No Credible Challenge No Credible Challenge No Credible Challenge

There’s an article in The New York Times about Ben Stein‘s movie Expelled. It mentions Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and others who were duped into giving interviews to a group of Creationists who lied about their intentions for filming the interviews.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because PZ and others are glowing about this phrase by reporter Cornelia Dean:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

Awesome. Straightforward, blunt, and honest.

Annie Wagner at Slog agrees.

Though she liked it better the first time Cornelia Dean said it:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that all living things evolved from common ancestors, that evolution on earth has been going on for billions of years and that evolution can be and has been tested and confirmed by the methods of science. [“Evolution takes a back seat in US classes,” Feb 2, 2005]

Not so much the second time:

”We were invited to debate one supposed theory against another,” Dr. Leshner said, when in fact there was no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution. [“Opting Out in the Debate on Evolution,” June 21, 2005.]

Or the third time:

“Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.” [Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution,” July 9, 2005.]

Or the fourth time:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that evolution explains the diversity of life on earth, but advocates for intelligent design posit that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent source. [“In ‘Design’ vs. Darwinism, Darwin Wins Point in Rome,” Jan 19, 2006.]

Or the fifth time:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. ["Science of the Soul? ‘I Think, Therefore I Am’ Is Losing Force," June 26, 2007.]

Annie Wagner may be tiring of the phrase, but I like that Cornelia Dean is doing this. There’s something to the broken record method. The more you repeat the phrase, the more people get used to hearing those words together.

Say it together now: There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.

(It’s the same reason I named this site “Friendly Atheist” — get used to saying those words together!)

The more people quote Dean’s phrasing, the more it spreads, the more evolution-deniers have to answer to that fact.

It’s the same technique the Intelligent Design people have utilized for so long: “Teach the controversy,” anyone?

(Via Slog)


[tags]atheist, atheism, evolution[tags]

  • Susan

    I have to agree. It’s nice phrasing, and I doubt most readers would notice that she’s using the phrase over and over again. Meanwhile, it gets the idea across to new readers, and reinforces for regular readers, that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com Wick

    Anyone here read the book “Random Designer” by Richard Colling? Any thoughts on it?

  • http://tomesnyder.com Tom E. Snyder

    Cornelia Dean said it. You believe it. That settles it.

  • HappyNat

    Cornelia Dean said it. You believe it. That settles it.

    Yup, that is the only reason we believe evolution. Well that and the fact that, there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.

  • Vincent

    You know, I was never taught evolution was anything but fact.
    I grew up Catholic and sometime in my childhood the Pope admitted that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution. I believe his exact words were (well, they were probably not in English, so his translated words) “Evolution is a fact as much as anything is a fact”.
    So, yeah, I was pretty much convinced because there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.

  • Polly

    I think the fact that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution is the real reason it still stands and not because of some purported bias or conspiracy among biologists or science writers. Because, if it were not the case that there is no credible scientfic challenge to the theory of evolution, someone would have already proposed an alternative and we’d all be debating his/her theory, now instead of Darwin’s.
    So, it’s not a matter of taking Cornelia Dean’s word that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution, but that there really is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution of which to speak. She’s not laying down dogma, but reporting a fact.
    You know…that there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.

  • bipolar2

    ** How the invisible hand kills off “designer” gods **

    Ignorance of the foundations of evolutionary science is no excuse. There are no longer any innocent arguers from design. All of them are dead. Living ID-ers are liars.

    >> The “Invisible Hand” writes its own script.

    Complex systems can and do arise from simple events, including random events.

    The first adequate theoretical “reduction” of earth-bound empirical complexity to simplicity comes (I think) from the Scottish economic philosopher, Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations (1776).

    Smith’s famous unintended “invisible hand”, which is microeconomic capitalism, arises from simple economic exchanges in a market of fair competition among vendors. The market is an emergent (abstract) complex entity which arises from a sum-over of simple exchanges.

    There is no need for a ‘god of economics’ to design the market — under specified mechanisms of exchange, it forms itself.

    >> Speciation by descent, not by “thoughts in the mind of God”

    Darwin solved a supposedly insuperable empirical puzzle for a very wide (not universal) set of events in the history of life: how do complex life forms arise from simpler ones.

    He knew exactly what he had done and what deep ingratitude he would receive. In 1844, when Darwin put his mature ideas in writing with instructions to his wife that they be published should he die, natural theology was still intellectually respectable. By 1850, the fossil record, Lyell’s concept of deep time had prepared an acute mind like Tennyson’s to abandon “Nature” as solace. “Nature red in tooth and claw.” (“In Memoriam.” LVI 1850.)

    Darwin knew how maligned, even shunned he would be by Society — he was after all a bona fide “gentleman” quite aware of the perks of his class and the esteem earned by his vast and thoroughly “respectable” empirical research.

    Forced to “come out” in 1858, Darwin did not refer to his view with the already suspect term “evolution” but as “descent with modification.” What was so radical, so disturbing to his contemporaries? His mechanism for descent with modification which Darwin called “natural selection”.

    What makes natural selection so uncomfortable? In operation, it has no goal and achieves no purpose. Speciation is a random trial-and-error process dependent upon differential reproductive success — in a determinate ecological setting. (Darwin proposed no account of the origin of life . . . as the title of his great work makes clear — On the origin of species.)

    Life in its multitudinous complex forms requires no spiritual force, no élan vital, no teleological principle, no purpose, no design.

    A designer for evolution is as superfluous as a designer for economics. And for exactly the same reason.

    bipolar2
    copyright asserted 2007

  • Michael

    I’m not sure that I want to believe something just because there’s no credible evidence to the contrary. While such arguments can be a factor we’d want to focus on building an accurate picture of the evidence for the theory. There’s still plenty that is not understood about macro-evolution which is why it’s still a theory.

  • Siamang

    Cornelia Dean said it. You believe it. That settles it.

    Project much?

  • Karen

    There’s nothing wrong with using a stock phrase or paragraph in journalism. You see it all the time in long-play stories where something new happens but the background material has to be restated fairly high up in the copy. Why re-write the background graph every time – particularly when the issue is complex and you’re on deadline and it’s easy to misstate something in your hurry?

    I have a hunch that Cornelia probably came up with that explanatory paragraph on evolution, okayed it with her editors and copies/pastes it when she needs it. It seems to me I’ve also seen it in other NYT stories on creationism/evolution, so it’s possible other reporters are using it as well.

    Let’s just be grateful it’s in there and it is repeated every time. I think it’s great.

  • Maria

    no credible challenge huh? talk about ignoring evidence……

  • Kate

    No Maria, no evidence is being ignored. None. I promise you. What ground-breaking “evidence” would you like to share with us? Irreducible complexity? I’m curious to hear.

  • http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats tom sheepandgoats

    “As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

    Is that really a triumph for science? If I understand it correctly, it’s a statement that certain phenomena (or explanations) will not be considered, not because they may not be valid, but because they are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

    Are there not innumerable aspects of life originating from inorganic matter in which the odds against are so astronomical that any sane person would have to regard them as impossible? But probabilities are something that the scientific method isn’t designed to deal with. So it just declares them irrelevant. A narrow approach, it seems to me.

  • Vincent

    Are there not innumerable aspects of life originating from inorganic matter in which the odds against are so astronomical that any sane person would have to regard them as impossible?

    Sure, but they are still infinitely more probable than a supernatural omnipotent entity.

    Michael said,
    ….There’s still plenty that is not understood about macro-evolution which is why it’s still a theory.

    No, Michael, it’s not. I can’t believe anyone still makes that statement. It’s like saying well, Pope Benedict is still just the Pope – it implies there’s something he could get promoted to.
    The theory of evolution is still a theory, because in science there is nothing beyond theory. That’s why it’s so hard for a hypothesis to become a theory in the first place.

  • Karen

    Hey Vincent, I’m on your side, but according to this page there are “laws of science” which I would imagine have some degree of certainty beyond “theories”:

    “The laws of science are various established scientific laws, or physical laws as they are sometimes called, that are considered universal and invariable facts of the physical world.”

    But then again, I’m no scientist, so maybe I’m totally confused semantically here.

  • HappyNat

    no credible challenge huh? talk about ignoring evidence……

    Care to point us to the evidence we are ignoring?

  • Vincent

    Karen,
    If you continue reading,

    …a law is an analytic statement, usually with an empirically determined constant. A theory may contain a set of laws, or a theory may be implied from an empirically determined law.

    Wikipedia goes on to define theory thus:

    a theory is a mathematical or logical explanation, or a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise falsified through empirical observation.

    A theory is an explanation of how something happens. A law is the frame in which the theory operates.
    A theory can explain why a ball goes through a hole. A law is the hole.

    So, basically, a theory does not become a law. Laws are why theories work.

  • Mike

    Actually I have a question: I was wondering how you all are dealing with Thomas Kuhns criticism of Evolution as a theory that is paradigmaticaly necessary to uphold a particular view of the universe; as opposed to being the definitative “truth” on the topic of life here.

  • Karen

    I get that part, Vincent. What I was pointing out is that when you say things like:

    in science there is nothing beyond theory.

    … people who have bought into creationist propaganda and don’t understand the scientific method are likely to refute you by pointing to “scientific laws” and then think that they’ve trumped your point.

    Scientists like Newton, Boyle, Einstein have, in fact, gone beyond theorizing to posit laws. Many of them are listed on that Wiki page. I understand that they are not “creating” laws but rather discovering that certain laws exist. But people who have a skewed understanding of science are not likely to “get” that finer point.

    Maybe you could qualify the statement by explaining that the investigations of the scientific method can only generate theories that are held provisionally, but that there are laws of science that scientists have identified?

  • Vincent

    What I meant was, it is not a progression. A theory does not elevate to a law.
    When someone says it is “just a theory” they are implying that some day a theory could be proven to some higher degree and become something more than a theory.
    It doesn’t work that way.
    A hypothesis becomes a theory after it has undergone enough testing to be shown to be predictive under all known testing.
    I’m not sure how a law becomes a law (the only ones I’m familiar with are the laws of thermodynamics) but it doesn’t start out as a theory (there was no “first theory of thermodynamics).

  • Vincent

    Mike said,

    October 1, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Actually I have a question: I was wondering how you all are dealing with Thomas Kuhns criticism of Evolution as a theory that is paradigmaticaly[sic] necessary to uphold a particular view of the universe; as opposed to being the definitative[sic] “truth” on the topic of life here.

    Well, I haven’t heard it, and don’t understand what your sentence means.

  • http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats tom sheepandgoats

    “Are there not innumerable aspects of life originating from inorganic matter in which the odds against are so astronomical that any sane person would have to regard them as impossible?

    Sure, but they are still infinitely more probable than a supernatural omnipotent entity.”

    Do I understand you to say that you agree life originating from inorganic matter faces high enough odds to be ruled impossible but you feel life from a creator is MORE impossible? Does that truly make sense?

    Since either way it seems impossible, then why doesn’t the originated (or designed) thing itself count as evidence, just as a mansion on Mars would argue strongly for a builder, though unseen.

  • Vincent

    The originated thing counts only as evidence that it exists.
    I guess I should not have said “sure.”
    Obviously no sane person would consider the highly improbable to be impossible, merely improbable; though if so improbable, it can be rational to act as though it were impossible, just not to actually consider it so.
    Life originating from inorganic matter (incidentally, what do you mean by inorganic?) is highly improbable. But it’s a great big universe and it only had to happen once.

    Anyway, I am ashamed at having let the conversation go so far afield. We were talking about evolutionary theory, which has nothing to do with the origins of life.
    There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution. I don’t know if that can be said about the origins of life because I’m not as familiar with the current scientific position on that.

  • Mike

    “There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution.”

    What a wonderful statment, I would like to know more about it.

    When you say evolution I hope you mean more than “life change”- because that’s not a very “scientific” definition. I think the ancient Sumarians would have agreed that “life changes” It certainly doen’t take a PhD in biology to understand that life changes.

    So what do you mean by “evolution”? Are you meaning the “theory” as posited by Charles Darwin? (I don’t think there are many individuals who believe a horse can have a baby with a longer neck because it stretched as an adult. In that case genetics’ disproves “Darwins theory”)

    So what do you mean by “evolution”?
    If I were to take my son out and show him a house and he asked me: “Dad how did this get here?” It would be extremely poor reasoning to say: “Well son lets take pictures out and look at this house when it was first built, then 15 years later then 50 years later and here poof there is the house.”
    “Yes that’s the change of the house dad- but HOW did the house get here? What process happened so that there was NO house and then suddenly poof there IS a house.”

    “Oh son, that’s easy, Men built it.”

    Great: So how did life get here? Evolution. Great! but what is the mechanism that took nothing- and poof then there is life?

    Since there is NO scientific debate concerning this topic it should be very easy to describe this process.

  • http://imparo.wordpress.com/ Darmok

    Good questions, Mike. Evolution is the observed change in inheritable traits or gene frequencies in a population. The mechanisms of evolution include gene mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. Evolution is responsible for the diversity of life on Earth.

    However, evolution does not explain the origin of life from nonliving matter. There are several plausible models for the origin of life on Earth, but they have nothing to do with evolution. Evolution requires an entity capable of reproduction and passing on (occasionally imperfectly copied) heritable traits. It does not explain the origin of such an entity (nor does it explain the formation of the Earth, quantum mechanics, or the photoelectric effect, and so on).

  • Mike

    Darmok wrote:”Evolution is the observed change in inheritable traits or gene frequencies in a population. The mechanisms of evolution include gene mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.”

    Darmok, thanks for the response. Your definition of Evolution is quite understandable. However, there are a few things that are unclear to me.

    “Observed change in inheritable traits or gene frequenceis in a population.”

    Once again while this sounds “sophisticated” how does it differ from: “life change”. It certainly does not take a PhD in biology to observe that while I have brown hair my son has blond hair. It also does not require a degree to observe that certain population groups have certain tendencies.

    Darmok wrote: “The mechanisms of evolution include gene mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.”

    I looked up each of these to make sure that I understood what you were saying. As I understand it gene mutation is a pretty “random” event. Natural selection is extremely difficult to predict because the environment plays a pivotal roll and the environment is constantly changing. Genetic drift is considered a statistical theory concerning the development of genetic traits.

    So I want to make sure I am understanding you: Evolution, while sounding sophicated, isn’t much more than watching things change over time. The mechanism that drives this change is random chance (through genetic mutation and genetic drift), and environmental factors (which are too numerous to list here).

  • Vincent

    I don’t understand what you are asking.
    The result of evolution is that an organism will have many similarities and some differences from its ancestors. Is that what you mean by things changing? Because the house analogy doesn’t work since a house is not replicating. The house does not evolve because it doesn’t pass any traits on to other houses. Aging is not evolving, though both are changes.

  • http://imparo.wordpress.com/ Darmok

    Those are good questions again, Mike.

    The purpose of the definition is precision. “Life change” is rather vague. For instance, I am a life-form and I have certainly changed over the years. I am taller than I was. My teeth are straighter. One of my bones has been broken and reset. However, I am not evolving. Evolution refers to the changes in heritable traits or gene frequencies populations; an individual organism cannot evolve.

    The hair color to which you refer does represent a heritable trait (assuming neither of you have dyed your hair). However, the two of you are not enough to constitute a population. If we observed a population of humans, we might notice changes in the frequencies of different hair color over many generations. That would be an example of evolution. Over geologic time, we observe enormous changes, including organisms that differ so much that they are classified as separate species.

    And you’re right: evolution, including the modern evolutionary synthesis (which includes mechanisms of evolution) is actually a pretty basic concept at its roots. Its simplicity is a big part of its elegance. In generic, basic form, we require A. (at least one) self-replicating entity, B. transmissible traits (with differential implications for survival), and C. imperfect transmission. The fundamental principles of evolution are quite basic and any entities meeting these criteria will tend to evolve.

    Among Earth life-forms, genetic variation arises from several sources. Gene mutation is the classic one, especially when gene or chromosomal duplication has occurred and one copy is free to vary without adverse effect. Chromosomal abnormalities are another. Among sexually reproducing species, meiosis and sexual reproduction add enormously to genetic variety. Many unicellular organisms can exchange DNA in the form of plasmids. Also, many viruses incorporate themselves into host DNA; when they are excised for production of new viruses, they may take a piece of host DNA with them that then gets incorporate into subsequent hosts. Finally, the incorporation of primordial Rickettsia-like prokaryotes and of cyanobacteria-like prokaryotes as mitochondria and chloroplasts, respectively, are an example of a mechanism for major change. Taken together, these (and other mechanisms) provide for an enormous wealth of genetic diversity over geologic time.

    Analyzing natural selection and the environment is complex, perhaps, but it’s not quite as complicated as you may think. The basic principle is simple: organisms who reproduce more will tend to have their genes become more predominant. In general, those that are the best-adapted to their environment will be the ones to survive.

    Does that makes sense? It’s not my intention to confuse or obfuscate with specialized terminology, so let me know if I haven’t been clear.

  • mike brown

    Darmok wrote:

    “Evolution refers to the changes in heritable traits or gene frequencies populations; an individual organism cannot evolve.”

    Your post’s Darmok are very clear and straightforward thank you.

    I think this definition of evolution is a pretty good one. One I think with which I can work. Evolution refers to the changes in inheritable traits or gene frequencies in populations.

    Now is THIS the evolutionary theory that you claimed earlier that is beyond dispute? Because if it is I can go with that. As a matter of fact I don’t think there are many people who would disagree with evolution defined as the change in inheritable traits or gene frequencies in populations.

    However, in my experience most people blur this definition of evolution with the theory that Charles Darwin proposed. They don’t seem to realize that there is a difference between proof that organisms change through genetic and environmental circumstanstances and the inference that because of this therefore the diversity of all life is caused by this change.

    It may not be an illogical inference, but it is not a direct cause and effect proof relationship.

    I see it like this: A woman looks out her window and sees a child throwing a ball. She goes upstairs and comes back down stairs and her front window is broken. Of course, the first thought in her head is that the kid she saw broke the window. It’s not an illogical inference but neither is it logical proof that the kid broke the window. At best one can say the child did not not break the window.

    In just the same way evolution, as we have agreed upon the definition, isn’t proof of darwins theory or one like it but just shows that it’s not incompatible. That’s the way I see it.

  • Mike

    Darmok? Are we finished? I was enjoying the discussion?


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