A Taxonomy of Creationists

There was a post on the Friendly Atheist a while back which got me thinking about the reasons people embrace creationism. I had thought that there were two types, in a sense – those who were misled, and those who were intentionally doing the misleading.

See, being raised a young earth creationist I grew up trusting what my parents, my church, and organizations like Answers in Genesis told me. It wasn’t until, as an adult, I examined the issue for myself and found that not only was young earth creationism wrong but that it was horribly obviously wrong. And so I wondered. How couple people who should have known better, like scientists who work for Answers in Genesis, not be aware of the gaping wholes in creationism and its blatant contradiction of evidence? Thus the misled, and the misleaders.

After all that, though, this Friendly Atheist post has made me wonder whether there are instead three kinds of creationists.

Before I go on, though, let me clarify that this taxonomy of creationists is really meant to be a taxonomy of <i>young earth</i> creationists. Christians who believe that God started the process of evolution, and then allowed it to unfold, perhaps sometimes intervening but generally allowing the process to proceed naturally and creating the world in that manner – often called “theistic evolutionists” – are not included in this taxonomy because they don’t stand in the face of clear scientific evidence the way young earth creationists do.

I’m going to provide a relevant quote from the post, and then go on to outline the three kinds of creationists I see:

“If having sufficient evidence were all that were required for denial of evolution to disappear, the last Creationist would have given up 100 years ago.

Obviously, Leakey knows this, especially when you consider that he has led teams that have contributed a few of those transitional fossils Creationists are so fond of pretending don’t exist. It sounds like he believes that removing skepticism about evolution is merely a matter of presenting people with the overwhelming evidence. In some cases, he may be right. The atheist community has a large contingent of people who were kept away from the evidence in favor of evolution in their youth, only to discover it and accept it fully as an adult. But ignorance alone does not account for all Creationists.

I believe Leakey is underestimating the number of people who are nowhere near “the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence.”  Many people have been led to believe by their pastors, priests, and imams that to accept evolution is to deny their faith, that acceptance of evolution is an implicit rejection of God. Faced with this choice, many will reject evolution, not because they find its evidence lacking, but because they believe it is a threat to a religious belief they hold dear. They are making an emotional choice, not an intellectual one — in other words, a choice that is not amenable to persuasion through facts.”

Okay, so based on my previous thoughts and my additional thinking upon reading the above, here is how I would suggest categorizing creationists:

1. The Ignorant: This group consists of those who are creationists because they don’t understand evolution and haven’t seen the huge accumulation of evidence in favor of evolution and the massive amounts of evidence against young earth creationism. Frequently those in this group are ignorant because they have been lied to, intentionally misled by creationist leaders about what evolution involves and about the evidence. Those in this group are sincere, though wrong.

2. The Liars: This group consists largely of creationist leaders, the ones who have science training and can’t help but know the evidence for evolution and against creationism. For a long time after I left creationism I was convinced this group didn’t exist, because I had never been part of it and because it’s not like anyone admits to belonging to it. However, the more I see of the scientific case for evolution and against young earth creationism, the less I can believe that those creationist leaders with genuine science training can be so ignorant of the evidence as to say the kinds of things they say. My conclusion is that at least some of them have to be lying.

3. The Dogmatists: This group consists of those who will not change their minds no matter what. They are generally ignorant of the evidence for evolution and against creationism, but they are also impervious to reason because they have been persuaded that they must believe in young earth creationism, no matter what. Therefore when presented with facts and evidence, they’ll essentially put their fingers in their ears and say “la la la la la” at the top of their lungs because for them facts and evidence are irrelevant.

I was in the first group. While I had been taught that denying creationism meant denying my faith, in the end my commitment to truth wherever it led overrode that teaching. If I hadn’t had a commitment to following evidence at all costs, I would likely have ended up in the third group rather than giving up young earth creationism.

So let’s consider a question: If the goal is to convince creationists of scientific reality, how do we go about doing that with those in each of the above groups? (And before anyone says “why does it matter what creationists believe, just let them continue to be wrong,” let me remind you that they vote and affect things like science education in the schools.)

When it comes to arguing with creationists about the actual science, the first group is the one with the capability to listen and potentially be persuaded. I am proof of this. The second group is obviously not reachable. But what of the third group? Must we give up on them? Actually, I think that Christians who believe in theistic evolution may have the best chance at reaching those in the third group. After all, this group essentially says “I will never give up my faith, ever, and accepting evolution would mean rejecting my faith.” If  the goal is to convince that person of the evidence behind evolution, the best way to start would be to dismantle the assumption that they cannot maintain their faith without young earth creationism. Only once they’re open to the idea of changing their minds can they actually consider the evidence and perchance be persuaded.

What are your thoughts? Do you think my taxonomy is complete, or would you add to it?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    My taxonomy is about the same as yours (except in reverse order): crackpots, charlatans, and the dupes of the first two (crackpot and dogmatist aren’t exactly the same idea, but close).

  • Carolyn the Red

    How about the willfully ignorant? They’ve got very little science education, but stay away from any actual education as if it will burn them. Very sincere, but might have a clue that it’s a house of cards. So they try not to understand the argument.

    I got into this fight with my brother-in-law. He happily told me all about how DNA degrades like a photocopy and every generation has “lower quality” DNA, and as such is sicker and lives less long. But he doesn’t want to go learn how DNA is actually copied, or explore what it would mean if we were all sicker than our parents, and doesn’t believe any scientist actually believes “the real story”. But since he thinks I am better educated and somehow respects my intelligence, he keeps asking me questions that should confirm his belief, and he just doesn’t hear it, no matter how gently I call his understanding not even wrong. But I really think he knows there’s at least some truth in what I say, which is why he’s afraid to hear it.

    (It’s part of a general disdain for experts in his family and his church. He didn’t understand why someone designing engines should really understand algebra and physics, in another conversation, and not just current engine designs)

    • kagekiri

      Eeesh, unfortunately, the willfully ignorant aren’t just those who lack a scientific education.

      I was quite good at biology in high school and college (got a biomedical degree), but I was also a YEC throughout high school and college: I just selectively ignored evidence of evolution or assumed that the evidence was made up by scientists who had made bad assumptions by ignoring scripture, just like AIG and similar places taught.

      My sister is a full-on MD, with undergrad and masters in cell biology, but is still a YEC, so years of biology doesn’t mean they teach a lot of evolution. She says she doesn’t even think about it much, and obviously, it didn’t stop her from getting a degree.

      Basically, yeah, brainwashing and emotional sunk costs in religion really helps people selectively ignore the evidence, attributing it to “secular scientists” and “bad science”, while spouting pseudo-scientific BS to inoculate people against the basics of evolution.

      • Carolyn the Red

        Fair enough. Another thing I have heard is that the school science textbooks lie or mislead for (I have no idea what) nefarious reason. So, the creationist account is taken uncritically, and anything in another bio book gets a “prove it” (then prove that, down to maybe Rosalind Franklin faked her pictures or something)

  • smrnda

    Interesting comment on DNA ‘degrading.’ If he means mutations occur that would be correct, but it would also be incorrect to call this process ‘degradation.’ Mutations can be helpful or harmful.The notion of DNA ‘degrading’ is something I’ve run into with creationists who argue that Adam and Eve had perfect DNA (which means, I’m guessing, absolutely no predisposition to any harmful medical conditions) and that as a result of the fall, our DNA isn’t as good, and that the reason people in the Old Testament lived so long was that their DNA was better. The problem is this is a totally ignorant of how DNA affects health and wellness.

    Part of the reason some people steer clear of science is that they approach it, find it hard to understand, and give up. Other people justify this by arguing that since it didn’t make sense, it must be wrong, but I think that’s a psychological defense to avoid having to admit that someone else is an expert and you’re not.

    I think anyone would be persuaded by enough evidence, but that few will pursue that on their own. Those who are dishonest and lying have so much invested in their disbelief in evolution that they’re a lost cause I think.

    • Carolyn the Red

      The analogy was a photocopy of a photocopy – far from how mutations and DNA work. The photocopy is fuzzy, so people get sick. It gets fuzzier each generation, so we no longer live hundreds of years with perfect health. I’m not sure how that would work with the combination of genes from two parents. He claimed never to have heard of nucleic acids of chromosomes.

  • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

    “If the goal is to convince that person of the evidence behind evolution, the best way to start would be to dismantle the assumption that they cannot maintain their faith without young earth creationism.”

    This. But, unfortunately, it can be hard to convince this group that theistic evolutionists are real Christians. To some such Christians, I lose all credibility the second they find out I believe in evolution, LGBT equality, mainstream feminism, global warming, and (sometimes) voting Democrat.

    • Karen

      Yep. Atheists are heathen infidels, but we theists are Heretics! And therefore even worse than unbelievers. The charlatans maintain their power by keeping The Flock as far away from less extreme viewpoints as they can.

    • http://patheos.com RickRay1

      Since the Pope and his predecessor both believed in theistic evolution, does that mean that the Catholic followers don’t believe his philosophies? They must be battling a lot of cognitive dissonance if that is so. The RC’s probably think the Pope has been influenced by the devil since the majority also use condoms and birth control of all sorts and also have abortions.

  • Christine

    I feel as if group 3 is a subset of group 1. I have a friend who I would probably classify as group 3 (although she might just be group 1). It could also be that there is a cross-over. It is very important to her that the “scientific” evidence against evolution be true, she’s not willing to believe against evidence, but she needs to believe.

    I got a call from her once, pretty much in tears, because she found out that her fiance believe in evolution, and she was distressed, because what was she going to do, she wanted to marry him, but wanted to marry a good Christian. (I can’t remember the exact details of what she said). Here I am – a mainstream Christian, with Aspergers, trying to reassure this person, without saying “well if you were less of an idiot about this it wouldn’t be a problem”. I have no clue what I said, but she felt better towards the end (I think I was reassuring her about his character, I was his friend originally and met her through him, which probably made me safe to call with this worry without being told that she clearly shouldn’t marry such a heathen). She also, however, still believe in scientific evidence for YEC (and made an ass of herself harassing a science teacher at college because of this).

  • Sue Blue

    I like your taxonomy, and I think it covers the mindsets of YEC Christians pretty well. One of the problems I see with my YEC relatives and commenters I encounter on blogs is that the Liars have a lot of influence over the other two groups. It’s almost impossible to remain completely ignorant of science (and evolution) these days unless you’re living off the grid in a cabin in Siberia or something. To counter the danger of their constituents being influenced by stuff they see on TV or the internet, the Liars busily disseminate the most ridiculous distortions of physics, evolution and biology, geology, paleontology, and anthropology imaginable. I encounter all kinds of bizarre explanations of the origins of fossils, the role of DNA, the geologic timeline, dating methods, physical laws (the 2nd law of thermodynamics, for instance) as these people parrot their leaders’ grotesque efforts to shoehorn the vast amounts of scientific evidence into their woefully primitive book of Genesis. There seems to be a core of these tropes that are compiled and agreed upon by the Liars, because I hear these arguments (almost verbatim) over and over again, like memorized sound bites.
    I think that, rather than a head-on attack that is guaranteed to cause mule-headed resistance, a better approach might be to introduce the first and third groups to the principles of logic. Teach critical thinking skills to kids (stripped of any connotations of “evolution” or “science”). With these skills, any half-bright person can begin to see through the tactics of the Liars.

    • kagekiri

      Yeah, I was like that. You use the crap they’ve poured into your head to replace evolution with something, anything to explain the evidence, and then rely on the pressure of religious dogma and peer pressure of fellow creationists to keep that poorly-thought-out pseudoscience in its place. Unfortunately, it’s quite effective.

    • wkdkween

      Why do you think “No Child Left Behind” and having to teach for the tests is so popular with the Republicans? You can’t teach critical thinking if the students don’t have to think, only memorize and regurgitate.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    The second (high profile) group is what especially bothers me, since they’re the source of the problem.

    Consider someone like Ray “Banana Man” “Mr. Crocoduck” Comfort. He’s engaged with some of the best evolutionists and has been told how and why his points are stupid. But he’s back out there the next day, his script unchanged, because he knows it works. “Liars for Jesus,” I guess?

    Those didn’t take a position based on evidence can’t be argued out of it with evidence, unfortunately.

    Y’know how in Buddhism there’s the concept of satori? The instantaneous “I get it!”? I wish it worked that way with Christianity, but all I’ve seen is that “getting it” is a slow process.

    On a slightly related note, here in Seattle we have Hempfest, a 3-day outdoor concert and fair. I’m going out today with my atheist sign to counteract the inevitable “You’ll all burn in hell!!!!!” Christians and their signs. It’s my little way to try to sweep back the tide.

    • Aniota

      Minor correction: the hole “crocoduck” mess originated from Comfort’s (former? Haven’t seen them together for some time now) partner Kirk Cameron.
      I do agree, however, that the likes of Comfort, Hovind (both), Ham and oh so many more are to be included in the second group even though they’re not trained scientists (despite Hovind senior’s PhD from an unaccredited diploma mill) – after engaging so often in debates with actual scientists and informed laymen it would be a great insult to their intellect to not conclude that they actually understand the evidence they’re trying to explain away (for not-so-small profits, as it turns out…).

    • Sue Blue

      Yay, Hempfest! My daughter and friends will be there. I wish I could be there too, but work intervenes. Have fun! Fight the good fight!

  • http://www.texannewyorker.com jwall915

    I like your taxonomy. I do think that introducing the idea of theistic evolutionists to Group #3 is a way to go. I was lucky in a way, growing up. Even though I grew up in a fundamentalist household, my church was theistic evolutionist. They would always point to one verse, which says something along the lines of “to God, a year is like a day and a day is like a year.” (Disclaimer: not a direct quote and I can’t for the life of me remember the book, chapter and verse where that’s from). But you get the idea. People said that saying the creation account took place over seven, twenty-four hour days was wrong because that would be putting God in a box and we have no right to do that. Our calendar is man-made, so we can’t impose it on God. So coming from that influence, it was pretty easy to accept the evidence behind evolution as an adult. I now find it so fascinating, and the Natural History Museum is one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon.

    • Aniota

      2 Peter 3:8, referring to Psalms 90:4.

  • A Reader

    I think that pretty much covers all the groups of creationists (at least the ones I’ve met). I was in the first group until high school, as were a lot of my friends. Several of them have, sadly, switched over (or maybe were always in) the dogmatic group. It makes me sad when people deny science. Sometimes angry, sometimes overwhelmed, but mostly just sad. I might not be an expert, but I still think science is really amazing, and shutting yourself off to it means missing out on so much awesomeness.

  • ScottInOH

    Group 3 (which seems like it’s growing by the day) still perplexes me because, while I was raised Christian, I was raised as a theistic evolutionist (a term I never heard). It was completely non-problematic: there’s a pile of evidence for evolution (not just biological evolution, but cosmological and so on); we don’t know everything about it, but we’re still learning; and God had something to do with getting it started. What was important about God wasn’t that He created the universe but that he cared about me enough to forgive any sin and welcome me into heaven if I believed in and tried to follow His Son.

    The Catholic Church is explicitly theistic evolutionist, although I’m not sure Rick Santorum got that memo.

    • Christine

      I think it was this blog that the comment was made that the differences between Christians these days are less rooted in denominational boundaries and more in conservative Christian vs liberal Christian. I have heard Catholics (largely from the US) who spout lines that I have seen credited to Vision Forum and the like here.

      The Roman Catholic Church is explicitly pro-evolution, pro-anthrogenic climate change (well, anti-climate change technically, but agree it’s a problem and that we caused it), anti-capitalism and pro-social justice. And yet the liberal Catholics are the “cafeteria Catholics”, who pick and choose which teachings they agree with. Gee, that sort of logic sounds familiar…

      Actually, speaking of Santorum… the Catholic church explicitly does not take the Bible literally at all. And is opposed to providentialism (or at least not in favour of it) when it comes to family size. He belongs less to the Catholic church, and more to the Catholic branch of conservative American Christianity.

  • Michael Busch

    >>The second group is obviously not reachable. <<

    That isn't necessarily true. Many of them have strong financial / power-base incentives to keep lying, but that doesn't mean they can't eventually realize the harm their lies are doing and decide to stop. Just like global warming denialists can stop lying and admit their mistake (such as Richard Muller recently did), or preachers who spent years lying about same-sex marriage can apologize for their hateful words, someone who is knowingly lying about the history of the universe and the evolution of homo sapiens sapiens can decide that truth is more important than continuing to get paid for lying. Many members of The Clergy Project have done so.

    Or are you simply saying that there is nothing that can be done directly to make someone stop being a liar, and that they have to make that decision themselves? That is true; in which case I suspect that if the sizes of your groups 1 and 3 decrease, the size of group 2 will also – if only because would then be less of an incentive to lie. Either way, education will take time.

  • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

    Even though I was heavily indoctrinated to believe in the biblical creation story, I’m still kind of embarrassed about it. I consider myself an intelligent person and can’t believe I fell for such a ridiculous delusion. The only thing I can say in my favor is that it was the first one to go. Now that I have found some of my old school friends on fb, I’m shocked that some are heavily into creation societies, anti-intellectualism, and such. These people are no dummies, but stunningly intelligent back in school and I am deeply saddened at the waste of it all. They could have done so much more with their lives but to hold beliefs like this, one must strangle their own working brains and opportunities they should have rightfully owned went right out the window. I want to plead with them, say please, come on over to this side and breathe the fresh air of reason! The world needs your intellect, don’t throw it away!!

  • Gordon

    I think theistic evolutionism is just creationism wearing a mask, so I don’t see wooing people into that belief as any kind of win.

    • wkdkween

      I disagree. You can believe in evolution and religion. As it was stated above, Gods time and our time are not the same. There is no evidence against theistic evolution. The supposition that a higher power has influenced or directed evolution has not been disproved

  • Joshua

    This is probably a bad idea, but I can’t resist: I’m going to add another category to your taxonomy. Namely, the rational, educated, honest creationist. Naturally, I consider myself one. And I hope I’m not intruding (this article seems very much like a sermon to the choir, and probably intended as such), but as I said, I can’t resist. The reason I think one can be honest, rational, and educated, and still be a creationist, is for several reasons. First, I would like to point out that a belief in creationism as an alternative to evolution does not require a belief in a young earth (although I could go into numerous arguments that point to an age much younger than the widely accepted 15 billion years).

    So, age of the earth aside, what’s left is two competing viewpoints, design and chance. On a purely intuitive level, the type of complexity we see in living organisms smacks of design. On a scientific level, the law of causation requires either design (a final cause) or an infinite regression, the former being by far the more “rational” option in the sense that we never posit infinite regressions for anything else; why should this case be different? And before anyone objects by saying “Who created God?”, the whole point of a final cause is that it’s the beginning. God need not have a cause to be a rational, satisfying explanation for the cosmos.

    To address evolution specifically, there is no “overwhelming evidence” for it. We’ve never seen any species become something that couldn’t breed with its parents, unless it couldn’t breed at all (the classic definition of “species” is a group of organisms capable of interbreeding). The fossil record is useless as evidence because it literally proves nothing due to simple rules of logic. One rule is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence; i.e., just because we don’t see human fossils in the Cambrian doesn’t mean humans didn’t exist during that time period (assuming, of course, that the Cambrian is a time period at all rather than just a location, namely deep sea sediments). The reason for that is not everything that exists gets fossilized; fossilization isn’t exactly a catch-all process. It’s random, and messy. Furthermore, there are good instances of fossils found in strata where they “shouldn’t” be if you take the typical evolutionary story. See Michael Cremo’s “Forbidden Archeology” for examples. And new fossils are constantly being found that expand the time ranges of various animals. So the fossil record is out as evidence.

    The only other type of evidence is DNA, but that doesn’t work either. We still don’t know everything there is to know about how DNA works. And while we can prove that all females are related to a “Mitochondrial Eve” some time in the past, I’ve yet to hear evidence that you can trace that back to a non-human ancestor. Furthermore, DNA similarity is meaningless, because we see similarities in design as well. If a designer wants to make a code that runs all of a biological organisms’ systems, why use different rules every time you create a new thing? Of course a designer is going to be uniform; it’s the best, most efficient, most elegant way of accomplishing a goal.

    So I don’t see how there’s really overwhelming evidence of evolution. Indeed, I don’t see that there’s any evidence at all, in the sense that any evidence for evolution is equally evidence for design. Anyway, long explanation, but that’s why I think you’re missing a category in your taxonomy.

    • Michael Busch

      You are wrong.

      You are not a “rational educated honest creationist”, at least not when it comes to physics, astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology, and fall neatly into some combination of Libby Anne’s groups 1, 2, and 3 (her taxonomy is apparently complete, but non-exclusive).

      You have dismissed astronomy, geology, paleontology, and evolutionary biology apparently without being aware of the majority of any of them, and have also said things that are patently false. For example, we know the age of the universe (13.75 ± 0.11 billion years) by several different methods of measuring the distance light has traveled since the beginning and the age of the Earth ( 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years) by several mutually-consistent radioisotopic clocks. The only way for those two estimates and all the measurements behind them to be wrong is for _counting_ to be broken.

      Assuming that you are primarily in group 1, the only thing I can ask you to do is to go read up on the science. I don’t have the time to read the library to you, but here are some fairly accessible articles on Wikipedia to get you started:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_universe
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_Earth
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_time_scale
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation (see also http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/an-extraordinarily-rapid-case-of-speciation/ , because the starfish are fun. )
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_common_descent
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolutionary_genetics
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_common_ancestor

      Should you have seen all of this before and are disregarding it, then you are in Libby Anne’s group 2 or 3 and I will become somewhat less sympathetic to you.

      Also: by “creationism”, Libby Anne primarily means young-Earth creationism, which is nonsense. There are two forms of creationism which are not falsifiable – the various theistic creation models such as Newton’s Prime Mover, and Last Thursdayism, which says that the universe is young but was created to look old in every detail. But non-falsifiable claims about the universe are not particularly useful to anyone, because they are indistinguishable from the alternatives.

      And I will not continue this discussion, both because I would only be repeating things described in the links I gave (and the links in them) and because it would derail this comment thread.

    • machintelligence

      I actually had some hopes for this comment, but the wheels came off of the argument in the first sentence of paragraph two. It is the old false dichotomy, tacked onto a failure to understand natural selection. Add a large helping of the argument from personal incredulity and you pretty much have the whole comment. Whether this is due to dogmatism or confirmation bias I can’t readily tell, but I would vote for category 3.

      • http://autistscorner.blogspot.com Lindsay

        I vote for 1, but I’m mean. :)

      • ScottInOH

        And my thought was Category 1: sincere but wrong. Totally agree with your evaluation of the argument, though, and it was pointed out upthread that Categories 1 and 3 are often related. In any case, I don’t think Joshua is adding an additional category to the taxonomy.

      • ScottInOH

        (Lindsay got in while I was typing!)

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence: Which false dichotomy would that be? Are you going to argue that evolution doesn’t rely on chance mutations? Because natural selection isn’t a creative force; it’s a destructive one. And it can only “select” (a very design-oriented word, ironically) between options that are already there. So there’s no false dichotomy.

      • machintelligence

        @ joshua
        You might want to try reading all of the new comments before posting. I described the dichotomy a few hours ago, and it posted downthread. Let me give you another way to view natural selection. There are multiple ways to solve a problem, some involve analysis and design, and some do not.
        Intelligent design: identify problem — design solution.
        Scientific method: identify problem — try a solution. Evaluate solution — try improved solution. Repeat step two ad nauseum.
        Natural selection: Try *everything*. Throw out what doesn’t work. Whatever remains is a solution. This method only works if you have essentially unlimited time and resources, but to put it in anthropomorphic terms, evolution is in no hurry. Because it tries *everything* it will often “find” brilliant solutions. In the words of Orgel’s Second Rule “evolution is cleverer than you are.

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence: I guess I should have made it clearer, but my question regarding which dichotomy was rhetorical. Anyway, more to the point, you’re setting up false comparisons. Design is the ONLY way to “solve a problem.” The scientific method is a way of answering questions, not solving problems (similar ideas, but different nonetheless). Natural selection is merely a term we use to the describe the process of certain things dying out because they are less adapted to their environment (and not all species die out for that reason, by the way). Thus, natural selection isn’t about solving problems, either; it’s just a description of what happens. You haven’t shown what I said to be a false dichotomy at all.

      • machintelligence

        Definitely a 3.

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence: Do I really need to point out that I can call you a dogmatist just as easily as you can call me one? Anyway, on the off chance that I just wasn’t clear enough, let me add that your comment regarding design, the scientific method, and natural selection implicitly admits what I already said: natural design is not a means of creating anything, but of discarding things. That’s not a way to get to a solution at all. You seem to be ignoring the fact that natural selection is the second step in a two step process, the first step being mutation. And that is chance. Thus, design v. chance is not a false dichotomy. Furthermore, as I noted earlier, not all species that go extinct do so because they were less adapted. The buffalo were well adapted to the Western Plains in the U.S., but they were wiped out in a few years because people killed them off. And I daresay there are examples of species that are less adapted than others that still survive. You seem to think of natural selection as an inexorable law that tends toward a ecological system of well-adapted organisms, discarding less adaptive organisms along the way, but that’s not true. Yes, species go extinct, and yes, often that’s because they aren’t well adapted to their environment, but not all less-adapted species go extinct, and not all species that go extinct are less adapted. In short, even natural selection is random, to a degree. No one can plug in an “adaptedness formula” a given set of traits for various species and determine which will live and which will die. It just doesn’t work like that. A less adapted species or individual organism is less likely to survive, but that’s all you can say with certainty. But really this is all beside the point. Ultimately, evolution has to have random chance to get off the ground before natural selection even comes into play, as even you admit further down. Because of that, design v. chance is a totally valid way of stating the difference between how creationism and evolution view the origin of species.

      • machintelligence

        Once more:
        Blockquote>natural selection is a mindless process for getting order and apparent design from the chaos of random chance using differential reproduction. The concept is so counter-intuitive that, even today, some people cannot fit their minds around it. The most common failing is to couch the whole thing as a false dichotomy (either through ignorance or based on some statement by an authority) between design and random chance. Evolution draws upon random mutation as a source for variability, but natural selection is anything but random. I guess that for some people, because the theory is “tainted” by randomness, the whole thing must be random.
        Further evidence for 3.

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence: OK, let’s get algebraic here:

        Creationism=A Caused Universe+Designed Creation of Different Species+Descent with Modification (not capable of producing new phenotypes)+Natural Selection

        Atheistic Evolution=An Uncaused Universe OR An Infinite Regression of Causation+Chance Abiogenesis+Descent with Modification (capable of producing vastly new phenotypes)+Natural Selection.

        Now, we can take out the universe bit, because that’s no what you’re arguing about. We can’t take out descent with modification entirely because your view of it is different than mine. We can, however, take out natural selection, because both view have that. Thus, we’re left with:

        Creationism=Designed Creation of Species (i.e. “design”)+Descent with Limited Modification

        Evolution=Chance Abiogenesis+Descent with Unlimited Modification (driven by chance mutations)

        So it looks like the differences are, gee, Design v. Chance.

    • Liriel

      I think you lost “educated” when you said “15 billion years.” The accepted age of the earth is 4.54 billion years. I admit, I didn’t continue reading since something so basic was wrong.

      • machintelligence

        Oh, cut him a little slack. Anybody can confuse the age of the universe with the age of the earth. Besides, if you read the whole comment, you can fill in quite a few squares on your “bad arguments against evolution” bingo card.

      • Joshua

        @ Liriel: My bad, my brain crossed wires and put the age of the universe. It was the end of a long work day. :P
        @machintelligence: Really? Which squares? Saying I’m wrong is fine and dandy, but I can say that about you too. What progress does that make in a discussion?

      • machintelligence

        We evolutionists have become so tired of defeating/debunking the same tired creationist arguments that we have made a game of it.
        http://www.i-am-bored.com/bored_link.cfm?link_id=45547
        I think you can find which ones you used.

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence: I assume you’re referring to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, no evidence for evolution, and random/chance. Well, I’m already arguing with you on the third, and as yet I’ve heard no rebuttal on the other two (and technically I haven’t argued about thermodynamics, but causality, which are two different things, so that one really doesn’t count). Again, you can say I’m wrong all you want, but if you can’t show me why, I have no reason to change my mind, and thus can still claim to be rational, honest, and educated. ;)

    • Aniota

      Hi Joshua, glad to see you decided to state your opinion on the matter. Always good to engage in an honest and civil discussion with someone you don’t agree with.
      I’d like to as two questions with regards to your original post:
      1. While you dismiss the “what caused God?” question by pointing towards the infinite regress, you unfortunately didn’t specify the reasons why God is to be considered the first cause and not a later part of the causal chain. For example, if the first cause’s first “action” was to create God, then He couldn’t be considered to be the first cause Himself. Why exactly should we assume that first cause and God are the same?
      2. Judging from the frequent use of “design” in your post I assume you believe that the species we observe nowadays were designed by an “intelligent designer” (which, I further assume, you identify with God). I’ll try to make it as easy as possible and concentrate on Michael Behe’s favorite example of “intelligent design”, the bacterial flagellum – there are many more I could use just as well. If all species nowadays are designed on purpose instead of being the contingent product of natural causes, how are we to judge the character of the “intelligent designer” if he purposefully and without conceivable necessity decided to design bacteria that cause typhoid, cholera and stomach cancer thanks to their flagella? Because to me it seems as though it’s not very nice to specifically design organisms whose sole purpose seems to be to cause suffering among sentient beings like humans.

      Looking forward to your reply!

      • Joshua

        @Aniota:
        Regarding your first question, the answer is simply parsimony, or Ockham’s razor, if your prefer. If we go with the design route, we must posit some being capable of creating all we see. Why go farther back than that? It makes more sense to assume that whatever created the universe is, itself, the final cause. There could, of course, be another cause behind God, in a philosophical sense, but the human mind rebels at needless complication. The simpler the explanation, the better. Thus, if there must be a final cause, better to let it be the very being we think capable of creating the whole universe, rather than multiplying the number of efficient causes for no real reason. Does that answer your question, or were you looking for something different?

        As for the second question, that gets into theodicy (the theory of how God can be good), which is veering a tad off topic, but since that’s one reason so many people reject design, it makes sense to address it. The simple answer is that God, at least in a Judeo-Christian worldview, didn’t design everything “as is.” And whether or not you want to go with a literal Genesis 1 account of how creation happened, any creationist does need to address this question. Let’s say, hypothetically, that there was a deity who created the universe 500 million years ago, and said creation looks basically like what we have in modern times. If a fellow in said hypothetical world believed the world was designed, the natural tendency is also to believe that the designer is benevolent rather than malevolent; it’s just the way our minds are wired. How then do you reconcile that with a fairly nasty world? You would have to come up with something like the Fall described in Genesis. It wouldn’t have to be a fruit tree, but it would have to somehow relate to a rational creature (e.g. humans) breaking the rules, with the nastiness of the world being the resulting punishment for that violation of the rules. There are numerous views even within Christianity on how to construct the best theodicy, and I don’t want to go off too deep into that because that really would be going a bit too far down a rabbit trail, but the overall point is that the state of things now isn’t the designer’s fault, but the fault of humans.

      • machintelligence

        @Joshua

        There are numerous views even within Christianity on how to construct the best theodicy, and I don’t want to go off too deep into that because that really would be going a bit too far down a rabbit trail, but the overall point is that the state of things now isn’t the designer’s fault, but the fault of humans.

        We recently had part of this discussion here
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/08/christian-patriarchy-as-idolatry.html#comments
        If you want to continue it there (or here) feel free.

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence: No sense in moving half a discussion to another page–There’s a small problem with the classical argument you make in that other discussion. God is certainly able to stop evil, but the issue of whether He is willing is tricky, because “willing” is an ambiguous word. God is “willing” in the sense that He does not desire evil to happen, and in fact desires that it not happen, but He’s not “willing” in the sense that He’s actually going to stop every single bad thing from happening. Does that make God malevolent? Seems a bit of a leap, to me. Ultimately, I think theodicy has to get down to the fact that humans have free will. That being the case, presumably God wants us to exercise free will in choosing to do what He wants. But if He stops us from doing everything contrary to that, we don’t really have free will in the first place. Thus, the solution to your conundrum is simply that God places a priority on our ability to choose, such that He’s willing to allow us to do bad things rather than simply have a race of automatons. Why God prefers free will as opposed to robots gets down to love and worship. God wants (and deserves) to be loved and worshiped by humans. But neither love nor worship means anything coming from a robot. So, to get what He wants out of creation, God must allow us to choose freely, which leads to the possibility that we will choose badly.

      • machintelligence

        @ Joshua
        You apparently missed (or ignored) the discussion of whether God made man in His image, or man created God in man’s image.

        God wants (and deserves) to be loved and worshiped by humans.

        My point was that desire for worship is a character flaw (pride).

        God presumably knows that he is all powerful, omniscient, omnipresent etc. What possible reason, other than vanity, would he have for needing to be told this constantly? But don’t feel too bad, God also falls down in the envy and wrath departments too.

        God’s best excuse is that He doesn’t exist.

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence: Not at all. I pointed out that God deserves worship for the precise reason that you seem to think its prideful to want it. It’s not pride to want what you deserve. But regardless, I could drop the worship aspect and leave it at love, and then where would your argument be? Mine would still be intact, because love requires free will just as much as (dare I say more than?) worship.

      • Ariel

        Joshua,

        (1) You claim that making God (the guy who created the universe) the First Cause, rather than just one of the steps in a regress towards the First Cause, is preferable because it is simpler. The human brain is one of the most beautifully complex and intricate systems on the planet. If you’ve ever done any programming, you’ve probably noticed that the smarter your program has to be, the more complicated your program has to be. And God is supposed to be omniscient–much smarter than a human or a program. The naturalistic hypothesis for the origin of the universe (the Big Bang), on the other hand, postulates that we started with hot, dense, fairly uniform energy, which cooled off into a mess of fundamental particles (photons, protons, electrons, neutrons) which snapped together into (mostly) hydrogen and helium, and that structure slowly emerged from there.

        My question is: how is an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent sentient being a simpler first cause than the Big Bang?

        (2) You seem to be a little confused about speciation. That is, you seem to believe that all members of the species “Phylloscopus trochiloides” (greenish warbler) that exist, ever have existed, and ever will exist are interfertile with all other members of the species “P. trochiloides”, and that anything that is interfertile with a “P. trochiloides” is itself a “P. trochiloides”. This is false. Members of the subspecies “P. trochiloides trochiloides” are interfertile with members of both the subspecies “P. trochiloides viridianus” and “P. trochiloides plumbeitarsus”, but members of the subspecies “viridianus” and “plumbeitarsus” are NOT interfertile with each other. If the “trochiloides” went extinct, the “viridianus” and “plumbeitarsus” would be unambiguously two species. Greenish warblers are called a “ring species”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species.

        The actual prediction of the theory of evolution is not that some primeval nonhuman one day had a baby human. The actual prediction is that humans and chimpanzees are a ring species, only instead of going “viridianus”–”trochiloides”–”plumbeitarsus”, it’s more like “Homo sapiens”–”Homo rhodesiensis”–other Homo species–Australopithecines species–Ardipithecus species–extinct Pan species–chimpanzees, that is, the intermediate steps are all extinct.

        (3) You say that “natural selection isn’t a creative force; it’s a destructive one. And it can only “select” between options that are already there.” Yes. The “options” that are natural selection selects between are generated by errors made in copying DNA. It gets lots of options because plants and animals are always reproducing and making more of themselves. Natural selection is creative the way a sculptor is creative: it removes everything that is not an effective survival machine and what it leaves behind are effective survival machines.

        So unfortunately, I think that I have to conclude that the category of “Creationists I’ve met who insist that they have studied and thought about evolution, and have still concluded that it is unsupported” is still a subset of “people who don’t understand what evolution actually predicts,” and I think that I agree with the other posters in putting you firmly in Category 1. If I ever actually meet a member of your purported Category 4, I will revise Libby Anne’s taxonomy, but I still haven’t.

      • machintelligence

        @ Joshua

        God wants (and deserves) to be loved

        Oh really? What is the penalty for failing to believe in God (a thought crime at best and simple ignorance at worst)? : an eternity of torture. This is so disproportionate that God must be a truly vile deity. I find it hard to respect someone who would willingly worship such a being.

        From a sermon by Johnathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” July 8, 1741

        God has laid himself under no Obligation by
        any Promises to keep any natural Man out of Hell
        one Moment. God certainly has made no Promises either of eternal Life, or of any Deliverance or
        Preservation from eternal Death, but what are contained in the Covenant of Grace, the Promises that
        are given in Christ, in whom all the Promises are
        Yea and Amen. But surely they have no Interest in
        the Promises of the Covenant of Grace that are not
        the Children of the Covenant, and that don’t believe in any of the Promises of the Covenant, and
        have no Interest in the Mediator of the Covenant.
        So that whatever some have imagined and pretended about Promises made to natural Men’s earnest seeking and knocking, ’tis plain and manifest
        that whatever Pains a natural Man takes in Religion, whatever Prayers he makes, till he believes in
        Christ, God is under no manner of Obligation to
        keep him a Moment from eternal Destruction.

        “Religion convinced the world that there’s an invisible man in the sky who watches everything you do. And there’s 10 things he doesn’t want you to do or else you’ll go to a burning place with a lake of fire until the end of eternity. But he loves you! …And he needs money! He’s all powerful, but he can’t handle money!”

        George Carlin

      • Joshua

        @Ariel: I was explaining why simply going from Universe–>God is simpler and therefore better than Universe–>God–>Actual Final Cause Unknown, not why God is simpler than the atheistic Big Bang explanation. The simple answer to that is that no one even has a clue how the Big Bang could have happened, how abiogenesis could have happened, or how life could have evolved from an initial single-celled organism to the current variety. They believe THAT it happened, but no one has even come up with an explanation for HOW. Thus, God is a better explanation because God IS an explanation, rather than an appeal to a guessed at framework of what-might-have-occurred-but-can’t-yet-be-explained.

        As to your second point, I specifically said I was referring to the “classic” definition of species, i.e. not the modern usage. If you think there’s still a problem, you’ll have to be more specific (no pun intended :P).

        As to the third point, that’s not even creative in the way a sculptor is. A sculptor at least sets out to do his work with an idea of what he wants the thing to look like when finished, and moves with a purpose from point A to point B, whittling stone or wood or whatever to get there. That’s not even remotely analogous to what natural selection does. Natural selection says, “Hmm, there are X number of species, and Y number aren’t doing so well, so we’ll just knock the Y number out altogether.” It’s not directed at an end goal the way a sculpture is; there is no meaning to what gets lost. It just happens, because some things survive and others don’t. Not creative at all. And besides, all of that notwithstanding, without mutations you can’t even have natural selection in any meaningful sense, and no one has yet shown that mutations could get us to where we are now.

        @machintelligence: Who said anything about eternal torment? I didn’t.

      • Ariel

        @Joshua:

        (1a) I apologize; I should have been clearer. I was not arguing that YOU said God was simpler than the Big Bang; I was arguing that you chose God rather than AFCU as the final cause because it was simpler, and if that was the case, how could you not accept MY argument that “just the Big Bang” is simpler still?

        (1b) Most of the Christians I’ve talked to seem to think that God is too awesome for our puny mortal minds to understand. So I can’t REALLY understand the “God did it” explanation.

        (1c) The “You are a Boltzmann brain” explanation (basically, that in an actual infinite universe, human brains will arise by pure chance after enough time), explains things just as well as the “God did it” explanation, and requires a simpler first cause (an infinite sea of random fluctuations, rather than God).

        (1d) We now know that bubonic plague is spread by fleas on cats. Before we knew that, people thought it was caused by witches and their evil feline familiars. Hey, it’s an explanation! Any explanation, even a wrong one, is better than none, right? So they killed a lot of cats, the rat population went up, and the plague got worse. Oops. The modern scientific idea is that it’s better to admit that you don’t know the answer rather than to be wrong, so the argument “God is an explanation, and any explanation is better than none” is in my view completely invalid.

        (2a) This argument, to me, seems to have gone:

        Joshua: I don’t believe evolution could make new species, because to make new species, you have to have parents that can’t interbreed with their children.
        Ariel: Actually, it could work by making great-great-great-grandparents that can’t interbreed with their great-great-great-grandchildren.
        Joshua: Ah, but I am using an outdated definition of the word species!

        You claim to be a rational, educated person who is a creationist. I’m saying that to make that quote your arguments either against evolution, or for creation, have to make sense, and that this argument against evolution does not.

        (2b) Taking another look at your argument, you say we’ve never seen a species turn into another species. Someone in this thread said that “absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”; who was that, again? The theory of evolution predicts that speciation should take thousands to millions of years, so no, of course we haven’t seen it happen!

        (3a) Please, please, please stop taking about natural selection and mutation separately. You sound like a person insisting that an unloaded gun is not dangerous, and a bullet alone is not dangerous, so how could a loaded gun be dangerous?

        (3b) There is a big problem with the argument that natural selection+mutation cannot produce anything new. It’s that selection+mutation unquestionably has produced new things. Drug-resistant diseases *have* evolved, *via natural selection*, within the last century. There, new thing created by natural selection. If you want bigger changes, notice that in a few thousand years, selection+mutation has gone from wolves to chihuahuas/poodles/Labradors/Great Danes/St. Bernards. Are you going to argue that the first dog breeders had poodles *and* Great Danes in mind as their final destination? In order for your “Natural selection is not creative!” argument to hold, you have to argue either that wolf-to-Chihuahua is fundamentally different from, say, worm-to-horse, or that natural selection is *vastly* less effective than artificial selection. You just keep chanting “Natural selection is not at all creative!” Yes it is. You have to argue that it isn’t creative enough and you really haven’t.

      • Aniota

        @Joshua:
        Thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it! I hope you don’t mind me dabbling a bit into your answers and asking further questions.

        1. I was in fact looking for something else but didn’t realize until I read your answer. I didn’t mean to ask for a first cause beyond the creation of the universe since I’m quite comfortable with equating those two. My question would be, more precisely, why you assume that God created the universe and is not Himself a product of it?

        2. As for your second answer, it indeed resembles the problem of theodicy. I do, however, not think that this question is off topic. If we assume an intelligent designer, then it seems to me to be quite useful to question whether or not the designer is benevolent rather than malevolent precisely for the reason that the answer to this question would be important in order to tell whether or not the designer is the same being as the Judeo-Christian God. I therefore think it is useful to further discuss this issue.
        Your answer to me shows that you see humans at fault for the suffering in the world and your later answer to machintelligence seems to confirm this. You posit an event like the Biblical Fall at the heart of this argument that resulted from the free will of humans. Therefore, the designer is not to blame for the Fall, since the humans chose it of their own free will.
        There are, however, some other questions that arise from this setup. I will try to concentrate on the most important ones:
        a) How exactly can humans be responsible for the Fall-like event that weren’t even born when it happened? If they are not responsible for it, why are they being punished?
        b) Why are some humans punished disproportionately more than others?
        c) Why do animals have to suffer even though they didn’t cause the Fall-like event?
        If answers to these questions allow for the designer to still be viewed as benevolent, that could make a case for the designer being the Judeo-Christian God.

        I hope you take the time to answer my questions for I have quite enjoyed the conversation so far.

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:
        1(a) Ah, I get your drift. My answer to that is that simpler is only better if simpler still works. Or as Einstein put it, I believe, “The simplest POSSIBLE explanation is the best,” or something to that effect. It is true that an atheistic universe is in one sense simpler than a theistic one, but we have no reason to believe that in an atheistic universe any life could ever arise, and many reasons to believe it wouldn’t. Furthermore, there is also a sense in which an atheistic universe is less simple, because one has to posit numerous additional assumptions to make it work. E.g., evolutionists have to assume an original primordial soup out of which life could come, but we have no idea what the actual conditions would be on the atheistic earth 4.5 billion years ago. Many other assumptions could be listed, but I think that makes my point.

        1(b) It’s true we can’t know the details of “how” God could create ex nihilo, but that doesn’t render my explanation worse than an atheistic one. At least mine follows the law of causality.

        1(c) No, it doesn’t; that “explanation” is really just an assertion that can’t be vaguely supported, let alone proven. We have no way to know, as of yet, whether abiogenesis is even possible given the laws of physics and chemistry. Yours isn’t an explanation so much as it is a just-so story. It’s just as much of a Deus-ex-machina as relying on God, except relying on God is better because we actually can posit a God capable of creating, whereas we don’t even know enough to posit an initial set of conditions such that abiogenesis (or evolution after that) could occur. That’s not an explanation; it’s blind faith.

        1(d) I’m not arguing for using God because that’s a better explanation than nothing; I’m arguing that evolution isn’t supported by the evidence, and therefore it’s not irrational of me to resort to my fundamental intuitions of causality and final causality to find an explanation for the universe.

        2(a) I think one of us has misunderstood what the other was trying to say here. If I understand you correctly now, you’re trying to say that my original statement is of no value because what really happens in evolution is that great-granddaddy can’t mate with great-granddaughter, even though any progeny along the way could have mated with whatever its direct parent was. The problem is that all I have to do to solve that is to expand my original statement to say that we’ve never seen X species become something that couldn’t breed with the original creature over any number of generations. That might not be true, of course, but then I can merely point out that all the descendants can still interbreed, and the fact that they can’t interbreed with some extinct ancestor (and how could you prove that?) may prove only that the descendants have somehow lost genetic information necessary for interbreeding with said ancestor. It’s still the same type of creature, ultimately, is what I’m getting at. We’ve never seen a cat become a dog or anything remotely as radical. We’ve seen horses become different types of horses, but they’re all still horses. If I’m still missing your point, let me know.

        2(b) How did I violate my own rule, exactly? I argued that there was an absence of evidence for evolution because we’ve never seen the kind of radical changes posited by evolution. How is that a violation of the rule that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence? You seem to think it’s my burden to disprove evolution. If that’s what you think, then you’re missing the point: You can’t prove creationism wrong either, but that doesn’t mean you’re irrational for not believing it.

        3(a) How can I NOT talk about natural selection and mutation separately? They’re different things, and neither is necessary to the other. It’s simple fact that I’m not the same, genetically, as either of my parents, yet that does not imply I have a mutation that they didn’t have. Thus, natural selection can operate on me and them purely by virtue of the fact that I have some mix of their genes, regardless of whether I have mutations. Nor does the existence of mutations necessarily result in natural selection, because I can conceive of an infinite number of mutations that have no impact on an organism’s viability, and thus plays no role in natural selection. Thus, to combine the two as if they are inseparable would be totally illogical.

        3(b) I already said that natural selection ALONE is not a creative force; mutations are what create new things. You act like the fact that you can put the two together and show new things proves me wrong, and it doesn’t. Or perhaps you think natural selection is something different than I do. Last I checked, natural selection is the process of less-adapted things dying and more-adapted things surviving. Where, in that definition, is the creation of anything? The new thing has to arrive before natural selection can select!

        @Aniota:
        1. Because then we’d have to find another cause for the universe, and we’re right back to the same problem I mentioned before. If the law of cause and effect is true, we simply must have a cause for the universe, and preferably not an infinite regression of causes.

        2(a) I assume what you mean here is that it’s unfair to leave humans in a fallen world other than the humans who caused it. The short answer is that God will sort everything out in the end, giving back to those who lost unfairly, and taking away from those who gained unfairly. The longer answer necessarily involves the question of why God didn’t just start over when humans fell in the first place, because if you think about it, taking humans out of this world and, presumably, putting them in another perfect one, is essentially a do-over. I think one reason for this is that it’s waste, for one thing. A stronger argument, though, is that Adam and Eve (for sake of simplicity I’m going with the Biblical account, but philosophically it doesn’t matter) were designed to have children, and the desire to have them, so that they could fill up the earth per God’s command. The command itself is indicative of the fact that God wants creation to move toward a state of having more people, but the other thing is that if God simply took Adam and Eve’s children and put them in another perfect world, He would be frustrating His own design by causing Adam and Eve the grief of losing their children, among other things. Thus, to be consistent with His own plan, God must leave children here, but He can’t make the world perfect again because then He’s not punishing Adam and Eve properly. In short, God’s choosing the least of evils because that’s what He has to work with. That could go a lot deeper, and frankly there are probably several other attempts to explain it that are better than mine and touch on things I haven’t thought of, but the overall point is that for whatever reason, the current system is the best possible one given God’s own constraints and the fact that humans ruined paradise.

        2(b) First of all, your word choice assumes this is all “punishment,” which is a stretch. Not all bad things happen as “punishment” as if God were sitting up there manipulating nature to mess with us; much of it is simply bad luck. But again, God will rectify it all in the end (or that’s what one has to believe if one thinks God is benevolent).

        2(c) The same reason why the earth had to be cursed: ultimately, all the world is in rebellion against mankind, in a sense, and collateral damage is going to happen in a war. Suffering of innocents is unavoidable, but again, that’s only a problem if we either blame God as if He did it intentionally when He had better options, or believe that He won’t set things right in the end, or both.

        Note: I’m not going to respond to Michael Busch, because if he doesn’t want to take the time to talk, I don’t have time for him either. If someone else wants to take up his talking points, though, I’ll be glad to address them.

      • Aniota

        @Joshua:
        Thanks again for taking the time to reply!

        1. I feel like we’re kind of talking past each other on this. We both agree that if we don’t want an infinite regress we have to posit a first cause that is itself uncaused. However, you seem to presume that God and only God is sufficient to these premises. I wonder why that is, why on the one hand you simply presume that God is by definition uncaused and on the other hand anything but God can not be uncaused?

        2(a) Your short answer doesn’t take into account the evil already suffered – it is not undone, merely compensated for later.
        Your long answer surprises me a lot. If losing their children is such a strong evil that God can’t allow “Adam and Eve” to suffer from it, why then permit that countless other parents have to suffer in exactly this way? How is the suffering of every parent who loses their child past “Adam and Eve” combined not a tremendously greater evil than the suffering of just two individuals, especially given that they know their children will live in a “perfect world”?
        And even if that were the case, why not make the world perfect again once “Adam and Eve” are no longer? Nobody on the face of the earth is then responsible for the “Fall” any more, so why continue to punish humans for something they’re not responsible for?
        Please, show me what I’ve missed in your answer that was so unlike your former ones.

        2(b) Actually, I’m not the one who brought up the punishment issue, you were: in your first answer to me you wrote “the nastiness of the world being the resulting punishment for that violation of the rules”.
        Of course I’m not imagining God sitting there all day deciding to punish people for whatever reasons, but the “bad luck” you refer to seems to be the result of the rules of either God, for example earthquakes due to plate tectonics, or of the designer, for example epidemics due to intelligently designed germs. Another explanation would be that those natural laws (plate tectonics, germ theory) that now allow for suffering only kicked in after the “Fall” – which would then bring us back to question 2(a), i.e. why humans nowadays have to suffer from the consequences of something long ago.

        2(c) Okay, now I’m really confused. Could you perchance elaborate on the necessity and nature of the “curse” (or is this equivalent with the “Fall”?) as well as on the “rebellion against mankind”?
        And as for God doing it intentionally even though having better options, it seems to me that putting things back as they were before the “Fall” is a better option as well as your hypothetical placing “Adam and Eve’s” children in a perfect world would have been. So, again, we go back to question 2(a), it seems.

        I’m looking forward to your reply.

      • Joshua

        @Aniota:
        1. Hmm, let me try to clarify my position to see if that helps. The starting point, as you mention, is that an infinite regress is bad. Thus, we need a final cause. Causes, as we understand them, must be greater or equal to their effects, so whatever caused the universe must be greater than it in that sense. Thus, we can rule out the Big Bang, because as a final cause (as opposed, say, to an infinitely repeating expansion and shrinkage of universes, which is just an infinite regress again), it doesn’t meet the criteria. A quantum fluctuation of nothing, or however you want to describe the Big Bang, is not a cause greater than the effect of creating everything. Furthermore, we see in nature numerous instances of what look like design, and since we tend to see such things only when there’s a designer, by analogy we infer that the cause of the universe must have been a designer (i.e., intelligent, sentient, and competent). We also perceive evidence of benevolence; food necessary to our existence is pleasurable, procreation is also pleasurable, and our own sense of morality rests on the notion that benevolence is good. So the most natural conclusion is that the final cause of the universe is a sentient, intelligent, competent, benevolent being, which is basically a long way of saying “God.” As to whether God is caused, that again gets back to my point about final cause vs. cause. The very notion of a final cause is that the final cause itself is uncaused. Since we must posit such to avoid an infinite regress, it might as well be the very first cause we come to that is sufficient to explain all we see. Does that clear things up?

        2(a) As to the short answer, again, if God simply undid all the bad, then free will would be a moot point. As to the long answer, you’re shifting terms; I never said God was so worried about Adam and Eve losing their children that He couldn’t “allow” it to happen; I said He wouldn’t do it intentionally because that would put Him at cross-purposes with Himself. And the reason God can’t just “un-Fall” the world is that by the time Adam and Eve are dead, other (perhaps all; certainly all if you take the Judeo-Christian/Muslim view) humans deserve the same fate. In effect it becomes a vicious cycle.

        2(b) By punishment I was referring to the initial punishment of Adam and Eve. The rest is natural consequences for which God need not intervene.

        2(c) Yes, the curse is equivalent with the Fall, or I suppose technically I should say the curse is the consequence of the Fall, if by the Fall you mean simply the choice of Adam and Eve to disobey God. Those aspects were necessary to the punishment Adam and Eve deserved. It actually makes sense if you think of it this way: Let’s assume all God really wanted was to make life harder by making them have to work, whereas before they didn’t. Well, if they have to work now, by extension so do animals, which implies that the earth isn’t going to yield enough for all humans and animals combined. Where, then, do the other animals get their sustenance? Other animals. That explains that part of the suffering. As for disease, I suppose diseases could be created that only affect mankind, but I don’t know that that was possible given how God created everything. But I also think that in some measure even animal suffering itself was necessary, because the animals were part of man’s inheritance, so to speak, and thus it had to be ruined to complete the punishment. I realize this is a deep topic and it could go forever, and I hope I’m doing it justice, but there really is a lot to explain in a theodicy, and I don’t always have the best mind to think of explanations. Others could probably improve on my explanation.

      • Aniota

        @Joshua:
        Thank you again for your answers!

        1. Your answer certainly clears up why you see God per definitionem as the first cause – but I do not find it particularly convincing for several reason. I’m not sure who you mean when you say “we see/understand”, because your descriptions don’t align with my viewpoint:

        Your assumption of a cause necessarily being equally great if not greater than their effect seems to omits things like the ‘butterfly effect” in the chaos theory, as it’s put on the Wikipedia “a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state”. A notable example of this is a so called ‘double pendulum’. If you’re interested to see one in action for yourself, here you can find a demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WepOorvo2I4
        Another, more popular example would be ‘snowball effects’; taken literally a very small cause can have devastating effects by unleashing an avalanche.

        I won’t argue that a lot of things in nature appear designed, but this does not necessarily mean that there really has to be a designer at work behind them – our senses could be merely misleading us. Sadly, our intuitions are not as accurate at picturing reality as many (myself included) would like. Think for instance about the (apparent) movement of the sun which on an intuitive level could lead to the assumption that the earth stands still while the sun orbits around it. An example more closely related to the issue of design would be ‘fairy rings’, naturally occurring circular formations of mushrooms that might look designed, but are perfectly explainable by natural causes. (see also my next paragraph)

        The experience of ‘benevolence’, finally, convinces me the least, since your examples can easily be explained by natural means. An individual eating a lot of healthy food and enjoying sex is more likely to have offspring than an individual who likes poisonous food and shuns healthy meals and/or dislikes sex.

        Our human sense of morality is a far more complex issue that requires both biological explanations (killing among the same species is very rare if there is not a good reason for the killing – even piranhas in a feeding frenzy refrain from killing one another) as well as social explanations (some actions are seen as permissible or even positive in one culture/cultural subgroup needn’t be seen this way everywhere else, apart from extreme cases like murder). It is however quite easy to picture how a group of animals helping each other out (in a herd or pack) might have a significant advantage when it comes to survival – which, of course, isn’t necessarily true for all species.

        2(a) I’m sorry if I appeared to be dishonest about your argument, I simply focused on your comment that “if God simply took Adam and Eve’s children and put them in another perfect world, He would be frustrating His own design by causing Adam and Eve the grief of losing their children” and perhaps read too much into it. I apologize, if that is the case.

        I will accept that “Adam and Eve” had to be punished, according to your view.
        But I am not convinced that every other human being deserves the same fate since you haven’t given any argument for this other than that it is the viewpoint of some believers. Also, the notion of “same” fate brings us back to my original 2(b).

        2(b) Just a side note, but if the “Fall” was the cause for all human suffering, doesn’t that make it an example of a cause that is not “greater or equal to their effects”?

        While an initial “Fall” and natural laws kicking in after it may explain the suffering today, it fails to explain why the natural laws were constructed in such a way as to spread the suffering so unequally. I do not see how rules that allow for innocent children to suffer while adult criminals can prosper could be in any way indicative of a benevolent designer behind them or how they constitute the “same fate” as “Adam and Eve”. Or, for that matter, why people born in the ‘western world’ do not have to share the same fate as people born in ‘third world countries’ (thinking not only from industrial or medical viewpoints but considering resources as well).

        2(c) I’m having several problems with your explanation for animal suffering:
        *why, if humans have to work, is it necessary for animals to do the same? You gave no reason for this “extension”.

        *why does this imply that the earth does not yield enough (I presume you mean food, space, shelter…), or more precisely: isn’t the very fact that the earth is not able to sustain its inhabitants a rather poor argument for it being designed by a benevolent being?

        *diseases are the consequence of:
        > an infection with germs (bacteria, fungi, viruses), which are themselves living things (yeah, viruses are kinda on the edge – cool, right?), which would then mean – in your line of reasoning – that they were designed. To my understanding, that couldn’t have happened before the “Fall” since their primary way of reproduction necessarily entails causing diseases, thus the only way I see it is that they were designed afterwards which in my opinion reflects not so positively on the designer’s character
        > poisoning
        > genetic disorders (e.g. birth defects like Trisomy 18, cancer…)
        > autoimmunity (for example Rheumatoid arthritis…)
        The last two points don’t exactly look too indicative of intelligent and/or benevolent design to me – if they can only occur after the “Fall”, we are again at my original point 2(b), i.e. distribution of suffering among living things.

        *the notion that animals need to suffer because they “were part of man’s inheritance, so to speak” leaves me quite perplexed – this would be a textbook example of punishment of the innocent. I’m also not quite sure what exactly you mean be “inheritance” – surely it couldn’t be in the Biblical sense, because then it would include slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46). Could you please elaborate on that?

        *lastly, what about animal suffering due to natural events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, droughts…?

        Speaking for myself, I’m very impressed with how you managed to keep going making clever arguments – most people I’ve debated these issues with either tire of them pretty fast or fail to accurately and/or politely respond to criticism I express. This has made this conversation very pleasant as well as enlightening for me so far.

      • Joshua

        @Aniota:
        1. The problem with your butterfly effect argument is that the single butterfly is not the sole cause of the hurricane; many, many causes combine in order for the effect to follow. I also wonder if you’re equivocating the meaning of “greater.” From a certain perspective, lighting a match is a “lesser” cause than the “effect” of a forest fire, yet one can cause the other. But lighting the match is only a lesser cause in the sense that lighting the match, in and of itself, is less destructive than the forest fire. It doesn’t mean the cause is lesser in terms of measuring the cause-effect relationship. To put it another, less ambiguous way, let me rephrase and state that an efficient cause must be sufficient to produce the immediate effect. By that formulation, matter coming into existence out of nothing requires some cause sufficient to produce said effect. The only cause fathomable to the human mind is something like a deity. I’m probably not stating this as well as I should because it’s been a while since I delved into the philosophical aspect of cause and effect, but hopefully you get my drift.

        As to the appearance of design, it does you no good to say our senses could be deceiving us, because that leaves no room for knowledge at all. As to fairy rings and such, those are much simpler than even a single cell, and the fact that we can determine a natural cause for the formation of fairy rings and yet we haven’t the least clue how a cell could come from non-living chemicals, or how invertebrates could eventually evolve into vertebrates, shows you the astronomical difference in terms of just how much one seems like design compared to the other.

        As to benevolence, it’s not necessary under evolution that creatures that like food and sex would ever come to exist; that’s merely a hypothesis you must make in order to fit evolution to the current scheme of things. Would it make an organism better adapted? I suppose, but if the organism had neither pleasure nor pain from eating healthy or having sex, but merely had an instinct for both, wouldn’t that be better? See, I can think of a way that’s actually better than the current state of things from an adaptation standpoint, and I can also imagine that evolution might not produce the current state of things at all. The current scheme is consistent with evolution, but again, we don’t know evolution is possible, let alone this particular outcome.

        On morality, as you point out, some things really are universal (murder, theft, etc.). Where did that come from? Certainly morality is a complex topic, but the fact remains it’s not very satisfying in the absence of a deity.

        2(a) At this point we’re delving into things no one can prove, obviously, but the context of this discussion is that you’re testing my own beliefs. The point is that I can believe in a benevolent deity consistently if I presume that humanity never managed to not be disobedient after the original Adam and Eve. An additional point I would make is that it’s also a fair inference from the premise of a benevolent deity that some record of what that deity wants would be available, or else that there would be direct contact between humans and the divine. Well, the Judeo-Christian scriptures fit that pretty well, and they also hold the view that man never recovered from a state of abject sinfulness.

        2(b) First, see my discussion of cause and effect above. Beyond that, the Fall isn’t the cause of all human suffering, and if I said that I shouldn’t have. If I come up to you and punch you in the gut, I’m the cause of the suffering (assuming, of course, I have free will, because ultimately that’s part of the theodicy we’re talking about anyway), not the Fall. Lots of suffering is caused by individuals choosing to inflict it, and those can’t be traced back to the Fall except perhaps very indirectly. This in large part also takes care of your objection that suffering isn’t spread equally. But as for natural disasters, one could argue that a lot of that is self-imposed; living in New Orleans, which is below sea level and in a place known to be in danger of hurricanes, is a risk one chooses to take. Some, of course, aren’t as voluntary, but that gets back to something I said earlier about the fact that once the whole downward slide is set in motion, there’s no way to make sure all the bad stuff is distributed “fairly.” There’s only compensation after the fact. You might find that unsatisfying, but I find lots of stuff in evolution unsatisfying, so we can’t really get anywhere on those grounds.

        2(c) I suppose I wasn’t as clear as I should have been here. Animals have to work as well as humans because the reason humans have to work isn’t internal to themselves, but external. It’s the earth that’s worse off (it requires cultivation, irrigation, etc.), and as a result, anyone living off of it has a harder time. Thus, animals suffer from this just as humans do, at least to an extent.

        The fact that the earth doesn’t produce enough NOW isn’t an argument against benevolent design because again, that’s a result of man’s disobedience, not the original plan. If the earth simply brought forth its bounty without our effort, there would be no problems feeding everyone and every thing.

        Diseases and such could be explained in several ways, one of them being intentional design, yes, but another option is that the original organisms were symbiotic with humans and some mutated to become what we now know as diseases. E.g., there are “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria, so it’s not hard to see how this could happen. Or, it could be that degenerative mutations in the human DNA is what led to the relationship no longer being symbiotic.

        Again, I guess I should have been clearer. Animals have to be made to suffer because their suffering causes man to suffer. Are they “innocent?” Well, yes and no. Animals aren’t like humans in that they don’t have free will and in that sense are never “innocent” or “guilty,” but they at least didn’t cause the Fall. But again, the point here is that certain results simply had to follow. There was no way to sufficiently punish mankind without also causing collateral damage to animals. That’s really the only answer I can give you on this one. And again, you may find it unsatisfying, but I can’t do much about that.

        Animals suffering through the other things are kind of covered by what I said about that re: humans and the section just above.

        Well, hey, I’m a lawyer. I like arguing, and it’s my job. :P

      • Aniota

        @Joshua:
        1. I’m quite certain that God is – by every definition I can remember to have heard – unfathomable to the human mind. Kind of like the ontological argument for God, with God being even greater than we can imagine.
        That being said, you yourself state that the first cause had to have been “something like a deity”. Why assume then that is is not just “something like” but an actual deity? And why assume this deity is the God of the Judeo-Christian faith?

        I do not view ‘knowledge’ as an ultimate, 100% certainty – nothing can ever be this certain, we could all just be living in the Matrix. I could go deeper into this, but would never be able to put it only nearly as eloquently as Richard Feynman already did: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU-qLHYe4yg
        Still, since I do not think you intended to come across as saying that our senses are always accurate, I don’t think you’ve actually replied to me pointing out the possibility that the perceived design in nature might just be that – perceived.
        Fairy rings, being made of mushrooms which themselves are made of cells do seem to me more complex than a single cell. :)

        The evolution of animals that like food and sex is certainly not necessary to happen, never argued anything else. But in a competitive environment – competitive because of limited resources – organisms more likely to reproduce would flourish, whereas others would go extinct.
        If instead of pain and suffering there would simply be an instinct towards things that help organisms flourish, that would indeed be “actually better than the current state of things”, I agree. Not only from an adaptation standpoint, but also speaking from a standpoint of empathy with other animals that can suffer.
        So, I’d like to ask: why did an intelligent designer, an even all-knowing one if you see God as the intelligent designer, not choose the path you just laid out? (I’m quite sure the answer to this will be the “Fall”)
        I’m also not sure if I’m perhaps again reading too much into it, but the theory of evolution does not at all dictate that the status quo we observe has to develop – it could all have gone entirely different ways. The theory of evolution does not state that it is necessary that human beings come into existence, for example.

        I do not wish to go too deep into morality for it could derail our discussion. But merely stating that it is “not very satisfying in the absence of a deity” without giving any argument for kind of it rubs me the wrong way.
        Euthyphro’s dilemma illustrates quite clearly that morality in the presence of a deity isn’t all that satisfying, either: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

        2(a) I would not call it “a fair inference from the premise of a benevolent deity that some record of what that deity wants would be available”, I would call it a necessary consequence. If the reason things can’t go back to pre-”Fall” is the continuing disobedience of the humans, then letting them know what the rules they have to obey in the first place is necessary if we would want to assume that the deity is benevolent and not letting humans stumble around in the dark.
        While the Christian Bible does indeed fit such a description, the Jewish Bible does so, too, but without the whole notion “that man never recovered from a state of abject sinfulness”.
        Another problem I see with treating the Bible as the record of what God wants from us is the fact that a lot of the rules laid out are hard to align with our views on morality nowadays, for example the whole slavery issue.
        I hope you could elaborate as to how one has to assess which rules in the Bible we should see as God’s commands and which we should disregard. A methodology of exegesis, so to speak.

        2(b) I do very well understand that the “Fall” is not directly responsible for suffering one human inflicts upon another – but from what I’ve concluded (maybe wrongly so) from what you’ve written so far, it seems to me that you view the “Fall” as the event that caused the formerly perfect world to become the fallen one we live in now. I didn’t intend to imply anything like the “Fall” being directly responsible for all suffering, especially not suffering that is the result from free will.
        I do not think that human interaction out of free will is “in large part” the cause of suffering – though this may easily be true for us “first world” citizens who do not have to face starvation or epidemics every day. I see most of the suffering in the world as the consequence of limited resources (space, food…).
        While it’s true that choosing to live in a dangerous area means that the person living there is responsible for it when said danger strikes, this argument falls short on children who do not get to choose whether they want to be born in a wealthy family in the U.S. or in a starving family in the midst of Africa. It also does not address diseases you yourself did nothing wrong for contracting them (think of childhood leukemia).
        I’m also not down with equating philosophical thoughts about eschatology with a scientific theory – those seem to me to belong in wholly different categories.

        2(c) Could the punishment for the humans than not have been made strictly internal instead of forcing suffering on other animals by making the reason external? Or is this not possible because of the way things were ‘designed’?

        Am I understanding you right in that you’re saying that the earth does no longer bring forth enough resources now, after the “Fall”, but did so before?

        So, mutations. I’m a bit perplexed that you accept the idea of mutations but seem reluctant about the idea of DNA changing over generations by means of mutation and inheritance and those changes accumulating over time, also known as evolution.

        I’m indeed unsatisfied with your answer about animal suffering being the result of the necessity to punish humans sufficiently. One of the main points is the innocence issue since I do not see an animal or another person as innocent because they chose out of free will to do “good”, but instead see other humans as guilty once they choose out of free will to to “bad” – something neither young children nor animals are even capable of.
        I might come back to this point, I’m not very satisfied with my reply, either. But it’s getting kind of late over here and I need me some sleep :)

      • Joshua

        @Aniota:
        1. No definition of God I’m aware of says that everything about God is beyond human comprehension. Certainly some things are, but not all. As to why I think it’s a deity and not “something like,” the simple answer is that once you’ve gone that far, you would expect there to be some way of knowing what the creator is beyond what can be inferred from the world itself. That thing is either going to be scripture, or oral tradition, or an existing institution that can proclaim said creator’s will. This answers your follow up question as well, because ultimately the thing that I find that most satisfactorily fits with everything else I think I already know and also explains a lot of other stuff that makes sense is the Judeo-Christian Bible.

        Well, what you said was that our senses could be misleading us. I was merely pointing out that such an answer, taken to its logical conclusion, destroys our entire ability to know. If what you meant was that our inference can be wrong, that is also true, but again that doesn’t help us much; your inference that evolution happened could also be wrong. No matter how your frame your rebuttal, it seems to me, it ends up proving either nothing or too much.

        A fairy ring is only “complex” in that sense on a level that isn’t relevant to our discussion. Here’s an analogy to make it clear what I mean: An automobile is a relatively complex thing. Therefore, does it follow that an automobile moving down the highway is complex? Not really; all you need for that is Newton’s laws of motion. The underlying complexity might be necessary to the motion, just as in fairy rings the underlying complexity of the cells in a mushroom are necessary to the way fairy rings form, but the actual formation itself is not complex, at least compared to the cell itself. It’s merely a natural consequence of an existing state of affairs.

        If, as you admit, the evolution of organisms that feel pleasure when doing something beneficial to their survival is not necessary, in what sense is evolution a theory at all? This is a bit of a side point, but it’s important. The problem with evolution is that it not only doesn’t predict this, it predicts literally nothing. There is no set of propositions agreed upon by all evolutionists from which other propositions can be deduced, which is why I stated in another conversation here that evolution is really just a hypothesis about what might have happened with no attendant explanation of how it happened. But back to your question: Why would God not choose the path I described? It seems to me that one aspect of benevolence is that the benevolent person wants others to feel pleasure, and it makes the most sense to attach feelings of pleasure to things that are beneficial to survival. Furthermore, without any notion of pleasure or pain, what would free will be? There would be no motivations, and hence no decision making.

        An answer to Euthyphro is quite simple: the pious (or benevolent, or moral, or whatever) is what it is because it is quite simply God’s nature, which even He can’t contravene. Regardless, even if you find that an unsatisfying answer, it’s still better than morality in an atheistic universe, because in such a world it has no end, is oft frustrated with no hope of redemption, and is arguably a useless addendum to the human as an evolutionary matter.

        2(a) That is indeed a deep question. First, I would like to point out that even the Hebrew Scriptures make it fairly plain that man is pretty much hopeless. Such teachings aren’t only to be found in Paul’s epistles. As to the rest, that starts getting into some serious theology, but I’ll try to outline briefly a couple of points. First, slavery was never commanded, and indeed it was limited. You get the idea, if you read all of those passages, that it was considered at times a necessary evil, but nothing more. In the case of the Israelites themselves, they could only be sold into slavery to pay off a debt, and then had to be freed at the latest on the sabbath year (every 7 years). Gentiles could be slaves for other reasons, but consider the time period; conquered peoples couldn’t be thrown into mass prisons for sheer lack of infrastructure, and simply killing everyone would be worse. Slavery, then, is basically the only way to incorporate a foreign, subjugated population. On another point, the Old Testament very explicitly condemns kidnapping for the purpose of selling into slavery. More broadly, you can figure out a lot by context. The favorite rules everyone likes to cite are such things as “you can’t eat shellfish” and the like. Well, read carefully, all of that is specific to the Jews as part of their kosher laws. And remember, they entered that agreement willingly. It’s not like most of the rules were absolute moral standards; most were meant to set the Israelites apart from other nations because they were God’s chosen people. That takes care of virtually all (if not all) the objections.

        2(b) Limited resources are also in large part due to human action, though. There’s enough food on the planet to feed everyone, but many third world regimes (particularly the ones we think of as dictatorial) actively hinder the free flow of food, medicine, etc. Yes, lot’s of things do happen to children who have no say-so, but even a lot of that can be traced to the decisions of their parents (maybe not leukemia, but at least the likelihood of being killed in a hurricane, say). And I’m not saying eschatology should be part of science, but this conversation isn’t about me proving my view scientifically; it’s about you asking me to justify my belief in a good God. That’s the only way I know how to do it, and I find it a more satisfying answer to the problem of evil than simply saying there is no evil, only bad luck and good luck. At least if there is a God, the child with leukemia might be able to enjoy a better life someday, but in the atheistic view, they’re just victims plain and simple. So I don’t see how the fact that I have to rely on post-death recompense is a problem relative to competing views.

        2(c) Put it this way, can you think of a way to make earning a living difficult that is internal to humans, rather than external? I suppose you could make them all cripples, but that seems even worse, in my mind.

        I’m saying it doesn’t bring forth enough without some labor input. In other words, if there had been no Fall, no one need ever have worked and there would have been enough for all. Post-Fall, however, the only way to feed everybody is through lots of work.

        Now you’re equivocating what “evolution” means. No creationist denies that mutations happen and that they can change organisms slightly and that over generations species can become more different. But that’s a far cry from saying an initial single-celled organism is the ancestor of all living things. I can believe in mutations and descent with modification because that doesn’t conflict with creation, and doesn’t imply evolution on the macro scale. The mere fact that dogs can be bred from wolves to the huge variety we see today is not an indication that dogs could ever be bred to be anything other than dogs.

        As I’ve said, I’m probably not explaining myself as well as I could, and I probably haven’t even thought of the best answer regarding animal suffering. But again, this gets back to the issue of whether it is overall more satisfying to believe in a world where we might get what we really deserve after we die, or that we’re all just biological machines, some of which live the good life despite being scum bags and some who are miserable despite being amazing people. Even with a few unanswered questions regarding animal suffering, I’ll take the former over the latter any day.

      • Aniota

        @Joshua:
        1. So, where did “scripture, oral tradition or an existing institution that can proclaim said creator’s will” get their information from? And which “existing institution that can proclaim said creator’s will” of the many that are out there rightfully proclaims said creator’s will and how do we know that?
        Your answers seems to me to come down to that you believe what you believe, because you conveniently already happen to believe this.

        I’m quite sure that neither our senses nor our inferences from the information we gather by using them can be seen as always accurate. This means that, yes, evolution could be wrong – so what? There is no reason to believe in it other than seeing the evidence for it as very compelling (I realize we disagree on this).
        It also means that gravitation or atom theory could be wrong. And it could be wrong that we’re having this discussion because in reality we’re just floating thoughts in the dream of a butterfly – how could we know for sure?
        Certain ideas manage to stand up to prolonged scrutiny and critical research and I feel that there’s a significant difference between disregarding an assertion that is made without evidence (we’re part of a butterfly dream) and one that has stood the test of criticism (gravitation).
        This doesn’t mean that ideas can’t be overturned as new evidence comes in or that we should hold on to them after they’re disproved, but with many scientific theories nowadays it’s more of a tweaking process than overturning, e.g. Newton’s theory of gravity and Einstein’s theory of general relativity that explains both Newton’s theory and many observation Newton’s theory couldn’t, without meaning that Newton was dead wrong about the subject, but merely had not all the information we now have.

        I now better understand where you’re coming from with the complexity of cells compared to other phenomena we observe in nature. Shall we now proceed to discuss whether or not mushrooms cells are better explained by evolution or intelligent design or skip this exercise?

        I honestly don’t understand the problem you seem to see with evolution here. An organism that survives longer is more likely to produce offspring. Whether this longer survival is due to pleasure from beneficial actions or by your idea of instinct makes no difference whatsoever for this. In both cases, however, the prediction is that organisms that are mistaken about what’s beneficial to them are more likely to die sooner and thus producing less offspring than those who are correct about beneficial actions. Therefore, in both cases, the tendency of making beneficial choices would be passed on. What exactly poses a problem for the theory of evolution here?
        If God would “attach feelings of pleasure to things that are beneficial to survival”, how come that feelings of pleasure are also attached to things detrimental to our survival, e.g. drug abuse? And a ‘hangover’ neither diminishes the initial pleasure nor does it eliminate the possibility of lethal drug abuse for which there is no more ‘hangover’ possible.
        I understand how pleasure can play a role in free will, but not the why pain then has to be there, too.
        Furthermore, if you see this as a kind of Hegelian ‘no light without shadow’ kind of deal, how exactly does this work with your notion that the suffering will later be compensated for?

        Your answer to the Euthyphro dilemma tries to (quite elegantly!) dodge the main point of it, but ultimately fails to do so: is it in God’s power to change His nature? If yes, then that is good which God commands, because He can simply change His nature to whatever He likes. If no, then God’s will is irrelevant to the question of what is good, because it is outside of His will. I have yet to see a solution to the Euthyphro dilemma that does not break back down to its original form – which in my opinion makes morality in the presence of a deity no more satisfying than without.
        I’m not quite sure where you get your ideas about what atheist morality is, but your notions don’t align with what I’ve experienced at all. Its end is to increase the well being of animals that can suffer (humans included, which should go without saying), which makes it quite the opposite of useless, even from a purely evolutionary standpoint (if there actually was a person seeing things purely from such a point of view).
        Yes, there is no hope for final redemption – though what this has to do with morality is beyond me.

        2(a) The Old Testament scriptures are ripe with humans failing to live up to the moral standards expected of them, but it is not deemed impossible altogether. There is also the hope that with the appearance of the Messiah things will turn out well in the end despite the many failings.
        You also haven’t explicitly addressed why you prefer the Christian Bible to the Jewish Bible, therefore I’ll assume your answer to that is the same as your answer to my first question.
        I wouldn’t call slavery in the Bible “limited” as much as ‘regulated’, but that’s arguing semantics. I also do not see any characterization of it as “evil”, necessary or not.
        The distinction between Jews and Gentiles strikes me as racist, with foreigners being worse off than those of your own people – how exactly does this reflect a “record of what that deity wants”?
        The whole conquering other people is also not that benevolent towards the conquered nations, is it?
        Kidnapping might be bad, but murdering women and boys and leaving only virgins alive for the soldiers (to cook for them, I’m sure, why else distinguish between virgins and none-virgins?) is okay (Numbers 31:17-18)? Or selling your own daughter as sex slave (Exodus 21:7-11)?
        Could you elaborate on this “context” that helps to “figure out” what is and what is not permissible?
        I’m aware that Christians do not share the Jewish laws for kosher living, but my question was which methodology can be used to distinguish between rules only for Jews and rules also for Christians.
        Which rules were/are “absolute moral standards” and how do we know to tell them apart from those only intended “to set the Israelites apart from other nations”?
        And why isn’t slavery one of them, if it was only a temporary “necessary evil” (see Ephesians 6:5)?

        2(b) I’ll give you that unequally distributed resources are in part due to human action – but it should be quite clear that I wasn’t asking for this but natural resources like food growing naturally.
        The problem with there being not enough food for everyone is that if nobody were hungry anymore, there would also be more humans around, which would then mean that again there would not be enough food for everyone et cetera ad infinitum – this goes on so long as there’s limited space for food and people (and other resources like plants for oxygen and so on and on…), i.e. forever.

        So what is your take on childhood leukemia, then?

        I didn’t imply that you were to prove your view scientifically, I merely responded to your comment that you “find lots of stuff in evolution unsatisfying” whereas I might find your explanation unsatisfying.
        I also find your way of thinking about these issues more satisfying than flat out denying evil altogether, but more satisfying than absolutely unsatisfying does not necessarily mean satisfying.
        If I understand you correctly, your answer to my questions as to why the suffering of humanity is distributed unequally comes down to your hope of it being compensated for after death. Is that about right?

        2(c) I suppose that simply getting along with one another would be quite difficult in and of itself, seeing as humanity didn’t manage to make it happen during the last thousands of years. But then again, I’m not omniscient, so I might be missing something (and if it’s just that I was mistaken).

        I might still not be able to grasp what differences specifically were made to the world and everything living on it by the “Fall”. Care to elaborate?

        So, taking wolves and dogs: it is, you seem to agree, permissible to say that they share a so called ‘last common ancestor’ for them. That is, if you back the family tree of any dog you choose, you end up by its parents, then their parents, then theirs and so on until you reach the wolves that were bred to one day in the distant future (from that point) in the very dog you started with (thus going all the way back and the same way forth again). Same with any modern wolf you chose, you can go back all the way to the wolves contemporary of our dog-ancestors. Now, seeing as those are both wolves we arrived at, we could then follow their family trees until we end up with an ancestor they both share, just like Americans descended from Irish ancestors and Irish nowadays could both follow their family tree to someone they both share. That’s the ‘last common ancestor’.
        Where did that last common ancestor come from? Well, the theory of evolution would say it likely had ancestors itself and when you trace those back you could then end up with a last common ancestor of wolves and coyotes, that is if you follow the family tree of of our dog above and the family tree of a modern coyote of your choice. Where did that last common ancestor come from? And so on.
        We could play this game on and on, going to the last common ancestor of mammals, the last common ancestor of vertebrates and so, and ‘universal common ancestry’ teaches that all living things that live now and ever have lived share one last common ancestor, if you go back far enough.
        So perhaps you could point out to me which point of this you can’t accept and for what reason?
        The only difference between evolution on a micro scale and evolution on a macro scale is time scale – the processes are *exactly the same* on a genetic level (with parents passing their genes on to their children, rinse, repeat) which is why this distinction is no longer in use by biologists nowadays except to clear up misunderstandings about it.

        I’m perplexed. Are we still talking about rational arguments for our specific views, in this case about animal suffering, or which view we personally prefer for reasons of comfort?

      • Joshua

        @Aniota:
        1. Scripture, tradition, or an institution (I happen to think it’s scripture) gets its information ultimately from God, which I thought would have been clear given my reasoning for why, if the creator is benevolent, there would be such a source of information in the first place. The whole point was that a benevolent creator would have some way of making himself known. Thus, the information must come from the creator. As for choosing which source to go to, there’s always reason. Why would you assume that my answer boils down to just believing what I believe because I believe it? If we can’t trust reason, that’s all that’s left anyway, so it’s either reason or blind faith belief in whatever we please. I happen to think reason works rather well (which is also contingent on the belief in a benevolent creator, by the way).

        Certainly our sense can be wrong on a number of topics, but as a rule we have to accept that they’re valid until given a good reason to believe we’re being misled by them. And between your dichotomy of being thoughts in a butterfly’s dream and the well-proven theory of gravity, evolution tends much more toward the butterfly for the reasons I’ve already stated.

        If you want to discuss whether design or evolution is the better explanation for the cell, by all means let’s have that discussion. Quite frankly, I don’t see how evolution can explain the existence of a cell at all, let alone better than a design theory. One of the themes I keep coming back to is that evolution doesn’t explain anything; it’s just a story made up to fit what we see that is consistent with the evidence we currently have, but with no predictive (i.e. scientific) value.

        As for pleasure v. instinct, it’s not so much that it poses a direct problem for evolution in the sense that it contradicts it; I’m merely pointing out that it’s another example of something evolution would have to explain that it can’t. Why would it be pleasure as opposed to instinct? No one knows, or can begin to guess. The point is that the mere fact that there are other possibilities shows us that evolution explains nothing. It’s just a working hypothesis people use as a basis for experimentation.

        The pleasure of drug abuse could be explained by the subsequent degeneration of the world post-Fall rather simply, I think, in at least two ways. 1) The “drugs” only acquired their drug properties post-Fall, or 2) they only became pleasurable post-Fall. I would tend to go with the latter. Pain has to be there for our own sake; if we didn’t feel discomfort at, say, putting our hand in a fire, we could burn ourselves rather badly without even knowing it. Some pain (or the capacity for it, at least) has to exist to keep us from doing things we shouldn’t.

        I’m not sure in what way I dodged the point with Euthyphro’s dilemma. It seems to me that if God’s nature is unchangeable (which I stated it was), then by definition His will is inextricably bound by that nature, and thus His will most certainly is relevant to what is good or bad. After all, He can will things that are not necessitated by His nature in addition to those things that are. For instance, we might say that it is intrinsic to God’s nature that murder is wrong. However, it is not intrinsic that failing to circumcise one’s male children is wrong. Yet God can, by an act of will, require the latter of someone as a condition of something else. If the person accepts the “something else,” he is morally bound to circumcise his male children, not because it is intrinsically the moral thing to do, but because of his agreement with God.

        The reason the lack of hope for final redemption matters is that without it, there is no true end to morality. Yes, it might benefit a species overall in the long run, but individuals within that species will be better off NOT adhering to morality, even in the long run. A morality only makes sense in terms of a true end if what is best for all is also best for each individual. Thus, I can say that my view of morality is more coherent than yours because yours really just boils down to one more survival mechanism, not a real set of rules, even though we think of morality as a set of rules that should never be broken. That only makes sense in a theistic perspective. In other words, what you call “morality” isn’t morality at all in the usual understanding of that term.

        2(a) I’m fairly certain there is at least one OT verse that indicates no one is perfect, but it really isn’t that important for our discussion so I’ll drop it. And yes, my reason for preferring Christianity over Judaism is reason. True, the OT (or even the NT) never describes slavery as evil per se, but given that it’s only permitted in given circumstances to correct other evils, it’s certainly implied that it is. For example, capital punishment (or any punishment, really) is in a sense an evil, but arguably a lesser one than the alternative. Think of slavery as punishment, and you have the same idea. As for the race distinction, you aren’t taking into consideration why a Gentile might become a slave; it would primarily (if not only; I can’t recall off the top of my head) have been due to being captured in war, which I already discussed. Obviously a Jew wouldn’t become the slave of another Jew for that reason. Conquering isn’t benevolent per se, but God didn’t exactly give the Israelites license to just go picking fights, either. In fact, I’m fairly certain warfare was limited to defensive circumstances outside the taking of the Promised Land itself (a special case for numerous reasons, the most explicit being the “iniquity” of the locals that simply couldn’t be tolerated any longer). Killing all women save virgins I would think is related to the idea that man and woman become “one flesh” when they have intercourse, and thus non-virgins were in some sense corrupted. I’m pretty sure Numbers was also specifically referring to the conquest of Canaan, anyway. As for selling your daughter (it says nothing about “sex slave”), you have to remember that the culture was one where the father gave his daughter in marriage; the girl usually didn’t have a choice unless she was already independent (usually because she was a widow). Calling her a “sex slave” is simply uncalled for, because there are rules governing a husband’s relationship with his wife, which are mentioned in the very passage you cite. You might as well say that marriage resulted in sexual slavery in those days. As to the “selling” bit, one would expect that would only happened in dire circumstances, just as the other forms of slavery. As to how to determine which rules are universal, the OT often states which rules are specific to Jews and why. Quite frankly, most are obvious (don’t murder is obviously universal; anything clearly stated in the NT is also clearly universal, and many others can be figured out by logical implication, such as the rule against fornication coming from the fact that the two “become one flesh”). As for why slavery isn’t one, what about a thing being a necessary evil means it only applies to one group? That’s a non sequitur. An argument can be made that slavery (in the OT scheme) is still, in some places, the best method of paying off debts, for instance, because there simply are no better alternatives.

        2(b) Except that’s not true. Most developed nations (the ones with plenty of food) are precisely the same ones that have lower birthrates. Thus, the problem you see likely doesn’t even exist. As for childhood leukemia, I’m not sure what I can say beyond what I’ve already said. Collateral damage is inevitable given the original Fall and its punishment. The fact that innocents get caught up in the mess can be made up for later, but it can’t be avoided without reverting to the problems I already discussed re: free will etc. Finally, as to the “why” of the unequal distribution of suffering, that’s not because it’ll be recompensed later; the recompense is just the only way to justify it. The why is explained by our own free will and blind luck.

        2(c) I obviously don’t know in detail what changes were made at the time of the Fall. I can only read what Genesis says and infer the rest. I can infer, for instance, that what was previously incorruptible became corruptible (i.e., that which could not mutate in a bad way now could). I can read that God added thorns and made childbearing painful and made earning a living require work. Beyond that, I can’t say.

        Universal common ancestry is something I can’t accept because we have no indication that everything does have a UCA beyond the similarities in DNA and morphology, both of which are equally well explained by design. We’ve got no evidence that the ancestors of dogs and wolves were ever anything but wolves. Indeed, we have lots of evidence to indicate that most kinds of animals have always been just that kind of animal and no other. The Cambrian Explosion is a good example. We see no half-way organisms; we just see a bunch of phenotypes suddenly pop up in the fossil record. UCA might be a reasonable hypothesis if we had a clearly laid out progression of fossils that really told the full story of intermediate organisms (transitional fossils), but we don’t. Every new fossil we find is pretty squarely within it’s own taxonomical branch, with no indication of slow progression from A to B to C to D to E…… And there most certainly is a difference between micro and macro evolution. One is simply the type of descent with modification we see in our every day lives, with mutations thrown in. The other is the (unsupported) notion that those mutations can actually get you from single cell to human in less than 4.5 billion years. If you prefer, we could simply call microevolution plain ol’ descent with modification (which no one disputes happens), and macroevolution can be Darwinism. The one is an observable process; the other is a hypothesis about what happened in history which can neither be observed nor repeated.

        I’m talking about rational arguments, but at some point along the way you just said you weren’t “satisfied.” Well, that’s hardly a counter-argument, so I can’t rebut it apart from saying what satisfies me, can I? ;)

    • Ariel

      @Joshua,

      [I]t’s not my burden to prove evolution wrong; it’s your burden to prove it’s better than my explanation.

      I’m a math teacher. I’m sure the fundamental theorem of calculus is correct, but I don’t think I can teach it to someone in a few blog comments. And convincing someone to accept evolution is harder than teaching someone calculus because I’m fighting confirmation bias. So I think all I can hope to do is disprove your original argument: that I have met online at least one Educated, Rational, Honest Creationist, namely you. I’d actually like to have a serious discussion with an ERHC sometime, but I don’t actually think you are one.

      I apologize for the fact that this sounds like a personal attack; you made a statement on Libby Anne’s blog that ERHCs exist, and for your argument to be valid, you need to defend yourself.

      You complained that no one had addressed your original points, so here goes.

      So, age of the earth aside, what’s left is two competing viewpoints, design and chance [natural processes].

      Agreed, with the correction indicated above. This correction is necessary because a lot of natural processes are nonrandom. The alternative to “Some intelligent entity designed and excavated the Grand Canyon” is “the nonintelligent process of river erosion excavated the Grand Canyon”, and erosion is not a chance process. To cover all alternatives to design, you have to include the nonrandom processes. Referring to all natural processes as “chance” indicates that either you don’t understand natural processes (Libby Anne’s Category 1) or you are deliberately ignoring nonrandom processes in choosing your terminology (Libby Anne’s Category 2/3).

      On a purely intuitive level, the type of complexity we see in living organisms smacks of design.

      Quantum mechanics and relativity are both infamously nonintuitive, but their bizarre predictions have been tested many times and hold. Human intuition doesn’t do well in dealing with things that are too big, too small, happen too quickly, or happen too slow.

      I’m going to assume that by “design” you mean “designed by an intelligent entity”. Most of the complex objects we see around us were designed by human beings. In looking at living things, we have to postulate a nonhuman, noncreated intelligent designer or a creative process other than intelligent design. Both of these require assuming something totally new and unprecedented. I see no reason to prefer the uncreated alien intelligence over the unintelligent process.

      And I would argue that the type of complexity we see smacks of common descent rather than separate design. First, organisms have a lot of design flaws–usually flaws that would be easy for a designer to fix that would take a lot of time for natural selection to fix.

      Second, evolutionary theory predicts that closely related organisms should have similar structures, even for very different organs, if those organs evolved from the same ancestral object. The classic example is bat wings, cat paws, and human hands and feet: four very different objects, but they all have five long skinny bones with fourteen short jointed bones attached to the ends. Evolutionary theory also predicts that organs that do the same function in different creatures, that evolved separately, should be different on a small scale. We see that too: almost all fish have a vertical tail fin, and all whales and dolphins have horizontal tail fins. Bat wings and bird wings are very different. Vertebrate eyes have the retina put in backwards, while squid and octopi have the retina oriented the correct way.

      In short, there are things that have no functional reason to be similar and are, and things with the same function but different structures, and we see that happening exactly where the evolutionary theory says we should.

      On a scientific level, the law of causation requires either design (a final cause) or an infinite regression.

      I have two separate objections to this. First, a final cause is not the same as design. If I postulate the following sequence, (uncaused Big Bang)->(formation of stars)->(supernovas)->(formation of planets)->(abiogenesis)->(evolution)->(humans), then I still have a final cause, namely the Big Bang, but I don’t have design in there anywhere.

      Second, evolution is at some level independent of whether God created the universe. The three causal chains (God)->(Big Bang)->(abiogenesis)->(evolution)->(humans), (God)->(first microbe)->(evolution)->(humans), and (God)->(humans) all have God as a final cause, but two of them do include evolution; even if you insist on a final cause named “God”, arguments about infinite regresses can’t distinguish between these three.

      [A final cause] being by far the more “rational” option in the sense that we never posit infinite regressions for anything else; why should this case be different?

      I’d argue that the “rational” option is to start from what we know and work out from there. That probably means starting from now and working backwards. This means that at any point, there will be an earliest known cause. If we eventually find a cause that looks like a final cause, great! But trying to start with the final cause, without trying to work out the intermediate steps, is the same kind of armchair reasoning that led Aristotle to conclude that men have more teeth than women.

      To address evolution specifically, there is no “overwhelming evidence” for it. We’ve never seen [speciation].

      My point earlier was that you seemed to think that speciation *had* to happen in one generation. You were wrong: it can happen over many generations (that was the example of ring species).

      As a second point, when I Google “observed speciation”, these came up:
      http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html
      http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/11/speciation-in-action/
      So it looks like we have seen speciation occur. (And yes, it looks like I was wrong; on occasion, one-generation speciation can occur. I’m pretty sure many-generation speciation is more common, though.) Why, if you are an ERHC, and if non-speciation is one of your main criticisms of evolution, have *you* not done this search?

      The fossil record is useless as evidence because it literally proves nothing due to simple rules of logic. One rule is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence; i.e., just because we don’t see human fossils in the Cambrian doesn’t mean humans didn’t exist during that time period…

      It took me a while to figure out what you were saying here. You appear to believe that the only way the fossil record supports evolution is by showing that humans weren’t around in the Cambrian (and, more generally, that some species haven’t been around forever). In fact, most of the fossil record tells a coherent story, and it’s a story that is totally consistent with evolution. (See http://atheism.about.com/od/evolutionexplained/a/FossilRecordEvolution.htm.) Species appear in the fossil record, persist for a few million years, and disappear. Similar (presumably daughter) species appear during their tenure, near them geographically, and repeat. Transitional forms show up just before the new group, not later or earlier.

      If all life forms were created at the same moment, (say, at the time of the Cambrian explosion), you have to postulate that (for example) Archaeopteryx existed for 380 million years without leaving any fossils, then left eleven of them over three million years, and somehow picked a time right before birds started fossilizing. And you have to postulate that that sequence of coincidences happened to lots and lots of fossil species.

      Absence of evidence is not proof of absence, no. But we have a lot of opportunities for the fossil record to disprove evolution–bunnies in the Cambrian being the simplest example, but there are many others. At this point, statistically, we’ve got enough fossils to be sure that either evolution happened, your alleged creator is trying to make us *think* evolution happened, or a frankly incredible series of coincidences happened in deciding what fossilized when. And from a scientific standpoint, the first is the best explanation.

      Furthermore, there are good instances of fossils found in strata where they “shouldn’t” be if you take the typical evolutionary story. See Michael Cremo’s “Forbidden Archeology” for examples.

      As I understand it, most fossils fit perfectly into the evolutionary narrative outlined above, and most of the exceptions have an obvious proximal cause why they should be out of place. For example, if you have strata in the wrong order, then you get a layer of crushed rock nearby, showing that this chunk of rock got flipped upside down at some point. The fossil record is messy and incomplete viewed as a record of everything that has ever lived on Earth, but that still leaves plenty of room for it to be complete enough to provide valid information.

      And new fossils are constantly being found that expand the time ranges of various animals.

      Do they expand the time range beyond what evolutionary theory says their range could be?

      The only other type of evidence is DNA, but that doesn’t work either. We still don’t know everything there is to know about how DNA works.

      We know a lot about how DNA works. We know that DNA is a long chain of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine molecules, each attached to a deoxyribose molecule, attached to two other deoxyribose molecules by covalent bonds to phosphate groups. See the chemical structure of DNA here. We know that adenine is attracted to thymine, and guanine to cytosine, via hydrogen bonds. We know that DNA is copied using that A/T and C/G attraction, with the help of special helper proteins, and that the process is not perfect–it makes errors. We know that every parent gives half of their DNA to each child. We know that DNA encodes the formation of every protein in the body. We even know the code: the DNA code adenine-thymine-guanine means the amino acid methionine. That’s more than enough understanding for DNA to be valid evidence for evolution. Seriously, what more do you want?

      And while we can prove that all females are related to a “Mitochondrial Eve” some time in the past, I’ve yet to hear evidence that you can trace that back to a non-human ancestor.

      We prove this by noting that all human females have similar mitochondrial DNA. We would prove that humans and chimpanzees have a common ancestor by noting that humans and chimpanzees have similar DNA. And, yes, we’ve done exactly that and humans and chimpanzees DO have similar DNA. What DNA evidence are you looking at that lets you believe in a human common ancestor but not a human/chimpanzee common ancestor?

      Furthermore, DNA similarity is meaningless, because we see similarities in design as well. If a designer wants to make a code that runs all of a biological organisms’ systems, why use different rules every time you create a new thing? Of course a designer is going to be uniform; it’s the best, most efficient, most elegant way of accomplishing a goal.

      This goes back to my intuition argument above. Among closely related organisms, we see a lot of similarities in DNA, even among the junk DNA that literally has no function. Among distantly related organisms, we see very different DNA, even when that DNA is doing the same thing. Humans and chimpanzees have almost identical hemoglobin; humans and chickens have very different hemoglobin; and this is consistent with every other indicator we have that humans are closer to chimpanzees than chickens.

      And if you arrange all organisms by how similar their DNA is, you get a common-descent tree. The gorilla ancestor split from the human/chimp ancestor about 7 million years ago, and the humans and chimps split about 6 million years ago. So humans and chimps should be more alike than humans and gorillas, or chimps and gorillas, and humans and gorillas should be about as similar as chimps and gorillas. Lo and behold, we find exactly that. And this is repeated throughout biology. You never get a still-living creature halfway between a reptile and a mammal. You never see the DNA code for human hemoglobin borrowed and used in other organisms.

      So in short: DNA between species has a lot of similarities that are NOT caused by identical function, and a lot of differences even in molecules with identical function; based on this we can put organisms into a perfect common-descent tree. We can do this even looking at nonfunctional junk DNA that can’t possibly be similar because of common function, because it has no function. So either organisms do have a common ancestor and have been branching out, like evolution says, or for some reason your alleged creator has been reinventing the wheel in exactly the way he’d have to to make it look like they have a common ancestor. The “common design for common function” argument you like so much just is not enough to explain the similarities and differences we see.

      Some later comments:

      No one has yet shown that mutations could get us to where we are now.

      DNA is adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine molecules linked together in an infinite chain. This is true in bacteria; it is true in apple trees; it is true in flatworms; it is true in people. Looked at one base pair at a time, flatworms and people have the same DNA; you just need to add or delete base pairs, and that is exactly what mutation does. So, yes, DNA mutation can get you any multicellular organism in existence. (To get from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, or monocellular organisms to multicellular organisms, yes, you have to postulate some changes in cellular structure beyond changes in DNA. I believe biologists are trying to work out how this happened: see the endosymbiotic hypothesis and some hypotheses on the origins of multicellular life.)

      And before you say it: I’m allowed to have some of my arguments be “It could have happened this way”, rather than “we know it did happen this way”. To break an alibi, you just have to prove that the suspect could have been at the crime scene; if you’ve got evidence elsewhere that he did do it, that is enough. To break a creationist’s claim that evolution can’t produce multicellular organisms, I just need to show it could have happened; as long as I can find evidence of evolution elsewhere, I’m justified in believing it happened here too.

      (I apologize for the trite example, but since I don’t know what kind of lawyer you are, I’m stuck pulling examples from the popular entertainment conception of the legal profession.)

      I’d say many [biologists] are simply ingrained in the current paradigm and find it hard to break out because their entire worldview is built on it. Some are simply evolutionists because they’re atheists, and in an atheistic worldview evolution really is the best explanation.

      Interesting. So do you have a hypothesis for how, given that in 1859 most biologists were ingrained in the creationist paradigm and had their entire worldview built on it, evolution managed to take over? We’ve had the fair fight in academia between creation and evolution; in fact, we’ve had the fight with *creation* having the advantage of being the established paradigm. Evolution won, and it won before we even had the DNA evidence. And science is supposed to have revolutions where the established paradigm is overthrown. Quantum mechanics. General relativity. The germ theory of disease. The Copernican revolution. Questioning established dogma is what scientists do. Maybe they don’t do it as often as they could…but based on everything science is, if evolution really was a theory with no support, biologists would notice.

      • Christine

        @Ariel: rather than play into the “well there’s no evidence” that group 1/3 like to cling to (I’m not sure where denying existing studies falls on the spectrum), let’s point out that we DO know that multicellular organisms can be easily produced from single celled ones with just the application of some pressure. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/01/10/1115323109 for those who “forget” or “don’t know” that it’s been done in the lab.

      • Ariel

        @Christine: Awesome! I didn’t know that. See, this is why I still try to educate creationists, I keep learning cool new stuff along the way.

      • Joshua

        @Ariel: Gee golly whiz that’s a long post! I’ll try to keep my responses brief.

        I’m sure the fundamental theorem of calculus is correct, but I don’t think I can teach it to someone in a few blog comments.

        All the more reason for people not say insulting things on the topic in blogs. If you want to believe creationists can only be ignorant, liars, or dogmatists, fine. But don’t say it on the internet without expecting some disagreement. But as to the main point, you assume I don’t actually know what evolution theory is, yet you have no evidence for that. But let’s get to some substance.

        a lot of natural processes are nonrandom.

        Yep, but see my response to machintelligence on this point where I go into some verbal algebra. Lots of processes are nonrandom, but none of those give rise to new species as far as we can tell.

        I see no reason to prefer the uncreated alien intelligence over the unintelligent process.

        Because we know of zero instances of a creative, unintelligent process. We at least do know of creative intelligent designers. Thus, reasoning by analogy alone makes my view better.

        First, organisms have a lot of design flaws–usually flaws that would be easy for a designer to fix that would take a lot of time for natural selection to fix.

        You’re assuming the designer would fix them, but on that point see my discussion of theodicy with Aniota.

        Second, evolutionary theory predicts that closely related organisms should have similar structures, even for very different organs, if those organs evolved from the same ancestral object.

        I’m not sure how these examples conflict with a common design view. First, you don’t really think that bat wings are functionally identical to birds, do you? Because they aren’t. And I have no particular reason to believe the other differences/similarities are functionally the same/different just because we haven’t discovered a functional similarity/difference yet.

        I have two separate objections to this. First, a final cause is not the same as design. If I postulate the following sequence, (uncaused Big Bang)->(formation of stars)->(supernovas)->(formation of planets)->(abiogenesis)->(evolution)->(humans), then I still have a final cause, namely the Big Bang, but I don’t have design in there anywhere.

        The Big Bang is an effect, not a cause. That’s the whole point. But if you want to insist that it’s a cause, what kind of cause is it? A quantum fluctuation of nothing? That’s not a cause; that’s magic mumbo-jumbo that someone made up. The Big Bang isn’t an explanation because nobody even knows how such a thing could happen. Everything we think we know completely contradicts the idea.

        arguments about infinite regresses can’t distinguish between these three.

        That’s true, but once you’ve assumed that there’s a God, why believe in evolution? At that point it’s a needless additional hypothesis and therefore a violation of Occam’s razor, absent some really potent evidence in favor (and there’s not any).

        I’d argue that the “rational” option is to start from what we know and work out from there. That probably means starting from now and working backwards. This means that at any point, there will be an earliest known cause. If we eventually find a cause that looks like a final cause, great! But trying to start with the final cause, without trying to work out the intermediate steps, is the same kind of armchair reasoning that led Aristotle to conclude that men have more teeth than women.

        No, because final causation is literally built into the way we think; we can’t escape it. Without the concept of final cause, we have infinite regress, which is nonsense. Besides, the fact that we assume final causation doesn’t conflict with the idea of starting from what we know and working backwards. There’s never going to be a scientific way to prove what happened, say, 10,000 years ago, let alone 10 million. That doesn’t change the fact that humans almost universally recognize that final causation is superior to infinite regress.

        My point earlier was that you seemed to think that speciation *had* to happen in one generation. You were wrong: it can happen over many generations (that was the example of ring species).

        As a second point, when I Google “observed speciation”, these came up:
        http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html
        http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/11/speciation-in-action/
        So it looks like we have seen speciation occur. (And yes, it looks like I was wrong; on occasion, one-generation speciation can occur. I’m pretty sure many-generation speciation is more common, though.) Why, if you are an ERHC, and if non-speciation is one of your main criticisms of evolution, have *you* not done this search?

        And I suppose you know EVERYTHING there is to know on the subject? Anyway, I will admit that I badly worded my original point on this issue. What I should have said was that we’ve never observed an organism evolve into something truly different; it was a bad case of me knowing what I meant but not saying it. Of course it’s possible for an organism to procreate an organism it can’t procreate with, if only because some mutations prevent breeding with certain organisms. But that’s totally different than saying a dog could become a cat, or a cow could become a whale. Again, I was wrong in my original statement, and unfortunately your response confused me initially, which only made it worse, but hopefully I’ve cleared that up.

        You appear to believe that the only way the fossil record supports evolution is by showing that humans weren’t around in the Cambrian (and, more generally, that some species haven’t been around forever). In fact, most of the fossil record tells a coherent story, and it’s a story that is totally consistent with evolution. (See http://atheism.about.com/od/evolutionexplained/a/FossilRecordEvolution.htm.) Species appear in the fossil record, persist for a few million years, and disappear. Similar (presumably daughter) species appear during their tenure, near them geographically, and repeat. Transitional forms show up just before the new group, not later or earlier.

        No, that’s not what I said. What I said was that there is no evidence for evolution from the fossil record precisely because the fossil record doesn’t give us a complete picture, and you’re falling right into the absence of evidence problem I already discussed. The fact that given species appear briefly in the fossil record (or more accurately, what we’ve found in the fossil record) and then disappear only proves that those things were buried and fossilized in given places at later times. That doesn’t prove they didn’t exist, and it doesn’t prove they didn’t get fossilized somewhere we just haven’t dug yet. The mere fact that what we see in the fossil record is consistent with evolution (and it isn’t; I already pointed out that many fossils have simply been ignored because they don’t fit the predefined story evolutionists want to tell) proves nothing; it’s also consistent with design.

        If all life forms were created at the same moment, (say, at the time of the Cambrian explosion), you have to postulate that (for example) Archaeopteryx existed for 380 million years without leaving any fossils, then left eleven of them over three million years, and somehow picked a time right before birds started fossilizing. And you have to postulate that that sequence of coincidences happened to lots and lots of fossil species.

        No, I don’t. First of all, would I expect to find an Archaeopteryx (or any other terrestrial/flying animal) fossilized in a stratum with a bunch of sea creatures? Of course not. I would expect to see it fossilized where I see terrestrial animals. So we can dispense with all the marine strata just on those grounds alone. Now, bear in mind I’m not assuming you’re counting strata such as the Cambrian in your 380 million years, but the point here is that you can’t rely on gaps to prove anything (again, absence of evidence). Furthermore, you *would* expect to find Archaeopteryx in strata bordering strata with other flying animals even from a design standpoint, because whatever event could bury and fossilize one flying animal would likely do it to others (and no, I’m not talking about Noah’s flood; just any old disaster could do it). So is it really that coincidental? Not really. You would expect like things to be buried close together no matter what. And as to your point about finding really out there fossils where they shouldn’t be, again, read Michael Cremo’s “Forbidden Archeology.” It’s crammed with examples, and there’s even a new book by him with more new stuff.

        As I understand it, most fossils fit perfectly into the evolutionary narrative outlined above, and most of the exceptions have an obvious proximal cause why they should be out of place. For example, if you have strata in the wrong order, then you get a layer of crushed rock nearby, showing that this chunk of rock got flipped upside down at some point. The fossil record is messy and incomplete viewed as a record of everything that has ever lived on Earth, but that still leaves plenty of room for it to be complete enough to provide valid information.

        Ever heard of the tree trunk that extended through multiple strata? Or human footprints found in dinosaur prints? Probably not, but as I say that’s because evolutionists simply disregard what doesn’t fit their theory, so they don’t tell the average fellow about this stuff.

        Do they expand the time range beyond what evolutionary theory says their range could be?

        I’m fairly certain one was found in the last few years that took people by surprise, and I think it was a human fossil at that, but I’ll have to look for that and get back to you when I find it.

        That’s more than enough understanding for DNA to be valid evidence for evolution. Seriously, what more do you want?

        Ever heard of junk DNA? The stuff that turned out not to be junk after all? That was a big selling point for evolution at one time because it seemed like a vestigial organ type argument, because organisms claimed to be related had similar “junk” DNA. Then it turned out it wasn’t junk after all. Furthermore, we don’t know how much mutation can occur before DNA is useless, we don’t know what kinds of DNA sequences will lead to viable organisms (outside the existing ones, obviously), and thus we really have no earthly idea how evolution could occur in terms of genetics. You act like the really simple stuff explains it all, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

        We prove this by noting that all human females have similar mitochondrial DNA. We would prove that humans and chimpanzees have a common ancestor by noting that humans and chimpanzees have similar DNA. And, yes, we’ve done exactly that and humans and chimpanzees DO have similar DNA. What DNA evidence are you looking at that lets you believe in a human common ancestor but not a human/chimpanzee common ancestor?

        Funny, then why is it we can’t point to a mitochondrial ape-Eve, or at least show that apes have the same mitochondria? Again, you seem to think similarity is all that’s required. Well, Ford Mustangs look pretty similar over the years, too. Similarity proves nothing. It’s not even good evidence.

        Among closely related organisms, we see a lot of similarities in DNA, even among the junk DNA that literally has no function. Among distantly related organisms, we see very different DNA, even when that DNA is doing the same thing. Humans and chimpanzees have almost identical hemoglobin; humans and chickens have very different hemoglobin; and this is consistent with every other indicator we have that humans are closer to chimpanzees than chickens.

        Again with the similarity argument. And as I suspected, you aren’t familiar with the fact that some “junk” DNA has been determined to have function. And who’s to say the rest of it won’t end up having function, too? And why, from a design standpoint, would you expect birds and humans to have the same hemoglobin anyway? You seem to have completely missed the point of my argument, which is that designers make things more similarly if they’re going to be more similar. E.g., tractor trailers are more like each other than like other cars, and they’re more like other cars than they’re like motorcycles, and they’re more like motorcycles than they are like tricycles. Yet they’re all designed. But you seem to think that when this happens in nature, it’s evidence for something other than design. Why?

        To break a creationist’s claim that evolution can’t produce multicellular organisms, I just need to show it could have happened; as long as I can find evidence of evolution elsewhere, I’m justified in believing it happened here too.

        But you don’t have evidence of evolution elsewhere. Further, you seem to have reverted to the idea that it’s my burden to prove evolution wrong by showing that it could not have happened. But if my only goal is to show that one can be a creationist and yet be rational, honest, and educated, all I have to show is that evolution is not well-supported enough for me to change my mind.

        Interesting. So do you have a hypothesis for how, given that in 1859 most biologists were ingrained in the creationist paradigm and had their entire worldview built on it, evolution managed to take over? We’ve had the fair fight in academia between creation and evolution; in fact, we’ve had the fight with *creation* having the advantage of being the established paradigm. Evolution won, and it won before we even had the DNA evidence. And science is supposed to have revolutions where the established paradigm is overthrown. Quantum mechanics. General relativity. The germ theory of disease. The Copernican revolution. Questioning established dogma is what scientists do. Maybe they don’t do it as often as they could…but based on everything science is, if evolution really was a theory with no support, biologists would notice.

        Simple enough: most people who went into biology did it because they were evolutionists who wanted to prove their view, not to mention the fact that the fight has definitely not been “fair” because the Supreme Court ruled long ago that creationism (and so far creation science) can’t be taught in schools. How’s that a fair fight? One view isn’t even allowed! As for scientists questioning the established paradigm, try reading some history. Just about all the instances you mention were fought over tooth and nail. Revolutions in science only come when overwhelming evidence makes it impossible to continue with the current paradigm. Consider Thomas Kuhn and his book, fairly accurately described in the following Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift. Science resists change until it has no choice. But that will likely never happen with evolution because the theory is unfalsifiable, or virtually so.

      • Ariel

        Ever heard of the tree trunk that extended through multiple strata? Or human footprints found in dinosaur prints? Probably not, but as I say that’s because evolutionists simply disregard what doesn’t fit their theory, so they don’t tell the average fellow about this stuff.

        These polystrate fossils? Yes, I’ve heard of them. As I understand it, they are evidence that strata deposited by volcanos and floods can form quickly. I don’t think anyone doubts that. I’m not quite sure how this disproves evolution. Is the argument that this proves that *all* rather than *some* strata formed rapidly? I think that’s an overly ambitious deduction. Do we see any polystrate fossils where the fossils of the tree trunks pass through layers that we would otherwise think are thousands or millions of years apart? I agree, that would be a problem for evolution and for geology.

        The first creationist website I found talking about dinosaur and human footprints was at http://www.bible.ca/tracks/taylor-trail.htm. According to Wikipedia a lot of the footprints in the Paluxy River were hoaxes. Looking at the photos of the alleged new human footprints on the creationist site, I’m not convinced that those are human rather than from a small dinosaur. (Look at them–they’re just human-foot-sized depressions, and if creationists look at enough deposits, they’re going to find *some* footprints of the right size!) I’ve found other websites that agree with me. So, not convincing; do you have other human/dinosaur prints I should look at?

        The fight has definitely not been “fair” because the Supreme Court ruled long ago that creationism (and so far creation science) can’t be taught in schools.

        In the early 20th century, William Jennings Bryan campaigned for (and, in some states, got) legislation passed forbidding the teaching of *evolution*. That was the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1927–*creationism* was mandated by the state of Tennessee, *evolution* was the underdog theory. The Tennessee law stayed on the books until 1967. According to Wikipedia, Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 just struck down an “equal time” clause requiring the teaching of creationism. So as far as I can tell, up until 1987 creationism had the advantage in some states in that teachers were legally required to give it equal time even if they thought it was wrong. That’s 128 years of unfair advantage for creationism, 25 years of advantage for evolution. Can you tell me where the teaching of creation science was actually forbidden, so I can look it up?

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:
        As I recall, there is at least one example of a polystrate fossil that extends into strata that are supposedly millions of years apart by the standard evolutionist view. I note the Wikipedia article you linked to doesn’t really discuss the age of the strata in the examples it cites, and I can’t find another site quickly that does, so I won’t press that point; I read this several years ago before law school, so a lot of it has flown the coop of my memory banks. However, the main point is that if strata A, B, and C can be laid in quick succession, how do you know strata X, Y, and Z weren’t? And before you give the obvious “because we can date them” response, consider that radiological dating is actually quite useless. The reason for this is that to accurately measure the age of something using a radiological method, you need to know the decay rate, assume it’s constant (and that can no longer be assumed: http://www.icr.org/article/6957/; http://creation.com/neutrinos-not-so-neutral), and, most importantly, know the initial conditions, i.e. how much of the mother and daughter elements were present in an organism when it died, or in a layer of rock when it was deposited. That last bit of information is unknowable.

        As for footprints, my info may be a bit out of date; I haven’t kept up with the most recent developments due to law school and other things. But those were just the top-of-my-head examples. Cremo’s book is literally full of this stuff. Also, recently some bird tracks were found where they really shouldn’t be either: http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/literature/2009/06/16/did_birds_fly_in_the_late_triassic. (While I’m thinking about it, someone remind me how to embed a link using the text codes :P).

        As to who had an unfair advantage, while it’s true that Aguillard was the first case to squarely say that creationism couldn’t be taught in schools, that was more or less the de facto position for years prior. Epperson v. Arkansas, for instance, struck down a statute forbidding the teaching of evolution on the grounds that it was religiously motivated, back in 1968. Now, that didn’t forbid the teaching of creationism outright, but by implication it did, and if you think about it the only reason Aguillard didn’t happen sooner is because creationism hadn’t been taught for a long time, precisely because most states had gotten the message that teaching creationism was going get them in legal trouble. I’m not even sure where your 128 years number is coming from, but I’m assuming you’re dating back to Darwin from 1987. But that’s a strange way to calculate it given that even you admit that Bryan was getting states to pass anti-evolution laws in 1927 or so. If you take that through Epperson (1968), you’ve got about 40 years. And after Epperson is about the same. Besides, by the time Epperson was handed down the universities were pretty much all teaching evolution; otherwise there wouldn’t have been a need for a law, would there? Even aside from legal issues, though, you’ve got intra-academic politics, which are very skewed in favor of evolution and against creationism/ID, as amply demonstrated by the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

      • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

        Gosh, ignore a thread for a week and it just explodes in SIWOTI. I haven’t got time to hit on more than a few details:

        About isotope dating: ….know the initial conditions, i.e. how much of the mother and daughter elements were present in an organism when it died, or in a layer of rock when it was deposited. That last bit of information is unknowable.

        Flatly false. It is in fact, an ignorant thing to say. Begin your education here: http://talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-index.html#radio, in particular the FAQ on the isochron method which in no way depends on knowing the initial parent/daughter ratio.

        As for footprints, my info may be a bit out of date; I haven’t kept up with the most recent developments due to law school and other things. But those were just the top-of-my-head examples.

        Uh, just how long have you been in law school? The Paluxy prints (the usual favorite site to cite) have been debunked for *decades*. Even the ICR has abandoned them, last I heard. See: http://talkorigins.org/faqs/paluxy.html

        Cremo’s book is literally full of this stuff.

        Cremo is grinding his own axe, specifically a Hindu flavour of creationism. His books may be full of something, but it ain’t evidence; they are considered pseudoscience by real archeologists.

        Even aside from legal issues, though, you’ve got intra-academic politics, which are very skewed in favor of evolution and against creationism/ID, as amply demonstrated by the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

        ….a pseudo-documentary beating the familiar drum of faux-persecution. See: http://www.expelledexposed.com/

        Ever heard of junk DNA? The stuff that turned out not to be junk after all?

        News: most of it is still junk. Here are a bunch of posts from the blog of a biochemist who fights this particular lie all the time: https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Asandwalk.blogspot.com+%22junk+dna%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

        That’s enough to indicate that you (Josh) are NOT well-informed on this subject; you have done nothing beyond regurgitating standard creationist tripe, long debunked. The charge of Ignorance stands.

      • Ariel

        While I’m thinking about it, someone remind me how to embed a link using the text codes

        <a href=”http://talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-index.html”>TalkOrigins</a> TalkOrigins

      • Ariel

        Let’s see:

        1859–1925 (66 years): Evolution was known and (to the best of my knowledge) there were no laws, one way or the other, about the teaching of evolution vs. creationism. This was fair in the sense of equal opportunity for ideas; that is, each teacher presumably taught whichever theory they felt had the better support. For at least some time towards the beginning, it was unfair in the sense of equal time; that is, it probably took a while for your average high school teacher to learn about and start teaching evolution.

        1925–1967 (42 years): Teaching evolution was illegal in Tennessee. This gave creationism an unfair advantage (at least in Tennessee) both in the sense of equal time and in the sense of equal opportunity. (Arkansas had a law like this 1928–1968. I don’t know how many other states had similar laws.)

        1981–1987 (6 years): In Louisiana, equal time for creationism and evolution was mandated. This was fair in the sense of equal time; by this time, evolution was sufficiently accepted that this law was usually unfair (in favor of creationism) in the sense of equal opportunity.

        There was a lot of other stuff going on which makes it clear that even after 1968, there were some schools where creationism was taught alongside of evolution.

        So I think you’re right: “128 years of unfair advantage for creationism” is overstating the case. There were about 40 years of definite advantage for creationism in some states (Tennessee and Arkansas), and I get to claim either some of the 20 years after Epperson (on the grounds that “fair” is “equal opportunity”) or some of the 66 years before the Butler Act (on the grounds that “fair” is “equal time”), but not both.

        There. On this point, I was wrong. I admit it. Are you also willing to admit that your statement that “the Supreme Court ruled long ago that creationism (and so far creation science) can’t be taught in schools” is also wrong? I don’t think you can POSSIBLY put this any earlier than Epperson (1968), and really I don’t think you should put it before Aguillard (1987), and for a theory that’s been around since 1859, that isn’t “long ago”.

      • Joshua

        @Eamon Knight:
        Please note even your source for isochron dating says that it’s only UNLIKELY to create a line of the conditions are violated. Beyond that, I’ll have to do some research and get back to you later; I’m trying to answer a lot right now and that site is going to take time to digest; I haven’t done math in a while. :P

        I’m not sure I’m even thinking of the Paluxy site. And I might have been confusing human/dino prints for some other combination that’s more recent. Regardless, this point has been addressed already.

        Whether Cremo is grinding an axe or not is irrelevant. Much (not everything perhaps) of what is in his book is simply data that can’t be argued with; fossils are fossils. You can’t call it pseudo-science just because you disagree with the implications.

        Regarding Expelled, just from looking at it a little bit it seems like it’s mostly quibbling (I’ll read more, but again, I’m in a bit of a hurry).

        Regarding junk DNA, correction: Most of it is not known NOT to be junk. And that’s my whole point; calling it junk DNA is yet another argument from ignorance, which is all the “theory” evolution really is. So you can’t call me ignorant on that basis.

        @ Ariel:
        I will admit it wasn’t as long ago as I thought. But when you’re my age, even 1987 seems like a long time ago. :P

      • Caravelle

        @Joshua : Fossils are fossils (except when they’re fossil-looking bits of rock, or combinations of fossils artfully combined by Chinese farmers… paleontologists are trained to tell the difference but laypeople and crackpots are sometimes confused), but Cremo’s arguments are based on what strata the fossils were found in. Where a fossil occurs is just as important as the fossil itself, and for the fossils Cremo brings up this seems to often be “in a 19th-century alehouse in the hands of some workmen angling for a beer”. There’s a reason modern archeologists and paleontologists are rigorous about documenting and photographing their sites and finds.
        http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mom/groves.html

        And regarding junk DNA : you deftly moved the goalposts on that one; “junk DNA isn’t junk” is an actual argument you can draw conclusions from, “maybe junk DNA is functional, we don’t know !” is an expression of ignorance and implies nothing either way.
        And in fact geneticists do know a lot about noncoding DNA; you can find out by comparing the DNA of different individuals. There are some bits of noncoding DNA we don’t know the function of, but it’s very similar across very different species, which suggests that particular sequence it has is important and can’t be changed willy-nilly, i.e. it is functional after all. On the other hand there are some bits of DNA that vary wildly between species and even individuals, which means the sequence at that location (or even the existence of said location) can’t matter much at all. That’s the epitome of junk DNA, and we can identify it, and there is quite a bit of it.

      • Ariel

        @Joshua,

        I will admit it wasn’t as long ago as I thought. But when you’re my age, even 1987 seems like a long time ago.

        Okay, just making sure I’m dealing with a rational creationist here. :-)

        Going back to your very first point, that Libby Anne needs more categories, I think that to encompass you, you mostly just have to tweak Category 3 a bit. Logically, honest creationists consist of (1) people who have never looked at the physical evidence for evolution, (4) people who have looked at the physical evidence and concluded that creationism is a better explanation than evolution, and (3) people who are basing their decision on something other than the physical evidence.

        I think that’s the logically possible categories. Category 4 is probably necessary when discussing history; Georges Cuvier, for example, seems to have based his objections to evolution on what he saw in the fossil record. But from the point of view of Libby Anne, me, or anyone else who thinks evolution is not only true but obvious, when talking about current creationists, Category 4 can be safely neglected until we find an actual example of such a person.

        Looking over your responses to me (I haven’t read all your responses to Anoita), it appears that your positive arguments for creationism over evolution are mostly your philosophical argument that a final cause is preferable to an infinite regress and that an uncaused intelligent designer is the best final cause you can think of. In your original post, you don’t argue that “this sequence of fossils is better explained by creation than evolution”. You didn’t argue “this sequence of fossils contradicts evolution”. You just argued “absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence–this sequence of fossils *could* have happened even if all species were created at once”. This is a perfectly fine way to argue if you have some convincing argument for creationism other than the fossil record, but is a terrible way to use the fossil record to decide in favor of creationism. Same for DNA/morphology: I argued that we see similar design for dissimilar organs (hands/feet/bat wings/cat paws) and dissimilar design for similar organs (bat wings/bird wings, hemoglobin), and you argued that there could be an unknown design reason why human and chimpanzee hemoglobin needs to be similar and human and chicken hemoglobin needs to be different. You consistently interpret uncertainty in the best way for creationism:

        Some “junk” DNA has been determined to have function. And who’s to say the rest of it won’t end up having function, too?

        We don’t know how much mutation can occur before DNA is useless, we don’t know what kinds of DNA sequences will lead to viable organisms (outside the existing ones, obviously), and thus we really have no earthly idea how evolution could occur in terms of genetics.

        We don’t know everything about how DNA works, and that is support for creationism because junk DNA could have a hidden purpose, and that is evidence against evolution because evolution could turn out to be genetically impossible. I’m not arguing that you’re being unreasonable, given that you already believe in creationism for other reasons–I’m arguing that you are not using the physical evidence as your basis for deciding between creationism and evolution.

        So that’s why I think you’re a Category 3 and not a Category 4; you seem to be basing your decision between creationism and evolution on your philosophical argument re: final causes, not on a fair and impartial look at the physical evidence.

      • Joshua

        @Caravelle:
        It seems to me your (well, the article you linked) argument regarding Cremo is that because it is preferable for fossils to be found and catalogued in a scientifically rigorous way to make sure we know what strata it came from, therefore we should disregard all fossils not found in such a way. I think we both know that’s absurd, but that’s really all that argument boils down to. Also, the article mentions that eoliths are “universally discounted,” but by whom? Evolutionists! It’s a bias game no matter how you look at it. Granted, not every piece of rock Cremo discusses has great weight, but remember, he’s published more since that first book, and even some in the first book is at least notable; you can’t easily dismiss every last bit of it.

        As to your argument about DNA, my argument is NOT, as you suggest, that “we don’t know.” Rather, it’s the fact that evolutionists continually claim that they DO know something (this strand of DNA has no function) and then prove themselves wrong a few years later. You’re making the same mistake everyone else here is making: thinking I have the burden of proving evolution wrong. Quite the opposite is true. You, and anyone else who agrees with the taxonomy Libby Ann wrote, have the burden of proving that evolution is not only feasible, but that it’s a better explanation than creationism, but you can’t even show that evolution is scientific. It’s not falsifiable (to the best of our knowledge), and it can’t be tested (to the best of our knowledge) in any sense meaningful to this discussion.

        @Ariel:
        It seems you’ve essentially admitted that I can be educated, honest, and rational, and still be a creationist, but your points suggest that I’m saying something I’m not. Again, I have never said that any of the things you reference are evidence against evolution, nor have I interpreted uncertainties in favor of creationism. Quite the opposite–I’ve concluded that because things are uncertain, they don’t lend weight to either side, and since there is NO evidence for evolution, why would I believe it? You still haven’t given me any examples of such evidence. So yes, I am basing my decision on something other than the physical evidence, at least in part (there’s plenty of physical evidence to suggest evolution can’t happen, e.g. statistics and the fact that we don’t see clear transitions between well-defined phenotypes), but that’s because it’s all I have. I have never tried to prove that creationism is a better scientific explanation (better explanation, yes, but not by reason of science), because as science is defined neither view is scientific at all, for the reasons I pointed out above in my response to Caravelle.

        @Eamon:
        Still haven’t had time to look into your stuff in depth (as usual, holiday weekends are busier than normal ones), but I don’t think the math of isochron dating shows much beyond the fact that things in the same sediments start with the same proportion of parent/daughter isotopes. I might be missing something in the math, but that’s my conclusion after an admittedly brief amount of thought on it. And my hunch seems to be backed up.

      • Ariel

        Joshua,

        Based on the evidence for evolution that I’ve seen and thought through, my hypothesis is that a modern “educated, rational, honest creationist” pretty much has to be basing their argument on something other than the physical evidence, and thus is part of Libby Anne’s Category 3. I also think that Libby Anne’s categories are a taxonomy of all observed modern creationists, not all historical or logically possible ones. In other words, it’s not enough for you to argue that members of Category 4 could exist; to convince me I need a new taxon, you need to show me that members do exist.

        You, and anyone else who agrees with the taxonomy Libby Ann wrote, have the burden of proving that evolution is not only feasible, but that it’s a better explanation than creationism.

        If I was arguing that Category 4s couldn’t exist, sure. All I’m arguing is that based on the evidence I’ve seen, they don’t exist. To prove that they do, you have to produce someone who (a) is a creationist and (b) can explain their reasoning well enough to prove that they are educated and rational. This isn’t the same thing as proving creationism–but the burden of proof isn’t entirely on us either.

        You can’t even show that evolution is scientific. It’s not falsifiable (to the best of our knowledge), and it can’t be tested (to the best of our knowledge) in any sense meaningful to this discussion.

        I’m not sure quite what you mean by “scientific” here. But the theory that all currently living animals are descended from a common ancestor is falsifiable. Here are some observations that would falsify it: Cremo successfully proving that anatomically modern humans existed a billion years ago without any evidence that other mammals were that old, an animal species whose DNA codon table was different from the standard one, a modern species with traits from two widely separated groups (e.g., a species with feathers and hard eggs but that also produced milk and had batlike wings). There are lots of others. Falsifiability just means a logically possible way to convince yourself that you are wrong.

        There’s plenty of physical evidence to suggest evolution can’t happen, e.g. statistics and the fact that we don’t see clear transitions between well-defined phenotypes.

        Can you tell me more about these statistics? I want to look them up. As for clear transitions between well-defined phenotypes, we have seen transitional fossils, we have seen phenotype changes in response to selective pressure, and evolutionary theory doesn’t predict that big changes should happen fast enough for us to have seen it in the last few centuries; if you get to count “we didn’t see apelike ancestors turn into humans!” as evidence against evolution, I get to count “we’ve never seen God create a new species ex nihilo” as evidence against creation.

      • Caravelle

        @Joshua: It isn’t about disregarding fossils, on the contrary, it’s about taking all fossils into account. It’s like with drug trials; if you have a hundred studies looking a the effect of a drug, some of which show it’s very effective, others showing it’s less effective, and some showing no effect at all, you might want to average them out and say the truth is somewhere in the middle, that the drug is moderately effective. But that ignores that all drug trials aren’t created equal; double-blinded studies are more accurate than unblinded ones, trials involving lots of people are more accurate than those that involve few people, etc. If you compare each study’s quality with its results (possibly by plotting a blobbogram) and you see that the better a study, the smaller the effect size it shows, with the very best studies showing no effect, that means the true answer is “no effect”. We’re not disregarding all the studies that did show an effect; quite the opposite, it’s by including them that you can see the trend, and the trend is what tells you what’s what.

        Similarly, we have mountains of fossil evidence but it isn’t all of uniform quality. Some fossils are more damaged than others, some sites are harder to date than others, some finds are better-documented than others, etc. If you have a hypothesis in paleontology, and out of all the fossil evidence only the worst-quality fossils support your hypothesis, that’s evidence the hypothesis is false. You don’t have to disregard any fossil to come to that conclusion, you just need to look at the evidence as a whole.

      • Joshua

        @Caravelle:

        If you have a hypothesis in paleontology, and out of all the fossil evidence only the worst-quality fossils support your hypothesis, that’s evidence the hypothesis is false. You don’t have to disregard any fossil to come to that conclusion, you just need to look at the evidence as a whole.

        That’s so patently false I’m not sure where to begin. I suppose I’ll simply repeat my continued point that any argument from the fossil record along such lines is necessarily an argument from ignorance, and you just doubled that problem. The fact that only the worst quality fossils support X is NOT evidence that X isn’t true, it’s at best an argument that X is not well supported. Consider this, what if we find an obviously man-made tool in the Cambrian tomorrow? Is the fact that all those “bad quality” fossils are still all but one of the fossils supporting the hypothesis evidence against that hypothesis? This is the problem with arguing from ignorance–what you claim to know today based on a lack of information could be completely blown out of the water tomorrow by a new find. Your entire argument assumes that none of Cremo’s evidence is anything other than “worst quality,” that “worst-quality” means “so bad it can be disregarded” (yeah, you argued that’s not what’s happening, but actually you’ve gone farther than that by turning this into evidence AGAINST Cremo’s hypothesis), and that we can know that X didn’t exist at time Y because we haven’t found a fossil of X (or implying the existence of X) in Z strata, presumed to be laid down during time Y. The last two assumptions are obviously untenable, and I doubt even the first one is accurate.

        Also, for anyone still interested in the “junk DNA” debate, it seems even less of the genome is “junk” now.

      • Caravelle

        And how do you know we found a tool in the Cambrian ? They don’t come with labels. We know because the person who found them tells us they found them in Cambrian strata. If that person is a competent stratigrapher, documented and photographed their find extensively, report its location so anyone can come and see the place for themselves, and the place was dated in a reliable manner, and so on, then we can be highly confident that the tool is indeed from the Cambrian period. Not 100% confident, humans always make mistakes, but all those protocols are designed to minimize those mistakes so we can be confident enough for all purposes.
        If all we have is the secondhand report of a layperson, our confidence is much lower.

        Now if there were actually tools in Cambrian strata, who would we expect to find it, 21st century professional paleontologists or 19th century workmen on their lunch break ? The answer is : either. Fossils aren’t shy, hiding from paleontologists and the flashes of cameras and preferring to be found by salt-of-the-earth types. In fact nowadays they’re much more likely to be found by professional paleontologists who have the technology and the knowledge of where they’re likely to be found.

        So if they were actually tools in Cambrian strata we’d expect them to be found by all kinds of methods, with a bias towards recent, well-equipped professional paleontologists.
        If there weren’t any tools in Cambrian strata we’d still expect there to be claims some were found – humans make mistakes and all. And we’d expect most of those claims to involve the most statistically noisy, potentially-mistake-prone fossil finds, and under a certain level of reliability we wouldn’t expect to find such claims at all.

        Now what do we observe ? The second. So that’s evidence for the second hypothesis.
        I don’t know whether this kind of inference is formally taught in paleontology but it is formally used in medical science, and the principle is true regardless of the domain.

      • Joshua

        @Caravelle:
        I suppose you think all of Cremo’s evidence is just stuff found by one random layperson reported secondhand, then?

        Clearly you’re taking this hypothetical of mine way too seriously and missing the larger point. First, we wouldn’t expect to find tools in the Cambrian because the Cambrian is full of FISH, not primates, indicating it’s really a marine sediment in the first place. Second, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Cambrian or any other strata, the fact is that you can’t predict that you’ll find a tool in a given layer of rock without first having reason to believe humans were present there at the right time with tools capable of being preserved, so this idea that paleontologists are “more likely” to find tools is absurd; they all start with the assumption that they WON’T find tools! It’s not like scientists are digging everywhere, so they can’t find everything. You’re also assuming none of the fossils Cremo refers to were found by scientists, but again, that’s a faulty assumption.

        Finally, you wouldn’t “expect” fossils to be found at all in the overarching sense, because fossilization is a rare event in the first place. What we do find we find by luck, or else with the knowledge that other stuff was fossilized here and so it’s more likely other stuff was too. It’s not like scientists can actually predict that they’ll find fossils (let alone fossils of a specific type) in a given piece of rock. Can they predict they’ll find some in a given strata that stretches for countless square miles? Sure, but that’s not helping your argument much.

        Frankly, none of what you just said even addresses what I’ve said.

      • Ariel

        Joshua,

        This is the problem with arguing from ignorance–what you claim to know today based on a lack of information could be completely blown out of the water tomorrow by a new find.

        If I get sick tomorrow, I’m going to go to the hospital. And I’m going to take whatever medication the doctors there prescribe me. I’m going to do that even though nobody knows everything about how the human body works, and even though I’m almost certain that in a few hundred years we will have much better treatment for whatever it is I have. Why? Because whatever they tell me to do is our current best guess as to what I should do. Similarly, the map of natural history given by the fossil evidence is the current best guess as to the history of the world. And even though it isn’t perfect, there’s still enough of it to allow us to make a pretty darn good educated assessment of whether or not creationism is more likely than evolution.

        Are you familiar with Bayes’s Theorem? If not, are you willing to learn it? If you’re comfortable with math in general and probability theory in particular, it’s actually pretty simple. This is a pretty nice explanation. And I’m a math teacher; if I can put my arguments in Bayesian language, they will be much easier for me to explain. (Also, I’m a math teacher. I’d like to talk about Bayes’s theorem, and spreading awareness of mathematics is a win for me regardless of what you end up believing about evolution.)

        Incidentally, I’d like to hear your opinion of my comment to Jeff below regarding feet as evidence for common descent. I’m not claiming that feet on their own are conclusive proof of evolution, but I think that they are pretty good as one piece of evidence. Comments?

      • Caravelle

        Joshua:

        Frankly, none of what you just said even addresses what I’ve said.

        Sorry. I was reacting to your first sentence and trying to explain myself better, since you were calling “patently false” a well-understood principle of meta-analysis, and the rest of your post wasn’t very clear to me. You seemed to be accusing me of arguing from ignorance, and giving examples where a new fossil find would change my mind as if that were a problem instead of the whole point of science. And you then accuse me of taking that hypothetical “too seriously”, which is plain bizarre given it’s your hypothetical. What do you think would happen if we found good evidence for man-made tools in the Cambrian ?

        But this misunderstanding here might be key:

        we can know that X didn’t exist at time Y because we haven’t found a fossil of X (or implying the existence of X) in Z strata, presumed to be laid down during time Y.

        That is not quite the argument. You’re talking as if fossils are randomly distributed, and so we know X did or did not exist at time Y only depending on the fossils we find for time Y. That is not the case; what the fossil evidence shows us is a definite progression across the layers – showing no vertebrates or complex land life in the Cambrian, no land vertebrates until the Devonian, no mammals until the Triassic, no primates until the Paleogene, no use of stone tools until Homo habilis, and successive tools being more and more refined and complex while hominid fossils are more and more human-like.
        Those are the fossils we look at when we ask ourselves whether X existed at time Y or not. If there are no fossils of X at time Y but there are some at times Y+1 or Y-1 then we might say provisionally that there were no X at time Y, but we wouldn’t be surprised to find out we were wrong. If there are fossils of X at time Y-1 AND at time Y+1, then we know that X existed at time Y as well even though we don’t have any fossils for that time. On the other hand if there is no fossil even remotely like X up to time Y+10 – and in fact there is a progression of primitive X-like fossils from Y+6 to Y+10 that end up indistinguishable from X at time Y+10 – then we’re pretty sure there were no X at time Y. Not just because of the lack of X fossils at time Y, but because of the fossils we found at times Y+6 to Y+10 that paint a picture incompatible with X existing at Y.

        And that’s what I’m talking about when I say to look at ALL the evidence instead of cherry-picking a few bits, and when I talk about more reliable evidence not supporting a hypothesis. All the best hominid fossils we have show Australopithecines in the Pliocene, and later there is Homo habilis which is more human-like than Australopithecines and has rudimentary tool use, and later there is Homo erectus which is even more human-like and has more complex tool use, and later there is Homo sapiens. That picture is what the best evidence we have converges on – and if the only evidence showing a different picture (like Homo sapiens in the Pliocene) is dubious, that only strengthens the case. Not just because that evidence is dubious, but because of the combination of the reliable and dubious evidence we have and the overall picture that emerges.

        As for some specific points of your latest post :

        I suppose you think all of Cremo’s evidence is just stuff found by one random layperson reported secondhand, then?

        Dunno, haven’t read the book, I’m just going by what other people who’ve read it say, and they said all his evidence was similarly dubious. And I notice you’re not giving any counter-examples.

        Clearly you’re taking this hypothetical of mine way too seriously and missing the larger point. First, we wouldn’t expect to find tools in the Cambrian because the Cambrian is full of FISH, not primates, indicating it’s really a marine sediment in the first place.

        There are no fish in the Cambrian but there are Cambrian paleosols so I have no clue what you’re on about there. And it’s easy for human tools to turn up in marine sediment.

        this idea that paleontologists are “more likely” to find tools is absurd; they all start with the assumption that they WON’T find tools! It’s not like scientists are digging everywhere, so they can’t find everything.

        Not expecting to find tools doesn’t make tools invisible to you if they happen to be where you’re digging; if they’re there, they’ll be found just fine. But you seem to be saying that paleontologists are not digging where there are tools to be found.
        But paleontologists are digging pretty much all over the place. They dig where they expect to find tools. They dig where they expect to find dinosaur fossils. They dig where they expect to find trilobite fossils. They dig where they expect to find stromatolites. And the places paleontologists don’t dig, the geologists do, looking for ancient rocks and oil and such.
        So where are those tools hiding, exactly ? And how come back in the 19th century they turned up in the quarries of the US and Europe, which is pretty much paleontology’s backyard, but now they’re apparently someplace paleontologists aren’t looking – miles deep underground maybe, or in North Korea ?
        It’s not like we don’t find tools or hominid fossils – we find them all the time. It’s just that in Pliocene rocks we seem to find Australopithecines instead of Homo sapiens and in Holocene rocks we find Homo sapiens instead of Australopithecines.

        (also, we absolutely do expect fossils to occur in an overarching sense – fossilization is rare but living things are common, so even if one organism in a million fossilizes you still end up with a lot of fossils. Fossilization is also very variable – some groups fossilize so well that we use their fossils to write on blackboards or we burn them for heat, others fossilize so little we’ve found no fossils of them whatsoever. Hominids are actually decent fossilizers – we have hard bones and live in all kinds of environments. Tools are even better.)

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:
        Comparing evolution to how we treat disease is a terrible analogy. For one thing, we can actually test what happens when a drug is administered to a human with a given disease. We don’t even know HOW to test whether macroevolution is POSSIBLE, and it’s IMPOSSIBLE to test whether it DID happen in the past. Furthermore, it doesn’t address my point, because medicine is based on what we DO know (administering X chemical causes Y effect in person with Z condition just about every time), whereas evolution is ALL about what we don’t know (what species existed at what periods in history). You’ll probably try to argue that it’s what we see in the fossil record, not what we don’t, that evolutionists use, but that objection is invalid precisely because the types of inferences evolutionists draw (e.g. humans are at the end of the evolutionary chain) only make sense if you assume what you don’t see in the fossil record wasn’t there. So you haven’t solved the problem of arguing from ignorance at all. I agree that there’s good evidence to help us decide whether evolution or creationism is the better explanation, but I win that one hands down. Counting what we do see in the fossil record, we see distinct phenotypes, not lots of gradual progression. You can put what we do see in a progression, yes, but there are always distinct breaks. Moreover, based on what I posted above regarding junk DNA, it just got way harder to explain how all that functional DNA could have evolved in the time span evolutionists claim. But the best evidence of all is from your own field: the mathematical odds of evolution ever happening by chance are so small they’re basically nil. Speaking of math, I will try to have Bayes’ Theorem digested by the end of the weekend. As for your comment to Jeff about feet, given the astronomical odds against evolving nails in the first place, I don’t see how your 95% is very impressive. Furthermore, you’re assuming that the nails are of no value and that there’s no design benefit in having a big toe with two bones with smaller toes having three. Once upon a time, scientists thought “veistigial organs” like, oh, the appendix, had no use either. Well, given that, why should I buy your assertion that there’s no reason for similar design in this case?

        @Caravelle:
        I’ll have to address your points later; lunch break is over.

      • Ariel

        This comment is just to see if I can type Bayes’s theorem out here and have it display legibly.

        P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A) P(B|A)*P(A) + P(B|~A)*P(~A)

      • Caravelle

        @Joshua : sorry my reply was so long; take all the time you want !
        In the meantime just a short comment : “Furthermore, it doesn’t address my point, because medicine is based on what we DO know (administering X chemical causes Y effect in person with Z condition just about every time), whereas evolution is ALL about what we don’t know (what species existed at what periods in history).” Hah, if only. Drug trials and meta-analyses are needed because chemicals vary wildly in their effects depending on all kinds of factors, and so they need to be tested on large groups of people so we can bring statistics into it. You could just as easily say the type of inferences doctors draw only make sense if they assume people who wouldn’t react like the people in the drug trials did don’t exist.
        Sampling exists in all sciences. It does not equate to saying things that aren’t in the sample aren’t there; it’s more complex than that. If it equates to an argument from ignorance for you then you have an issue with all of science.

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:
        I think I’ve got a grasp on Bayes’ theorem, but just to make sure we’re on the same page, I’m going to write it out in normal language. Bayes’ theorem states that the probability of A, given B is also true, is equal to the probability of B given A, multiplied by the probability of A, all of which is divided by the probability of B. Your most recent comment seems to have gone a bit farther, so you’ll have to explain your modification.

        @Caravelle:
        It’s not that your comment was long, it was just a busy week and I needed time to find a counterexample in Cremo’s book. Now, to respond:
        Your “well understood” principle of meta-analysis IS an argument from ignorance, whether you like it or not. Or even if not an argument from ignorance, it’s near akin. The mere fact that a proposition is supported by only the lowest quality evidence is not evidence against that proposition, no matter how you look at it. It might mean that it’s a weakly supported proposition, but it’s not evidence AGAINST the proposition. Because at most, if only the worst evidence supports it, then you could say there’s no evidence FOR it, but if you argue from there that it’s a reason the hypothesis is FALSE (not merely unsupported), you have argued from ignorance. It’s that simple, and no amount of wordsmithing will avoid the problem.
        As to what the fossil record shows us, it only shows a “progression across layers” IF you ASSUME that what we don’t see didn’t exist, which is an argument from ignorance again. Of course, you also have to assume that the strata are dated like you think they are, but there are numerous problems with that as well, as I’ve mentioned before.

        On the other hand if there is no fossil even remotely like X up to time Y+10 – and in fact there is a progression of primitive X-like fossils from Y+6 to Y+10 that end up indistinguishable from X at time Y+10 – then we’re pretty sure there were no X at time Y. Not just because of the lack of X fossils at time Y, but because of the fossils we found at times Y+6 to Y+10 that paint a picture incompatible with X existing at Y.

        OK, the first part of that is classic argument from ignorance. The second part makes no sense, because nothing about the fact that you find dinosaurs in Y strata says that “later” organisms would be “incompatible” with that time period. So unless you know of a reason why the discovery of fossils A-D in strata X gives us reason to believe creatures E-F would be “incompatible” with strata X, you’ve just said precisely nothing relevant to the argument.
        As for Cremo, I haven’t had time to go through the whole book to get all the examples found by scientists, but I’ve got two: A mining engineer and geologist named John T. Reid was prospecting specifically for fossils in Nevada when he came across what turned out to be a fossilized shoe sole. He found it in Triassic rock. He even had shoemakers look at it and they all verified it looked like a shoe sole; they even took microphotos that show the thread used to sew it. Naturally, one of the scientists with the American Museum of Natural History he showed it to dismissed it as a “freak of nature.” I.e., it didn’t fit with the Darwinian story, so it couldn’t really be what it obviously was. Second, an Italian professor and geologist named Giuseppe Ragazzoni who taught at the Technical Institute of Brescia was searching for fossils in Pliocene strata. He found cranial, thorax and other bones that were clearly human. Two geologists to whom he showed the fossils were incredulous as to the means of the discovery. Hmm…. He also ended up finding more, and he had workers excavating the area bring him other bones.
        As for fish in the Cambrian, by “fish” I mean marine animal life generally, not specifically bass, catfish, and similar organisms. And yes, human tools could end up in marine sediments, but it would be highly unlikely, and even more unlikely that any would be fossilized before decomposing.

        Not expecting to find tools doesn’t make tools invisible to you if they happen to be where you’re digging; if they’re there, they’ll be found just fine. But you seem to be saying that paleontologists are not digging where there are tools to be found.

        No, I’m saying that when paleontologists are digging in “pre-human” strata, they aren’t looking for tools because they assume they won’t be there. Indeed, the two stories I mentioned above from Cremo’s book show that the normal tendency is to simply disregard evidence that doesn’t fit the pat Darwinian tale, so actually I would expect tools to be “overlooked” in “earlier” strata.

        So where are those tools hiding, exactly ? And how come back in the 19th century they turned up in the quarries of the US and Europe, which is pretty much paleontology’s backyard, but now they’re apparently someplace paleontologists aren’t looking – miles deep underground maybe, or in North Korea ?

        They’re not hiding; they’re being hidden, to the extent they’ve been found. Again, see the two stories above.
        And we only expect to find fossils in the sense that we already know certain strata were laid down in such a way that fossilization could occur, and therefore we expect to find more fossils IN THAT STRATA because we assume there were plenty of other organisms living at the time that stratum was laid down. But in the overall sense, we don’t expect fossils, because if we didn’t already know that fossilization had occurred in a given stratum, we’d probably have no way of predicting whether that stratum A) was laid down where there were living organisms capable of being buried and B) whether it was laid down in a way compatible with fossilizing anything buried.
        Finally, as to your analogy to medicine, you seem to be missing the point. The very fact that drug TRIALS occur tells us that medical science is based on what we KNOW. We TEST drugs, and if they do what we want then they get sold as doing that very thing. And it’s not true that the inferences doctors draw “only make sense if they assume people who wouldn’t react like the people in the drug trials did don’t exist.” Because the inferences doctors draw are that X drug has Y effect in Z persons, based on the fact that it actually happened in the drug trial. If you’re talking about inferring that people WON’T have negative side effects not evidenced in the drug trials, nobody does infer that. They infer that it’s unlikely, perhaps, but not that it’s impossible. Indeed, the fact that we have countless examples of drugs that turned out to have nasty side-effects is good reason to doubt such inferences, if they really are made. So if anything, your argument just goes along with mine, because to the extent doctors DO make such inferences, they’re just as wrong as evolutionists. The mere fact that sampling exists doesn’t create problems with science; it’s the way you treat the fossil record that creates problems for your views on biology. Because the fossil record isn’t even remotely a scientific sample in the way a drug trial is; what gets buried and fossilized is random and we don’t know how or why those particular things were buried while others weren’t, we just know that certain things that we’ve found did get fossilized. So there’s no comparison.

      • Ariel

        @Joshua,

        Bayes’ theorem states that the probability of A, given B is also true, is equal to the probability of B given A, multiplied by the probability of A, all of which is divided by the probability of B.

        You found the right Bayes’s theorem. Putting this in symbols says
        P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/P(B).
        (This comment was an attempt to write it as
        P(B|A)*P(A)
        ————-
        P(B)
        without looking terrible. It didn’t work; the newline-and-bar vanished.)

        If A and ~A (not-A) are the only two possibilities, you can actually calculate P(B) as P(B)=P(B|A)*P(A)+P(B|~A)*P(~A), so Bayes’s theorem is

        P(A|B) = P(B|A)*P(A)/[P(B|A)*P(A)+P(B|~A)*P(~A)].

        That’s the only difference between you and the comment above.

  • http://autistscorner.blogspot.com Lindsay

    I actually haven’t ruled out the possibility that your Group #2 — creationist leaders/spokespeople, especially people with advanced degrees like Michael Behe — isn’t just ignorant of evolution. Biology is a big field, one that I managed to get an undergraduate degree in without ever taking a single class in evolutionary theory. (I studied biochemistry, like Behe). Evolution is a … “complex” isn’t the right word, because it’s not, really … a difficult concept? Some people find it incredibly intuitive, but others just can’t wrap their minds around it. And it’s not necessarily a function of intelligence or education … a person might be very smart in general, but have trouble with this particular idea because something about it goes against the grain of the way their mind normally works. I would imagine that being well-educated within the field of biology, and having been taught about evolution, would boost the overall likelihood that a person “gets” evolution, but I have seen that it doesn’t work for everybody. (Behe aside, there is also at least one creationist who is trained as a paleontologist. Such people *definitely* study evolution during their training, as biochemists may or may not do, and they certainly study it in more depth and detail than any of us biochemists do!)

    This phenomenon is not unique to biology … some people just CANNOT grasp algebra, or calculus, or geometry. Something in their minds resists it. But algebra isn’t culturally and religiously charged like evolution is, so there’s no political movement dedicated to the rejection of algebra.

    • Michael Busch

      >>there is also at least one creationist who is trained as a paleontologist<<

      If you're referring to Kurt Wise, who got a PhD in geology at Harvard working on paleontology with the late Stephen Jay Gould: Wise is almost the prototype of Libby Anne's Group 3. He knows his biology as well as his geology, and agrees that all of the evidence in the world points against creationism. And then he states that the evidence is irrelevant, because he cannot simultaneously accept the evidence and his religion. He has consciously chosen a narrowly-defined dogma over reality.

    • bitwise

      “But algebra isn’t culturally and religiously charged like evolution is, so there’s no political movement dedicated to the rejection of algebra.”

      Oh, how I wish you were right! Here’s a link about fundamentalist rejection of algebra. I’m so sorry.
      http://boingboing.net/2012/08/07/what-do-christian-fundamentali.html

      A choice nugget: “Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute….A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.” — ABeka.com

    • machintelligence

      Evolution is a … “complex” isn’t the right word, because it’s not, really … a difficult concept? Some people find it incredibly intuitive, but others just can’t wrap their minds around it

      You have, to butcher a metaphor, struck the nail squarely upon the thumb. Most people are so convinced that, because you have design, you must have a designer. Here is a quote from an early critic of Charles Darwin (MacKensie,1868) that sums it up quite nicely.

      In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that, IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin’s meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all of the achievements of creative skill.

      ( The capitalization was in the original, by the way, the author was in high dudgeon.)
      Darwin had it right, of course, natural selection is a mindless process for getting order and apparent design from the chaos of random chance using differential reproduction. The concept is so counter-intuitive that, even today, some people cannot fit their minds around it. The most common failing is to couch the whole thing as a false dichotomy (either through ignorance or based on some statement by an authority) between design and random chance. Evolution draws upon random mutation as a source for variability, but natural selection is anything but random. I guess that for some people, because the theory is “tainted” by randomness, the whole thing must be random.

      For a great article by Daniel Dennett see
      http://www.pnas.org/content/106/suppl.1/10061.full

  • bitwise

    Don’t worry Joshua; I think everyone here is happy to read a different opinion when it’s presented honestly and civilly, like you did. I’m not totally 100% settled on this issue myself, but I’ve been reading a lot, with what I hope is an open mind.

    There are a couple of things I want to mention about your comment. First, I completely understand what you mean about the similarities in DNA. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, too. But there are some DNA similarities that are difficult to account for as simply ‘same design for the same function’. For example, have you looked into the apparent fusion of human chromosome 2? Do some research on this, and you might find some interesting information. Also take a look at endogenous retroviruses. I’m not a biologist by any means, but basically these are remnants of ancestral viruses in the genome. Since they don’t serve a function, there’s no reason for them to be the same in a lineage of species’ DNA.

    The other thing I want to reply to is your comment that, “The only other type of evidence is DNA”. That’s not quite true. For example, there’s the entire field of biogeography, which studies the distribution of species over the world and provides quite a bit of evidence for evolution. If you’re interested, I recommend Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True. It has a ton of information of biogeographical evidence.

    • bitwise

      (Oops. My comment was meant to be in reply to Joshua above. Sorry!)

      • machintelligence

        Don’t feel bad. My replies also seem to sometimes get misplaced by the threading. I have taken to using blockquotes to indicate to whom and to what I am referring. :-)

    • Joshua

      @bitwise: I’ve heard about the chromosomal fusion, but I don’t see how that’s a problem. The chromosome could have been designed as fused in its original form, or if not it could at least be the case that it happens to be more likely than not to fuse, and therefore it wouldn’t be surprising to find it fused. The thing is, since we don’t have a full grasp of how DNA works yet, there could be a perfectly good design-oriented reason for the chromosome being that way in humans but not in apes. To say that it’s evidence for common ancestry is to assume that it’s bad design, because otherwise you’re essentially saying it’s evidence for common ancestry because it looks similar, which runs right back into my original criticism.

      As for biogeography, the distribution of populations has no logical relation to their ancestry. It proves nothing to say that certain species are here, while other species are there, and certain other species are across the ocean. Assuming evolution were true, you might be able to systematically describe the relationship between evolution and biogeography, but assuming evolution is true is question-begging. If we can’t assume evolution, but have to leave design on the table, then biogeography isn’t evidence for either one, for the simple reason that no matter the origin of species, migration of species is going to happen, and some degree of descent with variation is going to happen. Once that is accepted, biogeography is going to happen as well, because critters that eat the same food, have the same predators, and mate together, are likely to move around together. To sum up, biogeography isn’t evidence for anything, other than the fact that certain populations are now and probably have been in a given location for some length of time. Logically, there are no other propositions you can derive from it.

      • Rosie

        Can something be made of the fact that DNA evidence indicates that most eucalyptus trees, previously assumed to be closely related because of their many resemblances, are not in fact related at all? Their ancestors vary widely, but over much time in the same isolated place, they all came to look alike.

      • Noelle

        We know how DNA works.

      • JohnnieCanuck

        “As for biogeography, the distribution of populations has no logical relation to their ancestry.”

        Not so. You do have to accept the theory of plate tectonics first, for some of the explanations. There is not a single case of the location of a plant or animal species disproving evolution. For example, the species we find in South America and Africa are consistent with those continents once being joined together. Also the limited number of species on islands like the Galapagos and Fiji and their divergence from continental populations are well explained by evolution.

        You look at the species there and they are typically insects, spiders and birds that flew or blew there. There will also be a few that could have survived on a vegetation mat from tsunami or something, like tortoises. You will find their ancestral species on a nearby continent and if there is a sequence of islands, the number of ancestral species that make it there is reduced with distance from the continental source.

        If you say a god can make a world look like anything it wants, including that it appears not to have been designed and created, what kind of god is that? A liar and a fraud is not how Christians like to portray theirs. And no, the devil didn’t put all those fossils there to fool us. An omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent god can’t be excused from responsibility for the devil’s actions.

        You use concepts like ‘descent with modification’ which is an almost complete definition of evolution and yet you can’t accept it. It’s as if you were holding all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in your hands and still not able to fit anything together. The moment two pieces begin to come close, you panic because it threatens to invalidate your comfort place. No-one can make you leave that cocoon or nest but you won’t reach your full potential until you do.

        Trust me, the world is not a bleaker place because evolution is all that is needed to explain the amazing complexity and variability of life. You just have to get used to the idea that you and your species are really not the reason for the universe to exist. We are here for only a blink in time and then we are gone without trace. Make your own meaning, make things better for others. Immortality might seem like it would be nice, but only for a little while, probably.

      • Dietrich

        Joshua, you may like to think you’re educated about evolution, but you’re clearly not.

        The chromosome fusion in humans is excellent evidence of evolution and our common ancestry with gorillas and chimpanzees. This is a link to a terrific blog posting that details what appears to have happened. As a bonus, that blog entry is the start of a short series of posts that demonstrates how creationists distort evolutionary science and in this case behave in a disengenuous fashion when dealing with an honest question about their writings.

        We may not know every last thing about DNA, but we know an awful lot and everything we’ve learned is consistent with evolutionary theory (and has expanded our knowledge of how evolution works). It’s also consistent with a god who designed things to look like they evolved, but that’s not a very useful hypothesis. For instance, god may be pulling our legs with the recurrent laryngeal nerve (look it up), but that doesn’t seem like the most logical explanation.

        You don’t seem to know much about biogeography, either, but that doesn’t stop you from discounting it as evidence for evolution. Analyzing species distribution doesn’t require a belief that evolution is true; rather the analysis shows that species distribution is consistent with evolution. Land mammals that were not present on isolated volcanic islands thrive there when introduced; why didn’t god see fit to put them there in the first place?

        I will point out that creationists have had over a hundred years to show scientifically that any fundamental aspect of evolutionary theory is wrong. How come none of them has done so and collected their Nobel prize (along with immortality in fundamental Christiandom)?

        If you really want to learn about evolution, here are three books I recommend (in order):
        “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne
        “Making of the Fittest” by Sean Carroll
        “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin

      • Joshua

        @JohnnieCanuck:
        You’re taking my quote way out of context. Of course the location of a given population has some relation to the ancestry of that population, but not in any sense that proves evolution. Case in point, nothing you say in your reply to me even remotely implies that anything evolved. It merely implies that South America and Africa were once joined, and therefore they have similar species. So? How is that evidence that anything evolved? Second, descent with modification is evolution in the sense that my parents giving birth to me is evolution. That’s nothing like the kind of large scale changes you have to posit to get from cells to humans. So your metaphors about jigsaw puzzles and pontifications about what you seem think I’m thinking aside, you’ve proven nothing.

        @Dietrich: The chromosomal fusion isn’t evidence of evolution at all. It’s no better evidence than is the fact that our DNA is similar to that of chimpanzees, but from a design standpoint, OF COURSE they’re going to be similar. Why does the fusion make it any more impressive? The hypothesis of how fusion happened is just that: an unsubstantiated hypothesis. Also, mere consistency with evolution proves nothing. And I daresay your claim that everything we know about DNA is consistent is tremendously overbroad anyway. Regardless, if consistency is all that matters, I win, because everything is consistent with creationism. As to the laryngeal nerve, I’m perfectly fine with that being an instance of mutation, but that doesn’t prove fish became land animals. Furthermore, people make arguments like that about the eye creating an inverted image, but guess what? It turns out that’s actually the best way to do it. So who’s to say the nerve isn’t better as is? Again, regarding biogeography, consistency means nothing. It’s consistent to say we’re living in a Matrix ruled by robots. So what? And as I pointed out in my response to Ariel and Aniota, it’s not my burden to prove evolution wrong; it’s your burden to prove it’s better than my explanation. Thus far, evolutionists have created more and more problems for their own theory as new discoveries are made. The mere complexity of DNA is enough for a reasonable person to reject the idea of life arising and evolving by chance, simply on grounds of probability. Absent compelling proof that it did happen, why believe in such improbabilities? But there is no such compelling proof. Even you only reach for the low hanging fruit of “consistency.”

      • Dietrich

        Joshua, I notice you ignored my question about creationists disproving anything about evolution scientifically. To be honest, my reply to you was intended more for other creationists who realize they are ignorant about evolution, and want to learn more. That’s why I included a list of books.

        You, on the other hand, appear to have no interest in actually learning about the science. All you are doing here is denying that any evidence for evolution is good enough, claiming god could do things however he wants therefore creationism. You really think that invoking god is a valid application of Occam’s Razor? Give me a break.

        Since it’s pointless to actually discuss the science of evolution with you, I’ll ask a related question. What do you think about the 99+% of evolutionary biologists who accept the theory of evolution? Are they all involved in massive, worldwide conspiracy to hide the truth? Or are they all just too stupid to see what is so plain to you? Or is there some other explanation?

      • Joshua

        @Dietrich:
        I didn’t ignore your question at all. Indeed, I specifically stated “And as I pointed out in my response to Ariel and Aniota, it’s not my burden to prove evolution wrong; it’s your burden to prove it’s better than my explanation.” My purpose in posting here was never to prove evolution wrong; that would be impossible. My purpose was merely to show that one can be a creationist without being deceitful, ignorant, or a dogmatist. To do that, I need only prove that evolution is not a better explanation than creationism.

        And what have I said that indicates that I have no interest in learning the science? And no, I’m not just denying the evidence for evolution is good enough; I’m denying that there’s much evidence at all, and explaining why. And so far, you haven’t explained anything; you’ve merely asserted that X proves Z, without any indication that you even realize a second premise is needed. And yes, invoking God is, in this case, a valid application of Occam’s Razor, because God is the only explanation we have. Evolution isn’t an explanation; it’s a guess at what might have happened with no attendant views on specifically how it happened.

        As for the biologists, your question is irrelevant; science isn’t what a majority of scientists believe. But to answer the question anyway, I’d say many of them are simply ingrained in the current paradigm and find it hard to break out because their entire worldview is built on it. Some are simply evolutionists because they’re atheists, and in an atheistic worldview evolution really is the best explanation. But frankly, why would either of your proposed answers be so radical compared to the taxonomy of creationists presented in this article? According to Libby Anne, I must be either ignorant (and I’m not), deceitful (a strong claim), or merely dogmatic (and I don’t think I am). Why would it be so farfetched for me to accuse evolutionists of conspiracy or stupidity when Libby Anne has accused creationists (the vast majority of humanity ever) of one of the above? You’re trying to assume the high moral ground here when you’ve already lost it by virtue of agreeing with an article whose very nature is that of an ad hominem argument. You, and several others here, are all applying the “No True Scotsman” fallacy in spades; no rational, honest, educated person could disagree with evolution, Joshua doesn’t believe in evolution, therefore he isn’t rational, educated, and/or honest. Despite the best attempts I’ve seen to put up arguments against my views, I’ve seen none that address the central points I raised in my initial comments. So please, stop the condescension and debate politely.

      • machintelligence

        Joshua:

        You, and several others here, are all applying the “No True Scotsman” fallacy in spades; no rational, honest, educated person could disagree with evolution, Joshua doesn’t believe in evolution, therefore he isn’t rational, educated, and/or honest.

        This is not a fallacy, it is a statement of fact.
        I refuse to waste any more time on this troll, and suggest that you likewise ignore him.
        BTW Has some professor at Liberty University started offering extra credit for trolling atheist blogs again?

      • Dietrich

        Congratulations, Joshua, you’ve worn me down. This topic is clearly not worth addressing with you. You are welcome to your views; the rest of us will have to be sastisfied with understanding reality.

        Thanks for giving me a laugh, though, by claiming that you are not ignorant of the science of evolution and then writing this: “Evolution isn’t an explanation; it’s a guess at what might have happened with no attendant views on specifically how it happened.”

        lol

      • Joshua

        @machintelligence:
        You have finally proven that you aren’t really trying to have an intelligent discussion, and thus I welcome your decision to stop wasting my time. Incidentally, I am not, nor have I ever been, a student at Liberty University, nor am I a troll. I’m actually a lawyer who finds it insulting when people on the internet claim that anyone with my beliefs must fit into one of three negative categories, and as a lawyer I have both the training and desire to argue just to prove them wrong, purely on grounds of logic alone.

        @Dietrich:
        I see you’re incapable of avoiding condescension. Funny, I thought I was arguing with an adult. And I find it remarkably telling that you find my statement humorous, yet you don’t even attempt to show why. Might that be because I’m right? Hmm….

      • Dietrich

        Dammit, SIWOTI!

        Joshua, believe it or not, but I’m not normally condesending online. However, your obvious lack of an understanding of evolution combined with your repeated assertion that you know what you’re talking about is very annoying. The line I quoted from you in my last comment was breathtakingly stupid. The fact that you don’t understand why reinforces my claim that you are ignorant about this subject. I kind of hope I’ve gotten you riled enough to go and study the science of evolution.

        You are clearly a smart guy, but you’ve bought into a belief system that contradicts the science. You may think you’ve won the argument based on your rhetoric, but you shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that nobody wants to rehash tired old arguments or tear apart stupid new ones. Been there, done that.

        Evolution is not a matter of opinion. The fact is that evolution happened and scientists have a terrific understanding of the mechanisms involved, regardless of what you claim. The truth is awe inspiring and endlessly fascinating, and there are plenty of resources documenting it for the lay reader (such as the books I mentioned earlier). If you trust any scientific findings, then you should accept evolution, because the science works in exactly the same way. I was skeptical about evolution when I was younger, but I started reading about it as an adult and now I can’t get enough of it. It’s a pity that you’ve chosen to turn a blind eye to it all. I mean that sincerely.

        Yes, I know I haven’t addressed your arguments or laid out all the evidence for evolution. I’m afraid you’ll have to go read a book. Now I’ll try to do my best not to get sucked into another reply.

      • machintelligence

        Joshua:

        I’m actually a lawyer

        Ah! That explains everything.

        *Cue the lawyer jokes*

      • Joshua

        @Dietrich:
        What’s really annoying is your repeated refusal to engage anything I actually say and your constant refrain that you apparently know what I don’t know about evolution. For someone so into science, you sure are keen on pontificating on a point you couldn’t possibly have any knowledge of. You only claim I don’t know anything because you disagree with my conclusions about the evidence prove, or at least that’s all I can gather from any of your comments, since you never even attempt to explain yourself and act like everything is self-evident. It never ceases to amaze me how people who claim to be so knowledgeable and accuse me of being so ignorant never bother to take the time to point out where precisely my ignorance lies. You, like so many others, simply say I don’t know anything about this or that broad topic, without explaining how you know or what precise detail you think I don’t know, leaving me to assume that you either think I literally know nothing of the subject (again, pontificating on points of which you have zero knowledge), or you’re being disingenuous. Indeed, you basically state that you don’t want to inform me when you say “you shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that nobody wants to rehash tired old arguments or tear apart stupid new ones.” I suppose it never occurred to you that someone out there might be trying to figure out the truth but just hasn’t grasped it; no, your assumption is that anyone who disagrees with you simply isn’t worth debating, period. And yet you wonder why people don’t agree with you?

        Finally, evolution may or may not be a fact; the point is that you can’t prove it, and your claim that evolutionists have a “terrific understanding of the mechanisms involved” is laughable, considering that no one claims to know how the first living organism came into existence, and couldn’t possibly know whether evolution on the macro scale is even possible. They can’t even predict what mutations will cause what effects! So now who’s being comical in their own ignorance?

        @machintelligence:
        Throwing a bunch of us in the ocean would be a good start, but the sharks would refuse to eat us out of professional courtesy. ;)

      • Dietrich

        Joshua, all I know about you is what is posted in this thread. The evidence from what you’ve written here is that you don’t know anything about how evolution actually works. You can protest that all you want, but what you’ve posted tells the real story.

        I initially responded to your claims with a pointer to a specific scientific explanation online and a list of books that address evolution. You replied by making up new outrageous claims with no scientific backing.

        Seriously, you came in here saying “Hey, I know about evolution, but I’m a creationist, and here are some reasons why”. You got many responses saying “Um, actually, you’re wrong. Here’s what the science says”. And your reply was basically “Oh, I don’t care what the scientists say. Because God”. And that’s why it makes no sense to engage you on this subject.

        And once again you demonstrate your ignorance by conflating evolution and abiogenesis. Seriously, dude, read a book.

      • machintelligence

        Can we begin telling lawyer jokes?
        *Points at Joshua*
        He started it!

      • Joshua

        @Dietrich:
        Oh, OK, now that you’ve asserted, without reasons, that I know nothing about evolution for the third time, I believe you. Really, can you at least attempt to do better? And what “outrageous claims” did I make, exactly? I also have no memory of saying “Because God” or anything that remotely boils down to that. My bet is that you can’t either, and won’t try. And where did I conflate evolution with abiogenesis? I’m fairly certain that every time I mentioned abiogenesis, I did so as a fairly explicitly separate problem from evolution, except perhaps in one or two instances where I was talking about the atheistic model as a whole, evolution, abiogenesis, and all. Really, you’re quite good at making accusations without backing them up. Perhaps we should make lawyer jokes about you.

      • Dietrich

        I probably shouldn’t bother, but for the sake of completeness I’ll respond to your post.

        Earlier you wrote:

        “Evolution isn’t an explanation; it’s a guess at what might have happened with no attendant views on specifically how it happened.”

        This demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the science of evolution. Either that, or a willful lie — but I did not want to assume that of you. There are plenty of other examples in what you have written, but that’s enough to prove my point.

        Creationism is “Because God” in so many words. You actually invoked Occam’s Razor claiming god as a simpler explanation than science. When presented with scientific answers about biogeography and chromosome fusion, you simply discounted them, claiming that they didn’t prove anything (without any scientific basis for your position).

        You also wrote:

        “Finally, evolution may or may not be a fact; the point is that you can’t prove it, and your claim that evolutionists have a “terrific understanding of the mechanisms involved” is laughable, considering that no one claims to know how the first living organism came into existence, …”

        That sentence conflates evolution and abiogenesis.

        I will grant you that you have a pretty good knowledge of creationist talking points, but that stuff has been thoroughly discredited elsewhere online if you bother to look.

      • Joshua

        @Dietrich:
        Once again, you’ve added nothing to the discussion with your first point. You just repeated what you’ve already said, which I’ve disputed. As to the second point, let’s look at the full quote:

        laughable, considering that no one claims to know how the first living organism came into existence, and couldn’t possibly know whether evolution on the macro scale is even possible. They can’t even predict what mutations will cause what effects!

        So no, I wasn’t conflating evolution and abiogenesis; I was discussing both to show just how hopeless your case really is, though I will admit that I could have been clearer.

  • jose

    I think the professional “arguments for creationism” people are just full of shit, but I think the day-to-day Joe Shmoe creationist very often identifies correctly an aspect in our theory of evolution that represents a deep problem for him.

    It is true that selection, due to its short-term nature, plus the randomness of drift and history (asteroid killed the dinosaurs… historical accident, just bad luck) leave no room for divine planning. There’s no plan for humanity, no given purpose or guidance, no inherent meaning or value. All there is is just people trying to get by for some years and then dying. This is a very bleak scenario for somebody used to the comfort of a kind of celestial dad that looks after him and tells him what is all about. They feel that “then it’s all for nothing”. If for whatever reason they’re unable to find those elements elsewhere, they’re unlikely to renounce them.

    • Anat

      This is a very bleak scenario for somebody used to the comfort of a kind of celestial dad that looks after him and tells him what is all about.

      OTOH it is a very comforting scenario to someone used to thinking that any set-back in life is divine retribution and evidence that they did something seriously wrong to deserve it.

  • AnyBeth

    Hm. Talked with my mother some about creation and evolution (as well as theistic evolution) tonight. She’s not a YEC, but a creationist, all the same. For a bit, I thought she her beliefs here might well be termed “theistic evolution” without her knowing it. She said something like that she believes God made everything how it is — which is an ambiguous statement. She also said she doesn’t believe she came from a monkey. I corrected that a bit, which led us down a path to yet another ambiguous statement: she believes that God may have worked off the same models. Hm. I described theistic evolution, and she denied that was what she meant. I let her talk a bit to explain what she did mean and I checked to make sure I understood. Rather than God taking a creature and tweaking it this way and that (or see that mutation and selective pressures do the same), he creates an entirely new creature, first forming it after the same mold as the first and then changing it a bit …because how could the first creature still exist if some of its descendents changed into other species?! Isn’t that how things go extinct?! I tried to start explain ecological niches, but she was done talking and went all, “All I know is that I have a personal relationship with my God!” and on to humans being oh-so-special because we’re different from all the animals…
    I talked with her about this some. Apparently she didn’t know that all mammals are animals. Now she accepts that scientists say so, but that’s just man-made classification. We’re not like all the other animals. So I asked her how. Eventually, this fell back to the personal relationship with God thing, though she admitted she couldn’t be sure that no animals had that either. Then she started to hate on atheists. AFAIK, she doesn’t know I’m one, but she knows my boyfriend is. I figure it was a way to get at me to get me to shut up.

    It may sound odd, but I think Mom is kind of 1 and 3 at once. Even the things she admits she’s not sure about, she absolutely refuses to think she could be wrong about. Some things, however, she’s total 3. Namely, that humans are entirely set apart (including biologically speaking) from all animals. Only… she’s not 3 because she doesn’t think she must believe creationism is so, it’s just that it’s RIGHT! Then again, it’s well-established that she’s always right even when she’s quite aware she’s absolutely wrong. I think I’ll amuse myself by pretending she has delusions of being in a different taxonomic kingdom, one wholly different from all animals, some prokaryote, maybe.

    • machintelligence

      “All I know is that I have a personal relationship with my God!” and on to humans being oh-so-special because we’re different from all the animals…

      I have a pithy saying, which I didn’t invent, that can be used as a rejoinder: Atheism is a personal relationship with reality.

      Still, she does have a point about humans being special and quite different from other animals. We have language. We don’t just think thoughts, we can articulate them and communicate them, which allows us to “compare notes” with other members of our species. Add to that writing, which permits storage and wide dissemination of thoughts, and you have a toolkit that has allowed humans to dominate the planet. Individually, we may not be a great deal smarter than other animals, but collectively, because of culture, we are awesome (and dangerous). To borrow an analogy from Doug Hofstadter “You can’t build much with your bare hands, and you can’t think much with your bare brain.” This power also accumulates and builds on itself: my great grandfather was born in 1880 and died in 1974. In his youth, the horse and buggy were the standard means of transportation, and a steam locomotive was high technology. He lived to see men walk on the moon. What a change in one lifetime!

      • Ibis3

        We don’t just think thoughts, we can articulate them and communicate them, which allows us to “compare notes” with other members of our species.

        Like many “differences” we have with other animals, the difference is in degree or magnitude rather than in kind. Cultural transmission has been shown in other primate species and in corvids (perhaps in other species too, but that’s all I know of for sure off the top of my head).

  • JDE

    In reality, there’s a lot of overlap, and I’d argue that a large subset of the Liars would be better categorized as manifesting Cognitive Dissonance, but in any case, you left out the largest group – the Stupid.

    Re: Joshua’s “arguments”, above – they’re all subsumed in this statement:

    God wants (and deserves) to be loved and worshiped by humans. But neither love nor worship means anything coming from a robot. So, to get what He wants out of creation, God must allow us to choose freely, which leads to the possibility that we will choose badly.

    Standard Christian apologetics. Nothing he says can be taken seriously, because they’re taught to begin with the a priori conclusion, shore it up with whatever “evidence” they can find to support it and ignore that which appears to contradict it.

    He has the security blanket. Nothing you can say will make him willing to give it up. This is the reason arguing with the vast majority of them is an utter waste of time. There’s a growing body of evidence that is strongly suggestive of a neurological foundation for authoritarianism/fundamentalism. The few of you who’ve gotten out won the genetic lottery.

    • catboxdelta

      Agreed, I have tried nearly EVERY approach with those types. Their defenses are up the moment you speak. From their point of view you had might as well been the devil trying to tempt them. Bypassing the the critical factor by use of covert hypnosis might work but that’s just shady and Machiavellian IMO.

      • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

        Hi guys. I don’t want to interrupt or get in the middle of this argument but I thought about coming from a different angle might help. The biology and DNA arguments, while compelling, often turn out to be another type of Bible verse thing. You can make it mean whatever you want. One class I took in college made evolution really make sense. Ready? It was Botany. I’m not talking about the easy peasy general ed Botany but the technical, very difficult course designed for science majors. In case you’re wondering, nursing.
        I wish I could remember all the terms but we went all the way back, to the real beginnings. How cells began to form that eventually became the primordial plant life that gave rise to the atmosphere. It was astounding. And the missing link people are looking for in animal life? Forget it. It’s found at the molecular level and yes, it is there.
        I have to tell this story. We had one Christian kid who always interrupted with questions that the teacher calmly and politely answered, no matter how rude or silly they were. He was never silenced nor were his beliefs mocked.
        During the molecular link class, the kid freaked out. I mean. freaked. out. The teacher tried to calm him down but he was nuts. Like all good science majors we just turned around in our seats to watch this spectacle. As Spock would say, fascinating. Obviously this kid was presented with something that violated his faith yet knew was true. We watched someone’s world turned upside down.
        Unfortunately he dropped the class that day.
        But I highly recommend taking a Botany class or reading up on it.

    • Joshua

      @JDE:
      How exactly is my argument that the fossil record is weak/no evidence subsumed into the statement you quoted? And what a priori conclusion have I made? Brave words for a fellow who’s made no argument yet.

  • Web

    I think the second group, the Liars, is mostly made up of Dogmatists. Even though they might understand the science and evidence of evolution, because they didn’t come to their religious faith by rational means, they aren’t going to lose it by rational means. So if they are lying, it’s mainly to themselves. The Ignorant group also has a lot of Dogmatists (or I would say “Faithful”), which is why they won’t seek out the science and evidence for evolution. And when they do hear it, they too will put their metaphorical hands over their minds. So what I think is missing from that list is the irrational guiding force of Faith, which I think makes those 3 categories possible and is part and parcel of each of them.

  • catboxdelta

    The reason they don’t listen to reason
    http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/

  • Chris Pinson

    Just a thought, Libby. You claim to know that you were wrong then and right now regarding this question. However, I don’t see anything in your bio that indicates an advanced degree in any relevant area of study that would convince anyone that your conversion was really all that evidence-based. Not saying you need an advanced degree to believe anything, and I am certainly not pushing the fiction that “scientists” are ideology-free truth seekers who cannot be critically scrutinized, but it seems you want to hold others to a standard to which you don’t hold yourself. I don’t believe you actually KNOW everything you claim to KNOW about this. It seems you have merely switched teams, carrying with you the same dogmatic certainty for which you attack those you once claimed as your own. There may be a “taxonomy” to explore here as well.

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I would suggest you read this post. You will find my explanation of how I went from being an avid young earth creationist to realizing the reality of the theory of evolution.

      • Chris Pinson

        Nope, that post doesn’t do anything to answer my critique. It’s a list of things you are repeating second- and third-hand from other people who you choose to believe over your parents and others with whom you grew up. I am not disputing that you have found one argument more convincing than another argument for the origins and progress of life on earth. I am pointing out that you are arguing in precisely the manner that you accuse the YEC crowd of doing. You don’t have any special training and education that qualifies you to come down so immovably on one side, yet you do, because it’s the side you’ve chosen (sounds like like the people you are criticizing and categorizing!). Just trying to help you out of what seems like a lack of self-awareness and logical inconsistency.

      • Chris Pinson

        Comment on tone, as well.

        “…how I went from being an avid young earth creationist to realizing the reality of the theory of evolution.”

        Smug certainty and subtle debasement of people with different views is no way to win people to your way of thinking.

      • machintelligence

        Ooooh… a tone troll. (Someone who has no good arguments, so criticizes the “tone”).
        Have a bit of Tim Minchin.
        http://freethoughtblogs.com/hallq/files/2012/07/minchin.jpg
        *points and laughs*

      • Aniota

        @Chris Pinson:
        Calling out the tone of someone else you just described as to “come down so immovably on one side” alongside a condescending reassurance that it’s only done to “help”. Rounded up with deep insights into the psyche of another person who surely wasn’t convinced by reasonable arguments she did not just point out to you but merely holding her position “because it’s the side [she has] chosen” (why, one might ask, if she hadn’t already given the answer to that one), leading to “a lack of self-awareness and logical inconsistency”. Speaking of inconsistency, “Not saying you need an advanced degree to believe anything” and “You don’t have any special training and education that qualifies you” to decide which side to believe.

        *yawn* It’s as if you’re not even trying. Hush ye, back under rock from whence you crawled forth.

  • http://www.soullikeaspider.com Deanna Ogle

    I’m with Jamie. I grew up very fundamentalist, and while I pretty much peeled myself away from strict YEC and dogmatic belief in creationism (I’m of the opinion that the two are not mutually exclusive), it wasn’t until a biology class that I took last year did I understand how evolution would even work.

    It was always presented as “Evolutionists say we evolved from monkeys! Well, I don’t see any half-monkeys around, so that must not be true.”

    It was so awkward to sit in that biology classroom and go “Oh my god, this evolution stuff actually makes sense.”

    I don’t have the answers, and my beliefs are not firm and are ever fluctuating. But I do know that I don’t want to be lied to, and I want to know the truth. And if I ever have kids, I want them to know it too. I don’t want them to be caught off-guard when they realize they’ve been left in the dark on purpose.

  • Noelle

    You missed the 4th group of those who embrace the science of evolution and say that’s how God did it. I see a bunch of other commenters have already noted these theistic evolutionists. I would still keep them as a subset of creationists, because they insist a supernatural being did the creating.

  • http://www.treehenge.org Themon the Bard

    @Libby — I’d add two more categories.

    #0 — The Uncaring. They may or may not know anything about Evolution, or Creationism, but they simply don’t care enough to put up an argument on either side, OR to learn any more about it. I’m going to guess that this is, by far, the largest group. These people simply want to get along with their family, friends, and neighbors. I have, for instance, an extended family that resides in Texas, and they live or die by how the Longhorns do against the Aggies. Me? I just don’t care. I will be damned if I’m going to sit and be pelted by booing and cold bean dip for cheering the “wrong” team, but I don’t care enough to learn any more about either team, or (for that matter) the whole subject of football.

    #5 — The Iconoclasts. I count myself in this category. I don’t seriously question evolutionary theory. I understand it reasonably well, I think, and use related principles in software design. I’ve used simulated annealing frequently in difficult optimization problems, and though I’ve never actually developed a genetic algorithm, I understand the principles. (One problem with genetic algorithms in general is getting enough genetic diversity in your original mix to get solutions at all — a serious problem that would be faced by a literal Adam and Eve, incidentally, but not by larger seed populations.)

    I do not, however, necessarily embrace Evolutionism. Which I’ll define (roughly) as the dogmatic belief that current theories of evolution are SUFFICIENT to explain humans.

    First off, classical evolutionary theory posits only a thermodynamic optimization process, similar to simulated annealing: a combination of random mutation and natural selection. Simulated annealing is a generally robust optimization process that’s especially good at avoiding false optima, but it’s slow and wasteful. Any predictor-corrector optimization will almost always beat it to the best solution, but P-C methods often get trapped in false optima, or (worse) chase off into the weeds: birds with beaks so long they can’t fly, people with heads so big their necks snap, etc. Nonetheless, given that the first organism to optimize for a new niche generally takes over the niche — you snooze, you lose — there’s a lot to be said for rapid optimization, even if it sometimes blows it completely. So I personally can’t imagine that predictor-correctors don’t exist in the evolutionary process, and perhaps these could account for things like punctuated equilibrium (speculation).

    These would LOOK a lot like “design” actively at work in the dynamic system. But they’re not.

    There are also the issues of cross-species cooperation, which have been until recently completely neglected from evolutionary theorizing. A lot of the “competitive” explanations are just plain wrong, and always have been wrong. This doesn’t invalidate the general theory in any way, mind you, but it does argue against its sufficiency.

    Second, there is a deep problem in Evolutionism that is, at root, what I think the Creationists sense at a visceral level, but which they generally don’t understand well enough to give voice to. That is the problem of how reductionism plays out when applied to the essence of being human. I call it the question of whether scientists are intelligent.

    Science consists of naturalistic reduction: that’s what science does. When it hits a question that cannot be reduced to natural causes with no need for intelligent acts, it digs harder. It doesn’t stop until it finds the naturalistic explanation. The only proper scientific answer to any question is a naturalistic one.

    When you apply this process to the human condition, you end up digging to find the naturalistic explanation for human behavior — an explanation that has no need to rely upon intelligence. An explanation that relies only upon natural cause and effect, perhaps combined with randomness (randomness raises its own issues, by the way, in mathematics and in physics.)

    This raises the self-referential question: are the scientists who seek a naturalistic explanation for human behavior themselves intelligent? Or is the whole structure of “science” — from experimental design to logical deduction to the core structure of mathematics — nothing more than an amazingly complex example of genetic instinct, like termite mound-building? Clearly, if science were completely successful in its effort to reduce human behavior to natural causes, it would call into question the minds that did the work.

    The answer that usually gets thrown out in response to this, even by people who should know better (like Dr. Richard Dawkins) is that human brains had to evolve to be congruent with reality.

    I find this amusing, and have only two words in reply: “Virgin Birth.”

    Whatever evolutionary process came up with the human brain left a major portion of the population capable of believing in the “Virgin Birth.” You can’t really have it both ways: whatever process accounts for the dead-center accuracy of scientific thought is also responsible for the rankest of rank superstitious thought. Which inclines me to believe that neither of these two “opinions” — science OR superstition — is in any way related to the survival capacity of the species, and therefore would never be affected by natural selection in the first place.

    I also think it worth pointing out that if we were all living near a live volcano, and it suddenly erupted, half the people who panicked and started running in random directions would run straight into the lava and be vaporized — but the other half would get away. Meanwhile, all the thoughtful folks who sat around and tried to decide on the best rational course of action would be buried under tons of molten rock. Whose genes get passed on?

    But still deeper — and here we get to the visceral feeling of the Creationists, I think– we have the problem of agency. We all believe in magic. Every one of us. We believe we can beat the laws of cause and effect. If you hand us a glass of wine, we can drink it, or pour it out. We can choose the red pill, or the blue pill. We can act. Within limits, of course, but we can act, nonetheless.

    A scientific explanation of human behavior does not have room for agency. It insists — implicitly, by naturalistic reduction — that agency is ultimately an illusion. Now this may be true, or it may not, but it simply isn’t believable. It isn’t believable because the only real questions that everyone faces in life are questions of choice. Issues of choice ARE the human condition.

    The ultimate nature of the human condition, I don’t know. I don’t know if there is a naturalistic explanation for humans. But if there is, it’s a crappy explanation — inaccessible, unsatisfying, and insufficient. So people will choose — assuming they can choose at all — a more useful mythology.

    Personally, I’m an animist. I posit that “consciousness” is a primary and irreducible feature of nature, like “spin” or “charge” or “mass.” Everything is conscious. Some things are more conscious than others, and thereby have greater agency. Humans are a little higher than the beasts, and a little lower than the angels.

    Though hardly dogmatic. I’ll drink any port in a storm, and I’ll give any theory at least one hearing.

    • http://www.treehenge.org Themon the Bard

      Dang, I wish this thing allowed editing. The second option should be #4, not #5. I can write Metropolis algorithms but I can’t count. Go figure.

    • smrnda

      I think Dawkins did have an explanation as to why people believe in what (for him and I) would be religious nonsense. A human child has to learn a lot in a very short time, and so their brain is set up to be more accepting than skeptical.

      On the brain, I’d argue that are brains are not great at determining truth, but that this is something we figured out and have worked out procedures for getting correct information regardless of our brain’s tendency to get it wrong. I used to supervise psychology experiments. It was best policy to have the people conducting the experiment be ignorant of the hypothesis so that we could avoid observer biases.

      I can see absolutely no reason why a purely materialistic world view has no room for human agency. I see human agency as kind of bounded by circumstances and inborn limitations, but I think you run into more problems with human agency once you admit the supernatural.

      • Christine

        Whatever happened to the theory that the part of our brain which, when stimulated, makes us *know* that there is someone else around, even if we’re all alone is responsible?

    • Ariel

      This is a lot more interesting than Joshua’s objections above. I do think that you’re selling intelligence short, though. Even people who believe in virgin birth believe in a lot of true things (“Fire will hurt you”, “Clean water is good to drink, but water can look clean without being clean”, “You can make tasty bread out of flour, water, salt and yeast by…”) and having more true beliefs is often evolutionarily advantageous over having fewer true beliefs. Even granting your volcano example, on the 999 days out of a thousand when a volcano doesn’t erupt, the people slowly and methodically working out the right answer to the question of how shall we gather food/build a shelter/make winter clothing probably had an advantage. And that’s an argument against stopping and thinking at all–once you’re investing the time and energy into thinking, thinking correct thoughts is usually better than thinking incorrect thoughts.

      Evolution is all about organisms gaining selective advantage by being a *little* bit better at something than average, and it happens often that evolution doesn’t push things to the pinnacle (compare the vision of a person who needs glasses to the vision of a normal person to the vision of an eagle). So I don’t think you can conclude that people weren’t selected to figure out true things, just that the selection process didn’t drive us as far as it could have. Science is (or at least, is supposed to be) just a refinement of the normal human process of arriving at true beliefs from observation by way of intelligence, with procedures put in place to guard against the flaws in reasoning that we still have.

      I’d also point out that the person who makes a snap judgement of “I will run *away* from the scary thing!” probably has a better chance during a volcano than either of the people you mentioned. :-)

      As for reductionism and agency…this is a subtle and complicated issue. I suppose I have to just say that I agree with smrnda that you can get agency/free will out of a materialistic world view. Can you explain to me how, in terms of what you predict you will see in the world, your animism is different from reductionism? That is, in scientific terms (sorry, this is just how I’ve trained myself to think), can you describe an experiment that would tell us whether you or smrnda is right about agency? Also, if consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, how do you explain the fact that brain damage can cause people to believe false things but that damage to anything else in the universe can’t?

  • Leitor

    I think there are ignorant, dogmatic and liars among evolucionists too. They fit so well in the box they created. As I can see in the posts, there are (4) arrogants and (5) no educated atheists people too. Some of you, I could see, revealed to be in class 4 and 5. Congratulations, Joshua, your arguments are not bad. I respect your position and points of view. The agressive “taxonony”against creationists or any kind of thinking, to me, is evidence of rude people that want to hurt instead to convince. They are as fundamentalis as fanatic religionists.

    • Dietrich

      Leitor, there may be ignorant, dogmatic, lying evolutionists. However, that doesn’t affect the reality of evolution. Joshua’s arguments are bad, and they indicate an ignorance about the subject he wishes to discuss. Now that may sound arrogant, but let me offer an analogy. Let’s say we were having a discussion about the structure of the solar system. Would you be defending the geocentrist with their “good arguments” and disparaging heliocentrists with their “dogmatic” adherance to a sun-centered model? Because the fact is that evolution has as much support scientifically as heliocentrism, and creationism is completely discredited.

      • machintelligence

        Dietrich:
        Please be aware that Leitor is a tone troll. Note that he does not make or defend arguments, and just rails against “agressive(sic), rude people that want to hurt”. You can fill in B2 on your creationist bingo card, if you are playing today. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/09/20/creationist-bingo/

    • mostlylurking

      Ah, argument from false equivalence. How refreshing.

  • Lore

    What about people who believe in both? They belief the universe was created but that the creator(s) also made evolution? My father believed that and taught it to me, and while I am now Pagan with an entirely different set of beliefs, he made sure to emphasize to me that the science was not wrong.

    I’ve known a great many people of the Abrahamic faiths who were educated and reasonable. But mostly I don’t understand why you need people to believe as you believe. There’s a quote, and I’m paraphrasing, that goes “we need not think alike to love alike”. The more you attack people’s beliefs the more they will draw away from you and closer to their own. And while I do think that truth is important, it is also subjective. It is more important that we, as people, care about each other enough to respect our differences and vote accordingly than it is for all of us to think and believe the same. That stands true on all sides of the arguments.

    • Ariel

      But mostly I don’t understand why you need people to believe as you believe.

      Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. If you understand evolution, it’s easy to understand why you must keep taking your medication, even if you feel better, until every bacterium in your body is dead. People didn’t do that, and we ended up with diseases evolving resistance to drugs. Believing false things tends to have bad consequences, to you…and, sometimes, to everyone around you.

      • http://blog.luigiscorner.com/ Azel

        Apart from that there is another reason: they vote and tend to want their beliefs enshrined as law, adopted as the land policy, influencing the curriculum of the schools…So yes, there are reasons to do that.

  • wyocowboy

    As for the LIAR’S its not that they are ignorant but DENIERS.

  • Jeff

    What is evidence, and what relation holds between what physical entities/structures that constitutes evidence for the belief that all living species have a common ancestor that lived in the Precambrian? Biologists admit that phenotypes are for the most part unpredictable. They also admit that species can go extinct. So who has ever even claimed that there is a set of event regularities that one could apply to precambrian initial conditions to deduce (i.e., predict) subsequent phenotypes and/or the timing of their existence?

  • machintelligence

    Jeff:
    Your comment doesn’t seem particularly relevant to the OP, but it isn’t a reply to any of the preceding comments, either. That being the case, I’ll start from scratch.

    What is evidence, and what relation holds between what physical entities/structures that constitutes evidence for the belief that all living species have a common ancestor that lived in the Precambrian?

    It is the evidence from DNA that leads to the conclusion of common ancestry. Early scientists were looking for the elan vital that defined life. It turns out that this was DNA (or rather the information carried by DNA), which wasn’t quite what they had expected. If it has DNA, and is capable of making more on its own, then it is alive. This excludes some viruses (which are more like chunks of DNA with attitude, capable of hijacking the DNA replicating machinery of a cell, but possessing none of their own) and dead things, which have lost the ability to replicate DNA. First there was DNA (or something which evolved into it–the RNA world as a precursor is a possibility), then there were living organisms. We humans share the DNA that codes for specific enzymes with plants and bacteria, and we are closer to fungi than either of the preceding two groups. In Richard Dawkins words, from the introduction to “The Selfish Gene” –” We [living things] are robot vehicles, blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”

    Biologists admit that phenotypes are for the most part unpredictable. They also admit that species can go extinct. So who has ever even claimed that there is a set of event regularities that one could apply to precambrian initial conditions to deduce (i.e., predict) subsequent phenotypes and/or the timing of their existence?

    No-one, to the best of my knowledge. Why would they want to do so?

    • Jeff

      The existence of DNA is not evidence for UCA over separate ancestries. Similarity of DNA sequences per se does not indicate or imply common ancestry. Convergence is posited by UCA’ists for this very reason. Creationists believe in separate ancestries. What we can say is that there are ways to conceive of separate ancestries that eliminate the need for positing lots of unpredicted convergence.

      With UCA, not only are virtually none of the posited descendants predicted by a causal theory (i.e., some set of event regularities) applied to precambrian inital conditions, but all the convergence implied by this view could not have even been inferred by analogy. Separate ancestry is by far the more analogical view. Common design is a bona-fide analogical inference that eliminates the need to posit convergence as an ad hoc hypothesis.

      Quantity of education, dishonesty and dogmatism has nothing to do with positing separate ancestry in terms of designed ancestors and possible genetic tweaking thereafter. These inferences are analogical in nature. In the absence of a naturalistic causal theory that predicts the relevant descendants from the precambrian ancestors at the relevant times, analogy is all we have. The hypothesis of UCA is merely a working hypothesis. It is without evidence at this time for there is no theory that predicts current phenotypical variation that, when extrapolated, predicts the relevant historical events in terms of the relevant initial conditions. And it needlessly abandons known analogies in favor of ad hoc hypotheses for which there is no evidence (like the tons of groundlessly posited convergence).

      And when you add to those problems an atheistic epistemology, it’s all blind faith anyway. For an atheistic evolution would not necessarily depend upon conscious states having any adaptive role. Thus, epiphenominalism could be true, rendering it impossible to tell whether virtually all conscious experience is in some sense illusory or not.

  • machintelligence

    @Jeff
    Sigh.
    Get out your bingo cards, fans. We have another one.

    And when you add to those problems an atheistic epistemology, it’s all blind faith anyway. For an atheistic evolution would not necessarily depend upon conscious states having any adaptive role. Thus, epiphenominalism could be true, rendering it impossible to tell whether virtually all conscious experience is in some sense illusory or not.

    As far as I can tell, this post consists of a lot of argumentative word salad, backed by no evidence.

    • Jeff

      It’s only word salad to you, MI, because you’re not particularly bright. People with average intelligence understand it perfectly well. As for evidence, there is none in an atheistic epistemology. That’s the problem with it. An atheist has no epistemology whereby he/she can non-arbitrarily distinguish between illusion and non-illusion, between memory and false memories. It’s just blind faith. Because beliefs are not knowably related to survival or adaptation per atheism since atheism can’t rule out epiphenominalism or a host of other conceivable, but seemingly absurd, views–views which render science itself an illusory experience.

      • machintelligence

        @Jeff

        views which render science itself an illusory experience.

        Another category 3 troll. Science is many things, but an illusory experience, it is not. He’s not worth the bother.

      • Jeff

        No, MI. Science is not an illusory experience. It is a DESIGNED mode of human activity. But if it can not be known that natural human modes of logical (inductive and deductive) inferences are designed to be truth-oriented, then science can not be known to exist at all. Lots of analogical inferences have to be knowably true to know science exists. E.g., we have to know analogically that other human bodies are intelligently-directed by minds that also think deductively and inductively, etc. Otherwise, science doesn’t exist.

      • Jeff

        Science is not an illusory experience. But an atheist believes this by blind faith.

  • Phil Rounds

    The great anchor that holds Creationism in place is the Bible. People who believe that the Bible is the unchallengeable word of god can never be coaxed into accepting that evolution doesn’t discredit their religion. One would literally have to convince them that all of Genesis was a fairy tale. The resurgence of biblical literalism in recent years has ensured that believers in the book will remain ignorant, lest they have to deny the validity of “god’s word”.

  • Phil Rounds

    Re: The Taxonomy. It seems the 3rd group could be a sub species of the first (group 1a). The deciding factor would be to attempt breeding. If viable offspring result we could assume this to be the case :)

  • smrnda

    Jeff, it seems like you’re basically making the ‘brain in the vat’ argument here. I can concede that there is some probability of that, but it’s not a position that’s going to enable me to make any conclusions about anything, and if I’m suppose to take that seriously, I might as well give up trying to understand anything.

  • smrnda

    I’m also getting the whole ‘well, if our brains are produced by evolution then how do we know that there are useful for determining true facts about the world?’ I’ll start by saying that I think our brains aren’t that good at doing this much of the time, but we have figured out ways of getting around that limitation. Science largely works because the process is as automated as possible. It takes into account that we’re likely to be bad observers who are likely to be biased.

  • Jeff

    smrnda,

    My only point is that atheists who have really thought this through realize that once you reject the view that natural, human modes of deductive and inductive inference are designed to orient humans towards truth approximation, there is no other reason to believe much of anything. For there’s an infinite set of coherent accounts of existence (though they seem absurd to me), none of which that can be known to be any more or less plausible than the other. And yet this plausibility distinction is precisely what science is supposed to provide for us.

    But that’s irrelevant to UCA per se. The problem with UCA is that we can’t predict phenotypes or how long they would take to occur. And yet UCA, being a historical hypothesis, posits specific trajectories and origin times. Thus, UCA is a mere hypothesis without relevant evidence. What you need as evidence for UCA is a mutational theory consistent with observation that predicts the relevant phenotypes at the relevant times. As it is, we don’t even know if those trajectories are possible in the time-frames and environments they were supposed to occur in.

    • machintelligence

      Jeff:

      For there’s an infinite set of coherent accounts of existence (though they seem absurd to me), none of which that can be known to be any more or less plausible than the other.

      We do seem to have a whole new category of creationist here: a Postmodernist Creationist.

      • Christine

        You need to work agnosticism into the name. Because Jeff’s argument, as I read it, isn’t so much “Young Earth Creationism is true!” as “We don’t know for sure that it’s isn’t true, so maybe it is”. i.e. we don’t (and cannot) know.

    • Ariel

      Jeff,

      In order for a scientific hypothesis to become accepted, the hypothesis needs to make testable predictions, and then those predictions need to turn out to be correct. But you only need enough predictions to test the hypothesis. You appear to believe that, to decide whether the theory of evolution is correct, it would need to predict the body shape, speciation time, and extinction time of every single species that ever existed. It doesn’t. The goal of a scientific theory is not “explain everything”, but “explain enough to be able to tell if you’re wrong”.

      The accepted hypothesis for rivers is “water flowing downhill”. To test this hypothesis, we could go out and examine every foot of every river in the world to make sure that the river is, locally, flowing towards the lowest point (or points, in places like the Nile delta). But that’s ridiculous. Once you’ve checked a few rivers, you’re probably justified in concluding that all the other rivers almost certainly flow downhill too. And you’re justified in concluding that rivers on other planets probably flow downhill, even though you can’t go out and look.

      Yes, it would be nice if mutation, weather, comet impacts, the shape of continents, etc. etc., were predictable enough that we could describe the entire course of natural history knowing nothing more than Cambrian preconditions. Unfortunately, the world we live in is complicated and messy. Mutation is a random process, and there’s noting we can do about that. I don’t need to go out and look at every river in the world to be pretty sure they all flow downhill, and I don’t need to know everything there conceivably is to know about biology to be pretty sure that mutation and natural selection caused the variety we see.

      • Jeff

        Ariel,

        You bring up some relevant topics. Unfortunately, none of them help the case of UCA. Take the famous website by Douglas Theobald. Theobald admits that by his criteria of falsifiability, solipsism isn’t falsifiable. But this proves more than he apparently realizes. For it implies that the hypothesis of UCA, to the extent that it is mutually exclusive to solipsism, has never been corroborated even once. This means UCA has no evidence in its favor. Indeed, it means no hypothesis that contradicts solipsism has ever been corroborated. For corroborating such hypotheses would, by definition, falsify solipsism.

        You bring up analogy. Analogy is much more robust in the separate ancestry conception of the biota. Analogies to design are as follows:

        1) Designers configure for functionality
        2) Designers tweak already existing designoids
        3) Designers use common design
        4) The most conspicuous cases of specified sequencing conditioning conspicuous functions are language and DNA. Language is designed communication

        With UCA, on the other hand, tons of convergence is posited that is neither predicted by predictive theory nor analogical extrapolation.

        Of course, only those opposing benevolent theism and resorting to Theobald’s falsification criteria have the solipsism problem. If the human modes of deductive/inductive inference are designed to be truth-approximating (which is what most people seem to intuitively believe), then hypothesis rejection need not depend on the unworkable approach of Theobald. It can involve rejection because of lack or lesser degrees of parsimony and analogy. In fact, once you posit the existence of illusory experience and false “memories,” something like that kind of hypothesis rejection is the only workable approach.

        But UCA is much less analogical than certain models of separate ancestry .

      • Ariel

        Jeff,

        Glad you think I’m bringing up relevant topics.

        I don’t agree that the unfalsifiability of solipsism means that we can’t have evidence for evolution over creationism. Suppose that I have a hypothesis tree. At the top are the two hypotheses, the hypothesis that the world I perceive is real and the hypothesis that it is not. Within the “real” category, I have three separate sub-hypotheses for the origin of life: abiogenesis+evolution, strict creationism, and theistic evolution. Each hypothesis has a label that estimates roughly how likely I think it is. No possible experiment or observation can move probability from the “unreal” category to the “real” category, but it’s certainly possible to move probability around within the “real” category.

        Put another way, the falsifiability criterion certainly can distinguish between the two statements “If the world is real, then evolution happened” and “If the world is real, then all species were created independently”.

        Only those opposing benevolent theism and resorting to Theobald’s falsification criteria have the solipsism problem.

        False. There’s no reason your god had to give you the ability to perceive the real world. In fact, a lot of religions postulate that there is a supernatural world/Heaven that is much more meaningful and “real” than the physical world we live in, which implies that the God they believe in did put them in a world of illusion.

  • Caravelle

    If our brains are produced by evolution then ipso facto they’re optimized for approximating true facts about the world – because living things live in the world. Brains are optimized for detecting dangerous things when dangerous things are actually there, for not detecting them when they aren’t there, for accurately determining where food is and isn’t, for correctly deducing unknown facts about the world from available data, and so on.

    Of course given evolution we expect brains to be optimized for approximating certain truths better than others – for example we’d expect it to be optimized to understand the world on the human scales – that’s timescales from seconds to decades, and spatial scales from centimeters to hundreds of meters. We’d expect it to good at understanding concepts that its organism encounters every day and bad at understanding those it doesn’t. And because we’re social organisms we’d expect our brains to be good at social stuff – anticipating others’ actions, convincing people, etc.

    And what do you know, our brains are quite terrible at physics once it involves the very small, the very large, the very short or the very long. Our reasoning abilities are extremely powerful, but also extremely prone to taking shortcuts that work most of the time but aren’t logically valid. We mostly understand abstract concepts by making analogies to our concrete experiences; for example we’re terrible at manipulating probabilities but we’re quite good at manipulating frequencies even though mathematically they’re the exact same thing. A brain that was designed to understand maths shouldn’t behave that way; in fact the things we design to understand maths, calculators and computers, don’t behave that way.

    So not only does evolution say our brains should be able to approximate the truth, the way our brains approximate the truth itself is consistent with how we evolved. If our intelligence was intelligently designed, why should our brains approximate the truth the way they do ? Why do we have all those cognitive fallacies that get in the way of updating our beliefs in a purely Bayesian way ?

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Brains are optimized for detecting dangerous things when dangerous things are actually there, for not detecting them when they aren’t there

      Have to slightly disagree — from what I have, we are cognitively biased towards false positives on that score, because they cost less than false negatives. Startling and running away from what turns out to be just the wind in the grass is a minor inconvenience compared to *not* running away from the real tiger hiding in the grass ;-).

      • Caravelle

        Well it had better be “slightly” :p I was saying there’s a general selective pressure to accurately model reality, i.e. discriminating between dangerous and non-dangerous things as opposed to not doing so at all. Having a bias towards false positives in that process is a second-order effect, not what I was considering.

        But it’s a good point because that kind of marginal wrinkle in our brain functions is exactly the kind of thing that’s interesting because that’s what gives us insight into the mechanisms that created those functions. And as usual, all signs point to evolution… (although I’ll give this particular one a pass because a bias towards false positives when identifying danger is just good design sense, I’m sure an intelligent designer would have put that in. Confirmation bias, belief bias, the availability heuristic, that probability vs frequency thing I brought up ? Not so much.)

    • Jeff

      Caravelle: If our brains are produced by evolution then ipso facto they’re optimized for approximating true facts about the world – because living things live in the world.

      Jeff: It doesn’t follow that if evolution occurs that brains result from them. Nor does it follow that if brains evolve that epiphenominalism isn’t true. But if epiphenominalism is true, you have no grounds for believing you know anything about the external world at all. Atheistic evolution doesn’t rule out epiphenominalism and other seemingly absurd views. It doesn’t even render them implausible. That’s the problem.

      • Jeff

        I meant to say, above, “It doesn’t follow that if evolution occurs that brains result from that evolution.”

      • machintelligence

        Perhaps I need to fill in a bit more about Postmodern Philosophy. From Wikipedia:

        Postmodern philosophy is often particularly skeptical about simple binary oppositions characteristic of structuralism, emphasizing the problem of the philosopher cleanly distinguishing knowledge from ignorance, social progress from reversion, dominance from submission, and presence from absence.[1][2]

        It also has real problems with the concept of truth.

        Things have not gone too well since the publication of Sokal’s 1996 article, however. Also from Wikipedia

        The Sokal affair, also known as the Sokal hoax,[1] was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether such a journal would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”[2]
        The article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, published in the Social Text Spring/Summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue, proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist.[3][4] On its date of publication (May 1996), Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics”.[2]
        The resultant academic and public quarrels concerned the scholarly merit, or lack thereof, of humanistic commentary about the physical sciences; the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines in general; academic ethics, including whether Sokal was right or wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether the journal had exercised the appropriate intellectual rigor before publishing the pseudoscientific article.

        If you want to try your hand at “writing” a postmodernist article, visit this website
        http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/
        It will automatically generate an essay in the Postmodernist style, complete with references.

      • Caravelle

        @Jeff : I wasn’t talking about epiphenomenalism or whatever, I was responding to this bit of your post : “My only point is that atheists who have really thought this through realize that once you reject the view that natural, human modes of deductive and inductive inference are designed to orient humans towards truth approximation, there is no other reason to believe much of anything.” and srmnda’s response that began with “I’m also getting the whole ‘well, if our brains are produced by evolution then how do we know that there are useful for determining true facts about the world?’ and explaining why atheists who accept evolution can’t “reject the view that natural, human modes of deductive and inductive inference are designed to orient humans towards truth approximation”. Do you agree with this ?

        As to all your talk about epiphenomenalism and so on, it isn’t an issue with atheist thought it’s an issue with all thought. You don’t know you’re not a brain in a vat anymore than I do; just assuming you’re not because God makes as much sense as me just assuming I’m not because consistent perception of reality + parsimony. In fact I’d think it’s more of an issue with theistic thought than atheistic thought, because theists actually posit the existence of entities powerful enough to create an illusion of reality, whereas atheists don’t.

        @machine intelligence, back at the beginning :

        Intelligent design: identify problem — design solution.
        Scientific method: identify problem — try a solution. Evaluate solution — try improved solution. Repeat step two ad nauseum.
        Natural selection: Try *everything*. Throw out what doesn’t work. Whatever remains is a solution. This method only works if you have essentially unlimited time and resources, but to put it in anthropomorphic terms, evolution is in no hurry. Because it tries *everything* it will often “find” brilliant solutions. In the words of Orgel’s Second Rule “evolution is cleverer than you are.

        I’m so sorry, this is way old and great as a quick rundown but it tripped my optimization pedant meter and I find myself powerless to resist it.
        Actually “try everything” would be a random search, with which you’re 100% sure will actually find the best solution… if you have an arbitrarily large amount of time. It’s exactly as inefficient as it sounds.
        Mosts other search algorithms involve assumptions about what the solution will look like, which is what makes them more efficient than a random search. The scientific method would be something like that – we use our pre-existing knowledge and assumptions and maths and logic to guide our thinking.
        Evolution isn’t a random search, it doesn’t try everything. But what it has in common with the random search (and what makes it more intelligent than you) is that it makes no prior assumptions about what the solution looks like.

      • machintelligence

        I agree. I was trying to be succinct and left out some important details (nothing makes for a good example like an oversimplification.) In my defense I did use *everything* because I meant that the fodder for new solutions is constrained by the results of previous solutions. Evolution can find local “best” solutions while missing global best solutions because no path between them involves “better” solutions. Dawkin’s “Climbing Mount Improbable ” does a great job of explaining this concept.

        Feel free to clarify my comments at any time. :-)

  • Jeff

    Caravelle,

    The difference between most creationists and atheists is a relevant one. Most creationists don’t arbitrarily believe in teleology. They believe in it intuitively. And all it means to believe something ituitively is to believe something naturally. A natural belief that can not be falsified is NOT an arbitrary belief.

    But to consciously REJECT a natural and intuitive belief that is not falsifiable (in any sense), is arbitrary and hence a-rational. Once you do that, you are essentially rejecting foundationalism per se. And once you reject foundationalism per se, all belief seems equally arbitrary. And at that point, we can’t distinguish between arbitrary and non-arbitrary belief, warranted and non-warranted belief, etc.

    An epistemology must have a built-in way to make such distinctions if it is to be knowingly truth-oriented. This is precisely what an atheistic epistemology can not do. It does no good to ask for evidence if we don’t naturally have the foundational beliefs that there IS evidence and what constitutes evidence and/or what constitutes better or worse evidence. Thus, it simply can not be true that all intuitions are subject to falsification.

    • Caravelle

      Intuitive beliefs aren’t arbitrary, but they don’t have a higher epistemic value than non-intuitive beliefs either, so if they’re unfalsifiable, rejecting OR accepting them is equally a-rational. If our intuition had proven to be a perfect guide to knowledge then something being an intuitive belief might be good evidence it’s true, but that is not the case. In fact our intuition has proven to be a very, very bad guide to knowledge in situations that are far from our everyday experience – and the question of whether the process that created current living things is teleological or not is quite far from our everyday experience.

      And rejecting one specific intuitive belief (teleology in some process or other) has nothing to do with rejecting foundationalism as a whole or not believing there is such a thing as evidence. And again, it doesn’t mark a difference between atheists and creationists – all humans have intuitive beliefs, and all humans have intuitive beliefs that are false and intuitive beliefs that are true. There is nothing about atheism that rejects intuitive beliefs in general – in fact, personally I started identifying as an atheist because of an intuitive belief; in this case, the belief that there’s no such thing as destiny. But accepting intuitive beliefs because they’re intuitive isn’t an epistemology, it’s an abandonment of epistemology. “Intuition” isn’t a single entity, it’s another word for stuff our minds and brains do that we aren’t consciously aware of, so intuitive beliefs are basically things we believe without knowing why, and there are many, many different intuitions. Which often contradict each other. Which itself contradicts our intuition that true beliefs shouldn’t contradict each other. “Is it intuitive or not” is a terrible way to tell warranted beliefs from non-warranted ones; logic and observation (and the specific intuitive belief that logic and observation work) are a much better guide.

      • Jeff

        Caravelle,

        As you point out, the law non-contradiction is an intuitive belief. It is absolutely unproveable. And without it there is no logic. So one can’t pit intuition against logic as if they are two radically distinct things. They are not. But there is a reason why atheistic scientists have no problem dispensing with one intuition after another (causality, finality, time, space, law of non-contradiction, etc), and it’s not because empiricism can ever prove those intuitions false. It’s because they don’t assume knowledge is a teleological end or means of event sequences and thus there is no such knowable thing as intuition. The problem is, there is no knowable thing worth knowing at all if knowledge is not a knowable teleological end or means of event sequences. You can’t appeal to reason while denying the intuitive knowability of the very intuitive axioms that render logic what it is. That’s sheer non-sense.

      • Caravelle

        I’m not the one pitting intuition against logic here. The law of non-contradiction is an intuitive belief but we don’t accept it just because it’s intuitive, we accept it because it’s consistent with our observations of the world (we see things being what they are and not being what they aren’t) and because systems of logic that include it are the most productive and most useful for describing our world. And we know this because people have actually tried to see how things work when we don’t take the law of non-contradiction for granted; look up “paraconsistent logic” or “dialetheism”.

        And it’s not “atheistic scientists” who have no problem dispensing with one intuition after another; it’s scientists and philosophers in general, and they don’t have “no problem” dispensing with intuitions – they actually investigate whether those intuitions are founded, and sometimes they find they are and other times they find they aren’t. Scientists (atheistic or not) don’t in fact dispense with the law of non-contradiction, because paraconsistent logics haven’t proved particularly useful. On the other hand scientists (again, atheistic or not… You know Riemann was studying to be a priest right ?) dispensed with some of the axioms of Euclidian geometry when it turned out that not only can you do consistent maths without them, but those maths describe aspects of the world better than Euclidian geometry does; i.e. Euclid’s axioms aren’t actually true for the Universe in general; i.e. those unproveable assumptions (that’s what an axiom is) were actually proven false.

        It’s because they don’t assume knowledge is a teleological end or means of event sequences and thus there is no such knowable thing as intuition. The problem is, there is no knowable thing worth knowing at all if knowledge is not a knowable teleological end or means of event sequences.

        I do not understand what this means, could you please explain ?

        You can’t appeal to reason while denying the intuitive knowability of the very intuitive axioms that render logic what it is.

        The whole history of human thought consists of critically examining our intuitions instead of assuming that because it’s intuitive, it’s “known”, and that examination led directly to your having a computers and an internet to type things on, so good luck with that.
        But let’s say we couldn’t deny the intuitive knowability of the axioms of logic. How about the intuitive knowability of the axioms of maths ? Can we deny them, does it depend on the axiom in question, if so how do we tell those we can deny from those we can’t ? How about all the other things we feel we know intuitively, are they all true ? If not, how do we tell those that are true from those that aren’t ?

  • smrnda

    I’ll step in – if we don’t accept that A and (not A) cannot both be true, we can’t draw any conclusions about whether things are true or false because then we would be effectively saying that “true” and “not true” have the same meaning.

    If the argument is ‘if I accept the existence of God, then the law of the excluded middle is no longer an assumption but something that we know to be true.” Then to me, you’re just replacing one assumption with another one which comes with a lot more baggage attached.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Exactly. I don’t know enough to get into a technical discussion of epistemology; what I want to know is where Jeff is going with this. If the upshot is that we can’t really “know” anything, then so be it. But if it’s leading up to introducing God as Cosmic Validator, like the rabbit pulled out of a magician’s hat, then I call bullshit. That’s just God of the Gaps, applied to a different domain.

      • machintelligence

        He seems to be into postmodern philosophy. Those folks don’t believe that there is such a thing as truth, so arguing with them is largely a waste of time. He isn’t going anywhere, just spinning his wheels.

        He obviously thinks that the epistemology of linguistic transparency functions as the conceptual frame for the discourse on the natural.

        You can write sentences like this too:
        http://writing-program.uchicago.edu/toys/randomsentence/write-sentence.htm

      • Caravelle

        I think he’s a presuppositionalist, because he says a lot of the same things I’ve had presuppositionalists tell me. The funny thing is, although they argue like a postmodernist they don’t think of themselves as postmodernists, and indeed they think they’re the antithesis of postmodernism. The usual argument is something like : “If atheism, then [descent into the most adolescent solipsistic postmodern musings you can come up with]. But postmodernism and solipsism suck ! And look : if Christian God/Bible, then realist evidential positivism [or whatever that philosophical position is] ! Therefore, God.”

      • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

        Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen fundamentalists go all po-mo, usually as a prelude to sneaking some kind of presuppositionalism in the back door as a “solution” to the problem. I see more Jeff comments below, which I haven’t read yet. I commend you others who have the patience to wade through his word salad. As far as I can tell, he’s one of these people who think you can determine empirical matters by playing analytic games with the terminology.

  • Jeff

    MI, I believe humans know things intuitively. I believe humans are designed to infer their way to greater and greater approximations of truth, inductively/analogically. What does it mean to say that our natural modes of deductive and inductive inferring are designed to be truth-approximating? First, inferring is a temporally-ordered process. It doesn’t happen instantaneously. Second, the conclusion is in some sense caused by the mind’s recognition of the relations that drive the discursive intellectual process.

    In short, a conclusion is, causally speaking, just like what we call an end. It is not random–it’s a specific kind of effect that occurs relatively consistently and predictably from the antecedent intellectual conditions. And to say it is truth-approximating is quite like saying this specific effect is an end. Analogically, that’s exacty what it seems like.

    Now, resist the analogy and posit that inferring is not intended to produce conclusions that, cumulatively, are truth-approximating. There is then no purpose for them, including that they be truth-approximating. In that case, if they are truth-approximating, it’s just a fluke that is not predicted by any materialistic theory. Thus, per an evolutionary approach, thought need not have any causal role upon an external world. But there is no way, from that assumption, to prove that thought does have an effect on an external world. For that approach can’t even prove the correspondence theory of truth is true. And yet it is not axiomatic to evolution either.

    Thus, since the correspondence theory of truth is neither axiomatic to nor derivable from an atheistic evolutionary metaphysic, it must be held arbitrarily, if at all. The creationist approach is not arbitrary in this way, WHETHER OR NOT CREATIONISM IS FALSE and WHETHER OR NOT ANYTHING IS ULTIMATELY KNOWABLE. Because all I need to believe intuitively to get there non-arbitrarily is what, in fact, I believe intuitively or virtually so–that the principles of analogy, causality, teleology, etc are true. Creationists don’t prove these. And they know they can’t live consistently with their denial anyway. Many a-teleologists acknowledge this. Dawkins, e.g., once admitted that he still struggles with his natural belief in moral accountability even though he knows his embraced epistemology can’t account for it.

    Moving from the teleological-epistemological intuitive approach, teleological separate ancestry is WAY more analogical and, therefore, rational thus far than the hypothesis of UCA. Granted, that doesn’t prove rationality is ultimately truth-approximating. But that’s not my point. All I’m saying is that theistic evolutionists are not rational. They abandon analogy arbitrarily.

    Atheists, on the other hand, by denying teleology have no warrant for positing event regularities, the correspondence theory of truth, the existence of non-illusory experience, the existence of bona-fide memories, the validity of “intuitional” belief, etc. These all must be posited arbitrarily since they’re not knowably entailed in a materialistic, evolutionary metaphysic per se, and no particular evolutionary history is intuitive in the first place.

    • Caravelle

      @Jeff :

      Now, resist the analogy and posit that inferring is not intended to produce conclusions that, cumulatively, are truth-approximating.

      No, let’s not do that, because everybody here agrees that human reason is designed to approximate truth, our only disagreement is on what the design process was and whether it is teleological or intelligent or not. You’re talking to us here, not to the imaginary atheists in your head and their absurd beliefs.
      And if you want to argue that atheism necessarily implies that human reason isn’t truth-approximating, then you have to actually argue that point, not posit it.

      Now, I have explained to you how if evolution is true then human thought approximates reality. Your first reply was besides the point, and when I pointed that out your next reply was about another part of my post entirely, so as of now you still haven’t addressed my original explanation and told me what part of it you disagree with. I would appreciated it if you did that now.

      • Jeff

        Caravelle: I have explained to you how if evolution is true then human thought approximates reality.

        Jeff: And evolutionists admit that there is no evolutionary theory that predicts humans at all since they can’t predict phenotypes, much less the impossibility of epiphenominalism, etc. I’m not arguing that atheism rules out the possibility of truth-approximating minds. But neither does atheism render truth-approximating minds more likely than the contrary.

        There are basically two atheistic views today–one is that the universe popped into existence a-causally ex nihilo. This view certainly can’t rule out epiphenominalism, etc. The other view is the multi-verse view. That view surely can’t rule out universes (or an infinite set of them) where epiphenominalism, etc, holds.

        Teleologists don’t posit views that they can’t live consistently with, much less when they can’t see how such views imply epistemologies that account for warranted inferential belief.

      • Caravelle

        @Jeff : This isn’t about whether evolutionary theory predicts humans, it’s about what characteristics evolutionary theory predicts humans would have if they had evolved. I thought that was clear but in case it wasn’t I’ll amend my previous sentence to make this explicit : when I said “if evolution is true then human thought approximates reality” you should read “if human thought arose through evolution then it approximates reality“.

        Do you understand why “evolution doesn’t predict humans” is irrelevant to that point ? If you don’t we can’t go further, so please explain why you think it’s relevant so I can better understand what you’re thinking.

        Maybe an analogy can help. Let’s say people are arguing about the Earth’s orbit and physics; one says that if we only go by Newtonian physics we have no reason to expect Earth’s orbit to be elliptical instead of any other shape. The other explains that actually Newton’s equations predict that two massive bodies in space will follow elliptical orbits around their center of gravity, so if Newton’s laws are correct the Earth’s orbit has to be elliptical. The first one replies that Newton’s laws don’t predict the Earth’s existence in the first place.
        Do you see the problem with that last reply ?

      • Ariel

        And evolutionists admit that there is no evolutionary theory that predicts humans at all

        So what? That’s not the kind of prediction evolutionary biology makes; there’s enough of a random component to evolutionary theory that we can’t make that kind of detailed prediction over a 500,000,000-year timeframe.

        Brains are expensive objects: the human brain consumes about 20% of the body’s carbohydrates, and prior to the invention of agriculture, carbohydrates were hard to get. For natural selection to construct a brain, the brain has to do something really useful. And if it’s putting all that effort into simulating the world at all, the only way to justify it is to simulate the world more or less correctly.

        The prediction is not: brains will evolve. The prediction is: If brains evolve, then they will evolve to approximate reality. Put another way, if evolution is true, then the majority of brains that do exist approximate reality.

        I’d also like to point out that no possible philosophy can make it certain that you, Jeff, or I, Ariel, have a brain that approximates reality. Insane people exist. This is an established, empirical fact. Many of them can’t tell that they are insane. No matter what your philosophy is, there is no way to prove that you are not one of them. The same personal philosophy that lets me continue to function, despite the ever-present possibility that I might be insane and wrong about everything, can be applied on a larger scale to let me continue to function despite all the philosophical musings about the nature of truth that you throw at me.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      FWIW, here’s an article by a Real Philosopher on why evolution would tend (mostly but not inevitably so) to produce truth-tracking minds: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/05/24/the-evolution-of-common-sense/

      Note I said “evolution”, not “atheism”. I have no idea why Jeff keeps harping on what “atheism” predicts; I suspect it reflects a confusion on his part that attempts to treat physical reality and/or our theories about it as something like an axiomatic system.

    • machintelligence

      Jeff:

      MI, I believe humans know things intuitively. I believe humans are designed to infer their way to greater and greater approximations of truth, inductively/analogically.

      Once again, a good start, and then the wheels come off in the second sentence. Philosophers have been trying to use this method for at least 2400 years. It still doesn’t work. Until you test your conjectures against the real world, you have no way of knowing whether they are right. This is where you need the scientific method.

  • Jeff

    See, also, this problem with the muliverse: http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?page_id=4338

    • Jeff

      Hmm. When you get to http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?page_id=4338, choose “Why do you think the mulitverse is pseudoscience?” The author is an atheist, by the way.

    • Caravelle

      There are tons of different theories involving a multiverse of some variety or another, and not all of them involve string theory; the article you link to seems to be talking about one specific kind but it doesn’t given precisions on which one so there isn’t much to go on. Also, you brought up the multiverse in the context of whether some universes could include epiphenomenalism and others not, which is definitely not any multiverse proposed by science I’ve ever heard of, and thus not something your link addresses. I’m not even sure why you keep harping on epiphenomenalism in the first place; everything I’ve read on it seems rather confused and I can’t tell if it’s plain materialism using different words, or a particularly pointless form of dualism. In the first case then it isn’t something most atheists would want to avoid; all atheists aren’t materialists, but the more outspoken ones nowadays (and those I expect you’re thinking of) are. And in the second case it’s completely antithetical to materialism so it clearly isn’t a consequence of atheism.

      • Jeff

        Caravelle: And in the second case it’s completely antithetical to materialism so it clearly isn’t a consequence of atheism.

        Jeff: How is epiphenominalism antithetical to materialism if consciousness per se isn’t? And, true, epiphenominalism isn’t a known consequence of atheism. But neither is consciousness. That’s the point; nothing follows from the truth of one premise other than the logical impossibility of the contrary–in this case, the existence of a designer of the universe. But the existence of knowing humans is not a known consequence of a big bang or any muti-verse theory either. Once you limit your axioms to those entailed in the initial conditions of some modern atheistic world-view, consciousness is not a known consequence at all, leaving epiphenominalism, etc as unfalsifiable possibilities.

      • Caravelle

        @Jeff : In a materialistic point of view consciousness is a cognitive function (or more realistically, a collection of cognitive functions), i.e. a pattern of brain states. Just like an ocean wave is a pattern of water molecules. Thus if epiphenomenalism says that consciousness is something other than brain states – and if it has no causal power then it can’t be patterns of brain states, because those have causal power – then it’s antithetical to materialism. In fact I think the “has no causal power” bit is enough for the concept to be antithetical to materialism – if something has no causal power even in principle I don’t see how it can be meaningfully said to exist.

      • Caravelle

        And I think you misunderstand what atheism is. It isn’t a premise, or even a single coherent philosophy – it’s just a lack of belief in gods. Being an atheist doesn’t rule out believing in the supernatural, or anything else – it just means that none of the things you do believe in you call “gods”. And treating it as a premise we should deduce all knowledge from would be like deducing the price of grain from the non-existence of the planet Vulcan. The non-existence of that planet does have implications, but it isn’t a fundamental premise you can build a whole worldview upon.

        A lot of the things you say about atheism would make more sense if you said them about materialism, which (IIRC) actually is a coherent philosophy. But it isn’t a premise either ! If we all we know is that everything that exists interacts and can be investigated based on those interactions, we still don’t know anything about what actually exists. For that you actually need to, well, investigate, and that’s what science is. And even science isn’t a premise, it’s a process. (although if you go by the premise that scientific knowledge is the most accurate knowledge humanity has access to, there you finally have a premise you can deduce a lot of things about the world from – but only because scientists have been doing the work for you)

        So when you say : “That’s the point; nothing follows from the truth of one premise other than the logical impossibility of the contrary–in this case, the existence of a designer of the universe.” I don’t know what to answer other than – yeah, exactly, is it a problem ? I mean, like the non-existence of Vulcan the non-existence of gods or of the supernatural has certain implications so some things follow from it, but you can’t deduce the Universe from things like that anymore than you could deduce the Piraha grammar from the Bible. To know Piraha grammar you need to listen and learn some Piraha, and to know the Universe you need to observe the Universe. Insofar as there is a fundamental premise that implies the whole Universe, science hasn’t found it yet (and it’s looking), but even if it did find it we’d never have the computing power to actually derive the whole Universe from that fundamental law.

  • Jeff

    This statement of mine isn’t clear:

    “Once you limit your axioms to those entailed in the initial conditions of some modern atheistic world-view, consciousness is not a known consequence at all, leaving epiphenominalism, etc as unfalsifiable possibilities.”

    More clearly, once you limit your axioms to those entailed in a set of initial conditions of a modern, atheistic world-view, consciousness does not follow as a consequence at all unless it’s just posited outside as an arbitrary axiom unrelated to general principles that science is about. But if you can do that, so can those who posit that human consciousness is ultimately epiphenominal with no grasp of an external world. You have to allow the same arbitrariness for your opponents that you allow for yourself. And once you do that, you’re dead out of the gate epistemologically. That’s why atheism is a no-starter. It’s worthless epistemologically and, therefore, worthless to science.

  • Jeff

    Ariel: For natural selection to construct a brain, the brain has to do something really useful.

    Jeff: First of all, there is no reason to rule out neutral evolution. Second, even if brain function is adaptive, it doesn’t follow that epiphenominalism is false. Mental states and brain states are EASILY distinguishable.

    • Caravelle

      Nobody’s ruling out neutral evolution, it certainly plays a role. But neutral evolution isn’t the only part of evolution, natural selection also happens, and only the latter is adaptive. And only adaptive forces create complex functional structures like the brain.

      As for whether evolution rules out epiphenomenalism that depends on whether we think consciousness is highly complex or not – if it is then it is highly unlikely to be the result of neutral evolution, which means it’s functional and epiphenomenalism can’t be true. If we think it’s a very simple side-effect of other brain processes, then it can have just piggy-backed on the brain’s evolution and thus be epiphenomenal. Of course in that case we’d also expect to see large variation in the population – the less functional a trait, the less constrained it is by selection, and the more it varies between individuals.

      For what it’s worth, cognitive science and neurology tell us that consciousness is quite complex indeed. And while we can’t live in people’s minds we have no evidence whatsoever that different people are differently conscious. And in fact when people are “differently conscious” – when they’re falling asleep, or waking up, or sleepwalking, or drunk, or on drugs, or brain damaged – it tends to show.

      • Jeff

        Caravelle, you’re assuming that implicit in the relations entailed in some intial conditions pre-dating conscious, intentional causality are necessary and sufficient conditions for the ultimate consequence of consciousness and intentional causality. But there are no such known relations entailed in any conceivable set of such intial conditions. Thus, it doesn’t follow that consciousness would ultimately occur, much less in a way inconsistent with epiphenominalism, etc. What you believe is, as it is for creationists, just intuitive to you. The difference is, creationists extrapolate backwards analogically so that what IS was in some analogical sense known to be possible FROM the initial conditions. That isn’t even true from atheistic axioms. They have to posit things non-analogically, and therefore non-inductively. That is hardly a knowable epistemological improvement.

      • Caravelle

        Jeff, that was complete word salad. Could you say that again in English ? Maybe with examples and analogies to give an idea of what you’re trying to get at ?
        I’ll try and give a shot at a reply anyway. Your first sentence seems to assert that I assume consciousness is a necessary consequence of the Universe’s initial conditions ? But I assume no such thing; in fact I have no clue whether consciousness is a necessary or contingent fact, and science isn’t even close to being in a position to answer that question. And that is entirely irrelevant to what I was talking about with evolution; for one thing, in high-level sciences like biology we don’t talk about necessary and sufficient conditions, we talk about evidence. And for another, you are again moving the goalposts – please reply to my earlier post that you haven’t addressed yet (the one with the illustration involving elliptical orbits), if only to say “nope, I don’t get it, please explain better”, because as long as we can’t agree on what we’re talking about this is all pretty pointless.

        Also, I don’t think “inductively” means what you think it means. (and I have no clue what you mean by “analogically” or why we should care about it)

  • Jeff

    OK, caravelle, I read your post about the orbits. I agree with you the “last response” in that hypothetical debate is irrelevant to THAT discussion. But our discussion is in part about epistemology. It has to be since there are two kinds of non-creationists–atheists and theists. But they necessarily have different epistemologies. Do you see that?

    As for creationists, they can believe in UCA or SA. But their arguments to one another will be based on epistemologies more similar to one another than either is to the epistemology of an atheist. The atheist can not talk about what evolution will result in. The smartest believers in UCA even admit that phenotypes and consciousness are not predicted by any extant causal theory when applied to relevant initial conditions. So cease with the claims that consciousness would be epiphenominal or not if atheistic UCA is true. NO ONE knows that.

    The theist UCA-ist can at least hold as axiomatic that consciousness is not epiphemonal because of its seeming function (and, therefore, purpose). But that’s different than claiming that belief is derivable logically from a-teleological axioms. It’s not. It’s undoable logically from axioms that don’t include the reality of extra-human teleology. Such beliefs have to be either arbitrary, intuitive or teleologically-inferential in nature. But atheism has difficulty with intuition. If you don’t believe me, do some googling on the subject.

    The reason why this is relevant is because if people can’t even agree that the most plausible view of intuition is that which explains the most assuming the least (i.e., the one that is most parsimonious), then they’re not using induction when doing an analysis of what should be considered axiomatic. If so, the only civil thing to do is just admit that human epistemology is not knowably non-relativistic in the first place and give up on argument.

    There’s no such thing as meaningful debate without some attempt to reach a consensus on what should be viewed as axiomatic. For it is inevitable that people will reach different conclusions if they apply different axioms to the same data. And grown-ups should accept that as unavoidable and quit whining about disagreements amongst the human race unless they’re prepared to do the relevant debate about epistemology. But this idiocy of calling people ignorant, liars or dogmatists because they refuse to deny the validity of intuitions that can’t be dispensed without commiting epistemological suicide is of no avail.

    You’re argument about the orbits is an inductive one. That’s why creationists have no problems with those views of physics. In that realm of inquiry, no one need commit epistemological suicide to do the relevant inductive inferences. But when many atheist scientists start questioning whether all events are caused, etc, you’ve arbitrarily rejected unfalsifiable intuition. Once you do that, there is no reason to not arbitrarily reject any intuition. But that leaves us with no human consensus on what is axiomatic.

    And there is no reason for people who refuse to discuss axioms to discuss anything else. And this is why so many of the new atheists resort to bullyism. It’s a way of intimidating at least the cowards into their camp.

    • Caravelle

      OK, caravelle, I read your post about the orbits. I agree with you the “last response” in that hypothetical debate is irrelevant to THAT discussion. But our discussion is in part about epistemology.

      So was THAT discussion, before I cut out the bit about Ellipsists for space because it was ultimately irrelevant. The reason the last response in that hypothetical debate is a bad one is completely contained in that debate, adding context doesn’t make it a good response.

      You say that “There’s no such thing as meaningful debate without some attempt to reach a consensus on what should be viewed as axiomatic. ” Actually reaching consensus on axioms is the second step : the first step should be to actually know and understand both sides’ positions. i.e., before reaching agreement on the axioms you need to actually know what the axioms are.
      You have made assertion after assertion about what “atheism” and “evolution” entail, but when actual atheists tell you than some of your fundamental premises on what atheism is or how atheists actually reason are wrong, you just go on and make other assertions based on the same premises.

      Possibly the first thing you’ve said that seemed to wander close to the mark is this : “You’re argument about the orbits is an inductive one.
      If by “inductive” you mean what I think you mean, then exactly. And all my arguments about consciousness and epiphenomenalism are exactly as inductive. As would any argument I made about almost anything else be. You want to reach a consensus on our axioms ? I don’t have any. I have no bit of knowledge that I accept without question, without trying my darndest to get a likelihood on it, and that I could never change my mind on whatever happened. I work from evidence and logic, but even those aren’t axioms : if the world disappeared or stopped making sense, if I fell through a hole into Wonderland, if mathematicians discovered a fundamental irresolvable paradox that made math and logic inconsistent, I would take that into account in my view of the world and change my approach where appropriate. Of course my belief that reality is consistent is very, very strong, so it would take A LOT to make me believe there was a problem with reality and not with my perception of it – but there is a theoretical level of evidence that would make me change my mind, or at least there should be.

      Any epistemology that relies on axioms is giving up the ability to correct itself if that axiom turns out to be wrong. Which is nice and all if you don’t anticipate that axiom ever being proven wrong, but it’s a completely unnecessary handicap. Reality is the only arbiter of truth, and if that axiom is true then you can observe reality respecting that axiom – i.e. you have evidence the axiom is true. And if you don’t observe reality respecting that axiom then either the axiom is superfluous for explaining reality, or there’s a non-negligible probability it isn’t true at all. In either case, not a good choice to base an epistemology on.

      Now I’d like to know about your epistemology, Jeff; do you believe epiphenomenalism is false, and if so why ?
      I mean, you’ve said that considering theism to be axiomatic leads one to the conclusion that epiphenomenalism is false, but you’re using that as an argument for theism and against atheism, which means you believe epiphenomenalism is false for other reasons*. What are they ?

      * (if X implies Z, and Y implies not-Z, if you know whether Z is true or false independently of X and Y then you can deduce that X or Y is true, but if you don’t know a priori whether Z is true or false then you can conclude nothing. And if your argument is “Y is true, therefore Z is false, and since X implies Z that means X is false” that’s just the same as “Y is true therefore X is false”, which is begging the question, since we’re trying to find out whether X and Y are true or not in the first place)

    • Ariel

      But this idiocy of calling people ignorant, liars or dogmatists because they refuse to deny the validity of intuitions that can’t be dispensed without commiting epistemological suicide is of no avail.

      I might have missed it, but I can’t recall you mentioning a single piece of physical evidence that is explained better by creationism than by evolution. You are basing your entire argument on philosophical considerations. Whether those considerations are right or wrong, you are not using the evidence to determine your beliefs. From the perspective of Libby Anne’s categories, you fit squarely into Category 3. According to my dictionary, dogmatism is “the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others” (emphasis mine). It may or may not be the best choice of words, but it’s a reasonable word for people who base their position on something other than evidence.

      • Jeff

        Ariel, I just realized I’ve missed several of your posts. I’ll get to them eventually. But note that by benevolent theism, I mean the view that the mind is designed to approximate truth via deductive and inductive inferences. Religious views that don’t believe that are, by definition, irrational. I’m no more concerned with their brand of irrationality than I am with that of people both you and I agree are insane. But, answer this, my first post:

        What is evidence, and what relation holds between what physical entities/structures that constitutes evidence for the belief that all living species have a common ancestor that lived in the Precambrian?

        You claim your view has evidence for it while SA has none or less. Define evidence such that that conclusion is derivable.

      • Ariel

        What is evidence?

        If I have two theories, then evidence for Theory A is any event, observed in the physical world, that is more likely to happen if Theory A is true than if Theory B is true. The problem of course is that this is only a way to compare two theories; if you haven’t thought of the right theory, then evidence won’t let you find it. This is why the null hypothesis is so important in science: it gives you something to compare your theory to.

        Physicists are lucky enough that in their field, you can often get conclusive evidence in one experiment. For example, if Newtonian gravitation is correct, then planets will move in elliptical orbits. On the other hand, if the null hypothesis is true and planets are bouncing around at random, the probability that they will just happen to be moving in elliptical orbits is very small, and thus the fact that we see planets moving in elliptical orbits is strong evidence that Newtonian gravitation is correct. It’s not definitive proof–Einsteinian relativity displaced Newtonian gravitation–but someone alive in the nineteenth century who believed in Newtonian gravitation would be less wrong than someone who didn’t, and would be believing in the theory that was best supported by the evidence.

        Unfortunately, biology and paleontology is somewhat messier–a lot of times, the best evidence is something that is likely to happen under Theory A and unlikely to happen under Theory B, rather than almost certain and almost impossible. So we can’t just “reject theories that are disproven, tentatively accept theories that aren’t.” To use this evidence, we need a more mathematically sophisticated way of dealing with evidence, such as Bayesian inference.

        An example of evidence for descent with modification over design is the human foot. Humans appear to be related to other mammals, and most mammals have four similar appendages. In particular, our closest relatives (monkeys) have four hands, not hands and feet. Therefore, our ancestors’ front appendages were probably similar to our ancestors’ back appendages, and so our feet probably have the same basic anatomy as our hands. That is, there are five long, thin bones in each hand, running from the wrist to the fingers; each thumb has two bones and each finger has three bones; each finger has a nail. Therefore, there are probably five long, thin bones in the foot, two bones in each special (big) toe, and three bones in each little toe. I estimate the probability that this happens, if humans have a mammalian ancestor, as about 95% (high, but not guaranteed, because evolution is messy). On the other hand, if humans were designed independently, without a quadripedal (quadrimanual?) ancestor, there’s no reason to recycle anatomy between hands and feet. Indeed, birds don’t have any close quadripedal relatives, and we see that their wings and feet are very different. Our feet could just as well have had four or six toes; the little toes don’t really need more bones than the big toe; the nails are totally superfluous. So based on what we know of design, the probability of a designer giving human feet all of the features I mentioned is pretty low. (Takes off shoes, feels feet) Yes, my feet bones have all the features I described. Therefore, this is evidence that humans had a quadripedal ancestor.

        This on its own is not *conclusive* evidence; however, there is lots of other evidence for evolution, and enough small pieces of evidence for evolution add up to a pretty convincing argument.

  • Jeff

    I forgot to add this: apart from the principle of analogy, there is no logical induction at all.

    • Caravelle

      I know what an analogy is but I don’t know what the principle of analogy is; Google suggests it’s a theological concept which would certainly explain why I’d never heard of it but now I’d really, really like to know how logical induction (a logical and philosophical concept) can’t exist without it. Please explain.

      • Caravelle

        Oh wait, I see, it’s the principle that the past functions like the present. Yeah, not really. I mean, it’s a fine principle and all, but it isn’t an axiom. It isn’t even a well-formed concept ! When we say things functioned in kind in the past like they do in the present, that “in kind” contains some deft sleight-of-hand, because it’s basically saying the past isn’t totally like the present, but it’s like the present in the aspects we’re thinking of. Aspects like : the laws of physics were the same, the physical constants were the same, etc. And that’s complete question-begging; heck, it’s in the name “constants” ! There are tons of numbers that do change, we just don’t call them constants. Similarly the laws of physics are the things we think must be the same everywhere and all the time; when they aren’t we don’t call them “laws of physics”, we call them “local phenomena”, or “an approximation that’s valid under the following circumstances”.

        And by looking at the evidence left from the past we can infer which things are likely to have changed and which things look like they’ve always been the same. And there are many things that scientists used to think had always been constant and that were later found out to have varied in the past when more evidence came in. Conversely there are things that all evidence suggests are constants and have been for as far back as we can find out. Those things (that we call “laws of physics” and “physical constants”) aren’t assumed to be constant according to some principle or other. They’re believed to be constant because that’s what the evidence suggests.

        And induction doesn’t depend on the “principle” of analogy to work – it depends on the reality of whether the past was like the present or not. And when we get it wrong, when we extrapolate from how we think the past was but it was actually different – we get wrong results, results that don’t correspond to reality, and this tells us that our original ideas on how the past works were wrong. And conversely, when we extrapolate from the past and we get correct results – we can infer that our idea of the past is likely to be correct.

        So induction’s dependence on the principle of analogy isn’t a statement that we MUST accept the principle of analogy as true in order to do induction – it’s a diagnostic tool we can use to validate our hypotheses by comparing them to reality.

        Reality trumps principle every time, basically.

  • Jeff

    Caravelle: And induction doesn’t depend on the “principle” of analogy to work – it depends on the reality of whether the past was like the present or not.

    Jeff: The principle of analogy is not something implies any specific interpretation the way deduction would. It basically says the most analogous/parsimonious explanation consistent with the data and undeniable intuitions (like events are caused) is more plausible. It doesn’t mean it’s true. Because future research might turn up even more parsimonious explanations. But without this plausibility critiera, we have no way to adjudicate plausibility in any non-relativistic human way.

    Caravelle: And conversely, when we extrapolate from the past and we get correct results – we can infer that our idea of the past is likely to be correct.

    Jeff: Precisely, the latter is precisely the principle of analogy. Extrapolation is a species of analogical thought. But this is the problem, we can’t extrapolate thus and predict phenotypes. Thus, we have no reason to believe UCA is likely true. We just can’t prove it’s impossible. Separate ancestries are less implausible simply because they don’t require as many ad-hoc hypotheses for which there is no evidence.

    And that’s the bigger point. To say data is evidence for an hypothesis just means that said data is more parsimoniously explained by said hypothesis than competing hypotheses. The problem is, we don’t have bona-fide explanations for SA, much less UCA. We can only compare those hypotheses for plausibility in terms of how many a-plausible ad-hoc hypotheses each requires to elude falsification. SA clearly wins on this account. Outside of that, we aren’t doing deduction or induction; we’re just revealing our respective metaphysics.

    • Caravelle

      Jeff :

      But this is the problem, we can’t extrapolate thus and predict phenotypes.

      Only because we don’t have enough information about the system, and that’s true of all extrapolations. Your extrapolation will always be as good as the information you’re using to make it, and we have very little information on ecosystems relative to their complexity. But we can absolutely extrapolate and predict phenotypes in highly controlled situations, and we can extrapolate a whole lot of general information on phenotypes. For example we can extrapolate that the phenotypes of organisms that share a common ancestor (and satisfy a few other conditions) will naturally fit into a nested hierarchy.
      The fact that all living things do fit into a natural nested hierarchy is extremely strong evidence for common ancestry because this isn’t something groups of objects usually do, and the few things there are that do fit into nested hierarchies all do so because they were formed through descent with modification.

      To say data is evidence for an hypothesis just means that said data is more parsimoniously explained by said hypothesis than competing hypotheses.

      Not quite. Data is evidence for a hypothesis if it is something we’d be more likely to see if the hypothesis is true than if competing hypotheses are true.
      Basically if you have two hypotheses H1 and H2 with a prior probability of P1 and P2 and you make an observation O, the ratio of your new probabilities for H1 and H2 after observing O is :
      P(H1|O)/P(H2|O) = P(O|H1)/P(O|H2) * P1/P2
      So if the observation was more likely under H1 than under H2 your belief in H1 will have increased and vice-versa.
      Parsimony comes into play because the likelihood of an observation under a non-parsimonious hypothesis is the same as its likelihood under the parsimonious version of the same hypothesis, but the non-parsimonious hypothesis will always have a lower prior probability than its parsimonious version because adding entities means adding uncertainty. So at the end of the day you’ll always assign a lower probability to non-parsimonious hypotheses.

      To apply that to the nested hierarchy and common descent, where common descent is H1, any other hypothesis is H2, and the nested hierarchy is O : we know that common descent very often produces nested hierarchies; P(O|H1) is fairly high, say something like 0.7. We also know that we’ve never observed a nested hierarchy that wasn’t produced by descent with modification; P(O|H2) is almost nil. That makes P(O|H1)/P(O|H2) a very large number, so observing a nested hierarchy makes us very sure indeed that living things originated from a common ancestor.
      One could argue that P(O|H2) isn’t small if H2 is “God created life” becaue God could certainly have created life in the form of a nested hierarchy, but given God could have created life in any of a billion ways the odds that he’d have made it a nested hierarchy is just as small as the probability some unknown process could have done it. And if you constrain things, saying God really wanted to create life in the form of a nested hierarchy or something, then P(O|H2) does go up – but P(H2) goes down by the same amount because we have no reason to think God would want to create a nested hierarchy. It’s not like it’s mentioned in the Bible or anything, quite the opposite.

  • Jeff

    ARGHH – I typed a ton and then lost it! Let me just make some counter assertions.

    1) We can’t predict the relevant phenotypes, so we don’t know they would result from any posited intial conditions

    2) Because of 1), we have no idea whether cladistically-generated trees correspond to real-world evolutionary variation/extinction rules

    3) Vehicles, etc can be classified into trees, just not with the same tree attributes that organisms can

    4) It seems undeniable to me that nesting depth is quite valuable to humans when classifying large numbers of objects and, therefore, that fact alone is a conceivable teleological purpose for nesting depth

    5) regardless, without the ability to predict the relevant phenotypes from relevant initial conditions and event regularities at the relevant times, we don’t even know whether life would have gone extinct without teleological intervention.

    In short, you think you know a great deal that you actually have no clue of. No one does.

    • Caravelle

      1) That isn’t a counter assertion, it’s a repetition of your previous assertion. Consider my reply repeated as well.

      3) Please illustrate this claim by giving a rough nested hierarchy for vehicles. Also note that vehicles have some descent with modification going on – new models are often incremental changes of a previous model, so if your rough nested hierarchy tracks that you’ll be proving the point. But with all the horizontal transmission there is in vehicle production you won’t be able to do better than a rough tree anyway.

      4) Then why don’t rocks fit into a nested hierarchy ? Early geologists certainly wanted them to but they eventually had to give up. How about weather patterns, or astronomical objects, or the elements, or soils ? And why is the nested hierarchy in plants so much more messier than that of animals ?

      5) If it had we wouldn’t be here talking about it so that’s rather pointless.

      6) Gotta love those Christian mind-reading powers. If only they worked.

  • Jeff

    1) That isn’t a counter assertion, it’s a repetition of your previous assertion. Consider my reply repeated as well.

    Jeff: Wrong–what it means is that cladistics tells us nothing about the plausibility of UCA. It just means there are different ways to classify organisms. But we knew that already.

    3) Please illustrate this claim by giving a rough nested hierarchy for vehicles. Also note that vehicles have some descent with modification going on – new models are often incremental changes of a previous model, so if your rough nested hierarchy tracks that you’ll be proving the point. But with all the horizontal transmission there is in vehicle production you won’t be able to do better than a rough tree anyway.

    Jeff: A rough tree is a tree. That’s my point. Unless you can predict the relevant historical phenotypes from a causal theory that predicts well in the present, cladistics tells us nothing but that you can classify in different ways. And vehicles don’t descend genealogically–they’re intelligently configured.

    4) Then why don’t rocks fit into a nested hierarchy ? Early geologists certainly wanted them to but they eventually had to give up. How about weather patterns, or astronomical objects, or the elements, or soils ? And why is the nested hierarchy in plants so much more messier than that of animals ?

    Jeff: Rocks can be classified into a tree. Sandstones, shales, etc can all be further classified by other characteristics. The nesting may not be satisfying, but that’s beside the point. That plant nesting is messier than that of animals has no implications about the plausibility of UCA.

    5) If it had we wouldn’t be here talking about it so that’s rather pointless.

    Jeff: It could have gone extinct at one or more points if subsequent creations is on the hypothetical table. But that’s the real deal–for you such hypotheses are not on the table. That’s why you don’t spend the time to do a true comparison for the relative plausibility of each.

    6) Gotta love those Christian mind-reading powers. If only they worked.

    Jeff: Huh? You just demonstrated in your 5) what I said. It’s not reading minds at all. Just like when you say epiphenominalism is inconsistent with adaptive brains. That’s neither proveable nor intuitive. It’s just your belief.

    • Jeff

      That is to say, it’s neither proveable nor intuitive in terms of any set of axioms entailed in any atheistic, pre-biological initial conditions. One can posit whichever case one wishes and be no more arbitrary than one’s opponent given such epistemologies.

      For a teleologist, the belief that one is designed to infer one’s way deductively and inductively to greater and greater approximations of truth is a working hypothesis that he/she accepts as axiomatic to all other inquiry. The rejection of epiphenominalism, given that approach, is a simple inference that is virtually irresistable given the other intuitions entailed in that approach.

    • Caravelle

      @Jeff : Forgive me, I was assuming you understood that a natural nested hierarchy isn’t just any old tree. Let me explain.
      The point of any classification scheme is be a shortcut when we describe things; instead of listing all of that thing’s characteristics you give its position in the classification scheme, and anyone who hears that can deduce that thing’s characteristics for themselves.
      Of course this is only useful if it takes less information to describe an entity’s position in your classification scheme than it would take to list all of that entity’s characteristics. If you have a collection of objects with a completely random distribution of characteristics you can’t classify them – that is, you can, but it will take as much information to describe the object classification as it would take to describe the object itself.
      On the other hand, collections of objects with nonrandom characteristics can be usefully classified, and some classifications will be objectively better than others (in the sense of compressing more information into each category) – and which classifications those are will be dictated by how the characteristics are distributed. They’re a property of the collection of objects, not of the humans classifying.
      A tree structure is a nice classification scheme and it’s true you can impose it on any collection, but few collections fall into a tree naturally. When you impose a tree scheme on a collection that doesn’t fall into a tree the characteristics you assign to each rank will be arbitrary; your tree would be just as useful if you switched them around. Moreover, the less tree-like your collection is to start with the more characteristics will constitute branching points, so the more ranks you will need – until at the extreme you have as many ranks as you have characteristics and your tree compresses nothing whatsoever.
      If I make a tree of vehicles, what highest rank imposes itself ? Motorized/Unmotorized ? Land/Sea/Air ? Number of wheels ? Manufacturer ? Whatever I’ll choose I’ll immediately encounter examples that fit into another category, and that means I’ll immediately need to add a rank – if I tell you something is motorized, you still don’t know how many wheels it has, or whether it goes on land, the sea or the air, or who makes it. If I tell you who makes it, that doesn’t tell you whether it’s motorized or not, or any of those other things. If I tell you how many wheels it has you don’t know any of the other things either. So each of those characteristics has to be a separate rank, and what order you put them in is pretty arbitrary.
      You could have the same trouble for living things – for example if I try to classify living things using characteristics like “what environment it lives in”, “what does it eat”, “is it mobile”, I’ll have the exact same issue as with the vehicles.
      On the other hand if I pick “does it have a spinal chord”, “does it have feathers”, “does it lactate”, now an order imposes itself : all animals that have feathers or that lactate also have a spinal chord. No animal that lactates has feathers and vice-versa. Now we have some real compression : for example if I tell you an animal has feathers, you now also know it has a spinal chord. (and that its cells have nuclei, it’s multicellular, it’s heterotrophic, it’s mobile, it’s warm-blooded, it’s an obligate air-breather, it has four limbs, it has lungs, it lays eggs…).

      It is incredibly rare for groups of things to fall into a natural tree like that. Even things that come from descent with modification don’t necessarily fall into such a tree, and the nested hierarchy of living things isn’t perfect. But even the beginning of a semblance of a nested hierarchy is incredibly rare, and only occurs when you have some kind of descent with modification involved.

      Actually, anytime a collection of objects naturally falls into any kind of classification that tells you something about those objects. Because random distributions of characteristics don’t naturally fall into a specific classification, and when characteristics are distributed non-randomly there’s usually a reason for that. A good non-tree example is the periodic table, that tells you about the internal structure of the elements.

      • Jeff

        You’ve made points that demonstrate, again, that you seem to rule out teleological interpretations of the biota a priori. That’s fine, of course. But then what’s the point of debating if you’ve done that? Here are those points:

        1) The way that lots of organisms can be classified is USEFUL to humans. That means that that very state of affairs has a very plausible teleological interpretation. And statistically, humans are more interested in animals than plants, rocks and stars. Such preferences may have to do with social nature, etc.

        2) “Even things the come from descent with modification don’t necessarily fall into such a tree …” This is my point about not being able to predict phenotypes. Classification impies nothing about whether the posited evolutionary trajectories could have occurred in the posited time-frames, given any conceivable set of event regularities in operation over the relevant time. Thus, if you can’t predict the phenotypes in terms of an evolutionary model, how they end up being classifiable has no known relevance to the plausibility of UCA. And yet it does, per your own argument, have a plausible teleological interpretation, regardless.

      • Caravelle

        How could I have made such points when common ancestry and teleology are perfectly compatible ? Common ancestry is a contingent fact that’s logically independent of the actual mechanism of evolution. Besides, I am responding to your claims of what a-teleology implies; teleology itself is irrelevant to that. Just because your claims about a-teleology are completely wrong doesn’t mean teleology is false (there are other things that suggest it’s false but I haven’t discussed them at all in this comment thread).

        1) That assumes that the teleological force at work wanted humans to have a convenient way to classify things. But that assumption flies in the face of everything else in the Universe that does not fit into a nested hierarchy. Including human-made artifacts, which we know were designed teleologically. It isn’t a consistent hypothesis. Also, humans are interested in other humans a lot more than they’re interested in animals, but humanity forms less of a nested hierarchy than plants do.

        2) How often common descent forms nested hierarchies isn’t relevant to whether a nested hierarchy implies common descent; the question is how often other processes form nested hierarchies. This is really elementary logic.

  • Jeff

    Caravelle: 1) That assumes that the teleological force at work wanted humans to have a convenient way to classify things. But that assumption flies in the face of everything else in the Universe that does not fit into a nested hierarchy.

    Jeff: Statistically, humans have more interest in life than stars, animals than plants, plants than the soil and rock they cover. And everything else in the Universe does fit into a nested hierarchy, just not the same way, as you admitted.

    Caravelle: Including human-made artifacts, which we know were designed teleologically. It isn’t a consistent hypothesis.

    Jeff: Let’s say it is an inconsistent hypothesis. All that means is that it has absolutely no relevance to either UCA or SA. For as you said, “Even things that come from descent with modification don’t necessarily fall into such a tree…”

    Caravelle: Also, humans are interested in other humans a lot more than they’re interested in animals, but humanity forms less of a nested hierarchy than plants do.

    Jeff: What do you mean by “less of?” Less nesting depth or what?

    Caravelle: 2) How often common descent forms nested hierarchies isn’t relevant to whether a nested hierarchy implies common descent; the question is how often other processes form nested hierarchies. This is really elementary logic.

    Jeff: Let’s do some elementary logic, indeed. How many collections of objects have been OBSERVED to come into existence by genealogical descent with modification? And how many of those pass the criteria of nested hierarchies you’re talking about? You just admitted humans don’t form much of a nested hierarchy. Or are you saying that humans that have been observed to have descended genealogically still do satisfy the criteria in ways non-organisms don’t?

    Finally, how does this change a thing? We’re right back to where we were. Whatever caused organisms to have the attributes that render them subject to this nesting quality you’re interested in, it’s still valuable to human classification if what you said above is true, and it still indicates nothing about whether naturalistic UCA is even possible. The only way to show that it has any relevance to the plausibility of the occurrence of UCA is to show that those attributes of those organisms are implied by a relevant theory applied to the relevant intial conditions. Apart from that, it’s literally irrelevant to UCA. And as you said, “Even things that come from descent with modification don’t necessarily fall into such a tree…” anyway.

  • Caravelle

    Jeff:

    Statistically, humans have more interest in life than stars, animals than plants, plants than the soil and rock they cover. And everything else in the Universe does fit into a nested hierarchy, just not the same way, as you admitted.

    Actually I said the exact opposite, and I explained the what and whyfores of it all. If you do not understand or agree with my explanations of why “falls into a natural nested hierarchy” and “can be forced into a tree-based classification” are two completely different things then address the actual explanations. Writing these comments take time and effort and your ignoring their contents is disrespectful in the extreme.

    Jeff: Let’s say it is an inconsistent hypothesis. All that means is that it has absolutely no relevance to either UCA or SA.

    In which case it was pointless of you to propose it.

    Jeff: What do you mean by “less of?” Less nesting depth or what?

    Less consistent nesting, period. You still don’t seem to understand what a natural nested hierarchy is. If my explanations confuse you you could just look it up. Alternatively you could try for yourself to impose a tree on any grouping you like and see how many arbitrary choices you’re forced to make in the order of your rankings. Or you could read this more thorough (if a bit technical) explanation.

    Jeff: Let’s do some elementary logic, indeed. How many collections of objects have been OBSERVED to come into existence by genealogical descent with modification?

    Medieval manuscripts. Languages, to a large extent.

    And how many of those pass the criteria of nested hierarchies you’re talking about?

    All of them, that I know of; they usually form a nested hierarchy whose “cleanness” is related to the extent to which descent with modification is the only process involved. Medieval manuscripts are a canonical example. Languages are another example but their nested hierarchy is a lot more muddled because there is horizontal as well as vertical transmission.

    You just admitted humans don’t form much of a nested hierarchy.
    Right. Because of all the horizontal transmission. If humans reproduced by budding and never exchanged genetic information with each other, then they’d form a nested hierarchy. As it is you can probably see something in long-established populations that haven’t intermarried much but I don’t think it would even be as clean as the nested hierarchy of languages is.

    And I note that despite your proposal to do some elementary logic, you are still looking at this from the wrong side of the implication arrow. Let’s try an analogy : Albert claims that someone having won the lottery is very strong evidence that they had a lottery ticket in their possession. Julie points out that most people who possess a lottery ticket do not win the lottery. Albert replies that that’s irrelevant, the relevant question is how many people who don’t possess a lottery ticket win the lottery. If you don’t have a ticket you can’t win the lottery, therefore if you won the lottery then you must have had a ticket.
    Or in more general terms :
    Albert : X implies Y. X, therefore Y.
    Julie : But Y doesn’t imply X !
    Albert : And ? X implies Y is equivalent to “not-Y implies not-X”; “Y implies X” is a completely different proposition that has no bearing on whether X implies Y or not.

    • Jeff

      You’re not making any sense , Caravelle. First of all, OBSERVED humans are objects that come about by the very kind of genealogical descent that UCA is about–genetically-based descent. And yet you admit they don’t have the attributes that render them subject to the tree quality you’re so fond of. And then you tell me the quintessential example of observed objects that do have that quality are manuscripts. Now, I ask you: Do you not realize that manuscripts are CONSCIOUSLY/INTENTIONALLY-PRODUCED? What more do I need from you to make my case? SA is superior in every analogical respect, it seems.

      • Jeff

        For clarification, all I’m saying is that the fact that a class of objects satisfies some kind of tree quality you’re interested in does not imply those objects are not intended objects. And this means that intention can be a necessary condition of their existence. So we need some other property of such objects that “leans” the analogy to the UNintended side. I know of none. And you have provided none.

      • Caravelle

        You’re not making any sense , Caravelle. First of all, OBSERVED humans are objects that come about by the very kind of genealogical descent that UCA is about–genetically-based descent.

        Nested hierarchies aren’t about genetically-based descent. Languages and medieval manuscripts don’t have genes. The process that generates nested hierarchies is when each individual is generated from the incremental modification of a single parent – i.e. “descent with modification”, or “branching Markovian replicating systems”.
        Human individuals within the human species don’t originate through this kind of process: every human has two parents. Species themselves however are branching Markovian replicating systems, given individuals don’t interbreed with the individuals of other species. Hybridization between groups that aren’t very closely related messes this up, which is why plants don’t form quite as clean a nested hierarchy as animals do. Bacteria are generated from single parents, but they swap genes between each other so their nested hierarchy is even less clean than that of plants. Bacterial genes however do form good nested hierarchies IIRC; it’s just not always the same one for all the genes within the same bacterium. Languages are like that too; each language is mostly a modification of a single parent language but they’re also very influenced by neighboring languages, so you can have languages like English or French which clearly belong to one group (Germanic and Latin respectively) but have a lot of the features characteristic of another group (Latin and Germanic respectively) because of historical exchanges between Latin and Germanic groups of people.

        Medieval manuscripts are formed by the branching Markovian replicating system of having illiterate medieval monks copy them by hand; each copying mistake in one manuscript got reproduced in the subsequent copies, and those mistakes form a nested hierarchy. They’re pretty much the opposite of intentionally produced. Things that are intentionally produced rarely form nested hierarchies because intelligent design tracks functionality, and functions don’t form a nested hierarchy (and when intentionally produced things do have elements of a nested hierarchy it’s because the design process involved a branching Markovian replicating system on some level).

        And for the record, Y implies X is STILL not related to whether X implies Y or not. But I guess explaining nested hierarchies is a good thing to do for its own sake whether or not it relates to the larger argument so I won’t complain.

  • Jeff

    Well, you’re in an extreme minority if you think manuscripts are NON-intentionally produced. Whether the mistakes were intended is irrelevant to the main point–the manuscript itself is an INTENTIONALLY-PRODUCED object.

    So now, let’s get to the finer point of your last point. Species have only one parent, supposedly. So define species, then define what it means to be a parent of a species, and then tell me whether any of such OBSERVED species and their parents produce these high-quality trees you’re talking bout. So far, the only thing you claim is observed that is related to your cladistics argument are copy mistakes that exist because they are subsets of intentionally-produced objects. But if you can do it for OBSERVED species and their OBSERVED parents, then we have a known empirical case that can serve as a basis for another kind of analogy.

    Of course, that still just begs the question: Are those species capable of evolving in the way you posit of past species? The tree quality of your trees tell us nothing about that.

    • Caravelle

      Mistakes in manuscripts, Jeff. Copying mistakes. Those are what form a nested hierarchy of medieval manuscripts. Are you saying that copying mistakes in medieval manuscripts were intentionally produced ?

    • Caravelle

      And a nested hierarchy is a classification system; it’s not about species and their “parents”, it’s about whether species as a group fall into a nested hierarchy or not. Descent with modification generates a collection of objects that fall into a nested hierarchy; “nested hierarchy” is not a statement of the relationship between two objects, it’s a property of the group of objects as a whole.
      And if you want an actual example of species that fall into a nested hierarchy just look up “tree of life”.

      Of course, that still just begs the question: Are those species capable of evolving in the way you posit of past species? The tree quality of your trees tell us nothing about that.

      Look at those goalposts go !

      • Jeff

        @Jeff : In a materialistic point of view consciousness is a cognitive function (or more realistically, a collection of cognitive functions), i.e. a pattern of brain states.

        Jeff: I missed that one. But this is equivalent to denying that conscious states are distinguishable from brain states, which is non-sense. Because we can observe brain-states for dead and unconscious humans. So your view would render it impossible to distinguish between conscious and unconscious. And that’s equivalent to saying the words have no intelligible meaning. If you want to say that, fine. But again, that put’s you in an extremely small minority of people on the matter. So far, I’ve never talked to anyone who claimed such a thing.

      • Ariel

        Are the brain states we observe in dead or unconscious humans the same as the brain states we observe in conscious humans? What’s wrong with using “conscious” to refer to “brain states with systematic electrochemical activity in the frontal cortex” and “unconscious” to refer to “brain states with very little electrochemical activity in the frontal cortex”? (Or whatever the actual observed states are; I’m not a neurobiologist.)

      • Caravelle

        The brain states of dead and unconscious humans are quite different from the brain states of conscious humans and can often be easily distinguished from each other, more and more so as our understanding of the brain and our ability to image it gets more precise. (of course a lot of what that’s showing up is that there are many different states of consciousness which are also distinguishable by changes in brain activity)
        Saying that consciousness isn’t a brain state because dead and unconscious people have brain states is as absurd as saying red isn’t a color because green and blue are colors.

  • Jeff

    Caravelle: Mistakes in manuscripts, Jeff. Copying mistakes. Those are what form a nested hierarchy of medieval manuscripts. Are you saying that copying mistakes in medieval manuscripts were intentionally produced ?

    Jeff: No, I’m saying that copy mistakes only exist because that are deviations from the intended goal of intended activity. Intentional causality is what ID/creation is about.
    You said, yourself,

    “It is incredibly rare for groups of things to fall into a natural tree like that. Even things that come from descent with modification don’t necessarily fall into such a tree, …”
    So far, I’m hearing from you that there are basically two sets of classifiables that fall “into such a tree.” These are manuscripts and animal species. So given this fact and your other claim, it’s not a particularly plausible inference that the mere existence of the animal ability to produce variant descendendants will result in “such a tree” that includes all known animal species.
    But the fact that manuscript errors only exist because intentional, conscious beings (humans) intentionally attempt to reproduce manuscripts (the common ancestor of which was also intentionally produced) reduces further the warrant for inferring that animal species can be classified into “such a tree” because they descended naturally (i.e., void of directed intentional causality) from a common ancestor. When you only have two good examples and the only observable one of the two is inexplicable apart from intelligently-directed causality, you have no compelling analogical argument.

    Moreover, species qua species don’t seem like mistakes (like copy errors); they seem like incredibly designed classifiables with a few imperfections. This negates the needed analogy in yet another sense.

    How, then, would we know that species have descended from one another naturally, ultimately from a common ancestor, merely because they “fall into such a tree?” Well, we couldn’t. If there’s some very specific analogy I’m missing, please correct me. But with only two good examples of classifiables, it seems pretty arbitrary.

  • Jeff

    Caravelle: To apply that to the nested hierarchy and common descent, where common descent is H1, any other hypothesis is H2, and the nested hierarchy is O : we know that common descent very often produces nested hierarchies; P(O|H1) is fairly high, say something like 0.7. We also know that we’ve never observed a nested hierarchy that wasn’t produced by descent with modification; P(O|H2) is almost nil.

    Jeff: Your above comment is irrelevant if there are only two GOOD examples of classifiables that “fall into such a tree.” That’s too small of a sample from which to make grand inferences from. Moreover, the only case where the variants are known observationally to “fall into such a tree” is the one (manuscripts) for which intelligently-directed events are necessary conditions of the variants. So this whole argument is literally of no avail. It’s trying to get blood out of a turnip.

    • Jeff

      And as far as analogy goes, descent is a nebulous word to use for the analogy if it can mean processes as different as manuscript copying and bona-fide descent FROM (as in source) an ancestor or some subset of it, as biological descent is. Manuscript copying is nothing like that.

      • Jeff

        Caravelle: It is incredibly rare for groups of things to fall into a natural tree like that. Even things that come from descent with modification don’t necessarily fall into such a tree, and the nested hierarchy of living things isn’t perfect. But even the beginning of a semblance of a nested hierarchy is incredibly rare, and only occurs when you have some kind of descent with modification involved.

        Caravelle: we know that common descent very often produces nested hierarchies;

        Jeff: Since you say both “rare” and “very often,” I’m not sure how to reconcile the two statements. Could you clarify? You said all kinds of things can be put into unclean, unnatural nested hierarchies. So I assume we’re talking about particular kinds of nested hierarchies in the above two comments. But that then makes the comments read seemingly contradictory.

      • Caravelle

        Things that are produced by descent with modification usually form nested hierarchies, but few things in the Universe are formed by descent with modification. And few things in the Universe form nested hierarchies. There is no contradiction, anymore than it is a contradiction to say it is rare for people to own private jets but it’s common for billionnaires to own them. Is that clearer ?

        And you’re confusing two concepts with your “unclean, unnatural” nested hierarchies; when I talked about nested hierarchies being “natural” and “clean” those were to very different things. Natural nested hierarchies are groups where the traits are distributed in a nested hierarchical way; an “unnatural” “nested hierarchy” would be a group where the traits aren’t distributed that way, so that classifying them into a tree structure would be arbitrary. Arguably you wouldn’t call that a nested hierarchy at all so that my use of “natural nested hierarchy” would be redundant, but I don’t know the precise ins and outs of the terminology here and I figure in this context it’s better to be redundant than misunderstood.
        As for “clean”, the fact is there are many groups where traits are associated with each other in a nested hierarchical way but only, say, 90% of the time – you’ve got a little bit of crossover between groups that wouldn’t cross over in a perfect nested hierarchy, but the hierarchy is still clearly there. When I talk about the “cleanness” of a nested hierarchy I’m talking about that percentage, and I only used the word in contexts where the nested hierarchy in question existed – i.e. was “natural”.
        English is a very good example of this in languages; it fits in the same group as German, Dutch and so on obviously enough that it’s always classified as a Germanic language, but there is also a lot of French and Latin about it. That doesn’t make the groups “Germanic” and “Romance” arbitrary; German, English and Dutch and French, Spanish and Italian clearly fit with each other in two different groups. There’s just a bit of spillover between those groups.

      • Caravelle

        So to clarify, when I said descent with modification results in nested hierarchies I meant “natural” nested hierarchies, of any degree of “cleanness”; that particular property would depend on what other processes were at work besides descent with modification.

        A few responses to your other comments :
        “Descent” isn’t an analogy, it’s a word that’s commonly used in the context of things whose origins can be traced back to older things that they are modified versions of. Like artistic movements, successive car brands, or any product really, etc. The original meaning of the word is “to go down”, so its meaning when applied to living things reproducing is just as figurative as when applied to objects or concepts. But if you don’t like “descent” call it “branching Markov process” or “imperfect replication” or whatever you like, it doesn’t matter as long as you understand what the concept is. Which it doesn’t sound like you do but I don’t really know how to explain better, maybe you can tell me what you think I’m talking about and we can move from there ?

        Anyway it’s mathematically demonstrable that this kind of process will result in nested hierarchies, which you would know if you had read the links I gave you. I didn’t insist on it because I couldn’t find good references aside from the one I’d already given that weren’t paywalled, but if you’re that interested I can send you the PDFs of some of the papers cited by the Talk Origins page I linked to earlier.

        And as for this

        Jeff: No, I’m saying that copy mistakes only exist because that are deviations from the intended goal of intended activity. Intentional causality is what ID/creation is about.

        And that intended activity is completely irrelevant to the manuscripts forming a nested hierarchy. In fact if what the monks intended had happened successfully the manuscripts wouldn’t form a nested hierarchy because they’d all be identical. Saying their nested hierarchy has anything to do with intentionality because the manuscripts were created intentionally is like saying gravity is intentional, because manuscripts fall to the ground and manuscripts are created intentionally.

        And note again that common descent is not incompatible with teleology anyway. Designers can use evolution too; humans do so all the time, they’re called “genetic” or “evolutionary” algorithms. A lot of religious people believe all living things share a common ancestor and that a higher power directed evolution in certain ways.

  • Jeff

    Caravelle: But if you don’t like “descent” call it “branching Markov process” or “imperfect replication” or whatever you like, it doesn’t matter as long as you understand what the concept is.
    Jeff: Yes, let’s call it “branching Markov process.” Because another meaning of descent is:

    “derivation from an ancestor; lineage; extraction.”

    And manufactured entities are NOT descendants per that definition. But this still leaves us with another problem. Species don’t replicate either. Species are not real entities. They are abstractions. They don’t replicate at all. Concepts don’t replicate. Concepts are formed via abstraction. Individual organisms do “imperfectly” replicate. Manuscripts don’t replicate.

    I’ll look up branching Markov processes and get back with you tomorrow.

    • Caravelle

      Categories aren’t abstractions, not in the sense of not being “real entities” at least. Categories are a way of formalizing the real fact that some entities have things in common with others; you can call the formalization “not real” or “an abstraction” all you like, but those entities will still have things in common with some other entities and not others. Even categories with fuzzy borders are perfectly real in that sense. You can’t draw a line between red and yellow but it is a fact that a certain range of electromagnetic wavelengths excite certain cells in the retina and result in the sensation of “red” in most humans, while others excite a different combination of those cells and result in the sensation of “yellow”. Similarly, it is a fact that some organisms are more similar to certain organisms than to others, and populations of organisms have high gene flow with certain populations, much lower gene flow with some others, and no gene flow whatsoever with most. “Species” is just what we call the equivalence classes that derive from those very real phenomena (whether we use “resemblance” or “gene flow” depends on the context – morphospecies and bacterial species use some version of the former, while the Biological Species Concept uses the latter).

      • Jeff

        Categories, by virtue of being abstractions correspond to something real. But categories don’t replicate. They’re not real BEINGS. They’re mere mental abstractions. We can’t even observe them. Thus, species don’t replicate.

        Caravelle: Similarly, it is a fact that some organisms are more similar to certain organisms than to others,

        Jeff: Organisms constitute a class. Give me an example of a class where it is NOT true that some of its members are more similar to certain members of that class than to others. Or, in short, what point are you making by this statement that renders UCA more plausible than SA.

        Caravelle: … and populations of organisms have high gene flow with certain populations, much lower gene flow with some others, and no gene flow whatsoever with most. “Species” is just what we call the equivalence classes that derive from those very real phenomena

        Jeff: Pick a definition of species that you wish to stick with in your nested hierarchy approach to UCA evidence, then tell me how many of such species have been observed to have arisen via descent with variation, and then tell me if those OBSERVED species and those OBSERVED ancestral species form this nested hierarchy you’re talking about.

        Remember, Caravelle, all you have is an extrapolation from the OBSERVED to the NON-OBSERVED. So far, the only thing I have from you is that there are processes that produce classifiables that fall into some specific kind of tree. “Descent” is of no avail if the “descent” includes manufacturing. For if you want to say it’s likely that species are manfactured because of extrapolation from observed manufacturing processes that generate the relevant kind of classifiables, then you have nothing.

        So how do we proceed? ABSTRACT, from the OBSERVED processes that produce classifiables for which there are Markov branching patterns in the relevant classification tree generation, the common characteristic of those processes that indicates that UCA is PROBABLY why that nestability exists.

        So far, you’ve made a case that sounds like it’s more probable that most species are manufactured with imperfect replication. But that’s a species of SA/Creation, not UCA. You’ve created a lot of confusion by bringing in non-synonymous terms like “clear” and “unnatural” to describe these trees. Get it down to

        1) the real extrapolatable property of the trees you’re using to infer probability for UCA

        and

        2) the real COMMON (or most frequent) characteristic of the processes that are OBSERVED to produce THOSE classifiable entites.

        When you’ve done that, we can make the relevant comparison without all the obscuring hoop-la. The details of cladistics are irrelevant if this part of the argument fails for UCA. Everything hinges upon it. And even at that, it’s still merely probabilistic at best. Because you’ve already admitted that manufacturing is a good example of the Markovian processes in question. But manufacturing is a species of intelligent creation.

      • Caravelle

        Categories certainly do replicate in the sense that some categories are made up of elements that are slight modifications off the elements of another category, which is all you need to generate a nested hierarchy. Languages are categories and Latin has “replicated” into the Romance languages. Literary genres are categories and they spawn sub-genres all the time. If you don’t like the word “replication” in this context just like you objected to “descent”, again, call it what you like; the semantics are irrelevant to the reality of what happens.

        Organisms constitute a class. Give me an example of a class where it is NOT true that some of its members are more similar to certain members of that class than to others. Or, in short, what point are you making by this statement that renders UCA more plausible than SA.

        Oh, I stopped making points that render the UCA more plausible than SA quite a few comments ago – I stopped a bit after you did. You kept making arguments that were completely irrelevant to the question (the whole X can’t imply Y because Y doesn’t imply X thing), I pointed this out one or three times, but you kept completely ignoring that so I’ve been following you into possibly-educative-but-irrelevant-to-the-larger-debate issues since. I’m fine with getting back to the point if you are but that would require you understanding why you’ve been off-topic for the last four or five posts and given your track record I don’t see that happening.
        As for what point I was making in that specific statement, as I said in the sentences surrounding that specific statement, I was disagreeing with your claim that categories aren’t “real” or that their realness has anything to do with anything here.

        Pick a definition of species that you wish to stick with in your nested hierarchy approach to UCA evidence, then tell me how many of such species have been observed to have arisen via descent with variation, and then tell me if those OBSERVED species and those OBSERVED ancestral species form this nested hierarchy you’re talking about.

        Sure, the Biological Species Concept works fine for this. A few species have been observed to arise in the laboratory or in the wild, and aside from those that arose from hybridization they all fit comfortably in the nested hierarchy of life. Look up “examples of speciation” or something. Creationists usually dismiss those examples because they all involve quite small variations – which they would, given the very short period of time involved – but given you explicitly told me to pick a definition, and they’re new species by that definition, I’m SURE we’ll have no issue here…

        And a manufacturing process in which every manufactured object was a small variation of a single previously manufactured object would certainly form a nested hierarchy. It’s pretty much what happens with medieval manuscripts. It’s not what happens with most other manufactured objects because that process is a stupid way of manufacturing things. But the point is what’s relevant here isn’t whether something was manufactured or not, but whether the process that created them is one where every individual entity formed as a slightly modified copy of a previous entity. And given that kind of process is the only known process to create nested hierarchies, observing a nested hierarchy is strong evidence that the entities in it formed through such a process.

        So far, you’ve made a case that sounds like it’s more probable that most species are manufactured with imperfect replication. But that’s a species of SA/Creation, not UCA.

        Sure ! The kind of SA where every species is created de novo as a tiny modified version of a previous species, which, to result in the diversity we see today, would take billions of years to do, and which makes one wonder why the Creator bothered to create each species de novo when they’d already created a process (reproduction) that would yield the exact same result over the same timeframe. The Creator might just as easily have set up life to evolve naturally into a large diversity of species, possibly with some nudging here and there to direct the process. Which is theistic evolution, a concept that includes BOTH teleology and common ancestry of all life, much as you’d like to oppose the two.

  • Jeff

    Caravelle,

    I’m good with you going beyond OBSERVED so long as you stay within groups between which there are systematic and large gaps. E.g., Ernst Mayr admits:

    “The earlist fossils of Homo, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, are separated from Australopithecus by a large, unbridged gap. How can we explain this seeming saltation?”

    So go ahead and see what kind of nested hierarchy you can create including Homo erectus, Neanderthal, modern humans, etc. But once you have to posit that “large, unbridged” gaps are actually bridged by natural genealogical descent to generate the relevant trees, you have merely assumed what you need to demonstrate with evidence.

    • Caravelle

      O_o How old is that quote by Ernst Mayr exactly ? New fossils are being found all the time. Or are you in the “every time we find a missing link it creates two more gaps” school of thought ?
      Even in primary school I could have mentioned Homo habilis as a fossil that’s in the gap between Homo erectus and Australopithecines. And Wikipedia gave me Homo ergaster and Homo gautengensis. This is really not hard to look up.

      The nested hierarchy for Homo erectus, Neanderthal and modern humans goes :
      ((modern humans, Neanderthals), homo erectus)
      But again, the nested hierarchy is just the phylogeny. It is not hard to look up either. It’s what I do, because I’m not a systematist. You’ll get exactly the same information from asking me as you’d get from looking at any scientific resource on biology.

      • Jeff

        Caravelle,
        The Ernst Mayer quote is 2004. He isn’t saying anything rocket science to anyone either. But you’re missing the point about teleology. We don’t know that common descent can work predominantly naturalistically–because we can’t predict phenotypes in terms of ANY causal theory involving event REGULARITIES. What this means is that we don’t even know it’s logically possible. Thus, if it’s not, even God couldn’t have done it. And saying God could have done it that way is just pontificating the absolutely unknowable.

        Thus, your angst about a Creator generating the nested hierarchy by wierd manufacturing is misplaced. It’s your view that posits what is not even known to be LOGICALLY possible, much less historically accurate. The number of ad hoc hypotheses that you must posit for which there is no evidence is literally astronomical compared to a Creation-based SA approach. At least with SA we can posit extrapolations that are highly analogical. They may be false, but they’re at least inductive in nature.

        So since most of the examples of Markov processes are ones that involve human creation, it’s not even knowably the case that the properties of animals that renders them ideal for nested hierarchical classification is PROBABLY due to MOSTLY blind, natural processes. Granted, if the nested hierarchy of animals doesn’t exist due to the classifying utility it has for humans, who are quite interested in animals, then I don’t know why it exists. But neither does anyone else to my knowledge. So it’s absolutely irrelevant to the debate.

      • Jeff

        … and this is another problem with your inference that natural evolution is PROBABLY the cause of nested hierarchies:

        “the point is what’s relevant here isn’t whether something was manufactured or not, but whether the process that created them is one where every individual entity formed as a slightly modified copy of a previous entity.”

        The fossil record is characterized by lots of large, systematic gaps. They are not “slight modifications.” The analogy breaks down at so many levels, I can’t imagine how anyone ever found the leap plausible.

      • Jeff

        I’m gonna be out of town as of this morning for a week. If I get internet access where I’m staying, I’ll check back here before next week. I would like to know whether you meant Homo erectus, modern humans, etc, themselves fall into the relevant kind of tree by themselves or into a larger UCA tree as one grouping in that larger tree. I’m asking about the former.

        The fact that animals, though, with large differences between them, still fall into the relevant kind of tree MEANS that such trees don’t always form because of slight variations between its members. If I’m misunderstanding you, please correct me.

      • Caravelle

        Jeff:

        The fact that animals, though, with large differences between them, still fall into the relevant kind of tree MEANS that such trees don’t always form because of slight variations between its members. If I’m misunderstanding you, please correct me.

        You’re misunderstanding something but it’s hard for me to tell what. Like, picture a branching process. We start with X, which yields X1 and X2, both of which are 1% different from X (and thus 2% different from each other on average because it won’t be the same 1% for both). These yield X11, X12, X21, X22 and X23 (with X1n 1% different from X1 and X2n 1% different from X2) which yield X111, X121, X122, X123, X221, X222, X231, and so on (you notice I don’t always have them yield the same number of successors). All of the Xs will form a nested hierarchy, and that’s a property of the group as a whole – so it will still be true if we get rid of some of the Xs, the remaining ones will still have traits that fit them into a nested hierarchy. Let’s say each generation we get rid of the “parent” Xs. So the first round we have X, the second round we that X1 and X2 (no more X), the third we have X11, X12, X21, X22 and X23 (no more X1 or X2).
        In the fourth round I have X111, X121, X122, X123, X221, X222 and X231. By looking at the % difference between each X I can see they fall into a nested hierarchy :
        X221 is 2% different from X222 (because they’re both 1% different from X22). Both of them are 4% different from X231 (because X231 is 1% different from X23, which was 2% different from X22, which is 1% different from both X221 and X222). On the X1nn side, X121, X122 and X123 are all 2% different from each other (all 1% different from X12) but they’re all 4% different from X111, and all of the X1nn are 6% different from any of the X2nn (for example X111 is 1% different from X11, so 2% different from X1, which is 2% different from X2, which was 1% different from X22, and thus 2% different from X221, so X111 is 6% different from X221, and you’d get the same number for any X1nn vs any X2nn)
        … which gives me: ((X111,(X121,X122,X123)),((X221,X222),X231)). That nested hierarchy would still exist if I took out a few of those – for example if I took out X122, I’d still have a group with X121 and X123 because they’d still be 2% different from each other and 4% different from X111. Also, the differences between the Xs increase each round – if in my next round I have X1111, X1112, X1211, X1212, X1221, X2221 and X2311. (I’m killing off all the other X2s because it’s getting long to write…), then I have :
        ((X1111,X1112),((X1211,X1212),X1221)), (X2221,X2311)) and the biggest % difference I have is now 8% (between any X1n and either X2n). And each time you notice there isn’t an intermediate difference between groups that are different at 8%. X2221 isn’t closer to X1221 than it is to X1111; it has 8% difference with both. Also, X2221 and X2311 haven’t become closer to each other just because I eliminated all the other X2s; they’re 6% different, not 2%, because they’re 1% different from X222 and X231 respectively which were 4% different from each other. Basically, you can’t make two Xs closer to each other than their predecessors were, they can only grow more different.
        And here is where I answer your question, because you can plainly see I can make the Xs arbitrarily different from each other by just adding rounds – every additional round anything starting with X1 will be 2% more different from anything starting with X2. And things starting with X11 will always be closer to each other than they are to something starting with X12, or X2. That’s what makes the process result in a nested hierarchy. (of course the plain addition of percentages is an approximation that works for low percentages, there’s a point at which you’ll use a different formula to calculate % difference, but the point that they’ll get more and more different stays).

        But would you look at the results of round 7 and say “X111213 is 12% different from X222134, therefore they can’t have resulted from a process where each X is only 1% different from its predecessor” ?

  • Caravelle

    And for the rest of your posts :

    The Ernst Mayer quote is 2004. He isn’t saying anything rocket science to anyone either.

    Except for anyone who actually read the source of that quote. In it he says he considers Homo habilis an Australopithecine, but Homo rudolfensis is so similar to Homo habilis they keep disputing whether given fossils are one or the other… So what “large gap” can there be between Homo rudolfensis and Australopithecus ?
    Something is very weird there, but that aside I see you’re going with “every missing link creates two more gaps” then ? I mean, surely you see that when we don’t have a fossil for every individual, there will always be gaps between fossils. Whenever we find a fossil that fits into an existing gap, we’re still left with the gaps between that new fossil and the two that are around it. It’s not evidence of anything.

    Other than that I see you’ve shifted the argument – you’ve gone from claiming that the nested hierarchy isn’t evidence for common descent, to claiming we can’t accept common descent because we don’t know it’s logically possible. That’s a completely different kettle of fish, but sure. The problem with going by logical possibility is that everything is assumed to be logically possible unless there’s reason to think otherwise – and actually proving logical impossibility is quite a task. It’s not impossible – for example, perpetual motion is considered a logical impossibility because it is incompatible with the first law of thermodynamics, which is one of our more fundamental laws of physics. But it’s a tall order, and “we haven’t proved it’s logically possible” doesn’t cut it. I don’t see how you could even prove something like that.
    So what makes you think common descent is logically impossible ? (fwiw the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t make it logically impossible for complex systems to arise from simpler ones, or for entropy to decrease locally, or any of the other manglings of thermodynamics creationists favor)

    I’m gonna be out of town as of this morning for a week. If I get internet access where I’m staying, I’ll check back here before next week. I would like to know whether you meant Homo erectus, modern humans, etc, themselves fall into the relevant kind of tree by themselves or into a larger UCA tree as one grouping in that larger tree. I’m asking about the former.

    Both. Homo erectus, modern humans etc fall into a tree amongst themselves, and that tree (the “homininae” or whatever node you want to stop at) itself fits in a tree of all primates, which fits into a tree of all mammals, which fits into a tree of all tetrapods, which fits into…
    That’s the issue, really. If there were larger groups that didn’t fall into a tree between themselves (like medieval copies of the Bible forming a nested hierarchy, and copies of Beowulf also forming a nested hierarchy, but there not being a larger nested hierarchy that both the Bible and Beowulf fit into) that would indicate that those different groups didn’t have common ancestry. A lot of creationists argue something like that – they say there were a certain number of species on the Ark, and that those micro-evolved into whole genera (or families, or wherever else they put the cutoff point), but that each of those original species were created separately. If there were nested hierarchies under the family level but no nested hierarchy above it that would be good evidence for that claim. Universal common descent isn’t even a necessary corrollary of the theory of evolution or of atheism – there could perfectly have been several independent abiogenesis events, and indeed Gould hypothesized that the Ediacaran fauna was independent from the rest of life. The only reason biologists think that all of life on Earth has a common ancestor is that the nested hierarchy goes right to the top.

    • Jeff

      Caravelle: But would you look at the results of round 7 and say “X111213 is 12% different from X222134, therefore they can’t have resulted from a process where each X is only 1% different from its predecessor” ?

      Jeff: The mere existence of the nested hierarchy doesn’t imply one way or another. And the only analogies you have mentioned depend on intentional activity for the existence of the relevant properties. Even “mistakes” imply the existence of teleological causality. So the argument fails deductively and inductively. I.e., nested hierarchy is not evidence for naturalistic or predominantly naturalistic UCA in ay sense of the word.

      Caravelle: Except for anyone who actually read the source of that quote. In it he says he considers Homo habilis an Australopithecine, but Homo rudolfensis is so similar to Homo habilis they keep disputing whether given fossils are one or the other… So what “large gap” can there be between Homo rudolfensis and Australopithecus ?

      Jeff: The fossil material of rudolfensis has been interpreted quite differently by different people. See, e.g., http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-03/nyu-med032307.php. So rudolfensis per se is not the point. The point is, it can be legitimately interpreted such that it is not evidence of common descent of humans and non-humans. I.e., one can legitimately interpret the data to be consistent with large, systematic gaps between humans and non-humans.

      One can choose to interpret trivial differences, which constitute relative differences in species similarity, as evidence of directional trajectories. But to do so, you have to abandon other analogies which are even stronger and for no apparent reason except an aversion to teleology. And this even though UCA’ists can’t seem to even talk about evolution in purely a-teleological language.

      Caravelle: The problem with going by logical possibility is that everything is assumed to be logically possible unless there’s reason to think otherwise – and actually proving logical impossibility is quite a task.

      Jeff: I didn’t claim it could be proved that naturalistic or predominantly naturalistic UCA is a logical impossibility. I said we don’t know that it is logically possible in terms of some set of other event regularities.
      And it is surely not true that all views have to be assumed to be logically possible. Certain views are required axiomatically for the very possibility of scientific progress. So if you’re doing science, you have already rejected AXIOMATICALLY certain views which can not be deductively proven to be logically impossible without using axioms as premises.

      But this is the issue. If the vast majority of scientists accept, as scientific axioms, beliefs that are unprovable and counter-intuitive to the vast majority of the human race, then WHO is really being dogmatic? The answer is obvious. Otherwise, the very term “dogmatist” has no meaning. Science is either a human way of knowing or it is a sectarian epistemological approach. To be non-dogmatic, it has to be a human way of knowing.

  • Ariel

    @Joshua:

    I’ve been thinking about Bayesian evidence for evolution for the last week, and this got long, so I’m going to split this up into several posts. Hopefully this will also answer Jeff’s question as to what is evidence and what evidence exists for evolution over creationism.

    This post is just a review of Bayes’s theorem and Bayesian inference, just to make sure we all have the same terminology. I’m going to use murder investigations as an analogy here.

    I’m a math teacher, so I like talking about this sort of thing even aside from the creationism debate.

    Suppose someone is assassinated onstage. There were a thousand people in the audience and the shot came from somewhere in the audience. If Martin Q. Snodgrass was in the audience, then based on the information the investigating officers have, the probability that he did it is 1/1000.

    It turns out that there were a hundred witnesses who say they saw the shot fired, so the police have each of them look at a line-up of 10 audience members. Eyewitnesses make mistakes sometimes, so it’s not too surprising when six eyewitnesses pull someone out of the lineup. If one of the six is Snodgrass, then from the investigators’ point of view, their best estimate of the probability that he did it is now a little less than 1/6 (all six eyewitnesses could have made mistakes).

    Now let’s put this in Bayesian language.

    The prior probability that Snodgrass did it is 1/1000; this is written P(guilty)=1/1000. Since he is either guilty or innocent, this means that P(innocent)=999/1000.

    The lineup is a test of the hypothesis that Snodgrass did it.

    Let’s suppose that we have police statistics that show that witnesses looking at a lineup make mistakes with probability 0.05 (that is, five percent of the time). The conditional probability that Snodgrass will be picked out of a lineup, given that he did it, is 0.95. This is written P(lineup|guilty)=0.95. (The | is standard probability notation and can be translated into words as “given”, “assuming” or “if”.)

    On the other hand, P(lineup|innocent)=0.005, because if he’s innocent, with probability 0.05 his witness will make a mistake, and the probability that the witness will pick Snodgrass instead of one of the other nine people in the lineup is a tenth that.

    According to Bayes’s theorem, the probability that Snodgrass did it, given that he was picked out of a lineup, is

    P(guilty|lineup) = [P(lineup|guilty)*P(guilty)] / [P(lineup|guilty)*P(guilty)+P(lineup|innocent)*P(innocent)].

    Doing the arithmetic, we see that P(guilty|lineup) = 0.95*0.001 / [0.95*0.001+0.005*0.999] = 0.160.

    So after our test, we update our estimate of the probability to P(guilty)=0.16 and P(innocent)=0.84.

    The counterintuitive thing that most articles on Bayes’s theorem point out here is that the probability that Snodgrass is guilty, 0.160, is way less than the accuracy of the test, 0.95. That’s not actually going to be important to our discussion of evolution but is important to understanding Bayesianism.

    Suppose we then put each of our six suspects in a second lineup, and have another witness look at each of them. This is a second test. Using Bayes’s theorem again, we see that

    P(guilty|second lineup)
    = [P(lineup|guilty)*P(guilty)] / [P(lineup|guilty)*P(guilty)+P(lineup|innocent)*P(innocent)]
    = [0.95*0.16] / [0.95*0.16+0.005*0.84]
    = 0.973.

    In other words, if Snodgrass is successfully picked out of two lineups, then the investigating officers can be pretty sure he did it.

    However, you only get to use two lineups if you can be sure the two lineups are independent. If poor Snodgrass just happens to look a lot like the actual murderer, then the second lineup is likely to agree with the first lineup even if he’s innocent. Thus, the investigators probably want to use a different second test, ideally one that does not in any way depend on what Snodgrass looks like.

    For example, if they find gunpowder residue on his coat, that is very likely if he is the murderer and very unlikely if he is not. To use Bayes’s theorem, the investigators have to estimate these probabilities. They might estimate P(gunpowder|guilty)=0.9 (high, but not certain, because he could have changed his coat). Depending on the event, they might estimate P(gunpowder|innocent)=0.1 (most people don’t fire guns all that often). This lets us update from P(guilty)=0.16 to P(guilty)=0.63.

    Some general notes:

    * Either Snodgrass did do it, or he didn’t. We aren’t going to roll a 1000-sided dice at the end of the investigation and hand him a gun and a time machine if it comes up a 1. So when we say “probability” here, we mean something a little different from the “probability” that I will win if I gamble in Vegas. Here “probability” is used to mean how sure I am that Snodgrass did or did not do it.

    * If you investigate a thousand murder cases, and you do Bayesian updates with the correct conditional probabilities on all of them, and you run tests until you are 99% sure of your suspect’s guilt, then you will probably end up convicting 990 guilty people and 10 innocent people. This is why using Bayes’s theorem to analyze a single question is a reasonable thing to do.

    * Bayesian probabilities agree with most of our intuitions for how evidence should work: evidence of guilt is any physical observation that is more likely to be true if the suspect is guilty than if he is innocent. Something that is very likely if he is guilty and is very unlikely if he is innocent is is strong evidence. Something that is only mildly more likely if he is guilty than innocent is weak evidence. (The counterintuitive part is how evidence interacts with very low prior probabilities.)

    * To do a Bayesian update on something like gunpowder residue, you have to estimate the conditional probabilities P(gunpowder|guilty) and P(gunpowder|innocent). And yes, you might be wrong. But anyone who uses gunpowder residue as evidence, with or without Bayes’s theorem, is implicitly saying that P(gunpowder|guilty) is significantly higher than P(gunpowder|innocent). In other words, to consider evidence at all, making estimates is something you have to do.

    In the case of criminal investigations, it’s probably best to deliberately overestimate P(evidence|innocent) and underestimate P(evidence|guilty), because people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

    If Snodgrass actually did it, there will usually be lots of little tests that you can do. So even giving him some benefit of the doubt, you will eventually get to P(guilty)>0.99; it will just take longer than if you use the correct conditional probabilities.

    * Your theory doesn’t have to predict everything to be testable. The theory that “Snodgrass did it” doesn’t actually tell you, say, how many shots were fired or what kind of gun he used; you need other evidence for that. However, the theory “Snodgrass did it” does provide the testable predictions that witnesses saw him do it and he will have gunpowder residue on his coat. You don’t need to know everything to convict him.

    * Remember that “probability” is “degree of uncertainty”. In other words, if you have N reasonable alternatives, and no reason to prefer one over the other, then each has probability 1/N.

    Also, the more complicated and specific some observation is, unless you have some reason to believe that it had to be that way, the lower its probability.

    Finally, notice that probabilities add up to one–if Snodgrass’s lawyer insists that P(gunpowder|innocent) is actually very high, then that means that P(no gunpowder|innocent) is low, and so not finding gunpowder would constitute evidence of guilt.

    * If you have two different theories (say, T1, T2) and you see some evidence E, then Bayes’s theorem can be written as

    P(T1|E) = P(T1) P(E|T1) / [P(T1) P(E|T1) + P(T2) P(E|T2)].

    Doing some algebra, this can be rewritten as

    P(T1|E) = P(T1) / [P(T1) + P(T2) P(E|T2)/P(E|T1)].

    In other words, what matters is the ratio between the conditional probabilities P(E|T2) and P(E|T1). “The killer had hands, and so does Snodgrass” is not evidence that Snodgrass was guilty, even though P(hands|guilty) is high, since P(hands|innocent) is also high.

    * If you have a bunch of different theories (say, T1, T2, … , TN) and you see some evidence E, then Bayes’s theorem can be written as

    P(T1|E) = P(T1) P(E|T1) / [P(T1) P(E|T1) + P(T2) P(E|T2) + ... +P(TN) P(E|TN)].

    If P(E|T1)=0, that is, if the evidence E is impossible if T1 is true, then P(T1|E) is also zero; that is, if you see E, then you know T1 is wrong. On the other hand, if you want to conclude that P(T1|E)=1 (that is, that T1 is definitely right) then you need to know that P(E|T2)=0, that P(E|T3)=0, and so on.

    In other words, being able to disprove T1 is a property of the theory T1. Being able to prove T1 is a property of all the possible alternatives to T1. This is why scientists care about “falsifiable” theories. It’s obviously unreasonable to expect Einsteinian relativity to be provable, because that’s a property of all the alternatives to relativity. However, if there is no imaginable experiment that would disprove relativity, then that is a problem with relativity.

  • Ariel

    To do Bayesian analysis, you need to start with some theories to compare. So in this post I’m going to list off some possible theories for the origin of the various organisms on earth.

    —–

    (T0) Strict creation: every plant seed and every baby animal was personally created by a supernatural creator using the same method as the first life-form on Earth.

    (T1) One-shot creation: During a single, relatively short time period in the distant past, some number of representatives of each “basic kind” were created by supernatural methods.

    (T2) Progressive creation: Each individual basic kind was created by a supernatural creator; however, the various creations did not happen all at once but were spread out over the earth’s history.

    (T2a) The (unknown, supernatural) method for creating each new organism was the same as the method of creating the first organism.

    (T2b) Supernatural causes are parsimonious with their miracles; rather than creating a whole new organism, it/they create merely a newly designed nucleus of DNA and insert it into an existing plant/animal/whatever to gestate as normal. This does mean that progressive creationism requires new animals to be roughly the same size as their predecessors.

    (T3) Evolution:

    (T3a) Theistic evolution, miraculous mutation: rather than creating a whole new set of DNA, a few mutations at a time are caused (supernaturally).

    (T3b) Theistic evolution, natural mutation: DNA Mutations occur because of copying errors, but some intelligent supernatural force selects which of the resulting organisms will go on to reproduce.

    (T3c) Natural selection and mutation: DNA mutations occur because of copying errors. Some mutations make their carriers more likely to leave offspring (or likely to leave more offspring). These mutations spread through the population, becoming the norm. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to group (abiogenesis + mutation + natural selection) and (God creates one microbe + mutation + natural selection) together; in other words, this is the evolution debate, not the abiogenesis debate.

    —–

    (T0) is obviously false, but I mention it just to make the philosophical point that there is a creation/evolution spectrum and young-earth creationism is not the logical endpoint.

    I’m including (T3a) and (T3b) to make the point that you don’t actually have to believe in natural selection as a creative power in order to believe in evolution.

    I’m also saying “basic kind” rather than “species” because we’ve seen speciation and it doesn’t seem fair to instantly dismiss creationism on that basis.

    As I understand it, Joshua’s argument is that creationism is simpler than (hence preferable to) evolution because evolution has two means of generating species: the method of generating the first species, and the method of generating all the others. The thing is, under creationism, there are also two methods of generating human beings: the method for generating the first human beings, and the method for generating all the others. So they both are complicated in their own different ways.

    Similarly, even if you accept the existence of the supernatural, that doesn’t automatically mean that higher up the list is better. If in particular you think that the supernatural likes to be parsimonious with its miracles, then lower on the list is usually better. There’s a perfectly good deistic philosophy that says that God exists, caused the Big Bang, set up the initial conditions of the universe so that abiogenesis and evolution were likely, and then didn’t mess with the universe at all after that; he set up the initial conditions such that the universe would evolve on its own into the configuration he wanted.

    What I’m saying here is that if you accept the existence of the supernatural, then there is no overwhelming philosophical reason to prefer one theory over another. Also, human beings have a bad track record of determining the truth of theories without looking at the evidence. Aristotle mistakenly concluded that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects, and nobody realized he was wrong until Galileo. One experiment later, and we knew which of the two was right.

    So I’m going to prioritize physical evidence over philosophical considerations. That means I want to start with my Bayesian prior probabilities at the “I don’t know” point, that is, where all three theories (T1), (T2) and (T3) have the same probability of 1/3.

  • Ariel

    In this post I’m going to do a Bayesian update, based on physical evidence, on my prior probability that P(T1) = P(T2) = P(T3) = 1/3. In other words, I’m going to show that there is physical evidence for evolution. Obviously to come to conclusions you have to do a lot of these, but it’s become clear from the discussion thus far that it’s best if I actually explain why something is evidence for evolution, so that’s what I’m going to do.

    Update 1: Homology: Hands and feet. (I like feet because they involve first-hand information.) Human feet have five toes, nails, three bones for the big toe, and four bones for each little toe (one in the foot, two or three in the toe itself). As I argued in this comment, if evolution is correct, then this is very likely based on homology with human hands (which have all the same features). So P(feet|evolution) should be pretty high–I put it at about 0.95. (By the way, that’s an honest example of an actual prediction by the theory of evolution.)

    On the other hand, there’s a bunch of perfectly good existing designs for bipedal feet among birds. And they usually have four toes, with two, three, four and five bones for the toes. If humans were designed separately from other mammals, I can’t see any reason why they should have five toes or those numbers of bones.

    So now I have to estimate P(five toes|creation). As Joshua says, there could conceivably be some unknown functional reason why humans need five toes and birds need four. But this is supposed to be a test based on the best evidence I have available. Considering unknown functional reasons is like considering the possibility that an accused murderer with gunpowder on his coat spent the afternoon at a shooting range; without some sort of actual functional argument, it’s just very unlikely that the actual ideal shape of the foot is the same as the peculiar configuration predicted by homology.

    Put another way, conditional probabilities have to add up to 1. When I say P(feet|evolution) = 0.95, it means that if we didn’t have this foot design, I would consider that pretty strong evidence that evolution was wrong. So if I wanted to claim that P(five toes|creation) was high, I would be saying that seeing four toes would constitute evidence against creation, which I honestly don’t believe.

    So since a foot could reasonably have two, three, four, five, or more toes (Stephen Jay Gould has an article in one of his books about fossils with eight toes) we estimate P(five toes|creation) = 1/5. The probability that we’d have one special toe like we have one special finger, instead of all toes different like a bird, is 0.5 (at most). And the probability that we’d end up with three/four bones per toe, given that each number could be three, four or five, is about 1/9. So we end up with P(feet|creation) being about 1/90. Let’s give creationism the benefit of the doubt and call it 1/10 instead. (I’d like to point out that yes, I am making up numbers, but I’m trying to make up numbers that are good for the creation argument.)
    We then do the Bayesian update and come up with

    P(T1|feet) = P(feet|T1)*P(T1) / [P(feet|T1)*P(T1) + P(feet|T2)*P(T2) + P(feet|T3)*P(T3)] = 0.08,
    P(T2|feet) = 0.08,
    P(T3|feet) = 0.83.

    So just based on feet, evolution is starting to look pretty likely.

    I’m assuming an awful lot here: I had to start out with the information that humans have hands and feet, and that human hands have fourteen bones and five fingers, and that the organisms most similar to us are quadripedal. So maybe it would be better to start with the evidence that humans have hands.

    The assumption I’m really making here is that the tiny, specific details aren’t inherently more likely to look like evolution than they should. And when I look at tiny, specific details like number of foot bones, I can at least count up the reasonable alternatives. Counting up the reasonable alternatives to hands? Much harder. So that’s why I think it’s reasonable to zoom in on feet like this.

    • Joshua

      @Ariel:
      How do you derive the following probabilities:
      P (feet|evolution) = .95
      P (five toes|creation) = 1/5
      P (one special toe|creation) = .5
      P (three/four bones per toe|creation) = 1/9

      The latter three seem to be derived merely by dividing 1 by the number of actual possibilities, but I want to check. The first is the one I’m most interested in, however, because I see no way you could possibly determine such a number.

      As for reasons why humans would have five toes and the number of bones they have, symmetry is as good a reason as any from a design perspective. Certainly humans also need fewer than 5 bones in a toe considering they don’t grab twigs like birds do.

      Also, assigning probabilities to a design choice is meaningless for the precise reason that design is not chance/probabilistic in nature. Finally, I would point out that if you took Bayes’ theorem and applied it to simply determining the odds of abiogenesis or any evolution beyond a single-celled organism, I think you’ll find the odds are much, much more in our favor than yours.

      • Ariel

        You’re right about where P(feet|creation) came from.

        The P(feet|evolution)=0.95 was an estimate. Mostly, I sat down and thought to myself, “Okay, if I looked down and had four toes, how shaken would my belief in evolution be?” And the answer was “Pretty shaken”. (When I found out that dolphins didn’t have fourteen flipper bones I was pretty surprised and we’re a lot farther from dolphins than from the apes.) And if P(four toes|evolution) is small, that means that P(five toes|evolution) should be big.

        Another way to think about it is, mutations that delete or add bones are pretty rare. Most monkeys and (I think) all the great apes still have five fingers on each hand, and we’re very far from them; so losing fingers is rare, and it’s probably not much more common even if you’re doing something crazy like evolving feet; Pan prior (our hypothetical common ancestor with the chimpanzees) presumably had four hands, so it’s pretty unlikely that we’d lose a digit in a few million years.

        This is a good question. (I’m always afraid to say that because I’m afraid I’ll sound patronizing–I’m a teacher, I’m a little too used to one-sided information-power relationships–but I feel like I should say it anyway.)

        Assigning probabilities to a design choice is meaningless for the precise reason that design is not chance/probabilistic in nature.

        Bayesian probability is subtly different from random probability. The best way to express this is that I am 20% sure that the actual best choice is five toes. What Bayes’s theorem is trying to do is to put some mathematical framework around, say, what detectives do in criminal investigations. When I say P(five toes|creation)=P(two toes|creation), what I’m saying is that I have no evidence that five toes are better than two toes. (Ostriches have two toes, and they’re faster than we are.) The observation “We have five toes” doesn’t fit with creation the way it does with evolution, which is why the “probability” is lower.

        Finally, I would point out that if you took Bayes’ theorem and applied it to simply determining the odds of abiogenesis or any evolution beyond a single-celled organism, I think you’ll find the odds are much, much more in our favor than yours.

        Thought you’d bring that up. If someone’s actually done the math on this, I’d like to see it. I’ve got a long explanation of why I think the probability of natural selection producing intelligent life at least once in the universe is pretty high. But for the sake of this argument, I’d like to point out that I included two different flavors of theistic evolution in my list of theories. If you want to claim that P(intelligent life|theistic evolution with miraculous mutation) is low, then you essentially have to argue that there is no path via small changes from a bacterium to a human, which is a very strong claim, and I can’t see why it should be true.

      • Ariel

        Also–and I’m honestly curious about your answer–what would it take, from your perspective, to falsify creationism? That is, if someone came out of a forest in Africa with a strange animal, what would that animal have to be for you to look at it and go, “That was not created?”

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:
        P(five toes|evolution) might be big, but only if you actually know how evolution works, and you don’t. For all you know, the laws of chemistry, physics, genetics, etc. make it far more likely that the change from hands to feet would result in losing/gaining a digit.

        Bayesian probability is subtly different from random probability. The best way to express this is that I am 20% sure that the actual best choice is five toes. What Bayes’s theorem is trying to do is to put some mathematical framework around, say, what detectives do in criminal investigations. When I say P(five toes|creation)=P(two toes|creation), what I’m saying is that I have no evidence that five toes are better than two toes. (Ostriches have two toes, and they’re faster than we are.) The observation “We have five toes” doesn’t fit with creation the way it does with evolution, which is why the “probability” is lower.

        There’s a problem here, because you already said mutations that cause a gain or loss of fingers (or toes, same difference) are rare. That being the case, you would expect that we would have fewer bones, if anything, because according to the going theory, the oldest life forms had no toes at all. So if our ancestors had no toes, why do we now have 5? Furthermore, if you’re looking for a reason to have 5 toes instead of two, how about the fact that, given the shape of the foot, 5 provide better balance than 2 thanks to the ability to shift weight between many rather than few. I don’t know for certain there’s no way to make 2 toes as good as 5 in that regard, but intuitively it doesn’t seem like they could be.

        Thought you’d bring that up. If someone’s actually done the math on this, I’d like to see it. I’ve got a long explanation of why I think the probability of natural selection producing intelligent life at least once in the universe is pretty high. But for the sake of this argument, I’d like to point out that I included two different flavors of theistic evolution in my list of theories. If you want to claim that P(intelligent life|theistic evolution with miraculous mutation) is low, then you essentially have to argue that there is no path via small changes from a bacterium to a human, which is a very strong claim, and I can’t see why it should be true.
        I don’t want to claim that, but frankly if you’re going to let God in the door, I really see no reason to believe in evolution at all, because at that point you’ve literally got nothing but the fossil record, which as I’ve pointed out is a gigantic argument from ignorance. But as to calculating the odds of atheistic evolution using Bayes’ theorem, we don’t know of a single mutation that adds information to the gene pool, to the best of my knowledge. The vast majority of mutations are at best neutral when it comes to adaptability, and a good chunk are harmful. So P(adaptive mutation|atheism) is really low, probably 10% tops. But P(new information via mutation|atheism) is, as far as we can tell, precisely 0. Oh, and DNA has its own error-catching program that gets rid of mutations a good chunk of the time. So from an atheistic point of view, evolution is possible with the best evidence we have. Or we could look at it a different way and start with abiogenesis. P(abiogenesis|atheism) is X (the number of possible combinations of DNA strands that can result in a viable organism of the most basic type, a very small number) divided by the total number of possible combinations of DNA strands, made more difficult by the fact that as far as we know, only left-handed amino acids are capable of forming proteins that support life, yet all lab tests performed show that left and right handed acids form in about equal proportions in the absence of design. So your odds of a decent protein are already small, and your odds of a functional protein are smaller, and your odds of a life-giving combination of DNA strands is still smaller. And that’s step one. That doesn’t even touch the subsequent evolution of that one organism, which, by the way, would have to have DNA strands that perform replication (and it need not to merely be alive in the biological sense).

        Also–and I’m honestly curious about your answer–what would it take, from your perspective, to falsify creationism? That is, if someone came out of a forest in Africa with a strange animal, what would that animal have to be for you to look at it and go, “That was not created?”

        I don’t think either creationism or evolution are falsifiable in the strictest sense (i.e., deductively), but if you mean to ask what it would take for me personally to abandon the idea of creation on inductive grounds, I’m not sure I could give a clear answer. Certainly it would take something very contrary to the idea of a rational, benevolent designer. So I suppose an animal whose features seemed totally designed to thwart its own existence and pleasure would do it, but even then it would have to be shown that its features were not the result of mutations, which would be difficult. Beyond that, my creativity is insufficient to provide a good answer. On the theory that turnabout is fair play, what would it take for you to stop believing in evolution?

      • Joshua

        Drat, I seem to have made an error in my HTML code…. It should be obvious, I think, but only the first paragraph and the even-more-indented paragraph in the quote text above are yours, Ariel.

      • Ariel

        On the theory that turnabout is fair play, what would it take for you to stop believing in evolution?

        I can think of lots of pieces of evidence that would convince me that evolution is wrong.

        Evolution is supposed to proceed in small steps. So if you have two closely related organisms, and one of them has a complex adaptation with lots of interlocking parts, and the other doesn’t have any trace of that adaptation at all, that would be evidence that that adaptation has not evolved. (“Closely related” here means “very similar on a morphological and molecular level, which according to evolutionary theory can only happen if you’re closely related”.)

        For example, all warm-blooded animals need a lot of oxygen getting to each cell all the time, and the reptile respiratory/circulatory system just isn’t up to it. Birds have a complicated arrangement of air sacs that make their lungs much more efficient at getting oxygen out of the air they breathe. Mammals have red blood cells with no nucleus, no mitochondria, no Golgi apparati–they’re stripped down to be just bags of hemoglobin. And that means we have smaller, stretchier blood cells, which allows us smaller, denser capillaries. In other words, birds have awesome lungs and mammals have awesome blood and blood vessels. If you found a bat or a bird with awesome blood AND awesome lungs, that would be strong evidence against evolution. If you found a bat with awesome lungs, and there was another bat with standard mammal lungs but otherwise was almost identical to the first bat, that would be pretty overwhelming.

        For another example, remember that the big thing DNA does is provide a recipe for proteins. Almost all organisms use this table to translate DNA to protein. Some organisms use slight variants. Being able to survive a change in the DNA table is not impossible, but is unlikely, so it can’t happen very often. An organism that used a completely different table would have to have diverged from us long, long ago–so if it turned out that panthers, who are clearly big cats, used a completely different table, I’d call that conclusive evidence that panthers were not produced by evolution.

      • Ariel

        Frankly if you’re going to let God in the door, I really see no reason to believe in evolution at all, because at that point you’ve literally got nothing but the fossil record.

        At the risk of putting words in your mouth (of course correct me if I’m wrong!), it sounds like you agree with me that if we have evidence that supports theistic evolution over one-shot creation, then we should use that evidence to decide which one to believe. I’ve pretty much given up talking to Jeff, below, because he doesn’t seem to believe this. What we disagree on is whether that evidence exists, not whether we should use it if we can find it. I’d like to continue this discussion, and in particular I’d like to discuss whether there is evidence for evolution or creation, but I just want to make sure that I understand your viewpoint correctly.

      • Ariel

        @Joshua,

        A few other comments.

        P(five toes|evolution) might be big, but only if you actually know how evolution works, and you don’t. For all you know, the laws of chemistry, physics, genetics, etc. make it far more likely that the change from hands to feet would result in losing/gaining a digit.

        Actually there is some data on that. If you look at different people, you see tall people, short people, people with long hands, people with short hands…but you don’t see a whole lot of people with few fingers. This tells me that there’s a lot more variation in bone size to select on than in numbers of bones. And that’s a reason to expect that evolution would be more likely to lengthen or shorten bones than to remove them.

        I feel like I’ve tried to say this before, but…suppose you were prosecuting a murder by poison–in ancient Athens. You don’t know that the active ingredient in hemlock is coniine, you don’t know that coniine is a neurotoxin, you don’t even know what a neurotoxin (or a neuron!) is. On the other hand, you do know that if someone is given hemlock then they pretty reliably stop breathing soon after, and (for example) someone saw the accused gathering hemlock and your accused gave the victim a glass of wine, and when you fed the leftover wine to a mouse the mouse dropped dead. Do you really give up because you don’t actually know how hemlock works, or do you say, “Yes, based on the best evidence we have, the accused probably did murder the victim”?

        When you say I don’t actually know how evolution works, that’s what you sound like to me. My argument has never been that we know everything; it’s that we know enough to make some reasonable predictions, those predictions have all checked out, and therefore we can be pretty sure (never completely certain, but pretty sure) that all animals have shared ancestry.

        There’s a problem here, because you already said mutations that cause a gain or loss of fingers (or toes, same difference) are rare…

        Not really. The current hypothesis is that humans and chimpanzees diverged 6 million years ago–that we had four hands and twenty fingers six million years ago. The Cambrian explosion was about 530 million years ago. If gaining or losing toes is rare, it still can happen over the course of hundreds of millions of years. (There are also some good reasons to expect the Cambrian period to have had a lot more BIG changes than later periods, which I’m happy to explain but I do want to get to your other comments.)

        Furthermore, if you’re looking for a reason to have 5 toes instead of two, how about the fact that, given the shape of the foot, 5 provide better balance than 2 thanks to the ability to shift weight between many rather than few. I don’t know for certain there’s no way to make 2 toes as good as 5 in that regard, but intuitively it doesn’t seem like they could be.

        Ostriches have two toes. And their feet work fine–in fact, they’re faster runners than we are. This works for them because both their toes are much bigger than ours. If you’re committed to having a foot shaped more or less like ours, then yes, you need lots of toes. And if you want lots of toes, you probably do need a foot shaped like ours. I can’t see a reason why an intelligent designer would have to give us human-shaped feet rather than ostrich-shaped feet, though, and I can see a reason why evolution would tend to give us five toes rather than two.

        Frankly if you’re going to let God in the door, I really see no reason to believe in evolution at all, because at that point you’ve literally got nothing but the fossil record.

        The point of the above argument is that we do have more support for evolution than the fossil record. We have homology; a nested hierarchy of species; suboptimal function and vestiges; biogeography. I know you don’t find any of these arguments convincing (I’m currently trying to explain homology), but they do exist.

        Also, I sort of feel like, if you don’t have any evidence either way, the most appropriate response is to say “I don’t know which happened”, not to pick one and stick with it. You seem to be picking separate creation over shared ancestry for some reason–I’d like to understand why.

        I also feel that shared ancestry and evolution–not necessarily natural selection, but evolution–is a lot more parsimonious than special creation. We’ve identified over a million animal species, and we think there are lots more. So if we believe in separate creation of all animal species, we have to believe that God created about 20 million animals, all at once–possibly many more, as (for example) the lions would have to eat before the antelope could breed. Of course he could do that–he’s God–but then why bother setting up this complicated reproductive system? Why not go to one extreme and specially create every organism, whenever a new organism was needed–or, conversely, go to the other extreme, create one or two organisms, and guide their descendants to branch out into as many species as were desired? Put another way, why do you expect the method used for creating Adam and Eve to be more like the method for creating the first bacterium than like the method used for creating Abel and Seth?

        We don’t know of a single mutation that adds information to the gene pool, to the best of my knowledge. The vast majority of mutations are at best neutral when it comes to adaptability, and a good chunk are harmful.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “adds information to the gene pool”. More possible genes? Any mutation can do that. More good genes? Here is a list of mutations–observed in a laboratory–that were good for the organism in question in that particular environment. So we know mutation can produce improvements–we’ve seen it happen.

        So I suppose an animal whose features seemed totally designed to thwart its own existence and pleasure would [falsify creationism]…

        I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the icheneumon wasp–this is sort of the classic example of a cruel organism (maybe not cruel to the wasp itself, but to everything around it). Basically these bugs find a caterpillar, paralyze it, and lay their eggs in it–the poor caterpillar doesn’t die until the eggs hatch and chew their way out.

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:
        Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I’ve been super busy. But to the discussion:

        If you found a bat or a bird with awesome blood AND awesome lungs, that would be strong evidence against evolution.

        Ever heard of punctuated equilibrium? Slow, minor progression over time isn’t the only way evolution can hypothetically work. In addition, your own definition of “closely related” probably takes such things into account such that your supposed evidence against evolution would really just be recategorized as a “more distantly related” organism. In short, your argument for what would constitute evidence for evolution is really illusory. If I found something tomorrow that looked like a very near kin to humans, but not human, which lacked something that is very complex that is only in humans, all you would have to do to resolve the difficulty would be to say that there were numerous additional transitions between that and humans. Can you think of a way to avoid this problem?

        Being able to survive a change in the DNA table is not impossible, but is unlikely, so it can’t happen very often. An organism that used a completely different table would have to have diverged from us long, long ago–so if it turned out that panthers, who are clearly big cats, used a completely different table, I’d call that conclusive evidence that panthers were not produced by evolution.

        Also problematic. By your logic, any two organisms which use different tables must be distantly related. But then what about the first organism to have broken off from the usual table? It wasn’t distantly related to its nearest ancestors, yet it uses a different table. In other words, some organism must be closely related to some other organism that has a different table, so I fail to see how cats using a different table creates a problem for evolution. But maybe I’m just missing something more specific you’re trying to get at.

        At the risk of putting words in your mouth (of course correct me if I’m wrong!), it sounds like you agree with me that if we have evidence that supports theistic evolution over one-shot creation, then we should use that evidence to decide which one to believe. I’ve pretty much given up talking to Jeff, below, because he doesn’t seem to believe this. What we disagree on is whether that evidence exists, not whether we should use it if we can find it. I’d like to continue this discussion, and in particular I’d like to discuss whether there is evidence for evolution or creation, but I just want to make sure that I understand your viewpoint correctly.

        Of course we should always use evidence. And I really don’t know why you think Jeff disagrees with this. But yes, we very much do disagree on whether said evidence exists. And I’m guessing we also disagree on whether there is considerable evidence AGAINST evolution.

        And that’s a reason to expect that evolution would be more likely to lengthen or shorten bones than to remove them.

        No, because even if that actually has to do with mutations that change the size of bones (and I doubt it; seems to me that’s more related to genes related to growth in general), you’re still only talking about differences within a species. You have no reason to believe the relation holds if you’re moving from one species to another, assuming that can happen in the first place.

        Do you really give up because you don’t actually know how hemlock works, or do you say, “Yes, based on the best evidence we have, the accused probably did murder the victim”?

        This rather assumes you have evidence, don’t you think? And I think you’re missing my point; I’m not saying that because we don’t know how evolution works (assuming it does) that we should drop it; we don’t know HOW gravity works, either, just that it does. What I’m saying is that we don’t even know evolution is POSSIBLE, and therefore because we have no evidence (or at best very little weak evidence) to support it, accusing me of being either ignorant, dishonest, or dogmatic is mere ad hominem.

        If gaining or losing toes is rare, it still can happen over the course of hundreds of millions of years.

        Can it indeed? And you know this how? What you have to know is that it’s not too rare to happen in that time frame, and you can’t even show it’s possible, so you’ve lost that battle before it’s begun.

        If you’re committed to having a foot shaped more or less like ours, then yes, you need lots of toes.

        Precisely. As to why a designer would give us human-shaped feet rather than ostrich shaped feet, could it be because we aren’t ostriches? I know that sounds circular, but it really isn’t. If humans are designed to perform such-and-such functions, which are different than the functions performed by an ostrich, then our physiology is going to reflect that. Consider also that ostriches, like most birds, have knees that bend the opposite direction from humans, which probably plays into what kind of feet work best.

        We have homology; a nested hierarchy of species; suboptimal function and vestiges; biogeography. I know you don’t find any of these arguments convincing (I’m currently trying to explain homology), but they do exist.

        Homology isn’t an argument because you don’t know what’s homologous, what’s independently evolved, etc. You ASSUME certain things are homologous because you ASSUME evolution is true AND that it happened more or less in a certain way. A nested hierarchy is going to happen if you have any variety, so that’s also no argument. I can make a nested hierarchy of cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. Yet none of them are related except by design. Suboptimal function and vestiges aren’t evidence for evolution because A) you don’t know they’re vestiges or suboptimal in all cases, and B) creationism takes into account the fact that devolution happens. Indeed, suboptimalism and vestigial organs are better evidence for creationism, if anything, because you expect optimal function and no vestiges in a system that is solely built around adaptability. Biogeography I’ve already explained.

        You seem to be picking separate creation over shared ancestry for some reason–I’d like to understand why.

        Because it allows me to avoid resorting to an infinite regression of cause and effect, and allows me to keep my intuition of teleology (that things are designed and have purposes) where it seems appropriate to apply it. It seems to me that if an organ has a function, it was designed to function thus. Certainly we apply that to every mechanical object we run across. Why not biological organisms?

        So if we believe in separate creation of all animal species, we have to believe that God created about 20 million animals, all at once–possibly many more, as (for example) the lions would have to eat before the antelope could breed.

        No, we don’t, because just as we know many species of dog were all descended from wolves, we can assume a great number of species weren’t always here, but became “specialized” over time. Nor do we have to assume that any species were created as carnivores (especially since Genesis explicitly denies that). Not to mention you have your own problems in this regard: how does a species such as a flower survive without bees? There are all kinds of examples of symbiotic relationships in nature which would require just the right evolutions to happen at EXACTLY the same point in history. Having to assume that all worked out is extremely ad hoc, and definitely NOT parsimonious.

        Put another way, why do you expect the method used for creating Adam and Eve to be more like the method for creating the first bacterium than like the method used for creating Abel and Seth?

        I don’t even follow your meaning here; Abel and Seth weren’t created, they were born, so there was no “method” to compare to the method of the creation of bacteria.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “adds information to the gene pool”. More possible genes? Any mutation can do that. More good genes? Here is a list of mutations–observed in a laboratory–that were good for the organism in question in that particular environment. So we know mutation can produce improvements–we’ve seen it happen.

        I mean a gene that adds the ability to develop beyond the single cell, or beyond a clam, or whatever. You need genes to get hair; when did that get added? Have we ever observed a mutation that actually increased the information in the genetic pool? As for “good genes,” I note that even you qualify your statement with “in that particular environment.” Well, yeah; drug-resistant bacteria are better off than other bacteria in a drug-infested environment, but OVERALL they’re almost invariably worse off. Much like sickle-cell is kind of useful in a malaria-ridden continent, but is harmful in any other environment because it reduces overall viability. Most of your so-called “good” mutations are like that. And they also always (or almost so) involve a LOSS of information.

        I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the icheneumon wasp–this is sort of the classic example of a cruel organism (maybe not cruel to the wasp itself, but to everything around it). Basically these bugs find a caterpillar, paralyze it, and lay their eggs in it–the poor caterpillar doesn’t die until the eggs hatch and chew their way out.

        Why would you be interested? It doesn’t relate at all to what I said. You might as well ask me my thoughts on carnivores. It’s all “cruel” in some sense. But that gets back to my discussion with Aniota, which is there to read any time you want.

      • Ariel

        @Joshua,

        If I found something tomorrow that looked like a very near kin to humans, but not human, which lacked something that is very complex that is only in humans, all you would have to do to resolve the difficulty would be to say that there were numerous additional transitions between that and humans. Can you think of a way to avoid this problem?

        If you had a chain of daughter species, each getting a little further from the standard mammal lung and closer to the standard bird lung, it would be statistically unlikely for *all* the species in that chain to have changes to their lungs, and only to their lungs. Statistically, something else should change.

        By your logic, any two organisms which use different tables must be distantly related. But then what about the first organism to have broken off from the usual table?

        I’m not really thinking of the organisms with a slightly different table, here. You’re describing an organism that uses the same table as us, except (say) TTA is phenylalanine instead of leucine. I’m thinking of a hypothetical organism where every single entry on that table is different. You’re describing a child species that has made one substitution since it broke off from its parent species–I’m thinking of a species that has made 64 of them. These are rare events, and seeing two rare events in quick succession is much less likely than seeing one–seeing 64 in a short time period is statistically pretty much impossible. So that’s why I’d think that a species with a completely different table would have to be a very distant relative, and seeing lots and lots of similar features in that species would be evidence against evolution.

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:

        If you had a chain of daughter species, each getting a little further from the standard mammal lung and closer to the standard bird lung, it would be statistically unlikely for *all* the species in that chain to have changes to their lungs, and only to their lungs. Statistically, something else should change.

        First, I didn’t say that was the only difference. Second, as I keep pointing out, evolution per se is statistically a nightmare, and you have no way to measure actual probabilities here anyway.

        I’m thinking of a hypothetical organism where every single entry on that table is different. You’re describing a child species that has made one substitution since it broke off from its parent species–I’m thinking of a species that has made 64 of them. These are rare events, and seeing two rare events in quick succession is much less likely than seeing one–seeing 64 in a short time period is statistically pretty much impossible.

        How do you know EITHER is possible? You don’t. You ASSUME it because you ASSUME evolution is true. You don’t actually have any evidence that the table could change (via mutation as opposed to design) in even the smallest respect. Everything you keep saying is always based on the assumption that evolution is not only possible, but that it actually happened.
        But speaking of probabilities, here’s another thought relative to your Bayes’ Theorem. When you say P(X|evolution), P should really be 1. Same for P(X|design). Why? Because the probability of the current state of affairs is 1 no matter what the preceding states of affairs were; the current state of affairs just is what it is. If you assume evolution got it here, the probability of it is still 1. The only way you could say, meaningfully, that the probability is not 1 is to start from scratch (laws of physics, chemistry, etc., plus a set of initial conditions which are UNKNOWN), and then do a statistical analysis of the odds of X (say, five fingers and five toes less than 4.5 billion years into the existence of a Goldilocks planet like ours) based on that. But you don’t even know all the variables you have to include in the equation; no one’s even tried. The best we can do is do what you did with design, and divide the number of methods that work by the total number that there are. The latter is virtually an infinite set, so your sum probability is essentially 0. Until you can show me that probability can realistically be applied here, we might as well drop the pretense of acting like we can actually calculate odds.

      • Ariel

        @Joshua,

        How do you know EITHER is possible? You don’t. You ASSUME it because you ASSUME evolution is true. You don’t actually have any evidence that the table could change (via mutation as opposed to design) in even the smallest respect. Everything you keep saying is always based on the assumption that evolution is not only possible, but that it actually happened.

        The general chain of logic I was trying to express was, “if evolution happened, then … and therefore, we can’t see panthers with a drastically different table. Taking the contrapositive, we see that if panthers have a drastically different table, then evolution can’t have happened.” Anytime I’m between an “if evolution” and a “therefore, consequence”, I really ought to be allowed to assume that evolution could and did happen. Any time I’m between an “if creationism” and a “therefore, consequence”, I’m allowed (in fact required!) to assume that God exists and did in fact create many original organisms. I thought that the context of that discussion made it clear that I was still between an “if evolution” and a “therefore, same tables”. I will try to be more careful with that in the future.

      • Ariel

        [I believe in creation because it] allows me to avoid resorting to an infinite regression of cause and effect, and allows me to keep my intuition of teleology (that things are designed and have purposes) where it seems appropriate to apply it. It seems to me that if an organ has a function, it was designed to function thus.

        Abel and Seth weren’t created, they were born, so there was no “method” to compare to the method of the creation of bacteria.

        What I’m getting at here is: I get why you reject purely naturalistic evolution. If I believed in the Christian God I’d probably reject purely naturalistic evolution too. What I don’t get is why you reject theistic evolution. If God created the first bacterium and guided its descendants after that, causal chains still end at God, and God still “designed” each organ, he just did it slowly rather than all at once.

        The thing with Abel and Seth that I was trying to say is: Lots of Christians refer to God as their Maker. Verses like Proverbs 22:2 or Jeremiah 1:5 seem to be saying that my parents didn’t make me; God made me with a little help from my dad and a lot of help from my mom. Why are you so sure that God did not similarly make Adam with the help of a Homo rhodesiensis woman?

        Just as we know many species of dog were all descended from wolves, we can assume a great number of species weren’t always here, but became “specialized” over time.

        Nor do we have to assume that any species were created as carnivores (especially since Genesis explicitly denies that).

        But that gets back to my discussion with Aniota, which is there to read any time you want.

        If I understand your discussion with Aniota correctly, the idea is that a large number of perfectly-designed (but unspecialized) organisms were created at once, and that after the Fall, they diverged and degenerated. From your remarks on dogs, it’s clear you believe in a little bit of evolution, but (I’m guessing here) that evolution can’t create entirely new structures–just adjust or degrade the ones that are already there. So it sounds like you think any complicated structure has to have been there since creation, and any organism that’s really good at something has to have been designed to do that.

        I’m wondering: does creationist theory have a set of criteria in place for figuring out which organisms have shared ancestry and which organisms have separate ancestry? Also, are there any nonhuman animals now alive that you believe are descended from the same specially created ancestor as human beings? What about fossil species?

        My problem with carnivores as a post-Fall development is: most carnivores are good at being carnivores. Many of them have sharp teeth; claws; front-facing eyes for binocular vision; and a digestive system that can digest meat. Most herbivores don’t have any of those things, and don’t really need any of those things. So you have to postulate either that God did a lot of redesigning after the Fall, or that a substantial amount of evolution by natural selection can and did happen then to produce carnivores, or…something else I’m not thinking of; are you postulating something different?

        I honestly get why God would want to design carnivores. Without predators, between-species natural selection (the kind of evolution even you believe in) will tend to eliminate everything but the most efficient breeder, so the world gets taken over by mice or rabbits. With predators, it’s much easier to maintain biodiversity and an interesting ecosystem. This is why I keep bringing up things like the icheneumon wasp and its paralytic sting, or things with nasty sexual habits like the scorpionfly with its notal organ or the sagebrush cricket with teeth on its back. All of those things are reasonably complicated structures, so if creationism is true then they have to have been designed on purpose, and they all do things that (by our standards) are deeply immoral. I suppose you could postulate that icheneumon venom sends or used to send its victims into unconsciousness, but I can’t think of a benevolent explanation for the others.

        Suboptimal function and vestiges aren’t evidence for evolution because A) you don’t know they’re vestiges or suboptimal in all cases, and B) creationism takes into account the fact that devolution happens. Indeed, suboptimalism and vestigial organs are better evidence for creationism, if anything, because you expect optimal function and no vestiges in a system that is solely built around adaptability.

        The way I use suboptimality to decide between evolution and creationism is this. Let’s use the recurrent laryngeal nerve as an example. This nerve goes from the brain, into the chest, around the aorta, and back up the neck to the larynx. This is a particularly suboptimal design in the case of the giraffe. If I assume we were descended from fishlike animals, with gills far from the brain, then this could have originally been a direct route that got tangled up when we started moving things about to become tetrapods. On the other hand, if giraffes are descended from a designed tetrapod, then either you have to postulate that the laryngeal nerve moved to wrap around the aorta (and did this in the same way in all mammals) or that God designed the laryngeal nerve to get to the larynx the long way around.

        As a more general principle, evolution and creationism give rise to two different sorts of suboptimal function. If creationism is true, we expect to see degraded versions of the ideal–in other words, things close to the perfect design. If evolution is true, we expect to see some things that can’t get to the true optimum via small beneficial changes–in other words, things that are functional, but by some measure are far from the perfect design.

        Although as you say, it’s hard to come up with an organ you can be sure is suboptimal, so this is a hard argument to make work.

        Vestigial organs are not useless organs. Vestiges are things that show a history. For example, ostriches don’t fly, they run (and run really well)–but they still have wings, and if they really evolved from flying birds, those wings are vestigial, even if they can still get some use out of them as steering organs. The idea is that vestigial structures are structures that are easy to explain if organisms had ancestors that were very different from them, and are hard to explain if their ultimate ancestor was a perfect animal that had all their complicated features. There are a bunch of examples here; I’d particularly direct your attention to stripe genes, bird-teeth genes, and resorbed fetal teeth among baleen whales.

        How does a species such as a flower survive without bees?

        There exist wind-pollinated flowering plant species. They don’t need bees.

        Assuming for the next two paragraphs that evolution is possible, the way plants that do need bees can develop goes something like this:

        First, bees start eating pollen. If they eat from multiple plants of the same species in quick succession, then they will pollinate those plants. Once bees start eating pollen, any plant that made bees more likely to carry its pollen to other plants would have a selective advantage. Once the bees got to be more efficient than the wind (which isn’t hard, given how wasteful wind pollination is), any plant that gave bees an incentive to come to it (nectar, yummier pollen, highly visible or scented flowers) would have an advantage. And then once bees were doing most of the work of fertilizing plants, any mutation that led a plant to spend less of its resources on pollen that blew away on the wind would have an advantage. It wouldn’t make the plant much less fertile–the bees take care of that–but it would mean the plant had more resources to spend on leaves and on bee-based pollen.

        The point is, if natural selection can build complicated structures, it can also take them away when they aren’t needed anymore. In fact, doing so is easier–you don’t need mutations that “add information”, you need mutations that remove it. Michael Behe has a book devoted to exactly these sorts of arguments. He calls the flower/bee system “irreducibly complex” and claims that such things can’t evolve. The whole argument falls apart if you consider the possibility that these flowers used to have a wind pollination system that they got rid of once they didn’t need it.

        The point in the last two paragraphs is not that it has to have happened that way–I’d need to go looking for physical evidence for that history, and I suspect no such physical evidence fossilized–but that insect-based pollination does not contradict evolution and so is not evidence against it. I’m not saying that the argument above is evidence for evolution.

        A nested hierarchy is going to happen if you have any variety, so that’s also no argument. I can make a nested hierarchy of cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc.

        Let’s suppose that you look at dishes. You can construct a nested hierarchy based on the shape of the dishes (cups with handles, cups without handles, plates, saucers, teapots, cream pitchers). You can also construct a nested hierarchy based on their pattern (blue willow, flowers, birds, etc. etc.). If you look at the two nested hierarchies, they are almost completely disjoint–one hierarchy classifies blue willow plates with flowered saucers and far from blue willow teapots, the other is the other way around. That’s an extreme example, but most nested hierarchies of designed objects do have that kind of messiness. Also, you can get objects that break out of the hierarchy–if you have a nested hierarchy for silverware, where do you put sporks?

        Conversely, if you draw a nested hierarchy based on hemoglobin, and another nested hierarchy based on protease, you get (roughly) the same hierarchy. If you draw a hierarchy based on milk and live birth versus hard eggs, you get the same hierarchy as fur versus feathers, or as homology of limb bones. You also don’t get species halfway between two distant groups–there are no griffins, or pegasi, or other spork-like organisms.

        I mean a gene that adds the ability to develop beyond the single cell, or beyond a clam, or whatever.

        There are duplication mutations: mutations that give you two identical copies of an existing gene. Once you have two of a gene, you can accumulate mutations in one copy and still have a functional backup, so point mutations can edit one copy into an entirely new gene without killing the organism.

        We’ve seen organisms evolve entirely new abilities: see here or here for some examples. Christine, above, gave a laboratory example of selection producing multicellularity. So it would seem that evolution can produce new abilities.

      • Joshua

        Ariel:
        OK, what goes into the ellipsis that proves that panthers couldn’t have a drastically different table than humans? Because the mere proposition that all organisms are evolved from a common ancestor doesn’t get you there. And I have no problem with you assuming evolution is true hypothetically for the purpose of calculating something, but A) you can’t calculate ANYTHING even with that assumption, and B) that doesn’t change the fact that if you hypothetically assume evolution to explain state of affairs X (i.e. the current situation), the probability of state of affairs X given evolution is still 1. The context of the discussion might be about “if evolution…therefore, same tables,” but there’s a lot of stuff in the ellipsis you haven’t even begun to explicate that you have to detail before your conclusion follows.

      • Joshua

        @Ariel:

        What I don’t get is why you reject theistic evolution. If God created the first bacterium and guided its descendants after that, causal chains still end at God, and God still “designed” each organ, he just did it slowly rather than all at once.

        Because I see no evidence of evolution. Simple as that.

        From your remarks on dogs, it’s clear you believe in a little bit of evolution, but (I’m guessing here) that evolution can’t create entirely new structures–just adjust or degrade the ones that are already there.

        See, this is where you and every other evolutionist go off into logical fallacy territory. In a debate about creation v. evolution, it is manifestly a fallacy of equivocation to use “evolution” to refer to the change between various breeds of dogs. If you want to call that evolution, you need to come up with another term (such as Jeff’s UCA for universal common ancestry) for what you’re actually pitting against creationism, because there are precisely 0 creationists on the planet who deny wolves can be bred into terriers, given enough time. Otherwise, yes, I believe all the truly complex functions were there from the start, and from there things get worse, or at best neutral.

        I’m wondering: does creationist theory have a set of criteria in place for figuring out which organisms have shared ancestry and which organisms have separate ancestry? Also, are there any nonhuman animals now alive that you believe are descended from the same specially created ancestor as human beings? What about fossil species?

        How about what usually works for science–OBSERVATION. But I see no reason why these questions are relevant to the discussion at hand, since evolutionary theory has no way of telling what species are related either. You merely assume certain organisms are related because they look similar. As for the ancestors of humans, they never gave rise to anything but humans, as far as I can tell. Why would I believe otherwise? Your final question is too vague; what about fossil species indeed?

        So you have to postulate either that God did a lot of redesigning after the Fall, or that a substantial amount of evolution by natural selection can and did happen then to produce carnivores, or…something else I’m not thinking of; are you postulating something different?

        I think the former possibility is the most likely, though I fail to see why it would be problematic for me to believe that such changes could arise through chance and natural processes. If the original created genome for a given animal had enough potential variability to include sharp teeth and carnivorous digestive systems, it could have arisen over time without further intelligent input. But bear in mind, this is a DESTRUCTIVE process, because whatever cats and dogs were related to way back when they were herbivores are no longer with us, because the herbivorous variety didn’t make it. The potential for carnivores could have already been there, in other words, without it actually being the case that there were any carnivores.

        All of those things are reasonably complicated structures, so if creationism is true then they have to have been designed on purpose, and they all do things that (by our standards) are deeply immoral.

        I don’t consider it immoral for one animal to harm another, because animals are not moral beings. So I don’t see this as a problem in that sense. I consider it less than ideal, certainly, but there’s a vast gap between less than ideal and immoral. The minute the Fall happened, in my view, the less than ideal was inevitable, and at that point the question was how to maximally salvage it. If that involves carnivores, that’s what it involves. And I seriously doubt the more cruel animals behaviors you mention were original to the species, but of course my conclusion is based on the assumption of a benevolent creator. But at least in assuming a benevolent creator I can ground my ability to know, whereas without said assumption you’re just in the dark about everything.

        If I assume we were descended from fishlike animals, with gills far from the brain, then this could have originally been a direct route that got tangled up when we started moving things about to become tetrapods. On the other hand, if giraffes are descended from a designed tetrapod, then either you have to postulate that the laryngeal nerve moved to wrap around the aorta (and did this in the same way in all mammals) or that God designed the laryngeal nerve to get to the larynx the long way around.

        Except your assumption is totally unfounded, and even if it wasn’t, you still wouldn’t actually know that the nerve got tangled as things got “moved about.” You have no reason to believe that’s more likely than that the nerve just wound itself around the aorta. You keep acting like you have some means of determining X is more likely given evolution than given creationism, but you can’t even begin to calculate any of those probabilities, so you might as well stop basing arguments off of them.

        If creationism is true, we expect to see degraded versions of the ideal–in other words, things close to the perfect design. If evolution is true, we expect to see some things that can’t get to the true optimum via small beneficial changes–in other words, things that are functional, but by some measure are far from the perfect design.

        No, you wouldn’t expect either of those things. Because if creationism is true, you still have to know how bad it can get, and with our experiments using radiation to force mutations, we know it can get pretty bad. And if evolution is true, you would still have to know what was even POSSIBLE, let alone probable, to happen as a result before you could predict how far from optimal a thing could be and still be functional, but again, you don’t know any of that.

        Vestigial organs are not useless organs. Vestiges are things that show a history. For example, ostriches don’t fly, they run (and run really well)–but they still have wings, and if they really evolved from flying birds, those wings are vestigial, even if they can still get some use out of them as steering organs.

        Yes, IF they evolved. The very point in dispute. You keep throwing in these circular arguments as if they’re anything other than circular. I can explain ostrich wings in two ways that are far more likely than that UCA is true: 1) The ancestor of the ostrich could fly, but through natural selection of ALREADY EXISTING DNA, it eventually lost this capability; 2) Ostriches could never fly, but the wings are there as steering mechanisms. Simple. I’m not going to detail your whole list like this, but trust me, it could be done.

        There exist wind-pollinated flowering plant species. They don’t need bees.

        Now prove to me that they came first. Besides, my point wasn’t that the lack of bees was a killer, it’s that this problem is EVERYWHERE. Let’s get really basic, though, just to show why: every sexually reproducing organism needs a male and a female to reproduce and, thus, pass on its genes. So when evolution happens, you need a female and a male to carry the genome forward. EVERY TIME. Not only that, you need both male and female who are fertile and produce fertile offspring (as opposed to being like a mule, say). Now you could argue that only one would have to have the mutation, but first you have to assume (without any evidence) that the mutation doesn’t make it infertile with others that don’t have it, and then you have to assume that its gene actually gets passed down instead of the non-mutated version. So forget multiple species coexisting based on symbiosis. Even with the wind-pollinating flower you need TWO FLOWERS. Except how lucky did you have to get to have just ONE? And remember, this goes for EVERY sexually reproducing organism EVER. THEN you add on the symbiotic relationships and it gets even harder. Oh, and have you ever heard of the beetle that spews explosive chemicals out of its backside (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombardier_beetle)? Without even getting to reproduction, this one poses a huge problem. And forget the mess about irreducible complexity cited by Wikipedia, just follow the logic: This beetle has a system whereby explosive gas is stored in its body. Obviously, an inhibitor chemical is mixed with it to prevent the beetle from exploding spontaneously. Which means that to be effective, the inhibitor has to be neutralized by another chemical on the way out of the beetle. Without any one of these elements, the system doesn’t work. Now again, I’m NOT arguing about the irreducible complexity of the thing. I’m arguing right now about odds. The odds of ever getting all those things into place correctly by chance mutation, even assuming all we have to do is get from an earlier beetle ancestor, is nil. Just like the odds of getting all those mutations in both male and female organisms every time is nil. Just like the odds of abiogenesis ever occurring is nil, to the best of our knowledge. Ever since I started arguing about the fact that evolution is highly improbable based purely on odds, you’ve totally dropped any mathematical argument, even though you’re the math teacher and the one who got me to study Bayes’ theorem. You haven’t even bothered to try to address my arguments regarding probability. If you aren’t going to do that, I don’t see any point in going much further.

        Let’s suppose that you look at dishes. You can construct a nested hierarchy based on the shape of the dishes (cups with handles, cups without handles, plates, saucers, teapots, cream pitchers). You can also construct a nested hierarchy based on their pattern (blue willow, flowers, birds, etc. etc.).

        Except nobody ever tried to construct a nested hierarchy of living things based on “pattern” (one might say aesthetic considerations?). I can do one based on color and put foxes next to salamanders. You’re not even coming up with a valid analogy here. Sporks are mules. But seriously, you’re comparing a class of WHOLLY designed objects with a group of designed+changed-over-time objects (from my point of view). So again, your analogy fails.

        There are duplication mutations: mutations that give you two identical copies of an existing gene. Once you have two of a gene, you can accumulate mutations in one copy and still have a functional backup, so point mutations can edit one copy into an entirely new gene without killing the organism.

        We’ve seen organisms evolve entirely new abilities: see here or here for some examples. Christine, above, gave a laboratory example of selection producing multicellularity. So it would seem that evolution can produce new abilities.

        How do you know you can get to a new type of organism that way? I never said it was impossible; I said there’s no evidence of it. The fact that you can have a duplicate gene doesn’t provide evidence. As for “new abilities,” I’m unimpressed. Doing the same thing in a different way is hardly a major step in evolution. Same for multicellularity. Your second “here” link doesn’t seem to work, by the way.

  • Jeff

    Ariel,

    What you need to do is calculate the probability of feet evolving in the posited time-frame when you start off with a single-celled organism. This is what is impossible to do at this time. That’s why probability has nothing to do with the argument.

    If you assume features on significantly different organisms are homologous, you’ve assumed what you need to provide evidence for. I could also assume they’re convergent or common design. The difference is, the latter allows for a more analogical way of accounting for things. And while analogy alone isn’t compelling, it is better than nothing.

    • Ariel

      If you assume features on significantly different organisms are homologous, you’ve assumed what you need to provide evidence for. I could also assume they’re convergent or common design.

      You missed the point. I did assume that feet were designed. I did it when I estimated P(feet|creation)=0.1. And then I assumed homology when I estimated P(feet|evolution)=0.95. Bayesian analysis is not about assuming one theory over the other. It’s about assuming both theories and seeing where each assumption leads you.

      What you need to do is calculate the probability of feet evolving in the posited time-frame when you start off with a single-celled organism. This is what is impossible to do at this time.

      You insist that analogy is “better than nothing”. Well, basing my belief on some evidence, namely the evidence I can estimate relative probabilities for, is better than basing my belief on no evidence, which is what you seem to want me to do. This goes back to Caravelle’s point: Newtonian gravitation predicted that planets should move in ellipses, we looked and they do move in ellipses, and you want me to throw out that evidence because Newtonian gravitation doesn’t predict that planets exist. No. That’s not how investigation works.

  • Jeff

    Ariel, you’re confused on this point: There is no calculable probability for the evolution of feet from a single-celled organism in the posited time-frame. You can assume any probability you want. But there’s no way to calculate it. And there is no good reason to assume the probability is good or even positive. Reasserting that you can assume a probability is of no avail. I could just as easily assume whatever I wanted to be true as well in terms of probabilities. But so what?

  • Jeff

    Ariel: Also–and I’m honestly curious about your answer–what would it take, from your perspective, to falsify creationism?

    Jeff: The issue is not creation vs. evolution from the point of view of reason. It’s intellectually-directed (teleological) causality (which involves libertarianly-free causality) vs. natural causality. It is not even up for question that you posit WAY more ad-hoc hypotheses for which there is no evidence than I do. So when you get a naturalistic causal theory that can predict the relevant phenotypes at the relevant times starting at the relevant initial conditions with some reasonable degree of accuracy, you will, by definition, have the least speculative theory.

    For now, you can’t predict much at all in that regard. That means parsimony is not applied to two working theories. It can only be applied to the number of speculative, ad-hoc hypotheses entailed in the competing views.

  • Jeff

    Ariel: I can think of lots of pieces of evidence that would convince me that evolution is wrong.

    Evolution is supposed to proceed in small steps. So if you have two closely related organisms, and one of them has a complex adaptation with lots of interlocking parts, and the other doesn’t have any trace of that adaptation at all, that would be evidence that that adaptation has not evolved. (“Closely related” here means “very similar on a morphological and molecular level,

    Jeff: You’re missing the point. If “Closely related” means “very similar on a … molecular level,” then the evolution is no more difficult than any other minor change in molecular sequencing. Thus, so long as it’s still the sequencing that causes the “complex adaptation,” it’s not problematic evolution. One could test for whether the sequencing was a condition of the adaptation easily enough.

    But you’re over-looking the obvious. We are finding function for so-called “junk” DNA all the time. And some of it is considered non-conserved. That means the similarities at the molecular level may end up being significantly less than previously supposed anyway. And there was already a problem with the time-spans as it was.

  • Jeff

    Ariel: If you found a bat or a bird with awesome blood AND awesome lungs, that would be strong evidence against evolution.

    Jeff: You can use language like “strong evidence against evolution” all day long. It’s all just fluff. Because there is no evidence that naturally-occurring mutations can produce even one of the major innovations of organisms in the posited time-frame, and “a bat or a bird with awesome blood AND awesome lungs” would not falsify evolution. In short, UCA has no evidence in its favor, and it is thus far unfalsifiable by consensus views of falsification.

  • Jeff

    Josh: And I’m guessing we also disagree on whether there is considerable evidence AGAINST evolution.

    Jeff: UCA has no evidence in its favor. It eliminates analogies and adds none. It is not known to be logically possible if it is assumed to be explicable in terms of event regularities, which is what methodological naturalism deals with. Phenotypes are not predictable in a way that renders any of the relevant data predictable.

    So what would constitute evidence against UCA? That it arbitrarily eliminates analogies and requires kazillions more ad-hoc hypotheses for which there is no evidence than does SA.

    None of this means UCA is known to be impossible or false. But induction isn’t about what can be proven true or false. It’s about explaining conscious experience as analogically/parsimoniously as possible. We use it in court when we’re inferring intent. So it is not true that inferring intent has nothing to do with induction. It most certainly does. Scientists can tie one hand behind their back and assume that everything is explicable by methodological naturalism. But it will be interesting to see if courts ever embrace such an absurd view of reality by eliminating the relevance of intent in the law either by denying its existence or its relation to accountability.

  • Jeff

    Ariel: If gaining or losing toes is rare, it still can happen over the course of hundreds of millions of years.

    Jeff: This is one of two major errors in the thinking of UCA’ists. This claim of yours is not knowable in terms of any logical inference whatsoever. And yet it is asserted as if it’s as obvious as 2+2=4. But it certainly isn’t obvious. The number of possible DNA sequences in an organisms cell is so huge it’s wrong to say it’s merely astronomical. Thus, you need EVIDENCE to make the claim that an undirected “search” in that sequence space could “find” creatures with toes in the relevant historical environments in a mere few hundred million years.

    That which is neither obvious nor inferentially derivable from the obvious is NOT KNOWN to be true in any sense.

  • Jeff

    Ariel: The general chain of logic I was trying to express was, “if evolution happened, then … and therefore, we can’t see panthers with a drastically different table.

    Jeff: You’re mis-stating your case. What you’re really trying to say is IF evolution proceeds thus and such, THEN panthers must be thus and such. But UCA can be true if bizarre saltations explain all fossil “gaps.” This is why you can’t falsify UCA. It’s not a hypothesis about what KIND of evolution occurred, it merely states that all extant and fossil species share a common ancestor–nothing more, nothing less. You can’t falsify that experimentally. But there is also no evidence for it. There is also no evidence that mutations would have produced phenotypes that match your personal expectations. Because we can’t predict phenotypes given our limited understanding of mutations PERIOD!

    In short, the word “evolution” can include a kazillion different modes and tempos of descent with variation. It’s a very general concept. You need to come up with a particular word to use to denote your personal pet view of evolution. Then you will see the obvious. The inability to falsify that view does not equate to evidence FOR it. The inability to falsify it doesn’t even indicate that UCA is logically possible. We can’t predict phenotypes. That’s why there’s no evidence for UCA. That’s why we don’t know it’s logically possible. It’s all story-telling. But story-telling is TELEOLOGICAL ACTIVITY!!!!!!

  • Jeff

    Ariel: I’m wondering: does creationist theory have a set of criteria in place for figuring out which organisms have shared ancestry and which organisms have separate ancestry?

    Jeff: Creationists don’t have to figure out with great accuracy which species have common ancestors. Because the competition has an even harder job doing it. At least with SA, you can use analogy. With UCA, you don’t even have that. Bayes theorem is irrelevant until you know UCA is logically possible. If it isn’t, any speculation about how it might have occurred is dead wrong, anyway.

    We have no tested theory which, when applied to relevant inital conditions in the Precambrian implies or indicates any of the relevant subsequent events or states of affairs. Thus, guessing how large, systematic gaps might have been bridged is necessarily more speculative than guessing about separate ancestors for critters that don’t have such large, systematic gaps to bridge.

    You seem to think that if God made predators that theodicy is impossible. I don’t see that at all. You have admitted that predators make it “much easier to maintain biodiversity and an interesting ecosystem.” A person holding to the Judaeo-Christian “Fall” view has no problem with a predator-less pre-Fall world. Because that world was supposed to have as its goal a “filling up.” There is no indication in the relevant scriptural texts that reproduction would have continued to occur thereafter. So you have already explained why, given a world that continues for a long time past a “Fall,” that predators have a role in biological plenitude.

    The relevant issue with the “Fall” approach to theology is the age of the earth. It doesn’t seem that it could have been a mere few thousands of years ago. But neither is it possible to show that Genesis indicates that anyway.

    So no, there is no theological problem with saying God made changes in the biological world after their creation. God caused the “serpent” to start crawling on its belly per that tradition. God made animals afraid of humans per that tradition. So if the tradition is historical, God did make changes that weren’t part of the “original” intention. There is no winning the anti-theodicy argument in terms of biology. Greg Boyd has demonstrated the impossibility of that whether or not evolution or Judaeo-Christian theology is true.

    Besides, atheism has an epistemological problem that is intractable, anyway. If my natural modes of inference and the intuitions that ground them are not designed for that very purpose, I have no reason to non-arbitrarily believe I’m apprehending an extra-ego reality, much less one that I am learning more and more about via deduction/induction. Because natural selection doesn’t even preclude the possibility of epiphenominalism. But if epiphenominalism can’t be ruled out non-arbitrarily, then neither can solpsism, LastThurdayism, etc, either.

  • Jeff

    The way other atheists articulate their intellectual bankruptcy is this: They insist that literally all belief must be tentative. I.e., not even one intuitive belief is known to be true merely because it’s intuitive. But of course, if all beliefs are tentative, this is just another way of saying that all starting points (i.e., axioms) that can be used for subsequent discursive, inferential reasoning are arbitrary. And this is just another way of saying that all conclusions are arbitrary since their grounds are arbitrary. And this is just another way of saying that not one inference can be non-arbitrarily believed to be better than another.

    In short, science is indistinguishable from pseudo-science, blind faith, etc, if atheists are correct. And amazingly enough, most philosophers of science have virtually come to that conclusion. They say there is no discernable demarcation criteria by which one could distinguish science from non-science. Thus, “science” is now utterly authoritarian in nature. Hence, it is, without a doubt, dogmatic even when it is right. Because it avows no assent to the legitimacy of human, intuitive knowledge.

    For a demarcation criteria to be discernable, something has to be known intuitively. But that’s precisely what is not knowable if atheism is true. Because if event sequences are not intuitively known to be directed towards teleological ends, they can not be known to be caused or constrained, either. Because all inference require unltimate grounds (i.e., axioms). Axioms are either arbitrarily-believed or intuitively known. In short, intuitive knowledge is required for the existence of known conclusions.

    Now, Ariel, explain how intuitive knowledge existing at time N is entailed in an antecedent set of purposeless event sequences. This is what no human yet has been able to do. Atheist Thomas Nagel has acknowledged the problem in his new book. But even he hasn’t provided a workable solution. For his own attempt implies the existence of foresight. He wants, apparently, to say foresight is not an attribute of conscious mind. But we have absolutely no conceivable analogy for any such state of affairs.

    Atheists thinkers are right. If atheism is true, all belief is tentative. But this means all belief is arbitrary. Because nothing can ever be proved if nothing is known intuitively.

  • Ariel

    @Joshua,

    [I reject theistic evolution] because I see no evidence of evolution. Simple as that.

    Do you see evidence of one-off creation? Why is your stance not, “God created humans and I don’t know whether he used animals as intermediate steps”?

    You haven’t even bothered to try to address my arguments regarding probability. If you aren’t going to do that, I don’t see any point in going much further.

    All right, let’s start with your assertion that P(X|evolution)=1 where X is any observed piece of evidence–anything we know is true. This conception of probabilities is called “frequentist” (as opposed to “Bayesian”); there is a notion of frequentist inference. I’m pushing Bayesianism mostly because I’m more comfortable with it, and it’s really the best way to make probabilistic arguments when you can’t do repeated trials.

    Let’s think about a criminal investigation. Snodgrass is a suspect and the investigator estimates about a 10% chance that he is guilty. The criminal left a bit of blood at the crime scene. It turns out to be B positive. So a blood test on Snodgrass should tell us something–either rule him out as a suspect (if it comes up A or O) or increase our estimate of “how likely” he is to have done it (if it comes up B+).

    If Snodgrass has A, O, AB or B- blood, we can update our estimate from P(guilty)=0.1 to P(guilty|not B+)=0. On the other hand, if the blood test on Snodgrass comes back B+, we ought to increase our estimate of P(guilty) at least somewhat.

    To estimate how much we change our mind given a B+, we need to estimate P(B+|guilty) (clearly this is 1) and P(B+|innocent) (we use the frequency of B+ in the population: about 0.085). We can then update our estimate from P(guilty)=0.1 to
    P(guilty|B+) = P(B+|guilty)*P(guilty) / [P(B+|guilty)*P(guilty)+P(B+|innocent)*P(innocent)] = 0.57.

    Both the assessment P(guilty)=0.1 and P(B+|guilty)=1 have the problem you identified above. Snodgrass already either did or did not do it. It’s true; it’s fixed; what is this “probability” of guilt? P(B+|guilty)=1: what, he committed the crime and his blood magically changed to be B+? P(guilty) doesn’t represent a Las Vegas probability; it represents how “sure” the investigator is that Snodgrass did it. Maybe “degree of certainty” would be a better term–but the same math describes probability, so we’re stuck with the term.

    Similarly, P(B+|guilty)=1 means that if Snodgrass did it, then based on the physical evidence we can be sure he has B+ blood before testing it. A hypothetical prosecutor can safely say, “Test his blood–I’ll throw out my case if he isn’t B+.” When we say P(not B+|innocent)=0.915, we mean that Snodgrass’s defender can only say, “Test his blood–it probably isn’t B+, but I won’t give up if it is.” The defender can’t be sure that his blood isn’t B+, but should still ask for the test because it will probably exonerate him. That’s why P(not B+|innocent) is high but not 1.

    So if you want to argue based on the fact that P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is small, I’m pretty sure that you need to accept the Bayesian notion of “probability” as “degree of certainty” to make your argument.

    Now let’s think about another hypothetical scenario. Suppose that we have a hypercreationist–someone who believes that God creates every new zygote ex nihilo inside the womb, someone who totally rejects the “random meiosis and fertilization” theory of conception. I think we can both agree that this hypercreationist is wrong. But let’s look at some of their probabilistic arguments.

    Your mom has 23 chromosome pairs. If meiosis just picked a chromosome at random out of each pair, then she could potentially produce 2^23=8,388,608 different egg cells. Since chromosomal crossover happens, the number of different egg cells she could potentially produce is astronomically higher; humans average about 30 crossovers each generation, and since each crossover could happen in any of a few thousand locations, this comes out to something over 10^100 possible egg cells. Ditto for your father’s sperm cells. So the probability that random meiosis would produce you, Joshua, in particular, rather than one of your hypothetical possible brothers, is something like 1 in 10^200. A miracle. Impossible! You must have been personally specially created!

    Hypercreationism is a ridiculous parody of actual creationism that we can all agree is wrong. So what’s wrong with this argument?

    P(Joshua|meiosis) is something under 10^-200. There’s no arguing with that. The right way to argue, I think, is that P(Joshua|hypercreationism) is also astronomically small. How you work that one out is that a hypothetical hypercreationist God had at least 10^200 different perfectly good human genomes to pick from. So if a hypercreationist can’t provide a specific reason why God would want to create an embryo with Joshua’s genome, rather than any other genome, then we have to say that P(Joshua|hypercreationism) is also about 10^-200. Remember from our discussion above that this doesn’t mean that God rolled 200 dice to pick out your DNA; it means that we, the limited people trying to do this Bayesian argument, are only 10^-200 “certain” that God would choose to create you rather than one of your hypothetical brothers.

    Your argument about the bombardier beetles seems to be P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is astronomically small. I agree. But what matters is not P(bombardier beetle|evolution), but how P(bombardier beetle|evolution) compares to P(bombardier beetle|creation).

    The number of possible beetle species is astronomically large, so in the absence of a convincing argument that God would choose bombardier beetles over any other hypothetical beetle species, we have to say that P(bombardier beetle|creation) is astronomically small too. Unless you can come up with a strong argument why God should want bombardier beetles in particular, you don’t get to claim that P(bombardier beetle|creation) is greater than P(bombardier beetle|picking beetles at random). That’s what Bayesian “probability” means: we don’t know which beetles God will pick. This is the exact same argument as the argument that P(Joshua|hypercreationism) is small.

    The “irreducible complexity” argument is that bombardier beetles, in particular, are hard to get to using small mutations, and so P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is small even compared to P(bombardier beetle|picking beetles at random). The standard responses are an argument that no, actually, you can get to bombardier beetles from other beetles and so P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is not smaller than P(bombardier beetle|picking beetles at random). And since P(bombardier beetle|picking beetles at random) is about the same as P(bombardier beetle|creationism), this is enough to show that bombardier beetles aren’t evidence against evolution.

    I’ve been thinking about why, say, P(intelligent life|evolution) should be reasonably high (because I will grant that P(intelligent life|creation) = 1) but I want to get your response to the above argument first.

    Also, I think Libby Anne is getting tired of moderating this…do you perhaps want to move to email?

    • Joshua

      @ Ariel:
      If you want to go to e-mail, that’s fine, but only if you’re willing to give out your email. All of mine have…personal info. :P In the meantime:

      Do you see evidence of one-off creation? Why is your stance not, “God created humans and I don’t know whether he used animals as intermediate steps”?

      Sure. It’s called analogy. We see gaps between organisms that we don’t even know can be filled or were filled. We certainly don’t know that chance mutations and natural selection could do it. Given that, and given the incredible design-like nature of even the simplest cell (DNA is way more impressive that the best computer code we’ve got; heck, it self-corrects mistakes), it makes far more sense to infer that life was designed.

      All right, let’s start with your assertion that P(X|evolution)=1 where X is any observed piece of evidence–anything we know is true. This conception of probabilities is called “frequentist” (as opposed to “Bayesian”)

      You’ve never even used Bayes’ theorem yet, best I can tell, so I don’t see how it matters. To use Bayes’ theorem, you have to start with some probabilities. That’s as far as we’ve ever gotten. You’ve never gone beyond that to show that those probabilities (which you just made up anyway) then correlate to anything using Bayes’ equation.

      Let’s think about a criminal investigation.

      Your whole analogy here is inept. In a criminal investigation, we don’t know whether the accused is guilty or not (at least we don’t before the blood is tested; he might be proven not guilty). If he’s got the right blood type, we still don’t know. But in the example of P(X|evolution), we know X is true, and if we’re assuming evolution we know evolution is true. In other words, the probability of X (i.e., the current state of affairs), is 1, because it’s the current state of affairs. This is true no matter how the current state of affairs came to be. Now, what you could be saying is that the probability of X occurring if evolution is true is P, but you can’t possibly know the answer to that because as I said before, you don’t know all the variables, let alone their values. Take the human foot you discussed earlier. Saying that the probability of the human foot being related to ape hands is 95% given the truth of evolution isn’t a statement about the odds of whether human feet will evolve, it’s a statement about which route is more likely given that we know human feet exist. The former is impossible to calculate, even though it’s infinitely easier than calculating the current state of affairs starting from pre-abiogenesis. In other words, your argument is really about which “family tree” is most likely if we assume evolution is true, but that has nothing to do with evidence for evolution.

      So if you want to argue based on the fact that P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is small, I’m pretty sure that you need to accept the Bayesian notion of “probability” as “degree of certainty” to make your argument.

      See above. I’m talking about starting from initial conditions and measuring the probability from there. We can’t start with the assumption that there are beetles, or even a living cell. That’s where the problem is, not whether I’m using Bayesian probability.

      So the probability that random meiosis would produce you, Joshua, in particular, rather than one of your hypothetical possible brothers, is something like 1 in 10^200. A miracle. Impossible! You must have been personally specially created!

      A biology textbook makes this same argument about a roomful of schoolchildren having a random assortment of birthdays, said assortment being highly improbable. The reason this (and your) analogy fails is that we KNOW some highly improbable set of birthdays (or genes) is GOING to happen if we have the room full of students of if my parents have a baby. In other words, some very improbable things are going to be the case by definition; what’s unknown is which specific outcome. This doesn’t carry over into evolution because you don’t have the foggiest idea whether it COULD happen, let alone whether it did. There is nothing inevitable about evolution, but it’s totally inevitable that if a child is conceived, he’s going to have an “improbable” genome.

      So if a hypercreationist can’t provide a specific reason why God would want to create an embryo with Joshua’s genome, rather than any other genome, then we have to say that P(Joshua|hypercreationism) is also about 10^-200.

      Except, as I said, we already know I exist, and we know some equally unlikely combination had to exist.

      Your argument about the bombardier beetles seems to be P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is astronomically small. I agree. But what matters is not P(bombardier beetle|evolution), but how P(bombardier beetle|evolution) compares to P(bombardier beetle|creation).

      That’s not what matters at all, for reasons stated above. You can’t calculate your probability, and my probability is by definition going to be low when measured in the way you did it. Really what you’re doing is equivocating “probability” in a sense. The term has the same meaning, but it’s used in a different way. When I use it, I’m talking about working from the known to the unknown. In every example you’ve given, you’re working with nothing but known/assumed facts. We know I exist. We can either assume creation or evolution, but it doesn’t change that fact. To put it another way, can you predict with any degree of certainty what evolution will do over the next 10 million years? As Jeff has pointed out, phenotypes can’t be predicted, so the answer is no. So it has no predictive value. And indeed what we can say is that, starting from right this second, the odds of evolution ever creating another species is either unknowable or essentially nil, just like the odds of abiogenesis happening on any other planet in the universe is unknowable/nil.

      The “irreducible complexity” argument is that bombardier beetles, in particular, are hard to get to using small mutations, and so P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is small even compared to P(bombardier beetle|picking beetles at random). The standard responses are an argument that no, actually, you can get to bombardier beetles from other beetles and so P(bombardier beetle|evolution) is not smaller than P(bombardier beetle|picking beetles at random). And since P(bombardier beetle|picking beetles at random) is about the same as P(bombardier beetle|creationism), this is enough to show that bombardier beetles aren’t evidence against evolution.

      I specifically said to disregard the irreducible complexity argument, but I looked at your link anyway. I note that while the various “steps” list different critters with the specified adaptations, it never says they share any of the other adaptations along with the one named in the individual step. E.g., secretory glands (step 8) are said to exist in numerous beetles, but doe they have the stuff from steps 1-7 and 9-15? Alas, the website doesn’t say.

      • Ariel

        I’ve set up ariel.darwin.huxley@gmail.com for this.

        It may take me a few days to get to your responses, but I do have a couple of questions:

        Sure. It’s called analogy.

        I’m going to ignore the rest of this quote, because it doesn’t really address what I was trying to ask about. My point is, there are more options than “natural selection+mutation” and “144 hours in which representatives of all major taxonomic groups were created”. I’m specifically asking about theistic evolution and/or progressive creation. Why do you believe that creation happened in six days, rather than one species at a time over 4 billion years? (Or do you? I’m sorry, am I just completely confused about what creationists actually believe?)

        As to analogy: every single animal we’ve ever seen was born from another animal (or hatched from an egg lain by another animal). Every instance of speciation we’ve ever seen, the new species branched off an existing species. Up until a few decades ago, every single time human beings wanted new abilities in domestic animals or plants, they had to get them by breeding them into existing domestic animals. Even now, transgenic organisms tend to start with an existing organism and make a few changes.

        And when I look at, say, cars, I see that there was one first brand of automobile, and then a lot of new brands, each one based on and a slight improvement of the ones that had gone before. Even the first automobile was based on existing steam-powered vehicles. I’ve done some programming, and all my big complicated programs started out small and got built up step by step–and I tested them at each step. Testing’s easy to do with computer programs; the only way to test a new designed object is to build one. The history of human design is a history of new ideas based largely on existing ideas.

        So it seems to me that the best analogy to human designers, and especially to human animal designers (read: dog/horse/pigeon breeders) is one species designed at a time, usually based on an existing species, not thousands of them designed all at once. Am I completely confused about what you mean by “analogy”?

        And indeed what we can say is that, starting from right this second, the odds of evolution ever creating another species is either unknowable or essentially nil.

        Can you tell me how you’re getting this “essentially nil”?

  • Jeff

    Ariel, there is no way to objectively calculate probabilities for ID-SA or naturalistic UCA. That’s why you haven’t even bothered to do so yet. ID inferences are inferences as to the ends of events. Does the bombardier seem to perform functions that seem like ends? Definitely. Does anyone have any way to calculate a probability that that beetle would exist? Of course not. Design inferences don’t work that way. Design inferences are inferences about what events are FOR on the intuitive belief that all events are FOR something. Even the very regularity of natural event sequences has a plausible purpose–it allows for humans (and whatever other rational creatures exist) to competently do their own teleological activity. That teleological planning includes scientific research.

    There is no teleology without SOME predictable event sequences. But we have no observational grounds to believe extant organisms are the effect of purely naturalistic causality acting since the precambrian from an initial state of only single-celled organisms in a cosmic environment. We have no theory that predicts anything like the subsequent relevant events and states of affairs from such initial conditions. Thus, it is not unreasonable to posit that such naturalistic UCA could be flat impossible, whether or not it is.

    To say there is evidence for an hypothesis is to say that competing views are less plausible because known facts are more analogically or parsimoniously accounted for by said hypothesis. But there are no known facts that are accounted for by the hypothesis of naturalistic UCA–NONE! And the hypothesis of UCA eliminates the analogies entailed in SA without adding any of its own. And it requires WAY more speculative ad-hoc hypotheses than does SA.

    Only rejection of teleology explains the embracing of UCA. But with the rejection of teleology comes the epistemological problem of atheism, rendering science void of non-arbitrary demarcation from any other epistemological approach. Because of this fatal epistemological problem of atheism, if UCA is true, it could only be known to be true as an aspect of teleology. But that automatically means UCA is in competition with teleological SA. And there’s no way to calculate the probabilities of (UCA/teleology) and (SA/teleology). There are only analogies, etc.

  • Jeff

    Ariel: How you work that one out is that a hypothetical hypercreationist God had at least 10^200 different perfectly good human genomes to pick from.

    Jeff: This makes no sense, Ariel. There are tons of actions you could perform over the next hour. But that doesn’t mean they’re all equally probable? Because you don’t have natural motivations to do anything that you can do. The same has to be true of a Designer if the Designer is analogous to the only teleological beings we have experience with. And people who think inductively DO use analogy over arbitrariness.

    Second: To talk about P(common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans/evolution) is to mis-state what is being discussed. Evolution happens every time something is born. The real way to say it is P(common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans/UCA). Because SA includes lots of possible lawns just like UCA includes lots of possible trees. But once you assume UCA, you’re assuming what Josh and I are saying there is no evidence of. Since UCA, per the consensus view of it, is conceived of as naturalistic, to assume UCA is true is to say that UCA is knowably inevitable given one single-celled organism in the precambrian. But that is absurd. What makes that knowably inevitable? To say its knowably inevitable is to say that evidence has nothing to do with your belief in UCA. It would have to be self-evident. But that is absurd.

  • Jeff

    Ariel, you’re murder scenario is interesting. You deal with some incredibly strong inductions on top of an original bald assertion that the suspect has a .1 probability of guilt. You don’t explain that at all.

    Probability calculations, to be objective (and therefore scientific), have to be calculated. You can’t just make them up from your gut unless your going to allow your opponent to do the same. And there are no strong inductions that tell us that major transformations can bridge large, systematic phenotypical gaps in the posited time-frames given what we know about genetics. So these examples of yours are literally irrelevant because they are completely non-analogical to the subject at hand.

  • Jeff

    Ariel: And when I look at, say, cars, I see that there was one first brand of automobile, and then a lot of new brands, each one based on and a slight improvement of the ones that had gone before. Even the first automobile was based on existing steam-powered vehicles.

    Jeff: Right. So since everything we’ve observed thus far is either an organism producing an organism or an intelligent being producing an original “theme” followed by a variation on that “theme,” abiogenesis is a completely non-analogical inference as to the origin of the first organism or organisms.

    Now, the next thing we notice is that some animals seem to always produce just variations on a theme. The fossil record is consistent with this for many animal types–it’s called stasis. The inference that such animals naturalistically varied evolutionarily over large systematic gaps without leaving a fossil record of that transition is the logical equivalent of positing LOTS of ad-hoc hypotheses for which there is no evidence. Because we’ve never observed any such thing, and we have no theory that predicts the relevant effects (phenotypes) from the relevant ancestors.

    Ariel: Can you tell me how you’re getting this “essentially nil”?

    Jeff: Here’s how I would do it. You tell me what sequence-based functionality is necessary for an adapted, first organism to exist. E.g., the code for translation, minimal error-correction, etc. Then tell me how many “letters” long that sequence is. Then let that DNA sequence be the minimal sequence necessary. That’s one sequence. Add on to that one if you know of more sequences that will produce the relevant, requisite “functions.” Then divide that total number of sequences by the total number of possible sequences in that DNA “space.” You will see that the result is “essentially nil.”

    Now, do we know all there is to know about how many possible sequences can produce the requisite funciontality? No, we don’t. So whatever you posit beyond what we know might be beyond disproof. But it’s also NOT science. It’s just your personal subjective hunch. And that’s NOT what science is about. And probability calculations can’t be derived that way. Calculations have to start with observed frequencies or known numbers of possibilities.


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