Thursday, September 14, 2006

But there isn't really any controversy to teach...

I just got done reading a review at reasononline of Randy Olson’s newly released documentary movie, Flock of Dodos ( or click the word Link at bottom of post), and as usual I'm stunned that there is still such strong opposition to evolution in this day and age. While I haven't seen the movie, I agree that many supporters of evolution have been less than eloquent when engaging supporters of intelligent design (ID), the belief that modern species as we observe them are just too complicated to have been produced as the result of random genotype mutations (genotypos?) over incredibly long periods of time. However, I agree with the Mr. Olson's assessment that egos and the possible destruction of peoples' world-views are at stake here and more civil discussion is required if evolution is to be accepted generally in the manner fitting its stature in the scientific community.

It's only fair to say at this point that I believe that the theory of evolution more than adequately explains how living things got to be the way they are. While I am not a biologist, I respect all endeavors scientific and am in awe of the sorts of things that giants like Descartes, Newton, Darwin, Clausius, Maxwell, Mendel, Planck, Einstein, Pauling, Wegener, Watson & Crick, Feynman, and Hawking, among many others, have managed to see that we mere mortals simply could and can not. The systematic approach, peer-review process, and predictive power required for an idea to become a theory which, in science, holds an elevated position of acceptance not consistent with the more colloquial usage of the word that tends to mean something akin to an opinion. This is the source of much of the non-controversy as I see it (as illustrated by Cobb County, GA’s “Evolution is only a Theory…” warning sticker affixed to the cover of their 10th grade biology textbooks). The sheer vastness of amassed evidence should render evolution far beyond reproach and, yet, many, predominately here in the US, persist in the belief that evolution is faulty if not completely inaccurate.

The primary schism as I see it is that this supposed controversy has prompted many who support ID to press for its (or some variation’s) inclusion as a topic to be introduced on equal footing with evolution in public school science classes, to teach the controversy. This, in a word, is absolutely, freaking preposterous. Establishment Clause arguments aside, ID doesn't even come close to having passed the rigorous screening process of the scientific method and to argue for its acceptance as a scientific theory subverts the entire enterprise of science and cheapens the hard work and belies the absolute genius of the luminaries mentioned above. Science is not a way of knowing but it is way of finding out. Simply put: nobody found ID. It was presented dogmatically and there is no way to either accept or deny its truth value on the basis of empirical investigation and as such, it is not science.

While I must disclose at this point that I consider myself to be an agnostic, I have absolutely no qualm with people believing whatever they wish to believe. If believing that someone’s keeping a tally of your transgressions and contributions compels you to behave in a more moral and civil manner then that’s great. There is no shortage of people behaving nicely towards one another in this world. This is a great country and our founding fathers saw to fit to make that the very first civil right afforded by the Constitution and it is in the First Amendment that I find my own minority belief validated. However, the root of ID, and its cousin nearing retirement, creationism, is simply the result of a literal interpretation of the Bible. The sincerest conviction on the part of any group of people – even if that group composes a majority – is not sufficient to grant the status of theory on any idea that comes along. Science is not a democracy but, rather, it is a meritocracy. A scientific theory must actually provide sound explanations for the past events, present observations, and future anticipated behaviors of the natural phenomenon it purports to model. It is the will of nature and not that of the people that dictates which hypotheses attain the lofty status of theory amongst scientists.

In ancient Greece, it was believed that some guy in a toga stood atop Mt. Olympus flinging lightning bolts fashioned by a crippled guy in a toga when he was angry. At the time, everybody bought into that account of the origin of lightning and there was no better explanation so no one thought to question it. But in the interceding couple of millennia, we’ve learned a great deal about static electricity, capacitance, and dielectric media and we now no longer have a need for some supernatural agent in the thunderstorm process. The same goes for earthquakes, tornados, and motions of heavenly bodies. When Pierre-Simon Laplace’s collection, Celestial Mechanics, was submitted to Napoleon for review, the emperor - a well trained mathematician himself - is said to have remarked, “You’ve made no mention of the Creator” to which Laplace supposedly replied, “Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis.” When the litany of evidence is objectively considered, there is no need for intelligent designer hypothesis in the case of life on Earth either.

There are many things held to be scientifically logical that are anti-intuitive. That a single photon of light will pass through two adjacent narrow openings, ala Young’s Double-Slit Interference experiment, or that an entire star’s worth of matter can collapse upon itself and compress to just a few miles in diameter and suck in everything nearby – even light – as in the case of black holes are not easy to believe. And, yet, they are completely accepted by even non-scientists for one basic reason: they do not contradict commonly held Christian dogma.

It’s time for ID to go the way of the dodo, its utility having been completely spent. It has been said that the most common application of rational thought is to justify that which we already believe and, as such, supporters of ID need to carefully examine their argument’s premises. It is for this reason that evolutionary biologists find the debate tedious and eventually lose their tempers when arguing their case. Granted, it’s not the best way to convey such a profound message but any sensible person would likewise become frustrated in the face of such illogical defiance. If Christianity is half of what its believers say it is, it is seemingly more than robust enough to survive and, indeed, thrive, despite the fact that the Book of Genesis is not the unerring word of their lord. It is allegedly much more than a story about where the world came from and who the first people to walk the Earth were and will continue to encourage its followers to practice good-will, empathy, and altruism despite its historical shortcomings. Scientists do not dictate to the clergy the content that they deem suitable for presentation on matters of faith. The faithful should, likewise, let the scientific community determine what conclusions to draw from their own empirically derived data and, it follows, what is appropriate to teach in science class.



At Thursday, September 14, 2006 12:48:00 PM, Blogger R2K said...

: )

At Friday, September 22, 2006 4:07:00 PM, Blogger Kristine said...

In ancient Greece, it was believed that some guy in a toga stood atop Mt. Olympus flinging lightning bolts fashioned by a crippled guy in a toga when he was angry. At the time, everybody bought into that account of the origin of lightning

There's actually some controvery [wink!] about this. I read a book a long time ago entitled, Did the Greeks Believe their Myths? It's been a while, but the upshot was, not necessarily--"scientific" creationist myths are a relatively new phenomenon, arising out of the sense of history in western consciousness that resulted from the discovery of Pompeii.

Socrates certainly didn't believe in the gods, and while he was put to death, it was not for disbelieving, but for not rendering the gods their due. In the Greek world, it was thought that the gods could not have cared less what one thought of them, as long as one kept up the obligatory ritual sacrifices. And that ensured social, rather than spiritual control, so it was enforced by the authorities.

At Sunday, October 01, 2006 9:44:00 AM, Blogger PiGuy said...

Social control - pretty much the same motivation now as then. Hmmmm...

At Monday, October 02, 2006 1:33:00 PM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...

"While I am not a biologist, I respect all endeavors scientific and am in awe of the sorts of things that giants like Descartes, Newton, Darwin, Clausius, Maxwell, Mendel, Planck, Einstein, Pauling, Wegener, Watson & Crick, Feynman, and Hawking, among many others, have managed to see that we mere mortals simply could and can not."

I noticed that Lord Kelvin didn't make your list. Was he included in "among many others," or did you intentionally keep him off the list because of his objections to Mr. Darwin? (

I think that several of the scientists on your list (like Newton) wouldn't be opposed to the idea that life is due to the creative design of God. Indeed, for many of these scientists, studying science was a way of learning about the details of God's creation.

And why not?! The cosmos (as you might say it - I call it the creation) is fascintating. I love to study the intracacies of God's creative design. When I consider the mathematics of resonance, I am in awe. It is so elegant; indeed, beautiful.

The debate is commonly framed "Evolution vs Intelligent Design." And I personally don't disagree with this idea. But I also think that the idea of evolution does not necessarily contradict many of the ideas of Intelligent Design.

There were big differences between Darwin and Maxwell. Maxwell performed all kinds of detailed experiments according to the scientific method. Darwin speculated and formed a hypothesis that did not account for the details of cellular microbiology (nothing against the guy for that). But it is fair to say that Maxwell was much more disciplined and strict in his observance of the scientific method than Darwin was. Same for Lord Kelvin and most of those other scientists you mentioned. Darwin's ideas are sort of nifty, but they seem to not have gotten beyond the hypothesis stage.

So, unlike many of my ignorant evangelical brethren, I don't say, "Evolution is only a theory." (Because I know what a scientific theory is). I say that "Evolution is only a hypothesis."

Check out my blog for all my scientific arguments against evolution.

At Monday, October 02, 2006 8:41:00 PM, Blogger PiGuy said...

No, Kelvin is clearly among the many. I am aware of his objections to the work of Darwin and Lyell - which is your motivation for wanting him to be included - but he was indeed a giant. However, he also believed that there would never be any human-designed mechanical device capable of flight and famously said at the turn of the 20th century that there was nothing new to discover in physics except to more precisely make measurements on stuff that was already known (and he would've been right except for that whole quantum mechanics thingy...) so he clearly shouldn't be taken as an authority on everything - just the things that he actually studied for us (namely, thermodynamics). BTW: Newton, just about the giant of giants, was also an active alchemist and the Christian equivalent of a kabbalist. Even titans, apparently, have gaps in their knowledge and are not completely flawless in their abilities to discern the secrets of nature. We should restrict our use of their authority to matters in which they've demonstrated expertise and be skeptical of their thoughts on fields outside of their province.

While I am glad to see that you know the difference between theories and hypotheses, your grasp of scientific history is less well-developed. And, as for generating "scientific arguments against" anything (a statement that demonstrates what you don't know about science), I've visited your blog before. As you say, nifty, but not even up to the hypothesis stage. But more on that later...

Maxwell performed no experiments of consequence but, rather, his particular genius was found in his ability to see the (near) symmetry in the experimental work of other biggies: Gauss, Faraday, Ampere, and Lenz. These guys were all over the scinitific method - they did the experiments and Maxwell simply pulled them together. In and of itself, unifying quantitatively the fields of electricity and magnetism was sheer brilliance but was not at all the result of the application of the scientific method. He did some really good math and, as a result, determined that optics was a part of the field of electromagnetism - way, way beyond nifty. But his work stands today because it has been repeatedly shown to predict/model EM phenomena which, as you no doubt know, is one of the criteria for moving from hypothesis to theory. He is clearly a giant but, again, no great applications of the scientific method.

As for Darwin, he absolutely epitomized what the scientific method is all about. He meticulously observed nature, recognized a pattern, and formulated a statement that summarized that pattern conceptually. He then subjected his ideas to more observations in an attempt to discover contrary evidence, and, despite his prejudices (he was, as you are likely aware, an ordained minister) and what was routinely accepted as common sense - one of greatest enemies of science - he drew the only conclusion that sensibly followed from what he saw. He didn't want to see it that way and fought with himself for nearly the last half of his life as to whether the world was ready for the presentation of his conclusions. Apparently, his foresight was as great as his insight as even at this stage a century and a half later, with more avenues for obtaining real scientific information than any time in history, there are many who are not ready to accept it. In what sense you feel that this process exhibits less scientific discipline than that of Maxwell, who barely scratched the surface of the scientific method, is difficult for me to fathom. To scientists, evolutionary theory is the pinnacle of the application of the scientific method and is routinely used as an example of how science should be done.

This brings us to scientific arguments. Scientists engage in arguments against many things but they do not scientifically argue against anything because that's not science. One does not demonstrate scientific prowess by attempting to refute a concept that has as close to unanimous acceptance as is possible in the scientific community is wrong. Instead, one presents an alternative hypothesis that can be tested against nature. If that new idea stands muster against the event in question it usually subsumes - but doesn't typically replace - the previous one as the older concept obviously has some utility or it wouldn't have been accepted in the first place. ID's only recourse would be to replace evolution entirely as the two ideas don't share common ground. Are you certain that evolution has had so little success that it warrants being disposed of completely? This, in and of itself, makes it difficult to see how ID could be fit into the scinetific paradigm - it cannot be connected to any previous science. Most importantly, ID fails to contribute anything new to scientific understanding because it asserts nothing testable or predictive and, thus, is not even a hypothesis. It is, to close this thought down, nothing more than an argument against evolution which means that it is not science.

You must understand that you are a most un-objective player in this discussion. You read Father Jonathon, feel that the Pope is weak for backing down from his first statements about Islam (have you ever heard about the Crusades, the Salem Witch Hunts, or the Inqisition?), state in bold and all-caps that man was created in the god's image (I believe that it's actually the exact opposite, though), and agree with Tom Cruise's views (just because it's called scientology doesn't mean that they actually adhere to the sceintific method) on psychiatry, arguably the single most successful field of medicine in the last 50 years in terms of recovery resulting from treatment. You have a stake in ID being for real (and I don't mean being science) in a way that I, and most other scientists, do not share. See, if ID is demonstrated to be the best model, the evidence will eventually pile up and its conslusion will be unavoidable. I, like other objective scientists, will simply say, "Oh - I didn't see that one coming" and absorb that way of thinking into our world-view. On the other hand, your world-view depends upon what's written in the Bible being straight from god and doesn't permit any such room for compromise - it's either right or it's wrong. You must believe or you're in the unenviable position of having to find a new world-view and you've clearly invested a great deal of energy and time into this one. Luckily for me, I can change my views without compromising my principles. Now that's thinking "according to the scientific method."

At Tuesday, October 10, 2006 4:15:00 PM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...


Tell me one thing about macroevolution that you know to be true. Not that you think is true, but that you know to be true because of documentation of experiments and data.

Darwin was, no doubt, a scientist. But I suspect that he often went beyond science. He got carried away. So, he noticed similarities between various species. That has been observed. Having observed those, it is fair to form a hypothesis about evolution - even macroevolution. But to suggest that there is clear evidence proving Darwin's hypothesis of macroevolution is just not accurate.

That's not to say from a scientific perspective that evolution could not have happened. Furthermore, even if evolution happened, there is nothing to say that it was not the result of an Intelligent Designer. But I have no reason to believe in a hypothesis that has clearly not been proven to be true.

And despite what you think of me, when I wish you a good day, I mean it. Good day to you, sir.

At Thursday, October 12, 2006 2:59:00 PM, Blogger PiGuy said...

So why do you believe in god? What about the world (creation, as you would say) forms what you deem convincing evidence in that case? Tell me one thing about god that you know to be true as a result of experiments and data. I'd say that your burden is far greater than mine in this case. Is it possible that you've gotten carried away as well? If you're such a fan of the scientific method then you surely understand that it is you who needs to produce evidence that supports a new, better conclusion than evolution - or god. You have no evidence for either of those ideas at this point. I don't begrudge your beliefs and, in fact, I admire your conviction and enthusiasm but you're going to need to do better than this to get me to accept ID and the god hypothesis. As a person of science I encourage you to continue your search for evidence and share it as you find it but caution you against making judgements about people that you know merely through a text interface. If you wish to convince those of us on this side of the fence, you shouldn't turn us off by assuming that you know things that you really don't whether it's about how science works, what the fossil record says, or who's evil and who's not. That's the very thing that we, the supporters of evolution, are fighting against: knowing without evidence, study, or experience.

Macro- vs. microevolution is one of the classic IDist/Creationist's arguments against evolution and Darwin. One reason that IDers felt the need to split the argument was that it became clear that certain pathogens had become resistant to anti-biotics and they had to concede that there was at least such a thing as evolution on the the micro-level. Prior to that, there was no reason for IDers to buy into evolution at all but suddenly they had to concede that it seemed to be a reasonable model of living systems. Evidence for macro-evolution is largely the result of fossil records which, I admit, are subject to interpretation. But I am inclined to accept the interpretation of real paleontologists over a group that is not trained or experienced in such matters, who are coming in biased to start with (that's a big no-no when it comes to the scientific method), especially when they have so great a stake in the commonly-accepted conclusions being wrong.

You say:
"That's not to say from a scientific perspective that evolution could not have happened. Furthermore, even if evolution happened, there is nothing to say that it was not the result of an Intelligent Designer. But I have no reason to believe in a hypothesis that has clearly not been proven to be true."

I would argue that since ID rests on the assumption that there exists an omnipotent, First Cause-type of god, and since that god is not accepted into the framework of the natural world - and science cannot model anything that is outside of nature - that, in fact, infers that evolution, from a scientific standpoint, is not the work of an intelligent designer. I'm not saying that there's no god. I don't know and neither do you. I'm only saying that once you invoke supernatural intervention then you've jumped way outside of the space in which you can use a statement like "from a scinetific standpoint."

And, just to prevent you from using it again, science doesn't deal in proof (scientists have a saying: "Proof is for math and alcohol.") so evolution will never, ever, be proven true. But even in the context in which you mean it, can you not see that you do believe in god in the absence of the very same "proof" that you cite as motivation for choosing not to accept evolution? You can use faith as the justification for your own belief but it isn't going to be effective in an argument where you're invoking science as a tool to argue against - uh, well, science.

I beleive that you mean it when you say that you wish me a good day. I do as well. Good day.

At Friday, October 13, 2006 10:09:00 AM, Anonymous ConcernedEngineer said...


Can you know anything to be true without science? Are you married? Do you know what love is? Do you know that your wife loves you? What about the existence of the moral code? Is there any scientific basis for the existence of rights? Are rights real? Is there any scientific basis for the existence of morality? Is the moral code real?

On making declarations about evil, I would say to refuse to discern between good and evil is evil. To refuse to call cold-blooded murder evil is evil. In the vast majority of cases, abortion is evil because the unborn fetus is a person.

See, I bring up the moral code because I am suggesting that you and I and reasonable people in general have moral sense. We know that human persons have value. But how do we know? It is not something that can be proven scientifically. So, how do we know? Are there aspects to reality that can and should be known without scientific evidence?

"I would argue that since ID rests on the assumption that there exists an omnipotent, First Cause-type of god, and since that god is not accepted into the framework of the natural world - and science cannot model anything that is outside of nature - that, in fact, infers that evolution, from a scientific standpoint, is not the work of an intelligent designer."

The problem is in the definition of science. Some scientists seem to assume a priori that what occurs in the natural world can only be the result of a natural cause. But that assumption is, of course, just that: an assumption. While it is true that we can't apply the scientific method to the supernatural, that, in itself, does not prove that the supernatural does not exist. Nor does it prove that the supernatural is incapable of affecting the natural.

I am not a big fan of the movie Contact for several reasons. But if, as in the movie, earth started receiving all of these signals with such ordered complexity within the message, then it would seem to be reasonable to assume that this was not the result of chaos and chance in the cosmos, but rather the result of an intelligence trying to communicate with us. I would argue that the information and ordered complexity contained within DNA is evidence that an Intelligence caused DNA to happen. The idea that non-living matter somehow morphed into living matter and then that morphed into DNA is like a tornado ripping through a junkyard and producing a Cadillac. The statistical probability of such information and ordered complexity arising spontaneously due to a chaotic Big Bang without the guidance of some Intelligence seems rather low.

It is possible - in the theoretical world - for ID and evolution to both be true - if not provable. (By theoretical world, I am not using the word as I would when discussing scientific theory; but rather, I am talking more philosophically).

At Wednesday, October 18, 2006 9:52:00 AM, Blogger JanieBelle said...

Conceited Eedjit - "blah blah god blah god blah no evidence blah I believe everything the little voices in my head tell me blah blah reality doesn't trump my dusty old book of fairy tales blah blah..."

Nobody cares.

At Monday, October 23, 2006 6:06:00 PM, Blogger PiGuy said...


Thanks. You saved me the trouble.

At Saturday, November 04, 2006 6:55:00 AM, Blogger JanieBelle said...

You're always welcome, PiGuy!



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