Sunday, September 18, 2005

Debating Darwin: An age-old discussion evolves yet again, etc

Here is a science news item with my comments in square brackets:

Debating Darwin: An age-old discussion evolves yet again; two new books take a look, Dallas Morning News, Jerome Weeks, September 4, 2005. ... A few years ago, a young neighbor confronted me as I was mowing the yard. ... "You know," he announced, "evolution is just a theory." He had me there. Evolution is indeed a theory. But then, Albert Einstein's relativity is, too. ... Many of us still take "theory" to mean "hunch," when in science, it is closer to "a system of well-founded assumptions." That basic misunderstanding characterizes much of our oldest culture war, the still-fractious firefight between creationism and evolution. Witness two new, very different histories that trace the trenches of this battlefield right up to the present. Marvin Olasky and John Perry's Monkey Business assumes most of us don't know what really happened at the 1925 "monkey trial" in Dayton, Tenn. The same could be said about much of our history, but this ignorance has shaped the popular image of creationists' "countrified imbecility" vs. the wise evolutionists. In fact, the trial was hardly a defeat for creationism. The Darwinians won the image battle among the educated, but several states and school boards quickly ditched Darwin. And the public relations victory was not due to evolution's validity, either, the authors argue. Biased journalists such as H.L. Mencken got the Dayton story wrong, plus there was the influential play-turned-film, Inherit the Wind. ... But little of it is news to anyone who has paid attention. To cite a small, typical example, the Scopes trial was a "media event," concocted by the tourism-hungry town leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union, out to challenge the state's anti-evolution law. John Scopes may never have even taught Darwin. ... Monkey Business makes much of Darwin's Anglican anxiety, his desire to separate God from a natural world that Darwin saw as driven by brutal competition. Why would a benevolent deity devise such a dog-eat-dog existence? This implies, though, that evolution has a theological component, the authors note. And at the very least, evolution does presuppose a "hands off" deity. .. The catch here is that all science presupposes a "hands off" deity. No miracles are allowed to monkey up the lab results. What Monkey Business actually underscores is not religion but politics. A scientific-religious issue is being argued in courts and school boards, as if they ever could settle one's faith in God or what hominid line led to homo sapiens. Which is why Americans are still fighting about this while the rest of the scientific world has moved on. In this political struggle, Darwinians have relied on the courts to bar the unconstitutional use of tax money to teach religion. But in doing so, they have fueled widespread (and often Southern, regional) resentments against "elitist experts" and "activist judges." Creationists, meanwhile, tend to appeal to school boards and the public, knowing they can sway a popular vote. ... The well-funded conservative push to teach both intelligent design and evolution is the latest such popular appeal. In all this, Dr. Olasky and Mr. Perry approvingly cite Michael Ruse, a philosophy professor who made the "evolution-religion" argument above. What's more, Dr. Ruse's new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle , charges many evolutionists with being their own worst enemies, alienating devout supporters with an acidic atheism. ... A Quaker, Dr. Ruse is sympathetic to people's efforts to reconcile religion and reason, but he's also well-versed in science. Struggle is a succinct but nuanced history of ideas, tacking back and forth between the origins of Biblical inerrancy and Darwinism. Ultimately, he faces the question of whether intelligent design is a science. Because it makes no reference to God or Genesis, should it be taught with evolution? Consider evolution first. Darwin developed it 150 years ago, before Mendelian genetics, DNA testing and plate tectonics. These involve whole areas of science unknown to Darwin, yet they confirmed and expanded his theory. ID, in contrast, is an odd science in that it leads nowhere. It has generated no useful experiments. With DNA, we have an amazing creation, supposedly too complex for random mutation to shape. So why is it a mess? What designer came up with all of these redundancies and old, useless bits? ID doesn't just fail to offer answers; it doesn't even provide avenues of research. Dr. Ruse concludes with a sweeping rejection: "We find no empirical or conceptual reason whatsoever to think of intelligent design theory as genuine science." What we have in creationism vs. evolution is a metaphysical argument, he writes, "a struggle for the hearts and souls of people.".... And this is why, justifiably, many scientists and teachers have been up in arms. ...

[Note the admission that "evolution has a theological component" and "does presuppose a `hands off' deity." But if the "deity" is not "hands off" (as the Christian God is not) then evolution is, to that extent, false! Again the Darwinist attempt to dismiss ID as "genuine science", this time because "It has generated no useful experiments". But this confuses (inexcusably so, given that Ruse is a leading philosopher of science) experimental science with historical science. ID, like evolution, is concerned with unique events that took place in the far distant past and are not occurring today (e.g. the design of the bacterial flagellum and the vertebrate blood clotting cascade, etc) and is, like evolution, not resolvable by the experimental method.

Here are some quotes by evolutionists pointing out that, "evolutionary biology is a historical science ... evolutionary biologists cannot ... usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment":

"In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture. The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is "evolutionary psychology," or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with this enterprise, and it has proposed some intriguing theories, particularly about the evolution of language. The problem is that evolutionary psychology suffers from the scientific equivalent of megalomania. Most of its adherents are convinced that virtually every human action or feeling, including depression, homosexuality, religion, and consciousness, was put directly into our brains by natural selection. In this view, evolution becomes the key--the only key--that can unlock our humanity." (Coyne J.A., "The fairy tales of evolutionary psychology." Review of "A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion," by Randy Thornhill & Craig T. Palmer, MIT Press, 2000. The New Republic, March 4, 2000)

"Evolutionary biology ... is a historical science ... experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes":

"Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science-the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain." (Mayr E., "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought," Scientific American, Vol. 283, No. 1, pp.67-71, July 2000, p.68)

"Since evolution treats historically unique events that occurred millions of years ago, it ... uses methods different from the controlled experiment ... search for an underlying pattern among unique events, and retrodiction (predicting the yet undiscovered results of past events), for example":

"Science is a pluralistic enterprise, validly pursued in many modes. But Rifkin ignores its richness by stating that direct manipulation by repeatable experiment provides the only acceptable method for reaching a scientific conclusion. Since evolution treats historically unique events that occurred millions of years ago, it cannot pass muster. Rifkin doesn't seem to realize that he is throwing out half of science-nearly all of geology and most of astronomy, for instance-with his evolutionary bath water. Historical science is a valid pursuit, but uses methods different from the controlled experiment of Rifkin's all-encompassing caricature-search for an underlying pattern among unique events, and retrodiction (predicting the yet undiscovered results of past events), for example." (Gould S.J., "Integrity and Mr. Rifkin," in "An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas," [1987], Penguin: London, 1990, reprint, p.234)

"The fallacy of the crucial experiment. ... `crucial' experiments rarely decide major issues in science-especially in natural history":

"The fallacy of the crucial experiment. In high-school physics classes, we all learned a heroically simplified version of scientific progress based upon a model that does work sometimes, but by no means always-the experimenum crucis, or crucial experiment. Newton or Einstein? Ptolemy or Copernicus? Special creation or Darwin? To find out, perform a single decisive experiment with a clearly measurable result full of power to decree yea or nay. Throw the accused witch in the pond; if she sinks, she was innocent (however dead by drowning). ... more generally, single `crucial' experiments rarely decide major issues in science-especially in natural history, in which nearly all theories require data about `relative frequencies' (or percentage of occurrences), not pristine single cases. Of course, for a person who believes that evolution never occurs at all, one good case can pack enormous punch, but this basic issue was adequately resolved more than one hundred years ago. Nearly every interesting question in evolutionary theory asks `how often' or `how dominant in setting the pattern of life'-not `does this phenomenon occur at all?' For example, on the most important issue of all-the role of Darwin's own favored mechanism of natural selection- single examples of selection's efficacy advance the argument very little. We already know, by abundant documentation and rigorous theorizing, that natural selection can and does operate in nature. We need to determine the relative strength of Darwin's mechanism among a set of alternative modes for evolutionary change-and single cases, however elegant, cannot establish a relative frequency." (Gould S.J., "The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant," Natural History, December 1997/January 1998, Vol. 106, No. 11, p.60)

"My point is that for such a theory [of physics] one could propose a crucial experiment ... This cannot be done in evolution, taking it in its broad sense":

"DR. EDEN: I would like here to come to the defense of Dr. Popper. I think we should make a clear distinction between falsifiability and use. I am not denying and I don't know that anybody else is denying the use fulness of evolutionary concepts as means for looking at problems; but it is a theory of a different kind. We may contrast it with theories of physics. Certainly Newtonian physics is falsifiable. Even in biology, I recall one occasion on which I helped develop a very ingenious and very plausible theory regarding the countercurrent mechanism in the kidney. It was not only falsifiable, it was false. My point is that for such a theory one could propose a crucial experiment and check as to whether or not the theory was false or not. This cannot be done in evolution, taking it in its broad sense, and this is really all I meant when I called it tautologous in the first place. It can, indeed, explain anything. You may be ingenious or not in proposing a mechanism which looks plausible to human beings and mechanisms which are consistent with other mechanisms which you have discovered, but it is still an unfalsifiable theory." (Eden M., "Discussion: Paper by Dr. Wald," in Moorhead P.S. & Kaplan M.M., ed., "Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution: A Symposium Held at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, April 25 and 26, 1966," The Wistar Institute Symposium Monograph Number 5, The Wistar Institute Press: Philadelphia PA, 1967, p.71)

"The applicability of the experimental method to the study of such unique [macroevolutionary] historical processes is severely restricted ... Experimental evolution deals of necessity with only the simplest levels of the evolutionary process, sometimes called microevolution":

"Mutation is a basic physiological process which is studied experimentally, with the aid of physical and chemical methods. On the other hand, it is manifestly impossible to reproduce in the laboratory the evolution of man from the australopithecine, or of the modern horse from an Eohippus, or of a land vertebrate from a fishlike ancestor. These evolutionary happenings are unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible. It is as impossible to turn a land vertebrate into a fish as it is to effect the reverse transformation. The applicability of the experimental method to the study of such unique historical processes is severely restricted before all else by the time intervals involved, which far exceed the lifetime of any human experimenter. ... Experimental evolution deals of necessity with only the simplest levels of the evolutionary process, sometimes called microevolution." (Dobzhansky T.G., "On Methods of Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology, Part I, Biology," American Scientist, Vol. 45, No. 5, December 1957, p.388)

Since Ruse (being a leading philosopher of science) must know this, it is disingenuous of him to demand a crucial experimental test of ID while exempting evolution from the same requirement. Once again we have an evolutionist employing the fallacy of special pleading (double standard):

"THE FALLACY OF SPECIAL PLEADING To commit the *fallacy of special pleading*is to apply a double standard: one for ourselves (because we are special) and another (a stricter one) for everyone else. ... To engage in special pleading is to be partial and inconsistent. It is to regard one's own situation as privileged while failing to apply to others the standard we set for ourselves (or, conversely, to fail to apply to ourselves those standards we apply to others) ..." (Engel S.M., "With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies," St. Martin's Press: New York NY, Fourth edition, 1990, pp.144-146. Emphasis original)
"Special Pleading: `having it both ways' ... One-sided pleading becomes special pleading when you `have it both ways.' You find the reasons where your advantage lies, but refuse to apply the same principle to yourself that you apply to others. Salesmen, lawyers, debaters are not the only people ever guilty of rationalizing in this way. Scientists, educators, statesmen -in fact anybody who has something to gain or who has merely warmed to his argument-can be found on occasion ignoring or twisting the facts to his own advantage." (Fearnside W.W. & Holther W.B., "Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument," Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs NJ, 1959, 25th Printing, p.108)
"There is a common fault in argument arising from the influence of prejudice which may be employed deliberately as a dishonest trick, but which more usually is the result of the speaker being himself blinded by his prejudices. This is the use in one context of an argument which would not be admitted in another context where it would lead to the opposite conclusion. This is 'special pleading'." (Thouless R.H., "Straight and Crooked Thinking," [1930], Pan: London, Revised Edition, 1973, 15th printing, pp.156-157)

to support evolution. See my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE "Fallacies used to support evolution ... Special pleading (`double standard')."

As for "DNA" being allegedly "a mess", this is self-refuting. Since the brain is a product of DNA, then how would a Darwinist be able to trust his reasoning that "DNA ... is ... a mess"? And as for "ID[s] to offer answers" for why DNA contains "all of these redundancies and old, useless bits", I am an IDist and here is my answer, "based on a hypothesis which is an extension ... of the argument from design", namely a Designer who wanted a living world "constructed according to a principle of maximum diversity":

"Why do we suffer? Why is the world so unjust? What is the purpose of pain and tragedy? I would like to have answers to these questions, answers which are valid at our childish level of understanding even if they do not penetrate far into the mind of God. My answers are based on a hypothesis which is an extension both of the Anthropic Principle and of the argument from design. The hypothesis is that the universe is constructed according to a principle of maximum diversity. The principle of maximum diversity operates both at the physical and at the mental level. It says that the laws of nature and the initial conditions are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Always when things are dull, something new turns up to challenge us and to stop us from settling into a rut. Examples of things which make life difficult are all around us: comet impacts, ice ages, weapons, plagues, nuclear fission, computers, sex, sin and death. Not all challenges can be overcome, and so we have tragedy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth." (Dyson F.J., "Infinite In All Directions: Gifford Lectures Given at Aberdeen, Scotland, April-November 1985," [1988], Harper & Row: New York NY, 1989, reprint, p.298)]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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