Pharyngula

The Discovery Institute lies to educators

The Discovery Institute is spreading misinformation again. They have a document that implies that it would be OK for schools in at least some states to “teach the controversy”, by which they mean that it is alright for teachers to promote Intelligent Design creationism in their classes. I wonder if the DI would also consider themselves liable if any teacher followed their advice, and discovered that they were costing their district an awful lot of money, as in Dover? Somehow, I doubt it.

On the front page of their screed, they quote Charles Darwin: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” What they neglect to mention is the importance of that word “balancing”: we have been balancing the arguments, and the scientific side weighs tons while the creationist side is a puff of air. They also omit any mention of facts on their side, because they have none. Darwin’s quote is not advocacy for equal time for nonsense.

What they claim is that because a report on the NCLB claimed that students should be able to “understand the full range of scientific views that exist,” ID is fair game for the curriculum. This ignores the fact that ID is not a scientific view and therefore has no place at the table. They also rely on a selective reading of state science standards. They claim that some indeterminate number of states allow the ID “controversy” to be taught.

Five states (Kansas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,
and Minnesota) have already adopted science standards that
require learning about some of the scientific controversies relating
to evolution.

Four states (Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and South
Carolina) have science standards that require learning about
some of the scientific controversies relating to evolution.

Yes, both quotes are directly from the same Discovery Institute document. Would you trust an organization that can’t count and gets confused by numbers greater than three?

My state is in there. I know the Minnesota State Science Standards, and pulled out the relevant one. In their document, the DI quotes one small part of this standard, and I’ve put that part in bold.

The student will understand the nature of scientific ways of thinking and that scientific knowledge changes and accumulates over time.

  1. The student will be able to distinguish among hypothesis, theory and law as scientific terms and how they are used to answer a specific question.
  2. The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including but not limited to cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ theory of disease and big bang theory.
  3. The student will recognize that in order to be valid, scientific knowledge must meet certain criteria including that it: be consistent with experimental, observational and inferential evidence about nature; follow rules of logic and reporting both methods and procedures; and, be falsifiable and open to criticism.
  4. The student will explain how traditions of ethics, peer review, conflict and general consensus influences the conduct of science.
  5. The student will recognize that some scientific ideas are incomplete, and opportunity exists in these areas for new advances.

This does not support the teaching of Intelligent Design creationism in the classroom. It is a general statement about the provisional nature of science and the requirement for solid scientific evidence to support our ideas. We no more expect our high schools to refute evolution than that they will deny cells, atoms, germs, plate tectonics, or the big bang.

In particular, note items 3 and 4, which the DI conveniently leaves out of their literature. There are criteria for recognizing scientific knowledge that include consistency, an empirical basis, logic, reporting, and falsifiability, and that there are methods in place to manage the process. The Discovery Institute’s propaganda violates all of these and does not belong in our schools.

If a misinformed teacher tried to pull a Buckingham and insert creationism into Minnesota schools, at the urgings of the Discovery Institute, they’d be inviting a lawsuit that I’m confident would be slapped down hard. We’ve been through this before, with the Rodney LeVake case, and here’s some surprising news for the DI: the creationists lost.

There’s a more relevant standard in the Minnesota requirements that the Discovery Institute glossed over.

The student will understand how biological evolution provides a scientific explanation for the fossil record of ancient life forms, as well as for the striking molecular similarities observed among the diverse species of living organisms.
  1. The student will understand that species change over time and the term biological evolution is used to describe this process.
  2. The student will use the principles of natural selection to explain the differential survival of groups of organisms as a consequence of:
    • The potential for a species to increase its numbers;
    • The genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes;
    • A finite supply of the resources required for life; and,
    • The ensuing selection based on environmental factors of those offspring better able to survive and produce reproductively successful offspring.
  3. The student will describe how genetic variation between populations is due to different selective pressures acting on each population, which can lead to a new species.
  4. The student will use biological evolution to explain the diversity of species.

If something is to be taught in our schools, that’s the degree of specification we expect. The DI seems to think that the fact that we encourage critical thinking means they’ve got carte blanche to insert any old bogus bit of pseudoscience into the curriculum, and are urging teachers to do an injustice to the standards of their profession.

I read that as incitement to commit a crime.

Comments

  1. #1 Lago
    November 16, 2007

    I agree PZ.

    This is a brainwashing we see in the United States. We are taught it since we are practically born. There is a “Fair and Balanced” lie, where there is always, “two sides to the story.”

    In the real world there are some stories where there is only one actual story, no “sides.” It would be stupid to see:

    “Cyanide poisoning bad for you? The other side to the story, tonight, on Fox News.”

    There may also me 3 “sides” to a story, or several hundred. It all depends on the subject. Babies either come from “The Stork” or they do not. There is no other side to that freakin’ story…

  2. #2 Justin Stanley
    November 16, 2007

    What, exactly does the Discovery Institute hope to discover? Since they are approaching the whole issue of ‘evilution’ from a stance of already knowing the answer. From now on I will refer to them as the Deficient Institute… Deficient in science, morals, education and common decency to their fellow man.

    /rant

  3. #3 raven
    November 16, 2007

    Too funny. In the Dover case, it ended up costing the school district $2 million dollars. The plaintiffs graciously waived $1 million of that.

    It definitely sounds like a case of inciting school districts to violate the US constitution and end up in court. Again.

    I’m sure that there will be more court cases. There have been several since before the one in Pennsylvania. You would think organisations devoted to teaching and learning could learn from history but they never seem to.

    The DI should include a copy of their Wedge manifesto with their package to make it clear what their ultimate goal is, but they aren’t going to.

  4. #4 AgnosticOracle
    November 16, 2007

    I’m shocked. What is it about Christianity that makes its followers so dishonest?

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    November 16, 2007

    This is where we could have a whole lot of fun playing with the authoritarian mindset.

    On the front page of their screed, they quote Charles Darwin: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

    Hey, if Darwin was right about that, wasn’t he right about everything else, too?

  6. #6 techskeptic
    November 16, 2007

    Question:
    What are the holes in evolutionary theory?

    A friend of mine, when talking about this subject, was pretty strong headed that ID shouldn’t be taught (this is weird for him, because its the only subject where we agree, for him, GW is fake, Bush is sane, and all illegal immigrants should be shot on site). However he is also pretty strong minded that the holes in evolution should be taught. And I agree, but I don’t really know what they are.

    Are the ‘holes’ just a lack of a complete transitional fossil record from first cells to humans? Or are there real areas where there are strange occurrences that evolution doesnt quite answer (and surely God did it doesnt really answer either).

    anyone know?

  7. #7 Karl Hungus
    November 16, 2007

    PZ, the folks at DI must truly hate you. Keep up the good work.

  8. #8 Brandon
    November 16, 2007

    This is a brainwashing we see in the United States. We are taught it since we are practically born. There is a “Fair and Balanced” lie, where there is always, “two sides to the story.”

    and

    To me it seems the DI is just wanting PR of any kind, even if it is bad. Bad PR is still PR.

    The media is so bad about the whole fair and balanced crap. Reporting on the new Florida Science Standards is horrible, with all sorts of “both sides” crap and downright false reporting. I keep finding gross errors and distortions in the news stories. It’s obvious that in most cases the reporters assigned haven’t a clue what they’re reporting on and haven’t the time or inclination to do some basic research.

    For the latest load of crap, see: http://www.flascience.org/wp/

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 16, 2007

    What are the holes in evolutionary theory?

    The holes in your friend’s knowledge…

  10. #10 Kristine
    November 16, 2007

    Right on, Blakey Stacey. The more they lose, the more they quote Darwin.

    (Hey! Sound bite! Sound bite!)

    What gets me is that they simultaneously exalt the science standards of Pennsylvania as being friendly to ID, while continuing to whine about Dover. How does that make sense? (No, don’t answer that!) ;-)

  11. #11 Glen Davidson
    November 16, 2007

    Another headline with the same currency as this one: Snakes are Legless

    And no, PZ, I’m not faulting the headline, because however monotonous it is to say that the DI lies, they just do it again on a nearly daily basis. The boredom this causes is no reason to quit, and headlines really should do what this one does, inform us about the article.

    I’m jabbing the DI’s lying ass.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  12. #12 Rubicon
    November 16, 2007

    I thought the New Mexico thing sounded fishy, because I graduated from high school there not long ago. I looked it up and low and behold!
    http://www.nmlites.org/standards/science/index/html

    I didn’t see any reference to ID, but then I found this: http://pworld.thstateonline.com/?p=47

    Anybody know what to make of this?

  13. #13 dorid
    November 16, 2007

    It’s funny, because I was just posting about the situation here in NM this morning. Although the standards aren’t SPECIFIC in stating that the schools should “teach ID”, there are standards here which SOME districts ((cough… RIO RANCHO… cough)) have taken as a free ticket to lunacy:

    Strand III

    Standard I: Understand how scientific discoveries, inventions practices and knowledge influence and are influenced by, individuals and societies.

    Benchmark I: Examine and analyze how scientific discoveries and their applications affect the world, and explain how societies influence scientific investigations and applications.

    Performance Standard 16: Understand that reasonable people may disagree about some issues that are of interest to both science and religion (e.g., the origin of life on Earth, the cause of the Big Bang, the future of Earth).

    Performance Standard 17: Identify important questions that science cannot answer (e.g., questions that are beyond today’s science, decisions that science can only help to make, questions that are inherently outside the realm of science).

    but my very FAVORITE part of the Discovery Document is the big bold letters on page 9 that states:

    The Dover decision was not appealed, and so it is not a binding legal precedent anywhere outside the Dover school district.

    Sounds like they want to incite a few more districts to try it…

  14. #14 Warren
    November 16, 2007

    the scientific side weighs tons while the creationist side is a puff of air

    It’s some kind of gaseous emission, to be sure.

  15. #15 AlanWCan
    November 16, 2007

    Blake: Hey, if Darwin was right about that, wasn’t he right about everything else, too?

    That’s an interesting point: they love to quote mint scientist, and say “see, a leading scientist(TM) agrees with us; ergo we’re right” (Argument from authority), not once seeing what that implies regarding the opinions of most other scientists (and usually also the one being quotemined) who disagree with them. Also, whenever they want to belittle science, they call it a religion. Again, not seeing the connect that if science shouldn’t be given any credence because it’s a religion, what does that say about the demands they make for respect for their religion? Odd.

  16. #16 Pablo
    November 16, 2007

    It seems to me that claiming there are “holes in evolution” because not all the details are known is like saying there are “holes in quantum mechanics” because we don’t know the exact electronic energy of benzene, for example.

    Oh sure, we have pretty close approximation, maybe, but the variational principle tells us it’s wrong (only the true wave function will give the right answer). I mean, isn’t it a huge hole in quantum mechanics that we can’t even apply it exactly for anything but the most trivial of systems?

  17. #17 techskeptic
    November 16, 2007

    truth machine:
    Well, why didn’t you ask him what holes he was referring to that aren’t being taught but should be?

    I did. I didn’t get an answer. I giggled at that. But that doesnt mean that there arent any, it just means that he doesn’t know what they are, and he assumes, like I do, that most every theory doesn’t explain ALL the data. My asking what the holes in the theory are, have nothing to do with my conversation with him, it is my own curiosity. I’m not asking anyone to explain any particular thing, I am just asking what the greatest evolutionary minds think are problems with ToE.

    It’s a nonsensical question. The ToE is not a complete theory and, because it is largely contingent rather than lawful, it never will be. To answer the question one would have to lay out all the possible evolutionary facts and remove all that are explained by the current theory — that would leave the “holes”.

    yes I agree. I don’t understand why that makes the question nonsensical. Surely something has arisen over the last 140 years that made biologists go “hmmm…”. Perhaps not.

  18. #18 truth machine
    November 16, 2007

    Surely something has arisen over the last 140 years that made biologists go “hmmm…”.

    Yes, many things.

    Perhaps not.

    You’re getting very tiresome.

  19. #19 truth machine
    November 16, 2007

    No one is forcing you to respond to me… or be a dickhead.

    No one is forcing you to post your repetitive and off-topic tripe … or be a dickhead.

    No it isn’t. you just interpreted what i meant by “holes” to mean “gaps” in the evolutionary records.

    No, I told you what holes are, and you said you agreed. Now you are talking about “problems”/”really is unanswerable”, but the failure of a theory to be complete is not a “problem”, it’s the nature of science. And we certainly don’t want to waste class time spending all day telling students what isn’t known.

    no, I agreed at what it would take to understand where the weak points in a theory is.

    Like I said, you agreed to something that you didn’t understand — that’s not what I was talking about, that you responded “I agree” to.

    Oh, and I love the implication that evolutionary biologists aren’t “real scientists”.

    I don’t know where I implied that.

    You said “a real scientist will say …” while complaining about what isn’t being said. The implication is clear to anyone who isn’t a dunderhead.

    Just one has to come forward, with an understanding of evolutionary processes and say “hmm…this is weird”.

    People say this all the time; just peruse the archives here.

  20. #20 Jefe
    November 16, 2007

    “Just one has to come forward, with an understanding of evolutionary processes and say “hmm…this is weird”.” – Techskeptic.

    They have. In many cases these oddities have lead to a breakthrough of some kind through research and observed data.

    Some prime examples of things that have made Biologists say “Hmmm…this is weird.” have been changes in HIV recently. Behe has been seen to comment on these “Hmmmm” moments about HIV, and been slapped down as incorrect or underinformed by scientists in the know about HIV mutation in recent years.

    Many of the “Holes” or “Gaps” exist simply because of poor or incomplete understandings of portions of evolutionary science.

    The Theory of evolution states simply that – “Organisms changed (evolved) gradually over time, and the main engine of this change (evolution) is natural selection.” Now – practical applications of this theory in a variety of disciplines have led to heaps and heaps of experimental data and observations that have supported the theory.

    To successfully learn the “holes” in the theory, one would have to become a multi-disciplinary savant. This very well could lead to a profound and in-depth knowledge of a variety of practical applications that have arisen from the theory and studies that have surrounded its application.

    (deep breath)

    And even at that point, the “holes” would not be evidence in support of completely abandoning evolutionary theory (a theory that has already led to a multitude of daily practical applications), but would simply lead to further research into why we don’t know or haven’t found the supporting evidence for the “gaps” in question.

  21. #21 Lurchgs
    November 16, 2007

    I’m not a biologist. In fact, the only biology I study is my wife… and that’s as far as I’, going to take THAT.

    I’ve taken a quick spin through their Educator’s Packet… what a load of unmitigated B.S.! Back pedalling, side-stepping, mis-informing, and outright liying. I dread to think about what I’ll find when I go through it in detail.

    Right in their cover letter, for instance, they claim that “Evolution has a number of different definitions”. Well, yes – but only ONE as it applies to biology. “Change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such process as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift”. End of story.

    Ignoring their true aim for a moment, let’s look at what DI *claims* to want – “Teach the Controversy”. While in broad terms, a case can be made for this to be a controversy, I think that when all is sorted out, it’s not even that.

    Controversy, in the dictionary, is defined as “A prolonged public dispute, debate, or contgention; disputation concerning a matter of opinion.”
    What – to me at least – *implied* by this definition is that the differences of opinion are between equally knowlegable people.. Ergo, for this to be even considered a controversy, DI needs to get some serious science on their side.

    How a bunch of dyspeptic lawyers and engineers can think to seriously tackle a structure so robust as Evolutionary Theory is beyond me. Perhaps they suffer from hypercubicalism and can’t get a real job.

    Since that is as likely to happen as the second coming, this can’t be really called a controversy.

    This is more a case of Luskin, West, Behe et. al. standing in a field and waving their private parts at us.

    The problem is, we can’t ignore them. They might sneak in to the kitchen and pee in our wheaties, and that would just ruin the whole day.

  22. #22 Jefe
    November 16, 2007

    Eeep! I misrepresented Techskeptic above.

    Post 67 should attribute the second quote to “truth machine”

  23. #23 Will Von Wizzlepig
    November 16, 2007

    oftentimes it seems like dealing with stupid humans is truly as impossible a task as sweeping back the tide. Don’t get me wrong, I’m stupid too. But then, so are you. It’s built in to all of us.

    this brings to mind an interesting study I was reading about.

    Just google this, the title of the paper, it should be the first hit,

    Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,

    It’s about metacognitive skills- in this case referring to the ability to observe your own skill or lack thereof and adjust accordingly.

    Essentially what it shows is that (surprisingly!), the stupider and less skilled you are, the less likely you are to learn from your mistakes, EVEN IF you have your mistakes explained to you. It’s not a very long paper, give it a go.

    why do I mention it? Well, if only a few people are very smart, then that leaves a lot of people who aren’t very smart. if all it takes is a few very smart and corrupt people to continue to de-rail conversations by continuing to contend that religion needs to be allowed the same footing as science, well, the many will continue to buy the garbage they spew and feel justified glomming onto their archaic nonsensical beliefs.

  24. #24 Rey Fox
    November 16, 2007

    techskeptic: I hope you can forgive us for being skeptical of the motivations of your friend. I’m not sufficiently well-versed in the current state of evolutionary theory to say what its current controversies are, but to my knowledge, but I don’t really see why the “holes” of evolution should be any more taught than the “holes” in any other scientific theory. In my experience, those who push for such things are rarely ever trying to provide any interesting thought exercises, but rather are trying to cast the sort of doubt on evolution that doesn’t really belong.

    And don’t mind the truth machine, it got testy at me earlier today just for not knowing how the disemvowelling program works. It doesn’t seem to have any setting between “off” and “rabid”.

  25. #25 Leigh
    November 16, 2007

    @thwaite (#72):

    The origin of sexuality is something creationists are indeed aware of, so much so that I expect it’s included in some creationist list of talking points. I infer that because the question came up when I was talking to a member of my family, whose knowledge of basic science is otherwise nonexistent.

    I told her that the answer is, we don’t know . . . yet. Of course, she was not satisfied by the answer, since she has no concept at all of how scientific knowledge is accrued over time. Remember that fundamentalist Christians are so very uneasy with any degree of ambiguity, and so very ignorant of almost all subjects (including the history of their own sacred documents), that any answer beyond 1+2=2 takes them out of their comfort zone.

  26. #26 Jefe
    November 16, 2007

    Oh? What part of “There is only one going theory of evolution and it is this:” did I miss him saying?

  27. #27 truth machine
    November 16, 2007

    sexuality … any answer beyond 1+2=2 takes them out of their comfort zone

    Hey, that answer takes a lot of people out of their comfort zone!

  28. #28 Leon
    November 16, 2007

    I stand corrected, Truth Machine. Looking back, I see it was Techskeptic that first called you a dickhead, not the other way around.

    Yes, I understand name-calling and ad hominem aren’t the same thing, but it seemed awful rich to be the first to hurl an insult, and then accuse someone of ad hominem. Now I have egg on my face for pointing that out when it wasn’t true, and I apologize for that.

    That said, you jumped all over him/her very fast, without a lot of provocation. I get the impression Techskeptic is earnestly looking for information; he/she got a somewhat of a hostile reception, and that’s not really cool here.

    I didn’t assume you necessarily thought Techskeptic was trolling for quote mines. I worded it the way I did because I wasn’t sure. After the first couple responses he/she came back sounding a lot like some other trolls we’ve seen here, so I wondered, and your responses sounded like you might have been thinking the same thing. You weren’t; I guessed wrong, and that’s fine. But that does make it less understandable why you went after Techskeptic so hard in the first place.

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 16, 2007

    So, you are saying there are no holes? That is hard to believe. [...] But what are they. A real scientist will say “Here are the areas that we simply don’t know yet”

    There are lots of things we simply don’t know yet. Take one of the subjects of my Ph.D. thesis — the question of which known animals (dead or alive) are the closest relatives of the turtles. But these are not questions about the theory of evolution; they have nothing to do with the principle. The theory of evolution cannot, and never will be able to, explain what those closest relatives are or why they are that, but all answers that have been suggested so far are compatible with the theory of evolution, so there’s no hole.

    There are controversies on little things, such as how much of evolution is long, slow development versus spurts followed by long periods of inactivity.

    Eh, no. The controversy over punctuated equilibrium is over. Of the few cases where we can see speciations in the fossil record, most but not all are congruent with the punk eek model, and those that aren’t seem to be cases like where planktonic diatoms speciated sympatrically in the whole equatorial Pacific at once.

    And even 20 years ago, it wasn’t a hole in the theory of evolution. Remember: mutation is random, selection is determined by the environment. We say “it evolves” in the active voice, but that’s a mistake; “it” is tossed around by the environment.* So punk eek says that the environment of a species tends to be stable over hundreds of thousands of years and to change rarely but fast (over thousands or tens of thousands of years, that is — remember, you are talking to paleontologists, the kind of people that can’t tell last week from last ice age) and/or that species enter new ecological niches fast. Punk eek is not really about the theory of evolution.

    * This might be slightly easier to explain in an ergative-absolutive language. But I digress.

    Maybe there is something like macroscopic vs microscopic differentiantion in evolutionary theory (see? if I were an expert in this, I would know the answer to this I am sure). something in one that does not describe the other?

    Erm… no.

    In principle, I agree with you and your friend: if there were any limitations, such as how Newtonian physics flat-out says that the observed perihel rotation of Mercury and the observed effects of gravitational lensing (among other things) simply don’t exist, or how the theory of relativity and quantum physics disagree under extreme conditions, then of course they should — and would — be taught. I just can’t think of any.

    but if a fossil of a more advanced species appears below a fossil of a less advanced species.

    Bad example, because “advanced” cannot be defined. Sure, the theory of evolution predicts that we won’t find a rabbit in Silurian rocks (and, accordingly, would have a pretty big hole if we ever found one), but that’s not because a rabbit is more or less advanced than anything we know from the Silurian; it’s simply because several nested groups to which the rabbits belong — mammals, limbed vertebrates… — appeared much later in the fossil record, in (almost exactly) the expected nested sequence.

    major disagreements as to the role of endosymbiosis as an evolutionary mechanism

    That was 50 years ago. Nowadays it is clear that primary chloroplasts are internalized cyanobacteria and mitochondria are internalized ?-proteobacteria, and that that basically is it. The chloroplasts of, say, brown algae are derived from red algae with a primary chloroplast in them, and so on, but these are things like the question of the ancestry of turtles: they are not about the principle.

    Here’s a quick example of significant evolutionary issues that aren’t understood: origin & maintenance of sex.

    Here we get to one of the last holes that were closed. But the discovery that the parthenogenetic rotifers somehow managed to completely get rid of transposable elements closed that hole, didn’t it?

    (If you stopped reading at “par-” and want an explanation of what all that means — and it is an interesting topic –, you’ll have to wait. It’s close to 1 at night over here. I haven’t had a look at the wikipedia article, but chances are good that it’s a good introduction.)

    (I stood on the side of the Rift Valley when I was there on honeymoon and just shook my head, “how the hell would I know where to start digging?”)

    You don’t. And usually you don’t start by digging, because usually a fossiliferous layer crops out at the surface. You start by walking around and looking for fossils that have been exposed by erosion. When you find one, you start digging.

    How does the histone code play into evolution? I think it’s still early days.

    This is more like a hole, and it’s by no means closed! However, it’s small. Really small. To understand evolution as it is currently understood, you only need to know that inheritance occurs and that Lamarckian inheritance never or almost never occurs. All the fiddling with the histones (and DNA methylation and stuff) could provide a tiny non-zero value for “almost”, and figuring out just how tiny it is is a pretty hot, although small, area of ongoing research; but so far it seems to work on a timescale of generations, not of tens or hundreds of generations.

    The fight is still on, for example, over whether the “last universal common ancestor” was a single kind of organism or a group of gene-swappers may never be resolvable.

    I notice you started the sentence by mentioning a fight and then changed your mind and wrote the issue may never be resolvable, which precludes a fight (in science)… :-)

    For swapping genes, all participants need the same genetic code. How do you get the same genetic code if not through inheritance?

    But, actually, I’m digressing again. This is again a question like whether it’s turtles all the way down. Common descent is not part of the theory of evolution.

    Finally, if you continue to search for holes, you might come across the question of how altruism towards individuals other than close relatives was ever able to evolve. This was a much-researched problem for quite some time, but it was closed very easily: the benefits of reciprocal altruism are pretty much evident.

    If only the creationists would make themselves useful and find an actual hole instead of a rhetorical or definitional hole :)

    We have a winner.

    And don’t mind the truth machine [...] It doesn’t seem to have any setting between “off” and “rabid”.

    I disagree. It merely fails to use Hanlon’s Razor most of the time.

  30. #30 Leon
    November 16, 2007

    Eh, no. The controversy over punctuated equilibrium is over.

    Sorry, David. I thought that might be the case. But it was the only example I could think of offhand and it made a good demonstration (as far as I know) of the kinds of controversies that do exist in the field.

  31. #31 Leon
    November 16, 2007

    Bad example, because “advanced” cannot be defined.

    That’s true, but I don’t think “advanced” was meant literally; I think he/she was using it as shorthand for species that must come later in the fossil record: e.g., a rabbit must appear in the record later than the first fish. (See, even I’m having trouble using more accurate wording…)

  32. #32 truth machine
    November 16, 2007

    P.S. David, what you wrote in the rest of #94 makes up for any stupidity displayed in the last sentence many times over. A truly fine post — if only you had resisted the urge.

  33. #33 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 16, 2007

    But it was the only example I could think of offhand and it made a good demonstration (as far as I know) of the kinds of controversies that do exist in the field.

    You’re right about that.

    ———-

    Sorry, truth machine. I should have narrowed down Hanlon’s Razor to ignorance vs malice — ignorance being an entirely curable condition, in the absence of stupidity at least. Also, you seem to react as angrily to stupidity as to malice, which I find pointless at best.

  34. #34 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 16, 2007

    David, what you wrote in the rest of #94 makes up for any stupidity displayed in the last sentence many times over. A truly fine post — if only you had resisted the urge.

    =8-)

    (I have learnt to appreciate the praise. 8-) )

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 16, 2007

    David, what you wrote in the rest of #94 makes up for any stupidity displayed in the last sentence many times over. A truly fine post — if only you had resisted the urge.

    =8-)

    (I have learnt to appreciate the praise. 8-) )

  36. #36 Dahan
    November 16, 2007

    I often think of the fame, money, etc that would go to the individual or team that could actually disprove evolution (or gravity, or etc). You would be an instant household name, never worry for funding, and be written about in the history books for as long as one can imagine.

    With that much incentive to disprove a major theory, why do IDiots and their lot think most scientist have no desire to look at alternatives? That they’re happy to just accept whatever’s already known.

    Which would you rather have on your resume? Publishing a paper on something that would back a hundred and forty year old theory, or disproving a hundred and forty year old theory? These people make no sense.

  37. #37 Bert Chadick
    November 16, 2007

    Has The Discovery Institute ever spent so much as a nickel on researching ID? Perhaps an expedition to the Gobi to find those fossilized dinosaur saddles. The Amazon to find the talking snakes? Proof that Pi = 3.

    C’mon DI. You’re scientists. Do some science.

  38. #38 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 16, 2007

    What about intelligent design?

    In recent years a number of scientists, philosophers of science, and other scholars have developed a theory known as intelligent design. The theory of intelligent design argues that some features of the universe are best explained as the products of an intelligent cause. Many scholars working on intelligent design are affiliated with Discovery Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank in Seattle,a leading advocate of the “teach the controversy” approach.

    Theory of Intelligent design?

    Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.

    Paul Nelson, Touchstone Magazine 7/8/2004.

    As Nelson suggests, a theory of intelligent design needs to be a bit more than a couple of ill-founded concepts and a lot of bleating about the alleged inadequacies of the theory of evolution.

    Without such a theory all the DI has are complaints about the theory of evolution which clearly spring from religious
    rather than scientific concerns.

  39. #39 JAM
    November 16, 2007

    Maybe the DI just wants to bait more ID proponents into getting a legal beat down so that they can make another Expelled film?

  40. #40 Old MacDonald
    November 16, 2007

    Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago.

    E-I-E-I-O!

  41. #41 Stanton
    November 16, 2007

    Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago.

    Anyone notice how there have been ABSOLUTELY ZERO creationists or Intelligent Design proponents who have bothered to say how Creationism or Intelligent Design can explain the Cambrian Explosion at all?

  42. #42 One Eyed Jack
    November 17, 2007

    I’m praying very hard right now that the sun will rise in an hour. If it does, it must mean prayer works.

    The essence of prayer is written on church signs across America, “Pray until something happens.” We’ve all seen it.

    Every time I see one, I’m so struck by the sheer stupidity of the statement, all I can manage is, “Well duh!”

    OEJ

  43. #43 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 17, 2007

    “A fair result can be obtained only by fully balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

    Bother! The same old fallacy of false choice is still what gets creationists the most mileage. The facts and arguments for and against evolution is the scientific question. The facts and arguments for and against creationism can’t even be put as “sides” as there are no positive arguments, just negative facts.

    I was trying to delineate that there are very few if any theories that dont have problems and I wanted to understand what they were.

    The problem was that “problems” or “holes” is nondescript.

    We can have a theory that isn’t complete. (Nuclear theory, I think. At least they still can’t predict the nuclear dripline worth damn.)

    We can have a complete theory, and it could still fail to predict some data. (Newton gravity.) We can have a theory that in principle can predict all data, but for practical reasons don’t. (Quantum mechanics.) And we can have a theory that can predict all data in theory and perhaps in practice, but as of yet there are still “holes” in our facts or applied knowledge. (Evolution perhaps.)

  44. #44 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 17, 2007

    David Marjanovi?:

    Common descent is not part of the theory of evolution.

    Intriguing. How should I read this?

    I have understood “common descent” to be roughly the same observation as “nested hierarchies”, and thus being a prediction from the theory and an observation of the process.

    There are two ways this poor naive layman can see that it isn’t part of the theory proper:

    - You may be referring to universal common descent and universal nested hierarchies, a LUCA.

    That is of course an observation, a specific history from a specific boundary condition.

    - You may be referring to something like that mechanisms for populations splits and speciation aren’t part of the theory proper, but descriptions contingent on specific external environmental factors:

    But in fact, population genetics itself does not need to explain things without taking into account geography, climate and other external factors! See my three examples above.

    What microevolutionary processes give rise to distinct populations?

    Dispersal and vicariance.

    … or it could be something else entirely?!

  45. #45 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 17, 2007

    an observation of the process.

    To be clear, I was referring to a direct observation. I.e. for example AFAIU lamarckian evolution could but would with low probability mimic these observations exactly.

  46. #46 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 17, 2007

    an observation of the process.

    To be clear, I was referring to a direct observation. I.e. for example AFAIU lamarckian evolution could but would with low probability mimic these observations exactly.

  47. #47 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    thwaite, thanks for the link to the paper… I didn’t have much more than a university lecture to go on :-)

    Ouch! I take it I am on the stupidity end of that.

    I don’t think David was referring to you, and I don’t think you’re stupid.

    I was referring to him, but I meant the (already self-admitted) ignorance end, which means I had misremembered what Hanlon’s Razor exactly is. Stupidity looks different!

    Clark’s Law looks more like what truth machine is using in reacting to intellectual sloppiness and personal attacks in the same way…

    Can’t you understand how “So, you are saying there are no holes? That is hard to believe.” and similar accusatory language repeated several times comes across?

    I don’t see how this is automatically accusatory language. It can also be based on the observation that grand unified theories elsewhere (relativity, quantum mechanics…) have limitations and the induction that the theory of evolution is therefore likely to have such limitations, too. This is entirely justifiable, as long as it isn’t taken as proof that the theory of evolution has such limitations — which was not clearly techskeptic’s intention, so I gave the benefit of doubt and gave an innocent answer, and have turned out to be right in hindsight.

    Intriguing. How should I read this?

    I have understood “common descent” to be roughly the same observation as “nested hierarchies”, and thus being a prediction from the theory and an observation of the process.

    I meant it more strictly: common descent of all known life.

    There is overwhelming evidence for common descent of all known life, but the theory doesn’t say anything about that.

  48. #48 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    thwaite, thanks for the link to the paper… I didn’t have much more than a university lecture to go on :-)

    Ouch! I take it I am on the stupidity end of that.

    I don’t think David was referring to you, and I don’t think you’re stupid.

    I was referring to him, but I meant the (already self-admitted) ignorance end, which means I had misremembered what Hanlon’s Razor exactly is. Stupidity looks different!

    Clark’s Law looks more like what truth machine is using in reacting to intellectual sloppiness and personal attacks in the same way…

    Can’t you understand how “So, you are saying there are no holes? That is hard to believe.” and similar accusatory language repeated several times comes across?

    I don’t see how this is automatically accusatory language. It can also be based on the observation that grand unified theories elsewhere (relativity, quantum mechanics…) have limitations and the induction that the theory of evolution is therefore likely to have such limitations, too. This is entirely justifiable, as long as it isn’t taken as proof that the theory of evolution has such limitations — which was not clearly techskeptic’s intention, so I gave the benefit of doubt and gave an innocent answer, and have turned out to be right in hindsight.

    Intriguing. How should I read this?

    I have understood “common descent” to be roughly the same observation as “nested hierarchies”, and thus being a prediction from the theory and an observation of the process.

    I meant it more strictly: common descent of all known life.

    There is overwhelming evidence for common descent of all known life, but the theory doesn’t say anything about that.

  49. #49 guthrie
    November 17, 2007

    In error? I don’t think so. But please, carry on thinking you are always correct. Just remember that not everyone is a machine like yourself.

  50. #50 salient
    November 17, 2007

    AgnosticOracle #12 “What is it about Christianity that makes its followers so dishonest?”

    Conversely, what is it about science that permits its practioners to be honest?

    If religion were supported by the evidence, then religionists could validate their beliefs honestly. If the urge to religionism were based on logic rather than purely on emotional gains, then religionists could be honest (and wouldn’t be religionists).

    I think that you already knew this.

  51. #51 salient
    November 17, 2007

    Michael Ralston 140 “if we saw a dog give birth to a cat,”

    Quite an extraordinary concept! As I understand it, that would require either that a dog and cat had mated and the cat’s genes had somehow ‘prevailed’, or that a dog’s genes had spontaneously undergone massive mutation into ‘cat genes’ across much of the genome.

    “that would probably falsify Evolution via Natural Selection (but not evolutionary theory in general, necessarilly – just the mechanism of NS.)”

    Hmn. Let’s go with dog-cat mating and suppression of all dog-chromosomes in the resultant mixed genome. If the environment happened to be favorable to cats rather than dogs, I don’t see how this outcome would falsify the mechanimsm of NS, which depends upon whether or not a mutation proves beneficial to allele transmission into subsequent generations.

    What part of your argument have I missed?

  52. #52 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 17, 2007

    Are you saying that common descent is not part of the theory (just change and natural selection). Common descent is an expected outcome of an evolutionary process, and therefore it is strong evidence for the theory. is that right?

    Common descent of something is an expected (though not strictly required!) outcome — a prediction –, and if we found evidence out that each species or subspecies or whatever came from a separate origin of life, the theory of evolution would be in trouble (but not falsified, I think). But common descent of all known life on Earth is not necessarily expected. (Neither is it not expected, however.) It’s just (easily) compatible.

  53. #53 Michael Ralston
    November 17, 2007

    Salient: The unspoken part that evolution via NS requires changes to be largely gradual, as dramatic changes would be unlikely to provide the sort of gradient that evolution can usefully work on.

    That said, the case I was thinking was the “spontaneous massive mutation” case – interbreeding between what seem to be two dramatically distinct species would be less of a problem for NS.

  54. #54 salient
    November 18, 2007

    Michael Ralston #146 “The unspoken part that evolution via NS requires changes to be largely gradual, as dramatic changes would be unlikely to provide the sort of gradient that evolution can usefully work on.”

    Evolution cannot ‘work’ on any individual that does not survive because of changes so ‘massive’ that it was rendered incapable of survival. So, massive mutations would not be transmitted because selection would eliminate a deleteriously mutated genotype. However, that’s just the flip-side of NS at work — removal of deleterious mutations.

    “That said, the case I was thinking was the “spontaneous massive mutation” case – interbreeding between what seem to be two dramatically distinct species would be less of a problem for NS.”

    Well, successful interbreeding between two dramatically distinct species would not be possible — that’s essentially what speciation means. If this were not the case, we’d probably have a species of wooly humans frolicking in fields.

  55. #55 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 19, 2007

    David, a belated thanks for your answer. (Comment #134.)