A creationist weighs in

I get a fair number of creationists trying to post, and I often (but not always) block them.  If I let them post, it’s usually because they’re at least coherent and articulate—rarities among this crowd.  The following comment by “Aaron” arrived two days ago, and my first impulse was to block him. But then I thought that I should let his comment go through, since it instantiates the quality of thought exuded by creationists. I am not going to respond in detail, except to say a few words, but feel free to have at it. Here’s what “Aaron” sent:

When will society wake up and realize how foolish the theory of evolution really is. There is so much that evolution does not and cannot explain when it comes to origins. For example, what came first – the heart or the brain. If the heart – what controlled its function absent the brain. If it was the brain – by what did it recieve [sic] blood absent the heart. If they came together – well that just rules out evolution completely. You see, it requires throwing out all levels of common sense to force your mind to believe in the incredulous [sic]. Take for instance the complexity of the brain. Even the most die hard [sic] evolutionist would agree that the most brilliant scientists in the world would not know where to begin to be able to design such a complex machine. Yet these same evolutionists would have us believe the brain designed itself. Enough said.

Indeed, more than enough!

I’ll just bring up two modern species that might bear some resemblance to our ancient ancestors. The first is a flatworm, which has a primitive brain but no heart or circulatory system. Nutrients and oxygen simply diffuse through the body wall into the animal.

Something a little bit more “advanced,” like velvet worms (onycophorans), have both brains and hearts, but no formal circulatory system (i.e., no closed system of blood vessels). The circulatory system is “open,” with a muscular pump (calling it a “heart” is generous) that simply circulates “hemolymph” (the “blood” of arthopods, mollucs, and other invertebrates) through the body cavity, directly bathing the organs.  The hemolymph is then returned to the “heart” for more pumping.  A “closed” circulatory system with a real self-contained network of blood vessels obviously evolved later.

Traits can develop in sequence, of course, all the while being adaptive, or two primitive and connected features could evolve in concert. There’s no problem with envisioning that.

As for the complexity of our brains, and how that disproves evolution, well, I’ll leave that to the readers as an exercise.

_____

UPDATE: The “Thinking Christian,” who has his/her own website, sent me this comment:

You’re a scientist, Dr. Coyne. You know better than to present a single, non-randomly chosen, anecdotal case as typifying a group. This message represents the quality of its own sender’s thought, not the thought that is “exuded” by a group.

LOL!  Why, first of all, is it nonrandom? In what respect? Because I didn’t select one creationist out of all of them in the world? It’s “random” with respect to “creationists who write fairly literate posts on evolution websites” (it has only two errors of spelling or usage).

As far as this comment not typifying the thought of a group, all I can say is that the Thinking Christian hasn’t been doing his/her homework: this is actually perfectly representative of the views of many creationists. It instantiates not only the God-of-the-gaps argument with respect to the complexity of the brain, but also the “irreducible complexity” view that two organs that seem to need each other (although they actually don’t!) can’t have evolved together. It must have been God! Above all, it bespeaks the embarrassing ignorance of biology—willful or otherwise—evinced by creationists.

Thinking Christian, put your thinking cap back on.

138 Comments

  1. thinkingchristian
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    You’re a scientist, Dr. Coyne. You know better than to present a non-random, single, anecdotal case as typifying a group. This instantiates the quality of one person’s thought, not that “exuded” by a group.

    • Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      so, TC, would you want to claim that you’ve Never ever seen this nonsense repeated again and again on forums and creationist websites?

    • azoomer
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      it would have been probably worse if he picked a few creationist posts randomly.

      • lanceleuven
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Ain’t that the truth!

    • mandrellian
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      What I’ve always found curious about comments that scold scientists/atheists for unfairly presenting ignorant creationist spiel as representative is that the commenter, with great dependability, never follows up their scolding with a better argument than the one being highlighted.

      Please, TC, present the best argument you can for creationism – that is, FOR creationism, not merely yet another ill-informed diatribe AGAINST evolution. This isn’t a political campaign where all you have to do is smear the opponent to win.

      Put your God where your mouth is and present a positive case for creationism.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 5:25 am | Permalink

        Mandrellian,
        It’s cruel asking them to live up to their own standards. Don’t you realise that they’re on a Mission From Ghod, and have a terribly important gig to perform at?

    • Jacob
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      The nature of generalities is that they must necessarily simplify the thoughts of an entire group: that doesn’t mean they’re useless, just limited in practice. But Jerry Coyne did not say that Aaron speaks for every creationist. And as long as the point is to represent the view that best “typifies” creationist thought, Aaaron is a good example, from my very informed experiences of creationist arguments (after all, I used to be one).

      Because Coyne is choosing which email to post, it obviously isn’t random, but I guarantee you that if one email were randomly selected, Aaron would absolutely typify the average quality of the creationist argument. What I conclude from your post isn’t that you are interested in Coyne posting an email that typifies the average creationist, but that you want him to post an email that best exemplifies the most powerful creationism or ID arguments, on a Behe-type level, so that creationism is displayed in the best possible light. Or, more specifically, you think your arguments are more sophisticated and therefore aren’t represented by the ones that are made in Aaron’s email. But that doesn’t negate the argument that creationists really do think this way and do tend to make poor arguments that betray very little knowledge of evolution.

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        “an email that best exemplifies the most powerful creationism or ID arguments, on a Behe-type level”

        Hmm… that’s not setting the bar very high, is it? 😉

        /@

        • xmaseveeve
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          Creationists ask questions a child would ask. They are adults playing on the intellectual swings.

          The ‘God did it’ filter means the top notch for barefaced reality-deniers is set very low. That’s why they’re all limbo dancers. And they Black-Knight it when they fall on their arses.

          Creationists are arse-shufflers. William Lane Craig has turned it into an art. He’s the Arse-Shuffler General.

        • Jacob
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          I only say that because Behe is the gold standard, although it’s more like cheap tin. Just about every creationist or ID argument is at some level based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution (Behe himself with the immune system, for example). As science marches forward, creationists will continue to make the same tired arguments that have been refuted before. If there are legitimate arguments against some aspects of the modern synthesis, they are almost never made by creationists; nor would we require a separate theory such as “intelligent design” to make them. Perfectly legitimate criticisms can be levied from within the scientific mainstream.

  2. Greg Esres
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    You see, it requires throwing out all levels of common sense to force your mind to believe in the incredulous [sic].

    One of the most astounding things to me is the typical belief among creationists (and climate change denialists) is that scientists operate with the same level of knowledge than untrained individuals have, alleviating any need to actually investigate a conclusion before pronouncing it stupid.

  3. thinkingchristian
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    You’re a scientist, Dr. Coyne. You know better than to present a single, non-randomly chosen, anecdotal case as typifying a group. This message represents the quality of its own sender’s thought, not the thought that is “exuded” by a group.

    • Achrachno
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      You seem to think none of us have ever seen creationists or their arguments before. Did this one seem uniquely defective to you? The ones I’ve seen are uniformly bad and the one Jerry posted was at least more literate than most we see on the web.

      Would you like to present a good argument for creationism that we average WEIT readers can have a look at and perhaps comment about?

    • Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Please present the best argument for creationism.

  4. Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Wow if that is representative of one you let through, how insanely awful are the others?

    re: Argument from Complexity:

    Dear skeptic: please begin by giving the amount of time you believe true for the evolutionary period of higher organisms. If 6001 years or less, please don’t bother to answer. If we can agree on the span, perhaps we can then discuss complexity.

    • Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Oh, 6000 years is enough! 😀

      /@

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        * link

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted September 21, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          Ha! The Boss has nothing on me. He may have been “Born in the USA,” but I was “Born in the Eocene”!

          • gravelinspector
            Posted September 22, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

            Errr, this is that party game with the name labels stuck to everyone’s foreheads, and you think that you’re the North Atlantic Ocean?

  5. Sigmund
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    “If the heart – what controlled its function absent the brain. If it was the brain – by what did it recieve [sic] blood absent the heart. If they came together – well that just rules out evolution completely. You see, it requires throwing out all levels of common sense to force your mind to believe in the incredulous [sic].”

    Wait a second…
    Maybe he’s got a point!
    When you think of it like that, there are plenty of other structures that evilushun can’t explain!
    What about knees and ankles!
    Can’t you see the problem?
    We need both to be there at all times – otherwise our feet would fall off!
    Dammit Darwin, why didn’t you think of this one!

    • Desnes Diev
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      “Maybe he’s got a point!”

      Which is that blood vessels and nerves use similar molecular mechanisms to grow and, often, follow the same pathways during (vertebrate) development. Pretty clever of him. However, he did not thought that the heart can be controlled by its own pacemaker activity.

      More seriously, I find remarkable when creationnists try to think about changes inside the limit of their static, unchanging worldview. They seem unable to really grasp the idea of temporal morphological modification. By discussing with some, I discovered that most of them were unaware that themselves changed a lot during their own development. They were naive preformationists.

      Desnes Diev

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        I’ve read something about the ear that implies it was a vestigal in some early organisms but that it never worked in any capacity until it evolved to the whole modern structure it is today. Not sure if that’s correct.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

          The history of the ear is complicated, but thoroughly explicable.
          But I’ve got to go shopping. L8R

  6. Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, that kind of magic thinking is all to common among creationists.

    I think some of them really believe that a transitional species should have eyes with an iris but no lens or retina. And that’s why they are so certain that there are no transitional species.

  7. wads42
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Creationists always expect evolutionists to recite whole text-books of evolutionary theory to them from memory,-and then ignore or twist them. Why do they expect us to do all the work when they could actually read Darwin, Dawkins etc for themselves, instead of just accepting sound-bites from their “leaders”,-eg “10 questions which evolutionists cannot answer”.
    So you don’t accept that evolution occurs naturalistically because you cannot understand, or have not bothered to find out how it happens? But you think “God-did-it” is an acceptable answer? But in order for biologists to accept that hypothesis, you first have to demonstrate the existence of God, then you have to confirm that he is capable and in the habit of going round creating things; but most important you have to show exactly how he did-it,-hands on,-his production line; why some materials are used and not others; why here on Earth but not apparently on Mars or elsewhere. So without complex life, what exactly is the “purpose” of Mars, and other moons and planets? Detailed explanations please;–just as “atheistic” science does.

    • Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      ‘eg “10 questions which evolutionists cannot answer because the questions are not even worng”.’

      /@

  8. ladyatheist
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    “Even the most die hard [sic] evolutionist would agree that the most brilliant scientists in the world would not know where to begin to be able to design such a complex machine. Yet these same evolutionists would have us believe the brain designed itself.”

    This implies the human mind is superior to evolutionary processes, when the writer himself exemplifies the limitations of the human mind.

    It also implies “design,” not evolution. It’s pure psychological projection to think that evolutionary theory depends on concepts that only creationists hold dear.

    Aaron, if you’re reading this, you need to know that science is based on evidence, not speculation, and evidence can indeed be difficult to comprehend. You should investigate the evidence for yourself before rejecting evolution. And go beyond “The brain is really complex” as your “evidence.” Try learning about the brains of different kinds of animals and fossils. Although your brain is not up to the task of designing itself, it is up to the task of learning new things about the world.

    • Bob Johnson
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Hey Aaron, pick up a copy of “The Neuroscience of Everyday Life” from The Teaching Company. It is 18 hours of video – very easy watching. It may be available at your library.

  9. DV
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    1. He’s right on one point but not in a way he anticipated. We do need to throw out common sense because our intuitions are often wrong on explaining the natural world. He overestimates the power of common sense and think it trumps actual science backed by evidence. Ironically contrary to common sense he probably accepts without question the nonsense claims of his religion.
    2. Is this the new canard now – the brain is too complex to have evolved? No more love for the eye?

    • Strider
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      @DV +1 Common sense is *way* overrated!

    • SLC
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      If we had to rely on common sense for explanations, we would not have quantum mechanics or relativity, the cornerstones of modern physics.
      Both of these theories defy common sense in many ways.

    • mandrellian
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the trouble with common sense is that it’s all too often neither of those things.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I think we need be careful here not to conflate (as was admittedly my own initial instinct) “common sense” with “intuition.” When Thomas Huxley described “science” as

      nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit: and its methods differ from those of common sense only as far as the guardsman’s cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club

      he plainly meant “common sense” as something other than a synonym for intuition.

      For example, our naive intuition, based on simple sense observations, suggests that the earth is flat. But when, watching a ship set to sea, we see it disappear first from the hull at the waterline and lastly from the top of the mast — and then reappear on the horizon in the opposite order — or when we notice that the sun appears to rotate around the earth at speeds that differ according to our latitude, it is ultimately our “common sense” that tells us that these observations and our naive sense impressions are inconsistent, that there must be some deeper answer that reconciles the disparate observations of our senses.

      It is our “common sense” (thus understood) that prompts us to conduct experiments designed to resolve those conflicts, and lead us then to reject our preliminary naive intuitions in favor of a deeper understanding of the world, even where that deeper understanding renders profoundly counterintuitive conclusions — ranging from the heliocentric structure of the solar system, to the relativity of time, to the wave/particle duality of matter.

      Viewed this way, in the way Huxley and others meant the term, “common sense” is our ultimate scientific tool — is indeed (as aided by our vast array of sense-enhancing technology and the crucial body of scientific methodology we have developed) the only scientific tool at our human disposal.

  10. Bob Johnson
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    My first reaction involved only the basal ganglia. Fortunately, the prefrontal cortex (evolved later) kicks in before any real harm is done.

  11. Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Has anyone noticed the remarkable coincidence that all of us have legs exactly the right length to reach the ground! Surely this can not be a coincidence?

    If our legs were an inch shorter, we’d be floating in mid-air, with no traction, and so totally unable to move. Yet, if our legs were an inch longer, they’d be ploughing (US = plowing) through mud and concrete, and we’d never get anywhere!

    This remarkable coincidence can only be explained by God’s magnificence and beneficence.

  12. eric
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    You see, it requires throwing out all levels of common sense to force your mind to believe in the incredulous [sic].

    Take my advice and do just that. Throw out common sense and prepare to believe in the incredible. Nature is far more remarkable (and absurd) than anything you could imagine.

    If thinking about evolution makes your brain seize up, don’t try QM. Modern biology is far less absurd than modern physics.

  13. bernardhurley
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Some men are born stupid
    Some achieve stupdity
    And some have stupidity thrust upon them!

  14. warren c
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Beyond the specifics here, we see a misapprehension that runs through many creationist arguments: that the human being, ot the cell, or whatever marvel they bring up must have sprung into existence fully-formed, like Minerva. It’s like pointing to a 747 to prove that the Wright brothers could not possibly have invented the airplane.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      It seems it’s that exactly with Aaron – he’s first and foremost bought the concept that our only predecessor was dust. (It’s us, it’s us, it’s all about US!) Absent a creator, how could that possibly have happened? No concept of ancestry in deep time.

      And Aaron, to pick up on Greg’s comment @ 1, you can go a long way toward catching up with the scientific outlook on all of this by reading a book. As Richard Dawkins once said, “There are shelf-miles of them.”

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Warren, I used that exact analogy for an MD who had a column demonstrating the “irreducible complexity” of the human blood clotting system. His reply was that since all airplanes are intelligently designed, I was actually making his point for him.
      I then tried to point out that men know far more now about how to build airplanes, but he wouldn’t accept that. I guess, to him, “intelligence” and “knowledge” are interchangeable.
      So once again the old adage about not trying to teach a pig to sing rings true. (It wastes your time and it only annoys the pig.)

      • wads42
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:54 am | Permalink

        If the Creationist points out that airplanes are intelligently designed, then ask him where human intelligence came from, and point out the evolution of prior hominim brains and culture which eventually produced 21st century Homo sapiens.
        If he says God created human intelligence, ask him who created God’s intelligence?
        If he says God has always existed, point out that we do not know that, and that in anycase it is more reasonable that the Universe is just as likely to have always existed, and evolved.
        Finally, point out that aircraft components are non-living and non-reproducing and do not self-assemble without human help; but the molecular components of aircraft parts do self-assemble naturally, starting with nucleosynthesis, then inorganic and organic chemistry and photosynthesis,–all driven by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and our Sun in particular.
        That should keep him occupied.

  15. Curt Nelson
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Aaron, the first living things were extremely simple. They didn’t have hearts or brains, just like a lot of simple creatures today. The idea of evolution is that complicated things like hearts and brains formed (evolved) slowly from much simpler versions in much simpler creatures. It’s important to realize that life started out very simple and complexity slowly evolved. Things like eyes and hearts and brains didn’t just pop into existence.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Cellular chemistry is anything but simple. Recognising that is not intended to provide even a fig leaf far less a defence for creationism. But to appear to trivialise the deep mystery of the origin of life or the complexity of archaic life is simply to give ammunition to the biologically semi-literate.

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        You must know that I meant relatively simple.

  16. lamacher
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    These YECs are incapable of understanding, even acknowledging, the concept of `deep time`. When your timeline is limited to 10,000 years or less, the notion of time stretching back more than 100,000 times that long is beyond their comprehension. To keep their brains from bursting, they cling to childish fantasies. Poor babies!

  17. Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Aaron, step off your mental merry-go-round of no intention, no explanation, no common sense, brains make themselves, enough said. This circular ride has made you dizzily impervious to the uncommon sense of climbing Mount Improbable, that is, the recognition that complexity results from the accumulation of small changes through time.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      He can’t help it. There is no Free Will, and he’s just along for the ride. It’s like telling a compulsive shopper (“Retail Therapy”) hey, quit buying stuff to make yourself feel better.

      They can’t help what they feel compelled to do.
      Neither can we, in our compulsion to write an answer!!

  18. Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I think these Creationist arguments also miss a pretty glaring fundamental point about trajectory.

    Yes, there are structures and adaptations that the Theory of Evolution has not yet explicitly, directly explained; there are some features such that we don’t fully know how they evolved. But we should look at the bigger picture here. Evolutionary biology is what philosophers of science would call a ‘progressive’ research program: it continues to make novel, risky predictions, and those predictions are generally verified. In contrast, Creationism is a degenerating research program: it fails to make risky predictions, or when it does, they tend to be falsified; and the “room” left for Creationist explanations keeps getting smaller and smaller.

    Analogy: Suppose your favorite baseball team loses 161 games and is about to play its final game of the season. You might still insist that it’s actual the best baseball team, and that we’ll finally see that in the last game of the season. In contrast, another team might win 161 games, and you might insist that its players will finally all choke in that 162nd game. Yes, they haven’t played that final game yet. But we’re pretty sure how it will turn out. (And that team that’s won 161 games has already clinched its division championship anyway.)

  19. Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    What I’d like to know, is who stacks the gumballs in the gumball machine?

    Well?

    b&

    • Observer
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      Jesus, of course. And it’s not that he stacks them. Rather, he is the ‘ground’ of all gumballs.

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        You’re saying that Jesus is the reason that sidewalks and the floors of movie theaters are always sticky?

        …kinda makes sense, actually….

        b&

  20. Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    The saddest part here is that Aaron probably see nothing in JC’s response that he will take (infuse) into his brain (in the same fashion as the flatworm)as something worthy of causing a re-evaluation of his mental rut.

    He’s stuck in the rut and can’t get out.

    Help, someone call Brain Alert.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      That’s not “sad”, it’s simply reality.

      Your statement might be akin to “the saddest part of inadvertently falling off a cliff is the gravitational acceleration.”

      Saddist??!!

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        Sad Sadder Saddist

        also perhaps:

        Hole Holier Holiest

  21. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Professor Coyne, why do you and PZ Myers for that matter give voice to creationists? That is what they want. You have recognized them. You only help them hone their ability to get more attention. They are all over the place now. The best way to stave them off is to ignore them completely. Would an astronomer condescend to a dialogue with an astrologer?

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      It’s important to see what others are believing, and I am glad Prof Coyne printed this. These are simplistic arguments, but it’s =more= important that we open-minded folk hone =our= arguments.

      How do you treat people’s Fear of Flying?

      Certainly, whatever the first approach was, it evolved through trial and result. Same thing here. I’ve never heard this “heart and brain” argument before. It is stunningly wrong on so many levels, but because of that, it is difficult to unpack. And mere hesitation leads to an “Ah-haaaaaaa!” moment for the purveyor.

      It’s the same as all the “Classroom, Teacher, and Student” stories. Teacher says “X”. Lone student says, “But if X, then why is Y also the same as X?” Teacher, slack-jawed, has no answer. Student knows truth, which is Y, and teacher is humiliated for holding X to be true.

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        I’ve never heard this “heart and brain” argument before. It is stunningly wrong on so many levels, but because of that, it is difficult to unpack.

        No, it’s not. It’s just irreducible complexity at the scale of organ systems rather than organelles.

        And Jerry showed just how to unpack it. We’ve got examples of organisms with very simplistic circulatory and nervous systems but neither heart nor brain. You can trace the complexity scale all the way from there to humans, including the advantages offered by each refinement as well as how the organism is able to get by (but not as effectively) without the next-higher rung in the ladder. Plus, there are many scaffolds along the way that originally serve one purpose but either get repurposed or discarded, many dead ends that still get explored, and so on.

        In other words, same deal as the eye, same deal as the flagellum.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • invivoMark
          Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          But irreducible complexity, if it could be demonstrated, would be a valid argument against evolution. It won’t be demonstrated, and arguably it couldn’t be demonstrated even in principle, even if it were true. But because of the possibility of validity, it can’t be simply dismissed. Calling a creationist out on using IC doesn’t win you the argument.

          That’s why it’s important that people like Jerry and PZ, who understand evolution better than most of us, take these arguments to task.

          • Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            Oh, I’m not suggesting that we should ignore these arguments — quite the contrary. Jerry dealt the them, I dealt with them, we all should deal with them. We should, of course, deal with them in a dismissive manner that still gets the education out there, but that’s a rhetorical matter.

            All I was trying to do was caution Scott that he shouldn’t give up just because he’s never heard of this particular variation on the IDiot theme before.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • invivoMark
              Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

              Ah, that makes sense. Carry on!

            • Scott near Berkeley
              Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

              Ben, I appreciate your comments.

              To state my idea more clearly, I say this:

              I prefer to construct my answers to make sense at the level of other person’s expertise. To do that, I have to expend extra mental energy to do satisfactorily both formatting and data assembling simultaneously.

              I know from prior experience that sometimes I am slow to construct an effective, on the spot, at the moment, rejoinder to weird arguments. My preference is to be prepared in advance, so I welcome seeing novel garbage (to a point!) Often, the purveyor of such weird arguments will perceive one’s hesitation as “Proof of the Truth!!” It happens, have had it happen to me.

              I did not know about the flatworms and velvet worms, brains, circulation, etc. Now I do! More bullets. And, I will use them as needed. To wit: I’ve (successfully!) used the laryngeal nerve example from Jerry’s book (page 82-84) on many occasions.

          • Greg G
            Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

            But irreducible complexity, if it could be demonstrated, would be a valid argument against evolution.

            Not really. Herman Muller predicted “interlocking complexity” from Darwinian principles nearly a hundred years ago.

            • invivoMark
              Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

              “Interlocking complexity” is different from “irreducible complexity”.

              Of course we expect to see stuff that looks like Behe’s IC, but that doesn’t mean they ARE Behe’s IC.

    • invivoMark
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Because the alternative is far worse. What, should we just ignore creationist arguments and pretend like they don’t exist? What happens then?

      Then when people are talking with friends or acquaintances about evolution, they don’t know how to answer these challenges. Then when people are reading random posts or websites on the internet by creationists, they don’t know why the creationist logic is bad. And then evolution starts to look a lot more flimsy than it is.

      People change their minds. We aren’t all born on one side of the debate on the other, never to switch sides. But the only way a person’s mind will be changed to accepting the fact of evolution is if they know that the arguments for evolution are solid.

      Evolution is true. There is nothing to fear in allowing discussion over challenges to that fact, because the truth only becomes stronger with discussion. When we discuss the arguments of creationists, we have nothing to lose, but a lot to gain.

      • mandrellian
        Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        I’m of the opinion that ignorance should be challenged just as publicly and vehemently as it is presented. Not so much to school the ignoramus, but for the benefit of the onlookers. As an onlooker most of the time, I’ve learned a great deal from rebuttals to nonsense (including how to spot nonsense).

        In a formal public debate, the point isn’t to convince the opponent they’re wrong, it’s to convince the ajudicators you’re right. I think in the case of creationists, who are often intractably ignorant, this is even more important. While I agree that formal debates with creationists are more often than not a bad idea (giving credence to nonsense before the bell is even rung, etc), their arguments when presented publicly must be highlighted and engaged with and destroyed for the benefit of anyone watching who might be on the fence, a doubting believer or just not very well informed.

      • wads42
        Posted September 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        Yes, there was a time when atheistic evolutionists aloofly ignored creationists; but all this did was to allow them to spread their propaganda unimpeded, and to indocrinate the public with lies. This meant that they were just walking all over us because nobody was fighting back from our side. We should not debate then live, because thwy just play to the gallery and use emotion and rhetoric. We should instead challenge them to give positive evidence for Creationism in written articles, and then counter it with real science, in a medium where we will not be shouted down or out-voted by specially bussed-in fundamentalists, dedicated to heckling and forming block-voting lobbies, which ensure that they win “debates” and influence public opinion.

    • Rebecca Harbison
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      One example I can see is that it would help people ‘on the fence’ so to speak: those that aren’t that knowledgeable about science, but who aren’t heavily invested in a creator God. Seeing that when YECs say ‘evolution can’t explain that!’, scientists say ‘Um, yes it can and let me give examples and explanations’.

      Our fence sitter then learns that scientists do have explanations for things and that they no more consider natural selection a theory in trouble (or whatever) than we consider the theory of gravitation.

    • Dogmeat
      Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Gasper,

      I would argue that these conversations are quite useful. While it is unlikely that a “hardcore” creationist will be provided with enough evidence to open their eyes to the realities of the world an accept the evidence for any number of scientific principles that conflict with their faith, numerous “fence sitters” and supporters of good science can learn from these discussions. Heck, who knows, perhaps even a completely delusional creationist will be presented with enough evidence for them to realize that they’re wrong.

      Besides, educational opportunities should never be wasted.

  22. lamanga2004
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I’m a teacher of science, an avid reader of this blog, and the owner of many wonderfully accessible books on all manner of topics – yours included.

    Sic-ing this email was fine up to the point where you left yourself open to be sic-ed back.

    Nuff said.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Well, who ever said I was perfect? :-). I still maintain that my level of grammatical imperfection and misspelling is less than that of most creationists!

      What was my mistake?

      • joe piecuch
        Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        “I’ll just bring up two modern pecies…”

  23. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Because the brain and its functions are so unfathomable complex, I’m beginning to simply let people such as Aaron make their rationalizations and I say no more. Because of their brain chemistry, these people are not open to reason. Fear of heights, fear of clowns, fear of spiders, …. people have all manner of phobias, as well as irrepressible desires (need for religion, child porno, drug-induced happiness, need for adrenaline) that are anomalous, and sometimes harmful to society. Irrationalities are hard-wired within us. Ions, chemicals, and hormones work in billions of synaptic networks, and people will go to great lengths to defend their complex biochemical networks. It’s all just like the businessman in WEIT: “..but I still don’t believe it.”
    If some idea or concept is presented that their biochemical networks won’t allow, they defend their condition, or attack the thinking of others. They dress up their irrationalizations and present them on a Stage of Common Sense. If you find flaw, they re-rig the costume, the stage, and the speech, and show it again. If ever there were an argument against free will…

    Nothing to be done….

    Hey, how is that “Common Sense” and the Earth circling the sun doing, Aaron? Go out in the backyard, and prove with “Common Sense” that the earth circles the sun.

    • Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      You need to spend some time on Richard Dawkins’s “Convert’s Corner” and read all the stories from people who once were as dain brammaged as Aaron who came to their senses after having their fantasies challenged with reality.

      Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest that Aaron’s letter to Jerry may well represent Aaron’s first steps down that same path.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        OK, certainly, I hope you are right.

        The evidence you cite makes a case. Then I see people on Fox News, and think “This is like Fear of Flying. No one who is rational and intelligent can truly believe this stuff, unless their biology makes them so!”

        • Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          People overcome fears all the time. Doing so is generally simple, though not necessarily easy (or cheap).

          If you’re afraid of flying, go to the nearest flight school and tell them you want to conquer your fear of flying. Assuming they’re not know-it-all hotshot assholes, they’ll be delighted to do so (though it’ll cost you money).

          A good program would start with the exact same ground school as any student pilot gets. You’ll learn about the physics of flight, especially the forces that act upon a plane. You’ll learn how the control surfaces operate, what the instruments on the panel measure, basics of weather and navigation, all that sort of stuff.

          Once you’ve got the book learning, there shouldn’t be any more mystery to flight, but that doesn’t help you with the instinctual irrational nature of the fear — all it does is give you an internal running narrative to reassure yourself that it’s not as bad as you feel it is. But that’s okay; that’s enough to start. You’d probably want a week or so for this, depending on how long the classes are.

          The next step is to go out to the plane and examine it closely — that is, do a thorough pre-flight inspection, with the instructor showing you everything, answering all your questions, and telling you the questions you should be asking but don’t know enough about. It means wiggling the ailerons, running your hands over the propeller, draining a bit of fuel from the tanks, checking the oil in the engine, all that stuff.

          That should, of course, include an inspection of the cockpit, including having you sit in the left seat, playing with the controls, and reviewing all the instruments.

          And that might be enough for a single day, especially if coupled with more ground school.

          The next time, the instructor would have you start the engine, play with the throttle, and do a bit of taxiing. Plenty for the day.

          If you’re up to it for the next day, the instructor would have you fill out a complete flight plan for a short loop around the airport. You’d then taxi the plane to the end of the runway, radio in the request for permission from the tower to take off while the instructor does all the engine run-up tests, and then the instructor (sitting in the right seat; planes have dual controls) would fly you around the airport according to your filed flight plan. Assuming you’re not reaching for the barf bag, you’d even get to take the controls for a minute or so in the middle.

          At this point, either you’ve desensitized yourself enough that flying is tolerable or you know how much more instruction you’ll need to get comfortable. Chances are excellent, though, that you’ll be hooked and want to continue all the way to get your own private pilot’s certificate.

          Most other fears can be treated similarly.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

            The exposure part is correct Ben but I can tell you first hand that it only works with cognitive work with a professional. If you do it wrong you’ll make the fear much worse. Have to tread carefully and intelligently using the best informed methods. I’m afraid the media again have skewed the science and oversimplified it.

            • Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

              My personal experience by the way was trying to drive through a feared storm during a tornado watch to get over my phobia – the road flooded and I ended up fleeing the car in a hail storm to get indoors. That’s the example – no help from a professional, ta da! I set myself back a good year or so.

              • Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                Excellent point, and that’s why I added that bit about, “Assuming they’re not know-it-all hotshot assholes….”

                A flight instructor is a highly-trained, highly-certified, carefully-regulated professional. Granted, that’s all generally geared towards the task of operating an aircraft, and flight instructors aren’t mental health professionals by any stretch of the imagination…but a competent instructor will either have the passion for flying and experience teaching to know how to help somebody overcome a fear of flying, or will know that the right thing to do is hand the student off to another instructor better suited for the job. And the owner of a successful flight school will know which instructors in the pool should get those sorts of students.

                Just as you’d want to shop around before settling on a counselor rather than picking the first person you see in the phone book…well, due diligence is always called for.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

            Agreed. I think the knowledge is valuable of we dismiss the idea of the phobic being in a moving aircraft. With one caveat I’d say being fearful someone can easily take any bit of information and turn it into a danger.

            • Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

              Of course, that’s not to say that all fears are irrational or even bad.

              A generic fear of flying, especially of flying commercially, would be highly irrational; you’re so much more at risk of death and dismemberment getting to the airport than by flying it’s not even funny.

              But, if you’re to be a passenger in a small plane and you can smell alcohol on the pilot’s breath, you damned well better have enough fear to prevent you from getting in the plane.

              Cheers,

              b&

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted September 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        “dain brammaged”, that’s cute, Ben.

        Only, in light of the current USA election, shouldn’t it be “Bain drammaged”?

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

          Oh, yes — superlative point! Thanks!

          b&

  24. Max
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Aaron,
    Long ago, way way back, beings existed without hearts or brains. They were called “Republicans.” And over time– a long long incomprehensible amount of time– nothing changed. But don’t let this stop you from believing in evolution.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Plus, a thousand!! I laughed out loud (and, I have time to actually write it out.)

  25. MAUCH
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    The creationists are so obsessed with what is not known in science. Does he ever wonder how it is that his god should be the answer to everything? I would wonder if I should trust a god who claims to be the know all and the be all yet refuses to give us the details of how he pulled this thing off.

    • mandrellian
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      If only they were equally obsessed with what IS known by science – and HOW it is known. But then they wouldn’t be creationists. Probably.

  26. Achrachno
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Aaron “Even the most die hard [sic] evolutionist would agree that the most brilliant scientists in the world would not know where to begin to be able to design such a complex machine.”

    Evolution is smarter than you and I are. Evolution skips the whole design phase and goes right to building: millions of variants over many years. Most don’t work out, but the ones that do go on to make offspring similar to themselves, and some of those work even better. Repeat indefinitely many times.

    “Yet these same evolutionists would have us believe the brain designed itself.”

    No one believes any brain designed itself. Saying things like that makes you look deeply ignorant, which is a bad way to look.

    Please go get Darwin’s original book, The Origin of Species, so that you’ll at least know what he was arguing back in the 1850s: more than enough to settle most creationist arguments IMO. But, also get a copy of a modern summary such as “Why Evolution is True” to get some idea of what we’ve learned since then. There are whole wings of libraries of books on this topic, more that any of us will ever read or understand. Conversely, creationism literally has nothing. Not even a proper hypothesis.

  27. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Actually, a lot of things contrary to common sense are demonstrably true, starting with Isaac Newton’s discovery that unimpeded by friction an object traveling in space at 5mph will stay traveling at that speed forever.

    Before Newton. standard (Aristotelian) physics assumed everything ran out of “steam” (energy) after a certain point and naturally came to a stop. The Aristotelian model is more common-sense, but it is wrong.

    As Carl Sagan observed, a scientist needs two qualities which are somewhat in tension- one is the willingness to entertain the idea that ideas very contrary to common sense might be true, and the other is to subject them to rigorous testing. One of Sagan’s own examples was from quantum physics, naturally.

    It is in one sense perfectly natural to believe that the human skeleton and brain are in fact designed by God. There is a half-truth to Alvin Plantinga’s assertion that it is natural to extrapolate from our awareness of other minds to belief in invisible spirits or a creator-deity. But the fact that may be the main natural impulse of our minds does not necessarily make it true.

    There is a mountain of evidence supporting evolutionary theory, which includes certain elements of awkwardness in the design of humans. For example, our rib-cage is much better suited to a four-legged creature than a two-legged one. See also the book “The Accidental Mind” which as one reviewer put it “addresses how the brain has evolved in a sloppy manner and is the result of many imperfect components and/or developmental processes.” especially the first chapter “The Inelegant Design of the Brain”. (Warning to readers of WEIT: The author believes that except for fundamentalism, science and religion are compatible!)

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      I stick to my simple example of asking someone touting “common sense”, to use that “common sense” and any of his at-hand hardware, to demonstrate that the earth circles the sun, as one watches the sun rise in the east, move overhead, and descend in the west….day after day after day.

      Common sense tells you that we live in a geocentric universe.

  28. Darth Dog
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    “…what came first – the heart or the brain…”

    The old which came first, the chicken or the egg. The problem here with creationists that I have spoken to is that they don’t know enough biology to have any idea of what simpler forms of organs like the brain or heart would look like, so they have no idea of how a simpler system could have led to the current one.

    I’ve had luck with some of them by pointing to human systems that have changed over time. Look at automobiles. There is no way the current system could have been put in place complete as it is. There are millions of cars, miles of roads, gas stations every few blocks, trained mechanics to service cars, car dealerships to sell and service cars, and a whole world-wide industry which finds and delivers gasoline for your neighborhood.

    So which came first? The car or the gas station? How could you have one without the other?

    Most people can easily understand how the system started very simply and became more complex over time. And no one had the end result in mind when they invented the first cars.

    So Aaron? What do you think?

  29. Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Did you intend to write ‘species?’

    Ghost

  30. Bob Carlson
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I happen to presently be reading the electronic version of Eric Kandel’s In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. One of his remarks on evolution seems appropriate here:

    Thus we gain from the new science of mind not only insights into ourselves—how we perceive, learn, remember, feel, and act—but also a new perspective of ourselves in the context of biological evolution. It makes us appreciate that the human mind evolved from molecules used by our lowly ancestors and that the extraordinary conservation of the molecular mechanisms that regulate life’s various processes also applies to our mental life.

    .

  31. Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    This is a decent example of what Coyne talks about, but an even better example of blind denial. Creationists would dream up any scenario in the planet in order to meet their delusions.

    The first question I ask all Creationists (and Deniers especially, since they might kill us all with their idiocy) is to read studies I post then comment on why they think the methods are wrong.

    I usually never hear back from them. The few times I do they’ve clearly scanned the abstract or introduction and cherry picked words like “uncertainty” and deliberately misunderstood their meaning.

    I have to admit I’m disapppointed more scientists don’t automatically post links to published studies and demand a response from deniers.

    Creationists use the senseless gap argument so it’s not as useful.

  32. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, the ‘ol “you can’t explain X therefore Y” gambit.

    Usually played by those who demonstrate they haven’t even a decent grasp on the general subject of anything relating to “X” at all.

    Creationism may have evolved by changing names over time but the games creationists play has so obviously not changed in the slightest.

  33. Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    “When will society wake up and realize how foolish the theory of evolution really is. There is so much that evolution does not and cannot explain when it comes to origins.”

    OH yes, the whine “but but we don’t know everything yet, so GOD” argument. How unexpected. 🙂

    “For example, what came first – the heart or the brain. If the heart – what controlled its function absent the brain. If it was the brain – by what did it recieve [sic] blood absent the heart. If they came together – well that just rules out evolution completely.”

    Yep, one more theists to chalk up knowing NOTHING about which they are talking. It’s such a shame, but hey, that’s where willful and malicious ignorance gets you, attacking your own strawmen since you can’t handle reality.

    “You see, it requires throwing out all levels of common sense to force your mind to believe in the incredulous [sic]. Take for instance the complexity of the brain. Even the most die hard [sic] evolutionist would agree that the most brilliant scientists in the world would not know where to begin to be able to design such a complex machine. Yet these same evolutionists would have us believe the brain designed itself. Enough said.”

    Enough said, Well, yes, since all that Aaron has done is use fallacies and outright lie. What a “good” Christian.

    and poor “Thinking Christian”, he’s doing it too. It’s so cute to watch. Just how many instances of the exact same stupidity and ignorance does one have to encounter to know that creationists are simply sad little people who blindly believe the lies told to them by their fellow Christians? The thoughts “exuded” here are repeated again and again, on forums and creationists websites like AiG, the disco’tute, etc. Unless you’d like to claim that only one, or even a few, poor stupid creationists is posting them all, then your argument fails and you have displayed that you, “thinking christian” have done exactly as poor Aaron has done, with your fallacies and nonsense.

    You are a wonderful example of how calling yourself “thinking” certainly doesn’t guarantee that and indeed, needing to call yourself “thinking” means that no one would guess that was the case.

  34. raven
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Aaron the creationist:

    When will society wake up and realize how foolish the theory of evolution really is.

    Well never. We’ve already woken up!!!

    What society did was wake up a few hundred years ago and invent modern science. We soon discovered natural explanation for such things as planetary orbitals, disease causes, and how life changes through time.

    Creationism is thousands of years old. It will join the Flat Earth, Demon Theory of Disease, and Geocentrism in the dustbin of religious guesses that were just wrong.

  35. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    If you’re going to note that creationists often misspell words, then go spell “irreducible” correctly (unless you were making a subtle irony that isn’t entirely obvious).

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Mr. Harvey,

      The nature of that misspelling shows that it’s clearly a typo. Or am I never allowed to point out creationist misspellings if I make as many as one typo?

      If you’re going to make the point that you think I’m as illiterate as these creationists, try to do so with more manners, okay?

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Ah, yes — but I, who are never worng, who has never misplessed a word in my life, whose poorfeeding is perfect, whose tpying is without eror, must therefore, Shirley, have free rain to call you the poppyhead that you is!

        In all seriousness, I’ve noticed a clear correlation between poor grammar and spelling and the poor quality of thought that lies behind the typical Creationist: the stupider the arguments, generally, the worse the writing.

        On the other end of the spectrum, the more intelligent a writer, the greater the chances of a typo slipping through the cracks…but only if the typo is such that it visually resembles the intended word. Additions and omissions of doubled letters, transposed letters, swapping “h” for “n,” that sort of thing, are all hard things to catch when you’re proofreading your own work; your brain sees the general outline and fills in the rest. It’s even worse when the error results in a word that’s in your spellchecker….

        b&

        • mandrellian
          Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          “the stupider the [creationist] arguments, generally, the worse the writing.”

          Absolutely. If a person ever visited Panda’s Thumb and seen the drivel spouted by Robert Byers or the IBIG Drone(s), or just read the comments at any science website ever, they’d be able to confirm that for themselves in mere minutes.

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

          “…but only if the typo is such that it visually resembles the intended word. Additions and omissions of doubled letters, transposed letters, swapping “h” for “n,” that sort of thing, are all hard things to catch when you’re proofreading your own work; your brain sees the general outline and fills in the rest.”

          Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

            Apparently, that’s an urban legend… (link later).

            /@

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            And now… the link!

            /@

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for that. That email apparently is intended to justify a lack of attention to spelling. It reminds me of some idiot I’ve never forgotten about 30 years ago who spilled a full ashtray on a shag carpet, and to cover for himself in all seriousness tried to convince me that cigarette ash was good for shag carpeting, that it mysteriously cleaned and conditioned it in little known ways. Some people will go to any length to avoid admitting a mistake.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted September 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

                “Some people will go to any length to avoid admitting a mistake.”

                yup. a common deflection is to say something along the lines of:

                “Technically you are correct…”

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted September 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                Joe,
                Yes, or another one is “In principle I agree with you, but…”. The subtext goes something like “In reality I think you are a soft headed idealist, here are the hard facts…”. 🙂

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          The work of Karen Stenner suggests there’s also a correlation between frequency of grammar/spelling errors and the authoritarian follower personality type, which in turn has been shown by Altemeyer to be correlated in the West to higher religiosity.

  36. Jim Thomerson
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I am fairly familiar with creationist thought and argument. I think this selected example is fairly typical. Some one familair with a group can easily pick out a typical or average individual. That is what has been done here. One thing all creationist arguments have in common is an expectation of ignorance on the part of the audience. Unfortunately this expectation is often correct.

  37. barryleder
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    This particular “thinking” Christian often does posts on his own blog where he takes one person’s writings or actions and presents them as typical. He also has a very thin skin when it comes to dissent on his blog that isn’t appropriately ‘respectful’. How do I know, I’ve been blocked/agreed not to post there. It’s tough work being a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal for Jesus.

    The more I see of professional and semi-professional apologetics, the more I find myself moving in the direction there must be a god. Certainly no belief system could have endured so long and so popularly on so poorly supported and so poorly structured arguments.

    Keep up the good work, Dr. C.

    • Tim
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Hmmmm…

      Our reasoning is so lame that on the basis of our arguments, theism should have died out long ago. Therefore, God has been placing the belief in God into the minds of people for eons to prop this idiotic farce up.

      That is actually the best argument I’ve ever heard for God! That must be what sensus divinitatis is about: God’s keeping people as stupid as a box of rocks. OMFG! I’m going to have to rethink this atheism thing.

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        It’s not the gods standing in the way of the Enlightenment by keeping people uneducated, perpetually afraid, and superstitious…it’s their PR departments….

        b&

  38. Jeff Johnson
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    An analogy:

    What came first, the automobile or the tires? If it was the tires, there would be no place to sit, no steering wheel, not even an engine. Totally useless. If the car came first, how does it go anywhere with no tires? This proves that it’s idiotic to think that anyone could build a car, because either the tires or the car would have to come first. Since this doesn’t make sense to me, I can only conclude it must have been magic that made the car and the tires at the same time.

    I don’t know much about automobile companies or engineering or factories, but nobody I’ve ever met or known could possibly design all those complex pieces and make them from nothing so they work together to cause a machine to travel on its own power. So I don’t really believe that car companies could actually build cars from the ground up.

    Hopefully even creationists can see what’s wrong with this. Here we have a case where designers made something, but the narrator is ignorant about engineering and manufacturing, so they are unable to understand how it was possible. Someone minimally knowledgeable about manufacturing processes and complex engineering design could debunk the story above in a second.

    This is exactly what creationists sound like in their objections to evolution. If they can’t understand evolution, they conclude it must be impossible. They want to believe it’s wrong from the very start, so they don’t make the effort to really understand it. Rather they proceed with the goal of destroying it. They usually make the mistake that if they can raise one objection for which there isn’t currently an answer, a proverbial chink in the armor, that this disproves the entire theory. They conveniently ignore all the known facts that evolution can explain which creationism can’t possibly explain. It’s like they intentionally close their ears and eyes so they can deny what they don’t want to believe, and ignore all challenges to what they do want to believe.

    Evolution is harder to explain because unlike automobile manufacturing, there really are many unknowns. But identifying unknowns is not proof that these will remain unknown. It is what is known that gives confidence that an evolutionary explanation exists for the unknowns, we just have yet to figure it out. Anyone wishing to debunk evolution needs to focus on refuting what is known, what is well understood, and how it managed to predict things that were previously unknown.

    Finding something that is still hard for evolution to explain in detail, and thinking that refutes evolution, is kind of like fouling a ball into the stands and thinking you hit a home run. It demonstrates a lack of understanding the logic (the rules) of rational inquiry and scientific proof, which is never proof. Science doesn’t prove; it repeatedly fails to disprove the current best theories and observations, or else provides newer and more accurate theories that explain more than previous theories and contradict them in some significant way.

    And how is it not absolutely obvious to creationists that a theory that offers one answer to explain absolutely everything explains absolutely nothing? The very nature of ‘explanation’ is to provide insights into differences and distinctions that are meaningful. A single answer, like “Blob did it all” is an inscrutable black box that provides no information. It’s like the old joke that a specialist learns more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing, and a generalist learns less and less about more and more until he knows nothing about everything.

    The religious person needs to know nothing about anything in order to pretend they have the answer to everything. That presumed “answer” gives you no help at all if you want to perform in vitro fertilization to bring the joy of life to infertile couples, perform a heart transplant to repair and extend a failing life, design a medicine to save lives, or enhance the quality or productivity of agricultural products to help feed a hungry world. So the religious person is stuck in the position of needing science and its products, and considering them to be a gift of God, while at the same time using God to reject the findings of the same science you must consider to be a blessing if you respect and value life. What a muddled mess you are in if you believe in God.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Just in case you try using this elsewhere, I’d suggest the analogy works better by asking about engine or tires first.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted September 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Okay, that sounds right.

  39. Old Rasputin
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about believing in the incredulous, but this fellow has certainly given us good reason to believe in the credulous.

  40. Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Which one came first, the brain or the heart?
    It depends on how you define a brain. If you define a brain as a net of nerve cells, the brain came first, as in the case of the hydra, which has a brain but no heart.

    As for the brain being too complex to have evolved, notice that there are brains much simpler than the human brain in the animal kingdom that are completely functional.

    From the simplest network of nerve cells of the hydra to the human brain, there many “brains” in the animal kingdom with varying degrees of complexity, all which are completely functional.

    They can’t do the same things human “brains” do, but they work, which is what really matters.

  41. Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    There you go the answer is common sense that is the meaning of life. If you have common sense then that is all you need. Interesting how these creationists value common sense as rationale on high. Very little common sense in any of the bibles.

  42. jon0001
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I have just started reading what is looking like an excellent book called “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions” by Alex Rosenberg.

    The fundamental premise is that human beings’ brains have evolved in such a way that they are predisposed to prefer “stories” as opposed to mathematical formulae, equations, theories, models and laws. In effect, it is impossible, for example, to “tell a story” to explain the second law of thermodynamics.

    As an IT graduate (and law graduate, for that matter) I count myself amongst those atheists who, quite simply, do not fully understand all the physics that describe and explain the universe. That does not mean that I need to replace my lack of understanding with the easy option – “a god did it” – because I trust science and, I suppose, I have taken time to at least try to understand the concept of bosons and fermions and the fundamental stuff of matter, mass and gravity.

    Unfortunately, the likes of Aaron have decided that stories will do them just fine, irrespective of how absurd they are and ignorant of their true origins and derivations.

    It is, really, much less trouble to read one book of fictional myths and legends than it is to read lots of very difficult to understand science books which even some of the most powerful minds on the planet (like mine :)) cannot fully understand.

    This is probably defined as ‘ignorance is bliss’.

    The downside, of course, is that, by believing the fairy stories it is also necessary to believe that one is constantly in a state of “sin”, that, as a result, one is “going to hell” unless one gives money to a religion, sorry, praises the lord in a church and one fears death because of what will surely come afterwards.

    Here in Ireland, because there are no State schools and 97% of schools are owned and controlled by religions (by far the majority being Roman Catholic) we have the good fortune to find our children spending four times as long being indoctrinated by religion than learning about science. And you can be sure that the science classes are infused with “god did it” explanations.

    It would be interesting to know what the excuse is for Americans. Religion is banned from US State schools. Oh yes, I remember, the religious nut-cases “home school”, don’t they?

    I don’t know poor Aaron’s background, but I do know that he is ignorant of the truth of science. 95% of US scientists are atheist/agnostic. Why? Because they have bothered to search for truth and have found it.

    You don’t have to be a scientist to understand science. You certainly no imagination or thirst for knowledge to be a religionist.

    By the way, as most readers here already know, poor Aaron’s comments clearly show that he has decided to believe what he has been told by some bewilderingly ignorant people, as opposed to studying the subject in real science books written by credible scientists. i recall seeing David Attenborough talking about the “missing link”. He turned to a complete collection of fossils that went all the way back to our, apes, monkeys and other primates’ common ancestor. What “missing link? It seems to me that, in this 21st century of the common era, the only missing link is that between creationism and reality.

    • Dogmeat
      Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      Jon,

      There are a couple of explanations for the religious issues within the US and specifically within US schools.

      First, quite simply, some people cheat. They abuse their positions and use the schools to indoctrinate the children in their charge. In most of these cases, few kids will speak up; some because they agree with the teacher, some because they know the majority of their peers agree and they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. In other cases, when it does go to the extent that a complaint is made; the kid and their parents have to be willing to put up with a lot of grief for very little obvious personal gain.

      Second, while we have the oft “dented” establishment clause, we also have the free exercise clause. Without a compelling state interest, the government is barred from infringing upon people’s religious practices. This, combined with an attitude that religion is, in and of itself, good, leaves us with a lot of garbage passed off as valid.

      Finally, you do have that homeschool tripe. In some cases you do have legitimate concerns about the quality of the public schools in certain areas (shocking when a woefully underfunded school in a high poverty neighborhood struggles, eh?). But, quite honestly, the majority of the home school kids I’ve run into were due to religious objections to the curriculum. A lot of these kids were very nice, polite, hard working, but utterly devoid of critical thinking skills or the ability to challenge authority.

      Put it all together and you have the quagmire we have today.

  43. Douglas E
    Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I learned a new one from a creationist who somehow got on the subject whilst purchasing some afghans at my parents estate sale – he said he had only one word for the Darwinists and evolution-espousers – bioluminescence. I responded ‘interesting’ and went home to google ‘bioluminescence creation.” Interesting. Authoritatively described at creationwiki.org Sheesh

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted September 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      What a hilarious load of rubbish. Here is their entire argument:

      There is no conceivable how or why bioluminescence would occur spontaneously or through a long drawn-out process over millions of years. Therefore, it strongly supports the words of the Bible, describing how a powerful God created the universe and all creatures, plants, etc. therein.[1]

      The reference they site at [1] in no way backs up their claim or reasoning.

      It all comes down to saying “we aren’t smart enough to figure this out, ergo God, and here are some interesting facts about biology that some idiot might think makes this page look authoritative.” This is supposed to qualify as serious intellectual content. How embarrassing for creation wiki.

  44. salon_1928
    Posted September 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I think Darwin himself satisfyingly dealt (to my mind anyway…) with “science can’t/hasn’t figured it out” argument over a century ago when he wrote in the Descent of Man:

    “…but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

    I find it funny that creationists continue to pull that dusty old rabbit out of there hats like they’re showing us something new…

  45. Douglas E
    Posted September 23, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Yes – it’s the same-old-same-old a la the Discovery Institute. Pick anything complex from a molecule to an organism and it simply could not happen without special design/creation.

  46. Kevin
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jerry A. Coyne,
    You asked for us Christians to put on our thinking caps, so I decided to follow the majority of my science teachers’ advice and start with the basics. So I went back and did a little research on the Scientific Method (http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_scientific_method.shtml#overviewofthescientificmethod%5Bone of 4 websites I looked at]). The beginning of which basically stated that one would start with a question. So I decided on my question being: How can one species (A) change over time and become a different species (B) that no longer can produce viable offspring with the original species (A)?
    So the next step, as you probably know, is to do research or make observations. Then from those ideas propose a testable-hypothesis, test it, and all of the data obtained should be analyzed to see how it supports or disproves the hypothesis. Then the test is either repeated to make sure that there was not human error, or the hypothesis is revised and tested again, for the majority of cases.
    So would you agree that science is build off of this basic principle? And if so why do we argue about two ideas that no one has ever tested? Creationists argue that God made everything, while Evolutionists argue that it all simply came to be over a very long time. Either way can we ever test origins? Can we ever go to the beginning and see what happened?
    Anyways, thank you very much for reminding people to think. Thinking is what makes us human, it is what sets us apart from the animals. Please do not ever stop thinking yourself, the brain is a wonderful tool we are born with, whether one believes they were made with it or it was adapted into existence, and it should not go to waste.
    If you have any information that could help answer a inquisitive mind’s questions that have been written here please feel free to inform me. And thank you for the cool research on the worms they are dear to me since my favorite biology teacher did her research thesis on flat worms and we dissected them in her class. So I will make sure I hold onto these examples and not let anyone use that idea of needing a heart to have a functioning brain to support their ideas when proof otherwise is in existence.

    Kevin

    • Douglas E
      Posted September 27, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Kevin – thanks for your heartfelt comments and your apparent commitment to seeking answers to complex questions. No doubt others will have responses, but my point would be – no one alive now was alive 200 years ago, so how do we know exactly what happened 200 years ago? Well first, there were an awful lot of things that happened in 1812 that we will never know anything of. However, we can look at the ‘evidence’ from that time – books, art, and even specimens preserved from that time. We do exactly the same thing when we try to figure out what happened 100, 1,000 or 1,000,000 years ago. We look at all of the ‘evidence’ before us, make hypotheses, develop theories and test them. Also remember that we generally don’t talk about proofs, but rather talk about whether or not the data and the theory are consistent. If not, we have to reexamine both, and if the data are good, the theory must change. So, not being present when something happened is not a very strong argument agains something happened. Keep on thinking and growing in knowledge and wisdom. The Dali Lama has said the if science demonstrates that something is wrong within Buddhism, then Buddhism must change. Would the same be true for all religions….

    • Posted September 27, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      Kevin,

      First, I should hasten to point out: there is no one single “Scientific Method,” and certainly not the one that is presented as such in many introductory science classes. Personally, I consider this an all-too-common flaw in science education.

      The problem is that there are plenty of aspects to the Cosmos that we’d like to know more about that we can’t directly manipulate in the way that the classroom scientific method would call for. How, for example, would you perform an experiment to try to figure out what changing the mass of the Sun would do to its radius?

      Therefore, huge swaths of science are observational rather than experimental. Astronomers know what they know about the physics and life cycles of stars because they’ve observed so many stars that they’ve been able to discern patterns. Those patterns, combined with the results of experiments we can perform here on Earth (What does light look like when shone through hydrogen as compared to helium?), have allowed us to learn all sorts of amazing things about the heavens.

      Biology is mostly an observational science. It was Charles Darwin’s observations on his famous voyage on HMS Beagle that led him to his great idea. In the centuries since, his sketchy observations have been filled in with a mind-bogglingly-huge array of other observations.

      But biology isn’t exclusively an observational science. Amongst biologists, Jerry is famous for his experimental work on fruit flies. Jerry breeds the flies under different conditions and observes the results. The work that Jerry does in his lab is as close as any real scientist ever gets to the idealized method you’ve learned about in class.

      So, now that I’ve addressed the applicability of the science method, let me move on to the question that you asked — that is, observations of a new species not capable of breeding with the extant species.

      First, speciation is something that has been observed — repeatedly. Here is an excellent overview:

      http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

      You might notice that that article starts out with a discussion of speciation, and for excellent reason. Identifying species is akin to labeling colors on the rainbow. At what point does yellow stop and green start? You can point to a color and say, “that’s yellow,” and another, “green,” but what of the colors between? Where and how do you draw the line? Such is the nature of the dilemma biologists face.

      The perfect example of this is the dog. The Great Dane and the Miniature Daschund are both dogs, but, were you to find them in the wild, most biologists would conclude that they were different species — and that the wolf, their ancestor, was yet another species. All three can still theoretically interbreed, but only with difficulty. Indeed, perhaps only with artificial insemination. The wolf would rather eat the Daschund than mate with it…and, if the Daschund were to be the mother, it probably wouldn’t survive either pregnancy. Yet, it’d be easy to find intermediate examples of dogs that would form a reproductive chain between all three.

      The same exists amongst cats. Lions, cheetahs, tigers, and the other wild cats never interbreed in the wild, even when their territories overlap. However, successful hybrids can be bred by those who know what they’re doing, with lion / tiger crosses being the most successful and famous. You could probably find a similar reproductive chain between a household tabby and a tiger as between a Toy Chihuahua and a wolf…maybe.

      Creationists at this point will often break out the “kinds” word, or its Biblical version, “baramin.” It amounts to an hypothesis that there exists some sort of Platonic ideal of each species and that members of the species never deviate far from the ideal. This concept is often coupled with creative hybrids or miscegenation, such as the “crocoduck” or a dog giving birth to a squid.

      As such, that represents a gross misunderstanding of both the observations and the theory. Indeed, crocodiles and ducks can’t mate to form half-croc / half-duck hybrids, and no dog will ever give birth to a squid.

      They are all, however, all cousins.

      Religions actually provide an excellent parallel that, while not perfect, illustrates the point rather well.

      As the joke goes, “If Protestants came from Catholics, then why’re there still Catholics?”

      Just because one population splits from another doesn’t mean that the original goes away. It also doesn’t mean that both populations stay the same — especially since Vatican II, it’s clear that the Catholic Church today is much different from the one in Luther’s time. The same sort of repeated religious schisms, where groups go their separate ways but still share a common heritage, is what happens to populations of organisms.

      At this point, it should also be clear that, in every case, all children are always the same species as their parents. Think again of the rainbow: adjacent colors are nearly indistinguishable, but they’re not quite the same. But a lot of little changes can add up to a single big change.

      This is already much longer than it should be, so I’ll wrap it up.

      The next most significant stumbling block for Creationists at this point is the concept of deep time, the billions of years over which life on Earth has evolved. Most people have a hard time conceptualizing even a thousand years…but we also have a hard time conceptualizing a thousand miles. Yet, just as we can know with utmost confidence that the Moon is a quarter million miles away and the Sun is a hundred million miles away, we can similarly know that the Earth is about four and a half billion years old. And, no, it’s not Carbon-14 that tells us that, though Carbon-14 does play a minor role in the story. That story is, itself, every bit as fascinating as the one of Evolution. There are multiple lines of evidence, all pointing in the same direction to the same answer, from radioisotopes to sedimentary deposits to continental drift to astronomical observations and on and on and on. Including, even, DNA analysis.

      Since you’re interested enough in the matter to ask such pertinent and relevant questions, I’d like to encourage you to never stop asking questions — and, most importantly, to never stop questioning the answers. That Talk.Origins article I referred you to above includes many many citations. Follow up on some of them and try to find one that you can reproduce for yourself. Since many of them involve century-old experiments on plants, this should be well within your reach. If you’re in a major metropolitan area, there should be a museum or a university with a good fossil collection; get a curator or a professor to give you a tour so you can observe them for yourself.

      And, if you keep at it, you may just be the one to figure out some other piece of the puzzle.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Kevin
        Posted September 27, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for the information, I will sift through it this weekend when I have more time, and if there really are cool experiments on plants I will definitively try them out. So thanks again,

        Kevin

        • Posted September 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          My pleasure — you’re welcome.

          I’m pretty sure some of the famous plant experiments have been done on standard varieties of garden veggies. If so, worst case scenario, you’ll still get some salad out of it.

          You’ll also probably have to do a bit of chromosome analysis, which should be a rather marketable skill for an undergraduate. You won’t need any special or expensive equipment — again, this is all stuff done a century or more ago. But you will have to learn how to prepare microscope slides and how to interpret what you’re seeing. Once you can do that, you should be able to land any entry-level job in any biology lab in town.

          One more tip: if you have any questions about how to make the plants happy, contact the nearest university extension office and ask for advice from one of their master gardeners. They’ll be thrilled to help get you all the knowledge you need. And, if you don’t have any space to grow the plants, they should be able to help out with that, as well.

          (Note that the extension programs are run through the state’s land grant university, and each state only has one such university. It’s generally the oldest and biggest public institution in the state, but not always.)

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted September 27, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Kevin,
      It seems like your main point is that the scientific method can’t apply to evolution because observation and testing is impossible in the distant past, and therefore creation and evolution remain equally probable hypotheses.

      If this is a correct interpretation, you really haven’t learned much science at all. Very little in fact. Only barely enough to take a weak potshot from far off in the distance that isn’t even a glancing blow.

      There are many ways of seeing, many ways of observing, for example decoding light from distant stars into spectral components and associating that with characteristic quantum energy levels of known elements or compounds, or measuring ratios of elements known to have different rates of decay or rates of natural accumulation in the earth, sea, or atmosphere. There are cosmic rays, and chemical traces and fossils of many different types.

      In addition to different ways of seeing, there are different ways of testing. For example we can test our knowledge of gravity repeatedly, and we have confirmed our understanding of its behavior well enough to predict the paths of comets and asteroids and to send space craft to mars with extraordinary precision and accuracy. And yet we can’t say that we have ‘proven’ our theory of gravity because tomorrow an experiment may contradict what we’ve already learned. So even something as well understood and routinely observed as gravity is accepted provisionally, but with a high degree of confidence because of the large body of evidence that has been accumulated.

      One way to test a theory is to make a prediction based on the models of the theory. For example the theory of general relativity predicted that gravity would bend the path of light passing near a massive object. This was totally counter-intuitive and common sense rejected the notion out of hand. Yet observations made by Arthur Eddington in 1919 confirmed that a star whose position relative to earth was well established appeared to be shifted slightly when it’s light passed near to the sun, confirming Einstein’s seemingly impossible prediction. This is the power of mathematics and well developed predictive theories.

      Evolution is just such a predictive theory. It enables us to make predictions about what kinds of fossils will appear in which order in the strata of the record laid out by natural geological processes. It enables us to predict patterns in DNA, to know when two organisms may be able to mate by looking at the structure of their DNA, and even what kinds of transformations would need to occur in DNA over time for an organism to branch into two different species. It has proposed mechanisms that can cause DNA to transform over time, and confirmed some of these proposals by observing multiple generations of plankton embedded in layers of sediment, and in tens of thousands of generations of bacteria in laboratories. It has predicted where certain types of fossils may be found based on detailed knowledge of the existing fossil record and geology, and these predictions have been confirmed by digging up fossils.

      I’m hardly scratching the surface here, but there is a long list of evidence that fits the theory of evolution and does not fit creationist theories. What’s more, creation makes predictions that are disconfirmed by the fossil record, unless you make outlandishly improbable conjectures, such as the idea that god planted fake fossils in fake geologic layers, and there is no theory in theology or science that can make sense of such an idea.

      So you see, evolution is testable and very solidly confirmed in its predictions by real observations, and creationism simply is not confirmed by any observation at all, and as far as I know can’t propose any predictions that aren’t contradicted by observation.

      • Posted September 27, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        In the interests of full disclosure, a couple refinements to a couple of the points you made.

        And yet we can’t say that we have ‘proven’ our theory of gravity because tomorrow an experiment may contradict what we’ve already learned.

        Actual flat-out contradictions are rare. Perhaps the most famous example was Michelson-Morley demonstrating that the hypothesized-but-never-observed luminescent aether did not, in fact, actually exist.

        Much more common are revolutionary expansions of existing understandings.

        Take, for example, the shape of the Earth.

        At a human scale, the Earth is, indeed, flat. You can demonstrate this to yourself by going to the store and getting a perfectly-usable flat map of your city, state, or even continent.

        The degree that the average of the Earth’s surface deviates from flat is something on the order of eight inches per mile — well within most margins of error. Yet, it is an error.

        But, of course, we now know that the Earth isn’t even a sphere; it’s an oblate spheroid. But this just adds some minuscule fraction of an inch per mile to the model.

        And it isn’t even a perfect oblate spheroid; the southern hemisphere is a bit fatter than the northern, for some even-tinier fraction of an inch per mile correction being necessary.

        Most other scientific revolutions follow that same model. You even cited one: Relativity.

        That leads me to another correction. Newtonian mechanics predicts gravitational lensing, just not to the degree that Einsteinian mechanics do. And the observations, of course, fit Einstein’s model, not Newton’s…though, again, Einstein’s mechanics are, essentially, a refinement of an almost-insignificant rounding error on the part of Newton’s mechanics.

        The last point that I’d make is that any new theory that comes along has to fit all the old observations. You can use Relativity to calculate the trajectory of a thrown ball just as well as Newtonian mechanics; you’ll just be doing an awful lot of extra effort for no better results with Relativity. For that matter, you could use epicycles to calculate the motions of the planets with more than enough precision to sail your way ’round the globe.

        In that sense, the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection will never be overthrown. It will be refined, yes; see horizontal gene transfer for a fascinating refinement recently discovered. But anything that comes along later will, of necessity, reduce to the theory as we know and love it at the scale of today’s level of understanding.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted September 27, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

          Good catch. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that there is something arbitrary in scientific theories if they could be disproved tomorrow. That they are provisional is the strength of being able to correct errors by a continual process of refinement. And it is this refinement you talk about that gives us the confidence that we are in some sense asymptotically approaching the best and true description of reality.

          You really surprised me though about gravitational lensing in Newtonian Mechanics. I was totally unaware of that, so you’ve given me something to look up.

          • Posted September 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

            I was surprised the first time I heard about Newtonian gravitational lensing, too. The short version is that, if you’re assuming Newtonian mechanics, then you also have to assume that photons have mass equal to the Planck constant times the frequency divided by the square of the velocity (c). It’s only Relativistic (and Quantum) Mechanics that permits a massless photon, not Newtonian Mechanics.

            When you do the calculations, you get lensing, but only about half as much as is actually observed. The relativistic version gets you to within the margin of error of every measurement taken to date.

            Of course, Newton himself had no clue about any of this. Indeed, he still hadn’t figured out refraction, and the notion of the dual nature (particle and wave) of light would have utterly blown his mind. It’s Newton’s Mechanics that predicts gravitational lensing of light, not Newton himself.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • bernardhurley
              Posted September 27, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

              I’m surprised that this isn’t “well-known.” I heard about gravititional lensing in an article about the apparent displacement of stars near the sun in a popular science magazine about 50 years ago. It reprinted Diagram 2 (p. 332) from Dyson, Eddington and Davidson’s paper (downloadable from
              http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/220/571-581/291.full.pdf ) reporting the results from the observation of the 1919 eclipse. The diagram plots apparent radial displacement of the seven stars observed together with lines showing the expected results from both Newtonian and General Relativity theories.

      • Kevin
        Posted September 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        I was not saying that the two ideas are equal in any way, and I really do not know much about science, being a student studying biology at The Missouri University of Science and Technology I know I have much to learn. I was just saying that you could propose ideas that can seem plausible, like you said about gravity, but we never know what experiment performed in the future might change our whole out look on things, and like you were saying about Einstein’s ideas we could also point to Galileo’s ideas about the Earth revolving around the sun. In which The “Church” rejected his idea and were made to recant in recent years due to discoveries leading to the approval of his ideas. All I am saying is that we need to keep an open mind to one another’s ideas rather than just saying that the other person is just ignorant/stupid. Because in all honesty I know that I am ignorant on most subjects, when it comes to astronomy I have only gotten to understand apart of our tidal-locked moon and nothing much further than that. I really want to understand why and how this theory of evolution came to be and to see it’s backings. Which is one of the reasons I choose to study biology, other than my love of botany, animals, cells, and life itself. I mean whether you think/know that life was spontaneously formed or created, the fact that things can be alive is really cool, and if we were not alive would we even be having this conversation?

        I just want to ignore all the fallacies on both sides of the debate, and look at the evidence. Because I do agree that saying that “God,” the “devil,” or whoever put all these fossils into the Earth to confuse us and “test” our faith is a silly red herring, you are quite correct. All I was asking was for something I can observe and think/reason through, which may sound a little silly of me, but I am from “The Show-Me State” and wish to be shown things for myself rather than trust someone on faith. A wise man once told me not to take any teacher’s word for law, including preachers, but to think about it yourself, see if it is valid, applicable, reproducible, and beneficial. And I believe that arguing about our differences in ideas is not going to get anyone closer to changing their ideas, rather it polarizes people, nor is it helping us find more proof for our ideas, so rather than argue about things could we just share data and information and let each person reason with each other about what the observations say?

        I understand that I was making an argument from ignorance, and I apologize for that, which is why I ask, as an ignorant learner, to be educated.

        Kevin

      • Kevin
        Posted September 27, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        I was not saying that the two ideas are equal in any way, and I really do not know much about science, being a student studying biology at The Missouri University of Science and Technology I know I have much to learn. I was just saying that you could propose ideas that can seem plausible, like you said about gravity, but we never know what experiment performed in the future might change our whole out look on things, and like you were saying about Einstein’s ideas we could also point to Galileo’s ideas about the Earth revolving around the sun. In which The “Church” rejected his idea and were made to recant in recent years due to discoveries leading to the approval of his ideas. All I am saying is that we need to keep an open mind to one another’s ideas rather than just saying that the other person is just ignorant/stupid. Because in all honesty I know that I am ignorant on most subjects, when it comes to astronomy I have only gotten to understand apart of our tidal-locked moon and nothing much further than that. I really want to understand why and how this theory of evolution came to be and to see it’s backings. Which is one of the reasons I choose to study biology, other than my love of botany, animals, cells, and life itself. I mean whether you think/know that life was spontaneously formed or created, the fact that things can be alive is really cool, and if we were not alive would we even be having this conversation?

        I just want to ignore all the fallacies on both sides of the debate, and look at the evidence. Because I do agree that saying that “God,” the “devil,” or whoever put all these fossils into the Earth to confuse us and “test” our faith is a silly red herring, you are quite correct. All I was asking was for something I can observe and think/reason through, which may sound a little silly of me, but I am from “The Show-Me State” and wish to be shown things for myself rather than trust someone on faith. A wise man once told me not to take any teacher’s word for law, including preachers, but to think about it yourself, see if it is valid, applicable, reproducible, and beneficial. And I believe that arguing about our differences in ideas is not going to get anyone closer to changing their ideas, rather it polarizes people, nor is it helping us find more proof for our ideas, so rather than argue about things could we just share data and information and let each person reason with each other about what the observations say?

        I understand that I was making an argument from ignorance, and I apologize for that, which is why I ask, as an ignorant learner, to be educated.

        Also I have “heard” not studied, the idea that God and evolution could go together, and was wondering your thoughts on that? For in this argument I see many people arguing many things. From your Atheistic Evolutionist, to your Biblical Young Earth Creationist, with people like Theistic Evolutionists around the middle. What ideas prove or disprove the different ideas? And can more than one of them be correct?

        Though I do understand how ideas can be tempered over time like you say, and that is true, but using my example of Galileo he completely tore apart the prior idea of the sun revolving around the Earth, and eventually science which earlier was going against his ideas left their wrong ideas for a more refined version of what we call our solar system now-a-days. So would saying that something could not come around and tear apart are ideas be the same as rejecting something that has already occurred in the past with Galileo?

        Kevin

        • Posted September 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          I really want to understand why and how this theory of evolution came to be and to see it’s backings.

          Wonderful! Please fasten your seatbelt, make sure your seat back and tray table are in their full upright and locked positions, and prepare for take-off. You’ve got a fantastic journey ahead of you, one which will never end and only get better the farther you go.

          There’re a few books that will help you get up to speed in very short order.

          The first is, surprisingly enough, Why Evolution Is True by one Jerry A. Coyne, Phd. There’s an “About the Book” link at the top right of this page, followed by a handful of “Buy the Book” links right underneath. If you like, you can have the book shipped to Jerry; he’ll be happy autograph it and forward it on to you. Even better, if you can scrape up a donation to Doctors Without Borders, he’ll give you a signed book. The standard donation amount is $100, but you might ask him if he has a “starving student special.”

          You can find Jerry’s email address by Googling his name and the University of Chicago to find his home page there. (One of his quirks is that he doesn’t like directly giving out his email address, but it’s easy to find.)

          The next book is a weighty classic, but one that’s still strikingly relevant and readable: Darwin’s own On the Origin of Species. It’s all in there, with damned little revision necessary.

          Darwin, of course, knew nothing of DNA and either nothing or next to nothing of genetics. (Gregor Mendel was doing his research on peas at about the same time, but there’s no indication that the two were in contact.) The best way to fill in that last significant missing piece of the puzzle would be by reading Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. (No, it’s not about a gene for selfishness, but rather about how genes use organisms to propagate genes, rather than the other way ’round.) Richard’s gene-centered perspective on Evolution is perhaps the most significant update to the theory since the discovery of DNA, comparable in significance to the Standard Model in physics.

          Once you’ve got those three under your belt, you’ll have all the book learning you need to understand the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection at an advanced layman’s level. Indeed, those three books probably cover about as much ground as most undergraduate courses on evolutionary biology.

          Combine that with the experiments you’re already eager to perform, and it won’t be long at all before you’ll be as much of an expert on the subject as one can be without dedicating your life to studying it.

          Have fun!

          b&


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