"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Oct 23, 2008

National Academy of Sciences Evolution pamphlet

I came across a useful pdf pamphlet from the US National Academy of Sciences today which sets out some of the issues around Evolution and Creationism.

It's a shortened version of a longer book that they have published. The book itself explains the fundamental methods of science and documents the overwhelming evidence in support of biological evolution. The book also evaluates the alternative perspectives of various kinds of creationism, including "intelligent design" and sets out the scientific and legal reasons for not teaching creationist ideas in public school science classes.

The pamphlet is a much shortened version of the book but gives an excellent short summary of the powerful case for Evolution as a set of facts and as an explanatory theory. It's well worth a read both by those who understand the theory and those creationists who either don't or who still have their fingers in their ears while shouting "la, la,la not listening..." National Academy of Sciences Evolution and Creationsm pamphlet

Update: I just came across this great quote from Albert Einstein;

"The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge."


Sarah said...

I always found it funny that Creationists refute the Theory of Evolution due to lack of proof and say things like "That is JUST a theory"...yet they believe some magical man in the clouds made the world and everything in it. Yeah...cause that just makes sooooo much more sense!

Bunc said...

Ah but we don't have FAITH you see Sarah. To paraphrase Lewis Carrol:-
With faith you can believe at least six completely illogical things before breakfast.

rummuser said...

We can interpret Einstein in as many ways as there are religions and non believers and agnostics. All of them will be right and it is really pointless arguing about the matter, is it not?

Bunc said...

I doubt that all of them can be right rammmusser. That is logically impossible surely.

Certainly there are many Einstein quotes and he can, of course, be taken out of context. However this is not a short quote taken out of context and his meaning is abundantly clear.

He is exhorting us to seek meaning and sprituality through rational knowledge and not through blind faith.

There are other quotes from Einstein that can be used to show that he cautioned us to know the limits of our knowledge but taken together it is abundantly clear that he was a proponent of rationality rather than blind faith.

Personally I don't see it ever being pointless debating matters such as this - this is how mankind progresses surely. otherwise we just simply take the "wisdom" that's handed down to us without question. That is blind faith.

Looney said...

Sarah, wrote: "That is JUST a theory".

Actually, to be a theory, there must be a fixed equation involving measurable quantities that everyone accepts. Evolution will never be a theory, because it morphs and changes according to the whims of dubious intellectuals who perpetually invoke the mythical concept of a "scientist" which no one has ever seen. Even Richard Dawkins can not identify a scientific theory of evolution from what I have read in his books.

As far as I can tell, the National Academy of Science is just a propaganda agency for left wing intellectuals.

Bunc said...

This is of course Looney at his handwaving and smokescreen blowing best.

This is exactly NOT how a Theory is defined in any of the sciences or by some of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century.

The essential nature and characteristics of Theory in the sciences have been the subject of very rigorous debate over the years.

The Theory of Evolution meets the test of a scientific theory very well.

Looney is of course trying to confuse us by bringing in the notion of the mathematical representation of a theory which is a related but somewhat different thing.

However even on that count there are mathematical formulations of evolution eg formulas about rates of allele change that meet Looney's test.

These of course would not have been in Dawkins book because the books Looney refers to are popular accounts of the Theory.

Modern statistics for example owes a great debt to R.A Fisher, the mathematician and evolutionary biologist, who developed techniques such as analysis of variance, the fundamental theorum of natural selection, significance tests, t-distribution and z-distribution. Fisher was a giant in the development of the mathematics of statistics.

“perhaps the most original mathematical scientist of the [twentieth] century”

Bradley Efron Annals of Statistics (1976)

“Fisher was a genius who almost single-handedly created the foundations for modern statistical science ….”

Anders Hald A History of Mathematical Statistics (1998)

Read any decent statistics book to see the role Fisher played. Much of his work related to developing tools that were able to deal with extremely complex biological information.

For a fairly good summary of the nature of scientific theory see here:

And Looney doesnt believe in "scientists" LOL he he but he believes in sky fairies! I wonder what methamatical formulae he applies to that?

Looney said...

Hmmm. So I should be impressed by statistics? I was tutoring this at a graduate level in college, but never felt it was a significant discipline. I had more faith in it when I was younger, but less as I realized how hard it is to get good data.

And yes, it is true that biologists use formulas, but that means little if today's formula isn't the same as yesterday's formula and neither is the same as the formulas being used elsewhere in the biology department. According to my molecular biology text, you need different evolution rate constants for each gene! Newton would surely frown!

The National Academy of Sciences definitions are so broad that they can accommodate anything. Keep in mind that their are hundreds of thousands of Newton wannabees in academia who really need a sloppy, vague definition of "scientific theory"!

Bunc said...

While I have no problem with you personally Looney your arguments are frankly pathetic and so demonstrably ridiculous. Sometimes you simply show how low you will stoop in order to manufacture specious arguments to defend your creationist viewpoint.

"I was tutoring this at a graduate level in college, but never felt it was a significant discipline."

I could hardly stop laughing when I read this. Einstein himself in his doctoral dissertation developed a statistical molecular theory about liquids which became the explanation for Brownian motion.

Calculations about material strengths etc in engineering are all founded on statistical understanding of material properties. And so on and so on.

It's hard to overestimate the impact of statistics in modern life.

Your graduate students certainly got a very raw deal if you have such little understanding of the importance and application of the field of statistical methods. And talking about data problems does not as you well know not invalidate the field or the theories.

"that means little if today's formula isn't the same as yesterday's formula "

More stuff and nonsense from Looney. You mean like Newtons laws of gravitation aren't the same as the formulas in Einsteins theory? That means our theories of gravity are useless? Don't think so. Your argument is very weak Looney.

I very much doubt that Newton, being a scientist himself, would have frowned on the development of Evolutionary theory. Given his wide range of interests he would no doubt have made some contribution.

And as usual we end up with the argument that the whole scientific establishment is a left wing conspiracy theory designed to defeat the anally retentive minds of some small sects of biblical literalists? Ha ha ha ha ha.

At least try to come up with something less childish.

Livingsword said...

I completely agree that religion is not a profitable course for the human race. I am pleased that as a follower of Jesus I am not supposed to be religious or unreasonable. I have encountered nothing in hard science that discourages my following Jesus actually the opposite is true and the pdf document even speaks to this near the end…

I read the pdf document and found nothing that proved the Bible was untrustworthy.

Often both of those on either side of this debate try to go beyond what their…fields actually explain…the pdf document does not push beyond the boundaries of science in dictating that it absolutely knows how life started and those on the biblical side should not go beyond its text in examining how life adapted after creation…the Bible simply does not “nail this down”.

Neither side can prove absolutely that it is factual, both require a step of faith/trust, as I used to be an atheist I found I no longer had enough faith/trust to maintain that point of view any longer…but I respect people that have that much faith/trust…as I greatly appreciate the eagerness to be intellectually honest…

Thanks for the link to the pdf file I think I may use it on my blogs….

Bunc said...

Hi Livingsword,
Actually I agree with you in many ways. I don't see Evolution as having any decisive bearing on the Faith versus Atheism issue at all.

My own Atheism is a separate matter from my understanding of Evolution. Most religious believers actually have no problem with Evolution - it's only bible literalists/creationists that seem to have a problem.

The reason I often describe them as fearful is because they see Evolution as something to defend against so feel they must attack it.

They fear it because they can't approach the Bible except by seeing everything in it in literal terms. This is an anally retentive approach to religion and the world - everything must be nice and tidy and buttoned up.

No individual scientific theory on its own is an argument against God.

It is certainly correct that there is no clear evidence at this time about how life got going. This is a related but different question to how it then evolved.

I see nothing that leads me to believe that the mechanism that started life is likely to be anything other than a natural one. Believers in God will of course think that there was some ancient moment of creation.

We can't fully settle this issue on facts because facts are thin on the ground in regard to the actual start of life.

The facts are overwhelming however on the issue of the evolution of life.

Bunc said...

Livingsword -
I noticed the "I used to be an Atheist" bit in your post.

Atheism is, by definition, a LACK of belief or Faith in the existence of a GOD. It's an absence of belief and therefore not a belief and does not require faith. There are no sets of things that all Atheists have to believe or have faith in. The only thing Atheists have universally in common is that they lack any belief in there being a God.

If you felt your "atheism" was based on belief and faith then I suspect you simply carried your religious impulse for something "beyond you" into your "Atheism".

You were in short probably not what I would call an Atheist and were actually probably just looking for an alternative belief. Atheism is not that.

Looney said...

Bunc, I always like the references to Einstein. He was, of course, working only in a few narrow disciplines of physics, he was fallible, and he had character flaws. This means that he is far short of the definition for 'scientist' that intellectuals teach to school children around the world. That is why it is safe to say that scientists don't exist, but the reputation of the national academy of sciences - and evolution - relies completely on the existence of these demigods known as scientists. Laugh if you like, but I do not believe in these supernatural beings.

As for statistical mechanics related things, yes, this stuff is way cool. It can be used for some very simple gases, but quickly becomes intractable when trying to develop a non-equilibrim thermodynamics model for hypersonic flow. Keep in mind that statistical mechanics has many sub-theories, all of which have a fixed scientific definition.

Evolution is a bit like statistical mechanics, but with some key differences: a) evolution has no fixed definition. b) evolution NEVER becomes intractable, but can explain any phenomenon no matter how complex. c) it takes someone with real talent to master statistical mechanics, but any joker can master evolution. d) statistical mechanics required an understanding of atoms and molecules before it could be developed, but evolution was able to elegantly "explain" everything 50 years before the discovery of DNA and proteins - no talent required!

This only makes sense if we understand evolution as a religion.

Delirious said...

I do agree with something in their pamphlet. Religion is not science. I'm thinking that because of this fact, we should add religion classes to our children's schooling so that we can teach all aspects of the creation without stepping on the toes of the poor sensitive scientists. ;)

Bunc said...

Einstein was of course as fallable as any other human being although he does have a bit of a track record in physics!

"...he is far short of the definition for 'scientist' that intellectuals teach to school children around the world."

If children are properly educated they should be taught to distinguish science as an organised human endevour and an set if interlocking bodies of study from the work and lives of individual scientists which of course as in any other field can be less than perfect.

"That is why it is safe to say that scientists don't exist,"

What you are doing is implying the premise that idealised "scientists" don't exist and concluding that therefore this means there are no such thing as scientists. Very woolly logic Looney and I cant see anyone being fooled by that bit of wriggling.

An analogy very easily demonstrates how faulty your logic is. I paraphrase your logic:-

1) There is a thing called medicine.
2) Most people called doctors who claim to practice medicine don't do it perfectly.
3) Therefore there are no such things as doctors and we shouldn't teach children about them.

You would fail Logic 101 with that one.

"The reputation of the national academy of sciences - and evolution - relies completely on the existence of these demigods known as scientists."

Er no it doesnt - it rests on the COLLECTIVE efforts of generations of scientists. One of the hallmarks of science has been it's ability to self criticize and to throw out Theories which were found not to be supported by the evidence.

I can show you genuine and fierce areas of debate within Evoutionary theory. Real debates about real facts; not the fluff and stuff that you trot out.

And the use ofthe word "demi-gods" is just you sneaking in a spiritual reference so that you can set up a straw man at the end of your comment with the suggestion that Evolution is a religion.

"Laugh if you like, but I do not believe in these supernatural beings."

I am still laughing at the blatant twisting and turning in your arguments. You might confuse the kids at Sunday School but for most intelligent adults your arguments just look silly. You refuse to believe in certain supernatural beings ( which you have set up ready to knock down) but happily believe in others? LOL

"statistical mechanics has many sub-theories, all of which have a fixed scientific definition."

As is the case with the broad field of study which we call Evolutionary theory - which also has sub-theories. I will come back to this much more substantially later on because you argument in this area is just begging for further rebuttal.

"...any joker can master evolution."

But Looney you clearly haven't ....

"evolution was able to elegantly "explain" everything 50 years before the discovery of DNA and proteins - no talent required!"

Did you read the article about theory? If you read this or have any understanding at all about scientific theory in any field you will know that the success of a theory is in large part measured by how well it makes predictions about other aspects of the phenomena under study.

You have just basically acknolwedged how powerful a theory evolutionary theory has proved to be.

The implications of the theory were that there must be a mechanism within living things that allowed for variation, inheritance and selction. The discovery of DNA years later was a profound vindication of the basic theory. You just effectively shot your own argument in the foot.

And of course you end up by flourishing the straw man that you set up earlier.

Bunc said...

I have no problem at all with there being religious classes and children being taught that religions have creation stories.

I assume you would be happy for Christianity to be simply one of the major religions that was covered in such eductaion though.

And of course if we take seriously the argument that Atheism is a religion ( which I dont) then you would also of course require to teach Atheism in those religious classes.

I do though strongly agree that science and religion are different things. I wouldn't expect science to be taught in religious education classes and neither do I expect religion in the guise of ID to be taught in science classes.

Looney said...

"Er no it doesnt - it rests on the COLLECTIVE efforts of generations of

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like "The Force"!


Bunc said...

Well if "the Force" includes processes of peer review, fierce debates about theory, trying to find evidence to overturn your scientifc colleagues theories and observations - then I guess it would be a good analogy.

But given that "the force" is some mystic spiritual thing that you just gotta have faith in for it to work then it strikes me that a better analogy is between belief in "the force" and belief in God.

Livingsword said...

Hi Bunc….

The Bible has many literal passages and it also has poetic etc passages such as in the Psalms. The Bible is clear that God has created everything and that He has chosen to intervene in His creation in certain ways….while He also sustains the creation…

So I suppose you could say that I am a Bible literalist in that I believe that parts of the Bible are literal, but then of course you would also have to label me as a Bible sonnetist…Perhaps instead you are inferring to the inspiration of the Biblical text?

As I said I see no “profit” in religion in that I view religion as people that are trying to get to God thru self-help, religious rules, “family values”, morality (being “good”) and religious rituals. They are trying to earn their way to God. I believe this is impossible…I simply have turned from myself to trust in Who Jesus is and what He has done receiving His free life transforming relationship, I follow Him and He grows my “evolution”….To me religion is humans reaching “up” to God but following Jesus is God reaching “down” to humans…Well enough of that I don’t want to come across as trying to get you to convert I’m simply sharing my personal experience…however I have no problem with people proselytizing me no matter their beliefs…

There are cumulative arguments that could be made against the existence of God just as there are arguments in defense of God’s existence. The latter is the information I have found more sufficiently compelling thru reason…

I am pleased that you see the start of life as a different “argument” than the stratagems after what I would see as creation. Of course a God that has the power to “start everything” certainly has the power to interact in His creation along the way…I believe He has chosen to do so…

As you said “We can't fully settle this issue on facts because facts are thin on the ground in regard to the actual start of life.” I agree so anybody that is dogmatic on either side has to admit to having faith/trust. The question is…is that faith/trust reasonable? Which is the more reasonable? This is what I am referring to as not having enough faith to be an atheist. I was an atheist, I always find it interesting how many atheists seem to want to see my old Atheist Membership Card however I do understand your point and I have provided accurate information about myself. I encountered information that changed my mind.

Just like you doubt my former atheist credentials I doubt many that claim to be followers of Jesus but live their lives like atheist meaning they lack faith in the existence of God in their lives…

Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk said...

One of my favorite Einstein quotes is

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."

Delirious said...

Wow, you are a much nicer athiest/evolutionist than the ones where I live. They want to ban religion all together. At least you would allow us to teach what we believe. I wouldn't mind if we could have a comparative religions class in school. I teach my kids about my religion, I wouldn't mind them learning what other religions believe. I think it's good to have an understanding of how people of the world think so that we can all get along.

Bunc said...

Jean -
Yes thats a great quote. My view is a bt like that. Trying to comprehend a little more every day I hope.

Delirious -
there was a well known comic in the UK who's catch phrase was "You are awful but I do like you".
It feels like you have just said that to me ! :-)

Delirious said...

I dont' think you are awful...misguided perhaps, but not awful. ;) But I do like you lol.

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