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February 10, 2005

The Ideal as Trojan Horse

Before my wife gave up trying to find a full-time teaching job in Rhode Island's public school system, I had to learn how to disguise my sneer at the notion that "teachers are the most underpaid professionals." It was perfectly clear to me that, in this state at least, teachers unions and their political allies were holding up struggling near-outsiders such as my wife in order to argue for benefits and job protections for those who were already established and hardly impoverished. Groups have a tendency to hold up the most convenient faces from among their members toward any given end.

That seems to me to be what John Derbyshire is doing here:

Science is not an ossified establishment, defending privileges and power against all comers. Look into some science journals. Talk to some working scientists. Science is bustling and anarchic. When a plausible new theory comes up, keen young scientists flock to it in the hope of making a name for themselves by overthrowing the established orthodoxy. A high proportion of scientists are contrarians by temperament. "Why is this so?" they demand. "You SAY it's so, but where's the evidence?" Scientists don't take kindly to authoritiative pronouncements handed down from on high on tablets of stone. It's just not like that.

I've started and discarded a few posts on the running discussion in the Corner of which this quotation is a part, mostly because I think the debate misses the point theologically. Back in August 2002, I expressed it thus (excessive emphases in original):

...while the standard line is that, as humankind figures stuff out, God keeps getting smaller, the more intricately we understand what it is that God has done, the broader and more intrinsic God becomes.

It's difficult to bridge this gap in debate because the faithless just do not get it. God isn't hiding in the recesses of what we do not know; He is in such plain view that we often fail to see Him. We are not inventing scientific theories; we are discovering what is already there. And faith does not forbid questions; it allows them because the faithful already know that which is truly important.

Derb's latest tack brings to light another aspect of the debate that misses the point, the one about broad groups that I described above. He conveniently discards Richard Dawkins — an actual scientist — in the very same post in which he sides with the ACLU in its lawsuits against school districts that wish merely to highlight that evolution is a theory. Derb may see the ACLU as a convenient ally in his defense of science, but the average conservative probably understands that the ACLU sees the evolution debate as an intrinsic part of the broader secular worldview that it promotes.

The rhetoric is well developed to dismiss the pushback against evolution in public schools as an indication of "a cohort in the armies of Unreason," in Derbyshire's words. It might capture an important consideration, however, to ask whether those armies aren't reacting to something other than mere science. One would think that agreement with the ACLU on one of its big issues would raise a red flag for conservatives, as indeed it should.

Jonah Goldberg has replied to Derb's exaggeration in the heat of blogging with the suggestion that there "is a long history in this country of scientific experts trying to short-circuit democratic processes in order to run the show themselves." And Derb has ceded a limited version of the point. The "rearguard claim" that he tries to salvage, however, is the problem: scientists are "a libertarian lot" in the same sense in which libertarianism aligns with secularism.

To those on the other side of the debate, the ACLU's court action to disallow a local community from setting its own tone for the teaching of evolution is precisely an attempt to short-circuit democratic processes. The libertarianism, in other words, is akin to the restricted image of scientists as distinct from a broader cultural movement, and both are akin to the particulars of the role that evolution plays in the cultural battle; they all focus on their narrow truth as a means to slip past the argument that the broader whole is preponderant.

With matters of religion and morality banned from the classroom, it isn't surprising that those who privilege religion and morality would seek ways to keep out the worldview that has latched itself to evolution. The privileged treatment that the reasonable face of science attracts is quickly abused once the opposing "armies of Unreason" have been told to wait outside.

ADDENDUM:
Well then. According to Mr. Derbyshire:

Lots of researchers in fields like human genetics, psychometrics, and neuroscience regard the kind of people who pontificate about these things in outlets like PBS and the New York Times as moronic ideologues, and will freely say so in private. Not in public, though -- they want to keep their research grants.

It seems a bit unfair to insist that those on the defensive side of the cultural battles playing out in the nation's schools react to scientists based on the views that they may or may not generally hold in private, while the other side tramples through the society with proclamations that scientists aren't willing to disclaim in public. If scientists don't want bio-theologians dabbling in their fare, then perhaps they ought to be more vocal about the ideological purity thereof.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 9:56 AM
Science
Comments

To those on the other side of the debate, the ACLU's court action to disallow a local community from setting its own tone for the teaching of evolution is precisely an attempt to short-circuit democratic processes.

There is a problem with this Justin; science is not democratic. In politics and government, you can have an opinion and I can have an opinion and we can argue those opinions and we can even ask people to take a vote on them and whoever gets the most support wins. In science, you can have a hypothesis and I can have a hypothesis but if all the experiments support my hypothesis and contradict your hypothesis, you're wrong, no matter how many people you get to vote on it.

With matters of religion and morality banned from the classroom, it isn't surprising that those who privilege religion and morality would seek ways to keep out the worldview that has latched itself to evolution. The privileged treatment that the reasonable face of science attracts is quickly abused once the opposing "armies of Unreason" have been told to wait outside.

But this is ignoring the message because you don't like the messenger. Dembski and Dawkins are but two sides of the same coin; over- or under-interpretting science to fit it into their own philosophical worldviews. Just because the ACLU may have other motives for keeping Intelligent Design out of schools, doesn't mean that conservatives should balk at what they're doing. I don't understand the mentality that protection of civil liberities is an unconservative thing.

By local school boards singling out evolution as "just a theory", they are putting special emphasis on it. And why? Evolution is no more or less a theory than the theory of gravitation, the theory of special relativity or atomic theory. So why is it being singled out? Because it's the one theory that some people have difficulty reconciling with their particular philosophical (religious) worldviews.

If we let science education be democratic, we'd get UFOs, ESP and young-earth theories taught, which a significant portion of the country believe to be true.

Posted by: Michael at February 10, 2005 12:50 PM

Science is not democratic, but its presentation should be. You steal considerable ground when you move from support for the ACLU's "keeping Intelligent Design out of schools" to legitimating judicial action because evolution is being "singled out."

I'm simplifying here, but try to consider the generality: A community believes that a particular scientific theory is being leveraged in the larger society to undermine beliefs that its members hold dear. The trick of the underminers is to fold a faith-based certainty regarding the metaphysical origin of life into a scientific theory concerning the mechanism of life's biological development. Why shouldn't that community — which is already barred from teaching anything involving a whiff of its own beliefs — be able to take minimal steps to arm students with the awareness that said certainty can be challenged?

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 1:07 PM

Justin,

"Derb may see the ACLU as a convenient ally in his defense of science, but the average conservative probably understands that the ACLU sees the evolution debate as an intrinsic part of the broader secular worldview that it promotes."

But the whole point is that there is a difference between attacking the connection made between evolution and secularism, and attacking evolutionary theory itself. In fact, ID discredits the attack on the broader secular worldview by linking that attack to incorrect claims about evolutionary theory. When scientists can demonstrate that the ID critiques of evolution have no scientific merit, and that ID doesn't offer any plausible alternative scientific explanations, they dismiss what they have to say regarding the metaphysical or political issues.

A community believes that a particular scientific theory is being leveraged in the larger society to undermine beliefs that its members hold dear. The trick of the underminers is to fold a faith-based certainty regarding the metaphysical origin of life into a scientific theory concerning the mechanism of life's biological development. Why shouldn't that community ó which is already barred from teaching anything involving a whiff of its own beliefs ó be able to take minimal steps to arm students with the awareness that said certainty can be challenged?

The liberal secular worldview promoted in many public schools and on most university campuses is much more widespread than the biology department. And I question the assumption made that evolution is a significant underpinning for most of these beliefs (it may be for some scientists, but not for the whole school).

It's not the metaphysical certainty that should be challenged (in a science classroom), it's the "folding into". ID confuses the issue by focusing on the scientific theory itself, rather than on the "folding into". In essence this is because they buy into the "folding into" argument (i.e. if evolution is true, then [insert religious belief here] is false). What you do not see from IDers/creationists is the argument that, yes, evolutionary theory is largely correct, if incomplete, but that says nothing about "that which is truly important".

Posted by: Mike S. at February 10, 2005 1:33 PM

Mike,

I don't disagree with you much. But current question of line-drawing is whether a brief note that evolution is just a theory should be permissible.

I think we'll also differ on whether "evolution is a significant underpinning," but I simply don't have the time to get into that right now.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 1:40 PM

>> In science, you can have a hypothesis and I can have a hypothesis but if all the experiments support my hypothesis and contradict your hypothesis, you're wrong, no matter how many people you get to vote on it.

Yes, with the hard sciences but there have been prominent votes that have transformed theory into established fact in the modern fields of pyschiatry and psychology, for instance. Another example is illustrated in the recent kerfuffle over differences between men and women in science. Evolution is rightly described as a theory -- and digging into the reasons for that description would be the stuff of soliding teaching and learning.

Posted by: Chairm Ohn at February 10, 2005 1:54 PM

Michael: "In science, you can have a hypothesis and I can have a hypothesis but if all the experiments support my hypothesis and contradict your hypothesis, you're wrong, no matter how many people you get to vote on it."

On evolution, what experiments would those be, Michael? If science is limited to experiments, then there is no scientific evidence whatsoever of large-scale evolution. The only evidence we have on evolution is non-experimental, that is, uncontrolled observations filtered by the vagaries of time and historical accident.

You miss this point when you compare the theory of evolution to the theory of gravity. We can experiment with gravity. We can observe it in the present. We can watch it happen. That's not true for evolution.

The non-religious argument over evolution concerns the arrogance of scientists. They adamantly refuse to utter the one sentence that every true intellectual must have handy to maintain his credibility: "I don't know." The illogical, near-religious belief of the evolution zealots is that they do know, even when it's clear that they don't.

We don't know how life developed. We really don't. Nobody has yet built a theory that matches the available evidence. The fossil record has holes in it that no one can explain. Darwin plausibly assumed that later discoveries would fill in the gaps, but modern scientists don't have that excuse. We've found lots of fossils, but the gaps persist. The only intellectually honest response to the current evidence is: We don't know.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 10, 2005 2:21 PM

On evolution, what experiments would those be, Michael? If science is limited to experiments, then there is no scientific evidence whatsoever of large-scale evolution.

Ben,

This is why we cannot let local communities decide what is and is not theory. I will start off by referring you to http://www.talkorigins.com and more specifically to http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ or "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution". If we are to actually engage seriously in this dialogue, I also suggest we take it off these comment boards and to email.

Briefly, experimentation does not require direct laboratory work. Invoking the fact that we only have historical records of evolution and no direct current evidence is a red herring. And patently false. There are a lot of experiments being done in laboratories that directly support evolutionary predictions.

Also, your invocation of "fossil gaps" is a red herring. Theories must be predictive and in biology the predictive nature of biology is one of "retrodiction". That is, if evolution happened we would expect to find certain fossils at certain times and places on the earth. Evolution would be false if a fossil showed up somewhere where it wasn't supposed to, like a human skeleton next to a dinosaur. The gaps continue to be filled but if you expect them to all be filled completely, then you're barking up the wrong tree. Every prediction that evolutionary theory has made continues to remain uncontradicted. You are free to come up with other theories, like ID has. However, direct mechanisms and proposals by IDers, such as Dembski's claim that small molecules, in order to evolve a new function over such slow timescales must first pass through large gaps of nonfunctionality and therefore negating the possibility macroevolution has recently, in controlled laboratory experiments, been shown false because an enzyme can gain new function, in the same catalytic site, while retaining the same high level of original function.

Ben, scientists are intellectually honest; they claim that evolution occured with the same certainty that they claim that gravity exists. What they don't know is every single detail of how evolution happened or how gravity works.

Everything you've said to critique evolution shows a misunderstanding of how science operates. Lack of information (gaps in the fossile record) does no damage to a theory. Just because science hasn't filled in all the holes doesn't mean that science won't do it.

Also, if you want, I invite you to my website to the science section, http://thirdofthemonth.typepad.com/thirdofthemonth/science/index.html
where you can find some amateurish treatment of the issue.
Or you can check out www.pandasthumb.org

And realize, that the Pope has accepted macroevolution so you might want to think a little harder about whether or not it's correct....

Posted by: Michael at February 10, 2005 3:44 PM

A community believes that a particular scientific theory is being leveraged in the larger society to undermine beliefs that its members hold dear.

I'm sorry but to quote our great pontiff, truth cannot contradict truth. I'm sorry that this community's fragile belief system is being undermined by actual reality, but it is not the role of the education system to modify the truth so a bunch of fundamentalist Christians can go on believing in special creation.

Why shouldn't that community ó which is already barred from teaching anything involving a whiff of its own beliefs ó be able to take minimal steps to arm students with the awareness that said certainty can be challenged?

This community shouldn't be teaching a whiff of its beliefs, especially in a science classroom. A community should have the right to teach what it wants in its curriculum, in my opinion, but if it elects to teach biology it should teach biology and not undermine the entire discipline. Students should always and constantly be armed with the awareness that theories should be questioned; but not by singling out evolution. If fundamental crackpots believe that evolution is being used to push a secular agenda than they can fight back, but NOT by corrupting the science and using it for political means.

You are aware that evolution says nothing about the origin of life, correct?

Posted by: Michael at February 10, 2005 4:00 PM

One of the ideas I was exposed to back in university was this: if the theory cannot be falsified, it's not a real theory.
That is - in this instance - can you imagine new evidence coming along which would invalidate evolution as a model for how life has developed, and necessitate a new theory? Example: the evidence of continental drift resulted in geologists abandoning earlier models and adopting continental drift theory to explain their findings.

Similarly, can you imagine new evidence invalidating intelligent design/creationism?

Typically, the answers are yes and no, respectively. ID/C is a matter of faith, and matters of faith cannot be falsified.

Posted by: Robert at February 10, 2005 4:05 PM

Well. I think this is the first time I've ever read a post of Ben's that I fully disagreed with. Virtually everything in it is incorrect in some respect. Obviously, there isn't much point in rehashing the full debate here, since there are more bytes than any of us can read dedicated to the subject available online. But I can't let these claims go unchallenged.

On evolution, what experiments would those be, Michael? If science is limited to experiments, then there is no scientific evidence whatsoever of large-scale evolution. The only evidence we have on evolution is non-experimental, that is, uncontrolled observations filtered by the vagaries of time and historical accident.

It is true that many aspects (but not all!) of evolutionary theory are historical in nature - we cannot go back in time to see what actually happened. But this is quite different from saying that there is no evidence to support the theory. In fact, evolutionary theory explains a wide array of observations we make about the natural world quite well, which is the hallmark of a good theory.

You miss this point when you compare the theory of evolution to the theory of gravity. We can experiment with gravity. We can observe it in the present. We can watch it happen. That's not true for evolution.

It is true for evolution. We can observe natural selection in action. We can perform artificial evolution in test tubes and computers. And we can (and have) make predictions that about what we expect to see if evolution (i.e. descent from a common ancestor) is correct. As I said, we cannot go back in time to examine in detail what actually happened, but that doesn't mean we are just postulating with no supporting evidence.

Do you doubt the existence of black holes, Ben? We can only observe radiation sent out from them millions to billions of years ago. We can't do experiments on them. And our current theories explain many observations of black holes well, but there is much we don't know about them. Should we put stickers in physics books claiming that the existence of black holes is 'just a theory'? To what purpose?

The non-religious argument over evolution concerns the arrogance of scientists. They adamantly refuse to utter the one sentence that every true intellectual must have handy to maintain his credibility: "I don't know." The illogical, near-religious belief of the evolution zealots is that they do know, even when it's clear that they don't.

This is flat-out false - many scientists claim that they don't know. Not many will claim that we 'don't know' that common descent occurred, because the evidence in support of that model is overwhelming. But they do claim that we don't understand all the details of how evolution works. And, despite what the ID camp says, scientists do acknowledge that evolution is a historical science, and that we are making inferences about the past based upon current observations. But that is done in many areas of science.

It is certainly true that some scientists are arrogant, and that some of them are 'religiously' motivated to defend evolution because of their atheistic beliefs. But it does not logically follow that they are hiding fatal flaws in evolutionary theory when they do this. There are many religious believers in science, myself included, who would be only too happy to point out the flaws in evolutionary theory if the whole thing was a sham.

We don't know how life developed. We really don't. Nobody has yet built a theory that matches the available evidence.

Our current versions of evolutionary theory explain a lot of the evidence. And there are no viable scientific (i.e. testable) alternatives currently available.

The fossil record has holes in it that no one can explain. Darwin plausibly assumed that later discoveries would fill in the gaps, but modern scientists don't have that excuse. We've found lots of fossils, but the gaps persist. The only intellectually honest response to the current evidence is: We don't know.

I'm not sure you know what you're talking about here. It is routinely claimed that there are 'gaps' in the fossil record. But the question is, what do you mean by a 'gap'? What are the expectations, given the hypothesis of descent with modification? How about given the physio-chemical constraints for forming fossils? By what criteria do you decide when a 'gap' is big enough to cast doubt on evolutionary theory? In point of fact, fossil discoveries since Darwin's time have filled in many previously existing gaps (and many similarities were noticed prior to the publication of Origin of Species). More gaps will likely be filled in the future, even though some gaps will never be filled in, since the evidence is lost forever.

What do you mean when you say "we don't know?" Don't know what? The precise mechanisms and pathways by which the common ancestor of dolphins and horses arrived at the modern-day organisms? Sure, we don't know that. But is there good reason to think that such a thing happened? Of course there is.

As Justin pointed out, the objections to evolution have to do with the philosophical, metaphysical, religious, or political implications that people derive from the theory. Despite having studied and thought about this issue for a long time, I'm still a bit mystified about why people insist on attacking the theory itself, instead of the correlative assumptions people make.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 10, 2005 4:10 PM
But current question of line-drawing is whether a brief note that evolution is just a theory should be permissible.

What is the purpose of such a note? And why should we have one for evolution, but not other areas of science?

Posted by: Mike S. at February 10, 2005 4:13 PM

Ugh. This is yet another of those debates in which people argue against what they expect to read, not what's written. I agree with you that it is not "the role of the education system to modify the truth so a bunch of fundamentalist Christians can go on believing in special creation." That's not the point of my simplification. I'm not talking about science v. religion; I'm talking about secularism v. religion, and the role that science plays in that exchange. I'm not talking about "undermining the entire discipline" of biology, but about putting biology within a larger context that aligns with the communities values.

You offer a perfect example of the problem that believers face when you write:

This is why we cannot let local communities decide what is and is not theory.

There's simply no doubt that evolution is "theory." That you see a community's "singling out evolution" as a threat to science suggests that scientists hold evolution as something more than a theory. For many, it's something more than science.

You say that "fundamental crackpots" can "fight back," but I'm not sure what routes you'd leave open to them. If their complaint is that secularists are using science for "political means," then as I wrote in this post, it's a bit unfair to bar them from doing the same, even to the extent of diminishing the power of the practice on the other side.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 4:16 PM
I think we'll also differ on whether "evolution is a significant underpinning," but I simply don't have the time to get into that right now.

Understood. But surely you can acknowledge that a) the ideas underpinning our modern/postmodern intellectual environment were under development long before Darwin came along, and b) that most leftist English (or whatever social science or humanities department) professors don't understand evolution in any detail. In some ways the issue of the politics of scientists (also touched on in the Corner thread) is reversed: I think they tend to be liberal/leftist because they absorb those ideas from the academic culture, rather than because their political beliefs derive from their science.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 10, 2005 4:18 PM

Mike S.,

I knew when I read Ben's comment that there would be an interesting discussion 'round these parts. Just to address one of your points:

And why should we have one for evolution, but not other areas of science?

Because evolution is unique in the metaphysical, philosophical, religious, and political implications that segments of our society has attached to it. You and I would likely agree that local school districts ought to be able to offer courses that treat religion as it might actually (gasp) be correct. In such a case, those courses could explain the general observations of ID and counter the secular agenda that has come to accompany evolution. The ACLU would surely attack such classes.

But to get back to your question, are you really proposing that we should ignore the obvious standing of evolution in our society? Perhaps if the secularists release pervasive argumentation into our culture arguing that black holes disprove God, then believers would want a disclaimer on that topic, too. But that's not the reality in which we live.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 4:25 PM
But surely you can acknowledge that a) the ideas underpinning our modern/postmodern intellectual environment were under development long before Darwin came along

Okay.

and b) that most leftist English (or whatever social science or humanities department) professors don't understand evolution in any detail

Sure. My point was that, whatever intellectuals wanted to believe about reality before Darwin, evolution plays an important role in legitimating and forming those beliefs.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 4:35 PM

"But to get back to your question, are you really proposing that we should ignore the obvious standing of evolution in our society?"

No. I think we should strive to keep the various ideological arguments separate, as much as possible, from the actual scientific data and interpretations. Sometimes this is not possible, and the scientific community is frequently to blame in blurring these lines. This is precisely why I think the ID movement is so off-base - they are using the scientific observations/theory as a proxy for the ideological complaints. This only confuses the issues.

We should address the "metaphysical ... implications" that some segments of our society have placed on it. But not in high school biology classes, and not by placing silly stickers in textbooks. I don't have any hard data to back this up, but my impression is that the amount of secular proselytizing that goes on in public high school science classes is relatively small. If it does occur, I support parents and/or students complaining about it. But in fact, in many schools evolution is not taught at all, because teachers and administrators don't want to deal with the ensuing hassle caused by people who have religious objections to the theory. As far as I can tell, what is taught in high school biology classes reflects the current understanding of the scientific community, which is appropriate. Pretending that there are legitimate scientific objections to the theory as currently formulated is dishonest, and placing objections to the theory that are entirely religiously motivated into textbooks doesn't seem to be a wise thing to do, even if I wouldn't say that it violates the First Amendment.

Why do you think the Cobb county stickers would have any effect whatsoever on kid's views about evolution? Parents can just as easily tell their children that they have religious or philosophical objections to the theory. When you say,

Perhaps if the secularists release pervasive argumentation into our culture arguing that black holes disprove God, then believers would want a disclaimer on that topic, too. But that's not the reality in which we live.

You are being explicit about the religious nature of your objections. But the Cobb county stickers, for example, don't mention God, and don't mention that some people use evolution as a club with which to beat religious beliefs. So what good are they?


Posted by: Mike S. at February 10, 2005 6:06 PM
the Cobb county stickers, for example, don't mention God, and don't mention that some people use evolution as a club with which to beat religious beliefs.

This points to a difficulty with the current legal environment on which we'd probably agree more than disagree. The school couldn't mention God. As for others' use of evolution, I guess that's generally understood.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 6:12 PM

There's simply no doubt that evolution is "theory." That you see a community's "singling out evolution" as a threat to science suggests that scientists hold evolution as something more than a theory. For many, it's something more than science.

This is an illustration of what I find to be a major problem in public debate over science: misunderstanding exact scientific definitions when there is a colloquial meaning. A "theory" in science is, for all intents and purposes, a fact, especially one as unifying and un-disprovable as evolution. Sure, since nothing in science can be proven, no theory is 100% fact. But it's so well-supported by evidence that to not accept it would be foolish. A scientific "theory" is not a conjecture or possibility; that's a hypothesis.

So when you say "scientists hold evolution as something more than a theory", if you mean "scientific theory" you are incorrect, but if you mean the colloquial definition of a theory, as in conjecture or possibility, you are correct; we do hold evolution as as close to fact as you can get in science. In terms of science, it is in no way more or less provable then gravitation or atomic theory. And this is why exact definitions and proper science education is so important.

In such a case, those courses could explain the general observations of ID and counter the secular agenda that has come to accompany evolution. The ACLU would surely attack such classes.

I'm curious, Justin, where do you think this secular agenda is coming from? I've sat in on evolution being taught in classrooms and read a handful of high school textbooks; there is no metaphysics whatsoever in there. Teachers barely have time to cover evolution in any serious depth. And that's the problem, if teachers could cover it in depth, it's a great way to truly teach the scientific method and to learn what the natural world has to offer. I recenly ran a three-day workshop on DNA profiling with international high school students and in the Q&A session had to attempt to explain how, if incest was bad for genetic diversity reasons, what about Adam and Eve? And I had to attempt to do it without telling this kid that Genesis is just a story.

The major problem comes not from the secular world forcing materialist humanism down student's throats, but from Biblical fundamentalists who downright OPPOSE scientific findings because it contradicts their oh-so-precious-and-literal book. I'm not naive enough to think that this is an appropriate response to a secular world pressuring a religious one. It is a religous world that is immutable to it's physical surroundings attempting to manipulate the system to indoctrine more children into their warped fundamentalism.

Justin, you are Catholic, or so I've always assumed; this is the one area of discussion where you can and should be a voice of rationality and reason. Evolution is accepted by the Church because it is truth. Intelligent Design has absolutely no merit but to prop up the delusional ideas of a bunch of religious fanatics, plain and simple.

I'm sorry to be blunt and irate, but it really, really, really pisses me off to see Catholics defend this crap in any way shape or form. It's the one hot-button red-state issue that shouldn't have a Catholic anywhere near it.

Posted by: Michael at February 10, 2005 6:37 PM

It seems to me that phrases such as "their oh-so-precious-and-literal book" illustrate why you're having difficulty seeing me as the voice of reason that you wish me to be. It also raises interesting perspective on the same-sex marriage debate, in which those who take my side are presumed not to be able to separate their religious beliefs from their political policies.

The bottom line is this: in a pluralistic society we have to deal with people who disagree with us on absolutely fundamental issues. Some will insist that the Bible is absolutely literal truth in every particular; some look to their oh-so-precious scientific theories as the source of Truth. I agree that public schools teaching science oughtn't teach something that isn't science; that would be a sort of fraud. Catholics obviously have a different view of the Bible than fundamentalists.

But I also believe that our government has made far too many things into federal issues, to the extent that it is prone to effectively establishing a religion and removing the right to self-government. If a local government, right up to the state level, thinks that a sticker on a text book to state the obvious is important, I don't see why people in New York and Rhode Island should be able to reach across the nation and declare the sticker illegal.

(N.B. — I thought a law was "as close to fact as you can get in science"; you know, like gravity, which folks keep comparing to evolution, which is a theory.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 7:03 PM

It seems to me that phrases such as "their oh-so-precious-and-literal book" illustrate why you're having difficulty seeing me as the voice of reason that you wish me to be.

Yes, I am. Because I guess like you seeing any alignment with the ACLU should raise suspicion, I view any alignment with the fundamentalists as raising my suspicion. I understand you point that there is something other than science underlying the ACLU's decision to get involved, but there is something other than science underlying the decision to put stickers on a book. I also see where you would be wary of the way that secular humanists use evolution to their own ends, but you really shouldn't defend them in this position, at all, even if you sympathize with a few of their motivations.

Some will insist that the Bible is absolutely literal truth in every particular; some look to their oh-so-precious scientific theories as the source of Truth.

And both would be wrong. Science is *a* source of truth. It's not an either/or, and by allowing these stickers we make it so.

But I also believe that our government has made far too many things into federal issues, to the extent that it is prone to effectively establishing a religion and removing the right to self-government.

I find this interesting from someone who supports the FMA. However, separation of church and state is a federal issue and these stickers are suspect. Why would the state find the need to state the obvious, if not for an ulterior motive?

(N.B. ó I thought a law was "as close to fact as you can get in science"; you know, like gravity, which folks keep comparing to evolution, which is a theory.)

My bad. I should have known that gravitation was a law, not a theory. But a law really isn't proven either; it's actually just an assumed univeral truth, and it can be revised as Einstein did it to Newton, etc. Which is the reason I didn't bring it up because a law isn't a fact. A theory, once proven, can become a fact (although this really never actually happens). A law, on the otherhand, is presumed true, as in only an idiot would think that gravity doesn't exist.

Posted by: Michael at February 10, 2005 7:50 PM
separation of church and state is a federal issue and these stickers are suspect.

Well, an exaggerated reading of separation of church and state is one of the ways in which "our government has made far too many things into federal issues."

Why would the state find the need to state the obvious, if not for an ulterior motive?

I don't know. Why should I care about the ulterior motives of a state to which I've never been and to which I have no plans to move?

Incidentally, a key aspect of the argument for the FMA is that the federalization of one definition of marriage or the other is inevitable.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 10, 2005 7:55 PM

Michael: ďLack of information (gaps in the fossil record) does no damage to a theory. Just because science hasn't filled in all the holes doesn't mean that science won't do it.Ē

Mike S.: ďBy what criteria do you decide when a 'gap' is big enough to cast doubt on evolutionary theory?Ē

Iím not a biologist, but I know a fair bit about statistics. Itís quite easy to say whether a given sample conforms to assumptions about the underlying population. This is basic undergraduate social science statistics. If you collect 100 fossils and have a gap in what you assume to be an underlying smooth transition between species, then you can attribute it to randomness or sampling error. But when you collect a million fossils and still have the gap, then sampling error will not explain it.

Mind you, this isnít mere syllogistic reasoning. Weíre talking about mathematics that yield precise probabilities that a given sample came from a given population. Itís the same math that produces a margin of error on polls. My understanding of ID is that the statistics on fossil discoveries do not agree with evolutionary theory. Mathematically, we should have closed more of the gaps by now.

Those who actually work in evolutionary biology seem to understand this quite well:
http://www.genesispark.org/genpark/gaps/gaps.htm
http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/fsslrc03.html

Mike S.: Yes, of course we can observe natural selection in the present. Thatís not the same as observing evolution in the present. I have not doubt that you can turn a group of black roaches into red ones with a hammer, a radiation source, and some patience. But can you turn them into worms? Or mice?

Mike S.: ďDo you doubt the existence of black holes, Ben?Ē
I think that our theory about black holes is far less certain than, say, our theory of gravity. Thatís precisely because we canít fit black holes into our laboratories. Certainty doesnít have to be binary. Do you doubt that we know more about gravity than we do about black holes?

Mike S.: ďOur current versions of evolutionary theory explain a lot of the evidence. And there are no viable scientific (i.e. testable) alternatives currently available.Ē
Youíre assuming that we must have some theory to explain it. Why? Why is it never an option to say, ďWe donít know, and we donít have a theory that fits the evidence?Ē As I understand it, thatís what ID is all about: It isnít a theory, itís an observation of a theoryís inadequacy.

Mike S.: ďDespite having studied and thought about this issue for a long time, I'm still a bit mystified about why people insist on attacking the theory itself, instead of the correlative assumptions people make.Ē

Arguments about evolution make my BS-o-meter go crazy. Suppose that I doubt that gravity works as scientists believe. Youíll pull out some balls and a stopwatch to demonstrate it---maybe drop them off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Suppose that I doubt the existence of black holes. Youíll hand me a telescope and show me the areas in the sky where black holes are assumed to exist, as well as the theory of what must happen to a large star that runs out of fuel. Suppose that I doubt some historical event; suppose I believe in a second gunman on the grassy knoll. We can piece together eyewitness accounts and the Zapruder film to review the evidence.

But if I doubt evolution---however defined---then itís all different. There is no discussion of evidence. There are no demonstrations. Iím accused of throwing out red herrings and exhibiting ďa misunderstanding of how science operates.Ē And this is quite gentle treatment compared to the insults and lawsuits that evolution skeptics receive elsewhere. In a less conservative-friendly environment I would be called a knuckle-dragging Jesus freak who wants to drag all of society back into the dark ages. No doubt someone would use the word Ďtheocracy.í

I donít have the time or interest to get into a detailed discussion of the fossil record. Others have done that work and come to conclusions that strike me as plausible. What interests me is the emotional component. Itís just like global warming (or cooling, whichever theyíre claiming this week): People who attack their skeptics donít really know what theyíre talking about.

Those who support it so aggressively should look into the mirror and ask themselves why they get so excited about it. Do you stay awake at night worrying that one corner of some Kansas schoolchildís education may not accurately reflect up-to-the-minute scientific thinking? If so, you should have much more to worry about than evolution. Worry first if the kids can solve an algebraic equation. Worry about the obviously politicized enviro-junk pseudo-science that theyíre fed.

No, defending the scientific knowledge of the Kansas schoolchild definitely isnít the point of the discussion. So why the passion? Justin has explained what motivates the skeptics: The question carries immense theological implications. But why the vitriol against the skeptics?

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 10, 2005 8:06 PM

A personal story to illustrate the last point in the above point:

As a tax attorney, people will sometimes ask me if they can lower their taxes with such-and-such a gimmick. They sometimes get upset or argumentative if I don't give them the answer they want to hear. It doesn't upset me. I'm pretty sure I'm right. Maybe I'm wrong. But whether I'm right or wrong has nothing to do with what this guy thinks. His opinion is irrelevant---and so is mine. The only relevant opinion is that of the judge who ultimately rules on it. When I feel compelled to convince people that I'm right about some particular legal issue, I've learned to take that as a warning sign of my own subconscious insecurity about it.

I would feel the same way if I were a scientist specializing in evolutionary biology. Evolution either happened or it didn't. It doesn't change according to our opinion of it. Our opinions are irrelevant to the real science.

When you start worrying about what other people's opinions on evolution are (especially non-scientists' opinions), then you aren't doing science any more. You're doing something else. Maybe it's social change, maybe politics, maybe theology. But it isn't science.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 10, 2005 9:10 PM

Ben,

Well-written and stated!

I'm not a scientist and I don't know enough about this topic (I'm more concerned in slippery social science concerning marriage and ever-changing rationales and anti-democratic judicial decisions with no natural law attached. Sorry, I'll get back on-topic) to really contribute.

One thing: it shows the need for members of the PUBLIC to become more scientifically literate, and not just to this issue, but also towards abortion, cloning, and embryonic stem-cell research.

If ever there was a time for true scientific knowledge for the general public, this time is IT!

Aaron

Posted by: Aaron at February 10, 2005 9:36 PM

One thing that you might want to keep in mind is that Derbyshire supports Darwinism-Evolution because he is a circle sociobiologist, and Darwin-Evolution is dogma to them, especially the circle that he is in. Now, I'm not getting down on them for that. Darwin is dogma for most reputable informed scientists. And perhaps it's dogma for good reason, because that theory better explains our origins that any other. But the point is, we intellectually commit ourselves to certain ways of thinking which have dogmas in which we defend. It's interesting because Derb is part of a very socially conservative strain of sociobioligists. But these Darwinism AND interestingly enough, homosexuality having a biological origin, are two positions that they wholeheartedly defend.

Although I don't touch the evolution issue here, I explain this phenomenon further in this long post and I do elaborate on the sociobiologist group in which Derb is involved.

Posted by: Jon Rowe at February 10, 2005 10:25 PM

I'm with Ben on this one. I personally do not believe black holes exist. Then again, I don't really believe in Einstein's Theory of Relativity either. If it was such a darn good theory, why did he need a Specialized Theory of Relativity? Whether you are talking about scientific theory or colloquial theory, it's all conjecture in the first place. Just because you can get a handful or even many handfuls of facts to match a theory, nothing makes it a fact. Direct observations sometimes qualify as facts that might lead to proof of a theorem. Even gravitational effects are just symptoms of gravity, not a definitive proof of what gravity is.

Does anybody ever wonder why every half dozen years (that's just an approximation, so you barracks room lawyers don't need to go spastic on that one) nuclear physicist break out news of another handful of sub-atomic or sub-sub-atomic particles? It's usually followed by fund-raising for a bigger, better, more powerful atomic accelerator to smash them little bitty suckers even faster.

And what happens to the persons who have opposing theories? They are usually stone-walled, if not outright labeled crack-pots.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 10, 2005 10:25 PM

Ben:Itís the same math that produces a margin of error on polls. My understanding of ID is that the statistics on fossil discoveries do not agree with evolutionary theory. Mathematically, we should have closed more of the gaps by now.

Actually, ID says very little about the statistics of fossil discovires but it does touch on it. As for those links, they are a bit of a simplistic view of neo-darwinism. While natural selection is probably how most evolution works on a day to day basis, statistics tells us that there would never be a smooth transition in the fossil record because large populations would tend to dampen most mutations such that no change would occur on a large scale (think Republicans and Democrats dampening out the voices of Greens and Commies). But, if a small subset of a population gets isolated from the larger group, the statistical success rate of deviating mutations (Greens and Commies) is better and you get rapid mutation rates. It's called punctuated equilibria. If you combine that with theories of genetic drift, also statistically backed, gaps in the fossil record show little problem. It's also important to note how few fossils there exist, compared to individual organisms that ever lived, due to the extreme rarity of fossilization. These aren't problems with evolution; they just take a lot longer to explain than in a sound bite.

But if I doubt evolution---however defined---then itís all different. There is no discussion of evidence. There are no demonstrations.

Ben, with all due respect, this is just wrong. There are demonstrations. There are discussions of evidence. I linked you to 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution, above. It is COMPLICATED, but the evidence exists. To explain to Bill O'Reilly in a three minute segment in which he's shouting at you makes it appear as there is no discussion of evidence or demonstrations. Whether or not you like the evidence is irrelevent. Do you choose not to believe the evidence that I have provided for you is another story; but every scientist does. You'll choose to believe the eye-witness testimony of a second gunman but you won't believe the hundred of thousands of scientists who study biology??

I donít have the time or interest to get into a detailed discussion of the fossil record. Others have done that work and come to conclusions that strike me as plausible.

This is convenient. You don't have time to discuss this and you've chosen the few pieces of evidence that support your preconceived notions. You've ignored the scores of evidence, evidence that I have provided you, that in sheer number and probability outweigh the evidence you have chosen to believe. I am passionate about this because people I am passionate about science and education. And when I see it done wrong and with ignorance, it angers me. It has nothing to do about my insecurities about whether I am right.

One thing: it shows the need for members of the PUBLIC to become more scientifically literate, and not just to this issue, but also towards abortion, cloning, and embryonic stem-cell research.

Thank you, Aaron; you've voiced my concern to a tee. If science is taught correctly, if the scientific method is taught correctly, if people understood the terminology that scientists use in order to remain as precise as they can, they will be better equipt to enter into the dialogue. My problem with ID is not that people are questioning evolution; it's that their questioning evolution outside of the scientific framework. Scientists are constantly making and breaking hypotheses and there are very vocal members of the scientific community who argue vehemently against natural selection or punctuated equilibria and the RNA world for things like symbionic evolution and a metabolism-based cell origin. But they never step outside of the framework of the scientific method. Evolution works in so many areas. It fails in a few. ID picks at those few and proposes a theory that completely ignores and contradicts all of the areas that evolution that do work; that is not how theories are revised.

Darwin is dogma for most reputable informed scientists.

No reputable scientist believes in Darwinism. Darwin was wrong in many areas. As was Newton. We believe in neo-Darwinism or the combination of modern genetics and natural selection. By the way, Darwin, in 1859, more or less predicted genetics.

If it was such a darn good theory, why did he need a Specialized Theory of Relativity?

It was a great theory. It just wasn't complete. He didn't just toss out the original theory and start from scratch; he revised it when he got more data, into a theory that fit all the old observations and all the new observations. ID ignores much of the old observations. To not understand the difference between evolution v. ID and relativity v. special relativity is the exact reason why we are even having this debate in the public arena right now.

I repeat, again and again, details of evolutionary theory are being questioned all the time by scientists. And new scientists are free to question any theory. And they do. Repeatedly. My own work is minorly controversial and contrary to the opinions of many reputable scientists; but I don't ignore their work; I build upon it. And with new information I might have a better explanation. Or I might not. But that's how science works.

Posted by: Michael at February 11, 2005 11:46 AM

Actually Michael, I said that partly in jest. I don't think Einstein's Theories of Relativity (General and otherwise) are accurate or factual. Would care to speculate on how many physicists take it for granted that they are?

Posted by: smmtheory at February 11, 2005 1:07 PM

Actually Michael, I said that partly in jest. I don't think Einstein's Theories of Relativity (General and otherwise) are accurate or factual. Would care to speculate on how many physicists take it for granted that they are?

This is completely irrelevant. Completely. They are as accurate and as factual as they can be within the facts we have to work with. In fact, Einstein's theories have already been supplemented beyond his original ideas. As have Darwin's. However, they accurately describe all of the facts that we've gathered to the best of our ability. As does the theory of evolution. Evolution is the theory that most accurately describes the scores of data we have in fields such as genetics, palentology, geology, geography, chemistry, biochemistry and physics. It is completely irrelevent to say that they are accurate and factual. To what degree they are accurate and factual is what matters.

And it is this fundamental misunderstanding that is plaguing our public debates.

Posted by: Michael at February 11, 2005 1:43 PM

Michael,
Does this means you don't believe that observable phenomena or facts could fit more than one and even opposing theories? That would truly be a fundamental misunderstanding.

It seems to me that if the theory fits all the facts accumulated and being accumulated, it wouldn't be necessary to supplement it.

But my inability to accept as factual all that you accept as factual is not irrrelevant.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 11, 2005 2:25 PM

Michael: ďID says very little about the statistics of fossil discoveries but it does touch on it.Ē

I suspect that we have different definitions of ID. I take it to mean two basic mathematic objections to evolution: 1) sampling statistics on the fossil record show a low probability that groups change gradually over time, and 2) if you multiply [the likelihood of a given beneficial mutation per year] by [the number of such mutations that would be required to create higher life forms] you get a span of time far longer than the time in which life actually developed.

Both of those seem like fair questions to ask of evolutionary theory. I donít have the time or expertise to do the calculations myself, but I understand that those with the proper credentials have tried those calculations, and some of those people believe that the results throw some serious doubt on current theories of evolution.

Maybe ID is wrong. Maybe the skeptics ran their numbers wrong or started with erroneous assumptions. I donít know. But it seems a fair question to ask, and those who treat the skeptics as lepers make me skeptical, too.

ďstatistics tells us that there would never be a smooth transition in the fossil record because large populations would tend to dampen most mutations such that no change would occur on a large scale . . . But, if a small subset of a population gets isolated from the larger group, the statistical success rate of deviating mutations (Greens and Commies) is better and you get rapid mutation rates. It's called punctuated equilibria.Ē
That would be theory, not statistics. And that theory sounds much more like a description of the fossil record than something that would make sense at a microbiological level. If youíre going to fit your theory to the fossil record and say that changes from one species to the next happen really, really fast---so fast that we canít see it---then youíve got problem #2 above: As a matter of probability, how do you explain all those beneficial mutations in such a tiny time window?

ďThere are demonstrations. There are discussions of evidence. I linked you to 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution, above. It is COMPLICATED, but the evidence exists.Ē

Iíve looked at all the links you posted. www.talkorigins.com needs to redesign their site; the front page did something weird with tables that made Firefox crash. But once I managed to view it, all I saw was an online biology textbook. If thereís a convincing case for evolution in there, then they need to clear away the crud and make the point more succinctly. The other two links you posted seem to be blogs focusing on the politics of evolution, rather than the science.

Michael, I donít doubt that youíre entirely sincere in crusading for evolution. The best way to advance that cause is to move away from the cloud of condescension and jargon that obscures your position. You canít convince people until you take their questions seriously.

ďTo explain to Bill O'Reilly in a three minute segment in which he's shouting at you makes it appear as there is no discussion of evidence or demonstrations.Ē

Actually, I remembered last night where I developed most of my skepticism on evolution. It was a debate on the University of Texas campus about eight years ago. The guest speaker had written a book critical of evolutionary theory. It was a debate format. The guest speaker was to present his argument, and a UT professor (the head of a science department, I think) was to rebut.

Again, I rely to some extent on human nature. The guest speaker was clear and articulate. His questions and arguments made sense. He had lots of quotes, data, and anecdotes to support was he was saying. The rebuttal professor didnít know anything about evolution. All he could say was essentially, ďWell, everyone thinks that evolution is right, so it must be right.Ē

It got worse in the question-and-answer period. Plenty of students thought they could bring this quack to his knees. But it was clear from the conversation that he was way ahead of them mentally. He knew everything about what they believed, and they knew nothing about what he believed. These students couldnít even grasp the idea that someone could disagree with their orthodoxy. I went to the debate moderately supporting evolution and expecting a clash of intellectual giants. I came away embarrassed for the evolution supporters and astonished at how far ahead the skeptic was intellectually.

Everything Iíve read on the topic since has confirmed that impression. The support Iíve seen for evolution has been either 1) obfuscation: ďRead this gigantic jargon-filled, badly written biology textbook, and then youíll understand,Ē or 2) social attack, ranging from mild: ďItís all really complicated. Only us really smart people can understand it,Ē to severe: ďYou are one of those idiot religious types, are you?Ē

ďdetails of evolutionary theory are being questioned all the time by scientists. And new scientists are free to question any theory. And they do. Repeatedly.Ē

This draws us into a separate political question: To what extent should we assume the intellectual independence of scientists? I would love to believe that scientists are the independent truth-seekers that you make them out to be. But the evidence Iíve seen suggests otherwise. Many areas of academia openly discriminate on political views, and I wouldnít expect the situation to be any different in evolutionary biology. Evolution is, after all, a political subject. Itís sad that we canít trust academia on any subject with political overtones. But thatís simply the reality.

I would no more expect to find an evolution skeptic in a universityís Biology department than I would expect to find an evangelical Christian in its English department. (Didnít the Smithsonian sack someone recently for publishing an article critical of evolution?) In fact, I wouldnít be surprised to find a connection between that kind of systematic political bias and the fact that the serious skeptics of evolution today are mathematicians rather than biologists. Maybe nobody thought to screen the mathematicians working towards tenure for their views on evolution.

Maybe youíre the guy to fix all this, Michael. Maybe youíre the one who can toss aside the obfuscation and condescension. Maybe you can take these concerns seriously and explode them from the inside rather than attacking them from the outside. Treat it like an intellectual exercise: Start with the skeptical premises and try to disprove evolution with them. Read what the leading skeptics have said. Catalog and summarize them. Note the ones who you think are complete crackpots, and distinguish them from the ones who are sincere but misguided. Maybe youíll find some who make you pause and consider some angles you hadnít considered before. Even if you come back to exactly what you believe now, taking the skeptics seriously will improve you.

Iím not dogmatic on evolution, Michael. Iím just calling it like I see it. Right now, the typical response to critics of evolutionary theory sounds like a panicked defense of orthodoxy rather than a mature intellectual discussion. Maybe you can change that. If you do, Iíll be happy to listen with an open mind.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 11, 2005 2:25 PM

Does this means you don't believe that observable phenomena or facts could fit more than one and even opposing theories? That would truly be a fundamental misunderstanding.

No, I'm not saying that. There can be two opposing theories. They generally aren't called theories by scientists, they're hypotheses, some of them really well developed. Only when the facts become insermountable in one direction does it become a theory. ID, even if it were real science, could only be considered a hypothesis, mainly because for all this clamoring for evidence from evolutionists, there hasn't been one actual experiment done to test ID because it is completely untestable.

Ben,

I have a lot to say but I'm running off to a conference in California in an hour. But a few things: yes, I eventually want to be "that guy". I'm applying for fellowships to work in public science policy in Washington when I'm finished with my Ph.D. (no small part due to my general aversion for benchwork).

Secondly, yes the argument is clouded by jargon, but as I've been saying it is important to understand the language because proper definitions and understanding of science will help with that. The problem is that when it's brought down to a jargonless level, quacks like Dembski, Behe, and Wells can sell you a lot of snake oil. I recently heard William Dembski speak, and when he puts all these wonderful analogies and pretty pictures in his Powerpoint, you can really be persuaded. And scientists are notorious for trying to be accurate and a lot of the time their accuracy gets obfuscated. Plus, if scientists point blank admit that theories, as I've been explaining them, are constantly being revised, anyone with a preconceived notion that evolution is "wrong" simply says "aha! see they admit they're wrong and that Dembski fellow makes a lot of sense so I'm going to beleive him!" But when presented with the data, if it's not technical enough, it's easy to poke holes through and if it is technical enough to stand up to criticism, it hurts a layman's head. So that's why scientists are so up in arms about ID in schools, because if it wedges its way in, it's going to be that much harder to prove to the public it's a bunch of BS.

And speaking of data: it's www.talkorigins.org not dot-com. Sorry about that....

Posted by: Michael at February 11, 2005 2:47 PM

Ben,

Your experience with that debate is a perfect example of what drives scientists crazy. Science is not a debate - it depends on evidence. The fact that the ID guy was a good debater and the scientist wasn't is completely irrelevant to the truth or falsity of evolution. The fact that you found the ID guy more believable may be understandable, but that doesn't mean he was right.

I suspect that we have different definitions of ID. I take it to mean two basic mathematic objections to evolution: 1) sampling statistics on the fossil record show a low probability that groups change gradually over time, and

This has always been a complaint against evolution - there is nothing novel about it from the ID standpoint. But in any case, in order to calculate the statistics you have to make various assumptions (how many organisms were there, how frequently do fossils form, how many fossils would we expect to be available to us given geological turnover, etc., etc.) Many of these things are complete guesses (like how many organisms of a certain type were around 100 million years ago). Does that warrant the assertion that supernatural intervention was required?

2) if you multiply [the likelihood of a given beneficial mutation per year] by [the number of such mutations that would be required to create higher life forms] you get a span of time far longer than the time in which life actually developed.

Nobody knows precisely how to calculate the likelihood of a beneficial mutation, or how many are required to create higher life forms. What we do know is that organisms that have been previously classified as more closely related share greater similarities of DNA and/or protein sequences (i.e. chimps are closer to humans than mice, and chimp DNA is much more identical to humans than mice is to humans), and regions that are more conserved typically have important functions. No, we don't know the detailed explanation of how particular sequences got from the common ancestor to todays organisms, or the details of how sequence change relates to morphological change. But nothing that we know right now indicates that common descent is incorrect or intrinsically improbable.

Evolution is, after all, a political subject. Itís sad that we canít trust academia on any subject with political overtones. But thatís simply the reality.

I share your political views, for the most part. Why don't you trust my (expert) opinion that evolutionary theory is correct? I'm under no job-related risk of speaking the truth here. Why wouldn't I say so if I thought evolution had fatal flaws? I realize the Pope is not infallible, but he's hardly going to kowtow to secular orthodoxy, now is he? Why don't you trust his opinion on this matter?

"the serious skeptics of evolution today are mathematicians rather than biologists"

Can you provide any evidence for this claim?

As for patient rebuttals, there are plenty on Pandasthumb.org (don't read the comments - there are plenty of the emotional attacks you're talking about there - just read the original posts). You could also check out apologetics.org. Ironically, its a site supported by the ID crowd, but if you read the threads on the ID/evolution debate, you'll find an amazing amount of lucid descriptions of the evidence that supports evolution. You could also try reading "Finding Darwin's God" by Ken Miller.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 11, 2005 3:24 PM

Mike S.: ďOur current versions of evolutionary theory explain a lot of the evidence. And there are no viable scientific (i.e. testable) alternatives currently available.Ē

Ben: "Youíre assuming that we must have some theory to explain it. Why? Why is it never an option to say, ďWe donít know, and we donít have a theory that fits the evidence?Ē As I understand it, thatís what ID is all about: It isnít a theory, itís an observation of a theoryís inadequacy."

How else do you think science works? You observe something about the natural world. You develop a hypothesis and do some tests to see if your theory explains the observations you made. Then you predict other things you would expect to see based upon your explanation, and test to see if you observe those things. If you do, you have further support for your theory. If you donít, then the theory is wrong, in part or in whole. But scientists do not sit around and say, ďwell, I have a bunch of observations here, but Iím not going to try to explain them.Ē

You are exactly right that ID is solely a criticism of evolutionary theory, and offers no plausible alternative explanation. The question is, what do you mean by inadequacy? The main objection to evolutionary theory is that it rules out a supernatural explanation for the origin of homo sapiens. But all scientific explanations rule out supernatural explanations.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 11, 2005 3:25 PM
What interests me is the emotional component. Itís just like global warming (or cooling, whichever theyíre claiming this week): People who attack their skeptics donít really know what theyíre talking about. ... So why the passion? Justin has explained what motivates the skeptics: The question carries immense theological implications. But why the vitriol against the skeptics?

First of all, many scientists are passionate about science, and not because they are atheists - it's because they love science. Just like many lawyers are passionate about the law, whether they are liberal or conservative.

Regarding Benís personal story:

Your argument can just as easily be applied the other way: why should a fundamentalist Christian care what an evolutionary biologist says? Second, the point is not that ID proponents hold those opinions Ė it is that they are trying to give their opinions the imprimatur of scientific authority without following the established rules of science, as Michael said. Just because some scientists abuse the authority conferred on them by science to make pronouncements on theology, morality, or philosophy, doesnít mean that Christians or conservatives should imitate them. The law doesnít really work like science, which is why scientists and lawyers often have trouble communicating, but a more apt analogy would be this: a group of lawyers had spent years working out what the tax code should look like. Theyíd put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make the wording just right. Then some guy, whose read a couple of law books but hasnít done any actual legal work, shows up and decides to rewrite the tax code they so painstakingly established. That would piss you off, wouldnít it?

Posted by: Mike S. at February 11, 2005 3:27 PM

smmtheory,

Actually Michael, I said that partly in jest. I don't think Einstein's Theories of Relativity (General and otherwise) are accurate or factual. Would care to speculate on how many physicists take it for granted that they are?

Could you just lay out what you are getting at, rather than being cryptic? What do you mean when you say that GR is not accurate? I can understand the claim that it is not a 'fact', in the sense that it is a mathematical set of equations. The question is whether those equations coincide with observations we can make. So far, they do.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 11, 2005 3:31 PM

Some links:

apologetics.org
apologetics.org
(look for posts from The Barbarian and big cat)

American Scientific Affiliation
ASA Creation/Evolution page

Panda's Thumb

Posted by: Mike S. at February 11, 2005 3:40 PM

There are several well-informed voices here. I'd like to make a request at this point in the exchange. Feel free to tell me this is a poor idea and why...

Could different commentators step forward, each to take a stab at stating the essence of only one of the following -- in about 50 words?

1. Evolution.
2. Intelligent Design.

After that, we could move on to --

3. #1 and #2 are compatable.
4. #1 amd #2 are incompatable.

And perhaps then we'd return to the question of teaching in the classroom.

It may be a common observation among most of us here that science is very often misrepresented in our public schools where, for example, it would be very daring for a teacher to discuss the influence of religion on the creative mind of perhaps the greatest scientists who has lived.

"This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."

Isaac Newton, Mathematica Principia, 1686.

Posted by: Chairm at February 11, 2005 5:00 PM

Mike S: "a more apt analogy would be this: a group of lawyers had spent years working out what the tax code should look like. Theyíd put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make the wording just right. Then some guy, whose read a couple of law books but hasnít done any actual legal work, shows up and decides to rewrite the tax code they so painstakingly established. That would piss you off, wouldnít it?"

Mike S., what you've described happens all the time. It's called the legislative process. ;) Ask me some time what I think about a national sales tax.

(I assumed that you were a scientist, Mike S., but I didn't realize that you were directly involved in evolutionary biology. What do you do, exactly?)

ďwhy should a fundamentalist Christian care what an evolutionary biologist says?Ē

Because the evolutionary biologist---or those claiming to speak for him---wants to mandate what the fundamentalistís child will be taught in public school.

ďthe point is not that ID proponents hold those opinions Ė it is that they are trying to give their opinions the imprimatur of scientific authority without following the established rules of scienceĒ

I disagree with that. I donít think that ID proponents are trying to pose as scientific authorities. I think theyíre merely unwilling to cede to scientists the authority that the scientists think they deserve. Thatís why evolution is the battlefield on which religion defends itself against secularism.

The evolution debate breaks down into two sub-questions: 1) What is the status of evolution (however defined) as a scientific theory? 2) What should public policy be on the teaching of controversial scientific theories?

Consider the parallel to junk eco-science: Our schools are teaching millions of children absolute nonsense about climate change, overpopulation, recycling, and a dozen other ideas that are politically popular but scientifically questionable or simply ridiculous. Who do you take more seriously: someone who is skeptical about evolution or someone who is skeptical about manmade global warming?

The lack of symmetry there is part of the rage against evolution: The liberals have forced a wide variety of scientific nonsense on our children. But if some religious believers want their views reflected in public school---even limited to specific school districts---then the ACLU and MSM goes ballistic.

Scientists can think what they want. No one is pressuring them to disavow evolution. The real issue is in education policy: Who has the final say on what public schools teach children? I favor the parents over the experts, whether those experts are preaching the truth of evolution, fear of global warming, or the importance of teaching children how to put condoms on cucumbers. I say: Let parents and communities decide these things for themselves.

The ancient Greeks believed that Apollo carried the sun across the sky each day on his chariot. It was the best explanation they had for the phenomena they observed. No doubt many who heard that explanation wondered why a god had nothing better to do than ride around in the sky all day. Didnít he get bored? But the establishment of that time gave those skeptics the same response that evolution skeptics get today: 1) We must have an explanation for everything we observe. 2) This is the best explanation we have. 3) Therefore, you must accept it, and weíre going to teach it to your children.

Iíll stay a skeptic, thanks. I donít think we have any clue on how the species developed. I donít even think we yet have the foundational principles to get a clue, just as the ancient Greeks lacked the basic concepts behind why sun moves across the sky. But we share that three-step social syllogism with the ancients, and it is just as faulty today as it was thousands of years ago.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 11, 2005 5:23 PM

Chairm,

1. Evolution.

The theory that currently existing organisms are related by descent with modification from common ancestors.

2. Intelligent Design.

The claim that certain biological artifacts cannot be derived via natural processes, due to their complexity. It is a molecular version of Paley's watchmaker argument from the 1820's.

It's hard to answer the questions of compatibility, because there are different versions of ID. Michael Behe, one of the most high-profile ID supporters, doesn't dispute common descent, he merely claims that some biological artifacts cannot have arisen naturally. But on the other hand, ID promoters spend a great deal of their time and energy arguing that common descent is wrong - their whole point is to be incompatible with evolution.

There is a more general claim that ID represents the idea that the whole universe must be designed. That is what the quote from Newton refers to. All theists, by definition, think this is true, as well as any deists out there. The question is, is this a scientific explanation or a theological/metaphysical one? Can one rigorously prove that the universe (or a biological artifact) is designed? I think not. And I think, from a Christian perspective, that it is a mistake to claim one can. It sets up a false dichotomy between those things that we can 'detect' God's handiwork in and those we supposedly can't. But I see God's handiwork just as much in the Rocky Mountains as in the complexities of a cell. From a theological perspective, why should I argue that the latter requires some special supernatural intervention, while the former does not?

My view, from the perspective of teaching, is that biology classes should teach biology. And biology cannot be taught properly without evolution. If I were a high school biology teacher, I would emphasize that evolutionary theory is incomplete, and that while it conflicts with particular religious beliefs, it doesn't necessarily conflict with religious beliefs in general. But I would also explain the evidence supporting it.

The fact that public schools are often over-secularized and/or hostile to religious or Christian beliefs, is a problem. But that problem spans the whole school, not just the science classroom. As I keep repeating, the evolution question is the wrong place to focus. The right place is on the secularity itself, or on the assumption that evolution=secularism or materialism.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 11, 2005 5:33 PM

See, I would define intelligent design as:

The claim that certain biological artifacts cannot be derived via random natural processes, due to their complexity.

A few weeks ago, I caught the opening scenes of that new TV show with Captain Kirk as a lawyer (Boston Legal?). A school had instituted some sort of policy regarding ID, and the principal was looking for a lawyer to defend the policy. (William Shatner delivered this line perfectly: "This is Massachusetts; God has no place here.")

A short while later, the principal was on the stand explaining the policy, and what he was describing wasn't ID as I understand it, broadly or specifically. What he was describing was creationism. I think that's a large part of the difficulty in this discussion; everybody's using the terms to include a different variety of concepts and emphases.

Consequently, strong points against creationism are presented as if they are equally strong against even mild versions of ID. I'll tell you this: graduating public school in 1993, I was fully persuaded that evolution ruled out the hand of God. There's no doubt that a variety of influences led me to that conviction, many outside of school.

Still, I'm sympathetic to communities' frustration at being unable to teach — as if it could be true — that the hand of God is still visible. Any specific explanation is disallowed as indoctrination.

As I hinted in the post, one masterstroke of the secularists has been to get the moderates who fall on their side of the middle line to argue with the moderates on the other side in such a way as to allow the radicalism to continue.

P.S. — Anybody notice that the defenses of evolution could be reworded as defenses of religion. "We had a theory of God that fit much of the evidence, and as we've learned more about reality, we've supplemented that knowledge, and our understanding continues to improve." There are differences between science, per se, and religion, but I thought the parallel interesting.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 11, 2005 5:52 PM

Mike S.,
With respect to what is not accurate about the General Theory of Relativity, I can only post a small bit at the time. I will post more about it when possible, or if you would prefer I can correspond with you through email, but here is one of the things I find inaccurate...

"Are two events (e.g. the two strokes of lightning A and B) which are simultaneous with reference to the railway embankment also simultaneous relatively to the train? We shall show directly that the answer must be in the negative."

The inaccuracy is the fact that the simultaneity is dependent on observation relative to the event with respect to motion. At any given moment in time, motion is negated because motion is the effect of movement through time. Simultaneity removes the element of time of which the effect is to multiply velocity times zero. The fact that it takes time to propagate the light with which to observe the event does not affect simultaneity because that is after or post event.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 11, 2005 6:21 PM

Expanding on Mike Sís analogy of evolution to tax law, letís consider the national sales tax.

Iím a tax lawyer. I work frequently with both the federal income tax and the Texas sales tax.

Some conservatives like the idea of eliminating the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. I think that would be a terrible move for all sorts of reasons that are too numerous and complex to list here.

Letís suppose that Mike S likes likes the idea of a national sales tax. I try to talk him out of it, but my explanations donít register with him. The simplistic and erroneous arguments supporting it are more persuasive than my detailed and opaque reasons for opposing it.

So I pull out my expert club. I know about tax law and you donít, so you shouldnít argue with me about it. Itís all very complex and youíll never understand it. But trust me, a national sales tax is a bad idea.

Suppose that I donít persuade Mike S with that. He doesnít believe me. Maybe Iím just afraid of a simpler tax system because then I would be out of a job. (Donít tell me that one when Iím drinking something, or itíll come out my nose when I laugh.) The more stridently I emphasize my knowledge and his ignorance, the more tenaciously he clings to his beliefs. Itís illogical, but itís human nature.

Thatís where we are on the national sales tax, and itís where we should be. Experts may get some deference, but they still must persuade to affect public policy.

Now letís suppose that I go farther in opposing the national sales tax. Letís suppose that I get together a group of tax professionals, and we all announce that anyone who supports it is a raving, irrational lunatic. This doesnít win us any friends, but it makes us feel better. We adopt a long-term strategy of ensuring that schoolchildren are taught the evils of the national sales tax, so that the future will be ours.

Then we take the final step: We announce that no one may teach any view in public school other than ours. Think what you like at home, but weíre the experts, and we determine whatís allowed in public school. An economics teacher in some midwestern high school announces that he plans to make favorable remarks in his class about the national sales tax. My group sues, claiming that this view is so irrational that it amounts to religion in the classroom.

Thatís where we are with evolution. Thatís what people object to. Is it frustrating when people you usually admire and respect say things you know to be nonsense? Absolutely. But even experts must bow to democracy. If someone launched a serious movement for a national sales tax, then I would fight tooth and nail to defeat it in the public arena of ideas. And if it passed, I would work to get it repealed. But it would never even occur to me to try to forbid people from disagreeing with me. We just donít do that in this country.

Mike S, I suspect that we donít really disagree on too much about evolution. Should we forbid teaching evolution in public schools? Of course not. I donít that anyone has suggested that. Is there evidence to support evolution? Sure. But there are some major legitimate doubts about it. So teach those, too.

BTW, thanks for the mention of Michael Behe, whose articles appear here: http://www.arn.org/behe/mb_articles.htm. He has already written what Iím trying to say, but with far more knowledge and detail. (Though Iím merely a skeptic on evolution, while Behe arrives at a definite conclusion of intelligent design.)

Beheís writing is teriffic, and his examples detailed. I recommend his articles to anyone interested in this topic.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 11, 2005 7:36 PM

Mike S. and Justin, thanks for the description of terms. The arbitrary 50-word limit leaves room for any essential clarifications.


1. Evolution is the scientific theory that currently existing organisms are related by descent (with modification) from common ancestors.

[Mike S, does this slight edit still convey your meaning correctly? Are there limits to the rate and degree of modification? Are all current organisms descended from the same unique ancestor? The same singular organism?]

2. Intelligent design is the claim that certain biological artifacts cannot be derived via random natural processes, due to their complexity.

[Justin, is common ancestory ruled out or left open in the claim? And are "certain" artifacts more or less the "distinguishing" features of currently existing organisms?]

---

Before going much further on compatability/ incompatability, what is the difference between a theory and a claim, as these terms are used in the above descriptions?

If there is a range of versions of Intelligent Design, what is the best way to describe the axis that reaches across the spectrum?

Does the Theory of Evolution likewise include a range of versions?

Where I'm going with these two latest questions is a sort of four-cornered chart that indicates which versions of each are more and less compatable. Is that a useful way of shaping the outline of the discussion?

Posted by: Chairm at February 12, 2005 4:02 PM

I've written a long response - I'm going to split it up, and try to make the posts coherent.

Ben,

ďMike S., what you've described happens all the time. It's called the legislative process. ;) Ask me some time what I think about a national sales tax.Ē

Thatís why I said there are limits to the analogy. The law and science are very different animals, so itís difficult to draw analogies that are insightful to someone on the Ďotherí side.

ď(I assumed that you were a scientist, Mike S., but I didn't realize that you were directly involved in evolutionary biology. What do you do, exactly?)Ē

I study molecular evolution using (at the moment) computational methods. I spend a lot of time aligning 1D protein sequences with each other, and the 3D structures of those sequences with each other. In the case of protein sequences, we know analytically (that is, it has been derived mathematically) what the distribution of similarity scores is when you align random sequences against each other. Imagine beads on a string. You have a bucket of 20 different kinds of beads that you are putting on a string. Your friend is in the next room, doing the same thing. Suppose you then have a method of aligning the two strings next to each other, such that similar beads will be aligned, and a way of giving each alignment a score, such that more similar beads being aligned with each other results in a larger score. If you repeat this 1000 times, we know what the distribution of similarity scores will be. Thus, for any given similarity score, we can calculate the probability that that level of similarity is due to chance (in the same way that we can calculate the probability of rolling a 7 with a pair of dice).

OK, now imagine that there is a mirror that your friend in the next room can see you in. Heís trying to put the same beads on his string that you put on yours. Maybe he makes a few mistakes because of the mirror, so lets say out of 100 beads, he matches 87 of yours. The odds of that happening by random chance (i.e. if he wasnít looking in the mirror) are exceedingly small Ė much smaller than 1 in a billion. When we do these alignments with real protein sequences, say between humans and mice, we see probabilities like 1 in 10 to the 100th (a billion is 10 to the 9th). Now, I canít prove that those sequences are so similar because they are derived from a common precursor molecule, any more than I can prove that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. But that is the obvious explanation, when you place it in the context of all the other observations we have.

If anyone is interested in clarification, or further discussion of technical issues like this, shoot me an email.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 3:42 PM

Ben said,

I disagree with that. I donít think that ID proponents are trying to pose as scientific authorities. I think theyíre merely unwilling to cede to scientists the authority that the scientists think they deserve. Thatís why evolution is the battlefield on which religion defends itself against secularism.

If they aren't trying to pose as scientific authorities, why are we arguing over what should be in science textbooks? Who do you propose should decide what should be in science textbooks? And what authority do you cede to scientists?

The evolution debate breaks down into two sub-questions: 1) What is the status of evolution (however defined) as a scientific theory? 2) What should public policy be on the teaching of controversial scientific theories?

1) It's as solid a theory as any - actually more solid than most.

2) That's a good question, especially in areas that impinge on moral or political considerations (like human sexuality or global warming). But there isn't any scientific controversy over the basics of evolution - it's a political, philosophical, or religious controversy. As I said, if biology teachers are pushing an anti-religious view in the classroom, they should be challenged. But teaching the basics of evolution should not be.

"Who do you take more seriously: someone who is skeptical about evolution or someone who is skeptical about manmade global warming?

The lack of symmetry there is part of the rage against evolution..."

The lack of symmetry has everything to do with the relative amounts of data supporting each theory.

Scientists can think what they want. No one is pressuring them to disavow evolution. The real issue is in education policy: Who has the final say on what public schools teach children? I favor the parents over the experts, whether those experts are preaching the truth of evolution, fear of global warming, or the importance of teaching children how to put condoms on cucumbers. I say: Let parents and communities decide these things for themselves.

Where do you draw the line? Do you think it is acceptable to teach creation science (i.e. that the earth is only 6,000 years old, and that there is evidence for a worldwide flood a few thousand years ago)? If not, why not?

One problem with your argument is that in fact, most communities donít want ID and/or creationism taught. And those who push this agenda wage Ďstealthí campaigns to get elected to school boards, then only come out with their anti-evolution stance after getting elected. This is exactly what happened in Kansas a few years ago. Once people found out about the curricular changes, they voted out the ID/creationists and changed the standards back. And, the ID movement is a national one, with coordination through groups like the Discovery Institute and the IDEA center. It is a misrepresentation to claim that it is solely a matter of local communities deciding what will be taught without outside interference.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 3:58 PM

Ben said,

Iíll stay a skeptic, thanks. I donít think we have any clue on how the species developed. I donít even think we yet have the foundational principles to get a clue, just as the ancient Greeks lacked the basic concepts behind why sun moves across the sky. But we share that three-step social syllogism with the ancients, and it is just as faulty today as it was thousands of years ago.

What, exactly, are you skeptical about? Do you know any biology other than what youíve read from ARN and Behe? Do you know anything about DNA and protein sequences? Genetics? You can complain about ceding authority to experts all you want, but if you aren't conversant in some basic facts, it's going to be difficult to take your arguments seriously, from a scientific point of view. It would be as if I went in to argue with you about the tax code not having read the code. How can we even have a discussion if I don't know what the code actually says? And how am I supposed to discuss evolution with you if you don't know what the basic facts are that we're arguing about?

Are you skeptical that common descent occurred, or that we understand in detail how it occurred? If you don't think common descent occurred, what do you think happened? When you say ďI donít think we have any clue on how the species developedĒ, what are you basing that on? Do you think that generation of new species requires supernatural intervention, or what? Perhaps you can understand why I, someone who has been studying biology for 14+ years now, is skeptical that you have any idea what you are talking about when you claim we donít have the foundational principles to get a clue. Do you even know what principles we do have?

For my part, Iím skeptical about your account of the Greeks, both its accuracy and its relationship to the current situation. No scientist that I know claims that we must have an (scientific, I assume you mean) explanation for everything we observe. There are some who think that only scientific explanations count, but even people like Richard Dawkins acknowledge that science canít answer all questions. And what else are we supposed to teach science students, except our current understanding of how things are? If a parent doesn't like evolution, they can provide their kid with alternative explanations, or they can homeschool them, or enroll them in a parochial school. Nobody's 'forcing' anybody to accept evolution - they're just teaching them what the currently accepted theory is. If it turns out to be wrong, the textbooks will be changed. But there's no evidence right now that it is wrong.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 4:11 PM

Justin said,

Still, I'm sympathetic to communities' frustration at being unable to teach ó as if it could be true ó that the hand of God is still visible. Any specific explanation is disallowed as indoctrination.

But how do you Ďteachí this in a science class? It is an aesthetic argument, not a quantitative one, or even and observational one. Besides, youíre just invoking (or acceding to) God of the gaps here Ė God is Ďvisibleí in the areas we donít understand. Once we have a naturalistic or mechanistic explanation Ė poof, there goes GodÖ

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 4:15 PM

Iím sorry, smmtheory, but your post on relativity is nonsensical. Relativity is a mathematical theory Ė you have to discuss the equations in order to discuss the theory. We obviously canít do that on a blog comment section, and it would be difficult via email. But you definitely canít cast doubt on the theory with vague thought experiments. Just because something is counterintuitive doesn't mean it is incorrect.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 4:17 PM

"Beheís writing is teriffic, and his examples detailed. I recommend his articles to anyone interested in this topic."

From everything Iíve heard, Behe is a nice guy, but his argument is not complicated, and it is not new. In 1820 or so, William Paley made the argument that if you came across a watch sitting on the heath, you would know that it was designed by someone due to its intricate complexity. Now, Behe comes along in 1990 or so, and claims that [insert favorite biological subsystem here] is so complex that it must have been designed by someone. But think about it Ė Behe doesnít know all the laws of nature, because nobody understands them all. (Whether it is intrinsically possible for us to learn them all given enough time, or only God can know them all, is an interesting philosophical discussion, but is irrelevant to this one.) The strongest statement he can make is, ďI donít know how X came to be.Ē Ben is portraying the situation as one of the Darwinist saying ďIt must have evolved!Ē, with the IDer (calmly and rationally) saying, ďBut you canít explain x, y, or z about X, so how can you be so sure it evolved?Ē But the reality is that the Ider is making a much stronger claim: heís saying that X could not have arisen via and natural process.

But think about the problem: if Behe says that ďwe donít know how X got hereĒ, then it could have been via a supernatural route or an as-yet-undiscovered natural route. Given the tremendous success of science over the past 300 years at providing natural explanations for natural phenomena, it seems reasonable to assume that a natural mechanism will be discovered at some point that explains how X got here. But that leaves an out Ė saying that something might have arisen supernaturally doesnít lead (force?) anyone to consider the possibility that God exists. You have to claim that it must have arisen supernaturally. If you have the mindset that God only exists in the shadows, in the areas we donít understand from a naturalistic way, you require certain things to be beyond a naturalistic explanation.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 4:18 PM

Chairm,

1. Evolution is the scientific theory that currently existing organisms are related by descent (with modification) from common ancestors.

[Mike S, does this slight edit still convey your meaning correctly?

Yes, that is fine.

Are there limits to the rate and degree of modification?

Yes. But those are details.

Are all current organisms descended from the same unique ancestor? The same singular organism?

This is not a necessary component of the theory. Right now there is a lot of debate about whether the last universal common ancestor (LUCA Ė the common ancestor to the three branches of life: archaea, prokarya, and eukarya) is a single organism, or a collection of organisms that freely shared pieces of their DNA.

2. Intelligent design is the claim that certain biological artifacts cannot be derived via random natural processes, due to their complexity.

[Justin, is common ancestory ruled out or left open in the claim? And are "certain" artifacts more or less the "distinguishing" features of currently existing organisms?]

The claim hinges on the word Ďrandomí. Evolution doesn't claim that biological complexity arose 'randomly'. (The mutational pattern is stochastic, but the selection isnít. Plus there may be inherent rules of nature that allow complex systems to arise from simple ones. We're just starting to investigate these rules.) The key word is natural, not random. What IDers object to is the origins of human beings via natural processes. People often conflate two different meanings of 'random' when discussing evvolution: a stochastic process vs. existentialism (life is random, ergo, meaningless). But the weather is stochastic - does that make any of you think that God isn't ultimately in control of it? Why should evolution be any different?

---

Before going much further on compatability/ incompatability, what is the difference between a theory and a claim, as these terms are used in the above descriptions?

A theory makes testable predictions, and, generally speaking, has been tested against the data. A claim is typically more tenuous Ė it might be a hypothesis, or a suggestion, that hasnít been tested yet. In the case of ID, there is nothing to test Ė all it says is that evolution is wrong, but it doesnít offer any alternative explanation (except for supernatural mechanisms, which by definition cannot be scientifically tested).


If there is a range of versions of Intelligent Design, what is the best way to describe the axis that reaches across the spectrum?

I would say itís criticism of evolution.

Does the Theory of Evolution likewise include a range of versions?

The definition above is accepted by virtually every practicing scientist. The arguments occur over the mechanisms of evolution. For example, people argue over the extent to which natural selection accounts for biological complexity.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 4:32 PM
you're just invoking (or acceding to) God of the gaps here Ė God is 'visible' in the areas we donít understand. Once we have a naturalistic or mechanistic explanation Ė poof, there goes God

I'm invoking no such thing. Schools can't teach that evolution could itself be evidence of intelligent design. I'm not making any specific claims, here, just noting that I'm sympathetic to communities that are barred from acknowledging that God is even possible, whether they would do so in science class or in some other class.

As to the "how would they teach that," I have to say that I think the pro-evolution folks begin to lose the reality of K–12 education. Working on various textbooks, they're chock full of information that isn't directly related to the science, whether as examples or to create a sense of relevance. Teaching the theological relevance of science would be no different, except communities are barred from so much as whispering it.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 13, 2005 5:12 PM

"Teaching the theological relevance of science would be no different, except communities are barred from so much as whispering it."

Are you arguing that it is a good idea for public schools to teach specific theological concepts? How would you adjudicate between a young-earth creationist and an ID proponent like Behe?

"I'm not making any specific claims, here, just noting that I'm sympathetic to communities that are barred from acknowledging that God is even possible, whether they would do so in science class or in some other class."

Well, so am I. But like I said before, there are two separate issues here: 1) the strict secularization of public schools, 2) what should be taught regarding evolutionary theory in public schools. I think you make a mistake by conflating the two. In fact, I believe the amount of energy and focus placed on evolution actually detracts from the larger issue of 1). This is precisely because the focus is put on the theory itself - IDers and creationists actually deny or distort what the actual facts are. If they would restrict their focus to the worldview issues, they would make more headway, I think. The inability to bring Christian values into the classroom is far more problematic in a history or social studies class than it is in biology.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 5:32 PM

If everyone would read this short essay, I'd be much obliged. (Ignore the de Chardin quote at the end.)

Posted by: Mike S. at February 13, 2005 5:34 PM
... there are two separate issues here: 1) the strict secularization of public schools, 2) what should be taught regarding evolutionary theory in public schools.

Well, I guess I just don't see these issues as so separate. In practice, just about everything taught below college level is meant to be learned in a general sense. Most kids will forget it, and those who move on with a particular bit of knowledge will hone their understanding over time.

I do believe that schools oughtn't claim to teach evolution while they're teaching something else. I also believe that they ought to teach topics with the same degree of confidence or skepticism that scientists do. But I also see religion and community values as very relevant in biology. Such considerations oughtn't corrupt the science, but I don't see why a worldview-framing of biology is any less appropriate than a worldview-framing of history, as long as there are facts and then there's worldview.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 13, 2005 6:20 PM

Mike S, the Dobzhansky article you linked to demonstrates precisely the kind of breathtaking arrogance that makes this debate so intractable:

"Antievolutionists fail to understand how natural selection operates. They fancy that all existing species were generated by supernatural fiat a few thousand years ago, pretty much as we find them today."

Is every skeptic of evolution a young-earth creationist? Of course not. The ignorance is Dobzhansky's. He doesn't understand the objections, yet he writes an article in which he claims to respond to them. He is simply wrong in that statement, as a factual matter. But he doesn't see that, because he doesn't have enough perspective on what he's talking about.

But there he's just getting warmed up:

"Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry."

Is he not only a scientist, but a psychoanalyst as well? He has obviously strayed far beyond his competence, but he doesn't see that. He also fancies himself a theologian:

"Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not."

Mike S, knowing your background gives me a theory on your frustration with this. It's a perspective problem: You are deep inside of science, and therefore see it as the world. I am outside of science, and see it as a useful tool for acquiring knowledge---but only as a tool.

I majored in philosophy at Rice, which is dominated by scientists and engineers. I would get the strangest questions from them about what we talked about in philosophy class, such as: How can you generate any useful new ideas without acquiring some data to support them? At the same time I was majoring in psychology, so I completely understood the empirical mindset from which they were asking the questions. (Psychologists must be especially rigorous about scientific method and experimental design.) I used to joke in philosophy class that at the Dawn of Time the First Scientist opened the book of philosophy to a single page, titled: The Experimental Method. The First Scientist read that page, understood it, and ran off to try it, never reading any of the other pages.

The debate over evolution is a philosophical argument, not a scientific one. Scientists start with a metaphysical assumption of a clockwork universe comprehensible by human minds---because that's what their method requires. They aren't wrong in doing so, but they do it so uniformly and consistently that they often forget that the assumption exists at all. That's the mistake. There is a larger world of thought and logic out there. To understand the skeptics, you have to step outside of science and see that larger world. Mr. Dobzhansky obviously didn't understand that larger world. And worst of all, he didn't even realize that he didn't understand it.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 14, 2005 2:12 AM

Mike said:
"Iím sorry, smmtheory, but your post on relativity is nonsensical. Relativity is a mathematical theory Ė you have to discuss the equations in order to discuss the theory. We obviously canít do that on a blog comment section, and it would be difficult via email. But you definitely canít cast doubt on the theory with vague thought experiments. Just because something is counterintuitive doesn't mean it is incorrect."

And what is the origin of all math Mike? Is it not vague thought experiments? Did Newton find a formula for his laws of motion and then fit them to the idea of motion? I don't think so.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 14, 2005 8:59 AM

"And what is the origin of all math Mike? Is it not vague thought experiments?"

No, it is precise analytical thought experiments. In the case of special relativity, the equations Einstein came up with have been tested against real life measurements - and they agree with high precision. They also agree with General Relativity under the right circumstances.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 14, 2005 11:13 AM

Ben,

Is every skeptic of evolution a young-earth creationist? Of course not. The ignorance is Dobzhansky's. He doesn't understand the objections, yet he writes an article in which he claims to respond to them. He is simply wrong in that statement, as a factual matter. But he doesn't see that, because he doesn't have enough perspective on what he's talking about.

Youíll note that the essay was written in 1973, when creation science was the relevant challenge to evolution. ID, in its present form, had not arrived on the scene yet. So, in fact, the vast majority of people who objected to evolution at the time were young-earth creationists. And, the majority today still are Ė there are far more people who believe in a young earth and instantaneous creation of species than followers of ID.

"Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry."
Is he not only a scientist, but a psychoanalyst as well? He has obviously strayed far beyond his competence, but he doesn't see that. He also fancies himself a theologian:
"Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not."

Perhaps there are other reasons besides emotional blocks or plain bigotry for doubting evolution, but thereís no doubt that one has to be ignorant of the evidence (or intentionally distorting the evidence) in order to doubt its main claims. Are you arguing that scientists are not allowed to make theological statements? Now who's playing the 'expert' card? Note that he said 'religious faith' - i.e., as an intrisic matter. It may clash with particular religious beliefs, but not religious belief in general. Do you dispute the point?

Mike S, knowing your background gives me a theory on your frustration with this. It's a perspective problem: You are deep inside of science, and therefore see it as the world. I am outside of science, and see it as a useful tool for acquiring knowledge---but only as a tool.

So, itís OK for you to play psychoanalyst, but not Dobzhansky? In fact, I do not see science Ďas the worldí. I am deep inside of it, but I recognize it as a useful tool for acquiring knowledge, as you do. I know the limits of science. The main difference, I think, is that I know the evidence that supports evolution better than you do. You didnít answer my questions about what, exactly, you think happened, or what the limits of our knowledge, either currently or intrinsically, are.

I majored in philosophy at Rice, which is dominated by scientists and engineers. I would get the strangest questions from them about what we talked about in philosophy class, such as: How can you generate any useful new ideas without acquiring some data to support them? At the same time I was majoring in psychology, so I completely understood the empirical mindset from which they were asking the questions. (Psychologists must be especially rigorous about scientific method and experimental design.) I used to joke in philosophy class that at the Dawn of Time the First Scientist opened the book of philosophy to a single page, titled: The Experimental Method. The First Scientist read that page, understood it, and ran off to try it, never reading any of the other pages.

I am a Rice grad, too Ė Baker í95. There is no doubt that many scientists have the mindset you refer to. But it is a logical fallacy to assume that all scientists have that mindset. (And it is flat-out wrong that I have that mindset.) Iíll repeat my earlier query: what do you make of the fact that John Paul II does not see any major theological or philosophical problems with evolutionary theory as currently formulated?

The debate over evolution is a philosophical argument, not a scientific one.

Well, I would appreciate it if you could correct Johnson, Dembski, Behe, et al. on that matter. They are all quite adamant that ID is a scientific challenge to evolutionary theory. And that is precisely why there is a problem Ė if they were merely making your claim, then people would take them more seriously. But when they insist that evolutionary theory is wrong as a scientific matter, but offer no evidence that backs their claim up, they are derided or mocked as charlatans (rightly, on that score). Sure, some of that is due to anti-religious bigotry, but most of it due to the fact that they are misrepresenting the evidence.

Scientists start with a metaphysical assumption of a clockwork universe comprehensible by human minds---because that's what their method requires. They aren't wrong in doing so, but they do it so uniformly and consistently that they often forget that the assumption exists at all. That's the mistake. There is a larger world of thought and logic out there. To understand the skeptics, you have to step outside of science and see that larger world. Mr. Dobzhansky obviously didn't understand that larger world. And worst of all, he didn't even realize that he didn't understand it.

Let me rephrase your first sentence thusly,

ďScientists start with a metaphysical assumption that the natural world is rationally intelligible.Ē

To say that they start with that assumption because that is what their method requires is a tautology. Modern science grew out of the Christian theological argument that God was rational, that men were rational, and thus they could investigate the created order in a rational way. Now, it is true that science as a whole has largely become unmoored from its metaphysical foundations Ė modern scientists (generally speaking) donít have a good rationale for the assumption that the universe is rationally intelligible except for ďthat assumption has worked very well in the pastĒ Ė that is, an empirical rationale. This may cause them to draw erroneous metaphysical conclusions, but it doesnít necessarily impact their scientific interpretation of facts.

What I donít understand is where you are going with this argument Ė are you saying that the natural world is not, in fact, amendable to rational investigation? Are you saying that there is some inherent logical contradiction between evolutionary theory and some external principle?

I also donít understand why you only see this as a one-way street: you chastise scientists for being ignorant about philosophy Ė fair enough. But just because they are ignorant about philosophy doesnít mean their scientific conclusions are incorrect. They may draw incorrect philosophical conclusions based upon the scientific data, but that is a different question from whether evolutionary theory is correct or not. But you can be correct from a philosophical standpoint, and incorrect from a scientific standpoint. Yet you refuse to take this possibility seriously.

In fact, I think this is why you and Justin are taking the position you are - you are sympathetic with the philosophical arguments of ID. Well, guess what? So am I. The problem is that Johnson et al. are not honest about the delineation between science and philosophy. I think, in addition to being ignorant about the underlying data supporting evolution, you are ignorant about the evasive and misleading answers or statements Johnson, Dembski, and others in the ID camp make. You're defending the message, but you have to realize who the messengers are. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a conservative Christian like me to defend them on philosophical or theological grounds to nonbelievers, because they make so many incorrect statements about the science. They are either being willfully deceitful or willfully obtuse. If you pay close enough attention, you will observe this.

Just as one small example, do you know that Phil Johnson denies the connection between HIV and AIDS?

Posted by: Mike S. at February 14, 2005 12:09 PM

Justin said,

"Well, I guess I just don't see these issues as so separate."

That's because you buy into the evolution/secularism connection. The logic goes like this:

1) (Excessive) secularism is wrong.

2) Most people who are strict secularists 'believe' in evolution - some fanatically so.

3) Therefore, evolution must be wrong.

If it is, in fact, the case that evolution as we currently understand it is correct, and secularism is wrong, then it makes no sense to criticize evolutionary theory itself. It does make sense to criticize the secular outlook. As I keep repeating, if you criticize both at the same time, when there is abundant evidence that the former is correct, you simply confuse the issues and make it harder to argue the second point. As I said, Justin, I think, to the extent you're going to involve yourself in this issue (I realize it's not your 'thing'), you need to pay more attention to what Johnson et al. are actually saying. They say different things to different audiences.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 14, 2005 12:18 PM

Mike S.,
Back before the first Phoenician started numbering to keep track of the cows he had, all he had was a vague thought experiment in how to do so. If the use of negative numbers was so logical, why did it take so long for them to come into standard use?

Just the same, you asked me to tell you what I meant about inaccuracy in the General Theory of Relativity. I used a quote (from what I thought was Einstein's explanation of it) to demonstrate the inaccuracy that I saw in the thought process just to lay a foundation, but I can see that you want to restrict me from discussing the concepts which appear to be the foundations for Einstein's formula. That's the kind of attitude that keeps me from being a physicist. I'm too impatient to deal with that day after day.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 14, 2005 12:27 PM

smmtheory,

All right, I'll try playing along. It beats working... ;)

Back before the first Phoenician started numbering to keep track of the cows he had, all he had was a vague thought experiment in how to do so. If the use of negative numbers was so logical, why did it take so long for them to come into standard use?

I don't know. Are you going to tell me?

I used a quote (from what I thought was Einstein's explanation of it) to demonstrate the inaccuracy that I saw in the thought process just to lay a foundation, but I can see that you want to restrict me from discussing the concepts which appear to be the foundations for Einstein's formula.

That was my point - concepts are not the foundation for the theory, mathematical equations are.

That's the kind of attitude that keeps me from being a physicist. I'm too impatient to deal with that day after day.

Yes, well, physics is hard. You can't do it unless you can understand the math.

The inaccuracy is the fact that the simultaneity is dependent on observation relative to the event with respect to motion. At any given moment in time, motion is negated because motion is the effect of movement through time.

Simultaneity is due to two events happening at the same time in a particular reference frame (which includes both space and time coordinates). Motion is always relative to a particular reference frame. Thus two events that are simultaneous in one reference frame may not be in a different reference frame.

Simultaneity removes the element of time of which the effect is to multiply velocity times zero. The fact that it takes time to propagate the light with which to observe the event does not affect simultaneity because that is after or post event.

Simultaneity does not 'remove' the element of time. The simultaneous event occurs in a particular reference frame. It's meaningless to say 'the effect of which is to multiply velocity times zero' without providing some context (i.e. an equation).

The whole point is that at slow speeds (relative to the speed of light in a vacuum), the event will appear simultaneous in both reference frames. It is only if the train is moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light that the lightning strikes won't appear simultaneous on the train. This is intimately related to the fact that information about the event cannot traverse the distance between the lightning strike and the train faster than the speed of light.

All of this has been confirmed in exquisite detail in our various particle accelerators.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 14, 2005 1:46 PM

Mike S.: ďAre you arguing that scientists are not allowed to make theological statements?Ē

Not at all. But they should realize that they do so as non-experts.

Mike S: ďthereís no doubt that one has to be ignorant of the evidence (or intentionally distorting the evidence) in order to doubt [evolutionís] main claims.Ē

No, thereís another option: We could doubt the premises behind the science. Thatís the point Iím trying to make.

ďSo, itís OK for you to play psychoanalyst, but not Dobzhansky? In fact, I do not see science Ďas the worldí.Ē ď(And it is flat-out wrong that I have that mindset.)Ē

It was just a theory, Mike S. Donít take it personally. Non-scientists can theorize too, canít we?

ďThe main difference, I think, is that I know the evidence that supports evolution better than you do.Ē

Thatís why I point to Mr. Behe, who obviously knows plenty of biochemistry but arrives at much stronger anti-evolutionary conclusions than I do.

ďwhat do you make of the fact that John Paul II does not see any major theological or philosophical problems with evolutionary theory as currently formulated?Ē

Iím not a Catholic. Iím not deeply interested in what the Pope says. It would take some study to distinguish what he actually said from what the press said he said. Besides, like Behe, my objection isnít religiously motivated. Itís epistemological.

ďJohnson, Dembski, Behe, et al. on that matter. They are all quite adamant that ID is a scientific challenge to evolutionary theory.Ē

I suspect thatís more a matter of the philosophical imprecision that permeates discussions of evolution: How do we distinguish science from philosophy? Beheís main argument about irreducible complexity certainly isnít scientific in the narrow sense. He didnít run an experiment in a laboratory to see if you could build a mousetrap with random forces. He engaged in what I would call pure philosophical reasoning. Perhaps he uses the term Ďscienceí to encompass what I would call philosophy, that is, the pursuit of knowledge or understanding by any means. Without solid definitions, itís just a word game.

ďYou didnít answer my questions about what, exactly, you think happened, or what the limits of our knowledge, either currently or intrinsically, are.Ē

I think that I donít know what happened. I may even know that I donít know what happened. That the crux of the debate, as old as Socrates: Can we acknowledge what we donít know?

ďI am a Rice grad, too Ė Baker í95.Ē
What a small world! Iím Wiess í92.

ďWhat I donít understand is where you are going with this argument Ė are you saying that the natural world is not, in fact, amenable to rational investigation? Are you saying that there is some inherent logical contradiction between evolutionary theory and some external principle?Ē

What Iím saying is that evolution (or more precisely the comprehensible clockwork universe from which evolution is only one step removed) is a premise of microbiology rather than a conclusion.

Somebody said in this thread that evolution was falsifiable and ID was not. I think thatís backwards. I can think of no set of data that would lead science, narrowly defined, to conclude that God or some intelligent being created life. No matter what the data are, it will always be possible to construct a theory of how it happened based on a premise of a comprehensible clockwork universe.

Again, thereís nothing wrong with that premise---as long as we recognize it as a premise. Mathematicians assume that X equals X. Itís essential that they do so. But they canít prove it, precisely because itís one of their assumptions.

Or think about it from this direction: What alternate hypothesis do the data on evolution disprove? Unless Iíve missed something big, there isnít an alternate hypothesis within the respectable scientific community. So of course the data fit with evolution, because itís the only thing they could fit! And when the data arenít what the scientists expect, as when the fossil record stubbornly refuses to show gradual changes between the species, then that doesnít disprove evolution. It just means that evolution is right, but in a different way, which they now call punctuated equilibria.

Science, narrowly defined, requires an assumption of a comprehensible clockwork universe. That doesnít make it true.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at February 14, 2005 2:00 PM

"It was just a theory, Mike S. Donít take it personally. Non-scientists can theorize too, canít we?"

I didn't take it personally - I was just pointing out that you were doing the same thing you criticized Dobzhansky for. I'd rather you speculate about my motives and take Dobzhansky's speculations seriously, rather than the reverse.

"Thatís why I point to Mr. Behe, who obviously knows plenty of biochemistry but arrives at much stronger anti-evolutionary conclusions than I do."

Does he?

"Iím not a Catholic. Iím not deeply interested in what the Pope says."

But you discount the opinions of academics simply because they are academics - they're 'tainted' by the secular orthodoxy. The Pope, I assume we can agree, is not so tainted, and arrives at the same conclusion.

Now, with the following quotes, I think we're beginning to get somewhere:

"No, thereís another option: We could doubt the premises behind the science. Thatís the point Iím trying to make."

"Besides, like Behe, my objection isnít religiously motivated. Itís epistemological."

"Science, narrowly defined, requires an assumption of a comprehensible clockwork universe. That doesnít make it true."

So you aren't just questioning evolutionary theory - your questioning science itself! That's an interesting position to take, but it is quite a bit larger project than changing some high school textbooks.

You keep using the phrase 'clockwork universe', but I don't know what that means. It used to refer to the deterministic picture portrayed in Newton's time: there are fixed laws that are always obeyed, and the initial conditions set the future course of events. But quantum mechanics and chaos theory, among other developments, have demolished that view of nature (perhaps you know of philosophical arguments to that effect). So, what exactly do you mean by it?

"No matter what the data are, it will always be possible to construct a theory of how it happened based on a premise of a comprehensible clockwork universe."

First of all, you have to define what you mean by 'data'. Second, there are lots of conceivable observations that could be made/could have been made that would falsify, or at least cast serious doubt on, evolution. For example, if we found human fossils in the same rockbed as dinosaur fossils. Third, I think you are massively begging the question here of what the definition and limits of science are, but I'll have to ponder it a bit more. Perhaps, if you are so inclined, you could provide me with a brief description of what you think the current definition of science is, and what your alternative definition would be.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 14, 2005 3:20 PM

Mike S:
"I don't know. Are you going to tell me?"

From a quote at www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk on Math History - "There is no reason why anyone should introduce negative numbers just to be solutions of equations such as x + 3 = 0. In fact there is no real reason why negative numbers should be introduced at all. Nobody owned -2 books. We can think of 2 as being some abstract property which every set of 2 objects possesses. This in itself is a deep idea. Adding 2 apples to 3 apples is one matter. Realising that there are abstract properties 2 and 3 which apply to every sets with 2 and 3 elements and that 2 + 3 = 5 is a general theorem which applies whether they are sets of apples, books or trees moves from counting into the realm of mathematics.

Negative numbers do not have this type of concrete representation on which to build the abstraction..."

"Yes, well, physics is hard. You can't do it unless you can understand the math."

I took two college level calculus courses (the second relied on principles taught in the first) three years apart and got an A in both. The math is not that difficult for me.

"Simultaneity is due to two events happening at the same time in a particular reference frame (which includes both space and time coordinates)."

The same time - as in a fixed time; that time being referred to as T0 - no matter which reference frame an observer might happen to be in wouldn't you agree? Or are you saying that time is dependent with respect to different reference frames? If each reference frame is designated differently, can it not be said that Ta0 = Tb0 = Tc0 with a, b, and c being the different reference frames?

"Motion is always relative to a particular reference frame."

Now motion in most cases is given the formula of V = d / t (Velocity = displacement div. by time) where t = Ta1 - Ta0. Since with a simultaneous event moment Ta1 = moment Ta0; subtracting one from the other would give zero and we cannot divide by zero, we correct the equation for t by multiplying both sides of the equation with t giving V X t = d (Velocity mult. by time = displacement). In this case V (whatever it might be) multiplied by a t of zero = a displacement of zero. Inertia, but no motion at Ta0.

At simultaneous events of Z and Y seperated by distance D, all three reference frames have plenty of inertia, but absolutely no displacement (motion).

I don't know about your book, but in my book that signifies that simultaneous events are simultaneous no matter what the observer's reference frame happens to be, or what ever motion the reference frame happens to experience. Or is all that too vague?

Posted by: smmtheory at February 15, 2005 1:18 AM

I'm beginning to think I am now being ignored.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 16, 2005 1:16 AM

smmtheory,

In answer to the question, "why did it take so long for them to come into standard use?"

you say, "Negative numbers do not have this type of concrete representation on which to build the abstraction..."

So what?

"Or are you saying that time is dependent with respect to different reference frames?"

Yes.

"If each reference frame is designated differently, can it not be said that Ta0 = Tb0 = Tc0 with a, b, and c being the different reference frames?"

No, you cannot say that. Check out this page for a succinct description.

"I don't know about your book, but in my book that signifies that simultaneous events are simultaneous no matter what the observer's reference frame happens to be, or what ever motion the reference frame happens to experience."

Your book is wrong. At relativistic speeds, different reference frames will have different measurements of t0. Like I said, just because it is counterintuitive doesn't mean it is wrong.

"I'm beginning to think I am now being ignored."

I'm still waiting to hear Ben's novel epistemology of science... ;)

Posted by: Mike S. at February 16, 2005 10:01 AM

Mike S. said:
"At relativistic speeds, different reference frames will have different measurements of t0. Like I said, just because it is counterintuitive doesn't mean it is wrong."

That is one article of faith I cannot profess to believe. Not so much because it is counter-intuitive, but because it is contra-logical. Perhaps you only meant the observance of time. Perhaps you only meant the arbitrary measurement relative to one's frame of reference. But basically, what you are saying is that -and let's concentrate specifically on one half of the s.e. because what is true of one half will be true of the other- the simultaneous event (which in effect has it's own frame of reference) that happens at one spatial coordinate that coincidentally intersects all the frames of reference (relativistic or not) will happen at different times in each frame of reference. Is that it?

Sorry, that ain't logical to me. The only way I can see that happening is if all the frames of reference have no intersection. <humor>You're not in my frame of reference, so you go experience your own simultaneous event.</humor>

What makes more logical sense to me is that time is universally independent of any frame of reference. I think I should point out that it is not so much the math that I am having trouble with, it is the parameter that time is flexible.

Think about this. How would a person go about measuring time at relativistic speeds? The decay of an atom? At relativistic speeds when an atom is traveling at near light speed, the sub-atomic particles cannot go whizzing around at nearly twice the speed of light, can they? Would relativistic speed increase or decrease the timing of the decay of the atom?

Posted by: smmtheory at February 16, 2005 1:16 PM
What makes more logical sense to me is that time is universally independent of any frame of reference. I think I should point out that it is not so much the math that I am having trouble with, it is the parameter that time is flexible.

That may make sense to you, and it is the way people usually think of time because that is how we experience it. Time is not flexible, it is relative to your reference frame. And it only differs from your concept of time at speeds approaching the speed of light in a vacuum. You will never experience this, but particles in an accelerator do, and we can make measurements that confirm that special relativity is correct. Read the page I sent you, and ask me specific questions in reference to it. That's the only way we will make any headway (assuming you want to). Unless you ask me specific questions, and not just your own musings about how you think things should be, I will have to start ignoring your posts. You can continue to 'disbelieve' special relativity all you want - it will have impact on your life and mine.

"Think about this. How would a person go about measuring time at relativistic speeds? The decay of an atom? At relativistic speeds when an atom is traveling at near light speed, the sub-atomic particles cannot go whizzing around at nearly twice the speed of light, can they? Would relativistic speed increase or decrease the timing of the decay of the atom?"

That's precisely one of the ways we can test special relativity - particle decay. Basically what happens is that from the laboratory frame, the particle should decay sooner than it does. But when you transform to the particle's reference frame, time dilation means that it decays at the proper rate in it's own reference frame - it's just that that rate appears different in the laboratory frame.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 16, 2005 1:57 PM

ďMy own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.Ē - J.B.S. Haldane

Surely, smmtheory, you acknowledge that God, the infinite creator of the universe, is not fully comprehensible by us finite creatures. You have no problem, I would guess, acknowledging your ignorance in the spiritual or theological realm. Why the difference when it comes to the physical world? I don't mean that you don't understand special relativity - I mean that even the most brilliant physicists and mathemeticians don't understand why relativity has such weird effect, or why the speed of light is constant, or why quantum mechanics has such bizarre properties. Even though the mathematical descriptions are well understood and have been tested rigorously, there are still limits to our knowledge. But you seem convinced, in this case, that your powers of reasoning can refute 100 years of scientific confirmation of special relativity. You want to insist that scientific theories 'make sense'. I see a faint resemblance here to those who think their powers of reasoning can refute thousands of years of marriage traditions.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 16, 2005 2:08 PM

Sorry, the post before last should have said, "it will have no impact on your life and mine."

Posted by: Mike S. at February 16, 2005 5:04 PM

What kind of argument is this?

"I see a faint resemblance here to those who think their powers of reasoning can refute thousands of years of marriage traditions."

Is it designed to cut off further discussion? Very well, it has because I am now insulted.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 16, 2005 9:09 PM

"What kind of argument is this?"

It wasn't designed to cut off discussion - it was designed to point out that it takes a certain amount of arrogance (or obtuseness) to claim that you have figured out that special relativity is wrong, when physicists the world over have confirmed it many times, to a high degree of precision. It's not as if there's any kind of argument out there in the scientific community (or outside of it, for that matters) that relativity is wrong.

It would be different if you were claiming that you didn't understand it, or didn't understand how it could be correct - but you claimed that it must be wrong. That is arrogant.

Posted by: Mike S. at February 17, 2005 8:16 AM

Calling me ignorant and arrogant is not designed to cut off discussion? You have a peculiar way of looking at things indeed Mike S.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 17, 2005 9:34 AM