Back to index of science pages by Donald Sauter.
This page serves as a follow-up to my Evolution FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) page. I don't have any crazy notion of responding to all the nonsense written about evolution here - the web doesn't have enough electrons - but if something falls in my lap, and I have the energy, here's where I'll put my two cents.
In Jan 2006 I had to admit this page has grown unwieldy enough for a helping Table Of Contents. Ok, then ...
Blog: The Daily Transcript
Blogger: Alex Palazzo
Title: On this, the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Birth
Stop asking people if they "believe in evolution". Every time I hear some dumb ass politician or right wing theological nut say "I don't believe in evolution", it makes me cringe. Evolution is not some magical mystical process that you take on faith. Do you ever hear the question "do you believe in algebra?" Instead pose the question "do you understand how evolution works?"
Poster: yes indeed
Me: 'Course I know how evolution works. It's an incomprehensibly long chain of unbelievably fortuitous birth defects that gave rise to my eyeball, little toenail, and the sensation of itch.
Among other things.
Poster: Hey everyone - don't bother.
Me: Did I say something wrong?
No need to read all of the responses to PZ's article. After you've gotten the flavor of a few of them, jump to my punchline.
Blogger: PZ Meyers
Title: Darwin is already dead, and we know it
I strongly disagree with the arguments of this essay by Carl Safina, "Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live" [New York Times, February 2009], even while I think there is a germ of truth to its premise. It reads more like a contrarian backlash to all the attention being given to Darwin in this bicentennial of his birth. The author makes three general claims that he thinks justify his call to "kill Darwin".
The first is a reasonable concern, that "equating evolution with Darwin" is misleading and can lead to public misunderstanding... but then Safina charges off into ridiculous hyperbole, that scientists are making Darwin into a "sacred fetish", and creating a "cult of Darwinism". It's simply not true. I go through this every year, when I'm off to give a talks about Darwin around the time of Darwin Day, and there's no deification going on anywhere. I talk about the central principles of Darwinism, which are still valid, but I also point out that he got many things wrong (genetics is the most vivid example), and that the science has advanced significantly since his day. I've talked to many other scientists who do the same sorts of lectures, and nobody portrays him as Saint Darwin.
Poster: Creationists use the term Darwinism a hell of a lot more than proponents of evolution do.
Poster: Darwinism has become a code for the godbots but substituting evolution for Darwin only leads to Evilutionists. Another code word for non-believers.
Poster: The funny thing is that Darwinism is a straw man cooked up by the ID movement, as others have pointed out. Yes, the worship of Darwin and dogmatic adherence to his original ideas must be abandoned! Oh wait, nobody worships Darwin and nobody is claiming that his ideas were immaculate. We leave deification, divinely revealed dogma, and other such nonsense to the religious.
Poster: Carl Safina has bought into the notion that there is actually something called Darwinism that is an actual materialist philosophy. He somehow does not propose any evidence to support this notion. The reality is that the term Darwinism is nothing more than a political epithet hurled by anti-science proponents.
Poster: What bothers me about Carl Safina's essay is that his repudiation of Darwinism and "Darwinian evolution" seems very much like the repudiation of the term "atheism" by so many non-theists, who hope that this will somehow make people like them better. In both cases, I feel, it is an attempt to keep the conclusions while divorcing from the process.
> but I also point out that he got many things wrong (genetics is the most vivid example)
I hear/read this statement frequently from modern biologists wishing to slough of the cultic taint of Darwinism, but - and it could very well be my ignorance - I don't see how Darwin's omission of "genetics" could possibly be labelled a "mistake" since there was no genetics in those days.
Poster: The appropriate response to the term Darwinism is to identify it as a faulty premise; Darwinism is a straw man. What Safina seemingly has done is accept the premise at face value, treating the straw man as real, and written his article from that standpoint. I think that's what has people a little irked.
When Safina phrases it like, "we need to kill Darwinism," it frames the issue inappropriately. It implies that there's such a thing as Darwinism, that Darwinism has some influence in evolutionary theory, and that the creationists have some merit to their argument because they've identified a chink in evolutionary theory's armor.
Poster: I prefer Dr. Olivia Judson column [Let's get rid of Darwinism].
"Calling evolutionary biology Darwinism, and evolution by natural selection "Darwinian" evolution, is like calling aeronautical engineering "Wrightism," and fixed-wing aircraft "Wrightian" planes, after those pioneers of fixed-wing flight, the Wright brothers."
Poster: I hope to get around to writing a comment on the NYT's website this evening; my working title is "Darwinism: The Evolution of a Straw Man."
Poster: IME[?] biologists seldom use the term Darwinism, but frequently the adjective "Darwinian," which to me is entirely different, and appropriate, especially to separate "classic", uh, Darwinism from all the subsequent elaborations. Personally I've always liked "the neo-Darwinian synthesis," but I guess that's kind of a mouthful...
As has already been pointed out, words that end in "-ism" can sound too much like ideologies; they connote a sort of vested devotion to some set of concepts; they also open the door to "evolutionism," etc. Yes, I know, there is atheism, et al...which sort of makes the point. Seems that "ism" brings to mind more a school of thought, as opposed to "-ology" and other roots. No, I'm not suggesting Darwinology . . :-)
And of course, Darwinism so easily links to the infamous "social-Darwinism..."
So, perhaps we can at least agree that in popular debates it's best to avoid Darwinism, and even more important to not let one's opponents get away with it, either. The comparison to "Newtonism" is a good analogy to have at hand.
Poster: [to previous] I agree but did you read the whole article - Safina doesn't like "Darwinian" any more than Darwinism.
Poster: The article was about Darwinism rather than 'Darwin'. [Safina] was not saying let's not commemorate Darwin's achievements, merely set them in a context independent from implications of either hero-worship or membership in a religious cult.
Poster: Sorry, but it should possible to write an article about Darwinism for a 'lay readership' without raising as many red flags for 'people like you and me" as Safina's did. The lay reader might actually come away with the idea that there is a modern 'cult' of Darwinism among *scientists*, which is *utter bs*.
Me (post #94): Can I join the party?
I've got just the right word that'll make everybody happy: Something-from-Nothingism.
Define the "nothing" you are referring to.
Just when I show up, everybody else goes home. Dang.
I have spent many hours reading articles about the Intelligent Design (ID) trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. Almost daily I go to google news, search on "intelligent design", sort by date, and go down the line picking out what look like the most interesting articles, editorials, and letters to editors. Here are some thoughts, as best as I can get them out.
Where to start? How about with this quote from "The Neck of the Giraffe" by Francis Hitching, already used in my evolution "faq" page:
"One comes back repeatedly to the conclusion that the creationists would not be making so much of the running were not neo-Darwinism defended to the teeth as the only viable alternative. Paradoxically, the greatest service which the creationist movement may yet perform is to spur on a basic re-evaluation of the laws underlying evolution."
As I understand it, intelligent design is a package deal with two separate components. There are the overwhelmingly forceful logical and mathematical arguments against the darwinistic gradual development of new body parts and species; and there's the invocation of an intelligent designer. ID has taken an unholy beating in the press for the latter, probably on the order of a hundred articles or more to 1. Since the intelligent designer is "unfalsifiable" and "unscientific", intelligent design in its entirety is rejected by these thinkers. But what about the probabilistic arguments against gradual transitions? That's not science? Science doesn't believe in numbers?
I think the essence of intelligent design is that the sum total of all our scientific knowledge is not only insufficient, but absolutely worthless in describing the incredible march from pure chaos, if not nothingness, to unimaginable complexity. In fact, all of our scientific knowledge - and every speck of everyday experience - says it should go the other direction. I wish they had stopped there, and chosen a catchy name like Darwin-busters or something, and let people's minds go wherever they might in light of no current plausible, scientific explanation for the various life forms, or for the creation of life itself.
A frequent anti-ID argument goes along the lines, if there's an Intelligent Designer, how come there's AIDS (back pains, sniffles, hurricanes, etc.)? Far be it from me to argue ID's position, but this is so simple-minded that I can't keep quiet. Where in intelligent design does it say anything about "benevolence", or "people-friendly"??? If it was my job to create an AIDS virus, or a hurricane, you can bet I would try to make it the best darn stuff you ever saw. ID is just pointing out that the steps from space dust to bacteria to little critters to humans are doozies, never mind whether we get stung, or get honey, out of the deal.
How about this poke at the intelligent designer from Jerry Coyne, professor at the University of Chicago?
"If this [fossil] record does reflect the exertions of an intelligent designer, he was apparently dissatisfied with nearly all of his creations, repeatedly destroying them and creating a new set of species that just happened to resemble descendants of those that he had destroyed."
Bravo. And the same logic forces us to conclude that cars and houses aren't designed, either, and therefore must come into existence through random events at the molecular level.
An idea often expressed in these articles is that it's ok to talk about ID, but it should be in philosophy or religion classes, not science. Come on, what's the big deal? How much skin off the nose of a biology teacher is it to take 7 seconds to say, "And there are some people who have calculated that these gradual transitions are probabilistically impossible, but they're a bunch of morons"? Does it really matter which schoolroom an idea is discussed in, or exactly which teacher's mouth it comes out of? Can you trace everything in your brain to a specific teacher or classroom? Geez, my father went to a 4-room schoolhouse that only used 3 of its rooms for all 6 grades. By the time my older sisters and brother went there they were using all 4 rooms for 6 grades. Obviously, they must have been taught lots of completely unrelated things in a single room. They survived and seem to be doing just fine.
But, if ID must be moved out of science class, how about math? Kids might get a kick out of working out the infinitesimally small probabilities that evolutionists don't bat an eye at.
If it sounds like I am applauding the actions of the Dover Area School Board, don't be so hasty. My mental image is one of Mack and Mire for hire. In my world all the levels of education bureaucracy above the principal would be abolished. The principal would be answerable to the community. There are way too many cooks in the kitchen. See my page on the Maryland state board of education's crusade to mess up Maryland kids.
Another common anti-ID argument is that the science skills of American students are going down the tubes and teaching junk science will mess them up even further. This tickles my funny bone. If nobody learned evolution while having it crammed down our throats for the last fifty years, why worry about anybody learning ID? Here's a student who tells it like it is:
With biology class three years behind him, Greg Strine [senior at Dover Area High School] said the ruling won't affect him either way. And he doesn't think the rest of Dover's teenagers care much about it, either. "They don't give a crap," he said as he waved to a car passing the fire station. "Whatever people want to teach them, it doesn't mean they have to listen to it."
Another common anti-ID argument is the oh-so-brilliant, "But who designed the Intelligent Designer?" As if all of science doesn't drip with an infinity of these problems. What's beyond the edge of the universe? And what's beyond that? Pretending there was a Big Bang, what was there before it, and what was before that? What caused the Big Bang? And what caused the thing that caused it? What makes up sub-atomic particles? What makes up the things that make up sub-atomic particles? Same with photons. What causes gravitation and the other fundamental forces? What causes whatever it is that causes them? And on and on and on. Had enough? Sure hope I haven't caused anybody sleepless nights who's never thought about these things before and always went to bed secure in the knowledge that scientists have it all figured out, with maybe a few remaining gaps and wrinkles to smooth over. I'm guessing that this is what Walter Bradley, Baylor University professor, is referring to when he says, "It takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God." But take that up with him, not me.
Remember: science describes; science does not explain. Of course, we accept the description of activity at a lower level as an "explanation" for some phenomenon at a higher level. But good luck taking your descriptions down to the absolute base level.
If you search the internet for the definition of "evolution", you will see that there are any number of definitions - with every writer doing his darndest to unconfuse the mess. Apparently, even science dictionaries don't get it right. So whose fault is that? I noted only one instance of a writer actually attempting a definition of evolution: "The theory of evolution, which is accepted by the vast majority of scientists and all the nation's major scientific institutions, holds that life, including humans, evolved from a common ancestor over billions of years." So "evolution" means things "evolved". Thanks.
Moreover, I only noted one article that mentioned this problem of definition. Isn't that kind of bizarre, a firestorm like this, and nobody even knows if we're arguing about the same thing? One of the least fuzziest definitions of evolution used by biologists is "a change in allele frequencies" between generations. As I understand it, alleles are the gene variants. So if one generation has more freckles than the preceding generation, that's evolution as far as biologists are concerned. Are we all on the same wavelength? Is that what we're all arguing about? I'm guessing not. I think it would be very interesting, and potentially quite hilarious, to get everyone who's uttered or written a word of opinion on this battle in separate rooms and have them write down their definition of "evolution".
There is much word play surrounding "theory" and this invariably leads to evolution getting itself hitched up to gravity's star. Here's an example:
The "theory, not a fact" line is just one of several used by intelligent design proponents in attempts to gin up the appearance of a scientific controversy, ACLU attorney Witold Walczak said. "That is an old creationist ploy." In truth, he said, "there is simply no controversy in the scientific community." Just because evolution is "just a theory" doesn't make it scientifically suspect. Gravity, too, is a theory.
Evolution is a theory. Gravity is a theory. Gravity is good stuff. Therefore, evolution has to be good stuff. QED. Good grief. At least this guy is a lawyer, so we know he spends his life playing ridiculous word games, but I could pull up dozens of near-identical comments from scientists and real-world people. To hear them talk, you'd think that scientists invented gravity. Sorry folks, they didn't even discover it. No human can take credit for that. Every creepie-crawlie above a bacterium has had a solid grasp of gravity forever. Your dog is an expert; just launch a piece of popcorn into suborbital flight and watch what happens. What Sir Isaac Newton did was describe the gravitational attraction more accurately than anyone before.
The absurdity of the above logical "proof" of evolution aside, how can any rational person put gravitational attraction, which everybody observes continuously, every day, everywhere, in the same boat as the incremental development of complex body parts and new species, which has never been observed by anyone, anywhere, ever?
Part of the statement required by the Dover Area school board reads: "Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence." I think what they mean by "gaps in the theory" is gaps in the claimed continuum of organisms from space dust to porpoises (giving those readers a break who are fed up with jerk humans always being plunked at the top of the heap.) Dog my cats if they're not letting evolution off real easy here. The whole range of evolution is one BIG gap, with points representing various species scattered along the way. Species appear in the record; they disappear from the record. There are no little, teensy-weensy line segments, even, connecting two or three species by smooth transitions. Please revisit my book report on "The Neck Of The Giraffe" in my evolution "faq" page to save me the trouble of repeating all that here. Choosing just one powerful example, insects appeared with no forerunners, and, not only that, but flying insects appeared at the same time! What would Saint Chuck have to say about that?
Over and over we read in all this cheerleading for evolution that it is the "fundamental principle of biology", or the "foundation of all biology", or the "fundamental rule that drives all biology", or the "central unifying concept of biology", or "one of the most basic tenets of biology". These statements go completely unchallenged. Am I the only one who hasn't the vaguest idea what they're talking about? Are you telling me that nobody bred sheep, grew a stalk of corn, or watered a petunia before 1859??? That all of the work in biology before Darwin is a figment of our imagination, including Gregor Mendel and his work in genetics?
Having been prompted by the court case to dip into this issue again, I see that I was somewhat confused about the current state of evolutionary thought. No one hides the fact that Darwin's ideas fell by the wayside within a few decades. Now you read buzzwords like "modern synthesis" and "synthetic theory" and "neo-Darwinism". I know there are at least a handful of proposed evolution theories out there. All this combined led me to think that modern scientific thought has left simple, old, broken-down Darwinism in the dust. After all, if neo-Darwinism were Darwinism, it would be called Darwinism, right? Neo-Darwinism, moreover, is concocted from a batch of other non-real-life buzzwords: "neutralist theory", "genetic drift", and "horizontal transfer". Does that inspire your confidence as much as mine? Does it bring to mind those three or four gravity guys who sit around sucking on their meerschaums, nodding knowingly to each other while they blow smoke over everybody's heads on bent space?
I had interpreted this to mean, for instance, that no scientist nowadays believes the fantastic Darwinian scenario we were taught decades ago of the giraffe neck developing in tens of thousands of incremental, random steps over millions of years, all for the sake of reaching a slightly higher leaf.
Apparently they still really do. I've come to understand, from a number of sources, that neo-Darwinism is really the same stuff as Darwinism. Some writers say the "neo-" is in the process of being dropped. Neo-Darwinism is still Darwin's natural selection, but with genetics shoe-horned into the mix. Darwin didn't know about genetics. The bizarre thing is, anybody with the least understanding of the complexity of genes can see how much more impossible it is to swallow Darwinian transitions with genetics worked in.
Darwin had the luxury of ignorance. It was no trouble to imagine that a lizard was hatched, somehow, with a tiny bit of toenail on his snout, giving him a survival advantage through superior pecking abilities, then finding a mate born with the same defect, establishing a population of tiny-toenail-nosed lizards, and then, after a few thousands or millions of generations, finally hatching a baby lizard with a slightly larger bit of toenail on his snout. These are just the first two steps in developing just one feature, the beak, of our far-far-off-in-the-future bird. Whew.
But when you work genetics in, whoa baby. It takes a mighty lucky - I won't say "intelligent" - solar flare or supernova to knock a bunch - a big bunch - of nucleotides in just the right order in a DNA strand to create the genes in one of the sex cells of a mama or papa lizard that will get passed on (fat chance!) to the baby and oversee the process of forming a tiny chip of toenail on his snout. Having accomplished this prodigious feat, we will take a rest and disregard the normal operation of natural selection, which would work to ostracize this oddball lizard from his potential mates, and how long we'd have to wait for another accident that modifies the genes or creates more of them to make the beak a tiny bit bigger.
Cheerleaders for evolution assure us that "there is simply no controversy", and "there is no debate", and posit the Alfred E. Newmanesque, "What controversy???" But - talk about great timing! - halfway through the trial, on Oct 19 2005, the book that finally explains how evolution works was published! It's called "The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma", by Marc W. Kirschner, John C. Gerhart, and John Norton.
Nobody's been able to make Darwinism work for the last 150 years, and now, all of a sudden, these three guys see the light? Right. The blurb says they "close the major gap in Darwin's theory." But haven't the cheerleaders been screaming there are no gaps; there is no debate or controversy? Doesn't the mere existence of such a book show what shaky ground - putting it kindly - Darwinism has been on? But scientists need to make it work somehow, don't ask me why. Maybe because "Darwin!" sounds so good as a battle cry?
The authors have a name for their theory - "facilitated variation". Lest that first word rub up dangerously close to "intelligent", the blurb assures us the book provides a "timely scientific rebuttal to modern critics of evolution who champion intelligent design." Wow, I hope for the sake of a future movie somebody came bursting into the court room, waving a copy of this hot-off-the-press book, and shouting "Surprise witness for the plaintiffs!!!"
"Facilitated variation". Remember it. Send me an "I told you so" email as soon as the scientific community has embraced it.
[Update, February 2009: There was a spate of news items relating to evolution because of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin. I just plugged - evolution darwin - into Google news and got 1,688 hits. I plugged in - "facilitated variation" - and got 0 hits.]
The articles make much of America's backwards fundamentalism, but when they supply statistics for European countries, they don't look all that different:
The situation is much different in Europe. More than 75 percent of Danish and French citizens and more than 60 percent of adults in Germany, Austria, Britain, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands said they believed evolution was "definitely" or "probably" true, according to a study by Jon D. Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communication at Northwestern University's medical school.60 percent? Probably true? Sounds pretty pathetic to me. If evolution is so rock solid, why can't biologists get themselves understood? After all, polls on both sides of the Atlantic would show 100 percent belief that the earth is not flat, and 100 percent belief that the earth is not the center of the universe.
Here and there in the articles scientists do admit they've done a very bad job communicating to the public.
But Alan I. Leshner [chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science] and other scientists acknowledge scientists may often be their own worst enemies in the debate. "We suck," said Kenneth R. Miller, a Brown University biology professor who is the author of high school biology textbooks, including the one used at the Dover high school. Miller, a devout Roman Catholic and author of Finding Darwin's God, was the opening witness for the Dover parents in the trial. "We suck at communicating information about evolution and many other aspects of science."
He sure does. Did Lavoisier talk like that? In any case, such comments bug me. "Oh, we are so busy being brilliant that we just can't be bothered getting the uncleansed masses to understand our brilliant ideas." Instead of all the testy argumentation, wouldn't it make more sense to make your case for evolution clearly and compellingly, once and for all? It could be framed like this:
For those people who still cling to the notions that:
- the gradual development of new body parts/new species has never been observed in the fossil record, in nature, or in the laboratory;
- mutations almost always produce an inferior organism;
- natural selection works to maintain the status quo and quash the mutants; and
- evolutionary theory can't plausibly explain how complex systems developed, much less interactively complex systems, much less irreducibly complex systems...
This is why we are so positive that natural selection working on mutations has produced every known plant and animal species (except the first one):
[Fill in explanation.]
All biologists, everywhere.
Take a few weeks. Get it published in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. You could even spring for a web page. Then there can be no more rational disagreement. Case closed. No longer any need to hide behind a judge's robe.
But even after evolutionists have argued their case for the gradual transition from one species to another irrefutably - and I'm not holding my breath - keep in mind we haven't even touched on the creation of senses, intelligence, and emotions. They are as far beyond plain old life in comprehensibility as life is to a rock, perhaps a googol-fold beyond. After all, what's life except taking on a few nutrients, eliminating a little waste, and maybe squirming around a bit. But what are the chemical reactions that give off joy, pride, hate, rage, etc.? How do you cook them up by mixing a little matter, a few forces, and a dash of energy?
And we haven't even gotten to the question, accepting that the formation of life and intelligent creatures is a perfectly simple and natural result of a bunch of hydrogen atoms bouncing around for a few billion years, how did something as unimaginably complicated as the "simple" hydrogen atom itself form?
And we haven't even gotten to the question, if life is so easily and naturally formed, and highly sophisticated species are so easily and naturally evolved, how is it in any way conceivable that we have not been contacted by any alien civilization, thousands, millions, or billions of which may have had billions of years headstarts on us? See my page on the Fermi Paradox for that angle to the question.
Of all the articles brought up by google news during the course of this trial, the one that more than any other made me want to shake everybody by the shoulders and say, "Read this!" was "Viewpoint: The evolution vs. intelligent design controversy" by Lloyd Eby in the World Peace Herald.
The most fun and entertaining article was "Theory: This is a Title" by Johnathan Kastner.
Here are two short reviews of the book "The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma".
And if all this blather is just too sprawling to make any sort of impact, try a one-and-a-half-sentence summary by yankeedoodle on beliefnet.
An apparent glutton for punishment, I posted the above essay to the talk.origins (t.o.) discussion group. It doesn't take anything to work those guys up. Here is my response to their feedback.
The ">" indicates the level of the comment. After the imaginary intro, there are 3 levels:
>> quoted from the original "little essay". > feedback from talk.origins participant. ds: my response to the feedback.
I've supplied names of the speaker to help keep things clear. You may easily search out the complete discussion thread in google groups by plugging "donald sauter" and "intelligent design", for example, in the search box.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> "My little essay on the evolution vs. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> intelligent design case" >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> [snip] >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Hey, Don, how did it go? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Pretty good. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Yeah? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Yeah, they seemed to appreciate my report on >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> all those ID articles. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> You sure? They sounded a little gruff. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Oh, I developed a resistance years ago. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> So you've evolved. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Yes, a changed man. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> But they all think you're a creationist. >>>>>>>>>>>>>> I'll survive. >>>>>>>>>>>>> They couldn't see you deploring the invocation of an >>>>>>>>>>>>> intelligent designer? >>>>>>>>>>>> You had to read pretty close. >>>>>>>>>>> You addressed some mighty screwy anti-ID logic in >>>>>>>>>>> those newspaper articles. >>>>>>>>>> Yeah, I guess t.o. activists tend to confuse >>>>>>>>>> antidiscreationarianism... >>>>>>>>> That's a big word. >>>>>>>> ...with creationism. >>>>>>> But your little poke at Big Bang creationism - that showed >>>>>>> 'em? >>>>>> I don't think they view it the same way. >>>>> No? Why? >>>> Biblical creation leaves a 17.6 degree background radiation; >>>> Choctaw, 1.8; etc. >>> Gotta be 2.7. >> Right. > Any point in responding if all they can see is creationists? Nothing to lose. Donald Sauter (ds) --- >> ds: If evolution is so rock solid, why can't biologists get >> themselves understood? After all, polls on both sides of >> the Atlantic would show 100 percent belief that the earth is >> *not* flat, and 100 percent belief that the earth is *not* >> the center of the universe. > > John Harshman: Afraid not. There are a few flat-earthers around, > and lots of people don't know that the earth goes around the sun > rather than the other way around. ds: I was rounding off to the hundred-millionth place. --- >> ds: And we haven't even gotten to the question, if life is so >> easily and naturally formed, and highly sophisticated >> species are so easily and naturally evolved, how is it in >> any way conceivable that we have not been contacted by any >> alien civilization, thousands, millions, or billions of >> which may have had billions of years headstarts on us? Two responses to the above: > Bob: who knows? what possible relevance does this have to > evolution? > > John Harshman: Perhaps the conditions necessary to make life easy > to form are quite rare. Why does the Fermi paradox cause any sort > of problem for evolution? You aren't clear on this. ds: No problem at all if earth is the only place in the universe where evolution works. But doesn't that raise another question, such as, why is earth the only place in the universe where evolution works? --- >> ds: Species appear in the record; they disappear >> from the record. There are no little, teensy-weensy line >> segments, even, connecting two or three species by smooth >> transitions. > > Bob: really? hmmm...then i guess we better toss out the > transitional sequences showing the evolution of the horse and the > evolution of the whale ds: You will say I am being unreasonable, but my point is that 4 or 5 points do not make a line segment. There are still jumps to negotiate, such as from three-toed to one-toed, for example. Very easy to explain with hand-waving, I'm sure, but maybe a little tougher using neo-darwinian micro-mutational theory. --- >> ds: A frequent anti-ID argument goes along the lines, if there's >> an Intelligent Designer, how come there's AIDS (back pains, >> sniffles, hurricanes, etc.)? Far be it from me to argue >> ID's position, but this is so simple-minded that I can't >> keep quiet. Where in intelligent design does it say >> anything about "benevolence", or "people-friendly"??? If it >> was my job to create an AIDS virus, or a hurricane, you can >> bet I would try to make it the best darn stuff you ever saw. >> ID is just pointing out that the steps from space dust to >> bacteria to little critters to humans are *doozies*, never >> mind whether we get stung, or get honey, out of the deal. > > Deadrat: Please quote a scientist who uses your "frequent anti- > ID" argument. The argument is that if the designer is supposed > to be so intelligent, how come his creations are designed so > badly? ds: You've got me baffled, but here's another example of this line of reasoning. From the Harvard Crimson, Nov 29 2005, by Anton S. Troianovski: Professor of Biology James Hanken used to tell a story about rabbits in his organismic biology course that has gained new significance in recent years. Until the teaching schedule for the team-taught Biological Sciences 51, "Integrative Biology of Organisms," changed this year, Hanken would talk about rabbits' digestive systems in lecture. The animals can absorb the nutrients from plant matter only in the small intestine, but food is digested in a part of the gut that's farther "downstream." So how do plant nutrients finally get into the rabbit's bloodstream having already passed through the small intestine undigested? "They secrete these things through their anus, eat them," and pass them back through the small intestine, Hanken explains. And then he adds, "Now you tell me, where's the intelligence in that design?" Answer 1: Sounds like half the computer programs ever written. Answer 2: Maybe professor rabbits sit around wondering why on earth humans are designed so stupid they don't eat their feces. So rabbits have an even *more* complex design than what humans in their infinite knowledge would deem the most sensible. Such a digestive system makes it even *harder* to whip up a darwinian just-so story. How could the rabbit arrive at such a state via micro-mutations and natural selection? Which came first, the rabbit with a taste for his own feces whose intestines start to operate out of order; or a rabbit whose intestines operate out of order, and over the millenia developed a taste for his feces? Hint: at least the latter is a clear impossibility. Or did these "malfunctions" develop simultaneously - snowballing mistakes in the taste buds matching snowballing mistakes in the intestine operation, mutation for mutation? Again, don't misinterpret the antidiscreationarianism here. I'm not an ID-er or creationist; I'm just trying to help you not look silly when some future historian looks into this 21st-century controversy. (Yes, that's a straight line - go to town!) --- >> ds: Pretending there was a Big Bang, what was there >> before it, and what was before that? What caused the Big >> Bang? > > Deadrat: I see your physics and math isn't quite up to this. > Asking what came before the big bang is like asking what's north > of the north pole. ds: That's how the other astronomy teaching assistants at the University of Maryland "answered" such cosmological questions from the students - just chuckle at its boneheadedness. From the north pole you can move in any spatial dimension. The moment one arrives at the north pole is preceded by the moment before, and followed by the moment after. --- >> ds: Over and over we read in all this cheerleading for evolution >> that it is the "fundamental principle of biology", or the >> "foundation of all biology", or the "fundamental rule that >> drives all biology", or the "central unifying concept of >> biology", or "one of the most basic tenets of biology". >> These statements go completely unchallenged. Am I the only >> one who hasn't the vaguest idea what they're talking about? >> Are you telling me that nobody bred sheep, grew a stalk of >> corn, or watered a petunia before 1859??? Two responses to the above: > Deadrat: Why would anyone tell you that? The statement means > that one cannot understand modern biology without understanding > evolution. That's why we teach evolution. Because educated > people should understand the basis of current science. > > John Harshman: Indeed they did. But of course none of this is > the science of biology, is it? Farmers aren't biologists. Perhaps > if you learned a little biology, you would be able to see why the > claims are correct. Evolution provides explanation and pattern > for what otherwise would be a great mass of unconnected facts. ds: Consider the book "The Coil Of Life" by Ruth Moore. It covers all the great work in the life sciences, from the discovery in the 18th century that breathing was a form of combustion, through the discovery of DNA's structure and operation. Evolution is mentioned on about 6 of the 420 pages. Only three of those mentions are with regard to the scientific work being discussed - and in two of those cases, considerations of evolution *misled* the researcher to some extent. Scientists, Pasteur included, thought that a vinegar fungus that apparently changed into a yeast when immersed in sugar represented a "remarkable case of the mutability of species for which Charles Darwin had argued in the Origin Of Species, published a few years earlier." (p131) Hugo De Vries studied the primrose extensively. In the second summer he was "rewarded by finding ten specimens of a new type... Without any transition they had suddenly come into being! A new species had been created by mutation - the word De Vries used in preference to Darwin's 'sport'." But a footnote tells us, "Some of the changes that De Vries considered new species were later found to be only modifications." (p179) In her own opening chapter, Moore says of this mindboggling advancement in the life sciences, "The work was so vast and unfathomable that many sciences sprang up to specialize in phases of it. Among them were biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, cytology, embryology, biology, physiology. Only now, with the discovery of DNA, are all beginning to converge." N.B. - discovery of DNA, *not* evolution. Maybe you think Moore is simply weak in evolution, or just not a big Darwin fan, for all this lack of attention. But consider two of her earlier books: "Man, Time, And Fossils: The Story Of Evolution" (1953), and "Charles Darwin: A Great Life In Brief" (1955). Evolution pops up again in the irradiation of fruit flies, and here, I would argue, Moore makes a totally unjustifiable leap. A few screwed up fruit flies and she gushes, "For the first time men could comprehend how the new comes into the world - the new character, the change that in the shaping of natural selection has enabled living things to fill most of the niches of the earth, the air, and the water around them, and to survive when the climate turned markedly wetter or drier or hotter or colder. Mutation was a major force in evolution." Yowch. --- >> ds: Cheerleaders for evolution assure us that "there is simply >> no controversy", and "there is no debate", and posit the >> Alfred E. Newmanesque, "What controversy???" But - talk >> about great timing! - halfway through the trial, on Oct 19 >> 2005, the book that finally explains how evolution works was >> published! It's called "The Plausibility of Life: Resolving >> Darwin's Dilemma", by Marc W. Kirschner, John C. Gerhart, >> and John Norton. > > Deadrat: A brief look on the web shows that this book is about the > mechanism of evolution. Of course, there's controversy about > that. Add how science works to the list of things you don't know. > There's no scientific controversy about the fact that life evolved. ds: I believe that you are touching on the very essence of the controversy. I believe that the "mechanism", or the "process", or the "What's going on???" of evolution is of primary importance to the doubters. I believe it is the *thing*. To you, the fact that there is no agreement on the "mechanism" of evolution is no big deal. Whatever the answer turns out to be, evolutionists are taking credit for it now. I think that's a big, non-scientific cheat, myself. You have to know how hard it is for a thinking person to swallow the explanation of 73 umptillion micromutational mistakes getting us from Lizard X to Bird A. Even if we imagine big steps (which nobody does) and could get feathers in one jump, and wings in another, and a beak in another, etc., etc., you still have the daunting job of explaining plausibly how the new weirdo at each step manages to survive, propagate and establish a new population with all his new characteristics. (And where's the featherless winged lizard, and the feathered wingless lizard, and the featherless lizard with bird legs, etc., etc.?) Repeating an argument in my evolution "faq" page, if all this natural selection acting on a mutation is so easy and expected, does Wilt Chamberlain represent the first step in the evolution of the human race into one of giants? That should be a cinch - height variations are a breeze compared to new body parts. And if Wilt Chamberlain didn't have a survival advantage, *nobody* or nothing ever did. I believe that when evolutionists can put forth a compelling "mechanism" - one that produces eyeballs and peacock tails as well as drug resistance (yawn) - for the origin of new species that derives from more basic chemistry and physics, is consistent with the fossil record, is observable in nature and can be demonstrated in the laboratory, even the most staunchly religious of the doubters would have no trouble reconciling evolution with his beliefs. It's as if we're looking at a huge mountain strewn with pebbles and stones and rocks and paste jewels and emeralds and diamands and even a huge solid gold boulder on top, and the explanation is, "Sure, that's the natural result of a little speck of dust at the bottom rolling uphill over the eons." (I apologize to any t.o. trooper who just busted a blood vessel or split his sides, but I think many outsiders will catch the analogy.) It's too easy finding people with apparently strong credentials who have given the matter much thought and are not satisfied with the current state of evolutionary theory. I'll leave you with one example, a recent article I found on google news about the work of physicist Eshel Ben-Jacob and "quorum-sensing". Bacteria cooperating in a colony create what Ben-Jacob calls a 'genomic web' in which the information-processing power of each strand of DNA in every bacterium is shared. Such a unit, he theorizes, would be capable of some degree of self-directed mutation, a principle he calls 'cooperative evolution.' The article ends with this quote: 'It's unlikely that the revolution in biology will come from within biology, because (biologists) lack the abstraction,' Ben- Jacob said. 'But physicists are intrigued, and I believe that it will happen. I believe that it will happen soon.' Take that, will you. Donald Sauter ---
In January 2006 I was moved to respond to a few of the other talk.origins responses from the first round.
--- >> ds: >> If you search the internet for the definition of "evolution", you >> will see that there are any number of definitions - with every writer >> doing his darndest to unconfuse the mess. Apparently, even science >> dictionaries don't get it right. Two responses to the above: > John Harshman: > Perhaps because a short definition of evolution isn't all that important > to evolutionary biology. > > John Wilkins: > So it is difficult to come up with definitions; no dictionary writer will > disagree.
But what "evolution" means > varies because there are several different phenomena going on that have > traditionally been studied under that rubric - we now call them things like > "fitness" or "clade" or "developmental constraint" and so on. The broader term > is not often used in technical literature except where context makes it clear > what *aspect* of evolution is being discussed. > > And science is replete with examples of this terminological inexactitude. Try > "gene" sometime. Or "particle". Ask someone what "physics" means. Or "force". ds: We're at loggerheads. I'm sure knowing what we're talking about is crucial. I will make a stab at what the the masses take "evolution" to mean: thousands and thousands of tiny biological mistakes occurring sequentially over eons giving rise to new and more sophisticated body parts, each tiny mistake along the way giving precisely one member of the species such a huge survival advantage that only his descendants survive. If that doesn't work for orthodox darwinian evolution, don't blow a gasket. Go into a huddle, come up with a definition approved by a majority of biologists, and report back to the world so we can get this discussion on track. --- >> ds: >> I noted only >> one instance of a writer actually attempting a definition of >> evolution: "The theory of evolution, which is accepted by >> the vast majority of scientists and all the nation's major >> scientific institutions, holds that life, including humans, >> evolved from a common ancestor over billions of years." So >> "evolution" means things "evolved". Thanks. > > Bob: > ROFLMAO!! gee you think this is no different than 'god did it'?? the > realization that species originated thru common descent is one of the > great intellectual achievements of human history ds: Touchy, touchy. I didn't, and wouldn't, say that, but I could easily see others putting your feet to the fire and arguing that the only difference between your religion and traditional religions is that your gods operate within the physical forces instead of sitting on clouds or mountaintops. I don't think anyone could argue with a straight face that an observer of the "big bang" (I'll play along for the sake of this argument) who knew just the physical laws we know, had unlimited calculating abilities, had a snapshot of all the characteristics of all the particles created or released in the event and was unhampered by an uncertainty principle could possibly have projected platypuses, blue whales, palm trees, ten-speed bicycles, rum raisin ice cream cones, etc., etc. And even if he could, he couldn't have predicted senses, intelligence, and emotions, all of which fall outside of our current science. Show me the science laboratory that has jars of thoughts sitting on the shelves, or pain, happiness, itchiness, sour, funny... You can talk about light wavelengths, rods and cones, nerve cells, firing synapses and maybe pinpoint the exact spot in the brain where red is perceived, but you can't begin to say what red is. What's its mass, momentum, temperature, half- life, coefficient of friction...? Red is a concoction of what particles, energy and forces? Never mind for now that we don't even know what any of those things are (as John Wilkins pointed out above.) It isn't a knock at anyone to say that our science is in its infancy. How could it not be? - we've barely started to think. Regarding darwinian evolution being one of the "great intellectual achievements of human history", I developed a similar theory to explain the origin of wind when I was a pre- schooler. All it took was something to set in motion a single leaf - a drop of rain; a bug landing on it or taking off; curling due to drying out, etc. That motion created a tiny movement of air which set a neighboring leaf in motion. Now there are two leaves jiggling, which set more leaves in motion, etc., etc., until the whole tree is swaying. That, of course, gets neighboring trees swaying, and then the whole forest. Hold on to your hats! Unfortunately for the donaldian wind theory and its place in science history, the stubborn defense, "You just don't get it!" doesn't play so well in the presence of better theories. As Bob wrote in the earlier thread: >Bob: >ah the argument from incredulity...he cant understand it or believe it >so it didn't happen. This cliched response is gaining a reputation. In a recent article, "Typical Objections to Intelligent Design" (www.lewrockwell.com, Jan 17 2006), Bob Murphy discussed some of the goings-on in talk.origins and then went on to say: Admittedly, at times it seems as if the ID people are merely saying, "I can't imagine how a cocker spaniel could've evolved from a prokaryote, so it must be impossible." To this (straw man) objection, neo-Darwinists have glib retorts such as, "Your ignorance isn't a strike against my theory." But let's change the discussion to any field other than biology, and see how puny this defense now sounds. Mathematician A offers a conjecture, and Mathematician B says, "I don't see how you can get that result." Mathematician A responds, "Your lack of imagination isn't a strike against my theorem." What's ironic is that the neo-Darwinists themselves use just this argument all the time, albeit to attack creationism. They will point to some odd quirk of biology and then demand, "Why in the world would an intelligent God design it that way??" --- In the earlier thread I brought up the book by Kirschner and Gerhart about facilitated variation, "The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma", coincidentally released while the Dover trial was in progress. Here's an excerpt from an item titled, "Darwin's Dilemma Solved?" (www.scienceagogo.com, Jan 17 2006): . . . biologists Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart . . . will reveal what they consider to be the answer to one of evolutionary theory's most puzzling questions. If their theory [facilitated variation] - that explains seemingly random genetic change - passes muster, they will have successfully filled one of the biggest gaps in evolutionary theory, the gap that has recently been exploited by intelligent design (ID) advocates. . . . Since its publication a century and a half ago, Darwin's theory of evolution has explained how natural selection winnows out the mutations most helpful in allowing a species to survive. But some argue that the theory fails to explain how new adaptations and innovations emerge; a failure sometimes referred to as the gap, used by opponents to chip away at Darwin's theory. Most scientists answer this gap by suggesting that small genetic mutations accumulate over time to produce wondrous innovations such as eyes and wings, but others consider this explanation weak. The alleged weakness of this explanation, coupled with attacks on evolutionary theory by ID advocates, have forced scientists to re-examine the scientific explanations regarding random genetic change. . . . Sounds like a funny use of the word "gap" to me, like calling a candle stuck on a plate a "birthday cake with a gap". How could the typical nonindoctrinated reader of the above not stop to wonder, "So what *does* orthodox darwinian evolution have going for it? Why are scientists pounding away so hard to make a theory work that is already universally accepted, not to mention the foundation of all biology?" And isn't it kind of funny that a science news headline will trumpet problems - a dilemma, even - with darwinism when the regular news media swallow it hook, line and sinker? I've searched talk.origins for discussions of this book and found close to nil. Facilitated variation also wasn't mentioned in the articles I saw about the journal Science choosing evolution as "breakthrough of the year" for 2005 (nudging out South Korean stem cell research?). This baffles me. Aren't these scientists trying to help, giving you some solid ammo to use on the doubters? On the other hand, if you don't need or believe facilitated variation, shouldn't there be threads denouncing it? Donald Sauter ---
"Nudging out South Korean stem cell research" heeheehee - man, this guy is funny. Hey, I know as well as the next person that anybody can slip up, but Science deserves that one.
"The Darwinian Dilemma" was a good article addressing the controversy of evolution vs. creationism in the schools of Delaware and neighboring Maryland. Note that this predated the intelligent design controversy of 2005. You can read the whole thing here. I wrote a letter to the editor, which the Dover Post (Delaware) graciously published, and I figured I might as well get double duty out of it on my web site. (Hey, these things don't write themselves, y'know.) Here's a major chunk of it. If you visit my page of selected articles on intelligent design, you will find one by Lloyd Eby which goes way beyond anything I could do laying out this problem of the varying definitions of evolution.
Dear Dover Post,
Your article "The Darwinian dilemma" contains the usual monkey wrench that will always make any sort of headway in the discussion of evolution vs. creation difficult or impossible. The problem is the slipperiness of the word "evolution" itself. Exactly what are we talking about?
Nick Matzke, spokesperson for the National Center for Science Education, avers, "Ninety-nine percent plus of the scientific community believes in evolution." Surely what he means is that ninety-nine percent plus of the scientific community are not creationists. I guarantee the figure is much closer to zero percent who believe in Darwinian evolution, the simple-minded notion of a beneficial mutation rampaging throughout a species through the action of natural selection. No scientist believes the just-so story of the giraffe developing its long neck because of the birth of a single proto-giraffe who had a neck which was a fraction of a centimeter longer than his peers - which made him a better leaf-eater, which gave him a survival advantage, which gave him a better chance to pass his tiny mutation on - and then this exact same incredible scenario repeating itself countless times to produce a long-necked giraffe.
So what exactly do scientists and their devotees mean when they say "evolution"? Believe it or not, that's not so easy to determine. Darwin's ideas faded from scientific consciousness over a hundred years ago. The problem is that, "instead of finding the gradual unfolding of life, what geologists of Darwin's time and geologists of the present day actually find is a highly uneven or jerky record; that is, species appear in the sequence very suddenly, show little or no change during their existence in the record, then abruptly go out of the record." (David M. Raup, curator of the Field Museum in Chicago.)
Darwin reemerged 25 years later, but wrapped in new garb. Scientists now speak of "neo-Darwinism" and "modern synthesis" theories. If those terms mean nothing to you, you have two options: either place your faith and trust completely in the hands of scientists (the media do this); or, try to understand them. If you choose the latter option, best of luck. My own suspicion is that they are a smokescreen for all the dissension among evolutionists.
If you search out discussions of evolution vs. creation you will see that the starting point for the devotees of the scientific priesthood is a very emphatic, "Evolution is fact!" - without saying what evolution is. If we use "evolution" to include any and every conceivable explanation, current and future, that isn't creationism, then, yes, the logic, "If not creationism, then evolution," becomes valid. Valid, but in no way useful.
Scientists have bent over backwards trying to explain the instantaneous appearance and disappearance of species in the fossil record. The famous evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould came up with a theory called "punctuated equilibria". But scientists have never embraced it - I suspect because it doesn't make any more sense to them than to you or me.
Senepathy theorizes that the first members of each species walked independently out of the primordial soup-bowl - without the benefit of parents, even. As lunatic as this sounds, he shows that giraffe DNA coming together randomly in the broth is, in fact, astronomically more probable than getting from pre-giraffe DNA to giraffe DNA via random mutations. Wow. Again, nobody buys this, in spite of the numbers on the table showing it far more likely than any Darwinian-type morphing.
That the Delaware Department of Education's education associate for science, Kelli Martin, objects to a teacher encouraging his pupils to look for loopholes in Darwin's philosophy should make any thinking person rage or cry.
So if not Darwinian evolution or the other fantastic and desperate theories, then what? Search me. Maybe, just maybe, humans don't know all there is to know yet. If and when we find out what's going on, it may make creationism look tame in comparison.
In case your curiosity was piqued, the teacher that Kelli Martin was snarling at is Bob Adams, who challenges his 10th grade class at Dover High School to identify "loopholes" in Darwin's philosophy.
Did I go overboard in paragraph 2 saying that "no scientist" believes the just-so story of how the giraffe got a long neck? I don't think so; at least, I hope not. Take, for example, the book Thread of Life - the Smithsonian looks at evolution by Roger Lewin (1982). It isn't until page 69 that orthodox Darwinian micro-step evolution gets a mention:
"Darwin always viewed the appearance of new structures in evolution as the result of the accumulation of many small steps."
And that's it. The author can't leave the theory behind fast enough. Not that he gives any better guesses at how "new structures" come about. Books about evolution never do. It does have pictures on almost every page of plants and animals with incredible features that should make any thinking person say, "No way that could have happened in one big accidental step, or millions of tiny ones, or any number in between." Turn to page 51 and stop to consider a Venus' flytrap devouring a frog.
Trefil has a 26-page chapter consisting of 72 things everyone should know about evolution. Trefil is nothing if not ham-fisted.
Page 49: "It is impossible to understand the modern biological sciences without understanding evolution."
Page 50: "There is so much evidence to support it [Darwin's view of life] that scientists scarcely bother to think about its basic validity anymore."
Man, he's a believer. This is how wings evolved. Can you imagine publishing something like this with a straight face, and your name attached?
Page 52: For insects, however, wings must have evolved from protuberances on the animal's side. Why would such protuberances have conveyed any advantage? The fact that wings would help a descendant a million years in the future certainly couldn't help an individual survive today.
Recently, scientists have argued that the protuberances played a role in temperature regulation - they provided extra surfaces through which heat could be absorbed or radiated. Calculations show that the most efficient heat exchangers are just about big enough to allow the insect to glide (something like a modern "flying" squirrel). From that point on, the organ, originally developed for one purpose (heat transfer), could be used as the basis for the development of another (flying). This idea . . . makes a lot of sense to me . . .
Which is why we see bugs gliding on radiator stumps everywhere we look.
Of course, none of the above and nothing else Trefil says breaks any new ground that isn't already covered by my Evolution FAQ page. It's just the depth of his faith that provoked me into adding his book to my list here. In particular, it was his No. 186 (out of 1001) which states, "Evolution does not violate the second law of Thermodynamics":
As a physicist, there is one argument from creationists that really sets my teeth on edge. This is the argument that evolution requires that life go from simple to complex, whereas the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems move to a state of maximum disorder, and that, because of this, evolution violates the laws of physics.
The problem with the argument is that the second law holds only for isolated systems. The earth is not such a system because it is constantly receiving energy from the sun. To see why this detail is important, you can think about a common activity - making ice cubes in a refrigerator. When you make an ice cube, you create a system of high order (the ice) from a system of low order (the water) by using energy from your local utility. The increase in order in the ice cube is balanced by greater disorder at the generating plant, where the burning coal heats the atmosphere. So long as the overall books balance, there is no violation of the laws of physics.
The same argument works for living systems on the earth. The increased order in the biosphere is balanced by increased disorder in our "power plant" - the sun.
After all, if the creationist argument were right and it was impossible for any system to become more ordered, you could never make ice cubes to cool your drinks!
So Trefil would not find anything at all strange about seeing ice cubes form on the sidewalks of Las Vegas in July. Seems he brushes aside the matter of the intelligent design of the ice cube-maker. I don't know how many "creationists" give a hoot about something called a 2nd law of thermodynamics - I suspect they look about them and observe that nothing of the least sophistication ever comes out of chaos - but if they ever get hold of Trefil's testy argument here and turn it back on him, it'll be a bloodbath.
Here is an extract from Chapter 3, "Through The Evolvoscope". Much like the essay by Stephen Jay Gould discussed in my Evolution FAQ page, it paints a picture of a branch of science in turmoil. Points that I will refer back to are marked with a number in brackets, [n] .
[Begin Stewart, page 34] It is important to recognize that Darwinian evolution is just a scientific theory, not a definite fact; but it is also important to recognize that scientific theories are generally tested far more stringently than the alleged facts of religions or philosophies. Research into evolution continues to be active, and many problems remain unresolved, as we shall shortly see.
Darwin's basic idea - that a combination of random mutation and competition between reproducing individuals inevitably leads to an evolutionary process and the formation of ever more complex species - has an elegant simplicity. So simple is it that some people consider it tautologous (which in a sense it is) and therefore lacking explanatory power (which it does not). But science does not make progress by accepting ideas just because they are elegant; it does so by subjecting them to the most rigorous tests possible and comparing their predictions with actual events.
With evolution this isn't so easy. The "predictions" refer to the distant past, and testing them is largely done through the fossil record, which is about the worst kind of database that any scientist would wish to work with; unreliable, hard to interpret, full of gaps, and liable to revision at any moment. This, of course, is what makes it all such jolly fun and fuels the fires of controversy.
One of the controversies currently ranging [raging] - and only one, for there are others, all mixed up together - is between what we might call the punctualists and the gradualists. The gradualists, who (with some simplification) may be represented by Richard Dawkins, hold that evolution is a continuous process that occurs as a long series of very tiny steps. The punctualists, of whom the best known is Stephen Jay Gould, claim that the evolution of a new species occurs only in rapid bursts. We've all seen those elegant evolutionary trees in the textbooks... whose bifurcating branches sweep majestically skyward to culminate in Homo sapiens, perched triumphantly at the top like a star on a Christmas tree. These reconstructed trees are very tidy, but the fossil record on which they are based is much more jerky and irregular. The gradualists explain such apparent discontinuities as gaps in the fossil record, perhaps to be filled by future discoveries of new fossils, or destined to remain unfilled because of the erratic manner in which rocks are deposited. It must be said that this is not an unreasonable view. The punctualists, on the other hand, believe that the discontinuities in the fossil record are genuine and are in fact the sole source of new species. Who is right: the punctualists, the gradualists - or neither? [End Stewart.]
 It's very refreshing to hear the writer admit that evolution is "not a definite fact" after the relentless barrage of "Fact! Fact! Fact!" from Stephen Jay Gould and the internet gang. Give Stewart 5 bonus points.
 Evolutionists are now denying that they ever said evolution has anything to do with a trend toward greater complexity. It's only random chance that gives rise every now and then to something more advanced. And, hey, if you're a bacterium, you can't get no simpler! See Stephen Jay Gould's book, Full House. C'mon, Stewart, keep up, man!
 It is nice to hear an evolution promulgator admit that the "explanations" of evolution are tautologous. ("A equals A" is a tautology.) In spite of Stewart's second parenthetical remark, a tautology cannot explain anything.
In this essay, Stewart uses the concept of "niche" to explain why species appear. Don't be fooled: whenever you hear the word "niche" in a discussion of evolution, you are being force-fed tautology. Cats with roller-skate feet (one of Stewart's examples) did not appear because there is no "niche" for them. If they had appeared, however, evolutionists would be singing about the "niche" for cats with roller-skate feet. 'Splains everything, don't it?
 Why do evolutionary "predictions" have to refer to the distant past??? Stewart made the same point in the first two sentences of his essay: "The theory of evolution has been a constant source of controversy ever since 1859... That's not surprising: it refers to events long past..."
Why can't it be happening now, pray tell? Do you discount those moths of Mr. Gould changing darkness as evolution, Mr. Stewart? How about Gould's "evolving" fruit flies?
Stewart's essay is about a fictitious device called an "evolvoscope" through which one observes evolution under various conditions controlled by the user. (The point of the essay is that, by using this fictitious device, the writer came to realize that the ideas of the punctualists and the gradualists were not mutually exclusive! Yippee!!!)
It's funny to compare Stewart's first two sentences with his last two:
You want to see a real evolvoscope?
You're living in it.
 Daggone, there's that "jolly fun" we heard about in Gould's essay. Any chance you kids can stop horsing around long enough to make us understand your ideas about evolution?
Stewart poses a question (page 41):
On the face of it, a flying cat would appear fitter to survive than one without wings. Explain why the nonexistence of flying cats in the real world is not inconsistent with Darwinian evolution. [End Stewart.]
Hmmm, I wonder what he's after here. I can only imagine Gould and the internet evolutionists wondering with deeply furrowed brows how anyone could even ask such a question. "Evolution is true; flying cats are nonexistent; therefore, the nonexistence of flying cats is perfectly consistent with evolution."
Others might put a microscopically thin coat of shellac on the tautology: "Although it might appear that there is a niche for flying cats, there really isn't."
Stewart gives the answer (page 48):
Here are three answers. A. A flying cat might not be fitter than one without wings. Although wings would help it to catch birds and escape from dogs, they would hamper it when the cat climbs trees and add extra weight when it chases mice. B. The necessary mutations to create a flying cat have not yet happened; the chance element of evolution has been at work. C. There are constraints, from physics and chemistry, that effect what can evolve. An attribute does not appear in a species simply because it might prove useful; there has to be an effective developmental route. [End Stewart.]
Yeow, where do we start? Why would a flying cat need to climb trees??? Why wouldn't flying help it catch mice? Seems to work great for hawks. As long as it can fly, why would the extra weight be a problem? Wouldn't a heavier cat be even more devastating to a mouse? Or maybe it changed its taste to slower-moving critters. And must it have extra weight? Maybe it lost weight in other places, such as hollowed-out bones.
Stewart's answers B and C are disguised ways of saying, "We get what does evolve; we don't get what doesn't."
Can everybody say "tautology"?
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