More on evolution

I woke up fairly early this morning thinking about the whole evolution thing – that was before I went back to sleep and had that really annoying dream, but that’s another story. I haven’t finished reading that Dover court decision yet (it’s not very entertaining reading – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is much better), but I will at least skim the rest. In my first post on the issue, I accused Gary Trudeau of being clueless, and thought I should explain what I mean.

First, it should be noted that there are many varied definitions of “evolution,” so there’s a good chance that any discussion on the topic (including testimony at the Dover trial) will involve people using the same words, but talking about very different issues. A very basic “scientific” definition is “any change in gene (allele) frequency in a population over time.” Another definition, by Ernst Mayr (considered one of the premier evolutionary biologists) is the “gradual process by which the living world have been developing following the origin of life.” So far, it’s pretty hard to argue with these rather open definitions.

Creationists and non-scientific folk, on the other hand, typically define evolution as the process by which “primordial soup” morphed into contemporary life-forms, including a process by which man and apes evolved from common ancestors.

Then, there are varying interpretations of microevolution and macroevolution. The above “scientific” definitions would tend to encompass both of these, whereas Creationists see totally separate concepts. The typical Creationist would define microevolution as the changes (adaptations) that occur within a species, which most would accept as pretty obvious, such as people being taller on average today than 100 years ago. Macorevolution, on the other hand, means one species morphing into a new, genetically separate species.

It’s impossible to discuss without first agreeing on the definitions. What Trudeau doesn’t understand is that you can accept intra-special evolution (that is, changes to a species over time without becoming a different species) while still holding that God created Adam and Eve as stated in Genesis, and proving one doesn’t disprove the other.

But, no one (especially the evolutionists, I’m guessing) wants to clearly define the terms; it’s harder to keep the myth alive if everyone knows what you are talking about.

If we want to find truth, it would help if people would agree that truth is the real goal. This means accepting the risk that one or both (or all) are possibly – even probably – wrong about some things. Creationists tend to fall back on theological presuppositions, and scientists resort to faulty logic and playing with definitions. It’s a useless debate, at this point, except that the public is as clueless as usual. Most people will just pick whatever they find the easiest (least personally painful) to believe in, although I doubt that most could talk intelligently about their particular belief.

The side that defines the issues usually controls the issues; to this extent, the evolutionists appear to be winning. However, these victories do nothing to advance truth, since truth is not the goal, or even the issue. Rather, the goal – apparently to both sides – is merely control.

One thought on “More on evolution”

  1. Alden, someday soon I will be working to improve the design on my own blog, in the meantime I appreciate the links to it. I have gotten some traffic.

    I am under the impression, that as far as evolution goes, there is a degree of false dichotomization going. Even using the term “evolutionist” reveals a predisposition to reject the idea that Man shares common ancestry with beasts. Methodological naturalism is not a philosophy which seeks to disprove the existence of God, it is merely the statement that the only way to objectively study nature is to limit scientific problems to those questions it can resolve.

    Intelligent Design seeks to insert an unnamed (wink. wink) creator into the gaps of scientific discovery. This is a dangerous game for the IDologists because as science expands its understanding of the way that nature works, they reduce the size of their designer, and reduce the creator’s role.

    Faith is a subjective matter, subject to personal revelation and can’t be tested in the way that the relationships between genotypes and phenotypes can be tested. Faith is not replicable, can’t be subjected to statistical tests of validity, can’t be measured against a null hypothesis.

    The issue that biologists have with introducing Intelligent Design into the classroom is not one of control over what the students belief in regards to faith, it is to prevent the blurring between what can be learned through spiritual discovery and scientific inquiry.

    The Dover case, reviewed even one year later, reveals that the school board as composed at the time that the disclaimers were introduced, and the textbook *Of Pandas and People* was recommended as an “alternative view” reveals Intelligent Design as another attempt to circumvent the Lewis V. Aguillard decision of 1987. The key point of Intelligent Design seems to be “since we don’t specify a particular god as the creator, then ID can’t be seen as promoting a particular religion and therefore it passes the Lemon test.”

    As Jones ruled, ID doesn’t pass muster as science and is promoted for religious purposes and by that doesn’t meet the standards of the 3-pronged Lemon test. And this is where Dover will stand; unless the people of Dover elect a new school board which decides to appeal the ruling. The present board won’t appeal, so Dover won’t go before the Supreme court.

    I would be interested to know in which cases scientists resort to faulty logic, or playing with definitions.

    Finding the truth with regards to how evolution works is what scientists are playing at, and working very hard at. Here is my point of view on the game that the creationists are playing at:

    The Enlightenment wrested the suppositions of origins from the control of the major churches that controlled European thought at that time. Galileo and Bruno certainly paid the price for revealing inconvenient truths, Bruno more dearly. Even DesCartes modified the famous *cogito ergo sum* at the behest of the Church.

    Many of the scientific discoveries of the 18th and 19th centuries were made by scientists seeking to prove the story of Genesis; scientists such as Agassiz and Cuvier wanted to prove a young earth, but their discoveries in geology indicated a world far older than 6000 years; the first indications were that it is at least 20 million years old. It has taken nearly 200 years of careful examination of the evidence to fix the age of the earth at 4.37 billion years. This is also confirmed by information gleaned by astronomers and cosmologists; using tested and verifiable independent means of science.

    Evolution itself, and I am referring to the biological evolution here, was proposed by the Greeks. The question had been through the centuries a matter of discovering the means of evolution. Darwin didn’t create the concept, but what he did was discover natural selection as the process by which species change and the means in which new species emerge.

    He has been vilified as a target by those who believe that he made it possible for atheists such as Hume to become “intellectually fulfilled(although a century too late for Hume.” More disturbingly, he discovered how Paley’s watchmaker is shown to be a natural process, unguided by any goals or supernatural intervention. Creationists view Darwin as their target because they misinterpret what evolution really means. It is an explanation for what is all ready known; that alleles in a population will change over time to give rise to new species.

    Taking this, in itself, to be a denial of God, is a mistake. It is a description of the natural world as we can determine by using objective means. Now, I do understand that the threat is to the concept of original sin, the idea that death didn’t exist before Adam and Eve; and by insisting on a literal interpretation of the Bible, and the need to have a sin in order to necessitate salvation they are ignoring and even subverting more important aspects of Christianity.

    So, here, in the early years of the new millenium, anti-evolutionists are throwing their weight againts the possibility that the second coming of Christ is not imminent. I think of these as the death throes of fundamentalism, and they may last another 500 years.

    Personally, I am fine with people carrying their own beliefs in their hearts. I am even happy that people feel free to share their beliefs and make their cases to their friends and neighbors. One way that the Parable of the Talents is interpreted is that the way to return God’s favors is to evangelize.

    I personally think that the result of the Enlightenment will be the diminution of religion as a social institution of moral control as people begin to learn that moral behavior is not dictated by a creator, but instead by people who in seeking power over others claim divine knowledge. Fundamentalists fear this, because it is self-evident to them that morality can only be known through divine guidance and so they are fighting with whatever means that they have to allow this to happen.

    The arguments that they use to fight evolution are based on lies and half-truths; either revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works or a willful ignorance of the evidence.

    There is no conspiracy by evolutionists to turn America’s children against God; the fight against Creationism/ID is to maintain the integrity of how science is taught. Scientists themselves are imperfect vessels, but because the results of scientists’ work have means to be objectively tested it is important not to muddy science education by teaching them that there are exceptions when it comes to evolution. Science works the same way in biology as it does in chemistry, physics and geology.

    This was perhaps a longer comment than I had intended; I hope that everything is well with you and your family. The Atheist from Hallock says “Merry Christmas, Alden.”

    Your friend.


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