News

Loading...

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Evolution of Bull

Over in Talk Origins, in their Post of the Month(!), are some seriously silly statements about science:
"If evolution was wrong, it would not be accepted by scientists."

Right, just like if geocentrism was wrong, it would not have been accepted by scientists for 2000 years, and if phlogiston theory was wrong, it would not have dominated chemistry for a century, and if there was no ether, that concept would not have been used to explain light for 100 years, and scientists never would have spent several decades ridiculing the theory that beer fermentation depended on a living organism...

Defending evolution is one thing, but the above is silly science worship. (I'll also note that the folks at Talk Origins seem to blur the difference between the theory that life evolved from a common ancestor over hundreds of millions of years, the evidence for which I find compelling, and the sub-theory that it evolved solely by natural selection of random mutations, a far shakier proposition, IMHO.)

"Or do you really think that we are smart enough to work on things like cancer treatments, while at the same time being so stupid that we can't understand a basic algebraic proof that shows the impossibility of evolution?"

The version of the above circa 1550: "Do you really think we could construct great cathedrals and castles and trebuchets and aqueducts and be so stupid we couldn't understand a simple proof that geocentrism is wrong?"

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:34 AM

    The claim of the post isn't that you should believe evolutionary biology because evolutionary biologists are smart people. It is that evolutionary biologists are certainly smart enough to understand the arguments presented by creationists; and if they understand them, the post asks, why aren't they swayed by them?

    For example, the old creationist canard of "evolution breaks the second law of thermodynamics" is spoken by people who have usually never even heard of the second law outside creationist books, and certainly have little or no understanding of what it actually means. It is directed at biologists and biochemists who often use thermodynamic calculations as part of their daily job. If the argument held any value whatsoever, you could expect to see those biochemists scratching their heads and saying "well, yes - evolution is obviously impossible". But they aren't doing so, because that particular argument is pure nonsense (as anyone who understands the second law knows well enough).

    Or to take your phlogiston example; imagine a bunch of people saying "Phlogiston theory is wrong because water freezes when you heat it up". Even though phlogiston theory is itself wrong, their argument would be wrong as well, independently of the phlogiston theory itself. And by the same logic, the creationists using the standard BS arguments are wrong irregardless of whether theory of evolution itself is true or false.

    That was supposed to be the point of the post. The intended recipient understood it well enough, although he (as expected) didn't change his mind.

    Also, a minor quibble: heliocentrism was adopted well before experimental science really took off. It is a stretch to call previous geocentrists "scientists", although some isolated cases can be so described. The phlogiston theory wasn't entirely wrong, either; it started off as a reasonable hypothesis based on then-existing evidence, and was updated as the science of chemistry progressed, and oxygen was discovered.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "The claim of the post isn't that you should believe evolutionary biology because evolutionary biologists are smart people. It is that evolutionary biologists are certainly smart enough to understand the arguments presented by creationists; and if they understand them, the post asks, why aren't they swayed by them? "

    OK, I'm not claiming the creationist arguments are good, but this doesn't work -- 16th century astronomers were smart enough to buy the arguments of Copernicus, they just didn't buy 'em -- I believe 50 years after his death, there were roughly four (!) Copernican astronomers.

    "Also, a minor quibble: heliocentrism was adopted well before experimental science really took off. It is a stretch to call previous geocentrists "scientists", although some isolated cases can be so described."

    Well astronomy is not experimental, for the most part! But Ptolemaic astronomy was based on extensive observation, and made predictions and fit the data fairly well -- just about as well as Copernicanism did. (It wasn't until Kepler that you had a heliocentric system empirically significantly better than any geocentric one.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous9:24 AM

    "OK, I'm not claiming the creationist arguments are good, but this doesn't work -- 16th century astronomers were smart enough to buy the arguments of Copernicus, they just didn't buy 'em -- I believe 50 years after his death, there were roughly four (!) Copernican astronomers."

    Again, this was well before modern science. At that time, people still had to follow the teachings of the Church, or risk the fate of Giordano Bruno. Once freedom of thought and expression came into vogue, the speed at which incorrect (but theologically preffered) ideas were rejected dropped significantly.

    Also, as you say yourself, there wasn't that much evidence to support one over the other before Kepler came along. Here, we are talking about preponderance of evidence on one side, opposed by arguments that are in vast majority of cases astonishingly ignorant of basic science. It's not like there is a controversy centered on basic algebra, or on "cosmic dust influx", or on the size of the Sun, or on any other of the hundred canards routinely employed by creationists.

    ReplyDelete