February 27, 2011

Sunday notes--Evolution and the idea that facts matter

Saw on Sully's blog this interview on teaching evolution in America with a nice explanation of why it matters, even to people who will not go on in science:
"They should not blindly accept scientific findings, whether they come from academia, government or industry. But neither should they believe that scientific debates are simply clashes of opinion and values. A healthy appreciation of the nature of science, the persuasiveness of replication, and respect for the necessary expertise is also essential. When teachers tell their students that they can have their own opinions about the validity of evolutionary biology, they are sending a dangerous message to our future citizens."
Facts matter, and the most unfortunate part of this has been the sense that my conservative friends can choose to "believe" or "not believe" factual evidence. From one angle, it matters not whether they believe it or not, but from another angle, it has a huge ripple effect in our approach to difficult problems. And we see this all the time. Conservatives who simply will assert something about Obama or Reagan and will not actually look at the factual record.

A good example, just this week, is how Gingrich responded to Obama's DOMA decision. Obama told his justice department not to fight the law in court--he didn't say they won't enforce the law. This has happened before. But when Gingrich talks about it, he frames it as Obama putting his own beliefs above the law and refusing to enforce the law.

Facts matter. And we live in an age of Fox where facts are fungible and malleable--and ultimately only useful in how they can be manipulated and used.


Albert said...

Yes, facts matter. Everyone should believe the truth and disbelieve lies. But you have to know how to tell the difference.

Is there factual evidence that life on earth evolved from molecules to men? Well no, but that has not prevented people, who think that the physical universe is all there is, from claiming that is what happened. And claiming it is "science" when it is speculation.

Streak said...

Yeah, Albert, no offense, but I am not sure you actually understand the argument for evolution, nor the evidence for it. And the idea that this is about the physical universe v. something else is part of what tells me that. Evolution doesn't tell us that there is no God. It simply tells us how biological evolution occurs. Just as it does each year with each different flu shot you get (or don't).

Smitty said...

And right on cue, Albert proves the point.

Is there factual evidence that life on earth evolved from molecules to men?

Yes. Gobs. Mountains. Entire careers spanning centuries.

And claiming it is "science" when it is speculation.

This is a perfect example of exactly what the article was discussing. Science is speculation...about facts. Measurable facts. And that speculation, over time, is tested and re-tested and either proven, dis-proven given new factual evidence, and undergoes tests from different angles, never being dis-proven.

But neither should they believe that scientific debates are simply clashes of opinion and values.

Believing that scientific debate is somehow in the same realm as philosophy leads directly to your point:

[people] can choose to "believe" or "not believe" factual evidence.

We have got to do a better job of teaching science in our public schools. The only evidence that should be weighed in science class is factual, not "values." Values come into play when we do things like "Hey! E=MC2 allows me to make a helluva bomb! But should I?"

Anyway, another good find, Streak. I liked the article.

Albert said...

I understand the argument for evolution, I just don't buy it. I don't believe the facts support the idea that life started from a single cell and evolved into what we have now.

Not saying that there is not room in the DNA for some changes, like resistence to antibiotics, but just no credible evidence of macro evolution.

Do you know what percentage of college science faculties are atheists? I have seen some reports that the percentage is very high.

Streak said...

Albert, I think you are not, then, actually aware of the evidence. You might want to check out Jerry Coyne's book on evolution. Very readable and accessible for non-scientists like myself.

BTW, I don't think there is such a thing as "micro" or "macro" evolution. It is just evolution, and can take a lot of time before we ever see the changes.

As for atheism, I am not sure what your point is. Many of us here are Christians who accept that evolution is a scientific fact--and one that has nothing to do with the existence of God. Christians believed that widely in the late 19th century (and still do). It is really only in the 20th century that fundamentalists made evolution incompatible with belief. That is their contribution to the discussion.

If scientists are atheists, what is your point? Science is not about "belief," but about facts and evidence and testing and replicating experiments. We don't use those "ways of knowing" to explain God--because it could not. You can't prove the existence of God--which is why we have "faith" that he exists and "believe" that he does.

Smitty said...

No credible evidence of evolution?

It's like not believing that the earth is round and spins around the sun. It's not an argument for evolution, Albert, it's a presentation of facts.

Agree with Streak: read coyne's book. Very very accessible.

As for your inquiry about the number of atheists in college professors, I wonder if your point is to try to prove there is some conspiracy by our educational elite to undermine religious dogma by using science? If so, you've got a long way to go to prove such a false link.

Albert said...

The DNA of bacteria might allow it to develop a resistence to certain drugs, but it won't allow it to change into something other than bacteria. That's why I can accept what is called micro evolution, but not macro.

The account of creation in the Bible is incompatible with evolution. And you can't be a Christian without believing the Bible.

Streak said...

Actually, that is simply speculation on your part, Albert. There are documented cases of species evolving into separate species that can no longer procreate with their previous species. Here is a good site and there are others. It is easiest to see with species like fruit flies, but the type of evolution that created humans and dogs (my two favorites) took millions of years. Not something you will see occur overnight.

The account of creation in the Bible is incompatible with evolution. And you can't be a Christian without believing the Bible.

Actually it isn't, though I am always amazed at fundamentalists simply deciding that those who don't believe exactly as they do are not Christians. The Bible is many things, but it is not an authoritative voice on science. As thinking Christians have known for a long time. Otherwise, we would simply ignore all science and decide that the earth is the center of the universe.

"Believing the Bible" includes a lot of things. Some read the Bible to justify slavery, while others read it to justify vast wealth. Suggesting that you can't find value in the Bible and still accept evolution is an incredibly limited and arbitrary point of view.

Albert said...


To try to claim that evolution is compatible with the Bible is just nonsense. It's absurd.

Jesus believed and confirmed the Genesis account of creation(Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6) For anyone to claim to be a Christian, and an evolutionist, is to call Jesus a liar, and show the hypocrisy of their claim of faith.

Smitty said...

The account of creation in the Bible is incompatible with evolution. And you can't be a Christian without believing the Bible.

Despite the fact that several Christian sects, including Catholics, have acknowledged the bible's lack of veracity on scientific issues, leaving scientific fact to the scientists?

Every point you have made so far simply proves to original intent of the article that Streak linked to. Choosing to believe or not believe verifiable, testable scientific fact is a dangerous way to approach scientific inquiry, and the people who do so put themselves at a disadvantage.

But there is no point in debating you, is there, Albert. When you put the end-all be-all fundamentalist argument as your coup de gras...believe in everything in this book no matter what or you dont belong to my club...then debate over this topic ended as soon as it started.

Streak said...

Ok. Albert, rational people can read the Bible as story, and understand that that Garden of Eden was not a literal retelling, but rather a mythical story of origin. Every culture has one. If you choose to read that as literal, and then say that I am calling Jesus a liar, I obviously can't stop you. But we are not speaking the same language. And, I would add, your God is incredibly small--that he cannot live alongside a vibrant biological fact. When your faith makes you close your eyes to actual evidence, then it isn't a very good faith.

Smitty said...

You're right about some incompatibilities, Albert. For instance:

At least 200 dates have been suggested, varying from 3483 to 6934 years B.C., all based on the supposition that the Bible enables us to settle the point. But it does nothing of the sort. ... The literal interpretation has now been entirely abandoned; and the world is admitted to be of immense antiquity. ... On such questions we have no Biblical evidence, and the Catholic is quite free to follow the teaching of science.
Catholic Encyclopedia: Biblical Chronology

Look! God is still big enough to withstand a scientific fact! Catholics still believe, despite the fact that they are taught to view the scientific question about the age of the earth and it's various components as fact!

I, personally, can dig a God who is still real for people even alongside reality, as Streak noted.

Albert said...

I disagree that your "facts" are real.

Genesis is written as history. Every other part of the Bible depends upon its historical accuracy. If you dismiss it as myth, then you have to read the rest of the Bible as myth. When you do that, you destroy Christianity. You cannot be a Christian while denying the historical accuracy of Genesis. You might as well deny the historicity of Jesus Christ while claiming to still be a Christian. It's absurd.

Streak said...

You can put quotes around facts all you want. Your belief or disbelief has no bearing on them, any more than you can decide to believe in gravity or photosynthesis. Neither, btw, are explained in the Bible, but that isn't why we read it.

Your logical syllogism is one false assertion piled on another, starting with the idea that Genesis was written as history. Further, you clearly don't understand myth, as I am not suggesting it as a clear falsehood--but rather as a powerful story that explains.

And finally, let me reiterate that you, Albert, don't get to decide if I, or Smitty, or my biologist friends are Christians. Rather blasphemous, btw, for you to suggest you can speak for God.

leighton said...

Looks like my comment disappeared - did Blogger decide that it was too long?

Streak said...

Who knows. Here it is:

Two points that seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle now that Albert has apparently conceded that evolution-deniers have no observable facts on their side:

Is there factual evidence that life on earth evolved from molecules to men?

We are still made of molecules. You realize that, right?

I don't believe the facts support the idea that life started from a single cell and evolved into what we have now.

Neither do I. Neither do scientists, and neither does anyone who has bothered to read anything by actual abiogenesis researchers, instead of regurgitating second- or third-hand summaries from pious con artists (though I believe the PC term for them these days is "Christian apologists").

No currently used abiogenesis model suggests that life began from cells. To my knowledge, no abiogenesis model ever has; the current best guess is that life was around for at least hundreds of millions of years before we got cells. Further, there aren't many models that suggest that bacteria as they appear today were part of the chain that eventually led to humans. Talk Origins has a good summary of the paths that are commonly used to model the development of life, and also the various lies Christians tell to try to keep their flocks from learning too many facts that might undermine church authority.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Augustine of Hippo, who, living in the 4th century as he did, was not exactly a liberal Democrat:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? "

Posted by leighton to Streak's Blog at 2/27/2011 06:05:00 PM

Albert said...


The Bible says that God is the Creator of everything. According to evolution, natural chance processes account for the existence of everything.

According to the Bible, God created the universe and life on earth in six literal days. But according to evolution, everything evolved over long periods of time.

The Bible says that the creation is completed.(Genesis 2:3) Evolution says the creative processes are continuing.

According to the Bible, God formed Adam's body from the dust of the ground. According to evolution, man(not Adam) evolved from other living things.

It's obvious, even from these few examples, that the Biblical account of creation cannot be reconciled with evolution. The remainder of the Bible rests upon the Genesis account of creation. Remove the foundation, by saying it isn't history, and you might as well discard the whole Bible.

I don't claim that the Genesis account can be proven by the scientific method. No human was there to observe it, and it is not subject to experiment. But then, neither is evolution. Both are believed, not scientifically proven.

leighton said...

Thanks, Streak. The pages I linked are here and here.

Albert, you can claim creation is "complete" all you like (whatever that means), but the reality is that we have many documented instances of speciation; some of them are mentioned at Streak's link above. Is lying about how the natural world behaves really at the heart of Christianity? If so, how in your mind can anyone in good conscience call themselves a Christian?

leighton said...

By the way, this statement is false:

According to evolution, natural chance processes account for the existence of everything.

Evolution doesn't claim to account for the existence of anything; it doesn't even cover the origin of life. Its subject matter is the development of pre-existing life over time. You're thinking of cosmology and abiogenesis, which are two entirely different departments.

One of my favorite commenters on this blog would probably ask you kindly (he's much better about that than I am) not to continue to bear false witness by saying that evolutionary biologists make such claims about their research, when in reality, they do not.

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