Richard Dawkins’ New Book

According to The New York Observer, Richard Dawkins‘ next book will be (surprise!) a defense of evolution titled Only a Theory?.

I liked The God Delusion and all, but I’m glad he’s back to writing about science.

How much is publisher Free Press paying for the right to publish the new book?

$3,500,000.

And I’m sure Dawkins will be seeing a good chunk of that…

According to this source, the book—to be called Only a Theory?—will offer empirical evidence for evolution, and will be published next year, on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The God Delusion, which has sold over a million copies and inspired several book-length counterarguments, was published by Houghton Mifflin.

Free Press publisher Martha Levin said she and her staff were “thrilled” about the acquisition.

(via Atheism Sucks!)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Hmmm. I am curious if Dawkins is going to finally figure out that evolution is a meta-narrative and not a theory. To date, none of his books have been able to identify a theory of evolution, nor have any of my biology texts either.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Are, perhaps, your “biology texts” just old copies of Jack Chick tracts?

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Bad, I think your own biology texts are as good a starting point as any.

    Consider Newtons theory of gravity: It is a precise relationship which hasn’t change for centuries, although the gravitational constant has been refined. It also involves measurable quantities.

    Evolution, on the other hand, is vague and has no identifiable mathematical form. It changes from day to day and from researcher to researcher. Furthermore, whether we talk about survival and fitness or distributions of alleles in populations, the quantities aren’t measurable. Because evolution is so fluid, it also isn’t falsifiable. It has none of the properties of a scientific theory.

  • Siamang

    Fossil rabbits in the precambrian, Looney.

    Not falsifiable my ass.

  • http://terahertz.wordpress.com THz

    Darwin made a prediction: that there would be a fossil trail of evidence pointing back to common ancestry. This has been observed.

    There are lots of predictions in evolutionary science, it’s just not as math-based as physics.

    Also we replaced Newton’s theory with Einstein’s General theory of Relativity – to which Newton’s is just an approximation.

    Now go troll.

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    “Fossil rabbits in the precambrian, Looney.”

    Um, there is a difference between falsifying a theory and falsifying a rabbit.

    Question, how many times have you sequenced the genome of a fossil rabbit? Real scientific theories are based on measurable quantities.

  • Pingback: Novo livro do Dawkins: Only a Theory? at Ateus do Brasil

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    “There are lots of predictions in evolutionary science, it’s just not as math-based as physics.”

    THz, it is true that there are lots of predictions made by evolution and some came out true. A theory with no precise form, however, can predict anything and we would expect some of those predictions to be correct. No surprise here.

    Ah, I see the pre-cambrian rabbit was cited as a falsifiability criteria. There was something on that order discovered a while back involving a deep sea fish which supposedly hadn’t evolved since the Cambrian(?) . Can’t remember the name. It was slightly less severe than the pre-cambrian rabbit, but evolution had no trouble explaining it. The Nautilus is rumored not to have changed for 300 million years. No, evolution isn’t falsifiable.

  • http://www.blueglowy.com Able-X

    There are many conceivable lines of evidence that could falsify evolution. For example:

    * a static fossil record;
    * true chimeras, that is, organisms that combined parts from several different and diverse lineages (such as mermaids and centaurs) and which are not explained by lateral gene transfer, which transfers relatively small amounts of DNA between lineages, or symbiosis, where two whole organisms come together;
    * a mechanism that would prevent mutations from accumulating;
    * observations of organisms being created.

    Also, if you are saying “evolution is false”, then you are in direct contradiction with yourself. ;)

    Another also, Yay for another Dawkins book! :)

  • Siamang

    There was something on that order discovered a while back involving a deep sea fish which supposedly hadn’t evolved since the Cambrian(?)

    Looney, you are a bit dense.

    You’re talking about coelacanths, which evolved quite a bit since the their ancestors which were quite abundant and diverse in the Devonian period. But it was a living descendant of an entire ancient subclass of fish that was thought to have no living descendants. Newspapers dumbed it down for the public and called it a “living fossil”, but you’re completely mistaken to say they didn’t evolve. New species of coelacanths have evolved over the millions of years since the Devonian. (see: Inoue, J. G., Miya, M., Venkatesh, B., Nishida, M. 2005. The mitochondrial genome of Indonesian coelacanth Latimeria menadoensis (Sarcopterygii: Coelacanthiformes) and divergence time estimation between the two coelacanths. Gene 349, 227-235.)

    What I’m talking about (fossil rabbits in the precambrian) is an impossibility if evolution is true. If there are fossil rabbits in the precambrian, the entire theory of evolution is in trouble, instantly falsified.

    In other words, a rabbit, suddenly appearing so early in the fossil record, before complex multicellular life. Before vertibrates. Before air-breathers. Before tetrapods. Before mammals. A rabbit, appearing out of nowhere in the fossil record eons and eons and eons before what evolution says can only be his ancestors. Either that rabbit was in a time machine, or evolution is false. Wanna disprove evolution instantly? Go find that rabbit.

    Find one and you have falsified evolution. There are millions and millions and millions of possible discoveries similar to this that would falsify evolution. None have.

    For example, if humans used a different coding scheme in their DNA than chimps, THAT would instantly falsify evolution forever.

    “Evolution isn’t falsifiable” my ass.

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Regarding falsification, I guess we could say that Newton’s theory of gravity was never falsified because we didn’t observe planets moving in hexagonal orbits. Of course Newton’s theory was falsified, but it took some precision measurements to do this.

    As I mentioned, evolution is vague, always evolving and involves unmeasurable quantities. It simply will never be falsifiable in the sense that a scientific theory is falsifiable.

    Of course I wouldn’t dare say evolution is false. Evolution is a synonym for change, hence it is actually a tautology, and tautologies are never false.

  • Siamang

    Ladies and Gentlemen, here we have in his native habitat, your typical creationist troll.

    Notice the behavior when solidly referenced scientific facts contradict his mutterings… he squirms, slides, prevaricates and claims that evolution is a tautology and unfalsifiable by self-servingly re-defining the term as a changeable theory about change. We’re talking specifically about the unifying theory of biological common descent, and he substitutes the non-biological definition “change”. That’s the fallacy of equivocation, using two different definitions of the same word interchangeably.

    This should be observed by all intellectually honest fence-sitters on the question. Look closely at the contortions required to maintain his position, when in fact he’s been proven wrong on his assertions.

    If Looney had any mastery of the subject matter at all, would he really need to resort to playing this game?

    It simply will never be falsifiable in the sense that a scientific theory is falsifiable.

    You keep saying that, even though I provided exactly what would utterly falsify the theory. Do you have trouble reading?

    Evolution is a synonym for change, hence it is actually a tautology, and tautologies are never false.

    What does that sentence even mean? Just because you use the word “hence” doesn’t mean that you showed anything.
    You didn’t show that the theory of biological common descent with modification based on random mutation acted upon by differential survival pressures and passed down through genetic inheritance IS a functional synonym for “change”. Nor did you show that it is a tautology.

    You just took a convenient non-biological definition for “evolution” and said it was “change”, then you stacked those two words together and declared them tautological. I wouldn’t use that word, as the man said, “I don’t think it means what you think it means.” If the terms are defined elsewhere independently, they are not tautological.

    It’s like saying ‘Newton’s laws of motion is a synonym for gravity, hence it is actually a tautology, and tautologies are never false.’ If stuff started falling up, it sure as hell would be false, no matter how carefully you constructed your sentence. Just as fossil rabbits in the precambrian would falsify evolution.

    Does what you say make sense to anyone but you? Do you need remedial logic courses?

  • Raghu Mani

    I am glad that Siamang has taken on the task of arguing with creationists – nothing for me to add here.

    To get back to the subject of the post, I myself am very glad that Dawkins is back to writing about science. That is IMHO what he does best. His recent detour into anti-religion stuff has been a bit of a disappointment to me. Don’t get me wrong, The God Delusion is a very well written book – however, I wasn’t nearly as captivated by it as I am by his scientific writings.

    Here’s hoping it is out soon!!

    Raghu

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Raghu, this isn’t a creationist issue. If you actually pay attention to what Dawkins writes, the general form of his arguments are:

    1) I am going to show you how evolution works.
    2) He switches to some other scientific theory. (e.g. control theory while discussing bird plumage.)
    3) He switches back to evolution and says, wow, isn’t evolution powerful!

    This same shell game is used systematically throughout biology. It is mandatory for the simple reason that a theory of evolution doesn’t exist and can’t be formulated.

  • Claire

    Looney said:

    It is mandatory for the simple reason that a theory of evolution doesn’t exist and can’t be formulated.

    Well, gotta give you points for persistence – no matter how many times you are proved wrong, you keep restating the same stupid statements like that will somehow suddenly make it true. Siamang had you pegged in all respects but one – you don’t specialize in just creationism. You’re a troll for all seasons….

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Looney, here’s a non-ambiguous, mathematical definition of evolution for you:

    Evolution is the change in allele frequencies in a population over time.

    The mechanisms of evolution are: Mutation, Genetic drift, Recombination, Migration and Natural Selection. All of which are easily studied in the field and the laboratory as well as with mathematical models.

    If it’s vague, you seriously haven’t understood it. It’s actually really simple.

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Felicia, I think it is a good bet that you have never plugged “change in allele frequencies in a population over time” into a calculator and gotten a useful result. The “mechanisms” which you mentioned are indeed studied quantitatively using theories that are all 100% independent of the theory of evolution. Frequently they come from physical chemistry, biochemistry or some other hard science. If the result looks interesting enough, evolution is back credited with the success! This is the shell game which you will find in any molecular biology text.

    The process only makes sense because evolution=change, which is the superset of all theories.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Looney said,

    Consider Newtons theory of gravity: It is a precise relationship which hasn’t change for centuries, although the gravitational constant has been refined. It also involves measurable quantities.

    Evolution, on the other hand, is vague and has no identifiable mathematical form. It changes from day to day and from researcher to researcher. Furthermore, whether we talk about survival and fitness or distributions of alleles in populations, the quantities aren’t measurable. Because evolution is so fluid, it also isn’t falsifiable. It has none of the properties of a scientific theory.

    If your expectations of what a scientific theory is like is based only on Newton’s law of gravity, you’ll get a rather skewed perspective. It’s not so much that Evolution isn’t a theory as it is that the law of gravity isn’t a theory. The law of gravity is just one equation, you know? The theory of gravity would include all the knowledge we derive from the equation, along with the body of evidence that supports and places limits on the law. The theory of gravity is interconnected with the theory of mechanics, particle physics, and astronomy. Is it that the science of gravity changes from researcher to researcher, or is it just that the theory simply encompasses a wide array of things?

    In fact, most theories of science do not have a simple-to-identify mathematical form. It’s only the highly theoretical parts of science that are rigorously mathematical. Furthermore, if you think biology has no math at all, you are wrong. As I do not study biology, I don’t have many examples, but you provided one yourself. Why ever can’t we measure the distributions of alleles in populations?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Its hard for science to compete with the elegance of the sophisticated math in the theory of Christianity. 1=3.

    God = Father + Son + Holy Ghost

  • Samuel Skinner

    We do measure alleles in poulations. Most genetic diseases have a well known value (at least in the US with the lethal ones- they leave behind bodies). Of course the easiest thing to track would be skin color- you just have to look.

    Finally, the most famous example is the brown and gray moths from England. They did do a large scale survey of those suckers.

  • Lysander

    WOW. I’ve been pondering whether or not to become a science teacher. If I believed in “signs”… :)

    This discussion exemplifies public discussion of evolution: There is no good starting point. To fully grasp evolution–to understand it–requires attaining extensive foundational knowledge in biological sciences (including genetics, phylogenetic systematics, etc.), geosciences (including Deep Time, paleontology, etc.) and chemistry, as well as math and physics. You can read anything and everything on evolution (a minuscule fraction of which I have included below) till your head spins and your face turns blue, but none of that will be of any use if you don’t understand it. And you almost certainly will not. To expect such is to expect to be able to assemble and fly a spacecraft all on your own after being given all the parts, tools, plans and instructions. It’s possible, but so statistically improbable that we can forget about it. What I’m getting at is that it truly takes a lot more than even a doctoral college education in evo bio to understand evolution. It’s fine to have tentative opinions, but it’s exasperating to see people administering speculation (or just flat-out misinformation) as if they have the authority to do so. Well-versed as I am, I myself can claim no such authority, but I acknowledge that and I fully expect to be questioned, constructively criticized and corrected. Thus is the way of science.

    Just like any other biological process, evolution is not a belief. It is both a fact and a theory that may be accepted or rejected. Additionally, rejecting it says nothing of the alternatives. For example, one may not accept the fact of reproduction (e.g. sexual, asexual, parthenogenesis), but that does nothing for the stork argument. Coincidentally, one sounds just as foolish saying “‘Babies come from storks’ is just a theory” as one does “Evolution is just a theory“; both showcase a profound ignorance of what a theory truly is.

    Yes, the theories of physics often include mathematical formulas and equations, which are relatively simple given that math is the language of physics. Why do we not possess a detailed, precise mathematical equation for evolution? One may as well ask Why can’t we teleport? or, even simpler, Why don’t we have flying cars yet? We’re just not to that point, yet, but it is attainable (everything is reducible to numbers) and we are well on our way. Once there, though, it will still be a long time before it is accepted by the public because it will be a long time before it is understood by the public. Ring a bell?
    ________

    Brief list of suggested links & reading (aside from Dawkins’ papers and books and Gould’s pre-magnum-opus works):

    Web:
    Understanding Evolution
    Tree of Life
    Evolution Resources
    The testimony of Kevin Padian in Kitzmiller v. Dover

    Books (~easier/intermediate):
    One Long Argument
    Life on a Young Planet
    What Evolution IsEndless Forms Most Beautiful
    Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
    The Red Queen
    The Diversity of Life

    Books (advanced):
    Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution
    The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Gould’s magnum opus)
    ________

    “So go ahead, set up base camp right here, or in a swamp, or in the middle of a rex nest for all I care. But I’ve been on too many safaris with rich dentists to listen to any more suicidal ideas, okay?” – Roland Tembo

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Felicia, I think it is a good bet that you have never plugged “change in allele frequencies in a population over time” into a calculator and gotten a useful result.

    Uh… actually, I have. As part of my biology education. You know. Where I study biology, at university, in the hopes to make a career as a scientist. It’s quite insulting to all us thousands and thousands of biologists who are studying, have studied or are working with evolution to have people doubt our expertise to the extent that anti-evolutionists do. I don’t understand how computers work, but I don’t go up to engineers telling them they’re doing their job wrong.

    You’ve got everything backwards. The experiments and calculations you refer to are only possible because of the framework of evolutionary thought that biological science is based upon. Evolution doesn’t step in at the last minute to claim credit, it’s what leads us to new interesting hypotheses to test. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but evolution doesn’t stand and fall with individual experiments. There’s so much corroborating evidence by now that there is no reason to doubt evolutionary theory as a whole, even though individual facets may be wrong.

    The point is, evolutionary theory WORKS. Just like I assume engineers have sound science backing them when they construct circuitboards.

    Finally, comparing biological theory to physics is really rather unfair. Biology and physics are both natural sciences but they’re conducted in different ways. Physics concerns the most fundamental properties of the universe – you don’t measure physical constants statistically, you do it absolutely. Biology is concerned with extremely complex systems with so many confounding factors it’s amazing that we’ve gotten as far as we have today. Although there are rigorous mathematical frameworks for many parts of evolutionary theory (aside from the most simple definition of a change of allele frequency over time), it’s unfair to expect to be able to boil it down to something as simple and elegant as for instance special relativity. It would be rather like saying you should be able to boil down and explain Beethoven’s ninth symphony with just one note.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin McKean

    I’m having a flashback to my theist days. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a creationist theist with and agenda and I said exactly the same bullshit Looney says. This was twelve years ago, mind you. On those old Compuserve forums.

    Then I learned what the word “falsifiable” means.

    Then I started reading books that weren’t written by Creationists.

    Then I realized I’d been duped by my church, as had my father before me and his father before him, etc.

    Just like I think we’re being duped, now. Anyone else think that Looney is not really a theist or anti-evolution? He calls himself “Looney,” for Loki’s sake.

  • Siamang

    Looking at his website, I think he’s sincere.

    Justin, I was wondering how many other people here used to be in Looney’s shoes.. Having been there yourself, can you tell me.. Are they so insulated in their bubbles that it does no good to converse with them? Looney’s “worse” than many I’ve sparred with over the years, mostly because his illusionary counter-science isn’t well fortified. He hasn’t spent the work I’ve seen other creationists spend where they don’t venture too far off the well-riveted creationist boilerplate. In other words, it was easy to show him to be baldly false re rabbits in the precambrian and the evolution of coelacanths. That he equivocated and falsely declared his equivocating sentence illustrated a tautology was epic fail on his part, I just had to swoop in and claim credit. Notice that he didn’t respond to me again… he just yipped and yapped at people he thought he could cow (Who turned out to be real biologists. HA!)

    What popped your bubble, btw Justin? Does talking to these people even help?

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Felicia, I like how you contradict me in the first sentence, and then confirm what I said in the paragraph! This was given away by the work “framework”.

    You plugged in some other scientific equation(s), but because evolution is a “framework”, you felt it OK to credit evolution with the success as if it were a theory. Of course, a “framework” is a “set” and the set is the set of all theories because evolution and change are synonymous. This is how my molecular biology texts employ evolution and how Dawkins employs it also. A framework, however, is never a scientific theory, because a theory is fixed and precise while frameworks are free to change day by day.

    You can still believe the meta-narrative of evolution without insisting that evolution has the properties of scientific theories – a distinct, tangible equation that never changes – which we all know is not true.

  • Darryl

    Oh, Looney’s just being a stubborn dick now. Siamang wiped the floor with him, yet he’s so proud he won’t admit that he’s full of crap.

    Like others who have commented here, I once believed the creationist crap–not because I knew anything, or cared anything, about science or biology, but because it was polemical ammunition and some psychological comfort to my faith, since science as it was taught to me in the public schools threatened my faith. People like Looney are desperate to believe this crap because they’re fearful.

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Siamang, I didn’t respond because I don’t think you comprehend Popper’s notion of falsifiability. It isn’t about the theory being true unless some Douglas Adams scenario develops. It is about a theory being sufficiently established and precise that only one prediction can be made from one set of data and a unique, precise answer should be expected – repeatedly and without exception. Certainly biologists employ scientific theories that meet this criteria, but evolution is not one of them.

  • Siamang

    Feel free to respond to any of my arguments, Looney.

  • Karen

    Like others who have commented here, I once believed the creationist crap–not because I knew anything, or cared anything, about science or biology, but because it was polemical ammunition and some psychological comfort to my faith, since science as it was taught to me in the public schools threatened my faith. People like Looney are desperate to believe this crap because they’re fearful.

    Exactly, Darryl. I was in the very same situation.

    Let me say something that may be encouraging though, to Siamang and Richard and Felicia and cautious and other science experts here who so heroically (in my view) and patiently engage with creationists, and seemingly get spit at for their trouble.

    I was watching this ridiculous creationist diatribe on whale evolution that PZ posted today, and I had something of an epiphany. Because I remember hearing that same sort of diatribe from creationists back in the day, but I also remember that there was a still, small voice in the back of my head when I listened to that stuff. (And this is kind of funny, because for Christians the “still, small voice” is supposed to be the holy spirit talking to your heart.)

    But what I realized today is that the still small voice that I heard during creationist lectures was not the holy spirit – it was the voice of reason! “Yeah, this evolution stuff sounds really, really silly and impossible, but can it be that bad? What am I not hearing here? If it’s so ridiculous and flimsy, how can any educated person accept it? Why do all these brilliant scientists who know way more than I do about this stuff believe it?”

    Now, I squelched that voice of reason as effectively as I could, but eventually it got louder and louder, to the point where I simply couldn’t ignore it. I’m not sure, but I’d bet that more than a few creationists are also stuffing down that pesky reasonable voice in their heads, and if you can say anything to them that allows that little doubt or that little skepticism to get stronger, I think your time is well spent.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Looney: “Siamang, I didn’t respond because I don’t think you comprehend Popper’s notion of falsifiability.”

    Look here: http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA211_1.html

  • julie marie

    Let me say something that may be encouraging though, to Siamang and Richard and Felicia and cautious and other science experts here who so heroically (in my view) and patiently engage with creationists, and seemingly get spit at for their trouble.

    I’d like to throw in my .02 as well–even if it seems your patient explanations are falling into a void, there are others reading, who haven’t taken a position. Many of us born in the 60s got a lousy science education. When I read Siamang or Cautious’s explanations I have to think, surely this isn’t the same biology I suffered through years ago. Even if you can’t budge a creationist from his position, you’ve put some info out there for people who don’t know much about the topic to think about. And you do it so engagingly that some will be drawn to go learn more for themselves.

    It makes a difference. I had been ambivalent – not anti science, not pro creationism – but now I’m not, and I will go to the school board if my county tries to feed crap to my child and call it science.


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