Dispatches from the Creation Wars

RTB’s “Testable Creation Model”

Reasons to Believe, an old earth creationist group headed by astronomer Hugh Ross, is trying hard to sell their new book, Creation As Science: A Testable Approach to End the Evolution/Creation Wars. They issued a press release yesterday about the book, which included some false claims, some good analysis of why ID isn’t taken seriously by scientists, and little detail on this new model they’ve been talking about for years. First, the false claims:

“The 1981 Supreme Court ruling guarantees the place of any scientifically viable model in public education regardless of its theological implications,” contends Ross.

There is no 1981 Supreme Court ruling on this question. The 1981 case was McLean v Arkansas, which was a district court case. He obviously intends to refer to Edwards v Aguillard, a 1987 Supreme Court case. What he is apparently referring to in the ruling is the following statement, which has been taken by creationists of all stripes to mean that if they can just find a way to claim their ideas are scientific, they can be taught:

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught.

But of course, the young earth creationists say the same thing that Ross says, that their ideas really are scientific and therefore can’t be prohibited. The ID movement says the same thing. And now Ross says he’s got a truly testable model that can pass the test. He doesn’t lay out that model in the press release, but judging by many of the claims RTB has made in the past, they’ve got a rather odd definition of “testable model”.

A good example is this article, where they claim that the “creation model” passed a “big test”. But in fact, the prediction is inconsequential and irrelevant, and the inference drawn from it based upon a caricature of the mainstream scientific view. Their vaunted “prediction” is that life will appear early in the earth’s history:

Reasons To Believe’s creation model makes several predictions that can be used to evaluate its validity. For example, the model predicts that life should appear early in Earth’s history and that the first life forms should be inherently complex.

Evolutionary origin of life models, on the other hand, require a long “percolation” time, perhaps up to 1 billion years, before life can emerge from a primordial soup. These naturalistic scenarios also predict that the first life forms should be relatively simple.

But this is simply nonsense. We have known for a very long time that microbial life first appeared on earth some 3.8 billion years ago, or around 750 million years after the formation of the earth. This “prediction” is of old data accepted by everyone except – ironically – many creationists. And of course, abiogenesis theories predict what the first self-replicating life forms would have been like and how they might have came about, but not that they will be found, so it makes no sense to claim that since the first life forms on earth that we find evidence of were bacteria, those must have been the first life forms actually here.

It is highly implausible that we will ever find fossilized remains of pre-cellular organisms; we are extraordinarily fortunate to have found even the trace evidence of early microbial life, and even then all of the evidence we have of early non-metazoan life consists of stromatolites (colonies of bacteria) that constituted the whole of the earth’s biosphere for some 2 billion years. So what RTB calls a “big test” of a major prediction is in fact nothing more than a mundane retrodiction of what everyone already knew to be true long before they ever developed their “testable model”, combined with a straw man version of evolution to show some ostensible contrast between the two “models”.

But I do agree with this statement:

“The problem scientists have with the current Intelligent Design movement is that ID proponents offer no model by which to test their claims. Testability and predictive power are crucial to credibility,” says Ross. “It is right for the scientific community to ask, ‘Where is your model?’”

But of course, we require a real model that makes real predictions, not the sort of pointless and empty predictions attempted above.

Comments

  1. #1 Jordan
    September 8, 2006

    One difficulty that this press release highlights is the ever increasing complexities and subtleties in the creationist arguments.

    I am worried that as the arguments are refined and perfected, a critical point will be reached when only a select few individuals, who are extremely well versed in evolutionary theory, will be able to debunk creationists with any kind of conviction and eloquence.

    Since those arguments will tend to reach a larger audience, previously reasonable folks will become convinced, and we all know there is very little going back.

    A doomsday scenario? Maybe. But it is important for those of us who claim to be proponents of evolutionary theory to stay very well informed on it, in the meantime. The only long-term solution to this problem is education at an earlier age — which of course is determined by the very people who will continue to be swayed by the arguments like RTB’s.

  2. #2 David Heddle
    September 8, 2006

    I am a huge fan of Ross, especially in regards to the cosmological side of his arguments, but I agree that he overstates his case on testability. On the other hand, evolution avoids even the vaguest of predictions. How early in earth’s history should we expect to see microbial life? Evolution says nothing beyond “given enough time the improbable becomes a certainty.”

    So while I agree that Ross’s prediction that complex life will appear early doesn’t smell like a “real” scientific prediction, evolution’s silence on the issue is a sign of its impotence as a predictive science.

  3. #3 kehrsam
    September 8, 2006

    I misread the title of this one as “Testicle Creation Theory” which would have been more interesting.

    Under ID, of course, almost anything can be predicted; that is why it is not science. Jordan, I’m afraid the debate has long since passed up the average American.

  4. #4 Randy
    September 8, 2006

    Creationists and ID advocates only make up “predictions” that they already know they can pass.

    I had one creationist tell me that, “…if ID is true then we should see irreducibly complex designs and we do”.

    Putting aside the fact that there really aren’t any IC designs, I asked him this: “Are you saying that God couldn’t have designed organisms without using irreducibly complex ‘designs’?” The creationist responded angrily by saying that God could have done it however He wanted!

    He clearly misses the point where “testability” implies “falsifiability”. In other words, if the hypothesis fails the test, then it should be discarded.

  5. #5 Fastlane
    September 8, 2006

    David Heddle says:
    “…evolution avoids even the vaguest of predictions. How early in earth’s history should we expect to see microbial life? Evolution says nothing beyond “given enough time the improbable becomes a certainty.” ”

    Really?

    1) Evolution theory prediceted that there would be some method of passing information on from parent to offspring that varies slightly from generation to generation long before DNA was discovered.
    2) Evolution predicts that the fossil record will show fossils that demonstrate change in form over time, and as the fossils get older the less they will have in common with modern life forms. Importantly, this is one of the best ways of falsifying ToE. Find a rabbit in the cambrian, and the Nobel prize is yours.
    3) Mutiple lines of evidence make predictions not only about type of fossils (we obviously can’t predict exaclty what we’ll find, since fossilization is a rare enough occurence) we find, but where we should find them based on already discovered fossils, and plate tectonic models.

    This last point is exceedingly important and is very nicely illustrated byt eh recent discovery of tiktaalik fossils in the Canadian north. Do you think that paleontologists just randomly picked some point on the globe and started digging? (If that were the case, you’d certainly see a lot more ‘archeological’ digs in the Bahamas! ;-) )

    The reality is they examined what strata in which previous fossils were found that were part of this chain of related fossils. They then used geological plate tectonic models to determine where those strata would best be found today, and where the conditions would be most likely to preserve the fossils. Only then did they trudge into the cold north of Canada (where armed ‘gaurds’ were necessary due to the population of polar bears) and look for the fossils. Either the scientific method really works, and the theory is sound and has predictive value, or the scientists that discovered tiktaalik were masochistic, deranged, and very very lucky (wanna discuss a real miracle?)!!

    Cheers.

  6. #6 Raging Bee
    September 8, 2006

    Mr. Heddle: I thought we established a long time ago that the theory of evolution does not cover how life originated, only how it changed over time. So evolution’s silence on a subject outside its remit is not a “sign” of anything. Neither is neurobiology’s silence on supernovas.

  7. #7 David Heddle
    September 8, 2006

    Fastlane,

    It did not require evolution to predict that some method of passing information from generation to generation existed. People before Darwin surely noticed that offspring bore a resemblance to their parents. And selective breeding, which is ancient, is based on the assumption that information is passed from one generation to the next. Evolution doesn’t get credit for such a trivial prediction.

    As I have stated many times, if finding a rabbit in the Cambrian is how evolution is falsifiable, then evolution is not falsifiable. That’s like saying (I repeat myself) that the way to falsify gravity is to follow the reverend Al Sharpton around to see if he ever floats off the planet.

    In reality, to falsify (Newtonian) Gravity you make a bold prediction about the precession of Mercury’s orbit, then go do the experiment. Evolution has nothing of the same quality in terms of its predictive capability or its experimental falsifiability. The Cambrian rabbit example is: go ahead, observe a miracle, then and only then is evolution falsified.

    As for looking in the correct places for fossils, why do I need evolution–why aren’t the fossil record and geology sufficient to make scientifically informed decisions about where to look for fossils?

    Here is a chance for evolution to show its predictive power. Before we explore Mars further, tell me what Martian life will be like if we find it.

    Raging Bee,

    Let’s assume that abiogenesis occurred on day one. That takes it out of the equation. Does evolution say anything, given that abiogenesis occurred, about how long it will take until we see microbes?

  8. #8 DougT
    September 8, 2006

    Prediction of evolution:

    A previously undiscovered island is found. Given sufficient isolation and size of the island, small numbers of arriving individuals in the past will have undergone adaptive radiation. TOE predicts that there will be a series of closely realted species that have descended from the earlier arrivals, and that now use distinct niches on the island ecosystem.

  9. #9 Will
    September 8, 2006

    Anyone who claims that there is no evidence for evolution, or that it is not falsifiable, has either very limited understanding of evolution, or very limited understanding of science in general.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    September 8, 2006

    Heddle wrote:

    As I have stated many times, if finding a rabbit in the Cambrian is how evolution is falsifiable, then evolution is not falsifiable. That’s like saying (I repeat myself) that the way to falsify gravity is to follow the reverend Al Sharpton around to see if he ever floats off the planet.

    I’m sorry, but this is nonsense. Finding a rabbit in the Cambrian is only one small part of a much larger prediction, a prediction that simply must be true if evolution is true. If the fossil record did not look the way it does, there is no way we could possibly support any theory of common descent. If the fossil record showed that complex metazoan life appeared first in the fossil record, evolution is dead. If the fossil record did not show that the first organisms in each major group to appear on the earth are virtually identical to the group they are inferred to have evolved from, evolution is dead. But we see precisely those things. The first birds to appear on earth are nothing more than feathered theropods, and over time we see new species appear, each successively less like theropods and more like modern birds. If this was not the case, if modern birds suddenly appeared in the triassic, evolution would be dead. These are not vague predictions. If evolution is not true and if life was actually created by some designer in whatever order he chose to do so, then the fossil record could show an infinite number of other patterns; but if evolution is true – that is, if common descent is really the explanation for the natural history of life on earth – then the fossil record must look like it does.

    Now, please do not respond by pointing to gaps in the fossil record. Certainly there are areas where the record is incomplete, particularly the older the rocks get in which we find them (which is quite predictable and reasonable given tectonic processes; the longer they are around the more likely they are to be destroyed and the less likely they are to be exposed for us to explore). The point is that the entire fossil record shows a pattern that simply must be there if evolution is true, and it does. ID, on the other hand, makes no predictions at all about the nature of the fossil record. It could look any possible way and still be compatible with ID. That’s a large part of what makes it untestable, there are no predictions that can be made that would put it at risk. Quite simply, it is able to accomodate any set of data. The same is clearly not true of evolution.

    Evolution also makes quite specific predictions in other areas as well. If common descent is true, then we must see the patterns we see with respect to endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), for example. Have you read Francis Collins’ new book? He spends quite some time going into great detail on multiple lines of evidence for common descent, all drawing on his work with genome sequencing. Those are very specific predictions made that all turned out to be true.

    With respect to abiogenesis, you are of course correct to say that we do not, yet, have a viable explanation. But this really has no effect on evolutionary theory at all. Evolution is the theory of common descent. The evidence we have is incontrovertibly in favor of common descent, regardless of how the first self-replicating life form get on the earth. If it was planted here by aliens, it then evolved to form the biodiversity we see now. If it was placed here by God, it then evolved to form the biodiversity we see now. If it developed through one of the many hypotheses developed by abiogenesis researchers, or by one no one has thought of yet, it then evolved to form the biodiversity we see now. But with abiogenesis, there is at least the possibility of testing an explanation. There are at least specific predictions that can be drawn from each of the hypotheses. The fact that none of them have proven true to this point does not mean they won’t. The very fact that we have the means to test them gives such hypotheses a major advantage over supernatural explanations. Let’s bear in mind that abiogenesis research has only been going on for 50 years or so, and only by a relatively small number of serious researchers. I don’t think anti-evolutionists really want to place their bets on the inevitable failure of abiogenesis research; what happens when they succeed?

  11. #11 tacitus
    September 8, 2006

    One difficulty that this press release highlights is the ever increasing complexities and subtleties in the creationist arguments.

    I am worried that as the arguments are refined and perfected, a critical point will be reached when only a select few individuals, who are extremely well versed in evolutionary theory, will be able to debunk creationists with any kind of conviction and eloquence.

    Since those arguments will tend to reach a larger audience, previously reasonable folks will become convinced, and we all know there is very little going back.

    Jordan, this is not likely to happen. While increasing the subtleties of the creationist arguments might hoodwink some people into believing them, the vast majority of those who are already creationists will balk at the obfuscation and compromising required.

    That is why, in part, ID has failed to gain traction in the States. At first glance, creationists like ID because they are told “it brings God back into the picture” but if you explain ID more fully to them they usually become deeply dissatisfied with it since ID, in its attempt to become an acceptable scientific idea, cannot identify the designer as God.

    To many creationists’ credit, they refuse to go along when IDists whisper to them that “we all know who the designer really is, but we just can say it in public”. They can see it as the dishonest tactic it is.

  12. #12 Herb
    September 8, 2006

    As I have stated many times, if finding a rabbit in the Cambrian is how evolution is falsifiable, then evolution is not falsifiable.

    David, I think two separate issues are being confused: (1) whether a theory is falsifiable and (2) what is a compelling test of the theory. So you are not sold on evolution because of the lack of Cambrian rabbits… fair enough. A lack of Cambian rabbits speaks to (1) – that in principle there are ideas that are incompatible with evolution. Compare this to the theory that “God did it” which can’t ever be contradicted since you can always make up some miracle to match whatever evidence you find. Science can sometimes be guilty of this, but that’s when people lose interest in the theory.

    As for (2), to me, one compelling test of evolution is that the phylogenic tree (what is closely related to what) can be reconstructed in several independent ways, and each way gives the same tree! If you haven’t already, head over to talkorigins.org for this and other evidence.

  13. #13 Jeff Hebert
    September 8, 2006

    David said:

    Let’s assume that abiogenesis occurred on day one. That takes it out of the equation. Does evolution say anything, given that abiogenesis occurred, about how long it will take until we see microbes?

    I found FAQ at Talk.Origins, the Evolution and Philosophy
    Predictions and Explanations
    by John S. Wilkins very helpful on this point. Money quote:

    For example – you know that certain features of ants are derived (not in the primitive ancestor). You have general laws of evolution that account for the phenomena you observe (actual ants today, and in the fossil record). So, you predict that a certain transitional form will be found. When it is, you have made a bona fide prediction.

    I thought this would be a helpful resource for the more lay of laypeople (like me) reading this.

  14. #14 Treban
    September 8, 2006

    While increasing the subtleties of the creationist arguments might hoodwink some people into believing them, the vast majority of those who are already creationists will balk at the obfuscation and compromising required.

    Absolutely. Whatever other issues many creationists have, most of them have serious ethical misgivings about lying. They may happily delude themselves but most will not say things they do not believe to be true.

  15. #15 tacitus
    September 8, 2006

    The first birds to appear on earth are nothing more than feathered theropods, and over time we see new species appear, each successively less like theropods and more like modern birds. If this was not the case, if modern birds suddenly appeared in the triassic, evolution would be dead.

    That’s not entirely true. Finding a single anomaly like this is not necessarily a death-knell for the theory of evolution, scientists would simply react (after a lot of head-scatching) by saying we were wrong about birds from therapods, and go off and look for their true antecedents.

    What you are correct about is the overall pattern of the fossil history. If fossils were so jumbled up that there was little or no conceivable pattern to their location in the strata then evolution would be dead, buried.

    But creationists like to pick on the individual anomalies which inevitably happen and complain that when evolutionists shrug their shoulders and propose another hypothesis in place of the one just demolished, it makes theory of evolution infinitely malleable. It can be an effective tactic with people who are not well versed in evolution but, of course, they are dead wrong.

    This problem will never go away. For every mystery we solve in evolutionary history (the first birds, the first tetrapods, whales, etc) there are dozens more hypotheses waiting to be demolished and reworked. When you read the creationist critiques of the way evolutionists “adapt” to old theories being demolished, you can sense their distaste for the uncertainties the theory of evolution brings with it. Fundamentalists believe in absolutes, they believe they know what is right, and creationism gives them that certaintly they seek. Evolution, on the other hand, refuses to be pinned down in that fashion, and creationists find that deeply dissatisfying.

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    September 8, 2006

    tacitus wrote:

    That’s not entirely true. Finding a single anomaly like this is not necessarily a death-knell for the theory of evolution, scientists would simply react (after a lot of head-scatching) by saying we were wrong about birds from therapods, and go off and look for their true antecedents.

    I think you misunderstood my point. Regardless of which particular ancestor birds evolved from, if modern birds suddenly appeared in the fossil record, rather than having the first birds appear be very similar to an ancestral group and gradually diversify, then evolution would indeed be dead. It’s the pattern of the first members of any higher level taxonomic group being very similar to another group and gradually becoming more diversified, less like the other group and more modern looking that is key here. If that pattern was not seen, evolution could not possibly be justified.

    You’re absolutely right about creationists misusing the fact that science is always refining to claim that scientists just keep changing things willy nilly. Part of this is because they don’t understand that evolution is not a single theory but one general theory or model (common descent) with hundreds, probably thousands, of ancillary theories and hypotheses within it. Some of those ancillary theories are broadly applicable and important; some of them are very minor and technical and deal with some particular aspect of evolution that really has little bearing on the validity of the general theory or model. For instance, specific questions of lineage: did birds evolve from theropod dinosaurs or ornithischian dinosaurs? That issue is all but settled now, I think, but regardless of which specific lineage they evolved from, the patterns of the fossil record clearly demonstrate that they evolved from an ancestral group. Likewise questions like whether Neanderthals went extinct because we killed them off, or from interbreeding with true Homo sapiens. It’s an interesting question, but the answer doesn’t really affect the validity of the general theory.

    One of the big things that creationists do not understand, I think, is the distinction between a prediction of necessity and a prediction of compatibility. The Tiktaalik finding is a good example. A specific prediction was made that in order for that particular transition to have happened, there must have been an animal that looked very much like Tiktaalik, and it must have lived at a specific time and in a specific environment. Given the difficulties of fossilization, not finding it would not have been fatal to the hypothesis (especially since we already had so many forms on both sides of that gap in exactly the right temporal and anatomical sequence to document the transition). But the fact that it was found precisely where it was predicted to be found is a brilliant and compelling confirmation of the hypothesis it was derived from, and we’ve seen similar finds all over the place to fill in such gaps and document transitions, from the whole line of therapsid reptiles documenting the reptile-mammal transition to Gingerich’s whale specimens. On the other hand, the only thing that those who oppose evolution can say is that this doesn’t necessarily contradict ID. And they’re right, but they’re right because ID does not make such predictions. There is no possible set of data that could be incompatible with ID. Whatever patterns are found, whatever the data says, that’s just the way the designer wanted it to be. It can explain anything and thus explains nothing. But there are an enormous number of possible data sets that evolution cannot explain.

  17. #17 Dave L
    September 8, 2006

    Let’s assume that abiogenesis occurred on day one. That takes it out of the equation. Does evolution say anything, given that abiogenesis occurred, about how long it will take until we see microbes?

    By this standard, I would think all sciences are ‘impotent’ as a predictive science. Let’s assume that the Big Bang occurred on day one. Does current physics say anything about how long it will take for Earth to form? I wouldn’t argue that physics is less a predictive science than evolution of course, but relative to the science of physics, evolution just hasn’t been around very long and I would guess that it’s predictive power would only increase in the future.

  18. #18 David Heddle
    September 8, 2006

    Ed,

    You are completely wrong. Using the rabbit in the Cambrian as an example of falsification simply makes evolution look foolish. If it were a meaningful falsification experiment, then I propose you should go to the NSF and seek funding–surely research money would be forthcoming for a falsification experiment for any widely accepted theory, including evolution. But here is what you’ll find: a proposal to allocate research dollars to look for a falsifying rabbit would be as well received as one to look for a levitating Al Sharpton. Why? Because the fossil record (which many here are confusing with evolution itself) already tells us that we won’t find such a beast. No competing theory, even Ross’s, predicts such a thing. Ross proposes systematic supernatural creation of increasingly complex organisms–it too would be falsified by a Cambrian rabbit.

    And I won’t mention gaps, because I never mention gaps.

    You are bringing up abiogenesis in the same incorrect way as raging bee–go ahead and assume it happened–I know evolution says nothing about abiogenesis (although why they keep reminding us of that as if it is a strength of their position is puzzling). Given that it happened, when will the first microbes appear on earth?

    Herb,

    I agree “God did it” cannot be falsified. That would be important to point out to me if I were claiming ID is science.

    DaveL,

    Let’s assume that the Big Bang occurred on day one. Does current physics say anything about how long it will take for Earth to form?

    Yes of course it does! First of all, it required the first generation of stars to form and then explode so that the necessary elements are present. There are more details of course, but physics certainly has much to say about how long it would take for the earth to form after the big bang.

  19. #19 Matthew
    September 8, 2006

    ID related, a new study says that Earth-like planets are more common than previously thought. There goes the whole “privileged planet” thing. Where will they hide god next?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5325476.stm

  20. #20 David Heddle
    September 8, 2006

    Matthew,

    Have you actually read the paper you linked to? I does not say, as you claim, “Earth-like planets are more common than previously thought” but that computer simulations indicate that it might be possible for earthlike planets to form in the habitable zone outside of Jupiter size planets. That’s is quite different from what you wrote.

  21. #21 W. Kevin Vicklund
    September 8, 2006

    In reality, to falsify (Newtonian) Gravity you make a bold prediction about the precession of Mercury’s orbit, then go do the experiment. Evolution has nothing of the same quality in terms of its predictive capability or its experimental falsifiability. The Cambrian rabbit example is: go ahead, observe a miracle, then and only then is evolution falsified.

    Mercury is in fact Newton’s version of a Cambrian rabbit. Newtonian physics predicted that all orbiting objects should follow certain rules. The way to falsify this prediction was to find an orbiting object that didn’t follow those rules. Many objects were tested and found not to violate those rules. Then one day, someone found that Mercury violated those rules. (It doesn’t matter that we knew about the existence of Mercury prior to the formulation of Netwon’s theory – after all, the Cambrian rabbit may turn out to be a fossil from 1830 that is collecting dust on a museum warehouse shelf.)

    If you disallow the Cambrian rabbit as a falsification test for evolution, you are disallowing Mercury as a falsification test for Newtonian physics.

    N.B. “Cambrian rabbit” is a catch-all phrase for any hypothetical anachronistic discovery that would disprove evolution in its current form. Finding a Cambrian pig would be equivalent.

  22. #22 David Heddleh
    September 8, 2006

    W Kevin Viclund.

    Mercury is in fact Newton’s version of a Cambrian rabbit.

    If you disallow the Cambrian rabbit as a falsification test for evolution, you are disallowing Mercury as a falsification test for Newtonian physics.

    Oh brother–I do hope this is a parody or perhaps sarcasm that I am missing.

  23. #23 Herb
    September 8, 2006

    Herb, I agree “God did it” cannot be falsified. That would be important to point out to me if I were claiming ID is science.

    I’m sorry for stating the obvious to you – my point was not that ID/creationism is unfalsifiable, but rather that evolution is not nearly in the same camp.

  24. #24 W. Kevin Vicklund
    September 8, 2006

    No, its a demonstration that you have no clue what you are talking about re: falsification tests.

    Every theory has its “Cambrian rabbit”. For some theories, that “Cambrian rabbit” has been discovered, which is how that theory got falsified and therefore had to be modified or discarded. For Newtonian physics, the “Cambrian rabbit” was an orbiting object that didn’t move as expected – Mercury. If Mercury hadn’t existed, we eventually would have found something in place of Mercury. And that discovery, like that of a “Cambrian rabbit,” would most likely have come about through normal research, much of which is verification – testing that even with better instruments, better understanding, or whatever, there is still no violation of the theory.

  25. #25 Skemono
    September 8, 2006

    Because the fossil record (which many here are confusing with evolution itself) already tells us that we won’t find such a beast.

    So… because the fossil record as we know it agrees with evolution, that doesn’t count as evidence for evolution?

    And you have to wonder if we’re doing parody?

  26. #26 Herb
    September 8, 2006

    Given that [abiogenesis] happened, when will the first microbes appear on earth?

    You can’t hope to make such a specific prediction unless you have a lot of extra information about how abiogenesis happened. That’s like saying, “Given that I’ve thrown a football, exactly where will it land?” without knowing the details of the throw.

  27. #27 Ed Brayton
    September 8, 2006

    David Heddle wrote:

    You are completely wrong. Using the rabbit in the Cambrian as an example of falsification simply makes evolution look foolish. If it were a meaningful falsification experiment, then I propose you should go to the NSF and seek funding–surely research money would be forthcoming for a falsification experiment for any widely accepted theory, including evolution. But here is what you’ll find: a proposal to allocate research dollars to look for a falsifying rabbit would be as well received as one to look for a levitating Al Sharpton. Why? Because the fossil record (which many here are confusing with evolution itself) already tells us that we won’t find such a beast.

    The fact that finding such a thing is highly unlikely does not change the fact that it is a potential falsifying fact. It is unlikely to be found precisely because the evidence is so clearly in favor of common descent. The point, which you ignore completely, is that the broad patterns of the fossil record show exactly what evolution predicts. More importantly, it shows what must be true if evolution is true. Evolution could not possibly explain any pattern other than one that shows the successional order of appearance that I detailed in my post. The fact that it does show that is powerful evidence for evolution, and it also makes the odds of finding evidence to the contrary – like a rabbit fossil in the cambrian – exceedinly unlikely. Why? Because there clearly were none. The point of falsifiability is that there must be some set of data, some evidence that could be found, that would negate the theory. Evolution has many such potentially falsifying sets of data; ID (and creationism in general in all its forms) has none.

  28. #28 David Heddle
    September 8, 2006

    W K V,

    I truly don’t know how to respond.

    Skemono,

    Geez Louise. Please don’t put words in my mouth. Did I ever write that the fossil record is not evidence for evolution? It’s obviously very compelling evidence for evolution. But it’s not evolution. The evidence and the theory are not the same thing. Capiche?

    Herb,

    Nothing? Not even whether it would take 10 to the 4th, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth years?

  29. #29 Ed Brayton
    September 8, 2006

    David Heddle wrote:

    You are bringing up abiogenesis in the same incorrect way as raging bee–go ahead and assume it happened–I know evolution says nothing about abiogenesis (although why they keep reminding us of that as if it is a strength of their position is puzzling). Given that it happened, when will the first microbes appear on earth?

    We have no way of knowing at this point. The best we can do is form a basic probability equation, but even that requires a lot more information than just “given that it happens”. We need to know information on how it happened in order to know that for sure, but at the very least we need to know what the basic chemical constituents were, how much of them there were, both in absolute terms and their relation to each other, how many trials they had, how often they combine, and much more. That’s the problem with the creationist Argument from Really Big Numbers when it comes to abiogenesis, one can come up with pretty much any figure you want depending on what you assume are the conditions at the time. We simply cannot come up with such a calculation, and neither can those who claim that they have.

  30. #30 Troublesome Frog
    September 8, 2006

    One difficulty that this press release highlights is the ever increasing complexities and subtleties in the creationist arguments.

    I am worried that as the arguments are refined and perfected, a critical point will be reached when only a select few individuals, who are extremely well versed in evolutionary theory, will be able to debunk creationists with any kind of conviction and eloquence.

    I am not convinced that this will be a problem. There are two reasons for the success of creationist arguments. First is a religious predisposition to wanting those arguments to be true. The content of the argument is irrelevant in that case. The second is the fact that the arguments are so simple for the layman to understand. “Common sense” almost always wins out over scientific data in PR wars. As soon as the argument changes from “common sense against egghead gibberish” to “egghead gibberish against other egghead gibberish,” you’ll lose most of your audience and the only people who will stick with you are the people who assume you’re right in the first place.

  31. #31 Herb
    September 8, 2006

    Nothing? Not even whether it would take 10 to the 4th, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth years?

    There are football trajectories that take arbitrarily long times to return to Earth. Tell me how long you want a football to remain in the air, and I’ll tell you how hard you have to throw it. The question of microbe formation is not only harder, it’s more chaotic. So if your goal is to start on day 1 and predict the number of years it would take microbes to form, I doubt you could put interesting limits on it without some very specific details about the early Earth.

  32. #32 Cheeto
    September 8, 2006

    People: lets not get off topic – David’s claim is that “evolution avoids even the vaguest of predictions” and his example is about predicting time (years, days minutes?) till microbes form. Ignore his example, and stick to predictions exolution makes (i.e. tiktaalik). Viola – David has been proven incorrect – and he may be mocked if he doesn’t admit defeat to change his question.

  33. #33 J-Dog
    September 8, 2006

    Ed et al – Heddle is a noted flamer from Panda’s, and has been disemvowelled there at least once, and is IMO, a smarmy, sanctimonious holier than thou knucklehead. And that’s his good points. Unfortunately he also has plenty of creationist persistence, won’t admit when he is wrong, and won’t go away.

    IMO, don’t feed the troll is the correct way to handle a Heddle.

    HTH!

  34. #34 John
    September 8, 2006

    I for one, enjoy David Heddle’s posts. Heddle is the only person I have ever heard who takes the bible literally, but does not try to gloss over the hard passages.

  35. #35 David Heddle
    September 8, 2006

    J-Dog,

    Ed can ask me to leave anytime, and I’ll abide by his wishes. The owners of Panda’s Thumb never asked me to stop posting, although like you just did the bomb-throwers often hurled insults; I’ve been called a child-abuser, taliban, fundy, nazi, etc. (Oh, and Gary Hurd sent me a thinly veiled threat by email.) I was disemvowelled once, by PZ, which I’m sure gave him an awesome feeling of power. Now, do you have anything substantive to offer to this thread?

    Cheeto,

    Why ignore my example? Ed gave the example that Ross “predicts” early evidence for complex life. I responded that evolution doesn’t make even the vaguest of predictions. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough that I was talking specifically about a prediction to contrast with Ross’s, although all my subsequent comments were directed toward exactly that–eliciting evolution’s prediction for when complex life would appear. None have been forthcoming (which may be why you’d like to ignore it.)

    I stick to my guns that evolution has no falsification experiment that reaches the standards of Mercury’s precession for Newtonian gravity. In this evolution is like ID. Neither has an experiment they can take to a funding agency and say: I want to do this experiment, and if the result is A, evolution/ID is falsified.

    Compare cosmology, where recently dark matter passed an honest-to-goodness falsification test.

  36. #36 Herb
    September 8, 2006

    David, you might as well say that the Round Earth Theory is unfalsifiable because there is no experiment we can take to a funding agency and say: I want to do this experiment, and if the result is A, the Round Earth is falsified.

  37. #37 David Heddle
    September 8, 2006

    Herb,

    Now that is, in my opinion, a really good observation (I’m not being sarcastic). The implication is that evolution is not a theory in the same sense as, say, General Relativity. Instead, it is sort of a fundamental framework that is not subject to falsifiability. In that case evolution is more analogous to “physics” than to a particular theory within physics. Personally, that’s how I’d defend it rather than daring someone to find cambrian rabbits.

  38. #38 NJ
    September 8, 2006

    …aaand once again, David Heddle illustrates John Derbyshire’s “Arguing with a creationist is a game of ‘Whack-A-Mole’” point.

  39. #39 Ed Brayton
    September 8, 2006

    I am well aware of David Heddle’s problems at the Panda’s Thumb (I am, after all, one of the founders of that blog). But frankly, I don’t know how anyone can stand the comment thread flamefests that go on there and the folks on my side are every bit as much to blame for that as the ones on the other side (perhaps more so, since they tend to attack in packs on what they consider their home turf). That’s why I never allow comments on my posts there. But he has been commenting here for quite some time without a problem. I think he’s wrong on most things, obviously, but he’s never been a problem here at all and as long as that continues I have no intention of asking him not to comment.

  40. #40 Herb
    September 8, 2006

    David – so you’re calling the Round Earth idea a “fundamental framework”? I don’t get the distinction you’re making. It seems like you’re saying that ideas are no longer falsifiable once they reach the point of being manifestly true.

    By the way, TalkOrigins has an example of a modern experiment that could falsify evolution – new reconstructions of the phylogenic tree (as I mentioned earlier).

  41. #41 Brian
    September 8, 2006

    David,

    Just because so much of the fossil record “data set” has been explored does not make evolution unfalsifiable by the fossil record. If you were to come along in 1800 and say “I think that all life descends from a common ancestor (for example, mice-like creatures led to rodents led to rabbits). Therefore, I don’t think that you’ll find any rabbits before those mice-like creatures appear in the fossil record.” – it would be perfectly reasonable given the understanding of the time to find rabbits anywhere in the geological column. I’m sorry that so much is now known about the fossil record that a Cambrian rabbit is now ludicrous, but that does not make evolution unfalsifiable.

    And in fact, we had a whole new data set open up in the last 30 years – the molecular data set, which has agreed incredibly well with the fossil and morphological sets. There is no reason that mutations in the mitochondrial ATPase gene should agree with the fossil record – after all, the protein does the exact same thing in a sponge as it does in a human. And yet the molecular data does agree with the fossil record, taken as a whole. To find an ATPase gene with the same mutations in sponges and humans, while ATPase mutations in all other metazoans agrees with the fossil record would be falsifying evolution. But both ATPases (sponges and humans) would be functional, so there is no reason to assume that they would be the same unless evolution is true.

    Your argument basically boils down to “Evolution is so well proven that finding evidence against it is very, very hard. Therefore, it’s unfalsifiable.”

  42. #42 Steven
    September 9, 2006

    Awhile back Zimmer had a blogpost about a program SIFTER that used evolutionary theory to predicted protein function in a family from sequence data. The program was ninety five percent accurate. It would be interesting to see how well such programs work based upon another model other than evolution.

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