Monday, February 28, 2011

Richard Olson: An Educator Who is Trying to Educate

With the incessant drumbeat of the warfare thesis—the conviction that, where they interact, religion and science are in conflict—amongst pundits and the media, one occasionally wonders if historians are working hard enough. While academics write papers for each other explaining how deeply flawed is the warfare thesis, the nightly news hasn’t received the message. Are historians oblivious to the disconnect? No, at least Richard Olson isn’t. Here is what he says in his new Zygon paper:

I argue that for psychological and social reasons, the traditional “Conflict Model” of science and religion interactions has such a strong hold on the nonexpert imagination that counterexamples and claims that interactions are simply more complex than the model allows are inadequate to undermine its power.

Yes, well put. The warfare thesis indeed has such a strong hold on the nonexpert imagination that it seems to be impervious to facts.

Taxonomies, such as those of Ian Barbour and John Haught, which characterize conflict as only one among several possible relationships, help. But these taxonomies, by themselves, fail to offer an account of why different relationships prevail among different communities and how they succeed one another within particular communities ­that is, they contain no dynamic elements.

True, most taxonomies of the various ways religion and science interact are inadequate. They miss the most important interaction of all.

To undermine the power of the “Conflict Model,” we should be seeking to offer alternative models for science and religion interactions that can both incorporate the range of stances articulated by scholars like Barbour and which can offer an account of the process by which differing attitudes succeed one another.

Yes, and until historians more actively elucidate the most important interaction—where religion is the queen and science the handmaiden—progress will be limited. How are we to understand the evolutionist’s stream of religious mandates (such as here) followed by their insistence that evolution is nothing more than objective science (such as here and here)? I’m afraid all the alternative models historians can suppose will not help until the basic, fundamental assertions of evolutionary thought are acknowledged.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

John Beddington and Intolerance of Pseudo-Science

It is good to see the growing impatience of religiously motivated pseudo-science. Too often science has been, and continues to be, religion’s handmaiden. In fact it is surprising there hasn’t been a stronger backlash. But now it may be coming on too strong—the backlash may be more of whiplash. Witness Government Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington’s recent remarks:

In closing remarks to an annual conference of around 300 scientific civil servants on 3 February, in London, Beddington said that selective use of science ought to be treated in the same way as racism and homophobia. “We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality...We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method,” he said.

Beddington said he intends to take this agenda forward with his fellow chief scientists and also with the research councils. “I really believe that … we need to recognise that this is a pernicious influence, it is an increasingly pernicious influence and we need to be thinking about how we can actually deal with it.

I really would urge you to be grossly intolerant … We should not tolerate what is potentially something that can seriously undermine our ability to address important problems.

“There are enough difficult and important problems out there without having to … deal with what is politically or morally or religiously motivated nonsense.”

It is refreshing to see strong words against “religiously motivated nonsense,” but I am afraid this may be a sign of dangerous overreactions to come. Yes, evolution is every bit as dangerous as Beddington suggests. In fact it is arguably far more dangerous than racism and homophobia.

But evolutionists are not guilty of hatred as are racists. Yes evolutionists bring us “religiously motivated nonsense” as Beddington puts it. Yes they cherry-pick the facts, misrepresent science and have a pernicious influence. It is difficult not to be a little bit angry with them. But we must not overreact. Rather than speak of intolerance we must speak of forgiveness. We must exchange our anger for love. I do not urge you to be grossly intolerant.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

This Just In: Plants Have Leaves—Evolution Must Be True

As if evolution was not silly enough already evolutionists are now claiming that the fact that different plants all have leaves is a compelling evidence for their belief that all of nature just happened to spontaneously arise, all by itself. I occasionally enjoy a good spoof, but this is no joke. You can see this evolutionary logic for yourself right here. Some may find this unbelievable but this example, while stupefying, is actually representative of evolutionary thinking.

Evolutionary cannot explain how a single protein first arose, much less molecular machines, cells, multicellular organisms, nervous systems, cellular transduction, and a thousand other designs. In fact biology is full of fantastic, unique solutions no one would have ever guessed. Consider all the different kinds of plants biology has to offer.

Cactus plant leaves, for instance, are like spines whereas poinsettia leaves are like flower petals. On the other hand the venus flytrap leaves are like jaws that close to catch insects, and the pitcher plant leaves form a pitcher to catch insects. Of course beyond unfounded speculation about blind mutations just happening to construct such marvels, evolutionists have no scientific explanation for how these arose. Yet amazingly, in biology’s unlikely designs such as these evolutionists are certain their idea is proven. They write:

In the following photos of plants, the leaves are quite different from the “normal” leaves we envision. Each leaf has a very different shape and function, yet all are homologous structures, derived from a common ancestral form. The pitcher plant and Venus’ flytrap use leaves to trap and digest insects. The bright red leaves of the poinsettia look like flower petals. The cactus leaves are modified into small spines which reduce water loss and can protect the cactus from herbivory.

Derived from a common ancestral form? And how do evolutionists know these radically different designs evolved from a common ancestor? Well, because they are homologous, that’s how. And after all, homologous structures share a common ancestor. Amazing.

The next example, the tetrapod forelimb, is equally silly. Take a look at the eusthenopteron forelimb and the rabbit forelimb, for instance, in the figure. Like the plant leaves, these designs are radically different.

Yet we are told this “demonstrates their common ancestry.” Demonstrates their common ancestry? How are these demonstrations of common ancestry? In fact there is no demonstration of common ancestry here. Evolutionists show some nice illustrations of radically different plants and animals, and simply assert that this is a demonstration of common ancestry. This is the height of absurdity.

The evolutionary argument is that evolution is restricted to certain designs. And while such designs evolve a bit, the underlying design framework is unchangeable. Evolution is stuck with it. Hence these similarities, even such remote similarities, are compelling demonstrations of evolution.

There are two problems here. First, the claim affirms the consequent. If a hypothesis successfully makes a prediction, that does not mean the hypothesis is correct. Second, the claim is false. Evolutionists routinely ascribe complete redesigns to evolution. Evolution is supposedly capable of complete makeovers. But then when a pattern is observed, we are told evolution is stuck with it. Evolutionists just make up whatever suits the moment. In fact if evolution is so stuck with designs, then it would clearly be falsified, as it wouldn’t be able to come up with all those new designs it is always devising.

But if all this seems unlikely, is it not better than separate ancestry? Using this reasoning, evolution, it turns out, is impervious to low likelihoods. It doesn’t matter if the evidence is astronomically unlikely. In fact, the more unlikely the better because the alternative is even worse. Evolutionary philosopher Elliott Sober has analyzed how common descent advances via this contrastive thinking. The powerful arguments and evidence do not actually bolster the theory but rather they rebuke the alternative. He explains it this way:

This last result provides a reminder of how important the contrastive framework is for evaluating evidence. It seems to offend against common sense to say that E is stronger evidence for the common-ancestry hypothesis the lower the value is of [the probability of E given the common-ancestry hypothesis]. This seems tantamount to saying that the evidence better supports a hypothesis the more miraculous the evidence would be if the hypothesis were true. Have we entered a Lewis Carroll world in which down is up? No, the point is that, in the models we have examined, the ratio [the probability of E given the common-ancestry hypothesis divided by the probability of E given the separate-ancestry hypothesis] goes up as [the probability of E given the common-ancestry hypothesis] goes down. … When the likelihoods of the two hypotheses are linked in this way, it is a point in favor of the common-ancestry hypothesis that it says that the evidence is very improbable. [Evidence and Evolution, p. 314]

In other words, it doesn’t matter that common descent is not a good theory. It must be true because the alternative is even worse. Sober refers to this mode of reasoning as Darwin’s Principle. It seems evolutionists can talk themselves into anything, including the claim that leaves prove their unlikely idea. Religion drives science and it matters.


An evolutionist commented that my Sober quote above is misleading, and my summary that it doesn’t matter that common descent is not a good theory is erroneous. He reasoning was that I took the Sober quote out of context and used an ellipses to manipulate the meaning of the quote.

This is yet another example of how evolutionists are unable to face the reality of their theory and its implications. No matter how much evidence they are presented with, evolutionists will never agree with the obvious. First the idea that the ellipses hides some crucial message from Sober that is the key to the passage, and without it I have manipulated the meaning, is pathetic. In fact, what I omitted were three sentences that further reinforce the point. I omitted them simply because they are redundant and full of jargon. Here they are:

An easy way to see this point is to imagine that Pr(1 --> 1) = 1, Pr(0 --> 1) = 0, and let Pr(Z = 1) = p, where Z, recall, is an ancestor of the observed species X and Y. Then the likelihood of CA is p and the likelihood of SA is p^2, so the likelihood ratio of CA to SA is 1/p. Now it is obvious how the evidence for CA gets stronger as p gets smaller.

So in this example, Sober argues that the common ancestry hypothesis (CA) improves as its likelihood decreases. It is no different than the surrounding passage. His reasoning is that as the likelihood of CA decreases, the likelihood of the separate ancestry hypothesis (SA) decreases even more. So when compared to SA, CA looks better when the evidence says it is even more unlikely. It is an example of how evolutionists use pretzel logic to try to make their idea attain that status of a fact.

But the evolutionist complained that "It's a pretty big stretch (to put it mildly) to take this specific argument about probabilities of character states and represent it as referring to the entire theory of common descent."

But of course I did not represent it as referring to the entire theory of common descent. As I explained above, the Sober analysis applies to the evolutionist's silly arguments that plants having leaves demonstrates common descent. In fact, I was quite clear about this: I wrote:

But if all this seems unlikely, is it not better than separate ancestry?

In other words, I first explained that the evolutionist argument appears silly, and I then provided a particular evolutionary interpretation of the evidence to which the Sober analysis directly applies.

This is a good example of how debates and discussions go with evolutionists. They begin with a religiously motivated, unscientific idea, and from there is it absurdities, fallacies and canards, one after the other.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

John Lynch on The Voyage that Shook the World

The National Center for Science Education, whose mission is to defend the teaching of evolution in public schools, recently published a review of the film Darwin: The Voyage that Shook the World. The review was written by John Lynch, an evolutionary biologist and historian of science, and Jim Lippard, a student, both at Arizona State University. Aside from misrepresenting science, the review also misrepresents my views and contribution to the film. Lynch and Lippard write:

Near the end of the film, it is stated that in Darwin’s time, science was only beginning to emerge from philosophy, and that Darwin’s project was philosophical and anti-religious as much as it was scientific.

Lynch and Lippard then suggest that this position was probably inspired by me. I was of course surprised to read such a blatant misrepresentation of my view. After all, I have written several books, websites, and blogs on the fact that evolution entails religious and metaphysical premises.

In fact, in the film I made this quite clear. Near the end of the film, I stated that:

150 years later, it is clear that Darwin’s theory of evolution is really not about science, it’s about god.

How could the historian of science Lynch possibly foul this up. Not only did I not say Darwin’s project was anti-religious, I clearly and unambiguously stated the exact opposite. Darwin’s writings are chocked full of religious and metaphysical concerns and arguments. And they build on religious sentiment that had been influencing studies of the nature for two centuries leading up to Darwin. But Lynch is an evolutionist, and for evolutionists the warfare thesis is standard fare. Religion drives science, and it matters.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Like Not Believing in Algebra

Though evolutionists insist evolution is a fact many life scientists do not share their conviction. Our entire existence including all of biology, according to evolutionists, just happened to arise on its own—somehow. Nothing in biology makes sense, they claim, except in the light of evolution. But such dogma has badly failed. Not only are their claims not scientific to begin with (“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is equivalent to an if-and-only-if statement which is impossible within the bounds of science), but evolution’s fundamental predictions are consistently proven wrong. It is hardly surprising that many life scientists hold a more tentative view. But one recent survey revealed that even biology teachers routinely fail to carry out their duties of indoctrinating young students. The responses of evolutionists are telling.

A recent Pennsylvania State study by two political scientists reveals that most US public high school teachers are either uncomfortable with teaching evolution or doubtful of its accuracy. Clearly teachers are not carrying the water for evolutionists and something must be done. In lamenting this state of affairs Nature blogger Adam Mann begins with yet another erroneous reference to the Scopes Monkey Trial:

Almost a century after the famed Scopes Monkey Trial, battles over teaching evolution versus creationism in US public schools persist - but they have shifted to individual classrooms where teachers have a vast influence over whether evolution is present, a new study finds.

Of course the Scopes Monkey Trial was not simply a battle over teaching evolution versus creationism. It was an ACLU-spearheaded advocacy for the religious thinking that is the heart of evolutionary thought, as made obvious in the famous grilling of William Jennings Bryan by Clarence Darrow on the Bible’s foolishness.

Next Mann erroneously equates intelligent design with creationism to present the usual black/white picture to the reader. There are the bad guys over there seeking to spread dangerous lies, and then there are evolutionists—the vanguard of scientific truth and justice. Mann quotes William Wallace of the National Association of Biology Teachers to elaborate on this dangerous state of affairs:

Since evolution is the fundamental concept unifying biology, it is surprising how many high school biology teachers are unaccepting or uneasy with it, says William Wallace, the Washington D.C. representative of the National Association of Biology Teachers. “It’s like a math teacher not believing in algebra,” he says. Better instruction during a prospective biology teacher's college training could help mitigate this fact, he says, a position the researchers advocate for as well.

Not believing that evolution is an undeniable fact is like not believing in algebra? Given evolution’s substantial failure and algebra’s foundational status, it would be difficult to imagine a less appropriate comparison. Algebra is a branch of mathematics, evolution is a religiously-driven theory that contradicts the empirical evidence. If evolutionists are concerned about the  harmful effects of religion on science they should look closer to home.