Pharyngula

Marketing evolution

Seth Godin is a marketing guy, and he recently turned his eye to the evolution-creation wars and offered a marketing perspective. That’s useful, but I don’t think he looked deeply enough, and his suggestions don’t really help much. In particular, he compares the acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution to Newton’s “law of gravity” and tries to extract a message about why one is unquestioned and the other is not.

1. If the story of your marketing requires the prospect to abandon a previously believed story, you have a lot of work to do.

Nobody had a seriously described theory of gravity before Newton named it. No one walks around saying that they have a story about why we stick to the earth better than the gravity story. As a result, there was no existing story or worldview to overthrow. Naming something that people already believe in is very smart marketing.

Actually, there was an existing theory of gravity — several, in fact. The best known was Aristotle’s, who posited that there was a natural place where every object ideally wished to be located. For most solid objects, that ideal place was the center of the earth, and for less substantial objects, like steam and smoke, it was in the heavens, so everything was drawn naturally to it’s optimum destination unless hindered. Simple.

Newton’s laws were accepted by the common people without question because they didn’t know what they were. Ask anyone now, outside of a university at least, and you won’t get many who say ‘G•m1•m2/d2‘, or even understand that he quantitatively described the force of attraction between any two masses. It’s enough that he didn’t say something crazy, like that apples fall up, therefore it was OK.

Godin is right here. Everyone simply takes the force of gravity for granted, so hearing that some smart guy figured out how to calculate the exact magnitude of that force is unchallenging. Evolution is different. There are lots of creation myths around, all of them created out of a complete absence of evidence and describing past phenomenon of which the storytellers had no understanding, and evolution is directly challenging all of them with facts and evidence. So, sure, it makes for a harder sell. It’s not particularly helpful to be told that your product is hard to market, though: it’s the product we’ve got.

2. If the timeframe of the message of your marketing is longer than the attention span (or lifetime) of the person you are marketing to, you have your work cut out for you as well.

Evolution is really slow. Hard to demonstrate it in real time during a school board meeting. Gravity is instantaneous. Baseball players use it every day.

Baseball players do not, however, use Newton’s laws. People can hit a ball with a stick without using a single equation, and had been doing so long before Newton started scribbling. Try going into a schoolboard meeting and convincing them that students need to learn G•m1•m2/d2, rather than that they have to fund supplies for athletics. Then you’ll discover how well established gravity is as an educational essential.

We also have some immediately persuasive props for evolution, too: fossils. Plop a dinosaur bone down in front of students, and it is immediately effective, and far more impressive than bouncing a ball. What you find, though, is immediacy is not enough. Creationists go to great lengths to contrive elaborate rationalizations to dismiss direct demonstrations. There’s something more going on.

Godin’s explanations miss the key points of contention.

Number one is human evolution. All those surveys of people’s attitudes towards evolution experience major shifts if the questions are simply reworded: ask whether they believe humans evolved from apes, and half of Americans will say no. Ask them if animals evolved from simpler forms, and the yes answers surge upwards by tens of percentage points. It is not an objection to evolution in principle, but to evolution as an explanation of their personal history. I’m sure there’s a marketing principle to be stated there.

The second objection is to chance and the lack of purpose. People really, desperately want there to be a personal agency to causality — they become utterly irrational about it all if you try to imply that no, fate, destiny, and ultimate cosmic purpose guided them to their mate, for instance. It couldn’t have been just chance. I suspect this is a consequence of the first contention: people want to believe that they are important agents in the universe, and one of the implications of evolution is that they aren’t.

If a marketing guy wants to help out with the evolution debates, those are ideas I’d like to know how to sell better.

Comments

  1. #1 MartinDH
    December 6, 2008

    OT (for this post but not this blog):

    In an earlier post you mentioned that you had heard that the Dean of the Chapel was irked about your visit to Florida.

    What was he mad about? (Inquiring minds want to know!)


    Martin

  2. #2 Glen Davidson
    December 6, 2008

    Yes, the genetic fallacy is substantial, that mind must have come from mind (and it makes it all more “special”).

    The Bible and less literalistic ties to “God” have always been important in the West, too. Obvious, but I didn’t see it mentioned.

    But then too, evolution is a much more complicated matter than gravitational calculations–even grade schoolers can at least calculate g?m1?m2/d2, at least if they’re given numbers for it. The math for evolution is complex, and even the story is quite complex.

    Is it too complex to understand easily? No, but it is complex enough for anti-evolutionists to confuse the matter. If there were more than a few crank anti-Newtonists, the distortions would not be nearly so readily accepted.

    After all of that, I’d still have to say that although organisms do not look designed, and few thought so prior to the industrial evolution (transfer of spirit, and reproduction, tend to loom large in the creation myths), there is a meaningful overlap between designed and evolved effects. Along that line, one may analyze the structure and function of organisms much like one would a machine, which is not really true of complex phenomena like weather.

    Of course it’s absurd to claim that any designer precisely incorporated the predicted (non-teleological) evolutionary effects we see in organisms, whether we’re considering “good design” or “poor design.” The problem goes back to the complexity of evolution and its evidence, however, for people do understand that organisms “make sense” in a design manner when this is pressed upon them, while they have little conception of what “makes sense” evolutionarily.

    The complexity of life is what primarily gives the cranks their opening, and they, naturally, exploit it to the hilt.

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

  3. #3 Glen Davidson
    December 6, 2008

    Is it too complex to understand easily?

    I meant to ask there if it is too complex to understand easily that it happened, not, of course, if it is too complex to understand every last causal factor.

    The IDiots typically equivocate between these two different questions.

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

  4. #4 Glen Davidson
    December 6, 2008

    Is it too complex to understand easily?

    I meant to ask there if it is too complex to understand easily that it happened, not, of course, if it is too complex to understand every last causal factor.

    The IDiots typically equivocate between these two different questions.

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

  5. #5 David Wiener
    December 6, 2008

    The problem is direct vs. indirect evidence. The ball drops – there’s gravity for you. The dinosaur bone, DNA analysis, etc., etc., are not drop-dead obvious. They are obvious to anyone with an open mind that examines the data – but that ‘open mind’ thingy is a big show stopper when evidence is not 100% obvious.

    Preaching to the choir – but that is why science education is so fundamentally important: It gives people the tools with which to understand the less-than-immediately-obvious. Of course, this is why science education is also being suppressed. And so it goes.

  6. #6 The Pale Scot
    December 6, 2008

    PZ,

    Wwhere did you guys go last night? I thought heard Lazy Moon so off I went. Good pie, should have come.

  7. #7 Feynmaniac
    December 6, 2008

    Ask anyone now, outside of a university at least, and you won’t get many who say ‘g?m1?m2/d2‘…..,

    The force due to gravity between to object is usually written as ‘G?m1?m2/d2‘. ‘G’ is generally used for the gravitational constant while ‘g’ is used for the local acceleration on Earth due to gravity.

    /end pedant mode

  8. #8 Emmet Caulfield
    December 6, 2008

    One of the problems marketing science as an alternative to fantasy is that science is constrained by reality, whilst fantasy is not.

    Fantasy can coopt any and all science and extend it with fantasy, whether that’s crystal healing, homeopathy, quantum codswallop, or whatever. Science can’t do the opposite. We can’t take some successful fantasy, like Lord of the Rings, and inject it into a particle accelerator to make it cooler.

    One of the scientific theories that I think is beyond utterly cool is stellar nucleosynthesis, which gives us the awe-inspiring thought that we are all, in a very real way, made up of stardust and the aftermath of explosions that make the Tsar Bomba look like a gerbil lighting its own farts. But the woo-mongers come along and add shite like “souls” and connect it to astrology, like squirting ketchup on oysters and stirring syrup into fine champagne.

  9. #9 Glen Davidson
    December 6, 2008

    Sorry about the double post.

    I’m not posting for that reason, though. I just thought it would have been better if Godin hadn’t confused the matter of gravity further, with this statement:

    And yet, we know virtually nothing about it. We don’t know how gravity waves (if there are any) are transmitted. We can’t block them (anti gravity boots!)

    We don’t know virtually nothing about it, having both a relativistic understanding of gravity, and a momentum transfer via virtual particles quantum concept.

    Worse, gravity waves are not how gravity works. Gravity waves (in the usual sense of the term) are waves in the fabric of space, caused by gravitational events like two black holes converging. They simply distort space, they don’t “cause gravity.”

    The point he’s aiming at is not so bad, of course, since gravity, along with the whole standard model, have theoretical problems of the kind that evolutionary theory does not. The causes of evolution appear to fit within well-understood physics, whatever issues remain in evolutionary theory.

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

  10. #10 Sastra
    December 6, 2008

    Newton’s laws were accepted by the common people without question because they didn’t know what they were.

    Yes, or, rather, people couldn’t follow its implications as well as they could follow the implications of evolution. Even Newton himself tried to carve out a space in cosmology where mindless mechanism had no sway, and angels had to step in to make everything work ‘according to plan.’

    At the heart of every religion — and “spiritual” mindset — is the belief that there is no significant mental division between us, and the cosmos. Morals, meaning, consciousness, and thought are inherent in everything, and human beings are the focus of a giant universal drama. “God” is only one manifestation of human egocentric thinking.

    Turning off this subjective top-down, skyhook way of seeing reality and exchanging it for the objective bottom-up, cranes-all-the-way perspective comes very hard to us. Sooner or later the people who try to have it both ways — we’ll think in terms of cranes until we get to some religious belief we want to set aside as special — are going to run into conflict.

    As a matter of short term marketing, it’s wise to sell evolution as “the way God worked, and it makes God EVEN BETTER than if God didn’t work that way!” But that method and approach is technically wrong, and encouraging egocentrism in a “moderate” form is a Frankenstein’s monster. It’s going to be hard to keep it in check, like a pet.

  11. #11 SC
    December 6, 2008

    Geez, Glen. Post a few more times, why don’t ya?

    (Sorry – I must still be sore after you were so hard-on me on the earlier thread.)
    ;)

  12. #12 Ziggy
    December 6, 2008

    I was going to nitpick that G is the gravitational constant whereas g is acceleration due to gravity (generally assumed at the earth’s surface), but now I see someone has beaten me to the punch.

  13. #13 BobC
    December 6, 2008

    How to convince creationists they are wrong about everything? It’s usually not possible. Stupidity is an incurable disease.

    What can evolutionary biology offer an idiot? Evolution threatens everything they were trained to believe, including heaven, people are special creations of the god fairy, people are not animals. Many creationists believe accepting evolution means eternal torture in hell.

    Today’s creationists are a lost cause. There is hope for the next generation of Americans, but only if there are major improvements in science education, and more competent biology teachers. Also, the teaching of evolution should begin in the First Grade, before the preachers permanently destroy their minds.

  14. #14 RamblinDude
    December 6, 2008

    Just change the forum to championship wrestling, and demolish the creationist position with monster trucks. You’ll have tons of people pro-evolution, by default, as they choose up sides.

    Seriously, though, Newton’s explanations would have met opposition if his ideas haddirectly contradicted religious dogma.

    I’m not sure the real problem is that people inherently want to feel that they are special insomuch as they have had it mandated to them that they feel they are special. It’s practically a sin not to feel that they are specially created and to be thankful for it.

  15. #15 karooiy87
    December 6, 2008

    Is anything here accurate, http://edinburghcreationgroup.org/whales.xml?

  16. #16 Emmet Caulfield
    December 6, 2008

    Just change the forum to championship wrestling, and demolish the creationist position with monster trucks.

    A wag once quipped that evolution is opposed by the segment of the population who think the last line of the National Anthem is “Start your engines”.

  17. #17 DamnYankees
    December 6, 2008

    I think PZ is wrong with this because he’s not using the gravity-evolution analogy right. Here is the basic comparison:

    “Things are attracted to each other” is to “We evolved over time” as “Newton’s equations” are to “the neosynthesis and genetic modeling of allele mutation frequency”.

    With gravity, people accept the basic idea of it even without knowing the details. With evolution, people *don’t* accept the basic story. I think its false and unhelpful to say that people don’t accept gravity – they do. It’s not an issue.

    In fact, the reason people accept gravity and not evolution should be the argument; we needn’t invent ways to claim people don’t accept gravity. In my opinion, people accept gravity because its mechanistic, impersonal, and distant from our ‘souls’. People don’t accept evolution because it means we came form monkeys and god didn’t make us special.

  18. #18 RamblinDude
    December 6, 2008

    Stupidity is an incurable disease.

    I don’t agree with you.

    There are many people–who post comments on this website even–who were once “stupid.”

    Impeccable integrity and education must be our tools. Just because it’s an uphill climb doesn’t mean we don’t have–or can’t invent–the necessary grappling equipment.

  19. #19 SC
    December 6, 2008

    The second objection is to chance and the lack of purpose.

    This is a major hurdle, I think.

    ***

    Hmmm… I see Emmet’s point when he says:

    One of the problems marketing science as an alternative to fantasy is that science is constrained by reality, whilst fantasy is not.

    On the other hand, as he notes in his example, reality is cool. As I’ve said here many times, reading Cosmos as a child was a life-changing experience for me. It made years of Baptist teachings look so small and tawdry. And evolutionary science is, it seems to me, even more accessible than cosmology. Alongside fighting antiscience efforts, I think the Carl Zimmer approach is extremely valuable. We don’t need to avoid the tough questions the acceptance of evolutionary history raises, but these questions should be understood in the context of a celebration of this history and a recognition of its beauty and profundity. Our relationship to other life and non-life forms is nothing short of amazing.

    OK, that was sappy.

  20. #20 Brain Hertz
    December 6, 2008

    Actually, there was an existing theory of gravity — several, in fact. The best known was Aristotle’s, who posited that there was a natural place where every object ideally wished to be located. For most solid objects, that ideal place was the center of the earth, and for less substantial objects, like steam and smoke, it was in the heavens, so everything was drawn naturally to it’s optimum destination unless hindered. Simple.

    Quite so, but Aristotle was dead by the time Newton wrote Principia.

    Surely the principal issue here is not the existence of well entrenched prior ideas, but the existence of large numbers of people with a strong interest in seeing the old ideas prevail?

    It’s not like Aristotle had a worldwide army of followers (with am obscenely wealthy and powerful organization behind them) whose basis for existing was the promotion of, and subjugation to, the ideas contained in their magical grimoire.

  21. #21 Owlmirror
    December 6, 2008

    As a matter of short term marketing, it’s wise to sell evolution as “the way God worked, and it makes God EVEN BETTER than if God didn’t work that way!”

    I think that that is how believing evolutionary biologists “sell” evolution to themselves. Either God acted, and is thus responsible for the “good” in evolution, or God did not act, in which case God is absolved of the evil in evolution ( Francisco Ayala, for example, suggests the evolution is the resolution to theodicy.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/science/29prof.html

    )

    Either way, they still get to keep their “good” God, and evolution as demonstrated by the evidence.

    But that method and approach is technically wrong, and encouraging egocentrism in a “moderate” form is a Frankenstein’s monster. It’s going to be hard to keep it in check, like a pet.

    Religion and egocentrism tend to go hand in hand. The monster has been lurching along for a long, long time…

  22. #22 jimmyb
    December 6, 2008

    Hahahaha!

    The really sad thing is anyone would need a study to tell them this:

    Male science ‘nerds’ most likely to be virgins, study says
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/3547661/Male-science-nerds-most-likely-to-be-virgins-study-says.html

  23. #23 uncle frogy
    December 6, 2008

    It is not the evidence per say that is the critical problem it I would agree the problem of chance and purpose are the show stoppers for the religious. The big deal with western religion is purpose!
    That eliminates any chance and says that “you” are important to the purpose. It is clear in the response to evolution and the misunderstanding of evolution that purpose is always implied.
    I have no idea how to get past that kind of thinking in a general way, but have had some very long conversations (arguments) in which we finally got to that point it is so ingrained that it is seldom even recognized as an idea. The only thing I suggest to be reassuring like speaking to a young child about spooky things that scare them but individually one on one. there is a lot of underlying fear hence the completely irrational arguments, lying and BS. It is hard to be kind, reassuring and understanding when they are coming at you with clubs, guns and rope!

  24. #24 patrickhenry
    December 6, 2008

    I’ve attempted to explain (without much success) that our existence is more valuable when viewed as the result of evolution than as a miracle. If we can be created merely with a divine thought, then wiped out (as with Noah’s Flood), and then whimsically re-created again, where’s the value in that? Life is cheap, a throw-away toy.

    We’re special because we’re at the tail end of an enormously long, perhaps improbable, never-to-be-repeated chain of events, and we’ve got intelligence and free will. We’re unique. Even if we’re not the only intelligent life in the universe, we’re certainly rare. That means we’re precious. We’re the icing on the cake. We’re irreplaceable in the whole cosmos. How could anyone ponder that and even think about futility?

  25. #25 jimmyc
    December 6, 2008

    “It is hard to be kind, reassuring and understanding when they are coming at you with clubs, guns and rope! ”

    Please enlighten us as to how many times you have been attacked with clubs and guns (ropes don’t make terribly effective offensive weapons), religious people, childlike or otherwise.

  26. #26 Sastra
    December 6, 2008

    SC #19 wrote:

    We don’t need to avoid the tough questions the acceptance of evolutionary history raises, but these questions should be understood in the context of a celebration of this history and a recognition of its beauty and profundity.

    I agree — and beautifully put — but it still takes a certain amount of sophistication to see this, and our egocentric urges are still not going to be satisfied.

    A simple illustration of the problem is astronomy vs. astrology. You can study all the wonders of the universe, you can marvel in amazement at what science reveals about the stars — but science won’t be able to connect us to the stars in the one way most people consider to be most important: what are the stars trying to tell us about ourselves? What kind of person am I? Should I change jobs? Should I trust my girlfriend? Is now a good time to take a trip? Is the universe on my side? Is there a way I can make it work on my side? Does it love me? Am I important? Who am I?

    You know. The deep, profound questions of life. Astronomy can tell us how the stars go — but only astrology can answer how we’re supposed to go. If that’s how you look at it, then astronomy is narrow and limited. It’s not a satisfying answer to “tell me what I need to know about the stars.” We need more.

    Most people, then, have it back backwards. They think mechanistic explanations which leave human needs and concerns out of the equation are shallow and arrogant. As Ramblin Dude points out in #14, they manage to frame it all under the social question of whether or not you should be “thankful” that it’s all about you. And being needy is interpreted as being humble and open, like a child submissively opening their hand.

    If you try to sell astronomy by tapping into the needs fulfilled by astrology, you will get a wider audience. “You can’t understand the zodiac properly if you fail to understand scientific astronomy.” Class gets full. But it won’t work the other way around. If astrology was legitimate, it would.

    I think there’s the relationship between God and science.

  27. #27 Sastra
    December 6, 2008

    jimmye #25:
    I understood uncle frogy to be speaking metaphorically, and suspect everyone else did as well. Creationists are very emotionally invested in their religious beliefs, and fight against what threatens them with the most effective “weapons” they can.

  28. #28 blueelm
    December 6, 2008

    I’m not sure the real problem is that people inherently want to feel that they are special insomuch as they have had it mandated to them that they feel they are special

    We’re special because we’re at the tail end of an enormously long, perhaps improbable, never-to-be-repeated chain of events, and we’ve got intelligence and free will. We’re unique. Even if we’re not the only intelligent life in the universe, we’re certainly rare. That means we’re precious. We’re the icing on the cake. We’re irreplaceable in the whole cosmos. How could anyone ponder that and even think about futility?

    Religion creates its own definition of special.If we’re the result of a huge improbability then that means we could easily not-be, and this is an unpleasant and scary thought for many people. Religion creates a definition of special that is something like “meant to be.” It allows people to never have to come to terms with reality, often even when god then suddenly “means” them not to be.

    I remember being in an ethics class where a student said something about not believing in god. After class, and while the student was not around to defend himself I overheard ine of the other students saying “I can’t believe he can live like that… with nothing to look forward to? I mean, his life must be so meaningless!”

    If anything it’s meant to decrease value, because when a lot of people think about how unlikely it is that they are here and continue to be here then they get frightened by that fact. That’s a lot of pressure. It’s easier just to believe that things will be really great in heaven so it’s not so important down here.

  29. #29 guy fawkes
    December 6, 2008

    The “Creation and Evolution debate” only exist in the United States. You seem to talk like its a real thing.

    The World is NOT United States. You believe this because you never gone outside tyour own border, you most likely never open an Atlas in your life. WORLD is NOT YOUR COUNTRY. You are just a backwards third world nation that debate about changing science to religion and go back to the middle ages.

    Congratz. Travel a bit.

  30. #30 SC
    December 6, 2008

    The whole “marketing gravity” piece is pretty dumb. He says,

    There are two reasons that gravity has had so much better marketing than evolution,

    and then proceeds to offer two reasons it is more difficult to “market”* evolution than it is to market gravity – not reasons for differences in the “marketing” of the two. A better comparison would be heliocentricity and evolution.

    I won’t bother to go into the rest of it, but my overall verdit is: LAME.

    *I object to using capitalistic terms (“marketing,” “selling,” etc.) to describe these efforts. Gag.

  31. #31 xebecs
    December 6, 2008

    How to convince creationists they are wrong about everything?

    I think this is the real heart of the problem. To attack creationism is to attack *absolutely everything* they believe, because *everything* they believe is all tied together in a big ball of Goddidit.

    I enjoy having a good discussion with a hard-core libertarian about gun control or about the Fair Tax — I will readily admit when they make good points.

    But put me with someone who tells me that I am also wrong about The War, international relations, government spending, civil rights, freedom of speech, global warming, etc., and I will flee to the corner where they are discussing knitting or NASCAR or nuthatches — ANYTHING to get away from the nitwit I’m with.

    I imagine it’s the same for the creationists. Wrong about everything? It’s just too much to consider.

  32. #32 Nick Gotts
    December 6, 2008

    people want to believe that they are important agents in the universe, and one of the implications of evolution is that they aren’t. – PZ

    I disagree. That we are not important agents in the universe is demonstrated by astronomy: the Earth is a tiny speck in a vast cosmos. We are important agents on Earth, unfortunately – having already caused a considerable extinction event, removed much of the planet’s forests and soil, damaged the ozone layer, and changed the composition of the atmosphere enough to raise temperatures and acidify the ocean.

  33. #33 SC
    December 6, 2008

    The “Creation and Evolution debate” only exist in the United States. You seem to talk like its a real thing.

    I was unaware that what occurred in the US was not real. Thanks for clearing that up, guy.

  34. #34 jimmyd
    December 6, 2008

    So the guns, clubs and ropes are symbolic of what then?

    And please don’t attack me with a beaker, a sponge and a blow-up doll.

  35. #35 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    December 6, 2008

    The “Creation and Evolution debate” only exist in the United States. You seem to talk like its a real thing.

    Not really guy. Turkey, Australia, Kenya and I’m sure other places as well as the Pope holding a Evo / Creationism debate at the Vatican. It’s just happens to be more widespread here.

  36. #36 blueelm
    December 6, 2008

    The “Creation and Evolution debate” only exist in the United States.

    Well… many posters are here in the US. That seems like a reasonable place to talk about issues within the states. Furthermore, the US (a part of the world) tends to affect other (real) parts of the world. It isn’t pretty, but it’s true.

  37. #37 Nick Gotts
    December 6, 2008

    I object to using capitalistic terms (“marketing,” “selling,” etc.) to describe these efforts. Gag. – SC

    Absolutely. Why the hell should biologists need professional liars to tell them how to describe and explain their science to the public?

  38. #38 BobC
    December 6, 2008

    You are just a backwards third world nation that debate about changing science to religion and go back to the middle ages.

    My country, America, the most powerful country in history, is a backwards third world nation?

    Yeah, you’re right. I’m really ashamed to live here sometimes. Fortunately the future looks promising. We somehow managed to elect a very intelligent president. We might not be so backward 8 years from now.

  39. #39 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    December 6, 2008

    The World is NOT United States. You believe this because you never gone outside tyour own border, you most likely never open an Atlas in your life. WORLD is NOT YOUR COUNTRY. You are just a backwards third world nation that debate about changing science to religion and go back to the middle ages.

    Congratz. Travel a bit.

    What brought on that ignorant rant?

  40. #40 Travis
    December 6, 2008

    While is has been largely a US problem I think one could say it isn’t only a US problem. There seems to be some problems with this in Britain, though not of the same level perhaps, and I think we do see some problems in the middle east with the growing influence of creationism there.

    But I think that is beside the point. I think PZ knows well that this is in many ways a problem of the United States, if you had read this blog for any amount of time I suspect you would know this. In the end that does not make this any less real or a problem.

  41. #41 NewEnglandBob
    December 6, 2008

    It may be that one failure of Evolution by Natural Selection is its failure to eliminate marketing people.

    I don’t think I have ever met a marketing person who had integrity and told the truth most of the time. I have met some who never told the truth and tried to leverage everything for their own advantage.

  42. #42 chancelikely
    December 6, 2008

    So the guns, clubs and ropes are symbolic of what then?

    Well, it would be guns, clubs and ropes if they were legal, but nowadays it’s usually email sent from your wife’s work account, threats of hell, and claims that we wouldn’t dare be this disrespectful to the Muslims.

  43. #43 SC
    December 6, 2008

    I disagree. That we are not important agents in the universe is demonstrated by astronomy: the Earth is a tiny speck in a vast cosmos.

    True, but evolution is complementary to that. Not only are we spatially and temporally insignificant on a cosmic scale, we are also temporally insignificant (and formed through chance events and conditions) on a planetary scale.

    I think the religious largely try to avoid acknowledging the implications of astronomical knowledge as well, and for the same reasons. But even if this can be ignored, evolution poses a seemingly more immediate challenge. Also, the idea of agency here I think refers to an agency or destiny granted by a higher power, rather than agency in terms of physical effects.

  44. #44 jimmyf
    December 6, 2008

    Posted by: chancelikely | December 6, 2008 2:48 PM

    So the guns, clubs and ropes are symbolic of what then?

    Well, it would be guns, clubs and ropes if they were legal, but nowadays it’s usually email sent from your wife’s work account, threats of hell, and claims that we wouldn’t dare be this disrespectful to the Muslims.

    So guns are a metaphor for email?
    Forgive my ignorance, but how the hell does that work?

  45. #45 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    December 6, 2008

    Jimmy are you trying to make a point or are you just being a pedantic pain in the ass?

  46. #46 Travis
    December 6, 2008

    jimmy, I think they were referring to this incident.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/the_cost_of_delusional_derange.php

  47. #47 uncle frogy
    December 6, 2008

    Oh Jimmy Jimmy !!
    I see that you are a believer and are threatened by words from someone like me. I am sorry about that but too bad for you.
    In English we some times use metaphor to make a point. Do you mean to imply that “christian and muslims” never advocate violence toward atheists and unbelievers? If we had no laws in this country that protect free thought and free expression what would happen?
    Do you imply that those who believe do not threaten those who teach evolution?
    Rope is a very dangerous thing just ask anyone who has been lynched.

    Get over it we are not the reason for the universe any more than anything else is. None of it was “made” for our benefit! Just what makes you think you are so important anyway?

  48. #48 Nerd of Redhead
    December 6, 2008

    Jimmyb-f, PZ doesn’t like morphing, even fairly transparent morphing. Stick to one name.

  49. #49 Katharine
    December 6, 2008

    Ignore that jimmy idiot.

    He’s apparently some stupid joe-sixpack fuck who doesn’t understand the value of education and he’s probably a fundie.

  50. #50 Brain Hertz
    December 6, 2008

    So guns are a metaphor for email?
    Forgive my ignorance, but how the hell does that work?

    Your ignorance is excused, but please research the meaning of “metaphor”. It’s not hard.

  51. #51 jimmyf
    December 6, 2008

    So guns, knives and ropes “are” a metaphor for emails.

    Now I get it.
    It’s just a shitty metaphor.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

  52. #52 SC
    December 6, 2008

    Sastra:

    I agree — and beautifully put –

    Thanks!

    but it still takes a certain amount of sophistication to see this, and our egocentric urges are still not going to be satisfied.

    A simple illustration of the problem is astronomy vs. astrology. You can study all the wonders of the universe, you can marvel in amazement at what science reveals about the stars — but science won’t be able to connect us to the stars in the one way most people consider to be most important:…

    Hm. I don’t think we’re really in disagreement here. I’m not suggesting that the Saganian/Zimmerian approach will take us all the way, by any means. I’m not even suggesting that it be presented as an alternative to religion or pseudoscience in an attempt to respond to the same (possibly to some extent socially-constructed) needs that they do. I just think it’s important to keep showing and emphasizing and pointing to the most fascinating and cool aspects of physical reality in whatever ways we can. That way, people can better understand physical reality not in negative terms of opposition to their “spiritual” reality, but as something dazzling in itself that exposes pretenders for the cheap paste jewels they are.

    But still only part of the puzzle, to be sure.

  53. #53 Eamon Knight
    December 6, 2008

    Given the number of people whose understanding of gravity is limited to “things fall to the ground”, I’m not convinced that even that part of his argument is true. How many people (absent a couple of undergrad physics courses) understand why satellites orbit, or astronauts float around in the ISS? (It’s not because there’s no gravity there!)

  54. #54 Sastra
    December 6, 2008

    jimmyd #34 wrote:

    So the guns, clubs and ropes are symbolic of what then?

    I took them as symbolic of logical fallacies, populist appeals, and threats that accepting evolution will lead to moral degeneracy.

  55. #55 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    December 6, 2008

    So guns, knives and ropes “are” a metaphor for emails.

    Now I get it.
    It’s just a shitty metaphor.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    Thanks for focusing on that Jimmy. You’re really upped the intellectual ante here on the blog.

    great work.

  56. #56 Grammar Troll
    December 6, 2008

    Pedantry alert:

    “… they become utterly irrational about it all if you try to imply that no, fate, destiny, and ultimate cosmic purpose guided them to their mate, for instance. It couldn’t have been just chance. ”

    With that comma right before the no, it sounds as though you’re saying that “No, it couldn’t have been just chance: fate, destiny, and ultimate cosmic purpose guided them to their mate.”

    Dropping the initial comma makes it clear that faith, destiny, and UCP are elements in a list of things not responsible for finding said mate.

    Pedantry concluded.

  57. #57 Sastra
    December 6, 2008

    SC #52 wrote:

    Hm. I don’t think we’re really in disagreement here.

    Yes, we agree. We’ve no other choice than to try to “market” scientific truth by appealing to human values other than the quest for understanding. We’re just up against it because the other side is selling something that’s easier to understand, more in tune with our intuitions, and more flattering. People tend to redefine truth to fit, if it’s too hard.

  58. #58 scooter
    December 6, 2008

    I think a promotion of Deism and first cause is a decent compromise, or appeasement, if you will.

    We give them this: It may very well have been god who caused the singularity to expand at the moment of the big bang, and created the beginning of time. But since creating the Universe, she/he has not interfered.

    Just give them something, it’s a perfectly reasonable recruiting tool.

    My understanding of cosmology is that it’s unlikely we’ll figure out the state of the Universe before the big bang any time soon, if ever.

    The art of persuasion involves compromise, and the perfect compromise is one where you give up NOTHING.

    Give the Creationists all of the territory before the Big Bang.

    Besides, First Cause Deism was popular with ‘The Founding Fathers’ which gives one leverage when debating Ameritards, and flagsuckers.

    Also one can argue that if God is perfect, everything she/he does is perfect, therefore the Universe is perfect, and if God were to come back to patch things up since the BB, that would mean she/he made a mistake, which is impossible, because God is perfect, and cannot make mistakes.

    I happily cede everything before time to God and Religion, everything afterward to rationality, science, and critical thought.

    Why not?
    —————————————–
    Celebration of the End of Racism in America:
    http://acksisofevil.org/audio/inner204.mp3

  59. #59 Rey Fox
    December 6, 2008

    “I happily cede everything before time to God and Religion, everything afterward to rationality, science, and critical thought.”

    The trouble is that if you give them that inch, they’ll take a mile. Apologists are skilled at darting back and forth between the Ineffable Cosmic Muffin (who started everything off but lives outside the universe and only exists in things like love and whathaveya), and the Anthropomorphicized God who helped them get a job and find a spouse and sometimes even tells them moral proscriptions.

  60. #60 Sastra
    December 6, 2008

    scooter #58 wrote:

    I happily cede everything before time to God and Religion, everything afterward to rationality, science, and critical thought.
    Why not?

    Several points:
    1.) When it comes to promoting the theory of evolution, there is no “we” united under atheism. “We” don’t have to offer creationists and the general public Deism as a compromise: the many theistic evolutionists are already doing a fine job with that. There may be strong merit in pursuing different strategies.

    2.) As I mentioned above, there is the Frankenstein’s monster kind of problem. Once you cede that yes, it is perfectly reasonable to accept that the universe is originally grounded in magic and shot through with moral import; yes, a disembodied Mind can create or move physical matter and energy through using the Force of His Will; yes, religion has the authority to tell us things that science cannot reveal — then it’s hard to justify drawing the line at Deism. You’ve got top-down agent causation magically creating a world that builds complex things like agents from the bottom up — but with no hint of magic anywhere except at the beginning. That’s not consistent. And having only a little bit of magic is I think like being “a little bit” pregnant. It’s going to grow on you.

    3.) As a general ethical rule, it’s a good idea to be honest. Lying for a “good cause” is still lying, and treating the general public like babes who need to be coddled because, unlike our estimable selves, they “cannot handle the truth” is not just deceptive, but a bit arrogant. Virtue may be its own reward, but, in the long run, it’s often rewarded otherwise.

    If I were a creationist — or even someone on the fence — I think that I would respect an honest Richard Dawkins over someone who knows how to “handle” me better, and will instead try to convince me that an understanding of evolution will “strengthen my faith” — even if they really think it shouldn’t.

    Of course, I am often surprised by how eager otherwise rational people are to stomp angrily on honesty and throw themselves at anything that flatters them. I’m not really sure whether they would do this even if they knew they were being pandered to. For some people, false support seems to be better than no support. They want atheists to shut up, shut up, shut up.

  61. #61 Owlmirror
    December 6, 2008

    I happily cede everything before time to God and Religion, everything afterward to rationality, science, and critical thought.

    I might be willing to concede a Deistic God, if such a thing was brought up in argument, but I can’t see myself using that as an argument.

    As Rey Fox notes, people want a God that Does Stuff. One that doesn’t do anything is useless.

  62. #62 Parsnip
    December 6, 2008

    I’ve run into a lot of people questioning human origins, they just can’t believe that we came from a common ancestor with apes. It just seems far fetched.

    Then I juxtapose a chihuahua with a grey wolf. This gets them thinking. If you can easily observe the transition of a fearsome, majestic pack hunter to a trembling, yapping lap dog, is it that much of a stretch to see a common link between us and our ancestral brethren?

  63. #63 Christopher Balambao
    December 6, 2008

    Being a salesman myself and a atheist, this is a problem I have been working on in my head for some time. First thing we all need to understand is the basic structure of a sale.

    The open.
    Gaugeing interests.
    Getting the client emotionally invested.
    Clearing away the objections.
    Giving the logical justifications to the emotional desires to buy.
    Close.

    This is just the most basic model of a sale, but any salesman who is any good will tell you that getting a prospect emotionally involved with the product is key to making the sale. Before you can tell someone the facts or the logic you need to speak to their emotional mind and hook that first (the hookpoint for us salesmen and PUAs). Anyway, I am kinda sick atm, so if this sounds a little funny, just say so and whats funny about it and I will clear it up later for ya.

  64. #64 negentropyeater
    December 6, 2008

    People really, desperately want there to be a personal agency to causality — they become utterly irrational about it all if you try to imply that no, fate, destiny, and ultimate cosmic purpose guided them to their mate, for instance.

    “Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realises himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.” Hence we can well understand why some people are horrified by our teaching. For many have but one resource to sustain them in their misery, and that is to think, “Circumstances have been against me, I was worthy to be something much better than I have been.”
    Jean Paul Sartre, L’existentialisme est un humanisme

  65. #65 Gavin Polhemus
    December 6, 2008

    My letter to Seth:

    Hi Seth,

    I do serious gravity research for a living. I understand that your article, “Gravity is just a theory,” in not intended to educate people about gravity or evolution, but to use gravity and evolution as examples to illustrate a point about marketing. I have every reason to believe that your marketing message is sound and that the version of gravity that you present illustrates this point wonderfully. However, gravitational theory is nothing like what you describe.

    We know virtually everything about gravity. Einstein’s general theory of relativity totally solved the problem of gravity (classically, quantum gravity remains a work in progress). With general relativity we know exactly how gravity waves are transmitted. We know how to block gravity waves, and why it would be a waste of time to do so. In particular, we know why blocking gravity waves would not produce anti-gravity boots. We could amplify gravity waves, but there is no apparent point. We know exactly how fast gravity waves travel. There are hundreds, if not thousands of us doing serious gravity research in physics and astrophysics departments all over the world, which may be “very few” depending on your standard of comparison.

    I’m not sure how anyone gets the impression that “we know virtually nothing about gravity.” The science is there, but apparently we need much better marketing.

    Gavin Polhemus, Ph.D.

  66. #66 RamblinDude
    December 6, 2008

    Nick Gotts:

    We are important agents on Earth, unfortunately -”

    I see your point here. If, according to evolution, there is no reason to think that we are ultimately significant then why (they ask) are we such an influential and dominate species here on our own planet?

    Both evolution and religion give an answer as to why we are significant–at least locally–but religion also justifies our existence and our actions–which comforts people and serves to rationalize their behavior as they terra-form and manipulate people. (And since there are so many people who believe the religious version then there must be something to it, right?)

    How do you sell–to a superstitious populace, trained to be obsessed with egocentrism and dogma, and with very little in the way of critical-thinking skills –a profound appreciation for genuine investigation?

  67. #67 BobC
    December 6, 2008

    uncle frogy said to Jimmy:

    Do you imply that those who believe do not threaten those who teach evolution?

    Yes, this is a big problem. Excellent biology teachers have to put up with harassment and threats. For this reason many teachers try to avoid teaching evolution. Unfortunately, guy fawkes was correct to say America is a backwards third world nation.

  68. #68 SC
    December 6, 2008

    “Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realises himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is.”

    Here’s the translation from Existentialism and Human Emotions (32), which I happened to have at hand:

    Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life.

    Yours is good, too! (I prefer “realizes” to “fulfills,” in fact.)

  69. #69 RamblinDude
    December 6, 2008

    “We know how to block gravity waves . . .”

    (!)

    Man, I really need to catch up on my science.

  70. #70 uncle frogy
    December 6, 2008

    yes Chris, that is the key how to get the creationist emotionally interested in evolution when they are using belief in a creator god who cares for them and loves them as a shield against the fact that life is short and strange and “I am alone”?

  71. #71 Riman butterbur
    December 6, 2008

    scooter #58

    I happily cede everything before time to God and Religion, everything afterward to rationality, science, and critical thought.

    Why not?

    A thousand or ten thousand years from now, whenever scientists do break through the Big Bang mystery, how will they contend with theistic resistance to that?

  72. #72 raven
    December 6, 2008

    How to convince creationists they are wrong about everything?

    You can’t. Not the hardcore. It is almost impossible to turn a crackpot. Creationism is really not about science or religion. It is about politics. About power and money and getting more of it. I’m sure most of the creos could care less whether it is correct or not.

    I used to pay a lot more attention to creos until I realized their delusions are a symptom, not a cause. They almost took over the government again, Obama won 52 to 46%. Pretty scary, 46% of US citizens want to go back to the Dark Ages. The teaser bit we got the last 8 years was bad enough. Two of my friends didn’t even survive it, dead in Iraq.

  73. #73 Randy
    December 6, 2008

    I believe it was the idea that the orbits of the moon and planets could be explained by the same force that caused an apple to fall to the earth that was the revolutionary aspect of Newton’s theory. This is a far less obvious concept than evolution. In fact, you could argue that it was not really tested until we managed to put up our own orbiting satellites.

  74. #74 scooter
    December 6, 2008

    Owl @ 61 : I might be willing to concede a Deistic God, if such a thing was brought up in argument, but I can’t see myself using that as an argument.

    But the thread is about selling an idea, so that means you become a salesman, if you’re playing that game.

    The salesman does not think in terms of “I can’t see myself as making that argument”

    I’m suggesting that in a negotiation, you suggest you have no problem with the idea of Deism, the underlying religious principle upon which this great country was founded, under god with liberty and justice for all.

    Then cede the opposition all Dominion over the Universe before the beginning of time.

    You can come up with all sorts of jingoistic and ridiculous claims for the glorious magnitude of the Almighty First Cause without stepping on one equation or rational idea.

    I thinks it’s easier to sell Deism than rationality because it’s easier for the bald monkeys to grok, and they get to keep their god.

    As a salesman, you are not supposed to be too concerned about the actual value of what you are selling, and as a promoter of a cause, ceding nothing in compromise is called winning.

    Perhaps I’ll have a conversion this New Year, and become a spokesperson for Deism.

    Deists, ‘the only REAL AMERICANs.’

    Then if I have PZ, and other Atheists on the program, we can have a debate instead of an agree-a-thon.

    I have no problem with Turtles all the way down.

    Imagine me and You
    I do
    I think about you
    Day and night
    —————————————–
    Celebration of the End of Racism in America:
    http://acksisofevil.org/audio/inner204.mp3

  75. #75 scooter
    December 6, 2008

    guy fawkes The “Creation and Evolution debate” only exist in the United States. You seem to talk like its a real thing.

    Jeez, Guy, calm down, get ahold of yourself, you’ll get no argument on that, here.

    The World is NOT United States.

    We think of the World as a slave labor market, a strip mine, and a bombing range, in that regard it is ours, yall can keep whatever is left.

    You believe this because you never gone outside tyour own border,

    We probably have more of our young people in far flung lands than the Scandanavians, Germany for instance, I’ll bet there are more Americans than Scandanavians in Germany, doncha know. You may be able to see it ouside your windows, but we still occupy the place.. Bang Bang.

    WORLD is NOT YOUR COUNTRY. You are just a backwards third world nation

    Hah! If you think you’re safe from these insane Christian American Dominionists, just because you are in Europe, I got three words for ya: The Former Yugoslavia. Boom Boom

    Travel a little.

    And just a little advice, if yall discover that you are sitting on top of some strategically valuable natural resource….
    …. don’t tell anybody

    unless you want to meet some liberators up close and personal.

    Praise Jesus and pass the ammunition

  76. #76 SC
    December 6, 2008

    so that means you become a salesman, if you’re playing that game.

    Yeah, you’re probably right. Spin Nisbetter.

  77. #77 Vinny
    December 6, 2008

    As a marketing type, I’ve given a lot of thought to this. My two cents is that as a “product,” evolution isn’t ever going to be easy to sell.

    PZ makes two very smart marketing points. First, never sell against self image: “I’m not related to apes.” Second, always provide validation to existing biases: “all of this tough stuff I’ve been through must have a purpose.”

    Religion, in particular the fundamental brand, provides the perfect marketing pitch. Among other things, “You are a special creation” and “you may not be able to figure it out but everything has a purpose.” And there’s my favorite “Jesus wants you to be rich.”

    The reality-based pitch is “yup, you’re share a common ancestor with all life – isn’t that wonderful?” and “man up, cancer is simply cancer. Science will eventually solve it.”

    Selling a product is all about finding (or creating) a pain point in the buyer. Something you can identify that they want to change. And then explaining how your product eases that pain without creating new pain. So far the best I’ve come up with have been variations of the Emperor’s New Clothes – you really have to be stupid to believe this crap – while satisfying personally, it isn’t a useful marketing pitch.

    I have yet to figure out how to have a conversation with someone who has even moderate religious leanings that pitches the alternative world view. The best I’ve come up with is to be honest and open about my non-theism and skeptical world view – and show an example that you can live a good life without believing in in fairies, spirits and the boogie man. And to accept small wins by providing naturalistic alternatives to the supernatural stories friends and family comes up with.

    Short summary: “I’ve got nothing.” Argh..

  78. #78 scooter
    December 6, 2008

    Sastra @ #60
    1.) When it comes to promoting the theory of evolution, there is no “we” united under atheism.

    I was just referring to the people on the thread as the ‘we’.

    2.) As I mentioned above, there is the Frankenstein’s monster kind of problem. Once you cede that yes, it is perfectly reasonable to accept….

    No no, we can’t create a Frankenstein, the Frankenstein is here, and already stomping the villagers. However, I think a Godzilla image is more fitting. Frankenstein’s Monster is too sympathetic an avatar for cross-monkeys and godsuckers.

    3.) As a general ethical rule, it’s a good idea to be honest. Lying for a “good cause” is still lying

    Hah, you have finally revealed yourself.
    YOU are rejecting the entire premises of the thread with all your nonsense about honesty, which has nothing to do with marketing or salesmanship.

    You are a big trouble-maker. You should learn to be more open and caring and friendly and compassionate…

    … like me.

  79. #79 uncle frogy
    December 6, 2008

    scooter “And just a little advice, if yall discover that you are sitting on top of some strategically valuable natural resource….
    …. don’t tell anybody

    unless you want to meet some liberators up close and personal.”

    I think time for the kind of action implied which has been done in the past, may be severely curtailed going forward for political reasons illustrated by the new administration coming in and the debt carried over from the current administration. It is military power that can act as indicated and military power requires a lot of cash which seems to be in short supply just now and we must borrow from our political rivals who are becoming dependent on us comercially. Very strange indeed!

  80. #80 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 6, 2008

    We give them this: It may very well have been god who caused the singularity to expand at the moment of the big bang, and created the beginning of time. But since creating the Universe, she/he has not interfered.

    Just give them something, it’s a perfectly reasonable recruiting tool.

    My understanding of cosmology is that it’s unlikely we’ll figure out the state of the Universe before the big bang any time soon, if ever.

    There are already hypotheses out there like cosmological natural selection and eternal inflation… I’d say it could be as little as a few decades till we have at least as good a grasp on the origin of the universe as on the origin of life.

    ————————————

    Comment 73 bears repeating.

    ————————————

    Hah! If you think you’re safe from these insane Christian American Dominionists, just because you are in Europe, I got three words for ya: The Former Yugoslavia. Boom Boom

    You misunderstand. That was not a religion war. Nowadays, people are Serbian Orthodox because they are Serbs, not the other way around.

  81. #81 scooter
    December 6, 2008

    #80You misunderstand. That was not a religion war.

    None of the 150 US invasions since 1776 were religious wars. US Christard Politicians don’t invade to spread religion, they invade for pillage. Christards have the advantage of rape, murder, torture, genocide, usury, extortion, and corruption to further their interests and then go their little churchy churches and be forgiven.

    Everybody who has an interest in self preservation needs to keep an eye on the rise of Christo-fascism in the US Empire.

  82. #82 Kimpatsu
    December 6, 2008

    …so everything was drawn naturally to it’s optimum destination…
    “IT IS optimum”, PZ? For shame!
    Do you downgrade your students’ papers if they misuse the apostrophe?

  83. #83 kamaka
    December 6, 2008

    @ scooter

    “My understanding of cosmology is that it’s unlikely we’ll figure out the state of the Universe before the big bang any time soon, if ever.”

    I dunno, I’m working on Lee Smolins “The Life of the Cosmos” right now, he proposes an outrageous idea about cosmic natural selection that is compelling.

    I haven’t gotten to the “deals with the infinite regress” part yet…

  84. #84 SeanJJordan
    December 6, 2008

    For the record, Seth Godin is a marketing guy in name only. He’s not very well respected among those marketing professionals who do know him, and virtually unknown outside the internet marketing scene.

    Godin is a prolific writer, with seven books to his name, but he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about most of the time. He’s got his bachelor’s in computer science and philosophy, and an MBA from Stanford Business School in marketing. Like most tech guys who go on to get their MBAs, he thinks that the web solves all marketing problems and that traditional marketing is a waste of time. And yet he seems to equate marketing with advertising more often than not, which is like saying biology is just about dissection. Sure, you’ll perform the latter in the course of doing the former, but there’s a lot more going on besides that one activity.

    What Godin is good at is making himself appear relevant. But when you read his work and have any amount of knowledge about the field, you’ll see how little he really understands.

  85. #85 Anthony
    December 6, 2008

    It is strange how anyone who knows anything about science would state that “Nobody had a seriously described theory of gravity before Newton named it.” That statement is wrong on so many different levels. Seth Godin should an utter lack of understanding of history and science in just a few words.

  86. #86 John Morales
    December 6, 2008

    Kimpatsu @82:

    Do you downgrade your students’ papers if they misuse the apostrophe?

    When there’s no pattern of misuse, the presumption should be it’s but a simple error caused by distraction rather than ignorant misuse.

    BTW, your insinuation is ridiculous – and you’ve made the subject of your sentence the “students’ papers”, which can of course neither use nor misuse apostrophes.

  87. #87 Tom
    December 6, 2008

    I believe the explanation for gravity you gave was first given by Anaximander, and was later explained further by Aristotle.

  88. #88 Citizen Z
    December 6, 2008

    Is anything here accurate, http://edinburghcreationgroup.org/whales.xml?

    I believe he pronounces the species’ names correctly.

    His only “argument”*, if you could call it that, is that 15 million years is “rapid”, which is a pretty… unique perspective. He doesn’t give a reason why an evolutionary process would not work in that timescale beyond personal incredulity. He quotes a paper I was unable to track down where the scientists stated a feature evolved “faster than expected”. For some reason he takes “faster than expected” to mean “violates the laws of nature”. That’s assuming his citation is the least bit accurate, which, considering typical creationist behavior, is unlikely. He also flat out lies about the term “vestigial”. He claims, and I quote, that “‘evolutionists’ first discovered vestigial limbs they claimed they were useless” and that they “redefined vestige”. That is ridiculous. We’re talking about simple etymology here, the word vestigial was chosen for a reason. Here’s one take on it:

    Even the etymology of “vestigial” signals that it does not mean “without function.” “Vestige” and “vestigial” derive from the Latin word vestigium, which means “footprint, trace, mark, or track” and does not carry the meaning of “functionless, useless.” It is significant that biologists chose the term “vestigial” over derivitaves of irritus, inutilis, inanis, or reiculus, which all carry the meaning of “functionless, useless.”

    There’s no way his statement could be considered honest.

    *The only argument in the first 24 minutes, at which point he lied about “vestigial”, and I figured I had wasted enough time listening to his crap

  89. #89 rickflick
    December 6, 2008

    This is a great thread. Selling has triggered an analysis of how creationists think and why they are as stubborn as they are. I have not seen quite as much analysis of this topic before. I think it is quite fruitful to understand the territory.

  90. #90 Nick Gotts
    December 7, 2008
    That we are not important agents in the universe is demonstrated by astronomy: the Earth is a tiny speck in a vast cosmos. – Me

    True, but evolution is complementary to that. Not only are we spatially and temporally insignificant on a cosmic scale, we are also temporally insignificant (and formed through chance events and conditions) on a planetary scale. – SC

    Our temporal insignificance can be interpreted as “We are the endpoint of evolution”: the past leads to us in a way that the rest of space does not lead to Earth. Our species certainly evolved due to many chance events and conditions, but:
    1) It is easy to accept the reality of common descent without understanding this point;
    2) We are, in a weak sense, perhaps the culmination of a long-term trend among animals. If you look back over the past 500 million years, the braininess of the brainiest animals around (and so presumably the most behaviourally flexible and cognitively sophisticated) increases fairly (not absolutely) consistently. This doesn’t require any inherent bias toward braininess in natural selection – sometimes natural selection will increase and sometimes reduce the braininess of a population – but since high levels of braininess can only be reached via a chain of intermediate levels, sufficient braininess to support language, and technological and institutional innovation, will take a long time to appear. Once they did, these things transformed the rate of change of the biosphere. So I think evolution is even rationally, compatible with a conviction that some species sharing many of our key adaptive features was, on Earth at least, both a predictable outcome of a macro-trend (had there been anyone around to predict), and a very significant novelty.

    I think creationist opposition to human evolution is in part much more visceral: “I ain’t related to no monkey.” After all, many insults take the form of attributing bestial kin to the target (“son of a bitch”, “your mother was a hamster” …). The other part is that they are more consistent than non-fundie Christians: if the Genesis creation myth is not literally true, there is no original sin, so no need for a saviour. Of course there are ways to wriggle round this, but AFAIK none that are really satisfactory.

  91. #91 Kel
    December 7, 2008

    Is there anyone here with access to Nature?
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v456/n7222/full/nature07339.html

    I have a creationist on by blog using a part of this journal as evidence against Tiktaalik being a transitional form. After reading the abstract, I’m sure it’s a quote mine but Nature is fucking expensive (would cost me around $500AUD to subscribe) so I can’t check for myself.

    The offending paragraph is thus:

    It is difficult to say whether this character distribution implies that Tiktaalik is autapomorphic,2 that Panderichthys and tetrapods are convergent, or that Panderichthys is closer to tetrapods than Tiktaalik. At any rate, it demonstrates that the fish-tetrapod transition was accompanied by significant character incongruence in functionally important structures.

  92. #92 Owlmirror
    December 7, 2008

    if the Genesis creation myth is not literally true, there is no original sin, so no need for a saviour. Of course there are ways to wriggle round this, but AFAIK none that are really satisfactory.

    Pelagianism?

    Of course, the real problem is that original sin and salvation are not really satisfactory, either.

  93. #93 Jonathan Rothwell
    December 7, 2008

    Number one is human evolution. All those surveys of people’s attitudes towards evolution experience major shifts if the questions are simply reworded: ask whether they believe humans evolved from apes, and half of Americans will say no.

    They didn’t: they evolved from the common ancestor of both apes and humans (the missing link).

  94. #94 Owlmirror
    December 7, 2008

    It is difficult to say whether this character distribution implies that Tiktaalik is autapomorphic,2 that Panderichthys and tetrapods are convergent, or that Panderichthys is closer to tetrapods than Tiktaalik. At any rate, it demonstrates that the fish-tetrapod transition was accompanied by significant character incongruence in functionally important structures.

    I do not see how this demonstrates that Tiktaalik is not transitional.

    It may be that he thinks that “transitional” means “ancestral”? But no one is arguing that Tiktaalik (or any other transitional lobe-finned fish from the late Devonian) was necessarily ancestral to tetrapods.

    Perhaps a definitional refresher might help:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitional_fossil

    They can be identified by their retention of certain primitive (plesiomorphic) traits in comparison with their more derived relatives, as they are defined in the study of cladistics.

  95. #95 Kel
    December 7, 2008

    They didn’t: they evolved from the common ancestor of both apes and humans (the missing link).

    Wouldn’t you say the “missing link” was an ape? (just not any ape alive now) After all, we still are apes.

    I do not see how this demonstrates that Tiktaalik is not transitional.

    Exactly what I thought. Though when they are quoting an article from a journal, it’s hard to know precisely what the article is claiming form a single paragraph; and the conclusion doesn’t at all seem as what the point of the article is as defined by the abstract.

  96. #96 Nick Gotts
    December 7, 2008

    ask whether they believe humans evolved from apes, and half of Americans will say no.

    They didn’t: they evolved from the common ancestor of both apes and humans (the missing link). – Jonathan Rothwell

    That’s just wrong. We are more closely related to chimps than either of us is to orangs (or, probably, gorillas); in cladistic terms, we are apes. Our common ancestor with chimps would have looked like an ape.

  97. #97 Nick Gots
    December 7, 2008

    Pelagianism – Owlmirror@92

    Well that’s a possible response, but the reason pelagianism was considered a heresy, IIRC, was that it denied the significance of the crucifixion, as a vicarious blood-sacrifice to redeem us. Once you do that, the incarnation looks pretty pointless, and the whole Christian schtick unravels.

  98. #98 Arnosium Upinarum
    December 7, 2008

    The problem with marketing guys is that they don’t really give a flying hooey about what they are selling, only how to sell it.

    That makes them brain dead from the get-go: they miss all the obvious stuff that effectively sells itself better than any cosmetic strategy.

  99. #99 negentropyeater
    December 7, 2008

    Arnosium Upinarum,

    The problem with marketing guys is that they don’t really give a flying hooey about what they are selling, only how to sell it.

    you obviously no nothing about marketing.

  100. #100 negentropyeater
    December 7, 2008

    know, not no
    (your comment made me nervous)

  101. #101 Craig
    December 7, 2008

    I’m coming into this late, but I actually emailed him about it when I read it. He’s a big supporter of teaching evolution, and he has thought it through more than it sounds from the post.

    You have to remember, it’s not a post aimed at scientists.

  102. #102 Arnosium Upinarum
    December 7, 2008

    negentropyeater, maybe having been around them so often as screwed up my estimation of them, but I never met a hired one yet who didn’t assume an advocate stance in order to sell themselves first to their prospective client. It runs through their arteries and veins instead of blood. You know, like in lawyers who pretend to believe THEIR clients.

    Tell me, what do you know about “marketing”? Just minimally curious.

  103. #103 Arnosium Upinarum
    December 7, 2008

    Also, whenever I think of a marketing guy, I flash on the character portrayed in “12 Angry Men” – the play and both of the films (the earlier version with Henry Fonda and the more recent version with Jack Lemmon). They hit the nail directly on the head. Go take a look at those.

    Anybody who thinks their primary motivation is in the pursuit of educating or enlightening the “consumer” instead of, you know, monetary gain, is as blind as a bat.

    However, to be sure, a good marketing guy is precisely one who manages to sell his client’s interests, regardless of its worth. Nobody disputes that.

  104. #104 Dire Lobo
    December 7, 2008

    Kimpatsu @82:

    Do you downgrade your students’ papers if they misuse the apostrophe?

    BTW, your insinuation is ridiculous – and you’ve made the subject of your sentence the “students’ papers”, which can of course neither use nor misuse apostrophes.

    LOL – open mouth, insert foot!

  105. #105 Owlmirror
    December 7, 2008

    Though when they are quoting an article from a journal, it’s hard to know precisely what the article is claiming form a single paragraph; and the conclusion doesn’t at all seem as what the point of the article is as defined by the abstract.

    There’s an editor’s summary here:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v456/n7222/edsumm/e081204-14.html

    The point of the paper appears to be that an earlier lobe-fin fish than Tiktaalik, Panderichthys, had the beginnings of digits, which helps support a particular sub-theory of the evolution of lobe-fin fish into Tetrapods (namely, that bones that developed like digits already existed in these earlier fish).

    It does not in any way contradict the characteristics of Tiktaalik that Neil Shubin mentioned in his talk and papers: namely, that Tiktaalik had head and neck and shoulder bones and muscles that indicate that it could use its limbs to do push-ups to get its head up above the water.

    As best as I can understand the paragraph cited, they are saying that it is now uncertain that Tiktaalik is indeed ancestral to tetrapods, because the evolution of digits earlier means that there are more and potentially better contenders for that particular evolutionary role. But as I wrote, that does not mean that Tiktaalik is not transitional.

  106. #106 negentropyeater
    December 7, 2008

    Arnosium Upinarum,

    I think you are talking of Marketing-Communications which is only one of the aspects of Marketing Management.

    Spent 17 years in Marketing Management and Business Development in consumer electronics, for one of the world’s largest corporations. Then started my own business in that industry and sold it last year.

  107. #107 Stephen P
    December 7, 2008

    How to convince creationists they are wrong about everything? It’s usually not possible. Stupidity is an incurable disease.

    Some creationists are stupid, and some are malicious. But most are merely ignorant. That can be fixed. (Eventually.)

  108. #108 Arnosium Upinarum
    December 7, 2008

    PZ: “It’s enough that he didn’t say something crazy, like that apples fall up, therefore it was OK.”

    SIGH. That’s not crazy. What’s so “crazy” about thinking that an apple thrown upward isn’t “falling up”? If that’s “crazy”, then EINSTEIN was crazy!

    After having been soundly ridiculed several years ago over suggesting that things do not necessarily “fall down” (even by the esteemed “physicist” who once frequently adorned these threads with his considerable wit, frequent use of mathematical exposition in an informal blog thread which exposed his preference to impress people rather than informing or making something clear to them, and general lack of charm, and which more than one Molly voter once gave as the reason for their voting the “award” to him as: “because he’s smart”) once again I must insist that a state of “falling” has nothing whatsoever to do with a direction.

    I reiterate: things do NOT always necessarily fall “down”! The Moon falls, yet does not fall “down”. Satellites fall, yet do not fall “down”. Stars and galaxies fall, yet do not fall “down”. “Down” is a completely specious requirement for falling. Any specification of “down” as a particular location is utterly arbitrary and has no bearing on the act of falling. The whole idea linking falling to “down” is pre-NEWTONIAN. In fact, it’s purely Aristotlelian.

    Anybody who truly understands Einstein’s General Relativity well knows that an object that is not under acceleration (“free fall”) is all that’s necessary to characterize it as in a state of “falling”. (Check out the “Equivalance Principle”)

    Yes, OF COURSE an object that is DROPPED from a state of rest with respect to the Earth (say, such as an apple) will fall “down” towards the Earth, under the Earth’s gravitational influence, from our perspective attached to the Earth’s surface. But an object tossed UPWARD by virtue of having been supplied with energy in a direction that is NOT “downwards” – such as a baseball which has been batted upwards – is ALSO in the act of falling, even during the climbing leg of its trajectory. Naturally, the Earth’s gravitational influence retards the motion of the ball with a “downward” force vector and it reverses its motion eventually to fall back “down” to Earth. That doesn’t mean that it somehow “starts to fall” at the top of its arc. What was so different BEFORE it reached the top of its trajectory?

    A satellite that is launched into orbit is in a perpetual state of “falling”, even though the gravitational influence of the Earth may never command it to “fall down”. Which direction is it moving? Down? NO!!! It is moving swiftly in a direction transverse to the vector of the gravitational field. A spacecraft that is launched outward at greater than the Earth’s escape velocity is no less subject to the gravitational influence of Earth on the way out: yet it may NEVER return to the Earth (the putative location of “down”). Just because the spacecraft is moving away (“up”) CANNOT mean that the spacecraft is not under the influence of the Earth’s gravitation, nor can it mean that it has ceased to “fall” anywhere along its journey.

    In fact (and this was already deducible by NEWTONIAN physics) every object that humans have ever dropped or thrown were launched into ORBIT. They were all subject to Earth’s gravitational influence, and they were all released to fall freely on their own recognisance UNDER that influence, but that sure as hell didn’t dictate which way they were moving! The extra energy of motion imparted to them dictates the direction part.

    True enough, it is NOT widely appreciated (even to some physicists) that in every single case these objects are actually following ballistic trajectories which are brief segments of ORBITS, which happened to be interrupted by the Earth’s surface. We’ve been hurling objects into abbreviated orbit for millions of years! The recent advent of the “Space Age” is only an elaboration of having developed the capacity to impart enough energy to our tosses to ensure that an object enters a perpetual orbit above the atmosphere or never sees the planet again. YET, ALL THESE OBJECTS WE’VE TOSSED UPWARDS, FROM BASEBALLS TO SPACECRAFT ARE ALL FALLING: once tossed, none of them are acted upon by any acceleration. From the

    Once more: can an object “fall up”? Absolutely! But it’s meaningless to put a direction (what’s called a “vector”) to the definition of “falling”. Objects can fall in ANY direction, and they do. Direction isn’t at all relevant to the act of falling. Only the lack of acceleration is required to describe falling. (The Earth, by the way, is “falling” through a gravitational field dominated by the Sun. Yet after 4.5 billion years, our beloved planet has not fallen “down” to the Sun. BTW: if you dropped an apple from our distance and from at rest with respect to the Sun – that is, WITHOUT our Earth’s 66,000 miles per hour transverse speed in orbit around the Sun – according to my calculations, it would take about 64 and a half days to finish falling to the Sun. Mind you: that “drop” is absolutely positively an “orbit”, just like any other trajectory mediated by gravitational fields, and it would simply be an extremely eccentric one; only the downward leg would ever be realized, since the Sun’s surface would gobble up the apple. But if the mass of the Sun were compressed into a black hole it would retain exactly the same gravitational field rooted in a region less than a kilometer in diameter: if our apple was sufficiently resistant to tidal stress, you could launch it into a perpetual orbit around it from our 93 million mile distance, on the strength of your throwing arm, heaving it in a direction at a right angle to the source of the gravitational field, even though you were at rest with respect to the “black hole sun”. That apple might have just enough transverse energy of motion to avoid hitting the event horizon and make a return in it’s orbit…when you can catch the apple in your catcher’s mit.

    To return to the original contention: it is NOT true that science has established that objects “fall down”. Anybody who says this is completely ignoring the most important finding science has come up with since Newton…besides Darwin’s Natural Selection to account for biological evolution, of course.

    Please. PLEASE. Don’t employ the “common sense” myth that science has proven that things fall down. It isn’t any more true than the notion that evolution proceeds toward some designed goal.

  109. #109 Kel
    December 7, 2008

    Yeah, I’ve had a quick read of the paper itself. It seems to be making the case that the structure was already there so I would infer from that the jump from fin to limb is even better supported than before. It further shows that tetrapods came from fish, and while Tiktaalik may not have been a direct ancestor, it’s still a transitional form.

    Wasn’t there a creationist complaining about the wrist bones on Tiktaalik? I guess there’s one more fossil for him to ignore the finding of.

  110. #110 Arnosium Upinarum
    December 7, 2008

    negentropyeater: Good for you! (I mean it kindly and sincerely).

    No, you are right, but I wasn’t parsing it up either. I don’t think “marketing-management” is in the same boat as “marketing-communications”, and I think of the latter as the “marketing” ethic and force, the heart and soul to which I was referring.

    I have always admired managers in that and ANY industry who have to contend with that latter sort, those so-called “idea-men”…

  111. #111 King Aardvark
    December 7, 2008

    “People really, desperately want there to be a personal agency to causality — they become utterly irrational about it all if you try to imply that no, fate, destiny, and ultimate cosmic purpose guided them to their mate, for instance.”

    Wow, PZ just summed up my marriage to a ‘T’.

  112. #112 PeteK
    December 7, 2008

    I think evolution DOES imply we’re important agents in the universe, in a sense. It’s significant that we’re able to ponder on these very matters, that evolution has produced a species capable of understanding the very process that lead to its genesis. Evolution doesn’t make humans, or intelligent life in general, unimportant anymore than gravity, or quantum physics does…

    Science explains the physical universe, and how it evolves from the Big Bang. But it doesn’t tell us why any universe exists to be studied, or whether there is any ultimate meaning or purpose to it. That is not its job.

  113. #113 Sastra
    December 7, 2008

    Pete K #112 wrote:

    Science explains the physical universe, and how it evolves from the Big Bang. But it doesn’t tell us why any universe exists to be studied, or whether there is any ultimate meaning or purpose to it. That is not its job.

    Whose job is it then? And who checks their work?

  114. #114 Robert Byers
    December 8, 2008

    From Canada
    My Myers here accidently makes a good point for creationism.
    Saying plopping down a fossil should persuade kids about evolution. HMMMMM.
    Therefore he’s saying that a idea of biological life is in fact not evidenced by the subject of biology but of the subject of geology and photography.
    Ot is the presumptions of geology that are the evidence for the claims of evolution. Included in this is not living life biology but a mere print of a formerly living biological entity.
    The proof of most of a biological subject is from a unrelated field that only in a bare way has something to say.

    If the geology was wrong, of long ages, then the biology has no legs.
    Or can TOE be shown to be a viable theory if fossilized previous life had never occured for some reason. Without the fossils there is no good evidence for evolution.
    this ,I sudmitt, cancels evolution as a theory of biology. It isn’t based on substance on BIOLOGY observations and tests.
    Another reason for why TOE is flawed as a claimed product of the scientific method.

  115. #115 cyan
    December 8, 2008

    #114:
    “Or can TOE be shown to be a viable theory if fossilized previous life had never occured for some reason”

    Yes. By genetics and developmental biology.

  116. #116 PeteK
    December 8, 2008

    Sasha: Well, its the work of philosophers of science. The work is not comparable to scientific research, it’s not peer-reviewed or progressive. But it is at least less rigid and more amenable to change than religion…

  117. #117 Kel
    December 8, 2008

    Robert, when you have people forced to choose between God and evidence they don’t understand, they’ll go for God every time. It’s the answer of the simple mind. Hell you are an adult and look at you.

  118. #118 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    December 8, 2008

    Therefore he’s saying that a idea of biological life is in fact not evidenced by the subject of biology but of the subject of geology and photography.

    Byers. You are an idiot.

  119. #119 Feynmaniac
    December 8, 2008

    Robert Byers (while off his meds) wrote:

    Saying plopping down a fossil should persuade kids about evolution.
    HMMMMM.
    Therefore he’s saying that a idea of biological life is in fact not evidenced by the subject of biology but of the subject of geology and photography.

    Wow…..

    this ,I sudmitt, cancels evolution as a theory of biology.

    At first I wanted to see Byers sent to the dungeon. Now I realize, he’s just too good a source of lolz. I mean just look what he wrote on another thread,

    By the way what is it with liberals and making accusations against the motives,and character of the good guys???

    I made accusations first. ME FIRST. Prove my important accusations are wrong before you can claim credibility to accuse me.
    You won’t persuade unless you show good form.

    When he’s not being racist he’s real funny.

  120. #120 RamblinDude
    December 8, 2008

    “We also have some immediately persuasive props for evolution, too: fossils. Plop a dinosaur bone down in front of students, and it is immediately effective, and far more impressive than bouncing a ball.”

    My Myers here accidently makes a good point for creationism.
    Saying plopping down a fossil should persuade kids about evolution. HMMMMM.
    Therefore he’s saying that a idea of biological life is in fact not evidenced by the subject of biology but of the subject of geology and photography.

    “Therefore” Byers? Therefore? (Really, therefore?)

    The only thing more depressing than your degraded reasoning skills at having posted such a thoughtless and ridiculous statement is the fact that I know so many people like you. So tell me, are you one of the millions who are as dumb as you seem to be, or are you one of the (not necessarily more intelligent) subset who work hard to reinforce dumbness in others, while knowing full well that your arguments are bullshit?

  121. #121 Marc Surtees
    December 10, 2008

    Citizen Z (December 6, 2008 10:22 PM)
    Claimed that I lied about vestigial organs.

    All I can do is quote a gentleman by the name of Charles Darwin!
    Or is that dialllowed because I am appealing to authority!!

    Chap XIII of “The Origin”

    On the view of descent with modification, we may conclude that the existence of organs in a rudimentary, imperfect, and useless condition, or quite aborted, far from presenting a strange difficulty, as they assuredly do on the ordinary doctrine of creation, might even have been anticipated, and can be accounted for by the laws of inheritance.

  122. #122 hediyelik
    February 6, 2009

    thanks you..

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