My hangover on Darwin Day precluded me writing the post I actually intended - about people who weren't Darwin and their contibution to evolutionary understanding - and not just with regards to the modern synthesis.
Maybe I will aim to get that written for July.
This week, however, I have been asked to give a basic run down of the I.D. milarkey from the point of view of an evolutionary scientist, and who am I to refuse to write about evolution?
About Science and Religion
As it happens, I am happy to talk about my religious views elsewhere, but not here. Because how one fits their beliefs and faith around their experience, knowledge and interaction with others is a matter for personal reflection, theology, and all sorts of things that are not for me to dictate and not in the remit of this post to address. So all I'm going to say is this:Personal beliefs do not change the physical world.
You may believe the world is 6,000 years old and was created in a week. You might believe that all the terrestrial vertebrate tetrapod* populations were subjected to a massively crippling bottle neck some 4,000 years ago. You can believe in fairies and spaghetti monsters and Harry Potter. You can believe in things as far out as the fundamental goodness of humanity for all the fossil record cares, because the fossil record doesn't care. What the majority of religious/spiritual beliefs - be they Christian, Muslim or Pagan - have in common is that they invoke supernatural forces. It doesn't matter if this force is divine, magical, karmic or whatever. If it's super
natural, it has no place in natural
Religion and faith are not dependant on Creationism to survive - I'm fairly certain of this because of the sheer number of religious scientists there are. Yes, there are probably more atheists in science than in other areas, but it's my opinion (and I am an atheist and a scientist) that it tells you more about atheists than scientists, and again, I will go into this elsewhere if necessary.
The point is: science by it's very nature excludes supernatural forces. Because science describes and explains the natural world. That every living thing was designed by a divine creator is as possible as that everything that falls is pushed down by that creator's hand - yes, hypothetically, if you accept the possibility of a divine power, you can ascribe everything that happens to the will of that power. People do. But it's far more useful to scientists if we seek to understand natural processes behind these observable events. The assumption that there was a natural force behind things falling to the ground (The Theory of Gravity) has led us to the ability circumnavigate the world in a matter of hours. It has allowed us to explore space and visit the moon. Just as the study of natural forces behind the diversity of life on the planet has given us modern medicine.
Yes, all life on this planet may have been created just as it is by a designer. But science is about investigating the evidence available to us in the natural world and interpreting it using what we already know about nature
. When you bring supernature into it, you no longer have natural science.
"Evolution is only a Theory"
Allow me to address this with a link to Wikipedia
A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from or is supported by experimental evidence (see scientific method). In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations, and is predictive, logical, and testable. In principle, scientific theories are always tentative, and subject to corrections or inclusion in a yet wider theory.
The Theory of Evolution is a large scale framework that describes and explains how life has changed, and how it continues to change, and how it may change (also the practical applications of that, IMO, are small scale: more along the lines of 'I bet I can guess what happens
to this Staphylococcus aureus population if I flood its environment with Methicillin' than 'In millions of years time humanity will have split into two species: the Eloi and Morlocks
'). It incorporates
genetics, palaeontology, molecular biology, ecology, neuroscience, and many more. It is used to formulate predictions which are then verified. It explains why mitochondrial DNA is different from nucleur DNA
. It is vital in the fight against AIDS
. It explains why some theropod dinosaurs had feathers
Evolution is the single most important theory in the biosciences - it's the reason life is how it is, and without asking 'how does feature/behaviour A improve taxon X's evolutionary fitness'? Biology is reduced to stamp collecting: description without explanation. It's all very well knowning how respiration works, but unless you understand that respiration is a way of providing energy to stay alive and produce offspring, then you're missing part of the story. Linneus catalogued taxa according to a hierarchy
of kingdoms, orders, genera and species (among other levels), but until the the idea was formulated of descent from a common ancestor, there was no explanation for why organisms can be so neatly** arranged into hierarchy like that.
'Evolution' means 'change'. Biological evolution has been long documented in the fossil record- mesozoic fauna were significantly different to what we see these days. Trust me, I've spent four years up to my eyeballs in leg and hip bones the like of which no modern animal has anymore. Many people commented on this
, some people put forward
(often inaccurate) explanations as to why. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, in their revolutionary joint paper
, merely provided a mechanism. A mechanism which even creationists don't deny:
- Organisms vary
- Variations are passed to offspring
- Some variations provide an advantage to survival and reproduction
- These variations are more likely to be propagated
- Better propagation of a certain variation will result in a general population change.
And yet Creationists are 'suddenly' (in historical terms) denying, not Darwin's work, but what he was attempting to explain: that life has changed over time.
Evolution is a Theory. It is disprovable. You just need to prove that:
- life has not changed over time.
- selection pressures do not produce changes in populations.
- changes in populations do not produce separation at species or other taxonomic level.
Once one of those is disproven, then we can talk.
Creationism/Intelligent design is also a theory
You know, I've been interested in the Creation/Evolution debate since I knew it even existed, which would be ten years, now. I still have never seen a decent model of the other side with which to engage. YECs such as Answers in Genesis presumably take, well, Genesis as a model, but the problems with YEC are in no way limited to that of biological evolution, few enough people take Genesis literally, and even AiG has to expend a whole lot of energy explaining ways, for example, the differences in the two separate creation accounts therein.
"Intelligent Design", on the other hand, as proposed by the Discovery Institute, is clear in its very definition that it exists as an alternative to evolution, not as a model or theory in its own right:
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
It has to mention what it isn't
in its definition, and hardly explains what it is, beyond 'there is a creator.' Which is invoking a supernatural cause. Which is religious. Which means it's not scientific. The Discovery Institute spin it a lot, but no matter how hard they insist on being scientific, on being different from creationism, on being a valid scientific principle, there is still the matter of the Wedge Strategy
: Intelligent Design 'theory' was formulated by the DI as a starting point to try and inject their morality and politics into every aspect of Western (read: American) life and culture. It's not a scientific theory: it's a tool of political agenda.
Show me the model of ID. Show me the predictions ID makes. Show me the disprovable aspect of ID. (God, pretty much by definition, is not disprovable). Show me a cohesive synthesis by which ID explains the natural world in any other way
than 'it was made this way', and I might concede some scientific merit to it.
Hell, show me a Creation/ID/Evolution debate in which the Creationist actually explains their side instead of attacking the so called 'problems' with evolution.
Evolution and abiogenesis
Abiogenesis is the creation of life from non living matter. It is not evolution. Evolution is not abiogenesis. They do not rely on each other. Both naturalist and theist models for origins involve abiogenesis - the difference is, one side says "God done it" is not only enough
, but trying to understand the process further is blasphemous. The other says 'OK, but how did it happen?'
I'm not only a vertebrate palaeontolgist, but I'm tired and I feel like I'm becoming ranty on this subject. So have a list of abiogenesis links
A commenter in amurderofcrows
' recent (locked) posts about ID linked to this video applying basic reproduction, mutation and selection principles to clock components
. Not only does it successfully deconstruct the 'watches were designed and therefore so were kittens! strawman, but it also produces some amazing results that would be recognisable to someone with knowledge of the history of life as mirroring various life history forms. It's just under ten minutes long. Watch it. And then check out the other videos by cdk007
Here with are important links for anyone who comes at evolution from a layperson's "do creationists have a point?" perspective:Understanding Evolution
- a resource hosted at Berkeley, whose primary purpose is to provide information about the "science and history of evolutionary biology" for people involved in education. It doesn't even touch Creationism, simply focusing on evolution for the layperson.Talk.Origins
archive - vast coverage of the YEC/evolution debateTalk.Design
- like Talk.origins but for Intelligent Design.
Thanks to typos, GoogleDocs decided that the document I was writing this in should be named My Hangover of Darwin
. I wonder what that means.*Yes, everyone I know who claims the Global deluge actually happened excludes invertebrates from their model. No, I don't understand how it's supposed to work. No, I'm not going to go into everything that's wrong with the Noah's Ark model in the body of the post. Ask me in comments. This does not preculde anyone from believing in it.
**For a given value of 'neat', messed up by bloody 'transitionals' such as Archaeopteryx, Homo neanderthalensis and Falcarius.