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  #11  
Unread August 17th, 2006, 06:58 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

I don't know why Fred has failed to cite one of the most prominent proponents of his views, Ann Coulter. As a favor for Fred I'll post some of her recent words and perhaps the blinders will drop from your eyes and you, Carey, will start to see the wisdom in Fred's (and Ann's) worldview.

On July 27 Ann Coulter talked about her book Godless: The Church of Liberalism, published by Crown Forum. The book proposed that liberalism was a godless religion with a belief system in direct opposition to the Judeo-Christian tradition. In making her case, Ms. Coulter wrote that liberalism has its own sacraments (abortion), its own clergy (public school teachers), and its own creation myth (evolution). Ms. Coulter gave her thoughts on conservative and liberal ideals and answered questions from members of the audience of women at Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute held at the National Press Club. She also responded to questions from the audience and signed copies of her book after the event.

In a recent online issue of The New Republic, Ezra Klein noted this interaction between a member of the audience and Ann Coulter. Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler in analyzing Klein's report, wrote this:

Quote:
QUESTION FROM SOMEONE EZRA KLEIN DOESN’T KNOW (7/28/06): Hi. My name is —, I’m a sophomore at Bucknell University and a summer intern at the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute. In your book, Godless, you completely tear apart the theory of evolution and I was just wondering how scientists can still believe in such an implausible theory, especially since you don’t disprove it based on Biblical facts and scripture, you disprove it based on, you know, pure science. So how do liberals react to that?
Yes, that was the actual question. (So you’ll know, other questions came from Harvard students and graduates.) Coulter’s reply was worth transcribing in full, and we hope that somebody does it. But in part, she told her audience that large numbers of scientists do know that “Darwinism is a crock;” they just don’t want the harassment involved in speaking up about it. As Coulter continued, she finger-gestured to let the gals know that those so-called “scientists” who believe in evolution aren’t really “scientists” at all:

Quote:
COULTER: "Most of the “scientists” favoring Darwinism, you know, they’re barely even scientists. They’re biologists. They’re not physicists. They're not chemists." Coulter’s voice dripped with scorn as she referred to all those dumb-ass biologists. "You always hear about actual scientists who know that evolution, or Darwinism, is a crock,” she said.
Just so you know what the smart kids are saying.

Margaret
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  #12  
Unread August 17th, 2006, 09:16 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

This would be hilarious, if it wasn't so depressing. But still, I laughed.

Last edited by Carey N; August 17th, 2006 at 09:53 PM.
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  #13  
Unread August 17th, 2006, 11:51 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Quote:
Life on Earth seems to have begun around 4 billion years ago, but for most of that time not much seemed to be “evolving” except for single cell stuff and some algae . . . until the “Cambrian Explosion,” a little over ½ billion years ago, when lineages of almost all animals we see today, rather suddenly, appeared
There are several problems with this:

1) To characterize pre-Cambrian life as "not much" is very strange . . . the origin of bacteria in the first place was momentous (this is where you should really have directed your critique; too late now, though), and how about the evolution of photosynthesis, eukaryota, and multicellularity? Invertebrates and early chordates also arrived tens of millions of years before the Cambrian.

2) There is no doubt that a lot happened in a relatively short time period in the Cambrian, but 'relatively short' is an important phrase. We're talking about ~40 million years, here. Also, our knowledge of the Cambrian is largely restricted to the Burgess Shale fossils, which represent only a thin 'slice' of time and give the false impression that the origin of new phyla was "all-of-the-sudden".


Quote:
. . . and today, somehow, voila, we sapient beings find that we exist
Here is a diagram depicting your conception of life on Earth:

[Nothing Much] - - -> [Cambrian Explosion] - - - [Voila!!] - - -> [Humans]

I don't even know where to start with this one. Just consult a biology textbook and another resource on hominid evolution.


In previous posts, you have implied that biologists have it all wrong, that they are delusional about what 'the evidence actually tells us regarding the origin and evolution of life', that they are a bunch of self-important, myopic people. I ask for some enlightenment, and you respond by describing the work of paleontologists and evolutionary biologists. But wait . . . didn't you say that they don't know what they're talking about?




Quote:
some Darwinians say the explosion and sapient beings are the result mostly of chance, while some contend that the explosion and sapient beings are here b/c our planet would have created selection pressures to make it so
No one with all his marbles thinks that higher intelligence (or any other adaptation) is the result of pure (or mostly) chance . . . rather, Gould posits that, if we were to re-run the history of life, things might turn out very differently (e.g. if the earth's orbit were such that the end-Cretaceous asteroid didn't hit us, mammals would probably not have radiated, and we wouldn't be around). In that sense, some chance events were important for the evolution of many species, including our own. Conway-Morris, on the other hand, thinks that we'd still see the evolution of higher intelligence, even if those chance events happened differently - if sapience didn't evolve in mammals, then it would have arisen in some other lineage (e.g. reptiles). His argument is based on the notion of convergent evolution, but is riddled with problems and broadly rejected. I attended a talk of his on this subject - you would have agreed with me that his hypothesis is not compelling.

Last edited by Carey N; August 19th, 2006 at 01:51 AM.
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  #14  
Unread August 19th, 2006, 07:43 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Quote:
Carey: To characterize pre-Cambrian life as "not much" is very strange . . .
Good point Carey—I suppose I understated things . . . not to mention there wasn’t even a universe—no time, no space, no matter—only 10 billion years prior to those 4 billion years when life appears to have begun here on Earth.

And I’m inclined to agree that the “origin of bacteria in the first place was momentous.” And you may have a point in that that is where I “should really have directed [my] critique”—so if you want to start a new thread (or continue this one) explaining how your natural selection explains the momentous origin and evolution of life/bacteria during that 4 billion years, go for it.

But I suspect that you’ll not be furnishing much in the way of theories/ explanations/ evidence that will provide the predictive power, understanding, and convincing coherence of a good physical science theory, say like gravity. Nevertheless, still, go for it. If nothing else, perhaps you’ll see better the current shortcomings in, as Mayr calls it, your “philosophy of biology.”

Nonetheless, however you cut it, the evolution from single cell creatures to sapient beings in a little over ½ billion years via, primarily, “random mutation” and “natural section” (and yes, I know, there’s the other incidentals you’ve mentioned like your drift, migration, recombination) is, to my way of thinking, well, not nearly as convincing as say the explanation of gravity by Einstein’s general relativity theory.

Quote:
Carey: In previous posts, you have implied that biologists have it all wrong, that they are delusional about what 'the evidence actually tells us regarding the origin and evolution of life', that they are a bunch of self-important, myopic people.
Carey, Carey, you go too far—maybe self-important and myopic (especially those in academia), but I doubt they have it “all wrong,” or that they’re necessarily “delusional” (although Dawkins may be). Here’re are things I've actually said:
I’d say that Darwinians need to be a bit more modest and circumspect regarding what they think they actually know and what the available science and the evidence actually tells us regarding the origin and evolution of life (and the universe too for that matter), and regarding the limitations and occasional circularity of their various theories/explanations/assumptions; and thereby avoid half-ass notions like “evolution”—or natural selection for that matter—being comparable in any substantial way to the superb theory of gravitation; and maybe also avoid making arrogant assumptions and decrees like Mr. Selfish Gene Dawkins’s, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose [blah, blah, blah].”

We sapient beings find ourselves in a universe that began about 14 billion years ago, apparently from a singularity, with inexplicably low entropy. Life on Earth seems to have begun around 4 billion years ago…. and today, somehow, voila, we sapient beings find that we exist.

Some Darwinians say that sapient beings are the result mostly of chance, while some contend that sapient beings are here b/c our planet would have created selection pressures to make it so (although exactly why our planet would necessarily be predisposed to behave that way doesn't seem to be too clear).
But Carey says that "No one with all his marbles thinks that higher intelligence (or any other adaptation) is the result of pure (or mostly) chance," but then adds that, "things might turn out very differently (e.g. if the earth's orbit were such that the end-Cretaceous asteroid didn't hit us . . .)"???? Whatever.

Last edited by Fred H.; August 20th, 2006 at 09:22 AM.
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  #15  
Unread August 20th, 2006, 11:39 AM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred
I doubt they have it “all wrong,” or that they’re necessarily “delusional”

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred, earlier
. . . thereby avoid half-ass notions like “evolution”—or natural selection for that matter—being comparable in any substantial way to the superb theory of gravitation
Theodosius Dobzhansky, a founding father of evolutionary genetics, famously wrote that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (fittingly for this general discussion, the guy was also a devout Christian). To refer to 'evolution' and 'natural selection' as half-assed is effectively to claim that biologists are delusional. You may not have realized it, but that's what you're doing.

Are you qualified to compare general relativity and natural selection? Granted, general relativity is superb, but do you even know what it is, aside from the verbal descriptions you get from Penrose? Do you know how to do multivariate calculus, ODE and PDE's? Differential geometry? Topology? Do you know population genetics, quantitative genetics, or Fisher's fundamental theorem? The Price equation? Hamilton's rule? Game theory? Somehow, I doubt it. If you aren't intimately familiar with the mathematics of both physics and evolution, in addition to the vast wealth of empirical data that they both enlighten, then you can't comment that one is 'better' than the other. So, put a plug in it.


Quote:
But Carey says that "No one with all his marbles thinks that higher intelligence (or any other adaptation) is the result of pure (or mostly) chance," but then adds that, "things might turn out very differently (e.g. if the earth's orbit were such that the end-Cretaceous asteroid didn't hit us . . .)"
I suspect that Fred understands the point I was making and is only trying to be contrary. For anyone else who is reading and interested, I will explain a bit further.

To say that intelligence or any adaptation is the result of pure or mostly chance is to say that the features in question spontaneously popped into existence . . . obviously, that is false. The point Gould makes in his exposition is that if the history of life were re-run, then different evolutionary trajectories may have transpired. Historical contingency is an important feature of any phylogeny, but without natural selection, there would be no adaptive evolution in the first place. The chance events involved in the history of life are irrelevant without reference to the evolutionary process, and are therefore secondary to it.

Last edited by Carey N; August 20th, 2006 at 03:28 PM.
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  #16  
Unread August 20th, 2006, 03:31 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Quote:
Carey: Are you qualified to compare general relativity and natural selection? Granted, general relativity is superb, but do you even know what it is [blah, blah, blah].
OK Carey, so I guess you don’t really have all that much in the way of theories/ explanations/ evidence regarding how your natural selection explains the momentous origin and evolution of life/bacteria during that first 4 billion years on Earth, and certainly nothing that would provide the predictive power, understanding, and convincing coherence of a good physical science theory, say like gravity.

Fair enough. But don’t be too hard on yourself and your fellow biologists. Even physicists don’t know everything. For example, what physicists do know, at least based on the current science and evidence, is that the universe “began,” apparently from a singularity, 14 billion years ago, having absurdly low entropy (especially when one considers the huge entropy in the singularity of black holes), after which the universe EVOLVED to what we see today. (Ever notice how physicists typically don’t to invoke “selection” in explaining how it is that our galaxy/solar system/planet evolved?—of course they don’t have to b/c they have superb theories like gravity to explain things.) But nothing in physics today can explain how/why entropy is/was so absurdly low.

And of course one of the results of that EVOLUTION of the universe is our planet; and, as you know, again based on the current science and evidence, it appears that life “began” about 4 billion years ago here on Earth, and EVOLVED to what we see today—but let’s face it Carey, the Darwinians really haven’t explained all that much regarding the “beginning” and evolution of life, except perhaps for the obvious that life does indeed evolve, and that selection pressures from the environment certainly seem to have some impact on that evolution (as well as do things like drift, migration, recombination).

So yes Carey, indeed, undoubtedly, life, like the universe itself, has a beginning, and evolves. And I remain convinced that Darwinians need to be a bit more modest and circumspect regarding what they think they actually know, what they can actually explain, and what the available science and the evidence actually tells us regarding the origin and evolution of life (and the universe too for that matter), and regarding the limitations and occasional circularity of their various theories/explanations/ assumptions; and thereby avoid half-ass notions like evolution/natural selection being comparable in any substantial way to the superb theory of gravitation.

Have a nice day,
Fred.
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  #17  
Unread August 20th, 2006, 07:21 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Wait . . . I explained why you aren't qualified to argue about the relative merits of physics and biology. I guess I was right, as you just repeated your stock low entropy post rather than addressing anything I had written.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred
(Ever notice how physicists typically don’t to invoke “selection” in explaining how it is that our galaxy/solar system/planet evolved?—of course they don’t have to b/c they have superb theories like gravity to explain things.)
Given the distinction between bodies of inanimate matter and populations of living organisms capable of passing heritable information from one generation to the next, I'd have thought it'd be obvious that natural selection is irrelevant to cosmic evolution, but central to biological evolution. Again, you aren't technically capable of evaluating the theory of gravitation and the theory of selection (which is extensively developed . . . I don't see how you remain in denial about this), much less comparing and contrasting their merits. To be fair, I'm not up to speed with the math of general relatvity, either . . . but I'm not trying to claim that selection is 'superb' while relativity is not. In fact, I think that comparing the two is a pretty empty excercise altogether.


Quote:
I remain convinced that Darwinians need to be a bit more modest and circumspect regarding what they think they actually know, what they can actually explain, and what the available science and the evidence actually tells us regarding the origin and evolution of life . . .
You remain convinced, and yet have no justification for your conviction. Clearly, you are frustrated and can think of nothing to do other than to repeat yourself, even though we've already established that your objections to evolutionary biology are woefully lacking in substance.

Last edited by Carey N; August 21st, 2006 at 02:54 AM.
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  #18  
Unread August 21st, 2006, 08:15 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Quote:
Carey: Given the distinction between bodies of inanimate matter and populations of living organisms capable of passing heritable information from one generation to the next, I'd have thought it'd be obvious that natural selection is irrelevant to cosmic evolution . . .
Yes Carey, one would have thunk . . . but, alas, it seems that the concept of “selection” can be so deceptively seductive that even physicists, albeit the lesser physicists, will sometimes succumb to its allure—from Wiki:
Quote:
Cosmological natural selection is a hypothesis proposed by Lee Smolin intended as a scientific alternative to the anthropic principle. It addresses the problem of complexity in our universe, which is largely unexplained. Just a few minor changes in the mass of certain elementary particles or in the strength of the forces of the universe would prevent atoms from forming, let alone galaxies. Since natural selection has explained the complexity of life so well in biology, this concept is borrowed and applied to cosmology in an attempt to explain the complexity of the universe. Cosmological natural selection is also referred to as the theory of Fecund universes.
Let’s face it Carey, “selection,” like “emergence,” is just one of those deceptively circular/tautological cool sounding terms that seem to explain so much, but that really don’t. Thanks for noting, appropriately I think, that you’d “have thought it'd be obvious that natural selection is irrelevant to cosmic evolution,” which then allowed me to provide this great example of how the “selection” concept can even seduce physicists, albeit the lesser physicists, into thinking that they understand/can explain more than they actually do/can.

Quote:
Carey: In fact, I think that comparing the two [the theory of gravitation and selection] is a pretty empty exercise altogether.
Well Carey, then it seems, after all, that you do more or less agree with me that Darwinians (and I suppose the lesser physicists too) need to avoid notions like natural selection (or “evolution”) “being comparable in any substantial way to the superb theory of gravitation.” I’m delighted Carey. It seems you’re evolving. Makes my day.

Last edited by Fred H.; August 21st, 2006 at 09:38 AM.
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  #19  
Unread August 21st, 2006, 10:30 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Battle Against Scientific Illiteracy

Quote:
Carey: Wait . . . I explained why you aren't qualified to argue about the relative merits of physics and biology.
Nice try Carey. As noted in Wiki:
Quote:
An ad hominem fallacy consists of asserting that someone's argument is wrong and/or he is wrong to argue at all purely because of something discreditable/not-authoritative about the person or those persons cited by him rather than addressing the soundness of the argument itself.
Anyhoo, let’s try to finalize this thread with your next post. Again, as in times past, I think our discussion has been reasonably honest and rigorous (with an intermittent ad hominem type fallacy from time to time), and I think we’ve been reasonably consistent in how we see and explained our POVs, certainly more so than others here on this forum tend to be in some of their ramblings .

And, as I’ve opined b/f, where one stands on these issues seems to depend on how one sees the big picture. Some of us sees things as Roger Penrose—the eminently qualified Oxford mathematician and physicist, who recently also wrote The Road to Reality, A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, 2005, “the most complete mathematical explanation of the universe yet published”—sees things: "I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance." While the rest see things primarily as being random and/or “effectively random”; or perhaps blindly, mindlessly, algorithmically deterministic (essentially effectively random).

Really Carey, please consider buying Penrose’s book (and I know you’re probably already overloaded with stuff to read/consider)—it is undoubtedly the best book on physics and the best mathematical explanation of the universe ever written.

All the best,
Fred

Last edited by Fred H.; August 21st, 2006 at 12:20 PM.
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  #20  
Unread August 21st, 2006, 05:52 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Note on adhominem

I will address some other points in a fothcoming post (which, I agree, should wrap things up), but just wanted to jot down a quick note on your ad hominem accusation.

The statement you put forward was, in essence, that the theory of physics (gravitation, in particular) is 'superb', while the theory of natural selection is 'half-assed'. You didn't cite anyone about this, or present any kind of particular argument; you just wrote it, and that was that. Thus, the only way to judge your arguement was to assess whether or not your experience would suggest expertise in both areas (physics and evolution) - and enough expertise for us to take your word for it. My conclusion was that we cannot do so (I did give you a chance to claim that you know the relevant math, though).

Last edited by Carey N; August 21st, 2006 at 07:15 PM.
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