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Unread August 16th, 2006, 05:23 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 483
Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Carey: Think again about gravitation. That gravity exists is indisputable, just like evolution. As to what causes gravitation - we have only theory, albeit very strong and well-supported theory. Guess what? The state of affairs with natural selection is similar: it is a theory regarding what causes adaptive evolution to occur, and it is supported by a massive amount of evidence. I think the NY Times author's comparison is pretty tight.
OK, sure, let’s think again about gravitation.

The question is not what “causes” gravitation, but more what gravitation is and do we understand it enough so as to predict it’s affect/effect—Newton said it was a “force” (and most of us still think of it that way), and his theory predicted planetary positions/orbits to, I think, maybe 6 or 7 decimal places. However, under Einstein’s general relativity, and his foundational principle of “equivalence,” gravitation is no longer regarded as a “force,” as was Newton’s gravity, but rather gravitation manifests itself as space-time curvature.

And using Einstein’s general relativity equations, Hulse and Taylor (received Nobel in 93) were able to predict and affirm the accuracy of the orbits of a double neutron star system to better than a trillionth percent precision (14 decimal places). As Penrose notes, Hulse and Taylor's work "makes Einstein’s general relativity, in this particular sense, the most accurately tested theory known to science."

Evolution OTOH, is really nothing more than a term that more or less encapsulates our observations from the available evidence—that life, over time, well, “evolves.” But then everything in the universe “evolves,” so BFD.

Of course now you mention “natural selection,” and I suppose that it does seem that various environments do impose selection pressures, similar perhaps in some ways to how various human breeders select for various traits in whatever they happen to be breeding; and it does seem that this so-called natural (unconscious) selection (as opposed to the “artificial conscious selection of human breeders) results in the selection of traits that are the most adaptive, the fittest. And sure enough, we always observe, over the long haul, that the fittest survive and reproduce, and the rest don’t—and we know that the ones that survive are the fittest b/c otherwise they’d not have survived.

And although I find the circularity of that “natural selection” somewhat troubling, you, as you’ve noted elsewhere, insist that the “apparent circularity [of natural selection] just isn't important at all.”

So I suppose that’s why you naively believe that natural selection is somehow comparable to an actual superb theory, like say gravity as explained by Einstein’s general relativity, which actually is “the most accurately tested theory known to science." Fine.
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