'Dismaying'

According to a disheartening recent poll, 200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin, most Americans don't believe in evolution.

The poll was poorly and strangely worded. "Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in evolution, or don't you have an opinion either way?" One fourth of respondents said they "do not believe in evolution," while another 36 percent said they had no opinion and only 39 percent said they "believe in evolution."

So that's about 60 percent of the country that doesn't "believe in" evolution.

Darwin
It's hard to know what that means, exactly, to "believe in" or "not believe in" evolution. It's like not believing in Missouri, or not believing in thermal conduction. Those two examples are a bit different from one another, but they both get at aspects of what this odd sort of disbelief entails.

"Not believing in Missouri" doesn't affect the Show-Me State one way or another. To say that you don't "believe in" Missouri is really to say that you deny it exists — that its existence is a fact you refuse to accept. That's delusion No. 1. Delusion No. 2 is a corollary to that refusal — the idea that your belief or disbelief somehow makes it so. These are delusions because Missouri does, in fact, exist, and because its existence is not conditional upon your "belief" in the reality or unreality of that fact. Both of these deluded notions, I think, are a part of what many of those respondents meant when they told the pollster that they "do not believe" in evolution.

It didn't help, of course, that Gallup framed the question with leading language about "the theory of Missouri."

On the other hand, if someone tells you that they "don't believe in" thermal conduction, it's likely that they're not so much saying they deny its existence as that they don't understand what you mean when you say "thermal conduction." For all their supposed disbelief, after all, they still avoid sitting on metal park benches in the winter. I suspect that something like that is the case with at least some of that 60 percent — that the more they can be led to understand this thing they don't believe in, the less they'll feel the need to disbelieve it.

But what it seems most of these respondents meant when they said they "do not believe in" evolution was that they believed in something else — some other "theory" they view as its incompatible opposite. As Gallup notes:

… The evidence is clear that even to this day, Americans' religious beliefs are a significant predictor of their attitudes toward Darwin's theory. Those who attend church most often are the least likely to believe in evolution, and most likely to say they do not believe in it.

Gallup says this finding "is perhaps dismaying to scientists who study and respect [Darwin's] work," but they fail to note that this is also deeply dismaying to anyone who studies or respects the book of Genesis of the 2,000 years of Christian teaching that these church-attenders are choosing to ignore, contradict and rewrite.

Dismaying isn't a strong enough word, actually. For anyone who studies or respects the Bible or Christian teaching, the results of this survey aren't just dismaying, they're enraging. American Christians are enthusiastically rewriting the book of Genesis and, yes, that kind of pisses me off. They are claiming that it means what it does not say and that it says what it does not mean — that it means some new thing and no longer means what it has long been understood to mean. They are, among other things, claiming that the Pentateuch contradicts itself, that it requires them "to love the Lord your God without your mind."

It doesn't help that those conducting this rewriting and reinterpreting of the book of Genesis insist that the rest of us refer to them as "conservative" Christians. Their insistence does not make it so any more than their denial of evolution or Missouri or thermal conduction would make that so. Radical innovation coupled with a rejection of the prior understanding is not a "conservative" approach. That word does not mean what they think it means.

I want to get at this a bit more in a follow-up post, but here I'm mainly just venting. While I do that, let me also point out that there is a third category of people who ought to find this poll "dismaying." In addition to those who study and respect science and those who study and respect the Bible, there is also anyone who studies or respects — who tells or hears – stories.

  • burgundy

    Kirala, I think that is in fact a very good reason to make a big deal out of Darwin. If we just hunker down and wait for the ideological arguments to go away, it’ll only get worse.
    I’m reminded of a headline I saw several months ago, talking about Obama’s “race problem.” My comment was, “Obama doesn’t have a race problem; he has a racist problem.” Similarly, Darwin isn’t giving science a headache; Darwin is perfectly wonderful for science. It’s the anti-science ideologues who are causing the headache.

  • Not Really Here

    Soooooo, the discussion boils down to…
    Bits of DNA don’t give a flying ass in a hat how they get together and create more bits of DNA, thus perpetuating whatever species the bits of DNA happen to belong to, as long as they manage to generate more viable offspring than the other bits of DNA do.
    People who get their bits of DNA together with the bits of DNA belonging to evolutionary biologists, apparently consuming large amounts of alcohol in the process, do give a flying ass in a hat about how bits of DNA get together, and engage in flame wars on blogs to make their point.
    Color blind mountain lions may or may not be a factor in what color cattle’s bits of DNA are passed on to the next generation. The mountain lions don’t give a flying ass in a hat whether the reason the color cattle they can’t see get their bits of DNA perpetuated is because some farmer is keeping them in a shed and only allowing certain colors of cattle to get their bits of DNA together, or if it’s because they’ve eaten all the cattle that they can see, therefore only the cattle they can’t see are left alive to breed. They only know that they’re freakin’ hungry, and they can’t see the food.
    Right. Got it.

  • Vendor Xeno

    Burgandy, from my perspective, you have hit the nail on the head.

  • hapax

    Bugmaster: With this in mind, hapax, as far as I can tell, you’re saying that natural selection and artificial selection follow radically different laws, and are thus not interchangeable in any circumstances.
    Uh, no. If that’s what it sounded like, I am wording things VERY badly. If that’s what Vendor Xeno expects me to provide examples of, I wouldn’t wonder at his/her/their/its frustration.
    If I may be forgiven, I will quote myself from upthread:
    Natural selection is a technical term used by evolutionary biologists specifically to distinguish it from artificial selection. Examples of artificial selection include selective breeding, genetic engineering, and superstitious massacres of black cats. The term has nothing to do with a value judgment as to whether humans are part of “nature” or not.
    Natural selection involves a number of processes, of which sexual selection is only one. It also involves mortality, viability, resource scarcity, and a whole host of other processes. In simplest terms, natural selection is the effect of environmentally-induced differential mortality and reproduction upon random variation by means of heredity.
    Natural selection does not operate upon individuals, only populations. It does not operate with intent. It does not imply progress, or improvement, or any other sort of heirarchy or teleology. It is not random.

    I really don’t know how to re-phrase this to make it clearer. All I have been arguing for is a clear definition of technical terms. Natural selection is a topic that evolutionary biologists study; they draw a specific distinction between natural and artificial selection for explanatory purposes. Of course the physical mechanisms are the same; sex is sex, death is death, genes are genes, nobody’s arguing otherwise. When you want to talk about both natural and artificial selection as a whole, there’s a perfectly good technical term for that: it’s “selection.”
    I honestly do not know why this has provoked such hostility, except that I tend to get a bit tetchy when words are misused. (not that I haven’t been guilty of invoking sloppy usage of scientific terminology myself, which I also acknowledged upthread.)

  • hapax

    Or, what burgundy said.
    Durnit. Another perfectly good argument ruined by comity and common sense.

  • Holly P.

    Throwing my $0.02 in, in the hope it will prove illuminating –
    When Darwin coined the term “natural selection,” he was positioning it in the cultural context of “artificial selection,” which his audience was broadly aware of, because at the time half of Britain was apparently involved in breeding pigeons or prize vegetable marrows or what have you. So they’re both under the umbrella of “selection.” Speaking from personal experience, most evolutionary biologists talk about selection without including the “natural” part, because it’s shorter. But they do mean natural selection.
    As far as Hardy-Weinberg is concerned, the concept is basically that if a population is living in a tightly defined set of circumstances known as Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, the allele frequencies (an allele is a flavor of a gene, essentially; we have the Ice Cream gene, which has alleles Chocolate and Strawberry) won’t change from generation to generation. If the allele frequencies *have* changed, evolution is happening. The required circumstances involve a large population, random mating, no selection of either kind, no migration, no mutation, and so on. The presence of artificial selection means that changes in allele frequencies of entirely different genes CANNOT be assumed to be from natural evolutionary forces, because lots of genes are linked. That is, if the breeder is breeding for chocolate ice cream cones, the ones she gets might also be extra-creamy, even though she’s not breeding for extra-creamy ice cream. So if you’re interested in the evolutionary history of extra-creamy ice cream in ice cream cones, your job just got harder.
    While it is true that Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium isn’t found in nature, that’s because evolution is pretty much always happening. The equations are still very useful for population genetics, and artificial selection masks anything else that might be going on. So biologists make distinctions. And then they (okay, we) get snippy about people who come in and say the distinctions are artificial and don’t matter. OF COURSE they’re artificial. But they’re still important to biologists.
    Does that all make sense?

  • Caravelle

    Geds : Basically, it all boils down to this: natural selection is what happens when random change happens and the population changes over time according to the simple rules of survival of the fittest. Any time an outside source intentionally acts upon the population with intelligence and intent, then you have moved from “natural” selection to “artificial” selection.
    Coming in late to the argument, but it seemed to me nobody’s mentioned ants and symbiotic relationships. There are tons of cases where one species affects another’s evolution in a way that is on its face maladaptive, but works that way because basically that species is such a large portion of the other’s environment. That would seem to count as “artificial selection”, except that it’s difficult to attribute intentionality to ants.
    “Artifical selection”, whether you define it as intenional selection by humans, selection by humans period, or selection by another species is in every case just a subset of natural selection. I don’t have that much knowledge of the field, but I’d assume whether the expression is used and with what meaning would depend on context.
    Anyway, hapax’s distinction (using “artificial selection” when it’s done by breeders because that’s one case where we know exactly what the forces in play are) seems useful.

  • http://briervineyard.blogspot.com Kirala

    Kirala, I think that is in fact a very good reason to make a big deal out of Darwin. If we just hunker down and wait for the ideological arguments to go away, it’ll only get worse.
    I see your point, burgundy, but when I was talking about ideological idiots, I was including certain Darwinists in my experience. This failure to distinguish between science and ideology on both ends is part of the problem – I know people who are vaguely young-earth on the grounds that “I’m a Christian, and this is what Christians believe”, but they’re open to an examination of the science and will give it due consideration. (They are also not posting on the internet. I find that most people of mild opinion are not.)
    But then they run into some idiot saying “Darwin proves you wrong, fools!” and naturally become somewhat defensive. When I was a young-earther in middle school, it was BECAUSE of the lousy science involved in the teaching of Darwin (I think Piltdown Man was still included as a missing link in our textbooks!) so it’s not like the Darwinists always are scientists – sometimes, they’re upholding the holy name of Darwin. Which is why I think the name should be retired from overuse until people learn to push it back with other great scientists and not gods and demons.

  • Tonio

    But then they run into some idiot saying “Darwin proves you wrong, fools!” and naturally become somewhat defensive.
    Some atheists seem to share the creationist myth that evolution negates God or Christianity. (Stephen Colbert satirized that myth on last night’s show.) These are the same atheists who mistakenly believe that all Christians subscribe to a literalist reading of Genesis. Like the creationists they criticize, they seem to assume that if a god exists, then the god has to be a creator. They don’t really worship Darwin – they’re simply using him as a weapon.

  • Caravelle

    (I think Piltdown Man was still included as a missing link in our textbooks!)
    That had to be some weird textbook (maybe with an orange cover ?).
    From what I’d gathered on Talk Origins, there was some vague point to saying Haeckel’s drawings are still used, and there are tons of hominids that get discovered and may get shuffled around, but Piltdown Man was exposed as a fraud not too long after its discovery and that was a century ago. You must be confusing him with some other prehistoric hominid.

  • http://knighthawk-ah.deviantart.com/ KnightHawk

    “If we told the CS crowd that we would have to give equal time to all the creation stories of all the world’s religions, I think that would shut them up real fast.”
    And I think they’d be quick to come up with a reason why those other creation myths don’t count, most likely centering on the fact that we’re a Christian nation, blessed by God as the Greatest Nation Ever ™.
    ” The logical implication being that Fred is God. Which would make us devotees of a religion focused on mocking bad writing, discussing theology by yelling at the top of our lungs, and reading Pratchett.”
    Wait, you mean Fred isn’t? He lays down edicts from on high, responds not to our prayers, and observes all that we do upon Slacktavia. Sounds like God to me!
    But hell, any religion based on reading Terry Pratchett has my 10% of my paycheck.
    Love. Peace. Metallica.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/16536449@N00/ J

    *Some atheists seem to share the creationist myth that evolution negates God or Christianity.*
    Pretty much, yeah.
    *…they seem to assume that if a god exists, then the god has to be a creator.*
    Wouldn’t really qualify as a god if he wasn’t, would he?
    *They don’t really worship Darwin – they’re simply using him as a weapon.*
    Pretty much, yeah.

  • Amaryllis

    He lays down edicts from on high
    No, no. No commands have been issued. He merely speaks the Word of Truth, and leaves us to get on with responding to it, interpreting it or applying it as seems good to us.

  • http://scyllacat.livejournal.com Thalia

    Institute for Scientific Geo-Terrapinism (“It’s Turtles All The Way Down”) stationery
    I love that! Where do I get some?

  • Tonio

    Wouldn’t really qualify as a god if he wasn’t, would he?
    Zeus and Odin and that whole crowd weren’t defined as creators.

  • http://scyllacat.livejournal.com Thalia


    Wouldn’t really qualify as a god if he wasn’t, would he?
    Zeus and Odin and that whole crowd weren’t defined as creators.

    Yeah, a creator god is a particular kind in all of those OTHER mythologies. Drat it, I used to have a list of kinds of gods, but the Christians incorporated savior, creator, ruler, and a few others in their one-and-only. Just another one of those things….

  • http://scyllacat.livejournal.com Thalia

    please pretty please with John Barrowman on top stop making up your own definitions for “natural selection”
    blinks… Were we talking about something?

  • hapax

    Thanks Holly P, for saying what I wanted to say, but with coherence, succinctness, and a striking absence of frothing annoyance.
    I really really should learn to avoid Typing While Irritated. I always put things badly, and end up picking fights with people I basically agree with.
    (That’s all meant as an apology, if it isn’t clear.)
    If only I weren’t in a perpetual state of low-grade rage these days…

  • Tonio

    A Skeptic Goes Inside Noah’s Ark
    I finally said something like “you sure are into sex,” to which (the curator) responded “what do you expect, I’m a man?” To which I rejoined: “yes, well, Darwinism explains that nicely, thank you.”

  • Lee Ratner

    J: You are right, Kararites reject the Talmud and reject the entire concept of Oral Law. The problem with the Karaites is that we really do not have any reliable source of what they believed beyond this. Very few if any are left and most of what we know about Karaites were written by the Rabbis. The Rabbis argued that Karaites originated from a dispute in the 800s on how shouold be the next head of the Mesopatamian Jewish community, who was the ruler of all Jewish in the Caliphate. Karaites argued that they are descendents of the Sadducees and existed since the Fall of the Second Temple.

  • http://lihan161051.livejournal.com/ Bruce
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/16536449@N00/ J

    *You are right, Kararites reject the Talmud and reject the entire concept of Oral Law.*
    Woo! I remembered something correctly from my own secondary education!
    My brain’s so gunked up with stuff I would’ve said it was 50-50 that the Karaites were a Jewish sect or else that they were one of the more-obscure clans from “Vampire: Dark Ages”.

  • Dorothy

    The presence of artificial selection means that changes in allele frequencies of entirely different genes CANNOT be assumed to be from natural evolutionary forces, because lots of genes are linked. That is, if the breeder is breeding for chocolate ice cream cones, the ones she gets might also be extra-creamy, even though she’s not breeding for extra-creamy ice cream. So if you’re interested in the evolutionary history of extra-creamy ice cream in ice cream cones, your job just got harder.
    Nature (the PBS program) did a series on dog evolution that demonstrates this very nicely. IIRC (and I’m going from memory), they showed how you can start with wolves and develop an animal that starts taking on more and more dog-like qualities (like cute floppy ears and a curly tail), not by selecting specifically for dog-like qualities, but simply by selecting and breeding wolves that were less aggressive. Which raises the question “did early humans deliberately select and tame wolves, or did it just sorta happen?” The program floated the idea the idea that early domestication happened “naturally”, that is wolves became more dog-like because the less aggressive ones were more likely to hang around human groups and take advantage of scavenging opportunities. And since they were spending most of their time near humans, they interbred with other less-aggressive wolves. It was only later that some early human thought “gee, I really like how those two wolf-dogs like to try to pull the sledge, maybe I can breed them together and get a really good sledge-pulling wolf-dog” , and artificial selection took over.
    Now, whether evolutionary biologists have been able to study the genetic history of dog breeds and decide just when natural shifted to artificial, is beyond me. But I imagine that’s where the math becomes important.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/ Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    hapax: Like it or not, words are the tools we humans use to think and communicate, and if we don’t nail down precise definitions FIRST, there are no “facts” in any meaningful sense, just noises and pixels that we wave at each other.
    Words have meaning….

    I have not yet caught up on the thread, and won’t until later this afternoon, but when I hit this snippet of post I had to stop and comment.
    hapax, I love you. I love you with the strength of my love for words, which, seeing as how I’m a writer, I love very much indeed. If I manage to take one of my thoughts and place it in my friend’s head for him or her to consider and respond to, it is only because we have agreed-upon meanings for the words we use. “Language evolves; get used to it” is a cop-out non-argument used to excuse sloppy speaking, lazy thought, and abdication of our responsibility to understand the tools we have at our disposal. Sloppy use of words isn’t just annoying; it is a real danger to our ability as non-telepathic beings to communicate at all, because the more a word’s misuse is entrenched in a society (“Evolution is only a theory!” “humans are part of nature, so animal husbandry is natural selection too!”), the less that society can effectively communicate the meaning behind the word’s original use. What’s more, because words are the fine-gauge tools we use to apprehend concepts at all, sloppy use of them is a real danger to our ability to think.
    So. Thank you for championing the cause.
    [This post redeemable by hapax for a reasonable night on the town on me.]
    More from me later. Maybe. Right now I gotta get off the blogs and get stuff done. Sadness!

  • Jessica

    sheesh!
    Here I am, an evolutionary biologist, and I miss out on a thread that’s totally up my alley. I might have even been able to referee the unexpected flame war that broke out while I was trying to catch up on comments, and do, y’know, work.
    I would like to start by presenting the definitions for some words straight out of a text book. cf Biology by Neil Campbell, a textbook that is used at almost every college and university that I’ve ever attended, taught at, or researched at, whatever. I use this text, partially because of it’s ubiquity, partially because it gets updated all the time, and loads of scientists have it, use it, and would be familiar with it, and have probably learned all the same definitions for all the same words.
    Darwinism– dual nature that includes both Descent with modificiation AND natural selection and adaptation
    Descent with modification– modifications or adaptations accumulate over successive generations to allow certain organisms to fit into specific ways of life.
    Natural selection — differential success in reproduction, the product of which is the adaptation of organisms to their environment.
    Darwin examined the concept of artificial selection, such as selective breeding, to posit how ANY type of selection could cause substantial change in a population.
    As I see it, Burgundy is more or less correct– it seems that Vendor Xeno and hapax are both arguing different sides of the same thing, but basically saying the same thing.
    I believe that much of the confusion comes from Vendor Xeno saying that “there is no difference in how breeding (read: artificial selection) or natural selection influence breeding pools. From an evolutionary persepective, they are the same thing and work the same way.” I would quibble that this isn’t entirely correct. Hapax and Geds seemed to really jump on that. However, the conclusion that VX makes, namely that “some members breed more than others, and those traits become dominant” makes hir point. It was a very poorly constructed statement in that it brought together some terms that, IMHO, had more of a tendency to confuse than clarify but is otherwise correct. If this were a class, I would take great pains to make sure that VX did not mix and match hir terms in the future, because less forgiving and understanding professors than myself would definitely deduct points off an assignment.
    In other words, artificial selection IS distinct from natural selection, but they certainly both contribute to the evolution of a species. As I said, everyone’s basically saying the same things, just in different ways, and the use of some of the terminology tended to be more confusing.
    _______________________________________
    Let me see if I can tie all these things together. Human beings are certainly a natural factor, and we can certainly serve as selecting agents for evolution. When we prey on fish, or game animals, or whatever, we are acting as agents of natural selection. A fish dumb enough to bite a hook will get caught. An animal dumb enough not to run away will get shot and eaten. When we start breeding things to suit our tastes and not the organisms’ survival however, we are no longer acting in the same way. This might be a useful demarcation line.
    We are breeding for factors that we like, such as this food tasting better, or that kitteh being lavender. These factors may or may not have any direct correlate with survivability/reproductive fitness in an actual environment, which is what distinguishes the action from natural selection. In this sense, we are introducing a factor that is NOT natural. The use of the word natural here is not to say that human beings are “artificial”. It’s just the way that the word natural is used in EvoBio. It’s sort of like the way the word “agency” is used in psychology. It’s still sort of the same word, but some of the subtleties have changed.
    A kitteh being lavender will cause more to be sold at the pet shop, but in “the wild” a lavender kitteh may not be any more fit than any other. In fact, if it is less able to blend in with its surrounding, it may become easier prey for coyotes. The coyote represents a predation selection pressure in this case, and would quickly select against the lavender color trait.
    The example of the brown cows being bred to the point that there were more of them, thereby increasing fitness, or more lavender kittehs making even more lavender kittehs is sort of why I would quibble and say “not entirely correct”. The lavender kitteh or the brown cow is not necessarily more fit to survive in a wild environment. The fact that it may be more fit to survive in a cow shed, or a pet store, or a human home is what makes it “artificial”. Natural selection would almost certainly select against lavender kittehs or cows that are more susceptible to hoof-and-mouth disease. It is the artificiality of humans maintaining the populations that makes it “artificial selection.” Big plump cabbages would get eaten fastest and first. But we keep them around because we love big steaming piles, drenched in butter.
    Not to be crass, but the modern practice of medicine is much the same. We are able, with modern advances, to keep people alive who might otherwise have died at an early age. People with cystic fibrosis, AIDS, metabolic enzyme deficiencies, umm %$#@&^, how about diabetes? All people with those illnesses would probably die without medical intervention. That’s natural selection. You’re susceptible to illness X and it will kill you before you can reproduce. Keeping those people alive such that they can start families of their own is artificial selection.
    As VX pointed out, this is definitely about semantics. Evolution can occur no matter what, but the words we use to talk about these things can confuse the people we’re talking to. In this example, VX should have addressed the semantics issue a little more, rather than just dismissing it as a strawman. Would have saved me a ton of reading. =)
    I hope that helps a bit.
    [/thread police, to protect and serve (and occasionally belittle)]
    Oh, and hapax, I forget where the thread was, but the “where’s the mathematics challenge to your faith, square root of two and belief system being in tatters” that your daughter said– Totally full of win. Your daughter wins the thread, and if you’ll let her have it, this nice shiney new internet I was able to get on Ebay.

  • Jessica

    oh, and ummmm, NOT first!
    Nyehhhh!!!!

  • Jessica

    oh wait, it’s only Wednesday.
    Can I take that last one back and save it ’till tomorrow?

  • Lauren


    I wouldn’t be all that surprised. When I worked with Dachshund rescue I saw dachshund/mastiff and dachshund/lab crosses, and I recently ran across a dachshund/Doberman. I used to wonder how that happened until my (12 lb.) elderly foster-dachshund attempted to get it on with my (45 lb.) Australian Shepherd mix (he stood on the sofa). Luckily they’d both been fixed, or we’d have ended up with some VERY odd pups.

    I’d still like to run the experiment. Speciation doesn’t require that reproduction between the two populations be completely impossible, just that it not be very likely.
    I don’t think that instances of very differently sized breeds of dogs crossed in captivity prove that it would happen in a feral setting. I don’t really know enough about feral dog behavior to know for sure, I’m extrapolating from what I know about wolves. I assume that the Pomeranian(F) Wolfhound(M) cross is physically impossible. So the question is, if a Wolfhound bitch in heat had access to both Pom and Wolfhound dogs, under what circumstances would she mate with the Pom? Do only high-ranking dogs in a pack getting mating rights, and could a Pom succeed in gaining alpha status? Is there much female choice in feral dogs, and so would the Wolfhound be attracted to a Pom? Assuming the puppies were born, would the Wolfhound be able to teach her much smaller puppies how to hunt? Would the mixed-breed puppies be able to compete with purebred puppies for food?
    I think that total Pomeranian extinction would be the most likely outcome, really. Better chances using a small terrier.

  • Lila

    Okay, here is a peace offering to all the “first” haters.

  • Turcano

    I don’t really know enough about feral dog behavior to know for sure, I’m extrapolating from what I know about wolves.

    I’m willing to bet what you think you know about wolves applies to feral dogs more than it applies to actual wolves; except for in unusual circumstances, wild wolf packs are actually nuclear families.
    In any case, mating rights are determined by alpha status in pack dynamics, and alpha status is determined by personality more than any tangible quality, so yes, it is possible.

  • LL

    First, evolutionary biologist Jessica for the win. It’s nice to hear evolution explained by someone who actually knows what he/she is talking about, a real live scientist with a real live science degree thingy.
    I’ll concede that my “Get bent” statement was probably a bit harsh for Slacktivist (and yes, it was childish, too, that was kinda the point, probably too subtle for some). I’ll cop to that. But it is a gentle kiss on the forehead compared to the response you’d get for “First!” or “First?” on most other websites. Seriously now, it should be discouraged. It isn’t cute. It isn’t childlike. It isn’t funny. It’s stupid. And it’s unworthy of a grownup. Being first to comment on a website isn’t significant or impressive or worthy of mention. When you’re the first customer in the door as soon as Starbucks opens in the morning (for example, or substitute with your preferred coffee shop, diner, etc., if you like), would you begin your interaction with the barista by shouting “First!”? No, because that would make you look like an idiot. Same thing here. If you can’t begin a comment thread with some actual contribution, just don’t bother. We can all see who made the first comment, because, well – and I’m embarrassed for anyone I have to actually explain this to – it’s the first comment. It’s at the top of the thread. People with eyes and the ability to discern the order of items can see it. It’s really pretty obvious.

  • Dorothy

    LL et al. – May I suggest a compromise? How about we confine the “First!” comment to the LB threads? Somehow, being childlike (or stupid, take you pick) seems most appropriate in that venue.

  • http://radaractive.blogspot.com/ Kimbal aka Radar

    The poll just illustrates the fact that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
    Multiple thousands upon thousands of generations of bacteria and fruit flies have shown that macroevolution is not happening, no new information is being produced.
    The increasing complexity of the cell and DNA have shown scientists that there is just no hope of ever coming up with an explanation for a first living cell.
    God created is the scientific answer because it is the only one that fits the evidence.

  • http://radaractive.blogspot.com/ Kimbal aka Radar

    Hey, Jessica?
    If I take the wheel covers off of my car, did it just evolve? You are talking about microevolution, in which pre-existing information is shuffled, selected and often lost. No way do these operations demonstrate the addition of information, which is necessary to evolve new creatures or even new systems or organs.
    The uninformed may be impressed, but you will have to demonstrate more than a grasp of mendelian genetics to explain the development of the eye from no eye…or a basic 500 genome/580,000 DNA paired bacteria from a bunch of random molecules without design or direction.
    cheers~

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    I wish Izzy was here right now.

  • Ursula L

    LL-
    The “first” here doesn’t bug me the way it does at other websites. Around here, it isn’t a contest, with one or two people rushing trying to be “first” on every thread. For one thing, there aren’t that many threads here, compared to some higher-volume blogs. And it isn’t something you see on every thread here, either.
    Here, “first” seems to me to be an expression of joy – that there is a new Slacktivist thread!
    Just because all the other blogs are getting obnoxious about “first” doesn’t mean that we should, as long as it remains something playful and non-competative. If Fred gets annoyed by the “firsts”, he’ll let us know, and it will stop, because that’s the way we are around here. (Alternately, Fred could just say “First!” in the initial post, since he always gets to be first.)

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/ Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Kimbal, “God did it” is no more a scientific explanation than “Little green men from Alpha Centauri did it.” The evidence does not require the explanation. And if you want to posit “God did it” as a hypothesis, how do you test that? Hypotheses must be testable. Disprovable. Else they simply are not scientific hypotheses! At most, as far as science is concerned, “God did it” is not yet disproved. It probably never will be–it is not a disprovable statement. At least, not until we prove it was the little green men from Alpha Centauri instead; at which point, presumably, you’ll start insisting that the little green men were tools of God.
    Whatever. If it ain’t testable and potentially disprovable, it ain’t no hypothesis. Which is to say, it’s got no part in the scientific method.
    Currently, the best scientific comment on stuff we don’t yet understand is “We don’t understand that yet; we continue to search for answers.” That continuing to search thing is important.
    The problems with expecting scientific inquiry to produce the hypothesis “God did it” are multiple. If you think the evidence points toward intentional design, why do you think the evidence points towards the Christian God as the designer, and not, say, the creator God/dess of any other religion? Why a deity at all, and not a very powerful being that is mortal but not yet comprehensible to us? “My God did it” isn’t scientific response; it’s attempting to wedge your own religious bias into an open question and shut down inquiry therein.
    Because that’s another huge problem with “God did it” regardless of which God is posited. It stops inquiry. Where does science go from there? Is it supposed to collect data on God? How? God is ineffible and can do stuff that breaks the rules of physics. How do we create hypotheses about anything when the guy who came to earth, turned water into wine, and rose from the dead is involved? Clearly, anything goes. Anything except figuring stuff out for ourselves, that is. And me, being a happy recipient of laser surgery, I’m rather pleased that modern science didn’t just stop at “God created the eye; we cannot hope to understand it.”
    At best, “God did it” is an irrelevance as far as science is concerned. OK, fine, so God did it. How did He/She/It do it? Well, let’s look at the data at hand and draw further conclusions, set up further models, experiment more, collect more data… just as we would have done if we hadn’t said “God did it.”
    What do you get out of saying “God did it”? Personal affirmation of your religious beliefs? Fine. Happy for you. You can believe whatever you want in your heart of hearts without interfering in others’ experience of the world. Meanwhile, science will continue over here. Maybe you’ll join in? Many scientists are theists; many scientists believe that what they are studying is the handiwork of their God(s). That doesn’t stop them collecting data and coming up with explanations and furthering medicine, space travel, renewable energy, and the like.
    But if what you’re trying to do is shut down scientific inquiry and education–”Stop looking! We already know the answer, and it is God!”–I take great exception to that. Not only have I my 20/20 vision to thank science for, I also, as a cancer survivor, thank modern science for my life. You want to shut down scientific inquiry in the name of God? You obviously think your God wanted me dead, and we’re not going to be bestest friends, I guarantee.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/ Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    The discerning Slacktivite will no doubt conclude that, in fact, Ursula L. did it.
    *runs*

  • Not Really Here

    Kimbal aka Radar-
    Here.
    Oh, and when you come back, you might want to actually read Jessica’s post.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/SchrodingersDuck/ SchrodingersDuck

    Oh goodie, we’ve not had a proper Flame War Thursday for ages. Normally I wouldn’t bother with this sort of argument, but you seem to be trying to have a debate about scientific fact, with only the vaguest knowledge of what these facts mean. Evolution doesn’t happen in jumps – it’s a slow, gradual process of improvement (if you haven’t seen the evolving clock video linked earlier in the thread, it may help explain this better than I can).

    you will have to demonstrate more than a grasp of mendelian genetics to explain the development of the eye from no eye

    Which is why plenty of experts with plenty more than “a grasp of mendelian genetics” have researched this subject thoroughly and in incredible detail to the stage that we can pinpoint every step on the road from no eye to full colour, full focusing organ.
    We’ve found creatures with the barest traces of light sensitive cells, creatures with primitive pinhole camera eyes, creatures with crude lenses, creatures with fully functioning eyes, and every stage in between (including many more sophisticated than ours). We’ve studied the genomes of this creatures and found the exact codes that produce each of these structures, even deducing the order that they evolved in.
    Long story short, that argument was fairly comprehensively disproved, by Darwin himself, 150 years ago.

    or a basic 500 genome/580,000 DNA paired bacteria from a bunch of random molecules without design or direction.

    That’s abiogenesis, which is admittedly less well understood than evolution. Nevertheless, the way these “random molecules” came together is, again, one that has been extensively studied. It’s certainly not true that these chemicals had no direction – in fact, they form long strings of protein. These proteins can duplicate and mutate over time, growing more and complex, until eventually you end up with something resembling life. 580,000 elements isn’t very daunting at all, given the hundreds of millions of years and trillions of protein strings all evolving and competing to reproduce fastest.

  • Not Really Here

    Schro-
    I don’t think we’ll be able to have a proper flame war until Fred fixes the italics thing. Reading at an angle makes me nauseous.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/T_Karney/ pecunium

    Geds: re mules. Well, it turns out they can breed. It’s just rare (though we don’t know how rare it would be, were they to be in the wild). Quirks. It probably requires a mare. Second, what you get will be either a horse, or a donkey, or a mule; depending on what she breeds with, and how the eggs divide. That offspring will be (genetically) her identical half-sister.
    Becuase mules are, pretty much sterile, and because keeping them in herds with stallions is seen as useless, we don’t know how interfertile they can be. It is pretty much impossible for them to interbreed to each other (and because the belief was that mules were completely infertile, no one keeps a stallion-jack; we have zero, provable, cases of them hapening to sire offspring).
    The number of cases is small (I can think of two) and the proof had to wait until DNA testing was available, but mules, no matter how rarely, can breed.
    Cyrano: Evolution in the wild has no designed end (and I forget the name for that fallacy). There is no “higher” or “lower”, no “better” or “worse”. Nature doesn’t care. The farmer does. Which is why using human breeding, with intended end states (sows with more teats… honest, or corn which kills pests) isn’t a model for evolution. Evolution doesn’t say… there is a lot of food in the ocean going uneaten. There is a wolf-like animal which could lose it’s fur, develop new kinds of teeth and live on that food.
    Evolution isn’t something to reify.
    It just is.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/T_Karney/ pecunium

    Lauren: As a point of pedantry… Mules are the offspring of male donkeys, and female horses. When you reverse it you get a hinney. They aren’t the same.
    As you point out, animals are funny about how much they resist hybridisation. Plants are much more prone to polyploidism, and the quirks which can arise from the side effects of a lily getting some genes into an apricot.
    Vendor Xeno: The problem is, perhaps, one of direction. You ask, “If I am studying, scientifically, the creation of various species, and the objective evidence shows that there was an intelligent hand in the way some were formed, then in that instance I can’t rule out an intelligent influence. . Where is that objective evidence? Absent the beginning being known to you (say the stud book for a breed of horse; we’ll use thoroughbred, because they all go back to three, though we could use Tennesee Walkers, which go back to about half a dozen, studs), you are making a leap of faith to say, “this species shows signs of intentional selection.
    Heck, there is a big question about the intial point for maize. Was it a slow breeding up from teosinte, or was it a fortunate sport which the locals managed to spot and nourish? We can’t make the statement that corn was intentionally bred up from teosinte; even though we know it was radiated in type (and area) by people (because there is no way the stuff which grows in Massachussett’s short growing season just happened to migrate there, and mutate, as quickly as it did. Even with the reasonable knowledge of that aspect, the intermidiate steps can’t be, “objectively” ascribed to the hand of man.
    I also (with a great, if quiet passion) think semantics matter. How we express things is crucial. “Mere semantics” is to clearly communicating thought, what “mere breathing is to not dying. To say the subtle meanings of words is unimportant is to allow things like, “teach the controversey” to gain place in public discourse.
    Yes, man is a part of nature. No, we can’t put him in the same level as impartial forces. Bees, rats, mice, elephants, bacteria, all of them interact with each other, and their environments to shape; in aggregate, the direction the species takes. But evolution is on groups, not individuals.
    And the problem (pace bugmaster; it can’t all be said with figures) is specialties need terms of art. I did interrogation for the Army for 16 years. I don’t mean the same thing when I say, “logistics” as a guy in the Logisitcal Corps does (as you may imagine, this can lead to confusions). Heck, “intelligence” is a term of art (which is why that joke falls flat on me, it doesn’t mean what it tries to say).
    hapax (to climb onto one of my little hobby-horses), Or is it just an artifact of past selections, with no adaptive significance.
    LL First, first doesn’t bother me. Doesn’t move me much either (though I thank you for the excuse to link to one of my photos I am proudest of). It’s a quirk. A social quirk, and one the folks here seem to be tolerant of. The electrons are recycled, and it’s no huge loss of my time to read (it might add up to minutes a year). Trying to impose a rule (which will be hampered by those who come and go (conversations of Michealangelo notwithstanding), will take more time, here, than all I am likely to spend skimming past it in every website I frequent the comments of; probably for the rest of my life.
    Kimbal aka Radar: A mere grasp of some talking points, and an foolish willingness to maintain your ignorance, isn’t going to be enough to persuade those of us who have a grasp of more than mendelian distributions. You might look at the book, In the Blink of an Eye which addresses some of your concerns.
    Honestly though, I don’t expect you to make the effort to understand, just as you seem to lack the charity to understand that we have looked at the evidence, and your “refutations” and made our minds up. We have used the reason we have (which God gave us, or we believe He did, not all are theists here) and applied it to (again for the theists among us) His creation, to better understand it, and him.
    It happens that (for the question of diversity; not origin) Darwin’s model of “Decsent with modification” is a better (in that it holds up, without special pleading), better than any other. I wonder if you are aware that the lack of the understanding of genetics is why Darwin provided you with the argument about the eye. Absent that knowledge he didn’t see, exactly, how something like that could come to be.
    Then again, why would God invent/design/hand out, so many different types of eyes (even to creatures with the same needs?). Why would the nerve of the mammallian eye be built in such a way as to need to reverse itself (creating a blind-spot)? Why, in short, would there be so much kludging, and second rate stuff in the world?
    On the other hand I doubt you’ve read “On the origin of species”, and I have, as well as the bible, and various texts about both; which might explain the differences in understanding.
    Geds: My apologies. I got confused, and shouldn’t have implied (much less said) I thought you were reifying evolution. I misread the argument.

  • http://angryfuzzy.blogspot.com Dan S.

    I don’t think we’ll be able to have a proper flame war until Fred fixes the italics thing. Reading at an angle makes me nauseous.
    I blame the rabbis. Just because they couldn’t decide whether the text should properly be horizontal or vertical . . .

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