Sunday, June 06, 2004

Have you Considered the Possibility that your Case is too Strong? This delightful bit of inanity appeared as a guest column in the Fort-Wayne News Sentinel on May 26. It was written by David Emmons, who is described as a resident of Fort Wayne. We consider his musings in full:

Why is it that they want to teach religion in the public schools? As I hear of the debate going on about teaching evolution or intelligent design, I have to protest. There are those who want to teach creationism from Genesis. No one wants this, as this is not science. Let's leave history to the historians, religion to those trained in theology and science to scientists. I do not want my child being taught religion, of any sort, by anyone but a member of the clergy -- one whom I have approved of. My neighbor may pick someone else. This is as it should be.

Talking Points One and Two: ID is different from Creationism. Also, ID is genuine science. I would also point out that there are plenty of people who want biblical literalism taught in public schools, by the way.

When it comes to science, we assume that our children are being taught the scientific method, from the development of a hypothesis, to the gathering of evidence to the formulation of a working theory. Science knows that most things cannot be established as absolute fact. It works with reasonable theories that more often than not hold true under scrutiny. So far, science.

This is the problem: Our children are being taught that evolution is a fact. There simply is not enough evidence to even make it a theory. At best it is a hypothesis. This is fine, but this is not how it is presented. Anyone remember the TV show Cosmos? Carl Sagan said that evolution is a fact. By saying this, he was telling us about his faith and belief, but not science.

Talking Points Three and Four: The evidence does not support evolution and believing it is an exerciese in faith, not science. Also, Carl Sagan was atheist scum.

Intelligent design is science. Let's take it out and away from Genesis and leave it there so that we can explore scientifically a body of evidence. Even many scientists have decided that life here on Earth was seeded by an alien race, as the data just does not support Darwinian evolution. Not one link to bridge any species-to-species jump has turned up.

Talking Point Five, with an encore performance of Talking Point Two: Hey, we're all just honest seekers of scientific truth here, right? And ID is to science, dammit.

Of course, this paragraph is silly. You can count on one hand the number of scientists who think life was seeded by an alien race. The problem of the origin of life is entirely separate from the question of its subsequent evolution. Even if it were true that there were no links “to bridge any species-to-species jump”, that would not be evidence for an extraterrestrial origin of life. And species-to-species jumps, called “speciation” in the biz, are common and explainable by a vairety of mechanisms. Creationists are usually more careful about distinguishing between microevolution and macroevolution at this point.

Intelligent design is based on information theory. Information theory states that the least bit of randomness introduced to an information system creates chaos and destroys that system. It will never lead to positive change.

It really sucks that your average newspaper editor can't look at three sentences like this and conclude that their author is a retard. First, “information system” is not a term used by information theorists. This is a typical example of a creationist using jargon he does not understand for the purpose of pretending that he knows what he is talking about. His statement about randomness never leading to positive change is so blatantly false that I suspect most creationists would not endorse it. Whatever you think of evolution, it is a simple fact that DNA does mutate, these mutations are random with respect to the needs of the organism, and sometimes these mutations lead to physiological improvements. I'd give Mr. Emmons a lecture on evolutionary computation, but I suspect he wouldn't have the patience for it.

Our DNA is an information system, and all life has it. Mathematics sides with design rather than chance. The probability for chance to create such great diversity of life, let alone one strand of DNA, on this planet is very close to impossible. Design, on the other hand, is most highly probable.

All this is science and ought to be taught. Just because it requires a super-intelligence is of no concern to science. There are many things we have discovered that are bigger than we are. Not all things can be known.

Talking Points Six and Seven, with yet another performance by Talking Point Two: You can prove mathematically that evolution is impossible, and the probability of creating DNA by chance is vanishingly small. And, gosh darn it, ID is science. Really!

I won't rehash here the problems with the probability calculations used by creationists. I also will not pounce on the grammatical infelicity of describing the probability of something as being close to impossible. But I would really like to know the basis for the assertion that design is highly probable.

And the fact that ID requires a super-intelligence with unspecified powers and unclear motives makes it almost completely worthless to scientists, regardless of whether it is true. I'm not sure what Emmons has in mind when he talks about “things we have discovered that are bigger than we are” but science only deals with things we understand sufficiently to develop testable hypotheses.

I wish humanity would get off this arrogant kick that it can get its little finite and mortal brain around everything.

Why can't there be something far bigger and superior in the universe (or outside it) that we never can explain? Let's deal with what we do have and look at it scientifically.

Emmons is full of the proverbial shit. What could be more arrogant than pouncing on some currently unsolved problem in science (the origin of life, say) and declaring that since no one has solved the problem yet we have to chalk it up to the work of an omnipotent super-being? And who, exactly, thinks that humanity can get its little finite and mortal brain around everything?

Evolution has simply become a religion -- the opiate of the masses. It takes faith to believe in something that lacks so much in evidence to support it. Let it become extinct with the dinosaur. We have invested so much time and money into it, but it is time to be honest and let it go. As a great society that leads the world in its information technology, we ought to turn this talent to good use. The wonders of life have the imprint of a great mind, which we ought to be thrilled to investigate.

Nothing here that merits a response.

I sometimes wonder if people like Emmons ever stop to consider the possibility that their case is too strong. Everyone seems to agree that the overwhelming majority of scientists accept evolution. The peope in the relevant fields of science use it in their day-to-day research to produce results in the field and the lab. There are dozens of journals devoted to evolution and its related disciplines and these journals are not hurting for quality papers to publish.

It is possible that evolution is worng nonetheless. The fact that large numbers of scientists have accepted evolution for several generations does not make the theory true. But it does count for something. It means that evolution is not a crazy idea, and it's not going to be refuted by any two-line argument that any high-school student could grasp. Emmons has the nerve to lecture us about arrogance, but he is the one who thinks scientists have overlooked simple arguments that he, himself, has noticed.


At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" Why can't there be something far bigger and superior in the universe (or outside it) that we never can explain?"

There are plenty of big mysteries. What seems arrogant to me is to assume that those mysteries are somehow concerned about our fate.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happen to agree with your argument, however, your use of the term "retard" ("...and conclude that their author is a retard") is in the same class as "nigger," "spic," "wop," etc. and wholely unnecessary.

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At 7:36 PM, Blogger Walther League said...

Why is this arrogant? Why can't it have something to do with our fate? We are here, right? Randomness or purpose? Accident or intent? It seems to me that looking at things each way has its allure. Things are too complex to be chance. Time and math tell us what we have would take far more to produce it all. I think it is simple. No one want to think they have someone to answer to for all their mistakes. That is far more arrogant. Ignore everything like the man in Camus' The Stranger-- all the way to his doom.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Walther League said...

I would like to know actual r&d that uses evolution-- that points to it as being a working model for life and biology. Science is used in the lab, but evolution? I don't think so.

Just becuase people want to believe in something does not make it so. The majority of the west is Christian. Maybe in name or association, but does that make it true? You would use that argument against those who have this faith.

Evolution has become accepted as an alternative to creation for many reasons, but not because it is the best explaination for what we have.

Yes, I made that dumb statement about aliens because some take that view. Why not? It at least pushes things out and accounts for the complexity of our universe far better than random chance and change.

As far as my intollerance for a lecture, I would like to know how randomness is any prompting for needed change. Mutations are not good, but organisms do and can change if the need arises. Why do you consider this random? Nature has built in the range of change necessary to adapt to change, but this is not random or chance. It is built in. It also has it limits, and if pushed ends up in disaster.

You all like to insult and wallow in your own brand of arrogant PHD. Yet there is a serious nest of fundementalism and the politics and crap that comes with it in the world of science. Dr. Richard Fineman is a good example. Look into what they said of him, how they treated him and why he would not join their little club. He may have not been a creationist, but he saw religious fundies running amuck.

You cannot prove evolution, nor can you demonstrate it any more than anyone can prove or demonstrate God made it all. Yet, hmmm, some think that it can be deomstrated that maybe it all had a desinger.

You cry hidden creationism--religion. Yet, I see that big scientific community with all its politics a religion.

Science has nothing in the labratory that shows us that evolution is the answer. It remains a belief or an idea if you like.

Pursue all angles, but I want a bit more honestly on how things are done. Not that I am the expert in all this as you all have well pointed out, but tell me how much you have read Demski? Scientists have supposedly answered Behe, but then his repsonses to them have been ignored.

Invested faith in something is hard to break. Why not ID? Why not evolution, the new god of chance?

Pascal had an interesting warning. I will let you look it up.

I see reason siding with ID much more readily than evolution. Evolutions reminds me of children. When they been naughty, they deny, run and hide. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, because they don't want to be subject to anyone. So what if we all are?


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