Friday, April 12, 2013

Educating an Intelligent Design Creationist: The Meaning of Darwinism

Intelligent Design Creationists love to refer to their opponents as "Darwinists." We all know why they do it. It's a rhetorical device designed to belittle those who accept evolution. The term makes it look like evolutionary biologists worship a man who died 130 years ago and it implies that we still believe in nineteenth century science. The term "Darwinist" also makes it easy to associate modern scientists with social Darwinism. That's a common strategy employed by creationists of all stripes. I get it. It has nothing to do with scientific debates about evolution.

But sometimes rhetoric gets in the way of understanding. There seem to be a few (very few) Intelligent Design Creationists who genuinely want to understand the issues—even if their motive is still to push a scientific view of creationism. They pop up from time to time on the Intelligent Design Creationist websites. Andyjones seems to be one of them. (I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

The problem is that these people are so used to referring to opponents as "Darwinists" that they have come to believe their own rhetoric. This is a problem when they're trying to understand something like junk DNA since they have steadfastly resisted learning about modern evolutionary theory and, consequently, they just don't get the concept of nonadaptive evolution. Unfortunately for them, this is the key to understanding the science behind genome evolution so they will never be able to engage in serious scientific debate about genomes.

There's a reason why horses wear blinders but there's no good reason for humans to avoid looking at things they need to see.

I'm replying to a post by andyjones (More and more) Function, the evolution-free gospel of ENCODE. That was the fourth post in an exchange between me and him. In response to his latest post, I'm working my way through five issues that Intelligent Design Creationists need to understand. So far, we've covered three of them.

Educating an Intelligent Design Creationist: Introduction
Educating an Intelligent Design Creationist: Pervasive Transcription
Educating an Intelligent Design Creationist: Rare Transcripts
Educating an Intelligent Design Creationist: The Specificity of DNA Binding Proteins

Andyjones said,
Actually there is that fourth thing I have learned: Larry does not like being called a Darwinist, or his theory Darwinian. The problem is, though, that without any Darwinian natural selection, neutral evolution would have no shape at all, so it would be rather disingenuous for a neutral evolutionist, for example, to pretend to disavow it altogether. For that reason, I think it is most truthful to continue using the term ‘Darwinist’ inclusively to describe those people. ‘Darwinist’ is an handy label, not an epithet.

This is the problem. We've discussing junk DNA and Darwinian natural selection isn't an important player in shaping large mammalian genomes. No modern evolutionary biologist "disavows" natural selection. That would be absurd. They all understand perfectly well that natural selection is an important mechanism of evolution. The best evolutionary biologists understand the modern population genetics view of natural selection—including its stochastic nature—something that Charles Dawrin never knew.

It is not "truthful" to continue to refer to all evolutionary biologists as Darwinists, especially when discussing junk DNA. This gets the Intelligent Design Creationists into all kinds of hot water when they start saying that "Darwinists" predicted junk DNA and that refuting junk DNA threatens "Darwinism." Real "Darwinists" have always been extremely skeptical about junk DNA because it doesn't fit into their adaptationist framework. If our genome really is full of junk then this is a blow to "Darwinism," not the other way around.

If the ID community is just using rhetorical tricks (i.e. lies) then that's one thing, but if people like andyjones are really trying to understand the science then they are allowing their prejudices to get in the way. The need to understand that "Darwinist" is not just a "handy label" to describe both the scientists who support junk DNA and those who oppose it.

You can't have a serious scientific debate about genomes unless you are familiar with the ideas of Michael Lynch and his book The Origins of Genome Architecture. You can't be up to speed on the latest ideas if you insist on pigeonholing everyone into the Darwinism camp. Intelligent Design Creationists need to make an effort to learn about evolutionary biology if they ever want to be taken seriously by the scientific community.1

In the scientific community, "Darwinism" is associated with adaptationism. Can you imagine how someone like Michael Lynch feels if you insist upon calling him a "Darwinist"? (A feeling I share: Why I'm Not a Darwinist2]. I'd like andyjones to read this passage from Lynch's book and see if it fits with his idea of "Darwinism" [see Michael Lynch on Adaptationism].
... the uncritical acceptance of natural selection as an explanatory force for all aspects of biodiversity (without any direct evidence) is not much different than invoking an intelligent designer (without any direct evidence). True, we have actually seen natural selection in action in a number of well-documented cases of phenotypic evolution (Endler 1986; Kingsolver et al. 2001), but it is a leap to assume that selection accounts for all evolutionary change, particularly at the molecular and cellular levels. The blind worship of natural selection is not evolutionary biology. It is arguably not even science. Natural selection is just one of several evolutionary mechanisms, and the failure to realize this is probably the most significant impediment to a fruitful integration of evolutionary theory with molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

It should be emphasized here that the sins of panselectionism are by no means restricted to developmental biology, but simply follow the tradition embraced by many areas of evolutionary biology itself, including paleontology and evolutionary ecology (as cogently articulated by Gould and Lewontin in 1979). The vast majority of evolutionary biologists studying morphological, physiological, and or behavioral traits almost always interpret the results in terms of adaptive mechanisms, and they are so convinced of the validity of this approach that virtually no attention is given to the null hypothesis of neutral evolution, despite the availability of methods to do so (Lande 1976; Lynch and Hill 1986; Lynch 1994). For example, in a substantial series of books addressed to the general public, Dawkins (e,g., 1976, 1986, 1996, 2004) has deftly explained a bewildering array of observations in terms of hypothetical selection scenarios. Dawkins's effort to spread the gospel of the awesome power of natural selection has been quite successful, but it has come at the expense of reference to any other mechanisms, and because more people have probably read Dawkins than Darwin, his words have in some ways been profoundly misleading. To his credit, Gould, who is also widely read by the general public, frequently railed against adaptive storytelling, but it can be difficult to understand what alternative mechanisms of evolution Gould had in mind.
One of the mechanism that Gould had in mind was random genetic drift of neutral alleles as clearly explained in the "Spandrels" paper that Lynch quotes. But that's not the point. The point is that "Darwinism" is a synonym for adaptationism in the eyes of many biologists. It's certainly true that Intelligent Design Creationists think that way.

Here's another comment from andyjones that illustrates the self-imposed blinders.
Aside: approaching biology with design heuristics in this way is a whole lot more interesting than approaching it from the Darwinian (I insist on using that term the normal way) point of view (especially the neutralists who assume pointlessness) which focusses so much on sequence comparison often without reference to function or functional constraints.
He's never going to understand evolution as long as he thinks like that. Note that I'm not criticizing his "design heuristic" approach. I'm criticizing his naive dismissal of evolutionary theory. A dismissal that's based largely on willful ignorance.

In my discussion with andyjones I tried to show him the error of his ways. At one point he was talking about the ENCODE project and he claimed that "Darwinian theories" did not predict that 80% of the human genome would be transcribed. I tried to explain that "strict Darwinists" (i.e. adaptationists) were quite happy to learn that most of our genome might be functional.

This prompted a response from andyjones ....
By ‘Strict Darwinist’ who is ‘opposed to junk DNA’, I presume Larry means one of those naïve folks who believe in extremely high selection coefficients [tut tut and feel sorry for them]. To normal people however, ‘Darwinist’ includes anyone who believes in a strictly naturalistic, ateleological yet somehow creative evolution. That’s the core assumption of Darwin in the Origin of Species, and that is the one thing that hasn’t changed since, and is the thing that Intelligent Design takes issue with. As I pointed out above, ‘neutralists’ need Darwin’s mechanism too. Claims by Larry Moran and others that they are not Darwinists, seem a little bit pedantic and silly from where I am standing. Just saying (again).
Poor andyjones. He's a prisoner of his own rhetoric. He wants desperately to have his cake and eat it too. He says that "Darwinists" predicted junk DNA and that "Darwinists" did not predict that 80% of our genome might be functional. At the same time, he claims that natural selection is really important in evolutionary theory. In fact, he insists that "'neutralists' need Darwin's mechanism too."

Educating Intelligent Design Creationists is proving to be far more difficult than I ever imagined.


1. That's clearly what they want. Or, at least, it's what some of them want. I think several of them honestly believe that they have credible scientific arguments in support of intelligent design. Problem is, they are shooting themselves in the foot whenever they talk about "Darwinism" as though it represented modern evolutionary theory.

2. You can be pretty sure that some IDiot is going to raise the objection that my use of "creationist" as in "Intelligent Design Creationist" is just as bad a sin as using "Darwinist." I covered this objection in: How Do Intelligent Design Creationists Define "Creationism"?. Post comments there if you dare.

102 comments :

  1. This Andy Jones said:
    ‘Darwinist’ includes anyone who believes in a strictly naturalistic, ateleological yet somehow creative evolution
    This is direct evidence that 'Andy Jones' has no understanding of science at all, and is not going to allow himself to be educated on any point of science. He simply opposes science. Case closed.

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  2. "especially the neutralists who assume pointlessness" - an interesting phrase casting light on the creationist mindset. The implication is that evolution must have a "point", but it is never quite clear what that is supposed to mean. Perhaps the creationists can help clarify which of the many dynamic processes we observe in nature are supposed to have a "point" and which not:

    Does planetery motion have a "point"?
    Does an apple falling from a tree have a "point"?
    Do fluctuating wind patterns have a "point"?
    Do the movements of the stock market have a "point"?

    If some of the answers are "no", why should we presuppose that evolution is different from these processes? If all of the answers are "yes", why single out evolutionary theory (and not physics, meteorology, economics, etc) for criticism?

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    1. But of course the theistic view is that everything does have a point, so the development of life (and particularly humans) can hardly be an exception.

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    2. Why "particularly humans"? If everything has a point, the development of humans has neither less nor more of it than weather fluctuations, Brownian motion, or the development of mosquitoes.

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    3. But Piotr, the point of human development is way pointier than anything else, because humans are 'specially created in the image of God' and have a 'point' to fulfill in heaven or hell. ;)

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    4. So my follw-up question is still unanswered: why do creationists not object to the use of stochastic models to make money on the stock market? They assume "pointlessness" in exactly the same way that evolutionary theory does.

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    5. To quote Cindy Lauper: money changes everything.

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  3. Andyjones: "especially the neutralists who assume pointlessness"

    Wow. What an IDiot.

    Andyjones: "‘Darwinist’ includes anyone who believes in a strictly naturalistic, ateleological yet somehow creative evolution. That’s the core assumption of Darwin in the Origin of Species"

    Do creationists know what the word "sssumption" means? Here's a hint: not conclusion.

    To normal people however, ‘Darwinist’ includes

    AJ works for a creationist Faith Tank. When would he EVER meet normal people?

    As I pointed out above, ‘neutralists’ need Darwin’s mechanism too.

    SO DO ID CREATIONISTS, YOU STUPID FUCK.

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    1. Without Darwin's mechanism, how do creationists like Andy Jones and the DI explain how a pair of macropods stepped off Noah's Ark 4,300 years ago during the Fifth Dynasty of Old Kingdom Egypt, then evolved at hyper-speed into wallabies, the wallaroo, the tiny tree kangaroo, the pademelon, the potoroo, the rat kangaroo, and the giant carnivorous red kangaroo, and all hopped at full speed over the Himalaya and swam to Australia over the Timor Trough carrying on their backs venomous platypuses, hungry saltwater crocodiles, and a wombat the size of a rhinoceros?

      Hey, if you want to call as 'Darwinist'-- we can call you a lot of things.

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    2. Without Darwin's mechanism, how do creationists like Andy Jones and the DI explain how a pair of macropods stepped off Noah's Ark 4,300 years ago during the Fifth Dynasty of Old Kingdom Egypt, then evolved at hyper-speed into wallabies, the wallaroo, the tiny tree kangaroo, the pademelon, the potoroo, the rat kangaroo, and the giant carnivorous red kangaroo, and all hopped at full speed over the Himalaya and swam to Australia over the Timor Trough carrying on their backs venomous platypuses, hungry saltwater crocodiles, and a wombat the size of a rhinoceros?

      You almost sound as if you don't believe that scenario ;-)

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    3. Diogenes, please check your private messages at AtBC.

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    4. Attention Diogenes

      The findings of oceanographers indicate that at one time land ridges connected what are now isolated land areas. For example, oceanographic studies indicate that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge may have crossed that ocean above the surface. Possibly, there were also other ridges, and animals could have migrated by means of these before such ridges sank below the surface of the ocean.

      Other oceanographic studies have turned up evidence that once there existed a huge South Pacific continent that took in Australia and many of the South Sea isles. If such was the case, then, of course, the animals had no difficulty in migrating to these lands.

      In addition, further studies of the ocean floor have indicated that riverbeds reached far out into the oceans; close to 2000 kilometers and to depths of over 3 kilometers. This clearly shows that ocean water levels after the deluged could have been much lower than today, which allowed ease migration of animals to Australia and New Zealand and other continents.

      I hope this helps. Kevin

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    5. @ Kevin Mryan & Diogenes - you might be interested to read a PNAS article about Great Lakes submerged land bridges.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2700903/
      Slightly off topic in this thread, but it does support the idea that world wide water levels (both salt water & fresh water)were significantly different in times past.

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    6. @Rock Turner

      It supports no such thing.

      This paper describes changes in water levels around the North American Great Lakes as a result of the withdrawal of the continental ice sheet 10,000 to 7,500 years ago.

      As the ice sheet retreated north, melting water was trapped between the Great Lakes and Hudson's Bay, resulting in a local change in the water level. In fact the Great Lakes came into existence as a result of glacial action and did not exist prior to the last ice age.

      Given that 3% of the worlds water exists as fresh water and that the Great Lakes comprise 20% of the worlds fresh water, they constitute less than 1% of the worlds water so changes in their levels would have no significant impact on world water levels.

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    7. @Kevin:

      What you wrote is one of my favorite creationist myths, which I consider quite valuable as an argument with which to mock creationism. But alas, you give no references either to the scientific literature (I'm shocked!) nor to creationist sources. I know you're never going to cite scientific references, but could you at least link to a creationist authority so I can use it to show how ignor-, I mean how innovative creationists are?

      Other oceanographic studies have turned up evidence that once there existed a huge South Pacific continent that took in Australia and many of the South Sea isles.

      Oh, bullshit. Sundaland, which is likely the continent of which you speak, and which included much of current Indonesia, did not extend to Australia! The Sahul Shelf connected Australia and New Guineau but not Asia.

      If such was the case, then, of course, the animals had no difficulty in migrating to these lands.

      The Timor Trough is 3,300 m deep. The Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok is 250m deep. The most generous estimate of Ice Age sea level changes I've seen is that shorelines during the Pleistocene around the Sahul Shelf were at most 140m lower. So the Lombok Strait and Timor Trough are still impassable.

      Now if you believe they were all connected 4,000 years ago, why are there NO large Asian NOR large Australian mammals in Wallacea, between the Lombok Strait and Timor Trough?

      HOW MUCH lower do you think sea levels were during the Creationist Ice Week, anyway? The lower you put the sea level, the more water you have to freeze into glaciers and then thaw at hyper-speed during the Ice Week.

      And why no kangaroos in Wallacea, eh?

      Anyway, Kevin, if you can point me to a creationist source on Australia being connected to Asia, or how kangaroos really got to Australia, I would be quite grateful.

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    8. Incidentally, mid-ocean ridges run along the boundary between continental plates, not across it, so they can't form transoceanic landbridges. But I suppose it is too subtle a point for somebody who believes in the biblical deluge.

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    9. @Diogenes and Piotr

      A lot of articles of this nature were written after the National Geographic published World Ocean Floor Map in 1980 and other scientific works that sometimes contradicted each other.

      http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/ngs/product/maps/wall-maps/classic-maps/1981-world-ocean-floor-map

      https://www.google.ca/search?q=World+Ocean+Floor+Map&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=EsJpUbyZCpH54APBpID4Bg&ved=0CDAQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=675

      However, as far as I can remember, there is more to this issue than just ridges and river beds that seem to points toward quite different geographic terrains that could have been on earth some 4000 years ago.

      @Diogenes Just compere the map of Canadian North from 10 years ago and now. Some call it a global warming. I don't know the exact details, but in some areas 1/3 of glaciers have disappeared in just few years.

      Also, you demand proof from creationists for something that may be hard to prove over 4000 years later, and yet, you have no proof whatsoever for the fundamental issue to the theory of evolution-endosymbiosis of prokaryotic cells.

      I'm mean, the ridges and river beds should be the least of your headaches unless you have a very strong or blind faith. Maybe be you do, or maybe you have selective faith. In any case, your whole faith is in a lot of trouble if evolutionists don't find a solution to this fundamental issue that seem to be ignored as if it was as good as resolved. The question is; Is is resolved? Well, it's not even if you choose to believe it is or it can be ignored.

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    10. @Diogenes
      I noticed you didn't provide any sources either? If there are any, they are probably just as good as speculative theories; "...yeah creationists say this, but we don't agree because there is no proof of this, so our lack of proof and our theory has to be better..." and so on bullshit; as you would put this in your favorite terms when you get annoyed because your beliefs are shaken. You are such a hypocrite!!!

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    11. @Quest,

      Just stop bluffing and tell me how kangaroos got to Australia! And why there aren't any kangaroos in Wallacea!

      You're trying to Gish Gallop me, in this case with "endosymbiosis". Your side can't answer a simple question so you think you can distract me from one false statement by piling up some other false statements. Endosymbiosis!

      there is more to this issue than just ridges and river beds that seem to points toward quite different geographic terrains that could have been on earth some 4000 years ago.

      No, there's LESS to this issue. It's easy to find out what the terrain looked like 4,000 years ago-- you can look for ancient shorelines in a submarine, or just ask the Egyptians, Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. They traded oceanically, e.g. with the Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan, and they were always looking for signs from the gods. If the sea level dropped and/or rose 825 feet in a month like creationists say, the Egyptians would've freaked out and written something down.

      And there'd be kangaroos in Wallacea. Are there?

      you have no proof whatsoever for the fundamental issue to the theory of evolution-endosymbiosis of prokaryotic cells.

      Oh, you're bluffing. What evidence could possibly there be for endosymbiosis that hasn't been found already? Seriously, you need to stop reading Creation Ministries International. Jonathan Sarfait snowed you pretty good, eh?

      Who are you "Quest", Fred Heeren? (of DayStar Ministies) He's always going on about his "Quest". It's not much of a "quest" if your assertions can never be disproven.

      But again: if you have links to a creationist saying that the sea level dropped 825 feet during the Ice Week, or saying that land bridges connected Australia to Asia, I'd be grateful. Not merciful, but grateful.

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    12. @Diogenes
      "Oh, you're bluffing. What evidence could possibly there be for endosymbiosis that hasn't been found already? Seriously, you need to stop reading Creation Ministries International. Jonathan Sarfait snowed you pretty good, eh?"

      Well, I'm not convinced, so provide some evidence for this THEORY lol because like many skeptics on this blog, I expect more from science that "...if there is no observable evidence for something then it had to have evolved..." Well I say I wanna see proof.. But you are a liar Diogenes but you are not lying only to people on this blog. You are lying to yourself. Wanna proof? I have proof. It was even posted on this very blog many times and even recently. I've read it. You didn't even comment on this because you had no arguments. Nobody did because there aren't any and you know it.

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    13. Well, I'm not convinced, so provide some evidence for this THEORY

      Science has no duty or ambition to convince each and every moron on the planet.

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    14. @Piotr Gasiorowski

      What are THEORIES based on? On accurate spelling? Tell us Mr. oxymoron...

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    15. According to Gęgarowski the theories are based on wishes of the group of believers from the realm of SS-fiction lol

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    16. You used the endosymbiotic theory as a red herring to avoid discussing "flood geology". All right then, let's have it your way. You are not convinced by the widely known arguments in favour of the endosymbiotic origin of eukaryotic organelles (see here for a convenient checklist). Can you please lay out your objections? Do you understand the arguments in the first place? If you do, what is it, specifically, that fails to convince you, and why?

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    17. Learn to read ty glupi huju:

      This is what your fucking link says:

      "The endosymbiotic theory postulates that several key organelles of eukaryotes originated as symbioses between separate single-celled organisms. According to this theory, mitochondria and plastids (e.g. chloroplasts)--and possibly other organelles--represent formerly free-living bacteria that were taken inside another cell as an endosymbiont.

      You are not a moron. You are a glupi huj stupid, stupid because who links something like this shit unless he is a stupid speller who has no idea about a subject? Tell me who unless you are stupid fuck? Tell me, because you are finished on this blog as far as I'm concerned... Give me an excuse so I can buy it ty polglowku osrany.

      BTW: I will quote this shit everytime you post here. That is a treat for my quarter polish genes.

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    18. But you are a liar Diogenes but you are not lying only to people on this blog. You are lying to yourself. Wanna proof? I have proof. It was even posted on this very blog many times and even recently. I've read it. You didn't even comment on this because you had no arguments. Nobody did because there aren't any and you know it.

      Oh fuck, is "Quest" that crazy Misc / Anonymous / Rjop lady who said she followed me from Christian Post, and she knew my secret name, and was obsessed with me?

      She's gone full Gollum on me!

      Is it juicy? Is it tasty? We eats it my preciousss. Bagginses is tricksy, it is tricksy yes. Gollum, gollum. Bagginses! We hates it my preciousss. We hates it forever!

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    19. Forgot to tell you...I'm a liar too...and a hacker part-time though ;) Don't worry. I'm not dangerous...quite the opposite :) Peace and love!!!

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    20. @Quest: Thank you for such a convincing demonstration of your intellectual abilities. I hope even you can see now why trying to convince you of anything with scientific arguments would be a bloody waste of time.

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    21. Piotr, Diogenes,

      Quest is that imbecile who needs six persons before being able to send an e-mail. The one who will pay you 1000 for answering his "questions" on evolution. Just the same old same old ass-hole we have come to know. As you notice he himself does not know what he is talking about. I would not have tried to answer his nonsensical question. See what he wrote:

      you have no proof whatsoever for the fundamental issue to the theory of evolution-endosymbiosis of prokaryotic cells.

      There's no such thing, which obviates trying to answer. The question shows that he has no idea of what he is saying. He just sent a red-herring to avoid having to confront the issues of his beliefs in exchange for calling you names. He is both an ass-hole and a troll.

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    22. Yep, I recognise him too. Le style c'est l'homme même (and that includes his lame attempts at cursing in Polish).

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    23. On the topic of how kangaroos got to Australia after Noah's Flood: at 2pm tomorrow, April 16 Answers in Genesis is having a live chat about AIG's marvelous Super-fast Ice-Age Timeline and Map (which has the Ice Age lasting from about ~2220 to ~2115 BC, and all recorded human civilization post-2100 BC). I predict that any pointed questions they receive will be deleted quickly and permanently, so if you want some entertainment you will have to monitor it live. You may want to copy and archive any choice questions they receive before they're deleted.

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    24. I forgot to mention, it will be at AIG's Facebook page.

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  4. Creationists don't use the word Darwinist to decieve but because we think its the word evolutionists define themselves by.
    To say modern evolution rejects a lot of Darwin stuff so much as to reject the term is confusing.
    We need terms for the species.
    YEC is a bit dumb and has to be explained to know who it is. However creationist doesn't do it anymore. Everyone is a creationist but not a Genesis believer.

    They do celebrate Darwin as if his ideas are still in vogue.
    this blog celebrates Darwins home.

    If Darwinist is like the word LIBERAL and a bad title then time is needed for this to be understood.

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    1. Creationists don't use the word Darwinist to decieve but because we think its the word evolutionists define themselves by.

      Please tell me you're not being serious.

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    2. Larry, this is a guy who thinks the word "liberal" is a "bad title". I'm afraid he _is_ being serious.

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    3. To be fair to Byers, he probably watches Fox News or listens to Ann Coulter who say liberals are afraid to call themselves liberals.

      Sincerely,

      A BIG FAT LIBERAL

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    4. I don't think of myself as a liberal. I'm much closer to being a socialist or a social democrat. I guess that makes me safe.

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  5. Creationists are mostly talking to the uneducated lay public, politicians & students (in an attempt to instill doubt & confusion in them). So they're using the popular term "Darwinism" to refer to all of evolution, since most of the lay public consider Darwin synonymous with evolution.

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    1. Vimal, it's not just creationists, though. When popular evolutionists like Dawkins and Coyne communicate to the 'uneducated lay public', they overemphasize natural selection and downplay any other mechanisms. The analogies, such as 'ascending Mt. Improbable' are structured along the lines of how minor modifications over long periods of time result in profound changes.
      The books most lay people read, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Why Evolution is True are bolstering the perception that even current evolutionary studies is strictly adherent to Darwin's (and Wallace's) theory.

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    2. and I would add that, like it or not, most of the 'uneducated lay public' who buy Dawkins' books and WEIT tend to be atheists first, people with an interest in science second. They just want to have a theory that 'proves' to them that there is no need for a deity that they can easily understand in order to assure themselves that their -philosophical - atheism is supported by science.

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    3. Andy,

      Dawkins has made it clear that his aim is not the creationists, but the atheists who should get out of the closet. It's, I guess, something of a pyramid effect. If more atheists admit to their lack of belief in gods, then the more we can talk about it and stop pretending that we have any respect for fantasies.

      However, it's quite the wrong cartoon to think that they are people looking for reaffirmation. There's plenty of reason to reject gods before knowing much about how science solves some/many/a-few-of those questions that gods don't truly solve other than "it was all magic." Some people have actually realized that not knowing how or why something, does not mean that magic is the answer. Most importantly because the gods look so awfully imaginary. Think about it.

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    4. NE, 'cartoon' or not, if you follow any thread on Youtube related to evolution/creation debates (look for Hitchlap, or Atheist Bitchslap, etc) or similar ones on the Huffington Post science or spirituality pages, you will almost instantly be struck by the sheer childishness of the discussion, on both sides. Insults, in-jokes (one can almost guarantee oneself of getting a lot of 'likes' by referencing the FSM or simply writing, "His noodly appendages....", yuck yuck)
      Why is this? Because it truly is a childish debate for the most part, conducted by fanboys and insecure people. People tend to develop their religious beliefs at the age of a child, and generally discard them at the age of adolescence or young adulthood. And ideas pretty much stay there. Most people don't think very deeply and they also like feeling part of a crowd that affirms them in some way, and in the case of adolescents, especially if the crowd is perceived as 'cool'. Right now, science is 'cool'. There is a page on FB called "I Fucking Love Science". This is just silly, childish stuff. To borrow your advice, think about it.

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    5. Of course I have seen silly atheists. But you're missing the point: it is not "mostly" people looking for mere uneducated and misunderstood reaffirmation who buy those books by Dawkins. And of course, science shows that gods are silly. Not it's role, but I already showed you that discovering how volcanoes work makes it very hard to believe that volcanoes are gods. You did not like it much (I guess from some other comments you've made), but applying this to other gods works quite as well. People come to atheism by several venues. I have known quite a lot of them coming from pure lack of evidence for gods. When asked then how did life originate the answer has been "I don't know." Then why not some gods? Because there's no evidence that there's gods. That simple. Once I overheard a little kid say "there's no god, nobody has seen him!" This was a long time ago. Before the internet age. before it was "cool" as you say. I mean a four-year-old had enough logic to say so.

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    6. NE, I neither 'like' nor dislike your comments about volcanoes. I just consider it to fail to fully account for the wide variety of cultural/religious/spiritual experiences and attitudes that you seem to think that it does.
      It's like you're arguing that of course people like ice cream, because ice cream is sweet. Well, yes, but that hardly explains why there are so many hundreds of different flavors of ice cream. You are missing the subtlety just as if you were arguing along the lines of my analogy.

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    7. Hmm, let me guess, by "subtlety" you're actually claiming that because there are a "wide variety" of so-called religious/spiritual experiences that some god(s)/spirit(s) must exist (especially your chosen one(s) of course) but others don't exist? What would that say about the believing and worshiping 'cultural attitudes' about the god(s)/spirit(s) that don't exist? What happens to the individuals or cultures who have it wrong?

      Which god(s)/spirit(s) do exist, andy, and which do not? Is popularity what determines it? If not popularity, what?



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    8. twt, I will wait to hear what NE has to say, thanks. Having a conversation with you about subtlety would be about as interesting as watching paint dry.

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    9. The whole truth wrote, Saturday, April 13, 2013 6:39:00 AM "Which god(s)/spirit(s) do exist, andy, and which do not? Is popularity what determines it? If not popularity, what? "
      @twt - I choose to believe that a Creator exists. I do not believe that the universe created itself. I do not believe that the universe has existed eternally.
      You apparently believe that the universe created itself or that it exists eternally, neither of which are very popular scientific beliefs.
      Some "splainin'" required.

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    10. Andy,

      I miss no subtleties. I have also mentioned thunder, the Sun, the Moon and stars, which gives us more than just sweet. :)

      Anyway, I can't make a whole treatise of the subtleties of religious varieties and experiences. The main point I am commonly targeting is the lack of self-criticism among Christians, which are the main religious around me, in the sense that when confronted with primitive cultures offering a human sacrifice they turn around in horror at these primitive people who think that the sun is a god and, gasp, offer a human sacrifice to appease it! Yet they forget that their god is exactly like the sun god requiring a bloody human sacrifice in order to be appeased. Only human was not enough, it had to be divinized human. They don't see how that reflects the humble origin of their own god, only they have evolved it into "subtleties." It is only natural that some proportion of people noticing this, rather than doubt the existence of this god, would rather evolve the belief a couple notches more, and make it even harder to grasp, but still be some intelligent force/presence behind everything, and there we have people who don't really believe the whole of Christianity, but still call themselves Christian, to people who just believe that "there must be something" to those who call the whole thing "God." Subtle, but hardly convincing to me. Of course, such evolutions are helped by feelings that those under the influence fail to recognize as those things enforced by primitive rituals often helped with alcohol, fungi, et cetera. Man, I felt a religious experience every time I explored one religion or another. If that meant that religions are true, then all of them would be true despite their claims that they are uniquely true, and despite nonsensical claims in them. Worse because I learned to have such religious experiences by doing different activities. I can't deny my endorphines, but I find it hard to believe that they mean that there's some gods out there.

      Yes, I miss a lot of the religious experience(s) even in the above, but that's because this is not about writing complete treatises about them, as interesting as they are, but because I write according to the comments at hand. These are conversations. Often not very nice ones, but they are not theses.

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    11. Rock Turner said:

      "@twt - I choose to believe that a Creator exists. I do not believe that the universe created itself. I do not believe that the universe has existed eternally."

      Which "creator"?

      "You apparently believe that the universe created itself or that it exists eternally, neither of which are very popular scientific beliefs.
      Some "splainin'" required."

      Actually, I don't know how the universe came about and I don't know whether it "exists eternally", but I do know that all of the so-called designers, creators, spirits, or gods that people have ever thought up don't exist. How do I know? Well, all of them are only as credible as the stories that support them and all of them are supported by impossible fairy tales. Some of the most popular so-called gods (e.g. yhwh-jesus-holy ghost and allah) are not only supported by impossible fairy tales but are depicted in so-called holy books (e.g. the bible and koran) as despicable, sadistic monsters that I wouldn't 'believe in and worship' under any circumstances.



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    12. AB: NE, 'cartoon' or not, if you follow any thread on Youtube related to evolution/creation debates (look for Hitchlap, or Atheist Bitchslap, etc) or similar ones on the Huffington Post science or spirituality pages, you will almost instantly be struck by the sheer childishness of the discussion, on both sides.

      Oh both sides? No. Potholer54's videos are chock full of information, professionally produced, and hysterically funny. He's hilarious. He has many years of experience as a journalist, so he sure knows how to edit videos. His takedowns of the lying Lord Monckton (GW denier) are classic, and you should watch all of his "Golden Crocoduck Award" series.

      Aron-Ra's videos are great too, but he gets over-enthusiastic sometimes and makes scientific errors.

      Shane Kallian's videos are good, and his video takedown of NephilimFree (perhaps the dumbest, creepiest creationist ever) on the subject of hyper-fast erosion in the Hawaiian islands, shows arguably the all-time dumbest creationist argument ever.

      Thunderf00t's droning voice bores me to death, though.


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    13. NE writes, 'I miss no subtleties. I have also mentioned thunder, the Sun, the Moon and stars, which gives us more than just sweet. :)'
      Of course that gave me a chuckle, but I don't need to point out that subtlety and variety are not the same thing.
      The development of religion/spirituality is comparable to the development of music, and technology, throughout human history.
      Music would have started with just singing and percussion, most probably.
      Technology was very rudimentary, hardly different from that employed by a beaver or a bower bird.
      Religion would have been, as you point out, volcanoes, sun, moon, etc.
      All of them evolved, and it is interesting to reflect upon how they evolved. The early musicians would never have been able to come up with the concept of a fugue, for example. That requires a progression of understanding of the mathematical qualities of music that early man didn't possess. So, did humans 'make' these advancements in music, or did they 'discover' them? It would have to be thought of as a combination of the two, because without the math, the music progress doesn't happen.

      Same with technology. To have today's technology, discoveries about the laws of nature had to come, one after the other. The concept of a radio would have been unthinkable to early man, but as we know, radio waves weren't INVENTED, they were DISCOVERED.

      So, I know that you personally don't believe this, but I hope you can at least follow the comparison I am making to see that just because early man identified the spiritual realm with physical things, it doesn't mean that such a realm, if it DOES exist, is explicable solely in the terms that early man was able of understanding.
      Just as humans were able to use what is there in the universe (i.e., not invent, but avail themselves of) in the case of music (mathematics), and technology (the properties of the universe) to make enormous progress over their earliest forays into those fields, one could argue a similar progression concerning religion/spirituality.
      So, like I said, I know that you don't accept or believe in the possibility of a 'spirit realm', but nevertheless your volcano/stars/sun/moon reductive argument fails to persuade.

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    14. Andy,

      You didn't read the next paragraph, did you? Because if that did not show such progressions that you are talking about, despite not in the way you would like it to be, then we are talking two different languages.

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    15. NE, I did read the paragraph. And perhaps we are not talking the same language. Because you are talking about people just adding subtleties to religion, and I am referring to discoveries, which is why I made comparisons to music and technology.

      NE, just let me ask, because I think it would be something interesting to consider with you. To what degree would you say that music is INVENTED, and to what degree DISCOVERED?
      And the same question applies to technology, and also to science.
      Would you define any/all of these as an invention, a discovery, or a combination of the two?

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    16. Andy,

      I know why you made that comparison. I would invite you to consider also considering the development of literatures, which contains a good load of fiction. Anyway, to finish this part, I clearly see the development of religion, the origins of the fantasies in those unexplainable things then anthropomorphized, and then the bloody sacrifices and such as an evolution of fantasies. Not all from the volcanoes, moons, suns, stars, alone. Of course there's more to it (and it can be very interesting). All kinds of mysteries and our vivid imaginations. But the point has always been to realize that fantasies remain fantasies, and that elements within religions betray their origins in primitive fantasies. That's the whole point of my volcanoes. It works quite well by the way. I don't think that it convinces a lot of people, but it helps make them see why we find their religions to be the very same as any other and much more primitive fantasies. Fantasies that they would agree are such, fantasies. It's harder with people like you who think that, effectively, those primitive religions and those of today are deeply inside the same, only you think that such is because they all point to a spiritual realm, with whatever caveats you have reasoned to make for the claims to exclusivity of the truth, the conflicting messages from the gods, and such shit across religions. We could talk about this, but perhaps not today.

      ------

      That thing about music seems hard to pin. I think it was mostly developed and invented rather than discovered. Though we could argue that, for example, when the Beatles went to India they "discovered" (from their point of view that is), the music as it had developed and being invented in India, and added sounds and such to their music. So they would have "discovered" something that was not there from the beginning, but was developed and invented independently (evolved?). So my two main elements for music would be development and invention, with just a little from discovery ... but I might be persuaded otherwise. I haven't thought too much about this. :)

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    17. NE writes, 'with whatever caveats you have reasoned to make for the claims to exclusivity of the truth, the conflicting messages from the gods, and such shit across religions.'
      Well, perhaps this is neither the time nor the forum to discuss this with you, though I think it could be interesting.
      Personally, I dislike all the distortions, the claims to ultimate truth, the dogma, etc, that feature in organized religions. I attribute this to pure human power tripping, greed, etc.; the usual suspects. Technology is the same, in that it has yielded both good and bad results throughout human history. Chernobyl doesn't make atoms bad.

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    18. Dio writes, 'Potholer54's videos are chock full of information, professionally produced, and hysterically funny. He's hilarious etc'

      Yeah. But what I wrote was, 'if you follow any thread on Youtube, Huffington Post...etc.etc... you will almost instantly be struck by the sheer childishness of the discussion'
      So I'm referring to the comments section, not the posts/vids themselves. That's where the boys will be boys. Amazon.com is only slightly better.

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    19. andyboerger self-righteously said:

      "Personally, I dislike all the distortions, the claims to ultimate truth, the dogma, etc, that feature in organized religions. I attribute this to pure human power tripping, greed, etc.; the usual suspects."

      But of course your 'unorganized' religious beliefs are different, and special, right?

      Religious beliefs are religious beliefs whether they're "organized" or not, and "spirituality" beliefs are religious beliefs.

      No matter which convenient label you put on religious beliefs, they're still fairy tales.

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    20. go 'way, twt. NE and I are having a mutually respectful discussion that involves disagreement, the type of which I have in fact never seen you engaged in, here or at UD or Cornelius Hunter's site. I think you are perhaps incapable of it.
      We don't agree with each other, yet we are not determined to change each others' minds, certainly not trying to 'catch' each other, and besides that we like each other. Or at least at my end, I do.
      In other words, you have nothing to contribute, as far as I'm concerned.

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    21. Aw, poor little andy is mad because he thinks that he deserves special treatment on Larry's site and I have the unmitigated gall to call his religious/spirituality beliefs fairy tales.

      andy, all that you and your fellow IDiotic god/spirit zombies ever do is try to "catch" scientists and science supporters at something (real or imagined) that you self-righteously believe will deflate science and inflate your supernatural "spirit realm" designer-creator-god nonsense.

      Since you hate science and technology so much, why aren't you living in a cave, wearing skins of animals that you kill, wiping your butt with leaves, and eating/drinking whatever you can find that doesn't harm or kill you? You could even decorate the rock walls of the cave with your own artwork, but of course you'd have to make your own drawing/painting supplies with whatever you could discover. After all, you wouldn't want to take advantage of the ungodly, spiritually barren materials and methods that science and technology employs to invent and produce store-bought drawing/painting supplies, would you?

      Here are some tips that might help you locate the living quarters of your dreams: There are often caves near volcanoes and some of them may even have resident gods/spirits. Just be careful not to bring along any of your own gods/spirits that might clash with the resident gods/spirits. There's not much worse than a war between gods/spirits.

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    22. and I would add that, like it or not, most of the 'uneducated lay public' who buy Dawkins' books and WEIT tend to be atheists first, people with an interest in science second. They just want to have a theory that 'proves' to them that there is no need for a deity that they can easily understand in order to assure themselves that their -philosophical - atheism is supported by science.

      Andy - forgive me for butting into your conversation with NE, but I think you're talking tripe there. I can speak only from personal experience - I doubt you've done a survey either - but I read books on biology because I am interested in biology. I couldn't really care two hoots about God, and don't need evolution to justify that apathy.

      This mythical atheist who will wade through a dense tome on levels of selection or extended phenotypes just to bolster his metaphysical view - he doesn't exist, does he? Or is it you, in a former life?

      Those friends I know who have read Dawkins (on biology) and are also atheists sure as hell don't need him to articulate their metaphysical opinions for them. But they are all interested in science, for intellectual reasons.

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    23. This mythical atheist who will wade through a dense tome on levels of selection or extended phenotypes just to bolster his metaphysical view - he doesn't exist, does he?

      I've never met one either.

      I began reading Dawkins with The Blind Watchmaker at 12 years old and it was because I was interested in biology. I couldn't have been influenced by my never-raised-religious atheism to buy it because I had no idea that Dawkins himself was an atheist until I read it.

      When I came to a point in my life when I felt it was important to be able to intellectually justify my atheism, I did so by... reading atheist books. Bizarre. I began with George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God (this was pre-"New Atheism") and wasn't impressed, but the mediocrity of the book actually promoted intellectual engagement as I worked out for myself what would have made his "case against god" stronger. Later I found academic philosophical works on atheism like those of Michael Martin (Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and J.L. Mackie (The Miracle of Theism). At no point did I ever believe that biology could or should sustain my atheism.

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    24. Allan writes, ' I can speak only from personal experience - I doubt you've done a survey either - but I read books on biology because I am interested in biology. I couldn't really care two hoots about God, and don't need evolution to justify that apathy.

      Well, Allan, first of all you are always welcome to butt into my conversations. :)
      As for what I wrote being tripe, well, yes, let's talk about this. You are writing from personal experience. I, admittedly, haven't conducted any surveys. So what shall I produce as evidence?
      Have you noticed that Dawkins wrote a book called 'The God Delusion', for one? That he spoke at a so called 'Rally for Reason' in which he exhorted a crowd to 'mock them' referring to religious beliefs? That he is basically flogging the idea that Darwinism kills god? He has said in several interviews that the whole notion of God is dethroned by Darwinism in the field of biology and that "physics is waiting for its Darwin" so that it can be laid to rest altogether. So, lo and behold, now he appears in a movie called "The Unbelievers" with a 'theoretical physicist' who wrote a book titled "A Universe From Nothing" which is, again, an ostensibly scientific argument for how the universe could have come about without any creator/deity required, that is long on speculation but short on any clear definition of what exactly 'nothing' means.
      If you think an agenda isn't being pushed here, then you're not looking very deeply into the matter, Allan.
      As for 'a dense tome of on levels of selection or extended phenotypes', there are plenty of books like that, but oddly enough they don't become bestsellers very often. Did you read "Why Evolution Is True"? You will not find anything very 'dense' in there, I'm afraid. You will find nearly every chapter ending and beginning with leading questions which basically boil down to, 'would a designer do it like this?'. You will also find one of the weakest analogies I have ever found in literature, of any kind. Coyne tries to make it clear to lay persons just how much power time has to create alterations such as are so copious in biology by comparing said to - The Grand Canyon. Yes, Allan, would that I were making that up, but it's there in the early portion of the book. To Coyne, erosion and evolution of reproductive biological organisms with sophisticated organs for digestion, reproduction, immunity, healing, etc. are nearly one and the same. All either needed was a bit of time.
      Now, he could have done better had he compared biological organisms to the Chrysler Building, with its plumbing, its electrical systems, its elevator shafts etc, except - oh yeah - blind nature didn't design the Chrysler Building, but it DID design the Grand Canyon, so what's a chap to do?
      So anyone who wants to read about every nook and cranny about biology has lots of resources available to them, tome after tome in fact. And not all that many of them are written basically to prove that no god is necessary. And yet those are the ones to get the most attention.
      So while I admit that I don't have exact figures to present, and that Dawkins' earlier books can be read, and are read, for the science only, I think it would be hard to make the case that either he - nor Coyne, nor Krauss - are presenting themselves in strictly those terms at this point.

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    25. Hey Andy,

      I had not returned to this conversation as it seemed to be done for now (I kinda guesses what you would say about dogmas and such). So you seem to be sort of a theist, or deist, whichever it is, who believes in some higher power, but who knows if such has been identified other than calling it "God." Right? (And of course I enjoy our conversations.)

      So that's done for now. Now for your new answer to Allan. I think it is going into a different direction than the original comment you made. You stated that those reading, for example Dawkins:

      They just want to have a theory that 'proves' to them that there is no need for a deity that they can easily understand in order to assure themselves that their -philosophical - atheism is supported by science.

      Allan told you that not one of those he knows do that. I told you so too, and so confirmed Nullifidian. Yet your answer talks about possible motivations by Dawkins and by that physicist (and Coyne), with a lot of speculation about their motives, but not about those you mentioned: those who buy the books. Now, of course Dawkins' "The God Delusion" is not read for the science alone, but for the connections to atheism and how science shows those gods I was telling you about to be mere fantasy. Were you to listen Dawkins when pressed about the possibility of "God" he would admit to it not being possible, philosophically speaking, to deny a god such as that of Spinoza, telling by the end that but of course it would not be the Christian God or any of those gods ... blah, blah, blah (I heard so in a few interviews). In any event, that some would be curious about how science connects to atheism does not mean that they are looking for some excuse blindly. SOme might. I can't deny the possibility. But none of those I know has. I have not read the god delusion, by the way. Nor have I read Coyne's book, but I do know that it was written (Coyne's) not for you, but as an answer to creationist bullshit. Therefore you should not be surprised to find those things that expose the lies and stupidity proposed by the likes of the IDiots and other creationists. It's bound to be there since there's a public whose only sources have been the liars for Jesus (or for Mohamed, or for whichever). As per the time, you are allowing your prejudices against these guys to get in the way of your understanding. I bet that the comparison to the great canyon was not meant to be a complete metaphor, but to witness the magnitude of that a slow process of erosion can do, so that you get the idea of how long the biological events that are behind evolution have had to play with life forms and such. Try and look at the context. As much as I don't really enjoy Coyne's style and such, I am sure he would not present the great canyon as a metaphor for evolution the way you seem to have interpreted it.

      Anyway, that scientists engage in talking how science demystifies those gods does not mean that their public is the kind of public you present it to be.

      I hope that came out clearly enough. The authors' intentions, as much as you seem to misunderstand them, do not tell what the intention of the readership has been. And it's the readership that you were accusing of "misbehaviour" in those sentences.

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    26. NE, conceded up to a point. When I come back from work I'll write a bit more.

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    27. NE, I see your point of view, as well as Allan's.
      It's true that one can't know the motivations of readers even if one has a pretty good idea of the motivation of the writer. Still, it is possible to draw conclusions of a kind. You mentioned the Beatles once before. There are probably hundreds of books on them. There may be some that focus mostly on the music; how it was created, who was involved, etc. Even maybe some technical stuff that only musicians themselves would really understand or appreciate. Then, let's say a book on the band comes out very loudly proclaiming that it is going to dish up all the dirt on their sex lives. It's still a book about the Beatles, but it's obviously going for a different type of readership. Let's say the book becomes a major bestseller, while the more technical one doesn't. Is it not possible to draw ANY conclusions as to what the purchasers/readers of the latter book might be looking for?
      Obviously not, so that leaves us with Dawkins' books, and the others I mentioned. Even his earliest book, TSG, featured now-famous passages about the 'meaninglessness' and 'indifference' of the universe. TBW and AMI both were written with an aim toward showing how no designer appears to be either likely or necessary. So of course, from these books, and his growing reputation, he attracted a lot of interest from creationists AND from people interested in challenging them. I don't think I am writing anything controversial here.
      Just as with the Beatles example - where there are PLENTY of books about the group, and and lots of ways to look at and evaluate their career - there are plenty of books about evolution that readers can choose from. I am not talking about all of them. The ones I mentioned were Dawkins' books and WEIT, and those were the only ones I intended to refer to.

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    28. Dawkins has written books on several subjects.
      Some of them are mainly on biology, some of them are mainly on atheism.

      The Selfish Gene, for instance, was written as a reply to species selection which Dawkins dispareges, and not as an atheist compendium.

      I cannot see how the fact that Dawkins has written an atheist handbook in particular, informs you on why people in general read Dawkins books on biology?

      Most people are capable of seperating different issues in their head.

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    29. Full title, "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design "

      Just science? That's not what the title says.

      from wiki:

      'Climbing Mount Improbable' is a 1996 popular science book by Richard Dawkins. The book is about probability and how it applies to the theory of evolution, and is designed to debunk claims by creationists about the probability of naturalistic mechanisms like natural selection.

      Gee, I don't know where I get this stuff.

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    30. Andy,

      Wouldn't you expect that if somebody writes about evolution to the general public, those precise questions should be addressed? As I told you before, creationist charlatans make a living out of deforming and misinterpreting stuff. Getting to learn about evolution in a book that assumes that you are scientifically literate won;t take you to the answers to the misinformation very easily. Actually though, the most interesting aspects about evolution, and science in general, are precisely how beautifully they explain things without any need for gods in the mix. I see nothing wrong with any of it. Actually, each time I learned something in science, the beauty was that answers were attainable, often in matters I would have imagined to be much harder to answer.

      In any event, the selfish gene was not written to answer any creationist claims, but to propose the idea that genes might be the unit of selection rather than the organism. Quite a useful idea by the way. That Dawkins would mention (did he do that there? I truly don't remember) indifferent universes in it does not change the intention of the book. Climbing mount improbable is about how evolution overcomes what would seem contradictory unless you understand the science. What's wrong about that? To me that's deliciously focused (though Dawkins is able to make any subject quite boring, the only book I did enjoy was the greatest show on earth, that was quite good, I learned a lot of stuff I did not know about, and I was not looking for reaffirmations of any kind, just tips about how to present evolutionary stuff to the general public, but I did not read the god delusion).

      So why if evolution is precisely a beautiful explanation for the origin of species should we ignore what it does and how it does it when we write a book for the general public? Isn't that precisely the point? If I read about the universe, I don't have time to learn everything physics, quite busy, I would still enjoy if a good explainer tells me how it works in terms of explanatory power. That's, to me, the very essence of science, that we can find explanations that don't involve magic. That we can actually understand how something happens/happened/works. That's beautiful Andy. Beautiful. If I wrote about evolution, of course I would make sure to explain how it works, how solutions are found to problems by a combination of variation and selection (I would add drift to the mix for good measure). That those happen to be against the things creationists hold to in order to dismiss science is not my problem. I will not allow creationists and their misinformation to get in the way. Actually, I think I would exploit their misinformation to make my case, to make the case for scientific literacy over fantasy and over snake-oil salesmanship. Again, I see nothing wrong with it. Again, I see no reason why the readership would therefore be just looking for some kind of empty reaffirmation.

      So yes, the blind watchmaker is just science. climbing mount improbable is just science, and it focuses in one of the most interesting aspects of the evolutionary processes. Even why evolution is true is just science, only one answering to creationist charlatanry. I see nothing wrong with that. I don't understand why you would object to scientists explaining what science has found, and how it works. I truly don't. Again, that it happens to explain what creationists claim, with quite talented snake-oil salesmanship, to be unexplainable, is far from being science's problem.

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    31. NE writes,
      'Wouldn't you expect that if somebody writes about evolution to the general public, those precise questions should be addressed?'
      Well, no, not really.
      But even so, I don't see anything 'wrong' with it at all.
      I am just defending my original assertion against Allan calling it 'tripe'. I will present evidence, such as I am capable, to bolster my claim: that people can turn to numerous options in order to learn about biology, but Dawkins' increasing spotlight as 'that dude who puts creationist bullshit where it belongs' is going to naturally attract a certain type of readership who would not necessarily be attracted to the many other options that are out there.

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    32. I think it is entirely possible to write a book about biology without once pointing out how it dispels stories from the old testament.
      I also think it is entirely possible to write a book about the harmfulness of religious fundamentalism without once mentioning biology.
      And I don't think Richard Dawkins is the person to write either book, at least he hasn't been for the last twenty odd years.
      I'm not saying he should be any different than he is, but I'm not going to bullshit about the fact that he has an obvious agenda.

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    33. @andyboerger,

      Your claim was not about Richard Dawkins' "agenda", however, but about that of the people who read his books. i.e. That they do so, not to increase their understanding of biology, but to bolster their lack of belief in God. We still await your suppportive argument for that claim.

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    34. Full title, "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design "

      hmmm....I'll buy this book not because I want to learn that the universe wasn't designed, but just so I can learn how all this stuff works. I see other books on this shelf here, but I just kinda like this one.

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    35. @ lutesuite

      by way of 'supportive arguments' here is the amazon review page for TBW
      http://www.amazon.com/Blind-Watchmaker-Evidence-Evolution-Universe/product-reviews/0393315703/ref=sr_1_1_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1
      And some of the comments just from the first page:


      'The most comprehensive answer to Intelligent Design theory'

      'It angers/afraids some deeply religious people, because the author outlines (quite a persuasive way as far i am concerned) why lots of wonders of this world can be explained without a God.'

      'I won't say it blows down all and everyone of the arguments creationists had ever construct, but it gives you the logical background to judge between sides (evolutionists vs. creationists).'

      Please read these with respect to my original comments. I was referring to readers/purchasers, and here they are, speaking for themselves. I have also provided the link, so that anyone can peruse it in order to see if these comments I selected are flagrantly unrepresentative. If NE, lutesite, etc. feel that they are, I welcome the discussion.

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    36. Sorry Andy, I read around those comments, and sure, they talk about creationists and their bullshit, but it seems to be due to creationists trying to mud the waters in the reviews section. Then, they do talk about how the book relates to answering creationists bullshit. Of course, it is called the blind watchmaker, because of the classic (Paley's) analogy of the watch. I still don't see why the readers would be just looking for reaffirmation, for bolstering their lack of belief. Knowing how evolution explain the stuff is not unscientific, is it?

      As per the title, it was just the blind watchmaker a few years ago. I guess that the editorial decided on that subtitle after Dawkins became famous with the god delusion that they changed the title (I read the selfish gene long before that book appeared, and decided that Dawkins is boring back then).

      I do think there must be some. But none of those I know. None of those Allan knows, none of those Nullif knows, et cetera. I insist that the key to evolution is that it satisfies our curiosity about how this stuff happened, and I see nothing wrong with that. But I don;t think that this conversation will progress much more. In the end we are left with your idea that it must be reassurance in their non belief, while I see none of that. Sure, there's stupid atheists. But I doubt that we can judge most of the readership that easily. I doubt also that you have understood Dawkins clearly. He sure has an "agenda." He detest creationist charlatanry, and he sees religion as nonsense, and he wants the world to know why. I understand his reasons. We are in danger because of the enormous talent of creationists to misinform. Science does suffer from that misinformation. As a scientist myself, I see the danger in letting the public to the misinformation while scientists stay quiet. So, good for Dawkins. Good for Coyne. Good for Larry.

      I would perhaps only ask you to read them better. The blind watchmaker is science. That Dawkins presents it as opposed to the watch analogy is inconsequential. It is still science. Who cares if Dawkins wants to show that creationist bullshit is bullshit? For one, it is bullshit, for another he manages to present science to the public. I see nothing wrong with that at all, and I truly don't understand why you would object. I also don't understand why Dawkins would not be the proper person to present whatever piece of science he wants to present. I told you, he bores me. Still, I see no reason to stop him. Other people obviously enjoy his style and such. Good for him, good for them.

      Best.

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    37. Sorry, Andy. I can't see where any of those comments say that they read the book without wanting to learn about biology. And, sure, they are commenting against creationism. But surely you are not equating creationism with religion, are you?

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    38. lutesuite, it is odd that you would be looking for comments from readers who have no interest in learning about biology. I wrote that such an interest would tend to be secondary for purchasers of the books I mentioned. Not for all purchasers, of course, which is why I wrote 'tend to'. If learning about biology had been the primary purpose of buying the book for all readers, I think it is not all that likely that I would find several quotes on only the first page of reviews such as I presented.
      My original point was that Dawkins' books and WEIT write chiefly about Natural Selection, and readers might make the mistake, from reading their popular books, that this is still in this day and age the singular explanation for the evolution of different species, which it isn't. But if readers want to have well (or even not so well) argued points for the power of NS to explain life as we know it in all its variety in order to counter the idea that divine agency was necessarily involved, these books serve that purpose quite well.

      Allan wrote a comment that suggested I concocted this notion simply out of my own imagination, which I haven't. And the quotes I have provided are my defense against that charge.
      That is all that is happening here. I objected to (which is not to say that I got angry or indignant about it) having my statement referred to as 'tripe' and rather than throw a hissy fit about it, insulting Allan, or anything else, I argued by presenting points of my own.
      What is the problem?

      As for your last line, if it's a joke, it kind of clunks. Why NOT equate 'creationism with religion'? Isn't that what 'creators' are for?

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  6. andyboergerFriday, April 12, 2013 8:16:00 PM
    Vimal, it's not just creationists, though. When popular evolutionists like Dawkins and Coyne communicate to the 'uneducated lay public', they overemphasize natural selection and downplay any other mechanisms.


    Which, BTW, is a very poor strategy - genetic drift has much more serious theological implications than selection. Theologians can spin natural selection into some superficially plausible theistic evolution framework. But I have yet to see them even touch the subject of genetic drift and neutral evolution in any sort of serious way, and for a good reason - part of it is that they are simply ignorant of the subject, but my suspicion is that the fact they are scared of it is an even more serious factor

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    1. Yes and no, the weird thing is that you'll often hear them disparaginly refer to "evolutionists" as people who believe in "chance" and "accident".

      "You believe everything just happened by chance one day".

      "You believe it's all just a big, lucky accident".

      Etc. etc.

      And so you have to correct them by explaining how this is wrong, and most often I've seen people introduce natural selection to try and thwart this idiotic idea that it's all "just a big accident". But then at the same time, this seems to put a huge emphasis on selection and adaptation. Of course, the big problem is that the creationists never got the full picture, they were sold a cheap caricature of the process, probably at a young age, so you have to engage in this uphill battle of trying to get them to let go of all their caricatures and misconceptions before you can tell them how it aactually works.

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    2. Wouldn't the outcome of the flood fit well with drift. I must admit though, that Noah did some selction prior to it.

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    3. "The outcome of the flood fits well with drift"??? Where did that idea come from? I am totally at loss trying to see the logic here.

      The problem drift poses to religion is that as far as we can tell a lot of the features that characterize us as large-bodied eukaryotes are the result of neutral and slightly deleterious mutations being fixed by drift due to the state of low Ne in which we have existed for most of the last few hundred millions of years (and even before that - many of those features seem to go back to the last common eukaryotic ancestor).

      Which takes us back to the old "Will we get humans or something like them if we replay the tape of life?" question, the answer to which is critical for theology because without humans being an inevitable outcome of evolution, the whole house of cards falls apart. I've posted here on this subject in the past so I will have to repeat myself, but anyway - I see two possible ways out of that conundrum: 1) God intervened at each step in the process creating substitutions, indels, transposon insertions, etc. where they had to occur (and preventing them from happening where did were not supposed to) then he made sure they segregated properly in the next generation. 2) God had the trajectory of pretty much all particles in the universe planned from the very beginning and thus he knew the outcome of evolution in advance; this is quite similar to what Francis Collins was talking about in his book and talks. The problem with 1) is that it is pure creationism and consequently no "serious" theologian has the right to call it theistic evolution, plus it's probably a lot more intervention than even the biggest fans of interventionism can probably accept. The problem with 2) (besides the fact that it is also pure creationism) is that if God knew what would happen up to the moment humans appeared, there is no reason why he would not also know what will happen after that and this, it would seem to me, completely messes up the elaborate edifice built around original sin, free will, and other core theological concepts. You can, of course, argue that souls are immaterial, that humans were infused with them relatively recently, and only then did free will kicked in, but I find it hard to see how that puts you on a firmer ground

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    4. Leaving aside Noah you will have to admit that allele numbers per locus would drastically decrease if a population is reduced to two remaining members. Of course the situation in thelytokous, arrhenotokous and parthenogenetic animals will do much worse.

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    5. Unfortunately for that theory, the human population never underwent such a bottleneck.

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  7. Larry, are you really throwing away your DNA model? Couldn't you instead have your students rebuild it? It seems to me that it would be a good teaching and learning experience. Either that or it could be donated to a high school or college that is willing to repair/rebuild it.

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  8. Teleology is at the root of the misunderstandings that result in the rhetoric wars, IMO. Would "Non-teleological Evolutionist" be an acceptable descriptor of scientists holding to a worldview that attributes no value or negative values to the concept of a God that might be capable of acting purposefully?

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    1. Sure, about as acceptable as "Non-teleological physicist" or "Non-teleological chemist".

      There is no "misunderstanding" about teleology, it is just an attempt to inject irrational and non-evidence based dogma into science.

      You see the same thing in cosmology and neurology as well, with every new advance in these areas resulting in increasingly pathetic attempts to shoe horn an invisible friend into explanations for the existence of the universe (anthropic argument, uncaused cause etc.) and the nature of the mind (free will, dualism, immaterial soul and so on).

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    2. Yeah, how about the "non-teleological astronomers" who believe in the unguided laws of planetary motion from blind chance?

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    3. @Rock Turner: A good (neutral) set of examples of teleogical hypotheses would be conspiracy theories. A non-teleological scientist (if such a thing existed) would be one who rejects conspiracy theories out of hand without knowing anything about them. Of course there are no such scientists - scientist don't attribute _no_ value to teleological ideas a priori. It's just that they don't give them special status, instead treating them like any other hypothesis.

      Only when they find that evidence in support of a hypothesis is lacking (as is the case for the ideas you mention), do they attribute less value to it than to competing hypotheses.

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  9. Scientists never claim that Darwin could walk on water.

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    1. Generally, when using his feet on water, Darwin skated. Technically, it's not walking. He gave it up after his youth.

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    2. Ah! That explains my confusion. Thanks Ed.

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  10. Michael Lynch : “To his credit, Gould, who is also widely read by the general public, frequently railed against adaptive storytelling, but it can be difficult to understand what alternative mechanisms of evolution Gould had in mind.”

    According our host Laurence A. Moran though: “One of the mechanism that Gould had in mind was random genetic drift of neutral alleles as clearly explained in the "Spandrels" paper that Lynch quotes”

    So, apparently, after reading the "Spandrels" paper in which this mechanism was “clearly explained”, Lynch still missed the point: does he need to go back to graduate school?

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    1. He didn't say that _he_ didn't understand it. He said - in a context where he is talking about communicating scientific ideas to the public - that they _can_ be difficult to understand. I.e. that communicating these ideas to the general public is harder than communicating the idea of natural selection.

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    2. I’m pretty sure Lynch understood what Gould was saying. However, Larry keeps saying that Lynch does not understand Gould, which is not fair to Lynch.

      Here is what Larry said in his previous post(“Michael Lynch on Adaptationism”: http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/2012/02/michael-lynch-on-adaptationism.html):

      “I agree with everything Lynch writes except that I have a pretty good idea what alternative mechanisms Gould proposed”

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    3. I'm pretty sure that Michael Lynch is referring to things like punctuated equilibria, species sorting, and hierarchical theory. He may also be referring to Gould's discussion of Baupläne in the Spandrels paper. Some of those things are difficult to understand and some of them are probably wrong.

      I was simply pointing out that some of Gould's alternatives are simple and easy to understand. I didn't want people to get the impression that everything Gould said was difficult to understand.

      (I think I understand everything that Gould proposed. That's where I differ from Michael Lynch.)

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    4. IMHO Lynch's writings make perfectly clear why he would say this about Gould. In [1] he writes: "No principle of population genetics has been overturned by an observation in molecular, cellular, or developmental biology, nor has any novel mechanism of evolution been revealed by such fields". Got that? Molecular biologists or biochemists like Larry, and developmental biologists like Sean Carroll, can't learn anything new about evolutionary causes, because they are in the wrong field. Only population geneticists can say what is a cause or not-- and what they are saying is that there is nothing new under the sun.

      So, when Lynch says that Gould's "alternative mechanisms of evolution" are not clear, he means that that Gould is not providing explicit population-genetic equations in his references to Bauplane, constraints, "chance", "contingency", etc.

      There are a variety of reasons not to accept Lynch's view. Some of them are philosophical, but others are not. I have argued multiple times that, even if we accept the view that evolutionary causes are properly conceived as population-genetic causes, there *is* a new cause ("new" relative to the Modern Synthesis) that we can associate with molecular evolution and evo-devo, as explained in [2] (in the online reviews of which, another famous theoretical population geneticist perfectly illustrates Lynch's view).

      -------
      [1] Lynch M. 2007. The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104 Suppl 1:8597-604.

      [2] Stoltzfus A. 2012. Constructive neutral evolution: exploring evolutionary theory's curious disconnect. Biology direct 7:35. http://www.biology-direct.com/content/7/1/35

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    5. Arlin,

      Here's a passage from Gould's classic 1980 paper, "Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?" (Paleobiology 6:119-130).

      At the level of populations, the synthesis has broken on the issue of amounts of genetic vari- ation. Selection, though it eliminates variation in both its classical modes (directional and, es- pecially, stabilizing) can also act to preserve variation through such phenomena as overdom- inance, frequency dependence, and response to small-scale fluctuation of spatial and temporal environments. Nonetheless, the copiousness of genetic variation, as revealed first in the elec- trophoretic techniques that resolve only some of it (Lewontin and Hubby 1966; Lewontin 1974), cannot be encompassed by our models of selec- tive control (of course, the models, rather than nature, may be wrong). This fact has forced many evolutionists, once stout synthesists themselves, to embrace the idea that alleles often drift to high frequency or fixation, and that many common variants are therefore neutral or just slightly deleterious. This admission lends support to a previous interpretation of the approximately even ticking of the molecular clock (Wilson 1977)-that it reflects the neutral status of most changes in structural genes rather than a grand averaging of various types of selection over time. None of this evidence, of course, negates the role of conventional selection and adaptation in molding parts of the phenotype with obvious importance for survival and reproduction. Still, it rather damps Mayr's enthusiastic claim for ''all evolution . . . guided by natural selection." The question, as with so many issues in the complex sciences of natural history, becomes one of relative frequency. Are the Darwinian substitutions merely a surface skin on a sea of variation invisible to selection, or are the neu- tral substitutions merely a thin bottom layer underlying a Darwinian ocean above? Or where in between? In short, the specter of stochasticity has in- truded upon explanations of evolutionary change. This represents a fundamental chal- lenge to Darwinism, which holds, as its very basis, that random factors enter only in the pro- duction of raw material, and that the determin- istic process of selection produces change and direction (see Nei 1975).

      That seems pretty clear to me. Are you upset that Gould didn't provide any population-genetic equations?

      And are you really implying that I know nothing about "evolutionary causes" because I don't understand population genetics?

      As for mutationism, I'm a fan of the concept as anyone who reads this blog must know. In fact, Arlin Stoltfus published a whole series of blog posts on Sandwalk a few years ago.

      The Mutationism Myth, VI: Back to the Future

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    6. Larry writes "And are you really implying that I know nothing about "evolutionary causes" because I don't understand population genetics?". Huh? I guess its Friday afternoon so you're being extra pugnacious? I said no such thing.

      Yes, you are absolutely right that Gould invokes "drift", both in the paper above, and (with Lewontin) in the Spandrels paper mentioned earlier in this thread. You, Gould, Lynch, and many others acknowledge drift as an "alternative mechanism of evolution" relative to selection.

      Therefore, in pointing the finger at drift, you have failed to correctly identify the reason that Lynch writes "it can be difficult to understand what alternative mechanisms of evolution Gould had in mind". When Gould invokes drift, we all know what he means.

      But it gets difficult when Gould (with or without Lewontin) invokes Bauplane, constraints, contingency and so on. Are any of these "mechanisms"? Go back and read the Spandrels paper. There is an online copy here:

      http://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/GouldLewontin.pdf .

      It isn't just because there are no equations. I'm not sure that Gould himself would see some of these as "mechanisms". Gould & Lewontin refer to "paradigms", "approaches", "themes", etc., and they endorse Darwin's mechanistic pluralism, but there is no place in the article where they endorse an alternative "mechanism" other than drift.

      This is quite typical in evolutionary writings-- evolutionists get accused of being in thrall to Darwin, and they respond by saying that "of course we accept alternatives to selection, like drift and so on." But one never finds out what "and so on" means.

      So, do you understand now why Lynch says that it can be difficult to understand what alternativs Gould is invoking?

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    7. Oh, and in my earlier post it might have been clearer if I had caricatured the standard pop-gen position as being that molecular and developmental biologists can't *discover any new evolutionary causes* (rather than "learn any new evolutionary causes"). The point is not that other biologists can't learn population genetics-- the point is that population geneticists such as Lynch claim that issues of evolutionary causation are in their portfolio, and not in anyone else's.

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  11. Darbyists don't like to be called Darbyists, either, I've discovered. They like people to think they're Christian. I've never understood why the subterfuge is necessary -- certainly Christians who convert to Darbyism on the issues of creation would be proud of their abandoning thought that might lead to science, no?

    Should we call 'em oomphalogists, instead?

    In the end, it doesn't matter to the arguments they can't make. Doesn't matter what you call 'em, or what they call themselves. As Lincoln said, the calf still has only four legs, even if you call its tail a leg. Calling a calf tail a leg, doesn't make it a leg.

    Creationism is anti-science, not Christian, by any name.

    I also note, sometimes with amusement and sometimes with vexation, that creationist/Darbyist/oomphalogist argument rarely goes deeper than name calling.

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