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Egregious idiocy

The IDiots are crowing: they found a scientist who doesn’t understand evolution. One catch that they don’t think is very important: he’s a synthetic chemist. I think it’s fair to say that he’s as clueless about the issues in evolutionary biology as I am of those in synthetic chemistry, but at least I have the humility to recognize that my understanding of one discipline does not imply understanding of a completely different one. So the Uncommon Descent crowd is ridiculously enthusiastic about a scientist, James Tour, who doesn’t understand something, and they’ve got excerpts from a talk he gave, on “Jesus and Nanotechnology” (the title kind of clues you in, doesn’t it?) in which he professes his ignorance, as if that’s some sort of indictment of evolution.

… I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist: if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules. I understand that if I take Nature’s tool kit, it could be much easier, because all the tools are already there, and I just mix it in the proportions, and I do it under these conditions, but ab initio is very, very hard.

When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Why would you think that knowledge of synthetic chemistry should make you able to understand evolution? I agree that building molecules to a spec, as Tour does, is very very hard — but that’s not what evolution does, so that skill is not relevant. What’s clearly happening here is that Tour is totally incapable of recognizing a process that lacks a guiding hand, because his work involves acting as the guiding hand.

Evolutionary biology is not the same as synthetic chemistry, OK? That I understand evolutionary biology better than Tour does does not make me capable of building nanocars.

I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you. Is that OK, for me to say, “I don’t understand this”? Is that all right? I know that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t understand anything about organic synthesis, but they understand evolution. I understand a lot about making molecules; I don’t understand evolution. And you would just say that, wow, I must be really unusual.

Of course it’s OK to say you don’t understand evolution — I encourage all ignorant people to first confess their ignorance as a step towards understanding. However, what’s not OK is to use your ignorance, combined with authority in other domains of science, to suggest that evolution is false. Learn some humility, guy; I don’t profess greater knowledge of a discipline outside my own, but instead defer to the experts in those fields.

Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science – with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public – because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said – I say, “Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?” Every time that I have sat with people who are synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go “Uh-uh. Nope.” These people are just so far off, on how to believe this stuff came together. I’ve sat with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. Sometimes I will say, “Do you understand this?”And if they’re afraid to say “Yes,” they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.

Right. He sat down with other prestigious synthetic chemists, and they don’t understand evolution, either. Therefore, there’s something wrong with evolution.

Next time you’re playing poker with your buddies, ask around the table if they understand synthetic chemistry. When they shrug, or look at you blankly, or admit they know nothing about the subject, you have ammunition to go public and condemn those phonies who make molecules. It’s all a lie because some people don’t know how it works!

I must also point out that if you sit down with any intelligent scientist, and ask them if they have all the answers to the big questions in their discipline, they’ll say no, and even better, they’ll bring up a whole series of difficult questions that you probably never even thought of. That’s the nature of science; every answer inspires a dozen new questions, and inquiry leads you ever deeper into harder problems. Only a dishonest hack would think that somehow brings the science into disrepute.

Macroevolution happens. It’s documented. We know it happens. We know some of the mechanisms, but there are legitimate questions about the relative importance of various mechanisms, about the details of specific lineages, about possible novel mechanisms—but not about the reality of the process. It is sleazy to imply otherwise.

Oh, and just a hint: when you confront a Nobel Prize winner with a stupid question, and they just stare at you, it’s not because they’re afraid to say the truth: it’s probably because they’re wondering why they’re having this conversation with this idiot.

Comments

  1. Louis says

    For fuck’s sake it had to be my field didn’t it? Oh well I’m leaving for biology anyway!

    This guy is doing the usual (quasi)-creationist motivated reasoning. The fact he’s a scientist making such weak arguments is SAD not significant. If he’s any kind of synthetic chemist he should know just how nature DOES make molecules. From the processes that make (complex by astronomical standards) molecules in space, how geochemistry works, even the complex workings of existing secondary metabolism produce molecules of a complexity we struggle with to some degree. He can’t be ignorant of this stuff, it’s really basic. It must be deliberate.

    Arseholes. I really hate it when one of my team fail to make the mark for some damned reason.

    Louis

  2. says

    “Jesus and Nanotechnology”
    Jesus was, of course, an early researcher into nanotech—it’s a little known fact that the cross was only 42 nanometers high.

  3. says

    “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

    Or in his case ‘When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a thumb’

  4. Sastra says

    Oh, and just a hint: when you confront a Nobel Prize winner with a stupid question, and they just stare at you, it’s not because they’re afraid to say the truth: it’s probably because they’re wondering why they’re having this conversation with this idiot.

    No, my guess is that they’re trying to figure out a reasonable, charitable interpretation of the question because this is a colleague and so the question must not be as stupid as it sounds on the surface. James Tour must have meant something else.

    Or, possibly, he’s trying to tell them he thinks someone else should have gotten the Nobel and they’re not really deserving as this other person. They’re wary.

    But Tour is making it sound like a conspiracy, as if everyone is pretending and just going through the motions for accepting relatively noncontroversial scientific conclusions.

  5. raven says

    I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist: if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules.

    Big deal.

    I and tens or hundreds of thousands of scientists make molecules too. Recombinant DNA molecules.

    And then make new life forms.

    This is standard genetic engineering that dates from the 1970′s.

  6. samihawkins says

    A message board I go to has an idiot who spouts every right-wing ‘scienctific’ opinion you can imagine, YECism, climate change denial, LGBT bashing, white supremacy, etc., and whenever he’s called out on how utterly wrong he is he resorts to screeching about his chemistry degree as proof he knows better than us. It’s a particularly pathetic defense when he’s arguing about climate change because his main opponent on that topic has just as prestigious a degree in a field actually relevant to the subject.

    I wonder if this James fellow is the same guy.

  7. raven says

    Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science – with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. I have sat with them, …etc.

    I don’t believe any of this. I’ve done the same thing for 3 decades and never seen it. He didn’t mention any names for some reason.

    Sometimes I will say, “Do you understand this?”And if they’re afraid to say “Yes,” they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.

    “They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.”

    They probably stare at him because he comes across as probably insane and potentially ready to start preaching about jesus, drooling, or ranting and raving some more.

  8. R Johnston says

    The IDiots are crowing: they found a scientist who doesn’t understand evolution. One catch that they don’t think is very important: he’s a synthetic chemist.

    One thing it pays to be clear about: if he believes in intelligent design then, while he may be a perfectly competent chemical technician, he’s by definition not a scientist because he has explicitly rejected the scientific methodology. If you call the scientific method bunk you are not a scientist.

  9. raven says

    Does It Matter That Many Scientists Are Atheists? | Catholic Answers
    www. catholic. com/blog/…/does-it-matter-that-many-scientists-are-atheists‎

    Jun 26, 2013 – One fact that concerns some Christians and elates some atheists is that 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of …

    93% of National Academy of Sciences are atheists or agnostics. This is across all science fields, biology, chemistry, physics, etc..

    I’m having a hard time believing that Dr. or Mr. Ranting and Raving managed to find the 7% that are theists. And even that 7% theists probably aren’t mostly creationists.

  10. Louis says

    Actually, I’ll be a teensy bit more serious. Tour’s comments are bullshit start to finish. Even, perhaps especially, the bit about synthetic chemistry.

    The “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. ” bit is…whilst not bullshit…only applicable if you credit Tour’s claims about synthetic chemistry and I really don’t. Take just one thing, “ab initio”. Is he talking about discovering new reactions? New synthetic routes? The synthesis of novel molecules with properties never before observed? All of these are hard, bloody difficult as it happens, but ab initio as a contrast with “nature’s toolkit”? No. The nitrogen he’s using has the same electronegativity as everyone else’s. The carbon is still stable in tetravalent states. He’s not creating these things AB INITIO, he’s very much working with nature’s toolkit just like the rest of us.

    Is he actually talking about enzymes? Borrowing the evolved products of various organisms to do chemical transformations? If so, he needs to pull his head from his arse here too. Go ask the biological chemists if it’s a toolkit to be picked at. It really isn’t. Developing biological syntheses for novel purposes/of novel chemicals is not trivial research either.

    I’m not buying this contrast between “ab initio” and “nature’s toolkit”. It’s a convenient bit of fooling the public if you ask me. The more I read it, the less I like it.

    Louis

  11. raven says

    wikipedia James Tour:

    In 2001, Tour signed the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism”, a controversial petition which the intelligent design movement uses to promote intelligent design by attempting to cast doubt on evolution.[24][25] To those who “are disconcerted or even angered that I signed a statement back in 2001″ he responded “I have been labeled as an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent. I am not. I do not know how to use science to prove intelligent design although some others might. I am sympathetic to the arguments on the matter and I find some of them intriguing, but the scientific proof is not there, in my opinion. So I prefer to be free of that ID label.”[26]

    He had also said that he felt the explanations offered by evolution are incomplete, and he found it hard to believe that nature can produce the machinery of cells through random processes.[24] On his website, he writes that “From what I can see, microevolution is a fact” and “there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution.”[26]

    In Lee Strobel’s book “The Case For Faith” – Tour is attributed to the following commentary: “I build molecules for a living, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is. I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through his creation. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.”[27]

    I’d never heard of this guy. He is apparently, a real scientist, a chemist.

    He is also a fundie xian and a creationist. Or not. He says different things at different times. If you read the above at wikipedia, it’s incoherent and contradictory.

    Nothing to see here that is interesting or makes much sense.

    “I build molecules for a living, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is.

    And this differs how from the other million or so scientists in the USA? They all have “difficult jobs”. Most of us don’t bother going around whining about it or trying to impress other people with it. And BTW, lots of other people have difficult jobs too, soldiers, firemen, Amazon.com line workers, etc..

  12. says

    #5, Sastra:

    You’re being so charitable! I assure you, if it were me he were directing the question at (not that I have the slightest chance of ever being in the National Academy), any silence on my part would be entirely due to the fact that I was struggling to find a sufficiently scathing put-down.

  13. timothycourtney says

    To be fair to Tour, I think he’s at least partially walked back his position. From his website:

    “Although I have read about a half dozen books on the debate, maybe a dozen, and though I can speak authoritatively on complex chemical synthesis, I am not qualified to enter the public discussion on evolution vs. creation. So please don’t ask me to be the speaker or debater at your event, and think carefully about asking me for an interview because I will probably not give you the profound quotations that you seek. You are of course free to quote me from what is written here, but do me the kindness of placing my statements in a fair context.
    I have been labeled as an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent. I am not. I do not know how to use science to prove intelligent design although some others might. I am sympathetic to the arguments on the matter and I find some of them intriguing, but the scientific proof is not there, in my opinion. So I prefer to be free of that ID label.”

    He is a bit kooky, and he is on some level a creationist, (and he unfortunately drifts into Ben Stein territory), but I think he does at least admit that the science is against him.

    “So what should be taught in schools regarding evolution? As I wrote, I am not a proponent of Intelligent Design for the reasons I state above: I can not prove it using my tools of chemistry to which I am bound in the chemistry classroom; the same tools to which I commensurately bind my evolutionist colleagues. But I think that a better approach might include more teaching about evolution, namely coverage of legitimate scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinism and disputes about the origin of the first life. That would be more balanced.”

    Again, wrong, but not Ham-level wrong.

  14. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    I like how the linked article starts off with a headline reading “A world-famous chemist tells the truth: there’s NO scientist alive today who understands macroevolution.”

    Are they really sure about that? Has he checked with every scientist alive? Were they there?

    And what exactly is macroevolution? My spellchecker doesn’t know the word. If you pop up and ask a real scientist if she understands your made-up bullshit term and concept, she is going to have to honestly say no.

    That doesn’t mean that evolution on a species level, over time, does not occur. Nor does it mean that a synthetic chemist knows anything about animal populations.

    Honestly. When my grandpa bred better tomatoes, he didn’t know squat about DNA. When a geneticist does sequencing, he isn’t thinking about predation styles. It’s a whole different level of scale, and this chemist might have something to say about abiogenesis, but the stuff they call macroevolution is ‘way out of his professional range.

  15. NitricAcid says

    A synthetic chemist tries to make molecules in high purity, and in high yields. Evolution doesn’t.

  16. Amphiox says

    But I think that a better approach might include more teaching about evolution, namely coverage of legitimate scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinism and disputes about the origin of the first life. That would be more balanced.

    All the criticisms of neo-Darwinism that are legitimate scientifically that I know about have come from other branches of evolutionary study, and much of that debate is predicated on what one wants to define neo-Darwinism to be. I mean, both evo-devo and neutral theory (and epigenetics) have in their time been described, at least by some, as “challenges” to the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy, wherein neo-Darwinism is definitionally restricted to be something like “the majority of evolutionary change is the result of selection” or “it’s all about DNA” or some such. But really, it is all just extending the framework of evolutionary theory as a whole.

    The origin of life is a pretty complex subject and probably not suitable for high-school level or even entry-level university biology courses. (And half of it is chemistry and not biology, too).

  17. Louis says

    There is something weird in chemistry about origins of life research. It’s kind of…not done much. Perhaps it’s hard to get funding. There are a few groups that do it, but it’s relatively rare considering it’s pretty close to being the biggest question in science and it falls unquestionably smack bang in the middle of the chemistry discipline. The minute self replicators exist, then we get to be all interdisciplinary with the biologists, before that it’s all chemistry!*

    I could wax lyrical about the different chemical disciplines it touches on, but it’s a long old list.

    Louis

    *Okay I might be playing a little naughty nose tweek at biologists etc there. I’m being a little unfair, but not much. Just banter.

  18. raven says

    The minute self replicators exist, then we get to be all interdisciplinary with the biologists, before that it’s all chemistry!*

    There is already a self replicator. And it evolves. RNA molecules can be catalytic and one of those catalytic activities can be a polymerase.

    Knocking on the door of life: Self-replicating RNA … – Science a GoGo
    www. scienceagogo. com/news/20090011195733data_trunc_sys.shtml‎

    Jan 12, 2009 – Knocking on the door of life: Self-replicating RNA synthesized. … Now, however, two Scripps Research Institute scientists have taken a …

    Technically, life is just organic chemistry. One would think a chemist like James Tour would know this. It’s science, not magic.

  19. azhael says

    I get the very real impression he is actually talking about abiogenesis, not biological evolution. If that´s the case i´m not surprised the other scientists answered with a “no idea” because that´s honest. If he was talking about biological evolution there is no way people would answer like that….
    The bit about “where all of this came from” makes me think he is refering to the origin of complex organic mollecules.

  20. Amphiox says

    There is already a self replicator. And it evolves. RNA molecules can be catalytic and one of those catalytic activities can be a polymerase.

    Well, the big question is whether RNA was the original self-replicator that sprung out from abiotic chemistry, or did it, in its turn, evolve or was produced, by an even earlier, simpler, self-replicator?

  21. raven says

    Short Sharp Science: Biologists create self-replicating RNA molecule
    www. newscientist. com/…/shortsharpscience/…/rna-enzyme-makes-anothe…

    Holliger, who is based at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, has now set out to improve R18. He made a vast library of thousands of different versions of the molecule and screened them to see which ones made more copies. After several rounds of copying variants and looking for new improvements, he found several useful tweaks, which he incorporated into his final patchwork enzyme, tC19Z.

    tC19Z can reliably copy RNA sequences up to 95 letters long, a near-sevenfold increase on R18. Its performance varies depending on the sequence it’s copying, but it is much less picky than R18. Holliger compares R18 to a sports car that works only on a smooth, flat road. “We have fitted a four-wheel drive, so it can go off-road a bit,” he says.

    Crucially, tC19Z can copy pieces of RNA that are almost half as long (48 per cent) as itself. If an RNA enzyme is to copy itself, it has to be able to copy sequences as long as itself, and tC19Z is closing in on that goal.

    Here is another different self replicating RNA. It doesn’t look quite as good as the Scripps one but IIRC, they used a two molecule system.

    And for any chemists reading this. Nanotechnology already exists and is quite advanced. In fact, it has existed for 3.8 billion years. Cells are just full of nanotech machines, polymerases, ribosomes, splicesomes, mitochondria, chloroplasts. etc..

  22. raven says

    Sciencedaily. com:

    Self-replication process holds promise for production of new materials
    Date: October 17, 2011
    Source: New York University
    Summary:
    Scientists have developed artificial structures that can self-replicate, a process that has the potential to yield new types of materials.

    Scientists have developed artificial structures that can self-replicate, a process that has the potential to yield new types of materials. These structures consist of triple helix molecules containing three DNA double helices.

    New York University scientists have developed artificial structures that can self-replicate, a process that has the potential to yield new types of materials. In the natural world, self-replication is ubiquitous in all living entities, but artificial self-replication has been elusive. The new discovery is the first steps toward a general process for self-replication of a wide variety of arbitrarily designed seeds. The seeds are made from DNA tile motifs that serve as letters arranged to spell out a particular word. The replication process preserves the letter sequence and the shape of the seed and hence the information required to produce further generations. etc..

    One more. This one is DNA and different. And it replicates but not exponentially.

    The work, conducted by researchers in NYU’s Departments of Chemistry and Physics and its Center for Soft Matter Research, appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

  23. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I can’t help thinking the nonexistence of a Nobel Prize for Biology category might be relevant too.

  24. jaytheostrich says

    So, if you can’t understand evolution and that means you can’t believe in it, then how can anyone believe in Creation, since only ‘God’ could understand how he did that?

  25. dorfl says

    Quick language question:

    In Swedish I’d describe James Tour as a ‘fackidiot’. Is there any corresponding English term for a person who understands their own field very well, but knows too little about things outside of that field to have a grasp of how little they know about those things?

  26. Gary Larson says

    dorfi – IMHO, once you’ve described James Tour as an IDCist, other English terms are are implied in the description. So, referring to someone as an IDCist automatically includes the terms fackindiot, fuckwad, dumbass, idiot, numbnuts, mouthbreather, crazy-as-a-loon, demented, dingbat, loco, shithead, asshole, etc. I am sue we all have our favorites, when referring to an IDCist. :)

  27. Gary Larson says

    BTW – Hello from across the pond to Louis! Tell us more someday about the expected career change…

  28. dorfl says

    Gary – Well, ‘fackidiot’ implies deep knowledge of one area, which is a bit too much to say about most ID:ers :-p

  29. garnetstar says

    “I build molecules for a living, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is. ”

    It’s not *that* difficult! NitricAcid has pointed out that the problem is to synthesize things pure and in high yield. Synthetic chemists have been around since forever, many people are able to accomplish this astoundingly tough feat.

    I agree with Louis, the chemical principles that are needed to understand how reasonable it is to imagine life arising from the primordial soup are very basic. I think this guy is making a typical creationist error, thinking that, since living organisms are complex, they can’t have sprung into being “all at once”. So RNA, etc., must have sprung into being from one reaction, a concerted mechanism! Instead of from many small, sequential reactions.

    Raven, I want to shout out for inorganic chemistry too. Living things need metals!

  30. mithrandir says

    To clarify the purity/high-yield conundrum: If Dr. Tour submitted to his employers or grant committee a process that took a reaction chamber the size of a planet a billion years to produce a microscopic quantity of the desired end product, he’d be laughed out of the room. I’d love to ask him how hard his job would be if he were held to that standard.

  31. Louis says

    Raven,

    I wasn’t suggesting RNA didn’t exist and wasn’t a self replicator. As molecules go it’s not the simplest of starts, it’s also by no means certain that replication was the first major abiogenetic transition. There’s a decent body of work suggesting “metabolism first” as the key step. It’s interesting stuff. Pierre Luigi Luisi’s book is a reasonable place to start for chemists.

    Louis

  32. raven says

    Tour: I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist: if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, (deleted)

    I understand how hard it is to make molecules. I understand that if I take Nature’s tool kit, it could be much easier, because all the tools are already there, and I just mix it in the proportions, and I do it under these conditions, but ab initio is very, very hard.

    and

    mithrandir:
    …a process that took a reaction chamber the size of a planet a billion years to produce a microscopic quantity of the desired end product,…

    Yeah, that was my thought.

    James Tour thinks because he takes a few decades to make some molecules that it is hard. For him it is.

    But an entire planet near a giant fusion reactor has a billion years to come up with a self replicating entity. And after the first one, it keeps on making itself with errors and selection for what is now 3.8 billion years.

    After 2.5 billion years or so, you get the first eukaryotic cell. Another billion or so years and you get metazoans and humans.

    He is comparing apples and oranges. One 21st century chemist versus a planet, a long lived fusion reactor, self reproducing reactants and products, and 3.8 billion years.

  33. Holms says

    I asked a mycologist about the ‘galaxy problem’, and he didn’t know the answer. I guess cosmology is bunk! The universe must therefore be 6,000 years old – there’s just no other explanation!

  34. Zee Low Brown says

    Funnily enough, there are scientists in the anti-vax scene who do similar. They present all these chemical reactions involved in vaccination production, showing what can go wrong and then saying things like “as a scientist, I don’t know how this process could be called ‘safe’”.

    They don’t know because they are physicists or anthropologists or whatever… not synthetic chemists.

  35. Sili says

    On behalf of my tribe, I apologise.

    (Though I was more of an inorganic, structural chemist.)

  36. Sili says

    richardelguru,
    <blockquote) Jesus was, of course, an early researcher into nanotech—it’s a little known fact that the cross was only 42 nanometers high.Have you been reading The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man?

  37. Doc Bill says

    Tour is a real tool. A “bone fed” IDiot of the highest order. Talks out of both sides of his mouth, of course, in keeping with his “kind.”

    So, last year or so he challenged anybody to come to Houston (he’s at Rice) and explain evolution to him over lunch. Nick Matzke took up the challenge and several of us ponied up travel and lodging expenses for him.

    Guess what?

    Tour chickened out. Yep. We told him “any date” and he totally chickened out. Wouldn’t go through with it. He’s what we say here in Texas “all hat and no cattle.”

    I’m not surprised Tour chickened out. Nick would have destroyed him.

  38. anteprepro says

    A member of a construction crew that has specialized in excavation, especially for subway tunnels and other underground passageways, goes on vacation. They go to a trip to some large caverns. He marvels at the architecture. When the tour guide says that the caverns are natural, formed by simple processes of erosion and calcification, the crew member spits out his coffee and throws his mug across the room, where it smashes on a stalagmite. “I have worked on building underground structures for YEARS and I don’t understand how you could do it with just water! Therefore, it didn’t happen, you blasphemer!” And he pushed the heathen off the ledge and straight into Hell. The End.

  39. yubal says

    When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    one of my most favorite lines to drop at single mindedness!

    Happy to see you use it, too.

    On a side note: As a (physical/molecular) Biologist, I have a certain concept of evolution and I do understand/know quite a bit about it, mainly because I should. I am not very much interested in evolution. I don’t think anybody in my field seriously cares about evolution. And why should we? Evolution is just the story behind the present, it doesn’t say anything about how stuff works. Our job is to explain the mechanism of biological systems and yes, they tend to be the same in related pathways and they tend to be independent of evolutionary relationship. The function is more conserved than the structure, the structure is more conserved than the gene, and so on. Sometimes you run into proteins that have the same mechanism and a similar structure compared to other proteins that do the same thing although they share no heritage whatsoever. Big deal, they simply come from different lineages and evolved independently from different ancestors.

    I like to imagine evolution as a consequence of life. If you have a self-organizing system, It will demand some kind of evolutionary mechanism to remain self-organizing over time. And what works works and that’s why we find it.

    Evolution is boring. That is yesterdays topic. A hundred years before yesterday.

    I am aware that there are still a few geeks out there that fine fiddle our understanding of evolution, the outcome of that will however most probably not impact any other field of biology. It is evolutionary research done for the sakes of evolutionary research. (And there is nothing wrong with that!)

  40. theophylact says

    As a synthetic organic chemist, I’m appalled but hardly surprised. In the natural sciences, chemists are historically the most conservative bunch, and only a bit more liberal than engineers (who I don’t consider to be scientists). You can do an awful lot of synthesis without knowing much fundamental science (trust me; I practically failed both physics and physical chemistry, but got a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Princeton anyway). Yes, it takes a decent amount of intelligence and creativity, but not a lot of basic understanding.

    Fortunately for me, I had good exposure to physics, even if I couldn’t handle the math, and I had instruction in biology and biochemistry from teachers like George Gaylord Simpson, James D. Watson and Konrad Bloch, for whom their sciences would have made no sense without an evolutionary foundation. I also grew up in a secular Jewish family in New York, which nicely insulated me from Creationist lunacies.

  41. tkseattle says

    I’ve yet to learn of any physicist who confesses to truly understanding the underlying mechanism of gravity. Infinite range, acts on all particles with mass, cannot be shielded against? Whoa! There can really only be one explanation. Gravity Gremlins. They with their little sticky feet and hands cling to everything. They cling to the Earth and the bottoms of our feet (Howard Hughes would have shuddered at the thought!) keeping us from floating away. And when we jump, they quickly climb on each other’s shoulders, maintaining a sticky Gravity Gremlin tether between us and the Earth. Gravitation Relativity? Sure, all the Gremlins are related and trace their lineage back to Gravity Genesis, the first and stickiest of them all!

    That’s my hammer. Bring me some nails, I’m building an Ark…

  42. David Marjanović says

    Or in his case ‘When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a thumb’

    *steal*

    I and tens or hundreds of thousands of scientists make molecules too. Recombinant DNA molecules.

    From ready-made deoxyribose nucleotides.

    That guy makes his own deoxyribose and his own bases, and hitches them up with phosphate himself. That’s what ab initio, “from the beginning”, means.

    And what exactly is macroevolution? My spellchecker doesn’t know the word. If you pop up and ask a real scientist if she understands your made-up bullshit term and concept, she is going to have to honestly say no.

    No, the word is real, it’s a real technical term that is used by real biologists. PZ has explained that at least once. It’s just mostly retired, now that most biologists think macroevolution is just summed-up microevolution and not anything qualitatively different or even definable. (Traditionally it’s “evolution above the species level”, and the species level doesn’t exist outside of taxonomists’ heads…) So, nowadays, when somebody uses that word, the chance is good that they’re a creationist. But don’t jump to conclusions.

    And seriously, fuck your spellchecker. First, a spellchecker isn’t the unabridged Oxford English fucking Dictionary. Second, o native speakers of English, when grown people need to use a spellchecker, your spelling system is wrong and needs a bloody revolution as per Opinion 16. Yes, I am angry.

    (…In case anyone’s wondering, I’ve never used a spellchecker in any language. English spelling is easiest to learn when you don’t already speak English. Then of course you get to deal with the fact that the pronunciation is all the harder to learn because so often the spelling is actively misleading… sorry for the digression.)

    In Swedish I’d describe James Tour as a ‘fackidiot’. Is there any corresponding English term

    Nope. There’s nothing shorter than “people who learn more and more about less and less till they know everything about nothing”.

    (German Fachidiot. :-) )

    Tour chickened out. Yep. We told him “any date” and he totally chickened out. Wouldn’t go through with it.

    Wow.

    I like to imagine evolution as a consequence of life. If you have a self-organizing system, It will demand some kind of evolutionary mechanism to remain self-organizing over time.

    …I wouldn’t say “demand”. Evolution is simply inevitable once there’s imperfect inheritance… and an environment exists.

  43. carlie says

    I will cop to using the term “macroevolutionary trends” just to signal to students to reset the time-sized chunks in their brain, but am clear to let them know there are no new mechanisms involved.

  44. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    Thanks, David M. I had only seen “macroevolution” as a creationist term.

    As for spellcheckers, I agree. I have to type on a tablet, these days, and it keeps a very dynamic bar of suggested words and spellings right in the frigging way all the time. And, it turns out, the spellings aren’t even correct….it offers my recent misspellings as options.

  45. opposablethumbs says

    As one of the non-scientists I am just going to continue enjoying the take-down of the fackidiot/fachidiot (someone with 20/20 tunnel vision?). And dream that … Gary Larson @ 29 and 30, are you actually … Gary Larson??!?!?!?! if so, xcuse me while I have a quiet fit of total and utter bedazzlement. (Please blame the whisky for this most un-British effusiveness).

  46. Anri says

    richardelguru @ 4:

    “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

    Or in his case ‘When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a thumb’

    And here I am, running out of internets to award…

    - – -
    raven @ 12:

    I build molecules for a living, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is.

    So do bacteria.
    They must be of strong faith.

  47. Jonathan Dick says

    “Evolutionary biology is not the same as synthetic chemistry, OK? That I understand evolutionary biology better than Tour does does not make me capable of building nanocars.”
    But abiogenisis IS synthetic chemistry. The formation of nucleic acids and DNA is synthetic chemistry. The formation of peptides and polypeptides is synthetic chemistry. The formation of saccharides and polysaccharides is synthetic chemistry. The fact that we chemists are skeptical of your claims should tell you something. Chemists generally believe that we understand a process when we have reduced it to the relevant physics. Yet you evolutionary biologists (unlike biochemists) seem unwilling or unable to reduce your models to the relevant chemistry.
    -JollyGreenChemist

  48. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yet you evolutionary biologists (unlike biochemists) seem unwilling or unable to reduce your models to the relevant chemistry.

    Clarification needed, as this sounds like gobbledygook. This synthetic chemist understands the difference between chemistry/abiogenesis, and biology/evolution with differing need for describing differing developments.

  49. raven says

    The fact that we chemists are skeptical of your claims should tell you something. Chemists generally believe that we understand a process when we have reduced it to the relevant physics. Yet you evolutionary biologists (unlike biochemists) seem unwilling or unable to reduce your models to the relevant chemistry.

    Oh I see.

    It tells me you are a religious kook, a fundie xian creationist and that is it.

    1. You don’t believe life exists. Or that it exists and runs on god magic. This is Vitalism, long dead but yet another ancient idea rivived as mythogy by the desperate fundie xians.

    We after all can’t synthesize life. Yet. (Actually we have, several different ways including abiogenically. The Scripps replicator and Venters work with synthetic bacteria.)

    2. We have yet to synthesize stars either. More magic.

    3. Much less make planets, moons, galaxies, or universes. The latter is a bad idea though. If we learn how to create another Big Bang that would be the end. For another 13.8 billion years. Magic again.

    4. We haven’t even learned how to make mountain ranges, volcanoes, or continents. Magic.

    6. We have however, learned how to change the climate and destroy the ozone layer. Not magic.

    Jollygreencreationist is just playing an old game. God of the gaps.

    we chemists

    I doubt that as a percentage, very many chemists are creationists. In any event, it is irrelevant. Among relevant scientists with expertise in the field, that is biologists, it runs around 99% non-creationists. The few scientists who are creationists freely admit that it is a religious belief.

  50. raven says

    Yet you evolutionary biologists (unlike biochemists) seem unwilling or unable to reduce your models to the relevant chemistry.

    You don’t even know what evolution is or the difference between evolutionary biology and abiogenesis.

    There are hundreds or thousands of evolution models. It’s been proven over and over and no one who knows biology and isn’t a religious fanatic doubts it.

    New viruses attack the human population about every year, antibiotic resistance is a huge problem, pests become resistant to whatever we invented a few years ago, cancer cells arise and progress by somatic cell evolution, and so on. There is enough of this sort of data to fill whole libraries.

  51. raven says

    The fact that we chemists are skeptical of your claims should tell you something.

    It tells me you are religious crackpot making stuff up.

    In 2009, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that “[n]early all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time.”

    3% of all US scientists are creationists. It’s lower in biology, less than 1%.

    I have no idea how many of those 3% are chemists. I’m guessing the number of creationist chemists is somewhere around there though.

    Do you have any actual data on the percent of chemists who are creationists or did you just make an evidenceless claim?

  52. raven says

    Jonathan Dick seems to be a drive by and drop off some trash troll. AKA as a xian.

    JD: The fact that we chemists are skeptical of your claims …

    I’m skeptical that JD is really a chemist. He seems rather stupid.

    Whatever. I did try to find out how many chemists are creationists. In reality he should have said “we chemists with minds poisoned by toxic fundie religion”.

    Couldn’t find that information. I did find some statements that creationism seems to be higher in chemists. Perhaps because they aren’t biologists and can believe any sort of mythology that doesn’t impact their fields.

    I did find a survey of how many scientists are nontheists. It’s 59% for chemists!!! Higher than most fields but not by much, running around 70% for biologists and physicists. Source: A Pew Center survey from 2009, look it up on Google.

    Not all 41% chemist theists are xians. Fundie cultists are a minority of xians. From all that I’d estimate that chemist creationists are around 6%. I’d estimate that all of those are fundie death cult xians and most are from the south USA.

    JD, in the remote chance that you come back amuse us. What other religious inspired delusions do you believe in? Geocentrism, the Flat Earth, demon theory of disease, supply side economics, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, the Tea Party, racism, misogyny?

  53. Louis says

    The fact that we chemists are skeptical of your claims should tell you something.

    In the words of the Prophet Mohammed* “Speak for yourself, white man!”.**

    I’ve been doing chemistry for ooooooh about 20 years now. I have met precisely one (1) creationist chemist (out of several hundred chemists). He was a South African chap, educated in a closeted religious community and at a very religiously influenced university. Lovely bloke, had an unfortunate tendency to carry out Swern oxidations outside his fume cupboard on the bench. Smelly bastard.***

    Louis

    * Yes, that one. No really. He was a well known rapper and screen and stage actor with a deadly line in repartee. Possibly. Maybe.

    ** This applies even if not white, or a man. Or even human.

    *** DMS everywharr.