Thursday, May 29, 2008

Arguments XIII - The 747 or a Shakespearean monkey

A very common argument against evolution tries to compare evolution to a tornado blowing through a junkyard and producing a 747. A similar comparison is to take evolution and say that evolution is like putting a monkey in front of a typewriter and waiting for him to produce a Shakespearean play.

In my humble opinion these are extremely false comparisons and demonstrate either a completely poor understanding of evolutionary theory or are a deliberate effort to mislead and misdirect folks. Either one to me is foolish.

Let me explain. First of all the nearest possible connection between the activity of a tornado and evolution would be in the concept of random mutation. Because I believe that is the heart of their argument. They think people will agree that the odds of such an activity happening are so astronomical that it would make people think evolution's odds are astronomical too. A seriously false analogy!

So the tornado comes along and picks up a piece of material that could conceivable be used on a 747. Where does it put it? How does it select that particular item? What is running the show, so to speak? In evolution let's do something sorta similar, a mutation happens. An individual member of a population forms a mutation through one of the many mechanism that cause mutations to happen. Now the big question is how does that mutation become part of evolution? One mechanism is Natural Selection. If the mutation increases an individual's opportunities for survival and reproduction, it will most likely be passed on the future generations. The mutation may open up a new food source, or been viewed as more attractive by potential mates, or make the individual more robust. Whatever the mutation, natural selection would see that the trait got passed on. In time when their exists a population that exhibits the trait, you can see evolution in action.

Well what is performing this function for the 747 or the monkey sitting in front of the typewriter? Nothing! That is why the analogies are so false. Evolution is not an unguided act, like they wish you to think. Evolution is not nearly as random as a tornado through a trailer park, um sorry, junkyard. There are many other forces at work than just randomness.

Here is a better analogy using the same tornado. According to Evolutionary theory, life, as it reproduces, introduces change. Over long periods of time the changes become more profound. While I will admit that junk in a junkyard doesn't reproduce. But let's take the junkyard and run a tornado through it. Outside the junkyard the tornado deposits a bunch of junk. That pile of junk is very different than the pile of junk it started with, correct? Well another tornado comes through and takes that pile of junk and does its thing and another very different pile of junk is created, maybe one with new junk from the second twister. This to me is a slightly better analogy. Oh it's still missing tons of stuff to actually be an analogy for all of evolution. For example, where is the selection?  In the tornado example, what is the mechanism that selects?  There isn't one in a tornado, but there certainly is in evolution.  But this analogy could be used to compare with random mutation, one of the mechanisms of evolution.

I think you can see where this would apply to the monkey as well. In either case just remember that by itself a tornado or a typing monkey are not good analogies for the entirety of evolution, but maybe just a tiny piece.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Arguments XII - Lady Hope

Subtitled -- Did Darwin recant his evolutionary theories and become a born-again Christian on his deathbed? The short answer is No! Here is the longer answer.

Apparently a lady named Elizabeth Reid, aka Lady Hope, claimed that in 1882, shortly before Charles Darwin died, she visited him and he recanted his theories and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. She told this story -- for the apparent first time -- in 1915, at an evangelical conference in Massachusetts. Her story was then printed in American Baptist newspaper the Watchman Examiner on August 15, 1915. The original text is on Wikipedia here:

Now aside from the obvious question like why did this lady take almost 35 years to tell this story? There are even more obvious ones like who is Lady Hope, what was her connection to Charles Darwin, and did what she claims happen actually happen.

According to Darwin's family, including published statements by his wife, sons, and a granddaughter -- Lady Hope was not a visitor to Charles Darwin in his last days. Darwin's religious views were well documented and definitely didn't agree with her statements. And some of the details, like him being almost bedridden months before he died, were inaccurate to say the least.

Now who are we going to believe? Lady Hope, who it turns out was not some family friend or bystander, but a member of the evangelical temperance movement with an ax to grind against Darwin's theories.

The story spread, as what we now call urban legends tend to, because it made such a great story. Several academic studies were done, not just by the secular agencies but by evangelical agencies as well. Guess what they found? That there wasn't any proof it happened! Even Answers-in-Genesis, that stalwart site who love anything that tried to shed doubt on evolutionary theory doesn't give any credence to the Lady Hope story.

So when some Creationist drags out this chestnut, grab a little ammunition and poke a few holes. I mean it's one thing when Talk.Origins denies it, they are a well known debunker of anti-evolutionary arguments, but when the evangelical community denies it, you should have an easy time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Florida came through in the end

While I have posted that I disagreed with the small change in wording to the new Florida State Science Standards requiring Evolution be called the Theory of Evolution, when no other scientific theory is so identified, I have been watching two bills introduced to the Florida State Houses make their way through the legislative process. I've been watching with interest.

The two bills, according to their supporters, are bills to protect teachers who dissent from Evolution from being fired or disciplined. They were also supposed to be about academic freedom, something that I see as a lie! But more on that later. for now please join me in a round of applause because as of May 2, 2008 the two bills are dead. Read about it here:

The bills sponsors had a little trouble convincing other state representatives that there were teachers being discriminated against because of their lack of support for evolution. I guess it's hard to pass a new law when there are no victims! Other sponsors just kept harping on academic freedom and failed to make their case. Florida done good. The only down side is that I would rather the bills come up for a vote and be voted down rather than just left to die on the vine -- because the stubbornness of those sponsors will mean the Florida Legislature will be dealing with this issue over and over again. My hopes is that the Florida voters remember which school board members and legislators supported this thinly veiled attack on science and passes judgment in the only way voters can, and boots them out of office.

As for the academic freedom argument, I've already posted other comments on it. But to me it is NOT academic freedom when you substitute religion for science, it is not academic freedom being supported when you create a law for one group of teachers on one tiny part of their curriculum, What this whole issue to me was pandering. The bills sponsors were looking to cash in on conservative points of view and earn points with some of their constituents. I hope if fails in the polling place!

Florida already has laws and regulations concerning academic freedom. Teachers today can introduce controversial subjects in their curriculum areas. But what teachers are not allowed to do is subvert the approved curriculum areas defined by the state. The bill supporters claimed the bills wouldn't allow religion in the classroom, but those provisions weren't actually written in the bill.

My final take on this, until it rears it's ugly head again, is that this is a tactic used to try and weaken evolution in education. Do conservative Christians really want to support academic freedom? If so why weren't teachers who want to teach numerology, astrology, and taro cards not also protected? Why is only the Christian viewpoint the one they support, what about teachers teaching the creationist myths from ever religion? Nowhere! Those who think Intelligent Design and Creationism should be taught because of 'academic freedom' are using a despicable tactic as they try and wedge their way into the classroom and once there cover themselves in sweet sounding words. Sure nearly a hundred years ago was John Scopes allowed academic freedom? No! Regardless of the fact evolution was in the text book used in the school. There was no talk of academic freedom to support what he taught, or I guess I should say tried to teach -- or was accused of teaching. So this use of the words 'academic freedom' is a tactic, nothing more, and one I disagree with completely!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. -- Review

I finally saw it, at the invitation of a Creationist friend of mine and She was heartily disappointed in the movie. I am still writing up what I felt was wrong with it, but her words were surprising, so I put them here for anyone who is interested. Actually I put them first on Topix and decided to add them here.

First of all, she was disappointed because at no time did the movie define what was Intelligent Design and the supposed science behind it. She firmly believed that if they had, then no one could deny the movie a viable cry in the wilderness of fighting against the scientific community. So she was disappointed there.

Even she had serious issues with the connection between eugenics and evolution. In her words "That's the stupidest thing I have ever seen . . . I don't agree with evolution, but that's just plain wrong! . . . What were they thinking?"

The scene of Ben Stein running all over Seattle in his cheap suit and ugly sneakers was ridiculous. And portraying the Discover Institute as a hole in the wall office was just marketing to build up the appearance of being some sort of underdogs. Apparently my friend has been to the DI in Seattle and their facilities are remarkably modern, large, and plush!

She was also very disappointed in the scene of Stein lecturing what was supposed to be a group of students. She learned just after the movie -- not from me, but an article in a paper -- that the students were extras as opposed to real students -- she was pretty disgusted.

Her final words to me were an apology for putting me through that. I don't blame her, I blame Ben Stein. As you might guess I was looking to be pretty well bored, but I have to say I did laugh a lot, much to the displeasure of others in the audience. Anyone who swallows Ben Stein's 'mockumentary' really needs their heads examined.

I agreed with her on all points, plus a couple of my own: What the hell is "Big Science"? I think Ben Stein swiped the "Big" moniker from the "Big Business" of the 80's political debates and "Big Oil" of the 90's. There is no Big Science" and his approach at explaining it was ham-fisted and utterly hilarious. The Scientific Community would certainly have trouble pointing to themselves, or any subset of themselves as some super shadow organization keeping scientific ideas hidden from view.

The examples of the supposed people persecuted have all be addressed here and in others places. In my opinion Ben Stein lied! He didn't get the Sternberg, Gonzales, Crocker, or Marks stories straight and just presented them in the way he wished they had happened. My God, since when did "Academic Freedom" mean that you could do anything you like in the classroom and not be held accountable? The movie was certainly slanted in the extreme and anyone who says Sternberg, Gonzales, Marks, or Crocker are victims should get their facts together.

Even though the movie did its best to present Dawkins and Meyers is the worst possible way, I think they still came across more believable than the others -- but everything including the lighting and the way they were edited left much to be desired.

I have many more issues, but I am still writing them up. I have to look up a Darwin quote they used, I think they blew it big time, but I might need to see it again, I don't take shorthand and didn't get the whole quote -- as they said it. All in all, I think my friend, while she isn't moving toward any support for the theory of evolution, she is certainly heading away from Intelligent Design! She plans on informing her Church Group about the screening and asked for my finished notes of my comments when I get done. An afternoon well spent!