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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On the Importance of Defining Evolution

Some people think it's important to define your terms before engaging in a debate. I am one of them and the term that most often leads to confusion is "evolution."

Let's look at an example. Ned Bowden is a chemistry professor at the University of Iowa. He published an article in the university magazine: Common ground: A case for ending the animosity between science and religion. Bowden said ...
It’s remarkably consistent how evolution and Genesis look at the process and tell the same stories using different words. Science can never prove or disprove God, but science can provide support for the existence of God and that is what the Big Bang and evolution can give us. There are, of course, holes in the theory of evolution that are big enough to drive a semi-truck through, but it is highly possible that evolution was the tool that God used to bring humans into being.
A bunch of other professors at the University of Iowa took exception to that claim that there were big holes in modern evolutionary theory [The science of evolution: Faculty members respond to recent Campus Voices article]. They said ...
Scientists use the term “theory” in a profoundly different way than lay people, who often use it synonymously with “dubious.” For us, theories are not hunches or wild guesses, but collections of statements about the world that make sense of natural observations and experimental findings.

In that regard, it's important to remember that the fact that germs cause disease is still called the germ theory, and the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun is still called the heliocentric theory. No reasonable person today disputes the underlying facts in those two theories.

Such has been the process with evolutionary theory, too, as new observations and experiments accumulate to provide consistent and overwhelming support for the fact that life on Earth has evolved. Evolutionary scientists certainly continue to refine our understanding of evolutionary processes, but we no longer debate the central principles of evolutionary theory as a scientific framework for understanding Earth's diversity.
They are correct. What Ned Bowden said was very misleading.

Now for the fun part.

David Klinghoffer jumped all over this on Evolution News & Views (sic) [University of Iowa Chemist Rebuked by Faculty for Acknowledging "Holes" in Darwinian Theory]. Klinghoffer says ...
on the point about Darwinian theory having holes you could "drive a semi-truck through," why does that sound familiar? Holes, gaps...oh, reminds me of what Harvard computer scientist Leslie Valiant writes in his book Probably Approximately Correct, quoted by Berkeley mathematician Edward Frenkel in his New York Times review, about how Darwinism "has the gaping gap that it can make no quantitative predictions as far as the number of generations needed for the evolution of a behavior of a certain complexity" (emphasis added).

Why does Valiant get away with saying that, while Bowden is publicly condemned by 25 of his closest colleagues? It seems unfair. Is it that Bowden specifies the size of the "holes" in terms of the dimensions of a particular vehicle, a semi-truck?
Do you see the problem? Klinghoffer is talking about "Darwinian Theory" whereas the professors in Iowa were talking about "evolutionary theory." There's a big difference. I know for a fact that some of the biology professors would agree that "Darwinian Theory" is inadequate.

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

Richard Dawkins
It's seems to be impossible for IDiots to recognize that their definitions are misleading.

Denyse O'leary jumps on the bandwagon over on Uncommon Descent: Somebody gets it in the neck (again). She says ...
... for saying Darwinism isn’t totally and completely true....

Note: By “evolution,” they do not mean change over time, they mean Darwinism. When they are trying to enforce it in the school system, they always mean Darwinism.
That's a flat out lie. After decades of trying to explain definitions to the IDiots we have no choice. Their failure to understand cannot be entirely due to stupidity. They must be wicked.

They must be deliberately lying.


JimV said...

Like just about everything which is capable of change, words evolve. I think I read somewhere that British scientists use the words "Darwinist" and "evolutionist" as interchangeable, perhaps because Darwin was British (and was the principle founder of evolution science). That usage is what I somehow assimilated, and until becoming more educated at this site, I would have assumed that a "non-Darwinist" was someone who thought Darwin was wrong, and who did not accept any part of the Theory of Evolution. It still seems a bit strange to me to divide evolution scientists into Darwinists and non-Darwinists. If I were king of the English dictionary, I think I would decree that some other term be used, so as not to seem disrespectful to Darwin. (Maybe "strict adaptionist"?)

John Harshman said...

I suggest that the reason Valiant got away with what he was saying had nothing to do with the term "Darwinism" and everything to do with the fact that no evolutionary biologists were paying attention to him when he said it.

Bet that's another book Klinghoffer hasn't read, incidentally.

Robert Byers said...

Again it shows just how evolutionists are afraid that any criticism coming from high educated circles is dangerous.
If their "theory' was so settled it would not be this way. They would yawn.
Indeed evolution acceptance is founded upon authority in those circles that study origins. So this is why its in trouble. People who study origins are saying its not true and writing best sellers about it.
No actual theories in science ever need defend themselves as theories that are settled.
Something is different here.
The difference is that evolution is NOT a biological scientific theory.
Saying its settled and evidence aplenty is saying nothing.
Show the evidence.
Name your top three evidences that can persuade a increasingly skeptical North America!!
ID scientists are saying evolution etc etc is not well supported by science.
In reality there are just hundreds or a few thousand "scientis' who get paid to study evolution.
Having just a roomful of rebels is a major disaster for any ideas claiming to be scientific.
It sounds like a old boys establishment constantly attacking dissenters.
I ask the evolutionists on this forum ARE you actually persuaded on evidence of nature that the glory of complexity and diversity is from mutationism and selection and time??
Could you be mistaken/
Why not if not?

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...


But whether you take the Big Bang or “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ ” it says the same thing.

It doesn’t really matter whether the Earth was created 5 billion years ago, 5,000 years ago, or, heck, even 5 minutes ago.

Who the hell needs science if facts and numbers don't "really" matter and anything can be considered "the same" as anything else?

Unknown said...


"Moving on through the Genesis story, we see that on the “third day” (remember, not just 48 hours later; perhaps as much as billions of years?) “…the earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding seed after his kind…”
Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of photosynthesis and the release of oxygen on earth?"

Well, the only problem with this is that the next thing God supposedly did the next day (day 4) was to create the Sun:

"Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years,
[1:15] and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." - Genesis 1:14-15

So if we redefine 1 day into 1 billion years how could all those plants created on day 3 photosynthesize for 1 billion years until the Sun was created on day 4? Thats what happens if we try to base science on the Bible. Why on earth would a scientist do that, when even theologians think that much of the Bible is just a metaphor and not science? Also, why is it only scientists that raised their voice against Bowden's article concerning big gaps in evolutionary theory and why there are no theologians or biblical scholars pointing out the obvious cherry picking of the Bible?

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

Well, the only problem with this is that the next thing God supposedly did the next day (day 4) was to create the Sun

And of course "the beginning of photosynthesis" involved ancestral cyanobacteria, not plants (let alone grasses and fruit-bearing trees). They were the only phototrophs not only "in the beginning" but also during the next one billion years if not longer.

Unknown said...

The first Genesis creation story, the organisation of the world by the god Elohim in six days, is not important to Xianity. What matters is the sin of Eve and Adam in the second Genesis creation story, where the god JHVH puts Adam, and, as an afterthought, Eve, into Eden and they eat of the "tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat", whereupon he throws them out of Eden "lest he [Adam] put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" (because "Behold, the man is become as one of us"). Paul makes this into "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" and "The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit".

St Augustine of Hippo expanded this into the doctrine of Original Sin, which we all inevitably inherit from Adam, but which can be expunged if we trust in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, later Catholicism saw a problem with this, and invented the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, by which St Ann can give birth to the BVM, Mary, without passing on Original Sin. Which raises the question: if God can miraculously let the BVM be born without Original Sin, why can't he do the same for all of us, thus eliminating the need for Jesus' death,

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

if God can miraculously let the BVM be born without Original Sin, why can't he do the same for all of us, thus eliminating the need for Jesus' death

GOD: D'ooooh! I didn't think of that!

steve oberski said...

A Rube Goldberg/Marquis de Sade collaboration.

An over-engineered system that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion combined with a repressive, sadomasochistic view of human sexuality.

SRM said...

Hindsight is 20/20. It is clear from the old testament that this was god's first go at creating... hence, no evidence that he/she/it had any clue of what to do exactly, was quite overwhelmed, and displayed a clear propensity for coming up with the very worst solution to every problem. Presumably, we should expect a better outcome next time 'round.

Larry Moran said...

It is clear from the old testament that this was god's first go at creating...

It's wrong to assume that this was her first go. The Bible is silent on that question. For all we know, she may have bungled the job even worse in some of the other multiverses. She may have felt that it wasn't necessary to mention that to the sheepherders.

It would be interesting to know if there are some multiverses out there where she did a much better job.

Or, maybe there is some other god(s) who were assigned the task in other universes? It may have been a class project. Our god got a C- but some got an A+.

I just thought of something. The evidence suggests that our god isn't perfect. If I can imagine a more perfect god does that mean it must exist?

Faizal Ali said...

According to Roman Catholic Doctrine, the Immaculate Conception did not obviate the need for Jesus' sacrifice. From the Wikipedia article on "Immaculate Conception":

Another misunderstanding is that, by her immaculate conception, Mary did not need a saviour. When defining the dogma in Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX explicitly affirmed that Mary was redeemed in a manner more sublime. He stated that Mary, rather than being cleansed after sin, was completely prevented from contracting Original Sin in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race.

If I am not mistaken, that is an example of the theological principle of "Making Shit Up As You Go Along."

steve oberski said...

Or, maybe there is some other god(s) who were assigned the task in other universes? It may have been a class project. Our god got a C- but some got an A+.

In his novella "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", Robert A. Heinlein posits that our universe is the work of an unexperienced but talented artist and what we interpret as divine intervention in reality is actually the efforts of various art critics attempting to salvage what is good and jettison the bad in this artistic endeavour.

nmanning said...

So, a religious chemist spews nonsense about biology. Why do they do that and expect to be taken seriously?

SRM said...

If I can imagine a more perfect god does that mean it must exist?

Sure, why not?
Its also possible our universe god was unceremoniously relieved of his duties at some point by a higher level multiverse god. Its probably just gods all the way up.