Monday, October 09, 2006

Here we go again...

As expected, I’ve received a lengthy rebuttal from Jeremy to share with you which further explains his position regarding my Oct 3rd post.

Shoot, maybe I should just invite Jeremy to share my blogspace with me. He and I could probably duke it out forever. But, seriously, I am glad that he is polite and able to approach these issues respectfully.

Here we go again, with Jeremy’s comments in quote block, and mine immediately following:

Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment. I hope you don't mind me responding in detail.

"Although evolution does not claim to answer questions about the ~first cause~ of the evolutionary process, it ~postulates~ that the first living organism initially evolved randomly along with the mechanisms of evolution into all that encompasses our universe today."

Evolution isn't an entirely random process. Indeed, natural selection is the complete opposite of random. The fact that you to still hold this misconception is disheartening, especially considering how many times we have discussed this over the last year and a half.
Jeremy, you’re not being quite fair in your attempt to express what I’m suggesting. I mentioned in an earlier post that evolution does not rely upon random events alone. At that time, I provided a link giving a further explanation of the mechanisms of evolution. I also mentioned the following in the same post you quoted from:

“...and that science can explain how our world initially evolved through random events which led to seemingly guided events by means of evolving evolutionary mechanisms. “

Many, many scientists will tell you that evolution initially took place through a series of random events. Now, I realize that that particular verbiage is probably not politically correct at this moment in time due to the conversations taking place about Darwinian evolution, but this is how it is referred to in the field of science.

Being a Christian, you of course believe that God created the universe through the means of what I refer to as Darwinian evolution. My definition of Darwinian evolution encompasses the entire evolutionary paradigm. In other words, from the initial first form of life to all that encompasses our universe today.

But, even Christian scientists who believe God created the universe through evolutionary mechanisms, refer to evolution as being a random event. I’m currently reading The Language of God, by Francis Collins. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Collins, he was the head of the Human Genome Project, and is one of the world’s leading scientists. He works at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life.

On page 97 of his book he writes:
“Darwin proposed that all living species are descended from a small set of common ancestors - perhaps just one. He held that variation within a species occurs randomly, and that the survival or extinction of each organism depends upon its ability to adapt to the environment. This he termed natural selection. Recognizing the potentially explosive nature of the argument, he hinted that this same process might apply to humankind, and developed this more fully in a subsequent book, The Descent of Man.”

There is no question that the initial process of Darwinian evolution supports the idea of random occurrences. Of course, an individual’s perception of what exactly this means will vary from person to person based on their philosophical worldview.

"Since pro-evolutionists...
So, if you refer to those who oppose your viewpoint as "pro-evolutionists" does that mean you are an "anti-evolutionist?"
Here again, you know better. I was very clear in my last post as to what I support in regard to the theory of evolution. Perhaps I should have used the term “Darwinists”. There is definitely a break down in suitable definitions in this debate which only adds to confusion and ultimately frustration.

...insist that design cannot be detected in nature,"
It's not that design cannot be detected. We can easily detect human design all over the place. That is possible because we know quite a bit about the motives and capabilities of human designers.

Unfortunately, the promoters of intelligent design are unwilling to specify the motives and capabilities of their designer. The one thing that can be reasonably assumed is that they are thinking of a supernatural being. The problem, of course, is that a supernatural being is completely unconstrained. Design by a supernatural being can never be ruled out as the cause of an observed phenomenon. A cause that can literally do anything is of little use in understanding the processes or history of the natural world.
It is not necessary or possible to scientifically specify the motives and capabilities of the designer through the means of empirically sound evidence at this point in time. It is possible to theorize that certain aspects of nature are better explained to have been the product of design rather than chance occurrence. I plan on covering this issue in a separate post when I find the time.

ID doesn’t state "how" design occurred, or whether it was by natural, or supernatural causes. All that you can detect through intelligent design theory is that an object has qualities that suggest design-- it does not address the metaphysical nature of how the design occurred. Again, this will take a separate post to cover adequately.

"we have no choice than to assume that the initial evolutionary events were random occurrences."

Well, if those initial evolutionary events were governed by natural selection, you could acknowledge that it is a non-random process that favors the individuals that are best fit to a particular environment. But that would require you to truly understand what you are criticizing. Based on what you write sometimes, I'm not sure that you actually do.
Well... not much is going to occur through natural selection if nothing initially existed but that first living blob of life waiting for something to happen in order for it to evolve. Obviously, random events would have to occur first before natural selection and the other mechanisms of evolution could kick in and help guide the process in a meaningful way. As you know, I take everything back to first causes, and since evolution cannot postulate that first cause, we have to consider those first living organisms and how they advanced through the evolutionary mechanisms that we are familiar with. Random occurrences are very much a part of that process.

"Although Darwin expected to find many examples of these gradual, unbroken sequences of transitional fossils, they haven’t been found."

Actually, we have lots of detailed sequences of transitional fossils. True, we don't have as many as Darwin expected. But it turns out that Darwin's expectation was based on a simplistic idea of how new species form.

Darwin and his contemporaries generally pictured evolution as a gradual change that occurred as entire populations adapted to changing environmental conditions (phyletic evolution). We now know that new species usually form when small populations break off from larger populations and change rapidly to adapt to new environmental conditions (speciation).

Now that we have a better idea of how evolution usually works, we realize that intermediates are not as likely to be fossilized as Darwin and his contemporaries originally assumed. This isn't an attempt to explain away gaps in the fossil record. It's an expectation that derives from our refined understanding of how evolution actually works.
Yes, I’m aware of the how Darwinists view these gaps in the fossil record, but many scientists find the theory lacking in in regard to empirical evidence. We have never seen speciation occur in nature except in a few rare circumstances and these examples are nothing in comparison to what would actually have to take place in nature to explain everything we see today. The evolution of vital organs is a serious problem for the theory, and irreducibly complex machines such as the bacterial flagellum are another example of how intricately designed our bodies really are.

"First of all, evolution was not taken out of the standards because in order for it to have been taken ~out of the standards~, the information you address would had to have been in the standards before ‘99. It wasn’t. Two sets of standards were recommended in ‘99 and the board chose the set that reflected the more accurate scientific evidence we have for these issues."

Your description isn't very accurate. The Board didn't simply adopt their own version of the standards. They took evolution out of the standards that were recommended by the Board's official science standards writing committee. They also added several statements that would clearly favor a young earth creationist viewpoint.

For once and for all (hopefully), here is a synopsis of what really happened in 1999:

Tom Willis and the Creation Science Association of Mid-America (CSAMA) wrote their own draft of the standards that Steve Abrams tried to pass off to the Board as his own in May 1999. In June, the CSAMA (and others) wrote another draft that was again submitted by Steve Abrams. In July, the Board's official science standards writing committee submitted their own Draft 5.

Then, Steve Abrams, Harold Voth, and Scott Hill wrote their own version of the standards using the writing committee's draft as the basis and adding statements from the CSAMA's drafts. This was the draft that was adopted in August and later adopted in December after changes were made to avoid copyright infringement.

So, to be completely accurate, three drafts of science standards were recommended to the Board, two by Steve Abrams (written primarily by the CSAMA) and one by the Board's official writing committee. An unofficial subcommittee of the Board (Abrams, Voth, and Hill) then took the writing committee's draft and modified it in order to make their own, taking out references to macroevolution and adding language taken word-for-word from the CSAMA documents.

This clearly wasn't a case of two competing versions of the standards. It was a case of the Abrams, Voth, and Hill doing whatever they wanted using the drafts that were available to them.
Thank you for relaying your version of the process in selecting the ‘99 standards. It appears to me that, in your version of what went down, the writing standards committee reviewed the standards that were submitted by Abrams and decided to ADD numerous areas of macroevolution. So to be accurate, the board didn’t take evolution out, it appears that the writing committee ADDED macroevolution statements that had never been in the standards before, nor were they needed. Kansas schools were teaching evolution from the textbooks already. Abrams and the board of ed. decided that the extra macroevolution content was not necessary in the State standards, and left those issues to the districts.

Look, regardless of what either of us thinks about how the standards were selected in ‘99, evolution has always been included in the science standards, the student textbooks, and the curriculum in Kansas schools. Anyone who implies differently is simply not being honest.

The media has told us verbatim that the board was “taking evolution out of the standards”, which then snowballed into the idea that Kansas schools no longer taught evolution. We still see that being relayed to the public today. The article from the Washington post that started this dialogue between the two of us is just one example of many that I’ve seen in the past year.

"A few of the debatable issues were left to the districts."

And each of those "debatable" issues happened to conflict with a literal reading of Genesis. I guess that was just a coincidence, right?
Each of those issues are areas of intense debate in this country and we should not relay to our students that these issues are written in stone. Facts are facts, inferences and speculation are clearly not facts and they should not be taught that way. Our students should be urged to critically analyze these topics, if for no other reason than to encourage them to look for the answers and help contribute to filling the gaps in the theory of evolution.

"Actually, you might be interested to know that I’ve met Donnie."

I actually figured that you knew him. Since I obviously don't know him, I will take your word concerning his competence. However, since you basically agreed with each of his points, I feel the need to address them.

"The lack of evidence of seeing one species evolve into another species such as the lack of a fossil record at this time."

We have many observed instances of speciation, and there are literally tons of examples of transitions in the fossil record. The evidence for macroevolution is abundantly described in the peer reviewed literature. It is surprising to me that a Biology teacher is not aware of this evidence.
I’m sure Donnie is quite aware of this evidence, but for each example you provided, all it takes is a google search to find conflicting interpretations of those fossil finds.

And, I urge readers to link on the “observed instances of speciation” link Jeremy provided. Anyone who takes the time to get through that sucker will find that the instances of observed speciation are actually analyses of already existing species that are used to defend one or another hypotheses of how speciation occurs.

There have been a few confirmed cases of speciation in plants due to an increase in the number of chromosomes, or “polyploidy”. Then we have the observed cases with fruit flies, but they are still fruit flies. Same thing with ring species. We have never observed speciation changes that amount to anything of substance.

"Really all we want is, we want good science to come out, and you know if evolution is good science, then it will come to be the better science."

Evolution has withstood 150 years of critical analysis, initially by British naturalists who were convinced that species had remained fixed since they were originally created by God. It has since been accepted by the vast majority scientists because it makes sense of the observational evidence. The scientific debate about whether evolution has occurred has been over for quite some time now. Anyone who pretends otherwise is either sadly misinformed or intentionally trying to mislead others.
Quite interesting that you put it that way. I would have to counter that anyone who actually thinks there is not a very heated debate going on in this country regarding whether Darwinian evolution provides an accurate interpretation of the evidence is either blind, deaf, or in denial.

"I think if you look at the last 150 years, the great discoveries in science, like in microbiology and the medical fields, um, don’t really have a lot to do with evolutionary theory...Meaning the advances we’ve made, we don’t just apply those to the theory of evolution, we look at other aspects of science besides evolution."

One of this year's Nobel prizes went to two scientists who were studying roundworm genetics. Their discovery, how micro-RNA controls genes within cells, has the potential to become the basis of future anti-cancer treatments in humans. What testable scientific theory predicts that there should be a biological connection between roundworm genetics and human genetics? If you're not sure, read the article that I linked to.
This in no way supports the notion of Darwinism --that everything we observe in our universe evolved from the first common molecule (or whatever it was that popped into existence from nothing). What it does support is that we obviously share similar chemical make up with the animal kingdom, and the information we gather from experimentation of other organisms can lead to many beneficial advances in science. That fact has never been in question. You must be aware of this after two years of debate about these issues.

"Most teachers present evolution as a fact and, um, there’s no, um, question as to its validity, which I think is the wrong way to present it."

A "fact" in science is not an "absolute truth." However, from a scientific viewpoint, the common descent of all life is a "fact" in the same sense that it is a "fact" that the inner core of the earth is solid iron. We cannot directly observe either phenomenon, but we have plenty of indirect evidence supporting it. Nevertheless, any teacher who presented evolution or the iron core of the earth as an "absolute fact" would be misrepresenting the tentative nature of science.
Jeremy, I seriously believe that Donnie is quite aware of this information. In fact, I’m certain of it. You do realize that this was an interview in which I doubt he had time to thoroughly explain all aspects of this particular topic. I think most Americans who are involved in these issues are quite aware of what is meant when we hear the phrase, “Evolution is a theory, not a fact”. And, if not, then hopefully more Americans will ask questions about these topics and become more informed. There is confusion about these issues because, as I’ve said before, the definitions used are sometimes conflicting depending on who is using them and in what context.

"'When you’re dealing with a theory that tries to explain the origins of life on earth, then of course your going to infringe upon people’s religious beliefs and their personal beliefs. And, you know, for a theory like this to do that, I mean, the topic of religion has to come up.' Duh. I’m assuming you don’t question that one."

Evolution isn't about the "origins of life on earth." Evolutionary theory describes the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. For you to misunderstand this basic distinction after all of this time literally hurts my feelings because I thought I was a better teacher than that. I really don't know what else to say.
Oh good grief. For you to try to tell me that the ToE does not cross over into theological issues is a bit ridiculous.

No, the ToE does not tell us how that first minute particle burst into existence, but from that point on, the evolutionary paradigm certainly claims to provide sufficient explanation for the existence of all that encompasses the universe.

"It’s a theory, it’s not a fact yet. Hopefully this will encourage more scientists to get involved and present more credible evidence in support of evolution and we can, you know, address that as it comes down the pipe. Hopefully this will just encourage more science to be done."

To say that it's "not a fact yet" implies that a theory could someday become a fact. Theories don't become facts, they explain the facts. Of all people, a science teacher should know better than to say something like this.

This is the statement that prompted my "stunning ignorance" comment. Let me put it this way: if one of my former students ever said something like this, I would consider it a failure on my part.

"I doubt he’d take back any of his statements."

Well, when I say something about the subject that I teach that is later shown by others to be blatantly wrong, I usually at least try to correct it. I guess that's the difference between me and Mr. Palmer.

"They’re actually quite accurate."

Well, I obviously disagree. However, some of the things you wrote in your attempt to explain Mr. Palmer's comments did help me to make better sense out of them.

Thanks for your efforts.
Sigh...semantics. As I said before--to cover all of this in a quick interview is asking quite a lot. He wasn’t teaching a science class. You’re wanting more than what is possible in a radio interview.

Jeremy, I want to thank you for expressing your opinions respectfully, and I am always grateful for your thorough explanation of the information you are presenting. I’m going to put an end to this particular discussion for now, or we may keep this up indefinitely. Thanks again.