August 4, 2005

YEAH, BUT HE SURE PUT A CAT AMONG THE PARROTS:

Bush and Darwin (Lee Harris, 8/04/ 05, Tech Central Station)

Would Darwin have objected to President Bush's seemingly paradoxical comment that both sides in the evolution debate "should be properly taught"? Well that might depend on whether he was permitted to hear the president's justification of his position, namely that both sides should be taught "so people can understand what the debate is about," and the president's further statement: "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is 'yes.'"

With those conditions, the answer, I am confident, is: No, Darwin would not have objected. Indeed, he would have welcomed such debate. Debate is what he, like all great thinkers, lived for.

Darwin would have welcomed such debate because he was keenly aware that the problems he had raised were not capable of being resolved into trivial facts to be memorized like the names of the state capitals or the rules of the multiplication tables. He knew that his theory probed the ultimate questions, and that such ultimate questions could never be given a definitive solution to be taught by rote, and to be memorized by parrots.

What an insult to Darwin's intellectual genius to think that his theory is as obvious as two plus two equal four, or as innocuous as the facts contained in an almanac! Anyone who thinks Darwin's theory is obvious clearly hasn't a clue about its brilliance or its originality.


Indeed, Darwin was painfully aware of his theory's fatal flaw, the lack of supporting facts:
When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed (i.e. we cannot prove that a single species has changed): nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Nor can we explain why some species have changed and others have not.
-Letter to G. Bentham, May 22, 1863

That's precisely the gap that I.D. drives through.

MORE (David Cohen): Science Magazine: Bush and Kerry Offer Their Views on Science (9/16/04)

Creationism

Science: Should “intelligent design” or other scientific critiques of evolutionary theory be taught in public schools?

BUSH: The federal government has no control over local curricula, and it is not the federal government’s role to tell states and local boards of education what they should teach in the classroom. Of course, scientific critiques of any theory should be a normal part of the science curriculum.

KERRY: I believe that ideology should not trump science in the context of educating our children. Still, public school curriculum is a matter subject to local control. Communities must decide which sound, scientific theories are appropriate for the classroom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2005 11:37 PM
Comments

Uh, did you notice the date of that letter? There's been rather a lot of scientific work done in the intervening 142 years. Of the three things there, two --- speciation and why some species change and others don't --- have been observed and explained nicely. The other one is basically tautological: the changes are beneficial because they lead to survival. How do we know they're beneficial? Because they lead to survival. What's the evidence for the beneficial nature or the mutations? The recipients survived.

Science neither explains, nor makes an attempt to explain, where things came from or why they're here, and people like Richard Dawkins who claim it does are philosophically illiterate. But then people who claim Intelligent Design is science are as mistaken as someone who claims Goethe wrote the Inferno in German.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at August 5, 2005 12:19 AM

Charlie:

Actually speciation hasn't been observed, but you drive a spike through the notion that it's science when you admit it's a tautology.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 12:22 AM

What proof is there that God was the Intelligent Designer?

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at August 5, 2005 5:06 AM

I grew up being taught evolution. In fact, it does make sense to someone who isn't scientically gifted. So what's he getting on about the brilliance and originality of it?

I'll concede that what makes sense isn't always true, or that what is true always make sense, so I leave the arguments for other people. I don't find either side very threatening, so I side with evolution, even if that'd make me foolish to someone who knows better.

Posted by: RC at August 5, 2005 5:09 AM

"Science neither explains, nor makes an attempt to explain, where things came from or why they're here..."

True enough, but science attempts to account for how things happen. The fundamental principles of Darwinism are random mutation and natural selection (i.e., differential survival and reproduction).

Since extincion is the preeminet feature of the fossil record, this must be accounted for in any sufficient theory. It is not enougn to simply observe that some species survive and others don't -- any good theory must explain the differential survival rate. So, how is it that trilobites, which existed for 280 million years, became extinct, while sharks and cockroaches, with similar species lifetimes, didn't?

Posted by: jd watson at August 5, 2005 5:38 AM

As Owens (2003) stated: "But for the extreme stresses that the entire marine biota suffered towards the end of the Permian, trilobites would probably have survived for much longer. Their numbers and diversity both severely decreased during the late Guadalupe Epoch, thereby strongly reducing their chances of surviving the end Permian extinction that followed

Owens, R.M. 2003. The stratigraphical distribution and extinctions of Permian trilobites. Special Papers in Palaeontology 70:377-97.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at August 5, 2005 6:21 AM

Ali:

None. I.D. isn't theistic.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 8:10 AM

Trilobytes didn't survive so they must not have been fit to.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 8:12 AM

Mr. Judd;

Modern evolutionary theory is statistical, not deterministic. See here for some other examples of statistics based science.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 5, 2005 11:02 AM

"None. I.D. isn't theistic."

Any examples of ID proponents who posit that we were designed by space aliens, Ctulthu or flying spaghetti monsters?

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at August 5, 2005 11:17 AM

Ali:

Exactly as many.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 1:59 PM

Maybe this is the answer.

Chariots of the Gods? by Erich Von Daniken. During the 1970's, this book astounded the world with its claims that Earth had been visited by space visitors. Now it is time to re-visit this classic book from a new vantage point of alien abductions.



Posted by: erp at August 5, 2005 3:02 PM

Slowly, slowly, step by step, we whittle away at the less than adamant.

jd has now significantly redrafted his description of preeminence in biology, presumably as a result of my post yesterday.

attaboy, jd.

Now, we merely have to point out that, since cockroaches and trilobites, did not occupy the same ecospace, your comparison is meaningless.

Triolobites have different outcomes from cockroaches (or pine trees) because they are affected by different events.

pharyngula.org today has a hilarious link to a statement of Dembski about who the intelligent designer must be that blows Orrin out of the water. All the noisy IDers are on record that it was the God of the OT.

They just tell lies whenever they are in mixed company.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 5, 2005 3:16 PM

In other words, jd, Harry has no idea why we still have cockroaches and sharks but not trilobytes. That he has no idea what the answer is renders the question meaningless. Next time don't be so impertinent.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 5, 2005 3:31 PM

Here's the amazing thing, Harry thinks this is a significant scientific statement:

Triolobites have different outcomes from cockroaches (or pine trees) because they are affected by different events.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 4:54 PM

OJ, if you posit a designer, it is the same as positing a creator. Unless you think that the designer came around after the creation was done and prettied things up.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 5, 2005 5:20 PM

Robert:

Or designers. There's no reason to believe the Earth isn't just an experiment run by anotther race of beings from elsewhere. We'd not have much trouble duplicating the experiment ourselves after all.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 5:24 PM

Robert, what's the essential difference between oj positing a designer, and Harry divining from on high that one species inhabits a completely separate "ecosphere" (those wouldn't be anything like celestial spheres, would they?) from another, in such a way that any attempt to ask why one survived and the other did not, on the same planet during the same historical epochs, simply can't mean anything. Either theory boils down to it is so ordered. That's my thing in this debate, or whatever it is. I'm very much aware of how often new systems are really old systems under a different scheme of encryption. That's an occupational hazard: I'm a programmer, I make a pretty good living pouring old wine into new skins. I'm particularly good at hiding features the customer hated in the old system and wants gotten rid of but which the new system has to have. Does that ring any bells? Harry's careful not to anthropomorphise his uncaused first cause, and he never looks at it except out of the corner of his eye, whereas oj's is Jehova with a bag over his head. All the more the difference that really makes is that oj's lying to Harry, whereas Harry's lying to himself. So what?

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 5, 2005 6:00 PM

joe:

I don't believe in design. I'm a Creationist. But I don't see any scientific difference among Creation, Design, and Darwin.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 6:06 PM

Whatever.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 5, 2005 6:14 PM

Yes, or Whatever. It just isn't a matter where science has much to say.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 6:23 PM

Well, as a matter of fact, when two species do inhabit the same ecospace and one outcompetes the other, and one goes extinct, that's what we call natural selection.

But trilobites don't exert selection pressure on pine trees or vice versa.

There's really no point, because several of you are deliberately staying ignorant, but I'll just point out that if Orrin's right that there's been no speciation, it's kind of hard to explain obligate parasites on grasses.

Where were they when there were no grasses?

Grasses don't show up in the fossil record until quite recently (about 100 million years, which makes them the most recent example of macroevolution).

Are you guys positing that grasses, which easily fossilize in recent eras, existed but somehow failed to make any fossils for 300 million years?

Or that the world was getting along fine without grasses until recently and the creator said, 'Whoops! I always meant to do grass, just forgot.'

These questions are not for Orrin. Any other takers?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 5, 2005 7:33 PM

Harry:

Yes, 100 million years ago there was speciation (that's your most recent example, huh? Good thing those selection pressures are moribund.). There's no reason to believe it was a function of Natural Selection. You have faith that it was. No one begrudges you a religion of your own.

Of course, in your several years here you've never even attempted to fill the gaps in your faith, so we'll not expect you to try now.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2005 9:00 PM

Designers? Are you kidding me? I mean puh-leeese! You call that design? Blue skies with orange sunsets? Everyone knows that clashes, darling. What's with all the green? It adds a billion tons to the Earth, you need something more slimming, like black. The Earth looks like some overfed serving wench from Rigel 7, for Cris'sakes! I can't work under these conditions! There isn't enough lipstick, darling, to turn this piggy into a peacock.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 5, 2005 10:40 PM

Robert: LOL

Harry: No one denies that different species turn up at different times, although I do like your implicit acknowledgement that the fossil "record" is more accurately the fossil gap.

Your question about grasses and grass parasites puts me in a difficult position. More or less, I accept evolution -- randomness and long periods of time are impossible to disprove, but it's the only evidence we have. My problem has always been with natural selection. But two sets of entirely disconnected random mutations, one of which gives us grass and the other of which gives us grass parasites more or less contemporaneously is always going to be less likely than the intentional design of both together, assuming a designer. Occam's Razor cuts your grass, but that's hardly satisfying intellectually.

In other words, acceptance of evolution is one thing, but it's clear that the true believers' faith in Darwinism is driven more by hostility to the existence of the Designer than by the anything inherent in the (truly trivial) theory itself. Which, to come full circle, is why many religious Americans think that the purpose of indoctrinating schoolchildren with Darwinism is more about attacking religion than teaching science. In other words, it is the Darwinists who have injected questions of religion into the curriculum.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 6, 2005 12:42 PM

If, like Orrin, you reject all forms of evidence (formally, at least; it's just a pose), then you can say I've never presented any evidence.

David, I would turn that upside down: if the antidarwinists are going to bleat about fossil gaps, then they have to take the rough with the smooth and explain the much greater gaps in the fossil record, which do not show the stability of species.

Grasses and grass parasites do NOT appear simultaneously, of course. One precedes the other; my original point, which you missed.

(There are also non-obligate grass parasites, which is why it is against the law in all wheat-growing states to grow gooseberry, which is an interim host of blister rust. You are welcome to offer a non-evolutionary, non-selectionist, non-arbitrary and non-trivial explanation for a species of rust that obligatorily requires hosts from different orders that have not existed at the same time through history.)

As for hostility to religion, allow me to quote a thoughtful post on another blog this morning. The author is Ed Darrell:


'If teaching Darwinian evolution "implies" atheism, there is something terribly, terribly wrong with one's definition of faith. As Jefferson noted, true faiths don't require the support of government to get along in life.

'And, for what it's worth, it's not evolution that implies atheism. What generally happens -- quiz a few creationists who believe it does imply atheism to see if they don't tell you a story to show I'm right, matching what I say here -- is a kid is crammed full of six-day creation/atheists-are-evil/watch-out-for-scientists-who-try-to-lead-you-astray crap for a dozen years or so. Then they get to college, where they learn in geology that only a fool doesn't understand there is great age in rocks; where they meet an atheist English lit prof who, in his reading of Huckleberry Finn, demonstrates that we can make the world a more moral place, and where they find a Zen Buddhist who is the best teacher of Bible studies they've ever known; and where they meet up with a student health service that gets them over all sorts of stuff with advanced pharmaceuticals and solid advice based on research. Now, having understood first hand that they were lied to about at least three giant things in church, they question all the other stuff they had been instructed in.

'I cannot count how many church women have told me sad stories about their kids "going atheist" as soon as they got to college. "And we never let him take biology so he wouldn't be polluted by Darwin," they say . . .'

I rejected Catholicism because it denigrated my parents, who I admired. Somewhat later (but well before I got to college, I made the connection Darrell describes.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 6, 2005 3:06 PM

Congratulations, Harry. That's the most forthright admission I've seen from you yet that you hold your scientific opinions as a way of revenging yourself upon your upbringing. That decision is up to you, of course. My own upbringing wasn't fire-and-brimstone, so I don't feel the same compulsion; and as far as I remember I was introduced to the rudiments of geology in grade school. Certainly I was aware of the Scopes trial before I was ten. As far as "making the world a more moral place", my generation watched yours proclaim that it was about to do so. We're still waiting for that. Actually we're waiting for you to grow up first. You yourself are a man who is likely in his sixties. Don't you think you've carried the chip on your shoulder about "questioning all the other stuff they've been instructed in" long enough?

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 6, 2005 4:08 PM

Harry:

1. I didn't say you didn't present any evidence, I said that the only evidence we have supports evolution, which is why I accept it.

2. the much greater gaps in the fossil record, which do not show the stability of species. Huh? Gaps show gaps, and nothing else. They're not evidence of anything. Of all the creatures that have ever lived, a trivially small portion made it through fossilization into museums. It's evidence, but it's not great evidence.

3. I didn't say "simultaneously," I said more or less contemporaneously. Live by billions of years, die by billions of years. The grass parasite mutation could have happened at any time since, you should excuse the expression, creation. Good thing it happened shortly after grass was invented.

4. I can't possibly give a non-trivial explanation, because it's all trivial. I don't want to give a non-evolutionary explanation, as I accept evolution, which here is another word for genetics. Selection has nothing to do with it, except tautologically (i.e., trivially). As a general rule, pointing out things that happened despite being very unlikely doesn't help your cause. Your suggestion, which I assume is just the residue of slippery language, that nature arranged things just right so to allow for species of rust that ... require[] hosts from different orders" just demonstrates one of the dangers of your Darwinism.

5. I agree with you entirely about the effects of poor catechization. We also see the same effect quite often when schools teach a naive version of American history and then students come across unscrupulous lefties in college who take advantage of their student's innocence. If students entered college knowing American history, the only effect Howard Zinn would ever have had would have been to cause riotous laughter. We need to face-up to these things in order to better armor our children against the exploiters they will meet later in life.

6. Obviously, I don't think that acceptence of evolution is inconsistent with a belief in G-d. I don't even think that Darwinism is inconsistent with religion. I just think that, given modern understanding of genetics, it's trivial with almost no explanatory power.

7. I think that in part the debate over teaching Darwinism and how to teach it have become a signifier for both sides that swamps the actual stakes. There is no doubt, though, that for many of the most ardent promoters of Darwinism in the schools, it has become, subjectively, a means to strike at religion. I assume that you won't deny incorporating both an enthusiasm for Darwinism and hostility to G-d, or at least the concept of gods?

Posted by: David Cohen at August 6, 2005 4:32 PM

Harry:

We're still waiting.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2005 6:14 PM

I am not hostile to the concept of gods. I see no evidence for them but could get along happily with some decent ones. I am hostile to gods who are hostile to me, which is the Christian god.

I have often said that if men have to invent gods, they were on the right track with the first one, Inanna the loving and protective mother. It's been all downhill ever since.

I'm also on record as not being interested in destroying Christianity. I understand the weakminded need a crutch. What's to prevent you from designing a better crutch? (I mean, except for the inviolability of Scripture, papal infallibility and stuff like that.)

And I never suggested that nature 'arranged things just right.' Nature was not, as far as we can tell, concerned to have blister rusts, just as I don't really think the Universe is a scheme of a Tapeworm God to create more tapeworms to worship him.

I cannot exclude that, but it isn't anything I care to argue over.

The gap problem is with the antievolutionists. Unless you want to propose interventionism. Then you have to start believing in miracles. Even Orrin gags on that one.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 6, 2005 8:08 PM

Harry:

What's wrong with interventionism? That seems to be precisely how evolution proceeds, is by interventions from without the biosphere--gamma rays or whatever coming from whomever or whatever. All that matters is the gaps and you just fill them with your faith in Nature, instead of in intelligent beings or God. All the theories are qualitatvely the same.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2005 8:16 PM

Harry: If it's all the same to you, I'll pass on designing a better Christianity.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 6, 2005 9:38 PM

Harry:

Besides, as you explain, that's all your Darwinism is, your preferred crutch.

As for your friend Darrell--the question isn't whether ID should be taught in the abstract, but whether once we allow your religion, which is hostile to Judeo-Christianity into state classrooms we shouldn't then allow the religion of the other 87% of us in too. Religions dopn't need the state but states where there's official hostility to religion--Nazi and Communist for the most part--have been able to do much damage.


As for the estimable Jefferson, all we really need to know is that he advocated teaching Judeo-Christianity at his state university.

Posted by: oj at August 6, 2005 9:42 PM

Orrin, there's interventionism and there's Interventionism. Gamma rays are not from without the system, the "system" includes all natural phenomena. If you are going to say that gamma rays are an intervention, you have to include sunlight, which is indispensable to 99% of the life on the planet. You are a great leveller of disparate concepts when it suits your argument.

I won't speak for Harry, but my athiesm has nothing to do with having a chip on my shoulder against Catholicism, although my circumstances are similar to Harry's. It's not like finding out that your high school gave you bad history lessons, you don't have faith that your high school is inerrant. The Church is not allowed to make mistakes on matters central to the faith. The only reason for being a Catholic is because of the assumption of inerrancy. Without that, the Church is just another faith-style preference.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 7, 2005 1:54 PM

As often happens, Robert explains me better than I can do it myself.

Gamma rays are not supernatural.

It is no use going round and round. People who believe the Universe has a purpose are always going to see purposefulness. But it's easy to show that the purposefulness is either mimic or more easily explainable by nonpurposeful descriptions.

What the teleologists cannot do is explain why, if the Universe has a purpose, the logical assumption is NOT that it was tapeworms. Tapeworms need humans, but humans don't need tapeworms.

The purposeful creator coulda stopped sooner.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 7, 2005 2:38 PM

Robert:

Yes, sunlight is a reasonably steady influence within the biosphere. Evolution seems to be driven by random or designed interventions from without the system via some medium as yet unexplained.

Your objection to the Church is the classic one of the Rationalist, that neither the Church nor God is as perfect as you could imagine them to be. That insistence on perfection and the possibility of perfection is the source of most of the evil rationalisms have perpetrated.

Posted by: oj at August 7, 2005 3:12 PM

Harry:

The Universe needn't have a purpose under the Interventionism objection. Indeed, it allows for evolution to be random and not helpful to the organisms affected. It does have one under your Darwinist assumptions--that fitness is the driving force and end of evolution.

The purpose of a car is simple transportation, yet they have DVD players. Purposeful creators added them. In fact, computers have parasitical worms, just like humans. Even you won't argue that computers or their worms aren't products of intelligent design.

Posted by: oj at August 7, 2005 3:17 PM

The mistake both of you make is pretty basic. Accepting Darwinism on faith, rather than ever having considered it, you believe it to be fact and that any challenges must come from a faith basis. But Darwinism fails as science first.

Posted by: oj at August 7, 2005 6:02 PM

Rejecting G-d because of problems with the Catholic Church is very, um, Catholic of you.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 8, 2005 10:48 AM

It isn't I who insists that the Church be perfect, it is the Church. It can't meet it's own standards, but insists that it's adherents put their entire faith in its decisions as if it were perfect. I just found out what Luther discovered 350 years earlier.

Not believing in God took a lot longer, leaving the Church just kick-started the process. The Church wasn't the "rock" upon which my faith could rest secure, so I went about searching for that rock, but all I found was sand. There is no external rock that faith can depend on, faith is held up by faith. Everyone has to make up their own reason for belief in God. When I discovered that faith was strictly a self-serve, make it up as you go phenomenon, then I decided that I didn't need it. That way lies solipsism.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 8, 2005 11:29 AM
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