Evolution Confounds Postmodernist Postman

| 64 Comments

Recently deceased NYU professor and postmodernist cultural critic Neil Postman (1931-2003) has a cult following for books such as Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly. I have always been mystified by this, since Postman demonstrated again and again in his writings that he was actually remarkably ignorant of the technology he chose to criticize.

This week I picked up a copy of Postman's 1988 book Conscientious Objections at a local book sale. Not surprisingly, Postman's ignorance is on display again, this time about evolution.

In a chapter entitled "Columbusity", Postman says "Like evolution, Creation Science purports to explain how the world and all that's in it came to be..." No, it doesn't. Evolution is only concerned with the biological world, and what happened after the first replicators appeared. Evolution doesn't encompass cosmology, or geology, or even abiogenesis; those are different areas.

Postman advocates that creationism should be taught side-by-side with evolution and claims that "Good science has nothing to fear from bad science..." Unfortunately, it does. When incorrect or fraudulent results are published, they can lead other researchers astray for years. In medicine, bad science can have disastrous consequences -- look at all the cancer victims who were persuaded to try worthless remedies like krebiozen and laetrile. By misleading those politicians who fund research, bad science can take money away from where it is genuinely needed -- consider all the money wasted by Utah on cold fusion. And in the classroom, bad science can take valuable time away from coverage of genuine science. It's not as if the biology curriculum is filled with unimportant concepts that can be dropped in favor of creationism.

Next, Postman writes "In the first place, Darwin's explanation of how evolution happened is a theory. So is the updated version of Darwin. Even the 'fact' that evolution occurred is based on high levels of inference and supposition. Fossil remains, for example, are sometimes ambiguous in their meaning and have diverse interpretations. And there are peculiar gaps in the fossil record, which is something of an enigma if not an embarrassment to evolutionists."

This ignorant commentary could have been taken directly from a creationist tract. His claim about the fossil record being an "embarrassment to evolutionists" was later echoed by Robert Bork, showing that ignorance can be found on both the political Right and Left.

If Postman were alive, I would tell him to read Mark Isaak's Five Misconceptions About Evolution and Kathleen Hunt's Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ, which would go a long way in correcting his misconceptions.

There are many more examples of scientific ignorance awaiting the reader of Conscientious Objections, such as Postman's endorsement of Alfred Korzybski, and his assertion that "modern physics tells us that a cup is made of billions of electrons in constant movement, undergoing continuous change". But Postman's remarks about evolution alone are enough for any reader to be skeptical about his ability to knowledgeably criticize science and technology.

64 Comments

There are many more examples of scientific ignorance awaiting the reader of Conscientious Objections, such as Postman’s endorsement of Alfred Korzybski…

What’s the deal with Korzybski anyway? I had never heard of him before. There’s a short biography here which only gives a very brief overview of his ideas. They sound like vague nonsense to me, but then again it’s hard to tell what (if anything) is wrong with them judging by that simple biography.

I agree with Postman that “good science has nothing to fear from bad science”. If your theory is strong and your ideas are supported by observational and experimental data then you should have nothing to fear. The reason for the intense fear of “creationism” is concern that the weaknesses in the prevailing theory will be exposed and that it will not stand up to intense scrutiny. Any good theory should welcome this kind of intense scrutiny because if the theory is valid, it only makes it stronger. By trying to silence these kinds of criticisms, it certainly appears like there is something to hide. The fact is, that in spite of intense criticism from creationists, I see very little defense of evolutionary theory by scientists. They seem to have withdrawn from the scientific debate and turned to personally attacking the critics and their ideas rather then providing better support for their own.

Lukas Buehler wrote the following review of Postman’s 1988 book “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century” which applies to your concerns:

“In his newest book Neil Postman makes a convincing case for the strong influence of the philosophes of the Enlightenment on our 20th Century thinking. The book culminates in a five point wish list on how to teach students critical thinking. Postman calls it developing a scientific mind-set, to learn how to be skeptical and ask the right questions, rather than just learn the correct answers. Why are we doing what we are doing and where do we come from. Two questions that refer us to the history of our culture and Postman tells us what could be done to achieve true science literacy. To pick out two examples, Postman suggests not to be afraid to include creation science as a comparative ‘theory’ to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Let students argue about the Ptolemaic astronomy as compared to the modern view based on Galileo’s observation and Newton’s law of Gravity. By comparing not only the facts, but how these facts have been put forward in the first place, students will learn why a world view depicting the sun revolving around the Earth is no longer tenable, although we can see the sun rise every morning and set every evening. How many people could prove that this is a mere illusion? Similarly, comparing creationist’s idea of a ‘scientific theory’ with the scientific theory of modern synthesis of biological evolution will be useful to teach the power of a falsifiable theory.”

January 24, 2000 / © 2000 Lukas K. Buehler /

It is a lovely picture- sure, let the creationists bring their garbage into the classroom, and we’ll sweep it right back out the door!

Maybe. I think that in the environment of modern public school, such actual debate would simply be a catalyst for the ignorant parents of the ignorant children to wade into the fray. What creationists want is not just equal time for creationism, but equal respect and merit. Deprive creation of such through fair means, and its adherents will cry foul. No fool fears foolishness when in like company.

Korzybski is the General Semantics guy who, among other things, would have us remove the word “is” (and its various conjugates) from most sentences in everyday speech, because of its metaphysical baggage (it reifies everything, they say).

In a sense, good science has little to fear from bad science. Within the realm of science, that is. Science is self-correcting and useless ideas get left by the wayside. That doesn’t mean that good science can be passive about bad science.

As the lesser mongbat pointed out, it’s different in the socio-political arena. Society at large is not very good at self-correction, and it lacks the tools to discriminate between good and bad science.

One of the problems with science for the general population is that good science can be very uncomfortable. Good science has far more questions than it has answers (the fact that the questions can be and are answered as time passes has no bearing, sadly). Good science can raise ethical and moral issues. Good science makes one think; it speaks to the intellect. And finally, good science often speaks in a language that most people simply cannot understand.

Bad science, on the other hand, is comfortable. It offers universal answers and the end of all doubts. It speaks to the emotions and removes the need to think.

That latter is the real danger, because once bad science is entrenched in the mind, it resists new ideas, making it very hard to dislodge. Charlie is an excellent case in point, as in other threads he has simply ignored any evidence presented that refutes his positions. Good science welcomes new ideas and is open to change.

So, good science can never, ever, become complacent about bad science.

I agree with Postman that “good science has nothing to fear from bad science”. If your theory is strong and your ideas are supported by observational and experimental data then you should have nothing to fear.

Good science has nothing to fear from bad science per se, but bad science combined with agressive politics – that’s a potential problem. Cre/IDists have been consistently beaten in the scientific arena where they know they can’t compete. So they put their efforts into the political arena. The creationist outfits, particularly the newer ID groups, are nothing more than political advocacy organizations.

The reason for the intense fear of “creationism” is concern that the weaknesses in the prevailing theory will be exposed and that it will not stand up to intense scrutiny.

What a bunch of ridiculous piffle. The fact that creationists direct their efforts at trying to indocrtinate school children – rather than present their ideas to scientists – demonstrates quite clearly that their goals have nothing to do with “exposing” the prevailing theory. Scientists have seen creationist criticisms for many years now and have found them worthless. The creationists direct their lies at impressionable children preciesly because the prevailing theory holds up quite well under “intense scrutiny”, and the professionals aren’t about to be fooled.

Charlie,

Yes, of course good science has nothing to fear from bad science, insofar as the validity and usefulness of a given theory is concerned. But as Jeff points out in his post, this is not simply a question of epistemology. Time is always valuable, whether in the classroom or the lab. I will agree with Postman that in can be useful for students to compare evolutionary science with creationism or ID, in order to gain a greater understanding of what is meant by a scientific theory. But I don’t think that it is a debate appropriate for a general high school biology class, but rather for a undergraduate class on the philosophy of science. Most general biology curriculums are hard-pressed to cover the essential information and research in the field without taking time out for potentially divisive digressions into a “theory” whose prime usefulness is as an example of how not to do science.

I see very little defense of evolutionary theory by scientists. They seem to have withdrawn from the scientific debate and turned to personally attacking the critics and their ideas rather then providing better support for their own.

?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You know, I see very little defense of the “round earth” theory by geologists. Have they “withdrawn from the scientific debate” also? Or is it simply that there is no real debate, just ignorance and faith masquerading as science?

Charlie,

Good science may have nothing to fear from bad science; but we have something to fear bad science. Why?

Because people get hurt when bad science prevails. You only have to look as far as the surgeon who transplanted at baboon heart into an infant only to have the child die from the rejection of the foreign heart. When he was asked by his collegues why he didn’t use a chimpanzee heart, since they are closer to humans genetically, the surgeon stated that he didn’t believe in evolution.

In other words, a child died because a surgeon was not able to distinguish between his own beliefs and actual Biological knowledge.

Need I say more?

Eddie

Another good example of how bad science can hurt people is HIV denialism. A small movement of people in the early to mid 90s claimed that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, and that there was never really any evidence that it did. The movement was led in part by one Philip E. Johnson, the same one who leads the ID movement, and was joined in by Jonathan Wells and I believe at least one other well-known ID advocate. The movement kind of fizzled as anti-HIV drugs started working wonders, but Johnson has never retracted his position (which he defends with the same venom as his anti-evolutionism), and I believe he still runs an HIV denialist email list.

All of this would be worthy of little more than snickering if not for the fact that this nonsense has actually convinced some people in authority to ignore or downplay the threat of HIV. A few years back, South Africa’s president Mbeki refused to take the view that HIV is responsible for AIDS, and so he blocked the distribution of an anti-HIV drug that was proven to stop transmission of the virus from pregnant women to their unborn children. A lot of children died needlessly, thanks to the spread of misinformation by Johnson et al.

Charlie said:

“I see very little defense of evolutionary theory by scientists. They seem to have withdrawn from the scientific debate and turned to personally attacking the critics and their ideas rather then providing better support for their own.”

Charlie, in thread after thread on this site you’ve been presented with detailed, impassioned defenses of evolution, with links to many more. Your dismissal of this with two sentences is astonishingly arrogant. What did you think that the purpose of this site was? To give you a platform on which to flaunt your ignorance?

Simple ignorance is forgivable and curable. Willful ignorance is contemptible.

“What’s the deal with Korzybski anyway? I had never heard of him before.”

Korzybski is the founder of general semantics, which flourished around the 60s or 70s. One of the more well-known sound bytes to come out of GS is “the map is not the territory”. It’s not another clump on the rubbish-heap of history. He valued mathematics, and tried to bring mathematical certainty to the humanities.

One of his followers was the peppery S. I. Hayakawa.

About this theory thing (Postman says “Darwin’s explanation … is a theory”)… Postman should know - and if he doesn’t, we need pay no more attention to him - that a scientist’s view of a theory is quite different from a layman’s. There’s a good short discussion of this at Impearls:

http://impearls.blogspot.com/

So was Korzybski’s work on the level or not? I’ve been hearing references to his theory of “General Semantics”, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of it, and while I’m not an expert in either the social sciences or humanities, I figure I might have come across it before now if it had lasting influence. What exactly is it? What do its proponents cite as its major successes? What do critics cite as its major failures? Sorry if this is all old news to everyone else…

Steve wrote:

“Cre/IDists have been consistently beaten in the scientific arena where they know they can’t compete. So they put their efforts into the political arena. The creationist outfits, particularly the newer ID groups, are nothing more than political advocacy organizations.”

First of all, I have no use whatsoever for religious creationists and I don’t believe that ideology belongs in a science classroom. On the other hand, I have no problem with people trying to discredit scientific theories. After all, that’s what scientists themselves ought to be doing. Only by examining every possible way that their theory might be wrong, can they have any assurance that it’s likely correct. Ignoring troubling questions is not how science ought to work. I think that it’s disingenuous to conclude that these folks have been “beaten in the scientific arena”. Much of the criticism of evolutionary theory is right on the mark and they have done the world a service by exposing the weaknesses that have plagued this theory since Darwin’s time. The fact is, the evolutionists are just as good as the creationists at using political pressure to advocate their views. Organizations like NCSE are evidence of this. What’s going on in the evolution/creation debate is similar to what went on a few years ago in the psychometric arena. While the debate raged in the public forum about IQ and IQ testing, the scientific community was quietly going about it’s work as if none of that was happening. These conversations that we’re having only represent the public face of science and no scientist who wants to continue to work in the field will ever publicly question evolution. But in their own labs and in their own research, stunning new discoveries are being made that make all of these arguments look like child’s play.

General Semantics has a cult-like following. Some of its “insights” are hackneyed versions of other insights in philosophy, sociology, and psychology. For instance, the realization that our language and concepts do not fully capture the reality we live in, that they abstract from that reality, make inferences about it, fill in holes, etc., is one of the central ideas of General Semantics. With this in mind, the General Semanticists go about trying to rectify this by reforming language and logic - the latter includes Korzybski’s unoriginal and loosely characterized “infinite-valued logic” (think fuzzy logic) and non-elementalism (a semi-fancy term for undifferentiated). Under the heading of reforming language, the General Semanticists advocate stream-lining language (e.g. the removing “is” stuff I mentioned before) and the way we reason with it. Say only what you mean, and when interpreting what other people say, don’t make any inferences, just stick to what was said. There are good ideas in General Semantics, but they all culminate in a program to make the human mind and language completely antiseptic. It’s a sort of linguistic labotomizing program.

General Semantics has a cult-like following. Some of its “insights” are hackneyed versions of other insights in philosophy, sociology, and psychology. For instance, the realization that our language and concepts do not fully capture the reality we live in, that they abstract from that reality, make inferences about it, fill in holes, etc., is one of the central ideas of General Semantics. With this in mind, the General Semanticists go about trying to rectify this by reforming language and logic - the latter includes Korzybski’s unoriginal and loosely characterized “infinite-valued logic” (think fuzzy logic) and non-elementalism (a semi-fancy term for undifferentiated). Under the heading of reforming language, the General Semanticists advocate stream-lining language (e.g. the removing “is” stuff I mentioned before) and the way we reason with it. Say only what you mean, and when interpreting what other people say, don’t make any inferences, just stick to what was said. There are good ideas in General Semantics, but they all culminate in a program to make the human mind and language completely antiseptic. It’s a sort of linguistic labotomizing program.

Smokey wrote;

“You know, I see very little defense of the “round earth” theory by geologists. Have they “withdrawn from the scientific debate” also? Or is it simply that there is no real debate, just ignorance and faith masquerading as science?”

I see no serious challenges to the round earth theory. If such a challenge were to arise, I would expect that scientists would get out their instruments and their calculators and their photographs and quickly put this challenge to rest. The evidence would be so overwhelming that only an idiot would continue to question. That’s what scientists ought to be doing now, because this is a serious challenge to evolutionary theory. Have you read some of the documents on the creationist web sites? They’re very knowledgeable about evolutionary theory and their objections are well thought out and supported in many cases by evidence. Certainly Bill Dembski or Mike Behe should get better treatment than just “you’re an idiot”. I suspect that these criticisms are so troubling to evolutionists that they have no response, except to fall back on statements like “evolution is a fact, only the mechanism is in question”.

Steve wrote:

“Another good example of how bad science can hurt people is HIV denialism.”

It’s often very hard to tell bad science from good science. Often, political agenda or just plain greed drives these decisions. There was a study that showed that chlorine in drinking water incresed the risk of cancer, so this report was used by some south american doctors to have chlorine removed from the water. As a result, a cholera epidemic broke out that killed thousands of children. How do we separate the good science from the bad? My main anger nowadays is how they sell drugs, many of which are not only harmful but can be fatal. My pharmacist refuses to sell prescriptions for Accutane on moral grounds. How many others do likewise? Two other well known drugs are still being heavily advertised on TV despite serious problems in patients. So called “good medicine” and “good science” have been shown repeatedly to be dangerous and/or worthless. It’s no wonder that people are critical of scientists and doctors.

To get an overview of the extent of the problem, see:

dubya dubya dubya dot junkscience dot com

First of all, I have no use whatsoever for religious creationists and I don’t believe that ideology belongs in a science classroom. On the other hand, I have no problem with people trying to discredit scientific theories. After all, that’s what scientists themselves ought to be doing. Only by examining every possible way that their theory might be wrong, can they have any assurance that it’s likely correct. Ignoring troubling questions is not how science ought to work.

And so that’s why creationists target public school science classes? Do you honestly think that this is the place in which the theory is to be examined by the people most equiped to examine it?

I think that it’s disingenuous to conclude that these folks have been “beaten in the scientific arena”. Much of the criticism of evolutionary theory is right on the mark and they have done the world a service by exposing the weaknesses that have plagued this theory since Darwin’s time.

I’m afraid I can’t agree with you there. Perhaps you could cite some of these criticisms which are actually worthwhile, because nearly every one I’ve seen is junk. There are a few criticisms which are “on the mark” in that they point out where our knowledge is incomplete, but it wasn’t creationists who first pointed this out, nor is it creationists trying to make new discoveries in these areas.

The fact is, the evolutionists are just as good as the creationists at using political pressure to advocate their views. Organizations like NCSE are evidence of this.

The NCSE is small and quite underfunded compared to cre/ID organizations. And it was formed purely as a reaction to the political manuvering of the cre/IDists. There would have been no need for the NCSE if the creationists weren’t so heavily engaged politically.

At any rate, if “evolutionists” consisted of nothing but the NCSE, then your comment might be germane. But of course there are many research organizations and individuals who study evolution but do not engage in political activism. The cre/ID organizations, on the other hand, exist almost exclusively as propaganda and/or political advocacy outfits that do little or no research. My point was, this is a strong indication that it’s not the scientific arena they’re trying to win in, it’s the court of public opinion. If they believed they could win scientifically, they would spend their time doing research rather than political advocacy.

Charlie Wagner said:

That’s what scientists ought to be doing now, because this is a serious challenge to evolutionary theory. Have you read some of the documents on the creationist web sites? They’re very knowledgeable about evolutionary theory and their objections are well thought out and supported in many cases by evidence.

Out of curiosity, what is one particular example of a creationist website’s well thought out objection to evolution written by someone whom you consider to be knowledgeable about evolutionary theory?

I can use Google as well as the next person, but I don’t want to come up with something crazy written by, say, Kent Hovind that I’ll mistakenly think you endorse, when in fact you’re referring to something entirely different.

Charlie, I note on your website that you say:

“Artificial selection experiments in laboratories have demonstrated that there is a point beyond which you cannot go.”

Could you provide me with citations to the original research articles you are referring to (assuming the research was published – if not, then tell me what you know about these experiments and how you found out about them).

Also, you wrote:

“Intelligent design does not imply a supernatural creator. I can conceive of a higher intelligence which operates within the confines of natural law.”

Could you describe to me this “higher intelligence which operates within the confines of natural law” which you conceived?

Also, you wrote:

“Scientists don’t like to say “I don’t know”. “

Could you explain to me your basis for this statement? As a scientist who is happy to say “I don’t know” when asked a question that I cannot answer, and who knows many other such scientists who are equally happy that there are many scientific questions left to be answered, I’m concerned that you might be just making stuff up based on a bad experience at one of your “major universities.”

Charlie wrote:

It’s often very hard to tell bad science from good science. Often, political agenda or just plain greed drives these decisions. There was a study that showed that chlorine in drinking water incresed the risk of cancer, so this report was used by some south american doctors to have chlorine removed from the water. As a result, a cholera epidemic broke out that killed thousands of children. How do we separate the good science from the bad?

Your question does not follow from your example. The question you really should be asking is “how do we separate good public policy from bad public policy?” Science in one such tool that allows us to do so.

Science does not dictate politics, but can inform them. If politicians want to be accurately informed and be good statesman they should foster and listen to science, but not dictate what science should find. A major problem both educationally and politically is when politicians, like the current administration, make a policy decision and then look for (invent?) the science to “support” it.

charlie wagner wrote: I think that it’s disingenuous to conclude that these folks have been “beaten in the scientific arena”. Much of the criticism of evolutionary theory is right on the mark and they have done the world a service by exposing the weaknesses that have plagued this theory since Darwin’s time.

Until the creationists present a cohesive scientific theory to challenge natural selection, they’ve lost by default. The only explanation ID et al offer of the current dataset is that the creator or designer made it that way. If evolution is so flawed and creationism the best interpretation of our data, then creationism should spawn a reformation of the life sciences exploiting the new model’s superiority. This hasn’t happened. The most likely reason is that the creationist’s model hasn’t been put forward is a scholarly manner. Instead they seek to sway the largely scientifically illiterate populus with popular publications that frequently attempt to play on people’s religious convictions.

I’m not opposed to pop science publications; In fact, I think with the complexity of modern science, they’re a nessessity. But until the creationist theory (or theories) is stated in a testable matter, it will remain the subject of metaphysics or philisophy, not science.

There are smart guys who argue for ID just as there were smart defense attorneys who argued for O.J. As long as it is possible to get financial or political advantage from promoting anti-evolutionary thinking, it will persist. Logic and probability have nothing to do with it.

There are plenty of otherwise rational folks, unfortunately, who have not yet gotten the real message here, namely, the fact that the debate about the general validity of evolution has been over for rather more than a hundred years. Debates within real science among people who are interested in understanding nature have very little to do with the dreck combated on this site.

BD,

First of all, I’m a major BD fan. I was at the concert at Philharmonic Hall in 1964 that was just released on CD (for what it’s worth). Check out the Dylan page on my website, if you want.

Anyway, WRT artificial selection, 2 important cases come to mind, the chicken and the fruit fly. These organisms have been artificially selected (chickens for at least 8000 years) for a long time and no changes above the species level have ever been noted. There are literally thousands of articles in the literature attesting to this fact. There are dozens of other organisms that have been artificially selected for long periods of time without any changes above the species level. WRT a naturally occurring intelligent designer, I don’t see any problem with the existence of a natural entity that is as far above humans in intelligence as we are above the bacterium. We assume that because we are most likely the most intelligent organism on earth that this must hold true for the entire universe. This is just human arrogance. Have you never watched Star Trek? As to the nature of this entity, I haven’t a clue. You are to be commended for admitting that there are things that are not known and/or you do not know. Would that all of science shared your humility. I remember a passage I read in a book many years ago that had the most profound effect on my thinking. I was enamored with science and felt that it could easily replace the christianity that I had rejected. But my infatuation was short-lived. I discovered how little we really know and how much of what we think is true is nothing more than speculation. Here is the passage:

“Man, a being of erect stature, thinks himself the prince of creation. He felt like this long before he, by his own efforts, came to know how to fly on wings of metal around the globe. He felt godlike long before he could talk to his fellow-man on the other side of the globe. Today he can see the microcosm in a drop and the elements in the stars. He knows the laws, governing the living cell with its chromosomes, and the laws governing the macrocosm of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. He assumes that gravitation keeps the planetary system together, man and beast on their planet, the sea within its borders. For millions and millions of years, he maintains, the planets have rolled along on the same paths, and their moons around them, and man in these eons has arisen from a one-cell infusorium all the long way up the ladder to his status of Homo sapiens. Is man’s knowledge now nearly complete? Are only a few more steps necessary to conquer the universe: to extract the energy of the atom-since these pages were written this has already been done -to cure cancer, to control genetics, to communicate with other planets and learn if they have living creatures, too? Here begins Homo ignoramus. He does not know what life is or bow it came to be and whether it originated from inorganic matter. He does not know whether other planets of this sun or of other suns have life on them, and if they have, whether the forms of life there are like those around us, ourselves included. He does not know how this solar system came into being, although he has built up a few hypotheses about it. He knows only that the solar system was constructed billions of years ago. He does not know what this mysterious force of gravitation is that holds him and his fellow man on the other side of the planet with their feet on the ground, although he regards the phenomenon itself as “the law of laws.” He does not know what the earth looks like five miles under his feet. He does not know how mountains came into existence or what caused the emergence of the continents, although he builds hypotheses about these, nor does he know from where oil came- again hypotheses. He does not know why, only a short time ago, a thick glacial sheet pressed upon most of Europe and North America, as he believes it did; nor how palms could grow above the polar circle, nor how it came about that the same fauna fill the inner lakes of the Old and the New World. He does not know where the salt in the sea came from.” - Immanuel Velikovsky “Worlds in Collision” (1950)

The irony of that “Worlds in Collision” quote is that several of the mysteries it attests to are now have theories explaining them, 54 years later. Sense that passage was written, we’ve managed to unlock more and more secrets in all areas of science. We know what the earth is like “five miles below our feet”. Mountains building is explained by plate tectonics, which has gained mainstream acceptance sense that was written, and probably has more data supporting it that evolution. We can observe and measure the contenents drifting and active mountain ranges rising. We can find clues hinting at climate changes in the past that explain ice ages. DNA, biotechnology, personal computers, antimatter, extrasolar planets…the list goes on and on. Sure, answers only provide more questions, but they answer the questions that were bothering us originally. We once did not know the nature of lightning, or the shape of the earth. Now we are unlocking mysteries all over the place. That’s the appeal science has to me: by answering questions, new concepts are brought forward to consider. Science fiction becomes science fact, and new ideas we’ve never even thought about come forward with new observations. There is no limit to knowledge, so what’s the risk? Someday we may find the truth to the God question this way. Maybe that’s what God may turn out to be (and what many have proposed): superevolved beings not unlike ourselves. However, because of the countless contradictory descriptions of what God may or may not be, (and yes, he/she/it may not exist and only be a figment of our own imaginations) we cannot make ANY assumptions about the existance of an Intellegence Designer without building on the current wealth of knowledge. Sadly, the best argument ID comes up with is a bunch of made-up terms like “specified complexity”, “no free lunch”, “law of conservation of information”, etc. They are not easily defined, much less established as anything close to fact, yet they are treated as such. They are not based on our collective body of scientific knowledge. If they were, ID might be a credible hypothesis. The theory of evolution makes no claims to the origin of life; that is a seperate field, a seperate group of hypothesises that would not be possible without the theory of evolution, but not part of the theory. Because IDists are not scientific, they attack science, specificly evolution, only because of the sad old creationism/evolution controversy.

Mainstream scientists and others have made several detailed critiques of IDers’ arguments; what more does Charlie Wagner want?

He can find some good ones in http://www.talkorigins.org http://www.talkdesign.org

And as to scientists not knowing everything, so freaking what? Many things are just plain difficult to discover, though the difficulty often becomes less and less as time goes on.

As an example of that, it is interesting that several of Velikovsky’s examples are now reasonably well-understood; some of his examples are readily explained by continental drift.

Sorry. Reading this now I realize I should have checked for grammer, but I’m in a hurry right now.

Charlie, first of all you should be commended for this quote which is easily the most interesting thing I’ve read on this website:

“We assume that because we are most likely the most intelligent organism on earth that this must hold true for the entire universe. This is just human arrogance. Have you never watched Star Trek?”

Yes I have watched Star Trek, at least all of the original series episodes. My favorite episode, in fact, is “Return to Tomorrow” which includes a great speech by Kirk wherein he implores the rest of his crew to accept the fact that humans still have plenty of evolving to do and that they should not be afraid of the unknown. I also recall several episodes on Star Trek that dealt with civilizations that were dying because they held irrational beliefs. On the other hand, I DO NOT recall any episodes where Kirk said that it is futile to answer any questions which haven’t been answered yet so let’s just that “a designer did it.”

Not that my opinion would change if someone refreshed my memory. Star Trek is a TV show. But it doesn’t support your view that evolution is a hoax on society perpetuated by scientists who are afraid to admit that they are wrong.

THAT view, Charlie, is paranoid at best, but really just ignorant.

You also wrote:

“…I’m a major BD fan. I was at the concert at Philharmonic Hall in 1964 …”

Prove it. And where’s the proof for those advanced degrees from major universities you were bragging about? I haven’t seen a shred of evidence to support those assertions. You expect us to ignore 100 years of research by tens of thousands of scientists and yet accept your baseless assertions at face value? Please. You’ve been staring at your “Art” for too long.

“Would that all of science shared your humility.”

Now it has to be “all of science”? You seemed to be suggesting before that *every* scientist was an arrogant fool who couldn’t say “I don’t know.” Where did you come up with that assertion? Are you aware that your statement is easily contradicted by reading any scientific journal? Or have you never read one before?

“[Chickens and fruit flies] have been artificially selected (chickens for at least 8000 years) for a long time and no changes above the species level have ever been noted. There are literally thousands of articles in the literature attesting to this fact.”

Amongst those “thousands of articles” you seem to understand with some specificity, do you recall any articles describing artificially selected chickens or flies which turned out to be sterile? And do you recall any articles which described the artifical selection of chickens or flies that are incapable of mating with either of their parents?

Don’t forget, Charlie: if you want to meet Bob Dylan on the other side, you should answer all these questions directly and honestly.

As long as it remains science then bad science is at least manageable - with the major caveat of intentional research misconduct. Cre/ID’ers and their kin engage in marketing and call it science, and that is extremely dangerous because it encourages a fundamental misunderstanding of science.

Nobody promotes a model that explains phenomena less well than vastly simpler explanations unless they have some agenda. To be fair cranky old profs have their own habit of tenaciously clinging to outdated or parochial models, but the new blood needs to shake things up with new models of their own if they want to make any sort of impact. If evolution were vulnerable to scientific debunking then the free market of ideas ensures that some ambitious hotshot would have done it already.

Leighton wrote:

“Out of curiosity, what is one particular example of a creationist website’s well thought out objection to evolution written by someone whom you consider to be knowledgeable about evolutionary theory?”

One that I read recently that impressed me was a column by Dr Howard Glicksman on ARN. (http://www.arn.org/docs/glicksman/eyw_031215.htm) Dr. Glickman attempts to demonstrate that the biomolecular systems that control calcium in the body are irreducibly complex and does an outstanding job of explaining most of the important biochemical pathways of calcium in the body. He says “It seems to me that those who support macroevolution’s step-by-step mechanics must scientifically demonstrate how it is that calcium is present in proper concentration within the cell, and outside of the cell, and in bone, in order that all of the calcium-dependent biomolecular processes in the body may properly function and thereby allow us to live. But even that is not enough! For they must also demonstrate how the body was able to develop, step-by-step, the mechanisms that it uses to control its calcium metabolism while at the same time accounting for how the system actually functioned absent each successive innovation along the way.” This is not Kent Hovind or Jack Chick. This is the real deal by a person well versed in biochemistry. Well worth considering, IMHO

Your stated view, Charlie, was that (and I quote):

“there are no ‘feathered dinosaurs’”

Clearly a great number of scientists disagree with that view and certainly I’m aware of no scientist of any repute who discounts the *possibility* that such dinosaurs ever existed, or who would claim that archeopteryx was neither feathered nor strikingly reptilian. I’ve seen some ugly birds in my day, but certainly if I saw an archeopteryx in my tree I’d get out my shotgun. Then I’d blow my brains out.

“I have little use for EvoWiki (or Wikipedia either for that matter) because I cannot rely on its content to be accurate and unbiased.”

Well, it’s easy to argue that any opinion is “biased”. Would you say that EvoWiki is more or less “biased” and inaccurate than Dr. Glickman’s website? Could you show me an example of an inaccurate statement of fact on EvoWiki?

As far as your PubMed and Google search, the websites and articles do NOT all refer to archeaopteryx as “a bird.” It’s referred to over and over again as an “ancient bird,” i.e., an evolutionary precursor to modern day birds (and perhaps some reptiles as well). To make it simple for you, the overwhelming majority of the papers you cite for your “bird” proposition directly contradict your main thesis: that all life on earth (including archeaopteryx) was placed here by God or aliens. Perhaps one of the aliens forgot to feed the archeopteryx while vacationing on Venus.

Cute email address. I just listened to that song yesterday. Thanks for visiting the Panda’s Thumb, “Bob.”

There is, of course, the hypothesis of separate creation with the appearance of evolution…

But aside from that, Charlie Wagner seems to be uncritically repeating creationist essentialism – Archaeopteryx is a bird because it is a bird because it is a bird …

It has been traditionally classified as a bird on account of its feathers, but the discovery of other non-avian theropods’ feathers makes feathers alone a questionable choice of feature for distinguishing bird from non-bird.

I invite Charlie Wagner to embark on a study of bird anatomy the next time he eats roast chicken or roast turkey or roast duck or roast goose or some other roast galloanserine. In particular, I invite him to check to see if:

The wing digits are separate The wing digits end in claws The tail is almost as long as the rest of the bird’s body

If he lives in a city, he may get to see lots of pigeons; he should have no trouble checking on those birds’ tail lengths and whether those birds have claws on their wings.

BTW, Charles Darwin had started his Origin of Species with a detailed discussion of pigeon breeding, which he used as a case study in artificial selection.

Not to speak of the teeth in Archaeopteryx‘s jaw!  How birdlike is that?

As for Wagner’s gloating at there still being controversy and expectation of “certainty” out of science, that just shows (if we needed any more demonstration) that he flat out doesn’t get science.  As Jacob Bronowski put it in the title of a chapter to one of his books — “Knowledge or Certainty” — certainty is available only in the religious domain.  If one wants real knowledge, it’s necessary to forgo certainty.

Michael McNeil

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jeffrey Shallit published on April 19, 2004 6:36 AM.

The Purpose of Life is a Beach Part 1 was the previous entry in this blog.

Welcome to Alabama Citizens for Science Education is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter