Saturday, August 27, 2005

P Z Myers on why evolution is accepted

Jim Lippard has called my attention to this passage from P. Z. Myers's weblog:

http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/tanj_and_science_webloggers/

Those kinds of papers are the real reason no serious scientist in
biology accepts creationism. They are dense with data, full of
observations that fully support evolution, and often push past it to
clue us in to the promising paths that evolutionary theory is leading
us down. Any one of those papers outweighs all the noise from the
Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research and
Answers in Genesis…and those papers just keep pouring out of the
world's research institutions, week after week.

Unfortunately, those papers all assume a scary amount of background
knowledge, rattle off lots of dry technical points in abstruse
language, and are entirely unapproachable to even a well-educated
layman, let alone a creationist—and they're the ones who really
need to be made aware of this volume of work.

And that's where I think the science webloggers have to step in. We need to translate. That's also our role.



Now can someone please explain to me why this doesn't boil down to "We're the experts. Trust us." And given what I know of how the rationalistic vision of science has been undermined by books like the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, given the questionable objectivity of the peer-review process, given the clearly unjustified conflation of ID with Scientific Creationism, given the persistent attempt to portray evolution critics not merely as mistaken, but ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked, this is just not a sufficient answer. I'm not saying that a good enough answer couldn't be given, I just want an answer that doesn't require so much faith.

23 comments:

Ahab said...

We live in an age of specialized knowledge. That means we often have to trust what the experts tell us.

If you don't wish to rely on the biological evolutionists' expertise, Victor, then I am afraid you will have to do what anyone who wants first hand knowledge of a particular subject has to do: crack open the biology textbooks and learn the subject. Otherwise, it seems to me that you are just taking the ID folks on faith.

By the way, PZ Myer's weblog,Pharyngula, is one of the best around.
I think he can help link you up to some great info on evolution.

Or do you just want to stand on the sidelines throwing spitballs and yelling "I don't believe you!" at all the evolutionary biologists who are working so hard to help us understand the world we live in?

Steven Carr said...

Of course, just a sentence before Dawkins said people who doubted evolution were ignorant, or insane, he specifically said that Darwinism was something that could be legtitimately (if wrongly) criticised.

Naturally, anti-Darwinian critics have no hesitation in picking words out of context in their desire to paint people who disagree with them as malevolent.

Jarrod Cochran said...

I think a really great book to buy for any Christian pondering evolution is John F. Haught's "Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution". Catholic Theologian Haught does not shy away from any real question in this book, nor does he attempt to give the typical "pat" answers so many of us are used to hearing. A really great read and a really big eye opener. This book proves that indeed evolution and Christianity can co-exist.

Jim Lippard said...

"Now can someone please explain to me why this doesn't boil down to "We're the experts. Trust us.""

Vic:

It clearly *doesn't*--read the last paragraph again. Myers is saying that there is a gap between the technical experts and the layman that can be addressed (to some extent, though as Ahab notes, there is always going to be a gap between the expert's understanding and the layman's) through education and explanation, of the sort he regularly engages in on his blog. For those who are unwilling to become educated, they never will understand or be capable of understanding.

For more on experts, see Steven Dutch's essay here:
http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/SelfApptdExp.htm

PZ Myers said...

Yep. Now if I'd said we needed more experts to promulgate dogma in a religious way, he'd have a case.

I'm saying the experts need to work harder at making the EVIDENCE more accessible and more comprehensible to non-experts, so they can make rational decisions. Anyone who has battled creationists knows that the problem is that they don't know anything, and their lacunae allow them to make the most preposterous leaps of the imagination.

Oh, and ID is creationism. They are utterly indistinguishable, accept for the fact that ID proponents try slightly harder to disguise their god-belief.

But not much harder.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Good comments by Ahab and PZ. Ignorance of evolutionary biology is the norm amongst its critics, with very few exceptions. Kuhn notwithstanding, imagine any real scientist trying to criticize something like quantum mechanics and having no understanding of linear algebra. This is basically what we are up against, and we (scientists) need to do a better job explaining the evidence and ideas in nontechnical ways. The problem is for most scientists this is a distraction much like teaching (well, really, it is teaching).

Incidentally, Victor, blogspot now has a way to let you avoid getting spammed with ads. If you sign into your account, go to 'Settings'-->'Comments', you can enable (by clicking 'Yes') the 'Word verification for comments' line. That will stop the automatic spammers from hitting your site (it forces any commenter to type in a word that is shown as an image). It seems to work well.

Mike D said...

"Ignorance of evolutionary biology is the norm amongst its critics, with very few exceptions." .. Blue Devil Night.

There seems to be a presumption among Darwinists that critics are not properly educated (otherwise they too would be Darwinists.) I agree there is a sizable contingent of theologians that do not hold degrees in biology. They can easily say something to expose their lack of expertise. This does not mean they are not educated or not capable of understanding a well-written science article.

The critics are intelligent enough to recognize when the Darwinist crosses the line between verifiable facts and religious statements about origins and man's purpose on the earth. I wonder if scientists could use some education in theology so they know when they are making religious statements beyone the scope of their evidence.

Ahab said...

If science has to be barred from areas of knowledge that might possibly infringe on religious belief, then we'd still be working under the assumption that the sun travels around the earth or that the age of the earth is less than 10,000 years.

Tom said...

PZ Myers back to conflating.
Victor Reppert said: "clearly unjustified conflation of ID with Scientific Creationism".

PZ Myers responded: "Oh, and ID is creationism. They are utterly indistinguishable, accept for the fact that ID proponents try slightly harder to disguise their god-belief."

Myers usually isn't being as honest as he claims his critics to be. So now here he goes again. Scientific Creationism is a specific term detailing the efforts of AIG or ICR. This is clearly not the approach of Discover (whether you like them or not). But PZ lumps all forms of Creationism to be "Scientific Creationism". Either he doesn't know the difference or he is trying to conflate the two for not so honest reasons.

If that's the case PZ, you might as well consider Ken Miller a creationist. Since at some point in the distant past a creator would have had to have played some role even in Miller's belief system.

Tom said...

Ahab....
At least know what you are talking about.
Sun traveling around the Earth was not a religious idea that was put forth in the Bible. It was what Ptolemy assumed. It was an inference from observation.

The age of the earth issue was raise by Bishop Ussher. Once again, not specifically stated in the Bible.

Ahab said...

Does Miller claim that his belief system is a scientific theory? Does he insist that God should be placed in science books in order to explain the origin of life?

Ahab said...

Tom,

Religious beliefs are not limited to what is in the Bible, except among some groups of Christians and Jews.
And we haven't even talked about the varieties of non-Abrahamic religious beliefs.

Blue Devil Knight said...

When I said most creationists are ignorant of evolutionary biology, I was making an empirical claim, based on over a decade of actively seeking out discussions with creationists at universities and churches (I used to religiously attend anti-evolution seminars at churches in New Hampshire). Like I said, there are exceptions.

I have found that when I calmly describe the science, and answer their questions honestly (for instance, acknowledging when I don't know something and that certain questions will always involve more speculation than others), they are often very interested and curious, with lots of good questions. Typically I spend most of my time trying to convince them that they can be Christians and take evolutinary science seriously. Sadly, this often comes as a great relief to them because so many foolish theologians told them otherwise. First and foremost, they want to be good Christians, and this fact is exploited by crackpots with religious authority.

One of my favorite origins stories in the Bible is about rain (the firmament, etc). It wasn't until relatively recently in human history that meteorological facts like rain, lightning, and tornadoes were naturalized. The history of the battle between the Church and scientists about the firmament is a very interesting story.

Mike D said...

blue devil knight said, "Typically I spend most of my time trying to convince them that they can be Christians and take evolutinary science seriously."

You suggest that Christians don't think they can be good Christians and take evolutionary science seriously because they have been "exploited by crackpots with religious authority." I admitted that religious authorities make uniformed statements about evolution.

My question is whether any Darwinists here will admit that part of the problem is Darwinists making claims that they shouldn't make? Has the origin question really been authoritatively answered once and for all? Is there now no doubt that an intelligent creator was never necessary?

I find these issues at the core the Kansas School Board review of science standards. They found in their standards Darwinist claims that needed to be retracted in the name of scientific honesty.

How can we trust the experts when we find them lying to us? Now who is exploiting whom?

Eric Thomson said...

My question is whether any Darwinists here will admit that part of the problem is Darwinists making claims that they shouldn't make? Has the origin question really been authoritatively answered once and for all? Is there now no doubt that an intelligent creator was never necessary?

I think this might be part of the problem. Usually in my discussions with Christians, I admit that we will never have data that can eliminate the God hypothesis. For instance, God could have caused mutations in genes that gave rise to H. sapiens from H. erectus. Similarly, we cannot be sure that the universe was not created by gods recently (even yesterday) with an appearance of being very old. Such hypotheses, while not eliminable with data, are not properly part of science, and should not be included in science classes (this is not a dogma but is in place because no supernatural explanation of anything has ever been useful in science (not for lack of trying: see the history of meteorology, mental illness, geology for examples), while naturalism in science has been a productive methodological approach that keeps proving itself daily: you will need some very strong evidence to upset this well-justified methodological committment, evidence that isn't coming from the creationist camp).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Eric Thomson is me, by the way. Blue Devil Knight is my chess name, and I don't want a bunch of philosophical discussion in my real name in the blogosphere coming up on google! Too late. AAAHH.

Ahab said...

They found in their standards Darwinist claims that needed to be retracted in the name of scientific honesty.

Mike d, can you list the specific clalms in the (Kansas) standards that needed to be retracted 'in the name of scientific honesty'?

Mike D said...

I may have mis-stated. These seem to be proposed changes but they caught my interest and illustrated my point.

There were many standards that would have overstated scientific evidence for evolution. There are many more standards reccomended that identify problems with current evolutionary theory and gaps in the evidence. The proposed changes result in a much more honest educational approach.

I am having trouble with cut and paste because the formating gets lost. This is the link to the 78 page PDF file:
http://www.kansasscience2005.com/

One most to the point was a change in the standard for cumulative chage. Instead of saying evolution "explains" changes in the diversity of animals, it was amended to "seeks to explain" which is more honest.

The document illustrates the danger of science teaching in schools becoming an evangelistic tool for the religion of naturalism.

Mike D said...

The Kansas review is a work in progress. The main document I referenced is a proposal that has not yet been decided. However, there have been concessions made.

The current Kansas Science Standards adopted on February 14, 2001 contain the same learning objective (to teach students that only man-made objects show evidence of design whereas all natural objects show no evidence of design) (in Fourth
Grade Standard 5, Benchmark 3. The teaching effectively promotes at an early age level a very subtle
indoctrination in Naturalism, the idea that all natural phenomena just occur and are not designed and made for a purpose, as are human made objects. This essentially reflects the core claim of evolution that living
systems are not designed. Due to requests made by the Authors, this benchmark was removed from Draft
2. If this removal had not been effected, then Draft 2 would explicitly promote the postulate that change occurs via an unguided process.

They evidently realized their teaching objective went beyond the findings of science. There are dozens of examples in the 78 page document where the science curriculum needs to be challenged.
http://www.kansasscience2005.com/

Steven Carr said...

I'm still waiting for ID people to tell us *what* was designed.

Was it rabies, cholera, HIV, the Ebola virus?

'This essentially reflects the core claim of evolution that living
systems are not designed.'

Which of the millions of species of beetle were designed and which were not?

While IDers have far more sense than to actually make a meaningful claim about something in nature, which would bring down the whole house of cards, the repeated evasions of IDers about which living systems were designed and which were not designed should be proclaimed in every school board meeting where the mantra of 'Teach the Controversy' is chanted.

Mike D said...

steven carr asked about
"repeated evasions of IDers about which living systems were designed and which were not designed"

I appears that there is no evasion because ID has not yet made those determinations just as evolutionist have yet to explain "irreducible complexity." Unanswered quetions seem to OK within either theory.
See
http://www.lehigh.edu/~inbios/faculty/behe.html
"My current work involves: 1) educating various groups to overcome mistaken ideas of what exactly intelligent design entails, so that they can make informed judgments on whether they think it is a plausible hypothesis; and 2) trying to establish a reasoned way to determine a rough dividing line between design and non-design in biochemical systems"

Steven Carr said...

What? ID has yet to identify one living system which was designed?

Steven Carr said...

And by the way, Michael Behe told me personally on Hank Hanegraaf's radio show that he thinks there is good evidence that Homo sapiens are descended from creatures that were not Homo sapiens.