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Monday, December 26, 2005

More From the Lovers of Reason

The Passion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

From this article, where this physics graduate (so an expert in evolutionary biology) refers to Intelligent Design (ID) proponents as "nuts" and "people without scientific backgrounds," you wouldn't know that ID is endorsed by plenty of people with PhDs in relevant areas, such as chemistry, geology, etc.

Mark my words, folks: If one had to choose between the Bible thumpers and the extreme Darwinists, I think the former are closer to the truth. I'm not saying the Genesis account is a perfect description of what happened, but I believe that within 50 years, the theory of common descent will finally break under the mounting pressure. Don't listen to that old codger Gene. I hear he's an alcoholic.

26 comments:

  1. Bob,

    Why do you think the former is closer to the
    truth?

    Lot's of people with a PhD are nuts. (And soon there will be another one... :-) )

    Gene believes in common descent, just not
    in Darwinism.

    Rob

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  2. Anonymous11:48 AM

    "ID is endorsed by plenty of people with PhDs"

    Then why did Discovery Institute need four years to collect four hundred signatures on their loosely worded "carefully examine evolution" sheet, while a petition directly and explicitely worded against ID collected 7733 signatures within four days?

    And why aren't any of those PhDs doing any research in support of ID?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous,

    BM: "ID is endorsed by plenty of people with PhDs"

    Then why did Discovery Institute need four years to collect four hundred signatures on their loosely worded "carefully examine evolution" sheet, while a petition directly and explicitely worded against ID collected 7733 signatures within four days?


    I'm not familiar with the events you're describing, but assuming your description is accurate: Are you saying 400 scientists is short of "plenty"? Maybe they were reluctant to sign on because it would kill their careers.

    And why aren't any of those PhDs doing any research in support of ID?

    I think this is another misguided objection, that ID has no "peer-reviewed" research. The people who believe in ID certainly use well documented data etc. in support of their theory, but of course the vast majority of their peers disagree with their conclusion.

    Michael Behe, e.g., talks about the flagellum (sp?) ad naseum. If I'm not mistaken, a lot of the things he mentions about it are indeed based on his own research. Now if he sent such an article to a journal, and concluded with, "Because of its complexity, clearly the bacterial flagellum cannot have arisen through evolutionary processes alone," the referees would make him strike it or it wouldn't get published.

    So if your argument is, "You can't get an ID paper published in a mainstream journal," I concede the point. I just don't think that's such a great argument.

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  4. Rob,

    I know Gene believes in common descent. That's why I warned everyone of his alcoholism.

    And my reasons for assuming the Bible-thumpers are closer to the truth are basically that I don't think all terrestrial life forms share a common ancestor, and hence most of the Christian rhetoric on this is correct.

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  5. Anonymous8:03 AM

    "I'm not familiar with the events you're describing, but assuming your description is accurate: Are you saying 400 scientists is short of "plenty"?"

    As to the accuracy, here is a list:

    http://shovelbums.org/content/view/156/527/

    As to whether 400 scientists is short of plenty, yes. Far short of plenty. You could get more Ph.D. signatories to the statement in lines of "I believe hundreds of people get abducted by aliens every year". Especially with vague wording such as that used by DI, and especially since only a few of the Ph.Ds on the list are in fields that are anywhere near science.

    "Maybe they were reluctant to sign on because it would kill their careers."

    Signing such a statement would most definitely not kill anyone's career. I find it quite incredible that people keep repeating that, while a simple visit to a few departments can establish that quite a few professors and postdocs have their own kooky beliefs and idiosyncrasies. A doctorate is not proof against all illogic.

    "I think this is another misguided objection, that ID has no "peer-reviewed" research. The people who believe in ID certainly use well documented data etc. in support of their theory, but of course the vast majority of their peers disagree with their conclusion."

    The objection isn't that ID has no peer-reviewed research. The objection is that they have no research whatsoever. They have performed zero experiments, have zero data, and zero evidence. They have opinions, which are worth...well, zero.

    Let me explain. I am a research scientist (biophysics). I deal with things these people talk about as a part of my daily job. Now, I can check everything they say - if they actually said something of substance. I would like some firm definitions, some formulas...anything that I can actually use in the lab. I would like some firm, reproducible method that would allow me to look at structure A, look at structure B, and then say "ok, structure A is irreducibly complex, and structure B isn't".

    But there aren't any such definitions. There is *nothing* that can be applied to reality. Michael Behe will go to a witness stand, wave his hand, and dismiss tons of research in evolution of immune system (if you want to se an intermediate form of immune system, by the way, check the last issue of Science, the text on lamprey adaptive immunity). When they ask him how he knows irreducible complexity, he says he knows it when he sees it.

    That is nonsense. Science is based on facts, not opinions.

    "Michael Behe, e.g., talks about the flagellum (sp?) ad naseum. If I'm not mistaken, a lot of the things he mentions about it are indeed based on his own research. Now if he sent such an article to a journal, and concluded with, "Because of its complexity, clearly the bacterial flagellum cannot have arisen through evolutionary processes alone," the referees would make him strike it or it wouldn't get published."

    Absolutely not true. He did try (he is the only one that ever did). Since he couldn't get the nature to cooperate, he made up a computer simulation (a really bad and faulty one, as responses to his articles quickly pointed out, demolishing his conclusions). He submitted it, and since the journals are trying really, really hard to avoid exactly the kind of prejudice you impute to them, it got published (see Behe and Snoke, Protein Science 13:2651). They can get journal space even just by being coherent enough for a few pages: Lonnig published a paper in Annual Review of Genetics (again, a paper that is demonstrably falsified by evidence of last thirty years; but at least the ideas follow each other in some semblance of logic).

    But they have nothing else. No experiments, just theoretical fiddling and mathematical simulations (faulty ones, to boot). If they did any experiments, and got experimental data, they could get it published. If a journal refused to publish it, they could publish it online, or send it to other people in the field. Data speaks for itself; facts are impossible to hide, especially in this day and age.

    Flagellum, by the way, isn't irreducibly complex - as far as we know. There is no data that supports irreducible complexity of flagellum. In fact, all data we do have fits with evolutionary thery quite fine. The problem here is that we don't have a lot of data about most of flagellum; which allows ID proponents to talk about it as they do. Since nobody has the data, nobody can prove them wrong. It's kind of like claiming that there is a species of unicorns living under the surface of Pluto; nobody can prove you wrong until someone actually gets to Pluto and starts digging.

    Let me give you a really good way ID proponents could support their case. Bioinformatics: analysis of genetic and proteomic data. At the moment, the entire multibillion dollar bioinformatic industry is based on evolution. Searching for genes of interest is based on tracing evolutionary changes over time, via several predictive algorythms. ID proponents say that instead of common descent, we have common design. Fine. They can then make a new algorythm, which would allow data analysis based on common design, and they could get better results then when using evolutionary algorythms. But such efforts are strangely missing from the picture.

    And let me end by saying this: I don't care if you believe in evolution or not. This has nothing to do with evolution, in fact. The major problem here is that you have a group of complete hacks - people who are stunningly ignorant, but are pretending to be experts. Snake oil salesmen at their best. These people are publishing books filled with concepts and ideas that are *wrong*. They are wrong, and they would be wrong even if evolutionary theory is completely false.

    And they are getting large amounts of money, they are getting media exposure, and they are getting people to believe in them; people even want to teach their lies in schools. They are tricking the American public, and since the public doesn't understand the subject anywhere near well enough, they are getting away with it. It is the same story as with classical creationism a few decades earlier.

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  6. >And my reasons for assuming the Bible-thumpers are closer to the truth are basically that I don't think all terrestrial life forms share a common ancestor, and hence most of the Christian rhetoric on this is correct.

    Bob, Ok, if we're not all descended from the
    same common ancester, how does that imply
    the creationist or ID view is correct?

    An of course I was just joking about Gene,
    I know he's not crazy. I did not know he was an alcoholic though...

    Rob

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  7. Anonymous,

    We're not going to resolve this in this forum. (And let me admit that you obviously know more details of many of these things than I do.)

    But I must disagree with you when you say there isn't a firm definition of irreducible complexity. The definition is, "Too complex to have originated step by step through gradual mutation and adaptation." As Gene pointed out in his article, this is falsifiable: You just have to give a convincing account of how, say, the human eyeball could have arisen in increments.

    Now where the stickling point comes in is how plausible each step would be. E.g. I've heard Darwinians give stories about the human eye, or the bacterial flagellum, and the ID people of course just say balderdash, the chance of that happening is blah blah blah.

    So if you're just saying that this definition of "implausible" is loose, okay, but other than that, I think it's specific enough.

    In any event, once I get hired full time and my son is old enough to occupy himself, I want to spend a lot of time researching the classification scheme by which they place organisms in nested groups. The testable prediction would be that the books in a library have the same score. If so, then that helps the fundamentalists and hurts the Darwinians. But I would have to do a lot of research before even formulating the claim.

    One of my lifetime goals is to research this stuff enough to formulate such testable claims that would help or hurt each of the theories.

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  8. Rob,

    You probably already know this, but for the benefit of readers, let me make clear that I'm friends with Gene and am just kidding about his alcoholism...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous10:21 AM

    "But I must disagree with you when you say there isn't a firm definition of irreducible complexity. The definition is, "Too complex to have originated step by step through gradual mutation and adaptation." "

    Yes, but how do you ascertain which ones are too complex? There is no way of doing this. It is an empty definition, which leads to this:

    "As Gene pointed out in his article, this is falsifiable: You just have to give a convincing account of how, say, the human eyeball could have arisen in increments."

    Such accounts have been given for every single "irreducibly complex" structure. For development of sight, this has been done in excruciating detail. The ID proponents simply discount them with "I don't believe your just-so stories". Since there is no firm definition, you see, "convincing account" means "whatever I'll accept as convincing", which in case of ID proponents boils down to "nothing".

    "and the ID people of course just say balderdash, the chance of that happening is blah blah blah."

    While, at the same time, uttely failing to provide any math that would allow other people to calculate such chances. Here is the thing: every single time you hear an ID autor say that the chances of something happening are such-and-such, that is not a calculated number (don't believe me? check it yourself). It is something they simply made up on the spot. The ones better at their jobs, like Dembski or Behe, *never* do such things. They just say its "impossible", without ever explaining why.

    They do this even when they are overwhelmed by evidence to the contrary, like Behe did on the witness stand. If you check the books he discounted, you'll find out that he was *lying* - to the judge, and to all of you who believe in ID.

    "In any event, once I get hired full time and my son is old enough to occupy himself, I want to spend a lot of time researching the classification scheme by which they place organisms in nested groups. The testable prediction would be that the books in a library have the same score. If so, then that helps the fundamentalists and hurts the Darwinians. But I would have to do a lot of research before even formulating the claim."

    Well...I mean no insult, but this above is pretty much parallel to someone saying to a doctor that "Once when I have time, I intend to spend a lot of time researching the correlation of bacteria to the disease; the testable prediction would be that there will be a radom correlation, not a causal one as you people say."

    If you go and study some bioinformatics, you'll find out that it is vastly more complex and rigourous then you seem to imagine. If it could be felled by tests such as the one you propose, it would have crumbled a long, long time ago. I know - for a fact, at this moment - that you will fail. I have done many analyses more complex then what you propose as exercises in my graduate courses.

    But you can hardly be expected to believe me; so by all means go on and do it. Check it for yourself. What I would really like, however, is if you waited until you actually did it, and got those testable claims, before you started attacking evolution.

    At the moment, it's all a bit silly. You are unaware even of how much you don't know, yet you criticize professional scientists (again, I mean no insult - I'm just trying to explain my perception of this situation; I hope you can take it in that sense).

    May I recommend subscribing a magazine such as, say, Nature? It's worth the money even if you don't believe in evolution, and after following it for some time, hopefully you can get a grasp on just how much research, on how many different lines of approach, is going on out there. The things are orders of magnitude more complex then you seem to imagine them to be...

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  10. Anonymous,

    You're not insulting me, but let me offer the possibility that I'm not quite as ignorant as you think. Again, I don't think that these prove I'm an expert by any stretch, but if you read this article and this one, you'll see that I'm familiar with the basic arguments for Darwinism.

    Now let me come back and say that your incredible confidence in your position leads me to question just what you're "proving" in your graduate courses. That's why I want to really understand the cladistic analysis etc. before I say more, but I'm concerned that some of it may be tautologous. (I know, I know, you'll say it's not.) And the reason I cling to these doubts are twofold:

    (1) I have caught acknowledged experts in the field making tons of invalid arguments, apparently not even realizing that they are assuming their conclusion. (I admit that's not proof they're wrong.)

    (2) In economics, where I am an expert, I adhere to a minority band who are analogous in many respects to the outcast PhDs who propound ID.

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  11. Anonymous,

    Can you be more specific about how Behe lied? (I'm asking that without sarcasm; if Behe is indeed a liar, I want to know so I don't associate with him.)

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  12. Anonymous9:58 PM

    Dang, y'all, Bob was served!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous12:08 PM

    "You're not insulting me, but let me offer the possibility that I'm not quite as ignorant as you think. Again, I don't think that these prove I'm an expert by any stretch, but if you read this article and this one, you'll see that I'm familiar with the basic arguments for Darwinism."

    I apologize again, but to me it seems as if you didn't read the contents of the books in order to learn about "Darwinism" (which, by the way, is a terrible way to refer to theory of evolution). You read them in order to find points which you could attack. Not surprisingly, this type of reading is not very productive, and you make many errors. To pick just a few:

    - you, correctly, claim that there are many arguments about mechanisms of evolution among biologists. Then you interpret this as biologists being ignorant of the basic mechanism of evolution, which is wrong. Biologists know very well about mechanisms of evolution; the squabbles are about minor details. The major mechanisms have all been observed both in laboratory in nature, and are reffered to as the FACT of evolution (which the theory of evolution then puts into scientific context, much like theory of gravity does with the fact of gravity).
    - You repeat the "opponents of evolution say that odds are astronomical" canard. Since nobody (yet) knows how life arose (which is abiogenesis, not evolution), nobody can say what the odds are. What ID guys do is pick an arbitrarily complex structure, deem it neccessary, and then pull the odds number out of thin air (again, if you don't believe me, ask to see the "math" behind those odds calculations; it's quite hilarious).
    - You claim that evidence that is consistent with a hypothesis isn't evidence for the hypothesis. If this was so, we could pretty much lock up all of our labs and go home, as all research science becomes impossible.

    Etc. There are more (including the fact that you have not refuted Futuyama - since self-consciousness of humans transceds the mechanisms of evolutionary theory). And that is just one of the papers. I won't even go into the genetic code argument you went into, as that is my area of expertise (I worked on tRNAs for a while, and the wobble position reading), except to say that you are so thoroughly wrong that your contention would be absolutely incorrect even if we tomorrow prove that the Genesis story of the Bible is indeed literally correct.

    "Now let me come back and say that your incredible confidence in your position leads me to question just what you're "proving" in your graduate courses."

    Again, this is kind of like saying to a MD that "your incredible confidence in the germ theory of disease leads me to question just what you're 'proving' in med school". But there is a simple way to find out: take one of those courses.

    "That's why I want to really understand the cladistic analysis etc. before I say more, but I'm concerned that some of it may be tautologous. (I know, I know, you'll say it's not.)"

    That isn't the problem. You can doubt as much as you wish, of course - doubt is good for you. The problem is that you are writing extensively against evolution, using faulty arguments and directly wrong information; you do this while saying that eventually you'll go and try to learn enough to verify it - whereas, you really should be doing things the other way around.

    "(1) I have caught acknowledged experts in the field making tons of invalid arguments, apparently not even realizing that they are assuming their conclusion. (I admit that's not proof they're wrong.)"

    After there is a million pieces of evidence for some theory, people will, I'll grant you, assume that the million-and-first fits as well. But then you can check it out and refute it, if neccessary.

    "(2) In economics, where I am an expert, I adhere to a minority band who are analogous in many respects to the outcast PhDs who propound ID."

    Ah, thence the liking for statistical arguments. But if you are an economist, you should be able to check the math behind ID-er probability calculations. Did you do so?

    "Can you be more specific about how Behe lied? (I'm asking that without sarcasm; if Behe is indeed a liar, I want to know so I don't associate with him.)"

    His Dover testimony sticks out in memory - he discounted a ton of research on vertebrate immune system evolution with a wave of his hand, while that research included examples (living, water-breathing examples) of exactly the kind of transitional systems he said were impossible. Blood clotting also - there are currently existing organisms that use truncated forms of the clotting system (even some that employ similar branching systems for vastly different uses). Most of the examples in his book (except for those that are not yet understood well enough) are quite laughable.

    But mostly, he lies by omission. He presents, to an audience mostly ignorant in genetics and biochemistry, "arguments" for complexity. At the same time, he completely ignores structures that are vastly more complex and involved, but that have evolved quite recently. See vancomycin resistance gene set, for example. Or, if you like the mechanistic arguments ("outboard motor") type of analogies, go and check HIV docking:

    http://www.hivinfosource.org/animation/cell_entry.asf

    ...not to mention other aspects of HIV life cycle. These are two examples I particularly like, but I could literally give you dozens, if not hundreds.

    Second main omission are examples of absolutely jury-rigged design in biochemistry and physiology. There are so many systems that work in completely insane, inefficient, wasteful and occasionally counterproductive ways that the designer is either a total incompetent, or those systems arose through evolution. The current focus of my research, PARP-1 protein, is an excellent example.

    It's hard to say if he's knowingly lying. I would guess not - I think that he simply feels compelled to reconcile his faith with his knowledge of science, and science suffers in the process. What is particularly sad is that he doesn't realize that he is insulting and belittling his own God in the process. By insisting that he, Behe, knows the truth (i.e. that his particular interpretation of Christianity is the true description of God), he takes an absolutely glorious idea of God that modern science allows, and trades it in for a primitive and ludicrous concept of deity that made a lot of sense to bronze-age nomads. But I better finish here before I go too far off topic.

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  14. Anonymous,

    We obviously don't know each other, so let me just state upfront that the following will sound hostile but it's not supposed to. (And anyway, apparently you "served" me earlier so I have to return it...)

    I apologize again, but to me it seems as if you didn't read the contents of the books in order to learn about "Darwinism" (which, by the way, is a terrible way to refer to theory of evolution). You read them in order to find points which you could attack.

    Actually, you're completely wrong. When I was in college I was a complete atheist, and spent time trying to convert my Christian friends. I read Futuyma's book and thought it was great.

    A few years ago I became a Christian. I still believed in evolution (your preferred term), because I thought the scientific evidence was absolutely overwhelming.

    My wife didn't believe in it; she (yuck yuck) believed in the literal Genesis account, and she also believed Jonah was swallowed by a whale etc. (I thought that was amusing.)

    So I went to the library and got Futuyma's book to let her know how hard it was going to be for her to maintain her worldview, and on a lark I got Johnson's book too.

    She was busy with schoolwork and the library books were just sitting there, so I started reading them. And you know what? Since I could possibly doubt Darwin's story--whereas when an atheist, I really couldn't; he had to be right--Futuyma's arguments seemed much worker, and Johnson's seemed quite strong at times.

    And the reason I call it "Darwinian theory" rather than evolution is the tons of emails I got from people saying "evolution happens every day." And that's true; it does. No IDer is denying that life forms evolve over time. What the Bible-thumpers really deny is the theory of common descent, but rather than typing that out every time in a blog comment, I choose "Darwinian theory."

    - You repeat the "opponents of evolution say that odds are astronomical" canard. Since nobody (yet) knows how life arose (which is abiogenesis, not evolution), nobody can say what the odds are. What ID guys do is pick an arbitrarily complex structure, deem it neccessary, and then pull the odds number out of thin air (again, if you don't believe me, ask to see the "math" behind those odds calculations; it's quite hilarious).

    Give me a break. First of all, how is it an "error" on my part to summarize one of Johnson's arguments, when I'm writing a summary of Johnson versus Futuyma?

    More important, I do exactly what you want me to do in the article; I lament that neither side at the Notre Dame conference spelled out exactly what the situation was that had to be analyzed statistically.

    - You claim that evidence that is consistent with a hypothesis isn't evidence for the hypothesis. If this was so, we could pretty much lock up all of our labs and go home, as all research science becomes impossible.

    Are you talking about the second essay? If so, did you read the several paragraphs I devoted to explaining what I meant by that, and acknowledging the obvious sense in which scientific hypotheses are corroborated by consistency with the data?

    There are more (including the fact that you have not refuted Futuyama - since self-consciousness of humans transceds the mechanisms of evolutionary theory).

    Can you clarify? Futuyma said if we ever found a species altruistically serving another, that would refute evolutionary theory. I said homo sapiens do it all the time. Now what's your way out of this?

    I won't even go into the genetic code argument you went into, as that is my area of expertise (I worked on tRNAs for a while, and the wobble position reading), except to say that you are so thoroughly wrong that your contention would be absolutely incorrect even if we tomorrow prove that the Genesis story of the Bible is indeed literally correct.

    Please feel free to not spare my feelings. I.e. go into just how wrong I am, even if Genesis is literally true. (That sounds sarcastic; it's not.)

    BM: "Now let me come back and say that your incredible confidence in your position leads me to question just what you're "proving" in your graduate courses."

    Again, this is kind of like saying to a MD that "your incredible confidence in the germ theory of disease leads me to question just what you're 'proving' in med school". But there is a simple way to find out: take one of those courses.


    Okay, and it's also like saying to an economics Ph.D.: "Your incredible confidence that market inefficiencies have been mathematically proven leads me to question just what your assumptions are in the proofs."

    (I get the sense from your other comments that you're not familiar with my economics work; so the above analogy is intended for the onlookers who believe in free markets.)

    The problem is that you are writing extensively against evolution, using faulty arguments and directly wrong information; you do this while saying that eventually you'll go and try to learn enough to verify it - whereas, you really should be doing things the other way around.

    That sounds very definitive and crushing, but I don't think it's a very fair description of the situation. There are people arguing for evolution and against it, and I wrote an article evaluating the controversy. I never once said in either article, "The theory of common descent is wrong." (I said that in a blog post, sure; I hope I don't have to get a Ph.D. in biochemistry before being entitled to shoot my mouth off on a blog where I also talk about being trapped in bathrooms where someone didn't flush.)

    I don't have to be a trained biologist to say when I think a particular biologist's argument for evolution is faulty.

    Now, besides all that stuff, I agree with you that the IDers really ought to come up with a falsifiable prediction that would either help or hurt their position vis-a-vis the mainstream view. And, if it comes down to it, I myself may try to formulate such predictions once I study this more.

    It's hard to say if he's knowingly lying. I would guess not

    Okay, so you don't think Behe is a liar. What you are really saying is that Behe is very misleading because of his gross ignorance. Okay.

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  15. Anonymous1:17 PM

    She was busy with schoolwork and the library books were just sitting there, so I started reading them. And you know what? Since I could possibly doubt Darwin's story--whereas when an atheist, I really couldn't; he had to be right--Futuyma's arguments seemed much worker, and Johnson's seemed quite strong at times.

    Johnson's arguments seem strong? Let me quote from your text: "One of Johnson’s strongest arguments is his claim that evolutionists simply must believe in the theory, because for them, no other explanation is possible." This is, admittedly, a very well crafted argument - the basics is true, scientists have no choice but to believe in evolution. But the reason why is quite different then what Johnson implies. The reason is quite simple: nobody has provided any testable alternatives. When you, or anyone, finds a way to testably interpret life on earth, you can bet that scientists will listen.

    Just a random example; but Johnson's book is, in general, very, very bad.

    As for atheism-evolution link, it is true that about 50% of biologists are atheists. The rest, however, are religious, many very deeply. And the atheists tend to be of the implicit kind - they do not believe in God since they see no evidence of one; they would believe if evidence is provided. Thus, a vast majority of biologists are quite open to theistic ideas, with stipulation that they have to make sense first.

    "And the reason I call it "Darwinian theory" rather than evolution is the tons of emails I got from people saying "evolution happens every day." And that's true; it does. No IDer is denying that life forms evolve over time. What the Bible-thumpers really deny is the theory of common descent, but rather than typing that out every time in a blog comment, I choose "Darwinian theory.""

    You do understand that Behe doesn't deny common descent, nor do many of the more "scientific" ID proponents?

    I have to say that you lose me here. I cannot see a way to get around all the evidence for common descent - all the transitional fossils, all the genetic information... It would take an incredibly detailed deception on the part of the designer to make the universe that supports the idea of common descent in so many independent ways. To refute common descent, you have to refute literally dozens of lines of evidence, with thousands to millions datapoints in each.

    As for "darwinism", your definition is lacking. What Darwin said a century and a half ago has been built upon and developed so far that many parts bear little resemblance to the original. Quoting "The Origin of Species" as an authoritative book on evolution today is kind of like quoting a medical text from the same period - the text isn't necessarily wrong, but details certainly are.

    "Give me a break. First of all, how is it an "error" on my part to summarize one of Johnson's arguments, when I'm writing a summary of Johnson versus Futuyma?"

    Because you are stating it as a good argument. Lamenting that it doesn't provide the exact math is an afterthought. You should say "I'll believe it when I see how you got that result". You are stating it as a reasonable thing, whereas it is a number pulled out of thin air.

    Actual calculations exist; see Nilsson and Pelger, 1994: "A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve." Proc R Soc Lond B 256:53.

    And therein lies the rub. That evolution that does happen, the kind that every ID-er admits - nothing else is required. Those basic processes we observe every day will radically change a species, unless the environment is almost absolutely stable. Your job, therefore, isn't limited to disproving evolution - you have to explain to us how is it possible for life to exists for millions upon millions of years without evolving drastically new branches. If there are biochemical mechanisms that would prevent an ape evolving into something else, possibly a human, we haven't found them.

    "- You claim that evidence that is consistent with a hypothesis isn't evidence for the hypothesis. If this was so, we could pretty much lock up all of our labs and go home, as all research science becomes impossible.

    Are you talking about the second essay? If so, did you read the several paragraphs I devoted to explaining what I meant by that, and acknowledging the obvious sense in which scientific hypotheses are corroborated by consistency with the data?"

    Here is the quote, from the first paper: "Futuyma is not merely claiming that the hierarchical classification of organisms is consistent with the theory of evolution; instead he is claiming that the hierarchy itself is evidence for evolution." It is at the end of a paragraph that presents this as an almost unbelievable presumption.

    Futuyama is precisely correct. The evidence that is consistent with a theory supports the accuracy of the theory, while the inconsistent evidence means that the theory requires revision. I'll take this opportunity to yet again note that ID movement has yet to produce any evidence inconsistent with theory of evolution.

    "Can you clarify? Futuyma said if we ever found a species altruistically serving another, that would refute evolutionary theory. I said homo sapiens do it all the time. Now what's your way out of this?"

    You can assign it to my bias, but I would say that Futuyama is obviously reffering to nonintelligent species. Humans, being capable of seeing and comprehending the larger scale of the world (as well as being capable of actions that are completely insane from the viewpoint of any other species on Earth), no longer fit within the evolutionary framework; at least, not in that sense.

    "Please feel free to not spare my feelings. I.e. go into just how wrong I am, even if Genesis is literally true. (That sounds sarcastic; it's not.)"

    It's not that. It is just that the explanation would take more text then the combined comments so far; it's too much, and this discussion is at the moment taking my allotment of "talk about ID time". Suffice to say that the order of similarities is way beyond what you believe it to be; again, without meaning to insult, your description and critique are very naive. If you ever do what you said, and go and learn genetics, you'll be able to see for yourself.

    "Okay, and it's also like saying to an economics Ph.D.: "Your incredible confidence that market inefficiencies have been mathematically proven leads me to question just what your assumptions are in the proofs.""

    Not quite. We aren't talking about statistical theories here. We are talking about physical facts, which are a completely different type of entity. I'll come back to this at the end of this response.

    "(I get the sense from your other comments that you're not familiar with my economics work; so the above analogy is intended for the onlookers who believe in free markets.)"

    I am unfamiliar with your economics work, but then, I'm not terribly familiar with theory of economics in general. I leave it to the experts, and try not to discuss it above my level of understanding.

    "That sounds very definitive and crushing, but I don't think it's a very fair description of the situation. There are people arguing for evolution and against it, and I wrote an article evaluating the controversy."

    There are people writing about alien abductions. There are people writing about government conspiracies. There are people writing about many things. It doesn't mean that there is a controversy. In this particular case, there is no controversy - there are people who don't believe in a large part of modern science, but their belief has no influence on the physical facts.

    "I never once said in either article, "The theory of common descent is wrong." (I said that in a blog post, sure; I hope I don't have to get a Ph.D. in biochemistry before being entitled to shoot my mouth off on a blog where I also talk about being trapped in bathrooms where someone didn't flush.)"

    Again, you are entirely free to say whatever you want. This is a great country, and freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. But that doesn't mean that you can say whatever you want without being criticized. If you say that theory of common descent is wrong, I am free to pull out the evidence (and there is more evidence for common descent then there is for our current theory of gravity), metaphorically bury you under it, and ask "what about all of this, then"?

    I am also free to express my opinion - which I believe is extremely valid - that you should first check your data and find a testable hypothesis before attacking a theory. It is simply good sense. If you don't, you can't win. You can replace a scientific theory with a theological one, but then you did away with science and your own country will lose thereby.

    Also, note that you are not just saying it. You are actively supporting a movement that wants this to be taught in schools as a fact. The level of science understanding in American schools is already extremely poor. Now we have ID people who want to teach something they themselves admit is on the same scientific level as astrology.

    "I don't have to be a trained biologist to say when I think a particular biologist's argument for evolution is faulty."

    That depends. Do you have to be a doctor to say when you think that a particular doctor's diagnosis is faulty? You don't - but if you do say it, you run a risk of making huge errors out of sheer ignorance. And it is exactly the same here. You think that a particular biologist's argument for evolution is faulty because you don't really understand it, nor do you have the grasp of the facts that support it. (no offense, again)

    "Now, besides all that stuff, I agree with you that the IDers really ought to come up with a falsifiable prediction that would either help or hurt their position vis-a-vis the mainstream view. And, if it comes down to it, I myself may try to formulate such predictions once I study this more."

    As I've said repeatedly, that is absolutely fine. I applaud and support people who are willing to research alternative theories. The only thing I have a problem with is their insistence on rejecting the current theory before they have even formulated (much less began, not to mention finished) any research in any other direction.

    "Okay, so you don't think Behe is a liar. What you are really saying is that Behe is very misleading because of his gross ignorance. Okay."

    No - I guess we have different takes on the "liar" part. Liar is perhaps an imprecise word in this context, but I use it for people who should know better. Behe is not "classically" ignorant, he is deliberately refusing to accept evidence; or even look at it, really. Therefore, his ignorance that transitional systems exist isn't a matter of chance or poor education, but of willful avoidance.

    Imagine an accountant that refuses to read any documents that show his company performing tax evasion, even though such documents are put under his nose during trial. When he says "no, our company didn't evade taxes", is he lying?

    Let me finish with a comment from your text that illustrates a very important point that I think you are missing in general:

    "One of the most repeated claims in favor of evolution is that with it, "biology makes sense," while without it biology "is chaos" (67). But so what? I agree there is an aesthetic appeal, but this consideration alone is quite trivial."

    It goes far beyond aesthetic appeal. It has to do, in a very real sense, with everyday research. It is impossible to do anything in biology without evolution.

    You get data. All of biology is just this huge pile of data, like a pile of puzzle pieces for a puzzle many miles long on each side. And you don't know what the overall picture is, or what connection (if any) can be made between various pieces. What evolution does is that it provides a blurry image of what it all looks like when the puzzle is complete; and it tells you approximately where you can put the pieces. Without it, it's not just aesthetic chaos, it is chaos in a real sense: nothing can be understood, because there are no rules.

    And, on the other side of the coin, the fact that everything does fit isn't just aesthetic. Scientific theories are proven by prediction. You look a the data. You make a hypothesis. You use the hypothesis to make predictions. Then you look to see if your prediction is borne out. Evolution gives a framework to biology, and predicts many things - and so far, everything comes out just as predicted. Everything fits into the framework, solidly supporting the theory.

    To take your "darwinism" thing and turn it around: Darwin predicted many things about inheritance and evolution in mid-19th century. At that time, even Mendelian laws were unknown; genetics, DNA, RNA and all of that wasn't even in the picture. There have been thousands upon thousands of opportunities for Darwin's theory to be proven wrong.

    We could have found that traits are immutably carried down through generations. We could have found stabilizing mechanisms that make it impossible for one species to gradually change into another. We could have found that rates of change are just too slow to fit into the framework provided by geology (or just fossils). We could have found that the rates of change are too fast to fit in with the fossils. We could have found that there are unchanging structures within DNA; for instance, that there are parts that can mutate and provide diversity, but that there are certain things (overall body plan, or whatever it is that you think makes common descent impossible) that do not change. We could have found thousands of things Darwin had no idea about, each of which could make his theory completely and absolutely impossible.

    Instead, everything we found fit. The theory did require revision to include this new data properly, but the general concept - variation plus natural selection - stayed exactly as it was, each additional datum supporting it further. We even found additional data (such as, say, copies of the same errors in DNA across all primates, and across Hominidae to us) that Darwin couldn't even image, that would on their own be sufficient to prove common descent.

    Since you like odds calculations, tell me: what are the chances that something like that could happen with an incorrect theory?

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  16. Anonymous,

    And the atheists tend to be of the implicit kind - they do not believe in God since they see no evidence of one; they would believe if evidence is provided.

    Well, I can't let this comment pass unremarked, even though my response will seem quaint (as I myself would have viewed it in my atheist days). The Christian could ask, for example, "What more evidence do you want? Not only do we exist, and all the magnificent laws of nature etc. etc. that are elegant as well as utilitarian, but He sent His son who performed miracles and even rose from the dead."

    (Again, I am pretty sure what your response to this will be, but I fell it is my duty to say the above.)

    You do understand that Behe doesn't deny common descent, nor do many of the more "scientific" ID proponents?

    No, I didn't know that about Behe. In that case, the dispute between him and (say) you is pretty metaphysical, right? I.e. you and he would agree with the physical and chemical description of what happened since the first cell, but he would just say "and then God made this happen" whereas you would say "and then this happened by sheer chance"?

    At least some of the IDers deny common descent, though, right? E.g. the guy in the link on this original blog post, who talked about Darwin's finches? I.e. the IDers who believe in microevolution but not macroevolution?

    I cannot see a way to get around all the evidence for common descent

    Well your ignorance isn't a strike against my theory. (Ha ha folks, I'm just using a standard evolutionist debating jab.)

    You should say "I'll believe it when I see how you got that result". You are stating it as a reasonable thing, whereas it is a number pulled out of thin air.

    OK, this is a claim you've been making over and over. The guy at the Notre Dame conference did not simply get up there and say, "The chance of evolution is 1 in two trillion." No, he described some scenario and explained the odds of it happening. The book I read most recently on this did a very straightforward calculation of permutations based on the ordering of amino acids (I think).

    Now of course you can come back and say those aren't the right calculations; fair enough, I don't know enough to be able to say whether they are or aren't. But please stop accusing the IDers (at least, all IDers) of just making up numbers without explaining where they come from; that is simply a false accusation you have been making. (I don't deny that maybe some have done it, but just none that I've encountered.)


    Here is the quote, from the first paper: "Futuyma is not merely claiming that the hierarchical classification of organisms is consistent with the theory of evolution; instead he is claiming that the hierarchy itself is evidence for evolution." It is at the end of a paragraph that presents this as an almost unbelievable presumption.

    Right, and in this context, meaning "...evidence for evoluation and against the creationist myths." Futuyma could just as well say that because animals eat when they're hungry, that's evidence that evolution is right and Bible thumpers are ignorant.

    I'll take this opportunity to yet again note that ID movement has yet to produce any evidence inconsistent with theory of evolution.

    And I'll take the opportunity to remind onlookers that IDers have offered all sorts of objections, such as the Cambrian explosion (i.e. problems in fossil records), irreducibly complex biological features, etc. etc. Of course you don't think so, but they do. My point here isn't to say they're right and you're wrong, but you're making it sound as if even Behe would say, "Yeah, I have no evidence of anything inconsistent in the orthodox account."

    Not quite. We aren't talking about statistical theories here.

    Neither am I. (Incidentally, economics is not synonymous with statistics, an impression you seem to have. Sure, many practicing economists run regressions etc., but the "proofs" about market failure to which I referred, e.g., were formal proofs starting with axioms and reaching airtight conclusions.)

    There are people writing about alien abductions. There are people writing about government conspiracies. There are people writing about many things. It doesn't mean that there is a controversy. In this particular case, there is no controversy - there are people who don't believe in a large part of modern science, but their belief has no influence on the physical facts.

    OK, and it's exactly this attitude and type of comment that I was addressing with the author of The Flying Spaghetti Monster (he's not you, is he?). There isn't an institute with people with PhDs in physics, astronomy, and so on who have conferences on alien abduction But there are such people and conferences for ID. Doesn't mean they're right, but they're not uneducated hicks.

    Again, you are entirely free to say whatever you want. This is a great country, and freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. But that doesn't mean that you can say whatever you want without being criticized.

    Your patronizing answer would be appropriate if I had said something like, "Jeez, lay off man! I can believe whatever I want."

    But of course that's not what happened. You criticized me for attacking evolution even though I'm not an expert, and I was just pointing out that (outside this blog) I have done nothing except tell people, "The case for evolution is not as strong as the scientists would have you believe."

    I still stand by that, especially your claim below about gravity.

    If you say that theory of common descent is wrong, I am free to pull out the evidence (and there is more evidence for common descent then there is for our current theory of gravity),

    Can you clarify please? By "more" do you mean the case is stronger for common descent than for gravity? (Again, please spell out exactly which two theories you have in mind, and which you think we should have more confidence in.)

    which I believe is extremely valid - that you should first check your data and find a testable hypothesis before attacking a theory.

    Okay, and the "theory" I was actually attacking was: "The theory of evolution is absolutely impregnable, and only one who rejects logic and science could possibly doubt it." That claim I find very little evidence for, and this argument only bolsters my belief. (Of course it probably also bolsters your belief that certain Christians are crazy.)

    You can replace a scientific theory with a theological one,

    If there is a God, it would certainly have influences on the physical world. You're setting up a false dichotomy.

    But anyway, in the sense that you understandably mean, the "scientific" ID people are just that; they level scientific objections. They don't just say, "That story doesn't fit in with Genesis."

    but then you did away with science and your own country will lose thereby.

    You are actively supporting a movement that wants this to be taught in schools as a fact.

    Again, you are operating on false assumptions concerning my stance and motivations. I think public schools should be abolished. I still think evolution should be taught, and if a particular private school wants to hire teachers who also mention ID (if only to criticize it, the way I teach Marxism in my econ classes) so be it. It's not my business. This is at least the 2nd (possibly the 3rd) time you've told me "why" I do things and you have been wrong.

    Now we have ID people who want to teach something they themselves admit is on the same scientific level as astrology.

    Can you clarify? I know Behe said something about this on the stand; I'd like to know his exact words if you can give me a link or something.

    It goes far beyond aesthetic appeal. It has to do, in a very real sense, with everyday research. It is impossible to do anything in biology without evolution.

    Again, that's not an argument for the truth of the theory. In fact, if anything, it should make all of us non-biologists suspicious of the near unanimity in which biologists say the theory is right.

    Evolution gives a framework to biology, and predicts many things - and so far, everything comes out just as predicted.

    You're saying there is not a single troubling problem in all of evolutionary theory?

    Last question: In an earlier post (I think) you referred to "jury rigged" things and how that was evidence for evolution. Do you have an operational definition for "jury rigged," or do you know it when you see it, just as Behe thinks he knows "design" when he sees it? (I'm not being sarcastic.)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Whoops--Anonymous, above I say something like, "That's the 2nd time you've told me 'why' I did something," and that's not fair. You were saying I supported the ID movement and their desire to force ID into schools, and I was clarifying that I didn't. (But that wasn't you telling me "why"...)

    Also, do you care if I link to this blog post and commentary in a LewRockwell article, and if not do you mind even if I quote you?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anonymous2:17 PM

    "Well, I can't let this comment pass unremarked, even though my response will seem quaint (as I myself would have viewed it in my atheist days). The Christian could ask, for example, "What more evidence do you want? Not only do we exist, and all the magnificent laws of nature etc. etc. that are elegant as well as utilitarian, but He sent His son who performed miracles and even rose from the dead.""

    There are two parts to the argument. One is empty: we do exist, the universe exists, the laws are elegant. We don't know the rules for origin of universes, and until we ascertain those rules, this means nothing. It is possible that many universes arise chaotically and randomly, and we simply live in this one; it is possible that there are rigorous rules for origins of universes (which may themselves be made by a creator, but the universe itself is produced by blind forces); it is possible that a God made it. I do not have an opinion here, as I do not have enough data to make up my mind.

    The second part of the statement I do not believe. I don't believe when a Muslim comes to me and tells me that Mohammed was the Prophet of God. I don't believe Hare Krishna monks when they explain about his billion-thumbed divinity. I don't believe that Christian God sent his son to die, and I don't believe that he rose from the dead. I find the Christian story to be particularly confused, self-contradictory and nonsensical, in fact. If you wish to argue this, start a new thread, and we can have a go at it (I can use a break in grant-writing).

    Most of all, I observe believers. I look at the average Christian, and he is no deeper in thought and understanding, no better in action and morality, no purer in soul, then your average Muslim, or Hindu, or Whatever. Many times, on the contrary, I see religious people being particularly, even intentionally, obtuse, angry, hateful, and self-destructive. I do not for one second believe that people who knew and understood God would behave in such a manner. If there is a God, I have yet to meet a person for whom I would believe that they know something about Him, much less about His will.

    I have no opinion on the concept of abstract God since I have no evidence one way or another. But the science I know allows for possibility of a God. The said science also puts some limits to the description of the God (for instance, God cannot be a bearded fellow who sits on top of the clouds and tosses thunderbolts down on the unworthy); and if one follows those limits, and tries to describe a possible God that may exist, the result is a staggeringly vast, quite alien, and powerful beyond the limits of our imagination. The description of God given by most religions is so small, petty, mean-spirited and outright silly in comparison that they are worthy of consideration only because they produce so much **** in the world.

    That is my opinion. Is it what you expected?

    "No, I didn't know that about Behe. In that case, the dispute between him and (say) you is pretty metaphysical, right?"

    No, it's very physical. He claims things that are physically and demonstrably incorrect (such as that blood clotting system, or the adaptive immune system, are irreducibly complex).

    "At least some of the IDers deny common descent, though, right? E.g. the guy in the link on this original blog post, who talked about Darwin's finches? I.e. the IDers who believe in microevolution but not macroevolution?"

    There are some IDers who deny age of Earth. That is a whole 'nother level of nonsense.

    And the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution is fundamentally wrong. The terms are ok, and can be used in meaningful manner, but to say that you believe in one and not the other is akin to saying that you believe in taking steps, but not in walking.

    "Well your ignorance isn't a strike against my theory. (Ha ha folks, I'm just using a standard evolutionist debating jab.)"

    Well, in that case, we have both sides claiming that other one is ignorant. So the decision rests with who has more evidence. Wanna bet who that is, by orders and orders of magnitude?

    "No, he described some scenario and explained the odds of it happening. The book I read most recently on this did a very straightforward calculation of permutations based on the ordering of amino acids (I think)."

    Yes, which is absolute nonsense. Evolution is not a fully random process. There is a random part (although even there randomness is limited by some very strict margins), mutation and the resulting variation. But the variation is a tiny factor, that becomes larger only though the action of natural selection, which is emphatically NOT random.

    You don't go from one protein to another by taking a bunch of amino-acids and randomly permutating them. You take one protein, and change it slowly, one step at a time (although there are some examples of faster changes, as in domain additions/deletions by exon shuffling); you do this within functional constraints, structural constraints, and energetic constraints. It is a vastly different process then one described by IDers.

    "Now of course you can come back and say those aren't the right calculations; fair enough, I don't know enough to be able to say whether they are or aren't. But please stop accusing the IDers (at least, all IDers) of just making up numbers without explaining where they come from; that is simply a false accusation you have been making."

    You are right, I'm sorry. Let me rephrase. Some IDers just make up numbers without any reason or rhyme. Others make up systems that have nothing to do with evolution, then calculate real numbers based on that made-up system; then they lie that those numbers pertain to evolution.

    "Futuyma could just as well say that because animals eat when they're hungry, that's evidence that evolution is right and Bible thumpers are ignorant."

    How does that follow? Morphogenetic nested hierarchy is excellent evidence in support of evolution, as it implies common ancestors. Do you understand fully what that means?

    Let me illustrate something. You have the gene that produces vitamin C. In the ancestor of all primates, this gene became inactivated, which didn't affect them since they ate diet of vitamin-C rich fruits. But the inactivated gene is still there, passed along with all the rest of the junk DNA. It is present in humans as well. And random changes are passed along as well, so if you follow them you can see that its sequence is most similar to chimpanzees, then to gorillas, then... And this holds across junk DNA.

    How does that happen without common ancestry? The designer inserted that in there for kicks? And this is a pretty tame example, a popular one. You can follow families of proteins through evolutionary tree. Proteins that did one thing in an ancestor species, but then changed function in a daughter species that occupied a new niche. If there was a designer, he certainly likes taking one blueprint, and then developing a category of organisms based on it; then taking one within that, repeating the process; then one within that...etc. And each time, he never reuses systems already developed for something, but adapts (sometimes spectacularly unsuitable) systems for the new role. Often, he does so very badly.

    "And I'll take the opportunity to remind onlookers that IDers have offered all sorts of objections, such as the Cambrian explosion (i.e. problems in fossil records), irreducibly complex biological features, etc. etc. Of course you don't think so, but they do. My point here isn't to say they're right and you're wrong, but you're making it sound as if even Behe would say, "Yeah, I have no evidence of anything inconsistent in the orthodox account.""

    In order:

    - There are no problems with fossil record. You have been massively lied to by ID-ers and creationists. Cambrian explosion is a period of many millions of years, it follows a period in which we see the ancestral species quite clearly, and appears as an "explosion" mostly because of a confluence of development of eyesight, hard shelly parts (which make fossilization hundreds of thousands of times more likely), and an end to a huge ice age opening many new niches. There are mounds of data and work on it, which creationists of all kinds simply ignore (see last point).
    - There is no evidence for irreducibly complex biological features. There are outright lies (just read the paper on lamprey immune system), and there are unsupported claims about systems that we don't fully understand yet. Or do you have any evidence for irreducible complexity? Do you even have a way of detecting it reproducibly?
    - What is there under "etc, etc."? Is there any actual evidence anywhere?
    - What Behe would say is moot, as he is already known to simply ignore evidence when inconvenient.

    There are facts, and to quote Chomsky, facts either matter or they don't. Do they matter? They do not depend on philosophy or opinion, they are as they are.

    "OK, and it's exactly this attitude and type of comment that I was addressing with the author of The Flying Spaghetti Monster (he's not you, is he?)."

    No, he is not me.

    "There isn't an institute with people with PhDs in physics, astronomy, and so on who have conferences on alien abduction"

    In its heyday, there were conferences and groups formed around the concept; involving some quite high-profile academics.

    But there are parallel woowoo institutions all over the place. There is the whole kooky "quantum consciousness" crowd (which gave us the atrociously bad "What the Bleep do we Know" movie) - at least ten or twenty times bigger, in terms of academic support, then ID. There are the cold fusion types, with conferences, experiments, and actually at least some data and experimental hypotheses (which by definition makes them way more scientifically respectable the IDers). There are the parapsychologists, again much bigger then ID - although with the same amount of evidence, zero. Etc, etc.

    "But there are such people and conferences for ID. Doesn't mean they're right, but they're not uneducated hicks."

    No, they are simply a mixture of people who put their religion first, and people who see a sweet deal and lots of cash in it.

    I will repeat something I've already said: a group of people with degrees with lots of money behind them supports a thing only if it produces results. Discovery Institute has been around for years, with millions of dollars behind it, with nothing to show for it besides tons of propaganda. Not a single reproducible laboratory experiment, and not a single real publication. Do you realize that they are so deprived or anything resembling experiments that they actually use conference cites on their lists of "peer-reviewed publications"? Check this out:

    http://www.giveupblog.com/2005/12/new-strategy-for-intelligent-design.html

    (Note: I'm giving this site since it gives a good review of the poster, and has pictures of it so you can judge for yourself; I am otherwise unfamiliar with the rest of the site, and I do not share their political or other opinions.)

    And if you then go to DI site, you'll find that the abstract from the poster in the conference supplement is indeed cited as a "peer-reviewed article" on their list! It's a huge embarassment to do something like this. But they are doing it simply because they know that the average reader won't know the difference between a conference supplement cite and a real paper. They themselves certainly do know - and the very fact that they are using it like this means that they are knowingly deceiving their audience. You can work out the motives yourself.

    "Your patronizing answer would be appropriate if I had said something like, "Jeez, lay off man! I can believe whatever I want.""

    It was not meant to be patronizing; it was meant to be honest. I do believe that you can say whatever you want.

    "I have done nothing except tell people, "The case for evolution is not as strong as the scientists would have you believe.""

    Yes. And all I did was tell you "perhaps you should check if that is really the case before you say it". I'm not sure if you fully understand me. If a person says "I believe the literal interpretation of the Bible before I believe any scientific evidence", there is no room for discussion. You are not just saying "I don't believe in evolution"; you are saying "I don't believe in evolution for reasons X, Y, and Z". My point here is that the reasons X, Y and Z are incorrect. Whethere evolution is true or false is a different issue; maybe tomorrow you can come up with some arguments that will completely demolish it. But here and now, we are discussing the ID arguments, which are uniformly wrong themselves.

    "Can you clarify please? By "more" do you mean the case is stronger for common descent than for gravity? (Again, please spell out exactly which two theories you have in mind, and which you think we should have more confidence in.)"

    We don't understand the mechanisms behind gravity, we are observing apparently gravitational phenomena that require additions of unwieldy new ideas (dark matter, dark energy), and we don't have much of a clue as to how it works on a quantum level.

    With common descent, we have clear sequences of fossils, we have a clear sequence of dates, we have a sequence of contained ecosystems, we have geographic distributions over time, we have genetic data that fits with all the previous items, we have measured secondary and tertiary effects on the environment, we have correlation between independently verifiable events and changes in biota, we have the molecular mechanisms by which it happens, we have a good (although incomplete) grasp on the macroecological mechanisms that influence it, we have observed speciation in nature and seen that it fits with the described models... The uncertainties are minor quibbles as to which part of the mechanism is more important, not the basic concepts that underpin the idea itself.

    Now, IDers will dispute many of the claims I've said here. That is ok. But why don't you check for yourself? Take a look, for instance, at the evolution of mammals from original synapsids, and tell me how does that fit in a picture without common descent?

    "Okay, and the "theory" I was actually attacking was: "The theory of evolution is absolutely impregnable, and only one who rejects logic and science could possibly doubt it." That claim I find very little evidence for, and this argument only bolsters my belief. (Of course it probably also bolsters your belief that certain Christians are crazy.)"

    Two paragraphs above, you've said that you are just trying to say that theory of evolution is far less certain then scientists would have you believe. Now you are attacking the concept that theory of evolution is absolutely impregnable?

    Well, ok, I can stand behind that myself. Theory of evolution isn't absolutely impregnable. No scientific theory is. But certain parts of it, like common descent, are so impregnable that you'll have an easier time finding a better theory of gravity then a better theory for development of life.

    "If there is a God, it would certainly have influences on the physical world. You're setting up a false dichotomy."

    No, I'm not. If God has an effect on the physical world, that is a physical effect, by definition measurable. If that was the case, although the cause would be theological, the effect would fall within the domain of science. But here we have no evidence of such physical effect; the argument is purely theological, and can be replaced one-for-one by any unprovable and unrefutable metaphysical claim ("life is the byproduct of digestion in the bowels of invisible pink unicorns"), without any information loss.

    "But anyway, in the sense that you understandably mean, the "scientific" ID people are just that; they level scientific objections."

    Opinions without evidence are not scientific objections. Opinions that are provably false are even less scientific.

    Is there anything that ID people are saying that does not fall into one of the above two categories?

    "Again, you are operating on false assumptions concerning my stance and motivations. I think public schools should be abolished. I still think evolution should be taught, and if a particular private school wants to hire teachers who also mention ID (if only to criticize it, the way I teach Marxism in my econ classes) so be it. It's not my business. This is at least the 2nd (possibly the 3rd) time you've told me "why" I do things and you have been wrong."

    I see that you caught your error here in your next comment. And let me say in general: if I have seemed to comment on your reasons somewhere else, I apologize, that was not my intent. I don't pretend to know your reasons for doing what you do.

    "Can you clarify? I know Behe said something about this on the stand; I'd like to know his exact words if you can give me a link or something."

    See transcripts at:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day11pm.html

    Search for "astrology", and read the next few questions/answers. Or even better, read the whole thing. You might want to go through all the transcripts, just to see how bad people you seem to trust are when they can't weasel around or just simply talk until the time runs out.

    "Again, that's not an argument for the truth of the theory. In fact, if anything, it should make all of us non-biologists suspicious of the near unanimity in which biologists say the theory is right."

    How in the world does that follow? A theory that correctly predicts where you can put your data and develop new hypotheses (which you can then test, which you do test, and which are then shown to be correctly placed and inferred) should be a source of suspicion? What is a correct theory supposed to do, then?

    And is there a single theory you believe in science? Because all the good ones do eactly that. Do you believe in germ theory of disease? It does exactly the same for treatment of infections. Should we doubt it?

    "You're saying there is not a single troubling problem in all of evolutionary theory?"

    Oh, no, there are many problems. There will certainly be more revisions and details added. But there is no problem that threatens the whole theory. There is no issue so big that the outcome is likely to require rethinking of the "random mutation plus natural selection" idea, or bring common descent into any doubt.

    "Last question: In an earlier post (I think) you referred to "jury rigged" things and how that was evidence for evolution. Do you have an operational definition for "jury rigged," or do you know it when you see it, just as Behe thinks he knows "design" when he sees it? (I'm not being sarcastic.)"

    Yes, I do have an operational definition for jury-rigged. It is a system designed to do one thing that has been imperfectly modified to inefficiently do something else. The requirements of evidence are very strict: you need to have an example of the original system doing its original function, a manner in which the system has changed (often with intermediate forms), and the final system.

    An example I can pull off the top of my head at the moment are cellular signalling systems used by many cells in our bodies for intracellular signals. Basically, cells communicate by sending out small molecules of various kinds that bind to receptors at the surface of the cell; this initiates various signalling cascades, and affects the inner working of the target cell. And then you have cells that have evolved a separate set of these receptors, and now use them to send a signal to themselves by excreting molecules that then bind to the receptors on the surface, which then carry the signal back to the inside of the cell, activate an entire cascade, produce various unwanted side-effects, just so that one desired effect of the pathway can be accomplished.

    This hugely wasteful and occasionally dangerous process happens instead of simple intracellular signal; which would be much simpler to make, way more reliable, and carrying an almost zero chance of malfunctioning - if you are designing the cell rationally. There are many thousands examples of this (I can give you more if the one above is unsatisfactory), some exceedingly spectacular; and the choices are not intelligent design or evolution. They are extremely incompetent design or evolution.

    "Whoops--Anonymous, above I say something like, "That's the 2nd time you've told me 'why' I did something," and that's not fair."

    No problem.

    "You were saying I supported the ID movement and their desire to force ID into schools, and I was clarifying that I didn't. (But that wasn't you telling me "why"...)"

    Actually, I said that you support a movement that wants to force ID into schools. I.e. you are supporting a movement that desires that, regardless of whether you yourself desire that particular outcome.

    "Also, do you care if I link to this blog post and commentary in a LewRockwell article, and if not do you mind even if I quote you?"

    Go for it. I would like it if you put a link here, so I can go and see it when it's up.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous,

    OK, thanks for the transcripts of the trial; I definitely want to see how Behe behaves on the stand. (I have heard him give a talk at Hillsdale College for a weeklong seminar on ID, and there he seemed OK. But it was a friendly crowd.) I am not naive, and I do not want to associate myself with intellectually dishonest people. So I certainly will read the transcript with interest.

    If there is a God, I have yet to meet a person for whom I would believe that they know something about Him, much less about His will.

    Oh, believe me, I understand your position. One last thing I'll say about this (at least on this blog post) is that the only candidate you should consider is Jesus of Nazareth. I.e. if you read what He (allegedly) said about His knowledge of God the Father etc., I think that's what a truly knowledgeable person would say etc. Of course you can say you think somebody made it up, but then at least (in my opinion) you would have to concede that that author must have had a good understanding of the Deity to invent such a character.

    BM:"Last question: In an earlier post (I think) you referred to "jury rigged" things and how that was evidence for evolution. Do you have an operational definition for "jury rigged," or do you know it when you see it, just as Behe thinks he knows "design" when he sees it? (I'm not being sarcastic.)"

    Anonymous: Yes, I do have an operational definition for jury-rigged. It is a system designed to do one thing that has been imperfectly modified to inefficiently do something else.


    Well, this is funny, but you're still relying on the very "unscientific" term of "design." I mean, the whole point is that stuff in nature isn't designed, right?

    In case you're not following me, here's where I'm going with this: In a think I'm going to write for LRC, one of the critics of ID attacks a guy for using the term "design" without defining it, even though we all know what that term means. And so I was trying to show that you yourself relied on a similarly undefined (but "obvious") term when you spoke of "jury rigged," and so I think it proves my (minor) point that when asked to define it, you had to rely on the concept of design.

    (Of course, I haven't caught you in a contradiction here, just you+other proponent of evolution.)

    I'll post the link to the article here, and also it will be a fresh blog post at Crash Landing. The article will probably run either Friday or Saturday.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous,

    I don't even know if you're still checking this (since it's been knocked off the main page of Crash Landing), but I wanted to follow up on this issue of the IDers having no real research. E.g. you stated fairly recently:

    I will repeat something I've already said: a group of people with degrees with lots of money behind them supports a thing only if it produces results. Discovery Institute has been around for years, with millions of dollars behind it, with nothing to show for it besides tons of propaganda. Not a single reproducible laboratory experiment, and not a single real publication.

    Okay, here is a list of the Discovery Institute's alleged "peer reviewed research." Are you claiming that every single one of these things listed is not, in fact, peer reviewed?

    Also, earlier you made an even stronger claim:

    The objection isn't that ID has no peer-reviewed research. The objection is that they have no research whatsoever. They have performed zero experiments, have zero data, and zero evidence. They have opinions, which are worth...well, zero.

    Now what I took you to mean was that the IDers were really doing nothing except raising objections to the standard evolutionary accounts, and weren't trying to really "apply" their views in a constructive way. But what about this paper's abstract? It seems to be exactly the sort of thing you were denying existed:

    ABSTRACT: Biology exhibits numerous invariants -- aspects of the biological world that do not change over time. These include basic genetic processes that have persisted unchanged for more than three-and-a-half billion years and molecular mechanisms of animal ontogenesis that have been constant for more than one billion years. Such invariants, however, are difficult to square with dynamic genomes in light of conventional evolutionary theory. Indeed, Ernst Mayr regarded this as one of the great unsolved problems of biology. In this paper Dr.Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig Lönnig Senior Scientist in the Department of Molecular Plant Genetics at the Max-Planck-Institute for Plant Breeding Research employs the design-theoretic concepts of irreducible complexity (as developed by Michael Behe) and specified complexity (as developed by William Dembski) to elucidate these invariants, accounting for them in terms of an intelligent design (ID) hypothesis.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous3:06 AM

    "Oh, believe me, I understand your position. One last thing I'll say about this (at least on this blog post) is that the only candidate you should consider is Jesus of Nazareth. I.e. if you read what He (allegedly) said about His knowledge of God the Father etc., I think that's what a truly knowledgeable person would say etc."

    I wouldn't, but that's a discussion for a different time and place.

    "Well, this is funny, but you're still relying on the very "unscientific" term of "design." I mean, the whole point is that stuff in nature isn't designed, right?"

    Hah, you are right. It is a semantic thing, though. Designed by evolution, if you wish. Evolved, if you prefer. It does not matter. The main point is that you have a system that does X really, really well. Then this system is modified to do Y, often badly. Even though another species (of a different lineage) - or even the same species, just in a different place - already has a system that does Y very well, and that could be implemented here quite easily - if the design was rational, instead of through evolutionary modification.

    "Okay, here is a list of the Discovery Institute's alleged "peer reviewed research." Are you claiming that every single one of these things listed is not, in fact, peer reviewed?"

    In short, yes. It is actually a history of Discovery Institute lying to their supporters. I could go through the list and cover every point, but just look at the first four:

    - The "review" article they managed to get published in a minor journal (Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington). There is no research in the paper. There is no data. It is a review of the opinions of the various ID proponents. And it wasn't peer reviewed, it was pushed in by an editor who then got fired for it (not because the article was about ID, but because he published an article devoid of any substance or support). Finally, this paper was retracted after publication; DI does not mention that, of course. Go read it if you don't believe me. You will find zero data in it.
    - Not one but *two* conference cites. I've covered those, and explained why they are fraud in the previous post. I almost fell of the chair when I noted that they actually proudly announce them on the very top of this list. Although, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
    - The Lonnig paper, published in an anthology by an obscure publisher. The peer review process in this case is unclear (based on the contents of the paper, I believe it is nonexistent). Note that the Discovery Institute list does not make it clear that this is an anthology, leading people to think that "Dynamical Genetics" is the name of a journal. Also (again, go and read the paper if you don't believe me), there is no research, no data, no experiments.

    "But what about this paper's abstract? It seems to be exactly the sort of thing you were denying existed:"

    It is not what you think it is. Go and read the whole paper, see for yourself.

    As I've said above: no experiments, no data.

    It is a very finely crafted piece, though. The paper notes some known evolutionary mechanisms (which were discovered by painstaking experiments performed by scientists who actually do such things), then goes on to make wild assertions and incredible hypotheses. (Don't get me wrong, it's fine to make incredible hypotheses, if you actually have some data to support them)

    I expect you won't trust "darwinist" sources on principle, but this is a fair summation of how ID looks to a scientist:

    http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/08/21/the_big_picture.php

    Lonnig paper can actually be quite useful as an example. Go and read it. Then take a look at a real research article. Journal of Biological Chemistry allows free access; here is a paper chosen at random from one of the recent issues I've been reading:

    http://www.jbc.org/cgi/content/full/280/52/42568

    Just look at the section titles for a second. There is an "Experimental Procedures" section, which describes exactly how the experiment was performed, so that anyone with access to a lab can sit down and repeat it. There is a "Results" section, with a bunch of experimental data.

    If you think I've picked a particularly strange paper, go and check another one. Go to a university library and open a paper edition of a professional journal. You'll always find these things there.

    Now go and pick any of the papers on the DI list of publications. Try to find either of these sections in there. See what I mean?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Anonymous,

    I've finally written the LRC piece that links to this exchange. If you want to argue about it, please do so at this location:

    http://www.gene-callahan.org/blog/2006/01/another-id-and-govt-debt-articles.html

    ReplyDelete
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