Beyond the fish wars

| 34 Comments

More and more people, scientists and religious people alike, are coming to the obvious conclusion that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

Beyond the fish wars

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jim Burklo, a minister of Sausalito Presbyterian Church, presents his opinion

It [Intelligent Design] is not a theoretical alternative to evolution, because it suggests no other credible means by which this outside intelligence created the complexity of life. There is nothing in the theory of evolution, the only one that holds any water in explaining the origin of the species, that proves or disproves the existence of such an intelligent “designer.” Even if one thinks of God as a separate, distinct being that manipulates the universe, “intelligent design” offers no intelligent reason to suggest that evolution wasn’t God’s chosen instrument of creation.

In addition Intelligent Design is considered by many to be religiously dangerous as it hides the Designer (wink wink) in the shadows of our ignorance rather than in what we know

This “awe-wareness” gives spiritual expression its rightful place alongside scientific exploration. We don’t need the non-theory of “intelligent design” to make the claim that science and religion are compatible. God is manifested dramatically in the processes of nature that science relentlessly strives to understand and describe.

34 Comments

I particularly like this part:

Likewise, the theory of evolution doesn’t detract from our sense of awe and divine humility in the face of the miracle that is life. On the contrary. It’s even more awesome, even more humbling, even more divinely majestic to consider that all this living diversity emerged from something akin to random trial and error. To consider that a rose is a result of such a prosaic process: what a marvel!

Though my field is physics, I’d have to say that evolution might have been the coolest idea anyone’s had. And if you read OTOoS, you’ll appreciate what a mind it took to figure evolution out, given the state of evidence at the time. The book is a masterpiece. You can see Darwin looking through a deep fog of contradictory data and detecting the faintest outline of the truth. It’s one of those moments when you say, “Wow. There’s no way in hell I could have done that.”

steve Wrote:

Wow. There’s no way in hell I could have done that.”

Okay, my field is computers rather than biology, but Huxley was supposed to have remarked (on finishing OTOos): “How very stupid not to have thought of that.”

Also note that two people ran into the idea in the space of 20 years, so it clearly it’s more obvious to real biologists than to you or me.

(Likewise, it’s pretty obvious to me that biologists could really benefit by not using Fortran any more. CS evolves too.… ;-) ).

Love this blog,

RC.

“Also note that two people ran into the idea in the space of 20 years…”

Actually, it was more than that, I think. All my books are in storage, and I have to work from memory, but I seem to recall reading that some fellow predated Darwin in the discovery of natural selection; his views were published in an appendix in some sort of Royal Yearbook of Forestry, or some such publication. Darwin wasn’t aware of it until after the first edition of “Origin” was published; later editions acknowedge his contributions. Can anyone with a knowledge of the history of evolution help my memory here? You can probably find his name in your own copy of OoS, along with others that Darwin credited with helping the theory along.

I could be wrong, but if I’m not mistaken, he also may have been led to his insight by Malthus’ work on economics and populations, just as Darwin was…though on the Malthus thing, I’m probably thinking of Wallace twenty years or so later.

At any rate I agree with Ronan: I’ve always thought of evolution (at least via Natural Selection) as a sort of “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that!” rather than a “Wow! How could anyone have figured that out!” type of insight. (Of course, it’s easy for us pygmies, standing on the shoulder’s of giants, etc etc)…

I’ve always thought of evolution (at least via Natural Selection) as a sort of “Damn! Why didn’t I think of that!” rather than a “Wow! How could anyone have figured that out!” type of insight. (Of course, it’s easy for us pygmies, standing on the shoulder’s of giants, etc etc)…

I’ve always thought of evolution (people coming from fish) as a sort of “Damn! That’s really stupid!” rather than a “Wow! How could anyone in their right mind think that’s possible?” type of insight. (Of course, it’s easy for us pygmies, standing on the shoulder’s of giants, etc etc)…

That’s because you refuse to look at the evidence objectively because it conflicts with your belief system. It is really rather compelling. But then I don’t have an insecurity complex that requires me to be “special” relative to the rest of “creation”.

(Slams head repeatedly against wall, a la Dobby) Damn, must remember not to feed the trolls.

“Damn, must remember not to feed the trolls…”

You should know better by now, KiwiInOz. :)

Still, it’s sad, isn’t it? One of the great scientific discoveries in the history of the human species, one that gives us so much insight into who we are and where we came from… and *that* is the response.

It’s so…so…blasphemous, don’t you think?

Yeah, descent with change does seem kind of obvious now after the fact, doesn’t it?

I wonder what would’ve happened if genes had been discovered before somebody formulated a theory of evolution. Given that selection and drift are direct consequences of how genes work, I’d guess geneticists would’ve put it together at that point.

Henry

Read the halfassed pile of somewhat contradictory evidence he used, and you might be amazed as I was.

I’ve always thought of evolution (people coming from fish) as a sort of “Damn! That’s really stupid!”

That reaction is really stupid. Argument from incredulity is a fallacy, whereas recognizing an insight is not. Those who recognize the insight learn something and have a new tool for discovering more, whereas those who wave it away learn nothing and have nowhere new to go. There are those who thought that Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Lister, Fleming, Einstein, and many others said something stupid – people like you. It’s not something to be proud of.

Someone might bring up Velikovsky, Lysenko, Dembski, and so on, but the proper response to them is not “That’s really stupid!” but rather to refute them with evidence and logic.

Read the halfassed pile of somewhat contradictory evidence he used, and you might be amazed as I was.

Seemingly contradictory. Many of the great scientific insights involve finding a model that is consistent with all the evidence, evidence that otherwise doesn’t make sense.

In comment #44860

Red Right Hand Wrote:

“Also note that two people ran into the idea in the space of 20 years…”

Actually, it was more than that, I think. All my books are in storage, and I have to work from memory, but I seem to recall reading that some fellow predated Darwin in the discovery of natural selection; his views were published in an appendix in some sort of Royal Yearbook of Forestry, or some such publication. Darwin wasn’t aware of it until after the first edition of “Origin” was published; later editions acknowedge his contributions. Can anyone with a knowledge of the history of evolution help my memory here? …

Google is your friend. Here is a copy of the historical sketch Darwin added to the third edition of On the Origin of Species. In it he acknowledges two predecessors who hit upon the principle of natural selection before he and Wallace did. He notes that in 1813 a Dr W.C. Wells read a paper before the Royal Society in which he recognises the operation of natural selection on certain characters of Homo sapiens, and that in 1831 a Mr Patrick Matthew outlined the theory of natural selection “very briefly in scattered passages” in an appendix of his work on ‘Naval Timber and Aboriculture’. The acknowledgements occur on pages xv and xvi of the sketch.

I must quibble with this:

So biblical literalists have come up with a new strategy: leave the word “God” out of the public argument, and come up with one that sounds more scientific. It’s called “intelligent design.”

It was not biblical literalists, but rather people who know that the mutually contradictory “literal” interpretations of Genesis is nonsense, who concocted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (or occasionally concede old earth and common descent) strategy. Hapless biblical literalists then scrambled for the safety of the big tent.

… I seem to recall reading that some fellow predated Darwin in the discovery of natural selection…

You may also be thinking of Edward Blyth, whose story was recounted by Loren Eiseley in Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X. Blyth published an essay describing the mechanisms of natural selection (though not called by that name), but - lacking Darwin’s understanding of geology and of the actual age of the Earth - considered it, quite reasonably, as a process which keeps species from changing. Eiseley makes a good case for Darwin having read Blyth’s work, and one (not as strong, imo) for him having deliberately concealed that he had done so.

The reason I love this blog?

I make a reference (2 people in 20 years), which somebody else points out may be inaccurate, a third person then digs out the truth (or at least more truth (I’m not picky), and we end up with a lot more people knowing a little bit more than they did before. And sheepishly remembering that it’s a good idea to do the research before opening your beak on a subject. Of course, if everybody obeyed that commandment.… :-)

RC

Henry J said:

I wonder what would’ve happened if genes had been discovered before somebody formulated a theory of evolution.

Funny you should say that because Gregor Mendel (the father of modern genetics) actually published his groundbreaking observations on heredity in pea pod plants many years before Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle. Of course, Mendel didn’t observe DNA or genes directly, but his experiments led to hypotheses that allowed him to predict with amazing accuracy the phenotypes of his pea pod plants simply by knowing what the phenotypes of the parents were. According to the story, Mendel sent Darwin a copy of his paper on inheritance after reading Origin. Darwin never read it despite admiting in Origin that he could propose no mechanism for inheritance within a species. Only the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows what would have happened if Mendel and Darwin would have collaborated.

Comment #44904

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 26, 2005 01:17 AM (e) (s)

Read the halfassed pile of somewhat contradictory evidence he used, and you might be amazed as I was.

Seemingly contradictory. Many of the great scientific insights involve finding a model that is consistent with all the evidence, evidence that otherwise doesn’t make sense.

Damn, but you’re TediouS.

HPLC_Sean Wrote:

Funny you should say that because Gregor Mendel (the father of modern genetics) actually published his groundbreaking observations on heredity in pea pod plants many years before Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle.

Fascinating. What chronology is it that puts “1865” many years before “1831”?

Damn, but you’re TediouS.

A bit touchy, are we?

Daid Wilson (David?), you are one steely-eyed Google man! Thanks for the info, it was starting to bug me. (I tried Googling late last night and came up empty; even downloaded the etext of OoS from Guttenburg, but it was the first edition. Damn!) It was Patrick Matthew I was thinking of, apparently. The other fellow doesn’t ring a bell (nor does Edward Blyth - thanks for the reference Pierce); when I get back this afternoon, I’ll look ‘em all up; the history of this idea (evolution) is really interesting, and it’s been about ten years since I did any serious reading on this historical period.

BTW, in that spirit, I’d recommend an excellent book: David Hull’s Darwin and His Critics (Norton, I believe); most of Darwin’s contemporary critics were more honest and useful (in the science sense) than this current crop of anti-evolutionists.

According to Wikipedia:

Mendel delivered his “Experiments on Plant Hybrid” in 1865. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendel

Darwin published “The Origin of Species” in 1859. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Darwin

My own speculation of why Darwin never cut the pages of Mendel’s paper comes from having read the paper in German class. Pretty tedious, because the sentences were incredibly long, with the verb on the end. So I suspect that Darwin took a look at the letter, and the title, and said, “Not another bloody German paper! It’s too hard to read, and my liver is bothering me.” So he put it aside.

I once asked Robin Marantz Henig, author of “The Monk in the Garden,” a biography of Mendel, what would have happened if Darwin had read Mendel’s paper. The consensus was not much. Darwin wasn’t mathematically inclined, and Mendel’s paper relied on statistical arguments which were not widespread in Biology. On the other hand, if Mendel had sent the paper to Galton, I suspect that there would have been a letter that started, “Dear Cousin Charles, I have just read this remarkable paper by a German priest, who says that heredity is particulate. Indeed, I say, this fits with some of my own observations, and next time I am in Surrey, I would appreciate your thoughts about its application to Natural Philosopy.…”

Re “Darwin wasn’t mathematically inclined,”

Well, nobody’s perfect, huh?

By contrast, who can source this quote?

“To doubt evolution today is to doubt science, and science is only another name for truth.”

T. H. Huxley in an address to the newly opened Johns Hopkins University at the Baltimore Academy of Music auditorium in 1877, wrote:

“[T]he one condition of success, your sole safeguard, is moral worth and intellectual clearness.”

He was writing about America’s garnering praise as ‘up and coming’ and Huxley wanted to quiet their egos by arguing about the then-rampant debates over the meaning of evolution, championed in America largely by O. C. Marsh and in Europe by Huxley. In an incredible coincidence, E. D. Cope had argued that variation was caused by acceleration and/or retardation of features, and that this was intrinsic in their design, or plan. And as today, in our attempts to further anthropomorphize God, conceived that none other could be a designer, or a planner. As in in our faculty or intelligence, these illustrious ‘do-gooders’ could conceive of the process in order to do away with the ‘random, recklessness’ of evolution, for it did nothing but safeguard their moralism and soul for the future, and thus their deity was safe from the deconstructive aims of evolutionists favoring Darwinian selection. Cope, as well as R. Owen in London, were favorable to neo-Lamarckism, which found its easily lending to evolution by design in the sense of lovely ‘archetypes’ that never wavered. A horse will always look like a horse, no matter how small, how many toes, or how many stripes you put on it. This reflective look at the world, indeed, made the unconcionable the familiar, and eased the mind about the vastness of it all.

S. Hawking, today, loves the immensity of existence, revels in finding more about it, not an attempt to reason it all into a neat package, but searches for the key to linking together the bits of quantum and newtonian physics so that he may find MORE.

People at the Discovery Institute and our uneducated in the investigative sciences like Frist and others, in deference to the age of Soapy Sam and his ilk, cannot conceive of this vastness, undictated from some higher intelligence, not because they see design, but because they can’t in their minds separate God from any element. For what other designer could there be but God? Doesn’t an alien from Mars contradict design as they would have it? That inherent morality would remain nonexistent if some martian did it all, so that morality must be Godlike … it’s an end run the faculty of our government and education system are fully willing to make to put God in the classroom, for there is no other consideration to make from introducing a concept like this to the children to whom we owe the ability to deal with the world at large. Today, there is nothing new in what these people describe: arguments from design have abounded since the Golden Ladder and before, and since, and arguments about the perfection (even Huxley beleived somewhat in archetypes in arguing the modern horse was “perfect”) of life on Earth. They recycle the old to argue against the new, and ignore that they have been defeated. But should loudly, and people will fail to see the truth for the screaming man in front of them, for it garners all their attention, and diverts from the driving train ‘bound to kill them should they look. Such is a desperate distraction to reaffirm their ‘truth’ and nothing – NOTHING – will divert them from it.

Look at Pat Robertson, O winner of the National Squinting Contest, wisher of dead things and a-moralist extraordinairre, try to affirm his believe in light of contradiction every day. Witness W. Dembski and his attempts to apply math to concepts he knows nothing about because he has closed his mind to the possibilities while he tries to desperately prove his truth.

i am vaguely troubled by this editorial because of the way it blends the origin of life with the diversification of life thru speciation. Correct me if I am wrong but does the “T of E” actually address abiogenesis? To me this is more likely to weaken the position than strengthen it.

Comment #44971

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 26, 2005 11:48 AM (e) (s)

Damn, but you’re TediouS.

A bit touchy, are we?

No, my original phrasing was correct, nothing you said changes that. I was just commenting on how you (and not just you) will try to turn anything into unreadably tedious arguments. At least focus on people like Carol and Blast and such. It won’t change anything, but it will keep them occupied.

… Mendel didn’t observe DNA or genes directly, but his experiments led to hypotheses that allowed him to predict with amazing accuracy the phenotypes of his pea pod plants …

Many years ago, I read a piece somewhere - can’t remember the source, but it wasn’t something I’d rely on unquestioningly - which stated pretty bluntly that Fr. Gregor cheated in his results. The sorts of experiments which he did (e.g., cross-breed tall peas with short ones) have apparently been duplicated many times, and it seems nobody has ever gotten results matching Mendel’s prediction (50% medium height, 25% tall, 25% short) as closely as those in his notebooks.

I’d hope for two consequences of posting this rumor here: 1) that someone more knowledgeable will clarify the historical record, and 2) that the story will spread and various creationists will cite it as proof that genetics is fraudulent.

Comment #45031

Posted by the pro from dover on August 26, 2005 06:55 PM (e) (s)

i am vaguely troubled by this editorial because of the way it blends the origin of life with the diversification of life thru speciation. Correct me if I am wrong but does the “T of E” actually address abiogenesis?

No, but for one thing, evolution does make abiogenesis seem more reasonable. If we can get humans and dolphins and zonkeys from the tiniest ancient cell, it doesn’t seem any more wacky to imagine a strand of replicating rna turning into the cell, and it’s not much of a stretch at all to imagine the spontaneous formation, in the oceans, of such a strand of rna. One of the problems with evolution is the inability to understand the consequences of deep time. A simple, emergent algorithm turning a cell into a zonkey seems absurd, but 4 billion years, and there you are. It’s no greater leap to think that some amino acids, carbohydrates, aromatic alcohols or ketones, all of which are found in space, could form such an rna strand. Maybe one of the big breakthroughs of this new Harvard project, will be a small rna strand which can replicate. That makes me wonder what the IDers would come up with about why there are amino acids, carbohydrates, aromatic alcohols and ketones in interstellar space. Whatever it is, I bet it will be funny.

Comment #45038

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on August 26, 2005 07:33 PM (e) (s)

Many years ago, I read a piece somewhere - can’t remember the source, but it wasn’t something I’d rely on unquestioningly - which stated pretty bluntly that Fr. Gregor cheated in his results. The sorts of experiments which he did (e.g., cross-breed tall peas with short ones) have apparently been duplicated many times, and it seems nobody has ever gotten results matching Mendel’s prediction (50% medium height, 25% tall, 25% short) as closely as those in his notebooks.

Maybe he wrote “ungefähr” next to that in his notebooks ;-)

I was just commenting on how you (and not just you) will try to turn anything into unreadably tedious arguments.

And you got this from my comment about “seemingly contradictory”? It wasn’t unreadable, it wasn’t tedious, and it wasn’t an argument, it was just a clarification of something you wrote. It’s clear that you were touchy about that, and proceeded to make your offensively stupid comment, which you have now followed up with another offenively stupid comment.

The theory of evolution, in Darwin’s primitive formulation, was contradicted by some of the evidence. Not just “seemingly”. If you read OTOoS, you’ll see just how much contradiction there was, which inspired my original comment.

Now look what you’ve done. You’ve got me arguing over “seemingly” vs ‘actually’. You’re like a Tedious Argument generator.

The theory of evolution, in Darwin’s primitive formulation, was contradicted by some of the evidence.

You said the evidence was contradictory: “halfassed pile of somewhat contradictory evidence he used”; that has a clear meaning that is different from that the evidence contradicts some theory inferred from the evidence.

You’re like a Tedious Argument generator.

No, your stupid insult which you keep repeating is tedious, as is your dishonest backtracking as to what you wrote. “halfassed pile of seemingly contradictory evidence he used” would have been more accurate. If you don’t want to keep generating tedious arguments, then shut up.

Now children, there are real bad guys out there. Save some of the verbal sparring for them.

Here’s a grown up comment:

Reading the halfassed pile of seemingly contradictory evidence that Darwin used, you might be amazed that he was able to come up with his theory. But many of the great scientific insights involve finding a model that is consistent with all the evidence, evidence that otherwise doesn’t make sense.

Elsberry said:

Fascinating. What chronology is it that puts “1865” many years before “1831”?

You could have corrected my mistake instead of offering half-witted sarcasm.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on August 25, 2005 11:48 AM.

Intelligent Design, a counter-productive exercise was the previous entry in this blog.

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