Microevolution

Microevolution August 12, 2008

When I was a creationist, eventually I admitted that “microevolution” could happen. I figured that changes could happen within species, but it could never turn into a new species.

The problem is, as Carl Zimmer once said, “If you accept microevolution, you get macroevolution for free.” Macroevolution is just microevolution over time. Eventually, enough genetic and/or geographical drift occurs that they become new species — organisms that no longer breed with one another.

So if you believe in microevolution: Congratulations! You’re almost there!

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  • I’m probably going to have to read his book to get this, but where’s the logical progression there? I’m still not sure how the deleterious nature of microevolution overtime can turn into an insertionary macroevolution. I still don’t guite buy that dogs born with short hair in Alaska freezing to death logically leads to fish growing lungs. I guess I need to study this further.

    PS. Thanks for your emails. I appreciate good discussion!

  • @Mike: I think the problem is “macroevolution” sounds like a leap. But from my understanding, macroevolution is just a label we put on a large number of small changes. There is no real macroevolution — there is only microevolution that, over time, results in what we call macroevolution.

    But it’s not intuitive. These things take millions of years, and if you’ve studied cognitive illusions, you know that our brains can’t handle this kind of calculation. Our gut reaction is wrong — it seems impossible! But it’s not. We have observed it happening in fossils, in genetics, in the lab. But unfortunately we can’t be there for the millions of years, so we can’t see it. That makes it hard for us to comprehend.

  • As far as I’ve always understood it, the macro / micro things are just inventions by the anti-evolutionists in an attempt to add confusion to the issue.

    It’s all just evolution. Lots and lots of tiny changes over huge timescales.

    btw Daniel – love the blog :)

  • I hear what you’re saying and I get it on one level. Yeah, ok. Back in the day there was some primitive form of a horse that had the genetic information in it for horses, donkeys and zebras. Some moved to Africa where they got separated from the ones that moved to Europe and then they got cut off from each other and so they became distinct; zebras and horses. I would say that this is actually an argument for a Biblical interpretation of humanity, because if this can happen with horses and dogs, it can certainly be possible that a Noahic family can have enough genetic information that as the people of the world spread out, they specialized like the horses, and so Koreans look different than Ecuadorians. I buy that 100%.

    But when does a horse become and elephant? When does an ape become a man? When does a cat become a dog? When does a fish become a reptile? It doesn’t make sense to me that they would be the same. You have variation inside the human, equine, feline and canine kinds, but when does one kind become another kind. Do we have evidence of that ever happening? I don’t think they’re one and the same. They are exactly different processes.

    It’s like if I ate all but the blue M&M’s out of every bag I ever got in my entire life, I’d have a bunch of blue M&M’s after a while, and I might think all the M&M’s in the world are blue. Or if I ate all but the blue in one room of my house and all but the red in another room of my house, I’d have blue M&M and red M&M populations. Are you going to imply that if I do this for a million years the M&M’s would become skittles? I’ll buy mold, but not skittles! There would have to already be skittles in the M&M bags that would be the ones I don’t eat, and then after time I have skittles from M&M’s.

    So you have to assume that somewhere along the line there was a fish race that had a gene that would give them either lungs or gills. Ignore the fact that the lungs were a previously deleterious trait, they would then have to be suddenly transplanted onto dry ground where the gills were now deleterious and then you have fish with lungs. Also, you have to have legs in that gene pool. That’s a very complex explanation. I’m not saying simple is always better, but if you have evidence of this happening, I’d like to see it.

    I could be wrong, of course, which is why I’m open to discussion, but this is how I see things right now from where I sit. I love this discussion! Please don’t take anything I say personally. I’m not trying to attack. Just debate.

  • @Mike: I think you’re asking great questions. And I think those questions are going to lead you to the truth if you really purse them. (Wow, I almost sound like a Christian again!)

    You ask, “When does an ape become a man?” Well I guess that’s all how you define man. But I’m assuming because of that question you’re not aware of the many fossils that are inbetween apes and humans.

    I’m not a scientist, unfortunately, so instead of trying to explain it all, here are some sites that explain some of the various hominid species:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/species.html
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/specimen.html

    I’m really not sure how else to explain all the fossils of so many species we have throughout history. I suppose you could say that God intervenes randomly and makes lots of things that don’t work out, but that doesn’t make any sense to me. I guess he could be tricker than I would imagine if that is the case (if he did it to throw us off), or not every good at creating things.

    It’s really hard to give a short response without trying to explain give an overview of basic evolutionary biology, which I unfortunately don’t have time or the mental ability to do adequately.

  • VorJack

    “But when does a horse become and elephant? When does an ape become a man? When does a cat become a dog? When does a fish become a reptile? It doesn’t make sense to me that they would be the same.”

    When does an acorn become an oak tree? When does a tadpole become a frog, and was that a caterpillar or a butterfly that it just ate? Really, you’re like the people in Pratchett’s “Small Gods,” who are impressed that their prophet turned water into wine, but ignore the fact that grapes have been turning sunlight into wine on a daily basis for thousands of years.

    I could show you a picture of a fertilized egg cell, and you couldn’t tell me whether it was a cat or a dog – or a man, a mouse or a blue whale. THAT is amazing. Everything that cell is going to become is locked away in a tiny twist of chemistry. If the chemistry is right, that tiny cell could grow into the largest animal that has even existed, or the flea on your shoe, or you. And this kind of development happens every day, all around you, constantly.

    All we are saying is that, given the right environment, something very fish-like can become something very lizard-like. I mean, we’ve already got the scales. If you’ll spot me a lungfish, we’ve already got the tail, some basic limbs and a rudimentary respiratory system. And even then, it will take millions of years. That’s significantly less impressive than a mustard seed becoming a giant bush within a season, and yet you find it inconceivable?

    Man, that was a tasty camel. Now pass me the water, I’ve got a gnat to swallow.

  • Yeah, I’m going to have to check those out. I haven’t seen any research done recently on the “missing link” ape men, but I know a lot of the old ones were proven to be hoaxes. We’ll have to see.

    Also… assuming the flood theory is true, there would have been likely some genetic information possessed by those not on the ark, which would have been lost. So it’s possible in my mind that some of this could be explained by that, but I don’t know… I’ll have to add this to my ever growing list of things to research and read.

    You’ve read my blog. You know how much I have on my plate :)

  • trj

    It is useful to keep in mind that the use of species is essentially arbitrary. “Species” is a somewhat malleable definition used by humans to categorize the fauna and flora around us. Of course, nature doesn’t give a damn about our categories. Evolution occurs gradually without any kind of distinct taxonomic shifts or any kind of plan. It doesn’t attempt to keep itself within separate species.

    The same goes for micro- vs. macroevolution: it is an entirely arbitrary distinction. Why should nature behave according to such artificial classifications?

    Of course, if nature is indeed not entirely natural, but rather created (and perhaps even perpetually regulated) by God, you can allow for such arbitrariness, although it seems rather contrived to me. What would be God’s purpose of this?

    So I’d say that if you’re a creationist accepting microevolution, macroevolution does not follow logically if you don’t buy into the actual “naturalness” of nature. In that case it doesn’t matter how much evidence is presented. The conclusion is foregone: “Macroevolution can’t happen; I simply won’t believe it can.”

  • @Mike: Yes, there have been some hoaxes. Unfortunately that is all the creationists focus on. I think it says something that it was evolutionists who discovered the hoaxes, not creationists. It wasn’t some kind of evolutionist coverup — it was frauds trying to become famous. The creationists just latch on to them and them ignore all the ones that were not hoaxes.

  • John

    Mike – in your first post, what do you mean by the “deleterious nature of microevolution”? I think your overall difficulty stems from that fundamental misunderstanding about evolution.

  • As a working evolutionary biologist, I have to interject here.

    Mike asked “But when does a horse become and elephant? When does an ape become a man? When does a cat become a dog?”

    This is a misconception. Evolutionary theory doesn’t predict any such direct transitions. It is essentially the same problem as when Kirk Cameron brings out his picture of the crocoduck. Evolutionary theory doesn’t predict any such thing, thus it can’t explain how you get one. In a similar vein, evolutionary theory doesn’t predict that dogs will turn into cats or vice versa, only that the best adapted organisms will survive over time and that the adaptations that allow that will be passed on to the next generation. The accumulation of these changes eventually results in the changes I think you meant to describe.

    It is obvious from your writing that you get the idea that at the time when the two populations of a species (assume a mammal) become separated, they are physically and genetically indistinguishable. However, once they become reproductively isolated (by distance or some physical barrier usually) they each have now embarked upon their own evolutionary trajectory. Because they can no longer exchange genetic information, they will begin to differ, simply by a process called genetic drift – random change in allele frequencies. However, if the barrier to their reproduction were to disappear, then they would likely merge back together again. This probably happens more often than not but…

    Now, consider that the barrier lasts a much longer time. Not only do those random changed in allele frequencies differ but more rare differences will be likely to occur – like gene duplications, chromosomal variants, mutations genes that are important for fertilization of the egg by sperm, genetic changes that effect behavior, any number of things that will make the populations unrecognizable (in a reproductive sense) to one another. These kinds of changes will not be a problem within each population because they are minor and can spread throughout the population with no real trouble and eventually become some general characteristic of the entire population. Over time however, it will become a problem if population A attempts to breed with population B. Keep in mind, it is not just one change but a number of changes all occurring concurrently that accumulate over time. The two populations are now permanently reproductively isolated and, according to the Biological Species Concept, can be considered separate species.

    Now the two populations are permanently on their own evolutionary trajectories. The two populations may look slightly different but are, to use the AIG terminology, the same ‘kind’. However, they probably now live in slightly different environments and we have already established that they have different pools of genetic information. It is this differential pool of genetic information that evolution must work with. Think about it. If you have only a screwdriver and a hammer and I have only pliers and a saw, we will likely come up with different solutions to the same problem. Throw in the fact that the organisms also likely live in slightly different environments and you will get different adaptations occurring in different isolated populations/species. The different environments will impose different selective pressures and the organisms will have different evolutionary responses based on what pools of genetic information exist in each population.

    In the environment for species A (formerly population A), there may be a new food source that makes it advantageous to have longer legs for running. Any mutations that enhance this character (say some mutation causing a transcription factor important for bone elongation to stay ‘turned on’ longer during development) will be favored and the species will evolve toward longer legs. In the environment occupied by species B (formerly population B) there may be some selective pressure to blend in with the environment. They will tend to have a certain coat color, and may tend to develop shorter legs in response. Now the two species begin to look physically different and the responses to different selective pressures will be even more disparate.

    Now, I think it is reasonable that if the long-legged species A needs to run to catch its food, it probably needs longer teeth to bring it down and rip it up. Concurrently with the evolution of longer legs, it will probably experience selective pressure to increase the length of some of its teeth – thus the long canines (or some other tooth) develop.

    I think by this time you are getting the idea. It is by small changes that you get from one ‘kind’ to another. But there is no evidence to support that it can’t or shouldn’t happen. There is also LOTS of evidence that it does happen.

  • Jonboy

    I was under the impression that there is an inherent barrier to the introduction or alteration of traits in a given organism. Since we have a biologist this seems like a good time to ask.

    The example that springs to mind is pigeon breeding. A pigeon breeder can take a common gray pigeon, and with enough selective breeding make successive generations look radically different, with pouches under the beak, bizarre head plumage, vivid coloring, etc.

    However, from what I understand, there is a built-in limit to how much change you can introduce into a pigeon… As changes become more radical, they take more reinforcement from the breeder, and will eventually hit a wall, as exaggerated characteristics simply cannot get any more exaggerated. This threshold is apparently well-recognized by breeders of most animals.

    Furthermore, if a breeder were to allow the specialized pigeons to breed normally, these extreme changes would disappear almost entirely within just a few generations.

    I will immediately grant you that I am not an animal breeder; these are only things that I’ve heard.

    I also know that you are really concerned with beneficial mutations, which may help that strain of animal to survive more effectively than a population without that mutation… But I don’t see how the natural limits of breeding in changes to an animal or plant can be sidestepped by introducing mutations.

    Am I missing something? Comments are welcome!

  • Jonboy, I wrote this kind of fast. Please forgive me if I missed anything.

    I think the trick is to remember that all of this must happen to the entire population. Any radical change that makes a single individual unrecognizable as a potential mate would cause that individual to be a genetic dead end. Thus, the changes must be minor enough that others of the species recognize him/her as one of their own. However, many minor changes will add up to a major change when seen over evolutionary time via the fossil record.

    You are correct in that if you let the selectively bred population go back to breeding with the rest of the ‘normal’ population, the new traits will likely be lost over a short period of time – like dropping a single drop of food coloring into a bathtub. With the type of breeding you are describing, you are just changing allele frequencies. Within a population, there may be 0.1% of the population that carries the allele for beak pouches. Selective breeding simply increases the frequency of those alleles in the breeder’s population. That is why you reach a limit, you are working with what the population already has in its gene pool. Typically, breeders enhance a given trait by selectively mating individuals that have genes encoding those traits or genes that will enhance the development of those traits when the organism is developing.

    Keep in mind something. In reality, all animals (with the exception of sponges and cnidarians (jellyfish et al.)) are all basically donuts. We have a hole at one end and a hole at the other and a tube passing between them. Everything else (eyes, brains, arms, legs, etc.) is is just a set of elaborations on the outside surface of that tube. In mammals, to get from a carnivore to an herbivore is a relatively minor change evolutionarily speaking. Change the length and types of teeth (but you still have teeth). Change the musculature a bit (but keep all of the major muscle groups). Change the body shape so that it is easier to get to the food (alter the length and shapes of bones but keep all of the same bones).

    And yes, there is a big difference between selective breeding and natural selection. In selective breeding, you tend to select for the traits that you want at the expense of other things. With rapid selective breeding, you always tend to increase what is known as homozygosity and this causes deleterious traits that are normally hidden in the population to appear. Under natural conditions, this doesn’t happen because the environment selects for a suite of mutually advantageous traits, not just one trait at the expense of all others, which is often the case in selective breeding. Does any of this help?

  • Chayanov

    Microevolution is like walking one step. It’s a very small change in position from where you started out. Two steps, ten, and you’re still only a short distance from your starting point. But take a hundred thousand steps, or a million, and you’ll realize you’ve traveled a great distance. This is macroevolution, where small changes eventually add up to large ones, a little bit at a time.

  • trj

    @Jonboy:
    I see David beat me to an explanation. Well, he can correct me if I’m wrong, then :-)

    You present two problems:

    1) You see an inherent barrier to speciation (examplified by breeding of pigeons with unique features). The more specialized, the harder it becomes to breed the pigeons successfully.

    You are correct, and the basic problem is this: artificial selection tends to diminish the genetic variation (ie. produce in-breeding). The various problems associated with in-breeding will be exacerbated the longer you continue to breed for specific features without adding fresh genes. This is a common problem with various races of dogs, some of which are plagued by a high ratio of arthritis, aggression, or other problems.

    At some point you’ll probably end up with diseased or sterile offspring, putting an automatic stop to further speciation.

    The problem stems from the artificial selection, because the breeder favors certain traits and is blind to the deficiencies he may introduce along the way. This is not a big deal when we’re talking natural selection because nature regulates such unfavorable traits. Thus, evolution by natural selection is not similarly constrained in its ability to produce new species.

    There’s no inherent barrier in nature which prevents the emergence of new species. Selective breeding messes up the process, though. Nature excels at testing many different solutions. Selective breeding instead concentrates on a few solutions, which is less effective in the long run.

    2) The specialized pigeons will lose their unique features if they’re allowed to interbreed with the original kind of pigeons.

    I believe this is due to the fact that the offspring of a specialized and an ordinary pigeon will inherit 50 percent of the genetic material (chromosomes) from each parent. This process of mixing the parents’ chromosomes is known as cross-over.

    By the law of averages, if there are more of the ordinary pigeons then after a few generations the population will have reverted to these ordinary genes. The previous genetic drift of the specialized pigeons will be re-absorbed.

    Note that this is a very rough explanation, ignoring these factors:
    a) the genes may not be mutually exclusive.
    b) some genes may be recessive and others may be dominant, which would affect the result of crossover.
    c) the special features are presumed not to influence pigeon fitness, so that no special pigeons are favored by selection.

  • peter

    I’m not a scientist in any fashion except that I value science.
    However, even I realize that there is a choice to be made here and that a logical person would be forced to choose evolution rather than divine intervention for human and other living development. To me, evolution makes perfect sense and other explanations make no sense at all. Tons upon tons of pieces of evidence for evolution and zero on the other side. Duh. I have no patience for superstitious and frightened people who will argue against science ad nauseum, thinking they are correct because somebody said so long ago. Google the words “biblical absurdities” and see the treasure-trove of BS that is debunked.

  • Wade

    I always wondered why so many Christians are adamantly opposed to the concept of evolution (macro or micro). It seems that the evolutionary process is such a beautiful and intricately conducted symphony that it would be easy to believe it has a composer.

    So which is more difficult… to make a pair of shoes or create a machine that makes shoes?

    There once was not and now there is… Why does the universe bother to exist at all?

  • Chayanov

    #17, I could hazard a few guesses.

    Option 1: In the beginning God set up everything to run on its own, which makes him something of an absentee landlord and not the compassionate, concerned father Christians want him to be.

    Option 2: God is an incessant tinkerer, constantly making minute adjustments to keep things moving in the right direction, yet he won’t intervene on anyone’s behalf by actually answering their prayers.

    Option 3: The Universe runs equally well whether you believe in God or not, so there’s not much need to believe.

  • trj did a much more succinct job of handling jonboy’s question. There are positions open in the lab. Wanna move to WV? ;-)

  • I haven’t seen any research done recently on the “missing link” ape men, but I know a lot of the old ones were proven to be hoaxes. We’ll have to see.

    One hoax, Piltdown Man. One hoax that appears to have been a practical joke gone awry.

    One hoax smoked out because scientists couldn’t fit Piltdown into the matrix of theory from all other finds. One hoax exposed by evolution theory.

    But lots of examples of species showing evolution.

    Here’s a probably incomplete list of species as I have them off of material on my bookshelf; surely you’re aware of some of them:

    Hominid species, roughly oldest to youngest

    Sahelanthropus tchadensis (Toumai) (7 mya)
    Orrorin turgenensis
    Kenyanthropus platyops
    (in time, contemporary with A. bahrelghazali, below)
    Ardipithecus ramidus
    Australopithecus praegens
    A. anamensis
    A. afarensis
    (Lucy’s species – Laetoli footprints) (3.5 mya)
    A. bahrelghazali
    A. africanus
    A. crassidens
    A. robustus
    (reclassified into genus Paranthropus)
    A. garhi
    A. aethiopicus
    A. boisei
    (reclassified into genus Paranthropus)
    Homo rudolfensis
    H. habilis
    H. ergaster
    H. erectus
    H. georgensis
    H. heidelbergensis
    H. antecessor
    H. neanderthalensis
    H. Floresiensis
    (the “Hobbits”) (18,000 ya)
    H. sapiens (modern humans)

    One hoax, 26 non-hoaxes. Let’s get the facts straight and keep a good sense of proportion about this.

    Go see this article in Nature summarizing what we know:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v418/n6894/full/418133a.html

  • Also… assuming the flood theory is true . . .

    Bad assumption. Flood geology was falsified in the 18th century.

  • Also, if you wanted to look for bad fakery, then it’s really hard to beat Young Earth Creationism.

    Case in point, but don’t neglect their “museum.

  • Wade

    @ Chayanov

    Option 1. You have affirming the consequent and created a false dichotomy… It could be that God exists, “set everything up to run on its own” so far as the natural world is concerned, and yet still holds concern for man.

    Option 2. Fallacy of composition. It does not rationally follow that your “tinkering God” would be compelled or constrained to answer personal prayer, based solely on the virtue of said God’s manipulation of nature and evolution. Also, this is a false assumption. It cannot be proven that God does not intervene on anyone’s behalf via prayer. In fact, many people would argue to the contrary based on experience. And yet, many would also agree with your stance. Either way there is no definitive evidence nor could there ever be when dealing with such a metaphysical issue.

    Option 3. True from a universal standpoint. However existentially, it can be argued that belief in God could be the better of the two alternatives. Read the Pascalian Wager as an existential argument rather than a hedging of bets to help understand the point I am trying to make.

  • Chayanov

    It cannot be proven that God does intervene on anyone’s behalf via prayer. Claims that someone survived a disaster that killed everyone else seems rather cruel for a supposedly benevolent God. Plus, why does God hate amputees? He never answers their prayers — ever.

    As for Pascal’s Wager, the fallacy is that the only two options are no God or the Christian God. It makes no sense as an existential argument or as a hedging of bets.

    Anyway, my response was a guess as to why so many fundamentalist Christians are opposed to evolution, and hardly definitive.

  • Wade

    I did not mean to imply that it could be proven that God answers prayer, just that it cannot be proven otherwise. Nor do I ever really try to argue that God does exist. My argument is always that the concept of God isn’t irrational. As for amputees, a friend of mine lost his leg when his Humvee ran over an IED in Iraq and he is one of the happiest people I know, and he would laugh at the idea that God hates him and never answers his prayers. Not everyone is a materialist. (I mean that in the Chestertonian sense, not the Madonna sense).

    And yes, the Pascalian wager does illicit a false dichotomy. However, this has more to do the fact that it was thought up in 17th Century France (not exactly the multi-cultural melting pot we live in today). I believe the crux of the argument still stands however, even if it is stripped to an argument for pure theism without the idea of heaven.

    The argument is essentially a hedging of bets on the surface. And I say that as a negative critique. This is usually the grounds on which the argument is dismissed. Saying that the argument makes no sense as a hedging of bets is pretty bold move in the opposite direction of what critics of the last 300 years have inferred. I’d love to hear your reasons for this claim.

    Also, Pascal’s wager is regarded as one of the first existential arguments (well, outside of Heraclitus and a small handful of pre-socratic philosophers that always get overlooked). I cannot wrap my mind around how the argument makes any sense at all outside of an existential perspective. Syllogistically, it holds little or no merit. Much like the Cogito, the argument itself is based on a systematic deconstruction of trust in reason. I know it was written a hundred years before Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, but how is this not an existential argument? I say this with all honesty and curiosity… I have never met anyone who views the Pascalian Wager as anything but an existential argument. I really would love to gain your perspective on this, I do hope you share it with us.

    Thanks!

  • Marcus

    It’s a valid distinction, microevolution or natural selection between a couple generations has been empirically observed, while macroevolution, with it’s nigh-unfathomable time scales, has not.

    One is proven, the other is a theory, and while terribly inconvenient, it’s nonetheless a fact that theory does not dictate reality. I’ll give you that evolution is vastly more likely than creationism (or any other alternative), but it’s a false dichotomy, we probably don’t know the whole story of how inter-species leaps in mutation happen, and we definitely don’t know how inanimate matter becomes animate, all we know is its all made out of the same stuff.

  • It’s a valid distinction, microevolution or natural selection between a couple generations has been empirically observed, while macroevolution, with it’s nigh-unfathomable time scales, has not.

    “Macro” evolution is speciation. Speciation has been observed many times, in the wild and in the lab. Think about it for a moment: Here are some of the species humans have observed to arise: Broccoli, grapefruit, radishes, Canola, beef, tomatoes, American apple maggots.

    But for “macro” evolution, American supermarkets would have precious little to sell in the produce and meat departments.

    Get hold of Jonathan Weiner’s book, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time. Read it.

    One is proven, the other is a theory, and while terribly inconvenient, it’s nonetheless a fact that theory does not dictate reality.

    “Theory” in science means “so well proven that here’s the general explanation for why things work that way.” In science, “theory” does not mean “guess,” but means roughly “known so well we can put it in the textbooks and teach it to middle school kids.” Theory doesn’t dictate reality, but it describes why reality works the way it does — gravity theory, germ theory of disease, atomic theory, and others.

    I’ll give you that evolution is vastly more likely than creationism (or any other alternative), but it’s a false dichotomy, we probably don’t know the whole story of how inter-species leaps in mutation happen, and we definitely don’t know how inanimate matter becomes animate, all we know is its all made out of the same stuff.

    We don’t know all the precise ins and outs, but we know a lot more about evolution than, say, gravity. We know evolution is carried on genes, while we only recently learned that gravity is carried on gravitons. We know evolution well enough to manipulate it; no one has yet detected gravity in the raw, all we have are indirect observations of it.

    Abiogenesis is not evolution theory. Evolution is not a theory about how life arose — Darwin said life was “breathed into” forms on the Earth, which sounds a lot like Genesis 2 (not Genesis 1), well aware that how life actually arose does not affect the fact that, once life got started on Earth, evolution occurred and continues to occur.

    Confusing abiogenesis and evolution is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to understanding evolution, which is one of the reasons creationists keep trying to confuse people on the point.

    For a good discussion of what is theory and what theory means, check out the book describing evolution and its importance, check with the National Academy of Sciences, the group Abraham Lincoln helped set up to give us advice on key science issues. You can purchase it or get a free .pdf download, here:
    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11876

  • trj

    Here’s my proposal for the Discovery Institute and any other ID’ers (and Marcus as well):

    Instead of just claiming via routinely refuted, ridiculously flawed statistical calculations that speciation is too unlikely to occur, how about actually doing some research on the biological mechanism which allegedly prohibits speciation.

    This would be a valid scientific contribution to the entire field of biology. For the first time, ID’ers would actually contribute to our understanding, rather than just throwing up their hands, proclaiming that it’s all just too complex.

    But I’m not holding my breath. ID subsists by denial, not by participation. Such a study will never be undertaken.

  • Marcus made an interesting statement that I think needs to be elaborated on. Ed hit on it a little:

    He said: “One is proven, the other is a theory, and while terribly inconvenient, it’s nonetheless a fact that theory does not dictate reality.”

    No. A theory does not dictate reality. The strength of science is that we do just the opposite. Reality dictates to us what the truth is. We do not dictate what reality must be and then interpret the facts to fit that notion. Instead, we take what the universe tells us about itself and then create theories to explain it. If the universe tells us something that doesn’t fit into our theory, then the theory MUST change. Theists insist on imposing their ideas on the universe. Science lets the universe tell us what is real.

    One definition of reality is “something that exists independently of ideas concerning it”. It doesn’t matter what our ideas of reality are. There is a single objective reality in which we all live. That reality is discoverable via observation and experimentation. It isn’t subject to our whims and beliefs.

  • trj

    @Marcus:
    So, I suppose the Roman Empire is just a theory as well? After all, it has never been empirically observed. [I’m using the term “theory” non-scientifically here.] In fact, our entire history older than 120 years has never been observed.

    That is why we rely on historical evidence. In the case of evolution, this is the fossil record and, increasingly, the genetic record. Genetic similarities and phenomena such as endogenous retrovira make for very compelling evidence of common descent.

    The evolution of such biological groups as whales, horses, and humans is very well documented and regarded as scientific evidence for speciation. Of course, creationists will never accept the evidence, no matter how compelling. They’ll always claim some missing link, or they may rely on the very convenient circumstance that there’s no clear distinction between micro- and macroevolution, so it’s always possible to claim that what is observed is just microevolution.

  • @Wade

    “it can be argued that belief in God could be the better of the two alternatives.”

    Um … why? If the alternative is no god, how much energy would people save by not worrying about the status of their “immortal souls”?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Catholics could screw their brains out without guilt? What would all those suicide bombers in Israel do, now that this is the only life we get? How many inquisistions would we have seen? Maybe all those shamans currently protected by tax-free status of churches could contribute to society in more useful ways.

    No, God will always be worse than no god.

    “I did not mean to imply that it could be proven that God answers prayer, just that it cannot be proven otherwise.”

    I had a top seargent who used to say “Wish in one hand and $#17 in the other and see which one gets full first.” Substitute “pray” for “wish”.

    God doesn’t answer prayers, and it can be proven to about 99.9% certainty. Pray for any actual miracle, something so unlikely as to be outside statistical possibility. See what happens.

    Of course, I suppose there’s the argument that the answer is “No.”

    The concept of god by itself is irrational. I mean, to believe in something without any evidence is considered irrational, no?

  • Sorry–conflating conflicts–For “Israel” read “Iraq.”

    That’ll teach me to read the news and UF at the same time.

  • trj

    @Metro:
    > “God doesn’t answer prayers, and it can be proven to about 99.9% certainty. ”

    No. Absence of proof is not disproof. “Prayer works” is the null hypothesis.

  • Sorry to disagree – Wouldn’t the null hypothesis be that there is no difference between prayer and no prayer? Then the research hypothesis would be that prayer has an effect.

  • trj

    @David+Metro:
    Of course, you’re right, a comparative study would disprove the effects of prayer. My bad.

  • Wade

    @ Metro, David and trj

    As for prayer, I feel that we are trying to jam a square peg into a round hole here by answering metaphysical questions using empirical methods. I could go on, but I’ll choose to digress.

    @ Metro

    What you say is partly true. It is akin to Dawkins’ anti-pascalian wager. However, you are appealing to the fallacy of composition. Religious fundamentalists have done horrible things in the name of God, as you have mentioned. However, I believe it is very apparent that just as much good has been done in the name of God. Hospitals built, aid to developing countries, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, education, not to mention the foundations of much of western philosophy: Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Kierkegaard, Leibniz, Pascal, etc. Also, literature and art: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Milton, Rembrandt, Da Vinci etc.

    It is very hard to argue existential points because we both have different experiences. I can hold something to be existentially true based on my experience and you on yours, and there is not conclusive way to evaluate the truth value of either stance.

    However, I do believe that many atheists choose to existentially believe things they empirically deny. This is the foundation of secular humanism. The grounds for belief in morality, altruism, love, selflessness, ethics, etc. are tenuous at best, yet many atheist accept these metaphysical concepts on an existential level. I see this as an attempt to avoid the bleakness of nihilism. Even now, you have appealed to a universal moral framework that insists that guilt, suicide bombings, inquisitions and Benny Hinn are all bad. If there is nothing more to life than the empirical and quantitative, what makes these things wrong?

    @ Chayanov

    I am still wanting to hear your thoughts on the Gambit not being an existential argument. As much as it is futile to convey emotion over a message board, please do not read this as patronizing, but rather a sincere inquiry. I am fascinated with new ideas, and I’d love to hear yours.

    @All

    So here is a dichotomy that I’d like to pose to all. I’ll put it in a syllogism, then we can pick it apart. I’m throwing this down kind of quickly so I know I will have to re-work some category formation and pay some attention to definitional detail. But forgive me if we cross that bridge when it comes.

    The rational atheist is an empiricist/materialist and thus dismisses the Kantian noumena (the unobservable/metaphysical). Contained with in the Noumenon is the idea that existence carries with it purpose, objective meaning, and intrinsic value. (i.e. life is more than just a collection of atoms, and identity/consciousness is more than synapses and neurotransmitters). Nihilism proposes that existence has no purpose, meaning, or intrinsic value. Thus, the rational atheist must be a nihilist (i.e. secular humanism is as much of a “waste of time” as false religion).

    Based on the aforementioned, the dichotomy is… If one is not a theist, one must be either a nihilist or irrational.

    Any takers?

  • Jonboy

    @ trj
    with regard to

    “This would be a valid scientific contribution to the entire field of biology. For the first time, ID’ers would actually contribute to our understanding, rather than just throwing up their hands, proclaiming that it’s all just too complex.”

    I read an interesting article once (I forget where, but rest assured it was something relatively respectable…) which speculated that genetics was underdeveloped in some areas because of the focus on evolutionary genetics, in lieu of any other approach, hypothesis, or philosophy, which may have had productive results. The author suggested that the immense pressure within the field of genetics toward a single research approach had actually harmed the field. It makes some sense to me that the same could be offered as an explanation why the pesky ID boys haven’t come up with any useful biology or genetics… there is no background for them to work from; all the underlying assumptions in their fields are irrevocably tweaked towards an evolutionary understanding.

    I’m not an expert; I suppose an argument could be made that this is obviously better, since evolution is apparently the cornerstone of modern science. But it does seem to make sense to me that there are going to be some built in restrictions to ID proponents going out and doing meaningful work. No one will take them seriously, and they probably won’t be able to pursue anything particularly weighty anyway.

    I’ll leave the rest of this conversation to Wade. :)

  • Wade

    Sorry, I’m a Christian living in suburbia. I’m a little intellectually repressed. Someone please humor me ;)

  • trj

    @Jonboy:
    On the surface of it, it sounds like a valid point: The scientific community is a rigid behemoth, favoring its own theories, rejecting opposing viewpoints out of hand.

    However, while there no doubt is some conservatism among “established” scientists, the fact remains that ID is not science.

    The working premise of ID is the designer. This is a conlusion, to which observations are applied. That is NOT science. And the fact that ID categorically won’t attempt to find out who/what the designer is, makes it even worse. I know of no scientists who don’t try to discover and validate the facts underlying our world. ID doesn’t. The only reason I can find for this is that mentioning the G-word would make it too obvious what ID’ers are implying.

    It’s a point ID’ers and creationists will happily make: Evolution is “just a theory”, just like ID, so we should give them equal treatment.

    No, one is science, the other is crap. The Disco Institute has even admitted that ID is not a theory in the scientific sense of the word. ID is thinly veiled religion. You can’t really blame the scientific community for scorning it.

  • VorJack

    @Wade –
    We normally deal with folks like Ray Comfort, and now you’re asking us about Kantian philosophy. I don’t think that any of us can switch gears that drastically.

    I understand what you mean about being intellectually repressed. I spent five years in Green Bay, a drinking town with a bit of a football problem, so I empathize. I’d recommend that you go to a couple of atheist philosophy blogs. Off the top of my head:

    Stephen Law, editor of the philosophy journal “Think”
    http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/

    The Barefoot Bum
    http://barefootbum.blogspot.com/

    Both of them deal with Pascal’s wager. Look for the phrase in Law’s sidebar. Barefoot Bum comments on that post with a link to his own take.

  • Chayanov

    I never said Pascal’s Wager wasn’t an existential argument — I said it wasn’t a good one. It’s still making the assumption that God exists and God is good. But there’s no particular reason to start with those assumptions. You can substitute a malevolent god, or leprechauns, or invisible pink unicorns, and while the structure of the argument doesn’t change, the intent of it certainly does.

    I said it made no sense, and it literally is nonsense right off the bat. Every time Pascal’s Wager is invoked it’s by a theist who is making assumptions about God’s existence and intentions based on nothing more than wishful thinking. Apparently some people need such spiritual security blankets, but not everybody does.

  • Wade

    You are correct in stating that Pascal’s wager assumes a benevolent God. But remember to put this into historical context. Pascal’s wager comes on the heels of Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy in which the idea of a malevolent god is dismissed. Though Pascal was not a proponent of Cartesian rationalism it is safe to say for Pascal Descartes argument is a logical axiom. (It’s been a while since I’ve read MoFP but I believe you will find this argument within the first 100 pages.) No serious philosopher has argued for a malevolent God since the 1600’s. As for leprechauns and pink unicorns… Well they cannot be God, be cause then they would lose the distinction and boundary that makes them leprechauns and unicorns.

    Now as for the claim that Pascal’s wager assumes God’s existence. I am not trying to patronize or berate, but have you ever really studied the Pascalian wager. If it assumes the existence of God from the beginning why is it a “wager”? It is built off of the premise of uncertainty in all things, especially religion. If the argument is based off of an assumption the assumption is agnosticism, possibly even atheism. Pascal even laments in the argument’s prologue that nature does not reveal God without ambiguity. Again, I mean no disrespect, but have you even read a single page of The Pensees?

    Chayanov, when making claims like this you give me the impression that you are dismissing an idea without actually studying it. I would encourage you to study, and take seriously ideas that may not immediately line up with your own presuppositions.

  • Chayanov

    *Sigh* It’s not atheists who are invoking Pascal’s Wager as a serious argument for God. And I doubt there are any theists out there who stopped believing in God as a result of the Wager. Those invoking the Wager already believe in God’s existence so that assumption is built in to the wager — it’s designed to convince others that it makes sense to believe in God as defined by the person making the Wager, in this case Pascal. In fact, Pascal starts out by saying that God is “infinitely incomprehensible” but then turns around and says God provides eternal happiness. How does that follow unless one already has their mind made up about what God is and what God can do? To say the Wager is agnostic or even atheist is being ridiculously disingenous — it is avowedly in favor of God’s existence. In fact, it’s forcing us to make a choice but I refuse to play the game because it has no purpose.

    And there is a boundary that separates leprechauns from gods? Interesting. How do you know that? I also like how you so breezily dismissed the notion of a malevolent God. Why couldn’t God be evil? Just because the philosophers you read won’t consider it? Do you get all of your opinions from what you read of particular philosophers? I ask out of real curiosity. I think you would probably benefit from taking your own advice, as well.

  • Wade

    As for “those invoking the Wager already believe in God’s existence” this is an ad-hominen argument.

    The gambit is an existential argument, it is not a syllogistic proof, and it was never meant to be. “Infinitely incomprehensible” and “providing eternal happiness” are not mutually exclusive. One does not have to understand ultra-violet rays and the moon’s impact on the tides to enjoy a warm day at the beach. The enjoyment is existential, the matter and natural laws creating it are empirical. I did not state that the wager itself is agnostic or atheistic, just that the basis/axiom for the wager is agnostic and perhaps atheistic in that it evokes the same rational skepticism that we see in Descartes. If you were to write Pascal’s wager out as a thesis it would begin, “Reason, and even skepticism itself, are uncertain. Thus, belief in God is uncertain. Consider that God does not exist…” The wager proceeds from this agnostic axiom and atheistic premise.

    The reason I “so breezily dismiss” the idea of a malevolent God is because it is an idea that has had little to no philosophical credence for the last 400 or so years. And the “philosophers I read” have considered it, that is why I pointed you toward Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. I’ll try to briefly explain… If one were created by a malevolent god, then one’s mind, rationale, perception, etc. could never be trusted because these would be the work of a malevolent creator who could (and being malevolent, would), on a whim, purposefully deceive. No coherent idea could ever be constructed of the malevolent god, because the grounds on which to consider such a god are incomprehensibly dubious. It’s like trying to jump out of a bottomless pit. This is a hastily thrown together summary of a classic work of philosophy… for the detailed argument see Descartes Meditations. You act as though only a select group of philosophers (that I read) deny the idea of a malevolent god. I’d love to hear of a respected philosopher who gives credence to the notion of a malevolent god, because I have studied philosophy for years, have racked up an obnoxious amount of student loan debt doing so, and I cannot recall hearing of one.

    And as far as the difference between leprechauns and gods… Within the framework of a linguistic construct (which is arguably the totality of human thought and interaction) there are billions of concepts that each have a definition and categorical form. Leprechauns fall into a categorical form that includes wearing green, being tiny, speaking with an Irish accent, hoarding pots of gold, and maybe even selling kid’s cereal. Now, let’s make this the best leprechaun the universe has ever seen. He can gallop like a horse, play piano like Mozart, fly to the moon, and hit a baseball 500 feet. On top of this he can create atoms… countless numbers of them that fill the universe. Also, he knows the exact location of each of these atoms, thus making him omnipotent. He can create a space-time continuum, and among countless other things he can create rational beings that debate his existence. For better are worse or little green friend has now moved into the categorical form of God. So now when you mention “leprechaun” you would no longer be speaking of our friend, because he now exists infinitely beyond the aforementioned categorical form.

    I do get many of my opinions from the philosophers I read. To a certain extent, I allow my mind to be shaped by the ideas of those who have gone before me, because their ideas have the luxury of being criticized for the last few hundred years. As Isaac Newton said “If I have seen this far it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”. Now, of course these ideas are placed against the backdrop of my own existential experience. I am not an ostrich with my head in the sand. I do not read only those who agree with my presuppositions. My favorite philosophers are Kierkegaard, Kant, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. So that’s two theists, and atheist, and an agnostic. Of course there are ideas they put forth that I am skeptical of, and others I feel are very sound.

  • @Wade:
    Good questions, but I must question them ;-)

    Why was a god necessary for any of the good things you mention? It seems you’re making the old argument that morality and moral behaviour require belief.

    But they don’t. Capuchin monkeys, for example, display >a sense of unfairness based solely on evolutionary elements involving the hows and whys of peer-group survival.

    Morality and altruism are positive group-survival behaviour. A mother cat may have to die to save her kittens–is that behaviour moral? If so, did a god have to have anything to do with it? If not, then why does the presence or absence of a god matter?

    I would tend to argue that the things we have characterized as bad–suicide bombings, inquisitions and Benny Hinn, are elements of behaviour that are counterproductive to group survival. Although the negative effects of a Benny Hinn are currently confined to a small group that accepts that he can cure disease and illness, some of it terminal, they are measurable.

    Guilt has a purpose–but that purpose is ill-served when it is misappropriated and turned to the purposes of theism.

    Even the idea of sin has a purpose: Sin lies in hurting other people unecessarily–a behaviour that is definitely contra-survival.

    However, it may sometimes be moral to hurt or kill in the interests of survival at the individual or group level–a position accepted by almost all religions at one level or another.

    I’m afraid your dichotomy is invalid. I am a rational atheist and a humanist. I believe that there is no purpose to life other than the living of it, and our continued survival and improvement as a species and a civilization.

    It’s a self-assigned purpose, but there was no-one to assign me another.

    @Jonboy
    I’d like a citation from the relatively respectable journal please, especially if you’re going to draw attention to its credibility like that.

    Science self-selects for success, that is, it evolves. Unsatisfactory theses are cast aside as others are validated. Which is why we no longer discuss phlogistons in chemistry, and also why evolutionary genetics has pride of place: It keeps getting validated.

    What ID proponents do isn’t usually science, on the evidence. It’s defence of a theory that keeps getting whacked into the weeds.

    It’s why there isn’t any genuinely peer-reviewed work coming out of the Discovery Institute.

  • Wade

    @ Metro..
    “I would tend to argue that the things we have characterized as bad–suicide bombings, inquisitions and Benny Hinn, are elements of behaviour that are counterproductive to group survival.”

    Lets work off this line of thought that good and bad are all a measure of group survival. Now, suppose an invalid elderly woman walks out in front of a bus. Am I supposed to let her get hit? If I risk my youthful life that still has years of productivity and benefit to the group to save a life that has all but expired, have I not committed a sin against humanism? As the bus hits her, should I applaud myself for my benevolence?

    “I’m afraid your dichotomy is invalid. I am a rational atheist and a humanist. I believe that there is no purpose to life other than the living of it, and our continued survival and improvement as a species and a civilization.

    It’s a self-assigned purpose, but there was no-one to assign me another.”

    Why didn’t you assign yourself another purpose? Could you have? If so, you are denying the intrinsic value and purpose of life, thus making you a nihilist, and the dichotomy still stands. There is nothing wrong with being a nihilist. I admire the honesty, audacity and courage of nihilist thought.

    I assume you believe that all forms of theism are false, and that the truth is that God does not exist. If what you believe is true, why do you prefer to side with truth? What makes the truth a “better” choice? If there is only one life to live, the life of the mystic could be the best possible life. You could even create your own religion and hang out with Tom Cruise, it’d be fun. Why stick to the truth when there could be something better out there? ;)

  • Saving an elderly woman who totters before a bus may not in itself benefit the race, but the behaviour of a race of people who can contemplate making the exchange of their life for another is definitely pro-survival. What if it’s not an old lady but a baby carriage?

    And you have comitted no sin under humanism by saving the elderly woman–I don’t feel humanism intrinsically accepts the possibility of sin, it’s a construct worked out by the group (as you can’t sin against yourself–hurting yourself unecessarily isn’t sinful, just silly).

    If you’re the sole provider for a family of small children, it might be silly to orphan them, but for the species as a whole it matters very little, unless the species suddenly develops a condition like dementia in which all old people run in front of buses and all young people decide to save them.

    If you allow the situation to continue and the bus strikes and kills her, then you are at least as benevolent as God, no? So why not praise yourself?

    I could assign myself another purpose: Collecting all the bottle caps from a given year. Amassing wealth to the exclusion of other pursuits. World domination using a giant frickin’ laser … My purpose is what seems good to me.

    Life has no intrinsic value, true. And certainly no purpose. Where would you find them? But that just makes the whole damn thing even more wonderful, if you think about it.

    I don’t feel that’s especially nihilist. And we have plenty of struggle to keep our little lives meaningful and fulfilled until the day we no longer need to bother, which to me means that one can never be truly nihilist, at the core.

    But they’re all micro-level conflicts. Unimportant, in most cases. “Insignificant” would be awarding most humans more status than they deserve, even the best and worst of them.

    If, FSM forbid, my wife were to die today, my grief would be huge. But the teeming river of the human race flows on and closes over her, and eventually me too, just the same.

    At the macro level, I’m just another player in the great game of survival. Either I’ll make it and pass my genes on or I won’t. In any case, the only winner is time, eventually. Most species don’t clock up a million years. I think we’ll be lucky if we do, but I’ll help, if I can.

    A life of the mystic might be a better life. But you have to find motivation, and I don’t think human beings find motivation in things they genuinely know or believe to be blatantly false.

    Posited: Benny Hinn is a liar, a lunatic, or believes himself connected to god directly. If either of the latter, we can understand what motivates his preaching. But what about the third–what’s his motivation if he believes himself to be a liar?

    Let’s say he isn’t doing it for the truth of god. He’s doing it because his truth is that he likes the money or status it brings in.

    It may not be a truth he can easily admit to himself, but it may be the truth he acts on; In any case he’s not acting on the premise of a god he doesn’t believe in.

    In other words, his motives are always true to him.

    We sometimes get to choose the truths we act on, that’s all.

    You believe in the existence of a god–that belief pervades your thinking. Hypothetically speaking you could be an utter charlatan, but then why would we be having this conversation?

    I believe there is no god, and yes, that all theisms are equally unlikely.

    The difference, it seems to me, is that I feel you could be a moral person with or without belief in a god. Whereas you seem to be saying that there cannot be morality without one.

  • Jonboy

    @ Metro

    It’s been literally years since I read this article, in my school library, far away from where I am now. I am unable to verify the article, although I think it was in ‘Science.’

    Nevertheless, the argument should still be considered. I am aware that science self selects, which is in my opinion one of the cooler things about it. And yes, given the apparent success of evolutionary biology, it makes perfect sense that there has been no sweeping trend toward a major revision of current thought.

    I think my point still stands, namely that given a different starting point, different knowledge may have been produced, and self-selected for by science. Which is interesting to me, although not particularly important.

    ID is only very marginally science at this point. If at all. This I will easily grant. However, I don’t think it should be too heavily criticized for failing to stand up to the rigors of scientific standards. They are strict standards. Not only that, the alternative take on the innate complexity of biology at least shows that someone is trying to bridge a nasty, mean-spirited gap between the extreme groups on either side of the creation/evolution discussion.

  • @Jonboy:

    Sorry, you’re basically making the assertion that science is ill-served by using the scientific method. However, it’s the only known working system. And ID attempts to short out the whole process.

    All scientific knowledge goes through a process: Observation, hypothesis, further observation and experiment, confirmation of hypotheses, and eventually, theory.

    ID, however, starts from a premise which is false–or at the very best, unproven: “God did it.”

    Worse, you then say that “bridging the gap” is a good idea. Sorry–you’re wrong.

    The scientific method, peer-reviewed research, and open scrutiny by actual scientists, are anaethma to ID, because at some point ID will always retreat to “God did it–It was a miracle.”

    And the scientific community smiles brightly and asks: “Well?”

    “A miracle!” reasserts the ID proponent.

    “Yes, er, you said that,” saith Science “Now where’s your proof?”

    Unable to come up with proof, IDers slink off and found a private little institute where they can pray for enlightenment without interruption for things like scientific experiment.

    That is, ID has removed itself from the sphere of science. It is not up to science to “bridge the gap.”

    “Bridging the gap” between science and non-science is as logical as deliberately smearing your hamburger with e coli. And likely to produce similar results.

    In science, you don’t get to make up your own facts. You take the set of facts we have, and work from them. Or you hypothesize a missing fact or mechanism, and you go out to find it and prove its existence. That’s science.

    If the missing mechanism is god, you’d best produce the evidence if you want to be taken seriously.

  • Saving an elderly woman who totters before a bus may not in itself benefit the race, but the behaviour of a race of people who can contemplate making the exchange of their life for another is definitely pro-survival. What if it’s not an old lady but a baby carriage?

    And you have comitted no sin under humanism by saving the elderly woman–I don’t feel humanism intrinsically accepts the possibility of sin, it’s a construct worked out by the group (as you can’t sin against yourself–hurting yourself unecessarily isn’t sinful, just silly).

    In elephant herds, the old matriarchs are the ones who remember where to go, be it a hundred miles away, when there is no water in the usual stomping grounds. Generally in the life of an elephant, they have many occasions to rely on the wisdom of the elders.

    Reason enough to keep the old folks around for a long time.

    In humans, they make good pies, too.

    Stephen Jay Gould had an essay about “rewinding” history, suggesting evolution would not work exactly the same way twice.

  • Jonboy

    @ Metro

    Ya, I’m familiar with how the scientific method works. Cross my heart and hope to die. I agree with you that ID has removed itself from science, strictly speaking. Got it. No argument.

    What I’m trying to point out, and I realize and apologize for the fact that I’m not doing a great job, is that ID shouldn’t necessarily be faulted for taking a hypothesis (e.g. the complexity of the universe is such that it requires a designer in its initial stages) and attempting to find support for it in the real world. That’s the point of science. Yes, the ID boys may have started from a biased position, but even if they didn’t arrive at the hypothesis simply by observation (which is an accusation that I’m not sure you can reasonably make,) the scientific method should still hold up, yes? We ought to see exactly what we are seeing: continuing difficulty for those attempting to find support for the given hypothesis.

    Should ID proponents be faulted for clinging to an idea in the face of difficulties with the theory and the math itself? Maybe, maybe not. Clinging to a falsified theory is perhaps the most forgivable vice in the scientific community. Sure, it’s not particularly productive, but these guys have staked their reputations on the chance that their hypothesis might not be so ridiculous after all. Cut them a break for attempting to make it work after the first wave of falsification and scorn from their peers. Other, better, scientists have done the same thing and been vindicated in the end. I’m not saying that ID is the next theory of special relativity, but you should at least look kindly on the last attempts to salvage an interesting but career-wrecking idea.

    (Oh yeah, about the bridging the gap thing… I knew I’d get chewed up for that one. Abashed apologies. You’re right down the line on that point.)

  • trj

    If the ID “scientists” want to cling to a hypothesis which looks increasingly implausible, they’re welcome. I can’t respect them when they keep on stating the same arguments and examples that have been convincingly refuted multiple times (bacterial flagellum, malaria resistance, complexity of the eye, the basic premise of irr. complexity, etc), but never mind that.

    But what they and their proponents are doing is attempting to impose this intellectual garbage on schools under the guise of being acceptable science. THAT bothers me a great deal. If they would keep it to themselves I would hardly bother arguing, but that is one thing they do not! In fact, it is very easy to get the idea that ID is invented for the purpose of covertly proselytizing for Christianity where straight-out religious messages are not possible, such as in public schools. Google “Wedge document” and you’ll find the manifest for the Discovery Institute. The “wedge” giving that document its name is exactly that – a strategy describing how to introduce God though non-religious arguments.

    BTW, the argument that some scientists (or non-scientists) at some point may have been vindicated despite being scorned by their contemporaries – it’s a claim popular among those scorned, of course, but I think it should be put into perspective:

    There’s no shortage of strange ideas that have been thought up through the ages. While some turned out to be right, many more turned out to be wrong. Let’s be nice and say that for every 100 ideas that were dismissed by the majority at one point or another, one of them actually turned out to be correct. So, if you rely on this argument then, all other things being equal, ID has a 99% chance of being wrong. A bit simplistic, I know, but you get the picture. It’s not really such a great argument.