How I argue evolution…

Total Posts:  1377
Joined  21-12-2004
04 January 2005 13:36

Hampsteadpete, I completely agree with every word you said. Did you happen to catch the debate on C-span yesterday between William Dembski, a leading proponent of Intelligent Design, and a scientist who defended evolution? Michael Shermer, the famous skeptic was also on the panel.

No, I did not catch the debate, but I am reading Shermer’s latest book.  A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper that was published.  It was a brief anti-creationism piece, and generated some debate.  I also received a letter from a local Christian taking issue with some of the things I said, and bringing forth “all the usual suspects” such people use to debate evolution.  Below is my response to him.  I post it here as an example of the kind of thing we all have to begin doing to fight this stuff.  If we dont, who will?  We cant depend on the scientists, they are busy pushing back the frontiers for all of us.  Thank you for your kind words, by the way.


Dear Mr. Stephens:

You seem to be a gentleman, so I will endeavor to treat you as such.  Interesting that you have “never done this before,”  as you have responded to my first and only letter to the editor.  My letter was prompted by a desire to share the organization’s web site with anyone who felt as I do.  Of course, the paper edited that part out, and left me hanging there just ranting with seemingly no purpose.  Nevertheless, I wrote the words they printed, and take full responsibility for them. 

I try never to practice “contempt prior to investigation.”  As a result, when I moved to this area from the northeast in the early 90’s and discovered the widespread belief in something I thought had been settled years ago, I set out to see what all the fuss was about.  I am not a professional scientist, and don’t claim to be.  However, I have made a lifelong study of geology, astronomy, and biology.  In recent years, I have added genetics and yes, creation “science.”

I have read the books by Johnson, Milton, Wells (“Icons” is probably the most dishonest ID book of all), Denton, Behe, and others, all the way back to Paley.  Dozens of them.  I have thoroughly investigated web sites such as http://www.christiananswers.net, the discovery institute, ICR and others.  I have read relevant papers produced by creationist and ID adherents.  (They are hard to find as they aren’t in any of the mainstream publications as they don’t pass peer review).  What I found during my careful examination was worse than I expected.  I found many, many instances of everything from outright lies and manipulation to misrepresentation and fraud!  Papers that reference other papers that either do not exist, or say something totally different than the paper implies.  Twisted logic that leads nowhere.  On and on.  It is pseudoscience!  I am not going to list examples.  If you would like some, let me know, I can provide you with plenty.

Behe is, by far, the most talented of the ID proponents.  He is probably no friend of yours, as he fully accepts the validity of the geological ages and the fossil record, he merely disputes the ability of natural selection to produce complex structures.  Basically what you were getting at in your letter.  His arguments, while well stated, contain a basic flaw:  contrary to Behe’s claims, the evidence of evolution in the fossil record is not irrelevant to his argument. It has forced him, for the sake of consistency, to cobble his acceptance of the earth’s well-documented natural history together with the doctrine of intelligent design. The result is an absolutely hopeless genetic fantasy of “pre-formed” genes waiting for the organisms that might need them to gradually appear. This absurdity is the unavoidable result of trying to make “design” conform to that troublesome fossil record. The very same fossil record that provides the primary evidence for evolution.

You mentioned entropy in your letter.  Duane Gish, a leading proponent of your point of view,  claims that the Second Law of Thermodynamics makes evolution impossible. The argument is based on classical thermodynamics which only apply to closed systems which are near thermodynamic equilibrium. If you look at the entire system, energy goes from a form able to do work to low-temperature thermal energy unable to do work. This is very loosely associated with the idea that a closed system becomes more disorderly as time goes on. If this argument were true, life would be impossible! Consider an egg, which starts out as a simple mixture of liquid yolk and white, but which organizes itself into a chicken if kept at 100 degrees F for three weeks! The Second Law is obeyed throughout, and the chicken contains less useful (chemical) energy than did the yolk - the difference being the heat produced by the metabolism of the developing chick. The secret is that the egg is far from thermodynamic equilibrium, and only part of the system becomes organized—the part not converted to chick becomes very simple carbon dioxide gas and water vapor.
Similarly, open thermodynamic systems can be organized by importing energy. Your bedroom tends to get messy, but may become more organized if you import your energy and clean it up. The entropy in the room is decreased by your efforts, but by far less than the amount associated with the energy your body used during the cleanup. The Earth imports vast amounts of energy from the Sun, and a minuscule amount of this is used to produce biological order.
Ilya Prigogine received the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics for showing that a thermodynamic system that can import energy, or one that is far from equilibrium (i.e. with lots of available energy) not only can, but often must, form organized structures. Only the usual laws of chemistry and physics are needed. Consider a drop of salt water evaporating due to imported heat. The salt changes from a liquid to a more-orderly solid. The net result is increased entropy, but the salt part has nevertheless become more organized. This is a direct consequence of the Second Law (Prigogine et al., Physics Today, Nov. 1972, p. 23ff, Dec. 1972, p. 38ff). The Second Law of Thermodynamics thus appears to be an instrument of creation.
In any case, the fact is that “scientific creationism” is not a genuine scientific theory. It is an attempt to use scientific-sounding arguments to uphold a religious belief, the belief that the creation story told in the Bible is literally true. The scientific method starts with a question, like, “Why are some fossil animals so different from the animals around us today?” and finds the answer through observation and experiment. The creationist method starts with an answer, then looks for evidence that seems to fit. Another important difference is that science uses natural explanations of natural events. Scientists study natural processes occurring in the world around them, find out how they work, and apply the principles they learn to new questions. They never use miracles as explanations. “Scientific creationism” depends on miracles; its explanations assume that there have been exceptions to the laws of nature. This means that “scientific creationism” is unscientific by definition!
You mentioned that evolution is not a fact but only a “theory”, it is only a guess, no better than any other. But in science, a theory is a statement of general principles that explain many facts by means of natural processes. The proposition that the planets revolve around the sun (Copernican theory) explains a great many astronomical facts and also is considered true beyond a reasonable doubt. In the same way, geological examination of rocks demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the earth is extremely old. The theory of evolution explains a tremendous number of biological and paleontological facts, and it, too, is true beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, all these theories could be altered or replaced if new observations yielded new scientific evidence that contradicted predictions of these theories. Creationism, on the other hand, is not even a theory because its proponents have decided in advance that no amount of evidence will change their beliefs.
This debate isn’t about science anyway, its about religion.  You know it, I know it, and Dembski of Discovery even admitted it.  The strategy is good old fashioned frog boiling.  Use ID as a wedge to water things down a bit before dropping the main agenda.  Unfortunately, the overwhelming scientific ignorance in this country is very favorable to you, and ID on the surface looks so innocuous. It is too easy for you to confuse the general public with your misrepresentations, junk science and outright lies.  This is exactly what just happened in Ohio.  The Santorum amendment was stripped from the education bill in 2001, but that’s not the story the Ohio board of Ed was told.

Of course, the real agenda is to eventually replace most if not all science teaching with superstition.  Don’t you see that this contributes as much to the dumbing down of America MTV or the Simpsons?  I have no problem with the Christian religion.  I truly don’t understand why you fundamentalists need to adopt the old testament creation myth literally, when all of the other Christian sects seem to be OK with a more liberal interpretation.  I also don’t appreciate the attempts to make your religion part of the public school curriculum!

If you want to teach your religion’s creation myth to your children as fact, that is none of my business.  If you want to teach it in your Sunday schools, private schools, Bob Jones, whatever, you certainly have my blessing.  If you wish to raise a couple of generations of scientifically illiterate children I really don’t care.  But I will do whatever I can whenever I can to keep these ideas out of the public schools, for they don’t belong there.  Fortunately, the US Supreme Court in the Edwards decision agrees with me.

You seem like a reasonable man, do some investigating on your own.  But remember, the most important thing is to check the sources!  In Evolution—the Fossils Say No! (1979, p. 171-72), Gish quotes Stephen J. Gould of Harvard: ” little later he [Gould] states: `The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change…´.” What Dr. Gould actually wrote was, “The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change, and the principle of natural selection does not require it—selection can operate rapidly.” (Natural History 86:22, 1977) This is but one example of the ICR’s routine use of out-of-context quotes to “support” their positions. Always check the original source! They also like to use outdated sources or papers later found to be in error.
In July of 1982, Dr. Gish debated Dr. Russell Doolittle on Public TV.  Gish claimed that some blood proteins were more similar between bullfrogs and man than between chimpanzees and man. His source was a story told by Garniss Curtis (UC-Berkeley) at the July, 1971 Wenner-Gren conference in Austria. It seems there was a rumor of a study comparing blood proteins of humans and bullfrogs that gave the above result (perhaps from the Transylvanian Academy of Sciences?). Curtis predicted (correctly) that the result would not be published or repeated, because it was a dreadful tragedy—the frog was actually an enchanted prince!
Gish defends himself by saying he thought Curtis was serious! I, for one, believe Gish—he has made a career out of going around telling jokes and calling them science, and I find it easy to believe he can’t tell the difference. This is another example of why you should always require and check the original source for claims made by the Institute for Creation Research. The results are often very interesting!  Please feel free to check any of my sources as well.
One final note.  Does fairness demand that creationism should be taught alongside evolution? Creationists argue that, “You can´t prove that evolution is true (you weren´t there, it´s just a theory) and you can´t prove that creationism is false, so it´s only fair to teach both.” By this argument, astrology, which is based on supernatural forces, should be taught alongside astronomy. And witch doctors, who use supernatural forces to explain disease, should be taught in our medical schools. This is a mistaken notion of fairness.
The fact is, our students are taught science so they can learn to accurately observe facts and to understand how scientific theories are developed. Bringing in religious creeds and supernatural explanations can only impair their ability to understand how science works. Our children deserve to gain scientific literacy so they can solve the scientific and technological challenges of the 21st century.
As I said, we are not going to convince each other, so I’m going to stop here.  I have gone much farther than I intended to with this.  Sorry to go on and on.  Thank you for your thoughtful answer to my letter.  If you would like to reply, I would prefer you use email.  My email address is: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Sincerely yours,

Jersey McJones
Jersey McJones
Total Posts:  21
Joined  22-12-2004
05 January 2005 04:47

[quote author=“Lathern”]Some people seem to be able to believe something because doing so will make them feel bettter.  People have said this to me.  I wonder…  The numbers on religion in the US resemble a 3rd world county.  I was in in Italy recently and was told they have the lowest birth rate in Europe (don’t know if this is true). This goes with something I have noticed in the US: professing a deep belief in family values and God doesn’t keep you from doing anything you want to do. It just allow to you feel less guilty.

No.  Religion corrupts the mind.  If you believe something irrational, then you’ll believe something else that’s irrational and you’ll behave hypocritically.  Italians may profess a Catholic tradition, but I’ve known and worked with many - believe me, you don’t get much more secular than them!  wink

Jersey McJones
Jersey McJones
Total Posts:  21
Joined  22-12-2004
05 January 2005 04:53

[quote author=“Iisbliss”]This leads me to another thought…carry this trend out another 50 years or so…

current generations not believing in science, science being discredited.

America has always attracted the best and brightest from the world, enabling our technology to grow.  We sucked the major minds out of Europe durning the 1900’s.

Now, we don’t emphasize education except for the elite, we discredit the very science that gives our technology a leading edge on world markets, we don’t grow new inhouse great minds, we treat being intelligent as a crime, we pull everyone down to average mediocraty.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is catching up.  So what will this trend do to America in 50 years? Cripple us?

Will we be in some kind of horrific Dark Ages with too much power and no intelligence? Will WE become instead of a light to the world a terrible power of darkness?

“America has always attracted the best and brightest from the world, enabling our technology to grow. We sucked the major minds out of Europe durning the 1900’s.”

That is true, to a point.  The mass of Americans are the dregs of the Earth - myself included.  America is an empire that was populated after the conquest.  A rare thing.  Most of us are the castaways of the rest of the world - especially trouble-making religious fanatics.  The Puritans didn’t leave England because they were victimized, but because their sicko culture lead to the English Civil War and Cromwell.  In short, well-to-do people do not emigrate.  Why would they?  The poor do most of the emigrating and big ol’ empty America has been a popular destination.  America was never a “light” of the world.  We were simply who we were.  The dregs of the Earth come to take advantage of a big empty continent.  I’m a proud dreg myself.  wink

Total Posts:  1229
Joined  22-12-2004
11 January 2005 15:10

you miss the mainstay of the fundamentalist faith, they don’t care what happens to this earth.

since when Jesus comes, they will get a new one.

They don’t really care about other people, they do good works for the sake of laying up “points” in heaven so they can be rulers in the new earth, and have eternal life.

They don’t really worry about the future of anything but themselves.
And since that entire future is in the Book of Revelations, its pointless to argue on moral ground with them.

This is the heart of the crime of religion, egotism.

Instead of self- analysis, and improving themselves and the world around them, they look to follow a set of pre-determined “rules” that will make sure they never have to face total self-awareness in the face.

Total Posts:  214
Joined  24-12-2004
16 January 2005 07:09

[quote author=“Frank Armstrong”] Carl Jung wrote: Religion is a protection against a direct experience of God.  This led me to another thought: Whomsoever is afraid of science is afraid of God!

Religious texts are generally liberally sprinkled with statements that point out that true path to God lies through knowledge. I would guess that most religious leaders realize this but prefer to downplay knowledge as a path because their ‘flock’ will no longer need them.


[quote author=“Frank Armstrong”]Since Reason doesn’t seem to move the numbers of people who could use some moving, why not try shame, i.e. “You should be ashamed to stand by doing nothing while your God’s beautiful creation, the earth, is destroyed for fun and profit!  You are letting God down!”

This might work for moderates but it will never work for fanatics that pray for the End Times.

Total Posts:  2957
Joined  02-12-2004
16 February 2005 05:45

I agree that attempts to support evolution quickly move into eye glazing territory. Lately, I have been going another way. Rather than defending evolution or attacking ID, I have responded by talking about science.

“Let us remember what science is. Science is just the practice of explaining the world around us by way of the things we can see and measure. That’s it. It is a fairly recent invention - and it is a point of view that the writers of the Bible were unconcerned about. They were not interested in explaining in ways that can be measured.

“If you want to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design in school, then we can talk about that. Perhaps a class in comparitive religions. But it has no business being taught in a science class.”

I think science has done a poor job of explaining itself in the last century. There has been a dangerous level of arrogance. The teaching of science has been in too many cases, the teaching of an ideology. Consider the basic classroom overview of Galileo that I was taught:

“The great scientist Galileo discovered that the earth and the planets revolved around the sun. The evil superstitious church believed that everything revolved around the earth. The wicked Pope put Galileo in jail to keep him quiet. Fortunately for us, the pure light of science has washed away the evil superstition of religion.”

And while that’s ideologically true, it ain’t factually accurate. The Pope was more than aware of the makeup of the solar system - this priest named Copernicus had laid it out pretty well years before Galileo. The church was concerned with control of the masses. They just wanted Galileo to shut up. They wanted to control that bit of information.

Which doesn’t let the church off the hook by any means. But teaching all us malleable little children the ideology of the great authority of science while foregoing the facts, set science up for a fall as we entered this post-modern era of ultimate relativity and the end of authority. Science is viewed as just another ideology - just another belief system. How much better if we’d been taught the true story of Galileo with the lesson that the church authority conspired to keep the masses ignorant in order to keep them in control.

So push science but push the plain facts of science - not the ideology. Science is not just another belief system. Science is based on factual measurements. And don’t get drawn into the evolution vs. ID rumble. This is an attack on science - evolution is merely the battlefield on which it is being waged…thekeez

Total Posts:  4
Joined  20-02-2005
20 February 2005 11:31

Jersey, rather than start by trying to discern your audience’s acceptance of the scientific method, I’d start with an assumption of the audience’s complete ignorance of the scientific method and then proceed to educate them about it, to begin with. Given that most high school graduates are ill-prepared to receive a college education, it is dangerous to assume that your pupils even understand what you’re talking about. Once they have been brought up to speed as to what the scientific method consists of and why it is fundamental to scientific inquiry, you’ll have a better understanding of which pupils accept or reject it.

By the way, this reminds me of years ago, when I was taking an introductory course in archaeolgy and two of the students in my class blurted out that they had a problem with the discussion of prehominid fossils, due to their religious indoctrination. The liberal moderate professor then cautiously danced around the subject, so as not to further offend them…at the expense of the education of the rest of the class, of course.