Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The root of all anti-science?, etc

Brief science news excerpts with my comments bold and in square brackets.

[Graphic: Pitcher plant Nepenthes alata showing electron microscope images of upper and lower wax layers, Science Daily (see below)]

The root of all anti-science?: A scientist's view of Richard Dawkins' televised assault on religion, Spiked Science, Alom Shaha, 13 January 2006 ... Here was an opportunity to show us how science is being denigrated by religious fundamentalism, convince us why scientific thinking is superior to religious dogma, and expound the merits of reason. Instead we got what could have been an extended segment from the BBC's Grumpy Old Men ... unlike his previous attacks [on religion]... this televised polemic lacked any wit or intellectual rigour. Instead, Dawkins presented a thoroughly unscientific argument that 'religion is the root of all evil' and came across as a fundamentalist himself. ... I found Dawkins' polemic unpalatable and suspect it may have done more harm than good for 'the cause'. This film was a missed opportunity to engage the public with some of the issues facing science today. I fear it may only have exacerbated the situation. The arrogance that Dawkins displayed is perhaps the root of all the hostility we see against science. ... [See also "Is religion the root of all evil?: Richard Dawkins' attack on religion ended up giving atheist humanism a bad name." I suspect there are many other atheist/agnostics who are similarly very concerned about the harm that Dawkins, the Oxford Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, is doing to science. His fellow atheist Darwinist, philosopher Michael Ruse is clearly unimpressed with Dawkins' "understanding of Christianity remain[ing] at the sophomoric level":

"Also, I myself share just about every bit of Dawkins's nonbelief. ... However, I worry about the political consequences of Dawkins's message. If Darwinism is a major contributor to nonbelief, then should Darwinism be taught in publicly funded U.S. schools? ... It is true that Darwinism conflicts with the Book of Genesis taken literally, but at least since the time of Saint Augustine (400 A.D.) Christians have been interpreting the seven days of creation metaphorically. I would like to see Dawkins take Christianity as seriously as he undoubtedly expects Christianity to take Darwinism. I would also like to see him spell out fully the arguments as to the incompatibility of science (Darwinism especially) and religion (Christianity especially). So long as his understanding of Christianity remains at the sophomoric level, Dawkins does not deserve full attention. It is all very well to sneer ... but what reply does Dawkins have to the many theologians (like Jonathan Edwards) who have devoted huge amounts of effort to distinguishing between false beliefs and true ones? What reply does Dawkins have to the contemporary philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who argues that the belief that there are other minds and that others are not just unthinking robots requires a leap of faith akin to the Christian belief in the Deity? Edwards and Plantinga may be wrong, but Dawkins owes them some reply before he gives his cocky negative conclusions. ... Finally ... I do wish that he and other science writers would cease assuming that philosophical issues can be solved by talking in a brisk, confident voice. ... I agree fully with Dawkins when he writes that
Modern physics teaches us that there is more to truth than meets the eye; or than meets the all too limited human mind, evolved as it was to cope with medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds through medium distances in Africa.
But how then does Dawkins respond to the obvious retort of the religious, who have always stressed mystery? ... Perhaps one agrees that traditional religions-Christianity specifically-do not offer the full answers. But what is to stop a nonbeliever like myself from saying that the Christians are asking important questions and that they are right to have a little humility before the unknown? As Saint Paul said: `Now we see through a glass, darkly.' That apparently includes Richard Dawkins." (Ruse M.E., "Through a Glass, Darkly." Review of "A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love," by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2003.)

This is BTW the same Dawkins who declared that, "there is, at bottom ... no evil" (my emphasis):

"Theologians worry away at the `problem of evil' and a related `problem of suffering.' ... On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: `For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.' DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music." (Dawkins R., "River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life," Phoenix: London, 1996, p.155. Emphasis in original)

But then Dawkins is not renowned for his rational consistency (see Williams P.S., "Darwin’s Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism," Philosophy Now, No. 44, January/February 2004). Quite frankly, I would not be surprised if the BBC is cynically using Dawkins as a sort of `freak show' to boost its ratings!]

Anti-adhesive Layers Leave No Hope For Insects, ScienceDaily, 2006-01-17 ... Plants are able, using organic substances, to achieve effects that we otherwise mostly know only from technical materials. One example of this is the carnivorous pitcher plant .... These plants catch insects and hold them using traps with a double layer of crystalline wax. The upper layer has crystalloids which contaminate the attachment organs that insects use to adhere themselves to surfaces. The lower layer additionally reduces the contact area between the insect feet and plant surface. The insects thus slip into the pitcher-shaped traps, where they are digested .... The pitfall trap of the pitcher plant Nepenthes alata. .... In order to obtain nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which may be lacking in the soil, carnivorous plants catch and digest small animals, primarily insects. These plants have evolved particular organs to catch their prey. .... Although the origins of the pitchers lie in leaf organs, the structures that originate from the leaves are not leaf-like. Nepenthes pitchers are organised in a complex way, with a lid, a peristome (a ring around the pitcher's entrance), and slippery and digestive zones, the latter containing a supply of digestive fluid. These pitchers draw in insects, hold them, and finally digest them. The slippery zone is very important to successful trappings. It is covered by a layer of crystalline wax on which insects lose their footing and slide down into the digestive fluid. ... [I would like to see a detailed, step-by-step, Darwinian explanation of how the natural selection of random micromutations produced the elaborate traps of carnivorous plants, like the pitcher plant and the Venus flytrap. But I suspect there are none, because if there were, the Darwinists would not waste their time on peppered moths and finch beaks! Like Behe's mousetrap, all these parts are needed to be working together simultaneously as a complex coordinated system to catch insects. I have added this to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, section PE 12.3.1 "Carnivorous plants ... Pitcher plant (Nepenthes alata)" ]

Ants Are First Non-Humans to Teach, Study Says, Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam, January 16, 2006 ... The ants ... raced along a tabletop foraging for food -- and then, remarkably, returned to guide others. Time and again, followers trailed behind leaders, darting this way and that along the route, presumably to memorize landmarks. Once a follower got its bearings, it tapped the leader with its antennae, prompting the lesson to literally proceed to the next step. The ants were only looking for food, but the researchers said the careful way the leaders led followers -- thereby turning them into leaders in their own right -- marked the Temnothorax albipennis ant as the very first example of a non-human animal exhibiting teaching behavior. "Within the field of animal behavior, we would say an animal is a teacher if it modifies behavior in the presence of another, at cost to itself, so another individual can learn more quickly," said Nigel R. Franks ..., whose paper on the ant educators was published last week in the journal Nature. But defining even common behaviors such as teaching is complex, and it is even harder to understand what is happening in the brains of other animals. So it is no surprise that the paper has sparked debate over what constitutes learning and teaching in the non-human world. ... Bennett G. Galef Jr. ... said ants were unlikely to have a "theory of mind" -- meaning that leaders and followers may well have been following instinctive routines that were not based on an understanding of what was happening in another ant's brain. He warned that scientists may be barking up the wrong tree when they look not only for examples of humanlike behavior among other animals but humanlike thinking that underlies such behavior. Animals may behave in ways similar to humans without a similar cognitive system, he said, so the behavior is not necessarily a good guide into how humans came to think the way they do. ... [This is a reductio ad absurdum of those studies which simplistically infer from external behaviour in animals (e.g. tool-using, etc) that they are doing essentially the same thing as humans. I have added this to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, section PE 14.1.5 "Man ... Uniqueness ... Learning ." See also my previous post commenting on dolphin's `music appreciation'.]

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


Anonymous said...

This is absolutely excellent. I was researching about carnivorous plants for a biology project when I came across this site/blog. I am also a Christian myself and I have been struggling with the fact that there are certainly more questions than there are answers. I am not utterly against evolution since I do believe microevolution does occur. However, Darwinism and its belief in macroevolution is simply unbelievable.

Reading the part about the 2 kinds of carnivorous plants and how it is almost crazy to say that they evolved from simple leaves reminds me of our eye. I've read that any adjustment to the cornea of this masterpiece could cause us to go blind. A question was then stated: How could it be that we human beings had undergone evolution when even the slightest alteration of the human cornea could cause us to go blind? (and my biology teacher agrees totally because of a little incident that happened between his eye and crazy glue.)

And honestly, even if you're not part of a religion or whatnot, it's not hard to see that Intelligent design is how we came to be. Evolution? Where did it all come from? Doesn't it just come down to that question that almost all Darwinists avoid? Big Bang? from nothing? Didn't we prove that spontaneous generation can't happen?

Thank you for this post.

Stephen E. Jones said...


Thanks for your comment.

However, the problem with comments like, "Darwinism and its belief in macroevolution is simply unbelievable" is open to the "argument from personal incredulity" counter-attack by Darwinists:

"There are numerous examples (I counted 35 in one chapter) in a recent book called The Probability of God by the Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore. ... The Bishop believes in evolution, but cannot believe that natural selection is an adequate explanation for the course that evolution has taken (partly because, like many others, he sadly misunderstands natural selection to be 'random' and 'meaningless'). He makes heavy use of what may be called the Argument from Personal Incredulity. In the course of one chapter we find the following phrases, in this order: `... there seems no explanation on Darwinian grounds ... It is no easier to explain ... It is hard to understand ... It is not easy to understand ... It is equally difficult to explain ... I do not find it easy to comprehend ... I do not find it easy to see ... I find it hard to understand ... it does not seem feasible to explain ... I cannot see how ... neo-Darwinism seems inadequate to explain many of the complexities of animal behaviour ... it is not easy to comprehend how such behaviour could have evolved solely through natural selection ... It is impossible ... How could an organ so complex evolve? ... It is not easy to see ... It is difficult to see ... ." The Argument from Personal Incredulity is an extremely weak argument, as Darwin himself noted. In some cases it is based upon simple ignorance." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.37-38).

The right approach is to say:

"I am open to the evidence that a Darwinian `blind watchmaker' mindless, purposeless process *could* have created complex organs like the eye, but I don't accept it just because you claim there is no other mindless, purposeless process that could in principle have done it.

So could you please provide me with *detailed*, step-by-step *evidence* of how the Darwinian `blind watchmaker' natural selection of random micromutations (or any other mindless, purposeless process) created the eye?

And please no hand-waving blanket statements like "the eye evolved 40 times", which beg the question at issue that the eye *evolved* (i.e. by a mindless, purposeless process).

Before I accept *that* "the eye evolved 40 times" I want to be shown *how exactly* the eye evolved even *once* (the *first* time).

Thank you in anticipation."

That puts the burden of proof back where it belongs, onto the Darwinist to provide you with the evidence for his/her claim, not onto you for your lack of belief.

PS: You don't have to be insincere in saying that you are open to the evidence that a mindless, purposeless process *could* have created the eye, etc. I will be posting a post (maybe several) which will show that even if the Darwinian `blind watchmaker' theory (i.e. the *science* not the *philosophy*) was 100% true, it would still does not work as advertised and refute design!

Stephen E. Jones