Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Why Americans Doubt Evolution

Yesterday I raised the question of why such a high percentage of Americans reject evolution and accept creationism despite the evidence. Here are some other suggestions on why that is from others. Timothy Burke, in an open letter to my Panda’s Thumb colleague PZ Myers, suggests several possible explanations. PZ replies to that letter, agreeing with much of it and adding some further analysis to those parts he doesn’t agree with. I think perhaps Burke nails it best with this statement:

One tentative hypothesis that requires thinking in rich and subtle ways about the history of the United States over the last century is this I’d offer is this: evolution and creation science have become over many decades symbolic compressions of much wider, more complex and more difficult to articulate social and cultural cleavages. They’re containers for a wide variety of resentments, conflicts, fears and misrecognitions. In this reading, you have to learn to look below the surface of the ocean for the rest of the iceberg.

I’d say he’s right. Clearly the objection to evolution among the populace has little to do with sober analysis of the evidence. I’d be surprised if even 5% of the American public knew anything about the fossil record, comparative anatomy, phylogenetic relationships, and so forth. Obviously, there is something else at work here, and I think it is the widespread identification of evolution with atheism that is the key to understanding it. In the public mind, evolution is virtually synonymous with atheism. Why is that? I’ll suggest several reasons.

1. Many prominent Christian leaders have made crusading against evolution a cottage industry in America. This is certainly true, and something quite alien even to non-American Christians. I have an old friend who is a Baptist minister in England. When told that so many Baptists in America reject evolution, his response was, “Good Lord, why?” It was inconceivable to him that a Christian should consider evolution any kind of threat to Christianity at all. But in America, with such a strong tradition of Protestant evangelicalism and its emphasis on scriptural inerrancy or supremacy, it’s a major issue. Christian apologetics in America is rife with attempts to disprove evolution as a means of establishing that the bible as literally interpreted is true and accurate, from Josh McDowell to Norm Geisler to Jerry Falwell and the whole ICR crew. The historian Ronald Numbers’ brilliant book The Creationists traces the development of creationism in America and shows how it took such strong root here in America. Because anti-evolutionism is such a huge part of Christian apologetics in America, those who attend even moderate mainline churches that officially accept evolution are often bombarded with pamphlets, books and videotapes from the ICR, Answers in Genesis and many other creationist organizations. And one hallmark of that material is the automatic equation of evolution with atheism. But they are not alone in making this connection, bringing us to:

2. Prominent scientists, ironically, often make the same arguments the creationists do in equating evolution with atheism. The most obvious example is Richard Dawkins, an outspoken and dogmatic atheist who rails loudly and often at religion. At the same time, he is one of the very best popular writers at explaining how evolution works and why we know it to be true. All too often, Dawkins has used the terms evolution and atheism almost interchangably, without bothering to point out the difference between the science of evolution and the philosophical or theological inferences he draws from it. It is quite common to hear those of us who are deeply involved in this dispute at the cultural and legal level say that as brilliant as Dawkins is as a writer and expositor of evolutionary biology for the lay reader, he may well do as much damage as he does good by tying his anti-religious beliefs too closely to his scientific work. And Dawkins is not alone in this. Daniel Dennett, a man I admire enormously, also is a prominent atheist and a popular defender of evolutionary theory. He tends to be a good deal more careful than Dawkins, however, in drawing distinctions between the two, probably owing to his background in philosophy rather than in science.

The irony, as noted above, is that these two extremes agree only on one thing, and that is that if evolution is true, Christianity must be false. But this is an oversimplification at the least. While evolution may conflict with a literal reading of certain biblical texts, Christianity contains a great many non-literal theological perspectives in addition to the more fundamentalist ones. Indeed, virtually every mainline Christian denomination has accepted evolution (see their statements here), and millions of Christians simply look at evolution as the means by which God created life on the planet. If you don’t take Genesis 1 literally, there’s no reason why this is not perfectly consistent, and there is a long tradition of Christian scholarship and theology going back at least to Augustine’s Commentary on Genesis which argues for a non-literal or allegorical interpretation.

The fact is that there are many Christians in science who are strong advocates for evolution and who have long ago reconciled their religious faith with evolutionary theory. Ken Miller of Brown University is someone I’ve mentioned often as the most eloquent spokesman there is for evolutionary theory and against creationism. In addition to his scientific work and his biology textbooks, he is also the author of Finding Darwin’s God, a book which explains both why we are so confident that evolutionary theory is true and why he does not view this as inconsistent with his faith as a Christian. Keith Miller (no relation), a geologist from Kansas who I met and have worked with in conjunction with the National Center for Science Education, has also written a book, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, which contains essays from a variety of Christian scientists exploring the various ways they reconcile evolution with their faith. Other prominent voices from this perspective are Glenn Morton, a geophysicist and former young earth creationist I have known for many years; Howard Van Till, a retired physicist from Calvin College, a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, and advisory board member of the Templeton Foundation; and numerous members of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Christian scientists who are primarily theistic evolutionists.

To that list, I’d like to add my friend Henry Neufeld, who I just introduced as a new contributor to the Panda’s Thumb. Henry is a biblical scholar specializing in the Hebrew language and he will be writing about the evolution/creationism dispute from a liberal Christian perspective. You can see his first post, a description of his background and general viewpoint, here. I’m looking forward to hearing his insights, and hope to have him comment here as well when he feels it is appropriate. I am also beginning work on an article for his webpage, and I think it will address this question of why most Americans don’t accept evolution. I’m curious to hear my readers’ thoughts as well.

Comments

  1. #1 Reed A. Cartwright
    November 27, 2004

    I think a lot of the problems with science illiteracy in the US stems from the fact that primary and secondary education is controled from the bottom up and highly politicized.

    If we tasked state university systems with setting the standards from state public education, I thinked things would improve. As it now stands, public universities have very little input if any into public education.

    I also think that too many education majors are taught how to teach and not the material. We graduate education majors who simply haven’t mastered the material we expect them to teach to our children. They have to go on what they learned in high school, which perpetuates the status quo.

  2. #2 eon
    November 27, 2004

    A large part of the problem in my view is that taking whatever stance on the matter of evolution has become a central issue in theology in general.
    This endeavor of “reconciling” one’s faith to the reality of evolution — supposedly a triumph of reason over dogmatism — is an exercise in absurdity: if the content of absolute truth must change to accomodate brute fact, there was no absolute truth to begin with. If, through such reconciliation, we arrive at something “closer” to the truth than we had before, how much further might we travel down the slippery slope before our religion becomes something we’d not recognize as Christianity?

    The average person isn’t going to carry her ruminations even that far. For them, if evolution is true, the creation story(ies) in the Bible are false, period. The notion that one can find an alternative metaphorical or allegorical truth in the story … for most people, that doesn’t pass the smell test. If the very first book of the Bible is wrong, there’s no reason to trust any of it.

    I get the sense (and I’m more than a bit hopeful about it, I must admit) that the masses are becoming sophisticated enough to view the fantastic stories and the putative lessons in the Good Book with a slowly-growing skepticism. That same smell test is eroding the authority of the Christian narrative, to the point where the term “faith” is shifting in meaning from “belief without evidence” to “belief in spite of evidence to the contrary.” Most would intuitively recognize that such a trend in any religion makes the catechism unsustainable. Science, by its methodology, eventually forces the believer to make a choice: either disbelieve the science, or give up on the comforts of knowing “the Truth.”

    Encouraging most people to reconcile what we know through science to the Christian version of history — something I call “evolutionary apologetics” — is to encourage those people to consider that the dictates of their faith might be in some way wrong. In most cases, that means alienation from the traditions of the families and communities in which they belong. Why it should surprise anyone that so many Americans have declined the challenge is, to me, the real mystery.

    E

  3. #3 Ginger Yellow
    November 28, 2004

    I think you’re a bit harsh on Dawkins there. That’s not to deny that his militant atheism may be counterproductive in the US, but bear in mind that his main audience is in the UK. Here, creationism is a fringe position (indeed, church-driven faith is a fringe position). Dawkins intends to keep it that way, and the best way to do that is to loudly and stridently ridicule it, backed up with evidence of course. It’s the scientific equivalent of anti-fascism. It has the added advantage that, because Dawkins is so respected for his scientific work, his militant anti-creationism is considered a respectable mainstream opinion, if at one end of the spectrum. In other words he has redefined the boundaries of the discourse. In the UK it’s the creationists who are considered a threat to enlightenment values and indeed a threat to mainstream believers, rather than evolutionists (read atheists) being considered a threat to faith. This approach is naturally less effective in a country like the US where creationism and broader biblical-literalist faith is a mainstream position. That said, I think the only way to counter creationism is to stress the impossibility and undesirability of biblical-literalism. After all, full on biblical literalism as a mass belief system is actually a very recent phenomenon.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    November 28, 2004

    I think you’re a bit harsh on Dawkins there. That’s not to deny that his militant atheism may be counterproductive in the US, but bear in mind that his main audience is in the UK. Here, creationism is a fringe position (indeed, church-driven faith is a fringe position).

    I would venture to guess that he sells far more books in the US than he does in England. And because creationism is so rare in England even in the churches, he’s merely preaching to the choir there. At any rate, my quarrel with his views is not that they’re told to the wrong people but that they too often conflate evolution with atheism, which is precisely what the creationists do as well.

    It has the added advantage that, because Dawkins is so respected for his scientific work, his militant anti-creationism is considered a respectable mainstream opinion, if at one end of the spectrum. In other words he has redefined the boundaries of the discourse.

    And his redefinition is a false one. He defines everything as theism vs. atheism, rather than as evolution vs. creationism. Dawkins is not a militant anti-creationist; I am a militant anti-creationist. Dawkins is a militant anti-Christian, and “Christian” and “creationist” are not synonomous.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    November 28, 2004

    eon wrote:

    A large part of the problem in my view is that taking whatever stance on the matter of evolution has become a central issue in theology in general.
    This endeavor of “reconciling” one’s faith to the reality of evolution — supposedly a triumph of reason over dogmatism — is an exercise in absurdity: if the content of absolute truth must change to accomodate brute fact, there was no absolute truth to begin with. If, through such reconciliation, we arrive at something “closer” to the truth than we had before, how much further might we travel down the slippery slope before our religion becomes something we’d not recognize as Christianity?

    I don’t think it’s quite this simple. A non-literal interpretation of Genesis did not suddenly appear only to reconcile with evolution. There is a long tradition in Christian scholarship that took that position many centuries before Darwin lived, going back at least to Augustine. But even without that, I don’t think it’s really much of a stretch from a Christian perspective to look to the natural world to help determine which interpretation is more reasonable. Christian scholars like Davis Young take the position that God gave us two forms of revelation, the bible and the “book of nature”, and that a reasonable person would use the facts of the natural world to help them determine which of two possible interpretations of the bible are true.

    For example, take the story of Joshua stopping the sun in the sky. Now, a literal interpretation would mean that the sun must move in the sky, while a non-literal interpretation would say that this is phenomenological language, the same way we say the sun “rises” today. Which is the correct interpretation? From a rational Christian perspective, allowing the facts of nature guide one’s interpretation, they would opt for a non-literal interpretation.

    Now, I don’t look at it from that perspective myself, as I am not a Christian. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable or necessarily inconsistent. And I think we often presume that “Christianity” must mean the most irrational forms of Christianity. The truth is that there are a good many rational and brilliant Christians around whose views are not as obviously absurd as a Falwell or a McDowell.

  6. #6 Ginger Yellow
    November 28, 2004

    “I would venture to guess that he sells far more books in the US than he does in England.”
    That might be something to do with the relative populations of the two countries. Dawkin’s job title is Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.

    “And because creationism is so rare in England even in the churches, he’s merely preaching to the choir there.”
    Sort of. The reason I compare anti-creationism to anti-fascism is because to fight fascism you have to preach to the converted, or rather to people who haven’t yet been converted to fascism. It’s nigh on impossible to convert a fascist to democracy and tolerance, but it’s depressingly easy to convert a tolerant democrat to fascism. Consequently the main target of anti-fascism isn’t fascists, but the audience for fascist propaganda. Exactly the same is true for creationism. At least for the foreseeable future, there’s always going to be some die hard creationists in any (Western) society. The most effective way to combat the spread of such ideas isn’t to try to persuade the creationists, but to educate the people who the creationists are trying to persuade.

    “He defines everything as theism vs. atheism, rather than as evolution vs. creationism. Dawkins is not a militant anti-creationist; I am a militant anti-creationist. Dawkins is a militant anti-Christian, and “Christian” and “creationist” are not synonomous.”
    Again, I disagree. You are right to say that he is primarily a militant anti-Christian (technically anti-religionist) but when talking about evolution, that’s not the case. Indeed, most people in the UK think Dawkins is a bit over the top when he talks about religion in general (I’m not one of those, but that’s beside the point), but read and respect his science anyway. And because people respect his science, they respect and usually agree with what he has to say about creationism, because that’s within his area of expertise and he’s a fantastic elucidator.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    November 28, 2004

    You are right to say that he is primarily a militant anti-Christian (technically anti-religionist) but when talking about evolution, that’s not the case. Indeed, most people in the UK think Dawkins is a bit over the top when he talks about religion in general (I’m not one of those, but that’s beside the point), but read and respect his science anyway. And because people respect his science, they respect and usually agree with what he has to say about creationism, because that’s within his area of expertise and he’s a fantastic elucidator.

    I think he’s over the top about religion, but respect his scientific work as well. I think he is among our most brilliant writers and evolution popularizers. I don’t care much for him as a person, but I have no difficulty separating those two.

    With regard to your fascism/creationism comparison, I disagree and I can prove it wrong merely by pointing to myself. I was a creationist for a long time. That did not make me “impossible to convert”, and there are lots and lots of people like me. But I can tell you this – they aren’t likely to be reached by people like Dawkins telling them that their religion is only for idiots. They are far more likely to be reached by someone like Ken Miller, who is a passionate advocate of evolution but is also a Christian.

  8. #8 Henry Neufeld
    November 28, 2004

    You are right to say that he is primarily a militant anti-Christian (technically anti-religionist) but when talking about evolution, that’s not the case. Indeed, most people in the UK think Dawkins is a bit over the top when he talks about religion in general (I’m not one of those, but that’s beside the point), but read and respect his science anyway. And because people respect his science, they respect and usually agree with what he has to say about creationism, because that’s within his area of expertise and he’s a fantastic elucidator.

    As one of those religionists I have to say that I find Dawkins’s scientific work, and particular his elucidation of evolutionary theory to be exceptional. I find his attacks on my religious position to be an easily avoidable bit of white noise. Obviously as a theistic evolutionist myself, I disagree with his position on religion, but it doesn’t bother me.

  9. #9 Henry Neufeld
    November 28, 2004

    I’d like to add to some of the good comments already made on why Americans, specifically American Christians, reject evolution. In part, I notice a victory for the scietific approach (used loosely). I find that many people I talk with implicitly see the type of data produced by science to be the greatest variety of data available. Therefore since for them the Bible is the greatest of books it must produce the greatest data. They are dissatisfied when I say that the Bible contains no advanced scientific information and that it reflects its contemporary cosmology.

    I’ve seen this reaction many times, and while this doesn’t constitute a scientific survey (not even a solid try!), I think it’s likely that this is a factor. It is just too unsatisfying for some people to see the Bible as solely or primarily about non-material issues.

  10. #10 Rob Ryan
    November 28, 2004

    I think an often overlooked factor in Americans’ willingness to dismiss evolution is that many of us lack curiosity and are easily led. It is far easier to assume a worldview and make additional data comport with it than it is to actually evaluate and even seek additional data and adjust one’s worldview accordingly. We are intellectually lazy. I see it in the school each day as student parrot the arguments of their parents and clergymen and assume that they are correct.

  11. #11 Don Schreiber
    November 28, 2004

    An underlying strand in public acceptance of evolution is the deep skepticism and distrust of intellectuals. It is the bedrock faith in “common sense” that determines whether an idea is true or false. For most people I think evolution means only one thing: that man evolved from the apes. This is too big a nut to swallow because it goes against all common sense. Intellectuals have a way of twisting and distorting things so that they no longer make sense.

    Another strand in this argument is protestant evangelicalism. For two centuries this was not only the dominant religion, but the commonly accepted basis of truth and morals. And it persists even today in much of what may be called the “common wisdom.” In other words, one doesn’t have to be a religious person to believe that God created the earth, the creatures and man himself, just as they all are today. The ideas that the earth is billions of years old and that humans evolved from a common ancestor with the apes is just too outlandish an idea to accept.

    And keeping the whole kettle boiling are the fundamentalists. They perceive evolution as just one more attack on them. Karen Armstrong in her book “Battle for God” says that fundamentalists fear annihilation. I agree. One can see the fear and panic in the way they attack the teaching of evolution. They fear that if they once let up evolution and all the rest of what they call “secular humanism” will overwhelm them and the culture and their entire world will disappear, with them along with it. To understand their fear, imagine yourself being transported against your will to Saudi Arabia and forced overnight to adapt to Wahabbi Islam, with no recourse to western ideas, books, papers, TV, radio. Totally immersed in an alien culture and no way out. Your whole world that you knew before is for all intents and purposes annihilated. And those who cannot adapt would feel as they, too had been annihilated.

  12. #12 Response To Ed
    November 28, 2004

    “Yesterday I raised the question of why such a high percentage of Americans reject evolution … despite the evidence.”

    What evidence are you referring to?

  13. #13 Jeff Chamberlain
    November 28, 2004

    It may be that “virtually every mainline Christian denomination has accepted evolution,” but the supplied link is insufficient support for this.

  14. #14 eon
    November 29, 2004

    “I don’t think it’s quite this simple.”

    And how many of your everyman Christians do you think have read Augustine, or for that matter Davis Young?

    I think you (among others) are looking for a more intellectually satisfying explanation where none exists. You are a rarity in that you’ve thought deeply about the controversy; that you’ve taken the time to learn about a subject matter that doesn’t directly impact your mortgage payment, your kids, or how annoying it is when your mom reminds you of something you did when you were 13 in order to tell you what you’re doing wrong at 43.

    The notion that Jane and Joe Average would take the time to thoroughly consider questions of unifying scientific theory, metaphysical naturalism, and a few hundred years of Christian apologetics — that they’d consider them at all, frankly — is a vanity reserved for those philosophers with loftier conceptions of humanity than I am capable of wishing for.

    E

  15. #15 Ed Brayton
    November 29, 2004

    What evidence are you referring to?

    I am referring to the same evidence that has convinced every scientist in the relevant fields of study who is not blinded by their religious belief: the successional appearance of life on earth, the existence of nested heirarchies within the earth’s organisms, phenotypic and genotypic homologies, endogenous retroviruses, and much more. Evolution is the central unifying theory of a dozen fields of science; it didn’t get that way by accident.

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    November 29, 2004

    eon-

    My response to you had nothing to do with how many Christians have thought that deeply about such matters. I was pointing out that the reconciliation of evolution with Christianity need not be, as you put it, “an exercise in absurdity”. There are ways of doing so that are much more reasonable and consistent than you would apparently like to think. You don’t judge the validity of an idea by its most absurd followers, you judge the validity of an idea by its own internal logic and comportment with the facts. And I think it’s important to recognize that in the range of positions on the question of whether evolution and Christianity can both be true, there are far more reasonable and intellectually respectable positions out there than either Duane Gish or Richard Dawkins would like to admit.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    November 29, 2004

    Don Schreiber wrote:

    An underlying strand in public acceptance of evolution is the deep skepticism and distrust of intellectuals. It is the bedrock faith in “common sense” that determines whether an idea is true or false. For most people I think evolution means only one thing: that man evolved from the apes. This is too big a nut to swallow because it goes against all common sense. Intellectuals have a way of twisting and distorting things so that they no longer make sense.

    This immediately strikes me as true. Not the whole explanation, of course, but a big part of it. I don’t think you can find any Western nation with the kind of rampant misology we have in America. We have leapt from “all men are created equal”, which only really meant political equality, to “all points of view are equally plausible”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered in conversation with other people this idea that intellectuals are just a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls who just like to dazzle us with high fallutin’ words. I’ve heard it in one form or another so often that I think it’s almost an instinctive reaction, or ingrained response, on the part of the ignorant. They simply cannot accept that you might know more about something than they do, so they immediately strike a pose of “I don’t need all that book learnin’” or “just because you throw around those fancy words don’t mean you’re right.”

    There are even mythologies that have grown up to comfort the uneducated and mediocre. How many times have you heard that Einstein was some sort of physics savant who was a genius at one thing, but incapable of tying his shoes or thinking about anything else? It’s a total myth. Einstein was not some sort of non-functional savant, he had an enormously broad intellect and he wrote brilliantly on art, religion, culture, literature, and so forth. But this myth persists because it provides comfort to those who choose to remain ignorant. It gives them a handy archetype with which to view smart people as broken or incomplete people, as if intelligence somehow traded off with one’s humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth in reality, but this myth serves its function for those who believe it.

    I think you have hit on something here, Don. Evolution is both more complex, hence difficult to understand, and less comforting than the alternative. For those who haven’t taken the time to study the question with any depth – and that means most people – there is an automatic tendency to gravitate toward the explanation they can understand and that makes them feel better. Especially when most people are raised with the idea of man being special and created in God’s image.

  18. #18 eon
    November 29, 2004

    Ed:

    I resent the implication in “would apparently like to think,” just a little. I think what I think whether I like it or not. At least, that’s the standard to which I try very hard to hold myself.

    E

  19. #19 Ed Brayton
    November 29, 2004

    eon wrote:

    I resent the implication in “would apparently like to think,” just a little. I think what I think whether I like it or not. At least, that’s the standard to which I try very hard to hold myself.

    I apologize, that was badly worded. I didn’t mean to imply what it obviously does imply. What I should have said is that there are ways to reconcile evolution and Christianity that are more reasonable and consistent than the way you mentioned, and as I pointed out, it’s a way that was not invented to reconcile with evolution, but predates evolution by many centuries.

  20. #20 raj
    November 29, 2004

    Unfortunately, Ed, there are way too many issues that you have raised here. It’s good that you did raise them. On the other hand, it will probably take me a week or so to respond to all of them intelligently, and, by that point the thread will be dead. I’ll send you an email.

  21. #21 Response To Ed
    November 29, 2004

    “I am referring to the same evidence that has convinced every scientist in the relevant fields of study who is not blinded by their religious belief: the successional appearance of life on earth, the existence of nested heirarchies within the earth’s organisms, phenotypic and genotypic homologies, endogenous retroviruses, and much more. Evolution is the central unifying theory of a dozen fields of science; it didn’t get that way by accident.”

    You are kidding right? We are supposed to believe without understanding how the process works? How did life evolve? The evidences you do mention do not help. Successional appearance? Dozens of phyla appear out of nowhere. Does this harm evolution? The nested hierarchy was a 18th c. approximation that doesn’t hold. Does this harm evolution? Homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes. Does this harm evolution? No it doesn’t.

    Endogenous retroviruses converge to the same, homologous insertion site. Does this harm evolution? The evidences you cite do not prove evolution, they raise problems with evolution. And you can only provide unfounded guesses at how life is suppposed to have evolved.

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    November 29, 2004

    The amusingly anonymous creationst writes:

    You are kidding right? We are supposed to believe without understanding how the process works? How did life evolve?

    Who is it that you think doesn’t understand how the process works? Of course there are some specific things that we don’t yet have an understanding of, which is to be expected in any comprehensive set of theories (and evolutionary theory is really a set of many different theories). We know the various mechanisms by which evolution takes place – natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, species selection, etc. Does that mean we understand precisely what took place at each step during the past 3.8 billion years? Of course not. But this is a problem only for those who think that scientific theories are revealed perfection and not ongoing areas of study. Every scientific theory has specific things that are not yet understood, but the fact that they are enormously successful at explaining the evidence gives us great confidence in them and sparks avenues for new research to explain the areas we don’t yet understand. Even gravitational theory has areas we don’t understand; indeed, we don’t even know what gravity IS.

    Successional appearance? Dozens of phyla appear out of nowhere. Does this harm evolution?

    Your statement simply isn’t true. At what point do dozens of phyla appear “out of nowhere”? Wait, let me guess, the Cambrian explosion, right? A vastly overblown creationist argument based primarily on pretending that the phrase “out of nowhere” is an accurate characterization of the fossil evidence; it is not. Dozens of phyla did not just “appear out of nowhere”, they appeared over a course of some 70 million years, and they include virtually none of the major animal groups we see around us today. And they are preceeded by lots of precambrian lifeforms of increasing complexity and diversity. Of course it’s true that we don’t have a complete picture of the lines of descent going back 600 million years, but given what we know about fossilization, it would be absurd to expect to have a complete picture at this point. But to characterize the evidence we do have as showing “dozens of phyla appearing out of nowhere” is either rank ignorance or blatant dishonesty.

    The nested hierarchy was a 18th c. approximation that doesn’t hold.

    I’ll take unsupported assertions for $1000, Alex.

    Homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes.

    Sometimes, yes. But the fact that we can trace sequence homologies through a wide variety of species and build a phylogenetic tree that matches very well the phylogenetic tree based upon comparative anatomy and upon the order of succession found in the fossil record is a powerful prediction made by evolutionary theory that turned out to be true.

    The evidences you cite do not prove evolution, they raise problems with evolution.

    Another absurd characterization. The fact that you can make unsupported assertions behind a veil of anonymity that help you explain away these lines of evidence does not mean they “raise problems with evolution”. That’s just wishful thinking on your part.

    By the way, why is it that you are so intent on being anonymous that you even pretend to be from the pandasthumb.org domain? The fact that you start off by lying about your identity does not give you a lot of credibility.

  23. #23 Response To Ed
    November 29, 2004

    [quote] We know the various mechanisms by which evolution takes place – natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, species selection, etc. Does that mean we understand precisely what took place at each step during the past 3.8 billion years? Of course not.[/quote]

    The problem is not lack of precision, it lack of plausibility. Natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, and species selection fail to provide us with a plausible explanation for the evolution of life. In science we need hard evidence or, lacking that, at least we need plausibility. Evolution has no plausible explanation. We don’t depend on causes that have never been demonstrated to be capable of what is being claimed.

    That is why Darwinists focus on circumstantial evidences. There does not exist a single plausible explanation, and for good reason. We don’t need to prove how life actually evolved, but we do need to at least have a plausible explanation. As it is, evolution has failed at explaining the evidence.

    [quote]A vastly overblown creationist argument based primarily on pretending that the phrase “out of nowhere” is an accurate characterization of the fossil evidence; it is not. Dozens of phyla did not just “appear out of nowhere”, they appeared over a course of some 70 million years.[/quote]

    Even evolutionists admit to this. Abrupt appearance is by no means limited to the Cambrian Explosion. Abrupt appearance is the rule and it is not over the course of millions of years. Given the uncertainty in our dating methods, we cannot date the event to better than millions of years, but the fossils appear abruptly.

    [quote]Sometimes, yes. [Homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes.] [/quote]

    This is another example where contradictory evidence does no harm to evolution. So let’s summarize: species appear abruptly, they show non hierarchical relations, we have no plausible scientific explanation of how life could evolve, and homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes. But evolution is a fact.

  24. #24 Dan
    November 29, 2004

    We are supposed to believe without understanding how the process works?

    That line really says it all. I can’t stop laughing.

    Tell us, Response to Ed…do you apply the same standard to creation-based stories?

    This should be good… .

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    November 29, 2004

    The problem is not lack of precision, it lack of plausibility. Natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, and species selection fail to provide us with a plausible explanation for the evolution of life. In science we need hard evidence or, lacking that, at least we need plausibility. Evolution has no plausible explanation. We don’t depend on causes that have never been demonstrated to be capable of what is being claimed.

    Well you can repeat that all you want, but that doesn’t make it true. There is simply no logical reason that those mechanisms are not plausible. We’ve seen them operate both in nature and in the lab, and some of them are even measurable (population geneticists measure the rate at which novel traits are fixed in a population, for instance); we’ve seen them lead to speciation, both in nature and in the lab. We can in many cases pinpoint the precise mutation or series of mutations that occured to bring about a new trait by comparing DNA sequences between species, and with the complete mapping of the genomes of various species, this type of research will grow enormously over the next few decades. What you claim is not plausible somehow has managed to be the central unifying theory of a dozen fields of science, considered among the 4 or 5 greatest ideas in the history of science to over 99% of the scientists in relevant fields of study. Given that, I suggest it will take more than your statements of incredulity to do much damage to the idea. Especially when you’ve already hurt your credibility by lying about your identity.

    Abrupt appearance is by no means limited to the Cambrian Explosion. Abrupt appearance is the rule and it is not over the course of millions of years. Given the uncertainty in our dating methods, we cannot date the event to better than millions of years, but the fossils appear abruptly.

    Oh gosh, I love this argument. Fossils appear “abruptly”. How exactly would you suggest a fossil, found in a rock matrix, could appear non-abruptly? If you mean that the forms of life appear “abruptly”, you are not only wrong but gloriously so. In fact, within each major animal group there is an identifiable pattern to their order of appearance, and that pattern is the same in every single lineage. The first amphibians to appear in the fossil record, for instance, are virtually identical to the shallow marine life they are believed to have evolved from and are still well adapted to marine life. The next amphibians to appear are slightly more diversified and slightly less like those lobe-finned fishes. Over time, as new species appear, they are successively less fish-like and more like modern amphibians. Likewise, the first birds to appear in the fossil record look just like feathered theropod dinosaurs. Indeed, that is exactly what they were. Over time, they diversified and as new species appeared they gradually lost their reptilian traits and became more like modern birds. The same pattern is present in mammals as they split off from therapsid reptiles, in primates as they split off from prosimian mammals, in reptiles as they split off from amphibians, and so forth. This successional order of appearance is true between and within the major groups of life, and evolution is the only reasonable explanation for it.

    What else is there? Was God tinkering? Surely an omnipotent creator would not have to make a series of almost-birds, each one looking a little less like a reptile and a little more like modern birds, and then kill off all the older tries at it. Surely God would not have to make a bunch of proto-humans, tinkering with the design, first making Homo habilus for a couple million years, with a larger brain and more bipedal than apes; then Homo erectus for another couple million years with an even larger brain and more adapted for bipedality yet, but still not fully human; and then finally Homo sapiens. No, the evidence of the fossil record is pretty clearly one of new forms appearing that are slightly modified versions of older forms, consistent only with evolution.

  26. #26 Aaron Pohle
    November 29, 2004

    My response would be because neither theory really explains it all.

    Evolution, to at least some extent, most certainly is true. There is ample evidence that life evolves. To what extent evolution exists is somewhat debatable, but to wholly accept it or wholly reject is not an exercise in science, but in faith (of one form or another). Even if it can be proven that all life evolved from a single source, that doesn’t explain how life started. We can guess and speculate how it might of happened, but we are still a long way from understanding that process.

    There is a lot of irrational rejection on both sides, and certainly more of it on the religious side. Still neither view expains anything to people in a way that makes sense. Creationists say that God did it, essentially saying that it happened outside our universe and therefore outside our understanding. Many Evolutionists say that it all happened withint the framework of our universe, but that we don’t quite know how yet. Which is really more credible? I don’t know, but most people will hang on to their views. Those that believe in God often don’t want to hear that it could have happened in nature because it weakens their support for their believe(and might just challenge the correctness of that view). Those that believe their is no God often don’t want to hear that there is no rational explanation for everything for the same reason but the opposite belief.

    When it comes down to it when they don’t know better people either believe what they want to be true or what they are afraid is true.

  27. #27 eon
    November 29, 2004

    Ed:

    Thanks for the acknowledgment. As for the rest of your reply, I do agree.

    But don’t think I won’t kick your ass! ;)

    E

  28. #28 Response To Ed
    November 29, 2004

    [quote] Well you can repeat that all you want, but that doesn’t make it true. There is simply no logical reason that those mechanisms are not plausible. [/quote]

    The problem, however, is that those mechanisms do not produce life. To argue that they do is not scientific. Perhaps future research will change this, but we don’t bank scientific theories on what might be discovered in the future. That would open science up to unlikely theories. The problem is all known (emprically observed) products of the mechanisms you speak of are trivial compared to that life forms that you say those mechanisms are capable of creating. We are nowhere close to your claim.

    [quote] We’ve seen them operate both in nature and in the lab, and some of them are even measurable (population geneticists measure the rate at which novel traits are fixed in a population, for instance); we’ve seen them lead to speciation, both in nature and in the lab. We can in many cases pinpoint the precise mutation or series of mutations that occured to bring about a new trait by comparing DNA sequences between species, and with the complete mapping of the genomes of various species, this type of research will grow enormously over the next few decades. [/quote]

    These observations you note here are trivial compared to your theoretical claims. Again, let future research speak for itself, don’t bank on it.

    [quote] What you claim is not plausible somehow has managed to be the central unifying theory of a dozen fields of science, considered among the 4 or 5 greatest ideas in the history of science. [/quote]

    Agreed.

    [quote] In fact, within each major animal group there is an identifiable pattern to their order of appearance. [/quote]

    Yes and no. Mammals are found in Australia pre dating marsupials; the more complex trilobites pre date the less complex ones, etc. If you want to identify a general trend, it is the abrupt appearance of much diversity with subsequent extinctions winnowing the diversity. Kind of an inverse evolutionary tree. But I agree with your points too. There are identifiable trends. This does not mean implausible mechanisms were their cause.

    [quote] This successional order of appearance is true between and within the major groups of life, and evolution is the only reasonable explanation for it. [/quote]

    I had a hunch we weren’t talking about science …

    [quote] What else is there? Was God tinkering? Surely an omnipotent creator would not have to make a series of almost-birds, each one looking a little less like a reptile and a little more like modern birds, and then kill off all the older tries at it. Surely God would not have to make a bunch of proto-humans, tinkering with the design, first making Homo habilus for a couple million years, with a larger brain and more bipedal than apes; then Homo erectus for another couple million years with an even larger brain and more adapted for bipedality yet, but still not fully human; and then finally Homo sapiens. No, the evidence of the fossil record is pretty clearly one of new forms appearing that are slightly modified versions of older forms, consistent only with evolution.[/quote]

    Yeah, that’s a really good point. Guess evolution must be true …

  29. #29 Ed Brayton
    November 30, 2004

    The problem, however, is that those mechanisms do not produce life. To argue that they do is not scientific. Perhaps future research will change this, but we don’t bank scientific theories on what might be discovered in the future. That would open science up to unlikely theories. The problem is all known (emprically observed) products of the mechanisms you speak of are trivial compared to that life forms that you say those mechanisms are capable of creating.

    Those mechanisms don’t have to produce life in order for evolution to be true, they only to produce biodiversity through speciation. Which they do. And we don’t have to wait for some future discovery to confirm it because we’ve observed speciation in nature.

    ME: We’ve seen them operate both in nature and in the lab, and some of them are even measurable (population geneticists measure the rate at which novel traits are fixed in a population, for instance); we’ve seen them lead to speciation, both in nature and in the lab. We can in many cases pinpoint the precise mutation or series of mutations that occured to bring about a new trait by comparing DNA sequences between species, and with the complete mapping of the genomes of various species, this type of research will grow enormously over the next few decades.

    These observations you note here are trivial compared to your theoretical claims. Again, let future research speak for itself, don’t bank on it.

    You have truly mastered the meaningless response. Those observations are all I need for my “theoretical claims”. We know the mechanisms by which speciation takes place, we’ve observed them in nature and in the lab, we can often even measure their effect on a population, and we have observed them leading to the creation of new species. How on earth is that “trivial compared to my theoretical claims”? Those ARE my theoretical claims.

    ME: In fact, within each major animal group there is an identifiable pattern to their order of appearance.

    Yes and no. Mammals are found in Australia pre dating marsupials; the more complex trilobites pre date the less complex ones, etc.

    You cut out all of the detail in my response about the identifiable pattern, then made two claims that are completely irrelevant to them. My argument was that both between the major animal groups and within them, there is a single pattern that repeats itself – the first members of a group to appear in the fossils record look virtually identical to the animal group they are believed to be descended from and over time, as new species appear, they are successively more diversified, less like the ancestral group and more like modern species in that group. The two claims you made have nothing to do with that pattern. But let’s look at them anyway.

    First, the claim that mammals are found in Australia predating marsupials. First, it’s a nonsense statement – marsupials ARE mammals. Second, this would be a problem for evolution….why? And what on earth does it have to do with my statement about the order in which members appear? Do you think that mammals evolved from marsupials? The earliest placental mammals come from around 220 million years ago; the earliest marsupial mammals from about 125 million years ago. So why on earth should it be any surprise at all that in Australia, placental mammals are found before marsupial mammals? Besides being irrelevant to evolution in general, it’s also irrelevant to my argument on patterns of appearance. If fully modern marsupials or placentals appeared in the fossil record long before more primitive marsupials or placentals that looked like the lines they diverged from, that would be a problem for my argument. But that’s not the case, of course. I can’t imagine any ways in which this claim could be more meaningless for you to make in response to what I said.

    Now, as to your claim about more complex trilobites predating less complex ones. You don’t bother to define how you determine which species of trilobites are more complex and which are less complex. I will presume for the moment that you mean that in some later trilobites there is a loss or reduction of the eyes from earlier specimens. But is this a problem for evolution? Nope. In fact, it’s a good example of the operation of evolutionary mechanisms, because eye loss in trilobites is found only in those species that lived in deep water environments, where there was little or no light to make eyes useful. And in those orders, the fossil record shows a clear pattern of eye reduction over time until they are gone. So rather than being a problem for evolution, it’s a perfect illustration of adaptation to local environment.

    This argument also betrays your obvious misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. You apparently believe that evolution must, in every lineage, lead to greater and greater complexity in phenotype, but that isn’t true. Remember that natural selection operates on local environments, and in some environments less complex variations (those without eyes, for example, and therefore without the attendant expense of energy to maintain them) would be selected over more complex variations. There is an overall trend of increasing complexity, taking a very long view, over the natural history of life on earth. But within specific environments, it is not at all uncommon to see lesser complexity favored over even very long periods of time. And all of this is entirely consistent with an accurate version of evolutionary theory, as opposed to the caricatured version you seem to carry in your head.

    ME:This successional order of appearance is true between and within the major groups of life, and evolution is the only reasonable explanation for it.

    I had a hunch we weren’t talking about science…

    Brilliant non sequitur. I’ve tried and tried to figure out what that response has to do with the argument I made, and it escapes me. Science has one goal – to explain data in the natural world. So I point out that evolution is the only reasonable explanation for a set of data and you say “I had a hunce we weren’t talking about science”. That looks a lot like empty gibberish to me.

    What else is there? Was God tinkering? Surely an omnipotent creator would not have to make a series of almost-birds, each one looking a little less like a reptile and a little more like modern birds, and then kill off all the older tries at it. Surely God would not have to make a bunch of proto-humans, tinkering with the design, first making Homo habilus for a couple million years, with a larger brain and more bipedal than apes; then Homo erectus for another couple million years with an even larger brain and more adapted for bipedality yet, but still not fully human; and then finally Homo sapiens. No, the evidence of the fossil record is pretty clearly one of new forms appearing that are slightly modified versions of older forms, consistent only with evolution.

    Yeah, that’s a really good point. Guess evolution must be true…

    In fact, it IS a good point. I’ve laid out several lines of evidence for evolution and all the logical reasons why evolution is the only coherent explanation for them. You’ve given nothing but nonsense responses to it. And of course, you haven’t even attempted to present any other possible explanation. It hasn’t exactly been a dazzling performance on your part, oh anonymous creationist from the bay area. One would think you’d give up at this point, but I imagine you’ve got a bit more meaningless drivel you’ve cribbed from creationist webpages to drop on us.

  30. #30 Response To Ed
    November 30, 2004

    You: This successional order of appearance is true between and within the major groups of life, and evolution is the only reasonable explanation for it.

    Me: I had a hunch we weren’t talking about science…

    You: Brilliant non sequitur. I’ve tried and tried to figure out what that response has to do with the argument I made, and it escapes me.

    Sorry for the pithiness. When you say your theory is the only reasonable explanation for something, you are making a claim about all other possible theories. In other words, a claim that is not scientific.

  31. #31 Ed Brayton
    November 30, 2004

    When you say your theory is the only reasonable explanation for something, you are making a claim about all other possible theories. In other words, a claim that is not scientific.

    Utter nonsense. The development and evaluation of explanations – i.e. theories – is virtually all that science does. The history of science is replete with attempted explanations for the same data that failed, from creationist explanations to Lamarckism. All have failed as theories; only evolution remains. If you have a theory that explains the evidence better than evolution, then by all means let’s have it. We can evaluate it by deriving testable hypotheses from it and comparing those predictions to the evidence. Contrary to your silly claim that this is not scientific, this is the very essence of science.

    I assume since is the only thing you chose to continue with, you’re no longer going to use the absurd and irrelevant arguments I took the time to debunk from your previous comments?

  32. #32 Response To Ed
    November 30, 2004

    You: Those mechanisms don’t have to produce life in order for evolution to be true, they only to produce biodiversity through speciation. Which they do. And we don’t have to wait for some future discovery to confirm it because we’ve observed speciation in nature.

    Me: The process of adaptation, which you are referring to, not only does not account for the biodiversity we observe, it in fact requires *pre existing* adaptation mechanisms. Evolution would have to create the mechanisms that are required for evolution.

    You: Those observations are all I need for my “theoretical claims”. We know the mechanisms by which speciation takes place, we’ve observed them in nature and in the lab, we can often even measure their effect on a population, and we have observed them leading to the creation of new species. How on earth is that “trivial compared to my theoretical claims”? Those ARE my theoretical claims.

    Me: A gull population no longer interbreeds with a neighboring population of gulls, so therefore elephants could have evolved from mice.

    You: First, the claim that mammals are found in Australia predating marsupials. First, it’s a nonsense statement – marsupials ARE mammals.

    Me: Sorry, I meant “placentals.” [Dang, must have pasted wrong from that creationist web site!]

    You [anticipating my error]: The earliest placental mammals come from around 220 million years ago; the earliest marsupial mammals from about 125 million years ago.

    Me: Except they’re supposed to have a common ancestor. It could be that spotty fossil record. Or maybe the marsupials took longer to get going. About a hundred million years longer. Speaking of contingencies, strange how the marsupials and placentals have all those similarities. Somehow those contingencies didn’t matter and evolution repeated itself over and over.

    You: Now, as to your claim about more complex trilobites predating less complex ones. You don’t bother to define how you determine which species of trilobites are more complex and which are less complex. I will presume for the moment that you mean that in some later trilobites there is a loss or reduction of the eyes from earlier specimens.

    Me: No, I mean more complex and differentiated, not loss of eyes.

    You: This argument also betrays your obvious misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. You apparently believe that evolution must, in every lineage, lead to greater and greater complexity in phenotype.

    Me: You are the one touting the successional appearance of life on earth which evolution does not predict. Complexity increase is not a prediction of evolution.

    You: It hasn’t exactly been a dazzling performance on your part, oh anonymous creationist from the bay area. One would think you’d give up at this point, but I imagine you’ve got a bit more meaningless drivel you’ve cribbed from creationist webpages to drop on us.

    Me: Folks, please forgive Ed, as I do, for his rudeness, and keep this in mind: his motives are pure. Ed believes that evolution is an obvious fact, like gravity. Place yourself in this position. Anyone rejecting evolution must either be a moron or up to no good. Since I can type, the first option is out. I must be up to no good. So his reactions are understandable. Unfortunately, discussions like this don’t get very far because evolutionists will not seriously address the serious problems with evolution. We can explain that there is no known mechanism to produce evolution’s creations; that life shows non hierarchical relations; that homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes; that genome comparisons don’t fit evolution’s predictions; that species appear abruptly and sometimes out of order; that the little adaptive change we do observe requires complicated mechanisms that evolution cannot explain; but none of this matters to evolutionists. Is there any evidence for evolution? Sure, plenty. And Ed has listed some of it. The problem is not that there is zero evidence, but rather that there are serious problems.

  33. #33 Ed Brayton
    November 30, 2004

    The process of adaptation, which you are referring to, not only does not account for the biodiversity we observe, it in fact requires *pre existing* adaptation mechanisms. Evolution would have to create the mechanisms that are required for evolution.

    Sorry, that’s nonsense. Natural selection is an algorythmic process, just like sorting by size in flowing water. Evolution doesn’t have to create the mechanism any more than stones on a river bank had to create a mechanism to sort them. The laws of physics do the job just fine.

    A gull population no longer interbreeds with a neighboring population of gulls, so therefore elephants could have evolved from mice.

    Oh, I do so love these moronic caricatures of evolution. And you wonder why you’re not taken seriously.

    Except they’re supposed to have a common ancestor. It could be that spotty fossil record. Or maybe the marsupials took longer to get going. About a hundred million years longer. Speaking of contingencies, strange how the marsupials and placentals have all those similarities. Somehow those contingencies didn’t matter and evolution repeated itself over and over.

    And they do have a common ancestor. What on earth does that have to do with when placentals and marsupials diverged? Placentals came first, marsupials diverged from placentals. Hence, the fact that we find placental remains long before we find marsupial remains is quite logical. The only way that could be a problem for evolution is if you just don’t have a clue what evolution actually says – which is becoming quite clear with every comment you leave.

    No, I mean more complex and differentiated, not loss of eyes.

    Yet another answer that is essentially devoid of content. Trilobites do become more differentiated over time, in a wide range of traits. What on earth makes you think otherwise?

    You are the one touting the successional appearance of life on earth which evolution does not predict. Complexity increase is not a prediction of evolution.

    I’m beginning to wonder about your reading comprehension skills here. I said that evolution predicts a successional order of appearance, as it obviously does. Indeed, if the fossil record showed no successional order, just all the species appearing all at once, evolution would be falsified. I detailed precisely what successional order was within several major animal groups, and it had nothing to do with complexity. If you really believe that evolution does not predict a successional order of appearance of life on earth, then you truly are an idiot and there is no point in trying to discuss anything with you.

    Folks, please forgive Ed, as I do, for his rudeness, and keep this in mind: his motives are pure. Ed believes that evolution is an obvious fact, like gravity. Place yourself in this position. Anyone rejecting evolution must either be a moron or up to no good. Since I can type, the first option is out. I must be up to no good. So his reactions are understandable.

    LOL. If you had actually said anything even remotely coherent here, this might be something other than idiotic. But you clearly do not have a clue what evolution actually says or means, you’re throwing shit at the wall in the hope that something will stick. If it’s rudeness to point out that you don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about and that every claim you’ve made so far was either incoherent or ignorant, then I am rude. But I’m also right.

  34. #34 Matthew Phillips
    November 30, 2004

    I also think that too many education majors are taught how to teach and not the material. We graduate education majors who simply haven’t mastered the material we expect them to teach to our children. They have to go on what they learned in high school, which perpetuates the status quo.

    You took the words right out of my mouth. Undergraduates spend the majority of their time completing university requirements and by the time they become graduates, all they do is learn how to teach. I don’t think any emphasis is placed on the material they will be teaching, from the education students I know.

  35. #35 Dave S.
    November 30, 2004

    Anyone rejecting evolution must either be a moron or up to no good. Since I can type, the first option is out.

    Strictly speaking, simply being able to type does not remove someone from the class of moron.

    I think you want to be called a moron though. That way, you don’t have to engage in the substance and can get away with simply repeating the same assertions without evidence ad nauseam. And when people call you a moron or some like term, you convince yourself they must not have a case and have to resort to attacking you.

    P.S.: I am not calling you as moron.

    I must be up to no good. So his reactions are understandable. Unfortunately, discussions like this don’t get very far because evolutionists will not seriously address the serious problems with evolution.

    If there’s problems with it, how about giving us a superior scientific alternative?

    It’s a whole ot easier to talk about what’s wrong with the other guys theory than to come up with your own, isn’t it?

    We can explain that there is no known mechanism to produce evolution’s creations; that life shows non hierarchical relations; that homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes; that genome comparisons don’t fit evolution’s predictions; that species appear abruptly and sometimes out of order; that the little adaptive change we do observe requires complicated mechanisms that evolution cannot explain; but none of this matters to evolutionists.

    These aren’t “explanations”. They are assertions, and assertions without the slightest basis in fact.

    Show us for example how current phylogenetic trees do not correctly represent the relationships between organisms and showing us a better scientific way to do this.

    We’re all ears.

    Is there any evidence for evolution? Sure, plenty. And Ed has listed some of it. The problem is not that there is zero evidence, but rather that there are serious problems.

    Really. What would say is the strongest evidence for evolution? Set aside these supposed “problems” for a minute.

  36. #36 Response To Ed
    November 30, 2004

    You: Sorry, that’s nonsense. Natural selection is an algorythmic process, just like sorting by size in flowing water. Evolution doesn’t have to create the mechanism any more than stones on a river bank had to create a mechanism to sort them. The laws of physics do the job just fine.

    Me: Examples of adaptation are now known to be even more dependent on adaptation mechanisms than was previously thought. Natural selection works when there are useful competitors to select from. We find examples of this in the immune system and in adaptation. Very complex systems that provide the pathways. For example, when bacteria are under stress, they increase their mutation rate, and the mutations occur at hotspots that help to explore meaningful adaptations. This isn’t nonsense.

    You: Oh, I do so love these moronic caricatures of evolution. And you wonder why you’re not taken seriously.

    Me: I agree it seems unlikely; unfortunately, it is no caricature. This is precisely what evolutionists are saying. Evolutionists believe (and you were reiterating) that adaptation examples, such as gull ring species, supply evidence of the mechanism that causes the vast evolutionary change they require. Of course, this mechanism is not known to be capable of anything more than what we observe. There is no known mechanism that provide the massive change evolution needs.

    You: And they do have a common ancestor. What on earth does that have to do with when placentals and marsupials diverged?

    Me: Once they diverged they evolved, separately for the most part, over 100+ million years. With all this time for historical contingencies to randomly steer the different evolutionary histories we would expect very different results (after all, if we replayed the tape of natural history, evolutionists like to say, we’d get a very different result). Remember, it is a blind, unguided process. And yet, surprisingly we see the same designs repeated over and over in the placental and marsupial lineages. Evolution’s explanation for this is similar evolutionary pressures, and all that. But this means that evolutionary pressure is rampant with similar design pathways, and that if we replayed the tape of natural history we would *not* get a very different result. This has profound implications about the design of organisms. At the atomic level we have forms (i.e., the periodic table). Now we would have forms at the other extreme; the population / species level. Among other things, one implication of this is that one of the strongest arguments for evolution, namely the argument from homology, is now undercut. Instead of being the result of an unguided process + random contingencies, they become an expected design form.

    You: Yet another answer that is essentially devoid of content. Trilobites do become more differentiated over time, in a wide range of traits. What on earth makes you think otherwise?

    Me: Read again; you missed the point. The differentiated ones come *earlier*.

    You: If you really believe that evolution does not predict a successional order of appearance of life on earth, then you truly are an idiot.

    Me [the idiot]: Evolution does not predict increasing complexity, or anything remotely like what we observe. Evolution would be happy if there never was any life; if the initial life form died out; if the initial form persisted indefinitely, and so forth.

    You: If you had actually said anything even remotely coherent here, this might be something other than idiotic. But you clearly do not have a clue what evolution actually says or means, you’re throwing shit at the wall in the hope that something will stick. If it’s rudeness to point out that you don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about and that every claim you’ve made so far was either incoherent or ignorant, then I am rude. But I’m also right.

    Me: This unfortunately typifies the evolutionists sentiment of skepticism. We are dealing with a subtle and profound subject with a great many facets, and instead of the kind of thoughtful consideration this subject demands, we get shouts of “I’m right – you’re wrong!!” I’m sorry but no one has a monopoly on the truth. At least not at this point. There are plenty of serious problems with evolution.

  37. #37 Response To Ed
    November 30, 2004

    You: P.S.: I am not calling you a moron.

    Me: Aw, shucks …

  38. #38 Dan
    December 1, 2004

    I’m sorry but no one has a monopoly on the truth.

    Since you insist on living in fantasyland, let me quote from a movie line: You can’t handle the truth.

    The truth is that Ed has, very patiently and painstakingly, detailed just a fraction of the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of evolution.

    The truth is that you choose to either ignore it, or not believe it.

    The truth is that you ignore it or disbelieve it because it is inconsistent with your apparently creationist worldview.

    The truth is that the scientific evidence for creationism (or Intelligent [sic] Design, or whatever you choose to call it) is virtually nonexistent.

    The truth is that we have at least one contributor here, Henry Neufeld, who is willing to engage in discussion honestly — acknowledging that science is science and religion is religion, and his views are respected because he is honest.

    The truth is that as long as you choose to engage the subject dishonestly, your arguments won’t be taken seriously around here.

    Whe you’re ready to discuss honestly, stop back by. Until then, find a nice, safe, creationist weblog where you can regale your fellow travelers with stories of how you did battle with the pagan evolutionists, but came away with no converts.

  39. #39 Dave S.
    December 1, 2004

    Me: I agree it seems unlikely; unfortunately, it is no caricature. This is precisely what evolutionists are saying.

    Ah good. Then it should be easy for you to find examples of evolutionary biologists claiming exactly this.

    Just to reiterate, this is the claim you need to support “A gull population no longer interbreeds with a neighboring population of gulls, so therefore elephants could have evolved from mice.” Remember, it’s not a caricature.

    So, where is this claim?

    I’m taking you at your word that such claims exist, so I’m confident you’ll come through.

    Evolutionists believe (and you were reiterating) that adaptation examples, such as gull ring species, supply evidence of the mechanism that causes the vast evolutionary change they require. Of course, this mechanism is not known to be capable of anything more than what we observe. There is no known mechanism that provide the massive change evolution needs.

    Let’s pretend for a second you are right. Indeed, the known evolutionary mechanisms; e.g. neutral drift, mutation and natural selection; are by themselves sufficient to account to the variability observed in the biological record, although it’s possible there are other as yet unknown effects.

    But let’s pretend we didn’t know anything at all about them.

    Then….so what?

    In chemistry, the laws of thermodynamics were explored in great detail well before a mechanism (statistical mechanics) came along to explain how it happened.

    We still would have ample evidence from extant molecular and anatomical forms, as well as the fossil record, to show the path of macroevolutionary change.

    Among other things, one implication of this is that one of the strongest arguments for evolution, namely the argument from homology, is now undercut. Instead of being the result of an unguided process + random contingencies, they become an expected design form.

    No, convergent evolution does not invalidate arguments from homology. Convergence is expected.

    Evolution does not predict increasing complexity, or anything remotely like what we observe. Evolution would be happy if there never was any life; if the initial life form died out; if the initial form persisted indefinitely, and so forth.

    Evolution predicts exactly what we observe, a nested heiarchy of groups within groups, to a high degree of statistical significance. It predicts a succession of forms over time, which is also exactly what we observe. It predicts transitional forms on the nodes of phylogenetic trees, and yet again, these we find in the fossil record, and with just the transitions predicted by the theory.

    Evolution would not be “happy” if there was no life. This is utter nonsense.

    This unfortunately typifies the evolutionists sentiment of skepticism. We are dealing with a subtle and profound subject with a great many facets, and instead of the kind of thoughtful consideration this subject demands, we get shouts of “I’m right – you’re wrong!!”

    Let’s compare statement this with your second post on this page –

    You are kidding right? We are supposed to believe without understanding how the process works? How did life evolve? The evidences you do mention do not help. Successional appearance? Dozens of phyla appear out of nowhere. Does this harm evolution? The nested hierarchy was a 18th c. approximation that doesn’t hold. Does this harm evolution? Homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes. Does this harm evolution? No it doesn’t.

    Endogenous retroviruses converge to the same, homologous insertion site. Does this harm evolution? The evidences you cite do not prove evolution, they raise problems with evolution. And you can only provide unfounded guesses at how life is suppposed to have evolved.

    Is this an example of the “thoughtful consideration” you refer to? And I can’t help but notice the entire post consists of you saying that you’re right and the evolutionists are wrong.

    You: P.S.: I am not calling you a moron.

    Me: Aw, shucks …

    And here’s yet another example of your thoughtful consideration of the evidence, by which you apparently mean ignore the entire post and make a smarmy comment.

    Do you really wonder why we’re having trouble taking you seriously?

  40. #40 Response To Ed
    December 1, 2004

    Dan and Dave:

    I’m a bit perplexed. You say my assertions are without the slightest basis in fact. But my assertions are not controversial. Perhaps we should take just one example for starters: Homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes. This has been known for about a century now. This is a case where evolution has hampered research. Since it does not fit evolution, it is a subject that is often avoided (I’ve seen this in textbooks), or even denied (as here). Skepticism is important in science. There are no sacred cows and all theories are supposed to be open to falsification. We are to welcome new information and evidence, rather than shoot the messenger, even if it contradicts our favorite theory. Why do you castigate me? Why not consider the evidence?

  41. #41 Response To Ed
    December 1, 2004

    Just to clarify my previous, I did not mean to say researchers are not investigating nonhomologous development processes — they certainly are. But it is surprising that textbooks discuss homologous development processes but not nonhomologous development processes, that lead to homologies.

  42. #42 Dan
    December 1, 2004

    You say my assertions are without the slightest basis in fact.

    I never said that. I said you’re dishonest. But if you want to talk about facts, sure, let’s do that. The facts upon which you rely, to the extent that you rely upon any, are distorted to fit your creationist worldview.

    But my assertions are not controversial.

    Says who? The creationists from whom you’re getting your information? I’ll bet. Nonpersuasive.

    Skepticism is important in science.

    I’ll buy that. But deliberate ignorance and willful dishonesty are not.

    There are no sacred cows and all theories are supposed to be open to falsification.

    No one here has claimed that evolutionary theory is a “sacred cow.” In fact, quite the opposite. The theory is subject to rigorous examination, testing, and, when supported by scientific evidence, revision. You want to falsify it? Great. Produce some scientific evidence. Hint: “not X, therefore Y” doesn’t count.

    Why not consider the evidence?

    Science does, every day. It is you who chooses to ignore the evidence, or to engage it dishonestly.

    Do you really think you’ve come up with anything new, interesting, or even the slightest bit useful here, Response to Ed? Let me help: this Stepford Creationist stuff is worn out and tired. You’re not original. You’re not interesting. You’re not persuasive. You’re not worth the time.

  43. #43 Dave S.
    December 1, 2004

    Dan has said pretty much everything that needs to be said.

    Response to Ed – Lay out your homology argument with references to relevant scientific details, and show how it’s inconsistant with mainstream evolutionary biology.

    Hopefully you can also lay out a superior way to understand the situation since evolution falls short.

    You say you want a discussion of the evidence. Then lay the evidence out for us with examples.

  44. #44 Response To Ed
    December 1, 2004

    Dan:

    You said: But if you want to talk about facts, sure, let’s do that.

    Me: Ok. We’ll start with the fact that homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes. What does this mean? It means that in closely related species, that may even be difficult to tell apart for non experts (or at least particular parts of their anatomy would be difficult to tell apart), certain designs arise from different development processes (genes or embryonic processes). Of course, historically evolution predicted that homologies would derive from the same (homologous) development processes. Indeed, this was a defining characteristic of homologies. So, this presents a problem for evolution. We must say that after a speciation event, in one of the species a design is preserved but the origin of that design, the process by which is arises, evolves.

    Second, genetic comparisons between the human and mouse genomes shows near identical non functional sequences. An evolutionist once told me that this type of finding would falsify evolution.

    Third, I’ll reiterate the marsupial / placental divergence. Once they diverged they evolved, separately, over 100+ million years. With all this time for contingencies to randomly steer the different evolutionary histories we would expect very different results (after all, if we replayed the tape of natural history we’d get a very different result). Remember, it is a blind, unguided process. And yet, surprisingly we see the same designs repeated over and over in the placental and marsupial lineages. Evolution’s explanation for this is similar evolutionary pressures, and all that. But this means that evolutionary pressure has priority over contingency, and that if we replayed the tape of natural history we would *not* get a very different result. This has profound implications about the design of organisms. At the atomic level we have forms (i.e., the periodic table). Now we would have forms at the other extreme; the population / species level. Darwin meets Plato! Among other things, one implication of this is that one of the strongest arguments for evolution, namely the argument from homology, is now undercut. Instead of being the result of an unguided process + random contingencies, they become an expected design form.

    Fourth, we’re finding that the adaptive mechanisms in species are quite complex, and work well for adjusting to environmental pressures. The bugaboo is that there is no explanation for how they (the adaptive mechanisms) could have evolved. So evolution must have created these mechanisms (somehow), which make adaptation possible, and is what evolutionists point to as evidence for evolution.

    So now, with the homology and the observable (adapatation) evidences compromised, evolution is left with the fossil evidence. There certainly is evidence there, as Ed points out, but there are also problems (like the abrupt appearance of myriad species). Also, the fossils can’t tell us how they got there. They tell us what species existed, not how they came to be.

    Ed began this dispatch asking why people reject evolution. There are plenty of problems with evolution (I’ve only touched on a few here), and therefore good reasons to reject it. The pressing question is not why do people reject evolution, but why do people wonder why people reject evolution?

    Dave:

    You asked me to lay out some arguments. Does the above help, or would you like more detail?

  45. #45 Response to IDiot
    December 1, 2004

    Well, RTE, you have truly taken the cake here.

    I originally intended to discuss homologies in some detail, until I realized that your aguments here are directly taken from Michael Denton’s “Evolution a Theory in Crisis” (a book that surely is in the top 10 for most misleading title). For further reading on how wrong you are, please look up the following link: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/denton.html.

    As for your second point, I had thought you were wrong before, but compared to this, you were right. Yes, we share a lot of non-functional sequences with with mice. We also share an enormous number of functional genes with mice. According to this page (http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/faq/compgen.shtml) approximately 85%. This is relative. Compared to fruitflies, human and mouse genomes are nearly identical. In the same way, compared to cyanobacteria, humans and fruitflies show much more genomic similarity (even if fruitflies aren’t nearly as attractive in a thong bikini). We share a lot more evolutionary history with mice than with fruitflies or cyanobacteria. What’s the ID explanation? Let me enlighten you. There isn’t one. I’d love to know who the “evolutionist” was that told you this (Evolutionist, is that anything like alienist?).

    I’ve pretty much run out time to waste beating a dead horse, so I’ll stop with the first two. But before I go, I would like to leave with one parting statement. The person you were ostensibly responding to asked for SPECIFIC information and POSITIVE evidence for design. Perhaps you could give that a shot.

  46. #46 Dan S.
    December 1, 2004

    That contingency vs. convergence argument doesn’t make any sense. It just sounds like you read Gould’s _Wonderful Life_ at some point and really liked the tape analogy. I’m no expert, so a lot of what I say might be poorly digested confusion, but it sounds like you don’t understand what role natural selection is supposed to play.
    Evolution? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. (is this the first known Princess Bride reference in an evolution thread? probably not…)
    Platonic evolution is a amusing concept, though! Although with some obvious problems . . . (I *know* – but who needs philosophy when you can have a cheap play on words . . .
    A problem for homologies? The thing is (as far as I understand), marsupial analogues (for example) *aren’t* their placental counterparts. A marsupial mouse isn’t a placental mouse, it’s a marsupial that looks like a mouse (or vice versa). You can figure out which features are likely homologies and which are likely a product of convergent evolution.
    See also thumb, pandas’.
    now yielding floor to people who can explain my point clearly.

    Didn’t trilobites go through several waves of extinctions, with a resulting (temporary?) decrease in diversity? I might be misremembering, but if not this might explain where the decreasing-differentiaton-of-trilobites claim kinda came from?

    Why do people reject evolution? From the coverage of the Dover, PA situation, for a good number of people it’s less a rejection than having a reporter ask what is to them essentially – do you support gurble or bagyboo? Who knows? Who cares? Teach them both! Others hear something along the lines of Do you support gurble or God?, with yet others hearing Do you support teaching evil atheistic claptrap or God? Science content meter reading: low to non-existent.

    Waiting for the next Sputnik. What will it be, do you think?

    -Dan

  47. #47 Response To Ed
    December 1, 2004

    OK, RTI, here’s the deal. Vuletic’s review is helpful, but only in so far as it goes. His intent is to argue against Denton rather than the good points that Denton brings up. Fair enough. Denton advocates a type of typology. I am not advocating typology. Nor does my point, that there are problems with evolution, come from Denton. That said, we should give Denton credit for making several good points (eg, he points out the problem that homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes). For a fruitful debate, let’s not point fingers and say “Ah, hah, you’re another Denton, and Denton’s all wrong!”

    Yes, I disagree with Denton too, but that doesn’t mean Denton did not make several good points. Unfortunately, Vuletic doesn’t address those good points head on and in isolation from Denton’s larger views on typology. Homologies arise from nonhomologous development processes. That is a problem for evolution, regardless of Denton’s larger position.

    Now on to your point about genomes. You say, compared to cyanobacteria, humans and fruitflies show much more genomic similarity. Yeah, that makes sense. I would hope we are more similar to a fly than to a cyanobacteria. Then you say “I’d love to know who the “evolutionist” was that told you this (Evolutionist, is that anything like alienist?).”

    Hah, haa. No, this was a bona fide, serious evolutionist. In fact, it’s a name that I’m sure everyone here would recognize and respect. More to the point however, is that what he said makes perfect sense. The general argument is that changes occur within functional constraints (ie, functional constraints that, when violated, would degrade reproductivity). When we see extremely similar designs in distant species it is going to be a result of selective pressure. What we should not see, is extremely similar designs with no such pressure (eg, in a useless DNA segment). That would falsify evolution, and that is what we see in the mouse-human genomes. You could knock the segment out and the mouse would do just fine.

    Next, you wanted “SPECIFIC information and POSITIVE evidence for design. Perhaps you could give that a shot.” Ed’s question was why do people reject evolution. I’m one of those people, so I figured I should chime in. If you want evidence for design you’ll have to go elsewhere.

    Dan:

    I don’t think my contingency vs. convergence argument has the problems you are describing. Yes, I do understand the role natural selection is supposed to play. Natural selection never designed or created anything. Non reproducing designs die off, reproducing ones survive; that is what describes natural selection. Of course this is not news. Any evolutionist would agree with this. But often the language gets lazy and we hear about natural selection as a sort of creator, causing this or that design to arise. Every species, every biological mechanism, every clever little design all must have arose simply as a result of mass, energy and the laws of nature doing their things. Natural selection only killed off the weak sisters. And you guys think that it is the skeptics who are half-baked?

    Now about the homologies. They are a very important evidence for evolution. Why are they so important? Because it is the contingent process which, we are told, explains them so well. You see, there is no reason why all these critters should all have the pentadactyl pattern (although in fact the pattern itself varies widely). Why should functions as different as climbing, walking, grasping, digging, etc., all have the same pattern? Why? The answer, we are told, is obviously because the process is contingent.

    No, I never read *Wonderful Life* and Gould by no means made up the idea that contingency rules necessity (nor is he the only one who uses the tape analogy). It is key to evolution. That’s the point of the homology argument. But this argument falls apart because convergence is rampant in biology. Evolution tells two contradicting stories. On the one hand, homologies prove evolution because we’d never expect the same design to be repeated; but on the other hand selective pressures are acting over geologic time periods, on different continents, to bring about the same designs. This severely mitigates the homology evidence. Evolution now must say that all those repeated designs (convergences) were driven by strong selection, whereas in the homologies, the similarities were merely constrained by selection. OK, fair enough. But this is an explanation assuming evolution is true, not evidence for evolution without presupposing it. In other words, we are not compelled to conclude that similarities are proof of common descent because we see rampant similarities that cannot be a consequence of common descent.

    As for the second half of your post. I’m afraid I can point to just as many examples of knee-jerk acceptances of evolution as you can point to knee-jerk rejections of evolution. There are plenty of uninformed people to go around, and I don’t think we get anywhere bringing them into the discussion.

  48. #48 Dave S.
    December 2, 2004

    OK, fair enough. But this is an explanation assuming evolution is true, not evidence for evolution without presupposing it. In other words, we are not compelled to conclude that similarities are proof of common descent because we see rampant similarities that cannot be a consequence of common descent.

    It is not merely the existance of similarities, but the specific pattern of similarities, anatomically, molecularly, and temporally that common descent predicts.

  49. #49 Response To Ed
    December 2, 2004

    Dave: It is not merely the existance of similarities, but the specific pattern of similarities, anatomically, molecularly, and temporally that common descent predicts.

    Me: Well not exactly. In fact, evolution does not predict homologies to be prevalent. Imagine a vertebrate without the pentadactyl pattern. That would not mean evolution is false. In that species, the pattern simply would be viewed as having not been preserved. Imagine only a single vertebrate with the pentadactyl pattern. Again, that would not mean evolution is false. The pattern would simply be viewed as having evolved in that one species, and no where else.

    Temporally? The pentadactyl pattern shows up repeatedly over many millions of years. This homology easily could have morphed into something else with no harm to evolution. And it is the rule rather than the exception that development is not conserved in homologies. Very similar designs come from different development paths. Evolution does not predict this.

    At the molecular level? There are severe non hierarchical patterns in the genomes. And of course anatomically, convergence is rampant. If there were far fewer convergences evolution would be fine; if there were even more convergences evolution would be fine.

  50. #50 Dan S.
    December 2, 2004

    response -
    “Every species, every biological mechanism, every clever little design all must have arose simply as a result of mass, energy and the laws of nature doing their things.”

    Well, sure. why is this lazy language? You think this process requires something outside the laws of nature? Sure, natural selection is only part of the story, but I think it is assumed that the listener is filling in “mutations, etc.” Ok, maybe a bit lazy.

    It really seems to me as if you don’t get convergence and homology, on some fundamental level. It’s weird, since you come across as an fairly intelligent person. Also annoying, since I’m hopeless at trying to explain it. It’s not two contradicting stories at all! Arrgh!

    Actually, I doubt you would listen, even if I could manage to drink enough coffee to manage a credible response. But everybody else – who wants to offer or link to a response that, if not as beautifully succinct as Dave S’, could be dragged out in other circumstances by those of us not good at arguing?

    At least it’s not the “mutations can’t increase genetic information” silliness.

    back to response:
    “I’m afraid I can point to just as many examples of knee-jerk acceptances of evolution as you can point to knee-jerk rejections of evolution.”
    Don’t be afraid! I agree completely – I’m mostly one myself. Not my point.

    “There are plenty of uninformed people to go around, and I don’t think we get anywhere bringing them into the discussion.”
    Perhaps we can get them to type for us? Saves wear on the fingertips . . .
    They actually are relevent to the discussion, especially given that it’s titled “Why Americans Doubt Evolution.” Reading some of the recent news coverage of this issue really gives the impression that Americans aren’t rejecting or doubting evolution, as we might understand it – it’s that they don’t know much about it. That’s part of Ed’s point. You seem to suggest that people are rejecting evolution based on problems within the theory – problems soooo crippling that this rejection is glaringly justified, and questioning such a response is just plain silly.
    If you really think that huge numbers of Americans are sitting on their couches musing about how the patterns of convergent evolution in marsupial and placental lineages undermine evolutionary theory, you are amusingly deluded. Either that, or the world is a much stranger place than I’ve realized .. . .

    My impression – and it is just that – is that when you leave out objections based on traditional/religious values – the ones Ed is talking about – you’re mostly left with people who simply don’t know much about the subject, partly because it’s rarely taught well (when I was in school, it hid in the back of the textbook), and partly ’cause it’s really not a priority either way. These people may not be rejecting it, but they’re not supporting it either. They also don’t know much about Intelligent Design creationism. In cases like the Dover situation, they might feel that teaching both sides is only fair and reasonable, in what would in other circumstances be an admirable expression of humble openmindedness.

    Dan S.

  51. #51 Response To Ed
    December 2, 2004

    Dan S.: It really seems to me as if you don’t get convergence and homology, on some fundamental level. It’s weird, since you come across as an fairly intelligent person. Also annoying, since I’m hopeless at trying to explain it. It’s not two contradicting stories at all! Arrgh!

    Me: Well let me caveat my use of the word contradictory. We may be close to agreeing on this. I didn’t mean there is necessarily a contradiction. The contradiction arises because evolutionists claim homologies are convincing evidence for evolution (indeed, Darwin said comparative anatomy alone, in its various forms, should be sufficient to advance his theory).

    Now when this claim is made a contradiction arises. This is because, due to all the convergences, the evolutionist must also agree that there are all kinds of similarities that are not due to inheriting the design coming from a common ancestor. The marsupial and placental wolves could not have inherited their similar designs because their common ancestor is something like a mouse.

    From that mouse, you have flying squirrels, wolves, rats, and a bunch of other designs occurring twice, over millions of years on different continents. Yet we are supposed to be shocked that there is this pentadactyl pattern repeated in the vertebrates, and that this must be such strong evidence for a common ancestor. If we are shocked by the by the repeated pentadactyl pattern, we must be catatonic from the placental-marsupial convergence. But, and here’s the rub, we *cannot* resolve the placental-marsupial convergence with common descent, like we did the pentadactyl pattern and other homologies. The placental-marsupial similarities must have arisen independently. But if these similarities could have arisen independently, then certainly the homologies could have arisen independently as well. We no longer have the mandate for common descent.

    Dan S.: Actually, I doubt you would listen, even if I could manage to drink enough coffee to manage a credible response. But everybody else – who wants to offer or link to a response that, if not as beautifully succinct as Dave S’, could be dragged out in other circumstances by those of us not good at arguing?

    Me: Believe me I would listen, and have listened, and have read. Believe me, I’d rather be an evolutionist than a skeptic.

    Dan S.: Perhaps we can get them to type for us? Saves wear on the fingertips . . .
    They actually are relevent to the discussion, especially given that it’s titled “Why Americans Doubt Evolution.” Reading some of the recent news coverage of this issue really gives the impression that Americans aren’t rejecting or doubting evolution, as we might understand it – it’s that they don’t know much about it. That’s part of Ed’s point. You seem to suggest that people are rejecting evolution based on problems within the theory – problems soooo crippling that this rejection is glaringly justified, and questioning such a response is just plain silly. If you really think that huge numbers of Americans are sitting on their couches musing about how the patterns of convergent evolution in marsupial and placental lineages undermine evolutionary theory, you are amusingly deluded. Either that, or the world is a much stranger place than I’ve realized .. . .

    Me: Yeah, good point.

    Dan S.: My impression – and it is just that – is that when you leave out objections based on traditional/religious values – the ones Ed is talking about – you’re mostly left with people who simply don’t know much about the subject, partly because it’s rarely taught well

    Me: Yes, that’s probably true.

    Dan S.: (when I was in school, it hid in the back of the textbook), and partly ’cause it’s really not a priority either way. These people may not be rejecting it, but they’re not supporting it either. They also don’t know much about Intelligent Design creationism. In cases like the Dover situation, they might feel that teaching both sides is only fair and reasonable, in what would in other circumstances be an admirable expression of humble openmindedness.

    Me: All good points. However, we must remember that the sort of detailed considerations required to analyze the evidence put forth for Darwinism (like comparative anatomy) are the not required to understand there is a problem with evolution. Remember, evolution lacks a mechanism sufficient to explain what it claims. There is a fundamental problem with evolution that does not escape most people. They don’t need to be aware of the detailed evidences set forth for Darwinism, and why they fail. No, I’m not saying this is true for all those who object, but the fundamental problems with evolution are not exactly subtle.

  52. #52 Dave S.
    December 3, 2004

    Me: Well not exactly. In fact, evolution does not predict homologies to be prevalent. Imagine a vertebrate without the pentadactyl pattern. That would not mean evolution is false. In that species, the pattern simply would be viewed as having not been preserved. Imagine only a single vertebrate with the pentadactyl pattern. Again, that would not mean evolution is false. The pattern would simply be viewed as having evolved in that one species, and no where else.

    Do you even know what an homolgy is in evolution? Of course they are predicted to be prevalent. Evolution can only work with what’s already there in the previous populations, these structures being modified to suit the function in successive populations. Take the transition going from reptilian jaws to mammalian ears. These honologous structures are illustrated beautifully in the fossil record, and just the sequence that we’d expect if evolution were true.

    Temporally? The pentadactyl pattern shows up repeatedly over many millions of years. This homology easily could have morphed into something else with no harm to evolution. And it is the rule rather than the exception that development is not conserved in homologies. Very similar designs come from different development paths. Evolution does not predict this.

    The pentadactyl pattern shows up repeatedly becuase it shows up early in the natural record. By temporally I mean the patterns of similarities are consistent within time and not scattered all about. This again is an important prediction of evolutionary theory. Now I don’t think common descent specifically predicts convergence, however convergence is not disallowed either, especially in the case of similar selective pressures on similar organisms.

    At the molecular level? There are severe non hierarchical patterns in the genomes. And of course anatomically, convergence is rampant. If there were far fewer convergences evolution would be fine; if there were even more convergences evolution would be fine.

    This is simply false. Please show that there are “severe non hierarchical patterns in the genomes”.

    And your last sentence is just bizarre.

  53. #53 Dave S.
    December 3, 2004

    Please show that there are “severe non hierarchical patterns in the genomes”.

    And in case you were wondering, I’m looking for non-hierarchal PATTERNS, not scattered instances where some protein doesn’t fit like turtle cytochrome-c doesn’t fit or some such thing. These patterns are statistical, which means the pattern is not going to be absolutely perfect, but is constructed with a high degree of certainty over many genes and organisms, the same pattern we see using anatomy, exactly as is required should evolution be true.

    As an analogy if we toss a fair die 60,000 times we expect the pattern to be very close to 10,000 instances of each number, but not necessarily exactly 10,000, since the process is stochastic in nature.

  54. #54 Response To Ed
    December 3, 2004

    Dave S.: Do you even know what an homolgy is in evolution? Of course they are predicted to be prevalent. Evolution can only work with what’s already there in the previous populations, these structures being modified to suit the function in successive populations. Take the transition going from reptilian jaws to mammalian ears. These honologous structures are illustrated beautifully in the fossil record, and just the sequence that we’d expect if evolution were true.

    Me: Temporarily high rates of evolution are commonly appealed to in order to explain data (eg, the evolution of histone IV, which is highly conserved). With high rates at speciation, for instance, you can explain the disappearance of homologies. Alternatively, evolution can appeal to non common descent mechanisms (a la Woese) or to separate origin of life events. Convergences can subsequently occur, so whatever similarity is observed can be ascribed to the convergence.

    Nor is this “just the sequence that we’d expect if evolution were true.” There is nothing in particular about the reptile – mammal sequence that evolution predicts. Evolution doesn’t predict either reptiles or mammals at all, nor does it predict the increase of complexity and that “lower” species would evolve into “higher” species. Evolution would be happy if the reptiles never evolved into mammals at all. It would also be happy if reptiles evolved into bacteria. It would also be happy if there never were any reptiles at all. It would also be happy if reptiles evolved into mammals, but not via the observed sequence.

    Dave S.: The pentadactyl pattern shows up repeatedly becuase it shows up early in the natural record. By temporally I mean the patterns of similarities are consistent within time and not scattered all about. This again is an important prediction of evolutionary theory.

    Me: If this is an important prediction, then evolution must be false since the more “advanced” trilobites appear earlier. But, in fact, this prediction is quite flexible because we can always appeal to problems with the fossil record, variable evolutionary rates, small bottleneck populations, “reverse” evolution, and so forth.

    Dave S.: Now I don’t think common descent specifically predicts convergence, however convergence is not disallowed either, especially in the case of similar selective pressures on similar organisms. … And your last sentence is just bizarre [where I say: "If there were far fewer convergences evolution would be fine; if there were even more convergences evolution would be fine"]

    Me: If convergence is not predicted but not disallowed, then why is is “bizarre” for me to point out that evolution can happily live with either less or more convergences than what is observed?

    Dave S.: This is simply false. Please show that there are “severe non hierarchical patterns in the genomes”.

    Me: I’m afraid you are unfamiliar with the data, as this is not at all “false.” I’ve already mentioned the essentially identical alignments of non functional segments we’re finding in many of the genomes (eg, mouse vs human). Beyond this, examples of strange patterns are common, and I’m surprised you would say this is false. Check out the mitochondrial proteins, for example. They were found to be very strange in the 90s, and of course this was unexpected.

    By the way, problems do not end with strange patterns. Histone IV does not have a strange pattern, but it is highly conserved and yet not functionally constrained. Go ahead and make substitutions, it does just fine. This is a yet another example of unneccesary similarity that falsifies evolution. But beyond this, the high level of conservation makes it a good example of the problem of how it evolved in the first place (ignoring the problem that if falsifies evolution for the moment). In other words, here you have a practically identicle sequence across a broad range of species. There is little sign of it changing to get to where it is. So we must appeal to some unknown (and therefore unrepeatable) historical, contingent, one-time, , events where high rates of change brought this protein into existence.

  55. #55 Response To Ed
    December 3, 2004

    Dave S.: And in case you were wondering, I’m looking for non-hierarchal PATTERNS, not scattered instances where some protein doesn’t fit like turtle cytochrome-c doesn’t fit or some such thing. These patterns are statistical, which means the pattern is not going to be absolutely perfect, but is constructed with a high degree of certainty over many genes and organisms, the same pattern we see using anatomy, exactly as is required should evolution be true. As an analogy if we toss a fair die 60,000 times we expect the pattern to be very close to 10,000 instances of each number, but not necessarily exactly 10,000, since the process is stochastic in nature.

    Me: Agreed. I’m not talking about statistical variations. It is well known that, while a great many molecular phylogenies align well with the tree of life, there are also many anomalies that cannot simply be ascribed to statistical variation. So evolutionists try to explain them using one or more of several explanatory mechanisms. When you look at one molecule, or class of molecules, and they align pretty well, then you look at another type and the pattern doesn’t fit well at all, then “statistical variation” is a very poor explanation. The aminoacyl tRNA synthetases are another example of a class with a lot of strange patterns that do not fit the tree of life. Another are the light harvesting bacteria genomes, that do not show a hierarchical pattern at all.

    Evolution is like a straight-jacket on biology. Every observable, no matter how poor the fit, must be force-fit into this straight-jacket. It suffers from serious problems on all levels.

  56. #56 Ed Brayton
    December 3, 2004

    Isn’t it amusing how our Anomymous Creationist continues to repeat the same arguments that have been debunked in the post above, without bothering to respond to the debunking?

  57. #57 Dave S.
    December 3, 2004

    That’s the key to his arguments Ed. You simply meet the debunking of assertions and meaningless statements with still more assertions and meaningless statements.

    The sad part is, he actually thinks he understands evolution pretty well.

    Reading Denton’s book will do that for you.

  58. #58 Response To Ed
    December 3, 2004

    Dave S.: That’s the key to his arguments Ed. You simply meet the debunking of assertions and meaningless statements with still more assertions and meaningless statements.

    Me: So Dave, you said my statement that there are “severe non hierarchical patterns in the genomes” is simply false. Then you asked for examples. I gave several specific examples. How is it that my examples are “meaningless.”? I took the time to answer your question with specifics, and this is all you can say?

    Ed: Isn’t it amusing how our Anomymous Creationist continues to repeat the same arguments that have been debunked in the post above, without bothering to respond to the debunking?

    Me: So Ed, can you give me a *single* example of an argument that I am repeating that has been debunked?

  59. #59 Ed Brayton
    December 3, 2004

    So Ed, can you give me a *single* example of an argument that I am repeating that has been debunked?

    I can give you several. I posted a long and detailed response to your claims above, but you have so far ignored it. The most obvious is your claim that the non-functional parts of the mouse and human genome are “near-identical”. Totally false. I posted the actual data in the thread above. Perhaps you should read it.

  60. #60 Dave S.
    December 3, 2004

    Where’s the data?

    Maybe I’m missing the important data, so what’s your source? I know that Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases are among the oldest proteins, and in fact are believed to predate even the last common ancestor, being active in the RNA World scenario.

    Ancient genes like these and the other bacterial ones you mention are subject to horizontal gene transfer, which will indeed cloud the phylogenies. This does not create a “problem” for evolution though.

    Evolution of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases–analysis of unique domain architectures and phylogenetic trees reveals a complex history of horizontal gene transfer events.

    Wolf Y.I., Aravind L., Grishin N.V., and Koonin E.V. (Genome Research, 1999, Aug. 9, pg: 689-710)

    Phylogenetic analysis of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs) of all 20 specificities from completely sequenced bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic genomes reveals a complex evolutionary picture. Detailed examination of the domain architecture of aaRSs using sequence profile searches delineated a network of partially conserved domains that is even more elaborate than previously suspected. Several unexpected evolutionary connections were identified, including the apparent origin of the beta-subunit of bacterial GlyRS from the HD superfamily of hydrolases, a domain shared by bacterial AspRS and the B subunit of archaeal glutamyl-tRNA amidotransferases, and another previously undetected domain that is conserved in a subset of ThrRS, guanosine polyphosphate hydrolases and synthetases, and a family of GTPases. Comparison of domain architectures and multiple alignments resulted in the delineation of synapomorphies-shared derived characters, such as extra domains or inserts-for most of the aaRSs specificities. These synapomorphies partition sets of aaRSs with the same specificity into two or more distinct and apparently monophyletic groups. In conjunction with cluster analysis and a modification of the midpoint-rooting procedure, this partitioning was used to infer the likely root position in phylogenetic trees. The topologies of the resulting rooted trees for most of the aaRSs specificities are compatible with the evolutionary “standard model” whereby the earliest radiation event separated bacteria from the common ancestor of archaea and eukaryotes as opposed to the two other possible evolutionary scenarios for the three major divisions of life. For almost all aaRSs specificities, however, this simple scheme is confounded by displacement of some of the bacterial aaRSs by their eukaryotic or, less frequently, archaeal counterparts. Displacement of ancestral eukaryotic aaRS genes by bacterial ones, presumably of mitochondrial origin, was observed for three aaRSs. In contrast, there was no convincing evidence of displacement of archaeal aaRSs by bacterial ones. Displacement of aaRS genes by eukaryotic counterparts is most common among parasitic and symbiotic bacteria, particularly the spirochaetes, in which 10 of the 19 aaRSs seem to have been displaced by the respective eukaryotic genes and two by the archaeal counterpart. Unlike the primary radiation events between the three main divisions of life, that were readily traceable through the phylogenetic analysis of aaRSs, no consistent large-scale bacterial phylogeny could be established. In part, this may be due to additional gene displacement events among bacterial lineages. Argument is presented that, although lineage-specific gene loss might have contributed to the evolution of some of the aaRSs, this is not a viable alternative to horizontal gene transfer as the principal evolutionary phenomenon in this gene class.

    Incidentally, if there really are serious problems with evolution, shouldn’t we not be able to make phylogenies at all? How could we then possibly get as you say “one molecule, or class of molecules, and they align pretty well” if that’s the case?

    Linus Pauling once wrote in 1965, “It will be determined to what extent the phylogenetic tree, as derived from molecular data in complete independence from the results of organismal biology, coincides with the phylogenetic tree constructed on the basis of organismal biology. If the two phylogenetic trees are mostly in agreement with respect to the topology of branching, the best available single proof of the reality of macro-evolution would be furnished. Indeed, only the theory of evolution, combined with the realization that events at any supramolecular level are consistent with molecular events, could reasonably account for such a congruence between lines of evidence obtained independently, namely amino acid seequences of homologous polypeptide chains on the one hand, and the finds of organismal taxonomy and paleontology on the other hand.”

    And we find exactly what Pauling was asking for.

  61. #61 Response To Ed
    December 3, 2004

    Dave S.:

    Thank you for that post. This will be my last post on this thread. I don’t have the mitochondria access numbers, but the work has been going on for about 10 years now. Shouldn’t be hard to track down. Bottom line is the mitochondria proteins don’t like up at all. For the light harvesting bacteria, you can start with Science 298:1616.

    Good reference on the Evolution of aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases you gave. The more you see explanatory devices such as horizontal gene transfers, the more you know this is an explanatory filter, not a compelling theory. You say this does not create a “problem” for evolution though. Well this, and other examples, mitigate the molecular phylogeny evidence. You ask:
    “Incidentally, if there really are serious problems with evolution, shouldn’t we not be able to make phylogenies at all? How could we then possibly get as you say “one molecule, or class of molecules, and they align pretty well” if that’s the case?”
    Well, think about it. You are asking a very deep question. Let’s say evolution is not true, does this mean species cannot show any relations? Any similarities? If so, why not? I’ll not try to get into these deep issues here, but leave you with this as food for thought. I think it is pretty obvious that evolution is not the only possible explanation for similarities.
    Your Pauling quote is a classic. I hope you can see his departure from science and entrance into metaphysics when he says “only the theory of evolution, … , could reasonably account for …” I think it is quite obvious that this is wrong, but the fact that this is so strongly believed tells you a lot about what is going on.

  62. #62 Dave S.
    December 5, 2004

    Well, think about it. You are asking a very deep question. Let’s say evolution is not true, does this mean species cannot show any relations? Any similarities? If so, why not? I’ll not try to get into these deep issues here, but leave you with this as food for thought. I think it is pretty obvious that evolution is not the only possible explanation for similarities.
    Your Pauling quote is a classic. I hope you can see his departure from science and entrance into metaphysics when he says “only the theory of evolution, … , could reasonably account for …” I think it is quite obvious that this is wrong, but the fact that this is so strongly believed tells you a lot about what is going on.

    From this response I can safely conclude you’re a poser who doesn’t know the first thing about about the science of evolution or likely science in general. You read some scattered anti-evolutionary nonsense from Denton or Wells or Gish and assume you know all there is to know.

    I’m asking you that if evolution is not true, then how can you get ANY molecular patterns consistant with common descent, the patterns you already say exist.

    Like any poser who doesn’t have an answer, you suggest the answer is obvious and it’s my fault for not “getting it” and I should think deeper, presumably just as you have.

    Is it “metaphysics” to say only atomic theory can reasonably account for the behavior of molecules and atoms? What nonsense. Oh and gee….did you know atomic theory doesn’t predict that atoms can form living thing? If I were you, I’d launch an immediate attack on that
    obviously flawed atomic theory of matter.

    I’d hide my identity totally too, if I made assertions as ridiculous as yours.

  63. #63 Bella
    December 17, 2004

    Ed, I thought I was pretty smart before I read this post. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described me as well as his character when he said “mind like a lumberyard; things wanted always buried”. It’s a joy to witness someone who knows how to argue.

    Having now blown my creds, I will say nevertheless, that I don’t think evolution can in honesty be reconciled with religion. If all this (the universe, the planet and it’s ecosystem) came into being without the help of a creator-god, then what do we need a creator god for? Not needing a creator-god myself, this doesn’t pose a problem, but some people seem to need one, so evolution has to go. And if such people were in the habit of rational thought and/or introspection, or the ruthless examination of beliefs, they wouldn’t ‘believe’ in a god like the one in the bible in the first place. Having been in the position of belonging to a fundamentalist religion, I can tell you that my ‘testimony’ couldn’t survive the exercise of my intellect, (such as it is.) I’m probably pissing people off big-time, but that’s the way I see it.

    Your blog is terrific. I’ve been floating around at DKos, Majikthise, Liberal Street Fighter and Americablog, but I feel like I’ve found my home.

  64. #64 Ed Brayton
    December 18, 2004

    Bella wrote:

    Having now blown my creds, I will say nevertheless, that I don’t think evolution can in honesty be reconciled with religion. If all this (the universe, the planet and it’s ecosystem) came into being without the help of a creator-god, then what do we need a creator god for?

    I think you’re making the same mistake that the creationists make in using the term “evolution” to mean virtually everything that science has discovered. Evolution is simply the theory that modern life forms are derived from a common ancestor via descent with modification. It doesn’t say anything about the origin of the univere or the planet or even, strictly, the origin of life. It also doesn’t say anything about “without the help of a creator-god”. The most one can say is that there is no evidence that a creator-god intervened, but this means that evolution is atheistic in the same sense that plumbing is atheistic (to borrow Rob Pennock’s analogy) – they simply don’t address the question because it’s not pertinent to the task at hand. And evolution is no more incompatible with the existence of a creator than is the kinetic theory of gasses or the germ theory of disease.

    Now, you are certainly correct that most of those who reject evolution do so because they perceive that evolution negates their religious beliefs. Only a tiny fraction of those who reject evolution have even the most basic understanding of evolution, or of science in general. And if their beliefs are based upon a literal reading of certain passages of the bible, then they are correct to perceive such a conflict. But that is not the default position of Christianity, and there is a long tradition in Christian theology of not treating those passages as literal, traditions that long predate evolutionary theory and hence were not invented merely as an ad hoc means of reconciling the two. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ignore such traditions in order to maintain the notion of inherent conflict between evolution and Christianity.

  65. #65 Paul Richard Strange Sr
    December 30, 2004

    This is a fascinating discussion! Glad I saw it while browsing!

    Several years back, my oldest son abandoned his profession of faith in God through Jesus Christ over this issue, claiming that his dad’s religious heritage was guilty of slandering and maligning Charles Darwin. His devotion to Darwin and Rand, and confidence that they were far more worthy of his loyalty than Jesus and the Apostles did, in fact, break my heart. But, I’ve never wanted any of my five kids to be phonies about anything. Thus, he decided to embrace the egoism of Ayn Rand objectivism. (I believe that creation occurred by the handiwork of God, although I don’t think He needed any 24-hour periods in literal lingo at all, and I like the fact that there are today some honest evolution teachers who are not militant anti-christians, and who face up to the fair questions creationists have raised about life from non-life, as well as the logical argument that either a Being or matter, itself, is eternal.

    Good discussion. Keep it up. I am an evangelical believer in Christ who is fully convinced that much of Holy Scripture is nonliteral, thus allowing for more than any one view of the “how” of the origin of species.

    paul richard strange sr
    119 Marvin Gardens
    Waxahachie Texas 75165
    dadprs@hotmail.com

  66. #66 G bruno
    February 22, 2005

    You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!

    IntelligentDesign is a Science-Killer, because if the Lord’s finger can poke around even once, say to patch up an undulipodium, then nothing is un-sacred. The universe becomes personality driven, rather than process driven. No event can be assigned a cause, since any event can be divine intervention.
    I believe that Americans prefer a personality driven world. Process is cold.

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