There Are No Crucial Experiments

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In one of the comments to my recent posting, “Why Not Teach the Controversy?”, someone called “Navy Davy” repeatedly called for evolutionary biologists to provide the “best evidence … that supports the theory of evolution.” Merely by asking the question in that way, Mr. Davy displays a woeful misunderstanding of science and how science works.

Simply put, there is never a single best piece of evidence; there is no crucial experiment or observation that will validate any theory whatsoever. Theories are accepted according to whether or not they explain data better than some competing theories - a mountain of evidence, if you will.

Let me give a simple, not entirely hypothetical example. Suppose that you have developed a theory that the relative atomic masses (atomic weights) of atoms ought to be integers because the nuclei are made of neutrons and protons and you think that neutrons and protons have the same mass. The relative atomic mass of any atom is proportional to the mass of the atom divided by that of carbon, whose relative atomic mass is defined as 12.

You start by weighing the elements in order and calculating their relative atomic masses. Hydrogen: 1.008. Pretty close. Helium: 4.003. Lithium: 6.941. Beryllium: 9.012. Boron: 10.81. Hmmm; a little off. Nitrogen: 14.007. Oxygen: 16.00. Neon: 20.18. Pretty good agreement, you think; my theory is on the right track. No single measurement, however, is critical; rather, it is the consistency of all the measurements that convinces you that you may have a valid theory.

You go along happy as a clam at high tide until you come to chlorine. True, the masses of the other elements are not exactly integers, but they are close, so you infer that you are on the right track but that something more may be going on. Maybe protons and neutrons have slightly different masses, for example.

Chlorine, however, has a relative atomic mass of 35.453 - almost exactly between 2 integers. What’s going on? You have several choices, among them: put away chlorine for a later date and continue measuring, throw away your theory and become a lawyer, or try to find out what’s anomalous about chlorine.

At first glance, the case of chlorine seems to falsify your theory. Indeed, a single disconfirming measurement is potentially more serious than any number of apparently confirming measurements. It takes only one blond to falsify the theory that all Europeans have black or brown hair. So you decide to examine chlorine more closely. You formulate the ad hoc hypothesis that chlorine has two or more isotopes and naturally occurring chlorine is a combination of two or more isotopes. Further, each isotope (you theorize) will have a relative atomic mass that is an integer. You devise a means for separating the isotopes of chlorine and, sure enough, it has several isotopes whose average mass is 35.453. You go on and measure the rest of the elements and find others that have more than one isotope.

You have evidence now that atoms are made up of protons and neutrons, and you can even figure out how many of each reside in each atomic nucleus. Other evidence includes the (absolute) masses of protons and neutrons, which add up correctly to give the masses of all of your atoms. Radioactive decay of atoms further supports your theory. Finally, you build an atom smasher and physically knock helium nuclei from some heavy atoms.

You have, let us say, three bits of evidence to support your theory: the relative masses of atoms, the actual masses (in kilograms), and the atom-smashing experiments. Which one is crucial? None. What convinces you is the body of evidence.

Still, there is an anomaly in your theory: The mass of an atomic nucleus is not exactly equal to the masses of the constituent protons and neutrons. Does the fact rule out your theory? Not at all; Newtonian physics could not explain why the orbit of Mercury didn’t quite close, but it was a tremendously successful theory all the same. The mass difference is, similarly, a smallish anomaly that you will leave for future researchers. Your theory has been too fruitful to be discarded just because of a small discrepancy, and you have been rewarded by being removed from science and made the department chair.

Along comes a layperson who has a rudimentary knowledge of physics. He does not believe in protons and neutrons, and asks you for your “best” evidence. You reply, well, there is no “best” evidence. Here is the evidence: And you outline your reasoning in detail.

The layman is not satisfied and keeps bugging you. He seems to think that nuclei are little, indivisible billiard balls created by God with their present masses. He has, however, no evidence to support his contention that the nuclei are indivisible and cannot refute your atom-smashing experiments. So he reverts to gaps in your record, such as the discrepancy between the masses. He claims that the nucleus could not stick together because of the electromagnetic repulsion between the protons. When you explain about the strong nuclear force, he becomes impatient and announces that you have just made that up to support your failed theory.

Finally, he asks you to debate. There is, however, nothing to debate. No reputable scientists support his position. His arguments have no scientific merit, and he has proposed no new experiments, made no new observations. You explain these (to you) obvious objections, but he insists on a debate and eventually calls you supercilious and a “dogmatic protonist.” He may even mount a public-relations campaign to have his pet theory of nuclear indestructability taught alongside standard physics and chemistry.

The state of evolutionary biology is analogous to the atomic mass theory. It is supported by several separate but linked streams of evidence: paleontological, morphological, genetic, and developmental, all of which are tied together by a wealth of mathematical, statistical, and computational theory. There is no single “best” bit of evidence, any more than a table has one crucial leg; the theory is a unified whole and is as well supported as any theory in science. It is questioned almost exclusively by laypeople who would not have the audacity to challenge any other settled scientific theory but unaccountably think that evolution is fair game.

87 Comments

Your hypothetical situation is especially funny because to help with their evolution denials, some particularly dumb creationists have literally claimed that “the nucleus could not stick together because of the electromagnetic repulsion between the protons.” It’s in a Jack Chick tract. I think Chick’s character condescendingly says something like “Gluons are a lie.” Or words to that effect, and then goes on to explain that jesus holds atoms together.

I do wonder about the mystery you mentioned. Why do laymen with HS degrees think that if their opinion on a biological topic conflicts with the scientific consensus, there’s a chance in hell they’re right? Do they reall believe the bible so strongly that it overcomes all reason? Lately, I think the answer is yes. No wonder they fear and despise critical thinking classes.

Merely by asking the question in that way, Mr. Davy displays a woeful misunderstanding of science and how science works.

How woeful is this?

1. Form a hypothesis; 2. Test it; 3. Analyze the results; 4. Form a conclusion; 5. Make a prediction

Repeat early and often.

Say, maybe you mensa scholars ain’t as bright as I originally thought:)

Surely, you ain’t postulatin’ that the theory of macroevolution is somehow immune to the aforementioned 5-step number.

Cheers, Boys!

Mr. Navy Davy

Matt’s point is that the above 5 step procedure has been done thousands upon thousands of times on different aspects of evolutionary theory and its related fields. No one experiment, nor no one bit of evidence, summarizes or encapsulates all that work. It all is tied together in a multitudinous web of tested hypothesis.

As Matt says, asking for “the best evidence” to be presented in a nutshell in a discussion on the internet seems to show a grossly simplified misunderstanding of the vast amount of interwoven and highly technical data that accumulatively provide the evidence for the theory of evolution.

Navy Davy wrote

How woeful is this?

1. Form a hypothesis; 2. Test it; 3. Analyze the results; 4. Form a conclusion; 5. Make a prediction

Repeat early and often.

Say, maybe you mensa scholars ain’t as bright as I originally thought:)

Surely, you ain’t postulatin’ that the theory of macroevolution is somehow immune to the aforementioned 5-step number.

Which completely fails to address Matt’s central point. Good lawyerly move: change the subject. Incidentally, as pointed out elsewhere, macroevolution isn’t a “theory”; it’s a phenomenon. Theories explain phenomena, and are tested by something a bit more complex than Navy Day’s over-simplified version. Read Matt’s posting again, particularly the bit about multiple convergent lines of evidence. It’s the convergence of multiple independent lines of evidence that form powerful corroboration for theories like the modern syntehesis, not isolated observations. Much as creationists wish it to be, science isn’t a cosmic oddity shop stuffed helter-skelter with miscellaneous data points.

RBH

Matt

Yours was one of the best posts I’ve seen on the PT since its inception – a perfect analogy for creationist/ID apologist “logic.”

How many of our children’s critical thinking skills have been stunted, I wonder, by having this “traditional” “explanation” for chlorine’s molecular weight shoved down their throats by science teachers around the country? ;)

Oh, and I see that our slick and slimy ambulance chaser has crawled out from the damp crotch of one of his “zillions of experts” and resurfaced with the usual advice and brainteaser. In so doing, he shows us that he has entirely missed the point of Matt’s post (and the posts of numerous others who have previously and earnestly responded to his questions).

I’ve been keeping track of your sludge since Day 1, Davy. The rancid secretions from your toad mouth leave an easy trail to follow.

Apparently, you stopped reading the article the moment you hit that phrase. There isn’t one key 5-step process that “proves the theory.” It’s the combination of _multiple_ 5-step processes, none necessarily more “important” than any other, which nail the sucker down.

For the theory of gravity, would the key piece of evidence be the falling apple, the orbiting moon or the translation of Kepler’s Laws into Newtonian equations?

…and evolution has a _lot_ more broadly ranging implications than gravity. Physics is _simple_. ;-)

I did read Matt Young’s posting again – he offers a verbose hypothetical involving protons, neutrons, muons, hadrons and some other jive, that no sane person would ever care about. The central question of the day remains – Is macroevolution the best explanation of how complex organisms came to exist or not?

If so, Great! But, Why?

I reckon y’all object to my use of the word, “best” in request for the “best evidence.” What adjective would y’all prefer?

BTW, just so we clear up any misunderstanding – I ain’t a creationist. I’m just a bit more curious than some of you regimented, conformist science geeks:) Y’all need a big dose of Richard Feynman!

As Always,

Navy Davy

Oh, Matt Young, before I forget,

If your gonna characterize my comments, you probably should avoid misleadin’ folks:

I’m interested in the best evidence of both macroevolution and ID. Fair is fair. No goal-post movin’ for either side.

Hey, my man Johnnie C! The ubiquitous commentator with nuthin’ to say. How ya been, boy?

Is macroevolution the best explanation of how complex organisms came to exist or not? If so, Great! But, Why?

Why? Because that explanation perfectly justifies the secular humanist and materialistic naturalist beliefs of scientists by proposing that we arose randomly from muck rather than the hand of a loving God (the latter theory being the favorite theory of our mortal enemies, the Christians). It seemed like a good theory for a while, but I guess the jig is up for us scientists.

Okay, everyone! Show’s over! Pack up the tent. The age of science has officially ended, June 1, 2004 (rather fitting, as the summer is about to begin). Enter the age of Feymanistic Design! All hail Navy Davy for showing us the error of our ways!

Navy Davy, would you draft a letter to the President informing him of this change? I expect it’s going to be a big deal at the National Academy and the NIH. Thanks again for showing us the light.

Navy Davy wrote

I did read Matt Young’s posting again – he offers a verbose hypothetical involving protons, neutrons, muons, hadrons and some other jive, that no sane person would ever care about. The central question of the day remains – Is macroevolution the best explanation of how complex organisms came to exist or not?

It’s best that Navy Davy never practices before SCOTUS. I’m told that they make heavy use of hypotheticals in their questioning during oral arguments. Navy Davy may have reread Matt’s posting, but he either didn’t understand it or he’s still evading its point. My vote is for the latter.

Navy Davy wrote

I’m just a bit more curious than some of you regimented, conformist science geeks:) Y’all need a big dose of Richard Feynman!

I doubt very much that Navy Davy is more curious than the average science geek. Less critical perhaps, and less knowledgeable for sure, but no more curious.

I’ve read a bit of Feynman. One thing that impressed me about him was that he knew how to proceed once he had done some speculative thinking. He also knew how to synthesize disparate lines of evidence into a coherent picture.

RBH

RBH,

It’s best that Navy Davy never practices before SCOTUS. I’m told that they make heavy use of hypotheticals in their questioning during oral arguments.

Hypotheticals, Yes.….but not as a substitute for, well, the best evidence.

I bet I know more about physics than you .…. know about law:)

You boys really need to lighten up.

Nighty-night,

Navy Davy

Davy, Yes it is the best explanation. Why? 1. It provides a consistent, testable explanation for the huge mass of available evidence. 2. It provides a fruitful basis for discovering more.

The only thing that isn’t in its favour is that creationists find it conflicts with their beliefs. This makes them frightened and angry.

It would be nice to have one simple experiment that would convince even a frightened creationist, however Golomb’s Law (Everything in biology is more complicated than you think it is, even taking into account Golomb’s Law) forbids. This means that it takes effort to understand. It doesn’t get served up on a plate.

I’m a bit of a regimented, conformist geek when it comes to answers like “2 + 2 = 4”. I don’t think Richard Feynman can help me there.

“And he’s talking with Davy who’s still in the navy And probably will be for life” - Billy Joel. (a lightening up for Davy, who seems to be all at sea)

In philosophy they call it Coherentism. Scientists often know it from the excellent book Web of Belief by Quine, or from picking it up subconsciously by participating in the machinations of science. Science seems to take a coherentist philosophy. The more connected a thing is to other known things, the more believable it is. When something’s sufficiently integral to and coherent with the total knowledge, it’s considered a fact. Evolution is just such a fact. Given what we know, it’s unreasonable to think evolution’s wrong. I started to write about why ID doesn’t address anything we know, and requires unreasonably large amounts of what we do know to be wrong, but I doubt I have the Michael Jordon-class rhetoric to persuade any of them, if it’s even possible, which I’m not convinced it is. Do check out Web of Belief, though. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/t[…]764?v=glance

I do have a question for my science-oriented (i.e. evolutionist) friends, which I’ll try to word carefully because it could easily sound critical, which I don’t mean it to. Why argue with creationists? I’d like to know a good reason. Myself, I don’t see any.

And let me distinguish–I don’t mean, why argue against them in schools, or to the lay public. I mean, why argue with them in person, as if to persuade them? From years of observation I consider them essentially hostile and immune to persausion to the most basic fact if it disagrees with their religion. Evolution will conflict with conservative muslims, christians, jews, and so forth until the end of time.

Are you doing it to persuade them because you consider them persuadable? Or to excercise your rhetorical chops for when it matters? Or for amusement in making them deny the obvious? I’m curious as to the reason people do it, because I don’t understand why.

(the implicit danger here is that someone will have a very good answer, and I’ll be back to arguing with them myself ;-) )

I’ve finally figured out why Navy Davy gets on my nerves. Decades ago I did a (brief!) stint in graduate school in anthropology. My advisor, who ran the first-year proseminar, asked lots of questions, some of them excellent questions, some wholly imcomprehensible. That’s OK: badgering grad students with questions in proseminar is expected. But what drove me bats about him was that he couldn’t recognize a good answer if it bit him on the ass. Navy Davy reminds me of him, and of why I left anthro earlier than I planned.

RBH

Hey Davy a/k/a [Enable javascript to see this email address.], is http://www.davidicke.net/emagazine/[…]ds-atty.html you? Are you the guy whose name is next to Philip Johnson’s in the acknowledgements section of Duesberg’s “Chemical bases of the various AIDS Epidemics” paper?

What a crashing bore it must be to you dedicated science-type guys to refute the endlessly “clever” bu–sh– of lillipution intellects such as N.D. - these demanders of fairness, equal shares of your time and space, but not of theirs, and logic, the apex of which is their own argument - only to then deal with bands of excrement-throwing/bible-quoting yahoos!

In his mind, so-called, flies simply do not land upon N.D., perhaps. He may believe (though I now doubt even this) that he is being open-minded, but the only question I have is: is he being dishonest with himself as well, or only with us? Why bother to present a mirror to a man vain enough to brag of his harelip?

Thanks to all who have posted comments to my original posting.

I am grateful to Johnnie C. for his praise, though I must demur and add that I think there have been a lot of good articles on PT. I am concerned, however, about Mr. C.’s intemperate, ad-hominem attack on Navy Davy. I am sorry, but if those who respond to my postings cannot maintain decorum, I will either delete their responses or relegate them to the bathroom wall of PT. I direct the same admonition to darwinfinch: If you have nothing of substance to say, please keep to yourself. See also Jack Krebs’s second comment, above.

Steve (presumably S. B. Story) asks why debate with creationists? A very fair question, and one my wife and harshest critic is constantly asking. The answer is that I do not debate with creationists any more than I debate with Holocaust deniers, HIV deniers, or other evolution deniers. There is nothing to debate.

The anti-science, anti-evolution movement is heavily funded. It makes inroads every time it loses some school board vote to teach creationism (suitably disguised) by a 3-2 vote of a local school board. It is necessary to expose their arguments for those willing to become informed about the issues. If it looks as if we are trying to convince those who have made up their minds and are immune to evidence, that seems to me to be only an illusion. We are, rather, trying to expose their falsehoods.

Mr. Navy Davy, I gather, is a lawyer. I am certain that he understands far better than he pretends, and I think he is baiting us. I do not take bait, but I will make one remark.

Suppose that some layperson came to Mr. Davy and said, it seems unreasonable that you can be held liable for something you did not know; the law can’t possibly say that. Mr. Davy would begin by explaining that, indeed, you can be held liable for something that you should have known, even if you did not know it. If the layperson persisted, Mr. Davy would show him or her law books and precedents (or whatever lawyers consider evidence). If the layperson insisted that those law books were wrong, it couldn’t possibly be that way, Mr. Davy would no doubt give up in despair. After all, he, not the layperson, is the expert, and the layperson is expected to listen when Mr. Davy authoritatively explains something about which he is an expert.

Not to put too fine a point on it, when you want a legal opinion, go to a lawyer, not a scientist; when you want a scientific opinion, go to a scientist, not a lawyer. I cannot fathom what it is about evolution that makes laypersons think they can pontificate authoritatively about a subject they know only in passing.

Maybe Mr. Davy knows more about physics than we know about the law; so what? He does not know enough about science, or pretends he doesn’t, and instead makes taunting, inappropriate comments that are sort of high-class Johnnie C. My attitude to Mr. Davy and others like him is similar to that of the lawyer toward the layperson: I will be happy to explain something to him, if it is in my area of expertise, but I will not argue. It is up to Mr. Davy whether he pays attention or not.

I’m sorry; I omitted the following when I cut and pasted my comment above:

I am not familiar with Mr. Story’s term “coherentism,” but everything he says in his later comment seems sound to me, and I will check his reference on the weekend. Thank you for adding that bit of information.

Thanks Matt. I’m interested to see what everyone else thinks, too, regarding why to argue with the creationists.

You mention something else that’s interesting. I used to have a paralegal friend from South Cakilackey. He’d ask me science questions and I’d ask him law questions. In this case, I knew more about the law than he knew about science (He once asked how could it be true that some fish evolve coloration similar to toxic or dangerous fish as protection, since the emulating fish couldn’t be expected to understand he’d be protected that way.) But the point is, when I’d ask him something about law, and he’d explain that it’s well understood that so and so, I never argued the point. If I though I saw a problem I’d try to bring it up, or say “Well, doesn’t that conflict with…?” But even if it didn’t make sense to me I’d never just conclude that he’s wrong and I’m right. There’s a reason they’re the experts at law and I’m not. That means something. Yet I see people arguing evolution who couldn’t pass a freshman biology exam. One thing 30 physics, math, chemistry, and biology classes taught me is, when the experts say something, even if it looks wrong ten ways to Sunday, you can be skeptical, but don’t bet against them.

One of the reasons I don’t think it’s usually valuable to argue with creationists is they seldom know enough to understand what you’re saying. Look at these recent abuses of information theory and entropy. They don’t know enough to understand the explanation for why they’re wrong, and/or they’ve got so much misunderstanding that you can’t find where to begin.

Geez, guys, is it that hard to answer Navy Davy’s request? In the spirit of this essay, here’s some to get him started:

Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species (1859) Darwin, Charles, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1874) Luria and Delbruck, 1943, Mutations of Bacteria from Virus Sensitivity to Virus Resistance, Genetics 28: 491 - 511 Lederberg and Lederberg, 1952, J. Bact. 63: 399 - 406 Crick 1968, The origin of the genetic code, Journal of Molecular Biology vol 38 pg 367 Dobhzansky 1973, Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution, American Biology Teacher 35: 125-129 Penney, et.al. 1982, Testing the theory of evolution by comparing phylogenetic trees constructed from five different protein sequences, Nature 297: 197-200 Cairns, et.al., 1988, The origin of mutants, Nature 335: 142 - 145 Hall, 1990, Spontaneous Point Mutations That Occur More Often When Advantageous Than When Neutral, Genetics 126: 5 - 16 Meyer, et. al., 1990, Monophyletic origin of Lake Victoria cichlid fishes suggested by mitochondrial DNA sequences, Nature 347: 550-553 Breeuwer and Werren, 1990, Microorganisms associated with chromosome destruction and reproductive isolation between two insect species, Nature 346: 558 - 560 Gwynne and Simmons, 1990, Experimental reversal of courtship roles in an insect, Nature 346: 172 - 174 Gingerich, et. el., 1990, Hind Limbs of Eocene Basilosaurus: Evidence of Feet in Whales, Science 249: 154-156 Golenberg, et.al., 1990, Chloroplast DNA sequence from a Miocene Magnolia species, Nature 344: 656 - 658 Houde and Endler, 1990, Correlated Evolution of Female Mating Preferences and Male Color Pattern in the Guppy Poecilia reticulata, Science 248: 1405 - 1408 Schwagmeyer and Parker, 1990, Male mate choice as predicted by sperm competition in thirteen lined ground squirrels, Nature 348: 62 - 64 Basolo, 1990, Female preference predates the evolution of the sword in swordtail fish, Science 250: 808 - 810 Chao, 1990, Fitness of an RNA virus decreased by Muller’s ratchet, Nature 348: 454 - 455 Bowcock, et. al., 1991, Drift, admixture and selection in human evolution: A study with DNA polymorphisms. PNAS 88: 893-843 Douglas, et. al., 1991, Cryptomonad algae are evolutionary chimaeras of two phylogenetically distinct unicellular eukaryotes, Nature 350: 148-150 eram, et. al., 1990, Land Animals in the Silurian: Arachnids and Myriapods from Shropshire, England, Science 250: 658 - 660 Pilbeam, et. al., 1990, New Sivapithecus humeri from Pakistan and the relationship of Sivapithecus and Pongo, Nature 348: 237 - 238 Turlings, et. al., Exploitation of Herbivore-Induced Plant Odors by Host-Seeking Parasitic Wasps, Science 250: 1251 - 1252 Soltis and Soltis, 1989, [the title is mangled on my photocopy], Amer. J. Bot. 76(8): 1119 - 1124 Roose and Gottlieb, 1976, Genetic and Biochemical Consequences of Polyploidy in Tragopogon, Evolution 30: 818 - 830 Xu, et. al., Bacterial Origin of a Chloroplast Intron: Conserved Self-Splicing Group I Introns in Cyanobacteria, Science 250: 1566 - 1569 Kuhsel, et. al., An Ancient Group I Intron Shared by Eubacteria and Chloroplasts, Science 250: 1570 - 1572 Conover and Voorhees, 1990, Evolution of a Balanced Sex Ratio by Frequency-Dependent Selection in a Fish, Science 250: 1556 - 1558 Roose and Gottlieb, 1976, Genetic and Biochemical Consequences of Polyploidy in Tragopogon, Evolution 30: 818 - 830 Benkman and Lindholm, 1991, The advantages and evolution of a morphological novelty, Nature 349: 519-521 Ritland and Brower, 1991, The viceroy butterfly is not a batesian mimic, Nature 350: 497- 498 Shuster and Wade, 1991, Equal mating success among male reproductive strategies in a marine isopod, Nature 350: 608 - 610 Wayne and Jenks, 1991, Mitochondrial DNA analysis implying extensive hybridization of the endangered red wolf Canis rufus, Nature 351: 565 - 567 Hall, 1991, Adaptive evolution that requires multiple spontaneous mutations: Mutations involving base substitutions, PNAS 88: 5882- 5886 Martin et.al., 1993, The reaction cycle of GroEL and GroES in Chaperonin-assisted protein folding, Nature 366: 228-233 McShea, 1993, Arguments, tests, and the Burgess shale-a commentary on the debate, Paleobiology 9:339-402

Navy Davy, there’s a sampling some of the best arguments in favor of evolution. Get back to us after you’ve read them all, and we can answer any questions you have & give you some more good stuff to read. There’s plenty more where that came from …

-Scott Simmons

Hey, NavyDavy, I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you. You disappeared at the same time JDB was banned. Sure glad you weren’t an alter ego.

Matt,

My “intemperate ad-hominem” attack was nothing of the sort. You make it sound as if Navy Davy posted something interesting here once and I launched on him.

Do I need to re-list every one of Navy Davy’s bogus posts as proof that he is a dishonest ID apologist in iconoclasts clothing? From his very first post here he smelled rotten and insincere (to me, anyway), his “cheers,” colloquialisms and apparent “open mindedness” notwithstanding. I am happy that my bullshit detector is working so well.

I also have no doubt that Navy Davy is David Steele, as Jim hypothesizes above (great detective work, there!). Navy Davy and Peter Douchebag (whom I had the pleasure of speaking with personally about his idiotic AIDS theories numerous times during the previous century) make a perfect pair. When I spoke of a damp crotch, I could only have hoped it would turn out be the crotch of the popper-obsessed iconoclast Peter Douchebag. So fitting.

I don’t believe there is anything to be gained by explaining scientific principles to a professional naysayer like Navy Davy Steele. There is, however, something to be gained by immediately recognizing Navy Davy for what he is and letting him know that, in spite of his best efforts, he is not going to have as much fun as he’d like playing “uncritical” scientists like fiddles. To the extent gullible people fall into Navy Davy’s trap, it only confirms his “skepticism” about the ability of scientists to think critically. Screw him.

To the extent people reading the blog are disinclined to respond to Navy Davy’s repetitive spewager from this point forward, I believe that some good has been accomplished. Flies should be swatted, not stroked.

Matt, thank you for putting this up. I appreciate the chance to see the argument reframed so neatly.

It does make me wonder where the meme of ‘the smoking gun’ so to speak came from. It seems to come up a lot in these kinds of discussions – people want some specific point that can be called ‘proof’ or ‘disproof’. Is discomfort with uncertainty that powerful? Why so much fear of the tentative?

On another note, though it is against my better judgement to get involved in this: Does anyone else find it screamingly ironic for N.D. to call Matt’s physics example something ‘that no sane person would ever care about’, and then turn around and reference Richard Feynman repeatedly?

Penny

Speaking as a laywer, it’s beyond obvious that Navy Davy has come no closer to a courtroom than watching “Law & Order” reruns on A&E.

If “Navy Davy” is indeed a lawyer, he could very easily provide us with a Martindale listing that verifies his claims.

I suspect he’ll come up with some lame excuse instead.

“And he’s talking with Davy who’s still in the navy And probably will be for life” - Billy Joel. (a lightening up for Davy, who seems to be all at sea)

Good one, Steve. Yep, that’s where I got my college nickname:)

Wuz the blog down or sumptin? I was tryin’ to get on for 2 days, now.

Anyway, lotta comments about me, some good, some stupid. Myself, I prefer to stick to the issues!

RBH, you have a good debate about abiogenesis with JDB and others at ARN.org. How come you so polite there, but so prickly here?

Wow! A lotta hard-lookin’ citations by Steve Simmons – I got a lotta readin’ to do. Any chance I can get the Cliff Notes version:)

Read a good book over the weekend, Darwin v. Gould by Kim Sterelny (BTW, the author sides with Dawkins). Good short synopsis of the debate (darn there’s that word again) between the gene selection folks and the population selection folks. No mention of ID.

No, I ain’t JDB in disguise! I’m just plain ‘ole me. That boy does debate prety well in the ARN and ISCID forums, er, I mean “fora”:)

Question: Does macroevolution speak to how the first “replicators” (such as DNA or RNA) were formed?

Anyway, I enjoy bein’ the subject of a post! Quite an honor, for a simple country lawyer, non-scientist.

Much obliged,

Navy Davy

Question: Does macroevolution speak to how the first “replicators” (such as DNA or RNA) were formed?

No, that’s properly the field of abiogenesis, I believe, though there is some crossover. Evolution is what happens after you have replicators.

And, on an unrelated note, I think “coherentism” sometimes goes by the name “consilience,” which E.O. Wilson has written about.

Penny asks:

It does make me wonder where the meme of ‘the smoking gun’ so to speak came from. It seems to come up a lot in these kinds of discussions — people want some specific point that can be called ‘proof’ or ‘disproof’. Is discomfort with uncertainty that powerful? Why so much fear of the tentative?

What else can a zealot do? The subject is too complicated for the bulk of the population to understand. The zealot knows that it must be wrong, must be fabrication, because it flies in the face of his faith. Refusing to examine the evidence with an open mind (or not having the intellectual capacity to do so) he tries to find one simplified example that can prove that it’s all lies e.g.

Dr. Hovind: It only takes one proof of a young earth to decide between CREATION and EVOLUTION.

Does anyone else find it screamingly ironic for N.D. to call Matt’s physics example something ‘that no sane person would ever care about’, and then turn around and reference Richard Feynman repeatedly?

If it wasn’t for the irony I’d have to stop reading creationist arguments. It’s like watching Basil Fawlty – embarrassing but perversely amusing.

Navy Davy,

Good short synopsis of the debate (darn there’s that word again) between the gene selection folks and the population selection folks.

Darn, there’s that confusion over the meaning of the word “debate” again. Are you saying that the book contains a synopsis of the sort of debate you keep proposing, where two “experts” engage in a back and forth, statement and rebuttal style of formal debate? I suspect not.

Anyway, I enjoy bein’ the subject of a post! Quite an honor, for a simple country lawyer, non-scientist.

If you choose to see it as an honor, far be it from me to prick your balloon. But I feel I should point out that the post is not really about you, but rather about a certain ignorance of the way science works which is displayed by so many IDists and ID apologists. You simply provide a convenient example of this ignorance.

BTW, how are things going in the AIDS denial business? Still think AIDS is caused by amyl nitrate poppers and not HIV? I’d almost rather you were a creationist, that would be a lot less dangerous. If this is still your position, it seems to provide yet another example of your disregard for multiply converging lines of evidence.

Eric,

Question: Does macroevolution speak to how the first “replicators” (such as DNA or RNA) were formed?

No, that’s properly the field of abiogenesis, I believe, though there is some crossover. Evolution is what happens after you have replicators.

Thanks! Quick follow-ups:

1. If macroevolution has no answer to how life originated , is it an incomplete theory?

2. What’s a good book to read on abiogenesis? (Not that Miller-Urey stuff – already got that)

3. Is abiogenesis testable?

You’re allright, Eric.

Smokey,

Are you saying that the book contains a synopsis of the sort of debate you keep proposing, where two “experts” engage in a back and forth, statement and rebuttal style of formal debate?

In light of the fossil record, the book examines the competing arguments posited by Darwin contra Gould. That’s what the word debate means.

If you choose to see it as an honor, far be it from me to prick your balloon.

Prick away:)

But I feel I should point out that the post is not really about you..

Why mention my name then?

.. but rather about a certain ignorance of the way science works which is displayed by so many IDists and ID apologists.

Science works like this, don’t it?

1. Form a theory; 2. Test it; 3. Analyze the data; 4. Draw conclusion; 5. Make prediction.

You seem a little slow today, Smokey.

You simply provide a convenient example of this ignorance.

It seems pretty ignorant to continually avoid steps 1-5.

BTW, how are things going in the AIDS denial business?

Huh? Ain’t in AIDS denial business. AIDS is terrible disease. 20,000/year deaths from AIDS in USA. Kinda callous of you, Smokey.

Still think AIDS is caused by amyl nitrate poppers and not HIV?

Huh? Don’t think AIDS is caused by amyl nitrate, but isn’t this way off thread and worthy of removal to bathroom wall?

I’d almost rather you were a creationist, that would be a lot less dangerous.

I’m simultaneously ignorant and dangerous? That’s seem kinda paranoid.

If this is still your position, it seems to provide yet another example of your disregard for multiply converging lines of evidence.

What position are you talking about? Creationism, ID, AIDS or something else? You’re really all over the map, here.

Oh well,

Cheers, Navy Davy

I’m sorry that some people are being rude here, but I’ll try to stay with the facts:

Davy wrote,

Of course the DNA of a few cells change during the lifetime of the organism.  I’m talking about a change in DNA for the entire organism — each and every cell.  2 or 3 people on this blog have already told me, that this has never been observed.

No, but this is not all necessary for evolution to occur. It is only mutations in the reproductive cells that meet to make a new individual that make any difference for evolution. Why dio you think it is even relevant to think about all the cells in the entire organism to undergo DNA change?

Navy Davy Wrote:

Good short synopsis of the debate (darn there’s that word again)

Darn, there’s Navy Davy, conflating two different meanings of the word debate again.

ND’s quest for the “best evidence…that supports the theory of evolution.” has clearly been satisfied, hence the retreat. Unless his trolling was merely a lightweight affair…

Cheers, Lord Owen.

Click the link below to find out the most likely explanation for how good ol’ Navy Davy got his “college nickname.”

http://www.yaronlaw.com/bio_dsteele.htm

I like the part that says his hobbies include “sports, politics and reading novels” but do not mention anything about his moonlighting as a professional gadfly. Perhaps ND believes that his clients aren’t interested in his astonishing ability to spark scintillating “debates” on evolutionary biology blogs.

Here’s a link to a letter printed in the SF Examiner in Navy’s incomparable style:

http://www.eionews.addr.com/epaper/eio010201.htm

And in spite of his failure to show much integrity here, he is still an active member of the California State Bar: http://members.calbar.ca.gov/search[…]spx?x=171636

I can sympathize with Navy’s desires to find something “exciting” to keep his mind off his law practice. But the intellectual dishonesty he displayed here is appalling.

Mark Cartwright: Here’s a link to a letter printed in the SF Examiner in Navy’s incomparable style: http://www.eionews.addr.com/epaper/eio010201.htm

Pasquarelli and Bellefountaine, although subversive and unorthodox, have it about right. The drugs prescribed by the orthodox medical community don’t work and are highly toxic. The genuine science underpinning AIDS is nonexistent… D. David Steele San Francisco

It should be noted that Pasquarelli died just two months ago. The cause sounds remarkably like AIDS, but HIV-deniers still deny it, since he wasn’t taking any of those toxic anti-retrovirals they claim cause AIDS.

Well, here’s more proof that our Navy Davy is not the same D. David Steele that wrote this letter. ND has been very upfront about the fact that he knows next to nothing about biology. This guy, on the other hand, is so confident that he knows more than the “medical establishment” about virology, immunology, pharmacology… he’s willing to bet Pasquarelli’s life on it.

A surge in Chinese men impregnating Blonde women, ain’t gonna move our species forward — we’re juss gonna get blonde Chinese babies.

The moment “blonde chinese” are unable to mate with the rest of humanity, they become a separate species. A single gene pool slowly divides into two with sexual isolation occuring for a wide variety of reasons. Speciation is a process we’ve observed in the wild and in the lab countless times.

The phrase “moving forward” also betrays a misunderstanding of evolution. There’s no “goal,” no destination to move twoard. Progress is an illusion based on humanity’s assuption of its innate superiority.

And the only cell in an organism’s body that has to undergo mutation in order for that mutation to be inherited, is the sperm or egg. Why/how would a mutation appear _globally_ in all the cells of an organism (let alone the relevance of such an act to evolution)? Applying the slightest consideration to that scenario ought to be enough to demonstrate its ridiculousness.

Ain’t interested in unscientific creationism, very much interested in whether ID is testable.

As it currently stands, ID (which is much nearer to “unscientific creationism” than you appear to believe) is _not_ testable. The “hypothesis” (to use the term loosely) pretty much comes down to, in the words of a friend:

“An unknown something doing an unknown something by means of an unknown something.”

We don’t have any knowledge of the designer, its specific actions or the means by which those actions were undertaken. What’s more, there’s really no way to find out. Worst case scenario: the designer could skillfully have done its work (whatever that might have been) in such a way as to blend seamlessly with the results derived from natural selection.

This is the same as saying God created the world as if it had been in existence for billions of years. It cannot be falsified and it contains no explicative power (two major criteria for any scientific hypothesis).

It’d be easy to falsify evolution. Just unearth human remains beneath trilobite fossils…or unique genes shared by peacocks and dandelions, but nothing else. I’m not sure how you could conclusively demonstrate the _non_existence of a designer.

Meanwhile, the only positive proof IDers are able to muster is Dawkin’s ‘Argument from Personal Incredulity.’

“I can’t imagine how something so complex could have evolved. Therefore it didn’t evolve.”

Hey Navy! I spent a few minutes googling your trolls on various blogs and boards. I’m glad you’ve got a consistent approach to “learning”.

Did you know that D. David Steele lives in Albany? He must be living really close to your place in Berkeley? Judging by your backgrounds I’m sure you’d have a lot in common.

i.e. Cut the crap, Navy. You’ve had your fun. Come back when you’ve read and understood some of the references offered.

As the de facto moderator of this thread, I have asked for contributers to maintain at least a certain amount of civility. I specifically asked Johnnie C. to moderate his language.

Whatever you think of him, Peter Duesberg’s name is Duesberg. It is not Douchebag. I have accordingly deleted Mr. C.’s recent comment, wherein he refers to a Mr. Douchebag. If Mr. C. wants to post his comment on the bathroom wall, he is free to do so. I did not.

My advice to Mr. C.: Next time you want to insult someone, try irony, and do it under your own name.

Mr. Navy Davy has consistently refused to answer the question, “Do you believe that HIV causes AIDS?” even after asking for my opinion whether the question is legitimate for this thread. Instead of answering the question, he notes that AIDS is a terrible disease, a contention that, as far as I know, is not in dispute.

It is nice to know that Mr. Davy thinks the Holocaust was real and that he is not a creationist. But does he think that HIV causes AIDS?

I agree with others that Navy Davy’s points about the ID debate are dubious and that David Steele’s HIV-AIDS denial is not pretty.

However, I protest against the most hostile replies directed at Navy Davy, especially those that aim to publically establish his identity. I have no trouble with even very harsh criticism, provided that the harshness is embedded in genuine criticism. Otherwise it only serves to degrade the discussions and it would be better to simply ignore the issue (trusting the average readers’ judgment enough to refrain from trying to get the last word is probably an underestimated strategy). I also don’t think it is the job of PT participants to unmask pseudonymous participants. Does Panda’s Thumb have a policy on the use of pseudonyms?

The discussion of the theory of gravity above has been incomplete at best. The law of gravity does not say that objects fall downward. Indeed, not all objects fall downward: A helium-filled balloon falls upward, as does a log released at the bottom of a lake.

Newton’s theory of gravity is roughly this:

1. The hypothesis that the planets are attracted to the sun by the same kind of force that attracts objects to the earth.

2. The hypothesis that the force between 2 point masses is proportional to the inverse square of the distance between them.

3. Calculations to show that the orbits of planets will be ellipses if the hypotheses are correct.

4. Observations that planetary orbits are in fact ellipses.

5. Etc.

The theory of gravity is a mature science, and it seems unlikely that it will ever be overturned by new observations - only extended. Thus, general relativity explains at least 2 things that Newton’s theory gets wrong or cannot explain - the precession of the perihelion of Mercury and the deviation of starlight by a heavy body - and predicts such novelties as black holes. General relativity, however, gives results that are exactly equivalent to Newton’s theory when gravitational fields are not too strong (purists please note that I carefully avoided saying that relativity reduces to Newtonian physics).

Aristotle’s theory of gravity was something like this: Things settle to earth because that is the natural place for them. Aristotle saw a pendulum slowing down because the bob wanted to be close to the earth. Galileo saw it slowing down because friction would not allow it to continue swinging forever. A theory like Aristotle’s is fruitless, because it cannot make any predictions and is not testable. It leads to no new science. It may not be an overstatement to say that Galileo’s theory, by contrast, led to the development of modern scientific method.

Intelligent design creationism is to evolutionary biology as Aristotle’s theory is to the theory of gravitation. Neither is testable, neither can make a useful prediction, and neither leads to useful new science.

The discussion of the theory of gravity above has been incomplete at best. The law of gravity does not say that objects fall downward. Indeed, not all objects fall downward: A helium-filled balloon falls upward, as does a log released at the bottom of a lake.

Newton’s theory of gravity is roughly this:

1. The hypothesis that the planets are attracted to the sun by the same kind of force that attracts objects to the earth.

2. The hypothesis that the force between 2 point masses is proportional to the inverse square of the distance between them.

3. Calculations to show that the orbits of planets will be ellipses if the hypotheses are correct.

4. Observations that planetary orbits are in fact ellipses.

5. Etc.

The theory of gravity is a mature science, and it seems unlikely that it will ever be overturned by new observations - only extended. Thus, general relativity explains at least 2 things that Newton’s theory gets wrong or cannot explain - the precession of the perihelion of Mercury and the deviation of starlight by a heavy body - and predicts such novelties as black holes. General relativity, however, gives results that are exactly equivalent to Newton’s theory when gravitational fields are not too strong (purists please note that I carefully avoided saying that relativity reduces to Newtonian physics).

Aristotle’s theory of gravity was something like this: Things settle to earth because that is the natural place for them. Aristotle saw a pendulum slowing down because the bob wanted to be close to the earth. Galileo saw it slowing down because friction would not allow it to continue swinging forever. A theory like Aristotle’s is fruitless, because it cannot make predictions and is not testable (unless you count the belief that heavy objects fall faster than light, but that can be seen as disconfirming the theory). It leads to no new science. It may not be an overstatement to say that Galileo’s theory, by contrast, led to the development of modern scientific method.

Intelligent design creationism is to evolutionary biology as Aristotle’s theory is to the theory of gravitation. Neither is testable, neither can make a useful prediction, and neither leads to useful new science.

This is getting to be a bad habit.

I agree wholeheartedly with Erik_12345 regarding hostile comments, though it seems to me that Mr. Davy’s hostility is not much less than some of his detractors.

I can find no policy against using pseudonyms under “Welcome Message” or “Comment Integrity Policy.” My own position is, however, that pseudonyms are inappropriate: with minor exception, people should have the courage to stand behind their comments and not hide behind pseudonyms. I would argue further that pseudonyms contribute to the uncivil atmosphere about which Mr. 12345 rightly complains.

I have no comment on unmasking Mr. Steele (if that is who he is), but I think people who use pseduonyms and write hostile and outrageous posts ought to expect someone to go after them, if only to find out whether they have a hidden agenda.

We have a policy against the use of multiple identities, or masquerading as someone else, but no policy against the use of pseudonyms per se. I don’t think such would be enforceable, in any case.

Erik,

If one really desires anonymity, one shouldn’t use one’s name as an email address, and then willingly post that email address on a public board. Also, Navy Davy voluntarily provided numerous personal details without which the link between himself and David Steele would not have been obvious. Also, it’s not as if his unmasking were irrelevant to the discussion. If someone had googled his name and found that he had been arrested for drug use, or was a transvestite or something similarly irrelevant, and then posted that information here (in a discussion about scientific methodology) that would be an inappropriate and ad hominem attack. But, as many have noted, the fact that Navy Davy is a HIV denier is directly relevant to the discussion. The issue here is Navy Davy’s understanding of how scientific knowledge progresses, and whether he understands the significance of multiply convergent lines of inquiry. It would appear that, at least at one time, ND/DDS was of the opinion that HIV was not the cause of the AIDS pandemic, a position contrary to the overwhelming scientific opinion on the subject. Have his views changed as the evidence for the HIV/AIDS connection has become even more overwhelming (by multiply convergent lines of research)? If so, why? If not, why not? The situation with HIV is very much analagous to the situation with evolutionary theory. Regarding both, Navy Davy appears to consistently take a position contrary to the scientific consensus, which would indicate that he is not here to learn, as he often claims, but rather to be a fly in the ointment. Or, as the case may be, a tick on our Panda.

As far as degrading the discussion, I think you’re putting the cart before the horse. I’ll agree that certain comments have been excessively crude, but I think it’s largely a response to Navy Davy’s obstinant obtuseness. I hope you’re not taking ND’s line that pointing out someone’s ignorance of the subject at hand is somehow uncivil?

”…he is not here to learn, as he often claims”

I might also suggest, if anyone ever does want to go down that “open and orderly debate” road, a “moderator” who is demonstrably, if not up on, at least open to science.

This thread began with this sentence:

In one of the comments to my recent posting, “Why Not Teach the Controversy?”, someone called “Navy Davy” repeatedly called for evolutionary biologists to provide the “best evidence … that supports the theory of evolution.” Merely by asking the question in that way, Mr. Davy displays a woeful misunderstanding of science and how science works.

I’ve been on creationist boards where if I merely mentioned the bible I was immediately told how naive or biblically illiterate I was. It’s not pleasant having a discussion when every time you ask a question you’re first told how stupid that question is. I don’t think there’s anything inherently “woeful” about wanting to see the “best” evidence for a theory. Sure, most of the time there’s no “best” evidence, but that’s not always the case. I can think of several instances within my own field where a single paper essentially confirmed a theory or model. Even above, Matt Young summarized the theory of gravity with a single piece of undeniable evidence.

I haven’t followed all of the comments in all the threads, so maybe people have shown Navy a ton of evidence and he’s just refused to accept it, but so far in this thread, nobody’s really talking about evidence.

Navy Davy Wrote:

1. The DNA of an organism changes during its life-time, (perhaps environmental factors?) and is passed on to its offspring. (But several smart people here, say this has never been observed.)

2. Organism (with X DNA) mates with organism (with X’DNA) producing offspring with slightly new and better and more complex DNA. Repeat for millions of years.

But, again, it’s gotta be greater changes in DNA than just intra-species variation.

As Jack said, only mutations in germ cells are passed on to the offspring. Those mutations will have no effect on the organism in which they occurred. Your two-step method suggests that the only variation that occurs is due to recombination and sexual reproduction. That is not the case. As someone familiar with cancer, I’m sure you realize that random mutations happen all the time in somatic cells. Although germ cells are somewhat sequestered, they’re still exposed to much of the same environmental factors that somatic cells are. Every organism passes on several novel mutations to their offspring (most are in non-essential regions). I think Reed Cartwright told me once that every parent gives their child about 100 mutations due to mismatch errors during DNA replication, but I could be wrong.

Navy Davy Wrote:

A surge in Chinese men impregnating Blonde women, ain’t gonna move our species forward — we’re juss gonna get blonde Chinese babies.

So, it seems to me, we should be looking for horse/ass/mule type of examples of species with similar DNA, that are capable of producing fertile offspring.

That, to me, would show a potential, concrete mechanism of speciation. Perhaps, it has already been done. I have no idea.

That is not how speciation occurs, by mixing two populations together, it’s the opposite. Think of the English language spoken in America and in England. Though we come from the same initial population, the language has diverged considerably in the few hundred years we’ve been separated. If it got to the point where we could no longer understand each other, then you probably couldn’t call both our languages “English” anymore. This is analogous to speciation. Though this hasn’t happened to English yet, it has for several chinese languages, like Cantonese and Mandarin. As you can imagine, languages change continuously, so there’s not a single point at which we can say two languages have “speciated”. The inability to communicate between individuals of the two languages is sort of an arbitrary cutoff, much in the same way that the inability to interbreed between two populations of organisms is an arbitrary cutoff for speciation.

A union between an individual from England and another from the US isn’t going to spawn a new language. It’s when children in England start making up new words or pronunciations that are different from the words that American children create that the languages will start to separate. Likewise, interbreeding between two populations of organisms doesn’t create a new species, it’s the random mutations that each population picks up through time that will cause them to diverge.

Matt Young summarized the theory of gravity with a single piece of undeniable evidence.

I did? What evidence was that? The evidence as such may be undeniable, but I still maintain that a single piece of evidence cannot prove a theory as complex as the law of gravity, let alone evolution, which is far more complicated. If you wanted to do so, you could have pointed to the orbit of Mercury as evidence that orbits were not necessarily elliptical - and they apparently aren’t, except in the limit of low gravitational fields. In the end, acceptance or rejection of a theory is a matter of evaluating a large quantity of evidence, never a single piece of evidence, and often putting some evidence aside for future research.

In the case of gravity, which is “better” evidence - that the planets follow elliptical orbits, or that projectiles on earth follow parabolic trajectories? Neither. But both together support the theory. There simply is no one “best” piece of evidence.

Science is far more complex than Navy Davy thinks, and I think if you look at the earlier thread as well as this one, you will find him repeating the same themes or deliberately changing the subject or otherwise evading the issues presented by critical comments. See, for example, his refusal to answer the question of HIV and whether it causes AIDS in this thread.

See also the comment on coherentism, above.

As Jack said, only mutations in germ cells are passed on to the offspring. Those mutations will have no effect on the organism in which they occurred.

Sigh. Remember those one celled organisms called archeabacteria and eubacteria? I mean, they’re only the most abundant organisms on the planet, in terms of species diversity, and also the most ancient. And the most likely to be here long after our species and all of our closest relatives have gone extinct.

As Jack said, only mutations in germ cells are passed on to the offspring. Those mutations will have no effect on the organism in which they occurred.

Sigh. Remember those one celled organisms called archeabacteria and eubacteria? I mean, they’re only the most abundant organisms on the planet, in terms of species diversity, and also the most ancient. And the most likely to be here long after our species and all of our closest relatives have gone extinct.

Johnnie C. Wrote:

Remember those one celled organisms called archeabacteria and eubacteria?

Sorry, I don’t consider prokaryotes “alive”. Nor plants, for that matter. Maybe it’s the cell walls. I don’t trust any organism whose cells don’t immediately burst in pure water.

:P

Matt (Young),

Matt Young Wrote:

The evidence as such may be undeniable, but I still maintain that a single piece of evidence cannot prove a theory as complex as the law of gravity, let alone evolution, which is far more complicated. If you wanted to do so, you could have pointed to the orbit of Mercury as evidence that orbits were not necessarily elliptical - and they apparently aren’t, except in the limit of low gravitational fields. In the end, acceptance or rejection of a theory is a matter of evaluating a large quantity of evidence, never a single piece of evidence, and often putting some evidence aside for future research.

I agree that evolution is too complex a theory to be confirmed by a single line of evidence. If you say gravity is the same, I’ll take your word for it (I’m no physicist). If you said that it’s naive to think a theory could be confirmed by a single line of evidence, I’d agree with you as well. I just don’t think it’s fair to say that a person displays a “woeful misunderstanding of science” just because they asked for the “best” evidence for evolution.

I haven’t been following all the comments in all the blogs, so maybe he had it coming, but it seems Navy’s biggest mistake was that he chose the wrong horse to back in the beginning (i.e. JDB), and now everything that’s transpired since is a direct result of that. Maybe Navy is a closet creationist or maybe he’s just not familiar enough with creationism to know how full of crap it is, but I haven’t seen enough to figure that out yet. I haven’t seen anyone discuss the evidence (plural) for evolution with him. That’s all I’m trying to do.

I just don’t think it’s fair to say that a person displays a “woeful misunderstanding of science” just because they asked for the “best” evidence for evolution.

True, but in context, I thought (and still think) the statement was accurate. This is a guy who pretends to some knowledge of science, not someone who asks a simple but naive question and wants to hear the answer. I’m afraid I do not know what JDB is, so I can’t comment further.

Incidentally, and at the risk of getting off-task: I don’t know whether you are woefully ignorant of the Bible or not, but it seems to me that that charge can be fairly leveled against the creationists themselves. Not counting a few Jewish literalists, they generally do not understand a single word of Hebrew, and they do not understand or reject out of hand the documentary hypothesis (that the Hebrew Bible is an amalgam of disparate and often contradictory sources). They usually quote the King James version and ignore more-recent scholarship. And they think that their interpretation of ambiguous words or sentences is the only possible interpretation - or, more accurately, that their interpretation is no interpretation at all. I’ve written more about this aspect of creationism in my reviews of books by Schroeder and Ross (www.mines.edu/~mmyoung/BkRevs.htm)and in my book, No Sense of Obligation.

Matt Inlay said

…maybe he’s just not familiar enough with creationism to know how full of crap it is, but I haven’t seen enough to figure that out yet.

Wow. How long should it take an adult human being with an advanced degree and more than a passing interest in scientific, religion and policy issues to figure out how full of crap “scientific” creationism is? An hour? Two? Unless of course, one comes into the “debate” with the opinion that most scientists are born liars with a “secular humanist” agenda in which case any discussion of the scientific evidence is a waste of time.

I haven’t seen anyone discuss the evidence (plural) for evolution with him.

Navy Davy claimed to be an adult human being with an advanced degree and a working relationship with “zillions” of experts in fields related to cancer biology. He knew where to look to find the “evidence {plural} for evolution.” He was also asked to spend some time reviewing the Pandas Thumb and TalkOrigin archives, but I recall that he mumbled something about not having time to do that. Go figure.

Navy’s biggest mistake was that he chose the wrong horse to back in the beginning (i.e. JDB)

An honest mistake that any 7 year old could have made. Too bad Navy Davy is a 37 year old corporate attorney. If he was 7 years old, Navy Davy would have a reasonable excuse for not *immediately* seeing right through Jerry Don Bauer’s claptrap.

These are just musings and may be bathroom wall material. I think they have some passing relevance to the current topic.

Q1. How would an intelligent professional self-educate about evolution and the evidence supporting it (without having to enroll in a university)? 1. Start by reading a recommended text on the subject. 2. If it’s too hard to understand, ask the evolution community for guidance or pointers to easier material.

Q2. How would one go from being a failed AIDS denier to being an evolution denier with minimal effort? 1. Ask the “establishment” for the best evidence in support of evolution. 2. Examine the documentation of that evidence to find ways to select, distort and misrepresent it (and the people who have already interpreted it). 3. Construct a conspiracy theory that plays on the fears of the scientifically naive masses. 4. Write a book. 5. Sit back and laugh at ID creationists, scientists and the gullible public.

In his reply to a Phillip Johnson article, Richard Dawkins has some sentences that seem apropos:

When I open a page of Darwin I immediately sense that I have been ushered into the presence of a great mind. I have the same feeling with RA Fisher and GC Williams. When I read Phillip Johnson, I feel that I have been ushered into the presence of a lawyer.

But a case can be made that really successful advocates do a better job of misleading others if they have first misled themselves.

RBH

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on June 1, 2004 7:00 PM.

Kids and evolution was the previous entry in this blog.

Bruce Grant reviews “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design” is the next entry in this blog.

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