The Frontal Cortex

The Greatest Show on Earth

In the latest edition of Publisher’s Weekly, I have a short review of The Greatest Show on Earth, the forthcoming book from Richard Dawkins:

Richard Dawkins begins The Greatest Show on Earth with a short history of his writing career. He explains that all of his previous books have naïvely assumed “the fact of evolution,” which meant that he never got around to laying “out the evidence that it [evolution] is true.” This shouldn’t be too surprising: science is an edifice of tested assumptions, and just as physicists must assume the truth of gravity before moving on to quantum mechanics, so do biologists depend on the reality of evolution. It’s the theory that makes every other theory possible.

Yet Dawkins also came to realize that a disturbingly large percentage of the American and British public didn’t share his enthusiasm for evolution. In fact, they actively abhorred the idea, since it seemed to contradict the Bible and diminish the role of God. So Dawkins decided to write a book for these “history-deniers,” in which he would dispassionately demonstrate the truth of evolution “beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt.”

After only a few pages of The Greatest Show on Earth, however, it becomes clear that Dawkins doesn’t do dispassionate, and that he’s not particularly interested in convincing believers to believe in evolution. He repeatedly compares creationists and Holocaust deniers, which is a peculiar way of reaching out to the other side. Elsewhere, Dawkins calls those who don’t subscribe to evolution “ignorant,” “fatuously ignorant” and “ridiculous.”

All of which raises the point: who, exactly, is supposed to read this book? Is Dawkins preaching to the choir or trying to convert the uninformed? While The Greatest Show on Earth might fail as a work of persuasive rhetoric–Dawkins is too angry and acerbic to convince his opponents–it succeeds as an encyclopedic summary of evolutionary biology. If Charles Darwin walked into a 21st-century bookstore and wanted to know how his theory had fared, this is the book he should pick up.

Dawkins remains a superb translator of complex scientific concepts. It doesn’t matter if he’s spinning metaphors for the fossil record (“like a spy camera” in a murder trial) or deftly explaining the method by which scientists measure the genetic difference between distinct species: he has a way of making the drollest details feel like a revelation. Even if one already believes in the survival of the fittest, there is something thrilling about learning that the hoof of a horse is homologous to the fingernail of the human middle finger, or that some dinosaurs had a “second brain” of ganglion cells in their pelvis, which helped compensate for the tiny brain in their head. As Darwin famously noted, “There is grandeur in this view of life.” What Dawkins demonstrates is that this view of life isn’t just grand: it’s also undeniably true.

Comments

  1. #1 David Dobbs
    July 13, 2009

    Nice post, Jonah. As it happens, I just posted on roughly the similar topic, from a different angle: a look at how Asa Gray’s, a botanist contemporary of Darwin’s and (sort of) Darwin’s “bulldog” in the U.S., reconciled his religious beliefs with an acceptance of (and crucial advocacy for) Darwin’s theory in the 1860s. I’m with the “accomodationists” on this one: I don’t think you have to be an atheist to be a real evolutionist, scientist, or empiricist (though I’m an atheist myself).

    That post: http://bit.ly/Yq9Yx.

    Shouldn’t we be working? Oh yeah! We are working!

  2. #2 harold
    July 13, 2009

    First a nitpick –

    Even if one already believes in the survival of the fittest

    “Survival of the fittest” is a poor description of evolution. What actually happens is that some phenotypes gain a relative reproductive advantage (usually due to some relative advantage in the immediate environment, but sometimes due to chance factors), and alleles associated with those particular phenotypes increase in frequency in the next generation of the population. Everything else is the fascinating details.

    Now to potentially, with some regret, start a spitstorm on a blog I don’t visit often enough.

    I have been disappointed by Dawkins in the past – for example by the “Blind Watchmaker”. Exactly what Dawkins himself has now noted was the problem. It lacked all scientific detail and relied largely, it seemed to me on broad, simple analogies to make its point.]

    A big part of the problem is that Dawkins seems to me to put philosophy and theology first, and to see science as a means to a philosophical end.

    I’m an apatheist. I don’t care about religion. I have no problem with other peoples’ religious behaviors as long as they respect my rights.

    Dawkins, on the other hand, has veered back and forth from Anglicanism to aggressive atheism, and he cares very deeply about other peoples’ religious behavior. Furthermore, he tends to be intensely Euro- and Anglo-centric, repeatedly prone to conflate “religion” with “Western and Central European Evangelical Protestant Traditions”. I wouldn’t go as far as to call this unconscious ethnic bigotry, but it is tiresome.

    By the way, I know I’m speaking subjectively here, and have not provided any supporting quotes or references. However, I have had a lot of exposure to Dawkins’ works, and the internet commentary of his admirers.

    Now, I actually think that creationism is HIGHLY analogous to holocaust denial. I have no problem with that. Both are denials of objective reality, and both are motivated by biases that reflect the social and political stance of their advocates – which overlap significantly.

    Having said that, overall, this sounds like an interesting book, but what would probably be even better is a similar book, but written by someone who doesn’t have an emotional axe to grind, and deals with creationist distortions dispassionately, where relevant.

  3. #3 Joe Linker
    July 13, 2009

    Is it “survival of the fittest,” or survival of the best at procreation? In any case, is “survival of the fittest” also a metaphor? But there is certainly an underlying warrant to Dawkins’s claim, which is that he wants everyone to think like him, as if he created evolution – how else to explain the insults? And that is not Darwin. The best way to learn about Darwin is still to read Darwin. The thing that Dawkins gets wrong isn’t his atheism, it’s his denial of any kind of moral philosophy, of the evolution of cooperation, because it’s more accurate to say “survival of those who learn to cooperate with one another.” Perhaps you could do a review of one of Mary Midgley’s books (nemesis to Dawkins). The Ethical Primate is good; also Animals and Why They Matter; and Wickedness. For the question isn’t really about the truth of evolution any longer, but where do we go from here.

  4. #4 Sam C
    July 13, 2009

    I’m reminded of Roughgarden’s suggestion that sexual displays (peacock tails, deer antlers, Ferraris) amight be aimed not at attracting the opposite sex but establishing the displayer’s status within his own sex. (Apologies if I got that wrong.)

    Much of the anti-creationist and enthusiastically atheist rhetoric seems aimed at building status inside those communities, not at converting or educating those who are outside the community. It’s “ra ra” cheerleading to the converted.

    Without in any way wishing to appear to suggest an “accommodationist” approach (creationists and theists are wrong, wrong, wrong), there is an issue of communication. Shouting at people and insulting them is rarely a way of winning converts. Having a good line of reasoning is not the same as being persuasive (even if it should be!).

    The whole thing is really political, about changing people’s world views. It’s not about constructing rational arguments. It’s about persuading them to step over the line, then they’ll convince themselves.

  5. #5 Arj
    July 13, 2009

    One quibble here: “science is an edifice of tested assumptions”— Science (and math) rest upon faith in axioms/assumptions that ultimately CAN’T be tested, and all conclusions above those axioms rest upon faith in human logic, reason, and senses, all of which are fallible. Dawkins practices science because he has FAITH in it… I hope that faith continues to be validated, but I recognize there is no certainty involved (not sure he does).

  6. #6 Andy
    July 13, 2009

    What does Dawkins’s book offer that the recent book “Why Evolution is True” book by Jerry Coyne doesn’t? The concepts seem pretty similar, and since it looks like this book will appear on shelves less than a year before Coyne’s, I wonder if it’s just the Dawkins name that will sell copies.

  7. #7 Mike C
    July 13, 2009

    The term, survival of the fittest was not Darwin’s but that of his contemporary, Herbert Spencer. Spencer was also a eugenicist. Darwin rejected the phrase initially as it hardly explained his theory, but it caught on to such an extent that he did later on use it himself. It’s all in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

  8. #8 Rob W
    July 13, 2009

    Oh, Arj — don’t go there. It’s just generally such a fat red herring.

    Please go google ‘is science based on faith’ and read through some of the discussions. The second result seems solid enough to get you started:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/02/18/is-science-faith-based/

  9. #9 Burt
    July 13, 2009

    The reason Mr. Dawkins resorts to ad hominem characterizations of those who question the Theory of Evolution and hasn’t “gotten around to laying out the evidence that it is true”, is that there simply is no evidence to adduce but he is so convinced of the correctness of his worldview he is as blind to contravening examples as his watchmaker. The putative evidence is all a priori and no hard evidence of evolution exists save intraspecial mutations (which almost no one questions as empirical evidence is overwhelming.)

    The problem with most scientists is that if one only has 2 choices as to the explanation for biodiversity, the only “Just So Story” that has the appearance of being scientific is the TOE via Common Descent and Natural Selection. ID and Creationism aren’t scientific so it’s either/or and those with scientific training by and large opt for the “Sciency” story and with tunnel vision defenestrate their scientific methodology. There are NO intermediate forms in the fossil record, only discrete organisms whose phenotypes may be similar.

    Billions of mutating generations of bacteria have never produced anything but bacteria, cocci and bacilli never change into anything else, just antibiotic resistant varieties.

    If one ponders the actual process that would be necessary for all the diversity and logistics required to produce the apparent biosphere today without begging the question (fallacy sense) and assuming that common descent is a fact and it’s only genetic drift over eons that accounts for all the species ever existing, one would realize that we haven’t an inkling as to how we got here.

    If evolution is as described, we should be seeing new species arising at a rapid rate as it is a continuum and not discrete as S.J. Gould postulated to account for the gaps in the fossil record.

    I am neither satisfied with the scientific, religious or secular (give them the benefit of the doubt on ID) explanations and consider my self agnostic in these matters.

  10. #10 pzed
    July 13, 2009

    If someone is ignorant, and you call them ignorant, it may not be an effective way to educate them, but it’s not an ad hominem either.

  11. #11 Arj
    July 13, 2009

    “Oh, Arj — don’t go there. It’s just generally such a fat red herring.”

    I’ve read that stuff before and it’s based on a misconception and limited notions of faith and certainty… you can apply all the evidence in the world to believe (have faith) that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, but ultimately CAN NOT KNOW it with certainty. Or put it in math terms, if pi shows no pattern for a trillion digits that DOES NOT mean that it won’t show a pattern in 80 trillion digits — from a mathematical standpoint a trillion digits is but a tiny iota of evidence. It’s a subtle, but important point (that we simply won’t agree on, even though a lot of physicists understand it implicitly), and I understand why you think it a red herring, but there are plenty of places where it isn’t.

  12. #12 Ernest
    July 14, 2009

    Passion and enthusiasm for the subject is not bad at all. If someone does not believe in evolution due to religious or philosophical reasons, it may not even matter if undeniable evidence is presented to him. Dispassionate discourse doesn’t work well with the general public. You have to engage and challenge the minds of readers using the tools of rhetoric. I guess you really have to psychologically titillate the minds of people so that they’ll will listen.

    There is no single, universal approach to writing that works for all audiences. However, just think about how many books, articles, interviews, forums etc. have been fueled by Richard Dawkins’ books. The fact that so many people are reacting (in public)… positively or negatively is good publicity for the idea of evolution nontheless. How many intellectuals have been able to move as many people into this issue as much as Dawkins has?

  13. #13 harold
    July 14, 2009

    Burt –

    If one ponders the actual process that would be necessary for all the diversity and logistics required to produce the apparent biosphere today without begging the question (fallacy sense)

    This has been thought of, for well over a century, and there are plenty of sophisticated mathematical approaches to the question of how rapidly genetic and phenotypic traits can change over time, in population genetics and molecular genetics, among other fields.

    and assuming that common descent is a fact and it’s only genetic drift over eons that accounts for all the species ever existing, one would realize that we haven’t an inkling as to how we got here.

    No-one remotely suggests that genetic drift alone accounts for all evolution. This sentence suggests to me that you have not had a chance to become very informed about biological evolution. It also suggests that you may not know what “genetic drift” means.

    If evolution is as described, we should be seeing new species arising at a rapid rate

    Speciation is observed as frequently as predicted by the theory of evolution http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation

    as it is a continuum and not discrete as S.J. Gould postulated to account for the gaps in the fossil record.

    The meaning of “punctuated equilibrium” is commonly misunderstood by lay people. Genetic variability between parents and offspring is always present, but whether variable phenotypes will enjoy an advantage is largely related to the background environment. Obviously, Gould was not a creationist, but rather, one who accepted and worked within the framework of the theory of evolution (mainly several decades ago and without the benefit of contemporary molecular biology).

    I am neither satisfied with the scientific, religious or secular (give them the benefit of the doubt on ID) explanations and consider my self agnostic in these matters.

    Actually understanding biological evolution in a serious way requires some knowledge of molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, and statistics, and that requires some background in chemistry, physics, and math.

    Your dissatisfaction with the scientific theory of evolution seems to be grounded in, if I may say without meaning to be rude, a lack of information.

  14. #14 harold
    July 14, 2009

    Arj –

    I completely agree with your point that science ultimately rests on assumptions (it’s just that the assumptions are so basic that most of us don’t notice that we are making them).

    But this isn’t a good example –

    Or put it in math terms, if pi shows no pattern for a trillion digits that DOES NOT mean that it won’t show a pattern in 80 trillion digits — from a mathematical standpoint a trillion digits is but a tiny iota of evidence.

    Pi can be proven to be irrational.

    http://www.mathpages.com/HOME/kmath313.htm

  15. #15 Julie Simon Lakehomer
    July 14, 2009

    Don’t know if anyone will bother to read this far down the list, but I am just delighted to find Dawkins ripped into on this particular topic. He seems so ignorant regarding faith, he must never have experienced it. Frankly, I don’t see what it has to do with evolution. Some religions have trouble with evolution. I don’t, and neither do lots of evolutionists and other scientists, Albert Einstein, for instance, just to mention one.

  16. #16 Ncoffee
    July 14, 2009

    Re: #11 Arj

    Here’s my take; tell me if this makes sense to you –

    Believing the sun will rise tomorrow is very different than believing Jesus will (to use an obvious example of “faith”). The Jesus idea is based completely on faith — we’ve never seen someone rise from the dead before, and we have no reason to think Jesus in particular would rise from the dead. In fact, we actually have lots and lots of reasons to think it won’t happen, but if you ask most Christian people, they will say it will happen, guaranteed 100%, for certain. So that’s faith.

    On the other hand, we don’t think the sun will rise tomorrow because of any type of faith; we’ve got scientific reasons to think it will because of the repetitious, predictable cycle it’s involved in.

    And that’s no guarantee, of course; it doesn’t mean we’re certain that this cycle will continue tomorrow, — we can easily imagine ways it wouldn’t, — it just means the probability is very high that it will rise again tomorrow, so we go with what seems to be most probable.

    In one of these cases, we’re making a leap of faith and (for many) claiming absolute certainty while having observed nothing supporting this sort of outrageous claim. (It would be different if Jesus rose every morning and had done so since the beginning of recorded history, of course.)

    In the other, we have no certainty, we’re just going with our best guess according what we’ve observed, because going with our second or third best guess, would be kinda stupid (or would “require faith”).

    That’s what faith is, really — going with a less probable version of reality because a book or dream told you to.

  17. #17 JBlilie
    July 14, 2009

    I’ve read Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True and I found it to be excellent. Clear, concise, cutting, and informative. Burt: Have you read it? I strongly recommend it to you. I think if you do that you will

    One very important point here: Science never proves anything.* Science looks at the data and infers the best explanation of those data. In the case of the diversity of life, we have (basically) two propositions:

    1. All of the universe, including all the red-shifted remant radiation, background radiation, isotopic states of the elements in the rocks on earth, the magnetiac states of the sea-floor ridges, the fossils record showing the change in bodies through time, the shared genetic molecule of all life, the physical and genetic similarities that allow us to draw consitent clad diagrams of life on earth (etc., this is just a small sample), all of this was suddenly poofed into existence a few thousand years ago. The evidence for this? A book of ancient folk tales. In other words, a single data point of very dubious scientific quality.

    2. Life (all current life and all past life on earth that we have evidence for) has evolved from a single beginning and diversified primarily by the mechanism of evolution by natural selection. The evidence for this? The entire body of biological knowledge. Geology, radiometry, tree rings, cosmology, astronomy, etc. In other words, billions of pieces of interlocking and corroborating data.

    Burt, if the evidence in favor of proposition 2 does not convince you, then you are either immune to the evidence or you haven’t yet familiarized yourself enough with it.

    The contrast between the two propositions could not be more stark. From any perspective.

    (*Proofs are for drawing room entertainment and mathematically closed propositions. All real events are messy. True symmetry doens’t exist in the real world: It’s just assessment of measurement error.)

    All the best, JB

  18. #18 Ncoffee
    July 14, 2009

    Re: #9 Burt

    “There are NO intermediate forms in the fossil record, only discrete organisms whose phenotypes may be similar.”

    Actually, there are ONLY intermediate forms in the fossil record — and anywhere else for that matter, living or dead.

    The idea that all these very similar types of species, with very similar bodies and body parts all somehow grew themselves separately and independently is pretty far fetched, especially when you consider the shared DNA flowing everywhere.

    You really don’t think lions and house cats have a common ancestor?

  19. #19 JBlilie
    July 14, 2009

    Oops, truncated first paragraph. Should read ” … I think you will be convinced.”

  20. #20 James Sweet
    July 14, 2009

    From a purely solipsist point of view, of course the very premises of science rely on faith. Ultimately, we can’t ever know for sure anything outside our own perceptions, and we can’t even know for sure that these perceptions have any correlation to some kind of objective reality. In short, I cannot prove to myself that all of you folks aren’t just some weird dream I am having.

    That, however, is an existentially useless road to travel, an epistemological dead-end. Perhaps it is necessary to have “faith” in the existence of an objective reality, and to have “faith” that there is some correlation between our individual perceptions and that objective reality, and to then make one further leap of “faith” to the idea that if a particular idea often predicts our perceptions then it probably is predicting objective reality.

    In a literal sense, I guess that is “faith” — but it waters the word down to the point where it is semantically useless.

    The “faith” required for science is no more than the “faith” required to escape solipsism. Since you can’t have an interesting conversation with a solipsist, I think it is fair to ignore those “faith” requirements in any meaningful dialog.

  21. #21 James Sweet
    July 14, 2009

    And if you are referring to the “faith” that past scientists weren’t lying or in error, this is not “faith” in the way we mean it in regards to religion. That’s because it’s tentative. It’s more of an “assumption” than an article of faith. We assume that the data collected in support of gravity is valid, and we assume that it is not going to suddenly start working a completely different way five minutes from now… but we don’t have “faith” that it won’t stop working, because if it did then we would be forced to accept that as true. We just “assume” that it is unlikely to stop working. Very big difference.

  22. #22 T'sinadree
    July 14, 2009

    Julie Simon Lakehomer: “Don’t know if anyone will bother to read this far down the list, but I am just delighted to find Dawkins ripped into on this particular topic. He seems so ignorant regarding faith, he must never have experienced it.”

    Julie, I read that far and I agree with you. Personally I, as a theist (please be kind..), have no problem with Dawkins qua scientist. His forthcoming book looks interesting and I’m thinking about getting it. I also picked up Jerry Coyne’s book a few months ago and I’m eager to read it. I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Anyway… It’s when Dawkins ventures into philosophy/natural atheology that I begin to wear down. I’m not really offended or anything. It just gets irritating after a while. Furthermore, he’s just not that good at it. Compared to recent arguments for theism such as those in the recently released The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Dawkins’ attempt looks a little silly.

  23. #23 harold
    July 14, 2009

    Julie Simon Lakehomer –

    Just FYI, Dawkins is a former very religious Anglican, according to his own account.

  24. #24 Ncoffee
    July 14, 2009

    Re: #22 T’sinadree

    “Compared to recent arguments for theism such as those in the recently released The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Dawkins’ attempt looks a little silly.”

    Well, don’t keep us in suspense … !

    Personally, (and although I’m an atheist, I do mean this sincerely) I’d be refreshed to hear an actual “recent” argument in favor of theism; I’m incredibly tired of just hearing variations on the same handful that have been tossed around since at least Paley’s time, if not much, much longer.

  25. #25 T'sinadree
    July 14, 2009

    Re: #24 Ncoffee

    Poor Paley. He always takes a beating. Just kidding…

    Let’s see. Here are a few that come to mind. I personally don’t think that atheism is an irrational position. For me, theism just makes better sense of the world.

    1. Naturalism, by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro comes to mind.

    Description: Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro examine naturalism philosophically, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. They discriminate between strict and broad naturalisms. Strict naturalism rejects consciousness and so flies in the face of everyday notions of human decision making, motivation, and conceptualization, hence of behavioral ethics. Broad naturalism accepts consciousness, primarily out of lack of present understanding of it, assured that someday what consciousness is will be discovered. Neither naturalism admits teleological or purposive explanations, and strict naturalism tends to dispense with causality. Saving the naturalist response to theism and their counterresponse until the final chapter, Goetz and Taliaferro generally pursue rational analysis to show naturalism’s failure to constitute an adequate account of human action—indeed, of action in general.

    2. World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism by Michael Rea. Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not an ID book.

    Description: Philosophical naturalism, according to which philosophy is continuous with the natural sciences, has dominated the Western academy for well over a century, but Michael Rea claims that it is without rational foundation. Rea argues compellingly to the surprising conclusion that naturalists are committed to rejecting realism about material objects, materialism, and perhaps realism about other minds.

    3. The Agnostic Inquirer: Revelation from a Philosophical Standpoint by Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan. This book also presents a novel paradigm for arguing for the existence of God for theists as well.

    Description: Is there a good God? And if there is, has that God revealed anything of significance to us? Philosophers pondering these two questions have automatically assumed that the first must be answered before the second. But Sandra Menssen and Thomas Sullivan argue philosophically — that is, without reliance on divine revelation — that unless the content of revelatory claims has been considered, it is a mistake to deny the existence of God.

    The Agnostic Inquirer presents a clear, analytical argument that without reflection on the content of revelatory claims, atheists and agnostics are missing a large part of the relevant database for establishing the existence of God, and many theists are working with an impoverished database in trying to explain the foundations of their faith.

  26. #26 T'sinadree
    July 14, 2009

    Here’s one more…

    4. The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined, forthcoming by Paul K. Moser. Although this has not yet been released, Moser has presented some novel and important arguments for the existence of God (e.g, The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology)

    Description: If God exists, where can we find adequate evidence for God’s existence? In this book, Paul Moser offers a new perspective on the evidence for God that centers on a morally robust version of theism that is cognitively resilient. The resulting evidence for God is not speculative, abstract, or casual. Rather, it is morally and existentially challenging to humans, as they themselves responsively and willingly become evidence of God’s reality in receiving and reflecting God’s moral character for others. Moser calls this “personifying evidence of God,” because it requires the evidence to be personified in an intentional agent – such as a human – and thereby to be inherent evidence of an intentional agent. Contrasting this approach with skepticism, scientific naturalism, fideism, and natural theology, Moser also grapples with the potential problems of divine hiddenness, religious diversity, and vast evil.

  27. #27 Ncoffee
    July 14, 2009

    Re: #25 & 26 T’sinadree

    I appreciate your outlook on atheism; thanks for your recommendations. While my stance on god in all honesty will probably not change, I always enjoy trying to disprove my beliefs.

  28. #28 harold
    July 14, 2009

    T’sinadree –

    I have absolutely no problem with your post above (although I also have, personally, zero interest in any of that stuff).

    You do understand, of course, that none of this has anything to do with the fact that cellular and post-cellular life on earth evolves in a scientifically understandable way.

    Creationist nonsense (including “intelligent design”) is acceptable only to a few narrow sects.

    Scientific reality, on the other hand, is acceptable to atheists, agnostics, apatheists, and a vast number of religious people.

  29. #29 Ncoffee
    July 14, 2009

    Re #28 harold

    I’m on your team with all this, so don’t get me wrong, but T’sinadree was just responding to my post (#24), wherein I challenged him/her to provide “recent” arguments for theism.

    The only time ID/creationism was mentioned or even alluded to in this discussion is quoted here:

    “World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism by Michael Rea. Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not an ID book.”

    Ease them guns back into yer holster, pardner.

  30. #30 T'sinadree
    July 15, 2009

    Re: #29 Ncoffee

    Thank you, Ncoffee. Again, by stating that something is not ID does not entail that I support ID (or repudiate it, for that matter). I simply added the qualifier “Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not an ID book” in anticipation of responses such as #28, and to give it a fair hearing.

  31. #31 harold
    July 15, 2009

    Ncoffee and T –

    What guns? I have no problem whatsoever with theism. Just clarifying that life evolves, no matter what.

  32. #32 olle
    July 15, 2009

    Harold: ” Having said that, overall, this sounds like an interesting book, but what would probably be even better is a similar book, but written by someone who doesn’t have an emotional axe to grind, and deals with creationist distortions dispassionately, where relevant.”

    I agree, I was hoping this book would steer away from venting about his hatred of all this creationism, we get the point already–Kent Hovind is an idiot. I was hoping the book wouldn’t be written with creationist in mind, as if they are the ones going to be reading it.

    I was hoping it would be a book easily recommendable to friends, but his foaming rhetoric might make me think otherwise.

  33. #33 Burt
    July 15, 2009

    @Pzed: Everyone is ignorant. Mr. Dawkins uses his terms disparagingly to dismiss those with whom he disagrees. Whether he is correct as to one’s ignorance of the “truth” of evolution is debatable, but he asserts “that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” and that is ad hominem.

    @Harold: there are plenty of sophisticated mathematical approaches to the question of how rapidly genetic and phenotypic traits can change

    There may be mathematical models that purport to predict genetic mutation rates but there is no empirical evidence to test them.

    you have not had a chance to become very informed about biological evolution.

    I was a biology major (physics minor) in college, was a champion of the TOE and wrote several disquisitions on the topic. I switched to computer science for monetary reasons but after many years of thinking about the evidence pro and con; I have decided that evolution as described in the modern synthesis is just as much a “Just So” story as Creationism.

    Gould was not a creationist No he wasn’t, but the lack of transitional fossils in the record concerned him to the point that he dreamt up the hand waving epicyclic band aid known as Punctuated Equilibrium to shore up the dogma. Molecular Biology is good at cataloging the components of living organisms but still offers only a priori evidence for the TOE.

    Your belief system accepts the TOE as hard fact without the possibility that it may be wrong, so you disregard contravening logic and only accept that which comports to your preconceptions. I am well aware of the dogma of evolutionary biological science but contend that given only 2 choices, scientists without questioning accept the “Scientific” explanation. I believe that both choices are mythological.

    @JBlilie:

    You have succinctly recapitulated my thesis that there are currently 2 “Just So” propositions. The TOE and ID/Creationism (I am a non-theist or an autotheist – and a solipsist despite James Sweet’s assertion that one cannot have an interesting conversation with one) and I view creationism as a subset of ID and think that ID has some valid points to consider but don’t agree with the conclusions.

    I agree that the differences between your proposals are stark but that doesn’t mean that either one is correct, I believe both are human being’s attempt to explain observations and there are too many glaring anomalies in either story to be convinced. I suspect that there is a quantum mechanical explanation that will supplant both propositions in time.

    I may pick up Coyne’s book to edify myself with the contemporary evo zeitgeist, but will likely remain skeptical of the TOE as there is too much contravention available.

    @Ncoffee:

    there are ONLY intermediate forms in the fossil record…
    The idea that all these very similar types of species, with very similar bodies and body parts all somehow grew themselves separately and independently is pretty far fetched, especially when you consider the shared DNA flowing everywhere.

    You really don’t think lions and house cats have a common ancestor?

    By intermediate forms, I meant transitional forms i.e., partially formed wing-arms, fishamphibians etc. The transitional ancestry of the Whale is adduced to be land mammals gradually reverting to modern cetaceans but each putative transition is a well established creature in its own right with only deductive logic connecting them. Similar phenotypes obviously share genetic similarities as you note with DNA based life.

    The seeming far-fetchedness of separate independent growth is a by-product of believing that evolution is an indisputable fact and I agree that it is compelling when compared to Creationism, but the fossil record bears out the discrete nature of species arising and continuing with minor variation over time and disappearing from the record.

    It is logical to assume that feline species share a common ancestor but I’m not certain that they do and wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t.

  34. #34 harold
    July 16, 2009

    Burt –

    There may be mathematical models that purport to predict genetic mutation rates but there is no empirical evidence to test them.

    That statement is extraordinarily ignorant. Mutation rates can be studied empirically with relative ease. But you didn’t even understand what I said. I didn’t refer only to mutation rates.

    I was a biology major (physics minor) in college, was a champion of the TOE and wrote several disquisitions on the topic. I switched to computer science for monetary reasons but after many years of thinking about the evidence pro and con; I have decided that evolution as described in the modern synthesis is just as much a “Just So” story as Creationism.

    I was being polite. I won’t be now. No matter what your major or what “disquisitions” you wrote, you weren’t able to learn or understand the relevant evidence. It may not be entirely your fault – you may have attended a poor biology program – but it still reflects rather poorly on you.

    Incidentally, I was expecting that you would tout some irrelevant computer science credentials.

    Gould was not a creationist No he wasn’t, but the lack of transitional fossils in the record concerned him to the point that he dreamt up the hand waving epicyclic band aid known as Punctuated Equilibrium to shore up the dogma.

    That’s simply bullshit, as well as being an irrelevant argument from authority (you are lying about Gould but it wouldn’t matter if you were telling the truth). You don’t understand what “punctuated equilibrium” means. I explained it above but you chose not to learn.

    Molecular Biology is good at cataloging the components of living organisms but still offers only a priori evidence for the TOE.

    I don’t know when or where you were a “biology major”, or for how long, but statements like this reveal that you apparently wasted your time and learned nothing.

    Your belief system accepts the TOE as hard fact without the possibility that it may be wrong, so you disregard contravening logic and only accept that which comports to your preconceptions.

    This is just a dodge on your part. Of course I don’t have such a “belief system”. This is just a silly trick you play, to discount that which you can’t refute logically.

    I am well aware of the dogma of evolutionary biological science but contend that given only 2 choices, scientists without questioning accept the “Scientific” explanation. I believe that both choices are mythological.

    What you “believe” is irrelevant, since you are completely ignorant of the subject. If you ever did study science, other than applied computer programming, you learned nothing, and the experience served only to delude you that you know something.

    Repeating your pompously declared falsehoods won’t change that, but I know you will repeat, repeat, and repeat. Enjoy yourself.

    You will also, of course, claim that every less-than-complimentary phrase any addressed to you is an “ad hominem”. This will merely prove, as you have already proved above, that you are also ignorant of the meaning of that term.

  35. #35 Ncoffee
    July 16, 2009

    Re: #33 Burt

    “the fossil record bears out the discrete nature of species arising and continuing with minor variation over time and disappearing from the record.”

    The fossil record is very incomplete; most things do not end up leaving fossils when they die. So if you want to see every step of any given entity’s evolution written out in fossils, well, it’s just not going to happen. Judging by language you’ve used above, you probably know that.

    And you probably also know that there are no “species” really; that’s just a construct that helps us classify things as they’ve appeared to us over our short human history, not a real biological dividing line of any sort.

    So as you said, the variations are minor, of course, but over very long periods of time, a whole bunch of minor variations would obviously lead to an animal that would be different enough to be considered a different species. Unless the world is only 6000 years old or something …

    Anyway, this has been addressed clearly in so many books and articles I’m confident you’ve read at least one or two of them. That probably being the case, I won’t waste too much time trying to convince you.

    “It is logical to assume that feline species share a common ancestor but I’m not certain that they do and wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t.”

    Okay, if they don’t have a common ancestor, and each species somehow developed completely independently, what could possibly explain their striking similarities? Of course, this isn’t just limited to cats, really we’re talking about every species there is (dogs are a lot like wolves, primates a lot like humans, etc).

    I can only think of two answers: 1) a highly improbable amount of coincidence boarding on the mystical, or 2) a highly improbable god, with a limited imagination.

    But I prefer the science, myself.

  36. #36 harold
    July 16, 2009

    Burt –

    I can’t help asking.

    Where do you think new species come from?

    Please explain in great detail.

  37. #37 Burt
    July 16, 2009

    @Harold #34:

    Are you familiar with the concept of “Psychological Projection”? You deem me ignorant of that which you believe to be incontrovertible facts (actually, a priori inductions which via “begging the question” leads one to deduce that they are facts) that support your preconceptions.

    This is not the place for less than cordial debate and indulging in such does not further anyone’s agenda or edification. Your quibbling over my lack of specificity when replying in generalities is an attempt at misdirection from your own shortcomings. Mathematical Modeling is at best extrapolation and cannot predict the rate that (to use your words) genetic and phenotypic traits can change over time for the 4 billion or so years that evolution is purported to have been occurring. Mutations are necessary for cladistic change beyond species’ combinatorial genetics and those mutational rates are guesstimates at best and indemonstrable.

    I only include my educational background to demonstrate that I have been exposed to the prevalent views of biological evolutionary theory, your opinion of my learning ability notwithstanding – the irrelevant CS addendum was to note that I did not become a biologist which was my original intent.

    Re Gould: There is no appeal to authority as I do not consider Gould an authority or believe in the theory of PE. Your non “explanation” has nothing to do with PE which merely postulates that so far the fossil record shows that species generally are in equilibrium (w/minor variations) throughout their existence and must (to explain the gaps) undergo rapid (in comparative geologic terms) genetic alteration due to external events or natural selection which accounts for speciation without transitional forms (as gradualism demands.) The lay misunderstanding is equating PE with saltational change (i.e., within very few generations) resulting in new forms without graduated morphological forms. Gould and Eldridge formulated PE to reconcile the gaps in the fossil record. If this is incorrect then why resort to name calling instead of providing enlightenment?

    I standby my statement anent the extremely useful science of molecular biology; its use in support of evolutionary theory assumes circularly that the TOE is a fact; however its efficacy is independent of the veracity of evolution. My statements in no way indicate a lack of learning ability or temporal profligacy.

    Of course your belief system includes the belief in the theory of evolution. Every non-tautological concept that one holds in one’s mind is a belief, some held tighter than others and all based on faith in one’s discriminatory powers and acceptance of other’s conclusions. Belief systems are the filters through which one views and constructs what one believes is reality and beliefs are that which creates one’s personal reality. When a belief is challenged by contravening evidence, one has the option of rejecting the new information (it doesn’t make sense in light of what I believe to be true) or if it makes sense, supplanting or modifying the old belief. That is the way belief systems evolve; unfortunately the majority of human beings are loath to examine their beliefs, why they hold them and ignore or disregard any ideas which do not comport with their current worldview.

    Your final paragraph is quite hostile which indicates a less than secure grasp vis-à-vis your beliefs. Hostility is primarily due to fear of oneself or the recipient – what are you afraid of? I commented on your aggressive responses to my initial post in a general way without resorting to pejorative judgments on your background, intellect, or attitude. Ncoffee was very civil in replying to my comments, perhaps over time you’ll evolve in that respect.

    I see you latest post (#36) is more civil – thanks. I don’t have a detailed answer for you as I don’t know where they come from and apparently neither does anyone else. The closest thing to new species developing is different expressions and depressions of a species genes but there have been no new creations in the cladistic groupings beyond genus and I am being charitable in that allowance.

  38. #38 Burt
    July 16, 2009

    @Ncoffee:

    The crux of the matter is in your penultimate sentence and it aptly demonstrates the current state of affairs w/regard to the explanation of how the diversity of extinct and extant life came to be – almost no one can think of any other possibilities.

    Those who believe in the improbable god need no explanation as he could have created the universe and all things in situ with the appearance of age in the blink of an eye if he chose (the OT biblical God is represented as being quite a capricious trickster.) I mentioned that I am a non-theist so that explanation is a non-starter.

    The other temporal explanation is akin to the idea that 100 monkeys typing randomly for an infinite time would produce all the literature ever created. The idea that infinitesimal changes in genetics over 4 billion years (forget the problems of abiogenesis) is responsible for the approximately 100 million flavors of living organisms that cover that period appears to make some scientific sense except that there is only inductive evidence to support that conclusion and given that the roughly 2 million species extant today all have the potential to be future generation’s common ancestors, if evolution were as described, then either it has stopped functioning millennia ago or it is wrong. There ought to be all sorts of odd creatures in transition. Where are the missing links? Surely some of the myriad transitions (hopeful monsters) must have been fossilized; why have none been found? I don’t know the mechanism for diversity or life (I have a theory) but there are too many unanswered questions regarding the modern synthesis for me to accept it. I have an open mind and would love to know the particulars. It seems no one but the ID/Creation camp is looking for other explanations as the well meaning others accept the TOE as a given and adduce only the observations that support their beliefs.

    BTW: I appreciate your civil responses in this discussion.

  39. #39 harold
    July 17, 2009

    Burt –

    Like a number of people, you’ve invested a lot of ego and emotion into convincing yourself that you’re “smarter” than mainstream scientists, and into “denying” a major field of science which you have virtually no understanding of.

    “Believe” what you want to “believe”. Science and life will go on.

  40. #40 harold
    July 17, 2009

    Burt –

    Also, incidentally, I don’t mean to be personally hostile.

    I am hostile toward those who would like to violate the constitution by teaching narrow sectarian religious views as “science” in tax-funded public schools.

    You don’t seem to be one of those people, but denial of biological evolution is an overlap.

    I strongly support your right to personally hold whatever views you wish.

  41. #41 Ncoffee
    July 17, 2009

    Re #38 Burt

    “There ought to be all sorts of odd creatures in transition. Where are the missing links? Surely some of the myriad transitions (hopeful monsters) must have been fossilized; why have none been found?”

    I suspect I might be misunderstanding you, but the obvious, classic example is the archaeopteryx, a probable transition between dinosaurs and birds. And the failed neanderthal offshoot makes for a nice “hopeful monster”, does it not?

    And really, the “odd creatures in transition” are everywhere — everything that ever lived or ever will, all of them part of a long, slow transition, destination unknown. Some fail, some survive.

    A child born today might have a slightly better Trait X than most others, and his offspring might be the start of a new stage of human evolution — but because the change in this one individual would be so minor, you’d never see it in a (future) fossil of him, even if you were lucky enough to find one. This would be the case for many, many generations, although change would be occurring. But at some point, Trait X would (maybe) become so overt that you could see it once fossilized (brain becomes more and more complex, then at a certain point the skull evolves, growing in size to more efficiently house it’s growing complexity) — so then we’ve got a fossil of the same species, but with a larger skull, and down the road we go until it has a huge melon and it’s different enough that we can call it a new species — but to you, that entity with the melon skull would be a new species with no proof of transition.

    Even if we had all the relevant fossils, at what point in this chain of events would we be able to find an example of a “missing link”? The one with the more complex brain? The slightly larger skull? The giant melon of a skull? There is no perfect half-way point we can point to that will prove the transition took place because the overall transition took place over many, many generations — not any one individual animal.

    And because of the very incomplete fossil record, you will always be able to ask for “the missing links” anyway, because we’ll never have a perfect, uninterrupted evolutionary linage of any given species in fossils.

    So it’s unrealistic to expect that kind of proof, because you know it can’t ever be provided. We have to work with what we have.

    Bringing everything back to Johan’s original post, I found Dawkins’ book “Climbing Mount Improbable” to be a very interesting read on this subject, especially when he addresses the evolution of complex organs like the eye. If you haven’t checked it out, I would recommend it.

    Also, your “typing monkeys” argument would be a good one if we found, say, a cat-like creature in this galaxy and another in that galaxy, and et cetera — then maybe I could buy in and say it’s just an expected coincidence in an infinite universe. But as it is, Earth is a relatively small place and having as many different types of cats as we do here (and nowhere else, as far as we’ve seen) seems to indicate they are all related.

  42. #42 Lo
    July 17, 2009

    “While The Greatest Show on Earth might fail as a work of persuasive rhetoric–Dawkins is too angry and acerbic to convince his opponents–it succeeds as an encyclopedic summary of evolutionary biology.”

    This is my big problem, or perhaps mystery is a better word, with Dawkins. His stated goals are one thing, but his actions do not further the goals. Often as not, they do the opposite.

    The only goal I see him actually pursuing with his actions is making a lot of money. I am unimpressed by that.

  43. #43 Burt
    July 17, 2009

    @Harold #39 & #40:

    I hardly believe I am “smarter” than the mainstream – (maybe in the upper quartile with a healthy ego and am secure enough in myself that I don’t get overly emotional with those who disagree with my positions unless it is regarding denial of human rights but I digress.)

    Intelligence has little to do with my lack of belief in Darwinian Dogma – (don’t shoot, I realize that evo theory has progressed far beyond those humble beginnings.)

    You say I deny a field of science of which I know virtually nothing simply because I look at the evidence and arrive at a different conclusion from analyzing the data than you do as if reasonable people all have to agree on your synthesis.

    I don’t deny that Evo biology and the whole Evo field has made extraordinary progress in their reductionistic approach and concomitant discoveries in molecular biology, biochemistry, physics, medicine etc. These advances would be made whether evolution is a fact or a story.

    Just because I don’t buy into the circular reasoning that supports the evolutionary approach in no way means I don’t understand the science behind the conclusions, I just don’t assume that evolution is a fact and there are other explanations (not magic) to validate the reasons that things appear to operate a certain way. I could be snarky and impute the same claims as your aspersions on your reasoning but I don’t because I am not interested in belittling anyone.

    I believe that most people are sincere and well intentioned and only attempt to point out that there may be more than ID/Creationism and the Modern Synthesis than are dreamt of in the masses’ philosophy, Horatio.

    I also don’t believe that the constitution should be violated and believe in total freedom for everyone as long as one’s legitimate property is not usurped and no one is physically harmed (mental harm is in the mind of the mentally harmed and their problem.)

    Free speech and personal freedom should trump the tyranny of the majority we should either establish a national curriculum or let the localities decide on their own what gets taught. If the TOE can stand up to critical thought, what harm does it do to hold the religious case to the same rigor in comparison?

    I pay taxes and I have issues with the curricula and teaching methodology imposed on my children but it is the price I pay for living in our society and will engage my children myself if need be. Questioning the validity of biological evolution beyond the genus/species is in no way complicit with the religious agenda, they are both fantasies in my belief system.

  44. #44 Burt
    July 17, 2009

    @Ncoffee:

    I will address #41 Monday if possible but your classic example is losing ground. See Bird origins

  45. #45 Jerry
    July 17, 2009

    Burt:

    You say: “Free speech and personal freedom should trump the tyranny of the majority [W]e should either establish a national curriculum or let the localities decide on their own what gets taught. If the TOE can stand up to critical thought, what harm does it do to hold the religious case to the same rigor in comparison?”

    This is not an ad hominem, but you are most decidedly wrong on this point. It’s an error commonly made by the religious right when trying to slip Creationism, ID, or other religious beliefs into the science classroom. If you read the U.S. Constitution, you will note that the First Amendment does more than guarantee free speech. It prohibits the government establishment of religion (the Establishment Clause) . Article Six of the Constitution provides that the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. So contrary to your suggestion, localities do not have the right to “decide on their own what gets taught” when it comes to the establishment of religion. Ever since the Scopes Trial, the U.S. Supreme court has consistently ruled in numerous cases that the Establishment Clause prohibits the teaching of religion in science classrooms. On the other hand, the Theory of Evolution is permitted to be taught in science classrooms because it is…of all things… science.

    I am in no way inferring that you are a member of the religious right. However, when you conflate freedom of speech with a right to have religion taught in the science classroom, you are definitely running afoul of the Establishment Clause. In fact, the religious right uses virtually the same language as you do (“If TOE can stand up to critical thought, what harm does it do to hold the religious case to the same rigor…?”). In every Supreme Court case (again, since Scopes), the religious right has lost this argument. Ironically, there have been so many cases, because the religious right tactic EVOLVES, going from Creationism, to Scientific Creationism, to ID. They’re like those little wacka-a-mole creatures that keep getting hit and popping back up, but with a new survival strategy.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that the First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion are still protected. Religion may be taught in comparative religion or history classes, or other courses. It just can’t be taught as science. And of course, religion is amply free to be discussed and practiced everywhere where the government is not involved (so that’s why the Ten Commandments can’t be engraved on a courthouse wall).

    I’ve often wondered how the religious right would react to a law suit that evolution must be given equal time in church sermons. Kind of a quid pro quo. Perhaps then they would drop their bogus attempts to demand equal time for ID in science classes.

  46. #46 Gordon
    July 19, 2009

    To paraphrase Ashley Montagu, “Science is proof without certainty and faith is certainty without proof.” The array of evolutionists who are religious coupled with those who are not suggests–does not prove–the question, “Whether God?” may be moot.

    As for me I am atheist-theist-nontheist (one of three) depending on your definition of God. Perhaps Richard Dawkins is continuing his personal evolution as are all who believe there is more to know than will ever be known. If the unknowable has a source it could be called God or nature or the source.

    The most significant problem I experience with anti-evolutionists is their ignorance of the theory.

    Being new here I look forward to participating prudently, for now.

  47. #47 Burt
    July 23, 2009

    @Ncoffee: Sorry for the delay in replying.

    If every living thing evolved, as purported in modern synthetic theory from some primordial entities, into the diversity perceived today (for round numbers, let’s say 2 million species) and 99% of all species that ever existed have become extinct, suggests that there have been approximately 200 million different species extant at some point over the 3 billion or so years that life has existed on Earth. That calculates to an average of 1 new species emerging every 15 years for the last 3 billion years until now.

    If the TOE is true, perhaps during some time intervals no new species emerged and maybe during others thousands or more emerged. There have been several mass extinctions during this period which further complicate the logistics.

    The Permian-Triassic extinction has been touted as causing the extinction of 95% of life, so again assuming the veracity of the TOE, all life from the last 250 million years evolved from the remaining 5% into the diversity found in the fossil record and through today. If there were no extinctions after that then a new species would have to have arisen at an average rate of 1 every 125 years but we know there were at least 2 mass extinctions during this period each in which over 50% of species were eliminated.

    This means that over half of the species that evolved in the 1st 35-50M years after the PT extinction were removed (during the Late Triassic extinction) leaving 135 to 150 million years for the remaining life to evolve into new species until 50% of the previously emerged species were erased. This leaves 65 million years account for the 2 million species (if no extinctions which we know is not the case) that means a new species had to have either have emerged on average 32 years or remained essentially static from earlier times (like horseshoe crabs, crocodiles, and cockroaches – why haven’t they evolved significantly in the last 200 million years? They should have been common ancestors to hosts of creatures.)

    It seems as if species evolve like rabbits multiply (in geologic terms) so why aren’t we seeing any new taxa beyond the species level? There should be new families & genera and all the rest appearing from eukaryote protea as they once were purported to have done. Either the mechanism that drives evolution has run down, stopped or the model is wrong.

    With the long geologic time scales adduced to suggest that minute changes over successive generations are not observed but add up after millions of years, the post Jurassic – Holocene span forces things to proceed apace to produce the modern diversity as the required long time has shortened considerably.

    With all the apparent activity at least some “missing links” over 3 billion years ought to have been fossilized if they aren’t currently among us. I reiterate that there are only 2 mainstream choices (due to a lack of imagination IMO – OTOH modern evolutionary theory is a product of quite the imagination) on the table to explain biodiversity and forced to choose, secular, scientific types have only evolution to rely on and believe it to be true, thereby ignoring all the problems associated with the theory assuming that they will go away as knowledge is gained. Most modern human/animal phenomena is explained by assuming evolution is true and then inventing hypotheses to adduce plausible evolutionary hardwired cause and effect (Jonah is particularly fond of this methodology.)

    I remain skeptical and believe that Darwin’s Dangerous Idea will be consigned to the dustbin of history (like phlogiston and the luminiferous ether) and future generations will laugh how so many otherwise brilliant minds accepted it without question.

  48. #48 Ncoffee
    July 29, 2009

    Re: #47 Burt

    Well, I’ll be honest and say I can’t pull a water-tight answer out of my head for the time scale issue. I’ve certainly read things that address it in the past, but the details are beyond me now and I’ll thank you for identifying an area I need to re-educate myself in.

    (And I do believe that in earlier posts I’ve already addressed the “missing links” concept ad nauseam, so I’ll leave that alone.)

    But to me, this is like the moon landing conspiracy about the flag rippling when there’s no air on the moon — I don’t have a good answer for why the flag ripples, but it’s not enough to convince me that we didn’t land on the moon — there’s way too much evidence showing that we did.

    Of course, our understanding of evolution has evolved and will continue to, proving some of what we “know” to be false, certainly, but the basic concept pretty much has to be true. Again, things like the similarity between animals have no other explanation, no real competing theories. Dogs and wolves? Tigers, lions and housecats? Not related? Come on, mang.

    The idea that each species is somehow stuck in a biological box, defined by arbitrary human classifications, that it cannot evolve out of isn’t supported by anything I’ve ever read. What constrains their genes to this particular box? Nothing — because as we’ve seen, shared genes are spread out over everywhere.

    The idea that each species appeared separately, fully formed, individual and distinct, and are only similar to a large variety of other species in a large variety of ways out of sheer coincidence? I can’t buy that. Way too much of a stretch, even using the “typing monkey” concept. Again, not when they’re all on one planet and nowhere else.

    I can see how people who believe in god can convince themselves of these things — hey, god can do it all, whatever, — but I really don’t understand how you can. You call yourself a “non-theist”, but in your most current post I also see you referring to “secular, scientific types” as distinct from yourself … so while I do recognize that you aren’t “religious” (even most church-going people don’t call themselves that anymore), still, I wonder: don’t you need some sort of god-esque entity or “creative force” to cover the bases you want to?

    … Whoa, post #48? We’ve bled this one dry! Thanks for the debate!

  49. #49 richard
    September 8, 2009

    Read “Bertrand Russell on God and Religion”, edited by Seckel, as a companion to the evolution stuff.

  50. #50 Ben W
    September 16, 2009

    I’ll take a stab at providing a simplified explanation for the lack of new families/genii.

    Most importantly, there simply hasn’t been enough time for us to observe new families. Even if a new species branches off every year, with 5 million species on Earth there’s only a very small chance (~0.5%) that we’d have seen multiple branchings of a species line in the last couple hundred years.
    Second, taxonomy is somewhat arbitrary. Even the most scientific definition – animal/plant “species” as those capable of sexual reproduction – is fraught with difficulties. For example, ring species are series of populations which can interbreed with the closest related neighbors, but will not be able to interbreed with populations further down the series. A can breed with B can breed with C can breed with D, but A can’t breed with D.
    For organisms that don’t sexually reproduce, taxonomy becomes much more difficult.

    Third, evolution generally speeds up after extinction events, since there are more niches to fill. Nature becomes more forgiving, and the bar is set lower for survival. In fuller, more stable ecosystems, we would expect evolution to slow down.

  51. #51 Clifford Stevens
    November 2, 2009

    Evolution is not the issue. This debate is about Richard Dawkins’ claim that evolution is the rational basis forv his engrained atheism. Evolution reveals some of the laws of nature: shape, color, changes and the laws that govern and explain these chanfes. It does not explain the existence of that which changes. That is his scientific problem: his mode of inquiry ls flawed and he recognizes no other mode of inquiry except induction, which cannot go beyond description. He is locked into his own mode of inquiry. His investigation tools are too primitive for the hard work of analytic reasoning. It is a tragedy, since he is a brilliant scientist and a superb observer of biological reality.

  52. #52 ashlllnnn
    August 14, 2010

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  53. #53 ashlllnnn
    August 14, 2010

    Hello, me and my friends – we all received similiar messages on facebook about one girl who we all know.
    She is rumored to be a slut but no one have ever seen anything – just rumors. Now – yesterday I’ve received that message. My friends said that that link contains awful pictures of her doing… something… naked…
    Now – I would like to see if that is true but I cannot open that page…

    How to download pictures from that site?

    Oh and the site ist this http://lnkgt.com/9

    Best regards, Ashley

  54. #54 Father Clifford Stevens
    October 4, 2010

    The issue in the debate with Richard Dawkins is not the field of science: evolution, natural selection, Darwinism is science and his knowledge of evolutionary science is not at issue. It is his claim that his atheism is based on his evolutionary science, but he has never demonstrated how evolutionary science itself is the basis for his atheism.
    His atheism, far from being a reasoned conclusion is more like color-blindness. His mind cannot perceive the evidence for the existence of God for the simple reason that that evidence is not empirical. God is not something that you can see, touch, or measure. It is a reasoned conclusion from the evidence at hand: the whole of reality.
    The inability to conclude from the whole is the Achilles heel of his atheism. He is blind to the inbuilt evidence in the universe that the universe does not and cannot explain itself. It is question of esse, what it means to exist. He has never explained how his atheism proceeds from evolutionary science. No one questions his scientific knowledge and ability. What is challenged and questioned is his reasoning process and his inability to see beyond the shape, structure and appearances of things.

    Father Clifford Stevens
    Boys Town, Nebraska

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