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  • Science in the Classroom

    Posted by James R. Rummel on December 20th, 2005 (All posts by )

    I used to raise dogs professionally. (Golden retrievers if anyone is interested.) Get involved in the business, or any biological industry, and youll see that selective breeding works.

    My thing was breeding dogs with short haired coats. Everyone always complains about the hair littering the couch when their golden starts to shed, so I decided to do something about it. I simply chose dogs with short hair for breeding while keeping those with longer hair penned up. I didnt do it long enough to see a significant change, but just a glance at all the different breeds out there will show that it would have worked eventually.

    That is pretty much at the heart of evolution. Some sort of environmental cause either reduces the chance for organisms with a certain inherited trait from breeding, or it increases the chances for individuals from the same species with a different trait. Undesired traits are bred out of the species while those that increase the chance of hooking up become commonplace. This is, in fact, the basis for just about all of our modern biological science.

    Today a judge in PA banned the teaching of Intelligent Design in public school biology classes, saying that it was thinly disguised religion.

    Im certainly not a biologist by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been paying attention to the debate. The one thing that struck me most strongly while reading the arguments in favor of ID was that they really were attacks against evolutionary theory. So far I havent come across a single solid fact to support the idea, just questions as to the gap in our knowledge of how evolution works.

    Some people were rather worried about this case, but I cant include myself among them. These things have a way of working themselves out, one way or another. If the judge had ruled the other way, then graduates from PA universities would have had a real problem finding positions in the medical and biological fields. Its true that higher education has little to do with what is taught in public grade school, but they probably would have been tarred by the same brush.

     

    40 Responses to “Science in the Classroom”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      Deciding whether an idea is scientific or not is actually fairly simple. Just ask: Is there an observation or measurement we could make, at least in principle, that could prove the hypothesis wrong?

      Popper called this falsification. In order to test a hypothesis you don’t look for the evidence that will confirm the hypothesis but for the evidence that will contradict it. If you have a hypothesis that all swans are white, you don’t go out and count all the white swans you can. Instead, you look for one black swan.

      If you can’t falsify an idea you also cannot confirm it.

      Intelligent design isn’t science because it is impossible to prove that a Deity DID NOT create or guide life. Since we will never know everything, it is always logically possible that a deity is responsible for those things we don’t understand. We can never exclude the possibility of the divine by observations of the material universe.

      Intelligent Design is nothing but a mass of critiques of evolutionary theory because by its very axioms, ID can never offer testable ideas of itself.

    2. Tyouth Says:

      I am but a casual reader (life and time being what it is) but, with the above in mind, I want to say that I’ve never had cause to question any of Shannon Love’s numerous (always cogent and not infrequently brilliant posts and comments) but this one comes up a bit lame.

      ID is a theory. Evolution is a theory. Neither one is provable. The T of E is practicable and has been found to be useful but is a theory. Your argument argument against ID is applicable to both theories.

      I don’t know about “the mass of critiques” but it seems to me that the two theories are not mutually exclusive.

    3. Tyouth Says:

      In no way am I a defender of ID, as such.

      The ruling of Judge Jones is an outrageous act of judicial activism. We don’t need this type of protection from ideas; I hope ACLU takes the case up on principle (don’t hold your breath).

    4. P. Froward Says:

      Falsifiable or not, ID has a real problem in that they don’t have anything at all which supports their theory. All they’ve got is a list of stuff we don’t know about how certain features evolved. It goes like this: “If we haven’t yet been able to gather enough data to discuss a particular phenomenon seriously, then the only reasonable explanation is that God did it”.

      That’s not science. It’s not much of anything. It is fundamentally unserious.

      On the other hand, having a lot of people trying to knock holes in your theory, or in applications of your theory, is just dandy. I can’t see that it matters whether they’re doing it for the greater glory of God or to annoy their wives or just because there’s nothing on TV.

      But teach it in school? Nope. Bad idea. ID’s purpose is to address a perceived challenge to somebody’s theology.

    5. James R. Rummel Says:

      ID is a theory. Evolution is a theory. Neither one is provable.

      A scientific theory is an idea (called a hypothesis)that has stood up to repeated attempts to tear it down. It’ll be accepted until someone manages to disprove it.

      I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that evolution is at the heart of all of our biological sciences. That carries a fair amount of weight, I reckon.

      Intelligent Design has nothing backing it up. There has never been an experiment, test or observation that would indicate this guiding hand that affects the development of organisms. That means ID doesn’t carry any weight at all.

      Supporters of ID like to claim that the word “theory” used as a scientific term means “unproven”, which isn’t true at all. It merely means that we don’t know everything there is to know about it yet, and we might have to refine things before we’re done.

      James

    6. TM Lutas Says:

      I have defended, and continue to defend a particular type of intelligent design theory as legitimate scientific theory. The particular type is called the theory of irreducible complexity. I take this position because you can prove, by brute force if need be, that irreducible complexity is false. It is thus science. Just because it’s legitimate, falsifiable science doesn’t mean it’s true.

      My considered opinion is that ID as science is horrible theology and indefensible as a serious christian position. I believe that ultimately, it will be proven wrong. I take the latter position on faith.

      I generally tie people up in knots on this because my heartfelt christianity makes me an opponent of ID, thus confusing and frustrating the backdoor creationists. At the same time my fidelity to the scientific method makes me oppose the bloviators in lab coats who don’t want to do the hard work of actually figuring out whether irreducible complexity actually exists or not (you’d find out an awful lot of interesting things along the way no matter what the ultimate reality ends up being) and would rather reach for a podium at a press conference, a lawsuit, and various forms of political suppression to force their position to remain the one true allowable faith.

      If Michael Behe wants to deal with irreducible complexity theory, that’s fine. It would be very helpful if he’d recruit some ICT experimenters to actually run the lab experiments necessary to actually demonstrate irreducible complexity in the real world. So far, the experiments are generally not being run by advocates of either position but it’s the evolution side of the argument that’s being unscientific by claiming that you can’t run the experiments. The pro side has merely declined to do the hard work.

      At the current level of research, irreducible complexity theory rates about 10 minutes on a Friday before a long weekend in science class one year in high school.

    7. Brett Bellmore Says:

      Irreducible complexity still consists of ID theorists maintaining that if they can find anything at all that evolutionists can’t provide an explaination for, they win by default. Win for WHAT? God? Satan? Sulfur breathing arthropods from the lesser Magelanic cloud? [i]What is the nature of this designer being proposed?[/i]

      Until this is explained, it’s not a theory, it’s just carping. Because YOU aren’t proposing any particular thing which could itself be falsified! You’re just setting yourselves up as the default winner if evolutionary theory can’t cough up an explaination for some particular fact.

      The problem is, it’s in the nature of theories dealing with [i]history[/i], rather than future events in labs, that they WILL confront things that they can’t explain, because they don’t have complete data. The fact that a geologist can’t explain why a rock is HERE, rather than five feet to the left, is not evidence that somebody landed in a space ship, picked it up, and carried it those five feet. Ignorance is ignorance, not evidence of an arbitrary competing theory.

      In particular, “irreducibly complex” systems can be remnants of other systems that did evolve to some other purpose, got supplanted, and left behind no remains save parts whose evolution can’t be explained because the larger system of which they were once a part is no longer around to examine.

      Where’s your “black swan”? Why is the presence of features that no genuinely intelligent designer WOULD design, not refutation of ID?

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      T.M. Lutus,

      Irreducible complexity is not refutable as a concept because there is no single observation that if made could refute it in its entirety. While any particular instance of purposed irreducible complexity could be refuted, another instances could always be proffered. It would be an exercise in counting white swans.

      By contrast evolutionary theory can offer many observations that if made could destroy the theory. For example, Darwin pointed out that natural selection could never produce a species that was truly altruistic towards another species. Horses would never evolve saddles just for the use of humans, he said. Natural selection allows for symbiosis but not total selflessness. Simply find a single species that as a species behaves altruistically towards another species and natural selection is dead as a viable idea.

      Intelligent Design simply cannot provide that kind clear falsification.

    9. Shannon Love Says:

      “Why is the presence of features that no genuinely intelligent designer WOULD design, not refutation of ID?”

      I gotta admit that the fact that human male genitalia are positioned up front and dead center is a powerful argument against at least “intelligent” design.

      It might be evidence, however, of design by committee and as such provide comfort to all the polytheists out there.

    10. Sandy P Says:

      –Deciding whether an idea is scientific or not is actually fairly simple. Just ask: Is there an observation or measurement we could make, at least in principle, that could prove the hypothesis wrong? –

      Why did Kyoto pop into my head?

    11. Ginny Says:

      And man’s sewer next to man’s playground?

      But my theology is adolescent. I’ve always felt the plan is a hell of a lot larger than anything I’ll ever see – otherwise, how could it have been confidently put in motion and then have moved through time with little or no interference, evolving to this clearly imperfect transitional moment in a very long haul. And if there isn’t a plan, well, hell, it doesn’t make much difference. We just keep plugging away, hoping we can make this transitional moment a move toward something better rather than worse.

      (And adolescent as my theology is, I’m pretty sure that, as the thinking on another thread notes, “something better” is not regressing to tribalism.)

    12. Tyouth Says:

      Heh heh, I guess, due to Judge Jones’ decision (not to mention JRR’s biological estimations) that we’ll refer to the idea henceforth as the “Law of Evolution”.

    13. rezzrovv Says:

      The problem I have w/ the whole debate is that almost any observation within biology can be said to show evidence of evolution. Much like “global warming,” if it’s cold, global warming, hot, global warming, raining…

      So you have survival of the fittest. OK. How many species are now extinct that once existed? 25%? 35% ? 70%? Does that mean they were the fittest until they weren’t?

      Natural selection does not come into play until you have a self-reproducing organism. Well, were did the self-reproducing organism come from? And if evolution theory states that the organism leaving behind the most offspring is the fittest (as it does), then why did we ever move beyond amoebas?

      I find it humorous that so often in explaining evolution an analogy such as the dog breeding comes up. A process in which a scient being drives the process. Regardless of that point; however, the analogy falls apart quickly in that Darwin himself along with Alfred Russel Wallace attempted such experiments with pigeons by breeding certian traits. It was found that after several generations, the birds reverted back to the original lineage (not to mention they didn’t grow fur or sonar or shoot ink or etc…). Alfred claimed pigeons were domesticated and therefore without the rigors of survival. Darwin put it down to not enough time (millions of years necessary).

      The other problem I have is the Cambrian explosion where fully formed, highly complex animals appear in the fossil record. A good example are bats, which are the only flying mammals so no lineage there and also appear with the complexities of sonar intact.

      I could go on. The fact is, I don’t know if evolution is correct or not but it bothers me that so much of it is tautological and accepted by faith as so much of the evidence is at best circumstantial. When I consider the incredible intracacies of the cell as a manufacturing facility with RNA providing the blueprint for the production of proteins and all the other elements that take place within that infitismally, yet life affirming cell, well, it is just hard to fathom randomness in the face of entropy created such beauty.

    14. James R. Rummel Says:

      How many species are now extinct that once existed? 25%? 35% ? 70%? Does that mean they were the fittest until they weren’t?

      Pretty much, since changing conditions over time means that the ecological niche that particular extinct organism relied on to thrive would also change or disappear. Instead of being able to adapt, they were crowded out by other organisms more suited to the new conditions.

      Unless, of course, you think the planet has remained unchanged since the beginning of time.

      Well, were did the self-reproducing organism come from? And if evolution theory states that the organism leaving behind the most offspring is the fittest (as it does), then why did we ever move beyond amoebas?

      Anything anyone can come with about events that far back are pretty much conjecture for a couple of reasons. Most telling is that the fossil record is, shall we say, rather incomplete when it comes to the Precambrian Era. (Hardly surprising considering that we’re talking about an era more than 540 million years ago.)

      This segues into your next question…

      The other problem I have is the Cambrian explosion where fully formed, highly complex animals appear in the fossil record. A good example are bats, which are the only flying mammals so no lineage there and also appear with the complexities of sonar intact.

      Actually, if you look into it I think you’ll find that the most likely explanation is that the Cambrian Explosions wasn’t a time when fully formed, complex organisms suddenly appeared without warning. Instead it was simply a time when the conditions for preserving fossils were prevalent. In fact, it would seem that many highly organized forms of life evolved before the Cambrian Era.

      See, even a non-biologist can easily address your doubts.

      But this is just a distraction from the one incredible failing of those who have problems with evolutionary theory. People might complain about it, root around for reasons why they reject it, but they completely fail to provide any credible proof of an alternative. (See my original post above where I say “…I havent come across a single solid fact to support the idea (of Intelligent Design)…”) Until that happens we’re just going to have to stick with what works.

      James

    15. Rizalist Says:

      Elsewhere, the point has been made that two kinds of folks support the ID movement — those who actually believe in an Intelligent Designer and those who DON’T. The latter support it for ideological and political reasons. This group is accused of a kind of paternalistic elitism in which they know there is no God but would not want the first group to know that, because then the folks in the group of true believers would start to live the intellectual but meaningless and morally empty lives of the Scientists and their followers, who after all have expelled God from their campuses. Having cultivated the habit of proving themselves WRONG by falsifying each other’s theories in a process of successive approximation, they have also sometimes trained their considerable theoretical and experimental skills to casting aspersions upon such things as tradition and history and indeed, religion, almost for practice sometimes.

      Martin Gardner once wrote a book entitled How Large Is The Night, in which I guess the main point was that our ignorance would always be greater than our knowledge. Hardly a new thought but he found such lovely and provocative ways to prove it. ID won’t ever lose supporters because the Gaps won’t ever be filled. The only hope is to use natural selection itself to fight the foes of evolutionary science — let the best ideas win over the worse ones, by dragging them all into the light where they can’t hide from the thing that becomes the common sense about abiding mysteries.

    16. Richard North Says:

      Having set out do do so as an intelligent being, if you had succeeded in breeding short-haired, shed-free dogs, would that not have been intelligent design?

    17. Ken Says:

      The forensic question (did humans evolve on their own, or did Someone help them along) is pretty much unanswerable. Unlike detectives on the trail of a human suspect, that Someone is not human (and thus impossible to behaviorally profile), posessed of supernatural powers the nature of which we don’t understand (and thus is capable of hiding and forging evidence at whim without us even being able to detect that He had done so), and not subject to human carelessness or forgetfulness (and thus doesn’t make the sort of mistakes that enable many cases to be solved).

      At least that’s what we think that Someone is like. The evidence for His very existence is spotty at best, and we only have His (secondhand or thirdhand) word as to what He’s like and what He’s after.

      So we’re out of luck as far as solving this case goes.

      But our world, however it got here, is filled with all sorts of useful things that can be turned to our advantage if we use our heads and study it. The Creator of the world, as far as I can tell, has never told us we’ll go to Hell for studying the world and making use of it, or that we’ll go to Hell for disputing an account of the world’s creation that apparently wasn’t even dictated by Him (no prophet He sent ever had anything to say about the events in Genesis (as far as I know); the messages they brought from God had more to do with how dangerous it is to be on His bad side and how to stay off of His bad side). So I’m all for studying evolution.

    18. Rizalist Says:

      Regarding the question what percentage of species have gone extinct? It would seem the answer is almost 100% if the phenomenon of periodic mass extinctions is right. You have probably heard of the studies of the fossil records that note a curious periodicity in the extinction rates since the Cambrian: every 25-26 million years up to 90% of the species living on earth have gone extinct in relatively sudden events of mass extinction. The work is associated with names like Luis Alvarez (who pretty much proved the cosmic origin of the Jurassic extinction of the dinosaurs by studying iridium abundance in the so called K-T boundary layer). I think the first to produce quantitative plots of this were two paleontologists: Raup and Sepkoski. Anyway, a question posed to a Science & Religion Conference in the Archipelago recently in this respect was this: What in the world was the Creator doing for about 500 million years before designing and creating Man? Why, He was annihilating quadrillions upon quintillions of living organisms, erasing up to 90% of his designs in huge bloody global massacres. If there was an intelligent designer in other words, He was not like Mozart, who apparently wrote his symphonies down perfectly formed. He is more like a blogger, constantly revising, changing, copying, erasing, rewriting the DNA design and performing lots and lots of trial and error experiments. This also means that “survival of the fittest” is survival by accident, because Man would not have evolved to his lofty dominion of earth, had not a comet or asteroid cleared it of ten ton chickens with a taste for human termites. I guess a comprehensive theory of an astronomical origin for mass extinctions is associated with the names Nemesis and Muller (of Berkeley). Sorry if this is all old hat to the ChicagoBoyz…am new here, thanks

    19. Shannon Love Says:

      “This also means that “survival of the fittest” is survival by accident,”

      I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. –Ecclesiastes 9:11

      Although random events affect the course of evolution, they are not the scientifically interesting part of the story. Indeed, the phrase “survival of fittest” (which comes from Spencer by the way) is actually a statement that survival is not a random occurrence. “Fit” in its original context did not mean “best” but rather as in “to fit” as in a round peg “fitting” into a round hole. “Adapt” is actually latin for “to fit”

      Darwin originally called the idea we now label natural selection “wedging” because the central idea is that the environment squeezes lifeforms into different shapes. You might think of it as being like that playdough toy where you squeeze dough out through variously shaped holes. If you imagine the dough passing through a series of holes, then chunks of dough that already have a shape somewhat like the next hole will pass through easier. Those chucks “fit” the hole better and are thus “fitter.”

      The theory of natural selection asserts that organisms change in direct response to changes in there environment as opposed to changing at random. For example, if you take a population of organism and expose it to a toxin, subsequent generations of the population will tolerate higher and higher levels of the toxin without harm. With modern gene sequencing, it is even easy to show that the organism adapt by evolving completely new genes that they did possess before. You won’t ever see subsequent generations that are less resistant to the toxin which you would not see if survival was merely random.

    20. James d. Says:

      Two things bother me about ID. One is the argument James and others make about it failing to provide a credible alternative. Also, American students need to learn more about all science, not just these two (or one) topics.
      But secondly, as a Catholic and a grad of a Jesuit school, it very much bothers me the ID folks get lumped into this “Christian” category. Beyond whether that is a grossly simplistic label (and possibly religiously bigoted), it also is simply inaccurate when it comes to Catholicism.
      For all the times the Catholic Church is behind on science, they have been pretty good about this for a while now. Thankfully, the Jesuit in charge of the Vatican Observatory agrees, and hopefully Benedict follows his lead, if he ever does comment on it.

    21. LotharBot Says:

      There are 3 distinct things which could be and often are called “ID”, each of which also has been the focus of at least some part of the “ID movement” as a whole. (Here, I use “ID movement” to refer to the big/published names in ID, rather than the everyday ordinary people who happen to like ID.) Confusion between the types of ID leads to much confusion in debate, so I think it’s worthwhile to point them out:

      1) The early history of ID was essentially a bunch of scientists who had questions about evolution they didn’t feel were being adequately addressed, or in some cases, they felt were being intentionally swept under the rug. They felt some of these questions pointed to a systematic flaw in evolution that was best explained by invoking some form of god, and that the cold response they got showed the scientific community was biased against religion. So, ID sometimes refers to “poking random holes in evolutionary theory and invoking a god” (not to be confused with “poking holes in evolutionary theory and then studying them”, which happens in every credible grad-level evolution class.) A number of creationists have latched on to this as an apologetic (much like secular fundamentalists latch on to evolution as an apologetic — see Shannon’s The Left and Evolution and my responses in the comments.) And, as the judge cited in the original post concluded, a number of the big names in ID are really apologists trying to use the theory to promote their religion.

      2) Several years later, a few of the people from the original ID movement joined with some newcomers in describing some things they thought showed positive evidence for design in biological systems. The most well-known of these is the idea of “irreducible complexity”, but there have been other things pointed to that were thought to be evidence of the involvement of some form of intelligence. So, the theory that “life shows signs of being designed” is another thing that is sometimes called ID. Again, this gets latched on to by creationists…

      3) More recently, a few people in the ID movement, as well as some newcomers, have tried to create a framework for detecting design in general contexts (not just in biology.) This is the direction Dembski took for a while, though rather unfortunately, he doesn’t have a single competent critic (friendly or unfriendly) so his reasoning remains sloppy and unrefined. The idea that “design can be rigorously detected in some circumstances” is sometimes called ID.

      [ASIDE: it should be noted, there's nothing in either types 2 or 3 that requires the specific name or even the nature of the intelligence to be proposed. One can determine that, for example, a particular chunk of metal was designed but not conclude that it was designed by a guy named Mike who worked for Lockheed's space probe division. One can also propose that life was designed but not have any idea what the designer was or what its goals were. Most people within the ID movement have theories, but they certainly don't all agree with each other!]

      Rather unfortunately, all three of these ideas have the same name and common history, and therefore all three tend to be lumped together in discussion. The original few posts (James, Shannon, P. Froward) did a great job of arguing against the first idea, and a lot of subsequent posts have been about specific holes or non-holes in evolutionary theory. I think it’s been fairly well demonstrated that Type-1-ID is definitely not science, and probably total crap. A few other posts have brought up the idea of irreducable complexity, some pro and some con. IMO, it’s an interesting idea that needs a better look, and it *could* be scientifically analyzed, but it’s caught up in the same political crap as Type-1-ID, so right now Type-2-ID is mostly crap with a little bit of potential. What interests me is Type-3-ID, not because of evolution, but because of textual interpretation (reading = detecting design or purpose in text.) My wife and I get a lot of crap because we want to study type-3-ID (see the ID forum game, where my wife tried to get an idea of what sort of things can be used to detect intelligence or design, and all the comments it spawned, including several about how we were lying dumbass creationists trying to trick people into believing in God.)

      I think, in order to have any sort of productive discussion about ID, it’s important to recognize the different types. It’s also important to recognize the difference between the theories, the people who invented them, and the people who espouse them. At the very least, it means I’ll get flamed a bit less often ;)

    22. TM Lutas Says:

      Shannon Love – You’re moving the goalposts from Popper’s falsifiability criteria to something a great deal more rigorous. You can, in fact, falsify the proposition that there are irreducibly complex structures. The set of experiments, while more than one, is a finite set and probably achievable in a few decades time, much as the mapping of the human genome took decades to complete.

      If one artificially creates organisms with every permutation of all genes involved in the creation of a flagellum, or the blood clot cascade, or any of the other candidates for irreducible complexity and then has all variants competing against each other (two competitors at a time) you can tell at the end if there is some pathway of mutations that could have happened incrementally and randomly that leads to increasingly better fitted organisms. If there is, you’ve debunked the ID candidate. If there isn’t, something’s wrong with classic darwinian theory. You could reduce the whole process down to a one sentence observation, “all microbiological candidates for irreducible complexity having been found to have possible evolutionary pathways, irreducible complexity is proven bunk” but I don’t see the linguistics of how one phrases things to be important to the scientific nature of irreducible complexity theory.

      I think the altruistic example points to the difficulty of the standard you’re shifting to. All sorts of things exist that are not optimal in evolutionary terms. They persist because the negative evolutionary pressure on them is weak and thus they have not been completely selected out. To assume that an altruistic species would disprove evolution, you’d be making a bunch of assumptions that may not hold:
      1. Altruism is an evolutionary negative
      2. The level of negativeness always is sufficient to drive altruism out of the gene pool
      3. The level of negative evolutionary pressure is so great that you won’t even see such a thing briefly.

      Thus, finding an altruistic species might be possible even if evolution holds. Altruism, in that particular organism’s environment, may not be selected against at all or not enough to drive it out of the gene pool.

    23. James R. Rummel Says:

      One of the recurring memes invoked by those who have doubts of evolutionary theory is that of “irreducible complexity”, or the idea that some biological systems cannot be broken down into less organized forms. Many of the people who bring IC up in conversation usually complain about the lack of rigorous sceintific tests designed to falsify the concept. They claim that this is proof that the scientific community is hopelessly biased and unwilling to accept anything that would challenge the reign of evolutionary though.

      I have three problems with these sorts of claims.

      The first is that invoking IC seems to me to be a straw man. As I’ve said repeatedly, a gap in our knowledge doesn’t invalidate evolutionary theory, it just means that there are a few things we don’t know about a process that has been ongoing for billions of years. This is hardly surprising, and it play into the great failing of Intelligent Design proponents: That they only have objections to evolutionary theory without being able to produce a single credible alternative.

      Secondly, it is obvious through direct observation that evolution works. The burden of proof for falsifying IC is on the proponents, not on the established scientific community. I invite anyone who wants to study IC to get the funding together and do so. I’m sure that you can even get a reputable university to go along with your scheme if you give them a big enough endowment.

      Lastly, it appears to me that IC as a concept has been pretty thoroughly debunked anyway. Even Michael Behe, the author of the work which popularized the concept in 1996, admitted in 2001 that his work had a defect that did not actually “address the task facing natural selection”.

      If the guy who popularized the concept says he made a mistake, it’s time to give it a rest.

      James

    24. Sulaiman Says:

      Samizdata has an interesting post on this and quotes Cathy Young of Boston Globe:

      “In some ways, evolutionary theory is more compatible with conservative ideas than with leftist ones. Indeed, proponents of applying evolutionary theory to human social structures tend to be viewed by the left with suspicion, particularly on biological explanations for sex roles. As several commentators have pointed out, it’s conservatives who reject the notion that complex organization requires deliberate central planning — in economics. Why should biology be different?”

      My take: another reason to privatize education and let parents decide what kind of education their kids need. The kids will decide for themselves once they are able to reflect on these issues (full disclosure: I went to a Catholic high school but came out more skeptical of all forms of religious dogma and men with funny hats thanks to a Brother who was teaching biology/coaching tennis and was a firm believer in value of competition).

    25. Mike Etzel Says:

      Lets keep this simple. Now if there is a superior being, he/she/it gave us 2.5 kilos of grey matter to use to determine how to work out these conundrums and help us survive. The physics, the maths, the biology etc., are the tools we use to expand our knowledge. The creationists seem to be overloaded and confused with information and as a result seem to panic and consequently tend to dumb down evolutionary ideas to get a grip. God probably has a sense of humour and really doesn’t care whether one is a believer or not. The gift is the science that we use to expand mankinds knowledge. The beauty of science is that nothing is written in stone. Advancements in scientific discovery are constantly reviewed and sometimes successfully challenged over time. The scientific method teaches one to scrutinize ideas, theories and concepts regularly and change them as new knowledge is accumulated. Not always easy due to our inherent prejudices. Darwin’s evolutionary doctrines are the best we have at this point in time and tend to stand up to scrutiny. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, God is zapping around the universe wondering what all the fuss is about. It pays to remember to keep an open mind. Creationism though, has a long way to go to hit the sweet spot.

      Mike

    26. Shannon Love Says:

      TM Luctus

      “You’re moving the goalposts from Popper’s falsifiability criteria to something a great deal more rigorous.”

      No, I am not. I am talking about falsifying an entire hypothesis whereas you are talking about falsifying the application of the hypothesis to specific instances of biological forms.

      “all microbiological candidates for irreducible complexity having been found to have possible evolutionary pathways, irreducible complexity is proven bunk”

      Again, this is an exercise in counting white swans. By this criteria, to disprove irreducible complexity as a hypothesis you would have to accurately reconstruct the evolutionary history of every biological structure on earth from the most basic protein to the human brain!

      By your criteria, huge numbers of disproved hypothesis would suddenly become valid again. The miasma theory of disease, for example, could be considered a valid hypothesis again because although we have proven that all of the diseases originally attributed to miasmas are in fact caused by microorganisms, we don’t have explanations for ALL diseases so some of them might be caused my miasmas. By your criteria, the miasma hypothesis would remain scientifically valid until we had discovered the cause of every single disease.

      If we were to adopt your criteria, science would ground to a halt because it would choke on an near infinite number of hypothesis all of which would be considered valid because we didn’t know everything about everything.

      In order to become a good scientific theory, a hypothesis must take the form of: “If hypothesis X is true, then it is impossible to ever observe Y.” To test hypothesis X, you then go looking for Y.
      Irreducible complexity cannot provide this kind of statement. We can’t say: “If irreducible complexity is true then we can never observe Y.” Until somebody can formulate irreducible complexity into that form, then it is not valid scientific hypothesis. It can’t be used to tell us anything about the behavior of the material universe.

    27. Jake Jacobsen Says:

      I would argue that your dogs began a process of adaptation, not evolution. I’m no biologist either and I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but, it smells like bad and imprecise science to me.

      Adaptation are improvements within the species. Evolution seems to revolve around the idea that your dogs might have become horses if you kept fooling around with them.

      But they wouldn’t would they? And we’ve never seen anything of the sort. Whereas people and critters adapt to their environment all the time.

      Or am I wrong?

    28. Craig R. Harmon Says:

      As I understand it, evolution IS the process of adaptation with genetic mutation thrown into the mix. Naturally, one would not expect to see the emergence of a new species through carefully controlled breeding experiments carried out over no more than a few generations. Nor would we expect to see that over the period of time that, since Darwin, we’ve been ‘looking for’ interspecies change–what would that be, about 150 years?

    29. Tyouth Says:

      Jake, the theory of ev. says that, if conditions favor the survival of horses and if dogs are at a distinct disadvantage due to environmental conditions, then “the dogs that have “horse characteristics” will tend to survive and reproduce”. And, conversely, “mutts with “dog characteristics” will tend to die young and not reproduce”.

      Genetic mutation that allows species to change is key and so is, I suppose, enviornmental change which requires a mutation that will increase chances of survival.

    30. Tyouth Says:

      I think that members of a species, can, by definition, interbreed. Breeding dogs does seem to be a fine example of the Theory of Evolution. For example, although dogs can interbreed now it’s likely that the aftifical enviornment of dog breeding will eventually change one breed enough so that it may not mate successfully with other “breeds”.

      The breeding situation can also be looked at, from another viewpoint, as a form of intelligent design, can’t it?

    31. Engineer-Poet Says:

      I would argue that your dogs began a process of adaptation, not evolution.

      A distinction without a difference.

      The breeding situation can also be looked at, from another viewpoint, as a form of intelligent design, can’t it?

      No, it would be “intelligent selection”.  The sources of variation are still the same:  sexual recombination, copying errors (including duplications, deletions and tandem-repeat sequence length variations) and point mutations.

      FWIW, tandem repeat differences are behind the variation in snout shape between collies and bull terriers (links:  Science, Pharyngula).  These can change quite a bit in one generation, putting the lie to the claim that such things “cannot evolve”.

    32. Melchior Sternfels Says:

      Some random (and late) reactions to the above discussion.

      [James Rummel] I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that evolution is at the heart of all of our biological sciences. That carries a fair amount of weight, I reckon.

      (1) Carries weight in what sense? In establishing the truth of evolution, or its importance?

      (2) Do you see anything that would prevent a creationist from being a first-rate geneticist, or an anatomist, or a medical doctor? One can reject evolution taken as a comprehensive theory of the origin of life without rejecting what is necessary to function well in a number of biological sciences. Accepting genetics as a science in no way entails accepting that genetic variation sifted by natural selection as the *sole* origin of life and source of its diversity.

      [James Rummel] Secondly, it is obvious through direct observation that evolution works.

      Has evolution been observed to account for abiogenesis? Has evolution been observed to account for the origins of the fundamental forms of animal life in the Cambrian Period? It seems to me that you are equivocating by implying that what has been observed of evolution demonstrates that it can and does account for the entire origin and diversity of life.

      [Brett Bellmore] Where’s your “black swan”? Why is the presence of features that no genuinely intelligent designer WOULD design, not refutation of ID?

      [Shannon Love] I gotta admit that the fact that human male genitalia are positioned up front and dead center is a powerful argument against at least “intelligent” design.

      How can you think you know what features an designer would or would not put into his creatures? You can’t conceivably know that without some idea of the purposes of that designer, and what the system comprises that is being designed. There may be plausible arguments against ID, but this one seems to me to carry no weight.

    33. James R. Rummel Says:

      Has evolution been observed to account for abiogenesis? Has evolution been observed to account for the origins of the fundamental forms of animal life in the Cambrian Period?

      One of the major failings of those who favor Intelligent Design is that they can only point to holes in our knowledge of how evolution worked in the past. They have never offered a single shred of proof to support their claim that there is another agent of the development of life.

      This is exactly what you’re doing.

      So far as the supposed problem with the supposed Cambrian Explosion, it’s been answered by me in a previous comment.

      In fact, I don’t understand why ID supporters keep bringing up the same debunked claims over and over. I thought one of their problems with evolutionary science was that the established scientific community wouldn’t bother to listen to anything that would threaten their model of evolution.

      Please explain to me how what you are doing is any different.

      James

    34. Engineer-Poet Says:

      What’s really depressing is that creationuts are either:So mentally blinkered that they cannot distinguish between the evolution of replicators by descent with modification and the origin of the first replicator(s), orCognizant of the difference but so dishonest that they won’t admit it exists.
      Research into abiogenesis proceeds.  We’ve got numerous reproductions of the Miller-Urey experiment.  We’ve found evidence of biochemicals in deep space.  We found amino acids in a meteorite.  People who continue to make the appeal to ignorance given what we know deserve nothing but ridicule.

    35. Tyouth Says:

      Eng-poet “intelligent selection”, ah well, yes it is….but have you ever seen some tiny pugs? Maybe “purposeful selection” would be more like it.

    36. Melchior Sternfels Says:

      One of the major failings of those who favor Intelligent Design is that they can only point to holes in our knowledge of how evolution worked in the past. They have never offered a single shred of proof to support their claim that there is another agent of the development of life.

      This is exactly what you’re doing.

      I am not writing to support the idea that ID is science. In fact, I’m inclined to think it isn’t, though unless one is committed to metaphysical naturalism, the correct response will be “so what?”. It’s not as if science can make any plausible claim to be the sole source of human knowledge, or to give ultimate answers on any question. Science cannot even establish its own rational foundations without begging the question.

      What I did do is make several specific points about some of the reasoning I saw in this thread. I sought to clarify your statement that evolution is at the heart of all biological sciences by asking two questions (perfectly reasonable questions, it seems to me). Implicitly I pointed out that one could deny evolution as a comprehensive account of the origins of life without in the least harming one’s ability to do a great deal of useful science. One can even affirm that species are able to adapt to a great degree to their environments through natural selection without affirming evolution as a comprehensive account of the origins of life. Affirming the former does not in the least entail affirming the latter.

      So the extent to which evolution, taken as a comprehensive account of the origins of life, is some kind of essential foundation for all biological sciences seems on the face of it to be limited. Doubtless there are some disciplines within the life sciences that, by definition, are founded on evolution taken in the above sense.

      Second, I pointed out that you were equivocating in your use of the term “evolution”. The evolution that has been observed to work is the adaptation of organisms within species to changes in their environment through differential survival and reproduction, as well as what can be taken as speciation in some simpler organisms. To say that evolution in this sense works is pretty trivial, so I took it that you meant this sentence as some vindication of evolution as the comprehensive theory of the origin and diversity of life. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

      So far as the supposed problem with the supposed Cambrian Explosion, it’s been answered by me in a previous comment.

      Ostensibly by the links to the pages in your earlier comment. You make two points:

      (1) the Cambrian Explosions [sic] wasn’t a time when fully formed, complex organisms suddenly appeared without warning. Instead it was simply a time when the conditions for preserving fossils were prevalent.

      and

      (2) In fact, it would seem that many highly organized forms of life evolved before the Cambrian Era.

      As for (1), the page you link to gives no reason to think this assertion true. It merely asserts the same thing: “This explosion was latter seen to be less of a sudden increase in families, and marked more by extraordinarily good conditions for the formation of fossils.” Now, it may well be that (1) is true and that many paleontologists affirm (1), but simply asserting the truth of (1) isn’t itself much of an answer. One can easily imagine a circular way of arguing for (1):

      Q: Why do we find no fossil evidence for gradual evolution eventuating in the 30+ phyla we see in the Cambrian Explosion?

      A: Because conditions leading up to the Cambrian were not propitious for the preservation of fossils.

      Q: How do we know that the conditions leading up to the Cambrian were not propitious for the preservation of fossils?

      A: Because we find no fossil evidence for gradual evolution eventuating in the 30+ phyla we see in the Cambrian Explosion.

      One hopes this isn’t the kind of argument deployed in defense of gradualistic evolution.

      As for (2), the page you link to says nothing about the origins of the phyla, which was the particular question I raised. It does mention abundant fossils (!!!) of bacteria, archaeans, and eukaryotic cells. Interestingly enough, if we travel forward to the Paleozoic Era on the same site, it says this about the Cambrian Explosion:

      “At its beginning, multicelled animals underwent a dramatic ‘explosion’ in diversity, and almost all living animal phyla appeared within a few millions of years.”

      Nothing about the apparent explosion being due to changes in the conditions for fossil preservation. Rather, the idea seems to be that “multicelled animals … underwent a dramatic explosion in diversity”. In any case, it seems to me that your answer to the questions posed by the Cambrian Explosion was simply to cite two pages that merely assert (without argument) the same thing you assert. There may be a perfectly good response to my question about the Cambrian Explosion, but your answer wasn’t it.

      Even Michael Behe, the author of the work which popularized the concept in 1996, admitted in 2001 that his work had a defect that did not actually “address the task facing natural selection”.

      Exactly what did Michael Behe concede, and what are the consequences of his concession for his overall position? I see two obvious possibilities, though doubtless there are more:

      (a) Behe conceded that his work was fatally and irredeemably flawed;
      (b) Behe conceded that his work had a flaw, and he proceeded (as scientists generally do when they discover deficiencies in their work) to modify his position to account for that flaw.

      Now I don’t know whether (a) or (b) is the case, or perhaps some tertium quid, but I suspect that (b) is the case. I assume you’ve read his book (I haven’t) and followed his story (I haven’t), so I’ll defer to your account of the matter. If (b) is the case, I think it’s fair to say that you haven’t accurately represented his position in your comment above.

      By the way, my impression is that Behe affirms (and has always affirmed) a large role for Darwinian evolution in the development of life, such his position has as much in common with theistic evolution as it does with creationism.

      In the interest of openness, I should disclose that I am a creationist of the old-earth variety. I would probably go along with most of what you find at the Reasons to Believe ministry, including their rather conventional big-bang cosmology and old-earth geology. Note this headline on their homepage: RTB Applauds ID ruling. Guess what: you actually agree with creationists about something!

      Nota bene that I am not arguing that ID should be taken as science, nor am I trying to convince you that God exists and that he created the universe. I am not even trying to get you to concede that evolution as a comprehensive theory of the origin and diversity of life is fatally flawed or somehow dead. (And if anyone replies that I am doing any of these things, I shall scold them for an inattentive reader!) I am criticizing what I take to be instances of bad reasoning on your part and on the part of some of the other ID critics here. If all that emerges from our interaction is that you jettison weak arguments against ID and wind up with a more cogent case for your position, that would be fine with me. I can learn from those who formulate their positions with clarity and support them with argumentation, even when I disagree with them. I can’t learn much when people just bandy assertions about, even when I agree with them.

    37. James R. Rummel Says:

      I read Behe’s work, and I read his critics.

      Behe lists some problems with evolutionary theory, with the one that has been grabbed most tightly by Intelligent Design proponents being irreducible complexity. However, even Behe has since admitted that this is a flawed concept for a variety of reasons. (Vital systems might have simply have been advantageous at one point and evolved into a vital system, or interim structures might have become extinct so there is no sign of their existence.)

      All of Behe’s major objections outlined in his book has since been answered by his critics. That pretty much does it for me.

      But all of this is a waste of time. Evolution works, it has been (and still is) observed in nature, and even laymen such as myself can use the basic concept to get results. Evidence for an alternative simply doesn’t exist.

      And that is the crux of the problem with anyone who claims that they favor another explanation for the formation of life on this planet. There just isn’t any evidence to back up their claims!

      Until that happens, until they come up with at least a shred of proof, then they’re always going to be treated as cranks. Particularly when they insist that their notions deserve to be treated with the same respect that a proven mechanism for change enjoys.

      James

    38. LotharBot Says:

      It should be noted, the “not falsifiable” objection to type-2-ID is invalid, though often repeated (strangely enough, ID proponents bring up the same debunked claims over and over, and ID detractors make the same weak objections over and over.) After all, type-2-ID isn’t merely making the claim that life is designed… it’s making the claim that design in life can be detected.

      This leads to perhaps the biggest irony of all: that claim can be falsified. One way to do so is to develop machinery to detect design in general (type-3-ID) and then apply the machinery to life and demonstrate that it doesn’t show signs of design.

      It seems many of you are only familiar with type-1-ID, based on the repeated claims that ID only points to holes in evolutionary theory but doesn’t provide any positive evidence for design. Much of what you see in ID literature today is attempts at type-2-ID — attempts to show positive evidence. IMO, at present such attempts are useless since we don’t have type-3-ID machinery, and most of the claims are less-than-convincing, but it’s dishonest to pretend they don’t even exist.

    39. Melchior Sternfels Says:

      [Engineer-Poet] Research into abiogenesis proceeds. [a] We’ve got numerous reproductions of the Miller-Urey experiment. [b] We’ve found evidence of biochemicals in deep space. [c] We found amino acids in a meteorite. [d] People who continue to make the appeal to ignorance given what we know deserve nothing but ridicule. (enumeration of sentences mine–MSvF)

      Are you referring to what I said above? If not, please ignore the rest of the comment. If so, I’m puzzled. [d] seems to be some sort of conclusion–are you claiming that [d] follows from [a] – [c]? Are you claiming that [a] – [c] amount to an accounting for abiogenesis by the disciplines united under the heading “evolution? If so, abiogenesis is simpler than even Oparin thought. If [a] – [c] do not amount to an accounting for abiogenesis by the disciplines united under the heading “evolution”, then my question is evidently to be answered in the negative.

      But further, on the assumption you are referring to my comments, in [d] you seem to claim that I am making an argument from ignorance. But as far as I can tell I wasn’t making an argument at all. I just asked a question: “Has evolution been observed to account for abiogenesis?” This strikes me as a perfectly fair question, and one that any Darwinian ought to desire to see answered truthfully and without exaggeration.

      As for my supposed mental blinkeredness or my dishonesty, it seems to me fair to consider the study of abiogenesis a part of evolution when it is taken as a comprehensive account of the origin and diversity of life (as I think I have consistently taken it in this discussion). Darwin certainly felt entitled to speculate about abiogenesis.

      You speak of the distinction between “the evolution of replicators by descent with modification and the origin of the first replicator(s)”. Do you take this distinction to be the boundary between evolution of life and abiogenesis? If so, I’m not sure the distinction is so clear-cut. As I understand it, abiogenesis is thought to proceed by the self-replication of non-living molecules (obviously with modification, as at some point the become alive). So abiogenesis is not merely the story of the origin of the first replicator–it is also a story of “evolution of replicators by descent with modification”.

    40. Simplicius Redivivus Says:

      Intelligent Design and the PA Ruling at ChicagoBo

      The key phrase here is “some sort of environmental cause”. While human-directed animal husbandry in all its useful forms makes a dandy illustration of the power of genetics and heredity, it represent precisely the opposite sort of environmental cause…