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November 9, 2001 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Maybe evolution never happened. And maybe industry doesn't cause pollution and population growth is no problem. At least that's what they're teaching kids in Alabama and Texas (and maybe your state as well).
posted by conquistador (108 comments total)

 
These recent decisions by state boards of education are pretty depressing to me (especially considering I'm a Texan). Anybody disagree, and think local communities should have the right to keep their head in the sand? (sorry, I'm already on the attack)
posted by conquistador at 11:45 AM on November 9, 2001


This country is so strange.
posted by techgnollogic at 11:46 AM on November 9, 2001


Unfortunately, the only time people show any interest in running for school boards (or voting for a particular candidate) is when they have an agenda. That's why things like this happen.
posted by Potsy at 11:50 AM on November 9, 2001


The problem is in how members of school boards are elected -- most people don't realize how important it is to participate in these votes, and so often the extremist religious elements of a given community find it easy to "stuff" the boards with their own members. Even worse, candidates often hide their fundamentalist agendas until after they've been elected.

In my view, the teaching of evolution -- without the wishy-washy stickers or disclaimers -- should be mandated by the federal government and enforced in all fifty states and all US territories. It's unforgivable in this day and age to allow students to graduate high school without knowing a basic, central fact of biology.
posted by mrmanley at 11:52 AM on November 9, 2001


From the second link:

"The publishers believe that, if we were pagan serfs of the king working with our hands and told when to procreate, that would be utopia," [Margie] Raborn said.

It sounds like she was reading a bad Fantasy Novel instead of the required text.
posted by davehat at 11:58 AM on November 9, 2001


This country is so strange.

you wouldn't think so after seeing all those foreign flash atrocities.
posted by lotsofno at 11:59 AM on November 9, 2001


Also from the second article: Doug Flanakin, the group's expert on energy and the environment, said they express "a disdain for American colonists" and "a penchant for Native Americans."

A penchant for Native Americans? WTF is that supposed to mean? Is this 18-frickin-50? Pagans and savage-lovers you lefties are!
posted by jpoulos at 12:06 PM on November 9, 2001


You ever noticed how people who believe in creationism look really unevolved? Ya ever noticed that? Eyes real close together, eyebrow ridges, big furry hands and feet.
"I believe God created me in one day"
Yeah, looks liked He rushed it.


-Bill Hicks
posted by badstone at 12:10 PM on November 9, 2001


I grew up in New York, and my high school biology teacher gave us a big disclaimer about how controversial evolution is, and that certain people believe, for religious reasons, that humans came about in other ways.

And I just had to wonder: Why is evolution any more controversial than her teaching us that people can't survive in the belly of a whale, or that snakes can't talk? Forget the fact that our Earth Science teacher told us that the whole parting a sea deal....didn't happen.
posted by Doug at 12:12 PM on November 9, 2001


Does anyone else notice frightening similarities between the Islamic fundamentalism's resistence to intellectual advancement abroad and that of Christian fundamentalism here at home?

I'm gonna go lie down now. Wake me when the rest of humanity has evolved.
posted by jpoulos at 12:13 PM on November 9, 2001


er, yeah, what's your point? fundamentalism is a universal religion; the different flavors just swap in different references, but the interpretations always come out the same: fear and hatred of anything outside of the absolute control of the people who think they have a god on a leash.
posted by badstone at 12:17 PM on November 9, 2001


The second link contains no details on the content that was found objectionable. I don't see how anyone can conclude anything except that there is disagreement over whether the textbooks were accurate. (As for the evolution thing, it really is depressing that we still have to deal with people who would deny scientific fact in order to support 2000-year old mythologies.)
posted by mw at 12:20 PM on November 9, 2001


... and maybe government workers don't post to MeFi while at work. ;-P
posted by mischief at 12:22 PM on November 9, 2001


Problem is, Evolution is not a scientific fact. It's a scientific theory, and is one that is damned difficult to test. It's really more of an initial hypothesis, to be honest.

Since it cannot be tested, it isn't scientific. Learned, perhaps. Reasonable, certainly.

But it is NOT scientific fact. Life would be much easier if it were.
posted by dwivian at 12:23 PM on November 9, 2001


Well, I just read the second article from the Austin paper and didn't see anything other than quotes from Board members. Given the lack of substantive information, I don't see how anyone can say they're doing this for reasons other than they state (factual errors and bias against our society) unless they have read the books themselves. Has anybody read these text books? Or is this a gigantic knee-jerk?
posted by CRS at 12:25 PM on November 9, 2001


i'm sorry, dwivian, but very little of science is a "fact." since we merely observe science, we require a rigorous testing: hence the scientific method.

your claim that evolution cannot be "tested" according to this (or perhaps any) method is interesting, since you say nothing to support your claim. so, dwiv: do you have a point, or are you simply trying to piss on the lot of us? back up your claims, please.
posted by moz at 12:27 PM on November 9, 2001


"There is grandeur in the view." Creationism and god?No. Concluding words of Chuck Darwin at end of Species as he looked back at the long march of evolution to bring us to the (at that time) present state of things.
posted by Postroad at 12:32 PM on November 9, 2001


Pollution and religion all in one! Judge Blocks Evangelist's Effort to Reopen a Refinery. [New York Times, registration required]
posted by Carol Anne at 12:35 PM on November 9, 2001


Certainly, Moz -- I said it would be damned difficult to test. This is because a test for Evolution is not observation of data, but a controlled experiment in which changes to a population are derived from adjustments to a controlled change in environment, resulting in a population that shows species differentiation from the original population.

The time parameters make this untenable. And, the control requirements over the time needed are excessive to the point of impracticality. As a result, Evolution as a theory is untested, and untestable.

The Scientific Method requires a hypothesis, a test, the experiment, a review of the results, and a comparison to the original hypothesis. After sufficient testing and reproducability a theory may emerge, which can be published for peer review and recognition. If you can't do this, you aren't scientific.

Smart, perhaps. Right, just as possible. But NOT scientific.

People have to learn to use words carefully, you see. Scientists are very particular about such things.

Now, Evolution makes a pretty reasonable explaination, or hypothesis. And, within itself is the use of science for gathering information, digesting statistics, etc. But, it is one thing to be a scientific fact, and another to be a truth borne out by measures and reason.
posted by dwivian at 12:36 PM on November 9, 2001


I live in Manhattan, but i grew up in Alabama and went to a very small private school (30 people in my graduating class.) My biology teacher had a cosmological view of God, and believed that evolution didn't preclude the existence of God, or technically creationism, if you believe that evolution was facilitated by an "unmoved mover". Most of my classmates, however, were raised in Southern Baptist families and interpreted the Biblical "Creation" stories in a very literal manner. We had some heated debates about it (oddly enough, the 30 students included 6 European exchange students all of which were atheists or agnostic) and the thing that should be noted was that the violent reaction to evolution wasn't coming from the teacher - it was coming from the students, all of whom had been raised as Creationists.

It was a small school, but it wasn't in a rural area, and many of the other local schools had the same problem. Even when the teaching staff was well versed in evolutionary theory, there was a backlash against it from the students and parents. It's really as much of a grass-roots problem as a top-down problem. In most cases, when the local school boards mandate the teaching of creationism it's because the parents demand it. The culture in much of the suburban south is very homogenous and there's no real impetus for change. The educational system in general is terrible (48th in the nation) and the area universities place a higher premium on vocational training than liberal arts education, which means that there's very little exposure to different ways of thinking. As a result, there's very little *awareness* of different ways of thinking and the homogeneity of the culture reinforces its tendency to stay that way. It's not even "stuffing boards" as one person said, it's that the conservative element is such an active part of civil society in the South (arguably for the worst) that those people are invariably the most influential.
posted by lizs at 12:43 PM on November 9, 2001


you guys, don't mess with Texas.
posted by panopticon at 12:44 PM on November 9, 2001


From the first article:

The earlier sticker contained questions students should ask about evolution, such as: "Why do major groups of plants and animals have no transitional forms in the fossil record?"

I've often wondered if folks who oppose evolution on such grounds realize that, despite all the thousands and thousands of fossils that have been found, if you compare that to the total of every living thing of every type that has ever lived, it's really still an ridiculously small percentage. You're just never going to collect a complete set from microbe to couch potato.

Of course, since the same folks can't actually watch the fossils being formed, they probably believe they were just put there from the start by ::channeling Dana Carvey:: SATAN!
posted by Cyrano at 12:46 PM on November 9, 2001


There's no such thing as a scientific "fact", beyond directly observable phenomena. The explanations are all theories. That's its beauty.
posted by signal at 12:47 PM on November 9, 2001


dwivian, the end result of science is theory. There is no higher level than a theory, everything scientific is a theory including gravity. The fact that people equate theory with true/false is the root of this problem. If these people truly thought evolution (which I will admit has many shaky parts and might be better off defined as a hypothesis) was controversial they would be teaching other scientific theories. But obviously this is an attempt to keep the vocal and intolerant segment of Christians appeased.
posted by skallas at 12:51 PM on November 9, 2001


For chrissakes, are these morons still on the Creationism warpath? I mean, WTF?! What the hell is wrong with people?! Arrrrgh!

*sigh* Ayep. I'm pretty much openly rooting for the terrorists to win now.
posted by hincandenza at 12:51 PM on November 9, 2001


Margie Raborn . . . said she opposed the textbooks because they "make discriminatory comments about Christianity and property ownership."

As if Christ himself hadn't made enough "discriminatory comments" about property ownership already :)

How the right gets Christianity to jibe with capitalism, I'll never know.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:55 PM on November 9, 2001


Darn, I should have known that using such a controversial word as "fact" would have lead to a thread hijack.
posted by mw at 12:55 PM on November 9, 2001


dwivian: a test for Evolution is not observation of data, but a controlled experiment in which changes to a population are derived from adjustments to a controlled change in environment, resulting in a population that shows species differentiation from the original population

Actually observing the evolution of a new species isn't the only way to test the theory of evolution. There are some things we can study much more directly--like genetics--which, upon close study, reveal that evolution must necessarily occur among living things of the sort that we see on earth. This having been established, it's fair to conclude that evolution explains the origin of species. Further, the fossil record overwhelmingly supports this view.

I'm not sure what would count as a 'scientific fact' in the strongest sense--to my mind, everything in science is theory open to various sorts of revision--but I am just as convinced of evolution as I am of universal gravitation (and its later revisions, such as relativity). The basic fact of evolution, apart from the more complex details, is as indisputable as anything we can claim to know about the world.
posted by moss at 12:58 PM on November 9, 2001


Houston and Dallas and San Antonio takes on the story.
posted by conquistador at 1:03 PM on November 9, 2001


The Alabama school board, as usual, has misinterpreted the word "theory." In vernacular English, a theory is some unproven idea, sort of a guess, but in science it is pretty darn close to law. For an interesting explanation of this, go read "Evolution is a Fact and a Theory."
posted by xyzzy at 1:03 PM on November 9, 2001


All your questions are explained away by Jack Chick!!!
posted by hellinskira at 1:08 PM on November 9, 2001


There are some things we can study much more directly--like genetics--which, upon close study, reveal that evolution must necessarily occur among living things of the sort that we see on earth.

Can you cite a study of that? I've not heard of such, and would love a pointer to someone's research. I also think that Evolution is the best model to explain things, but the scientific method has to be appeased to call it scientific. A "comparitive genetics" paper doesn't do that any more than a comparitive religions class helps prove the existance of an underlying religion as a fact.

The problem with explainations of things that are difficult to test (genetics testing to assist with evolutionary research having been postulated makes this shaky, but I accept that), is that you end up with wheels within wheels explaining retrograde motion. It works, is sound, and was the scientific fact of preference....

Until a sun-centered eliptical orbit wonked the whole works up.
posted by dwivian at 1:15 PM on November 9, 2001


There's a relatively simple argument to come back to Creationists with.

Assumptions:
A. We want to teach kids science.
B. It's standard science to default to Occum's razor to choose between hypotheses in the absence of convincing evidence. (e.g. If you think the fossil record is unconvincing.)
C. Bottom-up emergence is vastly simpler than top-down design for generating complex systems. (A conjecture that the complexity and information theory folks can back up with pretty solid math.)

Conclusion:
Evolution is bottom-up, creation is top-down, therefore (by C) evolution is simpler. If so, then by B, evolution is a better theory, and if A is true, then we ought to teach kids evolution as good science.

Now granted, C is pretty much voided if the implentor is infinitely powerful, but in the presence of something infinitely powerful, all bets are off anyway, so what's the point in worrying at all?

Creationists are certainly welcome to put science as a whole on trial, but that argument was pretty well settled way back when, when the astronomers were pitted against the fortune tellers in the eclipse prediction competition.
posted by badstone at 1:19 PM on November 9, 2001


Back when eclipses were predicted -- the astronomers were the fortune-tellers...

good points, though -- but, what if Creation was done bottom up? Certainly seems that way from my read of things, but I'm a computer engineer, and prone to read texts as documentation rather than myth!
posted by dwivian at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2001


dwivian:

This is because a test for Evolution is not observation of data, but a controlled experiment in which changes to a population are derived from adjustments to a controlled change in environment, resulting in a population that shows species differentiation from the original population.

evolution is defined as "any developmental process by which an organ or organism becomes more complex by the differentiation of its parts." to test for evolution, it would follow, i can take observable samples of two similar organisms from two different time periods and compare them. this test would tell me that evolution has occurred, though it does not necessarily tell me how. i fail to see how this process cannot be considered "observation of data."

The time parameters make this untenable. And, the control requirements over the time needed are excessive to the point of impracticality. As a result, Evolution as a theory is untested, and untestable.

what time parameters would those be? lately, academics have begun to see evolution as a function of catastrophe: that is, that evolution is not often gradual (the extreme of which being the theory called phyletic evolution, which is what charles darwin believed), but rather is punctuated by extraordinary circumstances, or selective pressures. the latter theory is called punctuated equillibrium. most often, evolution occurs in small populations (150 or fewer comprised individuals) where a large event -- such as a hurricane, or an earthquake -- has a decent chance of wiping out the entire species; truly enough, the most radical examples of evolution come from islands and archipelagos. for a great book on island biogeography and evolution in general, i highly recommend david quammen's excellent song of the dodo. (it also goes into some detail of how charles darwin was kind of an asshole.)

The Scientific Method requires a hypothesis, a test, the experiment, a review of the results, and a comparison to the original hypothesis. After sufficient testing and reproducability a theory may emerge, which can be published for peer review and recognition. If you can't do this, you aren't scientific.

correct. you have just explained why there exist scholarly journals on evolution, biology, and anthropology (perhaps among other areas of study).
posted by moz at 1:29 PM on November 9, 2001


This country is so strange.

It is this strangeness that makes this country so damn beautiful and ugly at the same time. I, for one, celebrate it. That fundamentalists and liberals (such tired words) continue to battle over what should or should not be taught in schools (and that we do the same in this pixelated space) is the price (and hassle) of giving everyone a voice. A country that disallows fundamentalism to have its say is a fundamentalist country. Strange but true. Strange but beautiful. Strange but ugly.
posted by jacknose at 1:32 PM on November 9, 2001


Evolution may be 'simpler' but that's where creationists like me have to take a leap of faith. I was going to post a link to Dr. Kent Hovind, but decided against it because it will only be censured by the MeFi thought police.

Hincandenza - I don't know where you live (Mongolia I hope), but I don't want to hear your communist SHIT about wanting the terrorists to win. Go post that on some tree-hugging leftist forum. Dick.
posted by catatonic at 1:32 PM on November 9, 2001


Actually I will post a link from Dr. Hovind - if anyone can prove evolution wrong, he will pay them $250,000. Why hasn't anyone won the prize yet?!?
posted by catatonic at 1:35 PM on November 9, 2001


well, there's an unstated principle in science, that pretty much makes the word "is" equivalent to "is indistinguishable from," as far as the statements that science is allowed to make. (because, in truth, science is a description of how humans perceive the universe not how the universe necessarily "is.")

at any rate, bottom-up creation would be indistinguishable from plain old creation, so you wouldn't need to mention god in the scientific description of things. there could also be a little tiny god holding each and every atom in a crystal together with the same dynamics that are predicted by the theory of electromagnetism. nonetheless, we have been able to do everything we've cared to do with crystals safely ignoring that tiny little god.
posted by badstone at 1:35 PM on November 9, 2001


i can take observable samples of two similar organisms from two different time periods and compare them. this test would tell me that evolution has occurred, though it does not necessarily tell me how. i fail to see how this process cannot be considered "observation of data."

It is observation of data, but not a test. It relies on you making assumptions about what is "similar" and any causality in the relationship of the organisms. You can study neanderthal man and baboons, observe their similarities, and assume that evolution has occurred, but that isn't science. It's conjecture. And, until you reason out that the two might not be direct, but remotes from a common ancestor.... well, you get the point.

As a student of geology, I was exposed to the punctuated equillibrium theories quite a while ago. And, since most fossil finds tend to be in catastrophic conditions (look ma! A mudslide!), that made lots of sense to us out there digging up the critters along boundaries and events.

Scholarly journals don't make the subject material scientific, either. Remember, there is even peer review in homeopathic medicine, for what *THAT'S* worth.
posted by dwivian at 1:38 PM on November 9, 2001


catatonic: A. He is joking, I think. B. What does anything he said have to do with communism?
posted by Doug at 1:40 PM on November 9, 2001


cuz if it ain't christian, it's commie, galdurnit!
posted by badstone at 1:42 PM on November 9, 2001


Actually I will post a link from Dr. Hovind - if anyone can prove evolution wrong, he will pay them $250,000. Why hasn't anyone won the prize yet?!?

Maybe I read it wrong, but it looks like he's offering the prize to anyone who can prove evolution right.
posted by Potsy at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2001


That's what I meant.
posted by catatonic at 1:44 PM on November 9, 2001


Doug: A. Even half joking about it isn't funny. B. Communist in the sense that it's anti-American. (Stupid lexical thing my friends and I developed). Not in the socialist or even atheist sense.
posted by catatonic at 1:47 PM on November 9, 2001


The problem is in how members of school boards are elected -- most people don't realize how important it is to participate in these votes, and so often the extremist religious elements of a given community find it easy to "stuff" the boards with their own members.

Why is this the case? The religious nutjobs are such a small minority that I would imagine it would be pretty hard for them to stuff any govermental organization. For instance, they don't control city councils or the like.

Is it just a matter of them caring more about what their kids learn than the rest of us?
posted by jaek at 1:48 PM on November 9, 2001


Some days, I wish the Creationists would get around the challenging the Theory of Gravitation.

Personally.
posted by UncleFes at 1:49 PM on November 9, 2001


The work of philosopher Karl Popper is relevant here. He argued in "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" that no scientific theory could be proven to be true, but that they could be considered true until proven false, and that all scientific theory was "a web of interwoven guesses". By his criteria, evolution stands up for now as a scientific theory. He also argued that an unfalsifiable theory was of no value (theists take note).
posted by liam at 1:49 PM on November 9, 2001


dwivian: actually, evolution as such is an active area of research in the laboratory. there's one biologist who works with bacteria from one homogeneous culture that he splits into separate (indentical) samples, which he then grows up under different conditions. some of them he "shocks" by, say, applying heat or spiking the bath with different proportions of different kinds of sugars as nutrients. the results are pretty interesting--the physiological changes observed in parallel cultures that are "shocked" with the same selective pressures are very similar, even though the underlying genetic changes are typically not.

there are also people doing computer modelling of evolution, which i won't even try to discuss because it's way way outside my field. but it's not true that scientists can't do research on evolution per se. they can, and they do.
posted by shylock at 1:50 PM on November 9, 2001


God and creation are far more complicated than evolution. The way it goes is, you have the choice between a universe made by natural laws of physics, perhaps complicated ones, but rules that can be figured out and followed, or a world ruled by God. Then you have to figure out how God made the world, what of, what he is made of, what made him, when it made him, why it made him, whether he is a good or bad god, how to appease him, and so on.

Laws are much simpler.
posted by stoneegg21 at 1:52 PM on November 9, 2001


of course, mr. hovind's challenge is not just about evolution. in order to collect you must show (note that only 2 of the 5 deal with evolution):

(from your link)
1: Time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves.

2: Planets and stars formed from space dust.

3: Matter created life by itself.

4: Early life-forms learned to reproduce themselves.

5: Major changes occurred between these diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).

gee, it's a absolute wonder nobody has collected, huh?
posted by lescour at 1:56 PM on November 9, 2001


At a 1995 board meeting to approve the original disclaimer, then-Gov. Fob James impersonated an ape to poke fun at evolutionary theory.

Impersonated an ape? Beautiful choice of words. Dear anonymous AP author, I noticed. And smiled.
posted by joemaller at 1:57 PM on November 9, 2001


It is observation of data, but not a test. It relies on you making assumptions about what is "similar" and any causality in the relationship of the organisms. You can study neanderthal man and baboons, observe their similarities, and assume that evolution has occurred, but that isn't science. It's conjecture. And, until you reason out that the two might not be direct, but remotes from a common ancestor.... well, you get the point.

this is why peer review is important in studying evolution. before i would claim that two samples are similar, i must first establish this similarity: i must describe the discrete structures of the bones, the measurements of its length and its curvatures, and so forth. "similarity" is not so vaguely understood in the study of species.

Scholarly journals don't make the subject material scientific, either.

i never claimed that they did. scientific journals exist not simply to publicize experiments but also to submit them to peer review, to argument and critique; potentially, to being discounted as useful, significant, or correct. in other words, they exist to help establish experiments as either more or less credible. that's all you can hope for, not only in matters pertaining to evolution, but also to psychology, anthropology, archaeology, ...
posted by moz at 1:58 PM on November 9, 2001


Well, it's obvious at least that evolution didn't happen in Alabama and Texas.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:00 PM on November 9, 2001


stoneegg21, I don't think I get your point. Maybe you are alluding to Occam's razor?
posted by mw at 2:04 PM on November 9, 2001


actually, there're pretty strong working theories describing all 5 principles, including number 1.

1. A complete description will take a unification of relativity and quantum, which string theory will likely accomplish.

2. A trivial consequence of gravitation (you can even describe it with newtonian gravitation)

3 and 4 are the same, given the definition of life. also, given the definition of life, 4 pretty much goes away. at any rate, there's plenty of good research in the works on the various aspects of this question.

5. what's tough about that? oops, that's right, if you don't understand evolution, then this is intractable.

At any rate, I imagine a lot of these points of confusion about the evolution of the universe will go away when the complexity research community come up with a solid theoretical framework and some useful semantics.
posted by badstone at 2:06 PM on November 9, 2001


I think it's funny that catatonic rants about "MeFi thought police", then goes off on hincandenza for expressing an upopular view--telling him he has no business posting his thoughts here. I think it's apparently who the humorless "dick" really is.
posted by jpoulos at 2:19 PM on November 9, 2001


badstone: yes, there are some working theories, and hopefully we'll have a lot more answers in our lifetimes.

even so, it's unlikely to : Prove beyond reasonable doubt that the process of evolution (option 3 above, under "known options") is the only possible way the observed phenomena could have come into existence. Only empirical evidence is acceptable

not to mention that mr. hovind reserves the right to select his own judges, also to only pass along challenges which he deems substantial.

it's a rigged game.
posted by lescour at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2001


its all a conspiracy by big business and the liberals on the east and west coasts [and other urban centers of learning in betwixt] to keep 'middle america' down. Intellectual disenfranchisement, and it also furthers an evolution of sorts...since you have to be exceptional to see the value of science over religion, and those people breed with other like-minded individuals and move to places where science is taught without warning stickers.

;-)
posted by th3ph17 at 2:23 PM on November 9, 2001


Because I hate it when people make unsubstantiated references to the "scientific literature", too:

For those of you browsing from universities or who otherwise have access to the full text of the journal Science, here is a link to an article from the June 25 1999 issue of Science that talks about people doing experiments on "test tube evolution".
posted by shylock at 2:46 PM on November 9, 2001


Ummmm.... I am confused.

The stickers being placed in these books say that evolution is "a controversial theory. ... Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered".

Just what exactly is the problem with challenging people to approach evolution with an open mind, to study it carefully and consider it critically? If evolution is so undeniably true, and every and any other option is just so undeniably untenable then what on earth is the problem asking people to look at it carefully???

Isn't that what science is about?

Rabid non-christians denegrate christians as being people who take a leap of faith, who believe something without having an open mind, studying it carefully and critically consdering it (even though in my experience most christians do exactly the opposite of this).

Seems a touch hypocrytical that some of those rabid non-christians are now crying foul when others ask them to approach evolution in the same way.

And even though I am no scientist, from my reading on the subject it seems to me that many people who believe in evolution would be better actually looking at the controversies between scientists even within the field before blindly believing what the read in school textbooks.
posted by Danielle_T at 3:08 PM on November 9, 2001


I find it amusing when Creationists say that their beliefs aren't entirely religious and that they're just looking for ideological egalitarianism -- when was the last time you saw one asking that Buddhist Creation Theology be included in textbooks? Or Zoroastrian theology? Or Australian aboriginal mythology?

I'll listen to Creationists just as soon as they modify their position and their goals to encompass all creation ideology, not just the one espoused by their own religion. I'm not exactly holding my breath.
posted by aramaic at 3:17 PM on November 9, 2001


From a peer reviewed creationist journal regarding the "impossiblity of abiogenesis:"

Scientists not only have been unable to find a single undisputed link that clearly connects two of the hundreds of major family groups, but they have not even been able to produce a plausible starting point for their hypothetical evolutionary chain (Shapiro, 1986).  The first links— actually the first hundreds of thousands or more links that are required to produce life—still are missing (Behe, 1996, pp. 154–156)!

So, because scientists have not been able to find undisputed proof that abiogenesis in a primordial soup can occur, then evolution is obviously hokey stuff invented by non-believers. oook..

Why is so impossible to believe in a higher power AND evolution? Is it because the possibility of evolution insinuates that man created God to serve social structures? Or what? I am an atheist. I need these things explained to me.
posted by xyzzy at 3:19 PM on November 9, 2001


xyzzy: lots of people believe in a higher power and evolution. The local religious leader when I was growing up certainly did, and nobody seemed to have a problem with that.
posted by aramaic at 3:30 PM on November 9, 2001


mw-Yes, that was what I was referring to. Sorry that I forgot to actually mention it by name.
posted by stoneegg21 at 3:31 PM on November 9, 2001


danielle:

Just what exactly is the problem with challenging people to approach evolution with an open mind, to study it carefully and consider it critically? If evolution is so undeniably true, and every and any other option is just so undeniably untenable then what on earth is the problem asking people to look at it carefully???

what bothers me is that evolution has to be singled out as controversial among the many theories of science. many theories are controversial; all are impossible to prove definitively. not everyone buys string theory; not everyone buys the big bang theory. why should special pains be taken to ensure we know that students are aware of the controversy around evolution -- because that controversy is more popular? that is certainly no useful benchmark.

And even though I am no scientist, from my reading on the subject it seems to me that many people who believe in evolution would be better actually looking at the controversies between scientists even within the field before blindly believing what the read in school textbooks.

not many credible scientists in biology or anthropology disbelieve in evolution, danielle. the ones that argue often do so on the nature of how evolution takes place: is it gradual in this case? parallel? is it arrested, convergent, or both? there is no right answer for all cases, of course.
posted by moz at 3:41 PM on November 9, 2001


If evolution is so undeniably true...

Evolution is not undeniably true. On the contrary, it's simply true because it is falsifiable and hasn't been proven false, and it works with other scientific theories we consider true. I don't know of any other scientific explanations. Creationism, on the other hand, is based on an unfalsifiable premise - the existence of God - and is therefore not a scientific theory at all. (And I'm not arguing against the existence of God, which is an issue of faith.)

Every student should have an open mind, but as long as one scientific explanation holds sway for a particular phenomena, it's ridiculous to call it controversial. Otherwise we should have those little stickers for every single piece of scientific knowledge we teach, down to the existence of gravity. Sunday schools can teach creationism, if they must, but science class should be about science.
posted by liam at 3:42 PM on November 9, 2001


doh! a particular phenomenon
posted by liam at 3:45 PM on November 9, 2001


...it may be useful in this discussion for folks to draw a distinction between micro-scale evolution and macro-scale evolution. Micro-scale evolution is proven; macro-scale evolution (that is, the Theory Of Evolution) is not.
posted by aramaic at 3:51 PM on November 9, 2001


I'm not convinced that the distinction between micro-scale evolution and macro-scale evolution is a useful one. Specifically, it seems clear to me that it is a difference in degree (little changes to the genome vs. bigger changes to the genome) rather than a difference in kind. Is there any reason to think otherwise?
posted by moss at 4:08 PM on November 9, 2001


Moz,

I am not suggesting that many scientists disbelieve in evolution at all. All I am suggesting is that students be aware that within the theory itself there are many controversies raging about the how of evolution.

Evolution is not cut and dry, and as someone who is a humanities major and who only hears about evolution through the education I received, through mass media and through books which I have read of my own accord- well let's just say that evolution is overwhelmingly presented to the layman/woman as a united front, as an battering ram knocking down all over theories about the how and why of this world... more so than any other scientific theory.

Educators should be encouraging all of their students to think critically about everything they are taught- and in my own experience, and in the experience of others whom I have spoken to that simply does not happen in high school evolution education. And it certainly does not happen in the mass media. I simply do not see what is so wrong with asking people to consider controversial theories (and you will notice that the sticker disclaimer does not limit it to evolution) carefully.

And for the record, yes I am a Christian (no that doesn't mean I necessarily disbelieve in evolution). And for the record, yes I would be absolutely delighted if someone decided to put a sticker in the front of every bible asking people to approach it openly mindedly, studying it carefully, and considering it critically.
posted by Danielle_T at 4:08 PM on November 9, 2001


Seems to me, what is really happening here is that the ex Bush, now Gov. Rick Perry Conservative Republican Party in TX can't stand the thought of educating our students about all sides of the issues. Its not about science or science books. The issue is about about politics and money. Its about conservative mind control. Its about Rick getting support for prayer in public schools. Its about Rick Perry and his suck up coattail riders getting votes.
posted by redhead at 4:09 PM on November 9, 2001


Micro-scale evolution is proven
how are you defining "micro-scale evolution"? actually, i guess what i have in mind would be considered "sub-micro" - creationists don't really buy the primordial soup stuff, they don't find autocatalytic loops and the like to be plausible or statistically effective enough, i guess.
posted by badstone at 4:10 PM on November 9, 2001


when was the last time you saw one asking that Buddhist Creation Theology be included in textbooks?

Inconveniently, the Buddhists don't have one (to my knowledge). It isn't considered important. What is important is what is happening this minute. An interesting question, why do people have to know how we got here?
posted by dness2 at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2001


An interesting question, why do people have to know how we got here?

Because it gives meaning and purpose to why we are here now and what is happening in this minute
posted by Danielle_T at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2001


Inconveniently, the Buddhists don't have one (to my knowledge). It isn't considered important. What is important is what is happening this minute. An interesting question, why do people have to know how we got here?

I am just now doing some reading on Buddhism and have come to the conclusion that I've been at least partially a Buddhist for years. I too am of the opinion that the question of our origin is not particularly important or interesting.
posted by kindall at 4:34 PM on November 9, 2001


An interesting question, why do people have to know how we got here?

and without deferring to meaning and purpose, understanding the past allows us get to where we'd like to be in the future. you can derive meaning and purpose from chocolate cake and sunsets if you like.
posted by badstone at 4:45 PM on November 9, 2001


More Buddhist comments (again, in my understanding):

Maybe there is 'meaning and purpose' in just being.

The past we can 'know' may be helpful in how we conduct our lives. But the past before this knowledge is a distraction, just like the future. The emphasis is on what is helpful to conducting ourselves positively now.
posted by dness2 at 4:56 PM on November 9, 2001


The past we can 'know'
now there's a loaded statement...

at any rate, the Buddhist experience of the universe is completely orthogonal to the scientific one. there is no past or present, there is no space, there are no distinct objects, just the One. no science of any kind can happen within that cosmology - measurement is impossible in a universe with no distinguishable characteristics.
posted by badstone at 5:14 PM on November 9, 2001


[E]volution is overwhelmingly presented to the layman/woman as a united front, as an battering ram knocking down all over theories about the how and why of this world... more so than any other scientific theory.

Oh, I don't think I'd agree with that. In high school, we're all taught classical Newtonian physics, and nobody has much of a problem with that. The fact that Newtonian physics fails for really really big things and really really small things is, more or less, glossed over. You might have Bohr and Einstein mentioned to you in a high school physics class, but for the most part, you aren't going to go into the nitty gritty details of quantum physics and special relativity, much less really theoretical stuff like string theory--not in a general high school physics class.

The same sort of thing applies in biology. It's not okay to say that "evolution" per se is a controversial theory--it ain't. There's plenty of evidence in the fossil record that it happens, it follows naturally from our understanding of the way molecular biology works, and there isn't another competing theory that better describes the data. This isn't to say that evolutionary biology is a finished field--there are lots of people who are studying how exactly it happens, whether it's gradual and uniform or periodic and sudden or whatever. But to say that you need to keep an "open mind" about evolution is like saying you need to keep an "open mind" about the laws of motion. Yes, you do, but no, you don't--not the way these creationists mean it.
posted by shylock at 5:53 PM on November 9, 2001


the Buddhist experience of the universe is completely orthogonal to the scientific one. there is no past or present

Ah, no. That's not the Buddhist experience. There is a past and a future; it's just not to be dwelt on. There is space and objects, but we are separate and one at the same time, as opposed to having hierarchical value. Buddhism is not about zoning out and denying reality (contrary to the impression the 60's and New Age interpretations have given), it's about accepting transience and just not knowing. About not holding on. A Buddhist (well, this Buddhist anyway) accepts science's answers and lessons, but remains unconcerned with the fact that it's impossible to 'prove' anything, including that God exists or doesn't.

The point of this with evolution is, what difference in the end does belief in evolution (or micro/macro or whatever interpretation) or not belief get you? Something happened, anywhere from 8000 to 8 billion years ago. Going on the 'we are One' thing actually fits well in my mind with evolution; I like the idea of a long line (through time) of atoms obeying some kind of laws (randomness, nature, whatever) connecting everything, but I also believe that it really doesn't matter what I think. The world began without me, however it did, and it will end without me, however it will. And all I am responsible for is what I contribute while I'm here.

And that could certainly be a textbook singing the praises of evolution and the scientific method. There's no bad karma in that.
posted by dness2 at 6:30 PM on November 9, 2001


You might have Bohr and Einstein mentioned to you in a high school physics class, but for the most part, you aren't going to go into the nitty gritty details of quantum physics and special relativity, much less really theoretical stuff like string theory--not in a general high school physics class.

The same sort of thing applies in biology.


I cant see how not teaching such revolutionary concepts like spacetime and relativity does anyone any good. We were taught Einstien in high school. You don't need to do all the math to understand it. Keeping to Newton is inexcusable and not a justification of keeping people in the dark about the details of currently accepted theories.
posted by skallas at 6:48 PM on November 9, 2001


I cant see how not teaching such revolutionary concepts like spacetime and relativity does anyone any good.

I thought the point of what shylock was saying was not that we shouldn't teach more advanced physics, but that, in both physics and biology, there's a basic level of theory that's pretty much universally accepted (in physics, Newtonian gravity, in biology, Darwinian evolution), and a more refined (and more accurate) level of theory, some details of which may still be controversial--and that people are likely to encounter the basic uncontroversial stuff first.

Also, this may be getting a bit off topic, but I have to say, I think you really do need to do the math to understand these things. If you don't follow the mathematical arguments in Newton and Einstein, you're missing both the real content of the theories and the real argument for them. I think a high school physics class that went carefully through the main argument of Newton's Principia and then followed it with just a brief overview of some of the more modern stuff would be more useful than one that gave a detailed but non-mathematical description of everything up through string theory and beyond. The latter would teach you what physicists currently think, but the former would teach you how to think like a physicist.
posted by moss at 8:40 PM on November 9, 2001


The world began without me, however it did, and it will end without me, however it will. And all I am responsible for is what I contribute while I'm here. Well put, dness2, and to the point. Now who was it that wrote, With what little wisdom the world is ruled...? This thread brings that to mind.
posted by y2karl at 9:06 PM on November 9, 2001


danielle:

if you are interested in learning more about what evolution is truly about, i do highly recommend the quammen book, song of the dodo.
posted by moz at 9:42 PM on November 9, 2001


The more I think about it, the more I think we should give these people what they want. A revivalist, fundamentalist Christian theocracy. No evolution. No abortion, birth control, or sexual education at all. School prayers for everyone. Mandatory church attendance. A system of laws based on Christian mythology. Give 'em someplace nice and deserted, like Nebraska or a Dakota. Set it up like a reservation, so they wouldn't have to deal with pesky federal laws (like the First Amendment) or all the godless leftists in Washington.

It would be interesting to see what they come up with.
posted by Vetinari at 9:50 PM on November 9, 2001


Christian Right Lobbies to Overturn Second Law of Thermodynamics
posted by ArkIlloid at 10:21 PM on November 9, 2001


That onion link is funny becaus its true.
The main problem fundies have with evolution is that they don't like it. It's not that they've seriously studied the evidence and come to the conclusion that's it's not trustworthy, but rather that they don't want human kind to be kin of the primates and felines, etc. They want to feel "special", center of creation and all that crap.

This is not novel or even atypical for fundies; if you argue with them about the existence of gods or an afterlife, they eventually get to the argument that gods/afterlife exist because it would suck if they didn't. This argentum emotionalum doesn't hold a lot of water with us positivists.
posted by signal at 12:43 AM on November 10, 2001


Creationism has never explained vestigial human tails to my satisfaction.
posted by johnnyace at 4:36 AM on November 10, 2001


Don't waste time arguing with creationists. Logic doesn't work with people who believe that an invisible man made the universe and everything in it a few thousand years ago, that he is listening to everything everyone thinks, and that he is rightfully roasting people he doesn't like in an eternal torture chamber. That sort of thinking is lunacy.

Scientific people would better spend their time getting sensible people on to school boards (and keeping the unevolved off them) and pushing for national educational standards that don't allow parochial locals to warp kids.
posted by pracowity at 6:03 AM on November 12, 2001


B. Communist in the sense that it's anti-American.

Then why not say anti-american? I thought only McCarthy thought that Communism is the antithesis of American. Sigh.

On the seventh day, did God create pancakes and kitties?
posted by adampsyche at 6:13 AM on November 12, 2001


Darwinian theory attributes biological complexity to the accumulation of adaptive micro-mutations by natural selection, but the creative power of this hypothetical mechanism has never been demonstrated, and the fossil evidence is inconsistent with the claim that biological creation occurred in that way. The philosophically important part of the Darwinian theory – its mechanism for creating complex things that did not exist before – is therefore not really empirical science at all, but rather a deduction from naturalistic philosophy. In brief, what makes me a ‘critic of evolution’ is that I distinguish between naturalistic philosophy and empirical science, and oppose the former when it becomes cloaked in the authority of the latter.

- Professor Phillip Johnson, Boalt Law School, Univerisity of California, Berkeley
posted by gd779 at 5:53 AM on November 13, 2001


Law school, bubbeh, law school. Be sure to note where science ends and clever rhetoric begins.

The untrue statements in the above paragraph are:
(1) "the creative power....has never been demonstrated."

Res ipsa loquitur. The fossil evidence, the biochemical evidence, genetic evidence, in fact, all the evidence we have, demonstrate speciation.

(2) "the fossil evidence is inconsistent"

Couple years ago when his book came out (what was it called? Defeating Darwin or something?) there were tons of book reviews that looked at his arguments and concluded that what he was calling "inconsistencies" were really "gaps in the fossil record," which is a whole nother thing.

(3) "not really empirical science at all"

Deductions from the available evidence that are consistent with currently accepted scientific paradigms are, in point of fact, precisely what empirical science is all about. This perhaps he would know if he were some sort of scientist at all. Which he freely admits that he's not.

He and Wendell Berry should get together and have a "we don't really get science" party or something.
posted by shylock at 5:53 PM on November 13, 2001


It turns out that belief in Darwinian evolution is not so much a matter of scientific evidence as a matter of personal philosophical commitment. The oft-repeated claim that Darwinism is supported by “overwhelming evidence” is not a scientific statement, but an advertising slogan.

- Jonathan Wells, Ph.D. in molecular and developmental biology, UC-Berkeley; Ph.D. in theology, Yale University.
posted by gd779 at 7:46 PM on November 14, 2001


It looks as if gd779 has given up even trying to think for himself, but he's determined to have the last word in neener-neener junior high school fashion, so he keeps quoting others.

- pracowity
posted by pracowity at 10:46 PM on November 14, 2001


So what you're saying is that I'm basically not going to convince you other than that evolutionists are part of a grand conspiracy to keep the Bible down, right?

'Kay then.
posted by shylock at 12:53 PM on November 15, 2001


shylock: I'm saying no such thing. If you have something definite to say, I'm all ears! You didn't cause me to change my position because, frankly, you didn't say anything ; at least, nothing that wasn't conclusory. Your one point of substance was that Johnson's expertise was in law rather than in biology or hard science. So I gave you Johnson's position on evolution restated in the words of a scientist.

I came to this party late, and I frankly didn't expect anyone to be still reading it!
posted by gd779 at 9:02 PM on November 15, 2001


Besides, I have nothing terribly interesting to say about the "intelligent design"/evolution debate. Though I feel comfortable evaluating and weighing the evidence that's set in front of me, there's nothing I could say to you that hasn't been said before, and more persuasively, by someone else. I'm really here to listen, and to learn.

"Dammit, Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a molecular biologist!"
posted by gd779 at 9:10 PM on November 15, 2001


Also:

There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.

- Professor James Shapiro, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago. Ph.D. in Genetics, Cambridge University.
posted by gd779 at 9:32 PM on November 15, 2001


Oh, wait... are you talking about the origin of life per se? Well, yeah. The question of how "life" began from prebiotic chemistry isn't at all an answered question. We've got some pretty interesting guesses based on, for example, the discovery of RNA enzymes and the fact that nucleosides are formed spontaneously under chemical conditions similar to what we speculate early earth was like. But I don't think you could find many evolutionary biologists or chemists who would ever even say that the origin of life was a solved problem.

The question of whether evolution happens or not, however. That's not a matter of debate among practicing scientists. Mostly, because we can watch evolution happen. This guy, for example, who studies "evolution in a test tube", which I mentioned earlier in this thread. More evidence that's gotten press recently is the development of drug resistance in microbes--which we've seen happen. Doctors overprescribe antibiotics, which creates evolutionary pressure on the germs, which causes resistance to develop. It's there, it's been documented, it's happening on a timescale we can observe. And you can do the same thing in a petri dish under controlled conditions, so there's truly not much question of how things are happening.

But even besides all that, evolution is kind of a natural consequence of molecular biology. Which makes it that much more impressive that Darwin came up with the theory when he did, long before the structure of DNA was ever elucidated, long before we even knew DNA was the stuff genes were made out of. But we know how genes cause traits in an organism. We know how DNA is replicated and passed on from generation to generation. We know that the replication sometimes makes mistakes. We know that the mistakes accumulate from generation to generation. We know that eventually these mistakes cause different traits to exhibit themselves. The beneficial traits help the organism survive, and the malignant ones get whacked by bloodthirsty hyenas before they get a chance to be passed on. And TA DA! Evolution!
posted by shylock at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2001


Wait. How is this "test tube evolution" demonstrating evolution? I thought that we already knew that changes over time can bring out genetic variation and adaptation; the old peppered moths story, for example. Maybe I'm showing my ignorance here, but it seems to me that in both the moths and the bacteria, we're just seeing the usual alteration of existing genetic information. What we're still missing is the creative addition of new genetic information. Has that ever been demonstrated?

In other words, assuming a starting baseline of developed genetic information, it seems clear that evolution can allow organisms to adapt substantially to their environment. Evolution is in that sense "creative".

But natural selection and genetic drift tend to be conservative forces, and many mutations are either harmful or, at best, nuetral. How, then, could drastic changes in organisms occur? Shouldn't natural selection and genetic drift simply lead to stable phenotypes, well-adapted to their environments?

Many genes do not actually express traits, and only a small number of genes are actually expressed in a given organism. Thus, according to ID theory, there is a "pool" of variability just waiting to be expressed through mutation or recombination, and it is this variability within "kinds" that natural selection works on. The "kinds themselves, however, are the work of some intelligent creative force.

I'm unaware of any instance in which the "creative" ability of evolution was demonstrated to produce new information, and I'm equally unaware of any instance in which that creative power was demonstrated to jump the gap between "micro" evolution and "macro" . Is there something that I'm not aware of? Am I missing the import of the test tube evolution?
posted by gd779 at 4:30 PM on November 16, 2001


I guess I'm just a little confused about your frame of reference here, then. What you're calling the "usual alteration of genetic information" is evolution. Unless I don't understand your argument, it seems to me like the dichotomy you're presenting between "micro" and "macro" scale change isn't real. Whereas the ability to survive antibiotic treatment may seem insignificant to you, it's probably pretty important to a bacterium.

So let's define your terms here. What do you mean by "produce new information"? Do you mean, have we seen the genome expand? Sure--bacteria incorporate new bits of DNA into their genomes all the time. Plasmids that confer drug resistance jump species all the time. Retroviruses incorporate themselves into the genome. Within a given genome, there are these patches of DNA called "transposeons" that sometimes activate and cause large chunks of DNA to move from one chromosome to another, replicate themselves multiple times in the genome, scramble sequences, etc. So, yes, the size of the genome fluxuates.

Do you mean "produce new information" = "new traits develop that haven't been seen before in the species"? Again, yes. There's the fossil record, for one thing, although I find most creationists don't think fossils are particularly convincing. There are also those bacteria that develop drug resistance. Some of the research Lenski and his coworkers have been doing also shows this in a pretty cool way. If you starve a population of bacteria for generations and then culture the strains that survive, there are lot of different strategies for surival that emerge. Some learn to feed off dead bacteria, some start producing new toxins to kill of their neighbors, etc. So, yes, brand new traits have been seen to emerge.
posted by shylock at 8:46 PM on November 16, 2001


Yeah, I guess that defining the terms is probably pretty necessary. I'll explain myself a bit further here in a second, but you need to do some defining too: how do you define evolution? Are you a proponent of neo-Darwinism? Punctuated Equilibrium? Something else entirely?

I gotta warn you though, I'm wandering into dangerous territory here. Because this subject is interesting to me, I try to keep up on the reading as time allows. But I'm no scientist, not by a long shot.

I'm going to make myself as clear as possible, but I'm afraid that I don't understand the subject well enough to put this succinctly. I'm open to an education here. ;)

shylock: it seems to me like the dichotomy you're presenting between "micro" and "macro" scale change isn't real

Well, that's the question isn't it? Can the observed forces of micro-evolution be extrapolated into an inference for (unobserved???) macro-evolution? Even in evolutionary circles, that extrapolation is not as undisputed as you might like to believe. Robert Carroll of the Department of Biology at McGill University, for instance, argued recently in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution that

The most striking features of large-scale evolution are the extremely rapid divergence of lineages near the time of their origin, followed by long periods in which basic body plans and ways of life are retained. What is missing are the many intermediate forms hypothesized by Darwin, and the continual divergence of major lineages into the morphospace between distinct adaptive types . . . . The extreme speed of anatomical change and adaptive radiation during this brief time requires explanations that go beyond those proposed for evolution of species within the current biota.
("Towards a new evolutionary synthesis," TREE, volume 15:27-32; p. 27).

Similarly, the University of Wisconsin developmental biologist Sean Carroll, writing recently in Cell (9 June 2000, volume 101:577-580), noted that

One of the longest running debates in evolutionary biology concerns the sufficiency of processes observed within populations and species for explaining macroevolution.

And again, Stephen Meyer, Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University, writing in the Tacoma News Tribune, 1996.:

As a host of distinguished biologists (e.g. Kauffman, Raff, Miklos) have explained in recent technical papers, small-scale "micro-evolutionary" change cannot be extrapolated to explain large scale "macro-evolutionary" innovation. Micro-evolutionary changes (such as variation in color or shape) merely utilize or express existing genetic information; the large-scale macro-evolutionary change necessary to assemble new organs or body plans requires the creation of entirely new genetic information. Evolutionary biologists know that this distinction poses serious difficulties for neo-Darwinism.

So you see that a great many evolutionary scientists doubt the efficacy of the mechanisms of microevolution for macroevolutionary change. But even if that theoretical mechanism, as we currently understand it, were undisputedly plausible, it would still not be empirical science unless it had actually been observed by scientists.

That's the key point: scientists are supposed to observe physical reality and test theories. In order for the more dogmatic evolutionists to scream to the public that (macro)evolution is an undisputed fact determined by empirical science, (as opposed to a hypothesis which may fit our current understanding of the data) they should be able to point to a demonstratable example.

But have they done that? You've submitted Lenski's research as a potential example of macro-evolution. Which means that we need to define the difference between micro and macro.

Here's one definition I've read. The adaptation is deemed "micro" if:

1. A trait will alter because of a stimulus.
2. The trait will return to the norm if left to nature or returned to its original conditions.
3. No new information is added to the DNA or the biosphere generally.

The critical point is #3, I think. But here's where I need your help interpreting Lenski's results. Do Lenski's experiments violate microevolution?

In my understanding, previous experiments involving bacteria have never involved the production of new functionally complex information, such as a new enzyme. This would be real evolution, I think, but such has not been found. Now, as you pointed out, sometimes bacteria have acquired resistance genes from other species via viruses or by direct transfer through tiny tubes, but this is not the addition of new information to the biosphere as a whole.

In other words, the adaptive resistance by bacteria to various environmental circumstances does not, in itself, suggest that bacteria can ever become anything other than bacteria. If evolution is to be more than an interesting hypothesis, we need that inference demonstrated somehow.

So that's what I mean when I talk about the creative power of evolution. The theory of evolution requires a demonstrated ability of natural selection alone to increase genetic complexity. So at a fundamental level, we're talking about the demonstrated generation of completely new genetic information (as opposed to the altered expression of existing genetic information). That's completely necessary for the evolution story to work, and to my knowledge it's never been demonstrated.

But even that demonstration would only be potential evolution. It could be, at most, theory. Even better is demonstrated fact; observable proof of an eye or a wing evolving. Do we have that anywhere in the lab or in nature?

If not, then we have to turn to the fossil record. But, as Johnson points out,

Scientists fight over the meaning and place of each fossil they find, and the gaps in this so-called record are so wide that it’s hard to make a “story” out of it without entering into pure speculation.

Johnson also asserts that:

"At the heart of the problem of scientific authority is the fact that there are two distinct definitions of science in our culture. On the one hand, science is devoted to unbiased empirical investigation. According to this definition, scientists should follow the empirical evidence wherever it leads--even if it leads to recognition of the presence of intelligent causes in biology. According to the other definition, science is devoted to providing explanations for all phenomena that employ only natural or material causes. According to the second definition, scientists must ignore evidence pointing to the presence of intelligent causes in biology, and must affirm the sufficiency of natural (unintelligent) causes regardless of the evidence."

Okay, I'm done now. What are your conclusions here? Can you point me to a observable instance of macro-evolution? Am I just being unreasonably dogmatic by insisting on an observable, repeatable, testable demonstration?
posted by gd779 at 7:14 PM on November 17, 2001


On an unrelated note, how might we distinguish between things that “just happen” and things that happen “on purpose"?

There was a certain type of reasoning that came up over and over again whenever people tried to sift the effects of intelligence from natural causes. They were looking for a combination of complexity and specification. And when those two came together, that was a reliable pointer to intelligence.

In every instance where we find specified complexity, and where the underlying causal history is known, it turns out that design actually is present. If we could fully trace the creation of a book, for example, our investigation would eventually lead us to the author. Similarly, if archaeologists could trace the creation of an arrowhead or farming implement, it would lead to the person who made it. Why should the natural world be any different?


- William A. Dembski; Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago, Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois, M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary.
posted by gd779 at 7:17 PM on November 17, 2001


Whops. I didn't mention it, but we obviously have examples of adaptation through the loss or corruption of genetic information. My question was different than that: have we seen adaptation through the creation of new genetic information?

Here's what I see as the Big 3 problems with neo-Darwinism:

1) Abiogenesis
2) The undemonstrated assumption of potential genetic "creation power".
3) A lack of clearly demonstrated "evolution in action". An evolving wing or feather or something. Clear archeological evidence would obviously be fine on this point.
posted by gd779 at 7:29 PM on November 17, 2001


Wow. That's a lot to cover. I'm going to take most of it to email, because I'll bet nobody but us is reading anymore. But re: the last of your posts--

(1) Darwin didn't claim to address how life came to be. But he doesn't have to. The evolution he described was a process inherent to living systems, not to abiotic systems.

(2) I still don't think I understand what that means. But yes, evidence exits that enzymes mutate to have completely new functions. The classic example is the presence of a gene for an antifreeze protein in an Antarctic notothenoid fish that has incredible sequence homology a gene that codes for trypsinogen, a pancreatic enzyme in the same fish (3811-3816 v 94 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. April 1997).

(3) The past couple of years have yielded lots of fossils linking birds and dinosaurs. If you're browsing from a university, here's a link from Nature this past April: Nature, v 410 pp 1036-1037, 2001. It's a summary of an article from that issue that describes a very well-preserved fossil of a dinosaur covered with protofeathers. There are also references to the previous literature.
posted by shylock at 8:33 PM on November 17, 2001


I bet nobody but us is reading any more

Now now kids, don't sell yourselves short!
posted by aramaic at 7:43 AM on November 19, 2001


I believe that god in way up in the sky and has a big beard like Walter Whitman and he made everything in 6 days and was tired and so he took a day off and that the bible only tells us this because we are not to understand it literally except for those people who take things literally and that all those very smart Greeks who did so many nice things were all wrong because they did not have one big god but a lot of gods running about doing at times silly things and that the buddhists are so dumb they have a religion but no god and the early tribal folks worshipped even stranger things and that if all the sciences got rid of evolution theory they would not have any explanation for what they try to do and so would come back to god and give up their wandering wasy. And god gave us santa claus and the tooth fairy too because if he did not whree did they come from?
posted by Postroad at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2002


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