A conversation regarding “intelligent design”

76 Comments
Posted October 22nd, 2008 in Biology. Tags: , , , , , .

This conversation began when I posted an inflammatory essay about creationism on Slashdot. I was pleasantly surprised with the sophistication of The Famous Brett Watson‘s arguments, and he later agreed to let me display this debate online (edited for clarity) to rescue it from being buried in the Slashdot archives.

Incidentally, I also found abb3w’s post “Mathematical consistency” insightful and amusing.



Written by Dumb Scientist on May 26 2007, @08:14PM

I’ve noticed that many Slashdot articles about evolution seem to attract a lot of creationists. Because of this, I’ve decided to address the serious (i.e. non-trolling) creationists that frequent Slashdot in the hope that I can prevent you from making the same easily avoided mistakes that make so many of your brethren sound like ignorant cretins. Here are some common arguments that creationists use, and why I think that you shouldn’t use them… unless of course you want to be ridiculed. Note: this is by no means a comprehensive list.

1. “Evolution is just a THEORY.

This is the most common (and the most disappointing) creationist argument I hear on a regular basis. While it’s true that evolution is a theory, this statement is made in an attempt to cast doubt on evolution by implying that evolution is akin to a wild guess that scientists arrived at during a night of binge drinking. Newsflash: it’s not going to work. Most people understand that you’re confusing the word “theory” (which means an explanation or model that is capable of predicting future events) with the word “hypothesis” (which means an educated guess).

Calling evolution a “theory” isn’t an insult. For example, gravity is also “just” a theory. I might even add that a lot of scientists (myself included) consider evolution to be a better-supported theory than gravity, because of the fact that gravity cannot (currently) be quantized, despite decades of attempts. If you want to debate evolution, fine– but don’t play these pointless word games.

2. “But evolution has never been observed!”

Most creationists, faced with the fact that viruses and other creatures (like those famous moths) evolve right in front of our eyes, make a distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. Micro-evolution is “proven,” they say, because it only represents a change in allele frequency within a species. Macro-evolution, defined as change from one species to another (aka “speciation”), is more of a problem for creationists. They often insist that speciation has never been observed outside of laboratory experiments. This is blatantly false. Many examples of speciation have been observed in the wild– for example check out these large lists of peer-reviewed journal articles.

The next step that creationists take in response to this rebuttal is to claim that speciation proves nothing– that only a change from one kind of organism to another would support evolution. What’s a “kind,” you might ask? No one knows. Creationists will give vague examples, such as saying that a dog is a different kind of animal than a whale, but a rigorous definition has never (to my knowledge) been offered or universally accepted by the major creationist organizations. It’s just a convenient goal post which keeps getting pushed back every time new evidence is found.

Speciation is relatively easy to observe in organisms which breed quickly. Observing the creation of, say, a new phylum or order could take many millennia. Unfortunately, human civilization hasn’t been around that long. Plus, standard biological nomenclature isn’t based on evolutionary criteria, so it isn’t clear to me that equating a “kind” with a phylum or order is meaningful in this context.

3. “But Intelligent Design is different than Biblical Creationism! It’s a purely scientific theory.”

Don’t try to pretend that “Intelligent Design” is somehow different than creationism. Especially don’t try to pretend that it’s a scientific theory. Seriously. No one’s buying it. “Intelligent Design” is a disguise– a secular-sounding term thrown over religious creationism to try to smuggle it into a state-funded science classroom. My first piece of evidence is… you. Do you believe in “Intelligent Design”? If you said “yes,” there’s a 97% chance that you’re a theist. In fact, I can say with relative certainty that you’re either a Protestant, Orthodox Christian or a Muslim. Incidentally, I’m basing this belief on polls like this one.

Stop and think about what this means. If “Intelligent Design” were a legitimate, secular, scientific approach to biology, one would expect some people from all religious/atheistic backgrounds to embrace it. Clearly, they don’t. On the other hand, if you were to ask supporters of evolution what their religion is, the ratio of atheists to theists is similar to that in the overall population. This lack of correlation between support for evolution and belief in God implies that evolution is not a religious (or atheistic) issue, but “Intelligent Design” is. Of course, this is circumstantial evidence because there’s an alternative explanation: “The Evil Atheist Conspiracy ™ has corrupted mainstream religions, and only American Fundamentalist Christians are intelligent and Righteous enough to see through the Evil Atheists’ Satanic Lies.”

My second piece of evidence is a concept called “naturalism.” Naturalism means that a scientific investigation of some event or pattern is begun with the assumption that the observed event or pattern is governed by objective laws. You may disagree with this assumption, but it’s the central assumption of science. Here’s an example. Before Newton’s Theory of Motion, the movements of the planets were explained by saying something along the lines that angels pushed the planets around in their orbits. This is an explanation which fits the facts, make no mistake about that. It’s not naturalistic, though, which means it isn’t scientific. Newton changed all that, replacing an explanation that had zero predictive value with a scientific concept that (arguably) laid the basis for our modern world.

Because the idea of “Intelligent Design” is incompatible with naturalism, it is not science. I’ve heard creationists try to argue that they don’t have a problem with science, just “naturalistic science.” Perhaps this is because even fundamentalists are aware that saying “I’m against science in general” is tantamount to saying “I’m a backwards cretin. Please ignore me.” But this position is nonsensical because science without naturalism isn’t science.

Of course, some of you might be saying “but Intelligent Design is compatible with naturalism!” I disagree. For example, who or what is the “Intelligent Designer”? The standard “Intelligent Design Theorist” answer is to feign ignorance, to refuse to admit that it’s obviously (INSERT DEITY NAME HERE). But who (or what) could the designer be? In order to be a naturalistic theory, the Designer would have to be some kind of alien rather than a supernatural deity. The problem is that any such Alien Designer would have had to evolve himself, which is impossible according to “Intelligent Design.”

Note: I’d like to point out that even though I am a non-theist scientist (physicist, by the way), I’m not saying that science presupposes atheism. It’s more accurate to say that science turns a blind eye to theology because the scientific method can’t be applied to supernatural beings. Science doesn’t deny the existence of any deity. It’s just a way to make accurate predictions about the natural world.

My third piece of evidence is the concept of falsifiability. You see, a scientific hypothesis needs more than naturalism to be valid. It also needs to be falsifiable in the sense that an experiment (either real or gedanken) can be performed that will either support the theory or disprove it. Evolution, for example, is falsifiable in many different ways. Here’s one: if a fossil is ever discovered significantly “out of place,” like the fossil of a chimp laid down in Precambrian rock strata, that would be the end of evolution. While I find this unlikely (and, in fact, I would want to perform the radioactive dating myself to believe it), a true scientist admits this possibility.

On the other hand, how could you ever falsify “Intelligent Design”? Seriously– any “Intelligent Design theorists” out there want to suggest a test? I doubt you can. Any test you come up with could be countered by one simple statement: “But that’s just the way the Designer designed things– maybe He’s trying to test your faith.”

For these reasons, whenever I’m asked what I think of “Intelligent Design,” I say “It isn’t even wrong.” The reason I say this is that any scientific theory proposes a naturalistic explanation for some feature of the world, and makes falsifiable predictions which are either accurate (in which case the theory is considered plausible) or inaccurate (in which case the theory is discarded as “wrong”). Because “Intelligent Design” is not naturalistic and makes no falsifiable predictions, it not only isn’t right, it isn’t even wrong.



Written by The Famous Brett Watson on May 26 2007, @11:35PM

Hello. I’m a creationist, and I read Slashdot. My field of expertise is computing, but I also have a graduate degree in philosophy which included “philosophy of science,” and I like a good argument. I would like to address point #3 briefly.

In your first paragraph (of point #3) you point out a strong correlation between belief in intelligent design and certain religious views. You are appealing to the prevailing Slashdot bias against organised religion when you do this: the correlation says absolutely nothing in and of itself as to whether the idea is true or false. C. S. Lewis described that form of argument as “Bulverism”: dismiss the argument on the basis that the person raising it has particular motives for doing so. “You just say that because you hold religious view X.” I can’t argue against this, because it isn’t an argument.

I will point out, however, that Intelligent Design and Creationism are not the exclusive property of theists. Sir Fred Hoyle and the “panspermia” proposal are an example of a prominent scientific atheist and a naturalistic intelligent design theory (limited to chemical evolution in scope). His ideas were not accepted, of course, and I wonder whether his audacity in questioning such sacred cows (and providing quotable material to the infidel creationists) didn’t cost him Nobel Prize recognition in the end. Still, he started a meme that may yet bloom and grow: “seeds of life” [space.com].

I don’t mean to imply that such contrary ideas are common among practicing scientists: they are not. But is that because the ideas are profoundly and obviously wrongheaded, or simply because it’s professional suicide for anyone less renowned than Sir Fred Hoyle to confess public doubt in evolution? Science is an old boys’ club: break the social taboos and you’ll be shunned — a process otherwise known as peer review. If you think that science is a dry, dispassionate, truth-finding machine (rather than a thoroughly human, political, and perception-driven process) then I can only assume you’ve never submitted a research paper through a review process. Just about anyone who has (regardless of field, I’m sure) will have had the experience of getting back reviewer comments and thinking, “FFS, did you even read what I wrote?” If you have an argument that seems sympathetic to creationism, you won’t get published in a bastion of evolutionary thought no matter how damn good your argument is: it will be dismissed as “creationist rubbish” on the first skim-read.

Moving on, you spend considerable time talking about “Naturalism.” I have a really big problem with science being synonymous with philosophical naturalism, and I can summarise that problem very easily. Assume, for the sake of argument, that some sort of supernatural being did, in fact, create the natural world using a supernatural process (by which I mean that it flagrantly violated known laws of physics, such as mass/energy conservation). Does this not leave the whole process of naturalistic science as one of pursuing falsehoods? The true explanation (a supernatural creator) is ruled out a priori by the method of investigation. Naturalistic science (as it relates to origins) would be the process of finding the most credible falsehood about the origin of things.

Perhaps you can address that issue for me: if science is necessarily naturalistic, then how do we know that a naturalistic explanation like “big bang + evolution” is true, as opposed to a credible falsehood? Why do scientists such as yourself disparage supernatural proposals as though they were false, when you are yourself not in honest pursuit of truth, but of credible naturalistic explanations?

The last point you cover is that of falsification. This is a subject dear to my heart in my capacity as a lover of philosophy. Rather than attempt to refute your argument or point out deficiencies in “falsification” itself, however, I think I have a better question. I’ve sometimes seen creationists bashed for having no real theories of their own, but merely trying to pick holes in evolution. Given the importance of falsification to scientific theory, would you not agree that “anti-evolutionists” provide a vital service to science, even if they have no alternative theory? Every field needs its sceptics, devil’s advocates, and foils. Why aren’t we encouraging attempts to find weaknesses in the theory of evolution? Why can’t we view the whole “Intelligent Design” movement as a programme to falsify the principle of natural formation? If “natural formation” in the broad sense can’t be falsified, then it’s not a scientific theory, right?

This whole “falsification” thing seems a little two-edged to me. Please demonstrate that it cuts creationists but not evolutionists in light of “creationism as an attempt to falsify evolution.”



Written by Dumb Scientist on May 27 2007, @08:44PM

In your first paragraph (of point #3) you point out a strong correlation between belief in intelligent design and certain religious views. You are appealing to the prevailing Slashdot bias against organised religion when you do this: the correlation says absolutely nothing in and of itself as to whether the idea is true or false. C. S. Lewis described that form of argument as “Bulverism”: dismiss the argument on the basis that the person raising it has particular motives for doing so. “You just say that because you hold religious view X.” I can’t argue against this, because it isn’t an argument.

Note that I wasn’t attempting to use this correlation to argue that intelligent design is false. I was arguing that intelligent design is a religious idea, not a scientific idea. I think the fact that evolution is not well correlated with religion, whereas intelligent design IS well correlated with religion, is evidence that intelligent design is related to religion in some manner. Of course, as I point out at the end of that paragraph, there are ways to argue around this point so I don’t consider it particularly strong evidence.

I will point out, however, that Intelligent Design and Creationism are not the exclusive property of theists. Sir Fred Hoyle and the “panspermia” proposal are an example of a prominent scientific atheist and a naturalistic intelligent design theory (limited to chemical evolution in scope). His ideas were not accepted, of course, and I wonder whether his audacity in questioning such sacred cows (and providing quotable material to the infidel creationists) didn’t cost him Nobel Prize recognition in the end. Still, he started a meme that may yet bloom and grow: “seeds of life.”

That’s interesting. I didn’t know that Fred Hoyle identified as an atheist. I wonder if he continued to self-identify as an atheist after espousing these ideas…

I’m not sure that panspermia is at odds with evolution. As far as I understand the idea, panspermia simply expands the “biosphere” from planet Earth to the whole galaxy or even beyond. Natural selection still acts, species still evolve to fill available ecological niches, etc. If true, it completely changes the answer to the question of the origin of life on earth (ordinarily called abiogenesis, but that term doesn’t seem appropriate in this context). Depending on the rate at which microbes survive re-entry into earth’s atmosphere, it might also contribute somewhat to genetic diversity on geological timescales. But it seems compatible with evolution unless I’m misunderstanding something.

As far as his often-quoted “tornado assembling a 747 from a junkyard” remarks, I don’t think I’m qualified to deal with this issue in detail because I’m not a molecular biologist. I do have two things to say, though. First, he seems to be arguing that abiogenesis (rather than evolution) is statistically unlikely. From what I can tell he’s not arguing that natural selection is incapable of producing the diversity we see around us, provided we assume the existence of just one living cell. He’s simply arguing against abiogenesis by saying that the first cell is so improbable that it can’t have formed by chance.

Secondly, abiogenesis is arguably the most mysterious question in biology because of the fact that it happened so long ago and left no trace of how it happened. It will probably remain mysterious until we find other biospheres (crossing my fingers for Mars, Europa and Titan) or find a way to successfully simulate abiogenesis in the lab. I haven’t read his explanation of how he arrived at his claim that “the cell has one chance in 1040,000 of forming.” And, again, I’m way out of my depth here, but I’d like to go out on a limb and suggest a possible flaw in his analysis. As far as I can tell, he seems to be examining the simplest cell he can find, and calculating the probability of the entire cell simply coming together all at once (from random molecular motion, perhaps).

I think that he’s made a crucial assumption: that no simpler living organism can exist. Maybe the first living organism was considerably simpler– just a strand of RNA or DNA and some very crude molecular machinery to replicate itself from surrounding amino acids. Something about as complicated as a virus attached to a ribosome would be more likely to form by chance than a full-fledged cell. Such an organism would’ve been alone on a world full of liquid water that serves as a transport mechanism and abundant raw materials in the form of other amino acids. With no competition, it would’ve copied itself (imperfectly) an unbelievably large number of times until its progeny filled up the biosphere– at which point natural selection would really start to kick in as resources became scarce. Because the original organism was the result of chance alone (and therefore not optimized in any way), natural selection would easily be able to improve on its basic design, to the point that the original organism would be killed off by its own mutated offspring. The acquisition of more complex traits like cell membranes is less of a statistical problem in this scenario because of the huge numbers of living organisms involved, and the (potentially) hundreds of millions of years they had to develop these traits before they became large enough to leave fossils.

So far, this is just the crazy hypothesis of a non-biologist. I wonder how it could be tested…

  1. Maybe we could estimate how many amino acids were in the earth’s primordial oceans (multiply their number density by the volume of water) and how long they “stewed” before the first replicating molecule emerged.
  2. The time question is tricky– the best I can do at the moment is to apply an extreme upper bound based on the date of the first observed fossil, which if memory serves is something like 200-300 million years after the earth cooled enough to form oceans.
  3. Based on this information, we could calculate the most complicated structure likely to form by chance on earth in that amount of time.
  4. This “maximum allowed size” would then have to be compared to the “minimum size that would allow for self-replication” (with the constraint that it has to at least be based on RNA or DNA, otherwise it could never give rise to creatures like us).
  5. I’m not sure how to arrive at this “minimum replicator size,” but I suspect that once computing resources become large enough, we could eventually perform a simulation of every possible configuration of “N” amino acids (and probably other molecules commonly found in all cells) immersed in a solution that approximates the primordial ocean.
  6. Perform that simulation (at different temperatures, pressures, amino acid concentrations, inside different substrates such as ocean water, crystals, clay etc.) for N=1,2,3,4… until the simulated structure makes a copy of itself.
  7. Then create it for real in a beaker and see if it actually replicates. If it does successfully make a copy of itself (which might not be identical but still must be able to copy itself) then call that “N” the “upper bound on the minimum replicator size.”

I won’t be satisfied with abiogenesis until these two sizes are shown to be comparable.

A question that troubles me is: “what if the minimum replicator size always remains much larger than the largest structure that could form by chance?” How long should we continue to search this enormous computational phase space for a replicating structure simple enough to explain the speed with which life emerges? I’m honestly not sure how to answer this question.

I don’t mean to imply that such contrary ideas are common among practicing scientists: they are not. But is that because the ideas are profoundly and obviously wrongheaded, or simply because it’s professional suicide for anyone less renowned than Sir Fred Hoyle to confess public doubt in evolution? Science is an old boys’ club: break the social taboos and you’ll be shunned — a process otherwise known as peer review. If you think that science is a dry, dispassionate, truth-finding machine (rather than a thoroughly human, political, and perception-driven process) then I can only assume you’ve never submitted a research paper through a review process. Just about anyone who has (regardless of field, I’m sure) will have had the experience of getting back reviewer comments and thinking, “FFS, did you even read what I wrote?” If you have an argument that seems sympathetic to creationism, you won’t get published in a bastion of evolutionary thought no matter how damn good your argument is: it will be dismissed as “creationist rubbish” on the first skim-read.

First of all, I don’t see how the popularity of an idea has anything to do with its veracity. Secondly, you seem to be saying that there are many PhD biologists who see huge, gaping flaws in evolutionary theory, but stay quiet to preserve their careers. Couldn’t you test this assertion by giving a lot of biologists anonymous surveys about evolution? If it’s completely anonymous, they wouldn’t need to conceal their true feelings, they’d be free to speak their minds about evolution. If your conspiracy theory is correct, such a survey would reveal massive discontent among biologists about evolution, no?

Assume, for the sake of argument, that some sort of supernatural being did, in fact, create the natural world using a supernatural process (by which I mean that it flagrantly violated known laws of physics, such as mass/energy conservation). Does this not leave the whole process of naturalistic science as one of pursuing falsehoods? The true explanation (a supernatural creator) is ruled out a priori by the method of investigation. Naturalistic science (as it relates to origins) would be the process of finding the most credible falsehood about the origin of things.

The fundamental problem is that we call certain phenomena “supernatural” because they can’t be described by natural laws. Unfortunately, our understanding of natural law is woefully incomplete, so it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to distinguish between a natural (but not yet currently understood) phenomenon and a literally supernatural phenomenon– one that simply can’t be described by natural laws… by anyone… ever. If the scientific process included a “supernatural” option, it would be used on a daily basis because people (including scientists) are lazy. It’s a lot easier to postulate a supernatural cause instead of spending decades of hard labor to uncover a naturalistic mechanism.

I’ll give you an example, related to the story I told in my first post. Newton replaced the non-naturalistic explanation “angels push the planets around” with inverse-square gravity, but he later fell into the supernaturalism trap himself. When contemplating the long-term stability of the solar system, Newton couldn’t explain why the planets hadn’t already spiraled into the sun or been flung out of the solar system altogether. He declared the answer as follows: “This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

And, really, that was the end of the discussion for about a century. It wasn’t until another scientist, Pierre-Simon de Laplace, approached the problem from a naturalistic position that a truly scientific answer came to light. He used a perturbative expansion to show that the solar system is dynamically stable even over long time periods. The math involved is quite nasty– I’ve stumbled through it several times and I’m quite sure that I could never have derived it on my own. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Laplace’s perseverance. His stability analysis would eventually lead scientists to predict and later discover stable points in space, known as Lagrange points, where satellites can be kept at fixed positions with respect to planets. Newton’s supernatural explanation, on the other hand, could never have predicted anything– it’s completely useless.

The pattern I’ve just described has repeated itself through history countless times. Some people, when faced with a gap in their knowledge, invoke a supernatural explanation instead of performing the arduous task of searching for another explanation. Scientists, on the other hand, view these mysteries as challenges, and attempt to discover the natural laws that govern unexplained phenomena. In a very real way, we owe all our current technology to our predecessors’ search for naturalistic explanations.

Now to answer your question about naturalism being unable to uncover the truth about a supposedly supernatural origin of the universe. If there are literally supernatural forces at work in the universe (at the present time or in the past) then by definition they cannot be described by natural law. In this scenario, science will eventually fail– we won’t be able to describe the big bang no matter how many millennia we throw physicists at the equations and no matter how powerful our telescopes or particle accelerators become. This monumental failure would be evidence that there are supernatural forces at work in the universe. The real question is how long we should wait when science “stalls” in its never-ending quest to explain the universe better before we declare naturalism (and thus science) dead. Again, I don’t even know how to begin to answer this question.

I’ve sometimes seen creationists bashed for having no real theories of their own, but merely trying to pick holes in evolution. Given the importance of falsification to scientific theory, would you not agree that “anti-evolutionists” provide a vital service to science, even if they have no alternative theory? Every field needs its sceptics, devil’s advocates, and foils.

I agree that educated, constructive criticism is the very lifeblood of science. With all due respect, the problem is that very few creationist arguments qualify as such. While I cannot claim to have read every creationist argument in existence, I have read several dozen and every single one has disappointed me. The arguments usually fall into several categories:

  1. Uneducated arguments that could be easily avoided if the creationist would simply go to college. This includes people like Kent Hovind (Dr. Dino). Examples include: “If we descended from apes, why are apes still around,” and “Carbon dating can’t establish the existence of an old earth because it only gives accurate answers for things less than 100,000 years old.” Every time I hear an argument like this I cringe– someone’s clearly working with a high school understanding of radioactive dating. If this person would take some serious collegiate science classes (or at the very least learn how to use google) they’d learn that isochron dating is the method used to date very old rocks. Carbon dating is just the simple method we teach to high school students. There are many other examples of this type of argument, but my fingers are getting tired.
  2. Arguments based on very old research that have since been corrected by more recent work. Examples would include “Piltdown man is a hoax!”, “the thin dust layer on the moon disproves an old earth,” “polonium halos disproving radioactive dating,” etc. Again, creationists would do us all a huge favor if they’d learn how to use “Web of Science” or “Google scholar” to search for new research before they start to bash 50-year old science.
  3. Arguments from ignorance. Michael Behe and his intelligent design proponents are the most prominent examples of this fallacy. Their arguments usually go like this: “Because we (or in many cases, I) don’t yet understand how this particular feature could have been produced by natural selection, we should give up the search and announce that a supernatural deity created it.” Laplace and I disagree with this approach, as do the vast majority of other scientists.

I’m not saying that all creationist arguments are this vapid, but I certainly haven’t seen any compelling creationist arguments.

Why can’t we view the whole “Intelligent Design” movement as a programme to falsify the principle of natural formation?

Because there’s no way to distinguish literally supernatural phenomena from natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. If your approach was adopted, science would come to a screeching halt because every confusing mystery in science (of which there are many) would simply be declared evidence for supernatural intervention.

If “natural formation” in the broad sense can’t be falsified, then it’s not a scientific theory, right?

Right. Naturalism is an axiom of science; scientific theories flow from that assumption. It can’t be tested in the same way that scientific theories can. On the other hand, if this assumption is wrong, it will eventually become obvious because some facet of the universe will not be able to be described by any conceivable natural law.



Written by The Famous Brett Watson on May 27 2007, @10:42PM

Thanks for a much more thoughtful reply than average for this thread. Sadly I can’t give your reply all the time it deserves, because I’ve chosen to reply to quite a few already, as well as having my original post modded up to Interesting+4 and then back down to hell by angry mods. I’ll cherry-pick a couple of points on which to comment, though.

Arguments based on very old research that have since been corrected by more recent work.

Well, that’s part of the problem with attempting to falsify evolution. What was once a valid objection becomes invalid because the target moves. Before we knew how much dust was actually on the moon, for example, long-age theory made “lots” the obvious prediction. Now that we know how much dust there is on the moon, we have a post hoc explanation for it in terms of long ages. This also applies to all the human ancestor candidates that have come and gone. If you want anti-evolutionists to keep up with all the latest developments, give them funding specifically to find flaws in the latest pro-evolutionary findings.

That doesn’t pass the laugh test, of course. Nobody is going to fund anti-evolutionary research if they are pro-evolution, no matter how hard they wave the flag of falsificationism. A particularly Machiavellian pro-evolutionist would fund the most incompetent researchers he could find to be devil’s advocates, just so he can point at all the failed falsification attempts as evidence. But I digress.

Arguments from ignorance. Michael Behe and his intelligent design proponents are the most prominent examples of this fallacy.

This objection irks me. It seems that the people who accuse Behe of arguing from ignorance provide refutations in the form of arguments from credulity. Behe points out complex systems and says “remove any one piece and the system breaks.” His opponents respond, “so it happened some other way.” Where does the onus lie? This seems to be another situation where the two sides never truly engage: Behe is a sceptic with regards to naturalism — he doubts that such and such a system could possibly form naturally. His opponents are already persuaded that “naturally” is the only way anything forms, so they give a just-so story about how it might possibly have happened, and consider the case closed. This doesn’t satisfy Behe’s scepticism, of course: he wants an answer that addresses the difficulties with at least the same amount of detail that he’s put into pointing them out in the first place.

The problem for any kind of intelligent design theorist is that natural-formation theorists of any kind (such as evolutionists) already believe that the structures in question can form naturally, and that adding a designer is unnecessarily complex. It’s not clear to me what sort of evidence can be presented to the naturalists in support of ID theory under these conditions. It’s one of those situations where the ID theorist is obliged to prove that something could not happen. How do you prove that a particular construct is so unlikely to form via natural processes that its formation would be miraculous? If an ID theorist says, “see, it can’t have happened this way,” a naturalist can always respond, “so it happened some other way.” Even when the naturalist is relatively specific about how it might have happened (a just-so story), this is never accompanied by an actual demonstration of the process (which would prove the possibility, rather than it being a mere speculative suggestion); rather, it is left to the ID theorist to try to raise doubt about it.

So I’m really not happy with this whole tactic of dismissing Behe as “arguing from ignorance.” What are the appropriate standards of proof here? How do we decide whether naturalist explanations are actually plausible? This seems like a tremendous area of credulity among evolutionists (who take immense offence at the suggestion that they are credulous). What’s a man like Behe supposed to do to demonstrate his case? The onus probandi here seems insurmountable for the ID theorist.



Written by Dumb Scientist on May 28 2007, @02:29PM

Thanks for a much more thoughtful reply than average for this thread.

Right back at ya.

Sadly I can’t give your reply all the time it deserves, because I’ve chosen to reply to quite a few already, as well as having my original post modded up to Interesting+4 and then back down to hell by angry mods.

For what it’s worth, I’d have modded you +1 interesting had I not posted. (Slashdot has a moderation system– users can rank each post positively or negatively to adjust its score, and controversial posts’ scores can fluctuate wildly.)

Well, that’s part of the problem with attempting to falsify evolution. What was once a valid objection becomes invalid because the target moves.

Evolution in particular, or science in general?

Before we knew how much dust was actually on the moon, for example, long-age theory made “lots” the obvious prediction. Now that we know how much dust there is on the moon, we have a post hoc explanation for it in terms of long ages.

First of all, I’m not sure that obvious prediction was “lots.” After reading these two pages, it looks like there was just one guy (Pettersson) providing data that implied a large amount of dust. He did so by making a number of bad assumptions, such as the assumption that any nickel in the air must be coming from meteors.

Secondly, your “post hoc explanation” sound bite gives the impression that scientists looked at the amount of dust on the moon and fudged the numbers to make it fit. The actual process involved measuring meteorite impact rates using satellites above earth’s atmosphere to avoid earthly contamination, which resulted in an estimate 1000x less than Pettersson’s. This estimate was then subjected to an independent cross-check by comparing them to average amounts of meteorite dust found in sedimentary rock, and they agreed.

If you want anti-evolutionists to keep up with all the latest developments, give them funding specifically to find flaws in the latest pro-evolutionary findings.

What’s special about the field of evolution that makes the usual scientific process break down? Every other field of science follows the same basic process: researchers present evidence which is then checked for accuracy by their peers. What is it, specifically, about evolution that requires tacking a separate step onto the process of peer review? Why not give that (limited) funding to people who have problems with modern medicine or plasma physics or heliocentricity? Before you answer, note that I don’t really see a qualitative difference between most creationists and the arguments presented at these sites (especially the heliocentricity site). Is there a difference, other than the fact that you believe one rather than the other? (I’m crossing my fingers hoping you’re not a geocentrist.)

This objection irks me. It seems that the people who accuse Behe of arguing from ignorance provide refutations in the form of arguments from credulity. Behe points out complex systems and says “remove any one piece and the system breaks.” His opponents respond, “so it happened some other way.” Where does the onus lie?

His opponents are already persuaded that “naturally” is the only way anything forms, so they give a just-so story about how it might possibly have happened, and consider the case closed.

Behe is making an extraordinary claim, namely that the evolution of a specific structure (take your pick from his examples) will never– repeat, NEVER– be explained in full detail. Furthermore, he’s arguing that this (predicted) failure isn’t evidence for our collective stupidity. No, instead he jumps to the conclusion that this (again, predicted) failure is proof of supernatural meddling in the world. In other words, he’s making a hell of a lot of assumptions to come to the conclusion that science as we know it is dead.

That’s a very audacious claim: he’s essentially saying that there is no reason to believe in natural laws at all, because if natural laws can be broken in even one instance, then there’s nothing (except the Whim of An Angry God, to turn a phrase) to prevent Him from changing the laws tomorrow. This would change science as we know it into a kind of theological detective work: “Well, objects seem to have been falling in the ‘downward’ direction since the dawn of human history (6000 years ago, of course), but that might just be a practical joke that God is playing on us. Maybe tomorrow objects will fall up, so I should tether myself to the ground just in case.”

As I stated earlier, the scientific method simply can’t include a supernatural option. If it existed, it would be used whenever the “going got tough.” If you think that Behe’s claims are legitimate proof of supernatural effects, I ask you to consider the fact that Behe is just the most recent addition to a long line of people who have found God’s hand in mysteries of nature, only to have later scientists uncover completely natural laws. (I wish there was a list of these kinds of predictions/debunkings on the internet… I’d imagine that they must number in the hundreds.) What makes Behe’s claim any different than Newton’s claim that God is required to stabilize the solar system? (Other than the fact that we now know Newton was wrong.)

As far as ‘arguments from credulity’ go, I’d say they’re sufficient (for the moment) because mainstream scientists are making a much less bold claim: all they’re saying is that they have reason to believe that the evolution of the structures Behe is pointing at will eventually be understood. They’re not saying “case closed,” they’re saying “Okay, that’s an interesting mystery. We’ll put it on the shelf with all those other countless mysteries science has to deal with eventually, and get to it when we’ve got better evidence.”

On a more specific note, I’d say that one of the reasons Behe is so widely ridiculed is that he makes incredible claims (“this structure could never have evolved because removing one piece breaks it”) while ignoring the fact that the function of that particular piece could have changed since it first came into being. I’d refer you to Dawkins’ “just so” explanation of how the eye evolved; each newly evolved part simply improves the performance of the earlier, cruder, eye. Only later does, say, the lens or the pupil become a necessary part rather than an unnecessary enhancement.

Behe’s objections are useful in the sense that they point out (currently) poorly understood areas of biology, but we simply don’t know enough (because most of the structures he lists don’t leave fossils) to be able to rule out the “just so” explanations. And that’s what would be necessary to convince me; Behe would have to show that every conceivable sequence of evolutionary steps would be unable to produce the structure in question. If this sounds like an extraordinary onus, remember that he’s making an extraordinary claim: he’s stating that something will never– NEVER– be satisfactorily explained. That’s something most scientists wouldn’t be reckless enough to say over a couple of beers at a bar, let alone in a peer-reviewed journal.

It’s one of those situations where the ID theorist is obliged to prove that something could not happen. How do you prove that a particular construct is so unlikely to form via natural processes that its formation would be miraculous? If an ID theorist says, “see, it can’t have happened this way,” a naturalist can always respond, “so it happened some other way.” Even when the naturalist is relatively specific about how it might have happened (a just-so story), this is never accompanied by an actual demonstration of the process (which would prove the possibility, rather than it being a mere speculative suggestion); rather, it is left to the ID theorist to try to raise doubt about it.

I agree that eventually a demonstration will be required. Due to the immense time required to witness the evolution of an eye, we’ll probably have to settle for computer simulations of these evolutionary sequences. For the time being, speculative suggestions are all we have. I’m satisfied with the situation for now because of the scant evidence available from paleontology and the computing resources necessary to produce a convincing simulation. Remember that all I’m really saying is “I believe based on these ‘just so’ scenarios that the evolution of these structures will eventually be understood on a deeper level.” This is really no different from my position on quantum gravity: “I believe that general relativity and quantum mechanics will eventually be successfully combined into a more perfect theory of gravity.” The fact that we’ve been trying unsuccessfully to quantize gravity for almost half a century is merely proof that this is a hard subject. A worthy subject for someone to try to tackle. It’s not evidence that the world is fundamentally incomprehensible…



Written by The Famous Brett Watson on May 29 2007, @08:40AM

Well, that’s part of the problem with attempting to falsify evolution. What was once a valid objection becomes invalid because the target moves.

Evolution in particular, or science in general?

Yes. It’s a problem with science in general, but evolution is a particularly hard case. It’s a very malleable theory in the broad, and entertains some diverse possibilities. It can move at the speed of a just-so story, whereas physicists are generally constrained in their storytelling by a lot more mathematics and experimental data. It’s much easier to find counterexamples for theories of physics that miss the mark, so long as technology is keeping up with the problem. Evolution has it around the other way: it can be hard to find data that contradicts a theory — or even find enough data to make people consider that the evidence might actually contradict the theory — but new theories only have to adjust the story to fit that new data. This can be as simple as, “so maybe the dinosaurs were wiped out by famine rather than a big impact, then” — and now the falsifier (having just persuaded everyone that it wasn’t an asteroid) has to demonstrate that it couldn’t have been a famine.

I should point out that this isn’t unique to evolution. I like to think of science having a spectrum from “harder” to “softer.” “Harder” sciences provide falsifying data more readily than the “softer” ones. Mathematics is perhaps the hardest of all sciences, and metaphysics the softest (if you’ll allow the looser use of “science” to cover non-physical subjects). Bits of evolution are modestly hard — where it has hard data like genes, for instance. Bits of evolution are really soft — fossils are soft data that aren’t very amenable to experiment, and are more or less compatible with a lot of explanations. The sciences that Popper accused of being Pseudoscience I think were just too soft for his tastes. There is no real cut-off point.

What’s special about the field of evolution that makes the usual scientific process break down? Every other field of science follows the same basic process: researchers present evidence which is then checked for accuracy by their peers. What is it, specifically, about evolution that requires tacking a separate step onto the process of peer review? Why not give that (limited) funding to people who have problems with modern medicine or plasma physics or heliocentricity?

Well, you kind of missed my point. First of all, I’m not talking about a breakdown in the scientific process: I’m talking about taking falsificationism seriously, since it’s frequently accepted as a tenet of science. If you’re going to be serious about falsificationism, you need to construct experiments with the intention of disproving a theory. The worst person in the world to whom you can entrust this task is the person who came up with the theory. Even if he’s not emotionally invested in it (ha! as if!) then he’s still probably got the wrong kind of mental approach to the problem. Ideally you give the task to competent researchers who are inclined to think the theory is wrong, and think they know how to falsify it. If they are any good as researchers, they will provide a great service whether they succeed or fail. They need to conduct experiments which could, in principle, produce data that would clash with the theory. If they fail, they produce data that supports the theory; if they succeed, they demonstrate a flaw in the theory. It’s win either way.

This is pretty much how it works in the field of cryptography. Someone comes up with an algorithm they think is pretty neat and has certain properties. Others hack away at it with all the malice they can muster. Most algorithms are “falsified” sooner or later (with respect to the properties they claim to have). This is exemplary applied falsificationism in action.

As for which areas should be funded — I don’t know — that’s a political matter. My point is that there should be “anti-science” funding of this sort: funding dedicated specifically to falsifying theories. My first impression on the subject is that there should be some sort of balance between positive and negative investigation, although not necessarily simultaneously: initial research will always be of a positive nature, and falsification is by necessity a follower.

Finally, note that I’m not suggesting that this “negative science” isn’t happening in practice. I think it should be more actively and specifically encouraged, that’s all. I sense a problem in that many evolutionists complain that creationists don’t have theories of their own, but just pick on the theories of others. That shouldn’t be perceived as a problem — it should be perceived as modern science in action. In that sense, I think that evolution is a special case. It’s something of a sacred cow, and scientists in general need constant reminding that science has no sacred cows. If something is looking like a bit of a sacred cow, desecrate it by throwing your best sceptics at it. No cow is too sacred.

That’s a very audacious claim: he’s essentially saying that there is no reason to believe in natural laws at all, because if natural laws can be broken in even one instance, then there’s nothing (except the Whim of An Angry God, to turn a phrase) to prevent Him from changing the laws tomorrow. This would change science as we know it into a kind of theological detective work: “Well, objects seem to have been falling in the ‘downward’ direction since the dawn of human history (6000 years ago, of course), but that might just be a practical joke that God is playing on us. Maybe tomorrow objects will fall up, so I should tether myself to the ground just in case.”

Dear me, no — that’s a terrible interpretation of Behe, and of the relationship between science and the supernatural. You’re posing a dilemma where none exists. Your dilemma is that either “all is natural” or “science is not possible.” But science is about finding lawful behaviour in the universe, and not everything has to be explicable in terms of laws for science to be possible. So long as there is some discernably lawful behaviour, science is possible. And, frankly, there is a known kind of lawlessness in the universe: anything nondeterministic. Likewise it’s not the end of the world if science can’t find laws capable of accounting for the production of life. Science isn’t required to explain everything in order to be valid and worthwhile (although some folks want it to be the first and last word in knowledge).

Your “Whim of an Angry God” motif is interesting, but it sounds like you insist on naturalism because you fear the alternative. Given that the universe is a highly lawful and stable sort of place on the whole (although not a deterministic piece of clockwork, apparently), does that imply anything about the character of the God responsible for it, if such exists? Assume that God can operate outside natural law at whim, or modify natural law at whim: what does it say about his character that the universe has (apparently) operated under the same laws (modulo the occasional reported miracle) since the initial bootstrapping? Can we surmise that he’s at least not capricious?

Similarly, you speak of science that permits the supernatural as being “a kind of theological detective work.” Oddly enough, that is (as far as I can tell) a pretty apt description of Kepler’s [wikipedia.org] attitude to science, and an attitude that gave us the likes of him can’t be all bad. Kepler said that he was thinking God’s thoughts after him, or words to that effect. I think of science as a special case of reverse engineering. So long as you’re doing the actual analysis, rather than constructing untested (or untestable) just-so stories that involve God, it’s science.

Beyond that, I’ve said all I want to say for now on the subject of Behe in response to a different post [slashdot.org].

Remember that all I’m really saying is “I believe based on these ‘just so’ scenarios that the evolution of these structures will eventually be understood on a deeper level.”

I wish the element of faith in that stance was more widely appreciated.



Written by Dumb Scientist on May 31 2007, @11:53AM

Sorry for the delay. I tried to install Kubuntu on a software RAID array and it completely nuked my MBR– I had to reinstall Windows from scratch. Fun fun fun.

… evolution is a particularly hard case. It’s a very malleable theory in the broad, and entertains some diverse possibilities. … it can be hard to find data that contradicts a theory — or even find enough data to make people consider that the evidence might actually contradict the theory — but new theories only have to adjust the story to fit that new data. … Bits of evolution are modestly hard — where it has hard data like genes, for instance. Bits of evolution are really soft — fossils are soft data that aren’t very amenable to experiment, and are more or less compatible with a lot of explanations.

Based on these statements, and links you provided in another post, it’s clear that you think evolution produces no predictions and is not falsifiable. I don’t agree, because as far as I know there are many potential falsifications (click on parts 1,2,3,4,5 for long lists of potential falsifications) for evolution and lots of verified predictions.

I especially like this quote from Origin of Species: “If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.”

What predictions can creationism offer, and how can we falsify it? As far as I can tell, the answers are “none” and “it’s not falsifiable.” Creationism is compatible with every conceivable discovery. For instance, it’s strange that all life we find uses the same DNA bases (which is a specific requirement of common descent). But it’s also compatible with creationism because, even though God could have created every species with different bases of DNA (or something even wilder) to provide obvious proof that common descent is false, He obviously chose not to, presumably because His Ways Are Mysterious. It’s strange that the fossil record shows a general progression from simpler, less diverse organisms in the distant past to more diverse and complex organisms in the “recent” past (which is a specific prediction of evolution), but this is also compatible with creationism because God (or Satan?) could be playing games with our heads.

I noticed your link to “Message Theory,” but I’m surprised that you would consider this to be a valid example of a prediction. As far as I can tell from the book synopsis and this review, the author is basically saying “the prediction of intelligent design is that intelligent design is obviously correct and no other interpretation is possible.” Isn’t that tautological? It’s like saying “evolution predicts that evolution is correct and no other interpretation is possible.” Notice that none of the predictions or potential falsifications I have mentioned or linked to follow this pattern…

SPOILER ALERT — DO NOT READ THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU PLAN ON READING “CONTACT” BY CARL SAGAN….. Incidentally, did you ever read the novel Contact (NOT the movie)? At the end of the book, Sagan’s heroine discovers an obvious, indisputable message encoded in the digits of pi. This is what I would consider to be definitive proof of God’s existence, and a true example of the discovery of a message from an intelligent designer.

I sense a problem in that many evolutionists complain that creationists don’t have theories of their own, but just pick on the theories of others. That shouldn’t be perceived as a problem — it should be perceived as modern science in action. …

I completely agree with you here.

Dear me, no — that’s a terrible interpretation of Behe, and of the relationship between science and the supernatural. You’re posing a dilemma where none exists. Your dilemma is that either “all is natural” or “science is not possible”….

I think you’re right. After re-reading my last message, I believe I let my personal belief (metaphysical naturalism) interfere with my scientific objectivity (which includes methodological naturalism). I retract my statement, and I’m sorry for any confusion I caused.

Please allow me to restate my objection. I’ve been relatively unclear about the definition of naturalism (though I believe my very first post implicitly defined the terms correctly when I stated that science does not imply atheism). Metaphysical naturalism, the assumption that reality is completely governed by natural laws, is an axiom I hold on a personal level. It has no place in a scientific investigation, though. Sometimes I (almost) wish I were a theistic scientist so that I could more convincingly emphasize the difference, but I’m sure one of my colleagues can step up to the plate on this matter. The naturalism I should have been emphasizing all along is methodological naturalism– the idea that scientific theories should involve purely natural, objective laws, without attempting to assert that this naturalism is true on a deep metaphysical level. Hereafter I will refer to methodological naturalism as “naturalism,” and not refer to metaphysical naturalism at all because it’s nearly synonymous with atheism.

As I’ve said before, I believe that science absolutely requires naturalism for two reasons. First, supernatural explanations are compatible with any and all eventualities, therefore they are not falsifiable and do not provide unique predictions.

Second, if science allowed supernatural explanations as a legitimate recourse, they would be used far too often because we can’t distinguish poorly understood natural phenomena from genuinely supernatural phenomena:

  • Laplace never would’ve studied the stability of the solar system, so NASA wouldn’t know to put the SOHO and WMAP satellites in their respective Lagrange points.

  • The question of why atoms are stable despite the predictions of classical electrodynamics would’ve been answered in the same way Newton explained the solar system’s stability, so quantum mechanics (along with much of modern technology) wouldn’t have been discovered.

  • The precession of Mercury’s orbit would’ve been dismissed as “Allah pushing the planet around,” so we never would have discovered Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, without which GPS devices can’t function accurately.

  • The missing 2/3 of solar neutrinos would’ve been explained as “Ra’s chariot soaking up the neutrinos on their way to earth,” so neutrino oscillation would never have been proposed and proven, which would cause our cosmological models (if ‘science’ of this kind could even lead to such models) to be inaccurate because we wouldn’t know that neutrinos have a non-zero rest mass.

  • Cosmic rays with energies above the GZK limit are currently unexplained. Should we bother looking for a naturalistic explanation, or just say they’re “Jesus particles”?

  • Should we continue to try to quantize gravity, or announce that the obvious impossibility of such a feat is proof that the universe contains a message from its Intelligent Designer?

If you think that any of these examples are silly, exactly how are they different from Intelligent Design? I’d really like to know.

I’m also confused by a point you made in another post. To paraphrase, you asserted that an analysis of planetary motion that results in a mathematical model like Newton’s leaves open the possibility that angels push the planets around in precise accordance with inverse square gravity (I agree). Then you said that evolution applies the principle of naturalism differently, but I don’t understand why.

Your astronomy example describes science correctly in the sense that an unexplained phenomenon is investigated by proposing natural laws, without trying to assert that these natural laws are “explanations” of reality in a deep metaphysical sense. It seems like the appropriate evolutionary analogy here is between evolution and theistic evolution. Evolution analyzes an unexplained phenomenon (life on earth) and proposes natural laws (natural selection, common descent, etc) to explain it. Theistic evolution, like “angels pushing the planets around with precise instructions,” simply tries to explain this “apparent natural law” in terms of the supernatural. Thus it seems to be a much better match with your analogy. Young earth creationism*, on the other hand, would be more analogous to Ptolemaic astronomy with an infinite series of epicycles; it disputes the natural law itself rather than proposing a supernatural explanation for the “apparent” natural law.

* By the way, I guess I should ask which variant of creationism you hold, so that I don’t accidentally create straw man arguments…

And, frankly, there is a known kind of lawlessness in the universe: anything nondeterministic.

Interesting point. I think that examples of “nondeterminism” can be split into two categories. Classical nondeterminism, such as weather, is simply an example of chaotic systems which are exponentially dependent on initial conditions. Their apparent “nondeterminism” is the result of our inability to perform accurate enough measurements. I don’t consider this category to be true nondeterminism.

The collapse of a quantum wave vector, on the other hand, is more truly random. For example, an electron passing through a Stern-Gerlach apparatus will either go up or down with probability 50%, but quantum mechanics in its present form cannot predict which way an individual electron will go. I don’t want to call this phenomenon “lawlessness” because there are very strict statistical constraints that quantum mechanics demands of the electron’s behavior. In addition, the “nondeterministic” behavior of this system is at least partially removed by an alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics known as the “many worlds interpretation”. Many physicists, myself included, are partial to this interpretation because it involves fewer assumptions than the conventional interpretation and it avoids some subtle inconsistencies in the mathematics of wave function collapse. I’m not entirely sure that the randomness inherent in wave collapse such as the Stern-Gerlach experiment will be removed by the many worlds interpretation, but it certainly makes the Schrodinger equation (that underlies quantum mechanics) deterministic.

Remember that all I’m really saying is “I believe based on these ‘just so’ scenarios that the evolution of these structures will eventually be understood on a deeper level.”

I wish the element of faith in that stance was more widely appreciated.

Ouch! I’ll try to avoid taking offense and simply try to explain why I don’t think that accusation is true. Note that I’m just a scientist, not a philosopher, so I may be defining terms incorrectly or being sloppy in my reasoning. I define faith as “belief in a proposition that is not supported by empirical evidence or logical arguments.” This definition has a bit of subjectivity to it; how does one decide the amount of evidence necessary to support reasonable belief in a proposition?

My answer is to say that the amount of evidence required for a particular proposition is proportional to how “extraordinary” that proposition is. One determines the “extraordinariness” of a proposition by judging it against previously established facts. For example, I believe in the existence of Moscow even though I’ve never seen it, but that’s because the existence of cities is an established fact to me, and the non-existence of Moscow would require explaining why lots of newspaper stories have been written about it. In order to believe in the existence of an alien, I would have to see it with my own eyes as well as proving to myself that it has no DNA or RNA. This is because I’ve never seen anything like an alien before– the established existence of an alien would be a huge change in my worldview.

Note that this means the element of “faith” inherent in one’s belief in a proposition is relative to one’s previously established facts. This is a serious problem, as it only takes one false “fact” to throw a person’s reasoning out of contact with reality altogether, though he will believe himself to be perfectly rational in reference to his collection of “facts.” Because of this, I spend a great deal of my time trying to identify assumptions in my reasoning and questioning whether or not they’re actually necessary.

Regarding my assertion that the evolution of the eye will be understood on a deeper level someday, I don’t think I’m using faith. My reasoning is based partially on a historical argument: in the ~400 years that science has been working to explain the mysteries around us, it’s been enormously successful. Methodological naturalism has taken us from geocentrism and the “humour-based” medicine of the dark ages and given us black holes, supernovae, relativity theory, quantum mechanics, modern medicine, computers, etc. It seems like a remarkably effective process. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a couple of instances where science hasn’t yet uncovered natural laws: abiogenesis, quantum gravity, the first 10-31 second after the Big Bang and dark energy. Most of these examples are new; they’re problems introduced by the solutions to other, older problems. If methodological naturalism has worked for centuries, I don’t think that I’m using faith to bet that it will continue to work.

As far as the specific example in question, the evolution of the eye (my quintessential example of ID because I don’t understand the molecular examples), I think I’ve got other sound reasons for believing that we’ll eventually uncover the evolutionary sequence that produced it. I say this because evolution simply requires all structures to be produced using a series of relatively small changes, each of which is a useful adaptation by itself. Dawkins’ hypothesis seems to satisfy both of these criteria. The only remaining question, in my mind, is to show that each step requires a mutation that is probable enough to happen “quickly” enough to account for the speed with which eyes evolved. Note that I believe a person would be using faith to a certain extent if he said “okay, that’s convincing– case closed.” I do want to see proof that these probabilities are “large enough” to explain the issue.

On the other hand, I also recognize that this proof will require massive computer simulations, so we may not realize it for several decades. At the moment I regard it as one of the (almost uncountably infinite) mysteries that science cannot currently explain down to the last decimal place. I view our current inability to explain these structures as an example of our ignorance rather than as evidence that supports evolution or creationism, and I don’t think that I’m in bad company here. As a wise man once said:

No, you can’t find fault in God’s creations because you don’t understand 1% of how it works. The chances that your “design flaws” are correctly explained in terms of you having made an ignorant error are just way too high.



Written by The Famous Brett Watson on June 01 2007, @10:17AM

I tried to install Kubuntu on a software RAID array…

I’ve had a related experience with software RAID and loss of data. What a miserable experience that was. Let’s just say that I am never again going to attempt an upgrade where any live filesystem is using software RAID (unless I truly don’t care whether I lose the lot). And now back to the topic at hand.

…it’s clear that you think evolution produces no predictions and is not falsifiable.

Broadly speaking, you are correct. The “Message Theory” book spends quite some time criticising the theory on this front. The blog I linked to in that other post [slashdot.org] does a good job (IMO) of criticising the very proposed falsifications to which you link. As for Darwin’s remarks, I don’t believe that support for his theory would buckle in the slightest under such evidence. After all, the situation he describes could easily be attained under a scenario of neutral evolution, don’t you think? Under that explanation, the structure wouldn’t have evolved for the other species, but just evolved as a matter of neutral drift. We could even argue that this benefit to the other species may have resulted in a symbiotic benefit of some sort in return, and then we have a selective benefit.

I think that evolution is almost infinitely adaptable like this, and is thus unfalsifiable. Evolutionists are willing to claim that certain scenarios would invalidate the theory, but in practice it’s just certain specifics that get abandoned in the face of such evidence — if anything. The broad, naturalistic shape remains the same.

Actually, I wrote an essay in 2005 on the subject of creation/evolution and the distinction between science and metaphysics. I’ve just re-read it, and I’d wind up repeating a fair slab of it here in response to much of what you say. Perhaps you’d care to read Don’t Shoot the Creationist [nutters.org] and see how much it clears up my position for you. Certain of your questions aren’t so directly relevant to it, though, and I’ll try to answer them here.

I noticed your link to “Message Theory”…

I do so having read the book. I probably still have it here somewhere. Message theory in short is the hypothesis that life was designed specifically to look as though it (a) was not the product of a natural process, and (b) was the product of a single designer. The author discusses how these design goals conflict: emphasising the unity of design can lend weight to the “all life is related” hypothesis present in evolution; emphasising the differences in design can lend weight to the “multiple creators” hypothesis. Much of the evidence for evolution can also be presented as evidence for the “single designer” hypothesis; the interesting part is the “not a natural process” hypothesis, which is where it diametrically opposes evolution.

Of course this re-raises the interesting question as to whether we can discern, scientifically, the difference between a natural process and one that involved agencies not in evidence (like a creator, or a factory, or whatever). As we’ve seen in this very discussion, strongly held metaphysical beliefs tend to substitute for evidence. Further, although we recognise manufactured products in our daily lives, we don’t seem to have any agreement on whether life looks like such a thing. The evolutionist says that life resembles a smooth pebble, easily explained by natural processes; the creationist says that life resembles a stone arrowhead, shaped by a force with a purpose in mind. How do you tell the difference?

SPOILER ALERT — DO NOT READ THIS PARAGRAPH OR THE REPLY IF YOU PLAN ON READING “CONTACT” BY CARL SAGAN…………………………………. …Sagan’s heroine discovers an obvious, indisputable message encoded in the digits of pi.

For the sake of scope containment, I’m not going to discuss this from any angle, other than to say that Message Theory posits life itself to contain such a message. I doubt that any such theory is actually “indisputable,” though. Would you, personally, be persuaded of divine authorship if I could find some simple mathematical relationship between the written Hebrew creation account in Genesis chapter 1 and a well-known constant like pi or e? Or would you attempt to undermine it by looking for a similar relationship to Shakespeare or “War and Peace”?

…methodological naturalism– the idea that scientific theories should involve purely natural, objective laws…

This works for strongly mathematical theories, since what you call “methodological naturalism” is most exemplified by finding laws with strong but simple mathematical descriptions. Kepler’s laws were exemplary in that they turned a huge pile of data into three simple and strongly mathematical laws. Astronomy knew that there were patterns in planetary motion prior to this — it was Kepler’s analysis of that copious and quite accurate data that led him to his discovery, and the data itself demonstrated the excellence of the theory by harmonising with it so much better than any theory of circles and epicycles. Newton was an improvement over Kepler by way of unifying the three laws into a single mathematical relationship which also applied to all bodies of mass. Einstein was an improvement over Newton because although his equations were more complex, they contained Newton’s as a special case, and applied more accurately to certain extreme conditions.

Taken to this level, you might call it “mathematicism” (to coin a term), and point to Lord Kelvin as an adherent of it. Although he never (to the best of my knowledge) described himself as “mathematicist,” he said some quotable things that were strongly supportive of the view that real science must be mathematical. Kepler had a mathematical model instead of a pile of data. Newton had a simpler, more general mathematical model. Einstein had a more complex model which generalised better over a wider range of observations. We still don’t have the Grand Unified Theory that everyone wants. I’m not exactly “mathematicist,” myself, but I consider mathematical models — especially deterministic (rather than statistical) models — an indicator of scientific strength and maturity. Statistical models are softer, and an absence of mathematics is positively mushy.

Evolution (in its capacity as an explanation of the past) is almost entirely non-mathematical. It’s also almost entirely non-deterministic. For example, we’re told that birds evolved from a dinosaur ancestor. Evolution in no way predicts this — it’s an inference based on our knowledge of current bird and reptile anatomy, and the fossil record. But nothing about the available evidence actively supports the hypothesis that this was a natural evolution over a hypothesis that it was an act of progressive creation or similar. At this point, your only real basis for choosing “natural evolution” over “progressive creation” is an appeal to metaphysical naturalism, not methodological naturalism. The difference in the two theories is not how law-like they are, or what evidence they view, but rather in the entities they posit to explain the data. One says, “known laws will do”; the other says “known laws are not enough.”

I can anticipate another objection here: if known laws are not enough, then we should find new laws that are. This is metaphysical naturalism speaking again, because metaphysical naturalism holds that laws are enough. Strict naturalism does not allow such unruly concepts as intention and volition which carry the suggestion of something other than pure numerical necessity driving the process. We see structures all around us which are the product of these things, and the creationist thinks, “gee, an organism looks a lot like a really complex machine, so maybe it is one.” The metaphysical naturalist objects, saying that ultimately we ourselves are just deterministic machines, so all these artifacts of ours are ultimately natural products of the same mathematical inevitability, and there’s no need for all this unruly, supernatural, magical nonsense — so give me natural laws or confess ignorance!

You see, to my way of thinking, anyone who has good access to data about how life works, at either the macro or micro level, will think that it looks like a designed machine unless that whole concept of intelligent design is metaphysically unacceptable to them. I think you’re trying to justify your non-design stance in terms of this “methodological naturalism” to which you refer, but you can’t divorce it completely from metaphysical naturalism, and the latter keeps sneaking back in through the back door. You could solve this by resorting to “mathematicism,” but you’d disqualify a great deal of Evolutionary science — and historical sciences in general — from classification as science in the process.

I guess I’d like to leave it there, although there are one or two other points to which I could respond. I don’t like discussions to expand out of control. My closing challenge to you is this: can you really divorce your methodological naturalism from your metaphysical naturalism? If so, can methodological naturalism still offer unequivocal support for evolution over creation? I think the answer is clearly that it can not meet both criteria, but you’re welcome to try.

Last modified February 6th, 2012
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76 Responses to “A conversation regarding “intelligent design””

  1. grendelan posted on 2008-11-05 at 00:35

    That was a fascinating read. I am humbled by deeper intellects than mine. I must say, however, that at an intuitive level, no matter how eloquent or footnote-laden a Creationist argument is, I can’t get past the simple fact that:

    Someone accepted a belief system before they were capable of critical thinking, and would rather go through an endless series of back-flips and contortions than re-examine those beliefs.

    • I am humbled by deeper intellects than mine.

      For the love of Zeus, don’t be!

      First of all, I’m simply a “knowledge parasite.” I’ve contributed very few (if any) original insights to the collection of human knowledge; nearly all of what I say has been gleaned from the brilliant work of other people.

      Second, feeling humbled by someone else is the first step to accepting their assertions without critically examining them. And as far as I’m concerned, believing anything without sufficient proof is a devastating character flaw. If I were religious, I’d say that having faith is THE mortal sin, which is why I was so scandalized when I was accused of having faith in this conversation.

      I realize you weren’t doing that, I just wanted to warn you that it’s not too big a leap from being humbled by someone to blindly accepting what that someone says…

    • Epilogue

      Despite being asked to leave it there, my position has changed slightly over time, so an epilogue is in order. Specifically, I’ve abandoned metaphysical naturalism and become an agnostic. This hasn’t changed how I look at evolution specifically, but it does subtly affect the way I approach science as a whole.

      I think it’s best to view science as a subset of philosophy. Philosophy is the search for truth, regardless of metaphysical assumptions. It includes theology, which is the search for truth under the assumption that reality isn’t completely governed by natural laws: that God holds ultimate power. Science, on the other hand, is the search for truth with the recognition that it’s only possible to test explanations which use natural laws. That doesn’t make untestable answers wrong… just unscientific.

      Here’s a relevant quote from Carl Sagan:

      The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.

      I think that Sagan’s statement needs to be slightly amended. Science only provides an asymptotic approach to the truth if the universe can be described by natural laws. As a result, I think Brett was right to say that science is effectively searching for “credible falsehoods.” That is, the answers obtained by restricting one’s attention to falsifiable, naturalistic explanations are only accurate if a completely objective reality exists.

      If science is revealing credible falsehoods, these falsehoods will either be proven wrong by sufficiently sensitive experiments, or they will always be undetectable. I’m not sure I should be concerned by undetectable flaws in a scientific model, and I hope to spend the rest of my life trying to discover detectable flaws in current models.

      Also, I got involved in another Slashdot discussion regarding creationism, and copied some of my posts here.

      Update: One point I cut from my essay regarded the irony of the “missing link” argument. Every transitional fossil we find merely creates another gap that can be used to manufacture even more unwarranted doubt. This general principle also applies to other forms of pseudoscience.

  2. This is a fascinating discussion- I caught a little of it at /., but laid out like this, both arguments are served much better.

    I have a healthy skepticism for ‘science’ that cannot be modeled with math. As such, I can not believe in evolution (or sociology for that matter). If a mathematical model emerges that validates evolution, or conversely; the Flying Spaghetti Monster, count me in. In the meantime, it doesn’t resemble science so much as it does a creative writing class (on both sides).

    I don’t just demand proof, I demand proofs!

    Great post, though.

    • Thanks for the feedback.

      I’m grateful to Brett for making it clear that he was skeptical of what he called evolution’s slipperiness– its lack of mathematical precision. That seems to be your position as well.

      I have a certain amount of sympathy for this type of skepticism. I’ve even had my own brush with it. After the conversation finished, I realized that the abiogenesis test I proposed wouldn’t rule out natural abiogenesis even if the minimum replicator size was somehow conclusively shown to be larger than the structure that could form on Earth in ~200 million years.

      That’s because we have no knowledge about how many Earthlike planets simply never develop life because abiogenesis is so unlikely. Perhaps only one in a million watery planets ever spawns even the smallest, most primitive life form. Or perhaps the process takes much longer on most other worlds. We just don’t know. Until we get to study biospheres other than Earth, we also won’t know how small the minimum replicator size really has to be in order to explain the apparent speed of abiogenesis.

      So my proposed falsification of abiogenesis will be more difficult than I first thought. It will be nice once we finally get data about Europa’s ocean to add another potential biosphere to our statistics, and maybe Mars will be useful to some extent. But the ability to firmly falsify abiogenesis would require either massive computation power or an ambitious galactic exploration program which is centuries ahead of our current abilities.

      I think this setback is more an indication of my ignorance about exobiology than an indication of “slipperiness,” though. On the other hand, it’s probably also true that some subfields of evolution are in their infancy and as a result can’t yet give predictions with firmly established margins for error.

      But evolution as a whole just isn’t comparable to an unfalsifiable concept like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or intelligent design. Here are two of the reasons why I believe that:

      1. If a fossil is ever discovered significantly “out of place,” like the fossil of a chimp laid down in Precambrian rock strata, that would be the end of evolution. Intelligent design is utterly indifferent to the fossil record because the Creator could simply have designed an intentionally deceptive fossil record.
      2. It’s strange that all life we’ve studied uses the same DNA bases– a crucial requirement of common descent. However, a Creator who wanted to leave an indisputable proof of intelligent design could have given every species a unique biochemistry that couldn’t possibly have arisen through common descent. This is why I was confused when Brett mentioned Message Theory. It seems like the Creator either used evolution to create life (Catholics take this position) or the Creator manually fine-tuned all life on Earth to look like it had evolved from a common ancestor even though it really didn’t. Again, notice that intelligent design is compatible with any experimental outcome, whereas evolution would have been abandoned if every other creature we studied had different nucleic acids.

      So I must take issue with the idea that this is a level playing field with creative writing on both sides. Evolution is falsifiable science, while intelligent design is a religious belief.

      Note that I’m not saying intelligent design is wrong! I am, in fact, saying that it’s fundamentally impossible to prove intelligent design wrong…

      • Marble posted on 2009-03-24 at 14:44

        (Ed. note: This conversation was copied from here.)

        I suspect this;

        The creator started with a base and built out from there. He wasn’t interested in creating indisputable proof of his existence, he was interested in creating. And you could even take the story of Adam and Eve as corroborating evidence in that the creator would take one creature as a base to build upon in order to create another. E.g. the creator took a rib (read bone with marrow containing adult stem cells if you will) from Adam and created Eve. Within the species granted – but it’s a precedent of a creator using another creature as a base. Yes it’s XY -> XX I know (no new information perhaps), yet the bible had this all powerful creator but portrays him as using one creature to make another..

        Point #1 – Ancient animals alive today contradict evolution (turtles, crocodiles, octopuses, horseshoe crabs etc) – because there should be no standing still in evolution – EVERYTHING is changing whether climate, geography or the continual arms race that is ‘eat or be eaten’. There can be no such thing as ‘the perfect design’ (unless it’s the one that destroys all other life and maintains perfect control over it’s environment) or likewise a longstanding ‘niche’ in evolution would be unlikely.

        Point #2 – as I mentioned – assumes the creator wanted to create indisputable proof of his existence – which assumes we would know the motivation of a supreme being’s – which is a large assumption given that we presumably aren’t comparable to such a being and (talking christian creator for instance – cause he’s the common comparison) there is no biblical evidence that he ever set out to create indisputable evidence. Actually the bible says he chooses who he shows himself too – I suspect in the way we choose our own friends – eg see somebody who’s cruel and unjust, petty etc – we wouldn’t want to make them our friend right? But those who have a heart for others…perhaps it’s those he will reveal himself to (even if they believe in evolution :P ).

        Also on point #2 – assuming a creator building from a base could create what would be seen as inexplicable branching of the evolutionary tree. Eg. – large land animals that became large sea animals. How can a slow moving large land animal evolve through intermediate phases into an ocean already chock full of specialized sea creatures? It’s currently a ‘mystery’ how these ‘leaps and bounds’ of evolution occurred. But for the creator – he could have easily mixed a pinch of elephant with a dash of dolphin. (and if treating this lightly makes it loose credibility in your mind – then I pity your mind – for the concept is key).
        So Point #2 is rather pointless or at least a straw man argument – as it doesn’t articulate or defend the rather bold assumptions it makes of it’s version of the creator.

        Mind you – I’ve yet to read the P’s link – so … ah well – I just perused the link somewhat and what I say above is nothing compared to the excellent writings of The Famous Brett Watson – so I’ll hold further comment and end here.

      • Ancient animals alive today contradict evolution (turtles, crocodiles, octopuses, horseshoe crabs etc) – because there should be no standing still in evolution…

        I fail to see how a slow rate of evolution in some species “contradicts evolution.” The best example is the Coelacanth. How is it problematic that this fish evolved into a local maximum for its relatively unchanging marine environment?

        Point #2 – as I mentioned – assumes the creator wanted to create indisputable proof of his existence … Point #2 is rather pointless or at least a straw man argument – as it doesn’t articulate or defend the rather bold assumptions it makes of its version of the creator.

        You’ve missed my point. I’m not saying that the uniform nature of DNA is proof that life couldn’t have been created by God. In fact, I’m saying the exact opposite. I’m saying that the statement “God created life” is compatible with the evidence “all life uses the same DNA” as well as the evidence “each species has its unique DNA with different nucleic acids.” But, as I point out, evolution is only compatible with the evidence “all life uses the same DNA,” which means evolution is falsifiable science and creationism is theology instead.

      • Marble posted on 2009-03-24 at 14:55

        How is it problematic that this fish evolved into a local maximum for its relatively unchanging marine environment?

        Because at the very least other creatures should have been evolving into its niche, and forcing the species to evolve. And also the implication that any ‘modest / intermediate’ changes were significantly detrimental (who couldn’t use another fin? :P ) such that those modifications perished. I don’t believe it has been demonstrated that that fish achieved such a ‘perfect’ design – clearly you’ve assumed that by its long existence that it has – but there is nothing particularly remarkable about it despite its age, particularly since evolution by its nature should also be able to overcome the remarkable in its constant arms race.

        But, as I point out, evolution is only compatible with the evidence “all life uses the same DNA,” which means evolution is falsifiable science and creationism is theology instead.

        But isn’t that another straw man? You (in that sentence) equate one falsifiable scenario for evolution and saying since it doesn’t correspond for creationism – that creationism is theology instead.

        And I don’t even think it’s as falsifiable as you’re expecting. What if there were other non DNA types of life at the beginning (the creator experimenting / evolution doing it’s thing) – but DNA was finally chosen because it had the highest utility / fitness?.

        It’s claims like this that also make evolution look like a theology ;)

        Re falsifiability – As I mentioned earlier – inexplicable branches of the evolutionary tree surely count – although difficult to prove with a patchy fossil record granted. But the lack of evidence one way or the other doesn’t remove the falsifiability of the claim.

        Also – a big one also is that when biology / micro biology finally comprehends physiology, running computer simulations should be possible to calculate the requirements and the odds required for each micro/macro step of the evolution of the species. Creationism should say / says that when those odds are calculated – they’ll be way too high to perhaps even fit into the time frame of millions of years. So evolution should go bust then.

        Sure – you can never defeat the argument that God uses evolution. But I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing ID (that doesn’t use evolution) has falsifiable predictions – and that last one particularly is more like an either/or for evolution & ID.

      • But isn’t that another straw man? You (in that sentence) equate one falsifiable scenario for evolution and saying since it doesn’t correspond for creationism – that creationism is theology instead.

        What I meant was that evolution has made many predictions which, if wrong, would have demolished the theory. That’s just one of those tests. However, there isn’t a single test of creationism/ID. There can’t be- any proposed test could be countered by the statement “Perhaps that’s just the way God designed things. He’s trying to test your faith.”

        And I don’t even think it’s as falsifiable as you’re expecting. What if there were other non DNA types of life at the beginning (the creator experimenting / evolution doing it’s thing) – but DNA was finally chosen because it had the highest utility / fitness?.

        You’re talking about a shadow biosphere. It’s possible that abiogenesis happened several times, so finding two types of DNA wouldn’t falsify evolution. What I’m talking about is the scenario where every species in existence has a different set of nucleic acids in their DNA. Millions of separate abiogenesis events would completely destroy evolution. Ergo, it’s possible to find evidence which would disprove evolution. Ergo, evolution is falsifiable science. What similar evidence could you find that would disprove creationism?

        Also – a big one also is that when biology / micro biology finally comprehends physiology, running computer simulations should be possible to calculate the requirements and the odds required for each micro/macro step of the evolution of the species. Creationism should say / says that when those odds are calculated – they’ll be way too high to perhaps even fit into the time frame of millions of years. So evolution should go bust then.

        I’ve explored the idea that computer simulations can falsify evolution here. You’re right to say that this is an interesting and effective test. But it’s a test of evolution. It’s yet another way to falsify evolution. It wouldn’t falsify creationism in the slightest if those simulations showed that evolution could happen fast enough to account for the fossil record. After all, God is subtle and His Ways Are Mysterious. Perhaps He made life appear to have evolved, when He really created it with a snap of His fingers. Omnipotence and conscious whims can’t ever be tested, because there’s no limit to what God could do. There’s no way to perform an experiment and say “God definitely didn’t do this.”

        Sure – you can never defeat the argument that God uses evolution. But I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing ID (that doesn’t use evolution) has falsifiable predictions – and that last one particularly is more like an either/or for evolution & ID.

        Wait… when did you offer these falsifiable predictions for creationism/ID? Please repost them, because apparently I missed them. So far I think that you can’t defeat the argument that God uses evolution, and you also can’t defeat the argument that God created everything in 6 days. Please show me specific falsifiable predictions that could… in principle… falsify creationism/ID.

      • … I don’t believe it has been demonstrated that that fish achieved such a ‘perfect’ design – clearly you’ve assumed that by its long existence that it has – but there is nothing particularly remarkable about it despite its age, particularly since evolution by its nature should also be able to overcome the remarkable in its constant arms race. …

        No, I’m not assuming anything of the sort. I just don’t see anything unusual about some creatures remaining morphologically similar over geological time. Remember that we can’t recover intact DNA after millions of years so we don’t really know how genetically similar ancient coelacanths are to modern coelacanths. We also can’t examine much of the differences in soft tissues. Their behavior patterns may have evolved tremendously over that time… we just don’t know.

        But even if they’re identical in every way, that doesn’t make a coelacanth “perfect.” Just very well adapted to its niche. In a world with countless billions of species, am I supposed to be surprised that some of those species are very resilient to change? Are you under the impression that evolution requires that all species’ phenotypes change at the same rate?

      • Marble posted on 2009-03-24 at 15:01

        Are you under the impression that Brownian motion requires the same number of molecules to collide with the side of a container over the same amount of time? It’s all random – so there’s no such requirement… however statistically….

        And that’s where I don’t accept your niche argument – from an evolutionary standpoint – I can’t accept that niches occur over such *long* periods of time…

        It’s like the wall of the container – it’s only random chance that any gaseous molecule should collide with it – however they’re (statistically at least) practically guaranteed to.

        So the above should give you some insight as to why I have trouble with the niche argument. So much is evolving (and mutation should be occurring randomly & relatively equal to all species (actually greater to more complex ones I imagine if you consider a mutation every X steps along each DNA molecule)) that I can’t accept there can be any ‘stable’ niches without some mutating creature encroaching on it… Nature abhors a vacuum for a reason ;)

        But if you accept evolution is true – then of course niche’s obviously have to happen – because it has. It’s modifying the model to add another assumption in (and I say assumption at this point because it appears to be an exceptional claim – requiring exceptional proof).

        On a side note – this is the issue I have with arguing against evolution (and ignoring the ones against creationism for now – which i’d mostly probably completely agree with you on anyway) – when scientists/people have no (shall we say) believable alternative… then little problems like the niche issue over tens of millions of years sometimes aren’t given the due weight consideration and skepticism.

        I’m sure you can see my point – and I’d wager you’d have reasons for dismissing it?

      • Are you under the impression that Brownian motion requires the same number of molecules to collide with the side of a container over the same amount of time? It’s all random – so there’s no such requirement… however statistically….

        And that’s where I don’t accept your niche argument – from an evolutionary standpoint – I can’t accept that niches occur over such *long* periods of time…

        Interesting analogy. It needs to be quantified, though. Suppose there are N diatomic hydrogen gas molecules in a cubical container of width X at a temperature T. It’s possible to calculate the odds that a particular side of the container won’t have any gas molecules hit it for some short time deltaT. This probability is very nearly (but not quite) zero for larger deltaT values (i.e. it’s virtually certain that at least one gas molecule will collide with the bottom at least once a day.) The point is that you can write down a relatively simple equation based on the given variables that will give you this probability.

        I think what you’re saying is that these stable evolutionary niches represent a spectacularly improbable scenario- like the idea that gas molecules won’t hit the bottom of the container at all on Wednesday. The problem is that I don’t think you can derive the probability of those niches persisting with anywhere near the same amount of rigor.

        For instance, try to define the problem. There are N(t) species on Earth, where N varies as a function of time. Each species has a similarly time-dependent rate of phenotype change P(t), but I don’t have the foggiest idea how to define this in a fashion that could be useful in the type of experiment you’re proposing. Perhaps to start with we could just measure the number of fins on the fish at any point in time, and define P(t) as the rate at which new fins are added or old fins become vestigial. (Obviously this is a ridiculous oversimplification, but I just don’t know how to turn “rate of phenotype change” into an single variable.)

        What you’re saying is that the coelacanth has a very low integral of P(t) (i.e. cumulative phenotype change) over a very long timespan. I agree, except for the caveats in my last post. But then you say that this low integral of P(t) is somehow a problem for evolution. That’s where I get confused, because I don’t see how to calculate the probability that out of N(t) species, some of them will have an integral of P(t) over some timespan that’s lower than a particular value (i.e. the probability that the coelacanth’s phenotype doesn’t change so it looks the same as its ancestors). That’s what I’m really interested in- some kind of quantifiable result that shows how implausible it is that the coelacanth remained the same over millions of years.

        I can’t write down that probability because I don’t know N(t) (we don’t really know how many species never made it into the fossil record). I can’t figure out how to define P(t) in anything but a childishly simplistic manner. I can’t figure out exactly what the fossil evidence means in terms of how low the integral of P(t) for the coelacanth is (see my last post). I also don’t know how many species had similarly low integrals of P(t), which would completely alter the probability. The rate of phenotype change P(t) is driven primarily by mutation or changes in selection pressure, probably both in varying degrees. It will be different for each species based on their lifespan, environmental conditions, reproductive method and many random factors.

        In short, this looks like a very hard problem.

        What you’re proposing is (yet another) interesting test of evolution. And I encourage you to try to rigorously define the problem in the same way that the “box of molecules” problem can be defined. If you succeed in determining a way to define that probability, please let me know!

        On a side note – this is the issue I have with arguing against evolution (and ignoring the ones against creationism for now – which i’d mostly probably completely agree with you on anyway) – when scientists/people have no (shall we say) believable alternative… then little problems like the niche issue over tens of millions of years sometimes aren’t given the due weight consideration and skepticism.

        I think they are, it’s just that evolution has been absurdly politicized in the United States so little of that debate reaches the general public. Many people in the general public really do react on knee-jerk level, dismissing other people’s ideas out of hand like you’re clearly expecting. Scientists find that distasteful, so we tend to argue among ourselves.

      • Marble posted on 2009-03-24 at 15:07

        Thanks for giving the concept serious thought.
        Yes – in lieu of the quantification of said probability – it does come down to an instinctive call on whether it’s probable (enough) vs improbable (which can be deceptively tricky when dealing with statistics/probability).

        I’ll just emphasize that a low P(t) creature is obviously at a disadvantage due to an inability to adapt to/against creatures with a higher P(t). I know you’re including selection pressures in that function – but I’m just pointing out that I would expect a exceptionally high selection bias against creatures that mutate slowly. But again – that’s just my instinctive feeling. ;)

        On another thought – what do you think of creatures that have ‘evolved’ the ability to regrow limbs & organs (or possibly we have just lost it)? But I would have thought that that would have almost been the holy grail (pardon the term ;) ) of evolution – yet the few creatures that have that capability are ‘insignificant’ newts and what not, that hardly seem like dominant species. To me that’s an ability that never loses its advantage (even when food is scarce). Whether your vertebrae are crushed in a fall, a croc rips an arm/leg off… your ability to attract mates / defend / fend for yourself after said disasters would give a fantastic evolutionary advantage.

        BTW – I might visit your website at some point – I have been pondering lately about putting my world view down in words because though while it obviously will not be mainstream – I’m fairly happy with its internal coherence. It attempts to integrate religion (not all obviously – but my own understanding and experience of it), science (and there’s enough maverick science in there to keep the crackpots happy) and err… is there anything else? :P

      • I’ll just emphasize that a low P(t) creature is obviously at a disadvantage due to an inability to adapt to/against creatures with a higher P(t). I know you’re including selection pressures in that function – but I’m just pointing out that I would expect a exceptionally high selection bias against creatures that mutate slowly.

        In general that’s probably true. In fact, some scientists believe that sexual reproduction evolved because genetic recombination allows for a higher mutation rate than asexual reproduction. (Otherwise, it’s a lot easier to reproduce by cellular fission- no mate required.)

        On another thought – what do you think of creatures that have ‘evolved’ the ability to regrow limbs & organs (or possibly we have we just lost it)? But I would have thought that that would have almost been the holy grail (pardon the term ;) ) of evolution – yet the few creatures that have that capability are ‘insignificant’ newts and what not, that hardly seem like dominant species. To me that’s an ability that never looses it’s advantage (even when food is scarce). Whether your vertebrae are crushed in a fall, a croc rips an arm/leg off… your ability to attract mates / defend / fend for yourself after said disasters would give a fantastic evolutionary advantage.

        Remember that individuals don’t evolve, populations evolve. The ability to regrow a limb is fantastically useful on an individual level, but it’s probably more beneficial for the population as a whole to simply have lots and lots of babies. A similar question is “why do all creatures age?”, which hasn’t been answered to my satisfaction.

        Limb regeneration might only work for small creatures, and it might carry dangers like an increased risk of cancer, but I don’t know for sure.

      • Marble posted on 2009-03-24 at 15:13

        Re: falsifiability of creationism.

        Well – if your definition for creationism is that God did use evolution – than all falsifiabilities(?) for evolution obviously get inherited by that hypothesis of creationism ;)

        But if you say God didn’t use evolution, but rather his designs evolved and he just happened to instantiate every now and then (he released often as all good programmers should) – then I would expect
        *inexplicable branches / gaps in the evolutionary tree (where God didn’t bother with the intermediate life forms).
        *new unattached branches due to inexplicable combinations of significant chunks of DNA from different species combining in a new creature.

        So lack of those items would invalidate my proposal.

        I guess a young earth would also be in my proposal too – so there’s whole host of stuff in there. Like I’d have to explain how fossils are buried so deep etc etc.

        I gotta get that world view down ;)

      • Well – if your definition for creationism is that God did use evolution – than all falsifiabilities(?) for evolution obviously get inherited by that hypothesis of creationism ;)

        Most people would call that theistic evolution, which is scientifically indistinguishable from evolution. The Catholic church holds this position, along with most of my religious colleagues.

        But if you say God didn’t use evolution, but rather his designs evolved and he just happened to instantiate every now and then (he released often as all good programmers should) – then I would expect *inexplicable branches / gaps in the evolutionary tree (where God didn’t bother with the intermediate life forms). *new unattached branches due to inexplicable combinations of significant chunks of DNA from different species combining in a new creature.

        So lack of those items would invalidate my proposal.

        If every species had a different set of DNA bases, evolution would’ve been utterly demolished. That’s why it’s science- evolution makes a very specific claim, and is highly vulnerable to new evidence. Your proposal, on the other hand, is dependent on your personal interpretation of what God “should” do. As such it’s compatible with any and all discoveries. For instance, why would God have to create inexplicable gaps? Why couldn’t He create species in exactly the right order with exactly the right intermediates that they “could have” evolved that way?

        Hopefully we can agree that the fossil record shows a general progression from simple microbes to trilobites to reptiles to mammals, so it seems like God was already creating kingdoms and phyla in that manner… how would your proposal be invalidated by the discovery that this method of creation extended all the way down to the species level?

      • Marble posted on 2009-03-24 at 15:18

        Just a minor correction though – I’m not proposing what God ‘should’ do – but what I suspect he has done. In this regard I could be completely wrong about how he’s gone about it.

        So I’m definitely not saying God would have to create inexplicable gaps – I’m just putting forward the hypothesis that they would naturally occur due to him being able to think ahead a little – as it were – before he instantiated his newest designs (where as evolution would need to go through x number of mutated instantiations to get there). Obviously this assumes a creator that may appear a little more limited because he didn’t create everything in the wink of an eye – but if you take the view that the creator enjoys life – and wanted to enjoy his creation, and even the act of creating it – then why the rush? He can make stuff at the pace of his pleasing…

        So I guess I presume that God did not care to instantiate a creature for every little intermediate step that evolution more or less requires.

        So – No gaps – I’m wrong & evolution (and Catholicism …nooo!!! :P ) is looking good. Gaps (very hard / impossible to prove i know), evolution down the chute, debates on who is the creator begin ;)

        But you’re right – I need to develop some more falsifiable predictions. I think that’ll largely appear once I’ve precipitated my ideas into written form.

        And I’ll definitely kick in some comments to your website though. Now that I know you’re a theoretical physicist (I’m just a humble programmer) I might pick your brains on some good particle simulation software. ;)

      • Marble posted on 2009-03-31 at 09:26

        A workmate passed on the Jan edition of New Scientist. Its cover story was on the tree of life and how it no longer looks like a tree due to HGT (Horizontal Gene Transfer). One of the stand out examples it mentioned was of a sea urchin (I think) that its DNA was composed of half and half from two distinct branches of the tree. It was slotted under one branch traditionally – but with genome sequencing – it appears to equally (and so far inexplicably) belong to both.

        Obviously no one in the article is crying out ‘evolution is dead – long live ID’, but I thought I’d point that I mentioned that ‘code reuse’ across species (obviously excluding small amounts that can be demonstrated to be reproduced by viral DNA injection) was something I was envisaging as an (ideally falsifiable) distinction between ID & evolution. A similar DNA reuse for land animals/mammals would be far more compelling though – with all those marine creatures just casting off their eggs & sperm into the deep blue – there would have to be an extended argument on how the egg of one + the sperm of another didn’t just ‘make it’.

      • A workmate passed on the Jan edition of New Scientist. Its cover story was on the tree of life and how it no longer looks like a tree due to HGT (Horizontal Gene Transfer).

        The article in question describes a fascinating renaissance in evolutionary biology brought about by comparisons of creatures’ DNA, RNA and protein sequences. Biologists constructed independent “trees of life” based on these sequences, and were shocked to find that they were sometimes quite different even for the same organism. In short, this implies that sharing of genetic material between different species occurred to a greater extent than scientists previously appreciated.

        However, note that “previously” refers to the period before 1959 when horizontal gene transfer was first described in prokaryotes. In 1985, its significance in eukaryotes was discussed. A Scientific American article Uprooting the Tree of Life popularized the concept in 2000.

        I’ve been struggling to understand why creationists seem to consider every discovery to be proof of intelligent design, and have recently concluded that it may have to do with the sloppy manner in which the word “theory” is applied to evolution. Here’s my attempt to define evolution as a metatheory.

        My suspicion is that creationists hear scientists furiously debating the merits of different theories of evolution, and wrongly conclude that they’re ready to abandon the metatheory of evolution.

        The metatheory of evolution could be falsified in the ways I’ve described previously, but horizontal gene transfer isn’t one of them. The emerging story of horizontal gene transfer is simply telling us how much more complicated biology is than we thought even 20 years ago. It’s akin to working introductory level physics problems involving massless ropes and frictionless pulleys, then finding out in later classes that calculations involving heavy ropes and non-ideal pulleys are much harder. But they’re also considerably more realistic, so we trudge through the math. Similarly, the tree of life was a “frictionless pulley” that served our purposes for nearly a century, but it has been replaced by a more complicated web of life. Science always develops simplistic models in an attempt to understand the natural world, and always revises those models when their over-simplifications are revealed through experiment.

        One of the stand out examples it mentioned was of a sea urchin (I think) that its DNA was composed of half and half from two distinct branches of the tree. It was slotted under one branch traditionally – but with genome sequencing – it appears to equally (and so far inexplicably) belong to both.

        According to the article, sea squirts appear to be chimeras, the result of a fusion between an ancestor of sea urchins and an early chordate nearly 600 million years ago. While certainly a bizarre creature, it’s not inexplicable. Creationists routinely label aspects of nature “inexplicable” or “irreducibly complex,” but that’s not a very productive approach to understanding the universe.

        Obviously no one in the article is crying out ‘evolution is dead – long live ID’,

        Of course they’re not, because:

        1. Nothing in that article represents a fundamental problem for evolution. The related editorial explicitly (and presciently) says “Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not.”
        2. Evolution is science, so it’s not competing with religious ideas like creationism/ID. A hypothetical discovery that evolution is completely wrong wouldn’t imply anything about creationism, because creationism has nothing to do with science.

        but I thought I’d point that I mentioned that ‘code reuse’ across species (obviously excluding small amounts that can be demonstrated to be reproduced by viral DNA injection) was something I was envisaging as an (ideally falsifiable) distinction between ID & evolution. A similar DNA reuse for land animals/mammals would be far more compelling though – with all those marine creatures just casting off their eggs & sperm into the deep blue – there would have to be an extended argument on how the egg of one + the sperm of another didn’t just ‘make it’.

        Common descent accounts for the uniformity of DNA bases and shared genes between species in a very specific manner. It can be proven wrong (but hasn’t yet) by sufficiently clever observations as you note.

        On the other hand, asserting that God supernaturally reused code can never be proven wrong. The word ‘falsifiable’ isn’t applicable, because creationism/ID isn’t science. For instance, the discovery that no genes are shared between any creatures is also proof of creationism. That’s because reusing code is merely something that designers do if they’re not immortal, omniscient and omnipotent. Human programmers reuse code because our lives are too short and our brains are too small to constantly rewrite different versions of basic functions, but that’s not applicable to God.

        You’ve repeatedly offered minor variations of the same argument, stating that certain aspects of nature are compatible with creationism/ID. But I’ve been agreeing with you regarding this claim the whole time. In fact, that’s my central point: creationism/ID isn’t science because it’s not falsifiable. Every time I mention this, you provide an example that could falsify evolution and claim that it’s (somehow) a way to falsify creationism.

        Individual ‘notions’ of creationism (they’re not theories) can be– and are– proven wrong when their individual claims are shown to be so absurd that even creationists have to admit it. But the ‘metanotion’ of creationism/ID is that a supernatural deity created life. That can’t ever be proven wrong by any conceivable method. God doesn’t follow any natural laws, so His creation method could look like anything at all. Creationism/ID may be true, but it could never be a scientific theory or metatheory.

        Furthermore, creationists’ attempts to convince the general public that science and religion are the same would destroy science if they ever succeed. I’ve explained why in this very article here and listed examples here.

        Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t have any problem with people holding religious beliefs; I believe that all people have the right to believe whatever they want. The problem is that religion isn’t science. Confusing the two would bring science to a screeching halt, along with the development of new technology.

      • Marbs posted on 2009-07-24 at 04:48

        On the other hand, asserting that God supernaturally reused code can never be proven wrong.

        Perhaps I misunderstand – but if there was no reused code – then clearly it is disproven.

        Please bear in mind – one my assumptions is that God is not intentionally deceptive. And a second is God’s purpose for creating was not to prove his existence (or to deceptively hide it as per #1).

      • Perhaps I misunderstand – but if there was no reused code – then clearly it is disproven.

        First, God’s mechanism for reuse doesn’t have to follow physical laws in the way that horizontally transferred genes do. So a creationist could point to any vaguely similar DNA sequences and say “God reused it supernaturally.” No scientific objection could possibly overcome that claim– though theologians could probably amuse themselves for centuries arguing about whether it requires that God be deceptive.

        Second, as I point out in the next few sentences after the one you quoted (and as I’ve said before), there’s no unique way for a creationist to predict the manner of God’s creation. You’ve claimed that code reuse is a prediction of creationism, but it seems equally likely to me that an omnipotent, immortal God wouldn’t bother with code reuse.

  3. (Ed. note: this comment was copied from here.)

    It is the increasing information contained in the more complex life forms that falsifies evolution of reptiles into birds and monkeys into people. [arminw]

    I’ve seen this argument before, but it’s always seemed less than rigorous. For instance, what definition of information are you using? Most information theorists regard information and entropy to be closely related. So saying “information is increasing” is very similar to saying “entropy is increasing,” which doesn’t surprise me. If you have a definition of information that’s different from Shannon’s, please show me your equation so I can examine it in the same way I can examine Shannon’s definition of information.

    On a more concrete level, there’s a good reason to think that information in the genome can increase over time. Mutations often produce copies of chromosomes, which is what causes Down syndrome. Immediately after this mutation occurs, it only adds a tiny amount of information to the creature’s genetic code because all that extra information can be compressed into the statement “take chromosome 21 and copy it from this start codon to this end codon.”

    But these “extra copy” mutations aren’t always harmful. For instance, many modern food crops are polyploid, which makes them larger and tastier than their diploid ancestors. So it’s not impossible for extra copies to become permanent. In that case, over time both copies will mutate differently, which reduces the ability to compress the extra information into a mere “extra copy.” Thus, information in the genetic code increases according to Shannon’s definition.

  4. (Ed. note: This conversation was copied from here.)

    Science is falsifiable. It produces specific predictions. Creationism/ID doesn’t.

    That’s true about most young earth creationists and the wider ID community.

    There is an organization called Reasons to Believe whose mission is to produce a scientifically testable/falsifiable model for Biblical creationism, from an old earth perspective.

    They believe that God designed the universe for the maximum benefit of human civilization and to fulfill God’s purposes for the universe as quickly and efficiently as possible, and build a model on that. For example, to sustain civilization, humans need 4 billion years of biodeposits. RTB predicts that life appears on earth as quickly as could possibly be allowed under the conditions, and that is what we see. There is evidence of life existing 3.8 billion years ago, just millions of years after the Late Heavy Bombardment. A way to falsify this would be to show that life emerged over hundreds of millions of years, as most evolutionists have tended to assume.

    They also predict that future observations in astronomy will show more and more evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe.

    Another prediction is that since humans are created specially in God’s image, there should be no clear genetic links with hominids. It also explains the sudden burst of such things as advanced tool use, jewelry, and religious artifacts on the scene about 50,000 years ago.

    They have a lot more predictions, many of which are articulated in their book “Creation as Science” by Hugh Ross.

    • They believe that God designed the universe for the maximum benefit of human civilization and to fulfill God’s purposes for the universe as quickly and efficiently as possible, and build a model on that. For example, to sustain civilization, humans need 4 billion years of biodeposits. RTB predicts that life appears on earth as quickly as could possibly be allowed under the conditions, and that is what we see. There is evidence of life existing 3.8 billion years ago, just millions of years after the Late Heavy Bombardment. A way to falsify this would be to show that life emerged over hundreds of millions of years, as most evolutionists have tended to assume.

      I don’t see how millions of years is compatible with creationism, while hundreds of millions of years isn’t. God is omnipotent and immortal, so He could have decided to wait hundreds of millions of years before zapping life into existence. I don’t see how this would be out of character for a deity who spent 1/7 of His creation time resting. (From an old earth perspective, that’s hundreds of millions of years, right?)

      I’ll note that too short a time between the bombardment and the first microbes could falsify evolution. It just seems like there wouldn’t be any way to perform an equivalent calculation for a miraculous creation of life.

      They also predict that future observations in astronomy will show more and more evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe.

      … which wouldn’t affect their position in the slightest if it didn’t pan out. After all, God is subtle and His ways are mysterious. Perhaps He designed the universe to look like it wasn’t fine-tuned, just to test our faith.

      Another prediction is that since humans are created specially in God’s image, there should be no clear genetic links with hominids.

      In other words, hominids shouldn’t share any of our DNA. In fact, they shouldn’t even share our DNA bases- they should have a completely different genetic alphabet. That way, we couldn’t possibly be related to them. That would be clear evidence that evolution was wrong, and it’s one of the simplest ways to falsify evolution. In essence, Darwin made a prediction that all life would use the same DNA many decades before we found out that was actually the case.

      But the fact that this isn’t true doesn’t falsify creationism, because it’s easy to assert that God created all life with the same genetic code as proof that there’s a single creator, rather than multiple deities.

      It also explains the sudden burst of such things as advanced tool use, jewelry, and religious artifacts on the scene about 50,000 years ago.

      Is the modern technological renaissance proof of God’s intervention in the world? After all, our technology has undergone a similar change in the last several centuries. Since it’s usually not possible to date objects that old with a temporal resolution much less than a century, future creationist archaeologists might conclude that the rapid invention of computers is evidence that God was responsible for it.

      And, just like today, no scientists in the future will ever be able to prove them wrong. Because they’re not making falsifiable statements. When omnipotence (or omniscience, or any kind of supernatural power) is an acceptable answer, falsification is impossible because there’s literally no limit to what an omnipotent being could do. Natural, objective laws are annoyingly restrictive and can be proven wrong by clever observations.

      • I don’t see how millions of years is compatible with creationism, while hundreds of millions of years isn’t. God is omnipotent and immortal, so He could have decided to wait hundreds of millions of years before zapping life into existence.

        True He could have, but the point of early life was to 1) transform the environment and 2) provide biodeposits as abundantly as possible. The Bible (Genesis 1:2) seems to imply that God was busy doing something valuable in the early oceans, and creating first life quickly is an obvious interpretation of that. Therefore, an old earth creationism model would reasonably predict life as soon as the earth could possibly sustain it.

        I agree that hundreds of millions of years of nothing would not necessarily falsify creationism completely, but it would add more complex ‘why’ questions. Why would God wait so long?

        I don’t see how this would be out of character for a deity who spent 1/7 of His creation time resting. (From an old earth perspective, that’s hundreds of millions of years, right?)

        For one thing the days are not necessarily the same length, for another thing, most OECs see the seventh day as being in progress now (Hebrews 4 implies that we are still in God’s rest). This seems to be corroborated by the record. Throughout the last tens of millions of years, quite a few new unique species came into existence. But ever since modern humans arrived (which I would say began God’s “rest”), there has been relatively little formation of new species, and those that have formed could probably be explained through evolutionary theory (which I do not entirely reject). In other words, while God was creating, new species that would have a hard time evolving were introduced; now that God is at rest, evolution is all we have to go on for new species.

        And that is also something that can be studied and falsified. Will future studies show that during the last 100k years, the speciation rate was about the same as for the previous 10 million? If so, that poses a serious problem to a creation model. If future discoveries continue to back up what I said, the Biblical creation model gets stronger.

        In other words, hominids shouldn’t share any of our DNA.

        Actually, common DNA and other biology are about the same between humans and nonspiritual animals simply because this is the design that works. God doesn’t have to do too many crazy things like that to prove His existence (I think He has already done more than should be necessary for that.

      • I agree that hundreds of millions of years of nothing would not necessarily falsify creationism completely, but it would add more complex ‘why’ questions.

        And that is also something that can be studied and falsified. Will future studies show that during the last 100k years, the speciation rate was about the same as for the previous 10 million? If so, that poses a serious problem to a creation model. If future discoveries continue to back up what I said, the Biblical creation model gets stronger.

        While I admire your attempt to adhere to the scientific method, I’m not sure that these examples constitute falsifiability in a rigorous sense. If every animal had different DNA bases, that would utterly demolish evolution. All of the predictions you’re offering as falsifications merely seem to add a few more “why” questions (as you say) to an already gigantic stack of “why” questions that theologians have struggled with for centuries. I’m not convinced that a few more mysteries would affect creationism in the same way that a 1950s discovery of non-uniform DNA bases would have affected evolution.

        Actually, common DNA and other biology are about the same between humans and nonspiritual animals simply because this is the design that works. God doesn’t have to do too many crazy things like that to prove His existence (I think He has already done more than should be necessary for that.

        And that’s why creationism can never be science. It’s too easy to use God’s omnipotence and conscious whims to explain away any problems with the model. Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not saying that creationism is wrong, and I’m not trying to bash religion. I’m just saying that it can’t ever be scientific, because any “prediction” will rely on the individual theist’s personal interpretation of what God “should” do. (e.g. it’s perfectly okay that all life uses the same DNA bases, because God’s already done more than He needs to prove His existence.)

  5. (Ed. note: this comment was copied from here.)

    … if we go from rna to dna and then xnv (I made it up) how can xnv eat rna? proteins, carbs and fats? If you want a sustainable circle of life, make it out of the same stuff.

    That’s not the way the circle of life works. Proteins, carbs and fats aren’t directly linked to DNA/RNA. The closest connection between proteins and genetic code is in ribosomes. A different set of DNA bases would require a radically different ribosome, or a completely different method of transcription (the latter possibility would keep RNA the same but allow for totally different DNA.) Animals don’t need to eat DNA, they synthesize it from simpler molecules. All life would have to share some amino acids, because humans can only synthesize 12 of the 20 common amino acids, but there’s no reason all life would need to have DNA with the same structure. (Unless, of course, all life is related…)

    In fact, researchers are working on creating new synthetic life forms that have 12 DNA bases instead of the standard 4.

    • Marbs posted on 2009-07-24 at 05:20

      but there’s no reason all life would need to have DNA with the same structure

      With an ‘all’ powerful creator – perhaps there is no ‘need’ as far as we can tell. But it is what one could expect from a early design choice. And I may be suggesting heresy – but since I’m suggesting code reuse – it would fit in with that premise.

      • I don’t know if you’re discussing heresy or orthodoxy. All I’m saying is that you’re discussing religion of some variety, not falsifiable science.

  6. (Ed. note: This comment was copied from here and here.)

    Science is practically venerated as the pinnacle of all human knowledge. When scientists are challenged on this point, they usually defend the position by attacking the alternatives: asking whether you’d like rockets built by priests, or medical treatment from a witchdoctor, or something like that.

    Not me. I just think it’s a sort of response to tone (DH2). As a result, I don’t know how to answer it constructively– or if that’s even possible at all.

    Copernicanism was considered *unscientific* by the mainstream of the day. … I can relate this back to climate change, or I can relate it back to creation and evolution. There’s a prevalent attitude in science that theories compete in a sort of “elimination match” with each other. Evolution has eliminated creation: it’s no longer even considered proper science to entertain the idea of creation.

    Scientific theories compete in the sense that every new observation either supports or falsifies them. For example, the Ptolemaic system that preceded Copernicanism was a genuine (albeit crude) scientific model because it made specific predictions about the movements of the planets. Careful observations were thus able to prove it wrong.

    But, as I’ve stressed, creationism can’t ever be refuted, because its inherently supernatural properties make it compatible with any potential discovery. On the other hand, I’ve listed two simple falsifications of evolution: chimpanzees in the Precambrian and many species with totally different DNA bases.

    Prior to the discovery of evolution, there simply wasn’t a decent scientific explanation for the origin of species. It’s not that creationism used to be scientific before Darwin; it’s that creationism wasn’t– and couldn’t– ever be scientific. Note that I’m not saying creationism is wrong! Quite the opposite! It’s just not a scientific theory because it isn’t falsifiable.

    Spontaneous generation was a Fact of Science until quite recently.

    Sure, if 1859 fits your definition of “quite recently.”

    How many of today’s theories will be next year’s outmoded ideas? But this doesn’t seem to be a source of embarrassment for scientists, or even a cautionary tale. Instead, they crow about how superior their way of thinking is to that of religions, presenting the straw man that religions are fixed and immutable, whereas science is open to new evidence. Open to new evidence it may be, but that’s no reason to have extra confidence in the theories of here and now: quite the opposite, in fact.

    I’ve discussed a similar issue before, and said “… even religions that explicitly disavow fideism tend to engender a culture of faith, which is anathema to science’s culture of doubt.”

    It’s not that religions are “fixed and immutable,” but rather that they’re based on faith moreso than doubt which means they’re slower to change than science.

    Publication is an intensely political thing — why is the myth of the “objective” scientist still so strong, even amongst those in the thick of it?

    Because I’ve met so many inspiring scientists who work very hard to live up to that ideal. Not all of them, of course. But enough.

    I think the generally high opinion that scientists hold of their endeavour is causing them to be sloppy. After all, if you’re pretty sure that your methods are leading you to correct conclusions, you’re likely to see other evidence which confirms those conclusions. You’re not so likely to attempt active falsification of your conclusions, or to try to find other explanations which also fit the evidence. You are likely to overlook the conflicting data as “anomalous”. Can you see how this might be a problem?

    Actually, yes, I have: “The problem here is that I’ve come to believe that the easiest person for me to fool is myself. That’s because I want to believe the fibs that I tell myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct my reasoning because I’d ignored a piece of evidence that I simply didn’t want to see. So I’m much more cautious than usual when I’m evaluating a situation in which I know that I have an intrinsic bias.”

    I know what you’re going to say! People can dissent on the basis of evidence — that’s perfectly good science. But in actual practice what happens is this: the evidence is considered, a “consensus” is reached on the basis of that evidence, and then further objections on the basis of the evidence are not entertained because it’s already been taken into consideration. The evidence-based objection is no longer considered “valid” at this point.

    Yes, some objections that were once consistent with the evidence at hand later conflicted with other observations.

    … consider the plight of someone who thinks that the fossil record provides strong evidence against gradualistic evolution. That person can cite supporting facts about the fossil record until he’s blue in the face, but the scientific mainstream will just shrug and say, “we know all that — but we still think that gradualism is the best explanation of the facts.” It would be professional suicide (without the protection of tenure) to make “evidence against gradualistic evolution in the fossil record” one’s research speciality — not because it’s unscientific in any way, but because its countercultural and will result in ostracism.

    I can only speak for myself, and I’ve already endorsed Dawkins’ continuously variable speedism, so I completely agree that the fossil record doesn’t support a strictly gradualistic position. But I wonder how many professional biologists still support strict gradualism?

    I have one more wrinkle for you which is more philosophical, and it relates to peer review again. The problem is that anyone can have peers and ask those peers for approval of their work. Creationists have peers and peer reviewed journals. Clearly you don’t want people giving this pseudoscience any weight, so you may want to tweak your criteria about peer review a little further.

    Scientists publish science in peer-reviewed science journals. That results in better science. Lawyers publish law in peer-reviewed law journals. That results in better law. The mere act of peer review doesn’t turn lawyers into scientists, though.

    Similarly, creationists don’t become scientists just by publishing creationism in peer-reviewed creationist journals. As I’ve repeatedly explained, science needs to be defined the way it is because creationist “science” would make mistakes like these. If an alternative scientific method exists which wouldn’t result in the kinds of mistakes I’ve listed, please describe it– along with specific reasons why those mistakes wouldn’t be made– and I’ll consider it.

  7. (Ed. note: these comments were copied from here. As of 2011-03-18 at 17:00 MST, most of the replies to ShakaUVM’s proposed falsification are actually worth reading, so I suggest checking out that link.)

    So politicians now define what an “alternate theory” is? Sorry, but ID is not a “theory”. It’s hogwash, bullshit, dumbfuck, nonsense, insanity or any of a selection of similar terms. It is not even a theory, and definitely not a scientific theory. To cut a long discussion short, it lacks an important part: Falsifiability. [Tom]

    I posted on here a while back a way to make ID a scientific theory by making it falsifiable. A lot of people took that to mean that I supported ID, which wasn’t what I was saying at all. I was just tired of hearing the above quote over and over when it was quite obvious how to make it falsifiable.

    You can read the whole thing in my Journal, but in a nutshell:

    1) ID is not Young Earth Creationism (YEC), though it is primarily used as a smokescreen by YECs.

    2) ID is the belief that evolution is mostly true, but that something “interfered” with evolution, allowing it to overcome the statistical challenges to evolving more complicated life.

    3) To put it in probabilistic terms, consider the world as being a giant casino filled with slot machines, and every time a jackpot is hit in a slot machine, a new species evolves. ID is the claim that someone is interfering with the odds on the machines, evolution is the stance that enough jackpots will be hit without interference.

    4) Put in those terms, it becomes statistically falsifiable (to arbitrary levels of confidence). One simply needs to determine numbers for hitting jackpots / speciation and compare them against the record of events. Or even better, going forward, keep track of the genomes of all species on earth, and see if mutation and speciation rates match theory.

    5) It is possible to develop a statistical method that determines to an arbitrary level of confidence, if species A could have evolved from species B given time duration T.

    One very important point that got lost in all the noise is this: we will need a statistical method to determine intelligent design no matter what. Ignore the whole evolution thing – as our skills with genetic engineering move forward, it will be critical to be able to tell if West Nile 2012 is an intelligently designed species or not.

    • Well, I’m neither an AGW-denier nor a creationist, but at least Mr. Fuckwit would have some basis for calling me an AGW denier, even though my criticisms are valid; the CRU was behaving in an anti-scientific sort of way, and the investigation rightly called them out for it. Calling me a creationist, though, is as stupid a criticism as calling me short. [ShakaUVM]

      FWIW, I believe in AGW, and think it’s a serious problem. Does that sound like a crackpot creationist to you? No? Oh, I guess you don’t fucking know what you’re talking about, do you? [ShakaUVM]

      … referencing the Salem Hypothesis (a reference to Creationism) *was* insulting. [ShakaUVM]

      Thanks for making the record. You sounded just like the Creationists that get really evasive when pressed to explain some of their answers. In fact, saying that they don’t have time to educate people is one of their favorite lines. [ShakaUVM]

      I posted on here a while back a way to make ID a scientific theory by making it falsifiable. A lot of people took that to mean that I supported ID, which wasn’t what I was saying at all. …

      Years ago, I wrote an article defining science using falsifiability, and explained why ID/creationism doesn’t qualify. In it, I pointed out that “Intelligent Design” advocates are humorously evasive about the identity of the Designer, but “wossname” has to be the funniest example I’ve ever heard. Anyway, a computer scientist replied to my article, saying “I’m a creationist” then claimed that a prominent atheist scientist’s belief in panspermia amounted to secular belief in ID/creationism. He argued that “evolution is almost infinitely adaptable like this, and is thus unfalsifiable” which can be rephrased as “you can prove nearly anything using evolution” or “you can sort of argue anything using evolution” or “… With the same rationale, evolution is impossible to falsify as well…”. Like most creationists, he used the term evolutionist liberally but at least he didn’t babble about ID excluding creationism. He also didn’t pull a Ben Stein by trying to link Darwin to Nazis. Brett’s real classy like that.

      Later, Marble joined Andy Schlafly and other “skeptics” in claiming that ID/creationism is falsifiable. However, he never conflated actual falsifications of evolution that have already been performed with a vague fantasy involving time machines and Jurassic Park. Then arminw repeated that absurd argument about information in the genome, and later regurgitated it again. However, none of them claimed that Talk.Origins supported the creationist notion that “no one has observed macroevolution in the wild.”

      Marble and other pseudoscientists also tend to babble endlessly about “black swans” and “Kuhnian paradigm shifts” in contexts where it seems like they’re just playing the “Galileo card”.

      • In the case of West Nile 2012, the designer could be Russia, or Undead Hussein, or whatever.

        The point is we need a statistical test developed for this sort of stuff regardless of the whole evolution debate, and when we have one developed, we could apply it to the DNA record for the past and see what it turns up.

        I doubt it would support ID, but it does make ID falsifiable.

      • The point is we need a statistical test developed for this sort of stuff regardless of the whole evolution debate, and when we have one developed, we could apply it to the DNA record for the past and see what it turns up.

        As I said, if we had a Jurassic park time machine to collect DNA samples from the past, that might be feasible. But without a time machine, DNA simply doesn’t last long enough for any sort of rigorous analysis. Even using a time machine to collect DNA samples, it’s not clear that it would be possible to distinguish a rapid change in natural selection pressures from the work of a supernatural designer.

        I doubt it would support ID, but it does make ID falsifiable.

        I’ve previously listed a few experiments that already could have falsified evolution. Your fantasy doesn’t count because it’s too vague and requires technology that doesn’t exist and may very well be impossible. That’s why you wouldn’t be able to publish it in a reputable evolutionary biology journal, but if this bill goes through maybe your chances will improve.

        Here’s a good analogy. When I was debating Brett, I proposed a “crazy hypothesis of a non-biologist” to falsify abiogenesis. I think your argument is similar to mine (albeit more vague- I didn’t see you describe the exact steps necessary to identify a statistically abnormal mutation).

        But I was describing abiogenesis, which scientists consider more tentative and mysterious than evolution (a separate topic.) And I later became more skeptical of my own proposed falsification, calling it an example of my “ignorance of exobiology”. These sorts of musings shouldn’t be conflated with the actual falsifications that have been repeatedly applied to evolution.

        This is all beside the point anyway, because Beelzebud was right to point out that “intelligent design” argues that “irreducably complex” structures like flagella can’t possibly have evolved naturally. The list of these “irreducably complex” structures grows without bound, because it’s a scientifically useless concept that embodies the “argument from incredulity”.

      • Your fantasy doesn’t count because it’s too vague and requires technology that doesn’t exist and may very well be impossible.

        Fantasy? There’s a difference between thought experiments and fantasies.
        Vague? Giving a nutshell of an idea is intentionally being vague. If you want the details, I provided them in the past. Using your search-fu, you should be able to turn up how I proposed doing the math for the tests. Technology that doesn’t exist? DNA sequencing is now mainstream science. We don’t need a panopticon of ancient DNA for the method to work.

        If you want to think about it another way, we can (and will) establish a panopticon of current DNA in species around the planet, and apply the test moving forward. If we see the evolution of a new, more advanced, interesting species, then ID is proven false.

        We probably wouldn’t have to even wait that long. If you multiply the generational time of evolution per species by the number of interesting species on the planet, we’d expect to see multiple new species within our lifetime. Especially with the evolutionary stress humans are placing on species.

        That’s why you wouldn’t be able to publish it in a reputable evolutionary biology journal, but if this bill goes through maybe your chances will improve.

        I don’t think a reputable biology journal would publish anything relating to ID, even though it is technically a way of showing how to prove ID false. =)

      • If we see the evolution of a new, more advanced, interesting species, then ID is proven false.

        If? You say this as though we haven’t already observed many speciation events. Or is “advanced, interesting” code for that absurd argument about information in the genome?

        DNA sequencing is now mainstream science. We don’t need a panopticon of ancient DNA for the method to work.

        Since most of the structures Behe and Dembski point to evolved in the distant past, it certainly seems like they wouldn’t be included in the reasonable people you mentioned: “Of course, any given designer might have given up designing and taken a day off, but if species emerge through statistically normal events, then most reasonable people would assume that the rest of evolution could have happened through similarly unshocking means.”

        In fact, given that creationists/intelligent design advocates already come up with creative ways to ignore the speciation going on right in front of our eyes, I doubt that decreasing the error bars on modern evolution would affect their views on ancient evolution in the slightest.

      • Or is “advanced, interesting” code for that absurd argument about information in the genome?

        There’s two different issues here:
        1) If there’s information within the genome.
        2) What “advanced and interesting” means.

        In re: to 1), yes, of course there is information within the genome. Whether you buy into Dembski’s rather dubious claims about that information (the No Free Lunch Theory and all that) is a whole different matter, of course.

        In re: to 2), I defined it somewhere else, but for simplicity, let’s say the 500,000 higher animals.

        As far as ignoring speciation events, Dembski basically differentiates between mutation/speciation/evolution involving an increase in supercoolness (or whatever term he uses, I don’t really care) and one involving a decrease. For example, he presumably wouldn’t be surprised by a bacteria that evolved the ability to process arsenic by a mutation that disabled something that disabled its already-existing arsenic-processing gene. He calls those things downward mutations, or something like that. But I prefer supercoolness as a technical term. It’s always easier to reduce supercoolness in a genome than to increase it, so they ignore downwards speciation events.

        Or to put it less sarcastically, they are mostly interested in beneficial mutations that increase a species capacity to do something super cool.

      • That is supercool. I see your point.

  8. (Ed. note: these comments were copied from the links attached to the posters’ names.)

    … 90% of the cells in the human body are bacterial … [epine]

    Modern urban legend that isn’t even vaguely true. Ask yourself – if you take a powerful wide-spectrum antibiotic, do you suddenly drop from your natural 400 pounds down to 40? … [ShakaUVM]

    by count you have more bacteria than cells read this. please cite your sources…. [JonySuede]

    Right, I’ve read that article before. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. It doesn’t say where all these bacteria are supposed to be living. You know – the ones that it claims outnumber us 10 to 1? It makes vague references to the gut and the skin, which might very well be true, but it’s certainly not true for us, overall. When we actually have bacteria running around at those levels in our blood, it’s called septicemia, and it kills you.

    • It seems like you’re trying to parse too much into it because you’re letting yourself get hung up on an idea which is only in your head. By mass, yes, bacteria aren’t dominant. By cell count (which I believe is what they’re talking about)? Quite believable that there are more bacteria cells inside the volume of the human body than cells containing the human genome. Bacteria are prokaryotes (cells without nuclei or mitochondria), which sharply limits their size. IIRC, they may be up to three or four orders of magnitude smaller than eukaryotic human cells. And at any given time, there are likely to be an awful lot of them in your gut. A significant percentage of what you crap out is bacteria.

      • Right, as I said, the article only vaguely refers to where all these bacteria are supposed to be, with the skin and gut – which are both outside the body, topologically speaking – being the likely places. We simply don’t have that many bacteria running around inside of our muscles or blood. If we did, they’d show up on blood screens or under a microscope. That’s what I’m trying to say – “we” are not 90% bacteria.

        It’s turned into something of a science-based urban legend that we’re full of shit. Basically.

    • A 10-second Google search turns up the following quote at the top of a Wikipedia article: Bacterial cells are much smaller than human cells, and there are at least ten times as many bacteria as human cells in the body (approximately 10^14 versus 10^13).[6][7]

      Because Wikipedia isn’t a primary source, it’s necessary to examine the peer-reviewed references to verify this claim:

      The adult human organism is said to be composed of approximately 10^13 eukaryotic animal cells (27). That statement is only an expression of a particular point of view. The various body surfaces and the gastrointestinal canals of humans may be colonized by as many as 10^14 indigenous prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbial cells (70). These microbes profoundly influence some of the physiological processes of their animal host (49, 103). From another point of view, therefore, the normal human organism can be said to be composed of over 10^14 cells, of which only about 10% are animal cells. The vast majority of the microbial cells in that mass reside someplace in the gastrointestinal tract (70). … [Savage, Microbial Ecology of the Gastrointestinal Tract, 1977]

      … For every cell in the human body (10^13 cells in total), there are ten viable indigenous bacteria in the GI tract… [Berg, The indigenous gastrointestinal microflora, 1996]

      • The GI system is external to the human body, topologically speaking… they are not part of “us”.

      • Yeah, that’s why I leave my large intestine at home if I don’t plan on using it while I’m out.

      • Have you ever studied biology? Or evolution? The reason the GI tract and similar things are the way they are is because they are external to our bodies. You can, in fact, flush everything out of them without any harm, thus proving they are not part of our bodies.

        Or if you prefer math, you can describe this topologically with your mouth open. In computer science terms, you can calculate the connected-spaces graph of every point in your body. It doesn’t matter… any way you look at it, “we” are not comprised of bacteria.

      • (Ed. note: this comment was corrected at 10:20.)

        So, once again, you say you’ve just been making a point about topology this whole time? Let’s see if that makes any sense…

        90% of the cells in the human body are bacterial

        Modern urban legend that isn’t even vaguely true. Ask yourself – if you take a powerful wide-spectrum antibiotic, do you suddenly drop from your natural 400 pounds down to 40?

        This doesn’t seem like a point about topology. It seems like you jumped from “90% of the cells in the human body are bacterial” to “90% of the mass of the human body is bacterial.” That’s an incorrect assumption because bacterial cells are thousands of times smaller than human cells. For instance, each E. coli masses a femtogram picogram, while each human cell masses a nanogram. Therefore, E. coli cells are ~1000x smaller less massive than human cells, so they can outnumber our cells 10 to 1 while only making up ~1% of our mass.

        Also, I can’t help but notice that epine didn’t say 90% of the cells in our blood or muscle are bacterial. He just said “90% of the cells in the human body are bacterial”, which is entirely consistent with statements made in the peer-reviewed literature. You said this was a “modern urban legend that isn’t even vaguely true”.

        Now, there really is a modern urban legend regarding biology involving a 10% statistic that “isn’t even vaguely true”: the notion that we only use 10% of our brains. That’s evolutionarily absurd because the brain consumes a whopping 20% of the body’s energy. If humans only used 10% of the brain, it would wither away like the appendix. In fact, we pay an even greater cost: the diameter of the female pelvis limits our skull size at birth, so human infants are helpless for much longer than other primates and mammals.

        It’s wrong to call both of these ideas “modern urban legends that aren’t even vaguely true.” There really are 10x as many bacterial cells than human cells in the human body. You just don’t consider your large intestine to be part of your body, apparently.

        by count you have more bacteria than cells read this.

        Right, I’ve read that article before. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. It doesn’t say where all these bacteria are supposed to be living. You know – the ones that it claims outnumber us 10 to 1? It makes vague references to the gut and the skin, which might very well be true, but it’s certainly not true for us, overall. When we actually have bacteria running around at those levels in our blood, it’s called septicemia, and it kills you.

        Yes, not everything on the internet is true. But that particular article matches statements made in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. So you’re wrong to imply that it’s just an urban legend.

        And it most certainly is true for us “overall”, defined as counting the total number of cells in the human body containing the human genome (~1013) and counting the total number of cells in the human body without the human genome (~1014). Also, I can’t help but notice that the ScienceDaily article didn’t say 90% of the cells in our blood or muscle are bacterial. It just said “The number of bacteria living within the body of the average healthy adult human are estimated to outnumber human cells 10 to 1″, which is entirely consistent with statements made in the peer-reviewed literature.

        It seems like you’re trying to parse too much into it because you’re letting yourself get hung up on an idea which is only in your head. By mass, yes, bacteria aren’t dominant. By cell count (which I believe is what they’re talking about)? Quite believable that there are more bacteria cells inside the volume of the human body than cells containing the human genome. Bacteria are prokaryotes (cells without nuclei or mitochondria), which sharply limits their size. IIRC, they may be up to three or four orders of magnitude smaller than eukaryotic human cells. And at any given time, there are likely to be an awful lot of them in your gut. A significant percentage of what you crap out is bacteria.

        Right, as I said, the article only vaguely refers to where all these bacteria are supposed to be, with the skin and gut – which are both outside the body, topologically speaking – being the likely places. We simply don’t have that many bacteria running around inside of our muscles or blood. If we did, they’d show up on blood screens or under a microscope. That’s what I’m trying to say – “we” are not 90% bacteria. It’s turned into something of a science-based urban legend that we’re full of shit. Basically.

        I can’t help but notice that Someone didn’t say 90% of the cells in our blood or muscle are bacterial. He just said “there are more bacteria cells inside the volume of the human body than cells containing the human genome”, which is entirely consistent with statements made in the peer-reviewed literature.

        Yeah, that’s why I leave my large intestine at home if I don’t plan on using it while I’m out.

        Have you ever studied biology? Or evolution? The reason the GI tract and similar things are the way they are is because they are external to our bodies. You can, in fact, flush everything out of them without any harm, thus proving they are not part of our bodies.

        Wow, you really don’t consider your large intestine to be a part of your body. I guess that goes for your mouth and various other body orifices too. That’s why people are able to quickly and easily shrug off minor inconveniences like rape; nothing actually penetrated their bodies in a topological sense, so no harm, no foul. Or maybe that ridiculous conclusion demonstrates that most people don’t use your definition of what is a “part of our bodies”.

        In fact, it’s not just the general public who disagrees with you. Notice that the peer-reviewed literature also treats the large intestine, the mouth and other body orifices as part of the human body. Before you start implying that other people haven’t studied biology or evolution, perhaps you should try to get actual biologists to use your definition in their papers.

      • So, once again, you say you’ve just been making a point about topology this whole time? Let’s see if that makes any sense…

        I did. Read my other posts in this thread, you’ll see I’ve been very careful to make this point every time.

        You said this was a “modern urban legend that isn’t even vaguely true”.

        Which I stand by. “We” are not made of bacteria, which is what the GP stated.

        You just don’t consider your large intestine to be part of your body, apparently.

        Again, you have trouble wrapping your mind around a concept it’s not very familiar with. But, believe it or not, the large intestine is external to your body. Think of the hole in a donut. If there is bacteria in the donut hole, do you say that donuts are made of 90% bacteria? It’s a completely misleading statement, which has led to the scientific urban legend status it has now.

        In fact, it’s not just the general public who disagrees with you. Notice that the peer-reviewed literature also treats the large intestine, the mouth and other body orifices as part of the human body. Before you start implying that other people haven’t studied biology or evolution, perhaps you should try to get actual biologists to use your definition in their papers.

        Don’t revel in your ignorance.

      • I did. Read my other posts in this thread, you’ll see I’ve been very careful to make this point every time.

        I just quoted all your posts in this thread to show that the people you were lecturing about biology weren’t making claims about bacterial cells in blood or muscle, and neither is the scientific literature. That’s just something you latched onto once your original point about dropping from “400 pounds down to 40″ was shown to be based on an incorrect assumption.

        … believe it or not, the large intestine is external to your body. Think of the hole in a donut. If there is bacteria in the donut hole, do you say that donuts are made of 90% bacteria? It’s a completely misleading statement, which has led to the scientific urban legend status it has now.

        If the donut used its donut hole to digest food, yeah, I’d say donuts are 90% bacteria. But the point is that biologists treat the large intestine and other body orifices as part of the human body when they say that only 10% of the cells in the human body contain the human genome. Again, I’m just a physicist, not a biologist. Your problem is with the biologists who stubbornly refuse to use the ShakaUVM definition of the human body.

        Again, you have trouble wrapping your mind around a concept it’s not very familiar with. … Don’t revel in your ignorance.

        Charming.

      • That’s just something you latched onto once your original point about dropping from “400 pounds down to 40″ was shown to be based on an incorrect assumption.

        It’s not an incorrect assumption. If our muscle cells were 90% bacteria running around in disguise, then we’d lose a significant portion of our weight when we took antibiotics.

        The way the urban legend has mutated, though, to now say “We are 90% bacteria” which, again, isn’t even remotely true. Search for that phrase to find the meme floating around wild on the internet.

        But the point is that biologists treat the large intestine and other body orifices as part of the human body

        Funny, it was my college biology professor that made the point that – in a number of significant ways of looking at it – our GI tract and other things are treated by our bodies as being exterior to our body.

        Your problem is that while you love to call me a dogmatist, the simple truth of the matter is you can’t bend your mind around different ways of looking at things, even if they are true.

        (Ed. note: This claim led to a side conversation which has been moved to the climate change article, where it began.)

        Think about why semen is salty some time. I’ll let you get back to me on that one.

      • If our muscle cells were 90% bacteria running around in disguise, then we’d lose a significant portion of our weight when we took antibiotics.

        Sadly, I need to repeat that this would only be true if bacteria weren’t thousands of times less massive than human cells. And that nobody you’re lecturing is talking about muscle cells.

        Funny, it was my college biology professor that made the point that – in a number of significant ways of looking at it – our GI tract and other things are treated by our bodies as being exterior to our body.

        This is depressingly typical. I quoted and linked peer-reviewed articles showing that only 10% of the cells in the human body contain the human genome. Those articles are very clearly using the definition that the GI tract is part of the human body. Then you make a vague reference to a professor saying something contrary, without naming the professor or referencing his peer-reviewed paper or showing why it’s relevant to the articles that I linked.

        Think about why semen is salty some time. I’ll let you get back to me on that one.

        I’ll pass, thanks. Is this really the legacy you want to leave behind?

      • showing that only 10% of the cells in the human body

        Flush your GI tract with some Fleet’s and a antibiotic chaser. Are you still 90% bacteria? No.

        So obviously “we” are not made of bacteria.

        Is this really the legacy you want to leave behind?

        It’s a serious question.

        Hint: It involves evolution.
        Hint 2: It involves primordial oceans.

        I realize that biology is not really your forte, but if you want to argue that stuff living in our GI tract is part of “us” you have to explain this as well.

      • Flush your GI tract with some Fleet’s and a antibiotic chaser. Are you still 90% bacteria? No. So obviously “we” are not made of bacteria.

        You’re also not going to be able to properly digest food, and the population will recover within a few days. The fact that you can temporarily reduce the population of microflora in your large intestine doesn’t mean that normal, healthy humans don’t require the presence of these symbiotes to extract energy from food efficiently. That’s why the ScienceDaily article says “healthy adult human” and the Savage article said “normal human organism”. If you actually managed to completely eliminate intestinal microflora permanently, I suspect that would result in serious health consequences.

        … if you want to argue that stuff living in our GI tract is part of “us” you have to explain this as well.

        Again, you should be having this argument with the biologists who wrote those peer-reviewed papers saying that only 10% of the cells in the normal human body contain the human genome.

      • Hint: it isn’t that I’m not trying as hard as you to not be a dogmatist.

        Well, you do show a certain rigidity of thought, as this whole GI tract business has shown. It takes a certain freedom of thinking to be able to realize that your GI tract, both historically/evolutionarily speaking, physiologically speaking, and mathematically speaking are not part of “us”.

        Update: Jane starts digging too.

  9. Anonymous posted on 2012-10-09 at 11:45

    Shouldn’t the scientific theory disprove evolution? Because we constructed the hypothesis (evolution), we have done experiments, but we have never observed nor been able to make life come from non life. It seems to me that the Scientific Method itself is against evolution. So why is it taught as fact when even science itself is against it?

    • It seems to me that you didn’t read a single word I wrote, and you don’t understand science or the difference between evolution and abiogenesis.

  10. Jane Q. Public posted on 2013-12-29 at 14:19

    (Ed. note: These comments were copied from here.)

    “Deniers don’t base their position on facts because they don’t have any facts to support their position.”

    Now come on, man. This is the most ridiculous statement I’ve seen on /. today.

    Even creationists have some facts that support their position. Not enough to carry the day, but saying they don’t exist is just another kind of denial.

    • What facts support the creationist position?

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2013-12-31 at 12:46

      Just one example:

      The fact that radiometric dating relies on certain assumptions has been one of their favorite talking points.

      Are those assumptions reasonable? I think so. But they ARE assumptions, and that is a fact.

      Therefore, there do exist facts that can be said to support (or at least not refute) the creationists’ arguments.

      I did not say that I support creationism or the young-Earthers. I merely stated that not ALL facts are on one side of the argument. However, most of them certainly are.

    • No, isochron dating only relies on nuclear decay rates being constant, which has been confirmed by SN1987a, etc. Try again.

    • Now that you’ve moved the goalpost to a fact that just doesn’t refute the creationists’ arguments, here’s one: water is wet.

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-01 at 15:41

      Okay, maybe it was a bad example. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to find another. But the probability of ALL known facts supporting evolution is very close to zero.

      Obviously that does not mean that evolution is false.

    • Again, water is wet, which doesn’t support evolution. But your original claim before your goalpost moving was that there are some facts which support the creationist position. You can either find an example that isn’t ridiculously wrong, retract your absurd claim, or pull a “Jane” by doing neither. Surprise us.

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-01 at 23:39

      Oh, for fuck’s sake. WILL you drop this seeming pathological Freudian need to prove me wrong about anything and everything you can?

      You have been behaving like a child for a long time now, and I am very, very weary of this.

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-02 at 00:10

      I will just say this:

      If you seriously dispute that statistically speaking, the likelihood that “NO facts of any kind support creationist arguments” has a probability close to zero (which is NOT moving the goalposts; it was the whole basis of my point), then I’d like to see a rigorous refutation. In order to win, I would only have to find one counter-example; for you to win, you would have to repudiate ALL possible examples. And I’m not even going to bother, because this is a silly thing to argue about and the likelihood that you would win also closely approaches zero.

      I am confident of my statement. However, and I repeat: I do NOT claim it is evidence that evolution itself is in any way refuted or that “young earth” theory has any validity. I am pretty sure we agree that the vast preponderance of evidence is on the side of evolution and of Earth being a few billion years old, give or take.

      But I will say again that it appears you have an ego-driven need to argue with me about just about everything that strikes your fancy, and I will say again — in complete honesty — that it appears to me to be extremely immature behavior.

    • It’s amusing that you have the time to write all that arrogant nonsense but don’t have time to provide even one example of a fact that supports the creationist position. Again, you can either find an example that isn’t ridiculously wrong, retract your absurd claim, or pull a “Jane” by doing neither. Surprise us.

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-02 at 13:53

      Are you now going to try to claim that your original question was not bait, to draw me into an argument about creationism, in the vain hope I would say something that you could then try to use to claim I supported creationism?

      Go ahead and deny it if you like, but you’ll never get me to believe it.

    • I’m not the one who claimed that some facts support the creationist position. You did. Repeatedly. Again, you can either find an example that isn’t ridiculously wrong, retract your absurd claim, or keep pulling a “Jane” by doing neither. Surprise us.

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-03 at 16:17

      “I’m not the one who claimed that some facts support the creationist position.”

      You know very well what my argument was about. You’re either missing the whole point, or you’re just trolling… again.

      Yes, or no. Do you deny that given the size of the body of evidence, the probability of ALL available evidence being against the ideas of creationism or “young Earth” is very close to zero?

      Do you deny that a corollary of this is that SOME evidence must almost certainly be supportive of creationism?

      Yes, or no? No more blathering. Just yes or no to these two questions. The latter one in particular, because it is more specifically on-topic.

      And I will state again that I am not a believer or a proponent of creationism, nor am I “young earther”. I did not claim that either idea was sound, and I already stated that the vast majority of evidence is in favor of evolution.

      So make a damned argument already, if you’re going to make one, and stop this childish baiting. I made mine, as you already know. What is YOURS?

    • Yes, or no. Do you deny that given the size of the body of evidence, the probability of ALL available evidence being against the ideas of creationism or “young Earth” is very close to zero? Do you deny that a corollary if this is that SOME evidence must almost certainly be supportive of creationism?

      Yes, I deny that any fact supports young earth or old earth creationism. Yes, I deny that there is any evidence supporting young earth or old earth creationism. I’m a denier.

      You’ve repeatedly claimed that some facts support the creationist position. Again, you can either find an example that isn’t ridiculously wrong, retract your absurd claim, or keep pulling a “Jane” by doing neither. Since you probably won’t surprise us on this account, perhaps lowered expectations are in order. Earlier, you claimed:

      Just one example: The fact that radiometric dating relies on certain assumptions has been one of their favorite talking points. Are those assumptions reasonable? I think so. But they ARE assumptions, and that is a fact. Therefore, there do exist facts that can be said to support (or at least not refute) the creationists’ arguments. …

      I replied by saying “No, isochron dating only relies on nuclear decay rates being constant, which has been confirmed by SN1987a, etc. Try again.” and your response was “Okay, maybe it was a bad example.”

      Any example may be a bad example, so that wasn’t a retraction. Your example actually was a bad example, and anyone who understood my point would have the intellectual integrity to admit that without weasel words. So perhaps my website was down; here’s the relevant part:

      Isochron dating results of old rocks depend only on nuclear decay rates being constant in time. Isochron dating isn’t dependent on initial quantities of elements, and the analysis method automatically produces error bars on the obtained age. The oldest rocks we have agree that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old, plus or minus 100 million years or so.

      Just to be clear, we can’t be sure that nuclear decay rates are exactly constant. But experiments have placed constraints on the size of any variation in decay rates:

      1. Supernovae produce many radioactive elements which slowly decay after the explosion. At first they shine brightly in a spectroscopically unique manner, but over the course of several weeks they fade to half their previous brightness. The amount of time it takes the brightness to fade is a direct measurement of the nuclear decay rate. The best example is supernova 1987A, which lies ~169,000 LY away. That means that when scientists looked at that light in 1987, they were measuring the nuclear decay rate as it was around 169,000 years ago. The results were experimentally indistinguishable from current decay rates, and have been confirmed by similar experiments on SN1991T, which is 60,000,000 light years away.
      2. The Oklo natural nuclear reactor left evidence that can be used to determine the fine structure constant and neutron capture rates, both intimately entwined with quantum mechanics’ predictions of nuclear decay rates. This experiment is more ambiguous and as a result the error bars are much larger than the SN1987A constraint, but it’s also consistent with a constant nuclear decay rate. Since the Oklo reactor was active 1.8 billion years ago, the Oklo evidence only supports a change in the fine structure constant of one part in 10 million over that timespan.
      3. The increase in nuclear decay rates necessary to increase the “apparent age” of rocks from thousands to billions of years is enormous. This decay rate would make all the mildly radioactive elements in the Earth decay faster, releasing enough heat to melt the crust. It would still be molten to this day unless God made a cosmically sized refrigerator to cool it down fast enough to fit into the creationist timeline.
      4. Any change in nuclear decay rates would have to affect all types of nuclear decay identically, otherwise isotopes that decay by different mechanisms (alpha, beta, neutron emission, etc.) would’ve decayed at different rates. If these rates changed differently, it would cause isochron dates of the same object but using different isotopes to disagree. To the best of my knowledge, that’s never happened.
      5. If nuclear decay rates have changed, then why do ice cores like the one taken at Vostok, Antarctica show agreement between annual layer counts and isochron age? A change in nuclear decay rates wouldn’t affect the annual temperature fluctuations that form the basis of the annual layer counts, so the two different methods of dating the same (~400,000 year old) ice core should be different. They aren’t.

      Your example was bad. If you can’t even retract your more general claim, can you at least admit that your example was actually bad, not just “maybe” bad?

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-03 at 23:38

      I replied by saying “No, isochron dating only relies on nuclear decay rates being constant, which has been confirmed by SN1987a, etc. Try again.” and your response was “Okay, maybe it was a bad example.”

      Yes, this is correct. It was apparently a bad example. And so, what is your point? I conceded that point. There is no argument here.

      Any example may be a bad example, so that wasn’t a retraction.

      Well, it was a retraction of that example. I’m not going to retract my more general claim, because it is not incorrect. And you are already well aware that statistically speaking, it is almost certainly true.

      Here is an example I found. And I admit that it was difficult and actually a bit of fun trying to find one.

      All currently known life forms have structures based on DNA or RNA. This is a fact. Creationists argue that because we know of no actual examples of the evolution of DNA or RNA from simpler molecules, then DNA (or RNA at least) were created and did not evolve.

      NOTE: I do NOT claim it is evidence of creation, only that it is evidence that can reasonably be interpreted as supporting a creationist’s arguments. (By the way: the claim of the existence of organisms that use arsenic rather than phosphorus has not been substantiated.)

      Now, let’s be clear: I also did not and do not claim that this argument is sound. I am simply saying that it is not an inherently silly argument, it is based on genuine observable evidence, and I am not aware of counter-evidence. (Though I do not deny that some may exist. The very same evidence might be interpreted as supporting the argument for evolution, for all I know, but I am not sure how at this time.)

      Therefore I have found a bit of evidence that supports the creationism argument.

      Nor do I necessarily claim it is even a good argument. Only that here is evidence that plausibly supports such an argument. If you want to call that moving the goalposts, go ahead, and I’ll just deny it because that was what I meant by my original comment, as I believe I have explained repeatedly.

      Standard disclaimer: As I stated before, I am neither a creationist or a young-Earther. I am a firm believer in evolution.

    • Well, it was a retraction of that example. I’m not going to retract my more general claim, because it is not incorrect. And you are already well aware that statistically speaking, it is almost certainly true.

      Maybe that was a bad retraction, and maybe you’re not retracting your more general claim even though it’s absurdly incorrect, and maybe you’re accusing me of being “well aware” that your more general claim is “almost certainly true” even though I’ve been emphatically denying your absurd claim.

      … All currently known life forms have structures based on DNA or RNA. This is a fact. Creationists argue that because we know of no actual examples of the evolution of DNA or RNA from simpler molecules, then DNA (or RNA at least) were created and did not evolve. NOTE: I do NOT claim it is evidence of creation, only that it is evidence that can reasonably be interpreted as supporting a creationist’s arguments. (By the way: the claim of the existence of organisms that use arsenic rather than phosphorus has not been substantiated.) Now, let’s be clear: I also did not and do not claim that this argument is sound. I am simply saying that it is not an inherently silly argument, it is based on genuine observable evidence, and I am not aware of counter-evidence. (Though I do not deny that some may exist. The very same evidence might be interpreted as supporting the argument for evolution, for all I know, but I am not sure how at this time.) Therefore I have found a bit of evidence that supports the creationism argument.

      No, you haven’t, and you obviously didn’t read the link I just gave you:

      It’s strange that all life we’ve studied uses the same DNA bases– a crucial requirement of common descent. However, a Creator who wanted to leave an indisputable proof of intelligent design could have given every species a unique biochemistry that couldn’t possibly have arisen through common descent. This is why I was confused when Brett mentioned Message Theory. It seems like the Creator either used evolution to create life (Catholics take this position) or the Creator manually fine-tuned all life on Earth to look like it had evolved from a common ancestor even though it really didn’t. Again, notice that intelligent design is compatible with any experimental outcome, whereas evolution would have been abandoned if every other creature we studied had different nucleic acids.

      Your second example was actually bad too, because it shows evolution is falsifiable science while creationism is just religion. Try again.

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-04 at 10:20

      “Your second example was actually bad too, because it shows evolution is falsifiable science while creationism is just religion. Try again.”

      Not at all. The fact that you’ve argued about this in the past doesn’t make you automatically correct. You restate your position here:

      I’m saying that the statement “God created life” is compatible with the evidence “all life uses the same DNA” as well as the evidence “each species has its unique DNA with different nucleic acids.” But, as I point out, evolution is only compatible with the evidence “all life uses the same DNA,” which means evolution is falsifiable science and creationism is theology instead.

      First, you are not using technically accurate terms. DNA is DNA. RNA is RNA. Different sequences of DNA are possible and have been observed. Same for RNA. To date, however, no substitutes for DNA or RNA have been confirmed.

      You say “all life uses the same DNA” … apparently you are referring here to the same bases, AGT & C. Each known life form uses diferent sequences of it, however, making it difficult to tell what your argument is. If what you mean is that “a Creator could make creatures with something that is akin to DNA but isn’t DNA”, then I understand your argument.

      However, understanding it is not the same as agreeing with it. The notion that different molecules could be used as DNA analogs is certainly testable. In fact, if you recall, there was a recent claim that some bacteria used arsenic instead of phosphorus in their DNA… which would make it “not DNA”. I am not aware of any reason to believe that “alternate DNA” would be any more or less susceptible to evolution than our known DNA. Therefore this hypothesis is just as testable as the other. The only difference is that it is not currently, actively testable given our state of technology, and we currently know of no examples.

      Just as, for years, there were no known methods to test for the existence of dark matter. Yet that did not stop many scientists from creating models based on it, nor did it get them ejected from the halls of science.

      Frankly I am not convinced that your argument “evolution is only compatible with ‘all life uses the same DNA’”, is any more plausible than the argument that “evolution is possible given a suitable alternative analog of DNA”. The only difference I see is that only one of them is testable today.

      The flap over the “arsenic DNA” in Mono Lake shows that the other idea is at least plausible to many scientists.

    • First, you are not using technically accurate terms. DNA is DNA. RNA is RNA. Different sequences of DNA are possible and have been observed. Same for RNA. To date, however, no substitutes for DNA or RNA have been confirmed.

      Your accusation is baseless; I haven’t confused DNA and RNA. In fact, I’ve explained how different types of shadow biospheres might or might not keep the same RNA bases while using different DNA bases.

      The notion that different molecules could be used as DNA analogs is certainly testable.

      Yes, that’s exactly my point. That’s one reason why evolution is testable science, while creationism is religion.

      In fact, if you recall, there was a recent claim that some bacteria used arsenic instead of phosphorus in their DNA… which would make it “not DNA”. I am not aware of any reason to believe that “alternate DNA” would be any more or less susceptible to evolution than our known DNA. Therefore this hypothesis is just as testable as the other. The only difference is that it is not currently, actively testable given our state of technology, and we currently know of no examples.

      Nobody’s suggesting that alternate DNA would be any more or less susceptible to evolution. I’m just pointing out that we couldn’t have evolved from creatures using alternative DNA bases. That’s one reason why evolution is testable science, while creationism is religion. As I’ve explained:

      “You’’re talking about a shadow biosphere. It’’s possible that abiogenesis happened several times, so finding two types of DNA wouldn’’t falsify evolution. What I’’m talking about is the scenario where every species in existence has a different set of nucleic acids in their DNA. Millions of separate abiogenesis events would completely destroy evolution. Ergo, it’’s possible to find evidence which would disprove evolution. Ergo, evolution is falsifiable science.

      Frankly I am not convinced that your argument “evolution is only compatible with ‘all life uses the same DNA’”, is any more plausible than the argument that “evolution is possible given a suitable alternative analog of DNA”. The only difference I see is that only one of them is testable today. The flap over the “arsenic DNA” in Mono Lake shows that the other idea is at least plausible to many scientists.

      Of course it’s plausible. That’s what I’ve been saying for years, so you obviously didn’t understand my point. If every species in existence had different DNA bases, life on Earth couldn’t have had a common ancestor. Again, this is one reason why evolution is testable science, while creationism is religion. As I’ve tweeted:

      Creationism isn’t even wrong. Evolution is science: it can be falsified by Precambrian apes, or if all species had different DNA bases, etc.

      Just as, for years, there were no known methods to test for the existence of dark matter. Yet that did not stop many scientists from creating models based on it, nor did it get them ejected from the halls of science.

      Here we go again. As I’ve repeatedly (and apparently pointlessly) explained to you, the first method of testing for the existence of dark matter was developed in 1933. I then tried to explain some of the following tests, but obviously I would’ve had better luck trying to educate my coffee table. At least it doesn’t accuse me of being a “flaming, large-bore asshole”

      I probably won’t keep asking you to retract anything, because you obviously don’t have the necessary intellectual integrity. But if you’re going to keep digging these absurd holes… shouldn’t you limit yourself to digging one ridiculous hole at a time?

    • Jane Q. Public posted on 2014-01-05 at 13:44

      Your accusation is baseless; I haven’t confused DNA and RNA.

      I wasn’t accusing you of confusing DNA and RNA. Although to be fair, I see how my statement could be interpreted that way. I was referring to your statements “all life uses the same DNA” and “each species has its unique DNA with different nucleic acids”. My point was that this is imprecise, loose phraseology.

      First, it isn’t clear whether you’re referring to “all possible life” or “all known life”. If the former, I don’t believe we have any solid basis for making that claim. And if the latter, “all life uses the same DNA” is not necessarily accurate… some contains only RNA. Or at least, again, ambiguous because it does “use” DNA during replication, while not actually containing any.

      I’m not trying to nitpick here. I’m simply saying that the way you stated this leaves your meaning open to quite a bit of interpretation, and it is not entirely clear to me what that meaning is. I had to interpret in the way I thought you probably meant, without really knowing if that was correct.

      “I’m just pointing out that we couldn’t have evolved from creatures using alternative DNA bases.”

      Well, that does make your argument clearer. This much is almost certainly true.

      What I’m talking about is the scenario where every species in existence has a different set of nucleic acids in their DNA.

      Okay, and thanks for clearing that up as well. I am assuming here by “different set” you mean “different nucleic acids”, as opposed to “a different sequence of nucleic acids”. So if I understood you correctly, I would have to agree with this too.

      Millions of separate abiogenesis events would completely destroy evolution. Ergo, it’s possible to find evidence which would disprove evolution. Ergo, evolution is falsifiable science.

      I haven’t disputed that evolution is falsifiable science. It’s the other part of your argument that I was not following.

      That’s what I’ve been saying for years, so you obviously didn’t understand my point.

      And that’s what I’ve been saying. I wasn’t sure I understood your point because I felt your explanations were ambiguous. Pardon me for not having read the whole page. But I did read quite a bit above and below the section you originally pointed me to, and it was still unclear to me. So I was probably arguing against something other than what you actually meant. It happens.

      Creationism isn’t even wrong.

      And I agree with you that creationism isn’t even science. At least what I’ve seen of it certainly has not been. But remember what my original comment was: “some facts exist that are evidence of creationism”. (Or close enough as makes no difference.) But that was all I meant. I said or implied nothing else; only that some facts can support the argument of creationism… whether it is valid “science”, or not. Something they can use to argue. I didn’t even say that the argument had to hold up under scrutiny… only that there is evidence for it.

      So — as I tried to get at earlier — I think we are again discussing two different things. I wasn’t trying to argue that creationism was falsifiable. Or any of those other things you have brought in to the conversation.

      As I’ve repeatedly (and apparently pointlessly) explained to you, the first method of testing for the existence of dark matter was developed in 1933.

      And I find this repeated assertion astounding. As I have explained to you several times, observational evidence of extra mass, and experimental testing of the “dark matter” hypothesis over alternative explanations for the “missing mass”, are two different things. Any other claim is absurd. The latter did not come until much later. You are conflating observational evidence of extra mass with experimental testing of the dark matter hypothesis. Or if not, you are confused about which one I meant. Which is a mystery to me because I explained this at length to you before. I felt it was pretty clear that I meant the latter. When you questioned me, I explained that. So why you insist on continuing to bring these things up after they have been beaten into the ground baffles me.

      Even observational evidence which supported the dark matter hypothesis over alternative hypotheses did not come until later, and indeed the matter is hardly settled now. Pun intended. Actual experimental testing of that particular hypothesis over alternatives has not occurred until relatively recently. And again, that was what I was referring to.

      I repeat yet again: reasonable experimental tests of the dark matter hypothesis (there is no ambiguity here; experiment is what science uses to test hypotheses), over other alternative explanations, were not devised for many years after the hypothesis was proposed. In fact, they could not have been; the alternative hypotheses came later. Even today, the experiments are very indirect and results so far have been tenuous at best. And observational evidence is fine, but it’s not the same thing.

      I then tried to explain some of the following tests, but obviously I would’ve had better luck trying to educate my coffee table. At least it doesn’t accuse me of being a “flaming, large-bore asshole”.

      The “tests” you explained were, by and large, observational tests for missing mass, not for the “dark matter” hypothesis over alternative hypotheses. Some of those DID come later, but let’s see, what was it I said again? The thing you were arguing about? Oh, yeah: tests for that did not come for many years after the initial observation. I have explained this to you several times now and reopening the subject does not in any way add to your prestige.

      And this is straying so far from the original subject, it’s ridiculous. But it gives me the opportunity to show, yet again, WHY I accused you of being obnoxious. At the thread you linked to above, containing the “asshole” comment, if one clicks the “parent” link a few times, it is quite clear that I did not make the claim of which you accused me. It is clearly visible to other readers, in black-and-white, that you had yet again exaggerated my own statements (in that case actually fabricating something outright). I have no reason to apologize to someone who makes false public statements about me, nor is that something I easily forgive. And I have grown extremely weary of continually having to re-explain how you have misperceived my comments. (I am putting that as politely as I know how.)

      I probably won’t keep asking you to retract anything, because you obviously don’t have the necessary intellectual integrity.

      “Integrity” is WHY I haven’t retracted some things you have asked me to retract. First you would have to show they are false. Which more often than not, you completely failed to do. But you have done an awful lot of arguing over things I have NOT said. When I have been shown to be wrong, I have posted retractions. (Other people can attest to this. You are not the only person to read my posts.) But the former is a prerequisite for the latter.

      In the case of the evolution argument, I have nothing further to say after this. My original comment was clear and I stick by it for, as I explained to you very plainly before, statistical reasons. You may have misunderstood what I meant, and that happens. But getting into whether creationism is falsifiable, or what your arguments are for or against it, stray far from the mark. They have next to nothing to do with my original point, which was that very few areas of science (or any ideology, for that matter) have ALL of the evidence on their side.

    • … I was probably arguing against something other than what you actually meant. … I think we are again discussing two different things. I wasn’t trying to argue that creationism was falsifiable. Or any of those other things you have brought in to the conversation. … you have done an awful lot of arguing over things I have NOT said.

      No, I debunked these things you said:

      … All currently known life forms have structures based on DNA or RNA. This is a fact. Creationists argue that because we know of no actual examples of the evolution of DNA or RNA from simpler molecules, then DNA (or RNA at least) were created and did not evolve. NOTE: I do NOT claim it is evidence of creation, only that it is evidence that can reasonably be interpreted as supporting a creationist’s arguments. (By the way: the claim of the existence of organisms that use arsenic rather than phosphorus has not been substantiated.) Now, let’s be clear: I also did not and do not claim that this argument is sound. I am simply saying that it is not an inherently silly argument, it is based on genuine observable evidence, and I am not aware of counter-evidence. (Though I do not deny that some may exist. The very same evidence might be interpreted as supporting the argument for evolution, for all I know, but I am not sure how at this time.) Therefore I have found a bit of evidence that supports the creationism argument. [Jane Q. Public, 201]

      You were wrong. Again. You didn’t find “a bit of evidence that supports the creationism argument.” As I explained, you found evidence that supports evolution.

      In the case of the evolution argument, I have nothing further to say after this. My original comment was clear and I stick by it for, as I explained to you very plainly before, statistical reasons. You may have misunderstood what I meant, and that happens. But getting into whether creationism is falsifiable, or what your arguments are for or against it, stray far from the mark. They have next to nothing to do with my original point, which was that very few areas of science (or any ideology, for that matter) have ALL of the evidence on their side.

      You were wrong. Again. You didn’t find “a bit of evidence that supports the creationism argument.” As I explained, you found evidence that supports evolution.

      … my original comment was: “some facts exist that are evidence of creationism”. (Or close enough as makes no difference.) But that was all I meant. I said or implied nothing else; only that some facts can support the argument of creationism… whether it is valid “science”, or not. Something they can use to argue. I didn’t even say that the argument had to hold up under scrutiny… only that there is evidence for it.

      Thanks for finally being honest. You’re not interested in valid science, just something you can use to argue, even if it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. You’ve used this “principle of superficiality” to spread civilization-paralyzing misinformation which seems plausible at first glance to non-scientists, but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. In fact, I said as much last year:

      “… each contrarian is more effective at superficial “science communication” than the average scientist. … Once you get a contrarian started, a stream of regurgitated-but-superficially-plausible nonsense spews forth. Just consider Jane Q. Public. …”

      … why you insist on continuing to bring these things [dark matter] up after they have been beaten into the ground baffles me. … indeed the matter is hardly settled now. … I have explained this to you several times now and reopening the subject does not in any way add to your prestige.

      You reopened the subject of dark matter, and keep trying to reopen it by claiming that “the matter is hardly settled now.” It’s even more ironic that you’re lecturing me about dark matter’s timeline, when I already debunked your claim that “string theory is one of the pillars upon which dark matter theory is formed” by pointing out that this would’ve required a time machine. That link also shows why your “retractions” are just insincere chaff; your “retraction” lasted for 5 minutes before you continued to imply that the astrophysicists who overwhelmingly consider dark matter more plausible than MOND are “confused”.

      “Integrity” is WHY I haven’t retracted some things you have asked me to retract. First you would have to show they are false. Which more often than not, you completely failed to do. … When I have been shown to be wrong, I have posted retractions. (Other people can attest to this. You are not the only person to read my posts.) But the former is a prerequisite for the latter.

      You claimed that some facts support the creationist position, which is wrong. Maybe the closest you can come to a retraction is saying that “maybe” your first example was bad, and maybe that falls short of a sincere retraction. But your second example was also bad. You obviously don’t have the integrity to even admit that “maybe” your second example was bad too. Despite the fact that both your examples actually were bad, you still don’t have the integrity to retract your absurd claim that some facts support the creationist position.

      And again, I debunked the misinformation that you and Lonny Eachus were spreading about Cowtan and Way 2013. If you actually do have a shred of intellectual integrity, feel free to retract your misinformation.

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