Why Evolution is True, But Coyne is Wrong About Religion, Part II: Lessons of Dover

By Chris Mooney | June 5, 2009 11:54 am

At the outset of really digging into Jerry Coyne’s stance on science and religion, let’s pose a question: Why do we care whether or not the two are compatible?

The answer is that one might care for many reasons. One reason–a very good one–involves what we take to be true. After we know all we can know about the world through science, is there still any room left for the supernatural or divine? Or must such elements be completely gone for everyone, just as they are for atheists like myself and Coyne?

Another reason, however, is practical. After all, the question of how science and religion ought to interrelate has huge political implications, particularly for science education and the public view of science in America, something we might broadly call “scientific literacy.”

For instance, if evolution is true, but also in some sense leads to or entails atheism (the Coyne/New Atheist view), then we are going to have a vastly harder time getting much of religious America ever to accept evolution.

I believe the central reason we have such massive problems with the teaching of evolution to be precisely this—millions of America believe, incorrectly, that they must give up their faith in order to learn about it or accept it. This misconception is highly prevalent, and is regularly reinforced in a number of ways: Through the media, by church leaders, by the New Atheists, and so on.

If this incorrect view could somehow be dislodged, then, we might also have a better chance of defusing tensions over the teaching of evolution, and thereby improving “scientific literacy” (a term we define in more detail in the book, but that I won’t get bogged down with here). Such are some of the premises that I’m working from….

….and I’m hardly the only one. Indeed, I would argue that this view basically prevailed at the historic 2005 Dover, Pennsylvania evolution trial. Kenneth Miller, Barbara Forrest, John Haught, and Robert Pennock—all folks whose testimony helped evolution triumph in that Harrisburg courtroom—are some of its leading articulants, as is the National Center for Science Education, which provided critical support to the pro-evolution case in court.

These folks are not to be taken lightly. Jerry Coyne writes that “I’ll put my record up against that of either Mooney or Forrest in the fight against creationism…I’ve been writing and speaking against creationism since I got my first job.” I don’t dispute that he has done more than I have, having been fighting this battle for 25 years (but I’m only 31, just wait!). Forrest’s Dover testimony, however, and the research behind it, were critical to a historic court precedent in favor of the teaching of evolution. For this reason, I would say Forrest’s contribution to the “fight against creationism” is simply massive.

Precisely what was decided in the Dover case? The full decision is here, but basically, Judge John E. Jones III unmasked “intelligent design” for the religious charade that it is. Underlying the decision, however, was a definition of science as a process of naturalistic—but not atheistic—inquiry. Or as Judge Jones put it, relying on Robert Pennock’s testimony as well as that of others:

In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world.  (9:21 (Haught); 1:64, 87 (Miller)).  While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science.  (3:103 (Miller); 9:19-20 (Haught)).  This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. (5:23, 29-30 (Pennock)).  Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify.  (1:59-64, 2:41-43 (Miller); 5:8, 23-30 (Pennock)).

In his post in response to me, Coyne remarks as follows of Dover:

…the progress that has been made [on evolution] is not in changing minds, but winning court cases, as in Dover. However, winning those court cases does not require that we show that science and religion are compatible.  Rather, it requires showing that creationism and ID are forms of disguised religion.

Well, not exactly. Not as I read Jones’ opinion. While the latter demonstration is indeed fundamental to legal victory in a federal creationism case (due to the First Amendment’s establishment cause), the definition of science as methodological naturalism embraced here by Jones—and centrally articulated in Robert Pennock’s testimony—is also pretty integral to the logic of the ruling. And this definition inherently paves the way for a kind of reconciliation between science and religion—for as Judge Jones says, “while supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science.”

Why is this a form of compatibilism? Jones and Pennock describe science, and its “ground rule” of methodological naturalism, as an inquiry into the workings of the natural world–one assuming the existence of natural laws that we can discern, and naturalistic processes that we can measure and describe. But, they add, there science basically ends. Is there a “supernatural” that is somehow beyond or outside of nature? Science just can’t say.

Pennock’s testimony, a key basis for all this, draws a core distinction between such methodological naturalism on the one hand, and “philosophical naturalism” (or atheism) on the other. The latter is a stronger view, and goes beyond the limits of science to claim that the natural is all there is, period. This view may well be true; indeed, I personally believe it to be true. But it is a philosophical view, not a scientific one. Or at least, so argues Pennock and also, as I read him, Jones.

Crucially, such logic suggests that it is most emphatically possible to accept the results of science’s naturalistic methodology, and yet also retain supernatural beliefs that science cannot touch. Similarly, one can accept science’s naturalistic methodology but not hold any supernatural beliefs. Neither position violates science. Only confusions or inappropriate commingling of the two realms are a problem: Thus “intelligent design” violates science because it tries to transform religious claims into scientific ones and, indeed, to undermine methodological naturalism itself. ID tries to claim we can detect God’s supernatural action, in the world, through science. Due to such religious underpinnings–and such a grave category error–it does not belong in science class.

Evolutionary science does belong there, for not only is it good science, but it isn’t atheism—this science, like any other, is religiously neutral. It looks to the world for naturalistic causation, but cannot say anything whatsoever about the supernatural.

Such, anyways, is the logic of the Dover decision, based on the arguments of Pennock, Miller, Haught, and Forrest, and of course the very skilled lawyers who used them as key witnesses. So here’s the question: What if Coyne and the New Atheists are right, and evolution (or science itself) isn’t actually neutral? What if there really is a fundamental conflict between science and religion? What if methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism aren’t really distinct—but the former inevitably also entails the latter?

The Dover case, as I read it, doesn’t explicitly say. Furthermore, I’m not a lawyer. But I fear that were the New Atheists to somehow prevail on this point, the anti-evolutionists might wreak some serious havoc in the courtroom in a later case. This is one reason to be concerned about the New Atheist position.

I hasten to add, of course, that while I do find the methodological/philosophical naturalism distinction powerful and illuminating, its use in a legal ruling doesn’t suffice to determine its validity. Rather, one must make various philosophical arguments to establish that; this is the domain of the philosophy of science. For those who want to tease out its nuances, I recommend digging into Robert Pennock’s wonderful Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism.

I might also add that as I read Jerry Coyne, he is constantly violating the methodological/philosophical naturalism distinction–so persuasively articulated by Pennock, so fundamental to the Dover trial–as if it doesn’t matter. Certainly, I have never seen, in what I have read of Coyne so far, that he draws the distinction, not even to problematize it. But more on that in later posts.

For now, however, this should be enough to show that legally, and also philosophically, the New Atheist position is problematic. Would that these were the only problems with it! But there are others. And I hope to explore those in later posts.

Comments (222)

  1. What if Coyne and the New Atheists are right, and evolution (or science itself) isn’t actually neutral? What if there really is a fundamental conflict between science and religion?

    Isn’t that like asking, what if Mormonism and “objective history” are fundamentally in conflict? They are, and I can’t see how that would impact legal considerations of teaching history at all.

    What would be devastating legally is if evolution were an integral component of “atheist beliefs” (whatever those would be). Science can be utterly neutral and come to conclusions which go against, say, the flat earth with a dome over it that is sensibly depicted in Genesis (in context, notably), without legally jeopardizing the teaching of astronomy.

    We can easily show that evolution isn’t “inherently atheistic” just by looking at “cosmological ID.” The conclusions from that are bogus scientifically (depending upon a false dilemma), but what if the conclusions were scientifically sound? Or, if we decoded the cosmic microwave background and it said “I am Yahweh your God”? Evolution wouldn’t in the least detract from the evidences for God coming from astronomy, cosmology, or from miraculous interventions.

    So, evolution is not by itself inimical to religion at all, it merely fails to support it.

    I do think that cases are undeniably helped by the fact that theists do accept evolution as well, though. Whether or not they are consistent by doing so is not my concern (usually). But the fact that they accept the science when they would at the least prefer to “prove god” through any real science of “intelligent design” is a powerful witness that evolution is just science.

    Even more so, theistic evolutionists help make our case to the public, as (sad as this may be) many people will not listen to “atheistic ideas,” like their religion tells them evolution is, and theistic evolutionists show that at the least one needn’t be an atheist to accept evolutionary science.

    Hence I am not claiming that theistic evolutionists don’t help our case, I am simply pointing out that if one science, or science collectively, comes to conclusions that go against any religion or all religions, that does not mean that the science is thus atheistic and subject to 1st Amendment prohibitions against teaching religion or non-religion (as interpreted).

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  2. Erasmussimo

    Excellent analysis, Chris. A few fine points to add:

    ” One reason–a very good one–involves what we take to be true.”

    I suggest that we really don’t care what others take be true — the only thing that matters is what we as a polity decide to do. In the final analysis, political decisions are established by coalitions of groups that disagree on many points but put aside their differences to emphasize those matters on which they agree. For example, we as a polity might agree to increase funding for education, but there might be different groups with different reasons for supporting that decision. In the same manner, it’s not important whether a Christian group decides to support the teaching of evolution because they want American children to be well-trained in matters relating to biotechnology. The only thing that matters is that they support the teaching of evolution. In policy-making, there is no such thing as “being right for the wrong reasons” — the only thing that matters is getting something done, because getting things done in politics is so very difficult. We are not so politically powerful that we can afford to reject anybody’s support in the effort to advance the teaching of science.

    I may be misinterpreting your point, but I see another way of saying something that you appear to be saying: if we insist that science is atheistic, then science gets sucked into the First Amendment as a religious factor, and the teaching of science can be prohibited on First Amendment grounds because it’s a form of religion. We must maintain the clear differentiation between science and religion. Science has no religious implications. None, zero, nada. It has nothing to say about the existence of any god. Religions can claim to contradict science, but science cannot claim to contradict religion in any fundamental manner. If we do not strictly adhere to this line, then we make science vulnerable to First Amendment prohibitions.

  3. Glen – on the other hand… I don’t think it’s even coherent to suggest as Coyne, et al, do that science entails atheism. However, if they were correct on that point, there would be a very tricky 1st amendment issue with teaching science, as doing so would be tantamount to establishing a religious position for the state.

    Rejection of the naturalistic version of a religious claim such as “the earth is flat with a dome” is consistent with methodological naturalism and should not run afoul of the 1st amendment. A court can be reminded that science does not seek to refute the religious claim, but the claim about nature. It’s possible for a religious person to believe in “flat earth” is true in some mystical sense, yet recognize that empirical observation finds the earth to be spherical. It is possible for science to remain mute on any religious interpretation of the flatness of the earth or how it might pertain to “ultimate reality” while insisting that the earth is observed to be spherical.

  4. mike

    “…goes beyond the limits of science to claim that the natural is all there is”

    I would go ahead and phrase that a different way, which is perhaps how Jerry Coyne looks at it. “All there is is Nature.” I take the view that a beaver and its dam are natural, and by the same extension, a person and his/her house are natural. And if bee’s honey is natural, so is plastic. And if god exists and decided rained down sulfur on me, then god and his fiery death from about would be natural as well. With this distinction, accommodating god belief is the same as accommodating belief in Vampires or the orbiting tea pot. None of those things has acctually been seen in nature despite searches, and in the case of god a search that has lasted all of recorded history. So I would say it is a highly defensible scientific position to say there is probably no god/tea pot/vampires since they do not seem to be a part of nature (which is all there is). Though if I were an astronaut, you better believe I’d have taken a tea pot a “lost” it on a space walk.

  5. @mike #4 – your view of nature / reality is very similar to my own… philosophical naturalism. If it is philosphically true, then most religion is incoherent.

    However, religion does not operate under philosophical naturalism. Pope Benedict does not believe that if God rains fiery sulphur on you, then he and his action are natural and should be discernable through casual observation. He believes that if God is real, then he is of a different kind than nature – that reality is bigger than nature – and that he cannot be casually observed. He can only be understood through religious processes, such as contemplation of scripture.

    Science, confronted with a claim of this sort, cannot falsify it. Just like the tea pot and the vampires that you talk about, the best science can say is “we haven’t had any luck observing that”… Not that “we are able to observe in such a way as to reveal such things, and therefore our lack of observation is empirical evidence against them”.

  6. So, evolution is not by itself inimical to religion at all, it merely fails to support it.

    I should just point out that the statement of mine above refers to “religion at large” and not to particular religions and particular religious ideas.

    Of course science is inimical to many sectarian beliefs, but it is precisely the latter which are prohibited from controlling the government and its activities.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  7. ps… I think mike’s comment #4 kind of embodies why, in Chris’ words, “he is constantly violating the methodological/philosophical naturalism distinction–so persuasively articulated by Pennock, so fundamental to the Dover trial–as if it doesn’t matter. ”

    When one is very convinced of the truth of philosophical naturalism, one has difficulty even perceiving the distinction between it and methodological naturalism. One has to really step out of one’s own point of view to see how other philosophical positions are possible, and are not ruled out empirically.

  8. Anthony McCarthy

    The Dover case, as I read it, doesn’t explicitly say. Furthermore, I’m not a lawyer. But I fear that were the New Atheists to somehow prevail on this point, the anti-evolutionists might wreak some serious havoc in the courtroom in a later case. This is one reason to be concerned about the New Atheist position.

    It’s always important to remember that the evolution-creationism fight isn’t a fight about science, it’s a political brawl. And it’s also essential to remember Holmes’ observation that the life of the law is experience, not logic. The law doesn’t usually get too far ahead of public acceptance and if it does it’s always in danger of being overturned through political action. And, if anyone hadn’t noticed, a lot of the judges these days are pretty conservative and a number of those are quite political.

    I seem to recall that at least one of the biology teachers in Dover was quite religious. In the opinion of a lot of the new atheists, he had no business teaching science, nevermind orthodox, science based evolutionary biology.

  9. “(M)illions of America believe, incorrectly, that they must give up their faith in order to learn about it or accept it.”

    Is that really incorrect?

    “You can still have faith and believe in evolution,” is a non-starter for Biblical literalists, who probably do number in millions. Saying, “You can have faith, but not the literal reading of the Bible,” is not going to persuade such individuals, because it asks them to concede something absolutely critical to them.

    Is the argument being made here that:

    (A) Biblical literalists should be persuaded to give up on the literal interpretation of the Bible, or;

    (B) Biblical literalists should be given up as a lost cause?

    This is not a rhetorical question; I would really like to know.

  10. Gaythia

    I strongly agree with Chris Mooney’s statement in this post. As someone with experience in dealing with Creationists at the local public school level, I believe that it is imperative that we delineate the distinction between what is religious faith and what is science. It is important that the public understand that Evolution, Climate Change, or other scientific concepts are not something that you believe or don’t believe, but things that are demonstrated by evidence. For many people, that evidence will re-enforce their faith. Science does not take issue with this. As part of our efforts, we were privileged in being able to host Dr. Peter Hess, the Faith Project Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). I heartily recommend the services of Dr. Hess and the NCSE to anyone who is facing these sorts of issues.

  11. @Zen Faulkes #9

    It is up to an individual whether to accept empirical observation or to cling to literal interpretations of the Bible.

    There are millions of Americans who are religious and default to literal interpretations by tradition… Our choice is whether to tell them “you need not give up your faith to accept science, but you may find some difficulty with certain interpretations of scripture” on the one hand, or “you must give up your faith in order to accept science” on the other hand.

    I think the former is the more honest statement… and also the less likely to create unnecessary political antagonism against science.

  12. Zen,
    A, but we don’t start with them–we start with those in the middle ground of the debate.

  13. He believes that if God is real, then he is of a different kind than nature – that reality is bigger than nature – and that he cannot be casually observed

    Sure, but how could anyone demonstrate that God is “different than nature”–or however one is characterizing it? What is “nature” (in the usual scientific sense) except what we can observe and verify through the observations of others?

    One could perhaps come up with tentative ideas for how God and his interactions with nature could be sometimes observed (at least effects) while much remains obscured, but we don’t have anything actual that we can point to that legitimizes those ideas. So at this point it is difficult to credit them.

    The fact is that, in the past, ideas of separate realms were not considered to be beyond demonstration and “falsifiability.” Plato’s world of ideas was supposedly confirmed by minds which went beyond what was otherwise observed, and it seemed miraculous, or simply part of our eternal souls.

    It is now that religion often accepts that it has no evidence but “faith,” and, at the least, it is unsatisfying to many people. Fictional worlds are all well and good, but if you’re claiming that a set of interactions “really exists” but has no sufficient evidence for it, the case is not made.

    As to this:

    I don’t think it’s even coherent to suggest as Coyne, et al, do that science entails atheism.

    Well, he really does, or at least that science entails rejection of religion. In the TNR piece he states, and I believe it is not taken out of context:

    It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time.

    And no, I don’t think that case has been made either. Obviously one can choose to relax one’s standards for a religion that one thinks is somehow “beyond” the merely empirical, claim a personal knowledge that isn’t subject to others’ ideas, or find some other way to justify accepting both science and religion.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  14. Anthony McCarthy

    Zen, politics isn’t a matter of convincing every last person, it’s a matter of persuading an effective majority of the population.

    I don’t think that the new atheists are going to succeed where Voltaire through Ayers failed. It’s not as if there haven’t been extensive expositions of atheist criticism of religion in the past. I haven’t seen anything in the new atheism that can come close to even Bertrand Russell, from whom a lot of it was cribbed.

    How could there be a third of the population of the United States who accept evolution if the majority of them weren’t religious? There aren’t enough atheists and agnostics to make up that number. And it used to be about half of the population who accepted evolution back when there was a lot more conventional religious observance.

  15. “Millions of Americans believe, incorrectly, that they must give up their faith in order to learn about it or accept it”

    But Chris, you yourself and others have acknowledged (and I acknowledge it too) that a teaching of evolution may well pose a threat to faith not just because evolution provides an explanation of life on earth but because it is a sparkling embodiment of the scientific method which encourages constant skepticism and questioning, concepts that grind against the grain of faith by definition. The evidence for evolution has been gained from these essential elements of the scientific method. So sure, an acceptance of evolution may not necessarily lead to a loss of religious faith. But it certainly increases the probability that it may. All other factors being the same, an otherwise religious child who is taught to accept evolution surely runs a higher “risk” of becoming a non-believer than a religious child who is not. To deny that acceptance of evolution necessarily does not pose a threat to religious faith is being less than candid in my opinion.

    I think that in the long-term such inaccurate assurances could actually do more harm than good. Consider that you convince parents that teaching their child about evolution would not turn him or her into an atheist. Not improbably, the converse happens. Do we think we will win more relgious people to our side then?

  16. Jon

    I think it’s useful to think of how old the natural/supernatural debate is. We’re probably not going to resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction. You can go all the way back to Aristotle’s naturalism vs. Plato’s “intelligibilities seperate from the natural world” (an argument that the early Xtian theologians made use of).

    Anyway. New Atheists think they’re just up against a bunch of yahoos. Yes, they *are* up against a bunch of religious right yahoos. But they’re also up against Plato. The debate between materialism and idealism hasn’t been resolved for 1300 years. It’s not going to all the sudden be resolved now. Meanwhile, don’t we have better things to do than to alienate potentially progressive Christians and bang our heads up against a brick wall?

  17. Patimus

    If the Bible was a complete literal chronology of the entire history of life on earth, leading up to the death of Christ, it would take as long to read it as it took for all of the events to transpire. That just isn’t reasonable.

  18. The fact is that, in the past, ideas of separate realms were not considered to be beyond demonstration and “falsifiability.” Plato’s world of ideas was supposedly confirmed by minds which went beyond what was otherwise observed, and it seemed miraculous, or simply part of our eternal souls.

    Let me be brutally frank for a moment… Although religion, as far as I know, has always counted its claims special (witness the NT glorification of faith – “even more blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”… “faith is the … evidence of things not seen”… Jesus rebuking requests for signs… proscriptions on “testing God”) … it has defensively crouched itself into a position of non-falsifiability in the last couple of centuries since the enlightenment.

    Plato, were he alive today, would have to make a hard choice – allow his view to be falsified, or take a defensive crouch similar to that of religion. I think he saw his view of the ideal realm was a scientific – not religious one – and I think he would understand and accept falsification.

    However philosophically cowardly we might consider the religious position – it has been carefully crafted to avoid falsification. I say keep that possum in the tree.

  19. It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time.

    A philosophical claim. Not endorsed empirically. So, for purposes of this discussion, who cares?

  20. Jon

    Sorry, “separate.”

  21. foolfodder

    Chris said:
    “Zen,
    A, but we don’t start with them–we start with those in the middle ground of the debate.”

    What percentage of people in the US are christian, non-biblical-literalists and don’t accept evolution?

  22. I think the “them” in question are the hard literalists – those to whom that doctrine is very important. I think they are a small percentage of American’s who self-identify as Christian. You know – the ones who don’t watch Family Guy. I think the “soft” literalists – who merely default to literalism because that’s all they’ve really heard of are the ones who can be alienated by an anti-religious program of “science”.

  23. Jon

    Plato, were he alive today, would have to make a hard choice – allow his view to be falsified, or take a defensive crouch similar to that of religion. I think he saw his view of the ideal realm was a scientific – not religious one – and I think he would understand and accept falsification.

    What is all this either/or stuff? It’s a bit McCarthyism, either you’re with us, or you’re with the communists. I’m sure Plato would have an independent mind if he were alive today. And he wasn’t a materialist, or he would have sounded like Aristotle. And it’s kind of hard to know what he would have thought of modern science, since there wasn’t really wasn’t anything like analog back then.

  24. What is all this either/or stuff?

    What other option do you think would be available to him?

  25. Anthony McCarthy

    it has defensively crouched itself into a position of non-falsifiability in the last couple of centuries since the enlightenment.

    You have to distinguish between two types of religious beliefs, those which are about things that leave available physical evidence which can be falsified and others which don’t.

    Anyone who believes in things religions and, I’m certain will be ignored here, SCIENCE, has held to be true that gets over turned can legitimately be held to be superstitious or merely ignorant.

    People who believes things that lack the physical evidence that can lead to falsification, aren’t any more superstitious than people who believe in string theory or memes today. You don’t have to believe it but it’s a fallacy to call that kind of belief superstition. Though I do think H Allen Orr did rather knock the blocks out from under memes. Apparently a touchy topic for Jerry Coyne.

  26. Jon

    There are plenty of other philosophers around. There’s Isaiah Berlin, his student Charles Taylor (who I’ve linked to before)…

  27. Anthony… I didn’t call it “superstition”… and I think those who are optimistic for string theory do understand that they have a problem with testability – which they hope to see rectified – and do not invest anything like religious faith in the ideas.

    The “meme” notion is often bandied about in ways approaching the pseudoscientific… a type of unfortunately unquestioned “folk wisdom”, in any case. Those who may treat it as empirically sound are making an error. I’m not sure how many think that “it must be true, whether or not it can be empirically observed”, though.

    Anyway – I don’t know if “superstition” has a technical definition… if it does – I’d like to know what that definition is and why you think that religion doesn’t run afoul of it.

  28. Jon – ok… I don’t know anything about Berlin and Taylor – what is their third option between empirically observable/falsifiable on the one hand and non-empirically observable/falsifiable on the other, for finding justified views of reality?

  29. Peter Beattie

    Two brief observations:

    Another reason, however, is practical. After all, the question of how science and religion ought to interrelate has huge political implications, particularly for science education and the public view of science in America, something we might broadly call “scientific literacy.”

    How exactly do you think does it help scientific literacy at large if anyone can just make up any claim about the world, declare it to be “supernatural” or “transcendent” (without ever saying what that even means), and then expect science to respectfully tiptoe away from the epistemological neverland the supernaturalist has just defined himself into? If anything, science says, Beware of any claims not based on repeatable observation and testable by potentially refuting evidence. That’s the only known path a limited human mind has to any kind of certainty.

    If you think a case for faith having a detrimental effect on scientific (rational, reasoning, evidence-based—call it what you will) thinking would first have to be made, take Francis Collins’s example as a case in point. He believes (without evidence—but I’m repeating myself) that the human sense of morality cannot have evolved but must have been breathed (supernaturally, I suppose) into the human species. As Sam Harris in his review of Collins’s “The Language of God” notes: “If one didn’t know better, one might be tempted to conclude that religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning.” Indeed.

    I believe the central reason we have such massive problems with the teaching of evolution to be precisely this—millions of America believe, incorrectly, that they must give up their faith in order to learn about it or accept it. This misconception is highly prevalent, and is regularly reinforced in a number of ways: Through the media, by church leaders, by the New Atheists, and so on.

    I think you would be hard pressed to back that last statement up with any facts. The “New Atheists” (do you actually have any idea what that means?—I’m curious to know) explicitly do not hold that anyone “must give up their faith”. On the contrary, they hold that there is no reason to believe (that’s what “atheist” means); that believing without any reason is an obstacle to rational thinking; and that consequently an education in rational thinking will tend to remove said obstacle.

    That’s what it means to be incompatible. Your understanding of compatibility, on the other hand, would include simultaneously being a priest and a rapist—which is trivially (if not in any reasonable sense) true, since there are priests who are also rapists. But seriously, how would that not be a perverted understanding of the concept of compatibility? Should vou be a priest and rape children? Of course not. Should you be a scientist and believe in the great Juju up the mountain? Hm, let me think about that one…

  30. Anthony McCarthy

    smijer, I don’t think there is any fair way to distinguish between believing in something that can’t be falsified in religion or science or politics or philosophy or any of a large number of other parts of human thought.

    The biggest problem talking about this is considering religion as one, universal, undistinguished “thing” when it isn’t. A big part of that is the typical new atheist habit of acting as if all religious believers were ignorant yahoos who don’t know the difference between science and religion. I know a lot of religious believers, even clergy who are a lot more aware of the intellectual status and underpinnings of both their religious beliefs and science. I’ve hardly ever met a new atheist who was aware of the most basic facts about the limits of science. You mention those in a discussion you might as well be saying it in Loglan.

    The bigotry of the new atheists seem to hamper their ability to think honestly about these things as much as the bigotry of biblical fundamentalists limits their thinking. Though some fundamentalists are quite a bit more aware of the history and literature of their opponents than the other side. You point that out and the new atheists will point their fingers en masses and cry “creationist”. Unless you tell them exactly what they want to hear they figure they’ve got you fingered, so to speak.

  31. Anthony McCarthy

    I have noticed that the once popular term among the new atheists, “new atheist”, seems to be one of those that they’re trying to suppress now that it’s been used by the more polite of their opponents. Apparently its a movement that dare not have anyone else speak its name.

  32. Matt Penfold

    Chris, To many Europeans Dover is a port on the South Coast of Britian which handles a great deal of cross-channel ferry traffic.

    I am aware that is also the name given to a ruling over teaching of ID in publically funded schools in the US, but am at a loss as to why you think it relavent outside of the US. Actually as I understand it the ruling only sets a precedent for the court district in which it was made, so it does not even apply to whole of the US.

    The resto of the world is not subject to American legal jurisdiction, and would rather creationism was kept out of science classes on the basis it is not science rather than on finely argued issues regarding the US Constitution.

    Do you have any arguments to offer that are not solely US centric ? This point has been made you repeatedly and yet you will not, or maybe cannot, address it. Why should I, as someone sympathetic to “new” atheism pay any heed to you when you seem to think all that matters in the fight against attempts to have religious dogma take central stage in the public sphere is the evolution debate in the US ? Are you not aware that in most of Europe we have moved beyond that ? We are now fighting to keep religious dogma out of the biothetics debate, the fight for gay rights and for woman to abortions. If the US is failing to keep up, why should it be gays, the sick and woman over here who suffer so your life becomes a bit easier ? It really does come off as being a little bit self-centred and selfish.

  33. In other words, your unstated goal is to convince the religious of America to become deists!

    I’m pretty certain your argument then isn’t compatiblist or accommodationist. In order for the faithful to accept NOMA (and evolution) you’ll have to convince them to adopt Deism as a belief system. No more miracles. Ever. We should probably go ahead and deny past miracles as well, just to make sure. No more intercessory prayer or Virgin sightings. No more transubstantiation. All that booga-booga is not possible under the restraints you put upon the supernatural, because if science has nothing to say about the supernatural, as you say, then religion has no authority to make any truth statement about the material world, a world without the diddling finger of god driving evolution towards man. That is, after all, what NOMA means.

    I’m wondering if you’ve failed to consider what this actually means for religion or at least for how religion is practiced in the world? NOMA is a religion castrator, rendering it impotent and meaningless in this world.

    Now, if you’re calling atheists naive in entertaining the possibility of a secular world, then you expecting the god-fearing to accept your designer-free deism is just as, well…

    Everything aside, keep up the good posting!

  34. Anthony…

    I see where you are coming from now. I think there is a category difference between various types of un-“scientific” thinking. But that’s a different topic, and I don’t think it is necessary to debate my reasoning on why I think certain types of un-“scientific” thinking occupy an inferior position to others. At least not in this thread. That’s a philosophical difference that can be pursued quite separately from a question over reconcilability of science and religion.

    And, I am probably personally guilty of the “bigotry” of new atheism more than I mean to be. I agree with you that there are smart and sophisticated religious people who understand epistemological limits better than some of the new atheists. And I usually do a better job than I have today of distinguishing the areas of religion that I find intellectually suspect – I’m a Unitarian Universalist myself and find value in religion very loosely defined.

  35. foolfodder

    @smijer #22

    ‘I think the “them” in question are the hard literalists – those to whom that doctrine is very important. I think they are a small percentage of American’s who self-identify as Christian. You know – the ones who don’t watch Family Guy. I think the “soft” literalists – who merely default to literalism because that’s all they’ve really heard of are the ones who can be alienated by an anti-religious program of “science”.’

    To have a “soft” literalist accept evolution, do you have to turn them into a non-literalist first? If so, does that put the evolution advocate in the position of a religious teacher? If so, is that a problem?

  36. @gilt #33 I think you misunderstand mightily. Ken Miller, for instance, is no “deist”… and very likely would not be even if he gave up the questionable “human inevitiablity” view, and the horrid “quantum tinkering” view.

    There has never been an experiment that ruled out the possibility of miracles.

  37. To have a “soft” literalist accept evolution, do you have to turn them into a non-literalist first? If so, does that put the evolution advocate in the position of a religious teacher? If so, is that a problem?

    Again – such issues are up to individuals. I personally feel comfortable discussing various modes of biblical interpretation with believers. Surely those religious people who are non-literalists are in a fine position to explain such issues. But, no – there’s no requirement that we teach a soft literalist how to be a non-literalist. It’s just a question of whether we insist that there cannot be reconciliation (despite knowing that there can), or whether we admit that there can be. If we take the former approach, the details can be worked out at the individual level.

  38. Matt Penfold

    “There has never been an experiment that ruled out the possibility of miracles.”

    This is true, but misses the point. That miracles do not happen is axiomatic to science. Science proceeds on esentially one axiom, and that is the universe does not lie. To put it another way, the universe follows rules. Miracles by definition contradict those rules. To accept an event was a mircale to reject science. In that regard all that seperates YEC creationists from more sophisicated believers that accept miracles happen is the frequency at which they allow thieir god to perform them.

  39. Erasmussimo

    Matt Penfold again raises the point that the issues outside of the USA are different. This is quite correct. However, I don’t think it incumbent upon Chris to address issues of science versus religion as they exist outside of the USA. It would be nice if he also knew about those things and applied his good judgement to them, but certainly there is no failure in his concentration on the political system he is most familiar with. We Americans don’t know much about the controversies in Europe and so we don’t comment on them. I think you could do us a service by telling us how those controversies are working out.

  40. That miracles do not happen is axiomatic to science.

    No… it isn’t. What is axiomatic to science is that we can learn about nature through observation. Sure, one must suppose that miracles don’t come along and ruin all our experiments. And of course one cannot invoke a miracle to explain a result. Apart from that, it is merely materialist overreach to pretend that atheism/deism is axiomatic to science.

  41. Every experiment rules out the possibility of miracles, because miracles are by definition a suspension of natural law by the incursion of supernatural forces. Every science experiment confirms that the natural laws are still in place.

  42. I don’t care what Miller thinks, I’m telling you what NOMA entails for the religious, which is that they give up their belief in miracles.

  43. Every experiment rules out the possibility of miracles, because miracles are by definition a suspension of natural law by the incursion of supernatural forces. Every science experiment confirms that the natural laws are still in place.

    And every conviction rules out the possibility of pardons, because pardons, by definition are a suspension of statutory law by the incursion of extralegal forces. Every criminal conviction confirms that statutory law is still in place.

    You seem to be assuming that an incursion of supernatural forces would somehow “break” natural law so that it never functioned the same way again. I don’t think you can justify that assumption based on any property inherent in the notion of supernatural forces.

  44. foolfodder

    @smijer #37, thanks for you response.

    @Erasmussimo #39:

    “However, I don’t think it incumbent upon Chris to address issues of science versus religion as they exist outside of the USA.”

    It might be if he’s asking someone who is addressing topics outside of (though possibly including) the US to change their strategy regarding whether or not they speak their mind.

  45. I don’t care what Miller thinks, I’m telling you what NOMA entails for the religious, which is that they give up their belief in miracles.

    Hopefully I’ve already demonstrated to your satisfaction that this is a misperception on your part.

  46. If you found an exception to a natural law it would mean we would have to rethink the natural law because it couldn’t be relied upon any more. That’s a serious problem for science. It would be more than a paradigm shift. It would essentially mean that this material world isn’t subject to empiricism scrutiny because god could come down any time he wanted and screw around with natural law. That would be a science killer.

    I don’t think you are prepared to defend miracles on those grounds.

  47. “Hopefully I’ve already demonstrated to your satisfaction that this is a misperception on your part.”

    um, no.

  48. I think I covered that, albeit offhandedly, when I stated: “Sure, one must suppose that miracles don’t come along and ruin all our experiments.”

    Under NOMA, it’s not clear that you could “find an exception to natural law” in the first place. If a miracle was actually documented (for instance, during an experiment), you might have an unexplained result. I don’t see how you would have more than that. Of course, if they are ubiquitous, then their combined effects might “break science”… but we don’t see science broken, so we assume that they are not ubiquitous enough to break it.

    So, where does that leave us?

  49. foolfodder

    @smijer #48

    What if the miracle is a fossil rabbit in the pre-cambrian? Have you shown that miracles happened or evolution is wrong?

    I can’t work out if those are dumb questions or not, so I thought I’d post them.

  50. Matt Penfold

    “Matt Penfold again raises the point that the issues outside of the USA are different. This is quite correct. However, I don’t think it incumbent upon Chris to address issues of science versus religion as they exist outside of the USA. It would be nice if he also knew about those things and applied his good judgement to them, but certainly there is no failure in his concentration on the political system he is most familiar with. We Americans don’t know much about the controversies in Europe and so we don’t comment on them. I think you could do us a service by telling us how those controversies are working out.”

    I will address the situation in Europe first, with the proviso I live in the UK and so am best equiped to discuss the situation her, but I do try to keep up with the rest of Europe although I am far stronger on the situation in Western Europe as compared with those countries formally part of the Soviet bloc.

    In Western Europe creationism is not that much of an issue. Yes there are groups who try and get a “debate” going, and distribute creationist materials to schools, and interestingly most seem to have string US links and funding. However they are not succeeding, for a number of reasons.

    The first is that there is simply not as many religious groups here who reject evolution. Second the curricula used in schools tends to be pretty centralised, and not left to individual school boards, and those who are charged with setting the curricula are the kind of people who should be doing it, experts in the field, teachers of the subject, educational experts, psychologists etc. There is little political involvment. For example here in the UK there are four bodies that set the curricula, one each for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and whilst there are complaints (not totally invalid I think) that there is some dumbing down, there is no place for input from those with a religious agenda.

    Second is that a number of countries in Western Europe have established religion. It might seem paradoxical but this seem to have a moderating effect on religion in those countries in general. Established churches know that they must keep broadly in line with public sentiment, else they run the risk of loosing their established status.

    Third is that many people in Western Europe who identify themselves as being religious are, in reality, only so from a cultural prospective. For example Church weddings are still pretty popular in the UK, but this is more down to many Churches being pretty buildingsthat make a good backdrop for the wedding photos.

    The battles that Western Europe is having with religion at the moment are those regarding the rights given to gays and women. There is a general move to allowing the right of gays to marry, although calling it marriage itself is proving a problem. Here in the UK we now have civil partnerships which are marriage in all but name. The government at the time took the view calling them marriages would simply complicate affairs. Persanolly I think they were too timid. The main objection came from the Catholic Church, with the Anglicans supporting the move, although there was considerable dissent from both Anglican clegy and laity. There have been similar attempts in other countries in Western Europe, which varying degrees of success. There have also been attempts to extend the right to abortions, and to fertility treatments, agains with varying success. In general those countries with a protestent culture are more liberal than those with a catholic one but there are exceptions. Ireland seems to be especially backward, still outlawing abortions. I suspect this may well be an example of picking your battles, as although Ireland outlaws abortions, the planes and ferries on a Friday night have plenty of young woman on their way to the UK where they will have an abortion. Politcians in Ireland seem to be a little cowardly on the issue knowing that the ban on abortion does not alter the the number of abortions that take place, just where.

  51. What you are basically saying is that miracles would have to be undetectable by science (past, present and future), thus implying that they’re irrelevant to how the world works. How is this realm of irrelevance that you’re allowing miracles to exist in different than the realm a deistic god inhabits?

    When science encounters something it hasn’t previously explained, is it satisfied with a non-explanation (miracle)? No, that wouldn’t be science then. Whatever is unaccounted for eventually gets brought into the fold of science. It’s really simple. If a phenomenon affects the natural world in any way, even at the quantum level, then it is subject to the instruments and scrutiny of science.

    T-Storms were once divine in origin. Not any more, because we know how they work. Simply pushing T-Storms down to the quantum doesn’t save your argument. It’s only miraculous until you’ve explained it. Do you see how this is a “god of the gaps” argument you’re using?

  52. foolfodder – I’m tempted to take the easy route – we’ll worry about that when it happens. I’m pretty convinced for extra-scientific reasons – that such miracles as you describe aint a gonna happen.

    Actually, the answer would be that evolution took a big hit on the scientific credibility meter. As I stated before, you can’t use a miracle to explain a result. You have to explain it using natural theories or leave it unexplained. You have to be willing to admit falsifying evidence, even if you secretly suspect it was planted there miraculously.

    If you simply can’t bear the possibility that the naturalistic program might be “wrong” on such an important issue, then you are free to abandon it – at least temporarily – and maintain that the fossil rabbit is a miraculous exception. You might be more “correct”, but you would be less “scientific” to do so.

    Ultimately, we must resort to philosophical arguments to settle many questions – and philosophically, it is much more satisifying to believe that miracles do not exist and there is no risk that naturalistic observation of the world could ever be compromised in this way. But I stress that
    1) this is a philosophical position, not empirically derived.
    2) one can practice science – methodologically naturalistically even if you take it that miracles could cause you to come to a wrong result – even on important matters.
    3) the scientific program is often compromised in smaller and usually more temporary ways by other factors that are less avoidable, e.g. the possibility of human error. This does not render it inoperable.

  53. Matt Penfold

    “No… it isn’t. What is axiomatic to science is that we can learn about nature through observation. Sure, one must suppose that miracles don’t come along and ruin all our experiments. And of course one cannot invoke a miracle to explain a result. Apart from that, it is merely materialist overreach to pretend that atheism/deism is axiomatic to science.”

    If miracles happen then science becomes useless. There would NO phenonoma that could not be explained by invoking a miracle. How could we tell how the old earth is ? Sure we could go on what scientific evidence say, but if someone says that it was a miracle the earth looks 4.5 billion years old what answer does science have ?

    This is the whole problem with standard religious dogma. Traditionally religion teaches of a god that is active in the universe. He answers prayers, performs miracles, gives evolution a prod now and then. Belief in this type of god is not compatible with science. If you allow for “goddidit” anywhere, where do you stop ? The only type of god compatible with science is one that does not have a role in the universe. Do I need to point out that such a god is not really worthy of the name, and has no explanatory value at all ? There are such religious people of course, but they are not mainstream.

    Deism also presents a problem, albeit a lesser one than traditional theism does. We do not know how the universe began, and some people seem to keen to allow their god a role there. This presents two problems. The first is that whilst we do not understand how the universe began at present, we do not know that we will never know. A deist pushing his god here runs the risk of having it squeezed to death. A second, more profound problem is that deists posit a god to get around the problem of first cause. What they neglect is what they propose as the first cause also needs an explanation of its first cause. If you use god to explain where the universe came from then you will need to explain where that god came from. Pretty soon you end up in an infinite recursive loop. A deist could choose to claim their god has always existed, but then they have the problem of explaining why the universe could not always have existed, albeit maybe no the form we see at present. Some cosmologists indeed suggest the universe may not have had a beginning as we understand the term.

  54. What you are basically saying is that miracles would have to be undetectable by science (past, present and future), thus implying that they’re irrelevant to how the world works.

    No – that’s not what I’m saying. Just saying that they cannot be so ubiquitous as to render natural law undiscernable by science.

    Consider in the case of “past” miracles – instead “past” meteor showers. Certainly they had an effect on the world, and might well have inspired Shakespeare some midsummer night – which might have effected the world in ways we still experience today… yet this one did not leave enough evidence that we can prove that there was a meteor shower witnessed by Shakespeare on any particular evening. I give this example to show that our failure to empirically observe any past miracle requires that it have “no effect” or that it “not exist”.

    Present and future miracles – again – simply must not muck up our experiments. If God chooses to withhold his super-healing power when a skeptic shows up at the revival checking medical records and the like – that’s God’s business. He already told us not to come looking for signs or testing him, so it isn’t as though we should expect to find this type of miracle by experiment.

  55. Matt Penfold

    “one can practice science – methodologically naturalistically even if you take it that miracles could cause you to come to a wrong result – even on important matters.”

    One could practice science like that. However anyone who did could not then rule miracles as an answer. One a miracles can used to explain one thing then it becomes valid in explaining everything. There becomes no point in using scientific methodolgy as it can no longer tell you anything.

  56. 3) This is ironic, right?! We have controls for human error, such as bias, which is what a miracle is, human bias toward the supernatural.

    2) Nope. Scientists simply don’t factor in the possibility of a natural law being upending while they’re conducting experiments. There is no control for that. In order for science to work, it must work on the assumption that natural laws are constant everywhere.

    1) That’s like, your opinion, man.

  57. Matt Penfold:

    1. “What is axiomatic to science is that we can learn about nature through observation. Sure, one must suppose that miracles don’t come along and ruin all our experiments.”
    2. “And of course one cannot invoke a miracle to explain a result. ”

    If miracles happen then science becomes useless. There would NO phenonoma that could not be explained by invoking a miracle. […] How could we tell how the old earth is ? Sure we could go on what scientific evidence say, but if someone says that it was a miracle the earth looks 4.5 billion years old what answer does science have ?

    The answer would be “see #2.”

    The problem is that you (and gilt, apparently) are seeing science as more than a method. You are seeing it as an epistemological system.

    Science is just the method. It’s like an algorithm – and one of the steps is “if evidence, then explain naturalistically”. Just because a person believes a miracle could, in principle, happen and muck up the conclusions of that method doesn’t mean they cannot employ the method. As long as they believe that miracles don’t come along and muck up the conclusions significantly, then they are perfectly well equipped to employ it.

    The epistemological system is philosophical naturalism. I subscribe to it myself. But it is not part of the algorithm, and the algorithm does not produce it. It is a separate beast.

  58. One could practice science like that. However anyone who did could not then rule miracles as an answer. One a miracles can used to explain one thing then it becomes valid in explaining everything.

    I’ve stressed that you cannot use a miracle to explain a result in science. Believing that they happen and matter != using them to explain a result in science.

  59. foolfodder

    @Matt Penfold and @gillt

    If, as a matter of fact, we did live in a universe where supernatural miracles happened, is it you opinion that we would be unable to acquire any reliable knowledge about the world?

  60. Patimus

    @foolfodder: “What if the miracle is a fossil rabbit in the pre-cambrian? Have you shown that miracles happened or evolution is wrong?”

    Do creationists believe in the Precambrian?

  61. 3) This is ironic, right?! We have controls for human error, such as bias, which is what a miracle is, human bias toward the supernatural.

    Which is why the terms “usually smaller and more temporary ways” was included in my statement. The point is that not all epistemological compromise must inevitably destroy science. And it doesn’t.

    2) Nope. Scientists simply don’t factor in the possibility of a natural law being upending while they’re conducting experiments. There is no control for that. In order for science to work, it must work on the assumption that natural laws are constant everywhere.

    That’s the program – you don’t factor in the possibility of a natural law being upended while conducting experiments. There can be no control for that. Doesn’t mean it will never happen, or that science is inevitably screwed if it does happen… just means that that science doesn’t take the possibility into consideration. It works on the assumption that natural laws are constant everywhere, and not intruded upon supernaturalistically enough to make the program useless.

    1) That’s like, your opinion, man.

    Irony appreciated… I assume you don’t hold that such philosophical views can be empirically derived… on the chance that you do, my answer would be to show me the experiment.

  62. Matt Penfold

    “I’ve stressed that you cannot use a miracle to explain a result in science. Believing that they happen and matter != using them to explain a result in science.”

    Yes it does. Science studies what happens in the universe. A person who thinks miracles happens CANNOT rule them out as explantion. They already admitted they happen after all.

    I really am not quite sure what you are trying to argue her. I would seem you think a person can say miracles happen but then rule them out as an explanation. If that it is the case then I think you are simply talking rubbish. One cannot hold miracles happen and do not happen at the same time.

  63. andrew

    It’s funny, but it appears that Phil’s piece on ‘Homeopathy kills’ could be a direct response to this debate.

    Here are the issue’s I had with this piece…
    – The ONLY reason that evolution could be compatible with someone’s religion is if that person has already rejected the creation story of their religion (which in turn implies incompatibility). The re-framing of the creation stories as ‘metaphorical’ only comes after the acceptance of evolutionary theory.

    – “millions of America believe, incorrectly, that they must give up their faith in order to learn about it or accept it. ”
    So they can keep their faith in the religious creation stories and still believe in Evolution? You really should expand on this point! You would have them change their religious ideas no doubt – so I still can’t see how you can think they are compatible.

    – I don’t understand the reference to any court cases on a purely philosophical/psychological issue.

    – “while supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science.” Really! I know a judge who said God doesn’t exist, so once I dig up that quote maybe we can put this whole thing to bed. Name just 1 ‘important’ supernatural explanation of an event that has changed the world for the better in some sense because I know there is none that have ‘merit’.

    – “Crucially, such logic suggests that it is most emphatically possible to accept the results of science’s naturalistic methodology, and yet also retain supernatural beliefs that science cannot touch.”
    So it’s possible for me to believe that invisible, completely undetectable tadpoles are swimming in my inner ear that whisper things to me that cause me to write everything that I do. This is a supernatural claim that science can’t disprove. You believe me to be compatible with science??? (Fair warning: I reserve the right to reinterpret this scenario anyway I see fit)

    BTW, if the Fact of Evolution doesn’t evoke God, than by definition, is it an a-thestic science. If methodological naturalism doesn’t evoke God, is it not an a-thestic method. Does something that is non-theism not imply a-theism, even a little. Surely I needn’t break down the Greek for you. And certainly if you had to make the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism, then obviously one implies the other.

  64. Matt Penfold

    “If, as a matter of fact, we did live in a universe where supernatural miracles happened, is it you opinion that we would be unable to acquire any reliable knowledge about the world?”

    Yes. One would be forced to conclude that the idea god created all species at the same time is a valid an answer as evolution in explainaing the diversity of life. One would not be able to rely on the evidence, such a fossils, as they could be the product of the miracle rather than natural processes.

  65. I would seem you think a person can say miracles happen but then rule them out as an explanation.

    That’s a fair appreciation of my viewpoint. I know my wife believes miracles happen (and I mean, boy does she ever)… but if I suggested that the shaved dog was a result of a miracle, she would laugh at me. It is a matter of context to her. Maybe this wraps around and goes back to NOMA.

  66. Matt Penfold

    “That’s a fair appreciation of my viewpoint. I know my wife believes miracles happen (and I mean, boy does she ever)… but if I suggested that the shaved dog was a result of a miracle, she would laugh at me. It is a matter of context to her. Maybe this wraps around and goes back to NOMA.”

    Fine. There is no point arguing anymore. Such a lack of logic is not to be reasoned with.

  67. NewEnglandBob

    Anthony McCarthy loves to create bogus stereotypes in his posts and fabricates attributes to those types he disagrees with. His posts are boring, malignant diatribes. I have stopped reading his nonsense.

    An example:

    A big part of that is the typical new atheist habit of acting as if all religious believers were ignorant yahoos…

  68. And certainly if you had to make the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism, then obviously one implies the other.

    The reasoning here is obviously fallacious. However, for obvious reasons philosophical naturalism implies methodological naturalism. And for equally obvious reasons, methodological naturalism does not imply philosophical naturalism.

  69. Sorry to be snitty… but I can’t help myself.

    People can’t like Van Halen AND Pearl Jam!!!

    … My wife does – look at her CD collection!

    How can I argue with such illogic?

  70. Anthony McCarthy

    NewEnglandBob apparently thinks that someone pointing out the habits that come with his favorite fad is unfair. Which is typical of fundamentalists.

  71. Matt Penfold

    Anthony McCarthy, For someone who is so keen on Chris Mooney’s call for civility you certainly seem to have failed to grasp the concept of being civil. Now were I being civil I would not point out that seems typical from you, since you also seem to lack honesty and are willing to make up your own facts. If I were civil I would not say that, but I have not claimed to be civil, so I will.

  72. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt Penfold, If miracles happen then science becomes useless. There would NO phenonoma that could not be explained by invoking a miracle.

    Who does that? There are all kinds of data generated by experiments that are problematic, outliers, mistakes, fraud (which happens) fudging, lazy observation, wishful thinking (a speciality of the soft sciences)….

    A rare miracle wouldn’t be any more problematical than any number of other possible confusions. Maybe God has a quota on how many miracles are performed or maybe God has some really clever algorism so miracles won’t screw up science too much.

  73. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt Penfold, who apparently was typing in a remark while I was answering a point he made.

    Imagine what you’d be saying if I’d been acting like Christopher Hitchens does?

  74. Matt Penfold

    “Who does that? There are all kinds of data generated by experiments that are problematic, outliers, mistakes, fraud (which happens) fudging, lazy observation, wishful thinking (a speciality of the soft sciences)….”

    You seriously do not know who invokes miracles as an answer ?

    I am not sure how stupid you have to be not to know that. Although you are pretty thick I had credited as being a bit brigher than that.

    The answer is the religious. YEC’s invoke miracles, those who believe in a virgin birth invoke them, as do those who claim Jesus rose from the dead. Belief in a virgin birth is NOT compatible with science you know. Nor is belief in the ressurection.

  75. smijer, you still haven’t grasped the definition of miracle: miracles are antithesis to science. Not sometimes, not when science isn’t looking, as you seem to imagine, but all the time.

    The difference between science as a philosophy and science as a method is superfluous. Once you allow for the possibility of miracles, you’ve abandoned both methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. They are on a continuum.

  76. Matt Penfold

    “Imagine what you’d be saying if I’d been acting like Christopher Hitchens does?”

    I don’t think Hitchins lays claim to be that civil. Quite the contrary in fact. He rather enjoys his pitbull image.

    I will give you a challenge. Find an example of Richard Dawkins being less than civil in his dealing with creationists. Not being polite, he is not polite to then as he challenges the very basis of their beliefs, but an example of him being uncivil.

  77. Anthony McCarthy

    This is the whole problem with standard religious dogma. Traditionally religion teaches of a god that is active in the universe. He answers prayers, performs miracles, gives evolution a prod now and then. Belief in this type of god is not compatible with science.

    So, no one who believes in these things can perform science. Which would be kind of strange considering how many scientists have produced good science. Fr, Mendel for example, As Richard Lewontin pointed out, his work pretty much gave Darwin’s it’s essential substrate which had been lacking.

    Or isn’t that a fair observation to make in answer to what you said?

  78. The difference between science as a philosophy and science as a method is superfluous. Once you allow for the possibility of miracles, you’ve abandoned both methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. They are on a continuum.

    I would like to see you attempt to justify these assertions… but you’re welcome to them. I think I’ve explained as well as I am able why I do not accept them.

  79. Anthony McCarthy

    Matt 74, I’m sorry if it was not clear that I was asking who invokes a miracle to explain every phenomenon. I’ve never heard anyone do that.

  80. As typically happens in these debates, the things you allow god to do resemble more and more either a capricious god or a deistic one. It’s called moving the goal posts. Why would god hide miracles from scientists but only reveal them to his credulous flock? Because you said it and because you attribute it to god’s will does not make it automatically within the realm of possibility.

    In other words, you can’t just throw random things out there, such as god works in mysterious ways, and still expect to be taken seriously. This god you’re defending is nebulous to the point of irrelevance.

  81. As typically happens in these debates, the things you allow god to do resemble more and more either a capricious god or a deistic one. It’s called moving the goal posts. Why would god hide miracles from scientists but only reveal them to his credulous flock? Because you said it and because you attribute it to god’s will does not make it automatically within the realm of possibility.
    In other words, you can’t just throw random things out there, such as god works in mysterious ways, and still expect to be taken seriously. This god you’re defending is nebulous to the point of irrelevance.

    You don’t get it. I am an atheist, and am not defending god in any way, shape or form. When I express agreement with your position as stated in the quoted text, I express it as a philosophical agreement that can carry its own weight. I don’t need to add an extra layer of credibility to my opinion by insisting that it is a conclusion of “science”.. Earlier you suggested it might be an “axiom” of science. But philosophies have axioms. Methods have rules.

  82. Matt Penfold

    “So, no one who believes in these things can perform science. Which would be kind of strange considering how many scientists have produced good science. Fr, Mendel for example, As Richard Lewontin pointed out, his work pretty much gave Darwin’s it’s essential substrate which had been lacking.

    Or isn’t that a fair observation to make in answer to what you said?”

    No, such people can perform science on a practical level. They just need to be honest and admit their are times they reject science in favour of superstition. Quite how they cope with that cognitive dissonece is their problem. They also have less moral force in opposing issues such a creationism. If miracles happen then why cannot it explain the origins of species ?

  83. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, I didn’t move any goal posts. If you’re going to argue propositions about the possibility of miracles, you can’t do that without using the assertions made on behalf of them. In an argument about a proposition you have to begin with what the proposition says. If you start out saying, that’s impossible, you aren’t actually arguing about them, you’re asserting your predetermined view point.

  84. Anthony McCarthy

    No, such people can perform science on a practical level. They just need to be honest and admit their are times they reject science in favour of superstition

    You have any record of Gregor Mendel saying that “at times I reject science in favor of superstition?” Or any of the other well known scientists of the past or present? Because I’ve never seen any of them do that. Or isn’t your proposition falsifiable through evidence?

  85. Matt Penfold

    “You have any record of Gregor Mendel saying that “at times I reject science in favor of superstition?” Or any of the other well known scientists of the past or present? Because I’ve never seen any of them do that. Or isn’t your proposition falsifiable through evidence?”

    If they beleived in the virgin birth, or ressurection of Jesus, then yes, that is evidence that at times they reject science in favour of superstition. Both are claims that the natural rules of the universe were suspended.

  86. You have any record of Gregor Mendel saying that “at times I reject science in favor of superstition?” Or any of the other well known scientists of the past or present? Because I’ve never seen any of them do that. Or isn’t your proposition falsifiable through evidence

    I’m glad to finally take Penfold’s side. Somehow he thought it very illogical when I suggested someone could do something like this, but he seems to agree that they can. No, Mendel didn’t cast his religious beliefs in such unflattering terms, but he did essentially admit that there were elements of experience that were not best understood through means of science. He was a Monk, for christ’s sake.

  87. methodological naturalism is only concerned with natural causes. Philosophical naturalism says natural causes are all there is.

    It is not fully accurate when Mooney says methodological naturalism can’t say anything about the supernatural. It’s better to say methodological naturalism doesn’t even recognize the supernatural as an option as an explanation, doesn’t recognize it as existing, as something to be reckoned with. Philosophical naturalism agrees with this…religion, not so much.

  88. Philosophical naturalism agrees with this…religion, not so much

    You can’t agree with a method. It’s like saying one “agrees with” the rules of chess. They are what they are. Philosophical naturalism says that the method of science is comprehensive for the task of “knowing” about reality. Religion, not so much.

  89. You are getting needlessly bogged down in semantics. The method in question is the scientific method, and it is an epistemology, a way of knowing that makes predictions about reality.

    And getting back to the main point about miracles. Yes, science is screwed if the method ever fails, which it would if a miracle were detected, or the possibility of miracles were factored into the methodology. This is perfectly consistent with philosophical naturalism. That’s why they belong on a continuum, and why superficial are attempts to separate them for purposes of slipping in the possibility of unicorns.

  90. Anthony McCarthy

    If they beleived in the virgin birth, or ressurection of Jesus, then yes, that is evidence that at times they reject science in favour of superstition. Both are claims that the natural rules of the universe were suspended.

    I’d think the virgin birth and the the assertions about Jesus rising from the dead are beyond science since there is no evidence and they are both held to be unique events. Please state exactly which “rules of the universe” they suspend. Identify them by name.

  91. If a miracle were detected? Why? Because one would feel obliged to start factoring them into the methodology? Well… that’s just a feeling. As long as you don’t actually factor them in, then there is no problem.

    And, as stated, the possibility isn’t factored in… so that’s no trouble.

    And, there is a method, and there is an epistemology based partly on that method. And there is an epistemology based entirely on that method. And, presumably there could be an epistemology that doesn’t include that method. But the epistemology is not the method. And that’s why, whether you feel the “belong” on a continuum or not, one must remember that they are not equivalent to one another on occasion.

  92. Anthony McCarthy

    I’m still wondering why miracles are more of a problem for scientific experiments than outliers or any of the other problems that science deals with as a matter of course. Just saying “it violates philosophical naturalism” isn’t an answer.

  93. Please state exactly which “rules of the universe” they suspend.

    Resurrection: 2nd law of thermodynamics. Key word is “suspend”. Violate would work just as well. You got it right when you pointed out that it is considered a unique – *supernatural* event – i.e., a singular case we wherein we would not expect the law to apply, avoiding any condition that would be empirically observable today, while not undermining the program of scientific method because the event is thought of as unique rather than ubiquitous.

  94. Anthony McCarthy

    smijer, I must have missed the place in the second law that mentioned ressurection from the dead not being allowed to happen once. In other words, you’re pulling that one out of your hat unless you explain what you mean.

  95. Resurrection would require the reversal of a large number of chemical reactions related to 1) death, 2) decomposition in a thermodynamically impossible way. However, since we are talking about a *supernatural* resurrection, the law would not apply – i.e. it would be violated supernaturalistically.

    It really doesn’t matter to the point of suspension/violation if it happens once or ten billion times. It only matters as to whether it breaks science. If it happens detectably and often, then we lose our scientific understanding of the 2nd law… if such things happen ubiquitously, they ruin all of our experiments that might otherwise teach us about the 2nd law. In fact, they could lead us to believe something quite contrary to it.

  96. Jon

    There are ways to deal with the Resurrection that pose no challenge to post-Enlightenment ways of viewing things:

    “Take a man like John Haught, the Georgetown University Catholic theologian and prominent defender of evolution, who argues that had a camera been present at the scene of Christ’s rising from the dead, it would have recorded nothing.”

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/04/30/rockin-the-science-religion-relationship/

  97. Jon, I was dealing with the orthodox formulation of resurrection. I’m aware of Haught’s formulation, but that opens a whole nother ball of wax that I’m not prepared to get into.

  98. Anthony McCarthy

    smijer, I’m just about certain that the resurrection has always been defined as an act of God. You can’t talk about it without dealing with that part of it. The people who believe in it hold that God is omnipotent, since that means what it does, that God would not be bound to obey any ‘law of the natural universe’.

    How do you account for people who believed it was literally true who had careers in physics Carnot?

    You will remember I was the one who said you couldn’t apply science to the resurrection of Jesus, that’s because it was never held by those who believe it to have happened within the natural order of things. You might not like that but it is, in fact, what “the resurrection of Jesus” is.

    You might have read somewhere here that I said I didn’t happen to believe in it, but there is no way to debunk it with science.

  99. Anthony McCarthy

    This should read: How do you account for people who believed it was literally true who had careers in physics after Carnot?

  100. God would not be bound to obey any ‘law of the natural universe’.

    Another way of saying that God is free to violate/suspend physics.

    You will remember I was the one who said you couldn’t apply science to the resurrection of Jesus, that’s because it was never held by those who believe it to have happened within the natural order of things. You might not like that but it is, in fact, what “the resurrection of Jesus” is.

    You might have read somewhere here that I said I didn’t happen to believe in it, but there is no way to debunk it with science.

    You might want to check whose side I’m on. I was just answering the question you posed about what law would normally prevent resurrection from happening. I’ve been taking the compatibilist position in roughly 40 out of the 100 posts in this thread.

    On the other hand… if it were a 2009 event, we could probably debunk it with science by showing that the fellow either wasn’t ever dead, or that he didn’t come back to life.

  101. Anthony McCarthy

    smijer, it’s difficult to sort out who is who, if I made a mistake I am sorry. It gets kind of confusing.

    I don’t think you could actually accuse God of violating or suspending physics. Who’d press the charge?

    I wasn’t intending to spend three days on this but I have actually done quite a bit of research and it’s an issue that has been important to me for the past three years.

  102. Description, not accusation… and ummm… it’s the believers that think he does it. That’s ‘tween them & him I guess.

  103. Anthony McCarthy

    smijer, I do have beliefs, just not the ones that usually get brought up in these discussions. But, really, it just annoys me to hear people pretending they’re the exemplars of science, reason and integrity while they spout irrational, evidence free bigotry.

    I actually went to Coyne’s blog looking for information about modern evolutionary science, boy what a disappointment.

  104. Re Coyne’s blog, me, too. I stay subscribed to it – he has some good posts now & then.

  105. Read his book for modern evolutionary science

  106. “whether you feel the “belong” on a continuum or not, one must remember that they are not equivalent to one another on occasion.”

    Which occasion? The one where miracles are allowed to impinge on the natural world willy-nilly? Is that the occasion where the two are lacking equivalency because the scientific method seeks natural explanations and philosophical naturalism simply backs its play?

    Thanks to probability, science is a practical enterprise. Through repeated experiments the probability of an event is gauged. This is why improbable events, such as the sun failing to rise tomorrow, or the miraculous, are not factored in (i.e., irrelevant) to obtain an accurate model of reality. If the world can be explained without resorting to miraculous events (even if they do exist) then this is just the same as saying the miraculous does not exist, because you cannot test it or in any objective way know anything about it, including whether it exists or not. If you allow the miraculous in then you must allow for unicorns. Are you prepared to defend the possibility of the unicorn?

  107. JonJ

    Every scientific result discomfits _somebody_. These are the people who are going to cry ‘miracle!’, not just once, but over and over again, when science turns up some innovation or discovery they don’t like. Leave the ‘miracle’ window open and you can say goodbye to any hope of making progress through a rigorous application of the scientific method. How many religious believers are going to tell their children about the scientific findings that make them look stupid, cruel and petty, when they can simply dodge the consequences by crying ‘miracle!’?

    Getting back to the main issue, I think Chris Mooney has misjudged the role that Creationism plays in modern global Christianity. It is not primarily a moral belief, since it has virtually no content and no behavioural implications: it is a badge, a sign of membership. Creationist Christians are saying: “I may look modern and enlightened, but don’t be afraid — underneath my 21st Century veneer I am still prepared to believe something totally irrational. I am One with the saints and apostles.” It’s much less inconvenient than actually following the moral precepts laid down by those ancient barbarians.

    So saying ‘religion is compatible with science’ is not going to convince anybody. Most creationists are not anti-science in practice. They are not even really anti-evolution. They just need a badge belief to identify with, and creationism is the least inconvenient one to adopt.

  108. Anthony McCarthy

    Read his book for modern evolutionary science

    No thank you. I’ve read a lot about modern evolutionary science and don’t need to read it from the descriptions. I’ll look for other things now. I came across his blog of the same name while looking to order it, I don’t patronize bigots if I can avoid it.

    The one where miracles are allowed to impinge on the natural world willy-nilly?
    I’ve never seen a claim of a miracle that didn’t describe it as an act of will by a conscious agent. In no instance have I ever seen a description that claimed it was “willy-nilly”. Or that they were part of the natural order of things. They are out of the ordinary or they wouldn’t be called “miracles”.

    You do know you have to talk about what is being claimed in order to discuss what is being claimed. From it’s literature, that seems to be missing pier in the logical foundation of the new atheism. You can’t replace a cartoon or an anti-religious joke for what is actually being claimed and think you’ve refuted something.

    Miracles for which you have no physical evidence to study simply can’t be debunked by science. If there is physical evidence of a claim of one, such as a miracle cure, you might be able to study that and tell if what happened actually happened, but if you don’t have that, you can’t debunk it.

    For claims of the miraculous for which there isn’t any physical evidence available you can mock them, you can raise polite objections to them, but you can’t use science or probability to debunk them.

    If you allow the miraculous in then you must allow for unicorns. Are you prepared to defend the possibility of the unicorn?

    From the little I’ve ever read about them, unicorns are held to be animals existing in the physical universe. They are not your best choice for this question because since no living specimen is known of and no verified remains of one have been displayed or published, there isn’t any reason to believe in them. The widespread use of the “unicorn test” by the new atheists only demonstrates that their intellectual methods aren’t based in reason or logic but in their own folklore.

    Thanks to probability, science is a practical enterprise.

    You do realize that miracles are held to be improbable by those who believe in them. That’s one of the features that brings them to attention.

    I wish you’d tell Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett to study a good, basic text about probability because it’s pretty obvious they don’t have much of a clue about it. Knowing when you can apply probability to something and when you can’t is kind of an absolute requirement.

    I’d go into the huge irony of Dawkins attempted use of Bayesian concepts to debunk religion but new atheists don’t seem to like it much when you spring history on them and it would take a long time to do it. They don’t seem to be fond of rigorous logic which insists on accuracy either.

    The question of believing in any aspect of religion that isn’t refutable on the basis of physical evidence and disciplined logic rests entirely on belief. Either you believe it or you don’t. It’s not a question of science or logic or probability or anything else. You don’t believe it which is fine and good for you. It’s when you start attacking religious believers indiscriminately that you’ll get flack.

  109. Federico higuera

    I am catholic and find no contradiction between Science and religion. We know God is the Creator but we do not know the “how” of creation. How God created is up to science to tell us.

  110. on science and religion, let’s pose a question: Why do we care whether or not the two are compatible?
    The answer is that one might care for many reasons. One reason–a very good one–involves what we take to be true. After we know all we can know about the world through science, is there still any room left for the supernatural or divine? Or must such elements be completely gone for everyone, just as they are for atheists like myself and Coyne?

    I think even Jerry Coyne will agree that science can not explain everything. But he would probably say that this does not prove that science and religion are compatible. That proves that science and BELIEF can be compatible.

  111. Anthony McCarthy

    re; Rosenhouse

    They have shown quite successfully that traditional Christianity is not flatly refuted by evolution, or by anything else in science. Coyne and the New Atheists have never claimed otherwise. Rosenhouse

    You will forgive someone for pointing out that this is a pretty huge whopper of a false statement.

    From Seeing and Believing Jerry A. Coyne The New Republic February 04, 2009

    – The cultural polarization of America has been aggravated by attacks on religion from the “new atheists,” writers such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who are die-hard Darwinists.

    – But consider this: it is Richard Dawkins who, more than anyone else, has convinced people of the reality and the power of evolution. It is the height of wishful thinking to claim that if he and his intellectual confreres simply stopped attacking religion, creationism would disappear

    – This brings us to the second reason why Gould’s explanation does not cohere. It is all well and good to say, as he did, that religion makes no claims about nature, but in practice it is not true. Out of the thousands of religious sects on this planet, only a handful do not have adherents or dogmas that make empirical claims about the world. Here are some. Jesus was born of a virgin and, after crucifixion …..

    – (Following a quote from Giberson) This is creationist-speak, pure and simple. No real scientist would say that his theories are immune to disproof.

    – It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time.

    – Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause, Giberson and Miller pick and choose what they believe. At least the young-earth creationists are consistent, for they embrace supernatural causation across the board. With his usual flair, the physicist Richard Feynman characterized this difference: “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” With religion, there is just no way to know if you are fooling yourself.

    – So the most important conflict–the one ignored by Giberson and Miller–is not between religion and science. It is between religion and secular reason. Secular reason includes science, but also embraces moral and political philosophy, mathematics, logic, history, journalism, and social science–every area that requires us to have good reasons for what we believe. Now I am not claiming that all faith is incompatible with science and secular reason–only those faiths whose claims about the nature of the universe flatly contradict scientific observations. Pantheism and some forms of Buddhism seem to pass the test. But the vast majority of the faithful–those 90 percent of Americans who believe in a personal God, most Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, and adherents to hundreds of other faiths–fall into the “incompatible” category.

    – Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.

    And this is only from one book review in The New Republic. On his blog which apparently doesn’t have to pass muster with an editor, where Coyne feels free to demonstrate his personal bias, it’s even more obvious.

  112. John Kwok

    Andrew McCarthy,

    Unlike, for example, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne isn’t a bigot. How do I know this? He indicated in private e-mail correspondence with me a few months ago that he wasn’t thrilled with Myers’s infamous “cracker incident” from last summer.

    However, I think PZ has been complaining too much and too loudly about “accomodationist” stances with religion as “demonstrated” by organizations as diverse as NCSE, NAS and AAAS. Indeed, as far as I know, NCSE doesn’t have an official “accomodationist” position.

    Last, but not least, I strongly encourage you to buy and to read Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”. It is the most concise account I know of containing virtually all of the existing evidence demonstrating the reality of evolution.

    Regards,

    John

  113. John Kwok

    Chris,

    I was alerted to your post courtesy of Jason Rosenhouse’s latest blog entry at his blog. After reading his column and now yours, my only criticism is to suggest that you should have quoted extensively from Judge John E. Jones’s ruling at the end of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial. But I think that is mere minor criticism of what is otherwise an excellent piece of commentary from you.

    Regards,

    John

  114. Anthony McCarthy

    Unlike, for example, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne isn’t a bigot. How do I know this? He indicated in private e-mail correspondence with me a few months ago that he wasn’t thrilled with Myers’s infamous “cracker incident” from last summer.

    Have you read his blog?

    I’ve never heard anyone stand up and say, “Yes, I am, indeed a bigot”.

  115. John Kwok

    Andrew,

    Yes I do read Coyne’s blog. He’s not nearly as obnoxious as PZ Myers is with respect to religion. Nothing that Coyne has said or written IMHO deserves to be referred to as bigoted commentary. On the other hand, not only does PZ Myers resort to bigotry, he even rejoices in it, as for example, when he told his readership back in January that he had made it to a US Catholic organization’s “Dirty Dozen” list for his anti – Catholic bigotry last year, culminating of course in his infamous “cracker incident”.

    Regards,

    John

  116. John Kwok

    Matt Penfold,

    You must have missed the sad fact that evolution denial seems to be a growing movement in the United Kingdom. I’ve read press statements issued by the Ministry of Education and British science education advocacy groups in the last six months in which they have had to affirm that evolution is not merely valid science, but the central unifying theory of biology.

    Regards,

    John

  117. Anthony McCarthy

    He’s not nearly as obnoxious as PZ Myers is with respect to religion.

    “Not nearly as obnoxious as PZ” is a pretty low bar to pass under. There are few anti-religious bigots who are nearly as obnoxious as PZ.

  118. John Kwok

    Anthony,

    Okay that’s one point of yours – your latest observation – that I find myself in complete agreement. I find PZ Myers’s conduct against those to be religiously devout to be not only reprehensible, but not really that much different that, for example, William A. Dembski’s bizarre behavior against his critics. For this reason I have dubbed PZ the “William A. Dembski of militant Atheism” elsewhere online. I have held this poor assessment of Myers’s behavior for months, and, in fact, had had it long before he decided to expel me from his blog a few months ago.

    Sincerely yours,

    John

  119. John Kwok

    Anthony,

    Coyne is simply too good a scientist, and too much a gentleman, to engage in behavior as reprehensible as Myers. My only regret is that Coyne appears to have cast his lot with Myers, instead of showing some restraint and recognizing that Myers is unsuited as a “poster child” for either secular humanism or atheism.

    As for Myers, I think the American Humanist Association (AHA) has made a serious blunder by bestowing upon Myers its “Humanist of the Year” award, which he will receive this weekend at the AHA annual convention in Phoenix, AZ. There are other, far more credible, candidates to receive this honor, like for example, philosopher – and Center for Inquiry United Nations representative – Austin Dacey, journalist and historian Susan Jacoby or evolutionary biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, to name but a few.

    Having Meyers as this year’s recipient of the AHA “Humanist of the Year” award seems almost as risible as awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Arafat.

    Regards,

    John

  120. John Kwok

    While this is slightly off topic, I believe it is still relevant:

    Slightly over two weeks ago I heard Ken Miller declare that those who belong to religions which are hostile to modern science should think immediately of leaving their faiths for another that recognizes the validity of science. This was said during a private talk he gave to our fellow undergraduate alumni here in New York City (In the interest of full disclosure, not only is Ken a friend, but I still feel privileged for having assisted him in his very first debate against a creationist which was held on the campus of our undergraduate alma mater years ago. However, I do not subscribe to Ken’s religious views nor do I accept his unique interpretation of the anthropic principle, and, for this reason, I do recognize that some of the criticism he’s received from militant atheists may be valid.).

  121. Pierce R. Butler

    ID tries to claim we can detect God’s supernatural action, in the world, through science. Due to such religious underpinnings–and such a grave category error–it does not belong in science class.

    Uh, no. Such abstractions wouldn’t matter at all if they could show significant evidence supporting that claim. If anyone were to find “Easter eggs”, programming annotation, or copyright notices in the genetic code, that would belong in science classes, and theologians, philosophers & First AMendment lawyers would have to scramble to adjust.

    Until then, the IDists are out of the classroom and off the school grounds, gazing wistfully through the chain-link fence alongside the guys in the shabby raincoats holding grubby little bags of candy.

  122. Anthony McCarthy

    Coyne is simply too good a scientist, and too much a gentleman, to engage in behavior as reprehensible as Myers. My only regret is that Coyne appears to have cast his lot with Myers, instead of showing some restraint and recognizing that Myers is unsuited as a “poster child” for either secular humanism or atheism.

    I told Coyne that observing how a person who was quite intelligent while their bigotry was restrained by professional standards could become a bigot when those weren’t enjoined on them could become far less intelligent (I’ll try to stop using the “I” word here, since the owner has said he would rather we didn’t.

    It explained something that has puzzled me since first becoming aware of William Schockley.

    He’s a grown up and is responsible for his own associations. I’m far more troubled about the one with Sam Harris. According to the new atheist standard of vicarious blame for all religious believers for the sins of those they not only reject but vehemently condemn, …. well, what’s a logical conclusion to be drawn from that?

    I’m kind of a student of the phenomenon of organized “skepticism”. Humanism hasn’t been the same since it got hijacked by Corliss Lamont and Paul Kurtz, who I actually think were the intellectual parents of the new atheism.

  123. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorry, that was very badly put.

    I told Coyne that observing how a person who was quite intelligent while their bigotry was restrained by professional standards could become a bigot when those weren’t required to be suppressed. It was one of the things I’d learned from a week of reading his blog.

    Allergy season, antihistamines, two other things that can make your intelligence plummet.

  124. John Kwok

    If we had only the Religious Right to worry about, then you’d seen far more acceptance of evolution as valid science from the American public. Unfortunately, evolution denial is a problem that isn’t confined solely to the Religious Right. Even liberals like Obama supporters seem to have a problem too, as Harvard University physicist Lisa Randall has noted here:

    “By sheer coincidence the day I read this Edge question, a charming young actor sat next to me on my plane to LA and without any prompting answered it for me. He had just returned from the inauguration and was filled with enthusiasm and optimism. Like so many young people today, he wants to leave the world a better place. Prior to his acting career he had studied molecular biology and after graduating coordinated science teaching for three middle schools in an urban school system. He described how along with his acting career he would ultimately like to build on his training to start schools worldwide where students can get good science training.”

    “But at this point the conversation rounded a bend. His proposed curriculum would include at least one course on religion. I was surprised—this bright young man had studied biology and in all other respects seemed to have opinions and attitudes grounded in the type of education everyone responding to this question is familiar with. But religion has been a big part of his life and he sensibly said the worst thing that happens in his schools would be that people learn about religion and make their own judgements. But he himself believes in Man descending from Adam as opposed to ascending from apes. I didn’t get how someone trained as a biologist could not believe in evolution. He explained how he could learn the science and understand the logic but that it is simply how Man puts things together. In his mind that’s just not the way it is.”

    You can read the rest of Lisa Randall’s commentary here:

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/coyne09/coyne09_index.html#randall

  125. Kenneth Lawrence

    How long will it be until it is recognized that evolutionism is an ancient pagan origins religion, just recently dressed up in some pseudo-scientific garb to make it respectable to be an atheist? Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus was an evolutionist before Charles was, and undoubtedly Charles gained his beliefs from Erasmus Darwin long before he went on his Beagle voyage. Being a religion, evolutionism should not be taught in science classes in schools. It could be taught in a class on religion, but should not be called science.

  126. So you think of him as a bigot without reading his book? That’s exactly the kind of informed evidence-based opinion we are looking for around here.

  127. Anthony McCarthy

    Curious Wavefunction, I didn’t think Coyne was a bigot until I read his blog. And that wasn’t the only thing I found out about him. Guy’s pretty thin skinned.

    Kenneth Lawrence, did you read Richard Lewontin’s review of Coyne’s and other books in the New York Review of Books last month? He talked about how evolution had been in the air for decades before Darwin took up the subject. And he, himself, said that his breakthrough was from his reading of Malthus. Something I had to correct a somewhat prominent ScienceBlogger on when he leveled a punch at Lewontin.

  128. John Kwok

    @ Anthony McCarthy,

    Well Coyne isn’t the only one who is thin-skinned. Over at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog, I tried to set the record straight in reply to someone’s assertion that there have been “new accomodationists” for no more than the last 10 years, when, in reality, religion and science have tried to accomodate each other ever since the original publication of “On the Original of Species”, approximately 150 years ago. Then I tried to reply to another person’s comment regarding his denial that there is an evolution denial problem in the United Kingdom, but Rosenhouse opted to hold my comment for review.

    For your information, here’s at least one of the links I tried to post in my most recent submission over at Rosenhouse’s blog:

    http://ncseweb.org/news/2008/09/royal-society-furor-over-creationism-002131

    And I also tried to point out that if evolution denial wasn’t a growing problem in the United Kingdom, then why was it necessary to establish the British equivalent of NCSE. Its website is: http://bcseweb.org.uk/

    Unfortunately, Rosenhouse has demonstrated that those who are most interested in having one side “shut up” happen to be those, like himself, who oppose an “accomodationist” stance between science and religion.

  129. John Kwok

    Re: my most recent post

    I meant to write “On the Origin of Species”, not what I had written in error.

    @ Matt Penfold,

    Let me remind you that there is a growing problem with evolution denial in the United Kingdom as I have noted in my most recent post. If there isn’t a problem as you’ve contended, then why was the British Center for Science Education, the United Kingdom’s counterpart to NCSE, established?

    Instead of making an ad hominem accusation that I am “insane”, let me remind you that, at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog earlier today, I stated that I was joking when I insisted that PZ Myers purchase photographic equipment. I would appreciate an apology please.

  130. Science has a serious PR problem that goes a long way beyond the politically embarrassing fact that biology and geology have long demonstrated that literal Biblical faith is not simply erroneous but just plain stupid. Lots of folks could be persuaded of that. The trouble is that the practice of science has no room for popular opinion. If one allows for the validity of just anybody’s opinion, after all, the world will be full of miracles since the Virgin Mary appears to the faithful with great regularity as do all the other gods, goddesses, and saints along with evidence of the validity of astrology, homeopathic medicine, and quantum mechanical investment schemes. The question is not about whether or not Hume was right about miracles but more practically how do you protect the practice of science from the people and their superstitions. How do you maintain the integrity of the themos bottle?

  131. John Kwok

    Jim,

    Nor should science have room for “popular opinion”. It’s not a democracy, but a meritocracy based on methodological naturalism, or rather, better known as the scientific method. Ken Miller has argued persuasivelyin his “Only A Theory” that if we allow IDiots – Intelligent Design creationists – to change the very definition and rules of science, then science would become as intellectually risible as the moral relativism practiced by many in the humanities and social sciences, that was soundly criticized by Harold Bloom in his book “The Closing of the American Mind”.

    Sincerely yours,

    John

  132. The fundamental problem in this debate between Mooney and Coyne is that when each says “religion” they are referring to different things.

    As evidenced by this post, Mooney is talking about religion in the abstract (as opposed to “philosophical naturalism”). When Coyne talks about religion, he is talking about religion in practice (and usually Christianity and the other Abrahamic religions in particular). Coyne has mentioned a couple times now that he is not claiming that all possible religious beliefs are incompatible with science, but rather that most actual religious beliefs are incompatible.

    As for Mooney’s treatment of the compatibility of science and religion in the abstract : you will find very few people in the world who would call themselves religious in this sense but not in the concrete sense of holding particular religious beliefs (after all, what does it mean to be religious without religious beliefs?). So, if Coyne is guilty of conflating methodological and philosophical naturalism, certainly Giberson, et al are guilty of conflating abstract religion with concrete religious beliefs. In other words, they can claim that religion in the abstract is compatible with science, but once they start making non-scientific factual statements about the world (such as God operating at the quantum level), they are, in fact, conflicting with science.

    How? After all, isn’t our grasp of quantum effects loose enough to let God slip in somewhere? Well, not if you accept science (methodological naturalism) as the only legitimate method of justifying factual statements about how the universe operates. It may be that science never explains quantum behavior to our satisfaction, but that does not open the door for any and every random religious theory to take its place.

    The religious understand this. This is why they are fighting tooth and nail against scientific discoveries that contradict the factual claims of their beliefs. If a particular religion cannot get the facts underlying its philosophy correct, then upon what does it justify its normative laws? If it is not true that God appeared to Moses and literally wrote the Ten Commandments, then upon what basis ought we keep the sabbath holy, or refrain from making idols? If it is not the case that sin entered the world when the first humans ate a magical fruit given to them by a talking serpent, then what of the entire philosophy of Original Sin? If a flood did not cover the whole earth for 40 days and nights, then what does that say about God’s wrath, or the origin of rainbows?

  133. A random passing physicist

    Madcap,

    They’ve got some problems with their normative laws, too. For example, in Numbers 31:1-18, can anyone explain what the male children did to deserve different treatment to the girls? This section is also interesting because it mentions the final fate of Balaam, about who the book seems a bit schizophrenic. Was he a good guy or a bad one? Why was he sentenced to death, why exactly did the (remarkably incompetent) angel then let him off, and what was wrong with what he said at Peor?

    Is torturing prisoners forever in hell OK? Where are the condemnations of slavery? What’s up with eating blood? What was that bit about feeding the children’s bread to the dogs? Or killing somebody else’s fig tree for not having fruit? The moral questions are endless.

    There are plenty of other scientific questions too. For example, why is there no similar controversy of the common descent of languages, when everyone knows they were created by God at Babel? Where did daylight come from before the sun was created? What time zone were these mornings and evenings in, anyway?

    There are thousands of inconsistencies and peculiarities that cast doubt on both its literal truth and moral authority. Why pick on evolution in particular?

    I suggest that it was a strategic choice. Evolution is sufficiently complicated to explain that it is possible to sow doubt about it. And if you can sell the idea that the entire religion-reality conflict rests on that single rather abstruse scientific theory, it draws attention away from everything else.

    I think atheists make a mistake in allowing Creationists to set the terms of the debate. Defend evolution by all means, but then change the subject.

  134. Darwinists seem unable to believe — or pretend to be unable to believe — that Darwin-doubting could be based on science and not religion. The Darwinists have deluded themselves into thinking that all they have to do is persuade the fundies that evolution is compatible with the bible and then everything will be hunky-dory.

    Geocentrism, like creationism, is supported by the bible, but the fundies accept heliocentrisn but not evolutiion because they find the scientific evidence to be persuasive for heliocentrism but not for evolution. There is a lot of evidence for an old earth and some evidence for common descent, but the net evidence is actually against an evolutionary process that was driven solely by natural genetic variation and natural selection.

    Another mirage is Darwinists’ belief that the fundies reject evolution in order to maintain a belief in the inerrancy of the bible. But that belief in biblical inerrancy has already been undermined by the bible’s erroneous teaching of geocentrism.

    Yet another Darwinist myth is that all they have to do is persuade the clergy that evolution is compatible with religion and then the faithful will follow the clergy like sheep following a Judas goat. The infamous Clergy Letter Project is an example of this kind of thinking. But, for example, a lot of Catholics don’t follow the church’s very strict teachings about abortion, so why should Catholics follow the church’s teaching about evolution?

    The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision should not be taken seriously. Judge John E. Jones III is a crackpot activist judge who showed extreme lack of restraint in the Dover opinion because he knew that the opinion was unlikely to be reviewed by higher courts because the school board was unlikely to appeal because of a change in the school board membership as a result of an election. The extreme one-sidedness of the Dover opinion’s ID-as-science section, which was copied nearly verbatim from the plaintiffs’ opening post-trial brief while ignoring the defendants’ opening post-trial brief and the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ answering post-trial briefs, is evidence of this lack of restraint. If Judge Jones had anticipated an appeal, he probably would have as a precaution addressed the defendants’ arguments about ID-as-science even if he thought those arguments were bad. Judge Jones lied when he said that the school board election results would not affect his decision. And after the release of the decision, Judge Jones gave further evidence of what a big crackpot activist he is. For example, he showed extreme prejudice against intelligent design and the Dover defendants — regardless of whether or not ID is a religious concept — by stating in a Dickinson College commencement speech that his Dover decision was based on his cockamamie notion that the Founders based the establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not “true” religions. He has also given speeches extolling the virtues of “judicial independence,” charging that critics of his Dover opinion have no respect for judicial independence.

  135. A random passing physicist

    Larry,

    I know quite a few people who doubt evolution because they haven’t heard the evidence, a number of them either atheists or agnostics. Relatively few people are that interested in science to have looked, and it has often been badly taught. Scientists find that disappointing, but don’t really have a problem with it.

    On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a scientific theory if it wasn’t falsifiable on scientific grounds, and we always have to keep an open mind about that. Although if the net evidence was against, scientists would have expected this evidence to have been presented by the doubters by now, and for it to have been widely publicised.

    Since I haven’t come across any such evidence, all the widely touted claims I’ve examined having turned out to be based on fallacies, honest misunderstandings, errors, and outright distortions/falsehoods, I’m of the opinion that their *persistence* in the matter is ideologically based.

    But I find novel new approaches, even fallacious ones, interesting and entertaining, so if you think you’ve got strong evidence to the contrary that is not well-known in the creationist debate, I personally would be interested to hear about it. And science can and does sometimes get it wrong, as I’d be the first to admit, so if there really is a problem with the theory then I’d like to know. Belief in a scientific theory is only justified by its ability to withstand criticism, so the better the criticism, the better the science.
    Sincere attempts are always to be encouraged.

  136. John Kwok

    Larry,

    As a fellow conservative Republican, I respect and applaud Judge Jones’s historic ruling at the close of the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial. So does conservative biologist Paul Gross, co-author, with Barbara Forrest, of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”. Conservative Washington Post columnists George Will and Charles Krauthammer wrote praiseworthy columns soon after Jones’s decision, applauding him for making the right call with respect to whether Intelligent Design creationism should be taught at Dover High School science classrooms. National Review commentator John Derbyshire is also in agreement, as is, if I’m not mistaken, Rolling Stone and Weekly Standard contributor P. J. O’Rourke.

    Moreover, Johnson reminded readers that his ruling was not that of an activist judge or an activist court. Instead, he was stunned by the ample lies and other deceitful behavior exhibited by the creationist members of the Dover Area School District board. He was also astonished by the intellectual tom-foolery done by the likes of Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers Behe and Minnich, and perhaps, even Dembski too.

    I know of no other scientific theory that is as robust as modern evolutionary theory. The same can not be said for Intelligent Design creationism. I have asked Behe and Dembski to provide an explanation as to how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than modern evolutionary theory in explaining the origin, history and current structure of Planet Earth’s biodiversity. I have yet to receive any satisfactory answer from them, period.

  137. A random passing physicist Says (#139) —
    –But I find novel new approaches, even fallacious ones, interesting and entertaining, so if you think you’ve got strong evidence to the contrary that is not well-known in the creationist debate, I personally would be interested to hear about it.–

    Well, there is coevolution — my thoughts about coevolution are summarized here:
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2009/01/summary-of-thoughts-about-co-evolution.html

    John Kwok Says (#140) —
    –As a fellow conservative Republican, I respect and applaud Judge Jones’s historic ruling at the close of the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial. .

    Moreover, Johnson (sic) reminded readers that his ruling was not that of an activist judge or an activist court.–

    You mean “Jones,” not “Johnson,” right? Of course he is not going to admit that he is an activist judge.

    I am aware that there are people on both sides of the issue. You are not going to change my mind — my blog “I’m from Missouri” has dozens of articles that bash Judge Jones and the Dover decision (topics are listed in the post-label list in the sidebar of the homepage).

    As for Judge Jones being a fellow conservative Republican, court decisions are not supposed to be political. And I don’t see how an unappealed ruling of a single judge can be called “historic.”

    –I have asked Behe and Dembski to provide an explanation as to how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than modern evolutionary theory in explaining the origin, history and current structure of Planet Earth’s biodiversity. I have yet to receive any satisfactory answer from them, period.–

    Your questions need to be more specific — you can’t expect them to give personal answers to such a broad question. They have written whole books trying to answer that question.

    Michael Behe kindly responded when I asked him for his opinion of my ideas about coevolution (see link above). I don’t remember exactly what his answer was, but I think he said that my ideas look like they have some validity. Anyway, he said that he was not an expert in this area and so could not comment further.

  138. A random passing physicist

    Larry,

    OK, but you’ll need to expand the argument a bit. Evolution does not permit coincidences of simultaneous matching adaptations in different species, in the same way it doesn’t allow simultaneous matching changes in the parts of an “irreducibly complex” feature of an individual organism. All such features have to be explained by a chain of individually advantageous adaptations. According to evolution, mutual adaptation of the sort you identify has to occur by the same mechanisms as “IC” features : by ‘scaffolding’ falling away, by the disappearance of alternative methods, by the features designed for one purpose being used for a different one, by generalists becoming specialists.

    Can you expand on why you think these mechanisms don’t apply in the cases you mention?

  139. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    I should have done a bit of proofreading before I posted my most recent comment, but thanks for presuming that I meant Judge John Jones. Maybe polticial distinctions – shouldn’t matter at all – but I am fed up hearing that all Conservatives (or Republicans or both) are evolution denialists, when there are quite a few who aren’t, including yours truly. Again, I believe Jones was absolutely correct in rendering the verdict that he did, for sound legal and scientific reasons.

    My challenge to Behe and Dembski isn’t “a broad question”. Both contend that Intelligent Design creationism is a better alternative to modern evolutionary theory as the sole unifying theory encompassing all of biology. If their claim is correct, then Intelligent Design creationism must be able to explain better the scientific data amassed on the origin, history and current composition of Earth’s biodiversity. So if ID is BETTERN THAN evolution, then how come they haven’t answered it? The answer should be plainly obvious to all except for a zealous Inteligent Design advocate like yourself. The answer is simply this, because Intelligent Design creationism isn’t science, and since it isn’t science, it can’t explain at all anything pertaining to our planet’s biodiversity.

    If I want to rely on supernatural explanations – which is really what Behe, Dembski and you are really after – then I’ll rely on something for which we do have ample proof; Klingon Cosmology. If, on the other hand, I want to rely on methodological naturalism, then I have to rely on modern evolutionary theory. There is simply no other scientifically valid alternative I know of, and none which explains so well, the substantial data that we have from biochemistry to epidemiology, from anatomy to paleobiology, and from population genetics to population ecology. As Theodosius Dobzhansky noted correctly back in 1973, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”.

  140. A random passing physicist Says (#142) —
    –Can you expand on why you think these mechanisms don’t apply in the cases you mention?–

    The coevolution of obligate mutualism (i.e., two different kinds of organisms are mutually dependent on each other for survival) can be a problem even where irreducible complexity in individual organisms is not a problem. For example, in the “hopeful monster hypothesis,” it is hypothesized that irreducible complexity is not a problem:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopeful_Monster

    However, in the coevolution of obligate mutualism, it might be necessary for two different kinds of “hopeful monsters” to appear at the exact same time and place, and that is unlikely.

    As for gradual changes:
    In isolated evolution, gradual changes are likely to be immediately beneficial, but in the coevolution of obligate mutualism, the gradual changes may have to exist in both kinds or organisms at the same time and place in order to be mutually reinforcing.

    Also, in some cases, different co-dependent species can interact only in large numbers, and single mutations might not produce populations that are large enough to be viable — for example, the combination of a single hive of bees and a few flowers might not be viable.

    Also, some coevolutionary adaptations are very specific and extremely complex, e.g., orchids’ mimicry of female wasps’ sex pheromones, parasites that don’t just kill their hosts but alter their hosts’ behavior. For example, science-writer Carl Zimmer uses the term “reverse engineering” to describe a wasp’s ability to alter a cockroach’s behavior by piercing the cockroach’s brain —
    http://scienceblogs.com/loom/2006/02/02/the_wisdom_of_parasites.php

    Also, it is difficult to imagine evolutionary pathways for some multi-host parasitisms.

    The coevolution of obligate mutualism is a problem even for “front-loaded” evolution — i.e., the idea that evolutionary changes are pre-programmed in the genes — because there would need to be a means of triggering the changes in the different kinds of organisms at the same time and place.

    Most of the examples that are used to illustrate coevolution are not obligate mutualism but are kinds of interspecies relationships where evolutionary change in one of the organisms can be delayed or even not occur at all — e.g., the “arms races” of predation and parasitism.

    Biologists tend to dismiss coevolution as just uninteresting “mutual evolutionary pressure” rather than a real dilemma for evolution theory. If nothing else, the problems of coevolution greatly complicate evolutionary processes that are already very complex, and there are just a few million years available for accommodating complex evolutionary processes.

  141. John Kwok

    Larry –

    You’re babbling.

    No credible biologist would refer to “hopeful monsters”. Why you bring it up merely demonstrates your ignorance with respect to how much evolutionary thought has progressed sihce Goldschmidt introduced the term “hopeful monster” early in the previous century.

    Coevolution isn’t a “real dilemna for evolution theory”. Read eminent invertebrate zoologist and paleobiologist Geerat Vermeij’s work. If coevolution is a ‘real dilemna”, it is only for someone as intellectually-challenged as Michael Behe, since he regards it merely as “trench warfare”, as he has insisted in his “The Edge of Evolution”. More to the point, however, in that very book, Behe demonstrates his woeful ignorance of evolutionary ecology, coevolution, and of a related concept, the Red Queen, which, sadly, is exactly what you expect from someone who also doesn’t understand population genetics (His description of adaptive landscapes in “The Edge of Evolution” borders on outright stupidity, by insisting that populations have an arduous task in trekking across the peaks and valleys of such landscapes; although I am not a population geneticist by training, it is my understanding that such a stereotypical view is one that merely demonstrates the ignorance of the person making such an inane presentation.).

    Since neither of your heroes Behe or Dembski have offered any convincing, quite persuasive, scientific evidence as to why Intelligent Design would be a better unifying theory for biology than modern biology, then can you, the amateur, sally forth and provide one? This enquiring skeptic would be most interested (Though on second thought, you have already earned a serious demerit from me for being a Holocaust Denier; for example, I have quite a few Jewish relatives in my family, including an uncle who survived World War II while hiding as a young lad in Amsterdam.).

  142. John Kwok

    P. S. I meant the Modern Synthethic Theory of Evolution, not “modern biology”, in my concluding paragraph in the previous comment.

  143. John Kwok Says (#144) —

    –My challenge to Behe and Dembski isn’t “a broad question”. Both contend that Intelligent Design creationism is a better alternative to modern evolutionary theory as the sole unifying theory encompassing all of biology. —

    You have already altered the question — in comment #140, you said that you asked Behe and Dembski to “provide an explanation as to how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than modern evolutionary theory in explaining the origin, history and current structure of Planet Earth’s biodiversity” — now you are saying that both Behe and Dembski contend that Intelligent Design creationism is a better alternative to modern evolutionary theory as the sole unifying theory encompassing all of biology.” You changed “does a better job” to “sole unifying theory.” I can’t recall either Behe or Dembski ever claiming that ID or evolution is a “sole unifying theory encompassing all of biology” — there are many things that can be studied in biology without considering evolution or ID or any other theory of origins. Anyway, as I said, they have written whole books trying to answer that question, so how can you say it is not a broad question? Could you give a short answer to the reverse question, i.e., is evolution a better explanation than ID? Behe and Dembski must be very busy and I am not surprised that they did not try to answer your question. I was grateful to Behe for giving me his opinion of my ideas about coevolution.

    BTW, why do you Darwinists always call ID “Intelligent Design creationism”? Do you think that there is any other kind of ID? If not, then wouldn’t just “ID” be sufficient?

    –If I want to rely on supernatural explanations – which is really what Behe, Dembski and you are really after —

    I am not trying to rely on supernatural explanations — I have no supernatural explanation for coevolution. I am just trying to show that the combination of random genetic variation and natural selection is not an adequate explanation for coevolution. Perhaps coevolution could be explained by front-loaded (pre-programmed) evolution with some means of simultaneously triggering changes in different organisms.

    –As Theodosius Dobzhansky noted correctly back in 1973, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. —

    I don’t think that he ever expected anyone to take him seriously about that — IMO it was just an exaggerated attention-getting statement. Anyway, it is simply not true.

    John Kwok Says (#146) —
    –No credible biologist would refer to “hopeful monsters”.–

    I never said hopeful monsters are real. My point is that even assuming for the sake of argument that hopeful monsters are real, there is still a problem because the coevolution of obligate mutualism may require two different kinds of hopeful monsters to suddenly appear at the same time and place. By saying that there is no such thing as hopeful monsters, you are actually strengthening my argument.

    –If coevolution is a ‘real dilemna”, it is only for someone as intellectually-challenged as Michael Behe, since he regards it merely as “trench warfare”, as he has insisted in his “The Edge of Evolution”. More to the point, however, in that very book, Behe demonstrates his woeful ignorance of evolutionary ecology, coevolution, and of a related concept, the Red Queen, —

    Does Behe cover coevolution in his book “The Edge of Evolution”? He told me that he couldn’t comment on my ideas about coevolution because he has no expertise in that area.

    –Since neither of your heroes Behe or Dembski have offered any convincing, quite persuasive, scientific evidence as to why Intelligent Design would be a better unifying theory for biology than modern biology, then can you, the amateur, sally forth and provide one?–

    IMO there is no such thing as a “unifying theory for biology.”

    –you have already earned a serious demerit from me for being a Holocaust Denier–

    Are you trying to hijack this thread to get into a debate about the Holocaust?

    My position is that a “systematic” Jewish holocaust was impossible because the Nazis had no objective and reliable ways of identifying Jews and non-Jews.

  144. John Kwok

    Larry –

    A ‘systematic” Jewish holocaust was possible since the Nazis were able to collect extensive records – both in Germany – and Nazi-occupied terrorities as to who was – and who wasn’t – Jewish. At least six million innocent souls perished because of the Nazi’s efficient means of data collection (And it wasn’t just the Jews too. Homosexuals and Gypsies were also singled out for “special treatment”.).

    I am not shifting the goalposts with respect to my demand to Behe, Dembski, and their fellow Dishonesty Institute Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture mendacious intellectual pornographers. They contend that Intelligent Design creationism is better than evolution in explaining biological phenomena. Since they contend that, then it is reasonable to demand from them an explanation as to how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than modern evolutionary theory (and I state this acknowledging that it may not be the last scientific “word”, simply because there may be an improved “Extended Modern Synthesis” – as proposed by the likes of paleobiologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge and theoretical evolutionary biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci – that may do a better job in being the unifying theory for all of biology) in explaining the origin, history, structure and current composition of Earth’s biodiversity.

    Why can’t Behe and Dembski answer my question? I think Philip Johnson is right, and I am glad he admitted this months after the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District ruling. It’s because – as he himself has noted correctly – that there doesn’t exist yet a scientific theory of Intelligent Design. Wow, what an honest admission from the “godfather” of the Intelligent Design movement. It’s really a shame that his chief allies, like the “Joseph Goebbels of the Intelligent Design movement” (my sarcastic nickname – but one that others have come with independently too – for my favorite DI mendacious intellectual pornographer), William A. Dembski.

    Hate to disappoint you Larry, but despite all of its imperfections, the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evoluion does do a good job of being Biology’s unifying theory. It is as much a unifying theory for biology as the periodic table of the elements theory is for chemistry or relativity and quantum mechanics are for physics. You are simply in a state of denial, unwilling to recognize that there are thousands of scientists around the globe, who, every day, demonstrate how and why modern evolutionary theory is the central unifying theory of biology.

    Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution” is fundamentally, in part, “one long argument” that relies upon the coevolution of the Plasmodium malarial parasite and humanity to make its risible points on the so-called “limits to Darwinism” that it claims to have found. That Behe doesn’t recognize that he isn’t writing about coevolution is his problem, not mine, and really one which demonstrates his woeful ignorance of paleobiology, evolutionary ecology, population genetics, and other key aspects of evolutionary biology which many professional biologists have tried to correct him ever since he published “Darwin’s Black Box” back in the mid 1990s. Ask Dave Wisker, a molecular ecology graduate student, if Behe has written on coevolution in “The Edge of Evolution”. Independently, both Dave and I realized quickly upon reading the opening chapters of Behe’s book that Behe was trying to argue about coevolution, but instead, doing such a pathetic job of it; Dave asked me if I was stunned that Behe really doesn’t understand coevolution, to which I replied, “Yes. I noticed that immediately.”

    Try learning someting about modern biology for once, Larry. And please learn some real facts about the Nazi Holocaust. You wouldn’t want others to conclude that you’re a delusional Anti-Semite. Right?

  145. John Kwok

    PS @ Larry –

    Need to proofread myself more often. I should have written this, “That Behe doesn’t recognize that he is writing about coevolution is his problem, not mine, and truly one that demonstrates his woeful ignorance…..”. In plain English then, his “The Edge of Evolution” is about coevolution from both a molecular and epidemiological perspective, and Behe simply doesn’t get it, while yours truly – who lacks a substantial background in molecular biology and biochemistry – does.

  146. A random passing physicist

    Larry,

    The ‘Hopeful Monster’ is unnecessary. Irreducible complexity is not a problem for gradual evolution, because of the various ‘scaffolding’ mechanisms. It would only be a problem if it could be shown that no ‘scaffolding’ mechanism could suffice.

    “Also, in some cases, different co-dependent species can interact only in large numbers, and single mutations might not produce populations that are large enough to be viable — for example, the combination of a single hive of bees and a few flowers might not be viable.”

    I think I see the problem. You’re examining the final complex stages of a long sequence of individual steps, and assuming they must have occurred in a single step, and that therefore the mutual adaptations had to have occurred simultaneously. Evolution does not, and can not, explain it that way.

    Taking your example of birds and flowers, the evolution has to occur in several stages.
    First you have plants that reproduce by spreading pollen on the wind.
    Then you have insects that evolve to eat them.
    Then in the process of eating the plant, some insects accidentally get covered in pollen and carry it to other plants of the same species, giving those plants a reproductive advantage.
    Plants that make this process easier gain an advantage, so primitive flowers can start to evolve. One way to make the process easier is if easily eatable parts are sited close to the anthers.
    This new food source offers an advantage to those insects more able to take advantage of it. Insects that can access the primitive flowers have more food sources, and hence an advantage in times of famine.
    Note, at this stage the plants are able to reproduce both by wind and by insect, and the insects are able to eat both basic plant and the extra food sources around the flowers. Both can survive without the other. No fantastic coincidences are required.
    Now that some insects are adapted to the flower’s structure and are widespread enough to guarantee fertilisation, the flower can gain a further advantage by specialising to insects with those particular adaptations. The specialist insects will tend to visit mostly other plants of the same species, making the pollen delivery more targeted. Likewise, the specialist insects come to have a food source that other insects cannot access, giving them an advantage. They can still make do with other food sources, but if the flowers are widespread, they don’t really need to.
    And then for the final stage, the scaffolding falls away – the plant no longer needs the machinery of wind-borne pollination, because the insects are so reliable, and the insect no longer needs eating apparatus for other food sources, because the flowers are so reliable. They can both save energy by dropping them.
    From this point on, the flowers and the bees are mutually interdependent, and take turns to evolve further.

    In outline: there is a scaffolding of other features that allow both to survive while they develop their special talents as a sideline, and then once everything is in place, the scaffolding can be removed to leave the special talent as their sole means of survival.

    If you only see what’s there, it’s hard to see how the organisms could have survived and spread while the special talents evolved. What you don’t see is the more ordinary alternative method of survival that has since disappeared. It’s like looking at a grand arch in which every stone supports every other, with no stone removable as an obvious candidate for the last one added. It’s because one tends to think of evolution as only adding new features, not taking them away. If you don’t know about the scaffolding that has since been removed, it looks impossible.

    Finding it hard to imagine pathways doesn’t mean they don’t exist. One would need to show that there *cannot* be a pathway; that even with the addition of any hypothetical scaffolding, that you can’t get to here from there.

    With that in mind, can you think of any way to show that some scaffold-type explanation is insufficient to explain some examples of co-evolution? Can you expand on that explanation?

  147. John Kwok says (#149) —
    –it is reasonable to demand from them an explanation as to how Intelligent Design creationism does a better job than modern evolutionary theory–

    You still have not answered my question, “could you give a short answer to the reverse question, i.e., is evolution a better explanation than ID?”

    –You are simply in a state of denial, unwilling to recognize that there are thousands of scientists around the globe, who, every day, demonstrate how and why modern evolutionary theory is the central unifying theory of biology.–

    Wrong. I am not in a state of denial — I just have common sense, unlike you. It is obvious that evolution theory is irrelevant in many areas of biology. Saying that evolution is the “central” or “fundamental” concept in biology perverts the meanings of those terms. It can be fairly said, for example, that Fourier’s Law (the three-dimensional transient version) is the fundamental concept underlying all analysis of heat conduction in solids, because such analysis is impossible without Fourier’s Law.

    –Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution” is fundamentally, in part, “one long argument” that relies upon the coevolution of the Plasmodium malarial parasite and humanity to make its risible points on the so-called “limits to Darwinism” that it claims to have found.–

    OK, it’s coevolution, even if Behe doesn’t call it that. The subject of coevolution is hard to avoid — for example, even acquiring the ability to fly, though appearing to be just an adaptation to the air, may have the coevolutionary effects of improving abilities to escape enemies and hunt or gather food. Anyway, his views about coevolution are different from mine, because he said that he was not qualified to comment about my blog’s articles about coevolution.

    –A ’systematic” Jewish holocaust was possible since the Nazis were able to collect extensive records – both in Germany – and Nazi-occupied terrorities as to who was – and who wasn’t – Jewish. —

    So you are trying to hijack this thread to get into an argument about the holocaust. What does the holocaust have to do with this thread? I could be right about evolution even if I were wrong about the holocaust (which I am not). My arguments about evolution and the holocaust should stand on their own individual merits.

    So all of the countries of Europe, in preparation for a future Jewish holocaust, kept meticulous records of who was and who wasn’t Jewish. Your unsupported assertion is not acceptable — I demand peer-reviewed substantiation of that idea.

    We don’t even have an objective definition of the word “Jew.” In the introduction to his book “IBM and the Holocaust,” Edwin Black said,

    When Hitler came to power, a central Nazi goal was to identify and destroy Germany’s 600,000 Jews. To Nazis, Jews were not just those who practiced Judaism, but those of Jewish blood, regardless of their assimilation, intermarriage, religious activity, or even conversion to Christianity. Only after Jews were identified could they be targeted for asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and ultimately extermination. To search generations of communal, church, and governmental records all across Germany–and later throughout Europe–was a cross-indexing task so monumental, it called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed . . . .

    . . . . I was haunted by a question whose answer has long eluded historians. The Germans always had the lists of Jewish names. Suddenly, a squadron of grim-faced SS would burst into a city square and post a notice demanding those listed assemble the next day at the train station for deportation to the East. But how did the Nazis get the lists? For decades, no one has known. Few have asked.
    http://www.ibmandtheholocaust.com/introduction.php

    Note Black’s statement, “few have asked.” The issue of Jew identification is basic to the holocaust but has been almost completely ignored in holocaust studies. Instead, people just wave their arms and say that the Nazis “just knew” who were Jews and who were not.

    So Edwin Black, author of “IBM and the Holocaust,” also says that Jew identification was a problem, but when he says it he is regarded as an expert and when I say it I am regarded as a crackpot. He claimed that the Nazis identified all of the Jews of Europe by using Hollerith-card machines to process data stored on billions of IBM cards, but that claim is absurd, even if all the necessary data had been available — all those primitive machines could do was just read, sort, and merge a few cards at a time. Then after you have the names, you have to go out and find the Jews.

    Also:
    (1) The Nazis just rounded people up en masse — there was no time to do individual background checks, even if such checks were possible. To the Nazis, even non-practicing people with some Jewish ancestry were Jews. It is alleged that many “Jewish” victims of the holocaust did not even think of themselves as Jews.

    (2) Methods of Jew & non-Jew identification must work all the time, not just some of the time. There is not even an objective definition of the term Jew. Even today, we don’t know exactly what a Jew is.

    (3) If the Nazis had attempted to have a “systematic” Jewish holocaust, we would have heard more complaints from non-Jews who thought that the Nazis mistakenly identified them as Jews.

    (4) Holocaust denial/revisionism is a crime in several European countries, leading to the suspicion of an attempted cover-up.

    –You wouldn’t want others to conclude that you’re a delusional Anti-Semite. Right?–

    Wrong. What is anti-Semitic about the statement, “a ‘systematic’ Jewish holocaust was impossible because the Nazis had no objective and reliable ways of identifying Jews and non-Jews”?

  148. John Kwok

    Larry –

    Evolution isn’t “irrelevant in many areas of biology”. Unfortunately, it is taught in college courses as though it is irrelevant, which is why Harvard University physicist Lisa Randall met an Obama supporter – a Hollywood actor who studied biochemistry in school and taught it in middle school – who is an evolution denialist on a Los Angeles-bound airplane flight soon after the Presidential Inauguration. And since it is often taught – or ignored – as an afterthought in college biology courses, it is why NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott has advocated that it should be emphasized in college biology courses during her recent interview with the journal Science (A summary of that interview can be read here:

    http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/06/eugenie-c-scott-interviewed-science-004823 ).

    Evolution is much better than Intelligent Design will ever be in describing and predicting phenomena from every facet of the biological sciences, whether it is in paleobiology or immunology, for example. And that is the key point Larry, which you and your fellow IDiots
    refuse to admit. Evolution can and does make testable scientific predictions that have been substantiated daily by thousands of scientists for generations since the 1858 Linnean Society of London meeting in which both Darwin and Wallace’s independent discoveries of Natural Selection were announced. Where are the predictions from Intelligent Design? We – that is, both the general public and the scientific community – have waited twenty years for scientifically testable predictions and published scientific work in support of these predictions with respect to Intelligent Design creationism AND NONE HAVE BEEN FORTHCOMING, PERIOD. So rather than waste our time, why don’t you all give up (Or as I have suggestetd, with ample sarcasm, to both Behe and Dembski, they could spend their time more profitably by writing the definitive textbook on Klingon Cosmology, especially when we have more valid proof (e. g. cinema and television appearances of Klingons, its popularity as a spoken language, and that Shakespeare’s plays and the Bible have been translated into Klingon) supporting Klingon Cosmology than we will ever find for that pathetic, religiously-derived mendacious intellectual pornography known as Intelligent Design creationism.

    Glad you’re honest enough to accept what Dave Wisker and I – and undoubtedly countless others too – recognized as soon as we started reading Behe’s “Edge of Evolution”, that it is “one long argument” based on a most imperfect, substantially flawed, understanding of coevolution from an applied – in this case, epidemiological – perspective.

    I’m not going to comment on your inane reasoning about how the Nazis “defined” Jews. May I suggest you start reading Elie Wiesel’s voluminous writings, if you haven’t already?

  149. A random passing physicist Says (#152),
    –The ‘Hopeful Monster’ is unnecessary. —

    I assert that not all coevolution can occur gradually. Consider buzz pollination. In buzz pollination, the pollen is shaken loose by resonant vibrations caused by the beating of insects’ wings. But buzz pollination is not just a matter of stronger beating of the insects’ wings and stronger adhesion of the pollen to the flowers, both changes which can occur gradually. In buzz pollination, the pollen is contained in tubes and the insects beat their wings in a special way, perhaps using specialized muscles —
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2008/04/is-buzz-pollination-co-evolvable.html

    The containment of the pollen in tubes and the special beating of the insects’ wings are big changes that cannot occur gradually.

    –I think I see the problem. You’re examining the final complex stages of a long sequence of individual steps, and assuming they must have occurred in a single step, and that therefore the mutual adaptations had to have occurred simultaneously. —

    Where did I say or imply that I am “examining the final complex stages of a long sequence of individual steps”? You are putting words in my mouth.

    Even mutual adaptations that are gradual must exist at the same time and place in order to be mutually reinforcing, and those adaptations will not propagate rapidly unless they are mutually reinforcing. If each of the adaptations is fatal in the absence of the corresponding mutual adaptation, then the mutations producing those adaptations must occur at the exact same time and place.

    –Taking your example of birds and flowers, the evolution has to occur in several stages.–

    Actually, it was bees and flowers.

    –First you have plants that reproduce by spreading pollen on the wind.
    Then you have insects that evolve to eat them.
    Then in the process of eating the plant, some insects accidentally get covered in pollen and carry it to other plants of the same species, giving those plants a reproductive advantage.–

    Wind-carried pollen is different from pollinator-carried pollen — see
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollen#Pollination

    Pollen optimized to be wind-carried will not be well-suited to be carried by pollinators. This is a serious flaw in your “scaffolding” example. And I heard a math professor say that nothing can be proven by example because we can never run out of examples. There may be situations of obligate mutualism that are even less suited for a scaffolding argument than this situation is.

    –Now that some insects are adapted to the flower’s structure and are widespread enough to guarantee fertilisation, the flower can gain a further advantage by specialising to insects with those particular adaptations. —

    These adaptations or specializations will be mutually reinforcing only if they exist at the same time and place. There is a vast difference in the amounts of adaptational opportunities offered by widespread fixed general environments (e.g., air, water, and land in its different forms) and those offered by rare and isolated mutations in other kinds or organisms. For example, a pig sprouting wings anywhere in the world can fly immediately. However, a bee’s ability to see ultraviolet light and a flower’s ability to reflect ultraviolet light would do neither the bee nor the flower any good unless those two abilities exist at the same place at the same time. Those two abilities will not tend to spread rapidly when isolated. And those two abilities just happen to be harmless when in isolation from each other — however, some co-dependent traits are not harmless, and could even be immediately fatal, when in isolation from each other.

    Another problem I pointed out is that some adaptations of parasites are extremely complex and specific, e.g.,
    http://scienceblogs.com/loom/2006/02/02/the_wisdom_of_parasites.php

    Also, evolutionary pathways for multi-host parasitisms are hard to imagine —
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2008/08/how-could-these-parasites-life-cycles.html

    There are some Darwinists who will not even acknowledge that there are fundamental differences between coevolution and isolated evolutionary adaptation to a widespread fixed general environment. And the big problem with Darwinists is that they try to suppress criticisms of evolution theory. Darwinists applauded when a crackpot activist judge banned the mere mention of intelligent design because he thought that ID is “not good science.” There is no constitutional principle of separation of bad science and state.

  150. John Kwok said (comment #154) —
    –Evolution isn’t “irrelevant in many areas of biology”. Unfortunately, it is taught in college courses as though it is irrelevant, —

    How can evolution be “central” or “fundamental” to biology if it is taught as irrelevant in college biology courses? I couldn’t imagine Fourier’s Law being taught as irrelevant in a course in the analysis of heat conduction in solids.

    –NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott has advocated that it should be emphasized in college biology courses during her recent interview with the journal Science —

    Eugenie Scott is a crackpot who advocates bringing evolution into “every” college biology course, not just “more” college biology courses:

    “Evolution needs to be brought into every course of biology instead of getting tacked on as a unit to the intro class.”

    In a recent national survey of high school science teachers, a remarkable 13 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that an “excellent” general biology course could exist that does not mention Darwin or evolution theory at all, and even I don’t agree with that statement —
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2008/08/state-of-evolution-education-in-usa-and.html

    –Evolution can and does make testable scientific predictions that have been substantiated daily by thousands of scientists–

    Evolution’s ability to make predictions has been greatly exaggerated — see
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2006/09/darwinism-is-grossly-overrated-ii.html

    –Where are the predictions from Intelligent Design?–

    There is a lot more to science than just making predictions, and as I said, evolution’s ability to make predictions has been greatly exaggerated.

    –Or as I have suggestetd, with ample sarcasm, to both Behe and Dembski, they could spend their time more profitably by writing the definitive textbook on Klingon Cosmology–

    Are you going to respond to my arguments here, or are you just going to dump on Behe and Dembski?

    –Glad you’re honest enough to accept what Dave Wisker and I – and undoubtedly countless others too – recognized as soon as we started reading Behe’s “Edge of Evolution”, that it is “one long argument” based on a most imperfect, substantially flawed, understanding of coevolution–

    WHAT? I never accepted the claim that Behe’s “Edge of Evolution” is a “most imperfect, substantially flawed understanding of coevolution” — you are putting words in my mouth. I only accepted that it is about coevolution.

    –I’m not going to comment on your inane reasoning about how the Nazis “defined” Jews. —

    I did not reason about Edwin Black’s description of how the Nazis “defined” Jews (comment #153) —

    To Nazis, Jews were not just those who practiced Judaism, but those of Jewish blood, regardless of their assimilation, intermarriage, religious activity, or even conversion to Christianity.

  151. John Kwok

    Larry,

    Mutualism and other aspects of coevolution are well understood. I don’t think you need to quote mine Carl Zimmer merely to make yet another of your breathtakingly inane observations.

  152. John Kwok

    Larry,

    This risible observation of yours is in need of some instant editing:

    “Eugenie Scott is a crackpot who advocates bringing evolution into “every” college biology course, not just ‘more’ college biology courses”

    Let me fix it:

    “William Dembski is a Xian crackpot who advocates brining Intelligent Design into ‘every’ biology course, and, where posssible, every science course too.”

    “David Klinghoffer is a meshuggeh Orthodox Jew who thinks Kwok is an ‘obsessed Darwin lover’ and thinks Hitler was ‘inspired’ by Darwin, when it’s well known that Hitler, himself, was really a Xian creationist”.

    “Casey Luskin is a Xian ‘geologist’ and legal eagle whose favorite song is ‘I kissed Abbie Smith and I liked it’ (the demo bootleg version not authorized by Katy Perry)”.

    “Stephen Meyer is a Philip Kitcher wannabe whose most noteworthy accomplishment was getting the only ‘peer-reviewed’ Intelligent Design creationist article published in some obscure scientific journal”.

    “Michael Behe is a mediocre biochemist – as demonstrated by Eric Rothschild – who is missing his chance at fame and fortune by not writing – as advised by Ken Miller – the definitive textbook on Klingon Biochemistry”.

    There, that’s better now. I fixed it.

    As for my observation that Behe’s mendacious intellectual pornography (“The Edge of Evolution”) is really about coevolution, all I said pertaining to you was to thank you for having the honesty to admit it. Then I decided to elaborate upon my harsh, but still valid, criticism of it.

  153. John Kwok

    Saw some typos, so am reposting this corrected version:

    Larry,

    This risible observation of yours is in need of some instant editing:

    “Eugenie Scott is a crackpot who advocates bringing evolution into ‘every’ college biology course, not just ‘more’ college biology courses”

    Let me fix it:

    “William Dembski is a Xian crackpot who advocates bringing Intelligent Design into ‘every’ biology course, and, where possible, every science course too.”

    “David Klinghoffer is a meshuggeh Orthodox Jew who thinks Kwok is an ‘obsessed Darwin lover’ and thinks Hitler was ‘inspired’ by Darwin, when it’s well known that Hitler, himself, was really a Xian creationist”.

    “Casey Luskin is a Xian ‘geologist’ and legal eagle whose favorite song is ‘I kissed Abbie Smith and I liked it’ (the demo bootleg version not authorized by Katy Perry)”.

    “Stephen Meyer is a Philip Kitcher wannabe whose most noteworthy accomplishment was getting the only ‘peer-reviewed’ Intelligent Design creationist article published in some obscure scientific journal”.

    “Michael Behe is a mediocre biochemist – as demonstrated by Eric Rothschild – who is missing his chance at fame and fortune by not writing – as advised by Ken Miller – the definitive textbook on Klingon Biochemistry”.

    There, that’s better now. I fixed it.

    As for my observation that Behe’s mendacious intellectual pornography (”The Edge of Evolution”) is really about coevolution, all I said pertaining to you was to thank you for having the honesty to admit it. Then I decided to elaborate upon my harsh, but still valid, criticism of it.

  154. John Kwok said (#157),
    –Mutualism and other aspects of coevolution are well understood.–

    No, they are not well understood, and I explained why in comment #155.

    — I don’t think you need to quote mine Carl Zimmer merely to make yet another of your breathtakingly inane observations.–

    I said,

    science-writer Carl Zimmer uses the term “reverse engineering” to describe a wasp’s ability to alter a cockroach’s behavior by piercing the cockroach’s brain

    You call that a “quote mine”? You really are off your rocker.

    General comment about John Kwok’s #158 and #159 —

    Instead of answering my arguments, you are attacking people who are not subjects of the discussion here. And the alleged faults of those people do not excuse Eugenie Scott’s faults.

    –As for my observation that Behe’s mendacious intellectual pornography (”The Edge of Evolution”) is really about coevolution, all I said pertaining to you was to thank you for having the honesty to admit it. Then I decided to elaborate upon my harsh, but still valid, criticism of it.–

    All I admitted was that the book discusses coevolution — you falsely claimed that I admitted that the book is a “most imperfect, substantially flawed understanding of coevolution.” That was grossly dishonest of you.

  155. John Kwok

    Larry,

    I didn’t say that you agreed with my sad, but true, observation that Behe’s book is a “most imperfect, substantially flawed understanding of coevolution.”

    What I did say was this:

    “….all I said pertaining to you was to thank you for having the honesty to admit it. Then
    I decided to elaborate upon my harsh, but still valid, criticism of it.”

    You seem to be having a serious problem in reading comprehension.

    As for Genie Scott, if you want to criticize her – and BTW, your inane criticism of my friend is absolutely groundless IMHO – then it’s only fair that I comment on some of your “heroes” in the Intelligent Design creationist movement.

  156. A random passing physicist

    “The containment of the pollen in tubes and the special beating of the insects’ wings are big changes that cannot occur gradually.”

    Why not?

    Flying insects beat their wings. Sticky pollen that can be released by ordinary wingbeats is more targeted, giving an advantage. When sticky pollen is widespread, faster wingbeats release more of it, giving bees with faster wingbeats an advantage. Once that has spread, sticky pollen in tubes is even more precisely targeted, giving plants a further advantage. And once that is common, a special buzz gives bumblebees another advantage.

    “You are putting words in my mouth.”

    No, I was just describing what you appeared to be doing – looking at the properties of present-day bees and flowers, instead of the potential properties of the long line of insects and plants that led up to them.

    You don’t jump from ordinary flowers to fully formed tubes full of sticky pollen, or from any old flying insect to fully formed bumblebees with a special buzz. You have to go through many previous steps.

    “Even mutual adaptations that are gradual must exist at the same time and place in order to be mutually reinforcing, and those adaptations will not propagate rapidly unless they are mutually reinforcing.”

    Yes.

    “If each of the adaptations is fatal in the absence of the corresponding mutual adaptation, then the mutations producing those adaptations must occur at the exact same time and place.”

    Who said anything about fatal? None of the adaptations were fatal at the time they were made, because there were alternative means available.

    “Pollen optimized to be wind-carried will not be well-suited to be carried by pollinators.”

    Of course. But so what? Pollen designed to be carried by wind that gets carried (with low efficiency) by pollinator still gives an advantage over wind alone. The pollen adaptations only occur when (low efficiency) pollinator pollination is widespread.

    “And I heard a math professor say that nothing can be proven by example because we can never run out of examples.”

    Then he was incorrect. (Or is being quoted out of context.) Existence proofs are *often* done by example.

    “There is a vast difference in the amounts of adaptational opportunities offered by widespread fixed general environments (e.g., air, water, and land in its different forms) and those offered by rare and isolated mutations in other kinds or organisms.”

    What makes you think they’re rare and isolated? Each gradual step occurs and spreads widely before the next gradual step.

    “However, a bee’s ability to see ultraviolet light and a flower’s ability to reflect ultraviolet light would do neither the bee nor the flower any good unless those two abilities exist at the same place at the same time.”

    How do you know? Either or both may have had another purpose originally.

    In fact bees navigate by it, because polarised ultraviolet light is more strongly Rayleigh-scattered by the ‘blue’ sky, and passes through thin clouds, enabling bees to tell the direction of the sun without being able to see it directly. What makes you so sure they didn’t develop it to navigate first on their own, and then the plants took advantage of it?

    The parasite wasp discussion also contains comments and links to descriptions of how it could have evolved.

    The complex lifecycle of multiple-host parasites is again explained by a parasite that is initially a generalist, able to invade many different species inefficiently, finding a particular pathway to be more effective, and then specialising its behaviour to match the stages of that one chain. Eventually, all the other pathways through other organisms are out-competed and disappear, or are genetically isolated by their lifestyles and become separate species. It’s a classic scaffold/specialisation mechanism.

    Figuring out how it did it *in detail* is an interesting problem, but how this sort of thing happens in *general* terms is well known.

    “And the big problem with Darwinists is that they try to suppress criticisms of evolution theory.”

    I agree. Criticisms ought to be answered – patiently and politely – until the critics understand that natural selection is actually able to resolve all their difficulties.

    Scientists have a problem with some people who are well-aware of the resolutions to their questions, but still raise them as part of another agenda. But it’s no good treating everybody with questions as if they were a dishonest Creationist. Claims can only be believed to the extent that they can withstand criticism, honestly assessed. If you don’t permit criticism, dismiss critics, or refuse to answer questions, then sceptics will be fully justified in their doubts.

    It’s only when the critics show themselves to be either unwilling or unable to understand that one has to give up.

  157. John Kwok said (#161) —

    –Larry,

    I didn’t say that you agreed with my sad, but true, observation that Behe’s book is a “most imperfect, substantially flawed understanding of coevolution.”–

    Wrong — here is exactly what you said (comment #154) —
    Glad you’re honest enough to accept what Dave Wisker and I – and undoubtedly countless others too – recognized as soon as we started reading Behe’s “Edge of Evolution”, that it is “one long argument” based on a most imperfect, substantially flawed, understanding of coevolution from an applied – in this case, epidemiological – perspective.

    Stop lying.

  158. random passing physicist Says (#162),

    –Flying insects beat their wings.–

    Duh.

    –Sticky pollen that can be released by ordinary wingbeats is more targeted, giving an advantage.–

    Can you verify that sticky pollen is released by ordinary wingbeats, or does the sticky pollen just stick to the bodies of insects?

    –When sticky pollen is widespread, faster wingbeats release more of it, giving bees with faster wingbeats an advantage.–

    It is not just a matter of faster wingbeats — in buzz pollination, the insects vibrate their wings in a special way that may involve specialized muscles.

    The pollen containment in tubes and the special wing vibrations required to dislodge it are examples of co-dependent traits that cannot evolve gradually.

    Also, an important point that I have already made is this: Even if coevolution can proceed by a series of gradual mutual changes in both organisms, corresponding mutual changes would have to exist at the same time and place in order to be mutually reinforcing, and those changes will not tend to propagate unless they are mutually reinforcing.

    –No, I was just describing what you appeared to be doing – looking at the properties of present-day bees and flowers, instead of the potential properties of the long line of insects and plants that led up to them.–

    I can tell you now that that was not my intention.

    –You don’t jump from ordinary flowers to fully formed tubes full of sticky pollen, or from any old flying insect to fully formed bumblebees with a special buzz. You have to go through many previous steps.–

    My point is that — as I discussed above — there cannot be intermediate steps in the coevolution of buzz pollination. For example, either the pollen is contained in tubes or it is not.

    –Who said anything about fatal? None of the adaptations were fatal at the time they were made, because there were alternative means available.–

    I did not say that the mutual mutations are necessarily fatal when isolated from each other, but they can be, and when they are, such fatality is a big barrier to coevolution.

    “And I heard a math professor say that nothing can be proven by example because we can never run out of examples.”

    Then he was incorrect. (Or is being quoted out of context.) Existence proofs are *often* done by example.–

    We are not talking about “existence proofs” here.

    — What makes you think they’re rare and isolated? —

    Beneficial or potentially beneficial mutations are rare and isolated.

    — Each gradual step occurs and spreads widely before the next gradual step. —

    Where mutual gradual steps are required, they will not tend to spread widely when the two corresponding steps are isolated from each other, which is very likely. Corresponding gradual steps in two different organisms are likely to be separated by thousands of miles and/or by many years.

    “However, a bee’s ability to see ultraviolet light and a flower’s ability to reflect ultraviolet light would do neither the bee nor the flower any good unless those two abilities exist at the same place at the same time.”

    How do you know? Either or both may have had another purpose originally

    In fact bees navigate by it, because polarised ultraviolet light is more strongly Rayleigh-scattered by the ‘blue’ sky, and passes through thin clouds, enabling bees to tell the direction of the sun without being able to see it directly. .–

    Sheeesh — why must there always be a convenient alternative purpose so that something needed is always pre-existent and does not have to evolve for a new purpose? That’s serendipity.

    –The parasite wasp discussion also contains comments and links to descriptions of how it could have evolved.–

    None of these descriptions is credible.

    — The complex lifecycle of multiple-host parasites is again explained by a parasite that is initially a generalist, able to invade many different species inefficiently,–

    No, some multi-host parasites go through very complex life cycles through different hosts — it is not the difference between being a generalist and being a specialist.

    –Criticisms ought to be answered – patiently and politely – until the critics understand that natural selection is actually able to resolve all their difficulties.–

    That is a very closed-minded statement — you are smugly assuming in advance that natural selection will resolve all difficulties.

    –Scientists have a problem with some people who are well-aware of the resolutions to their questions, but still raise them as part of another agenda. —

    I and many other critics of Darwinism have no agenda other than seeking the truth.

    You are really grasping at straws — you have no adequate answers for the points I have made. There is no satisfying you Darwinists — you will always come up with some rebuttal, no matter how unreasonable or far-fetched it is.

  159. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    Again you’re guilty of “quote mining” me incorrectly as you have done to Carl Zimmer (I am sure that if I asked Carl – whom I do know – he would agree that you were quote mining him.).

    This must be the third time I am saying this. I didn’t say that you agreed with my observation that Behe’s pathetic piece of intellectually-challenged dreck is “based on a most imperfect, substantially flawed, understanding of coevolution from an applied – in this case, epidemiological – perspective”, but only that you finally agreed with me – and with Dave Wisker too since he also recognized this – that Behe, contrary to his assertion to you, was writing about coevolution.

    But if you really think I am “lying” then I have this advice for you:

    Stop lying about the Holocaust, and especially your absurd assertion that the Nazis couldn’t enforce a systematic means of identifiying who was – and who wasn’t – a Jew. Nearly eleven million people – primarily Jews – but also Gypsies, homosexuals and Slavs – perished in their concentration and death camps. Instead of lying, I suggest you start reading Elie Wiesel’s work.

  160. John Kwok says (#165) —
    –This must be the third time I am saying this. I didn’t say that you agreed with my observation that Behe’s pathetic piece of intellectually-challenged dreck is “based on a most imperfect, substantially flawed, understanding of coevolution from an applied – in this case, epidemiological – perspective”, but only that you finally agreed with me – and with Dave Wisker too since he also recognized this – that Behe, contrary to his assertion to you, was writing about coevolution.–

    John, you are just a liar. Go back and read comment #163 again.

    I don’t remember exactly what Behe told me, but he made no assertion that his book did not discuss coevolution. He just said that he felt unqualified to comment on my blog’s articles about coevolution.

    –Stop lying about the Holocaust, and especially your absurd assertion that the Nazis couldn’t enforce a systematic means of identifiying who was – and who wasn’t – a Jew.–

    Edwin Black, author of “IBM and the Holocaust,” said the same thing I did — that identifying Jews was a big problem for the Nazis. However, his explanation of how the Nazis identified Jews is absurd — he claimed that the Nazis identified all of the Jews of Europe by using IBM Hollerith machines to cross-correlate data stored on billions of IBM cards, but all those primitive machines could do was just read, sort, and merge a few cards at a time.

  161. A random passing physicist

    Larry,

    “Can you verify that sticky pollen is released by ordinary wingbeats, or does the sticky pollen just stick to the bodies of insects?”

    This is talking about one of the early stages of evolution, in which it would.

    “It is not just a matter of faster wingbeats — in buzz pollination, the insects vibrate their wings in a special way that may involve specialized muscles.”

    The special way of vibrating wings comes much later. It takes many further steps before it becomes advantageous.

    “The pollen containment in tubes and the special wing vibrations required to dislodge it are examples of co-dependent traits that cannot evolve gradually.”

    Again, you haven’t given any reason why not. If bees buzz in a special way already, to loosen pollen not in tubes, then putting them in tubes can happen at a later date without difficulty.

    “…corresponding mutual changes would have to exist at the same time and place in order to be mutually reinforcing, and those changes will not tend to propagate unless they are mutually reinforcing.”

    Obviously the two species have to live together in the same place and interact, but there’s no reason why the changes have to take place simultaneously. One changes and the change spreads, then maybe centuries later the other changes and the change spreads, and so on.

    “I did not say that the mutual mutations are necessarily fatal when isolated from each other, but they can be, and when they are, such fatality is a big barrier to coevolution.”

    They’re not a barrier, because coevolution rarely, if ever, happens that way. If you can give an example where mutual adaptations *had* to occur together, that would count against the theory, but nobody has ever managed it so far.

    “For example, either the pollen is contained in tubes or it is not.”

    Anthers contain 4 pollen sacs that normally open along their length to form a slit. If they only open partially, near one end, you get a tube. If a round sac lengthens gradually, you get a tube. I see no reason why tube formation cannot occur gradually.

    “We are not talking about “existence proofs” here.”

    No, you’re saying *nothing* can be proven by example. I’m proving that the statement is wrong, by providing an example of a sort of mathematical proof where it is.

    Falsification *consists* of providing examples of observations that a theory predicts should not happen. Proof by example is absolutely basic to science.

    “Beneficial or potentially beneficial mutations are rare and isolated.”

    Ah, I see. Beneficial mutations are isolated from other beneficial mutations. But the organisms that result from a successful mutation are *not* rare and isolated, because they spread in the meantime. One mutation occurs in the first species at point A, and then that change spreads everywhere. Then another mutation occurs in the second species at point B, which is remote from A, but is close by many mutated examples of the first species. The organisms that result from the first mutation are not rare and isolated.

    “Sheeesh — why must there always be a convenient alternative purpose so that something needed is always pre-existent and does not have to evolve for a new purpose?”

    Because that’s how evolution works. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.

    “That’s serendipity.”

    That’s what you want to believe.

    “No, some multi-host parasites go through very complex life cycles through different hosts — it is not the difference between being a generalist and being a specialist.”

    Yes, I know. They start off as generalists passing through many organisms in many different ways, and then they become specialists passing through one particular sequence of several organisms in just one particular way, and then they adapted each stage of their lifecycle to match their environment.

    “That is a very closed-minded statement — you are smugly assuming in advance that natural selection will resolve all difficulties.”

    No. If you can come up with a case that is genuinely difficult for evolution by natural selection to explain, I’ll be interested. But you haven’t, and neither has anybody else despite trying for 150 years. That’s why the theory has been generally accepted by scientists.

    All the problems you have been raising here have already been answered, although you might not have been aware of how it was done. You have been blithely asserting that all of these are fatal problems for evolution, but you don’t think that’s a closed-minded statement? You’re claiming to have achieved something that has eluded everyone else, and that’s not smug? Really.

    “I and many other critics of Darwinism have no agenda other than seeking the truth.”

    Excellent! And I’m giving it to you, which should make you very happy.

    You are very happy, aren’t you?

    “You are really grasping at straws — you have no adequate answers for the points I have made.”

    Apparently you don’t find them so.

    “you will always come up with some rebuttal, no matter how unreasonable or far-fetched it is.”

    I think you may have misunderstood the nature of debate. The entire point is to come up with rebuttals, if they are available. Your aim should be to *demonstrate* that they are unreasonable, with your own rebuttals.

    Will you ever be satisfied? *Can* you ever be satisfied? What would it take to convince you that coevolution isn’t a problem for natural selection? Because if there isn’t anything, and your mind is already made up, there isn’t much point in my explaining it further is there?

  162. A random passing physicist Says (#167) —
    “The pollen containment in tubes and the special wing vibrations required to dislodge it are examples of co-dependent traits that cannot evolve gradually.”

    Again, you haven’t given any reason why not.–

    Sheeeesh — you make me keep repeating myself endlessly. Either the pollen is contained in tubes or it isn’t. And the insects’ wings vibrate in a special way that may require special wing muscles. Furthermore, a lot of mutualism involves instinctual behavior and not just physical capabilities, and that instinctual behavior as well as the physical capabilities must evolve.

    — If bees buzz in a special way already, to loosen pollen not in tubes, then putting them in tubes can happen at a later date without difficulty.–

    Maybe if the pollen is not contained in tubes, most of the pollen would be lost if the bees buzz the plant. Maybe having the pollen in tubes makes it easier to gather the pollen when the plant is buzzed.

    And you are assuming that there are frequently coincidences where a needed trait is a pre-existing trait that evolved for some other purpose. Evolution just requires too many happy coincidences.

    –Obviously the two species have to live together in the same place and interact, but there’s no reason why the changes have to take place simultaneously. One changes and the change spreads, then maybe centuries later the other changes and the change spreads, and so on.–

    As I said a zillion times already, the mutual change is not likely to spread — or is not likely to spread rapidly — unless it is reinforced by the corresponding mutual change in the other organism. And an isolated change certainly won’t spread if it is fatal or harmful when in isolation — for example, the sudden appearance of pollen containment in tubes will be immediately fatal in the absence of buzzing insects. And even where coevolution is possible, it would tend to be a much slower process than adaptation to widespread fixed general environments (e.g., air and water), and speed is important because evolution had only a few million years to take place.

    –If you can give an example where mutual adaptations *had* to occur together, that would count against the theory, but nobody has ever managed it so far. —

    As I said, the containment of pollen in tubes would be immediately fatal in the absence of buzzing insects.

    –No, you’re saying *nothing* can be proven by example. I’m proving that the statement is wrong, by providing an example of a sort of mathematical proof where it is.–

    OK, the math professor made the statement “things cannot be proven by example because we can never run out of examples” as an off-the-cuff remark in the context of a particular mathematical theorem that cannot be proven by example.

    –Beneficial mutations are isolated from other beneficial mutations. But the organisms that result from a successful mutation are *not* rare and isolated, because they spread in the meantime. —

    As I said, even harmless co-dependent mutations that are isolated will not tend to spread rapidly because there is no benefit to the organism, and co-dependent mutations that are fatal or harmful when in isolation will certainly not spread when in isolation.

    “Sheeesh — why must there always be a convenient alternative purpose so that something needed is always pre-existent and does not have to evolve for a new purpose?”

    Because that’s how evolution works.–

    You are really getting desperate — you are just dogmatically telling just-so stories now.

    “No, some multi-host parasites go through very complex life cycles through different hosts — it is not the difference between being a generalist and being a specialist.”

    Yes, I know. They start off as generalists passing through many organisms in many different ways, and then they become specialists passing through one particular sequence of several organisms in just one particular way,–

    That’s the difference — I am talking about parasites that have complex life cycles that go through a sequence of hosts, interacting with each host in a different way. A generalist is mainly just a parasite that has the capability of interacting with different kinds of single hosts in the same way.

    — If you can come up with a case that is genuinely difficult for evolution by natural selection to explain, I’ll be interested–

    I have come up with lots of such cases — the problem is that you have a closed mind. Your forcing me to endlessly repeat myself shows that you can’t really believe that anyone could come up with sound arguments against evolution.

    –You’re claiming to have achieved something that has eluded everyone else, and that’s not smug? —

    People are always coming up with new ideas. So far no one has shown me that anyone else has come up with the same ideas about coevolution as I have.

    –The entire point is to come up with rebuttals, if they are available. Your aim should be to *demonstrate* that they are unreasonable, with your own rebuttals.–

    I have, several times over.

    –there isn’t much point in my explaining it further is there?–

    I would appreciate it if you would just stop. You are just wasting my time now.

  163. A random passing physicist

    “Sheeeesh — you make me keep repeating myself endlessly.”

    That’s because what you said the first time isn’t an explanation, and it isn’t any more of an explanation when you say it again.

    You describe some feature of a pair of organisms, and then assert, without giving a reason, that it *cannot* occur gradually. I outline a possible gradual sequence, in which each step is individually beneficial and therefore liable to spread independently. And you express doubt that such could occur, describe the same feature of a pair of organisms, and then assert, without reason, that it *cannot* occur gradually.

    If the problem is that you simply cannot *believe* the explanations natural selection provides, then fine. Say so. That’s the well known ‘argument from personal incredulity’. But you can’t say that such a mechanism cannot be provided.

    “Either the pollen is contained in tubes or it isn’t.”

    I’ve just *explained* how tubes can gradually form. A pollen sac that gradually elongates, or progressively fails to open fully along its length, can form a tube. You can also have a *genuinely* discrete feature that appears randomly in some *proportion* of flowers, and for the proportion to gradually change.

    “Furthermore, a lot of mutualism involves instinctual behavior and not just physical capabilities, and that instinctual behavior as well as the physical capabilities must evolve.”

    I’d say all of it does. And why is that a problem?

    “Maybe if the pollen is not contained in tubes, most of the pollen would be lost if the bees buzz the plant.”

    Ah! Well done! That’s the first proper example of a counter-argument you’ve made. You’ve given a possible reason why the bees developing a buzz first is good for the bees but not the plant. Although that doesn’t stop the bees developing the buzz, and it provides a strong incentive for the plant to take the next step.

    “And you are assuming that there are frequently coincidences where a needed trait is a pre-existing trait that evolved for some other purpose. Evolution just requires too many happy coincidences.”

    That’s a good question, too.
    Evolution is a random walk. If you take two endpoints, and ask how you got from A to Bee, then the story requires that things happen just so on many occasions. But if it hadn’t happened that way, we would have just ended up somewhere else. There are many other insect species at the ends of other paths, and there are infinitely more potential insects that *could* have been.

    “As I said a zillion times already, the mutual change is not likely to spread — or is not likely to spread rapidly — unless it is reinforced by the corresponding mutual change in the other organism.”

    It is reinforced by the *last* mutual change in the other organism. It is like the two feet of a person climbing a ladder. You cannot move the left foot to the top of the ladder while the right foot is still at the bottom, and vice versa. So the only explanation for both feet being at the top of the ladder is that you jumped to the top in a single bound – both feet together – right?

    “And even where coevolution is possible, it would tend to be a much slower process than adaptation to widespread fixed general environments (e.g., air and water), and speed is important because evolution had only a few million years to take place.”

    Coevolution happens at the same speed, because each species is working in parallel. If it takes one man a day to dig a hole, how long does it take two men to dig two holes?

    And with hundreds of millions of organisms existing at any given time, and generations a year or two apart, if some feature can change at an average of 0.01% per generation, it can change by a factor of more than 10^43 in a million years. Evolution is slow on human timescales, but incredibly fast on geological timescales. And the earliest known bee fossil is about 100 million years old.

    “As I said, the containment of pollen in tubes would be immediately fatal in the absence of buzzing insects.”

    Assuming that was true, it would only show that buzzing insects came first.

    And as I’ve already said, tube formation *can* occur gradually.

    “As I said, even harmless co-dependent mutations that are isolated will not tend to spread rapidly because there is no benefit to the organism, and co-dependent mutations that are fatal or harmful when in isolation will certainly not spread when in isolation.”

    And as I’ve already said, while the mutations may be isolated, the organisms that result are not. Each mutation must be individually beneficial, in the context of the other organism as it is at that time.

    “You are really getting desperate — you are just dogmatically telling just-so stories now.”

    To explain the very core principles of evolution theory is *not* desperation.
    The entire *basis* of evolution by natural selection is that there is *always* a convenient alternative purpose pre-existing for any new feature to evolve from. *Every* step must be *individually* beneficial, because evolution has no foresight.

    But you are right about me telling just-so stories, except that I am only offering these sequences as one of many billions of ways it *could* have happened, not saying that this is how it *did* happen. I am only seeking to prove that it isn’t impossibly unlikely.

    “That’s the difference — I am talking about parasites that have complex life cycles that go through a sequence of hosts, interacting with each host in a different way.”

    Yes, that’s what I just said.

    Back in the mists of time you *start* with a generalist, that goes through several organisms interacting in the same way. But one particular cycle, passing through *several* organisms, occurs far more often than other paths. (Because of the habits of those organisms at the time.) So the parasite starts to *specialise* to adapt to that particular path. At the end of millions of years, you have a parasite that shifts form to match the behaviour of a particular sequence of multiple hosts.

    You end up with a specialist adapted to a particular complex path through several hosts. But in order to get there it started with a more general lifestyle in which it had other alternatives.

    “I have come up with lots of such cases — the problem is that you have a closed mind. Your forcing me to endlessly repeat myself shows that you can’t really believe that anyone could come up with sound arguments against evolution.”

    The problem is that I’m not going to accept your blank assertion that it is difficult/impossible before accepting that it really is difficult/impossible. Given that in every case so far, it has taken me less than thirty seconds to come up with a plausible mechanism using the most basic principles of evolution theory, I will obviously remain unconvinced. And I’m not even a biologist.

    You need to come up with an example where I *cannot* easily come up with such a mechanism, and also explain why such a mechanism is *necessarily* impossible. If you can manage that, I’ll consider it a reasonable challenge to the theory.

    So far, your arguments have been equivalent to the claim that it is impossible to climb ladders, because neither foot can reach the top before the other one moves.

    You said earlier you only sought the truth. If natural selection can explain coevolution, wouldn’t you want to know how? How can that be a waste of your time?

    Incidentally, you could find some better examples of mutual evolution in Matt Ridley’s book The Red Queen, along with their explanations. You might find it helpful.

  164. John Kwok

    @ random passing physicist –

    Many others, including, for example, Johns Hopkins biochemical epidemiologist David Levin, and, of course, yours truly, have tried reasoning with Larry elsewhere, like, for example, at Amazon.com, where Levin and I first encountered him a few years ago. He seems incapable of having any kind of rational discourse.

    On a more positive note, thanks for referring to Matt Ridley’s book on the Red Queen, which I am well aware of, but haven’t read.

  165. A random passing physicist

    John,

    Yes, I picked up some of the background from other people’s comments here. But I like to come to my own judgements, and I regard this sort of thing as fairly typical of internet debate. Larry is more polite and reasonable than some people I’ve had extended debates with.

    It’s also a matter of principle. As I’ve said elsewhere on here, belief in a theory is justified to the extent that it can withstand challenge. As soon as you start dismissing people who disagree as not worth debating with simply because they disagree and won’t change their minds, you undermine the justification yourself for the theory you are defending. I answer more to prove to myself that I can still answer, than to persuade my opponent. It forces me to keep my understanding and my arguments sharp.

    And I get very annoyed myself with people who defend evolution (or any other scientific theory) by citing “scientific” authority, rather than understanding the evidence themselves. Nullius in Verba is a bedrock principle of science. There are people (atheists and agnostics included) who doubt evolution for honest reasons, because they have been badly taught or not taught at all – their teachers not being able to present the evidence either, but instead relying on argument from authority. To dismiss them as necessarily dishonest for doubting orthodoxy sends absolutely the wrong message about science. So even if I’m fairly sure they are being dishonest, I still won’t do it. Having been on the wrong side of the consensus on certain other topics, I’m careful about how I behave when I’m on the other side.

    But mainly I do it because I enjoy it. I prefer a solid intellectual debate, but there is a certain wicked pleasure in winding an antagonist up into apoplectic fury by being persistently polite and reasonable and insisting on discussing the science.
    That said, I don’t always bother. It’s only if it promises to be entertaining.

    The Red Queen is an excellent book, that I thoroughly enjoyed. It might be a bit dated now in places, and there are a few things in it that I believe now are not quite correct, but I found it to contain a lot of enlightening and insightful moments. For this debate it’s very relevant because its topic is evolutionary arms races, where groups of cooperating/competing genes evolve in concert, continually adapting to one another. The positive feedback this can generate drives species to many of the extremes of nature.

    Even if Larry doesn’t believe the explanations it provides, it should at least give him a more varied and interesting arsenal of difficult-to-explain cases, to keep the rest of us on our toes. I did have some hopes for him at the start, but in the end he just kept repeating the same couple of not-very-challenging cases.

  166. A random passing physicist Says (#169) —
    –That’s the well known ‘argument from personal incredulity’. —

    Often “personal incredulity” is just another name for common sense.

    –A pollen sac that gradually elongates, or progressively fails to open fully along its length, can form a tube. —

    So you have something that is neither here nor there — not well suited for regular pollination or buzz pollination. And it has to develop through a specific sequence of steps by means of random mutations.

    “Furthermore, a lot of mutualism involves instinctual behavior and not just physical capabilities, and that instinctual behavior as well as the physical capabilities must evolve.”

    I’d say all of it does.–

    The vast majority of plants do not have any instinctual behavior. Exceptions: some flowers, e.g., the sunflower, respond to the sun, and the Venus’s flytrap responds to insects.

    –And why is that a problem?–

    It’s a problem because the instinctual behavior and the physical capability must occur in the same organism. It’s an added complication.

    “Maybe if the pollen is not contained in tubes, most of the pollen would be lost if the bees buzz the plant.”

    . . . . You’ve given a possible reason why the bees developing a buzz first is good for the bees but not the plant. —

    Some insects use the pollen as food, so it might not be good for the bees either.

    “And you are assuming that there are frequently coincidences where a needed trait is a pre-existing trait that evolved for some other purpose. Evolution just requires too many happy coincidences.”

    If you take two endpoints, and ask how you got from A to Bee, then the story requires that things happen just so on many occasions. —

    The point is that there are too many of these just-so stories to be credible.

    “As I said a zillion times already, the mutual change is not likely to spread — or is not likely to spread rapidly — unless it is reinforced by the corresponding mutual change in the other organism.”

    It is reinforced by the *last* mutual change in the other organism.–

    All of the mutual changes — not just the last one — need to be reinforced by the corresponding mutual change so that the changes will spread, making it easier to go on to the next step. If the changes don’t spread, then the next step must occur within the small populations that possess the current step. And as I pointed out, sometimes co-dependent changes are fatal or harmful when in isolation. It boils down to the example I gave: A pig that sprouts wings anywhere in the world can fly immediately, but two co-dependent traits that appear in isolation from each other, maybe separated by thousands of miles and many years of time, are not likely to do either organism any good, at least not for a long time — and that goes for small, gradual changes as well as big, sudden changes. There is a vast difference between the amounts of adaptational opportunities offered by (1) widespread fixed general environments (e.g., air and water) and those offered by (2) rare, isolated and maybe short-lived (if harmful or fatal when in isolation) co-dependent mutations in other organisms — that is one of the big points that you are missing.

    –Coevolution happens at the same speed, because each species is working in parallel. If it takes one man a day to dig a hole, how long does it take two men to dig two holes?–

    You are really off your rocker. That is like saying that because dice work in parallel, the chance of throwing a two with dice is 1 in 12 because the chance of throwing a 1 with a single die is 1 in 6.

    –And as I’ve already said, while the mutations may be isolated, the organisms that result are not.–

    What in the hell are you talking about? A mutation and the organism that possesses it are in the same place — if one is isolated, then so is the other.

    –To explain the very core principles of evolution theory is *not* desperation.–

    If these are the “core” principles of evolution theory, then evolution theory sucks even more than I previously thought.

    –You end up with a specialist adapted to a particular complex path through several hosts. But in order to get there it started with a more general lifestyle in which it had other alternatives.–

    You are assuming that the parasite has multiple hosts to begin with. There is a huge difference between (1) evolving a parasitic life cycle that goes through sequential stages in different hosts and (2) evolving from a parasitic generalist on single hosts into a parasitic specialist on single hosts.

    –Given that in every case so far, it has taken me less than thirty seconds to come up with a plausible mechanism using the most basic principles of evolution theory, I will obviously remain unconvinced.–

    No, I don’t think your mechanisms are plausible. It is always possible to come up with some explanation if your imagination is wild enough.

    –Incidentally, you could find some better examples of mutual evolution in Matt Ridley’s book The Red Queen, along with their explanations. You might find it helpful.–

    The Red Queen hypothesis primarily concerns predator-prey and parasite-host relationships — that is not “mutual” evolution in a scientific sense (in scientific “mutualism,” both kinds of organisms benefit). I don’t see predator-prey and parasite-host relationships — except multi-host parasitisms and very complex & specific single-host parasitisms — as being an especially big problem for coevolution. I am primarily concerned about the coevolution of obligate mutualism.

  167. John,

    You said (#170),

    –Many others, including, for example, Johns Hopkins biochemical epidemiologist David Levin, and, of course, yours truly, have tried reasoning with Larry elsewhere, like, for example, at Amazon.com, where Levin and I first encountered him a few years ago. He seems incapable of having any kind of rational discourse.–

    In another thread here, you said,

    –Larry,
    What a surprise seeing you here, simply because I have found you to be among the more thoughtful IDiots posting online —
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/06/06/coyne-debate-link-ins-hullabaloo-klinghoffer-rosenhouse-moran-laden-coyne-rosenhouse/#comment-19045

    So how do you reconcile those two statements?

  168. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    Obviously you can’t discern my sardonic take on humor. It’s a nasty habit of mine that I acquired from my high school creative writing teacher, who’s now well known for his bestselling memoirs (Incidentally, his American publisher also publishes Behe’s books.).

    @ A random passing physicist –

    Nor should any reasonable discussion on science rest upon authority. If nothing else, current biological research merely demonstrate how much we don’t know, on issues ranging from microbial evolution to understanding extremely complex examples of coevolution. But, having said this, I regard modern evolutionary theory as a better – if quite imperfect – alternative to any form of “scientific creationism”, including Intelligent Design creationism – simply because it is science and depends on scientific research for additional tests which may confirm or refute some of its key principles. The alternative, creationism, would render science into an entity unrecognizable to either you or I.

  169. A random passing physicist

    “Some insects use the pollen as food, so it might not be good for the bees either.”

    Exactly. Which is why buzzing is a good idea, as it extracts more food for the bee.
    It’s not doing it for the plant, is it?

    “What in the hell are you talking about? A mutation and the organism that possesses it are in the same place — if one is isolated, then so is the other.”

    The word ‘mutation’ can refer both to the *event* when the DNA changes at a single point in space and time, and the genetic *result*, which exists in large numbers of the descendants of the organism in which the mutation event occurred. The *events* are isolated, but it is the *results* that need to adjoin for mutual benefit to occur, and the results are *not* isolated.

    “You are assuming that the parasite has multiple hosts to begin with. There is a huge difference between (1) evolving a parasitic life cycle that goes through sequential stages in different hosts and (2) evolving from a parasitic generalist on single hosts into a parasitic specialist on single hosts.”

    Yes, the parasite had multiple hosts to begin with. I’m suggesting evolution from a parasitic generalist on multiple hosts (any/many hosts in any order) into a parasitic specialist on multiple hosts (specific hosts in a specific order).

  170. A random passing physicist Says (#175) —
    “Some insects use the pollen as food, so it might not be good for the bees either.”

    Exactly. Which is why buzzing is a good idea, as it extracts more food for the bee.–

    You really missed the point here in a big way. Your explanation was that the buzzing trait appeared before buzz-pollinated plants appeared, but the buzzing behavior might extract less food for the bee — and less pollen for pollination — when used on plants that are not buzz-pollinated. In any event, in the absence of buzz-pollinated plants, the buzzing behavior would confer no advantage and hence would not tend to spread.

    –The word ‘mutation’ can refer both to the *event* when the DNA changes at a single point in space and time, and the genetic *result*, which exists in large numbers of the descendants of the organism in which the mutation event occurred. The *events* are isolated, but it is the *results* that need to adjoin for mutual benefit to occur, and the results are *not* isolated.–

    The “results” are going to be isolated until the mutation spreads, and the mutation will not tend to spread unless it confers some benefit or advantage.

    –Yes, the parasite had multiple hosts to begin with.–

    You are really taking liberties here — my whole point was that it is hard to imagine the evolution of a multi-host parasitism in the first place.

    Also, you have not addressed one of my big points (comment #172) —

    There is a vast difference between the amounts of adaptational opportunities offered by (1) widespread fixed general environments (e.g., air and water) and those offered by (2) rare, isolated and maybe short-lived (if harmful or fatal when in isolation) co-dependent mutations in other organisms

    You deny that coevolution is a problem for evolution theory. You said, “Coevolution happens at the same speed, because each species is working in parallel.”

    Also, here are some more things:

    (1) My arguments about coevolution do not assume that any of the individual co-dependent traits are irreducibly complex.

    (2) Coevolution is a problem even for “front-loaded” (pre-programmed) evolution because there would need to be some means of triggering the changes in both or multiple organisms at the same time at the same place.

    (3) Coevolution is a problem for natural selection whereas irreducible complexity of individual traits is a problem for genetic change by random mutation. The reason why coevolution is a problem for natural selection is that a mutation must confer a benefit in order for natural selection to occur and there is no benefit when the corresponding co-dependent trait is locally absent.

    John Kwok Says (#174),

    –Obviously you can’t discern my sardonic take on humor–

    You didn’t answer the question.

    –current biological research merely demonstrate how much we don’t know, on issues ranging from microbial evolution to understanding extremely complex examples of coevolution.–

    So you admit that coevolution is a problem for evolution theory! And Darwinists are not going to understand “extremely complex examples of coevolution” so long as they bury their heads in the sand by denying that coevolution is a weakness of evolution theory. Even if evolution theory is completely true, it is sometimes necessary to play the devil’s advocate by assuming that evolution theory could be false. It is pretty clear that Darwinism is a real science-stopper. A lot of Darwinists won’t even consider weaknesses in evolution theory. A lot of Darwinists don’t want weaknesses of evolution taught or discussed in science classrooms. Many Darwinists are anti-intellectual pseudo-intellectuals.

  171. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    Still suffering from poor reading comprehension. Do you honestly think that, after all the negative criticism you’ve received from me over at Amazon, that I would really praise you for being one of the “more thoughtful IDiots posting online”? As for my peculiar take on humor, I suggest you start reading the memoirs written by a certain high school creative writing teacher of mine (His best known book you’ve probably heard of, “Angela’s Ashes”.).

    As for coevolution, it isn’t a problem for evolutionary theory. Try extinction, and especially mass extinction, and how quickly the biosphere recovers from a mass extinction. Or even long-term evolutionary stasis as seen in the fossil record. Or what Stony Brook evolutionary ecologist Douglas Futuyma refers to as ecological niche conservation, which is an ecological analogue to evolutionary stasis.

  172. John Kwok said,
    –Do you honestly think that, after all the negative criticism you’ve received from me over at Amazon, that I would really praise you for being one of the “more thoughtful IDiots posting online”?–

    Yes. I thought that even though you disagreed with me, you might have been favorably impressed by my debating skills.

    –As for coevolution, it isn’t a problem for evolutionary theory. —

    Now you are really talking through your hat. You previously said, “If nothing else, current biological research merely demonstrate how much we don’t know, on issues ranging from microbial evolution to understanding extremely complex examples of coevolution.” Any unsolved mystery is a problem. And just saying “evolutiondidit” contributes no more to our understanding than just saying “goddidit.”

  173. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    The trouble with you and your fellow Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drones is that you cling to the notion that science can, somehow, yield absolute answers with regards to understanding natural phenomena. That’s not the way science works, and, having engaged often with scientists and former scientists (like yours truly), you ought to know that by now.

    I’ve heard recently from Stony Brook evolutionary ecologist Douglas Futuyma and Brown cell biologist Ken Miller (on Saturday) that there’s a lot we don’t know about biology still. I agree. All we are doing is asking the right questions, using the latest tools and techniques that hopefully are gathering some meaningful answers. But just because we may not know everything, doesn’t mean that we don’t have already, some reasonablly good ideas as to how natural phenomena like coevolution work. We do. So don’t think I am contradicting myself by resorting yet again to your pathetic habit of quote mining.

    If we don’t know a lot already about coevolution, then ask yourself how a former paleobiologist (yours truly) and a current graduate student of molecular ecology (Dave Wisker) recognized immediately, upon reading the first few chapters of Michael Behe’s “The Edge of Evolution”, that Behe was writing about coevolution and doing such a bad job of it, merely by demonstrating his woeful ignorance via his extensive usage of a perfect example of a “predator – prey” coevolutionary relationship between the Plasmodium malarial parasite and humanity. That Behe doesn’t see this as a perfect example of coevolution merely illustrates his woeful ignorance and understanding of modern evolutionary biology, and, as I have observed earlier, that is Behe’s problem to contend with (not mine or Dave Wisker’s.).

  174. John Kwok says,
    –But just because we may not know everything, doesn’t mean that we don’t have already, some reasonablly good ideas as to how natural phenomena like coevolution work.–

    I have raised some basic questions here about coevolution that have apparently not even been asked by anyone else, let alone answered. So I don’t see how you can say that we have “some reasonablly good ideas as to how natural phenomena like coevolution work.” Darwinists mostly just vaguely dismiss coevolution as simply “mutual evolutionary pressure.”

    –. . . his extensive usage of a perfect example of a “predator – prey” coevolutionary relationship between the Plasmodium malarial parasite and humanity. That Behe doesn’t see this as a perfect example of coevolution merely illustrates his woeful ignorance and understanding of modern evolutionary biology–

    Actually, I would call that a parasite-host relationship, not a predator-prey relationship.

    You have not shown that Behe denied that this is an example of coevolution.

  175. Constant Mews

    Larry, you state, “I have raised some basic questions here about coevolution that have apparently not even been asked by anyone else, let alone answered. So I don’t see how you can say that we have “some reasonablly good ideas as to how natural phenomena like coevolution work.” Darwinists mostly just vaguely dismiss coevolution as simply “mutual evolutionary pressure.”

    I’ve gone back over your posts, but I am unable to find these ‘basic questions’ that you raise. Could you point me to the precise posts?

    Constant

  176. John Kwok

    Larry,

    A “parasite-host relationship” is a specialized case of a “predator-prey relationship”.

    You don’t think Behe denied that this was a coevolutionary relationship, then explain to me what the heck he was referring to with regards to “trench warfare”, since that – and Dave Wisker also noted this – made absolutely no sense IMHO.

    Instead of quote mining either me or Carl Zimmer, may I suggest you read Matt Ridley’s book, please.

  177. John Kwok

    Larry,

    A parasite-host relationship is a specialized case of a predator-prey relationship. Check out an introductory textbook on the science of ecology from your local library.

    As for Behe, he doesn’t really understand how coevolution works since he insisted that the Plasmodium – humanity relationship is one of “trench warfare”. Again, ask yourself how and why a former paleobiologist (yours truly) and a graduate student in molecular ecology (Dave Wisker) immediately recognized – and independently of each other I might add – that Behe was demonstrating a woeful ignorance and understanding of basic concepts of evolutionary biology, especially of coevolution.

    As for coevolution, I agree with a randon passing physicist’s recommendation. Read Matt Ridley’s book, which is probably still the best popular introduction to coevolution that I can think of.

  178. John Kwok said (#179),
    –The trouble with you and your fellow Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drones is that you cling to the notion that science can, somehow, yield absolute answers with regards to understanding natural phenomena. —

    There is nothing unscientific about trying to determine the probability that random mutation and natural selection can alone account for the complexity and diversity of living things.

    John Kwok said (#181),
    –You don’t think Behe denied that this was a coevolutionary relationship, —

    No, I never said that I don’t think that Behe denied that this is a coevolutionary relationship — I said that you never showed that Behe denied that this is a coevolutionary relationship.

    –then explain to me what the heck he was referring to with regards to “trench warfare”, since that – and Dave Wisker also noted this – made absolutely no sense IMHO.–

    I have no idea what Behe meant when he said that this is “trench warfare” instead of an “arms race.”

    –Instead of quote mining either me or Carl Zimmer, may I suggest you read Matt Ridley’s book, please.–

    What does Carl Zimmer have to do with this? And how have I “quote mined” you?

    John Kwok said (#182),
    –A parasite-host relationship is a specialized case of a predator-prey relationship. —

    There is some overlap between “predator-prey” and “parasite-host” relationships, but generally a predator kills its prey immediately whereas a parasite kills its host slowly or not at all. IMO “parasite-host” is the more appropriate term here.

    –As for Behe, he doesn’t really understand how coevolution works since he insisted that the Plasmodium–

    The issue was not whether Behe understands coevolution but whether he denied that his book discusses coevolution.

    –Read Matt Ridley’s book, which is probably still the best popular introduction to coevolution that I can think of.–

    Matt Ridley’s book “The Red Queen” is not a general introduction to coevolution but is specifically about the effect of sexual reproduction on the coevolution of parasitism.

  179. John Kwok

    Larry –

    What does Carl Zimmer have to do with this? Well, you cited him – in effect, quote mining him – to prove your inane point:

    “Another problem I pointed out is that some adaptations of parasites are extremely complex and specific, e.g.,

    http://scienceblogs.com/loom/2006/02/02/the_wisdom_of_parasites.php

    I suggest you pick up a standard ecology textbook or talk to someone who has a Ph. D. in ecology and is working as a professional ecologist. They would tell you what I told you.

    As for Behe, let’s not play semantic games along the line of “what is the definition of is, is”. Again ask yourself how and why two different people trained in different facets of evolutionary biology – yours truly (invertebrate paleobiology) and Dave Wisker (molecular ecology) – on their own, without prior knowledge, came independently to the realization that, though Behe’s book was about coevolution, Behe himself was absolutely clueless with respect to his understanding of coevolution and other aspects of evolutionary biology.

    I think I’m starting to sound like a broken record.

  180. –What does Carl Zimmer have to do with this? Well, you cited him – in effect, quote mining him – to prove your inane point–

    How is linking to his blog article “quote mining” him? And the blog article supports my point that some parasitisms are extremely specific and complex.

    –Behe himself was absolutely clueless with respect to his understanding of coevolution–

    You are just repeating yourself. In my previous comment, I said, “The issue was not whether Behe understands coevolution but whether he denied that his book discusses coevolution.”

    –I think I’m starting to sound like a broken record.–

    You think you are just starting to sound like a broken record? You have been sounding like a broken record for a long time. You make no sense. You have no credibility. You are just resting on your past laurels — a graduate of Stuyvesant High School and probably some Ivy League university. You are one troll who I am not going to feed anymore.

  181. John Kwok

    Larry –

    This is absolutely precious:

    “You make no sense. You have no credibility. You are just resting on your past laurels — a graduate of Stuyvesant High School and probably some Ivy League university. You are one troll who I am not going to feed anymore.”

    There are quite a few, starting with Johns Hopkins professor David Levin who think that you’re the one who makes no sense, and has no credibility, period. Only a delusional creationist troll such as yourself would claim that . “There is nothing unscientific about trying to determine the probability that random mutation and natural selection can alone account for the complexity and diversity of living things.”

    You’re forgetitng something that’s important, genealogical history, or what we would refer to as phylogenetic relationships in biology. Random mutations are the source material of natural selection, but they do not act blindly. Instead they are constrained by the genealogical history of the population in question. This is one crucial distinction which neither you nor your fellow Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drones have refused to admit, but instead, claiming that if you have random mutations, then natural selection is impossible.

    As for my academic credentials, you’re partly correct, and yes, I graduated from the same Ivy League alma mater as your heroes David Klinghoffer and Bobby Jindal (and my friend, Ken Miller, who is the only sane person amongst this group of three).

  182. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    It’s getting late, but I am compelled to note this correction:

    You’re forgetting something that’s important, genealogical history, or what we would refer to as phylogenetic relationships in biology. Random mutations are the source material of natural selection, but they do not act blindly. Instead they are constrained by the genealogical history of the population in question. This is one crucial distinction which neither you nor your fellow Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drones have admitted, but instead, claiming that if you have random mutations, then natural selection is impossible.

    Again, as Philip Johnson has concluded reluctantly, there is not yet a scientific theory of Intelligent Design. You and your side have had twenty years, but you have yet to demonstrate how Intelligent Design creationism can “determine the probability that random mutation and natural selection can alone account for the complexity and diversity of living things.”

  183. Constant Mews

    I’m going to repeat this, since Larry might have missed it the first time.

    Larry, you state, “I have raised some basic questions here about coevolution that have apparently not even been asked by anyone else, let alone answered. So I don’t see how you can say that we have “some reasonablly good ideas as to how natural phenomena like coevolution work.” Darwinists mostly just vaguely dismiss coevolution as simply “mutual evolutionary pressure.”

    I’ve gone back over your posts, but I am unable to find these ‘basic questions’ that you raise. Could you point me to the precise posts and questions?

    Constant

  184. John Kwok

    @ Constant Mews –

    For Larry, it’s merely chanting a Buddhist mantra, about how he has “raised questions… about coevolution”, which, incidentally, both radio talk show host (and Dishonesty Insitute director) Michael Medved and Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer Bil Dembski have said lately with respect to Intelligent Design Creationism, that it is good simply because it raises “questions”. In either case I have yet to hear or to read cogent observations from either one explaining why, with Intelligent Design Creationism, it is useful in raising questions about evolution and “Darwinist” thought.

  185. Mel

    Larry’s problem is that he insists his “ideas” about coevolution are correct without ever having done due diligence in studying the published literature about the subject. Larry, have you ever read any papers on coevolution that were published in peer-reviewed journals? I know you don’t have much in the way of financial resources, but there are always academic libraries nearby that usually allow the public to visit their collections, and pretty much all of them will at least have subscriptions to PNAS, Nature, Science, and a number of others that have published large numbers of papers over the last couple of decades that put the lie to your claims about evolutionary biology and coevolution and mutualisms. For instance, there is this paper:

    Schemske, D. W. and H. D. Bradshaw, Jr. 1999. Pollinator preference and the evolution of floral traits in monkeyflowers (Mimulus). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 96:11910-11915.

    It goes into just how easy it is for a new pollinator-plant relationship to evolve initially, after which natural selection can easily improve the relationship. That is one of hundreds of publications. There are even entire labs that study nothing else but what you say evolution can’t explain. For instance, there is Nancy Moran at the University of Arizona. She studies symbioses and the evolution of complex inter-relationships between organisms in mutualistic relationships (http://eebweb.arizona.edu/faculty/moran/research.htm). At this page, http://eebweb.arizona.edu/faculty/moran/pubs.htm you can find a list of dozens of papers out of just that lab, most of which deal with coevolution. Have you read any of them? Then there is Bonnie Bassler of Princeton (http://www.molbio.princeton.edu/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=27), who studies intercellular communication, including that involved in tight mutualistic relationships between bacteria and animal hosts that show elaborate coevolutionary adaptations, the evolution of which her work has shed great light on. Have you read any of her papers? Larry, you would be easier to take seriously if you actually knew anything about the issues you attack. At least you eventually got around to reading if not understanding the Lenski citrate paper months after you started attacking it.

    Of course, I think you know quite well you don’t have a leg to stand on in your attacks, but simply want the rush of pestering people. If so, that is sad.

  186. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Thanks for mentioning Nancy Moran, whom I knew when I was a graduate student at Arizona. She’s an excellent field ecologist IMHO.

  187. Constant Mews says (#189) —
    –I’ve gone back over your posts, but I am unable to find these ‘basic questions’ that you raise.–

    Stop acting stupid — there are dozens of posts that cover the basic questions. Neither you nor John Kwok nor Mel participated in the discussions about the ideas I raised here about coevolution and so you folks have no right now to question how basic or reasonable those ideas are. “A random passing physicist” at least answered my comments but a lot of his answers were pretty far-fetched and in the end he was just telling just-so stories. He also ducked some issues.

    Let me make a counter-challenge — which of the ideas I raised about coevolution in the preceding comments are not basic and reasonable?

    OK, here is one of the ideas I raised:
    In the coevolution of obligate mutualism (e.g., bees and flowers), unlike in evolutionary adaptation to widespread fixed general environments (e.g., air and water), there will likely be nothing to adapt to because the corresponding co-dependent trait in other organisms is likely to be locally absent. This goes for small, gradual changes as well as big, sudden changes.

    That’s a pretty darn basic issue, isn’t it? Has anyone raised it before? If no one has raised such a basic issue, then how can it be said that coevolution is well understood? Apparently many of my points about coevolution have not even been raised by others, let alone answered, refuted or explained.

    Mel Says (#191) —
    –Larry’s problem is that he insists his “ideas” about coevolution are correct without ever having done due diligence in studying the published literature about the subject . . . PNAS, Nature, Science, and a number of others that have published large numbers of papers over the last couple of decades that put the lie to your claims about evolutionary biology and coevolution and mutualisms.–

    Wrong, you are the one with a problem — you insist that my ideas about coevolution are wrong and you have presented no evidence that my ideas about coevolution have even been raised by others, let alone refuted.

    –For instance, there is this paper:
    Schemske, D. W. and H. D. Bradshaw, Jr. 1999. Pollinator preference and the evolution of floral traits in monkeyflowers (Mimulus). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 96:11910-11915.–

    I will look into it.

    –there is Nancy Moran at the University of Arizona. She studies symbioses and the evolution of complex inter-relationships between organisms in mutualistic relationships (http://eebweb.arizona.edu/faculty/moran/research.htm). At this page, http://eebweb.arizona.edu/faculty/moran/pubs.htm you can find a list of dozens of papers out of just that lab, most of which deal with coevolution.–

    Those studies appear to be mainly about parasitism and maybe also commensalism (where one organism benefits and the other is not affected), and except for multi-host parasitisms and extremely specific & complex parasitisms, I don’t see parasitism and commensalism as being a problem for coevolution. If either the parasite or the host has a mutation that gives it an advantage in the relationship, that mutation will tend to spread rapidly, and often a countering mutation in the other organism can be delayed or might not be needed at all if the other organism can survive with the increased disadvantage. However, in the coevolution of obligate mutualism (e.g., bees and flowers), it is necessary that the mutant co-dependent traits in both kinds of organisms be present at the same place at the same time in order to confer a benefit, and the traits will not tend to spread rapidly unless there is a benefit. Furthermore, the co-dependent traits may be harmful or fatal when in isolation.

    –Then there is Bonnie Bassler of Princeton (http://www.molbio.princeton.edu/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=27)–

    I don’t see anything expressly about coevolution there.

    My ideas about coevolution are summarized in the following article on my blog:
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2009/01/summary-of-thoughts-about-co-evolution.html

    — Larry, you would be easier to take seriously if you actually knew anything about the issues you attack. —

    As I said, so far as I can see, I am the only one who has raised the issues that I attack.

    Debates cannot be won by scoffing. Scoffing may make you Darwinists feel good, but it does not favorably impress people.

    Also, you have made no direct responses to my arguments. All of your responses here have been “bibliography bluffing” — i.e., just pointing to the literature.

    –At least you eventually got around to reading if not understanding the Lenski citrate paper months after you started attacking it. —

    Let’s not go into that here. The problem with the Lenski article was that one of the authors refused to answer some basic questions about it.

    You Darwinists are in a state of denial. Your minds are closed because you cannot imagine anyone raising valid criticisms of evolution theory.

  188. Mel Says (#191),
    –Larry’s problem is that he insists his “ideas” about coevolution are correct without ever having done due diligence in studying the published literature about the subject.–

    BTW, Mel, it is true that I have not studied a lot of the published literature about coevolution, but you had no reason to assume that. I did study a little of the published literature, but I had no reason to study more because the published literature does not address the issues that I raised.

    I looked at Schemske’s and Bradshaw’s paper “Pollinator preference and the evolution of floral traits in monkeyflowers” and I was not surprised that I found nothing of interest there. Your referring me to that paper was just bibliography bluffing. You sent me on a wild goose chase.

  189. Mel

    No, Larry, your lack of knowledge about the subject indicates your ignorance. So, too, does the fact that you attacked the Lenski citrate paper for months while making a point of not having read it indicate that you are ignorant of what you attack and dishonest in those attacks.

    And if you didn’t see the importance of the Schemske paper…well, that just says a great deal both of how little you understand the subject of coevolution and of how poor your reading comprehension is (no surprise to anyone who has encountered you before, or even read your comments above).

  190. Mel Says (#195) —
    –No, Larry, your lack of knowledge about the subject indicates your ignorance.–

    You have not directly addressed any of my arguments. You are just a big bag of hot air.

    –So, too, does the fact that you attacked the Lenski citrate paper for months while making a point of not having read it indicate that you are ignorant of what you attack and dishonest in those attacks.–

    So you are determined to hijack this thread to argue about the Lenski paper. I asked Zachary Blount, one of the paper’s chief authors, if the evolution of citrate-eating bacteria was a goal of the experiment from the beginning (and I used the term “goal” in a broad sense to include secondary goals, longshot goals, etc.) and he refused to answer.

    –And if you didn’t see the importance of the Schemske paper…well, that just says a great deal both of how little you understand the subject of coevolution–

    You have not described exactly how the Schemske paper applies to the issues that I raised. You are just bibliography bluffing. As I said, you are just a big bag of hot air. As I said, debates cannot be won by scoffing.

  191. Mel

    “You are just bibliography bluffing.”

    Ah yes, Larry’s charge whenever he is too lazy to read (As I recall, he also made this charge over the Lenski paper. Only to Larry would a paper in question not be pertinent to issues about that paper).

    And Zachary Blound did answer your question. You simply didn’t want to accept his answer. Anyone who read that thread would see that.

    And there is no need to address your “arguments” as they are drawn from ignorance and easily refuted by the voluminous literature on coevolution that you have refused to read because, well, I don’t know know why you persist in being unpleasant in your ignorance.

  192. Mel

    And if you can’t see how the Schemske paper applies to the issues you raised, you either didn’t read the paper (it is immediately obvious to anyone who actually has), completely didn’t understand it, or do not understand even the basics of the issues to which your “arguments” pertain.

  193. –And Zachary Blound did answer your question.–

    Wrong — Blount (not Blound) refused to answer my questions. I asked him (1) whether the evolution of citrate-eating bacteria was seen from the beginning as a possible and desirable outcome of the long-term evolution experiment and (2) whether one of the purposes of starving the bacteria of glucose was to promote this evolution, and he refused to answer the questions.

    –And there is no need to address your “arguments” as they are drawn from ignorance and easily refuted by the voluminous literature on coevolution that you have refused to read because, well, I don’t know know why you persist in being unpleasant in your ignorance.–

    As I said, that is just bibliography bluffing.

    Like John Kwok, you are just a troll, and I am going to stop feeding you too.

  194. Mel

    “As I said, that is just bibliography bluffing.”

    Oh Larry, why do you find reading so difficult? Don’t you know that it is just right and proper to do due dilligence?

    Blount did answer your first question. You didn’t accept his answer, insulted him, and, from the thread, it seems that he realized that you would not accept any of his answers, and then proceeded to ignore you when you persisted in insulting him and asking more questions to which you would not accept an answer (and, as I recall, he directed you to a paper that would have answered your question if you had bothered to read it, but you didn’t, showing your dishonesty and bad faith again), which seems quite a proper response to you. Anyone who has had the misfortune to encounter you would realize that you don’t engage in discussions to learn or discuss, but merely to be unpleasant because you really don’t have anything else to do with your life at this point.

  195. Mel

    “Those studies appear to be mainly about parasitism and maybe also commensalism (where one organism benefits and the other is not affected), and except for multi-host parasitisms and extremely specific & complex parasitisms, I don’t see parasitism and commensalism as being a problem for coevolution.”

    Then you concede that your arguments are bunk. You do so out of clear ignorance about coevolution (as is typical of you), but you concede nonetheless. If you knew anything about coevolution (ie if you had actually studied the subject or done the due diligence of studying the literature), you would see this. But, if you knew anything about what you are attacking, you wouldn’t be making such silly arguments that the literature dealt with years if not decades ago. But hey, you have never been one to allow facts and research (or logic or rationality or civility) to get in your way.

  196. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    I haven’t read Lenski’s paper on citrate-eating bacteria, but I know the implications of that. It means that, in the laboratory, Lenski and his team created a new species that was able to ingest an entirely new food source (citrate).

    Now ask yourself why someone – yours truly – who hasn’t been in the field of evolutionary biology understands the significance of Lenski’s work, while you, who claim to have some understanding, doesn’t? Maybe the difference could be the fact that, unlike you, I was trained as scientist.

  197. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Larry is absolutely as clueless as his “hero” Behe is with respect to understanding coevolution and other aspects of evolutionary biology. That’s something I discovered – with a mixture of both ample chagrin and some thinly-disguised sarcastic amusement – when I first encountered him online over at Amazon.com a few years ago. You may have noticed how “dense” he is too, since here, at this very thread, I’ve had to repeat myself several times to try to get my points across.

  198. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    P. S. I haven’t been active in the field of evolutionary biology for more than a decade. However, thanks to frequent dealings with IDiots such as yourself, I have picked up quickly that which I’ve forgotten.

  199. Mel

    @John,

    Yeah, the knowledge to approach scientific issues properly is a big help in understanding those issues. As does the willingness to at least make some attempt at understanding at least some of the literature (no matter how onerous it may be, as we both know).

    Interestingly enough, I was in a graduate coevolution discussion group today, and I read the others some of Larry’s “arguments”. Everyone got a big laugh. The general consensus was that Larry is completely ignorant of at least last 75 years or so of research. Sad, isn’t it?

  200. Mel

    @John,

    Yeah, I first encountered him about a year ago after he polluted the discussion about the Lenski paper over on Carl Zimmer’s blog. He is a very sad case (have you looked at that joke of a blog he runs? It is good for a laugh or hundred, but nothing else). Don’t, however, fool yourself that you have gotten your points across to him. No matter how many times you repeat things to him, he will always refuse to understand or engage in an intellectually honest way, but you probably know this from previous dealings with him. Like I said, very sad.

  201. John Kwok

    @ Mel,

    Between militant atheists like PZ Myers running amok and delusional Xian Fascists like Bill Dembski, I have enough on my plate already, without devoting myself too to Larry’s personal mendacious intellectual pornography. But I’ll admit that I’ve stopped by occasionally, merely to have a little laugh and to shake my head slowly.

    You would hope that he could try to learn as much about science on his own as, for example, Carl Zimmer (who graduated from Yale with a B. A. degree in English and relatively little exposre to science while in college). But I suppose that’s asking too much from a delusional DI IDiot Borg drone such as Larry. And don’t worry, I’m never fooled by Larry (He’s so dense, he didn’t realize I was being sarcastic when I referred to him as one of the more “reasonable” IDiots posting online.). You’re absolutely right that “he will always refuse to understand or engage in an intellectually honest way…”.

  202. As the saying goes, don’t feed the trolls.

  203. Mel

    We accept your surrender, Larry. It takes a big man to accept defeat as you just did. Congratulations, perhaps you might just have a decent human being left in you somewhere.

  204. John Kwok

    @ Larry –

    You’re such an astute judge of character. All I can say with respect to your last comment is,
    “It takes one to know one”.

    In closing, I offer you this ancient Chinese greeting, “May you live in interesting times”.

  205. Theobald

    “Don’t feed the trolls.” is Larry’s standard method of surrender. He has failed here, as he always fails, by demonstrating that he has not read any of the references he cites here. He has even left book reviews on Amazon and other sites for books he has never read but has determined what must be in them by reading the covers. After tiring of repeating his own unsupported claims, he will eventually throw in the towel.

    It is interesting what he says on his own heavily censored site:

    “I spend a lot of time commenting on other blogs and other websites in order to help spread my ideas, which I can’t do well on this blog because this blog gets so little traffic.”

    Perhaps he may eventually realize that his own blog gets so little traffic because he censors most posts that he can’t answer and answers the remaining few with pre-adolescent insults like “dunghill”. To show his level of mental deterioration, this censorship is nearly total on his “Association of Non-Censoring Bloggers” site.

    The shame of this is that while Larry has always been somewhat odd, his state of mental deterioration is progressing rapidly in clear view of the public.

  206. John Crock, Mel, Theobald,

    You are all a bunch of stupid ignoramuses. All you do is scoff. Debates cannot be won by scoffing.

  207. Theobald

    Debates cannot be won by mindless repetition of already disproven and completely destroyed arguments, pretense that your opponents have not answered questions that they have answered endlessly, nor of insults such as the childish drivel on your blog: “Judge Jackass Jones, Evil Genie, Sleezy PZ, Fathead Ed”, etc.

    It might also help if you were to chose your causes more carefully. Your previous insistence that the moon landings took place in a Hollywood studio and that meteors came from within the atmosphere were no more defensible than your current ones. I don’t know how anyone who lost relatives in the holocaust can claim that it did not occur but obviously you have a different idea of the meaning of reality.

  208. Constant Mews

    Larry, your post was nothing but scoffing. Don’t you see that you are engaged in the very behavior you decry? If you feel that coevolution represents a difficulty for evolutionary theory, you’ve yet to demonstrate it. So far as I can see, and I have reread all your posts here and at your blog several times, your entire case may be summed up as, “I don’t believe it.”

    That’s not an argument, Larry. Where are your facts? Where is your chain of logic? Where is something we can actually discuss?

    Constant

  209. I repeat: As the saying goes, don’t feed the trolls.

    It is obvious to anyone with half a brain that I have already won the argument about coevolution several times over in this thread. These lousy trolls did not even participate in the discussion. They are just big bags of hot air. They are just sore losers.

    “I’m always kicking their butts — that’s why they don’t like me.”
    — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

  210. Arnold

    In order to win an argument, you will first have to make one.

  211. Arnold

    > It is obvious to anyone with half a brain <

    Yes, but to those of us with whole brains, you haven't made your point.

  212. Constant Mews

    Larry, whining and complaining that no one took your assertions seriously is disingenuous – any number of people engaged you on this thread. The difficulty you face is that you failed to deal with their arguments, and in return presented none of your own.

    Asserting that you’ve “won” an argument that you didn’t even begin to make is remarkably childish behavior – are you sure you wish your final contribution (such as it is) on this thread to look as though you’re behaving like a spoiled child?

    Be a man! Make a real argument! Don’t behave like a child having a temper tantrum.

  213. Mel

    Believe it or not, Larry is actually in his mid-60’s. He got fired from his job as a mechanical engineer several years ago, likely because of the mental instability that he showed here in this thread and is in even greater evidence on blog. This is what he does with his days now. He goes into various discussions, makes inane “arguments” that betray a complete lack of logical thinking and ignorance, and then proceeds to hurl juvenile names at anyone who disagrees with him or asks him to read anything. He would be really sad if he weren’t such a hateful, hateful man.

  214. Mel

    And Larry, no one will ever take your coevolution “arguments” seriously until you show at least some understanding or familiarity with the voluminous scientific literature on the topic. But that would require that read some of the papers for comprehension, which you seem to be incapable of. Until then, you will remain a laughingstock (though you serve a purpose in that – I know that reading your “arguments” at the graduate coevolution reading group I am in gave everyone a much needed laugh at your ignorance and incoherence).

  215. Theobald

    Larry is making progress. He has recently accepted on his blog the unproven conjecture that the earth is more than a few thousand years old although he does leave room for skepticism.

  216. The citizens of Gardner, KS are currently working to recall two members of their City Council. The recall is tied up in the courts at the moment, but it should go to a vote in March of 2010.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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