Deny Evolution, Deny Reality

Deny Evolution, Deny Reality February 26, 2013

The above text image seems to manage to address a lot of misconceptions in very few words. What do you think?


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  • Ian

    Interesting, but didn’t light me up, sorry.

    The scope and mechanisms of evolutionary biology are not easily reduced to a poster. A lot of the ‘misconceptions’ are true at some scale. Evolution is random, does improve, does apply to abiogenesis, is amoral, and does impact on theological claims. The first two of those are true only in a limited sense, so it would be helpful to communicate in what way evolution is random and improving.

    Also it seems confused over different things we mean by ‘evolution’. Between the idea of the evolution of a system, evolutionary changes in gene frequencies, and the common descent of the biota.

    The last paragraph sounds true, but the rest seems a bit unhelpful, imho.

    • arcseconds

      I think by ‘does not mean amoral’ they mean ‘doesn’t entail moral nihilism’ or something like that.

      • Ian

        Yes, I think you’re probably right, and I think the poster would have been better had it said that. A little better, at least.

      • Ian

        I think, on reflection ‘amoral’ probably means ‘immoral’ when used in this context too. Which is equally wrong.

        • arcseconds

          There’s also a bit of a grammar tension here too. ‘Evolution’ is a noun and ‘amoral’ an adjective. While I suppose that makes it even more the case that it can’t mean ‘amoral’, as it’s the wrong part of speech, the sentence is presumably not really talking about the meaning of the word, but rather the implications the concept has.

          ‘The skyscraper does not mean lonely’ is similarly odd. ‘The skyscraper does not mean loneliness’ would be better.

    • kywaterdog

      I must disagree on several points.

      Evolution is not entirely random, but operates within certain constraints, both at the genetic level and probably at the phenotype level.

      If you mean by improve that organisms are evolved to better fit their environment, then yes. But is you mean moving toward some higher goal, like intelligence or self-awareness, then that has yet to be proven.

      Abiogenesis and amorality can not be either proven or disproven.
      Impacts on theological claims depends greatly on what those claims are. I know many people that have no conflict between evolutionary theories and the religious beliefs.

      • Ian

        ky – There’s a rather dull and unfortunately common tactic in online discussion where you act as if someone else universally quantified their statements, and then pretend to be smart by finding an exception.

        Your comment is a master class on the technique.

        It would be more helpful if you responded to what I actually wrote. As it stands I’ve no idea why you think you disagree with me.

        • kywaterdog

          And your response is a thinly disguised ad hominem attack. I wrote in clear simple English. If you can’t understand that is your bad, not mine. I don’t see what your problem is except that I disagree with you, Deal with it

          • Ian

            I understood you fine. The reverse doesn’t seem to be true, since you called me out on things I didn’t say. I’d love you to disagree with what I actually said, rather than what you imagined I meant.

          • kywaterdog

            You specifically said “Evolution is random, does improve, does apply to abiogenesis, is amoral, and does impact on theological claims.” Those were the points to which I responded. Do you deny saying that?

          • Ian

            If I say “Evolution is random”, and you read “Evolution is entirely random” and respond “There are many things about evolution that aren’t random.” Then you are inserting a universal quantifier that wasn’t there.

            I’m sorry if I was snippy with you, but I get bored of exactly this kind of tactic used all the time to thwart reasonable discussion by forcing it into endless self-justification. Its part of the rhetoric of polarization. Statements can’t stand on their own, they are to be taken as advocating the most extreme view that is consistent with them, unless the person suitably qualifies every damn word. Its particularly galling since the sentences before and after the one you quote specifically do qualify what I was saying!

            You said “I must disagree with you”, but then proceeded only to disagree with something I neither said, nor believe. I am well aware of the contents of evolutionary biology. My doctorate was in the mathematics of evolution.

      • arcseconds

        He even said that it’s only random ‘in a limited sense’ in the initial post!

  • arcseconds

    One point that is clearly there, but could be made more explicit, is that natural selection is conceptually distinct from the phenomenon of biological evolution.

    They’re often presented together, which explains why they’re conflated, but you can separate them out.

    Biological evolution is the concept that life has been around for a very long time, has been changing over that time, and forms that today are distinct but related are descended from a common ancestor.

    Natural selection is the mechanism that’s used to explain how they change.

    There’s plenty of evidence for biological evolution that’s independent of the mechanism of natural selection. Being completely wrong about this would require fantastic scenarios like The Matrix or Terry Prachett’s Strata.

    While there’s quite a lot of evidence for natural selection, too, it’s not nearly as secure. We could still discover surprising things about the mechanism (although discarding natural selection altogether is highly unlikely — far far more likely to be ‘natural selection plus complications’).

  • Kaz

    Another article about Thomas Nagel’s book makes an interesting point:

    “As Mary Douglas pointed out, secular societies still draw symbolic boundaries to keep
    the permissible in and threatening stuff out. Those who cross them risk expulsion. The media ritual of the public review offers a mechanism…As Freeman Dyson recently wrote
    in the New York Review of Books, contemporary philosophers bow too low
    to science, mostly because they haven’t done any, and have
    simultaneously lost touch with the elements that made their predecessors
    so great: the truths held by history, literature, religion.”

    • Ian

      Interesting that ‘the truths held by history, literature, religion’ are so rarely enumerable, and never objective.

      My favorite comment on that article:

      The problem here is that Mark seems to think holding an unpopular view somehow makes that view correct or worthy. That wide criticism is actually a mark of the credibility. He does this by setting up two sides – the worthy, noble dissenting authors like his mate Sheldrake and those unreasonable, ignoble critics who are so mean about the nice authors.

      The actual reason the book is unpopular is that it expresses a bunch of unsupportable nonsense about a subject the author doesn’t actually know anything about.

      That’s the position of someone whose just spent 200 quid on a pair of dodgy white leather trousers.

      • Kaz

        “Interesting that ‘the truths held by history, literature, religion’ are so rarely enumerable, and never objective.”

        I was focusing on the part that came before that, i.e. the boundaries drawn by those who comprise the complacent consensus and the determination of keeping out views that aren’t wanted by practices that savor of religious excommunication.

        • Ian

          I understood that. I was making the point that there’s a very good reason to keep apart the two, which has nothing to do with tribalism, but everything to do with how we go about finding what is true.

          I simply don’t buy the idea that people with genuine insights are being excluded from the conversation because of the way they construct those insights. I do see, however, plenty of people excluded because they are peddling made up nonsense. And I do see a constant battle to create and defend knowledge from those full of nonsense.

          So perhaps you could give an example of someone who a) has some truth we can establish, that they’ve found by history, literature or religion, and b) that has had that truth excluded because of the way they arrived at it. Or, more in the Dyson spirit a philosopher who has missed or supressed a true conclusions because history, literature, or religion has been excluded from their consideration.

          In other words, on what basis should we conclude your argument (and Dysons) is true, and not just made up nonsense?