The most amazing contrast of the 21st century

By Phil Plait | August 16, 2012 10:30 am

While NASA and JPL put a nuclear powered laser-eyed roving chem lab on another planet, Kentucky legislators want to teach kids that the world is 6000 years old, and Missouri wants schoolchildren to be able to stick their fingers in their ears if their teachers discusses evolution.

I think I’ll just leave this here.


Related Posts:

- Tennessee passes law allowing creationism in the classroom
- Louisiana fights back against creationist legislators
- A win for reality in Texas!
- States of educational decay

Comments (78)

  1. The world just makes me so sad sometimes, but that comic makes me cry in a good way.

    Yay Science. :)

  2. BigBadSis

    Phil, are there any serious discussions among scientific institutions to changing the word “theory” to describe the “Theory of Evolution,” “The Theory of Gravity,” and “The Theory of Relativity” so we don’t keep hearing from legislators “It’s just a theory”?! How complex or difficult would it be to make a sweeping change in scientific terminology?

  3. Herb

    That comic gives me goosebumps every time. What a great quote, Phil

  4. OtherRob

    Thinking about this just makes my head hurt. :-(

  5. vel

    Poor kids. If some people don’t like science, they should have the integrity to put themselves in a nice walled off area, like Tennessee, and live there with nothing more than, say, 1st century CE technology. Then they can just harm each other.

    as for changing the word “theory”, why cave to the idiocracy, who still won’t care?

  6. Mars: Blue Rays
    Kentucky: Blue Grass

  7. kirk

    Phil, are there any serial discussions among theorist about changing the word ‘science’ to something less yucky. How complex or difficult would it be to make a sweeping change in theoretical terminology?

  8. tim Rowledge

    Think of it this way – less competition for PhD post in the future.

    Of course, given the disastrous course the US seems to be set upon, much less chance of *any* PhD posts in the future.

  9. Wzrd1

    In theory, it can be of value in protecting the rights of some religions. Would you force a Hindu to dissect a frog, pig or cat? Is our first amendment worthless to some?

    Of note though:
    “Rosenau is worried about one particular clause: “that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.”

    Those words give students the legal right to skip assignments related to evolution if the subject matter conflicts with their beliefs, Rosenau says.”

    Irrelevant, it went unconstitutional with: “have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences”.
    It also made ANY subject that a student wishes to stretch their religious “belief” open to be abandoned, even PE, math, English, etc.
    But, when they included the term “Almighty God”, they violated the first amendment, for there are faiths who have something different than an “Almighty God”. Hence, it’s a state sponsored religion. The law will withstand 15 seconds in any court in the land where the jurist doesn’t wish to risk losing his/her license to practice law. Of course, it wouldn’t go to a state court, as the US Constitution is federal. :)

  10. Dr. K

    @BigBadSis: well, no. I never thought I would give high-ranking legislators the same advice I give to a grade school kid, but here it goes: if you aren’t sure about what a word means, look it up in the dictionary. If legislators are mistaken about the meaning of “theory”, then the correct thing to do is to point out their error and educate them (that’s why courts call expert witnesses to testify), not to stop using the word. In a sense, it is similar to the case of that guy who was forced to issue a public apology (lest he would lose his job) because he used the word “niggardly” and some idiot thought it was a racial slur. The correct response in that case would not have been an apology, but “here is a library pass, kid, go check Merriam-Webster”.

  11. Chris

    Now if only NASA and JPL can build a rocket to put Kentucky and Missouri legislators on Mars. Don’t worry about the return trip.

  12. Regarding the “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs” clause. Does anyone remember the Calvin & Hobbes comic where he’s taking a math test and answers a question with “I can’t answer this as it violates my religious beliefs”? This seems just like that… only scarier because it’s not a tactic a kid is taking to avoid work but adults who honestly think that they should be able to legislate science away.

  13. Found the Calvin and Hobbes comic in question: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2011/05/31

    Who knew that legislators would take their cue from Calvin? Their next bill: Founding the Missouri chapter of G.R.O.S.S.

  14. Stan9fromouterspace

    BigBadSis, the terminology is not the problem. It is the very idea of independent thinking that strikes terror into the hearts and “minds” of those who are ignorant and misguided enough to advocate the sabotage of the education of persons whom they have not even met.

  15. pete

    #9( Wzrd1)

    There’s a difference between making a person perform an assignment that is against their faith, and allowing them to deny facts that contradict their faith. A Buddhist student who refused to dissect a frog (assuming that Buddhists do object to dissection of an already dead animal) would not be denying that frogs have livers, for example. The dissection assignment is less for the specific anatomy lessons and more for familiarity and possibly a weed-out for those thinking of a medical career who cannot stomach cutting flesh

    Allowing Creationists to deny science has greater impact, because they then alter public policy.

  16. The sedimentary-layered Grand Canyon is proof beyond question of Noah’s flood. The basalt- and tufa-layered Snake River Gorge is proof beyond question that God burned out all sinners during the Flood. The Flintstones is proof beyond question that man and dinosaurs co-existed. These are not matters of faith but of observed fact.

    Those who can must never do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers. Those who can’t teach teachers manage teachers. Those who can’t manage teachers manage programs. Those who can’t manage programs dictate policy. Those who can’t dictate policy carry guns. Godswill.

  17. Wow, that’s a very nice poster, Phil. Why don’t we translate it into Spanish? I could do it. I’ll leave this also at the Zen page.

  18. W Sanders

    I hope these legislators realize that everytime I interview a job candidate from a state with nutjob-mandated religious educational standards, I assume the candididate is an ignorant hick unless quickly proven otherwise.

  19. Randy A.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a quick and accurate test for religious nuttiness? It would be the one type of poll test I could support.

    Democracy is founded on the principle that if everybody votes for their own self interest, then the result is the least bad for all of us in general.

    But when you have a class of people who can easily be convinced that “god” wants them to vote against their own self interest, then democracy breaks down. People start to vote for whomever can shout the loudest. They also vote for silly stuff — and these are good examples of just that.

  20. Mark Bailey

    Ordinarily in discussions regarding science, one would advocate discussion of the actual science and avoid attacks on the persons themselves. However these people are clearly not interested at all in the science, and one might argue have waived their right to be treated with the respect due to those involved in science.

    Anyone disagree with that? Really, the gloves should come off.

    Large parts of the USA are opening themselves up to jokes and schadenfreude from around the World, of the worst kind. (I am looking from across the Atlantic!) Worse, children (who are the future) are being wilfully and deliberately left ignorant of the methods and findings of real science. This will cripple their economic power in the future – restrict their education, their earnings, and then perhaps their ability (and willingness) to question those in power.

    All science is linked – evolution (which is incidentally an OBSERVATION – it is a fact that life has evolved; Darwin established in his Origin of Species that fact itself, beyond reasonable doubt, and then proposed (with Alfred Russell Wallace) the Theory of Natural Selection as the way to EXPLAIN that observation) cannot be taken aside from everything else. Darwin made that clear too, in the Origin – he needed deep time; had he known it, that discovery had actually already been made, by James Hutton, in Scotland. However, in any case, Darwin described observations of landscapes which absolutely required at least tens or hundreds of millions of years to form. These days, we do all that with physics, chemistry, geology, plate tectonics; astrophysics and cosmology gives us a background.

    This policy against science however seems quite deliberate; the fostering of ignorance and the fettering of curiosity might even be suggested to be a deliberate attempt to concentrate power, to take it away from the people.

    Or am I being unduly cynical and pessimistic here?

    Good luck over there. Keep at it!

  21. I think the answer is obvious.

    Let those who want to deny science and rationality be stripped of anything that is based upon that rationality and science.

    Telephones, computers, any tool that has at least one moving part, cars, bicycles, any food item grown with fertilizer that didn’t come out the back end of a cow or chicken, clothing that is not 100% cotton, wool, or some other unprocessed plant/animal product, in other words….pretty much everything in the modern world.

    Let’s see how they like living in a Bible-based world then.

  22. I weep for humanity that we actually go out of our wat to protect this type of monumental, and willful, stupidity… I would like to implement a system for directly and severely punishing this type of idiocy. The NSF should make evolution a national competency to receive a high school diploma or GED. They have to learn it at least (a battle we are losing). Theu can choose to not believe it at their own risk.

    All too often, creationtards don’t even know the basics of what they are dismissing.

  23. noen

    Mark Bailey said: “evolution … is incidentally an OBSERVATION – it is a fact that life has evolved”

    Those are two different things. It seems like an over statement to me. No one has observed evolution any more than we have observed what happens inside a black hole but we know facts about both.

    What we have observed are events consistent with the theory of evolution and events consistent with our theories about black holes. Evolution is a fact, gravity is a fact, but our theories about them are not themselves facts and so cannot be “observed”. New facts could completely alter our current theories. New theories could incorporate the exact same observations for a previous theory into a new and different theory. Epigenetics has changed what “evolution” means from what it meant in the past.

    That nothing can travel faster than light is another theory based on observations that could be other than they are. It could have turned out that recent experiments showed some neutrinos can travel faster than light. It did not turn out that way but it could have and if they had then we would *create* new theories that take that new fact into account and make it consistent with older facts.

    No one has ever observed gravity.

  24. Wzrd1

    @13, Pete, agreed on all points. That was why I ALSO mentioned the constitutional conflicts. No state, not even at a state constitution level may overrule the US Constitution and in particular, the very first amendment.
    I mentioned the religious objection because that is the VERY FIRST thing that the Christian Taliban will use as their “reason” for their unconstitutional law.

    Here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there is a law still on the books that was declared unconstitutional in 2010 that outlawed blasphemy. It passed in 1973.

    @Larian LeQuella, #20, in the US, we have a first amendment that protects the right of free speech, free assembly and freedom of religion. Regrettably, some seem to believe that their freedom of religion includes forcing their faith upon others, as they refuse to obey the ninth amendment.

    @Noen 21, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has OBSERVED a single electron. Since my electronics work quite nicely, I’ll believe in the physics of electronics. ;)
    Seriously though, creationists ignore evolution even when it happens before their eyes. We’ve WATCHED organisms evolve within human lifetimes, when they were severely pressured by an environmental challenge, disease or new predator.
    We’ve FORCED evolution in organisms by selection of desired traits, quite often in a very short amount of time. The domestic turkey was bred from wild turkeys within a human generation!
    Nature is even harsher in selection than humans are.
    But, even witnessing those changes, creationists will ignore it.
    Pity that they don’t ignore gravity when standing in a high place.
    No, I really don’t wish they’d fall and become injured.
    Or, as was said to Einstein, “Stop telling God what to do.”
    As for the recent experiments that initially appeared to show superluminal neutrinos, one need only remove mass, then explain how a particle already in motion accelerated. Newton would have been QUITE aggrieved. ;)

  25. Upon reading this, I cried a little.

  26. Dan

    I find it ironic to say the least that most of these chowderheads demanding that evolution not be taught wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for the scientific advances they decry.

  27. dessy

    #2 BigBadSis – I’d be happy to with ‘Fact of Gravity’, ‘Fact of Relativity’ and ‘Fact of Evolution.’

  28. Renee Marie Jones

    There are too many people who just want to be told what to think.
    There are too many people ready to exploit them and control them.
    There are too many arrogant people that think a shallow understanding is all there is.
    There are too many people who think they know things they do not know.

    Certainty. You cannot have it. It does not exist. Pretending it does leads to disaster.

  29. dessy

    This might end up a bit long…
    I’m in Australia and we have a one state that was recently found to be introducing regressive policies by stealth into the curriculum – so I’m feeling a bit passionate about this.
    —–
    Think back to a time when glass making wasn’t perfect and imperfections in the glass meant that the image though it was distorted. Someone wondered about it and worked out the light was being bent.

    Then someone wondered what would happen if they could grind the glass down so the light was bent evenly. Then they found out that really small things could be seen larger and far away things could be seen closer.

    Then someone wondered what would happen if they looked through the lens at the stars.

    Can you imagine being the first living thing on Earth to see the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn or that Sirius wasn’t 1 star but 2?

    The drive to find out more lead to better and better telescopes and even more discoveries. Eventually there were diminishing returns and someone wondered what to do about it. They worked out that if we could get a telescope above the distorting influence of the atmosphere, we could see even more…

    So then we did it. We put a massive telescope into SPACE… is there a single person who is not awestruck by the wonders we have found?

    Now we have worked out that the HST is at about its maximum observable range…. So next we are going to send up another telescope to see the light we can’t see!

    ——

    This isn’t magic. It is science. These aren’t ‘someones’. They are people. People who understand the scientific method. Wonder. Observe. Hypothesise. Experiment. Collaborate. Review.

    Wonder.

    We can’t let it wither on the vine.

  30. AliCali

    @26 dessy
    “This might end up a bit long…”

    A good post/comment is never too long. Yours is good.

  31. Monkey

    @Kirk – “change the word ‘science’ to something less yucky”

    What exactly is “yucky” about the word ‘science’?

  32. CR

    dessy, that was awesome. I’m printing it off and hanging it someplace very public, in the hopes that it reminds/inspires others to stop fearing science, discovery and just plain thinking. (Perhaps I should mail copies to the legislators that would have us ‘dumb down’ the education system…)

  33. dessy

    Feel free – but you might want to remove the fact I am an Australian from it.

  34. dessy

    Edit – Sorry Double Post

  35. dessy

    Edit – Sorry Triple Post – this site has been shakey for me today

    If someone in authority reads these, can you delete them please

  36. Nyetwerke

    Since alot of theological questions are scientific questions, who is to say that if this continues and someone REALLY wants to question those topics which are held to be “in controversy” why not teach WHY the theological aspects are in error? In that context would it not be a questioning of the scientific validity and reasoning and not theology? In the case of Tennessee is it not to hold the teacher in fault if they “discuss topics which are held by some to be contentious?” Therefore if they wanted to teach the errors in thought regarding the whole process, they are blameless? It would probably end up like Michael Behe, a proponent of Intelligent Design, in Judge Jones’ court in 2006 where, under questioning, Behe embarrassingly admitted he had not even read the peer review papers he was protesting as “unfruitful” to which the judge replied that Behe’s position was an act of “breathtaking inanity.”

  37. Astrofiend

    @ dessy
    “I’m in Australia and we have a one state that was recently found to be introducing regressive policies by stealth into the curriculum – so I’m feeling a bit passionate about this.”

    Which state was this?

  38. dessy

    Queensland – a few new clauses appeared in the new science curriculum giving a general direction to teachers to be considerate of the beliefs of the students and moderate their material to suit.

    I can’t recall off hand, and there was more to it than that, but that was the gist of it.

  39. Astrofiend

    Dodgy bastards. That’s how it starts…

  40. “Phil, are there any serious discussions among scientific institutions to changing the word “theory” to describe the “Theory of Evolution,” “The Theory of Gravity,” and “The Theory of Relativity” so we don’t keep hearing from legislators “It’s just a theory”?! How complex or difficult would it be to make a sweeping change in scientific terminology?”

    A conspiracy of scientists renames these to something else. The religious right then says: Now I believe in evolution! No, it won’t happen. The terminology is not the problem. Yes, some use the “just a theory” argument, but it is far from the most important argument, which is “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”.

  41. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (9) said:

    In theory, it can be of value in protecting the rights of some religions. Would you force a Hindu to dissect a frog, pig or cat? Is our first amendment worthless to some?

    I’m not aware of any school that will force a student to dissect anything, whatever the student’s reason for objecting.

    Here in the UK, where religion seems to be a little bit less of an issue than it is in the US, when I was a student studying for my biology A-level, one of my classmates objected to the dissection, and the teacher simply said: you don’t have to do it, but you will get zero for that section if you don’t. If memory serves, he still got a reasonable grade at the end of the year (B or C I think, but it was a few years ago so my memory is rather fuzzy).

  42. Nigel Depledge

    W Sanders (16) said:

    I hope these legislators realize that everytime I interview a job candidate from a state with nutjob-mandated religious educational standards, I assume the candididate is an ignorant hick unless quickly proven otherwise.

    Wow, you interview candidates from states with nutjob-mandated religious educational standards?

    What are you, some kind of pinko liberal? [j/k]

    Where I work – in the R&D department of the UK division of a biotech company – we only invite candidates for interview if their education is appropriate.

  43. Nigel Depledge

    Mark Bailey (18) said:

    Worse, children (who are the future) are being wilfully and deliberately left ignorant of the methods and findings of real science. This will cripple their economic power in the future – restrict their education, their earnings, and then perhaps their ability (and willingness) to question those in power.

    Perhaps just as importantly, it restricts the ability of those children, when they grow up, to participate fully in our very highly technological and science-based civilisation.

  44. Nigel Depledge

    Mark Bailey (18) said:

    Darwin made that clear too, in the Origin – he needed deep time; had he known it, that discovery had actually already been made, by James Hutton, in Scotland. However, in any case, Darwin described observations of landscapes which absolutely required at least tens or hundreds of millions of years to form.

    In fact, the first edition of On the Origin of Species (OTOOS) contained some deep flaws in the way in which Darwin estimated the amount of time available. He was harshly – and rightly – criticised at the time for this.

    So, what did he do? He acknowledged the criticism as valid, and removed the flawed parts from later editions of OTOOS.

    As it happens, he was right about the amount of time that was available for evolution (i.e. billions of years) but his method for estimating it was wrong.

  45. Nigel Depledge

    Kuhnigget (19) said:

    Telephones, computers, any tool that has at least one moving part, . . .

    You should include any tool fashioned by a machine that contains at least one moving part. For example, spanners are pretty simple tools, but they are commonly drop-forged, so cannot be made without technology.

    Also, standardised parts (that require machinery for their production) such as screws, nuts and bolts should be included in your list.

  46. While NASA and JPL put a nuclear powered laser-eyed roving chem lab on another planet, Kentucky legislators want to teach kids that the world is 6000 years old, and Missouri wants schoolchildren to be able to stick their fingers in their ears if their teachers discusses evolution.

    … And elsewhere in this sad old world; Arab & African nations are still stoning and shooting women to death for supposed adultery, (sometimes for being raped) mutilating their genitals and insisting on the most insanely inflexible strictest adherence to a religio-legal code written around the seventh century for one specific human group living on the Arabian peninsula. Wars are being waged for bad ideas and our fellow humans killed, soldiers and civilians alike, under fire in Syria and Afghanistan and Colombia. There’s the continued oppression in Tibet, North Korea, Nigeria and so many other places we never even hear of.

    Elsewhere too people are denying the effectiveness of vaccines causing old plagues we’d almost beaten to reappear and kill again and denying the reality of HIRGO* even as Arctic sea ice hits ever deeper lows* and so much human ignorance and cruelty and so much of our worse side is shown.

    But also so much of our best side we express as well. We have people finding strange new worlds round other stars, people working on designing and building new wo nders, people helping and loving and caring for others.

    Laughing, crying, ignorant, genius, loving, hating, fighting, sharing. What strange, paradoxical naked apes we are.

    Naked apes that have put a nuclear powered rover on Mars – plus two solar ones eight years gone** one working yet – and have sent other robot spaceprobes to all the planets – with ones on the way to Pluto and Ceres now and starbound craft with peaceful messages and a dozen of us landing in peace in person for all Humanity on our nearest neighbour world too.

    * Human Induced Rapid Global Overheating – sea ice levels latest graph linked to my name.

    ** Not to forgot the earlier Sojourner, the Phoenix frozen in martian ice and the pair of Vikings among more.

    +++++++++++++++

    ‘Night hides the world but reveals a universe.’
    - Russian proverb.

    “Yet here we are with our eyes and our minds and our curiosity, six billion passengers aboard a tiny blue boat, bobbing and wheeling our way around one vast Catherine wheel among many.”
    - P.246, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    “But out of the whirlwind came a silent bird from the stars, a symbol of our ability to work with nature, to use our intelligence and within the limitations of our world, to do great things.”
    - David Levy on witnessing the 4th landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Page 28, ‘Astronomy’ magazine October 1982.

  47. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (21) said:

    Mark Bailey said: “evolution … is incidentally an OBSERVATION – it is a fact that life has evolved”

    Those are two different things. It seems like an over statement to me. No one has observed evolution any more than we have observed what happens inside a black hole but we know facts about both.

    Actually, evolution has been observed, in a famous experiment (I forget the name of the PI) using bacteria cultured through many thousands of generations. The bacteria have been observed to have changed over time, and that is what Evolution means.

    The mechanism by which this evolution has occurred is perhaps what you refer to.

    What we have observed are events consistent with the theory of evolution and events consistent with our theories about black holes.

    Perhaps so, but the theory of evolution (ToE) doesn’t theorise about whether or not evolution happens, the ToE describes mechanisms through which it occurs. In a similar way, although no-one has directly observed a black hole, the term “black hole” is simply a label for a set of properties that have indeed been observed, so I’m not sure how relevant your point actually is here.

    Evolution is a fact, gravity is a fact, but our theories about them are not themselves facts and so cannot be “observed”.

    Well, true, but the facts themselves have been observed. Our theories about them, on the one hand explain how evolution occurs, and on the other, describe how and why gravity behaves as it does.

    New facts could completely alter our current theories. New theories could incorporate the exact same observations for a previous theory into a new and different theory. Epigenetics has changed what “evolution” means from what it meant in the past.

    Not really. Evolution still means change over time. What epigentics has done is added a new mechanism to the ToE. Epigenetics does not invalidate or contradict any of the previously-known mechanisms of evolution.

    That nothing can travel faster than light is another theory based on observations that could be other than they are.

    As far as we can tell, the cosmic speed limit is a fact. How and why it exists is what our theories address.

    It could have turned out that recent experiments showed some neutrinos can travel faster than light. It did not turn out that way but it could have and if they had then we would *create* new theories that take that new fact into account and make it consistent with older facts.

    There are already alternative theories that mostly incorporate what we know now and can accommodate observations such as matter travelling faster than light. As far as we can tell currently, these theories are non-parsimonious, so simpler theories (such as Special Relativity) are favoured. This does not change the basic premise that facts are what they are, and our theories are explanations of those facts.

    No one has ever observed gravity.

    This is semantic hair-splitting. We all feel the effects of gravity all the time. You seem to be overlooking that fact that “gravity” is simply a label for a set of observed phenomena. No-one really knows for sure exactly what gravity is or why it occurs, but GR has so far withstood every test we could think up for it. And just because we cannot definitively state what gravity is or why it exists, does not mean we have not observed it.

  48. Robin

    We all agree that lack of understanding of how science works and what it tells us is both a sad statement on the state of our education system in the US and the state of critical thinking in our country, but we–scientists, engineers, people that understand how science works–are absolutely no better when we start making assumptions about people based on where they’re from and what their faith is. That’s a road down which we don’t want to travel.

  49. Blargh

    @ noen

    No one has observed evolution any more than we have observed what happens inside a black hole but we know facts about both.

    Bollocks. Evolution is directly observable.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Whoops, looks like I screwed up a blockquote tag again (in #44)!

  51. #46 Blargh:
    I couldn’t have put it better myself!

    #44 Nigel:
    I think the PI was Richard Lenski. The experiment is described in detail in Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth.

    #21 Noen:
    Of course evolution is an observable fact – and not only on the scale of bacteria. There are many known examples of evolution occurring within human historical timescales, e.g. the British species of moth which changed its colouring during the Industrial Revolution, as the trees which were its habitat were darkened by industrial pollution. A slightly more hypothetical example is the story of the Heike crab in Japan, told in Chapter 2 of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
    And what about all the domestic animals which have been created by humans, by selective breeding to enhance desired characteristics? e.g. the breeding of the dog from the wolf, and the cow from the wild auroch. What’s that, if not evolution???
    As Mark and Nigel say, that evolution occurs is a fact and an observation. Our explanation of how it occurs is a theory. Please learn the difference.

  52. Of course, the breeding of domestic animals is evolution by artificial selection, rather than natural selection – but it’s still evolution.

  53. TheBlackCat

    @ Neil Haggath: “Of course, the breeding of domestic animals is evolution by artificial selection, rather than natural selection – but it’s still evolution.”

    That was part of Darwin’s original point, that nature could do the same sort of selection as human animal and plant breeders, and create similar effects.

  54. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ BigBadSis/kirk:

    “are there any serious discussions”

    Of course not! And what aesthetic perversion is behind the concept of the term “science” as “yucky”!? That is, um, yucky. Science is beautiful, and science method is beyond reasonable doubt the best invention mankind ever did.

    What would a change in terminology solve anyway? The new terminology would be perverted over time anyway.

    First Law of Fight Club: Never give in to bullies.

    @ noen:

    “No one has observed evolution any more than we have observed what happens inside a black hole but we know facts about both.

    What we have observed are events consistent with the theory of evolution and events consistent with our theories about black holes. Evolution is a fact, gravity is a fact, but our theories about them are not themselves facts and so cannot be “observed”. New facts could completely alter our current theories. New theories could incorporate the exact same observations for a previous theory into a new and different theory. Epigenetics has changed what “evolution” means from what it meant in the past.”

    That is a mishmash of the science.

    First off, we make observations by experiments. Those sets up constraints (the theory behind the experiment) as well as quality standards (the uncertainty against which we test the acceptance of the observation).

    In other word, each observation is tantamount to a hypothesis test.

    We strive to make observations unambiguous, by rejecting all possible alternative hypotheses, and the experimental constraints in turn well tested.

    Theories are sets of interdependent hypotheses. Those sets up constraints (the observations and related theories behind the theory) as well as quality standards (the uncertainty against which we test the acceptance of the theory).

    We strive to make theories unambiguous, by rejecting all possible alternatives theories, and the theoretical constraints in turn well tested.

    I like to call theories superfacts as they are more ascertained by the nature of multiple, dependent tests than ad hoc observations whether or not they are repeatable. The gravitational constant comes to mind, the value has changed from outside 3 sigma limits before different groups bias zeroed in on a consistent value IIRC. There is a neat graph of its historical value somewhere.

    Further, evolution is a process and the theory describes it and the observations that can be predicted from it. Those observations are observable facts, as is the process. The hypotheses and the theories involved are necessary parts in getting to know these facts. The map is process – theory and observations – hypotheses (those that goes into the hypothesis testing of the observations).

    We observe evolution every time we observe cancers acquiring immune resistance to grow, every time we observe cancers and HIV acquire drug resistance, every year new flu species evolve, every time lab and farm and pet species acquire new traits, every time we arrange fossils into trees that shows that species are newer appearing out of nowhere with complex and simple species mixed.

    We observe gravity every time an object doesn’t shoot off into space by Earth rotation or we drop an object.

    As for epigenetics changing theories, we are talking biology here. As opposed to physics culture, where theories are exclusive and in principle can be replaced every time you change a parameter (which after all is more consistent with how we test theories), we have biology culture, where theories are inclusive – just add new mechanisms as they get accepted.

  55. noen

    Nigel: “This is semantic hair-splitting.” — I don’t think philosophy of science is hair splitting. And… just to be clear, I brought this up because it is more interesting to me than creationism. I remember debating creationists in the 1970′s. It’s boooooooor-ing.

    Neil: “the breeding of domestic animals is evolution by artificial selection” — No it isn’t. All domesticated dogs are still dogs. All domesticated cows are still cows. (you know what I mean, they’re still the same species).

    Neil: “As Mark and Nigel say, that evolution occurs is a fact and an observation. Our explanation of how it occurs is a theory. Please learn the difference.” —- When I look at those two sentences I see that the same word, “evolution”, is in both. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen a theory so how can I see evolution? All that I can perceive, all that I could ever see, are brute facts. All I have available to me is data and from that I construct my theories *about* that data, but I cannot perceive my theories because they do not exist outside of me.

    When I drop a piece of chalk it does not think to itself “I must obey the law of gravity”. The law of gravity does not exist. It is just a description *of* the world and the things in it. Don’t mistake the map for the territory.

    Nigel: “Actually, evolution has been observed, in a famous experiment (I forget the name of the PI) using bacteria cultured through many thousands of generations. The bacteria have been observed to have changed over time, and that is what Evolution means.” — No, evolution refers to the *theory* we created to account for that change. It’s a good theory, it seems to work, but it could itself change. It is possible that in the future people will have a completely different theory. One that completely replaces previous theories the way that relativity replaced Newton.

    Nigel: “And just because we cannot definitively state what gravity is or why it exists, does not mean we have not observed it.”

    Just because we cannot definitively state what god is or why god exists, does not mean we have not observed god.

    Not hair splitting because otherwise you end up saying silly things like that. I would like to disabuse people of their Logical Positivism which seems to be the default argument that folks fall back on. It’s a really bad argument. Bertrand Russell famously (and rightly so for that time) rejected evolution as unfalsifiable nonsense no different than theology because people were being sloppy. Words matter. Rigor matters.

    I recently watched a YouTube video of Christopher Hitchens arguing about evolution as “survival of the fittest” as if he knew what he was talking about. Which clearly he did not. It’s very frustrating.

  56. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Oops, I was coming in stressed to relax over this. kirk is joking.

  57. Kentucky Scientist

    If anyone (including Phil) had bothered to read the entire article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, they would have found out that the KY legislature has been and is continuing to work towards improving the education system and to raise it towards the national standard. But you all focused on the comments of a couple of manipulative politcians who know they are fighting a losing battle, but scoring points with their electorate (sad, but true). KY courts have already ruled against teaching creationism in science classes.

    As someone with degrees in chemistry and math from the University of Kentucky, let me assure you that science is still taught in a non-faith based environment. As an employee of a chemical company in KY, let me assure you that we don’t create our polymers by prayer and are the world leaders in our market.

    If any of this somehow does not fit with your stereotypes, elitist attitudes (I’m looking at you, W. Sanders and Nigel D.) or your agenda, feel free to ignore it. I have yet to find a part of this country or those parts of the world I’ve traveled to that are free of ignorance and myopic opinions. Our less educated are just better organized than yours. It’s a battle I fight every day, but I don’t lose focus on the basic human decency of the uneducated man.

  58. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ noen:

    “Neil: “the breeding of domestic animals is evolution by artificial selection” — No it isn’t. All domesticated dogs are still dogs. All domesticated cows are still cows. (you know what I mean, they’re still the same species).”

    That is a creationist speaking, whether or not you are one. The mechanism and the trait changes both are evolution, see any encyclopedia.

    Speciation is a subset of evolutionary mechanisms, but as I noted we observe that daily (fossils) as well as yearly (flu virus strains, can jump species so are “ecological species”).

    “Don’t mistake the map for the territory.”

    That is rich. It is you who mistakes the map, observations, with reality, the territory.

    Realism is build into every mechanics we have used, as constrained reactions on constrained actions (“kick a rock and it kicks back”), action-reaction in classical mechanics and observation-observables of relativistic and quantum mechanics. Realism is the description of how to map between observations and reality.

    However what reality is, is what we are working on. Best bet it is (poorly, unfortunately; see the landscape) constrained by reality mappings of fundamentally branes (string theory) to observations. Biology is as most physics and all chemistry emergent on that. They are describing reality mappings too, best described by theory, not ad hoc observations.

  59. noen

    Torbjörn Larsson, OM: “In other word, each observation is tantamount to a hypothesis test.” And is therefore theory laden. You cannot isolate the hypothesis being tested from the influence of the theory on which the observations are based.

    Which does not mean we can’t do science but it *does* mean that statements like “Evolution is directly observable” are what is bollocks. Positivism is bollocks. It’s verstehen all the way down.

  60. noen

    Torbjörn Larsson, OM: “That is a creationist speaking, whether or not you are one. The mechanism and the trait changes both are evolution, see any encyclopedia.”

    But…. “the breeding of domestic animals is evolution” was given as evidence for the claim that we can observe evolution. Therefore the argument reduces to “we can observe evolution because we can observe evolution” which is false. Any argument in which the conclusion is assumed by the premises is invalid.

    “kick a rock and it kicks back”

    I am confident that rocks do not kick me, I kick them. Rocks do not kick back in *exactly* the same way that we do not observe evolution.

    “Best bet it is fundamentally branes (string theory).”

    String theory seems like theology to me. By their own words sting theorists say that not only is there no experiment we could perform to test it, there is no experiment that is even *conceivable* that could ever test it. Sounds like bollocks to me.

  61. 56 Noen:
    “Neil: “the breeding of domestic animals is evolution by artificial selection” — No it isn’t. All domesticated dogs are still dogs. All domesticated cows are still cows. (you know what I mean, they’re still the same species).”

    Exactly which part of my comment didn’t you understand??? Yes, all domestic dogs are still dogs – but they were originally bred from wolves!!!!! All cows are still cows – but they were originally bred from the wild auroch ( which is now extinct )!!!!! Which part of that is not clear to you? Selective breeding was done, to the extent that a new species resulted. Domestic dogs are not the same species as wolves, are they?
    The word “evolution”, used on its own, does not refer to the theory; it refers to the phenomenon, which is observed – or if you prefer, the consequences of which are observed. “The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection” is the theory which has been formulated to explain the phenomenon. That’s exactly what a theory is – a proposed explanation of an observed phenomenon, which has been tested by experiment and/or observation, and is strongly supported by evidence.
    Darwin himself began with a series of observations, which strongly suggested that species change – in particular, he observed that in the Galapagos Islands, there exist various species on different islands, which are closely related, but have subtle differences. This suggested that isolated populations of a single ancestor species had changed to adapt to the particular environmental conditions on each island.
    Today, despite your insistence to the contrary, we can directly observe evolution occurring. ( Meaning those people who do the experiments can observe it, whether or not you or I can personally! And if we’re sufficiently interested, we can read the research papers. ) Re-read what Nigel said about the Lenski experiment – or better still, read about it in detail, in Chapter 5 of Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth. Speciation events were indeed observed in the lab, under carefully controlled conditions.

  62. Here in Brazil we learn Evolution and Darwin at Science Class and creationism at Religion class.

  63. Bob_In_Wales

    BigBadSis @2 – perhaps we could go the other way and since they haven’t proven it yet just stop referring to God and start referring to The Theory of God. Then we could campaign to introduce evolution into RE class using such ideas as, say, Teach The Controversy?

  64. I’ve always thought that molecular biologist in the last panel had a sort of evil genius/mad scientist look about him. Like he’s not cracking the genetic code but maybe perfecting his uberkruptonite formula or something.

    @64 Bob in Wales: I don’t think you could call it a theory. More of a hypothesis that was not supported by evidence or experiment. Today even hypothesis might be too much, though when the idea originated it was probably applicable.

  65. #64 Bob, #65 Vince:
    I agree with Vince; God can’t even be called a theory. One of the criteria which defines a theory is that it must be testable, or falsifiable. Any assertion involving God, or anything “supernatural”, is by definition not falsifiable, because it isn’t even definable!
    I like the idea, though; perhaps “the Assertion of God”.

  66. Grand Lunar

    I have a suggestion Phil; that those that know what a scientific theory is write to Congress the definition, so that in a one in a quadrillion chance they might learn something and stop using their ridiculous arguement against evolution or anything else assocaited with the word “theory”.

    Oh yes, and let’s also explain to them what evolution is exactly about. I.E, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and why creationism isn’t a competing “theory”.

  67. Steve Metzler

    Sorry, but from my perspective, it was all going so astoundingly well in the comments (they were, largely, beautiful to behold) until the people here who actually have a clue what science is all about started with the in-fighting over the minutiae of the TOE, about 20 posts ago. Scientists, sheesh. And you wonder why laypeople…

    ETA: ooh, almost forgot. Must read relevant linky about the dumbing down of academia in the U.S.:

    junctrebellion.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/how-the-american-university-was-killed-in-five-easy-steps/

  68. No one is required to believe the Earth goes around the Sun.

    But if someone wants credit in a Science class they better know that the Earth going around the Sun (incl. how and why) is part of scientific knowledge.

  69. noen

    Neil: “The word “evolution”, used on its own, does not refer to the theory; it refers to the phenomenon, which is observed”

    Ok. I was wrong. I misunderstood.

  70. Eric

    Crazies… all of the supporters of this crazy legislation to dissolve science are as bad as the sociopaths that systematically destroy society. This is a serious mental health issue. The bible belt should be quarantined!

  71. mike burkhart

    Hear we go again! They wount give up will they. Even thro those who literly interpet the Bible and reject Evolution are a small but vocial minorty. Most Cristans accept evolution in fact a poll reveiled 95% of Catholics (myself inculed) accept Evolution. Persionly I find evolution to be interesting. Also the term evolution is beeing used for more that just a reference to Darwins theory ,and the biological aspect. In Astronomy we talk about the evolution of: The Universe,Stars, Planets in reference to the orgin and devloment of these objects.

  72. TheBlackCat

    @ mike burkhart: in the U.S. between 45% and 55% of the population reject evolution, depending on the poll and exactly how it is worded. This is hardly a “small but vocal minority”, it is roughly half the U.S. population. This is mostly restricted to the U.S. and and the Middle East, but they are gaining political and practical victories in other countries, such as the UK (with the recent Giant’s Causeway travesty) and Australia.

  73. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (56) said:

    Nigel: “This is semantic hair-splitting.” — I don’t think philosophy of science is hair splitting. And… just to be clear, I brought this up because it is more interesting to me than creationism. I remember debating creationists in the 1970′s. It’s boooooooor-ing.

    I agree that philosophy of science is more than semantic hair-splitting, but this does not mean that the part of your comment to which I referred is more than semantic hair-splitting.

    And I agree that debating creationists can indeed get boring.

    Neil: “the breeding of domestic animals is evolution by artificial selection” — No it isn’t. All domesticated dogs are still dogs. All domesticated cows are still cows. (you know what I mean, they’re still the same species).

    But dogs are no longer wolves, and cattle are no longer aurochs.

    Sure, they are all still dogs, but they are different varieties of dogs. If selection is continued, there is no barrier to those different varieties eventually becoming distinct species. In fact, the huge variety of different breeds of dog is an illustration of how plastic nature is.

    And, although you find debating creationists boring, you seem to use some of the same arguments. The “but they are still just dogs” argument could be straight from AiG.

    Neil: “As Mark and Nigel say, that evolution occurs is a fact and an observation. Our explanation of how it occurs is a theory. Please learn the difference.” —- When I look at those two sentences I see that the same word, “evolution”, is in both. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen a theory so how can I see evolution?

    Evolution is three things: a fact, a theory and a history.

    If you dispute that the same word can mean different things, I suggest you look up “set” in the Oxford English Dictionary (128 separate definitions last time I checked).

    Evolution is a fact – living things change over time. This has been observed many times. In bacteria (such as the experiment to which I alluded earlier), in humans (e.g. our very-recently-acquired ability to metabolise lactose), in other animals (such as the peppered moths to which Neil referred), and in the fossil record.

    The ToE explains how evolution occurs. It describes the mechanisms that make evolution happen, and it makes predictions about what we should expect to observe (such as drug-resistance in pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and pesticide-resistance in crop pests).

    The evolutionary history of a lineage is what we attempt to reconstruct from fossil, genetic and other evidence. This depends on the fact of evolution, but neither the fact nor the theory depend on the history to be correct.

    So, the simple observation of biological organisms changing (or having changed) over time is indeed an observation of evolution happening.

    All that I can perceive, all that I could ever see, are brute facts. All I have available to me is data and from that I construct my theories *about* that data, but I cannot perceive my theories because they do not exist outside of me.

    Well, this is true, but it is also irrelevant. Evolution is a fact that you can indeed observe should you go and look at the evidence. The “evolution is just a theory” argument could also have come straight from AiG.

    When I drop a piece of chalk it does not think to itself “I must obey the law of gravity”. The law of gravity does not exist. It is just a description *of* the world and the things in it. Don’t mistake the map for the territory.

    This also is true, but the fact is that in observing the fall of the chalk, we observe the fact of gravity’s existence. What gravity is and how it works are covered by the theory, but the fact of its existence is observable (within the constraints that Einstein described).

    Nigel: “Actually, evolution has been observed, in a famous experiment (I forget the name of the PI) using bacteria cultured through many thousands of generations. The bacteria have been observed to have changed over time, and that is what Evolution means.” — No, evolution refers to the *theory* we created to account for that change.

    As I note above, evolution referes to more than just the theory that explains how it happens.

    It’s a good theory, it seems to work, but it could itself change. It is possible that in the future people will have a completely different theory. One that completely replaces previous theories the way that relativity replaced Newton.

    This is possible, in principle. However, note that Newton’s theory of gravity turned out simply to be a special case of General Relativity. At low accelerations and in low-strength gravitational fields, Einstein’s equations give identical results to Newton’s. In the same way, if the current ToE is wrong, it is still a good approximation under the conditions that we have thus far observed.

    Nigel: “And just because we cannot definitively state what gravity is or why it exists, does not mean we have not observed it.”

    Just because we cannot definitively state what god is or why god exists, does not mean we have not observed god.

    This is true, but irrelevant. We have observed gravity, and we have not observed god. In a slightly over-simplified view, gravity is the reading on a set of scales when one weighs something.

  74. Nigel Depledge

    Kentucky Scientist (58) said:

    If any of this somehow does not fit with your stereotypes, elitist attitudes (I’m looking at you, W. Sanders and Nigel D.) or your agenda, feel free to ignore it.

    It’s not elitism when you really do know more about it than the other side. Besides, does not your own company employ an elitist selection process when employing staff for technical positions?

    In case you are new to the BA Blog, I have a PhD in biochemistry, a field in which the evidence for evolution is ubiquitous. To see evolution derided and dismissed really gets my goat. Why should I argue with kid gloves on, when the scientific argument (about whether or not evolution is real) was pretty much settled more than a century ago?

  75. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (61) said:

    But…. “the breeding of domestic animals is evolution” was given as evidence for the claim that we can observe evolution. Therefore the argument reduces to “we can observe evolution because we can observe evolution” which is false. Any argument in which the conclusion is assumed by the premises is invalid.

    The argument does not reduce as you claim. We can observe evolution because we do observe change over time.

    Your claim that evolution cannot be observed rests on a narrow interpretation of the term, referring only to the ToE and not to any other usage of the word.

  76. Nigel Depledge

    Vince RN (65) said:

    I’ve always thought that molecular biologist in the last panel had a sort of evil genius/mad scientist look about him. Like he’s not cracking the genetic code but maybe perfecting his uberkruptonite formula or something.

    Yes. This is what molecular biologists do. What of it? [j/k]

  77. Nigel Depledge

    Grand Lunar (67) said:

    Oh yes, and let’s also explain to them what evolution is exactly about. I.E, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and why creationism isn’t a competing “theory”.

    Hooboy! That’s a big question.

    OK, first off, evolution, fundamentally, is the proposition that biological organisms change over time. This has been directly observed, and the fossil record speaks volumes about populations and collections of populations changing over time. What is most remarkable in the fossil record is when a class of organisms persists for more than (say) 200 million years, as the trilobites did, and as horseshoe crabs have done.

    The ToE describes the mechanisms whereby evolution occurs, including natural selection, sexual selection, hybridisation, genetic drift, sympatric speciation, allopatric speciation, and so on. A prediction of the ToE is that all organisms on Earth are related (Darwin commented at the end of OTOOS that life would have started with either one or just a few species of organisms). Evidence for common descent, as this is termed, is overwhelming, to the extent that common descent has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

    Creationism, OTOH, claims that biological organisms were created, species by species or genus by genus. However, there are four or five different kinds of creationism. What they share in common is the assertion that living things were created and did not arise through descent with modification. They all permit small amounts of change over time, but only because speciation events have actually been observed within living memory.

    Creationism makes no predictions about what occurred when or where, it makes no predictions about the succession of organisms in the fossil record, it makes no predictions regarding the universal relatedness of all life on Earth, it makes no predictions about what may or may not be a valuable avenue of research, and it simply ends all lines of enquiry with “goddidit”. In other words, there is no science about creationism. It is instead the unfounded rejection of palaeontology and evolutionary biology (and, in some forms, the unfounded rejection of geology too).

    Those forms of creationism that have attempted to masquerade as science (“creation science” in the 1960s,1970s and 1980s and its offspring “intelligent design” in the 1990s and early 2000s) have been nothing more than ill-conceived, dishonest and illogical critiques of evolutionary theory : they don’t actually propose anything to replace the ToE other than “goddidit” or “designerdidit” respectively.

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