Nicholas Wade’s ridiculous prescription for curing creationism

Nicholas Wade is a science writer for the New York Times, and not one whom I much admire. Funded by the Templeton Foundation, he wrote a book on the origin of religion, The Faith Instinct, that I was asked to blurb but refused on the grounds that the contents were apparently vetted and approved by Templeton before publication (see my post on this).

Well, Wade has done himself proud again (at least in the view of Templeton) by publishing—in the Times‘s “Science” section, no less—an execrable discussion of creationism,”Between rock of ages and a hard place.” It starts off okay, with a criticism of Senator Rubio for his dumb statements on the age of the Earth:

The real mystery is how a highly intelligent politician got himself into the position of suggesting that the two estimates are of equal value, or that theologians are still the best interpreters of the physical world.

Catholics and Jews have always emphasized their priests’ interpretations of the Bible, not the text itself; Protestants, starting with Martin Luther, insisted the Bible was the literal truth and the sole dependable source of divine knowledge, a belief the Puritans implanted firmly in American soil. Then, in the 19th century, German textual critics like Julius Wellhausen showed that the Bible was not the inerrant product of divine inspiration but had been cobbled together by many hands whose editing was all too evident.

So far, so good. But of course a Times science writer can hardly do other than criticize someone who suggests that kids be taught the “alternative” of a young Earth in science class.  And then Wade puts his foot in it in two ways.

  • He blames atheists for the persistence of creationism.  I quote:

The inevitable clash with science, particularly in the teaching of evolution, has continued to this day. Militant atheists like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins beat the believers about the head, accomplishing nothing; fundamentalist Christians naturally defend their religion and values to the hilt, whatever science may say.

There’s that word “militant” again!  How, exactly, is Dawkins “militant”?  It’s as if the word “militant” has become an ineluctable adjective in conjunction with “atheism.” In fact, people like Wade think that all atheism, so long as it is expressed verbally or in writing, and the reasons given, is “militant.”

And, of course, Dawkins has accomplished plenty in getting people to accept evolution. As I repeatedly say, just go look at his “Converts’ Corner” to see how many people he has turned both against religion and toward evolution. In contrast—and [Formerly Uncle] Karl Giberson agrees with me on this—there are almost no cases in which a fundamentalist has said something like, “I would have accepted evolution, but that strident old Richard Dawkins, with his hatred of religion, has rendered me impervious to Darwinism.”

But it gets worse when Wade proposes a “solution” to Americans’ resistance to evolution:

  • Wade suggests that creationism can be dispelled by characterizing evolution not as a fact, but as a “theory.”  I quote again:

A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions and making a grand yet also trivial concession about the status of evolution.

Like those electrons that can be waves or particles, evolution is both a theory and a fact. In historical terms, evolution has certainly occurred and no fact is better attested. But in terms of the intellectual structure of science, evolution is a theory; no one talks about Darwin’s “fact of evolution.”

Unlike a fact, a theory cannot be absolutely true. All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation was replaced by Einstein’s. The theory of evolution, though it has no present rivals, is still under substantial construction.

Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating whether or not natural selection can operate on groups of individuals, as Darwin thought was likely but most modern evolutionists doubt. So which version of evolution is the true one?

By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.

And rudderless politicians like Senator Rubio wouldn’t have to throw 15 back flips and a hissy fit when asked a simple question like how old is the earth.

Unfortunately, Wade, who dimly realizes that evolution is a fact and a theory, nevertheless makes a bad argument here: that scientific “facts” aren’t absolutely true either!  Facts are always provisional in science, even though some of them, like the molecular formula of water, seem unlikely to be overturned. Remember that three Nobel Prizes have been given for “facts” that were later overturned (one of them was finding the germ that caused cancer).  In fact, in my talk in Glasgow, I gave a long list of possible observations that could overturn the “fact” of evolution (Precambrian human fossils, adaptations in one species that benefit ONLY a second species, etc.). Needless to say, none of those observations have been made.

Another error: the theory of evolution is being seriously revised. Wrong. The five main tenets proposed by Darwin—the fact of evolution, its gradualism, the splitting of lineages (speciation), common ancestry (the reverse side of the speciation coin), and natural selection as the cause of “adaptive” features—have stood the test of time. Yes, we are still arguing about stuff like group selection, but that’s the sign of a healthy paradigm, which is a fruitful paradigm.

As for handing creationists a fig leaf (an unfortunate metaphor), it’s not going to work. As we know, and as BioLogos has found out to its chagrin, saying that evolution is a “theory” will have absolutely zero effect on increasing public acceptance of evolution. If the facts of evolution themselves don’t move creationists, why would calling the organizing structure that explains those facts a “theory and not a fact” work differently?  We all know well that trying to tell creationists that Genesis is only a metaphor rarely works, if for no reason other than if Adam and Eve are metaphors, then Jesus died for a metaphor.

Wade is completely clueless when it comes to prescribing how to get rid of creationism. The best way, I maintain, is not to “profess respect for all religions and make a grand yet also trivial concession about the status of evolution.” The best way is to weaken the grasp of religion on the American mind, for religion is the sole source of creationism.

And why, exactly, are scientists supposed to accord “respect” to a bunch of ancient fables that are not only ludicrous on their face, but motivate so much opposition to science?

UPDATE: Evolutionist Lee Dugatkin from the University of Louisville sent me an email detailing his critique of Wade’s piece on Facebook. I asked if I could quote it here, and he gave me permission. Here’s his take:

Thought I would share four problems I list with Wade’s piece. I am cutting and pasting from my Facebook thread here:

1) “Unlike a fact, a theory cannot be absolutely true…”. Yeah, sure, but this misrepresents what a scientific theory is. There are lots of definitions, but here is a good one from National Academy of Sciences, USA — “The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.” For more see the National Academies statement on the status of evolution.

2) “The theory of evolution, though it has no present rivals, is still under substantial construction.”. Again, ok, but that kind of language is so subject to misappropriation from charlatan creationists. No “present rival”?? NOTHING even COMES CLOSE to descent with modification in terms of explaining the history and diversity of life!

3) “Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating whether or not natural selection can operate on groups of individuals, as Darwin thought was likely but most modern evolutionists doubt. So which version of evolution is the true one?”

Ok, I can even let the loose language of “which version of evolution is the true one” slide. But to say that “Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating” the levels of selection argument is misleading. No such furious debate is going on. What is happening is that evolutionary biologists are simply explaining why EO Wilson’s recent rants are so misguided.

4) Here is aonther quote from this piece that is correct, but oh so misleading “All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation was replaced by Einstein’s.” Again, ok, sure. But the situations is SO different. I am not a physicist, but my understanding is that the more physicists were able to study and measure things, the less Newton’s theory of gravitation seemed to be an all encompassing theory. BUT the opposite is true for evolutionary biology. The more scientists can measure things at all levels, the more support there is for descent with modification as the theory to explain the history and diversity of life.

A LOLWade

212 Comments

  1. Rebecca Harbison
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Has he never heard the old creationist response about how evolution is ‘only a theory’? Identifying evolution as a theory seems to lead to more dismissal, not less, because the colloquial definition of theory is closer to ‘wild ass guess’ than ‘model inferred from observations and tested by further observations’.

    (Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t call a spade a spade because people get confused between ‘shovel’ and ‘leaf-shape thing on playing card’. But I question the idea that using theory instead of fact will help the situation at all.)

    • Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      When this happens on line, I usually provide a quote-and-link to benchmarks SC.3.N.3.1, SC.6.N.3.1, and SC.912.N.3.1 from the Florida state science standards.

  2. gbjames
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    sub

    • jimroberts
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      sub

  3. Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Wade is seriously out of the loop. One of the reasons that Creationists give for not accepting evolution is because it’s called a theory. I think I would put that up there with the top 3 reasons Creationists give for rejecting evolution: “It’s only a theory!”

    Seriously. Someone who proposes that calling evolution a theory to dispel Creationists I’m almost tempted to say has never once talked to any real Creationists; it’s like some sort of reverse strawman.

  4. Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Ugh. ‘Militant’ as an adjective for describing Dawkins was already lame in…2007, as a quick check through my blog archive reminds me: http://obscenedesserts.blogspot.de/2007/01/all-good-adjectives-have-flown-south.html

  5. thh1859
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    To my mind Dawkins arguments are so clearly expressed and irrefutable that the only possible response from Creationists and similar deludees is name-calling.

    What status does a scientific ‘Law’ have? From the meaning of the two words, a law is considerably stronger than a theory; so can one assume that the laws of thermodynamics are more secure than the theories of gravity or evolution?

    • Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      From the meaning of the two words, a law is considerably stronger than a theory…

      Not really, the term “law” is just used for a statement that fits in one sentence or one equation. The term “theory” is used for a larger set of related ideas. Neither term, “law” or “theory”, carries implications for how secure the idea is. For more on this read my explanation of what laws of physics are.

      • thh1859
        Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        Many thanks, Coel. I’ve read your blog on the subject with great interest. I would like, later on, to discuss some of the other issues you raise in that blog — not here but in the comments section of your own blog.

  6. Jeff Johnson
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Why would anyone want to hand creationists a “fig leaf” that allows them to believe comfortably in something that is not true? It’s a ridiculous idea that sounds like mindless placating of children. If Wade’s children were arguing over whether the earth was round or flat, would he tell them they are both right, depending on how you look at it? Or would he just tell them the truth?

    • Sajanas
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      That’s always been my problem with the accomodationists… they seem to think that you can Trojan Horse evolution into creationists so they won’t realize it wrecks their worldview.

      And, you know, its not just important to change their view on evolution. Having a literal interpretation of the Bible is bad in a lot of other ways too.

    • Dominic
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Yes – it is after all winter in the northern hemisphere so all the fig leaves should be mouldering in the clay – where they belong – not being used to hide people’s embarrassment at the inability of their absurd ‘beliefs’ to explain anything rationally.

    • Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      Yep. Honesty is the best policy.

      Also, pretty sure Wade must’ve meant “olive branch.”

  7. Alex Shuffell
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I blame atheists for creationism too! I blame them for imprisoning and oppressing Galileo. I blame atheists for all the torture and the witch-hunts religious folk have forced on Europe. I blame atheists for religion existing. If it wasn’t for Richard Dawkins people would have never wrote the bible or the Qur’an, the ancient Greeks would never have had to burn books, Alexandria would still be here too.

  8. Alex Shuffell
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Wade reminds me of this joke by Stewart Lee – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zdyJkKA5L4

    • Dominic
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Thanks for that!

  9. Dominic
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Might Precambrian human fossils not suggest that time travel was possible rather than that evolution was not true?

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      That would probably depend on the analysis of the fossils, but the ‘theory’ of evolution is so far advanced right now that I think I would be more inclined to accept the time-travel theory.

      • jimroberts
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        +1

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      It is my understanding that a time machine can’t return to a time prior to its manufacture. Thus the discovery of a Precambrian human fossil would mean in order of decreasing likelihood

      ** Fraud
      ** UFO abductions are real & UFOs are time machines
      ** An ancient alien race left a machine lying about that was discovered & used recently by a human
      ** A tool-using precambrian Earth species of critter built a time machine
      ** Evolution isn’t true

      Gotta go ~ nurse says it’s time for my tablets

    • Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Time travel in a way that could result in human fossils in the Precambrian would involve gross violation of the laws of conservation on innumerable levels. Frankly, were such a fossil discovered, I’d first bet on it being an hoax, and then bet on Evolution being worng and lean instead towards aliens mucking around with life on Earth similar to some of the popular conspiracy theories.

      Then again, I think such a discovery is about as likely as the Sun failing to rise tomorrow, and I’m equally (un)concerned about either possibility.

      Cheers,

      b&

  10. Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Oxford online for ‘militant': favouring confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause.

    And just to be sure: ‘confrontational': tending to deal with situations in an aggressive way; hostile or argumentative.

    Well, Dawkins is confrontational (though not violent as far as I know). He may be more argumentative that aggressive, but he could be said to be hostile towards religion.

    Perhaps the problem in the US is that ‘militant’ still implies ‘commie bastard'; and maybe in the UK it’s ‘reds under the bed’.

    Maybe we need to embrace militantism as an honourable determination not to be beaten over the head by the Bible.

  11. NoAstronomer
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    “And rudderless politicians like Senator Rubio wouldn’t have to throw 15 back flips and a hissy fit when asked a simple question like how old is the earth.”

    Frankly I’m all in favour of anything (legal) that keeps people like Senator Rubio from being elected.

    Rubio is not rudderless, his response showed he knows exactly what the correct answer is but lacks the moral courage to say so.

    Mike.

  12. SLC
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation was replaced by Einstein’s.

    This is a canard that even some physicists state. Newton’s theory of gravitation is used to solve most problems in celestial dynamics with relativistic effects handled by perturbation theory.

    What has been replaced is Newton’s concept of action at a distance. It is now understood that accelerations due to massive bodies are a result of the distortion of space/time by their presence.

  13. Myron
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Speaking of respect and toleration, I recommend Brian Leiter’s new book:

    * Leiter, Brian. Why Tolerate Religion? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9839.html

    • Kevin
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      If I were the author, the entire text would be:

      “So grandma has a place to hang out with her friends Sunday morning.”

  14. Gordon Hill
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    (Not wanting to rekindle the free will debate, I ask) To what extent am I responsible for my worldview and behavior? Growing up Methodist I learned the the three central texts were the Bible, The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions. As I dived into my study I read John Wesley’s (the founder of Methodism who was never one just as Jesus was never a Christian) writings and learned he was a book exchange who live with the premise of “think and let think.”

    I still consider myself a religious person, probably a religious humanist. Although not a fan of the term accommodationist, it seems to fit with Rubio and Wade.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t get the point of your question since we are all influenced by how we were brought up & what we were taught. Are you saying that you don’t [or at one time didn't] credit evolution as fact?

      In what way is Rubio an accommodationist? His creationist-friendly waffle is political expediency rather than a belief that religious beliefs are consistent with the findings and confirmed discoveries of science.

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        There was a time I did not know about the theory of evolution. When I first learned of it, I believed it true (a fact) and probably attributed mutations to the “hand of God” although I don’t recall thinking about it. Thanks to a continuous inquiry, I have moved on. The big surprise was learning that species are not completely separate and uniquely distinct, easily characterized. (My last biology class was Zoology in 1961.

        My use of the term accommodationist may be from ignorance. My his statement, “Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that,” he said. “It’s one of the great mysteries.”

    • truthspeaker
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      You’re responsible for looking for information on your own instead of relying only on sources approved by people in authority.

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        …being careful to check multiple (credible?) sources… ;-)

    • nonfreewillist
      Posted November 29, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      To answer your opening question, you have no responsibility at all for your worldview and behavior, both of which being a function of your nature and nurture, (heredity and environmental inputs: aka, your matrix of causal determinants). You have the world view that you have because you are caused to have said world view, you behave the way you behave because you are caused to behave as you do.

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Good to know which means I need not concern myself with this feeling of being responsible for my views and accountable for my behavior. Thanks… ;-)

  15. Dr. J
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.

    Holy naivety, Batman. It’s a fight that a large number of people are never going to give up.

    It seems to me that the piece of evidence that refutes the whole premise of the article is the fact that over the past 40 years or so – “new atheism” or not – the needle really hasn’t moved on the acceptance of evolution in the country.

  16. Joseph D. McInerney
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I have no evidence, but it seems that Mr. Wade has little experience in actually dealing with creationists and creationist tactics, his Templeton associations notwithstanding. If he had such experience, he would know that the movement purposely and cynically exploits the public’s ignorance of the meaning of “theory” in a scientific context. Mr. Wade comes off as terribly naive in this essay and joins other members of the scientific community — broadly defined — who try to help but end up hurting the cause because they don’t really understand creationist motives and methods.

  17. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    “A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions…”

    Why? Why are we supposed to profess respect for religion at all? I HAVE no respect for religion. Stupid ideas, in any other arena, are denigrated for their stupidity, but if those ideas are religious, they are automatically “worthy of respect”.

    Nuts to that. L

    • Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      ” Why are we supposed to profess respect for religion at all?”

      I also have a suspicion that said respect for a religion is supposed to increase with the economic and political might of the practitioners. I haven’t seen any NYT articles recommend respect for Voodoo, for example. Indeed, the same would have been true also of the various Indic religions a few decades ago, but not anymore.

    • Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Amen, sister.

      b&

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted November 29, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Ben, This is off thread, but I had a thought w.r.t. what constitutes religious scholarship. In my view there is scholarship and advocacy. The former is conducted with the least amount of prejudice possible. For example, I know of no Christian scholar who gives biological credence to the virgin birth which the Pope recently asserted as true.

        Also, within biology, three names come to mind: Coyne, Miller, Behe. My succinct classification would be biologist/atheist, biolologist/Christian, biologist(?)/creationist, respectively.

        The question might be, Can Kenneth Miller, being a Christian, be a true biologist?

        • Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

          The question might be, Can Kenneth Miller, being a Christian, be a true biologist?

          That depends.

          Does he eat porridge?

          b&

          • Gordon Hill
            Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

            ;-) Me, too. Thanks.

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      In my circle of friends, we respect people, some of whom are religious and some, not, but then I’m a UU and we don’t care what you believe as long as you make the coffee every now and then… ;-)

      As for respecting religion, I respect good writing and there is much of same in the sacred works… and some bad, but when read as story, metaphor, some of them are quite compelling.

      • Gary W
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        In my circle of friends, we respect people, some of whom are religious and some, not, but then I’m a UU and we don’t care what you believe as long as you make the coffee every now and then…

        You’re being humorous, but your description isn’t very far from the truth. UU should stop pretending that it’s a religion and acknowledge what it actually is — a social/political group.

        As for respecting religion, I respect good writing and there is much of same in the sacred works… and some bad, but when read as story, metaphor, some of them are quite compelling.

        Respecting good writing is not the same thing as respecting religion. Conflating them doesn’t help.

        • Gordon Hill
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

          That depends on one’s accepted definition of religion. Since there is wide disagreement as to what constitutes a religion both within and outside the religious arena, we opt for the definitions found within, as does the scientific community opt for definitions within it; e.g., the various meanings attributed to theory, but then one must decide whether a religion must be an orthodoxy or if it is sufficient to be an orthopraxy as so many religious groups are becoming.

          As for being humorous, I’m trying to be being human… ;-)

          • Gary W
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

            That depends on one’s accepted definition of religion.

            What definition do you propose, then? If it is to include both UU and traditional religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) but not secular political or social organizations, what is it?

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

              There is not a universal definition of religion. My reference is the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Two website references are http://www.religioustolerance.org/var_rel.htm and http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

              • Gary W
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                The definition in your first link (“Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, and a philosophy of life”) excludes UU, which does not require any specific belief about a god or gods at all. I don’t see any definition in your second link.

                I just took a quick look at the UU website. It is an exercise in obfuscation and double-talk. It is drenched in religious terminology, but devoid of any substantive religious content. None of the “seven principles” of UU is distinctively religious. Every one of them could be affirmed by someone whose belief system is entirely secular. It talks about “prayer” and “worship” but uses those terms to refer to activities that are also entirely secular. You are using religious language in a fundamentally deceptive way. If you want your organization to be respected, be honest about its nature and stop pretending it’s a religion.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

                My view is that there are many definitions of religion. I’ll go with the religious professionals when I want to discuss a particular filed. Whether Buddhism is a religion is less important than what it is.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

                “I’ll go with the religious professionals…”

                I don’t think you mean this. Pat Robertson? The Pope? Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei? Jim Jones?

                I think you mean you’ll go with the religious professionals who agree with you.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

                ;-) Not quite. I mean serious scholars whose study of religion is done without consulting me like the members of the American Academy of Religion at http://www.aarweb.org

                I would include the Dalai Lama in the group.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

                You are doing exactly what all believers do… cherry picking from the pool of religious BS to find tidbits that you are comfortable with while ignoring the vast bulk of what constitutes religion. And then implying that those with which you don’t agree are not “real” “professionals”. NOW I think you are being dishonest, mostly to yourself.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

                Your denying there is a professional field of study of religion equates with the creationists denial of evolution.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

                Please show where I denied there were professional religious practitioners. In fact, I listed several of them. Why would you say that I deny the existence of theology? It may be all bogus, but the practice clearly exists.

                What I said was that you are following the standard religious practice of cherry-picking which ones you consider legitimate according to which ones conform to your viewpoint. Cherry-picking is not intellectually honest.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

                I said scholars.

              • Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

                Wait a sec, if I might jump in here.

                Did you just claim that the Pope isn’t a scholar?

                And you do know that the Ayatollah is considered one of the most important scholars in Islam, right?

                You might have a case with Jim Jones, but Pat Robertson is considered one of the towering intellects of the Evangelical community, at least amongst its members.

                gbjames is right. If you’re going to claim that the Pope isn’t a scholar, then I hear bagpipes.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                The original discussion of the thread has to do with what constitutes religion. My point is that there scholarly views as to what constitutes a religion and I go with those which include both theistic and non-theist forms Buddhism and other minor forms. Pat Robertson is an expert in Christianity and an advocate as to its superior nature, but not what I would consider a committed religious scholar who makes religion lifelong study into the ‘what is…’ of it.

                My list would include Hans Kung, John Dominic Crossan, the Dalai Lama, the Contributors to The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions and many members of the American Academy of Religion.

                It is important to remember that, whereas an important characteristic of scientific inquiry is the pursuit of empirical evidence, religious inquiry is the exploration of human views.

                Yes, the Pope is a scholar, one of many who participated in silencing Hans Kung and Matthew Fox, among others, who disagreed with his view… not very scholarly that. ;-)

              • gbjames
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

                “I said scholars.” Clarifies exactly nothing.

      • gbjames
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        It would be important to remember that there is a great difference between respecting PEOPLE and respecting IDEAS.

        Those of us saying in firm terms that we have no respect for religion are NOT saying we have no respect for people who are believers. We just recognize them as victims of a serious disease of the intellect, a faith worm that bore into their heads sometime in the past, usually in childhood.

        Many have recovered once they started to think about how the symptoms are easily seen in people who have been similarly infected, but with a different species of faith worm.

        Love the brains, hate the faith worms.

        • Gordon Hill
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          It boils down to what you call religion. Many churches are moving from creedal bases to covenental bases where the social (orthopraxy)is central. Our little church is all about participation within small groups, the church as a whole and the community which includes the local food bank, soup kitchen, juvenile detention center and an elementary school plus a three week Peace camp we run with other churches and a temple in the Summer.

          You may not call us a religion, but we accept evolution as a scientific theory.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            “Many churches are moving from creedal bases to covenental bases where the social (orthopraxy)is central”

            Evidence, please?

            How many churches have ditched the Nicene Creed? Ditched belief in the supernatural altogether? I don’t doubt there are a few, but they don’t seem to be numerous.

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

              Many individual churches are creedal especially many Church of Christ Disciples and most UU churches. Interestingly, the Methodist church is non-creedal even though most of them include a creed–Apostles, Nicean, Korean or another–in their service.

          • gbjames
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

            Well, I’m a simple sort of fellow, so I’ll just go with what pops up in the dictionary:

            “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.”

            Now, you may prefer a definition that goes something like “A group of people gathered for a Wednesday night potluck dinner” or perhaps “A community of like-minded people who run soup kitchens.” Maybe that’s the nature of our difference? If so, then I think you are misusing language for the purpose of avoiding straightforward communication.

            Your food bank work is admirable. I, too, think peace is a good thing, although I don’t find a need to capitalize the word in the middle of sentences). These things do not constitute religion.

            Do you believe in a superhuman controlling power? A personal god? Do you offer prayers soliciting assistance from this being? If you do, they you are practicing a religion. If all you do is provide secular help at juvenile detention centers, then you aren’t.

            Please don’t confuse religion with doing good works. These are very different things. I shrilly/stridently/militantly oppose one of them and equally militantly/stridently/shrilly support the other.

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

              That’s your choice. I’ll go with the religious scholars and agree with the National Academy of Science view on the Compatibility of Science and Religion which states “Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.” at http://www.nationalacademies.org/evolution/Compatibility.html

              It’s good we get to choose whether to go with the experts or conventional wisdom.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

                I’ll note the following.

                1) You say “that’s your choice” to a matter of definition and decline to provide the definition you prefer. (No, the weaselly Nat. Academy statement is not a definition of religion.), and

                2) You decline to answer any of the specific questions I asked.

                I conclude that this is probably because you don’t want to admit the obvious, that religion is not a matter of good works. It is a matter of belief in supernatural beings. You leave me comfortable in my position that there is no reason to grant religion any respect.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

                1. Whenever there is uncertainty in an issue, it’s your choice which view you take. There is uncertainty in what constitutes religion; therefore, you make a choice. Scientists know this. You consider the options and make a choice.

                2. Why would I choose to answer a question when I am convinced you will reject my honest answer which means I must be a liar.

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

                Whenever there is uncertainty in an issue, it’s your choice which view you take.

                That is, indeed, a religious position to take, and it is a very, very, very bad one to take.

                When you don’t know the answer, you don’t know the answer. You don’t get to make shit up just for the sake of having an answer.

                At least, not if you want to have any pretense of intellectual honesty.

                Make sure your own error bars are a good match for the evidence.

                For example, I think we’ll probably make it a couple weeks into January before we’ve got a budget deal, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one came in late December or early February. We won’t have one next week and we’ll certainly have one by March.

                The religious response would be, “Well, we don’t know for sure when we’ll have a budget deal, so my opinion that it’ll come on January 2 at 11:06 pm Washington time is perfectly valid.” No, it’s not a valid opinion, certainly not one to hold with any determination, unless you’ve got some specific evidence supporting it.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

                “Why would I choose to answer a question when I am convinced you will reject my honest answer which means I must be a liar.”

                Gordon, please read more carefully. I did not call you a liar. I suggested that the demand for other people to not be “shrill” was a demand for them to either shut up or lie.

                I do not think you declined to answer because you would be called a liar. An honest answer, however misguided, is not a lie. I conclude it is because you yourself are uncomfortable with the honest answers.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                Our disagreement seems to be final.

      • thh1859
        Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        What is UU?

        • gbjames
          Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

          Unitarian Universalists.

          http://www.uua.org

        • Gordon Hill
          Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          Simply defined, UU, Unitarian Universalism, is a god-optional religion based on covenant rather than creed. The seven principles are here http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/

          UUism began as two Christian movements, Universalists, who believed all people were worthy of God’s grace and entry into Heaven irrespective of religion (or not), and Unitarians who dismissed the idea of the trinity.

          Over time, it has evolved (interesting word) into a small, yet vital religion open to all who wish to participate in a religion sans dogma. The UUA website covers it is substantial detail.

          • Gary W
            Posted November 29, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

            UU is a religion in name only. Every one of its “seven principles” could be affirmed by someone whose belief system is entirely secular. Using words like “covenant” does not transform a secular belief system into a religious one.

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted November 29, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

              That would be your view and fine by me, but not mine, which I would hope would be fine by you, just as scientists disagree as to differing characterization of the same phenomenon, provided we recognize there is no central defining authority which can resolve the difference.

              • Gary W
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

                No, it is not fine by me. Obviously, anyone is free to use the term “religion” in whatever way they choose. That does not mean the way they use the word is honest or useful. It makes no more sense to call Unitarian-Universalism a religion than to call the Democratic Party a religion. UU is simply a social/political organization that has chosen to dress up its principles and practises in religious language.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                Every word has a variety of meanings. Your argument is precisely the tack taken by creationists who call the theory of evolution “just a theory.”

                Your view is fine by me, but I will continue to call UUism, Buddhism, taoism, the Society of Friends and other groups who call themselves religions, even religious humanists, religions. when you become the Senior Editor of The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, a recognized religious reference, you can change that. Until then… ;-)

              • gbjames
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

                Gordon, does the phrase “argument from authority” mean anything to you?

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                …less than personal prejudice. ;-)

              • Gary W
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

                Gordon Hill

                Every word has a variety of meanings.

                You have offered no argument for the proposition that Unitarian-Universalism qualifies as a religion. The definition of religion that you yourself cited in a previous comment clearly *excludes* UU.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted November 30, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

                Excepting the fact that I did not offer a definition of religion, although I did reference The Oxford Dictionary of Religion which opens with, “The strange thing about religion is that we all know what it is until someone asks us to tell them… That has not stopped people trying to define religion, but their definitions are clearly different.”

                It continues with several ‘different’ definitions and references A Psychological Study of Religion by J. H. Leuba (1912) for nearly fifty others sorted into three categories.

                I did reference two website, but only to show how others categorize various religions.

              • Gary W
                Posted November 30, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

                Excepting the fact that I did not offer a definition of religion,

                Yes you did. I asked you how you define “religion” and you responded with a link to a web page with a definition that excludes UU.

                If you are now rejecting this definition, I ask again what definition of religion do you propose? I don’t think you can provide a definition that includes UU without being obviously absurd. Hence all your evasion and double-talk.

  18. Hempenstein
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    If Wade was a cartoonist, he’d be pilloried for running one that’s already run.

  19. truthspeaker
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins’s militant stance is so powerful, it retroactively caused the state of Tennessee to outlaw the teaching of evolution decades before Dawkins was born.

    Seriously, has Wade never heard of the Scopes trial?

  20. Flo M
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    To me the real mystery is how a NYT science writer can call Rubio “a highly intelligent politician”. Someone who doubts the Earth is billions of years old is nothing but dumb. Yes, sometimes, the world is that simple…

    • truthspeaker
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Par for the course for the NYT. They also considered Paul Wolfowitz a competent defense undersecretary and Judith Miller an honest reporter.

      • gbjames
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        Add Jason Blair to the list.

  21. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    These “middle ground” advocates like Nicholas Wade might as well write about Middle Earth — because both are fictional places.

    Equivalent to Mr. Wade’s rubbish, I say the fact that parents place gifts under the Christmas tree is merely a theory. With this concession, proponents of Santa Claus will now graciously allow me equal time in classrooms.

  22. eric
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions

    No, that won’t work. The moment you tell the RCC that you respect wiccans as much as you respect them, or you tell an evangelical baptist you respect Islam as much as their religion, they’re going to hate and discount you. They don’t want ‘respect for all religions,’ they want exceptionalism: more respect for their beliefs than is accorded to others.

    • Sajanas
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I think they had that exact scene in Life of Pi!

      • Kevin
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        A very good book, but I’m quite afraid of going to the movie.

        It’s so loaded with allegory — how in the world are they handling that without it just being literally a boy with a tiger in a boat (which the book most definitely wasn’t about)?

        • Sajanas
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          I’ve yet to see the movie myself, but I think most of the reviewers found its theology just as frustrating as it was in the book. It was very much written by someone looking at faith from the outside and not noticing that people actually believe in things beyond a very hazy notion of ‘God’.

  23. H.H.
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions…

    Terrible idea, actually.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      A jolly good idea imo. The Church of England is master of such thinking. Now you can be a member of the C of E and believe more or less anything you feel inclined to. So much so that it is now searching for a way to consecrate female bishops whilst arranging things so that those of a contrary opinion will never have to undergo the sinful experience of actually meeting one. It is unsurprising that Lewis Carroll was an Anglican clergyman. He should not have found it at all difficult to believe half a dozen impossible things before breakfast.

    • Karl Heinz
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I respectfully disagree. Professing respect for religion is not the same as agreeing with it. It may be an acknowledgment of the social and cultural aspects that many people hold dear. It seems that many here have convinced themselves that all religion is bogus, that all religious people are idiots. Does that make it easier to dismiss religion and the religious? God knows in today’s USA there are plenty of idiot religious people.

      There are two aspects here, and this site is winning one by a large margin and losing one badly. Winning the brute, blunt, honest scientific debate. Losing the more human side where you seem to ignore the importance religion plays in people’s lives. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with religion. As smart as some of y’all are, you don’t seem to get that. Not everybody abides by a rigorous logical framework (Spock?) when living. Most shmoes don’t. They just want to get through their week and have a beer on Saturday.

      We’ve been in a bad couple of decades regarding religion, politics, and science. And we’re probably in for a few more bad decades. Religion has failed badly, been associated with ignoramuses and hack politicians, and red-neck morons from the deep south.

      I guess those who think it’s a bad idea to respect religion wouldn’t understand that.

      • H.H.
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        There are two aspects here, and this site is winning one by a large margin and losing one badly. Winning the brute, blunt, honest scientific debate. Losing the more human side where you seem to ignore the importance religion plays in people’s lives.

        We’re losing, huh? Depends on how you are keeping score. Religion certainly isn’t growing. While it’s had a huge head start historically, religion is dying all over the world. It won’t disappear overnight, but to say that religion is “winning” is to ignore the cultural changes taking place right now.

        • jimroberts
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          “We’re losing, huh? Depends on how you are keeping score. Religion certainly isn’t growing.”

          On the whole, religion as such isn’t growing in developed societies. But it isn’t always, or even much, being replaced by reason and scepticism, but by other forms of superstition or antiscientific ideology, so real progress is still very slow.

      • gbjames
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Don’t understand what? That religion has failed badly? Are you kidding?

      • Gary W
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Losing the more human side where you seem to ignore the importance religion plays in people’s lives.

        There’s pretty clear evidence that throughout the developed world religion is becoming less and less important in people’s lives. So we appear to be winning that side too.

      • Posted November 29, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

        “the more human side where you seem to ignore the importance religion plays in people’s lives”

        I don’t think people here – and gnu atheists elsewhere – do ignore this. But the thing is, we don’t see it as a social good that people take comfort in a lie, that people see faith (“pretending to know what you don’t know”) as a virtue, that people make decisions that harm others based on religious dogma, &c.

        /@ | Phoenix, AZ

  24. Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    So glad you commented on this. I read it just this morning and went crazy.What utter nonsense! I had to check his little bio to remind myself that he was supposedly a “science writer” for the Times. A science writer who can’t delineate the word theory from a scientific perspective. (Since I know little about gravity — except that I use it daily — can someone clarify whether Newton’s theory was replaced by Einstein’s?)

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Depends on what you mean by “replaced”.

      General Relativity is a more comprehensive explanation of gravity, inertia, and acceleration than Newton’s theory. Our understanding of what gravity is and how it works is irrevocably Einsteinian and not Newtonian.

      Einstein’s equation also gives more accurate answers in extreme cases such as black hole physics where Newtonian theory breaks down.

      However Einstein’s math is considerably more difficult than Newton’s, so for most purposes (such as getting spacecraft from Earth to Mars) Newton’s equation is still the tool of choice for calculation (even though the theory behind it has been superseded).

      Is that the sort of clarification you’re looking for?

  25. Yi
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    When I saw the article yesterday on NYtimes, I knew Jerry is going to take it down. Thanks, indeed. Wade did such a lousy job.

  26. Karl Heinz
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I read Mr. Wade’s essay a bit differently.

    First, I don’t see where Mr. Wade is “blaming” atheists for creationism. One may take exception to the use of the word “militant” when describing Professor Dawkins (and many do) but the use of that word, imo, in no way means that Mr. Wade is blaming atheists for creationism. Perhaps Mr. Wade has made this point in prior essays but I just don’t see it in this one.

    Second, I see little from Mr. Wade suggesting that “creationism can be dispelled by characterizing evolution not as a fact, but as a “theory'”. I don’t think Mr. Wade was trying to “dispel” anything. He used the phrase “scientific statesman” (is there such a thing?) so his emphasis appeared to be on diplomacy rather than “dispelling”.

    I can see the vitriol aimed at religion (or certain religious sects) who claim that biblical literalism trumps science, but is there really a need for people to make shrill claims that they “have no respect for religion?” or to fail to see that one may be intelligent yet hold certain irrational views?

    • gbjames
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      ‘… is there really a need for people to make shrill claims that they “have no respect for religion?”’

      Yes there is, assuming we value honest conversation. I have no respect for religion. I have no desire to dishonestly pretend that I do.

      Or are you emphasizing the word “shrill”? That’s in the ear of the beholder. Usually it is little but a short version of “shut up, I don’t want to hear that”. To which I would respond: “No, I prefer to say what I choose to say; get used to it.”

      • Karl Heinz
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Here is the “shrill” comment:

        [i]I HAVE no respect for religion. Stupid ideas, in any other arena, are denigrated for their stupidity, but if those ideas are religious, they are automatically “worthy of respect”.[/i]

        It is shrill, imo, because religion speaks to more than merely creationism (which I abhor). It speaks to spirituality, communion with others, meditation, music, etc. There are a lot of non-God beneficial things associated with religion. Or there can be.

        So to lump all religion as stupid, to fail to grasp the other elements that religion has to offer, is, to use one word, shrill. It may speak more of the one who is criticizing than it does the religion. Imo, statements like the above are just as ignorant as are the fundamentalist’s “science” claims. I expect fundamentalists to be ignorant.

        The internet is a great resource and tool to spread knowledge and opinion. It also is a great place to take sides and shout down others.

        When it comes to science I find the claims of the fundamentalist/literalist to be abhorrent and often hypocritical (as in the Devil in Dover book displays) and reeking with political overtones. But I hate to see the “enlightened” side counter with stuff like this. But in the winner-take-all world we seem to live in, that’s the say the game is played, I guess.

        • gbjames
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          I don’t see the word “creationism” in that quote. What I see is a statement that says stupid ideas deserve no respect. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.

          The core of religion is not, as you seem to be arguing, communion with other people or music. We atheists appreciate music and friendship just as much as anyone else. And using “spirituality” as a measure of an non-stupid idea (assuming we are talking about disembodied spirits one can communicate with) is a non-starter. Why should one should respect such a silly idea? Should we also respect the idea that fairies make our gardens grow?

          I’m sorry that bluntness and honesty make you uneasy when religion is the subject. I would bet that you don’t feel as bad when someone calls out stupidity in other arenas… say, race relations.

          Accusations against atheists for being “shrill” are stock item these days. And, as I said above, they are really just an attempt to stifle opinions with which people don’t agree.

          • Karl Heinz
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            I was commenting on the overly broad statement of “I HAVE no respect for religion”. If that had been “I HAVE no respect for stupid ideas”, then I would agree with you.

            And I am in no way arguing that the “core” of religion is communion, meditation, etc. I’m sorry if I gave that impression. I meant that those elements are a PART of most religions, and that they can be, for some, parsed out and enjoyed while ignoring the other nonsense.

            Bluntness and honesty don’t bother me at all, although I think you’re a bit presumptuous in thinking you hold the keys to those doors. I am not insisting that heaven is real, or not real. It can exist. We don’t know (at this time). So no, it’s not necessarily “honest” to declaim that heaven cannot be real (contrary to the current spate of horrible books saying it is real).

            You, like others, seem to be wont to paint me into some kind of corner where you can more easily dismiss my views. Truth be known, I am a pretty strong agnostic, close to atheist. But I shouldn’t have to say that. You shouldn’t have to define me as “them” against “you”.

            • gbjames
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

              I’m not “defining” you. I’m responding to what you wrote. And the quote YOU clipped and posted includes two sentences intended to be taken together.

              If you don’t think that music, etc. are central to religion then why did you use them in your argument? They are part of religion in the same way as woodworking and writing are part of religion. When someone asserts that they have no respect for religion it should be understood that they are not referring to non-religious skills or ideas that are incidentally used by people involved in the religious life. When you remove these incidentals you are left with the core of religion, a set of unconfirmed (and unconformable) propositions about the universe. There is no reason why these ideas deserve any more respect than other fairy tales.

              You asked (look upstairs…) if there was a need for people to make “shrill claims”. I’ll repeat… yes because the alternative is to either be dishonest, saying polite niceties that one doesn’t believe or shutting up and giving bad ideas a pass.

              • Karl Heinz
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                Now you seem to be churlish. Music is more a part of the modern-day religious experience than is woodworking, or masonry for that matter. Even the old-day religion. You’re stretching again.

                Let me again explain: I brought up music/communion/etc to show how, um, let’s say ignorant instead of shrill, the comment of “I have no respect for religion” is. I have no respect for many aspects of religion and stupid ideas; that is not the same thing as saying I have no respect for religion.

                There is no reason to be shrill, imo. You may convince yourself otherwise, and that is your prerogative.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                Is breathing not also part of the modern-day religious experience? Does that make criticism of religion unreasonable? No, because it is not a core component of religion, it is simply part of being human.

                When someone says “I have no respect for religion” they are not saying “I have no respect for breathing.” They understand (and you would, too, if you let yourself) that we aren’t talking about breathing or music or stonework or stained glass artistry.

                And again, “shrill” is just your way of saying “I don’t like what you are saying, so shut up.”

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                Karl, religion is, fundamentally, the proposition the faith is a noble attribute. And faith is belief apportioned other than in proportion with the available rationally-analyzed empirically-observed evidence.

                And, as such, faith is nothing more than the essential lynchpin of every confidence scam.

                Religion is no different.

                Let’s also be clear here: it’s not all religion you wish us to respect, but merely your religion. I’m sure you have just as little respect for the Raelians or Scientologists or Jim Jones’s followers as the rest of us.

                When you understand the contempt with which you hold ancient Aztecs and their human sacrifice, you will understand the contempt atheists commonly hold towards the Christian Eucharist.

                Cheers,

                b&

    • H.H.
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I acknowledge that intelligent people hold irrational views, but I don’t endorse holding them. In fact, I actively discourage it. The goal is to recognize bias in order to eliminate it. Respecting people for their capacity for delusion is the definition of counter-productive.

      • Karl Heinz
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Is it irrational to believe in an afterlife? The good afterlife, not the bad one. Maybe. But I would not actively discourage anyone from not believing in a heaven. What’s the point of that? The point of life is not to adhere strictly to some rigid logical/scientific framework. The point of science may be that, but not life.

        To be clear, I’m not trying to be an “accommodationist”. If science and evidence contradict any holy text then, when it comes to fact and reason, science wins out. Is there a god? Who knows? If there is one I really doubt he/she/it has anything to do with the god as depicted in any of the world’s current “holy” texts.

        The “good” irrational views provide some sort of psychic comfort, I think, and religion can offer some of these: heaven, an uber-daddy who loves us, being part of a larger whole, being accountable to something larger than us, stuff like that. I’m not a fan of irrationality when it conflicts with science, i.e., creationism, a global flood, two people who supposedly were Adam & Eve. But then maybe I’m just fooling myself into thinking that I am able to distinguish between “good” irrationality and “bad” irrationality.

        My point is just that I wouldn’t necessarily actively discourage ALL irrational views.

        • gbjames
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          “Is it irrational to believe in an afterlife?”

          Yes. And what’s the point of saying so? Honesty.

          To be clear, you ARE in fact making an accomodationist argument. It is the quintessential accomodationist “room for both” argument.

          What you are saying is that lying to yourself because it feels good is acceptable. It isn’t. It is just plain lying. And when you start respecting lies that feel good there is no end to the trouble that can be wrought. There are a lot of people lying about climate change. It makes them feel good. It is endangering all of us. It matters what is true and what is not.

          • Karl Heinz
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            While I somewhat understand your desire to box me into that, for it makes it easier to understand (if not pigeonhole) my opinions, I would say no, I am not an accommodationist.

            I in no way am talking about “lying”. Where do you get that? I don’t know if heaven exists. It probably doesn’t, but it is not a “lie” to say it may. It would behoove you to stick to this type of argument if I were attempting to explain away the fossil record or other physical evidence. To call it a lie is, rather, shrill.

            And what exactly are you talking about when you speak of “room for both”? I understand that kind of talk when trying to “accommodate” evolution with creationism (an impossible and absurd task), but not so much when speaking of the unknowable (at this time, anyway) metaphysical notions such as heaven.

            • gbjames
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

              Accommodationism is the effort to provide a nice compatible world for science and religion. It has nothing (necessarily) to do with creationism.

              Lying comes into it because what you are (or seem to be) asking is that people who have no respect for religion pretend that they do. Such pretenses would be lying. It is lying for a person who sees no evidence for (say) an afterlife, and no reason to think such a thing plausible, to pretend otherwise, asserting that this is an open question. Statements like that would be dishonest. They would be lies.

        • Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          Is it irrational to believe in an afterlife?

          Absolutely. Just as a computer cannot continue to compute once the power is interrupted, the brain cannot continue to think once bodily functions have ceased.

          (We may not fully understand consciousness, but we have far more than enough understanding to know that it’s entirely and wholly a property of a functioning brain. Insisting otherwise is akin to insisting that a computer that’s turned off can still perform calculations.)

          And belief in an afterlife is almost universally detrimental. People make major life decisions based on their anticipation of how it will affect their accommodations in said afterlife; how could you rationally do otherwise if you’ve already concluded that the afterlife is real?

          The thing is, the efforts that are directed towards the afterlife are wasted and could much more profitably be devoted towards enhancing this, the one-and-only life any of us will ever have.

          One of the most common and emphatic recurring themes in the Christian Gospels is that one should give no thought for the morrow for the end is nigh. One of the most recurring phenomenon of short-lived Christian offshoot cults is the exact same. The results are uniformly disastrous. Another commonality in Christianity is ascetic monasticism; again, all such self-deprivation is sorely wasted. We also see it commonly used as a hook for scams to part the gullible from their money, again to great detriment.

          And all of that’s ignoring, as you requested, the flip side of the coin. Torquemada was actually acting in accord with the Golden Rule; after all, better a few weeks of Earthly torment than an eternity in Hell, no? (That’s a condemnation of the Christian formulation of the Golden Rule as much as it is in a false belief in an afterlife.)

          None of this should be surprising; when you ignore reality, reality has a tendency to bite back, very hard, and the horrible consequences of belief in an afterlife are but Exhibit A.

          And now you should hopefully begin to understand the truly pernicious nature of the evil of religious faith.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Karl Heinz
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            You make many good points, but I think you overplay it a bit. That the brain cannot continue to function post mortem does not necessarily mean there is no afterlife, does it? The spirit and all that. I’m not a big spirit fan, but…. I also do not think it is inherently irrational to believe in a heaven. I doubt there is one, however.

            I agree that sometimes, maybe even a lot of times, the concept of an afterlife may lead to sub-optimal decisions on how to live in the here and now, but I would not go so far as to call those decisions as “almost universally detrimental”. It depends, as does almost everything, on the specific person. If you’re looking for a copout you can find it anywhere.

            People make major life decisions based on their anticipation of how it will affect their accommodations in said afterlife; how could you rationally do otherwise if you’ve already concluded that the afterlife is real?

            Very easily. I don’t know which variables will be “valid” for the afterlife, therefore, I don’t emphasize one thing over another. That is a rational response. You’re assuming we know what is important to the afterlife (or important to getting there). I’m just talking about a universalist existence of such a place, if that makes sense.

            And no, not ALL efforts directed toward an afterlife are wasted, imo. Some, sure. All? No. I’m not really antagonistic toward this point, but there is some psychological comfort in thinking there is a heaven, and this belief may not require one to ignore any sort of positive action or behavior. So I think you’re overplaying this aspect of your argument a bit. And we don’t necessarily have to ascribe to the Christian version of heaven, and all that (ignore today stuff).

            There is no way that ignoring heaven can be equated with ignoring “reality”. That’s a stretch. Ignoring fossil evidence, yeah, that’s ignoring reality.

            There can be a lot wrong with faith and being pernicious, I agree, and an argument can be made that some people will use the concept of heaven in untoward ways, but I don’t see heaven as a big component or evidence of that perniciousness.

            But we all create our own reality to some extent, and our opinions are formed by our experiences. Which means I may be completely wrong and you completely right on this topic.

            • Kevin
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

              There is no “spirit”. You make the statement as if it’s agreed that there is such a thing.

              No. Wrong. 100% in error. Incorrect.

              There is no part of you that survives your death other than the constituent atoms which are redistributed back to the environment.

              If you claim otherwise, you’re going to have to prove it. First, by describing what this “spirit” thing is. What is it made of? How do you know? How can I find mine? Or yours?

              Until and unless you can do that, you’re just spouting more superstitious nonsense created by primitive goatherders.

              Stop it.

              • Karl Heinz
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                Maybe there is no spirit. Maybe there is. I don’t believe that I have stated the conclusion as definitively as you suggest. I certainly didn’t mean to. But in my short time here I see that many read what they want to believe, rather than what is actually being written.

                How can you say 100% there is no spirit? I don’t think there is, but that’s like, just my opinion, man.

                I don’t have to “prove it”. It cannot be proved. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Do you really not see that? Apparently not.

                Just like there may be a supreme being. We can’t prove that. But there may be one.

              • Marta
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                “Just like there may be a supreme being. We can’t prove that. But there may be one.”

                This kind of thinking can be applied to an infinite list of entities in the fantasy pantheon. Leprechauns? Unicorns? Big Foot? I’m completely confident that you would roll your eyes in a discussion with someone who claimed that their existence had not been disproved. Why so wishy-washy then with the most fantastic creature of them all?

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

                How can you say 100% there is no spirit?

                Of course, one can’t.

                One also can’t state with absolute confidence that pigs can’t fly out of a monkey’s butt.

                One can reasonably state, however, that there is a 99.99999999999% chance that there are neither spirits nor flying monkey-butt pigs, and that’s plenty good enough for most adults.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • truthspeaker
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                “How can you say 100% there is no spirit?”

                There is no evidence for spirits, and not even a coherent definition of what a spirit would be. I can say 100% there is no spirit just as confidently as I can say 100% there is no ice-9.

            • Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              That the brain cannot continue to function post mortem does not necessarily mean there is no afterlife, does it? The spirit and all that.

              A spiritual afterlife constitutes a gross violation of the laws of conservation, on the level of witches with magic wands and flying broomsticks.

              Of course, that is not sufficient cause to absolutely rule it out a priori, but it’s far more than ample cause to dismiss it as childish fantasy until such a time as convincing evidence is presented.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • truthspeaker
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

              “That the brain cannot continue to function post mortem does not necessarily mean there is no afterlife, does it? ”

              Yes. Yes it does.

        • Kevin
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          Yes, it is irrational to believe in the after-life.

          There is no such thing. It’s a fiction. Superstitious nonsense, created by primitives who didn’t understand the weather and thought disease was caused by demons.

          • Karl Heinz
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

            So…the fact that concepts of heaven, and god, were created/fabricated by early man necessarily means that heaven and god do not, or cannot exist?

            I mostly agree with your point, but your reasoning is not quite complete. To wit, Og may have thought that the apple hits the ground because of the mass of the earth, and coincidentally, he would have been right. (assuming I have the gravity thing correct). That he was primitive, or superstitious, does not necessarily mean his ideas are invalid.

            We’re all looking at the shadows on the cave walls. And what’s really out there, be it something string-like in a quantum world, may surprise us all.

            So spare me the certainties that don’t exist.

            • Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

              So…the fact that concepts of heaven, and god, were created/fabricated by early man necessarily means that heaven and god do not, or cannot exist?

              No, the facts that the concepts are incoherent, lack evidence, and utterly and shamelessly contradict everything we know about how the universe actually works means that they’re the stuff of faery tales.

              Very little intellectual effort of humanity during the Stone Age remains useful in the modern world, and huge swaths of what they used to believe with great certainty is now known to be laughably false.

              To their credit, we are their descendants, and intervening generations were able to build on the foundations they laid — often by demolishing said foundations and re-laying new ones, many of which were subsequently re-re-demolished. But, make no mistrake: that is about the only credit they’re worthy of.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Posted November 29, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink

              You’re misconstruing Kevin’s point. We don’t dismiss these ideas because they were created/fabricated by primitive people, but because there is not a shred of evidence to validate them, and tons of evidence that validates naturalistic models of the world that have been devised since, and which make the likelihood of those primitive ideas being true vanishingly small.

              /@ | Phoenix, AZ

        • truthspeaker
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          “Is it irrational to believe in an afterlife? The good afterlife, not the bad one”

          Yes. And whether the afterlife someone believes in is “good” or “bad” is irrelevant to the question of whether it’s irrational to believe in it.

    • eric
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      is there really a need for people to make shrill claims that they “have no respect for religion?”

      I think there is, so long as the religion in question is demanding nobody opine negatively about it, gets upset when they do, yet goes around telling people they are sinful/bad/have the wrong religion.

      I play a lot of games. Its fun to play with people who can take it and dish it out. Its fun to play with people who do neither, they just focus on the game. But the players who dish it out but can’t take it…they are obnoxious, and I do feel a need to point out their behavioral double standard to them. Capice?

      • Karl Heinz
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        I agree completely with your first paragraph, and almost completely with your second. You do a very good job in identifying that the issue may be with some of the players (intolerant religious types) than with the overall game (religion). Therefore, why criticize the game (as in, I HAVE no respect for religion?) when the problem is more with the players? But there are plenty of Christian sects, imo, which are definitely part of the problem.

        I tend to dislike groups where I feel there are a lot of, pardon my language, idiots. Even groups to which I belong. As a result, I don’t go to church much nor am I a big GOP fan at the moment. :)

        • truthspeaker
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

          Because the problem is with the game, not just the players.

  27. Occam
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    “Unlike a fact, a theory cannot be absolutely true.”

    Mr. Wade seems to be copying Sam Cooke on his epistemological bridgework:

    Don’t know much about history
    Don’t know much biology
    Don’t know much about a science book

    Mr. Wade thereby manifests himself as a proud member of the “…but I know a fact when I see one!” school of journalism.

  28. Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I think you’re wrong about the impact Precambrian human fossils would have on science. At this point, a half-dozen of those would be less suggesting that biologists need to revise the theory of evolution, and more would be strongly suggesting that physicists should start taking the possibility of closed timelike loops seriously… and should be exceptionally careful in doing experimental work on the question.

  29. Wendell Read
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    “The five main tenets proposed by Darwin … have stood the test of time. Yes, we are still arguing about stuff like group selection, but …”

    Jerry, you seem to be joining the scientists who have asserted that the foundations of a particular scientific discipline are complete, or nearly so. For instance, in 1896, A A Michelson proclaimed physics virtually complete. In 1969, Gunther Stent published The Coming of the Golden Age proclaiming that genetics was virtually complete.

    James Shapiro in his book “Evolution: A View From the 21st Century” argues for a very different paradigm. I am not qualified to comment on the merits of his thesis, but Carl Woese certainly is. He states: “Professor Shapiro’s offering is the best book on basic modern biology that i have ever seen. As far as I can tell, the book is a game changer.”

    Perhaps the Darwinian paradigm is not so firmly established as it might seem. Certainly both Michelson and Gunther wildly missed the mark.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I am not saying that Darwinism is complete, but that the five major tenets laid down by Darwin have stood the test of time well, and are unlikely to be overturned.

      I know Shapiro’s paradigm very well (just search my site for his name)and I am qualified to comment on the merits of his thesis too. It’s abysmally wrong (see my posts for the reasons). Just citing one renegade biologist, for that is what Shapiro is, doesn’t show that the Darwiniam “paradigm” is shaky, nor does the approbation of Carl Woese. A far larger number of evolutionists think that Shapiro is deeply misguided in denigrating the importance of natural selection.

      • Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        While the theory certainly isn’t complete, I think it only fair that we note that we’re pretty well aware of the types of holes there may be still to plug or other forms of repair that may be necessary.

        After all, the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood, and Evolution is “merely” a manifestation of the consequences of those laws.

        Confidence in Darwinism should be held at least on a par with that of Newtonian Mechanics, and I don’t think there’s anybody who questions the validity of Newtonian Mechanics at human scales. Suggesting that there’s something fundamentally flawed with Darwinism is akin to suggesting that, sometimes, when nobody’s looking, apples fall upwards.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Wendell Read
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          “Confidence in Darwinism should be held at least on a par with that of Newtonian Mechanics”

          I would suggest that the question is not about a fundamental flaw in Darwinism (akin to apples falling up)but rather a question of it being sufficient to account for generation of life as we see it today. Given the finite resources (4 billion years and a finite earth) there is obviously a limit to what the Darwinian mechanism can accomplish. Current investigations are uncovering complexity in life that is truly mind boggling.

          Is this complexity within the limits of what Darwinism can generate? If we assume along with Dawkins that there is and can be no other mechanism then the answer is obvious, for in fact here we are!

          If however one does not have an a priori commitment to the exclusivity of the Darwinian mechanism, then perhaps scientific investigations of other drivers of evolution might prove fruitful.

          • jimroberts
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            “perhaps scientific investigations of other drivers of evolution might prove fruitful”

            Indeed. And if anybody comes up with some, I’m sure they will be investigated.

            • Marta
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

              +1

          • Kevin
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            Yes. It is.

            Next question.

            • Wendell Read
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

              Your unadorned “Yes” is more indicative of an article of faith than a statement of conviction based on scientific investigation. Can you give a reason for your belief?

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

                Kevin may choose to answer for himself, but basic scientific facts really don’t need elaborate explanation.

                If somebody asserts that the Earth isn’t round, or that humans don’t reproduce sexually, or that life on Earth didn’t evolve in a Darwinian manner, such a simple rebuttal is perfectly suitable.

                If one is feeling generous, a bit of education certainly is appropriate. But there’s really no more need to defend Evolution than there is gravity or the speed of light or continental drift or any other basic and well-established scientific principle.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Wendell Read
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                To equate the fact of the earth being round with the assertion that “life on Earth evolved in a Darwinian manner” amounts to begging the question. The question under discussion is: Does the Darwinian mechanism account for the observed evolutionary events which have happened? Defending Evolution is very different from defending the Darwinian mechanism of evolution. Questioning the efficacy of Darwinism is NOT equivalent to questioning the historical events constituting evolution.

                Given the finite resources available to Darwinism the question regarding the limits of what it can produce is not trivial. The assertion that it can produce life as we observe it is in no way substantiated by “Yes”.

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                To equate the fact of the earth being round with the assertion that “life on Earth evolved in a Darwinian manner” amounts to begging the question.

                I suppose it might to somebody ignorant of the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection and, to quote the title of this Web site and its associated book, why it is true.

                And you are obviously a person who is ignorant in that manner.

                But never fear! We are here to help you, should you be willing to learn.

                You really owe it to yourself to read Jerry’s book, available at fine libraries and booksellers everywhere. If you ship your copy to Jerry, he’ll even sign it for you (and perhaps include a drawing of a cat).

                In the mean time, feel free to ask questions here — that’s a big part of why Jerry created the Web site to accompany the book. But please be specific — as I see you have been in a subsequent post. It’s every bit as impossible to address such open-ended objections as you’ve indicated here about Evolution as for similar fundamental and sweeping objections to any other accepted scientific theory.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Wendell Read
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                “I suppose it might to somebody ignorant of the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection and, to quote the title of this Web site and its associated book, why it is true.”

                I suggest that you look up the definition of “begging the question”. Once you understand what I am saying perhaps we can have a meaningful conversation.

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

                Wendell, as I have repeatedly indicated, the science of biology is as well established as any other modern science — and, indeed, many other modern sciences are inextricably intertwined with biology, especially including geology and climatology (and, of course, all of medicine).

                I am not begging the question by pointing out your ignorance of the field. Rather, I am indicating that this is no more a matter of debate than whether the Sun orbits the Earth or vice-versa.

                You are simply grossly uninformed and uneducated, but I and others are willing to help you remedy your ignorance.

                But it should be obvious that doing so is no more doable in a short post on a Web site than it would be to answer somebody who insisted that the Earth is flat.

                And, yes, your knowledge of biology appears to be exactly comparable to a Flat Earther’s knowledge of geography and astronomy.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Wendell Read
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                “You are simply grossly uninformed and uneducated, but I and others are willing to help you remedy your ignorance”

                Ad hominem attacks are usually an indication of the writers inability to formulate an intelligent reply. Again I urge you to look up the definition of “begging the question”.

                There appears to be no possibility of having an intelligent conversation with you so i am permanently signing off.

          • Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            Is this complexity within the limits of what Darwinism can generate?

            I am unaware of even a single example of biological complexity which defies explanation within the modern Darwinian framework.

            Perhaps you could offer up such an example…?

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

              Ben,

              To answer your question with a few cases:

              1. Multiple antibiotic resistance in bacteria;
              2. Origin of the eukaryotic cell;
              3. Origin of photosynthetic eukaryotic lineages;
              4. The “abominable mystery” of rapid angiosperm evolution.

              As for Wade, he failed to distinguish clearly between evolution as a demonstrable phenomenon and Darwinism as one of many possible theories of descent with modification. Descent with modification is Darwinism, of course, but from Erasmus, not Charles.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

                In what way are any of those four not explicable by the modern synthesis?

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

                Please explain these examples on Darwinian or neo-Darwinian principles. We know quite a bit about them at the molecular level, and they don’t seem to fit.

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

                Jim,

                Your list indicates to me that you are suffering from some significant misconceptions and / or a lack of understanding of what the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection actually is.

                Just addressing your first case, for example…well, antibiotic resistance is a textbook example of evolution in practice, and one that Darwin himself likely would have predicted (and certainly not been surprised by). Assuming you actually understand what Evolution is — and I’m not sure that’s a fair assumption — then the only other possible sources of misunderstanding would have to come from thinking that antibiotics are some sort of magical kill-all that no bacteria can withstand, or that a bacterium cannot possibly be capable of withstanding more than one type of antibiotic, or that there is no possible mechanism by which a bacterium could develop resistance.

                To help avoid wasting time, perhaps you could elaborate on exactly why you think Evolution is inadequate to explaining bacterial drug resistance…?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

                Ben,
                Ben,

                Read my blogs (Evolutionary Lessons From Superbugs, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-a-shapiro/bacterial-antibiotic-resistance_b_1192507.html and The Distinct Roles of Selection, Horizontal Transfer and Natural Genetic Engineering in Dangerous Superbug Evolution, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-a-shapiro/the-distinct-roles-of-sel_b_1831996.html).

                Then you’ll understand how the evolution of multidrug resistance in bacteria has a great deal to do with non-random processes of horizontal transfer, transposition and site-specific recombination.

                The data from nature contradicted the experiments in the 1950s which showed gradual accumulation of mutations, a la Darwin. That happens, but the bacteria evolve in the real world by totally different methods.

                That’s why I put this example of my list.

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

                Jim, if your point is that HGT is common in single-celled organisms and that the family tree of the wee beasties has significant amounts of matting in addition to branching, I don’t think you’ll find many here who will argue against that.

                But even still, one can trivially view the introduction of a new gene via HGT as itself a type of random mutation, just one that’s a bit more significant than the types of bit-flipping caused by cosmic radiation (or whatever) that is more common in bigger organisms.

                And, really: is HGT all that different from sexual recombination? In both cases, extant gene pools are mingled, thereby facilitating the much more rapid spread of beneficial mutations throughout a population.

                HGT is important (in very small critters), yes, and an exciting discovery. But it’s not at all something that challenges or overturns or undermines Darwinism.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                You have not looked at the details (i.e. read the blogs) or thought this issue through.

                Your assertions are cavalier. It would do you a lot of good to study these four cases and learn what we know about the underlying molecular and cellular processes.

              • Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

                Jim, I just read your first blog entry.

                And, I’m sorry, but I don’t see any significant difference between you and Behe on this.

                You’re both pointing to something mundane whose origins are not yet fully mapped and then insisting that the fact that we haven’t mapped it out means that there might be dragons there.

                You know what? We haven’t properly explored (and, indeed, barely even mapped) much of the ocean floor. There is no doubt but that there are all sorts of strange and fascinating lifeforms there just waiting for us to discover them, if we don’t first kill them by acidifying the oceans beyond the point of habitability. And it’s a virtual certainty that many of those organisms will defy evolutionary explanation, especially since we won’t have enough knowledge of their environment and history to put things in context.

                But “We don’t yet understand how to explain this” most emphatically is not equivalent to “The current theories are incapable of explaining it.”

                In your particular case, it’s even worse. We know that the earliest forms of life resembled modern bacteria in many ways; that there likely would have been very little initial variation; and that there likely would have been much less sophisticated means of keeping the innards in and the rest of the environment out.

                It’s also pretty reasonable to assume that that would have resulted in HGT back then, and that primitive microbes who participated in the HGT dance would have out-competed those who didn’t.

                So, what on Earth should make you think that the oldest and most successful form of life on Earth would abandon a winning strategy?

                Again, all you’re doing is pointing at something you don’t understand and lack the imagination to guess at a reasonable understanding, and throwing up your hands and insisting that everybody else should quit as well and join you in your ignorance.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

                I’m interested in astrobiology. It seems apparent, at least in some biologist’s eyes, that phylogenetic methods like FSFs (protein Fold SuperFamilies) for example, recover phylogenies congruent with network trees. (For example, cf. “Giant viruses coexisted with cellular ancestors and represent a distinct supergroup along with superkingdoms Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya”, Nasir et al, BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012.)

                In other words the generic gradualism of Darwin mentioned in the article isn’t rejected by the observed degree of horizontal gene transfer. I think that observation covers the evolution of your cases 1-4 without me having to to be cavalier about not looking at the details.

                I grant you that evolution stumbles on amazing mechanisms that it adapts to. Now biochemists have, despite my early skepticism, pretty much being able to verify that chlorophyll analogs utilizes “mesoscale” quantum mechanical effects. But none of that moves the underlying theory as I understand it, see the global tests above.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

                I don’t see why we should read an article that references a creationist book as a comparable “challenged” part of biology.

                “In your particular case, it’s even worse. We know that the earliest forms of life resembled modern bacteria in many ways; that there likely would have been very little initial variation; and that there likely would have been much less sophisticated means of keeping the innards in and the rest of the environment out.

                It’s also pretty reasonable to assume that that would have resulted in HGT back then, and that primitive microbes who participated in the HGT dance would have out-competed those who didn’t.

                So, what on Earth should make you think that the oldest and most successful form of life on Earth would abandon a winning strategy?”

                My perspective is terribly premature, seeing how some or all of my previously given reference on FSF methods will likely be challenged. So we probably shouldn’t discuss the timing of the domains or take it too seriously overall.

                However, it is interesting to note that FSF methods only shows rampant HGT and/or gene family loss at the time the domain diversification happened. I need to read more, but my initial guess is that early biomats meant small scale gradients that allowed for geographically close niches of various kinds. (Say, photosynthesis vs shadowing, ocean vs sediment nutrients.)

                If this is where the science will land there was never any primordial “genetic melt down” at least as far back RNA/protein cells reach. The seeming intermediate “melt down” was correlated with diversification and gene loss.

                HGT was important, see current eukaryote and specifically plant cells. And it seems however much it worked historically, it was indeed “winning” sometimes rather than loosing at others.

                [As for the chemistry that lead up to replicators, there was likely a chemical "melting pot". My current read is on how, if nothing else, it could be a thermodynamic pathway: "Thermodynamic Basis for the Emergence of Genomes during Prebiotic Evolution, Hyung-Jun Woo et al, PLOS Comp. Biol. 2012.

                If so, we don't necessarily need to hunt for those last few nucleotides we are short for a demonstrated pathway to a bona fide ribozyme partial replicator of simplest kind. Nor then worry about any primordial "genetic melt down" before the first replicators.

                The pathways from replicating to translating RNA are legion.]

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted November 30, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

                Technical note/mess up: Now I remember that FSFs don’t resolve HGT between close clusters though. So no “rampant HGT” is relative to keeping a phylogenetic signal.

            • Wendell Read
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

              Ben,

              You fail to distinguish between two very different mechanisms: Darwinism without limits and Darwinism constrained by the limits of both finite time and space. Considered without limits, we can postulate a series of random mutations which lead to an eventual outcome without being concerned with the probability of their occurrence. Unlimited Darwinism can thus in principle explain a vast array of results.

              Once we impose limits (which we must in the real world) the reach of the Darwinian mechanism is greatly reduced. We must now consider the probability of occurrence of the postulated mutations. In the vast majority of Darwinian ‘explanations’ of existing life forms, neither the details of the necessary mutations nor their probability of occurrence are discussed. This failure negates the value of these ‘explanations’.

              • Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

                Wendell, you seem to be laboring under the misconception that Evolution is a teleological process, that it has an end goal in mind and that all evolutionary events are in furtherance of said goal.

                Nothing could possibly be further from the truth.

                Consider: it is likely that, by this time tomorrow, somebody will be a half a billion dollars richer. Of that there is some, but not much doubt.

                But…who will it be?

                Your objections are as misguided as suggesting that whoever does win the lottery tonight couldn’t possibly have won it because there can be no explanation for why that person won as opposed to somebody else.

                There are other analogies that can help.

                Shuffle a deck of cards, and deal a hand. Do you have any idea what the odds are against you drawing exactly those cards in exactly that order? They’re almost overwhelmingly against such a possibility — yet there are the cards, drawn by you in that order. How do you propose to explain such an unlikely event?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Wendell Read
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                “Wendell, you seem to be laboring under the misconception that Evolution is a teleological process”

                Where did this come from?

                “Your objections are as misguided as suggesting that whoever does win the lottery tonight couldn’t possibly have won it because there can be no explanation for why that person won as opposed to somebody else.”…”Shuffle a deck of cards, and deal a hand. Do you have any idea what the odds are against you drawing exactly those cards in exactly that order?”

                You need to come to an understanding of how probability operates: Consider the set of all possible hands. What is the probability that a hand I deal will be in that set? It is 1.0 of course. Consider a hand I specify in advance. This set has but one member. What is the probability that a hand I deal will be in that set? It is incredibly small.

                If you specify a set of mutations necessary for a given end product, your set has but one member. The chance that random mutations will have been in this set is the product of the likelihood of each of the individual mutations so specified.

                Your understanding of probability, shared by many people, is why deluded individuals spend money on lottery tickets because “somebody has to win, why not me”?

              • Posted November 29, 2012 at 1:48 am | Permalink

                “If you specify a set of mutations necessary for a given end product…” [my emphasis]

                There’s your teleology.

                /@ | Phoenix, AZ

              • Wendell Read
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                Ant,

                An attempt to deduce the events which led to a current state of affairs is not teleology.

                If we assume that creature ‘X’ (the end product)is the result of a Darwinian process, the attempt to identify the mutational events which purportedly let to ‘X’ is usually called ‘science’, not ‘teleology’

              • Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

                Wendell,

                Care to deduce the chain of events that led to the lottery winners having bought their tickets in Arizona and Missouri?

                b&

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

                In the vast majority of Darwinian ‘explanations’ of existing life forms, neither the details of the necessary mutations nor their probability of occurrence are discussed. This failure negates the value of these ‘explanations’.

                Preposterous! Natural theories are explicitly constructed to testably predict (not “explain”) processes. Cf. gradualism of evolution as descent with modification.

                The exact details of far field vs near field behavior of EM fields never negated the value of classical predictions of light pathways in EM radiation. Similarly the exact gradualist mechanism doesn’t negate the value of classical predictions of phylogenetic pathways in evolution.

                Only a complete ignorant can take a perfectly working theory and claim that it doesn’t work as described.

                And how foolish do you need to be to think fighting strawmen instead of the real deal is an ultimately winning game even for creationists!? The truth will eventually come out, because science works (as this electronic internet bl… website demonstrates).

              • Ichthyic
                Posted November 30, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

                ” Darwinism without limits and Darwinism constrained by the limits of both finite time and space.”

                you seem to be laboring under the impression you have the slightest clue what you’re talking about.

                be clear though, you don’t.

                we all can see that you don’t.

                seriously.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted November 30, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

                “Consider a hand I specify in advance.”

                Wendell, this is the source of your error. Evolved traits aren’t specified in advance.

          • Nilou Ataie
            Posted November 29, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

            4 billion years, finite resources? lol. That is well over a quarter of the age of the universe! In terms of time, that is a shit load of it. In fact, multiply by three and you get something as complex as the universe. Why should I be impressed that 4 billion years produced mostly bacteria and some more complex beings that turd all over the place?

            • Wendell Read
              Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

              Nilou,

              Intuition is rarely a good guide when dealing with small probabilities. Consider something very simple: dealing 52 cards. I specify a given sequence and ask how long will it take for an incredibly fast dealing machine to have a 50% chance of matching my specified deal. Lets assume one billion deals per second.

              The answer is approximately 100 times the age of the universe. For many probabilities 4,000,000,000 years is but the blink of an eye.

              • Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

                Still with the teleology….

                b&

              • Nilou Ataie
                Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                Bad analogy. Life is not about matching a specified plan but rather dissipating energy, and it is damn good at it.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted November 30, 2012 at 2:07 am | Permalink

                why do people laugh at creationist probability fraud?

                seriously, you’re trying to hoax a group of people that have seen Ken Miller, among many others, destroy your idiotic probability argument ages ago.

                that you refuse to listen is indicative of just how much you suffer from Dunning Kruger.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

            Given the finite resources (4 billion years and a finite earth) there is obviously a limit to what the Darwinian mechanism can accomplish.

            That is blatantly erroneous. The actual claim would be “given the resources (~13.3 billion years and an infinite universe) there is obviously no limit to what the Darwinian mechanism can accomplish”. We know 1st gen massive stars and so 2nd gen main sequence stars with planets appeared < 400 million years after the end of inflation.

            What you want to further constrain with is that the initial condition is 0 structure and complexity. The same goes for cosmological structure formation that built galaxy clusters down to galaxies out of the most structureless and simplest lowest entropy state possible, quantum fluctuations of the inflationary field.

            The main difference in these processes building complexity out of nothing is that cosmological structure formation relies on the entropic sink of the expanding universe while evolution relies on learning from that structured environment.

            Eg cosmological complexity is maximized about now, it will dilute as dark energy rips galaxy clusters sounder and the universe returns toward 0 complexity.

            Evolution on the other hand shows an increasing trend in diversity over time, and will likely not loose complexity (bar severe mass extinctions on a scale not seen here) until stars die the heat death.

            As for Earth specifically among the other possible pathways out there, it tests the universal constraint nicely. Observed evolutionary rates are well within the rate constraints of the observed mechanisms.

            Despite creationist rantings, they can't propose a rival theory. "NOTHING even COMES CLOSE to descent with modification in terms of explaining the history and diversity of life!"

      • Posted December 4, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Was the Modern Synthesis wrong because it was not in lockstep with Darwin’s theory?

        No credible biologist would argue that the Modern Synthesis is not a better theory than Darwin’s theory. In the same way, what Shapiro offers is a much needed overhaul to the Modern Synthesis.

        As a molecular biologist, I observed bacteria evolving a new metabolic pathway. (Rich Lenski at MSU was one of my advisors). This evolution occurred not via random mutation and subsequent selection, but via horizontal gene transfer.

        A large number of well informed molecular biologists whole-heartedly agree with Shapiro who does not doubt the role of natural selection in evolution, but who does champion the more important, and less understood role of variation in evolution.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          Doesn’t selection operate on genes that are acquired through horizontal transfer just as it does on genes that are acquired through mutation?

  30. Filipe
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I always feel a minor nitpick is in order. Evolution, that is the change we can observe in the fossil record, and sometimes even in the lab or field, is a fact. Evolution by means of NATURAL SELECTION is the scientific theory that best explains it. I don’t really understand what this article expects to achieve, I never had trouble presenting them as such.

    Rubio’s and young creationist negation of evolution runs much deeper than evolution as a theory (natural selection). They contest the dating of fossil strata, the estimates for the age of Earth and the universe. They don’t believe in physics.

  31. David
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    How about calling evolution a ‘scientific fact’?

    • Karl Heinz
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Go for it.

      I cannot believe that in a supposedly Christian country like the US of A we have so many people opposed to providing health care to the poor, or even to providing a public education to the children of undocumented parents. Jesus as a conservative, I guess. When he said suffer the little children he really meant “suffer”.

      And I cannot believe that we have so many people who are so ignorant about science/evolution. I don’t remember it being this bad/ignorant when I was a kid growing up in the 1970s in Iowa. I don’t think God is pro-stupidity. Too bad the evangelicals don’t agree with me.

      • gbjames
        Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Really? I’m not the least surprised.

        This is a pattern that appears all over the world. Where you have more religiosity you have greater disparities in wealth distribution and less attention to social welfare. On most measures of social health, religion correlates with not-so-good outcomes all over the globe.

        Religion teaches people to believe in things without evidence. When people are thus indoctrinated, their society is primed for lots of negative consequences.

        • Gary W
          Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

          This is a pattern that appears all over the world. Where you have more religiosity you have greater disparities in wealth distribution

          In the U.S. and Europe, for at least the past 40 years, economic inequality has been increasing while religiosity has been in decline. I don’t think there’s much evidence of a causal relationship between economic inequality and religiosity, at least in wealthy countries.

          • gbjames
            Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

            OK. I’ll throw the first evidence:

            http://globalhealth.washington.edu/docs/Bezruchka%202.pdf

            • Gary W
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

              OK. I’ll throw the first evidence:

              I’m not sure what you’re trying to throw. Perhaps you could state clearly what you think there is in that paper that contradicts what I wrote. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t even mention a relationship between religiosity and economic inequality.

              • gbjames
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                I thought you were objecting to the more general assertion that “On most measures of social health, religion correlates with not-so-good outcomes all over the globe.”

              • Gary W
                Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

                No, I was objecting to the statement of yours I quoted, namely:

                This is a pattern that appears all over the world. Where you have more religiosity you have greater disparities in wealth distribution

                As I suggested, the evidence of changes in religiosity and economic inequality (“disparities in wealth distribution”) in the U.S. and Europe over the past several decades contradicts this assertion. Declining religiosity has been accompanied by rising inequality.

  32. Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    For a breath of fresher air, can I recommend “Against Religion” by Tamas Pataki (Scribe Short Books, 128pp, Melbourne, 2007)? He assumes God/dess/es’ non-existence, but is unsatisfied with Dawkins’ EvoDevo explanation for the persistence of religion.

    Instead he offers a neo-Freudian one, based on the “introjection” of the terrible father and the tempting mother. Whatever you may think of that hypothesis, his analysis of the elements of fundamentalist belief systems (focussing on the patriarchal monotheisms) is good (and fits it well).

    One theme is that religious belief is narcissistic, making believers the Chosen People, and the self special because of the God’s all-encompassing love for him/her.

    He also argues that the sexual repression is based on jealousy of the supposed hedonistic pleasures of “the pagans”, and that women buy into the “women as temptress” fantasy because (via “This body can drive men crazy!”) “it creates the illusion of power under oppression”.

  33. Kevin
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    there are almost no cases in which a fundamentalist has said something like, “I would have accepted evolution, but that strident old Richard Dawkins, with his hatred of religion, has rendered me impervious to Darwinism.”

    No cases among which sampled population?

    • JBlilie
      Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      No one has put forward a single case. Seems to me the onus is on the accomodationists.

  34. Don Quijote
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Srtident. He forgot strident.

    • Marta
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Also, too, he forgot “smug”. It is not possible to be atheist without being smug.

      • Ray Moscow
        Posted November 29, 2012 at 4:51 am | Permalink

        It’s same for those damned smug scientists. Just because they spend years studying the evidence about something, they think they understand it better than someone else who hasn’t.

        This is just blantant discrimination against the ignorant.

        • JBlilie
          Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          Very pithy and well-put! Thank you!

  35. Posted November 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I think we should start a craze for calling anyone with an opinion “militant” – perhaps we should start with militant journalists.

  36. raven
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    The real enemy of religions isn’t militant atheists, science, Dawkins, Coyne, or Meyers.

    It’s reality itself.

    It is their own fault if their religion makes claims that are false.

    In the case of fundie xians, their magic book is just wild guesses from iron age sheepherders. Who got everything wrong, flat earth, Geocentrism, young earth. They didn’t even bother with evolution, it never even crossing their minds that things were different in the past.

    The second enemy of xianity is…xians. Despite claims that xianity is a source of morality, no one has even seen it. The bible is even worse. Anyone following an OT lifestyle would be doing multiple life sentences in prison.

  37. Pray Hard
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    The silly never goes away.

  38. Posted November 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    “All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement”

    So they are, but is Wade seriously going to suggest that it is any way possible that the theory of evolution by natural selection will be overturned by the Genesis creation story, or any other religious explanation? I strongly suspect not, and if not how is this any kind of “concession” to religious believers anyway? It seems somewhat disingenuous, patronising and hypocritical to me. Better to confront creationists head on than to throw them some pitiful sop that evaporates after a moments consideration.

    • JBlilie
      Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      He’s definitely in the “pat them on the head and send them away from the science classroom” school of thought. He more or less said so in the interview on MPR just now.

    • nonfreewillist
      Posted November 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Good point.

  39. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins gave a great TED talk in which he basically urges “militant atheism” (those words). It was an awesome rhetorical image I thought, and clearly is indelible in the noosphere.

    Here’s the link:

    I’ll have to listen again for an exact quote.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted November 28, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for this – have noted to watch it on my iPad when I have a moment.

  40. Robert Perlman
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I think you maligned poor old Johannes Fibiger today. I know Im in the minority but I think he deserved his Nobel Prize. He was one of the first (to my knowledge the second, after Peyton Rous) to develop a method for inducing tumors in experimental animals. His work helped to bring cancer into the realm of biomedical research. The reason his nematodes induced tumors still isnt clear but one plausible explanation is that they damaged the gastric epithelium and so evoked both inflammation and tissue repair. The combination of increased epithelial cell replication and an increased mutation rate due to inflammation would have increased the incidence of cancer. Inflammation may not be as sexy as oncogenes but it is now recognized as a risk factor for epithelial cancers, especially stomach and colon cancers. *H. pylori* in particular is an important risk factor for gastric cancer, most likely because it damages human gastric epithelium the way nematodes damage it in rodents. Bob

  41. Ray Moscow
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Re physics: Newton’s laws of motion and his theory of gravitation were shown to be merely approximations — which still are highly useful for analysing most physics problems. They weren’t so much ‘wrong’ as ‘incomplete’.

    His theory of gravitation also lacked any explanation for how objects exert a gravational force on each other — Einstein supplied an explanation of how.

  42. Gordon Hill
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Pat Robertson just joined Old Earth Creationists Club at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/pat-robertson-creationism-earth-is-not-6000-years-old_n_2207275.html

  43. Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I too was appalled by Wade’s article. I drafted a scathing blog entry but decided to send him a polite email first. I quickly got a very nice reply from him (though mainly reiterating his point), and felt so bad about the possibility of hurting his feelings with the harshness of my draft, that I didn’t post it. At least not yet. Still mulling.

    Though I agree with everything in this blog post, you do repeat one thing that’s a pet peeve of mine because it plays into the hands of ignorant creationists: you use the word Darwinism. Now, we don’t call gravitational physics “Newtonism,” and for good reason. Judaism, Catholicism, socialism, capitalism and all other “isms” are beliefs and ideologies. Ism isn’t science.

    Further, though Darwin was a towering genius,as I wrote in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/science/10essa.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, parking evolution with Darwin makes it look like evolution is about one man, and one book. It makes it look like faith, not science, and it overlooks the 150 years of scientific thinking that has enormously elucidated and confirmed that Darwin’s well-argued hypothesis was in fact a fact.

    • Posted November 29, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Eh, you’ll often see me referring to Newtonian Mechanics, as distinct from Quantum Mechanics or Relativistic Mechanics. And it’s Darwinian Evolution to distinguish it from Lamarckian Evolution and Theistic Evolution.

      Similarly, we have Euclidean geometry and Riemannian geometry, Boolean logic, Turing-compete computation, and more.

      Plus, Darwin basically made no errors except of omission (for example, he didn’t know about Mendelian genetics) — and, even then, he made wild-assed guesses that were basically spot-on. His guess about the evolution of the eye (the first sentence of which is a favorite for Creationists to quote out of context) is remarkably prescient.

      If anybody in all of human history deserves to have the field he invented named after him, it’s Darwin.

      Cheers,

      b&

  44. JBlilie
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Mr. Wade is right now on the radio in Minnesota (MPR).

    His main point:

    Scientists and Fundamentalists should not talk to eachother, they should just keep their own beliefs and never intersect (“have a truce”).

    He definitely thinks that Richard Dawkins is causing the problem! “He should mind his own business, he lives in the UK, not the US.”

    He thinks Rubio really knows the real age of the earth; but he’s lying about it to appease his fundamentalist constituency. “He has two constituencies and he’s trying to please them both.”

    “[some of] these troubles are of [scientists' own] making.” Direct quote.

    He wants to hang the relief for the fundamentalists on “just a theory” and just wink-wink, nudge-nudge on the real meaning of a scientific theory.

    Sheesh.

  45. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think I can respect religion even if it drops creationism. Its moral problems and special pleadings are too pernicious.

    Here is where I agree with PZ Myers. I can respect religion when it becomes not a Tea Party but a tea party* social event.

    In Myers’ words as I remember them, a knitting group or something such.

    common ancestry (the reverse side of the speciation coin),

    Which in the form of universal common ancestry also happens to be the best observation of science. (I’ll bet we haven’t burnt enough hydrogen to be sure it becomes H2O to a similar degree.)

    And yet it is not an “absolutely true” fact, only extremely likely to ~ 10^2000 compared to alternative potential facts.

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I am not a physicist, but my understanding is that the more physicists were able to study and measure things, the less Newton’s theory of gravitation seemed to be an all encompassing theory.

    BUT the opposite is true for evolutionary biology. The more scientists can measure things at all levels, the more support there is for descent with modification as the theory to explain the history and diversity of life.

    As I repeatedly observe on this point, it is an “apparent complexity” because biologists prefer to make their theories inclusive and physicists prefer to make theirs exclusionary.

    The difference would go away if we make the only constraint “acceleration of masses by other masses” analogous to “descent with modification”. Then all gravity theories obeys the former constraint similarly to how all elaborations of evolution obeys the latter. And ‘the more scientists can measure things at all levels, the more support there is for acceleration of masses by other masses as the theory to explain the history and gravitic (“virial”) configuration of masses.

    To compare theories, and thus likely to understand their behavior, we need to look at unambiguous constraints. Eg the gravitation theory that F = Gm1m2/r^(2+ε) is nowhere “=” F = Gm1m2/r^2 until ε = 0, because the former conserves energy, the latter not.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 29, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Oops, my bad. It is of course the latter theory, F = Gm1m2/r^2, that conserves energy (in a classical approximation).

  47. Gordon Hill
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    There’s an interesting article on the Dalai Lama’s view on evolution of religion here

  48. Sascha Wageringel
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    I’d say HGT is to neo-darwinan evolution theory what relativity was to newtonian physics.

    We are talking in both cases about a new dimension, and expansion and not a replacement of already established theories.

    I think its foolish to ignore the changes implied to the model through HGT, just as it was foolish to ignore the theory of relativity or quantum physics.

    I think Mr. Wade has a good point there. To stick him into a pot with creationists is not a good idea.

    Actually his position is somewhere in between… less dependant on STRICT evolution through micromutation and not dependant at all on methaphysical aspects ID or creationism favours.

    He is a step closer to them than most people would like, then he is not on the same boat and he got the facts on his side, at least thats my impression.


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