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Evolution: Views Differ
August 2, 2005 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Bush comes out in favor of teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution in American schools. Is this the latest evidence of the White House willing to champion worthy but controversial ideas that have been sidelined by liberal bias, or strictly from Paul Krugman's theoretical headline, "Shape of Earth: Views Differ"? [Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Lone Star State, Texas educators ignite brouhaha by adding Bible study to the public-school curriculum].
posted by digaman (343 comments total)

 
How could they possibly test the kids at the end of the quarter? All the answers are "god did it."
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:20 AM on August 2, 2005


"I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Sooo...increased funding for comparative religion classes, then?
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 10:21 AM on August 2, 2005


Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life.

You know that Bush thinks this is as stupid as it is. That's what is increasingbly making me disenfranchised with him. He had some of the best private schooling, went to top Ivy schools, his family is as blue-blood as it gets, his family business basically is a living fact that things once lived long ago and died -- yet he turns his back to science in favor of some cheap politics.

I've come to realize that Bush isn't the idiot we like to make him out to be, he's much worse, a whore.
posted by geoff. at 10:22 AM on August 2, 2005


Not ideas that are "different" from Judeo-Christian dogma, silly. Different from what those Buddhist fags are chattering about at their Wicca rituals-cum-Democratic-party fundraisers.
posted by digaman at 10:24 AM on August 2, 2005


Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Lone Star State, Texas educators ignite brouhaha by adding Bible study to the public-school curriculum].
posted by digaman at 10:15 AM PST (3 comments total)


Obviously the very most important part of that news was left out by you because then you couldn't make your asinine point. The class is being offered as an "elective." Kind of like how people can choose to major in Religious studies in public universities. The fact that it is elective should have been mentioned by you---and would have been mentioned by you if you weren't trying to grind an axe.
posted by dios at 10:24 AM on August 2, 2005


You guys need to stop starting posts with "Bush comes out". Builds unrealistic expectations.
posted by selfnoise at 10:25 AM on August 2, 2005


But more importantly, what is his position on the Flying Spaghetti Monster???
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:25 AM on August 2, 2005


Darn, I read the first three words of the post and started laughing. And yet, its about more of the moronic same.

I wish the scientific community would come up with something other than calling it the Evolutionary Theory, theory says to people that its not quite settled when it most definitely is. That our president is advocating the instruction of a religiously based idea of how life began is really just incredibly depressing. He's better educated than this and yet he's trying to continue to appeall to his Bible-humping powerbase. Pathetic.

Of course, its probably just another smokescreen to try and divert attention from his real goals (like saving his dear sweet Turd Blossom from prosecution).
posted by fenriq at 10:27 AM on August 2, 2005


Excellent primer on why intelligent design is pseudoscience.
posted by aerify at 10:28 AM on August 2, 2005


Tedious.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:29 AM on August 2, 2005


Wow, at first I thought digaman was implying that the scientific method was the product of liberal bias. Then I remembered that English can be a subtle language and that perhaps he was being ironic. Nice.

On preview, geoff beat me to the point I wanted to make.

On further preview, I hate to admit it but I think dios has a point. Does anyone know if this is an after-school elective?
posted by oddman at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2005


Worthless.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2005


Crapulous!
posted by selfnoise at 10:35 AM on August 2, 2005


From the first link:
Bush spoke with reporters from the San Antonio Express-News, the Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Austin American-Statesman.
I can't believe it. Bush never ceases to amaze. I'm outraged by this development.
posted by gramschmidt at 10:36 AM on August 2, 2005


Does anyone know if this is an after-school elective?

I don't know, but I still don't think we should be using tax dollars to promote the Bible as a divine document instead of a literary one, if the class in question is indeed "bible study" as opposed to the Bible as literature. According to the linked story, it seems as if the class presupposes that the bible is wholly truthful, even going so far as to present urban legends as truth.

With respect to the main story, though, the idea that intelligent design is a viable alternative to real science is laughable.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2005


"Intelligent design" is clearly a stupid name, because it doesn't sound like the sort of thing I should be opposed to the teaching of in schools.
posted by nthdegx at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2005


Obviously the very most important part of that news was left out by you because then you couldn't make your asinine point. The class is being offered as an "elective." Kind of like how people can choose to major in Religious studies in public universities. The fact that it is elective should have been mentioned by you---and would have been mentioned by you if you weren't trying to grind an axe.

When are they going to offer an elective in alchemy for those of us who don't subscribe to the blasphemous "theories" of modern chemistry?

C12H19O8Cl3 is far too beautiful and complex to have been created by anyone BUT God...
posted by SweetJesus at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2005


Yes, all ideas are equal.

Believe that God created the universe in 7 days? Ok then.

Believe that Santa cannibalized the other holiday hosts and shat forth the heavens? Why that's just fine.

Believe that only you really know whether any other minds even exist, so go forth and rape, pillage, and murder? Why not?

It's ALL good. Nothing like the right to teach openmindedness and tolerance.
posted by dreamsign at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2005


So first off I think it is no surprise that Bush has a very conservative christian bias. The kind that would want to have a prayer said at the start of school, the ten commandments in every courtroom, and yes creationism taught in school.

Just cause he thinks this should happen doesn't mean it's something the American public will go along with.
posted by aaronscool at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2005


Shame on you digaman for obviously leaving out the most important part of that news so you could make your asinine point and trying to grind an axe.
Now go over and apologize to dios for being so mean or I'll tell everyone you descended from monkeys.

Intelligent design - 6000 years ago God created the entire universe. OK, sure, that's roughly equivalent to the accumulation of all scientific thought and progress throughout history and deserves equal time, in a science class no less, just 'cause some idiot made it up a few years back to try and back door creationism. [cough]
posted by nofundy at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2005


I hate responding to dios, but the problem with the Texas bible class is the accusation that, elective or not, they're teaching children things that are provable bullshit. My AP biology class in high school was an elective, but if they taught me that, say, AIDS is transmitted by mosquitos, that'd be pretty fucking retarded, no?
posted by iron chef morimoto at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2005


dios, if they offer Koran studies and Talmud studies as well then I have no problem with elective Bible studies. But I'm guessing other alternate religious texts were not offered in an elective setting.

The religiousization of this nation is depressing to this agnostic.
posted by fenriq at 10:40 AM on August 2, 2005


In Utah, both Bible Study and (the far, far more popular) "seminary" (Book of Mormon study) are offered as electives, which nearly everyone at my junior high and high school took for credit.

In a monoculture like Utah it kind of sucked for the rest of us kids. All the Mormons got a free & easy credit, and got in good with the faculty, for just talking about God for an hour. It was intrinsically exclusionary. And I strongly suspected that there were more sinister things going on in that class than just reading their Book, like further indoctrination in why they were just a little better than the rest of us.

But I can't prove that, and it may just be my paranoia, and as long as it's an elective there's really nothing unconstitutional about it. In Utah the classes were taught off school grounds -- which, in practice, meant that every school had a Mormon "seminary building" right next to it, which I think was even MORE intrusive than teaching the classes in the school building would have been.

In my ideal world religious classes would have no place on public school grounds or during public school time. This isn't my ideal world, though, as evidenced by the fact that Budweiser easily outsells Duvel in the US.

On preview... fenriq, why would offering Koran and Talmud studies make it any better? First off, no one would attend them (that's what "red state" means); second, you'd still be excluding a lot of people. What if I want to study ancient Egyptian mysticism?
posted by gurple at 10:42 AM on August 2, 2005


Kansas Bush can't stop science.
posted by basicchannel at 10:44 AM on August 2, 2005


The bright yellow "Bush comes out" is duly appreciated.

No need to worry about this. The Supreme Court will stop it. Oh, wait...
posted by leapingsheep at 10:45 AM on August 2, 2005


Are they gay mosquitos?
posted by Balisong at 10:46 AM on August 2, 2005


You know exactly how conservatives (including GW) will do science when they come up with a worldview like this:

"That's not the way the world really works anymore... [W]e create our own reality"

What more needs to be said in the face of such lunacy?
posted by Rothko at 10:48 AM on August 2, 2005


Dios, you're so right. The course is an elective that will be taught in hundreds of schools, and which contains the teachings that the Constitution is based on the Bible, that NASA research supports the notion of the sun stopping in the sky at God's command (who knew?), and sidelines evolution in favor of creationism.

Since you're donning a cloak of religious tolerance to make your point, dios, I'll point out that, while I consider myself a Buddhist Jew, if I heard that an elective course on Buddhist Judaism was being planned for hundreds of highschools, in which it was taught that hundreds of baboons flying out of Buddha's ass were the true source of the universe rather than the Big Bang, I'd object to it on the basis of it being substandard education for young people.

There's no reason why real Christians need to embrace these idiots -- there's much more beauty and insight in their religion than this politically expedient trashing of science by the right suggests -- and many don't.
posted by digaman at 10:48 AM on August 2, 2005


Just cause he thinks this should happen doesn't mean it's something the American public will go along with.

I mean, it's not like 51% of 'em are morans who'll fall for any slapped together photoshopped powerpoint presentation by that dreamy and confident Colin Powell.
posted by petebest at 10:48 AM on August 2, 2005


sidelined by liberal bias

wtf?
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:50 AM on August 2, 2005


I wish the scientific community would come up with something other than calling it the Evolutionary Theory, theory says to people that its not quite settled when it most definitely is.

That's because science is, and needs to be, completely honest and transparent, or else it isn't science. All science is a "theory." Only Sith speak in absolutes.
posted by digaman at 10:51 AM on August 2, 2005


I think folks should actually read the article about the Bible classes in Texas (you too, Dios). The opposition and concern that these classes have engendered is not about the fact that the Bible will be taught as an elective class, but the content of that class. In particular, accusations that the class is skewed in favour of a evangelical, Protestant reading of the text, inclusion of spurious nonsense like intelligent design and the canard that NASA has data that proved that the Sun stood still, in accord with passages in Genesis.

I think its crucial that the western eduction includes the study of the Bible. It is the book that informs the religion of the majority of your co-citizens, is the expression of a set of morals and values that we take so completely for granted that we think they are universal and innate, is crucial for the understanding of western history and literature.

No, I haven't read it either.
posted by bumpkin at 10:52 AM on August 2, 2005


That is such hyperbolic bullshit digaman.

You want to know what other electives I had at my high school? Fashion Design. Interior Design. Auto Paint and Body. Cross Cultural Studies. Astronomy. Oceanograhpy. Webmastering. Landscape Design. Outdoor Activies (Read: hunting). And many, many more.

Some didn't last long because no one took them. But they are electives. What about that basic, simple fucking point are you too dense to understand? This isn't required teaching. You are so goddamned focused on grinding your axe and making it seem like Texas just required all students to be Christians that you are avoiding the most important point that this a class that is chosed by the student who wants to take it to study a book.

If you could take a step off your soapbox, you could realize that you are off-base on this outrage.
posted by dios at 10:54 AM on August 2, 2005


I think it's crucial that the western education includes the study of the Bible.

I happen to agree -- and I have read it. But passing off bad science as religious education educates no one.
posted by digaman at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2005


I would also point out that there were three other literature electives when I was in high school: Shakespeare, African-American Literature, and some Asian literature class.
posted by dios at 10:57 AM on August 2, 2005


gurple, Mormon seminary in Utah is not taken for school credit, and is reflected upon one's official school transcript as "Released Time", if I recall correctly. Students don't receive school credit for it, and it's not taught on school property.

However, technicalities notwithstanding, it is very intimidating and frustrating to non-Mormon students to have a huge, very popular religious building right beside or across the street from the public school. It's a large part of why growing up non-Mormon in the public Utah school system is such a taxing situation. Everyone else gets official time off of school, time during which they're not learning anything of official value to the public school system, but if you want similar time for non-Mormon seminary reasons, you'll run into serious opposition.

So, yes, Mormon seminary is coercive and is an officially-unofficially endorsed public school institution, but the Mormons are politically expedient enough to realize that officially teaching their religion on public school property would bring national attention of the undesirable variety.
posted by gramschmidt at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2005


The irony is that Bush himself is quite a strong argument against “intelligent design”.
posted by signal at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2005


Actually, dios, you're still not listening. I'm all in favor of learning about the Bible. I'm against the teaching of bad science. Making bullshit an elective doesn't magically transform it into truth. Read both my primary link and my posts more carefully and you'll get it.
posted by digaman at 10:59 AM on August 2, 2005


Here comes the pseudoscience, indeed. And yet for all of its obvious defects, I don't have a problem with including intelligent design in school curricula. Being exposed to different ideas and developing the tools to weigh the facts critically--these are skills that don't happen just by teaching a single point of view about the nature of things. It's the same logic behind why Hegel and Marx should be taught alongside Smith and Riccardo. Sure, some impressionable students might buy into the whole ball of hokum, but on balance, the kids will see through it and will be better educated by the experience.

Good god...somebody pinch me, I just agreed with something that Bush said.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 11:00 AM on August 2, 2005


Some things are worth getting worked up over. Some just aren't. I think Intelligent Design is bunk. God sneezed, and he's been laughing at the funny shapes and patterns and movements it made ever since. I don't like seeing Bush mention it, since it's a hypothesis that's impossible to prove - but it's not worth getting pissed over.


JB
posted by JB71 at 11:02 AM on August 2, 2005


You want to know what other electives I had at my high school?. . . Webmastering.

Dios, how old are you?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:02 AM on August 2, 2005


I'm all in favor of learning about the Bible.

I call bullshit.

Because you intentionally cast your last link as if the state is requiring Bible Study. It is offering it as an elective. You would have no problem with this if you were "in favor of learning about the Bibile."

It isn't a science class that is being offered as an elective. It is a bible study class for those who want to read that book; just like the Shakespeare class is for those students who want to read his works.

I have no interest in arguing the ID portion of your post. My beef is with your intentionally misleading characterization of the Texas law, which since it is actually.. you know... a LAW, it at least has some merit worth discussing instead of an off-hand comment by the President.
posted by dios at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2005


(That first sentence should be italiczied to indicate it was a comment from digaman).
posted by dios at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2005


dios: You are so goddamned focused on grinding your axe and making it seem like Texas just required all students to be Christians that you are avoiding the most important point that this a class that is chosed by the student who wants to take it to study a book.
Thanks for helping to make my point -- this is just the tip of the wedge, my friend. So it's an elective NOW. In two years it becomes a series of electives, then in three more it is a required course with several electives. In 10 years everyone will be wondering what's so bad about making everyone attend these new christian madrassas.

It is the tip of wedge -- just like "intelligent design" -- the American Taliban don't really have new ideas, just tried and true ones that they'll use over and over.
posted by mooncrow at 11:07 AM on August 2, 2005


Dios, how old are you?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:02 AM PST on August 2 [!]


Come on Optimus, you know Dios doesn't answer direct questions. You need to frame it so that he blurts out his age as a defense for something.
posted by Balisong at 11:07 AM on August 2, 2005


You want to know what other electives I had at my high school? Fashion Design. Interior Design. Auto Paint and Body. Cross Cultural Studies. Astronomy. Oceanograhpy. Webmastering. Landscape Design. Outdoor Activies (Read: hunting). And many, many more.

You obviously didn't go to high school in California in the last thirty-five years. Electives? No money!
posted by Slothrup at 11:10 AM on August 2, 2005


Dios, how old are you?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:02 AM PST on August 2


If you are curious about my age based on that comment, let me tell you that I found out that class is offered when I went to the website of my school and looked at the electives it has to offer. It, of course, wasn't offered when I went to school there (the only computer class I think was offered then was computer science which I believe taught basic and some other program---I didn't take it). But it supports my point that these classes come and go. There were classes that were there when I went to it in the early 90's that aren't currently offered... maybe interest waned. And there are new ones offered too.
posted by dios at 11:10 AM on August 2, 2005


I think it's crucial that the western education includes the study of the Bible.

Isn't that what World Religions class is for, don't you have that in American junior and high schools?
posted by zarah at 11:13 AM on August 2, 2005


Runningdog, I'll pinch you. Remember what the best science is -- a peer-reviewed, careful, painstakingly conservative team effort by the best and brightest to determine, slowly and cautiously, how the universe is made. That's a different sort of process than writing a book of Marxist economic theory, and should be accorded a different sort of respect, even if the worst "science" falls well short of that ideal.

Dios, the Texas Bible study link was a secondary, parenthetical link. Had it been my primary link, I might have included the word "elective" in the post. You're making a mountain out of a molehill. You might also consider the judicious use of a spell-checker before posting, sir.

And science is a perfect example of the kind of curriculum that doesn't just "come and go" -- that's why religion electives shouldn't pose as classes offering scientific truth about the nature of the universe.
posted by digaman at 11:16 AM on August 2, 2005


dios, I can understand why you feel the outrage is misplaced. I think, all things being equal, any elective that promotes study and provides a learning experience should be available for high school kids. If there's enough of a demand for a woodworking program, buy the equipment. Latin studies? Have at it. But the thing is, not all things are equal.

My school didn't have an "outdoor activities" elective, but I can imagine there being some protest if there was. Teaching kids how to kill animals? Oh, the humanity! I wouldn't mind it myself, and I imagine there are communities where that would go over just fine. But as soon as a kid who's in PETA moves to town, you have problems.

Communities are not homogenous. There's a part of me that believes it'd be great if we could move into areas where people hold similar beliefs and share interests and maybe even have some different rules in different states. That's just not practical at this point because we've become highly inter-dependent and rely on so many things at a federal level that dividing it out makes little sense. If one small area adds a bible study class, suddenly every community feels that they deserve one, regardless of local interest. This is what divides a normal education interest from a special interest. It's almost universally regarded that mathematics and a strong understanding of language are part of a good education. Some other topics, less so.
posted by mikeh at 11:19 AM on August 2, 2005


Teaching religion in "public" schools is fine. At the college level.
I took both an Old Testament and a Comparative Religons class at the University of Colorado 15 years ago. Electives. They were awesome classes, because of a good teacher, that discussed the issues of editing and collaboration of the books used in the bible we see today.
I don't see the class being bad, but keep an eye of the content and how it's being presented.
posted by Balisong at 11:23 AM on August 2, 2005


The East Bay Express recently had an interesting article about Phillip Johnson, "the father of the intelligent design movement."

'Intelligent design' is clearly a stupid name, because it doesn't sound like the sort of thing I should be opposed to the teaching of in schools.

It's an excellent name, which was chosen for this exact reason:
"Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit, so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools," Johnson was quoted in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. As he said in the Coral Ridge Ministries address, "You have to start someplace, and you have to prepare minds to hear the truth. You can't give it to them all at once."
...
Johnson has a name for his strategy of cleaving talk of evolution's scientific merits from any discussion about God. He calls it "the wedge," and despite its emphasis upon questioning the materialistic basis of science, he said in the Coral Ridge Ministries talk that it is "inherently an ecumenical movement."
More on the Wedge Strategy (and a followup).

You guys need to stop starting posts with "Bush comes out". Builds unrealistic expectations.

You were probably expecting something like this.

posted by kirkaracha at 11:27 AM on August 2, 2005


bumpkin: I think it's crucial that the western education includes the study of the Bible.

zarah: Isn't that what World Religions class is for, don't you have that in American junior and high schools?


We do have World Religions classes available if the school has a teacher willing to teach it, and (to my knowledge) always as an elective. That said, I don't believe my World Religions class ever studied the bible, except possibly through secondary sources.

Were the secondary sources enough? I think so. Others, apparently, do not.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:28 AM on August 2, 2005


You want to know what other electives I had at my high school? Fashion Design. Interior Design. Auto Paint and Body. Cross Cultural Studies. Astronomy. Oceanograhpy. Webmastering. Landscape Design. Outdoor Activies (Read: hunting). And many, many more.

I wasn't aware that the constitution said anything about separation of Webmastering and State.

Elective or no, teaching a study-of-the-bible class (read: not comparative religious study as literature evaluation) kind of treads into church activities supported by state funds.

You want real bible study? Go to the pre- or post-schoolday classes taught at most churches. It's free, I don't have to pay into it, and a teacher of it is free to say whatever they feel within the confines of the church without offending others.
posted by mathowie at 11:30 AM on August 2, 2005


My only problem is casting this out there as "science".
If it were a comparative mythology class I'd have no problem with it.
The only true scientific answer to what created the universe and life in it is "we don't know".
posted by Dillenger69 at 11:30 AM on August 2, 2005


Hey nofundy: "Intelligent design - 6000 years ago God created the entire universe."

You do realize that Intelligent Design does not equal fundamentalist Christian dogma, right? You realize that ID is perfectly compatible with evolution and the big bang, don't you? Or do you just feel the need to tar all ID proponents with the same extremist viewpoint?

Why bother giving the opposition the benefit of the doubt?
posted by oddman at 11:31 AM on August 2, 2005


So what's the "worthy but controversial idea" in this example? "Intelligent design" is not a particularly worthy idea -- it's a poorly founded hypothesis.

For something to qualify as a "theory" in the scientific sense, it starts out as an educated guess (hypothesis) and is then tested, challenged, and tweaked endlessly. If it continues to stand, it's a theory. In other words, a scientific theory is the closest thing to a "fact" that we can possibly attain.
posted by bshock at 11:38 AM on August 2, 2005


The flat Earth is another alternative viewpoint.
posted by caddis at 11:38 AM on August 2, 2005


dios, I went to a small high school. Very small. There was 245 of us, and 45 were the graduating class. By the time I graduated, I had taken every class offered, mandatory or elective, because there wasn't enough subject matter offered to fill four years worth of schedule.

So yes, bible study may be offered as an elective. But for tiny schools like the one I went to, elective eventually means mandatory, and that's where the problem lies.
posted by FunkyHelix at 11:44 AM on August 2, 2005


First off, evolution is NOT A THEORY, it's a FACT. Open any intro bio book and you'll see that. It's how evolution happens that involves theories (and the weaker hypotheses). ID is NOT SCIENCE because it can't be tested. The only reason why anyone is giving ID any attention is because it's pseudoscience, which I think has been covered enough in this thread, so I won't let my blood boil any more over this.
posted by Moral Animal at 11:47 AM on August 2, 2005


First off, evolution is NOT A THEORY, it's a FACT

Micro evolution has been demonstrated reliably enough to be considered a "fact". Macro evolution? No chance in hell. Any decent scientist will qualify it as a theory.

ID is NOT SCIENCE because it can't be tested.

There are plenty of things that aren't science but also aren't wrong.

It's how evolution happens that involves theories

Intelligent deisgn is one of those theories.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:50 AM on August 2, 2005


Actually, I'd say ID fails as a theory because it presupposes a higher being that can't be proven to exist one way or the other.
posted by fenriq at 11:54 AM on August 2, 2005


I think some of you are not understanding how this works.

The local School Board decides who to hire and what classes to offer. But they make that decision within the state-approved curriculum.

Take a hypothetical. If a local school board wants to start offering a class in underwater basketweaving, it can't just offer it. It has to petition the state to get an approval of the class. The state than approves it as part of the curriculum. The individual school boards then decide if they have enough money, interest, teachers, etc. to provide the class. It doesn't require every school to have the class. It just permits the schools who want to offer the elective.

So take this "approval" for what it is. The state allowed disticts to offer this class as an elective if they so choose. This isn't a state ordered class that a school has to offer and students have to take.

And keep in mind that this is a Bible Study class. It's the study of the most published book in history. This isn't a proselytizing class. And it isn't required. This doesn't even begin to touch about the Establishment clause.
posted by dios at 11:55 AM on August 2, 2005


First off, evolution is NOT A THEORY, it's a FACT

To be more clear, "evolution" is a well-tested theory, but it is not infalliable and no scientist would ever claim it to be a "fact". To claim that macro evolution (ie, man descending from bacteria over millions of years) is a "fact" belies a fundamental ignorance about the working of science. The very nature of the claim makes it impossible to prove definitively, therefore it is and always will be a theory. It can be disproven by finding facts that counter the theory, but it cannot be definitely proven by science.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:56 AM on August 2, 2005


Micro evolution has been demonstrated reliably enough to be considered a "fact". Macro evolution? No chance in hell. Any decent scientist will qualify it as a theory.

Evolution: species change over time

That's all I was talking about. Everything else is still up for debate.


There are plenty of things that aren't science but also aren't wrong.

I never said it wasn't wrong. I just said it's not science.


Intelligent deisgn is one of those theories.

It most certainly is. But it's not a scientific one. Not science = shouldn't be talked about in science class.
posted by Moral Animal at 11:56 AM on August 2, 2005


Gravity is a theory as well.

Problem is people confuse "Theory" with "Hypothesis" far too often.
posted by aaronscool at 11:59 AM on August 2, 2005


Optimus Chyme How could they possibly test the kids at the end of the quarter? All the answers are "god did it."

The test will be on how to argue that Intelligent Design is real science, or should be taught. That way the little fundies can carry the talking points to the playground.
posted by modernerd at 11:59 AM on August 2, 2005


I'm still waiting until we can teach about Galactus in public schools....
posted by JHarris at 12:01 PM on August 2, 2005


To be more clear, "evolution" is a well-tested theory, but it is not infalliable [sic] and no scientist would ever claim it to be a "fact".

This kind of mentality is exactly what is causing all the problems in our schools today. Evolution, that species change over time, is most definitely a fact. Every biologist believes this. It is not up for debate. People going around and saying that it is "just a theory" is what gives these pseudoscientists and, especially, creationists, the courage to start imposing their beliefs on science.
posted by Moral Animal at 12:03 PM on August 2, 2005


dios: This doesn't even begin to touch about the Establishment clause.

It might not. It might. If it is, in fact, "a nonsectarian historical and literary survey class", and it's presented in a way that doesn't promote Christianity, then it might not run into Establishment problems. But if, as its detractors say, it "attempts to persuade students and teachers to adopt views that are held primarily within conservative Protestant circles", and the state pays for it to be taught in public schools, I'd like to understand how it would avoid conflict with the Establishment clause. According to the article, the Journal of Law in Education (about which I know nothing) seemed to think that this course in particular would run afoul of Establishment.

The devil is in the details of the curriculum, how it is taught, and how it is promoted by the school. Given that wasp's nest, I'm surprised any state would want to touch it with a 10-foot pole.
posted by gurple at 12:04 PM on August 2, 2005


And keep in mind that this is a Bible Study class. It's the study of the most published book in history. This isn't a proselytizing class. And it isn't required. This doesn't even begin to touch about the Establishment clause.

So, everyone would be OK if the Bible was taught in the historical context that it 'inpired' a large percentage of all bloodshed in the history of humanity? I mean, we are just talking about the Bible in a historical document, right?
posted by underdog at 12:05 PM on August 2, 2005


You know, if the only thing that Bush and the like is pushing for is alternative teachings to evolution, then why the hell aren't they suggesting schools also teach spontaneous generation? Or what about Lamarckian inheritance? Oh, that's right, because like Intelligent Design, those ideas were proven to be stupid.

Though, I would fully support intelligent design being taught in schools if they gave equal air time to Unintelligent Design. (posted many times before, I know, but its soo good.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:07 PM on August 2, 2005


crap...

inpired=inspired

...hangs head in shame...
posted by underdog at 12:08 PM on August 2, 2005


oddman: You realize that ID is perfectly compatible with evolution

<boggle> No, no, I guess I don't.

I'm going to propose an elective for my local school district:
"God of the Gaps, a Historical Retrospective: How religion has tried and universally failed to explain physical phenomena"
posted by bjrubble at 12:09 PM on August 2, 2005


I see we all need a refresher course in intro biology.

Hypothesis: a tentative assumption for purposes of testing ideas

Theory: an idea that accounts for many facts and attempts to explain a variety of phenomena - eg: "Theory of Gravitation" or "Theory of Natural Selection" ...

Fact: actual existence or occurrence - eg: evolution, the sky is blue ...
posted by Moral Animal at 12:11 PM on August 2, 2005


oddman - yeah, the previous poster did get the ID platform wrong, but it's stretching it a little to say that ID is "perfectly compatible with evolution." After all, the whole point of the thing is that evolution isn't enough - God [or "some other being"] had to intervene to make many things possible. Unfortunately, divine intervention isn't really something you can study with science, and so in debates ID people focus on "irreduceably complex" things, like the eye, or the blood clotting mechanism. Fine, sure, those things sure are complicated... but the problem comes in when actual biologists, biochemists, etc. come in with examples of eyes in various evolutionary steps, or clotting proteins that have similar earlier forms which served a different purpose, the ID people pretty much ignore this. Evolution is science, and our understanding of how it happens has changed as new data [i.e., DNA structure, non-Mendalian genetics, etc] have come in. ID [or at least the ID speakers and representatives I've heard] doesn't adapt to fit new data - it ignores any science that can't be interpreted as supporting it. That's not science, and combined with the need for an "intelligent being" [read "God of the gaps"], it's not really evolution either. So no, I don't think ID is "compatible with evolution."

thedevildancelightly - if ID isn't science, it shouldn't be taught as an alternative in a science class. Religion, philosophy, sure, but we're talking about teaching ID as an alternative to a scientific theory. If people want to discuss divine involvement in creation, evolution, whatever, there's a place for that, but it isn't in the science classroom. Additionally, most scientists would also classify micro evolution as a theory - in science, theories explain how things happen, and they're fleshed out and supported by facts and numbers. Intelligent design may be a theory, but every specific argument I've heard an ID supporter give [eyes, blood clotting, etc are irreduceably complex] can be refuted by scientific studies. So sure, ID is a theory, but it's a bad one, a theory that is not supported by the vast majority of research out there. And really, I don't think there's much place for discredited theories in the science classroom, any more than there's place for religion. At most, ID should be mentioned along with Lamarck's theories, as a historical footnote.
posted by ubersturm at 12:15 PM on August 2, 2005


"C12H19O8Cl3 is far too beautiful and complex to have been created by anyone BUT God..."

I'm a fan of C2H5OH
posted by lathrop at 12:18 PM on August 2, 2005


Any decent scientist will qualify it as a theory.

A "theory" is really a bit stronger than a "hypothesis" by virtue of having observations which conform to it. The word "fact" can be a bit loaded in a charged context, but I think that most scientists would agree with the statement that evolution is scientifically true.

There are plenty of things that aren't science but also aren't wrong.

Indeed, and none of them belong in a science class.

Intelligent deisgn is one of those theories.

Intelligent design is not a scientific theory because it is not falsifiable. Therefore, it does not belong in a science class.
posted by Slothrup at 12:20 PM on August 2, 2005


dios' list of electives offered by his school is totally disengenous and a red herring, as mathowie pointed out. A Shakespeare elective is fundamentally different from a Bible Study elective (that is, a course in which the Bible is read as reality, rather than read as literature, cultural document, etc) because no one studies King Lear as actual history. No one taking a Fashion Design course learns that Calvin Klein created the universe and an alternate button-fly universe. A class that promotes reading of the Bible as actual history or fact is a course promoting a certain religion and has no place in public education. Hell, I went to a Catholic High School and I was required to take theology for four years and we were never taught that the Bible is literally true.
posted by papakwanz at 12:24 PM on August 2, 2005


Moral Animal: Fact: actual existence or occurrence - eg: evolution, the sky is blue ...


As much as I HATE Intelligent Design, evolution is not a fact. It is a theory much like your earlier theory examples. It could, in time, be disproven by an better theory. However, Intelligent Design has not attempted to do so (because it can't be tested) so it can't be an alternative theory of evolution.

For example, regarding Spontaneous Generation. I could make the hypothesis that rags and grain left out in a shed for a week would result in the spontanous generation of mice. And, I'd be right, so my hypothesis would become a theory. It would not, however, be a fact. Someone else would come along with a better set up experiment and prove my theory wrong It could happen with evolution. I can't see how, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:25 PM on August 2, 2005


Is this the latest evidence of the White House willing to champion worthy but controversial ideas that have been sidelined by liberal bias

I think it is the latest attempt to smokescreen the American public away from actual concerns.

It's pretty good politics, throw a 100 year old fizzled firebomb and let that mother fucker gum up the public machine while real issues are drawn out on large maps in dark rooms.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 12:27 PM on August 2, 2005


Evolution is not a fact. It is a theory much like your earlier theory examples.

Also, it's not a theory so much as it is an entire class of theories. When the fossil record didn't support gradual evolution, for instance, the concept of "punctuated equilibrium" was formed.

Interestingly, in computer simulations of evolution, "punctuated equilibrium" is almost always observed.
posted by Slothrup at 12:28 PM on August 2, 2005


dios: You are so goddamned focused on grinding your axe and making it seem like Texas just required all students to be Christians...

I didn't get the impression that Bible study was a requirement from the post as phrased, and it was only a footnote to the post as a whole anyhow. What language in the post specifically implies "requirement" to you?

And why are you so unhinged about it, anyway? It is possible to object to an elective class, isn't it? Or is that no longer allowed?
posted by Western Infidels at 12:36 PM on August 2, 2005


Intelligent design is not a scientific theory because it is not falsifiable. Therefore, it does not belong in a science class.

Thank you, Slothrup.

I think what a lot of ID supports fail to realize/except is that science is, at its core, the scientific method. What is the scientific method?
Observe the world around you.
Make a hypothesis to explain what you've observed.
Use that hypothesis to make predictions.
Test the hypothesis to see if it will match your predictions.
(its been a long time since I took a science course so bare with me if my definition is slightly off.)

If you can't do that, then its not science. This is fundimentally why Intelligent Design is not science. If IDers don't like evolution, fine. Set up an experiment to disprove it. It still won't, of course, prove intelligent design, but it will do more good to their cause than this bullshit pseudoscience they keep touting.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:37 PM on August 2, 2005


Bush publicly supports the teaching of creationism? Incredible.

Up here in Canada, back in the 2000 election campaign, the Reform Party's campaign was destroyed after Liberal Warren Kinsella pulled the following stunt on a TV talk show, mocking Reform leader Stockwell Day for being a creationist:

In the past day or so, we have learned that Stockwell Day apparently believes that the world is 6,000 years old, Adam and Eve were real people and - my personal favourite - humans walked the earth with dinosaurs. I just want to remind Mr. Day that The Flintstones was not a documentary. And this is the only dinosaur that recently co-existed with humans. [Holds up stuffed Barney dinosaur]
posted by russilwvong at 12:39 PM on August 2, 2005


thedevildancedlightly: To be more clear, "evolution" is a well-tested theory, but it is not infalliable and no scientist would ever claim it to be a "fact".

Nope, evolution is a directly and indirectly observed fact. It's been seen in ancient and modern animal husbandry, modern-day laboratories, and in the fossil record. Species change over time; we can see that they do, no theorizing needed. That's all evolution is.

There are many ways to explain evolution, and one of them - the one that gets people so worked up - is Darwin's theory of natural selection.

The very nature of the claim makes it impossible to prove definitively, therefore it is and always will be a theory.

You may want to reconsider giving lectures on the way science works. Theories are the highest form of scientific knowledge - there is no "graduation" or "proving" of a theory to morph it into something beyond theory. Natural selection isn't stuck at some low level of acceptance or plausibility, it's reached the very highest level of acceptance and plausibility.

Even if you insist on the nonsensical "only a theory" objection, natural selection isn't "only a theory" because of some special nature of the claims it makes; its "only a theory" because that's what the scientific process does - it builds theories.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:43 PM on August 2, 2005


If you are curious about my age based on that comment, let me tell you that I found out that class is offered when I went to the website of my school and looked at the electives it has to offer.

And what's the URL then?

I think you just outed yourself as a non-lawyer. Heh.

Micro evolution has been demonstrated reliably enough to be considered a "fact". Macro evolution? No chance in hell. Any decent scientist will qualify it as a theory.

Science does not make a distinction between micro and macro evolution. They use the term 'speciation' to describe the process of one species turning into another, and that has been observed dozens of times

Anyway, biologist does not call it the "Theory of Evolution" or "Evolutionary Theory" It's referred to simply as "Evolution". I doubt you'll find many people using the term "Theory of Evolution" in any recent scientific papers.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM on August 2, 2005


My Jr. High science teacher refused to teach evolution or the big bang because "We all know what REALLY happened." I did very poorly in his class, partially because all his extra credit questions were bible trivia. I also didn't do very well in algebra because my teacher didn't have time to answer my questions because he was busy writing out the daily bible verse on the blackboard.

This was a public school.

Religious ideas and beliefs do not belong in school because education suffers. I'm not talking about discussing biblical references in Milton or comparative religions or any other academic view of religion. I'm talking about the presentation of religious beliefs as fact, such as "intelligent design" or "bible study." Besides being unfair and unconstitutional, it's a waste of precious time and resources.
posted by jrossi4r at 12:48 PM on August 2, 2005


uberstorm and bjrubble, let me save us a lot of cross-purposes discussion. I don't subscribe to a so-called, god of the gaps version of ID. I do not think that ID should be taught in a science class as an alternative to evolution. I don't think ID is science.

I think ID is the best answer to the bigger questions. Why did life like ours evolve at all? Why is the universe hospitable to life in general? etc. . That is, I'm interested in metaphysical questions to which ID is an attractive answer. The version of ID I endorse is compatible with science simple because any reasonable metaphysical picture must be compatible with every day experience and the use of reason.

Better?
posted by oddman at 12:50 PM on August 2, 2005


Dios, how can using public funds to teach a religious text not fall under the Establishment clause?

Elective or not, the school is still using tax dollars to teach a book that is the basis for a particular brand of faith. This is not comparative studies with the Koran, Talmud and Hindu scriptures being given equal time. How can any rational person claim that the government funding Bible study does not run afoul of the 1st Amendment? It seems to me that when government schools use public funds to teach something that they are doing exactly what they are forbidden to do and are, in fact, "respecting an establishment of religion".

Why any school district would want to open this can of worms is beyond me. It isn't as though children who want to learn about the Bible cannot find other environments to do so in, this is what churches and private schools are for -- but I'll be damned if it's going to be on my dime.
posted by cedar at 12:51 PM on August 2, 2005


oddman: Why is the universe hospitable to life in general?

It is? Please find me some credible evidence of life anywhere in the universe besides this big blue rock. I'm not saying there isn't life elsewhere and fervently hope that there is, but it's a bit of a stretch, given our current state of knowledge, to describe the universe as 'hospitable to life'.
posted by cedar at 12:54 PM on August 2, 2005


I'm fine with them teaching Intelligent Design, as long as they say that it could just as easily have been day-glo alien fruitbats from Alpha Centauri Prime who did the designing.

Of course, if they fail to do that, then they are teaching religion in the schools.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:55 PM on August 2, 2005


After GW gets his boy Roberts into the Supremes we will be teaching creationism.
posted by caddis at 1:00 PM on August 2, 2005


And yes, Western Infidels. "Evolution" is a fact. "Natural Selection" is a theory, which also happens to be true in every way that something can be true.
posted by delmoi at 1:00 PM on August 2, 2005


Evolution is not a fact. It is a theory much like your earlier theory examples

Evolution is an observed fact. Over time species will change and eventually lead other other separate and distinct species. This particular point is the part that is a fact.

The "Theory" is trying to explain the how and why of this fact: See Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection.

To frame this better I reintroduce you to my friend Gravity. We really don't know why or how Gravity works but our best efforts have led us to develop the Theory of Gravity. This is all well and good but the important thing is that gravity does exist in a measurable quantifiable way which you can test yourself some night after a few drinks when gravity makes you its bitch.
posted by aaronscool at 1:03 PM on August 2, 2005


Why is the universe hospitable to life in general?

There's an easy and obvious answer to your question that you're not going to like. If the universe were *not* hospitible to life then there wouldn't be any. The kind of life we have on Earth is simply a "good" statistical probability based on physical laws and conditions.

We're just not special in that way, and that's what I think most people object to about evolution. Their world view requires a special place for humans -- and for themselves as individuals not least of all.
posted by Slothrup at 1:09 PM on August 2, 2005


Reasonable enough, oddman, although unfortunately those aren't the kinds of things that the ID folk seem to be very interested in exploring. They focus on pushing ID as an "alternative" to evolution, and that's pretty much it. What you're talking about is more along the lines of figuring out how science and religion can fit together, and to me that's way more interesting than ID, which is bad science and not very good religion, either. It's more along the lines of what I learned in my [Catholic] high school: science explains the how of the world, let's think about why God caused things to work that way. Unlike ID, that kind of religious viewpoint doesn't make the mistake of trying to compete with science.
posted by ubersturm at 1:11 PM on August 2, 2005


To frame this better I reintroduce you to my friend Gravity. We really don't know why or how Gravity works but our best efforts have led us to develop the Theory of Gravity. This is all well and good but the important thing is that gravity does exist in a measurable quantifiable way which you can test yourself some night after a few drinks when gravity makes you its bitch.

Your falling on your ass when your drunk is a fact. "The apply took 2.3 seconds to hit the ground" is a fact. Gravity is a theory. That doesn't make it any less true or supported by scientific evidence than a fact.

Evolution, similarly is a theory. Now where on earth did anyone get the idea that this means that we're not sure if it's true or that scientists are still debating whether or not it's true? Let's stop using the word "theory" in the scientific context as though it implies doubt (it doesn't), and maybe eventually they will, too.
posted by duck at 1:13 PM on August 2, 2005


Spaghetti-monsterism Now!
posted by bshort at 1:14 PM on August 2, 2005



Evolution is an observed fact. Over time species will change and eventually lead other other separate and distinct species. This particular point is the part that is a fact.


You are right, my mistake. Apologies all around. I was falling into the headspace of confusing evolution with natural selection. ID isn't a alternative theory to evolution, its an alternative theory to natural selection for explaining evolution. Well, it claims to be a theory, but we've already covered that.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:17 PM on August 2, 2005


ddl, what the hell are you smoking? Evolution is a fact. Facts can be proven wrong, of course, and paradigms can shift eventually. That doesn't turn a fact into a theory, it just means that science is fallible and, ahem, evolving over time.

ID is just a wolf in nerd's clothing, an attempt to do an end-around things like the scientific method, empirical observation, and all those nice things that give us cures for diseases and rockets and computers.

Do you actually know any qualified biologists or doctors?
posted by bardic at 1:19 PM on August 2, 2005


Facts can be proven wrong

Umm...then it was never a fact.
posted by duck at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2005


Canada's elected leader, Prime Minister Paul Martin, is in many citizen's opinions, an asshole, just as many (most, say the recent polls) US Americans feel the same about their leader.

One of the bigger differences is that Paul Martin has separated his conservative Roman Catholic beliefs from his political decisions, choosing to do the right things for our society and risking his hold on the government to pass our recent legalisation of gay marriage.

The man distinctly believes that homosexuality is against all that his church holds true, yet has the ability to separate his personal faith from the fundamental principals we hold true as Canadians: that greater equality upholds the greater good.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:22 PM on August 2, 2005


Cedar, Dios: I took a kicking from the leftists on MeFi when I defended Bible Lit the last time around. So, lemme first address your objections, Cedar. You can teach the Bible in a critical way, as literature and as a flawed historical document. You can even do this in high school, as an elective. It's a good thing to learn, from getting to look at different translations in a search for intended meaning, to dealing with authorship questions and social anthropology through the text, to the simple joys of reading the Song of Solomon.
However, Dios, you're being deliberately disingenuous with your criticism. The central point isn't whether or not this is an elective, but whether or not public money is being used for proslytizing. In this case, it certainly appears to be. That's wrong, and if YOU didn't have an axe to grind, you'd realize that.
posted by klangklangston at 1:25 PM on August 2, 2005


Intelligent Design is not a scientific anything. It's part of philosophy. ID was a subject we covered in an Intro to Philosophy class in college in the "Does God or Does God Not Exist?" portion. I have no objection to ID in that context. Interestingly enough, at my Presbyterian college, we weren't taught ID in biology . . . since it's not science.

This is so easy; apparently, too easy.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:26 PM on August 2, 2005


There's nothing wrong, indeed, it would be a positive to teach intelligent design, as long as its not in a science course.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:27 PM on August 2, 2005


To be more clear, "evolution" is a well-tested theory, but it is not infalliable and no scientist would ever claim it to be a "fact".

I've really come to expect more from you, tddl.

Also, guys, dios' ever-present chip on his shoulder does not make him automatically wrong.

IF the decision is left up to the local school boards AND it is truly elective AND the class is a study of the creation of the earth as related in a culturally relevant book, then it's pretty hard to see how this could be a legal problem, as distasteful (or not) as any of us may find it.

I guess that's really expecting a lot from the people who assign "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul" as English class material, though.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:28 PM on August 2, 2005


The Dryyyyy Cracker writes "'You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.'"

(if by "different ideas" one doesn't mean 'alternative lifestyles', atheism, sex education, the concept that some illegal narcotics are less harmful to you than the ones you can buy at the liquor store, open government, opposition to the death penalty, the insistence on open and fair trials for everyone, etc.)

What a sad, sad joke.
posted by clevershark at 1:29 PM on August 2, 2005


er, actually that's a Bush quote, which was unfortunately appropriated to TDC.
posted by clevershark at 1:30 PM on August 2, 2005


Duck, and assorted pedants: I always understood gravity to be a Law, not a theory. Let me clarify: That there exists an attraction between mass that is roughly inversely proportional to the square of the distance between mass is a Law. That this attraction occurs because of a warp in space/time or because of an interceding force or any of a slew of other proposed explanations, that's a Theory of gravity. The facts are things that have happened. I dropped my glass, it fell to the floor. That happened because of gravity. Gravity happens because (garden gnomes?)
That evolution occurs is a law. It simply states that change occurs in organisms through successive generations. That cells in the eye were once part of the liver is a theory that explains an aspect of the evolutionary theory.
posted by klangklangston at 1:32 PM on August 2, 2005


IF the decision is left up to the local school boards AND it is truly elective AND the class is a study of the creation of the earth as related in a culturally relevant book, then it's pretty hard to see how this could be a legal problem, as distasteful (or not) as any of us may find it.

You forgot a clause. The idea is not just to teach ID, it's to teach ID in science classes. This is where the terrain becomes more difficult to navigate.
posted by voltairemodern at 1:33 PM on August 2, 2005


Facts can be proven wrong

If it's possible for it to be proven wrong then it is by its very definition a theory in the realm of science. It can be a well-accepted theory, and a well-supported theory, but it is nonetheless a theory unless there exists a way to positively prove it.

Gravity is a theory. We have not proven why I fall on my ass when I get drunk. It's quite likely that gravity is the cause, and almost certain that it will happen every time, but until such date that there is a logical certainty that gravity is the cause then it is not a fact and it remains a theory.

These are important concepts to understand. You can disagree with intelligent design all you want (and I agree with the majority of the criticisms of it), but that's no reason to make false claims about competing scientific theories. By claiming that evolution is a "fact" you are making the same twists of reality and logic that you disdain in your ideological opponents. In other words, claiming that evolution through natural selection is a "fact" is sinking to their level.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:33 PM on August 2, 2005


More specifically: What Maven said.
posted by voltairemodern at 1:34 PM on August 2, 2005


Fact: Species change and adapt over time.
Fact: There is a force, which we choose to call gravity, that makes things fall down and hit the ground.

Theory: The changes that occur in species over time are due to natural selection, that is that individuals in a species select mates based on superior survival.

Theory: Gravity is caused by garden gnomes.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:38 PM on August 2, 2005


Fact: Species change and adapt over time.
Fact: There is a force, which we choose to call gravity, that makes things fall down and hit the ground.

Theory: The changes that occur in species over time are due to natural selection, that is that individuals in a species select mates based on superior survival.


I'll agree with your characterization of the issue in general. The problem is that "evolution" when used in a lay context is used to refer to what you have correctly identified as "theory". That part (sexual selection on the basis of fitness) is a theory and will be for the foreseable future.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:41 PM on August 2, 2005


This doesn't even begin to touch... the Establishment clause.


I can understand that you have a position on this point. But it is at least a close question, given the Lemon test*, which still is in play after McCreary. Dios, there is no need to froth at the mouth, cursing and behaving poorly, in order to get your point of view across. Most people here are reasonable and respond to good arguments.

*For a refresher, the Lemon test held that you submit a government action to this three-pronged inquiry to determine whether it was constitutional under the Establishment clause.

1. The government's action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; and
3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive entanglement" of the government and religion.

I personally think this elective fails on all three prongs of Lemon; I suppose it's up to the courts to decide at this point.

posted by norm at 1:41 PM on August 2, 2005


sonofsamiam, how can you possibly draw the conclusion that this elective is purely the study of the Bible as literature? The course uses NASA findings to support the possibility of the flood... now, you're not dios, so be honest: does that sound like a course studying the Bible in the comparitive religion sense or an indoctrination study designed to get students to take the Bible as literal truth? This is clearly a case of government money being used for religious indoctrination purposes and, of course, it wouldn't fly anywhere else but a place like Texas.
posted by nixerman at 1:42 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl writes: Macro evolution [is a fact]? No chance in hell. Any decent scientist will qualify it as a theory.

fwiw, I found Gould's definition useful:

Fact: A proposition that would be perverse to withhold one's conditional assent to.

So however the creationist pinheads define "macro-evolution", from present DNA sequencing and phenotype comparisons in the fossil record it has clearly existed for billions of years, exists now, and is basically the keystone of our understanding of life on Earth.

Now, ID can made compatible with pure "scientific materialism" for people too weak to put their faith in the power of parallel trials of chance events.

The very usage of the term 'macro' here makes tddl a creationist idiot. As if being a Bush admin apologist wasn't enough. I just love seeing the creationists get their hooks into the Republican party. It's going to be their downfall eventually, like Lysenkoism was for the Soviets.

Regnery Press, fine publishers of such crap as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Ann Coulter, and dozens of other hack writings, also publishes several creationist/ID screeds. If I were still in PoliSci I think I'd do my thesis on the nexus between the Straussians and Creationists, and how Rove tied this political force together for the Bushites. Strauss wrote that religion was good for the little people.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:43 PM on August 2, 2005


I think thedevildancedlightly has a point (shock!).

In fact I think he should be encouraged to further explore how gravity is merely a theory by, for instance, taking long walks on short piers.
posted by clevershark at 1:44 PM on August 2, 2005


In fact I think he should be encouraged to further explore how gravity is merely a theory by, for instance, taking long walks on short piers.

Ha ha. All I'm objecting to is the incorrect use of scientific language to (ironically enough) claim that other people are using psuedo-science. Proper science does predict that one who takes a long walk off a short pier will soon be swimming, and blames gravity for the result, but doesn't call it a fact until it is a logical necessity that gravity is the cause. It's subtle, but very important.

Heywood, drop the ad hominem arguments and your bitterness from other threads and people might take you more seriously. As it stands your comment comes across as immature and defensive.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:48 PM on August 2, 2005


The calculation of gravity is a law, to wit:

F= (G*m1*m2)/r2

That is a law, confirmed by observation and measurement. It may even be universally correct.

The theory of gravity is concerned with WHY that law, IS a law. It's concerned with how gravity works, not just with how to calculate the effects. Further research into the theory may invalidate that law under certain conditions (just as relativity theory invalidated the laws of planetary motion under certain conditions, but managed to explain why Mercury's orbit was 'wrong').

The law of evolution is that the gene pool will undergo changes over time. The theory is the attempt to explain how and why those changes will occur.

In scientific nomenclature, laws are generally mathematical expressions of physical phenomena (think Newton, Maxwell). Theories are not, and are significantly more complex and involved.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 1:50 PM on August 2, 2005


Gravity is a theory. ... but until such date that there is a logical certainty that gravity is the cause then it is not a fact and it remains a theory.

These are important concepts to understand. You can disagree with intelligent design all you want (and I agree with the majority of the criticisms of it), but that's no reason to make false claims about competing scientific theories.


I don't know what you you mean when you say "fact" and "theory" but these "important concepts" are not the same concepts that "fact" and "theory" have in scientific reasoning.

Evolution is a fact, in the normal sense of the word "fact" (i.e. something that is true). You can get all epistemological about it, but in the normal, every day sense of the word truth and fact, it's a true fact. As true as "George bush is president" as true as "mathowie runs metafilter" as much as "my car is bright green".

The only reason why someone would claim that evolution was not a fact, would be due to scientific ignorance. (coincidentally, this would also be the only reason some would discuss 'micro' and 'macro' evolution other then to dismiss it)
posted by delmoi at 1:50 PM on August 2, 2005


The problem is that "evolution" when used in a lay context is used to refer to what you have correctly identified as "theory"

Actually I don't think this is true at all. The term "Theory" and "Evolution" are quite often used together by fundies to try and cast doubt on the "Fact" that evolution has happened. These are usually the same whack jobs that claim the earth is 4000 years old, carbon dating is a hoax and god put all this stuff there just to test our faith...

In fact I'd say the "Theory of Evolution" phrase has been so corrupted that many people believe that the "Facts" about evolution are still "Theory" and that by "Theory" the mean "Hypothesis"...

Now on to Intelligent Design as a theory. Which peer review scientific journals have papers been published supporting this theory?
posted by aaronscool at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2005


I think you just outed yourself as a non-lawyer.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM PST on August 2


Yeah, who over the age of 18 goes to his or her old high school's website?

Also, he wrote: "You want to know what other electives I had at my high school?"

I had. As in "these were available when I was in high school." Which I think makes good old dios not so old after all.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:54 PM on August 2, 2005


re: oddman, Medieval Maven, and most of this thread:

I'm starting to think the best solution would be to have a comparative philosophy curriculum.

* Science, the scientific method, observation vs hypothesis vs theory

* Religion, faith, the import (or lack thereof) of physical validation

* Morality and ethics: religious perspectives, physiological/evolutionary hypotheses, game theory

* The difference between "how things work" and "why things are"

I suppose it would end up being completely orthogonal to the ID vs evolution debate, but I would have loved to take a class like this when I was a kid.
posted by bjrubble at 1:55 PM on August 2, 2005


Here's my take on it...

Sorry... it's not colored yet... it's still a few weeks from publication.
posted by jpburns at 1:56 PM on August 2, 2005


The only reason why someone would claim that evolution was not a fact, would be due to scientific ignorance. (coincidentally, this would also be the only reason some would discuss 'micro' and 'macro' evolution other then to dismiss it)

What definition of "evolution" are you using? Very few people would disagree that if you put 100 members of a species in a new environment that some will survive and others will not.

If by "evolution" you mean "species are different today than they were yesterday" that is an an observation, not a theory. It would probably be fair to call that a "fact". Species today are indeed not the same as they were yesterday. That's a widely accepted observation and very few people would hesitatate to call that a fact. People who disagree with that have a lot of explaining to do and aren't represented in today's discussion.

However, if by "evolution" you mean "species have undergone this change because of natural sexual selection" that is a theory as it is an attempt to explain how the universe works that has not been proven. It is a very important theory, and it frankly has a lot of support. Great big gobs of support. But that doesn't mean that in 100 years somebody won't come along and explain it in a better way. Or that in 10 years there won't be a better explanation. Evolution by sexual selection is, in fact, a theory unless somebody comes up with an infalliable way to prove it. Note that the key word is "prove", not "show lots of evidence for". To be a scientifically accepted fact of nature it must be an inevitable conclusion from other accepted facts.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:57 PM on August 2, 2005


thedevildancedlightly: You're the one using terms incorrectly. "Fact" is not a scientific term. Science has theories. Some theories are correct, which makes them also facts, and some theories are wrong. Natural Selection is a theory, and evolution isn't really. But evolution does happen, and there is no principled argument that can be made these days that it doesn't happen.

You seem to belive that things must be proven logicaly before they become "true". This can only happen within formal systems. The world is not a formal system, nothing about the world or universe can every be exhaustively logicaly proven. That is why we don't requre logical proof before we say that a statement about the world is "true" or "false".
posted by delmoi at 2:01 PM on August 2, 2005


In fact I'd say the "Theory of Evolution" phrase has been so corrupted that many people believe that the "Facts" about evolution are still "Theory" and that by "Theory" the mean "Hypothesis"...

Again, you are conflating two different concepts.

FACTS: There are facts about evolution. One fact is that we have a fossil record that has a variety of properties. Another fact is that the color of moths in England changed with the industrial revolution. Another fact is that we've observed that DNA correlates to gene expression which correlates to properties about an organism. Another fact is that Darwin observed a whole boatload of interesting species in the Galapagos Islands that were very specialized to their unique niches. etc etc etc.

THEORY: All of these observations can be united through a model of sexual selection based on reproductive fitness.

Note the key differences between those statements. The facts are all observations that can be confirmed without a doubt through independent observation or experimentation. The theory is the part that attempts to unite the observations, but is not the only possible explanation. Science has been wrong before (that whole flat-earth thing didn't work out so well, despite plenty of observations and models supporting it) and will be wrong again (the ongoing problems with a unified field theory suggest an underlying issue with physics). Therefore, the scientific method requires that anything that is not an inevitable conclusion from other accepted facts be labelled a theory. Theories can have tons of support. Theories are often right. But, it's still a theory.

The fact that the lay population often gets the difference between a "theory" and a "hypothesis" wrong doesn't make evolution any less of a theory when we're discussing it.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:03 PM on August 2, 2005


You want to know what other electives I had at my high school? Fashion Design. Interior Design. Auto Paint and Body. Cross Cultural Studies. Astronomy. Oceanograhpy. Webmastering. Landscape Design. Outdoor Activies (Read: hunting). And many, many more. - Dios


I would also point out that there were three other literature electives when I was in high school: Shakespeare, African-American Literature, and some Asian literature class. - Dios

If you are curious about my age based on that comment, let me tell you that I found out that class is offered when I went to the website of my school and looked at the electives it has to offer. It, of course, wasn't offered when I went to school there (the only computer class I think was offered then was computer science which I believe taught basic and some other program---I didn't take it). - Dios
posted by glenwood at 2:03 PM on August 2, 2005


But ID is not scientific. It sets itself apart from being testable, therefore it falls full tilt into the realm of speculation. There is nothing in ID that doesn't say that life might have been designed by extra terrestrials. ID is not a competing scientific theory, it has not met basic criteria to be labeled as such.

ID really bugs the shit out of me. I have greater respect for outright creationism then ID, and I am pretty areligious.

I find creationist arguments about micro evolution pretty funny. The whole scheme reminds me of how astronomers kept devising more and more intricate designs of the solar system to prove the earth was at the center until it just fell apart.

The way Theory is used in this context is closely akin to fact. It has been observed and continues to be valid. I think you may be getting tied up somewhere TDDD
posted by edgeways at 2:05 PM on August 2, 2005


actualy I posted that last comment before seeing yours, but it still applies. Nothing about the real universe can every be exhaustively proven logicaly. All we will ever have is "lots of evidence for".

I mean seriously? Can you even name one statement about the world that even comes close to your standard for truth? There are none, yet people make true or false judgements about the world all the time.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 PM on August 2, 2005


You seem to belive that things must be proven logicaly before they become "true". This can only happen within formal systems. The world is not a formal system, nothing about the world or universe can every be exhaustively logicaly proven. That is why we don't requre logical proof before we say that a statement about the world is "true" or "false".

Right, but the irony of claiming that something is a "scientific fact" and that "the other side is using psuedoscience" (not direct quotes) is killing me.

I recognize that the world is not a closed system of formal logic. However, if one is to claim that "evolution by natural selection is a fact" (not a direct quote) then one is attempting to mis-use science to make a political point. Science and the scientific method does not support the claim that "evolution by natural selection is a fact." To then take that claim and say "the other side is using psuedo-science by undermining a fact" is, in itself, a horrible example of psuedo-science used to make a political point. The irony of using psuedo-science (ie, making a scientific claim that cannot be supported by the scientific method) to claim that somebody else's science sucks is huge.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:07 PM on August 2, 2005


Doesn't the confusion among the above (apparently intelligent and educated) posters in re: understanding of the theories of Darwin (or for that matter, of theories in general), indicate that admitting any taint of reason like ID ideas AT ANY LEVEL of the educational system is perilous to the welfare of humanity (given that its ability to survive is predicated on its grasp of scientific interpretations of real phenomena)?
posted by gorgor_balabala at 2:10 PM on August 2, 2005


I mean seriously? Can you even name one statement about the world that even comes close to your standard for truth? There are none, yet people make true or false judgements about the world all the time.

Sorry, we seem to be interposing comments here. This new live preview thing is distracting. I wish I'd seen this before posting my last comment.

Anyway, yes, in a lay context there are plenty of things that meet my lay definition for fact. The sky is blue, it hurts to get drunk and fall over, MetaFilter is a nice site, etc etc etc.

My only problem is that the whole point of this exercise is that peopel are attempting to prove that ID is psuedo-science (and it may well be) but in the process are also using psuedo-science to back up their claims.

That said, I'm not sure there is ever a context where it's appropriate to take a scientific theory and call it a fact for the sake of politics. That's the whole point of being a theory. Yes, there are reams and reams of evidence to support natural selection, and very little evidence to support ID. But, no principled scientist would ever say "evolution by sexual selection is a fact" so it seems counter-scientific for a lay person to make the same assertion.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:12 PM on August 2, 2005


Bush's people are discrediting science for the same reason they discredit the press -- because in a world of verifiable facts, you can get busted spreading disinformation to advance your political career, whether it's disinformation about WMDs, global warming, the effect of having a single parent on children, or who outed Valerie Plame.

Iraq war going badly? Blame the press for "negative" coverage. Need to mobilize a few million evangelicals to get out the red-state vote? Cook up a Gay Marriage Scare justified by the bullshit pseudoscience of some pathetic closet case.

It's ironic, particularly because the right is always bashing the '60s, the left, intellectuals, and Bill Clinton for promoting a culture of "moral relativism." In the house-of-mirrors at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it's all relative -- news, science, and history. Whatever works to advance the talking-points du jour, and if your political needs change in a couple of months, change the story.
posted by digaman at 2:12 PM on August 2, 2005


norm: I think the Mitchell case pretty much sums up that if the state isn't proselytizing and if the state isn't requiring the religious study, then it doesn't run afoul of the Establishment clause. Again, there can be a non-sectarian, secular purpose to allowing students to study a book at their election. The state of Texas isn't requiring that students take it; the state isn't preaching. It is permitting school boards to offer as an elective a book to be studied.

I think you just outed yourself as a non-lawyer.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM PST on August 2

Yeah, who over the age of 18 goes to his or her old high school's website?


The two of you need grow up---I explained that I looked at my high school alma mater's webpage to see if it was being offered there. It's ludicrous for your put on your Heywood Mogroot Petty Vendetta act. I'm not going to bite on your baiting of me to give up any other personal information because I know that petty little assholes like yourself would try something with that info. If you really care for verification, ask any of the people who know me well on #mefi if you really need your curiosity satiated.
posted by dios at 2:14 PM on August 2, 2005


thedevildancedlightly writes "All I'm objecting to is the incorrect use of scientific language to (ironically enough) claim that other people are using psuedo-science."

...and my point is that if you're going to try and make that point, you'd better pick a theory which I don't personally verify every time I take a piss. Or pour myself a glass of water. Or move just a little too far for the couch to keep supporting my weight.
posted by clevershark at 2:15 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl, it's sort of fun to watch you dance on the other hand it's clear you don't even grasp the basics of the argument. At this point, what you're saying doesn't even make sense. You keep stating the simplistic tautology that the 'theory of evolution' may be dismissed at any time because a better theory will come along (hint: this is included in the definition of theory) but you fail to grasp that evolution via natural selection is a fact. There is no question of evidence here: when biologists speak of 'population genetics' they are talking about real-world, observed and predicted phenomen. There are no facts 'about' evolution--it is a process, widely observed and documented, much like gravity. The idea that there are respectable scientists out there who will dispute this is laughable. You also fail to see that there is no such thing as a unified theory of evolution. There are many, many theories of evolution that struggle to explain how evolution works (just like there are, in fact, competing theories of gravity/spacetime) but there are none that theorize the existence of evolution.
posted by nixerman at 2:17 PM on August 2, 2005


Nothing about the real universe can every be exhaustively proven logicaly. All we will ever have is "lots of evidence for".

Slightly tangentially, this seems to open the door more to psuedo-science by making the standard of "truth" less than "it has to be true". I know what you mean, but your statement opens the door to somebody making the claim that "I know that ID is true because I assign more weight to the evidence for ID than other theories." Undre that logic you can have the situation where two opposing camps are at loggerheads since they both are convinced their theories are true facts about the universe instead of just competing theories that attempt to explain observations.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:17 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl, i am glad that you took the time to flesh out your points. and i will take better heed of your comments in the future because of it.

but if you re-read aaronscool's comments for example, this thread had already established that the point in question was not natural selection's status as a fact, but the "observable fact of evolution", which is like, hello, this moth is a different color now.

now i guess we could get into "maybe the industrial revolution changed the content of the air between our eyeballs and the moth..."
posted by gorgor_balabala at 2:20 PM on August 2, 2005


natural selection's status as a fact theory rather than fact,
posted by gorgor_balabala at 2:24 PM on August 2, 2005


It's ludicrous for your put on your Heywood Mogroot Petty Vendetta act. I'm not going to bite on your baiting of me to give up any other personal information because I know that petty little assholes like yourself would try something with that info. If you really care for verification, ask any of the people who know me well on #mefi if you really need your curiosity satiated.
posted by dios at 2:14 PM PST on August 2


Don't flatter yourseslf, sweetheart. It's pretty clear you're not interested in talking about Bush's stance on ID in schools, and you pretend that the elective class in Texas isn't a problem despite the fact that it presents clear falsehoods as truth, so you'll have to forgive us for discussing the only thing you'll talk about honestly: your educational history.

This isn't a proselytizing class. And it isn't required.

Doesn't matter. It's using public funds to present religious beliefs as fact, including some real whoppers like the sun-stopped-for-a-day-and-NASA-verified-it shit that only grandmas and Christians believe.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:27 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl, it's sort of fun to watch you dance on the other hand it's clear you don't even grasp the basics of the argument.

I disagree.

At this point, what you're saying doesn't even make sense. You keep stating the simplistic tautology that the 'theory of evolution' may be dismissed at any time because a better theory will come along (hint: this is included in the definition of theory)

True so far.

but you fail to grasp that evolution via natural selection is a fact. There is no question of evidence here: when biologists speak of 'population genetics' they are talking about real-world, observed and predicted phenomen. There are no facts 'about' evolution--it is a process, widely observed and documented, much like gravity.

Umm, no. There are boatloads of evidence to suppor the broad theory that evolution occurs through sexual selection, and predictions have often been borne out in practice, but that does not make speciazation through natural selection a "fact" when speaking precisely.

Back in the 1500s there was all kinds of evidence to support a geo-centric model of the heavens, and people made very accurate predictions about the movement of the planets and stars. There were plenty of astronomers who believed that the world was the center of the universe---in fact, most of them believed that. Would it have been accurate to say "it's a fact that the heavens revolve around the earth?" Absolutely not. It was a theory. It happened to be wrong. (side-note: it may now be correct to say that it is a fact that the earth revolves around the sun because we can independently observe that, a power not availble at the time)

However, science is not about consensus and never has been. Popular opinion is about consensus. Science recognizes that it only takes one person to be more correct to have more weight than all of the established doctrine. The moment that "science" becomes about consensus is the moment that it ceases to be science

It's an interesting fact (note, this is a fact) that it took quite some time for the accuracy of helio-centric atronomical predictions to catch up to the accuracy of geo-centric models.

You also fail to see that there is no such thing as a unified theory of evolution. There are many, many theories of evolution that struggle to explain how evolution works (just like there are, in fact, competing theories of gravity/spacetime) but there are none that theorize the existence of evolution.

I'm sorry for not individually rebutting each and every one of them for the sake of keeping the discussion within a reasonable scope. I'll try harder next time. It is fair to say that the broad class of theories of evolution all rely on natural selection based on fitness. That is a theory underlying all of the additional theories you are referering to. If not then I apologize and would love to know about the theory.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:27 PM on August 2, 2005


It's using public funds to present religious beliefs as fact

As was the case in Mitchell when the Supreme Court said it was fine to give state money for relgious education......
posted by dios at 2:29 PM on August 2, 2005


this thread had already established that the point in question was not natural selection's status as a fact, but the "observable fact of evolution", which is like, hello, this moth is a different color now.

Hello, different colored moth.

My understanding of the current state of ID (I'll admit don't follow it that closely) is not inconsistant with what we have observed since the start of recorded scientific observations. Nobody is going to dispute that there have been observed examples of species changing over time. But "evolution" as used by many people in the thread continued to mean "evolution by natural selection", not "the fact that we've seen changes in species over time and have theories about why that's happened". The difference between the two is very important and nixerman (among others) seems to continue to confuse it.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:31 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: The problem is that "evolution" when used in a lay context is used to refer to what you have correctly identified as "theory". That part (sexual selection on the basis of fitness) is a theory and will be for the foreseable future.

I disagree. When "evolution" is used in a lay context it is generally used to refer to the fact that all of our grandparents were apparently monkeys. This is not about natural selection, which would be an explanation of how our monkey grannies attracted our monkey granddads, but is clearly about speciation, the observed adaptation of species into new species.
posted by aaronetc at 2:33 PM on August 2, 2005


you all are getting fact and theory mixed up. The term "law" comes after theory, for a very well-proven theory.

Thus, the law of gravity, as the theory of gravity has been shown to be true in many ways, for a very long time, it becomes a law, not a fact.
posted by mathowie at 2:38 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: I would say that microevolution is a fact; things within species change. We know that.

Macroevolution is not a fact; it's a theory. We don't know species change from one to the other.

Does that distintion help? (Sorry if it doesn't. I'm not as well versed in this area as others of you seem to be.)
posted by dios at 2:39 PM on August 2, 2005


it is generally used to refer to the fact that all of our grandparents were apparently monkeys

Also not a scientific fact, instead it's a scientific theory. We have observed moths changing colors and that sort of thing, but nobody sat there and observed monkeys becoming men over tens of thousands of years. The fossil record very strongly suggests that's what happened, and our inferences about how species work suggest that's what happened. However, "lots of evidence" doesn't mean "fact" to a scientist. It's probably true, and I think it's true, but it's wrong to call it a scientific fact.

I know, it's really frustrating to not be able to say "it's a fact that science proves that ID is wrong", but it would be unscientific to do so. Again, this doesn't support ID at all (just because man evolving from apes hasn't been proven doesn't make ID one lick more correct), but it does suggest a need to temper one's rhetoric.

This one is a less-disputed claim if I remember what ID folk are saying these days. I think they're starting to accept parts of the fossil record but change the manner in which evolution occurs. In other words, no need to get defensive about man and apes. Chill!
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:41 PM on August 2, 2005


I disagree. When "evolution" is used in a lay context it is generally used to refer to the fact that all of our grandparents were apparently monkeys.

I have to agree with this. This is what I see most commonly from the media. And this is a theory. As is "we all descended from one organism". It has a lot of support, but it's still a theory.

Thus, I don't think the problem is that people think evolution is a theory, but, rather, that people don't understand what evolution is.
posted by Moral Animal at 2:43 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: I would say that microevolution is a fact; things within species change. We know that.

Macroevolution is not a fact; it's a theory. We don't know species change from one to the other.

Does that distintion help? (Sorry if it doesn't. I'm not as well versed in this area as others of you seem to be.)


Some people get all annoyed at "micro" and "macro" since the terms were used by a lot of older creation scientist types and their use makes it a little confusing. On the whole I think that's a fair statement of the science.

As matthowie suggests, it might be more fair to refer to intra-species change (what you dub "microevolution") a "law".
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:46 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl, again, you're wrong. The problem is that you don't understand the terms you're using. There are two well known facts in biology: (1) natural selection happens (2) genetic mutations happen. #1 and #2 are both observable facts. The phrase "natural selection and genetic mutation cause evolution" is a meaningless tautology because guess how genetic evolution is defined? Again, there is no unified theory of evolution. When scientists argue about how species have evolved they are considering historical mechanisms, not the results. We know, beyond a doubt, that species have evolved (your so-called 'macro-evolution')--we just don't know the historical 'how'.

On preview, MA, there is no dispute that our grandparents were monkeys. This is another one of those 'scientific' facts that concerns tddl so much. (I wonder if there other types of facts?) They were and--this is the shocking part--we are monkeys too. Evolution also says very little about the origin of life because their is little that needs to be said, in reality. The fight you see in the media over evolution has absolutely nothing to do with science. The people against evolution are not interested in arguing real science precisely because they know they'll lose right off the bat. The problem is not knowledge of evolution or even understanding of science. They understand these things quite well. The 'culture war' of evolution is purely a political fight and it is fought only with political weapons. Science can do nothing in this fight and it's not really interested in participating either way.
posted by nixerman at 2:49 PM on August 2, 2005


How could evolution be a law when it isn't predictive?

Gravity is a law because we can say with certainty what will happen because of it. Same with thermodynamics. But evolution? One can't predict anything with evolution.

There is probably an answer to this question, but I don't see how macroevolution can be a law when its only an explanation of past events and can't predict anything else. Hopefully one of you who know more about this can explain that to me.
posted by dios at 2:56 PM on August 2, 2005


On preview, MA, there is no dispute that our grandparents were monkeys.

Our grandparents were not monkeys. I personally think that they were ape-like species that evolved into both monkeys and humans, but the monkey species did not just freeze in time and space. They've evolved from our common ancestor just as much as we have.

And I don't think it's arguable, but I can guarantee you that people will argue against it. And they'll argue it, not using science, but rather using philosophy and religion. So I agree with you that it is purely a political fight.
posted by Moral Animal at 2:57 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: I was using "fact" there as a turn of phrase, not a scientific declaration; my point was that the lay use of "evolution" has nothing to do with natural selection (with the possible exception of the popular use of "survival of the fittest") and everything to do with speciation.
posted by aaronetc at 2:57 PM on August 2, 2005


Dios: Again, you've ignored the salient fact of the argument over the Bible Study: The classes ARE being used to proslytize.
Which is wrong. Which I wish you'd cop to, but you're too much of a coward to ever do.
posted by klangklangston at 2:59 PM on August 2, 2005


Gravity is a law because we can say with certainty what will happen because of it. Same with thermodynamics. But evolution? One can't predict anything with evolution.

Evolution cannot be explained with mathematical equations, so you cannot predict the direction of evolution (though the ID theory will claim that you can). The only thing you can predict with evolution is the species will change. A thing doesn't have to be expressed mathematically to be a law.
posted by Moral Animal at 3:00 PM on August 2, 2005


The problem is that you don't understand the terms you're using. .... This is another one of those 'scientific' facts that concerns tddl so much.

Can we please stop with the childish attitude? Thanks.

There are two well known facts in biology

I think there are a few more than two. I mean, god, the Kreb's cycle is pretty popular too. Just sayin'

(1) natural selection happens (2) genetic mutations happen. #1 and #2 are both observable facts.

No doubt, so long as by "natural selection" you mean "members of a population that are less fit tend not to reproduce". Of course, "fit" in that context becomes a bit of a tautology (as in, "fit" is defined as "able to reproduce") , but let's just use the common-sense definition of "fit" to mean "able to compete for resources/mates/whatever more effectively".

We know, beyond a doubt, that species have evolved (your so-called 'macro-evolution')--we just don't know the historical 'how'.

No, no we don't. We have fossil evidence that very strongly suggests that's the case, but it is simply not a scientific fact. If you asked me personally what I thought happened then I'd say sexual selection, but that doesn't make it a scientific fact.

MA, there is no dispute that our grandparents were monkeys... [childishhess] ... They were and--this is the shocking part--we are monkeys too.

There is debate about whether humans evolved from one single organism floating in a carbon-rich muck millions of years ago. Claiming "we are monkeys" doesn't solve the problem of "okay, then where did monkeys come from" and it's a cute attempt to dodge the question.

I'll even pretend to agree with you that somehow biology isn't concerned with the origins of life (maybe that wasn't examined in your high school textbook, but it's a pretty important question to everyone else) for the sake of argument here. Assuming that there was once a single-celled organism floating in a carbon-rich muck, how did that become human? If not, how did we get here? That is the very essesnce of the debate.

Science can do nothing in this fight and it's not really interested in participating either way.

You've defined science out of it, so of course from your perspective "science" isn't interested in participating in your partisan battle. In the meantime, "science" is interested in how life evolved, be it by natural selection or a guided process or what have you. If you frame everything as a culture war then you're right. But then you can't lay a claim to "science" as the true and only way to discover the universe while simultaneously mis-using it by alleging that certain things are facts which simply are not.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:00 PM on August 2, 2005


norm: I think the Mitchell case pretty much sums up that if the state isn't proselytizing and if the state isn't requiring the religious study, then it doesn't run afoul of the Establishment clause. Again, there can be a non-sectarian, secular purpose to allowing students to study a book at their election.

It's using public funds to present religious beliefs as fact

As was the case in Mitchell when the Supreme Court said it was fine to give state money for relgious education......


I think Mitchell is inapposite here, though, because it dealt with a school funding mechanism that gave money to both public and private (religious) schools. It really stretches the precedent to claim that because of Mitchell a public school can teach religious education classes, even optional ones.

As the majority opinion there noted, in discussing the departure from a past test of directness of aid:
Although some of our earlier cases, particularly Ball, 473 U. S., at 393-394, did emphasize the distinction between direct and indirect aid, the purpose of this distinction was merely to prevent "subsidization" of religion, see id., at 394. As even the dissent all but admits, see post, at 22 (opinion of Souter, J.), our more recent cases address this purpose not through the direct/indirect distinction but rather through the principle of private choice, as incorporated in the first Agostini criterion (i.e., whether any indoctrination could be attributed to the government). If aid to schools, even "direct aid," is neutrally available and, before reaching or benefiting any religious school, first passes through the hands (literally or figuratively) of numerous private citizens who are free to direct the aid elsewhere, the government has not provided any "support of religion..."
if the article is correct in the quote that the elective is "an error-riddled Bible curriculum that attempts to persuade students and teachers to adopt views that are held primarily within conservative Protestant circles" then I think it's pretty clear that it doesn't pass muster as defined by Mitchell, Agostini, and Lemon. Even if it is an elective. The teachers at a public school are still public employees, and it gives the state imprimatur to religion. Why doesn't that violate the establishment clause?
posted by norm at 3:01 PM on August 2, 2005


thedevildancedlightly: You're the one using terms incorrectly. "Fact" is not a scientific term. Science has theories. Some theories are correct, which makes them also facts, and some theories are wrong. Natural Selection is a theory, and evolution isn't really. But evolution does happen, and there is no principled argument that can be made these days that it doesn't happen.


Delmoi, fact most certainly is a scientific term. Theorys and Laws can never be facts. Water boils at 100C at 1atmosphere. It is the Observation part of the scientific method.

I think the biggest problem with the evolution is a fact/is a theory part of this thread is the same mistake I made; the definition of evolution. It it is both a fact and a theory depending on which definition you use. Even dictionary.com has both definitions.

Evolution, as in "organisms change" is a fact.

Why they change, is the hypothesis (and because its proven) theory. Its probably as close as we'll come to it being a "fact" because theories can never be facts. Facts can help make theories, but theories don't make facts. Of course, the problem is that its hard for a lot of people to accept that there can be a level of uncertainty in a proven theory. But its the idea that science says "Yes, it is POSSIBLE that the answer could be different" is what allows science to progress.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:05 PM on August 2, 2005


We have fossil evidence that very strongly suggests that's the case

Not just that. DNA sequencing shows sufficient evidence for common ancestry between present-day species to promote the "radiating tree of life" model to "scientific fact", whatever the hell that is (hint: "scientific facts" are more provisional than everyday facts).

Common ancestry implies "macro evolution". We can still argue whether or not some supernatural force or mere chance directed this radiation of inherited mutated alleles, but "macro evolution" is a fact of life.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:08 PM on August 2, 2005


norm, well you are basing your assumption on the characterization of the program by a group who is organized to prevent any religion in schools? I base my understanding of the program on the other articles I have read about it.

The Texas Legislature created a non-sectarian, secular Bible Study class. As is consistent with the opinion in Mitchell, such government granting of money would be allowable because it is not advancement or indoctrination by the state. This is a program that the state permits at the option of the school district and the option of the student. That fact is not-dispositive, but very imporatant. Think of the pledge cases; there the action is whether states are requiring the religious activity. Here it is not required. Here, classes are neutrally available. Students can choose or not choose to take them. Funds to the districts are not based on whether the school has the program or not. The districts do not get more money for offering the programs.

The classes are offered in a non-sectarian, secular way. This is no different than studying Shakespeare. It is not proselytizing.
posted by dios at 3:11 PM on August 2, 2005


fact most certainly is a scientific term. Theorys and Laws can never be facts. Water boils at 100C at 1atmosphere. It is the Observation part of the scientific method.

An observation can be a fact ("it is a fact that I have repeatedly observed water boil at 100 C at 1 atmosphere of pressure, given boiling chips in the solution [since otherwise it is possible to superheat water beyond boiling, but we all know what you meant]").

I think the biggest problem with the evolution is a fact/is a theory part of this thread is the same mistake I made; the definition of evolution. It it is both a fact and a theory depending on which definition you use. Even dictionary.com has both definitions.

Astute observation.

It seems fair that in order for there to be a "debate between ID and evolution" then the theoretical definition must be used since nobody is disputing the first part (that there have been species observed to change over time).
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:12 PM on August 2, 2005


I was going to say my last's ending was garbled, that science has various selection theories about the "direction" of radiation, including raw chance, but upon reflection AFAIK raw chance is the null hypothesis so that last statement doesn't need clafiriciation.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:13 PM on August 2, 2005


I, for one, think it's great that the President is in favor of mythology being taught in primary schools.
posted by wakko at 3:15 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: I think the problem is that Evolution is claimed as a "theory" in contrast to other statements that are also properly labeled theories. For example, it is also a theory that there is an attractive force that pulls objects towards the Earth with an acceleration of about 9.8 meters per second squared. This theory is consistant enough that it is the foundation of archetectural engineering. It is also a theory that the motion of Pluto is explained by the same force as the motion of baseballs. But people seem to have a tiny problem with astronomy as a science based around the theory of gravity, and a big problem with biology as a science based around the theory of evolution.

In fact, if I had to place my bets on which theory: gravity and evolution, will be less challenged at the end of my life, (hopefully about 60 years) the safe bet would be evolution. Gravity has some problems right now, but evolution just gets stronger.

nixerman: On preview, MA, there is no dispute that our grandparents were monkeys.

Damn right. Because our ancestors were not monkeys. Modern monkeys and homonids come from separate branches of the primate family tree.

dios: Macroevolution is not a fact; it's a theory. We don't know species change from one to the other.

Evolution is a better-supported theory than the law of supply and demand in economics.

Evolution is a better-supported theory than than our theory of semiconductivity in physics.

Evolution is a better-supported theory than the existance of extra-solar planets, or even the existance of Pluto in astronomy.

On preview

tddl: Evolutionary biology, and evolution as a theory, has almost nothing to do with the first reproducing organism, in the same way that geology and plate techtonics as a theory has almost nothing to do with the Standard Particle Model.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:16 PM on August 2, 2005


hint: "scientific facts" are more provisional than everyday facts

No no no. This is all wrong. Facts can not be provisional. Facts can not change and be a fact. Fact, I am sitting in front of my computer right now at this exact moment. NOTHING will change that. A fact "is". A fact can not be changed. The conditions in which water freezes will never change. The speed at which light travels will never change.

It is the common usage of the term fact that in fact is confusing everyone. Frequently, we hear "he got the facts wrong." Or "The facts he presented were false". When really, facts can not be wrong or false. A fact is.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:19 PM on August 2, 2005


Evolutionary biology, and evolution as a theory, has almost nothing to do with the first reproducing organism, in the same way that geology and plate techtonics as a theory has almost nothing to do with the Standard Particle Model.

It is premised on the existance of such an organism, but in general I agree. That doesn't mean that other branches of biology, however, aren't intrested in primitive life. I was merely refuting the implication that the science of biology is utterly unconcerned with how exactly life got started. In fact, there are quite a few biologists quite interested in the origin of life on Earth who are working to simulate such an event in the lab.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:19 PM on August 2, 2005


TDDL: I think the problem is that Evolution is claimed as a "theory" in contrast to other statements that are also properly labeled theories.

I couldn't agree more. The solution is to teach people that theories really can be right, even if we can't call them facts. The solution is not to start calling things facts because it's politically useful. Nor is the solution to say "well, lots of scientists say X, therefore it might be the truth." Both of those cheapen science and undermine the scientific process, even if they might be useful in the short-run for political reasons. Starting to say that something is a "fact" because more scientists believe in that theory cheapens science more than Bush ever could.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:23 PM on August 2, 2005


dios: norm, well you are basing your assumption on the characterization of the program by a group who is organized to prevent any religion in schools? I base my understanding of the program on the other articles I have read about it.

I went back through the thread, and I didn't see any links from you to those articles... those would be highly relevant to the discussion, could you post 'em?

If this is truly a "bible as lit" class, fantastic -- I'd have loved to have one, myself. In my college only the English majors got to take Bible as Lit -- no one else could get in.

Given the source, and the opinions expressed in the linked article, I doubt it's something so innocuous, but hey, I'll wait for those articles of yours to prove me wrong.
posted by gurple at 3:24 PM on August 2, 2005


that there have been species observed to change over time

It goes beyond that. The junk science of creationism has posited that species/kinds can't change due to their bullshit fundamentalist theologies driving their thinking (such as it is).

It is a fact that the people behind the ID movement are reformed creationists, attempting to wedge their bullshit theology into what they perceive as gaps of present scientific knowledge. Opportunistic little fuckers, and the sad thing is there's a very profititable market for selling people what they want to believe.... who wants to be an aggregation of transcription errors when one could have been made in the image of a supernatural creator?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:27 PM on August 2, 2005


TDDL, I think the opposition you're facing here is due to what I described. People are uncomfortable with the uncertainty of science. They believe in evolution by natural selection (even though beliefs have no place in science), and would rather have it solidified as undisputable. From what I gather of your posts (I've had to skim, this thread is growing too fast) you too "believe" in evolution by natural selection, but as such, understand why natural selection is a theory (or theories) and as such, could be disproven based on the way science works.

Is that a correct assessment?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:27 PM on August 2, 2005


icnh: The conditions in which water freezes will never change. The speed at which light travels will never change.

Actually, both of these are dependent on some variables, of which one of the most fundamental may or may not be constant. (The phase transition of water depends on pressure, and the speed of light changes depending on media.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:27 PM on August 2, 2005


dios: I'd greatly appreciate if you could use less profanity in your future fabrications.
posted by mosch at 3:33 PM on August 2, 2005


I'm amazed that no one has referenced Talk-Origins yet.

To TDDL and those of you arguing that Evolution is just a "Theory," you need to read this article first. Then go back and read this article, because you seem to be confused about what Evolution is.
posted by bshort at 3:34 PM on August 2, 2005


Dios: Thanks for at least abortively answering what I challenged you with. Since you (overtly) replied to a different person, I can't be annoyed that you dodged the specifics of my question.

Kirk: There's also João Magueijo, who argues that the speed of light has changed over the lifespan of our universe... That's a THEORY.
posted by klangklangston at 3:35 PM on August 2, 2005


Heywood Mogroot: "The junk science of creationism has posited that species/kinds can't change due to their bullshit fundamentalist theologies driving their thinking "

First PDF about ID found on Google: "There is no disagreement that small, adaptive changes can occur within species in response to environmental forces."

Seems like you have mis-stated the position of current ID writers (I'll be nice and not call them "scientists" for you).

People are uncomfortable with the uncertainty of science. They believe in evolution by natural selection (even though beliefs have no place in science), and would rather have it solidified as undisputable. From what I gather of your posts (I've had to skim, this thread is growing too fast) you too "believe" in evolution by natural selection, but as such, understand why natural selection is a theory (or theories) and as such, could be disproven based on the way science works.

I wouldn't say that I "believe" in evolution by way of natural selection for exactly the reasons you have outlined, but I would consider it a fair characterization that I consider it to be the most valid theory out there and it would take considerable evidence to change my opinion about it.

Uncertainty sucks, but it is fundamental to science. It's amazing how desperate for certainty people on both sides of this issue are -- be it that God definitely created life on earth or be it that life definitely evolved a certain way.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:35 PM on August 2, 2005


KJS, I know, that's why with the water example, I said "the conditions" not the temperature. I know the speed of light changes depending on what it is passing through as well, but you can put those variables together, and the results will be the same.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:35 PM on August 2, 2005


Oh, and then for those of you who try and split evolution into macro- and micro- and try and say that the latter happens while the former is a load of hooey, you must go read this, because you're just wrong.
posted by bshort at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2005


dios, i would say that evolution as a theory is in general "predictive". it predicts (among other things) that given favorable conditions, an organism will mutate, and that mutation will make it more suited to reproduction.

if by "it's not predictive" you mean, why doesn't evolution know whether my greatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreat grandchild will be blue with three nostrils, or perhaps whether it will move about on its stomach with the aid of silicone-based cilia, well...if that's what you mean, then (sorry, but)...

'slap'
posted by gorgor_balabala at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2005


(At least, thank God, there's no "He who shall not be named for fear of summoning" with his out-of-context quotes... At least not yet...)
posted by klangklangston at 3:36 PM on August 2, 2005


Facts can not be provisional. Facts can not change and be a fact

"Scientific" facts are based on chains of "scientific" evidence and "scientific" interpretation. "Science" is the art and practice of categorizing beliefs into a self-consistent body of knowledge.

I said "more provisional", not "provisional", in that scientific facts link into the body of Science, while retail facts like there are 50 states in the USA are not.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:37 PM on August 2, 2005


eek
posted by gorgor_balabala at 3:38 PM on August 2, 2005


To TDDL and those of you arguing that Evolution is just a "Theory," you need to read this article first. Then go back and read this article, because you seem to be confused about what Evolution is.

I think you need to go back up and read a little more carefully. Everyone has agreed that "evolution" in the sense of "things changing" including "species changing" is an observed fact. However, "evolution" in the broader sense of "we're all descended from one cell that existed millions of years ago" and "the mechanism for that was natural selection (as opposed to creator-driven events)" is what is at issue.

May I point you to some good posts that might help clarify the terms for you?
thedevildancedlightly at 1:57 PM PST on August 2 [!]

[insert clever name here] at 3:05 PM PST on August 2
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:39 PM on August 2, 2005


Seems like you have mis-stated the position of current ID writers

No, it is an article of faith to them that one two species/kinds today cannot have a common, shared ancestor species/kinds.

That is what I was trying to say with "species can't change".
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:42 PM on August 2, 2005


As was the case in Mitchell when the Supreme Court said it was fine to give state money for relgious education......
posted by dios at 2:29 PM PST on August 2


You are so fucking full of shit. Mitchell doesn't provide for state funds for religious instruction, it merely allows state funds to go to religious schools for "secular, neutral, and nonideological" programs. You should know better.

The Texas class would not fall under Mitchell because it is likewise fucking full of shit, and it is not neutral. Whether or not it is elective is irrelevant. Christ.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:43 PM on August 2, 2005


"Scientific" facts are based on chains of "scientific" evidence and "scientific" interpretation. "Science" is the art and practice of categorizing beliefs into a self-consistent body of knowledge.

I said "more provisional", not "provisional", in that scientific facts link into the body of Science, while retail facts like there are 50 states in the USA are not.


This is simply incorrect. It can not be called a fact in terms of science if it can change. As you said, "there are 50 states in the US". This is a fact. It is not open to interpretation.

Facts, by their definition, are immutable. More so in science. Perhaps when the lay person refers to scientific fact or the media or good old GWB, they are flexable, but as part of the actual scientific vernacular, facts do not change. It its possible for something to change or be proven false, its not a fact (hense the confusion over theories, laws, hypothesises, etc . . .)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:44 PM on August 2, 2005


"Scientific" facts are based on chains of "scientific" evidence and "scientific" interpretation.

That is not the nature of facts for somebody following the Western scientific method. Perhaps there are others that I am less familiar with, but "the scientific method" and "science" do not define facts that way. In order to be a "fact" within the context of science it must be either (a) a direct observation that can be verified externally at will (ie, "water will boil at 100 under these conditions"), or (b) a hypothesis that has been tested to the point where there is absolutely no room for reasonable doubt (ie, the "fall off your chair laughing" test). As you can see those are very closely related concepts.

Nothing you have mentioned meets either of those criteria.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:44 PM on August 2, 2005


Again, read Kuhn. I'm not a scientist, but my understanding is that, indeed, facts change all the time. Or rather, they tend to disappear and be replaced not by facts alone, but with whole new structural understandings. Phlogiston was "true" in the 17th century, but it was never directly proved untrue. New understandings come about (I keep wanting to use the word "evolve," but don't want to complicate the issue) in the form of paradigm shifts.

As it relates to Evolutionary Theory, creationists and ID'ers try to pick apart gaps in the fossil record, but after tens of thousands of years, we've only just begun to scrape the surface (literally).

And Darwin never considered his ideas to be "predictive" beyond the sense that 1, random mutation is the engine which drives 2, natural selection.

/Wishing I hadn't thrown away my college bio textbook.
posted by bardic at 3:46 PM on August 2, 2005


However, "evolution" in the broader sense of "we're all descended from one cell that existed millions of years ago" and "the mechanism for that was natural selection (as opposed to creator-driven events)" is what is at issue.

The problem is that ID cannot, should not, and AFAIK does not exclude "natural selection" as a mechanism, since natural selection, like sexual selection, is a theoretically viable mechanism.

They just argue the weakness of the natural in favor of the supernatural.

But heir arguments from incredulity are weak given the timescales involved, so is not compatible with science... (should evidence appear inconsistent with natural processes, and no, punk-eq is not inconsistent with natural processes, then ID would have a stronger scientific basis).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:48 PM on August 2, 2005


I'm not a scientist, but my understanding is that, indeed, facts change all the time.

Again, here's another good definition:
Fact: The word fact can be used several ways, but in general in science, "facts" refer to the observations. They are best when they are repeatable observations under controlled conditions, such as "It is a fact that the speed of light is constant in a vacuum." This is the part of science which will be the same a century from now, unless more precise measurements show otherwise.
Source
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2005


The Texas Legislature created a non-sectarian, secular Bible Study class. As is consistent with the opinion in Mitchell, such government granting of money would be allowable because it is not advancement or indoctrination by the state.

...except that it is a state employee, a teacher, who is teaching the class. In Mitchell, the religious indoctrinator was a teacher at a private religious school. I think that's a pretty important distinguishing factor between the two cases.

This is a program that the state permits at the option of the school district and the option of the student. That fact is not-dispositive, but very imporatant. Think of the pledge cases; there the action is whether states are requiring the religious activity. Here it is not required. Here, classes are neutrally available. Students can choose or not choose to take them.

I think this is definitely the best argument in favor of constitutionality, sure. But there are other factors at play, including the coercive effect of peer pressure, school group dynamics, and the fact that your English teacher that you need to suck up to is teaching this 'optional' class. It's not so cut and dried as you represent. Also, in Mitchell, the choice at play was that a student could choose to go to public school or private school. If you went to a Catholic school in Jefferson Township you knew that you were getting a religious education. If you choose a public education, you choose to not get a religious education. When you talk about choices of individual classes at a supposedly secular (public) school, I think the choice argument gets quite a bit diluted.

Funds to the districts are not based on whether the school has the program or not. The districts do not get more money for offering the programs.


But funding for school is zero sum and thus money spent providing this class is less for, say, debate. I find the idea that a school is cancelling its orchestra but funding a religious elective to be a bit perverse, and as I see it, firmly on the wrong side of the church and state divide.
posted by norm at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: (b) a hypothesis that has been tested to the point where there is absolutely no room for reasonable doubt (ie, the "fall off your chair laughing" test).

At least to most biologists, the big scope of Evolution has reachd the point where this is true.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:50 PM on August 2, 2005


Darwin never considered his ideas to be "predictive" beyond the sense that 1, random mutation is the engine which drives 2, natural selection.

Darwin had nothing to do with "random mutation". Darwin's ideas are predictive though since they tie into isolated ecospheres and common ancestry, which is predictive of a lot of things.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:50 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: water will boil
ah ah ah, "does"
posted by gorgor_balabala at 3:51 PM on August 2, 2005


On the topic of "theories" versus "facts,", I think I'd have to agree more with tddl. I'm currently doing research on a certain molecule - let's suppose I come up with a mechanism for a reaction it's involved in, and everyone else's research agrees. I'd still call my beliefs about how that reaction works a "theory", because it's not something that's completely set in stone. It's subject to modification, updating, whatever. While perhaps that at some point in the distant future, we'll know exactly how everything works, for the conceivable future, we're stuck realizing that though we've got a reasonable grasp on how things work, we might not be entirely right. Thus the use of "theory," even for things that are almost univerally accepted. "Facts," on the other hand, are what I'd call the observations that led to my theory. It would be a fact, for example, that the amount of product doubled when the amount of the original molecule increased. It would be a fact that species have been observed to change over generations. But the hows and whys related to those facts are still theories.

Evolution, gravity, and so on are "facts" in the colloquial sense of the term. The consensus is that those are basically How Things Work, and the literature overwhelmingly supports it. However, details of those theories can change - we now group things like natural selection, gene encoding in DNA, etc. together under "evolution" because those are our current sub-theories about how evolution works. All this stuff is up for modification, however, if people find something that will better describe observed trends in the literature. So sure, if you use the most minimal definition of "evolution" possible - organisms change - you might be able to call it a fact. But if you're trying to go anywhere beyond that basic statement, trying to go into the how and why of things, you're back into the realm of theory. Part of the problem, as [insert clever name here] says, may be the fact that colloquially, people think that theory implies uncertainty and that facts can change. Both usages are, I think, not correct, and they really serve to confuse this whole matter, particularly when the press or government deals with it.
posted by ubersturm at 3:51 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: water will boil
ah ah ah, "does"


I was framing it in the predictive, it works just as well in the descriptive since it is an accepted fact (ie, observable at will and not subject to question). Not sure what you were going for here.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:53 PM on August 2, 2005


ubersturm: So sure, if you use the most minimal definition of "evolution" possible - organisms change - you might be able to call it a fact. But if you're trying to go anywhere beyond that basic statement, trying to go into the how and why of things, you're back into the realm of theory.

That is a far more succient and elegant answer for bshort's assertion that only the "fact" part is relevant than I ever could have come up with.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:56 PM on August 2, 2005


No, it is an article of faith to them that one two species/kinds today cannot have a common, shared ancestor species/kinds.

That is what I was trying to say with "species can't change".


FUCK! I was talking about creationists, and you erroneously switched it to IDers and I didn't catch that. Creationists have this species/kinds bullshit, but IDers don't. They subscribe to a watered-down darwinian synthesis by rejecting "Scientific Materialism" and positing the assistance of a supernatural agent.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:57 PM on August 2, 2005


succient succinct
Perhaps one day I'll evolve into using spellcheck in the new live preview mode.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:57 PM on August 2, 2005


Not sure what you were going for here.

well, conditions for which a description has not been scientifically described. i'm trying for schoolmarm / pedant at the moment.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 3:57 PM on August 2, 2005


dios, your skid marks are extending to your assertions again. Your post said:
You want to know what other electives I had at my high school? Fashion Design. Interior Design. Auto Paint and Body. Cross Cultural Studies. Astronomy. Oceanograhpy. Webmastering. Landscape Design. Outdoor Activies (Read: hunting). And many, many more.
You phrased it to imply that those were available when you were in school.
If you are curious about my age based on that comment, let me tell you that I found out that class is offered when I went to the website of my school and looked at the electives it has to offer. It, of course, wasn't offered when I went to school there (the only computer class I think was offered then was computer science which I believe taught basic and some other program---I didn't take it). But it supports my point that these classes come and go. There were classes that were there when I went to it in the early 90's that aren't currently offered... maybe interest waned. And there are new ones offered too.
Normally I wouldn't bother with pointing this out but you expend so much bilious energy dragging other people through the mud and accusing them of lying that I felt I had to.
posted by substrate at 3:59 PM on August 2, 2005


I was talking about creationists, and you erroneously switched it to IDers and I didn't catch that. Creationists have this species/kinds bullshit, but IDers don't.

Sorry, I thought you were intentionally conflating IDers with Creationists given that the thread is about ID and it's easier to attack Creationists. I thought you were intentionally going for the "Michael Moore is fat!" style of argument by picking out the extreme (Michael Moore, Creationists) to attack something else entirely (liberal policies, IDers).

You are probably correct that old-school creationists don't believe in any sort of species change. However, there don't seem to be many of those left.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:00 PM on August 2, 2005


if you use the most minimal definition of "evolution" possible - organisms change - you might be able to call it a fact.

I disagree since DNA evidence, not to mention comparative phenotype analysis, promotes "common ancestry" of present-day species to a scientific fact.

But only creationists have problems with common ancestry, IDers have given up that battle.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:00 PM on August 2, 2005


Been to Kansas lately?
posted by bardic at 4:01 PM on August 2, 2005


uh...for which a scientific description has not been scientifically described made? /stupid pedant
posted by gorgor_balabala at 4:01 PM on August 2, 2005


At least to most biologists, the big scope of Evolution has reachd the point where this is true.

Yes. Generally theories are accepted to be true. But, again, that doesn't mean that its any less subject to the POSSIBILITY it could be proven wrong some day, and I doubt that any scientist in their right mind would say otherwise. That is where the confusion between theory and fact come in. Generally, science minded folks TREAT theories though they're true, while the layperson sees a theory as flexible. That's not the case. Perhaps we need to inject a new phrase into the media "proven theory". For the scientist, if its a theory, its proven, so saying proven theory is kind of pointless. But maybe it would help your average person understand what they mean when they talk about a theory.

As a side note, a few years ago, I tried to change my speaking habits to stop saying theory in every day speach and instead say hypothesis. I think if everyone did this, it would go a long way to improving the publics perception of what exactly a theory is.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:02 PM on August 2, 2005


Once again I ask the question:

Which peer review scientific journals has the theory of Intelligent Design been published in?
posted by aaronscool at 4:04 PM on August 2, 2005


Creationists have this species/kinds bullshit, but IDers don't.

I think that's what makes them so dangerous. Most people can look at the idea of the immutability of species and laugh, but it's harder for the average person to say what's wrong with ID.
posted by Moral Animal at 4:05 PM on August 2, 2005


Evolution is a fact and a theory.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:05 PM on August 2, 2005


Which peer review scientific journals has the theory of Intelligent Design been published in?

I don't believe ID, but that's not necessarily a valid point. Science is not about consensus. It's not about having some magic person who is able to tell truth from fiction.

Science is about observations, hypotheses, and theories that can be discussed without having to resort to authority. For something to be a valid theory it doesn't have to be published, it just has to be in the correct form.

The moment that authority becomes relevant is the moment that it becomes non-scientific.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:07 PM on August 2, 2005


By the way, thanks to everyone for on the whole keeping this discussion very civil and very intelligent. Sometimes the political threads around here are depressingly partisan and repetitive. This thread seems to have been put together by a lot of people who care about the issues and have put time into their thoughts. I don't agree with everyone (obviously), but I think that in general this has been an above-average MeFi discussion.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:09 PM on August 2, 2005


For something to be a valid theory it doesn't have to be published, it just has to be in the correct form.

For a given "science" to be taught in public schools, it had darn better have been published and peer-reviewed.

And yeah, this does seem to be a pretty good thread.
posted by gurple at 4:11 PM on August 2, 2005


For a given "science" to be taught in public schools, it had darn better have been published and peer-reviewed.

That's a valid criticism of the class, just not of the theory itself. I'm not sure which one aaronscool was going for. You can bet your ass Galileo didn't get peer reviewed, but he did have a point in the end. (yes, I know the Church had a thing or two to do with that... ironic?)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:14 PM on August 2, 2005


Which peer review scientific journals has the theory of Intelligent Design been published in?

I FOUND ONE! I FOUND ONE!

Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington from the Discovery Institute.

Do I get a cookie??
posted by Moral Animal at 4:15 PM on August 2, 2005


I disagree since DNA evidence, not to mention comparative phenotype analysis, promotes "common ancestry" of present-day species to a scientific fact.

You can disagree, but by the correct definitions, it is still only a theory. It is possible it is a different mechanism that the appearance of what seems to be a common ancestor. Because it can be questioned and possibly proved wrong, it can't be a fact. A fact would be "all animals share dna that is similar in blah respect". However, to say "all animals share dna that is similar in blah respect, therefore all animals have a common anecestor" is a theory. (well, hypothesis until proven a theory) Because there isn't a valid counter claim STILL doesn't make it a fact.

Example. hypothetically, using an intelligent designer argument, say a god or a being well beyond our technology, could have made all life on earth. It used similar materials from a similar template, thus explaining why all life tends to look like it evolved from earlier forms and why all life has similar dna. Now, we find said designer, and prove this is how species were created, not from a common ancestor. Sudddenly, the common ancestor theory is false, however, the fact that all animals have similar dna has not changed.

(not that I believe in ID, just wanted to point out AGAIN where a theory and fact differ)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:15 PM on August 2, 2005


You might want to actually check out the website of the organization whose curriculum is proposed for use: bibleinschools.net

Among their advisors is David Barton, head of Wallbuilders, whose goal "is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena."
posted by ltracey at 4:17 PM on August 2, 2005


warning, huge ass (1500+ word) post

Anyway, yes, in a lay context there are plenty of things that meet my lay definition for fact. The sky is blue, it hurts to get drunk and fall over, MetaFilter is a nice site, etc etc etc.

Does evolution fit your "lay" definition of fact? What I'm trying to point out is that that the "lay" definition of fact is the only reasonable definition. The fact that you can't have a "scientific fact" does not mean that science can never produce any facts. I mean, I suppose you could look at it that way but then your other supposed 'lay facts' (. The sky is blue, it hurts to get drunk and fall over, MetaFilter is a nice site) are not actual facts, and thus you can never discuss anything as being a fact, so why do we even talk about the word? There's no such thing as a "scientific fact" because, as you stated, such a thing isn't even possible. What's the point of discussing something that doesn't even exist?

You're the one who criticized evolution for not being a "fact" and now you say that nothing can ever be a fact. So why do you even bother to point that out?

My only problem is that the whole point of this exercise is that peopel are attempting to prove that ID is psuedo-science (and it may well be) but in the process are also using psuedo-science to back up their claims.


You can use science to decide if a particular theory is true or not (or highly likely to be true or not) but you don't use science to determine if someone else is spouting psudo-science. You use common reasoning, logic, or whatever. Does a particular argument have such and such properties (such as being based on religion?) Then it's pseudo-science. Reasoning isn't pseudo-science because it isn't a lie designed to fool people into believing it's a science.

That said, I'm not sure there is ever a context where it's appropriate to take a scientific theory and call it a fact for the sake of politics. That's the whole point of being a theory. Yes, there are reams and reams of evidence to support natural selection, and very little evidence to support ID. But, no principled scientist would ever say "evolution by sexual selection is a fact" so it seems counter-scientific for a lay person to make the same assertion.

Well, why don't you go ask some? I am certain that the vast majority of published, working scientists would say that evolution is a fact. I suppose you would say that they are therefore unprincipled, but in that case I would simply say that you don't understand the principle.

Dios writes: The two of you need grow up---I explained that I looked at my high school alma mater's webpage to see if it was being offered there. It's ludicrous for your put on your Heywood Mogroot Petty Vendetta act.

Plano? Yech. Also, I don't see "webmastering" on their list of electives, anyway.

Tddl writes later:
Slightly tangentially, this seems to open the door more to psuedo-science by making the standard of "truth" less than "it has to be true". I know what you mean, but your statement opens the door to somebody making the claim that "I know that ID is true because I assign more weight to the evidence for ID than other theories."

Well, I suppose they could say that, yes. Why would we worry about what an individual thinks in his own head. Also, isn't this your position anyway? Don't we agree that there can be no 'scientific facts' because no facts about the real world can ever be exhaustively proven?

Tddl writes: Back in the 1500s there was all kinds of evidence to support a geo-centric model of the heavens, and people made very accurate predictions about the movement of the planets and stars. There were plenty of astronomers who believed that the world was the center of the universe---in fact, most of them believed that. Would it have been accurate to say "it's a fact that the heavens revolve around the earth?" Absolutely not. It was a theory. It happened to be wrong. (side-note: it may now be correct to say that it is a fact that the earth revolves around the sun because we can independently observe that, a power not availble at the time)

Does this paragraph mean that you believe that "The sun does not revolve around the earth"? is a true fact, and a scientific fact, and everything else?

Mathowie writes:
Thus, the law of gravity, as the theory of gravity has been shown to be true in many ways, for a very long time, it becomes a law, not a fact.


No, actually 'laws' generally refer to mathematical formulas. Laws can be wrong in some ways and still called laws (like Newtons laws). Theories eventually become 'accepted theories'. Evolution is an accepted theory.


tddl: I would say that microevolution is a fact; things within species change. We know that.

Macroevolution is not a fact; it's a theory. We don't know species change from one to the other.


Wrong, microevolution and macroevolution are only terms used by creationists. Biologests use the term speciation to describe one species turning into another. Speciation has been a observed dozens of times.

Tddl writes:
[monkeys to man] Also not a scientific fact, instead it's a scientific theory. We have observed moths changing colors and that sort of thing, but nobody sat there and observed monkeys becoming men over tens of thousands of years.

Why are you still talking about "scientific facts" when you apparently believe such a thing is impossible? Anyway, yes. Monkeys to man is a theory that can't ever really be proven. But if your standard of "scientific fact" is that people have sat around and watched it happen, and then wrote about it, what you call "macroevolution" is a scientific fact.

Some people get all annoyed at "micro" and "macro" since the terms were used by a lot of older creation scientist types and their use makes it a little confusing. On the whole I think that's a fair statement of the science.

Tddl: do you know what a ring species is? (Without looking it up, I mean). Do you know what RNA Polymerase does? (again without looking it up?) If not, then I would suggest that you do not know what 'the science' is at all.

Dios writes:
How could evolution be a law when it isn't predictive?

Evolution is predictive. For example (off the top of my head) it predicts the way diseases spread and adapt, and a lot of other things.

Moral Animal writes:
Our grandparents were not monkeys. I personally think that they were ape-like species that evolved into both monkeys and humans, but the monkey species did not just freeze in time and space. They've evolved from our common ancestor just as much as we have.

Well, in general monkeys describe a whole class of species. If you include chimps and other great apes humans are still monkeys. If you saw a human ancestor from 4 million years ago, you'd probably consider it a monkey.

Tddl writes:
No, no we don't. We have fossil evidence that very strongly suggests that's the case, but it is simply not a scientific fact. If you asked me personally what I thought happened then I'd say sexual selection, but that doesn't make it a scientific fact.

Again, you seem to be saying that if people see it happening then it's a scientific fact. Well, anyway people have seen one species turn into another species. Lots of different people have seen it happen dozens of times. here's the link again

Delmoi, fact most certainly is a scientific term. Theorys and Laws can never be facts. Water boils at 100C at 1atmosphere. It is the Observation part of the scientific method.

Isn't this more of a definition? The reason that water boils at 100C at 1ATM is because that's how degrees centigrade are defined. (or at least how they used to be defined. Right now degrees Kelvin are base don the triple point of water, while pressure is based on Newtons per square meter)

It is premised on the existance of such an organism, but in general I agree. That doesn't mean that other branches of biology, however, aren't intrested in primitive life. I was merely refuting the implication that the science of biology is utterly unconcerned with how exactly life got started. In fact, there are quite a few biologists quite interested in the origin of life on Earth who are working to simulate such an event in the lab.

Right, because it’s a very intresting question, but it's not something that can ever become a fact, unlike evolution by natural selection, which is a fact.

Anyway, here's a question for you. You clearly believe that there is such a thing as a "scientific fact." That means that there must be some standard by which you evaluate scientific theories, and decide if they are 'scientific facts' or not. What is that standard?
posted by delmoi at 4:18 PM on August 2, 2005


hypothetically

"Finally, there is an epistemological argument against evolution as fact. Some readers of these newsgroups point out that nothing in science can ever be "proven" and this includes evolution. According to this argument, the probability that evolution is the correct explanation of life as we know it may approach 99.9999...9% but it will never be 100%. Thus evolution cannot be a fact. This kind of argument might be appropriate in a philosophy class (it is essentially correct) but it won't do in the real world. A "fact," as Stephen J. Gould pointed out (see above), means something that is so highly probable that it would be silly not to accept it. This point has also been made by others who contest the nit-picking epistemologists."
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:21 PM on August 2, 2005


Science is about observations, hypotheses, and theories that can be discussed without having to resort to authority. For something to be a valid theory it doesn't have to be published, it just has to be in the correct form

Since when do all scientists have to agree on something for it to get peer reviewed and published? I mean really it's not a very high bar at all if you are working as you say with "observations, hypotheses and theories". My problem with ID is that it does not dwell in the realm of observations at all and thus can not be scientifically measured or proven. (i.e. it is not in "the correct form" as you so suggest).

To be considered a viable theory it must have some evidence, some observation that supports it. What are the observations that support ID? Seriously I want to know why such important folk like the President think that this theory carries so much weight that we must teach it in lock step (or in place of) the centuries of research done on theory of Natural Selection.

Speaking as a firm agnostic, I can't say that there is a higher power or not. There may be, they may have created life, the universe and everything and set it all up to work the way it does. I don't know what happens to us after we die and until I see someone give me a report on it I won't try to pretend I do.

Similarly there is no evidence of intelligent Design. If this is the criteria to get into the science curriculum in your local school the perhaps the spaghetti monster should be there as well...
posted by aaronscool at 4:21 PM on August 2, 2005


delmoi - this should clear things right up for you.
posted by Moral Animal at 4:25 PM on August 2, 2005


warning, huge ass (1500+ word) post

No kidding. I'm not really sure where to begin on this one. This thing is an essay, not a MeFi comment.

To answer the quiz: RNA polymerase does exactly what it sounds like: it transcribes DNA into RNA strands (polymers, if you will). I used to work at the NIH at the NICHHD (Paul Blank's lab if you want to PubMed it, I'm not on any of the papers as I was a lab assistant but I can point you to the ones I worked on), but I figured it'd be declasse to pull authority on this one. Ring species is more hazy (again, micro) but I do remember something along the lines of how the common household dog species has diverged to the point where some members could never inter-breed (ie, a terrier and a mastiff) but there is inter-breeding all along the line.

Anyway, now that we've estabalished credentials. Thanks for the opportunity to slide that stuff in, btw.

Again, you seem to be saying that if people see it happening then it's a scientific fact. Well, anyway people have seen one species turn into another species. Lots of different people have seen it happen dozens of times. here's the link again

There's a big difference between an observation being a fact ("I saw X turn into Y") and the implication that all similar events are caused by the same mechanism. It is a fact that somebody observed X change into Y. But that does not make it a fact that A evolved from B using the same mechanism.

Anyway, here's a question for you. You clearly believe that there is such a thing as a "scientific fact." That means that there must be some standard by which you evaluate scientific theories, and decide if they are 'scientific facts' or not. What is that standard?


I think you were still writing when I posted that about an hour ago. Something that can be independently observed at will, ie the boiling point of water under a set of conditions, is a scientific fact. Observations are facts. Everything else, as [insert clever name here] has astutely observed, is a well-supported theory. In order for it to be a fact it has to be something that will be guaranteed to be the same in 100 years (barring a change in the precision of measurement).
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:32 PM on August 2, 2005


Isn't this more of a definition? The reason that water boils at 100C at 1ATM is because that's how degrees centigrade are defined. (or at least how they used to be defined. Right now degrees Kelvin are base don the triple point of water, while pressure is based on Newtons per square meter)

And you are entirely correct that 100 degree at 1 atm is definitional, but the point wasn't the specific example. Let's make it the boiling point of mercury at 1 atm then. It'll always be the same if you sufficiently define the conditions, and it can be observed at will. You understand what I meant, although I appreciate you catching me accidentally being tautological.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:34 PM on August 2, 2005


Moral Animal:

You do get a cookie...after having read those articles (I knew some must be out there) I saw two things:

1. Rationalizations: Evolution is too complex to have occurred randomly so God did it.

2. Throwing Stones: There are gaps in this particular model/paper/theory...must be because God did it.

These are gross simplifications but I did not see any actual observations that Intelligent Design occurred.

That said if folks wanted to preface a discussion of Evolution with "It works this way and whether or not the rules of the game were set up by God or just are is something you can decide for yourself. This is however the way it works".

Problem with the current ID theories I've seen is they are still trying to suggest that at points in time something is actively managing and guiding evolution causing it to occur...So far there appears to be zero observations of this happening. Perhaps this "theory" really belongs in a philosophy class along with existentialism...
posted by aaronscool at 4:49 PM on August 2, 2005


Meant to say that I'd be fine with that whole preface thing. Cause like I said...none of us will ever know until we are dead.
posted by aaronscool at 4:50 PM on August 2, 2005


However, "evolution" in the broader sense of "we're all descended from one cell that existed millions of years ago" and "the mechanism for that was natural selection (as opposed to creator-driven events)" is what is at issue.

*sigh* That branch of science is called Abiogenesis. The truth of falsity of abiogenesis does not affect the truth or falsity of Evolution.

I think you were still writing when I posted that about an hour ago. Something that can be independently observed at will,

Well, if you clicked the links I provided. You'd see that some of the speciation events happened in controlled experiments. Presumably, you could replicate the experiment and get the same results. I think that evolution meets even this stringent requirement.

but I do remember something along the lines of how the common household dog species has diverged to the point where some members could never inter-breed (ie, a terrier and a mastiff) but there is inter-breeding all along the line.

Errr... close enough. Actually it has to do with species that change over physical distances, and loop all the way around the world, excepting that one 'end' of the ring cannot interbreed with the other 'end' even though they exist in the same place. But that was an informal definition.

Aaaaanyway. Clearly the word "fact" is used by lots of different people to mean lots of different things. I still think that Evolution is as much a fact as pretty much anything someone would consider a 'fact'. Nobody will ever know the reason why masses are attracted to other masses inversely proportional to the square of their distances, but you it seems like they are (relativity notwithstanding :P). Similarly you could make the argument that we never know "why" one specific species turns into another species, but there is a lot of evidence that suggests that evolution is the reason.

ID is not science. ID can never be a fact because it is not a scientific theory to begin with it. No predictions can be made with it, and no experiments can be done to test it. It is merely a bunch of FUD designed to confuse people and undermine science in the general public.
posted by delmoi at 4:59 PM on August 2, 2005


TDDL, you posted a link to the definition of a fact. It also included this little blurb which I think will help things out:

The word "fact" has several meanings, which can be very confusing. In popular useage it can mean either "observation," "theory," or "truth." As an example of each, one can say, "it is a fact that every time I have dropped this ball, it fell to the ground." That is what has been observed so far, and the word "fact" can be replaced with "observation." One can also say, "it is a fact that every time I have dropped this ball, gravity pulled it to the ground." Even though this statement appears very similar to the first, "gravity" really refers to a theory proposed to explain why the ball is observed to fall. Finally, if one so thoroughly believes that the theory of gravity is really "true," he could replace "a fact" with "true," which would take the meaning beyond science into the realm of his personal convictions.

This confusion can often be avoided by always replacing the word "fact" with "observation," "theory" or "truth," whichever seems to convey the intended meaning best. Remember that if the meaning is "observation," then it is as fallible as the observer. If it is a "theory," then it also could be disproven someday. If it is claimed to be "truth," then it is a statement of the personal conviction of the speaker, which is outside the domain of science.


I think, for the sake of this thread, fact should no longer be used. The temperature which water boils is an observation. Organisms changing is a observation. The explaination of why an organism changes is a theory. Its a lot easier to grasp these concepts since the definition of fact is being so twisted up.

And again, because the majority or even ALL the scientific community accepts something still does not make it a fact. They wouldn't say it does. A theory, by its definition, is proven. It is, for all practical intents, "true". But it is a tested explaination or explainations of an observation or observations, not an observation itself, so its a theory.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:01 PM on August 2, 2005


By the way. There are two main components of ID theory. One is that biological systems (like within the cell) are to complex to have adapted peicemeal. The other is that a genetic algorithm is not geranteed to arive at an optimal solution.


One is wrong and the other is a red herring (because animals are not optimaly designed)
posted by delmoi at 5:02 PM on August 2, 2005


aaronscool> Speaking as a firm agnostic

Personally I'm noncommittal about the existence of sixty meter tall killer chickens. I can't prove that they're around in any way, shape or form, but I'm not convinced by the available disconfirming evidence.
posted by snarfodox at 5:03 PM on August 2, 2005


Its a lot easier to grasp these concepts since the definition of fact is being so twisted up.

But that makes it so much harder to have certainty! What will we do when we are forced to admit that our beliefs, be they in God and Bush, or in atheism and evolution, are no longer certain?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:04 PM on August 2, 2005


I think, for the sake of this thread, fact should no longer be used. The temperature which water boils is an observation. Organisms changing is a observation. The explaination of why an organism changes is a theory. Its a lot easier to grasp these concepts since the definition of fact is being so twisted up.

In other words, we should just give up on the debate?

:P

Actualy, it seems like the argument has exhausted itself. Or at least me.
posted by delmoi at 5:04 PM on August 2, 2005


However, "evolution" in the broader sense of "we're all descended from one cell that existed millions of years ago" and "the mechanism for that was natural selection (as opposed to creator-driven events)" is what is at issue.

*sigh* That branch of science is called Abiogenesis. The truth of falsity of abiogenesis does not affect the truth or falsity of Evolution.


No, abiogensis is the question of how that single cell came about from non-living objects.


Well, if you clicked the links I provided. You'd see that some of the speciation events happened in controlled experiments. Presumably, you could replicate the experiment and get the same results. I think that evolution meets even this stringent requirement.


Speciation events are the fact/observed. The explaintion/theory that it was natural selection is still not a fact because another mechanism could be discovered to be responsible even if it hasn't yet. Until it has, because your experiement is replicatable, then it is accepted that your theory is a fact. That doesn't mean there isn't another possible explaination for why the speciation occurred, that is why it can't be a fact, because it COULD be wrong, not matter how unlikely.

(yes, I'm still using fact even after suggesting not to.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:08 PM on August 2, 2005


You can lead a horse to philosophy of science delmoi, but you can't make it drink.
posted by snarfodox at 5:09 PM on August 2, 2005


In other words, we should just give up on the debate?

:P

Actualy, it seems like the argument has exhausted itself. Or at least me.


You are probably right, I blame my last beating a dead horse comment on the new preview not forcing me to see this last comment. :)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:11 PM on August 2, 2005


Snarfodox: There is the possibility of phantom sixty meter tall killer chickens? Cool I hadn't considered...wouldn't the fact that they were "Killers" turn up some evidence though?
posted by aaronscool at 5:13 PM on August 2, 2005


TDDL: I have no certainty...hence agnostic
posted by aaronscool at 5:15 PM on August 2, 2005


aaronscool: I didn't say 'phantom'... are you trying to start some kind of Great Heresy about phantom versions of sixty meter tall killer chickens?

The evidence of the great and mighty savagery of a sixty meter tall killer chicken attack may have been overlooked, ignored or explained away as the result of some other kind of misfortune. I haven't seen any convincing disconfirming evidence about the existence of the beast.
posted by snarfodox at 5:20 PM on August 2, 2005


"as I see it, firmly on the wrong side of the church and state divide."
I see it that way too, norm

“The classes are offered in a non-sectarian, secular way. This is no different than studying Shakespeare. It is not proselytizing.”

I’m all for study of the Book of the Subgenius. Better still, perhaps study of the Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey (sp?) as a sociological issue.
...No, screw the tongue in cheek.
I in what way is this ‘non-sectarian’ or ‘secular’?
You can argue it’s no different from studying Shakespeare because Shakespeare wrote most of the King James bible. But other than that, the bible, any bible, is an inappropriate work to study much like any pornographic material would be (I’m thinking ‘Hustler’). Study of ID theory is antithetical to learning in general and science specifically.
In what possible world are you going to research computer computer science (AI for example) or go into space (where you might discover life - gasp!) or do anything useful thinking some creator is literally behind it all?
Ignorance can be remedied. Willful ignorance is stupidity. I don’t believe in either the death penalty or slavery, but I see very little use for people who adhere to these philosophies. Perhaps only basic manual labor since I would hesitate to trust them with something as compex as say washing dishes.
I mean seriously. What are these people going to say when we discover life on Mars? That it was put there by God to test us?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:22 PM on August 2, 2005


Yes, I said ‘when.’
posted by Smedleyman at 5:23 PM on August 2, 2005


Life on Mars!?! That explains the sixty meter tall killer chickens then...
posted by aaronscool at 5:27 PM on August 2, 2005


aaronscool: Life on Mars!?! That explains the sixty meter tall killer chickens then...

Now you're implying that the sixty meter tall killer chickens are aliens? That's two sects you've created in the space of half an hour.
posted by snarfodox at 5:32 PM on August 2, 2005


Heh, I found this fun little evolution explaintion:
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evohome.html

The best part about it is the Misconceptions section, which should be entitled: What to do when your students or their parents bring up Intelligent Design. I think perhaps our president should read it.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:33 PM on August 2, 2005


The explanation/theory that it was natural selection is still not a fact because another mechanism could be discovered to be responsible even if it hasn't yet.

I just challenged tddl's assertion that macro-evolution was not a fact, but micro-evolution is.

The "micro" & "macro" terms are largely meaningless so tddl's statement is contradictory, if "micro-evolution" is a fact then "macro-evolution" is also a fact, since there is nothing preventing the micro from accumulating to the macro, given the immense timescales (fact!) involved.

tddl got crossed up on his own pedantry and borrowing from Republican talking points (oh how I love conflating the Republicans with (ID) creationism, it's like as if the Dems were raving Trotskyists) here so I'm just trying to help him out.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:34 PM on August 2, 2005


Let's compromise: the IDers get to include their non-falsifiable god hypothesis in curricula so long as we also mandate the teaching of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. As the President is in favor of "exposing people to different schools of thought," it's only appropriate that kids learn that the IDers was beaten to the punch by a Scotsman some two-plus centuries ago, right?

Intelligent Design in the sense of a teleological argument that works backwards from perceived order/complexity in the natural world to the hypothesis that an intelligent being is the only way of making sense of what is responsible for that order/complexity both "proves" too much and too little. It's a shoddy argument by analogy that's been spanked around by everyone from the aforementioned agnostic Hume to that devout Christian Kant. The kids deserve to hear that, too, right?

Teach the best current science in Biology, hands down, but go ahead and teach ID in Introduction to Philosophy, or Philosophy of Religion (as I do). Then follow it with a thorough analysis of its (numerous) flaws.

Oh wait, you want your god cake and would like to eat it, too? Hardly seems fair now, does it?
posted by joe lisboa at 5:38 PM on August 2, 2005


Following on bshort's recommendation of the excellent Talk Origins, Panda's Thumb is a bloggier site that covers the same territory.

Since this thread has devolved (ha!) into a "uh-huh"/"nuh-uh" argument about scientific definitions among people who (bright as they may be) aren't scientists, have limited specialized education in science, don't currently work in science, may have never had any job related to science, unless you count a summer job at PetCo as a biology internship -- I humbly suggest that all of us, and especially the most highly opinionated yet under-informed (I'm looking at you, tddl), would benefit from visiting both sites. Theory v. fact, micro v. macro, creationism v. ID -- all that, and more, is lucidly discussed by people whose authority rests somewhere other than their own asses.

Behe, Demski, and other luminaries of the ID movement occasionally post on PT, and many ID advocates contribute their arguments to the comments, and the resulting debates are fascinating and informative in any number of ways.
posted by vetiver at 5:39 PM on August 2, 2005


bjrubble, that sounds like an awesome class.

ubersturm
, I agree with your assessment entirely. My concern is to show that the irrational interpretation of ID on display (and rightly contested by scientists) is not the only option. To sound a bit like a character in a bad movie; I want to reclaim the name "Intelligent Design" for a more reasonable endeavor. It is too nice a name to waste on a stupid idea.

cedar, I only meant that the universal constants are such that life (like ours) can appear and flourish in this universe (on our big blue marble, if nowhere else). It is my understanding that if, say, the gravitational constant were much different than 6.67300 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2 life as we know it would be impossible. I think that a universe that allows for a wide variety of life forms (i.e., life in general) is hospitable to life. This universe is hospitable to life in general simply because there is a wide variety of life on our planet. I don't need any other planets to have life for my claim. Though, I believe we have found evidence of organisms on Mars. Have we not? (Does that count as credible evidence?)
posted by oddman at 5:46 PM on August 2, 2005


Darn libural media ... espousing their bullshit science this week with Ape to Man on the History Channel. How about we start a national boycott of their advertisers? Who's with me?
posted by ericb at 5:58 PM on August 2, 2005


I've heard creationists argue that a young earth can be explained away through non-uniformitarian ideas like massive prehistoric shifts in the fine structure constant. I'm not quite sure how they get around that annoying little 'carbon fails to fuse' issue that then pops up as a result, but I'm sure someone has had a go at an explanation that may or may not involve carbon fusing fairies.

Parenthetically aaronscool's alien sixty meter tall killer chicken sect is intriguing in that it does explain away the problem of evil the problem of having absolutely no evidence for the existence of sixty meter tall killer chickens or their victims: they may all be on mars, hiding.
posted by snarfodox at 5:59 PM on August 2, 2005


mathowie writes "The term 'law' comes after theory, for a very well-proven theory."

I just wanted to point out that this really isn't the case anymore. A "law" is typically weaker than a theory; Ohm's law, for instance, describes the observed relationship between current and voltage across a resistor, but makes no attempt to explain the theoretical basis of these observations. Most (all?) "laws of science" are like this: empirical relationships with little or no theoretical basis.

It's not true that a strongly accepted theory is eventually called a law. There's no formalism in place for this. If anything, as a theory gains acceptance the word "theory" is just dropped (for instance, I never hear anyone refer to the "theory of quantum mechanics"; it's just "quantum mechanics", or more likely "quantum" or "QM").
posted by mr_roboto at 6:02 PM on August 2, 2005


Don’t be dumb, snarfodox, everyone knows the two sects are the basis of reproduction. And for many it does take a half an hour.

...ok, now I’ve got an image of a H.G. Well’s Martian tripod trying to mate with a sixty meter tall killer chicken...


I’d love that class joe lisboa
I prefer Spinoza to Hume tho’
posted by Smedleyman at 6:25 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl got crossed up on his own pedantry and borrowing from Republican talking points

It was a nice pleasant conversation until you had to start bringing up your childish grudges from other threads. If the above discussion reads like "talking points" to you then please see a shrink, immediately. I don't know what your problem is, but all of MeFi really appreciate it if you could lay off the personal BS in an otherwise civil thread. And the meaning of a "theory" is the entire point of the discussion, hardly "pedantry." Sorry.

if "micro-evolution" is a fact then "macro-evolution" is also a fact, since there is nothing preventing the micro from accumulating to the macro, given the immense timescales (fact!) involved.

You seem to have missed a large chunk of the thread. Observing change within a species does not make it an irrefutable fact that the entire process of evolving from a single cell in the muck to what we see today must have followed the exact same mechanism. The fact that there exist many different theories to explain the mechanism followed to get from muck to human pretty wells shows that there are a large number of inferential steps.

But, hey, if you want to keep spreading muck about individual posters instead of addressing substantive points then be my guest. Just don't complain when the rest of MeFi thinks you're less evolved.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:26 PM on August 2, 2005


Speciation events are the fact/observed. The explaintion/theory that it was natural selection is still not a fact because another mechanism could be discovered to be responsible even if it hasn't yet. Until it has, because your experiement is replicatable, then it is accepted that your theory is a fact... (yes, I'm still using fact even after suggesting not to.)

Well, the suggestion was a good one, because at this point I have absolutely no idea what you are even trying to say. I don't think there is anything that I am absolutely convinced of. Does that mean there is no such thing as a fact? Maybe so. But if nothing is a fact, then why are we having an argument?

If you're saying that evolution is not a repeatable observation, you're wrong. Natural Selection is the theory that people use to describe evolution. Natural Selection could be refined in the future I suppose. We discover new facets of it all the time.

You can lead a horse to philosophy of science delmoi, but you can't make it drink.

Again it's my contention that 'facts' are not scientific objects, and cannot be discussed scientifically. Rather, we get into a discussion of epistemology and logic and whatnot, and really it seems like we all pretty much agree on the true nature of Evolution, just not the terms that should be used to describe it.

I believe that if you were to take the whole of evolutionary biology, and compare it with that of 50 years ago or 50 years in the future, it would be very different. But that whole, and the basic understanding would be the same. And whatever it is, it will still be called "Evolution." It's a bit more squishy then, for example, Newton's laws.

I don't personally believe anything about the world is 100% certain. It may be more 9s out then I care to think about, and I think the probability that Evolution, as a general theory is as likely as many other things that people believe wholeheartedly. As likely as many things that most people call "facts". That makes evolution as much a "fact" as any other "fact".

I do think, politically that we should say "evolution is a fact" and I don't believe it's a lie to say that.

Since this thread has devolved (ha!) into a "uh-huh"/"nuh-uh" argument about scientific definitions among people who (bright as they may be) aren't scientists, have limited specialized education in science, don't currently work in science, may have never had any job related to science, unless you count a summer job at PetCo as a biology internship -- I humbly suggest that all of us, and especially the most highly opinionated yet under-informed (I'm looking at you, tddl), would benefit from visiting both sites.

Excuse me, I have a degree in Computer Science! :P
posted by delmoi at 6:30 PM on August 2, 2005


have limited specialized education in science, don't currently work in science, may have never had any job related to science, unless you count a summer job at PetCo as a biology internship -- I humbly suggest that all of us, and especially the most highly opinionated yet under-informed (I'm looking at you, tddl), would benefit from visiting both sites.

I think I mentioned it upthread, but I used to work in the LCBM/NICHD/NIH (Lab for Cellular and Molecular Biology / National Institute for Child Health and [H]uman Development / National Institutes of Health) in Paul Blank's lab. That makes me solidly a microbiology person instead of macro (and if anybody gives me shit re: "microbiology" being a creationist word then they will pretty firmly out themselves as being clueless) but hopefully it is a start. I count that as a "job related to science".

Out of curiosity, who are you quoting from? I can't find the original post.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:34 PM on August 2, 2005


It is my understanding that if, say, the gravitational constant were much different than 6.67300 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2 life as we know it would be impossible. I think that a universe that allows for a wide variety of life forms (i.e., life in general) is hospitable to life.

The error in thinking here is fundamental. Life (as we know and love it) apparently arose from the building blocks that were available. Had different blocks been present, different processes of "life" would possibly be found. IOW, life as we know it is tuned to the universe, not vice versa.

Why did life like ours evolve at all?

What would have prevented this? Looking at the postulated hows not "whys" is more elucidating. The jump from organic chem -> bio chem is of course fascinating and the facts one learns is awe-inspiring.

Why is the universe hospitable to life in general?

"Life" as we know it. The weak-anthropic argument is horribly flawed and is more an argument against a supernatural entity than for one.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:36 PM on August 2, 2005


Sorry, LCMB (not "LCBM"). Tired of typing all day here.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:36 PM on August 2, 2005


until you had to start bringing up your childish grudges

It's not a childish grudge. The Bushite wing of the Republican party has allied themselves with the religious right and all their crackpottery, which includes creationism/ID. This is on-topic for this fpp. I find this an important element of the discussion, as it is one explanation for why intelligent yet fundamentally dishonest people like you will take the anti-rationalist / "dark" side of the debate, like you are doing here.

Observing change within a species does not make it an irrefutable fact that the entire process of evolving from a single cell in the muck to what we see today must have followed the exact same mechanism.

Remember, we are talking about "macro evolution":

Micro evolution has been demonstrated reliably enough to be considered a "fact". Macro evolution? No chance in hell.

There are no observations that militate against "macro evolution" being considered a fact.

Today, nearly all biologists acknowledge that evolution is a fact. The term theory is no longer appropriate except when referring to the various models that attempt to explain how life evolves... it is important to understand that the current questions about how life evolves in no way implies any disagreement over the fact of evolution.
- Neil A. Campbell, Biology 2nd ed., 1990, Benjamin/Cummings, p. 434

posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:55 PM on August 2, 2005


It always amazes me how much energy some people can devote to arguing against the cretins who form the ID community. You might as well be arguing economics with the village idiot. The sheer number of ID cretins isn't amazing though, because as PT Barnum once said, "there's a sucker born every minute."
posted by caddis at 7:01 PM on August 2, 2005


I find this an important element of the discussion, as it is one explanation for why intelligent yet fundamentally dishonest people like you will take the anti-rationalist / "dark" side of the debate, like you are doing here.

Heywood, you've previously spent the better part of three days tilting at windmills in a pathetic (and failed) attempt to personally discredit me. Now you're calling me personally "fundamentally dishonest" and not the other users who disagree with you ( [insert clever name here], mr_roboto, uberstrum, and several others) but you want people to believe this has nothing to do with your bizzare personal grudge?

You have repeatedly accused me of reading from "talking points." I'm happy to disprove the use of any such talking points -- let's appoint a 3rd party to come over and look at my computer, my email, my web history, my magazine subscriptions, etc and see if there are any "talking points" involved. Not everyone who disagrees with you is reading from "their" script. I know it's hard to accept that there are many people who you disagree with who think independently and are capable of coming up with their own arguments to counter yours, but you're going to have to accept it.

If you actually took the time to read the thread you'd note that I personally strongly think that evolution by natural selection is the theory that most aptly describes the world, but I wouldn't want that to get in the way of your cheap political points.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 7:16 PM on August 2, 2005


Today, nearly all biologists acknowledge that evolution is a fact. The term theory is no longer appropriate except when referring to the various models that attempt to explain how life evolves... it is important to understand that the current questions about how life evolves in no way implies any disagreement over the fact of evolution.
- Neil A. Campbell, Biology 2nd ed., 1990, Benjamin/Cummings, p. 434


And Heywood, that brings us back to but what is the definition of evolution. IF you refer to the definition that evolution is that organisms change, then yes, evolution is a "fact". If, however, you are referring to the definition that evolution is the natural section of inherited traits, which I have to assume you are with the phrase macro-evolution, then no, it is not a fact. As I suggested before, swap out the word fact with observation. Macro evolution is not an an observable thing (at least for us humans). Then its either a theory or a truth. Since since doesn't give a rats ass about truth and beliefs, the only thing that's left is that it is a theory. Once again, though, theory doesn't equate "probably false" or that scientists are just holding that view until something better comes along. You can, and probably should, treat it as a fact until something better comes along, however there is a fine but important difference between what is a fact and what is a proven theory.

I HATE that the assault on science has backed so many into a corner that they feel the need that science needs to be a dogma to compete. Science and religion are two very different things and once we start treating them the same, then we're fucked.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:30 PM on August 2, 2005


against the cretins who form the ID community

There's evidence that the rabbit hole goes deeper than that.

According to Drury, Strauss like Plato taught that within societies, "some are fit to lead, and others to be led". But, unlike Plato, who believed that leaders had to be people with such high moral standards that they could resist the temptations of power, Strauss thought that "those who are fit to rule are those who realise there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior".

For Strauss, "religion is the glue that holds society together", said Drury, who added that Irving Kristol, among other neo-conservatives, has argued that separating church and state was the biggest mistake made by the founders of the U.S. republic.

"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing", because it leads to individualism, liberalism and relativism, precisely those traits that might encourage dissent, which in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. "You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty," according to Drury. 2

Abram N. Shulsky and Paul Dundes Wolfowitz both received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972. Shulsky's area of expertise was Soviet disinformation techniques. The Straussian movement has many other adherents in and around the George Walker Bush Administration. They include William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, and Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, who is particularly close to Donald Rumsfeld.


Here's some Regnery Press titles:

The Bible Is History

Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church

Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?

Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power

Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity

The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery

Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry


posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:32 PM on August 2, 2005


what a great read this thread has been.

now that i got that out of the way, i'll be back to work on my hair splitting farm.
posted by nola at 7:36 PM on August 2, 2005


If, however, you are referring to the definition that evolution is the natural section of inherited traits, which I have to assume you are with the phrase macro-evolution, then no, it is not a fact.

No, that's not "macro evolution" as defined by the creationists.

"Macro evolution" just attempts to break out speciation/common descent into its own box, since the creationists were under the misapprehension that common descent was more attackable than natural selection. tddl is off his rocker to assert that macro evolution is not as much a scientific fact as micro evolution, since they are essentially the same thing to competent (bona fide) biologists.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:37 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl is off his rocker to assert that macro evolution is not as much a scientific fact as micro evolution, since they are essentially the same thing to competent (bona fide) biologists

I'm going to ignore the uneeded personal callout (again) and point you to a large part of the thread above where it is made pretty clear that the term "macro evolution" in this thread was not being used as a reference to creationism.

Watching one species adapt to an environment in no way mandates that all life on Earth evolved along the same pathway. There is plenty of very compelling evidence to support that it did, but there is a HUGE difference to a bona fide biologist (I'm assuming you mean "population biologist" or similar since a microbiologist wouldn't have standing to judge under your criteria) between observing species A becoming A' and the move from single-celled organisms to humans. Scale matters.

I HATE that the assault on science has backed so many into a corner that they feel the need that science needs to be a dogma to compete. Science and religion are two very different things and once we start treating them the same, then we're fucked.

An interesting perspective -- that the current wave of religion has forced scientists to begin talking like non-scientists and in the process destroyed or damaged what science actually is. It's a set of tools, that come with limitations. Very little in science is an absolute fact, that's one of the big limitations of the toolset, but also one of the big advantages. It's not religion -- the pursuit is not of absolute immutable truths, but rather ever-shifting ways of understanding. Some (evolution) have more support than others, and are more likely to remain relatively constant over time, but are nonetheless not absolute truths that can be held up as "this is right and therefore everythign else must be wrong."

To declare something to be unquestionable truth and shut off inquiry is, in itself, the act of a believer and not the act of a scientist. Unfortunately evolution must be treated as a scientific theory, not a tenant of faith.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 7:45 PM on August 2, 2005


heywood , please for your own sake stop talking to tddl.

that guy could argue the serous doubts he has about the reality of metafilter and whether he really posts here or not, without batting an eye.

you could checkmate him and he would simply argue , that from a certain point of view he was really the winner.

or gravity is not really . . . oh wait, sorry he really did that one.
posted by nola at 7:50 PM on August 2, 2005


or gravity is not really . . . oh wait, sorry he really did that one.

C'mon, to be fair I admitted that one who takes long walks off short piers is likely to discover for one's own self the deleterious effects of gravity in the form of an impromptu swimming lesson. The point was that "how gravity works" is a theory, despite plentiful observations of its effects.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 7:52 PM on August 2, 2005


Fuck him. In the ear.
If those superstitious motherfuckers want to have that kind of party, I'm going to put my dick in the mashed potatoes.
posted by darukaru at 7:58 PM on August 2, 2005


I supposed the problem is that I don't understand what the hell macro evolution even means. I assume it is the monkey to men argument or some variation of.

However, regardless of my understanding of the term, what you can not do is infer because small scale evolution occurs that it is accurate to say that large scale evolution occurs. It seems logical that would be correct, but it is a conclusion, not a fact.

To put it another way, if I say hey, I like apples, therefore all humans like apples, I would be wrong.

Myself, nor TDDL are disagreeing with your point that evolution on a large scale is what is likely going on. However, its your defense of it as fact that is the concern. Once you start mixing up these terms, its easier for the ID/righ-wing faction to take pot shots at science. Because if you call a theory a fact, and it is proven wrong, suddenly it seems possible that all science is wrong. If however, you understand why these minor hair splitting (thanks nola) definitions are important and are sure to use the terms correctly, then the RR and IDers are going to have a much tougher time refuting you.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:01 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl, your above:

To claim that macro evolution (ie, man descending from bacteria over millions of years) is a "fact" belies a fundamental ignorance about the working of science.

is falsified by my references to textbook authors from the t.o treatise on "evolution is a fact".

The very nature of the claim makes it impossible to prove definitively, therefore it is and always will be a theory.

Your hair-splitting between theory and fact is noted.

Scale matters.

Some evolutionary biologists (like Gould) might say it does, but over time it has been the "macro-biologists" like Lamarck who have been proved wrong.

Darwin, on the other hand, saw no fundamental difference between microevolution and macroevolution. He asserted that "Certainly no clear line of demarcation has as yet been drawn between species and sub-species—that is, the forms which in the opinion of some naturalists come very near to, but do not quite arrive at, the rank of species: or, again, between subspecies and well-marked varieties, or between lesser varieties and individual differences. These differences blend into each other by an insensible series; and a series impresses the mind with the idea of an actual passage."

you could checkmate him and he would simply argue , that from a certain point of view he was really the winner

btdt...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:03 PM on August 2, 2005


is falsified by my references to textbook authors from the t.o treatise on "evolution is a fact".

Your ability to selectively quote and to appeal to authority is impressive. Unfortunately selective quotes don't make something any more or less true. The speaker was making a broad generalization, and was imprecise in doing so.

I know you're not going to listen to me because you've chalked me up in the category of people who you disagree with, but listen to [insert clever name here] if you refuse to listen to me.

Your hair-splitting between theory and fact is noted.

That's the ENTIRE point! The DIFFERENCE between science and religion is that one attempts to find immutable FACTS about the universe, while the other generates a series of hypothesis to explain it. By holding something up as fact you are falling victim to the very same tendency that you decry in others. If one "believes" in a "fact" one is no longer behaving as a scientist, but rather as someone who adheres to a dogma. It's very tempting to declare "evolution by natural selection is a fact, therefore creationism/ID must be wrong" to silence political opposition. Unfortunately, it's simply not a claim that a scientist can make. The nature of the scientific process is such that you can never make the claim that something is beyond further investigation and is so true that all other theories must be false.

Look at what I said above. If one delcares something to be a true and immutable fact then they are acting on a beleif system, not based on science. That's dangerous ground to be standing on, as [insert clever name here] has pointed out.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 8:11 PM on August 2, 2005


icnh: Yes. Generally theories are accepted to be true. But, again, that doesn't mean that its any less subject to the POSSIBILITY it could be proven wrong some day, and I doubt that any scientist in their right mind would say otherwise.

The problem is with the same problem Einstein had in developing a replacement for Newtonian Gravity. Newtonian Gravity had been so hugely successful at explaining such a large number of observations about the universe, that Einstein's vision of how Gravity worked had to reduce to Newtonian Gravity for the vast majority of real-world cases and most of the bodies of the solar system.

Darwinian Evolution is the same way. Any attempt to replace Darwinian Evolution as a keystone of modern Biology has to be able to also explain 150 years of evidence supporting Natural Selection as a key mechanism for explaining the history of life on Earth. We are talking about thousands of independent research studies supported by multiple lines of evidence.

Which is why biologists generally tend to treat Evolution as a fact. There is more evidence supporting Evolution, than there is to support the claim that either Newton's or Einstein's theories of gravity work on massive scales of distance and time.

The problem is, there are lots of theories out there much weaker than evolution that are given the imprint of fact. But we never pick nits about such things as the orbital dynamics of Pluto. Pluto is less well supported of a theory than evolution, but it has strong enough support that some people feel safe gambling several million dollars on a probe flyby.

tddl: If one "believes" in a "fact" one is no longer behaving as a scientist, but rather as someone who adheres to a dogma. It's very tempting to declare "evolution by natural selection is a fact, therefore creationism/ID must be wrong" to silence political opposition. Unfortunately, it's simply not a claim that a scientist can make. The nature of the scientific process is such that you can never make the claim that something is beyond further investigation and is so true that all other theories must be false.

Ok, since you outed yourself as a microbiologist a while back (I could be wrong), would you argue that it is not a fact that most life on Earth consists of self-contained packets of liquid surrounded by a phospholipid membrane? And yet, cell theory is probably the second cornerstone of modern biology. We can talk about multicellular or single-celled organisms and cell specialization and cell lines and stem cells. That seems to be a heck of a lot of research taking something that is just a theory for granted.

In fact, it seems that you are arguing a straw-man definition of "fact." I don't know of many other people who treat a "fact" as "something that is beyond further investigation." Instead, I think that when most people say "evolution is a fact," they mean, "it is such a gawsh-darned well supported theory, that it's reasonably safe to take it for granted in doing some kinds of research."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:24 PM on August 2, 2005


Instead, I think that when most people say "evolution is a fact," they mean, "it is such a gawsh-darned well supported theory, that it's reasonably safe to take it for granted in doing some kinds of research."

I fully agree with your definition. I have no problem accepting that for the purposes of research those little lipid bilayers effectively contain cells, which have the property of being alive. I have no problem accepting that for the purpose of studying populations evolution happens. Heck, I even think that the theory that most comprehensively describes what we're doing here is that we evolved over eons from a single bag-of-fluid somewhere that got lucky and enclosed just the right proteins and some proto-DNA.

The problem is when people say "this is a fact beyond investigation, therefore other theories are only considered by cretins" (not verbatim, but "cretins" is from caddis's description upthread) and can be dismissed without considering the merits. ID hasn't convinced me on the merits, but it hardly stands an instant dismissal just because I would like to "believe" in evolution.

The nail was hit on the head earlier - the answer is to improve science education so that people realize that "theory" doesn't mean "not true", but rather means "as comprehensively investigated as science gets, and quite likely an accurate description of how the world actually works."
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 8:30 PM on August 2, 2005


Your ability to selectively quote and to appeal to authority is impressive. Unfortunately selective quotes don't make something any more or less true. The speaker was making a broad generalization, and was imprecise in doing so.

Your above:

To be more clear, "evolution" is a well-tested theory, but it is not infalliable and no scientist would ever claim it to be a "fact".

Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. - Gould.

Today, nearly all biologists acknowledge that evolution is a fact. The term theory is no longer appropriate except when referring to the various models that attempt to explain how life evolves... -- - Neil A. Campbell, Biology 2nd ed., 1990

Since Darwin's time, massive additional evidence has accumulated supporting the fact of evolution--that all living organisms present on earth today have arisen from earlier forms in the course of earth's long history. -- Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes, Biology 5th ed. 1989, Worth Publishers, p. 972

In contrast, the statement that organisms have descended with modifications from common ancestors--the historical reality of evolution--is not a theory. It is a fact, as fully as the fact of the earth's revolution about the sun. - Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, 2nd ed., 1986, Sinauer Associates, p. 15

We get it, you are fact-resistant, tddl.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:33 PM on August 2, 2005


Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. - Gould.

Have you even read what you're citing? Gould is referring to the nature of what we've observed (A to A') as a fact -- there are examples of evolution that have been observed. However, even the person you're quoting admits that the broader theory is just that -- a well-supported theory. He hits the nail right on the head: we have observed certain things, that's a fact. However, the inferences from those facts are theories. They may be well-supported, they may be compelling, and we may want to believe in them. But, they are still theories.

The irony of using support drawn from 20-year-old textbook citiations (written with politics in mind) is pretty clear when I'm sure I could go pick up the latest Kansas textbook and cite it for authority that ID is a fact. We'd get nowhere in that battle.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 8:39 PM on August 2, 2005


What bothers me most about this isn't his acceptance of creationism as anything comparable to scientific theory (which it is not), but his sudden enthusiasm for acceptance of new ideas:
"You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."

Who is this guy? The Bush I know has run the most tight-lipped administration in modern times, has stocked a cabinet of individuals that never stray an inch from Rove's dictates, has kept any opposing views as far from him as a gay pride parade, has refused to hand over documents that would verify his energy policy is run by like-minded oil compatriots, and has stood by as his buddies accused those who disagreed as being unpatriotic and as hating America. Where's Mr. "You're either with us or against us?" Oh, suddenly that guy disappears when Pastor Ted Haggard walks into the room. Hypocrite.

It may not be news that he's a hypocrite, but it still wows me.
posted by Lady Penelope at 8:46 PM on August 2, 2005


tddl: ID hasn't convinced me on the merits, but it hardly stands an instant dismissal just because I would like to "believe" in evolution.

Well, I don't think that the dismissal of ID is justified because I want to believe in evolution. I think that it's justified because ID can't explain some key facts about life on Earth beyond saying, "god works in mysterious ways." Because it lacks a certain quality that is known as "face validity" I don't feel the need to consider it until it rises to a higher standard of evidence.

There are quite a few better theories I reject for similar reasons. Memetics for example is a theory that is unnecessary, inferior to theories that came out of sociology and semiotics in the 50s and 60s, and relies on some claims about ideas that are contradicted by evidence from cognitive psychology. And the flawed case for memetics is better than the case for ID.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:53 PM on August 2, 2005


Well, I don't think that the dismissal of ID is justified because I want to believe in evolution. I think that it's justified because ID can't explain some key facts about life on Earth beyond saying, "god works in mysterious ways." Because it lacks a certain quality that is known as "face validity"

Personally, I think when it is well-presented it passes the initial test, but fails on the merits upon closer examination (no matter who presents it). That said, it's very fair of you to dismiss it on that basis. Dismissing it on its merits is consistant with being a scientist -- it's not the infalliability of the current theory that eliminates a different hypothesis, it's the failings of the new hypothesis.

That's a great reason to reject ID, and I'm all for people to critically examine the theory and reject it for those reasons. All I'm objecting to is the statement "evolution is an absolute fact that I believe in, therefore all other explanations must be false." You can see pretty clearly how that is not scientific.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 8:58 PM on August 2, 2005


Have you even read what you're citing? Gould is referring to the nature of what we've observed (A to A') as a fact -- there are examples of evolution that have been observed. However, even the person you're quoting admits that the broader theory is just that -- a well-supported theory.

Gould:
In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"--part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the creationist argument: evolution is "only" a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science--that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was.

Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent."


Round 'n round we go.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:59 PM on August 2, 2005


Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. ... Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth

Again, read what you're citing. Is a description of a mechanism that cannot possibly be observed "data" or a "structure of ideas that explain and interpret facts"?

You are making a claim about perpetual truth based on a structure of ideas that explain and interpret data. If you weren't trying to make a claim about perpetual truth it wouldn't be relevant.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:02 PM on August 2, 2005


HM: "life as we know it is tuned to the universe, not vice versa."

While this is in line with observed phenomena it is based on a metaphysical assumption. You assume that efficient cause supercedes teleological cause. You also assume that the how's are more elucidating than the why's. Again prejudicing efficient causation over teleological. I'm not going to argue about it here. As it is I'm perfectly willing to just say "Fair enough you prefer to ask how, I find asking why to be more interesting."

But, exactly what prompts you to take from this difference that my thinking is fundamentally flawed?

Furthermore, we agree that our kind of life arose in our kind of universe and that in another universe (one with significantly differing physical laws) some other significantly different kind of life might develop. Where is my fundamental error?

"Life (as we know and love it) apparently arose from the building blocks that were available."

Why the weird qualification there? Do you have a theory that life didn't come from the available building blocks?

Finally, what exactly is the flaw in the WAP? As for whether it produces an argument for or against God I think that we're back to that whole difference of opinion on the interesting kind of causes.
posted by oddman at 9:08 PM on August 2, 2005


Tommorow is not a fact. You can't prove anything!
posted by iamck at 9:08 PM on August 2, 2005


I'm a one trick pony tonight, re: Kuhn vs. Popper, but I think it's the Occam's Razor here (wow, my liberal arts college tuition is paying off). Is "Science" a 10x10 room we, as humans, are trying to fill in with paint, reaching towards an absolute knowing? Or is it a modality that shifts as new observations are made and we trade up to condos and split-levels? I'll admit my lefty, Rortian, relativistic bias--arguments are rarely won or lost, but simply left aside. 100 years from now, we probably won't debate evolution/ID/creationism, because we'll have a new vocabulary for the whole linguistic structure.

"Right" and "Wrong" are the central issues here. "Right" and "Wrong" are much more highly contingent than is usually assumed. My MD/PHD best doctor friend works hard on cancer research, and hopefully he and his colleagues will continue to make contributions, but it's funny to think that in 100 years he will probably be thought of as a hack, since he didn't have access to super-Enterprise-nano-crystal-Macs. It's all a process more than a screed. And should we discount Aristotle because of his theory of motion? Yes, we should, in a limited sense. But don't throw out the baby with the emerging jargon/reality.

I appreciate this thread for the intelligence of most involved. I'm also planning on re-reading Pragmatism again, one of my favorite books. We'll all be considered wrong in the future, not for our intellectual failings, but for the continued emergence of new angles of perspective.

That said, ID is a crock, a lame attempt to make fundamentlaism palatable. I read Darwin when I was in college, and while quite bland by all standards, his vision was mind-blowing, and a hell of a lot more interesting than the creationist view that God snappped his/her fingers and made everything at once. Why the anxiety about non-teleological, non-ordained evolution? Why the anxiety over needing a pre-ordained world?

/on preview: Mefi links on Kubrick/Clarke have me buzzing. This place has been more great than usual as of late.
posted by bardic at 9:15 PM on August 2, 2005


Gould occupies a rather curious position, particularly on his side of the Atlantic. Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticised because he is at least on our side against the creationists. All this would not matter, were it not that he is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory.
-John Maynard Smith


I would have to say Gould is certainly not the best person to quote on this matter.

He had an axe to grind against creationists, and unfortunately, instead of correcting their mistaken assumptions, turned evolution into a dogma. This unfortunately does more harm to science than it does good.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:22 PM on August 2, 2005


icnh, we should avoid quoting experts in their field when we are discussing, ya know, ideas?

Lame attempt to discredit Gould. He had issues, but he was also brilliant.
posted by bardic at 9:29 PM on August 2, 2005


icnh, we should avoid quoting experts in their field when we are discussing, ya know, ideas?

Call me naive, but if somebody, even an intelligent somebody, has a provable bias then that should be considered when evaluating their public statements. That seems to be the point of [insert clever name here]'s post.

That said, Gould's statement quoted by Heywood is internally inconsistent.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:31 PM on August 2, 2005


So tddl and [...] go in for the second round. I hope this my last post.

[...] writes:

Macro evolution is not an an observable thing (at least for us humans). Then its either a theory or a truth.

This is the crux of your argument, I take it? That you think that if "macro" evolution was observable, then it could be a "fact". Well, it is observable. It has been observed, and it's been observed in repeatable experiments. The only to claim otherwise is through ignorance, which could have been rectified by clicking on the link I posted four fucking times.

I'm going to ignore the uneeded personal callout (again) and point you to a large part of the thread above where it is made pretty clear that the term "macro evolution" in this thread was not being used as a reference to creationism.

Macro evolution is a creationist term. Biologists do not make the macro/micro distinction. Anyone discussing "macro" when discussing evolution is discussing it from an ID/Creationist perspective. That's a "Fact" you can take to the bank.

Watching one species adapt to an environment in no way mandates that all life on Earth evolved along the same pathway. There is plenty of very compelling evidence to support that it did, but there is a HUGE difference to a bona fide biologist (I'm assuming you mean "population biologist" or similar since a microbiologist wouldn't have standing to judge under your criteria) between observing species A becoming A' and the move from single-celled organisms to humans. Scale matters.

Just what do you think Microbiologists study?

Anyway, an evolutionary biologist (which would have to include a lot of microbiology) would be the one to talk to about this.

And, if you'd read my link, which you clearly haven’t, you'd see that one of the observed cases of speciation was indeed from a single cellular organism to a multicellular organism. But don't let facts get in the way of your rant. Its like saying "I see that you can walk 10 feet, but that doesn't mean you can you can walk to New York"

There is no evidence at all that "scale" matters.

To declare something to be unquestionable truth and shut off inquiry is, in itself, the act of a believer and not the act of a scientist. Unfortunately evolution must be treated as a scientific theory, not a tenant of faith.

No one is saying that evolution is absolutely true, just that it's "true enough" to be called a fact. "true" doesn’t mean "absolutely true" otherwise there would be no reason to ever say "absolutely true".

Your ability to selectively quote and to appeal to authority is impressive. Unfortunately selective quotes don't make something any more or less true. The speaker was making a broad generalization, and was imprecise in doing so.

You're the one who apealed to authority first, by stipulating rather idioticaly that "no principled scientist would say evolution was a fact". Clearly thats false, unless you think most scientists are "unprincipled" because they don't agree with you.

If you want to live in your own fantisy land, go ahead. But stop bothering us with nonsense.

---

Anyway, I think I know what the kernel of the disagrement with you is. You belive

A) Facts exist. That is, some statements are facts.
B) Not All Statements are facts.
C) the statement "Evolution is real" is not a fact.

How do you know C from A and B? Clearly, there must be some kind of rational test you can perform on statements to find out if they are facts or not. What is that test, I wonder? It seems to be that you think if you can always repeat an experiment then the result of that experiment is a fact. Yet, speciation, which you call 'macro-evolution' fits that fact.

You dismiss that by saying while speciation may be observable, we don't know exactly how it happened, we don't know if natural selection had anything to do with it, so we don't know if evolution is a fact or not.

---

Anyway, you clearly have a diffrent definition of "fact" then I do. And there really isn't any more reason to continue this debate. I hope you read through the talkorigens discussion I linked too several times, (and the rest of their stuff).

Anyway, just to clarify, to me a fact is something such that Fact(x) = true if P(x) > λ where λ is some value such that Fact(x) = true for most statements people consider to be facts.

In other words, if there is overwhelming evidence for something, then it is a fact.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on August 2, 2005


what exactly is the flaw in the WAP?

As a philosophy it's like postulating room temperature was created to make us comforable, as opposed to the apparent reality that we evolved such that room temperature became comfortable to us.

The anthropic argument just goes nowhere and does nothing; IMV thinking a supernatural power created this suitable universe for us overestimates life's/humankind's importance in the scheme of things, not to mention circumscribes the supernatural's power to play with his universe (if the supernatural can play with constants it could also continually fudge things to keep us together).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:43 PM on August 2, 2005


Anyway, just to clarify, to me a fact is something such that Fact(x) = true if P(x) > λ where λ is some value such that Fact(x) = true for most statements people consider to be facts.

I'm impressed by your computer-science based take on science as a whole. However, the whole point of the argument isn't "is P(x) very big for evolution by natural selection", it's "is evolution a fact in the sense that anything that contradicts evolution must be false at the outset?" That is the type of fact we're dealing with here since the point of claiming "evolution is a fact" is to say "evolution is a fact, therefore ID must be wrong without having to examine it on the merits." As it turns out the merits suck for ID (and thus it'd be easier to just disprove the merits), but laziness and dogma compel peopel to make statements that are not supported by science.

It seems to be that you think if you can always repeat an experiment then the result of that experiment is a fact. Yet, speciation, which you call 'macro-evolution' fits that fact.

Again, the claim is that even if we have seen cells evolve into multiple-cell organisms, that doesn't mandate that the mechanism observed is the same mechanism that put life in its current state.

To use your example. If I've seen you walk 10 feet then there is evidence to suggest that it's possible for you to walk to New York from LA. Your example sucks since you'll probably die along the way of dehydration (there are some serious desests) but we can waive those issues. If I see you walk 10 feet, and I know that you're in NYC, the combination does not mandate that you walked to NYC. You're saying "we've seen life evolve from single cells to muliple cells, therefore that is the mechanism that life took to get to where it is." The problem is that (1) we don't know for certain if you started in NYC or LA, and (2) just knowing that you can walk 10 feet doesn't mean that you did walk to get from LA to NYC. Those are serious problems. As it happens, I think you walked from LA to NYC, and there is quite a lot of evidence to support your voyage (pictures, the length of time, etc). But just knowing that you can walk 10 feet doesn't prove that you did walk the distance without help.

In other words, if there is overwhelming evidence for something, then it is a fact.

In computer science, sure. In everday life, sure. In formal scientific logic, no way in hell. Certainty is a lot easier than uncertainty. It's a lot easier to think that we understand the world we live in. Unfortunately, it's just not the case. And to blindly turn away all competing theories because we are desperately clinging to certainty does more harm to science than Bush ever could.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:44 PM on August 2, 2005


I would have to say Gould is certainly not the best person to quote on this matter.

Yeah, I know. Contingent Evolution is largely bullshit IMV. But Gould is a scientist.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:45 PM on August 2, 2005


was
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:46 PM on August 2, 2005


HOLY COW I AGREE WITH DIOS.

In NC (the land of me), Bible Study has been offered as an elective course (by "elective course" I mean a class that is not required but that students may take if they so desire, like Art or Band or whatever) for many years, on the condition that the Bible is studied as a work of literature. Now, the question as to whether it is ACTUALLY studied as a book of literature is open to debate, but the fact is that no one is being forced to take the class. So it's not really a big deal. End of story.
posted by scarymonsterrrr at 9:48 PM on August 2, 2005


You are making a claim about perpetual truth based on a structure of ideas that explain and interpret data. If you weren't trying to make a claim about perpetual truth it wouldn't be relevant.

No, Gould delineated between the two "evolutions", the evolutionary theory of darwinian natural selection, and the evolutionary fact that humans share common ancestors with apes, mammals, reptiles, fish, and squiggly things, colonial life, and microorganisms found here on earth.

Darwinian "survival of the fittest" and other evolutionary theories, should they postulate an exclusive causation, are of course not facts, but, as I've said a lot now, the term "macro evolution" was invented to separate "big-scale" speciation and common descent from the small-scale "micro-evolution" of darwinian natural selection and other phenomena observable on human timescales.

The neo-darwinian synthesis largely rejects this difference and does not see any significant differences in scale.

Evolution is a theory & fact just as much as continental drift is, for very similar (in kind) bases of evidentiary support.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:01 PM on August 2, 2005


vetiver, you're making some unwarrented assumptions about people here. There's certainly a lot of bloviation on this site, but one of the cool things about Metafilter is that you often people who have some expertise in the topic being discussed. I can say with certainty that some of the commentators on this thread have rather more relevant scientific experience than the summer internship at Petco that you postulate.

bardic, brilliance doesn't necessarily mean infallibility. I have a lot of respect for Gould [tangentially, shortly before his death, I almost saw him speak in Cleveland at a presentation against ID when the issue came up in Ohio, but he fell ill], but his ideas were not universally accepted among his fellow scientists, and [in my opinion] he did venture a little bit too far towards making evolution a dogma to counter ID/creationism. This isn't to denigrate him - his essays and books are certainly good, particularly as scientific writing for a lay audience - but despite his name recognition, he isn't the sole authority on evolution, and a fair number of well-respected scientists disagree with some of his theories.

delmoi, I'm not sure why you're arguing so viciously with someone who generally agrees with you. tddl has noted that he supports the theory of evolution, and not ID. The main thing I see you disagreeing on: you seem to want fact to mean "things that we think are true but may need to be modified and replaced" and "things we have observed and are totally and irrefutably true." [e.g., the theory of evolution would be the former type of fact, while the observation that the example speciation you mention actually happened would be the latter.] Unfortunately, that leads to confusion for everyone, particularly since scientists already have a word for the former usage of fact: they call those things "theories." Theories that are heavily supported by evidence, of course, but things that could conceivably be modified or altered or even replaced with new research. Of course, the usage of the word theory has its own problems, since "theory" is often colloquially used to mean something closer to "hypothesis", something unsupported by evidence. You're using the more colloquial definition of "fact", and tddl is using the more scientific definition; as [icnh] said earlier, what we all need is better education as to the differences between those definitions, or perhaps modified terminology.

You're also extending something that is a fact ["speciation occurred in this instance"] to cover every other proposed instance of that mechanism ["so all other species developed this way"] and saying that those must be facts too. Thing is, you observed one, but you didn't observe them all. If your theory is well-supported, is it likely that other species evolved in some different manner? Not very, of course, but part of science involves not claiming absolute certainty, and keeping one's mind open to new explanations of things. Thus, to observe a mechanism occuring in one instance [a "fact"] and extend it to every instance where it is thought that said mechanism might have occurred, and to call that a fact, rather than a well-supported theory - well, that isn't very scientific.
posted by ubersturm at 10:06 PM on August 2, 2005


I rather suspect this debate'll go on for hours, but I have to be in lab depressingly early tomorrow, and I'm sure you'll all manage fine without me. I'd just like to note that I've been pleasantly surprised at the amount of civility and serious discussion in what could've been another NewsFilter / Right Versus Left thread. Good job, all.
posted by ubersturm at 10:09 PM on August 2, 2005


Evolution is a theory & fact just as much as continental drift is, for very similar (in kind) bases of evidentiary support.

A clever but flawed analogy. The problem is that we have directly observed continental drift throguh satellite measurements, not just the side-effects of it. Thus, "continental drift" is a means to explain observations that have been made in realtime -- namely that large chunks of land and ocean are slowly moving. On the other hand, as you use the term "evolution" you are attempting to conflate what has been observed (teh world in its current state, individual acts of specialization) and claim that therefore certain things must have happened millions of years ago to cause our current observations. "Continental drift" is explaining realtime obsrevations, "devolution" is attempting to extrapolate from what we have seen to figure out what happened over the past few eons. The two are very distinct types of theories with very different support.

No, Gould delineated between the two "evolutions", the evolutionary theory of darwinian natural selection, and the evolutionary fact that humans share common ancestors with apes, mammals, reptiles, fish, and squiggly things, colonial life, and microorganisms found here on earth.

As [insert clever name here] already pointed out, if that is truly what Gould was claiming then he was showing his bias and abandoning his principles for the sake of scoring poltiical points against what he saw as the influx of creationism. To state that it is a scientific fact that man is descended from single-cell organisms by entirely natural causes is not possible given the information available to science today. There is a wealth of evidence to support the theory, and the theory is very compelling, but it is no more than a theory. It may change tomorrow, it may change in 100 years, or it may never change. But, since we don't know that for certain, it is not a scientific fact.

Like delmoi suggested, if I know that you can walk 10 feet, and I know that you're in NYC, that doesn't mandate that you got there by walking.

To say something is a scientific fact is to forclose inquiry into alternatives. It is to say that there is no other possible explanation. It's pretty obvious that it doesn't happen very often in science.

We could go on like this for days and days. I think the points have been made. You cling desperately to the dogmatic certainty that evolution is indiputable fact, showing the very same weakness as those who dogmatically cling to ID despite the legions of evidence that contradict ID. In the end you throw the baby out with the scientific bathwater -- by undermining science with false claims that there exist facts despite the undeniable limitation of science that certain things simply cannot be proven to a scientific degree of certainty.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:18 PM on August 2, 2005


Creationists (as I understand their position) postulate that the world was built by some kind of intelligent being using its magical powers.

What's really interesting about the proponents of intelligent design is that they appear to want to couch those magical powers in the language of current academic discourse. Whether they're succeeding or not, and whether their arguments are good or bad is somewhat of a non-issue for me.

I think that what's interesing in terms of the study of systems of thought is that advocates of intelligent design are abandoning the old Anselmic omnipotent magical god in favour of a preoccupation with rationalisation of the technological principles behind the powers wielded by such an entity.
posted by snarfodox at 10:19 PM on August 2, 2005


"devolution" "evolution"

No comment on whether my typing is devolving, please.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:20 PM on August 2, 2005


Not at all the "End of Story." Never will be, given the chronological distance.

Hebrew Testament, Christian Testament, or Apocrypha? The Bible was made at the same time(s) it was recieved, and it's all about context. It's mythologically based literature, brilliant at that, but also based upon politically directed history and a series of agendas (as everything is).

Teach it (as I have) in the context of a troubled, remarkable people trying to eek out a livelihood in 3,000 BC Mesopotamia, trying to get by with the intrusions of Egypt, Assyrians, and Neo-Assyrians, with threats all around. Resist taking it as a chuck of truism. It's a damn good book, but feckless without context.
posted by bardic at 10:21 PM on August 2, 2005



I'm impressed by your computer-science based take on science as a whole. However, the whole point of the argument isn't "is P(x) very big for evolution by natural selection", it's "is evolution a fact in the sense that anything that contradicts evolution must be false at the outset?"

It is? Maybe you should have told me that. In any event, I don't know of anyone claiming that, but that doesn’t mean that some competing theories aren’t dismissible idiotic to start with. In other words ID would be just as wrong and stupid before Origins of Species was written as it would be afterwards. ID doesn’t deserve dismissal because I'd like everyone to believe in evolution, it deserves dismissal because it's stupid on its merits.

You said at the outset that "No principled scientists would say evolution was a fact". Haywood and others showed you evidence that this was incorrect, and what did you do? Post counter evidence yourself/ No, you simply nit-picked his evidence while providing no evidence of your own.

In a nutshell, that's all ID really even is. Nitpicking the evidence ad infinitum, providing nothing in its place.

There simply is no ID theory. It's just political gobltygook designed strengthen the evangelical movement in the US.

The dismissal of ID has nothing to do with the infallibility of Evolution, rather the idiocy of ID irrespective of anything else.

All I'm objecting to is the statement "evolution is an absolute fact that I believe in, therefore all other explanations must be false." You can see pretty clearly how that is not scientific.

Yes, well no one is saying that.

[ In other words, if there is overwhelming evidence for something, then it is a fact] In computer science, sure. In everday life, sure. In formal scientific logic, no way in hell.

Yeah, okay whatever there captain assertion. In this magical "formal scientific logic" that shows what you believe is true to be true and what you believe is false is false. Nevermind that a formal system cannot prove anything about the universe, or that I pointed out nothing at all can be proven such that P(thing) = 1, in which case the whole concept of a "formal scientific fact" is completely redundant. That was one of my first comments. Are you even paying attention?

Any formal philosophy of science must rest on unprovable axioms, and is therefore itself unscientific. Anybody can pick whatever metascience they want, and its possible that some of them will result in a better research. Arguing that someone is "wrong" or "right" about a metascientific point of order is completely pointless. (Which would make most of this discussion quite pointless as well, I guess)

Clearly, most biologists are using a metascience which allows them to label Evolution a fact.

----

I often wonder about the 3449 posts I've made to this site. What I could have acomplished if I'd focused my writing on something productive. Perhaps I'd've written a book or two.
posted by delmoi at 10:21 PM on August 2, 2005


In the end you throw the baby out with the scientific bathwater -- by undermining science with false claims that there exist facts despite the undeniable limitation of science that certain things simply cannot be proven to a scientific degree of certainty.

To clarify, "that there exist certain facts". I'm not arguing that there is no such thing as a fact, I'm arguing that claims about certain facts (ie, "that man evolved along some natural route from bacteria is set in stone") that cannot be supported in science.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:22 PM on August 2, 2005


In other words ID would be just as wrong and stupid before Origins of Species was written as it would be afterwards. ID doesn’t deserve dismissal because I'd like everyone to believe in evolution, it deserves dismissal because it's stupid on its merits.

Great, we are in whole-hearted agreement.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:24 PM on August 2, 2005


delmoi, I'm not sure why you're arguing so viciously with someone who generally agrees with you.

Me either.
posted by delmoi at 10:25 PM on August 2, 2005


The main thing I see you disagreeing on: you seem to want fact to mean "things that we think are true but may need to be modified and replaced" and "things we have observed and are totally and irrefutably true." [e.g., the theory of evolution would be the former type of fact, while the observation that the example speciation you mention actually happened would be the latter.]

Set A: "things that we think are true but may need to be modified and replaced"

Set B: "things we have observed and are totally and irrefutably true."

B is a Subset of A. If things in A are facts, then so are things in B.
posted by delmoi at 10:33 PM on August 2, 2005


And now I go to sleep.
posted by delmoi at 10:34 PM on August 2, 2005


Me>: Evolution is a theory & fact just as much as continental drift is, for very similar (in kind) bases of evidentiary support.

tddl: A clever but flawed analogy. The problem is that we have directly observed continental drift throguh satellite measurements, not just the side-effects of it.

Disagree, you're eliding the centrality of the commonality. Is it not a fact today that India was once not part of the asiatic continent?

If so, where is your "direct observation" of this fact?

And, in your post you are still ignoring the differences between evolution-as-a-theory (darwin, lamarckian, punk-eek, neo-darwinian synthesis, etc) and evolution-as-a-fact (the radiating tree of life). You want to assert that scientists do not consider "the origin of species" aka "macro-evolution" to be a fact, I disagree, and posted several quotes (aside from Gould) from the "Evolution is a fact" t.o. treatise to back that up.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:36 PM on August 2, 2005


And, in your post you are still ignoring the differences between evolution-as-a-theory (darwin, lamarckian, punk-eek, neo-darwinian synthesis, etc) and evolution-as-a-fact (the radiating tree of life).

I'm saying that BOTH are theory. They are different concepts, sure, but they are BOTH theory. The neo-Darwin synthesis is a theory as to the mechanism of action. That man came from a single cell is a theory as to explain our current observations. To state that as an immutable fact is a matter of dogma and belief, not science. I agree that there is gobs of evidence to support the theory that you and I are both descended from bacteria (I won't comment about who made it further), but that doesn't make it a fact in science. I'm sorry. Certainty would be nice. I know as much as anyone that certainty is comforting. But it's simply not a fact. It's belief, it's dogma.

Is it not a fact today that India was once not part of the asiatic continent?

Now you are very much on the dangerous ground that [insert clever name here] warned about. If you start saying "theories X, Y, and Z are all fact" then all one has to do is disprove one and the rest suddenly appear to have no validity. Plate tectonics is a very rapidly shifting (so to speak) field. I am not a geologist, seismologist, or any other earth scientist, but I would generally say that it is an accepted theory that India was not always connected to Asia. Plate tectonics is called a theory, with good reason. We have a set of observations (land moving, there are volcanos in some spots, there are mountains in others, and in some places there are mountains and volcanos) and plate tectonics is a theory to put it all together. One postulate of that theory is that India was once seperate. There's lots of evidence to support that, but it's not a fact. Sorry. Hard science does not support those types of claims.

Set A: "things that we think are true but may need to be modified and replaced"

Set B: "things we have observed and are totally and irrefutably true."

B is a Subset of A. If things in A are facts, then so are things in B.


I agree with your logic there. The problem is that things in A are "accepted theories", not "facts". To a hard scientist if it can be changed then it's not a fact. It's an accepted theory, an accepted explanation, a likely hypothesis, etc etc etc. But it's not "fact" unless it's pretty much set in stone. There exist things in B ("I observed X", "water will boil under X conditions at Y temperature", etc), but the vast majority of science is in the A category. When I was working with calcium-mediated exocytosis we accepted a huge number of things as true for the sake of our work, but it would be very wrong to say that a lot were facts.

In general, we're in agreement.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:49 PM on August 2, 2005


I just wanna chime in and say that dios nailed it.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:52 PM on August 2, 2005


Is it not a fact today that India was once not part of the asiatic continent?

For further evidence to suggest that Plate Tectonics / Continental Drift is a theory, may I suggest:
"Plate Tectonics: A Paradigm Under Threat"
This paper looks at the challenges confronting plate tectonics - the ruling paradigm in the earth sciences. The classical model of thin lithospheric plates moving over a global asthenosphere is shown to be implausible. Evidence is presented that appears to contradict continental drift, seafloor spreading, and subduction, as well as the claim that the oceanic crust is relatively young. The problems posed by vertical tectonic movements are reviewed, including evidence for large areas of submerged continental crust in today's oceans. It is concluded that the fundamental tenets of plate tectonics might be wrong.
(hopefully the link is static)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:55 PM on August 2, 2005


better link to the full-text
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:56 PM on August 2, 2005


I just wanna chime in and say that sockpuppets suck.
posted by bardic at 10:56 PM on August 2, 2005


I note that I have no basis to review the science in the "Paradigm Under Threat" article, but I do note that it's been cited over 100 times in other works. It might be wrong or biased for all I know, but if it got over 100 cites that suggests that there is a live controversy within the field. If it were pure junk it would have likely been ignored.

Thus, continental drift is an active theory. You said that continental drift is on an equal footing with evolution. Therefore evolution is a theory by your own logic. QED. It doesn't matter much, but it shows why [insert witty name here] had a point about starting to claim that some theories are really facts.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:00 PM on August 2, 2005


Is Bevets on vacation, or something?
posted by Balisong at 11:02 PM on August 2, 2005


Unresponsive. Goodnight.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:03 PM on August 2, 2005


ubersturm -- I never thought, or meant to imply, that none of the 25K+ MeFites had any scientific expertise. It did seem that the chief participants in this thread were gnawing and gnawing and gnawing over semantics, which is so not the point here -- so many vastly more intereting things to discuss.

That, really, was my only point.

posted by vetiver at 11:06 PM on August 2, 2005


continental drift is an active theory.

No, Continents don't "drift". People thought that continents glided over the seabottom. After the ocean floors were mapped, the theory changed to plate techtonics. Plates move techtonically. Continents don't drift.

Also there is no aether out in space causing the drag on our planetary movenent, it is just an aspect of gravity that we can observe.

The moon is also not made of green cheese, and there aren't little green men on a red planet planing to take over.
posted by Balisong at 11:06 PM on August 2, 2005


Unresponsive. Goodnight.

Again, you seem very willing to decree what is and is not true without bothering to provide evidence or support. You have not responded to the proof that plate tectonics is but a theory, and is widely considered as such.

A good night to you, and I'm sure that you will track me down again.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:06 PM on August 2, 2005


No, Continents don't "drift". People thought that continents glided over the seabottom. After the ocean floors were mapped, the theory changed to plate techtonics. Plates move techtonically. Continents don't drift.

Sorry, I was trying to use Heywood's language to be a good sport. You are entirely correct. He claimed that continental drift was a fact, and you pretty well show that he's full of it. He also claims evolution is a fact on an equal plane with continental drift. So far he's batting .000
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:08 PM on August 2, 2005


Let's try again. Do you consider the assertion that the Indian subcontinent was not once part of the Asian continent to be a scientific fact? Yes or No.

"Continental Drift" comes in flavors of theories, and the mechanics of how continents could "drift" were hypothesized after the fact of continental drift became (increasingly) established. Indeed, experts could not imagine mechanics to fit the factual assertions of C.D. so they disregarded the facts.

Likewise, "evolution" comes in a package with factual assertions and theories of underlying mechanics. That's what Gould was talking about and there's nothing dogmatic about believing in common ancestry or continental drift, regardless of the extent of our knowledge of the underlying mechanics.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:10 PM on August 2, 2005


But I.D. requires total suspention from looking for any more data to advance ANY other theory.
It is dogma. not any type of science, theory, or not.
posted by Balisong at 11:17 PM on August 2, 2005


Do you ever hear of a skeptical I.D.'er?
posted by Balisong at 11:18 PM on August 2, 2005


there's nothing dogmatic about believing in...

Do you not see the problem with your statement? If you "believe" in something then you are making a value judgment about it, not a scientific one. One believes in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, God, and all other sorts of nonsense. One accepts or questions scientific theories. I accept that evolution (broadly speaking) is what put us here, but I don't "believe" in it. When you use the language of belief to attempt to describe science you aren't describing science.

Also, I thought you said good night. Can't sleep?

Do you consider the assertion that the Indian subcontinent was not once part of the Asian continent to be a scientific fact? Yes or No.

It is a generally accepted theory. It is not scientific fact in that nobody has ever observed it being seperated, there is evidence to support that it was not seperated (see link above), and there is nothing which mandates that it have been seperated at some point. I agree that most earth scientists would accept that what we now know as India was once floating in the ocean all by its lonesome, but that does not make it a fact. That is a well-supported theory, an accepted theory, or a theory that is not frequently questioned.

there's nothing dogmatic about believing in common ancestry or continental drift, regardless of the extent of our knowledge of the underlying mechanics.

Except there is everything dogmatic about insisting something is a fact if you don't understand the underlying mechanics. You are saying "we're not sure why X happens, but it has to since we observe Y, therefore X is an unquestionable fact." That doesn't make sense. If you don't understand how X happens then you can't possibly rule out other means of accomplishing X. There can be plenty of evidence, but saying "we've seen evolution on small scales, and we see people today, therefore it is a FACT that small-scale evolution took place over a long time... even though we're not sure how... and cannot be questioned" is just plain wrong on its face.

After your plate tectonics debacle I'm not sure how much science you really understand.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:19 PM on August 2, 2005


The thing that has always struck me about ID is that it's based on anti-logic: "It seems numerically improbable based on our current understanding for evolution to have worked, so let's just give up, say it's not possible, and put in a foo variable we'll call 'God.'" It asks that people effectively stop asking questions by accepting a totally unquantifiable and unknowable variable (the "intelligence") which would then, naturally, be presumed to be whatever spiritual force the majority believes it to be.

It's not science. It's not even positive logic; it's scientific defeatism--in effect, it is antiscience. The idea that somehow this construct has any place in actual scientific thought boggles my mind. The quotations of the infamous "wedge document" are right on--this is just another attempt to get a shoe in the door. Don't sugar-coat ID as anything less than a precedent for other anti-scientific, theological "ideas" to be foisted upon kids as scientifically viable and the equivalent of those sciences.

Curiously, the Creationist movement itself is an interesting study in co-evolution...
posted by trigonometry at 11:30 PM on August 2, 2005


Also, I thought you said good night. Can't sleep?

I was responding to your initial dodge wrt continental drift.

If you "believe" in something then you are making a value judgment about it, not a scientific one. One believes in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, God, and all other sorts of nonsense.

Wrong. All factual assertions are provisional:

Gould: Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty."

One last quote from "Evolution is a Fact":

"The honest scientist, like the philosopher, will tell you that nothing whatever can be or has been proved with fully 100% certainty, not even that you or I exist, nor anyone except himself, since he might be dreaming the whole thing. Thus there is no sharp line between speculation, hypothesis, theory, principle, and fact, but only a difference along a sliding scale, in the degree of probability of the idea. When we say a thing is a fact, then, we only mean that its probability is an extremely high one: so high that we are not bothered by doubt about it and are ready to act accordingly." - H. J. Muller, "One Hundred Years Without Darwin Are Enough" School Science and Mathematics 59, 304-305. (1959)

You've managed to successfully derail this thread from an analysis of Republican/Bushite malfeasance (an echo of Reagan-era kowtowing to the creationists that Gould referenced above) to an epistemological discussion of certainty. Congratulations, and goodnight.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:37 PM on August 2, 2005


You've managed to successfully derail this thread an analysis of Republican/Bushite malfeasance

Several people have commented that this was a more interesting discussion than just another "Bush is teh suck!" echo-chamber. Sorry if actual disscussion on more than a third-grade level hurt your head. Next time feel free to skip it or just focus your energy on blindly bashing those you disagree with and calling them silly names. I recognize that a three-minute hate is much more pleasing, even if it much less edifying. Clearly you were unable to resist slipping back to your old partisan ways.

Wrong. All factual assertions are provisional:

Gould: Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty."


Didn't you already admit that Gould was blinded by his bias against what he saw as an influx of creationism, and therefore is not a useful authority to quote? His bald conclusionary statement, knowing that he sait it in order to make a political point, carries little to no weight. That said, it doesn't even get you where you need to go.

You have still yet to prove that "continental drift" is a fact. Given that it's an outmoded concept you have a long uphill to climb there. You can try to claim that by "continental drift" you really meant "plate tectonics", but we all know that "continental drift" refers to a specific and no-longer-valid theory.

One last quote from "Evolution is a Fact":

Doesn't the title tell you their agenda clearly enough? If I started quoting from a site called "ExxonMobil is really good for the environment" you'd call that bluff instantly.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:45 PM on August 2, 2005


You've managed to successfully derail this thread from an analysis of Republican/Bushite malfeasance

Sorry to harp on it, but really, that pretty well shows (1) your opinion of MetaFilter as a place to just get your political points across, (2) the fact that you aren't interested in dialogue as much as echo-chamber Bush Bashing™, and (3) that you automatically snap to your conclusions about right and wrong instead of thinking the matter over.

I can't help (3), but (2) is a pox on the MetaFilter community, and (1) shows fundamental disrespect for the community that we all share.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:49 PM on August 2, 2005


But, you know, Bush is teh suck.

My only redeeming thought is, since Bush is the Anti-Midas, and everything he touches turns to shit before his eyes, I can only see this blowing out worse than he ever expected.

Will people die from this maligned intervention? Probably.
posted by Balisong at 11:50 PM on August 2, 2005


It's disappointing when conversations regress to argumentum ad hominem. Even if people are annoyed and/or feel that they're responding in kind it's a selfish, fundamentally wasted effort that turns everyone off reading your future comments, not just your interlocutor. It's particularly unfortunate in a thread where I had been reading the posts of several of the now abusive parties with interest.
posted by snarfodox at 12:12 AM on August 3, 2005


It's particularly unfortunate in a thread where I had been reading the posts of several of the now abusive parties with interest.

Apologies to all, agreed that I should have just kept my trap shut for my part.

That said, I'm impressed that you got through 300+ comments to reach the parts where we got immature.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:18 AM on August 3, 2005


Heywood man, you've fought the good fight. Give it up. It seems clear that tddl is just not going to grasp the not particularly subtle point you're making about the distinction between the fact of evolution and the theory of natural selection. If he wants to waffle for hours about the meaning of "fact", that's just his own personal paranoia.
posted by snoktruix at 12:24 AM on August 3, 2005


tddl: I'm impressed that you got through 300+ comments to reach the parts where we got immature.

I'm watching a genetic algorithm eat clock cycles.

I'm optimising. Technically I'm working.

Sort of.

No, really.

I am.
posted by snarfodox at 12:49 AM on August 3, 2005


By the way, the sky isn't blue, at least not all the time. The sky outside my window is bluer at the moment, certainly, than it was when I read the assertion that "The Sky Is Blue" is a fact, at which time it was slate grey. Before I went to bed last night it was orange and around sunset yesterday there were spectacular areas of red.

I'm sure there's a Peanuts cartoon that covers this very issue.

It just seems to be a very odd "fact" to use, considering that it's demonstrably untrue quite a lot of the time, at least if you live in a meteorologically diverse place.
posted by Grangousier at 1:00 AM on August 3, 2005


by undermining science with false claims that there exist facts despite the undeniable limitation of science that certain things simply cannot be proven to a scientific degree of certainty.

I demand my theory that we spontaneously generated from the hollow earth be considered with the same energy as evolution is considered. To this end I will put up such a rukus that those who 'believe' in evolution 'science' must defend it. When they do I will attack them on the charge that because they believe in scientific theory, which holds that nothing is immutable (is that statement itself immutable...hmmm? is absurdity immutable?) therefore to exclude any theory in favor of one that is far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far far more useful or rather 'believeable' is just as dogmatic as believing that we were created when the Martians all painted their asses blue with lipstick or whatever it is I said because prioritizing time, energy, and money on more 'valuable' 'theories' doesn't mean they're 'true' in the 'scientific' sense. QED.
I'll make millions, which is really the point anyway, right?
*wink* *nudge*

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean --- neither more nor less."
"The question is", said Alice, "whether you CAN make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master --- that's all."

posted by Smedleyman at 1:55 AM on August 3, 2005


That is the type of fact we're dealing with here since the point of claiming "evolution is a fact" is to say "evolution is a fact, therefore ID must be wrong without having to examine it on the merits."

This seems to be the fundamental point of contention. Frankly, while I agree with the spirit of your posts TTDL, that science is not dogma, it looks a lot like a straw man to me, because no one has made this claim.

ID, in most formulations, is not science, and thus is not capable of challenging any scientific theory. One need not reject it at all. It is not even open for rejection. There are perhaps formulations which are scientific (I have not seen them, but I also have not spent much time learning about ID). These formulations must be very powerful if they are to challenge the accepted theory, because of the weight of observation and evidence behind the current working model of how living things change. It is not the case that ID must be dismissed because the current model is infallible, but it is the case that any model with less predictive power can be dismissed.

The reason that the argument about the status of evolution as a fact or theory comes up at all is not because its status has any bearing on whether we should accept ID. The scientific reasons for rejecting ID are sound, and exist independent of this discussion. The reason it comes up is because of a political tactic that claims current scientific theories are somehow weak simply because of the word "theory." It is true that everything in science is open to question, but the standard of evidence for questioning some theories is very high. So high that it would not be wrong to call the theory a fact in every day conversation, or to treat it as a fact in making decisions.

The argument is very similar to the one often leveled against atheists: "How do you know, absolutely, there's not a god?" Only here it's: "How do you know, absolutely, that evolution is correct?" In both cases the answer is that I do not know either of those things absolutely, but in both cases the evidence is such that I can safely treat them as true in my day to day life. Further evidence could change either of those positions, but the fact that they are not immutable does not make them weak. This is the point that is being made by speaking about evolution as a fact. It is not a scientific point, nor does it have any bearing on how theories that challenge evolution are evaluated.
posted by Nothing at 2:19 AM on August 3, 2005


Didn't you already admit that Gould was blinded by his bias against what he saw as an influx of creationism, and therefore is not a useful authority to quote?

So now you're not only the arbiter of what can be considered "fact" but also of who is and is not an authority?

You're not in this to engage in meaningful discussion, you're only in this to "prove" your "point" which conveniently shifts whenever it looks like you're getting into trouble.
posted by bshort at 6:45 AM on August 3, 2005


From the Berkeley page for teachers:
Theory vs. hypothesis

A theory is an explanation. The validity of a theory rests upon its ability to explain phenomena. Theories may be supported, rejected, or modified, based on new evidence. Gravitational theory, for example, attempts to explain the nature of gravity. Cell theory explains the workings of cells. Evolutionary theory explains the history of life on Earth.

A hypothesis is a testable idea. Scientists do not set out to “prove” hypotheses, but to test them. Often multiple hypotheses are posed to explain phenomena and the goal of research is to eliminate the incorrect ones. Hypotheses come and go by the thousands, but theories often remain to be tested and modified for decades or centuries. In science, theories are never hunches or guesses and to describe evolution as “just a theory” is inappropriate.
It would seem they are suggesting that teachers teach public school students tddl's version.
posted by jb at 7:38 AM on August 3, 2005


What an infuriating semantic shitstorm
[goes looking for a refund]
posted by fFish at 7:42 AM on August 3, 2005


Well, that was exciting.
posted by delmoi at 8:44 AM on August 3, 2005


probably the most anal thread in MeFi history. but you know what, props to tddl for achieving exactly what he wanted - a derail from the subject at hand. did you all notice? I hope you did.

oh, and this:
all of MeFi really appreciate it if

tddl, don't ever speak for "all of MeFi" again. thanks.
posted by mr.marx at 11:10 AM on August 3, 2005


but you know what, props to tddl for achieving exactly what he wanted - a derail from the subject at hand.

I think it was mentioned further up, but it was Moral Animal who initially claimed that the theory of evolution was a set-in-stone incontravertable fact. That began the discussion about the status of evolution about 50 comments into the thread. Before and during that discussion there was plenty of discussion about the Texas class and about the merits of ID.

I'm sorry that the discussion didn't follow your pre-programmed talking points, but a lot of people got a lot more out of this thread than just another "Bush is teh suxors!" thread. Discussions often take different tracks than the one that you want and the one that allows you to hit your talking points. There are plenty of other chances for you to get your jabs in at Bush, don't worry.

My intent was not to derail anything, but to have an intelligent discussion with other like-minded individuals. If you want to comment substantively then please, be my guest. Until then, stop posting trash comments and making baseless allegations about motive.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:22 AM on August 3, 2005


That said, I'm amazed that nobody didn't just quote from the Wikipedia on this one. It's not an end-all source of authority, but it's got some good explanations.
In common parlance the word "evolution" is often used as shorthand for the modern synthesis of evolution, including the theory that all extant species share a common ancestor.

[A] scientific theory is a model of the world (or some portion of it) from which falsifiable hypotheses can be generated and be verified through empirical observation. In this sense, "theory" and "fact" do not stand in opposition, but rather exist in a reciprocal relationship — for example, it is a "fact" that an apple dropped on earth will fall towards the center of the planet in a straight line, and the "theory" which explains it is the current theory of gravitation. Currently, the modern synthesis is the most powerful theory explaining variation and speciation, and within the science of biology, it has completely replaced earlier accepted explanations for the origin of species, including creationism and Lamarckism.

In biology, the theory of universal common descent proposes that all organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor or ancestral gene pool.
(Wiki current as of August 3, 2005)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:56 AM on August 3, 2005


I need a snack.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 1:21 PM on August 3, 2005


ID: Take brain out of skull, flush, replace with Bible passages fed to you by preachers with IQs sub 100. Science, hah.
posted by caddis at 3:08 PM on August 3, 2005


tddl: you will never, ever speak for me.
posted by mosch at 8:23 AM on August 10, 2005


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