Thursday, December 02, 2004

Evolution on CNN

The MSNBC segment may not have materialized, but recently Paula Zahn on CNN did a segment on the same subject. The transcript is available here (scroll to the bottom).

Defending the honor of ignorance and knuckle-dragging was Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis. And representing puppies and sunshine was Eugenie Scott of The National Center for Science Education.

ZAHN: Jason, let's start with you tonight. If you were to teach creationism in a classroom, what would you teach?

JASON LISLE, ANSWERS IN GENESIS: Well, I would show that the scientific evidence, when you understand it, is consistent with what the Bible has to say about creation.

If I had the -- if I had the legal right to talk about the Bible, I would use that. If I didn't, I would at least show that the evidence is consistent with there being a creator with design.

That's Lisle in sanity mode. No religion here maam, just an honest assessment of the evidence. Yawn.

Next we get a taste of what Lisle has in mind when he talks about evidence:

LISLE: For example, we see created kinds -- we see different kinds of organisms in the world and we see them reproducing after their kinds. We don't see one kind of organism turning into other kind of organism. That's not something that we actually observe in nature. And that's something that evolution -- evolutionists say is required.

Zing! Of course, “kind” is a rather slippery word. It has no scientific meaning outside of creationist fantasy land. But it's certainly true that the production of new species via standard evolutionary mechanisms has been observed in nature. Lisle would dismiss that as microevolution, no doubt. But despite their desperate attempt to draw a distinction between micro and macroevolution, no creationist has ever been able to offer a reason why evolutionary change can only accumulate so far, and no farther.

ZAHN: So Eugenie, how would you explain that?

EUGENIE SCOTT, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION: Well, hearing a creationist define evolution is a little bit like having Madeline Murray O'Hare define Christianity. You're not really going to get the -- the straight story there.

The way evolution is taught at the university level is the way it should be taught at the high school level. And that's really what we're talking about here. It's not between evolution and science.

I'm sure Scott meant “evolution and God” or “evolution and religion” there. I like her point about asking a creationist to define evolution.

ZAHN: What do you mean by that?

SCOTT: At the university level, which is where I used to teach, we teach evolution, biological evolution, as the inference that living things had common ancestors. And we teach it neutrally. We don't teach it that God did it or God had nothing to do with it. We just present the science.

And that's what should be done at the high school level.

Well said. Zahn now decided it was time to lob a softball at Lisle:

ZAHN: Jason, I want to share with you a result from the latest CBS/“New York Times” poll, which show that 65 percent of those people polled were in favor of teaching both creation and evolution in public school classrooms. Do you appreciate these numbers?

LISLE: I do. I think that a lot of people realize that it would be very smart to teach both creation and evolution if that were possible. Because...

How do you like this poll that shows a majority of the people agree with your position? Ugh. One more example for the file on why no one watches CNN anymore. I mean, they've been reduced to hiring Fox's cast-offs for heaven's sake. But not to worry, things are about to get worse.

ZAHN: So you don't have a problem with both being taught side by side?

LISLE: Not at all. In fact I encourage people to actually teach evolution. But teach it warts and all. Show the problems with it, as well, and then show what the creationist interpretation of the evidence is. Because we feel that the creationist interpretation of the evidence makes a lot more sense when you understand it.

This is Zahn's way of making Lisle appear like the open-minded pluralist. I suspect Zahn, like so many people, knows nothing about the scientific issues involved. But she likes things such as “fairness” and “presenting both sides”.

ZAHN: What about the argument Eugenie made that you can teach it in a more neutral way, and I'll let you expand on that in a moment, Eugenie?

SCOTT: Thank you.

LISLE: Well, there's no neutral ground, is there? I mean, you're ultimately either for what God has said as word or against it. And that's what the real issue is here.

Oops. Lisle just let the mask slip a bit. He let his fundamentalism come out. Either you accept chapter one of Genesis as the literal truth or you might as well be an atheist. He even identifies that as the real issue. So much for this being a debate between rival scientific theories.

ZAHN: Eugenie?

SCOTT: No, we're treating this as if there are two alternatives, evolution, and the institute, or the answers in Genesis' version of creation.

But you know, his version of creation, which is everything was created all at one time in six days, 10,000 years ago, is not what Catholics believe. It's not what Episcopalians believe, and it's certainly not what Hopi believe or what Navajo believes. So you can't say teach both, because there's more than two alternatives.

Now my view, the view that the National Center for Science Education takes, is that we should know more about a lot of creationisms, plural. But it has no place in science class. I think comparative religion is a wonderful study, and we should be more theologically literate than we are. But keep it out of science class, because it is not scientifically demonstrable.

Well said, again.

ZAHN: So Jason, would you support the idea of moving that into a religion class?

LISLE: I have no problem with creation, evolution being taught in a religion class, as well. But it would be nice if the scientific aspects of the creation models, just the idea that there is an intelligent creator, would be brought up in a science classroom.

There's scientific evidence supporting that position. I mean, is the evolution model so weak that its adherents feel the need to suppress any alternatives?

After the brief slip of the previous quote, he's got the mask adjusted and he's back to the talking points. The picture of scientists on different sides of an issue presenting their cases for adjudication to a group of high school students is too amusing to contemplate. Needless to say, the creationists are left out of science classes because they haven't the faintest idea what they are talking about.

SCOTT: I don't think it's a matter of...

ZAHN: Eugenie, there's a lot of, you know, strong words that are used when it comes to this debate that creationism is actually being censored out of the curriculum.

SCOTT: Of course. It's being censored out of the science curriculum, because, contrary to the claims that have just been made, there are no scientific data supporting it.

Look, the fact of the matter is that science is not a fair process. I mean, it's not a democratic system. The creationists have the same right that I have to make their position to the scientific community and convince them that there is evidence supporting the idea that everything was created all at one time. The problem is, there are no data. They haven't made the case. But what they want to do is make an end-run around the scientific community and go directly to the school district, as opposed to the normal process of having these ideas filter down from the scientific community.

You know, the thing is, scientists and teachers aren't trying to get creationism into this -- into the curriculum. It's the politicians. And what this has done is politicize science education in a very negative fashion.

Small bone to pick with Scott here. The phrase “haven't made the case” is too weak. It's what you say to a prosecuter when you think the suspect probably is guilty but the evidence isn't quite strong enough to convict. The real problem is that every scientific assertion the creationists make is demonstrably false.

I like the rest of this quote. I suspect, however, that it came off as elitist to the handful of people watching this segment. How dare professional biologists tell me which theories have merit and which don't! Who do they think they are? Who needs book learning when you've got horse sense?

ZAHN: Well, Jason's a scientist. He's trying to get it into the curriculum.

LISLE: Yes, and you know, real science, real science thrives on competing models.

Sorry, having a PhD doesn't make you a scientist. But thank you once again, Ms. Zahn, for helping out the creationist.

SCOTT: That's right.

LISLE: A real scientist...

SCOTT: Make your argument to the scientific community.

LISLE: A real scientist would not squelch the evidence.

SCOTT: Don't make it to a -- don't make it to a high school teacher.

LISLE: But see, I find it interesting that evolutionists would try to use political pressure to suppress certain ideas. For example Russ Humphries, he's a Ph.D. nuclear physicist, and he has a model of how magnetic fields work. It's based on their being created 6,000 years ago. And he's able to actually predict the magnetic fields of the planets Uranus and Neptune based on creation.

And yet, most students will never hear about that, because we're not allowed.

More taunting from Lisle. Good job by Scott to stay on message. If this were a real scientific dispute it wouldn't be hashed out in high school science classes.

As for Mr. Humphries, this is just another worthless talking point. I'm not familiar with Humphries' model, but I suspect if I look into the matter I'll find it doesn't hold water. You can count on one hand the number of CNN viewers who have ever heard of Humphries, but I'll bet a lot of them were impressed by how scientific Lisle sounded.

SCOTT: And there's -- and there's a very good reason for that.

ZAHN: All right, Eugenie, you get the last word tonight in the debate. The very good reason for that is what, Eugenie?

SCOTT: The very good reason for that is that he has to fool around with some constants that completely violate the laws of physics, which is why these arguments are not made in the scientific literature. They're made -- they're made politically at the local school board. And that's not the place for them.

Another good response from Scott.

That was the end of the segment.


At 5:33 AM, Blogger John Wendt said...

By chance I saw that segment. When Lisle said that we don't see one kind morphing into another, Scott might have replied that we do indeed see that in the fossils. She might have invited Lisle to explain that.

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Neurode said...

This may be unwelcome news, Jason, but some of us out here in Internet Land aren't surprised that two thirds of the people believe that the universe arose by design rather than chance, and that the randomists, agnostics, and those who don't think that the universe "arose" at all account for only a third of the population between them. We knew it all along. Of course, many of those holding the majority view are Biblical creationists, and would like to see the Bible in the classroom. But most would nevertheless agree with Lisle when he says that "if I (didn't have) the legal right to talk about the Bible, I would at least show that the evidence is consistent with there being a creator with design." And so it is.

In fact, where evolution is parsimoniously formulated as a combination of mutation and natural selection, the evidence is consistent with both evolution and design (which may use evolution and natural selection as means to its ends). The problem arises only because "mutation" is gratuitously preceded by "random" in the Darwinian hypothesis, as in "random with respect to fitness". This is where boundaries get the use of the troublesome word "random". It is true that on many past occasions, when scientists have failed to see how one phenomenon is connected to another - when their conceptual model of a given phenomenon has been too narrow to accommodate the actual relationships which ultimately emerge - they have temporarily adopted independence as a working assumption. But the smart ones remember that as models expand and science evolves, new connections are revealed. A smart scientist never assumes that simply because he fails to see a connection between two phenomena, no such connection exists; he understands that ignorance is merely temporary, and never makes the mistake of holding nature accountable for his own lack of understanding. And this is all that 2/3 of the people want evolutionary biologists to remember, and to admit in school textbooks.

So why all the trouble? Because some people who call themselves "scientists" don't want to drop or qualify the term "random", as any smart scientist would be willing to do. Instead, they want to leave it in there unqualified, thus smuggling in their own personal prejudice under cover of science. Teaching that evolution occurs by mutation and natural selection would be fine; teaching that the mutations in question are "random" is not, for proving randomness is difficult to the point of impossibility. One can prove that a particular finite set of data fits a certain deterministic schema, but one cannot prove that given finite data are "random" except with respect to a schema that is assumed in the process to be invalid. For every model in which something appears to be random, another model can be presented in which this appearance vanishes. In fact, as a rule, many such models can be presented for any given set of observations. This is undergrad logic we're talking about here.

If you don't want to remove the term "random" from the Darwinian hypothesis - and I expect that you don't - then don't be offended that a large majority of the population wants school textbooks to contain explicit mention of design in order to balance the picture. It's nothing personal; it's just a matter of good science and good education. (By the way, having read some remarks below about the ease with which "ID creationists" can be blown away in a debate, I think you'd better hope that the DI doesn't let any holes open up on the ID side of the table. Some ID supporters aren't as ideologically hamstrung as you'd seemingly like to believe, and it might not be so easy for you to get over on them.)

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Jason said...


Good point, but I think Lisle would have had an answer to it. He would have replied that actually we don't see one kind (whatever that means) morphing into another in the fossil record. All we actually see are separate piles of bones scattered in rocks throughout the world. They don't become an evolutionary sequence until hey are filtered through the materialistic preconceptions of dogmatic scientists. That's what he would say, anyway.


Your comments about whether the universe is designed are irrelevant to the matter at hand. Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of the universe. The issue is whether the standard evolutionary mechanisms are adequate to explain how a relatively simple sort of life can evolve into more complex forms over a period of billions of years. Your claim that the evidence supports this conclusion would be more impressive if you gave some examples of the evidence you have in mind.

The description of mutations as random simply reflects our best current understanding of how mutations occur. At present there is no evidence to suggest any connection between the needs of the organism and the mutations that occur. There isn't even a hypothetical mechanism on the table for how such a connection would be possible. There is also no need to assume there is such a connection to explain the data we have. Of course scientists are open to the possibility that future discoveries will reveal a connection, but for now there is no reason to make that assumption.

I think you used the word “parsimonious” without really understanding what it means. Given the data we have, the parsimonious explanation is that mutations are random with respect to the needs of the organism. It is non-parsimonious to assume for no reason that the two are connected.

As for blowing away ID folks in debates, I think you missed the whole point of the discussion. If anyone on my side of this thought that ID folks could be blown away, we would all support having debates with them. What I do say is that they're arguments have no merit. But debates are as much about theater as they are about the strength of your arguments. That is why people disagree about whether it is good strategy to participate in debates.

Let me suggest that before you start lecturing the rest of us about undergraduate logic, you take a moment to learn a little about the subject first.

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Neurode said...

First, Jason, you continually refer to "creationism" with disdain, and creationism holds that the universe is designed. Therefore, one naturally assumes that you dispute this hypothesis, which is indeed relevant to evolution insofar as the origin and evolution of the universe comprise a general process which carries the analogous processes of its specific subsystems. No global origin/evolution, no biological origin/evolution. Given that fact, it would be absurd to assume that the former is in any way irrelevant to the latter.

In addition, I must take exception to your statement, "The description of mutations as random simply reflects our best current understanding of how mutations occur." Randomness is an ill-defined concept that does not always conduce to scientific understanding, and in this context, it is often avoided in favor of independence. Unfortunately, for the reasons I gave, you can't show that mutation and fitness are independent of each other; to do that, you'd need to characterize all possible connections between them and rule them all out, and that's impossible. So once again, evolutionary biology needs to drop that part of the traditional Darwinian hypothesis - it's ideological heavy baggage masquerading as some sort of concrete mechanism, which it most certainly is not. (Incidentally, I do know what "parsimonious" means; in this particular context, it means "without heavy baggage" of the kind in question.)

As far as debates are concerned, I suggest that you reconsider whether you really want to risk mixing it up with people on whose arguments the usual refutations of creationism have no bearing. You may prefer to reexamine your hypothesis to see whether it might bear a little reformulation along the lines I suggest. If you do a good job of that, then you might not find it so distasteful to admit the possibility of design...or, barring that, to simply let students decide for themselves whether mutations are random or designed *without the prompting*.

Lastly, you might want to be careful about statements like "There isn't even a hypothetical mechanism on the table for how such a connection would be possible." Science is a big table with many corners, and you may not know what's going on in some of them right now.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Jason said...


It looks to me like you are simply playing word games. First of all, the term “creationism” as used at this blog and as used by most people, refers to a challenge to the theory of biological evolution. If you believe that God created the universe but that subsequently life evolved by Darwinian means, then you are not a creationist. The question being discussed in the CNN segment was about what to teach in biology classes. The ultimate origin of the universe is irrelevant to that question, as I said.

Then you play games with the word “random”. As used in this context it has a very clear meaning. Mutations are random in the sense that the likelihood of a particular mutation occurring is not affected by the needs of the organism. The fact that the term “random” is also used in other contexts and is sometimes hard to define in those other contexts is irrelevant. There is no baggage here, and there is no ideology. We know something about the physical processes that lead to mutations and as far as anyone can tell at present they are unrelated to the needs of the organism. That's all there is to it. Perhaps it would avoid confusion if some word other than `random' were used here, but the fact remains that `random' is the word that is used.

The burden of proof lies with those who claim there is a connection between the needs of the organism and the mutations that occur. As I said before, there is currently no data that suggests such a connection and I know of no hypothesis under consideration for explaining such a connection. Therefore, the parsimonious conclusion is that no such connection exists. If you have some reason for thinking there is a connection, please tell me what that reason is.

As for debates, I have no idea what you mean by the “usual refutations of creationism.” Creationists make a wide variety of arguments, and each has its own refutation. And I do not find it distasteful to admit the possibility of design in the universe. As it happens, however, the arguments that people have made to suggest the universe is designed strike me as unpersuasive.

If you choose to comment again, I'd appreciate it if you'd stake out a position of your own. Are you arguing that mutations are directed by God in some way? Are you arguing for something like Lamarckism? What is your opinion of evolutionary theory?

At 5:33 AM, Blogger Neurode said...

I'm not the one playing games, Jason. Evidently, you are.

However, since you ask, I do believe that God, Whom I see as a creative agency coinciding with nature, created the universe, and that life subsequently originated in the universe and evolved by mutation and natural selection. You say that this makes me a non-creationist. Maybe so, but it doesn't make me a nonbeliever in teleology, which now goes under the label "Intelligent Design". In other words, one can support ID without being a doctrinaire Biblical creationist, something that many in your camp don't seem to understand. (I regard "theistic evolution" as a meaningless position; if one doesn't believe that design is discernable in the tree of life and in nature at large, then one's alleged theism is entirely moot.)

You go on to reiterate that evolution has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the universe is designed. Again, I disagree. Since the universe is where life happens, the origin and nature of the universe have *everything* to do with the origin and nature of life. What is evolution but the development of a system over time, and what is the evolution of a subsystem but a special case of the evolution of the overall system?

In fact, I think that it's you and your friends who've been playing games with the word "random", which I've never heard a biologist define in anything approaching a satisfactory way (does it denote an absence of causality, or so much microscopic causality that it's impossible to keep track of it, or both?). You argue that "As used in this context it has a very clear meaning. Mutations are random in the sense that the likelihood of a particular mutation occurring is not affected by the needs of the organism." But that's just what I said in my previous posts...that randomness in this context is synonymous with the posited independence of mutation and fitness. So I don't regard it as much of an argument against my position.

You go on to claim that only those who assert the existence of a connection have a burden of proof; that's incorrect. I'd agree, of course, that they need to justify their position. However, you seem to think that Darwinism has no such burden, possibly because it constitutes some sort of null hypothesis. That would be incorrect, for Darwinism is not merely a statistical test assumption, but a purportedly scientific hypothesis which actively asserts the nonexistence of a mutation-fitness connection. It thus needs to be tested against an appropriate antihypothesis of its own, i.e. one asserting that such a connection exists. To be considered scientifically established, Darwinism needs to rule out its negation just like any other theory. Unfortunately, this obligation presents it with insuperable difficulties.

You ask "If you have some reason for thinking there is a connection (between the needs of the organism and the mutations that occur), please tell me what that reason is." Very well - it's because evolution contains countless examples of organisms mutating in ways which have met their needs. Many more mutations are disadvantageous than beneficial, but that doesn't make the beneficial ones any more or less improbable. Another (even more obvious) reason: because mutation and selection are both parts of the same natural process (evolution), they are prima facie connected by nature itself, and attempting to limit the type or extent of that connection would be arrogant to the point of stupidity. It would be telling nature what to do. The smart money says that in general, nature is too interconnected for any part of it to be pronounced independent of any other, particularly where life is involved.

In case I'm still not making myself clear, the take-home message for evolutionary biologists is this. Two thirds of the people out there, perhaps even more, don't understand how any scientist worth a nickel, worth a sou, could possibly hope to explain any part of nature by appealing to its "randomness". Nature is not random; it's ordered. And if nature is ordered, life is profoundly so. If you can't explain how the order originates, then why not just say so? You might as well, because you've already said as much by calling it "random" in origin. Calling it random in origin is the same as admitting that you can't explain it, and if you can't explain it, then you have no business pretending to own the "science" of it. Simply confine your attention to what you *can* explain, and let people make up their own minds about what is random and what is not.

That's what's fair. So either come to reason and play fair, or stop deploring the excessive liberties taken by ID proponents. If you want to rail against the abuses of ID from a position of moral superiority, you badly need to curtail your own abuses, to clean up your own domicile. That's the least that a vast majority of taxpaying, science-supporting citizens deserve, and the least they'll accept.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When playing boardgame you could ask "Is there a connection between the position of my counter on the board and the result of the dice roll?"

You could further argue that the burden of proof was on the other players to prove the dice roll was independant from the counter on the board.

You could then argue that in absense of such proof noone should consider the dice roll to be random.

This is exactly what you are arguing with genetic mutation and fitness and it is an absurd argument.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Jason said...


This will be my last comment in reply to you, since it is clear to me that you haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about.

The idea that God created the universe complete with all of the natural laws necessary for the eventual appearance and subsequent evolution of life is known as theistic evolution. It sounds to me like that is exactly what you believe. Where you got the idea that people who take this view believe that design is not discernible in nature is beyond me. Theistic evolution is well represented by people like biologist Ken Miller and theologian John Haught. They certainly believe that design is evident in nature, but they also believe that you don't have to invoke supernatural forces to explain how a relatively simple sort of life billions of years ago evolved into a more complex sort of life today.

If by “Intelligent Design” you mean simply that God created the universe then you will be hard pressed to find anyone in “my camp” who is not aware that you can believe in ID without being a Biblical creationist. But that is not what most people mean when they use that term, that is not what it means in the context of disputes over what to teach in high school biology classes, and that is definitely not what it means at this blog. “Intelligent Design” as promoted by the Discovery Institute or by its most prominent supporters such as Phillip Johnson or William Dembski refers to a collection of arguments intended to show that the theory of evolution is fatally flawed, and that you must invoke supernatural forces not just to explain the origin of the universe or the origin of life, but to explain the subsequent development of life after it appeared. It is those arguments that are being criticized here. “Intelligent Design” and “teleology” are definitely not the same thing.

You then assert that the origin and nature of the universe is very relevant to understanding the origin and nature of life. Perhaps it is. But since the theory of evolution has nothing to do with the origin and nature of life I stand by my point. Evolution takes the origin of life as a given. It also takes as given that life has certain properties. At the risk of being repetitive, evolution concerns itself with what happens after life appears. Explaining how a relatively simple sort of life can evolve into more complex forms over time is no small feat. Once you've explained how life developed it is certainly natural to wonder where it came from in the first place. But now you are not talking about evolution anymore.

Newton's laws can explain the trajectory of a cannonball fired at a certain angle with a certain initial velocity. Newton's laws do not explain where cnanonballs come from. Similarly, physicists know a great deal about the behavior and structure of atoms. That doesn't mean they can explain where atoms come from, or why they have the particular properties they have.

Moving on, we seem to agree that when the term “random” is used by biologists in this context it means simply that there is no connection between the needs of the organism and the mutations that occur. So the problem is not that the term is poorly defined, it is that you believe mutations are not random in that sense. I invite you to make your case to the biologists. Sadly, you then go on to ignore our agreed upon definition of `random' and blather about causality. In other contexts randomness is closely related to causality and in some of those other contexts it is hard to define precisely what the word means. None of that is relevant to the problem at hand.

I'm afraid your next paragraph goes completely off the deep end. That there is no connection between the needs of the organism and the mutations that occur is a conclusion drawn from the available genetic evidence. It is not one of the pillars of Darwinism. If tomorrow it is discovered that there is such a connection Darwinists will cheer.

In order for there to be a connection between them there would have to be some mechanism for translating the needs of the organism in its given environment into changes in DNA. No one has offered a plausible mechanism for doing that. Furthermore, biologists have cataloged an awful lot of mutations in an awful of organisms, and no one has discerned any connection between the mutations and the needs of the organism. On top of that, Darwinism offers no theoretical reason for beleieving there is some undiscovered relationship between them. That is why the burden of proof lies with people who claim the two are connected.

Your next claim is that nature provides numerous examples of organisms mutating in ways that have met their needs. The trouble is that nature provides vastly more examples of organisms mutating in ways that don't meet their needs. The fact that occasionally you hit upon a beneficial mutation does not show there is a connection between mutations and the needs of the organism.

Your second reason is even more confused. Selection is the process that preserves beneficial mutations once they occur. It has nothing to do with the mutations themselves. No one is trying to tell nature what to do, and no one is putting artificial limits on anything.

Your last paragraph reveals once more that you don't really understand the basics of evolutionary theory. No one is using randomness as an explanation for life's complexity. Mutations are random (in the sense explained before). Selection is not random. It is law-like. It is the combination of the two that allows simplicity to evolve into complexity. That you would attribute to scientists the view that randomness, all by itself, is a major creative force is strong evidence that you don't know what you are talking about.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Neurode said...

Since accusing others of not knowing what they're talking about is not my trademark - could it be yours? - I'll resist the temptation to accuse you in turn of not knowing what you're talking about. However, I do notice that you have an apparent compulsion to force-fit the viewpoints of others into whatever neat rectilinear array happens to characterize your current mental space. This forces me to make a few major corrections to your response.

I've already told you that Theistic Evolution is not what I believe. Specifically, I depart from TE in the belief that God never intervenes in modern evolution (whatever that could possibly mean to particular exponents of TE, who notoriously lack any model whatsoever for divine cosmogony or intervention). This is because I wish to remain consistent. You see, if one needs what you (but not I) call "supernatural forces" to explain how the universe got here, and how the laws of nature got here, then one needs "supernatural forces" to explain *anything whatsoever that occurs within the universe according to its laws.* This follows inevitably from the fact that the thing to be explained, biological evolution, is embedded in the universe. And once one confronts this demonstrable fact, which follows from the mathematical definition of embedment ('m sure you know what that is), one no longer finds it particularly advisable to limit the ways in which the evolution of biological subsystems of nature can mirror that of nature at large, including any "supernatural" (or trans-physical) ingredients thereof.

Regarding the ID theories of Johnson et al, I began by telling you that I equate Intelligent Design with teleology. I do this because teleology is consists of three ideas: (1) that the universe was deliberately created as a product of design; (2) that the Creator is divine, and therefore intelligent beyond measure; and (3) that the signs of this process and its motivating intelligence are immanent in nature and can be registered by the human intellect. It doesn't take a genius to see that the degree of overlap between teleology and ID is nearly total, and that only the weakest of distinctions is merited. In order to divide the opposition, you want to enhance any distinctions, and any points of disagreement, among its players. I prefer to rely on the literal meaning of "Intelligent Design", and I'm not the only one with that preference. There are already signs that the "big tent" is sprouting wings at the seams. The people who share my particular pro-teleological views inhabit one of those wings.

You reiterate your (already answered) assertion that "the theory of evolution has nothing to do with the origin and nature of life". This is an incomprehensible statement. I'm perfectly willing to grant that "evolution takes the origin of life as a given," that "life has certain (theorizable) properties," and that "(the theory of) evolution concerns itself with what happens after life appears." The point is that educators, including many of the biologists who write biology textbooks or provide information to those who do, have not been sufficiently forthcoming about these facts and their implications, and have managed to leave a large segment of the public with the erroneous impression that this is all there is to it. As I've already pointed out, part of the problem is the inclusion of the word "random" in the Darwinian hypothesis. There is in fact no reason whatsoever to believe that biological mutations are random in general, or that no subset of mutations is directly related to the prospects for long-term fitness. The good news is that the Darwinian hypothesis admits of a less misleading formulation: "Evolution proceeds by the natural selection of the phenotypic outcomes of reproductive genetic mutations *regardless of how those mutations originate, or the causal factors which affect them*. Note that "randomness" or "independence" has been replaced with the (correct, scientifically unbiased) phrase in asterisks. Mark my words, sooner or later, this is where ID is going, and when it does, you won't have the ammunition to oppose it.

You then level the accusation that I "ignore(d) our agreed upon definition of `random' and blather about causality." Mea culpa - it does indeed appear that I've been conflating evolution with causality. But given that evolution is a causal process, I'm truly at a loss as to the nature of your objection. I simply don't know how you can hold causality irrelevant to evolution and expect to get away with it. I can't argue with the content of a statement like, "that there is no connection between the needs of the organism and the mutations that occur is a conclusion drawn from the available genetic evidence." The point is that the conclusion is not warranted, but relies on ignorance. That is, it merely affirms the fact that if an evolutionary biologist starts out not knowing how or where to look for a connection between mutation and fitness, he probably won't find one.

You then state that "In order for there to be a connection between them there would have to be some mechanism for translating the needs of the organism in its given environment into changes in DNA. No one has offered a plausible mechanism for doing that." If that's true - and I don't think it is - it is still not the issue to be decided. The issue to be decided is whether a connection can be inferred, in which case the mechanism would follow. Moreover, when you say that "biologists have cataloged an awful lot of mutations in an awful of organisms, and no one has discerned any connection between the mutations and the needs of the organism," you pay biologists no compliment. Clearly, the web of life consists ONLY of species whose major definitive mutations have turned out to favor their survival, and any biologist unable to discern this should look for other work. If "Darwinism offers no theoretical reason for believing there is some undiscovered relationship between them," that's Darwinisms's problem. It's not my problem, and it shouldn't be the problem of young minds in school classrooms. It is Darwinism which needs to face this problem, and to modestly reformulate its hypothesis in light of its incapacity in this regard.

You say that "nature provides vastly more examples of organisms mutating in ways that don't meet their needs." I already said that myself. You go on: "The fact that occasionally you hit upon a beneficial mutation does not show there is a connection between mutations and the needs of the organism." Nor does it show that there is not such a connection. For example, suppose that there exist two classes of (hidden) mechanism through which mutations are produced, and that they produce beneficial and harmful mutations respectively. Then what you will see is exactly what evolutionary biologists have been seeing, and only a fool would attempt to rule out the first class of mechanisms on account of the second. Similarly, take the following string of statements: "Selection is the process that preserves beneficial mutations once they occur. It has nothing to do with the mutations themselves. No one is trying to tell nature what to do, and no one is putting artificial limits on anything." The point was not that Darwinists are trying to tell nature how to select; the point is that they are trying to tell nature how to produce biological mutations, or at least formulating their hypothesis in a way that leads to this conclusion.

Lastly, you say that "No one is using randomness as an explanation for life's complexity." Very good, then - biologists are not attempting to explain biological mutations as random, i.e. independent of fitness; their minds are admirably open to all possibilities. But then you continue: "Mutations are random (in the sense explained before)." Unfortunately, this is the very issue to be determined. "Selection is not random. It is law-like." Again, very good. But when you finish with "It is the combination of the two that allows simplicity to evolve into complexity," one sees beyond any shadow of doubt that you've swallowed a bill of goods. In fact, when proposed as a source of order in nature, this is about as meaningless a hunk of nonsense as has ever been tossed into the breeze. In order for order to be selected, order must be present in the first place as a well-defined potential. It can't just magically appear in the process of selection.

Listen to me, Jason. I think you're a reasonably intelligent person, even if highly opinionated and somewhat gullible. However, I can tell you right now, on the basis of this exchange alone, that if you were to debate somebody like me in public, there is a very high likelihood that I'd hang your hide out to dry, especially with 2/3 of the public on my side. You're entitled to hold a different opinion, of course, but you should nevertheless consider whether you want to risk having it put to the test...not necessarily with me personally, but with anyone who has not previously committed himself to some indefensible position that you know you can rebut. Just a word to the wise.

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neurode wrote:
"...there is a very high likelihood that I'd hang your hide out to dry, especially with 2/3 of the public on my side."

I read all of the exchanges here, and it seems to that it would be BECAUSE '2/3 of the public is on Neurode'side' that Neurode would be seen to 'win', not due to any superior abilities or data.

At 2:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Stating that two thirds of the public is with you Neurode does absolutely nothing for your argument. I don't understand your position Neurode. What is it that is guiding these mutations? You say supernatural causes do not have to be invoked to explain why organisms beneficially mutate (mutate according to the situation they are in). Well, if not supernatural causes then what is the cause? Or if you don't know, then what could be a proposed cause? Please answer my question as concisely as possible.



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