating.

  46. You know, I just realized I’m not really interested in defending the ID movement. I honestly don’t know enough to make a sweeping statement that the group now identifying themselves as Intelligent Design proponents does not consist nearly entirely of zealously-religious-fruitbaskets. It is perfectly possible that you are right and the whole group consists of creationist nuts dressed up in labcoats.

    I have considered myself an IDer for some time but when I was first introduced to the concept of Intelligent Design, it had nothing to do with requiring a literal interpretation of the bible. It was this simple:

    If we can’t show that it’s at least possible for evolution to happen with nothing but random natural forces and natural selection then we have eliminated nothing from the range of possibilities. But if random chance doesn’t explain it, then all that’s left is something that’s NOT random. And whether you call that NOT random thing God or undiscovered-anti-entropy-rays or the intelligent designer is immaterial.

    I renew my request for a link to a model that describes how random natural forces could produce all the necessary changes to go from nothing to something complicated, and an explanation of how each and every intermediate stage would be promoted by natural selection.

    Without at least that, evolutionists are asking for blind faith as much as the creationists are.

    Faith that God did it in 7 days 6000 years ago.
    or
    Faith that there’s some mechanism by which evolution works…that we haven’t discovered yet.

    And, for the record, I too find people who use the *language* of scientific inquiry to dress up emotional propoganda intensely annoying. On the other hand I also find it intensely annoying when scientists resort to, “well, everyone says so” to support their arguments. Slappage is in order in both cases.

  47. Skar: part of the problem is that you seem insistent that the relevant unit is the organism and not the species or population. As far as I can tell, you want to argue against Lamarckism, but that’s a straw man. Nobody worth mentioning buys into Lamarckism.

    It’s also a straw man to argue that the sole or even primary argument in favor of evolution is an atheistic one. God doesn’t enter into it.

    On the other hand, if somebody wants to insist that a supernatural power is creating species, they need to offer proof to advance that claim. As far as I can tell, your only argument is the same one that the ID advocates advance: I don’t believe the evidence that’s being offered, or there’s some gap in human knowledge–therefore, intelligent supernatural agency must be at work. It doesn’t follow.

    Allowing for possibilities is endless and useless: it is possible that I created you as a figment of my imagination five minutes ago. Until there’s some evidence to support that claim, it doesn’t deserve a bit of credence. It’s possible that human intelligence was spontaneously endowed by a 1x3x9 brick reminiscent of a Hershey Bar; that’s not science, either. And until you prove that God exists, that’s not science, although you’re entitled to your opinion on the subject.

    You also seem to misunderstand what science is and does. Science accumulates answers and questions, but that doesn’t mean there will be no further questions nor does it mean that existing questions won’t be answered. Newtonian gravitation was, to some extent at least, incomplete until Einstein, and there remain “problems” in relativity that continue to be pursued. That doesn’t mean that gravity doesn’t exist nor does it mean that Newton shouldn’t have been taught in the 19th century or Einstein in the 21st.

  48. Skar, here’s an example. Some of us humans have lost the melanin in our skin in order to process light better. These people are mostly found from heritage sites that were toward the poles. Those that kept their melanin, which helps protect them from too much sun exposure, are from heritage sites closer to the equator. In addition, people toward the poles in general possess greater body mass and have straighter hair as this helps prevent heat loss. Those toward the equator tend toward less body mass and have curly hair which helps with heat loss. These and other environments cause these and other traits to be selected for. Simple natural selection within the same species. Modern travel (a few thousand years), forced migration, resettlements and first world diets have changed some of these parameters. Also within our species we have dwarfism, putitary giantism, albinoism, and thousands of other variants that are noticeable. So while these changes to some people can seem drastic, they really aren’t. We are still the same species, that is we are the same down to the last level of classification. We are the same as proved by the fact that couples that are considered “interracial” can have successful children (they survive, thrive, and have their own children). So imagine the degree of change that would be needed to show new species. So those small changes you wish to see don’t exist, because they are intraspecies.

    As for the great transitions, you would need to visit a natural history museum to see those. The reason that we can’t point and say, “there’s the stages” is because the changes are very minute, and once those changes that are advantageous win out, the older species no longer exists. Not everything becomes a fossil, and not all fossils have been found or identified.

    Also understand that change occurs, then natural selection weeds out the changes that aren’t advantageous. There’s no “this animal must change this way to meet the new environment” clause. Animals that are unable to reproduce successfully will die out (only the fit survive, this is what “fit” means). Those changes that make such reproduction (which there are many) either impossible or difficult will die out in favor of those changes that don’t. The majority of “change” on the chemical level usually leads to the animal dying out. Evolution looks past individuals. It’s a meta view.

    So lets take the example of the resistant tuberculosis. The reason why this is an example of Darwinism is that it demonstrates that within a population there is natural variation. That is in normal TB, one of the strains that exists is the resistant TB. But since there, in nature, isn’t any constrain or selection pressure, all the strains continue in their proportion, continuing with their own random drift. As long as the bacteria can reproduce, and resistance doesn’t select out for poor reproduction, it continues to carry forward. Then we change the environment that the strains have to exist in (at least when the bacteria infect humans, and maybe some animal reservoirs) by adding in bacteriocidals (drugs) which adjust the environment and select for resistance. Suddenly the bacteria that carried that mutation that allows resistance are able to reproduce faster than the other strains. So it’s still TB, but by altering the environment we are adding the pressure for selecting for resistance. Given a few million generations and we may have a new species of bacteria, which carry the resistance (to modern drugs) with them.

    The argument for observing evolution in the laboratory is also pretty specious. Evolution to new species take thousands and millions of generations. To show how slow this process is, human generations are defined by twenty-year periods (despite what marketers define generations). So from the founding of this country, we’ve experienced ten and a half generations. Since Christ there have been one hundred generations. Since the dawn of civilization there have been a little over 300 generations.

    However you can look at the fossil record and say, “This animal in this epoch evolved from this animal in this previous epoch, if that is true, we should see animals that are in between, that carry traits of both during these intervening epochs while not finding the two animals we think are related during those times.” While we may not have the full fossil record, we do find animals that match those parameters.

    I’m probabvly not explaining this well, but it’s been a very long day capped with a very long drive, but I hope this helps.

  49. I forgot to mention that many changes are neither beneficial or detrimental. So that change continues forward in the population (even being passed into new species) until some pressure that will either see that change as a benefit or as a detriment.

  50. Steve:

    First off, my name is not Conrad. Moving on.

    “That is not to say that Creationism is a scientific principle – it is not. I’m not stupid.”

    This speaks for itself. Moving on.

    “Neither are all of the 33% someone quoted who believe in Creationism – and the 66% who apparently believe in Evolution aren’t all brilliant deep thinkers. ”

    I think we can all agree on this as well. Using the numbers presented from someone else, since I am just making an assumption in order to make a point, I am trying to say that all of everyone is not brilliant, and some are downright dumb, but the average of all are about average. Assuming this is true, the next statement:

    “Many if not most from both camps are indoctrinates who do not have a deep understanding of their own position because they either don’t really care or are too busy not going to college because they are working at cafes, joining the military, working the farm, etc.”

    Many people don’t know or misunderstand evolution, and creationism for that matter. In fact, this may surprise you, but many people don’t even think about it as more than a passing concept that exists, and it has no bearing on their lives. There are also those, by extrapolation, that DO think about this stuff all the time, and concern themselves with finding answers to questions, and somehow make time to do so.

    Do I feel more people should be the latter instead of the former? Yes. I do. But they are not – they are raising kids, they are working in factories, they are even teachers and homemakers, and they have a hard enough time dealing with what they see in front of them. They don’t even GET to ask the hard questions, regardless of finding the answers. They let their faith, which has been driven into them since childhood (and that includes evolution) work for them, and if asked, they could not give you a good description of how it (their faith) works. I think many people would be surprised what they actually believe in if they thought it through.

    “Assuming everyone has the time and acumen to accept evolution and reject creationism is to lack understanding of the working class, and calling those people morons says a lot about the person doing the finger-pointing.”

    Dan said: “To me, creationists should be mocked, ridiculed and laughed at for the brainwashed, groveling morons they truly are. Their ideas are worthless.”

    That was the comment I was referring to. I was not singling you out, Steve, and was really trying not to single anyone out, but your response seems to indicate you feel I’ve attacked you in some way.

    Dan seems to be saying every single person who believes in creationism has nothing to offer the planet. He is confusing, IMHO, those who merely have faith and go about their daily lives and those who actively try to force their faith into the schools and lives of those who do not desire it. Creationists who claim their faith has some scientific basis ARE being dishonest, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong (in that Creation may very well BE the force behind life). It also doesn’t mean they are right. I don’t know. No one truly does. (And don’t bring science into it. If any of you are being honest, you will admit that all the science in the world would be like ashes if a God suddenly appeared and explained the universe was his sandbox and we were all just toys.)

    I strongly suspect there is a scientific basis to life, even if I have doubts that we have the process identified correctly. But I don’t deserve, and nor does anyone, to be labeled a crackpot or moron just because we don’t fall in lockstep with the rest of you, or even the majority, or anyone at all. Creationists may not have much to offer from a scientific point of view, but I’m sure that Dan doesn’t have much to offer from a faith-based point of view; even so, I suspect they would share many other views that they both would find of value.

  51. Corby, my appologies for getting you name wrong.

    I find it interesting the level of your commenting and argument tactics given your stated, “not really caring” stance.

    If God were to make an appearance, you would be correct, then He/She/It/They could certainly give us all the “correct” line of reasoning. Until then, we use our brains and our rationality anf focus these into a context of society, which is our specific species adaption.

    If you like, we can frame the argument of Evolution and Creationism (which, as I said before, the controversy has less to do with science of God than it really has to do with how we view ourselves as a species, ie. “we are the top, baby, the cream of the crop, so special the stars love us” or “we’re a highly adapted animal living in an ecosphere”) as should we remain in the past, yoked to religious dogma which once told us that the world was flat (which most people didn’t believe), the firmament was fixed, and earth was the center of everything, and that Catholicism was the only was to transcendence or should we progress using our special adaption and create a better life for ourselves (and now hopefully for the other species that share our earth).

  52. Nevertheless, the root idea behind ID itself does not require literal biblical creation.

    Skar, that’s a bit like saying one can believe Jesus was the son of God without necessarily being a Christian. Evangelical Christianity is the driving force behind “intelligent design” and Creationism. That’s why the theory proposed as an alternative is that a certain Intelligent Designer (gosh, who might that be? Indra? Odin? the Earth Mother Goddess?) actively created life.

    If I were a Christian, I’d be disgusted that these people deny God in the name of getting Biblical creationism in by the back door. As a Jew, I’m just disgusted that these people have managed to convince everybody that they have the monopoly on God, and that anyone who is religious is stupid, anti-science and a lying liar.

  53. Creationists who claim their faith has some scientific basis ARE being dishonest, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong (in that Creation may very well BE the force behind life). It also doesn’t mean they are right. I don’t know. No one truly does. (And don’t bring science into it. If any of you are being honest, you will admit that all the science in the world would be like ashes if a God suddenly appeared and explained the universe was his sandbox and we were all just toys.)

    Believe me, it would have vastly simplified things for everybody if The Creator Of Everything had put a universally-understandable Post-It note on the moon. Something simple like, “I exist. Don’t fight. Food’s in the fridge. Go next door to Alpha Centauri if anything happens. XOXOXO-God,” would have been nice.

    But since God neglected to do that, since every culture on Earth has come up with independent and largely incompatible religious tenets on its own, I’ll have to trust human perception and reason.

    Perception and reason are at the center of science. What you’re talking about, Corby, is divine revelation, which is something else entirely. Granted, there are some individuals and some cultures that claim to have undergone divine revelation: unfortunately, those revelations are contradictory and in many cases don’t appear to mesh with other evidence. (E.g., as I wrote above, the space shuttle has yet to crash into the fixed vault of the heavens.)

    If God shows up and tells humanity en masse that he’s the One True Dude and he created the universe in six days before needing a nap, I’ll be happy to concede. You have no idea how happy. But as long as we’re talking about an ancient, questionably translated text by an anonymous author who was “inspired,” I’ll stick to my materialist atheism, thank you very much.

    And again, we can go on talking about possibilities. It is possible, as the Jatravartids believe, that the universe was sneezed by the Great Green Arkleseizure. But until someone shows some convincing evidence, I don’t think we need to give the possibility more than passing notice. That’s how rational beings make decisions: I could spend my days worrying about leprechaun attacks and not leaving the house, if we’re going to talk about what could be versus what is highly likely based on the best evidence.

  54. An Eric, I surprised at you. We all know God’s final message to his creation is “Sorry for the inconvenience.” Just don’t ask me for the address of it, as I could never remember all that.

  55. An Eric, Steve:

    Lamarckism: Oh, hell no. I’m kind of hurt that you’d assume that’s what I was talking about. I can see that you could mistake my simplified call for an example to be implicit lamarckism, but I was simply trying to keep things simple. My bad.

    The example I’m looking for is not observed evolution in the lab, that’s unreasonable for similarly obvious reasons, which have been explained. That’s why I called it a “model” and never mentioned direct observation or a lab. I want to see a hypothetical thought experiment that can show how evolution COULD work on a chemical level, since the chemical level is where the natural forces producing inheritable change must work. And I thought it went without saying that these changes would have to take place and endure over many generations.

    Organism with no eyespot experiences a random mutation due to natural forces, which produces some minutely incremental change which happens to move the organism towards an eyespot, and which is somehow promotable by natural selection. The organism’s great-grand-kid experiences another random mutation which happens to be a step further towards an eyespot but which is itself promotable by natural selection.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for evolutionists to at least demonstrate what one chain of simple chemical changes like this MIGHT be and how they could each be promotable by natural selection and how they could happen in series over many generations, before we take evolution as immutable fact.

    Evolution is an excellent and elegant theory that fits lots of observable facts on the macro level. So was the flat earth theory in its day, as was Newtonian physics. Yet when scientists drilled down to the nitty gritty they found that, in fact, Newtonian physics not only doesn’t but can’t account for events on the quantum level or even the behavior of light. And no matter how flat the earth looks from here, it really ain’t.

    Seems to me that if Newtonian physics (along with a great many other worse ideas) had not been blindly treated and defended as dogmatic gospel for so long, our understanding would have advanced quite a bit more quickly than it did. The same would be true of evolution and our understanding of the origins of life. As far as I personally am concerned, evolution needs to be taught in schools, as long as it’s with the clear understanding that it hasn’t actually been shown to be possible at the necessary level of detail. Otherwise we get little scientists growing up assuming that evolution has been proven, when it hasn’t, and totally unprepared to look for or accept other explanations that could be proven and which wouldn’t dead end our thinking.

    Unfortunately, at this stage of our understanding, any other explanation looks suspiciously like God to you heathen and so a whole other set of knee jerk reactions comes into play.

    Again, on a personal note, I belive in God but I am not afraid of evolution. I would be thrilled and feel myself edified if shown a model like I’m asking for. God has acted in my personal life to a degree that I can’t deny, and discovering evolution to be true would not change those experiences. It would just open more questions for me, which is usually what good science does.

    mythago:

    The root idea, as I explained but you apparently didn’t read or understand, is that evolution requires a dichotomy. It’s either random or it’s not random. Not random, by definition, is directed. Direction implies intelligence. Intelligence does NOT imply 7 days or 6000 years, a chick named Eve morphed out of a rib, or a glowing white dude in sandals.

  56. It’s either random or it’s not random. Not random, by definition, is directed. Direction implies intelligence.

    Well, not exactly. And that kind of misunderstanding may be why you’re confused.

    Evolution isn’t a purely random process. We’re talking about natural selection, remember? Individual organisms that are more fit for an environmental niche will tend to propagate their characteristics within the population. Over time, those characteristics will become common or universal within the population. The characteristics are selected.

    Natural selection might be compared, in some respects at least, to a naturally-occurring feedback loop. “Fit” characteristics increase, “unfit” characteristics decrease. Algorithms aren’t intelligent.

    Let’s suppose, for instance, that individual organisms that run faster are more likely to breed than individuals who run slower. In the second generation, there will be more heirs of run faster creatures than there are run slower heirs. The trend continues in each generation. If evolution were a random process, it wouldn’t actually occur–we would expect to see no trend at all.

    There are random aspects to evolution. But that doesn’t make evolution random. There are directed aspects to evolution, but that doesn’t mean there’s a director. Crystals organize into matrices, proteins copy themselves, and “fit” characteristics propagate through populations over time faster than “unfit” characteristics. Direction implies nothing, and design does not require a designer.

    On another subject: I’m not sure who defended Newtonian gravity as dogma–it was the best available explanation for 200 years until new observations called for modifications. And the rotundity of the Earth was obvious to librarians, sailors and astronomers at least as far back as the second century BCE, when a Greek librarian went so far as to compute the world’s circumference to a surprising degree of accuracy.

    I’m not ignoring your other major “problem”: I’m hoping someone better-qualified than I am will address it.

  57. Anon: I’m late to this thread, but I am not opposed to an alternate hypothesis to evolution. What I am opposed to is an alternate hypothesis that is given social and political status as a fact without providing one iota of evidence to support its truth.

    The issue is not evolution or no. The issue is evidence or no. Evolution has withstood a century of scientific testing. Does that mean its been proven? No. What that does mean is that it has stood up to the factual evidence, at least thus far. Creationism has done no such thing, and even without this vetting of scientific research, creationists wish to accord the same “science” label that is given to the evidence-withstanding Theory of Evolution.

    Want Creationism taught in schools? Test it. Test it again. One of three things can happen:

    A) it stands up to the evidence repeatedly
    B) it doesn’t stand up to the evidence repeatedly
    C) it cannot be tested in the first place because it provides no testable hypothesis and therefore is not science.

    If you can demonstrate A and can get it peer-reviewed and can demonstrate it stands up under the Scientific Method repeatedly, then it should be taught in Biology classes. If it’s either B or C(I would say it’s C, at least as far as I can tell) then it doesn’t belong in a Biology class.

    That simple. It’s not about atheism or religion. It’s about the scientific method.

  58. Incidentally, that anonymous post was mine. Not sure why the name field didn’t take.

    An Eric:
    I understand what you’re talking about. That’s why I only applied the word random to the mutation/change portion of the process and never to the selection portion. If you look through my posts again you’ll see that.

    So, the change that occurs and is subsequently promoted or not promoted by natural selection is either random or it’s not random. Not random, by definition, is blah blah blah…

    Abe:
    I would like to see an iota of actual evidence that evolution is true. I’ve seen plenty of evidence for natural selection, things like the galapagos finches and their beaks, tuberculosis bacteria selecting for resistant strains, etc…. But, as An Eric so ably explained, natural selection is by no means the whole of evolution. Evolution from random chemicals to DNA or from no eye-spots to eye-spots or from legs to flippers requires new things that didn’t exist before to arise through random mutations on a chemical level that are then promoted by natural selection. No one that I’m aware of has even hypothesized a process that could produce the things we see in nature. I’m open to it though, just tell me where to look.

    No matter how many or how long scientists swear it’s true, unless they can show a process by which random incremental chemical change can result in new and eventually more complicated promotable and inheritable traits, it’s just dogma with a lot of faithful adherents. That’s why I want to see at least that hypothetical model I’ve described before Evolution is treated as an immutable truth.

    As for teaching literal creationism in school, I’m with you. It shouldn’t be. Saying, “God did it,” without proof is as useless as saying, “Evolution happened” without proof. Biology teachers should instead be telling their students that there are several theories about how life arose, Evolution being one of them, a Higher Power’s meddling being another, and that neither one is completely satisfactory for the following reasons. etc…

    I’ve described the proof I’m looking for, I think it’s a reasonable standard, I want to see it before I eliminate all the other possibilities.

  59. Skar, have you read a book called Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett? Not saying that it will answer all your questions, but it does offer a fairly straightforward explanation of evolutionary theory and outlines some natural mechanisms by which it might work.

    I wonder, though, if you will ever find enough proof to suit you. Despite the vast amount of study devoted by scientists to evolutionary questions, they obviously haven’t figured out how everything works; if they had, none of us would be having this conversation. (For all I know, some scientist has actually come up with The Right Answer, but we just don’t have the technology to test it yet.)

    My concern with what appears to be a demand for one piece of incontrovertible evidence of some evolutionary event, e.g., development of an eyespot, is that if it can’t be found in the fossil record, you wouldn’t consider it “incontrovertible,” but only “one possible way but not THE way it happened.” And since there are so many different kinds of eyes, there might well be multiple modes of development, many different kinds of eyespots, rather than a single eyespot ancestor that led to human eyes and squid eyes and fish eyes and so on.

    I would still object to Creationism/Intelligent Design being taught as science alongside evolution, however, simply because not everyone believes in God, and telling me (for example) that Creationism is the only possible explanation isn’t going to make me accept it as fact if I have to believe in a god to make it work.

    But I will say this thread has been fascinating, educational, and entertaining, and y’all have my thanks for that.

  60. Steve:

    “I find it interesting the level of your commenting and argument tactics given your stated, “not really caring” stance.”

    I don’t care if evolution is true. If it winds up being true, great. If it winds up not being true, great. However, I do enjoy the discussion of whether or not evolution is true. I also have a viewpoint, and I care whether or not it is respected, even if I’m completely wrong. I deserve that much, as do we all. (Not saying you aren’t respecting me. I’m making a general comment.)

    I don’t believe I was saying that anything is possible, as An Eric postulated. I was saying in this case alone, evolution vs creationism, that there is the slightest chance that creationists are right, since honestly there is no scientific way to prove them wrong, so really there is no reason to ridicule them. Please understand, I know this specifically is largely a philosophical argument, but we don’t know everything in the universe, and since THAT is certainly true, whatever is not provable or is not provably false may or may not be true, even if we have no way of knowing. Certainly, if God showed up, we would have THAT knowledge. Of course, that would completely invalidate the idea of faith, so that’s the last thing Christians would want to happen IMHO.

    At any rate, if you want to project my argument to leprechauns etc, you are certainly welcome to do so, but I feel that is clouding the initial simple implication of “there are some things we just don’t yet know, and may never.” which was only a point made to illustrate how rude it is to mock others who do not believe as you do, not as an implication that we should all accept creationism. If you want to extend the thought to ridiculous lengths, please, be my guest. But that is just playing a linguistic game, and proves nothing.

    Finally, Syd made the comment: “… it does offer a fairly straightforward explanation of evolutionary theory and outlines some natural mechanisms by which it might work.” I guess the functional term is “might”. I personally know many ways evolution “might” work. I want to know how it “does” work. If no “correct” answer to that question is ever found, then we all have to accept that it “might not” work, and then we may be back to square one with an unworkable theory that has many fine points to recommend it but is ultimately useless in answering the final question.

    And then we will have to start looking elsewhere, which is what I think we should have been doing all along (while not abandoning the current research in any way shape or form, because it may still bear fruit).

    Syd also said: “I wonder, though, if you will ever find enough proof to suit you.” The answer for me is yes. However, I wonder much the same in the opposite direction; if there will ever be enough LACK of proof to dissuade any of you. I suspect the answer is and always will be no.

  61. There is no scientific way to prove the creationists wrong, and no scientific way to prove they’re right. Until they can prove they’re right, their claims have as much validity as claiming that magic elves are responsible for “gravity.” Hey–why are we teaching gravity in schools, anyway? It’s possible that magical, invisible elves govern the motion of all objects–I demand that we give equal time to magical elves in physics classes, or I’m going to sue a school board somewhere!

    Corby, I’m not sure you’re going to understand this, but harping on lack of proof isn’t an assault on evolution, or on Darwin: it’s an assault on Reason. An explanation that adequately covers a preponderance of the available evidence with the best economy of parts is more likely to be true than other explanations. Appealing to ignorance knows no bounds–it can only end in a conclusion that we can know nothing about the universe around us.

    By all means, if you have proof for a competing hypothesis, present it and allow it to be judged. And if you have questions, ask them so that the answer may be found. But asking the question and then claiming the fact there’s a question “proves” something is without merit.

  62. John, I realize your fiction is pure fantasy, but even you conceive of a race (the Consu) who have sufficient knowledge and power to create another intelligent species (albeit one without a “soul”). I happen to believe that if anything is true, it is the idea that we humans know almost nothing about how this universe really works. Is it so far fetched to start, as intelligent designers do, with a hypothesis that there is a higher order intelligence out there capable of creating life, even ours? Of course it’s not provable (yet) but neither is it disprovable. A species with a Kardashev ranking of III (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale) or higher could potentially create life without much problem, who knows? I’m sorry, even the scientifically minded posts here are making me laugh. I’d bet this whole discussion is speculation that our descendants even 100 years from now will heartily laugh at.

  63. Bob Loblaw:

    “Is it so far fetched to start, as intelligent designers do, with a hypothesis that there is a higher order intelligence out there capable of creating life, even ours?”

    In their particular case, it would probably help if the examples they give to prove that life is “irreducibly complex” weren’t found again and again to be poorly-argued and faulty.

    Now, certainly, it’s entirely possible life as we know it was created by some intelligent entity, but leaving aside the fact that eventually one has to ask where and how these originating entities themselves came to life, what we currently know of evolutionary processes is explainable without them (much to the creationists’ dismay), so hypothesizing their existence is not necessary. So it’s not necessary to bother with them.

    Anyone can hypothesize anything, of course. I can hypothesize that the universe was farted out the backside of some celestial goat, if I so choose. But if I want the hypothesis to be taken seriously, I need to come to the table with something that supports the hypothesis, as opposed to saying “well, such-and-such thing has not been explained adequately, therefore it lends creedence to the goatfart hypothesis of universal creation.” At the moment, intelligent designers and creationsists have as much data to support their point as a matter of science as I have to support my goatfart hypothesis.

    “I happen to believe that if anything is true, it is the idea that we humans know almost nothing about how this universe really works.”

    This suggests that you’re not really up to speed, then. Certainly there are vast stretches of things we don’t know; what we do know, however, and know beyond reasonable doubt, is more then enough to exclude much of the absolute crap that IDers and other creationists are trying to palm off. Or to put it another way, the fact that we don’t know everything does not mean we are currently obliged to entertain some things that are easily disproved.

    People in the future may or may not laugh at what we currently know, but what I doubt the scientists of the future will laugh at is the idea that we rigorously challenge hypotheses and discard them when they are disproven.

  64. Not really up to speed? I still maintain there isn’t much we know beyond reasonable doubt. Even supposedly irrefutable laws of physics could be turned on their ear with one discovery. I understand that’s what makes science exciting…but your goatfart hypothesis is as plausible as some hypotheses of macroevolution, hypotheses which suffer from causal fallacies simply because we can’t know for certain what took place millions of years ago. We deduce these things from a fossil record which may or may not clearly show transpeciation…it isn’t clear…
    Oh, who am I kidding? I just think it’s kinda awesome that the author of one of the better sci-fi books I’ve read in the past five years responded to my post with a seven paragraph reply (two of them were my statements, but I’ll take what I can get). The internet is cool like that.

  65. An Eric:

    Again, I am merely stating that people’s beliefs should be respected, not taken as fact. I am not declaring support for creationism, I am stating support for respect. If you find that impossible because you don’t have the same belief they do, I state again that says more about you than them.

    But I do believe that the fact there is a fair question proves something: it proves that either a) the person asking the question does not understand what is being said, or b) that the question has not yet been answered. In your statement, you seem to be stating that since there is a question, the questioner is an idiot.

    I require more rigorous proof, I guess, than you do. I refuse to accept what everyone says is a fact just because they say it. I want it explained to me, since I obviously have not found the information I seek. That is not to say, for example, I understand the math behind certain things, but I understand the math works by what I understand about math.

    I do understand the mechanisms proposed that support evolution. I understand natural selection. I understand mutation, and selection for beneficial traits. I understand how miller moths, for instance, became darker because the darker ones could blend into the darker ash trees which were darkening because of the coal England was burning and the smoke the factories were spewing. I understand that some fish were separated from other fish and trapped in an ever-shallower and shrinking habitat, and they developed the ability to hold their breath longer and their fins developed stronger so they could survive on land longer and now we have lungfish (at least I think that’s what they are called) that walk around on land. I understand that as competition for foliage got stiffer, giraffes with longer necks specialized and became more prevalent, and now they all have longer necks.

    OK. I get it. I know how those mechanisms work. I don’t understand the specific chemical formula, but I don’t need to. Natural Selection works, at least linearly, and I have never stated it didn’t.

    But none of those ideas demonstrate to me how those giraffes, or lungfish, or moths came from or became “something else”. Even over long periods of time, billions of years, I just don’t see how the ability to walk on land as fish, lets say, eventually develops into some sort of vertebrate. Considering the lungfish still exists as it has for approx 300 million years, and it’s environment has been shrinking, and it is now dying out – how does that prove evolution? Doesn’t it prove that evolution as we know it may not work as we suspect, or does it just mean evolution still works just like everyone says, and the continued or discontinued existence of the lungfish means absolutely nothing?

    Or, does it mean that, since I question these things due to my apparent lack of reason or logic or understanding of the preponderance of proof, I’m just an idiot?

    Or could it possibly mean that people are looking into this, and are changing or even mutating their opinions and facts, allowing the evolution of Evolutionary Theory to continue, which means that those of us who do not pledge blind obedience to the current science may be doing more to advance it than those who do?

    I guess ultimately what I am saying is, it is feasible to me that life started as single-celled organisms. I accept how different species sprang from a single ancestor. I do not, however, accept the current explanations for how that single-celled organism became that ancestor. If that makes me an idiot, so be it.

  66. Corby:

    “Again, I am merely stating that people’s beliefs should be respected, not taken as fact.”

    What, in your view, constitutes “respect”? ID proponents often say they want their ideas to be treated “respectfully”; but what they mean by this is very different from they way their beliefs _should_ be treated.

    That is, subject them to testing. If untestable, discard and ignore them until they can produce something testable.

    IDists want their beliefs taught as science without regard to merit. If they don’t get their way, instead of coming up with science, they throw a legal tantrum. They believe that lying is acceptable in order to advance their beliefs. They believe that distortion and quote-mining is an acceptable substitute for scholarship. They believe that theirs is good work, and that kids should be allowed to decide what is and isn’t science, as though science were some sort of democracy instead of the way to know how the universe works. And they believe that this hubris is humility.

    What is there to be respected in that?

    “But none of those ideas demonstrate to me how those giraffes, or lungfish, or moths came from or became “something else”. Even over long periods of time, billions of years, I just don’t see how the ability to walk on land as fish, lets say, eventually develops into some sort of vertebrate.”

    That’s because you’ve anchored yourself to typological thinking. You see the end product, of almost endlessly diverse forms, and have allowed yourself only to see the differences.

    Obviously, if we only looked for differences, none of the aforementioned medical benefits would be possible. You have to train yourself to look at the similarities.

    A species is a clade. Clades radiated from groups. We’re all still tetrapods, even if we evolve hands and walk on our hindlimbs. We’re all still lungfish, even if we find ourselves with four limbs. We’re all still mammals, even though we’re primates.

    You never leave the clade you came from. All speciation within a group remains in that group.

    We share a common ancestor will all other amniotes, because we are born in amniotic sacs. We share a common ancestor with all other vertebrates, because we have backbones.

    If you only see the differences, you will miss all of that, and that is what evolution is.

  67. bob loblaw:

    “your goatfart hypothesis is as plausible as some hypotheses of macroevolution, hypotheses which suffer from causal fallacies simply because we can’t know for certain what took place millions of years ago.”

    Well, no, not really, although I do admit it’s standard issue in some quarters to raise doubt on macroevolution for various reasons. But I find a nice stroll through the data usually clears that up. There is in fact rather more data for macroevolution than there are for my goatfart hypothesis, enough so that macroevolution rises to the level of theory, as opposed to being mere hypothesis.

    That said, I do grant it’s possible there are some current hypothesis concerning macroevolution that are barely above the level of speculation; no doubt they will be tested and discarded if they don’t pan out. It doesn’t change the general validity of much of what we know of macroevolution.

    Likewise I grant it’s possible that what you know of macroevolution does not allow it to rise above the level of hypothesis in your mind. But a nice visit with a local evolutionary biologist can fix that for you. Take one out for lunch. They like that.

    As for this comment:

    “Even supposedly irrefutable laws of physics could be turned on their ear with one discovery”

    it doesn’t have the implication I think you think it has. When, for example, Einstein’s theory of relativity supplanted Newtonian mechanics as our best understanding, the “laws of physics” were indeed turned on their ear, but it’s not as if Newtonian mechanics disappeared, as much of what Newtonian mechanics described still works fine in special cases, including the frame of reference which includes us getting around in our day-to-day lives.

    If and when Einstein’s theories are supplanted (say, with a theory that manages to combine the chocolate of relativity with the peanut butter of quantum physics), that will certainly be another revolution, but again it’s unlikely to mean that everything we’ve known before is entirely tossed aside.

    In any event, saying “it’s possible that everything we know could change tomorrow” doesn’t mean that everything we know today is wrong. What we know today is our best model of how the world works, and is such because the data back it up. In the case of evolution, both micro and macro, the data are solid enough that the likelihood of a new theory supplanting them wholly is about as likely as a ice cream cone spontaneously appearing in front of me right now, out of thin air. Which I would certainly see as evidence of a divine entity.

    I’d like a scoop of black cherry and a scoop of vanilla, please.

    (waits for spontaneously appearing ice cream cone)

    Damn.

  68. Corby:

    I think ScottE more than adequately responds to your last post. I would only amplify what he wrote by saying that you’re also conflating speciation with extinction: while extinction is a crucial aspect of evolution, it’s not a defining aspect.

    The lungfish survives as a species because there has not been better competition for its niche. It doesn’t “disprove” evolution. The fact that a species can remain consistent for relatively long stretches of time is something that’s actually predicted by classical Darwinian evolution, which (per contemporary understandings) over-emphasizes geological separation as a mechanism.

    As long as shorter-necked “giraffes” can viably interbreed with longer-necked “giraffes,” the only difference between kinds of “giraffes” will be a difference between variations or breeds. It is only when breeding populations can no longer intermingle that you have speciation, even though both types remain within the same clade. And it is only when those species come into direct competition for the same resources (or the resources for one variety or species become unavilable for other reasons) that one branch may become extinct. Two distinct species may coexist for extended periods of time. There’s not a moment when all of the short-neck “giraffes” are abruptly long-necks.

    A classic example comes within our own family tree: Neanderthal Man coexisted with Cro-Magnon Man until the former population died out and was supplanted in its niche by our forebears. Neanderthals didn’t evolve into modern humans, preceding and following other generations of homo like a boxcar on a track. Instead, Neanderthals appear to have been a dead fork on the long branch of our lineage.

  69. Syd said: “My concern with what … THE way it happened.”

    Actually, I’m not looking for THE way it happened. I’m just looking for a MODEL of how some par of it COULD have happened. The model must describe the process at a chemical level, since the random natural forces we know about have to operate on that level for the change to be inheritable, and it must show how the random natural forces could have produced each and every change, and it must show how each and every change would have been promotable by natural selection.

    Natural selection has been proven to my satisfaction. Evolution has not. Natural selection, selecting among traits already found in the gene pool, is only the second stage. In order for Evolution to work, new traits have to arise through random mutation so that they can then be selected for. I haven’t seen the model I’m talking about. Somebody point me to it, please.

    John said: “In their particular case, it would probably help if the examples they give to prove that life is “irreducibly complex” weren’t found again and again to be poorly-argued and faulty.”

    First, how well a point is argued has no bearing on its validity, only on the arguing skill of its proponent. As for the argument being faulty… Perhaps I’m over-simplifying but if person A argues that a mechanism is irreducably complex then, in order for person B to show that person A’s statement is faulty, person B must show how the complex mechanism their describing could, in fact, have arisen through the simple forces person B claims produced it. I’m not saying this hasn’t been done by person B, I just haven’t seen it and would very much appreciate a pointer to the relevant work, since that would probably be the model I’m asking for.

    Currently, natural selection is also operating on automobiles in exactly the same manner it has been shown to have operated on finches and tuberculosis, the selecting forces have simply been consumers rather than nutshells or antibiotics. But, significantly, the force that produces change in the automobiles (as opposed to the selection of the automobiles), is *necessarily* intelligent. Incremental changes in cars are a lot simpler than eyespots or even cilia.

    Until Evolutionists can show that such changes in biological systems are *possible* through random natural forces, all they can say is that Natural Selection works and that the forces that produce the change must be random and natural since everybody knows that only morons believe in God. Duh.

    I do wish to say that earlier I was not disparaging Newtonian physics or saying that they had been disproven. I was only trying to point out that Newtonian physics only answered part of the physics question, just like Natural Selection only answers part of the origin of life question. Einsteinian physics answered much more of the physics question, we have not yet answered the rest of the origin of life question. And until we do answer the rest of that question, teaching an unproven and untested theory like evolution as immutable truth is nearly as foolish as teaching creationism as immutable truth.

  70. Hey Skar,

    I think you’re looking for evidence for really crazy body modifications, like how a bug with dozens of legs can evolve into, say, a six-legged insect. Or how a pig-like thing can evolve into a whale. So that’s mutation rather than other mechanisms of evolution like natural selection, migration, and genetic drift. Is this the kind of article you’re looking for?

    http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/newsrel/science/mchox.htm

    This was as an announcement back from 2002 when a research team isolated how certain genetic triggers/mutations can spark drastic body changes. It supports the developmental-genetic toolkit argument. Apparently when mutations happen in a certain cluster of genes, called the Hox gene cluster, it affects many physical characteristics at the same time, allowing for rapid speciation. In vertebrates, it often results in miscarriage, so you rarely see rapid speciation through this method. Works well for fruit flies and other invertebrates, though.

    Anyway, that should guide your scientific journey into more fruitful areas. Have fun researching!

  71. “It is possible, as the Jatravartids believe, that the universe was sneezed by the Great Green Arkleseizure.”

    Left Behind: The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief.

  72. Skar:
    “Perhaps I’m over-simplifying but if person A argues that a mechanism is irreducably complex then, in order for person B to show that person A’s statement is faulty, person B must show how the complex mechanism their describing could, in fact, have arisen through the simple forces person B claims produced it.”

    And this has been done numerous times. Read the http://www.pandasthumb.org/ blog, the entries in the TalkOriginsFAQ website ( http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html ) and others for details.

    Rather ironically, the papers describing how putative “irreducible structures” are not, in fact, unevolvable at all provide for most of the citations of ID-published material in the literature.

    ID proponents ignore all of it, alas. (Though, I must admit, they’ve been rather quiet on the IR thing lately. This hasn’t extended to an admission of it being wrong, mind you. That would require intellectual honesty.)

    More to the point, perhaps ID proponents ought to be obliged to show how these things could not have evolved using positive evidence, and tell us what, precisely, their theory purports to explain.

    That what a theory or hypothesis is, Skar. An explanation. Since they have yet to do this, why should anyone listen to what they say?

    “Incremental changes in cars are a lot simpler than eyespots or even cilia.”

    How so? I don’t see how they’re simpler, merely more obvious and–to a much greater degree–more accessible. In fact, I’m not even certain how you can compare the two processes at all. Changes in complexity in very simple structures can happen rapidly by coupling mutation with natural selection. But google genetic algorithms for details on how this process has actually been intelligently applied to things that are designed.

    “And until we do answer the rest of that question, teaching an unproven and untested theory like evolution as immutable truth is nearly as foolish as teaching creationism as immutable truth.”

    And is just such statements as these which ignorance makes possible. “Unproven”? Please read the literature. “Untested”? Gracious me, read the literature.

    No evolutionary biologists posits evolution as “immutable”. Saying so invokes the device of fantasy on your part. I appreciate that you’ve taken the criticisms of the oppoition to heart already, but if I tell you they are utterly without merit, I expect you will start reading from the other side, now, yes?

  73. Djscman,
    Thanks much. Interesting article.
    It deals specifically with pre-existing structures though. It shows how genes for legs can be turned on and off but does not deal with how those leg genes came to exist in the first place.

    Evolution postulates (at a later stage at least) that an organism’s genetic code could go (over a great deal of time and with only minor chemical changes from one stage to the next) from not including plans for legs to including plans for legs. That mechanism is what I’m looking for.

    On a wildly speculative note, those Hox genes sound very much like a tool an intelligent designer might include for convenience in working with the genetic code. Imagine being able to “comment out” a bunch of legs. Funky.

  74. Scott E said:”And this has been done numerous times. ”
    And you then linked to a couple of websites that say things like this:

    “With Behe’s error now in hand, we immediately have the following embarrassingly facile solution to Behe’s “irreducible” conundrum.”

    And only things like that. I was already familiar with these statements and many others. One cited paper looked promising but upon further reading, again, descended into explaining how already extant mechanisms were selected for by new environmental factors. In order to have positive evidence it is necessary to actually show how new mechanisms could arise due to the random natural forces we know about. Just one actual model or example is all I’m asking for.

    You continue to say, “Changes in complexity in very simple structures can happen rapidly by coupling mutation with natural selection. ” Excellent, show me an example. Don’t bother showing me how minor changes in a DNA strand can result in different, but already extant, genetic material being expressed or not. Show me how a new trait can come into being through random natural forces and then be promoted by natural selection.

    I am not saying it can’t happen. I’m saying it hasn’t been demonstrated that it could happen. Show me a model. I’ve already described the model I’m asking for and people keep linking me to anti-Behe screeds and examples of genetic drift. Of course, ScottE is the first to descend into condescension and incivility. Which, I must say, seems to be the norm when evolutionists are asked to show actual evidence of their claims.

    “More to the point, perhaps ID proponents ought to be obliged to show how these things could not have evolved using positive evidence, and tell us what, precisely, their theory purports to explain.”

    Both you and the ID proponents ought to be obliged to provide positive evidence before your claims should be accepted as Truth. Neither of you has.

  75. Respect simply means not mocking. Show where they are wrong, give them proof, move on. Ignore them if you must.

    By mocking, you are removing a potential ally who may just need someone to explain things the way they can understand, and creating a permanent foe who will do everything they can to make you pay, which actually damages your cause more than a wayward fact or incorrect conclusion could ever do.

    I’ve already stated that there are many people who find it hard to let go of their established beliefs, due to indoctrination or some other reason – not just ignorance. Some people enjoy their faith, and every time someone mocks their beliefs, it just proves what they already suspect – the scientific community is full of intellectual snobs who just want to ridicule anyone they don’t agree with.

    You may have facts, but if you can’t demonstrate some willingness to engage the other side, in whatever form they appear, you are participating in the exact type of demagoguery you have been accusing them of.

    As far as the evolution discussion goes, I guess I will have to look for answers elsewhere, as even those answers which are supposed to have some sort of proof in them seem specious and overly-general.

    But thank you all, this was lovely.

  76. Corby:

    “By mocking, you are removing a potential ally who may just need someone to explain things the way they can understand, and creating a permanent foe who will do everything they can to make you pay, which actually damages your cause more than a wayward fact or incorrect conclusion could ever do.”

    Oh, I seriously doubt this. I’ve been the recipient of much mockery, and I can’t say as I’ve noticed it has made me into anyyone’s permanent enemy. Perhaps you were thinking of something else instead?

    For the record, most scientists (of which, you should know, I am not, but am actually am an autdidactic artist and animator), do spend more than a fair amount of time dissecting ID claims. With a straight face.

    This goes virtually unappreciated. I’ve noticed it seldom makes an impact, mostly because you’re right: many who are “indoctrinated” against evolution are not going to be swayed by facts, nor the dispassionate conveyance of those facts. Theirs is–honestly–an affliction of the soul, and thus their charge alone.

    There is a lot of frustration on our part. Creationists make the same incessant claims, ad infinitum, without regard to reality, or even with the awareness that their arguments are not novel in the slightest, or have been addressed at great and tedious length. This constitutes arrogance of the highest order on their part, something seldom deflated by anything as mild as a few facts.

    I’m glad there are venues for professionals to vent. I sometimes learn as much through the venting as a paper which took me three months to track down. But I digress.

    “You may have facts, but if you can’t demonstrate some willingness to engage the other side, in whatever form they appear, you are participating in the exact type of demagoguery you have been accusing them of.”

    All you are saying with this is, “I don’t like your tone.” Fair enough, but so what? Nobody is asking you to like being wrong, and I’d kind of like to know which of the above comments constitute demogoguery of any kind whatsoever.

    “I guess I will have to look for answers elsewhere, as even those answers which are supposed to have some sort of proof in them seem specious and overly-general.”

    You are free to ignore as much of the evidence as possible in order to secure a view most compatible with an emotionally comfortable view of the universe. I submit, however, that this is very dangerous intellectually; the military has a saying, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you. It will kill you.”

  77. Skar:
    “[…]And only things like that.”

    Really? Coupling google with the sites, I found:

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/10/behe-disproves.html

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/10/irreducible_com.html

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/05/on-the-evolutio-1.html

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe/review.html

    http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/sep06.html

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB200_1.html

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB200_2.html

    Consequently, I conclude you didn’t look very hard, or didn’t read much of what you looked at. There’s a lot of material there. Feel free to look for more than, say, a day.

    “I’ve already described the model I’m asking for and people keep linking me to anti-Behe screeds and examples of genetic drift. Of course, ScottE is the first to descend into condescension and incivility.”

    And I find this statement of yours baffling. I provided links to two resources which address those specific claims rather thoroughly, resources which I find it difficult to believe you examined with much diligence. The core distillation of your criticism simply seems to be “I didn’t like their tone” and “I didn’t see it,” neither of which is impressive or substantial as critique by any measure.

    “Which, I must say, seems to be the norm when evolutionists are asked to show actual evidence of their claims.”

    (Sigh.)

    “Both you and the ID proponents ought to be obliged to provide positive evidence before your claims should be accepted as Truth. Neither of you has.”

    This agnosticism of yours is rooted not in an elegant argument of what is/what isn’t known, but in your own ignorance of the subject matter as a whole, that is, only what you don’t know about both camps. If you know not very much about either ID or science, why would you conclude that it is acceptable to conflate the two?

    Scientists have done their homework. Evolution explains the diversity of life via natural selection, positive evidence for which can be found in the scientific literature as far back as Darwin, C. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray, 1st edition. It has proceeded to be refined and tuned with new information (Mendel, Watson & Crick, Gould, Eldridge, Mayr, Hennig, Futuyma &c. &c. &c.)

    It’s trivial to uncover evidence which essentially disproves evolution: bunny fossils from Cambrian strata would be a pretty good start. So would cat fossils. So would bird fossils. So would modern bacteria encased in amber. Those wishing to do so should start digging, following the same procedures scientists use in uncovering important fossils.

    I’d like to hear ID proponents describe how having a supernatural designer explains the diversity of life better and with fewer shims. After all, it is their turn. It might be interesting to see them describe how said designer is falsifiable, essentially what could disprove God’s existence. (I imagine philosophers would have a field day with that one alone.)

    But ID proponents appear uninterested in the petty, day-to-day details of science like rigor or testability. They desire credibility, but very much desire to not do any of the work to earn it.

    And Skar, I will address your model request when I get time. Meantime, there’s some excellent reading to be had. I find it endlessly fascinating to read Dawkins (scientific) work. He communicates excellently with the layman. Also Eldgridge and Gould are good, as is Futuyma.

    Finally, I don’t really believe I’ve behaved uncivilly here. But if Scalzi would like to disabuse me of this notion, I’ll apologize and leave the thread.

  78. Scott:

    I know of no one who was “fixed” by mocking; instead, they generally felt vindicated that their opinions generated so much scorn that they must be right, a point you allude to in your response. That was the “enemy” I meant. Maybe I was a bit over dramatic.

    But I never accused you specifically of demagoguery, I was making a broad swipe at intellectual snobbery. If you feel guilty based upon what I said, that has nothing to do with me.

    I don’t feel I AM ignoring the evidence; I feel the evidence means something different to me or that no one has been able to put it in terms I am able to connect to. This is what I have problems with – I ask “I don’t understand this part, what about this?” and “they” say “Ignore the evidence if you want, it’s the truth”. I’m really not sure how this is supposed to help, but I guess it’s all my fault for being stupid.

  79. Corby,

    Then pursuant to what I’ve said, a great book to read, I’ve found, is In Search of Deep Time by Henry Gee.

    Dawkins’ science books are excellent. Gould is good, but I prefer Eldridge, Futuyma, and the actual technical literature. There are lots of avenues for discussion online, but I’d start with the Talk.Orgins FAQ website and pandas thumb’s archives. Ignore the snark in the comments. Focus on the posts.

    It might help if you were significantly more specific with your issues with understanding with the material. For example, mention what in which book you’ve read something, or go over the material linked already, and ask what they mean.

    In general, issuing blanket statements of disbelief will not get you answers, nor will citing common creationist canards or creationist literature, which is largely worthless when it comes to trying to understand what is admittedly a difficult and often technical topic.

    Showing you’ve done some homework is much more likely to get you answers. You will be expected to invest time in the research, of course, but afterwards, ask away. Too many times people expect me (that’s me, personally) to drop what I’m doing and answer their questions.

    If I don’t do it quickly enough, I must not know. This is then trumpeted as “scientists don’t know everything” which is absurd since I’m not a scientist and I’ve never (ever ever) heard one claim they did know everything.

    (If there is one scientist out there who does know everything, s/he is probably going to be hounded to death by other scientists who want to know as much as s/he does. Seems a much better strategy to keep it quiet about it and use that knowledge to get killer grants on pet projects.)

    More generally, here, I don’t think creationists are stupid. (I don’t think you are either–I don’t know you, but that’s beside the point; I don’t think you should really care what people who don’t know you think of your intellect. Divorcing how something might make you feel and what someone is actually saying will help. Trust me.)

    What annoys me the most are people who don’t bother to show any initiative and have chosen to adopt a sophisticated pretense of agnosticism on both camps, and then assume that controversy equals validity, because obviously if either side had done any homework, they’d magically know about it. (That isn’t agnosticism. That’s anti-intellectualism. It’s really irritating).

  80. Scott:

    Thank you for a very accepting and helpful reply, and thank you also for taking me to task for my “… stupid.” comment. You are correct; I was just a little frustrated by this conversation and one with my wife and took it out in a passive/aggressive comment that was not necessary. I sometimes revert back to that regardless of the work I’ve done trying to rid myself of that annoying habit, so it’s good that you’ve reminded me of not caring what others think.

    I think I am not asking specific questions because I don’t know specifically where the gap is in my understanding, but a long discussion with my wife, who is a veterinarian, helped me clarify just a bit, and what I realized is: I don’t have a specific question, I’m asking the same thing everyone else, including you, is. I DO understand the whole thing, and truth be told, I even believe in it. What I was asking was the fundamental question, which doesn’t indicate a lack of belief, indicates a level of understanding. I see that now.

    I apologize for my density earlier. It’s weird to find that I’ve been in the evolutionary camp all along, and just didn’t know it. We can argue process all day, but at the end of the day, that’s all we are doing, not arguing whether the process exists.

    Telling me about that book also helped open my eyes. I was expecting there to be some defining moment that people could point to that illustrates the things I was asking, and now realize that’s what we are ALL looking for, just by different methods. As I said, I understand and accepted the scientific processes that make up evolutionary theory, I just was under the incorrect impression it had all the answers and I just wasn’t getting it. Now I know different, and while the book you referred me to may not have all the answers, it has some interesting questions and theories. I look forward to checking it out.

    And I agree, anti-intellectualism is annoying, and if I gave that impression, I sincerely apologize. I was doing my best to be respectful and sincere, while trying to stay away from pseudo-intellectualism; all errors are mine own.

  81. “And I agree, anti-intellectualism is annoying, and if I gave that impression, I sincerely apologize.”

    Actually, nothing to do with you, I was just reinforcing a comment I made in a response to Skar, which for whatever reason hasn’t shown up yet. (Mayhap it’s tripped the spam filter? Dunno. I posted it from a different computer than the one I’m positng from now.)

    In any case, sounds like we’re golden. Awesome. And I totally forgot to recommend Carl Zimmer’s articles and books on the topic. Check out his blog:

    http://scienceblogs.com/loom/

    Oh, and Skar, in addition to the links which I’ve provided (which you have so far failed to pursue with any real diligence), I would also recommend this gentleman’s commentary on the topic of Irreducible complexity and intelligence in design:

    http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/IntelDesign.HTM

  82. “Oh, and Skar, in addition to the links which I’ve provided (which you have so far failed to pursue with any real diligence), I would …”

    Wow, more condescension. Must you?

    I have, in fact, perused the sites you linked to. As I have said frequently, I would love to find evidence of the type I’ve described at least five times in this very thread, so I looked with a fair amount of eagerness. I didn’t find any. (If you want a refresher on what kind of evidence I’m looking for reread post #50. ) And, as a side note, instead of typing words along the lines of, “It is *to* there. But I can’t be bothered to show it to you.” Just use the time to paste in the link instead.

    The article you linked to in your most recent post is concerned entirely with showing that IDers have no proof of Intelligent Design or God. This is not something I have ever disputed. In fact, in my most recent post before this one, I said it explicitly. Perhaps you should read my posts with a little more diligence.

    And frankly, the article had at its very beginning a flaw in logic so egregious it was hard to continue. (But what, really, can you expect from an author who calls his opponents stupid in the title.) He compares the universe to a chess board and the rules that govern chess to the natural laws of our univere. Then says that the Designist points to a masterful positioning on the board as proof of the designer and has the skeptic point to the two pawns on their own back row as examples in opposition to intelligence, because they could only get there by breaking the rules. In fact, the positions would be reversed. It is the Designist pointing at the two pawns and saying, “I don’t see how that could happen under the rules we know.” It then falls to the skeptic to show that the two pawns *could* actually have ended up on their own back row by following the known rules.

    Which is, of course, exactly the question I’m asking…again. How did we go from no eyespot to an eyespot while following the rules we know? Before evolution can honestly be treated as a done deal something like this *must* be shown to be, at least theoretically, possible on the molecular level. If random chance supported by natural selection cannot be *shown* to be a possible mechanism for the origin of life then it has eliminated no other possibilities. And the only choice other than random is *not random*. (Read the last paragraph of post #59 and the second paragraph of post #60.)

    I say again. I’d love to see some evidence of the type I describe. I’ve looked and will continue to look.

  83. Skar:
    “The article you linked to in your most recent post is concerned entirely with showing that IDers have no proof of Intelligent Design or God.”

    What? No, while it was that in part, it was also a discussion of the rhetorical failures committed by both camps. Did you really read the whole article? I note you didn’t grasp the chess analogy very well.

    “Wow, more condescension. Must you?”

    I don’t think my expectation that you can perform on a simple examination of research materials is condescension.

    You gave out no indication that you perused the information with any diligence– instead, you complained about the tone and how you couldn’t find anything that dealt with the issue of IR, claims which indicate you failed to examine the materials with–say it with me–due diligence. You didn’t find it? Then you didn’t really look for it. QED.

    See, the problem, Skar, is that while you might concede that IDists should provide certain minimum evidentiary standards, you assume without basis that the same is true for those who actually have done their homework. And then you want answers pretty much handed to you, all on the basis that you think of yourself as “open to evidence.”

    Which is pretty arrogant, isn’t it? Can you really evaluate evidence without any familiarity with what science already knows?

    Corby has been plenty reasonable here. Let’s see some from you now.

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