4/29/2008

GOOD GRIEF?

I haven't posted for several days. I put a lot of energy into attending creationist presentations last week, and by Friday I was mentally and emotionally spent, alternating between genuine sorrow and disgust. One particular anecdote at the expense of a great scientist's reputation provoked me in particular, and so I found myself in the unpopular position of angrily denouncing the speaker in the final Q and A.

I am still sufficiently angry about that bit of business that I'm not going to post about it yet. If there is any upside to such a thing, it is that some people stuck around for an hour after the presentation was over to ask me questions about my motives and my beliefs---holding my feet to the fire, as it were. More than one of these people admitted that they did not want to defend the smear tactics of the speaker, expressing puzzlement as to why such an argument should be used at all. If I had to speculate, I would imagine it was to impeach the possible motives of any and all passionate advocates for evolution---including yours truly.

But enough about other people's failings. People make mistakes, and they sometimes use rotten arguments, for rotten reasons, but at the end of the day everyone, including me, has to remember that we're dealing with fallible human beings and not indulge ourselves in hatred. If there is to be any positive outcome where science education is concerned, it will come when people like me do a better job of communicating with others. I didn't meet my own expectations where this event is concerned, and I am grateful for the correspondence I've had privately with some who attended, because it's given me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. Those of you who've sent me emails know who you are. We may not agree on the particulars where evolution is concerned, but I count our mutual willingness to engage each other as people as a greater victory---and I give you folk the credit for it.

There will be more on this and related matters as I have time to sift through my notes, process the various video that was taken and respond to questions. Thanks to everyone on each side who took the time to not only attend, but to critically engage the material.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know people have strong feelings on both sides of the fence regarding creation and evolution, But approaching this scientifically I don't see any evidence for evolution. If there was an honest debate from both sides where each side provided proof and information to promote their side without all the argueing and personal attacks, then I would really be interested in seeing that. However, when it comes to science it should be approached objectively, because people do make mistakes (even scientists).

Paul C said...

Might I humbly suggest that if you don't see any evidence for evolution, then you're not approaching this scientifically?

There's a huge amount of evidence for evolution online. Don't mistake the back-and-forth of the internet for scientific research; there's not a single scientific article on evolution that's been published that contained "arguing and personal attacks".

And of course there's not a single scientific article that's been published that provides evidence for creationism. So you might be looking for a long time if you want evidence for that side of the argument.

Ian H Spedding FCD said...

Don't worry about the lack of posting. You should only blog when you feel the need - the need for screed!

Stan said...

Anonymous said,
"If there was an honest debate from both sides where each side provided proof and information to promote their side without all the argueing and personal attacks, then I would really be interested in seeing that."

Here's the problem with that. Science, at least empiricism, requires that a proposition be (a) verifiable, and (b) falsifiable.

ID is inferential, and cannot be either verified or falsified. For this reason it is not capable of being investigated using scientific methods. That is the reason that it is called "non-scientific"... a statement that is not really rude, it is just stating the inability of ID to be proven either true or false using empirical methods.

So a debate cannot even be realistically mounted between the two ideas, ID & evolution. It is like comparing apples and pork chops. Two very different things.

What can be debated is whether the evidence presented to support evolution has been appropriately vetted, and is not circular (assuming evolution to prove evolution) nor is it abductive (inferential or extrapolated using story telling which is accepted as fact).

The problem with that is that there is so much purported evidence for evolution to slog through that it is impossible to try to comprehend every paper on incidents of supposed speciation. But that is the formidable task that is required, due to the sheer volume of input.

It is also possible to question whether the theory of evolution is actually falsifiable, since every new finding, no matter how bizarre or contradictory, is shoe-horned into the theory, making it a theory that cannot be contradicted. This includes finding a pre-Cambrian rabbit; it would require a slight adjustment to the theory, but the theory would survive. It appears to be non-falsifiable, and thus an article of metaphysical faith.

ID has no equivalent data to back it up. Irreducible complexity merely places the onus on the ID proponent to prove that the probability of evolving a complex feature is too low to be "rational". This is not a provable scientific proposition.

So it is clear that ID is not a scientific pursuit; what is not clear is whether evolution is.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

This includes finding a pre-Cambrian rabbit; it would require a slight adjustment to the theory, but the theory would survive. It appears to be non-falsifiable, and thus an article of metaphysical faith.

No, this is wrong. As Haldane originally suggested, rabbits in the pre-Cambrian would be devastating, Stan. To appreciate why, you would have to be a little more familiar with what such a finding would mean to both geology and comparative anatomy. The earliest mammals derive from tetrapods, who themselves derive from fish-like creatures such as Icthyostega and Tiktaalik. These are Devonian fossils, Stan, with huge morphological differences between themselves and modern fish, not just modern mammals. Finding an anatomically-modern mammal in pre-Cambrian strata more than 200 million years before the first tetrapod would be a bombshell that would pretty much discredit the whole geological time scale. This would not be something that would lead to a slight tweak in the fossil record. It would be paradigm-breaking....and so your conclusion, that evolutionary models are not falsifiable, sorry to tell you, I just falsified it.

Not convinced? Ask yourself this: isn't it true that the geological time scale and Darwin's take on its meaning (common descent with modification) predated Mendel, genetics, DNA's structure, etc.? Isn't it true that the data that came out of genetics could've been inconsistent with the claim of common descent? Imagine, for example, that each major 'kind' of creature had its own version of the DNA code, or even entirely separate codes? That would be utterly inconsistent with the claim of common descent. It could've easily falsified the claim. How, then, can you make the statement that the hypothesis of common descent is not falsifiable?

Stan said...

Scott, good to see you re-energized and back in form...

Scott said,
" Imagine, for example, that each major 'kind' of creature had its own version of the DNA code, or even entirely separate codes? That would be utterly inconsistent with the claim of common descent. It could've easily falsified the claim. How, then, can you make the statement that the hypothesis of common descent is not falsifiable?"

Scott, even if by "its own version of the DNA code", you mean totally separate, unrelated codes, I still maintain that the theory would be taken to say that those separate, unrelated codes "evolved" somehow. After all, they would all have one thing in common: they are codes.

Each of the falsifiability criteria that were posited by Darwin himself (*) have been demonstrated to exist, yet the theory marches on. The theory itself evolves in order to absorb each challenge into its repertoire. That's why the term "Darwinian" is no longer accepted, as I understand it: the theory has moved on.

(*)I have written on this elsewhere, a long while back. I need to recheck my logic to see if it still resonates to me. I might be able to reproduce it if you wish. It's nothing new; evolutionistas agree that Darwin's criteria for falsification don't really falisfy... it just means that he didn't have all the information.

This opinion applies to all falsifications, as far as I can see: we just don't have all the information yet. So no falsification can occur, pending further information.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Scott, even if by "its own version of the DNA code", you mean totally separate, unrelated codes, I still maintain that the theory would be taken to say that those separate, unrelated codes "evolved" somehow. After all, they would all have one thing in common: they are codes.

Actually, Stan, while there is plenty of evidence of evolution within the codes, there is virtually no evidence that the codes themselves 'evolved'. (This is one of the reasons that abiogenesis does not enjoy the same status as evolution by natural selection!)

Besides, we're not debating the fact of evolution itself, but whether evolution through natural selection is sufficient to produce biological diversity. That's the theoretical model whose falsification is under discussion, and this model presumes common descent. Thus, any evidence which calls the plausibility of common descent into question calls TENS into question. Pre-Cambrian rabbits would in fact be so radical that, if confirmed, they would cast serious doubt on both.

Consider gravitation. No one doubts its' existence. How does it work, though? No one is sure. The hypothetical 'graviton' seemingly required by the Standard Model has not been observed. Is it a conventional force along with electromagnetism and the nuclear forces, or is it better to consider it as a consequence of the fabric of the space-time continuum, rather than something fundamental? Again, no one knows.

If the gravition is not observed by the LHC or by LIGO, would that mean that the Standard Model en toto is falisified? No, but it would probably mean that it is time to abandon the idea that a mediating particle is required for its operation.

Similarly, no sane person doubts that evolution occurs, or that natural selection can produce evolution, or that one possible consequence is speciation, and that speciation events have been observed. These are all facts. Does this mean that TENS as presently formulated is all-sufficient? Probably not, but it does disservice to our model to describe the entire construct as 'non-falsifiable' simply because some observations are in principle unobtainable. The predicted consequences of models, whether it be tiny particles or the way that genomes are actually constructed, do in fact constitute tests. Let's not confuse 'proof' with potential falsification, and let's not repeat creationist nonsense that evolution is necessarily akin to a belief system. I commend Michael Ruse to you as a philosopher who clearly makes the necessary distinction between science (such as TENS) and an unscientific 'faith' in a particular model (which he refers to, correctly, as 'evolutionism.')

I suspect you already know this.