Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Logic for Dummies, or, My God designed the Universe and all I got were these faulty eyeballs!

"Intelligent Design is the logic of ignorance", says Steve Jones:

As I sat down to write this piece, I put on my glasses. They were designed by an intelligent optician to correct my eyesight, which, acute as it once was, is now - like that of most elderly academics - blurred at best. The lens has become less elastic with time and no longer focuses properly. My specs help, but soon I will need a stronger pair.

Well, as we evolutionists say, that's life. Or, to be brutally frank, that's a hint of impending death, for in the good old days of nuts, berries, and sabre-toothed tigers, I would have starved or been eaten by now. It makes perfect sense: evolution cares only about the next generation; I am too old to pass on genes to that unborn tribe and my failing eyesight is hence of no interest to the Darwinian machine.

That thought is not of much comfort, but at least I have nobody to blame for my plight. But what about advocates of Intelligent Design, the notion that the eye is so complicated that it needed a Designer (quite who is best not to inquire) to do the job? Some of them wear glasses. Do they never have doubts about their astral engineer, who could surely have given them a BMW of a visual organ rather than the Austin Allegro they are stuck with?


Jones goes on to explain how well evolution explains the development of blood clotting, and how the various ways that clotting works in different animals confounds the ID notion that only a "finished" item can be of any use to a biological organism. Read the whole thing.

You have to wonder if the high status that ID carries with Americans has anything to do with their innate optimism. After all, ID has been the preferred explanation of choice for natural phenomena from the earliest civilizations on, but it's stock has been in retreat from the birth of empirical philosophy in ancient Greece to the present day. ID once explained every thunderbolt, the motion of every pebble, planet and star, and the outcome of every war, game or romantic endeavor. Now science can explain all of these things, and the gaps that a designer is asked to fill are measured in nanometers. Only a true optimist would place a bet on such a tired old nag.

122 Comments:

Blogger Susan's Husband said...

How do we know that in fact a superior design for the eye is possible? Perhaps all other alternatives have even worse problems.

April 19, 2006 8:08 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

That's a good point. It shouldn't be more than a few decades before we're actually able to design and grow alternatives, to test that.

My guess is that humans will, in fact, be able to build better eyes, although it should be noted that our environment, conditions, and use of vision has changed, so tomorrow's "better" may not say anything about whether the human eyes of 200,000 years ago were sub-optimal.

April 20, 2006 12:23 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

SH:

Maybe - I could see how the applications for an x-ray function might be too saucy, but are night-vision and a telescopic zoom lens really so much to ask from the Great Spook in the Sky?

What happened to being made in His image - He sees everything and I can only just make out the Isle of Wight on a clear day.

It doesn't take too imaginative a leap to think that these tired, PC monitor-frazzled eyes probably aren't the Best of All Possible Peepers.

April 20, 2006 12:32 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Duck:

The 'optimism' explanation for American religiosity is an interesting one. Often people turn to God only when all other hope is gone.

In Bruges the other day I was accosted by a charming old codger who prattled away in typical Briton-shamingly excellent English about all things Belgian.

In breaks from berating the poor old French (the Flemish hate them even more than we do, it seems), he observed that despite the fact that Bruges - a city of just 25k permanent residents - has 18 magnificent Catholic churches, only 3.7% of Belgians now attend mass.

He gave me two explanations: 1) by the 21st Century we've worked out that you can't wait for God to solve your problems, and 2) as we’ve got rich, we’ve decided we don’t need God any more.

Both explanations seem reasonable, but only if you take out of the equation the big fat exception that is the US.

April 20, 2006 2:41 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oh, my. Just as we faithful were thinking we were starting to get a grip on the problem of the tragically ill child, along comes Duck to challenge us on glaucoma. I'm standing by waiting for Harry to roar in thundering that no benevolent deity would allow the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Doesn't this and all similar issues come down to the mystery of why a "designer" would program aging and death?

Seriously, now, I'm still wondering why more secular materialists don't see the correlations between general belief in natural materialism and demographic and other declines as an epistemological challenge that is, in a sense, the counterpart to the "problem of pain" issue that so bedevils believers. That so many of you seem happily resigned to the fact that "the truth" as understood by evolutionary biology and all those sophisticated postmodern Belgians may lead us to at least cultural extinction while ignorant, unsophisticated "error" causes us to flourish puzzles me. After a stiff scotch, it astounds me.

April 20, 2006 3:45 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

SH:

How do we know that in fact a superior design for the eye is possible?

By looking at the Octopus eye, that's how. Our retina is inverted in such a ridiculous fashion that the only way Intelligent Design could make any sense is if Intelligent actually means dumber than pond scum.

Brit:

Both explanations seem reasonable, but only if you take out of the equation the big fat exception that is the US.

True, but that means looking for what is the exception. The US was the first (and still one of the few) countries that explicitly eschewed state sponsored religion.

So here I go again with irony: if you want more religion in society, do absolutely nothing about it.

Peter:

Your bigger concern should be the extent to which ID and its ilk trivialize whatever Deity there might be, by confining it to a box of ever shrinking ignorance. As a free-bonus, it makes believers look foolish.

This has nothing to do with "why a designer would program aging and death," because that is a question that has meaning only for those who presume an active designer.

For those who don't, that question is no more mysterious than asking why birds have wings.

... while ignorant, unsophisticated "error" causes us to flourish puzzles me.

Perhaps you should widen your scope a little. What else, other than religious belief, can be used to clearly distinguish between Europe and the US.

Well, hundreds of things. But if you are going to focus on single factor analysis, why does it make more sense to focus on religion, rather than, say, the fact that they are all parliamentary democracies, and the US isn't?

April 20, 2006 4:31 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

Whether you think the post-modern Belgians are right or wrong about God, the general decline in belief in wealthy western nations is a brute fact.

Given that the US is the exception to the rule, it is the US that needs explaining (but not that much explaining: even the US is far less religious than, for example, any country in Africa).

April 20, 2006 5:42 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Your fulminations make me wonder whether your patience for serious debate has run out. If so, fine, but can you at least stop fudging the definitions of "ID and its ilk"? You are quite properly careful to correct your adversaries' simplistic distortions of Darwinism and you are well aware by now of the different threads of religious thinking on these issues.

why does it make more sense to focus on religion, rather than, say, the fact that they are all parliamentary democracies, and the US isn't?

Because I would have thought it rather more plausible to assume the birthrate correlates more closely to differing views on what life is about and why we are here than whether the executive is accountable to the legislature. But, hey, I'm just a country boy.

April 20, 2006 5:51 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

Why would the U.S. be the exception to the rule? Just because Europe is composed of lots of small countries and the U.S. is one big one? This isn't a vote call at the UN and on questions as fundamental as this, I think it makes more sense to make a Europe/America divide, or even a Anglospheric/continental one with lots of ambiguities around the edges of both. As you point out, it's the U.S. that is closer to the rest of the world.

April 20, 2006 5:56 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

If we're claiming that any kind of national identity is meaningful (and the much-guffawed-at-by-Juddians failure of the EU project suggest that it is meaningful) than the US is the exception.

The US is also the exception in the Anglosphere (the British, officially Christian, are in practical terms even more secular than the officially-secular French. Australia isn't far behind) so that distinction makes even less sense.

April 20, 2006 6:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

We'll have to agree to disagree here. But isn't it amusing how both sides in this debate, neither of which would ever assert that the popularity of their views correlates with their authority, take such comfort in numbers and trends?

April 20, 2006 6:31 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Interest rather than comfort. After all, the fact that more Frenchmen agree with me on this topic than do Americans is hardly comforting, given that if I 'side' with anyone it's generally the latter rabble.

April 20, 2006 6:45 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I think that the religionists are overplaying the difference in fertility rates between the US and Europe to score a point for the "home team" (religion). If you look strictly at non-hispanic American women, the fertility rate is below replacement level and close to European countries like France. Also Poland, which is one of the most religious European countries, has one of the lower fertility rates.

Fertility is highly correlated to urbanization and the inclusion of women in the industrial economy. Also, I think that you have to take into account the role of socialist welfare policies.

Is it not interesting that the countries that have the lowest fertility in Europe, including Spain, Italy and Poland, are also the most Catholic or formerly Catholic?

April 20, 2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, like Quebec, those countries are still more or less in full revolt against tradition and the Church. There is so much angry and selective history at play that it is going to take a new, calmer generation to rethink everything (not to mention a re-thinking in some churches about the authority of the family). Sort of like socialism in the 1930's or feminism in the '70s.

I agree with you to the extent that the correlation isn't nearly as direct or straightline as many argue, but to argue that there is no correlation seems equally blinkered. Part of the problem is definitional (what do "religious" and "secular" mean when translated into action?) and part is psychological. The key is not belief in this or that faith, but inward or outward-focussed lives and the degree to which the first can exist over time in a secular ethos. We shouldn't get too sidetracked by the obvious facts that atheist stoics can make model parents and there are plenty of religious types we wouldn't let within miles of our daughters. But, again, to say there is no correlation just seems wilfully blind and an unthinking obeseiance to the god of statistics.

We idea people just have to accept that the gulf between what people think they believe and what they really seem to through their actions is wider than we like to believe in these hyper-individualist, democratic times. Brit's favourite example seems to be the educated religionist ("You don't really believe that even if you think you do")and mine is the modern type who waxes eloquently at cocktail parties about how there is no such thing as objective morality and then discovers his wife is having an affair.

Ideology, principle and logic have only a very general and tenuous relationship to anything to do with family, marriage and kids. But it's an even worse mess if you try to dispense with them altogether.

April 20, 2006 10:21 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Brit asks (rhetorically): "What else, other than religious belief, can be used to clearly distinguish between Europe and the US."

Birth rates are very, very strongly correlated with population density. Indeed, as I wrote here, over half of the difference in birth rates can be "explained" by the difference in population density.

Also, the remaining variance does NOT seem to be explained by religiosity.

April 20, 2006 10:48 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Isn't asking why old eyes need glasses rather like asking why old cars have bald tires? The car designers have resource limitations and have to make tradeoffs. Perhaps, the big designer(s) in the sky (if any), have some constraints as well.

April 20, 2006 10:54 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Well, if He has to live with constraints, it limits the extent to which we can call Him the "Big" Designer. We'd have to call Him the "Not as Big as previously thought Designer".

April 20, 2006 11:21 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

I don't know, but it seems to me that if an Intelligence was involved with any significant aspect of designing the universe and life, it's still pretty impressive.

Also, none of this is new news. Certainly people have previously noticed that not everybody can see particularly well, so I'm not sure that the "previously" part of "Not as Big as previously thought Designer" gets it quite right.

April 20, 2006 11:32 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Bret;

Thanks for seeing my original point. The problem with fancy things such as Brit mentions are that TANSTAFL. Every feature has some cost and whether the tradeoff is a good one depends on the purpose of the design. It is not instrinsic to the design.

Whether the fact that a Designer faced constraints in human biology implies something about the limitations of the Designer isn't clear. It would to a large extent depend on how important those facets of human physiology were to the over set of physical laws of reality. Tradeoffs happen on all sorts of levels.

P.S. Concerning the octopus eye and the retina, I wondered if someone would bring that up. I didn't address it because the base post brought up a different set of design issues. It remains a rather difficult point for ID, though.

April 20, 2006 3:46 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Regarding my "fulminations." I used the phrase "ID and its ilk" for a precise reason. All variations of ID, regardless of religious motivation rely on two things: conclusions from ignorance, and that a negation of naturalistic evolution is an affirmation of ID. Both are fallacies of the very first order.

Well, three things (this brings a certain Monty Python sketch to mind). The complete absence of any research.

I was being slightly tongue in cheek when I was referring to governing arrangements. But only slightly. The problem with correlations are that they often carry a whiff of post hoc reasoning. My using government as the correlated factor is but one example.

Oroborous is on to something, though (although it fails to explain why Mormon fertility has nearly halved in the space of 25 years). To which I would add, as a guess, that there is a very high inverse correlation between marginal tax rates and fertility.

As there is between the availability of government supported child care and fertility. (something I've been meaning to post here at the DD for oh, about 10 months now)


Bret:

Isn't asking why old eyes need glasses rather like asking why old cars have bald tires?

It would be, absent statistics. One could, at least theoretically, design a car that would last for a million miles. But random hazard affects even the most well designed car. At some point, hazard would guarantee that no design improvement would yield an increase in longevity.

Given that, pre-modern medicine, hazard ended most human lives before the beginning of the fourth decade, why is it any mystery why our physical decline begins in earnest shortly thereafter?

April 20, 2006 7:42 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper,

Would I be correct in paraphrasing what you just wrote as "if the big designer in the sky designed us to live around 40 years (because He knew "hazard" would usually get us by then), why would He design our eyes to last longer?" In which case there's no difference between bad eyes and bald tires.

April 20, 2006 8:25 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Huh, I just wanna know who donated that blood that was missing Factor VIII. What's up with that?

Evolutionists have a number of theoretical explanations for senescence. Which one is correct may be an open question, but it's not a mystery of any sort.

'Ignorant, unsophisticated error' gets to show its stuff most freely in Somalia, so I fail to conclude that the secular approach is so bad.

It's entirely possible that at some future time, the remaining humans will be almost entirely descended from and dependent on the culture of present-day Somalia. We will always be outnumbered by nematodes, too. Natural selection cannot select for morality.

April 20, 2006 10:24 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Bret and Susan's Husband:

I don't think there's any need to get too focussed on or blinded by eyes in this issue.

Given the appendix, lower back pain, haemorrhoids, the ludicrously dangerous proximity of our food-intake and breathing systems, and the agonies and risks of childbirth (to mention but a few), I don't think anyone can make a serious case that we've been gifted with the best of all possible anatomies.

This narrows down the options wonderfully:

1) the Designer is incompetent, or at least, not omnipotent
2) the Designer is malevolent, or has a wicked sense of humour, or is as indifferent to humans as he is to any other organism
3) Mysterious Ways
4) there is no Designer.

Hardly anyone plumps for 1 or 2.

April 21, 2006 1:52 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Or that the question itself is completely meaningless. Perhaps you guys can give us a snapshot of what you would have designed. Don't forget to include lots of money.

April 21, 2006 2:21 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I would definitely, definitely have skipped the haemorrhoids .

I wrote a little poem about them once, An Ode to Piles:

Thank you, O Piles,
For helping me see
That God is a Bastard,
Or at least He is to me.

April 21, 2006 2:34 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't think I've ever seen the problem of pain expressed quite so elegantly and succinctly. Job has nothing on you, Brit. Ever consider a second career writing scripture?

April 21, 2006 3:46 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

I'm thinking of producing a re-make of "Ground Hog Day". Instead of the hero waking up repeatedly to Sonny and Cher, he'll be waking up to you on PBS going on about "the complete absence of any research".

April 21, 2006 3:52 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

... complete absence of any research.

Is my assertion incorrect?

April 21, 2006 4:05 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Not at all. I use the phrase frequently when discussing darwinian accounts of the history of man.

April 21, 2006 4:09 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Also, none of this is new news. Certainly people have previously noticed that not everybody can see particularly well, so I'm not sure that the "previously" part of "Not as Big as previously thought Designer" gets it quite right.

But it is! Not that people haven't noticed crappy eyesight and a host of other plagues and indignities inflicted upon Mankind, but the explanation previously given, to absolve the Designer from the charge that he is not as Great as previously thought, is that He did design us perfectly, in the form of Adam and his afterthought companion Eve, and it is Our fault that we now have crappy eyesight, painful childbirth (or childbirth at all, for that matter) because we are disobedient, spoiled, snot nosed brats. It was never previously imagined that the Designer has any limitations to His creative powers.

Can you imagine Genesis re-written to encompass this constrained Designer scenario? "And when it was complete, God said "Oy, I can't help with the eyes! I can't work under these conditions! I ordered non-entropic matter, but the Supplier sends me entropic matter instead. This stuff just won't hold onto order of any kind. My design was perfect, I tell you! Perfect! I can't be held liable for material defects."

April 21, 2006 6:05 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Brit;

Let me just say that I am a system designer myself, and you sound quite a bit like my whiney clients who want every possible feature at no cost and without tradeoffs.

That said, I do think that there are quite a number of design flaws in humans. What I disagree with is that they are so obvious that one can just list physiological problems and say "see, it's a bug!". It's really no different than the ID proponents who say "see, random chance couldn't make DNA!" with no knowledge of chemistry.

Until the Extropians succeed and we start designing life forms ourselves and begin to understand the tradeoffs (something we can only guess at now), we should be just a bit more humble about it.

April 21, 2006 9:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Greatest headline ever, though I cannot guarantee that it ever really appeared in a newspaper.

There was a fire at a country home in England. The headline was:

FIRE RAVAGES ANCIENT SEAT
Historic pile destroyed

April 21, 2006 9:43 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

SH,

You designers always stick together, don't you?

You're missing the point when you speak of design tradeoffs that a human designer faces in comparison to what The Designer had to contend with. The Designer, if he is the Almighty God whom we have been told about, faces no tradeoffs or restrictions. If He does, then He is not Almighty God. The more that you draw analogies to human experience, the more you pull Him away from Almightiness. Which is the irony of monotheism. Monotheists want to have their cosmic cake and eat it too. They want Almightiness, and at the same time they want In His Imageness (which is just the inverse of saying that He is in our image). The two are mutually exclusive.

The other point being missed is not the extent to which there are design tradoffs to consider, but the evidence built into the structure of living organisms that point directly to evolution, and not to design. Marine mammals such as whales show clear evidence of having evolved from land mammals, and not of being designed in their present state from scratch. To call these things designed is to say that evolution was designed, which makes ID a moot point and totally incapable of challenging evolution, which it's proponents are clearly intending that it do.

April 21, 2006 10:14 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Monotheists want to have their cosmic cake and eat it too.

Everybody wants that. Religionists want a god who will forgive them and punish the other guy. Evolutionists want a random, non-teleological process that will let them make all their own choices freely while hard-wiring the other guy for cooperation. The faithful define Him as love in a love-starved world and atheists insist angrily that although He doesn't exist, those who believe He does owe them an explanation for His cruelties.

Funny how when people talk about imperfections in the human design, they never think of the brain.

April 21, 2006 11:29 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Duck;

Not even logical / mathematical restrictions?

As for the other point, it's not being missed, I have simply used my Free Will to chose to not address it.

April 21, 2006 2:22 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Orrin squares the circle by having his god evolve but exempting him from blameworthiness for his mistakes.

The least you can allow, under those circumstances, is to exempt me from blameworthiness for having been born, but Orrin won't allow that.

Evolution can be made logical. Deism cannot.

Perhaps the Universe is not logical, but then you have to throw out Aquinas and prophylactics.

It isn't us materialists who are asking to stand on the both sides of the door at once.

I, for one, am not demanding an explanation for god's cruelties. They're a given. I'm asking for an explanation of why you believers think we should admire him.

April 21, 2006 3:12 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes, like Quebec, those countries are still more or less in full revolt against tradition and the Church.

Being a former Catholic, I think that I can offer some insight here. I liken it to an object subject to a tug-of-war between two forces. One (modernity) was relentlessly pulling Catholic families toward the modern Protestant norm of smaller family size. The other force, Catholic reaction to modernity, tried to hold Catholics fast to a pre-modern state of subservience to Medieval social norms. Eventually something had to give, and when the Catholic reaction lost it's grip (Vatican II) the built up tension slungshot Catholics past the family norms that modernity was pulling them towards.

The reaction in Quebec during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s was dramatic, especially since Quebec had been one of the most reactionary Catholic regimes in the western world. You are seeing somewhat of a counter revolution among some Gen X Catholics, but I doubt that you will see a return to pre Vatican II norms.

April 21, 2006 4:58 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "But it is! ... It was never previously imagined that the Designer has any limitations to His creative powers."

No one ever previously imagined that? Ever? Not even for an instant? Humanity has a serious lack of imagination then.

But that's not really what I meant anyway. The point I was trying to make was that there's not been, in my opinion, any new information for millenia that is any harder to square with deism than general pain, suffering, etc. that people have been aware of since there were people that had awareness.

If people can come up with a story about creation and man falling from some garden and that's why there's suffering, etc., then it's not much more of a reach to say that He planted fossils, etc. to test us to see if we can avoid Satan's materialism or whatever.

April 21, 2006 9:17 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "Evolution can be made logical. Deism cannot."

Perhaps, but as far as belief systems go, I don't really understand the difference between:

1. I observe, therefore it is; and
2. I believe, therefore it is.

Both seem equally logical to me.

I seriously doubt that the world is actually how we observe it to be. I'd bet that, at the very least, there's more dimensions or something like that that we cannot perceive, and as a result, we have a distorted and unreal picture of reality. For example, at the quantum level, something is not quite consistent.

In which case people's beliefs are similarly inaccurate and illogical.

April 21, 2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not a problem for materialists. If it cannot be observed, then it does not exist.

For the spiritualists, it does not operate backwards. They can say they observe, (as, eg, effect of intercessory prayer), but that does not, in itself, prove it exists.

They could, in principle, go on to prove it, but they've had many swings and so far failed to connect.

Sometimes absence of evidence is just absence.

April 21, 2006 9:40 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret,
If it was previously imagined, then the church authorities put a clamp on it. The focus of the argument is with ID proponents, who are primarily the Bible creationist crowd. There may be a few Buddhists or Unitarians on the ID side, though I doubt many. Evolution is not a problem for the vast majority of religious people in the world. Even Catholics go along with it!

I seriously doubt that the world is actually how we observe it to be.

Most of the time our observations are thoroughly adequate representations. The problem is is that we do more than observe, we extrapolate from our observations. People observe a portion of the Earth that looks relatively flat, and extrapolate from that observation that the entire Earth is flat. Reality is often counter-intuitive to our observations. Thus any philosophy, such as the mis-named "Realism", that uses common sense as a guide is seriously flawed.

The Designer idea is just such an extrapolation. People design functional objects, natural organisms resemble functional objects, ergo natural organisms are designed. You are right to say that the world, beyond our ability to observe it, is beyond our common notions about how the observable realm is. The Designer is just such a common notion. Your argument aligns with mine quite nicely.

April 22, 2006 6:56 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

If we can drop the swords for a moment, I'd like to pursue those thoughts of yours on the virulent reactions against the Catholic Church in Catholic countries.

I wish I had a better feel for the Catholic ethos before the late 19th century ultramontane period. Specifically, I am wondering whether modern Catholic anti-Catholicism stems more from a reaction against an increased priestly interference in private family life in the 19th century than from any strong objection to Catholic teachings and morality per se. It used to puzzle me to see young politicized Quebecers wax splentically about the oppressions of large families and exhausted mothers and then see them run off and have a ball at one of their numerous family get to-gethers (which they would never miss)with their ten siblings and hardy little mother who was still going strong. Belloc's famous ditty about the Catholic sun, music and wine, etc. is sure what it looked like to a lot Protestants whose idea of a dinner party was a long reading from Isaiah followed by boiled meat, potatoes and ice water. And how come we all thought Catholic girls were more--umm-- romantic, the little minxes?

I can understand all the political and philosophical rebellions, but it's the never-ending anger over guilt and gloom I don't get, as if Catholicism was nothing but sociopathic nuns in convents. You want guilt and gloom, we'll show you guilt and gloom. What about all the art, festivities, etc. that we Prots disdained as wildly pagan? There is a reason people don't go on cathedral tours of Norway and Scotland.

Yet Protestants leave the faith quietly in dribs and drabs with no great residual animosity while ex-Catholics monopolise one dinner party after another with their tales of horror and oppression. How come?

April 22, 2006 6:58 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,

That's an interesting perspective. I am a descendant of Quebec Catholics, so my experience doesn't mirror theirs exactly. All of my great-grandparents immmigrated to the New England area in the 1880s.

The French Catholic parishes in New England pushed the idea of "survivance" as hard as the church in Quebec, perhaps harder as they were in more culturally hostile territory. The Quebec church did not value education. It preferred that young people get into the workforce as quickly as possible. It wasn't uncommon in the 19th century for entire French families, with young children, to be working side by side in a textile mill. In Rhode Island in the 1920s the state passed a law mandating that all children attend school until at least the eighth grade. The law was protested vehemently by the French Catholic diocese.

I could see the evolution toward modernity in my family. My paternal grandparents were definitely "old school" Quebeckers. My grandfather graduated second grade, my gramdmother 6th. They valued work, church and family, nothing else. The attitude was "we are plain, ordinary , godly working folk". We'd visit them often, and my grandmother would hold forth like the Pope, telling all the family stories and laying down what was right and wrong.

My father had college ambitions but did not pursue them. Once their children could leave school (it was 10th grade by the 1940s) they were expected to leave school, get a job and support the family. They were expected to do so until they got married. He never expressed it to me, but I think he resented that his parents never supported him pursuing college.

I grew up in a large family (seven children, six survived to adulthood), which was not unusual in the neighborhood where I grew up, but not the norm, as it was mixed ethnically and religiously. Of course the whole sixties cultural revolution made big families seem like a primitive throwback. Even before I left the church I looked on it as a culturally backward institution. My father encouraged us all to go to college, which I believe was part of his effort to move us past this Quebecois legacy of being poor, uneducated working stiffs.

So its more than just family size, there is definitely a class issue in play. For most Catholic immigrants, being Catholic equated to being lower class. Especially for Quebeckers, since the Quebec church actively sought to keep their flock in a lower class status. So there is a sense of betrayal at the hands of the Church. Joel Garreau describes it well in "The Nine Nations of North America". Another book that describes the sense of inferiority felt by French Quebeckers in the pre Quiet Revolution days is "White Niggers of North America" by Pierre Vallieres. Althugh Vallieres was a communist revolutionary and former terrorist with the FLQ, his book gives a vivid sense of how badly the French citizens of Quebec were abused by their church.

April 22, 2006 8:00 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:
Not at all. I use the phrase frequently when discussing darwinian accounts of the history of man.
True enough, but OT. After all, you took issue with my aggregating all forms of ID/Creationists. I did so because they completely share three very salient characteristics.
Seriously, now, I'm still wondering why more secular materialists don't see the correlations between general belief in natural materialism and demographic ... declines ...
I've given this more thought, and concluded that neither Oroborous or I have addressed it fully. As you noted, the correlation between sectarian belief and demographics isn't direct. No doubt population density, marginal tax rates, et al are involved.
But after taking them all into account (the US is a pretty good experiment in this regard, as it combines all these variables with populations of various belief states), there is still a residual fertility difference between believers and non-believers.
One explanation -- yours, apparently -- is that belief inclines adherents towards thinking beyond the self.
There is, however, another, far more prosaic, explanation: Market Share.
Religions have always sought to increase market share, whether through murder, conversion, or procreation. this gives religionists an incentive to have children lacking in areligionists, since areligionists could scarcely care less what other people believe, so long as there are no predations associated with belief.
SH:
Let me just say that I am a system designer myself, and you sound quite a bit like my whiney clients who want every possible feature at no cost and without tradeoffs.
That doesn't sound to me at all like what Brit is saying. Rather, it seems pretty darn clear that natural selection doesn't conserves design elements that don't sufficiently detract from achieving successful progeny.
The peri-anal vascular system is practically unchanged from quadrapedal ancestors. It is inadequate to the task of the increased system pressure that is the consequence of an upright posture. So we have hemorrhoids: a random, painful affliction that respects no particular Deity instantiation. However, they do rather call into question whether particular instantiations can ever square with such afflictions.
As Harry said, Evolution is internally consistent. Religiously motivated ID can never be.
Then there is the additional, foundational problem facing Christianity. According to The Book, we are fallen. However, according to evidence, we are risen.

Peter:
I am wondering whether modern Catholic anti-Catholicism stems more from a reaction against an increased priestly interference in private family life in the 19th century than from any strong objection to Catholic teachings and morality per se.
I am a lapsed Episcopalian, so I don't have any real insight, but your surmise sounds pretty close to the mark. IMHO, many of those interferences imposed significant material costs (prohibiting birth control), and others had no moral implications whatsoever (onanism). The former collided with life in the here and now, the latter came to look both pointless and foolish.
Those sorts of things have to leave a mark.
In contrast, Protestants never were subjected to that sort of intrusion, hence have no stories with which to regale their dinner companions.

April 22, 2006 8:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Thanks, I really hadn't given the education angle enough thought, but there is lots of what you say that rings very true. The fight in Quebec was as much about who would control education as to whether people should get it or not, but yes, the "getting ahead" ethos was very weak at best. (In fairness, there were lots of priests and nuns who saw teaching as a vocation and fought with slow but steady success to bring higher learning to Quebecers without much funding). The resentment against the Church for making a devil's pact with the dreaded English bosses was nearly universal in Quebec a generation ago, much to the mystification of those bosses. But it really wasn't terribly fair historically because the real thrust of Quebec clerical objectives was always to keep everybody on the land and out of cities and factories and definitely out of New England. :-) That's where Vallieres, like most marxists, was misguided.

But does that all come back to my question of whether the Church was just so institutionally heavy that it could trump parental authority in a way no Protestant minister or rabbi could and stick its nose into the most private of affairs? In countries like Ireland and Quebec, the popular comedic image of the father is a jokey, happy-go-lucky fellow who would linger too long in the tavern if his steely, no-nonsense wife let him. You can see this on their TV sitcoms. In fact, I suspect when Catholic feminists rail against the patriarchy, they have priests in mind more than fathers.

As the communists, pre-civil war American South, South Africans and Catholic Church all discovered to their chagrin, people will put up with a lot of injustice for a long time, but they will not abide forever the destruction or underminning of their families.

Skipper:

I am a lapsed Episcopalian...

Big deal. Episcopalians are lapsed by definition. :-)

April 22, 2006 8:36 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,

Regarding the Church's usurpation of parental authority, I'd say that yes, it was bound to cause a backlash at some point. As long as Catholics lived only among other Catholics I don't think that it was as much an issue. But when they lived among Protestants who practiced freedom of conscience, the disparity became a point of contention. In the US the churches could not exert the kind of governmental authority that it could in Quebec or in Catholic countries like Ireland, so it was dependent on Catholic parents deferring to the Church. I experienced some of this in instances where my parents would tell me to "go talk to a priest" rather than assert their own moral opinions. It does tend to reduce one's respect for their authority.

I remember hearing an interview of Anna Quindlen on NPR. Although she was full of self confidence regarding her opinions on women's rights in opposition to the traditional patriarchy, she told how she wanted her children raised in the Catholic church because they needed a "moral education", as if parents are incapable of being moral teachers. It is this deference to the moral authority of priests that I find most objectionable about Catholicism.

April 22, 2006 9:51 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "The problem is is that we do more than observe, we extrapolate from our observations. ... The Designer idea is just such an extrapolation."

But Evolution is also just such an extrapolation, no? For example, we note that double strand breaks in DNA occur in the laboratory in the presence of radiation. Though no one has actually directly observed radiation causing a double strand break in nature, we extrapolate that the mechanism is the same there.

Everythings is an extrapolation of basic assumptions. My question is why certain groups are allowed to make such extrapolations and others are not.

April 22, 2006 11:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Market share? That's about as persuasive as arguing that people who like Coke drink more of them to help the home team keep up the good fight against Pepsi. Seriously, Skipper, one of the hardest things I find about trying to connect with some of your arguments is the total absence, or at least radical marginalization, of any sense of the subjective and the conscious. Genes and markets may just respond to external pressures, but people don't. That's the reason the human and behavioural sciences can be so whacky.

It's fine for Catholic leaders keeping a wary eye on Protestant numbers to fuss over comparative birthrates, but surely you don't really believe individual Catholics had all those kids for that reason? But if that's what you think, shouldn't you secularists be reading the riot act to your wives about their duty to breed more little defenders against those fecund theocrats?

April 22, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

You cannot extrapolate from a starting point of zero.

No evidence for any kind of deity. Therefore, all the to-do about what kinds of deities there are is not extrapolation but invention.

Science imagines but it is not allowed to invent.

++++

My experience of Catholicism was, I suppose, aberrant. In the South, we were lumped in with Jews and blacks and atheists. Consequently, the teaching was more moderate and tolerant than it seems to have been anywhere else.

That does not mean it was very moderate or very tolerant.

There was also a good deal of diversity, unlike, say, Quebec. Since the Southern Catholics did not produce their own teachers (we came under the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, unlike Quebec, which was under the Holy Office), we had to accept the leftovers from Catholic provinces.

My religious teachers came from New York City, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon.

All had differing traditions, which allowed for somewhat more flexible thinking.

A few years ago, I asked one of my high school classmates, who has kept up with all of us (I never did) how many are still in the church. Not one, he said.

April 22, 2006 12:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

No evidence for any kind of deity

Depends on the angle of observation, no?

April 22, 2006 1:58 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Everythings is an extrapolation of basic assumptions. My question is why certain groups are allowed to make such extrapolations and others are not.

It's not a matter of allowing or disallowing. We have freedom of thought and you are free to make whatever extrapolations you wish. But all extrapolations are not created equal. Some are proven wrong through additional observations, such as the flat earth theory and the geo-centric solar system.

Though radiation as a cause of gene mutation may be an umproven extrapolation, evolutionary theory does not rest on this one assumption. The fossil evidence and the genetic map of species are very strong supports to evolution. Where multiple extrapolations from various observation points point to the same conclusion, you can place a lot more confidence in that theory than in others.

Just for the record, do you support the ID theory, or are you just playing Devil's advocate?

April 22, 2006 4:25 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Market share? That's about as persuasive as arguing that people who like Coke drink more of them to help the home team keep up the good fight against Pepsi.

Heck. Even when I agree with you I'm wrong.

From way above you said I'm still wondering why more secular materialists don't see the correlations between general belief in natural materialism and demographic and other declines ...

Well, I wonder the same thing. After assessing what Oroborous had to say, and my own predilections regarding marginal tax rates, I had to conclude that factoring out all the common modes left a small, but conspicuous, difference in fertility that belief might very well explain.

Okay. How?

All religions that I can think of offhand direct either killing or converting other-believers. And they also direct unrestrained procreation. The conclusion is impossible to avoid: to the extent these measures are successful, the adherents will see an increase in belief market share.

NB: this is no longer about people, but about the prevalence of a particular belief. Humans just happen to be the belief vectors. Taking Christianity as an example (although any religion would do): the religion could make assertions as to what constitutes a well lived life, and leave fealty completely aside. So long as one lives according to certain principles, then how, or what, on worships is irrelevant.

But Christianity isn't like that. Nor is any other religion.

Why?

Duck:

One need not rely upon radiation as a source of gene mutation. There is no such thing in nature as a perfect process. While chaos theory doesn't seem worth much with regard to specific predictions, it cements the case that even the simplest processes are not deterministic.

EG: If you were to drop grains of sand from a specific point, a pile would form. At some specific slope angle that I can't remember off hand, the pile will not be able to support itself, whereupon it will slump.

There is scarcely a simpler system to be found, yet it is impossible to predict which grain of sand -- a perfect quantum in this system -- will cause the pile to slump.

No need to rely upon radiation when chaos will suffice.

April 22, 2006 7:32 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck asks: "Just for the record, do you support the ID theory, or are you just playing Devil's advocate?"

Neither.

If ID was taught at my children's schools, I'd strongly consider moving them to a different school. So I definitely don't think much of ID.

On the other hand, I also think that the way that Evolution is put forth by its advocates, both in the schools and out, is extremely poor. For example, consider the following statement by Richard Dawkins (of Richard Awfully Big Religious Adventure fame):

"It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)."

It's not the ad hominem part of the statment that bothers me. The part that bothers me most about this statement is the phrase "believe in." Evolution is a theory, a model of how natural processes might operate. You can't "believe in" a model. You can "believe in" God, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Jesus, perhaps even love (according to a number of popular songs), and any number of other metaphysical entities, but once someone crosses the line to believing in a scientific theory, it's no longer just science. It's become dogma with science being the church and scientists being the high priests.

I think that turning science into dogma does a great disservice to science and to humanity. It cheapens science education. In the classroom, each topic is taught as fact, and then they move on to the next topic without ever really considering what the differences between theories and facts are. Where are the holes in the theory? What might prove it wrong?

But even worse, it slows down scientific progress. Some of the greatest scientific achievements have blown previously existing understanding apart. Einstein's relativity broke Newton's laws of motion. The Quantum Mechanics folk basically rewrote all of reality (or lack thereof).

Dawkins should be encouraging people to prove Evolution wrong. If they don't succeed, so what? If they do, it would be a huge breakthrough. But to disparage alternate viewpoints, however silly, and discourage the teaching of such viewpoints, is hugely counterproductive in my opinion.

From my point of view, you guys are the lower disciples of the high priests of the church of Evolution. I know that you don't agree, but I really have a hard time distinguishing between the way y'all push for Evolution as Truth and the way a preacher pushes his brand of Truth.

My robots use genetic algorithms to help them navigate. I personally created those specific algorithms. Genetic algorithms were inspired by Darwinian natural selection. I'm more intimately involved with Evolution theory than the vast majority of people outside the biological sciences. Yet I don't "believe in" Evolution. I don't care whether or not Evolution is Truth.

Why do you?

April 22, 2006 9:57 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "it is impossible to predict which grain of sand -- a perfect quantum in this system -- will cause the pile to slump."

Unless you're the Big Designer in the Sky.

April 22, 2006 10:01 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Notice in that quotation, Dawkins did not say he believes in evolution. I've read that book, and he doesn't say so anywhere else there either.

His remark is directed to those who say they do not believe in evolution. Which is pretty close to the same as saying, I reject it, whatever amount of evidence in its favor there may be.

Intellectually, no different from the Arab conqueror who was asked whether to preserve the Library at Alexandria. (His reply -- the story may be apocryphal -- was that to the extent it mirrored the Koran it was not needed, to the extent it did not it was evil and deserved destruction.)

I agree that science education is clumsily done, and every proposition ought to be presented to the kiddies with error bars.

But we know what happens then. The people who are so wise about everything but science then say, 'See, you don't know anything. Look at your uncertainties.'

It is not the evolutionists who are claiming bullet-proof truths.

There is an exception that proves the rule. Someone, I cannot recall who, said that if indeed life is found outside the Earth, we cannot predict how it will operate, except one thing: it will operate according to the principles of darwinian natural selection.

A blinding truth, that one. How could it not?

April 22, 2006 11:55 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Very, very well said, Bret. The fact that ID is a crock (or rather, strictly speaking, fantastically implausible) doesn't negate the fact that the debate has generated some very cogent criticisms of dawrwinian evolution as an exclusive mechanism, which is what this is really about--not whether it is "true" or not. Whether people like Berlinski, Johnson, etc. are called ID'ers or not, and whether they are "deniable" or not, they are serious men raising very serious issues that their opponents avoid debating by heaping ever-louder scorn and repeating othodoxies endlessly. It is these that the mainstream scientific community seems terrified to see taught or debated.

The fact that our hosts here tend to see the likes of Dawkins and Dennett as solid, authoritative scientists who are just a little over the top with their rhetoric, rather than modern Torquemadas fiercely opposing free inquiry is telling.

April 23, 2006 3:35 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "[Dawkin's] remark is directed to those who say they do not believe in evolution. Which is pretty close to the same as saying, I reject it, whatever amount of evidence in its favor there may be."

Rereading the immediate context of Dawkin's quote, I can almost buy that. But not quite. A few other quotes from the same piece support my original interpretation:

"the fact of evolution itself, a fact that is proved utterly beyond reasonable doubt"

"I don't think it is too melodramatic to say that civilization is at war. It is a war against religious bigotry ...
If you feel even vaguely in the mood to stand up and be counted, evolution is a pretty good issue on which to take your stand.
"

"You are as safe taking your stand on the fact of evolution as you would be on the fact that the earth goes round the sun."

These are not the words of scientific thinking, in my opinion. They are the words of dogmatic belief. He need not explicitly claim to believe in Evolution. His writings make it clear that he does.

Harry Eagar also wrote: "It is not the evolutionists who are claiming bullet-proof truths."

No? Please reread the above quotes from Dawkins.

Harry Eagar wrote: "Someone, I cannot recall who, said that if indeed life is found outside the Earth, we cannot predict how it will operate, except one thing: it will operate according to the principles of darwinian natural selection."

That's not quite correct. It will most likely operate in a manner that is modeled by the principles of darwinian natural selection. No one knows how things really operate. Or if you think so, please explain all the quantum paradoxes to me.

April 23, 2006 6:00 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret,

Let me rephrase the question. Do you think that evolutionary theory is mostly correct?

People substitute "believe" for "think" all the time, it doesn't necessarily connote dogmatic, emotionally driven certainty. I think that is the manner in which Dawkins is using the term. Dawkins is a better scientist than he is a diplomat. He is totally convinced that evolution is true, but he would serve the cause of science better if he tempered his criticism of opponents with some humility and understanding.

Bret, your aversion to ever making statements of certainty is intellectually admirable, but I find it a little counterproductive. Some uncertainties are less uncertain than others, you would have to agree, no? Do we serve the truth by accomodating all uncertainties equally in education? Should a child be allowed to walk away from a geography class believing that his flat earth theory is no less certain than a spherical earth theory?

You guys won't stand up for ID theory, but neither will you stand up for Evolution, even though I'm sensing that you "think" it is most likely true. Why is that? There will always be uncertainties, but it shouldn't stop us from declaring in favor for the ideas that are the least uncertain.

ID is a farce not because we can prove that there is no Designer, but because it isn't scientific. You can raise questions about elements of evolutionary theory, but to say that ID gains from any doubts raised about evolution is wrong thinking. It makes no positive claims about what constitutes design, it gives no scientific basis for evaluating designed-ness. It is based on a faulty syllogism:

Men design things,
Natural organisms share similarities with things that men design,
Ergo, natural orgamisms are designed.

To quote from the Bible of Fallacies (compliments of Peter), it is a Non Sequitur.

On that basis alone it should be banned from any public school science course. You don't have to be an acolyte of the Church of Darwin to see that.

April 23, 2006 7:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Johnson etc. are not serious enough to have studied the elements of biology. There howling mistakes about experimental biology have been exposed over and over.

And while Dawkins may lead the charge on the epistemological underpinning of understanding of now life works, there is plenty of trench work demolition of the sillinesses of ID. Tanner Edis, for example, destroyed the notion that flagella could not have non-motile precursors; and -- though I am not qualified to judge every aspect of the argument -- professional mathematicians have ridiculed Dembski.

Evolution is as much a fact as climate. There is a big debate on about which direction climate is evolving in, but I've never heard anybody doubt that it does.

April 23, 2006 10:26 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck asks: "Do you think that evolutionary theory is mostly correct?"

If by "correct" you mean that models built using the principles of the theory do not contradict available data (however sparse and incomplete) and provide reasonably accurate predictions (however infrequent it's able to make such predictions), then yes, the theory of evolution as currently stated is "mostly correct."

However, that doesn't imply (to me) any of the following:
1. That the theory actually reflects the processes (underlying reality) that led to the current set of species.
2. That there aren't other explanations for the development of the species based strictly on measurable natural processes that either augment, could be used in conjunction with, or could be used instead of, the current theory of evolution.
3. That there aren't other explanations for the development of the species based on superempirical or supernatural processes.
4. That the current version of the theory of evolution is in its final form and has no gaps or errors.

In other words, I believe it to be correct but with a large number of limitations. Indeed, I have a hunch that it's no more correct than the luminiferous ether or caloric, both of which matched the data at the time but were later abandoned when additional information became available. I think we're very early in the process of understanding the mechanisms behind evolution.

Duck wrote: "People substitute "believe" for "think" all the time..."

Yes, but adding "in" after "believe" makes it an intransitive verb and turns it into an affirmation of faith, not thinking. From dictionary.com for "believe":

v. intr.
1. To have firm faith, especially religious faith.
2. To have faith, confidence, or trust: I believe in your ability to solve the problem.
3. To have confidence in the truth or value of something: We believe in free speech.
4. To have an opinion; think: They have already left, I believe.

Even (3) is a statement of faith. (4) doesn't have "in" after believe. Whereas it is possible to use "believe in" not as a statement of faith, I believe such usage is very uncommon.

Duck asks: "Do we serve the truth by accomodating all uncertainties equally in education?"

No. But if we're going to state that certain things such as Evolution are Truth with a capital 'T', then it seems only fair that we allow other dogmatic perspectives to have equal time.

Even better, clearly state the uncertainties when teaching Evolution, perhaps even erring on the side of overstating the uncertainties. If that had been done over the last several decades, I doubt we'd be having this debate now. Science oversold itself, and that has lead to the current situation.

Perhaps ID should not be taught as Science. And instead of being taught as Truth, perhaps Evolution should be taught as science.

April 23, 2006 4:27 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "Evolution is as much a fact as climate."

One of the problems with the term "Evolution" is that it has multiple meanings, each of which is slightly different. I'll admit that I fall into the trap of switching meanings midstream myself. Usually, when I write Evolution with a capital 'E', I'm referring to current evolutionary theory, conveniently described by Wikipedia.

I believe Dawkins is also guilty of switching definitions in the article I referred to earlier. In the "believe in" quote that I referenced, he may have been referring to the more trivial definition of evolution which simply means change. However, his claims of people not believing that change occurs seems unlikely to me.

Even pollsters are not clear when asking about [E/e]volution and what definition they're intending. When Dawkins claims that "nearly half the people in the United States don't believe in evolution," I'm wondering what the poll question was (and I'd especially suspect it if it contained the phrase "believe in" which, for most people, implies an affirmation of faith).

April 23, 2006 4:40 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

From my point of view, you guys are the lower disciples of the high priests of the church of Evolution ... I really have a hard time distinguishing between the way y'all push for Evolution as Truth and the way a preacher pushes his brand of Truth.

Well, perhaps this will make the distinction clear.

I think if you carefully read what I have written regarding naturalistic evolution, you will find that I assert it meets several criteria: it is based upon first order knowledge; it is amenable to changes in that knowledge; it is internally consistent; and, probably most importantly, it has numerous, binding, deductive consequences.

I have no doubt that naturalistic evolution is incomplete. I strongly suspect that incompleteness does not contain contradiction (in the sense that relativity does not contradict Newtonian mechanics).

So my "belief" in the correctness of evolution is probabilistic: based on the evidence available to me, I think it more likely than not that if I was to be presented with the boxed DVD set of Natural History that included every species on Earth, it would be consistent with naturalistic evolution. That is, the system would achieve self-organized complexity without any interference from a deus ex machina

Which is really the gist of the whole kerfuffle: no amount of evidence, or experience, will suffice to convince some people that astonishing complexity can (in fact, will) occur in certain types of systems without any plan or goal, whatsoever.

This is what Dawkins is talking about: there is no defendable alternative to naturalistic evolution. That doesn't mean there can't be, just that, at the moment, there isn't one. All those insisting otherwise are one or more of ignorant, stupid, or dishonest.

And when Dawkins says that evolution itself, as opposed to the mechanisms behind it, is proven utterly beyond reasonable doubt, on what grounds do you contradict that assertion?

April 23, 2006 7:15 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper:

I read your "The Argument Clinic" post. Let me rephrase what I'm saying using your terminology (your specific definitions of rhetoric and dialectic).

It's rhetoric (by your defintion) to say that the theory of Evolution ("modern evolutionary synthesis") "meets several criteria: it is based upon first order knowledge; it is amenable to changes in that knowledge; it is internally consistent; and, probably most importantly, it has numerous, binding, deductive consequences." And as such, it is a good theory and one possible explanation of how life on earth has changed over time.

It's a dialectic position (again by your defintion) to say that the theory of Evolution is ***the*** explanation of how life on earth has changed over time (herein called "***EVOLUTION***"). Like the existence or non-existence of deities, it's impossible to know that without reliance on faith in materialism.

I'm both a nontheist and a nonmaterialist (as opposed to an atheist and amaterialist). As a nontheist it's pretty hard for me to buy into The Creation. As a nonmaterialist, it's pretty hard for me to buy into ***EVOLUTION*** as opposed to evolution as one possible explanation of life on earth. For sure, if I had to pick between Creationism and ***EVOLUTION***, I'd pick the latter. But I don't have to pick, so why should I? And I don't want someone else to pick for me.

I have to imagine that materialists would generally share my skepticism of Creationism. Not because they're materialists, but because they are either atheists, nontheists, or what I consider to be weak theists.

I have to imagine that theists would share my skepticism of ***EVOLUTION***. Not because they are theists, but because they are not materialists.

My experience and observation is that ***EVOLUTION*** is what's taught in public schools. If I were a theist, I'd be pissed too, and would also fight against it.

Hey Skipper wrote: "Which is really the gist of the whole kerfuffle: no amount of evidence, or experience, will suffice to convince some people that astonishing complexity can (in fact, will) occur in certain types of systems without any plan or goal, whatsoever."

I think that gist is secondary. In my opinion, the primary basis of the whole kerfuffle is an irreconcilable argument between the Church of God and the Church of Materialism.

Hey Skipper wrote: "And when Dawkins says that evolution itself, as opposed to the mechanisms behind it, is proven utterly beyond reasonable doubt, on what grounds do you contradict that assertion?"

I didn't contradict that assertion. I said I didn't "believe in" that assertion. That would be an affirmation of faith. I have no faith in ***EVOLUTION*** or materialism.

By the way, if you're wondering which "ism" I do subscribe to, it's probably DontHaveAClueAndDontCareIsm or aphilosophicalism or apatheticism. I'm sure there's a formal philosophical term for my belief system, but I don't have a clue what it is (and don't care).

April 23, 2006 10:25 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Susan’s Husband:

Contrary to appearance, I’m not whining about design faults. I accept that with evolution, just enough is good enough.

Piles, heart attacks, ice-cream headaches and death are the minor downsides to a big upside, and they pale in comparison with the extraordinary fact of being alive at all.


Bret:

Who cares what Dawkins said? ID proponents waste too much time arguing against mined quotes from Richard Dawkins, and not enough time addressing the science they claim to oppose.

It is not inconceivable that nothing in this world is a fact, other than ‘a thought exists now’. But if that’s the case, then there’s nothing very interesting for us to say about anything. So let’s assume that some things are facts.

Now, if anything in this world is a fact, then that life has evolved over the history of this planet is one of those facts.

The question is how this happened, which is what evolutionary science attempts to address.

Your claim that scientists are ‘dogmatic’ about evolutionary science is a category error: evolutionary science is too broad, too ever-changing, and too self-aware of its own status and internal falsifiability for that accusation to be meaningful. It’s like saying scientists are too dogmatic about ‘physics’ or ‘astronomy’ or ‘meteorology’.

With nearly everything outside of things like pure mathematics, we have to take our best guess on the evidence currently available. Evolutionary theory is no exception.

Your pointing out that our best guess on the evidence currently available is a guess is trivial and irrelevant. We already knew that. We know we’re probably wrong about a lot of things, but we’re also probably right about a lot of things.

If you don’t like the theories because they are theories, then fine and dandy.

But here’s the key point that ID proponents time and again fail to address, and you make the same mistake: if you’re going to insist on special treatment for evolutionary theory, then you have to justify why it’s being singled out ahead of our theories about everything else: astronomy, medicine, meteorology, physics, chemistry, archaeology, military history, economics….

April 24, 2006 1:51 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

A serious question. Imagine an ID and evolutionary scientist arguing. Both are trained biologists. They study the same fossil record and DNA research and agree that much natural history can be explained by the modern synthesis. Then they arrive at--let's call it a conundrum--like the eye or blood clotting or whatever.

The IDer says: "This is irreducibly complex and could not have evolved by natural selection. Here are my sophisticated mathematical/probability calculations that show this. The only plausible explanation is that it was designed."

The Evolutionist replies: "Nonsense. Here are my equally sophisticated mathematical/probability calculations that show it is possible. True, we don't know how as yet, but I am confident we will some day and there is no reason to conclude anything other than that natural selection was involved."

In what sense does one meet your criteria and the other not?

April 24, 2006 2:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

I completely forgot about ice cream headaches. OK, you win.

This reminds me a bit of a quip from the Jesuit Relations, letters home from the first French missionaries to New France in the 15-1600's. One long-suffering type wrote to his mission head something like as follows:

"Father, I can accept the cold, the heat, the privations and the savages as all part of my calling and thus divine blessings for which I gladly give thanks. But, Father, I confess there is one question I cannot answer and which tries my faith sorely: Why, oh why, would a benevolent God have made black flies?"

April 24, 2006 2:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The notion that Science (whowever that is) has presented Evolution in the schools as The truth is a caricature of the Creationist/Fundamentalists.

It's true that what gets presented in introductory courses concerning natural history/evolution is about as complete a statement as what gets presented in biology courses about the germ theory of disease.

You want the complete statement of the most complex theory known to man presented to ninth-graders all at once? That's not the way physics is presented to them.

The notion, which started this, that Evolution is dogmatic, inflexible, hostile to criticism etc. can be completely and finally refuted in two words: Motoo Kimura.

April 24, 2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Brit asks (probably rhetorically, but too bad:-): "Who cares what Dawkins said?"

Well, you do, for one, seeing as some of your posts on this very blog were specifically built around his work.

Brit wrote: "But here’s the key point that ID proponents time and again fail to address, and you make the same mistake: if you’re going to insist on special treatment for evolutionary theory, then you have to justify why it’s being singled out ahead of our theories about everything else: astronomy, medicine, meteorology, physics, chemistry, archaeology, military history, economics…."

I do think that all science is poorly taught, not just evolution. Note that in one of my comments above, I wrote: "I think that turning science into dogma does a great disservice to science and to humanity. It cheapens science education. In the classroom, each topic is taught as fact, and then they move on to the next topic without ever really considering what the differences between theories and facts are. ..."

Also note that I specifically wrote that if my children attended a school that started teaching ID, "I'd strongly consider moving them to a different school."

So it's not true that I personally "make the ... mistake" of insisting on special treatment for evolutionary theory.

On the other hand, I don't buy that argument anyway. It's like saying that we shouldn't have invaded Iraq because there were other evil countries (NK, Iran, etc.), so why should Iraq be singled out? There were plenty of valid reasons not to invade Iraq, but that wasn't one of them. The answer is that you have to start somewhere, and you might as well start where the likelihood of success and overall impact are highest.

So that's not a mistake - it's a tactic.

Brit also wrote: "If you don’t like the theories because they are theories, then fine and dandy."

I like theories very much because they produce models that I can use.

What I don't like is when people confuse a model for reality itself.

April 24, 2006 5:40 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

In what sense does one meet your criteria and the other not?

I feel a parable coming on. Yesterday I replaced a recalcitrant turn signal switch on one of our cars. The first step in the procedure is to disconnect the battery; the next to last is to reconnect it. The last step is to reinitialize the power windows.

Three worked, but the driver's did not. A singularly odd thing, since I hadn't gotten anywhere close to it during the job, and it had been just fine before I decided to play shade-tree mechanic.

Going with one of the many first laws of aviation, this one stating that is something goes wrong, undo the last thing you did, I crawled back under the dashboard and checked a connector adjacent to the one I had to change, just in case I had disturbed it.

Not only no disturbance, but wrong wire colors.

Next I grabbed the shop manual and ran the wiring diagrams for the windows and the power distribution system.

There were a couple fuzes that might have been culprits, except the other windows worked, and I could hear the relay operating inside the driver's door when I actuated the switch.

As the rest of the wiring diagram showed, it was clearly impossible for this window alone to have failed, because the odds of it failing in both the up and down directions at the same moment are practically nil.

Because I could find no possibility of material cause for this problem, I had just discovered Intelligent Design. Since I had determined the cause, I packed up my tools, left the window at half mast, and went in to tell my wife to get used to it, because God had so decided.

I trust you see the problem here. I arrived at a conclusion from ignorance, deciding that the problem represented a conundrum simply because I was insufficiently clever to figure it out. The only way I could validly arrive at such a conclusion is if I could demonstrate that I had all the evidence, not just the evidence I knew of, and that the evidence could not possibly explain the phenomena.

Actually, there is more than one problem. For as soon as I decide upon ID as the cause, I am done: I have the answer, obviating any further investigation.

Well, it would have done, except my wife didn't buy the whole ID thing, figuring I was hoping to beg off in favor of a beer.

My parable is both completely true and slightly tongue in cheek. However, it illustrates the foolishness of the ID scientist's position, which takes as true what is far from unproven: the existence of a conundrum.

I would take issue with an evolutionary scientist who states there is no reason to conclude anything other than that natural selection was involved as conveying too much specific certainty. Had the evolutionist instead said "we don't yet know, but I think it extremely likely that should we eventually nail down the details, they will all be well within the realm of naturalistic processes."


The rest of the story: It occurred to me that, since I was climbing in and out of the driver's side door, it was open when I both disconnected and reconnected the battery. I have spent sufficient time around control systems to know their occasional sensitivity to initial conditions, including ones that might not appear obvious at first glance. Or included in a wiring diagram.

So I shut all the doors, and cycled the battery power once again. Window worked like a champ.

ID plumbs the depths of intellectual dishonesty (or stupidity) when stating it has discovered some conundrum or another. In many cases (the bird wing, eyes, and blood clotting jump to mind), they are lost before even getting out the front door. In the rest, they are using ignorance as proof while ignoring the many instances when that has proven abundantly silly.

Bret:

It's rhetoric (by your defintion) to say that the theory of Evolution ("modern evolutionary synthesis") "meets several criteria: ..."

No, it isn't. The criteria I listed are themselves instances of first order knowledge, each of which can be tested against observation, and are therefore open to contradiction regardless of one's viewpoint.

I'm not the tiniest bit clear on what you mean when you say you are a non-materialist, and you fail to clear things up when you assert that theists should be pissed off about ***Evolution*** being taught in schools.

A true theist wouldn't take it for granted that God is confined to what a "revealed" text allows.

Which makes your statement [that this] whole kerfuffle is an irreconcilable argument between the Church of God and the Church of Materialism unsustainable.

Who are we to dictate how God may act?

I'm sure there's a formal philosophical term for my belief system, but I don't have a clue what it is (and don't care).

Well, whether you care or not, there is a word: Nullity.

April 24, 2006 7:15 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, your proposal is fated to remain a gedanken experiment.

There are not any ID proponents who are trained biologists.

Second, when the amateurs have proposed this or that organic system (flagellum, for example) as an irreducibly complex example, the real biologists do not reply with models or mathematical arguments.

They go back and look at the systems. As it happens, the flagellum had never been deeply investigated until the IDers started waving it around.

There was a theory, deriving it from secretory organs, but no one had rigorously developed, down to the atomic level, how that worked.

Under the stimulus of the IDers, biologists now have shown, at the atomic level, how the secretory organ in stepwise fashion acquires motility.

Along the way, they demolished the 'mouse trop' argument in hilarious fashion.

Over the past generations, there have been a number of iconoclasts in the house of Darwin, Goldschmidt, Kimura and others.

All of them got serious attention, and one of them (Kimura) still does, because his neutral theory turned out to be an addition to darwinism (not a subtraction, as ID would be if it could).

The neutral theory is now accepted as something, although its relative importance is still disputed.

It is important, Bret, not to take ID descriptions of a process they both hate and fail to understand as accurate depictions of the process. If you visit ID Land, you find there is no there there.

April 24, 2006 8:02 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "I'm not the tiniest bit clear on what you mean when you say you are a non-materialist..."

By that I mean that I do not have faith in "the theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena" (from dictionary.com). In other words, I do not reject out of hand that there might be supernatural forces. I don't have any belief in specific supernatural forces either though.

Hey Skipper wrote: "A true theist wouldn't take it for granted that God is confined to what a "revealed" text allows."

Really? Is that the case for all true theists? Is that really true or are you just projecting what you think should be true for all true theists? And what exactly would false theists be? People who thinks they believe in God but really don't? I'll have to admit I don't really know what Theists believe so I'll have to retract the related statement about them being pissed. My observations of the kerfuffle around ***EVOLUTION*** brought me to that belief, but apparently wrongly.

Hey Skipper wrote: "...Nullity..."

I don't know about that. I do get out of bed in the morning, after all.

April 24, 2006 8:59 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Bret:

A sort of general cynicism about the value of any hard-earned human knowledge is ok as a philosophical stance, but not very useful as a basis for education.

The rumours that children are force-fed science as dogmatic truth are greatly exaggerated.

If those rumours were true, more people might understand at least the tiniest first thing about evolution.

Very few do, but virtually every bugger learned about Noah's Ark in Sunday School.

April 25, 2006 1:24 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Cute parable, but unfortunately one that has nothing to do with the provenance of cars or even their component parts. The next time you hear of a opthamologist abjuring medicine in favour of theology to cure a sick eye, give me a call and I'll slap him around for you.


Harry:

There are not any ID proponents who are trained biologists.

If that were true, which it isn't, it would say as much about the herd mentality of biologists as about ID. You guys have got so attached to the music of your splenetic fulminations that you have convinced yourself anyone with half a brain would dismiss it in an instant, even though it raises many timeless issues that have bedeviled man throughout history. That's why you represent the anti-intellectualism of the age. Self-correcting science indeed!


And of course evolutionists use math and probability. That's what the typing monkey debate (and similar debates about whether this or that mutation could have occurred within this or that time period) was all about.

Brit:

The rumours that children are force-fed science as dogmatic truth are greatly exaggerated.

Yes, and the policeman is my friend. Are you suggesting that science is taught to kids as opinion and conjecture, ready to be trumped at any time by new evidence? C'mon now, sweetie, surely after all this time we're past painting pictures of cautious, modest science teachers simply nudging along the natural curiosity of youth vs. fierce Bible thumpers terrifying the poor innocent tykes about Noah.

April 25, 2006 2:30 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Well we all paint our own pictures, Peter.

I find your picture of the world's biologists being split down the middle, with those who've concluded it's ID on one side, and the evolution-wallahs on the other, particularly amusing.

In fact, ID stems entirely from a handful of oddballs with diplomas at the Discovery Institute. The inroads they have made have been into the Christian Right and the blogworld, not the scientific community, which has correctly identified them as a big joke.

You proposed what you believed to be a serious question, and Skipper gave you a serious answer.

The person who, when faced with a scientific puzzle says: "here we just have to give up, we'll never understand how it works, so it must be irreducible" is not a scientist. He's someone who has studied a little bit of science for his own purposes.

April 25, 2006 2:58 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oh no, you don't. You win the argument ad numerum hands down, at least among biologists. That fallacy is all yours. Congratulations.

So the definition of a scientist is one who believes science can or eventually will resolve all scientific puzzles? Anyone who doubts that is not a true scientist?

April 25, 2006 3:53 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Cute parable, but unfortunately one that has nothing to do with the provenance of cars or even their component parts.

Au contraire my friend, it has everything to do with learning about the provenance of cars, or life, and the component parts thereof.

The biologist in your hypothetical who claims the existence of a conundrum is either ignorant, stupid, or a liar. There simply is no other way to account for such graphic examples of petitio principii.

That biologists conclusion was the same as mine for the hour I spent scratching my head until I drew blood.

That is how one meets my criteria, while the other doesn't.

One substitutes "know" for "don't know."

The other doesn't.

So the definition of a scientist is one who believes science can or eventually will resolve all scientific puzzles? Anyone who doubts that is not a true scientist?

No. But a true scientist would never declare the puzzle solved in the presence of missing pieces. Which is precisely what is happening when an ID "scientist" diagnoses a conundrum.


Bret:

Hey Skipper wrote: "A true theist wouldn't take it for granted that God is confined to what a "revealed" text allows."

I wrote hastily. I should have said that it is beyond ironic that theists feel they can confine God to the covers of a book.

I doubt there is any such thing as a true theist, given that mutually exclusive true thiests are so thick on the ground.

April 25, 2006 4:51 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

The Discover Institute's number one tactic is to try to claim that evolution is a scientific branch in 'crisis', wracked by controversy down its central seam (hence 'teach the controversy').

It's no numerum fallacy to show that the claim is false.

It's not required that all scientists believe all puzzles will one day be solved. But it is anti-science to argue from ignorance that a particular one never will.

April 25, 2006 5:07 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't see much evidence of a claim that evolution is "wracked by controversy down its central seam" here.

April 25, 2006 6:20 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Try the links from this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teach_the_Controversy

April 25, 2006 6:34 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Now I know why Harry once chewed me out for citing Wikipedia. :-)

April 25, 2006 7:01 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Like Google, the chicken vindaloo curry, and viagra, Wikipedia is a brilliant invention but must be used with caution.

As this poor sod found out.

April 25, 2006 7:14 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

The IDer says: "This is irreducibly complex and could not have evolved by natural selection. Here are my sophisticated mathematical/probability calculations that show this. The only plausible explanation is that it was designed."

...
In what sense does one meet your criteria and the other not?


I would say that the naturalistic explanation has a long history of winning faceoffs with the supernaturalistic explanation. As I mentioned in the post, supernaturalistic philosophy once reigned supreme or all explanations of natural phenomena, but has faced a long series of setbacks through the centuries. Just call it the "momentum" factor.

But the most important weakness of the ID side is that it expects to win "by default". As if the ID'ers were members of a bowling league, and one night their opposing team is a no show. They win their three games without having to knock down a single pin, merely by showing up. So they think they can show up to a scientific debate about some aspect of evolution, and if the evolution team doesn't "show up" with an airtight proof, they think they can take the set by default, because they showed up with an explanation.

The ID theory has to have some substance. It has to be able to knock down some pins. All it has working for it is the human cognitive bias toward seeing agency in every action that occurs. This bias is well documented and has been shown to be a major source of error in every "scientific" endeavor that it has played a role. Indeed, to correct for that bias the ID team should have to play every game with a -10 pin handicap, but I'd be happy to waive the handicap just to see if they could ever throw a ball that didn't end up in the gutter.

April 25, 2006 7:26 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Brit wrote: "If those rumours [that children are force-fed science as dogmatic truth] were true, more people might understand at least the tiniest first thing about evolution."

I don't think that conclusion follows from that premise. If the focus is on dogmatic truth, they would be less likely to get the science, so if anything it would support the accusation that the focus is on dogma, not science.

Nonetheless, I don't think that "children are force-fed science as dogmatic truth." I did go to school once upon a time and Evolution was simply taught as fact, not force fed as dogmatic truth. I'm sure there is some variance in how various teachers teach Evolution, but I doubt that many teach with the dogmatic fervor of someone like Dawkins.

Since I've never been in a church for a service, and only in a synagogue a few times, perhaps I don't understand dogmatic teaching, but it seems to me that dogma is often merely presented as fact and then becomes dogma in the listeners' minds. It doesn't necessarily need to be force fed. No?

The end result is dogmatic belief, though.

April 25, 2006 9:29 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Dogma is more than what is merely accepted as fact. I would say that the line to dogma is crossed when a position is held as fact in opposition to the preponderance of evidence. Dogma, I think, requires that the believer have a deep emotional investment in the positions held as fact. Now undoubtedly there are many evolutionists who have such deep emotional investments, but I don't think that they are the majority. If at some future date evidence is discovered that substantially alters evolutionary theory, I think that most evolutionists would, in time, accept the altered theory that explains the evidence better.

I think it is safe to say that the majority of ID proponents are dogmatic creationists. They are emotionally invested in a designed universe, and are unwilling to consider evidence that does not support that theory.

April 25, 2006 10:45 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, it's true that evolutionary biologists use math and probability: the tension between k-type selection and R type is typical.

But in all the specific challenges from ID to scientific biology, some of which are based in math (baraminology), the ripostes have not been mathematical. (Baraminology is so crazy that even Discovery Institute tries to pretend it doesn't exist.) They have been physical and observational.

The demonstration that the atomic structure of the primitive secretory organ can, with slight modifications entirely agreeable to the behavior of the relevant chemical bonds, attain motility does not include any equations or arguments from probability.

Darwin didn't develop his ideas by dropping math books off the Tower of Pisa.

April 25, 2006 11:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

No, he didn't. And theology wasn't developed by neurotic, repressed patriarchs who set out expressly to take all the fun out of life.

I think Duck's latest post (with the analogy to winning face-offs) highlights a particularly American angle to this debate that is preventing either side from just taking a valium and discussing the weaknesses in the respective cases without panicking that the opponent will get a leg up. This penchant for having debates on the origin of life settled in courtrooms by judges (of all people)with everyone petrified that the minds of our children hang in the balance reinforces a general sense that every criticism of one strengthens the other, which it doesn't. I am not qualified to discuss what was or was not possible or plausible in eye development, but I think ID is not to be taken seriously because I can't get my head around a the notion of an intelligence that designs eyes but lets fingers go their random way. That hardly strengthens or weakens the case for the modern synthesis.

OTOH, speaking politically and poetically, I figure anyone close-minded enough to object to calling Evolution a theory, like those small-minded enough to ban school Christmas plays and non-denominational prayers of thanks as human rights violations, deserves all the hassles that come his way.

April 25, 2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "I think it is safe to say that the majority of ID proponents are dogmatic creationists."

That's what I assume too.

But it's the other side of the equation that's more interesting. There seems to me to be some symmetry regarding those that are proponents of teaching evolution (I assume by ID proponent you mean someone who would like ID taught in school as opposed to someone who would like more private research into ID).

As Brit points out, after being taught evolution, "very few" people "understand at least the tiniest first thing about evolution."

So the question is, with all the thousands of other scientific subjects that could be taught but aren't because of lack of time, why is Evolution taught in the first place, especially since "very few" understand the science anyway? Especially since there is such opposition to it (in some places)?

The only possible reasons I can think of are either: (a) the Evolution proponents want to waste kids' time; or (b) they want to indoctrinate the kids with Materialism's Creation Myth. I personally thought school was a complete waste of time, so I could probably be convinced of (a), but as you can tell from my other comments, I currently lean towards (b).

The symmetry in my mind is this: ID proponents are Theists and want the Creation Myth of Theism taught and are dogmatic in their belief that it should be; Evolution proponents are Materialists and want the Creation Myth of Materialism taught and are dogmatic in their belief that it should be. No matter what the evidence is regarding the costs of pushing their position, both sides are emotionally attached to pushing their agenda.

Of course, Evolution's proponents tell me with fevered intensity that the technological well being of our society depends on it being taught. And that sounds roughly as silly to me (especially given Brit's claim) as the IDer's position that the moral fabric of society is endangered by the teaching of Evolution (or whatever the real gripe of the day is). I think our technological advancement and society's moral fabric are substantially more robust than that.

Anyway, both sides feel the benefits of implementing (or sticking to) their position far outweigh the costs.

Both sides are dogmatic and wrong, in my opinion.

April 25, 2006 4:06 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not sure how you are defining dogma.

I've seen some people who argue for evolution dogmatically, but they are uniformly partisans,not participants. The literature on evolutionary theory, and I've read a lot of it, is undogmatic.

(Yes, I'm aware that Evolutionary Biology has a 'central dogma,' a name it acquired through historical accident. In other circumstances, it would be called a natural law, except Orrin likes to say there are no laws of evolution.)

I expect our civilization would continue without evolutionary biology, although I wouldn't. I depend on genetically-modified medicines, without which I would die in a week or two.

April 25, 2006 6:26 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "Not sure how you are defining dogma."

Oh, I'm probably misusing it. As is painfully obvious, I'm not a writer like you, so I often accidentally misuse words (I apparently got Hey Skipper's rhetoric and dialectic wrong as well, so I'm not doing too well this thread). I should stick to C and FORTRAN where my meaning is always clear.

I was sort of referring to Duck's "deep emotional investment in the positions held as fact."

Harry Eagar also wrote: "The literature on evolutionary theory, and I've read a lot of it, is undogmatic."

I'm sure. It seems to start becoming emotional when debating the teaching of it. The actual subject itself is not as far as I can tell.

Harry Eagar also wrote: "I expect our civilization would continue without evolutionary biology, although I wouldn't..."

Thank heavens for evolutionary biology then! Note, however, that my statement was significantly different. I said I thought silly the idea that the lack of teaching of evolution [in public schools] would significantly harm our society's technological development. That's a lot different than actually supressing the whole field of evolutionary biology. Plenty of people will still learn about and go into the field of biology, whether or not they learn about Evolution in public schools.

Also, I'm not quite convinced that the concept of genetically modifying things to produce medicines strictly depends on the concept of Evolution, though I agree that it probably makes the conceptual framework more intuitive.

For example, consider the following exchange I had with Jim Hu, a biologist at TAMU.

Jim Hu: "Our ability to build the trees is based in part on inferences about different rates of mutation at selected and unselected sites in the DNA, and the predictions of models built on these evolutionary inferences ..."

Me: "...I do have a couple of questions regarding the statement above. When you wrote "in part", how big a part? When you say "different rates of mutation", how does that differ from saying "accumulated mutations", and how do both of those differ from just saying that "the DNA is different by some amount"? Lastly, is the word "evolutionary" required? For example, could I rewrite your sentence as "Our ability to build the trees is based in part on how much the DNA differs at selected and unselected sites, and the predictions of models built on these inferences..." and still have the same meaning?"

Jim Hu: "... You could certainly rewrite the sentence that way..."

In other words, one can describe such processes in terms of Evolution -- or not!

I've had related conversations with other biologists and it seems that the gist is that we probably got here faster because of the theory of Evolution, but now that we're here, we're fiddling with DNA and huge amounts of data, and thinking about evolution is probably not all that critical anymore as far as GMO and the like goes.

April 25, 2006 8:22 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, I guess you could also say that they guys who calculate satellite orbits don't wake up in the morning and think of themselves as Copernicians; but it's noticeable that people who don't come out of backgrounds that include Copernicus never calculate satellite orbits.

The joke that 'you can't get there from here' applies.

The notion that evolution does not 'need' to be taught in schools is odd. It's like saying we don't need to teach elementary arithmetic because electronic handheld calculators are cheap and widely available.

I contend that the Bible, or what's in it, ought to be passed on to youngsters, because it's hard to understand our history without it; and if I were Indian, no doubt I'd feel the same about the Bhagawad Gita.

It's not easy to teach the Bible in US public schools, not because we atheists object so stridently (although many of us do), but because the people who take the Bible seriously would be at each other's throats in a heartbeat.

April 26, 2006 12:02 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Harry,

As you might guess, I don't find the arithmetic vs. evolution metaphor convincing.

Arithmetic is required for EVERY technical field. Even if you aren't very good at adding, you have to understand the concept to even operate the calculator.

Evolution is required for only a small fraction of technical fields.

I'm only saying that the time spent teaching Evolution could be taught teaching other important things (how about economics? electronics? more cellular biology? more physics?).

I think Americans get enough understanding of the bible so that we don't need to add that to the curriculum. In theory I don't have a problem with it - it's just that there's such limited time that the topics have to be carefully chosen.

On the other hand, looking back, it is interesting that in grade school we spent almost 1/2 year studying the Roman Empire without a single mention of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. Though I suppose he wasn't all the relevant to the general topic.

April 26, 2006 2:58 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, if it's true, as is often said, that nothing in biology makes sense without evolution, you'd be right.

At some level, you can do biology (cell biology, for example) without much reference to evolution, just as you can make bets on the price of oil without knowing much about economics or mining.

To ask the really profound questions, though, you need evolution.

To go back a couple of posts, you mentioned the country vicar trying to deal with Darwin's new book.

Somebody (Michael Ruse, I think) did a study that found that Darwinism triumphed almost completely among the opinion-making classes of England and Scotland by 1862, in just three years.

I have never seen a study of how chapel reacted to 'Origin,' but no doubt it did not triumph so easily there. Now here would be an interesting dissertation subject:

The reaction of chapel to Origin and the careers of English biologists of chapel background in the late 19th-early 20th c.

I don't know what the result of that would be.

April 26, 2006 4:24 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Bret:

Given that you claim to be disinterested in (the non-starter that is) the 'evolution debate', your position is rather puzzling.

Are you proposing that teachers ought not to mention evolution at all? What would be the advantages of omitting such a whopping great piece of knowledge from an education?

April 27, 2006 1:05 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

High School is the educational realm within which this whole evolution schlamozzle is taking place. As such, the science courses exist to present -- at a fairly superficial level -- rational inquiry's state of play with regard to the major areas of endeavor.

I think it would be an astonishing lapse if HS science courses were simply to omit the existing theory of how we came to be.

No, that doesn't get your position quite right. What you are advocating is that HS science courses not even address the question in the first place, especially in the face of opposition.


The only possible reasons I can think of are either: (a) the Evolution proponents want to waste kids' time; or (b) they want to indoctrinate the kids with Materialism's Creation Myth.

Wow, talk about a false dichotomy. How about this for the excluded alternative: how we got here is as important a question as any other we can ask. Science classes, being, after all, science classes, are obligated to present the currently accepted scientific theory in answer to that question.

You suggest a symmetry, but that doesn't mean there is one. There isn't. Rational inquiry is the tie-breaker between competing material claims. ID/Creationism, by their very nature (and their practice), completely eliminate that, rendering instead that very thing their adherents abhor most elsewhere: intellectual relativism. ID is so worthless that it can even be used to prove its antithesis: naturalistic evolution.

You state that deciding not to teach evolution in HS wouldn't harm our society's technological devlopment in any particular way. True enough.

But the intellectual damage is something else entirely. The consequences of the glaring decision to simply avoid such a fundamental question due solely to opposition from the most ignorant and theologically exercised elements of society won't stop at evolution's door. As Brit (I think) has said elsewhere: what makes evolution unique in this respect?

Harry says it is impossible to make sense of biology without understanding evolution. I will take Harry a couple steps further: not only is it impossible to understand biology without understanding evolution, it is also impossible to understand the dynamics underlying language or economies.

Recursive systems behave in astonishing ways, and you want to stop teaching that?

April 27, 2006 4:26 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Wow. You've just given me a great idea of how we're going to stop our kids from being morally polluted by mastering the wicked doctrine of Evolution. Forget religion. We're just going to make everyone of them read your explanation of why they should.

April 27, 2006 6:17 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

OK, so I take it we should stop teaching European and American history?

April 27, 2006 9:40 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Brit asks: "Are you proposing that teachers ought not to mention evolution at all?"

No. Certainly not all teachers.

Consider Kansas. The Kansas Board of Education has approved the teaching of ID in science class.

My position is that I would rather they stop teaching evolution instead of starting to teach ID. I think the good people of Kansas, on average, would also agree with my position.

Here are my ordered choices:
1. Teach Evolution, don't teach ID
2. Don't teach Evolution, don't teach ID
3. Teach Evolution and ID
4. Teach only ID

In places like Kansas, (1) is apparently not an option. In my opinion, (2) is preferrable to (3). It's not a really strong preference, and I can understand why you'd prefer (3) over (2) if you really think Evolution is "such a whopping great piece of knowledge" even though you claim that most don't "understand at least the tiniest first thing about evolution" even after being taught it in public school.

April 27, 2006 10:55 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper: "I think it would be an astonishing lapse if HS science courses were simply to omit the existing theory of how we came to be."

Why?

This seems to be a key part of our disagreement. You're convinced that how we came to be is a crucially important question. There are a lot of aspects of how we came to be, and of those, I think the biological evolution portion is by far the least important. The evolution of memes, culture, political systems, economic systems? Sure. Those are important to me because they happen on time scales that are relevant to our lives now and have profound implications regarding policy. And, of course, none of those are taught in science class, if they're taught at all.

But how we came to be genetically? Seems pretty unimportant to me. Here we are whether or not the theory's accurate. And remember, it's this specific topic that ID was designed to address: biological Evolution. The IDers would drop their quest if the concepts of evolution were only taught in the realm of things like economic systems. Nobody thinks God created the capital markets (except perhaps some extreme Libertarians).

Hey Skipper also wrote: "The consequences of the glaring decision to simply avoid such a fundamental question due solely to opposition from the most ignorant and theologically exercised elements of society won't stop at evolution's door."

Again, I don't think it's "such a fundamental question" (at least not one with much relevance). But let's say I did. A couple responses come to mind.

First, it's not like we have a choice. ID supporters have the votes to push ID into a lot of school systems. As I explained in an earlier comment, I'd somewhat prefer neither biological evolution nor ID be taught as opposed to both being taught. Use the time to teach something else.

Second, if the IDers' position is so ignorant and backwards, then after some number of generations they'll die out and the problem will be solved. So why not let Evolution, in which you put so much faith, solve the problem for you?

Hey Skipper wrote: "...not only is it impossible to understand biology without understanding evolution, it is also impossible to understand the dynamics underlying language or economies."

In 6th grade, science was biology for the whole year. We dissected insects and frogs, etc., did numerous experiments, and learned about cells, kreb cycles, various life systems (circulatory, etc.), and ecosystems. I actually learned a lot about biology that year - without ever once hearing about or studying Evolution. So I'm quite unconvinced that an understanding of Evolution is needed to study biology at the pre-college level. Do you think nobody studied any aspect of biology before Darwin came up with his theory?

This argument is not about teaching evolution. It's specifically about teaching Evolution within the realm of biology. I don't think there's anything so special about that.

April 27, 2006 11:42 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

5. Rename the schools madrassahs and don't let the kiddies hear that anything new has been uncovered since the 8th century.

April 27, 2006 11:51 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

OK, so I take it we should stop teaching European and American history?

Well of couse not, but for God's sake, not in science class, please!

Bret:

Do continue.

April 27, 2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

Why don't you get to the point: Option 2 is not Don't teach Evolution, don't teach ID, it is really "Deafening silence."

This seems to be a key part of our disagreement. You're convinced that how we came to be is a crucially important question. There are a lot of aspects of how we came to be, and of those, I think the biological evolution portion is by far the least important.

Well, it is if your outlook is along the lines of "no matter where you go, there you are."

By your standard, there is no point discussing history, economics, geology, or astronomy.

In particular, the history aspect is most to the point. Our circumstances as a civilization are wholly dependent upon preceding circumstances. We can't do anything about the past, almost all of which extends to time scales far beyond an individual human life.

Irrelevant, therefore? I don't think so.

There are different versions of history that could be taught. For instance, there are Holocaust deniers who want their say. Do they deserve it? Or do we go where the evidence leads, and tell the deniers that, well, they are full of hooey?

Where the Natural History evidence leads, at the moment, is to the conclusion that ID is a form of denial, and is full of hooey. It is no more worthy of serious consideration than are Holocaust deniers.

Do you think nobody studied any aspect of biology before Darwin came up with his theory?

Of course not. But before Darwin, no one had a clue there was such a thing as a recursive system.

April 27, 2006 6:52 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It was the study of biology that forced Darwin to come up with his theory. (There were other theorists, but their ideas failed of acceptance, even if some of them were equally or even more irreligious.)

Observation destroyed the description of nature that had been cobbled up by the religionists.

ID is just going back to failed ideas of predarwinism.

If darwinism is ever replaced, it will be by something new, not something old.

April 27, 2006 8:23 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote (in lucky comment number 100): "before Darwin, no one had a clue there was such a thing as a recursive system."

Not so. Mathematicians understood the concepts of recursion and recursive systems centuries before Darwin. As an example, surely you've heard of Fibonacci? He's most famous for Fibonacci Numbers which form a sequence defined by a system of recursive equations.

But did you really mean "recursive" system? I've always considered Reproduce, Select, Modify, Repeat, as an iterative system. Certainly my genetic algorithms for the robots are iterative.

Did you mean self-organizing system? Complex system? In those cases, Adam Smith laid the groundwork for self-organizing systems within economics with his "invisible hand" metaphor in The Wealth of Nations nearly a century before Darwinism was invented.

So Darwin's main contribution was limited to biological systems. Pretty clever for sure, but many of the important individual concepts were already discovered elsewhere and I'm pretty sure the rest would've been eventually.

Hey Skipper also wrote: "By your standard, there is no point discussing history, economics, geology, or astronomy."

Hmmm, I must not have been clear in conveying my standard. Let me try again via a thought experiment. Let's say you were being transported to a far corner of the universe to a faraway planet (hospitable to human life) inhabited by an alien culture. Let's also say that your mind had been wiped blank but you had time to read (and understand) a few books during the journey to help prepare you for your new life. A friend of yours was to prioritize the books such that when you landed, you'd be as prepared as possible for your new life. The choice of books (inspired by your list above with a couple added) are:

(1) The History and Customs of Planet X
(2) The Economic Systems of Planet X
(3) The Geology of Planet X
(4) A View of the Stars from Planet X
(5) The Religions of Planet X
(6) The Political and Legal Systems of Planet X
(7) Basic Physics
(8) Basic Chemistry
(9) Basic Biology (w/o Evolution)
(10) The Origin of Species

How would you want your friend to order them (you can't order them yourself because your mind's been wiped blank)? Would you really put The Origin of Species at the top because it addresses such a fundamental question? Or would you consider some of the other topics more important?

My order would be 1, 6, 5, 9, 7, 8, 2, 3, 4, 10. I think that would be optimal for my survival and prosperity on Planet X. As long as I got through the first few I'd probably be able to stay out of trouble. Your order is no doubt different, but my point is that if you're going to be plopped down in some foreign culture, you'd want to understand the history to better interpret the culture just to survive day-to-day. Knowing about biological Evolution might be nice, but (unless it's an important religion on Planet X) it isn't really very important for day-to-day living. Or probably your career. Or probably much of anything.

April 27, 2006 10:29 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

If evolution was unimportant it would be less controversial.

April 28, 2006 1:11 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

I wrote poorly. Of course mathematicians knew about recursion.

But Darwin was the first, so far as I know, to understand life as a recursive system.

I use the term recursion instead of iteration for a specific reason. Recursion uses the output from one cycle as the input to the next. So does iteration. However, iteration is typically a process that is repeated until achieving a desired result.

In Natural History there is no desired result.

With respect to self organizing systems, recursion is the cause; self-organized complexity is the effect.

Regarding your choice of books, I prefer not to engage in that particular thought experiment, because it has little to do with whether naturalistic evolution should be taught at the high school level.

It is as worthy a subject as US or European history, because it is just as important in describing how we, and our circumstances, came to be.

Just as I don't prefer that my kids get fed baseless nonsense in history courses, I prefer they don't get baseless nonsense in learning about natural history.

BTW -- your book list is very reminiscent of similar thought experiment in Sam Harris's "The End of Faith."


Knowing about biological Evolution might be nice, but (unless it's an important religion on Planet X) it isn't really very important for day-to-day living. Or probably your career. Or probably much of anything.

You can say the same about Us & European history, or math beyond basic algebra, or science beyond home economics. If all we wanted was what would be good for a career, then we would be best served by devoting our entire educational system to trade school classes.

April 28, 2006 4:38 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Brit wrote: "If evolution was unimportant it would be less controversial."

Intelligent Design is controversial. Does that make it important?

April 28, 2006 8:44 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "I prefer not to engage in that particular thought experiment, because it has little to do with whether naturalistic evolution should be taught at the high school level."

Oh, but it does. In the metaphor, you are the high school student (with mind wiped blank) and the friend is the educational system. At the end of the journey (graduation), you are thrust into a culture and have to stay out of trouble and get by. Thus it very much has to do with whether or not naturalistic evolution should be taught at the high school level. I suspect you get the point of the thought experiment and it doesn't put Darwin's book on the top of the list, does it?

Again, I'm not saying that Evolution is completely useless, I'm just saying that there are plenty of other important topics that could be taught during the time spent teaching Evolution and the children would be no worse off for it and might even be better off.

April 28, 2006 8:53 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Bret:

Sure - it's important to keep it out of science classes.

The point is that if evolution was unimportant, nobody would waste their time coming up with crackpot stuff like ID to argue against it.

Nobody has an ID explanation for diamond formation because the fact that the process is natural makes no odds to anyone's beloved world-view.

Dennett called it the 'universal acid'. The fact of evolution affects virtually every branch of philosophy, science,, natural history, religion and anthropology.

That's why it's important.

April 28, 2006 9:10 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't like the book list because it conflates the survival of me (an individual) with us (a society).

Any individual can get along without evolution. No society can.

As an immediate practical goal, I'd rather the kiddies really learn how to drive cars well, since I have to share the road with them. Longer term, I'd just as soon people who are going to vote didn't become superstitious at taxpayer expense.

Bret's statement of what would be good to learn in school is eerily close to what the Saudi ministry of education said about what girls should learn, as quoted in Geraldine Brooks, 'Nine Parts of Desire.'

April 28, 2006 10:29 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "Any individual can get along without evolution. No society can."

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. If you're saying that societies need to change (evolve) over time, then yes, I agree, but I don't see what that has to do with this discussion.

If you're saying that societies can't get along without an understanding of biological Evolution, then I can't fathom what you're thinking. Surely you don't think that there weren't any viable societies before Darwin came up with his theory?

Harry Eagar wrote: "I'd just as soon people who are going to vote didn't become superstitious at taxpayer expense."

Me too, but the "superstitious" among us would just as soon the non-"superstitious" were taught "superstitions" at taxpayer expense and unfortunately they're in the majority, not you. The key phrase in your statement is "just as soon" which indicates subjective preference, not objective reasoning.

And again, that's why I'd somewhat prefer option (2). Then no superstitions are taught at taxpayer's expense.

April 28, 2006 4:32 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Brit wrote: "Dennett called it the 'universal acid'."

Because it's corrosive to society?

Brit wrote: "The fact of evolution affects virtually every branch of philosophy, science,, natural history, religion and anthropology."

I disagree. It has limited or no effect on or relationship to most sciences. For example, which aspects of Physics do you think has been affected by Evolution? I don't think any of the laws of physics are evolving via natural selection. Perhaps physics affects the study of Evolution, but not the other way around.

April 28, 2006 4:47 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

Oh, but it does. In the metaphor, you are the high school student (with mind wiped blank) and the friend is the educational system.

Okay, I see your point (while keeping in mind you are posing something of a false dichotomy). But I think it makes mine: some foundational courses are worthwhile in and of themselves. Any education that left out European and US History would be a sham. I might not put them at the top of the list, in that I wouldn't devote as much time to them as say, English, but they would most definitely be part of the curriculum.

Similarly, I find Natural History as important as European & US History. It is impossible to coherently teach Natural History without including naturalistic evolution. And it makes no more sense to teach ID (in its current, absolutely content free form) in Natural History than it would to teach Holocaust denial.

When Harry said Any individual can get along without evolution. No society can, I don't think he was referring to the knowledge of evolution itself, so much as what it requires, and what it causes, and how that is essential to our society.

Evolution is the product of rational inquiry. Our society could not survive the suppression of Evolutionary theory, because that entails the suppression of rational inquiry and its near identical twin, freedom of conscience. Before you suggest that I am hysterical, refer to the Discovery Institutes overt, explicit, goals with respect to Evolution in particular, or methodological naturalism in general. And note well that Orrin, as ardent an opponent of naturalistic evolution as you are likely to find, also considers freedom of conscience evil.

Then there is what Evolution, in its acidic role, causes: the abolition of sectarian certainty and exceptionalism. It is impossible for modern civilization to exist in the face of either; the fact that people in the West have given up slaughtering each other over fealty is due solely to rational inquiry, of which Evolution is one of the prime examples.

When Brit noted The fact of evolution affects virtually every branch of philosophy, science,, natural history, religion and anthropology. he was on the mark.

You suggested that Evolution hasn't affected Physics. That is incorrect. One of the binding deductive consequences of Evolution is that the Earth has to be very, very old. Darwin was the first to understand that very old meant at least hundreds of millions of years.

Lord Kelvin, using thermodynamics, proved Darwin wrong, because the Sun couldn't possibly be that old.

Thereby forcing a contradiction: either Evolution was wrong, or Physics was wrong. So, decades before the Curie's discovered radioactivity (thereby vindicating Darwin), Evolution had demonstrated Physics was incomplete.

It also affected Geology, as fossil divergence (a binding deductive consequence of Evolution) was the first proof of plate tectonics.

Etc...

April 29, 2006 2:25 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Great discussion! Here are my thoughts.

Evolution is important because the question "Where do we come from" is important. Maybe not to a career, but to the way that a society understands itself. You can't leave the answer to that question blank. It needs to be filled.

This may mark me as a "dogmatist", but I think that it is in sociey's interest to answer this question as truthfully as we can. It doesn't benefit society to purposesly allow voids in our societal knowledge base to form, which can be opportunistically filled by religious obscurantists. The fact that there is contention over Evolution doesn't mean that we should back off from teaching it.

Western civilization has achieved the pinnacle that it now enjoys because scientific thinking has been able to wrest control from theology over the questions fo how the physical universe operates. ID is a rearguard action of that struggle that began during the Renaissance. Had that separation of spheres between science and theology not been successful, I don't think that we would be in the same place as we are today.

I see no point in ceding back any of the terrtory gained over that period back to the obscurantists. A society cannot long last that is split over its approach to gaining basic knowledge about the world. Once religion is able to put "off limits to science" signs over areas of knowledge, then it will do so everywhere.

April 29, 2006 8:53 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Good point Skipper. You can't put the disciplines of science into neat categories like "physics" and "biology" that can be pursued independently of each other. Breakthroughs in one discipline often ripple through the others, creating new ways of understanding them. It all has to hold together in the end.

One of my favorite books that ties evolution to the larger world, and blurs the distinction between biological and non-biological evolution, is "Cosmic Evolution: the Rise of Complexity in Nature" by Eric Chaisson.

April 29, 2006 9:01 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Skipper explains my comment to make me sound more profound than I really am:

'When Harry said Any individual can get along without evolution. No society can, I don't think he was referring to the knowledge of evolution itself, so much as what it requires, and what it causes, and how that is essential to our society.'

Ut seq.

As usual, my thinking was more simplistic. Who's got the marbles?

Lenny Bruce had a routine about race and sex in which he imagined a white racist male being given the choice of two women: Kate Smith or Lena Horne.

Global population flows are to places based on evolutionary (and associated) thinking.

The migrants may not be moving in order to get closer to the American Museum of Natural History. Most of them probably never heard of Charles Darwin. But they can notice consequences.

April 29, 2006 11:36 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "Any education that left out European and US History would be a sham."

I agree I think. But I wouldn't put it that way. Due to time constraints, every education leaves out at least part of European and US History. Your statement seems to me to therefore imply that they are all shams.

And wouldn't it be nice if there were even more time for history? Where could we get that class time from? Hmmmm, let me think...

Hey Skipper also wrote: "It is impossible to coherently teach Natural History without including naturalistic evolution."

Impossible, eh? So prior to Darwin, nobody studied natural history? Or at least it wasn't coherent? If so, then how did Darwin have enough knowledge on which to build his theory of natural selection? Or are you just using the term "evolution" to denote that species changed over time without worrying about the underlying mechanism? In which case even Orrin Judd would agree with your statement.

Hey skipper also wrote: "Our society could not survive the suppression of Evolutionary theory ..."

Perhaps so. But the suppression of Evolutionary theory is entirely different from deciding whether or not to teach Evolution in public high schools. Private entities (including high schools) are certainly entitled to teach anything they like, even including ***EVOLUTION***.

Hey Skipper wrote: "So, decades before the Curie's discovered radioactivity (thereby vindicating Darwin), Evolution had demonstrated Physics was incomplete."

Good point, but are you saying had Evolution not "demonstrated Physics was incomplete" that no new progress would have ever been made in Physics? Would no one have ever discovered radiation, fission, fusion, etc. without Darwin's theory?

The flip side of your contention that Evolution is fundamental and critically important knowledge is that not much could've existed prior to Darwin's theory: societies could not have existed (or at least not very well) and scientific and technological progress could not have been made (at least not very quickly).

I just can't buy that. Huge progress was being made on all fronts during Darwin's time before he published his theory. Progress and stable societies didn't just start after Darwin. If they did, then he's the Creator and your religion is the True one.

I'm not saying that Darwin's idea wasn't good. But I am saying that, in my opinion, his theory is just one tiny bit of knowledge in a huge sea of science and technology, and if we all forgot it tomorrow, it would hardly make a difference.

April 29, 2006 12:18 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "Once religion is able to put "off limits to science" signs over areas of knowledge, then it will do so everywhere."

Be careful of the slippery slope of making slippery slope arguments. Once you start using them, you might feel compelled to use them for everything. Oops, there I go again. See? Using slippery slope arguments is very addictive.

My experience is that social systems tend to contain far more negative feedback loops where things tend to oscillate about an attractor as opposed to positive feedback loops where things spiral out of control if the loop is not tightly monitored. In other words, we ride on pendulums, not spaceships falling into black holes.

The line between Church and State, Left and Right, Capitalist and Socialist, Hot Climate and Cold Climate, is constantly moving back and forth, back and forth, like the seasons and the tide, back and forth, back and forth.

Michael Crichton's State of Fear concept is based on people seeing positive feedback loops everywhere, like when children see monsters under the bed. If all these systems were so fragile, how could we possibly have made it this far?

I'm confident that currently the pendulum is just swinging back towards a somewhat more religious society from a somewhat less religious one. No big deal. It will swing this way for a while, and then it will swing back. The energy expended on both sides simply isn't worth it because the pendulum will keep on swinging regardless.

Religion is not a cognizant entity and therefore cannot put off-limit signs on knowledge. People can, but people like the fruits of knowledge (just as Eve), so they'll limit just how far religion can go in that direction.

Self organizing systems, according to Evolution, are pretty stable and can take care of themselves. So why is it that y'all embrace the concepts of self-organizing systems when it comes to life, yet don't trust it when it comes to socio-political systems? Why must you make central decisions that control everybody else, sort of like an Intelligent Designer? Why not let local entities (parents, local school boards, etc.) make their own decisions locally?

The same people who are the most taken in by evolution are some of the very people who are most afraid to let society evolve on its own. Why is that?

April 29, 2006 2:52 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Short answer, Islam.

Slightly longer answer, if socio-political systems self-organize, it is toward some desired goal. For life, there is only the intermediate goal of getting to the next generation. Not quite the same thing.

++++
You ask if people studied natural history before Darwin. Indeed they did, with extremely spotty success.

I am not much of an admirer of Gould's, but somewhere he has an essay in which he reproduces an examination in biology pre-Darwin. It's a dog's breakfast, as chemistry was before Mendeleev.

It's possible to have an organizing principle that works pretty well (cf, Ptolemy, quantum mechanics) but is seriously wrong. It isn't always easy to see that it is wrong until a new, better system comes along that highlights the deficiencies of the old.

When we think of these new ways of organizing understanding, Newton, Darwin and Einstein come to mind.

All three have been put to the question in the most rigorous way and come through in ways Ptolemy escaped for so long only because nobody ever looked hard at his ideas.

There is one, and only one, unifying idea in life science, as there is one and only one unifying idea in chemistry.

We teach atomic theory in high school, without necessarily worrying too much about the details of, say, stereochemistry, because atomic theory makes it possible to think about far more complicated systems than a water molecule.

We teach -- or ought to teach -- about evolution because it makes it possible to learn about far more complex systems.

You say we could get in biological science without it. History says you are wrong. The amount of useful scientific knowledge about biology acquired in non-darwinian contexts would not fill a thimble.

April 29, 2006 7:01 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

April 30, 2006 9:55 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Harry Eagar wrote: "Short answer, Islam."

One of the big problems with Islam is that it directs the lives of its citizens from a central authority. It's a totalitarian ideology.

Now, before I continue, maybe I'm misunderstanding what y'all mean by "ought." If, when you say Evolution "ought" to be taught, you mean that you personally would highly recommend that each parent/community choose to teach it in their high schools, then we're in complete agreement. But if by "ought" you mean that you favor using the legislative and judicial processes backed by the force of government to ensure it be taught (which is how I've been interpreting your "oughts"), that's where I disagree. Because it strikes me as being a similar flavor of central authority and subset of totalitarianism that results from an ideology such as Islam. You can't ensure freedom by forcing people to do things or learn things.

Harry Eagar wrote: "When we think of these new ways of organizing understanding, Newton, Darwin and Einstein come to mind."

And interestingly enough, in high school (at least the ones I've been exposed to between personal experience and my children) Newton is part of an elective (Physics) and Einstein's theories are often not taught even as part of that elective. Only Darwin is required.

Harry Eagar wrote: "History says you are wrong."

Maybe so, I'll have to defer on this one since I simply won't have to teach myself history of science in this area any time soon.

April 30, 2006 9:57 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Bret:

But our friends here do try to be even-handed about it, don't they? For example, I've heard them opine many times that they have no objection to teaching ID in those religion classes that don't exist.

April 30, 2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Ought' doesn't even enter into it.

It's 'cannot.' You cannot teach biology, unless you are willing to restrict yourself to beetle-collecting, without using an organizing principle.

There's only one evidentiary one.

Pre-Darwin, biology was taught using the organizing principle of Genesis. That's what ID is, return to that.

Contra, Peter, I don't think ID ought (in the sense of, makes any sense to devote time to) in any course, unless it would be Delusional Thinking 101.

April 30, 2006 12:18 PM  

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