Scientists, Steves and Evolution

David Bailey posted about project Steve, which seeks to illustrate the overwhelming consensus among scientists – and especially scientists in relevant fields – about evolution. For those who may not be familiar with it, when the Discovery Institute produced a list of people who “dissent from Darwin,” Project Steve was created in response, to illustrate that there are more Steves among scientists who support the consensus, than there are scientists of any name who dissent. Here is an infographic with the relevant statistics, which is no longer up to date, as there are now 1204 Steves on the list.

Note too that the numbers on the “Dissent from Darwin” list may be inflated, since even supporters of mainstream evolutionary theory can agree with the statement “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” It leaves out many elements, including sexual selection, gene transfer by viruses, and much else. And so I wonder how many of the signatories of the “Dissent from Darwin” statement actually dissent from what mainstream biological evolution in the present day actually concludes.

  • Alethinon61

    I wonder if you understand how “random” is used when scientists speak of “random mutations”.   In my understanding, they don’t necessarily or even typically mean that this description excludes factors that can influence mutations, but that the mutations are *purposeless*.  The peacock that mates with another peacock because it has more expansive or colorful feathers isn’t doing so because it hopes to give rise to a more beautiful generation of peacocks, much less something beyond peacocks.

    William Lane Craig had a good article or post on his website wherein he discussed this  terminology, but I can’t find it tonight.  If I do it I’ll post the link for your benefit and the benefit of your readers.

    ~Kaz

  • Alethinon61

    Hey James, here I thought I was correcting you, and I didn’t get it exactly right!  Here’s what William Lane Craig notes:

    Quote
    So if the evolutionary biologist were using words like “undirected”
    and “purposeless” in the sense that the theist is using those words,
    evolutionary theory would be philosophy, not science (which is precisely
    what some theists allege)…But the evolutionary biologist is not using those words in
    the same sense as the theist. This fact, unacknowledged by both critics
    of theistic evolution and apologists for naturalistic evolution, became
    clear to me in the course of my preparation for my debate with Francisco Ayala on the tenability of Intelligent Design in biology. According to
    Ayala, when the evolutionary biologist says that the mutations that lead
    to evolutionary development are random, the meaning of the word
    “random” is not “occurring by chance.” Rather it means “irrespective of their usefulness to the organism.

    End Quote

    See: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/evolutionary-theory-and-theism

    ~Kaz

  • Porlockjr

    Lacking a citation, it’s hard to know just what Ayala was saying about “random” in this instance. We now know that there is a third-hand account that he said something useful to somebody’s anti-evolution argument, and I must emphasize that third-hand accounts can perfectly well be true, but beyond that, what can one conclude?

    But this is clear enough if one reads what defenders of evolution argue: the mutations that are a driver of evolutionary change in the modern theory  happen with probability that does not depend on advantage to the organism or the species.

    Note:
    A logician could say that it’s enough if the mutations even *can* happen in that random way and still lead to evolutionary change: in that case, the *need* for some directed driver of evolution goes away, and there goes one of the main anti-evolutionary points. And the math shows that they can. But also, the experimental evidence shows that in general they *do* happen at random.

    Also, “advantage” is not meant — isn’t this obvious without being said? — in some moral or esthetic way. It is understood by the evolution guys, and clearly stated in their work, and often repeated in their arguments for the public, to mean an advantage in reproductive success. How this is philosophy or religion rather than math and science, I don’t know.

  • Porlock Junior

    Oh, and thanks for posting this. I had been wondering how Steve’s List was doing several years after it started. I see it’s still gathering names; and the Discovery List also is growing, much more slowly.

  • Alethinon61

    Porlockjr, William Lane Craig was explaining what he had come to learn while preparing for a debate with Francisco Ayala.  He quoted Ayala’s words merely to exemplify what he had learned.

    I consider Darwinian theory it both it’s original and it’s modern manifestations to be more philosophy than science.  Interestingly, if you follow the evolution vs. ID debate you’ll find that it is typically the evolutionists who focuses on God whereas the proponents of ID focus on science.  In a debate between William Dempski and Lee Silver, for example, Silver begins his opening statement by stating that he was going to begin by talking about something that his opponent did not talk about, namely God (paraphrasing).  (Also note that in during the Craig vs. Ayala debate, Ayala’s arguments were extremely weak, and after Craig refuted their force Ayala resorted to a theological argument to support neo-Darwinism: If ID is true than God is a monster.) 

    Lee Silver also made a comment about how neo-Darwinism describes a process not the details, which supports my observation that neo-Darwinism never gets past the bumper sticker in helping us understand exactly what happened in the history of life.  David Berlinski once observed that Darwinism is anecdotally useful in that it gives one something to say, but when he asks evolutionists specific questions, like how many morphological changes would be necessary for a land roaming creature to evolve into a whale, neither a detailed nor even a broad description of that process is forthcoming.        

    I believe that James himself once submitted a post in which he mused that the tree of life may actually be more like a web.  Think about the implications of such a comment — I mean, really let that simmer in your mind for a while.  What does it reveal?  Just how clueless science is in explaining the Darwinian history of life.

    ~Kaz

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Kaz, why is it that you feel it appropriate to cheer when a Christian who isn’t a biologist decides to debate a Christian who is an expert in genetics? And why would you cheer for the person blundering into an area not his expertise instead of the one trying to speak from actual knowledge and expertise? Why is it that you think matters of science should be settled in a debate setting? Why is it that you read only the attempts of people to discuss the theological implications of ID and other pseudoscientific philosophies, allowing yourself to get the impression that the scientists tend to spend most of their time talking about God and the pseudoscientists spend more time talking about science? Why is it that you think that mainstream biology is focused on Darwin, and thus shows its failure rather than its success when it takes us beyond where Darwin did so long ago? Why is it that, when you want to refer to the idea of the tree of life as a web, you don’t consider it worthwhile even to look up an article aimed at mediating that information to a scientific audience – which would have showed you (assuming you were willing and able to understand it) that the point is about lateral gene transfer via viruses, primarily as it pertains to simple life forms – and that it is something that can be studied and observed in the present day? And perhaps most importantly, why is it that you consider it appropriate to display your ignorance and stubborn hard-heartedness publicly on the internet and connect it to your faith, so that once again you contribute to the impression so many have that Christians must be opposed to knowledge and truthfulness?

  • Alethinon61

    James, thank you for responding in the manner
    that you did, because it reveals the religious zeal with which
    proponents of neo-Darwinism who are also opponents of ID such as yourself defend their views as
    though they were dogma. Your questions seem to be based more on a
    hissy fit than on intelligent (or even intelligible) interaction with
    the comments that served as their genesis. For example, you said:

    “Kaz, why is it that you feel it
    appropriate to cheer when a Christian who isn’t a biologist decides
    to debate a Christian who is an expert in genetics?”

    That you somehow manage to construe in
    your mind that my comments constitute a “cheer” for William Lane
    Craig is really quite striking. Not only is that not implicit in
    what I said, but it is quite beside the point I was clearly making in
    context. The reason I mentioned Craig’s refutation of the specific
    arguments Ayala presented in the debate is because I believe that it
    was the power of said refutation that ultimately lead to Ayala’s
    appeal to his religious view that if ID is true then God is a
    monster. You didn’t grasp that? Really?

    You continued:

    “And why would you cheer for the
    person blundering into an area not his expertise instead of the one
    trying to speak from actual knowledge and expertise?”

    Did you watch the debate? What were
    Craig’s specific blunders? What were Ayala’s most powerful arguments
    exemplifying his knowledge and expertise in truly and unquestionably
    supporting neo-Darwinian evolution while also discrediting ID?

    You further asked:

    “Why is it that you think matters of
    science should be settled in a debate setting?”

    Nothing I said suggests that I think
    matters of science should be settled in a debate setting. In fact, I
    wonder if you’re even being honest in asking the question, because I
    explicitly acknowledged on your own blog when it was housed on its
    previous server that science doesn’t play well in debate, and I made
    that comment specifically in reference to the Craig/Ayala debate.
    Did you forget about that?

    Debates don’t settle issues of science,
    but they can help us identify misinformation, overstatements,
    presuppositions, bad arguments, the bases or even the baselessness of
    dismissals of counter-evidence, etc. Debates are merely one tool
    that people can utilize if they really want to give both sides of an
    issue a forum to present their cases in support of their respective
    positions. I assume that most of those who participate in such
    debates would typically agree with me on this, though perhaps some
    enter into such arrangements against their better judgment.

    To continue with your questions, you
    further asked:

    “Why is it that you read only the
    attempts of people to discuss the theological implications of ID and
    other pseudoscientific philosophies, allowing yourself to get the
    impression that the scientists tend to spend most of their time
    talking about God and the pseudoscientists spend more time talking
    about science?”

    That question is so bizarre. James,
    YOU suggested that I read the work of Ayala, don’t you remember that?
    Now you want to disown your own recommendation? Perhaps you should
    spend some time familiarizing yourself with the views of those whose
    work you recommend before recommending them. That would spare me
    from wasting my time considering views you reject, and you from the
    embarrassment of having to scornfully dismiss your own
    recommendations.

    In fact, I don’t read ONLY the
    attempts of people to discuss the theological implications of ID, but
    I merely observe that those scientists who DO chose to interact with
    proponents of ID (a minority, to be sure) are more inclined to
    introduce God into the discussion than the proponents of ID are.
    This doesn’t surprise me and wouldn’t surprise you if you were more
    familiar of the history of evolutionary thought from the perspective
    of its proponents.

    You continued with yet more questions:

    “Why is it that you think that
    mainstream biology is focused on Darwin, and thus shows its failure
    rather than its success when it takes us beyond where Darwin did so
    long ago?”

    Another bizarre question, as it doesn’t
    follow from anything I’ve said. It’s is either contrived to score
    imaginary points or based on yet another misapprehension on your part
    that could have been avoided had you paid attention to what I’ve
    offered on your own blog. Let me remind you of what I once stated on
    your blog, namely, that most science, including that of biological
    research, is conducted without reference to Darwin. Your beloved
    quote by Dobzhansky, that “Noting in biology makes sense except in light of evolution”, is just one of the many examples
    of the immodesty with which proponents of Darwinism seek
    to overpower the opposition with hyperbole. I suspect that most
    biological research wouldn’t be conducted any differently than it
    currently is even if the scientists involved thought that the
    neo-Darwinian model was false.

    You continue with yet more questions:

    “Why is it that, when you want to
    refer to the idea of the tree of life as a web, you don’t consider it
    worthwhile even to look up an article aimed at mediating that
    information to a scientific audience – which would have showed you
    (assuming you were willing and able to understand it) that the point
    is about lateral gene transfer via viruses, primarily as it pertains
    to simple life forms – and that it is something that can be studied
    and observed in the present day?”

    That’s simple, James. It’s because I
    wasn’t questioning the perceived value of proposing that the history
    of life is better represented by a web than by a tree; I was pointing
    out that a “science” that has proponents who favor a tree and
    others who favor a web is a flaccid science, i.e one that just can’t
    seem to get past the bumper sticker in explanatory power.

    FINALLY, you asked:

    “And perhaps most importantly, why is
    it that you consider it appropriate to display your ignorance and
    stubborn hard-heartedness publicly on the internet and connect it to
    your faith, so that once again you contribute to the impression so
    many have that Christians must be opposed to knowledge and
    truthfulness?”

    I’ve never said anything on
    your blog that suggests the characteristics or attitudes you
    attribute to me. My most
    assertive declaration in relation to creation has been that the
    evidence favors the view that God’s guiding intelligence was actively involved with the
    emergence of life on this planet. No scientist can prove otherwise
    scientifically. The observations I’ve offered about the failures,
    weaknesses, overstatements, and presuppositions of neo-Darwinists
    have been met by you with a combination of arrogant condescension and
    ad hominum attacks on my knowledge or my character. Apparently that’s all you have. vations I’ve
    offered. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Kaz, please stop using the word “refute” where it is inappropriate. William Lane Craig has never done research in genetics, and so he may or may not do any number of things, but refute Francisco Ayala’s conclusions on genetics and the entirety of modern biology based on the sort of evidence Ayala studies for a living is not something that Craig will ever accomplish without a career change. And so please, once again, I plead with you, treat these matters fairly. I realize a lot of people use that term without knowing what it means, but I think in this instance it is more likely that you know what it means and simply don’t grasp how ridiculous it is to claim what you did.

    The rest of your last comment is equally baffling. You show resistance to mainstream science, so I offer you things written by Christians to try to help mediate accurate scientific information to you, and you complain that they talk about God. They are Christians, writing for Christians! And when I suggest that if you want them to talk just about science you read their actual research works, rather than their works aimed at a different audience trying to help laypeople understand science, then you call that a repudiation of my previous recommendation.

    William Lane Craig doesn’t seem to actually reject evolution, if the link you offered is anything to go by, and Francisco Ayala doesn’t exclude God from the process science studies. So exactly why are you hear picking fights about this? I really don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish.

  • Alethinon61

    James, the problem isn’t that I’ve used the word “refute” inappropriately, but that you’ve been careless in noting how I used it.  Normally I would consider this surprising coming from an academic, but it seems pretty common for the reasoning ability of otherwise intelligent people to melt down when the subject is evolution/ID. 
    The topic of the debate was, “Is Intelligent Design Viable”, and the specific arguments that Ayala offered were refuted by Craig.  Whether or not Craig could refute certain extrapolations or findings that Ayala has made vis a vis genetics or biology is irrelevant, because the debate wasn’t about whether evolution is true but whether ID is viable.

    That’s all I have time for this morning.

    ~Kaz

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I still don’t understand where you are coming from on this. Are you saying that whether evolution is true has no bearing on whether Intelligent Design is viable? Or that the topic was whether Intelligent Design is viable in the abstract (which no one denies) irrespective of whether it fits the evidence for what actually occurred? Are you saying that qualifications, research and evidence in genetics have no bearing on whether ID is viable? Either you are implying one or more of the above, or you have not communicated your meaning very clearly.

  • Alethinon61

    James, I think that you simply need to watch the debate, which is something that you should have done before characterizing Craig’s dignified interaction with a fellow Christian in the contemptuous manner that you did. 

    Back to your previous comment, you assert that I show resistance to mainstream science, which isn’t really accurate, as I’ve explained to you before.  I support good science, but I am troubled by the immodesty of many who seek to overwhelm the other side with hyperbole, bluster, condescension, dismissiveness, and shallow or fallacious counterarguments.  I’m also appalled when I see people who profess to be Christians demonstrate their bias and lack of familiarity with ID even while publicly ridiculing its proponents.  For example, if memory serves, you have gone so far as to declare that one proponent of ID, Michael Behe, I think, is either ignorant or deceptive, yet Behe is in a much better position to understand the biological evidence he offers than you are.  In this very blog entry you’ve demonstrated bias yet again by failing to mention that the Discovery Institute didn’t present the list of dissenting scientists to prove that a majority is on their side, in at least some respect(s), but to counter the hyperbolic claim often heard from their opponents that the neo-Darwinian mechanism is universally accepted by legitimate scientists. 

    I’m out of time, again, so more later.

    ~Kaz
     

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t see how anyone can look at the column on the right in the chart in the post above, which shows the proportions of people with relevant areas of expertise, and say that the Discovery Institute’s claims are not lies. Keep in mind that the middle column compares all the people with relevant credentials on the DI list to the number of Steves with relevant credentials on the Project Steve list.

      This is not to say that there are not people who disagree with the consensus. The question is whether they disagree for genuinely scientific reasons, or for ideological ones, or (as in some cases I am aware of) because by writing pro-ID stuff they can sell books and make money that allows them to put their children through college.

  • Alethinon61

    James,

    I didn’t respond yet to this comment you made:

    “The rest of your last comment is equally baffling. You show resistance
    to mainstream science, so I offer you things written by Christians to
    try to help mediate accurate scientific information to you, and you
    complain that they talk about God. They are Christians, writing for
    Christians!”  

    You really are having a difficult time following the flow of thought, obviously because your own presuppositions are dramatically affecting your interpretation of what I’m saying.  This once again shows how our presuppositions can dramatically affect the way that we assess issues, evidence, and counterarguments.

    In reality, I don’t “complain” when opponents of ID talk about God.  I actually appreciate that data, as it reveals an important presupposition that can dramatically affect THEIR assessment of evidence, counterarguments, etc.  In Ayala’s case the data is particularly revealing, because he uses an assumption about what God would or wouldn’t do as evidence to support his negative answer to the question: Is Intelligent Design Viable? 

    You continued:

    “And when I suggest that if you want them to talk just about
    science you read their actual research works, rather than their works
    aimed at a different audience trying to help laypeople understand
    science, then you call that a repudiation of my previous recommendation.”

    Again, you need to follow the conversation more carefully.  This is the comment you made, to which I was responding when I noted your repudiation of a previous recommendation:

    “Why is it that you read only the attempts of people to discuss the theological implications of ID and other pseudoscientific philosophies, allowing yourself to get the impression that the scientists tend to spend most of their time talking about God and the pseudoscientists spend more time talking about science?”

    The point of my response was not only to clarify that I don’t in fact read only the attempts of people to discuss the theological implications of ID — and I’d love to know the basis upon which you extrapolated that remarkably odd notion — but to point out that, in Ayala’s case, I learned of this aspect of his objection to ID after focusing additional attention on his position at YOUR recommendation. 

    ~Kaz 

     

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Kaz, you have not been offering conversation, and perhaps that is the problem. You turn up suddenly from time to time after long absences and make insulting comments about our fellow Christians who work in the natural sciences. The comments are typically short and not very precise about what bothers you, unless it is things that are nonsensical such as that mainstream evolutionary biology reflects “Darwinian dogmatism” rather than ever-increasing amounts of research. I am very sorry if I have misunderstood where you are coming from, but if you choose not to say so clearly then my choices are to respond to where you seem to be coming from, or to not respond at all.

      So perhaps we should begin at the beginning. What leads you to reject the conclusions of mainsteam science in biology, and is biology (and related fields) the only domain in which you consider the understanding of the overwhelming majority of scientists to be wrong and to have been surpassed by the conclusions drawn by people who are for the most part not scientists working in relevant fields and most of whom are not even scientists at all?

  • Alethinon61

    James, I think that the reason you can’t see how I’ve offered conversation is because you chose to ignore my initial posts directed to you while subsequently reacting viscerally rather than reasonably at my comments directed to Porlockjr.

    I began by offering information to help you see that you appear to be making faulty assumptions based on an imprecise understanding of how “random” is used by evolutionary scientists.  You could have disagreed and pointed out why; you could have acknowledged the post and noted that you’ll have to leave any conclusions about the matter in abeyance until you’ve done further research to determine if the understanding I offered via Craig is essentially correct; or, you could have thanked me for potentially helping you refine your understanding which could hence forth help you offer comments that are more precise in the future.  But, again, you chose instead to ignore my comments to you and have something of a fit over my comments to Porlockjr.

    The intent of my comments to Porlockjr were equally meant to constitute my part of a conversation.  He concluded his comments to me with the words,

    “How this is philosophy or religion rather than math and science, I don’t know.”

    And so I decided to share my perspective that neo-Darwinsim is more philosophy than science, along with a few of the reasons for that view.  As far as I know I’ve never spoken with him before and so it seemed quite natural to share my view of this with him. 

    As for your claim that I appear occasionally to make insulting comments about scientists — not only is this untrue (at the very least it’s unintended) — but you should bear in mind that the comments I make in relation to evolution/ID are typically offered *in response* to comments by you where you criticize, mock, insult, and even potentially libel others (e.g. your charge that Michael Behe [?] is either ignorant or deceitful, or something to that affect). 

    Why do I consider neo-Darwinism to be more philosophy than science?  I thought I’d been pretty clear about this in the past, but I’ll illustrate one of the most important problems by drawing your attention to a question Michael Shermer asked Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg during a debate they had a while back.

    Respecting the land mammal to whale transition, Michael Shermer asked:  “How many acts of intelligence, or creation, or whatever word you want to use do you think happened?”

    The debate can be heard, here: http://www.discovery.org/v/1711

    It’s instructive that Michael Shermer apparently felt that his opponents should be able to answer that question, or that a failure to do so counted against them, because neo-Darwinists are themselves unable to answer the same question respecting their theory, i.e. How many mutations occurred to effect the transition from a land mammal to a fully aquatic whale? 

    Neo-Darwinists can’t give us the details of how the great variety of living things emerged on this planet (i.e. what mutations occurred, when, why, etc) , and they can’t tell us what mutations and new living things would emerge if the planet were to be around in it’s currently habitable form for another 3 to 6 billion years.  The past is a huge question mark and the future a resounding Que sera sera.

    Respecting the land mammal to whale transition, Richard Sternberg presented a powerful scientific argument to show that the neo-Darwinian process is insufficient to account for it, and then asked an important question:”Where’s the mechanism?”  (see time 1:12:02  of the debate).  Unfortunately, evidence that is presented to support neo-Darwinian evolution is often received more alacritously than critically, and this is sure to inhibit mainstream science from finding the right answer anytime soon.

    ~Kaz

  • Alethinon61

    I had said:

    “Respecting the land mammal to whale transition, Richard Sternberg
    presented a powerful scientific argument to show that the neo-Darwinian
    process is insufficient to account for it, and then asked an important
    question:”Where’s the mechanism?”  (see time 1:12:02  of the debate). ”

    I should clarify that Dr. Sternberg’s argument that neo-Darwinian evolution was insufficient was in reference to the amount of time in which it would have to have occurred.  He’s an evolutionary biologist who accepts the land mammal to whale transition. 

    ~Kaz 

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I’m confused yet again. Are you suggesting that Dr. Sternberg’s (from what I’ve heard unilateral) decision as journal editor to publish something, and the backlash that resulted, is evidence of persecution? I’ve read of other cases where journal editors have made such unilateral decisions, and they are typically controversial, even if what is being approved is not widely viewed as dubious science or scholarship?

      But perhaps more importantly, why is it that when Sternberg apparently accepts evolution, and suggests that the underlying logical nature of things that makes it possible points to a transcendent reality, you cite him favorably, but when you come to this blog you are insulting towards those who hold such views and adopt an antievolutionary stance? I still can’t figure out where you are coming from on this. Or have I misunderstood Sternberg’s position, and perhaps also yours?

  • Alethinon61

    BTW, I’ve pointed out in the past that the argument that ID isn’t science because its proponents don’t publish peer-reviewed articles is circular.  When they do submit articles to peer-reviewed journals, such articles are often (typically?) rejected on the basis that by positing that the origin of life or certain biological novelty is best explained by an intelligent cause, they are told that they are not doing science.  In short, they are obstructed from having articles published because their articles “aren’t science” and then the fact that their articles aren’t published is offered as evidence that ID is “not science”!

    For evidence of the overwhelming pressure that is placed on individuals and journals to enforce such restrictions, see: http://www.richardsternberg.com/smithsonian.php

    ~Kaz

  • Alethinon61

    There’s no question that he was persecuted for merely publishing a peer reviewed article that was perceived as unorthodox by some.  What are the names and what were the specific circumstances of other editors who underwent similar treatment for publishing a peer reviewed article?

    Regarding your second paragraph, I’m going to set aside your ridiculous claim that I come here “insulting” evolutionists (the word “refute”, used in the context of a debate, is not “insulting”, whereas your mockery and potential libel of advocates of ID is) and focus on your primary question.  To be sure I understand you: Are you asking me why I would comment favorably about Dr. Sternberg’s powerful argument whereby he used accepted aspects of evolutionary theory to highlight a failure of evolutionary theory, yet comment unfavorably about professor Ayala’s weak arguments offered as part of a negative answer to the question that constituted the subject of the debate he had with Dr. Craig?  If so, then simply re-read the question and you’ll have the answer.

    ~Kaz


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