Evolution, Education and Culture: a solution?

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Opposition to evolution is cultural. It isn’t because people are laying awake at night worrying about gaps in the fossil record.

          Michael Ruse

How does this opposition persist and spread in our culture? A new paper in PLoS Biology documents the fact that our public school biology teachers play a significant role. A national survey of high school biology teachers found that about one sixth of them are young earth creationists. Of the remaining 5 sixths, most are in a large muddled middle. I recall another survey (but not the reference) that defined creationists more broadly and more correctly than just YEC’s and found that about one third of science teachers are creationists.

After looking at numerous correlations, the paper concludes

Our study suggests that requiring all teachers to complete a course in evolutionary biology would have a substantial impact on the emphasis on evolution and its centrality in high school biology courses. In the long run, the impact of such a change could have a more far reaching effect than the victories in courts and in state governments.

Is this correct? And what other measures might be effective?

There is an unsurprising correlation between having completed a course in evolution and both agreeing with it and doing a good job of teaching it. However, those teachers who took a college course in the subject may have been required to do so for certification, or may have been self selected persons predisposed to accept and teach evolution. (A few may be determined to learn evolution the better to undermine it.) A survey correlation between a treatment and a self selected group does not guarantee a correlation between the treatment and a random group. And stronger certification requirements but the same salary might just lead to more uncertified teachers. Come the first day of school, the principal has to get someone to stand up in front of the class. Raising teacher’s salaries may be the simplest way to improve results overall.

Three Questions:

  • If we want teachers to have a course in evolution, what sort of course is best?
  • Are there key groups other than teachers on which to focus educational effort?
  • If opposition to evolution is cultural, what specific steps should be taken?

I’m going to leave the first question to commenters, and offer a surprising answer to the other two:

Explain the matter to pastors!

Many people see clergy as experts on all things mysterious, and the workings of nature are mysterious to many. Clergy for their part want to explain things as well as they can. Over 11,000 individual clergy and some whole denominations have already joined the Clergy Letter Project. I’m sure many others would but for the fact that they too are products of our schools and our culture and are rather unclear on how nature works. How might one explain the matter to clergy? What would get their attention in the first place? This is where creationism comes in handy. Creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest. If you start by saying to clergy or indeed to anyone “Creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest”, you have a chance to get a conversation started. Of course you have to be able to follow up and explain why creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest. Thanks to Ben Stein it’s now easier than ever. Creationism is also rather unattractive theologically. The God of creationism has to be constantly tinkering behind the scenes because nature supposedly isn’t good enough. At best it is God of the gaps, and if you follow the gap arguments of scientific creationists like Behe God is directly responsible for terrible diseases.

What of evolution? Life on earth evolved over a very long time. Evolutionary processes are plainly going on still. Unless chemistry and physics were radically different in the past, these same evolutionary processes must have occurred then too. Just as with evolution in the present, there is no basis for thinking an intelligent agent modified the course of evolution in the past unless specific evidence is found for this. None has been found, so from a theological perspective the evidence indicates that natural evolution is God’s method.

90 Comments

Keep going, and you’ll get to the nub of the matter. This is getting somewhere. Is this the case, as follows?

1) The overwhelming majority of people are creationist, if you define creationism as attributing the Creation to a Creator.

2) They aren’t so gullible as to accept that any one brand of “evolution” necessarily equals Evolution - the unrolling of life, as she happened. They have a few clues about the way science lurches along, and they know that today’s indisputable fact might be tomorrow’s laughingstock.

3) They aren’t ready just now to fully endorse, as science, the idea that new species arrive by Mum having a baby which is quantifiably less human than Mum. That’s Common Descent.

Conclusion? Put more faith in humanity, and get some common sense educators to educate the educators. Or just hang in there with good old free enterprise and free speech. Well done.

Creationism: rejecting much science especially evolutionary biology for (admitted or not) sectarian reasons.

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Rilke’s Granddaughter said:

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Keep going, and you’ll get to the nub of the matter. This is getting somewhere. Is this the case, as follows?

1) The overwhelming majority of people are creationist, if you define creationism as attributing the Creation to a Creator.

No one does, so your point is moot.

2) They aren’t so gullible as to accept that any one brand of “evolution” necessarily equals Evolution - the unrolling of life, as she happened. They have a few clues about the way science lurches along, and they know that today’s indisputable fact might be tomorrow’s laughingstock.

Most people are demonstrably ignorant of science and logic. You are a case in point.

3) They aren’t ready just now to fully endorse, as science, the idea that new species arrive by Mum having a baby which is quantifiably less human than Mum. That’s Common Descent.

So what? Science isn’t settled by what the “people decide”. Questions of science are settled by research and hard-work.

Conclusion? Put more faith in humanity, and get some common sense educators to educate the educators. Or just hang in there with good old free enterprise and free speech. Well done.

Next time you should try reading the article and the OP. Fortunately, you have nothing to do with education.

A national survey of high school biology teachers found that about one sixth of them are young earth creationists. Of the remaining 5 sixths, most are in a large muddled middle.

I read that poll and the questions were confusingly worded. Which was why the remaining 5/6 were in the muddled middle.

They should have had an option for theistic evolution which is the usual way educated people reconcile faith with science.

Still 1/3 creo biology teachers sounds plausible. In a profession like secondary school teaching, the members are most likely going to mirror the society at large that they draw from.

If we want teachers to have a course in evolution, what sort of course is best?

What about a course debunking ID? (One university offers that, I can’t remember exactly) Use Explore Evolution or the design of life (Bootleg copies if possible) and debunk their points one by one, the teachers will come out with a better knowledge of evolutionary biology as well as the immune system against ID bullshit.

And we need a more standardized education system.

If you start by saying to clergy or indeed to anyone “Creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest”, you have a chance to get a conversation started. Of course you have to be able to follow up and explain why creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest.

Yeah, you had mama-jama better be “able to”, ‘cause some of us clergy and laity just might be ready for you when you initiate that particular line of argument, given all the manifold print and online resources now available to help people of faith evaluate and respond to your particular claim there. My own personal experience, from multiple conversations in this forum and elsewhere, has been that this particular assignment may well be too difficult for most evolutionists (like 99 percent of ‘em or something).

Evolutionists tend to be kinda strong on Science but kinda dog-day-pitiful on the Bible, and that particular weakness tends to manifest itself clearly on assignments like the above. Think it over, amigos!

FL :)

FL said: Evolutionists tend to be kinda strong on Science but kinda dog-day-pitiful on the Bible, and that particular weakness tends to manifest itself clearly on assignments like the above. Think it over, amigos!

I could argue about the validity of your assertion about the level of bible knowledge of evolutionists or atheists, but what I really want to know is this: Why do you think it is necessary to know a lot about the bible to be able to explain the evidence for evolution to someone, clergy or not?

FL said:

If you start by saying to clergy or indeed to anyone “Creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest”, you have a chance to get a conversation started. Of course you have to be able to follow up and explain why creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest.

Evolutionists tend to be kinda strong on Science but kinda dog-day-pitiful on the Bible, and that particular weakness tends to manifest itself clearly on assignments like the above. Think it over, amigos!

FL :)

Complete ignorance about both the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Rigveda, Upanishads, or I Ching is irrelevant for science. Why should religious texts be more relevant for the theroy of evolution than for gravity, electromagnetism, astronomy, cosmology, QM, relativity, chemistry, geology, palaentology, archaeology, and so on and on?

I’ve been thinking that over for sixty years and have yet to find a reason for making religious faith relevant for science. History has proven me right. And I have studied the scriptures too! They are all about the spiritual world. Science is about the observable and detectable world.

That will not change until we have invented a reliable spirit detector. I guess Dembski would be one of the first to buy one.

I wish the problem were so simple as being limited to evolution.

When I look at the materials my sons bring home from middle school and high school, I see confusion between action-reaction and cause-effect, I see confusion between velocity and acceleration, I see confusion between force and energy, and I even see confusion between force and mass.

One might think that higher course standards would fix this problem, but in fact the standards themselves are part of the problem: For many years, the Ohio fourth-grade standards said that students should understand that motion happens only when a force is present. This was, fortunately, changed in the most recent round of revisions and replaced with the correct “force causes a change in motion”.

But when were students supposed to learn this fact? (As background, let me say that in my experience it’s easy to get anyone to recite the words of this fact, but difficult for even college freshmen to understand it.) According to the revised Ohio standards, students are supposed to learn it in kindergarten!

If you are there, FL, I would like to hear your story.

I think this thread is making a good point. Cultural background plays a larger role than one might think. I rather think that if everyone sat down and explained themselves, this little diversion would sort itself out - except, perforce, for the hard core minorities.

Very few people entertain themselves through analyzing Origins all day. They sift through it, cast anchor, and defy the hurricane. I bump into these anchored ships all the time. They can make a clam look like an extrovert, when it comes to actually visualizing and verbalizing their standpoint. They can act like bears. All rather mystifying. To be honest, I don’t comprehend the clammishness and the cast anchor - but then again, I don’t comprehend a lot of things. I am just entranced by science, and overawed by the Scriptures, which facilitate scientific thought and advance. But I never encountered Young Earth Creationism in my cultural background, until I had done geology first, under very fine, non-bigotted people.

Teacher pay is a serious issue. I teacher in a very good district, where salary for a new teacher with a B.S. is $32,000/year. College graduates with good biology credentials have better paying options. Students who majored in “natural science,” which requires only introductory courses in a variety of sciences are unqualified for jobs that require any in-depth knowledge of science, so teaching salary may be competitive for them.

Adding course requirements will not solve this issue. Schools will hire the most qualified teachers. If enough teachers had strong science education, we would hire them. However, schools need a teacher in every classroom, and there aren’t enough highly qualified applicants. Adding requirements just reduces that application pool further.

I encourage readers of this blog to work actively to improve teacher pay, but it is challenging. Schools do not have the option of using better salaries to attract specific well qualified teachers. Schools have to raise the pay of every teacher, so teachers with a natural science or educations degrees from no-name schools will get the same increases as teachers with physics or biology degrees from leading research universities.

Perhaps readers of this blog could come up with some creative solutions. For example, could we offer scholarships to entice graduates with strong science backgrounds into teaching?

I honestly cannot comprehend how in Odin’s name somebody can read the Bible and then make the utterly astonishing claim that the contradictory nonsense contained therein “facilitate[s] scientific thought and advance”. Beyond the wishful thinking and seeking to shoehorn science into a god shaped box, that is. It boggles the mind.

I’m being theoretical to some extent here. If you knew a school that you could access, with a really top science staff, you would take steps to patronize that school. Problem. Not enough high quality schools. Solution? Somehow, break through regulation, or employ new technology/methods, to enable people to patronize the good teachers in big numbers. Free enterprise.

Strangely, most of the world’s brilliant people came out of societies that didn’t have universal public education. And of those that did come out of society in which public education had got up and running, quite a few were school drop-outs. Free enterprise again.

Evolutionists and Creationists better BOTH realize something fast.

Norman Fell created life, the universe and everything. Nobody can prove it’s not true. All of existence has been fine-tuned for His benefit.

Deal with it, FL and PBH.

Let me add to my previous entry. From the two Bacons, through to Planck, and leaving out hundreds of names in between (such as Kepler, Newton, Dalton, Mendeleev, Linnaeus, Cuvier, Pasteur, Joule, R. Owen, Maxwell, Morse, Fabre, Faraday, Kelvin .…) they were more-or-less Bible men. Some of them not only didn’t make it to school; they barely survived the hardships of youth.

Edison is an interesting case, on the subject of education - he got the equivalent of a few weeks. Hearing disorder. I can’t attest to his biblical alignment, either way. We are sitting at a computer today, thanks to him. Free enterprise, genetics, motivation through hardship, faith.….. I don’t know.

Draconiz said:

If we want teachers to have a course in evolution, what sort of course is best?

What about a course debunking ID? (One university offers that, I can’t remember exactly) Use Explore Evolution or the design of life (Bootleg copies if possible) and debunk their points one by one, the teachers will come out with a better knowledge of evolutionary biology as well as the immune system against ID bullshit.

Books like Explore Evolution are not the ID bullshit. It is just the usual creationist obfuscation arguments. It is essentially the fall back switch scam of the bait and switch that the ID perps are forced to run when they are caught with no science of intelligent design to teach in the public schools.

If you use Explore Evolution for anything it should be used to demonstrate that the current scam of the ID perps is just the old creationist obfuscation scam. According to what gets posted here at the Thumb ID isn’t even mentioned in the index of the book. This is the switch scam that doesn’t even mention that ID ever existed, and who is running in the switch? Creationists have been using these types of obfucationist arguments since Darwin’s day, but they don’t directly address their alternative and have never amounted to squat.

For the last two major creationist ploys (Scientific creationism and intelligent design) the obfuscation scam has been the secondary ploy. The primary ploy was claiming that there was some real science to teach about creationism. The scam exemplified by Explore Evolution was second rate even by the standards of the dishonest ID perps.

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out why. Obfuscation just makes you look like a whinning idiot when people figure out what you are doing. The creationist scam artists have had enough on the ball to realize that they needed more than stupid obfuscation ploys to appear reasonable.

If they really had the science of intelligent design to teach they would not have written Explore Evolution. They would not be running the bait and switch scam on any of their supporters too stupid to realize that ID is a dead issue. What just happened in Florida to the creationist rubes that claimed to be able to teach the science of intelligent design? They didn’t claim to want to teach the obfuscation scam. They claimed that they wanted to teach the science of intelligent design. What creationist scam did they get instead?

Pete Dunkelberg Wrote:

If we want teachers to have a course in evolution, what sort of course is best?

Are there key groups other than teachers on which to focus educational effort?

If opposition to evolution is cultural, what specific steps should be taken?

I’m going to leave the first question to commenters, and offer a surprising answer to the other two:

Explain the matter to pastors!

For question 1, all I can say is that 15 or less hr of evolution is appalling. Non-science majors (or even MDs in on the scam) will complain that “who needs evolution”? They have a point; I can’t recall if I had any evolution in high school biology (though it was discussed briefly in 8th and 9th grade general science), and I got through half a career in chemistry without it. But this is a question of cultural literacy, so even non science majors need it. What students - and teachers - desperately need is enough instruction in evolution to counteract years of misinformation from the media and anti-science “pop culture”. I was lucky to have an unusual interest in my 40s to learn on my own. It took 100s of hrs, and would have taken more if I had not been a scientist (“eating, drinking and sleeping” atoms and molecules) for 2 decades prior. And learning about evolution helped me think more clearly about evaluating things based on evidence, not by cherry picking or defining terms to suit my argument.

As for the other questions, I’m amazed that this is still an issue. Ten years ago, during my long overdue “deprogramming” of my own misconceptions, I read the NAS “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science.” Among its eye-opening material was the recommendation that students talk to their pastors about evolution. And I should add “natural history.” Educated clergy would tell students and their parents that (1) Genesis is meant to be allegorical, not factual, and (2) there is no one “literal” interpretation anyway, but several mutually contradictory ones.

Well, don’t sit there, get him to fix the education system.

FL Wrote:

Evolutionists tend to be kinda strong on Science but kinda dog-day-pitiful on the Bible, and that particular weakness tends to manifest itself clearly on assignments like the above. Think it over, amigos!

Michael Behe must be one of those “amigos” that you are warning, because he thinks that reading the Bible as a science text is silly.

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Well, don’t sit there, get him to fix the education system.

Absolutely. It starts with teaching real science by showing reruns of “Three’s Company” in the classroom. Amazingly, most people who drop out of school wind up watching a lot of television, and people who drop out of school in societies that have formalized education are more likely to be geniuses. The correlation is obvious.

Draconiz Wrote:

What about a course debunking ID?

IANAL, but I think that even debunking ID (or classic creationism) would not be legal to teach in public schools. There might be a way to get around that, though, by (1) teaching it in a non-science class , and (2) stating the claims of the mutually contradictory classic creationist positions and the misrepresentations of evolution from ID without any reference to “design,” “creation” or any scripture.

The point I keep trying to make, though, is that if the anti-evolution activists, particularly the “I’m not a creationist” IDers, were truly honest about “critical analysis”, they would be the ones demanding that ID/creationism be critically analyzed, instead of peddling the “replacement scam” that subjects only evolution to arguments tailored to promote unreasonable doubt.

Gavin said:

Schools will hire the most qualified teachers. If enough teachers had strong science education, we would hire them.

Unfortunately that is not true in many places. My wife, who has a PhD in zoology, had been successfully teaching an unusual combination of science and English courses. She applied for a position closer to home to teach the identical course combination but did not get short-listed. When she phoned to find out why, she was told, ‘Oh, we wanted someone with a stronger sports background.’ Her experience is far from unique.

A local high school hired a graduate with a general degree to teach high school physics in preference to a person who had a physics degree, because he had been on the college hockey team. Some teachers at the school phoned the dean of the education faculty, saying that they knew he had no official standing but could he do something. He phoned the school principal and asked ‘How would you feel about justifying your decision on national television?’ The physics graduate was quickly hired.

The problem is by no means limited to science. I heard a teacher say he was required to teach a language he could not speak. Anyone who is concerned about their children’s education needs to get involved and try to make sure that competence in the subject is expected from the teachers.

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Strangely, most of the world’s brilliant people came out of societies that didn’t have universal public education.

and in the next post listed a number of people who he felt should be included. Strangely, almost all of them come from a time in which universal public education was essentially unknown. Just think of all the brilliant minds that were stifled because of a lack of universal education.

Television has been the Great Educator. Many Americans have learned, for example, that if you run off a cliff gravity does not begin to have an effect until after you look down. And that great documentary series, “The Flintsones” (and its spinoff museum in Kentucky), has taught us so much about natural history.

Usually, when I hear about individuals working on “paradigm-shifting” inventions and concepts who have not had traditional educations and are heroes of the Free Market, they are engaged in building perpetual motion machines, extracting free energy from The Vacuum, and frequently offering investment opportunities.

Dubious that Creationism can be an embarrassment to the religious? Consider William “Deer-in-the-headlights” Buckingham and the “breathtaking inanity” of the Dover affair.

As one of those Theistic Evolutionists who has actually read the Bible and who also publishes in the field of evolutionary biology let me strongly recommend that everyone on this list read Francis Collins “The Language of God” I especially recommend it to my agnostic and atheist colleagues, but not for the reason you might think.

Unlike Collins I am not out to evangelize (runs counter to my Episcopalian leanings). Rather I think that one of the points being made in the the PLoS paper is that we as science educators have failed to connect with our audience. If you accepted a teaching assignment overseas would you make no effort to understand the language and the culture of your students? Of course you would, it would make you a better teacher. The Language of God helps devout (and maybe not so devout) Christians understand how evolution is not a threat to their belief in God. It also gives the agnostic and atheist teacher the insight they need to present the scientific material in way that anticipates and avoids the presumed conflict that most Americans believe to exist.

As I said, the form of Christianity that Collins professes is not the same as my own, but by giving the evolutionists a view of how evangelicals think (and vice versa) it goes a long way towards accomplishing the goal of getting real science education into the classroom and effectively reaching the young people who really need to hear it.

Mark Farmer said:

As I said, the form of Christianity that Collins professes is not the same as my own, but by giving the evolutionists a view of how evangelicals think (and vice versa) it goes a long way towards accomplishing the goal of getting real science education into the classroom and effectively reaching the young people who really need to hear it.

This strikes me as a very important comment and a worthy goal. Your analogy of teaching in another culture is apt and effective.

However, I’ll quibble a bit with your use of the term “evolutionist.” Biologists that acknowledge the facts of evolution are simply normal scientists practicing in the vibrant mainstream of their field. You would not label a modern astronomer a “heliocentrist,” and for the same reason biologists should not be called evolutionists. I believe that doing so paints evolution as one of a host of beliefs and faiths, and grants too much power to that somewhat foreign culture we wish to work in.

Why do you think it is necessary to know a lot about the bible to be able to explain the evidence for evolution to someone, clergy or not?

Because a well-prepared biblical Christian would know when a particular evolutionist historical claim happens to directly and permanently clash with a particular Bible historical claim (the origin of the first humans being a stellar example), and be able to explain to you exactly why there is no possible compatibility.

Furthermore, he or she could also explain how the religious argumentation or pre-suppositions you’re using as an evolutionist (such as dysteleology and no-teleology) are in clear and irreparable disagreement with the Bible.

They could also show you how (and where) certain evolutionary non-negotiables, such as Death-Before-Adam, negate foundational Bible historical claims such as the Fall and therefore negate Christianity itself.

So yeah, if you don’t know your own Bible, as indeed many evolutionists do not, and you start trying to talk about “evidence for evolution” with the goal of convincing somebody that evolution and Christianity are compatible, you may well simply get caught with your pre-cambrian pants down, and THAT won’t be a pretty sight!!

As to changing the education system, I have often been thinking we should introduce logic courses into high schools, maybe even primary schools too. For example, we should teach people how to recognize the most common logical fallacies. Empowering people to tell good arguments from bad ones would be tremendously useful for both individuals and our society as a whole. I’m sure there are plenty of ID texts that would make fine practice material. Besides, a course like that could even be a lot of fun for the students - who here doesn’t like to carefully pick apart a bad argument?

Also, science classes should spend more time on teaching the scientific method itself. In my experience, almost all time is spent on teaching students to use particular formulas or perform certain calculations. This is understandable, since these abilities are both important and easy to test. However, it leaves very little room for explaining important concepts like falsifiability, the provisional nature of science, what you should do to eliminate bias, or the built-in quality control mechanisms of science. I think changing this could be very beneficial, even if it happens at the expense of the ability to perform certain calculations.

These proposals hardly need PhD level teachers to implement them. Nonetheless, application of the fairly basic skills taught in these proposals should be enough to poke holes in most ID arguments, for instance, but also in most arguments for CAM treatments, or many arguments in several other political controversies.

Above comment was accidentally labeled as a reply to FL, while it was meant to be a reply to the original post. My apologies for the confusion.

FL said:

If you start by saying to clergy or indeed to anyone “Creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest”, you have a chance to get a conversation started. Of course you have to be able to follow up and explain why creationism makes religion look dumb and dishonest.

Yeah, you had mama-jama better be “able to”, ‘cause some of us clergy and laity just might be ready for you when you initiate that particular line of argument, given all the manifold print and online [lies] now available to help people of faith evaluate and respond to your particular claim there. My own personal experience, from multiple conversations in this forum and elsewhere, has been that this particular assignment may well be too difficult for most evolutionists (like 99 percent of ‘em or something).

Evolutionists tend to be kinda strong on Science but kinda dog-day-pitiful on the Bible, and that particular weakness tends to manifest itself clearly on assignments like the above. Think it over, amigos!

FL :)

FL, your own past comments on this blog make creationism look dumb and dishonest.

Since the Bible has no relevance to biology, why does any biologist need to know about it?

PBH - Thanks for the entertainment. To pick on just a couple of points,

The classic is the earth bringing forth all plants (= anything simpler than something about sponge level, exclude viruses), day 3,

What is your basis for claiming that mosses are simpler than sponges?

What isn’t possible is to get a grapevine to bear figs, which the Good Book disallows, and Common Descent demands.

Common descent demands nothing of the sort. How is it possible for you to have posted here for so long and for that not to have penetrated?

By the way, did I miss your apology for misrepresenting me?

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Common Descent, with the jargon removed, means, Mum having a baby which is quantifiably not totally the same species as Mum. This explains the fossil record and the existing biosphere. Well, you tell me what the hang it means? I laboured with this concept for years. And like I point out elsewhere, this happens in the same locality, repeatedly, to highly mobile organisms, and geologists can establish time surfaces in rock strata based on the precision with which identifiable genetic units known as species, appear, or suddenly change in abundance, or go extinct.

Simply wrong. Common Descent means Mum having a baby which is quantifiably not totally the same species as Mum’s great-great-great.…..grandma.

Tell us more. Are we witnessing the birth of a new science, here? I’ll leave the above couple for someone else. It’s post 3am here and things are eerie enough. But I do say, keep verbalizing it, keep it ticking over, and eventually the illogicalities will sift out. What is the difference between plant-grade and animal-grade life? Does it cut in APPROXIMATELY (quoting myself) at the sponges? What could the Cambrian event mean? Why is great-great-great-great-grandmother NOT quantifiably less human species than me?

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Tell us more. Are we witnessing the birth of a new science, here? I’ll leave the above couple for someone else. It’s post 3am here and things are eerie enough. But I do say, keep verbalizing it, keep it ticking over, and eventually the illogicalities will sift out. What is the difference between plant-grade and animal-grade life? Does it cut in APPROXIMATELY (quoting myself) at the sponges? What could the Cambrian event mean? Why is great-great-great-great-grandmother NOT quantifiably less human species than me?

I think that you imagine species differently than me. For me, “species” has about the same reality as the letter “H” in your name. I can see the letter on my monitor, and I can identify it as a letter “H”. But in reality, it’s all individual dots. The same way, “species” is something we see, not something that really exists. In reality, an organism cannot breed with all organisms we would see as the same species. This is true even for humans, if I understand this correctly - some part of couples who can’t have children is because the partners are simply not compatible, but neither one is infertile on his/her own, and could have children with other partners. Does that mean that such people belong to two different species? (It’s some time since I heard that, so I wonder if anyone knows anything more specific about this problem?)

So the whole questions boils down to this: Just what is a “species”? Is it something that truly exists, or just something we see, a gross simplification of the real state of things? And if “species” truly exists, what to do about ring species? What about organisms that can breed and have viable offspring, but they just refuse to do so unless human researchers trick them or force them?

I am sure the proof of God’s involvement in anything evolutionary will be proved when the message is read in one gene sequence that reads ‘ ©Yhwh ‘

Ideally, species refers to a genetically self-contained unit, which can only be defined as such if it is observed over a prolonged period, in the wild, without human engineering.

We could go to some lengths over the topic, noting the difficulties of observation, temporary anomalies and departures(you touch on such matters), hybridization, difficulties with plants and microbes, lack of clear definition in some cases. We could investigate recent microbiological research pointing to possible locking mechanisms that prevent new species arising through crossing individuals of different species. (Hybridization). We could attempt to define species by looking at the bio-chemistry inside the cell. Vast topic.

Two factors are self-evident. Biologists see only a snap shot. Palaeontologists observe, in a sense, the full story of organisms over time. Thus, a zoologist may infer something from a ring species that fades in time, so that a palaeontologist does not encounter the anomaly. Temporary aberrations and departures may startle the contemporary observer, but he does not get the overall picture of what that population has done in the past and is likely to do in the future.

There are three glaring facts relating to species. Those who equate evolution to Common Descent, may tend to overlook all three. 1) There are abundant, obvious species around us. They are quantifiably different. Observationally they are distinct genetic units: the observation is now getting to be confirmed through research of proteins in sex cells or something such. And they are not gradually changing to something that is a wit more or less than the species that they are.

2) These everyday observations are confirmed by the fossil record, without contradiction. Species did not gradually transform into genetically distinct units, in the past. Transformation was abrupt in many cases, and cannot be shown to have been otherwise, in disputed cases.

3) Species can have a startling capacity to adapt, to hybridize, to seemingly become divided, in response to living conditions.

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Why is great-great-great-great-grandmother NOT quantifiably less human species than me?

This is not a well-defined question. Before you can demand answers to this, define “human”. Explain how you can measure “human-ness”, or how you would determine how “human” an individual creature is. Ask yourself, what makes someone more human, and what less? Before you can do all that, your question is complete and utter nonsense. I challenge you to try it.

but neither one is infertile on his/her own, and could have children with other partners. Does that mean that such people belong to two different species?

of course not. species is a term describing the overall characteristic. to say a an individual of a group is not part of the species because it is infertile is silly.

Are we witnessing the birth of a new science, here?

It’s called the ‘Theory of Evolution’.

I’ll leave the above couple for someone else.

Look to see if anyone chastises DaveH or myself for our comments. What conclusion can you draw from that?

And they are not gradually changing to something that is a wit more or less than the species that they are.

How do you know? Even under punctuated evolution, speciation is normally considered to take at least 1,000 generations. Which organisms have been studied for 1,000 generations in sufficient detail for us to be certain that they are not changing?

What is the difference between plant-grade and animal-grade life?

The simplest is that plant cells contain plastids, animal cells do not. I thought you had done university level courses in biology. How did you miss out on this?

People really need to visit PBH’s website to see how strange his views are.

So the whole questions boils down to this: Just what is a “species”?

In mathematical terms, it’s what’s known as a “fuzzy set”.

In rigidly defined sets, sameness of membership status is a transitive relation. In fuzzy sets, it isn’t.

Henry

Did Beowulff write that somewhere? He may well have done; I don’t just now recall it. I think perhaps Marek?

There is nothing fuzzy about T. Rex. We could add thousands to that list, from all phyla.

People really need to visit PBH’s website to see how strange his views are.

Not just strange but he also seems to lack the ability to say much of anything that makes sense.

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

There is nothing fuzzy about T. Rex. We could add thousands to that list, from all phyla.

Now you’re just purposefully being dense.

What confuses me (and what would I know, I’m not even a “biologist, PhD” or the discoverer of those damned elusive “Creatons”), is why the Great Ladder of Creation shows all those intermediate steps. All the required information is already in the genome or the designer-mechanism-thing according to our new “mate” Borger and Miss Ann Elk (PBH).

IIRC Ms Elk’s theory is as follows “*AHEM* *AHEM* My theory, which is mine and belongs to me, goes after the following manner *AHEM, AHEM* Speciation is not a process occurring in a population but a single, instantaneous EVENT! This is impossible, so it needs…errr…Information theory! (phew! Great… good phrase, must google it, sometime) acted upon by something like…err… Quantum computing! (yeah! Zeitgeisty buzzword! I’m really cookin’ now) so that the designer can change all the genes by…err…err… something like getting a thylacine gene to be expressed by a mouse, but ,like, way, way cooler. Errrr…The Bible! Some stuff about plants and animals being “grades” . Errrr…diseases and poisonous snakes and shit are only created to punish Homo sapiens for sin…errr…so it can be confidently inferred that the purpose of so-called evolution is to produce coruscating intellects such as myself. Phew! Done.”

Well, I’m obviously NEARLY convinced by this, but, given that the whole purpose of the Great Ladder of Creation is producing PBH and Borger and that the information is all there, why not skip a step or two? The foresight and powers of the system are obviously infinite, if not positively magical, so why have some poor dumb thing like Titaalik schlepping around on its stumpy fin/legs getting its lovely belly-scales all muddy when it must be well within the ability of the powers-that-be, (or the teleological mechanism or whatever) to leap straight from lobe-finny-things to amphibiany things??

Your essay is not without its points, and finesse. Add, why do we have droughts, and bills, and sick children, and dogs that bark all night, and crows that deliberately caw at 5am, and ingrown toenails, fermentation that causes intoxication, dandruff, childbirth, colic, nappies, the need to eat, the desire to overeat, the need to sleep, earthquakes, the need for clothing, the need for human company (just so a bloke can make a fool of himself with someone?) .….. on and on. Yeah. Nothing adds up, not with that adding machine.

Perhaps that’s why we have religion, and it adds up there somewhere.

Beowulff: I’m not maths competent and I don’t quite know what Henry’s “fuzzy sets” implies. You may rest assured that if a species is used to establish a time surface in strata, it isn’t in the process of outwardly changing into the species that is used to delineate the next time surface above it. But the fossils speak for themselves. That’s not to say that all geologists have allowed them to speak.

Non-Overlapping Magisteria, Philip. Biology, economics and anthropology will give proximate causes for most of that list (dunno about sleep, though!) and it doesn’t worry me if it’s proximate causes all the way down, like the turtles. Still, keep on truckin’, eh? Peace DaveH

With fuzzy sets, the border between immediately neighboring sets is fuzzy. Think of ring species - close neighbors are clearly in the same species, yet the endpoints are not.

As for whether T Rex is fuzzy - I really don’t want to get close enough to a live one to find out. (I’d presume a dead one would have lost its fuzz.)

Henry

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Beowulff: I’m not maths competent and I don’t quite know what Henry’s “fuzzy sets” implies. You may rest assured that if a species is used to establish a time surface in strata, it isn’t in the process of outwardly changing into the species that is used to delineate the next time surface above it. But the fossils speak for themselves. That’s not to say that all geologists have allowed them to speak.

In that case, the appropriate response would have been “Could you please explain that to me?” Clearly, Henry J was quite willing to do so. You missed a perfect opportunity to learn something about a topic you know little about, that just might have given you some insight in species or speciation, something you claim you want to know more about. Instead, you decided to ridicule Henry J’s contribution with your T-Rex remark. To me, this says two things: you are not here to learn, nor to seriously debate.

So, why are you even here? To preach? To disrupt the discussion? I’m tempted to think the latter, since you’re trying to change the subject on us again with your often-debunked remark about fossils. I assume I shouldn’t expect a response to my challenge to define “human” either? Have you tried it? Have you even thought about the possible implications?

Frankly, I’m doubting your sincerity, sir.

Speaking of humans physically, they are defined as a species in the same way as other species, a topic already addressed, above.

Vertebrates are all but irrelevant to stratigraphy, and humans are totally irrelevant to it. Not enough fossils, not enough global spread. Time surfaces in strata are best delineated via organisms with global spread, abundant remains, frequent speciation. Plant spores/pollen, and planktonic foraminifera, are highly sought after. At a pinch, organisms such as brachiopods, trilobites, and ammonites are employed. Vertebrates need not exist, as far as geology is concerned.

But let us approach Homo sapiens from a geologic perspective. As I have mentioned above, species have to do first and foremost with reproductive integrity, and the biochemistry of sex cells and what have you is beginning to show how. Taking the Darwinistic approach: at some time in the past, Man arrived. It is self-evident that Man uses tools, in such a way as to leave trace fossils. Fragments of a broken stone tool would be a trace fossil. New York, depopulated, is another trace fossil. Man, by definition, leaves abundant trace fossils in terms of fossil per year. In terms of the geologic time frame, he is like the atom bomb compared to a fire cracker, in terms of trace fossil output. There is nothing like him.

Taking Man’s origin as the beginning of definite tool utilization - the beginning of human trace fossils - Man is Recent. Holocene, or whatever the term is. The trace fossils suggest he hasn’t been long here at all.

His ape-like, supposed blood ancestors, from what scanty fossils exist, if they have indeed been dated correctly, are presumably mostly non-human. There is very little trace fossil support for the theory that Man has been here more than 6,000 odd years. Individual ape-like fossils - ape-like or human? It comes back to questions of reproduction. Forensic-style DNA study might eventually enable empirical classification of the pitifully few remains found so far? It will concur with the trace fossil evidence. The only way that Man can have been here much longer than 6,000 yrs, without contradicting geology, is for him to have been severely suppressed, early on. If he has been here for anything like the time attributed to him by Darwinism, he didn’t explode into the fossil record as did most new species. New species tend to arrive a little like the forementioned atom bomb. They are everywhere, in full variety, in teeming abundance, all at once. They do not often begin gradually, then build. Given Man’s uniqueness, one supposes his arrival may have differed from that of other organisms in some ways: given that he is nevertheless an animal species, there are difficult questions to answer. One that we need not answer is whether or not he was ever anything other than human, a reproductive entity in his own right.

Nevermind, you’re hopeless.

Actually, there is a discipline that has noticed these “trace fossils” of H sapiens. It’s called archaeology. To avoid looking totally uneducated in future, read a book. I would suggest After the Ice, a global human history 20,000 - 5,000 BC by Steven Mithen. Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0 297 64318 5. Or if that’s too technical, The Ladybird Book of the Olden Days.

I’ve read H.C. Andersen, especially the one about the Emperor with no Clothes. But do a simple calculation. I’ve done it for Australia, based on an indigenous population of only 1/4 million, each individual discarding one durable trace fossil such as a stone fragment, every 25yrs. Even on that conservative basis, the number of trace fossils in Australia indicates human habitation of less than 2,000 yrs.

Apply the same approach to, say, Nth America, and if Man was there for, say, 40,000 yrs, the ground should be covered in spear tips, axe fragments, bones and so on, at least ankle deep. Then go to the Middle East/Africa, or wherever one’s home town is, and as likely as not you will find that if the story books are correct, one should be up to the waist in humanly manufactured objects.

One of the geology staff had a sticker on his car saying, “I don’t have to prove a thing”. I think it referred to the humble transporter. He left it on, by way of wry humour. Geology mightn’t be as empirical as one might wish, but it’s there for a reason.

The only way that Man can have been here much longer than 6,000 yrs, without contradicting geology, is for him to have been severely suppressed, early on.

Looks to me like you answered your own question. Before humans figured out how to make weapons, they would have been “suppressed” - by larger things wanting to have them over for dinner.

Henry

Beowulff Wrote:

So, why are you even here? To preach? To disrupt the discussion? I’m tempted to think the latter, since you’re trying to change the subject on us again with your often-debunked remark about fossils. I assume I shouldn’t expect a response to my challenge to define “human” either? Have you tried it? Have you even thought about the possible implications?

Frankly, I’m doubting your sincerity, sir.

PBH is engaging in fantasy. On his website he thinks he has worked out a theory in which “superconduction” plus the Earth, Sun, Moon gravitational system impart information to DNA by somehow acting on photons. It’s pretty wacky pseudo-science in which he tosses around terms which he doesn’t understand and cannot explain (e.g., entropy barrier).

Like many other pseudo-scientists and crackpots, PBH hangs around experts and babbles as though he is part of the in-crowd. Either these crackpots have an audience they are trying to impress (“see; I’m one of the experts because you can see me comfortably hobnobbing with scientists”), or they are in some kind of delusional state in which they actually believe they are great scientists.

I’ve seen these characters in lots of places over the years. There were a few who used to show up regularly at physics seminars and colloquia and try to pontificate about physics and argue with the speaker. They were simply nut cases.

Keith Eaton is another one of these; and he has a real sectarian chip on his shoulder.

Mike Elzinga said:

I’ve seen these characters in lots of places over the years. There were a few who used to show up regularly at physics seminars and colloquia and try to pontificate about physics and argue with the speaker. They were simply nut cases.

At least after the conferences physicists can retreat back to the Groves of Academe and shut the door. Archaeologists are out in the wild where it’s easy for the crackpots to wander across them. I think my all-time favourite was the guy who pointed to our spoil-heaps, dotted round the perimeter of the site, and said “See those mounds? All the old Kings of Scotland are buried in those mounds!”

To return to the topic of the thread; I recently discovered that my niece is doing an O-level (High school course, IIRC it’s 15/16 year olds, 1 year’s study,national exam) called Critical Thinking. Perhaps making that a compulsory part of the curriculum would be a good start. Introduce concepts such as Evidence, logical fallacies etc.

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

I’ve read H.C. Andersen, especially the one about the Emperor with no Clothes. But do a simple calculation. I’ve done it for Australia, based on an indigenous population of only 1/4 million, each individual discarding one durable trace fossil such as a stone fragment, every 25yrs. Even on that conservative basis, the number of trace fossils in Australia indicates human habitation of less than 2,000 yrs.

I did your simple calculation. As you pointed out, 1 artefact per generation is a bit ludicrous, so I amended it to one per year. (Probably not ridiculously understated, given we’re dealing with a Paleolithic/mesolithic nomadic culture who had to carry everything in their hands or in bags etc). The figure I arrived at using your figures for Australia is an average of 325 artefacts per square kilometer. Just to put that in practical, real-life terms, if you dug a 3m wide trench for one km, removing all the deposits younger than 40,000 years old, and sieving them, say at a 1 cm mesh-size, you could expect to find ONE artefact (roughly). Spot your logical flaw yet? Or do you think that 119,030 km^2 of Australia has been archaeologically excavated? Ankle deep? This is why I suggest that you educate yourself before making pronouncements made on the basis of “first principles”. If you know nothing about the subject, your assumptions are likely to be very embarrassingly wrong. In my own area, by the way, it has been estimated (ie extrapolated from DATA) that the population of the whole of western Europe, north of the alps, between the Aurignacian (around 30,000 years BCE) and the Glacial Maximum (18,000 BCE) rose from about 4000 people to 8000 (Boquet-Appel and Denars 2000, J Arch Sci volume 27, 7)

Including Philip Bruce, after whom I am named. You could tell me that, and I’d believe you. I’ll believe you about Australia, after you have lived in it, mapped it for the Geological Survey, logged its drill cores, dug hundreds of post holes, plowed it, talked to people who know the land, seen its artifacts. You could begin with that photograph of Mars, on a higher thread. That won’t be alluvium you’re looking at. To be reciprocal:Peace.

It has been an honour to be on this thread.

Also back on topic, about things that need to be changed in education and in our culture, check this comment on a thread about a teacher who had difficulty with students questioning her.

Also, this op-ed by Brian Greene in the NY times seems to echo my thoughts on this very nicely.

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This page contains a single entry by Pete Dunkelberg published on May 22, 2008 9:56 PM.

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