A useful link to use when confronted with the circularity argument

| 141 Comments

Carl Zimmer provides a clear argument against complaints of "circularity" in evolution. It isn't circular—it's successful!

141 Comments

Science isn’t circular.. its helical! You don’t end up back where you started once the predictions are verified..

Circularity was always a dumb argument against evolution. You can make a circular statement from any two related things.

Hot dogs are sold at baseball games. What are baseball games? The places where hot dogs are sold.

I suppose this means that in order for Michael Behe to believe in hot dogs, he’d have to know how many innings are in a game, how runs are scored, what a designated hitter is, an exhaustive description of a ‘foul’, .…

Out of curiosity, why aren’t plate tectonics an “unprovable theory from the 1960’s?” I had a professor say that to me. (computer science)

If the bible said that god made the continents fixed in place, it would be considered unprovable theory from the 1960s.

rewrite for clarity:

If the bible said that god made the continents fixed in place, half the population would consider plate tectonics unprovable atheist theory from the 1960s.

steve wrote:

If the bible said that god made the continents fixed in place, half the population would consider plate tectonics unprovable atheist theory from the 1960s.

Ah, but god did say so!

Psalm 93:1: “Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm …”

Psalm 96:10: “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable …”

Psalm 104:5: “Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.”

Isaiah 45:18: “…who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast…”

Plus, there’s that whole 6000 year old earth thing. Creationists do reject plate tectonics.

No, no, see, Eden was on Pangea. During The Flood, the continents all floated around to their new positions.

Anyway, Plate Tectonics is Just a Theory. Where’s the proof? really accurate GPS measurements? GPS depends on Special Relativity, and according to IDtheFuture, that’s all crap. Einstein was confused.

Anyway, Plate Tectonics is Just a Theory. Where’s the proof? really accurate GPS measurements? GPS depends on Special Relativity, and according to IDtheFuture, that’s all crap. Einstein was confused.

I once heard a flat-earther (yes, a real live flat-earther, on the Discovery Channel, no less, IIRC) use Einsteinian relativity to his advantage. When asked why the earth appears round from outer space, he replied that, according to Einstein, mass bends light, therefore the mass of the earth bends the light from the edges of the flat disc and makes it LOOK like it’s round.

The really ironic thing is that I once joined a creationist-only email list under a fake name, fed them lots of geocentrist/flat-earth stuff (including the above) and challenged them to “prove me wrong”.

Not a one of them could offer any remotely-coherent scientific explanation of why any of my geocentrist/flat-earth crap was wrong.

They ALL, however, wanted to debate the “true meaning” of all those “fixed-earth” Bible verses with me . … . .

I found that extremely illuminating.

Yes, plate tectonics are a theory…falsifiable…definition of theory. So even though plate tectonics indeed are an “unprovable theory from the 1960’s” there has to be some line of reasoning people use to justify the negative implication of that statement. Does anyone have any good links to writings by tectonic deniers? I’m pretty sure it is mentioned in a few talk.origins articles, I really want to hear what rhetorical doubletalk can do with plate tectonics.

AIG supports research via plate tectonic theory, but only if you have your Bible glasses on. AiG on continental drift I am only posting this because I noticed that the definition they use of plate tectonics (reference 3) comes from a book edited by Dr. Gish. How do you like them strawed men? Wouldn’t anyone writing an article about plate tectonics use an earth science textbook or something for a basic definition of plate tectonics?

When asked why the earth appears round from outer space, he replied that, according to Einstein, mass bends light, therefore the mass of the earth bends the light from the edges of the flat disc and makes it LOOK like it’s round.

that’s pretty good. One thing that keeps me paying attention to the ID Creationists is, they will occasionally say such surprising, creative, dingbatty things. It can really be funny.

Read Jay Richards’s anti-relativity blog post. I dare you not to laugh when he says that Einstein was confused.

Bill Dembski saying that such and such was going to be evolution’s Waterloo? Some dunce comparing Dembski to Isaac Newton? That’s funnier than The Daily Show.

Didn’t Dr. Dembski go into a spiel about how his career was in the tank a few weeks ago, so when he’s talking about the Waterloo(s) for evolution, he’s saying this on ID’s deathbed from St. Helena island.

If I’m remembering Dembski’s Waterloo comment correctly I think he was saying, quite excitedly, that all the impending real trials with real judges and lawyers and real subpoenas where Darwinists would have to “come clean”, would be evolution’s Waterloo(s).

The same real trials where, uhhh, he himself won’t be testifying, uhh, after all.

“Uhhh, I wanted my own lawyer so they fired me. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I can’t testify! But I really want to! Next time!! See you at Waterloooooooooooo!”

H. Humbert quotes,

Psalm 93:1: “Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm … “

Psalm 96:10: “He has fixed the earth firm, immovable … “

Psalm 104:5: “Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.”

Isaiah 45:18: “ … who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast … “ Comment #36146

But see here, that’s not about plate tectonics. You’re confusing it with an unprovable theory of 1543, that the Earth itself moves.

False and contrary to philosophy, that is. (Papal commission of philosophers, 1616)

ID on it’s deathbed? I beg to differ: http://watchtower.org/library/g/200[…]ticle_01.htm

Re: comment 36153

Didn’t you know Paul, Gish is an expert on plate tectonics. Just like he’s an expert on the fossil record.

To be fair to YECs (not easy for me to say that), Gish maybe mentioned in relation to plate tectonics but their approach to it isn’t quite as mind numblingly bad as you might upon seeing his name. Their expert (John Baumgardner) on plate tectonics is one of the few credible YECs out there - he has designed one of the more sophisticated plate tectonic models there is and it is fairly widely used in the geophysics community.

He gets his name the literature a fair bit (mainly as a co-author), particularly in papers concerning modelling the core and the mantle. I just mention all this because I think its a mistake to lump all creationists in with the likes of Gish. I in no way endorse the YEC view of the world, I just think we need to recognise that some of their arguments are more sophisticated than we often might think.

Here, for those who are interested, is a paper in which he is a co-author. Note the dates in the abstract and the consequent intellectual dishonesty on the part of Baumgardne:

Stegman DR, Jellinek AM, Zatman SA, Baumgardner JR, Richards MA. (2003) An early lunar core dynamo driven by thermochemical mantle convection. Nature, 421, 143-146.

Although the Moon currently has no internally generated magnetic field, palaeomagnetic data, combined with radiometric ages of Apollo samples, provide evidence for such a magnetic field from similar to3.9 to 3.6 billion years (Gyr) ago(1), possibly owing to an ancient lunar dynamo(1,2). But the presence of a lunar dynamo during this time period is difficult to explain(1-4), because thermal evolution models for the Moon 5 yield insufficient core heat flux to power a dynamo after similar to4.2 Gyr ago. Here we show that a transient increase in core heat flux after an overturn of an initially stratified lunar mantle might explain the existence and timing of an early lunar dynamo. Using a three-dimensional spherical convection model(6), we show that a dense layer, enriched in radioactive elements (a ‘thermal blanket’), at the base of the lunar mantle can initially prevent core cooling, thereby inhibiting core convection and magnetic field generation. Subsequent radioactive heating progressively increases the buoyancy of the thermal blanket, ultimately causing it to rise back into the mantle. The removal of the thermal blanket, proposed to explain the eruption of thorium- and titanium-rich lunar mare basalts(7), plausibly results in a core heat flux sufficient to power a short-lived lunar dynamo.

For those interested about Baumgardner, the following NCSE report is enlightening:

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/rn[…]_30_1899.asp

Just thought I’d share this one with you. I like to think it’s the undiluted state of the creationist mindset…

John Baumgardner seems to be a very versatile innovator in various fields. A few months ago I met him at a meeting of SDARI (San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry) where Genie Scott gave a presentation. I did not know who he was and had never heard his name hitherto. We exchanged a few words wherein I biefly commented on some statement he made related to information theory. A few days later he sent me an email where he urged me to study his theory of… language. It sounded preposterous and I tried to avoid its discussion. For a while he continued pestering me with emals. I did not read all of his linguistic exercises where, among other things, he somehow seemed to utilize Maxwell’s equations to prove the divine origin of human languages. All that looked like an illustration of Gardner’s definition of a crank, so finally I requested to be left alone. He complied but threatened me with eternal damnation for not listening to his warning. Altogether a depressing experience. As Gardner wrote, a crank is not necessarily a dunderhead. He may be very convincing, use sophisticated arguments, use some good science, show erudition etc, but still be a hopeless crank. That was my impression of Baumgardner, but of course it is just IMHO.

Gee -

Those damn scientists are just full of circular arguments. How about the Circular Theory of Gravity?

You throw a rock into the air, it comes back. It’s Gravity!

Projectiles travel along parabolic trajectories - it’s Gravity!

The planets orbit the Sun - Gravity again!

How convenient that this Gravity stuff just so happens to explain all these things.

I was “blinded by science”, but now I see circles everywhere!

And in totally unrelated news… If you didn’t see this yesterday in the papers, it’s worth it. I laughed my ass off for a good couple of minutes.

Those damn scientists are just full of circular arguments. How about the Circular Theory of Gravity?

The planets orbit the Sun - Gravity again!

And the orbits are round, and the planets are round, and even the sun is round. Talk about your circular reasoning! Or elliptical reasoning, or oblate spheroidal reasoning. …

It appears, Steve F, that when Baumgardner wants to be published he accepts modern scientific assumptions, but when he puts his YEC hat on he starts lying for Jesus.

Or hyperbolic reasoning if something’s moving too fast to be captured into an orbit… ;)

Interesting comments Mark. I think Baumgardner is probably the most interesting example of the YEC species - an obviously highly intelligent chap, capable of producing excellent research, sadly blinded on occasion into irrationality by an insistence on a particular translation of a very old book.

Carl Wrote:

As a result, the specific examples that Doug brings up are not circular, but rather are particular cases of well-studied patterns in evolution.

But notice, that’s not what Doug’s criticism is! Here’s Doug’s criticism:

Doug Wrote:

Thank goodness we don’t need to resort to God to explain the world around. Now we have Evolution! Its the all-encompassing answer to the ultimate question (I always thought it was 42).

You have to really stop and scratch your head when a theory can be invoked to explain anything. Let me demonstrate the reductio ad absurdum that Darwinism is subject to.

We know that life, somehow, began from what we would call inorganic elements and forms. It is theorized that Darwinian evolution has brought about all the diversity seen in the bios. We also know that death exists. Now, if life begins from non-living matter, how is it that life “ends”? Whence “death”? You would be forced to say that “death” was produced by Darwinian evolution.

Now why would that be so? Well, one would simply argue that by “dying,” organisms allow the progeny that they leave behind to better adapt, since adaptation can’t take place without generational variation being passed along. As well, if organisms didn’t die, then using Malthus’ line of reasoning, competition for food sources would be almost infinitely tough. Hence, to avoid these problems, evolution evolved “death.”

There you have it, a Darwinian explanation for the worst thing that could happen to anyone. So, if you can explain the worst kind of evil using evolutionary theory, you can explain anything.

That was Doug’s point. Not circularity.

But before we leave this discussion, let’s take a look at the sufficiency of Carl’s analogy of tectonic plates. First, let’s notice that he admits that tectonics has to be used in conjunction with other theories to explain geology. So, for example, plate tectonics is not going to explain the presence of strata all by itself. A theory of sedimentation has to supplement it. Likewise, by acknowledging that Darwinian theory applies at the level of organic adaptation, does not imply that, without further supplementation, it is capable of explaining macromutational change.

Now, as for ID, let me ask you this: If you were sailing along–being a top-notch, highly educated, geologist–and you ran into a formation that was perfectly (not almost perfectly, but perfectly!) 1 mile in circumference, made out of diamond, and rising up out of the ocean to the height of 10 miles, with a spiral staircase, etched somehow into its side, leading to the top etched, how would explain that? What process would you invoke?

That’s sort of what we see in life forms: a structure that completely transcends analysis along the lines that science provides. Plate tectonics, geological forces, could not, and will never be able to, explain what we encounter.

That’s the problem with Darwinian evolutionary theory: it’s just not equipped to give us the answers we want. So–as scientists–we need to look somewhere else.

“But, oh,” you object, “ID is about God. This is just religion masquerading as science.”

A question: If I told you that I thought there was life out there in the universe that had evolved billions of years ago and that is now able to travel at faster than the speed of light (so great is their technology), and that it was they who brought their life to this planet billions of years ago, and that the life they left behind was designed by them to contain the immense diversity of life we now see, would Intelligent Design be more palatable? If so, then the problem is not science, but a materialist philosophy. To those of us who see Darwinian theory as inadequate–SCIENTIFICALLY–that’s what it often looks like to us; that we’re dealing not with science, but with a materialist philosophy; i.e., all the kinds of things you accuse the other side of.

Re “Most impressive are those of the whale evolution, hominid evolution and of course good old Archaeopteryx, but they are hardly the only ones. Talkorigins.org is positively full of examples of every kind of intermediate creatures you could wish for.”

Of course, (and at the risk of stating the obvious) the evidence for a generalization (such as common ancestry) has to be based on an observed pattern* in a large amount of data - no one piece of evidence would by itself prove anything. Nor would discrediting one piece of evidence disprove the general case.

*Later species being modified copies of earlier ones, similar species being modified copies of the same earlier speces, lack of significant sharing of derived features across separate lineages, the later species being within geographic reach of their predecessors, the usability of a nested hierarchy classification system for species living at the same time (fairly unambiguous where sufficient data is available).

Henry

Someone here asked who Blast was. It looks to me like Blast has several things in common with Charlie Wagner, but the comments aren’t identical. Blast, like Charlie, fakes a kind of detatched viewpoint typical of science.

Soundbitewise, if you wanted to make this argument to a creationist, wouldn´t meteorology be a better science example than plate tectonics, since it´s something everybody knows? “Sun’s shining, it´s meteorology…” The one drawback that I can think of is that meteorologists are often wrong ;)

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank Wrote:

If that is so, then the original living organism would have ALL of the known genetic material in it.

So, that would include chlorophyll.

It occurs to me that, in line with his nickname, BlastfromthePast may be one of those really old-fashioned ignoramus types who don’t believe plants are alive. In which case for him it doesn’t follow at all that front-loading means animals have to share plant genes. Perhaps only metazoans were supposed to be intelligently designed. Hence my example of looking for unsilenced vertebrae in mushrooms would be more relevant - except that he would almost certainly be ignorant enough to put fungi in with plants, as the nature of that distinction was an even later scientific discovery than the rather obvious fact (to many people at any rate!) that plants are living things.

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Ah, but snakes are satanic and cursed by the fall etc etc.

Carl, Like the theory of evolution, the theory of plate tectonics is really made up of two components. One component is the process, and the other is the mechanism. In both cases, the process has been confirmed. Living organisms have changed over time and those that are extant today are different from those that lived in the past. There are also significant similarities in the morphological and molecular structure of all organisms demonstrating a profound relatedness. No reasonable person denies this. In plate tectonics, the process has also been confirmed. The earth is made up of huge plates that move slowly and this movement has caused the sea floor to spread and the continents to change their relative positions. No reasonable person denies this. But in both cases, the mechanism is in question and has not been clearly established. Those who promote “evolution” are really defending a well supported process and a less well supported mechanism. The same is true in plate tectonics. While we can state with certainty that it occurs, details of the mechanism are still under debate. So, would you be correct to pose the question to a geologist “do you believe in plate tectonics?” He would probably reply “I believe that it has occurred, but I’m unsure of the exact mechanism.” The same is true for evolution. The question “do you believe in evolution”? depends on whether you’re talking about the process of evolution or the mechanism. I believe that the process has occurred but I question the currently popular mechanism. Intelligent design is perfectly compatible with evolution because it is a mechanism, not a process. It is one of many possible explanations of how evolution has proceeded. No one mechanism has been clearly established as the correct mechanism. Certainly, Darwin’s explanation (and the modern synthesis) require a huge leap of faith that connects the trivial changes in gene frequency that occur under natural selection with the emergence of highly organized, complex processes, systems and adaptations. I have noticed a distinct trend in recent times to de-emphasize the role of natural selection in evolution and concentrate more on the notion of common descent. That’s a good trend and I welcome it. Common descent is readily supported by a large body of molecular and physiological data and I would find few arguments against the idea that all organisms share a common origin. On the other hand, the advocacy of the theory of mutation and natural selection as the mechanism of evolution remains what it always has been, a just-so story fabricated by Darwin and disseminated by his successors. It lacks any kind of empirical (read “scientific”) support and should be recognized as the fairy tale that it is.

“in the bitter contests of values and political rhetoric that characterize our times, 90% of the uproar is noise and 10% is what the scientists call “signal” or solid, substantive information that will reward study and interpretation. If we could eliminate much of the noise, we might find that actual, meaningful disagreements are on a scale we can manage.” -Jeff Limerick

Ah, notice the shift in the last day or so, both on idthefuture.com (e.g., the interview with Townes) and in comments like #36463 - Intelligent Design is compatible with the process of evolution.

So, presumably, now there is no case to teach ID as an alternative to the theory of evolution, it is merely one of the mechanisms?

Charlie Wagner Wrote:

On the other hand, the advocacy of the theory of mutation and natural selection as the mechanism of evolution remains what it always has been, a just-so story fabricated by Darwin and disseminated by his successors. It lacks any kind of empirical (read “scientific”) support and should be recognized as the fairy tale that it is.

C’mon, Charlie. It’s one thing to say the evidence doesn’t convince you. You can even argue that the evidence shouldn’t be enough to convince anyone (in your opinion), and still be intellectually honest.

But to say the basic mechanisms of evolutionary theory lack any kind of empirical support is silly. I hope you’re just being hyperbolic to make a point. Because, if you really believe that statement, you’re just engaging in the mental equivalent of plugging your ears and chanting “La la la, I can’t hear you!”

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You keep saying that but I doubt it’s true. I’d say it was highly likely that at least one person does care :- Charlie himself.

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Charlie’s already so much as admitted no one cares. He sends his manifesto off to professors, and they ignore him. Which is what professors do all the time. Even the ID community ignores him. when’s the last time Dembski, Behe, or the like mentioned Nelson’s Law? Lenny is right. No one cares.

Re “So, presumably, now there is no case to teach ID as an alternative to the theory of evolution, it is merely one of the mechanisms?”

Well, that is consistent with all the details they’ve provided so far, AFAIK. :)

Henry

“Flint, I’m Catholic. Miracles, documented miracles, happen quite often. It takes two of them—after a saint dies—to canonize a saint. If you’re interested in scientific type proof, then there’s the powdered blood of St. Januarius in Naples, Italy, that liquifies almost each year at the time of his feast day. There’s the tilma of Juan Diego in Mexico City, upon which is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the pupil of which contains the reflection of Juan Diego!! How might science explain that? And, of course, there are personal experiences. Suffice it to say, I have good reason to believe in God. But . …. we digress.”

Dear Blast.…

You REALLY need to start reading the “Skpetical Inquirer”. These kinds of phenomena have been investigated and have always been found to be trickery, charlatanism, or misinterpreted natural phenomena.

These “miracles” prove nothing more than human gullibility and the desire to believe in something, ANYTHING.

BftP Wrote:

There’s the tilma of Juan Diego in Mexico City, upon which is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the pupil of which contains the reflection of Juan Diego!! How might science explain that?

Here’s how:

Tilma of Juan Diego Debunked

In fact, there’s no reliable evidence, apparently, that Juan Diego himself is anything more than a folk legend. Now, shall we do the St. Januarius one next?

Everyone -

Please excuse me if I am beating a dead horse here. I only recently came across this blog and haven’t read through all the comments thoroughly, but there is a simple question I just have to ask.

Can ID tell us where to draw the line between “designed” and “evolved”???

If a complex system, deemed to be “designed”, has X number of interacting components, does that mean that a system with X-1 components is not designed? Or X-10?

Just how complex does a system have to be in order to qualify for “designed” status?

Is there any type of metric, other than personal whim, that tells us when we have crossed from the “evolved” realm to the “designed”?

Or am I missing something??

OOPS!

Of course that’s “Skeptical Inquirer”. I’m not that bad of a speller!

My bad, I was trying to type too fast!

Re “Just how complex does a system have to be in order to qualify for “designed” status?”

Dunno, but as a general rule, as long as requirements are satisfied, simpler is better than more complex. Another general rule is modularity is better than a “design” in which everything affects almost everything else, because that makes maintenance and modifications much easier to implement.

Whatever “designed” known life forms flunked both of those tests.

Henry

H.Humbert Wrote:

Psalm 104:5: “Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken.”

Does this mean that earthquakes are not real? We must certainly imagine them if the bible says they can’t happen.

About having a solid liquify at specific times: there is at least one metal that’s solid at room temperature but will melt in the palm of a person’s hand. That makes me suspect that it wouldn’t be too hard to arrange the described event.

Henry

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on June 23, 2005 12:50 PM.

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