Sunday, November 8, 2015

Whose to say what we can or cannot do 100 years from today?

I was watching 60 Minutes following the Denver Broncos first loss of this season.  The article on the Large Hadron Collider was very interesting and at the very end of the article one of the scientists being interviewed said:

"Whose to say what we can or cannot do 100 years from today?"
His example before his concluding comment was, and I am paraphrasing because I am working from memory,
"Do you think someone 100 years ago would say about reaching into your pocket, pulling out a device, press a few keys and be talking to someone halfway around the world!"  
In that context, his closing comment makes perfect sense.

But I do have an answer, Creationists.

Isn't that exactly what people like the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, and the Institute for Creation Research are trying to do?  Rather than allow science to do what has been pretty damn successful for decades now, they want to replace actual science with their religious beliefs.  Read Karl Giberson blog post, "Discovery Institute Still Undermining Science".  Using often discredited arguments, they keep attacking science, dressing philosophical arguments as if they are science for the express purpose of forcing the scientific community to stop doing science and validate their [the Creationists'] religious beliefs.  Look at their arguments:
  • 'Teach the controversy', when there is no scientific controversy, but an artificial one created by marketing and politicking.  
  • 'Teach the strengths and weaknesses', without having one actual weakness identified in evolutionary theory and spend time denigrating the strengths whenever possible.  
  • 'Teach both sides and let students make up their own mind', sure teach religion as if it is science and that will make a level playing field for students to figure things out for themselves?  Yea, how well is that working in any subject?  
These arguments have nothing to do with actual science other than to undermine it in the minds of all too many people.

Just a few excerpts from Gilberson's post:
"Evolution is a remarkable theory. Its complexity and breadth guarantee that there will be ongoing debates and controversies about the details and scientific journals are filled with these debates. But these debates are not about whether evolution should be abandoned and replaced with appeals to a supernatural creative power. That question was resolved in the 19th century."

"The actual scientific controversies are not the ones that the anti-evolutionists want to see in America's public schools. We do our students no favor by pretending that religiously motivated objections to well-established ideas constitute genuine scientific controversies."

The one I personally like is:
"Even if you focused on one small subfield -- say fossils from the Cambrian era -- it would take you years to get to the point where you could deal with the data directly and draw your own conclusions."
Remember Stephen C. Meyer's 'Darwin's Doubt', which concerns itself with the Cambrian Diversification, colloquially known as the 'Cambrian Explosion'.  Do you think Meyer spent the time necessary reading and studying the existing data in order to draw his own conclusions?  Let me remind you that not only is Meyer not a paleontologist, but in addressing some of his critics in the sequel "Debating Darwin's Doubt", he failed to bring in an actual paleontologist to address the many criticisms, like this one from an actual paleontologist (here is the whole critique):
"Another common tactic of creationists is credential mongering. They love to flaunt their Ph.D.'s on their book covers, giving the uninitiated the impression that they are all-purpose experts in every topic. As anyone who has earned a Ph.D. knows, the opposite is true: the doctoral degree forces you to focus on one narrow research problem for a long time, so you tend to lose your breadth of training in other sciences.  . . ."

" . . . Meyer now blunders into another field in which he has no research experience or advanced training: my own profession, paleontology. I can now report that he's just as incompetent in my field as he was in molecular biology. Almost every page of this book is riddled by errors of fact or interpretation that could only result from someone writing in a subject way over his head, abetted by the creationist tendency to pluck facts out of context and get their meaning completely backwards."
Perfect example of what Giberson was saying!  If you want people to draw their own conclusions about complex scientific subjects, they need specialized training to even begin to understand the current state of knowledge on the subject.

Yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but opinions are not necessarily equal, especially about complex subjects.  In my own field I frequently hear customers offer opinions on how long it should take computer programmers to build even something that seems simple.  The problem is without an understanding of the underlying code and architecture involved, even simple things have level of complexity non-programmers are not equipped to understand.  Yet folks like the Discovery Institute, and others, want people to be able to make up their own minds about something as complicated as Evolutionary theory?  Hopefully food for thought!

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