In a recent discussionon the beliefs and preferences of Americans, we broached the topic of academic liberal bias. I would like to take a particular subset of that discussion, and blow it out for further / more indepth debate…
Neva, a frequent contributor to this blog, made the following point…
Most scientists [do not] support conservative causes [because] Conservatives are promoting the suppression of reason. Conservatives have tied themselves to the religious groups that are trying to interfere the teaching of science in our schools. Conservatives are finding “experts” (with theories not published in any peer-reviewed literature) who will claim global warming isn’t occurring so that policy-makers don’t have to put restrictions on big businesses and their carbon emissions.
This is an interesting thought. I want to leave the global warming debate behind for a second and focus on her other point … teaching science in schools. I’m not certain that Neva’s directly referencing the debate between the theories of evolution, creationism and intelligent design, but these are a great example for the point I want to make in this blog entry. So we’ll focus there…
Although I agree that there are conservatives who have blinders on, and only want to entertain their own points of view in an academic setting, I would submit that this problem is just as rampant, if not more so, among liberals. I support neither side in this, believing that we should have open debate about what we know to be true (because it can be proven) and about what we believe to be true (because we function on faith based on evidence). My point in this blog entry is to draw distinction between the two, because it seems to me that few in the debate are willing or able to do so.
The theory of evolution is part science and part philosophy. Natural selection is an observed phenomenon. You can put it in a test tube, test it applying scientific method, and draw conclusions that can then be further tested, etc. That’s science. But to draw from those tests the conclusion that all life everywhere came about from nothing by random chance through the process of evolution is not science, it’s philosophy. There is no way to prove such a conclusion, it is faith based on evidence.
The theory of intelligent design is the same thing – part science, part philosophy. In every part of my life I observe that complex (or even simple) design requires a designer. Physics tells us that order tends toward chaos, not the other way around. We know from emperical evidence that in every case, if a closed system is going to become more structured, organized, etc, then energy is required. These are all scientific observations and discussions. However, it’s philosophy to draw the conclusion from these observations that there must be an all-powerful God who created the universe. We cannot prove or disprove such a statement. Faith based on evidence is required.
And this is where I struggle with Neva’s categorical claim that conservatives are supressing scientific knowledge and advancement. Although there are conservative whack-jobs (many very well-meaning) who would turn the US into a theocracy and who would overturn science in schools for the sake of far-more-blind-than-I’m-comfortable-with faith, this is not the majority. This perspective also no more represents mainstream thought in the conservative movement than partial birth abortion does in the liberal movement.
In my experience (mostly watching these cases come up in court and on the news, as well as having a brother who’s a science teacher), it is extremely common for liberals to cry “blasphemy” every time it is even suggested that we give *any* credence to *any* theory other than strict evolution in schools. I find very few liberals who are even willing to admit that the theory of evolution is part philosophy. They consider it to be pure science through and through, totally proven, and something that cannot be questioned by anyone who is to be taken seriously in academic circles. Would it not be more wise, more intellectually honest, and more helpful to students to give them multiple sides… “Here’s what the research shows, and here’s the conclusions scientists have drawn from that research. These scientists believe this, and these other scientists believe this.” ?
The debate over global warming is the same. Both sides can produce evidence to support their already-drawn conclusions, but both conclusions are partially philosophical. “The earth is heating up recently” is provable in a test tube. The statement “this is solely the fault of the SUV and big business, and we’re going to destroy the planet” cannot. Neither can “this is a natural cycle, and things will return back to normal eventually”. Personally, I’m very in favor of being more respectful of and cautious with the environment. I think republicans fall down here. However, there are many liberals who would take it too far, and be perfectly happy to level our economy to save the spotted owl. We need some clear-headed compromise and practical steps in this area, not extremism – from either side. (Parenthetically, I also believe in this particular case that it would be better to err on the side of caution, given how devastating the results could be if the libs’ perspective is accurate.)
But this is exactly why I bring up this point. As long as both sides are running around claiming that their philosophy is proven science, I don’t see how we can ever get to this much needed point of compromise. Can’t we all just admit that we’re functioning as much on faith as science, then start a dialogue on how we can meet in the middle?
Technorati tags: science, philosophy, education, evolution, intelligent design, global warming
I just have to get one thing on my chest (and this goes back to your previous post on the “culture war”. You very broadly divide the population in to conservatives and liberals. The implication is that there’s only 1 dimension to American politics. However, there are at least two major dimensions to American politics: social and fiscal. By not allowing for the 2nd dimension, you’re basically ignoring the social liberals/fiscal conservatives who, I believe, make up the majority of the population.
OK, that being said, I believe the debate on evolution vs. creationism is absolutely stupid. We teach science in schools, not religion. And evolution is good science, plain and simple. Unfortunately, even though we teach science in schools, we don’t teach what science is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.
Science is a collection of models. And, as George Box will tell you, “All models are wrong, some models are useful.” Am I really coming out and saying that all science is wrong? Yes. And I say that as a scientist. All of science, whether it be biology, chemistry, physics, whatever, is an attempt to build models which fits our observations of the universe. Eventually, we build better instruments, make better observations and refine the models. This is the scientific method.
This is precisely why evoltuion isn’t just good science, it’s great science. It’s science in action. There’s pretty good evidence to support evolution on the small scale. Does that automatically mean it generalizes to the large scale? Is there evidence to suggest that it generalizes to the large scale? What evidence should we look for to convince ourselves that the model works on the large scale (this question also leads to investigative)?
Now, you might recall some schoolboard forcing teachers to read a statement to the effect that “evolution is just a theory”. This points to a fundamental flaw in our science education. It’s true, students need to understand that evolution is a theory. But they need to understand that all science is a theory. Maybe if we taught science as a bunch of theories instead of a bunch of facts, we’d get more students interested in it.
I think a fundamental misunderstanding of the theory of evolution is a large part of the problem. To the best of my knowledge, the theory does not state anywhere how life began. It shows the effects of natural selection and environmental factors on living creatures.
If someone believes that the beginning was random or divine it is a matter of faith. If someone believes that humans were created in full form 6,000 years ago it is not science, and contradicts observable evidence.
Encouraging teachers to cast doubts on evolution, gravity, thermodynamic principles, etc. does not really better education in any way. This is where conservatives are doing a greater disservice than liberals with regards to education.
As to global warming, I hope you realize there is a significant portion of the conservative base who believe it is not happening. At least this is the best I can discern. This is far different from believing humans are not the leading cause.
I will agree that not all conservatives subscribe to the points of view I gave as examples, and had you quoted the rest of my paragraph I would have said that I don’t believe all conservatives agree with this.
You claim that intelligent design is part science, part philosophy. Please elaborate on this for me. I have made pretty extensive study of this debate, and I have seen absolutely nothing to convince me that intelligent design has a scientific, biological basis. As such, I do not believe it should be taught in science classes. If a school wishes to teach philosophy of science and get into the issues Bill raises about the scientific process and the fact that everything is just a best fit model for the current observations, I would not object to teaching intelligent design in that setting. But it is not science.
Also, Jeff, I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding about what evolution is and means. Evolution does not conclusively state that all life came about from nothing. What it does is look at what we can observe of how organisms can change over time, extrapolate the processes by which those changes occur (natural selection upon random mutation), and conclude that life on earth is likely to have a single origin from which it radiated out. There are various theories on what that origin was, but subscribing to one or another of them is not required to accept the existance of evolution. I have explained before how nothing in evolution challenges my faith, and the more I learn about it, that continues to be true. If we can accept the laws of physics as the rules God wrote to put the universe in motion and keep it functioning, why can’t we accept the laws of biology the same way?
Encouraging teachers to cast doubts on evolution, gravity, thermodynamic principles, etc. does not really better education in any way.
I’m surprised to hear you say that, Brad. What you’re suggesting sounds a lot like teaching religion. But instead of teaching, say, Buddhism, you’d be teaching the religion of science. “Here’s the way the world works, kids. Don’t bother questioning it, because these are the accepted truths.”
Actually, it’s worse than a teaching religion. It’s more like a cult, because a lot of things that are taught in school are wrong. There’s the classic case of the student who got detention for correcting his teacher who claimed that a mile is shorter than the kilometer. Or how about gravity (since you mentioned it)? High school physics teaches that gravity is an attractive force. It’s commonly accepted that gravity can be repulsive, as well.
In addition, I think teaching science as fact instead of theory is a pedagogical disaster. Continuing with gravity, what happens to the next Einstein who questions his teacher’s bogus explaination of gravity only to be shut down because he’s “wrong”. All you have to do is look at a picture of a spiral galaxy to start to question the traditional gravity potential function of 1/R.
Again, Brad, I’m really floored to hear you say this. I can’t speak from experience, since I don’t have children, but I will say that my plan is to raise my future children to be thinkers, not drones. If all kids get in science class are drab, boring facts and formulas, it’s no wonder our science education ranks 19th in the world. But, hey, by teaching evolution, at least you’ll have kids that sound smarter.
Bill, good points. Allow me to expand.
I don’t advocate ever teaching science as an absolute. However, I was referring to high school and below, where most students do not have the resources or time to dig into topics as deeply as college.
When, in high school education were you taught that all math was based on faith in 4 statements being true?
I was a bit exaggerated in that response thanks for catching it.
There’s a difference between a teacher saying “don’t question this kids” (which real science teachers never say) and a teacher saying, “here’s a load of bovine excrement, kids, but you should treat it as if it were gold,” which is what intelligent design creationism is.
No one argues life came from nothing. Evolution isn’t “random chance” — clue one, “selection” is the opposite of random, and Darwin called a theory of natural selection and sexual selection.
Conservatives, it appears, love straw man arguments and distortions of reality, prefering it to hard science. Teach the kids the facts, first. Evolution is a fact, regardless your philosophy.
Re: Encouraging teachers to cast doubts on evolution, gravity, thermodynamic principles, etc. does not really better education
First of all, I agree with Bill that we should encourage open discussion of many different views in school, especially high school and up. I think it’s very legitimate to question the establishment. The prevailing wisdom / majority opinion should be clearly stated as such and given special weight, but open discussion / alternate views should be encouraged.
What surprises me is that all of you have thus far completely missed the point of this post in general. If anything, you’ve proven my point that you seem to have no interest in diverse opinion on this topic. In a science class, absolutely NO alternative view can be raised to challenge evolution. What I hear is that NO other theories are welcome.
This surprises me, given all the lecturing liberals (in general, not you folks) do about free speech, diversity, open discussion, tolerance, etc. In my last post, where this started, either Brad or Neva (can’t remember) trumped up the same old tired “conservatives are so narrow-minded” argument … trying to screw up education by forcing their opinion on people. I think you used the term “ruining science education”. That’s what prompted this point.
And here we are… I’m trying to suggest that we should allow students to hear multiple sides of the debate, and the liberals in the group are saying we need to suppress opinion in the classroom that does not jive with what they believe / feel is fact. Can someone help me understanding how these are reconciled?
Re: not all conservatives subscribe to the points of view I gave as examples
Neva, I apologize. I did not mean to put words in your mouth. I acknowledge that you made a point of stating that your comment did not apply to all conservatives. But that really doesn’t change the point I’m making here.
Re: Evolution does not conclusively state that all life came about from nothing. What it does is look at what we can observe of how organisms can change over time, extrapolate the processes by which those changes occur (natural selection upon random mutation), and conclude that life on earth is likely to have a single origin from which it radiated out.
Here’s what I hear when I read that… (paraphrased) “Evolution does not claim to explain the origin of the universe, it just claims to explain the MOST LIKELY origin of the universe.” Am I understanding correctly? If so, doesn’t that serve to strengthen my argument? If there’s a big gaping hole left between what evolution can say for certain about the origin of the universe and what it says MAY be the origin of the universe, isn’t there a lot of room for a philosophical discussion in the classroom about the various ways that gap might be bridged? … about the various perspectives people have?
Also, and nobody’s addressed this point either… All of you have essentially made my point that liberals tend to package the “scientific observation” part and the “philosophical conclusion” part of evolution into a single thing called “science”. It’s NOT science. It’s both science AND philosophy. That’s the entire point I’m making. Let’s call it “science” when it’s science (what we can observe and test) and “philosophy” when it’s philosophy (the conclusions we draw from our observations which are heavily based in our faith). Why can’t that be discussed in the classroom? (or here for that matter?)
Re: You claim that intelligent design is part science, part philosophy. Please elaborate on this for me. I have seen absolutely nothing to convince me that intelligent design has a scientific, biological basis.
I didn’t say it had a “biological” basis. I cited physics – Newton’s 2nd law of thermodynamics – that entropy can only increase. And I cited basic logic – that where there is design, there’s a designer. You seemed to dismiss these out of hand. From a biological perspective, what about the reality of irreducibly complex organisms – commonly called the “mousetrap problem”?
Re: Difference between “intelligent design” and “theistic evolution”…
Intelligent design is simply the theory that the extremely complex design of the universe and the human body are strong evidence of / point to a designer.
Neva explained theistic evolution very well … the theory that God created the laws of the universe and then sort of stood back and let things whirl (typically understood to include very little intervention thereafter).
These two theories as I understand them are really not very related. You could believe both or neither without creating a conflict.
However, I will also point out (while on the topic of contradictions) that theistic evolution and Christianity seem fundamentally incompatible. Evolution (whether theistic or otherwise) requires death as a fundamental component to how creatures evolve. Only the strong survive, etc, right? A vital tenant of Christian doctrine is that the world was originally created without death, and that death entered the world through sin. If sin were to precede the fall of man, then Christianity – centered around the gospel of Christ as the remedy for sin – unravels. Or at a minimum, you have to jump through some creative hoops to try to reconcile the two.
I’d be very interested to hear Neva’s thoughts on this.
I have stated that I am in favor of teaching alternative scientific hypotheses; I just simply don’t include intelligent design in that category because I have been shown no evidence that convinces me it is science. I’ll get to your specific arguments on that later.
No, that would not be an accurate paraphrase. What I was trying to say was closer to this: Evolution may not explain how life started. It explains how the original life form diversified into all of the various forms of life we see today. There are associated theories on how life actually got started, but accepting one of those is not essential to evolution. Also, this depends a lot on how you define life in order to determine its origins, but that’s a separate question.
I said that I wouldn’t have a problem with a philosophy of science class where these issues are discussed, just that I think it should be separate from actual science classes.
I apologize; I hadn’t realized those were your scientific bases for intelligent design. I still find that lacking as scientific explanation. Almost the entirety of biology appears to circumvent Newton’s law by increasing order on a local scale (molecular/cellular/organismal level) at the expense of increased disorder on a larger scale (heat output, usually). If we must invoke an intelligent designer for the formation of order involved in developing a new, more complex species, do we also need to invoke an intelligent designer that sculpts every single new organism within a womb or egg? After all, that’s an increase in order as two cells form an entire new organism. I can give you examples of local increases in order at all levels of biology; I just started with this one because it was the easiest to explain to non-biologists.
As for the mousetrap argument, I have indeed heard this one many times before. The problem with it is that it assumes the individual pieces had no separate uses before they were assembled together, and this is an unfair assumption. To stick with the idea of a mousetrap, maybe the hook that sets it was being used to hold a door shut, the board for the base was sealing a hole in the wall gnawed by a previous mouse, the spring was keeping a cabinet shut, etc. Then the various parts got put in proximity to one another and gained a new function that was beneficial, so they stayed that way.
You also tend to combine this with the watchmaker argument: Where you see a watch (complex object), you assume there is a watchmaker (someone to create it). There are two major problems with this. First, living beings, unlike most complex objects, can replicate themselves, which allows for variation and selection. Second, if humanity had a designer, it was a pretty incompetent one. (This can be called the blind watchmaker argument.) There are many aspects of the human body that make no sense as part of a design but only in light of evolution from a quadrapedal form. The primary example of this is the human spine. The reason so many people have back problems is that the human spine is very badly designed to support the stresses placed upon it by a bipedial stature. On the other hand, it is well suited to support the stresses placed upon it by the quadrapedial lifestyle adopted by all other creatures with a similar spine design, including presumably our species’s quadrapedial ancestor. As I don’t tend to think of God as incompetent, I have a hard time believing that he intended this sort of faulty design in a deliberate act of creation of humanity in its current form.
I would disagree that someone could believe in both theistic evolution and intelligent design as intelligent design specifically denies the process of evolution in all literature I’ve been able to find about it.
We have previously had a long discussion on this blog (“Godless?” July 30, 06) about how I can reconcile evolution with my Christian faith. One of the points I suggested in that (comment 7, specifically) was that perhaps it was spiritual death that was introduced as a result of sin, rather than physical death. I would find this more consistant with Christian teachings anyway as Christ’s promises to free his followers from death and grant them eternal life are generally accepted to not be referring to death of the body but of the spirit.
I am going to make an effort to limit my comments on this one, largely because most points I would make, Neva is better equipped to make and has already replied about. I will address a couple of points, however.
RE: “…In a science class, absolutely NO alternative view can be raised to challenge evolution. What I hear is that NO other theories are welcome.
This surprises me, given all the lecturing liberals (in general, not you folks) do about free speech, diversity, open discussion, tolerance, etc….”
I don’t think that this is an accurate arguement. While most liberals (and, I think, conservatives and all other American’s) strongly value freedom of speech, the right to open discussion and other such values, we all mostly agree that this does not mean that every forum or class should be based on discussion every different possibility or view; this would lead simply to anarchy. Especially in a class setting, including every possible topic or view in a curriculum would mean that we would rarely get through anything. As a result, various classes tend to limit topics to what appears to be relevant or valid. This does not mean that the topic cannot be asked about under threat of legal sanction or reduction of rights (which would be a violation of freedom of speech), but that the instructor is not under an obligation to cover all views. Thus, the writer of a science class curriculum would be best advised to discuss the theories/facts that have the most scientific basis, research and evidence supporting them. In the context of such a class, this is the appropriate topic. From what I have seen and from what I understand, the general basis of the decision to include evolution and not include intelligent design or similar theories is simply the preponderance of evidence and research findings for the former and the lack thereof for the latter. It was the attempts to force the inclusion of intelligent design into such curricula in which it would not have otherwise passed muster as a supported scientific theory that caused such uproar on this topic recently.
For these reasons, I think that invoking the freedom of speech arguement is inappropriate in this setting. No one has suggested banning discussion of intelligent design in any context, or even asking questions about it in science class; they are simply not asking for it to be necessarily forced into the curriculum. Citing diversity in this issue would be similar to stating that science classes have to include a theory or theories of some natural or scientific process in the curriculum SOLEY because they were developed by a racial/cultural minority, but again did not pass scientific evidentiary muster. The issue of open discussion is again an issue of asking questions, but does not require that this theory be included in the curriculum if it is not sufficiently supported, and concept of tolerance would imply that we should allow others to have their opinions, but not necessarily that we have to support them.
RE: “Also, and nobody’s addressed this point either… All of you have essentially made my point that liberals tend to package the “scientific observation” part and the “philosophical conclusion” part of evolution into a single thing called “science”. ”
I think that the fundemental disagreement here is a disagreement on what is being lumped into the term “evolution.” Jeff defined it the two parts of the theory as the testable, such as natural selection, and the philosophical, such as the conclusion that all life everywhere came about by random chance. Neva and others, from my reading, have countered that the theory of evolution states that life, or organisms appear to change over time through the aggregation of random mutations (minute changes in structure or features) which are better adapted to a given environment and which, over time, led from a single originial life form (probably a single-celled thingy I’ll call Steve) to the wide plethora of plant, animal, human, algae, microbial, and megaSteve lifeforms currently present in the enviroment. Oh, and continues to grow as we speak. This, to my mind, does not include the philosophical issue that you are including; namely, what created that original life source or other non-evidence-based conclusions. The focus is on what can be proven, and the theory of evolution does not encompass further speculation.
Now, to encompass Bill’s point, I think most science courses of a given level also discuss the way in which scientists review, test or are skeptical of a theory. They certainly look for holes in it and consider alternative views as a course of practice; however, they attempt to find the solutions that are most scientifically based.
Finally, I think that the points that you bring up in regards to the intersection of philosophy and science DO have an appropriate place in the educational system; I simply argue that that place is not in a class designed to review the scientific process and present the theories with a preponderance of evidence. I think that this is a strong, healthy and entirely apporpriate topic for discussion in philosophy, civics, religion, ethics, social studies, history, current events and a variety of other classes, as it fits appropriately into the scope and curriculum of that class (ie, legal implications/freedom of speech issues in civics, past arguement/influences in history, how one chooses how to extrapolate a theory in philosophy, etc.). I hope that there is room for all of these discussions in our educational system; I just feel that they should be placed correctly in order to ensure that the students are getting and appropriate grounding in each subject.
How is crank science “diversity of opinion?” In what other disciplines would anyone argue that total lunacy, unproven and silly claims, or outright fraud, should be taught to children in the interest of “diversity of opinion?”
Were there a scintilla of science to creationism, it would be in the textbooks as a simple function of looking at the diversity in science. But there is not a single laboratory on Earth known to be working on any creationism model. Not one. Intelligent design is not taught as science in any biology graduate program in any research university, nor any university period. Not even the major Christian universities teach intelligent design. Were I to challenge you to assemble an intelligent design curriculum showing the best peer-reviewed research (which is the standard in all other science areas), you would have exactly zero material to work with.
I don’t mind a good philosophical discussion, especially about the roots of science and what we can really know. Intelligent design does not qualify as good philosophy. It offers no illumination on any part of science.
And, as a Christian, I regard it as crank theology as well.
There is no freedom of speech issue that insists utter and complete folly should be taught to children for any reason. I regard it as morally bankrupt to even suggest it (would you suggest we teach Soviet economics on the same basis — in the interests of “diversity of opinion?” How could we distinguish? Soviet economics had a much more successful run for about a century than intelligent design has ever had.)
Do you think we should teach cold fusion in physics and chemistry, too? It’s rather disproven, though there are still good questions. Several labs still dabble in cold fusion, trying to figure out what goes on — that’s in stark contrast to the zero labs working in intelligent design.
Intelligent design is the cold fusion of biology, except without the theory, and about 100 times less supported by real lab research. By your criteria, I would assume we need to revive phlogiston theory and the “vapors” theory of disease, as well. We’ll have to add at least two years’ science to high school requirements, just to include the false stuff.
How could anyone mistake that for “good philosophy?”
By the way, the thermodynamic argument against evolution is voodoo science at its best, at its most voodoo. Were it true that thermodynamics prevents DNA from altering, it would also be true that thermodynamics prevents cells duplication. Almost all functions of living cells are in defiance of the general trend towards a less energy-intensive future, but it is powered by large energy inputs from nuclear radiation and local stars. We do not live in the hypothetically closed system. We have a local star which provides ample energy to overcome thermodynamic issues.
By creationist definitions of thermodynamics, photosynthesis cannot occur. Again, I regard it as bad philosophy to teach that such blatant falsehoods should be “considered” for the sake of pleasing a minority religious cult.
There has been too much abuse of thermodynamics in this post. Specifically the Entropy Law. Yes in a closed sytem entropy cannot be reduced.
The evaporator in your AC lowers the entropy in your home during the summer, but the overall entropy change due to the whole AC system (evaporator, condensor, compressor) increases.
The behavior of entropy limits the efficiency of any system to a theoretical maximum. However, this does not declare any system magical or in violation of natural law (except for my perpetual motion machine)
As has been said before, I agree that the majority of liberals encourage diverse teaching and questioning established views. However, as pointed out there is currently no competing scientific theory to evolution, thermodynamics, etc. Where competing valid theories exist (economics) they are all covered.
Re: Evolution may not explain how life started. It explains how the original life form diversified into all of the various forms of life we see today. There are associated theories on how life actually got started, but accepting one of those is not essential to evolution.
This is fascinating – the first time I’ve heard this. It also, more any anything else said here recently, goes tot he heart of what I was trying to talk about (fairly unsuccessfully, it seems) in this entry… That there is a place where science stops and philosophy starts. I’m glad to hear you admit that there are things about the origin of life that evolution doesn’t explain. I agree.
Re: I said that I wouldn’t have a problem with a philosophy of science class where these issues are discussed, just that I think it should be separate from actual science classes.
As long as the science classes only teach science, and not philosophy-that-we-are-calling-science-so-that-we-don’t-have-to-entertain-other-philosophies, then I’m great with that too. The problem is that it seems a common practice to teach evolution, then teach that because of evolution we know where all life came from, and call it science. This is not the case. Philosophy has been mixed in and called science. So, either remove the philosophy and isolate it in another class with alternative philosophies for the sake of open discussion, or allow the other alternatives into the science class. Where we are right now in most schools (as I perceive it, not being there everyday) is a hybrid that I find biased and unacceptable.
Re: Newton’s law
I’m not making a “locally” vs “globally” argument. A baby growing in the womb is not a closed system. Energy from the mother is invested into the growth process of the baby, right? So, this is in no way a violation of Newton’s law, is it?
Re: If we must invoke an intelligent designer for the formation of order involved in developing a new, more complex species, do we also need to invoke an intelligent designer that sculpts every single new organism within a womb or egg?
Yes. I absolutely, as Scripture states, believe that an all-powerful God directs the natural process of growth and development of a fetus in the womb. Not only did He come up with the laws and genetics and processes at work, but is intimately involved with those processes as they progress.
Re: the mousetrap argument
I don’t understand your explanation at all, actually. It sounds like you’re implying that no intelligence was required for a piece of a door, a piece of a wall, and a piece of a cabinet to “break themselves off” and reorganize into a mousetrap. I just don’t understand how that works in practice.
Re: the watchmaker argument
Yes, absolutely every example I could name in the real world in which I see something that was created / designed, I assume intelligence on the part of the creator / designer. Complex things like my laptop, iPod, cell phone, watch – all require a lot of smarts and hard work to put them together.
I understand what you’re saying about a living organism being able to reproduce, but I don’t see how that nullifies my argument. Important to note here is that in addition to calling the living thing itself “a complex thing”, I’m also calling the blueprint by which is reproduces “a complex thing”. Even if we were to “blame” the reproduction of the living thing on the blueprint, where did the blueprint come from? The blueprint is even more complex than the organism (far more impressive than the human brain is that the human brain knows how to build itself from a handful of cells). Did not this *unbelievably* complex blueprint require a designer?
Re: the poor design of the human body
Don’t you find it to be the slightest bit arrogant to say that “if humanity had a designer, it was a pretty incompetent one”? Personally, I find that to be an unbelievably arrogant comment (one I’ve heard before). Millions of scientists and engineers every day in the fields of AI, robotics, medicine and many others spend their entire lives trying to make our pathetic imitations of life just a little more like God’s design. If it’s so bad and we can do so much better, where’s the results? Observing that the way the body functions has changed over time does NOT imply (in my mind) that the design is fundamentally flawed or bad.
Re: previous discussion / “Godless?” blog entry
Thanks for reminding me of this, Neva. I thought some of our discussion sounded familiar. See my entry Godless? from back in July for more discussion on evolution.
Re: Especially in a class setting, including every possible topic or view in a curriculum would mean that we would rarely get through anything.
I’m not suggesting that we open every class up to every view that every person has. You’re taking my argument, and making it very extreme. Obviously, I wouldn’t go for that. I’m talking about a view that is deeply personal and closely related to views help by 80-90% of Americans. Something that pervasive should not be ignored or dismissed out of hand if other philosophies are already being discussed – i.e. the part of what is sometimes called “evolution” which claims to understand / explain the origin of life and the universe.
Re: No one has suggested banning discussion of intelligent design in any context, or even asking questions about it in science class; they are simply not asking for it to be necessarily forced into the curriculum.
Everyone writing here (other than me) is explicitly calling for this discussion to not be permitted, certainly not encouraged, in a science class. Again, I feel that when so many people believe something, it should at least get a few bullets and a discussion devoted to it. What would be so wrong with that?
Besides, for the 10th time, this wasn’t even the point I was originally trying to make. What I want is for people to acknowledge that there is a line at which the “science” of evolution stops and the “philosophy” of evolution starts. Once we cross that line, theories like “intelligent design” are just as valid, and should be just as welcome in the discussion.
Re: I think that the fundamental disagreement here is a disagreement on what is being lumped into the term “evolution”.
Precisely! Thanks, Chris!
Re: The focus is on what can be proven, and the theory of evolution does not encompass further speculation.
Do all of you feel that this is true in the majority of schools in the US, both HS and college? That there is no philosophy being presented as unquestionable science with topics like evolution?
Re: There is not a single laboratory on Earth known to be working on any creationism model. Not one. Intelligent design is not taught as science in any biology graduate program in any research university, nor any university period. Not even the major Christian universities teach intelligent design.
Wow, that’s a very unequivocal statement. How do you know that with so much certainty, edarrell?
Re: Intelligent design does not qualify as good philosophy. It offers no illumination on any part of science.
Why do you say that? Please explain how you come to that conclusion.
Re: There is no freedom of speech issue that insists utter and complete folly should be taught to children for any reason. I regard it as morally bankrupt to even suggest it (would you suggest we teach Soviet economics on the same basis – in the interests of “diversity of opinion?”)
Whoa! All over the map. One, the theory of intelligent design and others have a huge philosophical component, so it’s pretty bold to just categorically dismiss them as “utter and complete folly”. Second, I completely disagree with you about what we should teach children. I think it’s tragic that we don’t expose them to other economic systems more, because they take capitalism totally for granted. Many kids grow up without even the most basic understanding of how our economy works, how the stock market works, etc. If we don’t tell them about other systems, how can they learn the difference between the two.
Now, and I think this is where you were going with this, one system is clearly better than the others. I would not give socialism the same status as capitalism or communism the same status as democracy. Similarly, and I stated this, I would express that the scientific community overwhelming feels that evolution is the best explanation for how species diverge, etc. However, where the science transitions to philosophy in attempting to explain origins of life, etc, there are lot of different opinions / views that can’t be proven, etc. Just because you don’t see the same way, why should we limit the conversation to only include your perspective?
Re: Do you think we should teach cold fusion in physics and chemistry, too?
Yes. I talked to my brother this morning – a chemist who teaches advanced chem and physics. He frequently keeps tabs on unfolding developments in the physical sciences, such as superconductivity, fusion, etc. I’m not sure I follow you here? Are you proposing that someone intelligent design and cold fusion are equally “voodoo science”? I’m not sure there’s much comparison to be made here.
Re: And, as a Christian, I regard it as crank theology as well.
So, I’d be very interested in your answer to this question.
Way too many discussions going on here, so I’m going to try the whole quoting thing to try and direct my responses a bit more coherently. I’m also going to limit my response (in the interest of time and space) to the parts of the discussion I’m directly involved with.
Re: Evolution may not explain how life started. I’m glad to hear you admit that there are things about the origin of life that evolution doesn’t explain.
I really believe that a lot of your problems with evolution, as this statement implies, have to do with a flawed understanding of it. Evolution is a theory of how organisms change over time, often in an adaptive fashion, to produce the wide variety of life forms visible today from some very simple initial living organism.
The biggest problem in talking about the origin of life is, as I alluded to earlier, how one defines life. In school, we learn that living beings have certain characteristics, primarily the ability to reproduce. Then as we study science further, we get into cases that challenge our definition.
Is a virus alive? It can reproduce, but only by using another living organism. Then again, most parasites can’t live on their own either, and we don’t consider that they aren’t alive.
Is a prion alive? It’s a misfolded protein that can make other proteins change to resemble it, which is sort of reproduction, but it requires a living system to make it and the other proteins it acts upon, so that’s probably not really life, but we’ll need to change our definition to make that clear.
Is a piece of RNA alive? Well, it can replicate by recruiting complementary matching nucleotides to get something with a sequence containing the same information. There are even examples of RNA molecules that can do this completely on their own without needing any proteins to put everything together. Some people interpret early fossil evidence (by using evolutionary principles) that the first complex biological molecules were RNA molecules able to reproduce themselves. Does this count as the origin of life? Or do we not call it life until it resembles something like an archaebacterium?
Science can’t definitively talk about the origin of life because we’re still trying to define what is and is not life. Humans love categorizing things and pointing out clear lines of demarcation between categories. But the real world, especially the biological world, does not fall into these neat, tidy categories.
Re: The problem is that it seems a common practice to teach evolution, then teach that because of evolution we know where all life came from, and call it science.
We do, to an extent, know where all life on earth today came from because of evolution: It came from some very simple original life form. This is what evolution states, and this is what we should teach. As for the origin of that basic life form, which I sense is one of your big problems with evolution, science classes give the best scientific explanation available for where it came from, talking about “primordial soup” where all of these quasi-organic molecules were floating around in the right mix to end up getting combined into something able to self-replicate. We don’t know exactly how that happened because we weren’t there, but that’s the best explanation available from the information we have.
Re: Newton’s law. I’m not making a “locally” vs “globally” argument. A baby growing in the womb is not a closed system. Energy from the mother is invested into the growth process of the baby, right? So, this is in no way a violation of Newton’s law, is it?
I didn’t claim it was a violation of Newton’s law. I said that, if one looked at just the developing organism, it could appear to be. This is precisely because a developing organism is not a closed system. Neither, as Ed pointed out, is the earth. Energy input from the sun drives almost all life on earth, directly or indirectly. What I was trying to point out is that Newton’s second law only applies to closed systems, and we’re not talking about a closed system, so I have trouble seeing why it’s relevant. Like a developing baby, developing life could appear to create order in defiance of entropy if you only look at part of the system in which the events are taking place.
Re: I absolutely, as Scripture states, believe that an all-powerful God directs the natural process of growth and development of a fetus in the womb. Not only did He come up with the laws and genetics and processes at work, but is intimately involved with those processes as they progress.
The point I was trying to make is this: Does the involvement of God in that process negate the need for the biological laws and genetics that guide it? Of course not; we wouldn’t have birth defects and genetically-based disorders if the genetics and biology weren’t required. In that case, why does the involvement of God in the creation of life have to negate evolution as the mechanism by which it proceeded?
Re: the mousetrap argument. I don’t understand your explanation at all, actually. It sounds like you’re implying that no intelligence was required for a piece of a door, a piece of a wall, and a piece of a cabinet to “break themselves off” and reorganize into a mousetrap.
Quite simply, no intelligence was required to reorganize the components into a new form, because that new form was not a deliberate goal, just a fortuitous chance. I think the problem here is that you’re confusing the analogy with the reality. So let’s quit talking about bits of a mousetrap, and start talking about genes and proteins.
The key to this is that replication of DNA, as good as it is, is not perfect, particularly when under stress from things like UV light, various chemicals, etc. So when copying the DNA to make the cell that will become a new organism, mistakes can happen.
One of the common types of mistake is duplication, creating two copies of a particular region of DNA instead of one. This gives you an extra copy of a gene, and any changes to that gene in later generations that alter its function won’t automatically be harmful to the organism because it’s still using the original version for the original function. So random mutation and natural selection are free to experiment with this extra copy. Sometimes it ends up becoming useless gibberish (pseudogene), but sometimes it ends up with a new purpose, a function the original gene (and probably the original organism) didn’t have.
This means, to go back to the analogy, that you wouldn’t have to rip apart the door. When building the next kitchen, you just happened to accidentally make an extra hook, so you leave it laying around for later use. Next time you build a kitchen, you don’t remember what you did the first time or why; you just copy the current version, including the extra hook. Eventually, you can accumulate enough spare parts that you start finding new uses for them, since they’re just sitting there anyway. This doesn’t require intelligence or foresight, just lots of random samples.
Re: the watchmaker argument. I understand what you’re saying about a living organism being able to reproduce, but I don’t see how that nullifies my argument. Did not this *unbelievably* complex blueprint require a designer?
The ability of a living being to reproduce is less important to the argument of evolution than the ability of living beings to reproduce slightly incorrectly. This, as I illustrated above, is where the variation comes from that allows new things to be made. This random self-induced variation is why living beings are completely different from made objects like watches, cameras, or iPods.
The complex blueprint didn’t need a designer because it didn’t start out that complex. It started out as a simple RNA molecule that was able to replicate itself (according to use the most prominant interpretation of which I am aware). Sometimes, the copies weren’t quite right, and sometimes this made them useless. But sometimes it made them able to replicate better, possibly by using simple amino acids to hold things in the right places based on their charges. (RNA is negatively charged due to its phosphate groups, so positively charged amino acids could help attract new bases that would be less inclined to interact with other negative charges otherwise.) This happened millions of times, and the versions that developed new tricks have an advantage and replicate better/faster, so there are more of them, each one with the ability to develop yet another new trick that makes the process even better/faster.
Basically, biological systems are fully capable of forming themselves without any external design simply through a process of successive rounds of replication with mutation and selection upon the resulting variation. Any random pattern that runs long enough (and life has had a very long time to run) will produce complexity.
Re: the poor design of the human body. Don’t you find it to be the slightest bit arrogant to say that “if humanity had a designer, it was a pretty incompetent one”? Personally, I find that to be an unbelievably arrogant comment (one I’ve heard before).
I’m sure you’ve heard that comment before, probably from me, as it’s my strongest Christianity-based argument against the watchmaker idea. I do not find it to be an arrogant statement at all, merely a logical extrapolation. We believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient. If so, why would He do such a poor job in designing humanity, which is supposed to be His great creation, life in His own image? There are too many flaws in the human body for me to believe that God specifically created it deliberately as it is. I believe that, if God wanted to create a being, He would, being omnipotent and omniscient, do a lot better job of it.
Re: Millions of scientists and engineers every day in the fields of AI, robotics, medicine and many others spend their entire lives trying to make our pathetic imitations of life just a little more like God’s design. If it’s so bad and we can do so much better, where’s the results?
I never said that we could do better. Human beings are by no means omniscient or omnipotent. We are not perfect creators. I don’t see how this is relevant; the fact that we can’t create perfection has no bearing on whether we would expect God to be able to do so.
Re: Observing that the way the body functions has changed over time does NOT imply (in my mind) that the design is fundamentally flawed or bad.
So you are accepting that the modern human form has evolved from a quadraped ancestor rather than being specifically created as it is? Your statement certainly assumes that belief. I never claimed that the flaws mean that the human body is bad overall, merely that it was not designed to function in its current form, implying that it evolved from an earlier, different form. If you are accepting human evolution from an ancestral species, perhaps it would be easier for me to explain evolution to you if you tell me which aspects of it you don’t understand so that I don’t spend my time on explanations that aren’t necessary.
That’s not what is in any text book. That is not in any curriculum I know of . If you can point to someone or some book in use in public schools where philosophy is taught as science, please do. Biology teachers don’t have time in this age of testing to dabble is stuff outside the realm of what is well-known in biology, especially in AP biology.
Evolution is taught because it is science, well established, and it works in the real world. Suggesting we open these classes up to discussion of intelligent design is tantamount to opening third-grade math classes to discussions of “wouldn’t it be fun if 2+2 sometimes equals 5, or 6? Shouldn’t it, in som cases?”
Re: I really believe that a lot of your problems with evolution, as this statement implies, have to do with a flawed understanding of it. Evolution is a theory of how organisms change over time, often in an adaptive fashion, to produce the wide variety of life forms visible today from some very simple initial living organism.
And as I’ve said many times, I not only understand that this is true, but of course I support teaching this reality. As I have been trying to explain, this is the part that is actually science.
What I’m surpised you’re unwilling to admit (although nobody else is either, seemingly, so no big deal) that this is carried in *many* contexts (especially the classroom) way beyond this research-supported fact to the philosophical conclusion that this is how life began.
I don’t know how God created life, created the universe, and the truth is that I don’t really care. Perhaps God use a “building block” method; rock on! Perhaps we evolved from quadropeds (again a far cry from “evolving from primodial goop”); that’s fine too. As long as death didn’t preced the fall of man (for example), and none of our theories contradict the Bible (more broadly), we can debate all day long.
What I *do* know is that there *is* a God who *did* create all things, in a personal directed way.
BTW, I’m curious… What evidence we biologists have for the “primodial goop” theory?
Re: definition of “life”
Again, a philosophical statement, but human life is “special”. This is one of the things about evolution that causes most Christians major heartburn – the tendancy to view human beings as nothing but chemical processes / RNA strands that have been messing around replicating for a billion years, instead of intentionally-designed beings made in the image of God. This is an aside from the topic at hand, but no more so than the rest of the comments here.
Re: Newton’s law
I understand that can not view the earth as a closed system, but the universe *is* a closed system is it not? My point is that we can’t just cordon off the earth because it’s the only place where “life” exists that we’re aware of, and say it’s an open system, so we can have all the violation of entropy laws we want.
Re: The point I was trying to make is this: Does the involvement of God in that process negate the need for the biological laws and genetics that guide it?
No, but if you believe the Bible, then you have to understand that God is personal. He’s more than someone who put a process in place and went on vacation. See my previous statement for more info.
Re: Mousetrap discussion
You prove my point with terms like “no intelligence was required”, “not deliberate”, “random” (mutation), “useless gibberish”, etc. These are all philosophical statements. How do you know from any scientific method that any of these terms is actually applicable? Do they not originate in the generally-humanist philosophy of the scientific community? The only term you used that would agree with my philosophy (again, nothing to do with science) is your use of the word “purpose”.
Re: This random self-induced variation is why living beings are completely different from made objects like watches, cameras, or iPods.
Not really looking to argue this point, just curious what you’d say to… I just ordered a new monitor that came from a factory (a complex manufacturing process) with a line down the right side. It was slightly different than all other monitors that came out of the factory. Mutated, I suppose. How is this different from what you’re describing in organic life?
Re: Your long explanations of evolution
I have to say that this is frustrating me a bit. I appreciate your willingness to explain these things at great length, but I’m confused as to how anyone got the idea that I’m arguing with concepts like mutation and natural selection.
Re: I never said that we could do better. Human beings are by no means omniscient or omnipotent. We are not perfect creators. I don’t see how this is relevant; the fact that we can’t create perfection has no bearing on whether we would expect God to be able to do so.
So, you’re essentially saying that God did a lousy job, but that neither you nor anyone else you know could do better. Isn’t it obvious why I would say that this is kind of an arrogant position?
Re: we can’t just cordon off the earth because it’s the only place where “life” exists that we’re aware of, and say it’s an open system, so we can have all the violation of entropy laws we want.
No, but as we can’t study the entire closed system, we can’t know that we have violated the laws of entropy. Until you can concretely show that the overall order of the entire closed system (ie the universe) was increased by the formation of life, you can’t state that it does violate entropy.
Re: Mousetrap discussion. How do you know from any scientific method that any of these terms is actually applicable?
I know that evolution is a random process rather than a guided one with specific goals because we can see places where a lot of “mistakes” are made. The fossil record is full of entire groups of organisms that didn’t end up working out and went extinct. That strongly suggests to me a random, trial and error process rather than a guided, directed one.
Re: I just ordered a new monitor that came from a factory (a complex manufacturing process) with a line down the right side. It was slightly different than all other monitors that came out of the factory. Mutated, I suppose. How is this different from what you’re describing in organic life?
This is where my explanation about living beings reproducing comes in. That monitor cannot reproduce itself, so it can’t pass on that change to the next monitor. In other words, unlike life, the fact that your “mutated” monitor came off that assembly line does not mean that all of the other monitors to come off the same line will share the same “mutation”. So there’s no chance for that change to be selected upon.
Re: how anyone got the idea that I’m arguing with concepts like mutation and natural selection.
Your arguments on irreducible complexity are how I got this idea. You said that biological processes are too complex to have evolved through evolution. So I am explaining how the mechanisms of evolution work such that complex things can result from them.
Re: So, you’re essentially saying that God did a lousy job, but that neither you nor anyone else you know could do better. Isn’t it obvious why I would say that this is kind of an arrogant position?
No, I still don’t think that saying “Humans aren’t as good at this as God should be” is arrogant. How do you reconcile the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful God with someone who doesn’t give upright-walking humans their own spine made to support their weight but instead uses the same one He put in all of the quadrapeds?
Because if you can’t accept that death existed before humanity, then that spine can’t have evolved from a quadraped ancestor of humanity, so God must have gotten lazy and just reused a spine in humans even though it didn’t work very well for us.
Re: All the discussion of evolution as philosophy which seems to be the main point you want to discuss.
I do not consider evolution to be philosophy. I consider it to be our best scientific explanations based on our current understanding and the evidence available to us at this time. Maybe, to you, since that isn’t proven fact, it’s the same as philosophy. If so, I’ll accept that you don’t understand the scientific process and don’t want to and will just leave it at that.
Evolution, like all science, is not a fixed body of knowledge. It is constantly changing as we find new fossils, study the DNA of species we haven’t looked at before, and learn more about how various biological processes work. It, like all science, is always a best-fit explanation for what we know right now. Based on what we know, we speculate about what we don’t (eg the very early life forms), and we make hypotheses about what we would expect to see based on that speculation. Then we look for more fossils, more evidence, and see if it matches the predictions of those hypotheses. And we refine the hypotheses based on that. I’m sure this all sounds familiar; it’s the scientific method. Science involves a degree of speculation; it’s all about asking questions, and you have to speculate about the answer in order to know what to look for to study the question.
All of this applies to evolution. It doesn’t apply to intelligent design. “We can’t fully explain how this happened scientifically, so we’re going to quit asking questions and just assume that some great being we can’t study did it in a way we’ll never be able to understand” is not science; it’s a cop-out. It’s a decision to turn off your brain, quit questioning, declare a topic closed, and never learn anything else about it. That isn’t science, and there’s no way it should be taught as science.
If your real problem here comes down to “Grade school and high school classes are teaching some of the best guesses and simplified explanations as if they were true,” then evolution is not the only area you should have a problem with. Almost all of education at that level can be referred to as “lies to children”, the simplified version that you have to learn in order to have the groundwork to understand the more complex version that is closer to what we think is the truth. Some examples? Physics: rainbows are formed because a drop of water can act as a prism. (Okay, but where does the shape come from? Why do all the drops sometimes line up to do that?) History: the Civil War was fought because the North wanted to free the slaves. (Well, that was part of it for some of the people involved, but there were a lot of other factors.) Literature: Shakespeare wrote these great plays. (Probably. Of course, we don’t have any copies of his actual words for most of them, and the versions we study are usually what actors or audience members wrote down and sold later, and there are two completely different versions of King Lear that have very little in common at the text level, so we usually study a compromise between the two.) In short, nothing we teach in elementary or secondary school is the complete truth or the cutting-edge understanding (except perhaps basic arithmetic, and any mathemeticians here are welcome to tell me I’m wrong about that). You can’t start with the complex version; you have to lay down a basic understanding first, even if it is simplified and not the complete explanation. Why should the origins of life be the only area where that doesn’t hold true? Because it challenges your religious beliefs?
Upon further thought, I have a few more things to say, along more philosophical lines rather than scientific ones.
Re: Perhaps we evolved from quadropeds (again a far cry from “evolving from primodial goop”); that’s fine too. As long as death didn’t preced the fall of man (for example), and none of our theories contradict the Bible (more broadly), we can debate all day long.
How can it be “fine” with you that humans evolved from quadrapeds if you won’t discuss any idea that has death existing before humanity? Do you define our quadraped ancestors as human?
Do you really mean to say that you will not consider any science (or anything else) that contradicts the literal wording of the Bible? Are you challenging textbooks that talk about the water cycle and there being a constant amount of water on earth that makes up about 75% of its surface? You should if you won’t accept any science that doesn’t fit the Bible; the water cycle contradicts the Biblical truth that the whole world was underwater during the great flood.
Re: human life is “special”. This is one of the things about evolution that causes most Christians major heartburn – the tendancy to view human beings as nothing but chemical processes / RNA strands that have been messing around replicating for a billion years, instead of intentionally-designed beings made in the image of God.
I do belief that humanity is special, not in our physical biology but in our capacity for self-awareness, abstract thought, and free will. Are you saying that you think God is a bipedial being with two arms and all of our general physiology since we were made in His image? I have always believed that God is not as concerned with the physical body as with the mind and soul, the spiritual body. I believe this is the sense in which we were made in His image: free will, the capacity for thought, the capacity for love.
I also am bothered by your statement that evolution upsets “most Christians” with the assertion that the human body is biologically similar to other living things. Can you back up the idea that the majority of Christians worldwide (or even in America) are, in fact, upset by this? This is precisely what I was talking about before with conservative Christian thought being the default position and assuming that anyone who thinks otherwise is a minority view in the Christian faith.
Re: So, you’re essentially saying that God did a lousy job, but that neither you nor anyone else you know could do better.
I’ve decided to try one more time to explain what I’m actually saying here, since it obviously hasn’t been communicated effectively yet. Think of it as a basic logic statement.
God is all-knowing and all-powerful and a perfect being. He would thus not do a lousy job of creating a living being in his image.
A lousy job was, in fact, done in many aspects of the design of the human body.
Therefore, God did not specifically design and create the human body.