Astrology and ID sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

By Phil Plait | October 23, 2005 10:07 pm

[Note (added Oct. 30, 2005): this entry was featured in the Carnival of the Godless #26.]

Reader Ray Wagner was the first to bring this to my attention, though it soon got a bunch of time on different blogs…

Michael Behe, perhaps the key proponent of Intelligent Design (woe be unto them), was grilled last week about ID at the Kitzmiller vs. DASD case in Dover Pennsylvania, what some wags have dubbed “Scopes II”. Basically, at one point, the issue came up about what defines a scientific theory. This is, in my opinion, a huge tactical diversion: scientists use the word “theory” differently than non-scientists do. To a scientist, “theory” is pretty much synonymous with “fact”. Not precisely, and I am oversimplifying, but close enough. What a non-scientist calls “theory” is what a scientist calls a “hypothesis” or even a “conjecture”.

I say this is a diversion because the people who tend to twist the truth (what a non-scientist might refer to as “lie”) about ID love to say evolution is “just a theory”, which is what scientists call evolution. But of course, to a scientist that means a lot. Gravity is a theory too, as is General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and a lot of other things on which we base all of modern science (and don’t kid yourself, the technology you use every day is based on these “theories” as well).

So this whole “definition of science” nonsense is just that: nonsense. Of course, if ID proponents can give their nonsense the imprimatur of science, they can get it taught in the classroom.

So it’s not surprising that Behe would go through some verbal calisthenics to get ID labeled as science. When asked about what science is, he redefined it right there in Dover, making it broader so ID falls under the umbrella of scientific theory. As an aside, I think it’s funny how many fundamentalists have never heard of the word “hubris” (after all, why be satisfied with a definition dreamed up by the National Academy of Sciences, the premier organization of scientists on the planet?). The meek shall inherit something, but evidently it ain’t the Earth. Well, maybe only the last 6000 years of its history.

Anyway, he came up with a pretty funny definition. Here is the transcript of Behe’s testimony ("Q" is the lawyer, "A" is Behe):

Q But the way you define scientific theory, you said it’s just based on your own experience; it’s not a dictionary definition, it’s not one issued by a scientific organization.

A It is based on my experience of how the word is used in the scientific community.

Q And as you said, your definition is a lot broader than the NAS definition?

A That’s right, intentionally broader to encompass the way that the word is used in the scientific community.

Q Sweeps in a lot more propositions.

A It recognizes that the word is used a lot more broadly than the National Academy of Sciences defined it.

Q In fact, your definition of scientific theory is synonymous with hypothesis, correct?

A Partly — it can be synonymous with hypothesis, it can also include the National Academy’s definition. But in fact, the scientific community uses the word “theory” in many times as synonymous with the word “hypothesis,” other times it uses the word as a synonym for the definition reached by the National Academy, and at other times it uses it in other ways.

Q But the way you are using it is synonymous with the definition of hypothesis?

A No, I would disagree. It can be used to cover hypotheses, but it can also include ideas that are in fact well substantiated and so on. So while it does include ideas that are synonymous or in fact are hypotheses, it also includes stronger senses of that term.

Q And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes.

Q Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

A Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that — which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other — many other theories as well.

Q The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?

A That is correct.

Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes, that’s correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word “theory,” it is — a sense of the word “theory” does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can’t go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.

That last paragraph is funny– he’s so desperate to get ID called “science” that he admits that things can be scientific and not be correct. This is of course correct, but it sounds to me like a typical ID bait-and-switch: he can say “you don’t have to agree with me that ID is right, but it is science” knowing full well that if any real scientists comes out and agrees that ID is science– wrong, but still science– they’ll somehow conveniently forget that last part.

The ultimate irony is the bit about astrology. Astrology is far more of a science than ID is! Astrology makes predictions, and can be falsified. In fact, astrology’s predictions always fail, and it has been falsified repeatedly. I’m not saying astrology is science (and I am saying it’s wrong), just that astrology has some characteristics of science. That’s why people call it a pseudoscience.

ID is not science at all. It is argument from incredulity and argument from ignorance, pure and simple; trying to find things that are not yet explained by evolution and saying “a designer must have done it”. That’s foolish; science tends to fill such gaps. Eventually they narrow down to nothing. ID’s toehold over such a gap is tenuous indeed. Much like Behe’s toehold on what’s science and what ain’t.

And ID ain’t.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience

Comments (86)

Links to this Post

  1. Axiom | October 24, 2005
  2. The Uncredible Hallq | October 27, 2005
  1. Tim

    Get ID taught in the class-room by all means – just choose the *right* classroom for the job, namely the RE/RS one not the science one. Can’t see anything wrong with presenting it in a study of people’s beliefs, can see everything wrong with putting it in the science curriculum.

    And you touch on my response to it all as well: “so, if it’s a theory, let’s test it. What predictions do you make that we can verify experimentally?”.

  2. Evolving Squid

    It amazes me that the debate still goes on in the most powerful nation in the world. What’s going to happen when a few of your leaders wake up and decide that God told them to nuke some country?

  3. I like to refer people here when talking about ID:

    True Goals and Financial Supporters
    of the Discovery Institute

    http://www.texscience.org/files/discovery.htm

    ID is organized religious politics at its worst. In the 16th century it was Galileo vs the Catholic Church. In the 21st its The Religious Right vs Darwin. The Religious Right is just as wrong today as the Vatican turned out to be with Galileo. ID is the Church wanting to take control of society.

    ID is not science, and it’s not education. In fact, it really isn’t even philosophy or even religious doctrine, because it was not conceived as such. It was not philosophers who thought it up, nor was it a religious revelation that anyone had.

    ID is politics, pure and simple. It was conceived of as a political tactic, it was thought up by a political think tank, and it was funded by religious fanatics as part of a religious war on science.
    ID is all about PR and political lobbying, not science.

    Google Christian Reconstructionism, or Howard Ahamson. And this link

    The Discovery Institute and the wedge strategy
    http://www.geocities.com/lclane2/discovery.html

    shows what the political strategy involved is.

    When somepone mentions ID, counter by clarifying that they have launched a political discussion and the topic is the wedge strategy and Christian Right’s War on Science. Make sure that they understand you know what the real agenda is.

    Don’t even let the conversation stray to science, because that’s half their battle won – just getting ID and science in the same sentence, no matter what the context, is a win for them.
    It’s all about PR for them, and their primary tactic is luring politically naive scientific people into their black-hole discussion about the definition of science. You aren’t educating anyone – you’re just providing them free PR for their political agenda.

    While well-intentioned nerds quietly construct their logical counter-arguments, these people are busy packing the conversation with pre-cooked sound bytes they know will stick in the craw of at least half of the public. The outcome is predictable: the nerd wins the logical argument, the ID proponent wins the PR battle. They’ll take the PR win and run with it, thank you very much, Dr. Nerd.

    After the conversation is over, no one will remember what the scientist said, they will remember the slogans that the ID people have been trained to chant.

    And they know this, so don’t even be duped into that absurd conversation.

  4. It is asked what prediction your ID makes. (Your as in the sense that it seems to be an American thing as no one here in the UK seems to discuss it)

    Well in predictions that can be falsified, I am still awaiting the announcement that life has be created from non living chemicals has proposed by organic evolution. (Biogenesis being a foundation that the rest of evolution is built upon)

    Having said that, from the little snips I hear, ID is, “this system is so complex there is no way we can work out so it must have been zapped into existance as it is by a supernatural designer”

    (Is this what ID teaches?)

    If that is the case then it is bad religion as it falls into the tactical error of the God of the Gaps. The room for God diminishes as the gaps are worked out.

    ID also makes the tactical error of being seen to be deceptive, thus bringing creationism into disrepute (Which I suspect some believe it to be in anyhue)

    This tactic is not needed as there are enough holes in general evolution as it is presented already. e.g biogenesis, mutation rates, lack of transitional forms, Cambrian explosion to name but a few.

    It really does seem that following ID is shooting oneself in the foot ove what must have seen like “a good idea at the time”

  5. Kevin

    It is clear that ID is correct and that the FSM is the designer!

    He/She designed everything and continues to touch and warp all matter and energy with special noodly appendages

  6. Evolving Squid

    >>(Biogenesis being a foundation that the rest of evolution is built upon)

    Incorrect.

    Even if God blasted the first cells into existence, evolutionary theory still stands. Evolution does not try to derive how life came into existence, only how it differentiated into species and changes over time.

    Biogenesis is no more a foundation of evolutionary theory than it is a foundation of my house.

  7. JohnW

    A (somewhat pedantic) correction:

    Phil said “astrology’s predictions always fail, and it has been falsified repeatedly”. In fact, astrology’s predictions are sometimes correct- at the same success rate as random guesses. If astrology was ALWAYS wrong, that would be much more useful. Predict the football scores astrologically, then bet on the other teams…

    Anyway, the point Phil makes is absolutely correct – at least astrology gives us something we can test. You can’t falsify “a god did it”.

  8. Evolving Squid

    In any case, I am not surprised at all that science has yet to produce life from chemicals. If the life-from-lifelessness hypothesis is true, the newly formed Earth had about a billion years to sort out the building blocks of life from a planet-sized pool of chemicals.

    Scientists have, realistically, been tryign this from lab-sized pools of chemicals for, at best, a few hundred years (realistically, a lot less than that).

    The conclusion I draw is that biogenesis hypothesis still fits the observed data, and although it hasn’t been demonstrated true, this may be because an adequate experiment has yet to be designed; or that an adequate experiment has been designed, but the time scale over which the experiment has been performed is inadequate to see appropriate results.

    This differs from deity-based biogenesis in that the hypothesis of divine intervention cannot be tested at all, and is therefore an inherently weaker position.

  9. Evolving Squid

    Sorry for the multiple posts, I’m being interrupted, so my train of thought is a bit fragmented.

    Let’s suppose that tomorrow, Dr. Prometheus at MIT zaps some chemicals in a beaker and creates an actual virus (they’re generally considered to be alive). He documents this work, and over the next year, it is peer reviewed by many great minds, and more importantly, his result is repeated.

    Which is the more likely result:

    1. That Creationists around the world would accept the scientific theory of biogenesis and leave the church en masse; or

    2. That Creationists around the world would say “God made life in that test tube to show His power!”

  10. Actually, this has come up in creationist circles, and the creationist response will be “We told you it takes intelligence to create life”

    It is pointed out that a scientist creating life in the laboratory would be using a closed system, (nature is an open system), the best methodology and the best kit. After doing all that, they say “so this is how it was done in nature”

    From what I have read, apparently the early atmosphere was an oxidising atmosphere. If Oxygen was present, that according to this research says it was, then the complex compounds required would never come about, as they would react first with the Oxygen.

    Biogenesis is seen as a foundation because if you can not get life started, by natural processes alone, you do not have any living organism for evolution to work on. For Evolution to start off, you must have a living organism. To have a living organism and remain a purely naturalistic process, you must get that which is non living to give rise to that which is.

    Anyhue, even if you allow biogenesis, Evolutiuon still has a number of problems, which I have mentioned before.

    Returning to the main subject of this blog entry, namely ID, I am surprised that those in creationist circles have not realised what a trap they are walking into.

  11. Another Phobos

    >> e.g biogenesis,
    >> lack of transitional forms
    >> Cambrian explosion

    biogenesis – – As Evolving Squid pointed out, a theory of biogenesis is separate from the theory of evolution.

    transitional forms – – Nonsense. The fossil record is full of examples of transitional forms. Just because a particular example you’re interested in is not yet found does not mean the whole record is incomplete. Like any historical record, the fossil record will never be 100% complete, but it can be sufficiently evidenced to understand the broad picture.

    Cambrian explosion – – So how does an increase in the number of fossil types over a period of millions of years with forms that are different from the past and present present a challange to evolution?

  12. Mike

    Hi

    I just wanted to add that not only the americans are *blessed* with these ID folk….a big german online newspaper just posted an article about the ID discussion in america….and bingo, 24 hour later you get exactly the same mix of ID supporters and steady scientists that we see in the US…using exactly the same fogy and cloudy arguments in support for ID that I’ve seen on the US sites….
    Perhaps science is simply too much for most people, no matter where ?

  13. Re the Cambrian Explosion

    What you have, is suddenly all of the nine known phyla appearing in one layer, without any fossils below them showing a progression from the first single cell life form.

    They come in, bang, all complete, Which was why it was called the Cambrian explosion. (Whether you are a creationist or an Evolutionist)

    I have just found this article which is quite interesting

  14. Nigel Depledge

    BA said “after all, why be satisfied with a definition dreamed up by the National Academy of Sciences, the premier organization of scientists on the planet?”

    Erm, but you didn’t mention the Royal Society, which *is* the premier organization of scientists on the planet.:)

  15. Nigel Depledge

    Sticks, even if any of the “problems” you try to point out were actually real problems with evolutionary theory, that does not constitute evidence in favour of your conjecture (i.e. ID).

    Sticks said:
    “From what I have read, apparently the early atmosphere was an oxidising atmosphere. If Oxygen was present, that according to this research says it was, then the complex compounds required would never come about, as they would react first with the Oxygen.”

    Well, you’ve obviously been reading fiction. The Earth’s early atmosphere was reductive, not oxidative. This is because (a) oxygen is very reactive, and it will only persist as molecular oxygen if continuously replenished; and (b) there is evidence of extensive volcanic activity on the early Earth (far more than occurs today) – and reductive gasses are a part of volcanic activity. If you are going to try to argue using scientific data, for goodness’ sake, please try to get the basics *right*.

    Sticks said:
    “Re the Cambrian Explosion
    What you have, is suddenly all of the nine known phyla appearing in one layer, without any fossils below them showing a progression from the first single cell life form.
    They come in, bang, all complete, Which was why it was called the Cambrian explosion. (Whether you are a creationist or an Evolutionist)”

    Wrong. What is meant by the “Cambrian explosion” is a transition from precambrian deposits with very few fossils (and a large proportion of those rare fossils are forms that are now extinct) to Cambrian deposits with many more fossils; and similarly many fossils in overlying, subsequent deposits. This could indicate a few tens of millions of years in which several new phyla came into existence, OR it could indicate the rate at which new phyla were coming into existence was no different from previous eras (or periods), but *these* new phyla just happened to fossilise far better than their predecessors.

    A few years ago, there was a conflict between the idea of very slow, steady, gradual evolution and the idea of punctuated equilibria. Generally, the consensus now seems to be somewhere between the two, i.e. that rates of evolution change. Which, if you think about it, makes more sense. It is my understanding that there was no Cambrian “explosion” as such, just a prolongued period (several million or tens of millions of years) during which the rate of evolution was a bit higher than the average.

    In any case, you seem to be expecting there to be a continuous sequence of fossil forms showing an obvious progression from one phylum to another, which indicates a lack of understanding of both the fossil record and evolutionary theory. Even though we have many thousands of fossils, fossilisation is a rare occurrence. There are few situations in which a direct and obvious sequence can be traced – tracing fossil lineages requires careful and detailed observation of both fossils and their context. Remember also that most lineages have become extinct. Therefore, the vast majority of fossil species have no living ancestors. Therefore, we would *expect* to find direct lineages only very rarely.

    Incidentally, that last point is a falsifiable prediction of common descent. It is supported by the extant evidence. It would be contradicted by the discovery of many new fossils in which direct, obvious lineages can easily be traced. Isn’t science brilliant?

    ID, on the other hand, does not make one falsifiable prediction. “Oh, this looks a bit complicated, and all those scientist chappies are rather flummoxed when we challenge them to explain it, so it must have been designed”. Wow. Two logical fallacies for the price of one! (Arguing from ignorance, and the “looks like” fallacy).

    I’d better stop there, I’m in danger of getting vitriolic, and I wouldn’t want to leave acid burns on the BA’s blog.

  16. What you have, is suddenly all of the nine known phyla appearing in one layer, without any fossils below them showing a progression from the first single cell life form.

    Meh. There are more like 35 phyla, so that is either a dishonest or an ignorant statement. There were also some that are now extinct. How does this infer design? Oh, I know – the IDiot tactic of changing the subject.

    Evolutiuon still has a number of problems, which I have mentioned before.

    How does this make ID/Creationism anymore reasonable? What the IDiots never think about is this – no matter how many imaginary holes you poke into evolutionary theory, it does not make your belief in magic any more so.

    My advice to anyone who continues to debate this person: don’t let up on the dishonesty.

  17. Evolving Squid

    I almost let this go by:

    >>lack of transitional forms,

    Not counting the human appendix, pinky fingers and baby toes; vestigial limbs in whales and snakes… One can argue that those are living transitional forms.

    What ID people call a transitional form would be something more like a mermaid or a snail-man or some such thing.

  18. RBH

    Sticks said:
    “Re the Cambrian Explosion
    What you have, is suddenly all of the nine known phyla appearing in one layer, without any fossils below them showing a progression from the first single cell life form.

    “They come in, bang, all complete, Which was why it was called the Cambrian explosion. (Whether you are a creationist or an Evolutionist)â€?

    NINE known phyla? In fact, there are roughly (depending on the taxonomist doing the counting) 32 or more metazoan (animal) phyla, along with a slew of other phyla including fungi and all of the plant plant phyla. In addition mSticks said:
    “Re the Cambrian Explosion
    What you have, is suddenly all of the nine known phyla appearing in one layer, without any fossils below them showing a progression from the first single cell life form.
    They come in, bang, all complete, Which was why it was called the Cambrian explosion. (Whether you are a creationist or an Evolutionist)�

    “NINE known phyla”? In fact, depending on the taxonomist one consults, there are about 32 animal phyla. Of those, just 11 show fossil evidence of having emerged during the Cambrian. In addition, among others, all fungi and all plant phyla post-date the Cambrian. Finally, molecular evidence suggests that half a dozen animal phyla predate the Cambrian, with concurring fossil evidence for at least two that predate the Cambrian.

    RBH

  19. RBH

    Having screwed up the last one, I’ll try again:

    Sticks said:
    “Re the Cambrian Explosion
    What you have, is suddenly all of the nine known phyla appearing in one layer, without any fossils below them showing a progression from the first single cell life form.
    They come in, bang, all complete, Which was why it was called the Cambrian explosion. (Whether you are a creationist or an Evolutionist)�

    “NINE known phyla�? In fact, depending on the taxonomist one consults, there are about 32 animal phyla. Of those, just 11 show fossil evidence of having emerged during the Cambrian. In addition, among others, all fungi and all plant phyla post-date the Cambrian. Finally, molecular evidence suggests that half a dozen animal phyla predate the Cambrian, with concurring fossil evidence for at least two that predate the Cambrian.

    RBH

  20. pumpkinpie

    Proponents of ID are so arrogant to think that because not everything is *yet*, as of now, this moment they are living in, explained by evolution, that it NEVER will be. Do they really think there is no more scientific discovery, no more learning to do?

  21. Leon

    Nigel, to be fair, Sticks hasn’t been advocating ID, but rather outright creationism. And she’s right to say that ID is a poor answer to the question.

    That said, Sticks, the Cambrian Explosion is a sudden “burst only” in the scheme of things: several million years, as opposed to four BILLion years of Earth’s history. Remember that each of those million years is 166 times the length of recorded human history. We’re not talking about a sudden “poof!” and everything appears–this is a LONG, LONG period of time. It’s just that a lot happened in this particular period of time, so biologists came up with a catchy name that was unfortunately also easy to misunderstand/misrepresent.

  22. Leon

    (Whoops, that should have been “sudden burst”, not “burst only”.)

  23. Mike says:
    “I just wanted to add that not only the americans are *blessed* with these ID folk….a big german online newspaper just posted an article about the ID discussion in america….and bingo, 24 hour later you get exactly the same mix of ID supporters and steady scientists that we see in the US…using exactly the same fogy and cloudy arguments in support for ID that I’ve seen on the US sites….
    Perhaps science is simply too much for most people, no matter where ?”

    Mike, we have had the same thing here in Australia: a brief segment on a science tv program last Thursday has been followed by days of debate in the letters pages of our major daily newspaper. It all follows a predictable pattern: the day after the program, a journalist wrote a report supporting the scientists in saying that ID, whatever its pretence to merit, is not science and should not be taught in the science classroom; the next day, the creationists and ID believers wrote in to say “what about the big bang not being testable/the cambrian explosion/biogenesis?” — all the predictable arguments — and the following day (today) a few people have written to say, “look, you don’t even know what you’re talking about”, but these letters are buried at the bottom of the letters page because people are already losing interest.

  24. A Disheartened Fan

    As an almost former fan of the BA, I am so disappointed to visit this site and constantly find postings about ID and evolution. Even disregarding the fact that this discussion is not the reason I would come to an astronomy site, the disdain and casual snobbery toward people of faith get worse with each post. The ensuing comments are only worse. I am not a proponent of ID, but I would rather socialize with those folks than with the people frequenting here who almost giddily display their superiority complexes. I would like to think that such an enlightened group could argue sans personal attacks and snide remarks. God or no God, I don’t think any of us will be remembered for our position on evolution, but we will be remembered by how we treated each other.

    All that aside–BA, please keep in mind that some of your fans are people of religious faith. If you can’t pretend to respect our intelligence, perhaps you can at least pretend to respect our hits on your site or book purchasing power.

  25. Michael Hopkins

    A Disheartened Fan,

    Where has the BA attacked people of faith?

  26. Evolving Squid

    You have a good point A_D_F, and I’m sorry you feel personally attacked. However, I think you’re missing something VERY important.

    The scientific method is, for lack of a better description, an organized method for critical thinking. Faith is the diametric opposite of critical thinking. Science requires that you hypothesize, test, and reevaluate your position. Faith requires that you blindly accept your position as truth without regard to evidence or logic. Science allows for the reality that ideas can be wrong and seeks to root those ideas out and expose them to scrutiny. Faith revels in its own unsupportable truth, seeking to quash inconsistencies through stalwart belief.

    It’s not that critical thinkers want to attack people of faith – far from it… they merely wish to shed light where they see darkness, to offer logic to break through walls of illogic, to find fact where there is only conjecture. Unfortunately, people of faith view this as an assault on their beliefs because, well, it is. But it is no more an assault a person’s beliefs than proseletyzing at my door, or praying for my soul, or trying to force children to be taught to think uncritically in a science class.

    An attack on the very strengths of the scientific method is a current event in what is arguably the most advanced and powerful nation in the world. That subject is worth a LOT of column inches because the outcome of the battle will actually shape future generations of thinkers. Whether or not you have faith, surely you can see the importance of the issue? Since this is a science based site, it stands to reason that it might support one side more than the other, yes? The fight really isn’t about ID vs Evolution… that’s a sideshow. The real fight is about critical thinking versus blind faith.

    Ask yourself how such a message would be received if I went to Pat Robertson’s web site and posted something like:

    “As an almost former fan of Pat Robertson, I am so disappointed to visit this site and constantly find postings about ID and evolution. Even disregarding the fact that this discussion is not the reason I would come to a religion site, the disdain and casual snobbery toward non-believers get worse with each post. The ensuing comments are only worse. I am not a proponent of all science, but I would rather socialize with those folks than with the people frequenting here who almost giddily display their superiority complexes. I would like to think that such an enlightened group could argue sans personal attacks and snide remarks. God or no God, I don’t think any of us will be remembered for our position on evolution, but we will be remembered by how we treated each other.

    All that aside–Pat, please keep in mind that some of your fans are agnostics. If you can’t pretend to respect our intelligence, perhaps you can at least pretend to respect our hits on your site or book purchasing power.”

  27. TheBlackCat

    Many of us here are people of faith, and we have absolutely no problem with what BA says. BA is not attacking people of faith, he is attacking people who are attacking science. Whether they are people of faith or athiests, the point is to defend science against those who either don’t like it, or in this case are actively trying to destroy it. That is the one of the main purposes of the whole BA site.

  28. Sam

    Nicely put, Evolving Squid.

  29. A Disheartened Fan

    This blog is about astronomy, but also about science. ID and creationism attack science, but make no mistake—they attack astronomy as well. The major proponents use deceptive tactics (as they must, since they are wrong), bad logic, and many resort to lies. In some ways they are similar to the more mundane astronomical antiscientists I fight, except that the damage they do is a on vast scale. They are trying to undermine science, destroy our educational system, and brainwash an entire generation of children.

    I will do what I can to fight this.

    Nowhere have I attacked all belief systems. However, if your belief is bound up with ID and creationism, then yes, I am attacking your specific belief. Why shouldn’t I? Why is it OK to blindly massacre science, but taboo to argue against someone’s personal belief, especially given that this particular belief is not based on evidence, is not based on objective reasoning, and in fact goes against every single thing we know to be true about the way the Universe works?

    Not all beliefs are created equal. Not all are sacred. The Nazis believed that they were the Chosen Race. So do the Taliban, the North Koreans, and every single ideologically-driven dictatorship in history. They were all wrong. This is empirical evidence that not all beliefs are to be weighed equally, and that not all beliefs are sacred.

    I’ll be blunt in another area: your last paragraph, intentional or otherwise, is insulting. Sure, I want there to be as many people reading my blog as possible, but I am not trying to keep people here to inflate my hits or to buy my books. What sort of person do you think me to be? Do you really think that I am so crass, so base in my desires?

    The more I fight uncritical thinking, blind dogma, and this rabid attack on reality, the more I understand how important it is. Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.� I’m one guy, and I maybe I can’t do much, but I’ll do what I can. I am not an acerbic, abrasive person. I will do what I can to remain polite, to not resort to ad hominem, and to be rational.

    But I am not an automaton. I will not remain emotionless, I will not be passionless, and I will not stand by while this evil is done. And I will continue this fight as long as I can, and as long as it is necessary to fight it.

  30. Peter B

    Sticks and Disheartened Fan

    I occasionally read the feedback at TalkOrigins. I take part in debates about Creation and Evolution at Dr Karl’s Self Service Science Forum. I’ve lately read the letters to the editor at the Sydney Morning Herald.

    The depressing thing I notice in all these forums is the use by supporters of Creationism or ID of arguments which have been shown to be wrong. Time after time. I don’t know whether the people who present these arguments genuinely believe they’ve never been shown to be wrong, or cynically present them to try to convince people who haven’t seen them before, though I hope it’s more of the former than the latter.

    Even so, it’s very hard to explain the realities of a subject to people when they use discredited arguments and bad logic.

  31. For the record, I am a he not a she

    Second, re the number of phyla

    I have worked out where I got the figure 9 from. It was a tape of a creationist seminar made in 1987. The speaker used the term “Whole nine Yards”. I apologise for mixing an expression with the number of phyla and defer to what ever figure you may give.

    That said, the observation, at least in the 1980’s was that in the Cambrian layer, where life was originally thought to have started, hence the term pre-cambrian for pre-life, all known phyla appeared in this layer. The term explosion, implying suddeness may have been used in geological time scales. This gave the idea, as I see it that all these multi-cellular forms appear all at once, without a preceeding ancestor below them.

    Now one thing I can not let slip is the argument that Evolving Squid made about vestigial organs. I know that this is a creationist site, but this link is to an article that says that modern medicine says there are no vestigial organs. According to it, with regard to the appendix, Current medical textbooks describe the appendix as a “well-developed lymphoid organ� whose “mucosa and submucosa…are dominated by lymphoid nodules� and whose “primary function is as an organ of the lymphatic system�

    Now re Faith versus Science

    Science changes, as we know, as new discoveries are made.

    But faith can change too, when people realise that they may have misread or misinterpreted some of their holy texts, or realised that they were not saying what they thought they said.

    The case of Galileo is a prime example, the RC church was defending a view held by Ptolomy not the Bible as when properly examined the Bible never taught geocentricity, but people had missunderstood phenomenal language, which we still use today, such as sunrise, sunset. (Nobody criticises Fiddler on the roof for this song and rightly so)

    Faith properly done does not have to be antiscience. If you examine the history of science you will find that it was men of faith who thought that God had written two books, the Bible and the book of nature, and it was their duty to make study of this book just as much as the study of scriptures.

    As they say in Mars Attacks “Why Can’t we al just get along”

  32. Captain Swoop

    And it was men of faith that found the book of nature didn’t match a literal reading of the Bible

  33. Evolving Squid

    You see, Sticks, if someone has found and document proof that an appendix does something useful, then I would agree that science has found it not to be a vestigial organ. One article doesn’t constitute proof to me, but it gives me a topic to research in my spare time! I’ll have to examine evidence and reevaluate my position on the human appendix. When was the last time you examined evidence and reevaluated faith? Perhaps you do this regularly – I know people for whom faith is constantly a question, though some might say that simply by questioning they cannot have faith.

    But the human appendix is just one of my examples. Did you overlook the legs in whales and snakes? Those are transitional forms, and they may never evolve away – if there is no natural disadvantage to having internal leg remnants, there’s no reason to select against them, so that feature may exist for millions of years to come.

  34. Evolving Squid

    And, for the record, I said “vestigial limbs” not “vestigial organs”. Although I included the appendix, the thrust of my argument wasn’t a definition of vestigial or organ. I suspect you knew this, and are attempting to invalidate a small part of the argumet and use that foothold to invalidate the whole argument.

    That is a logical fallacy known as “denial of the antecedent”:

    >Snakes and whales have vestigial limbs, humans have at least one
    >vestigial organ, this indicates transitional forms supporting evolution.
    >
    >Humans have no vestigial organs, therefore evolution is false.

    When, in fact, only the note about vestigial organs may be false, and the absence of one of those things does not invalidate the entire argument.

    This is a common tactic of “people of faith” which has been discussed ad nauseum on many fora.

  35. Actually, I saw the word Appendix and the word Vestigial and some how did not see the word limb. I am so used to seeing the phrase “vestigial organ” I somehow read Vestigial limb as vestigial organ.

    One of these days I will learn to read.

    However I would have thought that “Vestigial limb” would just be a subset of “Vestigial Organs”

    If by vestigial limb in humans, you mean the coccyx, then I have found reference to it in this article which says:


    The coccyx is attached to the lower end of the vertebral column, and consists of three to five (usually four) fused vertebrae. Evolutionists believe this is a rudimentary tail, and it often is referred to as the “tail bone.� However, the coccyx serves a very real function as an anchor for muscles and tendons. These have a role in bowel movements, giving birth, leg movement, and other functions in the lower torso.

    This article has a passing reference to the alleged vestigial limbs in whales – near the end of the article

    Have not been able to locate anything on the snakes, except a passing allusion to the claim

    Looking at the concept of vestigial limbs or vestigial organs, it seems that this is a case of, we do not know what this organ / limb does, so therefore it must be a usless item from evolutionary history. Then as more research is done, the uses are discovered for these items and so the list of vestigial organs and limbs decreases.

    Does this not seem the same error that ID makes, a sort of Evolutionist variant of the God of the Gaps fallacy.

    e.g

    IDers say, because we do not know how X could have got to how it is, therefore it is the result of ID.

    Evolutionists say, because we do know what Y does in the body of whatever, it is therefore a vestigial limb / organ

    Sounds like both side falling into the same logical trap.

  36. Chet

    Evolving Squid Says: October 24th “The conclusion I draw is that biogenesis hypothesis still fits the observed data, and although it hasn’t been demonstrated true, this may be because an adequate experiment has yet to be designed; or that an adequate experiment has been designed, but the time scale over which the experiment has been performed is inadequate to see appropriate results.�
    Rephrased from John Gribbin’s “Deep Simplicity�, Chapter on Life Beyond page 242: “ Astrobiologists are attempting those experiments. Mixtures of water, methanol, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide (ices), which are found in interstellar space, were exposed to UV radiation at minus 258 C, three amino acids (glycine, serine, and alanine) spontaneously formed in the experimental containers. In other experiments, using slightly different mixtures, no less than sixteen amino acids and several other organic compounds were produced under conditions that exist I interstellar space.�
    “A broth of amino acids has the capacity to spontaneously self-organize into a network with all the properties of life. “
    Eventually, biogenesis with interstellar dust grains and ices (more comet and/or asteroid interior sampling required) will confirm life spontaneously self-organized from amino acids into primitive RNA self-replicating molecules of life on Earth. However, we need to find other living forms in the atmosphere of Venus, underground Mars, Europa, or within the interiors of asteroids like Ceres, etc., to verify this.

    Evolving Squid Says: “This differs from deity-based biogenesis in that the hypothesis of divine intervention cannot be tested at all, and is therefore an inherently weaker position.�
    It is testable and verifiable because if any Deity actually existed, we could verify that with independent, objective verifiable evidence.

  37. Leon

    A Disheartened Fan, I haven’t seen any egregious religion-bashing in this particular thread, and I certainly don’t see that getting worse with each post.

    Just the same, there *have* been some uncalled-for attacks on religion in some other threads here, and it’s disturbed me to see them there. At times when I’ve seen it get especially bad, I’ve stepped in and asked people to lay off that stuff. Attacking religion is not what this blog is about, and it is unfortunate that that attitude comes out here now and then.

    One person I haven’t seen attack religion itself (only antiscientific outgrowths of it such as ID) is the BA himself. And I do think he’s right to discuss ID and creationism here for the same reasons he mentions above.

    An attack on one branch of science is by extension an attack on others, since they’re interrelated. Geology gives a timeframe for the age of the earth, paleontology provides fossil evidence, nuclear physics (the same science that brought us nuclear weapons & power) provides radiocarbon dating. A *challenge* to evolution, based on well-substantiated scientific evidence, would be something else entirely–but that’s not what we’re seeing from the creationist/ID movement.

  38. Leon

    Sticks Says:

    > For the record, I am a he not a she

    -blink- I don’t know WHY I got that impression, but somehow I did. (wipes egg from face)

    > Second, re the number of phyla

    > I have worked out where I got the figure 9 from. It was a tape of a
    > creationist seminar made in 1987. The speaker used the term “Whole
    > nine Yards�. I apologise for mixing an expression with the number of
    > phyla and defer to what ever figure you may give.

    D’oh! I’ve done that sort of thing before. Happens.

  39. Leon

    Chet says:

    > Evolving Squid Says: “This differs from deity-based biogenesis in that
    > the hypothesis of divine intervention cannot be tested at all, and is
    > therefore an inherently weaker position.�
    > It is testable and verifiable because if any Deity actually existed, we
    > could verify that with independent, objective verifiable evidence.

    Whaa?? I don’t think so. The existence of a supernatural being cannot be scientifically tested or proved/disproved. Science works with the natural, not the supernatural. By definition, supernatural forces/beings cannot be tested by natural means. Especially supernatural beings which are also omnipotent (and therefore could have interfered with the test and created a false negative).

  40. TheBlackCat

    The whole thing about vestigial organs and limbs is debatable. I am not aware of any that are absolutely without any role whatsoever (although in many cases the roles seem jerry-rigged to make use of these structures when their original role was lost).

    On the other hand, there IS junk DNA. The vast majority of the human genome, or any genome, is without any role whatsoever. Much of it is simply repeating segments of junk code. This could sort of be considered the ultimate vestigial organ, parts of the very core of our being that serve no purpose whatsoever.

  41. Evolving Squid

    >Evolutionists say, because we do know what Y does in the body of
    >whatever, it is therefore a vestigial limb / organ

    No, we say that it is vestigial when it appears to be useless, but when evidence of its function comes up we cease calling it vestigial. Lack of “vestigiality” (if that is a word) doesn’t change the idea that it is a transitional form on the way to disappearing through evolution – it merely changes the hypothesis that it was “useless”.

    We know, for example, that the coccyx is related to a tail in the distant past because, very rarely, humans are born with tails! (seriously, google it). The fact that the coccyx still serves some function doesn’t mean that it’s not evolving away either.

    >It is testable and verifiable because if any Deity actually existed, we
    >could verify that with independent, objective verifiable evidence.

    Having to assume that a deity exists is not a test. To assume the deity exists with which we could verify the truth of biogenesis pre-supposes the conclusion (biogenesis through divine intervention) is true. Or are you arguing that there could be a God of some sort, but that the God had no part in biogenesis (an interesting idea)?

    I am aware of experimentation to duplicate biogenesis and the results. However, it is fair to say that life has not yet been created which means there may be inaccuracies in the hypothesis of biogenesis. That’s not a huge deal – with time and research the hypothesis will be refined into a theory. Frankly, it’s an hypothesis that works for me. I think we’re on the same side on this one.

  42. Leon

    To return to the direct focus of this particular thread, I have to say that this latest ID tactic of getting around the “science” problem by redefininig science is disturbing.

    It’s equivalent to saying “We don’t have to lose the election–all we have to do is redefine ‘majority’.”

    Redefining something to make it look like your position is what it’s not is a dishonest and, sadly, often effective tactic. The very real possibility that it will convince some people saddens me.

  43. Irishman

    All of this discussion over “theory” touches on something I’ve been pondering for some time now. Perhaps both sides are making too much out of this “theory” definition business?

    The way I see it, a “Theory” is an explanation. For a theory to be scientific, it must be based upon evidence, comprehensive, and subject to testing and attempts at falsification. It must integrate disparate ideas and meld with the bulk of scientific knowledge. All of that shows that a scientific theory is not a mere hypothesis, but it is a bit much to equate a theory with a fact. It requires defining fact, for instance.

    In this I think that Behe has a legitimate point. Something does not cease to be a theory once it is disproved. The Ether Theory of light transmission comes to mind as an example. Once the Ether was disproved, that does not mean that Ether is no longer a theory, it means that Ether is no longer a valid theory.

    However, in that grain of truth Behe has reached a larger, more comprehensive error. Something may be a theory without being a scientific theory. The example given of Astrology, for instance. Astrology offers an explanation for behavior and personality of people and events that happen. In that, it is a “theory”. However, it is not based upon evidence, it is not critically evaluated, and attempts to falsify it by skeptics are not appreciated, supported, or heeded by the proponents. Astrology makes no effort to meld with and stands in contradiction to many other findings of science, such as gravitational strength weakening with distance. Therefore, it is at best pseudoscience, taking on the guise of science while failing to follow the methods of science. Some elements of Astrology eschew science completely, and base themselves as an element of faith. As a theory, Astrology is useless because it does not conform to the standards and methods for confirmation and disproof – science.

    What does this mean in the overall argument over Evolution as a “Theory”? First we must consider the word, “Evolution”. In general, “evolution” means “change over time by adaptation through a gradual (step-wise) process to better fit some selection criteria”. (My own original definition.) It is used generically when talking about, for instance, an evolutionary process related to tool design.

    An example might be the design of matches. Begin with a wooden stick, to serve as a template and initial kindling source. Apply to the end some specific chemical combination that will ignite when rubbed against a roughened surface. This is a portable firestarter – the chemical ignites, creates a brief hot flame that ignites the stick, which provides enough fuel (hopefully) to last long enough until nearby kindling ignites. The next step is a safety device – making the end of the chemical only ignite when struck against a particular type of roughened surface – i.e. “safety matches”, where you need the striker on the box. This makes them somewhat less useful because the ignition conditions are more limited, but increases the selection criteria of reducing the incidence of accidental strikes. Then comes the branching of design to meet different selection criteria. Paper matchbooks mean the matches are more portable, cheaper, more convenient, and can carry a decorative logo on the packaging to make them suitable as cheap advertising. Longer matchsticks can be used for less accessible locations, such as charcoal grills or fireplaces. Kindling sticks can be made of a larger size that are chemically treated to burn longer, serving as firestarters. All essentially matches, but showing incremental changes to fit other selection criteria.

    More specific to biology, evolution in a generic sense is used to mean that changes in lifeforms occur, that life forms are not static. This is an observed condition based upon evidence and undisputable. The fact that dogs can be bred to form different breeds through artificial selection is direct proof that species can vary, form subsets.

    Evolution is often also used in a more technical sense to mean “change in gene frequency over time”. This is a genetic use of the word evolution, and speaks to the underlying mechanism of biology. This is a more limited and more specific use of the word.

    However, the word Evolution is also used as an all-encompassing label for the overall concept of how life forms change. It is the description of life starting as simple forms and becoming more complex forms. It is the descent from a common ancestor description. It is the overarching term used to represent all concepts, from natural selection and mutation to gene recombination in meieosis, common descent, DNA lineages, and all elements of modern biology. This is the use of the word Evolution to which the ID proponents (and Creationists) speak when they associate biogenesis with evolution. They are speaking of the comprehensive materialist (i.e. non-supernatural) notion of the development of life. In that use, they are legitimate in that scientists will look to the solution of the biogenesis problem naturally and not supernaturally. This is also the use of Evolution when we speak of Evolution as “A theory” – the comprehensive, integrated complex of data and interpretation through critical analysis and evaluation to provide an explanation for how life changes.

    Back to “theory”. The push for disclaimers about Evolution being “a Theory” are misguided because they focus on the juxtaposition between “Explanation” and “Fact/Law”. The facts are the data. The laws are the descriptions of how things behave, how they work. Then there is the theory, the integrated explanation that melds the facts and laws together. These disclaimers are focusing on those elements, and trying to emphasize that an explanation is only one possibility, and that other possibilities (explanations – theories) exist. However, in doing so they overlook (perhaps purposefully) the element of Evolution as a theory that makes it important, and better than those potential other possibilities. Evolution is a Scientific theory. It is not some mere cobble together of random ideas. It is not wild speculation without justification. It is not a dogmatic, blind assertion. It is an explanation drawn from data, continually compared to data, integrated with continuing research into all elements of biology, incorporating theories (explanations) of how species became differentiated with explanations of the mechanisms how (natural selection, mutation, recombination) and the disparate elements of biology such as genetics, DNA, biochemistry, etc. It is compared to other topics of science – astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry – and shaped to work together to provide an integrated description and explanation of the overall history of the Earth.

    The claimed purpose for pushing ID and emphasizing the “theory” aspect of Evolution is to promote critical thinking and to draw attention to “flaws” in the theory for further study so seek better understanding. These are positive goals and ones that any reasonable person would happily accept, and I note that many ID supporters and/or uninformed people who post on the topic have fallen for that ploy. But the true purpose behind the ID movement has nothing to do with improving Evolution (as theory) or in bettering our understanding of how the universe works and how biological diversity arises. The ID movement is being driven by a set of people with a particular religious and political agenda (the Discovery Institute). They want to weaken Evolution because they find their religious beliefs of Creationism (the supernatural cause, whatever particular form of creationism) in conflict with the results that Evolution show. They want to work supernatural elements into the science class as a supposed scientific alternative explanation for the diversity and origins of life as a pretext to then supplant science with their religious beliefs – christianity in particular. The (not so unofficial) goal is nothing less than the proseletyzing of their religion to children in school with the imprimateur of science stamped across it.

    This is why scientists and science proponents are so outraged, and why we are so adamant and vocal about ID. The ID Proponents are usurping the science process and forcing their religious views on the American public through political action. This is in direct violation of the American way, and the principles of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience that form a backbone of American life. The ID Proponents claim that they are acting to support religious freedom by allowing religious beliefs to be expressed. But what they are really doing is acting to stifle religious freedom by forcing their particular religious views into the science classes as science with the intent to push christianity and creationism. Anyone who truly values freedom of thought, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience should be apalled.

  44. Nigel Depledge

    Black Cat said:
    “The whole thing about vestigial organs and limbs is debatable. I am not aware of any that are absolutely without any role whatsoever (although in many cases the roles seem jerry-rigged to make use of these structures when their original role was lost).”

    That sounds about right. There are very very few structures in biology that serve absolutely no purpose at all. However, there are several structures that are not very good at serving the purposes they do. Among these are organs / limbs that are known as vestiges (or vestigial limbs / organs). So, for instance, the appendix in humans is homologous to the appendixes of other animals, yet does not serve the same purpose. It seems to have some function related to the lymphatic system, yet is clearly not nearly as important as the spleen or the bone marrow or the lymph nodes. So, it is a structure part-way through being turned to a different purpose. But, since it is not harmful to have an appendix (unless it becomes inflamed), there is no selection pressure to remove it.

    Black Cat said:
    “On the other hand, there IS junk DNA. The vast majority of the human genome, or any genome, is without any role whatsoever. Much of it is simply repeating segments of junk code. This could sort of be considered the ultimate vestigial organ, parts of the very core of our being that serve no purpose whatsoever”

    Although there are HUGE stretches of the human genome that serve no identified purpose, there is much speculation that it must serve some function (and what that function might be). Experiments have been carried out to try to tease out some of these possibilities, and there are hints that the so-called junk DNA does have some function. My understanding of the current consensus is that it may be involved in the regulation of gene expression and / or the control of genetic recombination. I’m wishing I’d paid a bit more attention to genetics lectures, now.

  45. Mike

    Nigel Depledge Says:
    Although there are HUGE stretches of the human genome that serve no identified purpose, there is much speculation that it must serve some function (and what that function might be). Experiments have been carried out to try to tease out some of these possibilities, and there are hints that the so-called junk DNA does have some function. My understanding of the current consensus is that it may be involved in the regulation of gene expression and / or the control of genetic recombination. I’m wishing I’d paid a bit more attention to genetics lectures, now.

    While you are right that DNA posseses various functions in gene regulation (the most basic of these being the simple fact that unwinded DNA can’t be transcribed) there are really huge regions of DNA serving no purpose at all. This is easily proven by comparing the “junk” DNA of several people. You will be able to identify regions of DNA beeing identical in composition but not in the number of repeats (a fact hunting many unwilling fathers ;)
    So far theres has been no phenotype associated with the number of repeats of these regions…therefore, so far, we can safely assume them redundant.

    This whole Id thing is really amazing. I would never have thought that there are so many people willing to abandon the scientific method which has served us so well so far. Irishmans post on this topic is excellent, these ID fanatics are not only attacking Evolution but the whole scientific method. I think they chose Evolution because
    a) it touches the most fundemental believes of most people
    b) it’s easy to discredit if you’re not a scientists (the whole “just a theory” comes to mind)
    So far so good, a few lunatics can do whatever makes them happy in their basement….what amazes me is the support this thing is reveiving from “normal” people. Are there really so many people out there simply waiting for someone who “saves” their children from oh so evil science ?
    So far it seems to me that mostly educated people defend ET and both, eduacted (but ignorant :) and uneducated people are in support of ID…..seems like we’re loosing this simply by the numbers ?

  46. P. Edward Murray

    Disheartened fan,

    I am a Catholic Christian and an Amateur Astronomer.
    I see no problem whatsoever believing in The Big Bang & Evolution & God.

    Jesus said to beware of those who are false prophets and I believe that the Cretionists and Intelligent Design folks only cloak themselves in Christianity but have a more sinister motive, not to bring God into a public classroom but to relentlessy question the precepts that the world can be understood.

    For if we begin to deny science then we begin to deny education.

    I don’t believe God is in this at all.

    And if Americans begin to lose faith in the reality of science, what about the rest of the world?

    What happens, and this is happening now, if the rest of the world surpasses us in terms of understanding science & technology?

    Our life here begins to decline and we are already feeling it’s pinch!

  47. Chet

    Leon (Oct 25th) : “Whaa?? I don’t think so. The existence of a supernatural being cannot be scientifically tested or proved/disproved. Science works with the natural, not the supernatural. By definition, supernatural forces/beings cannot be tested by natural means. Especially supernatural beings which are also omnipotent (and therefore could have interfered with the test and created a false negative).“
    Then, by your own statements, a supernatural being or force or spirit does not exist within our Universe. By definition, it is non-existent! Therefore, “God� is imaginary, just pretend, and created in your “image of what a deity should be�. So, why not give up on religion, be a secular humanist, and self-educate yourself in the sciences or arts? We are natural beings created by our biological parents living in a natural Universe.
    The only natural gods/goddesses are stars. Perhaps those ancient religions that worshipped Sun Gods such as the Egyptian Aten, Re, Khepri, Horakhty, and Atum, the Aztec’s Tonatiuh, the Greek and Roman Apollo, the Hebrew YHWH, the Navajo Tsohanoai, etc. were right all along. Our Sun should be worshipped as the God of our own Solar System because, scientifically, it is the giver of light, heat, and life.

    Why is only one mythological “God� mentioned? A historical comparative study of all the religions of only our species, over the past ten thousand years or so, if you would just please make an effort to self-educated yourselves about comparative religions over the past ten thousand years or so, will find that there are hundreds to thousands of different mythological immortals (god and demi-gods), polytheistic, pagan, animistic, monotheistic, etc, religions. The concept of some supernatural “God� has been an evolving social refinement in religious thought over the past four thousand years from the monotheistic Sun God Aten (the life giving illumination of the sun) of Pharoah Akhenaten to the monotheistic YHWH of the Hebrews to the monotheistic religions of Catholicism (a trinity), Christianity, Islam, and whatever future religions our species will create in the future.
    A supernatural “god� is an argument from self-centered arrogance.

  48. Chet

    UCSD Study Shows ‘Junk’ DNA Has Evolutionary Importance
    Genetic material derisively called “junk� DNA because it does not contain the instructions for protein-coding genes and appears to have little or no function is actually critically important to an organism’s evolutionary survival, according to a study conducted by a biologist at UCSD.
    For the rest of this article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051020090946.htm

  49. Irishman

    Sticks Said:
    > Well in predictions that can be falsified, I am still awaiting the announcement that life has be created from non living chemicals has proposed by organic evolution. (Biogenesis being a foundation that the rest of evolution is built upon)

    Others have addressed the relationship of biogenesis to evolution. However, I want to point out that this step is not so far away as even I thought. I just saw a “Nova Science Now” program discussing this very topic, and the current state of science research. I confidently predict that some scientific team will make an announcement to the effect of creating life from non-life within the next 5 years. I’m talking a very basic form of life, not, say, a fully-formed kitten. Something simpler than the simplest modern bacteria. But life.

    Things that have been done:
    – Finding organic matter in asteroids (carbonaceous chondrites).
    – Getting the organic matter to self-organize into a closed membrane structure (analogous to a cell-wall).
    – Getting the self-organized structures to grow.
    – Getting the self-organized structures to reproduce.

    Scientists can also build DNA from the basic ATCG chemical components. Using a particular machine, plug in the gene sequence for the DNA strand, plug in the chemicals (shown as crystals similar to sand or sugar), the machine runs and the DNA is built, which can then be plugged into a bacterial cell and create enact the sequence.

    One science team is even trying to create a new life form from scratch. They are using a different organizational chemical than DNA, one that does not appear in nature. The “life form” they are developing has no cell wall and instead is a kind of clumpy goo. Yet the goal is to get this to fully comply with the basics of life – take energy from environment, grow, reproduce, expel wastes.

    Watch it online here:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3214/01.html

    I like the “Let’s Make a Microbe!” Flash module, especially the “Reality Check” blocks.

  50. Leon

    Chet Says:

    >> Leon (Oct 25th) : “Whaa?? I don’t think so. The existence of
    >> a supernatural being cannot be scientifically tested or proved/
    >> disproved. -snip-
    >
    > Then, by your own statements, a supernatural being or force or
    > spirit does not exist within our Universe. By definition, it is non-
    > existent! Therefore, “God� is imaginary, just pretend, and
    > created in your “image of what a deity should be�.

    For the record, I said nothing of the sort. Just because something isn’t scientifically provable doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. (It might very well *be* wrong, but it doesn’t logically follow.) It’s simply outside the purview of science; science is, by its nature, neutral on the existence of a god or gods. Morals and ethics aren’t scientifically testable either, but that won’t prevent me teaching them to my children.

  51. Leon

    P. Edward Murray, that was well said. As has been said here many times (but which the religious right fails to understand), the existence of God(s) and evolution are two separate questions entirely.

  52. Leon

    Hey Irishman, I think I saw the same special. Sure is exciting! I really look forward to the day we manage to create life in the lab. Granted it’s only tangential to evolution itself, but it will help in the debate. (Not that there should be a serious debate, any more than there is one in the scientific community.)

  53. Irishman

    A Disheartened Fan Said:
    > …the disdain and casual snobbery toward people of faith get worse with each post.

    Please quote examples of the BA’s disdain and casual snobbery so that we can understand what you mean.

    >The ensuing comments are only worse. I am not a proponent of ID, but I would rather socialize with those folks than with the people frequenting here who almost giddily display their superiority complexes. I would like to think that such an enlightened group could argue sans personal attacks and snide remarks. God or no God, I don’t think any of us will be remembered for our position on evolution, but we will be remembered by how we treated each other.

    To some extent, that is a fair criticism. While many of us speak out the more blatant offenders, there is an undercurrent even in more reserved posters of the attitude that ID supporters must be stupid. I wish the evolution and science supporters would eliminate those insinuations in their posts. It reflects poorly on us and reduces the tone of this blog. I will post examples:

    Mike Said: Perhaps science is simply too much for most people, no matter where ?
    [borderline remark in my mind.]

    Rockstar Said: …IDiots…
    [Cute gimmick, but ultimately insulting rather than descriptive and implies that all ID supporters are stupid. Some are uninformed, and some are persuaded more by their religious beliefs than rational thought base. Some are mislead by the ID proponents who espouse that their reason for pushing ID is for intellectual freedom, broadening critical thought, and getting a deeper understanding of the development of life. Those reasons certainly sound laudible and some of the essays support that agenda to an extent. But it’s really just a mask for the true agenda of the main ID proponents.]

    On the other hand, it is appropriate to be outraged by actions that are shady. Quote-mining and misrepresenting the position of the quoted, for instance, is rather deplorable. Pushing a religious and political agenda to force one set of religious beliefs on others is rather offensive. Hiding your agenda behind spin created to sound more inoffensive and misleading people to the true reasons for your actions is, well, commonplace in marketing but still rather sleazy, and definitely deplorable in academic and intellectual endeavors. So it is not inappropriate to show some criticism for these actions and the perpetrators of them. I would suggest, though, to limit accusations to demonstrable claims and presume the least offense in the situations that are not clear. (Don’t accuse someone of lying when they may merely be misinformed, for instance.)

    I will remind everyone that Phil does not approve of ad homenims or insults, and will ban you for those offenses. Be polite, please. Disagreements do not need to be vicious.

  54. Irishman

    Evolving Squid Said:
    >Ask yourself how such a message would be received if I went to Pat Robertson’s web site and posted something like:….

    I don’t believe this is an appropriate parallel. For one thing, Roberson makes no bones about his arguments being emotional and subjective, and is not particularly striving for objective, rational discussion. Whereas this board aims for a higher tone. We shouldn’t be using Pat Robertson as an exemplar of how we wish to be thought.

  55. Irishman

    On the vestigial organs point, it certainly is a bit hubristic to declare up to 180 organs in the human body as vestigial, simply because we haven’t (or hadn’t at the time) discovered any purpose for them. And it is great that medical science has determined how some of these previously declared vestiges are actually functional now. I note that some of the specific items mentioned are glands. Interesting to note that the endocrine system is fairly complex and still being studied, so it is no wonder that many have been more understood since 1937.

    I’m still a bit hesitant to state that there are no vestigial organs in the human body. I’m mildly curious to see explanations for male nipples, wisdom teeth, ear-wiggling muscles, and the little toe. The mention of wisdom teeth on this page is not particularly explanative and fairly laughable.
    http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/437

    And regardless of the human body, there are vestiges in other animals, notably blind eyes in cave fish and legs in reticulating pythons.

    It is also important to note that something may be a vestige and not be useless. One example mentioned was wings on ostriches and similar flightless birds. The example was that they use them in courtship rituals and in sheltering young. While those wings are being used in secondary ways that wings are typically used by birds, they are still non-functional in the way that wings are particularly unique – powered flight. A similar comment was made regarding whale leg bones as anchor points for some muscles. Perhaps it is their usefulness in this manner that has kept them from going away completely, while the other parts of their hind limbs and the pelvis are gone?

    Similarly, I think it is yet too early to be talking about “junk DNA”, especially relegating large majority of percentage of DNA as junk. While we have managed to decode part of DNA, and parse genes, the system as a whole is still not fully understood. Consider that DNA is not so much a blueprint as a recipe. What is it, 95% of DNA between humans and chimps is the same? Perhaps there is some role played by some of this “junk” in telling the genes how to do their job? Such as defining the basic bipedal structure, placing the head on top of the neck above the shoulders, giving us two eyes instead of five, etc. Until we can write DNA to the extent we can create our own organisms from scratch and program whatever we want (a 3 legged, six-eyed, flying wombat that glows green), I think it’s a bit early to be describing parts as “junk”. YMMV.

    Mike Said:
    > While you are right that DNA posseses various functions in gene regulation (the most basic of these being the simple fact that unwinded DNA can’t be transcribed) there are really huge regions of DNA serving no purpose at all. This is easily proven by comparing the “junk� DNA of several people. You will be able to identify regions of DNA beeing identical in composition but not in the number of repeats (a fact hunting many unwilling fathers ;)
    > So far theres has been no phenotype associated with the number of repeats of these regions…therefore, so far, we can safely assume them redundant.

    Sorry, that still seems a premature conclusion to me. Sure, variations in the number of repeats does seem questionable, but just because we haven’t identified a distinct phenotype correlation with those variations doesn’t mean there isn’t some explanation that we just haven’t figured out yet. It wasn’t too long ago that a completely different and previously unanticipated form of RNA was discovered, and it’s role in suppression of viruses and mutations within the cell (since 1987).

  56. Leon

    As I understand it, the reason male mammals (including humans, of course) have nipples is because mammal embryos start off with a female template–and that as the embryo matures into a male, the nipples just never fully disappear.

  57. Irishman

    Right, Leon. I’m looking for the non-vestigial explanation of male nipples.

    And of course there’s the nipples that form and then disappear on human fetuses, regardless of gender.

  58. Nigel Depledge

    Irishman, one further point that might explain why pro-evolution posters get a bit … shirty (for want of a beter word) is that sometimes the anti-evolution posts demonstrate a lack of either background knowledge, research or understanding of the topic being criticised.

    I consider myself to be widely-read in terms of general science, but do not consider myself to be in a position to criticise the work of an astronomer (bad or otherwise), physicist, geologist or any other type of scientist outside my own field.

  59. Chet, if you can get hold of it I would suggest you read a copy of “Gods in the Sky” by Dr Allen Chapman a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and an expert in the history of science.

    He is far more eloquent than I

    Irishman, I to was frustrated by lack of detail about wisdom teeth, if you go to their site though and find the contact us links, they may be able to supply specifics on other alleged vestigial organs. I once saw one of their ex-directors in 1987 go through this argument in Livingston Scotland and it was quite comprehesive IIRC.

  60. Chet

    “Gods in the Sky” by Allen Chapman.
    I’ve checked my library catalogues with no success.
    Will have to check used bookstores. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Leon stated: “It’s simply outside the purview of science; science is, by its nature, neutral on the existence of a god or gods. Morals and ethics aren’t scientifically testable either, but that won’t prevent me teaching them to my children.”
    However, don’t forgot the “goddesses”.
    Morals and ethics are not scientific, correct, but they are testable, verifiable, and changeable by societies, tribes, civilizations and other species such as elelphants, chimpanzees, gorillas, baboons, etc..
    However, only our species has religion and science—-

  61. A Disheartened Fan

    I appreciate the people who responded to my comment, especially the BA. I really am a fan, and even though I meant the things that I said, I wish that your response could have been to a positive comment I made.

    I don’t want to be a troll and just drop a bomb and leave, so I want to respond to some of the comments.

    First, I’m not arguing for ID. I don’t believe in ID. I suppose that you could say that I believe in intelligent design not Intelligent Design. I think that while there’s always a chance that evolution is wrong, it is most likely correct and anyway the best model we have at this time.

    Second, I may have overstepped in accusing the BA of directly saying something insulting about people of faith. I was trying to speak more to the underlying current/atmosphere of this whole blog whenever the subject comes up. For example:

    IDiots

    “My question for the ID crowd (other than “Can you play the theme from ‘Deliverance’ on your banjo?â€?) ”

    And these are just a couple of examples. I think there were some other examples left in a comment above. I have yet to see the BA discourage this type of comment.

    I want to respond to the BA’s comment. ID people are not evil. There agenda isn’t evil. If if I grant you, for the sake of argument, the evolution is the be all and end all of life’s development on earth, that there is no God, and that every person that believes in ID is ignorant, they’re still not evil. They’re just wrong. They’re not trying to force their religion on unsuspecting school children. They’re trying to get equal time for a belief that they feel is correct. That’s not evil. They’re not the Nazis. They’re not committing genocide. They’re not trying to create a dictatorship. They’re not even trying to take evolution out of school, just put their idea in. As you say, not all ideas should be given equal weight. But in the same vein, there are degrees of wrongness. Some wrongness, ID, is not equal to other wrongness: ie Naziism, murderous dictatorships. The fact that you can draw a correlation from one to the others is a testiment to what I was posting.

    Finally, my last paragraph was insulting, I suppose. But please understand where I am coming from. I am in marketing. One of the first rules is don’t alienate your audience. Your audience contains people like me. People who love science. People who think about the vastness of space and marvel over the beauty and mystery of it all. People who also have friends and family that believe in ID (or at the very least have questions about evolution) and don’t like hearing them called evil idiots who must be stopped from taking over the world. But it’s your blog and your cause and I’m just one girl from across the county and you don’t have any obligation to care what I think.

  62. Bailey

    Okay. So what exactly is wrong with Behe’s thesis that contemporary scientists use the word “theory” more broadly than I learned it in high school? I was told then that a “theory” necessarily had to verified either through repetition (the classic norm) or observation. Is that the notion of “theory” employed by today’s evolutionary biologists? Or is their definition different, either by being closer to “hypothesis” or dependent on acceptance by other evolutionary scientists (i.e., consensus) without regard to its lack of repeatability or direct observation?

    I’m no fundamentalist, but I’ve been bothered for years by the science community’s acceptance of evolution as “fact” when the “theory” is not a theory, at least not the way I learned. Consensus shouldn’t deterimine what is “fact,” or its status becomes wholly political.

  63. Jimmy

    ID has some credibility doesn’t it? I mean arent there scientists and/or mathematicians out there that believe in ID, not because they believe in a “God” or higher being but because of probability. To them the odds or chances of all the right things coming together for everything in our universe to work out the way they did are astronomical. There are scientists and mathematicians who have made calculations that show the improbability of it all and necesitate an intelligent designer.

  64. Tom

    (smile) Very good, Bailey. You have hit upon something rarely mentioned here or anywhere else in “science” circles, on the net or otherwise. The “science communities”, and by this I mean all those disciplines that call themselves sciences: physical, math., bio, anthropo, medico, geo, politico, socio, ad infinitum, have never gotten their collective act together in agreeing upon a common terminology or language. This is one of the main reasons for the confusion that exists. Theory, postulate, hypothesis, proposition, proof….all mean different things in every “science”. And the war between religion and science is purely invented and man-made. Religion has come to mean something far removed from spirituality. And science is no longer seen by most as a “search for truth”, but a search for a means,…a means to an end,..a better rocket, a “better” bomb, a stronger plastic. “God” help us all.

  65. Irishman

    A Disheartened Fan Said:
    >And these are just a couple of examples. I think there were some other examples left in a comment above. I have yet to see the BA discourage this type of comment.

    The BA has said on many occasions that he does not approve of ad hominem attacks, i.e. attacks against the person. He also uses that term in reference to insults. He has kicked off some blatant violators. My evaluation of his position is to allow free expression while maintaining civil discourse – not an easy line to tow. Certainly direct insults are out – “You are a stinkhole!� But general statements about groups of people reflecting an impression? Gets murkier. But you are correct that lots of little comments of that regard pile up to form a consensus of disrespect. Makes it hard to reach those who are on the receiving end.

    >ID people are not evil. There agenda isn’t evil. If if I grant you, for the sake of argument, the evolution is the be all and end all of life’s development on earth, that there is no God, and that every person that believes in ID is ignorant, they’re still not evil. They’re just wrong. They’re not trying to force their religion on unsuspecting school children. They’re trying to get equal time for a belief that they feel is correct. That’s not evil. They’re not the Nazis. They’re not committing genocide. They’re not trying to create a dictatorship. They’re not even trying to take evolution out of school, just put their idea in. As you say, not all ideas should be given equal weight. But in the same vein, there are degrees of wrongness. Some wrongness, ID, is not equal to other wrongness: ie Naziism, murderous dictatorships. The fact that you can draw a correlation from one to the others is a testiment to what I was posting.

    First off I think we need to make a distinction between two types of ID crowd. One set is the ID proponents, folks like Behe and Demski and Johnson from the Discovery Institute. These are the ones leading the charge, putting out the books, and pushing the agenda. The second type are ID supporters, regular people who hear/read their works and find affinity, are convinced by the fancy sounding arguments, etc.

    Second, you are wrong when you say they are not trying to push their religion on unsuspecting school children. ID is a movement to use politics to push a religious agenda. The ID Proponents’ goal is to defeat scientific materialism and insert their religion into science classes. Their own literature (and website) says as much. Their methodology is to subvert science to support their agenda. Sure, the main target right now is evolution, but they are also targeting geology and astronomy as well. That said, you are correct that there are levels of wrong, and this is not on a par with committing genocide and torture. However, they are using duplicitous means to argue their point – such as quote-mining, quoting against context, and misrepresenting the methods and premises of evolution. I seem to recall something in the Bible about not bearing false witness. And didn’t Jesus say that all sins are equal in the eyes of God?

  66. Leon

    Disheartened Fan, I think you’re touching on a distinction that’s very important to make here: theism vs. ID.

    The idea that the universe has a designer (or creator, or maker) is the basis of most religions. The idea is simply that an extremely powerful being (God to a Christian, etc.) created the universe. There’s nothing in that idea that precludes evolution (or necessarily rules it out).

    Intelligent Design is the specific idea that some (unnamed) extremely powerful being created the universe, the Earth, and all species on it AS IS. It specifically excludes evolution. It also (if you believe certain ID proponents) doesn’t necessarily mean the Earth was created by God.

    This is pure speculation on my part, but it seems to me that devout Christians might find ID insulting on theological grounds.

  67. Leon

    (Rather, I should say on a theological level.)

  68. Leon

    Irishman says:

    Sure, the main target right now is evolution, but they are also targeting geology and astronomy as well.

    That’s a very good point. It’s pretty clear that the ID proponents have some very far-reaching goals, and a very incrementalist strategy for implementing them. First they push for the inclusion of ID alongside evolution in class, on the grounds of fairness and other things. Sounds reasonable enough. (It’s not, but that’s another discussion.)

    Once they get that, the next item is to gradually push evolution aside by successfully discrediting it in many people’s eyes. And along the way, they fill the vacuum that ID leaves by begging the question of who/what this unnamed designer is.

    As part of their attack on evolution, they also attack sciences that support it: geology, astronomy, paleontology, and anything else that gets in their way.

    And many of their arguements have broad implications that are bound to be taken up by some. If indirect observations aren’t valid, then the germ theory of disease is out. So is genetics. So is chemistry. So is, well, the rest of the sciences. The Bible and those who propound it will be happy to supply ready-made answers to all the questions that those disciplines were created to investigate.

    It sends chills up my spine to think about it.

  69. Tom

    An interesting contradiction, at least to me, is not only the ant-science tone of many of the “fundamentalists” but the anti-environmentalist attacks as well. This devinely created world and its lifeforms are evidently placed at our disposal to trash for a profit whenever we choose. These people are certainly not the only ones with this mindset, but they certainly keep strange company with the “after us the deluge” crowd. This may be associated with the “Armageddon is near” doctrine. “God” is going to trash everything soon, anyway, so why place much value on the earth’s continued wellbeing? I consider myself a “believer”, Leon, and it sends chills up my spine as well.

  70. Leon

    Yeah, good point.

  71. Chris

    Jimmy: “ID has some credibility doesn’t it? I mean arent there scientists and/or mathematicians out there that believe in ID, not because they believe in a “Godâ€? or higher being but because of probability. To them the odds or chances of all the right things coming together for everything in our universe to work out the way they did are astronomical. There are scientists and mathematicians who have made calculations that show the improbability of it all and necesitate an intelligent designer. ”

    People sometime forget we are looking backwards. The chances of you having been born are infintesimal. But you were. If things were some other way we wouldn’t be writing blogs. If you are tossing coins the chance of getting heads heads heads heads heads heads heads heads is exactly the same as getting heads heads tails heads tails tails heads tails (in that order). There are billions of possibilites but only one (as far we know) actuality. So whatever outcome you have it is always going to be astonomically improbable. Ask any winner of a lottery.

  72. David Holland

    This may be a little late, but vestigal does not mean useless or functionless. See: Claim CB360

  73. Wolverine

    [url=http://www.slate.com/id/2128755/]The Brontosaurus: Monty Python’s flying creationism[/url]

  74. Wolverine

    Whoops, sorry about the above. Old habits die hard.

    Delightful article: http://www.slate.com/id/2128755/

  75. Bruce McNeely

    Re: the appendix
    The claim that the appendix has some role in the lymphatic system is extremely misleading. It does have lymphoid tissue like the rest of the small intestine, however it is comparatively minuscule and has no unique role, it s just a tiny bit more lymphoid tissue that makes no difference when it s gone, Balance this against the real risk of death from appendicitis, and the survival advantage of having a fibrosed appendix or none at all is obvious. As a specie, we would eventually lost the appendix, or at least a hollow one. However, you can blame modern medicine for stopping this bit of evolution in its tracks.

  76. Mike

    Irishman says:
    To some extent, that is a fair criticism. While many of us speak out the more blatant offenders, there is an undercurrent even in more reserved posters of the attitude that ID supporters must be stupid. I wish the evolution and science supporters would eliminate those insinuations in their posts. It reflects poorly on us and reduces the tone of this blog. I will post examples:

    Ok, I admit it, what you say is true. Now I really don’t wan’t to insult anyone, and I belive that Id supporters can be nice people, but for me they are at best ignorant, at worst stupid.
    Ok, this sounds pretty arrogant, but I consider myself a very open minded person. This means that if you show me something new AND provide me with a theory I can test I will believe you.
    Aliens in roswell ? Give me a flying saucer, an alien body and let a dozen science teams from all over the world examine them….no problem.
    But why would I come up with a “story” that not only contradicts what we know today but also involves a higher being ? This is so far away from the real life that it’s just absurd. Perhaps it’s because I consider myself an agnostic, but whenever someone comes up with “God” I tend to ignore them….unfortunately this is not possible with Id since they are pushing it into the (my) puplic life….
    And all this talk of “Genesis” and so on….wake up people ! The Bible is a story book, there were hundreds of gods before “our” God was invented…there will probably be hundreds after him….oh my…
    Bottom line:
    Everyone may believe in any higher being they like. But if someone is trying to force this “God” into the real world he will fail, it is not possible to prove it ! Therefore I allow myself to think of these people as…let’s call it “not very smart”.

  77. Irishman

    Hey, Mike, I’m a very strong opponent of people forcing their religion on others, especially using the power of the government. But I also try to limit the flipside – forcing my non-religion on others.

    I do consider the biblical literalists as naive and muddled thinkers. I also note that many are fairly uninformed on their own religions’ and denominations histories, doctrines, etc. And I’m sure they have their own opinions about me.

    That’s not the point. You can think whatever you want to about whomever you want. But the point is to not let it color the discourse. A dismissive and disrespectful attitude 1) sets a tone that others imitate, a tone that is negative and detracts from the purpose of the site; 2) turns away the very people you’re trying to reach, people who are uninformed or misinformed but are open-minded and just need the right encouragement and information – being disrespectful and derogatory toward them and their beliefs or their families will shut them down before you can make any headway; and 3) is just generally rude, and I try not to be rude.

  78. Mike

    Hi Irish
    I really don’t want to be rude, really :)
    But if you follow some forums where they are discussing Id then there’s always the same pattern.
    1.The educated folks trie to convince the IDs with hard evidence, logic, good arguments, and so on.
    2.What follows is that the Ids totally ignore these “hard” points and continue picking on the “soft” spots of ET (the favored being that Evolution is not able to explain EVERYTHING…) and also ignore every hole in their own “theory”
    3.This goes on and on untill most people simply give up…you can talk to a rock instead and perhaps gain more from it…

    After seeing and doing this for a while I simply reached the conclusion for myself that these ID people (at least the ones being active on the forums) are only trying to push their ill advised and clouded view of the world, the universe and everything else onto us….

    So while you’re right that this colors the discourse this is true for both sides…or why would any open minded person push something like ID ?
    Or rephrased “Someone trying to push ID into schools can’t be right in the head, why discuss seriously with them ?”
    This is the difference between science and faith. Science is always up for debate, faith isn’t. Therefore you can’t discuss this with an ID because he is attacking ET (which is ok since it’s science) but doesn’t allow (or acknoledges) any attacks on his own theory, because it’s faith.
    No need to treat them as equals because they aren’t.

  79. Irishman

    Bailey Said:

    > Okay. So what exactly is wrong with Behe’s thesis that contemporary scientists use the word “theory� more broadly than I learned it in high school? I was told then that a “theory� necessarily had to verified either through repetition (the classic norm) or observation.

    There’s a fair amount of confusion over some terminology.
    A theory is at its heart an explanation of some phenomenon. It is an overarching, comprehensive explanation that ties together multiple lines of data and the collective data on the subject. A hypothesis is a proposal – it can be a proposed law (or principle), which is a description of some behavior, or it can be a proposed explanation. A hypothesis is more than just a guess, it is a guess based upon some preliminary or limited set of data. A hypothesis gets evaluated through the testing process, whereby the scientists determine what the outcome of their hypothesis should be and develop tests that should provide results to either match the predicted outcome, or conflict with that outcome. Conflicting is called “falsification� – you disprove your hypothesis. If you get confirmed results, you then repeat the test. Other scientists try to use your methods and duplicate the results – repetition. Some forms of science are amenable to repetition, but others (such as anthropology) may require a different means of testing – gathering new data to see if it fits. In order for the proposed explanation to be accepted in the science community, it must pass the tests given.

    It must also be integrated with the existing body of scientific knowledge. One can’t just throw out some new explanation that conflicts with everything known about a topic and expect it to be accepted. One has to show how the new explanation also fits with other related phenomenon. For instance, Evolution is tied in neatly with geology, paleontology, archeology, medicine, chemistry, and physics. Where biology overlaps those other disciplines, evolution provides results that are consistent with the knowledge obtained from those disciplines.

    Where does scientific consensus fit into the picture? The essence of science is eliminating all sources of error. Flawed data gives flawed results. However, the sources of flawed data come not just through inept data collection (poor handling of equipment), but also flawed methods for collecting the data (i.e. collecting meaningless data and treating it as meaningful). Plus, a critical aspect comes in interpreting the data. Poor interpretation and stretching beyond the reasonable conclusions from the data are probable means for providing bad science results. Also, scientists have to protect against their own desires – you want the theory to be true, so you inadvertently overlook some flaw. This is where peer review comes in. You submit your results, data, testing methods, and analysis for others in the community to scrutinize – usually someone who has a vested interest in you being wrong. They fine-tooth-comb your paper to find those errors that you couldn’t see yourself. Once the methods have not been invalidated and the interpretation of the results not shown faulty, then the science community builds consensus.

    Consensus is the cumulative judgment of all the science community knowledgeable about the topic. Consensus is when the majority of the community is reasonably convinced of the accuracy of a particular idea, concept, or theory. Ideally this is each person achieving an independent evaluation, but as with any human endeavor people influence each other. To some extent, consensus is a floating goal post – there’s no official number of people that make consensus versus less than consensus. In practice a consensus is typically when an overwhelming majority of people share the same opinion. If the numbers are evenly split or close to evenly split, then the topic is still controversial and needs further testing and evaluation.

    Consensus isn’t perfect. As with any human endeavor, it is made up by people with their own agendas, their own personal interests and beliefs, their own reputations. As such, people can become attached to their own conventional wisdom and find it hard to change in light of new information. That is also why you will never see 100% consensus on any topic – there’s always someone with some different perspective, some view or belief or agenda that colors their interpretation and keeps them disagreeing.

    Is consensus ever wrong? Certainly. History is replete with examples where the community at large held one view contrary to new concepts that turn out to be correct. An example that comes readily to mind is Plate Tectonics. But scientific consensus can be corrected, especially when more data is collected and more testing completed, and a more comprehensive version of that idea is fleshed out. Perhaps there are some cases where the community is overly resistant to change, but we would rather that than people jump willy-nilly to every new idea down the pipe. The general principle is that the community has to be convinced, which is what keeps science testing and digging deeper and trying harder to prove the point.

    And just because sometimes consensus is wrong or slow to change does not mean that any new idea contrary to consensus is valid. The Galileo Effect – they laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Copernicus. Yes, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

    >I’m no fundamentalist, but I’ve been bothered for years by the science community’s acceptance of evolution as “fact� when the “theory� is not a theory, at least not the way I learned.

    Please explain.

  80. Tom

    (smile) Back to the definitions and word games. ‘Theory’ does not mean the same thing to a biological scientist as it does to a mathemetician…or other ‘scientist’. In high school I was a ‘band geek’. There was a required course called ‘Theory of Music’. Is music a theory? Of course it is. It is not a question of whether music exists. It is the study of music and its influence on our culture and daily lives. Theory in this sense means simply a study, or examination of a topic. Evolution is a field of study. It belongs in the biological sciences. Religion is a field of study. It belongs in the humanities. There are ‘theories’ of religion. There are many different opinions about it. I would make one comment here about science and religion. I can’t recall a single genocidal war fought over a scientific theory or principle. I could enumerate many wars fought over a point of religious ‘doctrine’. And no one won any of them.

  81. TheBlackCat

    Evolution may be a field of study, but it is also a theory in the same sense as the theory of relativity, atomic theory, germ theory of disease, the heliocentric theory of the solar system, the theory of plate tectonics, etc. It is not the same thing as music theory, it is still as much a scientific theory as any other.

    IT seems Behe is he is mixing up the technical definition of theory and the everyday definition of the theory. Scientists use both, but they use them in completely different contexts. When scientists formally refer to a theory, such as in the form of “the theory of ____” or “_____ theory”, they are using the technical definition. This is the type of theory you read about in textbooks. However, scientists are human. They also use theory in the common sense, meaning a hunch or a guess. This would be of the form “my theory on the results is ____”. When they say something like that, they may be using it in the common sense (although not always, context is important). They don’t always do it, and not every scientists does it, but it happens. However, Behe is taking the use of theory from one context and trying to apply it to another context when no scientist would use it in that way, and then trying to use this as evidence to support the idea that scientists use the common defintion in all contexts.

  82. Leon

    That’s it, BlackCat. I couldn’t quite articulate what Behe was doing wrong, but you’ve explained it really well.

    Excellent post, Irishman! It’s a little wordy, but that’s because it’s thorough, and it explains the situation very well. My analogy was going to be that different states, different counties, even different roads have different speed limits, but that doesn’t invalidate speed limits. You can’t get out of a speeding ticket in a school zone by arguing that 60mph is legal on the highway.

  83. Looking at the concept of vestigial limbs or vestigial organs, it seems that this is a case of, we do not know what this organ / limb does, so therefore it must be a usless item from evolutionary history. Then as more research is done, the uses are discovered for these items and so the list of vestigial organs and limbs decreases.

  84. Enlightened

    I am sorry that all of you are so ignorant…

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