Anti-Feminists Attack Pharyngula (yes, again)

Chronology:

1) An article on The New Republic‘s website embarrasses some conservatives by printing the unsurprising truth that many conservative pundits don’t believe in evolution, or are followers of intelligent design, or hedge on the matter.

2) Todd Zywicki, of the Volokh Conspiracy, suggests that lefties would be just as embarrassed by questions such as “Are differences between men’s and women’s aptitudes solely a result of society and culture, or is there an evolutionary basis for some of those distinctions?”

3) PZ at Pharyngula responds to Zywicki. Here’s a taste:

He’s making the old, tired nature/nurture distinction, and it drives me nuts. It’s a false dichotomy that is perpetuated by an antiquated misconception about how development and biology works. Genes don’t work alone, they always interact with their environment, and the outcome of developmental processes is always contingent upon both genetic and non-genetic factors. There is nothing for which this is more true than the development of the mind: the brain is a structure which is incredibly plastic and responsive to input, since that is its job, to respond in sophisticated ways to complex situations.

4) Not for the first time, anti-feminists invade Pharyngula, get their asses kicked, and – in a distinctive, almost dadaesque touch – declare victory.

* * *

Regarding Todd’s point, like a lot of other folks who have commented, I think he’s comparing incomparables. The extent to which biology makes differences in behavior between the sexes inevitable and predictable is hotly debated within the scientific community. No one I know of argues that evolution has no effect on behavior, or has no effect on sex differences; however, some folks (myself included) argue that because biology always interacts with culture and nuture, there is no “female behavior” or “male behavior” that is biologically immutable among humans, apart from obvious reproductive behaviors like “giving birth.” While right-wing partisans may consider this view ridiculous, it’s not out of the bounds of reasonable scientific discourse.

On the other hand, not believing in evolution – or thinking that “intelligent design” ought be taught as science – is a genuinely ridiculous position, far outside the bounds of reasonable scientific discourse.

* * *

Along the way, I was reminded of this excellent Brian Leiter post on why Larry Summers’ academic freedom was never under attack. And another excellent Leiter post against civility, which I’m linking because I might want to discuss it later.

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49 Responses to Anti-Feminists Attack Pharyngula (yes, again)

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  2. 2
    Robert says:

    On the other hand, not believing in evolution…is a genuinely ridiculous position, far outside the bounds of reasonable scientific discourse.

    Evolution is the very best explanation for life and its variations grounded in materialistic assumptions about the universe.

    Science can operate within the frame of a universe that runs on materialist principles. Science can operate within the frame of a universe that runs on spiritual principles. Science can operate within the frame of a universe that runs on any generally consistent and coherent principles; doesn’t really matter what they are, as long as they are consistent and coherent.

    What science is unable to do is to provide us with any information about which set of principles (or which sets – its perfectly plausible that multiple sets of principles operate coterminously) is operatively correct. You can’t see the outside of the box from inside the box.

    Accordingly, to disbelieve in evolution is not scientifically invalid, unless the disbelief is grounded in materialistic principles but misuses the logical structures of science; i.e., bad science. Some creationists like Duane Gish fall into this category – trying to use scientific principles within materialistic assumptions to disprove evolution, and failing spectacularly, mostly because they’re pretty stupid people.

    However, the majority of people who reject evolution (as I do, partially) do so because they do not believe that the materialistic assumptions upon which evolutionary theory rests are actually operative. (Or in my case, fully operative.) They don’t reject evolution’s consistency within its framework; they just think its the wrong framework. That isn’t a scientifically invalid position, it’s a philosophically different position.

    There is more than one philosophically tenable position about the underlying structure of the universe. Don’t fall into the (historically) materialist heresy of assuming that the phenomenological model you are comfortable with is the only model that can legitimately exist.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    Robert, I’m not entirely sure I follow you. Centrally, I’m not sure what you mean by “mateiralist principles.”

    Regarding “they do not believe that the materialistic assumptions upon which evolutionary theory rests are actually operative,” it might help me understand if you could spell out which materialistic assumptions you’e referring to.

  4. 4
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Don’t fall into the (historically) materialist heresy of assuming that the phenomenological model you are comfortable with is the only model that can legitimately exist.

    What evidence suggests otherwise? I’m gathering from what you wrote, you’re saying it’s a defensible position if it’s based in superstition and not in science, but only if it’s based in superstition, and then stating not accepting it as a possibility is reproachable for those that ground their beliefs in evidence because a bunch of people that share a superstition said so?

  5. 5
    Josh Jasper says:

    Don’t fall into the (historically) materialist heresy of assuming that the phenomenological model you are comfortable with is the only model that can legitimately exist.

    It’s certainly the only model that is based on replicable experiments. The other models can be chosen essentialy at random, because there’s no standard by which to judge them. You can make up whatever rules for them you want. Science, on the toher hand, does not tolerate making up rules when an experiment that determines rule is falsifiable.

    “Inteligent Design” means *nothing*. It offers no means of describing, or hypothesising anything about the inteligence that ‘designed’ things. You could posit Yaweh, Zeus, Ahura Mazda, or The Mouse And The Disco Ball.

    And there’s no demonstrable reason to pick one over the other. Thus, ID is a dead end. It leads nowhere.

  6. 6
    Jillian says:

    I think what he’s saying is that it’s entirely possible that everything that happens in the universe happens due to the (nonmaterial) magical powers of invisible green fairies, who just coincidentally happen to only ever exercise their powers in such a way that they appear to be things like the strong nuclear force and electromagnetism. And the reason this is a legitimate model is because you can’t prove to me that there aren’t invisble green fairies.

  7. 7
    Robert says:

    Amp:
    Regarding “they do not believe that the materialistic assumptions upon which evolutionary theory rests are actually operative,” it might help me understand if you could spell out which materialistic assumptions you’e referring to.

    The universe is composed of matter and energy, acting mechanistically without any guidance. The observed universe is all the universe there is. Living creatures are organic machines; extremely sophisticated machines, but nonetheless machines. Cognition is explained by chemical cascades in neural membranes and emergent systemic behavior of individually unthinking components. There are no spirits; no gods or demons, no souls – just carbon and oxygen and silicon and hydrogen whirling around in complex, but ultimately random, patterns.

    Kim:

    I can’t parse the syntax of your question. Perhaps you could rephrase?

  8. 8
    PZ Myers says:

    “grounded in materialistic assumptions about the universe”…you mean that stuff like replication, independent verification, documentation, measurement and evidence? Sure, if you throw all of that out, you can believe any ol’ thing you want.

    Similarly, if I threw all of that out, I could believe I can fly.

  9. 9
    alsis39 says:

    Myers wrote in #31222 of Pharyngula:

    I have no problem with accepting that measurement may reveal statistical differences in specific cognitive abilities…just don’t try to tell me that they are “genetic”. They are built upon a biological substrate that is both genetic and environmental, and it’s silly to say something as abstract and highly derived as “spatial memory” is simply innate.

    Direct and to the point. Sorry, PZ. I don’t think the pundit mafia has a place for you. You really need to learn to ramble on for paragraphs and paragraphs before getting to your point. You also need to choose one side: Nature or nuture. (None of this icky, softhearted “it’s both” attitude. It’s just not, well… “manly” enough, darn it !)

    Then, perhaps, you can make the cut. ;)

  10. 10
    Robert says:

    PZ:
    you mean that stuff like replication, independent verification, documentation, measurement and evidence?

    These things have no necessary connection to a materialistic worldview or assumptions. They are intellectual tools, and they can be used in a variety of different contexts.

  11. 11
    Josh Jasper says:

    The universe is composed of matter and energy, acting mechanistically without any guidance. The observed universe is all the universe there is. Living creatures are organic machines; extremely sophisticated machines, but nonetheless machines. Cognition is explained by chemical cascades in neural membranes and emergent systemic behavior of individually unthinking components. There are no spirits; no gods or demons, no souls – just carbon and oxygen and silicon and hydrogen whirling around in complex, but ultimately random, patterns.

    There well might be these things you talk about, but if they’re unobservable, they simply can’t be talked about rationaly, because there’s no provable set of rules they follow. In the realm of the non materliaist, the Bible, and the Satanic Bible are equaly valid. P = Not P.

  12. 12
    Robert says:

    There well might be these things you talk about, but if they’re unobservable, they simply can’t be talked about rationaly, because there’s no provable set of rules they follow.

    Must a thing be rationally describable in order for it to be meaningfully describable? I cannot rationally justify the complex emotions I have for my toddler daughter – and I certainly cannot explicate them to her – but they have meaning for her and for me, nonetheless.

    Reason is a powerful and enormous construct, but it is not the entire mind.

  13. 13
    Dylan says:

    Science can operate within the frame of a universe that runs on materialist principles. Science can operate within the frame of a universe that runs on spiritual principles. Science can operate within the frame of a universe that runs on any generally consistent and coherent principles; doesn’t really matter what they are, as long as they are consistent and coherent.

    There’s a name for a system based on consistent and coherent spiritual principles. It’s theology and not science.

  14. 14
    alsis39 says:

    Must a thing be rationally describable in order for it to be meaningfully describable?

    Perhaps not. But if it’s not rationally describable, it’s not science, and does not belong in a science class. It belongs in a house of worship, in a theology or comparitive relgion class, and so on.

    I gather that the main objection of folks like PZ to Intelligent Design and/or Creationism is that it is simply an attempt to couch religious (or as Robert would put it, “non-material”) explanations for scientific phenomena as being the equal of science. All this can do is cloud or undermine what science really is, and indeed that seems like what Creationists, et al would like to see. They are demanding entry for their ideas into a sphere in which they don’t belong.

    OTOH, how often do you see scientists barging into seminaries and interrupting discussions of the creation story with, “Hey ! Wait a minute ! Dinosaurs and fish were created more than just a few days apart !! Look at this chart I drew !!” :p

  15. 15
    Brian Vaughan says:

    I’m a materialist, and I’d say Robert did a good job of defining it.

  16. 16
    Josh Jasper says:

    Must a thing be rationally describable in order for it to be meaningfully describable? I cannot rationally justify the complex emotions I have for my toddler daughter – and I certainly cannot explicate them to her – but they have meaning for her and for me, nonetheless.

    I didn’t say it was meaningless, just that it’s not something that can be talked about as if it followed rules, and if it dosen’t follow rules, it’s not something you can study as if it did.

  17. 17
    Robert says:

    Josh, what if it follows rules that we’re not smart enough to comprehend, or that operate on some level which we don’t observe directly very well? Our household follows rules, and my daughter doesn’t understand why or by what process the rules are derived – but she does understand that there are rules, and she knows some of them by rote and simple conditioning.

    The extrapolation of this to philosophy would be that there could be a structure of systemic logic that underlies some nonmaterial phenomenon (say the soul) – and we might not be equipped to understand that structure or its rationale. But we could intuit its existence, or have it expounded but not explained by some entity that does understand it.

  18. 18
    Aegis says:

    Ampersand said:
    No one I know of argues that evolution has no effect on behavior, or has no effect on sex differences; however, some folks (myself included) argue that because biology always interacts with culture and nuture, there is no “female behavior” or “male behavior” that is biologically immutable among humans, apart from obvious reproductive behaviors like “giving birth.” While right-wing partisans may consider this view ridiculous, it’s not out of the bounds of reasonable scientific discourse.

    Question: what would be your criteria for you to consider something “male behavior” or “female behavior”? Would, say… “male behavior” have to be something that all males exhibit and no females exhibit? Or most males exhibit and no females exhibit? All males and virtually no females (90%) males and no females? Virtually all males and virtually no females? The majority of males (>50%) and zero, or a minority of females…. etc…? I am asking because I also have been wondering what would make something “male behavior” or “female behavior”? Does that mean exclusively male and exclusively female, or simply statistically more likely to be exhibited by males/females? I think people use those phrases with both meanings, which makes this subject difficult to discuss.

    On the other hand, not believing in evolution – or thinking that “intelligent design” ought be taught as science – is a genuinely ridiculous position, far outside the bounds of reasonable scientific discourse.

    Correct. I don’t always agree with the primarily social constructionist approaches that some liberals/feminists take, specifically caricatures of Evolutionary Psychology (in Caps), yet their positions are a lot more defensible than creationism. And just because many criticisms of EP are idiotic, it doesn’t mean that EP is right.

    Robert said:
    Josh, what if it follows rules that we’re not smart enough to comprehend, or that operate on some level which we don’t observe directly very well? Our household follows rules, and my daughter doesn’t understand why or by what process the rules are derived – but she does understand that there are rules, and she knows some of them by rote and simple conditioning.

    I will acknowledge the possibility that maybe we all are living in a bigger metaphorical household, with metaphysical rules that we cannot understand. Yet that is just a possibility, and not one that I would bet on, because nothing in my experience would lead me to believe it. You talk about intuition… the idea of intuition is very appealing to me, but what exactly is intuition, and how do we know it is something that we can rely on? Even if we do intuit something, how can we know what that something is, or if we are interpreting those intuitions correctly?

  19. 19
    Rock says:

    If we believe that Natural Selection (evolution) produces variations that select for advantages such as greater fecundity between species, why not within the sexes? If it is true that humanity is simply the most genetically advanced biological machine on the block (with no soul) then one simply has to look to physiology to see if there are any significant differences between the two. (I really don’t think it makes a bit of difference in the grand scale of things…but) Male people have huge amounts of testosterone relative to other sex hormones; this produces larger skeleton, greater muscle mass, deeper voices, body hair, aggressive behavior, higher libido etc. Female people have high estrogens… well you know the story. Is it reasonable to think that as we are run by chemicals, that in these two systems alone the differences could produce other subtle or not so subtle variations in behavior based solely on sex hormones? I believe they could. (But again, who cares? What difference does it make that there are more or less differences other than the obvious?)

    As for science and the desire to make all things fit into tidy systems that are scientifically explainable, this is the result of Modernity and the age of reason. I am not saying that Natural Selection is wrong, only that most of the other theories that were thought of as infallible and scientifically fool proof, have been replaced by newer ones over time. I have little doubt that the Origin of the Species will take on newer modifications or replacement as time goes by as history has shown over an over. (Punctuated Equilibrium etc. are already changing it.) Each generation thinks they have the answer without a doubt, and each generation struggles to cast off the previous and find newer validation. Modernist views will grow more and more suspicious to whatever follows this Post Modern era. If one follows physics, it is fairly well understood that dimensional time is not linear but exists on a point hence our universe is without duration. This coupled with the seeming reality of many multiples of dimensions (string theory etc.) and one has to ask, “What makes anyone feel they have a handle on how things came to be?” other than we have to go on what we know the best. I have found a little uncertainty and a tad less devout belief in any system opens ones mind to many more possibilities and is less threatening to those that are seeking understanding. Can I currently prove there are 11 or more dimensions above the ones we experience? Could anyone prior to Neils Bohr, Max Plank, Lawrence, etc. prove the universe was filled with particles so small they could not be observed? Preposterous! (If there are other dimensions, it is possible they’re forces that are influencing things in ways that we cannot yet detect, however that does not mean they do not exist, or that today’s theories aren’t going to go the way of most of the others… and the dinos.)
    Blessings.

  20. 20
    Amanda says:

    Shorter Robert: I’m not stupid enough to argue that women evolved into stupid knitting and birthing creatures, so instead I’ll argue that it’s god’s plan that women are stupid and that’s faith which is untouchable nanny nanny boo boo.

  21. 21
    Josh Jasper says:

    If it is true that humanity is simply the most genetically advanced biological machine on the block

    Evolutionary biology makes no such claim. Talking about “most advanced” in the context of evolution is meaningless. We evolved with predilictions to lots of things, but taking us and comparing us to other specise to decide who’s ‘more advanced’ isn’t something evolution works with.. It’s not a game of pokemon. There are no ‘evolution levels’ that you get for defeating opponents, or even adapting to an environment.

    So pretty much everything you’re talking about after that sentence is meaningless.

    Oh, and go read some Kuhn and Popper.

  22. 22
    Josh Jasper says:

    Robert:

    Josh, what if it follows rules that we’re not smart enough to comprehend

    I’d say “how do you propose to prove they’re rules, and not made up nonsense?”

    Our household follows rules, and my daughter doesn’t understand why or by what process the rules are derived – but she does understand that there are rules, and she knows some of them by rote and simple conditioning.

    I’m not your daughter. If you cant *ever* explain a rule, it’s not a rule I choose to accept as valid.

    The extrapolation of this to philosophy would be that there could be a structure of systemic logic that underlies some nonmaterial phenomenon (say the soul) – and we might not be equipped to understand that structure or its rationale.

    Which brings us back to not being able to talk about it, which puts us in a situation where you can claim p = not p, which reduces the value of the statement to zero.

    But we could intuit its existence, or have it expounded but not explained by some entity that does understand it.

    If I ever encounter such an entity, and can prove it’s existance scientificaly, we can talk. I don’t trust people claiming to reprepsent those entities. They’re usualy asking for money, social power, or both.

  23. 23
    Ashton says:

    So there is the obvious point that science, hitherto, has been encoded by the language of men: and it cannot be denied women have been systematically denied the right to education. Harvard/Yale only made enrollment a possibility after ~1960. This is changing–Marie Curie, for instance, is awarded two nobel prizes. More recently, Vera Rubin’s analysis of cosmological phenemona incontrovertably grounded the notion of dark energy, and pinpointed the first pulsar (this work, she did, was actually abducted by her superior who went to be awarded the Nobel Prize for her work); she should win one. Another exemplary female in theoretical physics is Lisa Randall, who is ” the most cited theoretical physicist of the past five years, having garnered 10,000 citations for her work.”

    Any arguement that there is a substantive divergence in the aptitude or cognitive faculity between the biological sexes is immature. The mind/brain system of the human being, to borrow an aphorism from linguistics, “permits infinite use of finite means.” To then go on and suggest this “infinite generative capacity” could be capped by merely divergence of biological sex into the female phenotype* is then, at the least, misogynist.

    The only way science will elucidate the epiphenomenal processing of the human mind is to unravel the gears that wind our genetic predisposition; not to mention the in toto congruence of the brain itself is not well understood. One thing that is easily measured is biomass; an interesting find is that the corpus callosum, the connective bridge linking the two hemispheres of the brain, is actually ~150% larger in women than in men. If anything, to me, this indicates the mind/brain of “a female” should be more adept at complex reasoning.

    But until the nueromechanical agents responsible for the coherent intelligence of the human being, that are subsequently coupled with all phemonological expirience**, come into explanatory adequecy it is not only immature, but premature (if not out-right misogynist), to suggest the minds of women are unable compute on par with men.

    *I don’t mean to suggest that there are only two possibilites of biological sex.
    **Without going into the debate of nurture/nature, I should point out the pyschosomatic feedback that is on-the-fly and a persistent aspect of our mind/brain system. Cortisol, the chemical foremost responsible for anxiety and stress, is generated by the mind in response to its perception of danger. Ie, if you see a bear and percieve its presence as a threat your mind will artificially stimulate the production of cortisol. Yet, extrapolated to the general persistence of reality, this suggests that the incoming perceptual data is able to tweak the biological condition of the mind/brain. Hence, a restriction of access to information (or a living condition similar abject of situational richness) would similarily deprive the mind/brain of its cognitive aptitude.

    (by the way, Ampersand, I just started my own blog (linked above) if you like what you see could you add it to the blog roll?)

  24. 24
    Robert says:

    I’d say “how do you propose to prove they’re rules, and not made up nonsense?”

    I would reply that I am not going to be able to prove they are rules.

    If you cant *ever* explain a rule, it’s not a rule I choose to accept as valid.

    So your intellectual limitations (and those of your species, I hasten to add; not singling you out here) define what is valid?

    I prefer to leaven my arrogance with a dash more intellectual humility than that. I fully expect that the universe is more complex than I am going to be able to comprehend with naked reason. I do not believe that my inability to fully encompass God within my intellect reflects a limitation on God. Quite the other way around.

    Let’s put it this way: do you believe that the human mind is sufficiently powerful that it is able to comprehend everything that is true?

    Amanda:
    Shorter Robert: I’m not stupid enough to argue that women evolved into stupid knitting and birthing creatures, so instead I’ll argue that it’s god’s plan that women are stupid and that’s faith which is untouchable nanny nanny boo boo.

    Amanda, we’re having a rather nice philosophical discussion here. I am not sure of the source of this bizarre tangent, unrelated to anything being discussed, and certainly unrepresentative of anything I have ever thought, said, or written. Perhaps you could take this somewhere else. Thank you for your consideration.

  25. 25
    Rock says:

    Josh,
    I understand the point you make from the context that all living things are the product of successful selection. However from the perspective that Human beings have the largest numbers of chromosomes and potentially the largest potential variability within that mix does give the discussion some validity. As for success, it could easily be argued that non-nucleated organisms have and will be present longer then most other life forms, so success in that sense is relative. It was not the best use of imagery. Blessings.

  26. 26
    Ampersand says:

    Robert,

    I can’t prove that superbeings who comprehend rules that our pathetic human minds can’t even comprehend, don’t exist. As you say, that could be the case.

    I can’t prove I’m not a brain in a box in a lab being fed illusions by green aliens in white lab coats, either.

    Doesn’t it make more sense for me to proceed based on what can be (but hasn’t been) disproved – such as evolution – rather than based on what can’t be disproved?

  27. 27
    Robert says:

    Doesn’t it make more sense for me to proceed based on what can be (but hasn’t been) disproved – such as evolution – rather than based on what can’t be disproved?

    Hmm, my response appears to have been munched. Trying again:

    That depends on the stakes, and upon how you conceive the universe to operate.

  28. 28
    Antigone says:

    Robert, I am more than willing to conceed that maybe the way we frame things in this universe is not the same. But where I get confused is, do you actually advocate for a different framework to be taught along with/on top of a science class? Wouldn’t that be better suited for philosophy?

  29. 29
    Brian Vaughan says:

    Humans have 23 chromosomes. Ferns have from 20 to 75 chromosomes, depending upon the species. Does this mean that ferns are more genetically advanced than humans? No. It just means that ferns have lots of chromosomes.

  30. 30
    Robert says:

    I’m not advocating any particular policy, Antigone. I’m just questioning the idea that disbelief in evolution is automatically bad science.

  31. 31
    natural says:

    Rock-

    The number of chromosomes has little to do with the variability of the species. Only during meiotic division (during crossing over) will this come into play, but this only affects the genotype of the daughter cells. It does not increase variability of the species as a whole.
    However, the rate of reproduction increases the rate of variability of the species. DNA replication through mitosis and meiosis allows for nucelic acid substitution, addition (such as conjugation in bacteria), and deletion of the genome. This increases the variability of the genetic pool. This process contributes to the success of one-celled organisms, both prokaryotic (such as bacteria) and eukaryotic (such as algae). This increased genetic pool increases the odds that some of the individuals will survive in the environment. This explains why bacteria can become resistant to our arsenal of antibiotics in a short amount of time. Selection processes exists. Evolution exists.
    I cede your point about some scientific theories that have fallen apart through time. Theories are constantly being amended. That does not mean that the theories have been falsified. However, it means that they require further study and review.
    The law of gravity was questioned when astronomers first discovered wobbly orbits of the planets in our solar system. Newton, when designing his law, did not discuss this. However, further calculations showed that interplanetary gravity came into play more than was initially realized. This, in fact, solidified Newton’s law.
    Just because we don’t fully understand some biological process, does not void it. Evolution is the unifying concept of biology. The idea that organisms change over time is a fact. Without it, every biologist from geneticists to population biologists to ecologists could not fully comprehend their observations.
    Non-biologists use evolution every day. Every time a dog is selected for breeding, a new drug trial is started on people after successful trials on animals, or a perennial flower is divided because it has the nicest flowers, they are using evolutionary processes. Just because they don’t realize they are doing so does not negate that fact.

  32. 32
    Ashton says:

    Robert: it is bad science because science is the unfinished progress in the acquistion of knowledge that can be reproduced and is also falsible. That the thread of scientific theory, empirically immanent, can move ahead in pursuit of what is seeks to further unravel and demarcate is its very animating principle. As Ampersand so succinctly remarked,

    Doesn’t it make more sense for me to proceed based on what can be (but hasn’t been) disproved – such as evolution – rather than based on what can’t be disproved?

    Then by willfully doubting evolution* one is then derailing the host of theoretically feasible oppurtunities before them. I would say it is often useful to suspend, when engaging in boundries of the conceptually unknown, predisposed judgement, but that this practice is just a relaxation of the focused attenuation often implicit in intuition–it is not the concertated dimissal of what progress science has raught.

    Living in the disbelief of evolution is very much, then, like supposing magnets directly posess the power to heal physiollogical ailments.

    *technically it could be qualified as biochemical evolutionary adaptation to specify the phenomena that is observed to occur without implicating anything of the controversial and varried macroevolution. Not to say macroevolution is flawed (really anyone interested should investigate further in books by Stephen J Gould), but to indicate that “microevolution” is quite well established and reliable in praxis.

  33. 33
    natural says:

    Many problems that creationists find with evolution can be traced to the idea that evolution does not explain why a process occurs. Evolution occurs without emotions, without morality. Many creationists want to assign some reason why all this occurs. This is where intelligent design comes in. True science has no such purpose.

    Many creationists also often question evolution as if it only examines the beginning of life. Evolution is a process, not the starting point. Sure, one can extrapolate research into how nucleic acids first became engulfed by a cytoplasmic membrane and first replicated, but that is not necessarily what evolution is about. We may never know how that first cell came to be, but the scientific process is the best route to this information. The Bible is quiet on this specific question as well as the existence of any organism not detected by the naked eye. Should we doubt that viruses, bacteria, prions, and protists exist? I think not.

    Many creationists argue against macroevolution because they argue that the fossil record is not clear on transitional organisms. Aside from the impirical improbability that fossils were ever formed, they want clear, delineated evidence that fossil B was a transition from A to C.

    Creationists want to find a transitional fossil that does not, and never will, exist. They want a fossil that has a sign “I am a dissorophoid temnospondyl from the Permian. I will further evolve into frogs, salamanders, and caecilians.” A true transition is just that – a transition. There are skeletal aspects of the older fossils that are similar and dissimilar to the newer fossils. This is what drives debate among evolutionary biologists. Fossils may be discovered a a later date that show more of a smooth transition from this species to that species. But no should doubt that these people have more proof than not that evolutionary processes, both on the macro and micro scale, are at work.

  34. 34
    Josh Jasper says:

    I’d say “how do you propose to prove they’re rules, and not made up nonsense?”

    I would reply that I am not going to be able to prove they are rules.

    Then what are they?

    If you cant *ever* explain a rule, it’s not a rule I choose to accept as valid.

    So your intellectual limitations (and those of your species, I hasten to add; not singling you out here) define what is valid?

    They certainly define what can and can’t be talked about rationaly by humans, and I don’t know of any superior beings around that can be proven to exist.

    Again, if something is ‘beyond our comprehension’ how can we talkk about it? “Does so!” “does not!” and “you’re a poo poo head” are valid debating points about the realm beyond human comprehension.

    Not only is there no standard for it, there’s no standard for even talking about it.

    Let’s put it this way: do you believe that the human mind is sufficiently powerful that it is able to comprehend everything that is true?

    No, but I expect everything that is true to be expressible in formal logic. If it’s not, then logic is meaningless.

    Is logic meaningless?

  35. 35
    Robert says:

    I expect everything that is true to be expressible in formal logic. If it’s not, then logic is meaningless.

    Is logic meaningless?

    No.

    It is not provable that formal logic can express all truths. Logic is a very useful tool for a bounded subset of things that can be discussed or contemplated. It is less useful for another subset, and of no value for the rest of the domain.

    This does not make logic meaningless; it makes it incomplete. As all our mental tools are incomplete.

    I would reply that I am not going to be able to prove they are rules.

    Then what are they?

    Rules that aren’t provably rules.

    The fact that something is not provable does not mean that it is not true. It is often more rewarding for us to expend our mental energies on things that are in fact provable – often, but not always. (As in Barry’s query about what it makes the most sense to do – and my response that the answer to that question greatly depends on your starting assumptions about the universe.)

    Not only is there no standard for it, there’s no standard for even talking about it.

    So?

    There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Josh Jasper. ;)

  36. 36
    natural says:

    Rock said:

    Could anyone prior to Neils Bohr, Max Plank, Lawrence, etc. prove the universe was filled with particles so small they could not be observed? Preposterous!

    Prove, no. But true proof in science is mostly an unreachable goal. That is why there are a lot of theories and only a few true laws.

    Actually, quarks were actively searched by physicists. The observed behaviors of protons and neutrons were not always congruent with calculations, and they chose to discover why. They postulated that those particles consisted of smaller particles. They conducted experiments to support their hypothesis. They even named a couple of quarks before they physically observed them. BTW – individual quarks do not naturally exist, and only exist momentarily during experiments.

    Here was a case where the background knowledge in physics led the way for a new discovery. If previous physical theories had not been solidly believed, then they would not have gone looking in the first place. They didn’t have God’s manual in their hands, so they used the next best thing available – their scientific knowledge base.

    Constantly reworking the basic tenets of unfalsified theories hamper further research. As a non-biologist, you have the freedom to question all the little anomalies in evolutionary theory as you understand it. As for me, I cannot afford to do so. I plan to use the theories espoused by my profession to increase my understanding of biological systems. I will continue to do so until you prove to me that new species are beamed from the planet Krypton by an old man with a beard or conjured up by fairies.

    True scientists must operate with the firm belief that knowledge gathered before their time is reasonably sound. They also must be open to the possibility that some aspects of that same knowledge base may be amended or disproved someday. It is a strange predicament of purposeful trepidation. However so, it is sheer lunacy to think that science can successfully advance without using that knowledge base as a starting point.

  37. 37
    Josh Jasper says:

    The fact that something is not provable does not mean that it is not true.

    I agree, but you can’t *ever* talk about it as if it is true. It’s not something that’ss worth consdering that away.


    Not only is there no standard for it, there’s no standard for even talking about it.

    So?

    At this time, we come to my point. That ‘is to’ and ‘is not’ are valid debate terms at this juncture.

    “God created the universe” is about as valid as “The universe was brought into being by the sneeze of the great Arkleseisure”

    In a conversation where all propositionas are equaly meaningful all propositions are also equaly meaningless. At this point, you begin to be as worthwhile to talk to about things as one of my cats.

    Robert, you’re insisting that you being irrational is something I have to consider as possibly talking about some great truth I’ll never understand. I have no good reason to think you’re being anything other than irrational.

    Given that religions are, by thier histoty, offering comentitive truths, it’s a good bet that they’re *all* irrational. I don’t think you’ve got the truth any more than the EST or Marshall Applewhite people did.

  38. 38
    Anonymous says:

    I never really understood the evolution vs creation debate. It’s like an apples vs oranges debate, they are not two theories attempting to describe the same thing, they both address different topics.

    Creation is about the origins of the universe, and evolution is about process within the universe.

    A proper debate would be creation vs the big bang, both address the creation of the universe. But these are not even directly in conflict. The BB says nothing about where the universe comes from, god is as good an explanation as any.

    As for human minds being infinitly plastic, I don’t see it. The male and female brains are different. Every region in the male and female brains are of a different size. There are several articles in the last few months Scientific American that deal with this topic, some may be available at their web page http://sciam.com

    No argument WRT socialization has made boys and girls the same. Even feminism claims that men and women are different (that is, women are superior, men commit all the crimes, etc…).

    Further, I assert that any societal factor will impact men and women differently, there is no way the condition ‘everything else being equal’ can ever pertain, everything else is always different between men and women, from societal expectations, to punishment for the exact same crime, to rewards for ‘good’ behavior.

    Anon

  39. 39
    hf says:

    So your intellectual limitations (and those of your species, I hasten to add; not singling you out here) define what is valid?
    Oh goody, more argument about “what is”. My limitations define what I can accept, as they must. Blame the Creator/Creatrix.

    As for materialistic assumptions, let’s take a look at the actual starting points for science. Now, if you say that God acts as a cause and nothing else does, that fits the first rule just fine. But once you admit that “matter” and “energy” exist as causes, Rule One says to check if these suffice to explain any given phenomenon. It seems odd to call this materialist, but let that pass. What rules would you like science to use?

  40. 40
    hf says:

    One could argue that science does not explain any phenomena, since in this argument it does not explain subjective experience. But in this case I fail to see how God or “the soul”, or indeed any theory, could explain it. You might as well say that “matter” has properties we can never fully grasp, and these allow consciousness to happen.

  41. 41
    Ashton says:

    Anonymous wrote:

    As for human minds being infinitly plastic, I don’t see it. The male and female brains are different. Every region in the male and female brains are of a different size. There are several articles in the last few months Scientific American that deal with this topic, some may be available at their web page http://sciam.com

    It depends on your how you are defining “infinitly plastic.” Linguistically ir is true: you could, in theory, utter one setence that would be longer than all the time in your life to say it. Specifically if you focus on the morphological development of nuerons, it seems that any nueron can adapt its functional operation to meet the demands of what the body requires: in studies it has been shown that the minds of those who are blind can be trained “to see” (albiet not as cogniscently as we are familiar with) by selectively imprinting the nuerons relaying information from the ears with the nuerologistic patterns responsible for sight. I’ll post a reference to this later.

    The other point, that follows then, is that biomass is not the determining factor in aptitude (this arguement is about as crude as saying the diameter of the skull is a decent measure of IQ), but that it is probably nuerological connectivity that is foremost what determines, in the context of biological certitude, cognitive “output” (to put it indiscretly). Not to mention that all this biomass in the human brain is comitantly grounded by the undulations of brainwaves which is a phenonema that is also not well understood.

    Having signified the trivial importance of relative biomass in the gyrations of cognition, there is, as Stephen J Gould explicates in an essay in The Panda’s Thumb, an averaged correlation to the weight of a human being to the size of their brain–but that is actually better aproximated by weight of muscular tissue/weight of brain’s biomass. And this still says nothing about the competant preformance of the mind/brain system of human beings. Though I encourage those interested to read the article, as his elucidation of the subject goes much farther than I can hope to do here.

  42. 42
    Rock says:

    Natural,
    Thank you for taking the time to explain your position. I do not disagree. I do not have a problem at all with natural selection as a process. It does not conflict with my views in the least about God, in my vision of a God that can create cosmically; evolution is simply one expression of the creators mind.

    I love the discussion in biology; however my degree is in Theology, Biblical Studies, (Soon to be ethics) so it is good to hear from folks that have studied more than consumer biology, I find it truly fascinating, and a thing of infinite complexity and beauty.

    An issue that I see though is that many Modernists have begun to sound very religious in there verbiage and defense of the scientific method and the need for everything to be proven with in the scientific method to be valid. Ironically the Post Modern thinkers do not seem to be as attached to this belief system. I already see a reaction from the Modernists and some of those caught in the transition (such as me), that are having a difficult time with this differing approach to reality and are going through vehement struggles against it. As all modernists are going to die one day, it is a rather difficult battle to wage. For that matter, what is reality? I love the image of the Indonesian puppets where the show is projected on a screen to represent that this world in their view is merely an image of a separate reality. Now you and I can argue that they have no proof, or it is not real, however we cannot argue whether they find meaning in their lives and through their beliefs a way to live in harmony and serenity through their belief system. It is therefore a valid belief system, as it integrates them into the world and the realm of the Sprit in which they choose to exist. Science for all that it helps to explain has not created a safer world, a world of greater trust, understanding or peace. (In fact the post enlightenment age has seen greater carnage than any other period in human history) Religion has had limited success as well. It seems that either are like a tool in a person’s hand that can be used to lift or destroy. The question then seems to be which will each of us choose? Blessings.

  43. 43
    hf says:

    An issue that I see though is that many Modernists have begun to sound very religious in there verbiage and defense of the scientific method and the need for everything to be proven with in the scientific method to be valid.

    No, to be science. As for not making us safer, that seems like nonsense to me. We see greater carnage today because, thanks to science, we have far more people alive.

  44. 44
    Rock says:

    Science as Religion is as large a misapplication as Religion as Science. It is true that since the Enlightenment, science has extended lifespan and allowed for accelerated population growth, however I do not think it makes sense to attribute the vast increase in violent death to simple increases in population. Combine WW I, Comrade Stalin’s and Lenin’s multiple millions, with Mao and Cho’s, Hitler’s, and other little conflagrations such as the Civil War, Napoleon, French Revolution, Imperialism from all of Europe, and minor genocides such as the Armenians by the Turks, Arabs by the Turks, Greeks by the Turks, etc… There is a term for Science turned into Religion; it is the Communist and Socialist states. Man’s reason as the ultimate arbiter of decency and truth, Social Darwinism, at its purest, there are no limits to what we can do to each other. (Sadly Religion based on a higher power is co-opted for this sort of thing as well.) In the last century, the world has never seen so much violence. Science and the Scientific method have their place, however it cannot and will not teach us how to love and live with one another. Blessings.

  45. 45
    natural says:

    Rock -

    I am in agreement with you in some respects. There are indeed limits of what science can offer in terms of life’s questions. It cannot explain why or who created the universe. This is where religion has its place.

    Any scientist who claims to have all the final answers on anything is not a true scientist. Science has uncertainty built into its system. Within the scientific community, constant debate abounds. Phylogenetic relationships is one topic of discussion. Science is about gathering evidence and defending it successfully. If there is no dialogue during this process, the knowledge means nothing.

    However, I also contend that the religious community should not consider itself the possesor of all truth. This is what bothers me about religious fanatics. They seem to think the Bible (or the holy book of their choice) holds all the knowledge one will ever need. There is no room for interpretation. If the question is not addressed within its pages, it is not important.

    I would like everyone within their respective fields of expertise to have a healthy sense of humility. There is much to gain by listening to other perspectives. One can gain insight on one’s own views and discover new questions. I think that religion and science, used appropriately, can peacefully coexist.

  46. 46
    Tuomas says:

    Long break from commenting here. Plenty interesting new discussions here, it seems.

    With all due respect, Rock, I think you’re wrong. Socialist and Communist states are about as scientific as the Vatican (and that goes for National Socialism also, though National Socialism has about as much to do with Socialism as the former Saddam’s Republican Guard has to do with American Republican party, but let’s not go there).

    You make it sound as without God or some similar “higher” moral authority, Social Darwinism suddenly makes sense and mass genocides become reasonable. However… Social Darwinism and following ideologies are not only wrong on moral grounds (at least mine) but they also do fail the critical analysis by… science. Holocaust wasn’t scientific, and no matter how much the Nazis blabbered about eugenics of eliminating jews and other undesirables, it doesn’t make any sense scientifically (reducing genetic diversity is a mistake). Many crooks and powermongers use scientific language to prove warped ideologies (and also religious language, patriotic language… you name it, some propagandist has done it).

    In fact, a closer look toward totalitarian regimes reveals a curious (but very logical, if you think about it) fact: They are ripe with pseudoreligious symbolism, superstitions, and indeed the worship of state/ideology does seem very much like religion, and also blurs critical thinking required by scientific method, when the facts must be twisted to suit the ideology. (Lysenkoism comes to mind).

    Of course, this isn’t to say that I am preaching for the wonderfulness and goodness of science… I think science doesn’t generally fall very well on the good/evil axis. Rather, it is a tool that can be used for good and/or bad, but “science as religion” requires science to become something it is not, and therefore it ceases to be science. And I agree that science may not be the best way to teach us to live together and to love each other… though (no offense [to more strongly] religious people) im not sure if religion can do that either.

    And whether population growth or science is to blame for violent deaths… I’d think the main reason is greed, hate and us/them mentality fostered by patriotism, religion, racial supremacism etc. (uh, that did sound pretty radical… there is healthy religiousness and patriotism, and the bad we good/they evil kind.)

  47. 47
    Lizzybeth says:

    Rock says:

    Science and the Scientific method have their place, however it cannot and will not teach us how to love and live with one another.

    I am curious to hear what Rock has to say about philosophy, in that case.
    Since you bring up the Enlightenment, what about philosophers like Voltaire, Diderot, and Hume, who talk about systems of morality that do not use a “God” as the arbiter? How about Kant’s Categorical Imperatives? More to your liking probably would be Kierkegaard, although as a father of Existentialism I doubt you would regard him as an ally.

    Isn’t Philosophy the companion to Science that assists us in interpreting the meaning, and not just the function, of the world around us? Interesting how religious types leave it out of the conversation.

    There is a confluence in your post between the onset of the Enlightenment (which brought leaps in both Science and Philosophy) and the violence of the 20th century. I’m sure any historian in the bunch will be happy to assure you that slaughter and mayhem were in place long before Nietzsche kicked the holy body, so to speak.

  48. 48
    ginmar says:

    No argument WRT socialization has made boys and girls the same. Even feminism claims that men and women are different (that is, women are superior, men commit all the crimes, etc…).

    I love it when people who dismiss feminism with a superior I-know-all-about-your-little-tricks sneer then expect us to take them seriously…

  49. 49
    Rock says:

    This is great! We are talking and no one is swearing at one another!

    Natural, I couldn’t agree with you more concerning folks that not simply choose to live their life according to Scripture, but become obsessed with judging all by that standard. (It is not Biblical for us to judge.) I am amazed by folks in religious communities that do seem to get it right and am tempted to join them from time to time. (But, my calling is to a larger community.) My entire family is scientists and we have great discussions all the time; however one that we all agree on is the limiting fashion of stating hypothesis as immutable facts. I am a modernist person doomed to go like the rest of them and so my worldview is of the Scientific Method as well. (Hey, it works.) But as you say there are domains and areas of overlap and we should strive to respect each of them as they work very well together when we do. I like your statement about “possessors of truth,” I prefer “seekers of truth” myself, that is a grand motive.

    Tuomas,
    I probably was not clear, I believe the abuse of science, and religion is all part and parcel of the same aspect of our Human (in my belief, Adamic) Nature. I also believe that the Vatican is far more scientific than the Communist states, as far as that goes. I do not believe it is impossible to morality and ethics outside of a higher power, (my mom is an atheist and is very moral and progressive… bless her heart). However, my witness is to the faith I know, and the Spirit I know and that no matter how I try, prejudices me towards what is for me a huge source of love and compassion. I am not in the least anti science or anti-enlightenment, which would be like being anti day or night. I simply become uneasy when one position attempts to eclipse the other. Science is not threatened by faith any more than faith is by science. It is by the exploiters and selfish abuse that problems arise. I get your points… it does not matter who’s name we murder under, it is wrong. (At least I think that was one.)

    Lizzybeth,

    Philosophy is not simply the companion to science; it is the bridge between science and religion. I grew up a die hard Existentialist, and my graduate degree is going to be in the field of ethics. So naturally Nietzsche (very angry with God) Kierkegaard, Kant, is part of the thought process and contributes very much. (As does Rand, Dostoyevsky , sp? Merton etc.) I agree that slaughter wasn’t invented by the folks of the enlightenment. However the age of reason (or lack of) coupled with new ways of leveraging violence has made it all the more apparent that humanity has not changed in nature while we have in tools for good and evil, in spite of the higher moral philosophy of the Enlightenment. The truth is, how do we take all this wonderful knowledge and make it work to where we are using the resources to help and not hurt one another?

    Great stuff from all of you thanks. Blessings.